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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


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.’


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.


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