There I was jabbering away on the phone when all of a sudden the line went dead and the lights went out. It was like the opening to a horror film. Continue reading “The Power Cut”
Happy Anniversary Norm
To celebrate our anniversary I have dug deep into the archives of my computer and found the speech that I did for our wedding.
That’s right folks. I made a speech. I can’t understand why in today’s modern society women remain mute at the wedding that they (and their groom) have probably organised and paid for. So I insisted on giving a speech and here it is.
Today is our wedding anniversary and like every other year we forgot to buy each other a card. Despite talking about how we “really should do something special this year” we have once again been thwarted by Christmas and generally being too busy to take some time out to appreciate each other.
So Norm this post is to tell you that I do appreciate you. I appreciate your sense of humour, your kind heart, your immense work ethic, your encyclopedic knowledge of animals and the fact that you are an amazing Dad. To celebrate our anniversary I have dug deep into the archives of my computer and found the speech that I did for our wedding.
That’s right folks. I made a speech. It may not be traditional but society has moved on and I’m suprised that more women don’t do this. Anyway here it is:
Santa’s Little Helper
“I going to punch you in the face,” she shouted at the elf before grabbing him violently and bopping him on the nose.
At the Ballantyne house we had slightly misunderstood the concept of “Elf on the Shelf”. We thought that our job was to stop the elf doing naughty things and report back to Santa at the end of the advent period. But apparently the elf is actually watching the children. Any bad behaviour and he grasses them up to Santa who redistributes their gifts to more worthy infants.
I can’t believe I missed such an excellent opportunity to get them to behave. What a fool. However if I change it now I will have to return all of Georgie’s gifts. You see her treatment of the naughty little elf has been bad enough that not only would Santa refuse to give her any gifts he would probably take his evidence to the police and have her serve a prison sentence for assault. Continue reading “Santa’s Little Helper”
Dust busting and other adventures
In a bid to determine what is making my 7 yr old cough, sneeze and stream from the eyes whenever he is in the house I’ve been cleaning like never before. And anyone who knows me knows that this is not my forte. I have followed the Allergy UK advice on allergen avoidance and sprayed the whole house with flea killer in case the culprit is our dog.
Freezing and washing all of my son’s soft toys and his bedding seems to have helped him stop coughing at night but he is still struggling in the mornings. So I decided to call in an expert. My neighbour Nathalie who as well as being a fountain of knowledge on all things allergy related, shares it with people through her website The Intolerant Gourmand.
“I bet it is your sofa,” she said. Having spent many hours in my house drinking coffee and prosecco (not at the same time – usually) she was well aware that we’ve had a fabric sofa for as long as we have had the dog, three years.
“Here try this,” she said thrusting a golden pyramid shaped device into my hand. I assumed was a hoover of some description. “I’ve hoovered the sofa already,” I protested. “Just try it,” she said knowingly.
I bowed to her superior knowledge. Her son has severe allergies and she has to work really hard to stop him reacting to things so if she says it worked then I believed her.
I wish I could tell you what it was like to use but I can’t. You see the second I stepped through the door with a new gadget in my hand the husband grabbed it. “I’ll do that,” he said and got to work on the sofa.
If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of the vacuuming is in the filter. This filter was full, even though I had already hoovered the sofa with my Miele.
“What do you think?” I asked the husband.
“The filter is really good and it gets all the fine dust. But the suction needs to be further forward so you can get deeper into the corners and I kept turning it off with my hand.”
Did I mention that he is a perfectionist? With massive hands.
I am hoping that the build up of dust and dog hair due to my crap cleaning is to blame for my son’s runny nose and that he is not allergic to the dog or developing asthma. He’s currently puffing into a peak flow morning and night to monitor it so time (and the doctor) will tell. He does seem a lot better now that I’ve killed all the dust mites in his room.
Meanwhile the sofa is much cleaner. The hoover is a Philips anti allergen dust mite handheld vacuum cleaner and I will be buying one after this little episode. Or perhaps I’ll get the husband one for Christmas – he does love gadgets.
The missing keys…..
Norm has lost his car keys. This is a MASSIVE problem for me. Because even when I tell him exactly where something is he still can’t find it.
“Dette where are my boots?”
“In the shoe cupboard.”
“No they aren’t”
“Yes they are”
Because they are. Admittedly there are about 100 pairs of other shoes in there too but they are there.
“Oh yeah, under the other ten pairs,” he huffs like it is my fault that we all have feet.
So in respect to the car keys I am clearly going to have to find them because there is no way that he will. I have looked in all of the usual places, then I looked under them and then I looked in the unusual places – next to the toilet, in the bins (gross), in the kids rooms, in Norm’s pockets, in the garden, in all drawers in the house. No keys.
Naturally at the time of seeking the keys I needed to go out and the clock was ticking. I had one hour. Every 15 minutes Norm would call and say helpful things like:
“Have you looked on the sideboard where I always put them?”
I’m not a moron Norm.
Then 15 minutes later:
“Have you looked under the sofa?”
Stick to building state of the art race cars Norm and leave the tricky shit to me.
The keys did not reappear in time for me to go out. “No spare?” asked a friend. This made me smile because Norm wouldn’t buy a spare key. “For £300? No chance,” he said.
I continued to pull the house apart checking all the washing baskets (we have many – too many), under all the beds, in toy boxes (just in case), on bookshelves, even in the Halloween sweet buckets but the more I looked the less convinced I was that the keys were in the house. We had established that Norm was the last person to use them and I suspected that he still had them somewhere. Somewhere like in his pocket. I could imagine him shouting down the phone at me “For the last time Dette they are not in my pocket”while the keys sat there in his pocket laughing at him because they had been there the whole time.
A couple of hours later Norm barged in waving the keys with a huge grin on his face like a kid waves a medal. “They were on the drive Dette. They must have fallen out when I was lighting the pumpkins last night. Feel how cold and wet they are”
Yes they were cold. And wet. But Norm is no fool. He clearly rolled them in the wet grass after he found them where they had been all along. In his pocket.
“They were not in my pocket Dette,” he keeps saying every 5 minutes.
The lady doth protest too much methinks.
Sibling battles: car wars
“Mum can we sell her?”
This infuriated Georgie so much that she took off her slipper boot and started hitting her brother with it.
If the kids are in the same room, or even if they are not, they will definitely have a row. I’m getting so sick of it that today when they were arguing in the car I threatened them with no snacks after school. It worked for about 5 minutes. Their car row was about which of them was the blue power ranger and which was purple.
“I am blue Archie,” said Georgie firmly.
“No you are purple and I am blue,” said Archie defiantly.
“I AM BLUE” yelled Georgie fiercely almost leaping out of her seat to shout in his face.
“No Georgie you have to be purple because I am blue,” said Archie more loudly puffing out his shoulders and showing her that he was bigger so he must be right.
“You can both be blue,” said Grandpa diplomatically. He had the bad luck of being in the car with us that morning.
This row came a few minutes after Archie had yelled at Georgie for looking at his privates when he went for a wee. “I’m not looking at your winkie,” said Georgie primly (who was clearly looking at his winkie). “I looking at your feet.”
However all of this pales into insignificance compared to the car argument of last night. It started off with Georgie throwing a massive tantrum because I wouldn’t buy her skittles from the vending machine at the swimming baths. I offered her a bag of crisps instead (inferior) which she rejected and then hit me. I bundled her into the car where only the threat of telling her teacher that she was naughty made her hold still enough for me to fasten her seatbelt. Then she began kicking the back of my seat. “I want my crisps,” she yelled. This made me laugh. “No chance. And you are going straight to bed when we get home. You don’t hit Mummy”
She wailed and then turned on her brother who was enjoying the show while contentedly munching his way through his salt and vinegar walkers. “Not fair,” she yelled as Archie gloatingly scoffed his crisps.
“Mum can we sell her?” asked Archie
This prompted a burst of laughter and infuriated Georgie so much that she took off her slipper boot and started hitting her brother with it.
“Perhaps we could just leave her in the forest like Hansel and Gretel,” I responded.
“Noooooooo, don’t do it,” she cried.
“I’m joking, I wouldn’t do that. But you are going straight to bed,” I said.
Georgie decided she was not getting anywhere with violence. So she stopped whacking us, composed herself and then said: “I want my crisps please.”
But after attacking her Mum and brother this was closing the stable door after the horse had bolted.
By now Archie had devoured his crisps and turning to Georgie with a twinkle in his eye, he said “You can lick my fingers if you like,” which brought about a fresh bout of uncontrollable laughter and another whack with the slipper from his sister who was also trying to scrape him with her nails.
There was nothing else I could do but put her straight to bed when we got home and of course when she woke up in the morning she was an angel. The mild row they then had over Mr Bean seemed like nothing.
Georgie: “Mr Bean doesn’t have a Mum does he?”
Archie: “Yes he does Georgie, she is just not in the programme.”
Georgie: “No Archie, he doesn’t have one.”
Archie shouting: “He does Georgie. Everyone has to have a Mum or you can’t get born.”
Georgie: “Mr Bean prays for a Mum.”
*This was 24 hours. There are sooooo many more. Like the fight over a sick bucket, who gets in the bath first, who has the best belly button and so on. In fact there is nothing that can’t become an argument and at 4 and 7 years old I suspect this is just the start……
A ferry good adventure…….
No matter how hard I tried to fight off these fears I kept replaying these horrible scenarios in my head with varying levels of violence and all leading to certain death by drowning. Instead of being fun and excited Mum, I was terrified of dying Mum.
Taking the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo was going to be a big adventure. We would squash in to our bunk beds and have a midnight feast and tell funny stories before getting a solid 8 hour sleep in, and then arrive in France refreshed and excited. The two and a half hour drive to the campsite would be a breeze.
It did sort of go that way, for the Husband and the kids at least. After boarding the ferry at around 7pm we all had some pizza and the kids went wild in the (very small) soft play before we headed over to the bar. Entertainers had the kids dancing and singing as we drank cheap cocktails. Mojitos for £4 with actual rum in, and a double measure at that. I was most impressed. Who knew there was all of this fun to be had on board? Anyone who has done this before of course but it was all new to us.
By 10pm we went down to our cabin. And by going down I mean all the way down to deck number 1. It was lower than the garages. I immediately began to panic.
If the boat sprang a leak we would not stand a chance. So of course all I could think about was the variety of ways in which the boat might start sinking.
The way that I saw it there were three main things that could go wrong:
- A terrorist would sneak a lorry full of explosives on to the boat and detonate them and we’d find ourselves sinking into the Channel in the middle of the night
- There would be a massive storm that would damage the ship and cause a slow leak. We would flee our cabins running like rats up the stairs only to find that everyone else had the same idea and we were slowly crushed in the stampede. I’d push the children up to higher ground only to find that the cage like doors were locked, blocking our escape (yes like in Titanic and yes I know that they don’t lock people down below anymore but it didn’t help when I was catastrophising)
- A killer would start murdering people in their cabins starting at the bottom of the boat. Obviously some clever detective would be on board trying to solve this heinous crime but it would be too late for us.
No matter how hard I tried to fight off these fears I kept replaying these horrible scenarios in my head with varying levels of violence and all leading to certain death by drowning. Instead of being fun and excited Mum, I was terrified of dying Mum. So I stayed quiet as Norm got the kids ready for bed.
I recognised the warning signals that a panic attack was coming. I was lying in bed hyperventilating, so I did circular breathing, which helped. I thought about all of the people who work on the boat and how they do this every day. And I thought about the kids and how a panicking mother would ruin their excitement. I managed to control myself, just about but getting to sleep was another matter. Every time I drifted off I’d wake up and remember that we were basically lying on the floor of the boat and I’d stick my foot out to check that water had not begun its deadly ingress into our cabin.
Of course each time I did this the floor remained resolutely dry.
Once the kids were asleep I tried to wake the husband for some reassurance. His brand of tough love involving cold hard facts about how safe boats are, might have helped. But he was snoring and would not be easily woken. I left him alone and picked up my new Jack Reacher novel (by Lee Child). But when it got to the exciting bits where people were fighting and lives were in danger I started panicking again so I stopped that and persevered in my quest for sleep.
It was 4am the last time I checked my phone. At 6am the husband’s alarm went off. I assumed that was what it was when annoying music started playing too loudly in my ear. He thought it was too, until he picked his phone up and saw that it was resolutely silent. It was the boat’s morning wake up call. We had an hour before we would arrive. I smiled with relief and went and had a shower in what felt like the smallest bathroom in the world.
We were in France! (where we had an utterly amazing holiday and the kids ate snails. More of that later)
*According to former naval officer Hubbard (aka Boba, aka my step-dad), the location on deck 1 would be where least movement is felt and so would have been an optimum location for prevention of seasickness. As I would rather be sick than drown I’m asking for an above water line cabin next time.
But alas, beneath the facade of a content, laid back, chilled out, well groomed holiday maker is a woman on the edge of launching her 4 year old daughter into the sea.
See the calm and relaxed lady waiting for a ferry to take her from one idyllic holiday spot to the next. See how carefree and happy she looks with her shiny hair, cool shades and bright as a button summer’s day jacket? See how cute her son is sitting in front of her obediently wearing his sun hat and waiting patiently for the next boat. But alas, beneath the facade of a content, chilled out, well groomed holiday maker, is a woman on the edge of launching her 4 year old daughter into the sea. For lying by her feet is a child who just spent the last 20 minutes crawling along the floor, hanging on to Mummy’s ankle and screaming for “a carry”. Even when the family reach the queue for the boat the child refused to stand up and spent another 20 minutes lying on the floor in protest. Every now and then she would look up at her mother and fill her with hope that the stand-off was over but instead she spat out the immortal words “I hate you Mummy” before giving her brother a good kick.
It was all his fault you see. If he hadn’t been sick several times, needing lots of love and attention from Mummy who was taking him home to rest and drink water and watch films, then she wouldn’t have felt so neglected and then refused to walk anywhere. Unfortunately stupid Mummy only has one pair of hands so with Daddy carrying Archie and Mummy carrying two scooters, helmets and a beach bag there was simply no way Georgie was going to be lifted up. And that was quite simply unacceptable, especially as Archie had been carried for ages and he was 7.
Fortunately the sickness didn’t last long and it didn’t spread so the holiday was not a disaster. We spent a lovely week in Mudeford, Dorset renting a fabulous house called Lazy Days, the name of which just about sums up our week. It was within walking distance of the beach and the weather was lush. We spent our days catching crabs, surfing (on our bellies!), swimming, walking and obviously eating A LOT. We visited Moors Valley National Park which was amazing and FREE (£9 to park) and spent a morning at Quomps Splash Park in Christchurch which the kids totally loved as it involved water fountains, sprinklers and lots of screaming (also FREE). We went body boarding on Boscombe Beach (again FREE). We took a tour of Highcliffe Castle which overlooks the Solent and had afternoon tea and tried on the traditional clothes (Norm loved it), as well as a lovely day out in Lymington with some of our family who live there.
Norm and I even had the chance to abandon the kids and sneak off for a date one night. Christchurch Harbour Hotel is walking distance from the house and we demolished the six course tasting menu at the Upper Deck restaurant.
So despite the vomit and tantrums we had a lovely time. Next stop France where the blog will mainly be about wine and falling off my bike. Conveniently Norm’s bike doesn’t fit the child seat on the back so I have to pedal Georgie around. I predict trouble…….
Beating the panic
Recognising that it is a stress response, that you are not about to die, and that there are things that you can do to beat the anxiety, will give you more confidence, and that will help you deal with it.
It is July, six months since I started to feel unwell with a git of a respiratory virus, panic attacks and chronic fatigue. The good news is that today I feel 90% better and having shared my experience I am very grateful to all of the lovely people that have been in touch to tell me that they have had similar issues. Some of you have managed it into submission, others are still struggling and for those in the second category I decided to write down some of the things that I’ve done that have helped – starting with talking about it.
Don’t suffer in silence! Almost everyone that I’ve talked to about this has felt better once they realised what it was. And to do that you have to talk about it. Panic attacks have less power once we know what they are. Recognising that it is a stress response, that you are not about to die, and that there are things that you can do to beat the anxiety, will give you more confidence, and that will help you deal with it. But unfortunately that won’t be enough in the long run. It takes a long time to undo the damage, uncoil the spring and unlearn the responses that have led to these reactions.
For me there were two things I needed to do. First was deal with the short term issues like the panic attacks. Second was the long term stuff – making sure that I made changes so that I didn’t end up back at square one as soon as I started feeling “normal” again.
BREATHING – Breathing through the panic attacks was the only way I could stop them. I think its called circular breathing. When the panic started I’d breathe in for 5, hold my breath for 5, then slowly exhale (for at least 5). Doing this for maybe 10 breaths would be enough to stop an attack. Simple but effective. The doctor said a paper bag also does the trick because you are reversing the effects of hyperventilating by inhaling the carbon dioxide. I preferred the circular breaths.
REST – I reduced my workload massively and spent A LOT of time on the sofa. I didn’t do anything physical at all. My lovely friend (you know who you are and you were brilliant) walked my dog for me and my family helped with the kids. My husband stepped up a gear admitting that he had just left me to do everything – because I never asked him to help. A partnership of one is not very effective. Only after a couple of weeks of resting properly and demanding more from my husband, did I start to feel like I could breathe normally. The boa constrictor that had wound itself around my chest had stopped squeezing. I was not going to be eaten by a snake.
NUTRITION – I drank lots of water and swapped the caffeine and sugar that had habitually powered me through the day (until dinner), for a diet full of meat, veg, fruit, and dairy products. I ate every couple of hours. My brother got me a brilliant recipe book “The Power of Three” by Dale Pinnock and I really recommend it. Eating like this just felt right. My body knew what it needed*.
This was more tricky. I was offered a beta blocker called propranalol to help deal with stress, but I decided not to take it. I instinctively felt that the cause of the issues was having too much on my plate. I felt like I needed to unwind myself. If I could unpick the stitches that had drawn me in too tightly then surely the pressure would ease and I would start to feel better? This turned out to be true. But one of the reasons that I could “unwind” was that I work for myself so I was able to reduce my workload and only work from home for a few weeks. I appreciate that for some people this isn’t the case and more immediate treatment such as propranalol is invaluable in order to regain normal function. Everyone is different.
Blood tests also showed that I had severely low Vitamin D.
“I don’t want to get your hopes up but a lot of people with very low levels of Vitamin D feel a lot better when they take supplements. I am giving you a big dose,” said the doctor.
“So what you are really saying is that I need to go abroad and lie in the sun for a month,” I said. “Can you give me a prescription for that?”
“Sunshine would certainly help,” she said.
I became more organised. Living in a state of chaos makes all of this worse. We (instead of I) write meal plans, create lists of things that we need for the week, we plan ahead. Lots of people do this already but for me it is new ground.
I stopped running. Because I was doing it to go faster, and further and to push myself and because the dog needed walking so I was multi-tasking. But I wasn’t getting any better at it, which is not surprising really. I had nothing to put into it. I was quite literally running on empty. So I’ve started trying to build myself up slowly. At first, after about two months of doing absolutely nothing, I went to pilates and walked a bit. The first time I went to a class all my muscles were shaking and I couldn’t do it all. A year ago I had found it too easy and decided that it was boring. Now I appreciate that it is building my strength up slowly from the inside out. I am grateful that I can do it. I go once a week. Then I started doing a few weights, once or twice a week. And more recently I’ve reintroduced a bit or run/walking, but only when it is sunny and I feel full of energy.
I nap. I work from home so I am lucky enough that if I am struggling then I can take an hour and sleep. It helps a lot.
And finally I was advised by the doctor to spend time doing things that I enjoy. Oddly this one has been perhaps the most difficult to achieve. The past 7 years have mainly been about obligation and necessity. Looking after the kids and working took up all of my time. Like many (most?) parents I had forgotten what I enjoy. My hobby was facilitating the hobbies of my family. And even the rare social events that I was invited to felt like another stressful obligation. I’m still working on this one but I started small – picking TV box sets that I liked and books that I enjoyed. This week I’m trying out a new martial arts class which was a hobby I enjoyed 10 years ago and tonight we are going to a party.
Thanks to all of this I feel sure that the last 10% recovery will, eventually come. After a few good days I feel 95% better but after a few days of overdoing it I can quickly slide back to 50%. The moral of this story is that if you don’t look after yourself, you won’t be able to look after those that you love. And those that you love should look after you too. So look at your routines. Do you really need to do everything? Put down the washing, stop thinking about work, tell the kids that the word “Mum” is banned for half an hour, and do something less boring instead. And finally don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your friends and family. It makes it better.
*My body will always need cake too. I would never advocate giving that up. Life is too short.
Brexit, the environment and Game of Thrones
But this Thursday the battle isn’t Dothrakki versus slave masters, Stark versus Lannister or the Wildlings versus the Crows, it is Leave versus Remain and for many reasons, not just environmental ones, I will be voting to stay.
“What’s the EU?” asked my 7 year old last night. His eyes were on the football (England v Slovakia) and he was barely listening to the reply. But I tried anyway.
“It’s a group of countries that work together to make trading easier, make products safer, and promote peace,” I said, desperately hoping that I was telling him the right things. He wasn’t listening anyway because one of the Slovakia players had just got a massive nosebleed which was “awesome” and the fish and chip van had just pulled up outside.
But he will (hopefully) care it in about 10 years when he may or may not be getting a job, going travelling, applying to go to University or playing professional football (his current plan). He will care if he has a family and wants them to breathe clean air. The environmental aspects of this are really important to me and haven’t been talked about much. A few weeks ago I listened to energy experts giving evidence to the government on the implications of the EU referendum on energy and climate change. They expressed their concern that leaving means losing the drive for renewable energy that comes from the EU. The fact that the UK government this year cut the incentives for solar and onshore wind energy shows me the direction of travel should we leave. Under the Renewable Energy Directive the EU has set targets for 20% of all power generation to come from renewable sources by 2020. Under this directive the target for the UK is 15% but we are not going to meet it. A leaked letter from the energy secretary Amber Rudd to some of her Cabinet colleagues late last year said that the UK was headed for a shortfall and we will only have 11.5% by 2020.
So despite being party to the legally binding obligations of the EU, the UK is not investing enough in clean energy. I dread to think where we would be if we left. And what is more a lot of investors in energy are – wait for it – European. The European Investment Bank loaned the UK 9bn Euros for energy projects over the past couple of years. We won’t get that if we leave. Other investors too are uneasy about the prospect of withdrawing. To be honest they were pretty uneasy anyway as the current government energy policy is not working very well. This is evidenced by the fact that we haven’t built any of the new gas fired generation projects that are supposed to replace coal, or started building any new nuclear power stations. As a result the UK’s reserve margin (difference between generating capacity and electricity demand) has been falling. One of the plans that government has to fill the looming power supply gap is more interconnection (9GW to be exact) with guess who? Europe! It doesn’t seem like a good time to be leaving the EU to me.
Another thing that worries me about leaving the EU is that we won’t be subject to other laws that will safeguard the environment like the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) and its successor the Industrial Emissions Directive which has already led to the closure of 12,400 MW (Mega Watts) of coal and oil fire power stations because they can’t comply with the stricter limits on sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and dust. Between them these chemicals create ozone (hello climate change) and affect our health (wheesy, chesty, cough?). Being part of Europe means that large companies can’t poison us with their toxic fumes. I don’t trust the current government to put our health above the potential for more profit for large companies.
But to be honest I am finding it hard to think about any of this after watching Game of Thrones last night. After the first ten minutes I thought it was the best thing I had ever seen, starting with Daenery’s outsmarting the slave masters who thought that they were about to take the City of Mereen. “We are here to discuss your surrender, not mine,” Daenerys told them as the Dothrakki charged onto the screen with their arakhs flying to slaughter the Sons of the Harpy (who is the Harpy? Does anyone know?).
And then it happened. The moment we had all been waiting for since she rose from the funeral pyre of Khal Drogo with the baby dragons in 2011. She led all three dragons to burn her enemies. “Dracarys” she said and Drogon roared out his fire. And the crowd (sitting on sofas in homes around the world) went wild.
And then, just when my heart rate was recovering, it got even better. John Snow may still know nothing (about his heritage) but he knows how to fight for the North. The poetic justice in Ramsay Bolton being savaged by his own dogs as Sansa watched was absolutely perfect. Let’s just hope she isn’t in need of any of Queen Margaery’s moon tea.
So what would Daenerys do about the EU referendum? I think we all know the answer to that. She’d take over and reform it. “I don’t want to stop the wheel,” she said. “I want to break the wheel.”
But this Thursday the battle isn’t Dothrakki versus slave masters, Stark versus Lannister or the Wildlings versus the Crows, it is Leave versus Remain and for many reasons, not just environmental ones, I will be voting to stay.