Friday, 27 September 2013

A Little Discretion with

I don’t think we can ever totally avoid being embarrassing parents. I can remember feeling embarrassed by my own parents – not a lot – just on occasion.

Only this week Emilia said “Mummy, don’t skip – you are embarrassing me,’ but generally I don’t think I unwittingly humiliate them too much.

In those sort of incidences it is a fleeting moment and is forgotten, but when I write about them... that is another story.

The kids give me a wealth of fabulous material and they like to think that people read and relate to what they do and say and find it the moment anyway.

At some point they may find it has become just plain embarrassing, so before that day comes I am giving them fictional identities on my new site

Chances are that if you read this blog you know our kids anyway and linking it from this site is not going to give them any real anonymity. However, perhaps by writing under my maiden name, I can welcome even the school bully among the readers and he wouldn’t necessarily make the connection.

This is the facebook generation here, so I doubt it matters to anyone that our family antics are public property. Kids are by now well used to their general cuteness and achievements being plastered all over their parents’ web pages to be seen by all and sundry. I can’t even begin to imagine how excruciating being a teenager is now, in the age of instant photos and social media – every bad picture or lapse in judgement , or hurtful comment recorded in web space.

Children’s internet safety is drummed into us from their schools, and while you don’t want to think too hard about what you are exposing them to with the potential dangers of the World Wide Web - if making a new site protects them in some small way, it has got to be done.

I hope you will still enjoy reading about these strange new kids.

For the latest postings delete the blogspot and instead go to 

Thank you 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Driven Mad

One way I have found to ensure a slightly more harmonious car journey when you are travelling with your children is to take a different combination of children with you. Whenever we go anywhere with friends the children all clamour to either go in a different car to their own or just with a different mix of children that don’t include their own siblings, or if they can swing it, both. This often means there is a girls’ car and a boys’ car and usually involves a great deal of car seat swapping and inconvenience to the parents. However it is ultimately worth the effort for the resulting lack of squabbles and relative peace of the drive, even if it is only a 10 minute trip.

Children like going in my car, particularly those from smaller families. It is just a bog standard MPV but to them it feels like a bus, it is high up and has ‘back, back’ seats. These are coveted by visiting children and loathed by my own, who fight over not sitting in the very back seat. Whether this is due to travel sickness, as they claim, or whether it is more the fact that they are just the least heard, way back there, I am not sure.

That is the other thing about my car, all the children feel quite far away. Generally I discourage the front seat, because of the airbag so sometimes when I am driving I can be in my own little bubble. I am sure I am not the only parent to sometimes long for a soundproof screen like those between chauffeur and passenger which will shut out the kids’ noise and demands at the touch of a button.

Although, having said that, I do like the way we are all forced together on a car journey. It is one of the few moments that I manage to get everyone in the same place at the same time. Even when we walk together, everyone has their own pace which means I am alternately speeding up and slowing down between them in order to maintain some semblance of control of my brood.

I like to have them all contained sometimes, and made to have conversation, play games, make observations and just be a family. The dinner table is good for that too, if you can get off the topic of table manners, that will be about the time of the last mouthful, knives and forks will be laid down and one or more will try and make a break for it, back to whatever it was they were doing. There is no such opportunity in the car.

Admittedly we don’t actually have to do very many long journeys but in any case I resolutely refuse to have any DVD/TV or computer style in-car entertainment. That, as far as I am concerned is CHEATING.

It is character building dealing with boredom and having to make up and play games to keep themselves entertained. Mostly it is ‘I Spy’ or spotting the most of a certain colour of car but sometimes we come up with something more interesting. The ‘which is better’ game, (where you choose 2 things/activities/food held in equal regard or equal distaste and decide which you’d rather have,) gives some insights into the children’s preferences that you may not have known otherwise.

In the early years, when I was keen and enthusiastic in my parenting, I actually prepped for a journey. I gave them each a sheet of hand drawn pictures of things they were likely to spot on the way, (if that is they could identify them from my depictions of a cow, caravan, horse and post box.) In hindsight it seems quite cruel to have them scouring for post boxes on the motorway, but it certainly kept them occupied.

These days though I just herd them all in the car with water and snacks and divert boredom with anything I can think up on the fly.

They do now come up with their own games. Recently we had what appeared to be a ‘how many Star Wars characters can you name?’ game – there is apparently quite a lot of mileage in that. That worked mainly because we only had all boys and Rachel in the car at the time.

Emilia complained recently “I hate having 3 brothers!”

“What?” I answered confused, “but you don’t have 3 brothers, you’ve only 2?”

“Yes.... but Rachel?!”

 That was all the clarification I needed. She does have a point there.

This particular day though, I was on my way to Legoland with one extra boy and Rachel, and no Emilia to bemoan the lack of ‘girllishness’ and the atmosphere in the car was agreeable. At least it was on the way there.

Now, my car I admit is a travelling skip. It is 18 years old and I have had it for over 7 years. We’ve had many a close call with its MOT failures and for a long time we put off fitting a tow bar to it, in anticipation of its imminent death, but it keeps scraping through and will not totally give up the ghost. 

The central locking doesn’t work, the bulb in the dashboard has gone so after dark I have no idea what speed I am doing, the speakers are staved in and I accidentally smashed a hole in the tail light with a swinging bike which I carelessly tried to sling in the boot by the handlebars. It is full of sand, stones and biscuit crumbs even after the rare occasions I have cleaned it. It is a permanent home to, crayons, assorted lidless felt tips, paper, several books, 2 spades, a torn map book, a kite, rain poncho and a bag full of emergency spare clothes, and waterproofs and wellies in the winter. There are also the temporary additions of scooters, rollerblades, teddies, prams, balls and Rachel’s comfy cushion that accompany us on any given journey. It is a home from home and if I am in need of anything while out I can usually rummage about in the car and find it. Unless it is change for the parking machine which can never be found in there.

On this occasion however, we weren’t in my car – it had presumably failed the MOT again, so I was driving my husband’s car instead. This is a very old, uncool but practical diesel Ford Mondeo saloon, it looks and smells like a taxi and I need a booster seat in order to see over the steering wheel, but it is cheap to run, can fit all but one of the family at any one time and has an enormous boot for all our paraphernalia.

I pulled up in this car to collect my friend’s boy. The father came out with his son and casting an eye over my vehicle said with a raised eyebrow “So THIS is your OTHER car?” as the realisation dawned that the tin can I usually drive around in, was actually our better car. (So says the driver of a Land Rover, whose other car is a Porsche.)

We may not drive in style but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The car is also the place that I can really let rip at the kids, confident that at 70 mph down the motorway that no one else can hear or witness me losing my cool.

Now the transition from bigger to smaller car with many children is not an easy one. In the closer confines of a smaller car, you have to be even more tolerant, from the foot in my back to having a small and insatiably curious person in the front seat who gets in the way of the gear stick and delights in the new found joy of being able to reach and control the stereo and windows. I have an issue with the children opening the windows unannounced. This stems from mother who used to cry that the sudden opening of the window made her think somebody had fallen out of the car. Presumably that was a very real risk in those days, when my carry cot was placed over the hole in the floor of the car which went through to the road. I have inherited this association with a sudden rush of wind which inspires momentary panic in the driver.

I also find myself bellowing at the kids for distracting me with their squabbling when I am driving and telling them they are going to make me have an accident (which is another repeat of my own mother.)

Ben, aged 3, was obviously hyper aware of the need for concentration while driving as he stopped me trying to do the actions whilst at the wheel when singing along to Tumble Tot action songs.

“Mummy!” he called from the back of the car “Stop doing that! You’ll lose your concentrate and crash!”

If anyone is going to make me ‘lose my concentrate’ it is going to be Rachel, as after she tires of the stereo and windows, she reclines her seat back so that her head is in the back seat with the boys on her brothers’ laps. She reaches round to touch their hands and at the same time her foot hits the volume button on the radio whacking it up to full volume and is unable to turn it off. The boys all protest, she cries because it is too loud and I am shouting at her because she seems to have broken it. It is carnage.

This is nothing new. Car journeys are often fraught with arguments about who is going to sit where, what CD we’re going to endure, who wants windows open or closed and whose singing is annoying who but I do want my children to just learn to get along. It would be much, much easier just to plug them all into their individual screens and headsets and off we could all go in peace and contentment.

That is not to say that we don’t have good journeys too. We do mostly. Recently we were driving somewhere and the children were all getting along beautifully, just being really silly and roaring with laughter at their own absurdity. They were having a great time but consequently annoying the hell out of Mark and me. They were just being so squeaky and irritating, and as I sat in the front of the car, unable to tune them out, I literally felt I was being driven mad.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Hi-Tech Kids

The children really think they know it all when it comes to technology and do not hide their exasperation when I fail to deliver when trying to work the DVD or even just change the channel on the TV. So it is gratifying to hear that children aren’t always so savvy. A friend of mine works in the office of a secondary school and pupils occasionally come in to use the school phone. This is a standard desk phone with a receiver and curly cord attached to the base unit. Most children are so used to mobile handsets at home that they have not even seen one like this, much less know how to use one.

My friend watches amused as they punch in buttons on the keypad. “You have to lift the receiver first” she points out helpfully.

It seems they are as uncomfortable with the old as I am with the new.

I remember as a child, the first time we got a cordless phone, a great brick of a thing with a metal aerial you had to pull up. Such excitement, we were so impressed with the range it gave us. My Dad phoned the old lady next door on some pretext or another, then walked, still talking, round to her front door and rang the bell.

“Hang on a minute Peter,” she said, “I must go, there is someone at the front door.” 

Her face was a picture as she opened the door to him, still with the phone to his ear.

Children now expect so much from technology. I was in the car with Rachel the other day and a song she liked came on the radio. When it had finished she told me to play it again.

 “I can’t Rachel,” I said “it is not a CD, the radio DJ decides which songs to put on, it is not up to me, I am not in charge.”

“Tell HIM to play it again” she insisted.

“I can’t , I can’t talk to him, he is playing these songs for lots of people, not just for us.”

It is quite a hard concept for them, particularly when someone phones my mobile and their voice comes out through the radio on the hands-free, as in this case the children can talk to them and they get a reply. Why wouldn’t they be able to do the same with Christian O’Connell?

My father remembers as a child thinking there was a man inside their wireless. It was a big set and could probably have fit a small man inside. He never quite worked out when the music came on where the band might be hidden.

Our children are so spoiled, they can pause live TV when it is time for dinner. They can watch their programmes ‘on demand’ or on ‘catch up’ whenever they want.

I remember feeling very resentful when I had to miss the cliff hanger on the end of Neighbours because tea was ready, or someone rang to speak to me on the telephone in the other room. (That was often my future husband who’d call in the middle of Neighbours.)

My Mum’s reaction to my protests was always “you can record it and watch it later” but it was always such a faff. You could never find an empty video tape, or it would need rewinding, or fast forwarding past the recording you’d not yet had the chance to watch.

It was quite basic really but laborious, I don’t think anyone in my family ever worked out how to set the video timer to record automatically, we all had to remember to push play and record at 7.30pm to video Coronation Street for Mum while she was at Badminton.

Our parents didn’t use it to the gadgets we had to their full potential then, and I don’t now. Technology is moving on so fast that I have to admit I really do have trouble keeping up with it, and I am supposedly one of ‘the young.’  Well, probably only according to my parents.

Just the explosion of  all things modern; text, email on your phone, smart phones with all their possibilities, digital cameras, instagram, facebook, twitter and all the other social media, Face Time, IPad, itouch, ipod, Tivo, internet TV, cable, Kindles, Satellite Navigation and the endless new apps and computer software overwhelm and confound me.

The children, having grown up with it, are all so undaunted by it. They love it and are quick to appropriate the phone of any unsuspecting visitor who gives them permission to use theirs. Before I know it they are looking through all their photos on it, playing music and checking out what games they might have. Rachel has been known to purchase new games on it using their itunes account. She is only just 4 years old.

When I first had children I used to carry around toys in my bag; pretend keys, stacking cups, a small magnetic drawing board, that kind of thing. Now if you want to keep a child entertained whilst you are trying to have an adult conversation you give them your phone. Even if you don’t give over your phone, they want it, in the same way that babies would rather play with your real keys than be fobbed off with pretend ones. They just want to imitate you.

Smart phones on which they can play music and games, watch videos and even take photos, are so every day to kids, they are not the least bit impressed by them. I was looking through my iphone pictures and found photos of me asleep recently, evidence of Rachel being up early one morning and keeping herself amused taking pictures when we were camping out.

Emilia asked me recently whether the Sat Nav could tell us the way to heaven.

Some young kids are so used to face time or seeing a photo attached to a caller that if they look at a blank screen on a phone, they think there is no one there.

Our children used to be funny on the telephone, nothing would shut them up faster than putting a phone to their ear and requiring them to talk. It would make them go all quiet and shy and nod and shake their head when someone asked them a question.

“They can’t see you!” I would despair “you have to speak, just say yes or no!” 

It was painful.

We used to ‘Skype’ family occasionally, if my husband was there to set it all up, but we haven’t yet got a face time facility. It was quite novel to start with, Skype had the opposite effect of a regular phone and because the children could see themselves, they would turn into total show offs and used to spend the whole time pulling faces and making stupid noises at their cousins, or showing them lego they’d made.

We are currently borrowing a friend’s ipad in order to get Face Time as Mark is abroad for 2 weeks. It is useful to be able to have him wag his finger at the children and tell them to ‘get up and help Mummy,’ even though he is not physically here.

They are so blasé about the whole thing, it is not enough just to be able to see him, hear him and to be shown around where he is staying and working on the other side of the world, they have to throw punches at the screen camera and watch Dad recoil as if he has been hit. Actually, come to think of it, I think Mark started that one!

I am still incredulous that it is possible at all from just his phone, to see and hear him so clearly, and amazed that it can feel like we’re in the same room when he is so far away.

It is strange to think that as time moves on, that not having this facility to talk face to face, might seem as old fashioned as not having a mobile phone today.

Technology has advanced so much it is almost akin to magic. You can do so much with just the touch of a button or slide of your finger.

Ben and Mark love it and can program and do all sorts of animation and special effects through the computer. Ben’s latest film is just a clip of a few seconds where he rubs his fingers together producing crackling sparks, then creates a magical ball of green energy between his hands. He then claps his hands together and it disappears in a puff of smoke. It is simple but effective.

Rachel watched it fascinated, then wanted the live version.

“Do it now, Ben” she demanded.

“He can’t” I said, “it is not real, it is special effects.”

“Oh” she said, seeming to get it.

A little later she was sitting on my lap rubbing her fingers together trying to make sparks,

“But what did you put on Ben’s fingers?”

Growing up as they are, surrounded by the enormous capability of modern technology, it is easy to see that they believe anything is possible.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Economy Drive

As part of my constant quest to keep our food supplies up and the cost of feeding our children down, I often trade down a brand or two in my shopping.
Having grown up with Heinz, Kelloggs and Ribena, you’d think this wouldn’t come naturally to me. However, I do remember as a child, in learning the value of money, I failed to understand why Mum (and everyone really) didn’t buy the cheapest possible of everything. To be fair, I don’t have the most discerning of palates. To me a custard cream tastes the same whether it is ‘basics’ or ‘finest. ’ Unfortunately Ben can tell his biscuit quality and rejects both the basics and the supermarket own brand in favour of McVities. I blame my mother, if she didn’t stock the more expensive variety in her house, there would be no comparison to make and he never would have developed superior taste buds.

I do agree some things are quite obviously not as good. For example, you can’t help feeling a little cheated if your weetabix are skinny and rectangular, and multi grain hooplas are not nearly as nice as Cheerios. Although it doesn’t stop me buying them if the kids aren’t complaining. Most food stuffs we buy are essentially just to fill a hole (or six of them) and we’re not overly fussy. Even Waitrose has an essential range, though it amuses me that they stock ‘essential hummus’ – only Waitrose customers would consider hummus ‘essential.’

I find myself driving to Lidl in Leatherhead to get the 4 pints of milk for £1 deal, I can’t taste any difference in the milk but I do worry about the cows. Unless you bulk buy milk like we do, it is almost not worth the petrol over there. As I told Mum, I will shop more morally when I can afford to, I like to think that even if the cows are badly paid they are not badly treated.

I love getting a bargain though and is great for this. Not only does the website make a satisfying ‘ch ching ch ching’ noise as you select the cheaper option, it simultaneously fills up your basket from each supermarket with the total price comparison and then sends your order to whichever shop you select. (Surprisingly Sainsbury’s has usually come out the cheapest.)

I once scoured the packaging of the supermarket own brand pitta bread and the everyday value version to find out what the actual difference was between them. I discovered that the extra 20p you paid in going for the brand up was for the extra virgin olive oil and sea salt as oppose to olive oil and salt. Who could tell? The value pittas were also slightly smaller but that was admitted on the packet. Considering I often buy seven packets of six at a time, my £1.40 saving from choosing the value range is not to be sniffed at.

I love the anti- marketing of the basics products. The strap line on the pitta bread is ‘a little bit smaller, still fills up a lunchbox. ’ The long’ grain rice is marked up with; ‘some broken, still fluffy when cooked.’ When the marketing team can’t think of anything nice to write about the food, for example on the soups, they just put ‘no fancy packaging’ or even ‘nothing fancy.’

Some other examples that made me laugh, some purely for their dreadful puns or lame rhymes;

Peeled plum tomatoes – ‘some peel, still appealing’
Prawns – ‘smaller, no need to shell out more’
Bread- ‘simple recipe, a little less dough’
Peas – ‘a little less sweet, still go down a treat’
Mushy processed peas (not that I’d ever buy them anyway) – ‘more mushy, still lovely’
Mixed vegetable savoury rice – ‘fewer vegetables, still satisfying’
Tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce – ‘same spaghetti, different sauce.’

It tends not to bode well if you describe food as ‘different’, it usually means you are trying to be kind about it.

The use of the word ‘still’ or ‘even’ to promote something is surely not a positive marketing strategy, but maybe that is the point.

Any basics cleaning product just says ‘cleans, no added promises.’
Who knows what else you get if you pay a bit more, a product that also mows your lawn?

They may as well write ‘It’ll Do,’ but considering that is exactly the attitude with which I shop, it suits me perfectly.

The other day I was so busy in the shop trying save a pound here and fifty pence there that I totally forgot to pay for the car park. Luckily I remembered mid shop, abandoned my full trolley and got to the car in time with a ticket before the traffic warden did. It really would have made a nonsense of my penny counting if I had got a £40 parking fine.

The most uneconomical way to shop is to take the children with you. Then I get “Please, please can we get the iced doughnuts with sprinkles,” from Ben and “Can we have this cereal? It is my favourite, please! ” from Patrick. Then it’s “Please can I get these chocolate mousses for my packed lunch?” from Emilia, and because she knows me so well she adds “They are ‘Basics’.”

Shopping with Rachel is also tricky, not because she fills up the trolley with stuff she wants, although there is some of that, but because she refuses to go in a lift. If it is just the two of us, I have to put the trolley in the lift, press the button, dash out before the door closes and race the lift up the stairs with Rachel to meet it at the top. This is works fine mostly but is not so easy in the multi storey car park I sometimes use, where the stairs and the lift come out on a different floor on different sides of the car park. I nearly managed to lose all the children this way as they escorted Rachel up the stairs and came out somewhere else. They actually found the car before I did. Fortunately, I have not yet lost my hundreds of pounds worth of shopping in this complicated lift system. Now that really would be uneconomical.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Hunger Games

I think my children must have hollow legs judging by the amount of food we are getting through at the moment. During the Easter holidays I felt like I was constantly making meals. I keep discovering the lid off the biscuit tin or the evidence of cheese and crackers on the table. The fridge is continually being raided and meals are supplemented by bowls of cereal at any random time of day, as well as being their traditional breakfast and pre-bed snack.

I do remember as a child myself always wanting food. I was nicknamed ‘the bottomless pit’ at school and even after having seconds of school dinners I would hang around my packed lunch friends hoping I might be offered a crisp or two. Actually, I still have a reputation for being a bit of a pig with a high metabolism, so I can’t really wonder where the children get it from.

My mother-in –law looked after all the children for a day and told me that next time they came she was just going to lay out an all day buffet for them. The cumulative effect of their hunger is quite astounding if you are not used it.

On our family days out the rucksack carrying our lunch is both heavy and bulging. We are having a lot of days out at the moment, which is a result of my fierce determination to get our money’s worth from the Merlin passes we splashed out on this year. It does cover us to visit a lot of theme parks and aquariums and London attractions, but even at half price, for six of us it is still pretty exorbitant. My justification for these is that it is my youngest’s last year at home before she goes to school and possibly the last year our eldest will want to be seen with us, as secondary school looms. I want to make the most of doing fun stuff with him before I lose him to his peers.

One day, when we were with friends at Legoland, Ben complained;
“Mum, you didn’t bring enough food!”

This was after they had eaten between them, 22 mini sausage rolls, 35 cocktail sausages, buttered tea cakes, apples, peppers, grapes, cucumber, tomatoes, yogurts, a choice of ham and cheese, ham or cheese and pickle or tuna and sweetcorn pitta breads, ham wraps, packets of crisps and a packet of biscuits. They also helped their friends demolish a tube of Pringles in seconds and took anything else that was on offer in the communal food sharing. They also had cups of hot chocolate. When they were still hungry, four of the children had half a hot dog each. (We weren’t going to pay for one each! We’d brought lunch with us.)

A lot of the time feeding the children is just a good tactic to keep them busy in the queues for the rides or in the back of the car, so I do always try to make sure I’ve lots to offer them. I was incredulous at Ben’s complaint. I literally couldn’t have carried anymore.

I figure they are just growing children and this is just a normal healthy appetite, until Patrick asks for a pint of milk and broccoli with his breakfast one morning. This is not normal.

“I am trying to grow tall” he explains “I need to be 1.3 metres so I can go on all the rides by myself.”

These Merlin passes are clearly going to end up costing me a lot more than I thought!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Desperately Wanted / Desperately Unwanted

I am so looking forward to day that I am not woken up to cries of
“ Mummmeeeeeee, can you wipe my boppom?!”

I groan, and lie there in the dark for a moment, feeling disgruntled and thinking, yes, I can, but so can you, before admitting defeat and rolling out of bed and downstairs to the waiting bottom.

It won’t be long now until this phase, like the nappy era, is over.
No one is going to wipe her bottom at school in September.

I remember as a child just not seeing the absurdity of the question I asked my Mum in the midst of this phase; “Whose bottom do you like wiping most?”

There is a lot of talk in my house about whose job it is to do certain things. Ben isn’t at all flexible and will refuse to do a job, if it is not written down under his name on the meal time rota for that day. And yet he will think nothing of getting Patrick to take out the recycling or tidy his room for him, tasks which aren’t written down at all but are generally expected of Ben.

I insist that getting Emilia’s hairbrush is her job, she thinks it is mine.
One morning she was howling about the injustice of having to go upstairs and find it when I had apparently just come downstairs and could have got it for her. I was ignoring the noise which had, without missing a beat, turned into being about another issue as she fell over on her way to her room.

“Mummy, you don’t care.....I hurt myself” she wailed.

“I do care” I replied, “but you are always wailing, how do I know that you have hurt yourself? You are the boy who cried wolf, so I don’t take any notice, especially when I am busy getting things done before school.”

“Mummy, you’re only busy with us in the morning, then you have the whole day to do what you want, I have to work hard at school all day....(woe is me, etc, etc.)”

It did make think though. Does she really believe that without her and the other children around I am completely redundant and my time is my own? (9.15am until 12.15pm, all of 4 mornings a week.) Therefore, by her reasoning, outside these times I should be completely pandering to them.

Interesting theory.

They won’t always need me to the extent they demand now and I got a little glimpse of the future recently. As an incentive to get themselves ready on a school morning, I say that once everything is done that they can do as they like until 8.30am. Inevitably this is screen time.

At 8.30am I looked in at our open plan living room/ dining room to see in every corner someone on a screen. Ben was computer programming on the desktop, Patrick was playing on the Wii, Emilia was writing a story on my laptop and Rachel was watching television.

“Time for school” I announced brightly.

There is not a flicker, no one reacts, they all just continue staring at their screens as if no one spoke. I am completely ignored. In fact it takes several nagging attempts and a power shut down before I can tear them away and get them all out of the door.

This is how you go from being desperately wanted to desperately unwanted in one short morning. Could this be the shape of things to come? Straight from their bottoms to the back of their heads.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A Squash and a Squeeze Theory

People often think that having four children is a lot and ask how we juggle it all. It just depends what you are used to, if four is the norm then that doesn’t seem that difficult. It is all a matter of perspective, if you have two children, you may think we have double the work. That is only the case with a few things, like bedtime stories, (why I do them all individually I don’t know?) also reading homework and fingernail and toenail cutting.

My children’s nails seem to grow at a phenomenal rate. It seems I cut them all and in no time their nails seem to be long and dirty and it is time to do it again. When I actually counted up, I worked out that, including my own, I am responsible for 100 fingernails and toenails. No wonder it feels like I am constantly wielding the nail scissors.

It is all relative though. It is like the Julia Donaldson story of a Squash and a Squeeze; the old woman moans her house is too small and is advised to bring all her animals into her house one by one, until she really knows what a small house feels like. Once she shoos them all out, she appreciates her space again, stops complaining and is full of frolics and fiddle-dee-dees.

This is pretty similar to what goes on in our house and I am all for filling the house with people and animals anyway, but it has the added bonus of making us feel like a house with only the six of us is relatively peaceful.

Here is our own version of a Squash and a Squeeze, and you can see what I mean.

"With a couple of dogs to look after for Kate,
A house built for 6 feels crowded for 8.
Then bring in my nephew, my sister and Gran,
And other odd bods - what a curious plan!
Then count in my Dad  who is only one more,
But the house is a squash when you add in all 4.
And inviting in-laws in for coffee will mean
What was comfy for 12 is cramped for 14.
But when neighbour Dom appears on the scene
With the Scotts from next door – it’s gone up 19.
A ring of the doorbell brings kids off the street
So it’s 21 now  -  hope they don’t want to eat.
And as they traipse in with Bertie their cat,
The Jehovah’s witnesses call for a chat.
So what started as 6, is now 24
People and animals -  ceiling to floor.
My kitchen is bedlam but before it gets worse,
The visitors suddenly start to disperse
And gone are the godly, the kids and the cat,
And there‘s space once again in the room where they sat
And though it’s quite fun to have people around,
It’s quite roomy in here I’ve suddenly found
With relatives returned to homes nearby
I could swing a cat now, if I wanted to try.
Now everyone’s gone and we’re back down to 8,
With the dogs in their basket and now here comes Kate
And as soon as she’s taken the two dogs away
The house breathes a sigh as there’s now room to play.
With just 6 of us now it’s so quiet and I feel.
That having 4 children  is not a big deal
And we're full of frolics and fiddle dee dees
Our house is no longer a squash and a squeeze.”

I do love the chaos and I am really very happy to have this busy happy household of visitors, just so long as they are not queuing up for me to cut their nails.