Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Croissant Chart

I was about to throw away this scrap of well scribbled on A4 paper when I realised that I had never blogged about my little boy Dylan's birthday and felt a compulsion to do so.

Dylan's birthday could have easily passed by relatively unnoticed this year... lost in the chaos that is my life since it was confirmed that we would be moving away from the home I've loved for ten wonderful years to pastures new. His birthday could have passed by relatively unnoticed were it not for the fact that he had been excitedly counting down the days for a whole month prior to the event.

He made a chart - a birthday countdown chart. He religiously crossed the days off and proudly announced how many more sleeps there were until he was five years old. He called it his 'cross off' chart and on more than one occasion I misheard him and wondered what on earth was the Croissant Chart he was searching for.

It would have been impossible not to treat his birthday with the same excitement he had for it.

Dylan's  birthday fell on a Sunday and it just happened to coincide with a date that features in our running diary - a local fun run. The five mile route through beautiful Shropshire countryside can be tackled on foot or by bike and we had plans to take part as a family. My eldest daughter was going to run with me while three of my other daughters took to their wheels with the birthday boy riding 'tag-along' on the back of dad's bike. For my youngest daughter, Addy, this was a big challenge. It is a fairly recent development that she's had the confidence to cycle any sort of distance on roads (albeit quiet country ones) but she was very determined to meet the challenge with the ring of her bell, a favourite teddy in her front basket and a big smile.

I absolutely loved every one of the five miles running (and strategic walking!) with my daughter. It was lovely when the cyclists, who start at the back of the pack behind elite runners and fun runners, overtook us and offered encouragement. I could see that my little family team were all having a good time. I was especially delighted as I approached the finish line (which due to a route change was now a painful uphill slog) to see my triumphant little girl, wearing her finishers medal, running towards me to run the last few metres with me.

Dylan was in a fever pitch of excitement. Both he and Addy jumped on me as I lay on the ground to recover from my exertions. I didn't mind at all! Dylan declared that he was having the Best Birthday in the Universe!

Back home, family and friends celebrated with cake as Dylan ran around the garden in a  knight's costume getting up to no good with a giant water soaker gun - both well appreciated birthday presents.

The only one of my offspring not to have taken part in the birthday fun run was 18year old Charis. She had celebrated her last day at boarding school the previous day and my husband and I were there with her to witness her collecting the academic prizes she had been awarded, to enjoy a picnic lunch and see her taking part in a fencing demonstration. I don't know much about fencing but I think she may have just won a well timed point as I took the following snap!

Her evening ended with a lavish Leavers Ball. As much as I would have loved to have seen her swanning around like a princess in the gown and sparkly heels that I had the privilege of buying for her, we left her to it hoping for a glimpse into her world with whatever photographs might appear on social media. 

We collected her in the early hours of the morning when the champagne had all been drunk and promises to stay in touch with friends had been made. Pitifully inadequate hours of sleep later, she was off on a training course for a summer holiday job to fund driving lessons and travel plans.

Although much has happened in the two years that Charis has been away at boarding school, the time has passed frighteningly quickly. As I reflect on the crossed off days of Dylan's Croissant Chart I am reminded of this passage of time. No one knows how many blank days lie ahead for them waiting to be filled and crossed off but we do know with certainty that the number is decreasing steadily and unstoppably. It's often not easy but I always want to try to embrace each new day and fill it with good things as best I can because one day, inevitably sooner than I'd like, the Croissant Chart of my life will be nothing more than a well scribbled on scrap of A4 paper that needs to be thrown away.

Friday, 26 June 2015

A Good Day

Yesterday was a good day.

I drove my daughter, Taylor, back to her student house to empty it of the last of her belongings and give it a good clean before handing the keys back. The journey was easy, her things fitted effortlessly into the car and the cleaning satisfied an urge in me that surfaces from time to time to restore pristine cleanliness to where once was clutter and dirt.

The University uses a credit system whereby students have a card that can be topped up with money and spent in food establishments on campus. Taylor had a few pounds left on her card so she bought a lunch for us both that had become something of a tradition for her on Thursdays when lectures had kept her on campus all day. A freshly baked baguette generously filled with brie and salad eaten in the glorious sunshine on the central piazza was a perfect reward for all the scrubbing and vacuuming.

Our final job before heading back home was to collect Taylor's results.

We all knew that a mathematics degree at a prestigious university was never going to be easy and having now experienced it, Taylor would be the first to concur. She found it extremely challenging for all sorts of reasons beyond the simply academic ones, yet she persevered. Her boyfriend did everything he could to support her (including sending her a very prickly cactus that outgrew the box it had been delivered in thus causing a few concerns about how to transport it home!) Big sister Liberty made sure she had colourful post-its and notebooks to help with revision. I did my best to encourage her without putting her under any pressure to live up to my perceived expectations. We all did what we could and so did she... but would it be enough.

Taylor's first and second year results coupled with how well (or otherwise!) the final exams had gone meant that a first class degree was not going to happen. The dream was to scrape a 2.1 but a 2.2 was a more likely outcome. A 2.2 could still open doors, just not as effectively as a 2.1.  Of course, the worry was that after all her trying, all her enormous effort... she wouldn't get a 2.2. I would need all of my consolation techniques ready to deal with that particular outcome.

We walked to the maths building. We were moments away from knowing. I grabbed a coffee and waited outside as she and her friends went in to face the truth. Students were emerging from the building, mobile phones to their ears, sharing their news with anxious parents. There was jubilation. There were tears. I waited.

Taylor is a petite little thing. She was wearing dark clothing. As she emerged from the gloomy interior of the building into the bright sunlight, I saw her smile before I actually saw her. A huge, beaming smile.

A huge beaming smile followed by a thumbs up as she waved her piece of paper at me... the piece of paper with an unfathomable jumble of percentages AND the magic number... the number we had dared to hope for.


We drove home letting the good news sink in and sharing it with friends and family by the magic of text and facebook.

We celebrated with a rather unusual meal created by cooking all the partially defrosted frozen food that had been left in Taylor's uni freezer. Nobody cared how odd the meal was because Liberty arrived with a bottle of bubbly. As I toasted my daughter and sipped my drink, I could rejoice that the stress of 'not knowing' had been replaced with the joy of a fantastic result. I may have it all to go through again with the A level results, but today was most definitely a good day.

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Gingerbread Man that wasn't a treat

I wouldn't normally write a post like this but my mum is keen for me to do so..... mum, this is for you.

My parents visit once a week. Usually, they alternate between spending one week with my sister and the next with me. When it isn't my week, they pop in for a coffee before going on to my sister's house. As I am going to be moving away this summer, they have broken the long established routine and have decided to make every week a bit special by taking my sister and I both out for lunch.

This week, we chose a local pub restaurant of the Fayre & Square franchise - The Gingerbread Man, Market Drayton.

We were quite surprised when we arrived to see that the normal 'order at the bar' service had been replaced by a more formal 'wait to be seated' and waitress service. There was also a brand new menu.

We perused the menu and my sister and I both decided on the vegetarian sausage and mash option. Dad stayed true to form and ordered his usual - fish and chips. The waitress was friendly and took our orders.

This is where it started to wrong.

Dad is firmly stuck in ways (not just in his choice of lunch). He likes his food served at a certain time and gets a bit agitated if he is kept waiting longer than necessary. I'm sure he will deny it when mum reads this post out to him but sorry dad, it is true.

We were kept waiting.

Mum made assurances that it was taking as long as it was because they would be cooking it all from fresh. It would be worth waiting for.

It wasn't.

The food arrived about half an hour later. It wasn't much of a big deal for me to wait half an hour but dad is in his eighties. If he sits in one place for too long, things start to seize up and that would spoil his enjoyment. We are all very aware of this and can start to feel on edge if we think he is struggling. If he was struggling, his mind was taken off arthritic joints and worn out knees when he laid eyes on his piece of fish. The dish named The Codfather certainly delivered on the size of the battered fillet. It was enormous and dad tucked into it with wide eyes and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the chip component of the fish and chips was far less satisfactory. The chips were actually cold.

Dad's cold chips were less of a concern than the plates my sister and I were served. I say 'plate' , they were actually large bowls which did not lend themselves well to good presentation which consisted of a dollop of mash with some peas thrown on, drowning in a sea of watery gravy with three mediocre looking veggie sausages plonked on top.

We all know that the first bite is with the eye but I have always been more interested in the second bite.
Sadly, things only got worse.

I am of the firm opinion that if the menu states 'mashed potato' you should be served with potato that is mashed. This may have been a potato once but processing and reconstituting had rendered it quite unrecognisable from the original tuber. Not only that, it had not been reconstituted adequately. I had lumps of almost rubbery goo in my serving that I had to actually spit out for fear of it making me sick. However discreetly I tried to remove the nauseating mass from my mouth,  my weak stomached sister did heave and could barely look at her own food, let alone try to extract something vaguely edible from the mess.

Disappointing for us as it was to be served such rubbish, the worse thing was that my mum felt guilty that our meals were not an acceptable standard and started to apologise to us. Her disappointment and feeling that she had somehow let us down was really heartbreaking. This was probably a good time for the waitress to appear and cheerily ask us if everything was OK with our meals.

I am not a complainer - I always just try to make the best of any situation - but with my mum blaming herself for the disaster I had to say something. The waitress did offer to replace my dad's chips but whether the attitude deeply ingrained from wartime shortages meant that he could not bring himself to waste even cold chips or whether he just wanted the meal to be over as quick as possible so he could get up from he chair to relieve his pains, he refused. There was not much she could do about our dinners other than apologise. I asked for a reduction in the bill and we were offered a deduction to the value of one of our meals.

We really should have refused to pay for the two unsatisfactory meals but maybe the fact that we were brought up by someone so apposed to wasting food that he won't even swap his cold chips or maybe just to try and absolve our mum from her misplaced guilt, we had eaten the sausages (which were as mediocre as they first appeared)

Mum wanted to buy us all dessert to make up for the bad food but I felt disinclined to put any more business their way. We accepted the offer of the deduction and asked for the bill.

Dad (who was paying) was quite satisfied with the outcome but the free meal wasn't as good a deal as it seemed. Their pricing system has 'meal deals' so you can buy two meals for a tenner offering a reduction on the price of individual meals. Our bill was reduced by the cost of one meal which automatically meant we were charged more for the other. The compensation for two inedible dinners and a ruined lunchtime treat turned out to be about  three pounds. Pathetic.

We have all had bad experiences with retailers and service providers. How those companies choose to deal with the customer can make a huge difference to whether you do business with them again.

An apology from somebody with more authority than a poorly paid waitress, a complaint taken seriously by the kitchen, a sweetener in the form of free drinks or desserts, a fair reduction in the bill .... any one of those would have satisfied us and we would have returned for future lunches (although possibly always steered clear of the mash).

It was not an expensive meal even if we were charged more than it was worth. We are not interested in making a fuss even if the whole experience left a bad taste in our mouths both figuratively and literally. I think my mum's keenness for me to write this post is her way of putting it all in order and moving on. (I hope I have done that for you mum).

My dad is a very generous tipper. I think I mentioned a couple of times in this post that he is a creature of habit. When I thought for one second that he was considering leaving a tip, I told him very firmly to put his money away.

He did.

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