Monthly Archives: February 2010

Sunday Poem 28

I have had a request for a poem by Philip Larkin and, as I exist only to satisfy my public, Philip Larkin you shall have.  And isn’t it the truth.

Love Songs in Age – by Philip Larkin (1922-85)

She kept her songs, they took so little space,
     The covers pleased her:
One bleached from lying in a sunny place,
One marked in circles by a vase of water,
One mended, when a tidy fit had seized her,
     And coloured, by her daughter –
So they had waited, till in widowhood
She found them, looking for something else, and stood

Relearning how each frank submissive chord
     Had ushered in
Word after sprawling hyphenated word,
And the unfailing sense of being young
Spread out like a spring-woken tree, wherein
     That hidden freshness sung,
That certainty of time laid up in store
As when she played them first.  But, even more,

The glare of that much-mentioned brilliance, love,
     Broke out to show
Its bright incipience sailing above,
Still promising to solve, and satisfy,
And set unchangeably in order.  So
     To pile them back, to cry
Was hard, without lamely admitting how
It had not done so then, and could not now.

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Moving House. Again.

What a good thing I did an article urging people to put a brave face on things as today I have been obliged to take my own advice. 

The Wartime Housewife moving house

Just as I was getting The Boys ready to go to their father for the weekend, there was a knock on the door and I was somewhat embarrassed to open it, in my dressing gown, to my Landlord, who presented me with a letter detailing my notice to quit.  My first, rather tearful, question was “What have I done wrong?” as there was a rather stressful Landlord’s inspection just a week ago.  He reassured me that I had been an exemplary tenant but that the Trustees needed my cottage back due to a re-organisation of the company, which I took to assume that it would be assigned to an employee.

Apparently, there is a possibility that another cottage might be available for me in the same village but he advised me to start looking elsewhere just in case it doesn’t come off.  “Not all Doom and Gloom,” he said, “try not to think of it as Doom and Gloom!”.

Rather hard not to though.  I only moved in here on 1st April last year, after an extremely traumatic move from another village five miles away, and I’ve just about got it how I like it.  It’s rather small (only two bedrooms) and it’s a bit cold, but it’s full of character and it feels like a happy house. 

I hate moving house.  Apart from the fact that it’s an expensive and exhausting process, and my friends are sick to death of loading my possessions onto trailers and into cars and horseboxes, I just don’t like being uprooted.  My dream is to move into a house that I never have to leave.  It doesn’t have to be big or swanky (although I wouldn’t turn down big and swanky if it was an option, I’m not stupid) but a spare room would be good.  Oh and a shed. I like sheds.  In fact, I would like Two Sheds so that I could put my train set in one of them.  How’s that for swanky?

On the upside, I had a Tiffin Selection for dinner from Waitrose which came in a box with rather jolly elephants on.  It was really nice – chicken tikka masala, pilau rice and Bombay potato, but there was too much of it and I feel a bit sick now if I’m honest.  Although the pint of Badger’s Poacher and a further pint of Porter earlier probably didn’t help.  I was going to go into Leicester and see ‘My Name is Khan’ at the pictures, to complete my Indian experience, but I can’t be bothered now.  It’s pouring with rain and howling a gale and the lane outside the cottage is like a muddy scene from ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’.  Gabriel Oak could well be out there at this moment, tethering my, rapidly disintegrating, portable greenhouse to the wall of the disused Victorian farm building next door.

Perhaps I’ll move into a cottage with a path.  And call myself Bathsheba.

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The only article I am ever likely to write about Football

Cheryl Cole

I was intrigued to hear on Radio 2 at lunchtime today, that an entire section of the programme was devoted to whether or not a football player called Wayne Bridge is going to play for England in the World Cup.  Apparently he’s fallen out with his friend and team-mate John Terry, and doesn’t want to play with him any more.

Now the details of this fall-out are undoubtedly a bit sad; Bridge and his missus had broken up and John Terry cruised in like a rooster and did the Lord’s Work with her, although he had allegedly been trying to ‘help the couple sort out their relationship’.  A slightly radical form of therapy I’ll admit, and, as always, we only know what we have been fed by the media.

But let’s not be silly about this.  With all the injuries in the England team, Wayne Bridge (not one of the country’s best known players) was going to be given the opportunity to Play For England and surely as a professional footballer, this would be his ultimate goal? (note the clever football pun).  Is it not somewhat self-destructive to throw that away just because his EX-girlfriend has bumped uglies with his team-mate?  And while I’m about it, I wonder if Mrs Woman has had the same amount of flak as Terry?

Bridge needs to get a bit of backbone, put his private life to one side and get on with it.  Anyone who has ever gone out with someone in their office, knows that when it all goes horribly wrong, one is going to have to face that person on a daily basis and be a bit grown up about it.

To be fair to Bridge though, it seems to me that almost everyone needs to butch up a bit these days.  There is a propensity for people to wallow in their victim status when the slightest thing goes wrong in their lives.  Now whether this is because society has become so uncaring that everyone feels vastly undervalued and has to grasp at any opportunity for sympathy or self-esteem, or whether we have all become so cushioned, degenerate and unchallenged that we have lost the ability to show a bit of stoicism, is hard to say.  I would hazard a great dollop of the latter and the inevitable knock-on effect of the former.

I always feel so grateful when a news story appears in which someone fails to lament that their life has been ruined because of an incident, or something nasty happens and the victim refuses to blame / sue / demand the public disembowelling of the perpetrator.  There are enough nasty things happening every day that involve real victims whose lives are genuinely ruined or snuffed out entirely, that maybe if we stopped staring at our navels and turned our attention outwards for once, we could do something about it.

So pay attention everyone:-
Chin up.
Best foot forward.
Put a brave face on it.
Keep Calm and Carry On (now I think about it, someone should put that on a poster…)

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No Post Today

The Wartime Housewife really is a bit rubbish with computers and if the slightest thing goes wrong, I wail and gnash my teeth in a way that I would never do in any other walk of life.  Luckily for me, Mr PC Sorted was on hand to provide me with another virtual lifeboat and I am back in business. Hurrah!  Up the wooden hill etc….

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Unmitigated Plug: Peter Ashley at the Goldmark Gallery

I never hold back from criticising the things that generally or specifically get up my nose, but I do try to be equally forthright about the things that I like or support. 

In Uppingham, Rutland, England, (Earth, the Universe etc)  there is a very fine place called the Goldmark Gallery.  The first line of its website reads thus:

Goldmarkart.com continues to grow. Thousands of prints, paintings, drawings and sculptures across a very wide range of top British, American and European artists. Films coming soon.” 

But this doesn’t really do it justice because it has become a gallery at the cutting edge of contemporary art, whose reputation is spreading throughout, not just the country, but the world.  And it’s in Rutland. My own taste in art is revoltingly conservative, and I find a lot of the work in there a little too ‘challenging’.  But every so often I come across something that makes my heart sing. 

There has been an exhibition recently of the work of twenty-five of the country’s leading potters, with a sumptuous book produced to support it.  It was a remarkable achievement, and wonderful to see such a body of work in one place.  I disliked 99% of what was there if I’m honest, but there were three pieces of work by one potter, Carol McNicoll, that were so beautiful, so witty and so cleverly executed that,  if I’d had the money, I would have bought them on the spot. 

That is what’s so wonderful about Goldmark’s; you just never know what you’re going to find.  And they make great coffee. 

And this is where the plug starts.  There is a remarkable new piece in the gallery by the unmitigated Peter Ashley called ‘Shunt With Care’.  They call it “Mixed Media”.  I call it one of the best collages I have ever seen.  As the title suggests, it has a railway theme and I  am a railway enthusiast, but its appeal is far broader than that.  It tells a great story and would be the sort of picture that whenever you look at it, you’ll find something new.  Just like Goldmark’s really.  But rather then me ranting on about it, I would suggest you have a look at the Goldmark blogsite Butcher’s Hooks and, well, have a butchers.

I would also like it known that I would cheerfully sleep with any member of the gallery to get my hands on a copy.  Ok.  Almost anyone.  Thank you.

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Piquant Baked Cod

In which the Wartime Housewife talks A Load of Old Cod (but preferably another sustainably sourced white fish of your choice)

We haven’t had a fish dish for a while and this recipe is great for the winter as it contains Vitamin C and things to ward off the winter nasties.  You can use cod but in my opinion we should all be laying off the cod until the Atlantic fish stocks have recovered a bit.  Haddock would work, but if you want to save your pennies, try Basa fillets.  I have mentioned these before (Storecupboard), they are really tasty and half the price of cod or haddock.  One can definitely buy Basa in Sainsbury’s but I can’t speak for your own fishmonger or other supermarkets.

PIQUANT BAKED FISH

Utensils:
1 x medium size ovenproof dish
1 x small saucepan
1 x hand whisk
If the dish has no cover, you will need some tinfoil

Ingredients:
4 good sized white fish fillets
½ red pepper – de-seeded and finely chopped
½ “/ 1cm ginger – peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves – finely chopped
Salt & pepper to season
½ pint / 300ml white wine
1oz / 30g butter
2 tblspn double cream

Method:
Place the fish in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle the pepper, ginger and garlic on top
Season with salt and pepper to taste
Pour over the white wine and leave to marinate for about 2 hours
Preheat the oven to 200 / 400 / 6
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes
Turn the oven down to a low heat
Pour off the marinade liquid into a pan
Re-cover the dish of fish and return to the oven to keep warm
Add the butter to the pan of marinade liquid and heat on a rolling boil until the liquid is reduced by half
Whisk in the cream
Put the fish fillets on plates and pour the sauce attractively over them
Serve immediately with new or jacket potatoes and nice fresh vegetables

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Tasmanian Inspiration from Marjorie Cooper

"a magnificent household manual"

A few years ago I started researching my family history and began the process of getting touch with relatives with whom we had all lost touch.  This included a cousin in Tasmania and her family, and more cousins in Derbyshire whom I now refer to as Long Lost 1 and Long Lost 2.  My delight at finding these, and other, relatives knows no bounds as they are all genuinely delightful and I will do an article about the basics of family history research at a later date.

When I told LL1 and LL2 about The Wartime Housewife, they very kindly lent me a book which the husband of Tasmanian Cousin had printed in the late 60’s/early 70’s, although the look and tone of it is more 50’s.  It rejoices in the name “At Home with Marjorie Cooper – A Household Manual”.  The cover announces that it includes:-

Cooking, Slimming Recipes, Health and Beauty, Diabetic Aids, Beverages, Household Hints, Tips for Show Cooks, Knitting and Handicrafts, Party Foods and Games, Gardening, Animal Care, Ideas for Christmas and Poems.

Mrs Beeton eat your heart out.  This is a book for people who have no-one to ask and may not even have m/any other books.  My cousins went out there in 1947 and, after years of struggle, built their own house on stilts and established a life for themselves.  They were incredibly isolated from everything and everyone they knew and amenities were at an absolute minimum.  Even now, her son’s address is something like ‘R888, Pioneer, Tasmania’.  Er, that’s it.

This book has everything (including a paragraph on how to look after ‘Baby ‘Roos’) and, as I try out some of the recipes and advice, I will share them with you.  This was also a time when she thought nothing of putting named photos of her grandchildren and her home address and telephone number in the book.  How times change!

I love the idea that The Wartime Housewife could be this sort of resource.  Although few of us experience the kind of isolation my cousin endured, our modern day isolation is just as real.  Many people have completely lost touch with the skills and resourcefulness that came naturally to some of our parents and definitely our grandparents, and often we are not geographically close to our families who would, at one time, have handed their skills and advice to us.  Most of us have lost the understanding that the work we do in the home and with our families (men and women) has a very high value indeed and should be applauded.

I will leave you with some extracts from her introductory letter.

“I try all things; I achieve what I can because nothing in this world is as good as usefulness”
“.. remember it is not work that kills men; it is worry. Work is healthy… worry is rust upon the blade”
“There is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way”
“So much to do, so little done by some”

This is followed by a long chapter on Soup.
My kind of woman.

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Badges of Honour – FANY

This is the third and final part of my WW2 mini series based on some badges that I bought at the Harborough Antique Fair.  How could I not have a badge that said FANY?

FANY

The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry was created in 1907 as a first aid link between front-line fighting units and the field hospitals.  During the First World War, FANYs ran field hospitals, drove ambulances and set up soup kitchens and troop canteens, often under highly dangerous conditions.  By the end of the war they had been awarded many decorations for bravery

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Corps was called upon to form the nucleus of the Motor Driver Companies of the ATS.  Some FANYs  were attached to the Special Operations Executive.  These women worked on coding and signals, acted as conductors for agents and provided administration and technical support for the Special Training Schools. Their work was top secret and often highly skilled. Members operated in several theatres of war, including North Africa, Italy, India and the Far East.

Since the war, the Corps has been known chiefly for its work in the field of military and civil communications, a legacy of its distinguished wartime record.  Since 1999, when the Commandant in Chief, HRH The Princess Royal, gave the Corps permission to use her title, the Corps has been renamed PRVC (The Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps).

FANYs run to their ambulances

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Sunday Poem 27

I promised you a wartime poem to complement the ‘Badge of Honour’ articles, but was luckless in my search for a contemporary WW2 poem about women of any kind. I have to confess that my search was limited to my own library and a cursory scouring of the intraweb.

I found this poem in the December 1939 issue of  ‘Housewife Magazine’.  War had broken out and although everyone was convinced that it would all be over fairly soon, ‘Housewife’ swung into action, preparing women for what might lie ahead.

I assume this poem was sent in by a reader; it’s a bit sentimental and would appear to be an inadvertent  fore-runner of ‘My Favourite Things’ , but it’s contemporary and real.

Little Things – by Margaret Wymer

Sometimes, when doubt and darkness come
And fill my world with shade,
I think of all the little things
So wonderfully made.
The dainty music box inside
The blackbird when he sings,
The fairy brush that swept across
The night moth’s powdered wings.
I see the tiny rosebud form
And claim its slender hold,
I hear the snapping of a twig
Or watch a leaf unfold.
These little things, they speak to me,
They turn my night to day,
And then the shadow o’er my world
Begins to pass away

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Badges of Honour – ARP

This is Part 2 of my WW2 mini series based around some badges that I bought at the Harborough Antique Fair.

Air Raid Precautions (ARP) were organised by the national government and delivered by the local authorities. The aim was to protect civilians from the danger of air-raids.

In September 1935, four years before WW2 began, British prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, published a circular entitled Air Raid Precautions (ARP) inviting local authorities to make plans to protect their people in event of a war, including the of  building public air raid shelters.

In April 1937 the government decided to create an Air Raid Wardens’ Service and during the next year recruited around 200,000 volunteers. These volunteers were know as Air Raid Precaution Wardens, and there were 1.4 million ARP wardens in Britain, most of who were part time volunteers who had full time day jobs. The main purpose of ARP Wardens was to patrol the streets during the blackout and to ensure that no light was visible. If a light was spotted, the warden would alert the people responsible by shouting out “Put that light out! or “Cover that window!“.

The ARP Wardens also reported the extent of bomb damage and assess the local need for help from the emergency and rescue services. They were responsible for the handing out of gas masks and pre-fabricated air-raid shelters (such as Anderson and Morrison shelters), and organised and staffed public air raid shelters. They used their knowledge of their local areas to help find and reunite family members who had been separated in the rush to find shelter from the bombs.

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Badges of Honour – WVS

Being as how I am a Wartime Housewife, I was very easily seduced by an array of badges that I found at the Harborough Antiques Fair recently.  There is a new boy there who just sells badges; lots of military and wartime stuff as well as clubs, societies and unions.  The great thing about collecting things is that one always learns so much more around the subject as well, and the people who trade in these things are always so tremendously knowledgeable (and let’s face it, occasionally a tiny bit scary). 

I would always encourage children to start collections as soon as they get interested in something.  It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as they take a genuine interest and learn something.  I collect lots of things and I fine that my focus fluctuates in phases.  I will come across some near perfect Ladybird books and turn my attention back to them until the supply dries up and I turn back to cut glass, WW2 ephemera, old kitchenware or any of the multitude of fancies that prevent me feeding my children on a regular basis.

I will tell you all about them today, tomorrow and Monday and I will try to find an appropriately themed verse for the Sunday Poem.

THE WVS (1938-1946)As war began to look imminent in 1938, Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, came up with the idea of setting up a women’s voluntary organisation to help in the event of air attacks. On 16 May, the Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions was founded. The Dowager Marchioness Lady Reading was appointed chairman, and The Queen and Queen Mary, the Queen Mother became joint patrons of WVS.When war was declared on 3 September 1939 WVS had a membership of 165,000 drawn from groups who, for whatever reason, could not do essential war work – including the old, the young, the housebound and those with dependents. Men were not excluded and occasionally helped with jobs such as driving which at the time not many women could do. WVS work quickly diversified, and as a result the organisation changed its name to WVS for Civil Defence. New tasks included evacuating mothers and children from large cities to the country, staffing hostels and hospitals, sick bays and communal feeding centres, and undertaking welfare work for the troops.WVS also provided food and clothing for over 22,000 refugees, as well as organising rest centres for those made homeless during raids. By the end of 1941, there were over a million WVS volunteers. Throughout the war, the WVS was also staffing Incident Inquiry Points, where people would go to find out information about the dead and the injured. 

WVS played a vital role in supporting civilians during the war – 241 serving members were killed by enemy action.  There was also a growing need for support for older and housebound people, and the first Meals on Wheels were delivered by the WVS in 1943.

I couldn't find a picture of WVS ladies so here is a picture of Princess Elizabeth in the ATS

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And now, give it up for …. Lent!

I went to an Ash Wednesday Service at Welham yesterday, a service that was just as I like it – solemn and quiet.  The hymns were a bit crap i.e. I didn’t know them and they were really hard to pick up, and I was late as usual, flying in through the door, dishevelled and apologetic, like Maria in ‘The Sound of Music’.  But without the nuns.

I remembered the service I went to last year, in which Rev. Marple said a very interesting thing during the sermon.  He said that rather than giving something up for Lent, should we perhaps consider taking something on, something that would contribute to our lives, our families or our community.  The problem with giving something up is that often, the people who do it make absolutely sure that everyone knows they’re giving something up and make a great song and dance about it, which is something of a conceit truth be told.  So why not quietly take something on? 

I thought about this long and hard.  My days are so full, that sleep is becoming something of a marginal activity; I couldn’t possibly take on something else, although there are plenty of things I would like to do.  Then it occurred to me.

There is a person in my life whom I love dearly but who drives me insane.  The back story of this is a deep and complicated one which I will not go into here, but does mean that the emotional investment is equally deep and complicated.  As long as I can remember, I have wanted this person to behave differently, to have different standards, to be more than they are.  It’s never going to happen and I struggle with it, because every day, I carry out a self-assessment to make sure that I’m neither like them now or becoming like them.

So, starting with Lent, I’m going to make a concerted effort not to get wound up, not to criticise, not to apply my own standards, not to judge them more harshly than I would judge someone unconnected to me, to be more accepting of their choices, however wrong I think they might be.  I feel wound up just thinking about it.  Wish me luck.

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Shrove Tuesday: Banana and Bacon Pancakes

I was rather relying on Backwatersman to cover Shrove Tuesday, but in his absence, I will give you a nice twist on a pancake which would make a hearty breakfast or lunch.

The word ‘shrove’ is the past tense of ‘shrive’ which means to gain forgiveness for one’s sins through confession and penance.  Shrove Tuesday is the last day before the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, and during Lent Christians are expected to fast, or give up something they like.  This lasts for 40 days and corresponds with the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness, ending on Palm Sunday with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. 

It has also become known as Pancake Day as the making of pancakes was a good way of using up foods such as sugar, butter and eggs from your storecupboard, which were traditionally restricted during the Lent fast.

BANANA AND BACON PANCAKES
Make pancakes according to the recipe in Breakfast and a Recipe for Crepes.

Utensils:
Frying pan
Fish slice
Mixing bowl
Electric mixer
Jug

Ingredients:
4 Bananas
8 rashers of bacon of your choice (I prefer back but you may like streaky)
2 tblspns Golden or maple syrup
2 tblspns of Lime or lemon juice
Pancake mixture

Method:
Wrap two slices of bacon round each banana
Place under a hot grill until the bacon is lightly browned, turning as necessary
Remove from the grill and keep hot
Mix the syrup with the lime or lemon juice
Make pancakes as per the above recipe
Wrap each bacon banana in a pancake
Drizzle with the syrup

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Filed under Food, Recipes, Seasonal, Storecupboard

party

Use unravelled cassette tapes to make understated party streamers.

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Filed under under the net

Scary school-gate mothers and how we bring up our children

I am always really put off when I hear people saying things like “Oh”, (they always start off by saying “Oh”) “Oh, I did a Delia” when they mean “I used a recipe from the latest Delia Smith cookery book and it turned out really rather well” or, when having a baby, “Oh, are you doing a Gina Ford/Jo Frost?” to explain the method of childrearing they are planning to adopt.  The same people will also loudly insist on “Doing a tray bake!” for the school cake stall, when it would have been perfectly adequate to simply volunteer to chip in with a cake or two.

My regular readers will have begun to notice that I have the capacity to be an inveterate bigot on occasion.  I see this kind of loud allegiance as middle class gang culture.  The culture extends way beyond cookery and child-rearing (take it as read that it includes cars, clothes, cafes, tutors and children’s parties to name but a few).  The middle class school playground is becoming a place of bullying and intimidation, not by the children, but by the mothers, who strive to out-do one another on every conceivable level.  They pledge their allegiance, or animosity, through their possessions, their husbands, the talents of the children or their ability to entertain, all of which are flaunted with all the relish of the amphitheatre.

Personally I keep well out of it, I look one way and speak another and the Gangs don’t know what to make of me;  do I look like a tramp (half the time) because I’m so posh that I can afford to look scruffy or am I just poor and beyond consideration.  I leave them guessing.  I know who my friends are and they know me.

My friend Irish Alice has sent her daughter to a very fine local public school and, after enduring a couple of terms of intimate probing to ascertain where she stood in relation to class, money and clothes, and getting absolutely no satisfactory response, she is virtually ignored on the rare occasions when she turns up to a school function.  She is not crushed by this.

This is not what I set out to write however.  My initial point was about my own bigotry.  I tend to avoid like the plague anything that is hyped to the ends of the earth or protagonised by people I don’t like, and it is sometimes to my own detriment.  Harry Potter was one, Shrek was another and Super Nanny, Jo Frost, is the most recent.

I didn’t watch her because I was sick to death of hearing people saying “Are you doing Jo Frost!”.  But for some reason, I have been around to watch a few programmes of her new series and I think she’s absolutely brilliant.  This woman is sheer, walking, talking common sense.  There’s nothing new in her programmes, no great psychological insights or radical new methods based on years of state funded research, she simply looks at children and families and applies good, old fashioned common sense, laced with a healthy measure of clarity and compassion.

So many families these days are completely ruled by their children.  I know of many parents who have no personal time with each other, who run their kitchens like cafes, whose children have started school and are still not sleeping through the night, who feed their children the processed crap they demand and then wonder why they have no concentration and behave badly.  They seem to have completely lost touch with any instinct about how to manage children and I think one reason for that is down to the dissipation of families.  At one time, families lived in close proximity, sisters and aunts and cousins had babies and everyone mucked in – I had rarely even held a baby before I had my own.

I’m not a great fan of Baby Books, but if you’re going to get one, get hers.  I know she gets a lot of flak for her rigidity with her timetable for babies, but if you adapt it to suit your own life and not become a slave to it, those (old fashioned) methods will make life an awful lot easier.  One of her first jobs is usually to train the parents, who frequently lack resolve or a sense of authority and we all know that when we are ground down and exhausted, it feels so much easier to give in for a quiet life.  But it’s not the parents who get the quiet life and frankly, if you don’t feel that you know better than your children, should you really be having them at all?

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Family and Friends