When Did I Become the Oracle at Bollocks?

The Family Trivia

Confession: I am held together by Post It Notes

In ancient Greece, the area of Delphi contained a sanctuary where Apollo was said to speak through an older woman ‘of blameless life.’ This woman, Pythia or the sibyl, was the priestess of  ‘the Oracle at Delphi.’ She would fall into a trance and her ecstatic ramblings would be interpreted by priests who put them into neat rhyming verses. People consulted the Oracle on all sorts of important matters from the timing of wars to personal and political crises. That Pythia had power…such PowHer!

And I too,  a woman of <cough> blameless life, am consulted regularly by my offspring and husband.  They wait until I have entered a trance-like state fuelled by caffeine and the therapeutic vapours emanating off Liz Earle products (hopeful brand mention, fishing for freebie) before asking me questions of vital importance such as:

“Do I have any clean pants?”

I take a moment to gaze into the small crystal monkey that I won in the school tombola and, before I know it, cryptic couplets just, like, materialize. Enlightenment comes pouring out of my gob. My wisdom positively SPRAYS FORTH like spittle from a cross footballer’s mouth.

“Do you have clean cacks? I’m not sure what you mean,

But there’s this thing in the kitchen called a washing machine.

You put in dirty pants and clothes that you have worn,

Put in soap, turn the dial and press the button orn.”

Or:

“What’s for dinner?”

“I’m not sure, 

it’s hard to discern

But it will be something you don’t like

and very likely burned.”

Or:

Muffled voice from behind locked bathroom door:  “Argghhh…<ruffling sounds> Do we have any more toilet roll?”

 “If the silver roll thing is empty

The answer my child, is no.

When did I become the Oracle at Bollocks?

That’s what I would like to know.”

Etc etc, you get the picture. And so my question is, when exactly did I become the Oracle at Bollocks? The Font of all Shizzdom? When did I become the receptacle of all family trivia? I am like a human fucking cork board. I am the person equivalent of a fridge covered in crappy notes and timetables held on by crappy miniature Eiffel Tower magnets and those ones that say ‘I Love Ibiza’ on them. Post It Notes should come in flesh colour so that  when I stick them on me, from a distance it will just look like I’m one of those really cool women with lots of ‘up yours’ tattoos all over my body when actually I am a walking To-Do List of Trivia.

I’m tracing back the moment in time where I became the Oracle at Bollocks. Ah, there it is. The moment I had a baby. The baby came out of me. My partner was sent home while I, broken yet enjoying the opiates, was left holding her. Yes, my partner went home and ‘got some rest’ and I was taught my first bit of bollocks ~ how to put a baby grow on a wriggly new born whilst still looking sexy.  Women’s work don’t you know.

And I didn’t wholly mind it, for a while. Being the Oracle at Bollocks. When my children were very small. But now, they’re both at school and I have time and a brain. Can someone else hold one of my bollocks now please? I’m tired and I want to do something clever.

5 Half Term Projects That Cost Less Than A Sausage

[This is a reposting of a blog I did for the Spring Half Term but with a Halloween update… enjoy!]

I’m really looking forward to half term week with my 6 year-old Biscuit-thief, and I’m determined not to watch Cbeebies even once, however much I miss it.

This is my top five list of things we’ll be doing that cost under £1! Yes! These activities cost less than a sausage and yet, are somehow priceless.

1. Do a mind control experiment

I seriously LOVE this experiment and can still remember doing it when I was 7. IT CHANGED MY LIFE and is the best possible way to teach children the power of positive thinking. Literally, mind blowing.

You will need:

  • A packet of cress seeds
  • Some kitchen towel
  • Three trays/old ice cream containers or similar
  • Three labels/stickers
  • Some thoughts
  • Some words

Pad the bottom of each container with kitchen towel then, with a measuring jug, pour equal amounts of water into each tray – just enough to dampen the towel, not soak it. Then, sprinkle roughly the same amount of cress seeds on top of the dampend kitchen towel in each tray.

Make three labels; one that says something nice like “love”, one that says something horrible like “hate” and leave the third blank. Put one label on each tray. Place the trays side-by-side so that they get equal amounts of light and heat.

Now, here’s the important bit: over the next week, encourage your Biscuit-thief to say or think really lovely things towards the LOVE tray. They can say and think equally mean things about the HATE tray and have to ignore the third tray. Every day, they need to pour equal amounts of water into each tray to keep the seeds moist whilst thinking and saying lovely or mean things to the relevant seeds.

You and they will FREAK OUT when, by the end of half term, the LOVE tray of seeds has grown faster with thicker stems than the seeds in the poor little HATE tray. It’s a bizarre, brilliant life lesson courtesy of cress. And watch the penny drop as your sproglets realize the damage they are doing when they call you a smelly fart head.

 2. Colour code the week

On Monday morning, decide with your sproglet what the colour theme of each day will be for example, Monday = Red, Tuesday = Yellow etc. Whatever you do that day, from the clothes you both wear to the food you all eat, there must be an emphasis on that colour.  They can count how many red cars, how many people they see wearing red jumpers etc on that day. The screams when they see a purple car on purple day… you have no idea. Not only will you realize that very few of us can really get away with that pastel orange Top Shop are trying to sell us, it’s also brilliant when the kids get to Friday and realize they have to eat lots of greens. Crafty eh?

3. Play Boredom Bingo

Boredom Bingo
Play Boredom Bingo this half term!

My 6 year-old is never happier than when she has a clipboard and pen in her hand. Maybe she’s going to be a polling officer or telly-offy type person when she grows up. I worry about her love of bureaucracy, it’s as if I’ve taught her NOTHING. Anyway, she makes lists in connection with whatever we’re doing. For example, on a trip to our local corner shop, the Biscuit-thief will make a list of ‘expected sightings’ to tick off like:

  • A woman crying
  • Some dog poo
  • Someone hugging a hoodie
  • An abandoned mattress
  • A really cocky urban fox

Apart from the fact that we REALLY MUST MOVE house, an average trip is transformed from boring milk run to fascinating detective trail. If she spots all five things, she has to shout, “BOREDOM BINGO” at the top of her lungs and wins a kiss from mummy. I really must copyright Boredom Bingo.

4. Make a sculpture from your tears

This is genius because you can turn your nervous breakdown into a science experiment:

You need:

  • A jam jar with a lid
  • Some string
  • A spoon
  • Some water
  • Some salt
  • Some tears

Make a small hole in the lid of the jam jar and put a piece of thickish string through it, tying a knot at the top so it can’t fall through the lid. Fill the jar with warmish water and add a few table spoons of salt. Mix with a spoon and let the salt dissolve. Every time you or your sproglets cry over half term, catch a few of the tears in the jam jar to add to the salt mix. Place the lid with the string onto the jam jar and behold as over the week, the salt clusters around the string to form a gorgeous, crystalline gem. The size of the crystal will depend on how many tears have been shed. BRILLIANT.

5. Make an Ancestor Tree

There is almost nothing that makes the Biscuit Thief happier than full permission to CUT THINGS UP or HUNT FOR STICKS. This timely Halloweeny activity is perfectly suited to her forager tendencies. First you need to find a nice big tree branch. If you can’t find a real one, draw a tree on a large bit of paper with lots of branches sticking out. Then you need to print off pictures of as many of your relations as you can, as far back as you can go, and stick them onto your tree or hang their photos from the branches of your stick. Even if you don’t have photos or much knowledge about your relations, it is amazing to jot down the family myths and stories you have inherited on post-it notes, and stick them all over the tree. It is a great way to engage your sproglets with their roots, bringing an element of storytelling and rembrance to this magical time of year. Obviously, you may need to edit the stories to be ‘age appropriate’. I’m not going to mention Aunty Stella’s over-fondness of gin to the Biscuit Thief just yet.

Dear Girl I Do Not Know: Notes from a field in Yorkshire

The Biscuit ThiefI watch my youngest daughter, the Biscuit Thief as she sleeps in our tent. Her hair, damp with morning dew, smells of last night’s campfire; charcoal, pitch, ash and bread. She breathes softly into the earth while her feet, shaped just like her father’s and blackened with soot, stick out from under the covers.

It’s  a long time since I spent significant amounts of time alone with the Biscuit Thief and I have been hoping this camping trip in Yorkshire will help us bond. In fact, I can’t remember being alone with her since the lonely days following her birth by emergency caesarean when I, numb from painkillers and vacant while a blood-transfusion rioted through my veins, could do little more than stare at her from my hospital bed. I could not feel who she was. I have, if I’m honest, spent the last six years searching for the Biscuit Thief, trying to intuit her; a blind snake belly attempting to sense the rain.

Yesterday, the Biscuit Thief jumped from a tree trunk to catch a branch several feet away. She swung wildly from her natural trapeze, beaming from ear-to-ear as I admired her new-found bravery. She leaped again and again until her hands were raw, her knees were bruised and her elbows greened with grass stains. She watched an owl scoping the dusky fields for twilight mice. She ran wild and free and slept deeply, next to me. We curled around each other like a couple of cashews, two quarter moons entwined.

Today, we returned to London from the wilds of Yorkshire. Returned to the metallic fixtures and melancholy squeak of the local swings, to the tiny space that comprises the Biscuit Thief’s bedroom, and I realize it is just no longer acceptable to me, this shrinking down, this boxing-in of life, of her life.

I know that my Biscuit Thief is in the hollowed-out trunk of the oak, she is in the rocks and clover, the shooting stars and the ankles that ache in the cold morning dew. It is no wonder I find it so hard to find her in the city we call home.

I know so many parents, like me, are torn between the countryside and the city; between the raw and the cooked. What choice have you made and do you regret it?

Birds, Bees, and Especially Swedes

Karlek Boken

The Love Book, Karlek Boken

(Last week, I started a new series of guest posts for the lovely people at KIDSEN, the Scandinavian Children’s Shop in Kensal Rise. Hope you enjoy the first of my Notes from the Kidsen Sofa #1)

Sexing, willydrops, baby-shopping, front-botty-kissy-wissy-sausages, special huggles and ‘it’  are just some of the euphemisms my six-year-old has used to broach the subject of Mr Wibbly Hides His Helmet with me.

I’ve already been through the whole sex education thing once with my eldest daughter, and I can’t believe I have been so disorganised in my child bearing that I have to do the whole thing again, nine years after the first time. The thing is, I can’t remember what I said before, but I know I had to undo a lot of damage done by the cartoon sex education documentary my eldest was shown at school when she was nine. Regaled with horror tales involving petri dishes and super-sperm and told that she would suffer unfathomable pain every month of her life between the ages of 12-50, my daughter came home from school in tears, furious that she was a girl. As she says now, “We were taught about the practicalities of sex, not the pleasure, so it all seemed terrifying and rather violent”.

It seems that sex education is rarely handled well in school, and in the UK, we are still not culturally prepared to be anything other than mortified by our children’s natural developmental curiosity about sex and the questions, oh Cringe-Factor-Ten, THE QUESTIONS that begin at a very early age.

I was chatting about this with the Wise Swedes of NW6, Corina and Ylva from KIDSEN, who promptly pulled out a Swedish classic from behind the counter. It’s called Karlek Boken or ‘The Love Book’ by Pernilla Stalfelt, and they have both used it to openly educate their kids about sex from the age of about six or seven as is common in Sweden. The book is a tour de force illustrations-wise and it was a joy to behold a drawing of a proper, hairy lady muff although there is a worrying depiction of a squirrel and hedgehog around page 19. The best thing EVER was to discover that the Swedish word for ‘willy’ is ‘snopp’ which is now top of my list of affectionate names for the male dangly-sausage (from this alone, you can see why my kids have had issues with my teaching thus far).

What struck me, as I flicked through the pages of Karlek Boken with Ylva translating for me, was how much the book focussed on love rather than the British approach which is centered on the biology and mechanics of sex. There is laughter, love and humour on every page of The Love Book as opposed to, for example, the hideous scientific labeling I had to do of a diagram of a penis and vagina as part of my sex education back in the 18th Century. Oh, I meant, the 1970’s.

Picture the scene. Nine year old me at laminated desk with tongue gripped through teeth. Vas deferens. Arrow. Ruler. Sharpen pencil. Uterus. Arrow. Ruler. Rub out incorrect label. Sharpen pencil. And so it went on. HIDEOUS. And then, the diagram was marked by my clearly affronted teacher (who did not spend four years getting their B.Ed to end up correcting penis drawings) with a cursory red tick. As if they would ever be liberated enough to change it if you got your clitoris and labia labels mixed up! (Maybe this is why so many British men still don’t know where they are?)

It seems to me that the Swedish approach is as much about sensuality as sex. There is a certain cultural appreciation of raw, human experience. It is about the fire of the sauna and the cool water of the natural lake, the wilderness both within and without. The body is a joy, an extension of the soul rather than a shameful source of embarrassing holes that signify WE ALL DO IT! Yes, birds and bees, and especially Swedes.

Clearly, the Swedish are getting something right when it comes to sex education. The country enjoys one of the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy, with around 7 births per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2002 compared with the UK which has one of the highest incidences in Europe (26.4 teenage births per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2006). All over Europe, the statistics bear out the fact that it is silence and taboo that makes babies, not sperm and eggs. Although we have sex education in the UK, there is still little teaching about empowerment, the cyclical nature of the female body, the ebb and flow of desire, sex as a loving, sensual act whether it is for the creation of babies or an expression of intimacy between consulting adults, whatever their gender. And yes, there is no reason why teaching about sex should be the job of schools. It makes sense for there to be more of a cooperative approach between parents and teachers, and we really do need to get over ourselves. Some parents aren’t even aware that it is ‘sex education’ time at school and are blindsided and by their children’s natural questions when they come home the day of THE FILM. You cannot change a culture overnight and Britain, of course, is a melting pot of ideas and social taboos, but the statistics prove it; open dialogue works. Yes, it means you will have to say, ‘snopp’ without giggling. Yes, it means you will have to admit that actually, you do it too. If all else fails, just take your kids to a farm during mating season then stop by Kidsen on the way home and ask for a loan of the Karlek Boken.

Have you come across any good books to support teaching your children about sex? I’d love to hear your recommendations.

Nature’s Peep-Show: Notes on camping

Camping I’m back from a camping sojourn in the sodden British countryside and I have to reveal a shocking truth; everything in nature is about sex.

Stuck in my urban flat, I don’t notice these things; my  ‘outside’ world mainly concerns fighting or buying stuff.  In the countryside, it’s all different.

I am almost embarrassed to witness greedy stamens of Queens Anne’s Lace forcing themselves upwards to the bees. The frisky sheep, the bucking horses, the pelvis-shaped sycamore wings fainting to the floor like damsels in a ‘take-me-now’ twizzle toward the fertile earth. Stags, deer, cadavers on the road, the fenced-in versus the wild. Flowers open shamelessly towards the sun and coyly close in the night air. Our campfire greedily sucks up the air and all of our wood. The earth, voluptuous in her mounds and curves, defies the copsing and mowers that try to tame her. She just keeps on saying it; “Love me, love me just the way I am. You cannot contain me!”

Everything in the countryside wants to shag or be shagged!

And the kids, my God the kids are free, combusting and instantly feral!  No need for chastening sex education videos or tightlipped lessons about ‘nocturnal emissions’ and ‘The Curse’ here. No, my six-year-old girl, just get a load of those rampant poppies in the upper field!

Camping in the dank grey, our tent is a seed pod of dreams. Our sleep is odd, incorporating the raw sounds from outside, a canvas sheet between us and the pelting rain which batters us out of our slumber saying, “Submit! You are so much less than all of this.”

Elemental, feet blackened with dirt and damp in our bones, we head home to the Big Smoke where I run a bath so hot I burn. I wonder if camping is not so much  about being at one with nature, but about proving we can still build a home that keeps her out. We try to humanize the wild with our Bell tents and trangias, but looking out from the comfort of our canvas porches, we are just voyeurs at a demented peep show, catching a glimpse of who we really are.

5 Things to Do This Half Term That Cost Under £1

I’m really looking forward to half term week with my 6 year-old Biscuit-thief, and I’m determined not to watch Cbeebies even once, however much I miss it.

This is my top five list of things we’ll be doing that cost under £1! Yes! These activities cost less than a sausage and yet, are somehow priceless.

1. Do a mind control experiment

I seriously LOVE this experiment and can still remember doing it when I was 7. IT CHANGED MY LIFE and is the best possible way to teach children the power of positive thinking. Literally, mind blowing.

You will need:

  • A packet of cress seeds
  • Some kitchen towel
  • Three trays/old ice cream containers or similar
  • Three labels/stickers
  • Some thoughts
  • Some words

Pad the bottom of each container with kitchen towel then, with a measuring jug, pour equal amounts of water into each tray – just enough to dampen the towel, not soak it. Then, sprinkle roughly the same amount of cress seeds on top of the dampend kitchen towel in each tray.

Make three labels; one that says something nice like “love”, one that says something horrible like “hate” and leave the third blank. Put one label on each tray. Place the trays side-by-side so that they get equal amounts of light and heat.

Now, here’s the important bit: over the next week, encourage your Biscuit-thief to say or think really lovely things towards the LOVE tray. They can say and think equally mean things about the HATE tray and have to ignore the third tray. Every day, they need to pour equal amounts of water into each tray to keep the seeds moist whilst thinking and saying lovely or mean things to the relevant seeds.

You and they will FREAK OUT when, by the end of half term, the LOVE tray of seeds has grown faster with thicker stems than the seeds in the poor little HATE tray. It’s a bizarre, brilliant life lesson courtesy of cress. And watch the penny drop as your sproglets realize the damage they are doing when they call you a smelly fart head.

 2. Colour code the week

On Monday morning, decide with your sproglet what the colour theme of each day will be for example, Monday = Red, Tuesday = Yellow etc. Whatever you do that day, from the clothes you both wear to the food you all eat, there must be an emphasis on that colour.  They can count how many red cars, how many people they see wearing red jumpers etc on that day. The screams when they see a purple car on purple day… you have no idea. Not only will you realize that very few of us can really get away with that pastel orange Top Shop are trying to sell us, it’s also brilliant when the kids get to Friday and realize they have to eat lots of greens. Crafty eh?

3. Play Boredom Bingo

Boredom Bingo

Play Boredom Bingo this half term!

My 6 year-old is never happier than when she has a clipboard and pen in her hand. Maybe she’s going to be a polling officer or telly-offy type person when she grows up. I worry about her love of bureaucracy, it’s as if I’ve taught her NOTHING. Anyway, she makes lists in connection with whatever we’re doing. For example, on a trip to our local corner shop, the Biscuit-thief will make a list of ‘expected sightings’ to tick off like:

  • A woman crying
  • Some dog poo
  • Someone hugging a hoodie
  • An abandoned mattress
  • A really cocky urban fox

Apart from the fact that we REALLY MUST MOVE house, an average trip is transformed from boring milk run to fascinating detective trail. If she spots all five things, she has to shout, “BOREDOM BINGO” at the top of her lungs and wins a kiss from mummy. I really must copyright Boredom Bingo.

4. Make a sculpture from your tears

This is genius because you can turn your nervous breakdown into a science experiment:

You need:

  • A jam jar with a lid
  • Some string
  • A spoon
  • Some water
  • Some salt
  • Some tears

Make a small hole in the lid of the jam jar and put a piece of thickish string through it, tying a knot at the top so it can’t fall through the lid. Fill the jar with warmish water and add a few table spoons of salt. Mix with a spoon and let the salt dissolve. Every time you or your sproglets cry over half term, catch a few of the tears in the jam jar to add to the salt mix. Place the lid with the string onto the jam jar and behold as over the week, the salt clusters around the string to form a gorgeous, crystalline gem. The size of the crystal will depend on how many tears have been shed. BRILLIANT.

5. Celebrate the Jubilee 1977 style

OK, hands up, I’m not a big Jubilee fan. In my book, any women who has been sitting on the throne for 60 years probably needs medical attention and a good dose of Syrup-of- Figs. It’s constitutional constipation! So, I’m bringing an element of 1977 into my house by allowing the Biscuit-thief to cut up a t-shirt and write her favourite rude word on it (‘fou-fou’) so she can wear it for the whole Jubilee day. Also, to avoid the crowds that will be gathering along the river Thames to watch the floating pageant thingy, I will re-enact this at home with some toy plastic boats in the bath tub whilst simultaneously encouraging my daughter to throw all her piggy bank savings out the window.

Ok those are mine, have you got any additions that cost less than a sausage? Whatever you do, enjoy yourselves. Happy half term everyone!

Top 5 Things I Love About Kids

It is with great joy that I have joined Kate Takes 5’s listography  with this post on what I love most about young children.  I could make a top 5 list just out of the things they say, always so true that it hurts ~ such as my youngest’s conviction that M&S stands for ‘Marks and ‘Spensive’ and that the F-word is ‘fou fou.’

The little biscuit thieves certainly take the DULL out of being and aDULLt don’t they? Here it is, my Top 5 things I love about kids:

 1. Hysteria

I love that children’s natural, ‘neutral’ setting would register somewhere between hysteria and OCD in an adult. If I screamed and nearly wet myself every time I saw a puppy or spent two hours readjusting my socks so that the seam didn’t ANNOY ME MUMMY, people would worry, right? Kids go up to 11, and I like that they make me seem calm by comparison.

2. Their dress sense

Leaving my daughters to dress themselves has been one of the great joys of motherhood. My youngest specializes in an ‘all seasons in one go’ look consisting of one leg warmer, a ballet skirt, a woolly jumper two sizes too small (that I’m pretty sure I gave to Oxfam) an empty toilet roll tube on each wrist and a necklace made of tampons.

3. Their slapstick humour 

I love that kids think the body is funny; I adore their raw, bawdy, bottom-worshipping hilarity. Children find being housed in this human form hysterical as  they haven’t grown to resent the restriction of it yet or torment themselves that their body should look like someone else’s. Kids seem amazed that they have a body  at all, and they LOVE the noises it makes.  If you want to make a child laugh, keep it body based and just punch yourself in the face with your own hand. You’ll see what I mean.

4. That they have no sense of occasion

How lovely to be a child and exist in happy bubble land with no sense of occasion.  I will never forget how my two-year-old blew loud raspberries while I read a eulogy for my father at his funeral. My daughter’s mouth farts echoed around the crematorium like swear words at a nunnery and it was brilliant. Her making everyone laugh was more testimony to my dad’s legacy than any of the words I had written.

5. Artwork

I agree with Kate that kid’s artwork is one of the greatest gifts of parenting. And, it’s a gift that JUST KEEPS GIVING, and giving, and giving. My girl is really into sculpture and made this ‘snow scene’ out of salt and her own freakishly sticky spit.

Sara Bran Sculpture

Salt & Spit by Mia Bran

Her portrait of me below really captures my.. essence?

Sara Bran by Mia Bran aged 6

My mum by Mia Bran aged 6

And finally, she has been dabbling in multi media with this performance based installation piece entitled Do Not OPen This Box There’s a Girl In It:

Sara Bran box

How to give mummy a heart attack

Kid’s are brilliant. I rest my case.