Yesterday’s Mid Week Roundup

I thank Worldpress for the delay in today’s (yesterday’s) update. I advise you to never use bullet points on your blog if you have one – I’ve been back a thousand times to try and rectify every paragraph post bullet points…

Enough of the dwelling on yesterday. And here’s to today! It was late when I crawled into bed last night. In fact, 1pm. John and I had been to the cinema and we weren’t back until late, then some food, a glass of wine etc. Bubble and squeak, that was the the late dinner, not the movie title! We haven’t enjoyed that for some time. Home made cauliflower cheese too!

Well, so far this week I have mentioned preparation for tomorrow’s ‘Hallow – Fawkes’ party, done a little Jammin’ and compiled a video of some of our Instagram favourites.

The not so famous five are presently pacified besides the television watching ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ for the umpteenth time. I am now sat at the kitchen table finding the time to write this, in between making a potato and watercress soup (for lunch) and two lots of devilled wings for tomorrow’s party. Home made barbecue sauce of course! Chinese five spice and a garlic and chilli one. Have you ever made your own? It’s so simple. It’s basically making your own tomato ketchup! A mixture of vinegar, sugar and tomato purée will make the basic ketchup with a little seasoning. Okay at this point you could of course just use shop purchased ketchup and add soy sauce and a teaspoon of five spice mix to half the sauce and Garlic, chilli sauce and Worcestershire sauce to the other half. Just roast the wings (or drumsticks) with your sauce as you would normally.

Wow, five paragraphs in and I have barely mentioned the children. And they’ve been on half term since last Friday! And we’ve done lots! They’ve been on outings, eaten more than a battalion of troopers, I do like cooking a main meal for them again daily and we’ve had a good old sprinkling of fun too. Plus the occasional outbursts from the little ones. Damn I think I am going to get a whiteboard for the kitchen and note memorable moments. That way when I do an update after a few days – I can give it to you in a time orderly fashion.

The sound of the track ‘The Old Bamboo’ is wafting through the air. I takes me back. Lol

Did I say we’ve been preparing for a party tomorrow? I did? More on that later then…

Ginger and Pumpkin Jam

Are you a fan of ginger? I wasn’t so much a few years ago. I loved it in my marinades for curries, alongside garlic and chilli, but on its own as a flavouring? Well, I converted and I guess, I’m thinking, so could you perhaps.

At this time of the year, it’s all about pumpkins nowadays! But does this humble ‘Squash’ have much flavour? To be honest, I don’t think so! But then again, as I say to the children, always give it a go – there’s no harm in that!

Like most things, a Jam needs perfecting. Last years ‘Spiced Pumpkin’ Jam went down well. But then I got to thinking that ginger is the way forward. It’s flavour is specific – it has aromas that are both intense and at the same time delicate. There is a little flavouring to the Pumpkin, of course, but the addition of the dried ginger transcends it into an all together delight.

In the recipes that follow, I am going to use metric, but our American cousins can carry on using measurements by the cup. So there are no conflicting arguments about weight. I am now going to do a small experiment…

Okay, I just zero’d my electronic scales (cancelled out mug weight) and the average sized mug weighed, whilst filled with water (the height of a cup of tea), 250g. So that’s the agreed weight ratio for ‘a cup’. Now, you might remember that one kilogram is made up from one thousand milligrams and that one litre of fluid is made up of one thousand millilitres! I think that we can comfortably say that 250g will hence equate to 250ml of liquid.

Did you know that Josiah Wedgwood was a prolific experimenter! How else do you think he perfected his porcelain, both in composition and design! Like him, we will experiment when the need takes, or if I have a ‘Top Tip’ that I have found out due to earlier experimentation, I will gladly share.

Finally, on the topic of composition and experimenting, I need to tell you that pumpkin has far too much water in it. The question is – how do you remove some of the liquid to leave a texture that is more conducive to making a Jam? It always comes back to the ‘Kitchen Science’. You can either boil the hell out of it for a couple of hours, leaving a pulp behind that is less flavoursome than you would have liked, or you can boil, drain and mash. Then you need to cool down and freeze the pulp in a polythene sandwich or freezer bag. The night before you get Jammin’ defrost overnight. I always do this using a saucepan I use for steaming and I place the frozen pulp in the slotted steamer part, but if you don’t have a steamer, a colander sat on a broad frying an will do. The next day you will find that much of the ice has thawed from the pulp and has been released through the plastic freezer bag! It seems that polythenes aren’t watertight after freezing. Voila, you are left with pumpkin pulp that is not watery and quite pithy. Perfect for Jammin’ with.

Ingredients: For 10 x 318ml jam Jars

Tip: get your Jam jars and lids in the dishwasher at this point to sterilise them.

1.5kg Pumpkin Pulp

500g Apple Pulp

2 Lemons (or juice from a bottle)

2kg Granulated Sugar

25g dry Ginger (1 small jar)

Please note that there is always some evaporation! Four kilograms should fill 12 jars, but go for 10. Also, why am I starting this entry with 10 Jars? Of course, you can scale down, but this is Halloween, so get practicing for Christmas please – give the extra jars away. It doesn’t hurt to give without looking to receive at anytime of year…

Method:

Place your pumpkin pulp in a large pan along with the apple pulp and the lemon juice.

Bring to the boil stirring occasionally.

Add the sugar and dry ginger. Mix until the sugar has dissolved.

Slowly bring back to the boil. you will notice the mixture looking more translucent.

If the phone rings, turn off the heat! I’ll explain this shortly!

Cook on a ‘rolling boil’ for around 20 minutes, until the contents hold together well whilst dripping from a wooden spoon.

Skim your Jam at this point. You should notice the mixture looking more silky and shiny. This is because your Jam should have stared to gel.

The final sterilisation can be done in a large pan or steamer. Carefully place as many filled jars in as the pan allows. Cover with water, being sure to submerge your jars beneath at least 2cm water. Alternatively place in a steamer and cover with the pan lid. Steam or boil for a minimum of 20 minutes.

The pan will burn if the heat is too high and the pulp has sunk to the bottom of the pan. You must stir every few minutes and not overheat your Jam. A rolling boil is not a light simmer. Equally it is not an erupting fountain of heat! To leave the room at this point could completely ruin your Jam – please note! If the phone rings, turn off the heat!

I will confess, I have burnt one or two jams in the past from nor paying 100% attention. You must pay attention as this aspiration to make your homemade Jam for everyone to enjoy, is a welcome aspiration, time well spent, to make the divine! Your friends and family will love you all the more for the gift of a homemade Jam…

if you are actually going to try this – go on! You might just consider buying a metal jam funnel and a ladle. It makes bottling your Jam so much easier.

…more on family life here in ‘The Shires’ later – thank you for reading.

Preparations for the Party

Whatever the party occasion, you have to prepare for it, don’t you? Well, our party isn’t a birthday party, rather a ‘Hallow – Fawkes’ celebration, to take place in our woodland and on our terrace, the day after ‘All Hallows Eve’ That’s pretty much the theme, one of fancy dress for the children and Dadda’s devilled wings for all, plus a few flappy, batty wings at dusk from our local bat population. Something to surprise everyone I hope.

We have a tiki torch lit, sleepy hollow in the woods with a bonfire and plenty of seating for marshmallow toasting and copious amounts of hot chocolate for all. I think that around 30 children plus 30 adults need to be catered for and aside the devilled chicken wings, the children’s menu will consist of hotdogs and home made crispy wedges. I believe Sally, our nanny Sindy’s sister, will be bringing her homemade Halloween cupcakes for dessert.

As for the grownups, three pasta sauces and two pasta choices, of course, all homemade, the sauces that is, not the pasta! And I think for the grownups, a dessert of pumpkin pie, made with Dadda’s ‘Ginger and Pumpkin’ Jam, of all things. Recipe to follow…

Dadda Gets Jammin’

Well, all projects have to start somewhere, don’t they? And here we are! The title would declare that the Dadda Gets Jammin‘ project is underway within the words that I am writing here and now. I thought long and hard about the format of this new recipe book and guess what? With all of my research done, looking at the various styles of possible structure for my book Dadda Gets Jammin’, I find myself back at the beginning. Wow, there are so many possible ways to entertain you guys when it comes to foodie inspirations and Jammy treats aren’t there?

I started to look for a formula by looking at the ‘Best Sellers’, Jamie, Nigella, that whole plethora of celebrity chefs, but it all began to look a bit formulaic. No I said, this is not where I want to take this project. Then I looked to the past – do you know, even Clement Freud had a best selling recipe book, with small witty doodles back in the seventies. I noted Pru Leith had reviewed it on the back. Didn’t she herself do so very well? Okay, I liked the paperback style of Freuds book. So, then I browsed a copy of Mrs Beeton’s Jam-Making and got just a little bit excited! Then I thought no, lots of information, but nothing at all about her – that’s what was missing! Bringing this bang up to date, I then decided to browse some of my fellow bloggers ‘foodie’ travel blogs and decided that that was my spoonful of sugar…

Dadda Gets Jammin‘ will be derived from this very platform, this here, my blog. That way I get to tell you as and when things evolve! I will be present all of the way through the book as will my thoughts, family (and their various antics) and most importantly, my recipes. But just jam I ask myself! Maybe I might just have to diversify. ‘Man can not live on bread alone’, even if it is smeared with one of Dadda’s delicious jammy combos! I won’t be travelling to a place, but I might just reminisce about a few places that I have encountered along the way. This has to be a broader recipe book, not exclusively Jam, but remaining under the umbrella title of Dadda Gets Jammin‘.

We have lift off!

Saturday Matinee and House Building

With my inability to show you our afternoon on video, I have opted to go old school and describe, using words and a photo of the day so far!

Aaliyah has just hit Caleb and daddy is telling her off. She has raised her voice yet again. Today has had a fair few outbreaks from our Aaliyah. In the living room Thor is whaling like a banshee and Tara and Amritsar are shouting for various songs on ‘hey Google’. Daddy has intervened and is now requesting ‘Ghost Busters’. Getting in the mood for All Hallows’ eve no doubt.

The earlier movie was Harry Potter and the philosophers Stone (again). A bit too scary for the little ones I think, but at Tara’s repeated insistence, we had to purchase it through Amazon. Yes, I know that ITV are re-running the whole series of movies on a Sunday night and yes, I am recording the rest of the episodes, saving a shed load of cash from flowing into the Amazon coffers!

The children earlier trashed the entire top floor before ascending the stairs and dragging the chairs from the kitchen into the living room in order to build houses, or rather an HMO (House of multiple occupation)! Aaliyah was absent from today’s photograph as she was too busy playing games on daddy’s iPad.

Fish and Chips for lunch and chicken and ham sandwiches for the not so famous five shortly, followed by home made rice pudding, lavishly swirled with Dadda’s strawlime berry jam and double cream! Tasty… Grownup cassoulet for Daddy and Dadda tonight with wild boar sausage, homemade pork meatball and pork leg. Didn’t have any haricot beans so I rinsed off a tin of Cross and Blackwell baked beans! Don’t tell John as he won’t eat baked beans. I hope he doesn’t read this before we eat as he will refuse to eat! Lol – naughty me…

No More Videos on My BLOG Unless I Upgrade My iPhone

I am very saddened with the latest iPhone software upload. It has essentially killed my ability to write my diary and fully, graphically, illustrate it on my well regarded iPhone 6 Plus. I knew I couldn’t make any more videos on iMovie, the app is no longer available to me, but even uploading a non edited video of this afternoons antics at home, via the worldpress app has proved impossible on my iPhone 6 Plus. So NO visuals tonight – just more anger from me with ‘apple’ and their GREED for corporate profits! Shameful, simply shameful to try and force all of us to buy, buy and buy again, their products which are essentially the same, the same and the same again… Zero percent for innovation #applecorporationschmuks

This is Andi Webb signing off…

NAUGHTY SCHOOL

Morning sunshine spilled through a window as Aaliyah rolled over, too tired to open her eyes. She and her brothers, Thor and Caleb, had been up all night. Again. Dadda had told them over and over to be quiet and go to bed, but, as usual, Aaliyah snuck out of her bed, knocked on her brothers’ bedroom door, and they began to play.

This lasted until after Dadda fell asleep. This continued until long after the moon rose, and only when the birds started to cheep, cheep outside did Aliyah and her brothers run back to their beds and try to fall asleep. But an hour isn’t enough sleep, even for a young child.

And so, Aaliyah moaned and groaned as Dadda knocked on her door. ‘Rise and shine, Aaliyah’, said Dadda. ‘It’s time to get ready for school. I’m waking up your brothers too, and we’re going to eat breakfast in ten minutes. Get ready!’ Aaliyah said, ‘Yes, Dadda’, but she sniffed, snorted, and snored. Aaliyah wasn’t getting up anytime soon. Or so she thought.

Suddenly, she opened her eyes, and Dadda was looking down at her. ‘Wait a minute’! he said. ‘You have dark bags under your eyes. And look, your slippers are by the door and not your bed. And what’s this? A toy in the hallway. I think someone was playing with her brothers last night and is too tired to go to school today’.

Aaliyah moaned and groaned. ‘But, Dadda, we had to! We couldn’t fall asleep, and so we had to play for a while’. ‘All night’? said Dadda shaking his head. ‘Boys’! Now Thor and Caleb came stumbling into the room half-asleep. Both boys’ pajamas were wrinkled, their hair stuck up, and their tongues hung out like little puppies.

‘These boys didn’t get hardly a wink of sleep’! Dadda said. ‘All right enough is enough. I’m calling Mrs Snodgrass’. Aaliyah shook her head. ‘No, Dadda, you can’t’! ‘Oh yes’, said Dadda. ‘I can. And I will. I have no choice! Dadda marched out of the room, determined to fix the problem. ‘Mrs Snodgrass’? said Caleb. ‘Who is that’?

Aaliyah and Thor turned to him, both looking pale and wide-eyed. ‘Haven’t you heard of Naughty School, Caleb’? said Aaliyah. ‘Mrs Snodgrass runs it with an iron fist. She whips children, puts them in dungeons, and makes sure they’re never heard from again’. Caleb laughed. ‘That’s silly’.

Thor grabbed his brother’s arm and pulled him close. ‘Haven’t you heard of Mrs Snodgrass’s Thinking Chair’? Caleb shook his head. ‘Is it like Dadda’s thinking chair’? Thor sighed. ‘Oh no! It’s the worst thing you can imagine, that’s what! Once you’re in Mrs Snodgrass’s Thinking Chair, you’re done for’! Caleb swallowed hard.

‘And that’s not all’, said Aaliyah, ‘they’ll make us eat porridge at every meal’. Each of the siblings stuck out their tongues and held their tummies. ‘What a disgusting thought’! said Caleb.

‘Wait’! said Aaliyah. ‘Do you hear that? Dadda is on the phone. Hurry let’s listen’. Each of the children pushed their way forward, jostling to get close to the partly open door. ‘Can’t hear’, said Caleb, and he inched his way out into the hallway. ‘That’s better’. Aaliyah and Thor followed him.

‘That’s right’, said Dadda, speaking into his phone, ‘Mrs Snodgrass. I’ll hold. Yes, Mrs. Snodgrass? We met some time ago. That’s right. I think my children need to visit Naughty School. Oh, enroll? Well, maybe just… oh… yes, of course, I understand. Well, yes, you’re right, maybe it’s time I decide for their betterment. Of course, so true. I’ll enroll them in Naughty School today. Yes. Three children, their names are Aaliyah, Caleb, and Thor’.

And with that, he hung up the phone and sighed. Aaliyah frowned. ‘He did it! He actually did it’. Thor shook his head. ‘We’re done for now’. Caleb got on his knees and clasped his hands together. ‘No, Dadda, not Naughty School’!

And then Dadda stepped in front of them. He crossed his arms and said, ‘I’m sorry, children, but you’ve left me no choice. When you stay up all night, don’t listen, don’t do your homework, well, then there’s only one alternative’.

Caleb sniffled. ‘Mrs Snodgrass’? Dadda nodded. ‘Yes, Mrs Snodgrass… and her Naughty School. So, pack your bags, we leave right away’! Suddenly Aaliyah, Caleb, and Thor dropped to their knees and shook their heads. They held out their hands like they were praying. ‘Please, Dadda, not Naughty School’! they pleaded. ‘Not Mrs Snodgrass! And not the Thinking Chair’!

Dadda sighed. He put his hands on his hips and scratched his chin. ‘Enrollment is today, but you don’t start until Monday. So, I suppose we’ll see how your behavior changes from now until then’. ‘We’ll be better’! said Aaliyah. Caleb nodded. ‘Oh, we definitely will’! ‘Yes, Dadda, no naughty school for us’! said Thor brightly.

And so, the siblings tried their best to be good little children, just like their two bigger sisters Amritsar and Tara. Though, they needed a nap after such a long night. But, come the next day, there was a shout from downstairs. Dadda dropped what he was doing and darted down the stairs, nearly tripping and flying through the air. And there, Daddy was standing, speechless and pointing.

‘What is it’? asked Dadda, looking around for a lion or bear. ‘What’s wrong’? But there was no lion. No bear. Not even a small dragon with smoking nostrils.

But there was Caleb, holding a tub of sudocrem. ‘Caleb’! said Dadda. ‘What have you done’? Caleb had somehow smeared his bottom and back with sudocrem. He looked positively a mess! As if someone had dipped him in a vat of cream from the dairy, pulling him out and letting him drip all over.

Oh, but there was more. Dadda turned to see a long trail of sudocrem on the hardwood floor. Splotches here and there, running back as if a house painter had drunkenly stumbled into the house. White marks were on the sofa, on Caleb’s brother, Thor’s, face and arms, and even on the television! There were marks on the chairs and the dining room table. There were marks on framed photos of Granny Hazel and Grandma Jean, and also on the painting Dadda made for Daddy’s birthday two years ago. ‘Oh my’, said Dadda. ‘Caleb’!

‘It’s time we have a sit on the thinking chair, don’t you agree, Daddy’? Daddy nodded. Caleb said, ‘No, not the thinking chair! Mrs Snodgrass has one, and they say it eats children! Dadda shook his head. ‘Oh no, it doesn’t, but you’ll be thinking about things for a very long time, Caleb’!

Dadda lifted Caleb high into the air, carried him across the room, into the hall and placed him on an antique chair. ‘Now, think about what you’ve done and… oh my, think about Naughty School too would you’? Caleb swallowed hard. ‘And you, mister’, pointing at Thor, added Daddy, ‘You’re the one who gave the sudocrem to Caleb’! ‘Well, I, uh…’ Thor mumbled. Big sisters Amritsar and Tara were sniggering at this point. They realised that this was a serious situation so both headed for the living room for some screentime.

‘Off to the thinking chair as well’! said Dadda. And Thor marched off, sitting in another chair, on the opposite side of the sideboard, slightly out of view from his brother Caleb.

Dadda turned back to Daddy, who said, ‘And who do you think got the sudocrem down to begin with? Who is the tallest’? Now Dadda turned to Aaliyah, whose face was burning brightly. Whose eyes were cast down on the floor. ‘Go on’! said Dadda. ‘Off to bed’! Aaliyah ran up the stairs screaming, off to her bedroom.

‘I don’t want to say it’, said Daddy, ‘but I don’t think we have a choice’. ‘Well, I already made the call, but I was giving them a chance’ replied Dadda. ‘I think they’ve all had their chance. We have no choice. When little boys and girls are this naughty, when they stay awake all night, when they smear sudocrem all over the house and giggle…’ Dadda nodded. ‘Oh, yes, you don’t have to say it. It’s time for Naughty School, Daddy because we quite simply, have no other choice’. Tara and Amritsar looked a little sad ‘But we will be able to go and visit them – wont we Dadda’? ‘Of course’ replied Dadda, adding ‘And of course, they will be home for holidays’.

And so, it began. Aaliyah and her brothers would soon be off to Mrs Snodgrass’ Naughty School for Children.

Not too far away, on a hill overlooking the city, a dark, gloomy, prison-like fortress stood under dark clouds. Even on this, the sunny day our story begins, it looked as if it were an overcast day at Naughty School.

The Naughty School had been built, well, nobody remembered when it had been made. It seemed as if it had always been there. Overlooking the city with its dreary gray bricks, its tall fence that looked like a prison with barbed-wire and guards at the gate. The gate itself was wrought iron and several feet tall. It had the letters ‘N’ and ‘S’ emblazoned on it in a bold typeface.

At the front gate, there came marching down a thin, pale woman wearing a tight black dress. Her long dark hair was tied up in a bun. On her sharp nose were glasses that were far too big for her with lenses that made her eyes look wide like a fish’s.

This was Ms Bettina, who was Mrs Snodgrass’s loyal assistant. She carried a small leather satchel with her from which she withdrew a red book. It looked like a datebook, and when she arrived at the gate, in front of the uniformed officers in black shirts, pants, and boots, she opened the red book. ‘Aaliyah, Caleb, and… let’s see, yes, Thor’. The guards nodded. ‘They should be arriving any moment now. Look sharp, men’. The guards snapped to attention and saluted.

Another man came marching down the driveway to the gate. He was tall, skinny, and broad-shouldered. He had a long face with a square jaw. He was balding and he, too, wore glasses, but these were small, round, and wire framed. He wore a tweed jacket with patches on the shoulders and elbows and his pants were a few inches too short, revealing black socks with little red polka dots on them.

‘Ah, Mr Strickland’, said Ms Bettina. ‘I’m glad you made it. How was Baby Camp over the Summer’? Mr Strickland frowned at her. ‘Too many babies,’ he said flatly. The guards swallowed hard. Even they, along with the other teachers at Naughty School, were afraid of Mr Strickland, who also ran the Summer Baby Camp, quite, well, strictly.

‘As alwas, Ms Bettina, I am here to inform you that if you have any children acting like babies in this new school term, you are ordered to send them my way. This, of course, is a direct order from Mrs Snodgrass herself’. Ms Bettina scowled. She didn’t like Mr Strickland very much, but she knew she had to tolerate him. ‘Of course, Mr Strickland’, she bemoaned. ‘I’ll make sure to do that’.

Now she turned to the guards. ‘Remember, send them straight to my office for intake’. The guards nodded, and with that, Ms Bettina and Mr Strickland left the front gate, going in different directions.

After a few minutes, a silver Mitsubishi Shogun 4 x 4 arrived and stopped at the gate. Inside was Daddy, Aaliyah, Thor, and Caleb. ‘I’m here for…’ said Daddy, but he couldn’t get out the rest of his words. One of the guards held his hand up and said, ‘Enough! Aaliyah? Thor? Caleb?’ Daddy nodded. ‘That’s right’. ‘Drop them off here. We’ll send them to Ms Bettina’. ‘Oh, well, I… yes, okay’. Daddy opened the door and got out. He then opened the door for his children, and all three slowly, cautiously, ever-so-carefully crept out.

Aaliyah and the boys looked up at Daddy and said, ‘One more chance’? Daddy shook his head slowly. ‘Sorry, children, I love you and I am going to miss you, but off to Naughty School. Go on now’. Daddy said goodbye, gave them all hugs and said that he would see them in a couple of weeks.

They shuffled along slowly, and the wrought iron gates slowly creaked open. The guards looked down at the children. One of them said, ‘Go on now, that way. March! We’re off to see Ms Bettina’. Thor turned to wave at Daddy, but the car had gone. Thor looked up at the guard who said, ‘No more of that. March! Go on!’ And so, they did, all three, Aaliyah, Thor, and Caleb, too, hurried up the twisting driveway.

Ahead, they saw the prison, sorry, the school, that is. Naughty School. Its gray bricks were covered with moss. A mass of ivy clung to its walls. Stone gargoyles looked down with beady eyes and sharp horns. There were tall windows that were cloudy and caked with what could only be smoke stains, though one guard mentioned that it was ‘fog from the children’s breath as they complained from sitting in the Naughty Chairs too long’.

And in one window, high above, Aaliyah spotted two bright eyes watching. They almost looked like red eyes. ‘Mrs Snodgrass’! she muttered. ‘Hey now, none of that’! said the guard. ‘No talking! Off to Ms Bettina, you go’.

The front door of Naughty School was embossed with brass and was covered with etchings of what can only be described as monsters chasing little children. And, once more, there were the letters ‘N’ and ‘S’ in a bold typeface.

Inside, the hallways were long and empty. Aaliyah saw a little boy, dressed in a black uniform, peek out from a classroom. But just as quickly, someone yanked him back inside with a little ‘yelp’ and the door slammed shut, nearly breaking the glass window. A blind was drawn rapidly, blocking Aaliyah’s view of what was happening inside the room. ‘We’re doomed’! she said. ‘Quiet’! said the guard.

And soon, they climbed a high set of stairs. Onto a landing, and then up to another landing, and finally to the third floor and an office that had big blocky black letters declaring that it belonged to MS BETTINA, assistant to MRS SNODGRASS. The guard snapped to attention and knocked gently on the door. The children gasped and gulped as they heard the click-clack of Ms Bettina’s high heels.

And the door opened. There she stood, the dark-haired administrator with her overly large glasses. Her large, fisheyes stared down at the children, and her thin lips were snarling. ‘In here NOW’! she commanded. And to the guard: ‘Leave us’! The guard turned around and left, leaving Aaliyah and her brothers standing awkwardly outside of Ms Bettina’s doorway. ‘RIGHT’! Ms Bettina shouted.

The children hurried in and piled onto three small metal chairs in front of an unusually high oak desk. Ms Bettina crossed the room, her footfalls sounding like CLICK, CLACK, CLICK. She climbed a small footstool to get onto a high-backed chair, and from there, she looked down over her large glasses at the children.

‘Biters, pinchers, hair pullers, screamers, shouters, naughty, naughty children’, she murmured. ‘Mrs Snodgrass will not be happy at all. Oh no, she won’t. Do we have enough Thinking Chairs for the three of you’? Aaliyah raised her hand timidly as Caleb and Thor rattled their teeth and sat on their hands. ‘What is it’? snapped Ms Bettina. ‘Wha… what… what are you going to do’? replied Thor. ‘Oh, it’s not what I’m going to do, little boy’, said Ms Bettina.

Someone’s throat cleared, and Aaliyah and her brothers whipped around to see…

A woman in her late fifties, dressed in a green tweed two-piece suit. Perched on her nose were a pair of brown horn-rimmed glasses. She looked quite like a School Head Mistress from 1954 come to life in front of them. ‘I’ll be dealing with you three personally’! said the woman with a shrill voice. ‘Meet Mrs Snodgrass, children’, said Ms Bettina. ‘The Head Mistress who will do everything in her power to get every last ounce of naughtyness out of you’!

 

Another Hectic One

Thank you to Brighton duo Glen and Victoria and their clan (Lucy, Auden and Fi) for another great weekend. And not to forget Fenton, son of Remus. I took some great video but sadly I am not able to edit it due to the IOS software problem that has denied me iMovie in order to do the editing. That aside, we all got a bit nostalgic with ‘hey google’ and Spotify on Saturday night, once the smaller children were safely tucked up in bed, though they did keep re-emerging and running downstairs. To be honest, I don’t think that they got much sleep at all.

Once our guests had departed today, John got passionate with his lawnmower and the grass and fallen leaves are no more, well at least for a day or two. He also cut the hedge back and is now complaining about aching all over. I got stung by a wasp whilst pruning the last of the grape harvest. The dratted bugger got my thumb. I explained to Tara that it last happened when I was about her age – she is now a bit worried that it might just happen to her! Oops! Bath time is well past us now and they are all quiet. No doubt completely comatose due to the lack of sleep on both Friday and Saturday nights. My thumb is feeling a bit better at this point, but I am cursing this years grape crop. I boiled them to sterilise the juice and pounded the pulp with a potato masher before passing the pasteurised juice through a sieve and into bottles., destined for the freezer. I think that the juice will feature in Dadda Gets Jammin‘ at a slightly later date.

There were one or two altercations along the way. Just before our guests arrived Tara and Thor spent some time on the ‘Thinking Chair’ after being found out to having stolen 2 x 500g bags of smarties that had been squirrelled away in our wardrobe, awaiting our ‘Hallow-Fawkes’ party. Amritsar was completely innocent of any consumption, though Aaliyah and Caleb were willing participants to consuming a mass of the ill gotten booty.

A second moment of anxiety was Thor heading up the tall ladder and sitting on the 10 foot wall above the side gate, whilst daddy was pruning back the overgrown vine and crabapple tree. I should have taken a photograph come to think of it, but the adrenaline kicked in as you might imagine, in my attempt to lift him back down the ladder – quite a moment! The boy is certainly not afraid of heights!

I think that I’m almost ready to give you the introductory chapter of Mrs Snodgrass’s ‘Naughty School’ here on my blog, maybe tomorrow. My first attempts at children’s fication, well, any sort of fiction actually. Let’s get set for tomorrow as I might be a bit quiet over the next few days. So I’ll give you something to mull over until my next blog, come the weekend…

Off to bed now, so nite nite all xx

22.22 Late Night Shenanigans

Okay, so it’s 22 minutes past 10 at night. Four of our not so famous five have descended the stairs. Thor is like a red eyed Zombie, Tara too assertive by far and Caleb looking like a Halloween ghoul. Amritsar is not part of this rebellion. She is sleeping calmingly upstairs. Aaliyah has just run back up – a brownie point for that. Thor is now pretending to be asleep in the place that I was inhabiting besides the television. He is now giggling profusely – Caleb has just started screaming. Tara – the ring master looks like she has no remorse. She started being a ‘silly billy’ around 4pm this afternoon, just before Amritsar went off to the local village hall for her Friday stint at ‘Rainbows’, the pre brownie club. Tara has continued to provoke and rally the rest of them up until this point, no plans to sleep really. Daddy is now attempting to ascend the stairs with the three remaining children. Thor has just run into the kitchen to give me s hug and say that he loves me and Tara, I believe has just arrived on the top floor. Caleb is screaming and trying to sleep on the bottom stairs. Thor has now tripped over him and is shouting out loudly…

Daddy is finally on the top floor trying to talk them down in a vain attempt to finally get them to sleep. This certainly isn’t right as he’s now promising to make pancakes in the morning. Rewarding incorrect behaviour is something that should not be endorsed – but there you go!

It is late – almost time for daddy and Dadda to ascend the stairs – I hope this is an end to the late night shenanigans. So nite nite all – I hope your evenings are a little less vexing xx

After 2 Weeks of Solid Rain

Sat for a moment on the terrace, I can finally feel the warmth of the sun upon my face! It’s time for this years grape harvest. A late one this year, what with this dratted weather. It will have to be tomorrow however as I am preparing for the children’s arrival home from school. Homemade ‘Shire’ pasties for dinner made last week and quick frozen for an any day mid week treat! Obviously followed by Dadda’s ‘Baked’ well tart.

I think that we have a few days of sunshine forecast this week, so a little outdoor time is inevitable. I’m not so keen on Autumn as a season, due to the leaf fall, deadheading and general maintenance a garden requires. John will inevitably look after the lawn, but my designated area is the terrace. As stated, the vine will get a pruning tomorrow. And about time as I’ve noticed a few bunches going moldy! The Canadian Oak has a deepening hue of orange now. Yes, Autumn is here. A few more weeks grace before leaf fall of the shrubs assorted around the terrace. If I hark back to the early entries on my diary blog, this was the time of year I was describing. The scarlet leaves of the acer’s has begun, the wisteria is starting to yellow, ready to release its hefty weight of leaves and the hydrangea will soon be ready for it’s now blackened floral bouquets to be deadheaded and disposed of! The central heating is once again set to timer. We are preparing for the cold months ahead.

Today saw the invites going to school for our ‘Hallow-Fawkes’ party in the woods and our terrace! Yes, it has escalated from just the neighbours families attending! I will of course update you once people have r.s.v.p.’d. Something to look forward to, though we have the intrepid Victoria and Glen back this weekend with all three children. Lucy and Aiden were unable to come last month with Fi. Let’s hope the sunny weather extends itself to the weekend.

Projects in store

As you know, from 8.30am – 3.30pm, my time is now my own! It seems that I have been kept busy enough around the house, plus some writing and editing have also been had. Did I mention that ‘Thirteen Moons More’ was published over the weekend and today I got the obligatory email from Amazon stating that the paperback edition is now available to purchase via your Amazon app or account! I will say no more – it’s out there, if you choose to have a look in to see what our family has been up to over this last 12 month period.

Yesterday saw a final edit on the ‘Family Planner’ screenplay! This project I completed a couple of years ago now, though I put it aside in favour of telling the full, uncensored story of ‘Eighteen Moons’ in the form of a novel. Well, I gave ‘The Family Planner’ a dust off and re-browsed its contents. I have decided to send it into the BBC in December when they open applications for new writers (screenplays) and actually have a department that will read through each and every screenplay that they receive. Do you know the reason as to why I chose the self publishing way as opposed to the conventional route? Well, I felt that there would be more control over content and the spectrum of possible projects, plus I was not impressed with the established ‘Agent’ element within the publishing industry…

‘The Family Planner’ is really a super edited version of the time I spent in India. It is approximately a two hour screenplay with dialogue and direction all amassed! Screenplay writing is a step away from the traditional styles as you are considering the locations, the movements, the subtle nuances of each and every scene! Well, my copy editor, Bern is going to give it the once over on Monday – she is busy moving house this week! My heart goes out to her and her husband as I know moving home can be extremely stressful… I’ll keep you updated on that project. The screenplay that is – not Bern moving house! Lol

I am also starting to compile a format for Dadda Gets Jammin‘. It is really all about doing the research. You know the plan is to have a recipe book on ‘Jam and preserves’ that isn’t entirely a recipe book about ‘Jam and preserves’. It’s early days yet. But like my blog, I want it fully illustrated, family snapshots as well as Jam and a lot of banter, maybe some reminiscing as well as the jam making element!

And finally the fabled ‘Mrs Snodgrass’ and ‘Naughty School’. The plan is for a series of short stories, all based around the goings on at ‘Naughty School’. The introductory story is complete and ready to publish here on my blog! So look out for that sometime in the next week or so.

I will end with – ‘what’s on the menu today’! A large pan of puttanesca was made this morning – destination freezer. This was followed by wild boar sausages with green lentils, onion, finely chopped carrots and pork stock, all cooked down to an sumptuous mass of delight! Then followed a frangipane tart (bakewell), made with Dadda’s most recent, well set raspberry jam (no pips). This was kind of inspired by last nights ‘Mr Kipling’ offering to the children. We can do better than this, can’t we I said to myself. I’m looking forward to sampling this dessert tonight. Warmed slightly in the microwave and drizzled with double cream… Bliss!

Parents Evening

John came home early from work and we set off for school once the children were settled with Sindy, a chicken, ham salad wrap, a packet of hoola hoops and a cherry bakewell! Five children to cover, 2 teachers and an hour to converse! It was lovely to see a few friendly, fellow parents there with a handful of little ones, reminding us as to why we were all there.

I am happy to say that there are no real concerns regarding all five. They were all commended for being the unique individuals that they all in turn are. The little ones are surely settling into their new routine and the girls are both doing well.

Now, Thor is following both of his older siblings and loving the art element of the school day. He did in fact, Sunday evening, come up with, completely on his own, a picture of lemons! They had all been sucking on fresh lemon at the weekend – don’t ask! That’s what they asked for when we poured our guests a gin and tonic! I remember how, as babies, they all loved lemons. Anyhow, his artwork is photographed beneath. I am more impressed that he chose a tool / stencil, quite out of the blue, to create the repetitious lemon shape. It was a piece of cut card from a cardboard cupcake box. See what you think? He is only 5 after all.

Dinner was just had and I’m sure it will be a relatively early night. How does a roast pork dinner on a Tuesday sound? Not too much hassle as a lot of the prep was done alongside this weekends Sunday roast meal and I grabbed the cooked pork joint from the freezer this morning. No pork scratchings sadly, but a good dollop of Dadda’s homemade apple sauce! Hmmmmh…

Eighteen Moons Chapter 6

Chapter Six

Goa

Half an hour later we were deposited at the airport, this time outside the terminal for domestic flights. With Bharti and Geeta each holding one of the girls I followed, dragging three or four bags behind me while scanning the terminal for our check-in desk.

A couple of minutes later a short, rotund man came rushing up to us and shook my hand vigorously.

‘I am Sanjay, Bharti’s husband,’ he said, shaking his head from side to side and up and down in the by now familiar Indian head wobble that I was beginning to understand had many meanings and could be interpreted according to the situation. I took it that his beaming smile indicated it was a gesture of goodwill and benevolence.

‘Welcome to our airport Mr Andi. I am working in the international side of the airport with the immigration office and I am very happy that my wife is going with you. I will come to visit you with my son in a few weeks’ time.’

‘Oh, right, very nice to meet you Sanjay,’ I said. ‘We’re just looking for our flight.’

‘Allow me to show you the way, Mr Andi, and let me help you with your bags. You will find Goa exceedingly pleasant.’

Minutes later, thanks to Sanjay, who waved us off with many wishes for a happy trip, the five of us were checked in and waiting at the departure gate.

Our flight to Goa was only an hour and twenty minutes, and the girls behaved perfectly throughout. Once we were out of the airport the other end, bags once again in tow, we all piled into a taxi and headed for the apartment I had rented, which was in Panaji, a small and very picturesque city and Goa’s state capital.

About six hundred miles south of Mumbai, Goa is the holiday state of India, thanks to its many stunning sandy beaches. It was, for many years, a Portuguese colony, and the Portuguese influence had blended with the Indian in the architecture, the food and the local culture, giving the area its own unique style.

For a long time seen as a party-hangout and hippy paradise, during the peak tourist season from October to February Goa heaves with people hanging out on the beaches, eating the local seafood and practicing yoga, chanting or just soaking up the new-age vibe.

From March to June though, it’s less popular. It gets hotter and more humid in the build-up to the monsoon, which hits around mid-June. And this is also when the prices drop, so for our purposes it was ideal.

The apartment I had found was small but clean and comfortable and the landlord agreed to let it to me on a weekly basis, as I wasn’t sure how long we would need to stay. Within a couple of months, I fervently hoped, the girls’ passports would be through and we could go back to Mumbai and head home.

There were two bedrooms and the two nannies shared one of them with the babies, while I had the other. All four of them slept in a double bed, Bharti and Geeta on the outside with the babies between them in the middle, lying on a towel and swaddled in colourful strips of old saris that Bharti tore up.

Geeta, it turned out, was the mother of Bharti’s son’s wife and it was most definitely Bharti who was in charge. Geeta, who was of humble origins and illiterate, lived with Bharti’s family in Mumbai, dependent on them for food and bed, so she was obliged to toe the line Bharti laid down. Wages had to be handed to Bharti, who would then give Geeta her share, which turned out to be 1000 rupees from the 5000 rupees a day that I paid them.

The two nannies had childcare organised between them and I found myself rather on the outside – they were with the girls 24 hours a day and I felt virtually redundant to requirements. Grateful as I was for Bharti and Geeta’s help, this was slightly disconcerting

I began looking for ways to spend time with the girls without disrupting the nannies’ routine.

The high point for me was Bharti and Geeta’s shopping trip. Every two days I would give Bharti 2000 rupees and off they would go to do the food shopping, leaving me with Tara and Amritsar. I cherished those few hours, in which I would chat to them, feed and play with them. I loved to rock them to sleep in my arms and sing lullabies – although Twinkle Twinkle and Rockabye Baby were my only repertoire, and even then, I couldn’t remember all the words so I just repeated the lines I knew over and over.  Luckily the girls didn’t seem to mind.

Even at this early stage their personalities were emerging and I loved playing games with them. I was a very doting and slightly soppy dad.

The girls were very easy babies; they had settled into their routine and woke like clockwork, every four hours, for their feed, thanks largely to Bharti. She did insist I do some of the feeds and I was very glad of this, but it was always under her watchful eye and not the same as those delicious moments when I had the girls to myself.

Kayla wasn’t coming down for a while after our arrival, and during that time I felt very much on my own. John and I spoke every day, and I longed for him to come and join us, but there was no movement from the authorities his end.

I relied on calls from family and friends to keep me sane. First among them was my mother, who phoned me once a week from Australia, where she was living. Mum was a very colourful character; interesting, amusing and prone to exaggeration, she had always talked a lot – mostly about herself, seldom remembering to ask me about my life. But when I was in India this changed and I saw a more understanding and empathetic side to her. She was always interested and supportive and it cheered me to know that she was on my side and rooting for me. Her calls meant a lot to me, and she kept on calling, despite complaining how high her phone bills were as a result. She also called John once a week to see how he was doing. It was thoughtful and kind of her.

Friends called too, although international calls were expensive and Skype connections were generally not good, so I often relied on emails to keep in touch. One of the friends who stayed in regular contact was Liza, an old friend from university. She had two grown-up sons of her own and loved children, so when she found out that we were becoming daddies, she was over the moon! She emailed me regularly and occasionally phoned and it always cheered me to hear from her. Without these links to John, Mum, Liza and a handful of other close friends I would have felt so much more alone and abandoned.

At night in those first weeks I often used to go up to the roof terrace and spend time looking at the moon, huge and luminous in the clear skies of the pre-monsoon season. Up there I could be alone to watch the stars and enjoy any small breeze that broke through the heavy, hot stillness of the night.

During the day I sometimes went out to wander around Panaji, which was built on the banks of the Mandovi River and was charming, with its cobbled streets and colourful buildings.

Sometimes the nannies and I would take the babies to the nearby palm-fringed Miramar beach, but the sun was fierce so we had to keep them in the shade. At that time of year, the beach was relatively empty and totally unspoiled. The nannies would sit under the palm trees with the babies while I swam, the water was cool and it felt wonderful. It always amused me when we were there to see the local men running into the sea fully-clothed. They seemed to enjoy it just as much as I did, despite the encumbrance of layers of clothing.

Three weeks after our arrival Kayla showed up, with her babies and her nanny, Riah. It turned out the apartment she had rented was very close to ours, which was great. After that we met up every two or three days to chat over coffee or wander down to the beach, swapping stories of our lives before babies.

Kayla ran an adult party planning business, she nicknamed Boozy Bashes and when she realised, she was going to be in India for the long haul, she ran the business from there, flying Susie, who worked with her, out to join her for a couple of weeks.

Kayla and Jamie had needed a surrogate to carry their embryos to term, but they had decided not to tell most people back in the UK what they were doing. She had me in stitches describing how she used a prosthetic stomach whilst the surrogate pregnancy progressed in India.  One morning, eight months into the ‘pregnancy’, she heard the doorbell and rushed down to answer it, completely forgetting to put on the, by this stage, rather large prosthetic.  She greeted her friend and was chatting away when she looked down and suddenly remembered. With an, ‘Oh Fuck!’ she bolted back upstairs and strapped it on, returning minutes later as if nothing had happened. ‘Tea?’ she asked her rather bemused friend.

It was impossible to resist Kayla’s humour and energy and she made a real difference to those long weeks in Goa. She hated to be alone, so her mother joined her for a lot of the time in Goa, friends came out for holidays with her and her father, a kind and gentle former history teacher, came to visit too.

Although Kayla and I enjoyed spending time together, sadly our nannies didn’t. Bharti and Riah eyed one another with evident distaste whenever we all got together, which meant it wasn’t always easy having outings with babies and nannies in tow. Kayla and I tended to meet on our own and use it as a freedom break from our domestic scenes.

Kayla and I were taking a stroll on Sinquerim Beach on June 7, shortly after she had arrived, when she nudged me.

‘Andi, look at that.’

I followed her gaze upwards.

A huge, ominous black wall of cloud could be seen to our left, moving slowly north.

‘Wow, that looks…alarming.’

As we stood, transfixed, thunder claps pealed and lightning bolts shot across the sky.

‘I guess that’s the monsoon coming, then,’ Kayla said.

‘I guess so,’ I agreed. ‘Think perhaps we’d better get back home?’

We made our way hastily back to the apartment, convinced that either the world was about to end or serious rain was on the way. We didn’t have long to wait. The skies opened and the rain bucketed down in sheets, heavier than anything we’d ever witnessed back in the Home Counties. It would continue for the next four months.

Over the days that followed we got used to enormous thunderstorms. I remember rocking Tara and saying ‘Thunder’ as she looked up at me, seemingly unafraid of the racket going on over our heads. I stuck my tongue out and she mimicked me, making me laugh.

It didn’t rain all day long, thankfully. But each day we had to wait for the deluge to finish before we ventured out and about. Goa had a special charm at this time. Almost devoid of tourists, we saw it as the locals did. It grew greener and more verdant and flowers in impossibly exotic colours bloomed everywhere.

Panaji was a peaceful town where everyone went about their business and I often went down to the fish market first thing in the morning, alongside the locals, to get some prawns or fish for us. First thing in the morning was the only time to go – because the fish market had no refrigeration and therefore was very, very smelly. Celebrity chef Rick Stein once did a programme based in Goa and he commented on the smell in the fish market – there is, I suspect, no worse smell on the planet. As the day wore on and got hotter the fish got smellier and smellier and, of course, cheaper. But this was a bargain to avoid. The only safe fish were those straight off the boat first thing, so I was happy to pay more.

I had been in Goa for six weeks when the documents arrived from Somya. Several calls urging her politely to please get a move on had made no difference whatsoever. But eventually a package was delivered containing our surrogate Rehanna’s divorce and marriage certificates and her identity card, the girls’ prenatal scans and (as the obligatory six weeks had now passed) the signed and notarised document stating that Rehanna did not want to be a mother to the surrogate children, which we would also need later for our UK Parental Order.

I was hugely relieved to receive all of this. Of course, there were ridiculous fees involved, but at least we now had what we needed in order to apply for the girls’ passports. Once I had checked and double-checked them, I sent all the documents to John via FedEx so that he could pass them on to the Home Office, which processed the passports in Hong Kong. Those papers would have to travel halfway around the world – I only hoped they would enable us to get the passports we needed in order to go home.

Beautiful as Goa was, I was all too aware that I was there simply to wait…and wait…and wait. And the waiting was hard. I missed John, missed home, missed the dogs and felt sad about John missing out on his daughters. I couldn’t help feeling that the whole, horrible delay was so unnecessary and pointless. But since there was no way around, we just had to get through it.

It was around this time that John had a bit of a tricky situation to sort out. We had agreed from the start that we would not tell anyone who the girls’ biological father was. It felt like the right thing to do – they were our daughters, together, and that was all anyone needed to know. But it left John with a dilemma, because he then couldn’t tell his family, or anyone else, about the problems he was having with the medical visa.

He considered telling his close family the truth, but he didn’t want his elderly mother to worry, so he kept it to himself and told them that all was well, he would be visiting us soon. But as time passed, he realised that he had to either fess up or somehow create a fictitious visit to us – otherwise people would begin to wonder why he wasn’t coming over to see me and meet his daughters.

In the end, telling his family in Ireland and his office that he was going to India for a week, he spent a week holed up in the London flat. He let his phone battery die and after his ‘return’ told the office that he’d accidentally left his phone in the UK. The London neighbours were told that he was going to India the following week. So, everyone had the story that he was going to India to meet the girls and of course they were all delighted for him.

So far so good – but that begged one important question: photos. How was he going to show them all pictures of him with Tara and Amritsar? I got a panic call from him asking me to photoshop him into some photos and send them over. I’m a dab hand with graphics, so I took some photos of me and Bharti with the girls and then cut Bharti out and put John in. The results weren’t bad, except that Amritsar looked slightly larger than life and John appeared to be holding her at a slightly strange angle. I sent them over and to our amazement, no-one noticed. His family, staff and the neighbours were all just too happy that we were together, with our children, and his mother proudly showed off the photo to the rest of the family.

And how did he explain the delay in the girls getting out of India? He told everyone that the passports would take a very long time as all kinds of checks had to be done, to do with people trafficking. Which was, sort of, close to the truth.

I could hardly believe that we pulled this stunt off. It was impressive. My only worry was that keeping our troubles secret meant he had very little support his end. There was no-one he could turn to when he felt miserable. But John’s way was to stay stoical and keep busy – he worked flat-out for every single day that I was in India.

I still hoped at this point that it would be straightforward from here on – get the passports, apply for the exit visas and off we would go. Kayla was in exactly the same situation and the only way we could check on progress was to call a premium phone number that cost dearly and told us nothing. You had to call, give your reference number and hang on, only to be told that they couldn’t give us any idea of when the passports would be issued. We were in limbo.

It wasn’t easy for John either. He was working in London and travelling back to Berkshire every evening to look after the dogs, leaving home at 6.30am in the morning and getting back at 7pm and often later. A kind neighbour had offered to feed Remus and Gracie and let them out three times a day, but John had to be there overnight, so no matter how late work finished, he couldn’t stay in the London flat.

He was still receiving blank expressions and non-committal answers from the Indian High Commission over his visa. He would arrive there with a picture of the girls, stick it on the window at the enquiry counter and say, ‘These are my children, I would like to see them!’ Each time someone different would come to the window and John would ask, ‘Do you even know who I am?’ ‘Yes,’ they always said. ‘You are Mr Leighton’. But despite this the answer was always the same, ‘You will have to wait. We have checks we must make before the visa can be issued. No, we can’t tell you how long’.

John was filling his time, and working out his frustration, by decorating our new home, room by room, ready for our return. At that stage, working in the evenings and weekends, he fondly imagined that there was no way he would get through the whole house before he could join us. I only hoped he was right.

He would send me images of colour swatches so that we could choose room colours together, and then photos of his progress which was, at times, frankly chaotic. He may have been the world’s best organised man at work, but as a decorator he had a way to go. The theory was fine; he even had spreadsheets of the jobs he had to do each weekend. But in practice, bored by hours of woodwork painting, John would move on to the next room, so that eventually he was midway through every room in the house. And of course, our lovable mutts didn’t help. At one point, Remus walked through a tray of paint, left on the floor, and left green emulsion pawprints all over the cream carpets. John thought it was Gracie and wiped her paws, not realising that Remus was still trailing paint over the house.

At that point in time our lives couldn’t have been more different. John’s routine dictated by work and the dogs and his self-imposed decorating schedule, mine by nannies and the babies and waiting.

To fill the time Kayla and I took a few trips, sometimes with, sometimes without our nannies and babies. She had found a friendly taxi driver who took us to see a spice farm and an elephant sanctuary.

Then there was the time we visited the Hindu Shantadurga Temple, dedicated to Shri Shantadurga, the goddess of wealth, wisdom and fertility. This time we had Kayla’s parents, four babies and three nannies with us. And as the day progressed, I realised I was causing something of a sensation among the local population. Men were coming up to pat me on the back while women looked admiringly at the babies. When someone started taking photos and congratulating me the penny dropped. They all though the four babies were mine, and as the father of quads I was being elevated to the status of fertility god as I lead my entourage around. I had to laugh, especially as I wasn’t biologically the father of any of the babies, which was still a source of grief.

Afterwards we went to the nearby beach and had ice cups – sweet coloured syrup poured over ice, which Riah said reminded her of her childhood.

Occasionally we ventured further afield, to see something more of India. In mid-June we left the babies with the nannies and Kayla and her assistant Susie and I flew up to Pune, to visit the Aga Khan’s magnificent palace, built in 1892 and famed as the place where Mahatma Ghandi was imprisoned with his wife Kasturba and secretary Mahadev Desai in 1942. Gandhi was there for almost two years, during which time his wife and secretary both died. The palace was given to the nation in recognition of Gandhi and his philosophy of nonviolent resistance. Gandhi’s ashes remain there, and there are memorials to him and his wife.

We walked around the exquisite gardens and spent the night in a plush hotel nearby, where we relaxed and drank cocktails and did our best to forget our frustrations with the unwieldy bureaucratic systems we were up against.

Back in Panaji it was wonderful to cuddle the girls again, and all seemed to have gone well in my absence. But a couple of mornings later I came back from an outing to the fish market to find Bharti and Geeta at opposite ends of the apartment and an atmosphere I could have cut with a knife.

Geeta had always been under Bharti’s thumb. She was, I imagine, ordered to come with us on this trip to help Bharti, despite being paid only what Bharti considered her worth.

Now it emerged that Geeta had suggested Bharti go back to Mumbai, leaving Geeta to look after the babies – and to keep the wages. Bharti might have considered this, except that to allow Geeta to keep all the money was unthinkable.

The two of them were now in a stand-off. If Bharti moved, Geeta would move as far as possible from her. This went on for the next 24 hours and made life impossible, so I told Bharti quietly that perhaps it was best that Geeta should leave. It turned out that she was already booked on a bus, leaving the next day. I thanked Geeta for all she had done and slipped her an extra couple of thousand rupees, behind Bharti’s back, but truth to tell I was relieved that the hostilities were over. And a few days later Bharti’s mother Lalit arrived to take Geeta’s place, after which, much to my relief, peace reigned in the nursery.

 

Exhausting Weekend

Well, we’ve managed to brave the storm of a hectic weekend with friends staying and the children have been spoilt rotten. They are presently getting their hair dried by our friend Sarah – So I have been relieved of that chore and am sitting at the kitchen table with a little time to myself. Tara and Aaliyah have just stormed down the stairs to say nite nite to Josh, who is chilled on the sofa watching Harry Potter! Daddy has just shouted downstairs for them to return. Now Thor can be heard giggling away in the living room and I hear Tara and Caleb charging down the stairs, their hair must be dry. The guys arrived on Saturday morning and are headed back into London tomorrow morning with John on his way in to work. Daddy is still shouting for them at the top of the stairs. They are all now sat with Josh – watching Harry Potter! They are all oblivious of the story’s of Harry and his wizardry due to still being so young! They have a lot of catching up to do with his books and movies in the time to come.

The children were all brought new Halloween costumes last week in preparation for our Hallow-Fawkes festivities in a few weeks time. The not so famous five insisted on trying them on for the arrival of our friends on Saturday morning.

What with the company, I had the time to publish ‘Thirteen Moons More’ on Amazon this weekend. The ebook is now available by simply searching for ‘Thirteen Moons More’ on your Amazon account or the app. The paperback is also available, but might take up to 72 hours to process on their system.

Argentinian red shrimp Thermidor was enjoyed last night with jumbo triple fried chips (spag-bol was had for lunch) and we all feasted on two roast chickens with all of the trimmings earlier today. Last nights cheese board left me feeling unable to move, but a good nights sleep was had. I even had the chance to lie in until 9.30 a.m. this morning. A first for me in recent years…

Signing off now – last night with Sarah and Josh and all of that so – hoping you all had a pleasant weekend too. Screams can now be heard from the children’s bedrooms… nite nite. The cheese board has just miraculously reappeared!

Amritsar’s Week in Her Own Words

On Monday we did do maths and English. Our school ran a mile at the field near the pavilion. We had fruit at break time. We learnt about pirates and about Blackbeard! I had ice cream and chocolate brownie for dessert at lunchtime. Tennis club was at the end of the day. Tara and Hugo our neighbour were there also. When it was Wednesday we learnt more about famous pirates. I played ring a ring a roses with my friends (twins) at lunchtime and I had an apple at break time. On Thursday I went on the slide with lots of my friends. I read with a teaching assistant a book called ‘Paula and the Vet’. We did hand writing. I had roast chicken for lunch and pancakes with chocolate sauce for dessert. When it was Friday, I had a banana at break time. I did reading comprehension. I came home to get ready for ‘Rainbows’ at the village hall. We made shakers with a 2 litre bottle that was empty. We put rice in the bottle and decorated the outside with different colours and stuck on stars!

Tara’s Week in Her Own Words

Monday I played with Georgina and she gave me some seeds. I went swimming on Tuesday and swam without a float. We had some of Dadda’s dried apples as a snack. On Wednesday I did ‘Mental Maths’ and ate pizza at lunchtime. Thursday I was playing ‘Monsters’ with Thomas who wears a nice coat with cars on. I can’t remember what I ate – sorry! Friday I made an egg person that I called Frackle. The teaching assistant is the mum of some friends of ours. Fish fingers for lunch with chips. And I did talk to George about his birthday and he’s inviting me. This week I finished my picture of a pirate ship. I drew the masts, the sails and a crows nest. And I drawed a boney thing and it was a skull on the flag. And I playing with Remus and I did put the music on and he did dance! And I gave him a treat as he was dancing and spinning. I played lots of games with Aaliyah and the other twins in my class at school. One of our games was, we had to try and not stay on the yellow lines or we couldn’t fly!!! And if we stepped in a puddle we could go fast. Me and Gracie were playing jumping.

Almost There… and a Moment of Self Doubt

Regards the editing of my new book ‘Thirteen Moons More’, we are almost there. The final read through and ultimate edit is happening as we speak! The notion of the completion of this project is exciting for me. Though I obviously have certain reservations on what happens to the book next, once I self-publish! It was over a year ago when I completed ‘Eighteen Moons’. The final chapter, final paragraph, final word, was written whilst holidaying in the South of France. Little did I know then that I was also about to start a new venture, a diary about daily life and all of the ups and downs that, that entails. And then, to compile the contents into a second paperback book – I am completely filled with surprise! My life as a father has just seemed so completely ‘normal’ over these past six years.

I think I stated in one of my first diary entries that ‘it’s about the little things – isn’t it’? And all of those ‘little things’ have certainly added up – haven’t they?

I believe that I am just a straightforward guy, Mr regular, nothing too out of the ordinary. I do hope that my words speak for themselves on that score?

Then there is of course, self doubt. I am thinking, who’s even bothered to hear what I have to say! Self doubt really sucks – doesn’t it? We all suffer when we ‘let it in’. Maybe that is what makes us all feel completely normal.

I have already mentioned that my next project will be Dadda Gets Jammin’ and that is also exciting for me! Just keeping busy can take away self doubt, or at least harness it into something less destructive. So I say to myself, no time for that, onwards and upwards. I will aspire to do just that! Aspire, that’s a good word isn’t it? – a word to inspire, one to trust in!

A roundup of our week here in ‘The Shires’ at the weekend. But for now, I will leave you with a simple thought! ‘Trust in Yourself’…

A Sporting Challenge

Yes, tonight’s picture is of our future Olympian Gymnast Aaliyah. But firstly I would like to praise Tara. Sadly I have no pictures of her in her football kit, but for the last 4 weeks, since the beginning of term, Tara has gone to football practice on a Monday after school as part of the children’s extra curricular activities. It would seem that sadly, she is the only girl on the team. But guess who is their most prolific goal scorer is? You’ve got it – Tara, with five goals behind her at this point in just the four games. Bravo and well done to you Tara – giving those boys a run for their money! We are so proud of you.

Now, onto Aaliyah! Several months ago we realised that she could do the splits with relative ease. Mostly whilst cavorting away on one of the sofas! It’s not rocket science, is it? If you see an ability in your children, it needs to be nurtured! And today saw Sindy take our youngest daughter Aaliyah to her very first gymnastics lesson in one of the local towns. A bit of a logistical nightmare as both girls are doing their chosen sport on the same day, same time and of course, I don’t drive! But Aaliyah and Sindy came back, Aaliyah, jubilant of her participation in this, her first lesson. I think that they will both do very well at their chosen sporting assertions.

Well done to you both XX