Posts

Penguin selfie!

Kidnapping Red Pandas. A day out with the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom

As a family, we’re pretty divided when it comes to phones.  Mr English is a sworn iPhone devotee.  The rest of us are mad on Samsung.  At the moment, Charlie and Sam both have a Galaxy S4, and I’ve got an S3 (I did have an S4 too, but then Sam dropped his in the sea on a Biology field trip and he was so gutted I gave him mine – motherly love eh?).

Read more

The Disreputable One’s wedding: speeches, dancing and the cupcake challenge

Groom and Best ManYesterday was my Disreputable Dad’s wedding.  It started badly, with me still running around covered in icing an hour before we were supposed to leave (I stupidly offered to make them cupcake towers) and Dad arriving to pick the boys up for the church with not one, but both boys still in their pants.

In the ensuing panic, people were jabbed with buttonhole pins, ties were tied and retied, tempers were lost, handkerchiefs were jammed into suit pockets willy nilly and everyone piled into the car still pink faced and sweary.  Luckily, by the time we all got to the church, we’d calmed down a bit.

Cupcake tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was really pleased with my dress from Monsoon.  AND after a bit of faffing, I went with the red lipstick in the end (this decision was not helped by my sons who, when I tried it on, cried with laughter), but actually I felt quite glamorous, although I’m not sure how people wear lipstick every day.  It’s kind of like walking around knowing you’ve got jam spread around your lips and you’re not allowed to lick it off.  Here’s a little car selfie:

Car selfie

The service was very nice. My niece wasn’t feeling well so I had to step in and do a reading (my reading included the term ‘brothers and sisters’ – I was tempted to do it in an evangelical style: BRUTHAS AND SISTAS!’, but decided against it) and after a small discussion about who had the ring, the Best Man did his duties admirably, even after still being up at midnight the night before swearing over his speech!

De brevren on the dance floorThere was just a small party in the evening.  My sons monopolised the dance floor with some very odd co-ordinated dancing (even Sam’s poor girlfriend was enlisted), and later, there was a resurrection of the ‘cupcake challenge’, first seen at our very own wedding blessing a few years ago.

He’s got his mother’s gob, bless him:

 

Berry meringue pie for Grandma’s birthday (alternatively titled: when Freddy Mercury came for dinner’)

Yesterday was MENTAL.  The mentalness started early when we woke up to find that our poor Mad Professor, Sam had had an allergic reaction overnight to the plaster on his face and now had a chin full of blisters.  This caused so much hilarity ‘stop making me laugh, you bastards… OMG my chin looks like lasagne‘ that we were all late for school.

The madness continued into the evening when we realised that we’d better tidy up in readiness for our celebration for English Grandma’s birthday.  Stinky socks were thrown into bedrooms, balloons were hastily inflated (‘not two pink ones, they look like… erm… well, y’know…‘) and bags containing humming sports kits were hurled into the garage.  We spritzed a bit of air freshener around. It was fine, honest.

My brother, IJ, is my wine guru (he is generally cursed for our regular and massive Majestic Wine bills) and brought along a delectable bottle of Aussie Shiraz: Jim Barry The Lodge Hill 2010 (highly recommended). We then ordered the biggest Chinese takeaway known to man (the woman at the takeaway nearly passed out as she took the order).  My nephew and niece, the gorgeous Jackson (who was a bit late after taking part in a Queen tribute band at his school music evening) and impossibly glamorous Turtle joined the hilarity and soon we were wrestling (well, THEY were wrestling), laughing, cracking backs (the Death Wish Dude is good at this, but it made me feel a bit faint) and generally jabbering away.

Turtle and the DWD did an impressive job of lighting about a thousand candles (luckily, Grandma wasn’t offended) and in the process managed to burn a bit of meringue and quite a lot of each other, but no matter, soon we were gathered round the table, squeezed in on random garden chairs, Sam with his lasagne chin and Freddie Mercury with his sharpie moustache, singing happy birthday.

It took a while to blow all those candles out, mind you..

Berry Meringue Pie

For the sweet shortcrust pastry, you’ll need:

200g cold butter

400g plain flour

Pinch salt

1tbsp caster sugar

1 egg

2 or 3 tbsp cold water

Firstly, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.  It’s easiest to do this in the food processor but you can do it by hand if you’re not as lazy as me.

Chop your cold butter into squares and add it to the flour, salt and sugar.  Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Now plop in the egg and pulse slowly, adding a tablespoonful or two of water until it just comes together.

Flour the work surface and squish the mixture together into a ball.  Wrap in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for about 20 mins.

When it’s rested, flour the work surface, and your rolling pin, and roll it out to about 5-6mm thick, then roll it onto your rolling pin and unroll over your flan dish or baking tin  (about 24cm should do it).  When it all breaks apart, swear a bit and kind of patch it together. Nobody will notice.  Push it in to the edges and trim the top.

Now to bake it blind: scrunch up a bit of greaseproof paper, then smooth it over the pastry and pour in some baking beans – you can use ceramic or whatever. I’ve got some old dried beans – for about 15 minutes.

Then, take the baking beans out and pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes, just to crisp up the base.

For the berry curd:

Couple of handfuls of berries (fresh or frozen)

100g butter

150g caster sugar

2 eggs, plus 1 yolk (save for the meringue)

For this curd recipe, you need roughly 6 tablespoons of concentrated, sharp juice.  I had a small bag of mixed berries left over from fruit picking during the summer, but you can use lemon juice, lime juice, whatever…  For the pie to work well, the juice needs to be acidic, so if you’re using fresh, sweet fruit, add a little lemon juice. Just keep the quantities the same.

It’s easiest to extract the juice by heating the berries up in a pan.  Once they’re going squishy, let them sit in a sieve over a bowl so you can catch the juice.

Take a saucepan and bung in the butter, juice, zest (if using citrus fruits) and caster sugar.  Melt it all together slowly until the sugar is all dissolved.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined.  Now, take your warm juice/butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs.  Now bung that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and simmering until the mixture thickens.  As usual, make sure there’s someone behind you at this point shouting ‘WHISK! WHISK FASTER!’ – I’m SO going to record myself doing this so you can play it as you whisk.

Turn off the heat and leave to cool.  Remember to just stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on.  When it’s about room temperature, pour it into the pastry case and pop into the fridge to cool.

For the meringue:

4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

Pinch of cream of tartar if you have it

Whisk the eggs in a very clean bowl until they form firm peaks, then keep whisking while you add the sugar, spoon by spoon, until it’s all incorporated and the meringue is thick and glossy.  Give it a pinch between your fingers – it shouldn’t feel gritty.  Now pipe (or just spoon) it all on top of the pie.

Bake in the very low oven (gas 2/150 degrees) for about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how squelchy you like your meringue.   If it’s a Special Birthday Meringue Pie, you can decorate it (we frosted some berries in granulated sugar) and add candles.

 

The Party: new friends, old friends and wine on the carpet

There’s  nothing quite like a houseful of your favourite people to bring about a warm glow.  Admittedly, several glasses of fizz added to my glow, but mostly it was goodwill and stuff, I’m sure.

We really did have a lovely time. Sadly, I’m completely useless and didn’t manage to take any pictures.   Ah well.  And I made TONS of food, and didn’t take a picture of that either.  I am useless.  I did a mahoosive cheeseboard, groaning with all sorts of different cheeses and liberally adorned with bunches of grapes and cherry tomatoes, then I did apple and red onion sausage rolls, little parmesan biscuits and later, a big pot of spicy lentil dahl (and yes, it does look a bit like poo, but I like to think that what it lacks in looks it makes up for in taste) and spicy chicken skewers… and not one scrap of evidence. You’ll just have to trust me.

We made some new friends too – The Prof’s lovely friends, the twins, brought their Mum and Dad along and they turned out to be really lovely as well (they’ve just got a brand new Beagle puppy, which they’ve called Lemon.  I like them even more because of that).  Hubby’s sis and bro came with their other halves, my Disreputable Dad, his partner, my Mum (I know, right?  I live on the edge, I do), my gorgeous friends Foxy and The Glamorous Clare and their families and hoards of varying teenagers all clustered upstairs round the Xbox… it was certainly snug.  But great fun.

My Disreputable Dad made me laugh. It was his turn to drive, but he kept sneakily getting his glass topped up until his other half admitted defeat and agreed to drive.  Sneaky.  Sadly my big bro was away on holiday but apart from that we were surrounded by lots of people we love. There was cackling, drinking, and a bit of slopping red wine on the carpet, but hey, it came off.  And I didn’t forget too much of the food that I’d made either… only the little mini quiches I made got forgotten, which is always a bonus.

I guess the only disappointment is that we started too early – 2pm – which meant we were all partied out and finished by 10.30.  And no dancing!  Ah well.

So it’s on to New Year now, then… what a lovely Christmas.  How was yours?

Going home: things I’m looking forward to.

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.

Paddy’s weekend: BMB vlogging, the Albert Hall and a very small dog

Well it was all happening this weekend.  We flew over on the eve of St Patrick’s Day (bit sad to be missing out on all the fun, but hey) so that I could attend the British Mummy Bloggers‘ video blogging workshop.  There was sniggering.  Lots of sniggering.  This was mostly because I was catching up with old friends (and meeting lots of new ones):

Here’s the lovely Geeky Mummy, and my old (disclaimer: I don’t mean she’s old, I mean our friendship is old) partner-in-wine the lovely Helen from the Knackered Mother’s Wine Blog:

And here’s the lovely Laura, with Sandy Calico and… wait, is that Jay peeking in there?

And here’s Taralaraloo and Jay doing a bit of hard-core gurning (and yes, we were actually supposed to be paying attention at this point – apparently it’s something about lipstick and turning side on to the camera…):

Oh and then there was so much more – there was wine and laughter and lovely food at my lovely glam friend Tums’ house with Foxy too (sadly my pictures of her gorgeous Moroccan chicken didn’t come out, but trust me, it was gooood), and we went out to dinner with my Disreputable Dad…

…and then rushed off to The Albert Hall and saw the fabulous Classical Spectacular and jumped at the canons and waved our flags and sang along to Land of Hope and Glory, which was such good fun:

…and I went to see my lovely sis in law and got to meet my lovely niece Lu’s new doggy, Bella, the cutest and tiniest little dog in the world:

And we basically managed to speed-socialise with all our nearest and dearest in the space of one weekend.

Phew.  Now I’m back.  With 500 million emails to catch up on and chickens to clean out and a very disgruntled Ninja Cat of Death to placate (she hates it when we go away).

And then I’m going to have a lie down and a gin.  Not necessarily in that order.

Rules for a perfect family Christmas

Christmas-countdown

I know,  I know, it’s not even December, but it’s a Christmas Countdown, so stop moaning (you know who you are).  The lovely chaps at John Lewis set me a little Christmas challenge to give my rules for the definitive English Towers family Christmas. They go a little like this:

Children

#2 must awake at the crack of dawn. There will then follow an intense period of annoyance when every other sleeping member of the household must be awakened (generally in an aggressive, jumping-on-the-bed fashion) and invited to ‘wake up, it’s Christmas!’, even though it is barely 6am.  There is invariably a lot of creative, un-Disneylike swearing at this point.

Every year, at least one present will be opened by the wrong child.  This will cause all sorts of trouble.  This will have nothing at all to do with how inebriated the gift giver was when wrapping and labelling the present at 11.55pm on  Christmas Eve *cough*.  #1 got Rachel Allen’s ‘Bake’ last year.  He was not amused.

Christmas Dinner

The dinner must be at least 1 hour late (it’s amazing how long a turkey can ‘rest’ when the cook has been on the cooking sherry, got distracted and wandered off to have a chat with someone).

One part of the dinner (generally something that I have slaved over) will be left in the fridge or oven and be completely forgotten.

Everyone must talk at once (I remember my two lovely sister-in-laws once comparing notes about our family dinners, saying that they could never keep up with the 17 conversations that were all taking place across the table at the same time).

There MUST be champagne.

Family

There must be at least one drunken misdemeanor on Christmas day.

There must be a call to The Disreputable One which will entail each child in turn listing each and every present in great detail, and must bore the pants off the poor man, but he bears it with dignity.

Entertainment

There must always be a disagreement about what is The Perfect Christmas Movie.  I will vote for How The Grinch Stole Christmas or White Christmas and be outvoted (and told that ‘it’s GAY’), and Hubby will vote for Back to the Future, even though it patently has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever.  We’ll probably all settle on Elf, which is obviously the best Christmas movie in the history of absolutely everything.

English Grandma, who is well known for not saying no to anything, will end up being caned at Texas Hold’em or playing Call of Duty on Xbox, even though she won’t know what the hell she’s doing.

Decorations

The children will always insist that every tree ornament that we’ve ever purchased must go onto the tree.  My attempts at subtle two-colour decor will be treated with contempt and that bloody plastic star thing covered in glitter will go on the top of the tree again.

The outside of the house will be lit up like Blackpool Illuminations.  This is Hubby’s department.  He will moan and groan about it, but at some point he’ll be out in a force 10 gale, swaying about on the top of a ladder, swearing at gutter clips whilst stringing 500 lights across the front of the house.  It’s just his thing.

Oh, and the big move commences today, so feel free to chat amongst yourselves until I unpack the computer at the other end.  Over to you, then.  Christmas rules?

The Friday birthday photo: the pinkest raspberry meringue pie

Raspberry meringue pie

So I had a lovely birthday, thank you so much for all your good wishes.  I got lots of donations to my KitchenAid fund, which is now looking quite healthy, plus lots of lovely bits and pieces for my garden (including a fantastic Eucalyptus tree from the boys), and 6 new sparkly Denby mugs from Hubby to add to my collection:

Sensible Uncle I and Lovely L bought me Ching He Huang’s new Chinese cookbook.  Jen sent me the wondrous flowers you saw yesterday and the Disreputable One stumped up an eye-wateringly generous cash donation, which arrived via an enormous white courier van (well you can never be too careful) and so did my Ma.  And yes, I probably accept that at my age I shouldn’t still be getting cash in the birthday cards from my parents.

As you know, the tradition here at English Towers is that the birthday person gets free reign to choose whichever birthday cake they like.  Unfortunately, being Chief Domestic Goddess, that means I get to make my own.  Still, I had me Ma here.  And plenty of sodding about and giggling later, we came up with this:

First for the easy peasy pastry:

115g butter, melted

100g caster sugar

200g plain flour

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.  Pour the melted butter into the sugar and stir.  Then add the flour and salt and mix it around until it becomes a thick paste.  Press the mixture into a loose bottomed (steady) flan dish or baking tin  (about 24cm should do it), then bake it blind (scrunch up a bit of greaseproof paper, then smooth it over the pastry and pour in the baking beans) for about 15 minutes.  Then take it out of the oven, remove the baking beans and put it back in to cook the base for about another 5 minutes, then take it out and leave to cool.  Turn the oven down to gas 2/150 degrees.

Meanwhile, make the raspberry curd.  We couldn’t find fresh raspberries, so we used a decent tinned brand and just squished the contents through a sieve, but you can use the bought stuff or just purée some fresh ones:

100g butter

4 tbsp raspberry purée

1 lime, zested then juiced

150g caster sugar

2 eggs plus 1 extra yolk (keep the white for the meringue)

Take a saucepan and bung in the butter, raspberry purée, lime juice and zest and caster sugar.  Melt it all together slowly until the sugar is all dissolved.  In a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined.  Now, take your beautiful pink mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs.  Now pour that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and simmering until the mixture thickens – remember it’s going to be baked in the pie, so don’t worry about making it really spready consistency at this stage.  Turn off the heat and leave to cool.  Remember to just stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on.  When it’s about room temperature, pour it into the pastry case.

Then for the meringue:

4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

Whisk the eggs in a very clean bowl until they form stiff peaks, then keep whisking while you add the sugar, spoon by spoon, until it’s all incorporated and the meringue is thick and glossy.  If it’s your birthday and you’re rather prone to things pink and gorgeous, you can add a couple of drops of raspberry juice or cochineal here to give a delicate pinkness to your billowy meringue.  It’s best not to do this after several glasses of wine because it all gets a bit silly and giggly.  What?  Oh, no, of course I don’t mean me.  Pile it all on top of the raspberry curd and fluff it up a bit.  Bake in the very low oven (gas 2/150 degrees) for about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how squelchy you like your meringue.

Garnish with pink edible glitter (okay so you don’t really have to do that bit) and serve with a nice bottle of chilled rosé Prosecco and the company of your wonderful family.  Cheers! 

Birthday pie

And no, I have no idea what the jar of Hellmann’s is doing in the background completely spoiling my shot.  I blame the alcohol.

You’re an embarrassment…

#1 and Bert

When did it happen?  I swear, I completely missed it.  One day I was the ‘cool’ Mum in the playground, the one with the My Chemical Romance CD in the car, the one in tight jeans and Converse that they all came running up to and said ‘hey’ and knew my first name, and chatted away to me as they patted Bert on the head and said ‘corr, your Mum’s cool!’ to #1.  The next, I’m surplus to requirements.  A means of transport, if you would.

All this happened on Saturday, which saw me sneaking around in the cinema, lest my #1 son, out on a date with a young laydee, picked up any slight hint of his family’s existence.  I had my instructions: we were to drop him at the cinema, then disappear.  He was horrified when we pointed out that we couldn’t quite dissolve into thin air  for an hour and a half, and what exactly were we supposed to do once we got there?  And no, we wouldn’t just drive the half hour home, then drive the half hour back again later to pick him up.  Okay, he said, you can come to the cinema, but drop me outside and DON’T talk to me when you come in.  And sit down the front.  And don’t look round.  ‘Har de har!’, said #2 in the car, we’ll throw popcorn at your head!  Nope, there was not a snigger, or even a hint of a smile.  We were to pretend we didn’t know him and watch the film in silence.  Any slight glance in his direction from ANY member of his family, would incur severe penalties.  So we sat.  And squirmed slightly, while our newly hatched teenager watched the film several rows away from us in complete denial of our very being.  At one point, I caught his eye.  And he  raised his eyebrows imperceptibly and looked away, as if to say ‘don’t do this, Mum, don’t blow my cover’.  I know, it’s part of being a teenager: the fledgling fluttering his wings, but my heart sank.  Just a little.

So it’s happened, then.  I’m an embarrassment to my teenage son.  Of course I still had to buy the tickets… and the popcorn… and the coke…. but officially, I wasn’t there.  Of course as soon as she’d gone, he morphed back into normal #1,but I can see the signs.  I think I might as well just buy my buss pass and start wearing sensible shoes.  It’s all downhill from here…

At last, I’m all growed up

Pavlova

Do you know the best thing about having my family over for Christmas?  How could I choose, you may wonder?  Was it spending Christmas with my siblings again after so long?  The sheer accomplishment of getting 6 busy people and their offspring to the same place at the same time?  The kids opening their stockings together?  Even sharing a glass of wine with my sister in law in front of the fire with everyone else asleep or down the pub?  Well yes, all of those.  But the very best bit was feeling, possibly for the first time, like a grown up.  I know, it’s ridiculous.  For one thing, I’m 38 years old.  I’m the mother of two children – both of whom can read, write, don’t smell too bad and get to school on time – and a food writer too (okay, so I still find myself opening up the magazine and sneaking a happy look at my name on the first page, every month, but still, it really is me) .  I can make a cracking pavlova and read a whole book – both in one day.

What is it about spending time with family that makes everyone revert to their childhood ‘roles’, I wonder?  I’m the little sister: the scatty Doris that’s had seventy five different jobs, crashed a few cars and lived in so many different places that everyone has no room left in their address books…  But no more.  This time I was the hostess.  I welcomed them into my home (my immaculately clean and tidy home – me Ma nearly fell over with the shock), fed them, watered them and accommodated them with laundered sheets and a sparkly fresh bathroom.  And let me just clarify that I’m not bagging all the glory here – Hubby helped enormously with… erm… getting drinks and… er…well, anyway, he was there too, and my Ma and sister in law were fantastic help in the kitchen, but I did it.  I fed ten people for four days and enjoyed every second.

Okay, I still reverted to type a couple of times: firstly by knocking a full cup of tea all over the rug by the fire, then following it up by kicking a glass of water over about ten seconds later.  I got a ridiculous fit of the giggles when we stuffed the turkey too, but generally I felt rather clever and in control.  A first.

So what’s changed then?  I’m not sure.  But you know how certain people have this impression of you?  This image that they’ve perpetuated for so long you almost believe it?  Take my Disreputable Dad (no, please, take him).  I’m sure he’s very fond of us all, and he’s fantastically supportive in a crisis, but when I emailed him to tell him I’d finally got my dream job, what was his response?  ‘I wonder how long this one will last?’  You see, to him I’ll always be his dizzy blonde 18 year old, grabbing any random, unsuitable job and leaving after five minutes because it was boring.  And then there are friends.  Don’t tell me you haven’t got a friend who smiles indulgently at you while recounting any number of silly things you’ve done in the past to anyone who’ll listen?  Thought so.

So there you have it.  I know nothing’s changed: I’ll probably still run out of petrol occasionally, eat four cupcakes for breakfast, fall down the stairs when Bert treads on the back of my slipper and drop the boys to school wearing pink fleece pyjamas, but I’ll do in in the knowledge that it’s my choice, my prerogative as an adult, if you will, and absolutely not because underneath it all I’m still that dizzy blonde Frank Spencer.  Not any more.  Uh uh.  No way.

Christmas capers at English Towers

 

Oh but we had fabilis Chrimbo.  We ate, drank, laughed, ate a bit more, laughed a bit more and did a teeny bit of walking too.  I can’t go through the whole wonderful time, but I’ll let you in on a few of my highlights:

Jen getting the biggest, wettest kiss off Bert.  He lubs her.  Oh, and my Le Creuset pressies.  Thanks Jen!! x

Sensible Uncle I turning into Rather Giggly Uncle I after several Lycheenis.  God, they were nice though.

Bert being all smug after stealing a sprout, only to discover that he doesn’t like them much after all.

My gorgeous and adorable niece, Turtle: self proclaimed keeper of the blender, queen of the smoothie (‘it’s papaya, strawberry, banana, cranberry and erm.. mango’) and self-confessed pyromaniac, poking the fire unnecessarily for maybe the four thousandth time.

Sweet, lovely Auntie L, taking on the role of chief family diplomat and smoothing over niggly Playstation disagreements with more tact than the entire staff of the United Nations put together.

Me Ma, gamely trying to sort out the crossword (after several large Pinots) where Hubby had squeezed in any word that had sounded about right, regardless of spelling: (‘erm, I think ‘yoke’ is actually Y-O-L-K’).

Sensible Uncle I bonding with an adoring Bert (‘coming out for a smoke, chap?’)

The Golden Compass, enjoyed with a bottle of Hardy’s Crest sparkling rosé.  Slurp.

Kicking the ball into the stream and having to lower Turtle into the water, where she teetered precariously across a fallen tree, saved the ball, and returned to a big round of applause.  All glamorously and in pink wellies.

The turkey and ham pie on Boxing Day.  Yum scrum.

#1 looking completely nonplussed after opening Rachel Allen’s ‘Bake’ by mistake.  I got his new flask for school and was equally nonplussed. He perked up again when we swapped.  I blame Hubby’s complete disregard for gift tags.

#2 opening his longed-for rugby kit and instantly putting the entire lot on over his pyjamas.  He walked around in his padded body armour, rugby gloves and new boots all day.

Even the more cynical amongst us being pretty gobsmacked by the fact that Santa left a boot print in the ash on the hearth.  Oh yes he did.

My nephew, J, being absolutely delighted with his Daniel Craig autograph (he’s a big Bond fan).

Awwww.  I love Christmas.  How was yours?

Totally, like, random.

So the lovely Kate, over at iRamble has tagged me with a weird challenge.  I’ve got to share seven facts about myself: some random and some weird.  I did something similar to this back in April, but I’m naturally extremely weird, so finding seven more is easy peasy:

  1. I have hands like an old lady: they’re all blotchy and veiny and I have long spindly fingerstoo.  No amount of manicuring or posh hand cream can change them.  The Disreputable one has weird veiny hands too so it must be hereditary – apart from his fingers are like bit fat sausages.
  2. I hate crowds.  My worst nightmare is to be stuck in the middle of a big, jostling and tightly packed group of people.  My even worser nightmare is that these people are drunk.  Just the thought of it makes me shudder.
  3. I am totally, utterly and ridiculously fond of Christmas.  I love everything about it: the tree, the twinkly lights, candles, presents, the roaring fires, the yummy food…  I can’t help it.  I just do.  I used to be a nightmare, searching the house for hidden presents, but now I’ve got better.  This obviously makes me the best person to hide the presents, because I know where I’d look.
  4. I really, really, really want a KitchenAid mixer.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my Kenwood, but oh, for a pink Kitchenaid Artisan mixer I’d sell my soul.  Or at least my greyhound.
  5. My children and husband can make me laugh until I damn near wet myself.  When they all start messing, I laugh so much it actually makes me cry.
  6. I have stupid baby hair.  It’s so soft I can’t even keep a hairclip in.  Pathetic.
  7. I love surprises: both giving and receiving.  I have planned a very special and exciting day for Hubby’s birthday.  Watch this space.  I’ll take my camera – promise.

So come on, then: random facts, quirks and general weirdness.  Let’s hear them.

Moon and Mrs M’s Wedding: belly laughs and happy tears

Firstly can I just say that I hate Ryanair?  Hate, hate, hate Ryanair.  I know, I know, it’s dirt cheap and all that, but when you’ve walked miles, queued for hours and then find you can’t sit anywhere near your children in a hot, sweaty cabin and there’s no room in the overheads for your hand luggage?  Grrr, I could kill that feckin’ Michael O’Leary.

Awwww, we had such a lovely time.  We went out for dinner with the Disreputable One when we arrived on the Friday night (after he picked us up from the airport in his swanky new 4×4 – thanks Dad!), then stayed at me Ma’s for the weekend.  Arriving in the pub before the wedding was fantastic, seeing all my friends and family, my much-missed sisters in law, my lubly brothers, my beautiful nieces and big strapping nephew was just amazing.  The church service was surprisingly emotional although I have to say that it was the adults that did the naughty giggling – the kids all stood together and shot us withering glances as we misbehaved – it was Hubby’s fault, he did silly singing, and then some little teeny girl went ‘I WANT A WEE!’ in a really loud voice which set us all off again.  All went swimmingly apart from some rather bizarre parental goings on (note to my parents: I love you both madly but jaysus, go out for a coffee together and sort yourselves out already).

Mrs M looked absolutely stunning in a slinky green silk fishtail dress – I don’t care what anyone says there wasn’t a single pair of eyes that weren’t glued to her fantastically peachy bottom as she walked down the aisle.

 The evening bash was full of fun and laughter.  We had a total riot and the boys had loads of fun with their cousins.  Mad Uncle A behaved himself (almost) – actually, Sensible Uncle I was just as naughty – and Mrs Sensible was challenging Hubby to down shots of Mrs M’s traditional 80% proof fire-water.  Wow, it took your taste buds clean off. 

Moon gave the longest, most boring speech I’ve ever heard (nah, not really – he made me cry twice which is probably a record) and then we all clinked glasses and shouted ‘Nastrovya!’ and downed the traditional Slovakian shot things (wow!) before stuffing our faces at the buffet, then dancing the night away.  The Slovakian contingent held their own admirably in both the drinking and the falling over on the dance floor, but in true English fashion, it was all wrapping up by midnight – in Ireland we’d only just be getting started!

We rounded off a manic but happy weekend with one of my Ma’s epic Sunday lunches and then it was back to the airport with our Disreputable Chauffeur for another wrestle with our hand luggage.  We arrived home, tired but elated, to find an ecstatic Bert who sang us a little whiny song, he was so happy to see us.

Highlights of the weekend, then:

  • Stealing me Ma’s car and rushing round to my friend J’s beautiful new house to catch a glimpse of scrumptious little J and her new baby, M, who I’ve never even seen – we both stood and burst into tears, which made us laugh.
  • My mate, C, taking the time to pop to the church to wish Moon luck and say a quick hello to me and Hubby (I wanted to cry again – I’m getting old, I think)
  • The photographer shouting ‘No! look at her face!’ when Moon’s gaze kept wandering downwards
  • My nieces, who have turned from cute little girls into beautiful young ladies.
  • Above-mentioned niece, A, being bribed by Sensible Uncle I’s mates to balance sachets of mayonnaise on the head of Moon’s brother-in-law who was asleep in the corner after coming over all ‘tired and emotional’
  • Boogying on the dance floor with my boys, me Ma, Mrs M and a gaggle of her Slovakian mates
  • The scary amount of people who came up to me and said ‘ooh, I read your blog!’
  • Moon, staggering around with a box of Montecristo cigars saying ‘this is the happiest day of my life’ in a somewhat slurry fashion.

So there you have it.  A lovely weekend, a perfect wedding, and a very deserving couple.  Here’s to you, Moon and Mrs M: wishing you a long, happy and very giggly life together.  Mwah!

The one that never was

Now I’m always telling you about my boys: something funny they’ve said, some adventure they’ve had, their raging guitar riffs and their mad behaviour.  Sometimes though, like at the wedding, they’re terrifyingly, achingly grown up and sensible: a teeny glimpse of things to come?

Hubby’s often away working, and hey, it’s the holidays, so we’ve been a bit slack about bedtimes and the like.  The other night, though, I sent them up to get ready for bed, and found them not in the bathroom, but in a little huddle on #2′s bed looking a bit pensive.  They’d been told off for something or other, and I’d emphasised the fact that they should respect each other a lot more as, after all, they only have each other.  I snuggled in next to them and I could tell they were working up to asking me something.  I stayed quiet and the conversation went a bit like this:

#1: Mum, can we ask you something?

Me: Anything.  You know that.

#1: Well, you know we had a baby that died?  Was it a girl or a boy?

Gulp.  Okay, so we never kept it a secret from them.  Hubby and I, along with thousands, nay, millions of people, lost a baby once, a long time ago.

Me: I don’t know, darling.  The baby died inside me, and when it was taken away I was asleep.  (This is hard, but I figure that honesty is the best policy).  Actually, I like to think that it was a girl – my daughter – it feels funny to think I might have had one.

#2: Are you still sad?

Me: Yes, sometimes when i think about it I suppose I am, but then me and Daddy already had you, and soon afterwards we had #2, so we know we’re very lucky.

#1: Will we ever have another brother or a sister?

Me: No, I don’t think so now.  We’re getting to be quite a grown-up family now, aren’t we.  And anyway, you already think #2′s a pain – can you imagine having a new baby around messing with your guitars and drooling on your X-box?

#2: Ew.  Nope.

So there you have it.  With one small conversation, all sorts of memories are brought flooding back; in spite of it all, feeling so terribly sorry for the young doctor who had to give us the bad news (‘I’m sorry, we can’t find a heartbeat’), a hospital ward full of pregnant women (why do they put you there?), Hubby and I arriving home from hospital, just numb with it all, my poor Mum, devastated herself, being so brave and supportive, bouquets of flowers being delivered, sympathy cards instead of congratulations.  And afterwards, back to work; awkward silences with people not knowing what to say, still having to crack on and look after a toddler.  I remember the December came when the baby should have been born.  I was pregnant with #2 by then, but the date was a sad one: thoughts of what could have been.

Things happen for a reason, they say, and if one small life lost should have taught me anything, it’s that I should appreciate my two little fellas all the more.  That’s if I can just stop myself strangling them before they go back to school.  Happy days

This dark cloud

I’ve got this cloud.  It’s a big, dark one.  It hovers above my head, blocking out any feeble rays of Irish sun that might possibly shine in my direction.  And it just won’t go away.  It’s there in the middle of the night, when I’m wide awake listening to everyone else in the house sleep peacefully, and it’s still there in the morning, when I finally drag myself out of bed.

Honestly, it’s just not like me.  I’m the eternal optimist, the ‘glass half full’ girl.  Hubby re-mowed my heart into the lawn, has given me extra cuddles and watches me, I’ve noticed, out of the corner of his eye.  My children, well, of course they still make me smile, but recently, well…

I lost a good friend.  She doesn’t see what I see: her children growing up a little more every day, new flowers replacing the old under her special tree.  These things take time, I guess.  Other stuff’s happened.  People disappoint me a lot, I think.  Maybe it’s my fault.  Maybe I build them up into something they’re really not, then I’m disappointed when they let me down. 

I miss my family, my friends.  I’d like a hug from my Mum, to laugh at one of my Disreputable Dad’s silly jokes (I think I’d still laugh, even with my black cloud).  I’d like to walk along the shore, watch the sun go down, pick up shells.  I’d like to sit and demolish a bottle of wine and tell Bea all about it, to sit in the sun with Becca and Clare, catch up on gossip, talk about shoes, whatever.

I’ve been thinking of taking a bit of time.  They say it’s a great healer.