Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Rules of Parenting

Richard Templar
When I first received this book I thought: Oh no! I can’t bear self help books, particularly self help books in a series and The Rules of Parenting is just one of Richard Templar’s exhaustive list of publications; he has made a career out of ‘helping us to help ourselves’; there are books of rules by Richard about life, love, wealth, work, management; etc ad nauseam.
I threw The Rules of Parenting under the bed, and it stayed there, covered in dust, until after this morning’s school run.
School starts at 7.40am. We live 20 minutes from school. Always we leave the house at least half an hour before bell time because this is the Middle East and the roads are unpredictable. It’s not just the colourful driving; last week there was dense fog on the highway. Today the problem was more commonplace, the traffic was brutal; we sat bumper to bumper, and as the minutes ticked away my children became increasingly restive. “How late are you now, Mummy?” “Has the first bell gone yet, Mummy?” “Do you think they’ll have lined up, Mummy?”
By the time we reached school they were five minutes late. They dashed into their classrooms while I parked the car then followed Bea for she’d forgotten her lunchbox. When I got to her classroom her teacher was scolding her for being late.
Well, I don’t mind saying I was furious with Bea's teacher for scolding my darling Bea. I snapped at her: “Bea is late because I don’t have a helicopter.”
“Don’t you think you were rather aggressive?” said Nick.
I was defiant. I said: “Do you think it’s OK for your daughter to be scolded for something she wasn’t in control of? She wasn’t driving the car. I was.”
“You’re far too over protective,” said Nick
Blast off! A parenting row was starting to simmer; we have these rows on a regular basis. I yell and Nick sulks and always we end up having to agree to disagree. So before it happened again I retrieved The Rules of Parenting from under the bed, to find out how Richard would have handled the situation.
The Rules of Parenting has 100 rules, they’re divided into ten sections; there are sections devoted to attitude, personality, discipline; school. For school Richard advises: it comes as a package and if you attend the school you must accept the package. Fair enough. Then Richard says: Always fight your child’s corner. Your child needs to know you’re there for them if things get beyond their control. That’s what parents are for.
Thanks Richard! I immediately wrote to the school, kindly requesting Bea's teacher refrain from scolding her for lateness. I emphasised I am always available to discuss any problem any member of staff might have with my children’s time-keeping.
Then I read the rest of the rules.
And they’re really very useful. (There’s even one for me which states: Yelling isn’t the answer.) But more than useful they’re right. It might have taken Richard 100 headings to say it but the message is simple and true. That both parents and children are human beings and all human beings need love and respect. So, children: love your parents. Parents: respect your children.
And the rest will sort itself out
VERDICT: For a sense of perspective allow me to quote Richard’s Rule 1: Really good parents expect their children to be noisy, messy, bouncy, squabbly, whinging and covered in mud.

Friday, January 29, 2010

So Proud

Those of you who are parents - do remember your first foetal photograph after the 12 week scan? A blurred jumble of black and white, yet you couldn't stop looking at it and proudly showing it to everybody? This video is the 'My daughter's first show' version of that first foetal photo...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Maud's First Show

Tomorrow Maud and Lady Tess are jumping in Green Horse - Green Rider at the Show Grounds here in Bahrain. This is the class for an inexperienced rider on a schoolmaster, or a pro on an inexperienced horse. Maud is 10 and Tess is 10 so I'm sure you can guess who has the experience!
Wish her luck.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I am suffering from grief and shock. Amigo, who I ride at the stables, has died. He had a heart attack. I burst into tears when they told me for Amigo was my friend and I rode him three or four times a week. He was old and stiff in the mornings; grumpy till he did his first poo. We warmed up together, trotting without stirrups until he could bounce into a canter with the littlest bit of an aid. Then it was just like riding an armchair - he never pulled or bolted or bucked, he even occasionally jumped over poles without a swerve and a protest. In our last lesson together we almost mastered a half pass - I was hoping to get it right today....
After our rides, when I was washing him, he didn't like the hose on his face so I sponged round his eyes and his ears. He loved to have his forehead rubbed and he always walked nicely beside me, his head at my shoulder and I'd chat and he'd listen...
Nick said, "Can't you find another horse to ride? Isn't the country full of horses?"

Friday, January 22, 2010

Children's Church

For my sins I volunteered to help out with Children's Church. The regular Children's Church leader - a primary school teacher with years of experience - was skeptical of my ability to cope. I could see it in her eyes. But in my innocence I thought: How hard can it possibly be to entertain and distract a dozen children aged 3 -6 for half an hour on a Friday morning? Don't I entertain and distract my own four every day....
Well, the answer is: terribly difficult. After this morning's exhausting fiasco, when the theme was Jesus turning water into wine I needed a strong drink myself - a dozen joyful little children can make an awful rumpus.
On reflection, perhaps I shouldn't have told them Jesus is a fun guy who loves to party. And I shouldn't have encouraged them to dance round the church hall, singing "He turned the water into wine, the best they ever had. Everyone is happy now, Let's all shout hurrah!"
Perhaps I should have stuck with script and insisted they sit quietly and colour in a picture?

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I had a Moroccan Bath. They're very commonplace here. I wear bikini bottoms and Meena slathers my body in a brown herbal gel. I am steamed and massaged for ten minutes, then my skin is scrubbed with a loofah mit. Hey presto, lovely smooth skin.
Except I forgot to take my bikini bottoms home with me - I left them lying on the floor of the steam room...
Went back to fetch them later - Meena says she has washed them and they're drying on the line.
"Aren't we like sisters?" said Meena.
"Better than sisters," I tell her for I can't say any of my sisters has ever scrubbed at the skin on my bottom with a loofah mit, or washed my underwear afterwards.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


A strange thing happened to me this morning. I jumped into the car after riding - left hand drive car - and the digital clock on the middle of the dashboard didn't seem to be working properly. I could easily read the first two numbers - it was 9.1... but I couldn't see the final number, on the far right of the display. I assumed it was broken and drove off.
Walking towards me on the road was a man wearing a very bright yellow shirt who didn't seem to have a left arm. I slowed down and stared (rude I know, sorry!)- and realised he did have a left arm, except I couldn't see it out of the corner of my right eye. The fault was my eye - more specifically the peripheral vision on my right eye.
I drove up to the traffic lights slowly. I couldn't see the green feeder arrow to the right.
Thoroughly freaked I phoned my husband and told him I was having a stroke. To which he replied, "I'm in a meeting, could you save the stroke till I'm finished?"
Tempting though it was I didn't have a stroke to spite him - and by the time I got home I could once again see the whole of the car clock's digital display. And everything is OK again.
But I'm wondering should I be worried?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Dragonfly Pool

Eva Ibbotson
Every Christmas my children receive an eclectic collection of story books from aunts and grannies and family friends. There’s always something for everybody, from Laura Ingalls Wilder right through to Darren Shan. But before the children get a chance to read even the blurb on the back cover I always sweep them away and read all of them myself. There are so many brilliant writers for children with stories as varied and as beautifully written as those which are marketed for adults.
This year, my outstanding favourite is The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson. You may have heard of Eva Ibbotson – there was a storm in a literary teacup a dozen years ago when JK Rowling was accused of stealing Eva’s ideas and using them in her first Harry Potter novel. Such a silly argument for there’s really no comparison between Eva Ibbotson’s enchanting fairytales and the Harry Potter phenomenon. (Can I really be the only person in the world who finds Harry a teensy bit dull?)
The Dragonfly Pool is a boarding school story set at the outbreak of World War 2. Our heroine, Tally, wins a scholarship to a ‘progressive’ school called Delderton where the children do not wear uniforms; they do not have midnight feasts; they do not play team games. Instead they are taught to think for themselves.
On an outing to the cinema, Tally is inspired by a travel feature about a small snow capped country called Bergania. Bergania’s king is being bullied by Hitler and in a resolute gesture of defiance his country is hosting a children’s folk dancing festival. Troupes of dancing children have been invited from all over Europe – even Germany. Tally invents a folk dance and persuades her school chums to dance it with her. And even though Europe is on the brink of a war and travel is risky and dangerous, ‘progressive’ Delderton allows the children to go off gallivanting by train to Bergania, to dance at the folk dancing festival.
In Bergania Tally meets crown prince Karil, a boy the same age as her. Karil lives a lonely, regimented life, stifled with royal protocol. His mother is dead and his father is under such terrible pressure to join Hitler’s gang he hardly ever sees him anymore. Karil longs for a different life; he does not enjoy being ‘royal’; he thinks progressive Delderton sounds a heavenly school to attend...
Bergania’s king is murdered; the Nazis march in and take over. Karil’s life is in danger so Tally and her Delderton friends act together to rescue him; bravely they smuggle him out of the country, disguised as one of them. But once Karil reaches safety in England, his royal restrictions are put in place again and he’s forbidden from seeing his ‘common’ new friends....
Eva Ibbotson was born in Vienna in 1925. When she was eight, the Nazis came to power and her family fled to England where she was sent to a ‘progressive’ boarding school, rather like Delderton. She says: “I came there as a rather shy and well behaved little girl... The first thing I did was to curtsy to the headmaster when he greeted me in the school courtyard, which made the children watching laugh so much one of them fell out of a tree.”
VERDICT: This is a magical story, yet there’s not a wizard in sight.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Help! I hate my novel!

Apologies for my failure to blog, I'm proof reading Lady Muck this week, and I don't do commitment well.
Proof reading is when an editor sends the final draft of your novel back to you, in the format it's going to be on the bookshelves. In theory the author takes a quick read and spots typos and silly mistakes. Except I've spotted an enormous faux pas - it's the name of one of the central characters - and every reference to 'Jennifer' has to be changed to 'Mummy' and it's not possible to do this by pressing a magic button on the keyboard because there's another Jennifer (her daughter Jennifer Junior) lurking in the pages...
Also I'm still suffering from the superfluous 'that' disease - and on every single page so far (I'm currently on P 245) I've identified and eliminated at least one superfluous 'that'.
Wish me luck, I'm starting to wilt, and I've another 100 pages to go

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Revenge of Lady Muck

At the front of books by Little Black Dress the author writes five things about herself. Here are my five things:
1. Anne helped with the sheep farming in Ireland when she was growing up. Nowadays she prefers her lamb served in a stew, with mint sauce.
2. In a karate competition Anne once fought the coach of the British team. He punched her on the nose; she kicked him in the head. She won a full point off him and a big hug.
3. Anne can say “Tea or coffee?” in a dozen languages. She’s also pretty fluent in “Chicken or fish?” and “Please fasten your seat belt.”
4. In Africa Anne learnt that shining a torch into the eyes of a lion will make it run away. She has never had an opportunity to try this.
5. Anne is a huge fan of the cloak-like black abaya worn by women in the Middle East. She wears one when ever she can, with her pyjamas under it, on the school run.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Adulteress

Noelle Harrison
Happy New Year! And may I recommend an orgy of adultery to start 2010?
Just a quick question to start with: Who knows which of the Ten Commandments state “Thou shalt not commit adultery?”
The answer is number seven; it lies between Thou shalt not kill and Thou shalt not steal. This commandment was given to the wandering Israelites by Moses via God on Mount Sinai, right at the start of the Bible (Exodus Chapter 20) which leads me to think adultery, the sexual unfaithfulness of a husband or wife, is as old as the institution of marriage and therefore as old as time.
Having just read The Adulteress, where almost every character is sexually unfaithful to a husband or wife, and every one of them is miserable because of it, I have come to the conclusion committing adultery creates more problems than it resolves.
The moral of this story is: Don’t do it! Just Say No!
The Adulteress has two stories intercut with each other. First there’s the modern day story of Nicholas who walks out of his marriage to Charlie when she admits to committing adultery. Though she begs him to forgive her, and though his friends assure him she’s sorry, Nicholas’s pride has taken a hammering. He buys a rundown cottage in the country, where he retreats to lick his wounds. He advertises as a piano teacher. He flirts with one of his students and even though he knows she is married, he indulges in his own bit of adultery with her. He calls this 'learning to to make his life move on.'
The cottage is haunted by the ghost of June Fanning, an Englishwoman who lived there alone during the Second World War. Her husband has gone to the RAF and June is lonely and bored. She has not ever lived in the Irish country-side before; she feels like a fish out of water. She is an academic who studied Classics at university and wrote a thesis about Julia Caesar, daughter of Augustus, who was banished from Rome for adultery. By a stroke of fluky good luck, just across the fields from June’s cottage, lives Phelim Sheridan who has a library full of books on Ancient Rome. He invites her over to visit his library. She discovers a bedridden wife who is dying. One thing leads to another... But her act of adultery is something June regrets all her life, and something she continues to regret, even after she dies.
Hence the haunting of Nicolas's cottage...
Noelle Harrison is an Englishwoman who lives in rural Ireland. She started her career writing stage plays, but after the birth of her son in 1997 she began to write fiction. Her first novel Beatrice was published in 2004. She has won awards for her short stories, and has written extensively on visual art in Ireland, contributing to various journals and artists' catalogues. She works as a part time resource teacher, and lectures in History of Art.
VERDICT: This novel should be given to every Bridezilla who struggles to see beyond her big white dress and her wedding day. It teaches that marriage is often a disappointment, but adultery is even more of a disappointment.