Sunday, 25 November 2012

Down in the Country

Here's looking at Moo
Ah the countryside.  Peace and quiet, pipe and slippers, an absence of street lights and a sky full of stars.  Idyllic and boring as hell by turns.  Or is it?

I grew up in Basingstoke; a town that gets a very bad rap but actually has some nice countryside on its doorstep.  Walks down the farm were commonplace, as was being told off by the farm manager for touching the electric fence 'for a laugh'.

From there to Reading for a ten year feast of pubs, clubs, restaurants, and shopping.  Happy, happy, days but there came the point when the paper-thin walls of our Victorian terrace (we knew our neighbours far better than we wanted to, or perhaps they intended us to - rather like my friend in 'The Sound of...') and spending an hour stuck in traffic to travel eight miles lost its shine so we departed to a village on the outskirts of Newbury.

And it does tick all of the boxes you would expect.  Horses on the high street, tractors on the school run, sheep and cows coming up to the garden fence and visitors from nearby towns wandering the streets searching in vain for a mobile signal.  If you don't have a car, you are at the mercy of just six buses a day and if you are sick - best make it between the hours of 9 and 12 if you want to be seen at the local surgery.  So far, so predictable, except that lots of far from predictable things have happened in the eight years that we've been here....

The Weather.  Not to be messed with.
  • The bike ride where we encountered a full-blown rave happening in an underpass. 
  • The pig running purposefully up the road en route to who knows where but certainly escaping being turned into chops.
  • The 'Missing Llama' poster that appeared in our shop window.
  • The naked rambler who wasn't quick enough with his 'modesty screen' to escape a friend's husband from seeing his buttocks winking in the sun. 
  • The house that keeps a flock of ostriches in its garden.
  • School raffle prizes including donations from a certain Mr Walcott. 
  • The weather being something of real interest rather than something that just happens outside.  Snow closes the village off.  Torrential rain brings a normally dry river back to life and sends shoals of 'Monster' energy drink cans through the village (other heart palpitation inducing beverages are available....).  It also threw our trampoline across the garden with the gusto of a professional bowler going for a 'strike'.
  • Discovering the best way to break into your house after locking yourself out is with the help of a heavily pregnant woman and a 12-foot ladder.
  • Bumping into people we last saw 10 years ago at the Reading Festival at a Beaver-Scout meeting.
  • Being told that a pub in a nearby village was to be avoided due to the feistyness of the local jockeys and stable-hands.  Oh how I wished to see silks flying but we heeded the warning and relied on our imagination to fill in the blanks.

So eight years in, we're looking forward to at least eight years more and for a move that we thought was all about space, and peace and quiet, it has instead been one of discovery, amusement, and surprises.  Ravers, llamas, and naked ramblers - not so boring after all :)


Soundtrack: In the Country - Cliff Richard & The Shadows

Saturday, 24 November 2012

What will I be?

(c) Brute Labs
On the way to a soft-play venue today (terrible weather = trip to a building made of tin filled with more scramble nets and obstacles than the finale of the Krypton Factor) the children were having a discussion with their cousins about what boys and girls are able to do.  After 5 minutes on the merits, strengths, and abilities of girls and boys (including "girls can do sport if they are as strong as a boy" and "I'm never getting married!"), it was agreed that actually they can do the same things be it football, work, raising children, or the type of vehicle they fly/sail/drive.  With the children's ages ranging between four and seven-years-old, I was impressed that they had raised a topic, debated it openly (and forcefully at times) then come to an agreement.  

Given it was a discussion between two girls and two boys, I was especially delighted that they came to the conclusion that they did.  And then I remembered that children have an in-built sense of justice and fairness.  Whether it's a board game, handing out sweets, portion-size at dinner time, or discussing who could be an astronaut; they each want to be treated the same and see it is only fair that others are too.  What open-minded, smart, fantastic little people they are - I hope they carry this into their adult lives.

I am hopeful for this generation; they are the children for whom no stigma is attached to families where both parents pursue fulfilling careers, where mum has the more demanding / important job, or where dad stays at home to support mum's career.  Whatever our opinions about family arrangements and career decisions that are different to our own, these children see them as normal.  And in this I see that my son knows he can be an engineer, a teacher, a builder, a developer or a stay-at-home dad.  And I see that my daughter knows she can be an engineer, a teacher, a builder, a developer or a stay-at-home mum.  They can be anything, equally.  Except as it stands today, some 'grown ups' have decided that girls cannot grow up to be a Bishop in the Church of England.  I think they could learn a thing or two from these kids.   


Soundtrack: Que Sera Sera - Doris Day

Friday, 16 November 2012

How 'Mo' Can You Go?

There is a 'Mo' growing in my house.  Not quite 'salt and pepper', but definitely more than a hint of grey going on within the black; it is a blatant and bristly intruder.  The children complain of its itchiness when they kiss Daddy goodnight and I try not to stare in incredulity at the changed face of my husband, but we know that it is there for a good cause and so we wait patiently for December to arrive when normal service will be resumed and kisses will be smooth once again, all the while being grateful that the 'Mo' is there to support, rather than to remember.

I love the creativity and participation that Movember encourages, the way it tackles a serious issue in an positive way and the variety of spin-offs that it has created, from MoRunning (witness Mr French in the middle with his friends Dave & Paul at the Battersea Park MoRun.  So 'Mo', that they are doing a MoBot.  At a MoRun.  With big Mo's.  If you have a picture that ticks more 'Mo' boxes, please send it over)

to the individual efforts of people like my friend Gary who will recreate a moustachioed pose of your choosing, subject to a donation to his page.  If you like his '118 118 Man' , you can make a request by donating here:
I know that this topic, and this month, is much documented and so I didn't think I would have anything different or interesting to add until I came across a company that is run by a friend of a friend.  Just setting up in the business of selling condoms, one of their recent Facebook posts carried a picture that manages to combine sexual health and Movember in a way that some people thought was a bit close to the edge but I found very salutary and funny.  After giving it some thought I have decided not to publish the picture because I'd like to give you the choice as to whether you look at it or not, but I think you will be able to imagine it when I tell you that the gentleman's rather full and lustrous 'Mo' does not belong to him, rather it is the pubic hair of a woman.  It is well-shot, humourous rather than sexual, and supportive of women in that I think it is possibly the first instance I've seen where a company is using an image of a woman being anthing other than devoid of hair positively.  If you would like to take a look - you'll find it at 
Whether you check out (or agree with) the picture or not, I hope that you will join me in celebrating Movember.  Whether you grow a Mo, run for miles, donate dollars or simply acknowledge the efforts of your friends' and neighbours' facial hair experimentation in the name of cancer awareness and prevention - I salute you!


Soundtrack: Born to Hand Jive by Sha Na Na (Grease Soundtrack)

Monday, 12 November 2012

With the Ill Behaviour

So we returned from our half-term break refreshed, revitalised and having almost achieved a tech-free holiday (if you don't count the tv....) but wondering about something.  Why is it that our darling angels pick being on holiday with other people as the best time to try out their worst behaviour?  In the past few shared holidays that we've had there have been inordinate amounts of tantrums, shouting and point blank refusals to do as they're told.  Nothing more serious than that but a very tiring state of affairs and just a little bit embarrassing. 

There are plenty of explanations: they are excited, they are with their friends, they are free from the stricture of routines imposed by school and pre-school and the set way that we do things at home.  It always surprises us when we get back how much calmer they seem but if you factor in the point that mum and dad are not nearly as interesting as their friends and their normal routine does not involve going to the beach every day and getting to stay up late then it does make sense.  Equipped with such knowledge we now know to brace ourselves and try to relax a bit so they don't feel that for the entire holiday their surnames have been changed to "No" or "Stop it!".

Then the other day a friend was telling me that during the wee small hours of a particularly lively dinner party she was holding, her 19-year-old daughter got out of bed and stood at the top of the stairs to tell her off for making too much noise.  Tables turned, here was the parent being the naughty one, and classically she responded with a "no I will not!".  It was payback time. 

It made me think about what happens when I get together with my friends.  Some of this is documented (see Doing it for the Kids or The Kids are Alright) but I will also take this opportunity, in the spirit of reminding myself that it isn't just the children who muck around, to confess to participating in the following:

  • A re-enaction of a 'Spaghetti Western' using tinned spaghetti as our weapon of choice (out of the tin of course).
  • Making phone calls on behalf of the fictitious 'Friendly Society' which involved calling people to wish them Happy New Year.  Whilst our calls were unexpected, we did get a lot of bewildered 'Thank You's'.
  • Having a fruit and veg fight in a classroom.
  • Calling out to strangers from a moving car asking them in an anguished voice "When are you coming home?"
  • Stuffing a car full of leaves, including the glove compartment.
  • Whining at a DJ for switching the music off because we just want to dance, man! 
I have also witness people eating the entire contents of sugar bowls, 30 olives in one go, massively over-spiced curries (sometimes by choice, other times spiked) and pots of mustard for fun.  It's one thing to muck about but I draw the line at inflicting pain on my intestines - I'll leave that to the cast iron stomachs of my male friends.

All of this is silly, childish behaviour fuelled by being with friends and often by one too many shandies.  Replace the shandies with industrial amounts of ice cream and orange juice and you have the perfect small person's storm. 

So there it is, it's not just the children.  The desire to muck about is in all of us, it's just that for the most part our children are spared the embarrassment of our misbehaviour.  Next holiday I'll cut them a bit more slack. 


Soundtrack: Renegade Master - Wildchild (Fatboy Slim Remix)

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Hi, My Name Is..

What's in a name?  Your parents pick one for you and you either love it, loathe it, change it, or your mates decide that adding a 'y' on the end of your surname or calling you something entirely different would work better.  The latter point seems particularly prevelant among men; when I met my husband's friends I had to learn their actual names and their nicknames.  Some followed the classic 'y' model like 'Broomy' and 'Studdy' whilst others stemmed from in-jokes and shenanigans long before I knew them - like 'Queenie' and 'Shed'.  Never happened with my girl friends, our 'proper' names always won out.
So it was decided that I would be Toni, and whilst there have been a couple of attempts at variations from friends and the occassional shortening to 'Tone' my name has remained largely unchanged and problem-free.

  • Except that it is impossible for me to buy plane tickets or fill out a form without it being questioned.

  • Except that when I had short hair as a child, people thought that I was a boy.  

  • Except that sometimes, when my mother and father-in-law spoke to people about their son and me without explaining that I was a woman, some of them thought I was a man. 

  • Except that sometimes in business if I email someone prior to meeting them, they expect to meet a man (do you detect a pattern here?). 

Were it to happen after a meeting, I would be distressed but as that is not the case, the fact that my name creates confusion is something that I quite enjoy and so I thank my parents for giving me a memorable name.

So we skip through life with our first names then some of us become a 'Mrs' and change our surnames.  Big day, big admin task, then big thrill of being addressed as 'Mrs Kent' for the first time.  So rarely do we use our 'formal' names now I feel like I'm in Downton Abbey if I have to say it or reply to it.  It feels particularly strange to be called it by our daughter's classmates - like most of us I don't feel too much older than 25 (even if I look am much closer to 40) so it feels odd to be given such a respectable sounding title.

No 'muh-meee' on here
And so to those children.  Ah lovely little babies that you are, we await your first word with trepidation, punch the air when you babble 'mama' and are overwhelmed when you say 'mummy' properly.  Then you realise that saying 'mummy' gets you attention, and the urgency and pitch with which it is delivered can be extremely effective in causing your parent to appear at a moments notice.  Uh-oh.  Mummy becomes Muh-meeee.  Or Muuuuuuuuuuuummmmyyyyyyyyyy.  Or MummyMummyMummyMummy!  There are days when I think that I must be called it close to 50 times...oh the agony.  Sometimes it is cute, sometimes just about bearable, often absolutely maddening.  There is a special kind of restraint involved to swallow the primordial scream brewing in your chest when you realise that the sound of you shutting the toilet door will prompt a small voice to call your name in a way that suggests something needs your immediate attention.  Even an attempt to discreetly open a magazine at the kitchen table when you think your child is playing in another room gets picked up by their radar - how do they do it?!

I love my children and being a mum has enriched my life but oh how I cherish those moments when I am just plain old Toni.  Hang on a minute - I think I can hear someone calling from, I'm ok.  This time it's Daaaaaaaadeeeeeeeee :)


Soundtrack: My Name Is - Eminem