Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Older:Yes. Wiser:?

Status: Officially older, not necessarily wiser
Mood: Overwhelmed

Well, it's official. I can no longer say I'm in my early 40s. Or even live up to the claim of 44 and 3/4 my blog title claims.

Doesn't help that the nice girl in the pharmacy I ask for a good face cream hands me one for "mature skin" (would it hurt them to call it "wiser"?).

Undaunted, am determined to be cheerful, upbeat and positive on my birthday. Chocolate eclairs and macaroons bought to share at office help (yum).
[Note to self: Sweets bought to SHARE with well-wishing colleagues]

Open up computer to a flood of well-wishers, including a message from Welsh Fran, loopy childhood friend who declares to world of Facebook that I'm "one of the most lovable, crazy, gorgeous people on the Franplanet".
Think (hope) that's a compliment....

Day passes in a blur of good wishes from more people than I have years on the clock, and a flurry of work (they had to pick today to get me busy?), then it's off home on the train-bus-train-metro-bus samba.

Two-and-a-half hours later, walk through front door to find No.1 dodging homework and Sister-in-Law and neices bubbling excitedly round the flat. SIL fails to twig significance of day despite Kiddo saying "Happy Birthday Mum" and me opening cards in post...
....only when I explain combination code on lock of the cherry red suitcase I'm lending her for her first trip to London do her eyes goggle and jaw drops.

Enter OH, armed with a bunch of roses, badly-written but loving card - and a killer migraine. So, a quiet night in then. (He'd better make it up to me at the weekend!)

Treat myself to spicy noodles with sweet chilli and cashews... ...but candles keep falling over into the gloop, so give in and pig out.

Here's to the next 45 years!

Friday, November 27, 2009

In Conversation with Kidling Grand

Having kids adds slightly surreal dimension to life, leaving well-intentioned parents bemused, confused... and usually amused. I had one of those conversations with 12-year-old Kidling Grand (a.k.a. No.1 & Only Son) last night:

He: "Ooh Mum, look what's on the telly. The world's tallest man is in Greece and he's looking for a wife."
Me: "Too late, I'm already married and I really don't fancy another wedding."
He: [shooting withering look in my direction] "We should introduce him to Ilias in Year 3 at my school. He's already over two metres tall."

Me: "Um, isn't Ilias a BOY??"
He: "Who knows?" [shoots me a wicked grin, grabs another hunk of bread and scoots off to bedroom to twiddle with leccy guitar]

But this is the same child (does he still qualify as a child with 13th birthday just 2 months away?) who started telling me the story of a Superhero/God named.... Guildford.

He didn't get very far, just looked in amazement as Mum rolled around on floor, in fits of helpless giggles. If I'd stopped to listen maybe I'd have learned something about the Arch Villain Leatherhead, his legions of evil minions (the Crawleys) and the punishments Guildford will mete out to the bad guys he catches (Woking? Climping-by-Sea? Lancing? Epping?).

Oh the joys and all that....

Friday, November 20, 2009

Of soups, smugness & Genghis Mum

Weekend lurking round the corner and migraine creeping up on me. No.1 crushed by disappointing exam results (Home Ec & Religious Studies, so no HUGE tragedy unless he plans to become Jamie Oliver, or the Pope). And NOW learn I have to trot off to local PC superstore to argue the case for repairing broken screen on his notebook under warranty.

Oh goody.

Day started SO well. Super-efficient, having it all, doing it all. By 9am, nutritious family meal was bubbling away in slow cooker, at least quarter of day's work done (thanks to super-early PC switch-on) and cauldron of leeks & potatoes sweating away in preparation for nutritious soup. Even allowed myself luxury of feeling a little smug.

Lesson of the day: NEVER feel smug. Something will always come along and bite you on the bum.

No.1 now three-quarters through first big slew of High School exams. Except for Home Ec & Religion, results pretty good so far - average of 17.5 out of 20 so far (with English yet to come, that SHOULD increase).

"Could do better" applies (doesn't it always?), but still pretty good. Tell self No.1 will settle into more organised study routine, these are the first big set of tests, he's in adjustment period, we have to trust him to make his own mistakes, find his own way, etc.

Hope I'm right. If not, Genghis Mum may have to be called out from inner reaches of my psyche (and believe me, she's HARD work).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oh, bee-have!

Status: Busy
Mood: Buzzing

Just by standing on the train, manage to strike panic and horror into heart of woman two commuters away from me. With hand not hanging from her strap, she's making frantic signals and hysterically waggling eyebrows in my direction.

Look behind me. Then, to either side. Flapping and waggling continues.

She approaches, in the same way a damsel in distress might approach fire-breathing dragon. (Am not that scary, surely?)

With trembling index finger, she jabs at a spot just about an inch above my heart. Look down, squinting, and see a brown blob. Too close to focus instantly (bi-focals here I come!), wonder what it might be (please God, don't let it be dried pigeon pooh).

Penny drops as it moves slightly. It has legs - six of 'em.
A bee. In November. On my denim jacket. In an enclosed tube packed with people. Underground.

Am usually of the "don't bother them and they'll leave you alone" school re bees.

Most fellow commuters are not.

Gasps of horror follow as they spot the sleepy striped beast now crawling across my breast pocket. They imagine scenes of epic horror if the unseasonal insect decides to run rampant on the Metro.

First horrified traveller grabs a tissue and grasps Ms Bumble, then hands her to me. "Hold on tight til you get out" she orders.

Spend rest of journey with hapless honey bee scrunched between thumb and index finger, not wanting to crush her, but aware of responsibility to save fellow travellers from their nightmare scenario.

Half an hour later, step out of station and seek out flower bed to place my captive. Hope she likes roses. If not, there might be a gang of her buzzing buddies waiting to wreak her revenge later.

If so, hope they sting me on my right hand, where I have now lost all sensation.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Smoke gets in your eyes

It was one of those midnight calls.
The chime strikes dread into your heart. It can only be bad news at this time of the night. What is it? A loved one lost? A late-night rush to the hospital? What?

As it turned out, it was bad - but not THAT bad.

It's Sister-in-Law. A car had gone up in flames in the underground parking area of their apartment block. The place is swarming with firefighters, police - and acrid black smoke. The blaze has been put out, but not before scorching SIL's car and filling every apartment with the scent of a bonfire fuelled by rubber tyres and Lead-Free petrol.

OH clicks into Knight on a White Charger mode and leaps - superhero-like (swoon) - into his car (you can almost see his cape flapping in the breeze). SIL and her hubby have to hang around to deal with the authorities, but we can at least have their girls for the night.

At 2am, I open the door to two sleep-dazed, befuddled and slightly shell-shocked young ladies. Giving them a welcoming hug, I breathe in a heady mix of pre-pubescent anxiety, sweat, and smoke. Usually the quiet one, the eldest (let's call her El, my pet name for her) is calm, collected and doing a great job of reassuring her usually bouncy, gregarious (and aparently fearless) younger sister, Zen, who is in a state of suppressed panic and has cried enough tears to put the fire out single-eyed.

El thinks the speed at which Zen - a notorious victim of severe "Sticky Mattress Syndrome" - got out of bed when the alarm was raised is hilarious. She follows up with a series of impressive wise-cracking one-liners (esecially for a sleep-derived 11-year-old) which I guess is her way of dealing with things.

I lay a makeshift bed for Sir Lancelot (a.k.a. OH), then snuggle up with the girls, telling them the story of how my faithful little Fiat burst into flames with me and No.1 inside three Easters ago. Eventually, we fall asleep with the girls wrapped around me as I perch precariously on the edge of the bed.

Day breaks. I fall, with a bump, to the floor. Check the girls - still smokey-smelling but snoring softly - and drag myself off to No.1's room for early morning hugs.

Fast forward a few hours. Fixing breakfast for the kids. No.1 emerges from beneath the duvet on the sofa with a "Is something burning?".... Quick as a flash, El pipes up: "Again?".

Anyone for extra crispy bacon??

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In which I welcome my weary traveller

Mood: Contented & complete
To Do list: Trawl recipe books for autumn bounty inspiration, nag No.1, pamper OH, pay bills...
Tasks completed: Erm. Can I get back to you on that?

A sweet sense of domesticity has settled on the Transplanted household. Our not-so-holy Trinity is again complete - OH returned from his PR schlep of northern Greece. Trudges in, wrung out but heavy-laden with the bounties of countryside: crates of organic apples & lotus fruit; chestnuts; cosy handmade slippers; and two enormous terracotta crockpots.

Not known for his frugality, my man. Am now swimming in seasonal goodies, but wonder if there's anything left in family coffers to pay bills? Oh well....

Adopt dutiful wife-like creature persona, welcome returning hero with homemade leek & potato soup with fresh sage and speciality cauliflower & leek cheese. Even have left-over apple cake (courtesy of neighbour with superior domestic pedigree) for pud.

And yet.... come 11pm, first rumblings of weary traveller's tummy are heard, accompanied by the phrase "I want pizza". No.1 raises an eager face from TV, nodding "Yeah!" and mouthing order with gusto.

Don serious grown-up I-know-what's-best-for-you face and say "No you don't, darling. And if you do, you know you'll regret it."

OH settles into teenage-style sulk, mumbles something about it all being my fault and toddles off to bed with No.1 in tow. Adults knackered, child still bouncing around like a jumping jack. Time for bed, but kiddo wants to watch rest of movie - and only bedroom TV is in OUR room. Cue male-bonding and Mum sleeping in teenage bed...

S'OK, will catch up on matrimonial hugs later. (Up-side: no window-rattling high decibel snores in MY ear).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Approaching my Sell-By Date?

Mood: Down, down, down.
Glamour quotient: Non-existent
Carbs craved: Mountains of bread, cakes, biscuits...
Temptation resisted: Zero

Urgh. That time of the month. No, not THAT time - the week or so before it. Can expect skull-crunching three-day migraine any day now.

Feeling my age... and then some.
Am frumpy, lumpy, shakey, achey, spotty, dotty, sarcy, narky - and bloated to boot.

Giving up daily walks (no time!) and comfort diet of super-carbs may not be best tactic.

OH is schlepping around Greece doing the PR shuffle for most of this month. No.1 in a stupour induced by first batch of serious at High School exams (fuelled by diet of homemade cakes and nagging). Up to me to be the solid, reliable one, and keep things going on even keel as menfolk navigate semblance of reality.

No.1 calls from north Greece, complaining he feels tired, stressed and 'peculiar' (join the club, sunshine). Cue supportive long-distance wifey noises. Try to sound sincere.

Money worries loom, cupboard is bare and my backside is burgeoning.
Wasn't life suppposed to get easier as you get older?

Fear not, dear diary, it's probably just hormones. I'll be back in Tigger mode soon - probably well and truly on form by the time I hit 45 on 1 December.

45? How the bloody hell did THAT happen? And why do I care?
40 was no big deal for me (despite spending milestone birthday with abcessed tooth, industrial strength antibiotics and face swollen to resemble rugby ball after Twickenham final). But 45? 45 seems so much more.... more than halfway up the hill to 50. Then I'll be 'over the hill' and maybe 'all downhill' from there?

On days like today, I feel like I'm hurtling towards my Sell-By Date.

On bright side, seem to ha ve exorcised creepy mature Midwich cuckoos that gave me the evil eye on bus all last week. They've disappeared - probably in a puff of rank green smoke, for all I know.

See? There's always something to be glad for (ever imagined what 'Anne of Green Gables' was like as she hit middle age?).

So long as I keep up my mantra: "Always look on the bright side of life, Always look..."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

In which I resist the urge to strangle my offspring (just)

State of mind: Frustrated & frazzled

Am officially the most hated mother in Greece.
Serves me right for giving a damn.

Spent most of morning having the screaming ab-dabs, trying to get No.1 to put a bit of effort into his school work. He can do so much better, with a little thought and imagination. Am creative wordy type so take it as personal insult when son of mine thinks he can get away with starting essay about his High School with "My school is very nice..." (He churned out better stuff when they wrote "My Day" in first year of Infants.)

Read his first effort, and a red haze descends on me. Loose my cool, rip page out of exercise book and scrawl comments all over it. Explain (sweetly but very firmly) how it could/should be done.

No.1 looks at me like I'm (a) clearly certifiable and (b) have no idea what I'm talking about. Obviously, he considers that woman who has earned her daily bread with the written word for the past 25 years can't possibly know a thing about how to put together an essay.

What do I know? I'm over the age of 20 - and therefore brain dead.

Resist the urge to strangle him and insist, at rate of many decibels, that he re-writes.

After just two hours - interspersed with Saturday morning brain-melting cartoons, scratching at his electric guitar, computer games, corridor football and random animal noises - he presents Crap Essay 2.0.

It's an improvement, but still not up to scratch. Sigh. Take a deep breath and count to 10... then 100... and 1000...

(Just wait til your father gets home, kiddo.)

Now he has English homework and revision for end of term geography test on Monday. Is he doing it? Is he 'eck as like! He's sitting in his room, perfecting his Green Day impersonation. I remind him that he has to do it today. He yells "Yes, I know! You told me!".
Ah, domestic bliss.

I'm plodding my way relentlessly towards senility, and No.1 acts like everything's cool. Little does he know that tomorrow he'll do Crap Essay 3.0 - and I shall snatch back from Cruella DeVille the crown of world's most hated woman.

Oh, the joys of parenthood! The only (unpaid) job whose sole purpose is to render yourself redundant, and at which you don't know if you have succeeded until it's too late to do anything about it.

Just you wait, young'un. One of these days, I'll be old, grey and ga-ga... and then it'll be MY turn to drive YOU round the bend.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Middle-aged Midwich?

Caffeine consumed: Not enough, apparently
Illicit substance intake: Zero, to my knowledge
State of mind: Puzzled, and slightly spooked

Seems I have a Secret Detractor (or whatever the opposite of a Secret Admirer is). Come to think of it, she's none too secret either.

Every morning as I get on the bus, am met with the disapproving and very direct glare of one of my fellow travelers. No idea why.

She's a smallish woman in her late 50s or early 60s with grey hair scraped into a bun, thick glasses, no make-up, and a brown duffel coat. Ordinarily, wouldn't even notice her, let alone be spooked. But every day, she's there as I flop down in my seat and open my book - staring malignantly at me as if I had just eaten her entire family for breakfast.

Tried staring back in silent challenge - but no result. Tried ignoring her, but still feel her gaze boring into the back of my head. Want to approach her and look down from my full 5 ft 10 and say "What?!", but fear of public ridicule and lack of caffeine-fuelled bravado stop me.

Is it my shocking red hair that offends her so? Or the fact that I am so obviously not Greek? Perhaps she's decided I'm a wanton strumpet out to devour the cream of Greece's young men?

Probably shouldn't worry - her prob, not mine.

But what does worry me is the fact that... she seems to be multiplying.

This morning, climbed onboard bus and spotted her at the front, twisting round to deliver her daily glare. I turned to head for the back - only to come face-to-face with her clone, also giving me 'The Look'.

Was like a late middle-aged version of The Midwich Cuckoos. Two identical faces glaring at me in mute but insistent accusation.

Flippin' 'eck, how many of them will there be tomorrow?

Just decided, I'll be working from home for the rest of the week...

Friday, October 30, 2009

In which it all goes to my head

State of mind: Smug, but ready for weekend
State of head: Scary
Trick or treat: Um, can I have both?

Am dynamic, productive Mum of action. Signed off latest magazine proof, wrote new website text, cooked nutritous chicken dinner for menfolk, baked cupcakes (which menfolk hoovered up like locusts in a wheat field), whizzed up 10 litres of curried pumpkin soup - and turned head into imitation of a black cherry flavoured lollipop (albeit lolly on a rather voluptuous stick).

Bored with the toned-down orange base and blonde highlights I had done for the summer, decided it was time for the Return of 'Big Red'. That meant grabbing a pack of dye from supermarket shelf, mixing up a series of odd smelling chemicals, slapping the gloop on my head (trying not to redecorate bathroom in the process) and waiting half an hour for the transformation to magically take place.

And take place it did - though the result is a little closer to 'Psychadelic Copper Beech on Acid' than the demure-sounding 'Light Auburn Brown' the packet claimed. Wanted to add some colour to my lately washed-out overall look, highlighting colour of my eyes. Well, I certainly acheived that. Now an electric blue gaze peeps out from beneath a fringe of shocking burgundy.
Oh well, it'll fade I s'pose (hope?).

No.1's response when he arrived home from school?
"Urgh - your head's scary, Mum!"

(Good, just in time for Hallowe'en - cue evil cackle).

OH arrives home looking like wet rag. Too deflated to even make sarcastic remark about scary head (now that's bad - when I first went redhead from natural blonde, he quipped "Oh look, artificial intelligence". Har-bloody-har.). He had to fire someone today - probably the cruellest form of torture for a People Person like him. I wear my sympathetic wifey face and offer plate of home-baked cupcakes. Turn kettle on for a cuppa and come back to... empty plate. He's scoffed the lot! Who'd have thought being ruthless middle manager works up such an appetite?

OK, had enough. Gonna take my scary head and empty cake plate, and watch Jeremy Clarkson being sarcastic on Top Gear now.

Happy hallowe'en, ya'all!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fishcake fanfare

Hunger factor: Off the scale
Cupboard status: Old Mother Hubbard bare
Jamie Brownie points: 1500!
Mood: Accomplished

Am Queen of the kitchen. Nigella, Jamie, Gordon and Marco-Pierre wotsisface (not to mention Mummy Dearest) would be proud. Have turned the pathetic end-of-month/waiting-for-PayDay contents of my larder into a quick, tasty and nourishing meal.

Today was a National Holiday. Greeks took the day off every 28 October to mark the famous "Oxi!" ("No!") that was their PM's reply when Mussolini's government demanded he hand over the country in 1940. Cue patriotic parades of schoolkids, scouts and aged Resistance veterans in every neighbourhood around the country. Also cue the same-old TV fodder that has played on this day every year for the past 40 years - fuzzy black & white documentaries and movies (of which everyone knows every last word of dialogue) celebrating how the brave Greeks snubbed their noses at the Nazis.

I left OH and the in-laws to chat patriotically on the sofa as they watched the last of the coverage of the biggest official parade, and hoped that No.1 would soak up some of his grandfather's reminiscences and regurgitate it when he has to write a essay in his History class some time in the future. As a foreigner, I can't reall contribute much, so I set about fixing sauces and boiling spaghetti (kinda ironic considering today celebrates a rejection of all things Italian).

After stuffing our faces with pasta, we settled down for a quiet afternoon of No.1's homework and preparation for tomorrow's Biology test while OH & I got all cultured listening to Bach and opera highlights as we checked our emails. I was even humming Tocatta & Fugue to myself as I went out for my daily hour's stomp round the neighbourhood.

Then, at about 7.30pm, hunger struck. Big time.

No.1 & OH are pasta addicts. If incapacitated, they'd simply have vermicelli delivered intravenously with a sprinkling of parmesan. By the time they had descended on the leftovers lovingly placed in the fridge for tomorrow, there was precisely nothing left for Yours Truly.

Fine, you might say.

Not fine, I roar in reply. I was HUNGRY. I wanted to eat.
But what was there in the house? Quite literally, not a sausage. Just two small potatoes, a slightly wilted onion and half a piece of left-over fish.

What to do? What to do? Then, inspiration struck! Fishcakes. Never made 'em before, but how hard can they be?

As it turns out, not hard at all. Peel spuds, boil 'em with chopped onion, mash it all up, flake fish, add a pinch of chilli, salt, pepper, a smidge of fresh basil and mix it all up. Shape into burger sized rounds, dunk in flour, and fry lightly. Serve with a splodge of leftover tom-basil sauce for dipping, and eat.

Yum! Big Brownie points to Mandi from the school of eating well with bugger all in the larder.
Even better, OH and No.1 turned their noses up at my offering (Greeks are rightly proud of their cuisine, but can be dismissive of anything beyond their comfort zone). No prob. Their loss - and more for me!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In which I grovel

Dear Diary,

Yes, I know. I've neglected you in the most unforgivable manner. If you were my child, you'd be wandering the streets barefoot, in threadbare clothes, with a hunk of week-old bread in one hand and a carrier bag containing a bottle of Strongbow and 20 Marlborough in the other.

I'm sorry, right?
But it's only today that I have emerged from a four-day-long migraine. A marathon of skull-crunching pain that rendered me all but useless except for going through the motions that pay the mortgage and dishing out some kind of sustainance to feed the family.

The prospect of writing a single syllable that I didn't have to in order to justify my salary just wasn't on the agenda. Sorry.

But today, I woke up with a head as light as a feather and free of the sense that there's something desparate to burst out of my frontal lobe in a way reminiscent of John Hurt's best-remembered scene in Alien. So I promise I'll do better.

Now all I have to worry about is the fact that I'm apologising to a cyber book of mostly empty pages.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Idleness 1-Work Ethic 0

Caffeine intake: 4 coffees (inc. 1 coffee-coloured concoction served by man with dodgy hair-weave in Starbucks)
Work output: 20% capacity (should feel bad, but don't)
Chocolate craved: 2 brownies, 1 Kit-Kat & big bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk. At least.
Chocolate consumed: I small chocolate wafer (pretty restrained, considering what craved)
State of mind: In free-fall

Have been a lazy old boot today. Did just the minimum required work (after making sure all deadlines were beaten earlier in the week), made my presence felt and went through motions of looking busy. But - if honest - must admit spent most of the day fiddle-arsing about.

Tell self I deserve a break. I work beyond the standard 9-to-5 most days, then come home and check emails for another hour or two. Who's gonna give me a hard time for one day of idleness?

Me, that's who. My cursed in-bred Protestant Work Ethic (PWE) keeps kicking against logic and trying to re-awaken my guilt gene.
Well, PWE can kiss my lily-white backside. Am entitled to little bit of idleness now and then.

Now, if you don't mind - dear Diary - I really can't be arsed to write any more...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Easy on a Sunday morning

Strange sense of serenity has settled over me.
(Should I worry that aliens have taken over my usually slightly frantic & burbling brain?)

No.1's room update: all done bar the shouting and some spotlights. Big sighs of relief & satisfaction.

Men in my life out, being macho at some Sports Expo.
House clean & tidy (at least for now) - and quiet (bliss!). No shouting. No sudden animal shrieks (yes, I know we don't have pets any more but we still have residual beasty noises). No attacks on electric guitar with amp turned RIGHT UP. No arguments about homework or excessive TV or video games.

Just gentle tap of fingers on the keyboard, Radio 4 on laptop (Radio 4 was made for Sunday mornings), and Sunday soups (beef & veg broth for carnivores, spicy meatless minestrone for me) bubbling away on stove.

For once, brain not racing or digging into 'might-haves', 'could-haves', 'should-haves' or 'what-ifs'. Just the splendid isolation of few hours to myself.

Dear God, am officially an old fart. But don't care.

Time for another cuppa and wander onto balcony to check flower boxes. Just call me when my pension check and crossword arrive.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Flat Pack Queen gets busy

Glamour quotient: Minus 5,328 (bloated, no make-up, hair akimbo, etc. – waddya expect?)
Caffeine intake: Cups of tea: 12. Drunk: 7 (keep losing ‘em)
Accomplishments of the day: IKEA wall-mounted desks & zigzag shelves for No.1’s room assembled (am Queen of the Flat Packs)
Unfinished business: Desks & shelves to mount, curtain to hang, rubbish to dump, sanity to retrieve.
State of house: Utter chaos
State of mind: Ditto

Am complete piglet (diet went bye-bye this week). Looking round, I see that we do indeed live in a sty. That figures. Other stye threatening to take up residence at inner corner of my left eye.

And yet, feel strange sense of achievement.
(Note to self: Consider merits of behavioural therapy. Is it covered by Greek state health service? NO!)

Spent most of evening screwing with OH.

Screwing bits of wood together, screwing up eyes trying to follow strange Swedish instructions, screwing up and throwing instruction sheet away in disgust (then screwing up nose as I retrieve it from rubbish bin).

Plan was to have bounties of IKEA all in place ready to delight No.1 when he returned from evening with his mates. But the best-laid plans of mice and men (esp. GREEK men)… well, you know the rest, Dear Diary.

Reality is that OH and No.1 are now off to bed in our room. I get to sleep on sofa (it IS my turn - OH was on sofa duty when paint fumes rendered No1's room a no-sleep area last week). No.1’s new bed is a mess of power tools, Allen keys, measuring tapes and screws.

And cardboard boxes – lots and lots of cardboard boxes.

But come tomorrow, as day breaks and the power drills start whirring again, we’ll finally be on the home stretch to having the coolest pre-teen bedroom in the world (well, in our street at least).

It doesn’t take much to make me happy these days…

Ain’t domestic bliss grand?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blame it on the crumble

Caffeine intake: 6 cups of tea
Earth Mother Brownie Points: 27 (homemade apple crumble, 2nd time in a week!)
Calories consumed: 58,973 (blame it on the crumble)

Wonder Woman's got nothing on me.
Spuds peeled, bean stew made and apple crumble prepared - all BEFORE 9am. Then, chained to laptop, tap away and clear a slew ot items from the the dreaded TO DO list. Just a few breaks for tea, pee and feeding No.1 once back from school.

No.1 seems impressed. In a voice more English than Stephen Fry waving the flag on St George's Day declares "Mummy, you're a proper English housewife."
(Hmmmm, think it's first time ANYONE has called me that. Not sure how to feel about it...)

Autumn has arrived in Athens - piddling down. May have to put off today's daily stomp and do housebound stuff instead.

Plenty to keep me busy at home. End in sight for the revamp of No.1's room. IKEA raided, credit card muscle flexed (and sprained), house now littered with flat-pack boxes of stuff waiting to be unpacked and assembled.

OH promises to get all manly with power tools tonight, but first requires Obedient Wide (that's me) to clear the debris and chuck out recyclable rubbish.

Hey ho, I'm sure it'll all be worth it in the end.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Emerging from the slime

Caffeine input: Minimal (due to invalid status)
Earth Mother Brownie points: 78 (I made pudding, for gawd's sake!)
Pudding consumed: 1 serving (v. restrained)
Hours slept: Nowhere near enough

Urgh. Feel like a slug emerging from the primeval slime that first gave birth to life. A slug that takes one look around it and thinks "Don't think much of this. Can I go back please?".

Since Saturday, have had all the energy of a heavily pregnant three-toed sloth. And on Sunday the mother of all migraines took up residence in the left hemisphere of my noggin. You know the sort of thing - when you feel like someone has stuck your head in a vice and every now again comes along and tightens the grip a few more notches. But being the super-mummy that I so want to be, I just keep going. There's work to be done, dishes to be washed, mouths to be fed...

Think the pain is fading a little, or perhaps I'm just used to it now. Or maybe last night's apple crumble and home-made custard (from scratch, if you please!) did its magic. Amazing what the combination of a sense of acheivement and comfort food can do.

Took advantage of dark glasses worn on train to sneak a quick kip this morning (good thing about working at the end of the line is that you can't miss your stop). Think fellow passengers may have rumbled when I started snoring gently (woke self up - v. embarrassing).

As I walk to office, head is not throbbing and nape opf neck does not feel like Mr Spock has put the Vulcan vice pinch on me. Maybe I'll be able to work through the red haze of my headache, after all?

Whatever happens, one thought keeps me going:
There's more apple crumble and custard waiting in the fridge...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Confessions of a harridan housewife

Am trying to be v. patient, compassionate & understanding.

Am trying, but failing. True nature of impatient harpy won't tolerate Stepford Wife behaviour, no matter how hard brain tells me it's a good tactic.

Poor OH is in pain. Has been since our home decorating marathon at the weekend (must have pulled a muscle watching me paint - can't be anything else as he just faffed about for a day and a half with 'prepatory work'). Now he's taking every opportunity to remind me of his lumbar agony.

Sheesh! Good thing men don't get pregnant! Or periods.

Meanwhile, revamped room stands in suspended animation waiting for covers to be put back on light switches & plugholes, and painted cupboard doors screwed back in place. Dare to express humble opinion that I can do it, but OH comes over all masterful and manly to insist I can't possibly do it and so must wait for him.

Oh goody, the Waiting Game. My favourite.
Looks like we'll be weaving our way past cupboard doors waiting in hall til Christmas. Gaah!

In flood of pre-programmed guilt, realise that I am clearly a heartless harridan who should not be allowed within screeching distance of poor, sensitive, well-meaning menfolk.
(But at least I get things done).

Never mind, will wait for OH to disappear and get on with it.
(Imagines triumphant "ta-da!" as OH walks in to find cupboards ready and lightswitches covered - tries to ignore inevitable liturgy of what done wrong and why should have waited).

Sometimes, it pays to be a little bit of a bitch...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Verbal diarrhoea

Word count: Approx. 15 million, not counting swear words muttered under breath
Caffeine intake: 5 coffees, 2 teas (maybe that's why I'm shaking?)
Brain temperature: Kilometres walked: 6 (v.good)
Chocolate craved: An entire chocolate factory's worth
Chocolate eaten: None (v.v. good - am model of restraint)

Words, words, words.... thousands of 'em. And I have to make sense of 'em, and sort them into an order that will make sense to other people. Burble, burble, burble.... welcome to my world.

After weekend up ladder with splodges of paint on my noggin, giving my arm and leg muscles a rest but taxing my poor tired grey matter. Never mind, am dynamic career woman with a way with words. I can do this.

Finding something to write about is rarely problem. Can waffle for my country - as my dear old Dad used to say - on the most mundane of subjects. Problem is cutting it all down to the basics, simplifying the language and still getting message across - without reader switching off and turning on 'The X Factor' before ending third paragraph.

Trouble is, not everyone gets the "less is more" mantra. They think "a way with words" means LOTS of the little buggers. And even when they ask me for article length they should aim for (let's say 600), they'll come back with 2,000 or more.

Spent first years of No.1's life clearing up his poop, and now I'm wiping up other people's verbal (and written) diarrhoea.

Out comes Mandi's ruthless red pencil - and the massacre begins!

Send the slashed, cut and paste revamp (now 700 words) back to author. Miracle of miracles - he likes it! (Unlike other colleague who took offence when I cut erroneous apostrophes some months back.) Phew. Breathe sigh of relief and have another cuppa.

Back home in evening, add fourth coat of yellow paint to cupboard door (damn you streaks, I will defeat you!) and settle to listen to OH grilling No.1 on the paleolithic and neolithic eras. History test tomorrow - first one at new school.

OH in professor mode, grilling young'un and giving tips on how to write tests, make friends and influence teachers (this from the man who free-wheeled through most of High School on a wing, prayer and almost photographic memory, devouring off-curriculum books but nothing on the official reading list).

Yadda, yadda, yadda, blah blah blah. OH & No.1 still rabbiting on. Seems there's no escape from verbal diarrhoea today.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Colour me senseless

Caffeine intake: Gallons!
Hours up a ladder: at least 5
Hair colour: Red-blonde with splashes of white, orange, blue, mauve, yellow, green
Chocolate consumed: Whole bar of milk choc with almonds (v.v. bad, but delicious - and deserved)

Am international Mum of action - a woman wot gets things done.

Am also shattered after three days of sanding, filling, sanding again, washing down, painting, waiting, more painting, cleaning, taping, painting again, sweeping, mopping up spills, removing tape. But it's worth it - No.1's bedroom is well on its way to transformation from primrose yellow/sky blue Winnie the Pooh refuge to funksville for a soon-to-be teen.

And as today was the General Election in Greece, OH was busy with politics - which meant I could just get on with things. Later tonight, we'll know which party will be the new Government (all the exit polls are predicting a landslide of the socialists, who - rather confusingly - have green as their party colour here).

Whatever colour is in power, or fashion or that matter, No.1 will be fine. His room now has white walls, a red doorframe and window casing, and super-cool sort of bar code effects in orange, mauve, green, dark blue, green and light blue.

And it's all thanks to me!

(Maybe one day he'll thank me...)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Toothpicks & rice cakes

Caffeine intake: 0 (excellent)
Green tea consumption: 8 cups (can you O-D on green tea?)
Glamour rating: -57 (a girl needs her sleep now and then, you know)

Tumble out of bed and prop eyelids open with toothpicks. Brain not yet caught up with body after 5-hour proofreading marathon last night. Isn't burning the midnight oil s'posed to make me all Bohemian and inspired?

Grunt "Bye - have a good day" in general direction of No.1 as he leaves for school. Think he had breakfast, though not 100% sure. (Am obviously slovenly, indifferent mother who deserves a good kicking)

Working from home today, so decide to have a health kick (once recovered from sobbing fit after discovering stocks of Sainsbury's English Breakfast teabags exhausted).
Green tea and rice cakes with honey for breakfast.
[Note to self: Check if rice cakes & honey still healthy when you scoff 10 in a single sitting]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Spanx for the memory

Wardrobe changes: 3
Ciggies craved: 37
Alcohol craved: 3 litres
Ciggies/alcohol consumed: 0 (v.good)
Public humiliation rating: 5 (no human witnesses, just laughing dog)
Glamour quotient: 2 (good intentions don't count)

7 a.m.:
Wake up determined to make world sit up and take notice today. Long indigo-ink coloured hooded dress with heeled ankle boots the way to stun fellow Athenian commuters with funky, Boho chic presence striding through their midst. With a little help from new Spanx pants (guaranteed to smoothe sihouette and eliminate unsightly lumps and bumps).

7.10 a.m.:
Spanx proving less user-frendly than imagined. At first sight look big enough for average Barbie doll, despite XL label in back (Note to self: remove all incriminating/depressing labels).
But they're highly elasticated - aren't they? A baby elephant can squeeze into them, according to online adverts.
Easier said than done. Baby elephant in ad must be bulimic.

7.20 a.m.:
Manage to get Spanx above knee level. Ease them crotchwards with deep knee bends and series of Sumo-style leg waggles.
Finally, success. Look Mum, no tum! Upper thigh flab a thing of the past. Wobbly buttocks tamed.
Breath only comes in short shallow bursts, but look fabulously streamlined.

7.30 a.m.:
OH asks why my face is going blue, and "What are those lumps above your knees?" (all that suppressed fat has to go somewhere).
Give up, and breathe. Roll of fat appears above Spanx top like second set of boobs.

7.45 a.m.:
Throw dress and Spanx in sorry pile in corner. Jump into smart jeans and deep V-necked top (anything to distract attention from chunky bum). Hurtle out door for the bus.
Am accomplished, dynamic woman of wit and wisdom. Who needs washboard stomach and legs like pipecleaners?
Trip over own ankle. Good thing I bounce.

Spend most of morning commute with arms crossed over chest after weasel-like midget leers into my cleavage.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A God named Guildford?

Oh Sheesh. Mondays are not my friend. Always takes me a while to get into the swing of working week. Head down to try to tame the work beast and stop everything running out of control and trampling over me... Less said the better.

Evening better, if slightly surreal. No.1 demands bedtime story (he's 12, for God's sake!). I say I've forgotten them all and that HE should tell ME one.

He does - and it's the epic tale of a God named Guildford....
Will have to wait til tomorrow to find out what this heroic deity gets up to. Too busy rolling round on floor in hysterics to pay attention tonight. Stop briefly, tears rolling down cheeks, to explain to No.1 that Guildford is boring town in England, home to University of Surrey and world's most inexplicable one-way system.
Can't wait for the next exciting installment. Maybe we'll hear all about his Stockbroker Utility Belt?

Try to watch "Contact" before beddy-byes, but OH keeps zapping to Party Political BS and football. Have patience of saint. Count to ten, repeatedly, adding "Just six more days" (before election) mantra over and over again...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Family duty & laughing dogs...

Glam factor: a.m. 9 (mascara, lippy & heels)/p.m. 0 (none of the above)
Brownie points earned: 10
Caffeine intake: Moderate - 1 Greek coffee, 2 teas
Kilometres walked: 8

Off to cemetery, all in black, for 6 month memorial for OH's aunt. Worry about whether appropriately dressed (no need, as it turns out). Twenty years in Greece and still struggle to understand the Mediterranean need to revisit grief at regular intervals. But, hey ho, that's the way it is, so stand respectfully as priest does his bit (though little thrown when he tells the gathered mourners "All together now"...). Ignore sideways glances when I refuse to cross myself.

File into cemetery cafeteria for obligatory thimble-full of sweet Greek coffee and glass of brandy, and make small talk (not a strong point). Despite lack of genuflecting, have earned bonus points for good behaviour.

Off for daily stomp, the very image of dynamic post-modern woman in trainers and sportswear - until ankle betrays me and I plunge floorwards. Land on hands and knees with all the elegance of hippo in a tutu, shredding palms in the process.
Swear stray dog across the road is laughing at me.
Get up, dust myself down, keep on stomping.

Hour later, nearing home, pass two Goth-babes around 17. Both have carefully constructed nests of hair and expressionless black & white painted faces (do they DO Botox for under-20s?). They look - and smell - enbalmed. Am certain didn't look quite so ridiculous as a post-Punk/New Romantic in the '80s - or did I?

Open front door to find Mother-in-Law & Father-in-Law in lounge, watching football (it'll be politics and the shouty snarling people next - Greece goes to the polls in a week). Settle down at laptop, claiming that duty calls.

MIL starts telling OH what furniture to get for No.1's revamped room. OH doesn't agree. MIL insists - repeatedly. OH gets cross, starts shouting. FIL says "Let them do what they want". MIL descends into glowering sulk.

Lay low, tapping away at keyboard, avoiding the crossfire.
(Dontcha just love families?)

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Caffeine intake: 5 cups tea
Hours up a ladder: 3
Calories burned: 2,546 (approx)
Calories consumed: ???? (hope springs eternal)
Productive Mummy Brownie points earned: 50
Glamour quotient: 2 (mascara in place, but no lippy)

Winnie is no more. After more than a decade, Bear of Very Little Brain, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, Owl & Christopher Robin sent back to Hundred Acre Wood by Action Mummy armed with bowl of warm water, wallpaper scraper and Radio 4 online. After spending most of last weekend listening to OH's bright ideas to revamp No.1's bedroom (delivered from comfort of armchair) decided time was right to Just Do It.

OH conveniently working this morning, so left alone to get on with it.
No.1 offers to help out by watching Saturday morning cartoons and playing video games.

Three hours later, shoulder muscles screaming, hair filled with fragments of shredded Winnie & Co., step back to survey fruits of my labour. Clean, light and ready for Steps 2-4. Excellent. Am international Woman of Action. Am also in need of shower.

Next steps?
2) Polyfiller & sandpaper
3) New paint (several coats)
4) Raid IKEA for super-cool pseudo industrial teenage furniture.

Is end of month, therefore strapped for cash. Also OH more of a thinker/talker than do-er. This may take some time...

Til then, No.1 has to put up with new grafitti sketch of peepers and "Big Mummy is watching you" on bedroom wall.
Maybe THAT will spur 'em on?

Invited to Spiros & Tasia for booze & eats (special deviation from standard 'slap some flesh on the barby' menu to accommodate awkward buggers like me who don't eat meat). No.1 and their daughter N studiously casual with each other despite chemistry over the summer. N's little bro, V, is determined to make royal pest of himself and bring N to screeching point (doesn't take long).

Tease Panayiotis - from a village up a Cypriot mountain, therefore more Greek than most Greeks - that us ex-pats have to stick together. Not sure if he 'gets' my English irony.

After 4 glasses of wine, am super Scrabble Mistress - in Greek. In team with 6-year-old V, trounch No.1 & N who look on in disgust as we run victory lap round the living room. Especially proud of word that won us 48 points on triple word score: "ΧΕΣΩ" (the verb 'to shit'). Sometimes is good to be grown-up and able to say bad words without having mouth washed out with bar of Fairy green soap.

Fall into bed in haze at 3am. Tomorrow a.m. must be bright-eyed/bushy tailed for Memorial service to mark 6 months since the death of OH's aunt.
May need to wear Jackie O. shades...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Off the wagon

Have strayed from the path of righteousness, and fallen off the veggy wagon. Polished off the leftovers of No.1's spag carbonara, instead of a second round of yesterday's scorched bean stew (renamed Mandi's Smokey Fasolada).

In defence of self, am Mistress of Carbonara. And tucking into bean stew two days running may get me reported to UN for contravening international treaties restricting use of chemical weapons. Will dive into vat of green tea in penance.

Work, work, work. They keep sending me work to do (don't they know it's nearly the weekend?), so will be tapping away well past 'Gray's Anatomy' for fear of getting behind (thus being rumbled for a charlatan and summarily dismissed as worthless slacker without a smidge of talent).

Now, No.1 expects me to help him with homework. Doesn't he KNOW I'm a gibbering idiot?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Barefoot anniversary

Caffeine intake: GALLONS of tea
Glamour rating: Minus 53
No. of years married: 15!

a.m.: Bit of a scuzzy, not yummy, mummy today.

Working from home (ain't technology grand?). Sitting barefoot in front of the screen, tapping away without a thought to who might be judging my clothes, hair, make-up, etc.

Freedom from the tyranny of: Has my hair flopped like a failed souffle or is it sticking up like a deranged Einstein wannabe?/Does blue eyeshadow make me look wanton?/Are my boobs doing the two-cup shuffle as they creep above my bra?
Bliss in blue jeans.

In Earth Mother mode, make bean casserole. Get caught up in Career Woman mode, chained to the keyboard, before noticing a slight 'edge' to smell of cooking beans. Leap up in panic, burn fingers on hot pot, pour out unscorched gloop into other pan, discard black crispy bits and rename dish 'Mandi's Smokey Fasolada'. Yummy! (Fingers crossed that No.1 doesn't notice).

Not sure what to think of today's wedding anniversary. Feel ancient and past-it? Congratulate self & OH for staying power (we've lasted longer than most international treaties, after all)? Weep at demise of carefree days long gone? Hope for flowers before the day ends? Shave underarms and glam up for the evening? Or make another cup of tea?

Alcohol consumed: Half bottle of Merlot (hic!)
Ciggies craved: 17
Smoked: 0 (pat on back)

Another cuppa is best option as it turns out. OH calls to ask what he should bring home for our "special" day. Resist urge to drop heavy hints involving luxury chocs, exotic blooms and a girl's best friend. Tell him not to be silly, and not to bring anything (we are skint, after all).

Listen slack-jawed and in abject ignorance as No.1 recites Ancient Greek homework (and then translates to everyday, comprehensible Modern Greek). Am clearly a gibbering idiot. How did I produce such a prodigy? Remember that 12-year-olds around the country are doing the same thing - the equivalent of Year 7 pupils in the UK being fluent in Chaucer-esque - quite a tall order when most of the population don't know what an apostrophe is for...

[Note to self: Re-read "The Canterbury Tales", and make extra effort to get the Wife of Bath's dirty jokes this time]

OH trundles in holding... work bag and sports section.
No flowers, no chocs, no "Oh darling, you shouldn't have!" surprises. He listened when I said bring nothing (Today he chooses to listen to me?)

To be fair, am still in jeans and scuzzy t-shirt, no face gloop, and yesterday's hair. No special anniversary dinner is waiting on table with elegant candles and classy wine.
Am own worst enemy, sometimes....
...Will make up for it tomorrow with sexy spaghetti.

Off to beddy-byes and the dulcet tones of OH's snores that have been my lullaby for more than 15 years (you thought the bags under my eyes were hereditary?).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Caffeine intake: Starbucks latte (hardly counts as
coffee), 3 cups of tea
Days since stopped smoking: 1,169 (excellent)
Stray hairs plucked: a small forest's worth (gah!)
Kilometres walked: 8

Alarm screams at 7am. Hit the snooze button.
07.05 Bleeping alarm again. OH opens eyes, asks “Why’ve you gone half a loo roll wrapped round your leg?”, then goes back to sleep.

Get up, turn on light in No.1’s bedroom, shower, kick him out of bed….
Hey ho! Another day, another Drachma (oops, sorry, Euro).

Consider yesterday's choice of office outfit. Nah. Today is definitely NOT a green floral shirt & jeans day. Drag out smart pinstripe trousers and black top with funky necklacey type thing (trousers feeling decidely loose around waist - excellent!). Leave house feeling the very image of post-modern, supercool, professional yummy mummy.

Work passes in a blur of e-mails, internet connection problems, crashing computers, and online Radio 4 for intellectual stimulation (am dead high-brow, me).

Autumn is here but the office thinks it's still summer. Air conditioning on full blast. Toes & nose frozen. Have to cross arms over chest to hide CNS (Chilled Nipple Syndrome). CNS cured the minute I leave the building. Train ride and station-to-home walk later, forehead & frozen nips are coated in sweat - v. attractive.

OH is home before me - again (but dishes I ignored last night still waiting in the sink).

Shoes off, jeans on. Fix healthy couscous with veg (in Domestic Goddess mode, despite dishes rotting to my left). Eat, and add to the Leaning Tower of Pizza Plates. Tomorrow will put Martha whatserface to shame with creativity and neatness in kitchen.

Tonight, vino, OH and a crappy movie...

Better late than never

Caffeine intake: WAY too much
Alcohol intake: Not enough
Days since stopped smoking: 1,168 (v.good)
Ciggies smoked: 0 (v.v. good)
Ciggies craved: 93 (not so good)
Stray hairs plucked: 4
Kilometres walked: 7
Chocolates eaten: 0 (am v. virtuous)
Weight: Don’t even go there – km walked & chocs not scoffed having no effect

Dear Diary,

I know it’s not really the ‘done thing’ to start a diary in September, but I only came across you this week when I ventured into the Black Pit (a.k.a. the spare room, where all manner of junk goes to die – or breed, not sure which) to unearth an exercise book that No.1 (& Only) Son needed for school.

There you were, winking at me innocently from atop of a pile of free never-to-be-watched DVDs, silently accusing me of my good intentions back in January.

Oh well, better late than never.

S'pose I’d better introduce myself first (it’s only polite after all). I was born in the south of England at the end of 1964, which means I am part of Generation X (sounds much more interesting than “Hello, I’m from Surrey”). In 1989, after my first (and very stupid) marriage that went pear-shaped and a series of disastrous attempts at relationships, I threw a wobbly about men, Britain, my brilliant career (ha!), etc. and packed it all in to come to Greece for six months. Or so I thought.
Then I met Nikos. 20 years later, we’re married with a millstone-like mortgage and a 12-year-old son to show for it.

Thanks to that millstone, and the habit of a lifetime, I’m a working mum. Since hitting the big 4-0, all illusions of immortality have melted away, so I try to eat right, exercise every day and keep off the demon fags. Oh, AND look drop-dead gorgeous at all times and keep my man happy in every room of the house (remember what Jerry Hall had to say about the bedroom, the kitchen, etc?).

Yeah, right… That’s the Cosmo-inspired dream.
Reality bites.

Aaaannnnyway… Today.
Ignore 7am alarm, crawl out of bed at 7.15, kick No.1 Son out of bed & have argument about breakfast/schoolwear/homework, reject last night’s outfit choice, empty wardrobe in search of perfect emsemble, revert to last night’s choice, slap gloop on face. No.1 ignores my pleas for kiss before leaving, Other Half snores through my parting hug and I stumble out door and head for bus stop. Feel invisible (quite an achievement when you’re 5 ft 10 and unmentionable dress size).

Athens public transport for hour’s trip to office. Sit-down on bus (good, chance to read & look intelligent), stand all the way on train (bad, blisters already bubbling in new shoes). Try to adopt confident, casual and sashaying walk from station to office. Stumble over unseen pothole, lose all credibility, try to slink unnoticed to desk.

Eight hours tapping away, trying to look industrial, bashing out words for other people. Then home-time. Rewind morning commute.

Decide to be virtuous and walk last 20 mins from station to house. Regret decision 5 mins later as new-shoes blisters re-awaken.

Home to OH & No.1. They ignore me. Teenage pursuits and YET MORE shouty Greek party political blah on telly (elections in coupla weeks - hooray!) far more interesting than me. Make tea, ignore messy kitchen, and dive into cyberspace in a sulk.

Tired, time for bed. Bored. Restless. Can’t sleep. Remember washing not done, unironed clothes, bills not paid, zits not squeezed. Get up and shave legs. Hunt for Band Aid to stem gushing flow of blood from nicked ankle. Compromise with toilet paper. Fall back into bed.

(Note to self: Must make future diary entries more interesting – anyone who finds diary will think am most boring middle-aged wimp ever.)