Sunday, December 15, 2013

Happy 18th!

I can hardly believe that it's been 18 years since you made your way reluctantly into the world, 3 weeks late, a shade under 11lbs, effectively signalling the end of my bikini wearing days and the start of one of my greatest journeys.

You started off doing things your way and eighteen years later, not much has changed! It wasn't the easiest birth and the post-partum haemorrhage you set off left the delivery room looking like the scene of a slasher movie, while the three units of blood I had transfused put an end to any plans I might have had to be a blood donor, it being the height of the mad cow outbreak. Quite appropriate some might say.

But it was worth it. Every minute that I thought they had stitched my stomach to my navel, every awkward shower I took while hooked up to my trusty drip, every moment that I wondered if I would ever feel normal again, every minute I spent like Daisy the Dairy Cow, attached to an industrial sized (or so it seemed) breast pump that reminded me of the milking machines on my uncle's farm because you refused to breast feed, every failed attempt at controlled crying, every mile I drove around the Dublin hills trying to get you off to sleep, only for you to wake up the moment we got back home, every tear of exhaustion, every split lip, grazed knee and bumped head. Every single moment was worth it because you are, in fact, amazing. You and your sister are my greatest and proudest achievements.

Despite everything you were a dream baby, sleeping through the night from birth, happy, smiley and content. You crawled at five months and walked at 10 months and from then on you were on a voyage of discovery. Every plug socket, every button and knob, every video recorder, every radio, every television. They were all fair game in your mission to retune the world. What you couldn't fiddle with, you climbed on. Your record was five split lips in seven days because whatever you climbed on, you invariably fell off. My life was one long round of half-drunk cups of coffee and bloody cotton wool.

At 15 months, you suddenly decided that sleep was for wimps. We tried everything. Relaxing oils, calm, quiet bedtime routines, music, but the only thing that got you to sleep was going for  drive in the car. Except of course you woke up the minute we got home. In the end, I spent hours sitting on your bedroom floor trying to creep ever closer to the door but the moment I tried to leave you would wake up and cry for me. With your sister due in a matter of months we brought in our secret weapon...Grandma.  In a few days she managed to do what I had failed in for months and peace was restored to our house. It was achieved just in time for Emily's arrival. You loved her from the moment you saw her and, apart from a bit of a wobble in France, you have remained staunch friends and allies. You have always looked out for her because she's not as strong as you are.

As you got older you developed a fascination for knowledge. You weren't interested in story books. You wanted to know facts.  Each morning you would wake me up with the same words. 'Mummy, did you know...' and then you would regale me with fact, after fact, after fact. You were incredibly observant and constantly amazed us with the things you noticed. I still remember walking up the path to Legoland and you suddenly shouted, 'Mummy, look at that bug', and pointed to a green insect on a green leaf about 30 feet away. How you saw it I will never know. It's a talent you still have today. Only last year we were watching a film on DVD and you commented that the sound man was in shot running along with a boom mike. No-one else had noticed and in fact it took two goes of going back over the film until we found the shot you were talking about. It must have lasted about a second and we struggled, even in slow motion, to see it.

You went on your first plane journey at the age of three weeks and by the time you went to school we have lived in Ireland for two years, Portugal for seven months, Cyprus for six months and the Czech Republic, on and off, for eight months.  You were a seasoned traveller and every country gave you more opportunity to increase your knowledge.  When you started school your teacher commented that you had a general knowledge far in advance of your age. Everywhere you went, Pooh Bear went too...until that day we left him in the toilets at Heathrow Airport. You were distraught. We arranged for family and friends abroad to send you messages and postcards from Pooh, who had decided on a whim to go and travel the world, at least until we had time to track down a replacement. Who knew there were so many different Winnie the Poohs and that yours, bought by a relative in the US, was simply not available in the UK. In the end, we bought the closest match we could find. I could barely see the difference. We engineered a reunion. You looked at him for a split second and said, 'he's very nice but he's not my Pooh Bear.' Foiled!

You were a very high maintenance child. Always needing stimulation, not good with your own company, no television babysitting for you. You were independent, persistent, assertive, confident and extroverted, qualities we admire in adults, less so in young children. You also couldn't bear labels in clothes, seams in socks and any other kind of physical discomfort. Taking you to the hairdressers was a nightmare as you would complain for days afterwards of the bits of hair itching you.  The someone introduced me to Mary Sheedy Kurcinska's book 'Raising your Sprited Child' and it all fell into place. But all the same everyone loved you and you loved everyone else.
With your Godfather, Ciaran Senior
You loved school from the first moment. It gave you more opportunities to soak up information which you did, all except for vowels. You didn't quite get those! At one stage I thought you would never learn to read because hit, hat and hot seemed indeciperable to you but then it all suddenly clicked and you scrambled your way up the Oxford Reading Tree at top speed.

When you were 8, we moved to France. Like everything else, you met the challenge head-on. I can still remember your first day at school in France. I dropped you off in the playground and left you looking more than a little lost and bewildered. Maitresse wasn't exactly the nurturing kind! I parked a little way from school and phoned Janie and Grandma and bawled. Janie offered to adopt you! When I picked you up at the end of the day, you skipped out of school shouting 'au revoir' to your new school friends. The Ecole Publique Claude Nougaro couldn't have been more different from your nice little prep school on the edge of Windsor Great Park.

In many ways you loved France but the education system beat you down. It wasn't for you. A child with an enquiring mind is not exactly a welcome addition to a French classroom. After four years you had lost your sparkle. Even Monsieur Peyssoneau said so. You were  bilingual and had shown you can bloom wherever you are planted but it was time to think about moving on.

At 14 we moved back, down to the West Country, an area we didn't know and had no links with. It was another adventure that you met head on.

The English system suited you so much more and you thrived in an environment that nurtured individuality and intellect. You made fantastic friends who will probably be with you for life...

took up rugby...

 and rowing...

and were the Year 11 Prom King (don't worry, I would never embarrass you with the 'official' Prom King and Queen photo in that godawful crown!)

It was the right decision. You've done all the things you wanted to do be it Bestival, Glastonbury and Reading or your DofE award or just taking advantage of all the things that living in the depths of rural France didn't offer you.
Sorry Mrs Farr, he really didn't have tonsillitis...
This year has been a difficult one for you and for all of us. We could not possibly have foreseen what was going to happen. Despite Dad's sudden departure from our lives just weeks before your ASs, you struggled on with them and did well (OK, well the less said about Chemistry the better but you were always going to drop that!). We fought a pitched battle with the school over Biology and won and you now have offers from Universities that had previously said they wouldn't take  you.  You led that battle, you weren't afraid to take on your teachers or to speak out and you are now showing them that we were right and they were wrong.

I know you have sometimes felt that you have to be the Man of the House when you should still be young and carefree and you have unfailingly supported your sister, who has found this situation harder than all of us, but you have grown so much as a person and I am more proud of you than you will ever know. I'm sorry Dad didn't think it 'worth it' to come down and spend your 18th with you and maybe his card will arrive on Monday but know this, you will always have one parent who will fight for you, support you, love you and drive a thousand miles to spend half an hour with you if I need to or you need me to. You have a wonderful older half-brother who I'm sure will always be there for too as will your maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. As for the rest of them, well it's their loss. You will do great things in spite of all this and in years to come relationships may be mended, or maybe they won't. You have already shown emotional maturity way beyond your years in some of the hard decisions you have made and you have a strong sense of right and wrong which will serve you well in the future.

You continue to amaze and inspire me and, okay, your taste in music may be a bit iffy but one day you'll hit 30 and realise that it is just a random selection of sounds and not real music, just like your Mum used to say!

The last eighteen years have been our own Incredible Journey and I can't wait to see what the next eighteen bring.

Happy Birthday!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Who Says Thighs Doesn't Matter? (with apologies for the bad grammar)

Well The River Cottage Diaries has become a bit serious of late so it's time to inject a bit of humour and gratuitous photos of well-muscled rugby players into it again in honour of the QBE Autumn Internationals.

Those of you who have been with me for a few years will know that I LOVE rugby. I purposely steered The Boy away from football by sending him to a school that didn't play it. Then of course we moved to South West France where rugby is practically a religion, and one that I'm more than happy to worship at the alter of. He now plays for the town's Colts team - currently top of the Dorset and Wilts Merit Table, which is a good thing, and has the very first signs of a cauliflower ear,which isn't.

I wrote about rugby here (amazingly this post has been viewed by over 10800 people - I bet they were all women too!), here (only a mere 2000 views, that one) and here, (6000 views for that one) and in many more places over the years.

A friend suggested today that women and thighs is the same as men and boobs. Yes, I'm happy to go along with that. We women can be just as shallow. The good thing though is that rugby players thighs are not surgically enhanced. They are all one hundred percent natural.

Back in the days of Chris Moyles' Breakfast Show on Radio 1 he did a 'Rugby Thigh Challenge' and his producer got to measure James Haskell's thighs. Now that's what I call a dream job!

26.5 inches in case you were wondering
The term 'Rugby Thighs' has even made it into the Urban Dictionary with suggestions that the thighs of a rugby player are pretty damn near perfection. I'd agree with that as would most of the bodybuilding forums where the question is often asked 'how can you get thighs like a rugby player?'. I'd have thought the answer tothat is simple. Play rugby.

Bizarrely, if you Google 'rugby players thighs' one of the paid adverts that comes up is 'Pretty Ukrainian Ladies'. Whether or not that means they have rugby player's thighs or not, well, someone else can check that out.

And the rugby year wouldn't be complete without the annual Dieux du Stade calendar, which I have discussed in the past (all in the name of research of course). While I'm not sure about the inclusion of a couple of French football players, I mean, it's not rugby is it, I hope you will enjoy 'le teaser' which you can see here

My current favourite pair of thighs belong to young George North, who plays for Wales. When he was first called up, Warren Gatland, the Wales coach said of him, 'He is a big, physical player. Last time I saw a pair of thighs like that was on some of the Samoans back in New Zealand.' So apparently it's not just a girl thing!

George brings a new meaning to 'thighs like tree trunks'
And to finish up, and show how really shallow I am, here's a gratuitous photo of the Le Caveman, Sebastien Chabal, who has some of the best thighs in the game. Boy do I miss watching him play...