...I found myself going through some old blog posts, and chanced across this rather lengthy little Christmas-related number. Reading it took me straight back to life as the mum of a pre-schooler and a toddler when, it seems to me, I was much funnier than I am now. Perhaps that was the result of the heady cocktail of those days; part the aroma of pure panic (I'm in charge of two small children and How the Hell did THAT happen?), part steamed vegetables, part Calpol, and part nappy... Enjoy!
The Twelve (Interminable) Days of Christmas (December 2007)
So, yesterday was the big day. Now don't be coy - I know you're just desperate to find out how the hottest event in Kensington and Chelsea went down, but fear not, I'm here to pass on the good bits... I suppose I should explain what on earth I'm talking about. Yes, it was Boy#1's Nursery Christmas Show. For reasons known only to themselves (I think they have a new and slightly over-enthusiastic - no, scratch that - a completely over the top drama teacher. But then again, when aren't they?), the theme this year was 'The 12 Days of Christmas' and each class was required to go up and represent one of the verses. Boy #1 was a piper. Hence the kilt. Yes, you heard me - kilt (just in case you missed that nugget a few posts ago). But frankly, looking at the line-up yesterday, I think we got off lucky. Verse 1; The partridge looked as if the costume had been ordered from Angels Theatrical Costumiers, it was so professional. Except, of course, the partridge was 3 years old... Verse 2: 2 turtle doves - bulk standard coat hanger wings. I think the ground-swell of parent opinion was 'compared to the partridge, could do better'. V3: 3 French Hens. Except it wasn't 3 - it was 9. Dressed in breton t-shirts, berets, strings of onions, and doing a turn singing La Marsellaise... V4: 20 calling birds. Lots of room for variation with 20, as you can imagine. And not much room on the stage, so for healthy and safety reasons there were actually 2 'hits', so we got the same 'show' - 10 children dressed as robins, dancing to Rocking Robin - twice. Hmmm. V5: 12 gold rings. Lots of gold lame, probably the easiest option as most mums seemed to have simply made a poncho out of sparkly material. Can't remember the turn they gave as I was struggling with Boy#2 who was trying to make a bid for freedom at this point, scattering raisins as he went... V6: 16 geese a-laying. Hilarious incident with one little boy who's mum had clearly gone to town with his costume, even giving him a padded stomach for authenticity, hogging the limelight and elbowing all the other children out of his way to give himself centre-stage. He was eventually restrained by the teacher and given a good talking to on the sidelines. Was rather losing the will to live by this stage, to be honest. V7: 8 swans a-swimming. This provoked naked envy on the faces of all the mummies whose little girls did not form part of the 'swan' tableau, as they arrived dressed in tutu's, twirling a pirouette or two to the famous bit from Swan Lake. Sometimes I'm so glad I have sons... V8: 11 drummers drumming. This did what it said on the tin. Yes, the power-crazy drama teacher had instructed hapless parents to go out and find a drummer costume for their boys. To their credit they had made a pretty good job - and the imitation beaver-skin headwear had to be seen to be believed. Mind you, this being Kensington & Chelsea I was rather disappointed that there was no real fur on stage... V9: 8 maids a-milking. Consisted of the girls from Boy #1's class complete with mob caps and sand buckets, singing 'Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary' and crying because they had lost their cow. This segued seamlessly into... V10: 6 pipers piping. Boy #1 and classmates following an honest-to-goodness Scots piper, bag-pipes wailing, up onto the stage. (All sense of proportion had clearly been lost by the drama teacher when she planned this one). They did a little dance and then tried to help the milk-maids find their cow and followed up with a Scottish reel. Boy #1 was grabbed at this point by one of the girls (who was half a foot taller than him), and they then capered around the stage dancing the reel. Not sure who instigated the choke-hold, him or his partner, but it was a relief for all when the dance finally ended without injury... V11: 7 ladies dancing. Dressed as flamenco dancers and performing that authentic spanish number - you guessed it - the Macarena. By this stage the audience had been flagging, but this perked them up. Or got them riled - not sure which... V12 (Thank the lord): 7 Lords a-leaping. Boys dressed as frogs, capering onto the stage, leaping around and then dancing with the flamenco-clad lovelies. I was past caring by now, as were Husband and Boy #2... All this took around an hour and a half, by which time the audience of eager parents had had enough, stampeding out of the venue before the final hymn was even finished. Never has 'O little town of Bethlehem' been treated so caverlierly outside Midnight Mass... Other Points of Interest: Boy #1's kilt stayed up. Thankyou, Mother-in-law. Your skills with the needle know no bounds. Really, I mean this; my home ec teacher at school used to just tut and walk past my table as I struggled to make a patchwork cushion, so I am grateful, grateful, grateful, that you were able to step into the breach. Just to put my sewing abilities in context, Husband and I once had a huge falling out when he asked me to sew on a button. He was horrified that I refused. I was horrified that he had had the nerve to ask me. Really - if he wanted to ruin a perfectly good coat he could just have let the boys at it with a pair of pinking shears. I also had a fit of the giggles whilst standing in the queue waiting to be let in to the church where it was all happening. (Oh yes, they couldn't let us in early. I mean, who knows what might have happened? We parents could have ended up throwing pews and everything. Lighting the votive candles, using the holy water, you name it. There is no end to the devilry that could have ensued).I was having a perfectly normal conversation with the parents of one of Boy #1's classmates when a mutual acquaintance approached us and asked them "Do you like caviar?" Well, that's a conversation stopper if ever I heard one. And more to the point - why wasn't I invited to this apparantly swanky dinner party? Obviously,had she asked me, my answer would have been "only Beluga, sweetie - and of course it does rather depend on which champagne you are serving..."
... I went out foraging into the Dark and Scary Forest (aka 'Auchan', a supermarket that everyone here has their own beautiful horror story about) and wrestled the masses at the tills to bring home a Christmas tree.
Except, it's not a Real Tree.
For I have caved, dear reader. After years of saying 'the real thing, or nothing' I have decided that 'nothing' is just too dreary for words.
Why 'nothing'? Well, we leave Moscow for 3 weeks over the break, which makes getting a real tree not only impractical but - bearing in mind the Russian 'Christmas' is two weeks after ours, so live trees don't go on sale until just before we leave - inconvenient. Plus, the fierce heating here destroys all living plants in the winter (at least, the ones that I come into contact with, anyway) and I can just imagine the effect that coming back to the remains of a dessicated tree would have on a family already battling with the post-Christmas blues. It doesn't bear thinking about, really, so for the last 4 festive seasons we've been Christmas-tree-less.
No more, though; faced with yet another year of trying to make decorations dotted around the house look sparkly rather than sad, today I went out and bought a 150cm high monster (ahem) for Potski Mansions.
I had told the Boys that I would be buying a tree, along with the fact that it would be artificial, but of course that 2nd fact had gone in one ear and straight out the other. Consequently, when they were presented with a frankly unimpressive box when they got home from school, questions where asked.
"But how did you get it home?" from Boy #1. In the car, I replied. "What, the whole tree?" "Well - yes. That is the whole tree, in that box, there."
There was a moment of silence.
"What do you mean, exactly? The whole tree - in that box?" Boy #1 couldn't quite believe it. "Um. Yes. But don't worry - it will be much bigger once we've put it together."
Boy #2 stepped up. He held up a hand, calling for calm. Thank god someone was taking charge... I watched him as the disbelief on his face began to transform into something else. Could it be...
"Wait a minute. Do you mean... we get to build a tree? Fantastic! I'm going to the kitchen to get the scissors so we can unwrap it!"
Dear Mildred, I've never written to an agony aunt before, but I can no longer help myself; I have a Problem. I'm feeling disconnected and discombobulated because - well - I can hardly bring myself to say this... It turns out that the Blessed Nigella may have been Living a Lie. That dreamlike world she appeared to inhabit, of a home smelling constantly of vanilla shortbread, mulled wine and/or fragrantly spiced made-in-advance casseroles? It - gasp - doesn't exist. Instead, it turns out that underneath the cashmere twinsets, splendid bosoms and luxuriant hair Nigella is (oh, the horror!) just like you and I. Stressed, struggling and paddling like fxck. Who knew? I feel so let down, Mildred. It turns out that my entire template of domestic excellence is built on a sham. How can I possibly continue to use her recipe for Chocolate Birthday Cake for my impressionable children? Where now can I turn to, to replace my standby Greek Lamb Casserole recipe at polite dinner parties? Dear god, what about the Christmas turkey - how will I brine it? The Macaroni Cheese with ham on Boxing Day? The Pear & Roquefort Salad that is my fail-safe starter? All of these recipes, gone, Mildred. Gone to shit. Because you know, dear Mildred, it's not as if they are just recipe books, or anything like that. It's not as if they are simply useful indexes that produce food that tastes delicious, end of story. It's not as if Nigella's ability to create a menu has nothing whatsoever to do with the potential car crash her personal life may resemble. I mean, there's the merchandise to consider, too. The serving plates, the crockery, the aprons. All of it must go to the Bring & Buy, tomorrow, if possible. And - oh god - what about the tv programmes? How will I fill the gap left in the schedule? Because I couldn't possibly sit and watch her cook now, giving me instruction on how to make a souffle without fuss when I know that the sparkly lights, the shiny utensils, the artfully placed kitsch, are not in Her Real Kitchen but are, in fact, part of a carefully constructed studio set. You know, a tv studio. Where ENTERTAINMENT is made. Not part of her Real Life, at all. I may never recover from this disappointment. Yours, weepily Betrayed of Moscow.
I'm hoping that if you've read this far you'll agree the above letter is ridiculous and have picked up on the fact that whilst I feel sympathy for all those involved in what seems to be a godawful mess, I'm getting a little bored with seeing it rehashed time and again in my timelines on fb and twitter. You see, I have a confession; I don't really give two hoots about the personal lives of celebrities or the Great and the Good.
There. I've said it. My dirty little secret is out in the open.
I don't care about the personal lives of the Royals and their extended family - or at least, not more than I care about anyone else. I don't give a flying fxck who that actress in whatever film it was is married to. I don't want to know goes on behind Gordon's / Nigel's / Fanny Craddock's front door, and I'm not interested in seeing what the mother of the bride wore to so & so rugby player's wedding.
As for Nigella, it seems likely that she messed up. She presented a face to the world that may not have been entirely the one that existed behind closed doors. (Who would do such a thing, for goodness sake?) She allegedly let people down.
I love Heathrow Terminal 5. I do. The open spaces, the tranquil atmosphere (pre-check in, anyway), the cleanliness, the still-bright-as-a-new-penny surfaces everywhere. Travelling through it should be a pleasure, really it should.
Funnily enough however, (although I can tell you, I'm not laughing that much), it isn't. Not for the Potski family, anyway. Long term readers of this site may be aware that both my sons are highly allergic to nuts. We're fortunate that Boys #1 and #2 don't have atmospheric allergies - which would preclude air travel - but they can't eat or touch nuts and if they do, we have to resort firstly to anti-histamine and secondly, if that doesn't work and their airways start to close up, to epi-pens to give them a shot of adrenaline. Thankfully, because the Piriton (our anti-histamine of choice) works, I've never had to use the latter, but I carry one with me always, just in case. I know it's just a matter of time before we need to use it on one or other of my children - we've been lucky so far, but that can't last for ever.
For now, though, I am never - NEVER - without either form of medication in my handbag. Well - not unless I've just come through Security at Heathrow Terminal 5, anyway.
I think I may have form with the bods who work at Security in this terminal. I certainly never seem to have the same problem at any other terminal or airport. At Heathrow T5, however, I have had the bottle of Piriton in my handbag confiscated no less than 3 times so far. It's almost as if they're looking out for me as I queue up with my children, juggling bags, coats, rucksacks and sweatshirts whilst trying to maintain some semblance of dignity as I hunt through my pockets for the paper clip I'm currently using to undo the zip on my boots. (The pull came off. What can I say? They're my favourite boots, and no-one notices as long as I remember to take the paper clip out once I've done them up...)
However, it seems as if every time we reach the other side of the x-ray machine, there is one of our trays on the other side of the glass, just out of reach. So near and yet so far. My heart sinks - and the Boys look up at me worriedly; they know what's coming next as the person on duty sighs heavily and extracts the battered but still clear plastic bag from the tray, tutting at me disappointedly. 'It's antihistamine for my children' I explain. 'They're highly allergic to nuts. I've tried to buy it in bottles of 100ml or less, but they don't sell it in that format.' 'I'm sorry madam. I can't let it through. The bottle size is 150ml, see? Those are the rules...'
And no matter how much I point out that it is accompanied by a prescribed epi-pen so is clearly part of an approved medical procedure, and that it's almost half empty with what is obviously less than 100ml of liquid even in the bottle, they won't be moved. 'Don't worry madam' they say placatingly. 'There's a Boots just over there. You can replace it straight away.'
Which is, I think you would agree, hardly the point when a) you have a perfectly good partly-used bottle right in front of you, b) aren't we supposed to be taking care of our resources and c) you're catching a flight with two children so the chances you have an extra few minutes to spare to pop into Boots are quite slim...
So I decided to try and box clever this time. I went into a pharmacy and bought a 100ml medicine bottle into which I decanted my half bottle of Piriton before going anywhere near the airport. Then, this morning the Boys and I travelled to Heathrow T5 to head back to Moscow.
This is what happened after we came through the metal detector.
Boy #2: "Mum - is that our tray over there? On the belt we can't reach?"
My heart sank. "Yes, it is. OK, let's get everything together - Boy #1, can you hold my bag whilst I fish out the paper clip to do my boot up - and go and wait at the end."
We gathered our kit and caboodle and stood at the end of the of the Conveyor Belt of Shame. I fixed my friendly but firm face on - because I KNEW, for god's sake, that the bottle of Piriton was less than 100ml, the chemist in the pharmacy had told me that - and waited.
And waited some more.
Finally, just as the technician in charge of the x-ray machine was getting up to come and talk to us, a cross-looking female officer stomped over.
Her: "Is this your tray, madam?"
Me: "Yes, it is. Is the piriton the problem? Because if it is -"
Her: "No. Do you have any electronics in this rucksack? Because you're really supposed to take them out, you know."
Me: "I don't think so, no. Oh wait - it could be my son's DS - would that do it?"
Her, sighing heavily: "Yes. May I open the bag?" She proceeded to unzip the front pocket.
Me: "Sorry about that. I thought it was just computers and suchlike. It's not in the front pocket, by the way, it's -"
Her: "IF you don't mind madam, I will just do my job."
Me: "Of course.... I was just trying to be helpful and -"
Her: "We DO have procedure to follow, you know."
Me (at this stage thinking it might be wise to stay quiet about the other DS and my Kindle, both of which had gone through undetected and lay in bags that had escaped the slash and burn approach now being applied to Boy #2's rucksack): "OK." After a few moments of prodding around, and checking the little cloth on the stick in her special detector thingy (this is a technical term) she looked at me.
Me: "So, is it OK for us to go?"
Her: "I just need to check this bottle with my supervisor."
Me: "I thought it was the DS that was the problem?"
Her: "No, now I need to check to the bottle. I don't hold out much hope, though."
Me: "But the bottle size is 100ml."
Her: "Doesn't say that, though, does it?"
Me: "That's because I bought an empty bottle from the pharmacy. It doesn't have a label on it because it had nothing in it when I bought it at Boots in Smalltown, Somerset."
Her: "It's made of glass. Boots don't sell un-labelled glass bottles."
Me: "Actually, they do - when you can't find 100ml bottles anywhere else and they're trying to be helpful..."
She looked at me, eyebrows raised. "Well, I'll check with the supervisor. But I don't think he'll say yes."
Two minutes later she returned. "Sorry madam. I can't let you take it."
Our departure time was getting closer by now; I should have just left it but as you can imagine, I found it hard to walk away. "Seriously? Because this is vital for my sons' well-being and I really thought I'd done it all right this time. I mean, this will be the fourth time I've had a bottle of Piriton confiscated at Terminal 5."
There is only way to describe the smile she gave me at that point; nasty. "Well then, next time I suggest you buy a bottle that is clearly labelled '100ml'. I would think you would have learned that by now. Don't worry though - you can pick up a new bottle in the Boots just over there..."
When we arrived
in Russia 4 years ago, during the coldest winter for a decade, I was amazed by
how super-heated the buildings were. It
was cold enough outside to freeze the inside
of the lock on our metal front door (sustained lows of -25 degC for a month
will do that), but the temperature in the house was always a balmy +23
degC. Wearing much more than a t-shirt
meant you were ridiculously hot, throwing the almost 50 degC temperature
difference between indoors and outside into even sharper relief. And it wasn’t just our home that was like
this; almost all Russian buildings
were as warm, if not warmer.
In a country
where energy is cheap (petrol, for example, costs only 68p per litre here),
most Russians will turn up the thermostat in winter rather than put on another
layer of clothing. And that is assuming
that they even have a thermostat; in
many buildings the heating is centrally controlled and is switched on mid-October,
staying that way until the beginning of May.
This puzzled me. What do Russians
do if they feel too warm, I asked my Husband.
His answer was simple.
They open a
window. It might be -25degC outside, but
they open a window.
This is all
very well but aside from seeming incredibly wasteful, at some point in the
next couple of years we will be returning to the UK. Winters there may be warmer, but buildings are
less effectively insulated and – crucially – energy prices are much
will I have re-educate my children to put on a jumper when they are chilly
inside, turn the lights out when they leave a room, and close the back door
behind them as they run back in to find their missing backpack / trainers /
swim kit when they leave for school in the morning, but we will need to bite
the bullet when it comes to paying higher electricity and gas bills. Anything that helps us as a family to consume
less energy will be very helpful, which is why I was interested in E.ON’s
current campaign designed to help their customers do exactly that.
As one of the leading energy suppliers to UK
customers, E.ON recognises it has a duty to make sure that everyone has all the
information they need to work out the best way to help save money and use no more energy than they need.The new E.ON Saving Energy Toolkit will put
customers on the road towards running a more fuel-efficient home. If you’re
already set up with an online account then you can get access to plenty of
useful hints and tips as well as fantastic interactive tools. This includes a
comparative feature which allows you to see how green your home is in relation
to similar households in your area and charts and graphs which track the
breakdown of your energy usage over a set period of time.
will give advice like ‘stop being such a wimp and just put on another layer’,
however, remains to be seen…
It's grey here. Grim November has arrived, and hot on it's heels will come the Russian winter. The laundry needs hanging up, there are toys all over the floor, and I have a million jobs to do which - post half-term - can no longer be put off. The dishwasher in our UK home is broken & needs to be replaced (although god love it, it has just celebrated it's 13th birthday, so I'm not judging), Husband is travelling most weekdays, and it's raining, just in time for the school run on my bike.
On the other hand...
It's not snowing. The temperature is above freezing. My family is happy and healthy. We had a great 4 days somewhere sunny and warm last week. The house is clean. There is enough food in the fridge, and before I put on my raincoat (in a jaunty colour I have christened 'In-Your-Face-Winter-Orange') I have five minutes to myself, a whole scope of creative projects I can dip into, the Man Booker Prize winner on my kindle, and the whole of NetFlix to explore later this evening.
See what I did there? It's called (my version of, anyway), CBT*
Because, without wanting to come over all PollyAnna about it, life really is what you make of it. I learned this not through having a naturally carefree disposition but during 2 years of counselling after I stopped work outside the home following Boy #2's birth - and fell apart. It took a while but my lovely counsellor slowly showed me how to reprogramme my results-orientated, work-obsessed, what-am-I-if-not-my-job?, brain into one that could turn my mental inclinations around. It takes self-awareness, that's true, but the feeling of control when you look at what could be quite a shitty situation and decide not to let it bring you down - in fact, to turn it to your advantage and learn from it - is empowering.
Yes, the days in my mental landscape still seem long and grey sometimes. But I know, when that happens, that it's not forever. In fact, if I choose, it doesn't even have to be until tomorrow.
Now. Off through the rain to do that ruddy school run. Where's my in-your-face-winter orange raincoat gone?
Dictionary definition of Potty: 'somewhat silly or crazed, addlebrained'. I started this blog to share the benefit of my - admittedly limited - experience of potty training my two boys, and to show that whilst it can be hell, it also can be done. All things must pass though (thank goodness - my sons are now 10 and 7), and potty training for us has been consigned to history, so this has become more of a blog to stop me becoming potty than about the potty. And if you can understand my twisted logic, I hope you enjoy these extremely subjective anecdotes on being a stay-at-home mum transplanted to Moscow and still coming to terms with not also being a career woman. Really. You'd think I'd be over it by now; it's been 5 years since I last worked in an office - and went to the loo with the door shut - after all... You can also find me writing as Clare Taylor on Powder Room Graffiti and in the blog section of the Moscow Times on 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum'.
And be polite. The moment I put pen to paper or fingers to keys, all content, photos, or images on this blog (unless otherwise credited) are copyright me, me, me.