5:26pm Thursday 23rd February 2017
ONE of the boys got me the box set of more than 150 episodes of my favourite TV series, Malcolm in the Middle, an American sitcom about a family with five boys, which we all used to watch together when they were younger.
11:13am Thursday 9th February 2017
IT was the perfect Christmas present. A weekend away with my three older boys. They have all left home and I miss them.
11:37am Thursday 26th January 2017
I HAVE got a new car. It’s a gleaming, sparkling white with pristine leather interior. And it smells wonderful. “A new car is wasted on you, you’ll have it wrecked in no time,” said my eldest when he heard. “It’ll be in as much of a state as your last one before long,” chipped in son number two. “You won’t look after it.”
12:46pm Thursday 12th January 2017
THANKS to the fact I struggle with the fast-moving digital world of the 21st Century, I have become used to my sons treating me as if I am an idiot.
2:23pm Thursday 29th December 2016
I MADE the mistake of suggesting that maybe this year we could forget leaving the mince pie, glass of milk and carrot by the fireplace on Christmas Eve.
1:43pm Thursday 15th December 2016
I WISH you’d made me work harder at my French,” my eldest son moaned the other day.
6:34pm Thursday 8th December 2016
THE boys have waited for this moment since the summer holidays. After months of having to bite their tongues and suppress their natural urges, from today they are, at last,allowed to use ‘the C word’ in our house.
11:34am Friday 18th November 2016
I THOUGHT I had finished with weaning about 13 years ago, when I put all that coaxing and cajoling, not to mention regularly resorting to pretending a plastic spoon was an aeroplane in order to force some lovingly prepared mush into my offsprings’ mouth, behind me.
12:35pm Thursday 3rd November 2016
CURLED up on the sofa, wrapped in a fleecy blanket and rubbing my hands together to keep warm, I heard a familiar cry as my husband stomped into the living room last night: “It’s like a sauna in here. Can we turn this thermostat down?”
12:49pm Thursday 20th October 2016
SEVEN months after our mother died, my sisters and brother and I gathered in Northern Ireland last week to dismantle what, in terms of material possessions, is left of her, our father and our family life together.
9:02am Thursday 6th October 2016
AS the nights draw in and the first leaves start to fall from the trees, it’s that time of year again as the university application deadline looms. Son number four has been trawling websites, attending open days, toiling over his UCAS university application form and agonising over his personal statement.
12:40pm Tuesday 4th October 2016
I AM used to being an embarrassment to my children. If I had a job description, that would be one of my key roles.
But I wasn’t aware our TV sets (we have three) were capable of performing this particular task so well.
To my untrained eye, they just sit there looking perfectly inoffensive. All flat screen and neither too large nor too small, they work perfectly well and the picture quality seems fine to me.
But, according to 17-year-old Roscoe and 14-year-old Albert, they are a ‘total embarrassment’. All their friends, apparently, have ‘smart TVs’ and most of them have much larger screens, displaying high definition images.
And although, from what I can gather, our Freeview service offers us about 80 more channels than we actually need or would ever want to watch, everyone else, it would seem, has far more choice than that.
“Our TVs are so old. They just don’t work properly. They don’t even pick up all the channels,” complained Albert.
“The quality of our life would be so much better if only we had a decent TV,” wailed Roscoe. Another one to add to the list of First World problems we heartlessly force him to endure on a daily basis.
It all came to a head last weekend, when we went to Warwick to visit their older brother William, who has just moved into a flat with his girlfriend Amy.
“Look - even William has a smart TV!” said Roscoe, pointing to the Samsung flat screen TV in the corner.
So we got a demonstration: “See, you can easily call up Netflix, BBC iPlayer and YouTube on screen.”
I pointed out that we already do this, thanks to the Chromecast device we bought in order to stream programmes from our phones and laptops directly to the TV.
But this involves the additional tiresome procedure of having to press a switch, followed by a few keys – another First World problem that the boys could do without.
They successfully sold the idea to their dad, who likes his gadgets. So now he is on the hunt for a new TV.
I suspect, though, no matter how smart our new TV is, we will still be sitting down most evenings complaining that there is nothing decent on to watch…
SINCE their dad was already in Warwick with the car for work, I travelled down by train with three of the boys on Friday night to join him. So I bought a Family Railcard, which offers one third off adult and 60pc off children’s fares. When we arrived in Birmingham, I had to buy four one-way tickets to Coventry, so showed the man at the desk our Family Railcard: “It’s cheaper to buy them without the discount card,” he said. “And a return ticket will cost you less than a single.” I didn’t understand it either.
PATRICK asked me to take him on a shopping trip before he returned to Manchester to begin his third year at university: “I need to refresh my cutlery,” he said. I did point out that he could just wash the knives, forks and spoons I bought him last year, but it turned out he had lost most of them. His casserole dish, frying pan, mugs, plates and measuring jug also needed replacing. “Anything I still had wasn’t worth bringing home, it was so revolting by the end.” He announced he also needed new towels. “But what about the ones I bought you last year?” I asked. “They were so disgusting, I just threw them out,” he said. Funnily enough, washing up liquid and washing powder weren’t on his shopping list.
WILLIAM’S girlfriend, Amy, wondered why the eight-year-old boy she babysits for wanted to know if she was engaged: “No, what makes you think that?” she asked. “My mum told me when I asked her if I could have you,” said Archie. Touched that he would want to marry her, she mentioned it to his mum: “Oh no, he asked if we could get you to babysit one night a while ago but I told him you were otherwise engaged.”
12:35pm Tuesday 4th October 2016
OUR youngest two were forced to endure a two-week holiday with Mum and Dad at the end of August. It’s not every teenage boy’s idea of fun.
The 17-year-old would rather have been at Leeds Festival, the 13-year-old moaned it meant he would miss football training and his first match of the season.
They weren’t happy their three older brothers, all tied up with various work commitments, couldn’t make it for the first time this year.
So it was just them and us in South West France, having to make the most of the warm weather, swimming pool, regular games of tennis, with plenty of time to read and enjoy long, leisurely meals of delicious food and wine.
“This is the worst holiday – ever!” was an expression uttered once or twice. As was “I hate you all”. A typical family holiday with teenagers really.
I came in for particular stick when I indulged the two farm cats who paid regular visits to the gite, in a converted barn, where we stayed for the first week.
“Aren’t they just lovely?” I cooed as I fed them bits of leftover meat and stroked them on the sofa.
It wasn’t until the day we were leaving, I noticed a paragraph about the cats in the guests’ information booklet: “Please do not let them into the gite. They have fleas.”
That phrase “worst holiday ever” was bandied about again as the boys itched and scratched, insisting they were riddled with fleas: “Thanks Mum.”
All in all, as holidays go, it was shaping up nicely.
We managed to distract the boys from the hell they claimed we were putting them through by taking them kayaking and swimming in a beautiful, clear nearby river, with weirs and waterfalls and wide, grassy banks where people sunbathed and picnicked.
Little was I to know it was here our holiday, at least in the boys’ minds, was about to turn into one of the best they’d ever had.
After a gentle swim with the pair of them, during which they complained because I refused to get my hair wet, we were making our way to the edge of the bank where people entered and left the river.
At this point, to our left, there was a steep drop with a series of man-made dams with high walls either side built in stone, the water rushing through turbulent drops towards a deep rocky pool at the bottom.
I have since found out this was a ‘trout ladder’, constructed for luring fish. All I knew then was it looked quite dangerous. And, although we had seen a few older boys jumping in and coming out alive, we had also seen them ‘tombstoning’ from high rocks.
I, like all other sensible parents there, had steered children well away.
But, on this particular day, with quite a few people coming into the river as we went to leave, I made the mistake of moving to the left to make more space. Just a little too far to the left.
Suddenly, dragged by the powerful force of the water, I was sucked into the vortex of the trout ladder. It all seemed to happen in slow motion.
The last thing I saw was Roscoe and Albert’s wide-eyed, shocked faces, as Roscoe shouted: “She’s being dragged in!”
Spinning around in the whirling mass of water, it felt as if I was tumbling about in a giant washing machine, set at maximum speed.
Thankfully, I managed to make my way to the surface, where I grabbed onto a ledge, and was greeted by a row of concerned adult faces peering down at me.
Once it was clear I was OK, there was a wave of relieved laughter.
But they all knew the only way out now was down, through three other dams and plunge pools to emerge into the river again at the bottom.
“You can do it,” shouted Roscoe and Albert, who, strangely, did not seem at all embarrassed by me, as they normally would. This was far too entertaining for that.
With all eyes on me, and people shouting encouragement, somehow I managed, eventually, to emerge out of the pool at the bottom in one piece, even if I did look like I’d just done ten rounds with a crocodile.
“That was brilliant, Mum,” said Roscoe as we made our way back to their dad, who had been reading in the shade, oblivious to the drama. “The best day, ever,” said Albert, whose only regret was he didn’t have his phone on him to film it.
Thankfully, at least, my little drama won’t be appearing on YouTube. But I’m glad I was able to make their holiday…
12:32pm Tuesday 4th October 2016
WHEN I asked Patrick, who is home from university for the summer, if he wanted some of his dad’s old clothes, I wasn’t expecting him to be too enthusiastic. But he was positively excited.
There were some recently bought jeans and smart shirts in the pile, which looked really good: “They just don’t fit him,” I said.
But Patrick’s face fell: “When you said old clothes, I thought you meant his old clothes, not last year’s. I’m interested in the clothes he wore 30 years ago.”
I thought I’d misheard him. Because 30 years ago was the Eighties. And I was there. I lived through the decade that style forgot, the one that should be slapped with a ‘Do not resuscitate’ order.
Leggings. Voluminous hair. Fingerless lace gloves. Huge plastic earrings. Bright colours. Padded shoulders. Animal prints. Headbands. Leg warmers. Ra-ra skirts. Jumpsuits. Ripped jeans. Over-sized off the shoulder tops.
And that was just the girls, mainly. The boys didn’t fare much better in their geometric patterned shirts and Miami Vice-style suits with rolled up sleeves, worn with pastel shirts and thin ties.
As students at the time, we were rummaging through our parents’ wardrobes in search of their old clothes from the Fifties and Sixties, which probably puzzled them back then just as much as Patrick’s interest in the Eighties, a decade renowned for its diabolical dress sense, puzzles me now.
But while we may, at least, have had the sense to don some classic vintage pieces, I can’t pretend we didn’t adopt many of the bright synthetic and, frankly, weird clothes that the fashion world was thrusting upon us at the time. We were young and impressionable. We didn’t know any better.
I can’t imagine Patrick ever wearing any of it now. “Take it from me. You really don’t want to go back there,” I advised him.
I wondered if he might be winding me up. But then I did overhear a teenage girl talking in a shop queue with her friend about the previous night’s episode of The Goldbergs, an American TV sitcom set in the Eighties.
“I wish I had grown up in the Eighties. It was so cool,” she said. And she seemed perfectly normal.
I’ve also started to notice Patrick and his 17-year-old brother Roscoe playing music from the decade. I’m recognising tracks like Ladies Night by Kool and the Gang, The Knack’s My Sharona, M’s Pop Muzik and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Let’s Groove being played in the house.
“How did you come across this? Are you serious?” I asked incredulously. But they tell me that ‘happy, boppy, disco’ Eighties music is now ‘really cool’.
The boys even wanted to watch an American high school movie on TV the other night, because it was set in the Eighties: “I love looking at what they used to wear, the styles are amazing,” said Roscoe.
And they all love the recently released, and critically acclaimed, film Everybody Wants Some!!, about a group of unruly disco-dancing college students in the Eighties, directed by Richard Linklater, who also made Dazed and Confused, School of Rock and Boyhood and is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite directors.
With a soundtrack including I Want You to Want Me by Cheap Trick, Shake Your Groove Thing by Peaches & Herb, Let’s Get Serious by Jermaine Jackson and Bad Girls by Donna Summer, there is no getting away from it.
The Eighties is definitely a thing.
ALBERT returned from his school trip to France with a rucksack that stank of mouldy old cheese. This is probably because it did contain mouldy old cheese. Given that he had a mammoth 17-hour coach and ferry journey, I had lovingly prepared four sandwiches, with an assortment of fillings, for him. But, since he and his mates brought lots of sweets to share, he only ate one. The rest were left to rot in his bag. “It’s your fault, it’s those sandwiches you made me,” he complained when he put the bag in the car and we had to open all the windows. Stupidly, I had also packed him a change of underpants and socks for each day. Most remained unworn. Having sent his four older brothers off on the same school trip over the years, I really should have known better.
4:09pm Thursday 18th August 2016
SON number three got himself an internship with a large company in Leeds over the summer. Given that he is a student, who dresses in what even his brothers describe as ‘scuzzy’ clothes, he was in desperate need of a makeover before he could be released into the wider world.
8:54am Tuesday 26th July 2016
THERE is nothing I like more than rooting about in the fridge to clear out the leftovers and transform a few scrappy bits and pieces into something delicious.
But I have to work fast and surreptitiously. Because, no matter how many times I tell the boys that ‘best before’ dates aren’t all that important and ‘sell by’ dates are only there to help shop assistants rotate their stock more efficiently, they don’t believe me.
“If something smells OK that’s because it usually is,” I tell them, although I admit you do have to be more careful with ‘use by’ dates. But, since most manufacturers work within a margin of safety, most things are usually fine for a few days afterwards: “And thoroughly cooking any product will destroy most bacteria anyway.”
The boys don’t buy this. Ever since Albert watched an item on TV about people falling ill after eating contaminated chicken he likes to check the dates on foodstuffs before he eats. So I have resorted to hiding the packets.
Still, they all eye me up suspiciously if I serve them anything they suspect is thirty seconds or more beyond its ‘best before’ date.
Under sufferance, they will take one or two mouthfuls, but then swear it tastes awful and smells vile, before starting to gag and refusing to eat any more.
You would think I was trying to poison them. But what they don’t realise is I have been doing this for years, and not one of them has come down with food poisoning yet.
The fact that one third of the groceries we buy in the UK never get eaten, with the average family throwing away £700 worth of perfectly good food every year is justification enough, I feel, for my minor deception.
While more than 45% of all our fruit and vegetables go to waste, I throw caution to the wind and cut off the mouldy bits before using the rest. Once the carrots are cooked or the apples are put in a fruit salad or crumble, no-one ever notices.
Growing up in Ireland, we used buttermilk, which is basically soured milk, for cooking. So when our milk goes off I have to pretend I’m pouring it down the sink before using it to make pancakes, which always seem to taste better than those made with fresh milk.
Stale bread is fine toasted, or used for breadcrumbs or bread and butter pudding. Mashed potato leftover from sausage and mash can be kept in the fridge and used to top a cottage pie later in the week.
I don’t worry about using an old jar of jam or Branston Pickle I’ve discovered at the back of the shelf, because anything highly sugary or salty is full of preservatives. Canned food, too is very low risk.
I often tell the boys about the man from Manchester who celebrated his golden wedding anniversary ten years ago by eating a 50-year-old tin of Buxted chicken he and his wife had received in a hamper on their wedding day.
Experts at the time were quoted as saying that tinned food, if sealed and stored correctly ‘can last indefinitely.’
There have also been reports of canned food more than 100 years old found in sunken ships, which scientists tested and found ‘biologically safe to eat’. And when some 5,000 year old honey was discovered in Egypt, it was declared perfectly edible and harmless.
In that context, the leftovers I served the boys up last night were positively youthful. Having chopped up and fried two chicken breasts that were two days over their ‘use by’ date and still looked and smelt fine, I sliced up and added some leftover cooked sausages that had been in the fridge for about five days.
After throwing in a few bacon pieces and adding tomato sauce, I served it up with pasta and grated cheese from the good bit of a block of hard cheddar that had started to go mouldy.
It may have been a poor man’s version of chicken and chorizo and it wouldn’t have won any prizes on Master Chef, but two of the boys actually asked for more.
And creating something from the sort of odds and ends that could so easily have ended up among the 1.3billion tonnes of food that goes to waste every year does give me a smug sense of satisfaction.
IT was Albert’s school sports day last week and parents were invited. “Would you like me to come along and watch you?” I asked. He looked horrified. “If you do, I will hate you forever,” he said. I took that as a ‘No’.
8:50am Tuesday 26th July 2016
MY boys have always been so laid back they are practically horizontal. While I’m whipping myself up into a blind panic about a deadline they have to meet or trying to help ensure they get somewhere on time, they’re telling me to ‘relax’ and ‘stop making such a fuss.’
And they do have a point, for there comes a time when you have to let them get on with it. We so-called ‘helicopter parents’ are always being urged by experts to pull back and let our children sort things out for themselves.
So when 17-year-old Roscoe announced weeks ago that he was going to go to a Warwick University open day and had arranged to stay with his big brother, who has recently moved there, for the weekend, I reckoned his time had come.
He was going to book a train, he said, and just needed me to take him to the station from school on the Friday afternoon. It was all sorted.
Fast forward four weeks, the day before he was due to leave, and he told me he needed my credit card to pay for his ticket. Because he didn’t book it in advance, it cost £95 instead of £60. “It would have been £40 if you’d organised a railcard,” I complained.
“Well, it’s your money,” he said, with a shrug of his shoulders. And he wonders why I’m normally breathing down his neck.
He was going out that night and I couldn’t resist suggesting he pack his bag before he left as there wouldn’t be much time next day: “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said, eyes rolled Heavenwards.
He wanted to come home from school to get changed first on Friday, but I did point out he hadn’t allowed much time to get to the station if we got caught in heavy traffic or were otherwise delayed.
“It doesn’t take that long. You fuss too much,” he shouted from his bedroom where he was deciding what to wear.
His bag wasn’t packed, of course: “Don’t panic. Everything’s in a pile, I just need to put it in the bag,” he said.
He emerged after fifteen minutes that we didn’t have to spare with a holdall and I couldn’t resist hovering: “Have you got your underpants, socks, toothbrush?” I asked. “Of course,” he said, annoyed. “Do you think I’m stupid?”
“Pyjamas?” I added when we got to the car. “Wait a minute,” he said, running back into the house to get them.
“You do have your epipens, don’t you?” I asked as I started the engine. He needs to carry these adrenalin injectors with him at all times in case he suffers a bee or wasp sting, which he’s allergic to and which could, potentially, be fatal.
He didn’t know where they were. I pointed out that he assures me every morning they’re in his schoolbag: “I just tell you that,” he barked, as if I should have realised. So we went back inside to search for the epipens. I found them eventually: “You do have your asthma inhalers, don’t you?”
“Yes,” he said, triumphantly, before adding: “But they’ve run out.” So I grabbed some of his younger brother’s spares.
“We really don’t have much time,” I stressed again. “Chill out,” he said.
And then we hit a diversion, which was badly signposted, leaving us to guess which way to go. “Hurry up,” said Roscoe, who was by now starting to fidget a little nervously. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
We were stuck in heavy traffic. “Put your foot down,” he said, pointing to the time on his phone. “And can you not just go through those red lights?” There was rising panic in his voice.
I was worried we might not get parked easily at the station: “I can’t just drop you outside because you know I have to go in with you to print out your tickets from the machine with my credit card,” I said.
“Well, you could have told me that,” he said indignantly. “You’re going to make me miss my train now.”
By some small miracle we arrived on the platform with exactly two minutes to spare. “Look,” said Roscoe, pointing at the departures board: “I don’t know why you were panicking so much. We had loads of time.”
I WAS helping out with tours at our sons’ school for a group of past pupils from the Sixties who had returned for a reunion. Unusually for a state school, it has boarding, although most students are day pupils who live locally. During the tour of the girls’ accommodation, I asked one of our guests if she had been a boarder: “I was desperate to board. But my parents refused to move away.” Some mums and dads can be so inconsiderate.
1:11pm Monday 4th July 2016
THE tree surgeons came this week to topple the beech tree that had grown too large, blocking out the light at the front of the house.
7:51pm Wednesday 15th June 2016
THERE is an American TV sitcom about a family called the Goldbergs which my older boys told me I must see: “The mother is just like you,” they said.
10:45am Wednesday 1st June 2016
OUR kitchen bin isn’t something that usually attracts much attention. It just sits there, in the corner, gobbling up rubbish.