Poncetastic nirvana: taking four under-5s to Tate Britain

It is the summer holidays, as you will probably have noticed by the hordes of noisy children and fed up adults crowding your local attraction. Being the natural tiger mother that I am, I decided to take a day off from wall to wall Wii and schlep the kids up to town for a bit of cultural appreciation. I met up with my cousin in law and together we shepherded four children under 5 round an art gallery.

Like many things in life, the thought of this made my knees sweat with anxiety. But once we were out there, doing, it was fantastic. The kids genuinely enjoyed looking at and talking about the art. Admittedly there was a false start before lunchtime that was remedied with vast amounts of picnic food. Never try and engage a hungry child in higher things. Once the crisps had been demolished and one of our number had wee’d in the bushes, we decamped to Victoria Tower Gardens to let off some steam. The idea that a lovely children’s playground might exist within sight of the Houses of Parliament boggles my mind, but there it is (unicorn just out of shot):

Musical jumping

There is a sandpit, a water pump, a couple of swings, a musical jumping thing and some natural clambering equipment. The playground design displays a refreshingly laidback attitude to health and safety, with a slide that goes like grease off a spoon and a roundabout like the revolving ‘dancefloor’ at the Foundry:

Baby Bones about to spin herself off the plate

Aside from the lovely playground, Victoria Tower Gardens also has a monument to the abolition of slavery (you can see it in the first photo, the multicoloured cupola type thing) and a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst. Seriously, this is my kind of park. Everyone should go there, although perhaps not all at the same time.

One of two statues of goats at the edge of the playground

The Palace of Westminster and the monument to abolition, as viewed from the sandpit

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Once the children had worn themselves out and sustained a suitable number of minor injuries, it was time to return to Tate Britain for a second stab at culture. This time was much more successful. The two biggest small people loved looking for specific items in paintings (‘find a man with red socks! find a lady holding a squirrel!’) and soon started suggesting their own, although I didn’t spot anyone battling Bowser. The two smaller smalls enjoyed making lots of noise, trying to touch the exhibits and twanging the string barriers that Tate staff have thoughtfully put out at toddler height to stop people touching the exhibits.

Tate Britain has been rehung since I last visited, a shameful amount of time ago. The galleries run in chronological order so now you can wander through art history and follow the flow of development. The Henry Moores were an instant hit with everyone, interestingly, although my son ultimately preferred the Chapman Brothers’ fast food carvings because “the sculptures that weren’t funny were really good, but the ones that were funny and had lots of crazy beards were funny AND good”. As I stood in front of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, shivering at the power it still retains to unnerve, I asked my son to tell me what he thought of it. He considered, and then said “That one in the middle looks like a bird with four legs and a bum that looks like its face.”

I don’t pretend to have any understanding of art, art history or artistic techniques. But I do believe art is for everyone and it’s a rare person who makes it through life without experiencing some moment where the soul is shaken by a created object in their path. The thought of taking four under-5s to an art gallery made my knees sweat largely because I feared other adults’ reactions, the tuts and sneers and hostility that we might expect for herding a band of feral creatures through the sanctum. It pleases me more than I can say to have been wrong about this. Fellow gallery-goers of today, you were wonderful: tolerant, patient, smiley, all the things that help a child to feel the gallery is their place too. And the Tate staff are fab. We will be back again.

Aside

I haven’t had much to say for myself lately so I was delighted to check back in and find that I’d been nominated for the Liebster Award by the marvellous pfstare. A whole half month ago, yes I really am that slack. So thanks pf, your support (in fact all support) is wholly appreciated.

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The Liebster Award is given to up and coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. So, what is a Liebster?  The meaning: Liebster is German and means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. Isn’t that sweet? Blogging is about building a community and it’s a great way to connect with other bloggers and help spread the word about newer bloggers/blogs.

Here are the rules for receiving this award:
1. Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
2. Answer the questions that the tagger set for you plus create 11 questions for the people you’ve tagged to answer.
3. Choose 11 people and link them in your post.
4. Go to their page and tell them.
5. No tag backs!

So, questions first:

1. If you had to choose a final meal, what would it be and why?

Lobster and crab. I feel too guilty to eat them most of the time as being plunged into boiling water sounds pretty horrific, but if I’m going to die tomorrow then fuck it.

2. Are you currently doing what you thought you would be doing in life and if not why not?

I never thought I’d be doing anything in life other than hopefully being happy. I am very happy so in that sense, yes. But I never thought I’d be a married stay at home mum with a grey Ford Focus parked outside my suburban house. I also never thought I would be confident or content or loved. Surprises can be good.

3. Has anything ever been a huge surprise to you and if so, what was it?

Falling in love with Mr Bones! We had known each other for the longest time as part of a group of friends before we started hanging out and making music. Lots of laughs over the microphone, lots of intense talks over the pub table, connecting connecting connecting and all my synapses were zinging like zither strings. He’s such a cool friend, I thought, if only he was my type he’d make a great partner. And then one morning I woke up and it hit me like a faceful of sunlight.

4. Where would you most like to travel to and why?

Japan, because I love the language and the culture fascinates me, also the landscape seems so varied and beautiful.

5. Which is your favourite film and why?

I don’t do favourites – every film offers something different and specific, unless it stars Steven Seagal, so it’s unfair to elevate one without a meaningful basis for comparison. Here are three films that I loved and that unexpectedly made me sob my heart out: Red Road, Skeletons, You Can Count On Me. I’m not a film snob though; the best shit film I’ve ever seen (discounting The Room, of course, which is in a category all of its own) is Ski School. Magnificently, awesomely shit. I am probably the only person ever to deliberately purchase a VHS of this film.

6. What irritates you most?

Everyday sexism.

7. What is your guilty pleasure?

Next Top Model.

8. What song or piece of music never fails to cheer you up?

9. What do you like most about where you live?

It feels like home, and the parks are freaking awesome.

10.Who makes you laugh and why?

Boringly for anyone reading this, it’s my husband and kids. Mr Bones makes me laugh every single day, not bad going for over a decade in close quarters. My son is at the rambling non-sequiturs age and my daughter is a wild imp with impeccable slapstick timing.

11.Is there any one thing you’re determined to do one day that you haven’t done yet?

Actually, there are two: publish some novels and get my tattoo finished.

Here are 11 things about me:

1. I have a full back tattoo by the legendary Hannah Aitchison, but for various reasons it is not yet finished. We started it seven years ago. One day it will be finished!

2. I once went to Glastonbury on Primal Scream’s tour bus.

3. I have hyperdontia, manifesting as a set of ‘nines’ – extra, miniature molars that sprout beyond the usual eight. They are a pain to keep clean but I was secretly gratified to find that there is something rare about me, even if it’s that I’m a dental freak of nature.

4. I have performed at the Barbican (playing steel pans, when I was 12).

5. My mum killed herself when I was 14 and everything changed, not for the better.

6. In my head I’m always working out.

7. I can’t ride a bike. I mean, I am probably capable, but I never learned as a child. It’s on my to-do list.

8. I am part Danish.

9. Some people, when immersed in a different accent, take on aspects of that accent by osmosis. I experience the opposite: my ridiculous South London accent grows stronger when threatened. When I lived in Leeds, I was basically Bob Hoskins in a wig.

10. I have experienced genuine, life-changing love at first sight…but we didn’t stay together.

11. I spent a large part of my childhood trying to tunnel through the back of my wardrobe to Narnia.

As for my nominated blogs, I have a shameful truth to confess. I couldn’t come up with 11 that met the criteria. I am crap at investing my time properly into any one thing and while I often browse the blogosphere, the sheer volume of fascinating content out there overwhelms me and sends me scurrying back to my favourite haunts. As part of my penance, I promise to go forth and get involved more. In the meantime, here are six nominees.

http://furcoatnaenicks.wordpress.com/

http://onewomanoneboy.wordpress.com/

http://dillytante.wordpress.com/

http://ukseenandnotseen.wordpress.com/

http://foodandotherbattles.wordpress.com/

http://whoisthatmum.wordpress.com/

And my questions for them are:

1. Have you ever had a mystery admirer?

2. If you have siblings, what are the worst injuries you ever inflicted on each other?

3. If you could have any pet (real or imaginary creature), what would it be?

4. Can you play any musical instrument/s?

5. Have you ever milked a cow?

6. What’s your favourite sandwich filling?

7. You are given carte blanche to deface one public work of art. No one will ever find out it was you and you can make any kind of statement you like. What would you do?

8. What piece of advice would you give your 14 year old self?

9. What piece of advice do you think your 90 year old self would give you?

10. Name a brilliant song that no one else has ever heard (and post a Youtube link if you can).

11. What is the oddest thing that you have a sentimental attachment to?

Thanks again pf, and thanks to everyone who ever stops by, reads, likes, etc. It really does keep me going. You may wish you hadn’t bothered now…

Making memories that will last a lifetime (or at least until they can afford therapy)

It started with a wish. A wish to celebrate my precious first born finishing nursery and getting ready for big school. I’ll take him out for the day, I thought, and make some magical memories to show how proud I am of the kind, funny child he has become. I spotted a half price online ticket deal to Groombridge Place, and when I realised that under-3s go free I factored Baby Bones into the equation too. It will be wonderful, I thought. Even though thunderstorms are forecast, we will have an amazing time. We’ll marvel at nature and turn over leaves and dash through rain showers and I’ll even get someone to take a picture of the three of us so that I am in a bloody family photo for once.

Today was that day. Here is what actually happened: PFB son started moaning halfway through the hour long drive to get there, and carried on for most of the trip (are we there yet? It’s taking aaaaaages. I’m just hot and thirsty and I want to get there. Why are you telling me off? I was just…ufff. I want to go home!) PMS me defaulted instantly to pissed off. The peacocks on the lawn, the hawks flying to command and the beautiful ornate gardens were mere backdrops to our hissed disagreements and the occasional ringing sound of a cast iron bollocking. No thunderstorm, but a sticky heat that bore down on us all like a fat man in a bad suit. Toddler daughter was cheerful, but her adamant refusal to rest little legs in the pushchair grew a bit tiresome after the fourth or fifth mile of walking. The high point of excitement for PFB was getting to use his new lunchbox. Which was, admittedly, gratifying, but we could have done that at home and saved eight quid.

Is it me? I wondered, head in hands, as I tried to explain for the sixth time that no, I couldn’t play Swashbuckle while trailing a snail’s-pace toddler around a two storey wooden climbing frame. Am I doing it all wrong? Where is the magic I so hoped to create? As someone whose own lovely, magic-making mum carked it long ago, my first worry is always ‘how do I know if I’m getting it right?’ How do you know if the memories they’re making are the kind you want to hang onto?

I welled up a little hearing my son make friends with another small boy and tell him all about our family, my sentimental heart clutching at how quickly he is growing up. But then I passed a couple of stony-faced South African mums barking ‘all you’ve done from the minute we got here is complain’ in the direction of their sullen offspring and was reminded that actually, kids of all ages are a pain in arse quite a lot of the time, and that’s ok. Hell, it’s normal. Being bollocked for arselike behaviour is also normal. How else does one learn not to be an arse?

And then we caught the boat back to the cafe and I received a lovely compliment from the boatman about my tattoo (‘it looks like someone’s taken a watercolour brush to you!’ Thanks, lovely and peerless Hannah Aitchison). I drove us home in a kind of cold beer tractor beam, propelled only by the throbbing image of refrigerated ale. I shooed two hot, dirty children into the knackered arms of Mr Bones, who had only just finished cleaning the paint off himself after a long day’s decorating. And PFB son, the moaning wonder, ran straight in to say ‘hey dad, I had a GREAT time today! I saw lots of animals, I climbed on a pirate ship, and we went on a boat! And I used my lunchbox and had my own lunch!’

I guess they make their own memories.

The unbearable shiteness of being (a grown up)

There are many times in life that I give thanks for being over my irresponsible teens and twenties. Being in charge of my time (minus the inevitable child-centred interruptions), being able to drive myself places, not having to explain why I’m wearing that – all peachy. Sometimes, though, I just want someone, a proper grown up, to come along and tell me what to do.

My boy cat is 13. He has always been loud, active, boisterous, annoying, greedy and fun. He was a pretty magnificent looking animal in his prime, if I do say so myself:

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Over the last six months or so, he has developed pancreatitis as well as possible kidney dysfunction. He’s been back and forth to the vet, is on special food, has lots of medications that he has been mostly willing to take if I crush them up in some tasty meat or fish. His back legs have wasted away somewhat and are quite weak, sometimes to the point where he can’t even bounce himself up onto the toilet lid or our bed. He is gaunt, with a big head, and his fur looks greasy.

This week he had to spend two nights in kitty hospital being rehydrated as, due to a flare-up of pancreatitis, he had stopped eating or drinking. Came home on Tuesday with another bagful of medicine. Once at home he ate a little, drank a little, mostly refused the food with medicine in it. He was sick on Thursday morning, despite the medication that is meant to suppress the sickness.

But mostly I get the feeling that he has just given up. He’s been getting in bed with me every night (like, literally under the covers with his head on the pillow), hiding the rest of the time. He’s listless. He doesn’t seem to be washing. And he keeps giving me a look:

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How do I know what the right thing to do is? When I got the cats in my feckless youth, I just assumed that they would either be killed in accidents before their time or end up so undeniably ill that there would be no other choice but to PTS, like all my childhood cats. I don’t know if it’s kinder to keep forcing treatment and medication on the old boy just to prolong a tedious existence or if he’ll pick up to the point where he starts to enjoy life again.

It has also cost us a fortune. He’s insured and this is an ongoing condition so we’ll get some of the money back (eventually), but this week’s stay in hospital cost me nearly £500 that we don’t have spare right now. I can’t afford for him to go back in again, we simply don’t have the cash. I feel like a shit having to consider the financial burden alongside everything else, but it’s an unignorable part of the overall cost. If I knew that that £500 would result in him returning to a reasonable state of springy-pawed health I wouldn’t be thinking about it at all, but so far that has not been the case.

For comparison, we also have his sister who is as lively, glossy, hungry and curious as ever she was.

Meanwhile my son has become unusually attentive to boycat and insists on stroking him gently, giving him food, encouraging him to come inside ‘so he can be comfy’. Son is 4.5 and has accompanied us on most of our veterinary trips. I’m sure he’s old enough to read between the carefully phrased lines about next steps.

Never mind. I’m sure any minute now a kind grown up will be along to provide me an answer…

An open letter to Low

Dear Low,

I was talking to my husband about you a while back and he suggested that I write down what I’d said, that you might want to read it. So here it is.

We were talking about favourite Low songs (so hard to choose, you guys spoil us so) and I mentioned Shots and Ladders. He was surprised that it meant so much to me. But when we first started listening to your music, around the time Trust came out, my brother was seriously ill. He had been diagnosed with an incredibly rare sarcoma and had undergone some serious treatment, given by wonderful NHS staff with serious faces. Their faces told me as much as I wanted to know about what our future looked like. I spent a lot of time travelling to and from the town where I lived to London, hanging out in hospitals with my brother or keeping him company at home while he recovered from spinal surgery and underwent chemo that made him sick in every way. And travelling time is always good headphones time, so there was a lot of listening done.

Trust seemed like such a mysterious thing to me. All that space, all that power, that wonderful echoey production. The many references to illness intrigued and comforted me. It was like having a knowing friend along for the journey, one who didn’t bullshit me with upbeat smiles but didn’t look away in fear either. Your voices wrapped me up and offered succour and salvation without any annoying platitudes on the side.

I made my brother a copy, compelled to share the music I loved as we had both always been with each other. I don’t know if he ever listened to it. The cancer was eating his future and after a while he stopped wanting to think about new things.

I thought a lot about him dying, during the two years he was ill. It was pretty obvious that that was what was going to happen. Sarcoma is rare and not much understood, and the kind he had was particularly difficult to treat. I watched it strip away his life a bit at a time – his ability to work, his ability to walk, his interest in the world that would no longer be his – and wondered what the final scene would look like. Shots and Ladders came into my mind a lot. I loved the feeling it evoked of being funnelled up into a massive twister of sound, the essence of a person dissipating as kind voices said soothing things. I wondered if it would be that way for him, or if it would be a horror film kind of ending. I was very frightened.

My brother died in a hospital bed on the top floor of UCLH in London. The top floor is really high up, you can see all across the city from there. He slipped away over the course of five days or so, surrounded by people he loved. It wasn’t scary in the end, as I had feared – I mean, it was, it was awful, but it wasn’t like being in a horror film. It was peaceful for him. The last thing we talked about was Jimi Hendrix. I was there as his last breath hushed out and no more breath went in, and afterwards I went into the corridor and leant my face against the plate glass window, looking out at the clouds, thinking of Shots and Ladders, imagining him streaming into the sky.

When I listen to it now, I think of him, of that moment and how it wasn’t the nightmare I had feared but a horrible honour. Your music helped get me through that. You gave me a way to reframe a dreadful experience before it had happened.

That’s not the only thing your music has given me, obviously. But today is the 6th anniversary of his death and it was on my mind, so I hope you don’t mind me writing it down.

Looking forward to the Barbican gig on Tuesday!

A comparitive study of tiredness

Recently I’ve been experimenting with the 5:2 diet. Although it hasn’t really got past 6:1 with me, because fast days seem to result in a two day hangover of headache and fatigue. On the fast day itself, though, I’ve felt terrific: clear headed and full of energy, instead of thick headed and full of food.

So on Saturday night I did something pretty rock and roll. It was out there, I know, but…I decided to stay up late for no reason. I got home from babysitting for a friend at around midnight and had to make a cheesecake before I went to bed. This makes me sound like one of those mummy bloggers with shiny hair and well organised storage who put up artfully composed photos of home made jam. I am not one of those people. In case you need evidence, here’s a shot of my front room right now:

my front room

But the cake had to get made, so I cracked open a beer and got on with it. The house was quiet, my thoughts were my own, the beer was good. I was enjoying myself.

So when the cake was done at 1am, I thought ‘why not sit down with another beer and do some stuff?’ Reasons not to do this included the fact that it was my turn to get up with Loki the queen of 5am starts, and the busy day with friends that the cake was for. But I just couldn’t resist the chance to be alone in my own head for a bit longer.

So I accepted the fact that I would not sleep much and probably feel like shit all Sunday, and I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours reading blogs, writing emails etc. Went to bed at 3am, madam was up at 4.30am.

NOW, to the point. Once the initial hibernation feeling had worn off, about 3 lightning speed cups of tea into the day, I felt alright. Better than alright – I felt good. It was fun to hang out with a chatty, bumbling companion, physically I felt no pain and there was a pleasant floating feeling in my head. It was a bit like being on E, except that it didn’t cost me £5 and there was much less likelihood of interrupting a conversation with someone in order to vom on their shoes.

Not only that, this feeling stayed all day. We went to our friends’ house and had a fabulous time, loads of food, conversation, laughing and minimal need to parent. The kids immersed themselves in an imaginary guinea pig world for about four hours while we sat in the kitchen and spraffed. AND THEN we all went to another friend’s house for a child’s birthday party and while a gang of feral preschoolers ran between our feet we hung out in a kitchen, drank out of plastic cups and kind of sort of partied. It was some perfect Sunday fun.

There have been a lot of times since having kids that I have been so desperately, painfully tired that I felt everything was impossible. Sustained sleep deprivation is of course used as a form of torture and anyone who’s dealt with a small face in the night could tell you why, if they weren’t so bloody knackered that they couldn’t form a sentence. What seems to have made the difference this time was that I chose to stay up that late rather than having it inflicted upon me, and I used that time to satisfy myself (steady now). I’ve always been a night owl, creatively speaking, and it looks like that hasn’t changed. Staying up till 3am isn’t really a sustainable solution to the pram in the hall conundrum though. I got in bed at 9pm last night and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

It is also undoubtedly true that I wouldn’t have felt so great on Sunday if we had spent the day vacuuming the car or going to Ikea. Maintaining your own social life when you have kids is important. So thanks Hannah and Rich, Leo and Kat, Estelle and Pete, lovely awesome friends. You make driving round the North Circular worthwhile!

Parenting the toddlergeist

My 20 month old daughter wants a big girl bed. I know this because a couple of nights ago, following several nights of unusual bedtime hysterics, she ran into the bedroom she and Boy Bones share and demanded to get up on his bed. Once on the bed she wriggled under his duvet, sat up against his pillows and beamed at me.

So we cuddled together just like I do when reading the boy’s bedtime stories and when we’d finished she lay down and got comfy on his pillows. Thinking she might want some company, as he often does, I laid down next to her. This triggered a flood of angry noises and emphatic pushing of me away from her. No, she did not want me in the big bed. She wanted herself, alone, in a big bed. She gave me a meaningful look, one which said ‘I hope we understand each other.’

Some months ago, as he was getting ready for bed, my son complained as I cleared away the tiles from a game we’d been playing: “But they’re my lots of eggs, mum!” I asked what they were going to hatch into. “Ten baby Girl Bones!” he yelled with glee. A grinding shudder ran down my left arm, the extra achy one, the arm whose shoulder grinds a bit whenever I pick up my one baby Girl Bones. Ten of her…what would life be like? She is an elemental force, a mischievous imp, a toddlergeist. She is the reason my boots are full of blueberries and there is play food down our toilet. If I were to rename the kids based on what they’re like, she would definitely be Loki.

She is the most direct and unwavering personality I’ve ever known. Even my pregnancy with her was direct. With my son, I had no clue. It took five days of lateness for me to half-arsedly mumble something about doing a test and then a further five minutes of slack-jawed shock to absorb the second line. With her, five days before my period was even due I was smelling the ghost of food long after it had decamped to the outside bin. After two consecutive nights of dreaming about going downstairs to take a positive pregnancy test, I got the message, went downstairs and took a positive pregnancy test. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the words I AM HERE stencilled across my uterus at the twelve week scan.

Before I had children, I thought that people who said babies come with their own personalities were probably on drugs. I mean, a baby is a sack of needs with a mouth, isn’t it? But both of my spawn have made me eat that half formed opinion many a time, and Girl Bones’ blunt and direct ability to communicate is just another illustration of my own stupidity on that score. From her refusal to sleep anywhere but next to me in our bed (until the day she decided she preferred her cot, at which point she refused to sleep anywhere else), to her early mastery of the point-and-meaningful-look combo, to her love of the tactical facepalm during particularly expressive tantrums, she’s a girl with a lot to say and small tolerance for repetition, hesitation or deviation. She knows what she wants and she wants you to act upon it now, while she’s busy growing up enough to do it herself.

Despite the fact that this makes parenting her bloody hard work, I do hope she carries these attributes along into adult life. Because the thing that makes the shouting, the bossiness, the stubbornness okay, more than okay, is the spark in her eye that says life is so fucking wonderful. Life to her is a wonderful game, a game that she can win. I want her to feel like that every day of her life. When she crosses paths with haters and abusers and ignorami and loudmouths and tailgaters and twats, I want her to look them in the eye, laugh her head off and carry on winning. Which is why, when I’m listening to her cackle with joy as I chase her down the street for the twentieth time, I’m laughing too.