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Sunday, 25 October 2009

Having a smashing time

One of the phrases friends use about me most is 'spinning plates', as in, 'Sars, I know you're spinning plates right now, but do you think you could ... [insert appropriate request / favour]'. This year, the plates seem to have been spinning faster, and there seem to have been more of them, so that rather than spinning 'em I feel more like I've been smashing them all over the floor. Everyone assures me I'm doing an okay job, but I'm sure I can still hear the sound of tinkling china echoing in my ears. I can hardly recall everything we've been up to since I last uploaded a blog post, though I can say it has involved new beginnings - Ava learning about life through seeing eyes; all of us becoming camping addicts (even Paul!!); Ava returning to nursery, Nath starting in reception and lots, lots more. I can't believe it is already half term, that Nath is now firmly settled into life at school, that Ava is properly on her way to a normalised existence, and that we have all emerged from a pretty hellish first two thirds of the year relatively unscathed. I still feel tears spring to my eyes every time I cut up greens (don't ask me why, but the action of doing it, the sight and the smell of chopped, raw cabbage just reminds me of the particular way my Nan used to chonk it down in the collander with a plate, one of the plates I have now inherited, and carries associations with all the roast dinners dished up to me, and then my family, by my Nanna, who died this year in April) and I still find myself peering into Ava's eyes every time I dress her to check they look okay... But yes, I think to myself, basically, things are okay again. Paul and I passed a milestone in July with our fifteenth wedding anniversary, and now, belatedly, we are going to celebrate, with three days in Madrid... without the children. Of course, there is no such thing as unadulterated pleasure. The organisation and planning to enable three small children to spend three days with their grandparents seems phenomenal, and then there's the guilt about leaving them and the wondering how we'll manage just the two of us, away for only the second time in eight years for more than a night on our own.... But surely, it's got to be good, hasn't it?

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Naughty but nice

I'm sure it wasn't quite proper to be SO excited about spending an afternoon with eight other chicks (okay, I know 'chicks' is a stretch, but indulge me, just this once) topped off by an evening singing along excessively loudly, waving one's arms, scream lasciviously and generally behaving like lunatics let out of the asylum for a day at the TAKE THAT GIG AT WEMBLEY the other weekend.... But to hell with it. Yes, verily, I kid you not, I went to a Take That gig, something I would never have done when they really were a boy band, but now seem to think is perfectly acceptable. The first time they came round they crossed my radar only so far as for me to sniff at them; I still pretended a certain amount of musical snobbery. Now that I'm nearly forty and have three kids, I have developed this ability basically not to give a shit what anyone else thinks of my taste, just as long as I am having fun. For having fun, as Paul rather sweetly pointed out to Eden the other night, is not something Mummy often gets time to do; not in an independent, non-child-related kind of a way (this was in the context of reminding her she shouldn't moan about Mummy taking one afternoon and evening off in about, ooh, five years or so). And when the eight not-so-secret-anymore Take That fans got together on Saturday, we all agreed that it was just this kind of feel-good pop that we all needed, along with an excuse to compare notes on which of 'the boys' we thought was dishiest and compete for the loudest scream prize.
And as antidotes for two or three months of stress go, it was just perfect.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009


Ava made it through her two operations. She has emerged ever bouncier, seemingly energised by the ability to run with her head held high, looking to the horizon, rather than peering at the ground to check her steps; even chattier (if that were possible) as she engages even more energetically with the world around her, and, importantly, able to take her rightful place on the (new!) enormous family sofa, Simpsons-style with the rest of us, to watch TV, instead of standing directly beneath the screen, staring intently upwards. Whether I have emerged with my sanity is debatable (ask Paul, or my team at work, but please don't tell me what they say) and I definitely failed the numerous tests on my patience which Ava managed to pass with flying colours. Waiting with a two year old forbidden to eat and drink before an operation is possibly the longest wait you'll ever endure, except for the wait once you've kissed them goodbye as they fall asleep at the hands of the anaesthetist. But try helping four nurses and doctors to hold your baby down while they kick and scream and cry and almost faint with the hysteria as their eye is cleaned out if you really want to feel like you're finally cracking up. Ava's right eye had a harder job healing than the left. The stitches became inflamed and we spent a nail-biting couple of weeks as we and the doctors tried to ward off the now high risk of infection. Infection that would lead to her sight being irreparably damaged. I'm not prone to flights of fancy but I swear I began to imagine things every time I looked at her eye. And when Ava fell down the stairs - all the way from top to bottom - between the two operations, guess who cried harder, me or her? Yes, Ava has been a trooper, and I have been a certifiable flake. She's bounced back after every setback and charmed every nurse, surgeon and optometrist in the place. Last Monday, she started to turn a corner and by the time we went for her check-up on Tuesday, she got the thumbs up. The eye patches are still on, but we're down to only four lots of eye drops a day (!) and one of ointment (which I quickly learned to administer after she had fallen asleep at night). Her eyes, when they flash with fun, sparkle darkly, the cloudy patches gone. Importantly, her shiny, new, magenta pink, square-framed glasses will be arriving later this week. She will be the envy of all her friends.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Entering the fray

Ava is soundly asleep and joyously unaware of exactly what's in store for her tomorrow. She has a very chic new 'princess haircut' (ie one which involves a fringe which won't go in her eyes), a bright new bunny rabbit to hold (thanks to our very lovely neighbours) and is looking forward with great excitement to "going in a taxi to the hopital to fix my broken eyes." Meanwhile, I am half way through my second glass of red wine and wondering why all rational powers of thought seem to have deserted me. So, think of us tomorrow, as we set off towards Moorfields Eye Hospital in the grey of dawn, and pray that I won't actually be sick when they apply the general anaesthetic.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Shit hits fan x2

It has been difficult to find an appropriate post to follow my last. I set myself up for a fall, really, with this blog, always trying to keep it lighthearted and a little bit witty, for there isn't very much lighthearted or witty to say when your Nanna dies. Somehow maintaining blog silence has seemed the only appropriate response to the passing of one of the most important women in my life. My gorgeous, kind, funny and serene Nanna was a constant in my life, and, I now realise, she will always stay with me. I hear exactly what she would be saying to me now, for instance, as I begin to grapple with my latest challenge, which is how to stay emotionally sane, not make myself sick with worry, and appear fearless for my little Ava, who is about to go through double eye surgery to remove the cataracts that have been slowly deteriorating her sight over the last few months. What Nanna would be saying is, "Don't worry dear, just think about how much better it will be for her after it's done! Isn't it marvellous what they can do these days?" Which would be her generous spirited and kindly way of telling me to pull my socks up, lift my chin and remember how good we really do have it these days. Perspective is a wonderful thing, and my Nanna always delivered it in bucketloads.
PS: To help me through my current exercise in maintaining perspective I have been reading what ought to be hailed as one of the best books of this year. The Flying Carpet to Baghdad by Hala Jaber (full disclosure, my company publishes it) is one of those books that you tend to become evangelical about after you've read it, because it does something to your insides at the same time as speaking to your intellect. It is an insightful war memoir, a gut-wrenching look at the impact on ordinary lives of the war in Iraq, but also an incredibly moving, tear-inducing story of a woman facing the ultimate clash between her professional life and her personal mothering instincts as she attempts to rescue just two small children out of the thousands affected by the chaos of war. If anything can help to put your own problems in perspective, this book can. All I can say is, please try to read it, even if you don't read anything else this year.

Friday, 17 April 2009


13 April 1917 - 16 April 2009

Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.

Canon Henry Scott-Holland

Monday, 30 March 2009


You'd forgive me for thinking I'm living in a parallel universe in which no parents exist, the drink of choice is pink milk, and the children are called things like Charlie, Lola, Lotta and Marv. In this universe it is ever so extremely important that you intone, gigglingly, in slightly pretentious toddler speak, putting a lot of extra emphasis on certain words in order to convey their importance and to show off that you know them.
Yes, my life is currently ruled by Charlie and Lola, Nath's current obsession and one eagerly adopted by his sisters. This means that when I return from work I am greeted by three small faces momentarily turned in my direction and then back to the TV screen, which is always showing one of Nath's new collection of Charlie and Lola DVDs. It also means that whenever I ask anyone to do anything I am treated to a very loud, "Sorry, I am just too very extremely busy", and whenever we eat a meal together (ie every day) I am regaled with a list of foods that will never be eaten ("I will never not ever eat a tomato"...etc) but whose fantasy counterparts are completely acceptable ("Ah, it's a moonsquirter - that's okay then.") Whilst in the shower the other morning I could hear a quite vocal discussion taking place between Nathan and Eden. They were speaking in unnaturally high voices and guffawing at each other conspiratorially. As I stepped out of the shower I could hear the words more clearly and realised they were reciting word for word an entire Charlie and Lola show, play acting the parts and enjoying themselves immensely.
You might wonder if all this is more than a little irritating but there are a number of things to be grateful for, here. At least Nath's captivation with Charlie and Lola has taken sway over his obsession with killer robot wars, and at least this all goes to demonstrate that TV doesn't kill children's imaginations, after all. Well not exactly, anyway. It just slightly warps them. It seems to be doing quite a lot of good for their memory and recall abilities, too.
Yes, the imaginative streak seems alive and well in the entire family at present. Whilst changing Ava's nappy in a restaurant's baby room over the weekend, she suddenly whispered, a propos of nothing, "Ssshhh, we're in a dark forest!"
"Oh gosh, are we?" I asked. "Are there any creatures in the dark forest, Ava?"
"Yes." She answered, in a stage whisper. "There are dark tigers and dark ducks."
And that was that. Funny girl.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Ava grows up

It's official. I don't have any little people in the house who could realistically be classed as babies. Ava, our youngest, started nursery on Monday morning, and with that small step, off she went on a journey that gradually takes them further and further away from you and closer and closer to independence. Looking at her, all innocent and unaware of what she was about to encounter, in her little, blue, nursery-branded sweatshirt, was enough to make me yell hysterically, 'Don't go!' grab her up into my arms and try to hold onto that umbilical link, just for a few days more. But no, just as my Dad always counselled me, it's our job as parents to teach our children how to manage without us. But Dad, why is that sometimes so very hard?
Monday morning I was due in the office early. We had a big day ahead of us including an important author presentation. Quite apart from trying to rein in my hero worship of the guy I needed to be sure I didn't fluff my part of the presentation and let down my colleagues. But the butterflies in my stomach were all about this little picture I had in my head of Ava in her blue sweatshirt wandering around the big, new nursery looking for her Mum and Dad and wondering why we'd left her with all these strange people. Thank God it was Paul who was going to have to handle the drop-off. I was simultaneously relieved, guilty about feeling relieved, and somewhat sad that the job wasn't mine this time. That's not just a paradox - that's, like, a three-dimensional paradox. Or something. No wonder my stomach was in knots.
Paul called me at 10.10am. He had arrived at the nursery with her at 10am and he was already leaving! She had launched herself in to the thick of it the minute they had arrived, trying out the activities at every table in the course of a few minutes and settling at the painting easel with a look of disbelief that someone could have laid out all this fun stuff and noone was stopping her from playing with it all. She had more or less ignored him when he had told her he was leaving. His voice sounded a bit wobbly.
'Oh, phew,' I said, 'I think.'
As I went into the presentation my butterflies had disappeared. Ava was going to be okay. The small matter of a major author's happiness would be peanuts.

P.S. Do not allow this post to full you with sentimentality and sympathy for poor little Ava. Both her brother and sister are this week sporting bruises over their eyes after 'combative encounters' with their 'cute baby sister'. If I wasn't already certain she was growing up fast that should be physical evidence enough!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Juggling, in extremis

Nathan's birthday party was craaaaaaayzeeee. 14 four year olds (mainly boys) in our very small living room, plus most of their parents, too. Next year, the local soft play centre it is. It was however very, very nice to see placid, low maintenance, non-attention-seeking Nath, the quiet and gentle and slightly dopey one of our three, taking centre stage and even enjoying it in his own little way. Have to admit, was slightly embarassed by his guest greeting manner (airplaning down the hall, yelling at the top of his voice, 'PRESENT!', yanking the front door open and snatching the present from each unsuspecting guest's grip before running back down the hall and into the living room without so much as a 'hello', 'how are you?' or 'come in'. Hmm, maybe not so quiet). Still, he made up for it later by joining in the party games (after a bit of persuasion), NOT crying when someone else won the pass-the-parcel, and, importantly, RECOGNISING WHAT HIS CAKE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE - YIPPPEEEEEE! So, yes, the cake worked out okay, and with the indoor sparklers going for the jet engines it really looked quite spectacular. Most importantly, Nathie loved it.

But here, you can judge for yourselves:

The day I wrote my last post, as I laboured over this cake and hoped against hope that Nath wouldn't take one look at it and say, 'Err, what is it, Mum?' I had to laugh at the Extreme Sport that is Working Motherhood. Here I was, sticking bits of Victoria Sponge together with jam, licking a bit too much of the icing off the spoon, and wondering whether I'd got the gun metal silver effects right on the Fighter Jet Wings, when only 48 hours before I'd been stepping off the red eye from New York where I'd been at the annual TOC conference speaking to an audience of 1000 people about 'The Future of Publishing'. (See embarassing pics, here).

With all this flipping between such frankly silly extremes, it's a wonder we don't get more mixed up and confused than we already are, and no surprise that so many of us develop a bad case of Imposter Syndrome. I can't work out whether I think I'm more of an Imposter-Future-Gazer or Imposter-Mother, but I'm probably a bit of both.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Use the force

I know you're awaiting an entertaining post about my whirlwind, cocktail-fuelled trip to New York, but the thing is, it's Nath's fourth birthday party tomorrow and I thought it would be really fun to make him a Jedi Fighter Cake. As if I really need to say anything further on the matter, I am just starting to wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew, so to speak. Putting the jet lag aside, however, I am boldly going where no mother has been before. Wish me luck. I'll post some pictures of the end result later on which, I am sure, will make up for my apparent lack of witty prose.

Friday, 6 February 2009


As if to echo my sentiments entirely, Eden (7) came home from school today with a snowflake cut-out, mounted on black paper and bearing a poem she had written, in her neatest handwriting, entitled 'Cold.' I am reproducing it here with all her cute little spelling errors intact, just because I absolutely love it. This is said with full acknowledgement of my intense bias. But this is my blog, and I can post what I like on it. So there.


Cold is
Silver and white to mack a snowy pictur.
A poaler bear that stomps around.
A white igloo in the North Pole.
When you get sad you tremmble with cold nise.*
January in a cold blizzard.
A sofa, next to a ice pond with a frog on it.

[* knees, I think.]

Totally surreal and wonderful.

On another note, I am off to New York tomorrow until Thursday, so the blogging may be sparse. I nearly wasn't going, but now I am. That's another story for another post. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, 5 February 2009


I have been getting really quite cross with all those people grumping about the snow.
"It's pathetic, isn't it, how the UK grinds to a halt when there's a bit of bad weather?"
"Businesses will lose three billion pounds over the next few days of snow!"
"It's great for the kids, but not for anyone else."
And I nearly blew my lid when I heard about so-called Parenting Groups complaining about school closures. That is just Boringness gone mad.
Well, yah, boo, sucks to the lot of you for being so very glass-is-half-empty and not embracing the inner snowman-builder and snowball-thrower in you. Snow is like Christmas. It is so much better if you embrace your inner child and just bloody well jump right in and enjoy it.

Monday, 26 January 2009


It felt good when we finally got round to booking swimming lessons for the kids. It had only been on my 'To do' list for, ooh, about three months. Actually, it was Paul who actually rang up and did the booking, in a burst of enthusiasm for Organising Stuff That Sara Has Finally Admitted She Can't Manage All On Her Own And Has Decided to Delegate (this is a novel idea that has only just occurred to me because, whilst effective delegation is a primary skill of mine in the workplace, I only just seem to have got to grips with it at home).
The idea of 9am swimming classes on a Sunday was starting to feel slightly less appealing as we staggered up to bed a little drunkenly at 1.30am after a dinner party with neighbours, and was proving an even less attractive prospect as we peered out of the window into the rainy darkness at 7am the following morning when the alarm went off. On a Sunday. Did I already mention that?
However, I was still feeling smug because, for once, it was not my fault that we were Doing Something Slightly Insane and I could therefore not be grumped at with any shred of credibility by my husband. Instead, Paul was behaving in an unusually chirrupy manner for someone who professes to detest the hours before 10am and who is equally unkeen about jumping willingly into cold water, even at the best of times.
The children, of course, were even more chirrupy and in fact positively leaping with joy and into their swimming costumes, all the time treating us as if we were heaven-sent Parental Beings for taking them swimming, which really made us feel rather good about the whole enterprise.
We should have known something wasn't quite right when we turned up at the poolside to find that Nathan and Ava weren't on the register for the 9am Aquatots class, but the teacher hurriedly explained that it was probably an administrative error and encouraged us all to jump in regardless. Meanwhile, Eden sat on the side giggling at Ava as she screeched in terror at the idea of a Swimming Lesson and peered sideways at the teacher with that Damionesque look she assumes when incredibly suspicious of someone. According to the booking form, Eden's 'Beginners 2' class started at 9.30am, so she was sitting this session out, drawing quietly in her notebook and waiting her turn. I looked up at her from the pool where I was singing 'The Wheels on the Bus' and pedalling Ava's arms up and down in the water, and thought how proud I was of her ability to sit patiently and quietly without fuss while the others had fun in the water.
The end of the class came round and we dragged Ava and Nath out of the pool and into their towels, simultaneously propelling Eden towards the lady with the clipboard who looked like she was in charge so that she could register for her lesson.
Half distracted by trying to contain Ava in her towel I suddenly became aware that Paul was walking towards me with a John-Cleese-in-Fawlty-Towers-When-He-Loses-It face on. There had been an Adminstrative Error (technical term for Total Cock-Up) and the long and the short of it was that Eden wasn't going to get a swimming lesson that day. Her class had begun at 9am and was now over. It was not at 9.30 as we had been informed. Eden was looking at the teacher, across to Paul and then at me, her eyes wide and teary with disbelief and repeating over and over again, "Am I really not going to get a swim?"
And I felt so very sorry for her in that moment that of course the words just came out: "Don't worry, darling. Mummy will make sure you get a swim today, whatever happens."
So it was that about an hour or so later I found myself at another swimming pool across town, climbing back into my already wet swimming costume to take Eden into the pool for a hastily convened Mother And Daughter Swimming Session. As we walked towards the pool we bumped straight into two of the neighbours who had been at our dinner party the night before.
"What happened?" they asked, wondering why I was at another pool with Eden, an hour and a half after our scheduled class at the local leisure centre.
As I briefly downloaded the events of the morning, they both shook their heads. "So this is the second time you've gone swimming this morning? And you've just put your cold, wet swimming costume back on again? And you've got a hangover? That's Hardcore. You're a Hardcore Mum!" they marvelled. And Eden laughed and said, "Isn't my Mum great?"
No. Not really. Not even slightly. But I didn't mind them saying it. Not one bit.

Monday, 12 January 2009

More New Year's Resolutions

1. Count to ten and breeeeeeathe deeply before yelling or snapping at the kids - or Paul.

2. Get back into skinny jeans (err, yes, said items were rather balking at the idea of taking on my new Mince-Pie-Thighs on January 1)

3. Stop leaving it until the morning to work out what to wear. The hasty decision making process can result in some disastrous and clashing consequences. The blurry eyes of morning can enable one to imagine one looks better in something than one's muffin top truly allows. And there isn't time for deliberation or a last-minute switch between wiping bottoms, changing nappies, throwing shreddies in bowls and asking the kids to 'get a move on' again. Ironing anything is completely out of the question.

4. Recognise that there is a credit crunch on. Stop being in denial. Cancel the £2.10 daily take-away coffee on the way into work. Save for a holiday instead!

5. Get fit. Without joining a gym (too expensive). Running and cycling are both free, aren't they? Yes! But WHEN?? My young, free and single friends suggest getting up earlier and going for a run before the kids wake up. 'Sleep deprivation' ain't in their vocabulary yet, though.

I asked the kids what they thought their resolutions should be for 2009. Eden ummed and aah'd a bit and looked slightly mystified. I suggested one or two for her (not that I am controlling, or anything).
"How about doing what you're told first time rather than fifth?" I enquired. She nodded slowly, and reflected. "Could be tough."
"Okay. You could try being a bit kinder to your brother and sister?"... She wrinkled her nose in that way she has.
I tried a different tack.
"What resolutions do you think Nathan should make?" (he's only nearly-four and can't even pronounce 'resolution').
"[...Giggle, giggle] I think he should stop getting naked so much of the time!! [Guffaw, snort]"
Right. I can see this is not being treated with the *utmost* seriousness. Maybe try again next year.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! Did all your Christmas wishes come true? Have you made (or broken) any New Year's Resolutions yet?
Let me tell you about one of my Christmas wishes, and how the Holiday Season has thoroughly put paid to it, and how that has informed myThorough Commitment to Stop Nagging Paul (NYR No 1):
Well, for a few months now, I have been quietly wondering whether it might be nice to just have one, extra, (final, I promise) teeny, weeny baby. Surely it wouldn't make that much difference, would it? Four rather than three? No problem. Sure, we'd have to buy one of those silly cars... And possibly move house. And I'd have to get another promotion sooner rather than later. And my saggy stomach would be lost beyond reason (I mean, even worse than it is now) and would never, but never, be the same again. But really, what could be easier? One extra would just slip right in. Wouldn't it? Actually, when I say, "Quietly wondering", that's not quite right. In fact it's a fib. I have been quite loudly remonstrating with my other half and suggesting he should stop being so bloody sensible and boring and let me have another one, and he has been loudly remonstrating right back at me that this might not actually be the most brilliant idea I have ever had. Sigh.
However, when I found myself standing in the checkout queue in Ikea three nights before Christmas at ELEVEN FORTY-FIVE PM buying frames in which to mount Star Wars pictures for my son (further to a 10pm visit to Toys R Us for last-minute stocking fillers) I did wonder, "Is my life just a tiny bit FULL already?..." And then the next night, when it was midnight and Paul and I found ourselves arguing over the best way to wrap a Jedi Fighter Craft and we still had, ohh, about FORTY FIVE presents to wrap, the thought began to niggle at me further.
Of course, all the sensible-ness was ruined on Christmas Day when I surveyed my little brood ripping the paper back off all those gifts and laughing and smiling and cuddling us and I thought, "Oh, wouldn't it be nice to have just one more?"....
But dragging three kids round the post-Christmas sales really finished me off.
So, no. I am resolved. And NYR No. 1 actually is: "Stop Nagging Paul for Another Baby and Enjoy What You Have While Holding on to Your Sanity For Dear Life."
More New Year's Resolutions to follow.