Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Why I will resolve to lose weight again this year after all

My spam box today is full of miracle solutions for getting rid of excess stomach fat. ‘Start the New Year with a new skinny you’ they promise. Ordinarily, I might be tempted. This year, however, thanks to non-stop illness over the Festive Season, losing weight will not (unlike most years since I was about 16) be top of my ‘resolutions-for-the-New-Year-invariably-failed’ list.

What then I wonder, should be my, and the rest of the family’s, resolutions this year? I pose the question at the tea table.

‘What’s your New Year’s resolution for 2013, Sensible Son?’ I ask.
‘Ermm… to not wind up my brothers,’ he replies, gurning brightly at his smaller siblings.
‘And yours, Binary Boy?’ I say, ignoring his brother’s contorted face.
‘To not be wound up by my brothers,’ replies middle son, flicking a glob of baguette at his elder aggravator.
I intercept the baguette and turn to smallest son. ‘And you? What are you going to do in 2013, wee man?’
‘Ooh, wee man, wee man, maybe be a pee man,’chant his bigger brothers.
Feisty Fellow jumps down from the table. ‘To not over-react when they wind me up,’ he shouts over his shoulder, as he slams the door.

Oh. That went well.

‘What’s your New Year resolution then?’ the FOB asks me.
‘Well…’ I say, eyeing the door and waiting for it to inevitably re-open, ‘I was thinking the 3 c’s… to stay calm, to question, to cuddle…’
‘Question’s a ‘q’ not a ‘c’!’ interrupts Binary Boy.
‘…not get CROSS!’ I finish. ‘Yours?’ I ask the FOB. Crossly.
‘Sorry?’ he says with his special kind of dreaming of roof-structures smile. ‘Oh… er, mine… yes … to listen. That’s right. To be more attentive.’

I sigh. Clear up the kitchen. Flash up the computer and hover over some spam. After all, apparently you can never be too rich… or too thin.

Happy New Year from the MOB and her boys
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MOB’s Log on MOB’s blog

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Why we SHOULD let our kids buy US presents

Last weekend we went to a carol service in our local church. The boys had been drafted in, in order of age as a King, a Shepherd and a Joseph. ‘This is the last time I dress up,’ growled eldest Sensible Son, as he struggled into his gown and crown. ‘Please can I just do a reading next year?’ I looked at his too-long legs sticking out of his too-short ‘dress’ and had to agree that he had a point.

Anyway. There was I, gazing in amused adoration, as Mary and Joseph marched up the aisle, overtaken by an errant 15 month old angel, when something the Vicar said made me sit up and listen.

Her child-friendly sermon had started out predictably enough. She’d talked about the joy of presents: about the joy being in the giving, not just the receiving. Absolutely, I’d agreed, nodding. Even before, but particularly since the births of my boys, the joy of Christmas for me is finding that perfect something you know will make someone smile. Watching the recipient’s eyes light up as they tear open their gift. Seeing them animatedly examine what you’ve bought them – albeit, in the case of very small children, for a few scant seconds, before moving, excitedly, on to the next.

‘But,’ she’d continued, going off standard Christmas-message-script, ‘it’s not only adults who love the giving. Some time ago, my son – then sixteen – taught me a valuable lesson.’ To paraphrase (as since then my memory has been addled by a mixture of Lemsip and mulled wine) she’d recounted how, that year (as indeed every year) she’d tried to dissuade him from spending too much of his hard-earned wages on buying presents. ‘We don’t need gifts from you,’ she’d told him, ‘your love and happiness is more than enough.’
Her son had turned on her eventually, with something bordering anger. ‘But mum,’ he’d countered, ‘why should you be the only one to have the fun?’

Bells starting ringing loudly, for me and my boys.

How many times, I pondered, had I told the boys that I had everything I wanted, and didn’t need any presents?
How often had I told them not to ‘waste’ their money on their mum, that it was enough for me to see their smiles?
How many times, I wondered, had I (inadvertently) spoilt their fun?

How many?

Sermon, and service, over, the lanky shepherd threw his lamb into Mary’s lap, and we headed to the back to munch mince pies.

***

Today the FOB and I took the boys, and their cousins, last-minute Christmas shopping.

And I watched the FOB bend down as Feisty Fellow whispered earnestly in his ear. Before, hand in hand, they headed off together in the direction of the Cook Shop. I don’t need any more spatulas, but that’s not the point.
And I stood, for at least a quarter of an hour, as Binary Boy fingered each and every product in the Cadbury’s outlet, humming and hawing over what item of chocolate his dad would like best. His dad doesn’t need any more chocolate, but that is also, not the point.
And I nodded my agreement as Sensible Son sped off, £10 note in hand, who knows where or why. Neither the FOB or I need any presents worth a whole £10, but that, as I understand all too clearly now, is not the point.

So when, on Christmas Day I add something far too expensive, and possibly unnecessary, to all that I already have, I will thank them and smile broadly. Because I will know that – they too – will have had their fun.

Now let the clementine overdosing ensue

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What do you do a month before you publish your first book?

Mob RuleToday is one month exactly to ‘P’ day. 17th January 2013, the date when my first book, ‘MOB Rule’ is published and available, not just on pre-order on Amazon, but on real life shelves.

When I first started writing ‘MOB Rule’, I wrote it for me. I wrote it because I wanted to ‘capture’ some of the peculiar magic and mayhem of my life as a MOB, a life which I realised was speeding past all too scarily fast. Truth be told I wrote it because a friend delivering the Church newsletter said I should. I never could resist flattery in any form.

So I started writing it. And then I finished. Nearly 60,000 words, every one of them written, read and quite probably re-written. What next?

I could bind the dog-eared pages in a plastic folder, stick a label on the front marked ‘My Book’ and put it on a shelf. To gather dust until either my boys, or maybe more probably, their spouses of the future, took it down to laugh, to cry, to reminisce.

Or…

I could show it to a friend who happened to be a literary agent, could hand it over to him and brace myself for feedback, could (as his sage wife later put it) ‘send my book out there and let it fly’.

As anyone who writes knows, your writing is part of you. In some cases, and in particular when the writing is autobiographical (albeit with a pinch of artistic salt) your writing is you. And so letting someone else read, dissect and deliver a verdict on it, is a bit like going to your child’s parents evening. Guaranteed to make you sweat.

Sure, the Father of Boys had said it was good. When I’d read him each instalment over the phone or in bed. He’d smiled, he’d chuckled, he’d guffawed out loud. But he’s my husband so I’d expect unconditional loyalty and copious praise. But someone else’s husband, someone unrelated, someone expert… what would they think? With a sickness in my stomach akin to dropping my firstborn off for his first day at nursery, I handed over my ‘baby’ and sat back to wait.

Fortunately for me, the parting was (as the teachers always tell you and you never believe) the most painful bit, and ‘he’ was absolutely fine the minute ‘mum’ was out of sight. The book stood on its own two feet: my agent loved it and amazingly, and gratifyingly, so did Bloomsbury (and in fact another publisher) thereafter.

And so, to cut a long publishing story short, it’s now a month ’til publication day. When ‘MOB Rule’ will be out there to be bought by all of Britain and some of the rest of the world. Or at least by my mother-in-law, and my mum, who will each buy one.

The question therefore is what do I need to do now? To plan, to ‘get ready’, to prepare for publication?

I have been warned by more seasoned writers that the ‘due date’ itself can be a bit of a disappointment. Because, in reality, nothing actually happens. After the agonies of editing, proofing and rewriting, the day your labour of love is actually published can feel a bit like New Year’s Eve. Alcohol-fuelled expectation followed by a few damp-squib fireworks.

Ever optimistic however, and in the hope that my ‘P’ day may, after all, be something special, here are a few of the things I will be doing over the next four weeks:
– Googling myself on a daily basis just to check where the book will be sold. This will stop after ‘P’ day. If reviews are nice, Bloomsbury will tell me. And if they’re not, I’d rather not know
– Avoiding eating that extra slice of Yuletide chocolate log. Never has the prospect of a few photos been a better incentive not to over-indulge
– Becoming a media ‘tart’. Not, I admit, a role in which I feel most comfortable, however on this occasion I will be status-updating, tweeting and blogging for Britain. Apparently the book (unfortunately) won’t promote itself.

So come on…what else should I be doing in the run up to ‘P’ day?

Joseph…’bovvr’d’ to turn up at the Nativity after all

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Calling last minute Father (and Mother) Christmas’: The Ultimate Gift Guide for Boys…for free

For anyone who missed out on the ‘12 Tweets of What to Buy a Boy for Christmas’, here is my complete list of suggestions in one printable page (to be sung to the tune of either ‘The 12 days of Christmas’ or ‘Pick of the Pops’):

1. A marble run
Hours of fun and still loved at 10.
2. Hama beads
I know it sounds unlikely but give them (especially animal shapes) a go.
3. ‘Best of Jennings’ by Anthony Buckeridge
A spiffing raucous read for kids and adults alike.
4. A chemistry lab kit
Supervise as he revels in violent volcanoes and sulphurous smells.
5. The Guinness World Records height chart
It seems I’m just less than the largest loo roll.
6. Geomag
It’s marbles Jim, but not as we know it. Magnetic fun for all the family!
7. Click clack track
Strangely mesmerising, we never bought one and wished we had.
8. Any fact-filled book by Mitchell Symons
‘Did you know?’ sessions will never the same.
9. UNO, Boggle Slam or a good ol’ fashioned pack of cards
Endless opportunities for bad behaviour.
10. Hexbugs, of any shape or form
Just make sure you include backup batteries.
11. Elefun
Certain chaos as boys trample everything underfoot to catch bugs in nets.
12. The Dangerous Book for Boys
Full of facts and fun for the males (big and small) in your life.

Failing any of the above, just give them a big cardboard box and some bubble wrap. Job done.

How to avoid the Nativity Nightmare


This year I have had it relatively easy.

Not, you understand, on the work/life balance front which has been frequently bordering on the ridiculous. No, easy in terms of the potential ‘Nativity nightmare’.

Because this year Sensible Son is ‘merely’ a narrator, thus requiring the wearing of only a passably clean school uniform. Binary Boy is ‘merely’ in the Choir, thus seemingly requiring the same as above. And Feisty Fellow, an appropriately typecast Curious Sheep, is merely to be be-costumed in his PE kit – black and white.

’Twas not always so.

A few years ago, the following festive scenario ensued:

Act 1: Enter on stage a son back from school.
‘You’re a what?!’ (mother)
‘A pig.’ (son)
‘A pig?!’ Since when has a pig featured in the Nativity?
‘Oh, and Miss said I need to bring in my costume tomorrow. White top, curly tail, pink tights.’
Pink tights?! Tomorrow?! Mother ponders the injustice of a world where a mother of three boys must procure pink tights. She picks up her mobile and phones a friend.

Act 2: A month later. Lights dimmed, audience hushed, rickety cot set up on stage.
Cue: A procession of small children. As the First Noel fades, Mary clambers up stage steps. Grasping the cushion that is threatening to fall out from under her dress, she looks round for her ‘husband’. Joseph is following at an appropriately manly distance – it’s not good for the street-cred to get too close to a girl – and is dragging a reluctant donkey. Back end stumbles over step and threatens to bring the whole cavalcade down.

‘Why’s dat cow wearin’ shoes?’ demands a front row sibling loudly, as the expectant couple and their donkey wobble their way across stage. His brother – Joseph, apparently – is alerted to the presence of his family. ‘Hi mum,’ he mouths, waving frantically. His mother smiles and quietly waves back.

Choir stands up; some even open their mouths. ‘Little donkey, little donkey….’ Manage the first verse before running out of steam. ‘Been a looooong time…’ A too tiny tot – should she actually be at school? – yawns loudly, the boy next to her jigs up and down obviously in need of a loo. Entire audience follow his every move; he eventually attracts the attention of the powers that be. Swiftly and surreptitiously, he’s escorted from the hall.

Meanwhile back in Bethlehem, a host of heavenly creatures arrive. Mary picks her nose, nonplussed, as trio of wise men deliver their gifts.
‘We bring yew frakn’sense, gold and fur,’ announces Melchior. Tittering in the back row. Balthasar whispers in his ear. ‘Myrrh…I mean myrrh!’ he shouts. Dissolves into tears and races from the stage.

Shepherds. The middle one – bedecked in regulation dressing gown and tea towel – has nits. Rakes at his head as his companions hand over their offerings…two lambs and what looks suspiciously like a dog. Mary and Joseph mutter their thanks.

All good so far, but where is pig?

Enter, stage left: a herd of pink porkers. Pants glowing like stars through too thin tights, they jiggle tails and wiggle butts to the tune of a farmyard carol based loosely on the Birdie Song. Disappear into the darkness whence they came.

Proud parent clapping, and the Nativity is over for another 12 months.

***

So this year my Nativity season, whilst potentially less entertaining, is decidedly less fraught. With no need for pink tights or other elaborate adornments, the dressing up box can stay shut and the tea towels by the sink. I need merely attend, and applaud expansively. Peace on earth…and hallelujah to that.

Silent smoke Sunday

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My life according to Radio 4

In the beginning, there was ‘The Archers’.

In order to ‘achieve’ The Archers, Operation ‘Boy Bedtime’ had to start – on the dot – at 6pm. Played and fed, I would stow one baby on the left hip, hold the toddler’s hand with my right, and march them upstairs, hoping that Sensible Son would follow on obediently behind. Baths, pyjamas, books, (for one) boob, then bed.

‘’Nother story… pleazzze,’ Sensible Son would plead, pushing his luck each and every night.
I’d eye the clock, knowing that indulging would seriously jeopardise the all-important intro. ‘Not now, my sweet, more stories tomorrow,’ I’d say, pulling his door to, and preparing to flee.
‘My ’ungry!’ Binary Boy would announce, as if this was anything new.
Once again, I’d look anxiously at the clock, before racing to the kitchen to grab a banana. Thrusting it at my hollow-legged son, I’d kiss him on the cheek before retreating once more in the direction of the landing.
‘Waah!’ Feisty Fellow would wail, even though he had, officially, already been put down. Breaking all the rules, I’d race to his cot, give him a two minute top up to zonk him back out, before cat-burg’ling away, and out of his room. He’d snuffle, sated; arms above head like a surrendering soldier.

And so, I’d make it, with not a second to spare. Adopting the position (horizontal) I’d stretch out on my bed, switch on the radio to indulge in the latest Ambridge shock horror. My decadent reward for another manic MOB day.
***
I can’t remember the first time I missed Linda Snell. Like so many aspects of motherhood, it’s all a bit of a blur. It just happened, I suppose, one day: the inevitable.

As the boys became a little bit older, Operation ‘Boy Bedtime’ took a little longer than before. With the addition of daily doses of Biff and Chip (even the books without words seemed to take some time), with Binary Boy needing pre-bed pees, and with Feisty Fellow on solids, no longer ‘on tap’, there came the fateful evening when I switched on the Archers to find it all over. I’d missed the vital compost cliffhanger; there was no point tuning in tomorrow. I’d trudged downstairs and watched East Enders instead.
***
Now, of course, with the boys ten, nine and seven years old, the Archers, and even East Enders, are programmes of the past. Operation ‘Boy Bedtime’ has become reluctant sporadic showers – ‘Yes I know you’re not visibly dirty but you still need to wash’ – followed by copious comings and goings up and down stairs.

Feisty Fellow, on the whole, still abides by routine, and with a fair wind, and on a good day, is in bed before eight. Binary Boy, on the whole, will take himself off after eight, to burrow in a book. ‘Have you still got your light on?’ I shout up the stairs, sometime after nine. There’s a shuffling, then a click and it all goes dark.
Sensible Son, however, teetering on the edge of morning ‘can’t get out of bed’, stays up later and later at night. ‘But mum,’ he moans, ‘none of my friends go to bed before ten. And anyway,’ he plays his Top Trump, ‘I want to watch the News.’

Admitting that at least his entertainment is educational, I leave Sensible Son to it, and take myself to bed.

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