Monday, 31 January 2011

The wanderer returns, briefly

Uncle Ben is currently in New York. Tomorrow he will be in Blighty. Wednesday, he is jetting into Carcassonne. How fancy is that? We here at the Pilbeam-Canteau hovel are all most excited. And not only because the fella is away for the next two weeks and Ben is the best nanny (or should that be the best billy??) around. Ben is just the best person to have around. So hooray for travel fatigue, as it means we get to hang out with Benj for a couple of weeks before he jets back to Mexico and South America.

When I got the news this morning I did stop to consider how lucky I am sometimes. I had been dreading my two weeks sans fella. I take off my hat and every other item of clothing to those parents who are going it alone permanently. How do you not go insane in the brain? My brain, such as it is, will continue to limp doggedly onwards, thanks to this impromptu fraternal visitation. My lucky stars, seemingly remiss in other areas of my life, have done a good job of taking care of me here.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

(Mini) Greedy Bird Baking Enterprise #16 Chocolate Muffins à la Monster

The GBBE has been temporarily out of action following the post-Christmas funding (and trouser space) crisis. But today, in a last minute fit of hospitality, we invited Anne, Pascal and the boys over for goûter and because I studiously avoid keeping biscuits or cake in the house I had nothing to offer them. So, with budgetary considerations in mind, I decided to make something using only what I already had in the cupboards.


Chocolate muffins with lurid sea-themed decoration (courtesy of the Monster). Inevitably, the kids just ate the sweets and then licked off the icing. Note to self: never be precious when cooking for children.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Friday in photos: Chez les Stephs (and a thought)

Actually it was Thursday, but who's counting.

Arrrggh. Yes, this is my daughter in a tiara. Her cousins had dressed her up as a princess. And so the reign of pink glittery terror begins...

A thought: this morning I was trying to interest the Monster in an "activity". She refused everything so I just sat on the sofa and waited. She came and sat on my knee and then started to reel off "Prefer... painting, prefer... play doh, prefer... books, prefer... jigsaw" and I realised she was making fun of me. My standard question is "Would you prefer to do a painting/read a book/do a jigsaw?" What she actually preferred to do was just sit on my knee and, well, hard to describe what we did. Muck about? Hang? Be silly? So much for constructive play. We had a half hour of entirely unconstructive but entirely fun play. And I think that's just fine.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Give us some fish, we love fish

I thought it was Mark Twain who said that guests are like fish because they start to smell after three days but turns out it was Benjamin Franklin. You live and learn. I did find this quote by Mr. Twain, which I like:

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first.

But I wanted to talk about guests. I love having guests. This morning I had an email from our friends Tomtom and Steph who have announced they will be coming to stay the first week in May. Hooray. They have a little girl only a couple of weeks older than the Monster and I'll get to meet her for the first time. Hooray hooray. The weekend before that the lovely Katie will be gracing us with her presence (and I mean gracing most sincerely). The weekend before that the delectable MiK shall be delighting us with her inimitable company. And then in the summer the Canucks are coming, Simon (already on the intinerary warpath), Jen and Margot (Wrigglesworth's intended). How brilliant to have all these guests making the effort to come to our little hovel. They can all stay as long as they like, and if they start to smell I will gently point them in the direction of the bathroom, politely suggest some deodorant or discreetly hold my nose.

I am always incredibly grateful when people make the time and effort to come and see me/us. I understand it is an investment of both financial and organisational resources. Our current lifestyle doesn't allow for much gadding about but I would like all my lovely friends to know that once we do have some pennies, return visits are top of my To Do list.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Adventures in Goggleboxing

Katie's presents always seem to arrive just when we need them. Today the Monster received this beautiful animation, Lost and Found, adapted from the book by Oliver Jeffers. We were adamant that the Monster wouldn't become a worshipper of the gogglebox, and before the age of two she hardly watched tv at all but, like every adamant parent, we have become less so in the face of day to day reality. Sometimes I've been running around all day, up'n'doin', and need a rest, and the Monster is the same. Sometimes I just want to flop in front of the telly, and the Monster is the same. Sometimes Wrigglesworth has kept us all awake by crying through the night (alltimes at the moment, and 3 hours last night) and then all any of us wants to do is pile together, Simpsons-like, onto the sofa. Today everybody is very ti-gay (Monsterspeak for "tired") so this delightful little story of friendship between a boy and a penguin was just the shot of cheerfulness we all needed. Thank you so much Katie, I'd row you back to the South Pole if you if you turned up lost on my doorstep. And you were a penguin.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Conversations with the Monster

The fella: Il y a des bosses. [There are bumps (in the road).]
The Monster: Et Woody?
Moi: Des bosses, pas Buzz.

Night. From. Hell.

Question: Do we stay at home, lick our wounds and sleep or do we push through the pain, get out in the fresh air and get some perspective?

Get out.

Much needed afternoon of peace at the Lac du Salagou.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Friday in photos: Les Mini-bêtes, new Frog rock sensation

Possible first eponymous album covers (or thinly disguised excuse to post yet more pictures of my kids).

Aside from providing future album covers, I do think it's brilliant that they're really starting to interact and play together.

And this one just makes me laugh.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Swanky wangles

In cheerful news (pretty damned amazing news), the lovely Katie has wangled me some swanky contacts in the world of children's publishing. Some friends (husband and wife) of a friend of the lovely Katie, who work for Orchard Books, have agreed to have a look at my scribblings and offer me some advice. How exceptionally nice of this couple, and she's on maternity leave. What a brilliant opportunity. Thank you so much to Katie for setting this up. Although I am preparing myself for how I'll feel if/when they say give up now...

In less cheerful news, plans to hone my first chapters to over/underwhelm them with were scuppered when the Monster returned from the grandspoilers with a fever which has required much TLC and an afternoon nap curled up on my tummy. But to clutch at silver linings (and mix my metaphors), I do not have the cuddliest of daughters so any chance of a some cuddle time is always seized with glee, even a hot little cuddle. En plus, I am now rested and, yet again, live to fight another day.

Some day soon I am going to have to stop living and do a bit of fighting!

And because you'd all been wondering what lunchtime was like in our house (you had, right?) here's a glimpse of the fun now that Wrigglesworth has joined us in the high chair.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


The Monster decided she wanted to spend last night with the grandspoilers which meant Wrigglesworth and I had a lovely day to ourselves today. This afternoon we went to a different park, the one with the duck pond, and Wrigglesworth watched the ducks with suspicion. I can see his point, I've always found ducks to be a bit shifty. I think they know things.

Anyway, duck watching over, he blew raspberries into his compote. Always a fun game.

And gave me lots of gratifyingly loving big blue-eyed stares.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

You can take the girl out of Blighty...

The mini-beasts dispatched for their weekly visit to the grandspoilers I have been catching up on my Radio 4 listening (at the same time as getting on with other things, of course). I love Radio 4. Unashamedly. I'd like to say that it is for the inciteful news and current affairs programmes, the probing examinations of modern day issues, religion and morality, the interesting reviews of cultural events but, whilst I do love all these things, all I have done today is listen to their comedy shows. I love Radio 4, but my relationship with the Radio 4 comedy shows, old and new, is about more than love, they are part of my inner being. Before Fanf, and for years, I always used to drift off to sleep to middle England laughing along to the ridiculous antics of Just a Minute, The Goons, The News Quiz, Knowing me, knowing you with Alan Partridge, Jeremy Hardy speaks to the nation, Mark Thomas: The Manifesto, anything with John Hegley and my absolute favourite I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. How I miss Humph [bottom left] and Willie [bottom right]...

What is great about these shows is that, even when taking on serious issues, they remain resolutely, gloriously silly. And something about the radio is so much more comforting than the tv. Television invades your home and pins you down (which is just what you need sometimes). Radio surrounds you like a comforting blanket as you pootle about your house. Listening to these shows I feel at one with the great cosmic silliness of it all.

p.s. "girl", self-deluded or what?!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Run away, run away

After doing valiant battle with tooth pain during the night, repeated skirmishes with a stroppy toddler this morning and a lunchtime of intensely tired and grumpy people I decided that up'n'doin' plans for this afternoon would be abandoned in favour of sinking into the sofa with a cup of tea and my book. But I didn't even manage that. I slowly drifted off, telling myself, the mini-beasts will wake me soon anyway.

Only they both slept until gone five.

That's a three hour sleep in the middle of the day. What a lazy slattern. Only now I feel brilliant and thankful for my stay at homeness that allowed me to take advantage of such a rare opportunity.

So I achieved nothing, although we did finish the afternoon with an elementary lesson in rock and roll.

Never mind. Sometimes it's better to live to fight another day.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Most important RTBC: You, my lovely readers

I just read (and reread) all the comments on my happiness post. That you took the time to read and comment made me most cheerful (I have also replied in the comments section). Thank you! I do enjoy this blogging lark.

As a little treat, for me, for you, here is my beloved Eddie Izzard talking about the careers advisor at school. Every time I even think about jobs, I have Eddie in my head saying "Look, I advise you to get a career, what can I say."

Friday, 14 January 2011

Friday in photos: Get thee behind me Wrigglesworth

Hooray hooray, first day out in the backpack, and Wrigglesworth loved it. And I loved hearing him tootling merrily in my ear.

The Monster then trotted around the house with baby.

And this is the ok corral (I don't really know what that means but it sounds good) down on the Monster's farm. I like that the farmers are sitting on flowers.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Love's young dream

The Monster has an admirer. Maxence. Their courtship (lasting several months now) has been touching to behold. I approve, Maxence is an irrepressible sweetie. There were kisses (see photo below) and some bottom touching (photos not shown, this is a nice blog) but only to help each other go the wrong way up the slide.

Thankfully for the Monster we had removed her rather fetching liquorice goatee prior to the arrival of her paramour.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


First, a warning. This is a whingey, hysterical, poor me post. Yesterday I received the above in the post (the real post) from the ever lovely Jen (thank you x). Ironic that it should arrive on a day when happiness seemed elusive. I read the beginning and was mildly irritated by the fact that the writer seemed to have everything she could possibly want, as far as I could tell she just didn't appreciate it. I felt that she was rather lucky just to have the time to try to be happy, or happier, with what she's got. And call me a naughty cynical sausage but I'm sure that when she started her project she already had the book deal in the bag. Bah. I read on a bit further and her project nonetheless seems charmingly down to earth in its execution so I shall continue with an open mind.

So to my own quest for happiness (and the book's introductory discussion of what happiness is was interesting). I agree with the writer that it is a question of perspective, a state of mind but it is a state of mind shaped 50% by external factors, which are roughly the same for all of us: relationships, personal development, job, money. I feel I have a lot to be happy for, and I am happy for. I don't need a happiness project to make me appreciate the things in my life that are good. That's a bit of a lie isn't is?? Isn't my blog exactly that? However, there is one area of my life that makes me deeply unhappy, and worries me to death and that is my job. I don't want or need a career but I do want to work when my kids go to school. I don't need to earn a fortune but I need to earn enough (for what? If I have to put it in one word: travel, for the whole family... that's 5 words). I also need to feel that my job is worthwhile. I don't need to be changing the world but I would like to believe I am making it better in some small way.

So, yesterday, as part of the New Year's plan I began my hunt for gainful employment (both mini-beasts were dispatched to the grandspoilers). Now it was only a day but by the end of it I felt fairly low. What had seemed the least likely option (becoming a published writer) began to look like the most possible! Despite my little handfull of academic qualifications, I am qualified to do strictly nothing. I do not think there is one single job that would fulfil my above criteria that I could start tomorrow. And that's looking in France and England. I am considering teaching, clawing my way back into theatre (both of which require new qualifications in France) but what I really want to do is train to be some kind of counsellor, which requires a qualification wherever I do it. It also requires time, which is fine, and a lot of money, which isn't. Right now I feel totally lost. I don't know what to do. I want to be an example to my children, I want to be fulfilled myself. I need to find a way back to work that is both feasible and satisfying. You might think that after only one day my reaction is over the top but the question of a job has been on my mind since I got pregnant with Matilda and decided to be a stay at home mum.

Like Simon (see his post here) I wonder if I did the right thing taking parental leave but I have not just missed an opportunity, I have ceased to be employable full stop. But, as I said to him, even when there are times I feel I have buried myself in a hole by being a stay at home mum I know I will never regret it. I think even if I end up stacking shelves just to earn a few pennies I will always have the memories of rolling around on the floor with my mini-beasts and they are memories that will stay with me until I die. It would be nice to have a good job and make the most of your children but, as I think is now generally recognised, you can't have it all. Actually, while I'm in rant mode, I have increasingly been thinking that you can't even have the bit of the all you've chosen. Talking over Christmas with Katie, she said that friends of hers with young kids that work cannot pursue their careers in the same way as those without both because of their own commitments and priorities and because of the way they are viewed in the work place. And as a stay at home mum I am horrified by the amount of time I spend doing cooking, cleaning, shopping, general faffing, time that I was meant to be spending doing silly things with my kids.

It's not easy this whole life thing, and then you go and introduce new lives, just to complicate everything a bit more.

But I have just looked at Owen and he has given me the most enormous beaming smile. And halfway through this post Matilda came and hugged my leg, asked me to give her some broccoli and to sit and do a jigsaw with her (all of which I did). Last night, describing my day of self-indulgent misery to Fanf he told me not to worry, something will turn up and then suggested I just keep writing more books, even if they don't get published, because that's what I enjoy doing. And indeed this afternoon's naptime activity will be starting to read my Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.

So as always, I finish my miserable, woe is me post with the ever reassuring knowledge that I have the most wonderful family. I feel much better for splurging. And to you, that have had the courage and kindness to follow this splurge to its not so bitter end, well done. You are the best.

[Thank you to dad for the photograph]

Monday, 10 January 2011

The not so boring and quite hilarious life

A late RTBC today: I have just discovered my brother is back blogging again. I love his blog, it never fails to make me laugh. Look at him in his "knitted coat" (a Christmas present from his good lady Rex) such a hensome divil.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson

FOREWORD: When I decided to start making a note of all my reads on here I imagined myself writing wonderfully erudite and inciteful reviews. A clear case of my imagination being bigger than my brain.

Miss Buncle's Book is a book within a book about Barbara Buncle, a forty-something spinster who, in need of money, decides to write a novel. Lacking any imagination (by her own admission), she simply observes the people living in her village, Silverstream, and writes about them. When the book is published the inhabitants of Silverstream quickly recognise themselves and in their reactions we see how, consciously and subconsciously, life imitates art. Miss Buncle's book Disturber of the Peace, like Miss Buncle's Book, leaves the reader wondering to what extent the writing is naively candid and to what extent gently satirical. Either way, the result is most amusing. Persephone (the book's publishers) judge Miss Buncle's Book to be "undemanding", and it is an easy read but the clever interplay between what Barbara writes and events in the real world make the book more than just entertaining and reminds us of the power of literature.

For me, the book's most endearing quality is that is doesn't feel like "Literature". It feels like your best friend wrote it. Especially for you. Thank you Jen for sending it to me, Miss Buncle's Book is unusual, sweet and thought-provoking.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

All swum out

We took Wrigglesworth to the swimming pool for the first time this morning. I was so excited about all four of us going in together for the first time. He loved it. He did some seahorse chewing, some ball grabbing and a whole lot of splashing. So much splashing.

It wasn't all familial bliss however, the Monster was an old grumpy bum. I tend to build these "moments" up in my head and the reality is never quite as I imagine it. That's life with, how did Ju put it, these unpredictable little participants.

Matilda's right not to conform to my Waltonsesque fantasies aside, it gave me a big silly smile to see Owen having such fun.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Friday in photos: La Fête des Rois

The eating of the galette and associated festivities.

Tonight, when I was giving Owen his bedtime feed, I suddenly felt unbelievably happy. For no reason whatsoever. So that's nice.