Overdid the culture maybe

Current mood: variable. We’ve just finished the first week of the seven (!) week school holiday and it wasn’t…very…bad. Usually the first week sees me hiding somewhere in tears, or on the phone to Mark or my parents, vowing I won’t be able to handle all those days and days and days of settling arguments around who got seven raspberries when I said they could only have six each, or separating boys who have fistfuls of each other’s hair because one of them has called the other ‘Fatty Gay’ in a literal description of the French ‘fatigue‘.

Not this year though? Perhaps the summer of 2019 has signaled a sea change: a wedge of maturity and sensibleness into my great big Cheesecake of Chaos (if my family dynamics could be reduced to a dessert foodstuff, metaphorically speaking).

These things have helped:

  1. Mark has taken on the 14 year old as an unskilled labourer. He rises at 7:30am for an 8am start, dons white overalls, a cap and a bottle of water and goes across the road to sandpaper and paint walls and take the rust off old gateposts. He is making a healthy £40 a day and has not shirked or complained once. He plans to save the money, though he did spent a tenner on some vintage binoculars from Portobello Road yesterday. He is usually a bit of a pain at home, all very alpha and hormonal and shouty, so his absence has been a blessing though I do miss his enthusiastic babysitting. (His 13 year old brother can watch Remi for about three minutes before he loses interest and invents some increasingly rubbish excuse for why he cannot do it anymore. Things like “I can’t hold the baby because I think I have giardia” or “I can’t have Remi any more because I have to protect my beanbag”. But this kid doesn’t tend to whack anyone, so it’s half a dozen of one, six of the other.)  

That biggest boy is a great kid really; when we were away in Poland he texted us to ask if he could buy a film to watch with his best buddy. It was “Darkest Hour”, the Winston Churchill film. He loves an historical biography and I love a kid who wants to watch a film about Churchill.

2. Casper is away at Scout camp – this helps us all immensely. Another lovely kid but OH a little break is good for everyone’s mental health.

3. Living right here in the belly of Westminster and availing ourselves with the free stuff makes everything easier too. In a week I’ve taken a kid (or three) to see Cindy Sherman at the National Portrait Gallery, Dior at the V&A and the Manga exhibition at the British Museum.

Remi came along for the first two. It turns out that Cindy Sherman puts him to sleep but that the sheer excitement of being in the same room as Dior’s New Look Bar Suit sends him into a state of overstimulation and eventually a scary loud tantrum that caused several older women to ask me if they could help in some way. Others just looked on despairingly/crankily as he ruined their £24 per ticket sold out Dior experience (as he did mine, to be fair). I had to buy the book so I could take a proper look at all the gorgeous dresses I had belted past on my way to the exit and away from the shame, all the while accidentally dropping sucked-upon pieces of clementine that had failed to keep him quiet.

The Manga exhibition was a clear disappointment for Otis and Ned who were expecting to see an exhibition on mangoes. They decided to play a game of Running Around Hide & Seek to transport them from the hell of being in a room full of life-sized cartoons and fun stuff to dress up in until a guard came and asked me to stop them. Ned stopped running around but Otis didn’t which made me very embarrassed because it is very hard to chase a small boy intent on playing Run Away From Your Angry Mum Who Has A Cumbersome Pushchair when there are partitions and corners and little spaces everywhere. Finally I got him and squeezed his arm a bit hard and wouldn’t let him buy anything from the giftshop. The others did; everything was at least ten quid and by that point I was very sick of taking kids to exhibitions. Casper and I went out to find some chairs to sit on so I could breastfeed the baby while the others agonised over what tat they could bankrupt me with and Casper caught all my thin fringe hair in a handheld fan. A lot of it came out which is a bit of a tragedy as I am a bit bald at the best of times and so I eventually broke the fan to get the rest of it untangled and now Casper says I owe him a hand held fan breakage fine.

4. But then there’s been the Diana Memorial Fountain which is the cheapest (read: free) and best source of water fun this side of a pool, and the Serpentine Lido for swimming in amongst the algae and duck shit and there are parks everywhere to sit down and cool off. Yesterday as we came home from Portobello Road after eating our lunch at Acklam Village (I went for the Iranian broad bean and dill rice with chicken curry and yoghurt sauce and the kids ate burgers, churros and Szechuan popcorn chicken) we came across a Westminster-funded pop-up carpentry workshop along the canal. Ned and Otis made their own boxes by measuring and sawing timber and nailing them together. They have both slept with their boxes. No one cut off a hand, either.

Here is a photograph of me with a mullet – centre right in blue:


Here’s me in a Batsheva dress, out w’ the laydeez. It is very prairie-meets-Minnie-Mouse and quite tight on the arms:


My lost babysitter:

Noah who turned 13 and may well have giardia:


Casper’s photo of a pigeon with a wacky haircut:


Acklam Village Saturday lunching:




Post-Manga exhibition in Bloomsbury Park where we ate, sweltered in the heat and looked for ants:


Sweaty with a horse and baby:




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6 Responses to Overdid the culture maybe

  1. Evelyn Laybourn says:

    A read that for reasons I can’t explain left me feeling good .

  2. Jess says:

    Do all those boys still sleep in the same room now that a couple have hit puberty? How do they cope with the lack of mental and physical privacy? How do adults cope with the same lack of mental and physical space? I mean I get it if you can’t afford space… but if you can afford a Westminster flat, then that’s not the issue – it’s a choice.

    • theharridan says:

      We have been really lucky with our landlord – we have really cheap rent. The schools are walking distance and our business is local. So, we could move out further but wouldn’t get much bigger for the room we currently have and we would lose the schools and community. The boys have staggered school times and different friends as well as a communal garden across the road. They walk to school and we live a few minutes from Kensington Gardens. We get by! Housing is tricky and we feel lucky to have such a big space here – Victorian basements are not tiny.

  3. Polly Wrenn says:

    I always love your posts. Well done for everything you do – my boys are 15 months apart and I only have two, but I’ve never had the courage to take them to any exhibitions that they weren’t guaranteed to like! As a result, they now (aged 11 and 12) don’t tolerate anything less than ideal- which is not good!! Also, another huge we’ll done for keeping your own interests (fashion) alive. It’s massively hard to find the energy and headspace to do that, but it is so important! Love the horse necklace – where’s it from?

    • theharridan says:

      Thank you! I think I still feel like a tourist here so always feel energised by all the stuff you can here in London. I also get quite itchy feet if I am home too long (see last commenter!) so love getting out. They can’t handle much though, alas. Horse necklace is from Bill Skinner – fantastic jewellery and very good prices…

  4. rose says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for writing. You always give me lift and smile.
    Super proud of Eldest son for learning about what physical work it takes to earn a dollar (or pound or euro) because that changes attitudes about spending and money. It is really really harder these days for youth to get paid work.
    As always love the photos of the children. You are doing a wonderful job of raising children; they will make the future a better place.
    Sending MUCH apprecaition and admiration and joy your way. Thank you.

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