Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Lewis Hamilton one

Conversation with R5 at the dining table. Chicken pie is on the menu. Before dishing up I'd just been reading a story on the BBC website about Nicolas Sarkozy and a very expensive, but unused, shower. R5 had been looking over my shoulder.

R5: Who were you reading about mamma?

M: About the president of France.

R5: Who's the president of France?

M: President Sarkozy. France doesn't have kings and queens like we do, they have a president. We have a queen and a prime minister.

R5: Who's called Gordon Brown.

M (stunned): Yes.

R5: What's happened to the other one?

M: Which other one?

R5: The Lewis Hamilton one.

M (nonplussed. Pause. Light bulb moment): You mean Barack Obama? The president of the United States of America?

R5: Yes. That one. What's happened to him?

M: He's still the president of the United States of America.

R5: Mamma, is 'Lewis Hamilton' Lewis Hamilton's real name?

M: Yes it is. (Thinks: Why can't my children ask about simple things like the birds and the bees?!)

Monday, 26 October 2009

Fame at last!

Back in July I was lucky enough to be treated to a fabulous trip to London where I took part - in my role as one of Disney's Blu-ray ambassadors - in the filming of three Disney adverts promoting the wonders of Blu-ray.

It was enormous fun and quite bonkers. We had hair and make-up done, then sat on a sofa and chatted about Blu-ray while they shone big shiny lights at us, stuffed microphones down our cleavages and pointed cameras in our direction. There were two groups - one in the morning which was three female bloggers (sorry I don't know who they were), and one in the afternoon which was (left to right as you look at the screen) Jo Beaufoix, Dan of All That Comes With It, Linda's lovely twins and me.

I honestly thought I'd end up on the cutting room floor, but there I am waving my hands around and saying: "Are you mad?" in 'Picture and Sound'. I thought I'd hate seeing myself on screen, but I find it absolutely hilarious for some reason. The best laugh I've had in ages. I loved every minute of it and I'd do it again tomorrow. Oh, and by the way, Blu-ray really is fabulous, you know, and Christmas is coming...

So, if you've got a few minutes to spare, here are the adverts:

Picture and Sound:

Ease of Use:

Perfect gift:

Friday, 23 October 2009

Half term already???!!!

How can it possibly be half term? We've only just finished 'summer'. School, as Alice Cooper says, is Out (as of yesterday - today was 'Inset').

Instead it became a cooking day - Halloween cupcakes for Brownies with H7 (see Cooking is a Game You Can Eat) and a long-ago promised batch of 'play dough' (aka bread dough and yes, it is still edible) for R5.

It's also been a thoroughly confusing day which followed an uncomfortable night. Brian decided (abetted by silly me) that last night was a good night for a bottle (each) of Hobgoblin ale. Tasty stuff. Made me very sleepy. Soothed the annoyance of that odious little man on Question Time.

Then, in the middle of the night, I was woken by blood-curdling wails. I dragged myself out of the dark, deep depths of sleepland, got (fell?) out of bed, headed unsteadily for the bedroom door and walked smack into the wardrobe.

WTF is in Hobgoblin ale? Evil stuff. It robbed me of my sense of balance in the middle of the night, right when I was being called upon by R5 to soothe after a vivid nightmare involving monsters (and no, she hadn't had any Hobgoblin ale at all).

I eventually climbed along the wardrobe to the bedroom door and beckoned to child to join me in the comfort of the parental bed which, unlike the floor, was relatively stable underfoot.

A few cuddles later and R5 headed back off to bed (she's never been one to spend all night sleeping with mum and dad - she likes her own bed best) and I accompanied her, sliding carefully along the wardrobe, through the door and along the landing. By the time I made it back to the safety of my own bed my brow was beaded with chilly beads of cold sweat and the bedroom floor was lurching like a ship in the teeth of a perfect storm.

In the morning I had an achy bruise inside my head and still (6pm) feel slightly lopsided. Highly alarming. I shall stick to Sauvignon Blanc from now on; Hobgoblin ale is evil.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Cardiff Half Marathon

(That's me in the pink next to the dragon. I nearly tripped the dragon up. Oops.)

I've never run a half marathon before. In fact, before Sunday, I had never run more than nine miles.

Now I have. I ran 13.1 miles in two hours and 25.04 minutes. Not the fastest time in the world, but 20 minutes faster than I anticipated.

My stats were: Time 2.25.04, 7778th (of 8811) and 354th out of 427 in the female 40-44 age category.

And oh how I loved every minute of it! There was a great atmosphere, a real buzz. I didn't get pushed or shoved (I knocked elbows once and exchanged grins and polite apologies, and I nearly tripped up that dragon, which just said "oh!" in a squeaky female voice).

The sun threw its beams down on us all of the time and people came out to clap and cheer and shout things like:"Well done" and "You're more than half way" and "Go fairy go!" (The latter was a little girl as we ran under the Welsh Assembly's flamboyant canopy. We fell about laughing, we really did.)

I ran the first ten miles in just over 100 minutes. That, for me, is flat out. I slowed considerably for the last three miles (I really needed a wee!) then speeded up at the prospect of the finish line (and a toilet).

I learned so much from that experience.
  1. I can comfortably run ten miles on a flat course. I should probably have decided sooner than eight weeks ago that I was going to run a half marathon. Before then I had been training for Swansea 10k, but was busy that weekend, so changed to Cardiff's half marathon instead. Eight weeks of Smartcoach took me from 6.5 miles to ten, but not quite to the full 13.1. The last three miles hurt like a very hurty thing.
  2. Don't get stuck in traffic and end up with the dilemma of going to the toilet or starting the race.
  3. Don't be so bloody nervous. It's fun.
  4. Save up and stay at the Cardiff Hilton next year. It's right by the start. Start saving right now.
  5. Lose that last stone. Fourteen pounds is too much excess lard to lug around a half marathon. (Mind you it's not nearly as heavy as the three and a half stones I've lost over the past five years.)
  6. Watch out for dragons.
  7. Always have a fitter, faster friend in front of you. You probably won't catch her, but it gives you something to chase.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Mind your manners

I am teaching my children to be polite, to say please and thank you and generally become nice little citizens. But it's difficult in this big rude old world. Sometimes H7 and R5 must think I'm nuts.

Yesterday I had a bill from HM Revenue and Customs for my National Insurance contributions now that I am self-employed. It asks me nicely to quote my NI number, should I need to contact them, and to please telephone them if I am no longer self-employed.

But nowhere does it ask nicely to be paid.

'This bill is now due for payment' it states.

Well obviously. Why else would you have sent it to me?


Dear HM Revenue and Customs: Please don't shout.

Why not write: 'Please pay this bill as soon as possible'? Why threaten me? Why immediately get my back up by assuming that I'm not going to pay and that you'll have to shout at me. Why preempt that by shouting at me first?

It's like those surveys which ask you to choose a personality that fits a particular company's persona. Hovis, for example is a small boy from Yorkshire with grubby knees, a 1950s haircut and a flat cap.

HM Customs and Revenue is a portly British man in his fifties, wearing a suit, a too-tight tie and carrying a briefcase. His face is permanently red from shouting at everyone, he is always grumpy and he's about to have a cardiac arrest. His long-suffering wife is having an affair with the milkman and always makes her husband eat his sprouts before he can have any pudding.

(But I am going to pay him. Even if he is rude.)

Monday, 12 October 2009

Pony tales

I had one of those moments on Saturday when your blood freezes in your veins. It was all courtesy of Bullseye (above, showing why we called him that - it's also the horse in Toy Story.)

Bullseye is our shy little 11hh Welsh section A pony. I found him courtesy of a story in Country Living magazine about the RSPCA appealing for homes for a herd of Welsh ponies they'd rescued. How could I say no?

The RSPCA had rescued 56 ponies. There were so many that they ran out of names and when the rescuers stopped for a meal on the way home they catalogued the ponies using the menu as a guide. So Steak and Chips it was - Steaky for short - when he arrived seven years ago.

He's a scaredy cat. He's scared of his own shadow. He doesn't like women much, has respect for Brian, and has adored R5 since she was old enough to toddle in his direction and try to fit her little pink fist up his nostril. (She used to do that to every horse she met. She still has all her fingers.)

On Saturday Bullseye was lying down in the field. That's not unusual, the sun was out and he likes sleeping. H7 and R5 ran off to climb their favourite trees and I strolled along patting the other two ponies as I passed and filling my pockets with hazelnuts.

Then Bullseye hauled himself to his feet and that's when I had my frozen blood moment.

His off side hind leg was dangling in a nasty swollen sort of a way. When I approached him, full of trepidation, he dabbed his hoof to the floor, did a whole body pain spasm and nearly fell over.

I rounded up the girls and we looked at his leg from a distance. It looked horrible. There was no way he was letting me near him or his leg, so I had to leave it to Brian who put a head collar on Bullseye and led him gently to the yard.

Fortunately we had a sachet of the horsey painkiller, Bute, in stock, so he had that, and all the homoeopathic remedies I could think of (arnica, belladonna, apis, bryonia), some cool mix and a carrot or two. After a while the heat subsided in the leg and he let us near enough it to have a careful feel. He a lump the size of a hen's egg on his cannon bone, probably from a kick. There was nothing else to do but give him box rest and more painkillers.

That's when the ridiculous things started happening. Since July 1st 2009 you can't just ring up the vet explain the problem and arrange to collect some Bute. Now the vet has to Come and See (£££'s). First he has to look at the pony's passport. Then, and only then, can he examine the pony, find the lump on his leg, diagnose that he'd kicked himself (we knew that) and prescribe Bute and box rest (we knew that too). Then Brian had to Sign Things to promise that we wouldn't eat the pony, sell it for someone else to eat, or eat the Bute ourselves. Then Bullseye could have three days worth. Honestly it would have been easier to score him a line or two of cocaine.

So Bullseye's in the stable punctuating the peace with regular shrill whinnies at the girls in the field who are not in the least bit bothered that the third member of the herd has disappeared. He's got Baary the Ram for company, a nice net of this year's hay and he's high as a kite on Bute.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

October in my garden...

These are a few of the things I picked today. The courgettes have finally got going after sulking all summer. All I did was defend them from slugs and rain and they sat looking miserable and not growing. Eventually I took pity on them and gave them a snuggly blanket of enviromesh - a small gauge horticultural mesh-fleece. that kept the rain off a bit and warmed them up. They perked up in September and now they're producing delicious courgettes faster than we can eat them. The tomatoes are from a free plant we we given at Barrington Court in the summer. Again because of the low light levels and low temperature this summer, the plant took ages to fruit, but now it's produced three lovely tomatoes.

The sweet peas are still going strong too after not flowering in June or July, making a bit of a feeble effort in August and then, finally, blooming in September.

This is my current experiment. These are three of our lovely organic sheep's fleeces all snuggled around the raspberries as a mulch. At the moment the jury is out on the aesthetics of this. This experiment is the result of Granny in the Annexe deciding that the meagre wool cheque was not worth the cost of getting the wool to the depot. So we decided to keep our fleeces and find a use for them. After a bit of Googling the consensus was to use them in the garden as a mulch. I'll report back on their progress.

Is this my favourite flower? Well, it varies, but I do adore the honey-smell of chamomile and it makes a lovely tea. It seeds from year to year too and, although late like the rest of the garden this year, there's a lovely big bed full of blooms to pick whenever I want a nice soothing cuppa.

Glutton for punishment

Uh oh. I've just signed up for NaNoWriMo again. Am I a glutton for punishment? I'm running Cardiff Half Marathon on Sunday October 18th and now I've signed up for a month of enforced novel writing. Am I mad? Or is there some strange quirk in my psyche which means I actually like doing these things?

The answer to those three questions is of course: Yes, yes and yes.

Anyway, in the spirit of something being much more fun when undertaken in good company, I therefore urge you to join me! It's too late to join me on the half marathon, but you could sign up here to National Novel Writing Month. All you have to do is write the 50,000 first draft of a novel between the beginning of November 1st and the end of November 30th. That's about 1,667 words a day.

It's easy (it must be - I've already done it twice).

Go on - you know you want to!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Hoppy days...

Mido Dog always goes straight to his water bowl after his First Thing in the Morning Walk. Today, however, he didn't want to drink...

It was a bit too hoppy...

Our hoppy little friend had hopped in, but couldn't hop out again. He was duly escorted back outside to more appropriate froggy surroundings. The bowl was washed, replenished with fresh water, and Mido Dog was a happy boy again after his hoppy encounter.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Too much too young?

I have just read this article on the Observer website about the Lemacons - a French family who were living their dream, sailing across the oceans in their 30 foot yacht in part to to show their two-year-old son, Colin, how wonderful life can be; that it doesn't have to be materialistic and that happiness can come from the simplest things.

The family were 1,000km off the Somalian coast when they were attacked by pirates. A French rescue mission went disastrously wrong and at the end two of the pirates and Florent Lemacon lay dead.

The couple knew the dangers of entering those waters, infamous for pirates. They had already met one sailor who had been held captive and then released. But they thought their enthusiasm, goodwill, common sense and adherence to the official advice and guidelines would keep them safe.

They were good people, but something bad happened to them. It was a tragedy and I was sorry to read about it.

But what really struck me was Chloe Lemacon's insistence that this was a trip they were undertaking especially for Colin who was two when they set off on their voyage and celebrated his third birthday shortly before his father's death. The article is illustrated with the photograph of Colin being grabbed by a French commando. That, I'm sure, is not the memory his parents envisaged when they set off on their voyage of a lifetime.

Chloe says: "We wanted to show him a different life – what is good in the world, but also the tougher things, like poverty. We wanted to show him different values."

He was two. What can a two-year-old learn of 'different values'? She also speaks of the difficulties of playing with a two-year-old as the boat was thrown around by huge waves.

Call me old fashioned, but is this a case of 'too much too young'? Why take the most important person in your life - your child - into such a potentially dangerous situation? Surely a two-year-old can be taught 'different values' at home when he's two? Why not save the globe trotting for a year or two when he is old enough to remember it and old enough to take a full part in the adventure. What is the hurry?

I also recall the tragedy of a family kayaking the Amazon, I think. The mother drowned trying to save her children who were aged three years and 18 months. Forgive me if I have remembered the details incorrectly, but I do remember thinking at the time, firstly how tragic and secondly: What were they doing kayaking the Amazon with an 18-month-old child?

My daughters - now seven and five - don't remember the holidays we took when they were two and three years old. They had a high old time at Center Parcs as babies and toddlers, they met and played with other children, but they don't remember it at all.

Surely a child's early years should be spent living the simple life. Learning things like walking and eating, playing with Lego and going to space in imaginary rockets made out of big cardboard boxes. Let the little ones play with mud in the back garden and get absolutely filthy. By all means take them sailing, but even just rowing across a lake in a little boat is a huge adventure for a two-year-old; it doesn't have to be sailing through the Suez Canal into recognisably dangerous waters.

The Lemacons had their dream and they had started to live it. The early part of the trip sounded wonderfully idyllic. But they sailed into a dangerous place and the ensuing rescue went badly wrong. It is a profoundly sad tale.

Maybe I am over protective, but I think children should be children. They should live their own dreams, not those of their parents. I don't hold with giving tiny children global 'experiences' just as I don't hold with mad schedules of baby yoga, singing, French, dancing and maths while they are still wearing nappies and on first name terms with the Teletubbies.

Can't we just let children be children? I understand the pressure of appearing to be the perfect parent. I remember too clearly an expedition we had one summer to take ours to a zoo, which they hated. All they wanted to do was run about on the grass and chase butterflies. Eventually we realised that, stopped trying to provide them with an 'experience' and just let them 'be'.