Thursday 15 April 2010


Dear Iceland, we said 'send Cash'.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Talking in Cars

Could someone please explain to me why it is dangerous to talk on a mobile phone using a hands free kit but not dangerous to have a conversation with a passenger in your car?

Just asking.......

Saturday 10 April 2010

A Good List

Some nights, can't sleep, I draw up a list,
Of everything I've never done wrong.
To look at me now, you might insist
My list could hardly be long,
But I've stolen no gnomes from my neighbor's yard,
Or struck his dog, backing out my car.
Never ate my way up and down the Loire
On a stranger's credit card.
I've never given a cop the slip,
Stuffed stiffs in a gravel quarry,
Or silenced Cub Scouts on a first camping trip
With an unspeakable ghost story.
Never lifted a vase from a museum foyer,
Or rifled a Turkish tourist's backpack.
Never cheated at golf. Or slipped out a blackjack
And flattened a patent lawyer.
I never forged a lottery ticket,
Took three on a two-for-one pass,
Or, as a child, toasted a cricket
With a magnifying glass.
I never said "air" to mean "err," or obstructed
Justice, or defrauded a securities firm.
Never mulcted—so far as I understand the term.
Or unjustly usufructed.
I never swindled a widow of all her stuff
By means of a false deed and title
Or stood up and shouted, My God, that's enough!
At a nephew's piano recital.
Never practiced arson, even as a prank,
Brightened church-suppers with off-color jokes,
Concocted an archeological hoax—
Or dumped bleach in a goldfish tank.
Never smoked opium. Or smuggled gold
Across the Panamanian Isthmus.
Never hauled back and knocked a rival out cold,
Or missed a family Christmas.
My list, once started, continues to grow,
Which is all for the good, but just goes to show
It's the good who do not sleep.

Brad Leithauser, poet

Thursday 8 April 2010

Little Plastic Bits

This time of year I venture into the depths of my children's assorted toy boxes, drawers, closets, caves and caverns for a good spring clean. I try to match all the games and puzzle pieces to the right boxes. Anything that can't be match gets thrown in the bin. Anything that the children have outgrown (or that I find just too annoying) gets either thrown in the bin (if I don't want to risk annoying countless other parents) or put in a big black bin bag headed for the charity shops.

I have discovered an uncanny talent which my son possesses. He showed a penchant for this talent at quite an early age. I'm wondering if there is any way to make any money with this talent. Oh perhaps not!

This son of mine cannot remember to put his dirty underpants in the laundry basket. He cannot remember what I ask him to do once he leaves the room I am not in. He has the memory of a newt.

Unless you are asking him which toy this little piece (smaller than a fingernail) of orange coloured plastic goes with. Or this turquoise square? Or this yellow tube?

He knows exactly which toy every stray piece of plastic goes with. He will tell me "It's the base that goes with that grey Transformer that was missing the arm that you threw away last spring clean." How does he remember that. I picked up this little clear yellow plastic bit and he identified as as belonging to a toy we threw out over 3 years ago.

My daughter is also displaying similar tendencies when we started on her closet. Are we all born with this? Do we then grown out of it? Are my children the only children that do this? Can we make money from this?

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Another Day, Another Museum

It is the Easter school holidays so the challenge is to keep 2 children busy without them killing me, me killing them, or them killing each other. In predictable English tradition, the school holidays begin and the heavens open up and the rain falls. Do NOT underestimate the scale of this challenge.

Our desitination this time was the Museum of London to which I turned for my salvation. As we were traveling with a rather large group I was determined not to make that classic marble mistake again! We had organised a small group of 5 boys (ages 8-9) and our wee little Abigail to descend all at once. What could possibly go wrong.

We caught the train and so far so good. We got a bargain basement group ticket for 4 adults and 5 children for only £13 more than it cost for just us 4 to go a few weeks ago. How exactly does that work? I am reminded of that line in the film Sleepless in Seattle where the little boy asks the little girl how much it costs to go to NYC. The little girl replies, "I don't know. No one knows."

I have discovered that train travel with boisterous children is a sure fire insurance policy for securing an empty carriage. People started to head towards the empty seats in our direction, heard the noise, and promptly retreated. Woo Hoo!

We were greeted upon entering the Museum and given maps and told of the day's events. Soon after Merja & William joined us and we were shown the various children's challenges and duly picked up each and every one of them. Abigail and I broke off from the group of boys to follow the medieval London tour which was incredibly informative and captivating.

We took a break for lunch and despite our best attempts to get the children engaged back into the swing of the museum they were a group of boys in desperate need of a run about. We headed for the Barbican. In typical English luck the rain started pouring down just as we headed outside. It stopped raining as soon as we were under cover of the play ground and then started again when we went to enter the park. Once again we ran for cover in the coffee shop at the Barbican.

We went home a bit soggier but with an enhanced appreciation of the Museum of London and Barbican and swore to return on a less wet grey day!

PS The Museum of London is completely free!

Tuesday 6 April 2010

British Museum

A few weeks ago during the school half term, Marc and I took the children to the British Museum. I'd heard all sorts of rumours that this was allegedly the best museum in the world and I wanted to be the judge of that myself.

I also have a fairly strong opinion about how the British came to have of this stuff to put in the museum. Basically, the Brits went round the world pillaging and plundering all the great civilisations in every corner of the globe and brought home the best bits. The British Museum was built for the express purpose of showing the world these ill gotten gains.

The defenders of the museum will tell you they've got paper work for it all. Yeah, right! And pigs fly.....I didn't want any part of that.

My curiosity (and the children nagging) got the better of me. With my morals well and truly compromised, we set off for the day.

We headed straight for The Hamlyn Library in the museum which has numerous sets of trails and challenges designed for various age groups and they are all free. They not only teach the children about many items in the museum but also how to navigate a museum and scrutinise historical objects. They learned how to translate Latin (always a useful skill?). They even got to handle some objects under the watchful but not too over protective eye of a museum volunteer. Abigail can tell you all about an alabaster pot which held kohl for Egyptian eye makeup.

We worshipped the stone statue lifted from Easter Island. Seb sketched the remains of a sculpture of a roman foot in a sandal. Abigail copied the names of the busts of the Greek gods. They thrilled a woman with their knowledge of the countries of Africa (and taught us a thing or two).

I stood in awe at the Rosetta stone as I gained a better understanding of just how incredibly valuable this piece of history was in helping us to uncover the mysteries of long forgotten languages and how this has led mankind to a greater capability in translating all different texts.

As the long day drew to an end and we had seen just about all we had the energy for, Marc reminded me that we still hadn't seen the Elgin marbles. Oh yeah.....I'd always wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The Brits took these marbles from Greece a couple hundred years ago at the height of their empire building. Of course, Greece was taking very good care of them before they were taken away since they were being used as a gun powder store. But I didn't understand what that all meant.

We walked into a room and on every wall was a stone sculpture. Marc started reading the exhibit in front of us. I patiently reminded him that we were at the end of the day and if we wanted to see the marbles we should probably get a move on. Marc looked at me like I had gone completely bonkers, an expression he has perfected over the years. I gently reminded him that our highest priority right at this moment were to see the marbles. Exasperated he pointed to the four walls surrounding us and said "See!"

Oh.....but I thought marbles were little round spherical things that little boys played with in a circle on the ground and carried around in little leather bags.

No, of course not. The sculptures were taken from the walls of The Parthenon. This article can tell you specifically what they are. And this link will show you some incredible photographs of these precious treasures. Just wished I'd looked at these before I'd made a right idiot out of myself.

No matter how these treasures were acquired, they are housed here with incredible care. The museum is free. The curators take care to ensure that everyone gets the most out of their visit: adults and children alike. Our school's half term was a week earlier than everyone else's so we practically had the museum to ourselves. The only disappointment was the tea in the cafe but I can overlook that.

The children got some fantastic certificates with their names on them for completing a couple of the challenges. Everyone is still laughing about my interpretation of the marbles. And I will definitely be going back to the British Museum. Sod the morals! And the marbles.

Monday 5 April 2010

Inside the Whale by Jennie Rooney

This is Ms Rooney's first novel. I am sincerely hoping it won't be her last and that she is only just getting started on what will be a long and illustrious career. This book is a joy to read even if you have to manage it through your tears.

It's a familiar story. A young girl and a young boy fall in love as the world around them is on the cusp of the second world war. They boy joins up when Germany attacks Great Britain and leaves the girl to discover that she is expecting his child which she proceeds to raise on her own when the boy is lost and assumed dead when he never returns from the battles in France.

But the skill and originality with which this story is told is nothing short of astonishing and is decidedly anything but familiar. The narrator alternates from the boy to the girl with each chapter. And each chapter is exquisitely short and subtle. The writing is beautiful without being indulgent. The ending is surprising and sad.

I really appreciated the journey of these character's lives and look forward to reading more of Rooney's work.

Book Group Verdict: This was one of the books for my Waterstone's book group and there was overwhelming support of this book. Not a dissenting voice among us.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Wet & Wonderful Easter Trails

Courtesy of the gorgeous Savill Gardens:

Egg Tradition

Just in time for the Easter Bunny shennanigans are this year's artistic endeavours:

Lane Discipline

Keep left unless overtaking (or right if you drive on the other side of road like the other half of the world).

A simple rule every one should be able to follow. At least everyone with a driving license.

A rule I never fully appreciated or was even that all aware of when I lived in America. Americans pass on the left. And the right. But you expect it. Besides the speed limit on the motorways (aka freeways, highways, etc) is set so low it doesn't really matter.

Lane discipline comes into its own in Germany and this is where I fully learned the importance of it. Germany has many motorways which have no speed limits. This is why they invented the Porsche and many other high performance vehicles capable of doing a leisurely Sunday drive at 120 mph.

And there are few other things that will teach you the value of lane discipline than to glance in the rear view mirror, see nothing and then have a blur of a Porsche pass you doing 140 mph. You learn to stay out of way. Unless of course you too own one of those works of art capable of going at the speed of blur.

In Germany everyone practices lane discipline. The same way they never cross the road unless they have the little green man.

In Italy they have lane discipline sorted out in that they don't have any lanes. You drive where ever, when ever you want to drive and stay the heck out of the way. Full stop. Which is the why they invented the Ferrari.

In Britain lane discipline is more of an aspiration. The British abhor the slovenly approach to lane discipline in the USA. They silently admire the strict adherence to the rules of the road in Germany and they are downright green with envy of the Italians lack of due care. But the stiff upper lipped Brits can't quite imagine anything themselves outside of simply sitting in the middle lane.

The Brits will never ever pass you on the wrong side of the road. That would be a sign of weakness. They will however do the entire journey in the middle lane to avoid being passed or merged into. They suffer fairly strong status anxiety and can't quite bear the fact that someone is passing them so they thinking nothing of holding up all the traffic travelling at 10 miles below the speed limit in the middle lane. I have sat in 10 miles of traffic jams with the slow lane being completely empty. No one wants to be seen over there.

And if like my husband you have a terminal case of speed anxiety you must be the fastest person on the road passing everyone you come upon in the middle lane.

So be warned if driving in the UK, the slow lane is for losers. The middle lane are for slightly less losers. And the fast lane is for the brave. And the stupid.

Friday 2 April 2010

New Carpet

When we moved into this house nearly 6 years ago, the first thing we did was paint a couple of the rooms. Let's just say the previous owners had rather dubious tastes.

The lounge in particular was painted this baby poo yellow/green. That had to go.

But it's easy to paint walls. What wasn't so easy was replacing the hideous red/burgundy/orangey carpet they had laid throughout the house. Fortunately, on the ground floor, only the lounge is carpeted. Unfortunately, this dark colour showed everything cat hair, every dog hair, every thing. I was forever stressing about hoovering. The last thing we did before company arrived was to run the hoover. And if we had unannounced visitors I wouldn't let them go beyond the kitchen.

Now some of you reasonable people might be asking yourself, why didn't that crazy woman just go and replace the carpet? Now I don't know who you think you're calling crazy, but my daddy raised me right. You can't just go round throwing things out before they have been used up.

And when we moved into this house 6 years ago these carpets were brand spanking new. So I lived with it. Not happily I might add. Every time I hoovered I complained, silently (and sometimes not so silently). I apologised to visitors for assaulting their visual sensibilities and waited for the day when the carpet could justifiably be replaced.

That glorious day came a few months back. OK, if we were really hard pressed I could have eeked a few more years out of it but the stress was more than I could bear. Instead I opted for the stress free option. Or shall I say I them subjected my husband to the stress of finding just the right colour?

One Sunday afternoon we visited our neighbours for a cuppa tea and biscuits to discover that they had replaced their lounge carpeting and they had the colour I coveted. That simple. Let the neighbours do the shopping. We promptly made our way to the same shop, the same salesman, and scheduled the installation.

Marc moved all the furniture to the playroom and waited at home for the installation. Abigail and I came home after the school run and there it was. Marc had move all the furniture back into the lounge and it was delightful.

Glorious, Beautiful, Exquisite, Pristine cream (marshmallow to be exact) carpeting. For the first time since having children I had cream carpet.

Right up until the moment Abigail dropped a slice of pizza face down on it. 8 hours after the carpet had been installed. 8 HOURS!!!!!!!!!!

Now I know people are more important than things. I know things can be replaced. blah blah blah. Let's just say this wasn't one of my shining moments as a parent and I wish I'd handled it better. But dang gone it, 8 HOURS? Really?

We frantically dabbed and mixed solutions of laundry detergent, vinegar, stain remover, and everything else the books say to use. No one else can see the stain. My husband says he can't see the stain but he wouldn't see an elephant in the room. Every time I enter the room my eye goes to that spot. I'm not sure I can see the stain. But I imagine I can see the stain.

I had new carpets for exactly 6 hours. Not one of those did anyone spend in the house.

Thursday 1 April 2010


The first day of our Easter holidays was to be an embrace of the luxuriousness of the enjoyment of all things around us. So I had big plans of heading off to Bath to check out the Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey.

I have extremely fond memories of Bath. However, I suspect this has less to do with the place and more to do with the company. My grandmother had come to visit me in England just after I moved here. It was the first and only time she came to visit me. We had spent a week in the Cotswolds. We'd stayed in charming B&Bs with claw footed bath tubs bigger than hot tubs chintzed to the max with rose budded duvets and curtains and chairs and sofas and pillows. We visited villages with odd names like Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaguhter. We bought an antique clock (which we still have) in a small little village. We walked all over Cheltenham. We laughed at the sight of a horse we had mistaken for a statue wee for 20 minutes. We had played gin rummy for hours sitting in pubs drinking ale. Nanny had marveled at the 7 different vegetables served with our Sunday Roast Beef (each and every one of them lovingly over cooked in the way only the English can do).

Our last day we made our way to Bath. We were exhausted. And she was in her 70s. So we took the easy way out and took a whistle stop double decker bus tour. I tell you Bath looked lovely from there. But I hadn't stepped foot into the baths or the abbey so I always felt slightly guilty when I said I'd been to Bath. I'd really only had someone else drive me round it.

As Sebastian is studying the Romans at school I wanted to go to Rome for the Easter holidays. As a recovering Catholic I have always wanted to be in the holiest of Christian cities for the holiest of Christian holidays. I've always wanted to see the spectacle of the Pope saying mass in St Peter's Square. But my husband has something against Italy. Something about them not being civilised. Can't imagine what he thinks he's talking about. These people invented sewers and water aqueducts and they have some of the best food in the world. I've been to Rome several times and it is my second favourite city (only to Florence - another Italian city). there is so much history here. Everywhere you look!

But the gods (or is that one god) conspired against me and we didn't quite make it to Rome. So I looked around and found that whilst exquisite Italian food is hard to find here, we have plenty of Roman ruins of our own. We picked Bath for the baths.

I knew it was going to be a bit tricky when we woke to a downpour but I will not let this weather beat me. I've lived in this grey, wet country far too long to let a gale force wind stop me.

My plans had us setting off at 9 am but this got scuppered when Marc had a panicked call from a customer who needed some urgent assistance. He assured me he would be back for a slightly later departure time of 10 am. At 11 my husband appeared wondering why we weren't standing outside in the rain waiting breathlessly for his arrival.

I agreed to drive under duress as Marc needed to do get some work done during the journey. We had estimated our travel time to be 1.5 hours which would have been entirely reasonable had the Highways Agency been able to organise a piss-up (drinking contest) in a brewery. But noooooo.

During the 70 mile stretch there were 5 different work zone of more than 5 miles each where the speed was reduced to no more than 50 mph. Speed cameras measuring average speed ensured my temptation to ignore the law was scuppered. This meant our 1.5 hour estimation was in reality just over 2 hours and given our late departure time we arrived in Bath at lunch time.

So we popped into the M&S to grab some sandwiches although with the rain continuing to announce its presence with authority there was no where to eat our lunch unless we fancied some soggy bread. Besides as luck would have it neither of the children particularly fancied our choice of sandwiches. My patience was wearing thin.

We duly paid our entrance fee of £30 and excitedly set upon our audio tours, one for the children and one for the adults. Soon thereafter more troubles ensued.

The site was jam packed. A representative from the site has since informed me that a number of group visits were booked for the day and most of them did not turn up at their allotted times. No, they waited until we got there. We got pushed, We got pulled, We got shoved. We couldn't see a thing, especially the children.

We had been given free audio tour devices upon our entrance. The children really seemed to enjoy theirs. The commentary must have been entertaining and engaging as Sebastian kept complaining we were moving too far ahead and needed to slow down so he could finish listening. this is what all mothers dream of hearing so we quite happily slowed down.

Unfortunately, the audio tours were not quite as good for the adults. It didn't move at the same pace as the children's but that is not always a bad thing. However, music whilst just standing in a thronging crowd doesn't make it come alive for anyone. Tell me something I wouldn't know by just being there on my own. There are additional commentary tracts narrated by the author Bill Bryson which are good but he does swerve into over sentimental territory often. I, also, am awe struck by the historical significance of the baths. You don't have to tell me how awe struck you are seven times (or more....I only started counting when my annoyance levels went into hyper speed).

To make matters worse, a large portion of the site is under refurbishment. This cause major foot traffic jams in pinch points in the exhibits particularly when there was a long audio explanation in a specific area. And all that construction disrupted the continuity of the site making it extremely difficult to visualize what the site looked like which is a key component for a curator of a museum of this historical significance.

I suppose I was most upset that we didn't see any signage at the entrance that indicated there was refurbishment work taking place. When I checked out the website I didn't see any either. And the teller certainly didn't mention it when we bought our tickets. I think it is a bit cheeky to ask people to pay a full price ticket when only half the site is available to view. And even then you couldn't see it for all the crowds.

The final straw on this camel's back was the spa water fountain. The water in the baths is untreated. You should not touch it or drink it. However, there is the promise of a spa water fountain at the end of the tour. The children were desperate to try a drink. So we went and joined the queue. The long queue. The very long queue which was getting longer as there was no one serving the water from the fountain. Nor did there appear to be anyone interested in resolving the situation.

It is safe to say that we left there with a somewhat bitter (and parched) taste in our mouths. I am happy to inform you my dear readers that a very nice woman, Katie Smith, has responded to the, I am ashamed to admit, rather vitriolic email I sent this morning. She responded to everyone one of my complaints and apologised profusely. Additionally she offered a free ticket for our family to return to the site once the refurbishments are complete as they have overrun. She also offered a full refund but when someone is that nice and professional and fair, you gotta give it another go. So, dear Ms Smith, we will be back once your refurbishments are over. And it better be good!

After our rather unpleasant trip round the baths I was tempted to just get in the car and drive home. But I couldn't pass up the Bath Abbey. Never one to pass up an ancient church I just had to give this one a go. And I have to admit it was well worth the time. They had a little quiz for the children that ensured they explored every corner, nook and cranny. I discovered that the very first English monarch was crowned here in 973 AD. It had some of the most beautiful and best kept stained glass windows I have ever seen. It was dry. It was warm. It was peaceful. It was calming. It was perfect.

There will be a third trip to Bath in a few months time and we can't wait. Anyone fancy joining us? Third times a charm!