Friday, 12 September 2014

In which I am Ungrateful

Unless you live under a rock (or – SHRIEK! – are not on Facebook) you’ll be familiar with the latest trend to hog the world’s FB thread: the gratitude challenge.  Because I am brow-beaten by middle-age, my wild children, and life in general (and perhaps slightly because I am a cynical bitch), I thought it was high time for an alternative.  Thus I present:

The Ingratitude Challenge*

1.  I am deeply ungrateful for the state of drivers and driving in Singapore. JESUS CHRIST someone needs to give drivers here a collective lesson in  (a) driving and (b) politeness.  (Bill Gates popped up on my FB thread this evening offering everyone $5,000 each;  I think I’ll ask him instead to bring everyone in Singapore to England for a week’s driving.  That should sort them out.)  Also – THE IMPORTANCE OF INDICATORS. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PEOPLE!  I did see someone use their indicator today, and I inwardly cheered – but then they turned the other way, which sort of negated it somewhat.  Also amusing today – in a bang-your-head-on-the-steering-wheel sort of way – was seeing a traffic policeman tap on the window of a stationary car, and usher them into the empty space in front of them.  Empty, that is, except for the yellow crossed markings on the ground. 

2.  I am deeply deeply ungrateful for the hamster (also, by default, for my son, for bringing him into our home, and then promptly losing all interest in him).  Not only has the burden of his emotional and physical well-being landed on my lap (often literally), but also has the task of finding the little fucker when he manages to escape from his cage.  (Mind you, this has only happened once, but it was the rodent version of The Great Escape, and took an entire morning, fuelled by the horror of finding his mummified corpse in my winter boots / the linen closet / one of our many random boxes filled with wires when we’re packing up to move in 2 years, to find him. He was under the tv gnawing on a cable, the little fucker.) 

3.  I remain ungrateful for the passing of time and the ravages of middle age.  I am currently sporting a small hole above my knee which seems determined to not heal - the side effect of having a small lump burnt off by my GP. “Nothing to worry about,” he blithely told me;  “A common skin growth which appears in older people.”  Cheeky bastard.  (At least I assume he was being cheeky.)

4.  Don’t start me on the kids’ school, and the shower of morons they use to bus them around. (They forgot the Girl last week!  Mind you, they were too busy yelling at me at the time for being “late” meeting the bus - when in fact it transpired they were early – to realise she wasn’t actually on the bus.  Jesus wept.)

5.  I cannot find it within me to be anything but ungrateful for my son’s cunning in taking advantage of the school’s insane cafeteria system, whereby student “purchases” are unquestioned, and then credited to the parents’ account.  (I am also somewhat disturbed by his apparent fondness for chocolate milk -  $45’s worth in two weeks, bloody hell.)

6.  Nothing will ever persuade me to be grateful for the humidity here.  My hair is a ruination.

HOWEVER!  I am not a totally ungrateful bitch (no middle-aged woman is an island, etc.)  I have feelings of gratitude too, just like everyone else. 

1.  I am grateful that people have stopped chucking water over themselves and wasting my broadband allowance with videos of themselves shrieking in astonishment at the coldness of iced water.

2.  I am grateful that I now know why my son has had diarrhoea for the past few weeks.

3.  I am grateful that our maid has worked out the difference between baking soda and baking powder.

4.  Apart from the having to deal with other drivers bit, I am grateful for my car.  Especially the seats in the boot, into which I can strap the children and not hear them, or see them flailing about in my periphery vision. 

5.  I am grateful to FINALLY have an oven with a working thermostat.  And, consequently, for these little nuggets of loveliness:

Not only my very own picture, but also my very own recipe, culled from several attempts to get the perfect Oat&Raisin cookie (necessitated because I went overboard on oats purchasing and now the damn kids won’t eat porridge).  

Oat & Raisin Cookies
  • 110g unsalted butter 
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 100g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 150g oats
  • 100g raisins

Preheat the oven to 180c / 350f / g4

Cream together the butter and sugar, and when fluffy add the golden syrup, egg and vanilla essence.  Beat again until smooth.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  Add to the butter mixture, and mix well. 

Stir in the oats and the raisins.

If you have time (and don’t have wild children, for whom you are not at that moment feeling AT ALL grateful, clawing at your legs) put the mixture in the fridge for an hour or so.  Otherwise jump straight to the next step.

Spoon a lump of the mixture onto a lined baking sheet – how much depends on how big you want the cookies to be – and flatten it with a fork.  You don’t want it too thin, however, or it’ll be too crispy once cooked.  Repeat with all of the mixture, keeping the cookies about an inch apart.

Cook for 10 -13 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies.  You want the edges to be browned, but the inside to still be a bit soft when you take them out of the oven. (So ignore the picture above, which was the result of 14 minutes cooking.  They were still great, but more crunch than chew.)

Leave to cool for, oh, about 30 seconds, while you put on the kettle and are once again VERY GRATEFUL that you thought to bring several boxes of real English tea home with you. 

(*Please feel free to add to this.  Or, even better, start your own on Facebook! Personally, I am tired of people being grateful for their health and children and friends etc.  I want to see some more honest-to-goodness ingratitude in our lives.)

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Pink Stinks

Finally, it’s happened.  We have embarked on the long, tedious, and frankly rather disgusting journey that is Pet Ownership. Here’s the little critter:

(See him in the cowering in the corner there?  So would you, if you had his owner.  Also: be glad that there’s no scratch ‘n’n sniff function on d’internet; two days and his cage already smells like the bathrooms at a boys' school. )

He arrived two days ago  - after a laborious process involving a Responsibility & Kindness Chart (which was manipulated for its short-term gain, and abandoned as soon as we stepped foot inside the pet shop) – and our conversations have been variations on the following ever since:

Me:  Put him DOWN.  The vet said you can’t touch him for at least three days.
Me: Including kill him?
Boy:  He’s not dead yet, is he? So what are you worried about?
Me: Can’t you just please stop touching him?  Just until Friday.
Boy: FINE!
Me:  You need to be... ouch!.... careful putting him in the cage...
Me:  You also need to CLOSE the cage...
(Ah yes, but for how long? I give it two weeks, then  the whining about wanting a dog will begin again.)

In other news, we are all getting back into the swing of normal, boring Singaporean life.  I’ve remembered all the things that drive me mad about living here:
  • Preservatives and gelatine in every single thing you try to eat
  • How damn hot you get when you blow dry your hair
  • No matter how poker-straight your hair finally is, it makes fuck-all difference the minute you poke your head out the front door
  • The fact that no one – NO ONE!  – seems to know what that strange wandy thing sticking out beside their steering wheel is (IT’S AN INDICATOR PEOPLE - TRY IT!)
  • Cooking in our (non air-conditioned) kitchen is a form of Bikram yoga

but also everything I really quite like:
  • The weather ( “Like walking into a warm embrace” as the Man says)
  • The pool, as our default answer to the daily “How the hell am I going to kill a few parenting hours?”  question
  • Cheap cabs
  • Even cheaper car parking (50p an hour street parking.  Woo hoo!  IN YOUR FACE LONDON)
  • Blessed, blessed school... (Not that it’s any better than any other school anywhere else, but it is the one the children are enrolled in, and have restarted as of a week ago.  Mid-August is the new early-September!)
  • Oh, and let’s not forget our proximity to Bounty-ad holiday places.  I got a bit carried away last week and booked five (ahem) getaways for the next few months.  (Including this one, which we can drive to (except for the last, watery, stretch).  It’s our version of the South Coast.  Let's hope the similarities end there...)

In other other news, I am trying to spend more time with the Baby in the mornings (the combination of her calling the maid “Mama” and saying her (scant few) words in a Philippine accent made me realise that perhaps I need to up her Mummy Time).  To this end I have organised a Parent & Toddler group thing through the school.  (Go me! [Reluctant Launderer:  Bringing haggard parents together since 2014]). Inaugural meet-up is meant to be tmrw.  I BET I’m the only one more interested in the “Parent” element.  Assuming anyone else turns up that is. 

Speaking of Parenting, I must go check on our latest addition.  His name, by the way, is Pink Red - on account, apparently, of his pinky-red legs.  Yes, name-shame on top of everything else. Poor little bugger. 

(Ps:  Recipes should resume with some regularity now that the thermostat on our oven has been fixed.  Turns out there was a reason for every single thing I cooked burning black. (Also for the kitchen heating to 700 degrees.))
(Pps: The Baby has just kicked the ball-bound hamster across the room. Hilarious.  Not for the hamster, obv.)

Monday, 18 August 2014

Nearly There (Chin Up etc)

We are back – dare I say it – home.  Yes! It feels something akin to home!   At least to the extent that home is where the packing of suitcases is not, nor the wiping of vomit from a carseat, nor the managing of three children on far too many plane journeys.  Remarkably, the Baby slept for the bones of the final – and longest – flight. Although not before putting The Fear in the man next to her that her shouting NO!NO!NO! would go on all night, and  not just for the two hours it did;  as did the Girl, which is fairly standard – she’s a fabulous traveller.  The Boy however... Sweet Jesus.  He HATES planes, and when he hates, he shares.  LOUDLY. The twelve-hour pattern went as follows:  30 mins excitement;  2 hours tv;  30 mins boredom (loud, loud, boredom); 30 mins arguing (I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SLEEP, I HATE SLEEP, I HATE THIS PLANE, etc etc): 2 hours sleeping  (on me, pinning me to the teeny tiny chair, terrified to breathe in case I woke him, wondering when – if ever – the feeling in my left buttock would return); 1 hour thrashing about, crying and growling, like a rabid dog (I had moved, tentatively, to examine the remote possibility of actually getting up and going for a pee.  Big Mistake);  2 hours sleeping (again, on me);  15 mins demanding tv;   2 hours tv;  45 mins COMPLAINING about feeling sick / tired / uncomfortable; 30 mins DEMANDING that the entertainment system be put back on. That I managed to arrive in Singapore without having pulled an emergency eject button (for me or him) – or at least having stuffed a miniature pillow over his face in his mouth – is something I am quite proud of.

Anyway.  It’s all over now.  The unpacking is done, the jetlag has been survived. School restarts in TWO DAYS! Although another – my other – way of looking at it is as two more long, drawn-out days of hell and torture – because honestly people, I am at the end of my parenting tether here.  Europe was wonderful and all, but nine weeks (and some) of fairly constant solo parenting  has wiped me out.  However!  In an effort to get the most from it,  I have drawn up a list of Things I Learnt This Summer:
  • If you have several long car journeys and two flights ahead of you in the forthcoming week, try not to fall on your arse on a rock. 
  • If you want children to understand the cycle of life –particularly the final (very final) stage of said cycle –allow them to bring whatever unfortunate sea creature they have caught home in a bucket, whereupon they should place said bucket in direct sunlight and ignore it for three days.  Repeatedly.
  • When flying with small children, don’t both being friendly to anyone on the plane (including staff).  They all hate you, regardless of how much you smile.
  • Persil is very good for removing the smell of vomit.
  • Gin is very good for removing the memory of the smell of vomit.
  • The Boy’s social tourettes continues hasn’t gone away. (Example:  "My daddy has very hairy testicles” to my relatives. Lovely.)
  • Hearing a 4 year old implore the Divinity to save her from the pain of water on a cut (“NO-NO-NO-OH-JESUS-CHRIST-NO”) is disturbing and amusing in equal measure.
  • If you’ve had three children,  bouncing on a  sofa with your off-spring isn’t the best idea.
  • Although everyone believes you if you blame a non-toilet-trained child who can’t speak to defend herself.

And most usefully:
  • Pasta with cream, lemon and prawns is heavenly, and piss easy. 

Yes! A recipe.  There has, I concede, been a dearth of recipes since we moved to Singapore.  I wish this was because I have a team of chefs (or even just one of anything) creating all my meals for me – but in fact it’s largely because I haven’t gotten around to making anything new in ages.   BUT – here is something fabulous.  Ready in the time it takes to boil pasta, and you can slip in all manner of vegetables without offending your children’s sense of culinary decency.  (Also, you don’t even need prawns.  I made it the other day with just garlic, lemon, courgette and cream and it was fantastic. But for fanciness, some prawns are great.  Also, protein to go with the oodles of fat is a good thing, no?)  

Creamy Prawn Pasta

Makes:  enough for 2 grown ups, or 3-4 kids

You need: 
  • Pasta – Linguini or Spaghetti preferably;  about 250g (or as much as you usually make for yourself / your kids)
  • Medium-sized tub of thick creamy stuff (I use 300ml crème fraiche;  you can also use sour cream, or double cream.  As long as the fat content is in the seriously unhealthy range.)
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Frozen prawns, shelled (cooked or uncooked, makes no real difference) – as many as you want / have
  • One small courgette
  • One clove garlic, peeled and crushed / sliced
  • Oil, for cooking.

Put the pasta on to cook.

Place the oil and the garlic in a deepish pan and heat over a gentle heat. Once the garlic starts to sizzle, grate the courgette directly into the pan.  Stir well and leave to cook for a few minutes.

If it starts to stick to the pan before it’s had a chance to cook and go soft, add a splash of water and stir.

Add the lemon juice and cream, stirring well. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat, put the lid on and leave to simmer for a few minutes.

Add the prawns (I just chuck em in frozen, which is probably really bad for you, but we’re all still alive here) and let them defrost warm through (or cook, if using uncooked ones).

If you want to be all Swedish about it, chuck in a table-spoonful of chopped dill at the end.  Mint is good too.  But in my VAST (ahem) experience, kids prefer it without herbs. 

Add the cooked, drained pasta, stir well to combine, and serve.

Gobble up, allowing your body to be infused with the joy of knowing it’s only 36 more hours until you get something akin to your life back again...

(Update:  Because I got called away on some urgent parenting business (bum-wiping, most likely), I wrote this a couple of days before posting it. The kids have now gone back to school, and I celebrated by standing in a supermarket gazing at the mad mad produce and wondering just what Singaporeans must think of us if they put marmite  in the baby-food section:

Monday, 28 July 2014

Summer Update

So.  Where were we. I was – am – in Ireland, and suddenly four weeks have passed, and I’m looking around the house we’re renting, at all the shite which has mysteriously accumulated (also, equally mysteriously, a cat) and thinking I have to pack all this up in two days. And you know of course what that means;  at some point – in the rapidly approaching future – I will be getting back on a plane and enduring the horror of The Trip Home.

But first – 4 year old girls.  How great are they?  There’s something quite magical about 4 year old girls.  They’re still sweet and innocent and love fairies and glitter and showing strangers their bottoms, but without all of the demands and lisps and irritations of a 3 year old.  Generally speaking, of course.  Our own 3 year old become a 4 year old a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say that she is... well, almost exactly the same as she was as a 3 year old. HOWEVER! She seems to suit 4 better.  Notwithstanding this, she is still as mad as a bag of badgers.  Yesterday she was uncharacteristically quiet so I poked my head outside to see what she was doing, and, bless her, there she was sitting on the front drive squeaking to and petting some stones.  After a few more minutes of silence I checked again – not that I don’t trust her or anything – and there she was licking the car’s hubcab. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! I shrieked.  Cleaning the car, apparently.  AND THEN she demanded money for it (from her black-as-night mouth, teeth and tongue, to my horrified ears).

As if that wasn’t proof enough of her, um, eccentricities, here she is on the morning of her birthday:

I think it’s the most accurate photographic depiction I have of her. (Also, worryingly, it reminds me of myself, hugely.)   Wild hair and mad eyes aside, her birthday was an explosion of sugar and Frozen, and I now know all the lyrics of every one of those damn songs. 

Aside from letting stuff go, and pestering people to build snowmen, we have largely been pottering and beaching.  While we’re looking through my phone, here's my favourite beach in the whole world, which is accessible only via a sheer cliff-face;  easy peasy when you are young and lithe and unencumbered by off-spring, not so much when you’re not so much, have a terrified 1 year old clinging, sloth-like, to your neck, and two mentalers underfoot.  The upside – it is always totally deserted.  

If you look really closely in the distance - miles away from the very content photographer - you will spot these feral creatures:

Needless to say, an afternoon spent in the sun with the kids hundreds of feet away, safely playing and unable to go anywhere, won it first prize for Highlight of the Summer. (Here’s the beach again.  Just ‘cos it’s so gorgeous:)

Next stop: Dublin - Dublin airport – Stockholm – Middle-of-the-Swedish-Woods – Stockholm – Helsinki – Singapore.  No prizes for guessing the lowlight of the Summer. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Travelling with Children, by Numbers

Kilometres from arse-end of Sweden to Stockholm airport:  255.
Kilometres travelled before car was stopped and first comedy-trying-to-smack-legs-in-the-back-of-the-car took place:  0.01
Kilometres for which smackee glowered at driver in the rear-view mirror: 254.99
Number of times asked if we’re there yet:  510
Number of Good Behaviour Lollies in driver’s bag at start of journey:  8
Number of Good Behaviour Lollies in driver’s bag at end of journey: 8
Distance travelled before baby vomited everywhere:  254.5
Number of towels, wipes, or other vomit-wiping items in the car: 0
Number of driver’s freshly laundered, super-absorbant scarves in the car / around driver’s neck: 1
Number of minutes between finding the airport car park and flight taking off:  40
Number of people in our party who understood the importance of HURRYING UP WE STILL HAVE TO CHECK IN:  1
Number of children it feels like you have when you’re trying to get 3 of them through security and onto a plane: 33
Minutes spent sweating and hyperventilating on the plane before it finally took off:  60
Number of times asked if we’ve taken off yet during that time:  120
Number of iPads brought to entertain children on flight:  1
Number of iPads dropped and smashed by one of said children on flight: 1
Actual duration of flight: 2.5 hours
Emotional duration of flight: 25 hours
Duration of flight for which Boy had his head in a sick bag and wailed about the UNFAIRNESS of travel sickness:  2 hours
Number of times Boy actually got sick on the flight:  0
Duration of flight for which Baby had her head in a sick bag and wailed about the UNFAIRNESS of travel sickness: 0 hours
Number of times Baby actually got sick on the flight: 1
Number of miles left to travel when Baby got sick: 0.01
Number of mother’s knees Baby was sitting on at the time of sickness: 2
Percentage of mother’s body covered in rancid, putrid, high-smelling toddler vomit:  85%
Number of fellow passenger startled by mother roaring “OH GOD” upon impact of vomit: 179
Time spent sitting in a pool of toddler vomit waiting for the fucking plane doors to open: 20 minutes
Time spent waiting for luggage, in vomit-sodden clothes: 25 minutes
Time spent waiting for car hire, in vomit-sodden clothes: 40 minutes
Number of fellow queuers who commented on awful smell:  5
Number of sworn promises made to self NEVER to travel with kids again: 1
Number of days until we have to do it ALL again, in reverse: 27

Monday, 30 June 2014

In which I am MEAN.

I’m now somewhat over the air and the trees and the dairy.  I’d sortof forgotten that the reason it’s so green and lush and fresh is because the weather’s default position is to rain, nonstop.  Which is all well and good for a day or two, but three, four, FIVE days in a row?  The low-light of the past week - possibly the past year - was a family day out to Ikea, purely because it had wifi, a children’s area, and a cafe.  So there I sat, as the rain hammered down, in Ikea, in Sweden, where they were playing – I swear – Abba, feeling that I couldn’t be more immersed in Swedishness if  your covered me in meatballs and put me in a dungeon with a schnapps-drinking serial killer.  (On the plus side we managed to leave without ownership of any tealights or paper lampshades, which as far as I’m concerned is an Ikea-victory.)

All this rain is fraying tempers somewhat.  Everyone is borrrrrreddddddd with the indoor toys, and there’s only so much tv / iPad playing which I’m comfortable with (2 hours, twice a day, in case you’re wondering). As a result, I am now the family Meanie. “You’re so MEAN!” the Boy roars at me several times a day.  “What’s the point in having a tv if we can’t watch it whenever we want?  YOU’RE SO MEAN!” “When I’m old I’m going to play video games ALL DAY LONG and I won’t let you do what you want, YOU’RE SO MEAN.”  “What’s the point in you having Angry Birds on your phone if you won’t let me use it, YOU’RE SO MEAN” etc etc. 
On the plus side, it is fostering some interesting conversations. 

Last night, between the Boy and the Girl:
Boy:  I’m not going to marry you when I grow up.
Girl:  Oh.  Why not?
Boy:  Because I’m with you all the time as a kid, I don’t want to be with you all the time as a grown up too.
Girl:  Oh.  But that’s ok, I’ll just give you some space!
Boy:  NO! What’s the point in having you as a sister if I have to be married to you as well!  I need to get to know someone else.
Girl:  That’s ok.  I’ll marry Daddy instead.

And earlier today:
Boy:  Mum, what’s Heaven?
Me (Knowing this can only go one way, and it ain’t up):  It’s the name of a place where some people believe your soul goes after you die.
Boy:  Oh. What’s a soul?
Me (See?): It’s what some people think is the part of your body which stores your goodness and your badness, and all other bits which make you you. 
Boy: You mean your brain?
Me:  Ummmm.... More like a ghost that lives inside you and makes you, who you are.
Boy:  Oh.  So my ghost would be curious?
Me:  Probably.
Boy:  And Ava’s ghost would be clumsy?
Me:  Almost certainly.
Boy:  And Mia’s would  be cute?
Me: Definitely.
Boy:  And yours would be MEAN!

Roll on a month of rain in Ireland...  

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Land of Milk and Horseflies

Greetings, from Europe's largest -and most expensive (possibly in the world) - indoor play area. What else were you expecting from Sweden - forests and trolls? It is, alas, raining, after 5 days of glorious sunshine, so the forests and trolls have been put on hold.  Only temporarily, mind you - irrespective of the forthcoming weather, we will shortly resume our traipsing through Swedish mulch and clouds of horseflies, because I can't afford another trip back here. Also, it's somewhat disconcerting being the only person in a 7000 sq ft area with brown hair.  Everyone is blonde. If you are a blonde fetishist, this is the place to be. (Also if you like angry, dour looking women of middle age (NOT ME, bitches), get here soonest.)

So. We arrived. It is green and the air is wonderful, and the silence overwhelming. (Not right now, obviously.) And the food... Ah! The potatoes taste like potatoes, daim bars fall from the skies and smoked salmon dangles from trees. There are rivers of milk and mountains of cheese, and lakes of yoghurt. The air is heavy with pine and juniper, and the children sleep until 8am. Although this might be due it the fact that they are still catching up from the non-sleep on the Airplane Trip Which Came From Hell.  My usual survival mechanism of blanking it all out has kicked in, but notable lowlights -and there were many - included:

  • The Baby pooing so comprehensively that I had to strip her, squish her, dough-like, into the airplane toilet sink and bathe her, and throw out all her clothes
  • The Boy doing his usual about-to-land I'M GOING TO PUUUUUUKE, and then, true to his word, puking everywhere
  • The Baby, hysterical and insane from lack of sleep (yet, natch, vocally refusing to sleep) alternating between laughing like a hyena, and barking like a dog. While the rest of the plane slept (or tried to sleep; it's hard to sleep when you're glowering and muttering about bad parenting) 
  • Landing (covered in Boy vom) and breaking the news it the children that we had another flight ahead of us 

Anyway. We are here, dividing our time between eating and frolicking and sleeping. (Also - in case I gave the impression of it being too perfect - bickering and scratching mosquito bites and gazing in amazement at the creation of a cankle from a horsefly bite, and worrying about the maid disappearing into the night, in search of The Promised Land (Norway, apparently -who knew?)) The children can play outside on their own which is amazing. Actually, what is amazing is that I can say GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY without having to organise minders and play dates and anti-drowning devices. So this is what you country folk have been harping on about!
Tonight I get into my Volvo (naturally) and drive, through the not-dark, to Stockholm, and get on a plane to Mallorca.  ALONE. I may never come back. (It is my version of Norway). I think it's fair to say that these are shaping up to be good summer holidays.
I've now totally jinxed it of course.