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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.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hey Lorcan!

Arriving to board a car ferry is a great leveller.  You can travel the lengths of France and Spain, eat oysters, sleep under the stars, drink your coffee from a bowl and be as affected as I love to be and still, when you arrive at the Ferry queue and join the lines of roof boxed cars, full of sweaty kids and fractious adults scrabbling around for the passports you are what you are. An ordinary Irish person coming home from holidays. Someone who is just the same as the mother in the next car who brought her own tea bags and Superquin sausages. No better, just quite a bit more pretentious.

No rules of the road apply in this queue. Fathers sit without seatbelts with toddlers taking the wheel. Chewing gum is handed out to barely weaned infants (all other distractions in the car consumed miles ago) and people abandon their vehicles to get the air and see what interesting car registrations were to be seen.
Behind us was a sporty little BMW with a surf board strapped to the roof.  Which said, I have been on a beach with waves, probably near Biarritz. No big deal, just nine hours’ drive. In my nifty little BMW. The driver sat looking not a little smug. I don’t know why, because board or not, he was still getting on the Ferry.

“He looks a bit like Lorcan.” I said.

My kids, now feral from a few weeks on a campsite in their swimming togs and on a diet of fizzy sweets and chocolate milk immediately started waving and called “Hey Lorcan!”
He gamely waved back until our more adventurous eight year adding “You asshole!”

We had been travelling for five hours (one of which was spent doubling back to a rest stop to rescue sandals I had left on the path.) You can imagine the conversation the preceded that decision.
“Hang on, who has his sandals?”
“You didn’t take his sandals off? We were only there five minutes! Don’t tell me you took them off?”
“It’s ok!” I said, knowing it was not. “I know they’re in the car somewhere. Everybody look around your feet!” The following search resulted in a stray hand knocking the car DVD player lead, disconnecting it and causing National Lampoons European Vacation to stop unexpectedly. Now everyone was upset and The Sandals were nowhere to be found.

My husband reached for the French AA Road Atlas with the patience of someone who spent the hours between nine and twelve that morning figuring out the Krypton Factor that is loading our car with tent and belongings of a family of six. Among which was sadly, only one pair of shoes for our three year old. And we turned back.

So when we got to Roscoff neither of us had the energy to put together a coherent reprimand to outline how shouting insults at innocent strangers is not ok. He had been telling his brothers to sing zipadeedoodah out their assholes since Rennes and we had’nt said a word.  (Yes, it was the movie, an altogether inappropriate choice for children. And one we would definitely pick again. It really is very funny.)
So we shushed him, slunk down in our seats and put up the windows. Our youngest steered us very slowly towards the passport checkers, still waving in the rear view mirror at “Lorcan”.  And eventually, we boarded the ferry.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Oil Cloth Shopper and other stories.

Oh dear. I know I don’t need a beach bag. I really do. But yet, I must have it.

 Hmmmnn, whats my excuse? The kids? Well, they're certainly a reason I shop online, considering how they cramp my style in shops.  They get into the middle of those circular racks of cardigans and disappear. They sit on display stands and companionably hold the hand of the model, who wobbles and sways and everyone in the place looks around for the mother of the child who is about to knock over the whole thing. 

Here I am! Tis I, the sweaty lady who badly needs her eyebrows waxed. Who is frantically rifling through a pile of t shirts fruitlessly looking for something that drapes in a disguising way over the tummy area in a youthful but not too youthful way.  Who is trying to do the type of shopping that really needs time and attention and at the same time watch a toddler who is in the process of successfully wriggling out of his buggy straps. And two little boys who cannot not fiddle with everything and anything.  And one tween who stands sentry at the door of Zara hissing;
“Mind them!”
“How much longer!”
“No, no! You promised ! You said no trying on!”

Other shoppers look at me sidelong. Luxuriating in their solo browsing, their: “hmmmnn, is this really me? Why don’t I try it on and see? Why not? I’m in no rush.”  

The parents among them mutter thankful prayers that their kids would never knock over a display model; the non-parents make a mental note to never forget to take their pill while at the same time looking for a second gold wedge in a 37.

So now I shop online.   Whilst ignoring my kids in a slightly safer setting, I browse through the online shops that deliver to Ireland and then the postman brings me stuff. It’s awesome and joyful and amazing and I love it. I love the Boden bags and the Zara boxes and the tissue paper and the return slips. I love ringing the Gap people who tell me that they will make a “goodwill gesture” by not charging me shipping a second time if I want a different size. And most of all I love that there are no tyrannical changing room mirrors involved. 

Actually, there are very few mirrors involved at all. Our full length had to migrate to the shed to make room for a cot so now I make do with standing on various steps of the stairs to see myself in sections in a wall mirror in the downstairs hall. Or, look in the bathroom one where I can see a perfectly clear image of myself from the hips up. To look at shoes I just need to bend one knee up. Then I know how they look if I am Morris dancing but am never quite sure how they look otherwise. So are my new clogs nice or awful? I’ll never know.

The only thing is that the buzz one feels after clicking confirm payment is a little bit addictive. As is the euphoric feeling when I hear the postman ringing the doorbell because the parcel he has is too big to fit in the letterbox. 

Which brings me back to the beach bag. It’s been a few years since I’ve purchased summer clothes (there really isn’t a lot of call for them during Irish Summers) so this year there was a good excuse to get the shorts, and the t shirts, and the skirt and the dress. They’ll be worn and they were in the sales. That’s all fine. The only thing is after that that the doorbell fell silent, the parcels and boxes were unpacked, folded and recycled and I felt a bit empty. (Nicely dressed, but empty).

Which is why I started lusting after “accessories.” And decided I “needed” a beach bag, or a tote or a shopper or something that was bound to be laden with buyer’s remorse. Resistance was easy at first. Banana Republic was never going to reduce that bag. Day after day I checked but no, it was always, always €64.95. And Boden! Boden with their selective sales and their empty clearance sections. That oilcloth shopper was £54! No way!

So I kept myself happy (and the postman laden down) with a few little purchases from The Book Depository. And practiced my ever growing cache of excuses. Summer was cheaper than a bottle of wine, The Trumpet of the Swan was a little more than the parking fee in Dundrum and the Mary Blair Treasury? Well, that was a treat. I would have been a bad mother if we didn’t have a copy. 

And then Boden had a sale, making the bag not much more than a treaty shop in Marks and Spencers Food Hall. Which I couldn’t indulge in because of the kids. Ah, the kids. The best excuse of them all.

Friday, June 21, 2013


I can hear my son talking to his friend on the Xbox.  

He is on the couch in his school uniform, controller in hands and one of those officious bouncer headsets on his head. The half of the conversation I can hear goes like this;

“Yeah. I finished it ages ago. Did you not? Did your Mum not make you?”
“Oh my God I just died!”
“No I said I just died.”
“No. That I died.”
“Hugo are you still there?”
“No, I said that I died on the game I’m playing.”
“That I died on the..

I sit in the kitchen clenching and unclenching my fists. Surely I couldn’t be the only person who has to restrain themselves from chewing on the edge of the kitchen table at this point? For his own safety I bark:

“Time up! Turn it off! Now!”
“I have to go. “
“Hugo? I have to go.”
“No I..”

Dear God, when his dad discovered the headset a few weeks ago I thought it was a good thing. Or at least that it made the Xbox less a bad thing, introducing a little conversation (of a sort) to the painful sight of him sitting on the couch, leaning towards the screen and prepping his hands for years of repetitive strain injury. 

When we bought it I hadn’t realised the console we chose was the one with least parent approval. 

Our eldest reached eight and we thought it was reasonable enough to have a games console in the house. I think I based my choice of the Xbox on a memory of staying in a cousin’s house and helping my kids get started on their Wii. Finding the sensor or waiting for the controller to synch up with the screen seemed random, irritating and near impossible and convinced me that I never wanted to deal with a Wii on a daily basis.

Of course once we owned the Xbox it became clear(to his great pleasure) that almost every game available was of the shoot-em-up variety. And so, the shelves beside his bed now display, alongside The Wind In the Willows, Let’s Make Great Art and Nicholas And Friends, Hellboy, Dragons Dogma and Armoured Core.

And I have grown accustomed to hearing, when I mention the Xbox in mothery circles,  that I am the only one. All their children are quite happy with the Wii. And it is great! It gets them moving! It really is exercise!

Come on? Really? Actual exercise?  The games do look like they were designed for children though. I’ll give them that. Mario and his pals are inane, but they don’t look like they would haunt your nightmares. Hellboy, on the other hand is more or less guaranteed to.

He’s been asking for more games recently, of course.
Games, when I checked some online forums that are “fine for kids. Apart from the busty but skinny prostitute who stands in the bar that the hero races through and offers him “a special.””

No, I'm not quite sure what the special consists of. (Yes, I was curious too.) I'd have to buy the game to find out and that's not going to happen any time soon.

Unless, I could do a trade and get him to give up the headset for it? Oh my goodness. Did I just think that thought? Bad, bad mother.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


My mother was a science teacher. She taught chemistry, but I think biology was her first love.  This meant I always had to wait ages after school for a lift home as it takes a long time to clean up a science laboratory and prepare for the experiments of the next day.

I sat in the passenger seat (or more often stood leaning against a tree near the car, feigning nonchalance “who, me? Oh no my mother isn’t a teacher, I’m just hanging here.”) watching the French, the German, the English and the maths teachers come out the staff room door with their bags, climb into their cars and drive home. And still no sign of Mum.

 Finally, bag rattling with pipettes and test tubes and arms full of copies to correct, she came down the steps and we hit the road. Me sulking about the wait but relieved that it was so late I didn’t have to wave at any fellow pupils, knowing that after we drove past someone would say, “Is that her mother?”

At home, the biology lessons continued. Absolutely no bodily functions were considered unmentionable in our house. Mum was consistently practical, knowledgeable and mortifying.

“It’s natural!  We all have bottoms!”

“Everyone gets PERIODS!  (Why don’t you say it a bit louder Mum? I don’t think they heard you in Malahide.”)”

 “Constipated? Have some prunes! And water!  “Paul, are those prunes still in the cupboard? Lucy’s CONSTIPATED!”

Diahorrea? Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!” Lucy’s got THE RUNS!”

I remember the very first time I realised I wasn’t entirely comfortable with her body-friendly attitude. She was on the phone to one of her sisters and outlining the details of my latest rash (I was a rashy child.)

“Poor Lucy! Her eyes are all swollen and the rash has gone right inside her bottom!”

I stopped scratching to give her an agonised look and whisper “Don’t tell!”

Enough was enough. Was nothing sacred? 

“Oh no! She’s asking me not to tell you! Poor Lucy! Isn’t she funny!”

That was probably the first time I raised my eyes to heaven and muttered something not very complimentary about Mum.

As I grew up, I learnt that not every home was like mine. Some people’s parents never mentioned bowel movements. Others never even said the word toilet. But along with their more attractive prudery, they also didn’t have her knowledge. Being cared for by someone who knew how the body worked was an education. And when I had my own kids, everything that had been cringingly shouted down the stairs in my childhood home came back to me. And it was very, very handy.  Knowing when to get the antihistamine, the ibuprofen, the fluids, the fig rolls and the Echinacea is in my blood. And I have mum to thank for it.  

And yes, the rash was inside my bottom. You hadn’t heard? Well, spread the word! It’s natural!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Festival lip

Not long ago, I decided, for the millionth time, that I would make a small but dramatic change to my appearance that would give (this time!) stunning results.  

So I made the pilgrimage into MAC and told them I wanted a dramatic lip colour for “evenings”.  Sounds good right? Like when I sit outside Parisian Cafes at sunset in clunky sandals crossing my gazelle like legs and chatting to someone in a band. Or wandering, chilled glass of white in my hand, the other tucked into my husband’s American Apparelled elbow as we inspect art in a beautiful, light filled gallery in Brooklyn. Alexa Chung glances over at us curiously. Who is that couple and where did she get that lipstick?

 I nearly believed it myself.

I was outside on Grafton Street before I admitted to myself that weekend evenings for the foreseeable future go like this. Fridays are spent, from 6pm, trying to stay awake until the kids are in bed so I can watch Sarah Beeny Selling Houses with camomile tea before crawling up the stairs at about ten. Sometimes I have been known to sleep in my clothes. What can I say? I’m tired on Fridays. Saturday “evenings” are spent in the viewing gallery of the local secondary school swimming pool watching my kids do their lessons. Despite the fact that I can see them shivering by the poolside, the heat from the pool seems to skip them and rises to us parents as we sit in the fug, sweating and a bit bored. No one wears lipstick. After this we pile into the car, I hear who laughed at who’s underpants in the changing room, who skipped the queue for the shower and get home for eight o clock, to see the end of the Big, Big Movie. Then the kids are whooshed up the stairs so my husband and I can eat Indian Takeaway and watch our Parks and Recreation boxset.  In my pj’s. 

Before pressing play I give my face a good scrub and slather it with night cream in preparation for the glamorous week ahead.  Obviously I look very attractive.

So that’s evenings.

But, hang on a minute, the MAC girl said that the colour I chose would also be perfect for a “Festival Lip.” 

She actually said this with a straight face to my forty four year old one.

 “This colour would be perfect for a festival lip.”

Monday, January 14, 2013

wiener level

My husband has gone running.

About a year ago one of my book club friends lent me Run Fat Bitch Run and even though I read it and found it pretty motivating, it could not tempt me to run. Nothing can, running hurts my knees.
So, thinking myself very clever, I read it and used the motivation to swim more regularly, gradually building up the number of lengths I did. This all lasted about three months until the tiring reality that goes along with regular vigorous exercise hit home and I slumped on the couch instead. The endorphins never really kicked in, or if they did, I must have missed them.

Also, one night when I was coming out of the pool a very drunk/drugged young woman asked me for a lift and I found myself on a dark street refusing her and then feeling sure that the minute I opening the car door to drive away she was going to dive in. So, for a few nervy minutes I hovered at the drivers side and she hovered by me. Eventually, when I started walking casually back to the pool, she shouted “I’m not going to do anything to you, you stupid cow!” and then walked onto the main road into traffic. A taxi swerved, missed her and the last I saw she was arguing with the driver.  Just another grim night in Dublin city centre and not really an excuse to stop swimming, but it was enough for me.

My husband, on the other hand, did exactly what it said in the book; he found a circuit, timed it, chose his running days, stuck to them and most importantly, kept it up and now, about a year later(deservingly, sickeningly) is still at it.

So I suppose I can understand how he might get peeved when I start questioning why he has to do the run straight from dropping the kids at school. You see it’s not the running, it’s not the timing; it’s the running pants. After about eight months of running, he treated himself to new shoes and a pair of running pants, which are like leggings.  Lots of men wear them; it’s just that when I gave him the school tour form this morning to give to my son’s teacher, along with a tenner, I couldn’t help thinking that this particular teacher is usually sitting at her desk in the morning. And unless my husband went down on his hunkers, any conversation they would have would be at wiener level.

Which is without a doubt the most immature sentence I have ever written.

His answer was brief and to the point.
“for goodness sake, we’re actually on time this morning. Come on boys! And yes, I am wearing them. They are very comfortable.”

I have said those words to him more times than I can count; most recently when I got my brogues. I purchased both the natty two-tone and beige, so stylish in the magazines, so horrendous on my foot. Matron was the only word that came to mind when I looked down. Nothing could have made my ankles look thicker.

But I still wore them. They were comfortable! But those running pants were giving me pause for thought. Could I cut a deal? I walked across the kitchen in my fleecy lined red Crocs which, I then realised, were tolerated daily. Wiggling my cosy toes I knew I could not. I suppose life’s too short not to be comfy.

For both of us.