I know, I know… I hate those ‘my children are fabulous’ articles too. Let me rush to reassure you that my children aren’t fabulous. Well, I mean obviously, I think they’re fabulous because I’m their Mum and I kind of have to, but they argue and fart and shout and call each other a ‘douche’ and throw hangers at each other when trying on clothes in changing rooms and come in late and answer back and call me a ‘bellend’ and all sorts of general teenage pain-in-the-arseness, so it’s not going to one of those. Honest.
Since being back in England, it’s been brilliant. They’ve been out with their Grandad for fabulous meals… out with their mates… down the gym… down the cricket club… it’s been never ending. And with that, of course, has been the flow of money. Which has also been never ending.
Lift to the big skatepark in the next town? Can’t you get the bus? Yes, but it’s £2.65 have you got any cash? I’m off to the gym, it’s cheaper if you get membership… Can we get a McDonald’s…?
And so it goes on. The Prof, then, decided it was time he was self-sufficient and decided to get a job for the summer. We toiled over a CV. Any idea how hard it is to pad out the CV of a 16 year old so it covers a whole page? Not bloody easy. We put down his predicted GCSE grades, and the subjects he’s chosen for A level, but then…
Luckily he had a really nice reference from the aviation company where he did his work experience last year. I stuck it on the bottom of the page.
Me: ‘and you need to put down some of your hobbies.. something that’s going to make it look like you don’t spend all day in your bedroom…’
Him: ‘Ooh, I’m wicked at Xbox…’
Me: ‘Oh god’.
Anyway, CV typed, he popped up to the ever-useful Disreputable Grandad to get some photocopies done, and then he was gone.
Eventually, he trudged up the path.
Turns out, he’d been along the high street and gone in EVERY shop and business and asked if they were hiring.
I was bloody impressed. Seriously. Even English Dad was in awe: ‘would you have walked the high street with a CV at 16? Nope, me neither’.
And he got an interview (at a well known high street coffee establishment, no less). As I watched him slope up the path, shaggy hair, jeans hanging round his arse, I had my doubts, but he’s obviously inherited the family ‘talking his way into anything’ gene, and was soon back with news of a start date.
As usual, he was unimpressed with our excitement… he’s already got it worked out. ‘This time next year I’ll have enough for a car’.
Well done, Sam. I’m bloody proud of you. A+ for effort xx
So the Death Wish Dude was very keen on trying out the fish pedicure spa in the shopping centre near us. Skaters suffer terribly with their feet apparently (and their hips, and their knees, but I don’t think there’s a fish for that yet). Anyhoo, yesterday, with his fellow skater dudes all still at school and the skate park quiet and empty, we decided to head over and have a go.
It all started quite well. We had our feet checked and then signed a medical form promising that we didn’t have all sorts of random viruses, warts, and pugnatious putrefractions (okay I made that last one up), and settled down with our feet in a nice warm cleansing bath.
We were then invited to pop our feet into the little fishy bath where the little nibblers (Turkish Garra Rufa fish – apparently they just love dead skin) started working away at our tootsies:
It was about then that all hell broke loose. An entire family of travellers entered the fish spa along with several hundred children and various sisters, mums and aunties. The young lady that was having the fish pedi sat next to me and proceeded to:
a: Scream. Long and loud. Oh, and shout ‘FECKING HELL I’M GUNNA BE SICK MAM!’ in my ear
b: Forget that she was about to be sick and conduct long and complicated conversations at great volume across me about a wedding with the various friends and relatives (who were a good ten feet away). I’m presuming that she was the bride. She was very chatty but we didn’t get in much of a conversation because she kept interrupting herself by yelling things like ‘ARGH THEY’RE CRAWLIN UP ME LEG MAM!’ I was worried because, sod the feet, she really needed to get her roots done if she was getting married on Saturday.
c: invite various smaller children to come and look. Two of them (young twin girls – bridesmaids, apparently) were both eating enormous hot dogs, and as they chewed, talked incredibly fast and looked at the fish, several bits of chewed hot dog escaped and fell into the fishy water. I’m presuming that since Garra Rufa fish eat foot skin, they’re not too fussy about the odd bit of hot dog, but I still thought this was a bit off.
d: shout at her relatives that she too wanted a hot dog, that her money was in her purse and could they put mustard on it. Sure enough, ten minutes later she was also chomping on a massive hot dog, dropping bits into the fish.
Anyway, the Dude and I settled into companionable silence (well, what else could we do in the circumstances) and tried to enjoy our fish Pedicure while the bride discussed the finer points of Chelsey’s underskirts and shouted at her family about Shane not having the right shoes.
It wasn’t exactly relaxing, but then I can’t entirely blame the fish for that. Our feet were quite soft afterwards, though…
My Mum was cleaning out a cupboard recently and found my school report. Oh how we laughed. It’s actually a pretty solid reflection of my strengths, weaknesses and… erm… character. My mum and I cackled. Especially at the needlework bit. I ‘persevered’? She means I was crap, doesn’t she? Here’s some other highlights:
Rebecca, aged 13.
A fairly good report for Becky this term. However, if she is to achieve her true potential she will have to work harder and overcome her tendency to talk in the classroom.
Talk in the classroom? Moi? Shurely shome mishtake.
‘Rebecca’s attention and interest are a little unreliable but she can do good, intelligent work. She tends to skim through things she is supposed to read’.
Yup. Still do that.
Mathematics (set 4)
Despite her all too frequent outbursts and protestations Becky is better than she thinks. A little more self-confidence and self-assertion would not go amiss.
Set 4! That’s for the people that have to take their socks off to add up. Rubbish. I’m shit at maths. This teacher was clearly deluded.
Becky has made outstanding progress with her writing this year. She has creative flair which should be encouraged. In drama, she has made valuable contributions. She would benefit from continuing to read widely over the summer holidays.
Fabulous, inspiring teacher. I bloody loved English. Still do.
Becky could do a lot better if she concentrated harder in class. She must resist the temptation to gossip to her neighbours. Her test marks were very good and her exam work was very satisfactory but I am sure she still has more to offer.
Gossip? How very dare you.
Rebecca has produced good work and achieved a fair level of understanding. I feel, however, that she is under-achieving and that her level of understanding would improve significantly with more effort and concentration.
Hmmm, you see, effort and concentration? Not my strong points.
I was impressed with Rebecca’s performance in the music competition. She seems a musical girl.
A musical girl? Press my nose and I play a tune.
Her somewhat individual approach to this creative activity is most welcome. Attentive and conscientious, she has made a very favourable impression.
I love this one. I have no artistic ability at all. Hence my ‘individual approach’ no doubt.
Rebecca has persevered with her towelling robe. This fabric is quite difficult to handle. She has achieved a good standard in dressmaking and toy making.
We were howling by this stage. Persevered? Needless to say, I don’t remember a towelling robe. I don’t think it ever made it home. I still can’t sew on a button.
Rebecca has been a lively contributor to the group’s discussion work this year. She has expressed her ideas clearly and has displayed quite a mature approach to the topics covered. A good year’s work.
Mature. Hmmm. This was basically sitting around having a chat. I’d have been epic at that.
On the whole, Becky has participated well, but she requires greater determination if she is to improve further
For ‘requires greater determination’ read: she’s a lazy little cow and I often have to go and get her from round the back of the bike sheds where she’s generally having a fag’.
Rebecca has had an excellent year in this subject. She seems to enjoy her work and get a lot of satisfaction, especially from her practical work.
Cooking, see? Awesomes.
So. English and cooking: fab. Everything else? A bit poo, really.
What about you? Got some snippets from the ol’ school report to share? I’d love to hear them.
So we’re home, then.
The last few days have been a bit of a whirl, what with the drunken madness that was the Cybermummy Conference this weekend, but we’ve got everything into the storage locker (the last few things were just hurled in, to be honest) and my long-suffering mum is looking after us until we move in to our new pad. The Ninja Cat of Death was very good on the way over – apart from constant growling and moaning in the back of the car, there was no ‘poo of shame‘ like last time. She was less than impressed to meet my Mum’s cat and dog, but we kept her in for a few days, and now she’s happily roaming the upstairs, coming in and out of the windows like she owns the place, and giving my mum’s poor labrador Ellie a swift backhander if she steps out of line.
So far, from my wishlist, I’ve done the following:
1. Hugged my Dad (and had a nice glass of wine and a chat with him too – AND seen the swish new orange tractor)
2. Hugged Ellie. She still smells and is still hairy. But I love her.
3. Been out to dinner with the hubster (we had really great food… and two bottles of wine *cough* – more of this later)
4. Been for cocktails with my lovely friends (what is it with me and ‘the claw’? Can I not pose for a photo without it?):
5. Been to Waitrose. Happy, happy days. I walked round like a grinning lunatic and came back with all sorts of loveliness. I’m going to have to rein myself in though or otherwise I’ll be bankrupt by the end of July. Still, they had some gorgeous prawns and FRESH PEAS!! I spent a very enjoyable afternoon sitting in the sunshine in my mum’s garden shelling peas and sipping cold white wine. Bliss. Oh, and here’s what I made for tea:
Prawn and courgette pasta with fresh peas
Serves 4 generously
Good quality dried pasta (I generally reckon on 100g dried pasta per person)
1 pack large raw prawns
As many peas as you can be bothered to shell
Splosh double cream
So first get your pasta on. Use the biggest saucepan you have and make the water ‘as salty as the sea’ (not sure where I read that, but I always repeat it to myself when cooking it – I’m a bit sad like that). Linguine works really well here, but I didn’t have any, so ‘tubes’ it is (I’m sure there’s a technical term for ‘tubes’, but you know what I mean).
When the pasta’s well on the way, slice the courgettes and fry in a heavy-based frying pan with a little garlic-infused rapeseed oil. When they’re just starting to turn golden, pop in the prawns (you need to be careful not to overcook prawns or they get that horrible crunchy texture).
When the prawns go in, pop the fresh peas in with the pasta (they’ll only take a minute or two).
Now add a generous splosh of cream (double is better as it’s less prone to splitting, but you could use creme fraiche too. Generously grind over lots of pepper too.
When the pasta and peas are just cooked, drain and add to the frying pan. Toss everything together and serve immediately, with a good grating of Parmesan. Noms.
This is also lovely with crab (a pot of fresh stuff or a tin of white crab meat) and some fresh, chopped chilli.
Okay, first up with the crap advice then:
1. For some reason, during exams your average teenager will turn into an eating machine of epic proportions. Your healthy and carefully planned dinners will be scarfed down, oh yes, but it’s also worth visiting your local supermarket and bulk-buying white sliced loaves, revolting plastic cheese, those Pepperami things that look like they’re in a little condom and make your breath smell like dead people, Chilli Heatwave Doritos and 5-packs of Snickers and gallons of milk – all of which seem to be prepared into epic snackage at some time during the night (judging by the state of the kitchen in the morning – akin to that of an explosion) and consumed in near-darkness in the teenager’s lair while immersed in a book that appears to have had the edges chewed by some kind of rabid dog.
2. When you receive a phone call ten minutes before an exam from your teenager which, roughly translated, sounds like this: ‘OHMYGODMUM…CAN’TREMEMBERBLOODYANYTHING, I’M SO GOINGTOFAIL!!!’ , the correct response is a gentle and encouraging salve for the troubled hormonal teenaged soul: ‘you can do it! You’ve studied loads. I believe in you.. ‘ etc. Fight the urge to say ‘you get in there and get a bloody A or I’ll break your legs, y’hear me?’.
3. When in receipt of a text from the school that says: ‘X left an examination early today, contravening school rules and therefore not putting in the expected effort.’, it’s best not to:
a: imagine your offspring rushing from the exam room in tears after realising with horror that they can’t answer a single question, deciding that they’re done with education and want to join a commune in Israel and embrace their inner child.
b: secretly congratulate yourself for having produced a rebel who rides the highway of society without a helmet (or something), whilst simultaneously pressing the speed dial button in a vain attempt to ask him what the sodding hell happened.
c: imagine doing said teenager considerable physical damage with some kind of axe or mallet when they finally answer the 75th phone call and mutter ‘oh the exam was a piece of cake. Nobody told us we couldn’t leave early. Soz, I left my phone in my locker’.
4. Similarly, when discussing said ‘piece of cake’ exam that mysteriously only took an hour to complete, it’s best to refrain from asking several times whether they went over their answers properly and whether they’re REALLY sure that they didn’t miss out a page. The resulting eye-rolling, tutting and swearing will just add to the overall stress levels.
5. When the teenager, in between mouthfuls of yet another dinner that would feed a third world nation for a week and gulping from a whole pint of milk, explains to you that he totally blanked and couldn’t remember the name of the author of the book he’d been studying for English over the last two years and that it didn’t really matter ‘cos I won’t lose too many marks I doubt’, it’s probably best to count slowly backwards from ten. Do not, I repeat, do not:
a. point out that the book has spent a large amount of time on his bedside table over the last two years
b. point out that he’s been resting his milk on it so much that it has rings forever embedded into the cover encircling the name of the author whose name escaped him in the exam
c: point out that the spine of said book, WITH the name of the author pointing towards him, must probably have been the last thing he saw most nights before drifting off to peaceful slumber. It’s done. Move on.
The good one:
If all else fails, throw cash at the situation.
Every child is different. For some, it’s praise, for others it’s freedom. For mine, it’s cold hard cash. After months of yelling ‘shouldn’t you be revising?’ at his headphone-encased head planted in front of the Xbox, the magic words that saw him drop the controller like hot sh*t and rush upstairs faster than you can say ‘Call of Duty’ to revise were, well, let’s just say financially motivated.
Don’t judge me.
Well not until you’re the parent of a teenager.
And hey, look on the bright side: just two more years until A levels!
For all the things you’ve given me:
A good example.
A hideously bad example
A love of food and wine
An appreciation of the ridiculous
A fabulous Grandfather for my sons
A hatred of politics (!)
Madame Tussaud’s, Whipsnade Zoo, the theatre, the cinema, a thousand restaurants
Paella and donkey rides of terror down precipitous mountains…
Enough ridiculous presents to sink a ship
‘I love you, Dad’. ‘Thank you’.
41 extremely silly birthday cards
A million hugs, several hundred very cross lectures
A knack for the complaint letter
Bruises from a lifetime of squeezed legs (just above the knee – hurts like a bitch)
Perfume: musk and floral and green and exotic
Enough belly laughs for several lifetimes
Curiosity about the world – a love of travel and new experiences
Airports and taxis, coaches and trains
A hatred of practical jokes (the coffee in the ear is probably a lot to do with it)
A pain in my arse… a flea in my ear…
But always a letter to the boys, an email, a phone call, a snippet from the newspaper that I’d like… a reminder that you don’t forget about us.
You make me laugh, you drive me mad…
Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad
This is an entry for Tara Cain’s gallery. For more interpretations of the theme ‘Dad’, click here
The packing isn’t going well. I keep having mad panics and throwing things out that I shall probably need, like all the ice cream cartons I keep to put stock in, and about 75 glass jars waiting to be filled with jams and marmalades. And I can’t get the order right – yesterday I packed all the glasses, so we’re now drinking juice out of mugs, which is ‘common as muck’ as my Grandma Maudie would say. I also packed all my underwear, but then I realised that two weeks of rummaging in a suitcase for a pair of knickers would drive me barmy, and totally cancels out the satisfaction of having one more drawer emptied. So back they went.
De brevren are the polar opposite when it comes to packing. Little Chas has his entire room packed into boxes and ready, was counting down the days in his homework diary (which must have pleased his teachers no end) and spends hours glued to Facebook chatting to his mates. The Prof, admittedly somewhat distracted with his exams, wants nothing to do with packing, so I’ve mostly left him alone to study (occasionally emerging to create vast sandwiches from the contents of the fridge and head back upstairs balancing teetering towers of said sandwich, crisps, packets of biscuits and glasses of milk) and spend hours talking to his mates on the Xbox (see the common theme here?). I did nab him for half an hour to try and explain to me what all the wires were near the Xbox. This did not go well. Apparently he ‘needs it all’ and nothing must be packed. Awkward.
Every day, I’m thinking of things I will do – the things I haven’t been able to do for a long time – things I’m planning and things I’m looking forward to. Here’s my top ten:
1. Walking to the shop on a Sunday morning, buying an armful of papers and lolling around reading, with endless cups of tea.
2. Shopping in Waitrose with my Mum. Oh I know, snobby and all that. But I bloody love Waitrose. And I love shopping with my Mum. It takes us ages because we pick things up, have a chat about them, then put them down again – planning dinners and discussing ingredients. I love it.
3. Hugging my Dad. He always pretends that he hates to be hugged, so when the boys and I give him a massive cuddle he stands all stoney like a soldier, but for some reason that makes us all want to hug him more. Look, he’s doing it here:
Oh and happy Fathers’ Day for this weekend, Dad. This counts instead of a present right? Right?
4. Going out to dinner. I miss restaurants. And wine. I miss mulling over menus and dithering over starters surrounded by the people I love.
5. Cocktails! I shall go for cocktails with my favourite girlfriends and talk waffle until we’re blue in the face. Cannot wait.
6. Chatting with my nieces and nephews. I have two nieces. I adore them both – they are sassy, cool, funny and – as a mother of boys – they are the girly lights of my life. I miss them so much. My lovely nephew Jackson is a mean cook already and often tries my recipes for me. I can’t wait to catch up. On Hubby’s side, he also has a brand new grand-niece that we haven’t even met yet.
7. Going on a family day out to Whipsnade Zoo. When my cousin Moon‘s baby, Matej, is christened in June, our family will be together for the first time in a long time – my cousin Deb is coming over from Canada, and Moon and his lovely wife Miska are travelling from Slovakia. We’re planning a mahoosive day out, with picnic, at Whipsnade – I’ve probably spent hundreds of days out there, and it was a big part of our childhood, and that of my boys.
8. Talking of the christening, I’m going to make cupcake towers for Matej – blue and cream, with little sugar stars and cars… big mountains of them. Then I’m going to drink too much champagne, laugh with my wonderful brothers, giggle with my nieces and be all proud of my big strapping sons, home again in the midst of all their family.
9. Giving Ellie a cuddle. Ellie is my Mum’s old labrador, once black and glossy, now grey and a little stiff in the legs, but still gorgeous. It feels like she’s a million years old, although she probably isn’t. Still, she loves a cuddle (demonstrated here by Charlie) and rushes to meet us, bowling us over with our suitcases and bringing us her ‘baby’, a stinky old stuffed cat.
Ellie’s ‘best friend’, Harry, is an equally old ginger cat who loves Ellie with a passion – even though she often sits on him by accident -and drools excessively. He’d love to be cuddled more often, but frankly the drooling thing is a bit unpalatable. When we first see him, we forget the drooling and give him a cuddle – then when the drool starts, we put him down again. The worst bit is when he shakes his head and everyone gets a dribbly shower. Poor Harry.
10. Enjoying being a family again. Living apart from one another is hard. English Dad has a demanding job and isn’t a big texter or emailer. Things are often lost in translation and honestly, I’m not sure that we would have survived this long-distance family life for much longer. The boys can’t wait to be back with their Dad. Recently he texted me: ‘can’t wait to have you all here then I can annoy you all in person’. Me neither.
So after a very silly evening spent avoiding the wrath of the scary landlady, sniggering and drinking gin in a tin, fellow blogging buddy Laura and I were collected by lovely A from Yeo Valley and transported in the Landrover of Death to the gorgeous Organic Gardens at Holt Farm, well, the tea room, to be more precise.
I LOVE the tea room at Holt Farm. I big puffy heart it. It’s just so deliciously quirky and everything’s not quite what it seems. For example, check out the lights:
and look at this lovely comfy sofa looking out onto the garden. I could while away several happy hours (or possibly days) perched here with a paper…
…and some of their lovely fruity pastries:
…just admiring the view… and the gnomage!
So a bit of background, then: I guess you could say that Holt Farm was the very starting point of Yeo Valley Organics. Roger and Mary Mead first began making their yogurts on the kitchen table there in the 1970s, and although Yeo Valley is now much bigger, the business still runs from the area, with their son Tim and other family members and staff still farming and milking their cows in the gorgeous Somerset countryside. When Tim, now Yeo Valley’s Director, and his wife Sarah inherited Holt Farm from Tim’s parents some 20 years ago, Sarah really threw herself into making the garden something special. Fast forward to today, and it’s one of the very few organically certified ornamental gardens in the country.
Seeing as I’d brought the rain with me from Ireland, we decided to stay inside and have a chat first. We talked about yogurts and cheese and compote (did you know Yeo Valley make amazing fruit compotes – I reckon they should shout about it a bit more, but they’re a reserved bunch) and then, before we knew it, it was time for lunch:
and then seeing as we were there and it would have been rude not to – we had to have a little tasting sesh as well:
The greedy amongst you will have zeroed in on the West Country Fudge flavour, which was so gorgeous that there was absolutely no way I was just taking a little bit on the tasting spoon and passing it on. No way at all. We also tasted a really very zingy Passion Fruit flavour as well, and to save any ‘lemon curduments’, we let Laura have all the Lemon Curd flavour. She starts growling if you take it off her.
Other surprises were some really very nice ice creams and frozen yogurts:
… the latter having much less fat than traditional ice creams, but with no artificial taste and a lovely creamy flavour. My favourite was the strawberry one. Yum.
And then finally the sun came out, and full up from all that yoghurt, we were happy to pootle around the garden with the lovely Sarah for company and hear all about the amazing garden. Holt Farm is run as a ‘closed system’, which means they produce their own compost, loam and fertiliser and as much as possible they don’t buy in plants, but propagate their own.
The whole garden has an amazing contemporary feel, with some really tasteful local artwork and really creative planting:
The farmhouse itself looks amazeballs (I’d love to have a shufty inside) with gorgeous views across Blagdon Lake…
I would have shown you a much better picture of the ‘to die for’ views only I came across one of the things at Holt Farm that I don’t covet, and that’s a very disagreeable rooster, who chased me away before I could take any more pictures. Apart from that bird, though, I had a great time.
Very many thanks, as always, to the lovely chaps at Yeo Valley for entertaining us so well (we’ll just forget about the rooster, shall we?). I just love them. Not just because they’re all about sustainability and living off the land and all that organic stuff, but because they’re so genuine – farmers, doing what they do best, and doing it well.
If you want to visit the organic gardens at Holt Farm, check out: theorganicgardens.co.uk.