Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Home Schooling

Why? Why do you do it, home schooling mums?
I've had home schooling forced upon me, for the foreseeable future, while swine flu fever grips Bahrain. The tartlets have each been provided with bumper packs of school work. I've been assured they will able to do this work unsupervised.
No advice has been offered on how to catch them and pin them down and persuade them to open their packs and get started.
Also I'm the first to admit teaching is not my thing. I'm a control freak and a perfectionist where homework is concerned - pencils must be freshly sharp, rubbing out must be thorough. If you can't spell a word, look it up in the dictionary. Sums and spellings cannot be nearly right...
It's quite extraordinary how quickly we've become fed up with each other. We have nothing to talk about anymore - except the necessity of capital letters and full stops in every sentence, Maud! And can you please stop humming when you're trying to concentrate Rex? And why do you have to try to wriggle out of your reading every single day Flor? And, OMG, is it really possible that you can't count to 10 on your fingers, Bea?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Khloe Kardashian

I think I'm out of touch, living in the Middle East - I thought Hollywood starlets were all a Size 0, with bony wee breasts and lollipop heads...
Yet when Khloe Kardashian married Lamar Odom in Beverly Hills on Sunday night there wasn't a skinny woman in sight. I saw photos of Paula Jai, and Brittny Gastineau, and Jillian Barberie Reynolds and Adrienne Bailon and the first word I thought to describe them was 'delicious'...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cautionary Tale

Do you see the scar on my face, running from nostril to lip? That's a cancer scar, from when I had a Basal Cell Carcinoma cut out of my face. It's not that I ever sunbathed - I'm far too scared of wrinkles, but I didn't use sunblock either, not even a moisturiser with an SPF.
Five years ago I grew a pimple on the side of my nose. It looked like a little Rice Krispie, I thought it was a wart. I only went to the doctor to get it removed for cosmetic reasons. Once the biopsy results were confirmed I was taken to theatre and a big hole was cut out of the side of my face to cut away the spreading cancer. They told me I was lucky, the cancer was spreading down my face. Unlucky would be if was spreading up my nose and into my brain...
I learnt to live with the scar until I went for a mesotherapy facial. To quote: The MesoGlow treatment infuses the dermis layer under the skin with anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and aminoacids to nourish and rejuvenate. This will promote production of collagen and elastin and will stimulate the metabolism.I thought it very effective after only one session - the age lines on my face were most decidedly 'plumped out'. Unfortunately the scar did not plump. In fact it's the only time I ever really noticed it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Modern Blockbusters

THE 19th WIFE – David Ebershoff
Do you remember the fashion for blockbuster novels during the 1980s – each novel was two inches thick and told the story of a scary superwoman who wore designer clothes, travelled to designer locations, ate designer food and had (hair-raisingly detailed) sexual dalliances with designer men?
“All cash and no class,” said my mother, when one famous lady ‘bonkbuster’ novelist admitted to ‘typewriter turn-on’ as she described yet another champagne soaked orgy in the pages of her new work in progress…
I’m quite sure had that lady author been informed of my mother’s low opinion of her she’d have cried all the way to the bank. And anyway, mum was only mad that I couldn’t leave the book down long enough to wash the dishes. She couldn’t quite understand or accept the whole point of a blockbuster is its addictive quality.
Anyway, I’m happy to announce the blockbuster is back, but this time it’s dressed in different clothes, and now the genre is dominated by male authors. And instead of a story about a scary superwoman the new themes are religious fanaticism and polygamy.
At first I thought A Thousand Splendid Suns was simply the very sad story of two Afghani women, living in Kabul, married to a pig of a husband. Then I realised the novel was coming everywhere with me – I was reading it at red traffic lights, and in the queue at the supermarket. I slept beside it in bed. I propped it up behind the taps when I was doing the washing up.
“Surely you’re still not reading that book?” asked Nick at 2 in the morning.
I told him, “It’s utterly fascinating the terrible way the husband is treating them. And they’ve nobody to turn to because the law is on his side. He’s allowed to beat them up, bully them and repress them and the young pretty wife has a secret boyfriend, whose leg was blown off by a landmine at the time the Mujahedeen were heroes because they were trying to clear Afghanistan from Soviet occupation. When the husband finds out about the affair he’s going to kill her and they way the law is, they’ll probably give him a medal...”
It’s a temporary madness, this addictive reading. I was exhausted for a week after I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns. Then my sister leant me The 19th Wife and the addiction started all over again. Again I didn’t fully realise I was reading another blockbuster. This is a story about a religious cult called the First Latter Day Saints who still practise polygamy in the 21st Century, though the established Mormon Church gave up the practise in the 1890s. Dad is blown to bits with a Big Boy while chatting up the ladies on an internet site in his den in the basement of his polygamous house. His 19th wife is accused of the killing. Her excommunicated son tries to solve the mystery of his father’s murder – he knows his mother isn’t the killer, he knows she has always been content to follow the prophet’s teachings about polygamous marriage and submission to one’s husband - it seems that God told Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons, that agreeing to a ‘celestial marriage’ was the only way a woman could get into heaven. And lots of women chose to believe it.
“Handy for the men,” I told Nick.
“What a nightmare,” said Nick. “I think one wife is enough for anybody.”
VERDICT: Do you have a long flight ahead of you? Or perhaps a hospital appointment? Take a modern blockbuster with you. You won’t notice the time passing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Home Again

I was away from the tartlets for a week, the first time in ten years, and at the start I kept searching for them: "Where are they? Oh yes, I forgot, 5000 miles away, in the Middle East, with their father..."
My parents in Ireland said, "Stay with us! You'll be lonely in that old farmhouse by yourself..." But I wasn't lonely, not a bit. The silence was seductive. The first proper silence since Maud was born. No children's voices calling "Mummy Mummy." No air conditioning - it makes such a racket. No television, or wireless. I love the silence. I could get used to it.
I didn't realise I was missing the children until the descent into Bahrain. I thought I wasn't thinking about them. Then I pictured them standing with Nick in Arrivals and I suddenly burst into tears. Because I was going to see them again - noisy, attention seeking, opinionated little beasts that they are.
The man sitting beside me gave me his hanky. He thought I was crying because my holiday was over. He was right. I was crying because my holiday was over. But they were tears of joy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It's Over!

Look how nervous I am in this photograph! This is me before I went to give my amusing and motivational speech at my old grammar school Prize Day. It was very formal and solemn. The teaching staff wore robes. I was on spotlit stage with an audience of 500 in front of me, and a big screen to one side showing a close up of my (heavily made-up, terrified) face. I was introduced as "Miss Dunlop, the author."
When I got up to speak the chairman of the board of governors whispered, "Just remember, you're among friends."
I think it's the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me.
My voice stopped shaking after the first couple of minutes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Speech day

I spent yesterday in Belfast preparing for tonight's amusing and motivation speech. I did this by having a makeover at the MAC Counter in Debenhams. I said to the lovely woman painting my face: "What on earth am I going to talk about? None of my career choices have ever been academic and the grammar school I went to is very academic..."
And she said, "What you have to remember is that not everybody wants to be a doctor or a lawyer when they grow up. I have a degree in fine art, but I happen to like painting people's faces. A good education is easily carried and nobody can take it away from you."
Thank you MAC! You have given me the closing paragraph of my speech.
"I have a degree in Agricultural Science (!) but I happen to like writing popular fiction - and they say it's not work if you love it..."

Monday, September 14, 2009


Finally, after a fortnight of Swine Flu hysteria, the tartlets are going back to school. Hurrah! But why is this photograph hazy? Because the humidity was so ghastly this morning the lens of the camera misted over the second we stepped outside. As did my sunglasses. And I had to use windscreen wipers.
If you look closely you'll see the girls in ankle socks and leather shoes, in 50 degrees - it's school rules. Also, if you could see me behind the camera, I was wearing long sleeves and long trousers because it's Ramadam.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Birthday Party

10 year old girls are still children - I'm very happy to report.
I was expecting pre-teen posturing, and a disdainful refusal to play 'baby' party games...
Instead they wore party hats and played Musical Statues. They had an egg and spoon race, and an egg and spoon race in (my) high heels and an egg and spoon race while balancing a book on their heads. And Pass the Parcel, and Musical Chairs and a Treasure Hunt and every one joined in, even sophisticated Emma who prefers Amy Winehouse to Hannah Montana.
They ate popcorn and crisps and ice-cream and jelly and birthday cake.
Before they went home they said, "Thank you very much for having me. I had a lovely time."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Last Train From Liguria

Christine Dwyer Hickey
I’ve been waiting all summer to read this because I didn’t want to have to hide in the outside toilet with the door bolted; it’s the only place I can get any peace when the kids are off school. Now, hurrah, the holidays are over, and I was able to lie at my length on the sofa, with a pot of tea and a packet of biscuits, and gobble up Last Train from Liguria.
In the gripping opening scene, Edward, a violent drunk, wakes up from a stupor to find his sister lying dead in a pool of blood. “The sight of her blood. That so much could be contained in one body. Even a body as big as Louise’s.”
Without doubt, Edward has killed her yet he feels no remorse. His only thought is for himself - how can he save his neck? So he runs for his life to Italy, where he finds work as a music teacher to Alec Lami – the nervy, shy little son of a wealthy Italian aristocrat and his beautiful Jewish wife. Edward can safely hide behind the high walls of Villa Lami. If he stays sober and diligent and keeps out of trouble he knows he’ll never be caught. It’s not much of a life, but it’s better than being dead.
Meanwhile, reserved, repressed spinster Bella lives with her widowed father in London. Bella’s father is ready to remarry; he wants Bella out of the house. Without her consent he finds her a job in Italy, as governess to Alec Lami. When she protests he tells her: “Oh Bella, I’m so seldom home, you know – between the hospital and my other commitments – well, let’s be honest my dear. It’s you. You who are always alone.”
Villa Lami is in Liguria, on the Italian Riviera - lucky Bella has landed on her feet! She soon settles into the household, and makes friends with Alec and Edward. And even better, Alec’s control freak mother is never around; in true aristocratic style she provides for her son financially, but virtually ignores him. So for six years Bella and Edward act as his surrogate parents without ever becoming romantically involved with each other. (I was a bit sceptical about that to be honest – a lonely young couple cooped up in a house for six years together and no sex?)
These are turbulent times. Mussolini is in charge of Italy and gradually, like an insidious rot, he introduces anti-Jewish laws. Before long the domestics are afraid to work in Villa Lami; a polite letter states that Alec is no longer welcome to study at his posh, private school. As Europe creeps closer and closer to war, Alec’s (Jewish) mother disappears; suddenly it becomes terribly important to get Alec and his new baby sister smuggled out of Italy.
Except that Edward can’t leave Italy for risk of being caught and hanged for murder...
The strength of this marvellous novel is that Christine Dwyer Hickey does not allow us to get bogged down in shock factor details about the awful treatment of Jewish people in Europe in the 1930s. Fascist Italy and Hitler’s Germany simmer menacingly in the background but this is a story about ordinary people – good, bad, ugly, warts and all – forced to make courageous decisions. I was so proud of Edward when he got on that last train out of Liguria, to help Bella escape with the children.
Christine Dwyer Hickey is from Dublin. Her last novel Tatty was heaped with critical acclaim and shortlisted for loads of literary awards. I liked Tatty well enough, but I think Last Train from Liguria is a far more enjoyable read. It brims with colour and texture; it bounces along at a furious pace, and the writing is only gorgeous.
VERDICT: A bold and brilliant novel – compassionate but never sentimental.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Just like when Kennedy was shot, I remember exactly what I was doing when New York was attacked eight years ago. I was living in Botswana. I had two very small children. There was one children's television programme every day - Teletubbies at 3pm. My friend Jenny was visiting with Angus. We were drinking tea, and the children were lined up in a row on the sofa watching Teletubbies.
The programme was interrupted to show amateur video footage of an aircraft flying into one of the twin towers. The voice over was in some language I didn't understand and at first I thought it was an accident. And I was rather peeved that Teletubbies had been interrupted.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cheap Thrill

You know those deep breathing exercises they teach at ante-natal classes: breath in through you nose and out through your mouth, slowly slowly, to help with labour contractions?
I thought I'd forgotten how to do it until this morning when I went riding on a highly strung Arabian horse.
Arabians are not like other horses, it's like sitting on a hair trigger, one wrong move and the bomb will explode.
The only way to ride them is with a zen-like calm. And how to achieve a zen-like calm? Breath in through your nose, and out through your mouth, slowly slowly...
Then their high head carriage relaxes, the stride gets longer and smoother, and soon it feels like the horse is floating over the top of the ground.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ideal Weight

Back to School! Here's a mathematical formula (courtesy of Dine Out and Lose Weight - The French Guide to Healthy Eating) to help you calculate your ideal weight (height in cm, weight in Kg).
For the ladies: Weight = (Height - 100) - 1/2(Height - 150)
And for the men: Weight = (Height - 100) - 1/4(Height - 150)
If only losing weight was as simple as calculating it!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


My oldest tartlet is 10 to-day. This is the doll's house she wanted. And a watch. And a book about Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. Because she has diabetes and must eat a very restricted diet, she asked for pizza and chips as a treat for her birthday tea

Friday, September 4, 2009

Charles II

I got this BBC drama out of the video shop. I'm watching it with the tartlets - I want them to learn that "Learning is Fun". They watched Charles I's beheading with interest and later, after the death of Cromwell, they watched Charles II take revenge on those who signed his father's execution papers.
"Is this too blood thirsty?" I ask them.
"Not at all, Mummy," they say.
Then Charles II marries Catherine de Braganza, and on the wedding night she climbs into the bed and solemnly pulls up her layers of nightclothes.
Out of a curious silence Flor says: "Why she's doing that?"
And Maud tells her : "I think she's too hot in her big heavy nightdress..."

Thursday, September 3, 2009


One of the (many) lovely things about living in the Middle East is the designer clothes clearance sales - even I can afford designer shoes when they're discounted by 90%! There are no changing rooms, just a mirror, so I always go dressed in a camisole top and a long loose skirt - anything can be tried on for size over a cami top, and pulled up under a skirt! Today I bought a black satin cocktail dress from Simona Barbieri, a tapestry jacket from Catherine Malandrino, and an Edwardian style lace blouse from Robert Rodriguez. I've never heard of any of these designers before, but their clothes are lovely, and each piece was reduced to less than a tenner.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Please Tell Me This Isn't True

This was filed under 'international news' in our local paper. I have three daughters. Please tell me this isn't true.
UK Girls Abused By Boyfriends
LONDON: A third of teenage British girls say they have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their boyfriends, according to a report by a children's charity yesterday. A survey of more than 1,350 teenagers found that nine out of 10 girls aged 13 to 17 have been in an intimate relationship, with one in six of these saying they had been forced to have sex and one in 16 saying they had been raped. A quarter of girls had suffered physical violence such as being slapped or punched.

Speech Day

School Speech Day is now less than a fortnight away. This morning I started to write my 'amusing and motivational' speech.
This is how it begins:
When I was a little girl I read allot of Enid Blyton. My favourite stories were about a wishing chair which flew to exotic and magical lands. I even remember announcing that when I grew up I wanted to fly the wishing chair. To which my mother announced: “You can do anything you want, once you get your degree.”
I calculate that takes about 30 seconds to say, if I speak slowly and clearly.
So, I've just another 14 minutes, 30 seconds to fill...