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Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Blogged off

Pride comes before a fall, so they say. I've clearly been far too self-congratulatory about all the gallavanting I've been up to of late; patting myself on the back for combining work, play AND children whilst managing to hold myself back from the edge of extreme exhaustion / insanity. The last week or so has really brought me down to earth with an ear-splitting crash. First, there was the lurgy last week. Bank holiday weekend seemed to have seen that off, but then last night, I had put Ava and Nathan to bed, read a bedtime story with Eden, and was about to say goodnight when she asked (as she often does) whether I could climb in to her bed and give her a cuddle before going downstairs. It was just before 8pm. I agreed. To be honest, the thought of lying down in her cosy little bed really appealed. We snuggled up together like spoons, and she burbled about her day for a while, slowly winding down like a little clockwork doll, until her voice trailed off and I could tell from her breathing that she had fallen asleep. I lay there for a while, thinking about my day.... and the next thing I knew, I was waking up and it was after 11pm. The evening had passed and I'd spent it asleep in my daughter's bed. I wandered downstairs feeling faintly cross that I'd wasted the evening and wondering whether there will ever be a time when life isn't quite this insanely tiring. Of course, when I asked Paul whether he hadn't wondered where I was all evening, he simply replied, "Oh, I assumed you were writing your blog!"
Right, I'm off for a radox bath. Oh, what a racy life I lead! ;-)

Monday, 28 May 2007

Save it for a rainy day

It's been an archetypal British bank holiday weekend: glorious sunshine for the week preceding it; torrential rain and freezing cold all weekend. My first reaction to this weekend's weather forecast was probably typical of mothers all over the country - disappointment, even horror: "How am I going to keep my kids entertained / happy / from killing each other whilst cooped up inside all weekend?" But the combination of recuperating from our respective lurgies, the rain and rather severe end-of-month-cashflow-crisis has conspired to keep us indoors for most of the weekend. And I have to say it really hasn't hurt us one little bit. The kids have been more than happy just 'hanging out'. There's been a lot of drawing, colouring (resulting in Nathan sporting an interesting purple and black spotty hairstyle), reading, lego-tower-building, dressing up, camp-building ... and a great deal of sitting around watching telly. Eden and I made a proper old-fashioned sherry trifle to take to friends for Sunday supper. Paul read the entirety of the weekend newspapers for the first time in years. I even read two book reviews! Sitting on the sofa with my feet up!! Sometimes it's good to take time out just 'to be' as a family. And may I just recommend dandling a baby on your knee as the best (and cheapest) therapy in the world.
It's not a very original observation, but I'll make it all the same: it seems to me that today's (middle-class, especially London-based) children are generally over-stimulated brats. I was talking to a Mum-friend the other morning about some friends of hers for whom a typical bank holiday weekend would involve at least two trips to kid-friendly play parks (the hugely overpriced Legoland and Thorpe Park were mentioned), outings to the swimming pool or cinema and generally much racing about according to child-oriented schedules. Result? Spoilt children who don't know how to amuse themselves or simply how to hang out and relax. It's all too easy to fall into this trap and it's actually quite difficult to slow down, stop and reappraise priorities sometimes. Taking some proper time out, releasing yourself from that sense of urgency to be 'doing', hanging schedules and 'to do' lists out to dry for a couple of days - that's what a bank holiday should be all about.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Cinderella's Bottom

Too ill to post much in an intelligent vein, so thought I'd rave about "Cinderella's Bum", a book to save you from the intense boredom of reading the usual bedtime story fare. This one is irreverent and wickedly funny as well as teaching girls just the right way to think about their bodies. I wish I could still have the perspective of my five year old, Eden, about the state of my sorry physique. Of my southwards-journeying boobs she simply commented the other day, "Why don't you just get the doctor to remove them, then? You don't need them anymore, anyway, do you?" Ahem. Slightly more cheeringly, after a rip-roaring telling of "Cinderella's Bottom" tonight, she murmured to me as she drifted off, "I think your bottom is as beautiful as a princess's, Mummy." Ah, thank goodness for my greatest fan.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007


And as if to prove my point (see previous post) I have fallen prey to the same dreaded lurgy Ava has. I'm coughing like an old smoker and have such a blocked head that I sound like that Janet Ellis who used to be on Blue Peter (she says, placing her formative years firmly in the eighties!) This week I've been up against a few deadlines, the most important of which was this morning, and yesterday I had to present our digital strategy to our main board. It's funny how the body just keeps going and going until these hurdles are overcome. Then, as the adrenalin packs up, the old bod collapses. I always used to get ill and take to my bed for a week at the end of term or after exams at university, which was the same thing, I suppose. Of course, in those days I'd simply refuse to get up until I felt better. Today, it's a bit different. I'm off to bed now, but you can bet your bottom dollar it won't be for long.....

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Keep up the day job, love

I have been conducting an interesting experiment, and I can now confirm that it is not physically possible to remain entirely sane and healthy trying to run a day job (publisher) alongside a night job (nurse, provider of flexible sleeping arrangements and chief bottle washer). It is even less possible to do so if you try to run a social life alongside these things. So the last week or so, Paul and I have had an unusually sociable time of it, what with all the gig-going (Electrelane two weeks ago followed last night by the Fountains of Wayne at the Astoria) and dining out at fancy restaurants (luckily that's only a once-a-year phenomenon; boy, it was expensive). I seem to have been spending an unusual amount of time in bars and pubs, too (I'm sure you're all starting to think I'm an old lush - banish that thought!) Then Ava has come down with a nasty ear, nose and throat infection which means she coughs herself awake on a regular basis through each night, cries, comes into bed for a cuddle and drifts off to sleep on my chest while I sit semi-upright trying to aid her breathing and .... not sleeping myself.
Unfortunately it's the day job that pays the wages. I wisely therefore pour quite a bit of energy into 'keeping my end up' as we Brits so delightfully put it, when at work. Which, I'm afraid, sometimes leaves my poor family slightly wanting in terms of love, affection, time, even friendliness - from me. Did I ever mention the guilt? Oh, it comes by the bucketload.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Sugar and Spice

Yesterday was a quiet day, recovering from a night out with Danuta Kean, Peter Collingridge and Jon Reed. I can't tell you (because if I did I'd have to shoot you) but the four of us are up to something. All will become clear in due course if you are one of the publishing industry followers of this blog. For now just imagine that I am tapping my nose and winking....
Anyhooo, it wouldn't be a publishing luvvies' night out if it hadn't involved a top-heavy ratio of bottles of wine to people. So yours truly was suffering a little on Friday morning. I finally heaved myself into a vertical position at about 11.30am (very grateful to Paul for having removed all small people from the general area for a couple of hours to allow me some sleep).
The sun was shining on us yesterday, so I got the kids out in the garden and sat watching them play, allowing numerous cups of tea and the sun's warm rays to sort me out. After picking Eden up from school, a few Mum and Dad pals and their children joined us in the garden for more tea and conversation. The children were 'up to something' in the wendy house at the bottom of the garden, but we didn't pay too much attention. It wasn't until Eden and friend Thea served us all up a 'stew' of very gooey mud and leaves that we noticed the enormous hole they had dug in the middle of the lawn in order to get anough soil for their recipe. Thankfully, neither Paul nor I are fussy enough about lawn standards to really care (you'll never see stripes on ours; more likely dandelions), but it did make me laugh that the girls were definitely the project leaders and the more fastidious boys the followers. And they all ran a mile when Thea and Eden brought their pet worms over to show us....! What's all the nonsense about sugar and spice?....
There was spice aplenty at the very expensive but very superb Cinnamon Club last night, where we went with a big group to celebrate my sister-in-law's birthday. Needless to say I was off the alcohol for the evening. And I can now officially confirm, there really is nothing like a ruby murray to sort out a hangover.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Skinny dipping

I just wrote that title to get your attention. And to see whether it drives enormous amounts of new traffic to the blog. Sorry to disappoint, but I haven't indulged recently (I'm not letting anyone see the current state of my stomach, and anyway, it's bloody rainy as hell and freezing just now, are you mad??!)
No. It's my new term for the way I have to run my life. Dipping just slightly into a multitude of tasks, giving a skinny piece of me to everything and everyone, but never feeling like I give any of it the time or attention it really deserves. The last couple of days at work, ferinstance, I have 'skinny-dipped' into a number of electronic rights and agent negotiation discussions, tried to pull together our thinking on digital workflows, formats and storage options, worked on a three year budget for digital investments (anyone got a better idea than sticking a finger in the air?), produced a presentation on digital publishing strategy, kicked off a project to embed our eBook publishing programme into our current business processes, written a proposal for an online sequel to a rather well-known book, contributed to a corporate report on PR, and initiated a redesign of our corporate web site. I've raced to and from lunches with colleagues at which it feels like we quite literally 'downloaded' everything from our heads within the shortest time possible before dashing off in our separate directions. Alongside all this I've been taking part in a rather energetic debate on my boss's blog about the future of the book. Actually, listed out like that I feel quite proud of myself now, and I've really been buzzing with the adrenalin rush that all this activity generates. But the problem is that the time I seem to be able to commit to each and every one of these things is just SO limited. And that's before I even begin to think about what a thin slice of me each of the children gets. I race home as quickly as I can each evening, hug them all in turn, try to establish what kind of a day each of them has had, virtually barking questions at Paul about what they've eaten, when they napped, whether he took them out anywhere.... and ... What? Paul? Attention from me? Well, he might as well just forget it for the next, ooh, let me see, about 20 years?! Poor sod.
Maybe this sounds like I'm moaning ('So much to do, so little time!'), but the reality is that's not how I feel. The majority of the time I really do feel like LAUGHING about the sheer craziness of life, the comicality of the juggling, the absurd juxtaposition of the wildly different aspects of my life (from bottom-wiping, mush-feeding, dribble-catching, hurt-comforting, story-reading chauffeur to strategy-setting, meeting-running, opinion-forming, team-leading e-publisher and back on a day-to-day basis)... the absolute joy that my children and I seem to be surviving despite it all. And if you ever see me smiling to myself it's because I'm so delighted that somehow, just somehow, even though sometimes things are a bit frayed around the edges, I seem to be holding it all together.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Under pressure

Yesterday, we had the most relaxing day with friends Debra and Richard and their teenage sons Daniel and Nathan. Over lunch I mentioned that I'd written a guest post about ebooks on my chief exec's blog over the weekend.
"I think ebooks are a rubbish idea", piped up Nathan, their 13 year old, immediately exploding my well-honed pet theories on the future of the book (more on the wisdom of children, later). But we rolled the idea of an ebook future around the dinner table a bit longer, nonetheless, before moving on to other things. Later on, the subject of this blog came up, and Debra and Richard quizzed me about my rationale for writing it, what I get out of it, the kind of people who contribute, and so on.
"Do you feel the need to post every day?" they asked, a note of concern for my mental health (does she have blog OCD?) creeping in to their voices. I explained that I felt the need to post frequently and that I aim for at least alternative days, both to maintain a writing discipline and so as not to disappoint regular visitors.
"But isn't that just a pressure too far?" Richard asked. Funnily enough, I don't think so really. It's kind of a useful outlet for stuff in my head. Though on a more mundane day I sometimes struggle to think of anything interesting to say.
However, I'm glad I don't too frequently have to guest on my boss's blog. At 7am on a Sunday morning with Ava (8 months) on my lap wildly attempting to bash the keys, and Eden and Nathan running around me in ever-decreasing circles, increasingly hysterical for my attention, it was hard to write anything remotely intelligent. Emailing today with a colleague who also gets dragged into work stuff over the weekend sometimes, I laughed out loud when she said, "Oh, I get the hysterics too. But that's from the husband!" I must admit Paul isn't overly keen on what he views as a somewhat over-zealous interest in my work, especially when it runs to Blackberry-itus at the weekends... but then, the tempting offer of a continued roof over his head paid for by the salary gleaned therefrom is usually enough to prevent any escalation to hysteria.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Dishwasher safe

We all cheat sometimes, right? Working Mums specially. We take shop-made cakes to the school cake sale, feed the kids their toast on the way to the childminders and have specially designated cupboards in which to hide the mess when guests are coming round. One of the most accepted cheats in this day and age is using a dishwasher instead of doing the dishes by hand. Well, if you've ever wanted to see a prime cheat come to grief then you should have seen me this week WITHOUT A DISHWASHER. "Omigod" I hear you gasp. Yes, the dishwasher finally gave up the ghost and I have lasted a whole week washing the dishes with my own fair hands. OK, sometimes I got Paul to do it. But really, I can't tell you how unbelievably TEDIOUS I find this process, how much I HATE it when the dirty dish water gets inside the rubber gloves (ewww!) and how I really hadn't realised QUITE how many bottles, beakers, teats and plastic spoons we get through on a daily basis. Somebody bring me back my dishwasher, pleeeeeeease! I know I sound like a spoiled modern yummy mummy, but I don't care. The engineer is booked to come and fix it Tuesday. Meanwhile, I'll be cheating some more I expect: takeaways are sounding good this weekend!

Thursday, 10 May 2007


Last night, Paul and I went to a gig at Scala in Kings Cross. I use the word 'gig' advisedly, because this was no middle aged person's 'concert'. Oh deary me, no. This was your proper dark, sweaty, beer-strewn venue and the band was Electrelane, an all-girl indie guitar band (think Stereolab with riffs) who all look about twelve. Well, their guitars almost dwarfed them, anyway. But oh, was it cool. And very, VERY loud.
As I'm sure you all know, us Working Mums don't really do sweaty gigs or nightclubs much anymore. There is a Good Reason for this. We are TOO TIRED. We know we won't get a lie-in to recover the next day. We know that probably, somewhere between going to bed extraordinarily late (after midnight!!) and getting up extraordinarily early, we will be woken up by one or another of our small people. And if alcohol has been imbibed on top of the staying up late, then you're REALLY in trouble.
But do you know what, going to that gig last night really made my week. For just a few hours I wasn't anyone's Mum, nor was I a smart, professional publishing type. I was just someone in a heaving crowd of music lovers, swaying to the synthy music, letting everything flow over and around me.
Of course, as we left, realised how late it was, and panicked because we couldn't find a cab, my other life started pulling me back along that familiar thread. And tonight I skipped a book launch party because I couldn't quite stand TWO nights out away from the kids. I'm an indie kid no more, but it's good to know the rock chick in me hasn't completely died ;-)

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Choose happiness

I whisked all three kids off for the day yesterday, leaving my husband Paul at home alone to have some 'down time' (hmm, I must investigate this concept some time...!) It was Bank Holiday Monday, but outside it was absolutely pelting down with rain. It could have been a bit of a miserable day, but I felt good driving along the A3 to Hampton Court, with the kids safe and dry in the back and a day out with friends to look forward to.
On arrival, it was announced that we were being taken to the local Pizza Express, which resulted in great excitement all round. Several hours, a handful of pizzas, countless dough balls and too many sticky puddings later, the rain had cleared and the children were almost comatose with repletion. We sent them for a good run around outside and settled back for coffee and conversation. On being asked how work was going, I explained how exciting I'm finding it right now, being part of an industry undergoing so much change. "But how do you feel being back at work?" my friends asked? "Mostly, I love it," I replied. And I think this was a pretty honest response, really. My best mate's husband, Mark, had recently had to continue to run his documentary-making business whilst taking on the running of the household and a big chunk of the childcare while his wife, Keely, saw to some family matters back in her home town for the period of one month. He was run ragged by the end of the month and utterly relieved to have her back. We swapped wry comments about the juggling act that all this entailed.
This morning Keely texted me: "Great to see you. You seemed well. Mark v impressed with how happy you look!"I texted back: "Ah, well, I am very lucky. Not much excuse to be miserable!" And that's about the sum of how I feel. Yes, maybe I don't see as much of my children as I'd like in an ideal world; yes, maybe my house is on the untidier side of acceptable, most of the time; and yes, sometimes I feel like the proverbial swan (paddling madly underneath the surface to maintain the appearance of unflappable calm) and that much of my life is a big, fat compromise. But the bottom line is that I have three happy, healthy children and a great job which I really enjoy. And I choose happiness.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Separation anxiety

It's been a super-busy week, so much so that the blog has suffered, for which, apologies. On the work front, much has been achieved. One major project - to launch our first eBooks - has jumped its first major hurdle, and we have begun the process of taking this new bit of our business to the next level. All exciting stuff. Part of my job is also about winning hearts and minds, I believe, and I have felt like I am beginning to win on that front, too. I can't decide whether that is through enormous energy and drive and enthusiasm or whether actually it's because being around me is like chinese water torture; eventually, I get through! But anyway, it's all been good. And VERY busy.
Amidst all the busy-ness, I came to an abrupt stop one morning when Eden woke from a nightmare, genuinely distressed. She clung to me for ages, crying really hard, until finally she revealed that she had dreamed that she and Ava had been stuck in our car as it ran down a hill on its own before the rest of the family climbed in. ".....And we never saw you again!" she sobbed. Separation anxiety, I thought. She's started school; I've gone back to work. Makes sense. The nightmare stuck with her for quite a while afterwards, and I tried to banish it from her thoughts with chit chat and treats.
The next day, it was my turn to experience it. As I rushed between meetings, Paul called me on the mobile, sounding really panicky. "Nathan's really not himself," he said. "He's really floppy, really distressed... He won't stop crying and he's making a really weird, hacking noise in his throat." Trying to stay calm, I asked Paul what Nathan had eaten recently, got him to check his temperature, asked whether his eyes were rolling, how alert he was, and so on. In the background I could hear him screaming, punctured by these sharp, hacking noises. It was really rather alarming. After a call to the doctors the consensus was reached that he should be taken to A & E to be on the safe side; there may be something lodged in his throat. But after every conceivable check had been made, they concluded that there was nothing wrong with him, though they still couldn't explain the reason behind the weird noise he was making in the back of his throat. For the three or four hours until he was discharged, though, I felt that Kings Cross might as well be a zillion miles away from our home in south east London, for all the good I could do. My whole body wanted to be by his side, even though my mind told me it was probably all a false alarm. It was as if we were joined by a thread, and it was being tugged ferociously from the other end, all those miles away. I'm off work for a few days now around the bank holiday, and I can't stop surprising my boy every time he runs past, scooping him into my arms and holding him tight and smelling his neck and nuzzling his hair, because I'm so happy he's mine and he's fine.