Friday, 27 May 2011

A Funny Engagement

I seem to have spent many years avoiding marriage - it is an old fashioned institution and, in the age of divorce, hypocritical. I finally broke of with my ex after he gave me an ultimatum after years of proposals: marry or split. I was independent, had my own income and debts and I lacked for nothing (well, maybe a few more pairs of shoes and handbags would have been welcome). So what happened?

I met The Man - and I realised I had a problem. It started with a jaw ache (bare with me, it is innocent) after two weeks of total togetherness I realised that I had not stopped... grinning! We were opposites and he was everything I was not looking for in a partner: I was creative and he was an engineer, I was independent and free spirited and he had, gulp, been in the Royal Navy...the list went on. But as polar opposites we had a magnetic pull! I had avoided living with the Ex for ten years, maintaining control and space, but The Man somehow managed to have a reason to spend every night at my house (even the time he went to watch rugby in Wales, almost drove past his house in Surrey to make it back to my West London home).

I was not looking for a relationship, I even tried to put him off. Knowing that he had children I told him that we could not have a relationship as my next partner would be the father of my children - saying that it was not to implicate him in my plans but to honestly inform him that ours was not a 'relationship'.

Strange things happened, we spoke countless times a day, saw each other daily - even if we had different parties at the beginning of the evening we would always meet where the party lasted longest. After months of being together we took a dramatic step I had not considered before in many years of hard partying in London - we had a night in. I started to write nights in to my diary so that we could have more.

I loved holidays and the wilder the better. I would disappear to meet friends in rural Zimbabwe coming back with long stories and even once a painted barbecue in my backpack - so how would this work with The Man? He always talked of beach holidays...something I had not done since we had our annual trip to the rented beach hut in Filey as a child. We compromised on Sri Lanka for culture, adventure, beach and curries and all I can say is that it was heaven. I was hooked - and realised that maybe The Man could become The Hubster.

At the Blue Lagoon - copyright The Pretty Good Life
I was doing a Masters Degree and coming up to exams so I packed up all my books, ready for a weekend visit to his parents. Put on my pink Stetson and I was ready to go. 'It is cold on the Island, why don't you wear your sheepskin hat' he said. Nobody tells ME what to wear - but very strangely I took his advice. Next, he says, 'If we weren't going to the Island would you take your books, after all you don't really need them'. I responded that we were and almost floored myself as I picked up the bag and headed for the door.

On the doorstep I asked if he had the car keys, but he replied that we were not taking the car. 'But you don't take the train to the Isle of Wight' but followed him anyway when he replied that we were not getting the train. 'But you don't take the tube to the Isle of Wight' but followed him anyway. We went past the station and on towards Heathrow 'But you don't take a plane to the Isle of Wight'. He looked at me and laughed - we were not going to the Isle of Wight!

He whisked me off to Iceland, where I had always wanted to go. Even then The Proposal took me by surprise. We were in the Blue Lagoon and he asked, did I say 'Yes'? Well, not immediately, I was so surprised I asked him to repeat the question. Next, he went down on one knee - and as we were shoulder deep in water - my proposal was a plume of bubbles! What can a girl say with a proposal like that but, yes, Yes, YES! So The Man became The Hubster, and I had to develop new muscles so that I could continue to smile and grin for the next decade that we have been together.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

First Sports Day

They have practicing for weeks, the weather has been glorious and finally the big day has come - and so has the rain. Onto the sports field and we look at a sea of red uniformed children and finally make out the Pickle warm and snug inside her bright pink tracksuit. It appears that independence of spirit and a healthy disregard for convention seems to be a family trait!

First up was the dressing up race: on went the shirt, and (clutch my heart) she is in the lead, scarf goes on, oops, one sleeve slips off, on goes the hat, the shirt comes off  but never races on to the finishing line. Shirtless but victorious! Yes, our daughter has won. To give you a clue as to the surprise the first thing that my Mum says when I tell her about the day was a cheerful 'Was she as bad as you?'.

Next up and we have the egg and spoon race - and it is time for dirty tricks. She is off, doing well, racing away as other eggs go flying,  then she gets ambitious, or is it just that she fancies playing football, or maybe tennis, then - what the hell - she holds the egg, she has had the taste of victory and she flies over the finishing line. Another 1st sticker to add to her collection (she is cool, so it is not stuck on her track but coyly concealed on her t-shirt and zipped away from view; did I mention that she shows no sign of conformity?).

Third race is the running race. Would her guile make up for what she lacks in size, although that is not holding back Bo the Bullet, the speedy revelation of the day. On your marks, Get set, Go ... yes, really go...go? yes, go. She is off, finally, and she is doing her best racing along fantastically - just not particularly fast. She makes it to the finishing line - last - but greeted by one of the grown up children (who is maybe 8) and another sticker for taking part. 'Mummy, I won again!'.

Two more races to go, the assault course then the relay. The assault course is laid out and ready to go, and her little voice pipes up 'Mummy, is it the end of sports day yet.' Fortunately before discontent sets in she is off again, through the hoop, beanbag on her head at a particularly jaunty angle and she is zipping through the slalom. In pole position when from across the track a little boy races on, oblivious for the need to slalom. After her sharp tactics in the egg and spoon karma has caught up and she is pushed into second place. Any urge to ask for a stewards enquiry into dirty tricks is arrested by a huge downpour and the ensuing chaos.

Family picnic is cancelled and communications break down - bedraggled parents gather for cover as the children are herded back into classrooms. Sports day is over!

What a thoroughly British affair - everybody won regardless of where they came, rain and total chaos. The Pickle was victorious! Hurrah! Three cheers for sports day and the British summer.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

My Backyard

Thanks for Tara from Sticky Fingers for helping me reclaim this term. For too long in our house it has been tainted by association with four of the most nauseous characters in The Backyardigans - if you don't know it, don't find out; one of the toughest burdens a parent has to endure is toddler taste. It may be the sudden humming of the Nightgarden theme tune in the checkout queue, the insatiable desire the Pickle has for anything bubblegum pink or just having to endure her preferred TV programmes - but toddler taste takes over your life. (On the upside, a little brainwashing does work, the Pickle loves listening to Madness, her Ramones T-shirt and is very fond of Bagpuss and the Clangers).

I think that I have talked a little about our backyard - the Pretty Good Life is very garden focused. Until we had a staycation last year I knew next to nothing about the local attractions as we had always had so much fun just enjoying what we have on our own doorstep. We have forgone the 'Are we there yet' chorus for the joys of gardening, talking to the minibeasts (as insects are now called) and endless home entertaining.

The Pickle spends hours in her playhouse - I made the cutest curtains for it, so in her imagination she is there for days ('It is summer, Mummy, so nights are very short'). She even plants her own garden, this year it went a bit awry when she extended her garden to the patio and filled any cracks in the paving with a very efficient mix of grass seed and compost.

The other picture is of harmony! The chicken pecking over the veg patch as we start our annual planting. The Pickle's repertoire of veg has hugely increased with what we can grow in the garden, she likes the strange triple barrelled leaf called chard-fromthe-garden and tries most other things. Of course there is the law of the unintended consequences, after weaning she decided that she disliked most of her early foods - ruling out bananas, raising and cherry tomatoes - so I grew orange tomatoes to give tomatoes a second chance. Now she is convinced that she only likes orange tomatoes and no red ones will ever do.

I love the Pretty Good Life in all its simple splendours - and most of that is down to luck and our lovely backyard. I am sure that there must be some good sense in thinking that if you are happy with your backyard the whole rest of the world can only serve as a huge and exciting bonus.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Flashback Friday - Getting Married

I often try to follow Karin's lead on Flashback Friday, but as I have never vlogged or video blogged I can't begin to this week. Instead I am following the lead of many others and flashing back to our wedding nine years ago.

It was a very poignant day - my Dad had died six months before so my big bro had escorted me up the aisle. I say aisle, but we were not in a church but in the remains of an old priory, and I had to walk over the buried ashes of my Great Aunt Gertrude to get to where the Hubster and the vicar. (If you don't have a Great Aunt Gertrude, I recommend them, she is a great source of unlikely anecdotes most of which are even true).

As I reached the Hubster I could look at him to my right and a quick glance to the left and I could see my Dad's grave completely covered with flowers. He had been ill for some time with a hideous form of early onset dementia and from our engagement we did not know if he could make it to the wedding, and if he had, it may have been too horribly confusing for a once highly clever and dignified man. It was painful not having him there in person, but he was certainly there in spirit. After six months of mourning and incredible sadness it was as if our wedding brought out the sun again - metaphorically and in reality; as the vicar pronounced us man and wife the sun came out from behind the clouds. One way or another I feel as if it has been shining for us ever since!

Be inspired by Karin and others on Cafe Bebe's Flashback Friday

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Push Present?

Sonia Cheadle ring - image copyrighted so don't copy her design!

What a term - have you heard it? It refers to a gift a partner gives a new Mum in recognition of the birth. I hate it - the term, that is.

When the Pickle was born the Hubster gave me an eternity ring - we were well briefed that this is a tradition and had even considered an eternity ring when we commissioned the engagement ring; we were introduced by a friend who is a jeweller.

At our engagement party their was a queue circling the room twice of single friends waiting to be introduced to the lady who not only produced the ring but also the Mr.Right to deliver it. This is her site, she is a bit of a superstar she has just written a text book about how to be jeweller.

The photo is of one of Sonia's rings, with stones rather larger that grace my fingers. I love my rings, but fortunately for our budget I have never liked the kind of ring that seems to reflect your bank balance rather your aesthetic and for my stubby fingers small is beautiful (if I had piano playing fingers I may have lusted after more carrots than Benjamin Bunny's day dreams, but that is not the case).

If there is a tradition for an eternity ring at the birth of your first child, are there further traditions for subsequent children. Even the great Sonia has never suggested that she is aware of such traditions. Life as a Mum is much simpler, and I can't say that diamonds are top of my dream shopping list. Besides, having heard the term 'Push Present' I am quite keen to avoid the issue altogether.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Moustaches away!

Have I mentioned that we live the simple life here? This was taken last December when it just seemed like a good idea to play with moustaches. Simple pleasures for simple minds!

I'd love to hear about your simple pleasures, too. xx

This post was thanks to a wonderful prompt from Tara at Sticky Fingers. Take a look at the other entries at The Gallery

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Before and After - Flashback Friday

Inspired by Cafe Bebe's Flashback Friday and Karin's 'life after kids' pictures I thought that I should share these with you. Maybe some time I ought to tell some of the trials and tribulations of living at our cottage - but a summary is that we bought a semi-derelict cottage which had no heating, hot water or inside loo. Since then we have been very slowly and lovingly restoring our house, trying to make it into a comfortable family home. These pictures are not a reflection of the renovations, just the family room (or sun room as we call it).

The main part of the cottage is small so, before even buying, we asked the local listed planning officer if we could extend to build a family size reception room. He agreed, in part delighted that any fool would buy the property and keep it standing. The pictures tell the emergence of that room.

To start off with we had to build the room, then (finally - but that is a LONG story) it emerges in gleaming glory. In the second picture you can see the Pickle's toy box and a bean bag in the shape of a globe. Now the toys are exploded and threaten to take over the house, the bean bag is looking battered and has been moved to beside her bed, where I sit for bed time stories, and we struggle to keep the room pleasant for all generations. In the last picture you can see the room as it was tonight, her chair with a blanket fresh from making a tent, the TV poised for evening watching and a book that we have just been reading. It may not be so neat, but it is filled with love!

Pop over to Cafe Bebe's lovely site and have a read of other Flashback Fridays as well as Karin's original post that inspired this.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Are you BadMAM* if you work?

How to be a good mother? I agree with Viv Groskop*, eat all your children's Easter eggs and then there is no more evil sugar for them to face. Oops, no that is missing the point wilfully and salving the guilt. I do need that chocolate, as many Mums may empathise, I was awoken at 5.30 on a Saturday morning, could not get back to sleep and used it as the first opportunity to read last Sunday's newspapers.

Viv talks about the polar dialogue about the decision whether to return to work as a Mum or to stay at home. It would seem that pitchforks raised between the feminist cabal of working Mums and thunder of 'evidence' from those fed up at us BadMAM*'s prioritising our evil careers over our children's real needs.

The debate blusters on, bouncing from condemnation, to empathy, to random insults for even pursuing the subject. Every comment seems to come from a pre-set agenda. However, has any decision, from whether to work or stay at home to what to have  for dinner, ever been divorced not only from our own specific environment and our politics to the constraints of the society and economy in which we live?

Rational decisions can limited as mothers consider their options for work. Having worked for over fifteen years, studied for two degrees and run a small organisation I discovered that the job market is not, what you could call, welcoming. You have three main options: continue as before, fighting for acceptance in a job market that largely requires you to work for more than the standard 9-5; look for a part time job, where you either negotiate for a cut in hours and status or opt for post natal depression as you consider your suitability as a receptionist, call centre operative or maybe even a 'work from home' scam (employers seem to have established that Mums are desperate); or finally you just give up your decades worth of work ethic and cross your fingers that you can fudge your CV in five years time so that your former PA will take pity on your and re-employ you for old time's sake. Is this a plea for pity? Never, but it is worth pointing out that if you want to be a working mother your decisions may be made for you by the recessionary job market rather than the slightly deluded life plan that you made when considering motherhood.

The other great influencer on family life is finances. Can you afford to work, can you afford not to? I loved the comment on Viv's site that said simply: "Lots of women worked while being mothers in the 1800s. It's just that they were working class." My personal experience was a little different, my Mum was technically a stay at home Mum but being in, ahem, a different tax bracket to me she just employed the Nannie and disappeared regardless.

I agree with the comment that children are a responsibility not a right, but don't subscribe to the policy that the only possible option is to stay at home regardless of other mitigating factors. Is a staying at home the answer for children in families where generations have never worked and life's horizons are so limited? Likewise, watching highly educated former high achievers dutifully shoe horn themselves into the stay at home role while seeing their independence and confidence being replaced by anxiety and self doubt makes me worry that their resulting stress levels must not be entirely to the benefit of family life. This was particularly brought home for a friend whose clash with her teenage daughter centred on the fact that despite having given up a blue chip career for motherhood she an unworthy role model for a woman of today as she currently did not work.

If you want the science you can find plenty of evidence to back up need to stay at home but also read Dettling and colleagues' study in Psychoneuroendocrinology 25, or the digested version in Sue Gerhardt's book 'Why love matters'. An excerpt here gives you a flavour as to the lack of a clear argument; it indicates that the need for appropriate care is paramount, but that it may be offered by someone other than a Mum:
"What a small child needs is an adult who is emotionally available and tuned in to regulate his stress....One study  of nursery school children showed that it was not the mother's absence in itself that increase stress hormones such as cortisol, but the absence of an adult figure who was responsive and alert to their states moment my moment. If there was a member of staff who took on this responsibility, their cortisol levels did not rise."
Do I have any conclusions? I wish I could write with the lightness of touch and erudition of the original article, but other than that I can only say as Mums what ever we do we are bound to be condemned for even discussing the issue let alone for trying to balance our finances, children's welfare and our long term career and personal aspirations. I know that becoming a Mother changed me in ways that I could never have anticipated, but I am doing the best that I can do, however flawed I may be.

* BadMAMS - Dad Mothering Amnesty Movement. Read the article and the range of thunderous comments it provoked: Viv Groskop: I'm a bad mother. I work

Friday, 6 May 2011

Flashback Friday - an unconventional Christening

This subject is very revealing about me as a person and an idealist! I was brought up as an Anglican, but have spent much of my life questioning the role of the church and its actions across the globe and history. I can see the community and fellowship that it offers, how it can be a focal point for many rural communities and how it can act as a family for those who have lost so much. But then there is dogma and conflict that we read about - and the role of the church as an institution.

How can I reconcile my varied emotions? Particularly as walking through the woods means more to me spiritually than a rigid church service. Can I disregard the wishes and hopes of my family and the potential solace that it can off the Pickle?

Obviously I did things my way! The vicar was amazing and allowed me to take the unconventional route. The Christening takes places on consecrated ground in a ruined Priory where we got married, the Godparents were chosen to represent a range of spiritual beliefs, Judaism, Catholicism, Hedonism and a Jedi (the Anglican faith being well represented by family).

The service and the sentiment were amazing - each person considered what spirituality can offer a child, each person can offer their perspective. Joy and fun was almost tangible. I could not wish for greater role models for the Pickle - and it was all good naturedly blessed by a wonderful Anglican vicar.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Thinking about parties

I love parties - particularly planning them. I love the excitement, the cooking, the decorating and then seeing loads of happy people. I also love keeping to a traditional formula, keeping the Pickle's party in the garden with old fashioned games - not surprisingly the kids love it and they have never missed the glitz of some of the more modern alternatives that you can buy into.

This year I am stumped! The Pickle's birthday is less than a week away from Beanie's due date. I have already confessed that I am a bit of an admin case when it comes to giving birth, so while I am sure that by keeping myself healthy we will have the ideal birth, I must not be complacent and assume that I will be leaping and dancing by Pickle's party.

Up to last year things seemed less of an issue as parents came to parties too, but now the Pickle is at school, Mums drop off their darlings and rush off before the first tantrum is thrown. The easiest would be to go to a soft play area,  but I love the innocence of parties at home. Besides, looking back through rose tinted spectacles we always had our parties at home and they were always great (I don't think that was just the chemically enhanced memories of 1970's food of white bread, meat paste and the glamour of turbo charged colourings).

 So I am thinking of getting an entertainer. Why do I feel like this is an expensive cop out? Horror of horrors it may even be accompanied by a selection from the Waitrose party catalogue? Food can wait - but I need to work out my options now.

Has anybody got any inspired ideas for 5th Birthday parties? I have a few ideas - but somehow they lack the individual spark that has made past years so much of a joy. The Pickle will have tonnes of suggestions, but somehow I have difficulty following her ideas in theory let alone in practice (got to love the imagination).

In the meantime, if I have to 'worry' about something, I am going to enjoy pondering over this!

The first pic is of an early VERY hot party. I had still to learn how to make a decent cake (I have since practiced) so I found some chintz plates in Oxfam and couple of cocktail classes to make the funkiest cup cake holder. Worked a treat!
The second pic is just one of innocence, a few friends giving the Pickle presents before the others arrived - I love the simplicity of the quiet anticipation in their body language.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


I love April - not just as I celebrate my birthday, but it is when the promise of new beginnings start to become felt. Winter's barren landscapes evolved, now the timid appearance of Spring is giving way to the bold clamours for summer.

The sight is the last thing that I notice - as I pace around the corner from the stream the view is heralded by the fanfare of bird song and that wonderful fresh smell of grass and open countryside. [Rational senses: there speaks the optimist again, we are talking about a strip of old grazing pasture adjoining a large rec on landfill in suburban Reading.]

I love this time of year, opening the windows and letting the Spring air awaken the house from hibernation. My morning walks are my lone passion, like a silent meditation where I prepare for the chaos inherent in being a WAHM. I used to listen to music, but I missed the sound and focus of watching the seasons unfold. I love watching the changes throughout the year: wrapped up against the bitter cold in the winter; slipping through the mud and rain in the spring as the first flowers emerge; the eruption of the undergrowth in April heralding the glorious Summer to come.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Impressed by the Royal Wedding?

I love the way little people can give life such balance. The Pickle is usually a girl of many words - and not just 'Mummy, what does that mean?' (which is where it may all spring from). She had three pronouncements on the Royal Wedding:

- Faced with the pomp and ceremony of our monarch, she took one look then bounced up and down singing 'The Queen looks like a daffodil' over and over.
- As soon as she had seen the bridesmaids arrive she declared 'Okay, I'm bored now'.
- Finally as the news mentioned the wedding on Saturday she said dismissively 'Don't they know the Royal Wedding is over, it was yesterday.'