Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Harry Potter et Al

As my have got older children, it has become increasingly difficult to find a day out that will appeal to all the family. So, faced with a rare day recently when we were all at home and looking for somewhere to visit, the solution came from an unlikely source; a bespectacled boy, a geeky girl and their nerdy friend (sorry Ron!). 

My children have grown up with the Harry Potter books and the sounds of Stephen Fry’s erudite narration have accompanied us on many memorable holidays in the past. On some occasions, we have been so engrossed with the story that we have remained in the car long after we have reached our destination.

I, for one, am rather attached to Harry and his companions and their antics at Hogwarts School. My family agrees and when J.K. Rowling’s much loved characters were brought to life on film, we were among the first in the cinema. Years later, the box sets still come out on wintry evenings when we are all at home and remain among our favourites. 

Warner Brothers Studio Tour was therefore a popular choice for our day out and it didn’t disappoint. I didn’t know what to expect from the moment we arrive we were transported back into that the magical world of Harry and his friends.

The film sets are amazing and the attention to detail is second to none. From the famous costumes right down to those all-important, handmade wands.

I loved being able to walk in Harry, Ron and Hermione’s footsteps through the Great Hall and along Diagon Alley to Gringotts Bank. 

Even the items in the gift shop are of a higher quality than you would normally find, although not cheap.

For Harry Potter fans this is a must. If you are looking for a day that the whole family can enjoy, I would thoroughly recommend it.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Gogglebox Forever!

After a long day, it is lovely to relax in front of the TV with my family.

Hmmm! Did I say ‘relax’?

There are five of us living under our roof, with occasional ‘extras’, each with their own idea of what constitutes good family entertainment.

When there was only my husband and I to consider, we used to watch challenging films and tune into interesting documentaries. These days we are more likely to sit through American soaps and endless reality TV shows. Left to our own devices, we would enjoy more cerebral viewing, or so I believed until my husband developed a liking for Lizard Lick Towing (and I thought TOWIE was bad!).

We all have own peculiar TV watching habits. Lilly and her boyfriend chatter… incessantly… through absolutely everything, whilst munching loudly on popcorn. My son prefers to lay in front of the TV on his duvet, which leads to angry choruses of ‘get down, we can’t see’ every time he adjusts his position. Personally, I find a large glass of wine makes most things more palatable.

When she visits, my mother-in-law is an expert at the ‘isn’t that whatshisname who played thingumybob’ in that cop drama… you know the one with that actor who was married to that actress’ type of comment.

Then, when the family is finally settled comfortably, hubbie inevitably decides to play two handed remote. This involves frequent adjustment of the settings; too quiet, too LOUD, and usually ends in him redesigning the lounge so that the speakers are in the best position to appreciate the soundtrack. I imagine that we are also the only family in England who has to watch the end credits to find out who sung what song.  

Of course, we have our family favourites; programmes that we will all happily sit down to watch without complaint such as The Big Bang Theory and we are currently working our way through box sets of Supernatural series 1-8 (we each have our reasons!).  

Most recently, we have become hooked on Gogglebox, a fly-on-the wall documentary following the reactions of the viewing public to the programmes that we ourselves watch on TV. Phew! Watching them squabble, adjust their sets, shout at the TV and eat their way through mountains of takeaway food, makes me realise we’re not so unusual after all.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

What Kind of Friend are You?

I have heard it said that over a lifetime we can count our true friends on the fingers of one hand.

Those are the friends who stick by us no matter what, who will call (or text these days) to find out how we are, never forget our birthday and will cancel their own arrangements to be by our side when the need arises.

Everyone should have a friend like that.

Often the people who stick by us are not the ones you would expect and there is no better test of friendship than when you really need someone to be there – and they are. You find out who your real friends are when you are in most need.

I have always found that when things are really bad in my life, for whatever reason, it is extremely difficult to reach out to people. Instead, as the veil of depression or hopelessness slips over my head I tend to hide away. The worse things get, the more I retreat into my own little world of misery. A surprise phone call, a voice at the end of the line that asks, “How are you doing?” is sometimes all it takes to shift my perception, just a little, maybe enough to realise that things are not so bad after all. To offer hope.

A friend has empathy. We have all known people who ask you how you are doing and when you reply: “Not so good actually, my granny just died of cancer,” they say:

“I know exactly how you feel, my dog has a sore paw.”

A good friend knows when to listen. They sit quietly holding a box of tissues while you sob out the story about how you found a blond hair on his jacket and don’t insult you by suggesting that it might have come from the cat.

Nor do they launch into a long tirade about the time that they suspected their husband of having an affair because he was always working at late at the office with that tarty blond woman from accounts, the one with six kids by different husbands, but it turned out that he was really working overtime to pay for a romantic trip to Paris for their anniversary because that was where he first proposed several years ago when…. Well, you know the type.

All too often we take our friends for granted, I know that I do.

Recently, when I was struggling to keep everything going and dangerously close to giving up, the phone rang and a familiar voice said: “You sound as if you could use some help. I’ll be right over.”

I would like to say thank you to a true friend.

You know who you are.


Monday, 7 April 2014

Moving a Mountain

Two years ago, I posted on this blog that my big sis and I were trying to persuade my elderly mother to move out of her house, which is now far too big for her to manage.

She doesn’t want to. It is the place that she moved as a young wartime bride to live  her new husband and in-laws. It is where she had her family and we grew up us children. It is where she has laughed, loved and cried. It is the keeper of her memories. It is more than just a house.

In spite of two lengthy spells in hospital and the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult for her to cope on her own, she refuses to leave her home.

I understand, really I do.

Mum is 90, or thereabouts (she keeps changing her date of birth so we are not sure of her exact age). The next fall could well see her having to go into a home. Unfortunately, there is no room for her at either of our houses (as you know, mine is full of teenagers). As a compromise, we have suggested sheltered accommodation. Mum won’t hear of it.

“They’re trying to put me away you know,” I heard her say to a family friend recently.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When I was little my mum protected me. She kept me safe and warm and fed. She looked after me and now, I would like to do the same for her.

“Why don’t we just look at some places?” I suggested.

“No! This is my home.”

“If you lived a bit nearer to me, we could all pop in more often and you’ll have company.”

The look she gave me was warning enough to back off.

The strength that I have always admired in her has, in old age, turned into inflexibility and an unwillingness to consider change. You cannot move a mountain. Are we right even to try?

My mother-in-law lives in a self-contained flat in a very well organised, warden controlled senior living complex. There is a canteen where she (and any visitors) can get a low cost hot meal and there is always someone around for a chat when she feels like it. She has her own front door and can close it when she doesn’t. There are trips and quiz nights aplenty. 

Mum-in-law is safe and warm and happy. I want the same for my mum.

So, are we wrong in asking her to move?

Maybe, I really don’t know anymore.The truth is that the matter may soon be taken out of our hands and that will be a sad day for us all.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Peer (or should that be ‘beer’?) Pressure

I have always told my children that they should never give in to peer pressure.

“Don’t be a sheep, think for yourselves, do what you know is right for you,” I say, the platitudes tumbling from my lips.

“Never be drawn into doing something you don’t want to just to appear cool or because other people ask you to.”

You know how it goes…

So, it was with great delight that my daughter, Beth, recently had occasion to recite it all back to me.

If you read my previous post, you will be aware that my family are now following a FODMAP diet (Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols – it never gets any easier to explain!), so alcohol is broadly off limits although I do still enjoy the occasional(!) glass of red wine.

This makes social evenings a bit of a challenge, particularly, as some of my friends really like a drink (you know who you are!). Faced with the possibility of a girls’ night out recently, I pondered my options; don’t go, go and deal with the consequences or maybe limit myself to one or two (glasses, not bottles).

“Go out, have a good night… but stay off the booze,” says Beth.

“But… the girls… they won’t… I can’t…”

“You can! It’s simple, no wine.”

“They’re my friends…”

“The they will understand. It’s one night.”

It was hard.

“Come on, one drink won’t hurt… are you sick?… lemonade and what? Ice, no vodka!”

I survived. In fact, it was rather funny being the only one sober (but that’s a whole other story).

I woke up the next day without a headache, no hangover, no bloating, no sick feeling, no upset stomach…

“I’m proud of you mum,” said Beth, as if she were suddenly the parent.

But, here’s the thing; I am well aware that I can say ‘no’. However, when it comes to having a few drinks with my friends, I’m not sure that I always want to. I am capable of making my own choices.

Hopefully, as they get older, so are my children.

Maybe, the time has come to stop lecturing them about what they should and shouldn’t do and trust them more to make their own informed decisions. After all, my husband and I have brought them up to make their choices wisely.

Now where did I put that corkscrew?