“I’m just off out for…er…cat food!”

THIS week my husband and I celebrated our six year anniversary.

There’s nothing like an occasion such as this to put into perspective just how much times (and one’s relationship) have changed.

Back in the early days when I was still Anna Clarke and I looked youthful and unstressed, Smithy and I would probably have marked the event by exchanging romantic gifts and cards filled with communications of our undying love for each other.

We’d have gone for a meal where we’d have drunk too much and had both dessert AND coffee because we had two incomes and no children and didn’t have to worry about the bill or being up at 6am the next day.

This year I realised the night before that I’d forgotten all about our milestone, so I had to dash to Tesco at 10pm on the pretext of buying cat food to get Smithy a card and a present.

I wrote the card the next morning in the bathroom (so I could lock the door and not risk being rumbled) while Smithy got the baby dressed.

He handed me a card that still had the price tag on, smiled lovingly at me and said: “The last six years have been…oh god the baby’s just pounced on the cat!!”

Then we all went out for lunch.

Smithy and I decided to forgo a starter and all but inhaled our main courses (we’re on borrowed time with a baby who can go from 0 to screaming the place down in approximately two seconds) which turned out to be a good call as our darling offspring got bored and started to throw peas at her fellow diners, prompting a speedy exit.

By the time the baby was in bed we were fit for nothing but staring at the TV in silence.

Still, I must count my blessings: I’m fortunate enough to have a husband who spent a whole £1.49 on my anniversary card. 

Who said romance is dead?

Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on March 17, 2016.

Motherhood: the ugly truth

IN LESS than a week my baby will be a whole year old.

I have no idea where those 12 months have gone but I do know they have been the most amazing of my life – and also, without a doubt, the most difficult.

At times the last year has been little more than a blur of mum-and-baby groups, sleepless nights and desperate negotiations with a tiny, grumpier, greedier version of myself (and the latter two take some doing, I can tell you).

So, to mark the occasion, I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Being a parent is really bloody hard, but being parent to a small baby is like trying to crack an impossible code. If she’s screaming and we’ve already ruled out hunger, tiredness or a nappy-based issue then I’m stumped. 

2. At every baby class you’ll find at least one mum who thinks she has The Best Child Ever. “Of course we always knew Little Jimmy was a musical genius,” she will say, looking adoringly at her distinctly average child, as he stares dead-eyed into the middle-distance. “He mastered the violin – or at least he saw a violin and looked vaguely interested – at just three months old. We’re expecting a call from the London Symphony Orchestra any day!” 

3. Children’s toys are annoying from the second you realise you need an entire toolkit to get them out of their packaging to the moment you finally pull their batteries out and hurl them from an upstairs window. They are all too loud, take up too much space and hurt like hell when you stand on them. (However, on the plus side, and I will give them this, they’re useful babysitters when all you want to do is eat biscuits and catch up on Neighbours.)

4. Nobody is as interested in your baby as you are. I’ve started many conversations with: “You will never guess what the baby said/did/vomited earlier…” before realising that the other person’s eyes have glazed over or they’ve gone slightly green.

5. You will, at some point, run out of biscuits and will resort to raiding the baby’s snack cupboard. At that point you’ll discover that Farley’s rusks are delicious dunked in tea and apple rice cakes are a more than adequate mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Now I have to go as the baby is asleep and I have a week’s worth of Neighbours to work my way through.

And that bag of carrot puffs (‘perfect for weaning babies!’) won’t eat itself, will it?

Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on February 18, 2016

I’ve got 12 seconds and not a moment longer!

AFTER a glorious 12 months on maternity leave I’ve returned to work and, quite frankly, feel like I’ve been hit by a freight train. Twice.

I have no idea how people with multiple children cope because having one extra human being to organise in the morning is pushing me to my limits.

(What I do know is that they deserve medals and glory and unlimited wine on prescription.)

These days, Casa Smith is a tight-run ship.

Everything is planned down to the last minute and there’s no room for manoeuvre. 

If an activity has not been put on the timetable with a precise start and end time it won’t, and can’t, happen.

My poor husband does not know what has hit him.

“What do you mean I can’t have a drink?” he asked slowly, his hand paused halfway towards the kettle, where it had been stopped in its tracks 10 seconds previously by a large squawk. From me.

“I just wanted a hot chocolate before bed…” he added.

I looked at him aghast.

“It’s 9.37pm! Nine! Thirty! Seven! PEE EM!” 

I squawked again.

“We have to be in bed by 9.45pm or we won’t have 15 minutes to nod off and eight hours of sleep before the alarm goes off at 6am! Are you mad?!”

At that point he looked as if he was about to say something, but thought better of it.

He looked longingly at the kettle, then back at me.

“So…you don’t want one then?”

I didn’t have time to answer him.

I was too busy hanging up some wet washing with one hand, ironing the following day’s outfit with the other and using my mouth to run a hairbrush through the baby’s hair.

Now I really must go as I’ve used up my allocated time for writing this column.

Next on the evening’s agenda: making tomorrow’s lunch.

I have four minutes and 32 seconds and not a moment longer.

Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on February 4, 2016.

It’s Christmas! Peace and goodwill to all men! (Just as soon as I’ve had a good night’s sleep.)

I’VE become one of those parents who gets violently angry when any childless person dares to complain of tiredness.

“Did you just say what I think you said?” I found myself hissing at someone a few weeks ago. “YOU! – who could have an unbroken eight hours of sleep any time you like! – YOU SAID YOU’RE TIRED?”

The boy this was aimed at took a small step backwards, his smile only wavering slightly (fair play to him).

“No, you’re right mrs, I didn’t mean to offend you,” he backtracked nervously.

“And if you’ll just sign for the parcel I’ll be able leave you in peace. To not sleep.”

I’ve well and truly become the mum who, with crazed eyes hidden behind matted, unwashed hair, will yell jealously and indiscriminately at anybody who looks vaguely well-rested.

(In my defence, I have a baby who refuses to sleep for longer than 30 minutes at a time – rage, caffeine and sugar are all that get me through the day sometimes.)

Still, it’s Christmas – and surely if there’s ever a time to relax, regroup and show goodwill to all delivery men it’s now.

Tis the season, in my opinion, to hunker down at home with the heating cranked up and the mince pies and Baileys a-flowing.

And, more importantly, with Smithy off work, it’s time for him to get up in the morning with the baby so I can lie in bed and sleep. Possibly all day.

This thought alone has turned me positively zen-like.

Never mind that everybody we know wants to be a part of ‘baby’s first Christmas’, which means we’ve spent the last week rushing all over the North West visiting various relatives.

Never mind that, on ‘mad friday’, it transpired that Smithy hadn’t done any of his Christmas shopping, so we ended up battling with a pram through a heaving Manchester city centre trying to track down Auntie Margaret’s favourite jelly sweets and a scarf in a very specific shade (red but not too red) for Uncle Jim.

Never mind that in the last day-and-a-half I’ve had to take the baby to four Christmas parties that she was invited to.

(Apparently I double-up as both a walking milk bar and a plus-one).

It’s Christmas – and just as soon as everything calms down, maybe by Christmas Eve, or after Christmas Day, or possibly once New Year’s Eve is out of the way, I will be sleeping like nobody has ever slept before.

I will.

And that point I promise I will stop scaring delivery boys.

Merry Christmas!

Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on December 24, 2015

Everybody needs good neighbours…

IT’S Monday morning as I write this column and quite frankly I’m struggling.

Nothing sounds quite right when all I can think about are the people who lost so much at the weekend.

I had an idea all lined up for this week but what seemed funny on Friday afternoon now seems far too glib – and I can’t summon the good mood needed to write something light-hearted when I feel so utterly sad for the people who have been affected by Storm Desmond.

I’ve been glued to the news coverage (from a surreally dry Leicester, where I was attending a family party) and my heart broke as image after image appeared on the screen.

But what also struck me was that community spirit appeared to be more alive than ever.

I’ve always found South Lakeland a friendly place, but this has never been more evident.

Mother Nature ripped apart peoples’ lives and in their droves complete strangers rallied round to help them.

I was heartened to see, almost immediately after the scale of damage became apparent, that somebody had set up a donation website to raise funds to help those in difficulty. And even better, how many people had put their hands in their pockets and donated.

It’s been lovely to see that Tim Farron and local councillors have been visiting residents, offering their help and support, and are responding quickly to messages on social media from those either needing help or wishing to help.

The sheer number of people on Facebook I have also seen offering food, shelter and other supplies has been staggering.

And, of course, despite being stretched beyond all belief, the emergency services and other rescue teams have gone above and beyond to ensure the safety of local people.

Now everybody who has lost something needs the community to continues its efforts.

I hope the momentum gathered is not lost as we approach Christmas – and I can only reiterate the calls for second home-owners to give up accommodation for those affected (a genius idea, in my opinion).

My thoughts are with everybody battling to get their lives (and livelihoods) back on track. 

As for me, I plan to spend the rest of the day cuddling my daughter a little bit more tightly and being thankful that so many good-hearted people exist in the world.

Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on December 10, 2015

I’m just like Kirstie Allsopp! (But without the talent…)

IN THE name of austerity (ie. maternity pay ending) the Smiths are having a ‘DIY’ Christmas.

Back in October when I first had the idea I imagined myself spending several happy hours making handmade chocolates, jars of chutney and jam (with beautifully-designed labels in the style of Cath Kidston) and stunning Christmas cards adorned with the baby’s handprints.

In this snowy (obviously) dream world I also envisioned my husband cooking up a pan of mulled wine and cracking out the (home-made) mince pies, which we would share while I worked – all with Christmas carols playing softly in the background.

My imaginings also went so far as to include relatives near and far opening said gifts on Christmas morning and exclaiming over how much thought and – dare I say it? – pure talent had gone into each item.

“I know I got a PS4 from Santa,” I imagined my little niece saying. “But Auntie Anna’s presents are by far the best I have ever had! How creative and clever she is! I hope I grow up to be just like her!”

Clearly I am an idiot.

I could not manage chutney and I could not manage jam.

(Although if anyone is after a burnt strawberry goo then I am your girl).

The baby would not sit still while I painted her hands (farewell, unique Christmas cards) and I gave up on the idea of making chocolates and just ate chocolate instead.

In the end I made some salt dough tree decorations, stamped with the baby’s footprints, but I’m not convinced I baked them for long enough and I’m pretty sure they’ll have disintegrated before you can say ‘January sales’.

All this effort also cost me way more than if I’d simply bought everybody a box of Tesco Finest biscuits in the first place.

So, in conclusion, I am no Kirstie Allsopp and it’s fair to say nobody will be exclaiming over my artistic talents come Christmas morning.

Now – will somebody please pass me a bottle of shop-bought mulled wine?

I’ve got a house covered in paint, glitter and the slight smell of burnt jam – and I’ve still got all my Christmas shopping to do.

Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on December 3, 2015.

I am full of sympathy…usually.

SMITHY has been ill.

I’ll state for the record that I have been full of sympathy, always on hand with paracetamol and lifts to the doctor’s surgery, and not once (well…maybe once) have I told him to stop whinging.

But between him and our daughter, it’s been like taking care of two small babies this week – with one valiantly trying to soldier through a difficult few days and the other, obviously, being my husband.

“I’m just so iiiiiiiiill!” is a refrain I have heard hundreds of times, as Smithy has summoned me to his bedside with requests for painkillers, glasses of juice and that well known cure for an ear infection: sausages, potato waffles and beans.

“I just feel soooo poorly,” he has said, injecting a slight quiver into his voice.

“But even though I am death’s door I think I could still manage a cup of tea and a small – no, medium – portion of shepherds pie.”

I looked at him agog.

“Shepherds pie? You do know if you want shepherds pie I’ll have to take the baby out into the cold and drive to Tesco to buy the ingredients and then come home and make it while simultaneously trying to occupy a nine-month-old who is just beginning to crawl?”

He did ‘puppy dog eyes’ at me.

“I think it might make me feel better,” he whispered.

I began to suspect, after he asked me to ‘whip up’ a roast dinner on Sunday, that perhaps I was being played.

Especially after he became well enough to go back to work, but his temporary deafness continued.

“Please will you change the sheets on the bed?” I asked.

“Eh? What?” he said, gesturing to his ear.

“Please will you…”

He continued gesturing at his ear, while backing quickly out of the room.

I don’t wish to pollute the pages of the Gazette with bad language, but let’s just say at that point I made a few gestures of my own.

Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on November 26, 2015