Thursday, 24 October 2013

LCM's bake-off

Apparently there has been this series on the telly called 'The Bake-Off' or 'Let's Bake' or 'Wear a Pinnie and Make Fancy Things with Icing' or something like that.

I have no idea. I will rely on others to tell me all about it.

Anyway, my point is that since the last post, I have been feverishly working myself up in to a floury frenzy, fretting about what to donate to Mr Man's Year 6 cake sale taking place on the Friday before half term. That'll be tomorrow.

Could I possibly do a 'Calendar Girls' special and buy a M&S Victoria Sponge and pass it off as my own? What about a Waitrose chocolate roll? Or a Sainbury's fruit loaf?

Not at all. In spite of all forms of procrastination I could think of (and there are many, believe me, imminent conf call and strategic business planning for phase two of major project for a client being just a couple of them), I actually took up the challenge and have baked not one, not two, but three different offerings to present to the paying masses.

This was my first effort:

Okay, okay, so they were out of a packet.
Sue me.

I was so pleased with myself I tweeted my fellow class rep and cake-stall-organiser and partner-in-crime (because so much more fun than texting, innit).
As ever, she did not mince her words.

So I baked these:

Mini lemon madeiras - and that's runny icing
in the corners, no drool

It appears I was not trying hard enough: 

So I came up with these:

Sticky, tacky and appealing to young 'uns

Perfect, apparently.
Taste test with cherubs to follow shortly. If they're bouncing off the ceilings by bed time, I'll know I've hit the (sugar) jackpot.


Friday, 18 October 2013

Of deadlocks, strikes, draconian laws and baking cakes

Amidst the whirlwind of running a business and cajoling clients in to accelerating timelines - also known in common parlance as the 'put-a-rocket-up-your-arse-or-the-wheels-will-fall-off-your-company' technique - I have being paying cursory attention to the whole US budget brawl and government shut-down saga.

I have also been dealing with issues closer to home that have to do with pestiferous unions and a teachers' strike.

Given that I am not a SAHM (Stay At Home Mum - keep up people!) and due to the aforementioned unions' indirect interference and knock-on effect on wraparound school care provision, I had to park conference calls and client meetings yesterday and take on a new mantle.

Full time mother to three children.

Here's a quick summary of events:

  • 08:00 - include kids (aged 10, 9 and 8 btw) in PT session with the Moose - chaotic, children acting like total nutters, akin to cats on speed, LCM's mood not aided by fact that her eldest (Mr Man) runs so fast she cannot touch him, let alone reprimand him because he is, literally, 'streets ahead';
  • 09:30 - oversee Blossom (daughter)'s cake-making extravaganza and coordinate small army of 'helpers' in the background who insist on also mixing/weighing/pouring/licking spoons/bowls/knives/anything except the inside of the dishwasher;
  • 11:15 - have shower and wonder whether anyone will notice if I retire to bed early claiming headache or sore finger or similar;
  • 11:25 - start homework
  • 11:55 - kids 'make lunch'
  • 12:30 - kids still 'making lunch'
  • 12:57 - kids interrupted from 'making lunch' by being told to do their laundry and put it away unless they fancy wearing odd socks and fancy dress to school for the rest of the term because the Laundry Fairy has gone on holiday and clothes do not magically wash themselves;
  • 12:58 - refrain from answering Widget (youngest)'s persistent questions about where has the Laundry Fairy gone on holiday;
  • 13:00 - continue homework and request some music practice given outlay of money for lessons (Blossom on cornet, a good deal of coercing required, not least due to distraction of recently baked cake, now iced)
  • 13:05 - music practice finished - yes, exactly, @£#%&@?? Never mind... pick your battles wisely
  • 14:00 - homework finished. I will repeat that. FINISHED. Quick scan over kitchen table displays two laptops, one notebook, two kindles, a calculator, various pieces of paper, numerous pens, lots of rubber filings from erasers and several empty mugs of tea. No discarded nurofen packets visible.
  • 14:07 - on bikes to collect two other friends for 'play date'
  • 14:30 to 18:15 - river walk, playground, swings, roundabouts, tree-climbing (complete with mock 'leg break' just to freak me out, although the sniggers and laughter sort of gave the kids away), cake eating, game playing, movie watching, pizza eating, returning of play dates to parents...
  • 18:25 - handover to OH in time to get to a governors' meeting (somewhat akin to last point but more serious and involving grown ups)

So, in summary, things I have learnt:
  1. SAHM = bloody hard graft (I knew this, but every now and then it is good to be reminded)
  2. negotiate to get things done but be prepared to concede some ground (something the US Congress could do with putting in to practice more readily rather that appearing as total arses to the rest of the world)
  3. kids are perfectly capable of doing their own laundry and putting it away (see point 2 if in any doubt)
  4. I survived
  5. my daughter bakes a very fine cake

Lemon iced Madeira,
truly scrumptious 


Monday, 14 October 2013

No messin'

It was just another weekend and another minis rugby festival.

Five years on since the eldest started playing and you would think I'd be used to all this stuff.

Anyway. First things first: it was NOT raining. Hooray. One - nil to me (and the troops).
Also: I did NOT get lost getting to the venue. Excellent. Two - nil.
And: no mustering of the troops since stepping down as Team Manager and letting others lead the way. Relief. Three - nil.


Except I was asked if I would referee some of the matches.

Now, let's be clear here. I have not attended the formal ELRA course yet. Not because I don't want to, but more because the RFU likes shifting the dates around and none of them suit my busy (social) calendar.
However, I have refereed sufficient minis games up to U8s to a) know the form, b) know the rules and c) know which end of the whistle to blow in to.

So of course I stepped up to the mark, very happy to help out, as ever.

All well, a terrific game between the host club's U8s B team and a very valiant opposing side. Score of 10-3 to the hosts.

Complimented on my refereeing by none other than Serge Betsen who was on the sidelines.

And then asked to referee another match. This one between the hosts' U8s A team versus a North of London side.

I think my recounting via email of the event to the U9s head coach covers everything:

"Hysterical exchange with the North of London team coaches (hard men of the 'tats-you-like' school of knocks, complete with wraparound dark glasses) who were busy mouthing off at me from the sidelines until I stopped the match, walked over and asked if there was a problem.

Him - "Kids can't hear you calling the tags! I'm calling them!"
Me - "And that's why they cannot hear, because you are shouting over me."
Him - "And the opposition are crowding our players, they can't pass!"
Me - "It has been noted and they have already been told."
Him - "You need to do something about it!"
Me - "Would you like to referee?"
Him (pointing somewhere vaguely over my shoulder) - "I did one over there…"
Me (holding out the whistle) - "Do you want to referee this match?"
Him - "Uhmm, no…"
Me - "Right, so then SHUT UP. I am the referee. I make the decisions. Show some respect and set an example to your kids."

*Cue cheering from the other team's side of the pitch*

Of course, as I walked away he then noted I had 'Boss' emblazoned on the back of my hoodie.

Result: hosts 8 - mouthy men 3.

As the winning team's coaches commented whilst shaking my hand post match, "We reckoned not to mess with you!"
And this was after Serge Betsen had complimented me on my refereeing in the earlier match."

To which I received the following reply:

"And great to get validation from Mr Betsen. Although take that with a pinch of salt: as one of the best back row players of his age one could argue he had a healthy disdain/ignorance of the laws!"

Never mind. I, for one, am walking at least a foot taller. 

Four - nil, I reckon.

Yes, it is him.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

On yer bike!

Some things are anxiously anticipated. Like exam results.

Others are nervously pre-empted. Like lurking parking wardens.

Even more are totally fretted about due to fear of failure or being 'shown up' as a pretentious wannabe who is all talk and no action and will be (self) dubbed 'Madame Escargot' by the rest of the party.

Yes. You know where I am coming from.

That strange land of the two-wheeled lycra-clad power-to-weight-ratio obsessed cyclists.

And I loved it.

After a rather delayed departure from Heathrow (thank you BA) that entailed replacing lightbulbs and lots of noise involving hydraulics for some two plus hours, we finally winged our way to Linate (that's Milano, Italy, in case you were not au fait with such matters) and were swiftly driven - via an incorrect a baffling a scenic Garmin-led detour through Monza's outskirts - to the gorgeous setting of Bellagio on Lake Como.

Just a touch of cloud and rain

I know this area, but not as well as I thought as I had forgotten how majestic the mountains are, how stunning the views, and how bloody cold it can be when the daytime temperature hovers around 14C degrees!

Never mind. Good food and wine soon put paid to any reservations about the forecast - chilly and drizzle - as did the sight of my bike:

All together now: "Ooooooohh!"

I was smitten. Even more so when we finally set out the following morning.

Actually, I lie. The photo above is Dan Martin's bike. But mine was the same, and that was good enough for me. Sadly it did not make me go a) faster, or b) uphill without considerable effort, but I'll put that down to all the distractions along the way. The views were just one of them. Lots of men in lycra may have been another.

So on Saturday we cycled round lakes, up hills and down vales. Some 100km odd, of which I managed 76km before being swept up by the broom wagon. Am I too proud to admit defeat in the face of Category 1 climbs? Uhmm. No, not really. Especially since the afore-mentioned Garmin route finder was being particularly adept, again, at sending us (in the BW) the opposite way to the rest of the cycling party and I was able to make myself indispensable by pushing the four ton minivan backwards off a raised kerb, uphill.

Yes, I have my uses. Fast two-wheeled ascents are not one of them.

That evening, more fabulous food and wine, great conversation and lots of laughs with other members of our group: a father - 'King' Russell - and (6ft 5in) son James, an American couple - Nate and Kate - from Washington DC, Nick the exiled Yorkshireman residing in Belgium and permanently looking for a cash machine, and our amazing guides Richard and Jim.

Cyclists united in lycra

Sunday saw us rendezvous in Bergamo for the start of the Giro di Lombardia.

Bergamo - calm before the circus hit town

And part of the circus arrives

I found my laundry fairy!

The Death Star (aka Team Sky)

In true Italian style, everyone heads for the start
at the same time, en masse. 

'Il Lombardia' is a one day 242km race with the mother-of-all-bastard-climbs at the 180km mark, the infamous Muro di Sormano which we had attempted to master the day before. Two of the group managed: 'dad' Russell (much to his son's chagrin) and guide Jim. Richard proved his worth on the Sunday by conquering it as well.

Here's a visual taste for you:

Yes, that does say AVERAGE incline
of 17%

Fortunately, although it was cool and wet, there was better visibility than when we were at the peak the previous day:

Which way is down please?

I digress. The point I am trying (feebly) to make is that these professional cyclists sailed over this monster hill of some 1.7km in length and then still had another hill to climb past the Madonna del Ghisallo chapel before cycling down a hairpin bend-ful descent (yes, I made that phrase up) and another 40km to the finish line.

You cannot but be in awe of these athletes. The fact that you can furthermore be in the thick of it at the start, during the event and throughout the whole race and within licking - not literally - distance of the the cycling stars adds further to the fun and entertainment.

Total concentration and power

Those numbers? Not distance travelled, oh no.
Increase in height above sea level.
Just in case you thought "it doesn't look that steep"

Favourite moment?

Sending the kids back home (who are all mad about the sport) this photo with a question: guess whose bike this is?

Clue in the name on the frame

Next morning I received my reply:

"Neripin Tarna".

I am still laughing. I'm hoping he would be too.

Colombian rider extraordinaire: Nairo Quintana,
henceforth Neripin Tarna in the LCM household

Huge thanks to La Fuga and the Giro team with whom we enjoyed (in OH's words) "one of the best weekends away ever".  A most fitting anniversary present for twenty years' worth of nagging.

And they didn't even pay me to write this post. 

Even though I can drop a (lightweight) hint.

Love the bike!


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Why food matters to Kevin

Remember Kevin?
Yes? Good, you've been following this blog long enough then.
No? Where the bloody hell have you been? Go sit on the naughty step and read this. And this. Tsk.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Kevin.

So the masses that are the Kevinettes descended on the Aussie Solicitor's home on Monday night: a full house, bantering and laughing and chatting and drinking and discussing the two books we had read since our last rendezvous.

We all loved one of them - even the couple amongst us who had not quite read (or finished) the book yet were as enthusiastic about it, so rich were the plaudits. Beautifully written, touching, upsetting and both unspeakably stoic and tragic, you have to keep on remembering that these are true stories and of a time so very recent. One of the best reads Kevin has ever had, we all agreed.

Note: if you have not read it either, then get a copy quick smart, it is brilliant. And then make sure you also watch this film.

As for the other book, barely two of us had finished the whole tome, others were struggling and the rest decided they would not bother after all. Why? Let's just say that when you read about the billions of dollars wasted on 'psychological warfare' by the US in the pursuit of, essentially, trying to walk through walls - yes, really - or killing goats merely by staring at them, you either keep on reading because you think someone is going to suddenly say, "Joke! I was kidding!" (they don't, they are totally serious), or you give up because it portrays certain elements of the American establishment (very high up the chain of command, which is more unsettling) as being, well, fundamentally stupid.

Make your own mind up.

Now when I said we were a full house, well, we were eventually.

The Lovely Radiographer was fashionably late and joined us straight at the dinner table. After the silence that accompanied the usual food troughing eating - pierced only by praise for the delicious meal - she piped up.

"What's for pudding?"

We all laughed, but she was dead serious.

She continued, "Because if it's some creamy milky fancy fluffy thing, I'll have seconds (of the main) instead!"

(nb. there is a case of lactose intolerance here which puts things in to context)

It wasn't. Creamy milky fancy fluffy thing, that is.
It was the most amazing boiled orange cake ever. Dairy free, no less.

So we had seconds of that.
Kevin hates waste.
Books or otherwise.



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