Bake It ‘Til You Make It

It’s been a harsh week or so. School is back and I’m pretty sure I’m topping the Worst Parent list already:

1) A request has been made for the Educational Psychologist to see both Noodles and Boo. I feel like we’re a walking, talking  Philip Larkin poem;

2) The school are struggling to support Noodles’ needs at the same time settling in 30 other kids…so he’s been moved to only doing half days. Part of me feels that it’s my fault for not preparing him better…but how do you prepare a child whose condition includes time blindness? The past is anything between 5 seconds ago and before the dawn of time with no differentiation; anything in the future is translated as happening NOW. I also realise it’s the fault of a tight-arsed foot-dragging local authority and a school inadequately prepared for what they were taking on, but yeah, the guilt is still there;

3) The fact that these unplanned half days are a pain in the arse when it comes to juggling things with work. (Think you’re frowned at just for being a working mum? Try it when you’ve got a special needs kid and you can multiply that by a hundred! How can you possibly devote yourself to advocating for their needs when you’re out earning money?!?! How selfish!)

(Meanwhile constant lateness because SP has to be dragged through the school gates, plus telephone calls plus meetings, plus lunch breaks timed to cover the additional school run equals a finite capacity for work-based sympathy.)

4) Receiving not one phone call but two because one child or other has been forgotten about and not picked up at the right time…on the SAME DAY.

Yep, I’m topping the Bad Mums list! Sadly though, I don’t look like Mila Kunis whilst doing so. 

  
But – but! – I’ve found the ideal way to drag your name out of the staffroom gutter and to (superficially) elevate your life to Level 10: BAKING!!!

The Great British Bake-Off is in full swing her in the UK (Selasi and Bejamina are my personal favourites) and as ever its appeal has been phenomenal. But then, what’s not to like? People who know how to whip up a genoise sponge or a creme pat without a recipe, a marquee, worship of carb-based goodies and national treasures, Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry and Mel and Sue. It’s perfect!

  
(How well this will stand up once moved from the warm oven of the BBC remains to be seen – like an underbaked soufflé it could collapse if they mess with recipe too much – but for now I’m enveloped in the sheer comfort of it all.)

And inspired by this, I took to the kitchen with the intention of replicating the technical challenges. It’s been a while since I’ve baked, what with days only having 24 hours in them. But I wanted to be good at something. And can stirring sugar and eggs together really be as difficult as they make out? And if their recipes are truly as basic as they say and no one has ever heard of a dampfnudlen how come each baker ended up with almost identical bakes? After a weekend that involved homemade Jaffa cakes and Viennese Whirls, this much I learned:

1) Baking isn’t stress-free akin to mindfulness, but it does give you an excuse to hide out in the kitchen!

Sunday afternoon I literally hid in the kitchen whipping up my whirls whilst TM took over with all of Noodles’ requests. We never hear “Daddy” when “Mummy” is an option and – sorry, Noodles – it was bliss!

2) Jaffa cakes out of a packet are nicer than homemade ones. (Sorry, Mary Berry.)

 

There were 12, as per the challenge…but I forgot the photograph them for the locusts – my family – got to them.
 
Maybe over 40 years of nothing-but McVities I’ve been duped into thinking that, but biting into my own version, the sponge was too light and unyielding. Give me a stale sponge to my Jaffa any day!

(That said, I did enjoy making them. Peeling a sheet of jelly to reveal 12 cut discs was particularly satisfying. How can I make jelly discs a thing?)

  
3) Grannies have lied to us forever: jam making is a piece of cake!

I’d never made jam before, always under the impression that it required levels of alchemical ability far beyond my ability. Bullsh*t! Jam-making is essentially mashed fruit + sugar + boiling for 5 minutes + cooling. Et voila! Nanas, I’m calling you out on this!

 

Note the massive ironing pile overspill in the background. Oops.
 
However, the very act of making your own jam will have everyone treating you like a boss! So, actually, maybe I should stay quiet on that one and just take my place amongst the granny covan.

4) Taking baked goods to work will make you hero for the day.

  
Nobody minds if you rock up late if you’re carrying a tin of homemade biscuits. Dropped the ball with something? Distract them with the feathering skills and feed them until you induce a sugar-based coma. (I might very well attempt just that with a Bakewell tart come bank rec day!)

5) A good bake fools everyone. Even yourself!

Things can’t be that bad if you’ve managed to whip up a perfect batch of biscuits or a sponge as light as air!

  
6) Instagram will convince everyone that you’re living a Level 10 life.

A close-up of your baked goods with a flattering filter and everyone will assume you’re living the domestic dream. Such heaven can surely only be created in a kitchen worthy of the baking gods? Err, shhhhh. They don’t have to know the truth!

 

What you cant see are the crumbling biscuits and the ones with singed edges that didnt make the Mary Berry standard.
 
Unfortunately you do then have to step through the sugar haze back into the real world. Urgh! And I can’t share my creations with the school otherwise I’ll het roped into school fête bake sale territory (being duped by their sneaky tactics last time was enough). Or would 300 mince pies in the run up to Christmas ensure enough goodwill to secure Noodles an inclusive education? Maybe, if I soaked the filling in enough brandy (the true meaning of ‘Christmas spirit’) any nativity play misdemeanours by Noodles could conveniently not be held against me.

Yes, I think I’ll have to just suck up my position on The List of Shameful Parents. Meanwhile, if you need me I’ll be in the corner licking cake batter from the bowl. Now, you never see them do that on Bake-Off!

 
Or maybe you do! 

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Tripping Up

You know how the Gluestick Family doesn’t do family days out very well? Well, it seems that school trips are hard-wired into our DNA to be a disaster too.

I don’t know why I ever thought it was a good idea to stick Boo on a bus with her school peers last week. Probably because she asked me to with big, excited eyes following a very exciting assembly months ago. (Getting to see a mummified cat seemed to be the biggest draw!) But after a concerned response to a lonely-looking Facebook photo and a call from the school to report bad tidings, I’ve now got a meeting scheduled to discuss Boo’s mental fragility.

(With Noodles starting at the same school with all his autistic quirks and challenges, we’re topping the list of the school’s Families in Need right now. I can’t walk through the school without a member of staff wanting to hold my hand or looking at me with concerned, sympathetic eyes like some collective Princess Diana tribute.)

I won’t go into details, but although Boo enjoyed the things they did on the trip, the experience as a whole was horrid. But, to make her feel better, here are the top five ways members of the Gluestick Family have failed at the school trip. May it give perspective to your tribulations, Boo.

#5: Sitting in the Damp Spot

(Blakeney, Norfolk – some point in the early ’80s.)

  
Aw, seals – aren’t they adorable? Back when school trips were less than ambitious (but also devoid of risk assessments) my school considered it a good idea to stick a bunch of under-7s in a wooden boat and send us out to see to see these cutesy animals. Except it rained. So a tarpaulin was erected over our heads, removing all possibility of seeing anything. 

  
If that didn’t suck enough, I got the patch of tarpaulin with a hole in it. By the time we got back to shore I was soaked. 

The only upside was being given a bag of Foxes Glacier Mints when I got home.

#4: Abandoned

Dieppe, France – 1988

  
One minute I was drawing some touristy feature of the town…the next I looked up and my teacher and group had disappeared without me! 

Thankfully another group had rocked up, the town clearly unable to accommodate groups of more than five children at a time. I joined them instead and all was good…for me. Meanwhile across town, this being the days before mobile phones, my teacher was having a small fit! 

Serves him right though. It’s not that hard to count to cinq!

#3: On the Rocks

Anduze, France – 1990

My sister’s turn this time and I was so jealous of her getting to go on the activity trip to the south of France. Even though I was the most activity-averse child going.

  
Jealous, that was, until my sister came back telling how they’d had to jump from a  cliff into a river. My sister knocked herself out on a rock as she landed in the water and would have drowned if the attractive, young science teacher hadn’t spotted her and hauled her to safety. Then I was really jealous.  Some girls have all the luck.

#2: Escaping Arrest

Athens, Greece – 2011

Indy this time. She and Eve and others in their Classics group were shopping around the touristy area in Rome. Nobody looks less likely to partake in criminal behaviour than Indy. But she must have been fondling the beaded bracelets a little too suspiciously as the next thing she knows the shopkeeper grabs her arm and accuses her of shoplifting. Maybe he noted her archaeologist’s eye and thought he’d seek small-scale revenge for the Elgin Marbles.

  
Indy was escorted to a back office whilst the rest of the group luckily ran off to find the teacher-in-charge (ie the only one who can speak Italian) rather than just running off. Unfortunately, the teachers ignored the frantic students and sat enjoying a coffee instead. Brilliant! (This bit I’ve only just learnt! Bloody teachers!) I’m not sure a Grecian criminal record helps when your long-term aim is to become an archaeologist, digging up bits of Europe in the search for treasure, but Indy was able to prove her innocence. 

#1: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Calabria, Italy – 1992

Three weeks in Italy and it’s amazing any of us made it back alive. Events included:

– A minibus driver, whose only English was “fishy fanny”, drove off whilst three of us were still climbing into the back of the minibus. If we hadn’t had the upper body strength to hang on whilst the others collectively yelled “STOP!” we’d have been face-planted in the gravel. 

  
– A beach trip that involved a pedalo, lifeguards and absinthe instead of a refund;

  
– Near-drowning whilst attempting to swim at the same beach, 1) because of a deceptively sudden drop to the seabed that created a perilous current and 2) swimming’s probably not best done after the consumption of absinthe;

– A night out to a middle-of-nowhere club with some local lads with very flash cars who decided to end the night with a road race around the country lanes near the beach resort we’d been taken to for the weekend. Said race was ended by a minibus road block (only a minibus driver as insane as Fishy Fanny would be insane enough to roadblock the Mafia!) and we were frogmarched back to the apartments with a lecture not to discuss the events with our parents when we got home!

And then I had the honour of giving a goodbye speech on the final night…in Italian. The start of the speech is still ingrained on my brain 24 years later: “a nome degli studenti turistico, desiolero ringraziavivi per tutti durante l’ottima tre settemane…” when what I actually wanted to say was “What the actual fuck?!?!”

And a bonus:

You don’t even have to be a pupil for a school trip disaster. For my sister (whose a secondary school teacher) her biggest fear is fire. So when an attraction at a theme park burst into flame (as part of the attraction, I hasten to add, not a really unlucky incident) she literally went into meltdown. Losing your shit in front of your students when you then need retain a sense of authority for the rest of your time away and back in the classroom, is not a good move.

  
And thus, little Boo, it’s no wonder you had a horrible trip. It’s a right of passage, unavoidably in your DNA. And just be glad that these days schools have to do risk assessments and your bus wasn’t allowed in the monkey enclosure at the safari park. It could have been a lot worse.

  
And a tip for the future, as your trips take you to foreign lands always learn how to say the following phrases: “Help!”, “I’m lost,” and “I wish to speak to my lawyer.” Y’know, just in case. 

* * * * *

Update: I’ve amended Indy’s experience in light of her comment below. 

The Great Cake Bake Race

Initially I thought my last post may have been a little mean about the school summer fête. It’s not easy being a teacher, especially when you’ve got a government selling off schools to academy trusts and no one wants to invest in anything that doesn’t make a fast, demonstrable profit. You’ve got to buy pencils somehow.

…But then the school sent another of their charming letters:

  
“Cheeky Sods,” I thought. It’s the last thing I want to do at the end of a working week. Plus the Why not donate any spare cupcakes… really annoyed me. Of course no one’s going to make ONE cupcake. (Or maybe some people do!)

I was very much determined that a) we wouldn’t be making any cupcakes and b) we would give the whole shebang a wide berth.

Boo had other ideas: 

“I’m going to make an Alice in Wonderland cupcake for the summer fête.”

Oh balls!

I pretty much buried the idea though and last night Eve had commandeered the kitchen to make a birthday cake for her new boyfriend. I was pretty sure I’d got away with it.

Again Boo had other ideas and cried when she came out of school. With the fête less than 2 hours away the time went like this:

  
3.15: Placate Boo’s tears with the promise to make some sodding cakes. Inwardly panic.

3.20: Get home, give Noodles a kiss and head to the kitchen. Do an audit of required ingredients. Breathe a sigh of relief that we only need to get decorations…although I make a note to clear out the cupboards when it turns out the cornflour expired in 2014!

  
3.25: Sketch a rough outline of a cake that might look like it fits Boo’s Alice in Wonderland brief. 

  
3.30: Head out the door and into town. Purchases includes ready-made buttercream icing. Wise move! Thank you, Betty Crocker.

4.00: Back home – £27.78 worse off! – oven on, time to destroy the kitchen. Thankfully a plain sponge isn’t too taxing and 12 buns are in the oven within 10 minutes!

4.10: Along with Boo, eat excessive amounts of cake batter that’s leftover. I suppose I could’ve made extra cakes, but that would’ve meant two batches and I definitely haven’t got time for that.

Feel a little sick.

4.15: Get a bit excited that I’ve bought a hypodermic needle to inject jam into the cakes. (Sad but true.)

4.20: Noodles comes into the kitchen looking for me. I duck behind the counter and pretend I’m not there.

4.25: There’s a little voice squeaking in the living room. Noodles wants a big hug and Curious George. He has to settle for a little squeeze and Curious George. Why does Netflix take so long to get started?!?!

4.30: The cakes are out; they haven’t burnt (much). I start wafting them like a contestant on The Great British Bake-Off.

  
4.35: The cakes aren’t cool, but I start injecting them with jam anyway. I have no idea how much jam I should be using or whether it’s even working. Oh well.

4.40: Noodles decides he wants Thomas the Tank Engine instead of Curious George. Netflix takes an age to decide that this is do-able.

4.45: The icing gets unceremoniously piped. Raspberry sprinkles cover a multitude of sins. (Raspberry sprinkles also cover the entire worktop.) I figure as only one is being judged only one needs the whole works. (I also figure I can clean up later.)

4.46: Noodles wants the same bit of Thomas repeated again and again. I let him watch twice then leg it back to the kitchen for more piping.

4.55: The plumpest-looking cake gets picked for competition entry and is topped with every decoration going. Queen of Hearts playing card: tick. ‘Eat me’ candles: tick. White rose half painted red: Tick. White rabbit telling us we’re late: I wouldn’t have been surprised!

  
“We’ll tell them you made it,” I advise Boo. She nods solemnly. 

5.01: The cakes are packed, shoes and coats are on and we’re out the door. I’ve no idea how our entry got on – within half an hour (aka another £20 spent and a bump to the head later) Noodles has had enough. I gleefully accept the job of taking him home. I don’t have to face more tears when the professional cake-baker – sorry, the professional cake-baker’s daughter – surely wins.

Still, I spot a kid struggling with one of our offerings as jam oozes down his arm. “How’s your cake?” I ask. “I made that!” He gives me a “20 out of 10.” And I’ve done my mum duty for today. (As far as Boo is concerned at least. Teflon Man has moaned that I didn’t get anything for us to eat tonight…talk about never being able to please all of the people!)

At least the little people are smiling tonight.

  

And I’m pretty sure it’s now wine o’clock!

***

An update: Our cupcake won!!!

Totally worth the effort now – Boo’s brought home enough sweets to ensure she’s on a sugar high throughout the summer holidays. 

I think that deserves another glass of wine!

Playground Extortion

    
GROUPCALL:

The school summer fete – our Grand Summer Fiesta – will be held on the last Friday of term. All proceeds to the staff end of term slush fund. 

GROUPCALL:

We will be running a sewing club for the more dexterously-capable children throughout the summer term. The club will run every other weekday when the children will make items to sell at our Grand Summer Fiesta. Please pay £2.00 per session for the cost of materials. (Just be appreciative of the extra hour you’ll get to yourself and the fact you’ll miss the school run traffic.) Participation is non-negotiable.

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a NON-UNIFORM DAY on Friday. Please donate DRY/TINNED GOODS ONLY for prizes for the Grand Summer Fiesta

  
GROUPCALL:

Thank you for the donations of DRY/TINNED GOODS for our Grand Summer Fiesta. We would like to remind parents that only NEWLY-PURCHASED goods will suffice. Goods returned from the Christmas Extravaganza are NOT acceptable, even if it saves us from having to stick on a new tombola ticket.

GROUPCALL:

Please check out our website. Parents will be able to see the great fun the SEWING GROUP children had when they received their training from real-life sweatshop workers from India. We value the importance in establishing multi-cultural links and promoting a strong work ethos within a capitalist system. All products will be available to buy at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a SPONSORED WALK next week. Please collect as many sponsors as possible so we can buy refreshments for the Grand Summer Fiesta. Further sponsor forms will be available from the school office. The child who collects the most sponsor money will win a FREE RAFFLE TICKET!!! We appreciate this will make the children highly competitive. Don’t let your kid be a loser!

GROUPCALL:

We are looking for parents to donate PRIZES for our RAFFLE at the Grand Summer Fiesta. Laptops/Plasma TVs/Cars all gratefully accepted.

GROUPCALL:

We would like to thank Matthew Lewis’s dad for donating three plasma TVs and an X-Box as prizes for the raffle at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding another NON UNIFORM DAY on Monday. Please donate SWEETS – but NO CHOCOLATE – to be used as prizes at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

Due to the children being slower sewers than expected, SEWING CLUB will now be for 2 hours after school EVERY DAY and throughout lunchtimes.

GROUPCALL:

SPORTS DAY will be held this week. Remember, due to data protection issues, NO PHOTOGRAPHY/VIDEO RECORDING will be allowed at the event. However, we will take shoddy photos ourselves, which you will be able to purchase at an inflated price at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

Please donate TOYS to be sold at the Grand Summer Fiesta. Box-fresh toys only please. Toys and games already played with will NOT be acceptable.

GROUPCALL:

We send our condolences to Matthew Lewis’s dad who will not be able to attend the Grand Summer Fiesta as he is being held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure for burglary. We will be holding a collection at the Fiesta to raise funds for his solicitor.

GROUPCALL:

Please remember that LOST PROPERTY will be available to purchase back at cost price from the Grand Summer Fiesta next week.

GROUPCALL:

Don’t forget you can buy your Grand Summer Fiesta RAFFLE TICKETS in advance from the caretaker from his cabin. Just £5.00 per ticket! Top prize: a BMW that may or may not have been Matthew Lewis’s dad’s getaway car.

  
GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a further NON-UNIFORM DAY on Wednesday. This time please donate CHOCOLATE items for the Grand Summer Fiesta. (If we hide it well enough Mrs Evans shouldn’t be able to eat it ALL by the time of the fete.)

GROUPCALL:

A reminder that the Grand Summer Fiesta is only days away! Please use this weekend to bake fresh CAKES for sale on the day. Copies of The Great British Bake-Off Cook Book are available for purchase through the school office should you be in need of inspiration. Just £25.00 per copy (RRP £19.99).

  
  
GROUPCALL:

A reminder that the Grand Summer Fiesta will be held this afternoon. Admission: £1.00 per person (babies under 6 months are free…although pushchairs and prams will incur a £2.50 space-taking fee). 

Bring plenty of cash to buy back all items you’ve donated already at your own expense. Hot dogs and cheap wine will be available from the kitchen at prices comparable to a Michelin-starred restaurant. 

  
Don’t forget your RAFFLE TICKETS – just £10.00 per ticket! 

Deputy Head, Mr Morgan, will also be appearing as Psychic Sue and will be ready to predict your child’s SATs results. The more generous the payment, the better the results!

Once we hit our target we WILL allow the school violin club to STOP PLAYING!!!

We look forward to seeing you there.

GROUPCALL:

Due to bad weather the Grand Summer Fiesta has been CANCELLED. All goods will be divided amongst the staff and PTA. There will be collection tins stationed outside each classroom at home time for you to relieve yourselves of any cash. Alternatively, please visit our JUST GIVING page for donations by debit/credit card/bank transfer/PayPal.

  
GROUPCALL:

Thank you to all parents who so generously donated to the school. Please visit our school Facebook page for pictures of our staff night out. A great time was had by all! Have a lovely summer holiday – don’t forget to take over your child’s summer project homework ready to show off when we start back in September! Also look out for announcements of our Christmas Extravaganza preparation when we will raising funds for Mr Cartwright’s new liver!

The Night Before World Book Day

  
The night before World Book Day and everyone is stressed

We’ve had a text from school; it says to come in fancy dress!

But worse, it says, well actually, come and take a look,

‘Please dress as a character from your favourite book.’

We’ve only one day’s notice; we thought it wasn’t on,

But now I’ve got to find for two daughters and a son!

A rummage through the cupboard, last year’s costumes are too small. 

One thing for it, in the car, we’re heading to the mall!

Except where exactly are the clothes, the costumes there before?

The only thing we’re facing, empty racks upon the wall!

‘Who wants to be the same?’ we say. ‘Let’s be creative, it’s a cinch.’

Some cardboard, paints and sellotape will turn you into Grinch.

‘But I want to be a princess…no a fairy…no a whale.’

Riiiight, just watch me fashion that from grey sweatshirts in the sale.

A ‘cloak’ of black, a scar, a ‘wand’: ta-dah we’ve Harry Potter! 

Yes, it’s not the franchised one, but please don’t be a rotter.

Ok, some jeans a top – that’s it, your normal winter gear – 

You’ll pass as Tracey Beaker, though won’t win costume of the year.

The youngest likes Pooh Bear the best, a red t-shirt and we’ve won….

Except he’s coloured himself in yellow and won’t put his trousers on!

In the morning, all lined up; Facebook photos with a smile.

At least it’s only once a year. No need to worry for a while.

  

Gifts From Nursery School

When your child goes to Nursery School you can expect many joyous things to come home with them.

Noodles started Nursery in January. Thus far we’ve had:

– Head lice;

– Plastic bags containing soggy trousers (not because of a toilet accident, but because he tipped his drink down himself);

– More head lice;

– Letters to Nursery events that you can guarantee clash with work;

– Library books that instantly get lost amongst the ephemera of family life;

– A letter requesting a meeting with his key worker to discuss how he’s not settling in;

– Various coughs and colds;

– A home visit from the health visitor to discuss why being a toddler boy doesn’t match the developmental expectations  of the child development experts (because he’d rather count numbers and do his own thing rather than sit and draw when instructed);

– Conjunctivitis.

I believe some kids come home with pictures and drawings that they’ve not been been press-ganged into doing.

We’ve not had a bumped head letter or worms yet though, to be fair, so we’re still to complete the full house of Nursery School Bingo. It’s only a matter of time though, I’m sure.

Ah, the joys of mixing with other kids! And the education system. Or not mixing with them, in Noodles’ case, although he must have some contact with the other kids to be able to pick up all the viruses and bugs.

As I said, ‘joyous!’

A Christmas Wish

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A letter to Santa from Boo:

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I’ll translate:

‘Dear St Nicholas,

Please can my gift to Mrs Hothersall [her headteacher] for her to be shocked and smiling at our Christmas Nativity at the church. And to all the other teachers there.

From [Boo]’

What a sweetheart!

(Personally, I wish the school would teach proper spelling, but hey ho.)

But let’s hope we’re all ‘shocked and smiling’ later this morning.

Unfortunately social media and child protection means we can’t take photos. So, instead I shall have to settle for this one of my little angel in her reception year:

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Oh, and if you think that’s very altruistic of her, don’t worry – we have received a more mercenary list too. We like to refer to it as ‘Boo’s Clues’…

EDIT: It did have us smiling…and blubbing. What is it about the combination of tinsel and tea towels that reduces me to tears?

And, thankfully, this year, I didn’t have Noodles doing his best Omen impression, melting down in a temper tantrum from Hell the second he crossed the threshold to the church…like last year! (Seriously, I was checking for 666 on him after that one.) No, instead, he loudly declared ‘I enjoyed that!’ as we left. Phew.