Sunday, 4 March 2018

Walking with Mrs Humdrum - Warsash

It was one of those days when plans changed at the last minute. We were up and ready to leave at 8.15 on a Sunday morning for football, possibly the first game for a good few weeks, when we get the text - cancelled! What to do?

Well breakfast first at The Parade Tearooms, followed by a random walk along the shoreline at Warsash. Mr Humdrum had been around here before, but we hadn't. We chose the shoreline over the nature reserve (will have to return for that), which overlooks Hamble. There is a spit which makes for a nice brisk walk there and back. On the way, we discovered a training establishment with lifeboards and davits on the pier head. Sheet-glass ice at the water's edge made for interest by both Messrs Humdrum. Master Humdrum just liked smashing them with big rocks and stones. Mr Humdrum liked the noise and so recorded the smashing!

Walking with Mrs Humdrum - Forest of Bere in the snow

This was a walk routed out by Mr Humdrum on his phone, not really taking into account that walking on sludge and in snow is like walking on sand, not that easy, thus affecting the time it took! However it was a great walk, with deer, country fields, posh houses with tennis courts, disused railway lines (of course now I've got Still Ill by The Smiths in my head) and of course, lots of snow. Master Humdrum did wear the wrong shoes and had wet feet for the majority of the journey!

We set off in a southerly direction at Wickham at the station car park, crossed over the A32, walked up quite a few country lanes, including hills, which we in Portsmouth are not used to! We traversed a few fields and crossed back over the A32 again, up to Hundred Acre Wood, where we stopped for a quick snack (a Tunnocks snowball no less) and down through to the Wickham station car park again, via a lovely pub lunch at The Roebuck.

Admittedly we were a little stiff and cold after the pub lunch, and this is when it decided to rain. A total of 6.2 miles, not bad in four hours, including lunch.

Master Humdrum skated down one of the drives in Hundred Acre Woods and built the world's worst snowman with his dad. He has also worked out how to make yellow snow!

Please stop telling me I look tired

  1. Please stop telling me I look tired. I’m actually a lot less tired than last week. This week, I’m aiming to go to bed way earlier than last week. I mean 11pm rather than midnight. Now that I’ve finished Twin Peaks The Reboot (and I was nearly as peed off as I was when Pamela Ewing popped out of the shower to find her Atlantis hubby still alive in bed), there isn’t as much to keep me up. 
  2. Please stop telling me I look tired. I’m drinking nearly enough, and I mean water not prosecco. I’ve realised that drinking prosecco (or just alcohol in general) does give me bags in the mornings, but I haven’t drunk much since that fondue party. (That was only two weeks ago. I am trying.) 
  3. Please stop telling me I look tired. I’ve always been a late turner-in-er. I burned my duvet when I was young, reading Agatha Christie books after lights-out. I come alive at around 10pm. Well, this isn’t so true now I’m getting older, but once I’ve gone upstairs, I wake up again even if I was comatose on the sofa in front of Marcella just now. (Where is she now? Has she had another blackout? What have I missed?) 
  4. Please stop telling me I look tired. As a voracious reader, I have to read when I go to bed. I read as many chapters as I can before dropping my Kindle or book, then just one more for the road. Even when I’m tipsy, I still have to read. I just re-read that bit the next night too. 
  5. Please stop telling me I look tired. I occasionally think some people are gaslighting me – I think I look OK. I’ve actually made more of an effort with my makeup and hair today.m But oh no, they say I don’t, I look tired. Am I coming down with something? Am I doing too much? Sometimes it feels like just an excuse to say something negative. 
  6. Please stop telling me I look tired. I am allowed to say it. When we’re asked Are you alright? No one wants a detailed answer, so we just reply Just tired. You know! 
  7. Please stop telling me I look tired. Did you know I’ve always had these bloody eye bags? I’m 47 this year and they’ve not changed. Anyone who can remember Neighbours back in the 80s will know the character who had massive bags. I am her. My friends say I look like Deborah Meaden. I can only focus on her eyebags. Nothing I do changes them. Touche Eclat? Buzzcocks. A cold spoon? WTFlip! Massage with your ring finger? Yeh rite. 
  8. Please stop telling me I look tired. This is just me, it’s the way I am. And although you may have none at all, did you know that under this fringe, I have absolutely no lines on my forehead at all. None. Like a baby’s bottom. So there.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Out walking with Mrs Humdrum - Emsworth to Langstone

I suppose it started with a group walk in Hambledon late last year. A friend organised a walk for four of us, we walked it, she said she'd organise a monthly one, I missed the last, bought some new walking "trainer/boots" but I was hooked. For exercise, I try to run. When I say try, I mean that I both try to fit in runs during the week and I also actually try to run. I shuffle. But I can run, I can run/walk a 5K. But if there's an excuse not to, I will find it. In February half-term, I caught a cold and as is normal with me, I always suffer with my sinuses. It seemed that walking was the only thing that kept the cold at bay! (Well that and the hot tub from my earlier holiday in half-term!) I lived in those walking shoes, and I have just about since. Maybe this is the new exercise for me? Who knows.

Last week, on our second big walk, there were three of us. Arrangements made by A well in advance were forgotten and she changed them last minute! It was a beautiful crisp day, such a contrast to this week, deep in snow. We set off from Emsworth en route to Langstone. I'd walked this route many years ago when practising for the Moonwalk, but had used it mainly as a walk, not to investigate what was en route, nor did I ruminate or reveal, which we did this time. It's probably due to the fact that I was around 30 then and had no need for ruminations or revelations. Fast forward nearly 17 years, and there's always something to talk about. Talk we did, but what is discussed on a walk stays on a walk. Them's the rules.

Emsworth is a pretty little town on the south coast, near the border of Hampshire/West Sussex, famous until the early 20th century for its oyster industry. Promenading around the harbour leads you directly to the shoreline along to Langstone, the gateway to Hayling Island.

Supposed to be following a map, we stayed on the beach, photographing the views and interesting hedges. After a quick coffee stop at The Ship Inn, we retraced the original route along country lanes, passing through a 9th century church and its graveyard. Touching the original wooden (small) door, I wondered who had touched the same spot, and how many had done so. This graveyard is known for intricate graves decorated with carvings of ships and skulls, as noted in our guide book.

C. Cal Higgins Photography

C. Cal Higgins Photography

Lunch was well deserved back in Emsworth after a 4 and a half mile walk in total, at The Coal Exchange, a quaint, tiny pub with proper pub lunches (I had a Coalie Club sandwich with chips). 

I can't say what was best about this walk - the company, the scenery, the weather or the discussions on the way!

Monday, 8 January 2018

Would I Lie To You board family game review

Would I Lie To You? "The game of believable lies and unbelievable lies", linked into the TV show of the same name.

Purchased: December 2017 in Waterstones, for around £20

In a nutshell: These TV show-affiliated games usually show themselves up (Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Top Gear) but this game is fun and easy to play (if a little modified) as a family. You don't really need specialist knowledge to play, just the ability to lie!

Every year for Christmas, I like to buy a board game to play, even though no games better either Ludo (in which my dad is the reigning cheater-champion, and argues to high heaven over the rules about doubling up or how to place your counters in "Home") or Rummikub (which we can now play with two packs of cards lest we forget the game). This year, Would I Lie To You caught my eye in Waterstones (other emporiums - emporia? - for book lovers are [locally] unavailable).

It's a game, it says, for 2-8 players; however we decided it wouldn't work with 3 of us unless one switched teams each time, so we made our own rules up for scoring and used a pad instead of the game board scoring system. 

Rolling the die, players move around the board, with challenges arrived at on each turn. 

There are three types of challenges - nothing like the tangled webs woven by panellists on TV, sadly in a way, but gladly because we haven't got that much time. One where you get to nestle a lie amongst a truth, one where you get to either embellish a lie or make up supporting facts to accompany a truth, or a quick fire "truth or lie" where you invent the lie.

Disappointingly, there isn't the option to have a special guest arrive at your home, so unless you open the door to, and then introduce, your neighbour's daughter's hairdresser's boyfriend, you will have to skip that round.

We discovered how good, for his age, our 11 year old son was with the embellishing of a fact challenge. The game certainly entertained for over an hour on the last evening of the Christmas holidays, only stopped due to bed time. The best thing was seeing him laugh and smile when he had to be creative - we sometimes thought that gave away that he was lying, but in fact he was just embellishing the truth! Occasionally his mispronunciation gave the game away, but didn't detract at all from the fun we were having.

The rules do state that you write down the lies you have made up (you get 30 seconds in an egg timer which you must use, even if you are telling a truth) because it is hard to remember word for word the lie you have invented. I would recommend doing this; we didn't and it did show.

In a household totalling a mere three, we aim to play this when our family come next week for our son's 12th birthday. I'm sure with the grandparents added, the game will be even better.

Next time, I would like to add a bigger challenge for maybe when the first player reaches 10 points, for example. They could get five minutes to prepare three statements, one of which is a lie, like in the series. Perhaps this could determine the ultimate winner!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Out and about with Mrs Humdrum - The Parade Tearooms

We, in the Humdrum household, like to start our days in the best way possible. Good football match? Have a Parade breakfast. Shopping planned later in IKEA? Start with a Parade breakfast. About to set off on our long drive to Cornwall? Start with a Parade breakfast. You get the drift. We have been regulars there since it opened, and I can honestly say, we have never received anything but fantastic service and food there. I won't bang on about how Mark, the owner, always greets you with a smile, even when you're not actually in his eaterie! I won't overenthuse about how it's worth the wait for a table at peak-breakfast time. I won't repeat ad nauseum how polite and good natured all the staff are. What I will promote is the food. I have to admit that 9 times out of 10, we have breakfast, which is (in  my opinion) joint best in the world with the Cliff Top Cafe at Whitsands, Cornwall, but all the food looks amazing. The cakes, well they speak for themselves. Shame they almost eat themselves when I buy one to take away after a hefty full English! Good value for money, excellent ingredients and I love the decor in the bathroom! What more could you ask for?

(Mrs Humdrum was not paid to write this, but she would accept cake as a bribe. Anyone?)
The Parade Tearooms, Western Parade, Southsea (opposite the bottom of Castle Road) 02392 431265

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

AM arguments

Ben and I have always had a tough time in the mornings. At 8am, he used to ask me if he could take a ball in to school. We then had to search in the garden (as we were already in the car at this point) or in the garage. Or he'd forget something. I did threaten that if he forgot his lunch again, he would be having to pay for a school dinner. Funnily enough, that worked. I didn't realise for a long time that I was also stressed in the mornings, so when we clashed, boy, we clashed.

I know we could do that thing that all smug mums do - Get Ready The Night Before. Yes, I do in principle but there's always something you can't do until the morning. Like getting your packed lunch out of the fridge and putting it in your bag. Or realising you need money for a trip. Etc.

I could also get up earlier. I have an aversion to getting up earlier than 7am. I know some mums who don't work, but get up at 6 something just to make sure they're ready before the kids. I am not that sort of mum. I'm a night owl. I like snoozing "just one more time". I know that it takes me exactly one hour to get up, get ready, have breakfast and make sure we're both ready to leave. I just can't get up any earlier.

Some time in Year 5, my mother in law kindly suggested that we separate in the mornings. I should take my cup of tea in to the other room, after having written up on a whiteboard what he needed to get do. She could see he pushed my buttons, so having a list of what jobs he had, he could do them himself instead of me nagging him and getting cross.

This has worked (mostly). But today, we had our first major ding-dong of the school year. In year 7, everything is new. The time he needs to leave the house, remembering homework, PE kits (which he needs almost every day for either lessons or after school clubs), snacks.

Of course, when it all falls down, it's usually because I'm tired and haven't asked him to get ready the night before. I don't want to become a Night Before Nazi because I'm not rigid and never will be. But maybe I do need to have a laminated sheet with Morning Jobs. We used to have a list stuck downstairs with the following on:
  • water bottle
  • lunch
  • reading log
That was all he needed - those were the days!
So this morning, we set off in the car, up to where I drop him off and he says, "Mum I haven't got my football socks." This is for the cup match with the school team. After a few choice words, I turn around and drive back and have to help him go through the house trying to find them.

Back in the car, not 10 minutes later, I make him text my colleague saying he made me late because of football socks! I ask him to text that if he does it again, he will not be playing football that time. He doesn't text that, but I think it went in. I know I was half to blame, fixing the problem for him, but I don't want him to miss the match or for his team to be let down. I guess I'll have to "mum up" if that happens again. 

Right, where's that whiteboard gone? I'm just going to write a few things down that he needs to get ready for tomorrow ...

Monday, 4 September 2017

Why being mum to a tween is so hard

Building Boys, my favourite new Facebook page, posted an article about how being mums to middle-schoolers (that's 10 year olds to me) is hard. The piece spoke directly to me. I am mum to an 11 year old boy, who is about to start secondary school tomorrow and whilst I am no longer facing issues such as nappy-explosions, feeding stand-offs or other problems a new parent has no choice over, I have done my time there and paid all my dues (I think). Here's why I think being mum to a tween is so hard:

(1) Where are the tween mum blogs? To extrapolate the Building Boys' article , there is a plethora of help and aid for new parents, including hilarious mummy blogs and Facebook pages, but scant few for tween mums. I love those mum blogs, but it puts me off to read titles such as "The ten things you wish you were told as a new mum". I want to read "The ten things you wish you were told as a new mum to a tween". There are a few mummy blogs who cope with this, which I thoroughly enjoy reading (MumOfThreeWorld is one of them) but they are far and few between! I don't want breastfeeding stories, birth recounts, guilty posts about me time ... I want "How to cope with a bloody annoying teenager". Perhaps there are no author-mothers who have come out of the other side of the tween years; maybe they are all Stepford Wives! That article I want to read? I might have to write it myself. 

(2) I am going through hormonal changes at the same time as my son! Whilst my son is starting to sprout hairs on his chin, so am I! His adolescence probably won't give him hot flushes like my perimenopause does, but it doesn't look good for a few years. Maybe better having a boy, I don't know?

(3) Our friendship networks change. I had a fantastic NCT group and am luckily still in touch with some. I always bang on about how much we went through together and I know I wouldn't have coped without their support. One friend in particular, we met up every single weekday for coffee and cake, slowly avoiding the cake, reducing our days when the kids went to nursery and then pre-school.
My boy and his NCT mate
I also met a great gang at nursery; a group chosen by my son rather than us adults. Some of the group attended the same school, but now they will be starting all at different secondary schools. Dropping the school runs as they become more independent renders fewer school-gate friends, however the anxiety faced over secondary schools has thrown a few of us together again (thank heavens for Facebook groups!). Being thanked at the last parent association disco was sad too, but not as traumatic as being asked to leave the primary school Facebook parents' page as my child would no longer be attending the school! Whilst I knew I had to leave, I was kind of trying to eek it out; it hurt, I can tell you. (I actually wanted to say a nice goodbye to everyone and wish them all luck, but after being asked to leave, I just ended it! I don't think that mum realised how much of a big deal it was!) It's going to be much harder to meet up with other mum friends now that we can't possibly even be in the same park as our kids, albeit outside the play area, sat chatting on a bench. Where is the nearest pub or cafe?!

(4) It might be too late already! I read this on one site, apologies for no citation. When the kids are young, you are given lots of advice you might wish to follow. You have a chance to mould your offspring, to change their behaviours into those you would prefer to see. However when they are a tween, you feel that most of the advice refers to what you SHOULD have done already. Tweens know their own minds. They can refuse to share with you. Whilst you can enforce bedtimes and screen times to some extent, they may be able to scam you. Now there's probably no hope at all. The damage is already done. You may as well start filling in prison visit request forms already. Just me then?

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

My Victorious - 25-27/08/17

A montage of Friday - Messrs Charles
and Burgess, Madness and us

Victorious Festival - August Bank Holiday 2017
Southsea Common

Don't read that, read this. This is the heavy, heavy Victorious sound. The Southsea-est sound around. So if you've come in off the street, and you're beginning to feel the heat, well listen buster, you'd better start to move your feet, to the rockin-est, rocksteady beat of Victorious. One Step Beyond!

  • OK, so I've paraphrased Madness, or Prince Buster actually. The sun shone down on this year's Victorious Festival, the sixth so far, with an additional Friday night to boot this year. Kicking off My Victorious was the one and only Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show (from our beloved 6Music)! Crowding the D Day car park, the soulful DJ came on stage amid much love from the audience. His energy flowed through the banging speakers and he sang along to every line of every song he played. What a disco! 
  • Sadly, we had to leave after 45 minutes of bopping in the second row, just because we wanted to watch The Charlatans on the Castle Stage. My only moan of the whole festival was that Madness (headliners) fans had plopped themselves down in amongst us Charlatans fans and were (rowdily) socialising in large groups instead of listening! I could've gone home after Weirdo, their opener and my favourite. I know old Tim is a bit shy himself; he wasn't chatting much and I think they changed their set around a little, with The Only One I Know placed second to last and a bit slow for my liking. But gosh they sounded good, the soundtrack to my uni days. (I think Mr Humdrum and I were the only ones singing the lyrics to the Shire Horses' original version of West Country Boy; good cover Charlatans, but not as good as old Marc n Lard.)
  • Madness - well, apart from the Pompey hooligans, there were a lot of happy families in the audience for this ska band. The great view afforded from our vantage point on the hill, under the Victorious light sign, added to the sound from the natural bowl, all produced a fabulous end to the inaugural Friday night. Everyone was dancing to what was probably the soundtrack to their childhoods, or their parents'! Suggs put on a good show, lots of (relevant) chat in between songs. A slick performance. My Victorious had started well.

Mr Humdrum and the boy
On the first full day, we took our 11 year old son. He attended one day last year; this year we allowed him more freedom with his friend. It was quite safe to let them wander for an hour or two, then meet up at the tank, then off again to buy sweets and "do stuff". They turned up on time and were where they said they'd be all day. Here he is with Mr Humdrum, in matching merch.

  • Urban Voice Group were on the Seaside Stage, with what seemed like a hundred youngsters singing and rapping on stage. Great role models for the boy, we thought. 
  • As with any Victorious, we needed to see the Southsea Alternative Choir to really kick things off. For the first of their six sets in two days, the acoustics were amazing on the Seaside Stage; their harmonies blowing on the balmy breeze, accompanied by their enthusiastic audience. They were amazing, and, as always, raised lots of money for their chosen charity.
  • Wandering around, we happened across, as you do at festivals, a crazy, thrashy-Spanishy-sounding guitar quartet called Machete. Unfortunately, we only heard their last two songs, but even the boy was engaged. Worth a watch. 
  • Echobelly and Feeder were great to hear sat lazing on the grass at the Common Stage; Mr Humdrum watched British Sea Power on the Castle Stage. 
  • The boy and his friend were in a band together (Ben's Atomic Dustbin) until they left primary school in July, and their Rocksteady band leader Luke was playing (keyboard and guitar) in Kojak's Revenge, an energetic cover band with a twist. The boys watched from the front row as us parents jigged and sang along to every song behind them. When they covered Don't Look Back in Anger, Luke looked over and smiled at them, as they'd played this song in their band. What a great moment that was for us too, as his friend's mum beamed at me too. 
  • We weren't interested in the headliners that evening (Stereophonics or Rita Ora), but we ended the evening watching a local band Mr Humdrum's cousin is in called Eyes to the Skies. You know the latest Queens of the Stone Age song? Very Eyes to the Skies, QOTSA ripped them off! Headlining the AMP stage, they performed even better than last year. Great stuff lads. 


11 year old Harrison Etherington's
Victorious debut
The Dandy Warhols rock!
  • The third and last day (sans efant!) heralded two more local artists - Strong Island Stage showcased Harrison Etherington, an old school friend of the boy, aged 11 as well. He was amazing on his guitar, with a sweet voice, tackling Oasis, Leonard Cohen, Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran. One to watch! 
  • Second up, Richard Morris is a local singer/songwriter whose backing singer, lovely Ellie Button, works with me! We were delighted to watch them, again with fabulous acoustics on the Seaside Stage. 
  • We decamped to the Common Stage to watch The Dandy Warhols. Sadly they didn't play Every Day Should Be A Holiday, but what a set! Obviously, Bohemian Like You was the pull for the crowds, but for all the other tracks, I'd definitely see them again. The double-barreled singer certainly double-barreled the audience with his almost Sonic Youth sounding guitar effects, in a mesmerising extended version of a song I'm still trying to track down. Awesome. And with a rock geek version of Scooby Doo's Daphne on keyboards, how could it get better than this? 
  • Well, we went back to the Seaside Stage to watch Emptifish, our own surf-punk, ubercool group. I can't really do them justice, so I'm going to instruct you to google them. 

    Slow Readers Club - someone sign them!

  • They were followed by Slow Readers Club, an unsigned (why not?) band I've heard lots of on 6Music, very enjoyable. 
  • Same goes for Field Music, on the Common Stage - poppy/funky music with twists and turns. We watching their drummer and singer/guitarist switch instruments! 
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain annoyingly pulled out, to be replaced by Pete Doherty. I say replaced... his bands passed me by and after much discussion on the night, I think it's because I am just too old for his antics and have seen it all before. The performance was a performance, with a floppy trip in the pit to connect with his audience. He needed help from the security guard to get back up on stage! They didn't even play the only Libertines song I know! Yawn. But I think he went down well with some guys down the front. 
  • Next up Slaves. I had heard their music but it's quite headache-inducing for me, so I wasn't that sure. I knew it'd be loud because the soundcheck was! What I didn't realise was that they were only two. The singer plays a unique drum kit and played with so much energy, he put Doherty to shame when he just jumped back on stage after his own audience visit! What a wall of sound with the guitarist and backing singer. Amazing - very sweary but worth it. They seem liked nice guys not thugs either. Ask them where the hi-hat is. Somehow this was better than the Dandy Warhols. How could it get even better still? 
  • Answer - Franz Ferdinand. We saw them at Reading in 2004 just as their first album was released. They didn't seem to have aged, but that might be due to Alex's white blonde hair! A brilliant 50 minute set including all their hits. I secretly hoped they'd bring on Sparks to form FFS but sadly no. This was it for me, it couldn't get better. 
  • We hung on chatting to our friends while Elbow started, but the doom and gloom was enough for us so we headed over near the Castle Stage for some food, and to surreptitiously listen to Olly Murs, who actually did put on a good show, well for the one song we heard. A great showman, enjoyed by the tens of thousands watching him (not Elbow!).

Franz Ferdinand - should have headlined
To sum up, the sun shone. There were no queues for (clean) loos. There were hardly any beer queues (except Friday night). Lots of local music. Lots of great well known bands. Nice burgers and mac'n'cheese from our own Southsea Beach Cafe and Tenth Hole eateries. No real trouble from youngsters this year and not much either from the olds - (except Madness fans!). Early bird offers ensure this event is great value for money and the whole weekend ticket price was excellent value to watch Slaves, Dandy Warhols or Franz Ferdinand, let alone all three! 
What is better than a festival where you can watch ferries and hovercraft in the harbour, listen to live music, and walk home to your own bed at night?

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

He's pushing my buttons

Everyone knows I'm a koumpounophobe so I don't actually possess any buttons to push, but even my 11 year old boy can find them. Find them with such pinpoint accuracy as would befit a sniper, then deploy them, waiting around for the blow-up. The more I read about this, the more I realise how much I'm complicit in this - not totally to blame, but I can certainly help to avoid it.

It all started - well when he was born, no seriously, about two years ago when I identified that I was getting really stressed out in the mornings with our school routine. Five minutes before he was due to walk or I was due to drive him, he'd come out with lines like "Oh I need to take in my football today" - cue hunt in the garden or garage. Or "I would like to scoot today please". I know I sound unreasonable, but these things organised the night before are fine. More than fine. But hell, when we're both trying to get out of the door but only one of us understands the need to be in school on time, it makes me unreasonable. Where is dad in all of this? Well of course, he needs to leave half an hour before us. Those magic 30 minutes - due to traffic, oh yes - but it's during these few minutes that all the conflict occurs! Even my answer of "Well it's too late for this, maybe tomorrow" sets me up for an annoyance and anger that I can't really explain. At any other time of the day, I'd just ignore it and make him wait until the next day, but I suppose I'm just not that calm in the mornings. My dear mother-in-law helpfully suggested (yes helpfully, I don't have an annoying butting-in MIL) that he gets ready the night before and that I go into the other room for some time in the mornings to avoid any episodes starting. This worked a treat; my son was on board and all was well. Buttons not pressed. Buttons in fact idly hanging around unpressed.

Forwarding to this year - year 6. Despite me believing he's emotionally immature (and that's not all that bad, he's got plenty of time to grow up), he's been able to emotionally push my buttons on a few occasions. So successfully once earlier this year that it took my mates in the staff room to help me understand what had happened! I forget the start of the conversation, but it went on to him saying he wanted to be a famous YouTuber. Like the "I wanna be a famous footballer" conversations we'd had a few years back, I tried to say he needed a Plan B in case his YouTube channel didn't yield as much financial success as he'd liked. Oh dear. By saying this, I'd totally ruined, no crushed,  the hopes and dreams of an 11 year old. How bad did I feel? Quite bad. Recognising this, he went on to add that no one liked him at school and he was always getting bullied/teased. I then felt like the worst parent in the whole world and went to bed on this. My friends in the staff room the next day almost laughed in my face and told me, "You've been had!" I realised what he'd done. Oh he was good at it, and since he's done this a couple of times since, I'm beginning to wonder if he is as emotionally immature as I'd first thought!

But his forte, his piece de resistance (can't do accents on this, sorry), is the ability to push my buttons with his physical/oral actions, such as:
  • walking too close to me that he falls over me, or I fall over him
  • standing on my feet while walking too close next to me (are his size 7 feet he just too big for himself?)
  • cracking his knuckles (now I regret showing him that Facebook article debunking the arthritis link)
  • constant rudeness - not answering back, though he's achieved Exceeding for that - no I mean the rude jokes. I'm glad we can discuss things like boners and other funny areas of puberty/sex ed without getting embarrassed as it means he may talk to me when he's older about serious stuff, but when it's a barrage of "That's what she said" quips, it just gets too much. My best friend came down for the weekend and unfortunately we just laughed at him because, well, he was funny - but it just got worse until he'd reached a limit he probably didn't realise was there. It wasn't just bants anymore, it was too much. 
I can't even describe how annoying he was during a walk, time at a fair, trip up the Tower, lunch etc. Don't get me wrong, he's funny and we all laughed appropriately but he went overboard. He didn't know when to stop, which is funnily enough what his teacher said. My friend said her university-bound stepson had pushed her buttons the same way he was pushing mine.

So how do I cope with this? I can't just keep getting annoyed with him. It's not fair on him to hear me yelling, whilst doing that cry/laughing, "Shut up!" or for me to look forward to him playing on his X-Box for an hour. One of the obvious differences is he has no audience today.

Today, we're back on our own again. He has a broken arm and is stuck for things to do somewhat, but also the weather is horrendous. He's been lovely. We've been shopping for school uniform today and had a cafe-stop afterwards. Not a crossed word between us. (I'm sure this will change when dad gets in, but that alpha-male-ism issue is another blog post.) I've done some research online. Here's what I've come up with:

Keep calm. Don't let my anger becomes the reward for him. I can say to him "I'm going to think about this in another room, but I will come back and I'm not ignoring you". I can repair to my room to think about it, to calm down, to find an appropriate response. Try to respond with humour, if appropriate. I'm bound to need this next week when we visit my parents, as there is always tension between him and my dad as he gets bored - my son that is!

One comment from another button-pushed mum really summed it all up. She said, "Now that she's a teenager, I can understand why some animals eat their young." As long as we don't reach that point, I'm sure we'll be ok!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Trying out big school - Transition WEEK starts tomorrow!

Ten things we know about Big School, before Transition Week:
  1. Transition week is yes, a week! Most other get two days. We get a week! That's a week of him coming home earlier than me...
  2. They advise taking a packed lunch for the first day, but afterwards, it's £3.50 on average per day for a hot lunch. This is going to cost me a fortune!
  3. They have two lunch "hours" of 25 minutes, he can eat at either. Both more like, if he realises he can do it.
  4. He's going to get homework this week. (Ha ha ha ha ha ha.)
  5. They already know the details of the detentions and bookings. We have been told (by him) to not expect him NOT to get any detentions.
  6. But he doesn't want isolation, that sounds awful. (Good.)
  7. He can wear any shoes this week, but in September, he has to wear all black shoes. Yes he's already asked me for a certain pair. No I can't remember the name.
  8. He's outraged he can't wear shorts to secondary, but he is able to this week. (Good cos his long trousers probably don't fit him any longer!)
  9. What he doesn't realise is that at another secondary, the year 6s going up in their shorts for transition days are mercilessly teased by the year 7s (obviously a rite of passage) - I wonder if they do that at his school? (Bah ha ha.)
  10. He's sort of excited. I think that means he's bricking it but can't under any circumstances let on. Watch this space.

Friday, 30 June 2017

How I miss those farm visit days

Today, I accompanied Year 5 on a school trip to a wartime farm for their WW2 topic. How I love my job. We got to be bossed around by a strict teacher in an authentic school room, writing with chalk; participate in rag-rugging (I want to do some at home!); weigh out how much cheese and butter you were allowed for our rations and walk around the farm visiting the animals. We had some free time in the afternoon before our coach took us home, so the children voted to go back to the park so they could - wait for it - play on the little tractors! Yes, there was a racetrack there with some toddlers pedalling around in tiny John Deeres. Nine- and ten-year olds playing in the toddler park. It was so lovely to see them just being children again!

As I lead them across the farmyard and past the barns to the park, I felt a sudden pang in my heart. I realised it was the effect the farm was having on me. How long ago it was that we used to take Ben out to these types of places, where you'd be totally in control of what they were playing on. Not for about seven years have I had to think that red is a Massey Ferguson and green is a John Deere tractor. I haven't had an excuse to pet a small animal that wasn't in my garden. I haven't milked a cow or a goat since then. 

There is a country park near us which we ALL went to when they were tiny. I can't quite remember when we started going, but even after my maternity leave, we used to meet up - prams at the ready, buying our animal feed and using our annual season tickets that we'd been bought as alternative Christmas presents. We would hurry the children through the gift shop on the way in (yes who would put a shop in the Entrance?!) and start on the circuit we all knew so well. At first, we would tour the whole place, stopping off to feed them along the way (the animals and the kids), then we graduated to a shorter route, with a possible hot drink stop on the way - how racy! In the end, in the months before they started school, we'd scoot really quickly round to the gated field, pitch up on our rugs and let them loose. Our picnics became second nature to make on a mummy-morning (as opposed to a work-morning, whereby I couldn't possibly have made my own lunch!). I suppose I didn't realise that the last time I went there was, in fact, the last time. Like all of those last times that you don't realise. They just don't happen again. 

Fast-forward to 11 years old - before I leave work, if it's not a sports-club night, I check whether he's in or out on his bike. I then get another call later asking if he can stay out until 7pm (no!) and then on a Friday, another one asking if a mate can stay over. 

Don't get me wrong, I love the time this gives me, but today I realised I missed holding his hand and helping him into the little trikes, watching with pride when he managed to negotiate the bends in the tracks. Watching him ditch the trike and run to the next activity, without a care in the world, happy in these activity farms. But I wouldn't have time to write things like this if he wasn't playing out this evening!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Personal shopper experience for my birthday

Mr Humdrum is usually extremely good at presents. Whether it's clothes (apart from THAT orange cardigan that I tried to wear for weeks, then admitted it was horrid), make-up (he can even ask for Touche Eclat) or anything else, he's usually spot on. This year, for my 46th, he surprised me a couple of days before with a gift voucher for Debenhams. Yes, you may say, what's so great about that? Well if you buy a voucher for £100, you get a free personal shopper, tasty treat from the restaurant, a glass of wine and an hour makeover from a beauty brand. I was to attend after school on a Friday with my mum in attendance. My mum is usually my personal shopper; I actually think she buys things with me in mind, knowing I wouldn't usually try them, and they says, "It doesn't really fit me, do you want to try it?" Or I just try her clothes on and buy the same. She has just hit the big Ahem-O, but looks fabulous in my opinion. So, how was I to cope taking my personal shopper to My Personal Shopper?

We were ushered into the suite and this is the only complaint I have to make about the whole event (spoiler - it was fab), it was hot. There is NO aircon! Not nice if you're a little nervous and trying on lots of clothes - please listen, Debenhams! Jordan got us settled with a glass of bubbly and a hot drink for my mum. He asked me what I was looking for. I had to admit I didn't really know, though I'd seen some nice orange dresses I maybe would like to wear to my friend's wedding party the next week. Jordan did agree that as this had been "sprung" on me, it wasn't like I had an outfit in mind!

The first thing was to get my bust measured. The last time this happened, I was in another branch and the lady tactlessly said that as I was a larger size, I had to shop from the back of the store. Nice! The bras she fitted me for, well the cup actually fitted around my head! Way out. This time, there was no obligation to buy, but obviously it made sense if you're trying on dresses, a good fit would make all the difference. I'm afraid I can't remember the name of the lady who fitted me, but she had my size immediately. Never these days do I wear padded bras, but she explained it would give me a better shape - it did! No more Fat Back either, perfect fit.

Jordan arrived back with a couple of dresses - the bottom left in the picture, nicer on the hangover than on me. He showed me the pink one - never would I have chosen it, but I loved it. Wallis, and a great size to boost my ego. The frills covered any lumps and bumps and the colours really did suit me. Tick! Continuing the theme, the black dress (similar layered dress again from Wallis) would do me perfectly for a 50th birthday coming up. The skirt was divine on it, beautifully smooth from the bum down. A pair of cropped black trousers, like Audrey Hepburn, I asked Jordan. Yes, these are perfect thank you, with perhaps the top of the orange dress I liked originally! That's the top I wore out that night for my birthday. I had in mind a jacket, tried to describe what I wanted; he came back with the exact ones I already had and one that my own personal shopper/mother had given me! There was only one dress (not pictured) that I didn't like - a turquoise affair - lovely colour but not a flattering style we decided. Jordan had brought in a couple of pairs of shoes to help with the look too, as well as filling up my glass! He knows his stuff, knew exactly what to get me to try on. I know he was good as my mum was impressed! We did giggle during the whole thing, it was a very funny experience. Payment time at the till - I received a discount on the bras (I couldn't resist - hadn't had them so high for years!), opened a Debenhams card too and ended up with them giving me money (well it felt like that). I still had my tasty treat from the restaurant and the makeover to go. Jordan made me feel extremely relaxed and provided such a good service, I can't recommend him enough. I would certainly return if I had to purchase a particular outfit. There is no pressure to buy at all, they are not commission-based.

Two weeks later, I booked in for my makeover. I had confided in Jordan that the last time I was made up in that store, I ended up looking, well like a lady of the night! He looked at me knowingly, saying that we didn't want that, and that he would book me in with Fiona at Bare Minerals. I pitched up on a Saturday afternoon as I was going out that night. Fiona instantly put me at ease; sitting near that Mac thing they have in Debenhams did make me feel a little out of touch! Facialists have in the past been horrified and hidden behind their hands almost when I admit that I have no real beauty regime. I hardly wear make up anymore and when I do, I never wash it off. I just like a nice glossy lipstick. Fiona showed me how to apply the Bare Minerals powder, which I remember having a few years back, and how to achieve the glow I now know I was missing. She let me have a go at the bronzer and the blush, taking my hand when I was going wrong, like a driving instructor pressing the brake pedal! The eyes are more tricky and I let her do them, with an idea to book in for a future free lesson on how to do them. A slick of gloss and wow, I was done. There was again no pressure to buy, but I came away with the powder. I think you'll agree that my photo is an improvement! In fact, I wore the powder and bronzer to school on the Monday, and two children said I looked pretty that day! Result! I can't recommend Fiona enough either; she listened to what I had to say and then used her own experience to guide me. I didn't, I think, look like a lady of the night this time! Thank you Mr Humdrum.

The Cureheads at Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea 24.6.17

Having seen this Cure tribute band at the Butlins Shiiine On Weekend last year, I decided to give them another go in my home town. Admittedly, I'd not given them a good rating last time. Well, that's not entirely true. Musically, the music was great. In fact, more than great. But "Robert" was a bit odd - he rambled on about his grandad and Armistice Day. I think he thought we should be interested in him, rather than Robert Smith himself. With hindsight, after this second gig, I think the problem was that the first set was on near midnight and possibly he'd had too many lemonades? I decided that I was going to have too many lemonades this time, in order to truly enjoy the tribute experience, and it was my birthday celebration. I did know, however, that he was probably more "Robert Smith" than "Robert Smith" these days, in terms of voice, having heard a few YouTube videos of concerts. And his guitar - well, you can tell he learned these tunes from a young age. He knows them! He can play them! And yes he's awesome!

Listening to the support act, I bumped into "Robert" himself and had a photo taken - we pouted, as you can see. I actually was excited! The audience was sparser than I'd imagined, going by crowds The Smyths usually pull in. But I realised that they were nicer. More goth-like than lad-like. You could actually dance in the second row without having your drink spilled over you by Bigmouth-singing lager-louts. There was certainly a lot of love in the audience.

I always like to set up my reviews by specifying which period of the band's musical history I prefer. For The Cure, it's anything up to Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, released in 1987 when I was revising for my O-Levels. Anything after that is a bit "new" to me.

Stage atmosphere, they do it well. All dark and gothic-esque. I know it's EMO these days, but it's goth to me. Gary Clarke is certainly in character as Bob himself, all lippie, hair and mood. It just takes me back to The Head on the Door days, which I had on cassette in 1986.

I'm struggling to find a set list online, and I am having trouble remembering exactly what they did play! However, the first half of the set mostly consisted of songs I'd consider "newer", except perhaps Charlotte Sometimes, and A Night Like This. The second half of the set was more my stuff. In no particular order, mainly because I've forgotten, they played 10.15 Saturday Night, A Forest (my favourite), In Between Days, Lovecats (which apparently he said he doesn't like, nor do I that much - overplayed), Boys Don't Cry (I think), and Friday I'm in Love, at which point I went to the loo as I can't bear that song. I also have a memory of Let's Go To Bed and/or The Walk, but I can't confirm it was on the set list!

All in all, it was a fantastic evening - I'm definitely going to see them again, without as many lemonades, so I can remember all that they played!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Should I let my son go on his school trip to London?

My son's end of Year 6 trip was to see The Lion King in London's West End. Going up to London is always a treat from our south coast city. However, we agreed for him to go before the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London! Over half-term, indeed after last Saturday's London Bridge attacks, our school Facebook group flooded with posts entitled "What do people think about the school trip to London?" and "Should I let my child go?" I read that a school that my friend's children attend in Cornwall had posted a Facebook update saying they were having emergency meetings about their own school trip this week with the Local Authority and governors. We heard nothing from our school.

I had a text from the mum of Ben's school bestie. She wasn't keen on him going, I don't think, but wanted to know if Ben was going. I replied that he was. We'd talked about it, he wanted to go. However when I mentioned his bestie possibly wasn't, he changed his mind. He then said he was scared of the terrorists. What could I do? This was two days before the trip. Annoyingly, as I hadn't yet paid for it, I went into the school office and paid for it knowing he probably wouldn't go! But I was stuck - I couldn't force him. I was pretty sure it was because of his mate, but he would just say it was because he was scared. What to do? A school dad said to make him go. I couldn't do that! Imagine if anything had happened, how would I feel? My own dad said he wanted him to go, and that he should, but we were stuck. I came up with the plan of asking him to pay half of the amount, just to see how that made him feel. I only felt worse reading of the possible terror attack in Paris last night.

He came home from school on the first Monday back, saying they'd had a chat in class. His teacher told the class her brother worked behind the scenes in London with the police when attacks happen, and that in his opinion, it was one of the safest places to go at this time. This was reassuring to hear, not that he felt it was safe, but that it almost put a human person in a helping role that is unknown to most of us. I think the children felt reassured. Ben came home from school, heard I'd paid, and said that he wanted to go. In fact, after their chat, he had told the teacher, "Screw ISIS" - to which she replied, "Exactly that, but with better language"! Job done. We were extremely happy with his decision, and it was his decision after all.

The sad thing was that many children who had decided not to go, or whose parents didn't want them to go, were being made to feel bad for this. Some mothers reported on Facebook that they were told they'd have to do loads of work at school, or that London was safe and there wouldn't be an attack! How can you say this? In no way can you say this! No one should be made to feel bad because of a decision they take. They have their children's best interests at heart, and no one could blame anyone for doing what they feel is right.

So I dropped him off near school today. He wanted to go to the shop to buy sweets for the journey with the pound I'd given him. He kissed me goodbye and sauntered off down the road. I watched him for longer than I normally do, all sorts of thoughts rushing through my mind.

At school while I was teaching, his school phoned - I jumped out of my skin! It was just the receptionist asking a question. I told my class I was keeping my phone on just in case they wanted to contact me. They did - we had a nice text when the school coaches left. And another when they reached the theatre. I'm currently waiting for one saying they are leaving London.

I know we did the right thing for us as a family. I know that every parent did the right thing for their family, whatever their decision. I just never thought I'd have to face this. I can't imagine how the parents and families of those who have died in attacks must feel. They too waved their children off before what was supposed to be a fun, exciting thing to do. We all say, "We can't let them win," but when it comes down to it, how would we feel if it happened to us. This was, without a doubt, the hardest decision I've ever had to make as a mum.

Added just now - after a Facebook comment from a friend who said she's more worried about her children's safety than her own. I went up to London this past weekend to see Depeche Mode and when we left the London Stadium after the event, as word got round the 80,000 of us walking out, about the attacks, we were full of it - We won't let them win, Screw them etc. Gallows humour, we are British etc. It wasn't just the copious pints of Pimms I'd imbibed, I really felt invincible leaving the gig. I too am more worried about my son's safety than my own. I know exactly what she means.

Friday, 21 April 2017

A Humdrum Mum reviews Tana French's The Likeness

I'm afraid I came a little late to this party. I've just discovered I've read #5 and now #7 (this one) in a series. I hate doing that! Sometimes you never read anything that'll give the game away. Sometimes it's the fault of the fault of English translations (Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole's first case is much referenced in later books, but was only available later). Anyway I digress.

Detective Cassie Maddox agrees to go undercover to find the murderer of a woman who is her doppelgänger. She has to seamlessly return, believed to have survived a stabbing, back to her four housemates. 

This novel is basically a story of an undercover cop, who you don't actually know will or wants to return to real life. She lost her parents at a young age and identifies with her new housemates and their "no pasts" mantra. She finds herself slipping into their closeness. I found the theory that someone could fool others into believing they were someone known to them slightly incredible, but then you worry she is going to get burned every day ... The story is tense and a definite page turner. In fact I stayed in bed this whole morning to finish it!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A Humdrum holiday in Wales

During the half-term holiday, we celebrated Mrs Humdrum Senior's 70th birthday by renting a cottage in the Middle of Nowhere, South Wales for the week. Holidaying with my parents and us three, I imagined finding a happy medium of activities for us all would be tricky. We like sightseeing, we like walks. He likes - well, YouTube.

After overriding Mr Humdrum (oops not good parenting but I had to do it), we allowed Ben to use his phone on the wifi in the car to watch The Simpsons or YouTube. Our journeys ranged from 30-90 minutes each way each day, and I reckoned that this was a good trade-off for his attention during daytime and at mealtimes. To be honest, I was asleep on the way home most evenings! It seemed to work; he disappeared upstairs after the hot tub each night, but came down again to play a game or to watch a film. He put up with our walks; even when the sightseeing wasn't quite to his taste, he didn't moan. I think the little angel is starting to understand compromise...

I knew the hot tub would go down well - I didn't realise just how much! I thought a hot tub was meant to be a relaxing place? Not when he started fighting with his grandad! They just couldn't stay still! For me, it was the best thing of the holiday. Being able to get up and go straight in for a dip before breakfast, and first thing when we arrived home after a heavy day enjoying ourselves, was bliss. Come rain or wind, we were in there. Both female Humdrums did have to wear shower caps to keep our hair dry - mostly from the rain!

And if the hot tub wasn't relaxing enough, the boat trip was. Redline Boats at Goytre Wharf wasn't cheap, but it was well worth it. We hired a day boat and travelled south towards Mamhilad. Although there were no locks to encounter, we did have a splendid lunch at The Star Inn. Opposite the pub was a church dating back to the Middle Ages with ancient yew trees in the courtyard and the oldest (I think) font inside on record. Ben managed to crash the boat each time he drove it; I did quite well, but had to totally concentrate on it. Sadly, we weren't able to hire the boat we'd booked so we didn't have a canteen on board, but flasks of tea kept us going. The rain held off too!

Writing about coal for 12 years, you'd think I'd have been down a mine. Well no, I hadn't. Until now! Big Pit was a great day out, recommended by the owners of our cottage. It is still technically a working mine, and so we had to wear all the right safety equipment and no batteries were allowed underground. The tour is about 45 minutes and you walk about 700m 90m underground. What's amazing is that it is almost "current" history - it's living history for us adults. Although I may not have understood the miners' strikes in the 80s, I can certainly remember it on the TV. Here is was all made real. Maybe it's a bit odd, but I like looking at all the safety issues - particularly how things have improved over the last 100 or so years. How children aged 6 used to watch doors there, sometimes in darkness if their candles went out (and gosh, was it dark when we all put out our headlamps!). How the horses lived and were better treated than the men. How the wives and families campaigned for better conditions. When we soaked ourselves in the hot tub that evening, we recalled how it was only after 1939 that there were baths on site so the miners didn't come home filthy. And it was free! A highly recommended, fantastic day out. Ben loved it too; even Mrs Humdrum Sr who doesn't like anything like this usually (cramped spaces, lifts underground etc).

Daytrips to The Mumbles, Tenby and Swansea made up the rest of the week. On the way home, we called into St Fagans near Cardiff. This is a sort of living open-air housing museum, whereby buildings from all over Wales were donated to preserve the old Welsh way of life. From farmhouses to woollen mills, chapels to a tannery and a toll house, the grounds also include a sort of village green with a tea-house on site. The shops were amazing - I could hear "I remember these" when looking at the old preserved packets. Apart from an amazing pre-fab house, the highlight was a terrace of six houses, the Ryd-y-Car ironworkers' houses, whereby the dĂ©cor ranged from 1805 up to 1985, the last of which seemed quite familiar to Mr Humdrum and I as being like our grandparents' homes! They must've looked so dated to Ben. Unfortunately this was the only thing we did that week that Ben didn't find interesting!  

During Gale Force 7 winds, we trekked out to the Worm's Head, after walking to King Arthur's Stone. The scenery in both locations was stunning and the weather kept dry for almost the whole time. The stone is thought to be a Neolithic burial tomb dating back to 2500 BC. I love touching old stones like that, imagining who has also placed their hands in the same place. The Worm's Head is an amazing headland joined to the mainland by a rocky causeway, and only accessible safely when the tide is right. The Bay Bistro, whilst not cheap, served us with delicious toasties and cake, with "breathtaking" views of the bay (their words, but it was breathtaking in that wind!).

The evenings were taken up by either eating or planning our next day in the hot tub; there wasn't much time for anything else, except a quick game of something before bed. Uno usually did the trick.

I feel we turned a corner with Ben's attitude and maturity that week. Maybe he realised the holiday was in honour of Nana's birthday and was accordingly well behaved. Maybe he just realised that if he did what we wanted, we would let him do what he wanted. He did admit that if he played up, he knew he'd be "restricted doing things" (yes he actually said that). I'm sure I'm speaking too soon on this... watch this space.