Canine cuts and shivering Spoodles

Recently I had what was possibly the blondest moment of my entire brunette history.

With the temperatures rising (or so we thought) and Charlie resembling more Siberian Yak than perfectly groomed pooch, I booked him in for his S|S13 cut.

The day arrived, and with 20 minutes left to get him wash, cut and blow dry ready, I left the house and headed off into town. With time on my side, the sun shining and a friend on speakerphone, I merrily made my way into town in an unhurried, stress-free manner.

Sitting at the final set of traffic lights and preparing to pull in and park, I told the friend I best be going as I had to get the dog unloaded and ready to roll. It was then that the realisation of my total and utter stupidity hit home.

As I turned around to look in the back seat I remembered the single most important component of the outing: the dog. The same dog that was currently sitting on the other side of the gate at home, happily gnawing on a treat in the midday sun.

The words “drat, damn and bother” – or something meaningful to that effect – sprang from my mouth. The phone (with friend still laughing) was hung up and the car turned around. The dog groomer was called and warned of Charlie’s impending lateness; I could sense eyes rolling. My husband was called and warned off my impending lateness for lunch; I was greeted with further laughter and called a numpty.

Unsurprisingly the journey there and back again was neither unhurried or stress free. Every slow-driving, law-abiding road user in Norwich was now out and hogging all available lanes in front of me.

Charlie greeted me with a look of surprise and alarm as I screeched across the gravel, oiked him over the gate and threw him into the passenger seat faster than he could enquire whether he was going somewhere nice – which was just as well really as he wasn’t.

IMG_1314Unfortunately, since having his summer ‘back, sack and crack’, the weather has turned and summer is quite clearly not just around the corner. So while we certainly appreciate having a clean, sweet-smelling dog to stroke in front of the TV at night, in hindsight, Charlie could have probably done with those extra few inches of matted fur to keep his slender frame warm in this chilly May wind.

To make amends for this premature shearing, I’ve resorted to turning the heating back on, wrapping him up and allowing him to practically take up residence on my lap at every available opportunity.

It’s a dog’s life indeed.

Constipated goldfish and suidical shrimp

Up until a couple of months ago, I had no idea that keeping fish was such an emotionally draining experience – or that it would involve such a large chunk of every weekend.

Gone are the days when goldfish were given out in sandwich bags at the local fair. Now it’s all swanky tanks with fitted pumps, fancy (a.k.a pricey) breeds and a bigger assortment of cleaning paraphernalia than currently resides under my kitchen sink. And don’t get me started on the paperwork. I do believe there’s more legal documentation to fill in when purchasing a fish than there is to bring a human child into the world.

When buying one itty-bitty little fish, I was quizzed on the size of the tank, how many other fish resided in it, how many plants were in situ and how well-established and stable the living environment would be for the new arrival. When I left the hospital with my new-born babies, I don’t recall needing proof of anything other than a car seat. No one asked me whether I had a safe, secure and child-friendly environment to return to, or how many other mouths there were to feed and whether could I afford to maintain another.

It says much about society today I think when you need to prove you’re a responsible adult to purchase a fish, but any half-baked, under-age moron can pop out a child. Anyway, back to the drama of keeping fish.

My first experience back in the 80’s was a relatively stress-free affair. It consisted of a plastic fish tank, a few bit of coral and Dempsey and Makepeace (Versions 1, 2 and 3). The only drama that I can recall is the day Dempsey 2 leapt out of the tank and landed between the pages of a nearby book. Which promptly slammed shut. After much searching, many tears and shrieking accusations of theft (aimed at my sister), Dempsey 2 was later found – ever so slightly flattened – and returned to the tank.

He struggled on for a few more hours, swimming in ever decreasing circles before finally gasping his last breath. A few tears later and he was given the customary sendoff. He was flushed and then quickly replaced. Yes, it’s a brutal life being a fish.

A coupe of years ago it was decided my daughter was ready to have her own fishy friend, and so, amidst great excitement, she was taken along to choose two new members of the family. If I’m honest I didn’t hold out much hope for the long-term survival of Hermione (that’s her on the right) and Ron.

On some days they were starved and on others massively overfed; often they could barely see through the glass (I swear I once saw Ron trying to wipe it with his fin) and often the filter was turned off at night as it proved too noisy for a goodnight sleep.

But what do you know, despite being moved from house to house in 2 inches of water and continually having their tank covered with dustsheets while we renovated and painted around them, they held in there and are still going strong.

With them now taking up residence in the kitchen,  it was decided that the ‘Nemo’ themed tank (complete with glass pebbles and a garish grinning plastic fish) was quite frankly hideous – and now resembling something akin to a limescale encrusted swamp –  and it was definitely time to move Hermione and Ron up the property ladder and into a bigger home. Preferably one with a classier line of décor and uninterrupted views of kitchen life.

An open-topped Fluval Chi tank was duly bought and installed. With its neutral colour scheme and bubbling waterfall feature it was certainly an improvement. I think the design is meant to improve the Feng Shui of our home, though from my limited knowledge of the subject I’m fairly certain that having a large collection of razor-sharp knives stuck to the opposite wall might just have cancelled out any benefits gained.

As Hermione and Ron were more than happy with their new abode, it seemed only fair that my son should have his own fish too. So back we went to Pets at Home and, using his Easter money from Grandma, he selected Voldemort. Now he had seemed like quite a perky little fish in the shop, but sadly it was just not meant to be. Just one week later and we came home to find him floating upside down.

I did try to keep my son from spotting him, but I wasn’t quite quick enough. And so followed the inevitable tears, explanation of death and reassurance that he must have already been sick – as opposed to my sons deeply held belief that the other two had ganged up on him and cruelly starved him to death.

So back to the shop we went (dead fish and receipt in hand) and Voldemort 2 was promptly chosen. We also decided to throw caution to the wind and purchase a couple of shrimps to join the crew, in the hope they could make themselves useful and  keep on top of the additional poo.

fdyj

fdyj

Another week went past and we noticed that Voldemort 2 was now spending the majority of his days bobbing around at the surface. As try as he might he simply couldn’t swim down, and every time he did he immediately shot up again and then lolled against the side of the tank. So once again – given that we obviously had nothing better to do with our weekends – we loaded the fish into a plastic yogurt pot, prepared his owner for a second consecutive loss and headed back to Pets at Home. Feeling rather embarrassed to be working our way through their stock so fast, we handed over the now motionless fish for a diagnosis.

Well it turns out Voldemort 2 wasn’t at death’s door after all, he was merely constipated. Who knew? There was us about to flush the little bugger down the toilet and all he needed was to relieve the load.  It certainly explained the bobbing to the surface and all that rolling around with a pained look on his face – he was basically puffed up with wind.

The solution to a gassy goldfish – should you be interested – is all in the diet. Too many flakes will do this to a fish apparently. So we returned to the car and happily informed our waiting son that his fishy friend had indeed returned from the dead. He declared that Voldemort 2 had obviously used his superior magic powers to survive a vicious and attack from Hermione and Ron.

I’m pleased to say that one block of blood worms later and Voldemort 2 was several ounces lighter and capable of swimming down; he’s never looked back since.

Sadly the same can not be said for the shrimp. The very same week we realised that both had vanished without trace. It was confirmed in the pet shop (a place I was by now quite clearly spending far too much of my time) that shrimp like to leap, and had therefore quite possibly ended up on the kitchen floor – and as a doggy hors d’oeuvre. It goes without saying their cost was refunded. Well, they were pricey little things to start with and the sales girl (so we were told) should have never have released them to such a certain death.

Low and behold, when cleaning the tank a few weeks later both shrimp were spotted alive and kicking. They’d simply been hiding away in the fake plant and obviously so consumed with their designated job as toilet attendants, they hadn’t even had a chance to come up for a breath. I’d like to say that brings the whole story to a nice happy end. But alas, in this death trap of a house it wasn’t to be.

While I getting ready for work just one week later, my daughter brought up the empty pot that sat on the floor beside the tank. And there, curled up in the bottom was one crispy kamikaze shrimp. The whereabouts of the other one remained something of a mystery right up until the day I decided to wash the sofa covers.

Upon pulling the 4-seater away from the wall, what should I see on the floor but the missing scuttling critter. Quite how he had summoned up the energy to leap from the tank in the kitchen, make it into the living room, across a deep pile rug and behind all that heavy sofa fabric I have absolutely no idea. Perhaps the dog was in hot pursuit at the time.

I’m pleased to report that to date,  all 3 surviving members of the fish tank are still alive, happy and completely intact.

The blood worms (given on alternate days with flakes and pellets) are keeping them regular and none are showing any suicidal tendencies or even attempting an escape.

Now if only the same could be said of the other tank of tropical fish…

A Pom returns: the reality of life after Australia

This is one blog I’ve been meaning to write since packing up our Aussie-born pooch and 20 foot container of ‘stuff’ and waving goodbye to Down Under. I always meant to give an update on Life After Perth, but just to be sure my rose-tinted ‘happy to be home’ goggles were now a more realistic hue of clear, and to ward off all accusations of still being drunk on rolling green hills and Tesco prices, I thought I’d leave it a respectable 6 months before giving a verdict.

But time flies when you’re busy and it has been nearly 2 years since our return. More and more people have been contacting me to ask “What happened next?” People who want to be told that returning to the UK isn’t a one way ticket to WhathehellhaveIdonesville – that I’m not just another Pom that pinged the wrong way. Or, I suspect, be reassured that I’m not sat here rocking backwards and forwards in a corner, clutching a photo of a Skippy and muttering darkly to myself how we should have never left.

Well the good news is I’m still sane, I rarely rock and I never weep at the sight of a kangaroo.

Returning to a British way of life has been an interesting journey to say the least. Unlike our hasty departure from the UK 3.5 years before, the Australian exodus of 2010 was an extremely well-executed affair, with a year of meticulous planning and quite a lot of careful saving along the way.

It started with a trip back to confirm our decision, scout new areas to live and set up schooling. This was followed by 6 months of heavy-duty moving, haggling, sorting and packing – along with the selling of whatever we couldn’t afford to ship back. I thoroughly recommend a garage sale as the most effective way to clear unwanted junk. One night of preparation, 5 hours of bargaining and several 100 people trampling over our lawn later and we’d covered the cost of shipping the dog. That may not sound like much, until you realise his First Class cage back cost more than our 4 tickets combined. Whether or not he was worth the expensive remains a hotly debated subject to this day.

Touching back down on British soil was a happy occasion for the whole family. I would have happily kissed the ground, but for the fact I had half a dozen bags and a limp child hung off my person, and the Arrivals Hall floor was in need of a good scrub. It was an epic flight to say the least, but hats off to Air Asia, they may be a budget airline with a questionable line of stomach-churning Pot Noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the service was brilliant, and the cheap ‘Business Class’ sized seats ensured we arrived rested and with all vertebra working and intact.

There was no fanfare or line of excited faces waiting to meet us as we walked through. We took a taxi to the nearest Travelodge and laid there, all wide awake, wired from excitement and struggling to breathe in the unventilated room. After a few hours of listening to the kids flapping around on the sofa bed we decided to hit the road early (in the car we’d bought unseen on the Internet) and our get on with our new life. We rocked up in Norwich before even the earliest of birds were catching worms, and then, with hours to kill till the next Travelodge opened, spent several hours getting lost in the one-way system while looking for somewhere to eat.

A week after picking up the keys to our house (rented unseen on the Internet), and the fastest unpacking of a container in history, my husband disappeared in a taxi, boarded a plane and flew back to whence we had come. With a work contract still to complete in Sydney, I was left waving goodbye in the doorway of a new house, city and county, with no family or friends for miles around and 2 kids to look after till Christmas. Not quite how I pictured our happy homecoming.

The 4 months that followed were certainly a crash course in starting over. There were new roads to navigate, shops, doctors and dentists to find, schools and nurseries to start, utilities to organise and complicated contracts to decipher. Credit, I was reminded, is most certainly not your friend when you’ve left for sunnier shores.

During those long and lonely weeks I spent half of everyday on Skype and resorted to accosting strangers in the local park just to have some adult conversation. I endured a long running struggle with a tight arse landlord, a carpet that stank of cat wee and a shower that didn’t even work. I had to deal with a dippy, runaway dog, catch spiders the size of a dinner plate, buy and master a lawnmower with a mind of its own and battle through various strains of vomiting virus, ear infections and flu. And then, to top it all off, I had 6 long, glorious weeks with limited eyesight and an addiction to painkillers while I waited for my new eyes to work.

A walk in the park it most certainly was not. But despite all of the above, and the feeling rather lonely in my husband-less state, I loved every single day of being back. Even those when the temperatures hit -8 degrees and it took me 1.5 hours to travel an 8-minute journey in the snow. Or my car gave up the good fight and slid back down the icy hill with a boot load of shopping still to transport. Or the toilet cistern decided to leak through the ceiling and gave me a watery fright.

By the time hubby finally rocked up a week before Christmas life was in full swing. On his second day we went to collect the keys for a house I’d already bought – a run down, damp as a swamp, freezing, flooded old farmhouse in the middle of the rural Norfolk countryside. A few days into January and renovations began. Day after day we spent ripping down and building back up a shell of a house, while snow blew in through the open doors and we ate our diet of garage sandwiches whilst perched on upturned tool boxes wearing heat packs strapped to our bodies and 3 pairs of gloves.

6 weeks later with work still in progress we moved into the house with 2 kids and dog in tow. With bare walls and floors, no backdoor and not much a kitchen to speak of it wasn’t really an ideal living environment, but we had no plans to move for at least 10 years so it seemed worth all the ongoing hard work. Fast forward 8 months and with the house finally completed, we decided there was only one natural next step for us to take. So we put it back on the market, packed up our now 60 foot container worth of stuff (no, I’m still not sure how our possessions mutated in this time) and moved back towards the city.

This time in the sticks had taught us that rural living simply wasn’t for us. Too many unfriendly villagers with humps, dead pheasants on the road to school and the smell of ‘farm’ wafting in when we were trying to eat. So here we are again, new house, new village, another new life – and NO more plans to move.

So the big question to be answered is this: having now lived both lives and experienced the reality of a life Down Under, do I still (honestly, hand on my heart) think we made the right decision to up sticks and come back? Hell yes, every single minute of every single (sometimes) soggy day. Even when its grey outside, blowing a gale and chucking it down at great force. Or the news is full of doom and gloom, the streets of London are being burnt by delinquent rioters, petrol prices have shot up again and another great parliamentary scandal has been unearthed.

The truth of it is I simply don’t miss our old life at all.

I don’t miss our nice house or the crippling mortgage we paid. I don’t miss the high salary or the extortionate utility bills. I don’t miss the BBQ or the overpriced food we couldn’t afford to buy. I don’t miss the blue skies (well maybe a bit) or the long, cold, wet winters with no insulation, double glazing or heating to keep us warm. I don’t miss the beaches or the flies that just love to swarm in your face. I don’t miss the lack of culture or anything in the slightest bit old. I don’t miss the feeling of being trapped in the most isolated city on Earth. I don’t miss being cooked alive or keeping an eye out for sharks.

I do miss Tim Tams however. Now there was a chocolate biscuit that almost made it worth while staying.

There is one thing I’ve finally realised after our stint in Perth and that is the grass is never greener. Every country has it problems, its pros and it’s cons. Every country is run by politicians who over-promise and under-deliver. Every country has crime and drugs and those people you’d rather cross the street to avoid. Every country has bad weather and days when you think you’ll never make ends meet.

For me, England definitely wins hands down. So Rule Britannia, long live the Queen and bring out the china tea cups – it’s good to be home!

Eat, drink and be merry (and fat)

What is it about the holidays and the Season of Goodwill that makes us all eat like pigs?

There’s certainly no other time of year when it’s considered not only acceptable but practically ones civic duty to fill your cupboards with box after box of mince pies, fruit cakes so heavy they could sink a battleship and puddings so dense they need to be doused in alcohol and set on fire before eating. There’s certainly no other time of the year when you feel the need to keep 8 different types of cheese in the fridge – 4 of which contain an unidentified fruit and 1 which looks like it belongs in a Petri dish.

And as for the cream. We had nearly 3 pints of the stuff in our fridge over Christmas period. 3 pints? As if, under normal circumstances, we’d even attempt to plough our way through 1. And let’s not forget the chocolate. The stuff we try to ignore, avoid, limit throughout the rest of the year. Come Christmas morning it’s wall-to-wall cocoa beans and anything in a wrapper is suddenly considered fair game – not to mention an essential food group.

And then there’s the bird. The hero of the day and the most expensive slice of dry, tasteless meat that will ever grace your plate.

Our turkey this year led a happy and carefree existence roaming around the Norfolk countryside – or so I’d like to believe, if for no other reason than  to justify the extortionate cost of the thing feather for feather. Hell, for that price I hope the bird had its own luxury living quarters and a personal masseuse right up until the day it lost its head and giblets.

Having selflessly fulfilled its purpose in life, it met its maker on a nearby farm and arrived here in its own fancy cardboard box on Christmas Eve. Weighing in at roughly the same as my Mini Cooper, this gigantic fowl required some major re-jigging of the fridge space and an hour of patient tweezering on my part. As ‘Hollywoods’ go, it certainly wasn’t given a very thorough one I have to say.

And so, with enough food in to see us through until Easter, the Big Day was upon us. As with countless other families around the world, we sat down to a lavish breakfast the size of lunch before spending the rest of the morning cooking enough lunch to feed the Armed Forces. That’s an awful lot of peeling, cutting, boiling, blanching, stuffing, roasting, basting and burning for a morning, especially one that started with a 4 on the clock. And of course there was also the banging headache to contend with, the one that came as a direct result of drinking alcohol with breakfast. No other day would it seem to make perfect sense to start drinking before preparing the mother of all roasts.

This year it has to be said that all went pretty much to plan in our house – unlike C Day in 2009 when spitting fat went into overdrive, the oven burst into flames and the turkey was practically cremated on the spot. The only minor mishap this year was something of a basting affair. My husband, who with the stronger arms was in charge of the turkey, was in the midst of removing our enormous specimen from the depths of the furnace, when somehow he managed to tip the liquid contents of the roasting dish all over his feet.

Now I have to admit my first thoughts were not of his burnt trotters – now covered in sizzling fluid and singed toe hair – they were of our lunch, which was now hanging onto the edge of the roasting tray by a crispy wingtip and threatening to throw itself onto the floor. With visions of the thing skidding across the laminate and under the dusty base unit (as has happened in the distant past), ‘practicality’ came into force well before any thoughts of concern or sympathy. So next to the open oven my husband was forced to stand, teeth gritted while bird and basting fluids were saved, rearranged and returned to continue cooking – or, as in the case of turkey, drying out.

Disaster avoided he (husband not turkey) was finally allowed to sprint upstairs to cool down his skin and change his clothes. Still, no long-term damage done really, and on the upside, at least his feet are now as soft, smooth and hair free as a baby’s bottom.

So now that Christmas has come and gone, what’s become of all that food? Well that’s the worst bloody part. Not only did we feel somehow guilted into buying far more than we needed or could ever possibly consume, but having been brought up to believe wasting food is practically a criminal act, we simply couldn’t bring ourselves to throw any of it away.

So we ate the lot. Less a pint of cream and half a box of chocolates I surreptitiously slipped into a departing relatives bag.

And that’s how we waddled into January. Feeling fat, fed up and somewhat horrified at the vast quantities we’d worked our way through. My backside has expanded, my jeans are tighter and my stomach looks like one of those ‘before’ shots for a Z-listers ‘Post Baby’ fitness DVD. And it’s this feeling, I believe, that explains much of why the first 2 months of the years are generally considered the more depressing of the 12. It’s got nothing to do with Post Christmas Blues, having to go back to work or the cold weather. It’s all about the impending diet and realising that unless we get our wobbly arse into lycra and gear, there’s not a hope in hell of looking half way decent in anything less than a burka once the summer rolls around.

So yes, it’s definitely time to ignore the sugar craving and start an industrial scale detox, not to mention resist those last few chocolates still floating around the house. Yesterday I admit I had a minor relapse when I quickly shoveled in a small piece of cake as I walked past. To get rid of the rest, I put the last 2 pieces on the kids plate for tea.

“We can’t eat this,” they shrieked in disgust, “it’s all mouldy underneath.”

That was all my stomach needed to hear. My diet had begun.

A seasick spoodle on the Norfolk Broads

Having lived within a stones throw of the Norfolk Broads for a year and not ventured down there,  we decided at the end  of the school holidays to throw caution to the wind and turn our hand to sailing. When I say ‘sailing’ I do of course mean rent a small boat and trundle along the river at 5 mph, but in our rather nautically-challenged family, that’s as close to proper sailing as we’re ever likely to get.

Not wanting to leave Charlie at home alone for the day he was duly packed into the car along with far too many sandwiches, a flask of green tea, 4 large bottles of water, a bird book, binoculars, a picnic rug, spare jumpers and several rain coats. I think subconsciously I was preparing for all possible worse case scenarios, including being swept away in a freak squall and left stranded far from civilisation on a floating polar ice cap. Surrounded by a flock of incredibly tiny unidentifiable birds.

Considering the average temperature last summer just about managed to reach ‘tepid degrees’, it was rather lucky for us that the day in question turned out to be the hottest we’d had since Spring. Perfect weather for messing about the river in fact, but rather too hot (as we soon found out) for four people dressed to keep warm with just one child-sized sun hat between them.

Arriving at the river we discovered one rather unsettling fact about sailing on the Broads: they really will hire out a boat to just about anyone who turns up and pays. Including, it appears, a family with not one ounce of river-going know-how between them. How scary for the water fowl indeed.

We looked nervous when approaching the boat, clueless when it came to mastering the controls and positively panic-stricken when untied and told we were free to go.  In fact, I believe our last words to the man in charge were “But what happens if we hit something?”  Of course he laughed.  Fool, little did he know.

Once we’d successfully navigated our way out through the waterways and onto the river we were relieved to find that steering a boat is much like riding a bike. My son donned his full pirate outfit within minutes of setting off and both kids were in their element as they took it in turns at the wheel. The final member of our party however wasn’t quite so happy; he was clearly having difficulty finding his sea legs. This does of course raise the question of why old sailors are often referred to as ‘Sea Dogs’.

Having been incredibly tentative about setting a paw onboard, Charlie became even less enamoured with the whole idea as we headed off down river. He whined at the passing boats, barked at every passing duck and positively howled when a swan dared flap nearby. And then, as if to really drive his point home, he pooed all over the floor. In lots of little brown, liquidity puddles. It’s amazing how fast doggy diarrhoea spreads when travelling across an uneven surface. And how much it smells when out in the fresh air. And how many wet wipes are required to mop up the mess.

Feeling rather sorry for himself (and possibly embarrassed) pooch took himself off to the back of the boat, laid on the cushion and peered rather gloomily over into the water. Every so often he looked our way with a hangdog expression that clearly said: ‘I didn’t ask to be brought along on this bloody boat you know’.

Forward onto the return journey – after a semi-successful mooring for lunch and the only sun hat somehow making its way into the water – and all seemed to be going fine. So fine in fact that my daughter was now in charge of steering the boat and both responsible adults were sat at the back, feet up, admiring the view and drinking a cup of tea.

Well when I say all was fine, I mean except for that small incident when my husband’s (very expensive) sunglasses somehow took it upon themselves to leap from his face, onto the canvas awning and into the murky depths of the river. I would have been more surprised at this rather unfortunate happening, but the memory of him managing to dropping our camera (with a weeks worth of holiday snaps) into Sydney Harbour the last time we were on water is still fairly fresh in my mind.

Approaching the narrowing waterways as we came into land/park/moor up my husband thought it wise to take control of the boat, so he sent my daughter back to sit with the sea-sick dog. Suddenly Charlie’s bowels opened more, this time all over the cushion, and then, as he was pushed off that, all over the floor of the boat. He then skidded around in it a bit and tried to clamber back on the cushion, trailing the mess from all 4 paws and a rather matted, manky looking tail.

This led to a rather rapid chain of events that involved my daughter letting out a squeal of horror and disgust, my husband turning around to see what the hell was going on, the boat banging straight into the side of the riverbank, me flying backwards inside of the cabin and my son falling head first off the seat. It wasn’t the best 15 seconds of the trip it has to be said.

It took a fair few minutes to take stock, mop up, scrub the dog and rectify the damage – all with the few remaining wet wipes. It took quite a few minutes more before my husband managed to prise our boat off the wall … and straight into the path of another, much larger boat that was speeding towards us on our side of the river. To say it got a little bit tense would be an understatement, especially when I didn’t immediately offer to throw myself over the edge of the boat to push us off the wall. Something to do with the fact I was still up to my wrists in poo perhaps.

By the time we limped into our mooring space the owner was already there waiting and the next family were ready to hop on board with their picnic. I’m rather hoping they never noticed the rather suspicious looking stain on the underside of the cushion, or the multiple bags of liquid mess I was holding as I clambered off. I’m pretty sure however (based on the fact they were busy mopping out the boat) that they did notice us hanging around the car park for another 2o minutes, as Charlie continued to drip out his business from one patch of grass to the next. And then throw up all over the nice (new) leather seats when he was finally loaded into the car.

All in all it was a great day out. Slighty messy and rather smelly, but fun nevertheless. Look forward to doing the same again next year, though it obviously goes without saying we’ll be leaving Charlie at home on dry land and I’ll be in charge of the wheel when we’re coming in to dock the boat.

xgf

Is the use of a forward facing pram really child abuse?

Professor Cathrine Folwer, a health expert in Australia, seems to be claiming that millions of parents around the world, myself included, are guilty of abusing their babies and small children.

As I look across the table at my happy, well-adjusted, healthy son eating his home cooked lunch it’s hard to spot any signs of this harm I’m supposed to have inflicted on him from birth, but apparently I have. Research says that I (and lots of other mothers I know) have cruelly subjected our babies to a “terrifying and very stressful situation’ every time we’ve taken them out to the shops or even for a walk.

So what have we done? Filled their bottles with vodka? Starved them? Fattened them up with a diet of chicken nuggets? Left them outside in the rain when they refused to stop crying in the middle of the night?

No, it’s something far more sinister than that. We’ve used, oh the shame of it, a forward facing baby sling and pram.

According to the Professor and a study carried out by the University of Dundee, these most heinous torture devices we’ve all been using to transport our offspring have not only caused untold suffering to our little angels, but they’ve also stunted their development and turned them into anxious adults. This is because, so they say, children facing forward rarely get their parents’ attention and therefore suffer stress and sometimes even ‘trauma’.

Imagine if you were strapped to someone’s chest with your legs and arms flailing, heading with no control into a busy shopping centre – it would be terrifying,’ said Professor Fowler. ‘Outward-facing baby carriers and prams give babies a bombardment of stimulus, creating a very stressful situation.

Who knew hey? And there was I thinking it was a good thing to let my children have a comfortable, reclinable seat to sit in, surrounded by toys, books and blankets and a great view of where we were heading. Better that than having to look at my tired, puffy face and standard issue eye bags I’d have thought.

And as for the baby sling – which incidentally shouldn’t be used to face babies forward before they’re strong enough to hold their neck up at about 3 months – how on earth can the use of one of those be considered cruel? Aside from the fact that mothers with multiple children – or even those who need the use of both hands – couldn’t physically manage without strapping a baby onboard, surely these pouches can only be an enjoyable experience for the child? Not only are they securely strapped onto their parent’s body (so as close as possible to be), they also have a great view and a chance to sleep. What’s not to love about that?

And now to the legality of it all. I’m pretty sure that nowhere in the 999 pages of instructions that came with either of my prams was there any mention of the possible side effect of long-term therapy for its pint-sized occupant. So does that mean the likes of Graco, Mamas & Papas and Mothercare are about to face the mother of all law suits from ill-informed parents?!

Of course I also don’t remember either of my children sitting (or hanging) there, paralysed with fear and suffering untold trauma. And yes I think I’d have noticed; babies aren’t best at keeping a stiff upper lip when not happy. In fact if memory serves me correctly, my two spent most of the time looking around them with interest, fast asleep or crumbling whatever snack they were clutching into a million crumbs – all of which disappeared into the inaccessible cracks of said heinous torture device.

So when weighing up the facts and research presented by Professor Folwer alongside the knowledge that neither of my children, now 10 and 5, seem to scream in fear every time they see a crowd or develop a nervous tic when I leave the room, I don’t think I’m going to panic too much about the findings of this report.

But perhaps all this time, money and academic intelligence would be far more beneficial if it was directed towards finding solutions to bigger issues, like SIDS and other life threatening childhood diseases, rather than giving new parents one more thing to worry about before the stork swoops in.

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Do record GCSE results mean kids are getting cleverer?

All morning news has been coming in that it’s been yet another record-breaking year for GCSE results. In fact, the pass rate has risen for the 24th consecutive year since the exams were first taken in 1988. Why does that not come as a surprise?

No disrespect to all those happy teenagers (mainly girls it seems) who are currently basking in the glow of their multiple A* passes, but these ever-improving grades simply show that surely exams must have got easier over the last couple of decades. It’s either that or kids are getting brighter year-on-year, and let’s be honest, why would that be very likely.

You only have to hear many of them speak – or not, as the case may be – to know that this is not a generation where all teenagers come with a staggering IQ or an unusually high grasp on politics, current affairs, the English language, history, world geography or even basic common sense. But this is hardly surprising.

Generation Y is one that has grown up with a rather unhealthy obsession towards body size, fame, fashion and endless low-life celebrities. It’s a generation who seems to believe that 5 minutes of fame on the TV or a few hits on YouTube will automatically equate to a gilded life free from work. It’s a generation who spend 99% of their time physically attached to a mobile or laptop and experience genuine withdrawal symptoms if unable to access Twitter or check their Facebook feed. It’s a generation who have all but obliterated good grammar and basic spelling from the English language, just to ensure it’s quicker and easier to text.

So when those in charge of all things ‘education and exams’ rubbish claims that exam questions are being dumbed down and expectations lowered, or in the case of  Andy Burnham – Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary – claim that “Exams are not getting easier; young people are working harder than ever before” you know it’s all a load of tosh.

Go back 20 years and those sitting GCSEs – the incredibly smart kids included – simply weren’t achieving the ‘record breaking’ 13 A* grades that so many now seem to get. So does that mean we were all dimmer back then or just didn’t try quite so hard? Hardly. If anything we had far more time on our hands to get the work done and a lot more motivation to pass.

We were a generation without celebrity lifestyles to emulate and affordable fashion to religiously follow. We were a generation without mobiles, computers, social networking and trash TV. We were a generation who knew that the only realistic way to earn any money once leaving school was through plain hard work.

And on top of all that, the subjects that we had to study were restricted to the traditional (harder) academic ones such as foreign languages, science and humanities. Of course we may not have actually enjoyed these subjects we were forced to choose from but at least we all covered the basics: the monarchy that shaped this country; the wars which changed the world; the geological forces that formed the planet; the human biology that keeps us reproducing; and those all essential language skills which enable us to ask directions to the nearest railway station when lost in La Rochelle.

Today students are turning their backs on these subjects. Why? Because they find them ‘boring’ and ‘completely irrelevant’. The truth is they also find them a little bit too much like hard work. After all, why waste your time learning about rivers and volcanoes or trying to memorise the periodic table when instead you can pass the time getting better grades in music, drama and P.E? Nothing against those subjects I hasten to add, but at school we covered them in addition to our other lessons, we didn’t plump for an ‘A’ in recorder and a ‘B’ in advanced trampoline.

Of course those in charge of ‘education and exams’ will once again claim these vocational subjects are more geared up to the job market today. But how can it be better to miss out on so much? If students aren’t learning a broad range of subjects at this age how can they possibly emerge into the workplace with a well-rounded education?

Surely that’s the whole point of school isn’t it? As far as I was aware, all those years spent stuck behind a desk were never intended to be a walk in the park or as enjoyable as a day out at Alton Towers. School was meant to be a place where children filled their sponge-like minds with as much information about as many things as possible, not to mention learn that sometimes in life you just have to do things you don’t always enjoy. But obviously I’m well out of touch with the whole point of  education today.

Yes it’s true that I’ve probably forgotten all of the German and much of the French I learned, and I’m sure I probably yawned my way through 100’s of years worth of mind-numbing historical facts. I certainly hated chemistry with a passion and maths sure as hell hated me. But regardless of that, or whether any of it has been relevant to my adult life, I still had the opportunity to find out a little bit about everything.

So it does seem a great shame that traditional subjects such as English, history, geography and science are being ‘dumbed down’ and so many schools are not even offering core subjects anymore, let alone encouraging students to give them a go? Because let’s be honest, there’s no point studying drama, media studies or sociology at GCSE level if, when you then open your mouth as an adult, you have absolutely nothing of interest to say – or think that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1966 and Asia is a small island located off the south of France.

Obviously there’s no disputing there are countless students who worked like demons and deserved the high grades they received. Or the exceptional clever clogs who passed maths at the age of 6. Or the many great schools which produce brilliant results. But what about the others – the majority that make up the rest of the exam entrants?

There are 10’s of 1000’s of kids who don’t bother listening in class and plenty more who don’t bother showing up until the day of the exam? There are kids who, through no lack of effort on their part, just don’t make the grade. And let’s not forget the huge numbers of badly performing schools which apparently produce consistently poor results year after year?

If GSCEs really are as tough as ever how on earth is it possible for nearly a quarter of all girls sitting exams this year to have been awarded an A, not to mention the 1 in 12 who are also expected to also earn a coveted A*? Doesn’t really add up to me, especially when the average exam-sitting teenager I come across these days seems more interested in straightening their hair, updating Face Book and completing a 140 syllable tweet.

Hopefully next year things will change as the Government look to introduce the English Baccalaureate – a school ‘leaving certificate’ that rewards children for gaining at least a C grade in the five disciplines  of English, mathematics, science, foreign languages and humanities.

The bite-sized modules that pupils can re-sit to boost their overall grades in favour of traditional end-of-course exams will also be abolished and, more worrying for pupils who live to text, those taking English language and literature will now be penalised by as much as 12% for the grammatical errors they make.

My grammar probably isn’t what it should be, but here’s a couple of helpful hints for those currently ploughing their way through endless poetry or The Catcher in The Rye: ‘8’ (as in gr8 or h8) is not an acceptable replacement for any vowel and writing ‘bcoz’ probably won’t win you any brownie points.

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