Monday, 13 July 2015

Vintage Wimbledon with the Littleboys

I don't know if this year truly was a vintage Wimbledon, but it felt like it to me.

Even though Andy Murray, who we were loyally backing, didn't make the final, the Federer/Djokovic showdown was brilliant, and I particularly loved the sight of Stefan Edberg, my pinup of the year circa 1988, sitting in the box as Federer's coach with his old rival Boris Becker coaching Djokovic. (Edberg has also aged better, which is rather satisfying).

The women's game was perhaps less interesting, although I think we may have a new star in Garbine Muguruza. Serena Williams is incredible, but I feel as if she's been too dominant in recent years.

I watched more of the tournament than I have for a while, mainly because the boys are now also tennis fans and, thanks to their lessons, understand what's going on. We had many hilarious conversations during the matches and the highlights program, which even Littleboy 2 steadfastly sat up to 9pm to watch two nights running. (Who else was appalled by the new look BBC Wimbledon 2Day? I was so glad when they changed the format back to normal, but the new, dreadfully naff name seems to remain. Macenroe is brilliant, though).

The boys were particularly interested in the seedings, and also in the fact that the women play the best of three sets and then men five. So we had many unanswerable questions such as: "If Serena Williams played Djokovic, who would win?" "If Serena AND Venus played him, would they beat him?" as well as random ones such as"Would Andy Murray ever play mixed doubles with his Mum?"

Littleboy 2 finally got quite existential, posing the question: "If Andy Murray played Andy Murray, who would win?" Answers on a postcard please.

But my favourite comment of his was when I was explaining that the players carry spare racquets in their bags in case one breaks. "The other day Murray got out another racket halfway through a game because his string broke," I said.

Littleboy 2 expressed consternation. "But - he wouldn't have time to label it!"

Clearly all those naggings about lost property have gone in.

Monday, 29 June 2015

End of the school year by numbers

Another year over, and what have you done? That's a Christmas song of course, but I always think of it at this time of year, because for parents of school age kids, the "year" begins in September and ends in July.

It seems to have flown by. So I thought I'd just list a few things, data-wise, to remind myself that actually, quite a lot has happened since September 2014.

1. Casualties of Lost Property: 4 (two different kinds of sock, 1 track suit bottoms, 1 pair of pyjamas taken in for a swimming test).

Not bad really and sometimes you just have to "let it go" as the song goes. I remember once really losing it over a lost towel at summer camp, and having to remind myself that there are bigger things in life.  Mind you, I find banging on about how the lost items will come out of pocket money is quite helpful these days. It would have been 5, but a lost shoe was miraculously recovered today.

2. Music exams taken, 3. 

All passed, two with merits. All that practising, nagging and banging on about scales wasn't totally wasted then. And Littleboy 1 seems to have taught himself to play "Dumb Ways to Die" on the violin. Result! 

3. Detentions, 0.

We are doing well here and I hope it continues this way. One of my sons even got invited to a "Good boys' tea," which in my day would have sounded like a recipe for being teased, but these days appears to be a badge of honour, even among boys.

4. Sports Days/swimming galas I missed: 1 (out of 8)

One of the advantages of working from home means I can be flexible about these things.  Mind you, judging from the numbers of Dads there, most of whom I am sure don't work from home, sports days are a 3 line whip these days.

5. Prizes won: 1

Proud parent disclaimer *Littleboy 2 has had a fantastic year at school, and came away with a prize for academic achievement. I couldn't be happier for him.* But actually just as important to me is the fact that he's made some really lovely friends in this first year at the school.

6. Things forgotten in the mornings: Not too many!

Much better on this score than last year, thanks to my trusty chalk board in the kitchen that reminds us what we have to take every day. I only once had to race back in the car to deliver something this year. Although Littleboy 1 went to school with a sopping wet PE kit last week that I had failed to put in the dryer overnight.

7. Inter-school Sports matches kids played in: 1

Not a great score this year -- Littleboy 2 has no interest in competitive team sports, and Littleboy 1, while athletic and fit, doesn't seem to make it into any school teams either (although he's doing very well at tennis lessons, done out of school, and has been selected for a local squad). Still, it means that weekends have been free of ferrying boys to sports matches, which more than makes up for anyone's disappointment.

8. Number of times I have been to the school for events since half term: too many to count.

See no 4. Again possible because I work at home. What on earth you do if you work in an office I have no clue.

9. Number of times we walked to school: 5

This is pretty disgraceful. We did mean to do it more. The walk is about half an hour. The problem is partly all the stuff they have to carry - musical instruments, cricket bats, heavy PE bags, homework, projects. Maybe next year we'll try to rationalise it somehow. 

10. Funny conversations with boys on the way home: countless

This is my favorite quote from Littleboy 2. We were driving home when we saw a boy who looked to me about 15 walking down the road. "Oh that's Mr. X." he said. "He's one of the teachers." When quizzed more closely it turned out he was one of the Gap year boys they have helping at the school. Then he added: "Yeah, we used to have another Gap teacher but he went skiing and never came back. I think he retired."


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Expat friendships, two years on

Littleboy 2 shortly before we left New York
It's almost two years since we left the U.S.

It doesn't seem like that kind of time at all, of course - it seems like yesterday that I was packing up our house and and saying goodbye to my American friend, bidding farewell to the boys' school and doing everything we enjoyed in Long Island for the "last" time.

I was thinking the other day about expat friendships and whether or not they last a lifetime. My parents met many of their lifelong friends as expats in Hong Kong, some of whom I still keep in touch with today. But things are different now - social media has replaced the long letter and Christmas cards, long a method of keeping in touch, now seem to have fallen out of fashion with more and more people.

So what are my thoughts now that I can put my expat friendships in perspective?

Firstly, that it's interesting who you stay in touch with. Facebook of course makes it very easy to stay in touch with a lot of people but in a fairly superficial way. I have a bit of email contact with those people to whom I was closer but in the main, I do rely on social media.

One experience has been having a dear friend in America go through a terrible time, with her eight year old daughter diagnosed with leukaemia last autumn. Thankfully she is now in remission but it has been the most horribly tough year for her and for her whole family. This friend was lovely to me when I was having my own health issues, and I really felt it that I couldn't be there for her in person. I have been emailing her and sending cards, but it does make you realise that whatever the power of social media, being physically there is a whole different matter.

Then there are the people who are not on social media. In the case of my very good German friend, we've made a real effort to email, Skype and have even managed to see each other twice in the past year. I have a feeling this friendship will now be for life.

But others haven't been so easy.  There was one neighbour whom I got to know very well in the U.S. - we were always chatting at the school bus stop or in each other's houses. She's not on Facebook and I would love to know what's happening with her and her family.  But since being back, whenever I've tried to email her (apart from the very first time, when she replied warmly) I've been met with a wall of silence. I'm fairly certain nothing awful has happened to her, having asked other people, so I'm wondering if she just can't deal with long distance friendships, or (paranoia setting in) whether she never really liked me that much.

Others neighbours have made a real effort to look us up on trips to London - in fact we're due to see one family next week. And, later this year, we'll be heading back to Long Island as part of a U.S. holiday, so we'll get to see everybody again. I'm still debating whether to knock on Mrs. Email Silence's door, but I'm hoping others will be pleased to see us.

More interesting will be seeing whether the boys still gel with their old best friends, now that they've lost their American accents and think and act more like little English boys. I'm guessing yes, because kids seem to re-bond easily, and as long as they're all on the latest version of Minecraft they'll have something in common. But who knows?

Friday, 5 June 2015

Floral delights

I can't believe it's June already and the end of the school year is once again looming. The boys have three and a half more weeks, and then we are into the holidays -- that long cycle of me frantically trying to work while entertaining the boys and ferrying them around to different camps.

I've been neglecting the blog a little of late, so thought I'd write a quick update on what I've been up to.

I went to the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time ever. This was a fabulous experience -- a riot of colour, scent and sensation. What struck me most wasn't the show gardens, which is what everyone writes about and shows on TV. Those are indeed very impressive, but what I hadn't expected was the amazing floral displays from the growers inside the gigantic marquee. Huge walls of hyacinths, hydrangeas, roses, foxgloves -- you name it, it's there.

Selfie in floral garb

Hydrangea heaven

Purple paradise

Rose bower


The visit inspired me in a fit of impulsiveness to become a Royal Horticultural Society member, and start frantically buying seeds to plant in my back garden. Whether this newfound passion for gardening lasts remains to be seen, but it did reinforce my love of flowers, and a realisation that I need to teach my children the names of plants, flowers and shrubs on every walk we go on - because how else do you learn?

Then we went to the Lake District for half term. This was again a floral treat, as the rhodedendron, azalea and blubells were all in bloom up there. It's the first time I've ever visited in May, and it's a great time of year to be there -- everything shining with that bright, light green of early leaf, and newborn lambs everywhere.

Lakeland colours

Rhodedendrons in full bloom

A gorgeous view of Derwentwater

Now we're back and heading into the madness that is end of term, with swimming galas, school balls, concerts and parental drinks gatherings dominating the calendar for the next few weeks .

Wish me luck and see you on the other side.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Do Brondes have more fun?

It's all the rage to have streaks of mouse and blonde
I've been amused to read, recently, all sorts of articles about how it's fashionable to be Bronde.

Apparently, it's all the range to have your hair not quite blonde and not quite brunette - Cara Delevingne, Jennifer Lopez and - er - Nicola Sturgeon have all "embraced the trend."

I'm so happy about this because I've been unintentionally bronde since I was about 14. Having been honey blonde as a child, my hair suddenly darkened in my teens to what, in the old days, was called "mouse" (it happens to a lot of us -- just like duckling down darkens from yellow to brown).

After some disasters with Sun-In, lemon juice and (most heinously) a home dye kit, my mother marched me to the hair salon for highlights in my mid teens and I have never looked back. However, as my hazel eyes and olive-ish complexion don't suit white-blonde, ash-blonde or "Scandi-blonde", I've always gone for a sort of honey look, mid way between blonde and brown. Depending on how often I get to the hairdresser, or how rich I'm feeling, it's sometimes darker and sometimes fairer. In the summer it tends to go a bit streaky and sun-bleached, in the winter it's duller.

But now, apparently, I can cease to worry about this middling shade, and my protruding roots, because celebrities are actually colouring their hair bronde. Apparently, it's great because it hides the grey. (As I've recently found a few of these, that's another "yay" for me). You also don't have to touch up the roots so often, so it's also austerity-chic.

In these sobering post-election days of five more years of cuts, what more could I possibly want? All I need to hear now is that ratty jeans and sneakers are right on trend - wait, hang on a minute? They are?

Thursday, 7 May 2015

On birthdays and voting

This year's General Election has an especial poignancy for me: it's almost ten years to the day since I was in St Thomas's Hospital, cradling a newborn Littleboy 1, staring out over the river at the Palace of Westminster and wondering if Tony Blair was still in power.

So at the weekend we celebrated his 10th birthday (Littleboy 1's, not Blair's) while feverishly anticipating a new election, and I can't help but reflect on the passing of time.

I didn't vote in that election: Littleboy 1 was nine days overdue, so I hadn't registered a postal vote, thinking naively that I'd be well in an out of hospital by the time the election came around. The fact that I had an emergency c-section and ended up staying in for three days meant I was still there on the Thursday, despite giving birth on the Tuesday after the bank holiday.

What I most remember about that experience is that for the first time in my life, once Littleboy 1 was born I couldn't get worked up about the election at all. I was overwhelmed by dealing with a tiny baby, recovering from a frightening birth and not being able to get out of bed for the first day. My world shrank to that hospital ward, and even when we got home, the newspapers lay around unread. (There's a great photo somewhere of The Doctor lying on the sofa asleep, baby asleep on his chest, surrounded by packs of nappies and one copy of the Times with a photo of Blair in a victory pose on the cover).

Five years ago, we were in the US, and although we marked the election by inviting an English friend round to dinner and I even baked an Election Cake, it was hard to feel too excited when we weren't in the country. The Littleboys, aged five and four, were too young to care. I remember stopping my car in the middle of the street outside the boys' nursery (to the annoyance of lots of angry Moms in minivans) to tell my one other English friend at the time that Gordon Brown had just resigned; she, having lived for 10 years in America, could not have looked less bothered.

Another five years on, I'm far more engaged with the election -- and so are my kids. Littleboy 2 is like a Radio 4 Today programme sponge; he solemnly told me this morning that "326 seats is the magic number"; and yesterday he informed me that one prime minister was going to shoot another one in the eyes. I told him he must have misunderstood; later I realised that a UKIP candidate had actually said this.  His older brother, meanwhile, has finally got over his misapprehension that the Prime Minister is called David Beckham.

This morning I voted, though which box I put my X in I'm not going to reveal here, so any trolls had better go elsewhere. Tonight I will be watching the exit polls and eating fajitas with my lovely friend P, and thanking God that we live in a democracy, where -- however confusing the political choice can seem -- what we vote can still make a difference.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

My Back Garden (The Photo Gallery)

It's a while since I've showcased my (very amateur) photography skills by linking to Tara's Photo Gallery, but her prompt this week - My Back Garden -- has nudged me into taking my new phone outside and giving it a go. All the below were shot with iPhone 6 (as the ad campaign goes) - and I think it did an OK job.

We're at an interesting stage with the garden; having moved in late last summer, we don't really know what's in there, and Spring has served up some pretty surprises. We've had crocuses, daffodils, snowdrops and a whole host of bulbs appear in unexpected places; recently I've spotted some bluebells, and there's a sprig of wisteria growing over our fence from next door that's about to bud. (We also have some over our front door; my dream has long been to have a purple shimmering curtain on the front of my house, and maybe one day this will be a reality).

I love the stories gardens tells about the previous owners of houses; there are an incredible number of overgrown roses, and according to a neighbour, the owner before last was obsessed with roses. However, like almost everything in the garden, they've been left to grow rampantly out of control in the intervening years. There's also an insane amount of holly (and ivy) -- I like holly, but we've had to be rather ruthless in cutting back.

The Doctor is more green-fingered than I am, but I love gardens, and can quite imagine myself getting more into it as the years go by; I've even found myself listening to Gardeners' Question Time on the radio recently and not immediately switching over to something less middle aged. I'm also going to the Chelsea Flower Show next month for the first time ever; and I couldn't be more excited if I'd scored a ticket to the Baftas.

Here's a quick tour then:

I love forget- me-nots. I know they're a weed - but they're just so pretty.

The wisteria is about to bud.

No idea what this is - but I like the colour

A couple of bluebells snuck in somehow

We have an insane amount of holly in our garden