Crikey. If there’s anyone else out there who’s been trying and failing to do the whole work-life-balance thing over the summer holidays, can they please make themselves known? That’s right, hold your hands up high: I need to do a full and accurate head count here. The more people the merrier. Anything to make me feel less bad about myself – less like a neurotic malfunctioning android. And more….well. More like a human.
Yes, I’ve reached Basil Fawlty levels of stress and irritation and I’m not afraid to admit it – I feel as though I’m hanging on to my sanity by my fingernails and that normal life, if anything could be called normal these days, will be forever beyond my grasp. The many, many months of the “new routine” (ie trying to keep work going whilst also becoming a very shit version of a primary school and pre-school) have taken their toll.
I adore my kids. Obviously. They’re funny, they’re cute, they’re close enough in age that they play together for hours, they get excited about tiny things like going to a cafe or getting one of those extortionate magazines from the supermarket, the ones with useless plastic tat sellotaped to the front and a pull-out page of crap stickers. They give the best cuddles, the slimiest kisses that you have to surreptitiously wipe away when they’ve finished, they put their shoes on the wrong feet and they have tiny high voices that make them sound like they’ve been playing with helium balloons.
I love them unconditionally, which isn’t anything remarkable for a parent, but I feel it has to be said nevertheless, because it’s always a touchy subject when you talk about having to work or simply needing time to yourself. Never mind the fact that bills need to be paid, or that you need a little respite just to be. In this case both, although it’s definitely the work element for me that tends to send my stress levels soaring.
The worrying thing about how difficult it is to work through the summer holidays is this: the summer holidays happen every year! Six weeks! At least with lockdown you could console yourself that they were unprecedented times, everyone was in the same boat: there’s nothing unprecedented about the six week holidays. Suddenly you’re plunged from a relatively acceptable work-life situation (six-ish hours a day, five days a week in which to work or catch up on sleep or go to the toilet unaccompanied) into what can only be described as a childcare abyss. It’s like falling off the edge of a life cliff that you simply weren’t prepared for!
One week you’re calmly typing away on your laptop, getting on with your work from about ten until two, maybe with a cup of tea or even a lunchtime sandwich, radio playing downstairs and perhaps a little twenty minute power nap at your desk to look forward to; the next you can’t even find your laptop because the Barbies are using it as their drive-thru cinema.
Trying to work from home is the absolute singular worst thing you can do with children around. They sense it when you try to work. They sniff it out. You can be at your computer watching stupid kitten videos and they won’t disturb you for a full forty minutes, but open a desperately important Microsoft Excel spreadsheet (still can’t read or edit them and I’ve been trying since 1994) and they will be mountain-climbing your back within twenty-five seconds.
“Can I do some typing?”
“What does this button do?”
“Why doesn’t the screen work when I press it?”
“Play Optimus Prime!”
If you’re working from home then good luck trying to switch into professional-person work-mode when a small person is having a poo in the bathroom next door to your office. If you’re trying to conduct a Zoom meeting then pat yourself on the back if you manage to get through it without having to mute yourself to shout at one or more kids to stop them from eating plaster of Paris or snipping at the leaves of the houseplants with the fabric scissors. (“It’s a haircut.”)
The only way I can work from home is to shut off all noise and distraction, which means either wearing earplugs and locking the door in the daytime (and obviously having someone to supervise the kids!) or shifting the working day into the evening and forgoing any sort of relaxation or Netflix binge.
But none of this is particularly a bad thing – at least not for me. I have to say (ooh, big reveal) that the last few months have taught me to do something I’ve never managed to do successfully before, and that is to completely detach myself from work for longish periods of time. Consecutive days. A whole week, even. It’s a revelation. You immerse yourself fully into domestic life and suddenly everything slows down – you still fill the day with chores and looking after other people, but you’re just a bit more present when you do it. Rather than frantically going from task to task and seeing the day as some sort of giant, tickable to-do list, you just sort of deal with things as they are presented to you. When I try to do too much at once, every element of the day becomes a challenge – breakfast, getting dressed, answering the doorbell, but when I allow myself to just chill out (which doesn’t come naturally, I’ll admit) everything is suddenly a little bit easier. And a bit more fun.
So to cut a long story short, I’ve been really trying hard to be less rigid about what I need to get done on the work front. Or actually, that’s not accurate: I’ve been trying hard to be less rigid about when I get things done. This, I think, is going to have to be my mantra each and every school holiday from now on; go easy, set the bar reasonably low and be flexible with timings.
And with that pearl of wisdom to myself, I’m going to bed. It’s a quarter to eleven and I’ve already had my sleepy tea, which I have to say doesn’t do my writing any favours. It makes me quite soporific and my brain goes spongey and refuses to think of anything witty to say. I also know that the kids will be up at 6am – although they have started to do this amazing thing where they sneak off and play together for an hour before they wake us up. How incredible is that? The only thing is that they quite like to do a jumping game for the aforementioned hour and the room is directly above us, so the light in the ceiling shakes and all the glass bits jangle and it sounds like the entire roof is going to fall down on our heads.
Nothing like being woken up by what you initially think might be a serious earthquake. Keeps you on your toes. Who needs relaxation anyway?
Here I am, wafting about underneath a canopy of wisteria. It all looks very serene and idyllic, but don’t let appearances fool you! Just out of shot: a cockapoo eating the remains of a small dead bird, a three year-old trying to touch the remains of the aforementioned small dead bird, Mr AMR shouting at both the dog and the three year-old in an attempt to get them to leave the dead bird alone and a four year-old crying because her empty blackbird eggshell has broken again.
(The egg is called Layla. Everything seems to be called Layla in this house, from dinosaur torches to “precious” stones that have been unearthed from the flower bed. But now we also have the remains of a tiny egg, called Layla – it’s the smallest slither of impossibly delicate, pale blue shell. It started off as roughly two-thirds of an empty shell, but four year-olds have no concept of the word “fragile” and so within two seconds it became half of an empty egg and half a day later the majority of that had disintegrated too.)
Anyway. I read an article at the weekend that discussed something called “cottagecore” which apparently is a sort of romanticised vision of what people think their lives would be like if they lived in the country. Possibly in a tiny, wisteria-hung, seventeenth-century thatch cottage, making pots of jam on the AGA and securing little squares of red and white gingham over the tops of the jars with bits of old string.
Now I’m not one to shatter people’s dreams (I also don’t live in a cottage, so perhaps I don’t even count) but if you’re living in the city and tinkering with the idea of finding a remote abode somewhere and replacing your daily London commute with Zoom meetings plus a weekly office trip then note that:
a) you will never make jam, or if you do then you will make it only once
b) you will want to take a sledgehammer to your AGA within a matter of weeks
c) your thatch will have a bazillion insects and small, crawling animals living in it – think of it like Mr Twit’s beard, but with more activity
Oh, it’s easy to see country life as one big romp around the haystacks in a smocked white dress, but the reality is is that you’ll spend 90% of the time wearing your oldest tracksuit bottoms and mud-caked wellies, standing on the roof of your car in an attempt to find some mobile phone signal. And if you’re doing that then you’re probably trying to phone the oil people to come and fill your oil tank or the sewerage people to come and empty your septic tank or a roofer to come and repair your ancient roof.
I jest, of course. I am the most susceptible person ever to romanticised visions of pastoral life – how do you think I ended up here? And country life has much going for it – a slower, less frenetic pace, clean air, lots of space and greenery and wildlife, gorgeous old stone houses and picturesque #cottages – but dear God don’t think that you’ll suddenly turn into the sort of person who has time to make jam. Unless, that is, you’ve already got the time to make jam.
One of the biggest things I’ve realised, since moving to the sticks, is that plopping yourself somewhere geographically different, especially somewhere more remote, will not in itself automatically change your life. We moved from the outskirts of London to the depths of Somerset with a two year-old and a six month-old baby and for some reason, perhaps because I was postpartum and slightly crazed, I thought that by escaping to the country we would also escape the overwhelming intensity of our everyday lives. But if anything it made life harder. People (the three that we knew in our new county!) were suddenly more spread out – there was no peering out of the window on the offchance that we’d get a friendly wave – and each trip to the shops or a cafe or a baby class involved an epic loading and offloading of small children into the car, so much so that eventually I just didn’t bother.
And you think you won’t miss the bright lights of the city (“I never use the theatres anyway! Why pay such a premium to live in a city when I don’t even use it?”) but once you’ve unpacked all of your boxes in your remote Herefordshire manor house/Devonshire bothy and you’ve knitted your hemp blanket to keep the vegetable patch warm, won’t you be itching for just a little bit of excitement?
Just playing devil’s advocate! Don’t shoot the messenger!
It has taken me the good part of three years to get used to living in the countryside. Granted, I did double-whammy and moved the whole way across the country as well as going remote (what can I say? The house sang to me like a wanton temptress) but still. There are things to consider – things that don’t seem important at the time of moving, but will gradually creep up on you after the three month Honeymoon period is over.
It starts with a general sense of unease – a niggling feeling of is this it? – and then it grows, daily, until winter sets in and you feel the full, bleak force of untempered weather. Because there are no distractions, really, if you’re out in the middle of nowhere; you wake up and look outside and it’s all about the weather. In winter that means rain, rain, wind and a lot of mud. In a town, or in the city, you notice the weather but I feel as though it’s more of an inconvenience if it’s bad – and a huge bonus if it’s good. Life still goes on, streets have Christmas lights and stalls have mulled wine; but if there are no buzzing cafes, bustling pavements and nice shops, and your immediate entertainment involves walking, tending to the garden and more walking then… It’s a different way of life.
I now feel at peace with it, but it’s taken a while and I’m not afraid to admit it. I’ll also come out and say: it can be lonely. There.
So, people lusting after the cottagecore life; if you’re feeling isolated now, in lockdown, then it’s a good time to consider how you would feel with the slightly different level of ongoing isolation that living remotely brings. True, outside of lockdown you are free to socialise and visit family and meet friends at the local organic (“all meat is raised and butchered on the estate!”) pub but everything is slightly more effort. You don’t just pop out for a donder to the shops if you live in a hamlet – you pop out to walk the dog and yes, you see the owls taking flight as the sun goes down and you get to appreciate the sound of absolute, definitive silence as you lay your head on your pillow at night, but you have to ask yourself, would you miss the sound of human life around you?
If the answer is no then go full steam ahead with your #cottagecore dream. Have chickens pecking at your doorstep and dry your boots on the top of the AGA and lomp down to the river with the dog instead of queuing to get into the tube station at Holborn at rush hour. For me, the benefits of living in lots of space and peacefulness vastly outweigh the perks of the city, but then I did live in London for over a decade, then a few more years within easy commuting reach, and I feel as though I got my fix.
So who am I to tell you what you want? If the #cottagecore life seduces you and you find yourself on Rightmove then the best of luck – maybe I should write a guide on what to consider! Just don’t expect to make jam…
It’s life update time again, and rather than bore you with all of the tantrums and CIA-level negotiation we’ve been having to do around here, with our three and a four year old, I thought we could talk about bedtime routines and (more specifically) some of the crazy things I’ve done to get the kids to bed over the years.
Because the other day I suddenly realised that I’d almost forgotten the first little baby bedtime routines. The ones that we started right in the beginning. Those halcyon days when you could just plonk them in the cot and they couldn’t get out. Bliss! Now the routines are more like challenges on Crystal Maze; “can YOU get your three year old boy into his racing car bed without cracking a dent into one of your shins and saying F*CK F*CK B*GGER at the top of your voice whilst managing to give him a drink of fresh water and not allow it to spill which would mean changing his duvet? Work it out, release the crystal and I’ll stand here outside the bedroom door tootling away on my flute.”
I’m not saying that the baby days were easier – the crackling of the baby monitor, half an hour after you thought they were asleep! The feeling of utter weariness at having your three hour window of “me time” interrupted again! – it’s just that bedtimes now are so much more demanding. I’m like a court jester crossed with a minimum security prison officer. I love it and treasure the moments, because I know that in the blink of an eye they’ll be teens and I’ll be barred from even entering their rooms, but my God is bedtime intense!
I’ve nearly always done my daughter’s bedtime, mainly because my son, who is eighteen months younger, never used to go to sleep until he had breastfed from me for hours on end, and so when he was about ten months old Mr AMR started to give him a bottle to make things easier. We then inevitably ended up splitting off into our separate teams in the evening – one child each, and each of us with our own little bedtime quirks and (probably inadvisable) habits.
We’re very lucky in that – mostly – both of us are around for bedtime and so we’ve kept up this “girls’ team / boys’ team” sort of split. Trying to put two young children to bed on your own is chaotic and soul-destroying in equal measures, like herding cats, and I absolutely doff my cap to anyone who does it on a regular basis. Or all the time.
But let’s rewind back to the first proper bedtime era that’s still reasonably fresh in my memory: we can call it the Robot Head Cinema Era. I had bought the kids an Early Learning Centre plastic robot that was large enough to house a moon buggy (toy, not real one) and spacemen figurines. I worked out that if I opened up the doors on its head, the resulting space was exactly the right width for gripping my iPhone horizontally.
And so I used to fire up iPlayer, select a trippy programme called In The Night Garden (if you don’t know what this is then I recommend a viewing for research purposes, but only if you’re not taking mind-altering drugs. It would be enough to send you permanently bonkers) and we would watch baby TV from inside a plastic robot’s cranium.
Total madness, really. I would sit there hunched over, watching along with her (I have no idea why we did this on the world’s smallest screen when we had a huge telly directly beneath us, and a comfy sofa, and a roaring fire, etc etc) and I would feel my neck begin to slowly fuse to my shoulders and my lower back go into spasm, but I was always too tired to shift position.
Then there was the “rap song nursery rhyme” phase. I have no idea why I started this, and it’s the sort of thing that really you should take to your grave, not write about to hundreds of thousands of people, but anyway: I used to do this very bad “beat box” thing and then rap out a version of Little Miss Muffet.
Don’t even ask me to do a rendition, it is never happening and so it’s pointless going there. (I can tell you though that after the “whey” I did do a very funky “hey, hey-hey-hey!” I also did a vague form of twerking when the spider “sat down beside her”.)
The rap rhymes started off a new phase, what is now known as “doing the lullaby”, and we’re still going strong a couple of years down the line. Ah, that’s sweet! you might think, especially as my daughter is going to be five in the summer. But no. It’s not sweet. It’s a magnificent feat of poetic improvisation, that’s what it is. Because not only do I have to make up a new song ON THE SPOT every night, the song also has to rhyme and it also has to be relevant to the chapter of the book we’ve just read.
So, for example, we did a great lullaby about George’s Marvellous Medicine and the horrid grandma, although admittedly I did completely crib the tune (and some of the words) from the CBeebies Christmas panto. (Sniff-Sniff, Delicious Children!)
I sang about Grandma’s puckered mouth looking like a dog’s bottom and her face being as hairy as a mole, except that I had to make “bottom” rhyme with “mole” so ended up saying “bottomhole”, which isn’t ideal.
But it’s actually a very good brain workout, making up rhyming songs with no notice. Firstly you have to think of a tune (usually I nick one from an advert or popular song du jour) and then you have to – completely on the hoof mind! – come up with some lyrics.
And it’s not like Baby 1 is a particularly easy customer – she frowns at anything resembling a half-rhyme and definitely picks up on nonsense words that I’ve just thrown in because I’ve gone into panic mode.
George stirred his pot all day and night
Grandma was really in for a fright!
He stirred it with his wooden spoon
And even put in some of the moon…
“Mummy what? How did he put in some of the moon? Are you sure he did that?”
Anyway, it’s fun and I wanted to write it down because one day she won’t want the lullaby, she’ll say “ugh, you’re so embarrassing, get OUT OF MY ROOM!” and my heart hurts to think of that so I want proof that it happened.
Mind you, some nights I am totally not up for composing what amounts to an eighth of a low-budget West End musical on the spot. Especially if the chapter we’ve read, the chapter that must (it’s the rules) provide the inspiration and bulk of the content, doesn’t quite lend itself to a lullaby.
Last night I read the bit in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where Grandpa Jo uses his last pennies to buy a chocolate bar for Charlie, in the vain hope that there might be a golden ticket inside. It’s called Chapter 10: The Family Begins To Starve.
Not so jolly.
“Do a lullaby about the chapter, Mummy!”
“Why don’t we do yesterday’s chapter, about Charlie’s walk to school and the smell of the chocolate? Sniff-Sniff, Delicious Chocolate?”
“No, it has to be about the old people in the bed and the cabbage soup and the snow. And don’t sing it in the Oompa Loompa tune again!”
Last night’s lullaby tested my artistic talents to the max, I can tell you. I’m the flipping lullaby master. I know you’re desperate to hear some of these lullabies, but again: not going to happen. Satisfy yourselves with the knowledge that I sang about cabbage soup to the tune of a Les Mis hit and managed to rhyme “cabbage” with “baggage”. That has to be enough.
The current nighttime routine doesn’t end with the lullaby however; I then go into Baby 2’s room, negotiate his floor, which should be called “The Torture Garden” because you can’t go two steps without spearing your foot on the upright plastic ladder of a toy fire engine, or the spines of a toy Stegosaurus, and I have to sing him a lullaby.
He only likes two tunes: the first is Soldier Soldier (won’t you marry me with your musket fife and drum? Oh no sweet maid I cannot marry you for I have no [insert item of clothing] to put on)
and the second is Five Little Ducks (went swimming one day, over the hills and far away. Mummy duck said “quack quack quack” but only four little ducks came swimming back).
With both songs, I have to think of more and more outlandish versions to keep him satisfied. In terms of the soldier’s clothing, we have moved on from actual items (pants, socks, a gaberdine) to abstract ideas (sadness, time, reluctance); last night the solider had “no happiness to put on” and had to get himself a “loud thunder” from the grandfather’s chest.
In the “five ducks” song, the ducks have become dinosaurs. Which would be find, except that they don’t quack, which totally bollocks up my rhyming pattern. I can’t work like this. The pressure is too immense. Especially now that “five little dinosaurs” have become “five big stegosauruses” and they stomp instead of swim, roar instead of quack. I should be paid for this level of superhuman lullaby effort.
Anyway, I’m sure this is boring you to absolute tears, so I leave you with the comforting fact that the bedtime routine, including fetching dolly from two floors down, then coming back up and going back down to fetch Calpol, then coming back up and going back down to find Batman, Bumblebee transformer and Heat Wave transformer, then going to the bathroom to collect fresh water – cold tap run for forty-five seconds to ensure suitably icy temperature – and then supervising various toilet trips and so on, consumes approximately 2,300kcal, which means that the many chocolate-based “evening snacks” I subsequently devour are completely A-OK and justified.
What’s your bedtime routine? Kids, no kids, dogs, no dogs; I need to know any weird, over-indulging stuff you do. If it involves a robot’s head, all the better.
Why is it that when I have an early wakeup call, I simply cannot get to sleep? And by the way, I’m talking early-early here, when the owls are still hooting and the foxes are still tearing open the bin bags and rooting for chicken bones. Witching hour early, 3.30am early, not your pedestrian kind of early. Not 6am early. Pah! I spit on 6am.
Before Christmas I had a hideously early wakeup time – 4am – and the night before I could not get to sleep no matter how hard I tried. It didn’t help that I started packing at 11pm and couldn’t decide what to wear to travel to Paris. (Luxury problems, I know.) It was a toss-up between two terrible options; the skinny jeans that garrotte my Pleasure Garden in half with their seam, or the dress that makes my underarms overheat. And the choice of travel attire of course affected all of my other packing, because one option needed a longer coat and the other required a shorter type of coat and the whole debacle sent me into a late-night, overtired tailspin of organisational hell.
Even when I finally got into bed and closed my eyes (the kids woke up twice between 11pm and 1am) I tossed and turned for hours, unable to get comfortable or stop my brain from whirring.
And then after all of the whirring and tossing, I was too hot. Far too hot. This phase lasted for an eternity, roasting my feet and legs even though my shoulders and chest were cold. Which was a worry in itself, as I had a chest infection and we all know you have to keep your chest and back warm! God, you might get pneumonia and die! I’d already tackled death and the depressing certainty of it in the first couple of anxious hours.
It’s that first era of sleeplessness that always kicks everything off, isn’t it? The anxiety era. It starts with the worry of missing the alarm going off, then it moves to the worry of travel in general – things that can go wrong on car journeys, on trains, definitely on planes. After twenty minutes you’ve played out at least eight horrific scenarios involving masked men, suspicious packages, air hostesses with exploding tea trolleys, pilots with a death wish. Then, once you’ve exhausted all possibilities and turned your pillow over to the cool side again, you move onto life in general and all of the things that can go wrong, compiling an almost exhaustive mental list and committing it to memory so that you can refer to it again and again in times when you really need to be getting to bloody sleep.
Anyway, I finally got to sleep at three, but it could have been later because three was the last number I saw on my phone and we all know how time flies when a wake-up call is looming! And then, my friends, guess who sauntered up to the front door HALF AN HOUR EARLY?
The taxi driver. He knocked on the door at four, waking up the dog and then the toddler and then the small child who had until then been peacefully, blissfully slumbering, no worries or hijack scenarios keeping them from their beauty sleep.
I imaginary-throttled the taxi driver. Had I been living in the Georgian times and not merely living in a house from that period, I would have thrown open the bedroom sash, upturned my chamberpot and doused the man with piss. Alas I live in 2020 and we have a toilet. Also, if anyone can “throw open” a Georgian sash window I’ll give them a medal, because it takes about eleven minutes of jostling and joggling just to get them open enough to poke a hand out, even if you’ve had the frames reconditioned and all of the sashes re-weighted. Just saying.
So the kids woke up when the taxi driver knocked and – bizarrely – one child puked and the other did a poo. They were like an effluent-emitting version of a cuckoo clock, pyjama’d kids instead of cuckoos. Cuck-koo-BLEUGH! Cuck-koo-pppppllllllllllop. (That’s the universally acknowledged sound of a poo happening.)
Why could the taxi driver have not just been on time? Why half an hour early? Why knock on the door? It’s not as though we’re short of places to stop and pull over, near us. Yes, it’s dark, yes it can be slightly sinister and the trees look like witches fingers and you might get a bat flying into your windscreen, but for the love of God it’s four o’ clock in the morning! Being early is worse than late, in some scenarios – any decent person knows that. It’s as bad as turning up half an hour early for a dinner at someone’s house – you just don’t do it. They might be shaving their legs, or they could be peeling potatoes; if it’s a couple then they’ll likely be stressed and shout-whispering hateful things at each other, things about divorce and who makes all of the social arrangements and whether chicken past the sell-by date should be thrown away if it smells faintly of cheese.
If you book a taxi for 4.30AM, who in their right mind turns up early? It’s not like 4pm, when the passanger-to-be will most likely be doing that pacing, hand-wringing thing whilst waiting for their chariot to arrive. Daytime passengers are always ready for their car approximately twenty minutes before it’s due: morning passengers are not. Nobody sane chops a full thirty minutes from an already truncated sleep just so that they’ll be ready for a taxi – if you have all of your faculties then you’ll time it to a tee. Wake up, brush teeth, slide into pre-laid-out clothes, quietly creep downstairs and let yourself out of the front door – taxi idling outside, but preferably engine should be off so that you don’t disturb half the world.
You’d think that these would be basic and obvious default settings in life. Mind you, you’d also think that knowing how to pack a suitcase would be, yet I fail each and every time I do it. On this particular trip I managed to pack four different moisturisers yet only one matching pair of shoes – the other pair were both made of the same beige leather but the left foot had a 6cm heel and the right foot was a whacking great 10cm! Oh how I hobbled.
Anyway, those anxiety-fuelled sleepless nights are a total bore, aren’t they? And there’s nothing worse than finally dropping into a deep slumber and then hearing the alarm go off. I should have had one of my Epsom Salt baths (I tip five large mugfuls into a warm tub) but I was too busy hunting my wardrobe for the jeans that would leave me permanently disfigured in the nether regions.
Why don’t they make jeans with a gusset?
I’ve had a slightly longer break from work than anticipated; but don’t worry, there’s nothing sinister afoot. I’m not ill, the dog didn’t die, I’ve not had a drastic facelift that meant I needed to hide behind bandages for a month. I was just absolutely shattered before Christmas and then the school holidays (aka “the great relentless abyss of no childcare”) completely finished me off.
I won’t harp on about Christmas not being a holiday – you can read this post from the same time last year and just update the kids’ ages – but it’s safe to say that having a four and two year old is as much work (possibly more) than having a three and a one year old. At least toddlers (generally) haven’t discovered eye-rolling and chat-back. At least toddlers are vaguely amused by wrapping paper, empty boxes and the jangly bell from a Lindt bunny tied to the end of a piece of ribbon. Fast-forward a year and the children now want painting games on the iPad and festive biscuit-decorating sessions.
Anyway, to cut a long and fairly pedestrian story short, I decided to take a few casual days off when school started back last week so that I actually had more than twenty seconds to myself. It was great. On the first of the two child-free days (there were four school days in total but Ted only goes to nursery part time) I stayed in bed looking for second hand velvet sofas on eBay and browsing for vintage rugs on Vinterior. On the second child-free day, which – alas – wasn’t consecutive – I went to Bath in the morning with Mr AMR, had some lunch and then sorted out the shoes and boots in the utility room. Bliss.
So that covers the two days last week when I actually had some proper time off: what of the rest of the “holiday”? What an earth have I been up to, seeing as though I’ve been on a self-imposed social media ban which theoretically should free up about nine hours a day? Here’s a run-down: brace positions, people, it’s a wild ride.
I learnt how to use the scanner thing at Sainsbury’s. Have you used these supermarket handheld beepy scanner things? I’m not talking about the self checkout tills, which are so useless and stress-inducing they make me want to chew off my own feet, I’m referring to the handsets that you pick up at the start of your shop and take around with you, zapping barcodes as you go, so that at the end of your shop you can just pay and go.
No unloading the trolley at the till only to pack it up again and then unload it into the boot of your car. (Sounds such a ridiculous waste of time when you write it down.) No watching helplessly as your bottle of Malbec slowly rolls along the conveyor belt, straight off the end and then smashes on the floor. No performance anxiety as you try to pack your bags in front of the people waiting in the queue behind you – the pressure as you feel them judging your packing speed and dexterity! The shame as you fumble to retrieve your bag-for-life from the floor! The panic as a loose lime you’ve reached for rolls away, escaping your grasp. You can feel your audience’s eyes trained upon you – they wince as you pack heavy potatoes on top of squishy cherry tomatoes, they breathe an audible sigh of relief when you realise that the milk is leaking and ask if someone could possibly get you another.
“JANET! JANET! Six litres of full fat on checkout nine! The woman’s got a leaky one!”
None of that when you use the handheld scanner. Utter genius, it is. Although I have to say, don’t let your kids mess about with it. I almost paid for eight giant boxes of dishwasher tablets and a “Pressure King” pressure cooker.
I saved over £290 on curtain tie-backs. Yes, you heard me – £290! The one from Samuel & Sons that matched my tasselled curtain (photo above) would have been £300 inc VAT and I managed to get an (admittedly much plainer) version without the tassel but with all the same tying-back abilities in the Laura Ashley sale. Eight quid! The fact that it took me around ninety-five man hours to research alternative tie-backs is by the by. I’m pretty sure my labour costs were more than the original tie-back…
I made Yorkshire Puddings properly for the first time and they were immense. Quite literally. I put a bit too much batter into each tin and they rose to just about fill the top oven. I think one of them was almost ten inches tall. Who cares, though – more is more when it comes to Yorkshire Puddings, surely? It’s the only part of a roast dinner I’m actually bothered about. Next year at Christmas I might just make myself a giant Yorkshire and fill it with gravy. Bit of al dente broccoli. Scrap of turkey and a dollop of cranberry and I’m done.
I took the stair gate off and now Mr Bear the cat is an omnipresent menace. Honestly, life was easier when he was confined to the ground floor. Now that he has free run of the house he sneaks up on you when you’re in the shower, jumps onto your back when you’re sitting on the loo and pounces on the kids’ feet in bed. He’s having an absolute whale of a time. Although I caught him pointing his claws in the direction of my velvet upholstered Soho Home bed the other day and so the gate might have to be resurrected. It’s been so nice without it though – just walking down the stairs, freely, without having to wrestle with the lock and then risk breaking my neck tripping over the frame. We could have taken it down about a year ago if it wasn’t for the cat and his penchant for creeping about the place and using furniture to sharpen his nails…
I did a self-imposed social media ban. Which I’ve already mentioned, but it’s worth saying again: I didn’t look at any social media from the 21st of December until the other day. Amazingly, my screen time didn’t go down, but that’s because I used all of the social media time trawling the internet for furniture bargains. I reckon if you squished all of the time together, I spent a full day and night searching for stuff on Vinterior – the scrolling started to make me feel seasick! (By the way, if you want to get £50 off your first order with them use RUTH CRILLY in the code box. This isn’t a special affiliate setup – anyone who orders with them can get a code.)
Why the social media ban? I just wanted a quiet and relaxing Christmas (HA!) and to properly stop thinking about work for a couple of weeks. The thing is that I have a perpetual internal monologue as I go about my day – I almost narrate my own existence – and because of this I’m always tempted to write down every thought that I’ve had, or record every action. Quite often little things I’ve done can form the basis for a post here on A Model Recommends, or I’ll jot down a thought that will then become a bigger idea which then requires a longer sit-down with pen and paper to elaborate, and unless I absolutely switch off, one hundred percent, the temptation is always there to quickly write a caption or draft a blog post.
So I moved all of my social media apps to a different page of the iPhone menu so that they weren’t staring me in the face when I opened my phone and then I just sort of forgot about them. I can highly recommend it, at least every once in a while. I actually think I have an OK relationship with social media – I’m definitely not addicted and can easily detach myself – but still. A digital cleanse felt pretty good!
Now I’m finding it quite hard to get back to work, however – I’m dragging myself very slowly into 2020, like a giant, jumper-wearing slug. I have been setting myself absurdly basic tasks so that my brain doesn’t go into shock;
email the sofa-fixing man about fixing the sofa, ask him to fix the sofa and how much it would be to fix the sofa. Can he even fix the sofa?
How are you finding the New Year? Did you set any resolutions or do you have a masterplan for 2020? Mine is to try and be more organised with work so that I don’t feel so stressed – plan my content and commitments in advance so that I know what I need to get done, rather than just fitting in tasks at the last minute or late at night. 2020 is the year of the new, streamlined me!
I made my first school-related Mum Error the other day when I sent Angelica wearing her uniform on something called a “mufti day”. What the hell is mufti day?
Granted, I should have probably Googled it instead of dismissing the mufti-themed email – thinking I have no clue what this means and then deleting it from my inbox – but I’ve never been very good at dealing with things that I don’t understand. I’d rather just ignore them and move on to the things that are easier to process. Ha!
Anyway, I can say that – categorically and one hundred percent truthfully – I had never even seen the word “mufti” before last week. It sounded to me like something to do with hand muffs or maybe a special type of bread roll or a kind of dense, difficult-to-digest cake and none of those things seemed relevant at the time of reading and so I basically just ignored the fact that it was “mufti day” the next day and got on with my John Lewis sales browsing.
Terrible, terrible parent.
Although obviously I couldn’t admit to myself that I was a terrible parent, so instead I became incensed with the school emailing system and the email wording in particular and questioned, at length, why they wouldn’t just use a phrase that everyone would know. Like, I don’t know, “non uniform day”. Because who the hell knows what “mufti day” is?
“You don’t know what mufti is?” said my nextdoor neighbour. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Erm, mufti, yeah,” said my (usually quite conspiratorial) school gate pal, “everyone knows what mufti is.”
I rang my mum. There was no way she would know what mufti was. I’d never heard her utter the word ever, and so really it was mostly her fault that I was so ignorant. She was a teacher for decades, too – if mufti was a commonly used phrased for non-uniform day then I’d have known about it.
“Musty?” she said. “Hold on, I can’t be long, Karl and Linda are here. You want to know about Musty Day? What’s that? I’m sorry, I have no idea.”
“Mufti!” I shouted.
“No, you know, it’s when you wear your own clothes to school.”
“Are you talking about mufti? Mufti day? Ha! It’s MUFTI with an F, for God’s sake. How have you not heard of mufti? I hope you didn’t send Angelica into school in her uniform, that would be so, so cruel.”
Christmas is creeping up on is, isn’t it? I’m planning on taking three weeks off – one to run around buying all of the things I’ve forgotten to plan for, another week to cook meals continuously for people visiting my house and load the dishwasher on repeat and a third week to try and get everything back to normal so that I can start work again.
As I wrote (almost) a year ago, Christmas is not a holiday. So I have set the bar low in terms of expectations this year. Although, I do now have two fully-functioning walking, talking children who can effectively communicate their wishes and also use a toilet, so it should be easier than Christmas 2018. Shouldn’t it?
I’m hoping that Angelica will provide the bulk of the festive entertainment, seeing as though she has transformed, seemingly overnight, into a kind of expressive dance amdram noise machine. She never tires, her ability to improvise nonsensical lyrics and put them to tuneless tunes knows no bounds, she must hold the world record for number of pirouettes achieved before fainting with dizziness. I’m looking forward to the Christmas Gala, which is to be held in our living room and has just one performer who must be applauded loudly as she emerges from behind the sofa to take her bow.
I suddenly have quite a clear vision of my future; I foresee many Saturday afternoons spent sitting on uncomfortable benches in leisure centres waiting for dance competitions to finish. I’ll be the woman in the fleece holding a tin of slightly stale cheese sandwiches wishing that she’d never started the bloody clubs in the first place…
With December comes Elf on a Shelf. Do any of you hide the elf every night? (Not a euphemism.) I honestly don’t know what possessed me to add another complication into our daily routine, but for almost the entire month of December we now have to get up early, ie earlier than Ted, ie 5.50am, to put the bloody elves somewhere imaginative. (LOL.)
Except that we never remember. So one of us has to creep about in our dressing gown as the little sproglings eat their breakfast, find the elves from the day before (we have two, they came in a cheapo two-pack on Amazon) and move them. It’s not a massive inconvenience, but when it’s a job just to remember your own name in the morning adding elf shenanigans into the mix is a recipe for disaster. This morning the children almost saw me move them because I’d shoved them down my pyjama top and one of the legs was sticking out at a jaunty angle.
Anyway, it’s all worth it for the look on their little faces. (Ted and Angelica’s faces, not the elves’. The elves’ faces always have the same look. Slightly evil, worryingly glee. Like they’ve just emerged from a pet shop carrying an axe.) They (Ted and Angelica) are still at the age (two and four) where they believe absolutely, wholeheartedly in whatever you tell them. Elves that watch you and record your behaviour, a man with a red suit and a white beard who watches you and records your behaviour… Actually that all sounds really creepy when you write it down, doesn’t it?