Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Gallery - Before and After

As with so much else, I've been pretty rubbish at the Gallery recently.   But then Tara said that this week's was particularly difficult, and I've never been a girl to shy away from a challenge.

I did cheat a bit though.  Tara also said she was rather hoping that some of us might actually go out and take some new pictures this week, rather than using ones we've already got sitting in our computers, or on our dressing tables.  I though, have ignored her, and have gone for the latter option.  Even worse, these are photos of photos, but I don't have the negatives of either, and I always feel it's not quite acceptable to interrupt B while he's working "because I want to scan this picture so I can put it on my blog".

In my defence though, at least these are topical:

July 1981.  My sister and I playing Lady Diana (and bridesmaid).  No prizes for guessing who I got to be.  And yes, that is my mum's wedding dress.

11 June 2005, not quite twenty-four years later.  We weren't pretending this time. I've never been so scared.  Or so happy.

I wonder if I'll be brave (and loving) enough to get my dress out of its tissue paper next summer...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Are you a scary Mummy?

Where my children are concerned I am utterly ineffectual.  I start with "Please", then progress through wheedling and bribery to "I am going to ask you one more time", "I'm going to count to three" and "if you don't I'll..." before invariably reaching boiling point with "WILL YOU JUST DO AS YOU'RE TOLD!".

So I've often wondered what makes a scary Mummy.  We all know them.  I remember my friend H's mother.  She was a wonderful, intelligent, charming woman, and I never once heard her raise her voice, but right into my twenties I was petrified of her.  She had only to walk into a room to have me leaping to my feet volunteering to clear the dishes, take the bin out, scrub her shoes...  At the same time though, I thought she was amazing.  It's a cliché, but she was firm but fair, and H and her sister were renowned among my parents' friends as being the best behaved children in the Northern Hemisphere.

But I have no idea how she did it.

Or so I thought...

Picture the scene.  6.30 a.m.  Saturday morning. L sharing her room with her friend D.  They have been utterly hyped up, finally falling asleep after the usual series of blandishments and threats at some point after 9 the night before.  They are under strict instructions that they are not allowed out of bed until the sun comes up on L's sun and moon clock.  This is going to happen (perhaps optimistically) at 7.30.

I hear voices.  D needs a wee.  For some reason this necessitates company.

"L, L, wake up, I need a wee".

I am out of bed in micro-seconds.  Finding my dressing gown (D is at an impressionable age after all, and there are some things it's not fair to show a small boy without warning) takes a little longer.  Into the bathroom, where weeing has now become enthusiastic hand-washing:

"WHAT is going on in here?  Back into bed both of you.  I don't want to hear another word until the sun comes up"

Back into bed for me too.  I lie, twitching my ears like a hunted rabbit, for thirty-five minutes.  Not a sound or a squeak.  Perhaps I've got lucky and they've gone back to sleep.  But no.  A word. L's voice. A response:

"L, your mummy said we weren't allowed to talk".

Silence.  Total blessed silence.  For all of the remaining twenty-five minutes.

Unbelieveable.  How did I do that?  It wasn't a one-off either.  That night, and the next, after more pleading and grumpiness of the "time to go to sleep now variety" from B and both of D's parents, I take my turn. One threat of separation and they are both asleep within five minutes.

Fluke? Probably.  It hasn't worked on my girls today after all. But I'll certainly be trying it again.... And if anyone knows what the secret was, let me know.


Oh, and ps, here's the BMB blog hop. Go and have a look:

Friday, 12 November 2010

Necessity is the mother of invention.

What do you do if you have one of these?:

Not to mention three of these:

(yes, I realise they do look a bit nasty but they're the ones that came off the tree yesterday, so they got bashed around a bit by the wind).

Well, first you chop up six kilos of them and put them in your freezer.  Then you realise that you now don't have any room for anything else in your freezer, so you take some of them out and make apple puree, apple chutney, apple sauce (yes, I know it's the same as apple puree but my children don't, and it turns out they'll eat pork if you cover it in sweetened apples, which is a bonus), apple crumble, apple pie, baked apples, apples, apples, apples, apples, apples...

Does anybody want some apples?

You'll have got the gist.  We've got a lot of apples and we're rapidly running out of ideas as to what to do with them. And then I realised that the prize in English Mum's Big Autumn Bake Off is a copy of a book called Food from Plenty: Good Food Made from the Plentiful, the Seasonal and the Leftover with Over 300 Recipes, None of Them Extravagant by Diana Henry.  And if there's ever a book I need, it's that one.

So, for the first time in my life... I made up a recipe.

I give you:

Apple Fairy Cakes (I need a snazzier name, I know, any suggestions?)

And you know what, they were delicious. So delicious in fact, and I'm so proud of myself (and L, who did some very valuable stirring) that not only am I blogging about them, in a blow your own trumpet sort of a way, but I also made them again, only in a big tin this time, and served it with creme fraiche as a pudding.

So, for my own reminder, when I can't remember this time next year, how I did it, and for anyone else in the same boat, here's the secret:

You need:

3 medium sized bramley apples
lemon juice (jif is fine)
teaspoon of cinnamon
demerara sugar
2 large eggs
caster sugar
plain flour
teaspoon of baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180 centigrade. (I have no idea what that is in farenheit, sorry)

Peel, core and chop up your apples into smallish chunks (you're going to put them in the middle of a fairy cake after all), and put them in a bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice, a tablespoon or so of demerara and a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Weigh your eggs, shell on.

I know, you think I'm weird don't you? But honestly, this is how Mrs Beeton used to make a sponge cake, and if it worked for her... It's also the only way I know how to other than following a recipe, because it's how my mum told me, and presumably hers before that, and hers before that. I find something very comforting in the idea of all these women baking in the same way.

Weigh out the same amount of butter, caster sugar and flour.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one by one.  Then fold in the flour and baking powder. You can probably use self-raising instead if you like, I just didn't happen to have any.

Lay out fifteen (or so, that's how many it made for me) fairy cake cases (I've got the ordinary sized ones you can get in the supermarket - about two and a bit inches across (she says, vaguely, having absolutely no sense of spatial awareness)) and put a heaped teaspoon of mixture in each one.  Put two or three bits of apple on top of that, and then another, smaller, teaspoon of mixture on top. It'll be a bit sticky, and it probably won't spread down, but don't worry, it will in the oven.

Sprinkle some more demerara sugar on top and put them in the oven for about 12-15 minutes until they are golden brown.

If you do it in a big tin, mine is about 20 cm in diameter and it took more like 50 minutes to cook.  It was quite thin too, so next time I might do it with three eggs and increase all the other quantities as above.  It was also one of those cakes that was better the next day.

Oh, and if anyone has any other ideas as to what I can do with a million Bramley apples, do say.

ps Tescos had blackberries on special offer this week.... crumble for lunch on Sunday I think.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

You can take the girl out of the South...

We’ve been here for six months now.  Six months which have flown by, and which have seen the girls settle happily into nursery, us embark on some epic building plans (no permission yet, we wait in hope), the whole family make some new, and hopefully to be good, friends, me start a new working life as a consultant, and baby number four make its very early, very nauseating, “appearance”.

So anyway, to mark six months in Scotland, we spent a week with my parents in Essex (yes, that’s my guilty secret) and I realised something.

I realised that the arable fields, thatched cottages and gentle lack of hills feel familiar, even when I'm in a part of the country I've never visited before.  That I can go into a shop in Cambridge, or Tonbridge, or Barnes (we did our usual flit around the South East), and not feel self-conscious.  That I can open my mouth and let the words come out without wondering what assumptions are being made about me.   I just feel at home, like that is where I belong.

Which is odd.  Odd on all sorts of fronts.  I have been made to feel nothing but welcome here.  We had friends staying last week, including, as it happens, another Essex girl, and she spent one morning wandering round town and came back saying; “People here are so friendly and welcoming”.  And they are.   Everyone smiles and chats.  They stop to smile at the girls, and ask about them.  People in shops pass the time of day, and chat about the weather (not as unremittingly bad as I feared, either).  Nor have I experienced so much as a minute of the much-vaunted (in certain areas of the press) “anti-English feeling”, perhaps because the English, and the Border, are only five miles away...

It’s not even an accent thing:  B, after being brought up in Edinburgh by one Scottish and one English parent, followed by eighteen years in the South, sounds (other than when very drunk, or very nervous) pretty much exactly like me.  I’ve met just as many people who have “English” (aka Posh Scots) accents as I have those who are identifiably “Scottish”  from their speech.   Even at the girls’ nursery there’s a range of accents from Scottish to English to Irish.  So however much it might feel like it, I don’t actually stand out because of that.

I think, loath though I am to admit it, that I am, in my bones, a Southerner. I suspect, that had we moved to Manchester, or Newcastle , or Birmingham, I’d be feeling exactly the same.    And I’ve never thought that before.  Other than a year in Moscow, I’ve lived my whole life, including the four years at University, within a hundred miles of London, and I suspect, from that vantage point, that I’ve poo-pooed the idea of a North/South divide, the idea that there is a difference.   

I’ve certainly been very sceptical of the idea that I had roots in the South – I remember saying as much to my mother when she questioned our move.  I said B felt strongly he belonged in Scotland, and I just didn’t feel like that about Essex, or London, or the South East.

I'm reading Map Addict at the moment, I'm not very far in, but the author, Mike Parker, mentions that he used to have a large map of the British Isles on his wall.  When people came to visit, he would give them a pin and say: "Put it in the place where you belong".  And it stopped me in my tracks, because, at the moment, I just don't know.

So I wonder.  I feel incredibly lucky to be here. The people are lovely, the house is beyond my wildest dreams (or will be when the Council and the builders have done their stuff) and the countryside is indescribably beautiful.  I don't want to be back in the South East. I don't wish we'd bought a house in Essex instead.  But Scotland itself is not, yet, home.  I wonder how long it will take before it is...

Monday, 8 November 2010

One bump or two?

Would it make you think I didn't love my twins if I said I really, really, didn't want another pair?

It's odd because I always wanted twins.  In fact, when my sister-in-law announced, about four weeks after we told people we were expecting L, that they were having twins, I was jealous.  I hoped L would be twins.  But then she was L, and to be honest, the thought of two Ls is enough to send anyone to spend a couple of hours in a darkened room...

But then I watched the same sister-in-law, who is a fantastic mother, coping with a toddler and new-born twins.  And I thought "I really, really don't want that".

No prizes for guessing what happened.

It never occurred to me I was having twins.  Actually that's a lie.  It briefly crossed my mind when one of my friends (and admittedly this is a very good friend) spotted that I was pregnant when I was only about eight weeks. I knew I was bigger than I had been with L, but I hadn't realised I was that big.  But then you expect to be bigger second time round, don't you? And the thing is, I felt absolutely fine.  My poor sister-in-law had to invent a dramatic vomiting bug to throw everyone off the scent (for the record, it didn't), and so I thought that's what happened if you had twins.

So B and I went along for the scan, merrily expecting just the one.  The sonographer did her jelly bit, and there was a little bean, curved round like a backwards C shape, swimming in its darkened, liquid world.  Four limbs, head, spine. Lovely heartbeat. Hooray.

She wiggled the thingy (technical term) a bit.  And there it was again, from the other direction this time, a forwards C shape, still swimming, heart still beating.

B said: "That's another one".

Now, B is not a medical professional. He has no training, or indeed experience, in reading sonographs. In fact when we went for our twenty week scan with L, he said "Look, there are its eyes" and had to be gently informed that the beautiful black eyes were in fact kidneys.  Which was good, because you want two of them too, but still wrong.

So is it any wonder that when the sonographer said: "Are there twins in your family?" I thought she was just making polite conversation and launched into a full explanation of how my dad is a twin, and B's brother has twins, and oh yes, we met some other twins on the bus on the way here blah blah blah...


Two and a half years later, I wouldn't change that moment, or my magical babies, for the world.  Yes it's been hard work, but when expectant mothers of twins ask  me about it, I'm honestly not putting a spin on things when I say that the benefits immeasurably outweigh the extra difficulties.

But the thought of more twins.... well that terrifies me.

So I was pretty nervous when we presented ourselves for the scan last week.  I'm not as big as I was, that's definitely true, but I have been feeling infinitely more ill and tired than I did with either of the other two pregnancies.  Please, please, no.....


Just the one.  Breathe.  Heartbeat.  Breathe again.  My baby.

And here (I realise it's not the greatest of pictures) he/she is:

I'm looking forward to meeting you.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Remember, remember... oh, you forgot.

Remember, remember...

Remember drifting smoke, tasting of excitement. Remember toffee apples sticking your teeth together.  Remember ketchup oozing out of a hot dog onto your gloves.  Remember having one cheek blazing from the fire, and the other tingling with the cold.  Remember writing your name in a sparkler, and wishing you had a shorter one (name not sparkler).  Remember the crash as the guy falls into the heart of the flames, sending up a shower of sparks, more exciting than the coloured ones.  Remember ooh!  And aah!

Remember gunpowder, treason and plot.

Unless you live in the Scottish Borders apparently.

It's very odd.  We spent last week with my parents, and down there every second village is bedecked with posters for its bonfire party, each boasting different attractions; and vying with each other for the best, or wackiest, or most noisy (my personal favourite: the Battle-of-Britain-themed bonfire, which seems strangely inappropriate somehow).

Anyway, we have friends staying this week, and it being a Friday night, I thought it would be a nice thing to do with all our girls this evening: an hour or two of wrapping up warm, and eating too much sugar, squealing a lot, and generally exhausting them out:  followed hopefully by an extra hour in bed tomorrow.

But we can't.  Because there's nothing.  Not in our town, or the next, or the next.  In fact the only fireworks event I've heard of is a good twenty miles away and  even if we'd wanted to go that far it was last night.


I thought it was a Scottish thing.  It's notable that the one bonfire I have discovered was in England.  But then I realised Guy Fawkes tried to blow up a Scottish King (James was VI before he was I after all), so surely the Scots would be just as keen as the English to burn him in effigy.  Nonetheless, I wondered whether those north of the Border had a bit of sneaking sympathy for the incompetent chap's efforts to destroy the English parliament, but B assures me (as does everyone else I've asked) that the Scots normally go just as much of a bundle on the flames and bangs as the English do.  The image* above is from Edinburgh's 2009 celebrations, so they've clearly remembered....

So why not here? Or maybe it's: why not this year?  And, more importantly, how am I going to get my extra hour in bed now?

*Image from  Looks fab doesn't it?  Maybe that's one for next year....