Sunday, 28 March 2010

Mum's Gone to the School Quiz

Our rocky relationship with school quizzes began many years ago with the following question:
"What is the alternative emergency number to 999?"
 On that night all heads turned to my husband Dougie who, being a doctor, was obviously The Man Who Will Know This. He announced with great conviction....
No idea where he got this from but we all bowed to his superior knowledge. He was wrong. The actual number was "112".
Dougie was ribbed mercilessly for years after. Friends would pretend to put 888 into their mobiles as Dougie's special number and he was teased about the fact that no wonder you can't get hold of GPs if they have private emergency numbers unknown to anyone else. Coincidently 888 is the number for online poker.

We have been successful on a few occasions, and runner up even more frequently. We have come home and consulted encyclopaedias because we didn't believe the stupid answers that were given. We were robbed with the question:
"Which country has the longest coastline?"
Confident in our knowledge that it would be Canada because of all the tiny inlets, we were astounded at the answer "Russia" and were proved right when we got home and Dougie looked it up.  He still mentions it today...

Since our son has moved up to the local Grammar School, the quiz nights there allow students to participate. Rory is showing all the signs of being just like his father. This was particularly true this weekend when he was desperate to beat the PE teachers who seem to win most years (not always, we have had the exquisite pleasure twice now). One round was about the solar system and I sat back in the glow of parental pride as he took over the answer sheet and scribbled away with authority. Then we came to the question:
"What is the angle of the earth's tilt?"
Rory wrote down 23.5 degrees but was questioned by myself and another adult who thought that seemed quite high. This made the poor lad waver so he reduced it to 17.5, whereupon someone laughed and said, "Isn't that VAT?" so he eventually wrote down 8.5. You can guess already that the answer proved to be 23.5 after all and Rory's other answers were all correct. He was, quite rightly, livid. I can't tell you how much I apologised.

Mind you, he said there were 47 countries in Africa and there were 53. Bloody useless child!

We came third. The PE teachers won again, not helped by a sports round in which one question on its own had 13 points available for naming the European football teams in this year's World Cup, plus 5 bonus points if you got them all correct. A gift for them. Not that we're bitter of course....

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Mum's Gone to Venice - pizza and pigeons

I'm having a bit of an Italian renaissance at the moment with the blog posts. Photos of Lake Garda last week, reminiscing about an early holiday in Rome the week before. And now Venice. Yes it is a beautiful spot for a romantic holiday for two, but it is equally brilliant for a family city break. Granted I probably wouldn't recommend it if your little ones are in buggies because you will be cursing my name forever more as you negotiate yet another little footbridge across the canals. However if your kids are a little older (mine was 10 at the time) it is a very compact, fascinating place that children will adore.

There are lots of cheap flights to Venice. We travelled from Stansted to Venice Treviso airport with Ryanair. From there a special coach took us on a 45 minute ride across the lagoon to the main coach park on the island of Venice itself. We then we picked up a Vaporetto (water bus) and made our way to the hotel. You can see why this probably isn't attempted if you have masses of luggage or a large quantity of stressed children.

From here on in, trust me, the holiday became far more relaxing. We stayed in the Dorsudoro area of the city in the Hotel Ca' Pisani which was just heavenly. Still housed in the traditional 14th century building, yet the design was all Art Deco. It was located near to the Grand Canal and, usefully, near a Vaporetto bus stop. A three-day travel card saved us a lot of money and tears as we could just nip on and off the water buses whenever the sightseeing got too tiring. To be honest, our son could have spent all day jumping on and off them.

We did eventually persuade him to do some walking too and St Mark's Square, with the ever-present pigeons, was just as magnificent as we'd hoped. We probably should have queued up to go inside the Doge's Palace or the Basilica San Marco but were just as happy sitting in the Spring sunshine with a cappuccino and an ice cream.

When we did venture inside a building it was the contemporary home of the Peggy Guggenheim museum. This was a place Rory, my son, thought was pretty cool as they had huge canvases from Kandinski and some great speckled paintings by Jackson Pollock which to a young boy looked as though JP had just flicked his brush at: he most probably had done. I do have a fabulous photo of a sculpture which
greeted us at the front of the museum: it's of a funny man on a horse looking very happy and...ahem...excited shall we say. But I'm always putting rude photos on this blog so I shall keep him safely tucked away so he doesn't scare anyone! Have a look at my son and me in the garden of the museum instead. Yes, far less entertaining I know.

One of my favourite parts of the holiday was the boat trip across to the little island of Murano, famous for its glass. Visiting the glass-blowing factories is a great way to entertain children and the gorgeous pieces of jewellery you can buy certainly keeps mum happy. Dad just needs to keep getting his wallet out. If I remember rightly we had some fab chips here too....!

As I've said before, in Italy dining with kids is effortless. Pasta, pizza and ice cream in bustling yet relaxed surroundings where children are welcomed with open arms. We had some great meals, even finding, after a great deal of huffing and bickering as we got lost in the side streets, what was meant to be the best pizza restaurant in the city. Yup, they were delicious, though Dougie decided to try the special that night and struggled gamefully with what turned out to be pumpkin pizza. It wasn't good.

Of course you're not really interested in the rest of this post. You want to see the little rude man on a horse don't you?

Well if you insist, here he is, but I'll just put a little photo of him - if you want the detail you'll just have to click on him to make him bigger......!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Gallery - Me - Angel, my alter ego.

For The Gallery this week the theme is "Me". To see more visit Sticky Fingers.

Until the 23 May I am not me. I am Angel, a "streetwise city whore".

The me that is a wife, mother, two-bit blogger and housewifey person has to take a back seat whilst Angel takes over.

Angel is the character I am playing in a local amateur production of the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. She is funny, tough and a single mum to her little boy Billy. Since January I have been Angel for two nights a week, talking in her Texan drawl, strutting about in high-heeled boots and trying not to cry whilst on the telephone to her little boy as she won't be with him for Thanksgiving.

Apologies to those of you who have seen this photo before but I am shamefully showing it again as it's good for publicity, a role which also falls to me within the society. I didn't intend to be used as the model for the poster: the photographer and I mulled over a few ideas, I showed him my costume (complete with blonde wig) and, as time was getting short, he used me in the shot.

The phrase that comes to mind is a 1661 woman (16 from the back, 61 from the front). The wonders of photoshop and good lighting. Not bad for an old tart!

Note to husband and son: normal service will resume shortly
Note to husband only: will try and keep hold of the boots ;-)

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Gallery - PINK - sunset over Lake Garda

This is my favourite photo from our holiday in Lake Garda last summer. I haven't changed it in any way; this is exactly the same as through my own eyes. I haven't got a fancy camera and usually have no idea about composition but somehow this looks right to me. (If you click on the photo you can see it much bigger and get a better idea of the scene)

Lake Garda is a phallic-shaped body of water in the North of Italy. I was told it resembles a witch's hat but that wasn't what came to mind when I looked at it on a map. We stayed in a town called Bardolino, in the testicular region! They do a fabulous cheap, extremely drinkable red wine that I've since found in Tesco and Sainsbury's. Highly recommended!

This is my contribution to the "colour" theme at The Gallery which can be found at Tara's Sticky Fingers website.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Mum's Gone for a Dirty weekend - Photo lottery meme

The second thing that went through my head when I saw this fabulous bed was "Ravish me...NOW!"

The first thing that went through my head, however, was "Where's my camera? I must take a photo of this before we mess it all up".

This gorgeous boudoir belongs to the Prestonfield House hotel in Edinburgh. Dougie and I were attending a charity gala evening there last October to raise funds for his old school, George Heriot's. We could have done with passing the hat round ourselves as this weekend away wasn't cheap. Once we'd paid for the tickets, the hotel room and the petrol to take us from Lincolnshire to Scotland, this was going to be hellish expensive for one night of decadent jiggy-jiggy.

Picture the scene if you will. We were shown into this beautiful room, there was champagne on ice waiting for us, we were child-free and we had about an hour before we needed to get changed. would wouldn't you?

The overnight bags were dropped on the floor and we both jumped into the pile of velvet loveliness. Dougie looked into my eyes and said,

"AAAAATCHOOOOOOO!"   as a cloud of dust and fluff filled his nostrils and set off an allergic reaction.

Bloody great! I lay there waiting for Godot for a considerable time whilst he knocked back the antihistamines... but to no avail. He sneezed and snottered so much that I got up, poured myself a big glass of champers and tucked into the complimentary chocolates. My ardour well and truly cooled, I ran myself a soothing bath and filled my toiletry bag with shampoo, body lotion, shoe shine and sewing kit to compensate.

As the sneezing continued and then developed into a full-blown nose bleed, I could hear the pipes in the distance calling us to dinner. We had ten minutes to get dressed which isn't long when you have a man who has to get into the full highland regalia and is bleeding profusely.

We just about made it in time. With a sporran full of tissues and pills, we hot-footed out the door and joined the other guests.

The evening was fabulous and we managed not to get carried away with the auction (I was under strict instructions to keep my arms firmly by my side).

We giggled all the way back to the room, me under the influence of bubbly and chardonnay: Dougie under the influence of bubbly and Piriton. We struggled with the key then fell over the threshold into the room. I looked at the heavenly bed then had an idea. With a twinkle in my eye I took control of the situation:

"Don't go any further! Turn left! BATHROOM!"

This meme was passed to me by lovely Vegemitevix. The idea is to open the first folder in your Picture file and find the 10th photo in that folder which should form the basis for the post. I should really tag other people to carry on this meme but each time I think of someone, they have already been tagged. So feel free anyone who is inspired, and has a computer full of old photos - give it a go!



I put this claim in before but then a helpful blogger some weeks later said as it was an old post I could delete it. I don't think I should have as now, as well as them not recognising my feed, they now can't see my claim number.

So here we go again.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Mum's Gone to Rome - skeletons and spaghetti

Not exactly Russell Crowe.....

36 nuns on a zebra crossing in Rome was my entry for The Gallery last Wednesday, a photo from our first European city break as a family in 2005, when my son was 9 years old. It wasn't the first time I'd been to Rome: my Mum jogged my memory yesterday of a family holiday there when I was 13, traipsing behind my Dad as he strode ahead of us, pointing out all the architecture as my mother, brother and I whinged to stop for a rest every five minutes. To this day we tease my Dad relentlessly by recalling the fact that we seemed to spend the whole trip following signs to some elusive saint's relics when we were in fact following the sign for a one-way street.

Rory was the right age for a trip to Rome. An interest in history cultivated by a diet of Horrible History books, he was bound to find something appealing about Romans, gladiators....and lots of pizza. We stayed in the Hotel Forty-Seven, a newly-opened chic hotel with a fabulous view (see photo) and a magical rooftop terrace for late night tipples. It attracted new visitors by keeping prices low for the first season. I see it's still doing well in the Tripadvisor lists.

We kept Rory amused by avoiding queues whenever we could so we passed on some of the big sights (St Peter's and The Vatican were too busy that half-term week) and focused on a variety of attractions to give our son a flavour of the city and its rich past but geared towards a younger tourist with a short attention span.

To gain a brief but vivid background to Rome which was palatable to our computer-game-junkie son we visited the Time Elevator. Purists would argue that we were mad to sit in a dark room being bombarded with 3-D images of Rome when history was outside for the taking, but Rory adored it and the timeline of the city was firmly lodged in his mind for the rest of the holiday.

We were all keen to see the Colosseum and it didn't disappoint, though as parents we gave it the thumbs down for the jobsworths in the ticket booths who wouldn't accept that our 9 year old was under 18 as we didn't have his passport with us. Throw 'em to the lions I say. Don't get caught out paying more than a few euros for the inevitable photo with the gladiator either. We checked the price before agreeing: some hapless souls had the photo taken first and were then asked to hand over a small fortune.

Ask Rory now what his favourite part of the holiday was and he will say, unequivocally, the Capuchin Crypt. You might be forgiven for thinking the Santa Maria della Conzezione dei Cappuccini was the founding church of the Starbucci Famiglia but you'd be mistaken. Instead, in six tiny chapels beneath the church, are the bones of 4000 friars. Monks with dubious taste yet an obvious artistic bent, used the bones over a period of 200 years to decorate the chapels with intricate patterns. Having a delight in the macabre is an essential quality for any visitor to these crypts. How charming to have the "crypt of the pelvises" and the "crypt of the leg bones". To end the visit on a cheery note, a placard states the following:
"What you are now we used to be, what we are now you will be".

Near our hotel was the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, home to the famous Bocca della Verita (mouth of truth). For hundreds of years people have placed their hands in the mouth, the legend being that if you told a lie your hand would be bitten off. To think, if you want a lie-detector test now you have to go on  the Jeremy Kyle show.

How else can I entice you to visit this beautiful, if somewhat noisy and chaotic city? The food. Pizza, pasta, ice-cream: a child's paradise, particularly as the waiters make such a fuss of kids and make them feel so welcome in their restaurants. Not bad for the adults either. My husband still remembers ordering a grande birra one lunchtime and being given a huge bucketful of lager. Not good at afternoon drinking, he was proper plastered as he weaved his way through the city streets afterwards. A bit of a lie-down was needed before we crossed the Tiber to the Trastevere district of the city for another historic meal, this time washed down with a nice Chianti.....

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Gallery - 36

How many nuns can you fit on a zebra crossing? 36 and counting, if you happen to be in Rome.

The theme for Tara's 'The Gallery' this week is a number and this photo immediately came to mind. I took it when we visited Italy's capital a few years ago. Not a technically good photo: a point and shoot through the window of the Hotel Forty Seven (ooh another number) but one that never fails to make me smile. 

We adored Rome (must do a Mum's Gone to post about it actually)  but I was fearful of crossing the roads on account of the sadistic drivers who paid no heed to pedestrians. After seeing this glorious sight I made a note to only cross roads when under the protection of nuns or priests: the cars always stopped for them.

The photo also takes me back to my childhood. My secondary school was a Catholic Convent Grammar school so a fair few of the teachers were nuns. I have fond memories of our form teacher with her jolly sayings, "If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing well" and one nun who had a very stubbly beard. Very naive girls that we were, we had no understanding of the poor woman's probable hormonal imbalance and were convinced it was a man in drag. She played the guitar very well, nonetheless...

Friday, 5 March 2010

Young at Heart Photo Album - Beach Babe

Did you all see Tim/Charlie (who could tell the difference?) in the latest Young at Heart Photo Album. Tim in his sweet sandals and socks, on his stripey deckchair, lapping up his ice-cream. A typical English summer scene.

Tim tagged me in this guess-the-blogger-as-a-child meme, and I found the above photo which, as Tim said, showed "Mum's Gone to" not getting anywhere very fast, trying to paddle on the sand. The photo was taken in Majorca when I was nearly five years old. This was in the very early days of package holidays and my first time abroad.

My parents tell me that when this photo was taken they noticed a chap also taking photos of me by the water's edge. My dad apparently went to speak to him to ask what he was doing. When he explained he was taking photos for a German magazine, that seemed perfectly acceptable to my dad. Over the years they often said, "Wouldn't it have been nice to have had a copy of the magazine?" HELLO?!! God knows where those photos ended up but we never contemplated anything other than the explanation we were given. How times have changed.

The other thing that makes me smile about this picture is being amazed at how brown I was. In the late 60s and early 70s no-one really gave much thought to protecting children from the sun. If this photo were taken today, I'd probably have a big floppy hat and a sun-reflecting all-in-one suit, not an itsy-bitsy white bikini. Our family used to love getting tanned: Mum would slather on a Factor 2 now and again but otherwise I'd spend all summer looking nut brown. I would sit in the bath each evening admiring my tan lines: a few pink bits never bothered me as "they will turn brown eventually!"

Now have a little look at the bonny baby below. Don't you just want to pinch those chubby cheeks? Who do they belong to? I think this little girl with her tiny bunny for company may now prefer her dogs and some cuddly lambs? But she probably still has ruddy cheeks due to all that bracing Northern air up on the farm.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Ice Ice Baby....

Tara Cain at Sticky Fingers has introduced a new blogging idea, The Gallery. Many of us enjoy putting photos on our blog and this way we can showcase them altogether.

Tara said: "Every week I will give you a prompt, an idea, a notion and you go out and take a photograph using that prompt. Or just use a photo you already have.
Post it on your blog and write about it."

The theme this week is beauty.

The photo I have chosen is of Jokulsarlon, in Iceland. We visited in 2007 and took a little boat trip on this glacial lagoon. Icebergs float in the lake and then gradually drift out to sea. It was such a striking place, to me very beautiful; nature in the raw.

Go and visit Tara's gallery for more gorgeous pics of beauty in nature as well as chocolate, children and cows!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Playing Nursey

(also published today on Mad Manic Mamas)

Last week my son Rory, 13, was poorly with a virus. A high temperature, bit of a cough and no energy at all. The "no energy at all" bit was difficult to distinguish from the usual bone idle apathy that we have to contend with, but as he couldn't be bothered to turn his mobile on I sensed this was genuine illness.

Two days off school and he barely moved from the sofa. He regressed, hour by hour, into the little boy I could fuss over without him grunting 'GERROFF" when I ruffle his hair. He lay there watching children's telly: Spongebob Squarepants rather than repeats of The Inbetweeners on his laptop.

I brought him his pillow and duvet, served him drinks on a tray, fetched books, adminstered paracetamol and even nipped out to the corner shop to buy rubbishy sweets like sour lollipops and sherbet dib-dabs.

We both loved every minute of it. He slept on and off during the day while I cooked, put washings in and got through a big pile of ironing. Later in the afternoon we watched Countdown together, gaining extra time for the numbers and conundrums by pausing with Sky+.

By Wednesday he was begrudgingly back at school, the transition being made a little easier with a lift there and back rather than taking the bus. He was still weary in the evenings so was easily persuaded to have a relaxing bath and an early night.

By Friday the brave little soldier was back to normal: grunting, criticising our television choices then retreating to his room to talk to his mates on MSN.

I tried to ruffle his hair this morning....