>> Thursday, 5 November 2015

I miss Moscow, no doubt about it, but there are so many things to love about living back in the UK and not least of them is how much more engaged my sons are with the world around them.

School helps with this and every week Boy #2's headmaster gives the children a summary during assembly of some of key events events happening worldwide.  Recent highlights include the Syrian refugee situation, and the scandal surrounding exhaust emissions from diesel cars,

Yesterday morning on the school run Boy #2 surprised me by mentioning the fact that one of this week's topics was the fact that the sea ice around Antarctica reached record levels during the last Antarctic winter.  He made no suggestion that this might mean global warming is less serious than many people previously thought, and we discussed the question of whether the gains in the amount of sea ice in the southern hemisphere would cancel out the losses in the Arctic.

On balance, we agreed, that was unlikely.

I did some research when I got home, and unsurprisingly it turns out my 9 year old son was more clued up on this than many of the people a good deal older than him who are spreading misinformation on this topic.

Not only does the increased level of southern sea ice in winter in no way equal the contraction of the Arctic ice cap, it is in fact a tangible sign of climate change.

Why am I posting on this?  Well, in my fb feed today there was a video from the United Nations Foundation (thanks Michelle Garret for the share) promoting #EarthToParis, a call for all of us to get involved in highlighting to our leaders that the time for action on global warming and climate change is not in 100 years time, or in 25 years time, or when a new government takes power after the next elections, but now.

Watch the video - and then, if you're not convinced, watch the one below that succinctly explains in only seven minutes why a few gains in sea ice on the southern ocean in no way counteract the damage that is being done elsewhere.

#EarthToParis; please pay attention and have the courage to make some hard choices.  If not for your own sake, then for your children's.


The Six Stages of an Expat Move...

>> Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Our shipment arrived from Moscow just over a week ago.  We are slowly - oh-so-slowly - working our way through unpacking it, and it suddenly struck me yesterday that there is a definite process involved here; one which others who have moved home (and not just internationally) might recognise...

It's the morning that the movers are due to arrive. You have breakfast and look around your mostly empty house, contentedly imagining the warm and welcoming impression it will give once all your belongings have arrived and been unpacked.  Right on time the truck pulls up outside your house, and you watch with eager anticipation as the team throw open the doors.  'This shouldn't take too long to unload' you think to yourself.  'There aren't that many boxes...'

The move-in begins.  The team begin to shift box, after box, after box.  After box.  After box.  After box.

Stage 1: Shock

'Jesus.  How much stuff did we bring?  I thought we did a pretty good job of reducing it before we even packed it all up, but this?  This is going on for EVER.  And how on earth are they going to get that sofa up the stairs?'

Stage 2: Denial

'It's going to be fine.  Look, they got the sofa around the corner in the stairwell and yes, I know it's upended in the lounge at the moment but once we get all those boxes unpacked there'll be loads of room, and who needs to swing a cat, anyway?

Stage 3: Anger

'I mean, for chrissake, what was I THINKING?  This box, this one here, we didn't unpack the last time we moved.  Who takes a travel cot to a different country just in case someone with a baby comes to visit, and then brings it back still in same the wrapping it arrived in the first time around?  Who does that?   And what about the empty picture frames?  Who moves EMPTY PICTURE FRAMES?  Why didn't somebody stop me? And that sofa will fit in the corner, between the fire-place and the cupboard.  I took measurements, dammit.  It WILL.  It must.  Or so help me...'

Stage 4: Bargaining

'OK.  Now.  If I put that in there, and this in here, then maybe, just maybe, we can fit the extra china set at the bottom of...  No, that's not going to work.  So, if we move that cupboard over here, and then balance that chest on top of it, perhaps the sofa can go against that wall, and then we can block the wall cabinet with that chair... No, that's not going to work because then how will we get out of the room?'

Stage 5: Grieving

'I can't believe it.  I worked so hard to get all that stuff ready to be moved, made so many trips to the recycling bank, delivered so many toys and so many of the kids clothes to the charity shop and for what?  That sofa - my favourite sofa, that I love so much - still won't fit in the sitting room...'

Stage 6: Acceptance

'There's nothing else for it.  The sofa is going to have to go.  Where's that number for the British Heart Foundation?

'Hello, is that the British Heart Foundation?  Do you still recycle sofas?  Great, I have one that I bought all the way back from XXX with me, it was especially made for us and we love it.... Wait.  What do you mean, you won't take it because it doesn't have a kitemark?'

(With apologies to Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who formulated the original theory of The Six Stages of Grief, an invaluable aid to those who are going through the grieving process)


Lost in Translation

>> Sunday, 11 October 2015

Spending a few years abroad as a family when your children are young can have many benefits, not least the fact that it opens their eyes on interacting with people from different cultures.  Children are chameleons, let's face it, and if exposed young enough can slip easily from one set of social norms to another without blinking an eye.

This is mostly a good thing, and even when it might not be, you often you don't even notice they are doing it until it's pointed out by helpful family and friends when you return home for visits.  Examples of this might be American accents (the result of attending a school with a high proportion of American students or teachers), or taking their shoes off the moment they walk into someone's home (it's the height of rudeness in Russia to leave your shoes on in a house).

Some of the habits they adapt might rankle a little.  The accent, I have to admit, is one of those.  My kids are British, not American - I would probably prefer them to sound more like me although as long as they're polite, courteous, confident and well-informed I'll go with whatever is on offer.  Another one I wasn't keen on - and I know this is going to sound ridiculous - is the Russian way of singing 'Happy Birthday', which is as follows:

Happy Birthday to you...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday to you...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday dear whomever...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday to you!
(Cha - cha - cha)

The 'cha - cha - cha' is spoken, in case you hadn't picked up on that.  And I'm sorry, but for the love of god, why?  Every time, it drove me crazy...  But I digress; I was talking about some of the ways your kids are affected by living away from their home country.  Which not so neatly leads me into this conversation I had with my older son this morning, when it became clear that some things I had taken for granted about the English language were not, actually, immediately clear to my kids...

Me:  "They had snow in Moscow this morning, apparently."  (True fact, btw)

Boy #1: "Really?  I hope we get lots of snow here this winter - enough to go all the way over the door."

Me:  "I think that's unlikely, I'm afraid.  England doesn't get much snow, especially not where we live.  And to be honest, I sort of hope we don't, they're not really equipped for it here."

Boy #1:  "But they must be!  What about in the hills?"

Me:  "Well - they're not that high.  And it's very damp and not that cold, so there isn't a lot of snow."

Boy #1:  "What about the panninis, though?  They must have snow."

Me:  "The what?"

Boy #1:  "The panninis.  You know.  And scaffolding pike.  There must be snow up there..."


Me: "Do you mean The Pennines, Boy #1?  And Scafell Pike?"

Boy #1:  "Yes!  The Panninis!  That's what I meant!"

So now, the Pennines are the Panninis*.  Just in case you didn't know.

*with apologies to any readers based in the North of England


Maturing with Age

>> Tuesday, 6 October 2015

So here's a thing; I was reading the comments on a post written by a bloggy mate (one of those who I count as a real friend, even though we never got it together to meet up in Real Life), and she and some other longstanding bloggers (who fall into the same category) were discussing whether or not to have a fortieth birthday party.

I remember that discussion, in our house.  It was getting on for 9 years ago, mind you, but feels as if it were yesterday.  Now, Husband and I love to entertain.  We have form in this area and have thrown some epic parties, if I do say so myself.  But this time, I wasn't sure; to party for my 40th, or not?

So I considered it.  I agonised over it.  Then I fretted some more and finally I decided; no, I was definitely not going to throw a party to celebrate my fortieth birthday.  I mean, forty is - well, FORTY, right?  Nothing to see here, look away from the forty year old woman.  Move along, please.  She's just going to retire into a corner, bemoan her loss of youth, and quietly sink a bottle of her favourite red and hope nobody notices...

But then, I met up with one my best friends.  She asked me about the forthcoming Big Birthday, and how I was going to mark it.  On hearing that I thought I might just let it pass, she said something that stuck with me.

"But you have so much to celebrate!"


She was right, of course, and suddenly I could see that.  What the hell was I thinking?  Forty was - well, just forty.  Was I never going to celebrate my birthday again?  Because every number after that was going to have a 4 in front of it - until it had a 5, then a 6 and - oh, you get the picture.  Was I not allowed to go for it simply because I wasn't in my thirties any more?


Fuck that.

So I bounced home and informed Husband that my plans had changed and we ended up having a party which I have to say was one of our best ever.  (Until our next best ever, but that's a different blog post).

So what I would say to my blog buddies unsure about whether or not to mark their fortieth birthday with some kind of a celebration, be it tea and cake with your family, a drunken evening with your bezzies down the pub, or something grander, is this: screw any codswallop about getting older being something you should sweep under the carpet.

We should forget any of the restrictions we might feel are being imposed on us by Society simply because we aren't in our twenties or thirties any more; if we want to we should party, ladies, whilst we still can.  Mark this birthday, celebrate it - and then do the same with the next milestone.  And the one after that, and the one after that.  I'm certainly going to...

(This is where my Husband shakes his head sadly and starts worrying about my plans for my fiftieth sometime in the next couple of years.  Don't worry darling.  It will only be a little celebration.  Just like the last one...)


Take it to the Judge

>> Wednesday, 30 September 2015

At breakfast this morning, Boy #1 and I became entangled in an 'I said, you said' moment.  You know the ones; where you absolutely, categorically, positively know what you heard your child say, and where they absolutely, categorically, positively know that they said something different.

This morning's contretemps involved numbers (when doesn't it?).

I knew I had heard Boy #1 say '530'.  He knew he had said '540'.  This bounced back and forth for a couple of minutes, neither of us willing to concede that the other was right.

Finally, Boy #1 decided it was time to bring in an adjudicator and appealed to his brother for help.

"Boy #2, what do you think?  Who's right?"

Boy #2 tuned back in to the conversation (spreading jam on toasted muffin* is a serious business and not to be taken lightly) and considered the matter for a moment as he took his first bite.

Boy #1 was impatient to be proved correct.  "Boy #2, who is it?  Who's right?"

His brother sighed, and in a tone of voice that clearly asked how we could ever think otherwise, replied.  "That's obvious.  I am."

*That's English Muffin, for those thinking of the other kind.


Here be dragons...

>> Monday, 21 September 2015

'Summer is coming' said Husband, sitting back with a contented smile as he watched Daenerys Targaryen lead her freed Unsullied army out of Astapor after they had killed their former masters, and her dragon had burned Kraznys to a crisp.

(He and I are only now getting around to watching Season 3 of 'Game of Thrones', and this comment was made as the credits rolled on Episode 4).

I looked at him in disbelief before remembering that he has never read any of the books.  Poor soul, he's never even heard of 'The Red Wedding'.

'Summer is coming?' I repeated, deciding to go easy on him.  'Darling, the book in which summer is coming hasn't been written yet...'

Apologies to any readers who have no idea what on earth I'm talking about...


More things I have learned since moving back to the UK -

>> Monday, 14 September 2015

or, if you wanted to use another title:

'Oh Shit, Did I Just Hear That Door Slam Behind Me?'

In the part of England that we've moved to, recycling is a civic necessity.  Not only glass and tins need to be recycled, but so does paper, plastic, card and most crucially for this story, food.  Any left-over food goes not into the normal rubbish bin but into a special plastic box supplied by the council and is collected weekly to be recycled.  Just think of it.  A whole week for your unwanted food to ferment and rot in a box by the door.  It's not pretty - and a great incentive to make sure that there is as little waste as possible.  Unfortunately it doesn't matter how hard you try, there are always things that don't make it back onto the table and need to go into the Bin of Shame.

Which is where this story starts.

When we moved into our rented house back in the UK a couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of opening one of the two food recycling bins left behind by the previous occupants of the property. I should like to stress here that there are especially designed liners to put into these bins, ones that bio-degrade and can be disposed of with the food inside them.

Turns out the previous tenants didn't use them.

Jesus.  Gagging, I hosed out as much of the residual mulch as was possible (desperately trying not to dwell on the fact that there had also been a big dog living in the property which would account for some of the appearance of what I had briefly seen) and resolved never - NEVER - to open the second box.

Except, today, for various shameful reasons associated with needing to throw away more food than could be recycled in one bin, I had to use the second box.  And guess what?  Same revolting contents, so same necessity to deal with them.  Steeling myself, I girded my loins (for which read; found my sturdiest pair of boots), and stepped out of the back door to access the hose and the drain once more.

And then, dear reader, just as I thought 'I probably should put that lock on the latch' the door slammed shut behind me, leaving me trapped in our walled back garden; no key to get back into the house, and no key to get out of the garden door into the lane behind.  I knew that our neighbours on both sides of us are away, so even if I did manage to scale the wall I wouldn't be any better off.

I knew where my mobile phone was, of course; I could see it, through the window, on the kitchen table.  And even if it had been stuffed in my jeans pocket, I wouldn't have been able to call Husband for help as he is out of the country until the end of the week.  There was my family, who don't live that far away and do have a key but of course even if I had access to a phone - which I didn't - I can't remember their numbers off-hand.

To cap it all, the basement door at the front of the house was wide open (which was what had caused the draft that had slammed the back door behind me).  This might have been a help if I had heard anyone walking past in the lane out the back, but not only was it quiet as the grave out there, I wasn't sure I fancied the thought of hailing a passing stranger - sight unseen on the other side of the wall - and asking them to walk down the road, round the corner, and back again to our front basement to then walk through our house to let me back into my own home.

Tick, tick, tick, went the clock, counting down the minutes until I was due to pick the children up from school. (Or rather, I assume that it did, since I wasn't wearing my watch - currently in for a service - and didn't have my phone to check the time).   And since they've been at their new school only a week and we don't really know many people here yet, there was no support structure in place in the form of some helpful friend to scoop them up if I didn't make it to the school gate in time to collect them.

Standing trapped in the back garden and realising that the alternative response was to burst into tears, I began to laugh, and thought to myself 'Could this GET any worse?'

Silly me.  Of course it could.  Because it's been a little bit rainy here in my part of England today. (Please note; when I write 'a little bit' I am relying on you to pick up on the heavy irony implied.  Monsoon-like would be a better, if less British, description of today's weather.)

So of course that's exactly what it did; it started to rain again.

Now obviously I am not still locked in the back garden, since I'm sitting here writing this post; I did make it back inside.  And I didn't have to accost any strangers through a crack in our garden gate, or scale any walls to get out - although I must admit to climbing up on a raised flower bed to consider the prospects for a soft landing on the other side of the boundary (not good, I have to report).

I have - thank heavens - made it back inside.  And I'm not going to tell you exactly how I did make my Houdini-like escape, other than to say that the gentleman from the rental company who told me that the property was absolutely secure on the ground level had overlooked one very important entry-point (which I have now made safe).  Yes, there were spider webs involved.  Yes, there was an undignified climb and a bit of a scramble.  That's all I'm going to say on how I got in.

But in the spirit of silver linings, what have I learned from this jolly experience?

1.  Never create more food waste than will fit in one recycling bin.

2.  Always put the door on the latch.

3.  Always take an umbrella with you when you go into the back garden.


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