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Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Best Stuff to bring on the ferry to France

We've been getting the ferry to France for a few years now. Prior to that for Summer holidays we rented a house in the West of Ireland. Which was lovely, but so wet and windy. I think it was the year we bought thermal vests for our kids, or maybe the year we got a half hour of sunshine in two weeks that prompted us that it might be time for a change.

So, we bought a tent and booked the ferry. Or ferrries, to be precise. The first year we got two - one to Holyhead where we promptly got lost, eventually found an Argos, bought a Satnav, and drove to a site outside Birmingham where we camped for the night. And the next morning we drove to Dover and got another boat to Calais. I would not recommend this journey if you have kids under four. Actually I wouldn't recommend it at all. Gruelling is the only word that comes to mind.

The next year we booked one ferry, from Cork to Le Harve with two cabins, one four bed with porthole and t.v. and one two bed with nothing. I got the four bed plus the kids, and my husband got the coffin, to himself.

It was almost worth the nightmare journey the previous year as by comparison this was the Four Seasons. We all particularly loved the porthole. And having your own private space on the ferry is really bliss. It means that while you are navigating the play areas and shops and "swimming pool", (surely no one ever actually puts their kids in there?)you know there is respite only a few minutes away.

Which brings me back to my main point. There are a few things you must bring wih you on the ferry. First up is Pot Noodles - one for everyone. Yes they serve food, but its pricey and not particularly nice .(I've never tried the fancy restaurant though). Theres a kettle in your cabin, so for anyone who is small or tired or not in the mood for venturing further, you have a smallish, dinnerish option. That is ready in about four minutes. Follow it up with a trip out for a treat and you've spent a fraction of the cost of the meals and everyone is happy. They're even more valuable on the way home, when everyone is exhausted after the drive to Le Havre, and the post holiday credit card bills are looming.

Second, I always bring my kid some new books. Yes, of course we bring as much charged up screeny stuff as we can fit in the car, but when they are all tucked in their bunks and everything is being recharged for the journey the following day, it is our tradition to have a new book for everyone.

I go for the Tom Gates/Wimpy Kid style. Basically, light, easy reads. This year I've already bought and hidden away for the holiday Wierd but True by National Geographic and The Tapper Twins go to War by Geoff Rodkey . Our biggest success in past years has been the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger. I'd highly recommend them. Also good and a bit more girly are El Deafo by Cece Bell and Smile by Raina Telegemier. (all these are for seven or eight and up.) And I'll read Flat Stanley Goes Camping to my youngest.

Lastly, remember that there are narrow metal stairs that take you from your car up into the ferrry. Cross body bags really come into their own then. Especially if you are carrying a child. (Mango has a nice big tasseled one at the moment. It is white and black stripes and a good size. I think I might treat myself.) Also big bottles of water are heavy and a pain to carrry, but well worth it. Everyone will thank you.

Now what else comes in handy? Ok - I'll ask the family.

My husband says for him; a plastic coffee filter cone, paper filters, coffee, milk and travel mugs are imperative(it means we leave the Ferry with a cup each of freshly brewed coffee -which is very, very nice.)

My thirteen year old says food - any food! My nine year old says ginger snap biscuits, (they've warded away seasickness in the past), my twelve year old says food - lots of food! And my four year old says comics.

So there you have it. My guide to surviving the ferry. Has anyone anything to add? I'd love to hear.

meet me in MAC

I met my best friend in MAC the other day. That corner of Brown Thomas has been our meeting spot for quite a few years now. So long that I was thinking, as I was heading down Grafton Street(rushing, as I'd just got her text "I'm in bits!" which turned out to mean "I'm in B.T.'s!), maybe at our age we should be meeting at the Clarins counter? 

Its only when I think about it, (which is not a very good idea) the MAC girls are probably twenty years younger than me. Maybe its time we grew up?

Sure enough, she hauled me over to Clarins to show me her new serum. God, bloody serums. Aren't they so annoying? Costing a fortune and shouting "anti-wrinkle" and "aging" at you from the bathroom shelf every morning. This one, she said, just disappears as soon as you apply it. "Even worse."I said, "I want to see a sheen or a glow or something for my money." I could see the Clarins girl coming over, to tell us about the ground up diamonds, or the deep sea whatevers in it and dragged her away. 

If I was going to get one thing, and I did want to treat myself, I wanted to get one of those sticks that highlight your cheekbones, or at least give the impression you have some. The very sweet Clinique girl said "Of course" I wasn't too old for that kind of product. Now that I'm in my forties, its so much easier to talk to the make-up counter women. In my thirties I was permanently pregnant and as a result, luminous with the worst rosacea ever. And I hated talking about it. 

But as soon as I asked about any product whatsoever, they would tactfully mention "and if you happen to have any REDNESS or INFLAMMATION, this might be handy." 

And I was pointed away from the pretty glosses and shadows and towards the green creams and industrial concealers and boring, expensive serums.

In those days, because the home I had just escaped from had a small baby and/ or toddlers in it, I was exhausted and desperate to myself to buy the perfect product. To make myself feel perfect? It was never going to happen. But my thirties are in the past, as is (most of) the rosacea.

So I bought a Clinique chubby pearly stick the looked just like the NARS Copacabana Multiple but was €17 cheaper. "Just apply to the cheekbones and the temples and anywhere the sunlight hits really!" she said, being too diplomatic to add the necessary codicil "being careful to avoid areas of deep wrinkles, for example, your forehead."

thin feel for greater sensitivity

We had a choice. Drive to Ikea and buy a new chest of drawers and spend an hour or two assembling them and cursing all flatpack furniture. Or not drive to Ikea and fix our current, worn out chest of drawers.

We chose the latter. 
That is how I ended up in our bed, reading stories to my four year old while his nine and twelve year old brothers pootered about, as we waited until their dad finished fixing the drawers in their bedroom. And how my nine year old noticed something under our bed. 

"Whats in the box?" he asked. There was no avoiding the question. 

"Daddys contraceptives. " I said. and quickly went on reading Tatty Ratty. 

"What did you say?" said his brother. My nine year old jumped in, always the expert. 

"She means they are things you use if you want to have sex but don't want any more babies." 

His brother looked suprised. 

"You don't want any more babies?" 

"No" I told him, "four boys are enough. I mean four boys are just perfect." And went on reading. My four year old was listening, but his brothers were thinking. And reading out loud themselves;

"Thin feel for greater sensitivity. Easy on shaped and teat ended for comfort and fit. Transparent and lub..lub..ricated for natural rubber latex condoms." 


Not only could I think of absolutely nothing to say, I could feel a fit of the giggles coming on. Would this ever end? Not quite yet. The nine year old looked at me again.

"So, the two of you..I mean do you...?" 

Oh no. I was mortified and doing a bad job covering it up."Yes." I said. There followed a second of silence and the two elder boys leapt away from the bed as if it were on fire.



"I can never get in there again!" 

I thanked my stars that my thirteen year old was in his bedroom, on his computer, wearing headphones. Not something I usually encourage, but such a blessing last night. 

So, I finished Tatty Ratty, and finally, finally the drawers were done.

getting the legs out

I can remember, I must have been about eight or so when I figured that I had narrowly missed out on having sallow skin. Skin without freckles or red patches that actually turned brown in the sun. Brown. God, I wanted to be brown SO badly. And at that age it was becoming apparent that it was never, ever going to happen. I was a child of a fair, freckled father and a dark haired, sallow skinned mother. The dice had been thrown and I came out pale. Actually, pale barely described me. I was as white as the driven snow. God, it annoyed me. I had been so close. So close!

Holding my arm against my mums was torture. It got to the point where she would refuse to let me compare our colours. "Look at your lovely young skin", she would say. I can't remember what my answer was but you can bet it wasn't a cheerful "Thanks Mum!".I was so jealous! She was so brown and never burnt. Life was so unfair!

Anyway, here I am after over three decades of getting burnt/trying sunbeds/experimenting with many fake tans and suncreams and I am now able to take a little sun. Finally, I go a very light, freckled beige. Like a pale version of Dove Summer Glow(fair to medium). 

So, I was getting ready to walk to the school to collect my kids this afternoon, and taking off the shorts I had been wearing around the house and garden, to swap them for a pair of cropped jeans. Hang on a minute, I thought. Why don't I leave the shorts on? Well, because no one over twenty five and sane wears shorts in Dublin. Certainly no one at the age of forty six. But the weather is, for once, warm! And I have put a lot of time and exercise into these legs. They're not perfect, by any means. But they're not blue, and they have served me well for many years. They deserve a day out. What's the worst that could happen? 

I walked out of my house in Dublin, on the 29th of June 2015, wearing shorts. And what did happen? Well, I met a Mum who said "God, I'd be scared to wear my shorts in Dublin, but you look great! So Summery!" 
I'm glad I did it. I was cool and comfortable and no one stared. My advice would be to other eegits like myself, who have for decades been hiding under opaque tights and jeans - go on, get the legs out. They deserve it.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Why my healthy family LOVES MacDonalds

We cook a lot in our house. Of course we do – there are six of us. A Mum, a Dad, and four sons ranging from four years to thirteen.  We roast chickens, boil the bones for stock and actually use said stock for soup. We knead our own pizza dough, peel our own carrots and bake fish in tin foil. But, we’re normal too. Our kids, as well as eating healthy dinners, guzzle Nutella like drunks at closing time and would sell their souls off for a pack of purple Chewits. And if we ever buy crisps they are greedily hoovered up, gone before the rest of the shopping is put away.

What I am trying to say is that we eat quite well. Pizza deliveries and Chinese takeaways are not weekly things in our house. We don’t eat tonnes of biscuits, although we do eat some, and our children can name most vegetables.

 And yet, since our parenting years began, the only restaurant we have ever comfortably eaten in was McDonalds. And even now that our youngest is no longer a toddler, it’s still the only place I think there is any point in spending our money. A four year old doesn’t sit still or wait any length of time. His siblings also needs a considerable amount of wriggle room and while they will not always knock over an uncovered cup, they will nearly do so many times. This is not something I am willing to pay the privilege to watch. When you think about it, those Macdonalds lids give you an extra millisecond or two to save a knocked cup, before the spill actually happens. My goodness, how wonderful is that?

It’s not that they adore the food –although they nearly always finish what we order. It’s the speed in which we are served in and the surroundings that tolerate noise, movement and the normal bustle that comes with a few children. Mine can move around without me constantly saying “mind!” The chairs don’t tip over, there’s no tablecloth to pull on and no knives and forks to send clattering to the floor. I am making them sound quite feral – maybe they are – but I think their behaviour is average for Irish children.

When I am in a restaurant, I need to be able to relax long enough to swallow my food and, for more than two seconds at a time, move my eyes away from my children. And they in turn need to be able to swap seats, swap back, wriggle, sit on their knees, stare at the people at the next table and sing quietly. I don’t mean loud enough to disturb other people, but they need to be able to behave like children.

Another bonus of this much vilified and yet continually profitable chain is that I can order just a latte for myself along with their meals. And why not? I am paying for both after all. No one at MacDonald’s queries this or says “ONLY a latte for you? No food?”

 Nor do they carry piping hot plates to the people behind us, while our kids bounce excitedly in their seats, narrowly missing being burned. (I brought my then four year old son to a pizza restaurant once and he burnt his fingers on his own plate. Yes, a children’s meal was brought to the table on a scalding plate.)

Actually in recent years, if a MacDonalds employee approaches us at all, it is to clean our table, deliver some food or pass around balloons. (I know, those balloons on sticks are such a pain, but my youngest loves them.)

To be honest, I feel that in restaurants and cafes in Ireland, families like mine – noisy, more than two kids, are more tolerated than welcome. Not so in MacDonalds. There we are served our food and eat it in (usually) clean and bright surroundings. We can be ourselves and eat the food we have paid for.

There’s free parking just outside the door - in every MacDonalds – we take it for granted now but isn’t it nice not to think of parking for once? Surely I’m not the only person for whom the thought of circling for a space in a full car makes me want to cry? And looking for change for meters with hungry children breathing over my shoulder? I’m tired even thinking about it.

The fact that the food is grossly unhealthy and proven to rapidly deteriorate ones health is sadly, immaterial. We don’t eat in MacDonalds every week. But we do every time we need to eat out.

So, am I alone? Is there some fantastic child friendly, good value, healthy place I’m missing? If so, let me know!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Accident and Emergency

I'm lucky enough to never have had to actually run into the Accident and Emergency department. All of our visits have been paid at the speed of a brisk walk, and on the scale starting with quite high temperature down to needing stitches but not more than two and ending with aches that don't go away and need an x-ray but transpire to be nothing serious. All visits that can be categorised under "Nothing to see here."

So anyway, last week my eleven and nine year old's trooped into the kitchen at four o clock, having been picked from school in the car by their dad. They put their school bags down at my feet (for me to...put away? Do their homework? Scrape out uneaten sandwiches?), kicked off their shoes nowhere near our pointless but quite pinteresty shoe shelves and dropped their coats. God, just typing that makes me cross. How many times do I have to tell them we have hooks for coats? Ten million, I suppose. And then they will leave home and tears will drip down my haggard, wrinkly face because I will be an old lady with nothing to pick up.

One of them then told me that his older brother had been hurt at his rugby match. I frowned.  He was still in the car? Gone up to bed? Why had he not come in and dropped all his stuff on the floor?

He was in the hall having his muddy rugby boots and socks and jersey carefully peeled off, and was shaking and very white. Apparently he was tackled (you can only be tackled if you have the ball - he had the ball!) and his shoulder hurt. A lot. We put him into the shower and he stood and let the water flow over his muddy legs, (I think, as the bits of leg I could see afterwards sticking out of his pyjama bottoms were certainly still muddy when he got out.) He was still shaking though so I filled three hot water bottles and tucked them around him and we put a bag of frozen peas on his shoulder. Well, his dad did. I wanted to put a hot water bottle there too. So we bickered for a while beside his bed and he lay there looking pale.

To cut a long story short, or at least abbreviate it a bit, the next morning I took him to the Accident and Emergency Department of our nearest children's hospital and got in the queue. A miraculous fifteen minutes later we were through triage and with an actual doctor. I was delighted. Then he said it was probably a fractured clavicle, which took me a minute or two to figure out meant broken collarbone. So not that delighted.

We headed up to x-ray to get this confirmed and sat beside other mothers like myself with kids in their early teens tapping away at their phones. Mothers looking made up and suited and booted and kids looking royally pissed off. All holding iphone 6's, so one wonders why really, but I suppose there might have been some pain involved. (Why had I not put on any make up? Well, because I sort of feel that it will look to the doctors and nurses as if I have been preening at home in front of the mirror while my son suffered.I wished I had though. When I think about it, they are wearing makeup, and I don't picture them applying their liquid eyeliner while sick children wait beside them for their medicine.)

Quite a while later we were heading back downstairs to the first doc to sit in the first waiting room so he could confirm what he had suspected, where we met one of the booted mums with her teen. (Also, funnily enough, there was another mum there who had been waiting quite a while. I knew this not because she told me but because whenever the tannoy thingy said "So and so to triage please.", she mimicked it in an squeaky, pretty mental and very bitter way "So and so to triage please." I mean, I've done it myself, but always, always just said it in  my head.)

But back to the boots. Her son was in a wheelchair this time so his x ray must  have been positive too. I say positive because this time the Mum was beaming and he was on the phone to who I assume was the dad, giving details of the break in his leg. And them immediately ringing someone else to say the same thing. I was just thinking, good Lord, don't look so pleased with yourselves when I thought, why that's exactly how I felt when I heard the word fracture. For starters, I thought, for once I haven't queued here for nothing and we have an actual name for our ailment (rather than pulled muscle or "viral" which sounds so...nothing.). Still though, how daft were we? Broken bones are painful and take ages to get better.

I did at least get some comfort from the thought that she was as big an eejit as I was. And off we went home with our patients, to the reality of the healing process.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Stripey Couch on a Saturday Morning - my new blog on Childrens Books.

So, next week or the week after this will look a lot better, but here is a preview of my new blog on children's books. Just a taster. The plan is, every Saturday morning I'll post on a different kids book, whatever we are reading at the moment or whatever has popped through the letter box that week to be hidden away till Christmas. Some may be new but mostly, I like the oldies.

 I only discovered The Tiger Who Came to Tea when my first son hit two or three. Most people have heard of it but maybe some need a reminder. If you are looking for a book for anyone between two and half and five, don't go any further. Kids up to ten or twelve will still lean over your shoulder when you read it, of course. Because it is perfect. (No doubt there is a simply way to rotate this photo, but I can hear a fight breaking out upstairs over Halloween loot, so this will have to do. Bear with me.)

"Once there was a little girl called Sophie, and she was having tea with her mummy, in the kitchen." I don't know, we seem to think our kids are craving excitement and adventure, but this first line has resulted in silent
attentiveness from all my four boisterous boys. And so the day begins, with a ring on the doorbell. Who can it be?

Sophie and her kind Mum welcome in a big, fluffy, stripey tiger, because he is hungry and they are after all, having tea themselves. And the quiet adventure begins. Nothing call fill this hungry animal as he politely and methodically eats and drinks them out of house and home. Because they are well mannered (and, dare I say it, English) they stand hesitantly by and let him. It's also because he is such a lovely cuddly tiger too, of course. And then he leaves.

After cleaning up the mess and realising that there is no food left for dinner, Daddy gets  home. One of the nicest pages in this book for me, is when Sophie and her parents have to go out to eat. We see through her eyes the streets at night and feel her excitement. It is exciting to head out for an unexpected treat!

We did notice the cat and I suppose it could be hint as to the identity of the real tiger in Sophie's mind, but to my kids that does not matter. I've read this to all of them from the age of about three and what I most often hear when we finish is "Read it again." And we do.

Judith Kerr has written many kids books, another favourite of mine is When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, for ages eight and up, as far as I can remember. She lived in Germany until 1933 so it is based on real experiences. According to her facebook page, her fathers writing was burnt by the Nazis after they left. She grew up in England and her son, Matthew Kneale is a novelist, best known for English Passengers.
Here is a link to this new blog. I hope you enjoy it.