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Hello, Old Friends

April 7, 2010

This week, not one but two of my friends harrumphed their displeasure at my lack of posts recently. I say recently, but what I actually mean is, over the last few months. “Mate,” one of them wrote via Facebook, “you haven’t posted anything since before Christmas. Sort it out.” The other eyed me crossly over a skinny latte and claimed that I had ruined her morning routine. “Seriously,” she said, raising one eyebrow, “I used to read it every day before getting out of bed. Now what am I meant to do?” Finding it hard to believe that one teeny tiny little blog, probably unknown and definitely neglected, can even have any readers, I logged on today to discover that there are actually sixteen of you logging on every day. Either that or someone really REALLY wants to read a new post, and logs in on an average of once an hour….

I suppose a small update is in order. I have been House-moving-Snow-battling-Retail-working-Crochet-learning-Project-making-Toddler-taming-Coffee-drinking-Vogue-reading and Article-writing. To say life has been full is an understatement, but now I am going to take at least one night a week and dedicate it to writing my two blogs and any articles I have due – with any luck I might end up with more than sixteen readers. Or at least that one person can stop hitting the refresh button to check for new reading material.

The Boy is now no longer a baby. He walks, he talks (well, sort of… “Mum Mum Nan Nan Dada gollygollygolly babababa dodo”), he is an actual proper little person. He likes vegetables and hates chips (in case you are wondering, there isn’t even a hint of smugness in my typing – I know to simply count my blessings for as long as they last. I suspect it won’t be long before he refuses any food that isn’t white or hasn’t been dipped in custard, and I am left to call Supernanny), and seems to be a wonderfully sociable little boy. We have finally made it to toddler group (that’s another post entirely…) and started to explore parks and spend time just strolling around. I’m eager for the start of Spring proper, balmy breezes and the scent of freshly cut grass, and the long sunny days stretching out before us.

Diet

December 9, 2009

See, I knew, I knew I would be utterly useless at keeping this blog. It’s become akin to that friend that you used to see every day for a coffee before they moved away to Northumberland to become a sheep farmer or something, and now despite many well meaning plans to visit, you end up simply thinking of them wistfully and then pushing them to the back of your mind. Even now I can’t give it my full attention, as while typing I am simultaneously trying to find the perfect faux fur coat online and thinking of ten ways not to become a total Bridezilla.

Yes people, the wedding is upon us. I think, the last time I wrote, it had been put back until May 2011. But, since we’re moving back into our own place in January (I try not to talk about this too much, I really just cannot bare the thought of packing yet again), we decided to move back to the original date of May 15th. In other words, five months. FIVE MONTHS. I must be mental.

And if I’m not, I soon will be. It seems that so far, nothing has gone smoothly. My dress arrived from eBay (a £200 bargain, we’re on a strict budget) and despite being utterly perfect, and exactly what I wanted, it didn’t fit. I could get into it, and I could even get the zip done up – halfway. The Mother and I ended up wrestling with it one evening, thinking of various ways to coax the zip up to it’s fully closed position.

“Justzipitupquickanddon’tthinkaboutit,” I say, in a high squeaky voice, every single ounce of breath squeezed out of me, “comeon!” I am red faced, sweaty, and EXTREMELY tense. If this dress doesn’t fit, then that’s it. There will be no wedding. The only other one I’ve seen that fits the bill is by Vera Wang and costs more than the deposit on our new flat.
The Mother tugs at the zip and puffs, “it’s really not going to go, I don’t think – ”
I cut her off, “just bloody well force it,” I honk, “I don’t think you understand the seriousness of this. Unless you get that zip done up, there won’t even BE a wedding.”
She jiggles, coerces and persuades the zip, but it’s definitely not budging. And as I look down, my leftover baby-belly is making itself far too apparent. I poke it, and think of it like an uninvited guest, growling at it slightly.

The Mother looks at me out of the corner of her eye. “There is a solution,” she says, “where you would almost certainly fit into it, without the hassle of getting it adjusted.”
“What?” I bark, “lipsuction? Surgery?”
“No,” she replies, “just give up chocolate. How much do you eat? I buy you two bars a week, and I know you have some at work on the odd occasion. How much?”
Shiftily, I look at the wall, pretending to mentally work it out. “Not much, just, you know….” I scuff the ground with my bare toe and clear my throat, “a couple of bars a day.”
She looks at me in amazement, and then shakes her head. “Well,” she says, “there you go.”

And so, I sit here writing, not with my usual Dairy Milk, Wispa or Maltesers for company, but an apple. The sweet part of my lunch consists of more fruit, and as for deserts after dinner, the cakes and gateauxs have all but disappeared. I did have a custard tart the other day, but frankly since it was roughly the size of my little finger, I don’t think it counted. And I can safely say that I now know why skinny people never look happy – yes, they might have an enviable figure but they’re permanently starving…. a life without chocolate is like a life without air. Practically impossible to live.
My manager at work keeps shouting, “that better not be chocolate you’ve got there! And remember, nothing tastes as good as skinny feels!” I look at her and reply, “actually, it does. Chocolate does, chips do, cakes are definitely up there…”

Plan of Action

November 6, 2009

There is a good news / bad news situation to report. The good news is that we’ve found a place to move into in January. The bad news is, it’s a flat. The good news is, it’s absolutely gorgeous, pretty big, has a small balcony where I can grow a small amount of veg in pots, has a lovely kitchen, has all white goods for sale (you know time is marching on when you get excited over the thought of having a dishwasher…), has massive windows, three whopping storage cupboards and is on the bus route to my work. The bad news is, it’s a FLAT. With two bedrooms. Which means when Baby Number 2 comes along (no, I am NOT pregnant, just forward thinking), we are going to have to move YET AGAIN, which was pretty much what we wanted to avoid. BUT it is really lovely, and will certainly suit us as a family of three.

There are so many things to organise – Christmas, moving dates, packing, Letting Agents forms, seeing friends, finding a new sofa / bed / bookshelves / dresser…. and on top of that I’ve got two websites to write for, the Moneymaker to crack open (how am I going to earn my millions if I never so much as open the Word document?) and a wedding to start organising. So here is my ‘to do’ list, compared underneath with the ‘done’ list.

TO DO:

1. Write four articles for female lifestyle website.
2. Write two articles for new satire website.
3. Fill out reference form for Letting Agent.
4. Write thousand words on Moneymaker.
5. Make arrangements to see everyone I haven’t seen in last week / month.
6. Finish (yes, FINISH – I refuse to be packed into shops like sardines in a can desperately looking for presents this year) Christmas shopping.
7. Write Christmas card list.
8. Write Christmas cards.
9. Organise moving date / van.
10. Find and purchase new sofas.
11. Find and purchase new bed.
12. Find cardboard boxes to pack stuff in.
13. Find out at least what order things for a wedding have to be booked in and look sensibly at companies and suppliers.

DONE:

1. Bought a new tea towel from Whittard.
2. Read Country Homes and Interiors magazine.
3. Daydreamed about living in the country and working from home as an author.
4. Eaten jumbo pack of M&M’s.
5. Watched Neighbours and shouted at the television (I hate that Lynn Scully…)
6. Read favourite blogs on the internet.
7. Spent hours on Rightmove, looking at what £1800 a month rent gets you. No idea why.

Oh dear.

Baby Steps

November 6, 2009

I knew it. I knew I would be completely and utterly useless at keeping up with this blog. When I started out, I was so full of promise, which just turned out to be hot air on my part – for a while I blogged every day, about every single thing. Now you’re all lucky if you get one post a month, dear readers. Frankly, I’m surprised so many of you (thanks to my stats page!) are even still checking to see if there’s anything new here – but I do want to say thanks for your dedication. And while I’m not making any promises, I’m really going to try harder with more frequent posts. Honest. Ahem.

During the last couple of weeks, the Boy has become an expert ‘cruiser’, wandering around the lounge and bedroom, aided only by the support of one hand and a sofa / bed / table, letting go occasionally to take one or two wobbly steps by himself. When he first did it, I almost wept. He’s since graduated to three steps on his own, almost making it across the room, and every time he leaves the safety of a solid object, my heart leaps a little, my stomach turns over, and I find myself holding my breath a bit. On Wednesday, he held one hand and we walked in circles round the lounge floor, before he decided he wanted to do a little side-to-side dancing.

“Da, da, da, da, da,” I sing joyously, looking down into his beautiful face. I am consumed with love for him. He opens his mouth, and says delicately, “da, da,” and my heart explodes with joy, into a thousand little heart shaped pieces. He looks at me, and I say, “love you.” He smiles and looks back towards his feet, to observe what these peculiar creatures are doing, and I kiss the top of his head. He’s like an addiction, I breathe him in and when I’m parted from him, I long to see his little round face, kiss his plump cheeks and hear his cackling laughter. Before him, there was nothing, and after him there has been everything.

The Big One

October 24, 2009

I’ve been on holiday from work now since last Friday (although since I only work three days a week, some might say that I’m permanently on holiday. Guffaw, guffaw. Some might also say that a mother’s work is never done, and sitting at a desk all day answering a few phone calls and comparing X-Box games with your work chums is an absolute doddle compared to looking after a small child all day, starting at 4.30am when they first start hollering. Ahem.), timed specifically to coincide with the Boy’s First Birthday and the few days that followed it. I had ideas of walks in the country, with the Other Half carrying the Boy in his brand new back carrier, shopping, markets and time spent with the Mother. In reality, we were all (including the Boy) ill, the back carrier was never even purchased, let alone used, and the only market we went to was the supermarket. Despite all this, his birthday was a resounding success.

Sunday night saw the Mother wrapping presents, while I frantically iced shop-bought cakes (there was a brownie disaster that I still can’t bring myself to talk about…) and blew up balloons with the aid of only a 99p balloon pump from Asda. We collapsed in front of X-Factor and I surveyed the room, wondering if I had made the right choice by deciding against hiring a hall and having a full on party. Given how exhausted I felt, I concluded that I had, and went to bed gleefully anticipating the look on the Boy’s face when he saw his pile of presents the next morning.

I’m not sure what I was expecting regarding the opening of the presents, and while the Boy dutifully pulled apart his first BB (before breakfast) present (clearly because he couldn’t wait until after breakfast. Absolutely nothing to do with my impatience….), he didn’t seem quite so interested in the others, instead scooting off across the carpet at a lightning speed towards the usually-blocked-off stereo and DVD player.

“Look baby!” I cry enthusiastically, “presents!”
The Boy turns and looks at me, laughs, then crawls away. I feel my heart sink a little bit, but decide to persist. Fifteen minutes later the presents remain wrapped and I’ve followed him round the room while he picks at fluff on the carpet, attempts to fiddle with the neatly-stacked-but-overflowing bookshelves and lastly tries to escape out of the door. To the hallway…and beyond, I think grimly. I look at the Parents and the Other Half, and although they still have smiles plastered on their faces, they seem to be looking a little bit….well… stiff.
The Mother clears her throat and says gently, “perhaps you should unwrap them for him?” I sigh, and slowly start to tear at the corner of his Brand New First Bicycle, courtesy of the Parents, and all of a sudden, he zooms across the room to join in. I abandon all sense of rubbish-duty, and snap away with the camera, capturing his very first birthday moments.
The Boy’s presents include a Smart Trike, an activity-tent thing (which requires three of us and twenty minutes to assemble), a Fisher Price telephone (the same one that has been around for years and graced my very own toybox in my youth), a new car-seat for Big Boys, a play tunnel, a pop-up animal thing courtesy of the Godparents (aka The Best Friend and her husband), a pull along dog, several books, a musical DJ toy (with working microphone, we were impressed to discover), a pack of Mega Bloks…. I could go on forever. In short, he is very spoiled. Mostly by me. Ahem.

The guests (the Best Friend and the Other Half’s parents) arrive, we all eat my iced cakes, watch the Boy roll about amongst his new toys and then sing happy birthday to him around his Peppa Pig birthday cake. He plays for a bit more, then starts to grumble for his lunch and a nap, so dutifully everyone goes home, and I’m left with a pile of paper plates, screwed up wrapping paper and a very tired Boy.

Although I couldn’t have asked for a better day, I did find myself feeling rather melancholy in the afternoon, and reliving the same time last year. I can still remember the weight of him as the midwife placed him in my arms, and that indescribable feeling you get when you see your baby’s face for the very first time. The impression that after being with this little person for the last nine months (and eleven days!), that you already know each other so well, yet still have so much to discover. The simply mind-blowing way that one minute you are just you, and the next minute you are you-plus-a-small-one – and life will never be the same again.

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Grand Designs

October 4, 2009

Yesterday, we had the first of several house viewings (to rent, not buy – when I looked at a mortgage calculator they offered us…. £80,000. That would just about get us a cardboard box in the roughest part of our town…), which did not go quite as planned. Firstly, the Other Half left the piece of paper with the address on it at home, so after driving round for twenty minutes (“you are SUCH an idiot, why didn’t you remember it?” “I don’t know, I-” “You are SUCH an idiot” etc) we went back to retrieve it, meaning that when we got back the agent was leaning against his car, looking at his watch and tapping his foot. He did not smile. After struggling ourselves and the Boy out of the car, we stagger over and make our apologies, then head inside.

“As you can see,” the agent says, sounding a little bored, “the front door leads straight into the lounge, with the stairs in front of you.” He gestures for us to wander about, and we obey diligently. To say it’s small is an understatement. I think of our sofa, our bookshelves, the dining table, the TV (humungous, ironic really considering we have no home), and all of the Boys toys, and think, no. Absolutely not. He then goes on to tell us that there was a leak just before the new person was due to move in, and so she took another house. A leak? Alarm bells sound in my head. Is this likely to happen again? The agent tries to distract us by pointing out the new carpets and curtains. Nice try mate, I think.

We move through to the kitchen, where he tells us that it’s a good size (he’s right, it’s pretty big) and indicates the under-stair storage. Suddenly the lounge ceases to be a problem. “We could get our dining table out here,” I gesture to the Other Half, “and I’d have somewhere to keep my hoover!” I turn to the agent, “our last flat had absolutely no storage at all, it was a complete nightmare.” Then, spotting a fridge-freezer in the corner I say excitedly, “does that come with it?” It does. As does the washing machine and oven. My brain starts ticking over, and I try to smile at the Other Half. He refuses to make eye contact (last time I got over-excited by our flat, we took it, only to be inundated with problems afterwards) and instead asks what bracket the council tax is. The agent doesn’t know but says that it, “shouldn’t be more than £120 a month”. I love someone who knows their stuff.

The kitchen leads into the garden which has a washing line (joy!) and a shed. When he tells me that I could do what I want with the garden, including ripping out the neglected trees and making a vegetable patch, I practically get my wallet out to give him a cheque. But the Other Half talks over me, and starts asking about home insurance. The answer we get is somewhat baffling, and we’re none the wiser as to whether they fix the repairs or we do – home insurance seems to be an added extra not organised by the company. Hmmm.

We walk back through the lounge to the stairs, and I suddenly remember the farce we had with our previous flat, the TV aerial socket and the phone line. “So the aerial and the phone connections work then, do they?” I say, “you’re absolutely sure?” “Well, the last tenant had a TV, and I doubt she had Sky, so…..” he tails off, and since we all seem to be just standing around looking at each other, I assume that this is his final answer. Something is starting to niggle at me, and although the kitchen and garden are wonderful, I’m not convinced. Glancing over at the Other Half, I can tell from the look on his face that he is thinking exactly the same thing.

Upstairs, the bedrooms are…. not big. I’m overjoyed to have an airing cupboard (situated in what would be our bedroom), but could I use that as permanent clothes storage? Somehow I doubt it, and looking around I’m not entirely sure where our bed would go, let alone my two wardrobes. The bathroom, although equipped with a shower and bath (Other Half and I have differing opinions on ablutions) has no window, which I really wanted. Looking out of one of the bedroom windows, the view is…. bleak. It’s not a scruffy estate, in fact it’s quite tidy, but it just feels… sad. The whole house feels sad and neglected. When the Boy starts to cry for no apparent reason, I can’t help but think he’s got the measure of the place. We ask about the administration and deposit fees, and he tells us a figure so large that I have to grip the windowsill to prevent myself from fainting. Upon leaving we ask him what checks they do, whether they do employment and references. He says no, and states that if we paid the holding fee on Monday, we could move in on Wednesday. Which begs the question of why I would be paying them money to check our backgrounds if they actually don’t… check our backgrounds. Hmmm.

We thank him, and head back to the car, climb in and sit for a bit. “It was nice,” I begin, “and I doubt we’d get anywhere better.” I think about the bathroom window and small bedrooms, and deciding I’m being too picky, suggest we go for it. The Other Half looks at me like I’m mental, and says, “did you see the cracks in the window frames? And didn’t you notice it wasn’t double glazed? The heating bill would be monumental!” I huff and puff for a bit, and then decide he’s probably right, and we decide to go for a drive to see the outside of the next two viewings booked for Monday. We pull up outside the first one, and I leap out of the car to peer through the front window – it looks… dark. I can’t see much, although the lounge looks a little bigger. I’m unimpressed when I squint harder and see in the distance that the boiler on the kitchen wall seems to be the main feature. There is also some sort of huge bush in the front garden which I can imagine getting tangled in when trying to get the shopping, the buggy and the Boy all through the door at the same time. I get back in the car and say, “mmmm. Not bad. Do you think we could get round the back to see anything?” The Other Half peers around, and drives round the corner, where I crane my neck to see if any of the back garden is in view. It isn’t, so he drives round the other side. Result, I think, as we pull up right next to the fence.

I climb out and squat down, trying to look through a knot-hole. All I see is paving slabs. I stand up, and half heartedly jump a bit, to try and see over the top, but it’s too high. The Other Half joins me. “Do you want a leg up?” he offers, and lifts me up by the knees so I can grip onto the top of the fence and have a good look. I suddenly have images of a neighbour spotting us, and calling the police – this must be what a burglar feels like (although they’re more concerned with the contents of the house rather than the layout, I expect.) It turns out to be hardly worth the effort – the garden is small and made up of mostly uneven paving slabs, enclosed by a fence at the back which is low enough for any nutter to climb over. I shudder, and say, “that garden is out of the question. We’d need to lay some turf and add some fence panels at the back.” The Other Half, puffing slightly, says, “can I let you down now?”

The last place looks more promising, but is a long walk from the bus stop (on the plus side this could mean the final exit of my baby gut). The Other Half takes the lead this time, walking casually up to the front window and then equally casually walking into a spiders web. He dances around on the front lawn for a while, flapping his arms while I laugh hysterically and say, “it’s good that you’re being subtle – we wouldn’t want the neighbours to see us!” He huffs, and gestures for me to take a look. I hand him the Boy and shading my eyes, peer through the window – I’m ecstatic to see a fridge-freezer, empty and waiting. The whole kitchen looks small, but nice, and the whole house has a nicer feel. But the garden is really what counts, I think, and drag the Other Half round the back. The gardens back on to some woods, but the Other Half, undaunted, nimbly climbs a tree and peers over the fence, and across the other two gardens to the house in question. “Massive,” he declares, while I stare open mouthed at his tree climbing skills. This from the man who is supposedly scared of heights.

We wander back through to the car, and see two families with children riding bikes around the cul-de-sac, and for the first time today I find myself thinking, ‘I could really see us here.’

House Hunting

September 29, 2009

We’ve recently accepted the fact that, due to my trial period at work not finishing until November, we won’t be in our own place until January. This is fine, in theory, as it means we have extra time to cram as much saving as possible in, and it also means I have time to sit and trawl through rightmove.co.uk, daydreaming about our house-to-be.

Ever since I discovered I was pregnant, a long-running but permanently stifled longing seemed to bubble to the surface – the unignorable desire to live in the country. I have this fervent urge to live in a roomy but cosy house, with four children, a dog, a cat and a large garden. I sit and daydream of being surrounded by trees and fields, growing things successfully in the garden, earning a living as a writer and generally being relaxed, while sporting wellies and the latest from the Toast catalogue. I’ve always thought we’d end up on Location, Location or even better, Grand Designs, renovating an old wreck in the country and building a hi-tech chicken coop that does everything except lay the eggs for you. Now, I know that unless the Moneymaker actually gets finished and published (unlikely, particularly as I haven’t so much as opened the file in about six months… oh dear), we win the lottery (chances: slim to none), or I stumble across a job that pays a hell of a lot more than my current one (even more unlikely), we’ve got two chances of my rural dream coming to fruition – bob hope and no hope. Still, that doesn’t stop me reading Country Homes and Interiors magazine and spending the odd few minutes (read: hours) perusing the internet, pondering over what we can afford.

After our last place, the absolutely awful flat above a barbers (which seemed to good to be true, and indeed was – the noise from the pub across the road, the Chavvy McChavs wandering through the street, beered up and looking for a scrap, the teenagers loitering outside the co-op swearing and smoking, and the smell of curry from the takeaway a few doors down did not add up to the wonderful place I’d hoped to raise the Boy), I’m determined to find something as close to perfect as we can afford. Perusing rightmove.co.uk is all well and good, but as I click through the available properties, my idea of our new home seems to drift further and further away. I enter our requirements into the search boxes and am fairly unimpressed the results that pop up. Now, I’m not expecting some sort of four-bed-two-reception-open-fire-acre-of-land dream, but to scroll through and lay my eyes on a photograph of the very flat that we moved out of this time last year is a bit much. I grit my teeth and do a bit of swearing, and then go back to the search options and change the amount of monthly rent.

This time, the results are more favourable. The flats are on the ground floor rather than over shops and takeaways, and there’s even a few two-bed houses in there. Obviously, I really want a garden for Benjamin (and to grow our veg in, to satisfy my urge to be a domestic goddess and commune with nature…. or something…), and since there seems to be a lack of those, I search for properties at the very top end of our budget. And then, inspired by the fact that you can always cut costs in other areas, a bit over our budget. Nice, nice, I think, as a three bedroom semi pops up, and then, since buying supermarket own brands would make us a teeny bit richer, I enter a figure quite a lot over our budget. As a four bed detached house on an acre of land with its own large shed and two garages (two? We’ve only got one clapped-out car…) appears on the screen, I imagine my eyes to be bulging in the manner of one of those cartoon characters that has just seen its dinner, but needs to catch it first.

“Look, look,” I call to the Other Half, and the Boy even scoots over for a look. The Other Half peers at the screen and says, “yes very nice. I like the-” and then he stops. I glance sideways at his face, and realise that he’s clocked the rental price per calendar month. He looks at me, mouth agape, and then looks back at the screen.
“Are you mental?” he asks, “how on earth would we afford that?”
I look at the computer screen, completely devoid of all sense of reality, and say, “well if we eat supermarket brands, we’ll save loads and-” He cuts me off, crying, “supermarket brands? We’d have to only eat them once a week to be able to afford that!”
“You’re so annoying,” I retort, “you’ve got no vision.” I huff and puff and wander into the kitchen to make some tea.
“I do have a vision!” he exclaims, “my vision is of us sitting on boxes, with no electricity or heating because we couldn’t pay the bill, starving because we couldn’t afford to eat, in a house that costs us a thousand pounds a month. That’s my vision!” He tuts, and snaps the laptop shut, then wanders into the lounge.
I think for a minute, then call to him, “does this mean we wouldn’t be able to afford to buy somewhere to renovate either…..?”