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Sunday, 31 December 2006

New Year Celebrations

It seems like only yesterday - we moved to this wonderful home. We have been a full six years here. I will miss this house terribly. I have lived in Dulwich since 1988, but this is the first marital home we bought together (sniff). We started our family here, and brought both of our tiny babies home from The Portland to this wonderful abode. This home holds such special memories for both of us.

Yes there were teething problems,..... some of our neighbours - they were a bit 'different' I seem to recall - a little 'keen' to be chums. 'Velcro neighbours' was the expression that James used. Some were lovely,and will continue to be firm friends, - we love Katie and Tom, but others?, well....

James had just accepted delivery of a new Audi TT Coupe earlier in the week. We were child free, and had considered a jaunt in the new car to visit some chums at their place on the coast, but I insisted we accept our neighbours kind offer to join them for New Years Eve drinks. I had been spending a lot of time that year at the gym I seem to remember, and having San Tropez tan treatments at Fenwick, and also having foil hi lights woven through my honey locks. I hadn't been at the house much in the evenings after work, we hadn't taken the opportunity to get to know everyone.

We had a pair of ever smiling neighbours (about ten years older) living opposite. They were always there, like two Cheshire cats (the Velcro's) - waving/beckoning through their lounge window. On more than one occasion, James and I had sunk simultaneously to our knees in the living room, upon the realisation that they were standing in the room opposite - for fear of yet another invitation to drinks. Nothing seemed to obscure their view, even the thick Pampas grass growing in their front garden.

Well they were having a New Years 'do', and over we went. It was all going quite well, (the bubbly was free flowing) until Mr Velcro produced a large glass bowl, and tossed in his car keys - insisting that everyone else copied for a 'lucky dip type swap' - I think that's what he called it..... Well, James was having none of it, - we didn't know these people well enough to let them borrow our cars! We had no idea of their driving insurance details, or even if they were over the limit. James announced authoritatively;

'A rusty old Mercedes would not provide me with nearly enough power for the kind of manoeuvres we enjoy',

or something like that anyway, and took my hand dramatically and led me from the house. I thought that was rather hurtful (yet masterful) of him, Mrs Velcro started to weep - I felt bad for her, she was clearly quite proud of her old banger.

We haven't had anything to do with them since. It will be good to move on now, it has all been rather awkward with these neighbours since.

Happy New Year to one and all.

Saturday, 30 December 2006

Starbucks

Can you believe it? My new year is completely ruined! The Starbucks at Sainsbury's in Dog Kennel hill is closing for six months from the 6th of January for refurbishment! I am beside myself with sadness. From now on, supermarket shopping will only take place on the Internet. No illicit trips out of the house until mid-June, their coffee is as crucial to me as the very air I breathe!

I have received a number of marvellous Starbucks gift card thingies for Christmas, now how shall I spend them? Nothing else provides me with such an amazing calming 'hit'.

I shall have to take up smoking marijuana for the short term.

It is almost impossible to find parking near 'Blue Mountain' on Northcross Road. Nespresso at home is rather nice, but it is just not the same if you have to make it for yourself. Bah bloomin humbug................

Friday, 29 December 2006

I hate Bruce Willis

Does he not irritate the pants off you too?

My word he needs a dressing down, forgive me but I really must say - I think he is the most dreadful arse on the planet.

The Sales

We hot footed it back down the M4 yesterday - well The Dulwich Trader sale started this morning at 9.30am, and I just could not miss one of the events of the season. I don't join the queue, or even buy much for that matter, but I like to chat to Chris, and join in the fun. Afterwards, we decant to Cafe Rouge for mulled wine and laughter.

I do love the sale at The Trader - it is completely guilt free! Much more serious shopping is to be had at Eclipse, where Elaine gives her regulars 'the edge' - I got a fabulous Missoni wrap knitted dress for 50% off in the most wonderful petrol blue and peacock colours the week before Christmas. James would expire if he knew how large the price still was - even with such an enormous discount. Shopping at Eclipse usually involves hiding the evidence in the car boot for a couple of days - until the coast is clear - and then the au pair hides it in her wardrobe for a couple more. I so love Elaine and her glamorous clothes, but they are usually serious investment pieces - full on formal work and occasion wear.

The pretty knits by Avoca and Fenn Wright and Manson at the The Trader are practically pennies, so 60% off on the first day of the sale - well it would be complacent not to!

I can't really compare the village in Wales to Dulwich. It is all rather hostile and anonymous. Yes they have a shop that sells Anya Hindmarch and Mulberry, and they have a wonderful Jewellers called Jenny Wren - but the staff are outstandingly rude and toffee nosed. There is also a dreadful concrete mall which appears to have landed from outer space with an enormous TK Max, Next, Urban Outfitters etc., all staffed by teenagers with the attention span and knowledge base of a gold fish.

When we shop locally in London, we know all the shop keepers by name - we consider Peter in Questionair to be a personal friend. Pulling around the corner from Croxted Road onto Park Hall Road yesterday evening, we had waves from Caroline and Maggie at Mad Cow, Elaine from Eclipse, Anne from Thatch and Co., and even the enormous man from Threshers! It is virtually Walnut Grove in SE21. Intimate and village like - without the attitude or the smell of live stock!

In the words of Judy Garland 'There is no place like home'.

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Air Travel

On the first day of term last year, I stood next to two terribly upmarket school run mums (Nathalie and Usha) who initiated a conversation with me, about the joys of having a second home 'en France'. I had nothing to contribute to the conversation as I have no personal experience of this issue (as yet).

Nathalie explained that Europe had virtually been brought into her front garden due the progressive work of Saint Helios, or whatever the Easyjet man is called.

'It costs pennies for us to virtually commute each weekend' - sang Nathalie.

'Really? We don't fly commercially', replied Usha.

Wow, that stopped Nathalie in her tracks. She almost swallowed her teeth with horror.

Usha has only recently explained to me that her huge hint at luxury travel was deliberately misleading, - she couldn't help but send Nathalie up! She has a wonderful sense of humour. She is terrifying in her ability to think on her feet, I will be careful not to get on her bad side. Thank the Lord she is a friend!

Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Take That

Just how good is that? They are back together. Hurrah! I love Gary Barlow, and I don't care who knows about it. The man even looks good when 'chunky'!

AMAZING!!!!!

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

House renovation

I am so excited about the new house! I have taken a wonderful builder around for a look - the chap who does the funky underground garages (Tom). He has suggested excavating the front garden and underneath the entire house. Apparently a hydraulic lift device can lower each car down, one at a time, thus providing accommodation for four cars right under the house in Court Lane Gardens!

Our wonderful architect John Pawson has been designing us the most amazing two story glass box type house extension complete with Poggenpohl kitchen and gallery, not to mention the two bedroom loft extension with en suite bathrooms. We shall have seven bedrooms in total.

James and I have had long discussions about the lack of privacy we currently endure, as we must have live in help in the form of an au pair. We have decided to opt for a wooden clad brick building - which looks like a shed, to house the au pair in the back garden (this way we can avoid planning permission issues with Southwark Council and the Dulwich Estates who are notoriously difficult)! I am over the moon. If we have a long slim building down the side of our enormous new garden, it will not even obstruct our view of the park! I wonder if we could have the au pairs accommodated underground? We could grow grass on the roof and we would not even know she was there! Rather like a bunker? I will ask Tom the garage man.

Maggie (the interior designer) and I have been having a good old scout around the new house. There is an enormous wooden staircase, original wooden paneling throughout the hall and stairs and ornate coving and plasterwork all over the house. We poked holes in the dreadful polystyrene ceiling tiles to discover all manner of ornate decoration. Never mind, we can have it all hacked off - and minimalist chique will soon prevail. I am so excited!

Today we were talking about burying a hidden water tank thingy in the back garden just like David Cameron, to conserve water, and solar panels on the roof so the neighbours can all see how environmentally friendly we are. I don't want them to get the impression that we are wasteful crass materialists. I shall make an urgent appointment with Mr Sentor from the Dulwich Estates for the new year. I think I shall send him a nice bottle of Armanyac to butter him up.

I am over the moon about the amazing bonus James has just had. It seems we will be able to stay in our current property until all the work is finished at the new house. In a matter of weeks Court Lane Gardens will be filled with builders, skips and excavators. What a way to herald in the new year, it will be simply amazing. Hurrah!

Monday, 25 December 2006

Home for Christmas

The fog really has been outrageous this Christmas. Heathrow was closed and the M4 was backed up as far as Earls Court. It took an age for us to reach the compact village on the outskirts of Cardiff from which my beloved husband hails. The fog enveloped our car from door to door. Upon our arrival on the outskirts of the village, Max commented on the ostentatious Christmas light displays on every house. It was not dissimilar to Disneyworld. Inflatable Santa’s seemed to be swinging from every roof, herds or reindeer thronged every garden.

‘They don’t care about the penguins and global warming in Wales’ observed Max.

‘It is a disgrace, tasteless in every sense of the word’, I agreed. ‘If they could see the effect of this excessive behaviour on the ski-ing this year in Austria, they would change their ways.’

Through the freezing fog, while stationary at a T-junction, we observed a large group of females wearing body glitter, fake tan, belt short skirts and belly tops, on their way out for the evening. Surely they damage their scalps using that quanitity of bleech? Maybe they do not feel the cold in Wales?

Perhaps that is why they have plugged fairy lights into every available socket – hoping that global warming will be well under way by closing time. I wonder if the females I observed will imminently sprout increased volumes of intimate hair as their bodies seek solutions for hypothermia? If they don’t sprout a bikini line the size of an Ikea bathmat – a small moustache on their top lips would be rather good. Why do they think Santa had a beard? Winter is cold - just in case no-one down here noticed!

Sunday, 24 December 2006

If I were Mayor(ess)

Why have firemen have stopped wearing their amazing dark blue uniforms? They were just stunning, so manly! What a lovely authoritative appropriate colour, and their lovely red braces. Whose idea was that dreadful rusty brown?

On the bus this evening at Piccadilly circus, we passed by a wonderful fire engine, and .... well, it just takes away from the whole 'saves the day' rush for me. Seeing those brave boys making a collective fashion faux pas is soul destroying. I am sure the change of uniform has something to do with Ken Livinstone. He should be ashamed of himself. First he implements the congestion charge, then he changes the fire men's uniforms, and now, he taxes our wonderful vehicles off the road. Soon there will be no fun at all left in London.

If I were mayor, I would have blue uniforms with shiny brass buttons issued immediately to all of the fire fighters. Police men would have those dreadful acrylic white shirts with the short sleeves confiscated. I would issue them with nice cuff-links sporting sweet little truncheon symbols. Further, every police man would have his own horse, and perhaps even an AK47 shotgun.

Anyone who looked even remotely dodgy in Brixton would be arrested and sent to live on Anglesey. Did you see that woman walking past Marks and Spencer in her Bikini this morning at 7.30?

MADAM, IT IS WINTER.

West Wales - that would encourage her to dress appropriately I can tell you. That is 'proper' cold - as they would say.....in Welsh. I have a genuine affection for Brixton, the Temple in the middle is a rather commanding piece of architecture, but what manner of business is going on in there? Eating and disco dancing in a crypt? I ask you?

No, arrest anyone dodgy (and I concede only those locals who have been diagnosed as clinically insane - approx 25 per cent?), and send in the property developers - it would rival Holland Park in six months. Swap Morley's for Fenwick, change the enormous Pizza Hut into a huge Cafe Rouge, close Iceland and open up a decent local Waitrose. They already have an M&S, a lido, and a wonderful cinema. Perhaps I should start a petition of some sort? If it is going to 'come up' the Carphone Warehouse simply has to close.

Saturday, 23 December 2006

Grandparents at Christmas

Last week, slightly overwhelmed by the length of the children's Christmas lists, we took the little darlings to Toys-r-us on the Old Kent Road, with the intention of helping them to focus their minds. Saturday morning TV has been responsible for;

'Mummy don't forget I want that,
that there,
that,
that,
and that too' - Max.

Freya joins in with

'Mummy I want it all, all of it will be mine, mine, mine, ha, ha, ha, ha'....

OK, I exaggerated there a little, but you get the idea. We told them;

'You can choose three things each, one large gift and two smaller ones, Santa can't fit everything on his sleigh, and it is not good for the environment. Blah, blah'.

In we went to 'Toys-r-us' which to be fair, is full of overweight women with 'Croyden face lifts' (high pony tails) and Juicy Couture velour track suit bottoms, pushing pink buggies with infant girls called Shenika. We immediately realised the expedition had not been thought through properly.

(Note to self; Scary place the Old Kent Road - only go there again if we would like to be murdered).

Max immediately decided that for his main gift, he would like a red 'ride in' Ferrari for £399! He clearly has no idea yet of the value of money. We explained to him that Santa would have no money left for anyone else in the whole of Dulwich if he insisted on his chosen gift - and even that argument did not phase him initially.

Eventually we managed to make The Boy Wonder see sense and he choose a megablox pirate ship instead. When we related this story to Grandpa however, you could have knocked us over with a feather:

'Let the boy have the toy, he will only be young once! I'll buy it for him. Which shop did you say had it?'

James was beside himself with rage, he apparently cried himself to sleep two Christmas's in a row because he never got an Eagle Eye Action Man as his father thought it was too expensive.

Our back garden could end up looking like 'Neverland'. Max has several other little chums who live on Court Lane - backing onto the park, and he says he wants to drive from our home to theirs when we move.

HE IS ONLY 5 YEARS OLD GRANDPA, LET HIM GET SOME EXERCISE LIKE A NORMAL CHILD.

Toys like this look so 'trailer trash', if only you knew the trouble I took to scuff up my lovely new Phil and Teds buggy to make it look second hand when I bought it. Second hand and home spun is where it is at!

Friday, 22 December 2006

Pushey Mothers

Last night I decided to hand deliver a few Christmas cards to some local close friends. When I dropped the envelope into Margot's letter box, I intended to dash away rather than cause inconvenience by visiting unexpectedly. Before I knew it, Margot opened the door and jostled me inside. Margot was having a family crisis,and she immediately decided she required my assistance.

Hugo - Margot's seventeen year old son, is currently preparing for interviews for Medical School. Apparently the order of preference for Margot is; Cambridge, Imperial and Kings College University. Margot informed me that not all medical schools interview - the majority choose their candidates on academic achievement alone, only the best still interview (thank God for that, I thought medicine was a vocation - silly me!).

These interviews are the culmination of over 15 years work by Margot. Hugo can now play the French Horn at Grade 8 (apparently this demonstrates perseverance, a grade less indicates fecklessness and should not be mentioned on the application form), and has completed his Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award (although the outdoor pursuits part of this award was virtually achieved by Margot bearing Hugo to the summit of Snowdonia on her back). This apparently, is all ideal material for the supporting statement on the application form.

For the past two years the trolley shop at Kings College Hospital has been maned by either Hugo or (more usually) his mother. There have also been placements at the local GP, pharmacist, and St Christopher's Hospice - all engineered and sometimes attended by Margot. These activities have been organised in order to ensure that Hugo's commitment to a career in medicine stands out at interview (there are four candidates interviewed for every place).

Most recently Margot spent two days on a residential course which primes medical school candidates in Bristol, where she spent a day with an ambulance crew and even paid a sizable sum to have a 'supporting statement' written for her son's applications. During many of these 'insight opportunities', Hugo has been off playing rugby representing his school, studying for his GCSE's or playing his French horn. You know I am not convinced that Margot would not be a better candidate for medical training than Hugo, she is certainly better prepared.

I was enlisted to provide Hugo with a mock interview. For any given question he gave me a formulaic monotone and passionless reply, always including a number of 'set phrases' which I assume were provided by Margot. 'Multidisciplinary team', 'holistic care', and 'optimise communication' were all rhymed off with little or no insight into their meaning. It was a most disappointing realisation for Margot.

I wonder if Hugo would really like to study medicine? Perhaps he doesn't want to go to university at all, has his mother has ever asked him what he would like to do? I wished them luck before trekking back out into the cold night.

'Medicine is dreadfully badly paid anyway' I assured Margot, 'a much better prospect as a second income, tell him to go into the city. He can marry you a doctor daughter-in-law instead'

Never mind. He is a good looking boy - he can marry Freya!

NOTE TO SELF: Buy Freya a French horn for Christmas.

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Friends

James and I are quite lucky in that we have a wide circle of good friends. We are in agreement however, that some friends are ideal for socialising with, some friends are better for confiding in, some friends for shopping with etc., - I don't think that I am explaining myself properly. Let me give you an example:

My good friend Emma from University has a lovely husband called Keith. Keith is a fine man, he is very confident, larger than life, articulate and authoritative, he has a great sense of humour. He is a fabulous company - but you would be best never to eat out with him.

Several years ago, we went out for a meal with Keith and Emma to a super local restaurant that was then known as 'Belair House'. Keith asked for mashed potato with his steak. The incredibly posh waiter said that as they had new potatoes that evening - mashed potato was off the menu. Keith insisted - 'Yes boil them, but peal them first, and then mash them'. The waiter insisted that the chef would refuse to 'defile' the potatoes by mashing them, Keith argued 'Shall I come and mash them myself?'

James and I looked at each other in horror - realising the kitchen staff would probably dip their private parts in the mashed potato, prior to sending it to our table. We really don't feel it is particularly wise to antagonise the staff in restaurants prior to the arrival of ones food. We have all worked part time in restaurants while we were students - haven't we? Ah, but Keith had a rich daddy, he has never had such menial work/life 'experience'. We didn't really feel the need to eat much of our supper on that occasion.

A couple of months later, Keith and Emma arrived at our home on a whim, and Keith announced that once again he had managed at short notice to book a table at Belair House - 'it being the only fit place to eat for miles' in his opinion.

On this occasion, Keith asked why there were no side plates on the table to accommodate our bread. The snooty waiter replied 'we do not use side plates' - to which Keith replied 'Well, we do' and insisted that we were all given side plates forth with.

Once again both James and I suddenly lost our appetite. Looks exchanged between us, as we simultaneously imagined the kitchen staff wiping their bottoms with our Dover Sole.

I am so glad that Belair House is under new management and has also changed its name. It is once again an option for a local evening out. Dining out with Keith is just not a good plan!

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Christmas Family Newsletter

Dear All,

At the risk of sounding boring and repetitive:

Where has this year gone? Is it really that time already? Haven't the last twelve months just flown?

Max is now a big boy of five, and Freya - a dainty three and a half year old darling doll. They are both enjoying school enormously, and have settled in so well. Both James and I work incredibly hard, but the City of London is more than kind, and so we are doing incredibly well!

Gloat, gloat, gloat, ballet lessons, gloat, gloat, gloat, new house, gloat, gloat, gloat Royal box at Ascot, gloat, gloat, gloat, international holidays, gloat gloat, gloat, ostentatious Boodle and Dunthorne Christmas gift for me, gloat, gloat, gloat.

Hurrah!

With all our love and best wishes for Christmas and the New Year,

The Alleyn-Ruskin-Guinness family

(air kiss on each cheek)

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Office Party

Tonight after work, the girls and I trotted off to Claridges Bar for drinks, in order to get the festive season under way. My new androgynous Norwegian au pair is more than capable of marching the munchkins up the stairs to bed. I kissed their sweet noses when they were snoring in their beds upon my return tonight.

I love Claridges, their Christmas tree is divine, and there is nothing nicer than a bottle of Dom on my generous expenses account to launch the festive season. The totty out on the town at the moment are virtually skeletal - bless them, they appear almost frail from hunger. It was like an advertisement for 'Save the Children'. I do envy their eastern European accents, bee stung lips and flawless pale young skin though. They lounged around the bar, indifferent to the delights of the complementary nibbles on offer, what is all that about, size zero? It really is not that attractive. I just adore those cheese puff straw thingumabobs, and their spiced cashews are to die for. The olives are the size of plums - I kid you not. If only I had been feeling well enough to graze on them...pah!

I love the way the chap in the black jacket always procures a table from no-where for us, even when the place seems 'as full as an egg' as my brother-in-law would say. Oh the joys of a company credit card behind the bar. That commands attention from the bar staff - a nice touch.

Liza has just been to New York shopping with her man, and was sporting (as usual) a pair of amazing new Laboutin heels - 'they are not available in this country yet sweetie', poker straight ebony hair and smokey eyed Nars make-up. How does she always, always, always manage to look so demure? I can't ever manage 'demure', but I am a natural at 'matronly'.

Lydia has the elegance of a sleek Siamese cat, decades of ballet lessons ensure that she can even blow her nose gracefully, and Trudie? She is the most cultured woman I know, opera music always playing in her office, fresh coffee in the Alessi cafetiere on her desk, while she checks out her shares online.

Even though I continue to waste away, and am currently bordering on slim, I still manage to look like a sack of potatoes - but substantially less well groomed. My Boden attire is more 'mumsey' than glamorous. If I wear even a slight touch of glitter eye pencil I look like 'Cilla' from Coronation Street. The catalogue shopping just has to stop.

I am thoroughly depressed. I think I shall cancel the expensive public schools and find myself a personal shopper at Selfridges, and a personal trainer at the Hurlingham. Full-steam ahead for the Dulwich Village Infants; Court Lane Gardens here we come.

I am so looking forward to the new year. I shall never look matronly again!

Monday, 18 December 2006

State School

Tonight, in an effort to network with parents from our preferred local state primary school, I accepted an invitation to a party from an old college friend. I first met Lara in 1989, when we lived next door to each other in Halls. She has a son at the Dulwich Village Infants school. The nice people Lara introduced were not initially too dis-similar to the parents I usually socialise with (those who pay for their children's schools). The obvious difference seemed to be that they all claim to read The Guardian.

Sadly, we were a little late - not arriving until 11.30 pm, as we were forced to make a detour - dropping off Lara's new boyfriend at the casualty department of Kings College Hospital in her amazing new electric car. Oscar fell off his skate board earlier in the day and appeared to have broken his arm. He is a 22 year old art student from Colombia. I was rather pleased that Lara stopped seeing her last boyfriend ( a 21 year old labourer from the Balkans who enjoyed roller blading), as I felt that he was a little too young for her.

I was always terribly fond of Lara's ex-partner (the father of her sweet five year old son) and no-one can ever measure up to him as far as I am concerned. I constantly scold her: "These young men are arriving at your home on their toys, they are not even using grown-up methods of transport."

James travelled about in a boy toy when I met him, but a BMW Z3 M is clearly rather different. It says several things about the driver, not least of which, that he is old enough to take a driving test!

The argument - "he came onto me" wouldn't stand up in court. I am sure I read in the Daily Mail that Gary Glitter had a similar point of view regarding his own recent unfortunate situation. Lara's boyfriends are actually just that - boys. I shall not be asking her to babysit for my two little ones any time soon. Consider Gina Lollobrigida, or even Barbara Windsor (she married her best friends child - I seem to recall). No, I must think of my golden haired son. Yes he is only five years old, but he is one of the tallest boys in his year (gasp). I should not be at all surprised to see Lara's next young man gadding about on a space hopper (sigh).

On reflection, I am no longer convinced that the Dulwich Village Infants School is the right environment for my little girl. How can I be sure that Freya will not get in with a dreamy, tolerant, socially permissive lot. Before I know it - she will be piercing her nipples, meeting boys on MySpace and smoking marijuana (OHMYGOD!!!).

It is not easy being a parent, we only get the opportunity to get it right once. Freya will never get into medical school if she doesn't learn to speak Latin and play the bassoon. My decision has nothing to do with money, many of the parents I met tonight were professionals - why I was even introduced to the gentleman with the super hydraulic car port from Burbage Road (he gave me the name of his builder!). BUT he was wearing a pair of Y fronts on his head and drinking chardonnay from a pint glass. They are simply NOCD if you see what I mean. Everyone knows gentlemen wear boxer shorts.

Sunday, 17 December 2006

Bread

Every Saturday morning, my little ones have been sharing private swimming lessons at one of the local independent school sports clubs. Their fascination with water will wear off imminently - now that I have purchased their swim jackets, ear bands and paid for their lessons one month in advance. I have been sitting on the pool side each week, cheering them on, mesmerised, indifferent to the goings on around me.

Two women usually sit to one side of me. We acknowledge each other quietly. They sit closely together and talk intensely. Their two little boys share a lesson. Last Saturday, I found it difficult to concentrate on the children - the conversation going on to my left was so interesting.

The slim blonde lady (Lucy) was initially rather emotional - relating to the dark haired lady (Emily) the detail of her self diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Apparently, since her son William was born, Lucy has developed a cleaning compulsion. Emily was initially extremely sympathetic, holding Lucy's perfectly manicured, moisturised hands in a supportive manner.

'No, no', insisted Lucy, 'OCD does not manifest itself this way with me. I don't do the whole hand washing compulsion thing. It is simply that since William was born, I now MUST have a full-time house keeper (she is marvellous, a Philippine and she even irons my husbands shirts and keeps the kitchen meticulously clean) a wonderful Polish cleaner (five mornings instead of the initial two)- incredibly hard working, and an au pair who cleans two hours each day - also Polish' - she could not recommend the Polish enough for the execution of household chores.

'The house is always spotless', she said. 'I am meticulous about every detail, it is a total obsession'.

Emily then said dryly to Lucy, dropping her hands dramatically;

'You are not OCD sweetie, you are HM',

'Ohmygod, What is that?' asked Lucy.

'High Maintenance' said Emily.

I almost choked with laughter. But the conversation went on..........

Lucy then took a clementine out of her bag for her little boy who was coming towards the end of his swimming lesson.

Emily said;

'Surely your son needs carbohydrate after physical exertion - I always give William bread and butter'.

Emily replied dryly;

'There is a huge amount of salt used in the manufacturing process - not good for young kidneys, I never allow Henry to eat bread',

Lucy replied in a superior tone, 'We have a bread maker',

Emily replied curtly 'Is she Polish too?'

Meeeeeeeeaow....................!

My children could have been abducted by a group of Roman Catholic clergy by now for all the attention I had been paying them. Instead of collapsing in giggles I restrained myself and made a hasty retreat to the changing room with a very broad smile on my face.

Saturday, 16 December 2006

Minority Groups

I was delighted by the navy blue sky - Christmas lights twinkling overhead, as I stood on Regent Street in my wonderful new 'Missoni' coat, black leather gloves and 'Mulberry Emmy' dangling from my shoulder. 'I love London' I thought to myself. The red number 3 bus pulled up and on I climbed wafting Jo Malone 'Lime Basil and Mandarin' all the way up the stairs, to sit beside a stranger on the top floor. My mind started to wander, and there I perched smiling contentedly to myself, until we got as far as Brixton. The bus then filled up, and from behind me I heard a voice, 'rapping' loudly and aggressively.

'Me talk of opression, degradation, dictation, huuuuuuuumiliation, of coming from da spice Island - Granada, me a minority, ground down by years of incarciration', etc. You get the idea.

I genuinely sympathised. There I sat, feeling less like Audrey Hepburn, and more like Audrey Roberts as the long 'rap' continued. I felt ashamed to be white. I glanced carefully around the bus, I was the only white person on board. Oh dear.... I felt very threatened. His voice was full of hate and not another soul on the top deck dared to speak. Complete silence.....

The bus was suddenly at my stop, and I scrambled down the stairs, walked briskly to the cash dispenser and got in the queue behind another customer. I recognised the voice as soon as he answered his mobile phone, it was the opressed gentleman from the bus. He laughed, took his money and walked to an enormous double fronted house nearby, opened the front door and let himself in. In the background I could hear a child loudly playing the piano.

Thanks for that sweetheart, for frightening me out of my skin and terrifying me on the way home from work. Get over yourself. London is a melting pot, we are all different, all members of some minority group. I happen to fancy Gary Barlow.

You have your image of yourself to uphold, and I have mine.

Friday, 15 December 2006

More tales from the Number 3 bus

Please darling, keep the fine detail of your fathers' probate to yourself. The mobile phone at 7.20 am on the upstairs of the number 3 bus is just a tad too public to discuss such personal matter's. We really don't need to know. If that was not poor enough form on this elderly chap's behalf, my stomach churned when the next hapless idiot joined us on the upper deck and sat a row ahead.

This young man gave a blow by blow run down of his sexual antics from the night before to his listener on the other end of his phone. He said he was trying to find his way to a tube station, so that he could get into work from the poor young Lady's home. He was in high spirits and brimming with gossip from his office Christmas party.

She was probably still in her bed, or singing in the shower, with a smile on her face, remembering intimacies they had shared the night before and this morning (if what he had to say had any truth in it). And there he was,.... hatchet boy, telling all and sundry at work (and on the bus), betraying her confidence and describing the merits of Brazilian bikini waxing to any colleague who was available to listen at that time of the morning. I wanted to go and punch him on the nose, for all the women on the planet.

How can some men can be such cads? Listening to this was not a good way to start the day. I miss a nice latte. I must be suffering from caffeine withdrawals since my fat free diet commenced. I really could have given him a good talking to.

I took my Parker pen from my bag (don't you remember the add from the 1970's?... Perfect for signing cheques "to spend all of daddy's lovely money?" - I am showing my age now) wrote 'cad' (with a capital B) on a Post It note, and stuck it to his jacket, before making my way down the stairs. Juvenile of me? Yes. Deserved on his part? Most definitely.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Grocery Shopping

I just love lazy Sunday afternoons wandering around Sainsbury's in Dog Kennel Hill. James does the whole birthday party thing avec les enfants, and I buy organic vegetables, cartons of 'Innocent' smoothie (the kids hate that muck but it looks virtuous in the trolley), nice cuts of meat from the butcher counter (no, I can't be bothered queuing in the rain all afternoon outside William Rose in Lordship lane with all those ruddy faced women wearing fleeces - they don't even accept plastic!!!!). We do our serious grocery shopping on Ocado.

The only real reason to feign the need for a supermarket shop for me though, is to sink into the deep aubergine velvet armchairs in Starbucks, with a Vente Latte and a nice slice of blueberry cheesecake.....pure pleasure!

My weekends are suddenly without focus, I did the whole supermarket scoot last week, and when I eventually made my way into Starbucks (copy of 'Elle Deco' tucked under my arm) - I realised I could not order my usual milky drink or even my confectionery! My heart in my boots - I had a cup of black tea. Just not the same..... pointless.

I can't have milk or fat until I have my gall stones zapped. I look fabulous - but I feel dreadful. This is just the price I have to pay.

I now choose laziness over gluttony as my sin of choice. On Sunday afternoons, I now email my shopping list to Ocado. Without Starbucks, Sainsbury's has lost its lustre.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Fimbo

I received a note from Freya's teacher yesterday. It was tucked into an envelope in her school bag from her teacher - informing me of the toys she had requested from Santa when he visited the nursery on the last day of term. I have been plagued for weeks by her constant requests for a 'life size' Fimbo, (from the Fimbles TV show) - yet the toy was not mentioned on this list from her teacher.

'Why did you tell Fimbo when we were in the toy shop last week, that Santa was bringing him to our house on Christmas eve?', I asked.

Freya replied;

'I just told him that so that he would not make a fuss when I had to leave!'

My word! She has knowledge beyond her three and a half years. She really does sound like me. I am a bad mother for sure, I should not go to work. I should be at home painting my nails.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Wasting away

I was sitting at the consultants office this evening, and I could not help but notice a copy of The Guardian had a rather tantalising article advertised on the cover. I just could not resist it - well, the place was virtually empty after all - no one could possibly see. (I would rather be caught reading anything but The Guardian. It is too socially and morally aware for me, quite unbelievable that I should be caught reading that - one step too far in my pursuit of the 'right' image. So right, it is quite wrong - if you see what I mean).

Anyhow, the article was about the American stylist to the 'super skinnies' - Rachel Zoe. Apparently, she encourages her celebrities to wear over sized sunglasses that make them look thin - whats not to love? Zoe says, they render the face almost sunken! Further, she advocates the use of huge extra large colourful designer handbags - particularly Balenciaga's Lariat, to accentuate frail 'twig like' arms emphasising skinniness. Balenciaga is just a tad too 'WAG' for me, I will stick to Marc Jacobs or Prada.

The thing is, my consultant subsequently informed me that he can 'zap' my gall stones with a lazer thingy as a day case, 'as quick as you like'. I have shed a stone in the last two weeks, so I shall schedule my 'procedure' for some time mid-February 2007!

I have put an enormous new handbag on my Christmas list, and I am off in to Fenwick after work next week to purchase the shades. James has suggested that the bigger the bag I carry, the more I will find to store in it, thus ensuring I develop the biceps of a 'prop forward' (what in the name of God is that??). Whatever, it is just a chance I will have to take.

Oh the joys of being slim!

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Hothouse Flowers

I had not been looking forward to this morning at all. The third 'first interview' in recent weeks for little Freya at one of the wonderful local private schools. I was completely terrified and useless. They took my cheery three and a half year old off into another room with myriads of other little people for a 'play session', and I just could not sit around and wait with the other anxious parents. I felt so guilty leaving her with strangers to be 'assessed'. She is just a baby after all.

I decided to head off to the toy shop in the village in search of Freya's dream toy - a life size 'Fimbo' with his own 'shimmy shaker'. Toy shops in the locality are always 'no go' area for sensible people at weekends, as they are cram packed with parents and their children - in search of appropriate gifts for the afternoon round of birthday parties.

Alas, the dream toy was not to be found, but I noticed some lovely art materials that my children would love, and so I began to browse. In the background I heard a woman enquiring about sudoku puzzle books for children. I can't work out the fascination myself, but then I don't know how to play sudoku - it all looks rather complicated to me.

The softly spoken assistant explained that the shop did not stock puzzle books, but offered a computer sudoku game instead. The customer became extremely animated when the assistant mentioned that the shop stocked three levels of difficulty of the game - all for children.

'What a perfect Christmas gift! I'll take all three',

she said, but her friend interrupted and pleaded anxiously;

'Let me have them, Antonia is swatting for entry exams - she is almost seven'.

The first lady snapped:

'No, I saw them first'.

It was about to get nasty - when the assistant pointed to a capacious box of the games on the floor to one side of the counter. At this point the women snatched three each and then simultaneously endeavoured to obscure the box under an enormous container of Playmobil, clearly hoping to conceal them from the observant eyes of other Dulwich parents - on a mission to find appropriate 'educational toys' for Christmas.

OH MY GOD.................. Please tell me, they will get the children some imaginative play toys for Christmas too?, doesn't anyone around here buy a seven year old skates anymore? Little Antonia will play with the box!

What is going on around here? Whatever happened to childhood in Dulwich?

Saturday, 9 December 2006

Nativity Play

DVD? Group photo? Individual photo? Class photo? My word, the children must feel like celebrities. I was so cynical. We have so many photo's already.......

But then we went to see them this morning, in the nativity play, and they were just darlings! All of them, so serious, waiting for their turn. Ahhhhhh!

Mary was slightly overcome with emotion (it must have been the thought of being a single parent in biblical times - she was completely in character) what a sweetheart. Lovely Mrs Tamworth saved the day and sat with Daisy on her knee on stage. I would love to be a kind person, and to have a constant supply of patience, just like her. The shepherds were sweet, oh, and the little donkey - he was so cute, I could have taken him home. My lovely boy Max sang tunefully, and Freya........ well, she was an absolute star. But I am biased, and so I should be - because I am their mother.

I loved the part where Joseph tossed the new baby Jesus into the manger (wicker magazine rack). He sang on alone courageously, and stood tall on the stage like a big brave boy - he is only just four years old.

It was a triumph - that perfect play. I love this school and all the lovely teachers. They do their job with genuine care, love and dedication. I want my little girl to go there until she is 18. Why can't she stay? It is not fair that they throw the girls out after two years. I promise to keep her away from the liquid soap dispenser in the future.

I'll have the DVD, the group photo, the individual photo's and the class photo's. Three of each actually, one for each set of grandparents, and one for us. Sigh.....

Friday, 8 December 2006

Dulwich mum

Home birth? Of course we would have preferred one, but a planned Cesarean Section seemed the civilised choice, shhhhhhhhhhhhhh though, everyone else had an independent midwife. Didn't they?

NCT antenatal classes, pregnancy yoga, homeopathy and 'Rescue Remedy'. A whole lot more alcohol is required in Bach flower remedies and in substantially larger bottles - but that is just a personal opinion. I nearly expired with the pain of the Braxton Hicks!

Breast fed until it was almost indecent - a badge of honour in Dulwich. I couldn't handle the caffeine free existence for too long. Fruit tea smells nice but its like drinking the dregs from a cup of wet pot pourri. Praise the Lord for Starbucks and their lovely soft chairs and toys.

Cranial osteopathy. Gina Ford's 'Contented Little Baby' book, we tried to tell ourselves that control was ours for the taking - ha! Organic and home made baby food. Delivered organic vegetables from Able and Cole or Riverford. I am still picking bits of rice cake out of the car seats!

Immunisation angst - that was dreadful..... homeopathic immunisations or individual immunisation involving long treks across town? How about a quick trip down to the practice nurse?....Oh no, we always take the difficult option.

Weekly weigh-in's with the lovely Health Visitor Teresa (yes we had one!). NCT re-union's and tea group - but it all got very competitive. I think that is where this all started to get out of hand. I still get palpitations at the sight of a red book or growth chart.

Wimmer-Ferguson 'mobile' and car 'gallery', Whoozit books, Baby Einstein, Majors for Minors music, Letterland books, songs and flashcards. Muzzy French. IQ Omega 3 Fish oil - have you seen the price of that stuff? I would have been better off spending my money on Imedeen, maybe we should take the fish oils ourselves to help us to do the children's homework.

We left it much too late to have these sweet little children. We are turning ours into the equivalent of a PhD - a massive project at which we will excel - attention to detail is everything. It seems irrelevant what the children want. We are trying not to succumb to Kumon, private music lessons and kids yoga. We want to be more bohemian, but we are much too controlling for our own good. You see, these are the strategies we employed in order to do so well in our careers. We just can't stop ourselves.

The poor stressed out little children.

I am much better at my job than my parenting. Much better.

Can I have my Prozac now doctor?.............

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Show and Tell

At the outset, we were delighted by the idea of the weekly 'Show and Tell' session at the nursery. 'What a lovely idea' we thought - oh how little we knew! From the very outset, this wonderful 'ideal' has become the most stressful of ordeals. Competitive Dulwich parents have gone into a frenzied overdrive.

On the very first week of 'Show and Tell' at nursery last year, one delightful little boy was visited by his dynamic, high achieving aunt in her 'Squirrel' RAF Helicopter on the playing field - oh yes, beat that! From then on, the tone was set, the gloves were off. On subsequent Fridays, pitching up for school has been an exercise in intimidation. We were almost involved in an accident a couple of weeks ago, because the vehicle we usually park behind unexpectedly had a long trailer on the back - containing daddy's 'oar' from when he won the Oxford-Cambridge boat race! On other occasions children have arrived with various implements their relatives used on their charity climb of Everest/filming news stories in Iraq/tending the sick post tsunami - the list is endless. They make us feel positively feckless!

I had originally thought how lovely it would be for my tots to bring in the cross stitch samplers their blind Great Grandma Laura had stitched for them when they were born. Laura was in her mid-90's when she crafted them, with great love and care. But I can't help it, I get sucked in. I hate to be outdone...............

Keen to take part, Max and Freya set off to school on Friday's of late, with a 'ships magnet' -from Grandpa Charles days as an Admiral in the Navy (much less dramatic in its visual impact from the street - but highly significant to our small boy), and Great Aunt Jessica's MBE. Hurrah - at least we tried to take part. I think if we had rented Bubbles (Michael Jackson's chimp) for the morning, it would have caused much more of a stir, but sadly there was no real family connection - as far as I am aware.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

School Reference

One of the 'Uber Mums' with a daughter who secured a place at one of most the prestigious schools last year, has been badgering me to ensure that I buy an appropriately ostentatious gift for both Freya's teacher and head teacher this Christmas, in order to ensure that she gets a good reference from the nursery.

I think Nathalie has lost the plot. Freya has good time-keeping (thanks to myself,James and the Au Pair) is never off sick (thank God) hasn't incited violence in class and is usually obedient and well mannered (apart from the incident involving the soap dispenser) - as are all of the other little girls in her nursery class. What can possibly be said in a reference about my baby to enhance her chances? I can't see it myself - that buying people large gifts will alter their perceptions of our family. These teachers have more integrity than that. James and I agreed just to be ourselves,..... and then I got thinking:

'Why not? Surely it is worth a try?'

What do you possibly buy the teacher who has everything? If we give her chocolate - it looks like a blatant bribe, and also - thoughtless as though we care not for her health or fitness regime. If we give her wine - it looks like we are a pair of wino's. I have a plan...

I have bought them both a goat (each - obviously), through Christian Aid in Uganda! (If you ask me the further away the better - have you seen how much topiary bay trees cost? Goats eat anything!) Now we look wholesome and caring. A good family all round! Hurrah.

Image is everything, don't you agree?

Monday, 4 December 2006

Homework

We have just been informed..., if James and I are finding it a struggle to keep up with our homework at the nursery, we will be in serious trouble when our son progresses to pre prep!

We attended a Christmas meal last night for parents of the children in the nursery. Our good friends Emma and Giles (with an older son in the year ahead), described their recent struggle to complete an assignment.

Last weekend, little Timmy was set the task of constructing a 'biblical house'?, using only lolly sticks, cellotape and sand paper as materials. Jane is a CEO of a major high street bank, and her husband is a dentist. She did not wish to let her six year old down, and so, she paid her nanny three hours overtime, in order that she and her husband could devote the time to construct the model. The construction was completed, on budget and within the time constraints, but apparently other children in the class (or rather - their parents) carried out the same task with spectacular results (one has a father who was the architect responsible for the design of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff!). Poor Timmy looked as though he hadn't applied himself to the task in comparison.

James and I recoiled in horror at this story. Then another parent told us how she and her husband (both Consultants at Kings College Hospital) had spent an entire weekend recently constructing a 'mobile' of THE UNIVERSE, using balls of various size and colour, wire and string. This apparently is not as easy as it sounds (No! Really?), as varying amounts of water had to be injected into the balls in order to weight them so that the mobile would balance accurately. They apparently had a nightmarish weekend dashing from Woolworth's in Norwood to the sports shop on Croxted Road, and 'Toys r us' in the Old Kent Road (believe me an ordeal deserving a medal in itself) in order to procure appropriately proportioned balls in the right colour..................Oh My God!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Then, to add to our panic, to our left, another mother (a Pharmacist) gave us a description of her recent efforts to construct a model of a blood cell using a bath sponge, bottle tops and a hole punch.

It is clear to us, James and I are not intelligent enough for this school. I am convinced the teachers meet up on a Friday afternoon, and decide on the assignments for the coming weekend according to how much they hate us!

Sunday, 3 December 2006

P is for Pomegranate

Every Sunday evening/Monday morning, we are to be found rummaging around in the toy box, searching the cupboards and turning the garage and garden shed upside down for elusive items which begin with the letter of the week for Freya...'P' this week.

P is for 'PEA' shouts Freya. We only have Waitrose Frozen Organic Garden, no good, we have no fresh, and no tinned (so 1970's don't you agree?). Max says 'Pineapple', he is not enthusiastic about it at all, we have been here before so many times. No we have no fresh, no tinned, the only shop for miles is Tesco on Croxted Road. Following a quick dash in the driving rain, we are home, still not in possession of a pineapple. Freya says she has a toy pineapple in her shopping trolley in the garage, the garage is turned over, nothing to be found. Oh dear.

'P is for Pig, Plastic Pig' says James, yes, the farm in Max's bedroom is promptly ransacked, and a plastic pig Procured. It's a bit too obvious I think. The children have lost interest by now and have started to play with some figures and a ship on the floor of Freya's room...............'Pirate'! O.K. so now we have two examples, Mummy and Daddy have almost completed their homework for this weekend, this is clearly a complete drag for the children, but we need another, something less obvious. The garage in turmoil, the kitchen contents turned out onto the floor, and there James and I sit, in disarray - my hair descending into spiral fuzz due to the earlier dash in the rain.

We open a bottle of wine - 'I suppose Pinot Grigio is no good?' I wonder. The contents of the spice and herb rack lined up onto the counter. 'POMEGRANATE SEEDS' shrieks Freya, 'I never knew what a bloody pomegranate seed was when I was a kid' points out James. 'No, and I got a satsuma, and a doll for Christmas every year.... the same one each year', I lie.

We hate doing our homework. I think we are loosing the will to live!

Saturday, 2 December 2006

Emotional Intelligence

'My heart is broken, no matter how hard I try, time and again. I am always wrong. What is the point?'

I think my darling Max is old beyond his years. He thus described his feelings of frustration at not being able to put his pants on this morning.

Yes, look how well I have taught my lovely five year old boy. He is merely copying the words he hears, and now that he has said them in earnest in relation to a mundane task like putting on his underwear, I realise I have used those words too often myself. I am a bad mother (sniff).

Oh dear. What a dreadful example I am setting. Today also he asked me to explain the word 'atepite' - he meant 'appetite' I assume as we were discussing his lack of it at supper. They have such curious minds - my babies.

Freya questioned Santa in depth this morning, about his exact requirements with regard his request for her to be 'good' until Christmas.

'What asacly do you mean by that Santa?' she said. 'Bath-time? Bed time too?'...

That's my girl. Get him to make the deal explicit, in the manner of a 'pre-nup'. Perhaps I am not such a bad mother after all. My baby girl is certainly developing the right idea.

The Dulwich Uniform

I am not very impressed. Either, I dress my baby girl in the manner of;

(a) Vicky Pollard, - baby pink lurex one armed belly top with a playboy bunny on the front and white leggings (à la Adams, Ladybird at Woolworths, Tesco, Asda, Next, The Gap, H&M and Top Shop)

(b) a 1940's evacuee in floral print dresses complete with mandarin collar and smocked yolk, mock hand knits, black patent leather shoes and white knee socks (à la Trotters, Peter Jones and Biff), or she wears -

(c) 'Boden'. We love Boden, it is practical, infinitely washable, hardwearing and she is comfortable and dressed like a three and a half year old child.

However, lose sight of her for 5 seconds by the swings in Dulwich Park on a Sunday morning, and you will find her indistinguishable from every other girl under 5 years old in Dulwich. I counted three little girls wearing her pea green duffle coat with the pink lining by the swings this morning. This would not be such a big deal, if it was not for the fact that all of the other mummies and daddies buy their casual clothes from the same catalogue too. There were three of us wearing the same skirt in the coffee shop (one admittedly in a different colour).

Mummies of Dulwich are starting to look like 'clones' in the manner of the 'Stepford Wives'. I am delighted that I have finally gotten rid of my regulation vinyl wipe able Orla Kiely handbag, as I no longer need to carry drinks and baby wipes and the kitchen sink. Have you noticed that everyone now pushes a 'Bugaboo' with their first child, and a 'Phil and Teds' with their second? Every little boy in the park is either sporting a blue Micro Scooter or those wooden bicycles with no pedals. What is going on? Is this just the 'Dulwich Uniform'?

A friend recently had her niece to stay from Ireland and she asked 'Why are all of the parents in Dulwich so old?' as though we are in some weird cult! Thanks for that sweetie, we prefer to think of ourselves as 'mature'.

Friday, 1 December 2006

Always the joiner!

Aqua Tots, Monkey Music, Tumble Tots, Whippersnappers, Little Kickers, Ballet Lessons, swimming lessons,martial arts; we have joined and left them all. But first my darling little ones made sure that they had enjoyed the taster session, allowed me to pay for a the obligatory full-term in advance and bought the t-shirt (in the case of ballet lessons - the entire outfit including leather shoes and wrap cardigan) before deciding the class was not for them.

Freya was apparently clinging to the door frame of St Barnabus Church Hall like a cat with her claws embedded into the bark of a tree when her fascination with 'Angelina Ballerina' ended today. She announced yesterday that she was no longer interested in dance class, and I thought to myself, 'she never refuses Papa' so, James had a day off work and took her in himself this afternoon. I told him to be strong, not to take 'no' for an answer, 'show no fear' and to get her in there at any cost. I want my baby to walk like a lady, I wish my mother had insisted that I continue ballet lessons when I was a child. We should stand our ground on this one, our children need some discipline..., we thought. James was perspiring anxiously when I dropped them off at the door, Freya had that little 'glint' she gets in her eye.

I was just sinking into a velvet aubergine sofa in Starbucks at Dog Kennel Hill, with a Vente Latte in one of their bucket like mugs when the call came to pick them up. I can't see why the good people of East Dulwich have objected so strongly to the opening of a Costa Coffee on Lordship Lane. Clearly, they have no children! It is like crack cocaine for me, a nice coffee and a soft chair sans enfants.

Our children are heartless. James and I are just learning the rules as they make them up. We must take our comfort where we can.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

Top Tip for Harvest Festival

Last year I was almost caught out, I hadn't organised our family offering for the Harvest Festival Hampers for the local elderly until the eleventh hour, the very last morning. You know how it goes, the school makes hampers for elderly folk, from food donated by children and families from the school.

Apart from the obvious canned tuna and 'Bob the Builder' spaghetti hoops in the kitchen cupboards, I was at a loss, Ocado were not scheduled to deliver until later that night. The cupboard was bare. Then suddenly I remembered that earlier in the week James had received a hamper from work, on the event of pulling off a particular deal. The basket in the cellar was promptly raided, and some suitably 'special' provisions - a tin of Pate de foie gras and a bag of Carluccio's dried porcini were commandeered. The day was saved, and the children had appropriate food items to hand over as required,.... we were all happy - apart that is from James. When he returned from work later that evening, he was completely unimpressed at the loss of his prized pate. He rather unkindly commented that he hoped we had given the 'old goats' gout! He said that our gifts made us look like a family of 'flash Hooray Henry's'.

I felt very exposed......, especially when I subsequently saw our ostentatious 'gifts', set amongst the stem ginger cookies, jars of fruit in alcohol, and boxes of Twinings breakfast tea.

This year, in an effort to cultivate the required image I planned well in advance. I bought a wonderful fruit cake from Konditor and Cook at Waterloo (Nigella says that if you can get to a branch of Konditor & Cook, there is no need to ever bake yourself). I removed the packaging, dusted it with icing sugar - (in order to disguise it should anyone guess), wrapped it in foil, and put it in an old Fortnum and Mason tin. I was delighted with cunning plan, I must say. Our cake looked so 'home spun' but terribly tasteful.

Marks out of ten for ingenuity? Fifteen. Did they guess I hadn't baked it myself? Certainly not. I looked so caring, I almost wept at my own thoughtfulness. I'll repeat the fake home bakes at every opportunity.

Bravo Me!

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Professional Parents

For the whole of last week James was not working at his office in London, and so he and his colleague Martin decided to drive instead of catching their usual train from North Dulwich. They never noticed until on their final return journey on Friday evening, that they had been singing along together to a ‘Monkey Music’ tape for five days! They both have children the same age, and so – both daddies know the same songs!…Bless.

I was presenting to some clients on Friday, and thought I looked rather smart with my new Marc Jacobs, black leather Stam ‘it' bag – you don’t have be the owner of a perfect figure to get away with a status bag! At the outset of the meeting, I was forced to rummage deep into the capacious new accessory for my memory stick. It was not the look at all I was hoping to achieve, removing a sock, a power ranger, a tiny pair of buttercup yellow Petit Bateau knickers and two boxes of raisins, before I finally found the item I was looking for...Credibility Zero!

How come James being a daddy is so cute, and yet me being a mother makes me look so ‘scattey’. I am only recently recovering from the shame of walking the children all the way to school on their very first day with my skirt tucked into my knickers. It is so unfair. I was pleased with the attention I had from passing drivers, but it took the headmistress to actually point out the crowd pulling detail to me for it all to make sense. I had been under the impression that it was my tanned legs under my swishy 'Pink Soda' spangley skirt from the Dulwich Trader. My pride has officially left the building.

Friday, 24 November 2006

Good Daddy Material

I remember sitting at the dinner table as a teenager one Sunday at home, with Aunty Lou in residence as usual. My three sisters were trying to embarass me in front of my mother, by asking me dreadful probing questions about some boy that I liked at the time. ‘Is he a good kisser?’, ‘Is he old enough for stubble?’ ‘Would he give you beard rash?’ – they asked over the roast dinner, my sisters are legends. I almost choked on a yorkshire pudding!

In the middle of all of the chaos and cringe, Aunty Lou asked (in a tone of complete indifference with a dead pan expression on her face) ‘Is he a good dancer?’ The girls went quiet. ‘Is he generous? Would he rush to the bar to buy you a drink?’. I sat with a curious expression on my face, my eyebrows almost joining together in shock. ‘I suppose’ I answered suspicously.

‘Well’ Aunty Lou continued, ‘that’s marvelous then, your uncle John was a great dancer, yes, that was a great asset to me for the years we were married, out dancing he was. Oh, and yes, he was always generous with his money at the bar, especially when the twins were small, and I was home looking after them. You will be set up for life, so……………………’ Poor Aunty Lou. I began to see boys in a different light that day.

I was in Dulwich Park yesterday, and as on many other occasions, I observed a dad, out and about with his two little boys – almost the same age as our two children. He always seems to be swinging them over his head by the leg, or allowing them to dangle precariously out of a tree, flying kites near electricity pylons, playing roughly with rotweillers - you get the picture. Hair raising stuff, really, you should see them. I have heard him complain that his wife thinks he is too rough with the kids. What does he have between his ears? Just one missed catch and its lights out for junior.

How do you assess the attractive guy you meet out one night is good daddy material, a potential good partner? I know it might not be what you think you are looking for at the time, but we really should encourage our little girls to consider these things (I am rather old fashioned, aren't I?). I always see that crazy man out and about and I wonder if he met his poor wife in a Lindy Hop club. Surely there must have been clues?

If she had her heart set on starting a family with that mad man, she should have ensured that he had a substantial enough income to employ a nanny.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Under Offer

Hurrah! The Estate Agent tipped us off first this morning that an old lady on Court Lane was about to put her house on the market. So, without hesitation we ran there half dressed, made an offer at the asking price – and it looks like we moving house! I wept with joy – as you do in the current market – just to find a house in the catchment for the Dulwich Village Infants School – before everyone else……..shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I had only straightened one side of my hair and had not even brushed my teeth. I am sure the vendor was so overwhelmed by my strange hair and raging halitosis that she was terrified to refuse us. What a productive morning!

I wonder if it was impolite to be so elated that the old lady was being forced to move into sheltered accomodation?

‘ I am unable to cope at home alone anymore’ she said, her frail voice filled with emotion (still in her dressing gown and slippers),

‘Great stuff’ replied James enthusiastically while shaking her hand so hard I was afraid he was going to dislocate her shoulder.

Apparently Mrs Giles is moving out within the week. I think it may be prudent for us to try to lock a feral cat in the property, in case the estate agent tries to show it to anyone else and gets a higher offer. The presence of hand rails in the toilet and velour soft furnishings enhanced by the 'eyewatering' smell of cats may be enough to stop anyone else from gazumping us.

I am not really cruel to animals, we could drop some 'Go Cat' pellets through the letter box every morning...... (not seriously).

As I said before, we don’t want Freya to feel that she has failed anything so young, that will come later – when she becomes a mother. I wish we had a brochure though, there have been no photos taken by the estate agent yet. I wonder if he will bother now? I would love to see some pictures and a floor plan, as I can’t remember what the house looked like, we were just so relieved to find one. It could have been a chip van for all I cared at the time. Now I have had time to reflect, I simply must have original sash windows.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Beauty Shop

Religiously every month, since the age of sixteen, I have had a facial – up until I had my first child that is. I always tried to look after myself, and liked to make the best of my skin. After the babies were born I was at home full-time for four years. I neither had the time or the money to spend on myself and so my self indulgent ritual was abandoned.

Recently I drove past the tiny local beauticians, that I frequented before I became a mum. This shop was very popular with my flatmates and work colleagues, and had been the most wonderful relaxing haven in the past. I remembered the sense of calm and the sound of wind chimes that tinkled in the air when you opened the door and the far fetched claims that were made regarding the potential benefits of the treatments on offer, but mostly memories of pampering relaxation.

I made an appointment for a facial by phone at the weekend, and went back this evening for a treat. The shop is apparently under new management now, and what a culture change! The 'technician' who looked after me had a curiously motionless face. I must have been asleep for the last five years, because things have changed dramatically at the beauty shop.

'Sindy' (my father had a Jack Russell called Sindy when I was a child) suggested that along with my facial, I allow her to arrange to have some ‘fillers popped in – just to the deep furrows’ ...........Thanks for that sweetie! She further advised a ‘chemical glycolic acid or microdermabrasion peel, lazer depiliation and lip plumpers’. I am not suggesting for a minute that I am not the owner of wrinkles appropriate to my age, but I was not aware that I have grown a beard of late! Sindy made a much anticipated treat into the equivalent of a trip to the dentists for a root canal treatment, only substantially more damaging to my self-esteem, and just as expensive.

What happened to the pampering massage, the masques and facial steaming? Where are the aromatherapy oil burners and whale music? Where is the charm and the complementary glass of warm UHT orange juice? I am not convinced that an NVQ Level One should qualify these people to wax a bikini line. Who gave them their medical diplomas, syringes and exfoliating acid? Whatever happened to ageing gracefully? It was like Frankensteins lab in there!

I managed to get out the door without eyelash extensions (they last four weeks apparently) or acrylic nails. I quite like the idea of spray tan, but would the children recognise me? A frozen face and thick lips are not the look for me. As for the chemical peel - well, its all a bit too scarey, and colonic lavage? If anyone tries that on me I will have them arrested. I had to come home and lie down for half an hour.

Monday, 20 November 2006

Bubblewrap

I am a control freak – I admit it. It is just no fun for the kids when we bake. I like aprons on, hands washed, everything measured out accurately and mixed thoroughly. Oh, and the mix stays in the bowl, all in a manner which would make Bree Van De Kamp look flakey. I like the kids to have something nice to show for their efforts, even if they must remain on the naughty step while I carry out the entire task myself.

My lovely chilled out chum Lesley often bakes with the kids (hers and mine) and they so enjoy it. They eat most of the mix during the process, and they end up with it in their hair, on the walls, on the cat, and they have a laugh, but no cake to show for it, and what they do make – you wouldn’t dream of eating. It doesn’t seem to matter, it is just good fun. Why can’t I be more like Lesley?

Mrs Honeywell recently ‘volunteered’ me to come into school to help the children to bake. I tried to explain to my sons delightful teacher that I am not the best candidate to carry out this task with children, and she laughed. Oh, how little she knows! I dutifully took an annual leave day today and came to the school as requested, but I was dreading it. We want the children to see us support them at every opportunity and Max was delighted – he is a little sweetheart.

I sat there in my powder blue Cath Kidston apron, with the ingredients as requested from home (organic of course) – terrified of myself. I really held back, tried to control myself and be a good mother. The event was soon in full swing, egg shells in the Magimix, sticky spoons galore, icing sugar on the surfaces, and my bottom slapping hand had developed a nervous 'twitch'. Suddenly a group of parents entered the classroom unannounced on a ‘tour’. I was heartened to see that nothing at all is ‘staged’ for these prospective parents’ walkabouts, and tried to resist the urge to run from the classroom screaming and tearing out my hair.

The headmistress gave a little explanation to the group of parents of all of the wonderful activities currently in progress in the classroom. The four little boys at the baking table with me continued with their tasks, despite the audience, one sifting flour carefully onto the floor. I was an emotionally exhausted quivering wreck, where is the gin when you need it? As the group began to filter out of the room, an enormous suited, confident man came up to my table, and asked, ‘Is the egg in that mix pasteurised?’ and ‘Is it safe for that boy to be licking a spoon with raw egg in the mix?’, I almost expired with an anxiety attack.

Immediately, Mrs Honeywell interrupted authoritatively (she is a goddess), ‘No the egg is not pasteurised, and at this table here – these boys are cutting with real scissors, and outside in the playground is a terrific play frame for the children to climb on which they also may fall off and hurt themselves. We refuse to sanitise their childhood, we will protect them as much as is sensible, and explain dangers to them if appropriate. If this concerns you, this is not the school for your son’, at which Mr Pants looked rather panic stricken, and backed apologetically out of the class. ‘We do not bubble wrap our children’ – finished Mrs Honeywell, as he scuttled out the door.’

Touche!

Wow, what a powerful woman. I think she is amazing. On reflection, I actually enjoyed the morning baking at school. I am going to bake with the children at home soon…………ish.

Saturday, 18 November 2006

School Selection

On Friday last, our family commenced the stressful ordeal that is necessary in order to secure a place at one of the excellent local private girl’s schools. Freya is currently in her second year at a Dulwich nursery, and as they do not accommodate little girls past nursery, she must now go through the selection process again for girls prep schools. We don't select the private school we wish to send Freya to, they will select us - or not.

We were advised at a recent open morning at the nursery, that ‘The Gel’s’ should each apply for at least four schools in order to be sure of a place. This process is not simple, you do not simply fill in a form, and send off a fee to register – no, parents are interviewed, and then the tiny three and a half year old girls are interviewed - twice, by each school. Forgive me, it seems barbaric. I am stressed out for Freya. What can they hope to achieve in assessing our little baby girl - twice? She will have 8 interviews with strangers by the time we are finished!

It seems we were lucky to have secured places at this nursery for both of our little ones. We never registered for any other schools. We went along for a ‘selection morning play session’ with the kids and had a look around. They were subsequently both offered places by post. Since then, we found out that this nursery sees hundreds of children during their selection/interview process – but we had not know this, and so we were relaxed about it, and all went well. I was wondering why all of the other parents on the selection morning were so pale and highly strung. Their children were hysterical and demanding gifts in the manner of Veruca Salt from 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory'. Ignorance is bliss! I had assumed the word ‘selection’ was just a formality.

Freya on any given day will chat sensibly, sing and dance, recite poems, read her letters and numbers – all the stuff a normal three and a half year old can do. On the same day however, she can also be expected to cling to me, screech and scream, lie on the floor, have a tantrum and be completely unreasonable – all the stuff a normal three and a half year old can do.

This selection process seems insane. Why can’t they simply assess a childs abilities with a reference from their nursery school? As parents, we are happy to go for any interview, but what are they hoping to achieve by ‘interviewing’ a lot of three and a half year olds? Several of the 'preferred' schools ‘interview’ something like 150 baby girls for 8 places this year!

Two weeks ago, we came up with a cunning plan. James and I decided to move into the ‘catchment’ for the Village Infants School (an excellent local state school in Dulwich Village) and forget these assessments altogether for the time being. Prep School at seven for Freya, we decided, she cannot be expected to compete at this age. Shirley Temple she is not. The odds are stacked against us, and we will not allow her to experience any sense of failure so young.

We instructed an excitable Estate Agent and without so much as a photograph taken, or a 'for sale' sign in the garden, we accepted an offer on our house at the asking price within twelve hours from a woman who wept in our kitchen with joy. We could not believe how smoothly our plan was going, hurrah! Then we noticed one small problem…, there is nothing at all for sale in London at the moment (hence the weeping buyer – it was relief not joy). Worse still, every other parent south of the river has the same plan as us, and wishes to move into the catchment area of the Dulwich Village Infants School! Gazumping apparently is rife.

On Friday last, James and I embarked on the first of our interviews to one of our 'chosen' prep schools. We sat closely together, pale, holding hands and perspiring profusely on an enormous well worn terracotta sofa in the hall, wincing as we listened to notes being hammered out on a piano as a group of children belted out ‘Adeste Fidelis’ in a nearby classroom. Eventually, a well upholstered lady with big hair, a superior attitude and trollop’s nail polish welcomed us into draughty study. James and I ‘talked up’ our baby for all she was worth, and waxed theatrically about her talents and aspirations (Ha! she wants to work in Tesco), while struggling with the almost overpowering smell of Harmony hairspray. Oh dear. Finally, we were told our time was up and our sales pitch over, we packed up our 'Power Point' and handouts (not seriously), and made our way out into the hall, where we were greeted by the sight of another two equally anxious parents competing for a place. This is a disaster in slow motion. Perhaps if we took Prozac, we would not be so bloomin stressed and needy. I am sure these schools can sense our desperation.

Freya will pick up how stressed we are, and no amount of bribery will succeed in making her perform. She has already decided that she would like 'a life size singing Fimbo with his own Shimmy shaker' (they do not make such a toy) in order to even go to the ‘playdates’ we have described to her at these lovely schools. I wonder if we can have one specially made?

If someone on Turney Road could please just slap a for sale sign in their garden, I could nip around in the morning with a cheque?

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

The Number 3 Bus

Sitting on the number 3 bus home tonight, I was in front of the most amusing characters. I was afraid I was going to laugh out loud on more than one occasion. I wish I had been able to use my hi-tech mobile phone properly, because apparently it is a tape recorder. It is also a note book, a calculator, an MP3 player, satellite navigation, a camera, and it makes films too. I don’t know how to use it for any of that. I can just about send texts and emails, but most of the time, I can’t even get it to be a phone. A tape recording of this conversation they were having would have been priceless. Their conversation went something like this……….

“Money can’t buy you happiness.

No, no, it can’t.

The Chief Executive is welcome to his bonus for all the happiness it will provide him with. I wouldn’t want it.

No, me neither….

You see that Paul McArtney? He can’t buy happiness and he has more money than any of us.

Yes, yes he has.

His wife Linda, she had cancer. Private jets and hospitals all over the world at his disposal, but he couldn’t save her, no she died. Money can’t buy you your health. It can’t buy you happiness.

No, no.

He tried to buy happiness, he married that Heather with the big breasts and no leg. He bought her for sure, and she is going to get half of everything now. She will learn, she can’t buy happiness. It will not bring you luck.

No, no.

She can’t buy a new leg can she.

No.”

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Au Pair Trouble

Last week, Fatima our Lebanese/Swedish au pair of just two months was visited from Stockholm by her recently reconciled parents to mark the end of Ramadan - they have been divorced four times in the past we were told. It seems Fatima’s mother has recently taken to wearing the niqab (face veil) and jilbab (black robes) no longer content to simply cover her head. Fatima returned to us after her weekend break at a hotel in London, packed her bags, shouted at us in the street (in front of our children and neighbours) about our 'permissive behaviour', 'abuse' (I foolishly expected her to unload the dishwasher and vacuum the house from time to time) and my 'neglect' as a mother and wife. She marched out in the street dramatically, after first pouring shampoo on my Kaiser Chiefs and Robbie Williams CDs, smashing the mobile phone we bought for her to use, and shrieking at the children that they were 'disturbed'! She threw all of her new lycra gym clothes in the bin (gym membership is considered a good incentive to keep an au pair) along with her make-up and contraceptive pills. She took the SIM card we supplied with her.

I realise that we are ‘old hat’ with our musical tastes – I make Emma my lovely fashionable young administrator hoot with laughter when I get the names of bands wrong, like when I refer to ‘Jason Timberland’ – you know exactly who I mean, don’t you? Bad taste should be no justification for the destruction of our property, surely? James and I are so exhausted from our working week, we don't have the emotional energy to be a bad influence on anyone. We don't even watch 'Bad Girls'.

Oh what a week we have had!

Fatima has told the agency that we had refused to allow her to fast for the holy month of Ramadan! This was so untrue, and offended me more than anything else she said (or rather shouted) about us.

Most of the people I work with are not Christian, and I would have fasted with Fatima if she had indicated that she wanted to observe the fast. I would value the experience of exploring how difficult it is for others to observe Ramadan. I long to be better informed, to be more cosmopolitan. She never mentioned a special diet on her application form, or even when we joined 'Weight Watchers' together. The cheeky mare! How very dare she?

Perhaps she could effectively argue that she felt too uncomfortable to suggest that she fasted while staying in our Christian home. I have pondered that thought and wondered if Fatima had genuinely felt we had not accepted her. I suppose she could claim that subconsciously we had blocked her efforts to communicate to us exactly what she needed.

HOWEVER, I was certainly not responsible for the Swedish brand of contraceptives she left behind in the bin, or her 30 double 'G' silicone implants - She arrived with those too. I think it must cause genuine conflict - wishing to have the approval of a family, whose culture is entirely different from that of ones peers.

I believe the Swedes don't get married or even shave their arm pits! Not very Dulwich. I had expected some cultural conflicts - mostly about depiliation to be fair - but not this! Fundamentalist Islaam probably doesn’t sit well with ‘living it large’ in London, sporting implants the envy of Jordan’s. Maybe the best thing is for Fatima to wear a jilbab, or her father might notice . You know initially I could not believe my own eyes. I thought ‘a young pretty girl like that – they must be her own’, but I own two real breasts myself, and if I lie flat on the trampoline, so do they. They don't stand up like great Christmas puddings!

Fatima seemed so innocent initially, she said that she loved 'black music' and intended to travel to Kingston to experience it to the full. When she indicated that she intended to travel there at the weekend by tube, and I pointed out that the Kingston she referred to was in Jamaica and not 'upon Thames', she looked at me in disgust and refused to believe me.

Fatima may have felt a little bruised and rejected when within two weeks of arrival in our home we gently declined her request for her sister, new baby (1 month old) and brother in law to stay with us for four nights while they visited her . We explained that we felt we did not have the space to accommodate her visitors in our modest home, especially as we were just getting to know each other. We subsequently refused to allow her to have two separate friends and her mother to stay during the following six weeks. Fatima didn’t like that at all, and began 'click clack' trotting about loudly on the parquet floor in her high heels and slamming doors.

The storm eventually passed, and I was more than relieved that we refused to accommodate her visitors when only last week Fatima explained to me that the first of her visiting girl friends was currently dating a 'crack dealer' who works out of the Trocadero (just at the weekend she reassured me). Fatima said that she was happy that this girl chum had not been permitted to stay at our home (ME TOO!). Fatima explained that she wished to avoid picking back up with her previous boyfriend a friend of this drug dealer and a 'part-time film producer and personal trainer'. Fatima had dated him last summer during a holiday in 'Croydon'! I must admit I was puzzled not only by his mix of professions, but also by her choice of holiday destination. Fatima elaborated that she had been involved in some dubious film work for this boyfriend, which she was anxious to keep from her parents. I changed the subject at this point, as my smile started to go numb and my wide eyes started to sting.

I feel a storm has passed now that Fatima has gone, I can’t believe I ever left my precious children in her charge. My son Max loved her, and he has gone rather quiet since she left – the poor lamb. He is only five, and he enjoyed doing the kind of energetic things au pairs do with young children. Things that as a more mature mum, don't come easily to me. Fatima would jump on the trampoline with the children for hours, and let them ride around the living room on her back. She said she liked being on ‘all fours’ as it relieved the back pain caused by the weight of her implants. I am sure I will have a laugh with Max about this when he is older. Fatima looked like every young mans dream.

Anyhow, we are now looking forward to welcoming a new young person into our household. Like lemmings we run towards the cliff. The au pair we had before Fatima had bulimia, and we realised she had to go when little Freya began retching for attention, copying the lovely young Sardinian. Any further problems and this will be our last au pair. We will see how it goes. I see no benefit in further distressing our little children in this way. I thought au pairs required board and lodging in exchange for pocket money, light house work, and childcare - no more than 25 hours per week. I am not sure I am ready for the emotional fallout and high drama of having another troubled young person 'to help' in our home. We will see. I am not letting the next au pair use my GHD or make-up! Actually, I didn’t want the last one to use these things either, but she had such a strong personality, I didn’t want her to give me a row and upset the children.

There is a huge price to pay for living in Dulwich. To finance the wonderful schools, we must both work full-time. We live far from willing grandparents, and so we have an au pair. Perhaps I should alter that, an au pair has us!

I will let you know how we get on