brave enough to start

family of five who can, should and definitely will, see more of the world

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The last week of the school term is a strange one. It should be all fun and excitement as the Christmas holidays approach but after a long Autumn term we find ourselves struggling to fight off the coughs and colds that threaten to ruin the big day itself if we don’t slow down now.  The mornings are darker and getting out the door for the school run is even more of a battle than the rest of the year when my herding skills would impress even the Nativity Shepherds.  I know I must be tired because normally I can rant for England if the boys aren’t moving fast enough but today my heart was not in it.  They were a few minutes late, but they weren’t the only ones, as I, and several other sheepish parents who hadn’t factored in enough time to de-ice their cars, rocked up after the proverbial bell had gone.  Actually there are no bells at the boys’ school and today I realise how very grateful I am for that.

John and Teddy have both finished the infant school so there will be no nativity for them this year but tomorrow, if Alex is well enough, he will give us his interpretation of the frankincense third of the Magi; though I suspect what he understands is that he is carrying jelly tots for the plastic baby Jesus, who he is hoping will be good natured enough to overlook the fact that he plans to eat them en route.

Our tree went up a week ago, an annual tradition that exists very differently in my mind to it’s real life counterpart.  Before we start I always have high hopes: There will be Michael Bublé playing in the background, mulled wine warming on the hob and lots of laughing as we all have fun hanging the decorations on the tree, which by the way, is always a real tree in my idealised version.  Reality started off pretty well; we found the Michael Bublé tracks on the iPod in the kitchen where they have been since last Christmas, excellent.  From there though, things took a slight dip.  Nick, being the practical man he is, talked me out of a real tree – there was a perfectly good artificial one in the loft and given that I’ve made him go up there dozens of times lately, he wasn’t likely to forget it.  As he explained, we can get all the Christmas stuff out of the loft, save the cost of a real one for next year and then after Christmas chuck out all but the very nicest things, as storage will be limited.  So we compromise on the artificial tree.

I haven’t been organised enough to sort out mulled wine in advance so a bottle of room temperature Rioja will have to do.  Fruit wise, there is only a couple of mouldy strawberries and a bruised satsuma so I give them a miss, after a couple of glasses it won’t make any difference anyway.  Next I wanted laughter and fun but what I got was a few festively enhanced expletives as we realised we hadn’t tried to put up the tree for years and it is a right faff pulling all the branches into shape, trying to find the colour coded sections so that it goes up in the right order.  Despite trying to engage the kids in helping with the task, they lose interest long before it is finished and go back to arguing over the Playstation.  Meanwhile Michael is in the background telling us how it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas and, as Nick curses at the number of broken bulbs in the tree lights, the kids wrestle on the floor over the only nunchuck that still works and I head out to the kitchen in search of another bottle, I have to agree.

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On surviving Black Friday

I think I was about 12 the first time I saw QVC on television; most likely they were selling jewellery or cleaning products, after all, you need sparkly rings when you’re scrubbing the floors all day.  The presenters had a real knack for whipping up a panic as the number of items available for sale diminished before your very eyes. Like an illusionist accomplished in the art of misdirection, the presenter ensured we were all so focussed on calling in before it was too late that there was no time to consider if we actually wanted or needed the product.  Combine that with the assertion that the item is a real bargain, many times cheaper than normally available, and the pressure was almost too much to bear.

Back then I used to work on a Sunday market selling all sorts of things for 50p each; my first proper job. The market stood on an old airfield and was huge; you could easily spend all day there and not get around it all.  I loved watching the Del Boys of the day hawking the latest vegetable peeler or tomato slicer – you weren’t sure if you were buying it because you could always do with a new vegetable peeler or because of the free salad spinner that was being given away with it. Either way, both the vegetable peeler and salad spinner would soon be gathering dust at the back of a kitchen cupboard.  It didn’t seem to matter.

The 50p stalls drew crowds because everything was so cheap and it was manically busy from the moment the market opened until late into the afternoon, especially at this time of year. Unlike QVC and the vegetable peeler men, we didn’t need to artificially limit supply in order to generate demand; there was plenty for everyone.  Years later when Nick and I discovered the hyakkin, or hyaku-en (100 yen), shops all over Japan it brought back all that sentimentality.  The Japanese have a word for it: “Natsukashii” a word that is notoriously difficult to translate into English, but for me it describes perfectly how I felt remembering all those Sundays with punters buying by the bucket load because the bargains were too great to ignore.

Of course QVC thrives in Japan too, and embarrassingly I’ve got a couple of dusty boxes in the loft that stand testament to the fact that you don’t even need to understand what is being said, to feel that urge to pick up the phone.

Here in the UK, Black Friday is a relatively new phenomenon – it might have been around last year but this is the first year that it has really made the headlines. That combination of low prices and limited supply reigniting those old feelings of panic as websites crashed under the strain and senior citizens who had inadvertently gone out for milk were crushed in the scrum for cheap TVs.  Disappointment littered Facebook’s news feeds as we all began to wonder what on Earth had just happened.

And then, following a weekend of muted shame and embarrassment, we woke up to another newly designated annual event: Cyber Monday.  We have to assume that by next year, these will be followed by Embolism Tuesday and Whiplash Wednesday. Oh joy.

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Tempting fate

So we’ve been thinking about boring matters like travel insurance lately and we need to decide whether we are including what the industry term “hazardous or extreme sports” or even just “Winter sports”.  My first thought is yes, let’s include everything, just in case.  But “everything” is expensive and we don’t want to pay a lot for something we don’t need.

As Nick pointed out, it’ll be heading towards Winter by the time we get to Canada so maybe there is the potential for some Winter sports.  He and I have never been skiing; there have been opportunities but so far it’s something neither of us have ever done. I like the idea of skiing.

No, okay, I like the idea of après-ski.  In all honesty, the idea of actually skiing scares me half to death.  So far, touch wood, I have never broken a bone or been hospitalised for anything serious, and miraculously, neither have any of the boys.  With three sons I think that’s pretty good going – after all, they are incapable of sitting still; if something moves, they chase it and if it doesn’t move, they climb it.

I once ran an antenatal course attended by a professional stunt man; everyone in the group, with the exception of his own partner, was thoroughly impressed.  I got the feeling his partner hoped that the imminent arrival of their first born would lead to a swift career change to something a bit more conventional and a bit less likely to result in permanent injury, but I digress. Anyway, said stuntman shared with us the theory of relaxing your muscles when you fall to avoid hurting yourself – that if you brace yourself when you fall you increase the risk of broken bones.  Apparently it is better to try to turn the fall into a roll so that the momentum and force of the fall move you forwards rather than downwards.  I understand the theory and I’m sure it’s sound, I’m just not convinced about my own ability to execute it on a snowy mountain.  When I imagine myself skiing I’m there in all the gear but I’m never actually moving.  In the event of a fall, I don’t see myself gracefully tumbling like a gymnast, what I see looks more like a scene from the Dambusters as I bounce towards the inevitable explosion.

It did occur to me that one way that guarantees me a relaxed body is a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc, I’ve had a fair bit of practice executing the perfect fall and roll under those circumstances but I can’t see the call to the insurance company going well:

Me: “Unfortunately I seem to have broken my legs during a skiing accident”
Insurance clerk: “Ok Mrs Jones, tell me what happened”
Me: “Well I took all reasonable precautions to ensure I was properly relaxed but it seems half a bottle of Chablis wasn’t enough”
Insurance clerk: “I see.  May I direct you to clause 6.2 of your policy excluding liability for reckless behaviour and stupidity.”


I’m sure my fears are irrational and I really don’t want to pass them on to the boys so I ought to try and overcome them for their sake.  I wonder if I could join a lesson for children under 5 as it surely wouldn’t be reasonable to expect Alex to go alone?  Maybe that’s the answer.