Posted in Family, Personal life

We Really Do Not Need Another Reindeer

Plastic toy reindeer from Bristol Zoo
Monarch of the Toybox)

With Christmas still a month away, I’ve been resisting my daughter’s requests to put up our decorations this weekend.  

The festive season doesn’t start until December,  I tell her. No matter how many “Buy One Get One Free” or “3 for 2” offers we see, now is not the time to buy  crackers, tinsel or wrapping paper,

In any case, we already have lots of Christmas decorations stashed away in the cellar. Once we’ve turned our kitchen calendar to its final page, I will bring them back upstairs. When I do, there will be plenty to go around.

Then, at the zoo today, she suggests we buy a plastic reindeer. We really do not need another reindeer. There are whole herds of them in this house, in various shapes and forms. We have more reindeer than Santa:

  • a large cuddly one with light-up antlers the colour of traffic lights
  • a small plush that looks like it’s leapt out of a Babycham advert
  • a Playmobil team of reindeer, complete with sleigh and Santa
  • a bristly creature made of bundles of sticks
  • a family of small straw reindeer that stowed away in our IKEA trolley

How many reindeer does a girl need, for goodness sake?

But then again, for how many more Christmases will my only child be treasuring these childhood trappings of Christmas?

This morning she had a playdate with a friend. Together they retreated to the playroom and all fell uncharacteristically quiet. I asked her afterwards what games they had been playing.

“Oh, we didn’t really play,” she replied vaguely. “We just sat around and talked for a long time. And we flicked through the Argos book to look at Christmas presents. She’s getting an iPod touch.”

Comet the Reindeer with light-up antlers
Comet, the only reindeer whose antlers light up and flash

With a twinge of melancholy, I recognised that this will be her last Christmas in single figures. Then we’ll be on a slippery slope to the teenage years, when her wish-list is more likely to be clothes and make-up rather than cuddly toys and games. Playdates will be supplanted by sessions experimenting with make-up and biro tattoos of boys’ initials.

That is of course as it should be. If she’s still requesting cuddly toys when she’s fifteen, I shall be worried. But I’m in no hurry.

And so on this afternoon’s trip to the zoo, I find myself positively encouraging her to bring home yet another a small plastic reindeer.

After all, it is nearly Christmas.


If you liked that post, you might like this one about My Best Childhood Christmas Memories.

Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

Who Am I Again?

View of The Oval, the shopping parade in Sidcup
The Oval:  Sidcup’s  answer to the shopping mall

My mother tells a tale of her first expedition as a newly-wed to buy groceries at The Oval, the little parade of shops in our home town of Sidcup, Kent.

It was the 1950s, still about a decade before the newfangled concept of supermarket shopping shook up Sidcup with the arrival of a tiny Safeway complete with – wait for it – an on-site milk bar, which seemed the height of sophistication at the time. At The Oval, by contrast, the shops and their clientele were small enough for every customer to be known individually and to be greeted formally by the shopkeeper.

So on entering the butcher’s shop that morning, my mother was not surprised to hear the butcher call out a cheery greeting to her mother-in-law. She turned around, expecting to see her new husband’s mother standing behind her. But of course, my grandmother wasn’t there: my mother had just forgotten for a moment that now she was married, they’d both be answering to the same name. She’d been promoted; she was a grown-up.

I had a similar butchers’-shop moment myself this afternoon. I was sitting at my computer, typing away, when I became aware of a rustling at my shoulder. My daughter’s playdate was standing behind me, quietly surveying my muddly desk. She’s a sweet girl, cheerful and well-behaved, so I didn’t mind stopping work for a chat.

“Well, here’s something that’s cool!” she said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I’m the friend of someone whose mother writes books,” she said brightly.

I sat back in my chair.

“Oh, that’s nice!” I said. “Do I know her? What sort of books does she write?”

She fixed me with an old-fashioned look, the sort that says “adults aren’t always as smart as they’re cracked up to be.”

Then I followed her pointed gaze to my own book, published last month, a copy of which is now propped up on display at the edge of my desk. For a moment I’d forgotten I was an author. My goodness, I’ve been promoted too. Happy days!

Me at my book launch with some of my books
“I thought it looked a bit familiar!”

If you liked this post inspired by my hometown, you might also like this one: 

Bowled Over By Fond Memories of My Grandma

Let It Snow: My Best Christmas Childhood Memories

And in case you missed it, here’s more about my new book:

Sell Your Books! by Debbie Young

Posted in Family, Personal life

Golden Times

English: Trench watch (wristlet). The type of ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This new post is about a great idea for encouraging good behaviour from children in school: Golden Time)

For many children at our village school, the highlight of the week is “Golden Time”. Doesn’t the name sound alluring even before you know what it is?

Golden Time is a brief period every Friday when the pupils are allowed to do what they like – from playing on the computers to drawing pictures to curlng up with a good book. It’s a treat they look forward to all week as an antidote to their hectic schedule. It’s also an effective motivator for good behaviour, as staff may dock minutes from each child for misdemeanours. To allow naughty children to reform, the slate is wiped clean each week, everyone starting with a full score of minutes every Monday morning.

Attending a parents’ meeting in the classroom when my daughter was a new Year 1, I spotted on the whiteboard a list headed “Golden Time” with a number of minutes against each child’s name. Several other mums were as aghast as I was to see there were no numbers next to our children. What on earth had they done to lose all their time? Hesitantly, I asked the class teacher who smiled and shook her head.

“Oh no, Mrs Young, the numbers there represent the minutes those children have been docked!”

Phew, my daughter was a good girl after all! My relief was palpable.

English: Sundial on Moot Hall, Aldeburgh, Suff...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One recent Friday, all the girls in her class emerged from Golden Time with their hair in beautiful fishtail plaits, courtesy of their kind teacher. Next week, they were wild-haired from a lovely session of crazy, headbanging dancing.

Either way, they were happy, contented and effectively rewarded for being good all week.

I just wish there was a Golden Time for grown-ups. Or maybe there is, and I’ve just lost all my minutes for bad behaviour.

Hmm, must try harder…


This post was originally published in the Hawkesbury Parish News, November 2012.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like this one that harks back to my own behaviour in school:

What Size Is Your Jersey?

or this one about my daughter’s approach to time management:

What A To-Do! The Tale of My Daughter’s Action List

Posted in Family, Reading, Writing

Cheltenham Literature Festival: It’s A Family Affair

Cover of Michael Palin's new travel book, Brazil
I’m not sure why it says “Ogres” on the cover behind him.

(A new post inspired by my recent trips to Cheltenham Literature Festival and Bath Festival of Children’s Literature. How cultured am I?!)

Sitting with my sister in a Cheltenham cafe on Saturday with the cheerful hubbub of the Literary Festival all around us, I’m scanning the room to catch a waiter’s eye when a mother and daughter at the next table distract me from placing my order.

Like us, they are clearly here to enjoy one or more of the many authors’ talks in today’s Festival programme. We’ve just come from hearing Michael Palin talk about Brazil, his new travelogue, at Cheltenham Racecourse, and we’re shortly to catch an audience with Alexander McCall Smith. I wonder which events this mother and daughter will attend. There’s certainly something on offer for every age and literary taste.

But it’s not their itinerary that holds my attention. What mesmerises me is their mature, measured mother-daughter relationship, conducted over a very grown-up lunch – a sharing platter of French hors-d’hoeuvres.

The daughter has the sleek, healthy hair of a young woman in her prime. It’s still long enough to be girlish but it’s firmly under control, the top layer swept back and held impeccably in place by a patterned clasp. She wears well-tailored, elegant clothing, but carries a ridiculously tiny handbag – the mark of a woman who thinks she’s grown up but has, as yet, no need to accommodate the inevitable luggage that accompanies motherhood.

Laura's favourite Hello Kitty handbag
Laura’s favourite handbag of the moment

Her mother, with steely grey hair, is equally well groomed. They share manners and mannerisms as they sample the food before them, chatting companionably. The lack of urgency about their meeting suggests they see each other often. This is no major catch-up or landmark meeting. Sometimes they don’t speak at all, but neither seems to mind. They are just comfortable in each other’s company, mutually respectful and at ease. They finish their modest meal, and when the daughter slips off to the ladies, clutching her small handbag, the mother picks up the tab.

I fast-forward 15 years, to when my daughter Laura, now aged nine, will be about the same age as this young woman. I try to picture her grown up, docked of the plaits with which we currently try to subdue her unruly thick hair. I imagine her with smooth, loose, tangle-free locks resting on the shoulders of a woman’s carefully chosen, matching clothes, rather than on the mad mix of patterns and colours that she’ll wear if left to choose her own clothes for the day.

Opposite her, in my mind’s eye, I see myself – older, greyer, but contented. I hope I will be as healthy and in as good shape as this mother is before me.  I fall again to wondering which event they’re heading for next. Which events will Laura and I attend, in fifteen years time? Where will her interests lie? Will she even be interested in the Literature Festival, or will she prefer the Cheltenham Festivals in other disciplines: Music, Science and Jazz? I’ll have to wait and see.

Laura in conversation with  Gruffalo author and illustrator Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Discussing the finer points of their new book, “Superworm”.

But my money’s on the Literature Festival. Just a week before, Laura and I were lucky enough to attend the launch event of the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature, featuring  Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler.

Getting ready to go to it, Laura had chosen her own clothes: a pink and grey velvet and tulle floral party frock, with vertically striped sun-top beneath it and on her feet violently coloured stripey socks that remind me of liquorice allsorts.  Coaxing her out of the socks into plain tights and boots, I felt guilty for censoring her style for the sake of what others in the audience might think.

When we arrived at the talk, she was shy at first, but soon gained enough confidence to put her hand up to ask Julia and Axel a  question and to speak directly to them afterwards when we queued to have a book signed. I was proud – but then I’m always proud of my daughter – and I was glad that she doesn’t yet feel too old to openly enjoy good picture books. I wanted the moment to last.

But now, just a week later in Cheltenham, I realised that I don’t really want her life to stand still at all. Watching the mother and daughter leave the cafe, I discovered a small part inside of me that’s looking forward to every next step. But please, not just yet. I’ll even let her wear her stripey socks in public if it clinches the deal.

Laura's stripey socks

If you enjoyed this post, you might like these other accounts inspired by days out with my daughter:

All Aboard for A Trip Back In Time

Never Too Old For A Trip To The Zoo

Posted in Family, Personal life

Mermaids, Magic and Medals

(This new post is about how the Olympics has transformed my dawdling daughter into a clock-watching competitor in the swimming pool.)

Mermen. Russian lubok.
Russian mermaid and merman. Crikey, they must be cold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wading into the warm, quiet waters of Monmouth  public swimming pool on Sunday, I am mentally prepared to drift about for an hour playing whichever lazy games take the fancy of my nine-year-old daughter Laura. We’ve been taking her swimming since she was tiny and she has developed into a real water baby.

With the encouragement of my husband, who is a much more enthusiastic swimmer than me, (I think he may have been a merman in a previous life), Laura quickly graduated from a floating baby seat to inflatable armbands to being a free swimmer. However, we’ve never signed her up for swimming lessons, unlike many of her friends, who are called up regularly in Friday celebration assembly to collect swimming certificates for ever-greater distances. She’s never wanted lessons either, preferring to mess about and play games, in between short bursts of very competent swimming, much of it completely underwater. Our only concern about her performance in the pool is that we sometimes wonder whether she’s ever going to come up for air. The child has the lungs of a seal.

Laura’s games in the pool have of course changed over the years, from having me drift about the pool with her in my arms singing songs about water babies, to having to impersonate tug boats when she was about 4 and obsessed with a video called Tugs (a sort of floating Thomas the Tank Engine), to pretending we’re various sea creatures.

I’ve had the occasional twinge of guilt at not making her take swimming lessons, but at the same time we’ve not wanted to spoil the sheer pleasure she has in being in the water. When she was about two, we spent hours on a beach in Greece watching her repeatedly climb on to a small rock and jump off into the water, with as much concentration as if she were trying to mentally calculate the volume of the water she was displacing, like Archimedes in his bath.

Image from the hit teen TV series, H2O, about mermaids
Laura wonders how they ever manage to go to the toilet if they turn into mermaids every time they’re in contact with water.

Not surprisingly, her current favourite television viewing is an Australian teenage  series called H20: Just Add Water. This is all about three mermaids -0r rather, teenage girls who, after a trip to an enchanted island, discover they turn into mermaids every time they come into contact with water. So in Monmouth I’m fully expecting that we’ll have to play H20. I’m just wondering how to persuade my husband to be one of the mermaids when she takes me completely by surprise.

“Come on, let’s have a race!” she cries, and immediately starts to swim with great concentration towards the deep end.

I follow, feeling slightly put out. Usually I’m begging for time off from her watery games to do some actual swimming, but I hadn’t anticipated being made to race. She beats me easily to the far end of the pool.

Then she spots the clock above the pool with its big red second hand ticking round.

“Time me, Mummy!”

And she’s off again.

This happens several times before we revert to our usual improvised games with woggles (you know, those great long bendy sponge sticks), and it’s not long before every child in the pool is trying to do the same as her. She is very inventive with them. I’m left wondering what has brought on her sudden need for speed.  Previously, I’d have said Laura doesn’t have a competitive bone in her body. While many children can easily be chivvied into doing things faster – dressing, eating meals, bathing – by turning the activity into a race, Laura has always resisted. In fact, trying to make her race usually only slows her down, as she resists any attempt to hurry her, no matter how subtle.

British stamp of London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Ellie Simmonds
Did they put silver medallists on second class stamps, I wonder?

I can only blame – or rather, thank – the London 2012 Olympics. We spent a long time glued to the aquatic events this summer, especially those involving the wonderful Ellie Simmonds, whom Laura really admires. Perhaps it is this that has transformed Laura’s take on clock-watching from something irritating that Mummy does in the mornings to something really valuable that wins gold medals for her heroes. I am delighted. Either that, it might be the superpower that the H20 mermaids have – they can swim as fast as speedboats when they’re in a hurry. Either way it’s – dare I say it? – a sea-change in Laura’s attitude. Their magic is catching.

It’s not just in the swimming pool that Laura’s got her eye on the clock. Voluntarily, she’s dug out her watch, which I suspect had been strategically hidden some time ago, and she has started wearing it every day, even in her sleep. She’s timing herself on other activities too. I dare not intervene for fear of breaking the spell. I guess it’s another milestone in her growing up, taking responsibility for her own time management, and I am truly grateful.

All the same, I hope our days of playing mermaids will not be over any time soon.

If you enjoyed this post, here are some others you might enjoy:

Unlike Laura, I was not a sporty child. This post compares our experiences of school sport: Keeping Up With My Sporty Daughter.

But I do like to run. Here’s a post about the magic of running: Running in Wonderland  – You Can Call Me Al(ice)