Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Seasonal nostalgia

As the last few days of 2014 dribble out, like the dregs of champagne from an empty bottle, I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year! Thank you once again for all your support and most importantly for dipping into this blog every now and then. Without your readership, there would be little point in taking to my keyboard each week and airing my thoughts online.


River scene at sunrise with birds flying
Credit: William Lam

So put your feet up in front of a roaring fire, crack open the liqueur (my favourite Xmas tipple has got to be Baileys on ice) and enjoy the holidays! 

And, in case you are looking for some light entertainment, I am including a list of my most popular blog posts in 2014.

Until next year,
Emma x

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Where wild things go on

My 11-year old daughter has just discovered the photo-sharing app, Instagram. It is her first foray into the digital world. At the moment she has a private account with a nickname, and only a handful of followers, all of whom she knows. Mostly she posts pictures of the dog ("another picture of my lovely doggy") or the cat so hopefully we are safe for now.


Photo grab of Instagram profile
Instagram: a gate into the world of social media
Which is a good thing, particularly as she behaves online just as she does in real life, in a characteristically candid way. 

"I am not sure I like that very much. Sorry )-:" she wrote under her dad's picture of some autumn leaves the other day. Under another picture, she wrote: "Completely gorgeous. Never seen anything so beautiful and colourful, Mister Fantastic Photographer!"

The point is that she has yet to moderate her behaviour between a personal and public sphere - and why should she? She is only a child with no experience of these things. The problem is that anyone reading her comments wouldn't be able to see them in that context. To most people online she is just another user.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Electric dreams

My family and I took a ride into the future last weekend. We borrowed an electric car and tried out life in the green lane. I say the future because at some point we plan to upgrade to an electric car, once we are convinced the technology is robust enough for our needs. I have always been fascinated by those silent Prius hybrids cruising around the roads like great white sharks on the prowl, but have never before encountered an electric purebred.

BMW i3 electric car
The 'fun' BMW i3 on electric charge
The car we tested was a BMW i3, the 2014 winner of What Car? 'best green' car award. Described as providing "the most fun you'll have in an electric car", this zippy little automobile was definitely responsive and very easy to drive (in its optimum 'comfort' mode). Parking it in the busy Tesco car park was more sweaty than fun, but that was mainly down to my anxiety over driving a car that wasn't mine to prang.

When I first got behind the wheel, I shrieked to the nice BMW employee who dropped it off, "My goodness it's just like driving a go-kart!" It glided forward on a soundless wave of electrical power. Looking back, I am not sure all those BMW engineers (who have no doubt ploughed countless man hours into designing the i3) would have welcomed my analysis. It got the kids excited though. My 11-year old daughter, having honed her karting skills at Odds Farm, was desperate to have a go. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Faith, hope and a little clarity

It came out of the blue. One of those little blips that throws you out for a day or so. All of a sudden I just didn't want to get out of bed. Life felt bleak and terribly dull. What was the point of it all?

It's strange how mood patterns work. One day I was fine - focused and busy - and the next, totally de-motivated. Most likely I was sunk by a hormonal glitch, lack of sleep or a drop in adrenalin. Whatever the physiological reason for it, I felt generally disenchanted with life (and myself).
Winter dog walk
Sunshine to banish winter blues

I'm fine now - cured no doubt by a nice Sunday lunch out, a burst of winter sunshine and some more sleep. It doesn't take much. I am no Byronic hero. Nevertheless, it made me realise how important it is to feel optimistic. Strip out that magic ingredient 'hope' and suddenly life feels too real, too harsh. 

Monday, 17 November 2014

Domestic democracy

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Stay-at-Home Dad and I had our first tiff the other day. It was over the washing-up of all things. I was so angry with him, I wanted him to leave the house and never come back. When I'm like that it's usually because I'm in the wrong, although that only becomes apparent a few hours later. In the heat of the battle, I am Joan of Arc, hounded and persecuted for my moral stance. 

A work of modern art from Nice Museum of Modern Art
Girls: more loafing and less chores
Our disagreement grew out of Saturday night suppers. Recently I've been inviting Stay-at-Home Dad (SHD) over with his twin girls for pizza and X Factor. It's part of our soft campaign to get the kids used to the idea that we're an 'item'. It was all going swimmingly until SHD happened to comment that Middle Child wasn't pulling his weight in the washing-up department. Was this because he was a boy, he wondered out loud. Was I over-indulging him? 

Monday, 10 November 2014

A Christmas jaunt

Why hello Christmas! It may only be November, but the juggernaut of spending sprees is upon us. In recent years I have felt distinctly Bah! Humbug! about the whole affair. From my humble mummy perspective, it has been a bit too much work and not enough play. This year, however, I am trying to be less moany and more #MontyThePenguin in my attitude towards the yuletide. In that vein, I actually ventured up to Kensington Olympia last week with my friend, Emma, to visit the Spirit of Christmas fair. 

Spirit of Christmas fair
Tasting the delights of Xmas with my friend Emma
My goodness, what an adventure it was! Olympia may be in central London, but reaching the North Pole might have been simpler. One train and two bus journeys later, we finally arrived, along with a herd of disgruntled fair-goers. It was only thanks to the intervention of a hearty bus driver ("Everyone for Olympia, get off now!") that we managed to get there at all. 


Monday, 3 November 2014

The end of thin fascism?

There's nothing like wearing a bikini for a week to make you feel a little body-conscious. My family spent half term in a hotel in Gran Canaria, surrounded by a palm trees and two glistening swimming-pools. Each day, after we had plundered the buffet breakfast, we lay like beached whales on our sun loungers. By day three, my husband and I were feeling so bloated we volunteered for poolside yoga, followed by some thrashing about in the water (aka aqua aerobics). 


A dish of paella
Holiday excess: one too many helpings...
When we got home, after a week of gluttony, I was too afraid to get on the scales. On the plane home, however, I was comforted to read an article ('I was born with curves') in The Sunday Times about an American, plus-size model called Ashley Graham. This young woman, apparently a British size 18, is a ravishing beauty who turns heads in restaurants and brings traffic to a halt outside. She also loves pizza and dips her crusts in Nutella. "My butt rolls, it's really out there," she told the journalist, Eleanor Mills

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Goodbye golden youth

So I was at a dinner party the other week, seated beside a veteran TV presenter. He was an engaging man with a wealth of anecdotes mined from a long career covering war zones, general news and consumer affairs. As with most charmers, he had that knack of appearing interested in everything I had to say. 


A woman in Victorian costume with the caption, "Age cannot wither her"
At some point in our conversation, we got to discussing how the glut of news on the internet had eroded television audiences. In that context, he remarked that young people didn't really watch breakfast television news anymore. Happy to concur, I told him he was quite right; in our house we tended to listen to Radio 4 of a morning.

"Oh, I meant really young people, teenagers, twenty somethings, who get their news on their phones," he said, before gallantly adding, "but you are young too."

I had fallen into the trap of assuming I was still a paid-up member of the golden youth. During that same weekend I was looking at some photos of myself from another party: who on earth was that woman with all the wrinkles around her eyes? Looking on the bright side, it seems that I have a positive self-image. Clearly, my perception of how old I am has not yet caught up with reality.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The quiet determination of Doreen Lawrence

Notes from the Henley Literary Festival... 


Doreen Lawrence, Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, made a startling observation at the Henley Literary Festival this week. She believes that police reforms are not being implemented and that the force is still guilty of racism. "Senior officers get what we need to do," she told the audience. "But somehow that is not being transferred to officers on the ground."
Doreen Lawrence

To prove her point, she shared a story about a young black man being arrested at London Bridge, just as she happened to reach the station platform. A group of white officers were kneeling on the young man, who also had his arms held behind his back. Baroness Lawrence decided to intervene and warned one of the officers: "He could die from that, you know." The officer, who clearly did not recognise her, replied: "It happens."

It has been more than 20 years since Baroness Lawrence's son Stephen was murdered in 1993 in London by a gang of white youths. Right from the beginning, the Lawrences were aware that the police were not taking the case seriously enough. "We were treated by the police as if we were perpetrators, not victims," she said. The force seemed more interested in investigating the Lawrence family and their friends, rather than pursuing leads to track down Stephen's attackers.

Monday, 29 September 2014

An audience with Jojo and Daisy

Notes from the Henley Literary Festival... 


A few years ago an editor friend of mine at Headline Review sent me a copy of My Last Duchess because she thought I would enjoy it. She knew my tastes well: this tale of an American heiress who marries into the English aristocracy was right up my street. It has been described as Henry James without the boring bits. Today I got to meet the author, Daisy Goodwin, who has now written a second book, The Fortune Hunter, about the 19th century Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

Lucy Cavendish interviews Jojo Moyes and Daisy Goodwin at the Henley Literary Festival
Jojo Moyes is a regular guest at the Literary Festival
Daisy was joined by Jojo Moyes, the bestselling author of Me Before You, and between the two of them, they kept us riveted with a discussion of their characters, their craft and a few homey snippets. 

In her latest book, The One Plus One, Jojo writes about a single mother Jess who ends up embarking on a road trip with Ed - a man she barely knows - to enter her daughter into a maths Olympiad in Aberdeen. Inevitably love blossoms, although there are of course a few twists in the road.

Monday, 15 September 2014

In a bit of a pickle...

I have done things this weekend that I would never have dreamed possible a year ago, including trying to foist a pair of underpants onto a panic-stricken labrador in the dead of night. Why? you ask. 

Pickle, the black labrador
Feeling a bit cheesed off...
Why indeed. After months of agonising, we decided last week to have our dog, Pickle, neutered. The live sex-shows outside the school gates (involving a hapless golden retriever) finally pushed us over the edge. So I booked him in for the snip. The course of true love never did run smooth, Pickle.

It's a straight-forward op, the vet told us. Hmm... no mention of having to apply frozen peas four times a day to swollen doggy privates, or of smoothing steroid cream onto itchy patches down under. (When there is a wriggly, under-exercised dog involved, such applications require the accuracy of a surgeon's hand and the patience of a saint.) All the while, Pickle showed a gentle stoicism in the face of his tribulations that made us feel like evil, torturous humans. Only the Elizabethan collar - designed to prevent him from licking his stitches - proved a step too far. On the night we left him in his basket looking like robo-dog, we were roused from our beds by pathetic whining. Hence, plan B: replace said collar with a pair of protective pants.
Pickle in an Elizabethan collar
The ultimate humiliation



First, we tried a frilly, white pair from my own knicker drawer, but alas these proved too capacious. So then we resorted to a rather natty purple pair daubed with yellow stars that belonged to my son. Despite the fun colour scheme, Pickle was not impressed and spent the next ten minutes chasing his star-spangled bottom round in circles, while my husband and I collapsed in hysterics (again: evil, torturous humans). 

I am, however, happy to report that after a week of such ministrations, Pickle's privates are finally on the mend. He remains grateful to his various well-wishers, including several of my father's work colleagues, who have been sending kisses via email and notes of condolences for his lost parts. (They met Pickle earlier in the summer and have become loyal friends.)

The happy climax of this whole debacle was an unexpected confession from my husband the other night: "I think I am actually quite fond of the dog now and enjoy having him around." This is gushing indeed, coming from a man who told me last year he really couldn't see the point of having a dog.

So there you go, Pickle: no more one-night stands for you, my darling, but at least your daddy loves you. And when you're properly better, I'll take you out for a nice, long walk. It's simple pleasures from now on...






FURTHER READING

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
An account of the author's childhood in Greece, growing up in 1930s with a bohemian family and a procession of pets.





Monday, 8 September 2014

Fragrant dreams

People watching: 
Roja Dove, Master perfumer

I was walking through a National Trust garden the other day when I stooped to smell a rose. The delicate, quintessentially  English scent transported me back to my grandparents' garden when I was a little girl. There I was cavorting under a weeping willow in a frilly frock with brown ribbons in my hair. Magic! 


Roja, Dove, master perfumer
Roja: "Choose your scent wisely"
Such is the power of scent. Frangipani does it for me too. Only this time I'm a teenager in Oman at dusk, full of tempestuous emotions. I long for my freedom and yet I am also frightened of what the world has to offer. For me, the sweetness of frangipani is fraught with danger and temptation.

As the master perfumer, Roja Dove, told a rapt audience last week at Henley's Phyllis Court club: "Unstopping a bottle of scent transports you to a different place. It's like releasing a genie from a bottle."

Monday, 18 August 2014

Mother of the year

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

My voice has gone hoarse. Too much shouting. It's week six and I have cracked. It's a shame cos I was doing so well. Only a few stern words and couple of sarcastic retorts in five weeks. I deserved 'Mother of the Year' and then I went and blew it in week six. Shouting. At the kids. It's official: the summer holidays have gone on too long.

Perhaps it's raining in Majorca?
We were in the supermarket. Middle Child wanted to buy a box of Mini Magnums. I said, no darling - remember we are trying to cut down on sugar, and he said, pleeeese, pretty pleeeese, and I said, HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TELL YOU, THE ANSWER IS NO!!! 

I think the guys stacking the trolleys in the car park heard me. It wasn't pretty. The old lady cruising down the frozen-foods aisle with a trolley full of prunes and Bran Flakes gave me a disapproving stare. I wanted to shout after her, "I've had them at home for six weeks for goodness sake! Give me a break! AND my ex-husband is in Majorca right now with his new girlfriend! She's probably rubbing suntan lotion into his back as I speak." But I didn't. I just put the Mini Magnums carefully into the trolley.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Shh! Don't tell a soul...

Want to hear a secret? Damn right you do! When it comes to other people's business, we have an insatiable curiosity to find out more. Or, as Rudyard Kipling called it in his tale The Elephant's Child, a 'satiable curtiosity. And, if that scrap of other people's business is little known, or somewhat juicy, all the better. Many a friendship has been sealed by a shared confidence or a tantalising piece of gossip.


There are also the people who carry those secrets like an albatross hanging around their neck. Rolf Harris, the disgraced entertainer who was jailed for indecent assault, springs to mind. What a grotesque secret he hauled around for so many years, along with his didgeridoo, his jolly songs and his paintbrush. You imagine, perhaps, that a small part of him was relieved to be found out - if only to shed the rotting albatross.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Bottling sunshine

It's hard to believe that the summer holidays are upon us once more. Where did the last term go? In another year, my daughter will have finished primary school - how did that happen? Hardly a day goes by when I don't lament (hand resting on my brow) how my children are growing up too fast. 

Children fishing off a boat
Summer: a time for making memories
As a parent, hemmed in by school timetables, you tend to see the year in a very structured way. Inevitably, the end of the summer term becomes a red, flashing marker for the passing of time.

My children seem to change so fast that I occasionally grieve for the chubby, inarticulate people they once were. In some ways, every day spent is the loss of something intangible. This is compounded by the sense that time is speeding up as I get older (which is possibly a sign of my own mental deterioration rather than any quirk of physics). 


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Lessons from nature

I crossed a country road other day and stumbled into a field brimming with white poppies. It was unexpected and joyful. Just rows and rows of them bobbing in the breeze. Their crumpled, white petals sat like cotton mob-caps upon green heads.


A red poppy amongst white poppies
No wallflower

A little further on, my friend and I spotted a single red poppy, amid a sea of white. The metaphor was irresistible: the one that stood out from the crowd. Further on still, we spotted another red poppy, or another free spirit determined to make its mark.

Last weekend, I spent two days with hundreds of bloggers at the BritMums annual jamboree. It was a seething, bubbling mass of blogger-brains, all trying to fit in and each trying to be different. Perhaps this is the dilemma we all face: how to be part of a community whilst hanging onto our individuality.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Bottoms up for self-publishing!

Think of me on Saturday afternoon: I will be standing up in a room full of bloggers and giving a 20-minute presentation on self-publishing. And not just self-publishing, but "How to successfully self-publish". Yikes!

A woman dressed in sparkling dress, holding a megaphone
Get on your glam rags!
©  | Dreamstime.com
And, we not talking about any old bloggers, we're talking about BritMums Live bloggers! This weekend Britain's largest collective of social influencers are gathering en masse in London to hone their blogging and writing skills. Now you see why I need a bit of positive thought energy.

So far my Labrador has heard the presentation fives times and he hasn't laughed once at my jokes (note to self: remove attempt at humour). Tonight, I shall try it out on my husband. I suspect he will be less forgiving than the dog, but at least he might be able to keep his eyes open for the duration of the talk.


Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A no-brainer

This week I tried something new. I attempted to step inside the right hemisphere of my brain and find my inner peace. Pardon? Yup, you heard correctly. So if you need me, that's where I'll be: connecting with the 'here and now', thinking in pictures and receiving energy streams. And before you dismiss this as a load of codswallop, I heard about it from a brain scientist. So there.


A tree blocking out the sunshine
Turning to the right-side of my brain
Let's backtrack a little. It has been a busy old week. I have been juggling the usual demands of family life with a promotion/sale of my book and preparation for a 45-minute presentation on self-publishing at the BritMums conference later this month. In between cooking supper and packing school bags, I have been padding back and forth to the computer to proof power-point slides and check the latest figures on my book sales.

By mid-week, my brain was firing on all circuits and refusing to switch off at the requisite times. I was completely plugged into my work, but also slightly removed from reality. And despite all the brain chatter, my focus was becoming slightly glazed. Cue neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, who gave an influential TED Talk back in 2008 about a stroke she suffered aged 37. (Don't worry, I didn't have a stroke.)

In 1996 Jill suffered a severe brain haemorrhage and over the course of a morning witnessed a deterioration in her self-awareness, speech and motion as the left side of her brain shut down. Despite all the trauma of the stroke, she found the experience of existing solely in the right side of her brain strangely uplifting. 

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Tears at night-time

Review: 
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

My husband had a little cry a few weeks ago. This is not uncommon. He is not one to baulk at public displays of emotion. His wedding speech is legendary. We weren't entirely sure whether he would get through it. I, on the other hand, inhabit the stiff-upper-lip end of the spectrum. It is true that I am thawing with age, but generally speaking I am a dried-eyed kind of girl.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (play).jpg
Via Wikipedia
The trigger for my husband's tears was a trip to our local cinema to watch a live link-up of the National Theatre production, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. We both enjoyed the book by Mark Haddon and had heard good things about the play (it won seven Olivier awards). As we hurried to the cinema, however, we both wondered how on earth you could stage a deeply personal novel set inside the mind of the storyteller: Christopher Boone, an emotionally dissociated teenager.

We were to be proved wrong of course. Using theatre in the round, a minimalist stage design and stylised moves, the play takes you on an emotional journey through Christopher's mind and to the universe beyond.  We enter a world of comic poignancy, where harried parents struggle to cope with their brilliant, autistic son. Equally, Christopher struggles to interact with a local community that fails to understand his limitations. It is a breakdown of empathy on both sides.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Let there be this

Portrait of Jean Morton, actress and TV presenter
My grandmother, Jean Morton, died two years ago this week. She was an actress and a television presenter, and also inspired me to write my first novel, A Sister for Margot. This is how I choose to remember her.


Dear Nana,
 It has been two years since you left us. We said goodbye one morning in May, while you were sleeping with the blankness of death chalked on your face. Sitting by your bed, I leafed through old recipe books and read your clippings out loud, in case you were still listening. In that quiet room, we breathed the same air for the last time.
Guess what? Recently you've been getting younger in my imagination. (Hurrah! How marvellous, darling!) I picture us in Ibiza again on the terrace. You have a glass of rosado in one hand and you're wearing a patterned sundress, cinched in at the waist. Your blue eyes are twinkling merrily as you recount one of your favourite anecdotes. As ever, your mimicry and comic timing are spot-on.
But I have tears in my eyes because I am not really there with you. I can see you and hear you, but I can't touch you anymore. I can't put my arm around your shoulders or kiss your cheek, warm from the sun. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

In the eye of the beholder

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Another sunny day, another date with Stay-at-home Dad. This time we take his canoe out onto the river with a bottle of Rioja and a bag of Kettle chips (his idea of a picnic). The kids are with my mother and I rejoice at my new sense of freedom.  There's nothing like a bit of romance to make you feel young and carefree again.

Once we've battled the river current, half-soaking ourselves in the process, we end up at a sandy cove on the edge of a sheep field. Stay-at-home Dad tethers us up (sorry, I mean the boat) to a tree, while I sit back and admire the muscles bobbling under his wet t-shirt. Then, while he busies himself with setting up the 'picnic', I carefully arrange my legs in a flattering v-bend. 
Discussing the objectification of female beauty on the Thames
Full disclosure down by the river

Eek! I suddenly notice a bristly patch of hair just below my left knee that got missed by the shaver. Instinctively I cover it up with my right hand, but it's too far down my leg and I am in danger of performing yoga (seated twist) in a canoe. So in the end, I go for full disclosure.

He laughs and says women should be allowed to grow their leg hair if they want to. It turns out he has just had an argument with his ex-wife about the objectification of female beauty. Without consultation, she had waxed their daughter's legs, ahead of a ballet exam. He was outraged and accused her of inflicting pain on their child for the sake of a cultural hegemony. It was akin to female circumcision apparently. Crikey! The last spat I had with Errant Ex-husband was over his reluctance to wash the children's underwear.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Packing a bag, with love

My baby (all five foot of her) is leaving home this week. Alright, I am being dramatic. She is going away for two nights on a year 5 school trip. Still, how are we going to cope without her? Our household will seem off-kilter without her serene little presence, her piles of paperback novels and her flute-practise. Not least, who is going to feed the dog in the morning? 

Beach at East Wittering
Learning to let go...
Last night I was packing up her bag for the BIG trip, conscientiously working my way down the list provided by school: fleece, outdoor shoes, shower cap, medium-sized towel etc. Check! Somehow my scrupulous folding of her clothes and the orderly placement of each item into the holdall became an expression of love. 

I remember my own mother doing the same when I went off to boarding school. No nine-year old could have been better equipped for institutional life. My tuckbox even boasted a sewing kit, complete with a tub of dressmaker pins, a sheaf of press studs and a thimble. Never mind that I had barely threaded a needle in my life. The women in my family send their children out into the world prepared, provisioned and nametaped. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Mummy's on her soapbox again

It is a funny business, blogging! There you are, tapping away at your computer, broadcasting your thoughts, without knowing if anyone is really listening. Back in the old days (circa 2001) a colleague of mine at the BBC walked into the newsroom one morning and told us he had started a blog. Once he had explained to the uninitiated (including me) what a blog was, my first thought was: Jeez, how conceited! Who wants to listen to you pontificating? Fast forward thirteen years and here I am doing that very same thing.

Mothers with children
'Mummy is going on about her blog again' (yawn)
Credit: Tim Bevan
Some days getting on my technological soapbox feels awkward and graceless. Then there are days when I get shortlisted for a Brilliance in Blogging (BiB) Award by BritMums - as I did last week - and suddenly all those hours of shoehorning my thoughts into a blog post seem worth it.

The mainstream press is often rather rude about so-called 'mummy bloggers'. Even one of my favourite novelists, Jojo Moyes, once wrote an article for The Telegraph, asking "where do these mothers find the time?" as if there were more important things we could be doing. Others have criticised mummy bloggers for focusing on the domestic humdrum of raising kids to the detriment of feminism.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Time out from tigerish endeavours

About ten days ago, I was stood on a ferry in Hong Kong's Discovery Bay, wondering what my kitchen looked like. For a few seconds (shock, horror) I struggled to recall the exact positioning of my sofa and the layout of our cupboards. As I stared out at the twinkling lights of Lantau Island in the dusk, life back home felt like million miles away.

Discovery Bay, Hong Kong
Lantau Island: living in the moment
I put my temporary memory loss down to a strange condition: living in the present tense. To exist purely in the moment, without reflecting on the past or worrying about the future is very rare state for me. The only time I ever manage to blinker myself in this way is when I am on holiday.

So while I was gorging on dim sum, haggling in Temple Street market or even practising handstands in the swimming pool, all my usual hang-ups and busy thoughts were put on hold. For a couple of weeks, I was like Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love (with less of the praying and a lot more steamed dumplings).

Reading Red magazine on the long flight home, I stumbled across an article that examined this tension between living for the moment and planning for the future. It was an interview with Amy Chua, the apocryphal Tiger Mother who pushed her kids to extreme levels of self-betterment. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A break from trampolining


Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

So this is what a lie-in feels like. A house quieter than the grave and no one using me as an indoor trampoline. I almost start to miss them, but I am comforted by the thought of Errant Ex-husband staggering into his bijou kitchen to pour out three bowls of Cheerios while I luxuriate in bed.

A toddler walking in a garden
One more surprise!
©  | Dreamstime.com
I turn over and almost die of shock. Lying on the pillows next to me is a man. In sleep, his face seems almost unrecognisable, but eventually I recall how he came to occupy my bed this Sunday morning, after two years of sleeping alone and a lot of indoor trampolining.  

His eyes flicker open. "Good morning," he says lazily, crooking one arm to rest his head on. "Good morning," I repeat, before politely enquiring: "Did you sleep well?"

This, gentle reader, is Stay-at-home Dad. I met him last night through match.com. We bonded over tapas and one too many cocktails, methinks. My first foray into internet dating has served me well, perhaps too well. He has twin daughters (one's into ballet, the other Brownies) and he spends school hours painting canvases in a garden studio. Alimony from the ex-wife (City hedge-fund manager) keeps them all afloat. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Breaking good

It was a momentous day yesterday. On my daily dog walk, I swapped my ear muffs for sunglasses. Down by the river, the flood waters have receded and spring has finally sprung. Just when you think you can't endure the grey days of winter any longer, nature throws down a few sunbeams to lift your spirits again.

A dog sniffing the ground on a spring day
Pickle sniffs out the first signs of spring
As a child living in the tropics, I remember one of my mum's friends lamenting the absence of seasons. Personally I have always felt seasons are overrated - give me eternal summer anytime. But, living in England as I must, there is something undeniably lovely about the return of spring each year. As a species, human beings are pretty remote from the rhythms of the natural world, but spring is one event we can't ignore. 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The teenagers who took on Michael Gove

Imagine never enjoying sex. Imagine having problems going to the loo and suffering constant pain. These are all symptoms of female genital mutilation (FGM), which in the past was known as female circumcision. The procedure involves cutting away the clitoris and/or labia of a young girl, often with rudimentary tools, to make her 'fit' for womanhood and marriage. It is a brutal and traumatic practice that bears no relation to male circumcision. 


Fahma Mohamed, campaigner for Integrate Bristol on FGM
Fahma asked Gove to write to headteachers about FGM
Credit: Oliver Zimmermann

This month a group of teenage girls took a stand on FGM and forced all of us - including Michael Gove, the UK education secretary - to sit up and listen. The 17-year old Fahma Mohamed and her classmates from a school in Bristol have successfully campaigned, with the backing of The Guardian, for schools to play a greater role in protecting pupils from FGM. 

"You wouldn't think it's something people in Britain would have to worry about today - but that's the problem," said Fahma recently. "People don't talk about it, doctors don't check for it, teachers don't teach it. But we know it happens to thousands of British girls each year."

Friday, 14 February 2014

Waterlogged

Rather aptly, a few weeks ago, I started reading Tales from the Ark to my son at bedtime. It turned out to be a fictional prelude to the floods that have beset our little British isle. Thanks to the Old Testament, the phenomenon of flooding still has biblical overtones (for some residents of Henley-on-Thames more so than others). Nowadays, rather than hunkering down in our wooden ark, we take a more combative approach with sandbags, barriers and pumps. As the Atlantic storms buffet our shores, it has become a contest: the human species versus the global weather system.

Living in Henley-on-Thames, I know a few friends and family who have watched the river break its banks and consume their gardens and homes with inexorable ease. Tales abound of heroic rescuesgood deeds by neighbours, travel chaos and the evacuation of dogs (and even llamas) from waterlogged ground. Only today a friend told me how her husband had saved someone's new kitchen from watery oblivion by helping to divert some of the flood water in the village of Shiplake. It was celebratory cups of coffee all round!

For all the disruption and misery, however, there remains something oddly compelling about a landscape transformed into a waterscape. Our local bookseller, Jonkers, recently coined a new name for our aqueous town: Henley-in-Thames. Here are a few pictures of the flood, post Noah, circa 2014:



Flooded Regatta course in Henley on Thames
The famous Regatta course expands widthwise