Thursday, 29 November 2007

Help! I fancy Sportacus!

Something worrying is happening - I'm getting a strange crush on Sportacus. For those of you who don't have young children or an addiction to CBeebies, Sportacus is the lead in an obnoxious programme called Lazy Town. I used to hate this programme and try to avoid my children watching it but I've relented because despite nauseating characters the subliminal message works: my four-year-old does star jumps and push ups and asks for a banana and an apple so that he will grow up strong like Sportacus.

So I looked closer and this muscled Icelandic guy in blue lycra is quite sexy. I'm not sure if it's the Nordic accent or just because he's the old-fashioned hero who would pick you up in his arms to rescue you from stepping in a puddle, but I now smile when I hear the theme tune and even sing along.

I feel ashamed to admit this crush - when a friend mentioned this summer that she actually tuned in to watch him, and she doesn't even have children, I was horrified. My only explanation of the problem is that my husband is away this week and I've had seven days of wild boys and no adult conversation. It's probably fortunate that Matthew is home tomorrow.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Radio Star Reaction

I just listened to myself on the radio - and was pleasantly surprised! I was expecting to cringe but instead felt proud that I actually sounded as eloquent and authoritative as other radio guests. If you are now intrigued you can go to to listen again, read a feature article and look at some photos. I'll be on again tomorrow night and all this week on Drive, Radio Bristol, just after 6pm.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Radio Star

On Monday I recorded my first radio interview. It's going to be serialised every night next week (starting Monday 26th November) on the Drive show on Radio Bristol. You can listen on-line ( and I'm told I'll be on shortly after 6pm.

I'm very nervous about how I'll come across. A spoken interview is scary. When you're writing you can re-read, delete and edit. A journalist takes your words and crafts something around it, hopefully positive. But once your words are spoken and recorded they are lodged forever, filed to your detriment or benefit.

Happily my confidence is buoyed today by a fantastic review in Wanderlust magazine. They gave me four out of five stars and said very nice things - you'll be able to read it soon on my website.

But what has really made me feel like a star were flowers sent to me as congratulations for the launch by a thoughtful friend in Abu Dhabi. The house smells of lillies, something luxurious. When the courier unexpectedly pulled up and presented the box of flowers I felt truly special. I just hope that by 6.15 next Monday I'm not cringing about my radio debut.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Virtuous Mummy

Today I'm Virtuous Mummy. I took my children to the park while a wholesome casserole was cooking in the oven rather than dragging them across the parish on endless errands then dashing home for fish fingers and peas.

I'm not sure why I bothered. The four year old announced he didn't like cooked carrots and the two year old only ate jacket potato. But I ate it. And as I'm eighteen weeks pregnant it's important to think of Baby Three, so often nutritionally neglected in the chaos I fear.

"I only eat what Daddy cooks," the four year old declared. As Daddy is going away tomorrow for a week, he's going to be hungry.

Tomorrow I'm going shopping for fish fingers.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Report on the launch

The launch of Revolution Baby: Motherhood and Anarchy in Kyrgyzstan on Saturday was fantastic! As we were setting up, the room filling with two yurts and colourful craft stalls, I suddenly felt excited that it was all coming together. I had wanted to create a Kyrgyz festival where people could learn something of the country. And I succeeded. There was a real buzz in the room, people enjoying a different evening, assisted by the shots of vodka. Representatives of the Kyrgyz Embassy were very excited about the interest in their country - the picture is of me presenting a book to Gulbara Abdrazakova, wife of the Ambassador. If you would like to read more about the festival, please look at the Revolution Baby page of my website Having thrown a successful party, I am now just left hoping that those who went home with a book are enjoying reading it!

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Countdown to the Launch

My mind has gone numb. In four hours I am launching Revolution Baby and yet my mind is empty. I'm hoping that everything I need is packed in the car. I'm hoping that the words I was planning to say will come back to me when the time comes for my speech. I feel out of control, the day drifting by to the inevitability of hosting a party for two hundred people.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Ex-pat goodbyes

Two very good friends have just announced that they are moving abroad to work for a few years. Selfishly, I am devastated. They currently live an hour away and as they have two children the same age as Tom and Ben we see each other often and talk regularly. I feel reassured by their proximity. Whenever Matthew has to go away to work I call them and ask if the boys and I can come and stay. They are my sanctuary, a warm, friendly home where I can go and truly relax. So I feel bereft that they will no longer be there.

On Saturday is my book launch and I’ve realised that I will have to say goodbye to them that evening. I’m wanting to wail and cling on to them for protracted goodbyes but I know that they will just want a quick hug and be gone. I know this because that is how I did it six years ago when we first left to work abroad. When you are leaving all your friends and all your family you become numbed by goodbyes. You just want to get on with your new life and don’t have the time or emotional capacity to weep over everyone.

When we left, Matthew and I and held a party in London. I was so overwhelmed by everyone who came along I wondered why we were leaving them to go where we knew no-one. Friends add colour and depth to life. One of the hardest things about living abroad is missing the weddings of special friends. Momentous things happened to our friends while we were away and I’m sad we weren’t there to share them. But equally important are the new friends made on our postings. The wonderful people we met changed our attitude to and enjoyment of the countries we were in and our shared experiences are valuable memories.

I know that to be a good friend I’m going to have to take a deep breath and say goodbye to this couple without burdening them with my grief. They have enough emotions to deal with, packing up their home and wondering if they’ve made the right decision. We won’t loose touch - email and Skype have softened the isolation of being away. But it wont be the same as having them down the road.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Well-behaved children

No, not mine, although I’m only able to write this now because Ben is in bed and Tom playing very nicely on his own with cars, trains and a track.

My title refers to the pre-school children who I talked to about Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday. They sat in a neat semi-circle in silence, possibly a stunned silence because I was wearing my Christmas-Cake-hat outfit, traditional Kyrgyz costume. Photo attached for your amusement. But for whatever reason they sat very quietly and listened attentively. If all my audiences are like this I will be lucky. After I’d told them about mountains, yurts (nomadic felt tents) and kalpaks (Kyrgyz felt hats – see my website for pictures) we had an interesting discussion about why Kyrgyz children don’t go to school. The answer for most is that they are too busy collecting water from rivers or they don’t have shoes. For those unfamiliar with the story of my book Revolution Baby: Motherhood and Anarchy in Kyrgyzstan, we went to Kyrgyzstan because my husband Matthew, a water engineer, was working on an aid project to get clean drinking water to remote villages. One amazing result of this project is that attendance rates are up at schools because children aren’t spending all day dragging water back from rivers.

But this was a difficult concept for the pre-school children to grasp. When I said they didn’t have shoes, one boy said, “they should go and buy them.” “They don’t have any money,” I explained. And they sat in stunned silence. Not having enough money to buy shoes is an incredibly difficult situation for our children to comprehend when they are surrounded by comfort and commercialism. It was a difficult concept for me to grasp when we first arrived in Kyrgyzstan. People live by rubbish bins so they can eat the waste. Old women collect acorns from the parks so they can boil them to make a porridge. But amidst all this poverty they made us humble with their generosity. On a site visit Matthew was invited into a home to eat bread and drink tea. The “home” was the one-room guard hut at the chlorination plant and bread and tea was all they had to eat. But they shared gladly.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Book Launch

Momentum is building for the launch: we’ve had a family photo taken for The Thornbury Gazette (should be in Thursday’s edition); a local bookshop has bought copies; a London bookshop (Daunt Books) has ordered wholesale; poor Matthew is busy creating promotional bookmarks and I’m ticking off names on my guest list.

Tomorrow I face my greatest challenge – not the interview with a Western Daily Press journalist but a presentation to the local Pre-School: twelve 3 and 4 year olds with strong and definite opinions and no qualms about asking awkward questions. Wish me luck.

Motherhood and Anarchy

This week I hit the depths of motherhood. But then found the highs in the most unlikely places.

Matthew has been working in Croatia for the past ten days. For someone who likes his sleep, he certainly picked the right week to be away.

Firstly Ben (22 months) had croup; nights of wheezing and coughing until he was sick, boiling the kettle to steam his room, wishing I could breath for him.

Then the clocks changed: fall back. Don’t tell me this means an extra hour in bed. Tom (four years) has a digital clock and is trained not to call for us until it says “7”. On Saturday night I put his clock back. On Sunday morning, at 6am exactly, a voice called out “Mummy, my clock is wrong, it’s time to get up.” He spent the rest of the day throwing up.

On Matthew’s ninth night away, Ben was sick again, more coughing and sick and changing sheets. Tom was yelling by 6.20am. I felt woozy. I’m fifteen weeks pregnant but caring for myself, and therefore Baby Three, was always last on the list. My bump hurt and I felt scared I was jeopardising its health. How was I going to get through the day?

Somehow we all got dressed and started to drive to nursery. The Sugababes “About You Now” came on the radio and two little voices sang out from the back. Yes, two. Tom singing the correct nuances of tune and lyrics and Ben grinning and picking up the ends of phrases “around…know..feel…bout you now.”

I laughed, we all laughed and sang until the song faded and I didn’t feel tired any more.