Month: November 2010

Don’t kid a kidder

Perhaps you remember, four short weeks ago, that my daughter, La Gidg, had decided to take up tennis? I was delighted, and started to take her every Friday afternoon to tennis lessons with a couple of wonderful teachers at the country club in Santa Ponça. When Ollie’s parents were over for the week we all trotted down there to coo proudly as our firstborn attempted to knock balls over the net. In fact she seemed to be really enjoying it, so why on a whim did she decide this week that she’d had enough and would be quitting her tennis career before it had even begun? Because, it turned out, she thought it was too hard and wouldn’t be able to do it as well as the other kids.

Cue, from me, a lecture about quitting, i.e. don’t. Don’t give up, I urged her, keep going, you will get better every time you play the game and bit by bit you will be as good as the other kids who have been going to lessons for longer than you. But no, she was completely set in her mind that she would NOT be going back. Well, you can imagine I wasn’t pleased about this. Getting more het up by the second I launched into lecture number two about it being a metaphor for life and if I let her give up now then there where would it end? ‘You can’t quit something before you’ve learnt how to do it Gidg’.

As I write this I know I am going to sound like I’ve modelled myself on a Victorian parent, but I am actually modelling myself on my own parents. When I was growing up they refused to let me give in on anything, except the rabbit which I hadn’t wanted in the first place and had been given to me in lieu of a puppy when I was seven years old. We all breathed a sigh of relief when it made a break for it out of its hutch and returned to the wilds of Hertfordshire. So, although I know the fashion is to listen to your kids more and let them lead you it just doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t want my daughter to be the kind of kid who looks at something and decides it’s not worth attempting because it looks a bit tricky. So what with her intractability and mine we found ourselves at deadlock outside of the tennis court whilst the rest of the kids happily got on with their lesson. There was some discussion about toys and the bin, followed by demands for bribery and then finally a deal was brokered. It will probably work out pretty well on both sides, as she’s certainly developing her negotiation skills along with her hand-eye coordination. However this week at school, there is the opportunity to start ballet, do I dare even suggest it?

 

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First published http://www.euroweeklynews.com/columns/vicki-mcleod/dont-kid-a-kidder.html

 

 

Posh New Friends

I ‘like’ the Queen. (Don’t get ahead of yourself there; I’m not a rampant Royalist, or indeed a right-on Republican. I can see both sides of the story). In fact I’ve ‘liked’ the whole of ‘The British Monarchy’, on Facebook that is.

I would have preferred to have just ‘liked’ The Queen, as I couldn’t in all honesty put a big tick next to some of the lesser members of the Royal Family: there are a couple that I don’t see the point of. But I am a Facebook user, and like 180’000 other users who have hooked up with the Windsors since Monday, I’m there to be nosy.

I did initially think that the presence of the Royals on Facebook would be a bit of a joke (would the Queen be playing Farmville, or was that more for the Prince of Wales I wondered)  but their online profile is being run with the same efficiency as the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. If you are not a user of Facebook then you should know that all kinds of information can be loaded onto the website with one of the most interesting facets being photographs: you can flick through albums and even leave comments on them.

It’s been fascinating to read through the online comments on the photographs that document the events which the various members of the royal family attend. I would have imagined that the public’s comments and statements about the photos would be heavily policed and censored. As it is entirely within the control of the administrator of the website to remove any comments that they deem to be inappropriate. But no, of the on average 1000 plus comments per photo there are some quite scarily pro-Royalty rants, and some clever debates, and then there are some out and out anti-royalty statements.

However if the Queen fancies a better class of fan she should look to Twitter. Although Facebook has been taking over Mallorca for the past year (and the trend shows no sign of stopping) if you are a Twitter user then you can bask in the glory that (according to a new survey out this week) you are likely to be richer and more educated than any friends you might have who use Facebook.

Either way, how very British: freedom of speech and the right to express your opinion, even if it is anti-monarchy, as long as you’re not rude your comment (it seems) can stay.  I guess that this wasn’t exactly what the armed forces went into combat for, but it seems that Voltaire’s famous quote, ‘I may not like what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ holds true, even online.

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(First published 10.11.10 http://www.euroweeklynews.com/columns/vicki-mcleod )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just say no

My name is Vicki McLeod and I am a stationeryaholic. There, my dirty little secret is out. I can’t go past a paperleria without wanting to nose around inside. I buy brand new felt tip pens in handy carry cases, but they aren’t for Gidg, they’re for me. I sniff the inside of brand new ringbinders, they have that ‘new folder’ smell: they’re irresistible. But what is it with the Spanish and squared rather than lined paper? Why is it so hard to find a jotter pad? I search out hardbound notebooks, but then don’t write anything in them. What’s wrong with me?

This week (in between appointments for work, the school run, the food shopping, the dog walking, and all of the other stuff that goes into being a mum, a wife, and working for a living) I found myself in Palma, in the vicinity of one of my most favourite guilty pleasures, an office supplies store called Folder. Of course, I had to have a quick poke around: you never know when you might need another notebook. I was drawn to the diaries for 2011. I spent at least twenty minutes mulling over the pros and cons of the different designs, sizes and colours. Even languages: it would be quite ambitious of me to buy one in Catalan, but I do know the days of the week now because all of our school notices come in Catalan, so you snooze you lose as far as our education authority is concerned.

But I couldn’t decide on a diary, and you know why? Because I may have finally recognised at least one of my flaws:  a major part of my stationeryaholic status is that I buy new diaries all year round, in the hope that they will finally, finally organise me. I’ve been through them all: Filofax (my clever friend Mark once asked me if the plural of filofax might be filofaeces), moleskine, A4, A5, A6, landscape, portrait, day a page, week a page. None of them have worked. Mainly, I realised whilst meandering around the shop with an armful of bright pink post-its, because I put my total faith in my new diary. I turn over a beautifully clean, smooth page, and think, ‘right then, this time, this is IT life, my new diary will control you’. Nope, you can’t, said my inner voice today. The diary can only accept appointments, and lists, the rest is up to you McLeod.

I might have just discovered a new addiction, now all I have to do is find the cure.

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(first published on 26.10.10 http://www.euroweeklynews.com/columns/vicki-mcleod)

 

 

 

Tapped out

We’ve attempted on two recent occasions to eat out as a family. Firstly we went to TaPalma. I was very excited about the idea of going out for the day to Palma as we don’t go very often, islanditis has set in and anything further than 20km away from us involves days of planning. We decided to go to La Lonja to do the tapas route. Little Gidg was fine as she had her new Hello Kitty scooter which has changed our lives – she no longer wants to be carried everywhere. However this joy was shortlived when we were told the only thing the restaurants were serving that day were the two tapas they had prepared: so far scallops and foie gras haven’t been on Gidg’s top ten favourite foods, so there was a lot of whinging (from me and her). Come on, I work in the restaurant business, I know that every kitchen has a freezer with something for the kids or difficult eater stashed in it. But we were turned down in three different restaurants because they didn’t have anything to feed a five year old girl on a Saturday afternoon.
Undeterred we thought it might be a fun idea to go along to Octoberfest last weekend. I remember going to see The Student Prince when I was a child; there was plenty of singing, thigh slapping and wenches hoisting jugs of beer around. So I had expectations, as did Oliver who was looking forward to oompah bands and leiderhosen, men with twirly handlebar moustaches and general German campness. We were a little disappointed. Okay, there was a wench singing accompanied by a man with an incongruous electric guitar, there was definate comedy value in that. But let me ask you a question: if you go to a beer festival, do you expect to have to PAY to go to the toilets?
From what I remember of my early (illegally early) pub going days, it more or less worked that for each pint of lager consumed a trip to the bathroom would follow. ‘A pee a pint’ is what my old male friends used to say. Imagine the irritation of having to go outside in the rain, get wet, discover I had to pay for my little girl to go for a wee, not have any money, go back inside, traipse across the glum marquee, get money, pay, take Gidg for a wee and trudge back inside. Not only was the beer expensive (5€ for a half of shandy) but they then make even more money on you when you naturally have to expel it a while later. And it was cold, so of course, there were more trips required…
The high point of the experience was the yard of meat we were served (see photo for my parents in law about to get stuck in). At least Gigi had burgers and sausages on tap, unlike TaPalma.
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(first published on 19.10.10 http://www.euroweeklynews.com/columns/vicki-mcleod

Kerching!


We’ve taken up sport. (I say ‘we’, I mean my husband and the Gidg, I am merely responsible for the transport, washing of suitable clothing for said sports, finance and general encouragement). One has been convinced of the charms of healthy competition, and the other has decided to reclaim his youth before it leaves him forever. Tennis and cycling. Well, it was that or golf, and if there is a walk involved then the dogs have to go too. And a pony is way too expensive.
It was a deliberate decision to send Gidg to tennis lessons: we thought she needed to learn a sport which was sociable, would suit her, and would be affordable. So, off to the Country Club in Santa Ponsa for us: to hook up with the tennis coaches for a try out. So far, so good: it’s very cute to watch little kids playing tennis and there is the added bonus (for me) of getting to hang out on the manicured lawns doing nada for an hour whilst they run around the courts getting sweaty. The coaches really impressed me with their inspiring enthusiasm, as they engaged Gidg to keep trying until she managed to hit the ball across the net. One tennis raquet (10€), a skirt (6€) and hat (6€) and a month’s worth of lessons (46€) later and she is ready to rock. Of course I have imagined the wealth we will enjoy once she has become the new tennis world number one, of course I have earmarked my new 10 million euro house, and of course I am biting back my pushy parent impulse. If I start to insist that we rise at 5am to go and practise her back hand, could someone please have a word?
The old man on the other hand has been lusting after a fancy pants bicycle for several months now (we have two which are slowly rusting in the back garden, but apparently they are no good for road cycling). He’s also been inspired by the challenge that Ben Miles has set himself (featured recently in the EWN Ben is planning to cycle from Gibraltar to Norway to raise money for the Allen Graham Charity for Kidz next Spring, that’s a whopping 6000km over 6 weeks. You can get more info at http://www.bensmiles.com). So after a bit of negotiation with a local bike hire company we are about to take receipt of a bicycle made out of ‘angel delight’. He says it’s a bargain (should have been 1600€, actually 400€), but oddly does not include the purchase of pedals, and then there’s the lycra outfit with extra padding which will prevent the possible development of ‘bottom boils’. (Yuck).
I suspect there may be many other ‘crucial purchases’ to come… but at least this way they are both really easy to shop for at Christmas.
In the meantime I find walking the dogs and yoga continue to be free.

(First published on 10.10.10 on http://www.euroweeklynews.com/columns/vicki-mcleod)

Back to basics

Technology failed us badly over the weekend. My husband and I both rely heavily on the internet to work, and it was with a great deal of frustration that our connection to the world wide web ground to a halt. That was swiftly followed by a total satellite TV shutdown which meant our daughter couldn’t watch the annoying ‘Tiny Pops’ (annoying because it is so repetitive: there’s only so many times a little girl can watch the same episode of ‘Timothy Goes To School’, well, you’d think so, but so far she’s doggedly hanging in there). This left us the option of ‘making our own fun’ (the smutty minded of you out there can calm down, I’m talking about jigsaws and taking the dogs for walks).

So we were getting back to basics and after the initial annoyance that we couldn’t deliver any work or check our emails, we actually started to enjoy it. Ignorance is bliss after all. In the spirit of ‘family activities’ we trekked off to the middle of the island for a craft fair only to be confronted with something we haven’t seen in years: a fully fledged tail back of cars. It didn’t take long for impatience to set in, and once we reached our destination we didn’t have as long there as we had hoped for before having to rush back home again for an appointment.

It’s ‘wood time’ you see. Last year we bought a tonne of logs for our wood burner which came via truck. But this year it was delivered by mule and cart. It gave my husband a great deal of pleasure to see the woodman hitch up his beast of burden to the hook which is set into the wall of our one hundred year old house.

Thankfully the oven decided to keep working, although for some reason two different electric lights decided to explode and we had to eat by candlelight. After a slap up dinner we put a very sleepy but happy little girl to bed, how often does a mule come to the house after all? An executive decision that drinking a bottle of wine (or two) was the order of the day and was followed by a late night debate (argument) about politics, books and plenty of other random subjects.

When Monday arrived so did the internet, after some coaxing from my husband, and so back into the world we went.

What did we learn from our weekend of zero interaction with the big bad world? That we don’t like it when things break, but sometimes it’s good medicine to be cut off from the world, if only so our daughter can appreciate Tiny Pops just a little bit more than she thought she ever could.

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(first published in http://www.euroweeklynews.com/columns/vicki-mcleod 5.10.10)

What goes around

I have been reading a fantastic book this week, it’s called The Happiness Project by an American woman, Gretchen Ruben, and I highly recommend it. One of the important elements of happiness she says is to be in control of your environment, and ‘decluttering’ is one way to achieve that.

In the spirit of Project we have just spent a whole weekend decluttering which manifested itself into an orgy of giving stuff away. We cleared bookshelves and donated the lot to a local charity. Kitchen equipment which we never used has been passed on to people who might actually WANT to make broccoli  juice or bake their own bread. These gadgets were things that were supposed to make us feel as if we were taking care of ourselves, but it turns out that getting rid of all of those extraneous possessions has had exactly the same affect. For example we’ve had a freezer sitting in our house for the past three years waiting to be repaired by a bloke who took the broken part away and didn’t return … so, executive decisions have been taken: we don’t use it, we don’t need it, and wouldn’t it be lovely to not have to look at it anymore. Get rid! The immediate effect was one of complete exhilaration, ‘We  finally did it! Yes! The big hunk of junk is gone!’ And then there is the creeping niggle of guilt, ‘Have we been wasteful. Should we have tried harder to use it / get it repaired / appreciate it,’ but this doesn’t seem to have lasted very long as our kitchen has doubled in size due to the ruthless clear out. We have taken to dancing in the middle of the room, because we can.

Now, I must resist the urge to fill in the gaps that have been left with new useful rubbish. And so must my parents who helpfully bring things they don’t need anymore ‘I thought you might like this’ translates to ‘I couldn’t bear to keep it any longer, but I also can’t stand to throw it away’. I understand where they are coming from, I am guilty myself of occasionally ‘gifting’ complete tat on my friends.  I am just a girl who can’t say no and it’s hard to turn away second hand sofas, especially when you have pet dogs who view furniture as snacks.

I do have a problem with second hand books though, and in a few weeks time I can guarantee that I will try to buy back at least one or two of the books which I gave to the charity shop. But you won’t find my copy of The Happiness Project there, because the dog ate it yesterday morning. Now I have to declutter the backgarden, it’s covered in tiny shreds of paper.

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(first published 21.9.10)

 

 

Too much, too young?

Is it caring or neglectful to encourage your seven year old daughter to walk twenty metres from her front door to the school bus stop whilst you stay at home? Is it irresponsible to allow her to cross a road on her own, whether or not the road has little traffic?

Primary school pupil, Isabelle McCullough and her parents made the British newspaper headlines this week after it was revealed that her school had informed social services that they were concerned about her short walk to and from the school bus stop. It’s caused quite a furore: the old ‘health and safety gone mad’ brigade have been out in force, and there’s also quite a lot of ‘when I was a lad’ kind of opinion pieces doing the rounds.

It’s left me arguing in my head about the rights and wrongs of the story. On the one hand, it’s fantastic that Isabelle’s school, and in particular her bus driver, are observant enough to recognise that there might be a threat to her safety. On the other hand I feel nostalgic for my own childhood when I walked all the way to my primary school and back again on my own every day. I can still count the roads, and see the route in my mind’s eye. It was a privilege to be allowed to walk to school independently, even in the (cough) seventies.  The journey wasn’t incident or danger-free either: there was the time I took a ‘shortcut’ and ended up in a river. I had to clamber up the bank to get back onto dry land and in the process smothered my school uniform in mud. I remember slinking home thinking I would be in a terrible amount of trouble, having just ruined my clothes and the subsequent feeling of relief when my dad couldn’t stop laughing at the sight of me, dripping from head to toe in silt.

I understand the need to teach your child about responsibility and I agree that we should give children a notion of independence, it makes them feel confident. The important distinction is I was still safe: it wasn’t until I was a teenager my grandma told me that she used to follow me, out of sight, until I got to school safely (or perhaps to make sure I actually went at all).

Is seven years old too young? The NSPCC think so, they say the youngest a child should be out on their own without a responsible adult is eight. But when should a parent take the calculated risk to let their child have a little independence, when they are eight, thirteen,  or eighteen? My husband’s mother still insists that we text her when we get home safely from a journey, and he’s thirty nine.

So perhaps, times haven’t really changed all that much, after all.

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(first published 15.9.10)

 

Summertime Blues

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or anything, but I can’t wait for the summer to end.

Twelve weeks of school summer holidays are just too much. We’ve all gone a bit mad at McLeod towers. We’re still a one car family (but we are making progress on that one) so moving around remains a problem. Ollie has been locked up in a darkened office, photoshopping real estate images so the most meaningful conversation he has every day is with himself as he shouts at the computer when it grinds to a halt. For the last two weeks Gidg has boycotted summer school (even though she loved going, she’s inexplicably decided not to go anymore) which has created a whole heap of childcare issues. We’re lucky enough to have some excellent friends who have been able to take her out with their kids for the day and we’ve been swapping babysitting favours like poker chips. And I am struggling: I’m so out of whack, I don’t even know which day of the week it is anymore.

I don’t really understand how three months of school holidays can be benefitting the Spanish economy either. Summer time is the busiest time of year for so many of us, we all have to work our bits and bobs off to put some money away for the winter, our kids have an enforced summer break, and they need to be cared for whilst we work, so why can’t I put childcare fees against my income? That just doesn’t seem far. My gestor shakes her head at me every time I try to submit a receipt.

When I was a kid six weeks were enough. We did what the ‘Why Don’t You?’ gang told us to do and turned off the TV and did something more interesting instead: I lived down the road from an enormous park and my brothers and I would go there every day, carrying peculiar sandwiches which we would eat whilst hiding in our ‘camp’, a strange hollow bush. The six week break was manageable because my grandma lived with us, and whilst my parents went to work as usual, she looked after us. The last week of the summer holidays seemed so far away, and then when it arrived we mourned for our summer, and crammed in last minute adventures into the final days. Shopping for that year’s school uniform was always a bit grim but choosing my new pencil case used to sweeten the pill. But even kids get bored of playing all day it seems, and the time is ripe for a bit of discipline and routine. I am even looking forward to the chaotic morning school run.

So we went to Carrefour last week and whilst the sun was beating down outside, bought winter tights, in six different colours, and bright red raincoat. Ready for the autumn, and (thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!) school.

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(first published 7.9.10)

 

Wheels in motion

One of our cars has died. That sounds really grand doesn’t it (‘one of our cars’)? But it’s vital to have a car each, I wish it were different, but if you can’t drive in Mallorca you are well and truly stuck. The public transport is just not up to it, particularly when you live in a little village. It wasn’t even our car to be honest, we’d borrowed it (sorry Tony). But now we are back to being a one car family, and everything seems much further away.

We’re not short of offers of other cars, but they all share similar characteristics: either they are wrecks, and about to break down, or they’re too dear and we can’t afford them. Both scenarios involve large chunks of cash up front. Rock and hard place. What to do?

Ollie has toyed with the idea of getting a scooter, but that’s no good for school runs or transporting photography equipment, or two hairy dogs around in the rain. There’s also my romantic ‘owning a convertible’ dream to work through. How wonderful, driving in the sunshine with the hood down, something funky on the stereo, arm leaning on the wound-down window, taking in the view of the mountains whilst driving to a secluded restaurant for a spot of lunch. Well, I did say it was a dream.

In our real world my ideal (and actual) car is a kind of ‘grown up’ van: easy to clean, more or less indestructible and with enough capacity to take all the gear:  work and kid stuff, that I need to function on a daily basis. Thankfully, the mummy mobile, the Kangoo, fulfils those needs. But Ollie (Formula One fan and wannabe boy racer) has other ideas, but has never had a chance to get a car he would really like to drive.

I’ve got to admit, I don’t know much about cars. I know how to drive one, but despite appreciating clever car commercials on the TV (primary coloured paint splashing on a car – remember the ad, no clue what the car is), I couldn’t recognise one brand from the other: I am an ad man’s nightmare.  ‘We could get a new one’, I suggest to Ollie, ‘perhaps on a finance deal?’ A light appears in his eyes, and all of a sudden Jeremy Clarkson’s columns are being consulted for ‘best performing small car’. Many conversations are held with other boys about torque and something called ‘down force’. But even Ollie is a realist in the end, and there’s a trip planned this week to see what the dealers have in Palma. All I can offer is my opinion on the colour and whether the radio is easy to operate, and how far the housekeeping money is going to stretch… let’s hope it’s far enough for my Jenson Button to get what he deserves.

 

(first published 1.9.10)