Flexible Minds: 2013 365 Challenge #322

Morris Dancers

Morris Dancers

It seems everything has an up side, when you look at it. Hubbie and I are pretty rubbish at making plans at the weekend. The children don’t do any classes and we don’t have set routine things like cleaning or shopping because I do all that during the week. About the only thing we try and do is go swimming on a Sunday morning at the local pool.

The children had swimming lessons at a gorgeous private pool for a while, until it became far too expensive, and we kept up the routine all last winter. In the summer, of course, we swim in my mum’s little pool. But last week it was time to restart the weekend swim.

So, eventually, after I had written my post, and the children were fed and dressed, we made it to the pool. Only to find out it was closed until the afternoon to non-swimmers, because the pool was broken. (They have a snazzy moveable floor and they lift the ends to under a metre for the little kids. Only one end was stuck above the water level.)

Reindeer and elves

Reindeer and elves

We managed to just about redeem last weekend by a trip to the nearby indoor play centre, and we actually had a lovely morning. This week we made sure we had learnt our lesson. After we were up and dressed and ready to leave, we phoned the pool to see if it was open. It wasn’t. Unfortunately we made the mistake of letting the children hear the conversation and “Want to go swimming, now!” ensued.

We looked into going to a different pool but, like me, hubbie isn’t great at unexpected new. So we dithered. The children whined. They’d already had a whole day of broken plans on Saturday, after the abandoned trip to the zoo, and had coped with that brilliantly.

It turned out hubbie was a bit lost about the whole thing, too. I guess we all get something stuck in our heads. So, by mid morning, a plan was required. Grandad wasn’t answering his phone, the weather was too dismal for a walk.

A yellow elephant?

A yellow elephant?

Thankfully I remembered seeing a flyer on the kitchen table about Christmas events at our local garden centre! Hurrah, it was the day. We’d already missed the parade and the arrival of Father Christmas, but I was okay with that, as it’s a bit early for them to visit the grotto. But I knew there would be other activities, so off we went.

It was great. We met the horses that pulled Father Christmas’s carriage. There were morris dancers and most of the staff were dressed as elves. We had to hunt for balloons and flags, which had been given out during the parade (a nice old man found a couple under some shelves!), but even that was fun.

We didn’t bother with the Punch and Judy or the biscuit decoration because it was heaving. But we went to see the reindeer and we started to queue for face painting. There were six children ahead of us in the queue after twenty minutes (it was free!), when another genius idea popped into my head (I’ll do anything not to queue).

Spooky man with glass ball

Spooky man with glass ball

“Why don’t we buy a cake and go to Grandma’s and I’ll paint your faces when we get home?” I said brightly, muttering quietly, “As long as you don’t look in a mirror,” much to the amusement of a waiting mother. “Can I have a blue cat?” Littlest Martin said. “Of course,” I nodded, praying the cheap face paints I bought and never opened had blue.

So, that was the plan. We were lucky enough to find the balloon man with few children waiting, so we had some balloon models made on the way out. The children asked for Father Christmas and an elephant and got Father Christmas’s teddy and a yellow thing that looked more like a giraffe. They didn’t care.

We watched the spooky many with the glass ball and we went to the supermarket for cake. When we got home I painted a blue cat on my son’s face (my first attempt at face painting and it wasn’t so bad, considering my set doesn’t have black!) and my daughter did her own.

DIY Face Painting

DIY Face Painting

And, do yo know what? There were virtually no trantrums all day. A whole weekend of mixed up plans and last minute changes and they took it all in their stride. They’re three and four years old. They put me to shame! (I’ve been known to have a tantrum or two if things don’t go to plan.)

So even the bits of parenting you think you’re rubbish at – being consistent, making plans without letting the children know in case they change, changing your mind at the last minute, refusing to queue – even those things can turn out to have value.

Everything happens for a reason. 😉


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire’s ears thrummed with rage, as she drove blindly along the country lanes to the hostel. How dare he? How dare Robert interrupt like that? Wasn’t it enough that she was saving his arse, looking after his brats while he went of canoodling with his new lady friend?

She wrenched at the wheel, to avoid a pigeon sitting in the road, and nearly put the car in the hedge. Adrenalin coursed through her body, making her hands tremble. She loosened the vice-like grip of one hand and slammed it against the horn, even though the bird was now twenty yards behind her.

By the time she reached the hostel her anger was piled high like the stacks of clouds lining the endless horizon, obscuring the blue sky and promising a howling storm. Claire pulled into the right driveway, glad she’d already visited the hostel once to check in, and abandoned the car.

Striding into the hostel she wondered what exactly she was going to say to Robert. She hadn’t yelled at him since she was twelve; she certainly hadn’t had such an overpowering urge to gouge his eyes out since they were children.

The hostel seemed deserted as she stalked through the rooms, and her anger began to seep away. She reached the red lounge and stopped short at the sight of two boys wrestling on the sofa.

Great. I had to bump into the kids before finding Robert. I don’t even know which one is which.

Forcing a smile on a face that ached with tension, Claire slowed down to a walk, hoping these were indeed her nephews.

“Hi boys, great to see you. Where’s your father.”

“Bonjour, tante Claire, comment vas-tu?” the youngest boy beamed at her. Claire reeled as if she’d been shot.

Oh crap. Robert didn’t mention that the brats don’t speak English. What the…? I haven’t done French since school.

“Bonjour, ça vas bien, merci.” She smiled brightly, hoping no further communication would be necessary. Pummelling her brain for the word for father, she stuttered, “Où est ton père?”

One of the boys pointed out the door and rattled off a sentence that Claire didn’t understand. She tried not to look blank, but the amusement on the boy’s face suggested she’d failed. He mimed talking on a phone and Claire nodded. With a half wave she turned and hurried out.

Robert I am going to kill you.

She found him sitting in the courtyard, looking relaxed in an open shirt and sunglasses propped on his head, despite the clouds gathering above them. As she stood watching, he spoke into the phone in rapid French. Something about his demeanour brought to mind sweet nothings, although he spoke too fast for her to understand a word. When it didn’t seem likely that he would end the call anytime soon, she cleared her throat.

Robert looked up without a trace of embarrassment. He gave a cool nod and raised one hand as if signalling to a secretary to give him a minute. Claire felt the blood rise again, and looked around for something to hit him with. Robert’s eyes widened slightly and he said a rapid farewell before hanging up the phone.

“You’re here finally, then.”

Claire ground her teeth. “You’ve got some nerve. You called me away from a business meeting, you failed to mention your boys only speak French and now you have the audacity to act like I’m some tardy underling. You can take your brats back to Geneva with you, and you can rot.”

She took some satisfaction from the look of consternation on his face. With a vicious grin and a toss of her hair, she spun round and went in search of a cup of tea.


Little Adventures: 2013 365 Challenge #296

Do they do Grown-up ones?

Do they do Grown-up ones?

Today we got stuck in to the new normal. It was my first day home with little man by himself and we embraced it. We went swimming, at his request, and discovered the local pool has a parent and toddler session in the morning, complete with toys and singing (and in the warmer training pool too, hurrah!)

Then we went to the supermarket for lunch and shopping, and discovered the existence of super-cool car trollies that made shopping with a three year old boy much more fun. Mummy discovered how much mess a dropped 6 pint bottle of milk makes too! “Clean up at till five please!”

Mummy also found out that little boys who have done ninety minutes of swimming, followed by ninety minutes of shopping, fall asleep on the way home so that Wheels on the Bus can be turned off and Mummy can sit in the driveway reading her book.

It’s kind of weird having to rediscover parenting, having stuck to the tried and tested places to go for the last year or two. I find I’ve lost my nerve for new. Two years ago I took two children swimming by myself when one was just a baby – now I find it hard to take one preschooler who is more than happy in the water! It’s amazing how quickly we can get stuck in a rut and lose our confidence.

But, with an eager and energetic three-year-old to wear out and entertain, I can feel some exploration and adventure coming my way! I’m terrified and excited in equal measure.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire typed some words into the search box and hit return. The library felt cool, despite the sunshine outside, and she wished she’d brought a jacket. Scanning down the list of results, Claire tutted and changed her search parameters. Still nothing.

What did I expect? That the internet would magically produce a report on tourism in the south west? If it was that easy, Conor would have done it himself rather than hiring me.

She sat back in her chair and listened to a mother reading stories to her two children. She admired the way the woman poured her heart and soul into her reading, bringing the characters to life and speaking in different voices.

Dragging her mind away, Claire turned back to the computer, cursing the lack of funds that stopped her replacing her tablet.

At least Conor’s bringing me a laptop.

The thought didn’t make her smile. Conor was also bringing himself; his expectations that she was capable of delivering a report on tourism in less than three months’ time.

What do I know about tourism? I’m amazed I even made it through the interview.

She tried to think back over the weeks to when she’d sat facing the men in suits, and had sold herself and her talents. What had she said that had captured Conor’s enthusiasm and made him move heaven and earth to hire her? The intervening weeks in New Zealand appeared to have leeched all business thoughts from her brain.

At last her random searching came across a website promising to help the tourism industry develop the visitor experience. Flicking through the pages, Claire realised she didn’t even understand the terminology. Phrases like “Primary visitor research” and “In-depth stakeholder interviews” left her none the wiser. In her experience stakeholders were the company directors and clients paying her wages. Who were the stakeholders for tourism?

People like Conor, I guess. Or business owners, people running B&Bs. I don’t know. And how do you interview them all? And what the hell is primary visitor research? Is that what I’m meant to be doing?

Claire rubbed at her temples and let out a sigh. Fighting back tears she, loaded the library catalogue and looked instead for books on the subject. Choosing the most basic looking ones she went off to discover whether they were on the shelves or not.

Damn, it’s like being back at school.

As she wandered around the gallery looking for the books, Claire glanced over at the fiction section below, and thought how nice it was to be back in a library. There had been little reason to visit one, once she had graduated, and she’d forgotten what restful places they were.

The sound of children laughing rose up from the lower floor and Claire smiled. In her student days the noise would have irritated her but it seemed fitting.

It’s nice the kids still come to a library, instead of spending all day on their phones and computers.

Finally locating the section she needed, Claire grabbed a handful of books and went to find a desk. Then she realised she didn’t have so much as a pen or notepad with her, and went back to reception to see if she could borrow something.

Honestly, Claire, you need to get your act together and start taking it all a bit more seriously, or Conor is going to see straight through you.

For some reason making Conor unhappy worried her a lot more than it ever had with Carl. In fact, annoying Carl had become something of a game.

I knew what I was doing then. I don’t want Conor to think I’m an idiot, that’s all.

Trying not to dwell on it, Claire returned to her books and set about learning something about Tourism.


Laissez Faire (Lazy) Parenting: 2013 365 Challenge #208

Feeding the Goats

Feeding the Goats

Today was a victory for laissez faire (or what in our house is basically lazy) parenting.

I’ve worried for a long time that we don’t take our children to enough (any) classes. Other four-year-old girls and nearly-three-year-old boys go to dance class, swimming, football, yoga bugs, tumble tots (like gymnastics for preschoolers) or any number of other activities. We go to the farm and feed the goats.

I did a few classes – swimming, music, tumble tots – with my daughter, before my son was born (so basically until she was 19 months old!). Once he came along that stopped: he was not a child who liked being in his pram and I couldn’t help a 2-year-old around apparatus with a baby strapped to my chest (some mothers did and I salute them!).

I did (and still do occasionally) take them to a drop-in session at the local gymnastics club and teach my daughter to walk along the beam and hang from the bars – all those years of gymnastics as a child should count for something – although I can’t actually do more than fall off any more.

But, Mummy, I don't like peas!

But, Mummy, I don’t like peas!

And, for a while, we paid £20 every Sunday for each child to have a half-hour swim class in a gorgeous 35C pool at an amazing place called Calm-a-Baby. We loved going, the staff felt like family, and our kids loved it. Well, to begin with anyway. Certainly they loved the idea of it.

But, by the time we’d added coffee and a bacon sarnie (because the classes were at 9am and 11am on a Sunday and the pool had an amazing coffee shop with leather sofas, the Sunday papers and a soft play area) we were spending £150 a month for them to cry for thirty minutes because they didn’t want to put their heads under the water.

So we stopped swimming and didn’t bother with anything else. In the winter we take the kids to the local swimming pool (£8 plus the cost of a Costa afterwards when it’s warm enough to walk the short distance between the two). In the summer we use my mum’s 7m pool in her back garden. No expensive lessons, no rushing to get to classes or dealing with unhappy kids because they hate going under water.

Still, I did despair. Looking at my daughter’s baby group (thankfully, as a premature baby, my son never met his baby group and so I have no basis for comparison), we are way behind. My daughter can’t ride a bike without stabilisers, she can’t count to 100 or write every letter in the alphabet, or read. She still doesn’t eat vegetables and her idea of ballet is to pirouette in her spiderman outfit.

Whereas my son won't eat anything but peas and carrots!

Whereas my son won’t eat anything but peas and carrots!

But this week, this week it’s all been vindicated. Because this week my daughter taught herself to swim.

From not wanting to get her face wet only a few weeks ago, she now can swim a width (only about 3m, but still a width!) unaided – no float jacket, arm bands or rubber ring. Nothing. Just sheer determination and a love of praise.

And all because splashing around in a pool with Mummy, Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa twice or three times a week (particularly through the heatwave) is fun. We clap and cheer, and the more we clap and cheer the harder she tries and the better she gets.

Not wanting to be left out, my son swam for the first time today. Being not-quite-three, he swam with his head bobbing beneath the surface (apparently they haven’t got big enough lungs to be buoyant at his age) but still, he was swimming.

Underwater photoshoot at Calm-a-Baby

Underwater photoshoot at Calm-a-Baby

Much of the groundwork was done way-back-when at Calm-a-baby – as much for our confidence in the water as theirs – and for that I am grateful. But just as much came from lazy parenting. Sitting back and letting them learn at their own pace.

My sister moved to America a few years ago, partly to put her children in a school called Sudbury Valley which is all about letting children teach themselves. I don’t know enough about it to write here (though I should, as my sister has explained it often enough!) and I admit, pre-kids, I thought the whole idea was hokum.

But now? Now I get it. Now I see why it was worth a move state-side. With the right resources and the right space, with room to grow and some adult guidance, kids can do amazing things. I must get my sister to write a guest post. After the discussion on education, that’s bound to throw one in the mix!

For now, I will trust that my children will learn to read, write, ride a bike, play the piano, do a cartwheel, all in their own time and at their own pace. We just need to be there, cheering them on.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 


Cold sand pushed through Claire’s toes, waking her senses in a way Starbucks never had. Cool morning air played with her hair and brushed her skin, and the scent of the sea fizzed in her brain. Shoulders slumped with the weight of carrying her heavy head, Claire placed one foot in front of the other and tried not to think. It was impossible. Like the proverbial pink elephant, the more she attempted to still the crashing waves of thought in her mind, the higher they rose.

To her left the bay lay flat as a mill pond, as if trying to show by example what still waters might look like. The surface reflected the translucent blue of the sky and all was calm.

Turning away from the mockery, Claire made her way to the steps by the public slip, and paused to pull her shoes back on. It’s no good, it has to be coffee.

She wondered if anywhere would be open this early in the morning on a weekday in May. Walking through the silent streets, Claire’s head pushed heavier against her shoulders, until she felt she might have to prop it up with her hands. It reminded her of a tiny baby, whose giant head – too large for the scrawny body – bobbed and swayed like a ball on a piece of elastic.

The thought led her by increments to an image of Kim telling her about her baby and on, by more awful pictures, to the moment when Michael opened his stupid mouth and broke apart a twenty-year friendship.

Claire’s feet led her onwards, following an unheard call. A faint scent of bacon wafted on the sea breeze and she realised her feet were more reliable than her brain. They led her to a small café, barely a room with three tables and a breakfast bar at the window. Every table was full of men, elbows out, tucking into a steaming plate of pork and grease. The smell twisted Claire’s stomach and reminded her of the lack of dinner.

Conscious of eyes watching, Claire walked head high to the counter and stopped.

“What’ll it be, love?”

A man in a blue and white striped apron met her gaze. His face seemed friendly although he didn’t smile. She hesitated, then blurted out, “Full English, all the trimmings, and the strongest coffee you have.”

Her words raised the corners of his mouth, and he nodded. “Heavy night?” There was understanding in his voice.

“Something like that,” Claire mumbled, reaching into her bag for her purse. It wasn’t there. Her heart thudded and she searched again, then remembered that she had tucked it into her rucksack for safe-keeping before wandering along the beach. Being mugged had left her cautious.

“Crap. Sorry, scrap that, I’ve left my purse at the hostel.”

“You’re staying at the YHA?”

Claire nodded.

“No worries, you can pay me later. The manager’s a friend of mine. Besides, you look like you’ll be more trouble if I don’t feed you. You’re greener than seaweed.”

The man’s words made Claire realise how wobbly she felt. A combination of insomnia and lack of food had left as weak as a tangle of bladderwrack. If she was the same colour, that was no surprise.

“Thank you.” Claire tried to smile but the nerves in her face wouldn’t obey. Settling for a nod, she made her way back to the window and climbed onto a stool.

Staring out the window, it felt like looking through a tunnel. Her eyes were open but her vision felt reduced to a tiny point surrounded by sleep. Fog descended in her skull.

I wonder if this is what it feels like to die? This diminishing of senses; this muffling of sight and sound and thought? For a brief moment Claire thought it might be quite nice to die. No more decisions, no more wrong choices, no more guilt.

“Here you go, love, get your chops round that. You’ll feel right as rain in no time.”

The man in the stripy apron plonked a plate and a thick white mug of steaming coffee in front of her. Her stomach heaved at the smell, and she thought she might be sick.

Taking a piece of white toast, dripping with butter, Claire nibbled on the edges and waited to see what happened.

Like a tiny crack breaking open the dam, Claire realised she was starving. Grasping knife and fork, she attacked the breakfast with gusto and didn’t stop until the plate was clean, even eating the fried bread and black pudding, items that would normally be pushed carefully to one side. Washing it down with coffee, Claire wrapped both hands around the warm mug and sighed.

A cloud covered the sun and, in the sudden darkness, Claire saw her reflection in the shop window. A jolt of shock ran through her chest and into her over-full tummy.

When did I get so thin? With exploring fingers, she traced the lines of her cheekbones, jutting out beneath deep-set eyes. She hadn’t looked in a mirror for days, not properly. Only the tiny mirror in her make-up case, on the morning of the interview, to apply mascara.

All those years of stupid diets to keep up with the waifs at work, and all I needed to do was lose my best friend, quit my job and forget how to sleep. Simple, really.

Sipping at the coffee, she realised the breakfast was the first proper meal she’d had since Kim’s wedding. Even at Ruth’s she’d been more concerned with ensuring that Ruth and Sky ate than worrying about her own consumption.

What am I going to do?

Conor’s words the night before slipped through the fog. They rattled her. His passion left her with an urge to run. His comment, that he would counter offer rather than let her leave, sounded slightly psychotic.

He doesn’t even know me. She couldn’t imagine Carl thinking that way. He had counter-offered, but only because he didn’t want to lose clients, not because he didn’t want to lose her. It felt like it had when she realised Michael was keeping tabs on her though her Tweets and blog posts.

Mind you, that paid off. Goodness only knows how long I would have been stuck in that lane if he hadn’t called the police.

Michael. Kim. Conor. Carl. Their faces, their voices, their demands and concerns, crowded round Claire like circus clowns, freaky and frightening. She felt like she might burst. She wanted to tell them all to get lost; to run and keep running.

Scribbling her name and number on a napkin, Claire left it with the man behind the counter, with assurances that she would pay later in the day. Then she hurried from the café, her need for space and silence overwhelming.