Happy New 2019!

Well hello, hello, long time no see! Happy New Year! How have you been? Are you glad to see the back of 2018? Looking forward to 2019? Or just quietly accepting the turn of the year?

I’m not even going to pretend that this post marks more regular blogging from me. With 2 pubescent daughters who veto every post and photo (quite rightly!) it doesn’t give me a lot to talk or rant about. And I’m being kept busy with the minxes, Killer Cat, The Boss and 8 (yep, eight) part-time jobs. Lots of juggling. But it keeps me out of trouble.

I wish it kept the youngest pair out of trouble. Poor Midi came down with a very sore throat late on 30th December. She spent most of yesterday in bed or in a big nest of duvet and pillows on the sofa. For the first time in 5 years she’s not dressed up and bounded around at the bells. She managed half a cocktail sausage at midnight, and that was only to try to put some food in her stomach so she could take ibuprofen. This morning I’ve got another wee soldier down – Mini. As they’re getting so old, now, I doled out liquid paracetamol to the pair of them and bang, there’s another brown bottle emptied for the bottle bank and the judgey-judgey clattering of the glass cascade.

Wee Mini blinked up at me: “Mummy, I’ve got such a sore head!”

“Ah,” I said, trying to make light of it, “You’ve either got what Midi has or you’re hungover. Did you drink any alcohol last night?”

“Yes”, she replied, to my open-mouthed stare. “I had a whisky chocolate”.

Poor wee thing! I hope your New Year is a healthy and optimistic one, and if it’s not, that it becomes so.

bee and allium

Day 3 – It’s Not Good For Your Elf

Saturday night was the second of The Boss’s solo elf japery nights, and Mini awoke on Sunday to this confusing tableau:


Mini’s sisters exclaimed that this proved beyond all doubt that Edbie was a boy, cut from the same cloth as his presumed-father, Edward. (Well, actually, they only share red yarn, and one was knitted, the other crocheted, but that’s another story entirely…). I quickly confused the issue by suggesting that it was an innocent all-girl slumber party.

Well, anything to stop Miss Sharp-As-A-Tack Maxi noting that grown-up playing with Barbie might be a bit incestuous and downright wrong on some level.

We’ll be back to more innocent fun on Day 4, I think.

I'm sure that this was the film image that The Boss had in mind. Honestly. Ahem.

I’m sure that this was the film image that The Boss had in mind. Honestly. Ahem.

Elf Day 2

Oh dear, Day 2 and already Edbie has gone too far.

Well, The Boss has.

I was away this weekend at Cub Camp with Maxi and Midi, leaving Mini in charge. The Boss only had to sort out 2 nights of elf shenanigans. We returned to hear that Mini had been too startled by Edbie to sleep in her own bed on Saturday night.

Naughty elf; naughty Boss.

elf on the shelf prank

Oops, you’ve dropped your hat, Edbie

elf on the shelf prank child's eye view

What Mini woke up to

A gothic Edbie

A gothic Edbie


There’s a New Elf in Town

It’s December 1, which in Garrison Trout means only one thing: the arrival of the Elf (or Elves).

I think we’d absolutely run Edward and Edwin and Barbie to the end of all reason. Besides, Edwin’s bell jingle was getting harder to hide, and Edward’s stuffing was falling out. Time for a new elf! Now you know why we introduced the new baby half-elf at the end of last year – it was in preparation for retiring the old ones (and giving me and The Boss a chance to rerun old tricks).

So: here’s what the minxes woke up to this morning:

The DVD is their much-wanted Secret Life of Pets and the letter is, of course, from Santa:


So now you know as much as the minxes do! Minxes being minxes, they’ve all agreed that ‘of course’, Edbie is a boy, Edward and Barbie are the parents, and that he is very sweet, really. I overheard Midi talking to him while she was getting dressed this morning: “You need to get up to all kinds of naughtiness, Edbie”, she said.

“What was that, Midi?” I asked.

“Nothing, Mummy, I was just telling Edbie that he was to be good while we’re at school and that we’ll find his Mum for him”, she smiled brightly, thinking she’s fooled her auld mammy.


The Return of the Rascally Rabbit

We’re now over a year into turning our front lawn into a fruit and vegetable garden, and have been enjoying harvesting our goodies very much. So, alas, has the local rabbit. We came back after a week away in the summer to find said bunny sitting in the middle of the pathway, fat and bold (and fluffy and cute, it has to be said…), munching on the last of my kale. It had troughed an entire 2 x 4 foot raised bed of kale and broccoli. The minxes barely repressed their glee at the sight of the decimated leaves and cheered loudly, while I chased that pesky varmint away. It dashed into the back garden while I huffed and puffed and abandoned the chase in favour of unloading the car.

The next day I waddled round to the compost bins at the back of the house to get rid of some of lunchtime’s veg peelings. I heard an ominous rustle behind the bins, so squeezed past to investigate. Last night’s rabbit was trapped between 2 slats in the fence! It had scraped a pile of dirt away with its back paws and rubbed all the fur off its sides. There was no blood, but it didn’t exactly look too comfortable. It must have been there since we’d arrived home and I’d chased it.

Now, I have to confess to considering roast rabbit for dinner that night, and went back to the kitchen for a big sharp knife. En-route, though, I thought about how scared it must have felt for those 14 hours and felt a rush of pity for it. Instead of fetching the knife, I put on 2 pairs of rubber gloves, went back out and tried to gently guide its back legs through the fence slats. No chance – its behind was too fat on my greens. So I gripped it over its haunches and middle and pulled. It slid right out then let out a scream like a banshee meets a scalded cat. I mean, I wasn’t expecting gratitude or anything, and I’m no “manky Scots git”, but I didn’t expect to be confronted with those long brown teeth.

(Oh come on, you can’t expect me to tell you a tale about a rabbit without a single Monty Python reference!)

Anyway, it jumped down, scampered off, and I forgot about it. Until I discovered that it had also munched all 10 of the carnations I’d cossetted and pampered and planted along the edge of the little fence I’d put up to shield the mess of my Steptoe’s Yard of a veg garden from the rest of the neighbourhood. Right down to the ground. I regretted my knife / gloves exchange, but got over it.

Our marauder wasn't as cute as these Photo: PDSA

Our marauder wasn’t as cute as these Photo: PDSA

Time passed. Killer Cat was a little more successful at keeping the wild rabbit away from the rest of my vegetables and the kale and lettuces grew back. The carnations and broccoli didn’t. Last weekend, the minxes came in from playing with tales of a rabbit that had lost an eye. I was quite dismissive (“Really? That’s nice, dear…”) as they guessed that it had been in a fight with a cat or dog. Then yesterday, I found a big fat rabbit right in the middle of the lawn.

“Shoo!” I hissed. It ignored me and hopped once in the general direction of my kale.

“Move along!” I chided, and walked right up to it. It just sat there, ignoring me. It did indeed look like it had lost one or both eyes. I was in a rush to get Midi The Animal Lover home from school for lunch, so stalked off in exasperation.

On our return, the rabbit was still there. Midi identified it as the rabbit the kids had been talking about over the weekend. I had a closer look at it. It was a very manky and unhappy little thing. I admitted to Midi that if I had any backbone and/or thought I knew how to do it without causing it further distress and pain, I’d kill it to stop its obvious suffering. As I didn’t, sadly we’d just let it get on with it. Midi had a long think about my attitude while she munched her lunch. Presently, she announced her judgement:

“Phone the SSPCA, Mum”, she said, “They’ll take care of it”.

Nooooo, they’re for things like baby squirrels and rescuing pets suffering cruelty and… and… well, they’ll not be coming out to wild rabbits with myxomatosis. Midi insisted I was wrong, and that the SSPCA representatives who’d visited the school last year had been clear that they would help any animal that needed it. She looked at me with her big, owly eyes full of compassion. So I called (03000 999 999 in the UK).

I spoke to a brisk and helpful lady who assured me that it wasn’t right to let the animal suffer any more, and talked me through finding something to put over the rabbit to immobilise, comfort and calm it (a big laundry crate). Five minutes later, my local SSPCA called to say they were on their way. Twenty minutes later, a very kind chap turned up in the van. He looked at the rabbit and agreed that it had myxomatosis and was suffering badly. He thanked me for the call, was happy at my admission that it was Midi’s idea from a school visit, and said he’d take it away and euthanize it gently with an overdose of anaesthetic.

Now, I can’t afford to pay vet’s fees to have called one out to come pick up and deal with the rabbit. And as I said, I’ve neither the skills nor the moral fibre to deal with it myself. Although the SSPCA are a charity, I’m sure the staff don’t work for free, the anaesthetic wouldn’t have been cheap and the man didn’t arrive on a broomstick: fuel costs a fair bit nowadays. So I’ll be making a donation to cover as much of that as I can.

Poor bunny. I guess I won’t have to be defending my greens against it or its burrow-mates now – I imagine they’ll be equally afflicted. And how did Midi react?:

“Poor Charlie-Felix Rabbit. I hope it rests in peace”, she said sadly. Then took a breath, and said brightly: “Oh wow, Mum, does this count as this week’s Good Deed for Cubs? Excellent!”

Camp Fail

Saturday 2 April: Day 1 of the Easter Holidays

The Boss and I had spent since Friday lunch-time packing, stuffing and loading and finally shoe-horned the kids into the car just before midday Saturday. One last check of the long, long list and off we set for 6 days camping in Northumberland! We’ve never been there and were looking forward to exploring it and hopefully enjoying the driest and mildest weather around. Except us being us, it never quite happens like that, does it…?

Princess Daffodil

Princess Daffodil

We arrived at the campsite, Waren Mill, around 4.30pm. The rain had stopped for a little bit but the fog hung in curtains over the sea, so undistracted by the hopefully gorgeous views, we got our pitch allocation, drove round to the wonderfully empty field, released the delighted and squealing minxes into their natural habitat, and quickly set to work erecting the behemoth tent (Vango Maritsa 500).

The little puddle in the bottom of the tent bag was a bit out of place, but as we unfurled the tent and poles and pegs, everything seemed fine: well, it had started to rain again. Like a well-oiled machine, The Boss and I took opposing sides and slotted the heavy poles into place. A bit of heaving and juggling and wishing we’d another 3 pairs of hands to hoist it (as yet too short and not strong enough to meaningfully help), and the tent was up. Hooray! Just as the rain really started to come down. We ordered the girls away from their daisy chains and daffodil crown-making and temporarily into the car while we painstakingly pegged out the tent, re-centred it on the placement as instructed, untied and retied the guy-lines, pegged them, meticulously opened and pegged the vents… Och, you get the picture. We know from long experience that time spent at the beginning getting it right pays dividends when the heavens open in the middle of the night. As forecast throughout the week ahead. Along with the hovering-just-above-zero temperatures.

As the rain decided to go from steady to heavy, I grabbed the tent inners and nipped inside to get them hooked up so that we could quickly all loll around our lovely, light, airy tent. The zip into the tent was jammed. I tugged. I teased. I yanked. I pulled steadily. I threatened. I shouted. I yelled. I growled. Nothing. I looked more closely: the zip seemed to be gummed up with what looked like wet silvery salt. Oh-oh…

I called The Boss over for reinforcements / moral support / possibility of blaming him. He tried everything I had (except for the shouting – he doesn’t really do Drama Queen). We remembered the tent has 2 other entrances, so he unpegged one and tried to unzip that. No go. With a “grrrrrRRRRR!” he finally managed to open it. I ran round, shielding the inners from the rain with my wet head and tumbled inside.

Dear goodness, the place stank! And the floor was wet. Very wet. This didn’t bode well at all. I called for the cloth we’d packed to mop up condensation in the morning. It just smeared the water around. I considered sacrificing a towel. The Boss came back with a penknife, so we left the puddles and prioritised taking turns to chip away the salt around the zip of the front door from either side. Chip, chip, chip, pull. Chip, chip, tug. Chip, yank. Like a pair of archaeologists we painstakingly dug out the zip. Finally, finally, we got it to open! We brushed off all the detritus and zipped back and forth, back and forth, freeing the teeth. It worked. Ish. Hooray! Right, now to investigate the water. And the smell.

Well, the smell was easy – every single seam was mouldy. All the once-clear windows were now entirely opaque. The zips at all the windows were jammed shut with similar powdery gunk to the front door zip. Ew!!! Maybe if the rain stopped and the wind started up, we could air the tent…? I looked at the rear ‘rib’ that the bedroom inners hook onto. Sodden. How could I get that dry? No new drips on the floor – good, at least it’s not leaking. Hopefully. I looked at the central ‘tower’ that the inners also hook onto and where we store our clothes in. Mouldy, wet through and actually disintegrating. Was I really going to connect the bedroom inners to this? Was I really going to sleep in here? Were we really going to subject our little kids to this?

I called The Boss indoors for an emergency conference. His wee face fell as he looked around: I didn’t need to explain. He suddenly frowned at me and asked if I was wheezing. Yes, my chest did feel very tight, but was that because I wanted to cry…? We looked again at the main sticking zip. Still sticking. I worded what we were both thinking: “What if we need to get out the tent tonight in a hurry and the zip sticks? That’s so dangerous.” We knew what we had to do, but decided to sit in the car with the over-excited minxes and discuss it in front of them, reluctant to actually make the final decision.

Maxi showing her happiness not 20 minutes before

Maxi showing her happiness not 20 minutes before

In 100% humidity, it wouldn’t dry out. We couldn’t sleep there overnight. We probably couldn’t sleep there ever again. We couldn’t clean it and we couldn’t replace the zips. And not being able to get out was too unsafe. We’d have to junk the tent and abandon the camping holiday.

“Can we salvage anything?” I asked The Boss, over the sound of 3 bitterly disappointed children howling. “Guylines? Tent poles? Inners? Pegs?”

“Just the pegs. The unbent ones”, he said sadly.

Right. No time for hysterics. It was already after 6.30pm (why, oh why, oh why could we not have discovered this before we’d spent 90 minutes setting the tent up?!). We were undoubtedly not the first campers this had ever happened to. Perhaps the campsite staff could suggest a cunning plan while we were still reeling in shock? The Boss called the Emergency Warden, who suggested staying in one of their wigwams or caravans overnight and sorting ourselves out in the morning. Brilliant! She promised to call back with the details.

Goodbye lovely tent

Goodbye lovely tent

In the meantime, The Boss and I set to work dismantling the tent and taking it to the skip. The girls cried and hugged each other. I felt a terrible heart-pang myself, remembering some of the fantastic holidays we’d spent in it: camping in the garden and horrifying the neighbours with the kids’ screaming and shrieking; our first family-of-5 camping trips; the camping that kept our family together 2.5 years ago (no-one was coping with The Boss commuting at weekends with his new job, so we spent the summer holidays camping at the campsite closest to his work).

Had it really been 2.5 years since we’d last used The Behemoth? We’d camped lots since. Right enough, we’d used the little 3-man tent instead each time. The Boss sheepishly admitted that he vaguely remembered putting the big tent away with a wet groundsheet that last time and waiting in vain for a dry day to put the tent out in the garden and dry it off properly. Normally I’d have screamed like a banshee at him, but the error was 3 years ago. Could I have promised back then to sort it out instead? A dim memory stirred in me, too. We were probably equally culpable. Why had we not got the tent out and aired and checked it before booking the trip? We normally would have. Oh yes – because it’s barely stopped raining since last August. Meh. How would we ever be able to afford to replace this? We said goodbye and thank you to the tent as we stuffed it in the skip.

unhappy kidsThe Warden called back as we sat in the car sheltering from the rain. Unfortunately they were fully booked. She was ready with details of how to get to the nearest Argos and outdoor kit shop and their closing times so we could nip off and buy an emergency tent. We thought about it as a family. Maxi immediately said that it would be daft to buy a little tent when we already had a 3-man one at home. I pointed out that a cheap tent wouldn’t cope with the forecast daily rain over the next week. Midi asked whether we’d get any money back at all. The Boss said no, it wasn’t their fault at all and they were only being helpful because they were kind people – we’d lost our money. Mini cried anew over her forgotten giraffe stuffed toy.

Damn. No tent. Bad weather. Upset family. I calmed the kids down and explained that things in life didn’t always go the way we’d planned. We could either sit and be miserable about it forever, or we could choose to make the most of it. The Boss and I agreed that we should eat first, discuss it all over dinner, then make a move, whatever that move was. The campsite had a restaurant on-site that we’d planned to eat at on the first evening anyway, so we did just that.

Over the next hour, we sat waiting on dinner, fielding ideas. Mini suggested that we go home that night to get Giraffe. We agreed that would be the most sensible and cheapest thing to do. But we didn’t want to. And the longer dinner took to arrive (the restaurant was very busy), the less likely we’d be able to make the 4 hour drive – The Boss and I were exhausted. Midi suggested that we stay in a hotel overnight then spend tomorrow having fun somewhere and going home tomorrow night. Aha, now that’s more likely! Then we could stop stressing about getting home at 1am. But we only had our budgeted spending money left. We sat watching the painfully slow wi-fi load LateRooms.com pages onto The Boss’s phone every 4 – 12 minutes (yes, I timed it).

LateRooms turned up nothing. The problem of having 3 children and not being able to afford 2 hotel rooms! We called the nearest Premier Inn. No, they absolutely would not let us share one room. Please? No. Pretty please? No. We tried a few other websites. Nothing. The phone signal waxed and waned and the wi-fi ground to a halt as the restaurant got busier.

We ate our fish and chip dinner and decided to set off before it got any later (it was 8pm) and just hope for the best. We let the Warden know we were leaving and thanked her profusely for trying so hard to help us out. As we approached the A1, The Boss’s phone picked up 3G signal, so he checked out the Edinburgh Premier Inns. He phoned the Musselburgh one direct. The lady on the other end said the same as her colleague in the more southerly hotel: that we couldn’t share, and that she only had one room left anyway. Voice cracking, The Boss explained that we were actually quite desperate, and told her our tale of woe. The lady sympathised. She talked to her boss. She relented and said she’d do her very best to get the room ready for the 5 of us before we arrived.

An hour and a half later, after a slow and difficult drive through thick haar fog, we arrived looking like red-eyed survivors from the rainforest. The lovely receptionist made us feel safe and welcome and commiserated with our bad luck. She even apologised that Mini would have to share with one of us. We didn’t care – we had a place to sleep that didn’t drip, creep, splosh,smell or give us asthma!

Don't care where you lot are sleeping - this is MY big bed!

Don’t care where you lot are sleeping – this is MY big bed!

Well, I say sleep – the kids slept well. Mini slept like a whirling dervish. Occasionally she’d punch me in the kidneys, slap The Boss, kick me in the stomach, rouse and demand that she be handed Midi’s Heffalump to cuddle, then kick the covers off and snore and splutter in The Boss’s ear. The Boss and I just clung to the edges of the bed either side of Mini and felt thankful for a room!

So, Pop Kids, what have we learned from this sorry tale?

  1. Always, always, always dry your tent. Somehow. Find a way. Just do it. Don’t ever leave it for 3 years.
  2. Always get your tent out to check it before you set off on holiday. Even better, get it out and check it before you pay for your booking.
  3. Always have a back-up plan; a proper if-all-else-fails plan. That doesn’t involve driving through the night in haar fog when you’re tired.
  4. Involve the kids when you have to make tough and upsetting decisions – they’ll feel less helpless and will burst with pride if you use one of ‘their’ (cleverly-planted and set-up) ideas.
  5. Bar one single person, everyone we asked for help and advice gave us it gladly. It was humbling and heart-warming. And I’ll tell you just how brilliant the kind Waren Mill Warden was in another post…

Young Love

Well, we survived the NE Scottish floods. We survived the local transformation of the landscape into ice (no thanks to my neighbour: lovely man, but what was he thinking washing his car in -3degC and leaving a huge puddle of ice on the hill for the neighbourhood to slither over today? I refused to grit the cul de sac on principle that I’m fed up hurting my back doing it. No-one stepped in. I give up). More importantly, though, the kids have gotten over me traumatising them about emergency drills. Phew.

Maxi’s ASD diagnosis is progressing – the psychologist reviewed various questionnaire submissions from us and the school and agreed that it’s not been in my silly head all this time after all – Midi’s in love and Mini’s got a cold.

Today nearly made me cry. I felt such a turmoil of emotions when the psychologist confirmed that Maxi should now go ahead for the last bit of the ASD assessment: relief that my constant niggling for Maxi’s needs and quirks be taken seriously hasn’t been in vain; pity that poor Maxi really isn’t going to have an easy time over the next few years either; determination at now being able to go get all the resources and advice that I can to help her understand other people and be understood better. Oh, there are a million other feelings muddled around in there, too, but alas this blog isn’t the place to unleash them.

I’d innocently thought today would be all about my eldest: taking her to the hospital, discussing her welfare with her, The Boss and the psychologist; spending time with her alone between the appointment and her sisters coming home, chatting over lunch and helping her with homework. But no, it never happens like that, does it? Midi’s ‘only friend in the whole world’, the boy who’s already asked The Boss if he can marry her when they’re 18, told her today that he’s moving hundreds of miles away very soon.

Midi’s distraught. My ever-hungry little grub couldn’t eat her dinner and just got herself ready for bed silently, saucer-eyed. I sat her on my lap and asked how she’d feel if we brought her birthday celebration a month forward and did everything she’d planned to do with her friend the weekend after next instead. Her eyes came alive again. I asked her if it would be ok and not embarrassing if I sorted out a wee birthday cake and sparklers to be brought out wherever they have lunch, and that they could go to the cinema together by train to the city with The Boss as chaperone. She smiled. I said that her friend’s mum and I had talked about setting up email addresses for the pair so that they could write to each other every afternoon after school, and maybe Skype. “Yippee!!” she shouted. They’re only 8 and 7 years old. Awwwww…!

Maxi decided that her sister needed solace and has bunked on her bedroom floor. I suspect Maxi’s needing a bit of reassurance herself, so I’m a bit loathe to scold the 3 of them for still giggling and squealing at 10pm on a school-night. We will all suffer for it tomorrow morning, I know.