Friday, 7 November 2014

7 Sundays to Christmas


7 Sundays to Christmas  (a mummy's ditty)


7 Sundays to Christmas
And everyone’s a-flutter
7 Sundays to Christmas
Husband begins to mutter.

Bags of shopping hiding
In places I forget
Present ideas sliding
As we view the internet.

The setting in of panic
As red sold out signs appear
The typing getting manic
It happens every year.

Lists changing daily
No constants since the dog
The anxiety of failing
Upturned faces agog...

Deep breaths and decision
Belt tightening with a flair
Hard thinking with precision
No plucking out of air.

School plays and school days
Excitement builds so high
‘7 Sundays to Christmas!’
All the mummies cry.

Concerts and festive fayres
Cash flying out the door
Teachers gifts- those who care
Calendar fills up more...

‘Must catch up for a drink
Before Christmas if you please’;
What madness makes us all think
Of decorating trees?

Street lighting in November
Cards building up in piles
Ready for December
The month of stress and smiles.

Fowl ordered with the goose fat
That is never used all year
Puddings, games and moose hat
For the season of good cheer.

Bottles clink in boxes
Grand opening day awaits
We’ve got our Christmas sockses
The CD of yuletide greats.

7 Sundays to Christmas
Brain starts to creak and grate
But look on to the bright side...
It’ll all be gone in 8! 

©Ruth Morrison 2014

Friday, 31 October 2014

Friends: The Witches, the Bitches and the Climb out of Ditches


The older I get, the fussier I am about making friends.  This is not because I am unsociable, far from it.  I absolutely love making new acquaintances.  I love the feeling of meeting someone new -and if they interest me- finding out about their lives, what makes them tick, what qualities attract me.  Occasionally they become a friend.  And there is no tried and tested formula.  You do get natural wastage. Friends who were once mainstays in my life no longer feature.  Through no fault of their own, or mine, just through circumstances or fate or environmental factors they have dropped off the radar, relegated to acquaintances. #WOTW Word of the week is Friends.

And in the spirit of Halloween I have categorized them in three groups: The ‘Witches’, the ‘Bitches’, and the ‘Climb out of Ditches’.

Witches

There’s something spookily fascinating about the Witch friend.  Mainly found in youthful circles, you can also find them in the MaFia groups on which I have written before. She beguiles you from the start, she could be very attractive both in looks and personality.  There is nothing that she wouldn’t do for you, initially. She is very persuasive, and you find yourself arguing on her behalf, without question.  She invites you to everything, you become part of her coven.  You plot and plan and travel in the pack.  

And then you find that the comforting silky spiders’ web of friendship that she has woven over you is actually made of very fine steel.  It’s incredibly difficult to escape.  You find that instead of having an opinion, your voice has turned to a mere froglike croaking.  You look in the mirror and you see a weak reflection of yourself staring back. 

And you realise that you don’t like what you see. And you break free before your get the life sucked out of you, and then get thrown on the pile of carcasses that you have just noticed in the corner of the room.

Bitches

These friends are your ‘Yes’ / ‘No’ mates.  They give fully of themselves in the quest for tidbits of gossip, can always be relied on for a laugh, and would cheerfully stab you in the back.  However, they are enormous fun.  These tend to be the mid term friends, but can and do appear at any time of your life. 

They could be mummies at school that you befriend because little Johnny likes little Freddie.  They could be work colleagues who become mates through a mutual hatred of your boss.  You could go on holiday with them, live in each others pockets, and for a time you would, in the spirit of friendship, do anything for them.  

Until you realise that that is what you are doing – everything for them.  And their favourite mantra becomes ‘I owe you one’, as they disappear off with someone else. When that time comes, and you see that the mutual support structure is based on golden sunny sand, then it’s time to shift.  Either to firmer foundations with the same structure, or you knock the sandcastle down in your memory as one glorious sundowner fuelled holiday romance.

Climbing out of Ditches

These are your best friends.  They come from all walks of life, and at every stage of life.  These are the ones who pick you up, dust you down and set you back on your feet.  They are the people that you would do anything for, no matter how unreliable/irritating/frustrating they can be at that moment in time, because you know that they would absolutely do the same for you.  

They are the ones who understand what is precious to you, and what you hold dear.  They may be late, but they would never let you down. And you can have a bitch and a giggle over a glass of wine.  And you can drunkenly cast spells over those witches that gave you such a hard time.

And frankly, if you fall in the ditch, they will make you laugh trying to pull you out. 

And hell, if you’re too stuck in the mud of despair, they won’t leave you. They’ll get right there in with you. And hug you tight.



Thursday, 23 October 2014

In The Beginning...

I cannot believe that it has been a year since I started writing #Pantomum as a journey into the unknown world of pantomime, and which evolved into snapshots of living with the boys, the family and life in general.  And as the year has passed, so the kids have grown, Little Man is not so little, Eldest Son tops us all at 15 years old and 6ft 2, and Middle Son is threatening to grow his hair just one cm longer so that he is taller than me.  In a year I now have the smallest feet in the family.  In a year our puppy has become a big lolloping hound, the cats have got used to him and even G, our disliker of canines, has been known to invite him over for a cuddle.

One knackered Backstage Mum (and sea monster)! 

In a year my blog has covered a number of things in a number of styles, whether it is poetry, prose, opinion pieces, the odd review on products or books, or simply just a bit of creative writing. It showed the ups and downs of life, and how people coped with good news and bad.  One of the most popular posts was a fairy story that I wrote for a friends little girl who found out early this year that she had cancer. The comments on A Story for Evie and its follow up post were lovely, and the donations to the Little Princess Trust even better.  I’m pleased to say that she is doing well on the bumpy road to recovery, and has been a very brave little girl with the support of her ever loving family and community.

And it has been a year of reflection. Tomorrow is my 16th wedding anniversary, after a whirlwind romance all those years ago of just three months.  We’ve learned to give, take and compromise.  Running our own businesses has not been easy in the present economic climate.  But we still managed to save for a fantastic driving holiday in Italy, which I attempted in some small way (despite some dodgy internet connections) to share with you in The Italian Job posts.
 
It’s been a year of acknowledgement.  I’ve spent most of this year beset with Achilles problems, mercifully coming to an end. None of us are getting younger, and the kids are getting older.  In a matter of months I will have 2 teenagers in the house.  The spectre of GCSE’s is looming.  Little Man is nearing the end of junior school.  And I’m now on the downward slope to 50…

And yet our life still is one big pantomime, sometimes I’m the Dame, often I feel like Dandini as I run around after the kids, I’m constantly expected to be the Genie and produce miracles at the nth hour and on occasion I really, really have to stop myself from being the Wicked (Step)Mother. 

And the person who inspired this blog in the first place, Little Man, skips blithely through life, leaving us scrabbling in his wake.  Tonight at 9 years old he takes on the role of Oliver in the musical at a local theatre, with all the aplomb (and accoutrements) of a seasoned performer.  And we would not have it any other way.

Thanks for sticking with us – are you ready for another year of mayhem, madness and merriment? 
Sorry, I can’t hear you?! 
I said… Are You Ready for Another Year of Mayhem, Madness and Merriment?!   
Pant-astic!  Catch you later…


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Learning to say No

I have a very good ‘friend’ who simply can’t say No to anything – be it going on a dinner date with people she can’t bear, being asked for the umpteenth time by a non- reciprocal friend to pick up her child from a team game or asked if she likes the sack-like garment her companion is wearing.
 
The fact of the matter is that she does it purely for altruistic motives – she doesn’t want to offend, in short, she wants to be liked.  This is, I suspect true of a little bit of all of us.  But, after years of this kind of behavior, she simply snapped and said No.  And she found it so empowering that she said No again and again, and now no one asks her for anything, and she doesn’t have the worry of offending anyone.

 But is this necessarily a good thing for her?  Has the woman who for most of her life relied on others to ask her things to make her say Yes and be needed, now cut off her nose as life whirls on without her, and she is left feeling on the one hand empowered, but on the other hand disenfranchised.

We all do things out of duty.  Let’s take an example. We are hurtling towards Christmas, the day where traditionally familial duty causes the most stressful period of the year.  It is no coincidence that the bulk of divorce applications hit its annual peak in January. We may love our families, but all in one place on one day?  And having to host disparate non life threatening culinary requirements – is Grandma this year a vegetarian who eats fish, or a vegetarian who will eat a little bit of meat?  Who is gluten free this year?  Who can’t eat chocolate, potatoes or will only eat chocolate potatoes?   Who can’t drink anything but the sparkling wine you have been saving in the fridge, but can’t afford to bring a bottle?  What presents do you buy?  How much do you spend?  How do you extricate yourself from the ‘but this is what we always used to do at Christmas’?  

How in short, do you stand up and say ‘No’and not feel disenfranchised or ostracized?  Not No to Christmas per se, but No to the infinite amounts of demands that undermine your sense of being.  There is no point saying Yes to everyone if you are miserable about saying so – it genuinely reflects back, at some point.  Do you wait until you simply snap and start saying No to everything, and then feel unhappy when no one asks your opinion?  Or is there a way to gently introduce the idea of saying No, so that you can say it with confidence and truth?

Perhaps start a little slowly.  ‘You know what?  That dress doesn’t bring out the best in your figure.  I really loved that blue dress you wore the other day.  It brought out the colour of your eyes’.  Or ‘I know you really love sitting in front of the telly for five hours over Christmas, but I thought this year we would play some board games – do you have any suggestions?’  Or ‘Why don’t we do a Secret Santa this year, it would be so much fun and save everyone some money?’

And when you are really confident , you can become the Machiavelli of No - and when that mother asks you yet again to pick up her child, smile sweetly and say ‘Of course I will.  But would you do the same for me next week as I have an appointment?  I am happy to provide the snacks as usual?’  It’s a Yes with a No, and a twist…

It may fail disastrously at first.  It will take a while to come into effect.


And remember -failing all else, you could always go Toddler. Shout No, stamp your foot and run away. 

I have found that this works with immediate effect.

(But you may need to sit on the Naughty Step with a glass of wine whilst other mothers eye you disapprovingly.)

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Unsung Heroes

The Lollipop Lady


There are unsung heroes in life
The soldiers, the nurses, the teachers
The man who drives the school bus,
The dinner lady who puts that extra spoonful 
On the little boys plate
Because she knows that he had no breakfast again.
The old man who still walks his dog, who died 3 months ago,
The dog walker who asks for his help, even though she doesn’t need it.
They come in different shapes and sizes, different colours and sounds
One even wears a bright high –vis jacket
She’s the lollipop lady.

She’s not our lollipop lady – we pass her standing at the side of the road
As we drive in our shiny car to school
But she’s always there, and we look out for her
She becomes a start to the day.
In the snow she wears a shapeless long blue waterproof coat
And big blue wellies, her cheeks all flushed.
My kids love it when she stops the car, walking into the road with her sign
As children file like ducklings behind her
And mums with buggies straggle along in bunches chatting.
Sometimes she gets a wave from us, and she waves back
Sometimes one of the ducklings says Thank You, but not often.

And one day she was not there, and my kids were sad.
‘Where’s the Lollipop Lady?’ they asked, their morning stupor gone
And she didn’t come back for several weeks
Cars no longer slowed their pace
In recognition.
My kids stopped looking for her.
Until today.
We saw her at her post
Thinner, hugging the buggy women who greeted her
Noticing her at last
Standing proud, in her high – vis jacket.


©Ruth Morrison 2014

Sunday, 17 August 2014

In tribute to #Robin Williams, and to the many others


Depression


What makes a sigh turn into a smile?
What changes rain into dew for a while?
What chases the thunder with fluffy white clouds?
What stops the loneliness when lost in the crowds?

How does the rainbow shine with watery rays?
How can you focus through the fog and the haze?
How can you grasp at the straws falling down?
How does the paint roll with the tears of a clown?

When does the pain go in the heat of the sun?
When will the laugh come when all is undone?
When is the soul free of unfettered dread?
When can the fear not be left unsaid?

Where is the friend who says ‘You’re not alone’?
Where is the voice on the end of the phone?
Where is the hammer shattering the glass wall?
Where are the pieces that crackle and fall?

Who can hold on through the raging storm?
Who can restore whirling tempests to norm?
Who can silence the crumbling of mind?
Who can sit quietly, until it’s behind?

Why is it so hard to hear and be heard?
Why is it hard to condense to one word?
Why is it considered a temporary low?
Why can it kill to try overthrow?

Will you be the one who extends the hand?
Will you lead the one out of his hellish land?
Will you answer the call because you’re a friend?
Will you listen to their point of view in the end?

Hear them? Be near them? Understand them? Protect?
Hug them? Don’t bug them? Hand extended? Respect?
Hold them? Don’t scold them? Befriend and forgive?
Light up a dark corner, a small reason to live?

Can you make a sigh turn into a smile?
Can you change rain into dew for a while?
Can you chase the thunder with fluffy white clouds?
You can stop the loneliness when lost in the crowds.

©Ruth Morrison 2014


#Word of the Week - Positive

It is always difficult returning from a holiday.  For a start, there’s the house.  It always seems that little bit ‘distant’ – a shock to the system in which one is desperately pleased to be back on terra firma, but where the sense of responsibility and routine smacks you between the eyes like a low hanging sign.

And then of course there are the piles. Of washing. Of bills. Of junk mail. Of filing that you hid away in the excitement of going on holiday. Of decisions that you have been putting off, but with the excuse that you are going on holiday.

And the biggest thing to contend with is the feeling of anticlimax.  The ‘is that it now?’ The thought that the benefits of being on holiday dwindle faster than the tide washes the sand beneath your feet.  That your happy bonded family will be dispersed by the electronic pull of friends far more knowledgeable than silly old mum and dad and their crap in-car music, or the many activities in which your children bond with others, charging towards the same goal with a common purpose, and as a parent you become secondary to these responsibilities of youth.  And the feeling of dread hangs over you like a sword of Damacles as you load the washing machine for the fifth time that day, or go food shopping for a ‘normal shop’ – splashing out on a French stick to hold on to that holiday feeling for just that little bit longer…

Those who are on Facebook may have noticed a recent trend in which people are nominated to join in for a week of Positivity – over 7 days you post a daily list of three things that are or have had a positive effect on you.  This sounds easier than it actually is.  I was nominated by two people when I was on holiday in Italy – and decided to set myself the challenge of doing it when I got back, in the hope that it would offset the post holiday blues.
It was an eye opener.  It involved a different mindset. A willingness to unfetter my exterior shell of capability and culpability and see the world differently.  In a normal situation I veer wildly from a glass half empty to a glass half full.  I had to look past the washing precipice of pessimism into the lake of optimism. I had to fish something out of that lake, three times a day for 7 days.

And I did it.  Sometimes it was a bit of an old boot – a negative on the noisiness of the bin men turned into a positive  - more times it was a revelation – you can have fun in the rain, people can surprise you, there are new discoveries and places just round the corner if you keep your eyes open.

And I’m not sure if it was conscious, or subconscious, but my little family changed too. The boys have all offered, and cooked, meals this week (within their capabilities).  We have kept up with the holiday routine of clearing the table and washing up rotas.  We’ve had some really fun conversations or short trips out. The holiday bonding has carried on temporarily because none of us want it to break. I say temporarily, not to be pessimistic, but realistic  - Life will inevitably get in the way, but for the moment we are all enjoying the positive effects.


Positive. My Word of the Week, for a week.

Til next time.


Have you done the Positivity challenge?  How did you get on?

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Italian Job: The End

*Many of you have been following our month long trip in a Passat estate around Italy with the three boys.  We've had our thrills and spills and ups and downs.  This is the final post about our journey through a simply magnificent country.

The boys were amazing on the car journey home.  I suppose that after 4 weeks away, we had all settled into a ‘driving’ routine, whether it was reading for a bit, limited electronic entertainment or just a general laugh about what we had seen or done. Time flew by fairly quickly, we stopped for fuel and a leg stretch, and a peer into the sunlight after the darkness of the copious tunnels that we had been in.  But it seemed to be getting darker the closer we got to Calais, and it was only mid afternoon.  A quick scan of the news channels on the radio and we realised that the tail end of ‘Big Bertha’ the weather front that had played havoc in the Bahamas was heading our way.

And indeed it was not long before we were caught in the middle of an amazing thunderstorm.  Cars had pulled over haphazardly on the toll road, hazard lights twinkling in amongst the lightning bolts.  Winds buffeted the car, and the roof box thumped up and down.  Rain lashed at the windscreen as G endeavoured to keep steering in a straight line.  Little Man buried his face in my lap and emitted a low moan.  Only Middle Son, a storm chaser in the making, looked genuinely thrilled with the situation. And then it was gone as quickly as it arrived.

Driving through the storm
We all looked at one another shakily.  It seemed a good time as any to pull over and get something to eat.  We asked Garmin the sat nav for any restaurants nearby.  The famous Golden Arches logo popped up on the screen.  ‘McDonalds!’ shrieked the boys in joy, thoughts of home not far from their minds.  And so it was that the last meal of our trip was in a rather funky French McDonalds, with sections divided into Salle Rock, Salle Pop and Salle Classique, as well as a childrens gym (it had spinning bikes)/play area for those who had had that one nugget too many…


McDonalds, French style


Having  arrived at the Eurotunnel quicker than anticipated, we queued for an earlier crossing.  Hundreds of English visitors were returning home.  A woman in a Range Rover was shouting animatedly at her husband and jabbing at him with her finger in accusation.  They’d obviously had good holiday…

G opened his window to be searched for explosives by a man waving an electronic Geiger counter type thing over the steering wheel.

‘But what,’ asked Little Man in a loud voice, ‘If Mummy had a bomb?  He hasn’t checked if Mummy has a bomb.’

‘I don’t have a bomb’, I said indignantly, turning around to face him in my seat.

‘But we could have one in the roof box, or in the back of the car – he hasn’t checked, Mum, we could have bombs everywhere and he hasn’t checked.’

The man was standing by the car chatting into his walkie talkie.  G had gone a rather strange colour.  ‘Can everyone stop talking about bombs please?’ he hissed, as the man waved him on.

‘I was just saying,’ said Little Man huffily as he turned back to see what Middle Son was playing on the iPad, ‘Ooh, are you dead yet?’

And so it was we arrived home, just before midnight, the cats looking at us as if we were utter strangers as we entered the house.

It’s good to be back.  It’s strange to be back.  It’s weird to think of what we’ve accomplished – the places we have seen, the people we have met, the experiences we have had.  And we all agreed, we would do it again in a flash.
He has been warned that this will be the only time I leave the last word to G, but I asked him to sum up his thoughts.  For now, Ciao xx

The Last Word…

I forgot to mention that on the very first night of our travels (Dijon) I witnessed a shooting star.  It's the second I have seen in my life, both occasions being pure flukes when I just happened to be staring skyward. Both times I gained a sense of oneness with the cosmos as if 'it' and I were having a moment.

These past few weeks I have seen so much, travelled so far (easily 3300+ miles - as far as Dubai is from London), that I've had a problem trying to sum it up and so crystalise the memories for myself.  When I think of every place, object, meal or experience a cumbersome montage forms in my mind so I have gotten to thinking about themes and what would be the lasting legacies?  I quickly realised that it wasn't the what, where, when or how that really mattered more than the why and who because these two were the conception and the conduit respectively for the memories.

That's not to ignore a series of personal bucket list ticks; The Colosseum, The Pantheon, the Circus Maximus, the Sistine Chapel, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a gondola ride, Vesuvius or Capri to name a few. Nor does it negate the thousands of driving experiences in the mountains, along the Amalfi coast, through great cities, through the countless tunnels or over the countless bridges (I had wondered where the EU money went other than Spain) These were special but all are repeatable.

 For me the 'why' has always been the same and beautifully expressed by JFK (no I'm not comparing him to me or the moon landings to my holiday).

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” JFK

Although I tend not to flog dead horses, I do like to run things close on occasion.  I like to aim for a goal a little further out than is comfortable; it ensures I remain in a heightened state ready to make the most of things.  I realise this may be an anathema as a vacation but I find it an irresistible state of mind.

Away from the narrative then and my lofty inspirations are those things that are unique of their moment and imbedded into the 'who' and as such are destined to be woven into family lore to become the defining legacy. 

For instance, on the journey back R-indoors discovered a hole in the space-time-continuum when she seemed to observe that Folkstone and Calais where on vastly different Longitudes, it being light when we left Calais on the train and dark when we arrived in Folkestone...neglecting to factor in that we were actually still in the tunnel as she gazed out of the window....Priceless.

She has a bit of form on such matters having once thrown a fit on a previous expedition when map reading because she couldn't locate Barcelona on the Spanish coast...or even the coast itself apparently...before I very carefully pointed out that she was haranguing a map of France...  That said and despite a hardwired inability to discern left from right she's a great navigator and programmer of sat navs following the immortal instruction 'punch it Chewy'.  I laugh every time at my tired Hans Solo gag and every time she responds with that Princess Leah 'not if you were the last guy in the Universe' look.  And so our love grows :)

But.  If this holiday follows previous patterns then the real legacy should be the simple, powerful yet increasingly rare experience of the family being so close together for so long.  80+ meals together, thousands of miles together, walks, talks, games, A couple of old movies together (from my 'you will watch these my son / right of passage' collection [Spartacus & The Vikings]).  Formation carpet bombing Mummy in the pool, annoying Daddy whilst he sunbathes and yes, a few lively arguments together. 

I'll spare us both an examination of just why in today's world so much effort and money has to be invested to do what was once a way of life.....and instead wrap this ramble up with a promise to myself that so long as I can I'll do my best to ensure that me and my family keep one eye scanning beyond Life's horizon so as not to miss the next shooting star.

G



Til the next time!




Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Italian Job: Leaning in Pisa, discovering Dolce Acqua and the Lyon's share of chocolates

The kids turned round to each other.  ‘This can’t be it  Mum – check the map again.’  The big glass building loomed over us, incongruous in its translucent beauty against the dingy surrounding areas, and Garmin the sat nav confirmed that this was indeed the address of our hotel.  We wandered into the big white reception with its Matrix like glass counters and big plasma screens, and the boys looked at me hopefully – ‘Even if it isn’t our hotel, can we stay here?’
I’m not sure what we were expecting really, when we booked all of our hotels before our trip.  I do know that budget came foremost, parking next, and location third.   When a teenager veers from being a child in one place to an adult in another, and when despite his being the right age for a kid, but tall enough to count as an adult (when it comes to beds and food) it becomes a bit of a minefield.  Most of our bookings had hastily scribbled addendums or requests from me – could we possibly have a late check in, could they clarify what a cot bed was (in most cases a foldaway) and in all honesty we breathed a sigh of relief every time a couiffered receptionist confirmed that they were expecting us.

The modern environment of the Hotel San Ranieri, Pisa
We were indeed staying at the hotel and the boys whooped with joy as they charged around using key cards to switch all the lights on and off, ran amongst the sculptures in the trendy garden bar, as G supped another local blond beer.  The next morning we set off for Pisa, fortified by a good sleep and  a large breakfast. 

Even the sign into the city leaned...
The tower was all that we expected and more.  For a start it was actually incredibly beautifully ornate.  Secondly, it really really leaned.  A lot more than we had expected, and where the architects had attempted to right the lean, there was a distinct banana-ing in the structure. Along with several hundreds of tourists we took pictures of the boys ‘pushing the tower’, decided against queuing for an hour to climb the 249 steps up the tower, and sat on the grass people watching.  ‘Can you see what she’s doing?’ I asked in incredulity as I watched a girl twerking ‘against the tower’ as her boyfriend took the shots.  ‘Yes’ G replied, shading his hand against the sun, ‘I’m quite enjoying the view’.

Pisa was a laid back place with a lot of students and a university with an excellent reputation. The restaurants had reasonably priced menus and there was a very warm vibe everywhere we walked, from the bridges to the piazzas to the tower to the steady clip clopping of the tourist horse drawn carriages lazily ambling down the side streets.

But we had to get on – our journey was drawing to a close and we were on the home straight.  Next stop was Dolce Acqua.  ‘Where?’ asked every Southern Italian we had encountered en route.  ‘Where?’ asked our receptionist in Pisa, and indeed, no hotel in that area suiting our criteria had come up in our internet searches, so we had had to make do with the seaside resort of Diano Marino, with plans to visit Dolce Acqua the next day.

The hotel in Diano Marino could have been a hotel in Blackpool.  It had a swimming pool, coachloads of British tourists, and was saved only by the breakfast the next morning. Diano Marino itself was like any seaside resort in Europe – bright lights, cafes, burnt holiday makers, a souvenir knife and bong shop, and all the beaches seemed to be privately controlled.  We were pleased to get away and follow the signs to Dolce Acqua, up in the mountains.

The sole reason that we went to Dolce Acqua was that two of the three boys had studied it for ‘Topic’ at school in Year 4 for a brief period. We have no idea why, perhaps at one point one of the teachers had gone there on holiday, but at 20km square and with a population of 2000, it was quite hard to find. But we did, and there were 7 car parks servicing the town, all full, the number plates belying a multitude of nationalities.  We abandoned the car on a side street and wandered into the town where the clouds darkened ominously. It was there that I saw the bridge – the Ponte Vecchio that Claude Monet had captured to canvas all those years ago, and at the same time a light bulb went off in Little Man’s head and he waved at it excitedly.
 
Monet and the Ponte Vecchio
Somewhere on that bridge is my family...
The hidden secrets of Dolce Acqua
Thinking that this was it, the sum total of Dolce Acqua, we wandered over the bridge from the new town to the old bit, in an attempt to get to the ruined castle at the top of the hill.  In doing so we entered what can only be described as an alternate world.  One in which Diagon Alley out of Harry Potter would sit very comfortably – where houses piled higgledy piggledy on top of one another and alleyways opened up to reveal artisans working in darkened rooms and teeny weeny cafes exuded aromas of garlic and frying onions. And there were loads of guest houses behind tiny doors.  None of which had come up on my searches because of the parking criteria.  We had a wonderful day there.

Lyon stood impassively before us, our last hotel of the tour looking down on us loftily – offering us a sumptuous apartment with a kitchenette, English channels on the tv, which was good because it was also the only place in which we were charged for using the wifi.  It was a little wearily that we dragged ourselves out for the evening, but we were delighted that we had done so, because it was a city with a lot to offer – a big opera house, piazzas, and eateries influenced by the huge immigrant population.  We found a tiny restaurant in which I had turbot with coriander, Middle Son had fish (our translation only stretched to that) with a crab butter, and the other three had beef. We ordered a Pot – which is literally a carafe of the local wine of choice, and G had another local ale which was in a small bottle but with a big punch.

The silk merchants of Lyon
Yup... chocolate heaven
Lyon is famous for silk and chocolate.  I’m not that fussed on silk, but we all enjoy a bit of chocolate and had read up about a chocolate shop that had its own ‘laboratory’ and the next morning we wandered into town on a mission.  A couple of wrong turnings later and we had arrived at Sebastien Bouillet and were stunned at the selection on offer.  Unfortunately the laboratory tours closed over August, but the chocolatiers were happy to help us choose something to sample from the cakes and chocolates on display.  They were not cheap, but melted in the mouth, and were the perfect accompaniment to our coffee and pastries for breakfast.

Sated, we looked at one another.  This was going to be a big journey home – our longest drive of the trip, some 634 kilometres to Calais, and then a 2 hour journey from Folkestone to home. We had a night time Eurotunnel crossing booked, and needed to set off.

As we swerved the wrong way down a one way street in an attempt to leave Lyon, none of us flinched at the blaring horns of the frustrated French drivers. I just threw my arms up in a Gallic shrug, as G screeched the gears into reverse.

‘Ros Bif coming through!’ the kids yelled as we careered towards Calais.


Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Italian Job: Sorrento

Ten days in Sorrento is good for the soul – at least it was good for us.  To have a break after so much travelling and touring was timely – and the addition of a swimming pool in the sticky heat meant that  the boys had reached a state of nirvana.  It didn’t take us long to get settled into the sprawling Villa Giuliapina (named after the two sisters who owned it) in a small village called San Agata.

The friendly agent Carmine (his catch phrase was ‘Hey… it’s no problem’) soon made himself indispensable – which was good, because when we plugged the brand new kettle in we blew the electrics in one of the kitchens (there were two, one with a professional oven, another with both a built in BBQ and a pizza oven). 3 random visiting men later, all of whom sucked their teeth and gabbled madly into their mobiles, it was all ‘fixed’ – but we were given strict instructions not to use the toaster and the kettle at the same time… It may have been coincidence, but at the same time as the kettle incident the wifi went down, and for 5 days Carmine kept us updated as to how it was all proceeding, it had something to do with the bad weather and a tree – resulting in a man in a van who managed to set up two wifi addresses (one worked upstairs and the other downstairs).  Only in Italy…

view of the villa from the top terrace
The villa itself was stunning both in location and as a venue.  There were several terraces from which you could sit with a glass of vino rosso and gaze on an unrivalled view of Vesuvius across the bay, from the first hazy pink sunrise to the dramatic dark clouds of the sunsets, the base of the mountain scattered with the shimmering lights of the buildings and many festas taking place with the occasional burst of fireworks in the distance (we had to reassure Little Man several times that the volcano was not just about to erupt). With 5 different areas which were set up for dining, we were spoiled for choice as to the views, but ended up in the main using the big old farm table on the main terrace, which was a natural central meeting point.

view of Vesuvius from the top terrace
G’s parents joined us on the second day.  In their late seventies they are fairly seasoned travelers, but as their age befits, have started to slow down a little with the odd ache and pain here and there, every now and again.  This enforced laid back approach suited us fine, as we all wanted to relax, and so G and I took on the manqué of parents and went on the hunt for food etc as Grandma and Grandad played endless rounds of cards and table tennis with the boys. G became adept at using the pizza oven as I swirled my homemade dough with all the wrist action of a true Italian mama.  And everyone piled on their own combinations of toppings.

making pizza
sous chefs
Pizza dad
Top of Vesuvius, swathed in cloud
scooters - the sensible way to travel on the narrow Amalfi roads
stunning views of the coastline from Ravello
It was a great family holiday – Carmine had organized (‘No Problem’) a fascinating tour of Pompeii and I even managed the tough walk up Vesuvius with Grandad, G and the boys (we abandoned Grandma about a third of the way up, leaving her on a seat with a bottle of water and strict instructions not to run off with a gigolo).  


We drove along the Amalfi Coast taking in the sights of Positano, Amalfi and our new favourite, Ravello, with its absolutely stunning scenery and mixture of Moorish architecture, big bossy flowers and faux Renaissance courtyards coupled with the hippy atmosphere so beloved of the Bloomsbury set in days gone by. Grandma and I escaped for a few hours one day for some girlie shopping in Sorrento, and we had a fabulous family day in Capri – a private boat trip with a friendly (if not entirely intelligible) driver Mario (yes, the boys had fun with that one) over to the island, then a hair raising bus ride up to the main piazza, and window shopping in the designer stores before jumping back on the boat for swims in the azure sea and in little coral caves.  Bliss.





Capri



It all ended in a final joint birthday meal for Grandma and Eldest Son, who have one day between them and has been celebrated as such in the UK for a number of years, as well as Spain and the States.  Our private chef turned up (yes, it was Carmine … ‘No Problem’) and he cooked up an amazing selection of local dishes and wines, complete with Tiramisu cake, disco lights and a full sound system to which with the help of some locally made limoncello, even the grandparents were shaking their booty.

We were all sad to wave goodbye to Carmine and the villa as he took the keys and zoomed off on his scooter.  The car wheezed as we settled into our seats and Garmin fizzed back into life again with some wildly coloured routes from which we could choose.

The journey back to England had begun.  Next stop, a 7 hour drive to Pisa, with its eponymous tower.


No Problem. 














Friday, 1 August 2014

The Italian Job:Naples

*Most of my blog readers will know of our travels in Italy, an amazing experience.  Today I have a guest blogger, none other than my long suffering husband G, who makes his debut into blogging, and will tell you his thoughts so far. Enjoy!



This is my 5th trip to Italy; once with my parents and brother when I was 3, where I managed to get lost on a beach for 2hrs before wandering into a red cross station... (my poor mother),  twice to ski with my school (poor teachers), once with my own family + my parents (poor me £) and now this latest and greatest adventure of which you have been reading on my Wife’s blog which she has kindly allowed me to 'bomb' just this once.  

So apologies in advance to all of Ruth’s loyal lady fans because it's going to get blokeish for a bit, which should be a relief to your husbands who will feel a little less furtive as they peer over your shoulders:)

As I sit here staring across the bay of Naples to Vesuvius at the start of 10 days of ultra chill, with a gallon (yep) of local plonk to keep me company, it's as good a time as any to reflect (whilst my fingers and brain still work) on what has so far been an inspirational tour.
pop up shop in Naples

I love these types of trips on many levels.  I'm discovering new things, I'm with my fab Wife and family but I'm also on a junior stag trip with my 3 growing lads all of whom I am quietly grooming in the dark arts of laddism under the Lady’s withering gaze. 

Driving has been fine and something I really enjoy. 4 tanks of fuel so far; glaciers, mountains, tunnels, cities, countryside, coastline and now volcanoes.  What's not to enjoy?  The car with roof box has done well (not going to work when Middle Son and Little Man join 6'+ No. 1 son but OK for now), despite our much publicised electrical mishap :) (erindoors neglected to mention that I'd had the sad foresight to buy spare fuses - oh yeah).  I have driven in Italy before but must have blanked out the memory of in town / city driving where junction etiquette is more a matter of country dancing than teutonic, deferential observance.

Financially, it ain’t cheap with the killer cost being food.  There's only so many ham and cheese rolls my family will stomach, so pretty much every day we have supplented such fare with an ϵ150 meal.  Oh yes; and Tourist Tax in every city we visit, plus endless toll road fees...how to win friends... Beer kills the pain and on that note I am pleased to say that I have discovered an incredible series of bottled brews, complete with sediment that I will be looking up on my return.  Italy is getting into the micro brewery business and with typical style.

Up next we have a boat trip, a volcano tour + Pompeii, lots of relaxing, then Pisa, Dolce Aqua, Lyon, Calais, home.

streets in Naples hold many secrets
But of all the places so far, all of which I have loved it's been Napoli which has surprised me most and what has inspired me to put thumb to screen.  Dijon was pretty, Milan did in fairness have more 10/10 ladies (and men, my Wife tells me) per square meter than any place on earth, Verona more than hinted at the Roman greatness to come, Venice was awesome in its incredulity and Rome bundled the whole lot together with the added sublime magnificence of history’s greatest artists.
Naples is an ugly mess.  It's a beautiful, sexy mess.  Men of my generation will remember those grossly disappointing and diminutive fireworks labelled Vesuvius Eruption - it's not like those. 

This lady's house is built on an old roman theatre
At first glance Napoli is a shanty town with an interesting old quarter (rather like Warsaw if you've been). The guide books try to be positive but all feel obliged to advise visitors to beware at night.  The omnipresent graffitti hints at the Bronx, the external wiring suggests a temporary, post apocalyptic world where only today matters. Flagstone roads, suicidal scooter riders, masses of students from the 3 universities, rubbish on streets, shops selling everything including tiny outlets offering modelled 'cribs'.  Tourist signage that sucks as if to say 'find it yourself if you're that bothered'.  We saw amazing marble sculptures and some of the miles of tunnels used over the years to hide, attack, preserve and protect the people of this place. 

Vesuvius - the slumbering giant - a view from our villa
Mafia, war, civil war, volcanic eruptions; all have smashed this City into what it is, and isn't.  But as I sit here now and gaze at Napoli from without it all makes sense.  The City simply refuses to kneel before the slumbering giant and its inevitable wrath.  Vesuvius will have its day at some point but until that time Neapolitans will continue to live for the moment and offer a not too respectful 'ciao' to their sleeping mountain.

Now, where's the vino.


G