The accidental assault of the holy dog!

Arriving in a tiny rural hamlet near Lands End yesterday, I was really excited. The only things we could see were a tiny ancient church, a farm, and acres of beautiful green fields. 


Our host graciously explained that the property we were renting had been in her family for decades. Originally the old schoolhouse, other uses had included a machinery store, and a church hall. She explained that the following day was a historic day for the little Church opposite. For the first time ever, 4 local churches were meeting as one in this village chapel, for the first of 4 combined services. Despite her having met the children, in a moment of haste, she invited us to the service at 10 am, and we accepted. The deal was done. 


This morning, everyone was smartly dressed for the occasion. All 4 of the little darlings then managed to spill a variety of substances all over their clothes, including weetabix, apple juice and charcoal from last nights BBQ. Half a packet of baby wipes later, we crossed the road to the church. It is tiny, but really beautiful. As we had arrived a little early, I suggested a walk round the ancient graveyard. That’s when it all started to go wrong. It was around the time that the worshippers started to arrive, that I lost whatever slight control I previously had over the little darlings. As our host arrived, she managed a gracious smile despite the fact that Patch was swinging round a beautiful Celtic headstone as though it were a roundabout, and the twins were digging with great determination using their bare hands to try and uncover dead body bones (apparently they we to be for the dog accordingly to Emily). Lucy lay sprawled across a headstone yelling the letters and numbers she could recognise, and I was trying frantically to collect them all. Gesturing to the large food bag I was holding resulted in a collective scream of “Food!” Before they flew through the church doors, much to the astonishment of the mainly elderly parishioners. 

Scuttling past the minister on my way in, I asked quietly whether this was a child friendly church as otherwise, I thought we had better retreat now. ‘Of course we are child friendly!’ he bellowed. ‘They are free to run around as they please!’ While I could see he meant it truly, I did not get the impression that his flock agreed. I also suspected it had been a long time since he had seen kids like mine in church. Kids running around was likely to be the least of his worries. Scaling the bell tower or attempting to bathe in the baptismal pool seemed much more likely. 

As, by this stage, we were now late, we got the front row. In full view. Of the entire church. Which it turned out was full for the first time in, perhaps, decades. No pressure then Mummy! 

We made it to the first reading, about 4 minutes in. Then, the little darlings remembered that I had packed sausages. There were lone sausages, sausages in baps, in wraps, with ketchup and mayo. In fact every possible combination to try and keep the peace. Then there was the fizzy orange to wash it down. This was not ideal in the front row. The cry for sausages went up after the first sentence of the reading. There were gasps, giggles and coughs. The reader sped up. The yells got louder, and included specifics. ‘I need ketchup in mine!’ ‘I hate Mayo, where’s mine?’ The minister looked sympathetic, the ladies behind giggled, and others glared. It took a few minutes to dole out the orders, but then, we earned relative peace for at least two minutes. Then the climbing and jumping started. At first, they just climbed onto the kneelers. However, this quickly escalated to climbing the whole pew, then over the top. Quickly tiring of that, they moved on to jumping. The hymns apparently did not appeal. As ‘Morning has broken’ came to a heartfelt conclusion, Twinkle twinkle struck up with great gusto, followed by competition from the Old MacDonald camp. So heartfelt were their differences, it was like a toddler choral pro-EU/Brexit rally which ended in blows only a few moments in. 

As the sermon started, the minister graciously praised those who bring small children to church. He noted the decline, and laughed that it was great to have people younger than himself in church. He told the kids they would get a biscuit for every sleeping parishioner they discovered during the sermon. It was a really great try. It had a whole 2 minutes of impact. Then sausage wars started. Sausages were yelled for and traded. At one point in he sermon the minister actually laughed as on making a serious point he turned to find twins pointing foil wrapped sausages at him from the top of the pew. To give them their dues, the congregation held it together. 

We made it as far as holy communion. Our own went fine. It was when the dog, obviously elderly, but clearly a regular churchgoer, went up for communion, that it all fell apart. The dog knew the routine by rote. Obviously it had not been confirmed as it chose a blessing over the wafer (or maybe it just didn’t like wafers). Either way, it was duly blessed, and made it’s arthritic way back down the steps. The dog had been momentarily attracted by the delicious, if unusual, scent of sausage in his church. Against his better judgement, he edged closer. Just then, a twin chasing the dropped end of a sausage crawled under hubby’s feet.  Hubby tripped, and the hymn book in his hand launched over the pew landing squarely on the holy canine. The entire historic service had turned into a complete circus thanks to the invitation of these last minute guests. I should add that the dog was entirely unscathed, just a lot put out!

As we prepared to exit the church at high speed following the hastened end of the service, it was with great alarm that I saw several of the congregation approach with purpose. It was just as I yelled ‘Run!’ at the kids that I saw they were brandishing…biscuits! It turned out that the desire to see young people in the church was in fact widespread. While in our own heads, and by our standards, we had destroyed the sermon, it turns out we had inspired hope for the future. In a community where youth attendance  has severely dwindled, we had apparently shown what the future could look like. 


Good luck to them, that’s what I say. I hope they win. Our faith is not theirs, and visa versa. They welcomed us to their special day though, and of course we would welcome them back. We happily joined them, and were ever so grateful for their inclusion. I think it meant a lot to each of us. We will continue to worship in our own faith, thankfully supported by a community and very active faith school. And I will continue to survive parenting 4 little darlings using wine (Listen guys, Jesus turned water into wine. There can be no better endorsement! ). What an unusual but ace experience. What a wonderful world!

Advertisements

The Un-yummy Mummy’s holiday packing!

Half-term. That little week where you wait eagerly for school to finish so that you can spend time with your little darlings. Motherly guilt about how little time you have spent with them recently is assagued by the fact that you will have 9 whole days with them (Cue Mary Poppins style mental image of happy kite flying, smiles all around). Sunny skies, happy giggles and healthy snacks abound.

Obviously if you have made the ridiculously stupid yet brave lovely decision to take the little darlings away for the week, you will now be faced with the packing. It’s fine, you tell yourself. I mean, I dress them every day. I just have to put seven sets of everything in a bag, and hey presto. You are, of course, totally deluded (but you can put it down to parental exhaustion, so it’s fine).

The yummy mummy breezes gracefully around her neat and recently hoovered home, easily lifting piles of freshly laundered clothes into her irritatingly pristine suitcase. The clothes will of course be The Little White Company. All white and lineny, and impossible to ever clean after the first wear, unless you are a yummy mummy. Then again, her little darlings can eat a bowl of spaghetti bolognese in a busy Italian restaurant without getting so much as a splash on their Little White Company outfits. They would never, ever be found playing pasta Star Wars under the table, you know, launching pasta rockets at each other, or anything like that. They would definitely never be caught using spaghetti pasta to fire meatballs at the waiters ankles. Never.

The Un-yummy mummy frantically machine washes and tumble dries the laundry pile, which has started to look more like the Pyrenees mountain range than a ‘pile’. Everybody knows that if you whisk the stuff straight out of the tumble drier and fold it you don’t need to iron, right? The Un-yummy mummy discovers that this is a bit of a lie. Cue frantic ironing. The plan to arrange each child’s packing neatly on their bed goes particularly badly. Obviously as soon as you do that, the little darlings have an urgent need for a pretend nap, chucking your haphazard piles onto the floor. The Un-yummy Mummy re-assures herself for the 55th time that it may be Lands End, but it’s not world’s end we are going to. There is bound to be  a Sainsbury’s right? Anyway, after the time they lost Patch’s suitcase in Egypt and he spent the whole week in the same pair of pants (and only pants!), it seems sensible to mix up the packing a little. It’s organised chaos.

IMG_1448

It only takes a mere 8 hours to launder, iron and pack for the 4 little darlings. Upon realising that I now have to pack for myself, and having developed an overwhelming phobia of laundry, the Un-yummy mummy pops off to Sainsbury’s with the general idea of buying a couple of outfits which can be quickly handwashed and hung each evening, and be ready for the next day. The minimalistic approach. That’s the way forwards.

One large bill and several ill fitting garments later, the Un-yummy mummy starts laundering her pre-existing clothes. The returns will have to be done when we get back. However, I have now realised precisely how the yummy mummy does it. It’s Waitrose (and Ocado)! I bet they keep it a secret, the yummy mummy’s only and all that. I’ll bet they have a special Waitrose ‘Holiday packed suitcase ordering service’. You just click the child’s age, gender, favourite colour and name (name labels people), along with the destination country and length of stay. Within 48 hours, your pre-packed child specific suitcases arrive ready to go. No need to pack at all. I bet Ocado even offer an accelerated service, you know, the two hour service for busy working mums who forgot they were going on holiday.

Having not packed anything for myself as it all has to go back to Sainsbury’s, I console myself with the fact that the kids have clothes packed. They may not be ironed, or appropriate to the weather, but the kids will not be naked, which is a major plus. The Un-yummy mummy stuffs her brood with pizza, and, feeling suitably exhausted, sneaks down the garden to a sunny spot with a Martini Rosso and Coke (which would have been lemonade, but the little darlings guzzled it while I wasn’t looking).

The yummy mummy will undoubtedly be eating organic quinoa and vegetables with low fat homous with her little darlings, supping calorie free Shloer or something similar. They will be sitting in the sun, dog at their feet waiting patiently for a treat. The cat will obviously be sleeping in his garden cat nest, absorbing the atmosphere as though he were a feline Mozart.

The Un-yummy mummy’s escape was apparently far from un-noticed. The kids, dog, cat and chickens all pile down the garden within 60 seconds. The Martini gets knocked over onto the Un-yummy mummy’s novel (not yet started). This startles the cat who jumps onto her knee. At precisely that moment a twin turns the hose on the dog. The hose sounds like a cat hissing. The dog yelps at the cold water, while the hose hisses like a cat. The cat leaps in panic and is several gardens away before the blood starts flowing from the Un-yummy mummy’s arm and leg.

IMG_1442

Now the Un-yummy mummy is still unpacked, has no novel for her holidays, and is drinking wine while waiting for the painkillers to kick in. Cats only have 5 claws, and they are not particularly wide. They are deep though. Very deep.

Next time, I want to join the yummy mummy’s Waitrose/Ocado pre-packed suitcase club. For now, though, I am really looking forward to first night holiday snuggles! (…and wine…and takeaway……!!!)

Happy holidays everyone!

Giveaway! A copy of the Coal House signed by the author Wayne Barton.

A few months back, I did a review of The Coal House by Wayne Barton. It is his debut novel, although he is a well known author and sports journalist (he has his own Wikipedia entry people!).

As it happens the debut went rather well. Since then, Wayne has been sending me new novel manuscripts faster than I can read them! He is now planning the release of his next novel Mablethorpe, in July. I am going to be honest, I haven’t read the manuscript yet. However, if it’s anything like The Coal House, it will be well worth a read.

In anticipation of the launch of Mablethorpe, Wayne has kindly offered one of my lovely readers a personally signed copy of The Coal House. I have included here my original review. To enter the competition, please click on the link below.

Click Here to Enter

Original Review

I know, I can hear it all now. She has 4 kids, 4 chicken, 2 dwarf Russian Hamsters, a cat, a husband and a job. Does she have no home to go to? Why on earth would she review a book? We always knew she was a bit mad but…etc…etc…!I will tell you why. The author said to me, would you like a free copy of my book in return for telling anyone who will listen what you genuinely thought of it. I thought about it for 30 seconds or so and concluded the following:

1. I like free stuff (what parent doesn’t, I mean kids don’t come cheap!).

2. I like books.

3. I find it hard to keep my uncensored opinion to myself whether someone wants to hear it or not (hence the bloggy thing)

4. I have kids. I don’t have time to browse WH Smiths thriller section while enjoying a latte and shortbread. Book shopping with kids is pretty tricky. Basically, if someone tells me what a book is about and whether it’s good or not, I find it pretty helpful. It’s about time I re-paid the favour.

Books

Pre-kids, I would read one to two thriller novels a week. Any spare moment was spent devouring literature. The majority of weight in my holiday suitcases was usually, to the bemusement of many a customs officer, novels for me to spend hours reading wherever we went. Post kids, well, I probably don’t need to expand! Needless to say, where once I would have read pretty much anything on the basis that within a couple of days, I would be on to something new, I am now very selective. My reading is now limited to a short time on the train on my working days, and ten minutes in bed, or possibly on the sofa if I don’t make it as far as bed, before I fall asleep with my book on my face (unless it’s a very good one!). I now only read novels which I expect to really enjoy, as I can expect to be in the company of that novel for at least a month.

The Coal House, by WS Barton

Llandudno, North Wales, and the surrounding countryside, is a beautiful part of the world. It is one in which I am privileged to spend time with my family, as it is the area from which my husband’s family originate.

This part of North Wales is home to breathtaking scenery, and on a summers day, is a beautiful place to spend seaside time with the kids. There is a Victorian pier with traditional and not so traditional activities. Surrounded by high hills, there is a funicular railway as well as a cable car and dry toboggan run. On a winters day, when the pier is closed due to crashing waves and strong winds, it is truly exhilarating for adults and children alike.

As with any such place, when the weather turns, or the mist rolls in, there can come a sense of haunting isolation despite the presence of others. My family experienced the drastic change when we went up the Great Orme eating ice cream on the ride up, and shivering uncontrollably in thick fog on the way back down in September last year.

It is against this backdrop that the debut novel of WS Barton is set. When I was asked to consider reading and reviewing his debut novel, one of the attractions was that it was set against a familiar backdrop, and one which I knew would undoubtedly give a real sense of atmosphere to any thriller.

This novel opens with some brief detail about the past and present of the two main characters, Finn and Clara. Perhaps it is only my perception, as there is no particular reason for it, but there was a penetrating sense of something approaching loneliness and almost foreboding from the first page. This sense remains throughout the novel, and maybe this is the reason that it is such an intriguing read.

The descriptions of the landscapes, people and history are all extremely plausible. The illustrative language conjures up a near perfect imagine of the area and its wilderness and enchantment as I know it myself. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an airy fairy novel about landscapes. The fact is that the very success of the authors endeavours to capture the essence of this part of North Wales means that you find yourself transported into the story. I started to find it hard to escape, and it is as if I was right there in Ty Glo with Finn.

How you feel about this depends on how you feel about finding yourself really afraid! As a seasoned thriller reader, I feel a bit fed up when the plot unravels too quickly leaving the last third of the novel as the kind of ‘mopping up at the end’ bit. That is definitely not the case with The Coal House. In fact, having delivered his chilling tale with fast paced twists and totally unexpected turns, WS Barton almost slaps you in the face with the final chapter. I found myself a bit stunned when the novel abruptly ended. The tale moved so quickly, I didn’t really have the opportunity to concoct my own theories about what may or may not be the final outcome. What I will say is that I never saw THAT coming!

So, as a reader, Would I change anything? I felt that I wanted to know more about the supporting characters, particularly the purveyors of the Percy Arms. I also wanted more time at Ty Glo, particularly with the events which unfold there beyond what happens to Finn directly. It is perhaps a little strong to call these criticisms, and they would perhaps be better described as unanswered curiosities. No doubt, WS Barton chose to leave it as he did. My only other comment would be that I wanted it to be longer. I wanted to know more. I suppose I didn’t want it to end when it did!

I shall tell you no more. I recommend reading this novel but with the following caveat. I do not recommend reading it when you are in the house alone, and I do not recommend reading it before bed. I will not go up the Great Orme again, and look at the view, without experiencing a tingling feeling in the hairs on my neck!

If I had to sum up this book in one sentence, I suppose it would be this. ‘It scared the b’Jesus out of me, but I still came back for more.’ The choice is yours.

The Un-Yummy Mummy

Www.4kidsandachicken.com

For more information on The Coal House, please go to http://waynebartonbooks.com

10 Must read truths about paddling pools!

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and you think it’s a really great idea to buy the little darlings a paddling pool. After all, as the picture on the box shows, it can only enhance your family life. Frankly, if the picture on the box is anything to go by, you would be parentally negligent not to buy them a paddling pool. The little darlings will happily play in the water while you sit nearby, on guard of course, but supping vino and catching up on that novel you have been meaning to read for the last year or so. What better way to pass a sunny family day.

Parents, I am afraid I need to break it to you. It is all a lie. A wicked, sales generating lie. I will tell you the truth about the paddling pool (I do not sell paddling pools, obvs.).

  1. It doesn’t matter what time you fill the pool. This is England people. The water in any decently sized paddling pool will never warm up. Not even in August. It will always be cold enough to pose a risk to a brass monkey.
  2. You will not actually get any peace at all. You will spend at least half an hour digging out last years now too small swim stuff and squeezing the little darlings into them, all the time telling them to stop making such a fuss, of course it still fits. (*Mental note, trip to supermarket for new swim stuff). By the time you have wrestled them all into the ill fitting lycra, they will be crying as they are tired, hot and hungry. Cue pom bears and squash.
  3. Now you have reached the water entry stage. Do not pour the chilled wine parents. It is simply not going to pan out as you hope. Put the novel away.
  4. The little darlings will launch themselves into the ice cold water. They will giggle and shriek with delight, and you may think my warnings are ill conceived. They aren’t, I promise. Within 5 minutes some smart arsed little darling will start kicking water at the others. This will result in floods of tears and calls for towels.
  5. Having dried the affected faces and yelled at the little darling responsible not to do it again, you can settle back down in your chair.
  6. The picture on the paddling pool box shows crystal clear water. Get real people. It has been 10 minutes. One of the little darlings will have done at least a sneaky wee in the pool.
  7. You should be thankful for the ones that wee in the pool.The ones that insist that you accompany their dripping little bodies to the loo, turning your kitchen floor into a lethally slippery path of doom are far worse. I am not even going to get into the wet lycra wrestle that’s required to allow them to use the loo.
  8. As a result of number 1 (climate conditions), within minutes, the little darlings will be shivering uncontrollably. Upon questioning, they will deny and feeling of cold (despite their inability to speak properly due to the fact they are shivering so hard). At some point one of the little darlings will give in and request to be dried and changed. Just as you have finished the process, they will see the others in the pool and change their minds. You will have to undress them, and redress them in their wet swimming gear (that will be another wrestle with wet lycra then).
  9. When you finally order the little darlings out for fear of hypothermia, you can expect around 30 minutes of screaming. Your dry sun-warmed skin can expect to be assaulted by drips and splashes from sopping lycra as you peel it from ice cold screaming flesh.
  10. Finally, the little darlings are in bed. Where you might normally sit down in relief with a glass of vino, you instead must now go and empty the pool. Aside from the safety risk posed by water in the garden, you should know that the picture on the box is frankly complete shit. What the pool will actually look like after 5 minutes of use, is this:

IMG_0134 (3)

(PS. If you have a fitbit, and have been wearing it throughout the paddling pool experience, it may by now have exploded/switched itself off for preservation. No human is expected to endure this.)

HELP! My 65 yo male neighbour is photographing my kids!

We are lucky enough to have a large, if a little ramshackle, garden. We moved in 4 years ago, and have been gradually been snipping away at the overgrowth. 

Finally, 4 years on, we have cleared a little bit of woodland at the bottom, and started constructing a climbing frame. We have been ambitious with it, but we are doing all the work ourselves with 4 small kids. It’s lovely for the kids, as we can’t see it from the house, so it’s a sort of really private kiddy den. We had planned on setting up a Walkie talkie system so that they could call if there was any problem.

As we have been working on the project, we have met the neighbours in the 2 houses behind us. They all seem really nice. One of them has been really chatty and friendly. He is in his 60’s, says he spent his life in the army and is married to an ex prison officer (though we have never seen her). He comes across as lonely, and at any sign of activity in the woods, he pops over the fence to start a chat.

He gave me a lovely cookbook which he got at a car boot, and in return I gave him some of our fresh hens eggs. He spends time chatting to all of the neighbours, and knows everyone’s business. I had him pegged as a friendly if slightly intrusive neighbour. I suppose it would only be the last 6-8 weeks that we have started talking to him. His garden backs directly onto the woodland, and he can see the kids play equipment and talk to them from his garden. Because of the trees, we cannot see his house, garden or the play equipment from our house or main garden. 

To be honest, I was most concerned about getting complaints about the kids playing noisily on their climbing frame at 6am on a Sunday. Our neighbour said it didn’t bother him which was a relief.

Today, I went into the woods to water some trees which I have planted. The girls, 4 and 2 came with me. I left them in the woods going down the slide, as I made my way up the garden watering plants as I went. As I finished and approached the house, the girls came running out of the woods. The 4 year old announced that this particular neighbour had taken their photo ‘because they were so pretty’. 

To be honest, my heart reached my throat and I had to swallow it again. Since then, I have been agonising over it. There are so very many innocent explanations, and I can see that. What is worrying me is that he waited until I had left the woods, and he had clearly flattered them into having their photo taken. The 4 year old was beaming with pride that she was so pretty as to warrant a picture. What worries me more is why on earth this man would want a photo of my girls. It was apparently taken with a proper camera, not a phone or iPad.

What do you think, and how would you deal with it? All advice gratefully received!  IMG_1370