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10th September: Boo Hoo Banana Bread

Be careful what you wish for…

Yes. The Big One has started school.

I’ve described my irrational emotions about this before.
But. Six weeks of intense ‘summer’ ‘holidays’ and I’d been feeling a lot less sad about the prospect of him being out of the house for six hours a day.

My stressed out mother routine hit new highs as I tried desperately to amuse all three children, referee their spats, provide a conveyor-belt of wholesome snacks and hearty meals. The house took a battering, and with nothing much by way of respite, I found myself living like someone off one of those episodes of Kim and Aggie. Had they magically appeared to sneer at my smeggy flea-hole, I would probably have just licked their faces like some grateful Labrador.

But time fair galloped by, and I found myself labelling his little polo shirts and his little trousers and his little sweatshirts and his surprisingly large shoes…Spiderman lunchbox selected (he’s never seen anything spiderman related, yet he’s adamant that he LOVES it)!!

Still, I held it together just fine.

He put in his ‘first day’ food requests. (bacon&eggs for breakfast / salami sarnies for lunch / lasagne for tea)

I packed his little bags and made his little packed lunch.

We all walk up to school together. Older kids shout hello as they cycle past. People shout “Is he starting today?” out of their car windows. I glance down at his little brown hand in mine and the floodgates open…

How did he get so big so fast? How was he going to get on? And, what on earth was I going to do without him??

We arrive at the school gates. The Big One runs joyously towards his friends without a backward glance. I spot a friend in a similar state to me and we clutch eachother sobbing. Other parents look on sympathetically, if not a little gratefully that it’s me and not them making a prize tit of themselves.

He comes back for a perfunctory hug and skips into his new classroom, happy as larry. I walk home red-eyed and snivelling, gutted that I didn’t hide myself in the stationery cupboard so I could spy on him all day and make sure he was happy.

The house is eerily quiet. Fusspot has also started back at Pre-School…and don’t even get me STARTED on that. I wander from room to room. The Baby baffled by the calm and quiet, clings on to my legs, desperate for company. Hometime cannot come quickly enough for either of us.

The following week, as we get used to our new routine, I begin to realise that I can actually start to function within the parameters of ‘normal’ once again. Me and the Fusspot have time to do wholesome activities together while The Baby naps. One day he decides his big brother will be starving after school, so we decide to make a cake for hometime.

Now, I have serious issues with bananas. I find them utterly revolting. The smell, the sliminess. I have tried very hard to not pass this on to my kids. I have resisted the overwhelming urge to vomit as they regurgitate them, or squeeze them through their teeth for a larf. I know I overreact if they drop a piece on the floor *GIP* or put a piece in their juice for me to fish out *BARF*…

There are a couple of blackening horrors lurking in our sorry fruit bowl. I bite the bullet and look up a recipe for banana bread. Cream 4oz butter with 8oz sugar. Gradually add in 2 beaten eggs and four mashed….revoltingly, stinklily, over ripe bananas…along with 1tsp vanilla essence. Fold in 10oz of plain flour, 1tsp bicarbonate soda and 1/2 tsp salt. The recipe calls for 3fl oz of buttermilk. If you don’t have this then use normal milk mixed with a tsp of vinegar. Stir this in to the batter.

Butter and line a cake or loaf tin. Pour in the foul smelling mixture and sprinkle some sugar on top for a bit of crunch. Bake at 180*C for about 45mins or until a skewer comes out clean.

The Fusspot is chuffed. With my undivided attention, with the fruits of his labours…and with the fact that I’m seemingly happy for him to eat the whole thing on his own.

He proudly presents his bro a piece as we arrive at school. We stroll home, brothers reunited scoffing cake together. Bonus as the thing was so massive that it does them in their lunch boxes for the rest of the week.

The Big One seems to be loving school. And my little hell-raising trio are all so very excited to reunited after a day apart. Starting School: A big moment for him….but an even bigger one for me.

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3rd September: 7 year bitch

One word for you. Barbecue.

Gah.

I have barbecue-related issues.

We’re just home from a lovely bonus week in France. The delayed trip that we chickened out of earlier in the year. Car loaded up with literally everything we own. Kids’ Disney CD on repeat (God Help Me. Someone. Please.)

We chug down to the ferry port. The rain is thrumming down, bank holiday stylee. It does not bode well. We call in at His grandma’s house. She has one of those independent-living flats with the red pulleys. Her fellow tenants do not NOT like children. The net curtains twitching as my kids stretch their little legs by running around?? with smiles on their faces??. Heaven forbid Old Timers!! His sister is also visiting. She tells them not to worry about the old lady next door. She’s just a grumpy old wicked witch. The Big One’s Eyes like saucers as he tries to catch a glimpse of her through her stained blinds…

We continue on our journey. The overnight ferry is amazingly uneventful. We arrive into St Malo and hit the beach for a breezy Sunday morning stroll. We ask some passing Italian tourists to take a photo of us all by the town hall where we’d married seven years earlier almost to the day. Sweet.

Back in the car again. We head southwards and momentarily enjoy a magic moment driving thought the French Countryside with all three asleep. Needless to say it didn’t last long…

We spend the week seeing old friends, making new ones, swimming, going to the beach…the usual stuff. On what would have been my lovely Grandad’s 90th birthday, we pop some champers and feast on oysters and prawns = very very happy me!

Which brings me onto barbecues.

What’s my beef with the BBQ I hear you ask…

Men. That’s what.

What could be more frustrating than a bloke. Beer in hand. Stood over a fire. Prodding stuff. Turning stuff unnecessarily. Barking out requests for more beer. For the plate of meat. For the tongs. For another plate to put cooked stuff on. Ignoring the children as he stares. And prods. And turns.

Meanwhile. As if by magic. The table is set. A variety of salads are prepared and dressed. Potatoes are cooked. Bread is sliced. Drinks are poured. Children are cared for.

And all the while he stares and prods and turns. You eat. Then he basks in the thanks and praise as you wash up. Grrrr.

I’m being harsh. Most unlike me.

My lovely man excelled himself on holiday. He arranged it all (well, it is his job!), and drove the whole way there and back. He did the shopping and displayed his usual boundless puppy dog energy with the kids. And did all the barbecuing….

On our anniversary he makes me a rather amazing meal. The whole thing, not just the grilled meat bit. Fillet steak with bratkartoffeln, green beans and bearnaise sauce. Delicious. He even does all the washing up. Seven years? (plus the 11 before that!) The man deserves a medal. 10/10.

A footnote. Because I wouldn’t want to you think we’ve lost our chaotic charm.

We arrive home late evening, a bit bedraggled (with the beginnings of a migraine from the Baby’s antics). We both stand at the front door like lemons. “I thought you had the key”. “No, I thought you did”. Long story short. We end up jemmying open a window and feeding our four-year old through a la Artful Dodger. The whole street knew we were back. Those nutters from Neighbours From Hell have nothing on us….

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16th August: Superfood Chicken Salad

For The Attention of Masters and Miss Wills. To be opened on the event of Miss Wills’s 18th birthday.

Masters and Miss Wills,

I am writing on behalf of my client, Mrs Sarah Wills, to seek damages to her person – both physical and psychological – which were inflicted upon her during your young childhood. She regrets that she has been forced to take such action but, in her words, she has been left ‘wrecked’ by your antics and shenanigans. Our claim is detailed below. In invoice format.

Physical Damages

Laser treatment required to repair stretch marks and scarring: £550
Tummy tuck to return abdomen to previous ‘bikini bod’ state: £5350
Breast Uplift to return boobs to previous ‘cherry bun’ state: £5500
Facelift to return face to previous unlined state: £6400
Eyelid Surgery to return eyes to previous awake & alert state: £1600

Psychological Damages

Chronic Fatigue. My Client maintains that this is a direct result of your inability, in particular Wills Minor and Miss Wills, to sleep consistently over a period of 2615 nights and to persist in waking up each and every morning between 4.30-6am during this time.

The inability to finish a sentence. My Client maintains that this is due to the fact that she has been interrupted during every phone call and conversation during a 5 year period (in reference particularly to Wills Major). As a result of this, she now struggles to concentrate and drifts off the point when permitted to speak.

The inability to sit still. My Client maintains that this is due to your incessant demands for snacks, drinks and toileting. Your propensity to run off when out of the home environment. Your inability to concentrate on a task (jigsaw, board game etc) for longer than 2 minutes. She has therefore become utterly unaccustomed to sitting still, even when she has company, and instead spends any ‘down time’ wiping surfaces repeatedly as her guests look on baffled and bemused.

Emotional Trauma. My Client maintains that, prior to having children, she was an emotional stone. Unmoved by weepy films, wedding speeches and the like. She now finds herself teary at anything. She will cry at any of the following: anything containing Old People; anything containing Children; anything containing people doing well at something; anything containing people being disappointed at not succeeding. She is unable to watch Children in Need, Comic Relief, Remembrance Day services, Pride of Britain Awards….the list goes on.

We are seeking damages in the order of £500,000 to cover surgery, non-invasive remedial procedures, therapy, counselling, psychoanalysis and a really really loooong holiday.

My client would, however, consider abandoning her claim in return for an assurance from yourselves that you will never emigrate, always return her phonecalls, and let her live with you (preference to Miss Wills) when she is an old lady.

Yours Faithfully,
A. Solicitor

In an effort to return my ravaged bod to an acceptable state, I am attempting to eat a little healthier and do a bit more exercise, in readiness for a charity bike ride in October. This salad from Good Food is one of our favourites and you feel cleansed by its wholesome goodness as you eat it.

Take 100g Pearl Barley and boil until tender (this takes about an hour). Steam some green beans until just al dente. Mix the cooked pearl barley with the beans, a chopped yellow pepper, some cold leftover chicken, some chopped parsley, half a red onion (finely chopped), some lemon zest. Then mix up a dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, paprika and Dijon mustard. Top with some toasted flaked almonds. Scrumdiddlyumptious! Let’s hope it does the trick, otherwise surgery may be my only option (and those littlies can pay!) 😉

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11th August: Nana’s Pavlova

A while ago I promised you a post all about my Nana’s pavlova.

You can keep your Mr Kiplings and your Sara Lees. My Nana is a legend. Her baking and puddings are beyond amazing. The amount of confection she produces from her modest kitchen, seemingly effortlessly, is staggering. It has mystical effects too. My cousin, a strapping Kiwi, has been known to fall into a sort of trancelike state after ingesting an absolute shitload of her wonderful boozy trifle.

Whenever we visit her, or if someone is driving down to see us, she loads up tub after tub of Bakewell Slice, Choccie Fudge, homemade shortbreads. There are Boiled Sultana cakes, Victoria sponges, Christmas cakes, coconut marshmallow things….the list is endless.

As a new mum, when I couldn’t even seem to find time to make myself a cup of tea all day, I truly believe that nana’s baking prevented me from starving. I’d stuff one of her cakes into my ravenous gob every time I went into the kitchen.

Her recipes are not for the weight-conscious. The reason it all tastes so amazing is because she uses proper old-fashioned ingredients. Lard, suet, full-salt full-fat butter. Now you know where I get it from! She has those proper cold, soft nana hands. Evolved over generations to be the perfect temperature for producing absolutely perfect pastry. And it is. Try as I might, my clammy mitts never quite produce the same results. Ho hum.

As a couple, her and my Grandad are my marital role models. Never have you seen two people take such delight in each other. The twinkle and giggles continued right up until my grandad passed away a couple of years ago. And by that time they’d been married over 65 years. Wartime sweethearts, they’d spent their youth dancing at Blackpool Tower Ballroom and The Winter Gardens. I love pictures of them in their heyday. Grandad dapper in his RAF uniform. Nana looking like some Hollywood starlet.

It got me to thinking. What on earth would they have made of us if we’d’ve been next door neighbours back in the day. What would they have thought of our 3am “it’s your turn to get up” “NO IT’S YOUR F***ING TURN” rants at each other? Or if they overheard me puking in the toilet after a night of excess? Did Grandad ever have to prop Nana up as she staggered home from a night out? Extremely doubtful.

So, my hope is to forever be as sweetly and happily married as my grandparents were. To laugh with eachother, to dance with eachother, to be kind, sweet and considerate to one another.

Inevitably I will be sick and get drunken jelly legs innumerable times in the years to come. I will doubtless moan about His messy messy ways and his endless capacity to jeff off playing golf/riding his bike/inviting himself on stag dos. But. I will endeavour to curb my potty mouth and try to remember what it was to be 16 and madly in love. In short. I will try to always ask myself “What would Joan and George do?”.

So, to the Pav. My very favourite pud. You are lucky to be getting this recipe. Let me tell you that now.

Heat oven to 170*C. Take 4 egg whites (room temperature), and beat with a pinch of salt and a pinch of cream of tartar until really stiff & peaks form. I use an electric hand whisk. Nana uses an old tarnished fork. Work ethic between the generations in action.

Add a tbsp water. Gradually add 7oz (250g) caster sugar, beating all the while. The mixture resembles the middle of a Tunnock’s teacake at this stage. Scrummy. Fold in 2tsp cornflour, 1tsp malt vinegar, few drops of vanilla essence.

The next bit is fun. Wet a big piece of greaseproof paper, wring out and place on a baking sheet. Then dollop on the mixture and shape into a big circle using a spatula. Bake for 10mins then reduce temp to 150*C. Bake for a further 50 mins.

When it has cooled, pile a load of whipped double cream and whatever fruit tickles your fancy. Tart fruits like raspberries/kiwis work well.

Today, it’s strawberries. The pav is an offering for a friend’s barbecue. Our friend the host plays air guitar with all the kids, much to our amusement. We scoff and quaff and generally make merry whilst the kiddies frolic. I get a couple of commissions for more pavs.

Told you it was good. Thanks Nana x

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6th August: Cupcake of Champions

What have you done today to make you feel proud??

Well Heather Small. Thanks for asking.

I’ve done the weekly shop. I’ve tidied my house after a weekend of visitors. I’ve been a calm and serene mother in spite of my children’s best efforts to thwart my Mary Poppins-esque persona.

Ooh, and I made a giant cupcake.

That any good for you?

We are, like many of you I’m sure, in the grip of Olympic Fever. Never before have I spent so many days glued to the telly. Cheering on people I’ve never heard of, in sports to which I have simply no idea of the rules. Bandying about words like Ippon and repechage like an old pro. The children chattering excitedly about Cav and Wiggo.

I like to think of myself as a natural optimist. I was feeling irritated by all the negos, giving lip about how much it all costs and how pointless it all was. But. Deep down I was fully expecting the games to be a total British shambles. Peeing rain, security scares, traffic chaos. Horse-toothed toffs with bad dress sense appearing on tellies the world over, giving us all a bad name.

But no. So far, they’ve been utterly brilliant.

On Super Saturday, we sit with some friends noshing an amazing Thai takeaway. We all watch awestruck as three GB athletes take gold. As we admire Jess Ennis’s washboard stomach, I tell myself mine would be similar if it wasn’t for the fact that I am currently hoofing down a Grab Bag of Cadbury’s Eclairs I’d so recently had three babies.

Possibly a little hormonal, I feel weepy with pride as the stadium crowd belt out ‘God Save The Queen’. Not in a footbally way. Just in a 80,000 people singing joyously kind of a way.

“Inspiring A Generation” is the Olympic slogan. Doubtless the athletes are doing that for many young people across the country. But, in our house at least, they seem to have inspired a generation of middle-aged parents to grab their spare tyre of flab and sob as they eat toffees. All the while possibly doing some mental maths to calculate which Olympics their kids will win Gold in. Event to be decided, but here’s hoping that by 2028 they’ve made whinging, scrapping and toy-smashing Olympic sports. In which case, watch your back Chris Hoy.

On one of my desperate trips to that budget supermarket *shudder*, I buy a giant silicone cupcake mould. In the vain hope that it will fill an hour or two with the excitable offspring.

Interesting how differently you view the school holidays now you’re no longer of school age. 6 weeks of watching telly, riding bikes, pestering your older brother stretching out ahead of you…in reality it’s trying desperately to amuse warring siblings, trying to find something cheap and suitable for everyone to do in dire weather.

Today was baking then. We make the massive cupcake, fill it with jam & buttercream and decorate it with Hershey chocolates. Gold medal winning novelty confection.

I’m off to do some sit ups and referee the fight breaking out on the trampoline. Ooh, trampolining is an Olympic sport isn’t it….interesting…. C’mon kids….BOUNCE!

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26th July: ‘Ikea’ Meatballs

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Picture the scene. Four grown women in their thirties. Respectable. Mothers to nine children between them. They’re in a quaint Cheshire pub drinking new world white wine (designated driver slurps diet coke). They appear to be talking about an Aquarium. In Rhyll.

One of them starts to cry. The others look slightly alarmed. But slowly, their eyes become misty too. She finally gets to the point of her tale. Her voice is high and she’s trying not to sob.

What the hell happened at the aquarium in Rhyll I hear you ask? And why is that drunken blonde woman weeping about it?

Expect more of this sort of thing over the next few months. Me and my ‘mummy’ friends are finding the whole school thing a bit much at the mo. Me, I swing from thinking ‘roll on September!!’ to wanting to snuggle The Big One to my breast and never let him go. Mostly, I want Doc Emmet Brown to swing by with his Delorean and take me back to 2007 so that I can start from scratch. Knowing, second time round, how quickly it goes, how fleeting and precious the preschool years are. When you are their everything, and all they could ever need is you.

Last night we were talking about just that. Hence the weepy atmosphere.

About how lucky we were to have had each other for support, wine and friendship. And about how lucky our kids are to have such a sweet gang of mates who have become like cousins to one another.

We talked about what brilliant little people they’d all turned into.

Talk turned to the preschool trip to the aquarium. I started to tell my tale.

The Big One was in the gift shop. He was allowed to choose a little toy as a treat. One of his best friends was on the trip too. Her mum and dad were both at work so she was with the preschool ladies. “Maybe she doesn’t have any pennies” he said. “I’d like to buy her something please, and something for her little sister too”. And he did.

My beautiful, kind, thoughtful little boy. There are moments I’m sure he’ll achieve brilliant exam results. Or star in a play. Or score a winning goal. And I’m sure I’ll be proud. But I’ll find it hard to be prouder than I was in that moment.

Equally certain is the fact that I’ll want to wring his neck at least 100 times before September actually arrives. A bloody rollercoaster, this parenting lark.

And lo, it has come to pass, that I have become one of those crazy approaching middle aged mums, that gets tipsy on white wine on a rare night out and weeps about her children. Somewhere, my teenaged self is shaking her head in disgust.

She would also have been none too keen on my penchant for a certain Swedish furniture store. Not for the flat-packed furniture (although my house is actually full of it) – but more for the amazing food. Where else can you buy a stylish, affordable wardrobe with innovative storage solution, at the same time as pickled herrings, pear cider and a mega bag of mini Dime bars?

Today I copied their delicious meatballs from a recipe I found on the Internet. 500g Pork Mince, mixed with a small finely diced onion, dill, egg, breadcrumbs and seasoning – rolled into small balls. Each rolled in a little flour then browned in a mixture of butter and olive oil. When they’re browned, remove from the pan and whisk in some beef stock until you have a thick, rich gravy. Then return the meatballs to the pan to cook through. I served mine with rice, but chips are nicer…

Yummy, if not the exact replica promised by the website. The kids scoff the lot. More fuel to make them grow even bigger *sigh*. And a very familiar teenage voice seems to holler at me from 1993 – “Pull yourself together Loser – you’re embarrassing us both!” 8/10.

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20th July: Festival Fodder

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Why do people go camping? What is it about us that makes us decide to leave our lovely cosy houses, swap comfy beds for lilos, exchange snuggly duvets for scratty sleeping bags? Why do we relish the fact that making a cup of tea now takes half an hour? That, instead of using our nice new bathroom, we have to trudge across a field unashamedly clutching a bog roll?

I’m not too sure myself. Something to do with adventure maybe? Feeling like you’ve constructed your own house and made it homely. Maybe it’s just good for the soul to live simply and frugally for a few days.

This weekend we, along with some friends, went to a ‘child-friendly’ *shudder* festival in North Yorkshire. It was called Deer Shed and it was, despite our obvious reservations, absolutely ace.

It started inauspiciously enough. The long range weather was looking dire. So much so that we ditched The Baby and dispatched her to her granny’s house. The gear needed for a weekend’s camping beggars belief. It took me a few days to amass all of the necessary gubbins – locate camping stove, charge lanterns, wash sleeping bags…

By Friday I was pretty much over it and we hadn’t even set off. It was The Big One’s last day in preschool. I’d offered to make a carrot cake for the farewell party. Why do I do these things?

So I’m packing in a frenzy, attempting to amuse The Fusspot, icing my cake. I do none of these things successfully. FP keeps crying for his dad, my latent-OCD is twitching at the disorder of my cool bag, and I don’t stir the icing enough. When I spread it on it looks like cottage cheese. Bleurgh.

The men set off first with all the gear to ‘make camp’ UGG. I am feeling apoplectic with stress as I head, first to the preschool party (with clotted cake) to collect The Big One, then on to my friend’s house. We set off, me, her and the 5 children … bound for the M62 on a Friday tea time….idiots

When the last child (mine of course!) finally drops off, we high five each other. We love it when a plan comes together! Then we get near to Leeds and the traffic stops. Not so smug now ladies…

One by one the kids wake up. We spend the rest of the journey doling out sausage rolls, crisps and juice to keep them from kicking off. Listening to the Hokey Cokey instead of mood-setting festival anthems. A really tedious and harassed Thelma and Louise, and not a Brad Pitt in sight.

We arrive at last. As if sensing my waning spirits, the drizzle miraculously stops and the sun tentatively gets his hat on. The menfolk are there to greet us and show us to our humble abodes. The kids are practically frothing at the mouth with excitement. There are littlies EVERYWHERE. A giant swing ball field, hula hoops, people in fancy dress. We can hear the music coming from the arena, we can see the Big Top and the Ferris Wheel. They’ve even put three massive googlie eyes in a tree so it looks like a huge green monster. Brilliant.

We pump up our airbeds and make the tent homely. I’d made a ragu and brought some fresh spaghetti so we at least had our first meal sorted. It was the sauce my mother in law made on our Italian holiday. Simply garlic, onion, celery, carrot, minced beef, tin of tomatoes, some white wine and some freshly grated nutmeg. Probably similar to most people’s bolognaise sauce. Her secret was to cook it very slowly for a few hours. Everything in Italy seems to be done very slowly. We decided that this must be the reason everything tastes so gorgeous there.

Once we’ve all eaten (and at last cracked open the boxes of wine) all stress seems to disappear. We spend the rest of the weekend sitting in the sunshine, catching up with friends, watching the children playing air guitar and frolicking. There are music stages, food stalls, comedians, poets, animal shows, a circus, footie coaching, many many craft workshops. Even the Red Arrows do a flyover. A rare thing that a family ranging from 3 to *ahem* 34 are all equally entertained for three days.

I wish I had more to tell you. Maybe a hilarious tale of one of our children getting lost, or falling down one of the composting toilets (both equally likely). But no. We were even clever enough to write His mobile number on their arms with the accompanying message “Please ring daddy” sucker Unnecessary. One of our most successful jaunts in a long time. We’ll most definitely be back next year. And if that bloody Baby would EVER learn to sleep, she might be invited along too 🙂 .

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