Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happy Holidays?

Holiday fun with the children in tow? What contradiction is this?
Is it possible to negotiate airports, mealtimes and toilet breaks whilst simultaneously organising enough energy consuming activities to render the rugrats tired and compliant instead of bored and whiny?

Yes, it absolutely is possible. Controversial perhaps, but emminently doable.

I've read a few newspaper articles recently describing the sheer hell and torment to be had on a package holiday with anyone too small to tie their own shoelaces or understand that Mummy would quite like half an hour to read her novel, or even just a measly five minutes to speed read the trashy mag she picked up in the departure lounge at Luton.
And I understand.
I really do.
Because I have children. Two of them. They're eleven and eight now, so far more self reliant than they were five years ago. I no longer have to endure the hell of changing a nappy on the beach or apologising because my toddler has knocked (another) glass tumbler off the table in a restaurant oddly devoid of offspring except ours. I remember, with toe curling embarrassment six years after the event, leaving a restaurant in some sleepy hamlet in Normandy, before the waiter could even take our order, because youngest daughter was doing fart noises and it was clearly not 'that kind of venue.'

So yes, I've stared down the barrel of that gun and it aint all pretty.
Some of it is damned ugly.
Some of it made me reminisce fondly over fantastic childless breaks in my twenties when we could sleep in and do city breaks without a chorus of 'where's the beach, I'm bored of old houses now' ringing in my ears. But most of it is fine, magical even. (when you're relaxed enough to lower your standards and expectations just a smidgen)

Let me tell you about the magic.
We took the girls to see their grandmother in America last summer and in between fitted in a road trip between Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix. A road trip with little people, I hear you scream? What fresh hell is this? Endless hours of dull insterstate interjected with frequent requests for drinks, snacks and toilet trips? Well no, actually. It was fun with a giant F. We talked for hours. The girls were endlessly fascinated at each new town, each new motel. The fun was in being somewhere totally different, new. And it was fun imagining this experience through their eyes. Their unfaked childish enthusiasm was contagious.

I'm too old to wake up in a fit of girly hysteria because we're off to the airport. But my daughters are the perfect age to savour this sort of moment. When we woke them at five in the morning to get ready for an early drive down to Heathrow, they were beyond ecstatic. And the novelty didn't wear off. Everything rendered them delirious with joy,from the colour of the Virgin flight attendants uniform (it's red Mummy, my favourite colour) to the type of hire car we had, to the 'funny, weird' accents everyone had and how 'big and wide' everything was and how wonderful/amazing/brilliant the food was. They'd never had a corn dog before, or been to an Ihop before. (International House Of Pancakes before you ask; place where you can buy about three dozen pancakes with an assortment of atery furring condiments to drench them in for less than a can of Pepsi back home). And that was before we arrived at the hallowed gates of Disney. I despise hackneyed old phrases, but you know that old saying, 'Happy kids, Happy parents?' Well, it's true.

Drag the kids around Gothic architecture in Barcelona at your peril. I guarantee that, even if you shove a constant supply of ice creams and bribes their way, it will only take half an hour for them to trill something along the lines of 'no fun...where's beach.. I'm bored... feet hurt..where's beach?' ad infinitum, until your ears bleed and you start maniacally examining your map to find out where the local beach is. (luckily, Barcelona has one)

But if you go to a beach, a zoo, or a pretty public park (with swings, naturally) or a theme park or a museum with things-of-interest-to-smalls, you will have a super duper trip devoid of angst and kidborne misery. Holidays with children are always fun if you find out what they enjoy and just do that instead of looking around ancient cathedrals. (we 'did' Barcelona again sans smalls a few years later, after depositing kids with relatives and stayed up till the early hours drinking mojitas safe in the knowledge that we could lie in the next day. And we looked around lots of beautiful old buildings)

I agree that holidays can be tough with kids. But only if you're trying to replicate childless trips of years before. Find out what they like and (almost) everything falls into place.
(it helps if they have a good holiday club too)

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Emerald City, as fast as lightning

It's Easter and I have a few days off work to entertain/referee the girls and save a few quid in childcare costs. I only fund childcare costs for two girls and it baffles me how other people 'afford' to work when their children are tiny or the total sum of offspring equals two or more..
It was my thirty seventh birthday yesterday. It was the perfect weekend with constant sunshine and the kind of good vibrations the Beach Boys used to sing about.. the sort of weekend where it seems the planets have aligned in some magical way to create a steady flow of positive karma. And I don't usually subscribe to the Hippy Dippy Channel, so that sentence was almost painful to write.
I went to a great Italian place with friends and watched an alleged 'rom-com' with Sandra Bullock (who is aging properly but beautifully, unlike her contemporaries- an oddly satisfying thing)and Ryan Reynolds who is a tad wooden and depressingly aware of his chiseled good looks.
We took the chihuahua for a lazy walk on the common and had some pasta (with the best fresh green pesto) later whilst watching The Wizard Of Oz on Blu Ray and marvelling (no pun intended) at the perfect clarity of the seventy year old movie, whose cast members have all since departed for the Emerald City in the sky...
Dorothy Gale from Kansas.
Still a dazzling heroine for little girls,all these years later.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Girls Vs Boys

I'll try to avoid a rant, I promise.
I've been thinking recently (please bear with me) about social expectations regarding girls/boys and continue to be increasingly depressed with the attitude (which dictates) that girls are soft voiced spangly pink princesses who float delicately around the room, the embodiment of glitter encrusted serenity, whilst boys can be vocal, expressive and dirty (by that, I mean caked in mud on occasion).
It's so unfair. Who decided that girls must be quiet, genteel and ladylike (shudder) whilst boys are entitled to an opinion, a voice and are not expected to look polished and well presented?
There is nothing I loathe more than stereotypes, but I've fallen foul of the double standard on several occasions, so you can accurately refer to me as a hypocrite. Sadly, I've felt the need to admonish my girls for being too feisty/opinionated/vocal, whilst silencing my inner voice which shouts 'this is fine and you were the same at their age Melissa and why should they be mute and devoid of expression because they are girls?' And here endeth my mini rant, before it develops into a fully fledged rage against the machine of gender politics !
ps. in case you wondered, the image above is an attempt at tongue-in-cheek humour. For the record, I don't hate men or break balls.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Power Of Music

I've just skimmed nervously through my unashamedly gushy post below about my favourite singer in the whole of musikdom and I have to ask the question... am I too old, at 36, to wax lyrical(ok, hysterical)about a pop star?
Perhaps I ought to have waited a fortnight or two, and reflected sensibly, before typing out a carefully worded reaction/review which makes me appear less of an obsessed fangirl? But that's the problem with music, especially music which taps into our psyche in a certain way... it is what it is and when we start trying to explain the mysterious and wonderful way music winds itself around our consciousness,we fail spectacularly.

I've always loved music, and if I hear certain tunes from the past, am instantly transported to another decade, which has long passed. Every time I hear Frank Sinatra, my Father's voice and face are there in front of me, despite him being dead for twenty five years. When I hear Boy George, I'm instantly right there in my bedroom at Wenlock Close with my friend Sinead and a vinyl record playing over and over ad infinitum. When I hear ELO, or Prince, or early Madonna, I think of Gavin. And when I hear Electric Six, I think of my youngest daughters birth, which was over before I could say 'epidural'in a 5 minute drama at Basildon Hospital! Music takes me back to my eldest daughters birth, when Prince was singing 'The Most Beautiful Girl In The World' on the radio and it was so perfect, so's corny, but if you remember every special memory, I bet there is music playing somewhere in the background, a 'theme tune' for every milestone and every amazing day.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Magic In The Room

Here's what I refer to as a 'Dorothy moment', when we realise, with some uncertain glee, that we are 'not in Kansas anymore' but in some fantastical domain, the name of which eludes us yet.

The rest of this blog entry is awful, truly truly awful. You have been warned.
It's unashamedly gushy cheese from a bonafide signed up member of the Darren Hayes fangirl collective. It's syrupy and corny and cliched and probably the shittiest prose you'll ever read. I'm sorry about that.

There are occasions in life when we are lifted up beyond our ordinary selves into another realm. At times like these, our senses are heightened, emotions amplified.

On New Years Eve, the Emerald City took the shape of a smart club complex in Vauxhall called 'The Colloseum' and we arrived early thanks to my wonderful sister Alison who babysat for the day/ evening, so we could spend New Years Eve in the company of an Australian superstar called Darren Hayes. He used to be in a band called Savage Garden. It's a shame I feel compelled to report this fact every time I mention his name. Without it, most people ask 'who do you mean?' For me, one of the biggest mysteries of the past decade is why Mr. Hayes is not a global star at the top of the A-List. There are few singers who can penetrate your soul with the power of their voice, but Darren Hayes is one of them. His falsetto is flawless, his live vocals even more perfect and spine tingling than those recorded in a studio. He is my favourite male vocalist of the past twenty years.

I've never been much of a properly committed fangirl. Aside from the 1980's, when I loved Boy George and Culture Club with all my angsty teenage heart, music has never moved me in the same way. I didn't even know who this Hayes person was.
I thought he must be a new act, a new music star... the name was a mystery.

So what of New Years Eve 2009? A number of strange and beautiful coincidences conspired to make the perfect day/evening.
When Gavin and I arrived, armed with our much coveted fanclub tickets, we chose a table near a radiator (for warmth and no other more spurious reason) which happened to be right next to the door which led from the Cafe Rez into the Club Colloseum, where the show was being held. Darren told us fans to 'get our glitz on' so I excitedly opted for sequins and taffeta!

We were lucky to get into the room early, so had a superb view of the stage. I've never been that close to any performer before and the realisation that we had such a prime position, made me jump for joy (and realise that I couldn't eat or drink for the next six hours to save our place - we had to make do with a lukewarm can of diet pepsi). Lady Gaga's song 'Monster' was the track playing before Darren appeared on stage.

Darren began with a pitch perfect performance of 'Ego' and looked very relaxed, tossing his unruly blond hair all over the place, (with the help of a strategically placed wind machine) like the seasoned pop star he is. During one song (which eludes me now, damn damn, damn!) Darren walked over to where I was standing and grabbed my hand whilst singing. Who me? (I screamed, yes I did)

I'm not sixteen years old anymore, almost 37, but a moment of fangirl joy is still one to be savoured and appreciated as intensely as possible. I looked over at Gavin and he was visibly happy for me. (My husband, the guy who pretends that he is cajoled into coming, but attended the Royal Albert Hall gig on his own because he was working in London and we had no babysitters for both of us to attend!)

When Darren performed 'Where You Want To Be' for the first time ever, an audible gasp was heard around the room.
I'd always assumed the song was about his former bandmate Daniel, so to have this confirmed by Darren, was pretty edifying.
After the show and once Darren had done his funny (as ever) countdown to New Year with his iPhone, we danced away to a set-list prepared by Darren, which had some pretty amazing tracks in there, Bowie/Prince/Little Boots/Gaga amongst many others.

And then, not long before we were ready to leave, when we were just about danced out and exhausted after being vertical for over twelve hours with little to sustain us aside from some Thai food and diet coke, we saw Darren leave the VIP area.
Gavin walked us both over there to have a 'quick look' before we left finally for the night and Darren appeared to say hello to his fans, sign autographs and take photos etc. It doesn't quite come naturally to me, this fangirl stuff. In private, in the privacy of my car or kitchen or ipod, I am quite the fangirl extraordinairre, an unashamed pop bitch fan!

But in reality, I'm quite a shy person, respectful of personal space and boundaries. I'm not the most tactile person in the world either, so it took a fair bit of chutzpah to politely (and too quietly, Darren could hardly hear me) request a hug. After this wonderfully surreal moment, which passed in a happy blur, Darren gestured towards Gavin to take a photo of us together. So there I am, in the wee small hours of New Years Day, in a nightclub in London, being snapped on camera as per request of my music idol! Tell me how future New Years Eves can ever compare with this?

On the tube back to Cockfosters, at four o'clock in the morning, I wondered if it had all actually happened, or if I was Dorothy Gale and about to wake later in Kansas and wonder what the hell?! But after driving back to Biggleswade and scoffing bacon sandwiches as the sun rose, and getting six straight hours of sleep as our daughters slept in, we awoke to the happy realisation that we had been to the Emerald City and back and the Wizard was real.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Good Tradition

I love Christmas, especially the few days just before The Big Day when 'Christmas is all around me' in the words of Bill Nighy from Love Actually. ( which I watched the other night and enjoyed far more than the first outing when I rather unfairly dismissed it as movie conveyor belt tosh! )

Here's an amusing excerpt from a letter my daughter wrote to Santa this morning:

'Do you ever receive Christmas presents ?
I hope you get presents. If I have time, I'll leave out wine too. I send all my love to you' xxxx

She reassures Santa that she'll leave a mince pie and that
'Dad makes the best'
(but we'll see about that!)
I've challenged Gavin to a bake-off this Christmas Eve, a good natured (but only if I win) little bakeathon to see who produces the bestest mince pies.
I quite like the luxury mini mince pies from M&S, but it's traditional in our house to produce actual home made ones. After first scraping a years worth of dust from the poor neglected food processor....I am no Nigella.
Gavin follows his Mum's well aged recipe which bizarrely involves self raising flour and one classified ingredient..
okay okay, I'll share, but keep it to yourself-
( copious quantities of cherry brandy.)
I can't deny the flavoursome properties of Gav's mince pies, but I'm quite keen to see if I can win at our version of the 'Pepsi Challenge' so watch this space for a (hopefully) vaguely amusing followup.

The trees are up.
And we have two.
A 3 ft Nordman fir from Asda which is furiously moulting needles despite the non-drop description and an increasingly frail looking fake tree whose fakery is further amplified by the presence of authentic living tree across the room.

Both trees have a small selection of home and school made decorations collected over almost ten years of childhood, an annual reminder of which preschool they attended, what house we lived in, which friends they played with, etc.
Christmases past and Christmas present.

The lounge is all red candle wreaths, orange cinammon, pine, fairy lights and mess. Christmas is not Christmas without a messy lounge and myself trying to hide some ocd tendencies (must throw under the sofa where the rest of the crap goes )
Now where's the mulled wine and Baileys ?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Musing on the Muse gig

We went to the O2 last night my husband and I.
It's become something of a habit.
It seems that every couple of months we find a suitable excuse to part with some cash in exchange for concert tickets.
Last night was the turn of Muse, funky British alternative rock band who started off in Devon and ended up sliding across the stage at the O2 last night in tight pink trousers, electric guitars screaming.......
The stage was brilliantly thought out, with the audience always being number one priority.

Now there's a novel concept!
You'd think 'audience enjoyment and participation' would figure quite highly when an artist takes their sound to the stage,
but alas this is not always the case.
We saw Madonna last year at Wembley and whilst it was a wonderful privilege to share the same space as an icon for 90 minutes, it was tricky to actually see and absorb what was happening. Madonna was devotedly aware of the first 3 rows and not much beyond in that cavernous stadium jammed with tens of thousands of us. Arena gigs are always more intimate than those in canyonesque stadia , but the O2 is large enough to pack a huge (sold out last night) crowd.

So what of Muse, then ?

Well, the stage was visible from every corner of the O2 and huge 3D rectangular columns flashed lights and images throughout. They moved up and down intermittently so band members were able to come down to the crowds level before being raised aloft once again. I'll try ( it wont be easy ) to avoid cliche, but this is a band unafraid of the grand gesture.
If they ever grew tired of their name, they could call themselves Drama instead.
Or Passion.
Or Hyperactive. (the lead vocalist looked ready for a shot of Ritalin post-gig)
I've been to many concerts and the truest way to gauge the impact of an artist is to watch the crowd.
Their reaction says more than a million reviews ever can. And last night the O2 became one great living musical organism of Muse fans throbbing to the relentless beat. There were lasers, giant balloons filled with confetti falling from the heavens and a sold-out arena soaking up every electric second of a jaw droppingly great gig.
I look forward to the next one.