It’s half-term this week so, while I was looking after the girls yesterday, we went to the Natural History Museum to see their butterfly exhibition.

orange butterfly on a flower

It’s not the old-fashioned kind, with lots of dead lepidoptera pinned inside dusty cases; nope, this was a little more hands-on.

Well, not hands-on exactly – we were specifically told not to touch them – but we were surrounded by hundreds of living butterflies from around the world.

It was great!

Amber, Millie and I caught the train I’d usually get to work of a morning – the 9am to Charing Cross – which, while it meant nothing to them was kind of nice for me.  Millie read her Harry Potter book all the way there, so I read Amber her Felicity Wishes fairy book.

Hopefully that made a nice change for the commuters.

We had tickets booked for 10.30, but arriving nice and early at 10 we were ushered straight into the massive polytunnel that held the butterflies.  So much for the importance of arriving on time!

Anyway, it was HOT inside, so hot that until both my glasses and the camera lens warmed up I couldn’t see much or take any pictures.  But once I could – wow!  Butterflies of all shapes, sizes, colours and types.

Amber and Millie in the butterfly exhibition
Where are the butterflies??

There’s something about butterflies, isn’t there?  The way they bob and weave about, always on the edge of chaos, but somehow staying just barely in control – and that’s even without the remarkable colours. 🙂

While Amber ran off to find all of the ink stamps for the activity card they’d been given, Millie and I looked at all of the butterflies, both of us laughing and gasping with wonder.

You can see most of the photos I took in this Flickr butterfly set.  Bearing in mind that most of these were snapped from quite a distance, using a lot of zoom, chasing moving targets, I think they’re not bad at all. 🙂

We were inside for a good 40 minutes going back and forth, trying to coax butterflies to land on us, as they did with many of the other people in there.  Sadly, although Millie and I were both buzzed they never settled on us.  Oh, well.

By the time we came out we were greeted by the sight of huge queues for the Natural History Museum, to the Science Museum (I wanted to tell them about the time I went behnd the scenes there in 2006 as a judge for the Clarke Award – but that’s a story for when they’re older…), and even a queue for the butterflies.

Thank goodness we I booked early tickets and we arrived on time, eh?

Noodles in South Ken
Noodles in South Ken

After that we walked back towards South Kensington tube, looking for somewhere to have lunch, even though it was barely 11, and eventually agreed on a noodle bar.

The girls loved choosing what to have in their noodle box, and I was simply glad we’d managed to steer clear of any burger franchises.

They weren’t the best noodles I’ve ever had, but they were absolutely fine.  It was just nice to be oot and aboot having lunch with my girls. 🙂

And as if that wasn’t heroic enough, I even managed to haul my arse out of the house again that evening to go and see Daughn Gibson play live in London’s fashionable Dalston.  And he was very good, too.

(it may not sound heroic, but I was very very drunk Sunday night, celebrating the 40th birthday of my friend Luthfa; so much so that the Bank Holiday Monday was a complete wipeout for me.  Going out just 48 hours later – to a bar, of all places! – should have won me a goddamn medal)

Growing up fast(-ish)

Daughter and mother
Daughter and mother

Here are Millie and the Lovely Melanie all ready for a 40th birthday party tonight, both looking exquisitely beautiful. 🙂

Doob and I are the Cinderellas left at home – the party is for Lorraine, the mum of one of Millie’s school friends and a friend of the Lovely Melanie’s.  Their daughter, Emma, was allowed to choose one friend to come to the party – so it wouldn’t be too full of tedious grown-ups – and she chose Millie.

This proud dad (ahem – and husband!) watched them getting ready together: Millie worried whether she had too much or too little make-up, the Lovely Melanie explaining that less is very often more, especially where make-up is concerned.

Then we all sat down and watched The Incredible Hulk on TV.  We all have our specialities: one of the Lovely Melanie’s is make-up; one of mine is superheroes – our children are growing up well educated in both these important areas.

As it happens, I’m going to a 40th tomorrow, too, but I’m not taking any children with me. 😉

Millie in her nest

Anyway, where was I?  Ahh, yes, they grow up so fast, blah blah blah.  But not too fast, fortunately.  This afternoon I was mowing the front lawn and the girls were “helping” by building giant bird nests from all the clippings and decorating them with flowers.

They then sat in them and squawked like demented chickens.  It was hilarious, but not very grown-up. 🙂

Amber in her nestAs I quipped to our neighbour: everyone’s dealing with their chicken grief in different ways. 😉

Swiss or Yank?

“The worst day ever!” yesterday, according to Millie, who came home from school and burst into tears (possibly not unrelated to the tiredness).

From what the Lovely Melanie has pieced together, she was bullied.  A bit.  Not a lot, but enough to upset her, and mainly because one of her good friends took the bully’s side.

Now, this is, to some extent, pieced-together conjecture, but Millie tried to join in a game with her friends at playtime; she didn’t know the rules; if anyone told Millie the rules, the bully warned everyone else, then  they would forfeit her friendship.  The usual kind of bully crap.

Millie apparently still tried to play, but without knowing the rules she was quickly laughed out of the game.  Even by one of her best friends.

The saddest thing about this is that Millie’s friend later said that she laughed at Millie only to avoid being picked on herself. 😦

Millie’s had the occasional run-in with this bully before, but her friend, I’m told, is a more regular target; so in a miserable way you can kind of understand her complicity with the bully.

Fortunately, the Lovely Melanie is friendly with the mum of Millie’s friend (excuse the torturous grammar here) and they’ve had an open and helpful chat about the whole thing.

This is where it gets sticky for any parent, however.  No one wants to hear their child is being bullied, however infrequently or lightly.

The dilemma for the parents is: do you play it as Switzerland or as the USA?  Intervene or stand aside?

Swiss flag         

I’m not the sort of parent to go banging on the headteacher’s door at the first hint of a problem (really!  I’m not!): Millie has to learn to fight how to fight her own battles – we won’t always be here to do it for her.  Our role, I think, is simply to ensure Millie knows we’ve always got her back if she ever needs us.

In this case, she needs some advice and sympathy from us (Swiss approach).  It’s not a big problem, and the bully in question isn’t a career bully; this just needs Millie to stand up for herself and hopefully to trust in her friends.

In fact, you might almost say this is “good” bullying, in that it’s relatively minor and easily dealt with, but still holds some good lessons for the future.

Good bullying – now there’s a new concept!


One side-effect of not going to sleep until 10.45, especially when you’re only seven years old, can be forgetfulness.

You might forget, say, that today is a Wednesday, meaning you’re supposed to go to after-school club.

If you were tired and if that did happen then ideally you’d hope the mother of one your friends would spot you wandering aimlessly about the playground, that way they could ‘phone your mum at work, ask them what’s going on and then escort you to after-school club.

But obviously, that’s a big if, isn’t it, Millie?



Millie’s been banned from the computer, from the tablet and from all our mobile phones after the Lovely Melanie caught her watching Merlin on the tablet at a quarter to frickin’ eleven last night – nearly three hours after bedtime!!

This morning you could tell that she was up late last night: there were tears, backchat and rudeness so regular you could set your watch by them. 😦

As a measure of quite how bad it was, when she demanded her water bottle when going into school, I simply dropped it at her feet .

Yeah, that bad.  And Amber and I just said “Bye” and walked off without even a kiss.

Millie as a leafWhich is a shame, really, because she was lovely in her first ever class assembly yesterday – so pleased to see me there and so proud of her “Leaf” costume, as you can see in the picture.  There is also – ahem – some video on YouTube, but – ahem – the school have asked parents not to put pictures and videos on social media (that’s why I’ve had to make it non-searchable).

Fingers crossed she’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight and things will be back to normal tomorrow…

Mind you, Amber’s reputation isn’t exactly spotless at the moment.  She’s developed a sudden fear of spiders/insects that has escalated quite out of control or proporrtion, leading to tears and tantrums at bedtime.

Sigh.  Life is just difficult at the moment.

Reflections upon going a little insane as you struggle to cope with a world of crap but having your faith in humanity restored by watching a five-year-old swimming

Last week was a crappy one for me: returning to work after a fantastic weekend away; losing the chickens; and failing to get past the first interview stage for a job I could do with my eyes closed.

Brave – or foolhardy – were those who tried to engage me in conversation.  Difficult to believe, I know – Oh, Stu, he’s so relaxed and easygoing, people always say.

Yeah, well, those people can @#*% off and stick it up their &%@ing #*@$, I would’ve said last week, before storming off to go and drop-kick some cute baby hedgehogs.  Barefoot.

Sigh.  Of course, that wouldn’t have happened.  In reality, I’d be stood there in stony silence, blinking, wondering when your stupid mouth was going to stop moving.  When you eventually finished I would have nodded silently and left.

That’s actually my equivalent of going a little insane as I struggle to cope with a whole world of crap.

Stick with me – this has a happy ending.

Yesterday I took Amber to her swimming lessons for the first time in ages.  Both she and Millie’s lessons ran simultaneously on a Thursday evening for a while, meaning the Lovely Melanie took them.  But Amber recently went up to grade 3 and those lessons are at Sunday teatime, so I can take her again.

She chatter-chatter-chattered all the way to the swimming pool – and it was nice to catch the bus together, just as when she was still at nursery.  I find it much easier to talk to the girls out of the house – away from all the distractions of toys, computers, books, etc., so that was nice by itself.  And I forget how much Amber can talk and how funny she can be (sometimes she even means to be funny!)

And then I watched as she had her swimming lesson.

Watched her full of enthusiasm and eager to learn; watched her sometimes do a little dance when she finished a swim; watched her sometimes doing as she was told and other times doing her own thing; watched as she spontaneously struck up conversations with the other children and they laughed together.

And I remembered: the world is really pretty damn good.

And that sometimes you need a five-year-old to remind you of that.

Empty garden

In between seemingly endless hours of bloody overtime this weekend I’ve been out in the garden.  Nothing weird about that – it’s my garden, it was daytime, and I wasn’t staring at the neighbours’ windows wearing just my pants, OK?

I was just in the garden doing jobs that needed doing.  Fully clothed.

Anyway, I wanted to note how the garden feels strangely empty without the chickens.

Previously, you were never alone out there – a friendly face would always be watching, clucking quietly, and hoping to telepathically persuade you to give it whatever you had in your hand.  Assuming that whatever you had was food.

And even if it wasn’t, give it to us give it to us, they would softly chant.  You don’t want that whatever-it-is.  Throw it to us…throw it to us…

Maybe that bit was just my imagination.

But since the infamous May Massacre things are far too quiet in the garden.  It’s surprising how much a part of the natural order the chickens had become.

Both the girls have commented on this, but even the Lovely Melanie (who is on record as “hating those smelly birds”) has mentioned how, looking out of the kitchen window, the garden is strangely still: no bobbing heads and beaks keeping a keen eye on things, no instantly interested eyes hoping for scraps from anyone passing by.

I think we’ll all  be glad when their replacements arrive on June 2nd.  Once you’ve kept chickens in the back garden it’s hard going back to just boring old plants…