Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Three nights in heaven

No this is not my first foray into porno posts, but a homage to my weekend away sans enfants. Thanks to some amazing, and some might say foolhardy, grandparents we managed to escape the brood to spend three whole nights in Venice - henceforth known as heaven. Now I must admit that after the couple of weeks of illness and childcare chaos I'd had preceding our little trip three nights in a Travel Lodge off the M1 would probably have appealed, simply because the children would find it hard to crawl into our bed at night there. But Venice was much, much better than that. It actually had the magical effect of making us feel like proper grown ups again, instead of simply worn out parents.

I loved the little luxuries of walking at a normal pace rather than at the dawdle of a four year old, of negotiating public transport and shop doorways without the encumbrance of a double buggy, of having a bed that was several hundreds of miles away from the threat of infant night pirates hijacking the duvet in the early hours, of eating a meal out at a leisurely pace and with no need to make apologetic faces at your fellow diners as your children screech, fidget and drop food on the floor, of being able to saunter for hours without inducing whines about aching legs and the need for drinks, of being able to walk past a toy shop and not give it a second glance, of sitting with a cup of coffee and just drinking in the scenery with no one pulling at your sleeve and chanting "Mummy, mummy, mummy' incessantly to get your attention....I could go on, and on, and on.

It was delicious revelling in divesting myself of my four demanding boys, but this delight was compounded by being in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Hollywood couldn't have made Venice up, this mysterious and majestic city that rises like a giant folly from the deep green lagoon that surrounds and threatens to engulf it. We travelled from the airport by water bus, a novelty in itself, and as we chugged through the black waters towards the dancing lights of the island it was easy to leave the cares of the world behind like so much displaced luggage.

Despite exhortations to look at this or that art gallery or fantastically frescoed chapel, we chose instead to explore the maze of streets that span out across the city, climbing artfully carved bridges over jade green canals, watching fellow tourist slide by on the silver and black painted gondolas, piloted by the only men on earth who can make a striped jumper and beribboned boater look macho. Each street is an adventure turning you into dead ends adored by a delicate fountain or candlelit shrine, tiny alleyways where the buildings above lean so close that resemble a newly in love couple bending in for a kiss, thick damp black beams creating tunnels between the buildings that spit you out into the brightness and bustle of the Grand Canal. Overlooked roads and forgotten turnings make even a simple trip out to supper into a secretive assignation.

The streets shadowed by the grand scale of the pallazzos and pensiones that line them are lit by jewel bright shop windows, tempting you to buy bejewelled and glittering masks, garish curls and beads of Murano glass, butter yellow crumbling chunks of parmesan, fragrant pillowy Panettone studded with fat raisins and sweet nuggets of orange peel, wafer thin slices of rose pink ham and slabs of porcelain white nutty torrone. Needless to say our suitcases returned bulging with goodies and the boys have been dashing around the house in sparkling feathered masks ever since.

A city built on water is such a captivating folly, we couldn't help but marvel at the everyday transported into something special simply by being loaded onto a boat. Where else in the world would you gasp at a rubbish truck, taxi or DHL delivery vehicle - but somehow seeing a washing machine delivered by boat, or watching a man about town wriggle under the canvas of his tiny motorboat to retrieve his shopping is so much more captivating than when these things are done by car and van. A choked high street at home is entirely lacking in charm, but when there are stately gondolas dodging vaporettos suddenly everything is enchanting.

The highlight of our trip for me was not the Pala D'oro at St Mark's, though I did love its childish extravagance, it looks as if I'd let my six-year-old loose with gold paint and shiny stones and told him to do his worst, extravagant, overstated and so very, very shiny, or the fabulous Italian food which never fails to please even in the most downbeat tourist trap, but a gliding ride down the Grand Canal at dusk. We had walked for hours down the back streets leading to the station, shopping and snacking on sticky cannoli and our feet had had enough, so we hopped on the water bus to chug back to the centre of town and our hotel.

We snagged seats right on the prow, and the chill evening air drove out the tiredness, forcing us to snuggle into our coats and scarves and settle down for the ride. Water buses may be charming, but they are far from fast. We gazed at the magnificent palaces that line the grand canal, some chessboards of pink and cream bricks, some wedding cake confections in white marble, all with turrets and crenellations a plenty, some with faded maroon and gold flags fluttering from high windows, others dark and neglected.

Windows shone with elaborately gaudy chandeliers dripping crystals and delicate glass decorations from sky high ceilings, occassionally nothing was lit apart from a tiny loft window hanging high above the water, weaving tales of grand folk fallen on hard times, holing up in the last room the could afford to keep open. Many had boats moored outside, bobbing in private boat houses, some the Porsches and Ferraris of this waterlogged domain, shining with varnished wood and sleek lines, others the clapped out bangers with scraped plastic hulls and ragged canvas roofs.

As we ploughed through the darkening waters from stop to stop, the light faded and the buildings shifted from an ethereal blue grey of twilight, to more dark and stately presences, as their shadowy facades glinted off the dark waters. A rush hour bus ride, lifted from mundane to magical simply by shifting location.

Of course the other huge high of the trip was actually spending time together, having the chance to remember why you fell in love and that it's more than just the shared chores of family life that bind you to each other. And this task was aided and abetted by our romantic backdrop, as I am not sure that motel off the M1 would have left us quite as starry eyed.

But now we have landed back in the real world with a bump. I was dashing along the road on the school run today, having been woken at 5am by a bed raider complaining of a temperature that miraculously disappeared as soon as he'd burrowed into bed between us. Yesterday I came home from work turning my key in the lock to the sound of my two eldest sons screaming at each other, they stared up at me teary eyed and started explaining their greivances at the top of their voices. But for the moment I can still close my eyes and be back watching dusk fade to darkness on the ink black waters of the Grand Canal and remember that there is more to life than that mayhem contained with my four walls.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

My achey, breaky heart

Today was the first day in his school and nursery career that my oldest son refused to kiss me goodbye. He strolled into his classroom, trying to attract the attention of his disturbingly pretty teacher, without a backward glance. As I stood plaintively waving goodbye the kindly teachers assistant asked "Aren't you going to kiss mummy goodbye", to which he went puce and violently shook his head.

He is only six and already I am an embarrassment to him.

I knew it was coming, all mothers of older children have tales of the careless heartbreak inflicted by growing children as they morph from cuddly toddlers who can't get enough of you to sulky tweens who are far too hip for hugs, but I just didn't think it would arrive so soon.

I am crossing my fingers that at this young age that it's just a phase as he is still all to willing to sit on my knee and twine his arms around my neck in the privacy of the home, it's just public displays of affection that he has begun to scorn. But it has to be a sign of things to come and I don't like it one little bit.

Although I relish the growing independence of my big boy who can now dress, wash, read and help out all by himself, I can't help but miss that little boy whose face dissolved into tears at the prospect of two and half short hours away from me in nursery. At the time I was eager to unwrap his distraught body from around my legs and get on with the tasks of the day in that small window of freedom, but now it's on the wane I long for that unbridled devotion.

I love my boy and I know I will grow used to this new, more detached, incarnation, but today will always be a black day to me as today is the beginning of the end of my baby, as this big boy takes his place.

Still at least I have three more hot on his heels to make up for those missing cuddles, and as one is screaming in his cot right now, I'd best stop for now.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Transformers under my pillow

It's been a turbulent few days chez FDMTG as a nasty virus has felled us one by one, our childcare and cleaning arrangements have unravelled simultaneously and my work has decided to take a turn for the busy. It's enough to make me (almost) regret having four children.

When times are good, having lots of boys to kiss and cuddle is dreamy, but when illness strikes or the tangled web of support that keeps us all going snags, I really do find having a large family cumbersome in the extreme. It all started when my stalwart mother's help began to reveal that she simply wasn't up to the job of juggling my four boys. In her defence it wasn't what we hired her to do, but in my defence I can't afford to pay her unless she can tame the boys sufficiently for me to be able to work in peace on the days she is in loco parentis.

To cut a long story short I have now had to start the painful task of searching for a new nanny to take on the task of boy management two days a week, which is a boring round of posting endless adverts, contacting agencies and doing interviews. While some of the nannies we have seen have been lovely, it disturbs me the number of women who reply to an advert for an experienced nanny who have never actually looked after one child, let alone four. Still fingers crossed the perfect Mary Poppins is waiting just around the corner.

The next brick in my castle to fall out of place was my cleaner of six years throwing in the towel. It comes as no surprise to me as she is the brightest most conscientious woman and is desperate to start a family of her own, but I take to change like a fish takes to fresh air so all this staff movement left me a dribbling wreck.

I know all of this might make me sound like a right spoiled madam, moaning about nannies and cleaners like a true domestic diva. I hold my hands up in shame as I often feel sharp pangs of guilt that I don't give up work to look after my baby boys, but what I earn makes the difference between happiness and misery in our household, so to give up isn't really an option, and child care problems go with the territory.

As for a cleaner, I am far from ashamed to say that when I am not slaving over a hot keyboard I would far rather cough up for someone else to scrub the toilet and clean the oven, than spend even more time away from the boys doing those tiresome chores myself.

Now all these hiccups on the domestic front are unsettling enough, but on top of this son number one came down with a feverish cold on Monday, followed by me, son number two, son number three and now dad is showing worrying signs of illness. This bout of sickness brought home how painful a big family can be as we haven't had an unbroken night of sleep in a week, what with late night (or even worse early morning) requests for water/medicine/cuddles/trips to the loo.

Each night we put our head to the pillow in trepidation wondering which of our many offspring will be the one to wake us from our slumbers tonight. That is if we can get to sleep what with the detritus left in our bed by the sick little boys who have inhabited it during the day. I have variously ousted books, pens, biscuit crumbs, crayons, magazines and a menagerie of soft toys before there was room for me to lie down, and tonight it was the eponymous Transfomer under the pillow courtesy of robots in disguise-obsessed son number two.

The final straw in this week that quite rightly ended on Friday 13th, was that the client I am working for at the moment managed to wipe out all the work which I had done the previous week leaving me with the tedious task of doing the whole lot again. Cue many hours spent at digital grindstone with a streaming cold and misanthropic outlook.

I am crossing my fingers that all will be well tomorrow as we are due to brave the gale force winds and rain to make the journey to visit Lapland UK in Kent. And so Christmas begins.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Book club

Almost forgot that I promised myself last night to recommend a fabulous book I just finished reading. It's a bit gory and gruesome in parts, but so beautifully written and such an engaging story if you can deal with the nasty bits it's a wonderful read. To be honest the books I mostly read have pink sparkly covers and require zero brain cells to comprehend, as that is about how many I have left at the end of a day with children.

But this one is actually intelligent and thrilling, and nothing to do with boyfriends, babies, motherhood or any of those typical topics I find myself reading about over and over again. It is the sort of book I would love to write, but know I never will. It's imaginative and so gorgeously phrased you can almost feel yourself in the situations described. The book is called City of Thieves by David Benioff. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

It's in his kiss

Yesterday, halfway through the manic morning routine that is back with a vengeance after half term, my husband stopped his impressive juggling act of dressing one child, feeding another and trying to do up his shirt buttons for a nanosecond to remind me that we had got together on this very day 10 years ago. 'That's nice dear', I replied with a swift peck on his stubbled cheek as I simultaneously shoved sandwiches into a lunch box, mixed up yoghurty goo for the babies' breakfast and attempted to shimmy out of my nightie and into some semblance of day clothes in time for the school run.

Now, as I sit at my desk with a little space to contemplate, I realise just how much things have changed since that day 10 years ago. My husband was then a fellow journalist who I knew vaguely from the press party circuit, which back in the pre-Credit Crunch days was pretty active, spinning us unworthy hacks from one swanky do to another. A great, if deeply unhealthy, life when you are young, free and single or would like to be.

I was in the throes of a nasty and elongated break up and he had proved to be a stalwart shoulder to cry on. Although he later revealed that this uncharacteristic empathy was actually an elaborate ploy to get into my pants, I appreciated it at the time, as so many of the other men around me were so much less subtle in their seduction techniques.

That fateful night I was working late in an attempt to avoid going home to my misery, he was walking past my office in Soho to go to his brother's wrap party just around the corner. As he passed the plate glass windows of my place of work he spotted me and rapped on the panes to get my attention and invite me to the do.

So many things should have stopped us from getting together, what if I hadn't worked on the ground floor, what if I had been sensible and avoided all romantic entanglement given my fragile state, what if he had been sensible and avoided this woman with all her pantechnicon of emotional baggage?

Fortunately prudence isn't in either of our natures and I accepted his invitation. We sat huddled in a dark and smoky booth revealing all our most glamorous and attractive points to each other - naturally this didn't take long and we soon decided to give up on the chit chat and get down to some serious snogging. But not without me issuing my now famous proviso (which I was sure would scare any right-minded man off) and refusing to kiss him until he agreed that in principle he would like to have children!

Now I know this makes me sound certifiable, and him too as he still leant in for the kill, but let me explain. At the time I was in a turmoil over my split, and one of the key reasons it didn't work out with the ex was because despite the fact we had been together for many years he was adamant that he didn't want children. I thought to myself, I am in my late 20s, I want kids asap, I am a total emotional wreck, I will give this poor boy a chance to run a mile, but if he does choose to stick around then at least I know we are singing from the same hymn sheet.

Ten years later with the smokey bars of Soho a distant miasma of the past, we are still belting out the same tunes as we rush around after our four boys. The notes might not be quite as melodic, but I am glad I checked if he was daddy material before our first smooch, and I am even more glad he was mad enough to kiss me anyway.