25 Mar 2018

Family Meeting

Minutes from non-scheduled after dinner meeting last night. Points raised and resolved as follows:

Issue 1
J playing the same 7 notes on the bass. Loudly and repeatedly.
Defence: It's annoying
Accused: I'm learning to play the bass. I need to practise
Verdict: Overruled. He's learning to play bass and doing really well. Suck it up.

Issue 2
M offended at laughter when we recount the story of a pheasant getting squished in the road
Defence: This upsets me. It's not funny when animals die.
Accused: Yeah but sometimes they're so stupid it's a little funny.
Verdict: Upheld. That was a living thing that just got turned inside out in front of you. Show a little compassion.

Issue 3
Sniffing other people's armpits
Defence: It's weird. And annoying. Please stop.
Accused: Sometimes you don't spray adequately, I'm just trying to work it out.
Defence: Do it more subtely then. You're an adult.
Verdict: Upheld. Sorry. I will try to be more senstitive in the future.

Issue 4
Looking for something that's no longer there
Defence: When you move my stuff I don't know where it's gone and it's irritating.
Accused: There shouldn't be 'stuff' lying around - everything belongs somewhere
Verdict: Overruled: Pick up your own stuff

Issue 4a
You leave clutter lying around the house that should be put away
Defence: There shouldn't be 'stuff' lying around - everything belongs somewhere
Accused: Well sometimes you don't ask us to put stuff away nicely
Defence: I'll work on that. Sorry. Maybe you guys can work on tidying stuff up with a good attitude when I have asked nicely?
Verdict: Compromise

Issue 5
Phones at the table
Defence: This meeting is going on too long....
Accused: Put it away. We're nearly done. Any further issues??

Issue 6
The BABOAA (Being-a-bit-of-an-arse) alarm - which is a 'Woowoowoowoowoowoowoo' siren noise made by the one who identifies arse-like behaviour in another
Defence: This winds me up. Can we stop using it
Accused: But you like to use it on other people
Defence: Yeah - because when I use it, I use it correctly
Verdict: We have evolved beyond the alarm. It is causing more trouble than it's solving. Let's use words in future.

Issue 7
Watermelon spritz thievery
Defence: It was there in the cupboard and I asked for some and you said no, then 2 days later it's GONE. The rules aren't consistent
Accused: Who bought it?
Defence: You did. But I was with you.
Accused: OK - so we have a basic misunderstanding about entitlement here. You saw it in the cupboard and felt it was communal stock. I'll hide the bottle the next time.
Verdict: Overruled

Issue 8
Blogging about family conversations
Verdict: We ran out of time to discuss this one. It's on the agenda for the NEXT family meeting, along with not cleaning the toilet after leaving skidders and putting cereal boxes back in the cupboard with less than half a bowlful of flakes left.

19 Mar 2018


We have 2 teenage boys and one incredibly non-girly girl. I have spent zero hours of my life ferrying kids to and from ballet lessons and have little insight into the world of points and tutus and everything that goes along with it. Then, a few months ago, I was the stand-in parent for my best mate's daughter who was about to sit a ballet exam.

I witnessed a very intense 40 minute lesson from the perimeter of the room surrounded by other ballet mums - some of whom were taping their daughters' performances on iPads so they could later critique performances around the dinner table and work on improvements before e-day.

The teacher, Miss Diana* clearly had a mission to have every girl pass the exam the following week and was taking no prisoners. Everyone had to get with the programme. She controlled the class in a sing-songy yet strangely threatening voice that suggested Bad Things would happen if her instructions were not followed. No one else seemed freaked out or offended by this. She also used lots of French words that I'm about to horribly misspell because I left school nearly 30 years ago and never studied French. They included:

Bat mon gleesay
Bay mon dong
Bronda charloh ten
Rondeh joh n
Don't murmur
You can breathe and you can blink
Ballet second ton dew
Demi plee ay
No willy wonkeys
Plee ay
Gleesay close back
Grande gleesay close front
Aw fondew
Dev le pay du von

I had no idea what this woman was talking about. And I was genuinely uncomfortable by the way she spoke to the kids.

The weird thing was, the little girls appeared unfazed and were happy to comply with the French orders. And the mothers surrounding the room were totally comfortable with the arrangement and were paying for it to happen. There was an agreement in place that I wasn't quite getting.

It was a disconcerting experience. Everything about the environment was alien and unfamiliar. And even though a couple of the ballet mums smiled and chatted before the thing started (we were NOT allowed to talk while Miss Diana ran the class) they had a common interest in this whole thing that I didn't share (and had no desire to). I was a temporary interloper in their world, conspicuously standing in for a real ballet mum.

Which got me thinking about social situations in general and how tribal these things can be. New school. Leaving school. College. New job. Joining a gym. Becoming a parent governor. Joining a political party. Going to church...

Each sub culture has its own set of norms and habits that those who belong to it take for granted. There's familiarity and history and acronyms and an understanding of what to expect. Which is great - when you have a little inside knowledge.

But what about those on the fringes? What about those who want to join and start building history? Relationships? Bonds that really matter? Maybe that's asking a lot of your governing body (You only signed up for 3 meetings per year for the next 4 years - just explain your zillion acronyms to me) but churches - surely they should be among the most accessible places on earth?

Our church has an entire team of people who's primary focus is on welcoming people at the door, chatting to visitors, connecting them with other people and having really good quality coffee in constant supply. From a logistical side, the entrance is street level and there's loads of parking. All good. The whole thing works well for those who are already primed and ready for that kind of interaction.

But what of those beyond the fringes? The interlopers. The conspicuous ballet mums and the slightly freaked out? The ones who know this is a valuable resource of some kind for some people, just not them (yet)? What about those who want to observe from the sidelines then grab their borrowed child and leave before they get into conversation with anyone (possibly in French)?

This is where other ballet mums come into their own. The ones who make eye contact and smile. The ones who ask which kid you've borrowed and point out their own. The ones that are friends with your best friend and ask how she is. The ones that laugh at your unease about Miss Diana's voice and make you feel less uneasy about her. The ones who help you see that Miss Diana comes alive when she teaches other people's daughters to dance.

So, to all:
Regular ballet mums
Experienced governors
Veteran churchy people
Smiley duty reception staff at the gym
And anyone else who can make interlopers walk away from you, smiling and thinking,  'Je pourrais appartenir ici...' ** -  Merci x

*Pseudonym used
** 'I could belong here' (Hopefully - I googled it)

27 Jan 2018


I have spawned a cook! A real live person who makes things in the kitchen and enjoys it and the results are incredible. Thank you Mrs Davies! Forget all this maths / science / business nonsense. Food tech is the future. Am almost delirious here.

Exhibit A: Panna cotta

J has made this dish 3 times in the last 3 days. It's our new favourite thing. The texture is a mix of jelly and cloud and tastes amazing. I have to hunt and gather the ingredients and remind him to fill the sink before he starts, but otherwise the whole process is undertaken independently.

This is the dream, people.

Batch #1: It's 10pm but this had set and he can clean his teeth again afterwards.

Batch #2: Working on the presentation. With dobs of coulis and everything. 

Batch #3 setting in the fridge as I type. This version includes an experimental portion where the coulis is swirled through it.

I don't know how this happened or why but I'm hoping not to break it.

4 Nov 2017

But why?

Madi: 'Why do some people swear?'
Me: 'Maybe it makes them feel grown up. Or maybe they're mad and they lose all their other words.'

Madi: 'How come it's always sad when someone dies?'
Me: 'Because you miss having them around and the love has nowhere to go.'

Madi: How come it's always disgusting to pick your nose?'
Me: 'I don't know babe. Some things just always are.'

This was an incredibly lazy response, but I don't actually know this one and the internet caused caused me to stumble upon a disturbing forum for mucus eaters - so I'm not researching further.

Some things just are - and trying to analyse it or explain why leaves you fumbling for words. Or confidently stating words that you later retract. Then maybe reinstate again. (Is Pluto a planet again or what??)

Luckily there was no theory test for parenthood.

And if you can avoid all the alt right, porn, mucus eating and general waffle, the web is full of wonderment like this:

2 Oct 2017


I can't blog about the most exciting thing that happened today as I don't have permission from the certain young person involved. So here's the second most exciting thing:

Fig1: Expired products removed from food cupboard. Oldest item had date of June 2014.

Fig2: Plastic clips retrieved from expired food products. Bought some new ones last week as I thought we'd lost them all. Plastic clips now in abundance.

Fig3: Food cupboard now orderly and within date.

Thank you and goodnight.

19 Sep 2017

Old age (part 2)

'The antidote to complaining is thanksgiving' (Pam Hinkelman)

Getting old happens so gradually that most of the time you're completely unaware of it until you try something physical that used to be easy and realise you can't. Or don't even attempt it in the first place in case you break something. The realisation usually arrives slowly - with a vague but growing awareness that things used to be different, but you can't remember EXACTLY what or how they changed. My most recent example of this involves sitting on the floor.

The bit in between is a doddle. I get down there and up again with minimal effort. I can even do those pilates exercises where you stand up from a cross-legged position without using your hands and when you lunge suddenly into a squatting position from a kneeling one by flipping your ankles against the ground. I am a good sitter down and stander upper.

I also really like sitting on the floor, but this is no longer comfortable for long periods of time.

When did this happen? Somewhere in between teaching babies to crawl & sweeping under the table after EVERY meal (circa 2001) and Soul Survivor 2017 - a 4 day youth festival with NO seating in the main arena. The lack of seating arrangements might have been OK if leg room allowed you to wiggle around a bit, but we were crammed in pretty tight. Some people in the crowd had these old people back rest things:

I internally mocked these on day 1. But by the start of day 4, I was wishing I owned one.

But day 4 is the last day! And then I get to sit in a car for 3 and a half hours and drive home. Which will be a welcome relief - even though the whole car smells like something died in there. (I don't know the cause yet, but semi skimmed milk got spilt in the boot during a tip run last week and the car's been parked in direct sunlight with the windows up for most of the time since then).

Between the mysteriously stinking car and the packing and sitting on the floor, I'm not in a place to focus on the worship that's about to happen. I'm feeling empathy for farm animals that spend their whole lives in similar conditions and briefly consider vegetarianism.

Then the guy in front of me shuffles forward slightly giving me more leg room - Hurray!

THEN he immediately lowers his whole upper body back to the floor so I have even less room than I started with. His head brushes against my calf and he doesn't notice or apologise when I move out the way. Annoying.

He's not a small bloke either. I calculate maybe 2 and a half people could sit in the space he's now occupying. Grrrrr.

I watch him lie at my feet. Eyes closed. Completely still. His complexion is quite ruddy, now that I'm studying his face. He looks worn out. His eyes are still closed and he frowns slightly, his lips parting as he breathes in and out. He's maybe 20 years older than me.

I'm suddenly more concerned than annoyed. He's probably fed up with all the floor sitting too.

I nudge his shoulder and ask 'Are you OK?' He opens his eyes and smiles, 'I'm fine thanks. Just praying - I've got such a heart for these young people' (he gestures towards his group).

'Oh - as you were then - and Amen to whatever you're praying!' I say.

Oh. Dear. God. I am an awful person.

The band starts right after this and we're all on our feet. This bloke gets up with a bounce. He is also a good stander upper.

The music is loud and the bass pounds in our chests. The bloke in front of me worships in sign language. I've seen others do this, but have never found it so beautiful. A mix of 8000 teenagers and youth leaders worship together with no distinction.

Thank God for Soul Survivor and the lives that have been affected and changed by it over the years.
Thank God for Mike Pilovachi.
For his humour and sacrifice and willingness to plough into the lives of other people.
Thank God for this bloke in front of me, who loves his youth group.
Thank you that he's given his time to even be here.
Thank you for every sacrifice he's ever made - especially the hidden stuff like sitting on the floor way longer than is comfortable.
Thank God for my own church family.
For all the people we do life with on a regular basis.
For those who love my kids and talk to them when they can't or don't want to talk to me or K.
Thank you that we get to sing and feel alive because we are alive.
Thank you x

2 Sep 2017


This painting of a boat on a lake was in a charity shop last week. There was a tiny splash of light blue emulsion on the right edge just by the bow, which probably triggered the decision to donate it. (You can also see the start of the brown base coat on the left as I only thought of documenting before and after shots after I started). The photo doesn't show it, but round the corner of the canvas some of the picture was rubbed off, like someone tried to work out if the emulsion could be removed and quickly realised yes it can - but only by removing the picture as well.

I pictured the scene in the donor's house: Satisfaction with a newly decorated blue room, irritation at the damaged picture, the ethical dilemma of chucking it in landfill vs donating damaged goods to charity. Arghhhh what to do...?!

Anyway - it ends up in a charity shop near us for £3 as I'm looking for a canvas with ANYthing on it as Jackson wants the Song of Time on his wall and I have spray paint to cover what's already there.
Hurray!! THREE quid - for a fairly decent sized canvas. And the paint splodge doesn't matter as the boat is going as soon as we get home. Here's how (cue How it's Made music...):

Spray paint whole thing dark brown. Let it dry. Position 4 strips of masking tape across canvas (or electical tape if masking tape is currently inaccessible, buried in the garage behind £2K worth of IKEA furniture which we're storing for an event next week).

Spray paint patchy bits of white on next. Hold can almost upside down and press as lightly as you can to get the spatter effect. Stop when you start to get high on paint fumes. 

Peel off electrical/masking tape. Spray paint treble clef from a stencil. Mark out and paint 6 circles in yellow and blue emulsion. Add more spatter by flicking paint off a toothbrush. Find tiny spots of dried blue paint almost 2 meters away several hours later and marvel and the power of a toothbrush.

Cut up 4 triangles and 2 'A's from foam board and spray brown. NB- Stick them down to something first or they'll just fly away with the force of the aerosol.

Print off text in Menlo font.

Stick text, triangles and A's in place and... Da Daaaaaaaah! It's finished. Place on son's wall with command strips. Go and make cup of tea. Drink tea and feel happy that canvas did not go to the tip.

The more I think about it, the more the process has God stuff woven right the way through it: take something that is used and unwanted and transform it into something new and intended. It's totally redemptive.

The Song of Time is different from the boat - the person who donated the canvas would never recognise it now. It's changed beyond what they knew it to be.

But some bits are constant - the canvas is still a canvas. It's still made of the same stuff. The dimensions are still the same. If you look closely, you can still see the drip of emulsion on the side. But it's no longer a flaw. It's part of the design. No one focusses on it anymore.

This is a huge endorsement for recycling - in all senses of the word. We're screwing up the planet and there's always space on the wall. And no matter what a person's life looks like, God is capable of taking it and using it because he upcycles broken things all the time.

Ready for the next canvas because making stuff is fun
Really should go to bed though because it's 3am
Ready for school starting again because body clock broken

27 Aug 2017

The morning after

A few months ago I had a really frustrating email exchange that went something like this:

Me: Please #stopfundinghate as it's contrary to your company's ethos and generally a rubbish thing to do.
John Lewis: We fully appreciate the strength of feeling on this issue but we never make an editorial judgement on a particular newspaper.
Me: Why not?
John Lewis: Um... we just don't.
Me: Yes - But why?
John Lewis: If you want to discuss further, please contact head office.
Me: OK - I will. (To head office) Can you #stopfundinghate as it's contrary to your company's ethos and generally a rubbish thing to do?
John Lewis Head Office: We fully appreciate the strength of feeling on this issue but we never make an editorial judgement on a particular newspaper.
Me: Yes - but why is that?
Head Office: We just don't. Thank you and goodbye.
Me: Head Office? Hello....?

A similar scenario happened a few weeks ago with another large corporation but in reverse. A certain high street chemist refused to reduce the price of its morning after pill, triggering a massive PR disaster that went kind of like this:

British Pregnancy Advisory Service: The morning after pill is extortionately expensive compared to prices in Europe. Can you reduce the cost of it?
Superdrug & Tesco: OK, we'll half it from now on. Sorry.
Boots: In our experience the subject of emergency hormonal contraception polarises public opinion and we receive frequent contact from individuals who voice their disapproval of the fact that the company chooses to provide this service. We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and by provoking complaints by significantly reducing the price of this product. 
Lloyds Pharmacy (Shhhh! Give it a week and no one will notice or care that we've ignored this): .....

This didn't play out very well for Boots.

The public: Boots’ justification infantalises women and places a moral judgment on them! Women go to Boots for products, not moral guidance! Sign this petition! Rah Rah Rah. 
Tesco: And come to us for your unplanned emergencies - we now charge only £13.50 to not get knocked up.
Superdrug: Or come to us for only £13.49 - Boo yah Tesco!
Boots (Crap. Crap. Crap...): We didn't mean it! 
Lloyds Pharmacy: ........
The public: Boycott Boots! #justsaynon They're breeching our human rights!
Boots: Pharmacy and care for customers are at the heart of everything we do, and as such we are truly sorry that our poor choice of words in describing our position on emergency hormonal contraception has caused offence and misunderstanding, and we sincerely apologise. We are exploring cheaper options right now. Sorry. So sorry...
The public: Too right! Rah Rah Rah. 

Which is all rather weird and unnerving.

For starters, the drug is free in the UK at Brook centres, NHS walk in clinics and GP surgeries (provided of course that you can get an appointment, but that's an entirely different blog post).

And now everyone's focus has moved from the fact that less than a week ago, every high street chemist was fleecing potentially pregnant women and it took the country's largest abortion provider to shout about it to get any attention. On the surface, their motivation is somewhat confusing: BPAS is apparently trying to reduce demand on its services. If more women having unprotected sex can access cheaper morning after provision, then surely this means less medically induced and surgical abortions later on as they've been prevented at implantation? It's like Terminator2 all over again with pharmacology rather than time travel.

Except for so called risk compensation, which suggests that human beings will alter their behaviour according the perceived level of danger, becoming more careful where they sense greater risk and more reckless if they feel more protected. This phenomenon has been used to explain why laws aimed at increasing road safety can be less effective than predicted and why sky diving fatalities have remained fairly static over the years despite the improvements in equipment design. It also may explain why the BPAS took on the argument - perhaps they know all about risk homeostasis.

But returning to the retailers - these are businesses that exist to make money. Some of them have halved their prices in the last few days and are STILL making a profit on the product. Good old capitalism. Let the one who refuses to cave in to public pressure be swallowed up by the competitor. Who cares?

Except they didn't respond with a fiscal reason.

They responded with a moral one: 'We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use.'

Uh- oh.... If we're using words like appropriate and inappropriate, someone is making a moral judgement and that's kind of frowned upon round here.

Just say the whole conversation was happening between individuals rather than organisations - what would the scenario look like on the playground? Is there bullying going on? If so, by whom? Do we need to go get a teacher? Who is the teacher? Who decided what the rules were and what everyone is allowed to do and say and think? Because in the age of moral relativism, opinions about the behaviours of others are forbidden. You have been outed Boots. Repent and conform. Learn to think as we do!

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate. (Noam Chowsky)

No wonder John Lewis refused to get involved. They understand the rules in this brave, new playground. Everybody likes them (maybe it's the Xmas ads?) And they probably share a table with Lloyds Pharmacy.