Picture the scene: back-to-school Monday has finally dawned. If you listen quietly, the collective sigh of thousands of relieved mothers can be heard drifting across the lough. It is cold. At 7.40am on the dot, Gorgeous Lou from next door arrives, perfectly groomed and pristine (you can set your watch by her – the child is a miracle) and we bundle into the ratty but perfectly serviceable Volvo and head to the bus stop, arguing about who actually is sitting in the spot where the dog was sick in the car the other day (I washed it. I did, honest).
The frost is twinkling in the car headlights, but there is a light drizzle too – an odd combination. We turn left at the four-way cross and start to head down the steep hill to the Nine Eye Bridge (thanks to Poppy’s Mum for not rolling her eyes when I asked for an explanation for its name – it has nine arches over the lough, apparently) on the way to the bus stop. Suddenly in front of us, it is all ahead stop: tail lights and… slightly more mysteriously… headlights can be seen, as well as people. The next ten minutes go something like this:
Eventually we got turned around and after another false start when we tried to slow down and warn someone else and couldn’t get started again, limped back home and tried the other way around the lough with more success. Abandoning all hope of catching the bus, and with the ‘gung ho’ spirit of those that have cheated a watery tipping-over-a-bridge type death, we decide to drive to school
Result = a grand total of two hours for the school run. We probably owe Helpful Man in Slippers a bottle of something too.
De Brevren made this video together. #2 did the skating and the editing (with help from his big bro), #1 did the filming and because he’s The Mad Professor, somehow knows tricks to get over the YouTube audio copyright restrictions too (shhh). I might be biased but I think it’s quite good. Although mothers of small boys everywhere will be buttock clenchingly aware that the child is moments away from several broken bones. The song is Witchcraft by Pendulum.
My kids were both huge fans of the Percy Jackson books. My oldest, the Mad Professor in particular had read, nay devoured, and loved all the books, and was adamant he wouldn’t like the film, so when we got the review copy I didn’t hold out much hope.
But do you know what? It was fabulous.
There aren’t many PG films these days packed with such adventure and excitement – there were enough scary bits to have us all hiding behind our cushions, and enough thrills and spills to keep even our resident cynic entertained (unsurpisingly, it’s from the same director as Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone). Add in a cracking cross-country road trip, the odd sword fight, a trip to the underworld and some jaw-dropping special effects and you’ll see why we were so impressed.
Percy Jackson (Logan Lehrman) is a cool enough teenager to impress even my jaded teens, and his funky protector: half goat, half human Grover (played by the fabulous Brandon T Jackson) had us laughing out loud. Bring in a love interest in the form of Annabeth, daughter of Athena and kick-ass swordswoman to boot (Alexandra Daddario), and you’ve got enough to keep most kids interested. Oh and there’s Sean Bean for us big girls too!
Other highlights include a chilling performance by Uma Thurman as Medusa, and Steve Coogan as a fantastically evil Hades.
We loved it, giving it an all-round English Towers thumbs up and a pretty darned impressive 8/10.
Percy Jackson & The Lightening Thief is out today on Blu-ray and DVD.
So the Tuesday of half term saw us take a rather wonderful trip. Now the Brethren are 12 and 15 it’s getting more and more unusual that everyone wants to go out together. A shopping trip mostly ends up with one ‘ohhhh okay then’ and one ‘nope, I’m playing Xbox, seeya later’, so to take a trip ‘en famille’ was rather a pleasant change.
We were whooshed to Stoke on Trent in less than an hour from Milton Keynes on the rather swish Virgin ‘leany train’ (yes, I’m sure it has a proper name too), and met up with fellow bloggers Jen, Rachael and Josie, plus Dan and Kate from Kitchen Critic.
During the journey, we established ground rules for the trip. These included:
Here’s our fabulous day in pictures:
I am pleased to report that not only did we have a lovely family day out, but there was no smut, no wrestling, and I think no willies, but when our mugs arrived from Emma Bridgewater I’ll have to check.
If you’re ever in Stoke I’d thoroughly recommend a free factory tour (book in advance!) and a trip to the Potteries Museum where you’ll find a fascinating retrospective of Emma Bridgewater products stretching back the full 25 years (on now until 26th September, entry is free).
And now the thank yous:
Thanks to the lovely Jamie, and all the staff at Emma Bridgewater for a fabulous day out (sorry about all the sniggering – it’s Josie’s fault). Thanks to the lovely Eb for organising the day, lovely chats and listening to me panicking about train times.
And finally, special thanks to the Death Wish Child and his new camera for all the wonderful pictures (I rent him out y’know…weddings, christenings…).
They’re messy. And often smelly. They’re noisy, they argue, they snigger, they stay up too late, have last minute shouty homework panics, fill the house with mates and when they’re hungry my kitchen looks like it’s been attacked by a plague of locusts..
But that day? That day they danced down the aisle because that’s what they thought would make the day really perfect.
They even wore suits. Okay, so they insisted on red Converse to complete the outfit, but suits all the same.
They welcomed our friends and family, chatted and laughed, decorated cars, held the ring, sang hymns, didn’t giggle, shook hands, directed traffic. They behaved like proper gentlemen…
Look at my lovely boys.
God, I am proud.
This post is an entry for Tara Cain’s Gallery: Week 15.
No, I’m not going mad. It was The Brethren’s paintballing party (yes, yes, several months after their actual birthdays but then I never pretended to be organised).
Here’s a little précis of my highlights:
Special thanks to Olly and Sarah at International Paintball Group (ipg.uk.net) and the fantastic staff at Delta Force, Hemel Hempstead for making our day so enjoyable.
Firstly, I’d like to say thank you to Innocent Drinks, who sent me a lovely strawberry plant and a set of their new fridge magnets to say sorry that I couldn’t come to their recent open house at Fruit Towers.
Secondly, I’d like to point out that my oldest child is taking full advantage of the magnets. How educational!
I love the NHS. Yup, really. You won’t hear a bad word said about it in our house. After four years in Ireland spent wondering whether each ailment was worth the fifty quid to see the doctor, I am ridiculously grateful. Add that to several mad dashes to A&E at £100 a pop and you can imagine I’m a big fan.
Not only that, but the kids had a recent eye test (you guess it, on the NHS), and we discovered that not only did #1 need new glasses, but #2 needs them now for reading and close-up work. He was not impressed.
He was more impressed, however, when it turned out that he could have funky Quiksilver ones (to go with his recent purchase of skinny Quiksilver jeans from T K Maxx, and enormous DC skate trainers that, combined, make him look oddly like Mickey Mouse’s slimmer brother).
I also had to have a new pair. I’d had my old ones since 1994, it turned out, so it was probably time. Later,#2 was on the phone to his Dad:
#2: I’ve got this new pair of glasses – I’ve got to wear them for reading and stuff – they’re wicked! They’ve got Quiksilver on the side! And #1 got some new ones too – his are Red or Dead.
Hubby: And what about Mummy, what are hers like?
#2: They’re okay. They’re kinda brown and they say ‘fercuck’ on the side.
I’m angry. I’m just so bloody angry. Let me explain:
Recently, #1, The Mad Professor, came home with a face like thunder. He’d been given a detention, he said. Now, firstly, this is unheard of. As far as I remember he’s never been in trouble at school. He’s an achiever, more motivated in his schoolwork that I or his father ever were. He has endless potential. And I’m not just saying that as his very proud mother. Since moving back to England he’s had to contend with learning a whole new system, moving from Irish Junior Certificate to English GCSEs. He’s had tons of coursework to catch up on, and he’s never once moaned or complained, he’s just cracked on. The teachers have been brilliant, helping him after school and during lunchtime to work on the stuff he’s missed. He’s often to be found reading text books late into the night, if I don’t stop him.
So, as you can imagine, the detention was a shock.
Apparently, although the school didn’t bother to inform us, there was some kind of school maths challenge, where schools across the country enter their best pupils. All good, you’d think. But when do the geniuses schedule this inter-school p*ssing contest?
During the school day.
Worse than that, it was across two of #1′s GCSE lessons, in particular a French lesson where he was working on a very hard piece of coursework, which had, incidentally kept us up rather late the night before.
So I’m proud to say, my teenager made a choice. He chose his coursework. He duly attended his lessons, told his teacher what he’d decided, and worked hard. He then attended this next lesson as nomal. He was then confronted by a maths teacher asking why he didn’t attend the maths challenge. He explained that he was worried about his coursework and had decided to attend his normal lessons. He also told said teacher that he’d informed his GCSE lesson teachers of his decision. He was then given a detention and told that the school ‘cannot condone children making their own decisions’.
So the school would rather they were allowed to ‘pimp out’ my clever child in a maths competition, rather than let him get on with his work? What’s wrong with common sense? By all means allow children to enter competitions, I’m all for it, but schedule them at the end of the school day, or send a letter home informing parents and allowing them to decide, with their kids, whether they want to attend. Furthermore, I wonder if there’s some kind of ‘league table’ or ‘winners board’ in all this that’s motivating them?
I was furious. What’s more, a quite civilised email conversation about it with his maths teacher where I explained our position was ended abruptly, and next thing we knew, we received a letter from the head insisting the #1 do the detention to ‘draw a line under the matter’.
Well, we chatted to #1 about it, and assured him that we would support him 100% whichever way he wanted to go. At the end of this, it was decided that for the sake of his classwork (and for the sake of the 4 or 5 of his compadrés that also decided not to do the challenge and had already accepted the detention), he would attend, and get it over and done with.
And does it end there? Sadly not.
At the end of the detention, the Head of Maths decided that she’d take the boys to one side and spend ten minutes having a high pitched rant at them. One particular peach was a jibe about: ’how much trouble you’ve caused the school’ (what? YOU caused the trouble with your crap timetabling) and, more seriously was the threat: ‘if you want to take maths at A level, you’d better stay on the right side of me’.
Er, pardon? Now I’m sorry, but by the time a pupil is nearly 15 shouldn’t he be treated more like an adult, and in return be expected to act like one? I appreciate if children ‘bunk off’ left, right and centre, or misbehave, they deserve punishment, but present a child with an impossible situation and then punish him for choosing his GCSEs? And worse, shout in his face, insinuating, whilst screeching at him in a hormonal manner, that you could make or break his school career? I never, ever shout in my child’s face. And I certainly don’t expect his teachers to either.
What is it with schools? Why take a perfectly good student and pursue a matter so far and so aggressively that you risk alienating him, turning him against the school, and almost encouraging him to rebel?
This, believe me, is not the end.
* * * * * * * U P D A T E * * * * * * *
And it wasn’t the end. After firing off a ‘Mrs Angry’ email to the head, I got a call this morning from #1′s maths teacher (also Ms Hormonal’s line manager), apologising for her actions, and assuring me that she will be told in no uncertain terms that she was out of order for both her manner and her words. I was told that it will be dealt with by him and the head, but if I wish to take it further I need to put a formal complaint in writing. He said that he had to take some of the blame also, for the fiasco. Now what?
So during half term, my adorable twin niece and nephew, Miss Turtle and Mr Jackson came to stay with my two chisellers. We decided to have a blow-out junk food and video night and Turtle agreed to be my glamorous assistant, tearing herself away from her mobile phone and nail file (how the girl doesn’t have stumps for fingers the amount of filing she does, I’ll never know) for just long enough to knock up some yummy chicken burgers.
These burgers are a bit of a fave in our house. Not only are they really cheap, they’re very healthy too and there are endless variations. You can make little dinner party ones to serve with a nice Thai dipping sauce, you can make them into little meatballs and serve with a tomato sauce, or you can vary the flavours, say, with coriander or chilli…
Anyhoo, onto the main event. Firstly, you’ll need:
Breadcrumbs (I whizz 2 slices in the blender of doom)
1 onion, or a couple of spring onions
500g minced chicken or turkey
Firstly, then, your glamorous assistant needs to bung a couple of slices of slightly stale bread into the food processor (actually we’re using the blender – not that blender – because I broke my lovely braun Braun MR400 Plus Multiquick Handblender 300w with its handy little mini processor) until they’re fine crumbs. Put them in a bowl and leave to one side:
Next up, warn the aforementioned glamorous assistant about the perils of mixing fingers and blenders (she’s worn hers down enough as it is), then bung in the onion/spring onion and the egg. If you’re using anything else, like chilli or coriander, chuck it in now. Of course, if you don’t have an onion-phobic child and therefore don’t need to resort to this kind of stealth cookery, you could just chop them finely. Whizz until you get a strangely satisfying frothy green liquid and silently pray to the cocktail god that your next mojito won’t taste of spring onion:
Next, and this is the good bit, bung the green goo into the breadcrumbs and add the chicken mince. Season generously with salt and pepper, then roll up the sleeves of your glamorous assistant and set her to work squelching up the mixture (with clean hands and beautifully manicured nails) into an even paste:
When the mix is nicely combined, form it into about 6 patties, or smaller little cakes, or balls or whatever (and yes, they do have a slightly green tinge, but don’t let that put you off):
Put them on a non-stick tray (important that) and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 20 mins. The smaller ones will take less time, but make sure you check to see that they’re thoroughly cooked in the middle.
Now just assemble your burger. We used fresh crusty rolls and garnished our burgers with crunchy lettuce, grated cheese and a little spicy tomato salsa, but feel free to experiment.
Finally, we got out every single fattening thing we could find, including ice cream, whipped cream and a variety of chocolatey stuff, and set about having an ice-cream sundae competition (#1′s is the one that’s just a sundae dish full of chocolate):
And the winner is? Yup, you guessed it:
Oh lord. Oh lordy lord.
I’ll warn you now, this is going to be one of those ‘too much information’ posts to which I am especially prone. But I need advice, so I’m going to have to overshare. Brace yourself.
Last night, the husband and I retired to our ‘boudoir’ (yes, the £99 Ebay bed is holding up, thank you for asking) and erm… well… y’know, we… erm… had a ‘special cuddle’ (this is the name I used when my children enquired about what Mummies and Daddies do to make babies.
Later, I popped to the bathroom (I know, I know – oversharing again). As I was sitting on the throne with the door open (listen, we’ve been married 15 years – there are no secrets), I noticed something. Reader, I went cold.
#1′s bedroom light was on.
Oh good grief.
As I sat, horror-struck, debating whether I should pop my head round the door and enquire if he’d heard his parents engaging in a little bedroom gymnastics if everything was okay, the light suddenly went off again.
Well. I scurried back to bed and whispered urgently that we might have been rumbled. Sadly, all I got in response was a little snuffly snore-like sound. Damn. I slept fitfully. My dreams invaded by pictures of small boys holding up little signs with scores on them: 5.5, 5.9, 5.4…
And then this morning, in response to my breezy ‘good morning!’, I swear I detected a hint of embarrassment amongst the usual looming clouds of deodorant and teenage mutterings that accompany a 7am start.
Oh god. Did he hear? Should I enquire? HOW does one enquire? ‘Darling? Anything keep you awake last night particularly?’, or maybe ‘sweetheart, you know that chat we had when you were in junior school about the facts of life…’
I put a quick text in to the other half: ‘oh god, I think he heard us. Kill me now’.
But it was the reply that really killed me:
‘Just hope he didn’t record us and isn’t currently entertaining his mates with his new ringtone’.
So I finally got tagged in Tara Cain’s ‘favourite photo meme’. I was beginning to feel like Norma-no-mates as blogger after blogger got tagged (no, Tara, I’m not bitter…). Finally, though, the fabulous, 51% Linda from Got Your Hands Full and the lovely Zoe over at Diary of a Surprise Mum took pity on me and challenged me to publish my favourite photo…
And actually, I’ve cheated a bit as there are two. The first is a picture of my firstborn, the wondrous Mad Professor, giving his beloved Grandad a piece of his mind, as usual. I love the look on his face (it’s obviously a good story), and you can see that my Dad’s smiling as he’s listens to his Grandson waffling on. Magical.
Second up is my favourite photo of The Death Wish Child. He’s on a very windy beach in Lanzarote. I’m not sure why I love it so much, but I love his scrunched up little smile and his funky denim hat:
And lastly, here’s my absolute favourite song. Hubby has it on his laptop, my rockin’, Slipknot loving #1 has this on his phone, as does funky, Chipmunk loving son #2. It’s a proper family favourite:
Picture the scene:
It’s dinner time. My child has come home from a sleepover and is enthusing about it, telling me every little detail. He’s stabbed a chip and is currently waving it about as he tells us how cool his mate’s mum is. I’m trying to sound interested, I really am, but frankly, the old eyes are starting to glaze over…
‘…and she’s, like, really trendy – and like, really interested in all the same music as us…’
['but I like your music...', I fight the urge to wail, 'I can name every member of N-Dubz... even the one with the hat...']‘, but actually I smile and say: ‘no way? That’s great!’
The chip continues to wave around in mid-air.
‘…and we got a chinese and were allowed to order anything we wanted…spare ribs, crispy duck… anything.’
['No veg, then?']
‘…I had tons. It was gorgeous…’
['but I cook you nice stuff too...' Home made stuff...'] I follow the chip as it waves around in front of his mouth: ‘Wow, chinese? You’re so lucky’.
‘…and she made wicked cookies with Green and Black’s and we were allowed to eat all of them…’
['but I do cookies - don't I? I do! I do cookies all the time! Okay, mine say 'bollocks' on, but hey... And cake! I do cake!] ‘Ooh yummy, bet they were gorgeous’.
The chip finally hits the target and there’s a brief pause before my torture continues:
‘…and she let us go on the trampoline in the snow. It was awesome!’
[Shit. Broken twisted limbs - no fucking way I'd let you do that...] ‘Gosh, really?’.
Come on, admit it. You’ve all been there. Your child has come back from a sleepover and ‘X’s mum is awesome!’ Oh God.
X’s mum is obviously far trendier than me. She must have the patience of Mother flippin’ Theresa and be as deaf as a geriatric. I feel inadequate. I’m crap at sleepovers. I get really grumpy. It has been known for me to request that their friends ‘shut the f*ck up’ when they’re still giggling at 2am.
But X’s mum goes above and beyond. There was trifle. Eaten in bed. And she’s, like, so funny too…
['But wait, what about my hilarious parody of Kardinal's rap in Akon's 'Beautiful' ... pretty funny huh?...']
The thing is, she’s actually a really, really nice person. It’s just that at the end of every sleepover, I want to poke out her eyes with a blunt kebab stick. Talk about raising the bar.
So that’s it, then. Packing has commenced, the chickens have been collected in a trailer and carted off to their new home, and in a very short time we shall land back on terra firma in the good old Kingdom of United.
I have mixed feelings, frankly. When we first moved to Dublin I was miserable. I missed my friends, my family, the familiarity of having lived in a place your whole life; bumping into people you know in Tesco (frankly, being able to even go to Tesco without an hour’s round trip). It was rotten. The children hated their new school (#1 was the only native English speaker in his class), everything was alien, everything shut for lunch, or on a Monday, or on a Wednesday or had to be requested in writing, and I lasted about 6 weeks before I fled home, leaving poor Hubby blinking in a bewildered fashion in a big empty Irish house.
Still, we made it back. And with a new school for the boys, a new dog (the wonderful and much missed Becks), a new friend in Jenny and a new blog to take up my time (EnglishMuminIreland.blogs.ie – where it all began), I started to settle in. The Irish are a wonderful breed: open, friendly, always up for a laugh, never too busy to help… With Hubby’s new job we found ourselves here in Cavan and from the moment we walked over the threshold of English Towers, we felt at home. With the lovely C next door already terminally ill when we arrived, a sad by-product of being able to help in small ways like minding children or fetching medicine from the chemist was that we (selfishly) felt needed and wanted very quickly. We made friends with The Lovelies, the Galway Cs and Poppy’s Mum and her family (if you’re new here, check out ‘All about me’ at the top of the screen for more info), all via D, who was unceasingly generous with both his time and his friends, and have felt happily and contendedly as though we were home for the past two years. D now has a new, lovely lady in his life. The children are delighted and so are we. We wish them all the love and happiness that they so deserve.
But things change. The Recession came and bit us on the bum and it’s time to move on again. I’ll miss the beautiful countryside, the wonderful people and the laid back lifestyle, but the hustle and bustle of town life is calling me back too. Living in this huge house with the dog and the chickens and the lovely garden has been a massive adventure for us all. The children have made lifelong friends, received a fantastic education and enjoyed some amazing life experiences. They have benefitted immeasurably from their time here, as have the Hubby and I. We’ve been lucky enough to share this fantastic place with our friends and family when they came over for our wedding blessing and have even been welcomed into the new community of the church by the kind and gentle Revd Craig - something I never would have imagined in a million years. I know we’ll return so much more open to new experiences, and with a fresh appreciation for all the people and places that we’ve missed over the last four years.
Onwards and upwards, then. Pass the bubble wrap. Goodbye Emerald Isle. It’s been a blast.
1. Saturday morning. I wake up to accusing looks from both offspring. It turns out that I forgot to go out and shut the chickens up last night, now two of them are missing. I am a bad mother. I go out to look for them and find mounds of brown feathers strewn all over the coop. It’s pretty obvious that a fox got to them. I sit on the patio step and dissolve into tears. Minnie pecks at my wedding ring. I push her away and continue to cry guiltily before it dawns on me that she is obviously not dead. Chilli is standing about ten feet away from me looking feathery and fine and not bald at all. She must be moulting. I give them both revolting smelly chickeny hugs and smile smugly at evil-eyed offspring.
2. Sunday morning. I am upstairs folding washing when all of a sudden a blood curdling scream chills me to the core. Hurdling the dog, whose first instinct is a hopeless attempt to try and force himself under the bed, I take the stairs four at a time to the kitchen where #1 is found to be the source of the screaming and is running around clutching his posterior. #2 is standing looking guilty. Turns out big brother wanted a hug from small brother who wasn’t too keen and shoved him a little too hard. He hurtled backwards into the corner of a door and sustained a nasty injury to: ‘MY ARSE! OW! MY ARSE!’, or more accurately, the base of his spine. Injured party is now running around, clutching aforementioned arse and squealing in a pitch so high that only dogs can hear him.
I calm things down and fetch an ’arse pack’ from the freezer which causes me and the small one to dissolve into fits of hysteria and the large one to tell us to go away with words that would make his Grandmother blush, interspersed with ‘OW! MY ARSE!’ albeit in a slightly calmer tone.
3. Sunday Evening. Both offspring want to go down the boat road to watch the Pumpkin Festival fireworks. I don’t. I am a bad mother. It’s two against one and I seem to be losing. Happily, D-next-door comes to the rescue and offers to take them. Two hours later, happily snuggled on the sofa with red wine and chocolate, the back door slams and the high pitched ‘OW MY ARSE!’ dog-deafening resumes. Turns out instead of being sensible and representing the family and staying close to D as I had instructed, they’d messed about on an old rope swing down by the lough and #1 had fallen, yup you guessed it, straight onto the aforementioned injured bum again. I offer the arse pack. #2 and I collapse again. #1 stomps off to bed.
4. This morning. #2 is taking part in a sponsored walk with the school. I have forgotten that I promised to email his Grandparents and various aunties, uncles and friends. His sponsorship form is completely empty. Feeling that I am an incredibly bad mother I spend ten minutes inventing people and filling in his sponsorship form with fictional sponsors. He is not impressed. I am a bad mother.
5. #1 wishes to go up to Cavan with his mates and watch ‘The Vampire’s Assistant’ or some such. I’m not sure. Not only am I not sure whether he’ll be able to use his bus pass at half term, I’m also not sure that he should be in town on his own, even though he promises they’ll go straight to cinema and not hang around in one of those horrible teenage ‘gangs’ that make half term so unpleasant for us normal people. I ‘obviously don’t trust him’ and am a bad mother. I ask his Dad. His Dad says yes. Victorious child can barely keep smugness from his face as we drive to bus stop. I am tempted to enquire after the wellbeing of his arse but fight the urge. Smugness disappears instantly as he realises he’s left his bus pass at home.
Hurling the child from the still-moving car, I shout at him to hold the bus, execute a pretty impressive J-turn in the middle of the N3 and hurtle home to retrieve the bus pass. Just as I’m speeding back, he rings and tells me the bus is here. I assure him I’m two minutes away. He rings again. The bus driver couldn’t wait but allowed him to get on the bus as long as I catch up with them and give him the bus pass.
Cue ‘Benny Hill’ music as I drive like a woman posessed trying to catch up with the bus which is obviously being driven by Nigel Mansell. Half way to Cavan I manage to catch them up. As I hand over the bus pass, the bus driver gives me an ‘I am not impressed’ glare.
I give him an ‘oh piss off’ glare back and head home.
#1, however, sends me a text telling me that, on the contrary, I am a ‘legend’
I reply and tell him that he is a spanner.
I am a bad mother.
So here, finally, is the review of The Forge Restaurant where we celebrated English Grandma’s 70th. We went with open minds because (let’s face it, like most restaurants) some of our friends had had fabulous experiences, and others not so good - we’d also heard tales of being rushed through desserts to free up tables, but when I phoned I spoke to a very friendly waitress who assured me that we could take as long as we needed.
First things first, then, it’s in an absolutely beautiful spot. Nestled in quite a rural location, but only about 5 minutes off the N3 (the main road between Kells and Cavan) and just 4 miles north of Kells. I’d guestimate that it’s probably just over an hour’s drive from Dublin. It’s a beautiful old stone building with plenty of parking, and we were given a very warm welcome by owner Irene, who was reassuringly present in the restaurant all evening, and the lovely smiley waitresses.
Obviously the first thing we did was order some wine and we weren’t disappointed with our South African Lookout Ridge Chenin Blanc ’08, which was fresh and zingy. The dinner menu (we booked at 7pm) is small but lovingly chosen, and Irene was more than happy to chat about the decisions behind the menu, their suppliers, where their seafood comes from, etc.
We got an amazing platter of warm home made bread while we were waiting, with some lovely spicy fruity walnut bread being my particular favourite. The fellas all chose a mussel casserole as a starter. The mussels were small and deliciously sweet, swimming in a generous broth of cream, white wine and onion (which was a bit too creamy for their tastes, but I thought was lovely – maybe in need of a bit more reduction, although I’m no expert):
Grandma and I both chose the smoked haddock fishcakes, which were exactly as promised: with chunks of soft smokey fish and a lovely crisp coating:
Everything was beautifully presented and absolutely scrummy.
For mains, Hubby and I both chose salmon with a crab Creole sauce, #2 went for a rib eye steak and #1 chose a rack of lamb. I can’t remember what Grandma chose (I blame the Chenin Blanc). Again, every meal was painstakingly decorated and lovingly presented: the lamb expertly cooked and just pink in the middle:
… the salmon moist and delicate (what? I stole some chips, okay?), nestled on the Creole crab which was amazingly sweet and warmly spiced:
… and the steak (what was left of it by the time we got a photo) huge, meltingly tender and perfectly cooked:
The side orders were beautiful, and generous: big fat chips, lovely creamy dauphinoise potatoes and fresh crisp vegetables. Most importantly, they were included in the price of the meal – it really annoys me when restaurants charge you 6 quid for a teeny plate of veg.
On to desserts, then. And although we were all feeling a bit like overstuffed cushions, the menu was so tempting that we had to go for it. Hubby and I shared a Baileys and mixed nut parfait in a hazelnut tuille with fruits of the forest coulis, which was first class. The parfait had an amazing texture and creamy flavour, and the tuille was light and crisp. Yum:
#2 naturally went for a big slab of squidgy chocolate roulade, complemented by a lovely sorbet (can’t remember what flavour but it was zingy and fruity and fabulously countered the richness of the chocolate roulade):
…and even the birthday girl managed to squeeze in a bit of sorbet:
All in all we were delighted. It’s not a cheap meal, but the care and attention taken with the sourcing, cooking and decorating of each plate of food means that you feel that you get proper value for money. The staff and owners are friendly and welcoming (even to little English boys with very loud, squeaky voices) and passionate about their product, the setting is divine and the restaurant is homely, warm and inviting. If you live in Ireland, do try and make the effort to head north and try out this absolute gem of a place, and if not, then next time you’re in Ireland, you must visit. In fact, you can pop in to English Towers and say hi at the same time.
The Forge Restaurant
Tel: 046 924 5003
Fax: 046 924 5917
I was interested to read (on Twitter, via my friend Laura) that the legendary blogger, Petite Anglaise, was hanging up her keyboard once and for all. And although our thoughts turned first to the fact that it will leave a space in the #1 slot of the Top 100 British Mummy Bloggers chart (elbows out, girls!…hey, hang on, I’m down 9 places to #15 – the shame!), her reasons for ‘turning the page’ on blogging were very interesting.
It seems that personal blogging, the very thing that earned her the lucrative book deal and led to a career as a writer, had started to leave an unpleasant taste in her mouth. If you don’t know the story, she famously got fired by her boss, about whom she was distinctly unpleasant, when her anonymous blog came to light (she did subsequently win damages against him in court, though). The story made her quite famous, but once the anonymity had been removed, there was the constant worry that somebody would be upset or offended with what she might say, and with that new-found worry came the inevitable dearth of subject matter. Interesting, also, that it was THIS INTERVIEW with Liz Jones, a weirdly neurotic, no-holds-barred journo who has managed to alienate half her family and her entire village (including my friend and fellow Disney 7er Exmoor Jane) with her bare-all style of writing, that finally tipped her over the edge. But in short, she just stopped enjoying it.
I sympathise, I really do. When I started my blog, way back when we first moved to Ireland, I was obsessive about anonymity and never posted pictures of anyone I knew. Slowly, I’ve relaxed this rule. I still try not to post full-face photos of the children, or anyone whose permission I haven’t sought (Mad Uncle Alg is fair game, obviously), and don’t mention people’s full names. But now we’re settled here, it’s natural that more and more people get to know me, start to read the blog, and my cover has been, I suppose, somewhat blown. In fact, I’ve even been caught out giving my rather frank views by someone that turned out to be a reader. Yup, that was awkward. I’d hate to think I’d ever hurt anyone by what I’d written and I’ll always check first with, say, D-next-door before I mention C, or the kids.
With all this in mind, I’ve had a long hard think about this blog and did decide to go back and remove certain pictures and videos, including our wedding vid. You can still email me for a link, but I wondered if I was going too far towards making my family live a life online, so I took a step back.
Add this to the fact that I now write for other websites, such as the fabulous HaveALovelyTime.com and you’ll probably find my first name dotted about, if you really look hard. Funnily enough, when I, and my fellow Disney adventurers travelled to Walt Disney World and met up with our American alter-egos, the ‘Mommy Bloggers’, they were completely dumbfounded by our wish to remain anonymous. Most published their full names, pictures of themselves and their families and couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t wish to do the same:
‘What, you don’t WANT to be famous?’
‘Erm, no, actually, I don’t’.
Englishmum.com is a, I suppose, a bit of an eccentric mix. There’s family stuff, yes, but the foodie/garden stuff tends to take precendence. And if I’m honest, I suppose that as the children get older, it’s harder to write honestly without risking embarrassing them in front of their school mates (#1′s been known to comment whilst in his IT lesson). My readership has risen steadily (thank you!) and though I’m sure I’ve lost and gained different readers as my content has meandered, I am lucky to be blessed with friendly and loyal readers and commenters. I regard my blog as a little piece of me. It’s stuffed full of things that I love and I’m always happy that people pop in and enjoy reading my waffle.
And this, I suppose, brings me neatly on to the fact that after much soul-searching, we’ve decided to have Bert rehomed. This is a HUGE decision for us, but basically he’s been showing some signs of aggression for a while and obviously our children have to be our main priority. There’s a load of history behind this that I won’t bore you with, but my lovely mate Jen is still in touch with a lot of people in greyhound rescue, and is going to make sure he goes to a good home somewhere with people that know his history and will really love and care for him well. I’m sad, but I think it’s the right thing to do.
So for now, I’ll crack on (800 posts, 8553 comments and counting…), I’ll continue to be anonymous-ish, and there’ll be the same old stuff – maybe a bit more food and a bit less about the fellas, and obviously no more Bert, but don’t worry, if anyone humiliates themselves in any way, you’ll be the first to know.
Oh and here’s my rather pathetic review on Mmmmmmcake. ‘It was nice’? C minus for effort there.
So yesterday saw both me and Jen setting out on epic cross-Ireland journeys to meet somewhere in the middle (bad planning moving so far away from each other) at a hotel where we sat, gossiped, giggled – no, hang on, there was something else – oh yes, and rolled 85 Order of Service sheets into scrolls and tied them with 85 little bows of ‘To have and to hold’ ribbon from the luscious Cox & Cox.
Before I left, Jen produced a heeowge box (she’s only teeny and it was nearly as big as her) which she said was our wedding present and I was strictly instructed to open it as soon as I got home. Apparently, she said, it wasn’t exactly perfect and she was a bit disappointed, but still, it was a nice present anyway. Even after pointing out that we weren’t strictly getting married (‘okay, call it an anniversary present then’), I was deeply suspicious as Madame J was somewhat squeaky and excited about this present. I actually suspected it might be a chicken. A heavy chicken, granted… maybe a chicken and a couple of bricks.
Well, dearest reader, the journey home seemed to take the longest time and finally I pulled back up at English Towers where I was greeted by two small boys (and one large one) who totally ignored me and made a beeline for the pressie. ‘What is it?! Open it! Open it!’ So with the chicken thing still in my mind I made them open it in the kitchen and I think I’m quite within my rights here to write OMG. A KitchenAid! A bloody KitchenAid!!!
Apparently this incredibly generous present was somewhat attributable to the racing prowess of two horses that Jen’s other half C bet on. So thanks go not only to Jen and the lovely, adorable C (who chose the colour – I love it!) but to Mark Anthony and Swift View for coming in first. I love you guys horses.
‘So hang on’, says #1, ‘last week on your blog you said that you wished somebody would give you a KitchenAid and here you are unwrapping one’. ‘Erm…yes, I suppose you could say that’, says I. ‘Right then’, says #1, ‘I want you to put on your blog that I want a 50″ wide screen TV, online gaming and the new Call of Duty 6′.
‘Done’, says I, ‘but don’t hold your breath’.
So in a couple of short weeks I shall be tripping up the aisle (not literally, fingers crossed) in our pretty little church to renew the vows I made fifteen years ago to love, honour and erm…look after my long-suffering Hubby. We’ve had our ups and downs – neither of us have been angels, but we’ve survived fifteen years without killing each other (it’s been close on occasions), produced two lovely sons and, as the eminently sensible Revd Craig pointed out, that’s got to be worth celebrating.
When he asked me this time last year if I’d consider doing him the honour (‘properly, this time – church… dress… party – the whole nine yards’) who knew that half the fun would be in the planning. I heartily recommend getting married (or remarried or blessed – don’t let the fact that you already have the ring stop you) quite a few years down the line in a relationship. Okay, so the downside is you have to pay for it yourself, and I’ll never make a wedding planner (‘what do you mean the Rally of Ireland is on the same day as the wedding and we can’t use the carpark as it’ll be stuffed full of rally cars?’) but the advantages are enormous. In fact, here are my top ten reasons for planning a wedding once you’re mature enough to make all the decisions:
1 The dress. Every girl knows it’s all about the dress. I had a bit of a false start here, purchasing a sensible, grown up cocktail dress from Monsoon then lying awake at night wishing I’d bought the wedding dress of my dreams. After all, you only get to walk down the aisle once, okay twice. And hey, if I want to do it wearing acres of pink tulle, looking like a cross between Katie Price and the Bride of Frankenstein, then it’s my shout. I don’t, but I reserve the right to.
2 The guest list. Don’t want to invite that maiden aunt with the moustache who frightens the children? Cross her off the list. Let’s face it, by the time you get to your forties (6 months to go before the big 4-0!) you know who your friends are and who they aren’t. We’re delighted that we’ll be spending the day surrounded by the people that we love, and who love us back, and not with the people we felt we had to invite.
3 The service. Now it helps here to have a good relationship with your clergyman. We, happily, are onto a winner. Want a relaxed, child-friendly, happy, intimate service with lots of music and fun? No problem. Craig’s suggestions and ideas have added so much to the ceremony that we just can’t wait. And the locals secretly can’t wait to get a shufty inside the C of I church either.
4 The details. ‘I want the church full of flowers!’, I said to the florist, presenting her with my lovingly-made collage cut from several hundred wedding magazines. ‘I’d love the scent of beautiful lilies, freesias and roses to hit the congregation as they walk in… and I want my bouquet to be huuuuge and smell gorgeous and be full of bright colours: pink and orange and lime green…’ [cue sound of needle screeching across record.] Okay, so my original remit for the florist might have been a little extravagant. Flowers are slightly expensive and the sound of Hubby’s sharp intake of breath when presented with the quotation was enough to send me scuttling back with a slightly amended version of my original flamboyant request. These things cost money, y’know. The advantage is that you know exactly what you want. Even if you can’t actually afford it.
5 The cake. Don’t like fruit cake? Bit of a fan of Ace of Cakes? Happen to have an incredibly talented friend who just happens to make the most fantastic cakes in the world? You’re onto a winner. Jen and I have spent many a happy hour discussing the merits of white chocolate sponge with raspberry filling versus dark chocolate sponge with a lime-scented ganache. In the end we decided we’d have a layer of each one we liked. See, when you’re grown up you can make those kind of decisions.
6 The music. The fantastic night we spent at JD’s wedding convinced us that their band was the only one we wanted. It didn’t matter that they’re based in Waterford, and that there’s six of them plus a ton of equipment to find room for. We had to have them, so we took budget money away from other stuff and juggled the sums until we could afford them. You can do that when it’s your money.
7 The poncy bits. Don’t want buttonholes (‘why would I want a flower on my suit?’)? Don’t have ‘em. Ditto all the awkward, expensive and largely pointless bits that nobody cares about like favours. I mean, who actually eats those sugared almonds in a bit of netting tied with ribbon anyway? Cross ‘em off. Equally, if you want every car to be decorated with bright pink ribbon, for example, or have a friend mental enough to agree to sit with you and tie 85 bows of ribbon around 85 order of service scrolls then go for it. The poncy bits are all yours.
8 The grub. You get to pick the food you like. We’re lucky because the chef at the hotel didn’t run away screaming when he saw me enter our meeting with a clipboard and a list of requirements twenty feet long. Even better, he suggested fantastic local produce that we could incorporate into our wedding feast: beautiful fresh crab from Annagassan on the coast of County Louth… fresh local wild salmon and sides of beef sourced locally from the wonderful beef farmers of County Cavan (a couple of whom will be there with their families, which reminds me of my favourite conversation so far: ‘thanks for the invitation…you do know that I have five kids don’t you?’ Me: ‘Yup and we want you to bring them all along – don’t worry, we’ll reserve you a pew!’).
9 The chiselers. You get to enjoy it all with your kids. The boys’ friends will all be there and they’ve had enormous fun planning the day with us. They’ve picked out their suits and selected a couple of lucky local girls to share their ‘first dance’ with. The lovely Revd Craig suggested including them in the actual blessing ceremony and they’re breathless with excitement. What better way to teach them about the importance of family than to get them involved?
10 The fun. Oh we have some tremendous fun stuff planned. Some really bonkers off-the-wall stuff that will have our guests astounded and amused. Again, a flexible, forward-thinking vicar is de rigeur in this situation. But, I mean, blimey, it IS supposed to be fun, isn’t it?
Oh, but it’s not all romance and roses. We’ve had our fair share of doubts too. Are we mental? Does anyone really give a shit if the crab’s local? Is it wise that 35 of our 85 guests are children? Why have we spent all this money when we could have had two weeks on a tropical beach and renewed our vows barefoot on the sand with the boys in hawaiian shirts?
I collar the Hubby while he’s watching the grand prix. ‘Are we mad?’, I ask him. ’Would you have preferred the beach?’.
‘I don’t know’, he says, ‘I’ll tell you the day after the blessing’.
… to get a job done quicker. And yes, the new lilac/grey/blue/pearly kitchen coming on rather swimmingly, thanks.
So as you know Disney very unwisely made us Blu-Ray Ambassadors, and revelling in his title a bit too much, #1 has decided to take over today’s blog post with a little review. Jonathan Ross eat your heart out:
WALL.E is a funny and exciting film for people of all shapes and sizes. The story begins when a small, garbage cube-making robot called WALL.E, who, after hundreds of years making cubes of garbage, runs into a hi-tech and sophisticated search robot called EVE. The two of them set off on a brilliant and thrilling adventure across the universe.
I found the environmental element to the film a very well put warning to the world at the rate we are going, and it puts it in a way that children can understand. In the movie, the WALL.E robots have the task of cleaning up the mess that all of the people made. They all disappear from earth on a space ship hoping to leave behind the mess they’ve made, only becoming fat and stupid in the process.
I would say that it was a really enjoyable film all in all.
Ah, my cherub eh? He sure tells it like it is. Next up: Bolt and Beverley Hills Chihuahua (derrr de de de da chihuahua! derrr de de de da chuhuahua!). Oh you know the one (especially for Towny, this bit):
Click to Play!
So after months of planning, #1, the Mad Professor, has gone to visit The Disreputable One and EnglishGrandma (not together, obviously) - they have five days of carefully planned custody each, plus two neutral territory days with my brother, the Lycheeni demon: Uncle I, Auntie L and the fleas (what? no of course I wouldn’t let him stay with Mad Uncle Alg. Are you mad? – he’ll no doubt take him out for alcohol and loose women somewhere during the trip).
The build up to this event was more than stressful, and involved me doing this approximately every five minutes:
‘So keep your passport and boarding card safe, and don’t talk to anyone, and don’t wander round the shops and lose track of time, just get to your gate quickly okay? And don’t put your bag down at all. And leave plenty of time to walk to your gate…’
I was worrying that it wasn’t all sinking in, especially when, in the car on the way to the airport, his précis of the task in hand went:
‘and I have to go to the checkpoint place and, like, sign in yeah?’
So anyhoo, I took him to the airport, I signed a disclaimer at the Aer Lingus desk (basically a piece of paper that says ‘no of course I don’t give a shit about my child, otherwise why would I be letting him travel on his own all the way to England without anyone to look after him?, and if you happen to lose him or kill him well sod it, that’s fine with me, I didn’t want him anyway’), and walked him through to security.
We hugged. We kissed. We hugged again. I squeezed tighter. I might have detected a little tremble.
He went through.
He looked back at me with a slightly wobbly smile and all of a sudden didn’t look like the clever 14 year old Mad Professor, but like a little lost and slightly bewildered toddler again.
I sent him a text from the car park which said: ‘now remember, don’t go shopping, just get to your boarding gate, it shuts at 4.30′.
I send another: ‘oy. Are you at your bloody gate or not?’
Finally the phone beeps:
‘Yeah mam. Of course. Lol.’
So I drive home, worrying, and by the time I get home he’s in the air (hopefully) and there’s nothing I can do but wait for the phonecall. It comes. It’s my Dad’s mobile. Oh good grief…
Disreputable One: ‘Did the child not get on the flight? I waited ages at arrivals and there’s nobody here…’
I think I might actually be sick.
#1: ‘Ahaha yeah, I’m here. Everything’s savage. Grandad was here to meet me. Oh and I spent all my money at the airport. What? Yeah, the Euro and the Sterling. What? On some savage PSP games! Ah it doesn’t matter, I’ll get some off Grandad. Yeah, and I had to sit squished between these two massive Polish blokes, and one stole my window seat. No of course I didn’t say anything, he was, like, HUGE! Yeah love you bye’.
So that’s it. My world is a quieter place for a week and a half. Bert will have to find other comfy perches in the garden:
And his Grandparents? Well, I hope they’ve got plenty of food in…
Which leads me swiftly onto other news and here, in all its glory, is Anouk’s rather luscious version of my Rhubarb Crumble Traybake thingy, which has the right amount of rhubarb, and which looks a lot more gorgeous than mine:
So it’s bank hols here in the Republic and yesterday dawned the most beautiful, hot sunny day. There’s nothing quite like a sunny day in Ireland. Not only is it very unusual and therefore all the more welcome, but the whole greenness of the place gives it an almost luminous, lime green glow. The kids started off mucking about spraying each other with water guns, then hubby disappeared to the shop and came back with industrial strength rolls of bin bags to create the garden waterslide from hell. Here’s Hubby, #1, #2 and Little C (Lou was far too dainty for hurling herself downhill on a bit of plastic) having fun. Apologies for the hideous cackling, but what you couldn’t see, just out of shot, was that they all crashed into the side of the garage at the end of the trip (oh and check Hubby’s ‘argh! incoming!’). Oh and sorry about shooting directly into the sun. I don’t think I’ll be entering it at Cannes this year. Enjoy though.
We had lamb-burgers for lunch, made with minced lamb, breadcrumbs, crushed garlic, cumin, mustard seed, salt and pepper, with a lovely salsa that hubby made out of the lovely frondy fennel in the garden, plus chilli, pineapple, tomato, greek basil and spring onion. Summer on a plate:
Bert enjoyed the bank holiday too. Hubby has mowed another beautiful heart in one of the front lawns for me which is now full of wild flowers:
and happens to make a rather nice sunbathing spot too:
Mind you, when you have a comfy child to lean on, you can sunbathe just about anywhere:
We rounded the day off with hotdogs and a bonfire, with a bit of guitar playing and a sing song. Ah, I hope the summer lasts.
“Are you awake? It’s my birthday! What did you get me? Can I open my stuff now? Wicked! Money! Cool! Look what I got from Grandma! Can we have pancakes? I’m starving. And look! From Grandad! Savage! Do I still have to go to guitar? Can I have a beer now I’m 14? Alright Grandad? I’m loaded! I’m gonna have a beer. Get off, stupid dog. When are you making my cake? Can I have it when I get back from guitar? Can we go shopping? Have you made my cake yet? Your dog’s gay. I’m ringing Grandma. Can we go shopping yet? Can I have a beer? I love these trousers! Thanks, I love you. Can we go yet? What? It’s itchy. When’s the Grand Prix over? Did you think any more about the beer? Is my cake done? Are we having steak? Where’s my hat? I’ve lost my hat! Who took my bloody hat? I need my… oh hang on, here it is. Aw cute puppy! Ooh this phone looks nice. Or this one. This one has a touch screen. Ooh, 8 gig memory! I think I’ll have this one. No, this one. Or maybe this one! Let’s look around a bit more. Gamestop! Savage! Ooh look, another phone shop! I like this one. ’Scuse me, you got this in blue? I’m getting this definitely. Can I have a beer tonight then? Can we get chips? I’m starving. Deadly! Ooh, and curry sauce. Can we go in the sports shop? Wicked Liverpool top. I’m getting this. Oh hang on, this Arsenal one’s cool too. I’m having both. Can we go home now? Is that my cake? Can I lick the bowl? Look at this cool screensaver! Ooh, is that coconut? Awesome! And the lights on the sides flash when the music plays! Ew Bert licked my nose. The earphones are awesome. I’m starved. Can I have a beer tonight? What time’s dinner? This game’s awesome. This cake’s wicked! Can I have some more? Did you think about the beer then? I am 14 now… Corrr cider! Can I have some? Awesome! Oy, it’s my turn! Argh you killed me! I had a wicked day. Where’s my phone? Whose turn is it? Was that a text? Awesome day. Thanks Ma. “
What? No, of course it’s not because I can’t be arsed to write anything.
1. Me hiding the eggs (what? of course you’re allowed to hide them on cars)
2. #2 scoffing his painstakingly (not) decorated chocolate muffin
3. And they’re off…
4. Little C goes a-huntin’
5. Lou and #1 check out the bottom of the garden
6. The fellas find ‘treesure’ in the Christmas tree
7. Lou’s beeyootiful muffin
8. Muffins galore
9. My chilli seedling (thanks to Growup for the seeds!)