Month: July 2010


Day 24 of the school holidays, and we still haven’t found our stride. The first week of the break we messed around getting ready for our family holiday, and Gidg was involved in that, then we actually WERE on our holidays and that was great. Then Ollie’s parents were here for a week (that’s another column on its own) and now we’re back to work but with a small blond helper in tow.  The summer brings with it another rhythm that we have yet to find. Gone is the imperativeness of being at the school gates at 9am, but the demands of work are still there. ‘I’m not tired, I don’t wanna go to bed, it’s still light’ is the familiar complaint from our daughter as 8pm slides into 9pm, and then sometimes into 10pm. So, a routine was needed, but which summer school to choose? You also hope that a summer school will give your child the chance to learn something they wouldn’t get the chance to do at school, it shouldn’t be a babysitting service.

The ex pat mum jungle telegraph has been beating loudly as the experiences of each other’s children dictate if we try a certain school. The local ones are pretty cheap, but the kids didn’t seem to be happy. Last year we stuck it out and insisted that Gidg go to a local summer school even though she was frightened of the bigger boys who would play rough games, we had to, we were broke, and we didn’t have a choice about not working. And the same goes for this year, but where to choose and would she be happy have become big issues.

One of Gidg’s little friends has gone to the Club de Vela sailing school in Port Andratx, which looks like fun, but she’s just six months too young to go. Another one is on a farm, others are staying at home. So it wasn’t as if she could go to a summer school with a mate, tricky business. Everything is a learning curve and we didn’t want her (or us) to have to go through another summer where she was miserable every day and

But then we heard about what Ian and Becky from Pickles Dance School are doing for the summer, and the decision made itself. Every weekday Gidg is now off like a shot to what has become affectionately known as ‘The Big Girls’ Holiday Club’ which they are hosting in a hotel in Palma Nova. It’s populated with lovely girls just a couple of years older than Gidg and they are all, of course, well versed in the ways of stick-on tattoos, Hannah Montana and pop songs. So far Gidg has mastered the art of swimming without armbands, is now wearing a bikini, and is learning to line dance. If that’s not preparation for the world of the big girl, I don’t know what is.

Missing in action

We’ve lost Leo.

He was the first toy that we ever bought for our daughter, Gigi. She’s cuddled him, carried him around, fed him biscuits, dressed him up in her favourite princess outfit, introduced him to strangers, been photographed with him endlessly, and slept with him every day since she was born, twiddling his stupidly long ears as she drifted off. He’s a sad looking character, bought in the second hand shop in Andratx for the paltry sum of a euro back when I was heavily pregnant and we were shopping for cheap baby stuff to get ready for the big event. People couldn’t really decide what he was: a teddy with unnaturally elongated ears, a rabbit? No, he’s her perrito. And he’s gone. Muneça down, missing in action.

I’m devastated. I still have my first toy, a (now) three legged lamb, missing vital parts of its anatomy, and fur, and I always imagined Gidg would keep Leo forever as a reminder of her childhood.

We have recreated the scene: we last remember Gigi having him at the Port Andratx ice cream parlour, where Gigi always, without fail, has the strawberry sorbet because it looks the most exciting, and then makes sure that she also gets to eat everyone else’s ice creams as well. We’ve turned out both cars in the hope he’ll be lurking underneath. We’ve postered the Port, with a heartrending image of the odd little stuffed dog.  Nothing. I find myself peering into building sites, and dark corners of car parks hoping to catch a glimpse of a long brown ear or his dirty beige fur.

If there were only a Missing Stuffed Toy helpline we could leave our details with; perhaps he’s tried to contact us and can’t get home.

The thing is Gidg hasn’t really noticed Leo’s gone, except when she sees a photograph of him, and then longingly repeats his name, which is heartbreaking. She has a stable of underused teddies, dolls, giraffes, monkeys, she’s even got a polar bear; and they are now all getting their share of affection and taking turns at being her bedtime companion as we read yet again The Tiger Who Came To Tea´.

But I haven’t quite relinquished the search, I’m not ready to let go of her first toy,

I’ve comforted myself with the idea that Leo is the stuffed toy equivalent of the dog from the 80’s TV show ‘The Littlest Hobo’, this friendly creature would come and stay for a while, sort out a family and its problems and then move on to his next good deed.

So wherever you are Leo, good luck, keep your ears clean, and thank you for the memories.

Liking It

I like canoeing, I like floating down the river Ceze on a balmy June day with my delighted four year old kid and my grown-up kid husband. I like watching trout and perch slink across the river bed. I like watching dandelion clocks unravel themselves in the slanting sunlight. I like picnics. I like the heron that swooped across us and landed delicately in the branches of an oak tree.

I like family weddings. I like seeing my mum so ecstatically happy. I like her new husband. I like the village that they live in, where two kisses are not enough, and you have to do three, before accepting a glass of icy cold rosé from the local artist, who also grew the grapes.

I like the butterflies that skitter amongst the lavender bushes. I like the warmth of the sun on the nape of my neck, without having to worry about working despite it.  I like the heady buzzing of cicadas.

I like lengthy, meandering conversations conducted by candlelight, and accompanied by the local hooch.

I like waking up in the morning, the early sun breaking through the white shutters, not knowing what time it is, but knowing it is time to watch my daughter continue to perfect swimming without armbands.

I like happy children, who are too tired to have a bedtime story because they have been having adventures all day.

I like getting lost, amongst fields of vines, and lavender, and sunflowers, and not caring where we are. I like that my husband didn’t care either.

I like having the time to read, not one, but two books (one was brilliant, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, the other was not, but I still read it ‘cause I could). I like not turning on my mobile phone. I like not responding to emails. I like eating homemade cherry jam with the crispest, freshest croissants. I don’t like French coffee, which isn’t a patch on our local café, but I like remembering to tell them when I get home that they have the best coffee in the world.

I like coming home, and finding the burglars hadn’t bothered, the cat is fine, and the dog has been given a bath by my friend. I like unloading the fine Cote de Rhone wine and the fresh goat cheese, the exquisite lavender essential oil, and the beautiful herb plants we have brought home with us, and working out who will get what from our present cache.

I like holidays.

It’s ironic that we had to go away from Mallorca to remember all of this, when so many people come here for their holidays. Let’s hope this year that we can make other people’s holidays as wonderful. Here’s something to hang on to as we go into the summer season where we to have to work so extremely hard to make a living to carry us through the winter: the beach is still free. See you there.

Vicki McLeod Is Away, well, almost…


If all goes to plan, then when you pick up your copy of the EWN for this week we will be off on our first proper family holiday ever: to see my mum get hitched in France. And a nice bit of France at that.

We are beside ourselves with excitement at the prospect of doing absolutely nothing for a few days. What bliss. However the build up to a holiday does seem to have to be exponentially the most stressful few days of your life. Why is that? Why do we have to put our plants in the bath and clean out the fridge before we go away? Why do I feel the need to actually clean the windows and hoover under the sofa? I’m not pregnant, I’m going on holiday.

We’ve only just got round to getting our green bits of paper together (with able help from Mallorca angels who fixed it with the minimum of fuss). We apparently should have had these bits of paper for the last year or more… ahem.  But it’s never enough to just have the one piece of paper in Spain. We (I) then had to go back to the local council and renew our Empadron certificates in order to qualify for the resident’s travel discount for the ferry. In hindsight, I should have got my angels to do this bit too.

The lady who issues the Empadrons at the council gave me very short shrift when I turned up, ‘if it is for travel then I have to see your passports’. What? A fellow traveller, who had remembered her passport, clever girl, turned to me and said ‘apparently it’s all down to some British bloke who didn’t like the old ID cards, said that they were an invasion of privacy’. Well, thanks unnamed British bloke for your wasteful use of my rapidly diminishing time, and back to our house I went to pick up the passports.

This was followed by thirty minutes of Olympic sized panicking when I couldn’t find my passport. It was in the glove box of the car, don’t ask. Off I trekked back to the council. I felt that a drum roll or a small amount of applause would have been in order, but no, no praise from the lady. Little white papers were issued. Job done? Ha! No way. They’d spelt Gidg’s name incorrectly. That involved taking another number and waiting in another office to get another piece of paper to correct their mistake. Guess who came and sat at the desk and took my details? The same lady. ‘I need this to travel with, when will it be ready?’ ‘Manana.  A la mejor . . .’

Then as I was leaving the office dishevelled from finding lost things and remembering forgotten ones, I bumped into another parent from Gidg’s school. ‘Hola! What are you doing here?’ ‘Today is the day we register for the summer school.’ ‘… just today?’ ‘Yes, until midday’. She showed me the list of new pieces of paper whilst that familiar sinking stomach feeling kicked in . . . ‘Are you okay? You look like you need a holiday’. Never a truer word said.

P.S. Burglars, the key’s under the flowerpot, please clean up before you leave.

Hello Stranger!

I almost ran over my cat this week.

In a strange way I enjoyed it, I haven’t seen him in months, so it was nice to see he was still alive, although his road skills haven’t improved.

We had two cats, a brother and sister, which we imported from London when we moved to the island in 2004. We’d had them since they were kittens when we adopted them from the local cat home. We painstakingly went through to the exporting procedures, all of the jabs and paperwork were done. With the vet we decided to drive them down from London to Mallorca because one of them had a heart condition; the journey was so stressful I think I had developed my own heart condition by the time I finally made it onto the Barcelona ferry.

We worried about the sun burning the boy cat’s nose and ears, they were so white. We trained the girl cat to stay on the pavement as we feared she was a bit too stupid to cross the road.  They caught lizards and huge bugs. Life was good.

And then we had our little girl, Gidg, and moved house to S’Arraco, and gradually everything changed. The cats were knocked down from first to last position in our attentions, and I think their feelings were a little hurt.

The girl cat hung in there, persistently showing us we were ‘her people’, leaping onto laps whenever there was one available. But the boy cat started to go AWOL, and would disappear for days on end. A friend of ours needed to home a couple of her cats, so we took them in, and exactly the same thing happened, they stuck around for a couple of days and then disappeared. We couldn’t figure out where they were going, until a neighbour told us about the ‘Cat Lady’ of S’Arraco. Apparently up the road from us lives a lady who generously feeds all of the local strays.  At a given time twice a day she rings a bell and all of the cats come running for their dinners.

I did manage to grab the boy cat one day and bring him back inside, to try to remind him that our house was where he was supposed to be living, but he did a runner as soon as possible. It broke my heart to see him dashing out of the window, what had we done to upset him?

But our boy cat, give him his dues he is the smarter one of the two, must have decided the menu was better up the road, and proving  what every cat owner knows, nobody owns a cat.

Sticky Subject

My little girl’s teacher has broken her leg, and will be off work until September. You would not believe the chaos this has caused in our house. Gidg has a new teacher, and with this new teacher have come new rules: a sticker reward system which has resulted in my little girl coming home in tears. ‘Why didn’t I get a sticker mummy? I tried very hard’. Heartbreaking stuff having to listen to your child being disappointed over something as trivial as a sticker, but the sticker symbolises that she has been a good girl and pleased her new teacher, and I know that she desperately wants to please her. So I understand. But what I didn’t understand was how the decision was made as to which of the kids got a sticker that day. So off I trotted to school to ask.

The new teacher is about half my age, it’s a bit like that old saying ‘you know you’re getting old when policemen look like teenagers’. I explain that the sticker system isn’t really understood in our house, and that it’s upsetting, my daughter, one of her pupils. Too late, I remember I have committed that cardinal sin, of questioning a person in authority. It doesn’t go down too well with doctors or council workers either in my experience.

I struggle on in my Spanglish, ‘Why have we got the system, when we didn’t need it two weeks ago?’ Again, blank, one eyebrow raised. ‘And how do you decide who is going to get a sticker?’ By this time the teacher’s decided she’s speaking to a pushy parent. ‘If YOU want your child to have a sticker every day then I will give her a sticker,’ she says with a ‘who the hell are you to ask me about my teaching’ kind of shrug. ‘No, no, I don’t want that, I want to understand how it works so I can explain it to her’ (by this time I’ve roped in one of the other parents to help translate). ‘We give out three stickers a day.’ ‘What do they have to do to get a sticker?’ ‘They help me put away the chairs.’ And she turns on her heel and goes into the classroom.

So actually it’s not really about behaviour, it’s about being tidy. I leave the school feeling like I’ve made the situation ten times worse and wish I hadn’t said anything at all, but at least I understand why Gigi may not be getting those stickers as regularly as she would like…

That afternoon, I pick her up from school. ‘Hey baby, how was your day?’ ‘Good’ ‘Did you get a sticker today?’ Gigi looked at me with exactly the same nonchalant shrug, ‘Yep’. ‘What for?’  ‘I stood up and told the class why I was angry about the stickers.’

That’s my girl.

Husband: 1; Garden: 0

We’re quite partial to a glass of vino in our house. It’s nice to open a bottle of wine and have a copa after we’ve got the Gidg in bed. Now the weather is improving we can move outside and sit in our garden and look out over the view of the S’Arraco hills and watch them turning from green to pink to blue as the sun sets. We prefer to look out of the garden rather than at the garden, because it’s a disaster zone.  Our garden is a source of constant frustration that we haven’t had the time or the money to crack on with it and make a nice place to be in for ourselves and our little girl. We’re not short of a few friends who are builders and landscape gardeners, but everyone is always so busy it’s difficult to know how we’re ever going to start, let alone finish, the work we want to do.

What makes it even more frustrating is that the garden has potential: it has an orange tree which bears fruit (although we’d probably make more use of a lemon tree to flavour up the G & Ts). And we have the makings of a bodega, if we could just figure out how to get the vine from the ‘making leaves’ to ‘making grapes’ stage without the plant being attacked by evil black beetles. That is why my husband decided to go on a mission to the local garden centre, and returned with a bag of sulphur.  ‘What are you going to do with that?’ I asked, ‘isn’t sulphur dangerous?’ ‘I am going to puff the sulphur over the top of the leaves to kill the beetles,’ he announced confidently. My raised eyebrows said it all. I should explain at this point, that although my husband is tall, he’s not taller than the vine which must roam up to ten feet off the ground on a support. And along with having no time or money, we also never have the right tools for the job, which means that every teaspoon and butter knife has been used at some point to unscrew a screw or lever open something electrical. His first, ambitious plan was to fill balloons with sulphur and then pop them with a sharp (kitchen, of course) implement above the vine, thus sprinkling sulphur all over the plant. This was deemed impossible without the use of helium, or Heath Robinson. Back to the drawing board, and another copa de vino, to help the brain tick.

After an inspirational copa, he put plan B into action. Armed with an empty five litre water bottle, a bit of wire, a bendy pole, a steely determination, and a wobbly ladder, he successfully deposited sulphur all over the leaves (and himself). That should show those pesky beetles. Who needs Alan Titchmarsh anyway? Bodega McLeod is on its way.

Win some, lose some.

I took my little girl, Gidg, on a perfect ‘little girl day out’ last weekend to watch rhythmic gymnastics in Andratx. Our local sports centre was filled to the rafters with little girls wearing glittery leotards and sporting elaborate hairdos glued into position with at least a can of hairspray each.  They ranged in age from about 5 years old to mid-teens, with the younger ones looking super cute in their outfits, and the older ones looking, well, a tad uncomfortable really as they were filling those leotards, if you know what I mean.  The kids were all there to compete in the regional qualifiers for the Balearic Islands, and the standard seemed to be extremely high. Gidg and I were there to support a friend of ours, Allison from Salon Bling in Palma Nova, and her little girl Sophie, who is part of the Costazul Calvia team from El Toro.

It sounds a bit Victorian, but I think children entering competitions is a really important part of their development. I don’t agree with those ‘nobody loses’ type of party games, because life isn’t like that. Although it is tough for children, my one at least, to learn how to handle losing, and it’s tough for the parents, me at least, to put them in that position where they may fail, I still think it’s a vital process to go through. There was a fraught and emotional afternoon a few months ago which involved a session of musical chairs at a kid’s party, Gidg (who’d managed to get down to the last two skipping around the chair) had ultimately lost and was completely inconsolable at not bagging the prize. Not a pretty sight, but that’s okay, we both made it through that life lesson.

So I think it’s impressive to see groups of kids, entering competitions, being judged and learning that sometimes they have to work harder to improve themselves. Gidg on the other hand was fascinated by the sparkly outfits that all of the kids were wearing, and very jealous of the elaborate eye makeup.  All of the kids who were competing seemed to be enjoying themselves, as much for being part of a team as the actual performance, and it was wonderful to watch them solemnly line up for their ‘good luck’ kisses from their trainers, and the huge hugs and praise they all received afterwards for just getting out there and trying to do their best.

Sophie and her teammates presented a complicated routine. I don’t know much about gymnastics (I was built for comfort rather than speed) but I could see how much practice and preparation had gone into creating the performance. Allison had told me about the painstaking application of sequins to leotards, and how complicated it had been, and about the four practice sessions Sophie attended every week, so it was very satisfying to see them being awarded first place in their group.

Onwards and upwards. Another of life’s lessons learnt.

Charity begins at home

 It’s been a humbling week.

My four year old daughter has decided this week to turn into a teenager, every request is met with either complete indifference, or (with the comedy timing of John Cleese) a perfectly blown raspberry. But just when I am completely at the end of my tether I meet a family who have overcome bigger problems than I could ever imagine possible:  Jake Peach and his mum Karen, and step dad Martin have been to hell and back over the past couple of years.

I first met Jake and his family this time last year when he stunned the normally very jolly Pirates’ Charity Premiere audience into complete silence as he made an accomplished and moving speech about his battle with leukaemia and his treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital. He looked pale, but you could tell he had guts and a fantastic sense of humour. The photographers who would normally have been snapping constantly throughout the speech all stopped, and you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. Afterwards I managed to meet his parents and was overwhelmed by their strength and how they calmly told the story of watching their boy in a coma and wondering if he was going to live or die.  

You can forget, as a parent, how lucky you are to have a cheeky, energetic, occasionally disobedient but ultimately, healthy, child, or at least, I had. And a year on I get to meet the family again. Jake is blooming with health, he’s even picked up some freckles sprinkled across his nose. I get to speak to his mum, Karen, and ask her how her year has gone. ‘It’s been very busy. Martin and I have both changed jobs, and we’ve moved house. We’ve been lucky that we could take time off to do things with Jake as he’s been busy raising money for the hospital. He persuaded Arsenal football club to sponsor Great Ormond Street Hospital to fund a new lung function unit, and he won a Pride of Britain award.’ It’s staggering to think what this family has achieved in a year when so many of us get stuck in a rut in our lives. I ask Jake about school, and suddenly he’s just a regular 13 year old boy, ‘What’s your favourite subject?’ ‘Erm . . .P.E?’ ‘and your worst?’ He grins and nods, now we’re on the same wavelength, ‘Geography.’

Later on, back at my daughter’s school, they have a special ‘Solidarity Day.’ All the little kids bring an ingredient for a salad, they make the meal together for their parents and the parents make a donation towards a Guatemalan charity for children. Our daughter helps with the dinner and then stands up and shows the assembled parents a photo of the Guatemalan children, pointing at it she says sincerely ‘They don’t have anything to eat.’ Suddenly my stroppy child transforms into an angel, and I melt.