Category Archives: life

T. M. Alexander blogs about the life of an author, mother and wife

maybe the best Christmas present

My daughter was given a crepe maker – it’s very cool. With hardly any practise thick, holey and burnt pancakes are a thing of the past. The favourite toppings are Nutella and banana for them, and good old-fashioned lemon and sugar for me. With the remains of the mixture someone got creative.

sheet-bends and nice shells in North Devon

It was windy yesterday so it wasn’t long after we left Woolacombe en route for Putsborough that the idea of the five-mile round trip lost its appeal. Middle child started collecting rope, string and tape from the forage line and tying them together. I joined in, and by the time we reached the other end of the beach we were trailing an enormous rainbow rope. We were about ten minutes behind our friends and family because some bits and bobs needed unravelling before we could use them and some of the knots were a bit iffy. (We were using reef when we should have been sheet-bending evidently.) More importantly, we hadn’t noticed the chill because we were busy. Lunch was warm and comfortable. The spectre of the return trip wasn’t. However, we took a different route and climbed up the dunes to get some shelter from the wind, and there we found this shell. Collecting is clearly in the genes. I filled my pockets with all manner of stripes and shades, once inhabited by snails. They’re going to join my collection of framed elephant tusk shells found only on Barricane Beach (unless anyone tells me otherwise). My daughter says I should fashion them into a snail. I’ll play around and see what looks best. That’s a nice job given that I spent 7 hours in A&E yesterday with the string collector. No complaints, the NHS is fantastic. God Bless Bristol Children’s Hospital.

can’t resist the call from netmums for birth stories . . .

Like all first-timers I didn’t know how bad the pain would get, but I did know I wasn’t having an epidural. No way. Don’t confuse me with a faith-in-nature mummy, my decision was wholly based on the fear of being paralysed. Whilst I objectively know that epidurals are safe, the idea that I wouldn’t be able to move my legs, run if there was a fire, or wee to order, was more terrifying than the fear of pain. So that aspect was sorted. No needles in the spine. But . . . my first baby was OP (occipito posterior or back-to-back). This means he was looking up, not down. It also means, anecdotally, that the labour is very painful as all the contractions go up your back. I spent most of the first part of labour on tiptoes trying to get away from them (if that makes any sense). The other irritating characteristic of an OP labour is that the contractions aren’t regular as the baby’s head doesn’t press evenly on the cervix. They were two minutes apart and then twenty, and then back to three. As the pain worsened, the midwives explained that the baby had to turn or he’d get stuck. No one explained that to the baby. I was getting tired and probably near transition when it all got a bit much, not helped by burning calf muscles thanks to the tiptoes. The gas and air wasn’t enough, so having rejected the epidural, I was offered pethidine. Heaven. I gather it doesn’t suit everyone but it suited me very nicely. I became much more able to deal with the contractions, and in between was positively jolly. Some time during the pushing, I took away the mask to report ‘I’m quite enjoying this’. Oscar arrived, face down, having turned on his way out. My husband cried. I was more interested in the tea and toast.

When I went into labour with my second baby I was already looking forward to the injection of pethidine. Knowing there was a tried and tested way through labour made it less forbidding. Once again the baby was OP. Once again it refused to turn. Once again there was the threat of either a C-section or a stuck baby. I asked for pethidine. The midwife wasn’t mad keen on giving it to me. I don’t know whether it was a change in policy, as it can effect the baby’s respiration, or the timing, but I wanted my pethidine. Luckily she realised I’d go to pieces without it and it duly arrived. This time I punctuated my gasps of gas and air with nonsense. Nobody seemed bothered as it was very good-natured nonsense. Felix slid out. My husband cried. The tea was once again, delicious.

The third labour was the same. OP. Pethidine. Dad crying. Tea. Except it was a daughter.

I loved giving birth. And I love watching One Born Every Minute and cry every time a baby is born. I keep trying to persuade my daughter that being a midwife would be a nice job – they get to drink quite a lot of tea.

 

at last, I’ve been to the O2

As a Radio 4 devotee I’m completely detached from all music trends, except when something up to date gets selected for Desert Island Discs. No wonder then that I haven’t been to the O2 to see Rihanna or whoever else treads the boards these days. (I realise I sound like an octogenarian.) But on Friday I finally made it to the arena to watch tennis. I booked on line (is there any other way?) and picked my seat using the map provided. I was in Row EE. Fine. Clutching the tickets my friend and I made our way through Gate H, Level 1, Entrance 106, and hurriedly looked for our seats. We went down, and down, and down. I tried to oust someone out of his seat in Row E, assuming there was a misprint on the tickets. “No,” he assured me. “EE is at the front.” Crikey. How I managed to book the front row without realising no one will ever know but it was a wonderful surprise. We had an excellent vantage point. I did rather better than the line judge on our side, helpfully calling “Out” at various moments of high drama. We watched Doubles and then Djokovic. The crowd warmed to the battle between the two Serbs, his opponent being Tipsarevic. The world No. 1 was the loser, but the match was fantastic. And my impression of the stadium – well, it’s not Wimbledon, but for winter tennis, perfectly fine, except for the irritating TV screens announcing BREAK POINT and ACE. We’re tennis fans, we don’t need subtitles.

my version of pinchitos

When my pal and I went to Barcelona we loved those little bread things with deli stuff on top. One evening we stopped for a Cava and munchies at a bar with the most fantastic display of what I think are called pinchitos. The deal was that you eat as many as you like and pay based on how many cocktail sticks are left on your plate, as each has a stick securing the delights to the bread. They brought out hot spicy sausage ones, pork and something ones and much more. Divine. I decided to have a go myself. Hot things were too tricky for me to tackle as I’d already committed to a beef and pepper stew and almond torte. So here is my display.

Pate and Mum’s 2007 pickle.

Manchego and sun-dried tomatoes.

Parma ham, pesto and black olive.

The general consensus was that they were very nice, but by making six each I hadn’t left room for the previously mentioned stew etc. No matter. I’ve got the idea. Next time there’ll be hot options. Pinchitos rule.

 

some might say it’s a bit early for reindeer . . .

 

The Cairngorm reindeer have travelled all the way from Scotland to Bristol. My oldest son spent the summer working with them and looks pretty happy to be reunited with them today. Not sure how happy he is about the jumper they’ve given him for the festive celebrations that kick off today at Cribbs Causeway with the ice rink opening. Later on all the family are going up to gawp at him. Probably won’t don any skates though. Doesn’t seem right at 15C.

every petrolhead Dad’s dream – his son under the mini

The exhaust needs a new bracket, so on go the overalls and up go the back wheels on to the (surely unstable) ramp. It’s Sunday morning and the legs sticking out belong to my son, 17 and just learning to drive. That old idea that you shouldn’t operate anything you don’t understand has come back into play. That was the deal with the car: You drive it. You maintain it. So far so good. Every weekend the two of them, man and boy, have been either in it or under it. Me, I drove it once and decided that power steering and brakes that actually brake were mandatory. And anyway, it’s not my car. They’re going for a spin later, hopefully not literally.

the board game is alive and well chez nous

We play board games. We always have. From Snakes and Ladders as toddlers to Lord of the Rings Risk as we-think-we’re-adults. The current ages of my children range from 12 to 17 and half-term week we played Articulate, Scrabble and Cluedo. Playing Articulate made the most noise. The game is basically the same as Names in the Hat, Taboo and many others – you have to describe the word without using part or all of the given word, rhyming or giving away any of the letters. Our best ones were EMU – one of those people who hurt themselves. Clue: he meant EMO. TUNDRA – heavy thing. No more clues for that one. GOBI DESERT – a desert in . . . Oops, said the word! Immediately followed by TOWER OF LONDON – a tall thing in Lon . . . Oh dear. Another favourite game is Rapidough – essentially the sculpting part of Cranium Cadoo. You have to make the word out of dough and if you lose the opponents take a capful of your dough and vice versa. It gets very competitive when you only have a piece of dough the size of a pea left. I expect many parents think that in the age of iPad the days of the board game are over. Well if you never get the boxes out they probably are, but why not dust off the lids, find a dice and a timer and have a go. In the same way that eating together is meant to be good for families, Mrs Peacock in the Billiard Room, a packet of chocolate biscuits and some Ribena goes down very well with ours. In no particular order, like X Factor, our top five quick games: Rapidough, Twaddle, Hedbanz, Articulate, Ludo (yes, really). And our top five slow games: Scrabble, Risk, Monopoly, Cluedo, Masterpiece. Like all mums, there are a few games I can’t be persuaded to play. Top of that list would be Twister – see, I’m no fun really.

off down memory lane with my mum, the evacuee

My mum (in the photo with my daughter) was evacuated in World War II to Norfolk, South Creake near Fakenham to be precise. She was separated from her younger sister when she got there and for a couple of weeks Mum shared a bed with another young girl, a stranger, but went to see her sister, Eve, as often as she could. Eve was with a lady called Olive, her husband, Herbert, and their only daughter, Elizabeth. They lived at 2 Bluestone. Mum was polite and obviously close to her sister and so her dream came true and Olive said she could join Eve, and leave the strange girl and the house where Mum didn’t get her fair share of the rations. There they lived for the next three years. Mum cycled seven miles to get to school. They were shooed up to bed every night before news of the war came on the radio. And Olive put Marmite in the gravy. Those are my memories of Mum’s stories. Mum didn’t see her Mum in all that time. My nan stayed in Farringdon Street with her husband who was a night watchman. London was bombed throughout, but they survived. Mum and Eve went home. My mum’s dad died in an accident some years later so Uncle Herbert, as he was then known , gave Mum away at her wedding.

Aunty Olive and Uncle Herbert were a rare but constant presence in our lives, visiting for a day or so every year, and telling tales of Mum at the dinner table. They were kind and laughed a lot, which was not how Mum remembered them, but they were mellowed by age and peace by that time. When I was about five and my sister was eight there was high excitement as we went to stay with them, on our own. We had gravy with Marmite, and collected seaweed on the beach which we then ate. There was a narrow passage by the side of the house through to the garden which was laid out like a vegetable patch from Beatrix Potter. That’s all I remember, apart from a letter I sent to Mum and Dad on green paper. I drew a girl with a bonnet and said I was having a nice time.

At some point they died, of course.

So, on Monday we are heading off to spend a few days in the vicinity. Mum is attending the famous Norfolk Painting School http://www.norfolkpaintingschool.com/ run by Jane and Martin Kinnear, and I will be roaming the country and coast with the children. Looking forward to pub lunches and wind-chapped faces. In between we’ll visit 2 Bluestone and the seaweed beach and Mum’s old school. I haven’t been there for over forty years. I so hope I remember it.