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What does the car you drive say about you?

The other day we went to the beach. Nothing – since we moved to coastal Devon – particularly unusual about that. We can, like so many other members of the ‘boy brigade’, frequently be found on a stretch of sand, exercising the ‘pups’, whatever the weather.

We pull into the car park in our Citroen C8, the replacement for our too-small two-boy Renault Scenic. It has 7 seats and is nearly 2m tall. Avoiding underground car parks is a small price to pay for banishing boy bickering. Grunting to a halt, I park the ‘bus’ as it’s affectionately known – far enough away not to risk scratches or dents – next to a fellow beach-walker’s car. It is pristine, pink and apparently ‘powered by Fairy Dust.’ The ‘MOB mobile’ most blatantly is not.

Here is a list of what ‘powers’ our car:
Sand
Babybel shells
Plasters
Sandwich crusts
Balls/marbles/anything round that might bounce or be kicked
Breadsticks
More sand
An apple core
A rounders bat
Mud
And – just for good measure – a bit more sand

A friend had the misfortune of travelling in our car – once. ‘If you added water to this,’ she reflected staring at the floor, ‘you could make pizza!’ How rude, I thought to myself, how rude. But I have to admit she probably has a point.

Thankfully, I have never been a car person. My first was a Suzuki Alto, followed swiftly (due to decrepitude) by a Fiat Punto. And a secondhand Polo was as glam as it got. Cars, to me, are there for a purpose: they are a vehicle for transporting me and my kids safely and swiftly from A to B. And, on a good day, hopefully back.

Still, I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy when I spot a particularly gorgeous car. Not, I’ll admit, one that’s shocking pink and seems to be spouting flowers, but one that is quirkily interesting, funky, fun. A Beetle maybe, in racing green or blue. A stripy 2CV with headlamps which bulge like bugs’ eyes. A Fiat 500 (old model of course), with only 2 doors and a sun roof to boot. Cars which, I am acutely aware, would struggle to house me and my weekly shop, let alone a bevy of boys.

For now, therefore, I will continue to board my people carrier bus. Practical, purposeful and let’s face it, a bit boring. But one day… One day, when my boys have flown the nest and are buying 7 seaters of their own, the FOB and I will buy our car. And we will strap our vintage suitcase full of scarves and light sweaters to the back, and drive off into the south of France sunset in our MG Midget. Just one boy and his babe on board.

MOB Rule: on sale in Waterstones, Piccadilly…what an odd feeling seeing it on the shelf!

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

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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.

Taking my allegiance to my publishers a little too far

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‘All I want for Christmas is…’ The ultimate gift guide for mothers of boys

As you know, last week I was walking the streets of London. As, it seems, were an awful lot of others. And whilst I wandered round John Lewis looking aimlessly at everything, they were busily and purposefully filling their bags.

‘But it’s not even December yet,’ I grumbled to myself, ‘surely you can’t start Christmas shopping when it’s still only November!’ A dancing Santa on a nearby shelf begged to differ. ‘Ho Ho Ho!’ he chortled happily, patting his tummy and wiggling his bum.

My wander down Oxford Street got me thinking. What, I wondered, should be the top five gifts on every MOB’s list? What amazing paraphernalia would I not be without? What would I want my FOB to be lovingly wrapping up for me this Christmas eve?

Here, sparing no expense and after considerable thought, is my very own gift guide for the Mother of Boys:
1. Octopus sock and pant sorter. It is plastic and looks about as unsexy as they come, but my Octopus makes hanging out the inevitable assortment of socks and boxer shorts a much more satisfying and swifter operation. I got mine from… Ikea.
2. Cheese sliver-slicer. Invented, I think, by some smart Scandinavian, we first came across these years ago when we lived in Germany. Using the sliver-slicer ensures that the extra large lump of cheddar you bought thinking and hoping it would last all week, might actually last you and your boys more than one meal. I got mine from (you guessed it)… Ikea.
3. Welly-rack. The FOB made this much-admired object out of a piece of wood and old bits of broom. The welly-rack means that wellies (big and small) are stored outside, upside down and in argue-free pairs – no mud, no mess, no muddle. You can buy much posher, ready-made versions on Ebay.
4. Hand-held blender. Or ‘the whizzer’ as it’s technically known in our house. I have discovered that if it doesn’t actually look like what it actually is, the boys will eat pretty much anything in soup. Anything, that is, except brussel sprouts. I got mine from… Sainsbury’s.
5. Panasonic bread maker. I know there’s a bit of a food theme here, but every MOB knows that the way to their hearts is through their stomachs. Next to milk, bread is the other must-have we are always running out of. And now that I’ve discovered that milk can be frozen, my bread maker frees me from emergency supermarket sweeps. I got mine from… John Lewis.

My FOB (with the exception of a beautiful necklace he gave me one year) is not renowned for his prowess in the romantic gift department. Before we were even going out, he bought me a rolling pin for my birthday(?!), followed swiftly by a sag bag one Christmas and the next year a bin. Granted, the bin was a Brabantia and we still have it in the kitchen, but…

So, to all the FOBs out there reading this, and most especially mine: by all means take your pick from any or all of the above. But be warned, your MOB may rapidly find a use for that redundant rolling pin. This Festive season why not break the practical present habit of a lifetime, and try adding a little Chanel No. 5 for good MOB-measure? Because, as you know… we’re (definitely) worth it.

PS: Obviously if you’re after the ultimate present for the Mother of Boys, ‘MOB Rule’ can always be pre-ordered pre-publication on Amazon!

Boys just wanna have fun… and not necessarily with their mum

So, here I am. Three nights in London, with my husband and without my kids. I’m here for both business and pleasure: a Bloomsbury party for authors with publications coming out in 2013, a meeting with my publicist and lots of coffees with long-lost friends.

The obvious question when I first received the Bloomsbury invitation was ‘Oh my goodness… what shall I wear?’ Living knee-deep in Devon mud does not endow you with a wardrobe fit for drinks and canapés in Bedford Square.

Once I’d resolved that one (I would wear the same outfit I wore to a Bloomsbury bash last year, and from now on that can be my writer’s signature ‘trendy top’), the next obvious question was ‘If I’m off to London, who’s looking after the boys?’

A phone call to the in-laws later and that too was resolved. And so on Wednesday I put my suitcase in the car, revved up the engine and set off for the ‘Big Smoke’ without a backward glance. Only I didn’t, did I?

As a mother (and I can only imagine a father too) leaving your children ‘behind’, albeit in the extremely capable and loving hands of their grandparents, goes against the maternal grain. Even though some days my sons drive me literally up the wall, being away from them, and their lives, feels somehow… well, wrong. I know what they do when, and what they need in their bags to do it. I know every nook and cranny of their little boy lives. How will they cope without their mum?

The other day I was sorting out an old photo album and I found the ‘instructions’ which I’d written for the Grandparents of Boys (GOBs) on our inaugural ‘away from firstborn’ weekend. I started reading, got half way down the first page and stopped. I cringed.

11.00 Put baby in cot on back (black out blinds down, baby monitor on, door slightly ajar). Do not talk to him – leave him to settle himself.
11.30 Wake baby up. Change nappy (environmentally-friendly nappies in cupboard to the left of door – beware ‘willy wash’ – muslin provided for this purpose)
11.40 Play. If he gets upset, sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and ‘Wind the bobbin up.’ He doesn’t like ‘Incy Wincy’…

And on, and on. Four pages of five-a-day stipulations, strategies for entertaining, minute by minute schedules of every hour of the day. Four pages of rules and recommendations for the loco parentis Grandparents, who have, between them, safely and successfully reared five children of their own. Four pages of literally teaching grandmother how to suck (and probably boil) eggs.

And as the kids grew up, I continued to pen my missives of maternal wisdom – advocating strict bedtime routines and reminding them to remind them to wash. Fish pie on a Friday was always a must. Looking back, I am quite surprised the GOBs continued to be happy to look after the boys. With hindsight however, and based on the odd little snippet our sons have occasionally ‘let slip’, I realise that, entirely understandably, they took my well-meant advice with an extra-large pinch of salt. ‘Yes, it’s all good,’ they’d say on the phone when I’d call in the evening after the official boy-bed-time. ‘They’re all tucked up in bed – everything’s going to plan.’ I was sure I could hear laughter and shrieking in the background, but at the time I put it down to interference on the line.

***

On Wednesday I left a solitary page on the kitchen table. It read:
School drop off: 08.40; pick up 3.10.
Feisty Fellow has football on Thursday – his kit is in the bag in the hall.
Thanks and have fun. Hannah

So tomorrow when I get home and am greeted by slightly tired boys with chocolate-smudged smiles, when I get back to find all the cake eaten and the fridge still full of veg, I too will smile. Because I know that what’s important is that the boys have had fun. And amazingly they (and the GOBs) have had it, without any instruction from their mum.

I am not Imelda Marcos…but my boys may be

Shoes.

Now I am no Imelda Marcos. I like shoes (and especially boots) a lot. Mainly, I suspect, because as my body shape has fluctuated from hot air balloon-like around the births of the boys, to saggy deflated balloon in the subsequent years, the one part of my anatomy which has remained constant are my feet. And therefore shopping for footwear is a lot less depressing than shopping for clothes. So, I like shoes but I don’t love them. I have summer footwear, and winter footwear and of course the MOB-ligatory wellies. And that’s it.

My boys, however, appear to have, nay, need, a plethora of foot apparel for every occasion. They have…
1. 1 pair of school shoes
2. 2 sets of trainers
3. Crocs
4. (Mainly unused) plimsolls (it said on the school uniform list you had to have them)
5. Wellies
6. Assorted football boots, mostly missing studs
7. Walking boots
8. Sundry slippers
9. 1 started out as ‘good shoes’ but rapidly relegated to ‘old’
Not to mention that pair of sensible shoes which I purchased in the sale and which they absolutely refuse to wear. You know, those.

Our house, and particularly the shoebox where we sling our shoes, is positively ‘oversploding’ (as Feisty Fellow puts it) with footwear. Slightly smelly, definitely scuffed, always muddy, boys’ shoes.

And I wouldn’t mind if they were dinky ones, sweet little sandals or pretty ballet pumps. But no. The boys shoes are huge. Hulking lumps of grey black leather, lurid red football boots with angry-looking studs, Velcro-clad nylon that always smells of sweat.

And I also wouldn’t mind my shoe mountain if the offending items were actually worn, appropriately and willingly. But no.
‘Right boys, we’re going out. Put your shoes on!’
‘Which ones shall I put on mum?’
‘Whichever you like… we’re going into town.’
‘OK. I’ll wear Crocs.’
‘Crocs? But it’s pouring. Your socks will get wet. Wear your trainers.’
‘But I don’t like my trainers, and anyway they’re wet from yesterday.’
‘OK then, your walking boots.’
‘They give me blisters…’
‘Other trainers?’
‘Left them at school.’
Give me strength. We leave the house. They’re all wearing wellies.

Today, for the second time in six months, I took eldest Sensible Son shopping for new trainers. I realised, to my horror, that his feet are now bigger than mine. For a split second I was excited at the prospect of pinching his fleetingly worn hand-me-downs. A split second, before I vowed that I would not be the beneficiary of any of his ex-footwear. His second hand soles will be going to his brothers who are less bovvr’d by the state of them and have a less astute sense of smell.

Juggling balls

Juggling balls.

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