Mary, about those fishcakes…..

Now Mary, before I start…..let me just say that I do really like you. Everyone does, don’t they? I like your floral jackets, your pink nails, the way you stand (or stood, I suppose I should say) with your hands in your back pockets during Bake Off; the cheeky glint in your eye when you talk about enjoying a glass of wine in the evenings.

I love that you admit that life is too short to make your own puff-pastry.

I put up with the fact that the producers of your latest series, Mary Berry Everyday, milked the vintage/floral/cutesy/twee clichés for all they were worth; because….well because I like watching you. I like your sensible advice, and your food always looks delicious.

But Mary, it was the fishcakes that made me switch off when I was catching up on Episode 4 last week. Don’t get me wrong, Mary – they looked amazing. They really did. They looked perfect and crispy and had that amazing sauce oozing out of the middle. Yum.

And you tucked into them, knowing how amazing they were going to be and said something like ‘mmmmm, now those really are special. Do you know, I think that really is the perfect everyday supper.

Everyday supper??

EVERYDAY SUPPER????

The thing is, Mary, I find fishcakes a bit fiddly at the best of times. Even just regular fishcakes, let alone your extra special fishcakes. But here you are, popping your beautiful piece of smoked haddock in the oven, making your white sauce, merrily flaking the fish and mixing it with your already-cooked mashed potato, dividing your mixture and forming four perfectly round balls, making a little hole for your oh-so-indulgent filling, spooning in your sauce, folding over the tops of your fishcakes, dipping each fishcake into egg and flour and panko breadcrumbs (this bit, which is awkward and fiddly and always leaves my kitchen covered in egg-y, floury breadcrumbs; just looks so EASY and NEAT and TIDY when you do it Mary), then frying them until they’re beautifully golden (oh, but if you have time, you should also CHILL them for 30 minutes before you fry them so that they don’t fall apart…..you’ve already spent 5 hours on these fishcakes so what’s another 30 minutes?!), and THEN…..FINALLY putting them in the oven.

And after all that – the shaping, and the spooning in of the sauce, and the dipping and the frying and the baking; all you’ve got is a fishcake for your tea! I mean, they do look amazing and everything but surely you need more than a few leaves to go with your fishcakes don’t you, Mary?

All those steps, Mary – so many that I’m not even going to count them all – mean that your amazing fishcakes just aren’t going to work for me. Or for so many mums, dads, and people with normal jobs and normal lives. People who have to travel home from work and get in, tired and hungry, at 7.30 or later. People who have children to get to bed, work to catch up on; or just don’t have all day to spend preparing fishcakes.

For an everyday person, this is not an ‘everyday supper’.

Let me just explain a little bit further, Mary. My ‘everyday supper-time’ scenario usually looks like one of the following:

Scenario A:

Cooking a speedy after-school tea for the family because daddy will be home from work early, so we are all eating together at 5pm. One boy is having a meltdown because I won’t allow him to use knives unsupervised, another boy is forming a human bridge as he attempts to lie across two chairs which are currently placed some distance apart; and a third boy is astounded that I don’t automatically know who finished in the top five in the 2001 Premier League table. As I frantically try to cook and answer questions and keep my offspring away from sharp knives; I know that at least one boy will soon declare that he no longer likes a key element of the supper that is about to be served up to him.

Scenario B:

Making my way downstairs at around 7.45pm, ravenous but knowing that the last thing I want to be doing is chopping, stirring; or indeed anything that involves standing up. Worn out and beaten from at least 90 minutes spent getting my children washed and tucked up in bed. From fighting with a grubby boy who doesn’t want to get IN the bath, then fighting with the same now-slightly-cleaner boy who doesn’t want to get OUT of the bath. From playing let’s-hide-under-the-duvet-before-stories and remembering the order in which I’m supposed to do and say everything…..’go out of the room, now come back in, now lie on the bed, now say “where are those boys?”, now say “oh look, it’s a laughing duvet” ‘. Saying night night, sleep tight, see you in the morning, then saying it all again, and again; then taking a boy to the toilet once more, then giving another cuddle, another kiss; and then another one and another two because apparently this boy’s had more cuddles than that boy. Then answering questions about how long it is until morning, and what day it is, and what we’re doing tomorrow, and when we can go to Italy. And Portugal. And France. Then reading with the eldest boy, and saying perhaps it’s time to turn your light off now darling; you have done a lot of reading….. And the thing is, mummy really needs to cook the tea, sweetheart. Mummy is tired out and mummy is REALLY HUNGRY. 

And so Mary, tempting though your fishcakes look, as I stumble down the stairs at almost 8pm craving something quick and tasty and preferably cooked for me; the last thing I have in mind is coating my amazing indulgent fishcakes in panko breadcrumbs before chilling them and then frying them and then popping them in the oven.

I won’t hold it against you Mary, I still love watching you in your floral jackets. But perhaps in the next series, ‘everyday’ could actually mean ‘everyday’.

Mary Berry

Snapshot of a boy

You skipped out of school one day last week with yet another graze on your grubby little face. And as I examined your latest injury, I realised that I have never written a post just for you. I have written about you and your brothers. I have written about you and your twin. But you, my second born boy, my first born twin;  don’t have a post all of your own (neither does Twin 2 by the way).

I decided to put that right. And yes, Twin 2 – you will get one too.

Currently, Twin 1, you look very much like you’ve been in a pub brawl. You spend your days flinging yourself about with joyful abandon, until you topple over once again….. and then you put the same amount of energy into your sobs as you had put into your running, skipping and leaping just seconds previously.  Your speciality injury has always been falling flat on your face and cutting your lip, so we are used to the pub brawl look by now. And on top of the cuts, grazes and bruises, your little face is always grubby, whatever the activity.

You long for the day when you are old enough to have a skateboard – this has been your dream since the age of 2, when you came across a display of skateboards at a service station and were desperate to dismantle the display and have a go. You watch the youngsters at the skatepark with longing in your eyes. You dream of kneepads and elbow pads and flying up and down those ramps with the wind in your hair.

When you’re a proper grown up, you want to be Bert from Mary Poppins, dancing on the rooftops with all your pals. In your 4 year old mind, being a chimney sweep would enable you to have a grubby face all the time, no questions asked. It makes me happy that your actual dream in life is to be Bert…. and your joyful rendition of ‘Step in Time’ is one of the best things I have ever seen.

If your career as a chimney sweep doesn’t work out, you plan to travel the world with your big brother and be an official ‘potato tester’. When it comes to eating, you apply the following simple rule:

green and looking anything like a vegetable = bad

potatoes = good

One of your favourite games is to walk around on all fours pretending to be a dog, with your twin brother as your owner. There has always been something very puppy-like about you so this new favourite game seems apt. You need a good run-around every day, and to see you run free in open space is a joy. You are keen, eager, and your face swells with pride when you are praised. You have huge brown eyes and amazing long lashes – you know this, and attempt to use both to your advantage. You hate to miss out, or to be outdone – if your twin tells me I look ‘pretty’, you try to go one better by telling me I look ‘beautiful’.

Right now, school is about sand, water, role-play and building bricks. Soon this will change, and I worry about how you’ll cope. How ridiculous that I’m worrying about your ability to cope with school when you’re not yet 5, but I know what Year 1 is these days and I’m not sure that it is you. I don’t share these worries with you, of course I don’t. But the thought of your joy and energy being contained as you push your little brain to understand things which, right now are totally beyond you….well that makes me want to weep. Having said that, the reading and writing side of school is starting to click and your reading books are, although still painful, not quite such a battle to get through as they were a couple of months ago (when you would sound out ‘p-i-g’ and put it together to make ‘goat’)….. Although I am confident you would find your reading books less challenging if you weren’t attempting to read them while standing on your head.

Your emotions bubble close to the surface; and when you need mummy, you really do need mummy. Your world crumples and those huge eyes fill with tears. When you’re feeling tired and cuddly, you like me to wrap you in your hooded bath towel like a baby and sing. Two songs in particular – He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands, and Rock-a-bye-Baby. Yes, I am going to remind you of this when you’re 15.

When things are really really bad, for example when mummy breaks the news that we’re turning off Paw Patrol, you put your hand over your mouth as you sob – like you’ve just experienced the biggest and worst shock imaginable.

If anyone is up in the night, it is most likely to be you: you can’t find one of your special cuddlies; your duvet has ‘done something’…..which means it is not quite straight. I try to tell you that the reason your duvet is not straight is because you have just turned it back to get out of bed. As a toddler you used to get up and clamber into bed with us. You need people and have never liked being on your own. Although seemingly more outgoing than your twin, you are more confident when you have him by your side.

You love fancy dress, you love wearing your bow-tie and you take a hankie to school every day. You say ‘wewy’ for ‘very’, ‘incept’ for ‘except’; and ‘ownly’ for ‘lonely’.

This is a little snapshot of you, my grubby-faced boy, at 4 years and 7 months – an energetic, joyful, sensitive, loyal, sometimes shy, sometimes outgoing bundle of fun who dreams of dancing on rooftops ….preferably with a skateboard.

wannabe skateboarder

Happiness = a National Trust card

Earlier in the week, this arrived through our door. Which was a happy coincidence really, ntbecause my next post was always going to be about the joys of National Trust membership. And no, this is not a sponsored post, nor do I work for the National Trust’s marketing team (although that does sound like a nice job); but as we were enjoying a spontaneous, albeit slightly drizzly, Sunday stroll around the grounds of Hughenden Manor earlier this month, I decided that the brilliance of the National Trust really deserved a post of its own.

Our spontaneous trip to Hughenden happened on a wet and gloomy Sunday – we were all suffering from a bit of cabin fever following the festive season and desperately needed to blow off the cobwebs. I knew straight away that this was the best thing we could have done. I watched as my boys raced around the gardens and delighted in finding a dog made out of wellies, a bug hotel and a man made out of ceramic pots all within a few metres of each other. When we announced it was time to go home, they immediately asked when we would be coming back. And that, really, is our experience at every National Trust we go to – it is one of the few things we do as a family that I feel reasonably confident will result in a good day.

We were much later to the National Trust party than we should have been. For years we would rock up at the gates – ‘would you like to join?‘, asked the lovely gatekeepers. ‘Well, we do keep thinking about it‘, we would say, ‘but maybe next time’. I don’t know why we kept putting it off – I think us Brits just tend to find it easier to say maybe next time.

But one day I decided I’d had enough of ‘maybe next time‘, plus on that particular day the queue for non-members would have taken longer to get through than filling in the forms and joining; so we finally said yes. And now…..well, who wouldn’t agree that for a family with young children, National Trust membership is surely up there as one of the best things you could possibly have? Because it isn’t just access to one attraction – it gives you amazing day out options right across the country. We use ours at home and we use it on holiday. We use it as a convenient place to meet up with friends or family; or as a vastly more appealing option than a service station to break up a long car journey home. And because it isn’t just aimed at the children, everyone goes home feeling like it’s been a good day; rather than parents simply grinning and bearing it for the sake of the kids.

When it comes to days out with children it turns out that what I’ve long suspected is actually true……or it is for us anyway – more stuff often equals more stress. If you’ve paid a hefty entrance fee to get in somewhere that has a myriad of attractions, then you want to get your money’s worth; but getting your money’s worth with small children in tow isn’t always easy. They have little legs, they need plenty of toilet and refreshment stops, and they are easily over-stimulated. And, as we know, days out with youngsters are necessarily short. But a National Trust outing doesn’t need to involve racing round a host of attractions – that’s not to say that there aren’t things to do, but you can take it all at a more relaxed pace. It is a reminder of the simple things that children love – hide and seek around the hedgerows, scrambling up an old tree, running down hills, collecting up sticks for a pretend fire, getting lost in a maze, crossing bridges, spotting bugs; and the simple joy of being outside.  It can be a whole day or a couple of hours; which when you have little ones, is just the way you need it to be. It reminds you of the joy to be found in all the seasons – giant puddles, frosty lawns, spring blossom and autumn leaves. It gives you options for those days over the weekend or school holidays when you have no plans but you fancy a little adventure. For children, it is space to run and freedom to explore. It is something which, once you have, you will wonder why you took so long to get.

Basically, it is for those who enjoy open space, but with coffee, cake and toilets within easy reach. And what’s not to love about that?

 

If you’re not yet a member but have been persuaded, here is the link you need!

Warm socks and cosy jumpers….or why I’m actually quite liking January

Last Saturday evening I was at a Laser Quest party…..because I have a 6 year old so that is now where I spend my weekend evenings. Anyway there I was in my cosy jumper, jeans and super-comfy boots that I have lived in all winter; chatting to my friend who was all wrapped up in her lovely big shawl. And we were talking about being comfy and cosy, and about the fact that actually, we were really quite liking January.

I know. I am surprised too; but this year I do.

I like the feeling of calm compared to the frenetic pace of the last few weeks. And yes, I do love Christmas; but those levels of excitement are simply not sustainable for small children. A return to normality isn’t always bad; sometimes it is just what we all need. It is definitely what my boys needed.

I like the feeling of possibility that a new year brings: things you’d like to achieve, books you’d like to read, films you’d like to see, theatre trips you’d like to book, days out you’d like to go on.

I like reading the 2017 supplements that come with the newspaper and circling all the things I’d like to do.

I like the filling in of an empty diary – yes, a paper one. I’ve never got the hang of this diary-on-phone business. I like turning the pages and seeing the empty weeks ready to be filled.

I like being able to be spontaneous, because no-one makes plans in January.

I like frosty walks followed by a hot cup of tea. I like coming in from the cold and offering my children a cup of warm milk…..little things like this make me feel like a proper mum.

I like going out and not feeling crushed by December crowds. I like the space and the relative quiet. I like knowing that the places we’d like to go won’t be charging a premium just because it’s December.

I like being at home on a dark evening without needing to think about what I’ve missed from my Christmas to-do list.

I like that school is once again just school, with a bit of respite from the non-stop reminders about upcoming activities, outings, events and Christmas jumper days.

I like cosy jumpers, comfy boots, warm socks and long scarves. I like seeing my children all wrapped up in their big coats and woolly hats. I love their rosy cheeks and little pink noses.

I like big warming casseroles and roast dinners, sausages and cauliflower cheese, pies and gravy and red wine. I like crumble and custard and steamed puddings. This is pretty much my January diet.

I like having Christmas treats to dip into in the kitchen.

I like the Danish idea of ‘hygge’. Have a look here if you haven’t come across it.

I like that my ‘present cupboard’ is back to its normal role of wardrobe. I like that I can now open my wardrobe without gifts falling on my head.

I know that January brings with it plenty of challenges: tube strikes, dark days, awful traffic, bad train services; and attempting to drag yourself to work in the rain without an imminent bank holiday to look forward to. I know we miss the twinkly Christmas lights and the knowledge that our next mince pie is just around the corner. But this year, January has reminded me that routine is comforting, reassuring and necessary. And if we stop to think for a moment, we realise that we are lucky to have it.

January gives you time to just be. With fewer expectations, less pressure, and a vast supply of Christmas chocolates to keep you going.

So cheers, here’s to January. It’s not so bad.

 

Drowning in a sea of reply slips

A list, a simple list – that’s all it needs.  A simple list of what to do, of what not to forget. A don’t forget list. And then you’ll feel on top of it all, surely.

So don’t forget….. Don’t forget to return all those reply slips – slips for the pantomime, slips for the carol singing, slips for the Christmas show. And don’t forget to pay for the panto either. Don’t forget to organise the nativity costumes and to order school photos before the deadline and to write the Christmas cards.

Don’t forget to buy stamps, mum; and to check the last posting dates.

Don’t forget Christmas cards for the teachers, and don’t forget the teacher’s Christmas collection. Don’t forget Christmas jumper day; and don’t forget the £1.00 (that’s £1.00 for each of them – don’t forget that either). Don’t forget to make sure their Christmas jumpers are clean and ready.

Don’t forget to donate unwanted toys, books, chocolate and bottles for the Christmas fair. Don’t forget to offer to help if you can. Don’t forget to sell some raffle tickets, return the ticket stubs, hand in the money. Don’t forget to go to the Christmas fair. Definitely don’t forget that.

The nativity, carols in the church, carol singing on the green – don’t forget any of those, mum; and to organise those costumes for the Christmas show. Please don’t forget the costumes.

Don’t forget to pick the kids up from school mum, and don’t forget that this one needs his eyedrops and that one needs his Vaseline. He’s so sore, look, all round his mouth; so don’t forget that please mum. Don’t forget their gloves. Don’t forget that Thursday is later pick up for this one, Friday is earlier pick up for another one. Don’t forget you promised the children you could make those Christmas tree biscuits. Don’t forget to change their reading books, to return the library books, to check their book bags. Don’t forget to go to work, to scrape the ice off the car, to cook the tea, to put another wash on.  Don’t forget that the Tooth Fairy needs to visit.

Don’t forget your Christmas lunch deposit, your menu choice and to order the food shop. What’s that? The delivery slots have all gone. Well then don’t forget to do something about that too.

Don’t forget to make your list, and once you’ve made it don’t forget to check it.

I know there’s a lot on at the moment, mum; but you can do it. The main thing is to remember all the things you’re not to forget.

things-to-do-list

On weddings vs real life

Life in our noisy, messy, more than a little chaotic home is all you have ever known, boys. Crates of toy cars and trains, a pretend kitchen and play food; Duplo, Lego and books all over the floor. The constant hum of the washing machine. The ‘have you seen my keys?’ and ‘I can’t find my Oyster card’; ‘have you done that permission slip?’, ‘don’t forget to change his reading book’, and ‘I can’t come right now, sweetheart, I’m trying to make the tea’. The ‘please get off him’ and ‘I’ve asked you before not to climb on the piano’ and ‘could you please just let go of mummy’s skirt’.

I am always tired boys, you know that. I tell you I’m tired and I look tired. In the mornings you watch me as I finish my coffee and then make myself a cup of tea. This is the mummy you know and this is the life you know.

You’ve been to weddings; you have a broad idea of what they are, if not of what they actually mean. But you’ve never given much thought to mummy and daddy’s wedding; mainly because it is difficult for you littlest boys to get your heads around anything that happened before you were born.

This week though, it was mummy and daddy’s anniversary and so, because you love photos, mummy thought you might have fun looking at some of ours. And you did have fun, but you were thoroughly confused; and I’m not surprised. Firstly, what’s with these photobooks, with all the photos beautifully arranged? Mummy rarely even gets photos printed these days, let alone gets around to arranging them in a book like this. All of this clearly happened a long time ago. And these two in their fancy dress…..well they sort of look like mummy and daddy, but not the mummy and daddy that you know. Where is the mess, where is the chaos? What is mummy doing in this picture, sitting with her friends with a glass of something sparkly while a lady does her hair? Why are all these people with mummy while she is getting ready? Why does everyone look so young and fabulous and fresh-faced? Why isn’t mummy carrying a huge bag stuffed with books, crayons, favourite teddies, snacks and water bottles? And what’s happening here…….why are mummy and daddy wandering around in front of a stately home? Where is mummy’s coffee? Why is mummy pretending to be a ballerina? And why are some of the other ladies wearing funny things on their heads?

At various points in your life, people like to tell you to enjoy every moment; and on my wedding day I really did. I loved the warm feeling despite the chill outside, I loved the music and the dancing, seeing what everyone was wearing and having all those brilliant people in the same room to celebrate the start of our married life.

But boys, a wedding day is not real life, and these photos bear very little resemblance to our life now. Firstly, mummy’s hair has been a disaster since that day in 2008. We no longer look serene or fresh-faced; and on the occasion that we visit a stately home, we are collecting leaves, or playing hide and seek; or in the adventure playground helping you up a scramble net. We are not ambling along holding flowers and having photos taken. Mummy and daddy no longer spend whole mornings getting themselves ready surrounded by family and friends. We’re not always chinking glasses and listening to people saying lovely things about us and wishing us well. Mummy looks a mess most of the time and drinks too much coffee. Daddy needs to polish his shoes and invest in some new trousers. Sometimes (or maybe most of the time), I am not as good at this whole thing as I probably thought I would be on that day in October 2008. Sometimes we squabble, sometimes we shout. Frequently it is over trivialities; and always, we know that there is a better way to resolve it. But we’re tired and over-familiar, and we take our irritations out on each other because sometimes, that is what tired and over-familiar people do. Even when they know they shouldn’t.

It isn’t easy, boys, to go from looking after yourselves to being responsible for a whole family unit. For keeping that unit together and on course. Family life is messy and complicated; more than I ever realised. But out of that shiny, happy, wonderful day 8 years ago, this is the life we have built. No, it isn’t as pretty as those photos, but it is real; and I love it. Although I would love my wedding hair back again, just for a day.

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Photo by Emma Lessard

This is where the time went

There is one question that I’ve noticed crops up a lot on my Facebook feed at the moment, and it is this –

Where did the time go?

I see it at birthdays and big milestones and especially now, at the start of the school year.

I know what people mean when they ask where the time has gone. They mean ‘how has my helpless baby developed into a real, functioning little person who can actually do things?‘ They mean ‘how is it possible for someone to grow and learn so much when day to day I have barely notice a change?‘ They mean ‘what a shame it isn’t possible to bottle and keep the nice bits of the baby days, because they’re never coming back.’

That (I think) is what people mean. We don’t actually mean ‘where did the time go?‘; because we all know where it went, don’t we?

It went on feeding and winding and changing nappies; on changing sleepsuits because this one’s been sicked on and….oh dear, now that one’s been poo-d on.

It went on tummy time and activity mat time and ‘let’s give you a go in your bouncer‘ time.

It went on baby books and nursery rhymes and lullabies.

It went on rocking, comforting, soothing, cuddling; and on evenings spent lying next to a cot when a baby wouldn’t settle.

It went on coffee mornings, on baby signing, on baby music and on I’m-so-tired-I-don’t-even-know-what-this-group-is-but-I’m-out-of-the-house-so-I’ll-stay-anyway groups.

It went on doing the laundry and folding it up and putting it away and despairing because the laundry basket is overflowing.

It went on applying teething gel and giving calpol and wishing a cuddle could just take away all that horrible teething pain.

It went on making a tea then forgetting it about it and reheating it an hour later.

It went on walking the streets with a pushchair trying to get a cranky baby to sleep.

It went on pureeing veg and providing breadsticks; on toddler-proofing the kitchen, and on mopping up spills.

It went on trying to teach small people to share and co-operate and listen.

It went on ‘oh no, you musn’t touch this‘ and ‘please don’t touch that‘; on kneeling down to play trains or stack cups or build towers.

It went on cleaning up cut knees; on applying plasters and wiping away tears.

It went on nights comforting crying babies and early mornings with cranky toddlers.

It went on sitting in the doctor’s waiting room and on trips to out of hours.

It went on bedtime stories and tucking in and ‘let’s get you back to your own bed shall we?’ at 2am.

It went on games of Snap, on Spot the Difference, on trying to teach children how to hold a pencil properly; on episodes of In the Night Garden and Peter Rabbit and Peppa Pig.

It went on pushing the swings and helping toddlers to negotiate the climbing frames.

It went on dealing with tantrums and sorting out arguments and teaching the concept of taking it in turns.

It went on disastrous trips to the shops, on rides on the bus, on making packed lunches and on ‘why don’t you just eat that last bit of cucumber?‘.

It went on ‘let’s do some colouring‘ and ‘let’s do some painting‘ and ‘ooh why don’t we make something?‘. And then clearing up the mess.

It went on fun days out and ‘oh dear that one went a bit wrong‘ days out.

It went on ice-creams, on rainy day trips to the library; on birthday parties and soft play.

It went on snatching a few seconds to cry in a corner, on frequently feeling out of my depth, on wondering why others always looked calmer than me, on raiding the snack box, on pulling funny faces, on doing silly dances and on planning birthday parties.

That is where the time went – on all of that and so much more. It’s been pretty busy hasn’t it?