The Magical Mysteries of Batter Week

There came a point last week, after many days of sensational Bake Off headlines, when I started to think…really now, there are more important things happening in the world. Let’s move on! How many column inches can we give a tv show, albeit the nation’s most beloved!

But this evening I was humbled. This evening I realised why this show has risen like the enriched dough of Bread Week, to the dizzy heights and price tag that it has. Because tonight I witnessed a minor miracle in the after school chaos that usually adorns this household.

Yesterday, my daughter, who had spent most of the summer holidays glued to Disney Channel (when I say most, I mean most of her TV time), watched 3 back to back episodes of Bake Off. All of her own volition, carefully selecting Batter Week, Biscuit Week and Bread Week in the order of her desire.

Now, whilst I had adopted a ‘this too shall pass’ attitude to the Disney Channel situation – one honed from the 6 month ‘eat nothing but spag bol’ phase, the 2 year ‘watch nothing but Peppa Pig’ phase, and the 3 week love affair with mini bags of Maltesers, that she sneaked at breakfast time, I was really hoping that at some point we might add a bit of variety and age appropriateness to our viewing.  But try as I might to find something engaging on CBBC, nothing would divert her from her Disney.

So relief was mine when this evening, she sat down, turned the television on, and went straight back to Batter Week!  Minutes later she appeared with my laptop in her hands, having Googled Bake Off pancakes. And there they were.  The lacy pancakes of the technical challenge. Recipe to be followed. Which she did – single handedly whilst I prepared separate dinners for her, her dad, the dog, the guinea pigs and the chickens!

Batter rested and tea eaten, we melted our butter and heated our pan. We made our practice pancakes. We made our non-practice pancakes. And we relaxed and enjoyed a moment that I will remember for a very long time.  Our enjoyment curtailed by an overheating induction hob, we made an appointment to resume for breakfast tomorrow morning! Because guess what, it is dead easy!!!!  And so much fun.

So there I think we have it. There we have the reason why the headlines, the price tags and the banter and debate should be tolerated, embraced and acknowledged. Because like it or not, popular TV can have a very important place in our lives. Ella has been totally transfixed by Bake Off, particularly Batter Week as an ardent Yorkshire Pudding fan, but more than that she took what she had learned from watching, and put it into remarkable practice. She is only 6 after all.

So thank you Paul, Mary, Sue, Mel, the BBC, the production company, Uncle Tom Cobley ‘n’ all, for creating such exceptional television magic. It remains to be seen whether Channel 4 have the same magic touch, and which of the main ingredients create the perfect mix. But I for one will be sneaking off and knocking up another batch of that lacy pancake batter – because let me tell you, addictive isn’t the word for creating and cooking lacy patterns out of flour, eggs and milk! Compulsory is the word! Give it a go! Therapy in a bowl! We’re doing Mickey Mouse next!




The Sum of Small Parts

So, the last few days have been some of the most surprising of my life. First of all a surprising victory for the Brexit campaign, and secondly my own reaction to it…which I have to say I am deeply shocked and surprised by. I was surprised to find myself bursting into tears on a regular basis, and when somebody mentioned the feeling of grief to me yesterday, we all agreed that that is exactly what it felt like. Obviously I have very deep European connections, and I work for a very European organisation, but I know I am not alone.

Of course there has been a lot of emotional out-pouring on various social media, and most people are beginning to tire of it a little. I am trying to move on – onwards and onwards I keep saying. In my heart I hope and believe that we will learn from this. But what I am concerned about is the the fact that some of my nearest and dearest don’t understand why I feel like this – and that that may cause a gulf between us. I know we are all having those ‘which way did you vote’ conversations, uncomfortably at best…and I think we have to recognise the factors that made individuals take the decisions that they did, on both sides.

For me, I was totally ambivalent about the Referendum simply because I felt completely unqualified to make the decision that had befallen me. I didn’t understand the issues, the impact or the consequences involved, and I just didn’t believe that we would ever get close to an ‘out’ vote. It was only when somebody challenged me – he gave me ‘homework’, said he hadn’t decided which way to vote, but said that it was our moral duty to inform ourselves and make an informed choice that I started to get engaged. He also sited immigration as a reason he was thinking out, and used the prison population as an example. And that was where he hooked me in, because I worked in a prison for 2 and half years and I suddenly felt qualified to comment.

From that point on I started to ask questions of people I considered to be more intelligent, more knowledgable and more qualified to make the decision than I. I started to listen intently to anything that was on the radio – and there was lots – all coming at it from different angles, not just politicians doing what they did so badly, not just irresponsible headlines on tabloid and broadsheet press alike, but lots of debate from ordinary members of the public, businessmen, different communities, etc. I wanted a balanced view from all parts of the argument. The Jeremy Vine Show became my friend. I listened to Eddie Izzard make an impassioned plea for Remain, but I didn’t find it very convincing I have to say, much to my disappointment. I listened to others declare that we needed control, we needed sovereignty, and we needed democracy. And I didn’t really understand what they meant by that.  I read lots of blogs, trying to sort out the facts from the fiction. I got increasingly angry with the ‘official communication materials’ being shoved through my door which gave ‘factual statements’ which were not factual at all but were intended to motivate people to vote a particular way.

The truth is that not everyone took the time to become informed – they believed the soundbites, the headlines, the literature coming through their door. Because they probably never thought the consequences would be what they are either.  And I only really became truly engaged and motivated when the ultimate tragedy happened. A young and promising politician who had so much to give, was taken from us, at a time when she was needed the most. Boy can we see that now!!! I felt I owed it to her and people like her to vote with knowledge and with belief and with hope for my daughter’s future. And that’s what I did.

Now I also know I live in a bubble, and that I can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be long term unemployed or anything like that – those that know me however, know that my roots are humble, and any successes in life, is self-attained. And I also appreciate that lots of people were angry, wanted change, etc. But I have to say that most people that I have met who voted ‘out’ didn’t vote for those reasons either. As far as I can tell the ‘out’ campaign had so many ‘toys’ in their ‘toy box’ they managed to get something to resonate with anybody who was struggling to make a decision. And the ultimate irony was, that people bought it and believed that they could deliver. Which of course they can’t , because we now realise that they actually have no power. And that if we want those things to change, we need to do it a different way!

In my view, a lot of people (and I say a lot, not everybody obviously) got this confused with a general election, they thought that the argument was rich versus poor, left versus right, that immigration had to be stopped at whatever cost, even though Europeans make up only part of the immigration statistic, that we would be better off making our own decisions. All of these are worthwhile reasons to vote ‘out’ if you really believe them – all of them are worthy reasons for any vote if you really believe that that vote will right the wrongs that ail you, and I totally respect anyone and everyone for the decision that they made. But as somebody who left school with a few ‘O’-levels to her name, even having failed sociology, I for one felt ill equipped to make that decision – and I think that others felt the same. We have therefore made a huge decision for our nation based on ‘gut feelings’, fear, believing untruths that were unforgivably told to us, rolling a dice even, and now we can’t do anything about it. I think the ‘out’ vote was a sum of many parts -people grabbing something they could relate to – but when you’ve only got a choice of two, it’s hard to make a balanced decision right?!

I also think we have to stand by the referendum result and learn from it! Because I think we will. If this process has shown anything it is that people really do care, that they really do want change, and that there is a lot of passion out there to get it done. Out with the old and in with the new is what I say! And please educate the future generations better than you educated mine! Now somebody go and buy Angela Merkel a very large beer! And make sure it’s cold.



Running, Uncategorized

Yes You Can!

I start this with an apology to all of those people who are completely bored with people going on about running, who yawn and groan every time somebody posts their run or their time on whatever social media. But we all have to have our thing, and as  life enhancing things go, I’m afraid I cannot do anything but evangelise. At least it’s not puppies or lost dogs!

Because the message that I really want to get out there to all of those people who I have met over the years who have said to me ‘oh, I could never run’, is yes, you can!!  I too was one of those people, and now I wouldn’t want to be without a pair of trainers in my life.  And I am no spring chicken! At almost 48, I’d expected to be shuffling around in slippers, not Nikes, but that is the beauty of running. Anyone can!

Trust me, it’s not like I come from a  sporty background. I have a highly talented, sporty and athletic sister who likes to affectionately call me ‘un-co’ because I am so un-co-ordinated. I love her too believe me – and above all I am immensely proud of her. My sporting achievements at school were zero, literally. I was a regular in the consolation race, and I always came last in that – still do in the mum’s race on sports day. And I literally NEVER got picked for the school team. It’s not great for one’s confidence I have to say.

Listen, the truth is I only took up running because I met some bloke at a party. He dragged me out to Regents Park on a Nike organised park run and the rest is history. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t love it straight away, but I was kind of keen on him and he was very encouraging!  So, that was the start of it – me trying to bag a bloke at a party! Surprise surprise!

As it turned out he was a lovely fella who totally changed my life. He married someone else, of course, but what he did do was continually tell me ‘yes, you can’ as I plodded my way round Clapham Common. He held my hand all the way around my first ever 10K – the infamous Nike 10k in Richmond Park back in 2003.  And I literally loved every second of it. It hurt a bit but the atmosphere and euphoria of achieving something you never ever thought you could achieve was amazing..life changing..confidence giving…dream building!

Then over a gin or 10 with a work colleague, I took on the ultimate dare – to enter the London Marathon ballot! And wouldn’t you know it, she who wins nothing, got a golden ticket – bingo, full house, woohoo! I was gobsmacked and terrified. But I looked at the training plan – got my head around it – decided to take one step at a time.  Before I knew it I was running distances I could never have dreamed of. I’d ditched the tube in favour of running home! Bridget Jones on my iPod – I was literally in a movie!

I have said it often, and I will say it again, having just relived it with my husband, but the London Marathon was the best day of my life.  The ultimate in achieving that which you never ever dreamed in a million years you could achieve, one that you’ve watched on the telly year after year thinking, I could never do that. And then it’s you, rounding the Cutty Sark, drinking in the crowds on Tower Bridge, enduring the Isle of Dogs, dragging your screaming body up the Mall and over the line. And it truly is awesome.

But I will never do that again.  These days  I get enough of a buzz out of running shorter distances, with  good friends. And this weekend I had the ultimate pleasure of doing both at the inaugural 10k in my home village.  Run Wisborough was another highlight of my life. The run itself was awful, in searing temperatures, with no time to acclimatise. ‘Just get round’ replaced any other thoughts very quickly. But to run in your home village, a village of immense warmth and beauty, was a real thrill. Especially with my beloved running chums – the Buns on the Run, with my beautiful family cheering me on. Even Duncan (the dog), locked in the house, which was on the route – I could hear him barking as I ran past!

So to all of you thinking, I could never do that, I have to say ‘yes, you can’ because  it is literally all about one step at a time. It doesn’t have to hurt – it doesn’t have to be hard, and it can give you so much!  Here are my Top 5 Tips to giving it a go!

  1. When I say it doesn’t have to hurt – it doesn’t! When you get out of breath – walk – nobody wants a burning chest, and you will naturally make progress without getting one. Most 0-5K training plans start with a running and walking pattern which builds up your fitness and distance gradually and genuinely doesn’t hurt!
  2. Pick a goal, whether it’s a particular race or event or a distance you want to achieve, and download an app or a plan to follow. But don’t think you have to stick to a plan rigidly. You don’t. Just do what you can do. You will be totally amazed at the speed of the progress you make I promise you!
  3. Get some good gear – good shoes really!  Ones that you can love, preferably from a running shop that can advise you – and good socks even better (my Balega Hidden Comfort seldom leave my feet, even when I’m not running!!) Happy feet make happy runners! And who doesn’t love to shop.
  4. Run with friends! Yes, that is a new one on me. I only started doing that last June. I always ran alone, me and my iPod.  I was terrified people would be going too fast for me, or would want to talk when I had no breath, or would be better than me. But let me tell you, they are not. And it’s a wonderfully social thing to do.
  5. Don’t panic. There will be days when you feel dreadful. When you do think – I can’t do this. And then the next day you will feel on top of the world. There are many reasons for this. But one thing is for sure, this too will pass.

Here end-eth my sermon!  I thank-eth you for reading it! x



Running, Uncategorized

The Real Runkeeper

So this morning I headed out on what I had intended to be a lengthyish run.  I had 10km in my mind, and I knew that with the right head on my shoulders, I could probably manage that without too much trouble.  But the truth is, you never know just what is going to happen until you get out there.  You never know whether it’s going to feel good, or bad or indifferent.  Sometimes you need every tool in the toolkit just to get you to the end of the road, and other days you could fly forever.

Of course, these days we have some very sophisticated tools in that toolkit to help us out.  And this morning I took extra care to ensure that my phone was fully charged after last week’s minor disaster – battery died at 2km – no tunes and no encouraging words from Runkeeper for the remainder of a 7.5km run.  To my surprise it wasn’t as bad as I thought, but the more serious implication of such a technical failure, was that my beloved Runkeeper didn’t log what I know was a particularly good run!! And there’s nothing you can do about that! No pat not he back, no glorious moment for posterity!

Now I love Runkeeper. It was my first bit of running software, and much like your first bank account, although you know it’s probably not perfect, and there are better ones out there, you have an emotional attachment to it.  It knows your history inside out and you’ve been intimately acquainted though some real highs and lows in your life. When everybody else is bored out of their minds at you droning on about how much you love running, Runkeeper is whispering in your ear, ‘good job’, ‘well done’, and ‘that’s a new record’ even if that record is the fastest walk round the block in the last week – it can find good in everything.

One of the lovely features about Runkeeper is that you can take a photo to remind you of that run – be it with friends, on your own or just to remind you of a particularly uplifting view.  And alongside that it allows you to rate your run with a smiley face – with poor, okay and great as your three options.  But it occurred to me today as I was trying to work out which smiley face I would be clicking on at the end of my run, that the reality is that it is hard to categorise your runs within these parameters.  For me, I have to categorise them as follows:

  1. A Forever Run – the ones where you feel like you can literally run forever!  I can’t remember the last time I had one of these, and I am pretty sure it was before any form of technology came into our lives to whisper pace in to our ears, and make you run a little bit faster than you might normally be inclined to do. I think they tend to come either with youthful enthusiasm or massive amounts of experience, and I have neither.
  2. The Flyer – more common these days.  It’s when everything just goes right – ambition, distance, pace, weather and general state of health. Usually more likely to occur when you haven’t had half a bottle of wine the night before, and have prepared appropriately with porridge.
  3. The Social – running with friends, with no particular goals or ambitions in mind, at a gentle pace, having a good chat. I am lucky enough to have my beloved Buns on the Run who have made running so special.
  4. The Grinder – ambition and preparation have not quite matched.  You are determined to get out there and do as you’d intended, but today it really is mind over matter.
  5. The S*d This for a Game of Soldiers – it just all goes wrong.  You go into a blind panic.  I can’t run.  I never want to run again. It happens to us all and 9 times out of 10 we feel 100% better next time.

Of course, on Race Day, there is one further category and that is the ‘I think I am Going to Throw Up on the Finish Line’.  I haven’t done it yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

So there you have it.  I’m not sure what the developers of running software will think of these variations, but it gave me something to occupy my mind as I fluctuated between a Flyer and Grinder this morning!  Thanks to an awesome mix of running toons provided by my lovely Runkeeper, I would have to conclude that this morning on balance was all good.  With grateful thanks to Example, Robbie Williams, Duran Duran and the lovely Barry Manilow!  Not to mention Sing by Gary Barlow which had me shedding tears at km 5!

And finally, one word about my husband, because this week it is definitely not about me, it is about him.  This weekend he will be running the London Marathon.  It’s something he’s always wanted to do since I did it in 2005!  Can’t have the Missis having one up one you can you? But he’s 10 years older than I was, and has a family and a business to look after.  He is the most driven and determined person I know and his marathon training has been no different. He has definitely ‘ground out’ the tough stuff, he doesn’t love running like I do, but I have no doubt he will do brilliantly on Sunday and we will all be there to cheer him on.  He’s been ably and heart warmingly assisted by his wing men Gareth and Bill, who have been beside him every mile of the gruelling training regime, and he and I can’t thank them enough for such extraordinary friendship.  Let’s hope fate is kind to everyone running on Sunday! As a wise man said to me once, Marathon Running is 10% physical, and 90% Mental. It is definitely mental!  That is for sure!


Mein Daddy

I have written this blog post in my head a thousand times.  The first time was a year ago today when I realised it was my dad’s birthday, and that that meant that one week later, he would have been dead five years.   Five years…that seemed an awful long time when I had done so little to really remember him. And I couldn’t do it.  At that point, in a hotel bar with a gin in my hand, it hit me quite hard – maybe it was the environment – a place that I would inevitably always associate with him.  But the fact that he had been gone for 5 years made it feel like it was yesterday!  Where had that time gone?

Despite many years of ill health, his death came suddenly and very quickly when Ella was only 4 months old.  Everybody’s world is turned upside down overnight. You get through it, you do what you need to do, and you carry on with your life, which at this point includes trying to learn how to keep a tiny baby alive.  But when somebody is gone, sometimes that is when you really get to know them.  I had spent so little time with him when he was alive, that I have found reflecting on him and discovering more about him and our family after his death, has made understand a lot more about him and where I come from.  So here it is. My tribute to him – Mein Daddy – who in his quiet, unorthodox and unassuming way taught me so much.

So the story goes, that it all began at the bottom of the kitchen stairs in the Dolphin and Anchor Hotel in Chichester.  My dad – a young German preferring the English hospitality industry to the German Navy, had had a drink or two – now there’s a surprise, and he fell from top to bottom into the arms of my dear mother.  Of course in true Hollywood style she nursed him back to health, and the rest, as they say, is history.  The path to the registry office wedding in Bad Nauheim, quiff and winkle pickered up, wasn’t uncomplicated – my mum tried to give him the slip, but his heart was set, and ultimately she succumbed to his good looks and heavily accented one liners and became Frau Cuntze!  It must have been love.

Shortly thereafter they returned to England to train as hoteliers and were running an ancient coaching inn in Cambridgeshire when I bounced into their lives.  Nic followed only 15 months later, and for whatever reason we found ourselves on our way back to Germany.  By my fifth birthday it had all gone wrong.  I know not why, I don’t want to know why – my mum has dropped snippets here and there and my dad always kept his counsel.  But ultimately, my sister and I returned to England with my mum – my dad stayed in Germany. How could he not.  He had built up, with my mum, a successful hotel business.  He had ambition, he thought he was on his way, and he was.  A second hotel followed a few years later, he worked damn hard and he lived a lovely life.

A second wife also followed.  They had a happy and successful 17 years together, and then it all started to go pear-shaped.  The business and the marriage.  If my dad had any faults it was probably to trust the wrong people. In what seemed like a matter of months it was all gone.  The next time I saw my dad, he was dressed in overalls, living in a one bedroomed apartment, in a small hotel in Bad Pyrmont, trying to get another business off the ground.  He still took absolute pride in everything he did – everything was clean and standards high, and he got up at 6 every morning to do the breakfasts, even if they only had one guest. But it never really happened.  By now he was in his 50s, his health had been poor for almost 25 years, and it was a big ask. So, he returned to the village of his birth, the village of so many of our childhood memories and ultimately, to all intents and purposes, the village of his death.  He moved into the family home – now owned by his brother, and retired gracefully from public life.

Throughout our childhood my sister and I spent no more than 3 weeks a year in Germany, usually at Easter dodging marzipan based products, bored and slightly uncomfortable with the whole arrangement.  My dad would come over when he could, business allowing, usually with a Mercedes boot full of Tuborg, but it really wasn’t a lot in the way of quality daddy/daughter time. His job meant that even while we were visiting him in Germany one to one time was usually limited to a Sunday visit to Gieselwerder to bask in my Oma’s incredible cuisine, or a hurried excursion to one of the local places of interest – the Edertal – one of the damns that got busted or the East German border and it’s escapee shooting fences!  Such fun!  Ironically the best day trip we ever had was to a place called Fort Fun!   I’ve never been so pleased to see a log flume.

Evenings were spent plonked on a bar stool in either the Schweizer Huettli or the Schloss Shaenke – the hotel bars at our disposal.  To be fair, my sister and I never had a problem with that!  Fanta on tap, brewery reps slipping us 10DM notes and patting us on the head affectionately, and endless fodder for our over active imaginations.  Our favourite game was to pretend that the waiters in the hotel were race horses – they all had nick names – Basil, Hair Bear, Bionic Carrot and Curly Tops to name a few – and we commentated on them Peter O’Sullivan stylee very much to our own amusement, if no-one else’s  Well it beat playing another game of Patience or watching the Great Escape for the 90th time on video!

None of this really made for a close relationship with our dad unsurprisingly, but he never ever made us feel anything other than adored. He always made it absolutely clear that he missed us terribly.  You were forbidden from leaving his presence without a kiss. He could never resist a stroke of your cheek. He would ask us endlessly when we were coming to see him.  He would phone us religiously every Sunday, even though in the early years I had refused to talk to him.  And  he always sent us a postcard from whichever trade show or Kur he was at – with absolutely no news, and the same signature he used forever, Dein Daddy.

As we got older and could share a beer or two, the barriers started to fall.  Honest alcohol induced conversations, most of which I can barely remember.  But always leaving me with a warm feeling that I had spent some quality time with my dad.  Sober I always found him hard work to be honest – always wanting to fill the silence, and there was lots of that.  But he was an affectionate and loving man, who loved a beer, to chuck your cheek and yell Yabbadabbadoo and above all just to be in our presence.

At 30 he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis – an awful disease from which he suffered for the rest of his life.  Ultimately that was what killed him – at only 70 from kidney failure, by which point he had also lost a leg.  But in those 40 years of ill health – I never heard him complain.  Yes, he was clearly in pain – and not terribly mobile – but I never heard a ‘why me’, an angry word, or a self pitying moan.  He bore his illness with more dignity than should even be possible.  And I think he would have given up earlier if he hadn’t clung on to the sporadic and short visits from myself and Nic.  Nic was of course devoted to him – she adored him, and she would have spent a lot more time with him had she been able, but we all have livings to earn, and to my shame, I went as little as my conscience allowed me.

His health really started to deteriorate in the early noughties.  We were summoned to Germany to say our good byes.  My mum very loyally came with us. But in a remarkable twist of fate, she also rather generously had a heart attack while we were there!!  She was very very lucky indeed to have survived that little incident, and amazingly they found themselves in neighbouring wards in the tiny cottage hospital in Lippoldsberg. Her mere presence was enough for my dad to rally and recover.  My mum convalesced there for a couple of months, and we were frequent and regular visitors, mainly thanks to my British Airways Airmiles.  So rather surprisingly we were given a second chance, and a miraculous one at that.  But his rally was short lived.  He was soon in and out of hospital again, and lived the last 5 years of his life in the same room, minus a leg, giving physios a hard time in a care home designed for much older people.  Poor bugger!

Of course, at this point, I was now very intent on starting my own family – a saga in itself which further reduced my visits, and it was with absolute delight that I finally boarded an Easyjet flight in February 2010 with my 3 month old gorgeous girl in arms, ready to show him off to her proud Opa.  Unfortunately, we were all also on our way to my Uncle’s funeral, but one of my strongest motivations in sticking out the ‘having a baby’ process was to make my dad a proud Opa before his time was up, and finally that day had come.

As I wheeled her in he looked a bit confused, but we wheeled him out and had a cup of coffee  in the cafe downstairs.  The photograph was taken!  Ella and Opa.  At last.  As it turned out, it would be the one and only.  We retired to our hotel, ready to collect him the next morning to take him to his brother’s funeral.  But when we got there the next day, the nurses said he wasn’t well – he had a fever and couldn’t go.  And that was that.  He died that night.  A sudden decline.  But surrounded by probably the 4 most important people in his life other than his own mother – me, my sister, my mum and Ella.  What more could he have wanted.  What more could we have wanted for him, except a few more years.

At this point my mum shows her true metal.  Negotiating her way through German bureaucracy, with her self taught and perfect German grinding its way out. She gets done what needs to be done.  We return a few months later, with a support crew, to pack up his flat.  Quite a process with a 6 month old baby attached to you, I can tell you. But we carefully sifted through the memories and the mysteries..uncovered the clues to him as a man, him as a father and much much more.  A folder with every single letter my sister and I had ever written to him carefully filed.  His notes from his hotel training in Cheltenham, carefully kept.  A box full of  used stamps cut out of envelopes for whatever purpose they were meant. His autograph book from the Schloss Hotel packed with celebrity photos and signatures. And a wealth of historical documents I’d probably rather know less about.

And then it’s all done.  A massive chapter closes.  We move on and reflect on the man we loved, the house in which he had been born, in which American soldiers had been billeted in the war, and around which the family had rowed when the damns had been busted.  And we try to remember everything for posterity.  And 6 years on, I can honestly say that the images are clearer than ever.  My Oma in her tiny Kueche knocking up an Erdbeerkucken, Waffeln or Rouladen.  The silent meals with my German speaking family, staring at us inquisitively, pittyingly, my Oma always with a tiny tear in her eye.  The generous and sustaining vegetable garden and amazing cherry trees which gave of their fruit in abundance, the long strip of garden leading down to the mighty and majestic River Weser and the Campingplatz which brought the not just sleepy but comatose village to life in the summer. Wonderful memories.  A story or two to go with each.  Stories that maybe one day I will tell.  Stories that Ella and Ben will certainly hear.

And this summer we will return.  With not one, but two grandchildren. We will visit family that we never knew before his death and who have come to mean so much.  Yes, you Charlotte.  And we will drink a beer in the Schwimbad, and raise a glass to the man that was Mein Daddy..Mein Daddy, Nic’s Daddy, and Ella and Ben’s Opa.  And we will make sure that they know exactly who he was.



And Baby Makes Four – Surviving Puppies and Parenting

So you are at that stage in your life where it is time to start a family. And with all of those best laid plans, it’s not happening as quickly as you might like. Whatever the reasons and whatever the plan, you’ve reached the stage in your journey where you have decided, it’s time to shift focus and realise that other burning ambition – to get yourself a dog! Some say it helps in the conception process. For me the jury is out on that one. Having had to reduce the miraculous process of conception to its most scientific form, as far as I am concerned, conception is a glorious symphony of science mixed with pure chance – no-one can control it, predict it or affect it, but the distraction of a furry creature on four legs can definitely make the agonising process more tolerable. For me it is a point on the journey where two ambitions coincide.

For us we had just reached the point on our particular journey where we just weren’t going to put life on hold for any longer. It was Christmas 2008 – we were talking about the future and for us 2009 was going to be the year of saying ‘yes’, not ‘let’s wait’! The first ‘yes’ we said was to the lady who offered us the chance to come and see the remainder of her springer spaniel litter in January. I had my heart set on a bitch, but she only had dogs left. But ‘yes’, we said, and there he was! Duncan! Already a chaotic bundle of adorable puppy, and most definitely a ‘yes’!

Back in the real world, we were still on the unending IVF merry-go-round, and had just completed our least ‘fruitful’ cycle to date.  Our hopes were low, but at least we had the impending arrival of Duncan to focus on. And in timely fashion, our pregnancy test was due the day before we were due to collect him. Of course, the inevitable happened! We were pregnant! Well wouldn’t you know it! The start of two enormous adventures at once.

I of course spent my entire pregnancy paranoid that my gorgeous puppy was instantaneously going to turn into Kujo the moment our baby was born and consume her in one mouthful. My joy at finally having a bundle of joy to call my own was tempered by the fact that I was going to have to do my utmost to stop him savaging bundle of joy number two from the moment she hit the planet.  I had sleepless nights, read every book on the subject, talked to dog trainers. I even bought a doll as recommended by one ‘expert’ so that the dog got used to having a baby shaped thing around and didn’t eat it. But frankly that just freaked me out so I focussed on more practical means of separation.

And so to my first word of wisdom if you ever find yourself in this position. Never underestimate the amount of dog or stair gates you might need to achieve perfect peace of mind. Having worked in a bigh security prison, I can speak with authority on the subject – double gating is the answer. Then if one fails, you have a back up!

Perspective is also good at this point. I have a springer spaniel. They are bonkers. Most puppies are a bit bonkers, but springer spaniels are bonkers for most of their lives. They are enthusiastic rather than aggressive, but can be possessive and that is the one to watch out for. If they have a sock, they don’t want you having a sock, and you have to teach them who’s boss! That is when you get the professionals in, which is what I did.  Don’t be afraid to do it. They know what they are talking about, but there are so many schools of thought, you have to find the right approach for you.

But back to that perspective. In my experience, dogs seem to have an awareness of the natural order from the start. Whether it’s the fact that from the moment you return from wherever you went for a few days with a new pink alive thing, and effectively ignore them from then on, or whether they it’s just mother nature, who can say. But Duncan certainly knew his place when it came to Ella. I think most dogs if really really pushed might nip at the worst, but the cases you read about in the papers are rare and usually down to human error.

Guilt will visit you frequently too. Guilt is of course a right of passage as a parent – you will feel guilty often and always about decisions you have made, things you may have not done according to the ‘perfect parent manual’, or just crazy stuff like sneaking a chocolate biscuit when banning your child from all form of sugar. But the guilt you will feel towards your dog is unique. I am sure mothers of more than one child feel it, but at least you can explain it to a human child at some point. Try explaining it to a dog.

I remember sitting by Duncan’s cage the night I came home from hospital, sobbing, apologising for ruining his life by having to focus my attention elsewhere. And that was just the beginning, because there will be days…many of them, when you simply will not be able to handle the logistics of getting child and dog from A to B and dog out for a walk. There will be lots of them. Whether it’s because of the weather, or somebody is ill, or just because something totally unpredictable has occurred, explosive nappy probably, there will be days when you just won’t make it out. I can reassure you that it is not the end of the world. Not only did Duncan occasionally miss walks, he actually broke his leg (unrelated to baby) 3 times and had to be put on cage rest for several weeks on each occasion. This equals ‘no walks’! Obviously dogs need their exercise and you should always plan to give it to them, but on those days when it doesn’t happen, don’t beat yourself up. They will be fine.

There is also an all over arching set of unknown facts about trying to walk a dog – especially a chaotic one – with a small child, be it a new born baby that you can sling in a slingy thing, a sleeping baby that you can bundle into a pram, a ‘just walking’ toddler (oh joy), or a more curious and energetic pre-schooler.

These include the fact that, at the exact moment your dog decides to run after a squirrel, your child will also fall down face first into a pile of gravel, your dog will always decide to do its business just as you are trying to stop your child from falling into a ditch and despite stashing them in every orifice possible, yes including the baby, you will never have a pooh bag.  And any idea you had of containing your child within the safe confines of a pushchair and going for a gentle and relaxing stroll will definitely be kyboshed by the fact that child will only tolerate incarceration in said pushchair for 1 minute and 30 seconds…maximum. One word of advice to prolong this phase. Snacks! Lots of them! Just keep shovelling them in! The child.  Not the dog.

But in the end you will ditch the pushchair. You have no choice. And then about half way into your dog walk, your child will decide it doesn’t want to walk any more.  You will have to carry him/her, usually juggling one or more full pooh bags to boot, all the way back to the car/house/cafe.  I shudder at my most horrific memory – the moment the pooh bag burst as I lifted child on to hip! Worst ..moment..ever!

And finally to mealtimes.  That other stressful part of the day.  You have been slaving away over your Annabel Karmel trying to create the perfect mush for baby, or you’ve turned your back on the fish fingers of a home made delight.  You finally get it in front of your hungry child, only to see another hungry face, remove it in one mouthful from his/her grasp.  Not only are you left with a screaming and hysterical child, but you have to start all….over….again!!

Trust me, I am seeking to reassure you here, rather than alarm you, or rather trying to help you through the worst of it by creating a smile of irony or recognition.   And here are my Top Tips for surviving Puppies and Parent Hood!

  1. Training! If you can go to puppy training classes – do it! I did it, and whilst we still have the most disobedient dog in the world, I know he knows what is what when push comes to shove and I have the confidence that he does. It teaches you basic psychology which can be darned useful!
  2. Ask an Expert.  If you do have any worries about any aspect of your dog’s behaviour, don’t panic.  You don’t have to assume you need to get rid of him.  Ask the expert.  There is almost always a logical solution.  And sometimes it just helps you to focus and come up with a plan.
  3. Take all the help you can get! If you can manage it, get a dog walker, or a friend, certainly for the first few weeks. It gets one of them out from under your feet for a while at least, and you have one less thing to worry about while you cope with new baby.
  4. Have a think about segregation in advance of your new arrival. Obviously all dogs are different, but you don’t want to be leaving dog and baby alone in a room on their own at any time. And if they are in a room together, even with you there, you don’t want over exuberant puppy to be knocking baby bouncers or moses baskets flying. Crating is one answer, multiple dog gates another, but I had a spare cot downstairs that I used to pop baby in if I had to go and do something in another room. As they get older, you drop the base and they turn into playpens. My daughter only tolerated them for a nano-second but it meant I could answer the door or go to the loo at least.
  5. Consider your dog walking equipment. You will be amazed how quickly your baby grows and how their needs change. Yes, you probably will have a few blissful weeks of pushing them in a pram, dog in tow, but depending again on the breed, you might want to go for some more rural walks at some stage. Definitely invest in an all terrain buggy for maximum flexibility. It is so worth it. A baby back carrier is also a good idea so that you can walk unencumbered at the weekends with dad!  But get your baby used to it early, or they will object!
  6. Research some ‘buggy/baby friendly’ walks – Facebook is great for asking people – and try and find some places that everyone can run around safely.   As soon as your baby starts walking they will want to walk, but may be not very far, and then they will want to be pushing toy buggies, riding on trikes and all sorts of stuff and the juggling can be a nightmare!
  7. Find some partners in crime! Other people in the same situation are a God send. Safety in numbers is always a nice treat – it doesn’t feel anywhere near as stressful when you’ve got somebody else to laugh and cry with on those crazy dog walks. Plus you can juggle children between you! One can grab toddlers, while the other chases dogs. I think my record with a friend of mind was 4 dogs, and 3 children – all completely out of control…ah…how we laughed!!!
  8. Ditch the guilt.   You can only do what you can do and doing the ‘first time parent’ thing with a dog and a baby means you have to expect the unexpected. Babies are tough enough arriving minus a manual – dogs…born survivors. So don’t worry. Days will come and go when dog does not get walked. It is fine. They will survive. What is important is that you do, with your sanity in tact, because you are the one that keeps everyone going!

And now for the good news! When they both get to about 4 years old, they will both want nothing more than to run around in the garden together playing with balls.  At that point – you can boil the kettle, make yourself a cup of tea and relax.  Did I say relax?  Best friends forever! Duncan is now Ella’s alarm clock. He gets her up for school with a slobbery lick and our day starts with a giggle. It was all worth it!

PS. If somebody can invent a means of carrying a baby, pooh bags, leads and harnesses, snacks, changing kit, disguarded coats and clothing whilst also bending down to retrieve pooh, then please let me know. You are on to a winner!







Knitted Unicorn

Life in the One Bub Club

Let me start by saying that I am the luckiest person in the whole wide world. I have a beautiful daughter – she is everything to me as I knew she would be, and I could not be more thankful. And believe me I know how lucky I am. Like so many women I hurtled into my late 30s with the biological clock ticking so loudly in my ears it was deafening. And when I found myself in a position to follow my maternal dream, mother nature, the big mother herself, inevitably threw me a few fairly devastating curve balls. So when I finally held Ella in my arms, it was more than a dream come true – it was a miracle.


And when I talk about life in the One Bub Club it is just to explain to people how life differs when you have one child. It is not to complain about my lot, have you weeping in the aisles, or seek sympathy. It is just to tell it how it is.


Some people choose to be in the One Bub Club. I would have loved to have had another child, for Ella to have been a big sister, but when the first one is so hard to come by, and you are saying those prayers to whoever might be listening, the thought of number two doesn’t even enter your head. It is only when you are sitting cross-legged in a circle of mums in a village hall, with your 2 year old, singing ‘Wind the Bobbin’ for the umpteenth time that you start to notice that you are surrounded by an ever-increasing number of bumps and tiny babies, and plenty of questioning glances. That glance says – ‘so when are you planning to have another?’ And that is when you start to realise that maybe you are in a smaller club than you’d realised.


Because when you join that most exclusive and aspirational of clubs, the big kahuna, the mother of all clubs, the hardest club of all to join, you think that that is it – that you have finally got there – job done, place in life found. But that’s not quite true. Because The Mum’s Club is complicated and has sections, and sub-sections, chapters and divisions, and the One Bub Club is one of the smaller ones. It is also one that is increasing in size because so many women are leaving it late to do the baby thing. But what does it really mean?


Well first a confession. I’m afraid that most members of the One Bub Club will tell you that they can’t help but feel a little bit envious of friends and acquaintances as they trot out numbers 2 and 3.   It’s only natural after all. Compared to the first one, it all looks so easy. They all look like they know what they are doing, their picture is complete. But we all have to adjust our hopes and dreams, and no matter what you go through, it is hard to kiss them goodbye completely. So aside from the uncontrollable organic reactions within, what else is different about the One Bub Club?


For a start, most of the time – it’s just you and them. Any time not spent at nursery or now school, is spent almost exclusively in each other’s company. Which is great. Mostly. But it does mean that you have to be inventive in terms of occupying your child, and finding things to do on a daily basis. One Bub Club members are usually very very social – play dates are a way of life for the sake of mummy’s sanity, and hosting play dates is something that tends to fall upon the one with the least amount of children to deal with, so we’ve got pretty good at hosting them too!   Of course, any mums who have had two very small children running them ragged will think that sounds fantastic, and it is, because trust me, I never envy those of you peeling a toddler off of a kitchen table, or refereeing another sibling spat. But my reality is that I don’t have second child to occupy the first. I have a spaniel. But that is not the same.


Secondly, your child will more than likely suffer from ‘only child syndrome’. I’m not sure if that’s an official term, but in my experience it mostly consists of mum picking up after child much more than they would if they had other children to take care of. Thus only child is a little lazy and spoilt and it’s all my fault!   Although she is very good at sharing because of the multiple mass play dates that we have endured, I mean enjoyed over the years.  But she still doesn’t know how to put a toy in a box or a felt tip pen lid back on! C’est la vie.


Thirdly, when you go on holiday, it really isn’t much of a holiday, because guess what – there are even less playmates around for your child, and no play dates at all. Only children are also far less amenable to being dumped in strange ‘Kids Clubs’ so that’s a non-starter, although frankly my conscience doesn’t allow it anyway.  But I have spent many hours freezing in a swimming pool and arguing with my husband about whose turn it is to be in the pool, play noughts and crosses, or get up at 5am to do jigsaw puzzles. Usually mine I might add. Of course, with Ella now at school we have just had our first holiday during school holidays, and it was great – lots of kids for Ella to play with, and lots of poolside reading for mum! Life evolves all the time.


And finally, they start school – all that ‘me’ time – happy days. For me, having moved to a new village just a few months before Ella started school so that she would have playmates around the corner, I thought it was an opportunity to finally get to know the mums in my village. Yes, that’s how big those only child decisions get. Moving house to live in close proximity to potential playmates. But guess what – all the school mums either have older children at the school and have already got very used to one another, or have smaller children at home. They get together for play dates and cups of tea, and I slink off home to walk the spaniel. Happily I am not the sole member of the OBC in Reception at Ella’s school, but we make a fairly obvious double act. She is my spaniel’s vet though, so that is handy!


Of course, there are many positives to be being a member of this exclusive club. Ella and I are already have more than a mother/daughter relationship because we have spent the best part of the last 5 years together almost exclusively. My husband often tells us off for arguing like we are teenagers. I have been lucky enough to just focus on her, and have the benefit of knowing her inside out, never missing a thing, never missing a milestone. I had no idea what hilarious, insightful, remarkable people small children can be – far more entertaining than the best book in the world, and when you’ve got just one, you can really enjoy who they are. And of course, she is a girl – we like doing the same things, – colouring, eating cake and shopping, so all is good.   Gin drinking will come later.


And frankly, now Ella is at school, I have my life back. I can plan what I am going to do with the ‘rest of my life’ in my ‘non-Ella time’. Like so many of us who left it so late, I found it hard to leave the productive working life behind and I struggled to be a stay at home mum as much as I had craved it. So now I can focus on a few of my other hopes and dreams whilst also being mum to Ella.


We do still get those questioning glances – it is a questioning glance that I am often guilty of myself – but in my defence, I am usually seeking some common ground. And yes, I do get asked outright – ‘are you going to have any more’ on a very regular basis.   And it’s not always easy to answer. But first and foremost, I am the luckiest mum of the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world. She exhausts me, she completes me, and we are what we are.

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