Uke and Roll

I have been having a very eclectic time over the last twenty four hours.

I have been to see Abigail’s Party at Curve theatre in Leicester. It was most excellent. Not only did it make me howl, but it also reminded me very, very, almost painfully much of my Seventies childhood. The set dressing and props department need a medal. It was scarily documentary like in places.

It is still running for a few more days if anyone is passing by and fancies a night out. My friend Auntie Squirrel recommended it, and was spot on in her recommendation. She liked it so much she is going again this week. High praise indeed.

I am very glad she twisted my arm with regard to pulling my finger out to get tickets. To mix some very physical metaphors there.

This morning I went to my first ever ukulele lesson with my friend Kim. Kim has been going for a while, and is an absolute whiz on the uke. I, on the other hand am diabolically inept.

There are many things that hamper me.

1. My ability to tell left from right. I am right handed. For the first ten minutes I held the uke like a lefty and was none the wiser. If you are equally gifted with your left and right hand in terms of writing etc, you are called ambidextrous. I do not know if there is a term for someone who is equally rubbish. Ambi-cack handed maybe?

2. I am using Oscar’s uke, that we bought him from Amazon for about £12 when he wanted to be a rock star guitarist but his arms were too short for the real thing. It has been in the toy box for four years. It has not helped it sound beautiful. It detunes itself every ten minutes.

3. I have no musical knowledge whatsoever. I played the recorder for three weeks when I was eight and gave up when I was not the Mozart of the recorder world. I have not touched an instrument since then.

4. Music, it transpires, is essentially maths. As well as being pathologically unable to tell my left from my right hand, I am also mathematically dyslexic and consequently have no idea what the teacher is talking about 95% of the time.

5. My fingers, reasonably dextrous under most circumstances turn into bunches of hairy, fat bananas when faced with delicate strings and fret work.

6. I am also very easily led. This means that instead of playing the bit I am meant to play, I forget what I am meant to play and attempt to play whatever the person next to me is playing, with disastrous results.

I am terrible.

The good things:

1. I knew I would be terrible when I went in. I was under no illusion that I would suddenly be on stage with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. There was no epiphanic moment of awfulness to crush my dreams of top musical skilz.

2. Everyone was absolutely cool with me being really terrible and either ignored me, was patient, or was incredibly nice.

3. I enjoyed it despite the awfulness of my playing. The hour and a half flew by and I was not bored for a second. Bewildered, confused, entertained but not bored.

4. It was a fiver. A fiver. It is an absolute bargain.

5. The teacher has ukes that don’t go out of tune that you can borrow, so that if by some random chance you happen to hit a right note somewhere, you sound for a millisecond like you know what you’re doing. Which is lovely.

6. Everyone was really nice.

So I shall go again next week.

Another bonus was getting to go for lunch afterwards with Kim. Which was entirely excellent.

The rest of my day was spent putting together some stuff on Romeo and Juliet to help a friend whose son is having the worst of worst times with Shakespeare. I sympathise with him. Romeo and Juliet is a godawful play for fifteen year old boys to wrestle with. No matter how much stabbing there is, you always have to deal with the mushy bits in the end. Rubbish.

Then I spent the evening testing some more of Liberty London Girl’s recipes from her book; Friends, Food, Family.

And eating them.

With enormous enjoyment, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know. But just in case you’re not sold I will provide photographic evidence of the deliciousness in tomorrow’s blog.

Frockage

Inspired by my new pink hair I have thrown caution to the winds, and despite a day filled with such excitements as going to Sainsburys’, buying tights for my teenage, tight destroying, daughter, and hours of admin, I threw on a gold  embroidered shift dress and sparkly shoes.

I decided life is too short not to wear a gold shift dress and sparkly shoes, and if I don’t wear them now, when the hell am I ever going to wear such things? My social life is not the sort that demands such extravagance. Mostly it demands sitting in the dark and going ‘oooh’, and/or falling asleep stealthily while nobody is watching.

I have to say that I have zipped through a remarkable number of errands today, and am wondering whether this dressing up malarkey has anything to do with it. Should I embrace glitter if I want to get ahead?

Hell, yeah.

I have also managed to bag tickets to see Abigail’s Party at Curve this evening. I feel I shall be very in the spirit of things in my current get up.

So that was Monday

Because Monday was looming, I did not sleep well last night. This was partly due to the fact that my brain was doing the washing machine thing: ‘And don’t forget this, and that, and the other, and world peace, and cats with moustaches, and packed lunches, blah, blah, bloody, blah.’ And then I was over tired and it was shit.

And I had a dream that involved dinosaurs, which was a bit anxious making, when I finally did drop off.

And Jason has an absolute stinker of a cold, and spent most of the night honking into tissues and snotting and coughing and all that stuff. Which kept me awake when I wasn’t worrying about world peace and P E kits.

I think I had approximately 27 minutes sleep. Most of it spent being chased by a velociraptor and worrying about not being able to go on Strictly Come Dancing if I got eaten.

I have quite a few anxiety dreams about Strictly. It is odd, because I have never watched it. Not once. And I used to love Come Dancing, although it was never the same after Angela Rippon left.

It obviously taps into some deep seated fears about, I dunno, sequins?

So, this morning I was woolly of mind and thick of head and not very good at helping Tallulah who had to set off early this morning because she needed to be at the local swimming pool at twenty past eight, and had lost her phone and nearly forgot her sandwiches, and her books, and her swimming kit.

Gah.

And then I had a million, squillion things to do before I went to the hairdresser. And this was compounded by Jason calling me because he thought he had lost his wedding ring and could I have a look for it?

Which I did. And I didn’t find it. So I added it to my list of things to worry about and zoomed off.

So I made it to the hairdresser in the nick of time, mainly because I drove round and round looking for parking spaces and cursed and swore because all the bloody students have come back and now there is nowhere to park and I might as well have left the car at home and walked from there. And how dare students? How very bloody dare they?

Gah.

And because the hairdresser is ten, and the salon is frighteningly trendy and I am nervous in these situations and have all the social skills of a baboon, I talked and talked and talked like I hadn’t seen anyone for a million years, about absolute shite until I was sick of the sound of my own voice and felt sorry for the hairdresser and everyone in the salon who probably wanted someone to stab me with GHDs just to get me to shut up.

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But I did come out with pink hair, which I love. And by Christmas it will be even pinker and possibly silvery too. Like a massive magenta space ship made of my head.

Which I like.

I remembered to pick up the tortoise from tortoise chokey, which made me win at Monday, because it was the one thing I was pretty sure I would forget to do.

I also managed to just get to Oscar’s school to pick him up, although I didn’t have enough time to take the tortoise home, and was worried someone might pinch her from my car, which I abandoned in a side road as I ran to school in a mist of anxiety.

Nobody will forget the pink haired parent carrying a tortoise through the playground for years to come, I predict.

Books I dun read on olidee

Mostly when I was on my olydees I read children’s books. I’m making a huge effort at the moment to keep my Making Them Readers blog and Facebook Page updated, and there are so many children’s books people keep giving me, or I keep buying, I wanted to get through some of them.

I have made the decision to make the  Making Them Readers blog mostly a place where I review books. I used to blog about events, but it dates the blog, and readers are so scattered geographically, those posts were only ever going to appeal to a tiny fraction of my readership. Book reviews, on the other hand, remain fairly timeless and books, praise the Lord, are available absolutely everywhere.

So, the Facebook page will be mostly for other people’s reviews and articles, up to date information on events and stuff that happens, and occasionally I will totally reverse my thinking and change it all around again. Because I can. But for now, that’s how it is.

I thoroughly enjoyed my week of reading, and I did read some grown up books too, just to be on the safe side. I have made a list here, of everything that passed before my eyes, and my brief opinions. As far as the children’s books go, if you want more details, they are reviewed fully on the Making Them Readers blog.

My List:

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin – I started this the week before we went. I finished it on the first day of my holidays. I love Ian Rankin. I love books about Inspector Rebus. This was a corker. Bring on the next one please. I’m so glad Rebus is out of retirement. Nobody does gritty Scottish crime like Rankin.

The Hunted by Charlie Higson – This is the sixth in a seven book series called The Enemy. Yes. It is that Fast Show Charlie Higson. No, these aren’t funny. They are an amazing set of books about a zombie illness that ravages the world, leaving young children to try to rebuild society, fend for themselves and not get eaten by their nearest and dearest. Gritty, violent, brutal and absolutely page turningly excellent. I wish books had been this exciting when I was a teenager. You literally forget to breathe in some bits.

Wildwood by Colin Meloy – A strange fantasy book about a twelve year old girl whose baby brother gets kidnapped by a pack of crows working for an evil queen who lives in the middle of an enchanted wood outside of Portland, Oregon. It has charming illustrations by Carson Ellis, and the seeds of an excellent story. It is a bit patchy, but this is the first of three, so I am willing to take a risk with book two to see if he can work out the kinks from book one.

The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt – A children’s classic, translated from the Dutch, and originally published to great critical acclaim in 1962. This tells the tale of the chivalrous would be knight Tiuli, and his quest to take a letter to the king. I found this unbearably dull. Someone else I read who reviewed it said it was charming, and like Tolkien with all the monsters removed. What would be the point of that? It is also 500 pages long, and has no monsters, about three pages of magic that isn’t really magic, and a lot of prancing around on horseback trying to politely kill people. Rubbish.

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal – This is in the 1001 books you have to read before you die book. I’d never read any Vidal before, and this was 25p on a book stall and only about 200 pages long, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. It tells the story of Myra Breckinridge, who hits California at about the same time as Charles Manson and the Beach Boys. It purports to be an uproarious tale of sexual shenanigans. You should be so lucky. It was well written, but if you’ve read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and Tom Robbin’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, there will be nothing for you here. Move along.

100 Cupbpards by N.D. Wilson – A strange magical fantasy tale about a boy called Henry whose parents are kidnapped in South America, which means Henry is packed off to stay with his aunt and uncle in Kansas. Strange things are afoot when Henry wakes up to find the plaster crumbling away from his bedroom wall, revealing 100 cupboard doors, each of which is a gateway into another world. Some are great, some are full of evil queens and cats with buboes and bad tempers. Henry and his cousins have to navigate their way through the worlds to find out what is going on. Lots of the time, you as the reader aren’t sure either, although the book is drily humorous, well written and very entertaining. It is the first of three books, and ends on a cliff hanger. I will report on the other two when I get around to them.

Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin – A sort of Sherlock Holmes for the modern day child. Darkus Knightley is a twelve year old boy whose father was a famous detective. Alan Knightley has crumbled under the weight of knowledge that finding out about a secret society bent on the evil domination of the world has burdened him with, and has been in a stress induced coma for three years. Darkus has been reviewing his case load in the meantime, and when Alan comes out of his coma during an episode of Countdown, to find out that a new self help book is actually the cats paw of the evil society, he teams up with Darkus to save the world. This is rather patchy but occasionally very tense and sometimes rather funny.

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond – Almond is my hero, as you may already know. This is a modern reworking of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth made new and set in Northumberland. It is beautiful and lyrical and engaging and mystical and I loved it.

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett - Pratchett’s fortieth Discworld novel, and another chance to get reacquainted with Moist von Lipwig,  entrepreneur and chancer extraordinaire. This time Moist is enthralled by the world of rail travel and harnessing the power of steam. I love Pratchett. This is not his best, but there have been worse, in my opinion, and even when he isn’t on top form there’s always something wonderful in every book. I loved the Goblin names in this book, and his anger at social injustice always pleases me. Write on Mr Pratchett, write on.

The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin – Maupin is one of my literary heroes. Mary Anne in Autumn was one of my best books of the year, two years ago. I was expecting great things from this last of the nine books that make up the Tales of the City series. I am still thinking about it. I loved bits of it, but felt it was less coherent than the other books in the series. It felt like a eulogy. I didn’t want it to. I was glad to find out more about Mrs. Madrigal’s past. I was sad not to find out more about Mouse and Brian’s future. The Burning Man section was the least successful part of it for me, but I still loved it. I wish it wasn’t the last book.

Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones – Tallulah got given this as an inducement to read in school. She asked me to read it when we were in the car on the way to Wales. We were all hooked by the end of the first chapter, even Jason. We finished it on Friday. It was brilliant. Entertaining, page turning, intense, exciting. It tells the story of a boy who moves from the workhouse to being a circus freak in late Victorian London. His incarceration and long hours alone make him adept at reading people, and after a horrifying murder that takes place at the circus he works at, he is forced to use his detection skills to save his own skin, as he is wrongly accused of the killing. Absolutely gripping, very violent. Brilliant.

Weight by Jeanette Winterson – One of the Canongate myths series, this retells the myth of Atlas and his relationship with Hercules, as imagined through the peculiarly unique view of Jeanette Winterson. Short, complex and poetic. I’ve read it twice now and am not really entirely sure what to make of it.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick – I’ve had this book kicking around for about three years. I’ve almost read it countless times. I finally finished it on holiday. I didn’t warm to it overmuch. It is more of a graphic novel than a novel novel, and I found the prose sparse, Americanised, for a book that is supposed to be set in early Twentieth century Paris, and lacking in poetry or magic of any kind. The pictures sort of made up for it, but lost their novelty for me about half way through. This has been made into a film, and I wondered how much of the idea of the film was there before the book was even created, as the whole thing is entirely filmic, and is indeed an adventure story about the birth of film. As a mystery I found it lacking in mystery and all the most mysterious things unexplained.

When Marnie was There by Joan G. Robinson – I was recommended this book a long time ago, I think by my blogging friend Bev. I finally found a copy last week, as the book is being re-released as a movie tie in for the film by Studio Ghibli. This is a haunting exploration of loneliness and loss played out in the supernatural experiences of one small girl, one summer in Norfolk as she wanders the coastline, longing for a friend. She finally finds one, an ethereal creature called Marnie who seems to come and go at will, and like magic. Can Anna’s very real friendship with Marnie, save her from her loneliness, her anger and herself? A rather beautiful read. Very old fashioned and a ghost story with no real sense of fear. It is haunting in the truest of senses, in that it stays with you well after you’ve read it, and you find yourself thinking about it in idle moments. Lovely.

Wales in the Wind

We are back from our jaunt to blustery North Wales.

We got back yesterday actually, but then had to go to a wedding. So today is the day of organising, sorting and preparing for full on back to school shenanigans tomorrow – oh and it’s Oscar’s birthday party today too, which is why, amongst the lists and lists and endless requests for money and reminders about swimming etc, I am baking more cake.

Wales was brilliant.

We did extremely very little to be honest. At this time of year we are all ready to wind down and prepare for a winter of grumbling and wishing that we were still beasts that hibernated (don’t tell me we didn’t used to do that. I know we did).

Our half term is a week earlier than everyone else’s. The East Midlands does not bow to pressure with regard to holidays, which means that for a a few weeks a year our holidays are marginally cheaper than everyone else’s. It also means that very little in the way of tourist attractions tend to be open when we holiday. We have learned to be self sufficient, playing songs around the piano etc,

ahem.

This week we have mostly read a great many books (I polished off fourteen), sat in front of the fire, and eaten vast quantities of cake. It is a hard job, but somebody has to do it, and we are really well equipped it turns out, both in the cake and the book department.

We did do some holiday type stuff.

We did venture out to Port Meirion one day, where we mostly blew about in the wind and ate ice cream.  We went on a small land train around an oriental lake and saw some splendid Japanese maples shedding their leaves in the water. This would have been idyllic, were it not for the fact that the family we shared a carriage with were frankly imbeciles, and the husband/father was so irritating my hands itched to push him out of the carriage and into the lake. Why do people persist in talking to babies as if they are all a) profoundly mentally impaired and b) have a speech impediment?

Then they wonder why children grow up to be inarticulate.

We drove up into the Snowdonia National Park another day and blew about in the wind at an immensely impressive abandoned slate mine. We found this entirely by accident. We do like to drive about in an unspecified manner and creep up on things, and the Pontypandy slate mine was what we crept up on, along with an excellent crenellated tower, which seemed to be inhabited, or we would have gone poking about there too. We also bothered a lot of sheep, taking frankly terrifying roads that were not really fit for cars. I gripped the car door a lot and thought of tranquil things. Everyone else enjoyed it immensely.

Another day we went antique hunting and ate ice cream and got rained on in Criccieth whilst failing to see the castle. We were on our way to see the castle but got side tracked by ice cream. There are an impressive amount of ice cream parlours in Wales. Cadwaladers in Criccieth is excellent, and we found one in Beddgelert too, where the wild cherry ice cream was heavenly enough to make you weep tears of gratitude. The salted caramel ice cream from the Angel ice cream parlour at Port Meirion is also mandatory if you are an ice cream lover. Plus their ice cream dispenser spins around rather like an ice cream juke box, so you have to try it.

One day we got rained on in Blaenau Ffestiniog after going there on the Ffestiniog Railway (first class tickets courtesy of Jason who was wooed by the wing back chairs and heating in first class). We ate buns to help us get over being rained on, and for the fact that Blaenau Ffestiniog is a god-forsaken hell hole which had no ice cream parlours, and the most dismal charity shop in the world. Also do not be fooled when the lady in the ticket office for the train tells you that ‘Small World’ is a good place to visit. It isn’t. A man charging you £1 each to play with a malfunctioning Scalextric and having to keep removing leaves from the line is not a good place to visit. There is a decent second hand book shop where I took refuge for the forty minutes it took the train to refuel so we could get the hell out of dodge.

On our last day we went to Black Rock Sands and Jason gave the girls driving lessons (you can drive onto the immense beach) while Oscar and I poked a jellyfish with a razor clam shell. Then the children ran around in the water in a howling gale while Jason and I remained perpetually amazed at their resilience in the face of weather. We ate more buns to get over the shock.

We went house hunting, which is one of our favourite things to do on holiday. We found an abandoned house in a village at the foot of the National Park. I loved it. Jason didn’t. We discussed it for several days before giving up the idea. Then we found a chapel for sale in Llanberis, which we all fell in love with, and which was an absolute steal for £95,000. We sent off for the details. After finding out that it is grade two star listed and basically we would have to live in the chapel without really being able to change anything, with all the pews and no kitchen, we knocked the idea on the head. It was brilliant though.

Our favourite thing to do was to wander about Porthmadog, which is a cheerful little town in which many things stay open despite it not being the holiday season. It is chock full of charity shops, which I always find cheering, as there is an excellent chance of treasure turning up. My favourite is the Oxfam shop down by the quay where the lady behind the till enthusiastically abetted the children in buying a box of jokes, including the ubiquitous Whoopee cushion, and she and I discussed how Molesworth is possibly one of the best books in the entire world.

As well as all the charity shops, there are several excellent kitchen supply shops which, if your heart beats madly at the thought of Keith Brymer Jones, Emma Bridgewater and of course Port Meirion pottery, you will be delighted. There is an amazingly good independent bookshop called Browsers Bookshop on the High Street. For a small shop they had an excellent and eclectic range of reading material, including a section of second hand books. Their children’s department is particularly fine. The staff are lovely, and we managed to part with a decent amount of money there on at least two occasions.

Two doors down from the bookshop is a fantastic bakery/cafe called Big Rock. It is a church run establishment, with Bible quotations on the walls and even on the napkins. I have to say, on our first visit, we were slightly put off by this. We were lured in by the fantastic looking goods on offer, and the promise of foodly delights helped us keep our nerve. It was worth being lured.

It is a truly wonderful place. Everyone was super friendly. Nobody tried to convert us to the ways of the Lord, or play a tambourine just as we were tucking into lunch, and the food was so good I would even have considered letting them off if they had tried to do any of that stuff. Which should tell you everything you need to know.

We visited almost every day of our holiday (except one day when I was poorly). There was nothing I had to eat that I didn’t like, and I tested the menu extensively. The coffee is superb; almost as good as the Danes make it. The home made breads are stunning, particularly the spelt mix loaf with seeds. The flour less chocolate brownie was amazingly good, dark, moist and supremely chocolatey. The Chelsea buns were stuffed with raisins and the ginger cookies were incredible. My absolute favourite were their version of the Chelsea bun but filled with sour cherries and topped with cream cheese frosting. I’d drive back there just to have another one.

The chip shop in Criccieth is excellent, but the queues are long, and the chip portions are verging on miserly. Be warned.

The Simla Indian restaurant on Porthmadog High Street looks ropey but is in fact another gem. We ate there one night and everything was superb. Each dish was properly spiced, everything tasted different from everything else, and the portions were generous and piping hot. They open at lunch times as well as in the evening, and if we had stayed longer we definitely would have made a return visit.

The Port Meirion cafe opposite Tesco does good coffee and excellent bacon sandwiches. I had four rashers of bacon in mine, which made up for the fact that the service was somewhat less than sparkling. Their cakes looked nice, but after four rashers of bacon even I was in no position to test them out.

So we ate, and we read, and we blew about in the wind, and made each other laugh, and the barn conversion we stayed in, was just as good as it was when we stayed there two years ago, and even better because everyone remembered to pack my clothes this time, and it was just the break we needed before we head pell mell into Halloween, and Bonfire Night and the dreaded C word.

Walesward Ho!

We are off to Wales this morning.

We are half packed. The house is in disarray. The washing machine is still whirring inexorably on.

The cat is sulking and spending half her time eating the sofa as if to say: ‘This is your leg I’m attacking really’, and the rest of the time chasing her tail.

I do not have to worry about the tortoise. She went to chokey yesterday.

I do have to worry about lists, lists, endless lists, and whether everything will fit into the car as we attempt to squish everything we cannot live without – which seems to be half the house – into a small VW Polo.

Happy days.

This is my retreat week. The weather promises to be bleak, but we have underfloor heating, access to delicious food, and a dry wood pile so we can light endless roaring fires.

This is the same location we turned up at two years ago only to find that all my clothes had been left behind.

It isn’t going to happen this time, but I’m sure there will be something we forget.

There always is.

I may or may not blog, depending on whether the WiFi works and how I feel. I promise to eat splendid food, read splendid books, and crack on with my knitting.

I will regale you anon.

Happy Birthday Oscar – You are Eight. (Almost)

Dearest Oscar,

Last week, when we were discussing your birthday you said:

‘Mama. I really don’t want to be eight.’

I asked you why.

You said:

‘Because seven has been such an excellent year that it seems a shame to leave it.’

That seemed fair, so we compromised and agreed that as there would have to be some kind of celebration in order to justify excessive cake consumption and presents, we would say you were seven and three quarters instead.’

So, my lovely, lovely, boy – happy seven and three quarters birthday.

You are growing so fast. This year in particular has seen you face up to a new school, and found you moving away from your best friend, and all kinds of things that have really pushed you to the limits of your ever wobbling bravery. You very much remind me of Piglet sometimes:

“It is hard to be brave,” said Piglet, sniffling slightly, “when you’re only a Very Small Animal.”

And you still are a very small animal lots of the time. But my word, you have proved yourself this year, small or not. And the bravery of the smallest and wobbliest is the bravest of all.

I am so proud of you, and I am so delighted to watch you blossoming in your new school, with new friends, and new challenges that you are delighting in meeting. You are rising to those challenge in every way.

I love sharing the walk to school and back with you every day. I cherish those moments when we walk along, talking and looking and thinking about stuff together. I am thrilled that we can still share secrets, and talk about very important stuff, and the ever present threat of zombie invasion, naturally. You would not be you if we didn’t have to discuss that.

I am utterly amazed and grateful that you still want to hold my hand, even if, instead of a kiss in the playground these days I get a sort of goatish, bashful, head bash in the sternum. It is the best sort of head bash a woman could want.

Sometimes, I know you worry that you might have to leave us, and you don’t want that (not yet). You are adamant that you will live with us until you are a crazy, middle aged man in a snorkel parka with a penchant for making scale models of Sydney Opera House out of matches, and alphabetising your shoe collection.

That’s fine with me.

You must know, boy of my heart, that you will never, ever leave us. Not ever. Not even when I am a handful of dust. You will always, always be with me and I will love you to infinity and beyond.

Happy Birthday bestest of boys.