Friday, March 31, 2006

The Trouble with Pets

The children have decided they want a dog. Spouse also wants one. To be fair, Spouse has always wanted one, but deferred in the past to my paralysing terror of dogs. We did have a deal that I'd get a baby, and he'd get a dog, but four years after the last baby, we haven't got to the dog part yet. Our latest idea is to wait till the kids are big enough to take it out on their own. I have just got my offspring out of nappies, I'm not thrilled at the prospect of potty training a dog. Or looking after it for that matter. I mean, who else is going to?

To be honest, my children are so wussy around animals, I'm surprised they've even shown an interest in our canine friends. They spent a week in Spain a couple of years ago being terrified of our best friends' maniacal dog. Why they want one of their own beats me. And it isn't even as if they've taken much notice of the pet we do have: Georgie, a little hamster.

Georgie came to us a year ago by way of our ex-nanny. She has several pets, and one of them, a parakeet kept attacking Georgie, so she asked us if we'd have him. Thinking it would be Good For The Kids To Have A Pet, I agreed.

Which only goes to show how stupid you can be. I only have myself to blame. I am about the only person who pays any attention to Georgie. (Apart from no 4 who occasionally pokes her finger in his cage, and wonders why she gets bitten. It's a wonder we haven't lost him.) I'm certainly the only one who cleans him out. This is partly because of course, being a hamster, he generally comes out at night when the sprogs are asleep. So, though on the one hand he is a low maintenance pet, so quite good for kids, he is also a non-appearance pet so they get easily bored.

I have to say having never really had a pet as a kid (my mother used to say she had enough animals in the house, she didn't need anymore - I can now see exactly where she is coming from), I've actually got quite attached to Georgie. Spouse and I often talk to him in the evening when he comes snuffling his way out when we're watching the ten o'clock news. It is of course quite ridiculous to be so sentimentally attached to a hamster. Especially as he was ten months when we got him, we've had him a year and hamsters average two...

So every time I look into his cage it is with some trepidation - especially as there are days when I am so busy I never even notice him. I know one day I will look in there and he will be lying flat out with his little feet sticking in the air.

What I feel sure of is that Georgie is probably not so happy with his lot. I am always forgetting to clean him out - viz, this week I am guiltily trying to remember when I last did it. As the children show no interest in doing so either, he has to put up with it. He is probably mighty pissed off that he left his previous comfy home, and came to this hell where this useless woman forgets to feed you, neglects to clean you and four year olds poke their fingers into your cage, while no one else plays a blind bit of notice of you.

But to be quite honest, I am quite happy for it to stay this way. As annoying as it is to have to clean him out, the longer the children ignore our pet and neglect his day to day care, the longer I can hold out on the dog thing. When they learn to look after their hamster, then they might get a dog...

Can we have a dog? They cry. Over my dead body is the phrase that springs to mind, but I think it's more likely to be over Georgie's....

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Norman Kember

Although this is not a political blog, I cannot let the fantastic news that Norman Kember has been released go unmentioned. My brother in law Chris Cole, Director of Friendship of Reconciliation has been campaigning hard for the last four months along with many others to secure Norman's safe release. We are all delighted that the outcome has been happy. But please spare a thought for the family of Tom Fox who are facing a much harsher reality.

For more about the work that FoR do please visit:

Monday, March 20, 2006

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Given that it is only March and Thames Water are proposing a hosepipe ban in April (a bit rich when most of the water in their pipes seems to be pissing down our road for months on end with nobody doing anything about it), Spouse and are looking at the possibility of the garden not growing at all this year.

This is a pity as amateur enthusiasts that we are, we are vaguely getting the hang of growing our own veg, and now that I have worked out that you should be really really ruthless about thinning carrots and parsnips, was rather looking forward to having some decent size carrots this year, rather then the weedy variety I produced last year.

It having been so cold the last few weeks has also proved a bugger in the garden. Our daffs are usually out by now, but they keep poking their heads up, and then going Nah, think I'll leave it... and I can't help feeling we're going to get through spring with most of them staying resolutely shut.

As it's been too cold to produce anything in the greenhouse, I assiduously planted: brocoli, onions, peppers, aubergines, tomatoes and cucumbers a couple of weeks ago, when I had to give up as I ran out of compost. They have been happily growing in the conservatory since.

This weekend being slightly sunny, Spouse having bought some more, I spent several happy hours with the sprogs sowing further seeds. But given that they were all crowding round at one point, and dropping seeds anywhere and everywhere, the likelihood of my second sowings actually reaching any kind of fruition are probably limited...

I now have every available windowsill in the conservatory covered in seed trays, which along with a bucket of frogspawn (an experiment by Spouse - he wants to see if they hatch quicker indoors then in the pond), means that the conservatory, which is half finished and therefore the children's play area of choice is in danger of becoming a mudbath, or home to hundreds of frogs... Neither of which prospect fills me with joy...

However the upside is, if we get any frogs, they'll eat the slugs without us resorting to Evil Slug Pellets which destroy everything in their path. To be fair to Spouse, we have tried upside down citrus fruit - we got ants - and pints of beer, to no avail, and he does get the environmentally friendly kind. But I'm all for having an eco garden, so if the frogs can do it, bring on the frogs, say I.

All of this is of course academic if we have no water as we won't have any plants for the slugs to eat.

Which is why in addition to the four water butts we also have, Spouse spent much of yesterday constructing a watering system in the greenhouse which is fed by a bucket to catch rainwater outside, and he then spent several hours pouring over the instructions in Saturday's Telegraph to build your own resevoir. Maybe we should just use the coldframes instead of growing stuff in them...

But drought or no drought. It does your heart good to get in the open and get your hands dirty. The fruits of our labours this weekend meant we now have half the vegetable patch dug over, so we can get sowing next weekend, I've cleared the strawberry beds which were in a shocking state, and I've also managed to get some pansies and primula in my pots, so that after months of drab greyness, I have some colour back in my garden.

Now I just have to sit back and pray for rain...

If you are interested in a more eco friendly way of life, I can recommend Imperfectly Natural Woman -Getting Life Right the Natural Way by Janey Lee Grace of Radio 2 fame. To find out more about it you can visit:

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Running Away From Home

It goes without saying that someone who refers to herself as a maniac mum doesn't consider herself to be the best mother in the world. But this week I was given notice that I was a really really bad one.

At seven pm on Wednesday night, when her big sisters were out at Brownies and it was actually time for bed, no 3 announced that I had given her no choice: she was running away from home. My crime? Turning the tv off and telling her it was bedtime. The resulting tantrum ended in her running upstairs and going to her cupboard and packing a suitcase.

This isn't the first time one of my children has tried to run away (you see? I am a really bad mother). No2 has also had a go, for reasons which escape me now. She too, packed a suitcase and headed off down the stairs with it. On that occasion I tried to bluff it out, by saying ok, off you go. Unfortunately no2 double bluffed me and promptly opened the front door and headed out of it. At which point I had to drag her back inside, and lock the top bolt.

With this in mind, and considerate of the fact that it was after dark, I decided the best option this time was to try and keep no3 in her bedroom. I found her sobbing dramatically as she packed, wailing, "I don't really know if I should do this, but I have to."

"But where are you going to go?" I asked.
"I don't know," she hiccuped, "but I can't stay here."

No clearly not. Why would you stay with a demon mother who turns televisions off willy nilly. There must be some other nirvana where mums do what they are supposed to and let children stay up all night, watching tv and eating junk food. Shame no3 got lumbered with me...

She then hit something of a dilemma. She had packed so many of her clothes, she couldn't fit her toys in the suitcase. With a look of grim determination, she got out a back pack and promptly shoved her cuddlies in it. If she was going to be cast out by her evil mother into an unyieldingly cruel world, at least she would have something to snuggle up to.

"It'll be dark outside," I pointed out.
"I know," another hiccuping sob, and a set determined look. She then wanted to know if she could take a sleeping bag. And when it was pointed out to her she couldn't carry it all, some of her resolve started to crumble.

By now her sisters were back from Brownies, and no 2 was taking a sisterly, Been There Done That interest in proceedings.

"You'll need money," she says."You'll have to take five pounds from Mum's purse." Great a kleptomaniac in the house as well as a runaway. My bad mother points are mounting up here.

I pointed out that this was stealing.
"Is it?" no2, was interested to discover this, as clearly because it is me, she thinks I owe her.
Er, yes. Just because it's your mum, you still shouldn't take money out of her purse.

Spouse took this moment to come home, at which no 3 went into a blind panic. If I am a bad mother, apparently the thought of her dad discovering her trying to runaway from home is even more terrifying then having to leave your rotten mum in the first place.

She started flinging clothes back in a drawer, in between throwing herself into my arms sobbing. "I think this is a bad idea."
"I do, too," I say. "Here, let me help you."

Phew, crisis averted, Bad Mummy clearly not as scary as Nasty Daddy. For once my personal maternalometer rating seems higher then normal...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A November to Remember
by Taryn Mckeiver

"Every medical student should have a copy of this book" Lynn Faulds Wood

I lived my life over and over again on my raft. I felt safe, on my raft, completely safe. In my dreams I could steal myself away from cancer and all of my fears, I wasn't yet ready to face them...

Every so often a book comes along that makes you really sit up and take notice. A November to Remember, is such a book.

At the age of thirty, happily married with five young children, life couldn't have looked better for Taryn McKeiver.

Until the night she was rushed into hospital, in excruciating pain, and her world collapsed.

Taryn had bowel cancer - the most taboo of all cancers. And over the next two years she was to embark on the most painful and heartbreaking journey you can imagine.

With the support of her husband, Nick, Taryn was determined she wouldn't be beaten, as she clawed her way back to a life she thought lost to her forever.

Told with devastating honesty, and wry humour, A November to Remember is the hugely inspirational story of the courage and determination of an extraordinary woman battling to survive...

Published on 30 March 2006 by
Burrow Publishing,
PO Box 141,
Surrey KT21 9AN

ISBN 0-9552495-0-3
Trade Paperback
Price£9.99 $17.99 e14.99
216 x 138mm

Orders via: Bertrams, Gardners, Amazon
Or visit:>
for further information contact:

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A November to Remember

Generally the tone of this blog is lighthearted and not meant to be taken seriously. But in my day job as well as fending for my offspring I also edit books.

I have recently edited a book which is probably the most important book I have ever worked on.

It is called A November to Remember by my friend Taryn Mckeiver and is about her battle with the most taboo of all cancers - bowel cancer. We are self publishing it and hope to have copies by the end of this month. The book has a foreword by Lynn Faulds Wood who says this book will change the way people think about bowel cancer. And Taryn is donating part of the profits to Lynns Bowel Cancer Campaign.

In the meantime Taryn has just published a website at:">you can visit which is an incredibly honest assessment of how she has dealt with the horrific hand Fate dealt her.

It is by no means all gloom and doom either, as Taryn has me crying one minute and laughing another.

She is an amazing person, and this is an amazing book. It is both her and my wish that the book can raise awareness of this dreadful disease, and hopefully save lives.

If you have visited my blog, please take time out to visit Taryn's website too, whether or not you know anyone who has bowel cancer/have suffered from it yourself. It is not an exaggeration to say the information you will find there may one day save your life.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Wetting the Baby's Head

It has long struck me as completely unfair that when a baby is born, the person who has done all the work, is totally knackered and is now going to be up half the night gets left out of the party, while everyone else has a ball.

When no 1 was born nearly ten years ago, we were still very much in a babyless/be wild mindset, and so were most of our friends. Spouse did get to the pub the day she came, when frankly I was so out of it I couldn't have cared less, but hadn't really had a proper celebration. He more then made up for it the night before I came home which happened to be a Friday. It therefore seemed entirely incumbent upon him to invite a few mates to come back after pub closing and have a drink. My mother was coming in the morning, and Spouse had promised her he would be up and the house tidy. As if.

Everyone was from the sounds of it in very high spirits, (probably due to the volume of high spirits they had consumed) and much fun was had by all. In the course of said fun a sofa got broken, much alcohol got spilt and I dread to think what state the lounge was in by the time Spouse had shoved the funsters out of the door. Needless to say he wasn't up when my mother returned, and when I rang to politely enquire why he hadn't pitched up at the hospital as promised, it was to discover that he had only just crawled out of his pit. My miraculous mother then blitzed the house, so when I returned with baby in tow, all was calm and rational. I meanwhile was left to reflect that while he was having fun, I was breastfeeding. A somewhat less then reasonable exchange I felt...

Next time around the baby was born after pub closing time (good move, Mummy), and I got home the next day, so wetting the baby's head was a somewhat more sober affair.

With no 3 it is all such a blur I can't quite remember what happened, although I seem to remember sending Spouse to the pub at about 9pm the night before she came, on the basis that I had to be there, he didn't, and the wretched baby was taking so long to come he at least may as well enjoy himself. So the baby's head was wet even before it was born...

No 4 however, was a different story, being as she came on the same day as our pyrotechnic builder's mate's son. He was born somewhat earlier in the day, and we heard about it from the midwife, who was all agog about the behaviour of one of the dads who'd gone out to the pub in the middle of the labour. It wasn't our mate? we asked. Yes it was, how on earth did we know? Oooh, I don't know, lucky guess, perhaps?

Given that it is a fairly rare occurrence to be able to go and celebrate the birth of your fourth daughter, and even rarer occurrence to do it with a mate who is also celebrating the birth of his son, it seemed only right and proper to send Spouse straight from the hospital to the pub. The midwife's eyes nearly went through the ceiling when I suggested if the baby came before ten Spouse would still have time to get there. As it happened she arrived at 10.20, so after hobbling to the shower, I sent him on his way, as quickly as I could. He had to ring up to order his pints, but get there he did, and departed somewhat later, and less soberly then when he entered.

With each baby, by the time I wasn't breastfeeding/was feeling like a drink/getting some sleep, the moments of euphoria had all but departed, so I have always felt slightly cheated that I never really got to raise a glass properly to my offspring's arrival.

So it was with great joy that I was able to do so for the arrival of my great niece, who came into the world earlier this week.

Spouse and I went to the hospital to see her, both enjoying the moment of it not being us this time... and were greeted with the rather unusual sight of my bil cradling his new grandaughter, looking more then slightly bemused. Neither Spouse or bil are particularly baby-orientated but it was highly amusing to watch some latent caveman protective tendency coming out in them, as they seemed to be more besotted then we girlies were. (Mind you, we girlies know what it's all about and they really really don't).

After the baby was duly admired, we went home to pick up the big ones from Brownies and report back to mil on the beauty of her new great-grandchild. And then it was down to the serious stuff, and we all raised a glass or two (or three) to welcome the new arrival, which was all fine and dandy, but probably not the best move in the middle of the week.

It was only when I woke up late the next morning with a very sore head, and in a rush to get the offspring to school, that I finally came to realise that perhaps this wetting the baby's head thing isn't all it's cracked up to be...

For Ruth and Imogen, with lovexxx

Monday, March 06, 2006

Magical Leek Soup

No I haven't gone into Narnia, but I have decided to do something about my weight. Given that it is now four years since the last of my offspring arrived, I no longer have an excuse as to why I am a stone heavier then I was ten years ago before I set off on this mad mother thing.

I'm not a big fan of diets, as I really think they are a no brainer, but over the last couple of years I have tried the Carol Vorderman detox diet, which I was crap at as I got bored. Last summer I also bought a GI diet book - having read at the end of my marathon training last year that Steve Redgrave followed a GI diet when training for the Olympics. What's good enough for Steve... isn't really good enough for me as I get so fed up following diet plans, and never have the right ingredients in.

So the other week when I was in Wottakers purchasing last minute pressies for the old man for his birthday (actually very last minute, I am ashamed to say the tables have turned and I was actually out on his birthday buying him presents, oh dear) and there was a 3 for 2 offer and I was scrabbling for a third book, a title just leapt off the bookshelves begging to be bought. It was called French Women Don't Get Fat, and I had read about it somewhere. The author apparently advocates chocolate, champagne and sex as part of a sensible diet and way of keeping thin. Hmm, sounds like my kind of diet, that...

Actually, what it appears to amount to is a French version of A Little Bit Of What You Fancy Does You Good and Everything in Moderation - two precepts with which I was brought up, which have rather gone out of the window of late. I do agree with her wholeheartedly about cooking proper food every day, eating fresh when possible and cutting down portion sizes, but helas, am unlikely to find a wonderful vegetable market outside my door, so can't buy fresh veg every day. I also can't see myself discussing ad infinitum the relative merits of different veg as she also suggests, but I'm with her In Principle.

Which is how I found myself embarking on a detox programme to end all detoxes. She advises reprogramming your brain to do something called recasting where you chuck out all the offenders in your daily diet (in my case the chocolate crap that I end up buying for the kids, and my very bad habit of finishing what they don't). Prior to recasting you have a "tough weekend" where you eat nothing but leek soup - or actually you drink the water leeks are cooked in every two to three hours and when it is meal time you eat leeks in olive oil. She assures me this will be so tasty it won't feel tough at all. Now I like leeks as much as the next person, and we have just celebrated St David's Day, so what the hell, I thought I'd give it ago. I am already an alcohol free zone as I foolishly decided that I would give it up for Lent in a desperate attempt to reduce my intake, so in for a penny in for a pound...

Sat started with the usual mayhem of ballet runs et al - made more complicated now as no 3 has just done a ballet exam and her lesson is at 9 am, no 1 is doing extra tuition (because as the appallingly pushy parents we are we are hoping she sits an exam for a rather good local school in the autumn - she otoh wishes to go the more local one with all her friends - guilty mum, qui moi?), so also does that at 9am. No 2 had her first reconciliation rehearsal at 11.15, and no 1 was back at the Fame School for 1.30. So I was out and about most of the morning. I therefore had time to force one mug of leek juice down my unyielding lips, because despite the author's assertions it really was pretty foul, before I had to leave. I managed, nobly to resist the siren calls of tea and toast at the local cafe, and then shot into town in between ballet lessons to buy some more leeks (I had dug up all the pathetic attempts we have grown in the garden, and I didn't have enough for the weekend).

I rushed back home shoved the leeks on, only to discover that Spouse had bought some too. Blimey I could have magical leek soup forever at this rate. He snorted in disbelief when he saw me eating the bowl of leeks I had prepared earlier, while the rest of the family feasted on white bread (very very bad for GI, I pointed out smugly), ham and salad. By this time I was feeling a bit peculiar. I wasn't sure if it was by dint of the leeks, my lack of sleep on Friday night, or the fact that I had a stinking cold. But refreshed, invigorated I certainly didn't feel. Rather the opposite in fact. By the middle of Saturday afternoon I cracked and ate a couple of slices of rye bread (Good GI, so that felt like I wasn't cheating too much), but managed to stagger through the rest of the day on leeks alone.

By Sunday morning the thought of leeks for breakfast was certainly beginning to pall. So I stayed in bed rather then have breakfast. That worked.

I had to get up sometime, though, so got downstairs to discover children in reasonable state of pandemonium. No one had had breakfast, and only two out of four were dressed. Spouse meanwhile was at the gym, and when he returned feasted on yet more lovely, gorgeous, crusty looking white bread, which was starting to call me siren-like. Hell, I hadn't been at this fasting business for twenty four hours and I'm hallucinating about bread. I am so not cut out for dieting. I don't possess the No I Can't Have That Gene, and I'm definitely not a French woman (in size or thought...)

I managed to get to about 2pm and then cracked. We'd run out of rye bread, so the white it was, which probably negated all the effect of my previous starvation. By 4pm I was thoroughly sick of leek water, and had a cup of tea when my mil arrived. Meanwhile I was preparing a lamb roast, and baking goodies for the children for the week, in attempt to prove to myself I am not a slave to food. I must have been a masochist in a former life...

My French friend advocates a small piece of meat and two veg for dinner that evening -never had food tasted so delicious. She also claims we often eat when we are thirsty so suggests drinking water when you think you're hungry. That didn't work at all for me, by bedtime I was ravenous. But at least I've sort of detoxed.

Today was meant to be a day of restraint, and of learning to banish my key offenders. But it was also the day I was planning to go the London Book Fair, where it is damn nigh impossible to eat healthily. However as we were late getting up and no4 wasn't well, I was running around headless chicken like till Spouse took the three eldest off in the car. So breakfast consisted of a slice of toast. So far, so good.

Mil had kindly offered to have the poorly one, but two minutes before I was to drop her off, I managed to knock a perfume bottle on to her finger, giving her a nasty bruise and blood blister under the nail. Feeling really heartless, I took my sobbing child to my mother in law's somewhat later then intended. Shades of my last bad mother moment when I went up to London for the evening only to end up in Casualty with a very wheezy baby, sprang to mind, but I had appointments to keep and Dammit! I only get out about once a year. So I went and when I rang later she seemed fine... Guilt assuaged for now...

The Book Fair was slightly surreal as it was combined with a Beautician's Conference. It was easy to spot the difference. Publishers marched around, wearing black or beige, carrying coffee, lugging briefcases and looking Self Important, whereas, beauticians had an average age of 17, wore crop tops, tracksuits and trainers, and sported unseasonably (and in most cases, unreasonably, considering the size of them - why am I worried about my weight?) large amounts of midriff.

Excel where LBF now finds its home evidently couldn't cope with this influx of people so at lunchtime a friend and I hunted in vain for anything to eat. Oh well, I thought perhaps I'll skip lunch (something not recommended by our French friend). However, when I nearly fainted through lack of food, I decided perhaps I had better eat something and managed to grab a houmous wrap from a shop with a marginally smaller queue. So, healthy eating was still on the up. I had failed dismally on the drinking front though, as I was two cups of coffee worse off then normal, and hadn't drunk the requisite amount of water. And by three o'clock, I was absolutely starving, which is why I succumbed and bought the kitkat which was crying out for my attention. (This is getting serious, now kitkats are talking to me....)

After my meetings were over I headed off home and spent an hour or so picking up offspring. No3, conveniently was brought home, but when I went to pick up no 4 from mil's she not so conveniently had gone to sleep. So I went to get the two biggest from their best friends' house, from whence I emerged half an hour later having promised no 2 and her best friend that when they have completed their bestselling book, I will send it to all my publishing mates... they will be so grateful.

Then it was back to mil's to pick up a rather sleepy and damp no 4, whose finger was still throbbing and looking worse then ever (Oh Guilt, thy name is Mother!). No3 hadn't eaten, so I shoved some food down her neck, while Spouse who had just got back transported grobags into the garden (it being nearly Spring we are in the process of getting our own crops going). And then I chased them all into bed. I haven't had anything to eat yet, but I know one thing for sure. French women might be thin, but I am never going to lose weight while I stay at home. Today (barring my failure with the kitkat) I hardly ate a thing. If I went out to work I reckon my stubborn stone would be gone in a month. But on the other hand, I also reckon what is left of my sanity would be out of the window. I have enough chaos in my life without having to pick up all the pieces at the end of a working day.

I just have to face it, magical leek soup nothwishtanding, that extra stone is here to stay...