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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Wind in the Willows

A broad glistening muzzle showed itself above the edge of the bank, and the Otter hauled himself out and shook the water from his coat. “Greedy beggars!” he observed, making for the provender. “Why didn’t you invite me, Ratty?” “This was an impromptu affair,” explained the Rat. “By the way, my friend Mr Mole.” “Proud, I’m sure,” said the Otter, and the two animals were friends forthwith.

There are many versions of The Wind in the Willows around. Novel sized paperbacks, various chapters in children’s classic compilations and audio versions by great actors, namely Alan Bennett and Richard Briers. Just recently, yet another one, illustrated by David Roberts in an art deco-y way was released. And Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey is penning a musical version for the stage, to be seen in the West End in the new year. Since its publication in 1908, it has never been out of print.

I found this one  on Amazon last week. It’s a steal at £9.97; not only does it include every chapter (many versions of this book skip a few), it has beautiful, lush illustrations by Robert Ingpen and a little biography of the author, Kenneth Grahame. It
was published to celebrate the 100th birthday of the books first release.

In my head Kenneth Williams was always the author of this classic, he of Carry On fame. I don’t know why I thought that, maybe he voiced a character in a BBC production and I associated his name with the book? I just thought the guy was multi-talented; a great actor and a brilliant writer. Anyway, I was wrong. Kenneth Grahame was not an actor, he was a banker. Born in Scotland, his mother died when he was five and he was then sent to be raised by his grandmother by a river bank in Berkshire. I’m thinking it had to have been a happy(but maybe solitary?) childhood to have resulted in this treasure.

The main reason I got this one though was because, a few months ago my eldest moved into his own bedroom. At first delighted to have some space (he had previously shared with two siblings), he got lonely. One rare evening, when I wasn’t in demand in the other bedroom, we looked together though an old christening present, a collection of children’s stories. Included were the chapters The River Bank and The Open Road from The Wind in the Willows. We chuckled and chuckled. “Toad is such a show off,” He smiled, “Is there more?” But there wasn’t.

I needed no more encouragement and got online as soon as he went to school the next day to see what I could find. And am so happy with the result. (I did try to scan pictures onto this blog, they are so lovely, but failed I'm afraid. It could'nt be that difficult, I know, but is at the moment, beyond me.)

 So now, to even things up under the tree next month, I have to find two more interesting, biggish sized, hardcover books for his brothers. Oh dear, what a chore.

Who am I kidding, I know exactly what books to choose. I just needed an excuse to buy them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

food flasks

I reached an all-time low, appearance wise this morning.  While mooching around the kitchen, coughing, mixing diorlyte for two sick kids and loading the dishwasher, I noticed my two year old following me, saying “Dat! Dat!” and pointing to the back of my cardigan.   

I looked behind and saw that there was a lump of cookie dough stuck to it. A lump of mid brown cookie dough. I had made some with him last week so it had had almost a week to harden.  Basically, I looked like one of those shaggy sheep you see with bits of poo stuck to the wool around their bottoms. You know, those sheep that us city folk see and think “Why doesn’t the farmer just get nail scissors and trim that area?”  Oh, I was a sight for sore eyes.

It all started with the food flasks. I bought them on Monday in a flurry of supermom-ness, smug in the knowledge that from then on, my kids would have warm delicious dinners at school. Soothing broths, noodles, Laksa soups with rice, tinned tomato with a swirl of cream, warm, tasty meatballs with pasta and a sprinkling of grated cheddar. Of course, I hadn’t really considered that to do all this, an awful  lot has to be achieved early in the morning. And the night before.

 And then there was the boasting . I just couldn’t stop myself. Every mum I met on the way in and out of school had to hear about them. Even as I watched tired early morning mothers eyes glaze over, I went on with my list of benefits of hot food in the middle of the day, recipes and the wonderfulness of it all. It just didn’t seem worth it unless everyone knew my kids were using food flasks. What can I say? I’m only human.

After three days, four soups, one curry, noodles  in chicken broth, and a few extremely bored friends, I was tired. Very,very tired. They had gone from “Food Flasks!” to “fucking food flasks”.

By Friday I was coughing and by Saturday, neatly coinciding with my middle son starting the vomiting bug that was circulating in school, I had a temperature and felt truly rotten. Over the next few days his brothers fell like dominos, leading to nights loading the washing machine with sheets, glasses of coke being sipped uncharacteristically cautiously, duvets on the couch and the feeling of profound exhaustion that for me, results in the complexion of a used j-cloth.

And of course, the appearance of a smelly sheep.

So how was your week?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

mid term mini break

It has been over a decade since we brought our kids to a hotel. Actually, the last time we had only one child. One unsettled, fractious nine month old, allergic to travel cots, any unfamiliar highchairs and settling to sleep for more than two hours at a time. I was an anxious, first time mother whose constant fussing ensured none of us slept or relaxed at any point that weekend. The only sane thought I had then was to realise that hotels and babies are not a great mix.

On arrival at the hotel for our mid-week- mini-break last week, it all came flooding back.  We were greeted by dads walking slowly around the lobby pushing buggies with blankets draped over their (hopefully) sleeping passengers, mammies asking for bottles to be warmed, granddads escorting red faced toddlers and grannies rocking new-borns with fierce looks on their faces. You know the look that says “I’m trying to get a child to sleep here.”  Pointing out that it was a hotel lobby and there was no other way for us to get to our room without walking past her would have made sense but I don’t think anyone would have been brave enough to say so.

As our youngest is two, I was optimistic that if nothing else, we would get through two nights without wanting to kill someone for coughing at the wrong time, or letting a door slam beside a reclined buggy.

I’d forgotten the excitement of that hotel feeling. Running down carpeted hallways to our room, (not me of course, the kids, I managed to restrain myself), checking out the bathroom, the wardrobes, the TV. channels, the hairdryer and the view. “Look! There’s our car!”

The next morning it occurred to me that I hadn’t really considered that even though there was a soft indoor play area, two playgrounds, farm animals, go-karts and a swimming pool, none of our kids were keen to attempt much of it unaccompanied. So of course, we ended up doing it all too. God, the dust in the hidden corners of those jungle gyms needs to be seen to be believed.

I watched all the other Irish families on mini-breaks, checking out the mammies jeans and boots, eavesdropping on the conversations with their husbands (craning as close as possible if things seemed a little tense), trying to overhear the kids names to see if any of them were interesting or awful and all the time biting my tongue to stop myself saying “Do I look older or younger than her?”

My husband has one learned response to this. After sighing deeply in exasperation he says “Ok, what do you want the answer to be?” 

I did end up catching the eye of one of these mums by the swings, but as I opened my mouth to chat, I realised my toddler (who I was carrying) had managed to move in such a way that his curls were caught between my two front teeth. Which, as you can imagine, was an odd position to find oneself in, and all the conversation left my head as I concentrated on untangling him. 

There was so, so many kids. In the restaurant it seemed like everyone was pointlessly trying to eat a meal in peace, while toddlers climbed out of high chairs, leaned precariously off ordinary chairs, retched up carrots and cried. In the pool, all the same people were there, bobbing around in swimming hats, saying encouraging things and again, there they were in the playground, wiping off wet swings with tissues and bracing themselves against the cold November wind.

I think it was worth it though. Even with all the playing and tumbling and getting hair out of my teeth, we still had that hotely feeling. That “I’m a resident” smugness as you click a card in the door and wait for the green light, and then walk in to flop in the bed, lie back on loads of clean, crisp pillows and grab the remote to watch a bit of telly before dinner (even if it is just Scooby Doo).