Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

When Things Go Right…

Monday, July 19th, 2010

As some of you may know I have a beautiful au pair, the latest in a list of beautiful au pairs. Some are more beauitiful than others, this one, the last one, the one before and the next one are the most beautiful, without doubt they have definitely got prettier in recent years. I’ve had au pairs on and off for about 12 years. More off than on with working from home, and convalescing but in that time I have had more than 10 au pairs, the 5 year old has only had 3 au pairs so far. The first one was a raging disaster in some ways and great in others. She was great with the kiddo, couldn’t abide my 15yo and at one point looked at me and said about beardieboy ‘you know what kind of man your husband is…’ She was rude and moody and found a guy while over here (from Paris) and once she’d found him her role as an au pair was the very last thing she needed. After several unsavoury experiences we finally agreed to part and she returned home about 6 months early and immediately emailed me with a heartfelt apology for her rude and difficult behaviour. Yeah, um whatever, but thank you.

The second was wonderful, funny, hectic and great with kids. She was vibrant amazing and full of fun. She was only here for the summer but we loved her so much and we’ve just convinced a family in America she’d be a great first au pair for their year long contract.

The current au pair is leaving on Saturday, she’s been here 11 months and has been fantastic. She arrived homesick and miserable and looked in a state of shock for the first week but she’s grown in confidence and shines like a ray of sunshine and I love her very much as do we all. She is really like part of the family and generous to a fault. Her Christmas presents and birthday gifts outstrip anything we could ever respond with but we make sure she has all her free time, we never take her for granted and include her in everything we do. We don’t want her to go.

Her sister is here for this last week and tonight they gathered us on the sofas and told us that their parents have invited us to Germany for a weekend trip. We’d already planned to go for a long weekend next year but we’re broke and we need to save for it. We listened to their invitation and I could feel Beardie take an internal deep breathe. We’d never wish to insult anyone but we just couldnt’ afford it. As it turns out we needn’t have worried. The family have insisted on paying for our plane tickets and insisted that we must not bring gifts when we go. The 5yo ran round yelping with excitement. She’s never been on a plane.

As a parting gift I have been collecting a charm bracelet for the beautiful au pair: a chilli to remind her of the night she made such a hot chilli con carne that no one could eat it but we did drink a hell of a lot of water; a cupcake to signify all the happy hours of baking with the 5yo; a shopping bag to remind her that she single-handedly kept Birmingham’s fashion stores afloat through the credit crunch; a guitar to signify all the hours she’s had to put up with us rehearsing in the house; a pair of ballet shoes to remind her of all her dancing…and the list goes on. In comparison to the generosity of her family our gift is very small but I hope it shows her how much we care and value her fabulous contribution to our family this year. She may also make a mental note that there is no ‘iron’ charm and may well realise it’s because she’s bloody rubbish at it – you can’t have it all. I’m genuinely upset that she’s leaving and can’t give her too many hugs because I’ll just cry.

The next beautiful au pair just wrote to us asking if she must take out her lip piercing, she’s taken out four others already. We’ve told her to put them all back and that if she can’t be herself she won’t have a good time. Beardieboy thinks we’re due a crappy au pair, I hope it’s not this one.

This is a Relaxing Holiday

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Holidays are tough. If I ask Beardieboy he can never make his mind up, doesn’t want to think about money and doesn’t want to go anywhere that is vaguely organised or ordinary. He wants to feel free. Exasperated that I can’t get any straight answers from him I just get on with it by myself. After all I was a single parent for 10 years, if I can’t organise then who can?

Approximately 6 months before a holiday I begin. I start by choosing a destination. This is based on activities that are available. The more activities the better. Two years ago I had a 17, 13 and 3 year old so it had to be something to suit everyone. For anyone interested that seems to be Tenby though I’m sure Cornwall and Devon would do it too. Then I work out a budget. How much is the accommodation? Do we take a tent, our increasingly rickety caravan or rent something. Then I work out my entertainment budget. I plan to do something every single day, knowing we won’t do that but it’s important to cover all angles. I budget for two restaurant meals usually. I bid for Tesco points on eBay and get them converted to entry tickets to theme parks. I am relentlessly organised. I print out maps, buy extra food each week in the months leading up to it and on the day before I leave I make a picnic hamper. This takes whole operation takes hours of study and planning, weeks of organising and preparation. It’s my family holiday and I want my family to have a great time.

Usually about two days into the holiday Beardieboy saunters down a cobbled street with an ice cream in his hand or climbs off a nerve-shattering ride and declares with his warm shining grin, ‘This is a relaxing holiday. We should go with the flow more often, you should chill out more’.

Thrifty Business

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Right, I’m not apologising, but I will warn you, this is a boring post, it’s about food shopping and it’s not a joke. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about this crap but I will admit that my calmest moments are when my fridge is full and my family can eat.  It’s a protective thing. I bloody hate being broke.

I get thrifty. Did you know you can put a handful of lentils and a handful of porridge oats in your bolognaise? Make sure you keep adding extra water and use a heavy bottom pan. It takes an extra hour to cook but can almost double your pan. It tastes extra creamy and it’s good for you.

When I lived in wales I had the choice of one shop, Kwiksave. I spent the same every week and there were no frills. When Tesco went online I used them and my bill jumped from £75 a week to £120 but I put it down to having, and taking, the extra choices.

Since coming to Bearwood I’ve had more choice, but more to do and life gets busy. I’ve tried buying fruit and veg from Pak in Cape Hill, I’d say great if you’re going to use it in the next 3 days but don’t buy for the week. I get bulk packs of spices there, buy big bags (10 or 15kg) of rice and toilet rolls. they have massive packs, I think they’re £3.50 for a pack of about 24 rolls or £10 for 3 packs.  They often have very cheap sugar 50p a bag and I buy popping corn there, dry pop it in a heavy pan and take it to the cinema with my cans of pop. If you like asian food, like me, you can buy giant tubs of preminced garlic and ginger there, as well as the spices and large buckets of plain yogurt. We buy frozen samosas there, often on 2 for 1 offer.  Farmfoods next door is cheap but Iceland is better quality for virtually the same price.

So now, apart from the odd trip to Pak  Supermarket I’ve started shopping in Bearwood. I’ve got into the habit of going to Co-op first for their bogof bargains. This week they had buy 18 packs of McCoys and get 18 free. £4 (it’s currently £9.54 for the same amount in tesco and if you buy their own brand it’s £3 for 18 or £6 for the quantity I bought). I am strict about coop, they’re a bit expensive, don’t get sucked in by their glossy fridges, go straight to the bargain shelf where they usually have super cheap coleslaw, pizzas etc and stick to ONLY the stuff I’d usually buy. They regularly have great cheese offers, better than anyone else, dunno why but they usually have some kind of half price or bogof offer on mature cheddar. They have very cheap granary baguettes at the mo, nice for Saturday lunch.

After Coop it’s off to the bargain multibuy butchers on the same side of the street, just past aldi (can’t remember name) but they are great for bacon, sausage, bargain packs of pies (i bought the pasties once, they were nice). They have trays of sausages which have become a barbeque favourite when we have parties, very tasty. Be sure to ask which packs can be frozen though cos some are defrosted. He was selling two big bacon joints for a fiver today.

After the butcher it’s back down to Aldi where cereal is cheap and milk is currently £1.09 cheapest we’ve found  for 4 pints and cream is the cheapest too. Their cooked meats are extremely good value and very good quality. The thick and creamy yogurts are as nice as any luxury yogurts I’ve tried. They also have kids pots which are currently at 59p for 6 (I forgot and spent £1.55 for 12 in Coop which was still 45p cheaper than Tesco). Don’t by their cleansing wipes, it’s like cleaning your face with a brillo pad.

After Aldi it’s over to Iceland for chips, pizzas, frozen fish, and their bread which is 2 loaves for £1.50, which really is the best we’ve seen and is a constant offer. I also buy meatballs and sometimes chicken breast there.

Ok, I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a faf, particularly Iceland because you can’t take the trolley to the car, but it took us less than 90 minutes today, which is around the same time as it takes to saunter round asda with the ensuing cacophany and stress.  If , like us, you’ve got to find piano lesson money, multisports, dance lessons, rehearsal rooms and other lovely stuff then every extra penny counts (and if the damn tories get in we’ll need it to pay the mortgage, bugger the fun stuff).

So, continuing in the spirit of being a complete sadsack I’ve sat down today and discovered the cost of shopping on the high street is very interesting, very interesting indeed (if you don’t get out much). This is a like for like table, where no option in tesco exists I’ve given them an equal price.  If the food weights weren’t the same I’ve used a price per kilo price making it correct. I used own brands in tesco where i’ve got discount brands on the high street.  In favour of tesco I will say that a few things were cheaper and their own brand gold coffee (and asdas for that matter) is great and their pasta is unmistakeably the cheapest and best I’ve yet to see.  I buy my flour and other baking stuff from Asda still. Their own brand bread flour is great value and bakes well, though I haven’t shopped around too much. This list is this week’ shop, it does vary, and I’m buying for 3 adults, 1 teenager and a five year old. We have two dogs and I still buy their dog food from Asda.

Item Quantity/offer Bearwood Tesco Difference

McCoys 18pck 2pks £4.00 £9.54 £5.54
Granary baguette 1 £0.52 £0.67 £0.15
French dressing 1 bottle £0.49 £0.87 £0.38
100 Island dressing 1 bottle £0.49 £0.87 £0.38
mature cheddar 2 x 400g £4.00 £5.00 £1.00
Tomtao sauce 605g £1.50 £1.90 £0.40
HP sauce 450g £1.50 £1.65 £0.15
Munch bunch pots 2 x6 bogof £1.55 £2.00 £0.45
Diet Pepsi 1 £1.00 £1.00 £0.00
Pepsi 1 £1.00 £1.00 £0.00
Pepsi cans 2 x6 for cinema etc £2.75 £5.50 £2.75
Courgettes 1 pack £1.35 £1.75 £0.40
Strawberries 1 pack £1.35 £2.29 £0.94
Bearwood butcher

Rack of ribs
£3.99 £4.04 £0.05
Bacon 2×8 rashers £1.50 £3.96 £2.46
Gammon steaks
£2.49 £4.00 £1.51

Hot chocolate 1 jar £0.99 £1.33 £0.34
sugar 1 pack £0.75 £0.98 £0.23
Thick creamy yogurts 6 £1.62 £3.68 £2.06
Big eggs 20 not free range 🙁 £1.98 £2.18 £0.20
sugar free sweets 3packs £2.67 £2.69 £0.02
Aerosol cream can £0.89 £1.25 £0.36
Double cream 284ml £0.79 £0.84 £0.05
Red grapes 1 punnet £0.69 £2.17 £1.48
Spinach 1 bag £0.79 £1.40 £0.61
Broccoli 2 large heads £1.38 £1.74 £0.36
Spring onion 1 bunch £0.49 £0.50 £0.01
Bananas 1 bunch £1.19 £1.49 £0.30
Funsize apples 1 bag £1.59 £1.00 -£0.59
Satsumas 1 net £0.99 £1.74 £0.75
Leeks 1 pack 2/3 leeks £0.85 £2.16 £1.31
Peppers Pack of 3 £1.39 £1.87 £0.48
Conference pears 1 bag £0.99 £0.70 -£0.29
Blueberries 2 tubs £1.98 £3.98 £2.00
Medium chicken 1 £2.99 £4.00 £1.01
Garlic sausage sl 1 pack £0.37 £0.54 £0.17
Smoked lean ham 1 pack £1.79 £2.99 £1.20
Deli sliced salami 1 pack £0.99 £2.00 £1.01
Parma ham 1 pack £1.99 £2.49 £0.50
Nurnberger sausage 1 pack mini sausages £1.49 £1.49 £0.00
Peach slices 1 tin £0.39 £0.45 £0.06
Malt wheaties 1 box £0.99 £1.45 £0.46
Rice snaps 1 box £0.95 £1.20 £0.25
Wheat bisks 36 £1.69 £1.92 £0.23
Peanut butter 500g £1.59 £1.30 -£0.29
Pesto 1 £0.99 £1.84 £0.85
Tomato puree 1 £0.33 £0.48 £0.15

Garlic bread 2pk £1.00 £1.00 £0.00
Cornish iceream 1 litre £1.00 £2.00 £1.00
Kids lollies 18 or 20 £2.00 £2.00 £0.00
Olive Oil 1 litre £2.50 £3.34 £0.84
Chicken strips 1 pack £1.50 £2.00 £0.50
Lean mince steak 820g/800g £4.00 £3.83 -£0.17
Chicken breasts 500g £3.00 £4.12 £1.12
Thin crispy pizza 2 £2.00 £3.00 £1.00
Branston pickle
£1.50 £1.73 £0.23
Chocolate mousse 8 £1.00 £0.80 -£0.20
Meatballs 24 £3.00 £3.00 £0.00
Potatoes 5kg £2.00 £2.25 £0.25
Lambrini 750cl £1.69 £1.49 -£0.20
£94.24 £130.45 £36.21

I hope you didn’t fall asleep. Or at least I hope the total at the bottom woke you up. What would you spend the extra £36.21 a week or £1882.92 a year on? A holiday? A better home? Lessons for the kids? Save for 10 years and you could buy a very nice car, no messing.

Obviously there are other ways to cut back, meat free mondays (yea, that’s no meat), freaky fridays (the only day we get the fizzy pop and sweeties out unless we go to the cinema). You can also bulk mix cookie dough. Split it into portions, roll it into a sausage, wrap in cling film and freeze as sausages. When you want some get a sharp knife and cut enough for a couple of biscuits each, put the rest back in the freezer. It stops over eating and because it takes just 10 mins to bake, by the time the washing up’s done and the kettle’s boiled the biscuits are ready, smell luxurious and taste better than the sawdust you usually buy. If you make a basic dough you can shove a few choc chips on just as they’re going in the oven. yum yum. I’m sure you’ll have your own ways of saving, like not feeding the husband now and then.

Oh and by the way, the Lambrini is for the beautiful au pair. I hid it under the coke incase someone saw me. Honest.

Love is…

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

My fifteen year old daughter is, so far, blissfully unaware of my blog and my Twitter.  I say ‘so far’ because no doubt she will eventually find them and egotistically search them for any mention of her good self.  I wouldn’t like to disappoint her.

A few months ago she confessed to me that she quite liked a boy she’d met at her church group’s camp holiday last year. I was determined not to be as much of an arsehole as my dear father was and showed her genuine interest without any hint of motherly possessiveness. Now, my dear dear father wasn’t quite so easy going. My first boyfriend, at the age of 15 was a local bounder called Paul. Paul was a few years older than me, which to me meant very little but to my father it meant war. The first time Paul came to our house to take me out I came into the hallway just in time to see my dad open the door and say ‘Fuck Off!!’ before slamming it in the poor lad’s face. Parental love is a funny thing.

Anyway, so she tells me about this boy and, after bigging him up quite a bit, she slips in the fact that he’s 18. I yelped internally and later figured out a way to tell Beardieboy, who is not strictly her dad but, in the absence of her dad , does a pretty good job of standing in for a paternal grinch.

Beardieboy: Fuck Off!

Me: I’m sure he’ll be lovely

Beardieboy: la, la,la I’m not listening, la, la, la

Me: Pack it in…

Beardieboy: Invite him round to dinner, I’ll sort him out

Perishing the thought I did just that and to both our surprise he seemed like a perfectly nice boy. Very young for his age, very sweet. Beardieboy was calmed. My father, on the other hand, called me a bad mother, declared the boy a predator and told me to put my child on the pill. I smiled sweetly, went in my mother’s kitchen and muttered something about getting stuffed.

Now, they only see each other once a week and when they do it’s shopping, cinema, bowling or in our house or his parent’s house, with adults around. So I had been feeling quite comfortable with things. Then, a few weeks ago, I walked in to find them, erm, getting a bit heated. I swallowed. I made dinner and we sat at the table. He volunteered it was his birthday the next week.  I suddenly realised my little baby was dating an actual man. He may be a bit gawkish and geeky, he’s certainly not as wordly wise as my own 19 year old son, but he IS 19.

The beautiful au pair thinks all of this is hilarious, and in a very direct german way, wants to know if I’m worried he’ll have sex with my daughter. I reply by saying that, if she likes, we can talk about her parents having sex. She bursts out laughing and wanders off like I’m the funniest square she’s met in a long time.  So, you’re language skills have improved to the point of sarcasm…hmmm?

Last week, I was in the kitchen (I seem to do that a lot) when the sweethearts came in for a drink. My daughter’s face was covered in bright red blotches from excessive snogging. – remember that! I joked that I hoped she wasn’t allergic to him (I say joked, because I secretly wished that she was allergic to him. More than that, I wanted her to find him boring). I carried on being jovial, saying they’d have to keep their distance if it was an allergy.  I said it’d make having a relationship difficult. Imagine…

Mimicking someone shouting from a distance, I half shouted across the room to him: Heyyy, I really like you

He, caught up in the moment, yelled back: Heeeyyyyyy, I love you too.

I audibly choked and suddenly decided to put the kettle on.  The au pair, who’d been idling by the fruit bowl, suddenly picked up an apple and rammed it in her gob in a bid to stop herself from laughing.  A small amount of embarassed murmering took place and the blotchy couple left, sans drinks. The au pair crumpled with laughter. I just glared at her.

Me: Did you hear that? Did you hear that?

Beautiful au pair: I will help you interrupt them every 15 minutes, we can take it in turns.

Me: Ok.

Snip Snip

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

So there I was, sitting in my very uncomfortable office chair thinking about whether to apply for another job, again. In the middle of a difficult decision about coffee or hot chocolate with my mid morning toast I had a phone call from home. I almost never get phone calls from home, mostly because the kids are usually in school, the au pair likes the gym and the dogs, as clever as they are at opening bins, cannot yet use a phone.

Sobbing greeted my ear followed by a very distressed message from my eldest daughter telling me that my youngest daughter, aged 5, had decided to restyle her hair completely, with scissors.

Me: is it bad?

Her: very bad

Me: will I be upset?

Her: I’m upset for you

Me: send photos

A very long 30 seconds pass.

The phone vibrates

the vision of a child's hair after a creative moment with scissors

I Cutted My Hair

(please notice how long it *was*)

I texted back: send me a picture of the front.

30 more tortured seconds gazing in disbelief at the first picture were interrupted by another vibration.

solemn child with terrible self-cut hair

I'm Sorry

(check out the tuft of micro-fringe that no longer hides the solemn expanse of forehead)

I took a deep breath, made a phone call and texted back: meet me at the hairdressers at 5pm

My colleague was almost on her knees in a puddle of unrestrained laughter and piss, obviously entirely at my expense. Thanks chum. I was on the edge of sobbing when I suddenly realised I had to tell Beardieboy. I went over the edge and sobbed. Then, being the woman that I am I made the decision: coffee. I drank the coffee and made another call. Beardieboy answered sounding like he was on top of the world. Poor sod. He went from hyper-happy to utterly appalled in a  matter of seconds. Poor sod. His beautiful child mangled by a misadventure with some kitchen scissors. I refused to send photos and said I’d sort it. I had a plan, it would work. If it didn’t work, in my mind I planned a Stephanie style pink wig. ‘It’s a fun wig, you’ll have fun in it, your friends will think you’re a hoot’.

5 O’clock arrives. The hairdresser took a very deep breath and on at least three occasions put her scissors down and walked away to compose herself. Every time she thought she’d solved it she discovered another hack or tuft and yet more had to come off to blend it in. Meanwhile I sat there rubbing my face like a neurotic. The salon manager came to the rescue with yet more coffee. The coffee helped me, and training evidently helped the hairdresser. She toiled for 20 hard minutes before giving me a brief lesson on styling to hide bald patches. Now I wouldn’t like you to get too close and study this for tufts but with a bit of hairspray this will work. She even has a bit of Parisian chic going on.

A relieved child after a professional snipper has rescued her do

Post Haircut Haircut

A handful of disney hairclips and everyone will think we’ve gone for something radical for spring.  Our house is now sleeping beauty but with scissors not spinning wheels. We ceremonially collected all the offending articles up and we’re locking them in the west tower until she’s old enough to know better and if she still decides to screw up a perfectly good haircut at that stage then good luck to her.

Easter Bonnet. Fail.

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Arseface. I took a half day off work to go to my daughter’s Easter Bonnet parade, took my beautiful au pair to lunch first and arrived at school only to discover that reception class were not joining in. What? WTF? They’re five!! Five is the perfect age to make and wear an incredibly stupid and pointless hat and laugh at your mates. My poor baby was the only child in her class wearing an incredibly stupid and pointless hat. When I arrived she looked mortified, and I felt accused of child abuse. To placate her we were allowed to leave early, which is a good job because it’s awfully hot in those schools when you’re embarrassed to high hell.

We Went to London

Monday, March 29th, 2010
A poncy photo of Big Ben by my photo crazy daughter

Look Ben, it's not big and it's not funny. Ok, so it's big, but it's not...

So, there I was bragging about how cheap it all was, what good value for money it was and how planning ahead was the way forward. I booked my train tickets  and hotel back in February and picked the tickets up on Friday to discover I’d bought outward and return journies for Saturday. Yep, both for Saturday. Arse.

I called thetrainline and explained how I was a regular and good customer, had made a genuine error and needed help to transfer my tickets. ‘I can do that for you, there will be a £50 admin charge’, I looked at the phone in disbelief, ‘but I can book new tickets for just £42, why can’t you just transfer them?’ ‘I can, the charge is £50’, ‘Waive the charge’, ‘No, I can’t I can only waive £10 or £20’ ‘Are you going to offer this?’ ‘No’. Ok thanks for your unhelp.


Arrived at the hotel to discover the the second bedroom information had overwritten the first bedroom information and we had a small double and large double for 5 people. The suggested the teenagers share a bed. ‘No, my daughter is 15, my son is 19, not only is it inappropriate it’s likely to end in violence, they’re siblings’  Oh well, we’ll move their room and put a foldout bed in your room for your five year old.  (So much for a romantic weekend). Oh and there’s an extra charge of £15 because our software system screwed up your booking. Arse.


We had plans to go to the Tate. Sidetracked by the companionship of a small scruffy bear from school (sent to accompany us on our travels), Beardieboy decides in his wisdom to take a detour to see Westminster ‘so the bear can have it’s picture taken’. No, really, this is true. We arrive at Westminster, haul arse to the wrong side of the Thames, glare at each other and the stupid bear has its stupid photo taken with the five year old, on the shoulders of Beardieboy, too close to the edge of the Thames. Consequently this detour resulted in a dozen photos of my five year old looking utterly terrified on the shoulders of a Beardieboy who smiled with barely masked anger due to me cringing at the sight of my child in such jeopardy. Fortunately the bear is quite photogenic.

image of a teddy drinking coke, it's ok though, it's diet coke

Paws drinking coke, it's ok though, it's diet coke

The detour also took an extra hour or so leaving us precisely 15 minutes to do the Tate and take a taxi back to Euston. Extra cost of unscheduled taxi was £12.80.


A picture of my derrier

Apparently this is me being a grumpy arse

Don’t let me plan your London trip unless you have a spare £70 cushion in your budget. I didn’t and it’s a good job we like lentils and beans.

picture of a lion statue at the Natural History Museum

At least some things are set in stone...not the price of trains, or hotels mind you.