Tuesday 30 April 2013

Housework is like painting the Forth bridge? Is that bad?

I actually quite like housework.  No, really.  I don't mind the Forth bridge aspect of it.  It gives it a kind of rhythm, like the seasons.  I am not too keen on washing up and I don't much like ironing, but generally, cleaning is something I find restful. I also like turning out cupboards.  

As a child Mum used to let me mooch through a drawer of odds and ends, or tidy the sewing box.  I have a vague memory of doing this after I had had measles or mumps or some other ghastly disease.  (Thank goodness now for MMR vaccinations!)  We had a big old wing-backed armchair with wooden arms just the right size for a tray to be rested across.  Propped up with pillows and swathed in an eiderdown, I would be brought something interesting to do that could be done on a tin tray.  I seem to remember "Listen with Mother" being on the radio at the same time, but who knows, what with the mists of time and all.  Anyway, I digress, the point is, I like bringing order out of chaos, and making things clean.

When young, I was never a particularly good housewife, the house was very untidy and often a bit dirty round the edges.  I say that was mainly lack of time, not inclination!  Now that I am grown up enough, and working again, I sometimes have a cleaner.  I don't really like it because the cleaner doesn't do it the way I would, so I feel niggled and wish it were done properly.  I have tried to work out why I mind, and whether it would be OK if I found a cleaner who did it exactly to my standards.  I have finally concluded that I am so picky because I would much rather do it myself.  So there.  I am out!

This is a picture of an almost totally ineffective hoover.  As all can see, the dust is emerging in clouds from both ends of the machine.  The only good thing about it, is that Sam had an identical toy model, which he thought really worked.  Sadly I got rid of it before he grew into the real thing.

I think I put these pictures in to camoflage the large amount of time I spent playing about with the children or surreptitiously reading books of no particular use.   I gloss over the fact that I clearly spent a fair bit of my time drawing cartoons... I enjoyed being at home so much I felt guilty!  There are not many jobs where you can play with Lego all afternoon without being fired.

Gardening is something I love.  You can tell because I will even garden in the pouring rain - I know this really happened because I remember that lupin.  Jim is very fond of lupins so despite the ravages of slugs and lupin aphids, I try to grow some every year.  It wasn't quite that colour but my purple pencil broke, and I had the blue sharp for the jumper stripes.

I am better about weeds now, apart from dandelions.  Dandelions and giant japanese knotweed.  Someone once told me we should enjoy dandelions because they would be really valuable if they were rare.  But they are not, so we don't have to.

Giant japanese knotweed can tunnel under 6 lanes of motorway.  No one told the knotweed about motorways, so instead it took up residence under my shed, and tried to tunnel under everything in the garden.  Every spring it would surge out of the ground, growing at a frightful rate.  I swear you could see it getting bigger.  I would hack at it daily, but all that would really slow it down was glyphosate poured into the cut stems every day.
I feel that roadbuilders have missed a trick somehow.

Sunday 28 April 2013

A small digression in Salisbury

This weekend we had an unexpected trip to Salisbury for fun.  I got home from work on Thursday after a long day and we just booked a guest house for Friday.  How radical!     George (now suddenly 23 years old) volunteered to dog sit.  We didn't tell the dog.

Salisbury is my favourite cathedral close in the UK.  The cathedral is stunningly beautiful and the setting is perfect with smooth lawns and graceful trees.  It is particularly lovely because it was built mostly in one go between 1220 and 1258 so it looks as the designer intended.  It is I think the most elegant cathedral, but then I like the Early English style of architecture.  I took this picture yesterday (Saturday)  and it was pretty cold.  The benefit of the cold was that it was quiet,  so the atmosphere in the cathedral was as serene you could wish for.

We were interested to see the new font which is much larger than the old one and reflects the roof
beautifully.  I thought it fitted in amazingly well.  I did wonder if they could do four baptisms at once!

Edward Heath is buried there who was Prime Minister from 1970 to 1974. We went to say hello because Jim regarded him as one of the best, despite being a Conservative - he says nobody's perfect...

More of the cathedral close with Mompesson House in the centre This is an 18th century house where some of Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility was filmed - I think Hugh Laurie was in it at some stage too.

It has a nice little cafe, with tables in the garden in the summer. They were there, but the occasional icy rain storm seemed to put people off sitting outside.  Jim had a great time chatting to the room stewards about volunteering for the National Trust.  He works at Ham House in Richmond as a volunteer when it is open through the summer. He was jealous of their nice warm fires which they can't have at Ham because it is too old and dry!

This is the gate from the cathedral close into the High Street.  They close the doors at night to keep someone out or in.  Not sure who.

We spent most of the day looking round the various antique shops in and around Salisbury.  Sadly everything was either far too expensive and gorgeous for us, or right at the other end of the scale and really just a bit broken.  Broken is fine if you are just collecting something to look at and can hide the bent bit by turning it round or something, but no use at all if you want to actually use the thing.

We stayed just outside the close in a lovely Georgian guest house called St Anne's.  A lovely view of red roof tiles and sky, as we were right at the top.  I liked the wardrobe - often there is not enough space to put clothes but this was plenty big enough.  It was just b and b which suited us fine as Salisbury is stuffed with good restaurants. The breakfast was good too.   We went to the Lazy Cow on the first night for a chunk of protein.  Lovely beef (and mohitos and wine, oh, and a beer in the Ox beforehand....)

The second night we had dinner in the Thai Orchid, which was just as good.  After the excesses of the night before,  jasmine tea was very welcome!  

Home again now and back to the daily round of kids stuff that happens in families,  and work, and walking the dog etc etc.

But wait!  I left my garden looking reasonably spruce with short - ish grass and a weed free veg patch.  I come back after only TWO DAYS and I swear someone has transplanted every variety of dandelion known to man into my lawn.  The grass is now at least 5 inches long.  It looks pretty but I think I need to get a cow...

Thursday 25 April 2013

Normal life resumes!

At last after many weeks in hospital we were home having normal family life, whatever that is!   George was home with us again, Sam was back and eating, but only a limited diet, as he had learned that he could hold us to ransom.  Oops.  I think we were still in shock after our hospital stay - we tried to carry on as if nothing had happened but we were often not really firing on all cylinders!  We didn't really ignore George like that all the time - he was not his old sunny self.  He was weepy and clingy.  He needed much more attention than before we were in hospital.  Hardly surprising after being deserted by me so suddenly.

Sam was not his old sunny self either.  He was afraid of all types of physical activity.  He was very stiff and unco-ordinated which we thought was due to the operation.  As it turned out, he was also severely dyspraxic.

No help was available for dyspraxia,  we tried to improve his physical skills ourselves.  Someone suggested jumping exercises, so I coaxed him on to the first stair in our house and encouraged him to jump off.  I was waiting to catch him, but he was still terrified.  Dyspraxics often don't have the reflex actions which you would expect.  Sam didn't know you had to bend knees on landing,  so he landed straight legged jarring his whole body painfully and hurting his back.  I felt such a bad mum for betraying his trust.  After that experience we stuck to swimming and walking!

We have a story on the way to school
Walking was something we did a lot.  I still feel strongly that if possible, cars should be avoided for journeys that can be walked.  Also it is a lot quicker to get the kids into the push chair, then deliver them to the door without having to decant in and out of cars.  There was no parking near the school and often none near our house either  (it was built in 1902, before motor cars were about much).

I used to enjoy the walk to school which gave us the opportunity to have a story on the way there.  On the way home I just used to listen to all the things that Sam had to say about school.  Such happy days!  It was very pleasant in the summer because we had a little lane between the hospital and the park which was pretty and countrified.

When we got home from taking Sam to school George used to go to bed for a while.    He wasn't like Sam so I didn't get long.  He was bouncy and full of beans most of the time.  I was not at all used to it!

Peepo was a lovely book - even I liked reading it.  It is one of the ones we have kept, despite its being held together with ribbons and things.  It's a bit chewed but it holds happy memories.

I had forgotten we used to keep the baby bath under the cot upstairs.  There was nowhere to keep it in the bathroom, so I used to lug it up and down stairs for his bath.  At least it was empty at the time!  As it was such a long way to the kitchen from the nursery I had one of the first baby alarms which was quite high tech and cutting edge at the time.  I was very pleased with it.  I had to remember to turn it off until I had read the story.  No one liked listening to Peepo three times in a row every night, except George.

And so to bed.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Heart hospital no 6 - wonderful visitors,work and home time!

This is Chris having his treat with Anne the playleader.  She had endless patience with sick children. After getting anything done or having a hard time the kids were given a  treat of some sort.  Chris was allowed to paint in bed which he was thrilled by.  Being a ridiculously sentimental person I have most of his little drawings and paintings still, although they are now stored in the loft.  The red on his bandage and the floor is not blood, it is paint. 

Our friends Val and Andrew came up on the train to see us.  Val had just had  a foot operation so she sat on Chris's bed with her foot in plaster and they commiserated with eachother.  We had a lovely day racing in the lifts (we were caught by a bunch of rarefied surgeons!) and going to lunch in a pub down the road.  It was a Sunday and there was a stunningly good roast dinner.  It tasted fantastic after weeks of hospital canteen food interspersed with microwaved supermarket ready meals.  The nurses looked after Chris for a while and we went out gadding.  Do you know, I didn't feel guilty at all!  Val and Andrew went home jolly to the last.  I know Val had terribly sore feet and that they both found the experience of seeing Chris so ill really hard, but they came anyway.  It was one of the highlights of our stay in hospital and I remember it to this day. To visit and cheer the sick is something which is regarded as good, but it is surprising how many people either don't come, or who come with a long face. We were lucky in that all our visitors were lovely and cheerful for us, however they may have felt afterwards.  Also, they all came to see us however inconvenient or far away they found it.  We were very grateful to all of them.  (You know who you are!)

It may seem a little odd to call a hospital ward "home" but we tried to make it home like for Chris, as much as possible.  Paul went off to work every morning and came back every evening, leaving Chris and I on the ward.  Some days it was hard for him to go, if Chris was in pain or I was feeling the strain, but he had used up his time off when we were in intensive care so he had to go in.  In some ways I think it helped, just that little bit of normality.  At least it gave a rhythm to the days and weeks.  He used to get a few groceries on the way home.  He was really wonderful and supportive.  A total brick, in fact.

It is sad but true that many families faced with serious illness in a child, find it such a strain that they do not stay together.  Paul and I found we got closer,  I think we were both so focused on being strong for Chris and getting him well, that we completely forgot to have any marital strife. Well, apart from the usual "no, it's your turn to make the tea this morning" type of thing.

What can I say?  It seems mawkish to have him say his prayers in hospital, but it was part of what we did at home, so we carried on doing it in hospital.  I may have felt self conscious, but I don't think Chris did, so that was OK.  I really felt awkward singing his songs as well!  It was his routine to go to bed to have them, so I couldn't really stop.  I wonder how many people have stage fright sitting on a hospital bed?

We are down to the last drain in this picture.  A few days later it stopped and was taken out.  Within a week we were sent home, which was scary in itself.  I know Chris was frightened to be at home, especially as he was so weak and frail at first.   I had to take out his last stitches myself, which was really difficult.  He wouldn't let me near him, so in the end I sneaked up and did it while he was asleep.  I must have had better night vision in those days!

He picked up remarkably quickly though. It was lovely to see him looking pink instead of air force blue. He was soon up and about  and playing more energetically than he ever had before. He said to me "Mummy, I used to wonder how people could do so many things before, but now I can too."

Sunday 14 April 2013

Heart hospital no 5 Surgeons and friends

We were nearing the end of the stay in hospital.  Although Sam had a drain again, it was only a few days until we would be told by the surgeons that he could have it removed and go home.

Surgeons are rarefied beings.   They drift about in a kind of cloud of supreme confidence, which is just what you want to see if they are going to cut you up.  They don't say much, and they rarely do bedside manner.  The surgeons who operated on Sam were perfect examples, except the younger one (a trainee I think) saying "nothing"  Strictly speaking, he should have been facing the other way, or have been silent.  I dare say he will have learned by now.  I have the greatest admiration for them so please don't take this seriously!

Sam had a snappy dinosaur, which he used rather like a hobby horse, to bite people if they displeased him in any way.  He also used it to pretend to eat the nurse doing his observations, but that was because he liked her, not because she was naughty.  It looks a bit like a parrot there but it was supposed to be a T Rex.

The nurses were very long suffering with Sam and gave him loads of leeway.  I didn't.   I was my usual crabby self.  I did a lot of correcting and not very much praising.  This is a trap I fell into with the children through stress of Sam's illness and worry of what others would think.  I am sure that it is not unusual but it caught me when I was least able to think.  Sam in the picture is being polite although he is shouting.   I only noticed the shouting.  It took a very good and loyal friend to show me where I was going wrong.  By that time my poor kids were often being shouted at and I was always cross.

Months after we came out of hospital, we were visiting my good friend Val.  She saw what was happening.  She suggested I praise good behaviour and have a generally positive atmosphere.   She is a trained nanny of the old school (in a good way), and a very wise and kind person. I can remember thinking, there is nothing I can praise, they are always naughty!  I racked my brains...    "You put that sock on nicely"  was the first one.  I felt silly saying such things but I persevered, and it was a revelation.  By the end of the day we had not had a single shout.  It took months to repair the damage completely.   I had to say how nicely he put his socks on for a long while, but it was a great relief to say something pleasant for a change!  Of course we still had bad days but in general we didn't really look back.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Heart hospital no 4 videos, drains and Christmas

Here we are watching Bedknobs and Broomsticks yet again.  I  knew the whole film by heart!  I think Sam liked the familiarity and safety of the repetition as he used to watch the same things over and over again.  Mind you, there were not many video tapes (anyone still have those?) to choose from.  The little shelf under the TV was the hospital young children's ward library, so we brought our own ones in. We couldn't leave them at the hospital for long, because Sam's bedside locker wasn't very secure storage as from time to time he would get moved to a different bed, or as on one memorable occasion, a side ward.  Bliss!

One of the things people don't realise is the noise and lack of privacy in a hospital ward.  I remember being told one day that we couldn't go home (we had been expecting to be discharged) and that Sam would need a new drain.    After I had comforted him and got him settled with a book, I found what I thought was a quiet place for a little cry behind the fire extinguishers on the back stairs.  Unfortunately the consultant decided that his troupe of students needed more exercise and took them up the stairs, so twenty trainee doctors filed past!  How embarrassing!

Anyway,  we loved the side ward.  Sam could sleep properly without the other children keeping him awake crying, there were no horrible sights and sounds to focus his mind on what might happen to him next.  He just had a nice quiet day with Mummy.  We didn't even miss the TV.  Sadly it only lasted a few days and then we were moved back to the main ward.  I tried to explain that we preferred it but there seemed to be a deeply held belief among the staff that we missed the other children and the company.

We really didn't.  We had been in hospital away from privacy for six weeks by then.  Other children came in and had operations, got better, hopefully and left.  Sam was a long term patient because of his particular condition.  While we were in the side ward, Sam trod on his last drain and pulled it out.   Luckily the nurse was there and put her hand over the hole so he was OK.

When the doctor decided to leave him without drains for a few days we were told we could take him on an outing!  Until you have been indoors for 6 weeks or so, you have no idea how exciting it can be taking your first breath of free air! It was mid November with Christmas just getting into its stride in the shops. We took Sam out to Peter Jones - a huge glittering department store on the King's Road  in Chelsea and had coffee and cake.  He was in ecstasies over the people, the traffic, the Christmassy lights, everything.  We came back to the hospital and gave him a bath - his first for 6 weeks.  The nurses were very inventive with waterproof tape over his drain wounds. I think they were quite excited too. It was like we got him back that day, our own child, not the hospital's.  He could wear his ordinary clothes with no tubes trailing out.

I have never stopped feeling grateful for the wonderful nursing and medical care Sam had.   The people who worked there cared passionately about the children. Despite the fact that the building was old and rambling, (they have a lovely new one now) it was one of the best heart hospitals in the country at the time, and we were lucky to live so close.  I don't resent a penny of the tax I have paid!  Whatever the government may think they spent it on, as far as I am concerned it all went on Sam.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Heart hospital no 3 - visitors and food

This picture is of Jim's mum and his sister bringing George and Mag to see us. Andrew was a very cheerful baby, Mag was a generally quiet, noticing sort of child who was loved by all her cousins.  Leg warmers were still fashionable at the time - mercifully not so much now!  They always made me think of socks going to sleep.

Because we were in hospital for such a long time, it became a red letter day to have visitors.  In the second week my parents drove baby George to Kent to Jim's mum to have for the next two weeks.  Both  grandparents kept meticulous records of feeds and sleep times, as they had been taught when they had their children in the 50s.

The grandparents came to see us in hospital with George, despite the difficulties of having small children in push chairs,  dodgy knees and long train journeys.  This went against the grain with my mum who wrote in George's diary "Went to see Sam.  Routine haywire - got home, would not settle so took him for a walk."  In the 50s routine was all, for babies, even down to feeding and sleeping at very exact times of the day.

I am a fan of routine myself especially for babies.  It makes life so much easier for everyone which means that as a parent you can plan fun times and outings where everyone will be comfortable.  On the  few occasions when I took the kids out of their routine, I ended up in a situation where the baby was hungry or tired and crying and there was nothing I could do about it!  Most distressing.

Aah!  Hospital food!  There are issues with the amount of money available for food in hospitals, it is not a lot per patient per day, but I have to say I wouldn't have eaten it!  Sam wouldn't either, and we resorted to having food brought in from home by grandparents. We also used the parents' kitchen to rustle up tasty snacks and meals for him.  He couldn't have any fatty food because of his drain problem, so we had to make very low fat foods, less than 2% which means skimmed milk and no oils or even low fat spreads.  He got painfully thin which didn't help his recovery.  George continued to love milk as you would expect.  He was on solids with the grandparents as he was so large (long, not fat) and would wake for more unless completely stuffed before bed!  He was a very sucky baby so had a dummy for bedtime.  It never came out of his cot so he didn't get used to it in the day.

We and the hospital tried to get Sam to eat by hook or by crook and of course he became aware it was a lever!  Jim found this particularly hard to take as he loved to see people enjoying their food, and to give them what they liked to eat.  In the end his only diet became pasta spirals, oranges, skimmed milk rice pudding and home made lean turkey burghers with plenty of tomato sauce.  By the time we came out of hospital Sam had us wrapped round his little finger food wise.  - Oh deary me!

As my mother helpfully pointed out, we had made a rod for our own backs!

Sunday 7 April 2013

The Heart Hospital no 2

Anne was the wonderful play leader who did interesting things with the children.  She sometimes brought musical instruments or finger paints.  They thought it amazing that they were allowed to get paint on the sheets.  I am not sure if the nurses knew!

Sam spent a lot of time at this little table either watching a video tape or doing drawings or reading a book.  He wasn't very mobile unless we could find the drain trolley.  Even then it was painfully slow getting anywhere.  We would sometimes get to the playroom next door and he would get settled in a chair then have to be carried back after 5 minutes because he was too tired to play.

We found the drains trolley!  I think someone had made it in their shed.  It had that home made look about it, and they only had one.  It was wooden, with squeaky wheels - rather like those ones you get on old fashioned wicker shopping trolleys.  I got told off for holding his drain pipes up above his chest, apparently it stops them draining.  Should have realised I suppose.

This time round Sam was too young to use the schoolroom but he liked having a look at the paintings the other children did in the older age wards.

He also liked going to the little toilet - I can't remember why it was little.  I think it may have been child sized,  like those tiny ones we had at infants school.  Ours were only accessible from the outside playground.  Very chilly in the winter of 1963 when I was 6, I can tell you!
We made it!  Play dough is such  a wonderful thing - I adore the smell and the silky feel of it.  Salt dough that you can make at home is never quite the same.   I had not seen child sized rolling pins before because we used sawn up pieces of broom handle.  Look in anyone's shed and there is always a bit of broken broom handle somewhere!   One of the nicest things they had was a truly gigantic marble run which one day Sam and I managed to get up to 5 feet from the floor.

Keeping Sam (and me) amused while he was so immobile was a real job of work.  We got through dozens of children's picture books - they had a seemingly endless supply. Sambbecame very fond of one called "Morgan the absent minded mallard".  I can't think why it appealed, it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue!  Spending so much time sitting down with adults, Sam was old for his age.  I found myself reading the Narnia stories and various Joan Aiken books to him as well.  He was always keen to know what things meant if he didn't understand something so it took a long while to finish them.  We both learned far more about dinosaurs than is strictly necessary...  He became one of the very few 4 year old boys to know what taxonomy meant.   Well he asked!

Saturday 6 April 2013

The Heart hospital no1

Since Sam was 6 months old we had known that he had a serious heart problem.  One of his lungs did not grow properly either and he had an operation at 18 months to improve the blood flow.  We then had to wait until his lung function was good enough for his heart surgery to work.  By October 1990 the long awaited heart operation was over and, thank goodness, all went smoothly.  We met the surgeon, Mr L, in the lift by chance the day after and asked him if it had gone well.  "Of course it did"  he barked  "I did it".  House has nothing on Mr L!  (Apart from all the reprehensible things of course).

Unfortunately Sam's recovery took over 8 weeks in hospital with drains (he really found the drains painful).  The constant loss of fluid meant he had to have a drip the whole time as well and they kept wearing out.  All in all it was a bit horrible and difficult for everyone.

But children are very resilient, or so it seems.  Sam quickly got into a new routine which involved being cute and charming to anyone he saw.  He hoped this would get him extra TV time, and possibly let him off medicine/injections.  It is so difficult to explain to a four year old that they have no choice about it.  I have an image of him in my mind, standing on the nursing sister's desk pretending to be a doctor on the telephone.  "Is it an emergency?" he said  "OK,  I will be there in about 4 hours".  The nurses thought he was adorable (he was) but the doctors were a teeny bit put out.

I felt that the best thing to do was to be firm and insist on instant obedience in the way of taking medicines.  Other children in the ward would still be screaming and trying to avoid it long after Sam had taken his medicine and gone off to play. I am sure it helped him to avoid many unhappy hours in his life.  He had to continue taking bad tasting stuff throughout his early years, but he never complained or made a fuss.  It became the norm.  I still felt like a heel every time he had to do it.  Just recently he told me it tasted appalling.

I had left little baby George (just 6 months old) with my parents and Jim's mum alternately.  Jim and I had a room in the beastly beige parents' quarters on the other side of the hospital. It used to be the nurses' quarters.   It was an old Victorian building with labyrinthine corridors.  In the night if we got a call, someone in the parent's quarters would have to hear the phone ringing in the corridor and answer it, then go and knock on the right door and pass on the message.  When we were called once or twice (terrifying) we had to use the service tunnel under the road as the exits were closed at night.  A few years later the brand new Sydney wing was built and conditions were much improved.  Even in the old wing it was a wonderful hospital and saved his life.

We both stayed because we thought George was too young to miss us much (wrong), and Sam needed us (right).   Jim worked in Victoria in London so he could get to work very quickly on the tube from South Kensington where the hospital was.  Some nights we went home to visit George and do the washing.  We never left until Sam was asleep.  By then George was usually asleep too.

In these early days I hadn't realised the order you put speech bubbles in a cartoon is important.  I do apologise, and I hope it is understandable!

Every so often the "big doctors" did their rounds.  This was just the consultant and his entourage but Sam had a good eye for hierarchies and worked out that they were more important than the "little doctors", who did day to day stuff.  He was always worried they would do something to him, although  they usually didn't.  As it was a children's ward they were quite kind to him, but it was the nurses who made our days bearable.  Most children had parents with them a lot of the time, but some didn't, which was hard.

At the time we thought we were taking it all in our stride, but it turned out that we weren't, even though that took us some years to discover.  A stiff upper lip is very overrated.

I am still wearing my favourite outfit!  I did have others, honestly!

I have thought about leaving this set of cartoons out because it is not really "normal" life.  Then I wonder what is "normal" anyway?  I made mistakes during the hospital stays that I think other people might make, so I hope it will be helpful to someone to see what not to do!  Sam's heart operation was at the leading edge at the time so things have changed a lot. The treatments are much more successful and shorter now.  To avoid any unpleasant stress for the reader, Sam is now a reasonably healthy 26 year old! (With a big deep voice, a beard and a massive personality).

I would love to hear from other parents, is this useful and/or interesting?

Thursday 4 April 2013

Sundays no 7

There's not a lot to say about this one, so I won't say much.  Even parents have to sleep, so maybe this was supposed to prove it to Sam.  Note how Jim's snores are louder than mine.

Time for a bit of random tootling as we call it.  I have just finished the washing up after a dinner for thirteen (plus the dog in case you are superstitious).  We had a complicated group of people including friends, and teenage children who are back from university for the Easter holidays.

The dog was beside himself with joy at so much company particularly because it has been so cold recently and he hasn't had so many walks as usual.  It is still snowing today and it's April!  In London!  Brrrr!

Jim cooked.  It was supposed to be "leftovers" but when we looked in the freezer we realised that there was only one dish we could use.  Twenty boxes of redcurrants (even though organic home grown ones) wouldn't really be ideal. Jim cooked a lamb curry with potato, chili con carne, spaghetti bolognese and chicken and chorizo.  (I may have mentioned before that he loves to feed people).   We also had gypsy tart* which was a bit of a trial.  I  looked at it beautiful in the oven, golden and risen.  I thought  "two more minutes".  Two minutes later it had overflowed, separated and coated the oven in goo.  A quick trip down the High Street and two more successful tarts made with the leftover (luckily) mixture. Phew! Just in case I made a Oliver's Chocolate Surprise* pudding which is known to be foolproof - even if it goes wrong it tastes good.  We also had a fruit jelly, because I love the way they wobble!  It is diet day tomorrow so the kids will have to eat up what is left without Jim and I.  This is the end of the random tootling for the day.

This second picture was definitely a big hint for George, who was unfortunately too young to understand it.

I don't know about it being quiet all night.  This next bit of tootling is slightly less random so it doesn't count.

In October 1987,  the year after Sam was born, I slept through the great storm, sometimes known as "the hurricane" which devastated the south of England. Sheds, trees, roof tiles all flying about outside in 115mph winds,  it was the worst storm since 1703.  We lost 15 million trees, thousands of people had no power, wreckage brought roads and rail to a halt,  but the whole family slept like babies!  I guess that means that whether it's quiet all night or not makes little difference in our house.

*  Recipes because they are both yummy.

Gypsy Tart

Everyone who was at school in the UK in the 70s knows this because you had it for pudding once a week if you were a "school dinner" or lusted after it if you were a "packed lunch". I always forget to put the evaporated milk in the fridge the night before so 1 hour in the freezer works for me.

Ingredients - serves 8

Chill the evaporated milk  in the freezer for an hour or so first.

For the pastry

8oz  ( 225g) plain flour
4 oz (115g) butter
cold water to mix

For the filling

14oz  (400g) tin of evaporated milk (unsweetened) Chilled
12oz (350g) dark muscovado sugar

Make the pastry case.  (or buy one if you are lazy or in a hurry like me).

  1. Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl  
  2. Rub in the butter until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Add 2-4 tablespoons of cold water and mix to a dough
  4. Knead lightly.
  5. Leave to rest for at least 10 minutes in the fridge.
  6. Preheat the oven with a large baking sheet in it to 200*C, 400*F or gas mark 6.
  7. Roll out the pastry and line a deep buttered 10inch (25 cm) loose based flan tin.  
  8. Bake blind in the usual way.

Make the filling

  1. Whisk the evaporated milk and the sugar together for 15 minutes.
  2. I don't have an automatic mixer so I have to stand there and hold it, but if you can leave it to get on with mixing, go and have a cuppa.
  3. Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake for 10 minutes. No longer!
  4. Serve with pouring cream, or if you want to go really retro use spray cream that comes in cans.

Oliver's Chocolate Surprise Pud

This is really lovely and goes very well with hot chocolate custard.  I have never known it go wrong, even when small children "help".  It is a recipe I inherited from my granny so it is only in imperial.  If you want to, you can make the sponge and the sauce separately and put the sauce on just before you cook it.  I did that last night and put it in the oven when we sat down for the first course.


For the sponge

4oz butter or margarine
4oz caster sugar
2 eggs
1oz cocoa powder
3oz self raising flour

For the sauce

1/2 pint of water
4oz soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Make the sponge

  1. Prepare the oven at 1908C, 375*F or gas mark 5.
  2. Grease a 2 pint oven proof dish.
  3. cream butter and sugar in the mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time adding a spoonful of flour with the second one.
  5. Sift the rest of the flour and cocoa together and fold it in.
  6. Turn into the dish and smooth over.

Make the sauce

  1. Stir water, sugar and cocoa together (It will look lumpy and the cocoa floats)
  2. Pour it over the sponge mix
  3. Place in the oven for 30 mins.  the top should feel cooked but it will still wobble because of the sauce underneath.  Rats, I spoiled the surprise.
Serve with hot chocolate custard (make a blancmange mix and serve it as custard), or pouring cream.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Sundays no 6

George had a loud voice.  He learned to squeak and there was no stopping him.  He would squeak happily for his feed in the night and very early in the morning.  At first Sam was charmed, but a few broken nights soon put paid to that.  After a while his squeaks varied more and more, until one day in the car when he was still under 7 months, Sam and I both recognised "Hey Diddle Diddle" being sung almost in tune but without consonants.  "The cow jumped over the moon" sounded like a lost soul in torment - loud wails of  "Eh ow oh! ooo"  So cute.

George now sings bass in the local choral society.  He started at 11 and sang treble, which gives him grief every time he sings something we have done before.   He keeps singing the soprano line.  Sounds terrible. (Sorry George, not really).

Sam had dozens of Thomas the Tank engine books which are calm and understated as far as stories go.  The names they used were a bit unfortunate.  "Mummy is that the FAT CONTROLLER?"  he would yell, pointing at some poor, benighted, corpulent gentleman.

Ant and Bee was a story book which my mother read to me as a child.  I thought it was wonderful at
the time.  I was thrilled with the idea of "kind dog"  and lost things being saved and put into boxes.  I bought a book for Sam.

It had HUNDREDS of pages full of endless repetition about  lost hats.  I dreaded meeting a dog or a bee in case it reminded Sam of the books.  Even ants weren't safe!  I used to hide them under the sofa cushions (books, not ants), but he had a stash under his bed somewhere  so I couldn't get away with it.  I worked like a Trojan on his reading so that he could read them to George and I wouldn't have to.  I was ecstatic when I heard him say to George one day "shall I read you Ant and Bee?"

I figured I must have been a good parent when I found Sam sitting on the floor reciting word perfect from memory, with George looking at the pictures.

We all worry about that don't we?  Being a good parent?  I spent a lot of time trying hard and getting it wrong (as I saw it).  Did I help too much with their school work?  Was I too negative? Did I praise too much? Were my behaviour standards too low?  Was I too strict?  Not strict enough?  It is a minefield we all have to walk through with no proper map.  I found it especially difficult as I had a child with special needs.  I wanted to keep him safe and happy.  It is very easy to be a pushover for kids who are ill, but it doesn't do them any favours.  Just like everyone else, they have to live in the world and it takes no prisoners, makes no allowances.

"They have to grow up"  people would say.  "NO!" I would think "they are so lovely now, don't change them!"  But the inevitable happens, and suddenly they have a big deep voice and a beard and help you carry stuff.  After all that angst, my kids also say "I had a great childhood" or "I love you anyway" (if they are trying to needle me) so I can still sleep at night without too many regrets.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Sundays no 5

Here we are having shepherd's pie for tea.  Like all small children, Sam had a pretty literal turn of mind!  Even in times of famine, shepherds were off the menu.  I told Sam this but he wasn't convinced.  George still prefers not to eat minced meat, even after three years starving slightly at university. He believes it is best only to eat meat which is a slab carved from a cow or a sheep.  I reckon it is because he thinks it is butch to be a born again carnivore!

The wall paper and curtains matched in this room.  they were both a Sanderson pattern of little brown and gold flowers and leaves.  Very 1970s.  Sadly we had a few rolls of the paper left over from our first flat, and the curtains fitted the window in the new house.  We thought it would be stylish and inexpensive to have a feature wall or two with the wallpaper then decorate the rest with painted woodchip paper.  It might have looked reasonable if we hadn't inherited a foul brown carpet from the elderly previous owner.  I couldn't bring myself to draw the 1950s style yellow circles and spots, or the bald patches, so it looks quite refined.  Allow your mind to fill every flat surface in the picture with flowers, spots, circles and stripes in clashing shades and you will get the idea.  Actually, don't.

Sam loved his dinosaurs so much, even though they weren't at all cuddly.  I used to remove them from his bed after he dropped off, to avoid questions from school about why his face had pterodactyl imprints on it!  They often sat on the table watching him eat so a bath was useful from time to time.  Drying between the toes of a tyrannosaurus can be tricky.  You have been warned.

I have just noticed that I have been wearing the same outfit for several months in this blog.  I must apologise for this, but it was my favourite as it had an elastic waist as well as being easy to wash.  I carried on wearing it until it went in holes.  Then I cut out the nice bits and used them for patchwork.  Waste not want not.  (My grandmother again).

I seem to have drawn a miniature apple tree on the window sill.  It was a jade plant in fact so I don't know what I was up to.  Probably wishful thinking, as we had a pocket handkerchief sized garden.

I painted the bathroom stool that fetching shade when I was off sick from work for a week, before kids,  but felt well.    I was bored to tears and did loads of those little jobs which you can live without doing, such as painting the bathroom stool British Racing Green (really).

The reason I was at home was that I had little red spots all over and the doctor said it was German Measles.  He told me that I was highly contagious and must not leave the house until the spots had gone.  I didn't, and the spots stuck around as well.  After a week I phoned the doctor.  After careful thought he revised his diagnosis  to "pityriasis rosea"  which apparently is little red spots in Latin...  I went back to work where I was unpopular for being away for a week, being bouncy with health and having contagious looking spots.

I felt misjudged on so many levels!

Monday 1 April 2013

Sundays no 4

Sam and Daddy make a battle bus

You've got to love Duplo!   Jim and Sam used to make humongous creations with as many of the bricks as possible.  The idea was to make something that would move on wheels but be really big as well.  It took hours.  Later we got the train set to go with the bricks and it went all over the lounge in and out of the chair legs.  Great fun.

We had net curtains!  I know, I know, design disaster!  Just remember we were a few years post brown paintwork and macrame plant baskets so we can be forgiven the occasional mistake.  We were only 4ft from the pavement (sidewalk - in case you are reading this in the US) so any passer by could look in on our antics.  Privacy seemed necessary so we had nets.

My grandmother taught me how to wash nets.  I used to take them down (not nearly often enough she said) amid clouds of dust and shake them in the garden.  Then I would lay them, neatly folded, in luke warm water in the bath and drain the dark grey water until it looked clear, then wash with mild soap and Reckitt's blue bag.  After that I would convey them dripping to the garden and hang them to dry very carefully keeping them flat.  How we lived!  I found later that machine washing was better in every way, but I was young and obedient.  I think my grandmother sometimes forgot that we were not living in 1935.  She definitely believed in doing things the hard way!

I left the baby quietly lying on his eiderdown. This was a rookie error.  Sam happened to him.  No harm done, but that was just luck!  I didn't leave them alone together again for a good long time.  George got his own back later when he grew past Sam in height by the age of 10.  Sam was  gutted!

The orange tables came from somewhere like Habitat for £1.99 each.  We had four.  Twenty odd years later we still have two in the garden.  They were really that colour and they were plastic.  Brilliant for picnic tea in the lounge for the kids.  One Christmas we had 20 people at Mum's for Boxing day lunch.  We put the four smallest kids in the hallway on cushions on the floor round these little tables all done out with a white tablecloth and table napkins. They even had a table centre.   They loved it, and they could pretend to be grownup and talk about Lego as much as they liked. We loved it because the mess from their dinner was out of sight so we could safely ignore it until later!   I still haven't got the stains out of the tablecloth...