Wednesday, 27 May 2009

A weekend at The Barn

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Trouble at Cowarts

Do you High School Musical Too?

What a parent allows their child to watch, film or television-wise, is very much a matter for the individual. (And that is once you get over the question of if and how much they’re going to watch in the first place. Why is it that people without TVs are so holier than thou? Anyway.)

I loved that all too brief, innocent time when all mine watched was CBeebies. We loved the Teletubbies, Rubbadubbers and Balamory. But they graduated to Charlie and Lola, and then to CBBC and Blue Peter, MI High and Raven.

They like being terrified by Dr Who and they also clamour for Top Gear (and anything with Richard Hammond in it.) Then there are the other kids’ channels they switch on: PopGirl, for example, with Saddle Club, which is okay. Girls and ponies. But girls and ponies and fancying boys, which seems a little too old for girls of seven and five.

One thing we don’t have and which H7 wants is the Disney Channel. The wanting it started when she was infected with the craze for High School Musical by other children at school. One minute I hadn’t heard of Troy and Gabriella, the next their faces were on t-shirts, socks and pants. It was something we tried to ignore at first, but it seemed to be everywhere. So we gave in and bought the film on DVD and I have to admit, we all rather enjoyed it. Where Grease (arguably the original High School Musical) was about Sandy turning from a wholesome swot into a skin-tight trousered highly made up sex bomb with a cigarette, HSM (as we soon learned to call it) celebrated youngsters expressing their individuality, kicking over rigid cliques and learning the power of friendship (in a musical way).

HSMs two and three continued this theme, with the ongoing relationship between Troy and Gabriella supplying the boy-meets-girl element. But is it a wholesome enough thing for one’s little ‘uns to be watching? H7 tells me she has friends who aren’t allowed to watch HSM, which is fair enough, but it’s a difficult force to resist. They love the songs (as do I, they’re upbeat poppy songs and a vast improvement on ‘What’s the story in Balamory’ which makes my ears bleed.) But it all seems a bit grown up for such little girls as mine, still in primary school (or in R5’s case, only just in primary school). Not High School at all, not yet…

HSM3 came out last year and was the first to be shown in cinemas and we resisted all efforts on the part of H7 and R5 to go and see it. Instead we waited for the DVD this February and now thanks to Think Parents we have it on Blu-ray too. (You can see every bead of sweat on young Zac Efron’s face. Very disturbing for the peri-menopausal woman. Ahem.)

Oh we love it, of course we do. Yes it’s all about “big kids” and growing up and leaving school, something mine will have to face far away in the future (or tomorrow as it will probably seem to be). It’s about friendship and how it can be tested a times of stress and it’s about pulling together and supporting each other. It’s about how the frustrations of life can make you just want to scream. It’s also (alarmingly) about how, sometimes, you might have to consider that what your parents believe to be the best for you, might actually not be what’s best and you might have to grow up and make your own decisions. I wish I’d known that sort of stuff when I was 15 and doing my GCSEs.

I think most of that sort of subtext goes over H7 and R5’s little heads. They love Troy and Gabriella, Sharpay and Ryan and Chad and Taylor like they love some of  the “big kids” at school. But do they see them as role models? Who knows! What damage is this doing to their tiny minds? Should I worry? Need I worry? It seems harmless enough, they love the songs and they love Troy and Gabriella equally. Sigh. Now the big problem is Hannah Montana which H7, understandably, is drawn to. So far we have repelled it, but I’m not sure how much longer that will continue.

For those who haven’t got young children or who have only boys, here’s a clip:

Monday, 25 May 2009

What ice cream tastes like...

I said in my Saturday post that R5 and I were off to paint "what ice cream tastes like" and this (above) was her response.

She then moved onto an elephant.

Next a picture of her guinea pig Patchy. Then she had a bit of a 'moment' because it did not look like Patchy 'in real life', so we did this one between us, below, to learn to be a bit looser with painting and not so rigidly drawn to life-like pictures. (It's a flower garden, by the way, with a pond and rocks.)

Saturday, 23 May 2009

All quiet on the home front.

It's a quiet day here today. Hedges have been trimmed, strimming has been, er..., strum, H7 is out Morris Dancing with her fellow Brownies (and I made her some brownies to take too, how witty.)

I have watered the garden and sighed over the garden (so many weeds!) and wondered where to put the bulls blood beetroot and the little gems that are desperate to get out into the big wide world. I have also been sighing over my woeful inability to germinate carrot seeds.

See there's only two! This is a bed which measures eight feet by four feet. I have now sown it twice and only these two have (so far) deigned to germinate. Four years ago this bed grew great fat carrots (a heritage variety I've forgotten the name of - Red Elephant or something like that). These are Nantes II and, frankly, I'm disgusted by their meagre efforts.

No such trouble with courgettes, though. These are my favourite variety, Genovese, a lovely pale green thin skinned courgette which I like to mix with a stripy Romanseque type. I've given up on the yellow ones as they always seem to be bitter.

The terrible twins. The one on the right is Lazarus who I wrote about in an earlier post. As you can see he has filled out a bit now. The other one is his big brother Bazarus. Both are getting a top up bottle of milk morning and evening. Their mum looks after them the rest of the time, but the poor love just couldn't get to grips with breast-feeding.

This is my new lawn and never before (in this household) has the mowing of a lawn been so eagerly anticipated. It's not quite long enough yet, but it's doing well. Last year (I'm embarrassed to say) Brian and the girls bought me a push along mower and a couple of boxes of lawn seed as a Mother's Day present (which I was very pleased about, I hasten to add. They bought me flowers and chocolates too.) It's taken a whole year to get to this stage and I can't wait to get my little mower out and persuade these new green shoots to tiller out and make a lovely thick lawn.

Now duty calls as I have promised R5 a session with my watercolour paints. Inspired by Mark on Views from the bike shed, we're going to have a go at painting 'what ice cream tastes like'.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Hello Pot, meet Mr Kettle

I have been watching the fiasco of MPs expenses unfold and something has struck me. Perhaps it was the smugness of the Daily Telegraph journalists on the TV news, perhaps it was the way they were positively humming with the enormity of the story (Journalist thinks: This is MY Watergate, am I Woodward or Bernstein?), perhaps it was the way you could see them thinking of their place in history, of how their names would be remembered forever more, perhaps it was the way you you see them thinking Who's going to play me in the movie...?

Perhaps. I'm not going to comment on the whos or whys of the MPs and their expenses (for that see Rotwatch), but I am going to comment on the journalists and the way the story has been dripping out like oil into a big, nasty, stinking slick.

It reminded me of the BBC version of State of Play starring David Morrissey as ambitious MP in hot water, John Simm as investigative broadsheet journalist and Bill Nighy as his editor. The fascination in that brilliant political thriller (better than the current film with Russell Crowe which is set in the USA) is the dialogue between the hacks and Westminster. Equally as fascinating is the constant request from the team of journalists to Nighy: "Can I put this on expenses?"

Call me a cynic, but also call me an NCTJ-qualified journalist. I well remember Tuesday afternoons, after the paper had gone to press. Out would come the expenses claim forms.

"How far is it from here to X?" a reporter would ask, pen poised over a mileage claim.

"Oh, about ten miles," someone would suggest. The reporter would add a bit for 'getting lost' and 'parking'. It would go on the form as 20.

Then there was college where I met other trainee journalists far from the office. They'd walk to college and pick up discarded bus tickets to send in with their expenses claim forms. The hotel bill, which they paid by cheque would be one figure for the form, then the hotelier would give them cash in hand as 'change'. Then there was the taxi driver who, when I asked him for a receipt, gave me a fistful to claim for. (I didn't.)

I'm not alleging in anyway that any journalists involved in reporting this expenses fiasco have themselves made excessive claims, but I'd bet they know someone who has. True, we haven't voted for these journalists, they don't have to be 'whiter than white' like our honourable elected representatives, but I can't but wonder if there could possibly be a bit of 'pot calling the kettle black' here.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

It's raining again...

It is raining a bit. Okay, it's raining a lot, pouring in fact and, like any normal person I'm out in it getting thoroughly wet. Except I'm not like any 'normal' person at all. All the 'normal' people, like the vicar, for example, are in their cars, nice and warm and dry.

I'm out because I'm running. I hear a car approaching from behind, so I pull in to the side and wait for it to pass. But it doesn't, it stops, the driver's window descends and the (very lovely) vicar ask sweetly: "Do you want to be out in this? Because, if you don't it'd be no trouble to run you home..."

"No really, I'm fine, I like it," I say.

The vicar looks astonished. "Are you sure? It's no trouble, really."

"No, it's really kind of you but..." I say from the depths of my water resistant running jacket which I am thinking of taking off because I'm too hot.

"You are sure? Really?" She's long given up on trying to save my soul, but she's not ready yet to give up on saving my body. Does she really want a soaking wet, slightly muddy, sweaty runner in her lovely warm, dry, pristine car? I might splash the embroidered vicarly robes she's wearing (she's in the full Dibley works and fabulous they are too.) It seems she does. "It's really no trouble," she repeats, hopefully.

"No I'm fine, honestly," I laugh, as if to prove the point. The vicar smiles back at such madness, gives up and drives away.

I take off my jacket and run on. Big droplets of water hit my arms, sizzle and steam off. I run on, in my own, slow, splashy ploddy way for another hour or so and arrive home, six and a half miles later, convinced I'm dry, but actually soaking wet (that's technical fabrics for you - they wick, they're great.)

It's happened before. We were due a farm inspection, Tir Gofal or something. Granny in the annexe was dealing with it (paperwork is G in the A's department, heavy work is Brian's department, I'm somewhere in the middle with the children.)

There's a severe weather warning. Really heavy rain, especially in the Welsh hills, says the weather person. Some localised flooding. Just perfect for a run (actually she didn't say that bit). I splash down the road towards the hills, water sheeting around me. The road, sloping towards me, is running with flood water. The water is above the height of my ankles, at another point it is calf-deep. I approach the T-junction. A car turns towards me, stops, the driver looks at the state of the road and thinks better of it. It's the Welsh Office farm inspector.

"I've just seen your daughter," she tells G in the A in a 'she's completely mad' voice.

"Yes," says G in the A, in an 'I know she is' voice.

But oh, there's something magical about running in the rain. The air is moist and cool and easy to breathe. You don't get so hot or so sweaty-salty. Everywhere is washed and shiny. There's something magnificent about being out in the elements. The hills look fabulous, peeking out from under heavy clouds, all brooding and dark.

Coming in to get warm and dry is lovely too. You don't get that lovely snuggly warmed up feeling when it's hot and dry and sunny. That's when you can't get cool again, when you're hot, sticky, burned and uncomfortable. Sunshine makes you parched and gritty.

I know I've moaned about it raining in the past. I know I moaned all last summer that it's less fun when it's raining, but only when I'm not running. When I'm running it can rain all it likes.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

It's Bugsy!

It’s supposed to be May, but nobody has told the weather. An arctic wind is stripping the blossom off the apple tree and the rain and hail are taking it in turns to throw themselves violently at the windows.

So it’s Saturday morning and we’ve already had one lot of “Muuuuum! I’m bored!” To which the only sensible reply is: “So am I!” Luckily the postman saves us with a package of Blu-ray discs to put into the new player which is sitting smugly under the television looking very pleased with itself indeed. It knows it is clever and it knows We Like It.

These are all Disney Blu-ray discs for me to review as Blu-ray Ambassador for Think Parents Network. H7 and R5 pounce first on new release Bedtime Stories.

This stars Adam Sandler as Skeeter Bronson who babysits for his sister Wendy (Courtney Cox) while she travels to a job interview. At bedtime the children demand a story and Skeeter lets his imagination run wild as he conjures up fantastic tales of heroes, action, cowboys and romance, while the children spice it up with details of their own. Raining gum balls, for example. But Skeeter soon discovers that the tales are coming to life in his job as hotel handyman. 


Brian and I spent the first ten minutes saying: “Hey! Isn’t that thing from thing?” (and, later on: “Good grief that’s Russell Brand in a coconut bikini and grass skirt!” No, really.). H7 and R5 meanwhile screamed with laughter at Bugsy the bug-eyed guinea pig (and that was only the Menu page).

Bedtime Stories is one of those films which has many levels. R5 was riveted every time the guinea pig was on-screen, but was a little bored by some parts of the film, missing the intricacies of the plot involving the hotel and the power struggle. H7, another guinea pig-lover, also liked the stories and the story and fantasy clips. Both enjoyed the burgeoning romance between Skeeter and his sister’s friend Jill.

Of course it has a happy ending, and of course there’s nothing new in the plot, which is, after all, based on fairy tales. That’s all as it should be. But we were entertained from beginning to end. Yes, there are some bits of slap-stick which we just didn’t find funny, but that was maybe twice in the entire film. Brand was funny, if incongruous, Richard Griffiths was a delight as hotel-impresario Nottingham, and Guy Pearce was perfectly cast as the smarmy hotel manager.

Blu-ray discs have a colossal capacity for extras. There aren't too many of them on this disc, though, but what there is doesn't don’t disappoint. The bloopers are some of the funniest I have ever seen and there’s an interesting bit on how some of the special effects were done, but my children passed on that as they were keen to see “It’s Bugsy”, a profile of the guinea pig. There’s a nice short film with the child actors too, called “To All the Little People”, which raised some interest, but again my own ‘Little People’ were desperate to get back to the menu page to watch Bugsy dance.

It was a great film for a rainy May Saturday afternoon. The star of the show? Well, in this household, it's Bugsy.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Blu-ray? Who-ray?

It begins earlier this year. February to be exact and H6 is about to become H7. HSM3 (if you’ve got young daughters you’ll know what that means) is due out too.

“Mummy, High School Musical 3 is available on Blu-ray.” Is it? So?

“Yes dear,” I am deaf to such things. It passes me by. When somebody says ‘Blu-ray’ I hear ‘Betamax’ and my brain hits the off button.

I was burned to a crisp in the Betamax v VHS war. I remember the day clearly. Mum and I went to a major electrical retailer to buy new Hoover bags or a five amp fuse or something and wandered innocently past a display of the new fangled video recorders. A weasely salesman whisked out, rubbing his greasy paws and thinking of commission.

Oh why not, we thought, gullibly. But which? Betamax, with its smaller tapes and better quality, or big, clunky VHS? No-brainer, surely? A week later all the rentals plumped for VHS. We were obsolete.

So you see, say “Blu-ray” and I am Not Keen. But, earlier this year we quite fancied a wide screen TV and bought a 32 inch Samsung, not huge, but we live in a cottage not in the local Odeon*, and well, it’s ‘HD ready’. I harbour a fantasy that, someday (when I’ve paid for the new telly) I might be able to afford a new Sky doo-dah and the monthly subscription and get to watch the lovely Toby on Gardeners World in High Definition. Blu-ray never crossed my mind. It didn’t get the slightest peek. I dismissed it completely. Ridiculous idea. What’s wrong with good old DVD?

Ah hah. Then I was invited, as a member of Think Parents Network, to become one of ten Blu-ray ambassadors. What did I know about Blu-ray? (Little.) Would I like to be a Blu-ray ambassador? Would I!

The player (Panasonic) arrived with its HDMI (that's 'High Definition Multimedia Interface' Get me!) cable. Plug it in (one cable, one plug, not rocket science). Switch it on. Insert a Blu-ray disc (it looks exactly like a DVD, but it's blue. Of course, pay attention at the back). Press play.

“Oh. Wow.” (That was me.)

The kids on the sofa are silent (for once) and open-mouthed. It’s only the Blu-ray trailer. But, oh, what a trailer. Pirate Jack-Johnny Sparrow-Depp, Lightning McQueen and Zac Ephron, jump out of the screen at us. I fetch Granny from the Annexe.

“Oh. Wow.” Says G from the A. “You should’ve bought a bigger telly.”

It is so beautiful I nearly cry. This is not Betamax. This is bloody marvellous.

Honestly, I didn’t think I would be able to tell.

The colours sizzle. It is so wonderfully clear you feel you could reach into the TV and touch things, Johnny Depp’s face, for example. It is almost 3D. It is utterly astonishing.

I phone my husband at work: “You’ve got to see this!” I shriek. He sounds unimpressed. “Wait ‘til you get home, you won’t believe it!” (bugger, I’ve turned into Victor Meldrew, but a happy Victor Meldrew.)

The free disc in the Blu-ray box is a PG and not suitable for children at tea-time, so I take it out and toss in the DVD of HSM3 (see, hints of Betamax idiocy still lurk. I did buy it on DVD. But, in my defence, I didn’t know.). Halleluiah! It plays in the new machine (as do CDs and a whole herd of other formats I haven’t heard of.). The difference is remarkable. It looks better on the Blu-ray player than on the DVD player, but it’s just not the same. Yes, you can play all your old DVDs on the Blu-ray player, but you won’t want to. Yes, yes, I admit it. I’m converted.

* Actually the picture is so fantastic and the sound's so good, perhaps we do live in the Odeon after all.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Written in the stars...

Virgo (May 14th 2009) from "Whatever projects you've been working on, Maggie, perhaps job-related, perhaps personal enterprises, are apt to finally come to a head at this time. Success is definitely in the wind, along with a marked increase in income and acknowledgment from those who matter. This of course is going to boost your confidence, not to mention your mood. You might already be fired with plans for new trails to blaze. Try to stay down to earth. You won't want to miss anything!"

The only thing missing from today's stars is the tall, handsome stranger.

'Projects I've been working on...' Well nine different literary agencies currently have the synopsis and the first three chapters of Book One, so...

Oh, but 'perhaps job-related...' That might refer to the fact that I'm about to return to work after seven and a half years of maternity leave... 'Perhaps personal enterprises...' oh, but that would be The Book then...

'Success is definitely in the wind...' Oh, I like that bit. Lots.  '...Along with a marked increase in income...' that would be bloody marvellous right now, although my part-time job is not richly paid, it is better than not being paid, so perhaps that's the 'marked increase in income...'

'This, of course, is going to boost your confidence...' You bet your bottom it is... 'Not to mention your mood...' Well I'm feeling happier already.

'Try to stay down to earth...' Er, no... 'You won't want to miss anything...' True, but I can see perfectly well from up here, thanks.

Do I believe all this? Not really, but it does make me feel absurdly happy and a little hopeful. If it said: "Oi, loser, this is going to be a crap day, you'll step in dog poo, walk around with your skirt tucked in your knickers, lose £20, get rained on, crash the car and have a huge row with your nearest and dearest," then it might be closer to the truth, but I might not get out of bed at all.

I do avidly read horoscopes though. According to Neil Spencer in the Observer this year us Virgos might have a "sudden willingness to throw over a boorish hubby or Stepford wife in favour of a charismatic eco warrior or rock poet". This sounds great, in theory, or rather it sounds great in fantasy. But, given that there are 12 signs of the zodiac, one 12th of the population will be Virgo, so will there be enough eco warriors and rock poets to go around?

Back to today, though, and Russell Grant says I shouldn't be "too quick to turn down an invitation to travel". Apart from the fact that I am skint and my passport has expired. Jonathan Cainer, meanwhile, says I am "a conductor not a composer". No, I don't really know what that means either.

Oh well. I'll amble around for the rest of the day, hoping for 'success in the wind' and a 'marked increase in income'. I may even do some fantasy shopping in my head with that 'income'... but are we talking Porsche? Or new wellies?

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but...

Last Wednesday was one of those days of trial and tribulation. R needed to have two rotten teeth out under general anaesthetic. I wasn’t going to blog about this because my sister, who was our dentist, kept reassuring us that the rot was “staining”. We had been worried about the teeth since the beginning of 2007 and I should have sought a second opinion earlier. But it’s not an argument I’m getting into here, I need to write about last Wednesday.

Our lovely new dentist Frances had booked R into the clinic in Swansea for two extractions under general anaesthetic. This was after we had been on an emergency trip to Tenby Cottage Hospital on Mother’s Day when R’s “stained” tooth turned into an abscess.

How do you tell a five year old she must have an operation to remove two teeth? You explain it as best you can and she cries. You reassure and explain over and over again, citing other children she knows who have had the same* (surprisingly many, but rotten teeth are like head lice, you don’t really advertise that your children have them unless you are an exceptionally open person or talking to someone else who has admitted they have them).

Eventually she becomes resigned to the inevitable and expresses fear, but with bravery and stoicism. That hurts a parent, bravery and stoicism in one’s five-year-old. We cannot shirk the inevitable either and must be strong and confident, despite our own fears.

We arrive at the clinic in good time and R comes for a cuddle on my lap before we go in. She is hungry and thirsty having had nothing to eat or drink since 6pm last night. At reception I cannot, for a brief moment, remember her birth date, I fumble, nervously, with the date in my head and then worry that I have got it right. I take R off to the toilet leaving Brian to field further complicated questions like address, doctor’s name (which he forgets) and consent forms.

We wait a while, then meet Annie the nurse, who weighs and measures and applies cream to dilate the veins in the back of R’s tiny hand for the anaesthetic. She explains the Chinese anaesthetist’s bedside manner is ‘abrupt’ (he turns out to be a total sweetie, but in an brisk way; it was useful to be warned.) She reassures us that R will sit in a chair, I can sit with her if necessary, it doesn’t matter if we faint or we are sick. The Chinese anaesthetist will tell us to pull ourselves together.

Next we meet Tony, the dentist who is to do the extractions. R takes to him immediately. She opens her mouth for him. He looks in for a second. He is kind and professional. We don’t see him in the theatre.

Finally it is time and R walks towards doom holding our hands. She sits in the chair, crying and holding on to Daddy. I step aside with the Chinese anaesthetist and sign my name several times. Then they take R’s hand away out of sight and ask her to “1, 2, 3… cough!” She manages, although it is more of a shouted cry than a cough. She is holding on to Brian, I have my arm on her chest. R looks around at her hand, which has a line in it and the CA has a syringe full of milky liquid.

“Are you thirsty?” barks the CA like a friendly dog. R nods.

“Have some milk,” he barks again. R floats away, lies back, closes her eyes. I try to run away, but am called back to kiss her sleeping cheek. Brian does so too. We exit the theatre. Are we okay? Annie asks. I’m fine, surprisingly. It all feels so unreal.

We go into the waiting room. We sit on blue leatherette bucket chairs. The radio plays quietly in the background. I speed read Reveal magazine looking at spotty pictures of celebrities without their make-up. How ordinary they look. How long has it been? I finish Reveal and pick up a car magazine. I read a road test of a Ferrari 430 Scuderia, a blue one. I thought Ferraris were red. It costs nearly £195,000, but has no carpets.

“Who would spend £195,000 on a car with no carpets?” I ask Brian.

“It’s all about the driving, not the carpets,” he mutters from the depths of another copy of Autocar.

I read the rest of the article, but cannot remember seeing a single word. The radio plays ‘Unbreak My Heart’ by Toni Braxton. Surely it has been more than ten minutes now? A mother and grandmother come in and sit down. They have bleached yellow-grey hair, faces leathery from smoking, few teeth between them. Earlier they were with a boy. He isn’t with them now.

The door to the left of us opens. We are on our feet before they finish calling our names. We go through. I see the shiny chrome of a wheelchair wheel, then R, her mouth bloody like she’s been punched, thrusting towards me past nurses, past Brian, arms out. I receive her, gather her up and sit. She’s groggy, she’s crying, she pulls a blood clot off her tongue and presses her face into my chest. The nurses settle us and then leave the room with the wheelchair.

On the floor there’s a blue and white envelope marked ‘Tooth Fairy’.

“Are those R’s teeth?” Brian picks it up, opens it. It is.

“F***ing hell.” he mouths, showing me the contents. R’s teeth, recognisable. Colossal, claw-like roots. F***ing hell.

We sit a while, tended by nurses. They bring R water to drink. Another brings a syringe filled with Ibuprofen to help with the pain. R stops bleeding. R stops crying. R spots the Tooth Fairy envelope.

“Can I see my teeth?”

“They look really horrid,” I warn. “Really bloody and they’re big.”

“Oh. My. God.” Says R, looking at her teeth.

“I think the Tooth Fairy should take those away tonight,” I say.

“Yes,” says R. I put the teeth in my handbag.

“Show them to H later,” says R.

“Of course.”

R tells me that it hurt when the needle went into her hand but she liked the sleepy medicine. That bit was very nice.

The nurse comes back again with instructions. Drive home, rest. Eat tepid, soft food, like tinned spaghetti, says the nurse. Ice cream is good too, but spaghetti first. The hungry patient brightens at the prospect of both. We have neither at home, but home is an hour and 45 minutes away past the big Tesco in Carmarthen.

I ride in the back with R. She sleeps once we’re on the motorway and wakes in Tesco’s car park. I sit with her while Brian shops. Two cars come and go next to us. Both times the driver clatters their car door on our CR-V. Their cars are 07 plates, ours is ten years old. Their loss. Don’t people care about their cars any more? R’s cross about it too and tells Brian when he comes back. He has bought a dog dish mat for Mido which cost 25p. R’s delighted with that and asks if she can give it to him when we get home. She does so, and the dog looks delighted. He doesn’t know what the mat is, but he loves the attention.

R’s breath smells like rotting meat. There are two gory sockets in her mouth where the teeth came out. She eats her Heinz tinned spaghetti and Walls Neapolitan ice cream lunch as if they’re a huge treat. We never have things like that.

H comes home and says “eeuuwww! Gross!” at the teeth, to R’s delight. She joins R for more tinned spaghetti and ice cream for tea. They love that sort of thing. Illicit food. Things I regard as junk.

The teeth go under the pillow that night. At 6am Rosie brings me the £5 note the Tooth Fairy has left. She’s impressed, the going rate for teeth at the moment is a shiny £1 coin.

Later I remove her pillow case and wash it. She has dribbled all night and it smells like rotten meat. The pillow case will wash, but I think she’ll need a new pillow. They don’t warn you about that.

R doesn’t go to school on Thursday, much to her disgust. She loves school. We have a quiet day together, popping out briefly to buy hanging basket plants. At home R plants up the basket and is delighted with the result. Then she digs in the garden for worms. All is normal again.

* (From April 10th 2009) “Children are being admitted to hospital with serious tooth decay in growing numbers as a result of sugary diets, the failure to brush properly and poor care from dentists.

Hospitals in England are treating more than 30,000 children for dental problems every year, and the number of teeth being pulled out under general anaesthetic has risen by two thirds in less than a decade, a study reveals today. The most common age for a child having a rotten tooth out in hospital is five.

Hospitalisation for dental problems is now a serious health issue, even though decay — or dental caries — could easily be prevented through regular brushing and check-ups, the researchers conclude.

Previous reports suggested that rates of tooth decay had increased only slightly among children in recent years. But the latest study, to be published in the British Dental Journal, indicates that some toddlers and children have such poor oral hygiene that they are ending up in hospital as emergency cases, or having their teeth pulled when preventive treatment with fluoride treatments or fillings would have been more appropriate.”

* (From January 30th 2009) “Welsh children have the worst rates of tooth decay in the UK. On average, a five year old in Wales has between two and three decayed, missing or filled teeth, compared to less than two in Great Britain as a whole.

Friday, 8 May 2009


I was tagged to do this latest Meme by KittyB via her Village Fate blog. She began by describing why she blogs – an occasional diary online – and lovely it is too. I think that’s why I enjoy reading blogs so much. It’s a bit like looking into someone’s house when they’ve left the curtains open and the lights on – a glimpse into someone’s life, a snapshot if you like. It’s also why I love trolley gazing in supermarkets and peering into cabriolet cars left parked with the roof open. It just invites a good look doesn’t it? You can tell a great deal about a person from what is in their trolley and the things they accidentally leave on public display.

I’m not sure really what my blog is. Is it an online diary? Or is it the place I rant against the world? Or is it just a collection of random thoughts? Probably all of the above. I’m not a great sticker to a theme. My husband says I have a butterfly mind – I flit from flower to flower, or rather from thought to thought, in a non sequitur kind of way. It keeps him in a permanent state of bemused confusion. Actually that would be a better title for my blog. Not so much ‘Life in the Preseli Hills’, more ‘Bemused Confusion in the Preseli Hills’.

Here’s some more.

Flower of the moment?

Tulips. Lovely inky dark ones from my garden. I don't know what they are called because I bought them for the colour rather than the name.

What are your current obsessions?

Running. Writing. Deciding whether to go back to work part-time as a journalist or not. Buying plants. Gazing at the new lawn I have sown. Gazing at the border looking for signs of life from the annual flowers I have sown. Doing the same with carrot seeds. Sowing seed after seed after seed. Watering pots. Weeding. Eating Spanish strawberries from Tesco. Avoiding housework.

What are you reading?

I have just finished ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’ by Haruki Murakami. It is a beautiful book whether you run or not, full of wisdom about life and getting older. It was one of those books that is so much a part of you while you are reading it that once you have finished you have a sort of bereavement process where you get used to life again without it.  When I have recovered I am going to have another go at reading ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini. If I fail for the third time I’ll give up. I seem to be scared of it for some reason.

Which item from your wardrobe do you wear most often?

At the moment my new Craghoppers mocha fleece and high rise bootcut jeans from Next. The jeans were only twenty quid and are the equivalent of a tummy tuck in denim. There’s some kind of flattening miracle in there somewhere.

First spring thing?

The dawn chorus. The first morning coffee outside in the sunshine (listening to the birds). Not today though, it’s cold and windy. I love drinking my coffee outside, but not when it is blown out of the cup before I can drink it.

What's for dinner?

Good question. Fish perhaps? Maybe a baked potato and some salad? I might even cook the lobsters that are still hiding in their icy shrouds in the freezer. Most likely it’ll be a hot and sour Thai-style soup with tiger prawns from the freezer and coriander from the polytunnel.

Planning to travel to next?

Devon (as usual) to see adorable friends N & A in lovely house with yummy food and posh wine. “Travel” suggests abroad, but my passport expired last October.

Best thing you ate or drank lately?

N’s venison sausage casserole with butter beans at Easter.  I’ll do anything for a good sausage/butter bean combo. Delia’s Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding accompanied by an utterly fabulous Cloudy Bay Late Harvest Riesling N&A brought back from New Zealand. I was just getting my taste buds back after my cold and I think my taste buds died and went to heaven.

Favourite ever film?

Slumdog Millionnaire. Difficult to say ‘favourite ever’ because I am fickle, but I loved this film as it is so heart-breakingly awful-beautiful, with a perfect ending.

Last thing you bought?

Adidas running top in ‘rave pink’ and its matching charcoal grey three-quarter length leggings with rave pink go faster stripes. Before that it was the Craghoppers fleece and the jeans. Why don’t I get to buy chi-chi little shoes and dresses? Designer handbags? Designer anything? Sigh.

Care to share some wisdom?

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Actually that is Ghandi’s wisdom, not mine, but it is so totally true and inspired me to write a novel about it.

If you were a god/goddess who would you be?

Nigella, Domestic Goddess.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Hand over the chocolate and nobody will get hurt...

Having just inhaled a Mars bar I got to thinking that really, for all chocolate bar makers jump through hoops to make tempting tasty treats for us chocolate lovers, the originals are still the best. Roald Dahl once said this on Breakfast TV and, as usual, he was right on the money.

You see the Mars Bar was invented in Slough in 1932 by an American called Forrest Mars and it’s still much the same now as it ever was. Just layers of nougat and caramel enrobed in thick milk chocolate with a thick swirly bit on the top. If you’re like me, you’ll nibble the chocolate off the sides and the ends, then off the bottom, next eating the nougat which leaves you with the caramel bit still stuck to the thick chocolate topping. This is the best bit and you save it till last and then eat it much ecstatic rolling of eyes, finishing with much sucking and licking of one’s chocolaty fingers.

Please note: This CANNOT be done in public (unless you wish to encourage the attention of Men in White Coats) or in the vicinity of one’s spouse. They don’t like it. So, if in public, refrain from eating chocolate or choose something more delicate that can be nibbled daintily. Nibbled ? Chocolate? Who am I kidding. Eat. It. In. Private. Then you won’t have to share it either. Chocolate is NOT for sharing.)

Back to chocolate bar history. (If I had been allowed to study this at school I wouldn’t have got a D for my history O Level.)

The Marathon went on sale in 1930, although it was originally named in the US after the Mars family’s favourite horse who was called Snickers, it didn’t get that name in the UK until 1990 (when it also jumped from being the ninth most popular bar to being the third most popular.)

Then there’s Rowntree’s (now Nestle’s) Kit Kat which was launched in September 1935. They can make it two fingered, four fingered, chunky or orange-flavoured, but the concept is still the same as it was when it was first invented and it’s still the UK’s favourite choccy bar.

The wonderful Mr Mars also invented Maltesers in 1936, admittedly under the original name of ‘Energy Balls’ (no, I wouldn’t eat them under that name either) a glorious feat of chocolate technology (a trade secret) and still unsurpassed today.

Even good old Dairy Milk, which went on sale in 1905 is still such an iconic bar, despite the fact that it is just a slab of chocolate divided into cubes. It’s not the best chocolate in the world admittedly, but there’s something about that purple wrapper and the texture of the chocolate that makes it utterly soothingly brilliant. (Galaxy didn’t come along until 1956, and so will always have ‘Johnny Come Lately’ status, if only in my head.) And the Flake wasn’t far behind, being launched in 1920 after a Cadbury employee spotted, when filling chocolate moulds, that the chocolate which spilled over the sides of the mould folded down into flakes. What a genius!

And the wonderful child-pleasing Milky Way (the treat you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite) came along in 1923.

According to Wikipedia (which is where I checked all my facts): “A study reported by the BBC indicated that melting chocolate in one’s mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted four times as long after the activity had ended.”

Apparently its wonderful ingredients delay old-age decline in brain function, are better at treating coughs better than cough medicine and have anti-diarrheal effects. It’s an anti-oxidant, can help lower blood pressure and can lower the chance of heart attack. This all, of course, relates to proper pedigree dark chocolate, not to Dairy Milk or Mars Bars which probably make you feel happy, but more than likely make you fat.

Incidentally, chocolate’s reputation as an aphrodisiac is unfounded, unless, of course, the object of your admiration gives you a gift of chocolate and then that might make you feel more kindly disposed towards him. (Husbands please note that I only said "might". Flowers might help too, but if we're on a diet and you give us chocolate, you're dead. If, however, we have PMT and you give us unsolicited chocolate then you are the Best Husband in the World. No, you won't be able to tell in advance, it's just the risk you must take.)

So what was it about the early part of the 20th century and in particular the 1930s which made them so utterly brilliant at inventing chocolate bars? There was a colossal global recession, of course, and fascist mutterings in Europe, so why in such dire circumstances would one’s minds turn to chocolate bars?

Who knows. But we’ve got a monstrous recession again and swine flu heading our way, so surely the time is ripe for a new chocolate invention?