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Farewell blankie

17 Apr

I don’t remember when Eve first became attached to her blankie, a once white John Lewis muslin, which became scrappier and greyer as the years went on.  I do know that when she learnt to crawl at seven months, one of the very first things she did was scoot over to her cot to grab her blankie in her fat little fist.

From that day onwards, she was rarely seen without one muslin or another, she’d trail them behind her like an extension of her arm as they grew increasingly grubby and frayed.  I can picture her running around in her first red Startrite shoes, at nursery school wearing princess dressing up, in the back of the car after a long sunny day on the beach, after school on  the sofa watching TV with her thumb in her mouth.  Always with a blankie.  She’s had lots, but gradually a favourite emerged.  The one we were never allowed to wash.  The one that she couldn’t sleep without.

When we left home last November, it was a quarter of its original size, and permanently grey.  For five and a half months, it’s come everywhere with us, well almost everywhere.  We left it in a campsite cabin in Timaru in New Zealand, when we were rushing to get going one morning.  Only realised when we’d reached our next destination three hours away.  When we discovered our error, Eve cried, big, fat, sad, silent tears as if her heart was breaking.  So after much emailing between myself and the very understanding manager, we made a two hour detour on the way back to collect it.

Since then, we’ve always been extra careful about packing the children’s teddies and blankies.  Along with our passports, they’re the only things we really care about.  But despite all our care, it wasn’t enough.  This week we lost blankie.  Properly lost it.

Our last night in Kuala Lipis saw Eve going to bed without it, and us promising to look for it in the morning.  We looked and looked and looked.  It hadn’t just slipped down the side of the bed, it had gone.  We think that the hotel housekeeping must have bundled it up with the dirty sheets and towels and taken it away.  We asked if they’d found it, but we don’t think they really understood what we were looking for.

Eve was philosophical, said that she’s got her less favourite blankies at home, they’re not the same but they’re still better than nothing and she’ll be glad to see them when we get back.  But I think this is the end of an era, she’s nine now, she’ll never go back.

She’s not the only one who’s sad.

On religion, kitchen implements and bungy jumping penguins

28 Jan

I never really worried about how the children would cope without toys.  They’ve always had a knack for entertaining themselves, even if it usually means making a hideous mess.  We have brought craft stuff with us, and we also have a small handful of little toys that fit into the side pockets of their rucksacks.  Three Sylvanians, small prehistoric sea creatures, plastic soldiers, a very meagre amount of Lego and a couple of cars.  Most of which, rarely gets played with.

Yet they spend almost all day every day playing, in bus queues and airports, on beaches, in our multifarious bedrooms, so what do they do?  I suppose the short answer is, they make stuff up.  In Hawaii, after watching a baptism on the beach, they made up their own religion.  That kept them occupied for a couple of days and meant that we could wander round The Place of Refuge in peace while they tried out the various temples for size.

They make up gameshows, inspired by their Uncle Harry’s triumph on Total Wipeout, involving any available soft furnishings and plenty of leaping.

They also act out what happens around them, in the way that all children do.  In their case, this means strapping the cuddly penguin to the elastic travel washing line and making him bungy jump off the top bunk.

They tend to become obsessed with one thing for a couple of days, before moving on to the next thing.  After visiting Te Papa, we became a flax weaving collective.  I can’t say we produced much of use, but it was all done very properly and we made sure we thanked the flax plants before cutting them down.

Ned, the child who used to come home from school with armfulls of junk modelling, has carried on pretty much as before.  He’s made spoons from sticks and shells, endless boats from sticks and leaves and an uncannily accurate crocodile from snorkel packaging and a cereal box.

Lego is the one toy apart from teddies which gets played with consistently.  We’ve only got a little, which the children were given for Christmas, but it gets made into something new on a daily basis.  The minifigs are currently living in very well appointed surroundings, with furniture made from cereal boxes (them again) and a lift to carry them from our ground floor front door to our first floor flat.  It’s amazing what you can do with a ball of string and some sellotape.

Of course they also watch plenty of TV, they are my children after all.  Their favourite programme in New Zealand was America’s Funniest Home Videos. Their new ambition is to appear on said programme, so they practise regularly.  This is not at all annoying.

Half the time I’ve no idea what they’re up to, even though we’re in the same room, because it’s utterly random and involves unusual kitchen implements.  But do you know what?  In three months, I’ve only heard them say the words “I’m bored” once.  Just once.  That’s not bad is it?

Who needs toys?

4 Aug

People often ask me about our packing list, and what we’re planning to take.  What about toys, they ask.  Just a little art stuff I say, that’ll keep them busy.  Maybe a frisbee, or an inflatable ball.  We don’t want to carry too much.

The truth is, my children don’t really play with toys very much.  They’d far rather utilise a household impliment in an innapropriate way.  But when it comes to travelling, I think the old ‘in my day we had to make do with a sharpened stick’ thing, will come in very useful…

In search of Sylvanians

2 Jun

The 8 year old has never really played with toys.  Certainly not according to the manufacturers’ instructions anyway.  Her play usually involves dressing up and telling convoluted stories with numerous props and her brothers as extras.  The only toy that has ever properly captured her imagination is the Sylvanian Families range.  These little, fuzzy, animal families come dressed in quasi-Edwardian clothes and with an astonishing array of fingernail sized accessories.  Each animal has a name and character traits and their typical hobbies include holidaying on canal boats and having piano lessons.

It wasn’t a huge surprise when I found out that despite the European image that they project, they are actually Japanese.  Somewhere near Mount Fuji, there is a Sylvanian Families theme park, with lifesize characters.  This will either be completely brilliant or more than a bit scary.  We are going to find out.

I quite often photograph the Sylvanians, at the eight year old’s request.  She has plans to make a stop motion animation with them during the summer holidays.  Storyboards are being drawn up as we speak.  She set up this tableau entitled ‘Bath Time’.

But I wasn’t sure whether a tableau really counts as a still life, so I took this one too.  I like it’s macabre qualities.  I might ask the eight year old to make up a story to go with it.

This post was written for The Gallery at Sticky Fingers.  This week’s prompt was ‘still life’.

Can you do a deal?

11 May

I am going to buy a Nintendo Game & Watch.  A really cool electronic game like my friend has.  It’s about the size of a small walkman, has a little screen, and you press the buttons to move the monkey from side to side to catch bananas.  It’s really fun.  I’ve saved up my Christmas and birthday money, and my pocket money for weeks and weeks.  I’ve been waiting for our trip to New York, because you can’t get them in London, at least, I don’t have enough money for them in London.

I carefully count up my pound notes. “How do I work out how much it is in dollars?” “You times by two and a half” says my father. “That means I have $25.”
“Make sure you bargain” he says as he hands me $25 dollars in exchange for my pounds. “What do you mean?”

“They will ask you to pay more than they really want. You suggest a lower amount, say half what they asked, they reject it, you suggest a little bit more until you can agree.” “But, why?” “It’s just the way things are done here.”

“So can you bargain for everything in New York?”  “Not things like groceries, no, but expensive things like electronics don’t have fixed prices.”  I giggle as I remember the funny advert for ‘Crazy Eddie’s Electricals’ where Eddie yells like a madman about his low prices as he chops up price tickets with a giant pair of scissors.  You don’t get silly adverts like that in England.

Later, with my dollars safely folded into my purse, my mother and I take the long walk from our apartment to 42nd street, the best place for electronics.  30 blocks is quite a hike for a 9 year old and I smile proudly as my mother tells me how well I’m doing.

I must have heard the song ’42nd Street’ before, because I’m expecting it to be glamorous and sparkly, but it’s just a normal, dirty New York Street, full of small shabby shops.  Not like Crazy Eddie’s electronics emporium further uptown.  We go into a few, but they don’t have what I’m after.  “Try the little shop upstairs next door, Cohen’s Electronics.”

We push open a plain, battered, door on the street marked ‘Cohen’s Electronics’ and climb a narrow, rather grubby staircase to the first floor.  “Well this is an adventure, isn’t it darling?” says my mother, rather nervously I think, as we enter a small, stuffy, poorly lit room.  Around three of the walls are brown wood and glass cabinets, and in front of them, brown wood counters.  Behind the counters are three men, dressed in the heavy black suits and black hombergs of Hasidic Jews.

“Excuse me, do you sell Nintendo Game & Watch?”

“Oh, isn’t she cute?  Check out that accent!  Where are you from little girl?”  “I’m from London and I’d like to buy a Game & Watch, please.”

“What kind do you want English girl?” asks the man in front of me as he opens a draw under the counter, pulling out a handful.   He spreads five Game & Watches on the counter.  “This one please, how much is it?” I say as I pick up the brown one, the monkey game.

“Well normally, it’s $40, but for you can have it for $35 because you have such a cute accent.”  “I don’t have $35, can I have it for $20?”

“She’s bargaining with us, Solly!  Ooh, how cute does bargaining sound in that accent?  Well I can’t let it go for $20 but how about $25?”

“Yes please.”  “$25 dollars it is!  Sold to the little girl with the cute accent!”

I hand over the money and say goodbye, clutching my new Game & Watch to my chest.  As we walk back down the grubby stairs, we can hear the three men talking about my accent.  We celebrate my first bargain with a yellow taxi ride home.

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This post was written for the Writing Workshop at Sleep is for the Weak.  This week I suggested a prompt “tell us about a life skill you’ve learnt and a time you used it.”

Bargaining is a very useful skill in many places in the world.  In some countries, paying full price for anything, is as alien as asking the cashier in Sainsbury’s if she can do you a deal on baked beans.

How to blow a bubble bigger than your dog, your child and possibly even your husband

1 Feb

You will need:

  • Klutz’s bubble book, which includes the amazing ‘Bubble Thing’
  • 1/2 cup Fairy washing up liquid (it has to be Fairy, supermarket own brands don’t cut the mustard)
  • 1/2 cup cornflour (supermarket own brands acceptable)
  • 1 tbs Baking powder (not soda, don’t ask me why, I don’t make the rules)
  • Large jug
  • Child’s bucket
  • Spoon
  • Empty 1l milk bottle with lid

Measure 6 cups of water, the Fairy liquid, cornflower and baking powder into the jug and stir gently.  Do not stir vigorously or you will create foam.  Foam is the enemy of big bubbles.

Pour your mixture into the milk bottle, take your ‘Bubble Thing’, spoon and bucket outside to a large open space.  Preferably somewhere pretty.

Carefully pour the bubble mixture into the bucket and stir without making foam.  Close the fabric loop on the ‘Bubble Thing’ and dip it entirely into the mixture, pulling out carefully and letting the excess drip off.

Open the fabric loop with the slidey bit and either move the ‘Bubble Thing’ sideways slowly through the air, or if it’s windy, just stand still and let the breeze do the work.  When you have a humongous bubble, quickly close the slidey bit and the bubble will float away, startling passing cyclists.

Finally, it is very important to run after the bubble squealing and of course to pop it.

Repeat exercise until bubble mixture runs out or chilblains set in.

Please could you sit on my suitcase

17 Nov

This week, my fellow blogger, the lovely Josie at Sleep is for the Weak asked in her writing workshop “You’re packing your bags and going off on an adventure with your children. Where are you going? How are you getting there? What would you pack, but more importantly, what would your children pack?”  Now I’ve pretty much covered the first three questions in my Gear, and Our Route pages above, so today I’ll tell you what I think our children would pack, given half a chance.

Packing is a subject which consumes many of my waking hours and a more than a few of my sleeping ones.  Carrying everything we will need as a family for nine months in two large backpacks and three small ones will be a challenge, to say the least. I go over and over the endless permutations, ensuring that everything we choose has at least two uses or is something we absolutely can’t do without.   A year before we depart, I already have a favourite brand of sock (Smartwool if you’re interested, you can wear them for days without smelling) and as a lover of most things gadgety, my head is home to a rotating tag cloud of electronic items which circle as I try to decide which we really need, and which would merely be quite useful.

The children will be carrying small packs, appropriate for their strength and size, into which I should be able to fit most of their clothes.  I know that my biggest packing problem will be preventing them from bringing sackfuls of their precious belongings.  The children’s packing list starts off easily, as we will most definitely be carrying a selection of ‘blankies’ that are essential for their going to sleep at night and therefore for my peace of mind.

In age order we have Eve’s blankie, a stinky grey rag which started its life seven years ago as a new white muslin and is now, much sucking and sniffing later, half its original size, frayed around the edges and NEVER to be washed.  If, in a flurry of tidying up, it mistakenly gets put in the machine, expect tears and recriminations for at least two weeks.

Edward must have two things.  The first is a grubby pram blanket with a silky edge, which gets tucked under his body when he sleeps.  The second, his beloved white and pale blue Miffy, which Eve chose for his first Christmas.  She is about 20cm high and he likes to suck her ears.  I once made the horrendous mistake of allowing Dickon to take Miffy to nursery (I know, I know, I was busy trying to get them all shod and not paying attention) on the Friday before the start of half term.  When I broke it to Edward that Miffy was sitting in a suitcase in the home corner and we wouldn’t be seeing her for a week, big, fat, sad tears rolled down his cheeks and he sobbed “I love her Mummy, I love her as much as I love you”.  We shan’t be leaving Miffy behind.

Dickon has those rabbits that are specially designed for small children to love, with their soft heads and limbs knotted in the corners of the handkerchief body.  We’ve probably got through about a dozen of these creatures, as he used to take them everywhere, and are now down to four, who mostly live in his bed.  He shows them affection by biting their heads.

Now we’re moving into the trickier area of toys they want to bring, but don’t absolutely need, and I don’t mean the ones which will keep them usefully entertained on long journeys.  Eve is a soft toy type of girl whose bed is home to an ever growing menagerie of furry animals, all of whom are interrelated.  So if we take Birthday Bear, we have to have Valentino as well, because they’re cousins, and Mummy Penguin and Baby Penguin obviously can’t be separated.  Then there are  two Otters, Big Bear, Gabriella, Teddy, Deer, Lucy and Angel, all can’t-live-without toys, which she is going to have to live without otherwise we’ll need a separate seat on the plane.

Edward is turning into a caricature of a testosterone-driven boy, with Power Rangers, Ben 10, swords and guns as his play things of choice.  There is no way I’m carting his precious red-Power-Ranger-on-a-motorbike all the way around the world and I’m very glad his only guns are those he’s made himself from milk cartons and kitchen roll tubes.  I don’t fancy our chances at getting even a not very realistic looking toy gun through security.

Dickon is still in the intractable toddler phase, with no concept of luggage weight or compromise.  When asked what he’d like to pack he announced firmly “my rabbits, all my dinosaurs, an umbrella in case it rains and a baby elephant”.  I think he meant a toy baby elephant, but I can’t be sure.  Given half a chance, they’d probably also bring their Looping Louie board game with it’s aeroplane flying on a rotating arm, a singing dog hand puppet, a giant bucket of Duplo for tower building, a roaring dinosaur torch and their bikes.  Aside from the absolute impossibility of squeezing all of this into anything smaller than a steamer trunk, I think it would be a good idea to leave some space in our backpacks for the souvenirs we pick up along the way.  Did I tell you we are planning to visit the Hello Kitty theme park in Tokyo…?