The Week That Was…(musings from half-term)

So half-term came and went and here we are hurtling to the end of the first week back.  I’m having a slightly odd week, as I seem to be missing the children.  This is an unfamiliar feeling.  February half-term has always been the one I dreaded most.  Back as a mum of one, all the free stuff would close for the week and we’d be locked inside due to the cold and torrential rain staring at each other.  My very intense first-born would say ‘Come on then mummy, entertain me’ with just a stare.  I’d wheel out play-doh, painting, colouring, play peppa pig and think we must be nearly at bedtime now to find it was only 9am and I’d been alone with her for an hour.  And she was still staring expectantly.  She loves craft.  I hate craft.  I love baking, but it took a while to be OK with cake mixture ending up everywhere and containing egg shell and snot.  I’m still not OK with this to be honest.

And here I am at present day, with three school-aged children, an era I thought would never come.  The orders were in as to what everyone wanted to do.  I’m open to all suggestions, they just need to be free – or very cheap.   The cinema does cheap tickets for a film showing each morning in the holidays.  They loved the film, and excitedly we set off, even bagging the front seat on the top deck.  The holidays had got off to a brilliant start, I was nailing this.  But when we got there, everyone else had had the same idea and there were no seats left.  I was now not nailing it.  One child was crying , the other stamping their feet and telling me how angry they were at my poor planning, whilst the third remained stoic but couldn’t quite meet my eye due to disappointment.  I booked tickets for the next day, and we went home, got in the car and went to the car wash instead.  They loved it.  I’d pulled it back: 1-0 to mummy.

The cinema trip went well the next day, except I got too complacent with my pre-booked tickets and entered the cinema to find everyone else was already there and the lights were down.  By everyone, I mean everyone.  It was completely full and people were sitting in the wrong seats so we had to move people to get four seats together.  A terrible moment I never want to re-live, ‘I’m so sorry, it’s just we booked the seats and there aren’t anymore.  If there was four seats together anywhere else, I’d sit in them” and then as everyone shuffled around, “Sorry…really sorry…so sorry…sorry”.  Utterly humiliating.  They enjoyed the film – thank goodness.

It had so far been very sunny and we’d so far been to the car wash and then sat in the dark watching a film, so Wednesday was the day to take advantage of the good weather.  Except, the forecast changed, but I hadn’t checked it and we discovered the bitter winds and cold rain midway through a walk high up on the north downs.  They were wrapped up, and we had a good friend and her three children with us and we ploughed on in good spirits.  Most of the walk was sheltered by trees, although the bracing picnic spot we’d chosen for it’s view wasn’t so much.  You know you’ve had a good day when everyone is soaked and you’ve had to re-trace your steps to find a child’s shoe as it’s got stuck back in the thick mud.  We nearly lost a pair of wellies (attached to a child) but the rain started again, and we were able to form a human chain to pull the sinking child free.  They got covered in mud with their friends and we rounded the day off with hot chocolate covered in cream and marshmallows, so I’m chalking that up as a success.  Only one child remained clean, but she was just over 4 months old and in a carrier.  My friend said she’d had a good day, but I’m waiting to see if I’m ever allowed to be in charge of choosing a day out again, to see if she meant it.

So, obviously we chanced more outdoor activity on Thursday and headed off to meet a very lovely, old friend and her son at the Queen Elizabeth Park, (formerly known as the Olympic Park).  This was exciting as my train obsessed son loves the tube, although he suddenly remembered he has terrible travel sickness, which served to get us a seat and quite a bit of space around us on what could have been a busy journey.  No one, not even a Londoner wanting a seat, is interested in being near a small four year old yelling, “Mummy, sick” and then hurling into a sandwich bag.  Top tip next time you fancy a seat on the tube.

We arrived on time.  I’d done no planning apart from food, lazily assuming my friend who had suggested the place knew where she was going.  She didn’t, but we’ve now toured Westfield Shopping Centre Stratford and it’s surrounding area and a mere 45 minutes later, we were on a park; although it turned out to be the wrong park and it took another 45 minutes of staring determinedly into the middle distance, trying to make sense of which bridge the map was referring us to cross, a slight detour along the Lee Valley path (lovely by the way), accosting an equally clueless passerby and a last minute scramble up a grassy hill on a whim.  The whim paid off.  We had found THE park.  Turns out it’s next to a giant sculpture of the Olympic rings that can be seen from time way off.  If only we’d known.  It’s an amazing and magical park.  I recommend it, just go with a map and head for the rings.  We stayed for three hours.  THREE hours.

Several cups of hot tea later, we dug the children out from the sandpit and headed home.  The children obviously felt hard done by, feeling that they’d had no time at all to play.  The park is technically next to the tube, but it took us an hour to reach the station, due to the first rule of childhood: always point blank refuse to go to the toilet when passing one, instead you must wait until you have left facilities far behind, so that mummy has to ‘drag’ (for ‘drag’, think ‘strongly and speedily steer’) you round a shopping centre looking for public loos.  We eventually arrived at the tube platform just at the start of rush hour, which was fantastic, because we didn’t want to miss that.  Obviously, the four year old was ready with his hurl into a bag trick, but there was just nowhere for people to run this time.  Bad luck folks!

Friday we decided to chill at home.  By chill, I mean there was nine of us in the house in the morning, three adults and six children.  I decided to go all out for the occasion and do an a la cart lunch consisting of rounds of cheese and toast.  Then a quieter afternoon with myself and five children.  Three very well-behaved older girls who are friends with my eldest and were collectively able to somehow keep the youngest in check.  I’d farmed out the middle one to play at her friends house.  It all worked pretty well.

And that was our week.  My house is now covered in sand and mud, but I see that as the sign of a half-term.   There’s also a few less bottles of wine on the rack, but I see that as the sign of a good half-term as well.





Birthday parties

We’ve just had another birthday in the household.  My eldest turned 8 years and despite my hopes, decided she definitely wanted another party at home.  Aaarrgghh, the memories of last year came flooding back.  I tried ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t want us to take a couple of friends to the cinema and then for pizza?’  She answered ‘No, mummy, I want a party like last year with these games’ which she then listed.  I smiled brightly, whilst blinking back the tears and admitted my fate.  On the plus side all the children seemed to have a fab time, but it was a loud, exhaustingly manic two hours of my life that I’ve been working on blocking out.  After the event I’d spent the evening staring into the middle distance, hugging a bottle of prosecco whilst the trauma subsided.  Also, we live in an upstairs flat and our neighbours moved shortly after the event.  I’m sure it was just a coincidence.  We do get through a lot of neighbours.

It transpired that the lovely friend that helped me last year, suddenly had a ‘work thing’.  I mentioned it was a Saturday.  ‘Yes’, she replied, ‘What are there chances?’  Her story happened to be true by the way.  I wanted to make that clear in case she reads this.  Not that I rang up the conference centre to double-check or anything.  To be honest after last year, I’m lucky she hasn’t blocked my number and moved away.

The birthday girl loves making things and so we decided on a craft party with a few games.  This did mean less children, due to the space restrictions of our kitchen table, which was the designated craft activity area.  My daughters amazing artistic and creative abilities do not come from me.  I’m still slightly scarred by the memory of a paper mache Roman soldier we had to make as a homework project at high school.  Mine was a paper mached balloon with a face drawn on and wool stuck on as hair.  It wasn’t quite in the same artistic league as the other entries, which we will call ‘sculpted masterpieces’.  The whole episode was very embarrassing and now I was meant to be organising a craft party.  After a great deal of googling and posting on forums, the chosen craft was decorating jewellery boxes.  A stack of ceramic owl shaped trinket boxes and porcelain paint pens were ordered.  I had never heard of a porcelain paint pen this time last week, but am now quite the expert on these.  Maintenance, drying times, oven baking temperatures – you name it, I’m now educated on this subject.

Obviously, none of it arrived.  To cut a very tedious story of package chasing short, I was told I could pick the stuff up from the depot which was a ‘short way’ from where I lived.  This ‘short way’ turned out to mean a 40 mile round trip to the edges of Kent. I live at the opposite side of London.  Er, no I’m not doing that, we might be sticking googly eyes and wooden hair onto wooden spoons instead.  More visions of my school paper mache creation flashed before my eyes at this point.  A second package was despatched – and happily for everyone, it arrived.

I like to make their cakes.  ‘What kind of cake would you like?’ I asked.  ‘A mermaid’ came the reply.  Hmmm.  Right.  I remembered a conversation about this a few years ago and contacted the friend in question for tips and a photo.  This together with some  more googling and I was armed.  I cast my mind back to a christmas cake decorating evening at church a few years ago.  This was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on roll-out icing that wasn’t already on a cake and learnt how to dye it.  Little had I known, how useful a skill this would prove to be.  I figured the rest was like play dough and gave the children some each to make sea creatures.  It worked.  We had a friend staying over, she got roped in and played a vital part sticking on the sea creatures and arranging seaweed.  Vital.  OH ended up making the tail.  He got a bit protective of it, truth be told.  But the end result was worth it.  The day had started with me standing alone full of ambition, but with very little idea, surrounded by ingredients, baking stuff, pinterest boards and a niggling feeling I should have sorted this sooner and paid someone else to do it, to 16 hours later having a cake with a mermaid sitting on a rock surrounded by sea stuff.  The feat involved involved three adults, three children and two bottles of wine.  We opened another to celebrate.  Not really, it was the party the next day.

We have form in our house for unexpected dramas right before large amounts of children arrive for a party.  Back in February, my OH had decided to pop out to the shop for a few extra party food supplies 30 minutes before ten 5 year olds arrived, and the entire lock suddenly came loose, meaning it could only be opened from the outside, therefore locking us in.  A hammer, a chisel and a screwdriver later we were free five minutes before party time.  Seven months later and another party.  What could possibly happen this time?  Well, it involved a much beloved toy ‘accidentally’ being thrown out of the top of a window and landing on the kitchen roof.  Cue screaming 5 year old, the owner and thrower of toy, and a frantic hunt for the key to open the bottom window, so we could reach it.  We couldn’t reach it from the open top one off course, because that would have made life far too easy.  The key had been put in a very safe place and we spent the next 35 minutes pulling out every drawer and cupboard that we might have used as a very safe place.  What you might be picking up from these stories is that getting into our house is fine – getting out is a whole different matter.  It was found, this time with a whole 25 minutes to spare.  We are getting better at scheduling our dramas.

Party time.  Well, I’m pleased to report that the porcelain painting of ceramic owls was a massive hit.   It was calm and quiet, children shared pens and even my four year old son and his friend decided to join in.  It turns out that owl shaped ceramic trinket boxes are great for holding various super hero and action man accessories.  It lasted an hour.  An hour!!!  This was better than hoped and did lead me into a false sense of security for games playing – which was the opposite of calm and quiet.  We also did some pizza-making and then some extra games, games and more games.  There was loo roll (the mummy game), raisins, chopsticks, blindfolds, a homemade pin the nose on Olaf, lots of games based on music stopping, the human chain and a sprinkling of the classic ‘Simon Says’.  We got through it.  It had all worked out well, my head was now free to think about other things, such as how long before there’s another ‘To let’ sign in front of the ground floor flat.  (Our latest neighbours have only been there two weeks.)  There was just one thing that I couldn’t quite shake out of my mind; a parting comment from one of our young guests which was both lovely and fear instilling.  She told me how much she was looking forward to coming back again next year.  I’m off to find a longer craft project.


A weekend away

Hi blog, how I’ve missed you.  I have a list of half-written blog posts that I’ll complete at some point.  Anyway, it’s spring, the sun is out, daffodils are smiling at me from the window sill and I feel like I could actually finish a blog post.  Spring madness.  So here goes…

We’ve just had a big family celebration and have been up north for a birthday party and family meal.  The plan started out simple enough, with an intention to get the train on Saturday morning, meaning a 2 hour journey, rather than a 4 hour drive, stay in a premier inn, get a taxi to and from the party, walk to the family meal in town the next day and hop back on the train.  Easy.  We did this last year for another family celebration and it worked fine – for me.

However, OH is still having nightmare flashbacks from that journey as our youngest was travel sick on the train – all over daddy.  So, it was decided that we would drive.  Eight hours of driving in one weekend with three small people, two of which are travel sick, is always going to take the edge off a celebration, but not to worry, we’ve done this journey many times.  It’ll be fine.  I use the word ‘fine’ a lot – it’s a way of convincing myself it really is all fine.

The car element meant that the plans started to grow.  We were now going for two nights and staying in different houses, first visiting the in-laws, distributing Easter eggs to the many nieces and nephews, most of them are nearby and were coming to visit for a few hours before we set off to the opposite side of Manchester to my brother’s house, which has been newly fitted with electrics and has the bare plaster decor to prove it.  A busy weekend was getting busier.

Mid way through the car journey from south to north, we realised that neither of us had put in any shoes for the small people.  We’d put them in the car in pjs and slippers.  Now, a few years ago, I reckon I could have got away with just the slippers, but there was no way my little ladies were going to accept them as appropriate accessories to sparkly party dresses.  We now needed to fit in a visit to a discount shoe store somewhere in the itinery.  Found one.  £27 and three pairs of shoes later – which I’d had to hope would fit, as no one would come out of the car in slippers to try them on – we were on route to my brother’s house.  I’m feeling slightly mixed about the price of the shoes; on the one hand, amazing bargain hunting and they all fit, and on the other, I feel it’s safe to assume that whoever made them wasn’t paid the living wage.  However, it was an ’emergency’ although admittedly in a #firstworldproblems only way.  I got a loyalty card for the shoe store anyway.  This could so happen again.

Right, arrived at brothers.  Time to blow up four airbeds, unpack smart party clothes and shake out the creases.  The children were super excited at the blow-up beds and so his front room quickly became a trampolining arena.  I have no idea how none of them popped.   Some screen time was needed to calm them down, but he’s only just moved in and doesn’t have a great TV signal sorted yet – out came the Thundercats boxset.  the schedule started to runaway a little as we all got a bit caught up in the Thubdercats boxset. My children have been running around ever since shouting ‘Thundercats HOOOOOOO!’  Ah, one of the great catchphrases of the 80’s, I believe.

The double air bed was the last to be blown up and as we opened it, we realised why we’d got such a bargain online.  It didn’t have a UK plug.  The only adaptors on hand were the ones you take on holiday to convert a UK plug into an international one, not the other way around, for obvious reasons.  So, my brother has bought my grandmas house, which means we were able to climb over enough stuff in the spare room to find a mattress that we think once belong to my great grandma.  Having rescued it from the room and beaten the dust off, we then realised that we I hadn’t packed any bedding… Well, we didn’t need it last year in the Premier Inn.  We’d have to bring some back from the party at my parents house later.

Time to get decked out in party clothes, which is followed by the soundtrack of myself appealing to the small people not to drop food or drink on their clothes, wee in them, mess up their hair or rip anything.

Party time.  By now, my youngest two are bouncing off the walls – I mean actually bouncing off the walls, using sofas to propel themselves the highest.  I quickly nipped that little activity in the bud and whisked them into another room.  Twenty minutes later, all three had fallen asleep – before the food came out.  My shoulders can finally drop from my ears, and a few glasses of wine enjoyed – definitely more than was wise.  It’s tricky at a house party, people re-fill your drink without you noticing, and then I seem to drink more  wthout noticing.  Anyway, it was a lovely evening catching up with family and freinds that we hadn’t seen for a while, before the scooping up three sleepy children with a midnight feast from the buffet into a taxi home.  For bedding, we’d found a car blanket as a bottom sheet and borrowed a sleeping bag from my parents, as a duvet.  The sleeping bag turned out to be one I’d had 25 years ago and had the unmistakable pattern of the 80s: think dark grey background, with tiny polka dots, finished off with bright splashes of colour.  It’s from the time of Thundercats – this weekend had taken on an 80s theme.  So, not the comfiest sleeping set-up, but turns out I can fall into a deep sleep under any circumstances these days, so it was fine.

The next day began slowly, but with more Thundercats, and some dressing up as my brother is an entertainer / magician professionally, so the children were having the time of their life in his circus room.  A circus room is something every house should have, of course.

Next, it was time for more smart clothes for the birthday Sunday Lunch, bags needed to be re-packed, the children had to be coaxed out of the circus room, three airbeds were let down and rolled back up into the tiny bags they are meant to fit in, the car was packed and we headed out for a ‘leisurely’ Sunday lunch, before the long drive home.  Longer on a Sunday afternoon as it turned out.  We arrived home shortly before 9pm after five hours of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ and ‘I need the toilet,’ followed by ‘No, we’ve ages to go. Why don’t you go to sleep?’ and ‘Well, for Heavens sake, why didn’t you go at the services 10 minutes ago?’  We then unpacked and got everything ready for Monday morning, which would sadly be happening in a few short hours.  We climbed into bed, exhausted, shadows of the people we were on Friday night, and ready for the enquiries into how was our lovely weekend away.  It was lovely, I just now need a lot of sleep and have a laundry basket that’s threatening to take over the upstairs.  If I could just get to a place where I can close it by the end of the week, I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something.  But, Rome wasn’t built in a day, I think I need to keep my ambitions more realistic.

It’s taken me 4 days to finish this post.  I still can’t close the laundry basket.  It will soon be time to pack again for trips over Easter.   Must remember shoes, must remember shoes, must remember shoes…

I’d really like to sleep for a while longer.  Keep smiling at me daffodils, keep smiling.

A life in Take That concerts – Part 2

This has taken me a little while to get round to finishing.  I feel like I’ve needed to be at school as much as the children with sports days, moving up days, school trips, meetings about moving up, end of term reports, costume making for end of term parties.

Where was I…ah, yes.  The concert itself:

The husband had been a star and got four tickets to treat his lovely wife and lovely two sisters to see the now depleted band of three.  He was coming along as well, but to be fair, their concerts are pretty Amazing.

As I proudly mentioned to anyone that I was off to see a Take That concert, I expected derision, but the information was met with excitement, ‘respect’ (maybe I imagined that) and the question of ‘How did you get tickets?’ Apparently they’d been a lot of competitions on the radio where you could win tickets.  I listen to the radio a lot, but never heard a thing on Woman’s Hour and obviously missed the coded message during the afternoon play.  Such a shame, I would have loved a second trip.

Nights out These Days are few and far between and tend to be a good meal with decent wine.  There was the suggestion of food before the concert.  What a grand idea.  A babysitter was booked early and off we went Into the Wild to the great O2 in the middle of the afternoon on a school day.  Such decadence.  We ended up at one of those chain restaurants where the portions are the size of an obese child and my thoughts of wine were quickly dispelled as a jug of Woo Woo was ordered.  I have no idea what is in this, and the arrival of the second jug didn’t help clarify those details.

Let In The Sun, we were OUT.  Casting an eye around the other patrons, to judge the outfits of the other concert goers – we all do it, don’t pretend otherwise – I notice the various looks being modelled.  Back in the day, a concert outfit was your best pair of jeans and that new top, but now it’s all changed.  Mum outfits, by which I mean dresses from a decade ago, or the season before you first fell pregnant and were last able to go out and buy a dress; both money and opportunity quickly disappears on the birth of a first child.  Perhaps, the odd dress bought for a wedding a couple of years ago getting a bit more use.  Bucking this trend, I was unusually in something new, by which I mean a dress I’d found on a sale rack with the amazing words ‘2 for 1’ hanging above it.  I know, dreamy words to find in a shop – I Like It.  It’s just over 12 months old, which in my world equals brand spanking new.  Footwear was mainly sensible flats with the odd dare devil opting for a wedge heel.  If Take That were going to see their ankles, it was to be at the best advantage.

Woo Woos downed, meal completed, bill paid, Get Ready For It: venue time.  The buzz of excitement mounts, Higher Than Higher.  My sister in law starts leaping around photo bombing group Portraits.  She does this a lot, it’s part of her charm.  All was going as expected.  We sailed along with the crowd to our entrance, which of course, was all the way around the other side.  We passed the now empty queue lines for the standing tickets.  A detritus of the remains of devoured take-outs and picnics lay alongside blankets, lilos and a giant rubber ring.  When it comes to getting a good view, If You Want It, you’ve got to queue with commitment.  There was an inner circle of standing tickets.  This was a special, much coveted place indeed.  The inner sanctuary, where you were likely to get a chance to actually touch the heroes themselves.

We were at the top, but in the front row.  This was an important fact as it meant we set the precedent for dancing – and failed miserably.  I was very conscious of the elderly couple sat hand in hand directly behind me.  They didn’t look like they would be up dancing anytime soon. The show eventually started.  We toe-tapped. The odd self-conscious shoulder movement and clap nodded to the fact that we were out at a concert.  I wanted to stand but kept looking behind and no one else was.  Finally, ‘Never Forget’ came on and as any Take That old-timer will know, it is illegal to sit during this song.  We were finally up.  Behind us, the rows followed.  It finished, and then followed that awkward moment – do we stay standing or sit?  Are concert-goers this self-conscious in other countries?  We went for a second song.  It was too much for the elderly couple, they had scarpered.

A side thought.  I’ve never understood people that come to a concert and spend half the time ducking out to visit the bar.  I don’t get it, you can go to the pub anytime, even straight after the show if you’re desperate, but why not watch the show?  It doesn’t happen at the cinema or theatre. Can you imagine the outcry?  Revellers popping out for a G & T every few minutes at the opera – society as we know it would end.  There was a chap down the row, repeatedly pushing past the end of the row to get out the bar and back again.  I may have been tempted to nudge him over the top of the barrier.  I think I’m a reasonable person, but we all have our limits.  The drinks are horrible, warm, flat and triple priced at a concert venue.  What are you doing?

Annoying drinkers aside, it was one of those evenings when you wish time would Freeze for a bit. Happy songs, happy singers, happy show and happy audience, a moment where we all Lovelife.  Magical and special and then it all came to an end.  Two hours had sped past in fantastical splendour and it was time to make our way home.

Still on a high, shuffling towards the tube, surrounded by crowds of people who could barely stand up, either regretting the wedge heel or having made a few too many visits to the bar, singing out of tune and posing for selfies in their Mark / Gary / Howard masks.  The husband asks if I’ve had a good night and I ask for the concert DVD for Christmas.  He’s done well.  He’s a keeper, but I knew that many years ago when I married him.

And then that’s that, off we trudge on our tube journey home, uncomfortably hot in the humid late night heat of London and it’s sauna-esque underground system and I suddenly feel old as I look down and notice swollen ankles for the first time in my non-pregnant life.  The horror – I’ve been counting on these Take That concerts to keep me young.  Ah well, I like to think I’ll still be going to their concerts with my walking stick, but for now it’s back to work, potty training and the school run.  Until the next time.

A life in Take That Concerts – Part 1

So, I went to see Take That last weekend.  It was brilliant – of course, and now I’m on a nostalgia trip down memory lane to the first time I went to Come on, Come on, Come on, Take That and Party.

All I’ll say is they put on a proper show.  I was confused when I first went to see another band, because they just stood on stage singing.  Where was the theatre? The spectacle? The imagination?  The magic? The floating jellyfish, flying bikes, giant, venue sized shadow puppet show and ball of fire suspended from the roof with a spinning acrobat inside?

Seeing them now makes me reminisce about seeing them as a teenager.  As a youngster, it’s tough not to be able to Do What You Like.  Growing up near Manchester, I remember, aged 14, my friends getting tickets to see Take That at the Apollo and my dad refusing to let me go as he was sure we would all get mugged, kidnapped or harmed in some terrible way.  My dad spends most of his time imagining people waiting around corners to mug, kidnap or harm us in some terrible way and reminds us that It Only Takes a Minute for something bad to happen.  Unless, Everything Changes I imagine I’ll be the same when my children reach an age where they want to go to concerts by themselves.  My friends went to the concert and were not harmed in the outing.  My dad was in trouble, I would Never Forget this omission in my teen experiences.

Thankfully, Take That then moved onto bigger venues and dad decided the G-Mex was in a much less dodgy part of town than the Apollo, so I could go.  I was more than Satisfied to go to their next three concerts at the G-Mex, then the post break-up tour at the MEN Arena, complete with it’s weeping Robbie fans, unsuccessfully Holding Back The Tears pining for their lost hero.  It was difficult for them, Once You’ve Tasted Love, it’s hard to forget.

For each of these concerts, I remember our little gang meeting up the weekend before to make our all important banner.  We managed the second and third rows at a couple of them, so were pretty sure there was a good chance the band members would soon be singing A Million Love Songs to us after spotting us in the crowd and noting our fabulous and witty banner with phrases like Babe.  Why can’t I wake up with you?  So clever.  What multi-millionaire teenage boyband could resist.  They did resist.  We ventured into town early on the morning of the concert, by metrolink, and joined the crazed gang of likeminded teenagers around the back entrance of the arena awaiting a glimpse, giving the boys every chance to whisk one of us away on a date, but it too didn’t work.  Every girl from Manchester thought the odds were in their favour.  These were local boys, they’d choose one of their own, for Sure.  We were all a bit miffed when the concert DVDs came out and they’d opted for the London concerts to be filmed.  If This Is Love, it was beginning to look like a rocky road.  At one point, we tried to start our own band ‘Get This’.  Unfortunately, ‘Get This’ never made it out of Lisa’s mum’s living room and into a recording studio.  I regret leaving the music industry culturally poorer from us never making a go of it, but there we are.  Too many broken Promises to ourselves.  I’m too busy now, the moment’s past and I feel I’d be Wasting My Time.  ‘Get This’ has already had it’s Greatest Day and is consigned to history for good.

And then that was that.  We could Pray, but it was over: Robbie left and the Take That era came to the sad end none of us could have predicted.  The Day After Tomorrow was a day without Take That.  How did it come to this? we thought.  But life went on, I finished my A-levels, discovered the delights of late 90s indie rock and went off to Uni.

And then, Could it be Magic?, Take That came back.  We just needed to have a little Patience.  Were they Back For Good?  

Turns out, I hadn’t moved on – Nobody Else had either.  Their song titles were now a bit more difficult to shoe-horn into a blog post, especially if you didn’t know anyone called Julie or were stuck trying to think of a reason to write about a Wooden Boat.  It was 2006 and I was in my late 20s.  I’d lost touch with much of the gang from school, but not Lisa.  She got a group of us tickets and this time we travelled into Manchester, not by metro link this time, but by limo down the Mancunian Way.  No loitering around outside a stage door with a banner now.  We were grown-ups with husbands and houses and some already had their own Kidz.  Life had moved on, but how lovely to relive those teenage moments.  I noticed that most of these fans were in their late 20s / early 30s.  There was the odd male, a boyfriend or husband, silently screaming SOS, not sure how they’d ended up at a Take That concert.  But then the boys came on stage, where they always did Shine best, and started to win over new fans.

I went to The Circus tour, also with Lisa, and then to the Progress tour.  We were all Happy Now.  This was the first time I’d seen them in London.  No limos now, we travelled by the Underground Machine.  There was now a noticeable amount of baby bumps and the trickle of male attendees had turned into The Flood of men that could now be seen, unashamedly in attendance.

Also, to prove that with age comes responsibility, pack lunches, picnic blankets and fold-up stools appeared from back-packs, looking like they were sat at home in The Garden.  Yes, we were out for a good night, but Hold On, there’s no need to queue up and pay those prices, or stand about for hours waiting for it to get started.  We needed our rest before the big event.  We’d had to get there early as we had standing tickets.

The band was now attracting the mothers of the original fan base.  Ladies in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s all excited and free from chores and responsibility for the evening.  Tonight, it was a Beautiful World for all of us.  There weren’t many teenagers at the Circus tour, but there were loads at the Progress Tour.  Clearly Take That and Robbie had been able to Reach Out to younger fans – or they’d been dragged along by overexcited mums and aunties.  Hard to know.

And here we are at present day – the 2015 tour.

To be continued…

Decadent Monday.

What do you think of when you think of decadence?  Perhaps it’s having a fancy sports car, an eight bedroom house with finely manicured land at the back complete with a housekeeper, gardener, round the clock nanny and a cook, or would you be more in line with the super rich city dwellers embarking on basement wars in Chelsea, where their desperate need for indoor waterfalls, huge wine cellars, indoor gyms, spas and cinemas supersedes all common sense and neighbourly happiness.

Since being a mum, I’ve joined in with the popular line of thought that having a coffee by myself and visiting the bathroom alone are all treats.  Nowadays, clothes shopping is dashing into TK Max in desperation because I’ve ignored the indelible stains of life with children on all my tops and the holes in the knees of every pair of trousers, jeans and leggings for far too long, but what if I had time and the bank balance to peruse a clothing shop and try on an item before buying it just because I like it.  Hmm, luxury.

When a contract comes my way, I skip off to work, like I’m off on holiday and am probably in a minority group of people (actually, it’s possible that I’m in this group by myself) that aren’t unhappy at a tube delay because it means I get to read an extra chapter of my own book before going home and reading several books about teddy bears, peppa pig’s latest antics and rehashed book versions of disney films.  I just want to take a moment here to make it clear that I love reading to my children, but daughter number two is currently, inexplicably obsessed with ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and i think if i have to read that again i might prick my own finger on a spinning wheel in the hope i get to sleep for 100 years.  I’m very thankful that my eldest is now into Roald Dahl – now that’s a writer!

Getting back to my point, I would have described all this coffee drinking, reading my own choice of book to myself, clothes shopping just for the hell of it as decadent, but one Monday, I spotted something that made me reconsider.  It was a sight that I would call real decadence.  Something that brought back happy, carefree memories of a time long past.  It was 3.30 on a Monday afternoon, a normal run of the mill Monday afternoon – not a bank holiday, and there were three friends sat in the window of a local pub, with a large glass of wine each.  It was definitely social, rather than a work meeting.  You could just see the signs of genuine relaxation, happiness and comfort.

It got me thinking about what it would like to be so carefree i could ask a couple of friends for an afternoon tipple on a Monday.  I was on my way to swimming lessons at the time, navigating a pram which my toddler was jumping in and out of at whim, trying to appeal to my hyper, over excitable daughters to slow down, as they were on track to knock over a few innocent bystanders with the game of tag they’d decided to play on our incredibly busy, crowded high street.  There were swim bags, school bags, a picnic bag, nappy bag and general bag of tricks to keep them occupied in between lessons, all balanced precariously off the pram which was threatening to tip up at any moment, as we powered along the pavement.  So, thank you ladies, whoever you were, for making me smile.

No consequences, deadlines, children to put to bed, school bags to pack, meals to plan and cook, laundry piling up, just a Monday afternoon, with nothing else to do but laugh with friends.

So, I’ve decided to brighten up my Monday, add a bit of glamour.  I’ve found a top to wear that only has one small hole in (trip to TK Max might be looming) and fancy earrings.  That’s me in full decadent Monday glory.  It’s happening, the earrings are in.

There’s indoor waterfalls – and there’s true decadence…

Community spirit will get us through

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been thoroughly down in the dumps since the election results.  Everything’s been said, the analysis and new leadership battles will go on – and so will ‘austerity’, which is basically code for the social cleansing.

Every person for themselves – well not here in Tooting!  To cheer ourselves up, we went to a non-political community day at the weekend.  Although nothing at all to do with politics, it did give me that warm feeling of being around people who are willing to give their time just to get a community event going, and all in the name of creating fun for everyone else.  I imagine there was nothing in it for them except a lot of emailing, phone calls, being ignored, more emailing and phone calls, more being ignored, then chasing people up for responses, pinning up posters, organising flyers, being avoided on the street when on the lookout for volunteers, relentless hassling for bits of funding, crowd-funding and lots of donation bucket shaking on the day.

However, unperturbed by these many obstacles, it all went ahead.  It was a story-telling event themed around the Pied Piper and there was a parade to the local common where the main event was happening.  Off we went, with a Maypole, a giant mayor (from the Pied Piper), a storyteller, lots of props for said story, and various brightly coloured, homemade streamers, paper-mache creations, decorated branches and of course pretend rats.  A few of these props got stuck in trees along the way, but most made it there in one piece.

Here’s a few things that I learnt on the day:

1.  If there’s a May Day parade and you have children, no matter how cool or unwilling you think you are, you will be taking part in that parade. (I’m thinking of a few other parents, me and the husband have long dispensed with any pretence that we are cool.)

2. It is impossible not to grin stupidly whilst carrying a streamer in a parade.  Seriously, try it.  Even the sourest of souls won’t be able to resist in this situation.

3.  London drivers really are a grumpy lot.  Whilst waiting for giant story characters, an over-sized trumpet, which needed two people to carry it and lots of happy, smiling children skipping across the road at the pedestrian crossing, the second the lights turned green, there was a great deal of angry beeping.  Really?  Shame. On. You.

4. It is impossible to stand still whilst steel drums are playing.  Impossible.  Try it, but you won’t be able to stop moving.  Many moons ago we lived in a flat across the road from a hall where a local steel drum group practised for three hours every night throughout summer.  It was a relief when their annual appearance in the Notting Hill carnival was over, so we could sit down again in an evening without toe-tapping and shoulder movements.

5.  This was a surprise, but never under-estimate the waiting time to buy a wrap.  They were nice, but 45 minutes was too much of a build up.  Of course, they’d run out of most fillings by the time we got to the front.  Note to self: next year take a picnic.

6. Children can find a great deal of patience and willingness to queue when face painting is on offer.  If only this were a transferable skill.  However, “Mummy, mummy, muummmmyyyy.  Now, mummy!” is a familiar soundtrack to my days.  Hmm, do I need to learn face painting?

7. Once you’ve waited 30 minutes for face painting, at least one child will always desperately need a wee when they are next in the queue.

8.  Even with an African drum and an African trying to teach me to drum, I still can’t look cool – or drum.

9. Despite our very urban geographical situation, Tooting has a troupe of people that know how to Maypole dance.  Adults, not children.  They had clearly been practising, had matching hats with feathers in and sang as well, accompanied by an accordion.  Brilliant.

10. I have the most uncanny ability of choosing exactly the wrong time to take my children to craft making stalls.  We will get there just at the moment they are closing for 15 minutes to clear up.

11.  I now know how to make a paper hat.

12. Finally, a beer tent, complete with hay bales for sitting on, looks very inviting on a warm day.  I was driving and in charge of three small people, so merely took in the view.  That’s fine, I have other treasures.  Really, it’s fine.

The weirdest reason not to vote, that I have ever heard.

This post is devoted to one of the oddest arguments I’ve ever heard for deciding not to vote.

Personally, I’m voting.  I’m looking forward to taking the children to the polling station on Thursday and demonstrating the greatness of living in a democracy.  Respecting the right to place that cross in the box of my choice, respecting the fight of those that lost their lives in the fight for me to vote.  In short, I am strongly pro-voting.  If unsure, I think it’s better to go and spoil the paper than not vote at all.

Not everyone agrees of course and I’m interested by the arguments used by those who don’t vote.  I was listening to a programme on the radio where pro-voters were trying to convince non-voters to vote.  Many of the usual reasons were mentioned for not voting: not believing one vote can make a difference, not trusting the parties, deciding that they are all basically the same, forgetting due to a busy day or just plain old not bothering.

And then, one student who said she wouldn’t be voting because she didn’t know who to vote for, answered that she felt it was better not to vote than to spoil your paper, because that was a bit mean after all the hard work the politicians have put into their campaign.

I stopped and stared at the radio.  WHAT?!?!?!  Did I really just hear that?  An abstention to preserve the feelings of the poor politicians.  Amazing.  Imagine if it worked both ways.  A party without any policies because each one has winners and losers, and they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  Do Cameron and Osbourne cry themselves to sleep each night over the plight of those made homeless due to changes in housing benefits, or those finding extra cash for the bedroom tax, queuing up at food banks?  As we know, Clegg is very sorry about raising the tuition fees – but it didn’t stop him at the time, or Labour from introducing them in the first place.

If a student spending three years in an environment of study and debate has lost their need to rebel, stand up and be heard, or manage an opinion of some sort, then I weep for the future of our democracy.  There’s no hope of them fitting it in when they have to juggle a career, rent/mortgage and perhaps a family.  Student Unions seem to have altered since I was at university.  There was always a cause somewhere, I seem to remember not buying anything from nestle being a big deal.

I’m still astounded.  She didn’t want to hurt their feelings or be disrespectful to their efforts by showing a mark to reject all of them.  For one, I think choosing not to vote at all does not show more respect, surely it just says you really can’t be bothered.  However, the parties have spent a small fortune, members have devoted the last few months of their lives to trying to con us into voting for them, and if in all of that rhetoric, manifesto publishing, publicity stunts and general desperation, they still haven’t found anything to hook you in, then they deserve a spoiled ballot paper.

People fought hard, some with their life, just so you have that right and so no matter what your political leanings, please vote tomorrow – even if it means hurting someone’s feelings.

A life in boxes.

So, it struck me recently that I’ve spent an awful lot of my life packing my things into boxes and moving them places.  Even though, we’ve lived in the same place for nearly a decade, this still keeps happening.

You see, we’re having a sort out.  Not just any old sort out, but a massive home overhaul.  This is due to turning our loft space into bedrooms and having to face the reality of the small village we’ve managed to put up there, piece by piece over the years.  I’ve been a bit too well-trained by my grandma’s post-rationing need to hang onto everything in case it comes in, and my OH, well let’s just say he’s not one for throwing things away, either.

We have accumulated five spare wardrobes, four beds, four prams, two cots, too many toys to list (but they fill one of the wardrobes), three car seats, two tables and roughly nine sets of shelving, a large amount of old computers or bits of them anyway, a friend’s printer which I’m assuming they’ve forgotten lending us, a huge fan, boxes of cables and lots of cutting edge technology from previous decades such as old video players, tape recorders one of those CD players that you could load 25 CDs into, a ball-bearing clock and a machine that plays something called a mini-disc.  How very useful.  That’s before we get onto The Hi-Fi.  A multi-decked towering item, circa 1989, standing almost a metre high with a record player, duel cassette deck, CD deck and a no expenses spared dashboard of graphic equalisers.  It also has two speakers each a similar size to The Hi-Fi, standing proudly beside it.  To be clear, this isn’t mine.

There’s also a spare clothing rail, and boxes and boxes of stuff.  Boxes with more boxes in, boxes of bits and bobs, boxes of ‘desperately important’ memorabilia, that neither of us can throw away.  Too many happy memories and proof there was once days without the school run, nappy changing, tantrum placating, sleep and potty training, laundry, food shopping and cooking.  Ok, i suppose I’ve always done the last three things on that list, but it never took up so much time looking after just me.

During the building work, we managed to fill a storage unit the size of a small garage with all these treasures and are now having to empty said storage unit – and fast, before it bankrupts us and we have to sell one of the children.  It’s an expensive business having too much stuff.

For years, each time another item was made redundant, it went into the loft, for when it ‘came in’, or we had time to fix it.  I have too many well-intentioned ideas for the thrifty re-use of items, but with three small children, work and a house in constant chaos, it’s possible that most of it will disintegrate before I get round to making these wonderful new pieces of furniture, that I’ve created in my mind.  The dust was so thick on some stuff, it took sometime to work out what it once had been.  Now, we just have to face facts – it’s all got to go.

Would it be very wrong to invite people round, sneak off with their car keys and shove a load of stuff in their boot when they weren’t looking?  Drop a few items into the bags of unsuspecting visitors that have come on foot?  Yes, it probably would be.  I suppose.  But…tempting.

Or, perhaps the next time a party candidate comes knocking on the door for our vote, I’ll just say ‘yes’ i’ll vote for you, just take this wardrobe away.  Oh, you’re UKIP – sorry this is all foreign imports entering the country via IKEA.  Next!

And so, at the end of a bank holiday weekend spent entirely at home sorting through our impressive collection of important junk, we are nearly there.  We still have a loft space, although greatly reduced in size and so we’ve had to be ruthless, yet it’s funny the things that get kept.  There’s a few boxes full of files from my degree, that I can’t bear to part with – when am I ever going to need to know what i thought of Pinter at the age of 21?  It doesn’t matter, it’s staying.  Also, a bag of cheese cloth skirts (don’t ask, but they were so important that I’ve kept them in a box in the loft for 15 years and still haven’t thrown them away) and finally, my beloved old DMs.  They are staying with me for the long-haul.

There’s actually a bit of space left – we’ve obviously thrown too much away…hmmm, maybe I should go back through it all and see what else i need to keep.