Middle of the Summer Holidays Blues

Week 1 of the summer holidays was a fantastic week at The Boss’s parents, kicking off with an awesome 2 days at Legoland. Week 2 was mostly spent at home after Mini Minx tried to slice her toe off. Week 3 was a high-octane visit to Bristol to stay with friends, with a day in Devon’s Diggerland, another day at Windsor Castle and a day in Bath. Now we’re back home again, we’ve hit the Middle of the Summer Holidays Blues when nothing is quite fun enough.

Monday was forecast for constant rain so I checked out Cineworld’s Movies for Juniors. At £1.58 a ticket (even if you book online), they’re a whole lot more affordable than the eye-watering prices for current films. So the minxes were shaken out of bed at 0745hrs and we set off for the heaving metropolis of Dundee by 0900hrs. We laughed through Home and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We piled out just before midday, so I took the zoo over to the nearby McDonalds for lunch because I’d agreed to review it for the Soil Association’s worthy Out to Lunch campaign. They’ve enlisted the help of families all over the country to help them assess whether big chain restaurants:

  • Provide fresh, good quality food you can trust
  • Make it easy for you to choose healthy food
  • Welcome children and accommodate parents’ needs

It’s fair to say that I wasn’t impressed with this afternoon’s visit to McDonalds

Tummies filled with different shades of brown food, we headed to Dunhelm Mill and Hobbycraft to look for fabric. I need to replace some fabric at the bottom of Midi’s dress that she shredded on a concrete slide, and to make a bed-curtain for Maxi. Neither visit was productive in anything other than sending the kids into Fight Mode.

By the time we hit Tesco for a food forage, the 3 of them were determined to strangle each other / push each other in front of traffic or a speeding trolley / pull over every stand of Back to School merchandise in sight (Tesco Managers: I am so, so sorry and embarrassed. Stopping to properly clear up the mess would probably have involved blood. I promise not to bring them back until there’s a safety fence around your displays. Or armed guards. Or I’ve finally got them properly trained). Steering with the Hounds of Hell attached to my shopping trolley would have been easier and less stressful, I swear. Maxi seems incapable of looking at anything without poking it (“Aw crap… Yes, I’d better take that squid too, Mr Fishmonger. 30p each? Better give me its 3 prodded friends too, then”), Midi was on a mission to make one of her sisters cry every time we entered a new aisle (and did admirably, with an 80% success rate), whilst Mini just moaned about how much she hated shopping. Yes. Me too. But you’ll hate it even more if I have to botch-tape you to the trolley, Sweetness…

Finally getting home, Midi threw a monumental strop because I insisted she return to the car to remove a sweetie wrapper. She tried to thump me on the back and trip me up as I swept past her, holding 7 shopping bags. You can probably imagine how quickly she was dispatched to her bedroom… Even when she calmed down enough to say sorry, I made sure that I moved her to tears by explaining how easily she could have killed me, and what the lifelong consequences to her would have been. Harsh? Cruel? Yes, I think so too, and that’s why I made her cry.

Enough eyes for all 3 minxes, surely. Ah... no.

Enough eyes for all 3 minxes, surely.
Ah… no.

Dinner was full of mine and The Boss’s favourite things: sprats fried in coconut oil (I’ve been coconut oil curious for ages, and finally bought some in a fit of ‘oh I can’t afford it, and never will, so better buy it now, then’), boiled samphire tossed in butter, and Madhur Jaffrey’s dry okra. Oh my, it was lovely! And one day, all 3 kids will eat all of it without complaining (“She got more eyes than me! That’s not fair!” “I don’t like the intestines!” “Gimme your samphire, I love it, you got most, it’s not fair” “I hate okra” “I hate okra, too” “Okra – waaaaaah!”).

Right now The Boss is doing the bedtime run; Mini is screeching because he’s daring to cover her eczema-crusted skin in moisturiser and eumovate; Maxi is engrossed in something that’s caught her limitless attention; Midi is hiding from soap and water, and I’m writing to get some peace and perspective on the day, and therefore hiding.

30p of fun. Hopefully

30p of fun. Hopefully

And the squid I had to buy? Well, tomorrow’s craft activity is teaching my trio how to prepare fresh squid for lunch. Well, it might be fun. Wish me luck…

Do You Wanna Have Some Ear-Plugs?

Today was a most arduous and long-dreaded day… today I faced my biggest fear and survived… today I went into battle with my 2 youngest daughters against the war-machine that is Disney… Today I took Midi and Mini Minx to a Frozen Singalong.

It was just what it sounds like: a cinema showing of Disney’s Frozen that includes on-screen lyrics and an encouragement to singalong. We were in a town hall, seated on small, uncomfortable chairs for 2 hours, surrounded by hundreds of small girls and grown women dressed in a uniform sea of pale blue glittery lace, in the preschooler’s equivalent of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

They got a bit excited and loud. Very, very loud. I was so relieved that The Boss had sent me into the combat zone armed with some decongestants, the last Strepsil in the house, a messenger bag-full of tissues and that pearl beyond price: a pair of ear-plugs. Bliss!

Now, I have to come clean at this point: it was actually good fun and everyone looked like they had a wonderful time. I had a much better experience than I’d feared thanks to the edge being taken off the unrelenting volume by the ear-plugs. It helped having a friend there with an identical sense of humour: we both sniggered dirtily when Anna demanded “Take me up the North Mountain”. I even managed a few croaky lines to the less-popular songs (Fixer Upper and Reindeers Are Better Than People). Though I now have a stiff, sore neck from constantly looking round to check on the minxes, and then having one or both hanging from it for a bit, before their entire row of nursery Elsas shuffled around to sit on their respective mummies’ laps and I moved to snuggle in between my 2 horrors. The people running the show had made a brilliant effort to make it fun for the girls (the audience had boys and men, but it was 95% female, of whom 90% were dressed as Elsa): they had 2 free raffles for goodie bags drawing seat ticket numbers. Then they encouraged the children to parade around the room in their costumes a couple of times to the film theme tune, before the projectionist chose 2 lucky winners of the best costumes. Because the point was to sing along, the showing had a lovely, relaxed atmosphere – no-one cared if your phone went off, or the baby behind you screeched, or your entire row were coughing throughout (and we were…). However, a full quarter of the audience got fed up with the film before it ended and decided it would be much more fun to evade their sleeping mums and race around and around the audience, entirely unfettered.

Would I take the kids back again? Definitely with Mother’s Little Helpers (ear-plugs). Without? God, no!

Meanwhile, Maxi and The Boss had ventured into The Big City to catch an art gallery and museum. I say ‘ventured’ because our car is currently playing silly beggars. I think the battery is dying; The Boss thinks it can’t possibly be because we seem to go through a battery every 18 months; I think I don’t care who’s right, I just want a car that reliably starts! It really didn’t want to start on the drive to Frozen (5 attempts, very slow starter, only succeeded with every power-draining thing turned off). Even in the brief switch-off to change drivers at town caused The Boss palpitations (I could tell by his pale, sweaty face on the 4th start attempt that he was having nightmarish visions of having to accompany us to Frozen). I warned him ominously not to stall or turn the engine off unless he’d first parked somewhere it would be safe and free to leave the car overnight for a recovery truck. Why did I say that? Well, I like to give him something to niggle on 🙂

Sounds like they had a wonderful time. The Boss understands modern art. Like, properly understands it. We were once in St Ives and went along to the Tate Modern because he wanted to show me some Barbara Hepworth sculptures (they blew me away and changed my soul. He knew they would.) We were in a gallery that had some strange daubings and I felt pretty uncomfortable.

“I don’t get it”, I told him. “Why are these paintings in this gallery? Why are they on show? What makes them good?”

My questions were rhetorical, but he started explaining bits and bobs. I forget now exactly, but I remember him explaining the point of the ‘crazy’ perspective, what it meant, and why the brushstrokes were the way the were, and that it wasn’t about the lines but the shapes and shades they made. It was a very strange experience to look again at those paintings, through his eyes, and feel that “Oh!” lightbulb moment.

So it was lovely that our eldest artist was going with him. As well as the Father-Sole Daughter time that they rarely get, he was the perfect person to take her to see art. They barely had any time, but managed to trough a slice of toffee cake (I approve), catch some Greek helmets (great! Maxi’s special interest this year has been all things Ancient Greek), introduced her to some Barbara Hepworth (wow! Brilliant!) and some famous watercolours. Sounds like it made quite an impression on her.

Back home, we had a big haggis dinner in a bit of a throw to it being Burns Night. Though with us all liking haggis, it’s any old excuse to be honest. This time we shovelled it away with gusto to catch the last episode of our 3 night home-DVD extravaganza: The Boss bought the Star Wars trilogy home on Friday night, so we’ve been introducing the kids to Episodes IV, V and VI (ie the Real Ones). The best bits:

“Midi, who do you think Luke’s sister might be?” – “Leia, cos she’s worthy of The Force” (Worthy? Worthy? Where do 6 yos get that kind of language from?!)

Mini, about Stormtroopers: “Why are those men wearing nappies?”

Maxi calling the characters Dark Vader and Hand Solo, just like I had when the first one was released when I was younger than her.

Hand Solo? I’m sure there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere, and probably linked with Anna being taken up the North Mountain, but I’m just too tired to see it.

How To Train Your Minx

It’s amazing what you can get little kids to do with the right bribes.
(No, that really doesn’t read right at all, but I’m not going to re-edit it again and again!)

I waggled the carrot of “A Very Special Treat, so amazing that you’ll scream behind your hand when I tell you” at them this morning. By lunch-time, not only had they gotten dressed and eaten breakfast without argument, but all 3 minxes had tidied the living room and their bedrooms, Midi had hoovered up the popcorn I’d made them and they’d dropped, and Maxi had wiped down all the dusty surfaces. Wow, wow, wow! They got an interim reward of glittery nail varnish on their fingernails, which delighted them all.

As we ate baked potato dinner at 3.30pm, Maxi said over a wrinkled brow: “Mummy, I think you’ll have to tell me what the surprise is: you know I don’t like not knowing what’s going on”. So I whispered to her: we’re going to the cinema to see How To Train Your Dragon 2. She punched the air. I think she was pleased.

I’d been bursting to tell them since I decided this morning. It was rubbish weather. It was Wednesday. I’m still an Orange customer. The 3 just go hand-in-hand: Orange Wednesday 2-for-1 film tickets. The Boss and I have been loving that offer for 9 years, now. And like last year, I’m trying to juggle the days around to save as much family fun as possible until the weekends or the evenings so that The Boss can join in, too – I remember what it was like being a full-time working parent, missing all the big day-time events and feeling like the other parent is having all the fun. So: cinema in the evening it was to be!

It was a right faff booking the tickets over the website, though: it would only let me have 1 free ticket, not 1 free adult and 1 free child. After a lot of footering, I figured I’d be faster making 2 separate bookings. So I did. But then discovered that you can only use your Orange code once. And that you only get 1 code. Doh! One emergency call at work to The Boss, new code received, and second booking made. Next time, I’ll just do it at the cinema and save myself the stress and 50p per person booking fee!!

So, we drove into the shopping mall in Aberdeen early enough to fetch The Boss a drink and sandwich (he was meeting us straight from work) and drift to the cinema. On the way from the food bit to the cinema bit, we bumped into our next door neighbour, her daughter, her mother, and the family from round the corner.

The Boss met us in the foyer, his little face lighting up in the biggest beam I’ve seen in years when I handed him some scooby snacks to keep him going through the film – bless!

The film was fine for 20 minutes, when suddenly the projector went off. Everyone looked at each other and pointlessly up at the projector space at the back of the room. The Boss got up and went to find a member of staff. He came back, saying they knew about it. After 5 minutes, the side-lights went on and the soundtrack finally stopped. Oh-oh… ominous! A staff member came in and addressed the audience.

“We’ve had a power surge”, he explained. It had caused the huge projector bulb’s systems to protect it and put it into power-save mode. It couldn’t be overridden. It would take a few minutes to warm down then switch back on. They’d start the film again as soon as they could. “If you’ll excuse me zooming off now, though”, he apologised: “I’ve got 9 other screens to tell the same thing!” and off he strode. We all settled back with a few audible ‘Ooooo, what a nice man!’s and amused ourselves cheering and booing as the screen size changed, the film found its place again, 1 minute before the cut, and the soundtrack finally started up. So it was perfect – we hadn’t missed anything, and even got a quick 1 minute refresher.

The film was great – we all really enjoyed it. Lots of the audience also seemed to enjoy Midi and Maxi’s reactions to the film, too. They both have very infectious giggles, especially Midi. The man behind us laughed only when Midi made one of her rising, maniacal giggle-shrieks.

Midi the Viking

Midi the Viking

**film-spoiler**: it’s a PG rating. In hindsight, I think Mini (4 yo) was a bit young to properly enjoy it, and even my own little Viking, Midi (6 yo), found some of the suspenseful bits a little too much. She wasn’t too happy when Stoic died, either. I wasn’t massively happy with Cate Blanchett’s strangely mangled accent, either. She’d done a fine English accent in Elizabeth I, that she’d famously based on Margaret Thatcher. But her ‘Scottish’ accent was a bizarre hotch-potch of Irish, American, Yorkshire and Highland. Quite strange. And not dissimilar to the sound made by Russell Crowe’s accent coach **end-spoiler**

At the end of the film, we were all handed tickets to watch another film for free. Bonus! Hooray! They didn’t need to do that, so we were all delighted.

On a happy high, we stumbled into Pizza Express, where they do 2for1 offers on Wednesdays, too. It was heaving, so we were really lucky to get a table. It was sooooo loud! My hearing is terrible, and I really struggled to understand our very busy and kind waitress. It took a fair few minutes for me to get that “dobbles” was “dough balls”. I think I may need a hearing aid… Dinner took 2 hours, but on the bright side, that meant that 2 out of 3 kids slept on the way home (in a strange role-change shocker, it was *MIDI* who gabbled all the way home!

Lucky, Lucky, Lucky!

Monday 3 April and Day 3 of the Easter Holidays…

My original plans of heading out on a woodland trail fell apart when we woke to a freezing cold gale. The snow forecast possibility was now a certainty. Flexibility being the key to both Air Power and staying sane as a parent, I quickly replanned: trip into the heaving metropolis of Inverness to spend some birthday vouchers, Tiso for new approach shoes for both me and The Boss (I’d found photographic proof that mine had been worn many days each week for the past 6 years, so were justifiably in need of an upgrade), treat lunch, cinema, quick shop, put the tent up in the back garden, camp in the back garden instead of a snowed-in campsite near Aberdeen.

I loaded the car boot with 100 bags*, got everyone’s jackets and wellies on, lined the minxes up on the stairs ready to ferry them into their car seats, nipped out to the garage to grab a buggy, then spun round when I heard The Boss yell.

We had a puncture. A bad one. The tyre was totally flat and coming off the rim.

I could have cried. Instead, I shepherded the kids into the car while The Boss did the necessary, then insisted on watching him carefully and doing bits myself. Mostly bouncing up and down on the nut lever thing. That was fun. Besides, I never want to be stuck by the side of the road, flapping ineffectually at a flat tyre. So now I know I can change a tyre on a Grand Scenic with 3 screaming kids in the back seat, because I did! Also looking on the bright side, we had to put the winter tyres back on the car because Scenics don’t have a spare tyre. With snow looming and temperatures back below 10degC for the foreseeable future, this was no bad thing at all.

*100 bags might be slight hyperbole. But I need a nappy change bag, a complete change of clothes for Mini and Midi Minx, a bag of bags to pack shopping into, a bag of snacks and drinks for the kids if we’re going to be out all day, a bag containing phone, keys, purse, lip-balm. I could go on, but I’m losing the will to live…

This was just the start of our luck. We’d run out of time to do anything in Inverness before lunch, especially because we got caught behind a tractor and 2 very slow lorries, so went straight to the carpark. And straight into the perfect car park space. Cha-ching! Screeching past HMV en-route to lunch, The Boss decided he’d nip in and have a quick look. And immediately spotted Toy Story and Toy Story 2 on a 2-for-1 and costing the same as his birthday voucher was for. Cha-cha-ching! That’ll be 2 quiet afternoons next week sorted! We went straight to Pizza Express (serious treat lunch!) because I had a few vouchers to use there. We had our choice of tables. But in the time it took us to get coats off and Mini Minx strapped down, every single table had filled up. Wow, if we’d been only 5 minutes later… Seriously, seriously lucky or what?

Lunch was lovely: we all love garlic butter, with or without dough balls. Mini ate hers with a spoon like yogurt. The pizzas were good, desserts pretty fabby, and the girls thought drinking Bambinocchinos was impossibly glamorous. The service was fantastic and we left an hour later, full-up, happy and relaxed.

Walking back to the car, our luck was still in: H&M had a sale on. I love their simple, super-cheap summer dresses. At £2.99 you don’t expect them to last more than a year (though they usually do), but they’re brilliant on their own or layered with long sleeved teeshirts and leggings. I swooped in, grabbed a huge armful in 6-7 years for both Midi and Maxi, more leggings and out. Smug, smug, smug.

The cinema was another lucky time: it was 10 minutes to the showing, but The Boss, Maxi and Midi went straight in, barely had to wait in the queue, got tickets at 25% off because it was a quiet time (?! really? It looked like loads of Inverness folk had the same idea as us on what to do on a cold, wet day!). Still, we spent the money left over from our budget on the most enormous bucket of popcorn: I think Midi could have hidden in it! They saw The Pirates, and it was Midi’s first ever trip to the cinema. Maxi’s been once before with nursery, so she was An Old Hand, and talked Midi through it, especially when she got scared when it went dark (awwww, bless!). They had a brilliant time, and even The Boss enjoyed the film.

Meanwhile, me and Mini went for a jaunt through all the shops in the retail park. I can’t stand shopping, but this time I enjoyed aimlessly wandering about with my mind switched off, just relishing the time to smile at my baby daughter drifting off languorously to sleep. An hour later, when she woke, she ‘helped’ me carry some daft wee purchases from Homebase, then we went to look at the fish in the pet shop. As she’s only just turned 2, I suspect she enjoyed that more than she would have enjoyed the film.

More luck followed us home: a few petrol stations were sold out of diesel all the way to Nairn. But the cheapest, Sainsbury’s, was still open! Brilliant! Around then, it started to snow. And snow. And snow…