Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Beware - too much reading may damage your health.

It's very cold outside but I don't know this because the central heating came on at 6.30 am and as I get up from my pocket sprung mattress (Vi-Spring) an hour later, from under my two-seasons duvet (Guardian reader offer), I immediately throw on my fluffy dressing gown (White Company) to cover my just-cooling flesh and slide my feet into a pair of downy slippers (Accessorize), before shuffling across the thick-pile bedroom carpet to the bathroom - with its underfloor heating and warm towel rail - to turn the shower up hot before gingerly stepping beneath.

Then at breakfast I sit at the table with my feet nicely warmed by the underfloor heating, after I have made my Nespresso coffee with warm frothy milk and read an article from one of the two newspapers that is delivered daily to our door, which says: "You're a comfort addict, you just don't know it!" (The Times 20/01/15). 

Yes, I think, I may well be.

The article goes on to tell me that we've all gone soft. We can't bear even the slightest hardship. We're pampered to death with warm houses, soft beds and heated car seats (just so you know I don't have one of these, our car is knackered and I can't persuade Husband that we need a new one).

Maybe we should go camping again this year, I ponder, so I can come home and marvel at my comfy bed? Or maybe I should take more extreme measures and hot-foot it off to Ghana for a second time? The one and only time I went to Africa I returned determined to appreciate everything we take for granted here. You know, hot and cold running water, enough to eat, basic medical care, that sort of thing, (and incidentally the most incongruous experience of my life was taking a call on my mobile phone, as I stood in a dust-red school yard 500 miles north of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, near the Burkina Faso border, and a man on the other end telling me that my Ocado order was about to arrive and there were no substitutions), but anyway back to that article...

Apparently some new book suggests that excess comfort is lowering our immunity to almost any discomfort and "damaging our psychological health". It suggested, among other things, that we resist the temptation to reach for our mobile phones to distract ourselves in a queue and just embrace the boredom for once. Which brings me to yesterday when I took my iPhone into the Apple Store on Regents Street to have the screen mended and had to hand it over. Yes, HAND IT OVER.

"Being parted from your iPhone leads to anxiety!" (The Times 14/01/15), is another article I read recently, which I don't think requires much further explanation, and it certainly did lead to anxiety in my case. As red-t-shirt-clad Apple Store Girl (who looked about 12 by the way and was able to navigate her way around my phone in a manner I found not only astonishing but also just a little humiliating), reached out to take my phone from me, I suddenly realised that from thence forth I would not know the time, would not be able to contact Husband about our plan to meet for lunch, would not be able to check my diary about a meeting later on, would miss the text from a friend I was expecting, and that Apple Store Girl would, in fact, in taking away my phone, be taking away my WHOLE LIFE. Oh, and also I would not know when Apple Store Girl had just emailed telling me to come back to the store to collect the phone, which seemed like a bit of a flaw in her plan to me, Miss-I'm-so-clever-and-young-and-all-in-red-and-able-to-use-your-phone-far-better-than-you-ever-will.

So, I wondered somewhat aimlessly around central London waiting for my phone to be ready and having to resort to sitting in John Lewis actually reading the book group book I was meant to be getting on with for book group that night (The Narrow Road To The Deep North, bit harrowing for me, I am SO going to get thrown out, or blackballed or something), and when I got back to the store, three and a half anxious hours later, I was told by Apple Store Girl that all the data had been wiped but not to worry because you did back it all up on iCloud, didn't you? 

Yes I did. Ha.

And you can remember your iCloud account name and your password, can't you?

No I can't. Boo.

Which brings me to: "Say no to the nightcap if you want to sleep soundly!" (The Times 17.01.15), which went on: "… if sleep is being disrupted regularly by pre-sleep alcohol consumption, particularly over long periods of time, this could have significant detrimental effects on daytime function such as learning and memory process." Memory process.

Okay, so I've been cutting back on the booze, as you know, and now I need to also avoid becoming too pampered, lest I lose all immunity and turn into a loon, and to try not to allow myself to become too dependent on my mobile phone, and to try not to drink too much to preserve what little memory I have left. I think I can remember all that. 



And then today I read: "A daily drink cuts risk of middle-age heart failure!" 

So I think I should just stop reading.

Love E x


P.S. I got all the data back because clever clogs Apple Store Girl could look up my iCloud account details for me. They really were rather helpful in there. Drat.

Friday, 9 January 2015


I don't know about you but I'm struggling a bit with this back to routine malarky after the Christmas break. It turns out it's because I've got "social jet lag". I thought I was just being lazy but I read about it in the Guardian Pass Notes so it must be true. 

It's when "your bodily processes - metabolism, sleep, alertness and so on - run according to a daily timetable controlled by the hours of sunlight. These are called your circadian rhythms."

You know how I'm always going on about circadian rhythms? Well I am. And no they are not an Indie band. I go on and on about it to the boys - "it really is important to get out of the house and into the daylight, blah, blah, blah" - what little there is in South London in January - "to regulate your body clock and your mood and all that," I tell them. And now The Guardian agrees with me. So I must be right. Anyway, in Pass Notes it went on to say…

"During a period off work, such as over Christmas, the lie-ins may even settle into a new routine… but then it takes a while to shift your rhythm back again, and during this period people become tired, irritable, clumsy, disorientated, ill and generally not much use. hence: social jet lag." 

Got that? So while I just thought I was being a bit useless, falling asleep after lunch on the sofa and not getting anything proper done, spending hours faffing on Twitter, not ticking enough off my hefty To Do list or concentrating on pitching for more work, or finishing that novel, I have actually being suffering from a proper medical thing. So there.

Also, and this may in some way be connected, I have been trying not to drink alcohol since I read another article - this time in The Observer - about women my age slipping into bad habits and drinking too much and therefore banding together in sobriety clubs to try not to. 

Tbh I'm mostly just trying to cut back after the Christmas excesses, no booze for several days at a time in a bid to give my liver a break and feel a bit fresher, which I would have done, I think, had I not had that pesky Social Jetlag to contend with.

I managed Sunday through Wednesday without a drink, which I think is quite good. It's all about breaking that daily habit, isn't it? But then I went to see The Imitation Game last night (really good and Husband actually stayed awake, which he thinks they should put on the poster) and had dinner with Husband at a place called The Dairy in Clapham afterwards, which was lovely and you really can't be expected not to drink while having a lovely dinner with your lovely husband now can you? And as you know, if you are a regular reader, which I hope you are, I went 31 days without a drink back in August, so I can do it when I try. Honest.

And because of the social jet lag and the not drinking and general back-to-school/work inertia hanging over me like a pall, and probably over you too, I've not got much done this week but have resolved to get on with that novel next week, well to revisit it anyway. I've had an agent express a mild interest (but I've been here before and it led to nothing and was deeply disappointing so I need to manage my overactive, imagination-fuelled expectations). 

I do have, as I may have mentioned before, 90,000 words of mum lit hanging around, finished off in a mad frenzied hurry because I was spurred on by a high profile literary agent who, after reading a couple of chapters, invited me to his office and asked that I finish it, all the while playing my emotions like a puppet master dangling his writer-marionette with well-practiced ease. And then he rejected it. The bastard. 

I need to lick my wounds, reread it, decide if it's any good, does it need revisiting? Rewriting? Reordering? Tweaking? Binning? And I'm finding it very hard to do that at home where the washing/cooking/filing/tidying and most of all, napping, constantly threatens to intervene.

So I checked out The London Library in St James's Square yesterday. I have a writer mate who works there, has worked there for years, and so I thought I might have more luck knuckling down in such a scholarly environment with other writers around.

The plan is to go there sometime next week. If I can get out of bed.

Love E x


 #Socialjetlag #TheImitationGame #TheLondonLibrary #TheDiaryClapham #Writinganovel

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

God bless us, everyone.

How to combine an anecdote about my parents climbing into bed with us on Christmas morning, going to see some French Canadian acrobats with beards and banjos who throw axes at each other, some skating at Somerset house, a Christmas party for a much-loved, retiring head teacher, making a video with 26 kids in my kitchen, wrapping 73 presents, going to a concert at Wigmore Hall, to the theatre to see Horrible Histories, to the flicks to see Paddington, and lots of drinks parties, into a gigantic catch-up mega-blog?

I don't think I can, so suffice to say it's been an eventful few weeks which has kept me from blogging but here I finally am, sitting at the kitchen island on my laptop, watching the wood-burning stove devour a couple of logs, drinking Nespresso from the machine Eldest just bought us for Christmas, and in lieu of inspiration here are some titbits...


It's tradition in our family for the boys to bring their stockings into our room on Christmas morning to open their presents in front of us. We coo and ah and take photographs and express surprise at each gift they unpeel, which is totally genuine on Husband's part because he's had no hand in it at all, and totally fake on mine since (cover your eyes here if you're under 12 years-old) I buy and wrap everything. In this case all 42 things because each boy received 14 presents. Some of them are on the prosaic side, I'll grant you, such as chocolate or socks, but others are much more glam, such as CDs or books, and that's BEFORE the main present which is sitting under the tree to be opened later. Which is how, once other rellies are included, I arrived at that figure of 73 presents wrapped in total. And by the way, to save my back from total festive meltdown, I wrap them all at the ironing board while watching It's A Wonderful Life...

And I don't know why my parents climbed into our bed this Christmas morning, I guess it's because they like to watch the present opening too and there aren't any chairs in our bedroom. They took Husband's side. He had to perch over on mine. We were squashed. We looked like the four grandparents from Charlie and Chocolate Factory. Eldest took a photo. And I would include it for you here to laugh at because we all had Santa hats on and looked ridiculous, only I didn't have any make-up on at the time, it being so early, and I wouldn't want to frighten the horses. Or you.


Timber! is the name of the thing with the French Canadians with the beards and the axes that we saw at the Southbank yesterday. They do acrobatics and stuff. I liked their arms, the men's arms that is, there were a couple of chicks in the show too but I really didn't notice them quite so much, I was too distracted by the arms, lumberjack arms, big ones, like hams. I like arms. Did I say? We took the boys. Last year we saw something there called Folds, which was acrobatics with paper and which defies description. To be honest the memory of Folds kind of leaves the French Canadians with axes in the shade. The shade of a big tree. Possibly a Redwood. Even if they did have lovely arms, and played banjos. 


Every year we go skating just before Christmas and I think someone will end up in A & E. A friend of mine went with her niece last year and some maniac skated over the little girl's hand and severed a tendon. Blood all over the snow-white ice. For someone with a vivid imagination (me) and an almost constant sense of impeding doom (also me) skating is not a relaxing occasion. Think about it, we strap boots to our feet, which have murderously sharp thin blades on the bottom of them, and then slip about on a glass-like substance with little or nothing in the way of preparation, talent, or instruction. God knows how we don't all kill ourselves. At least Eldest didn't come with us this year, we had a ticket for him but he had to go to work. As Youngest put it "And he's the one who's the maniac, Mummy!" Too true.


A week or so ago I was going to write a blog called Dancing With Tears In Our Eyes, something a bit familiar there for the older reader, like me, who found that their formative and developing years coincided with the 80s. We threw a party, you see, some parents and former parents from the boys' old primary school, all of us 80's throw-backs to a leg-warmered man, for the much-loved, retiring head teacher, and it was a bitter-sweet occasion. Sweet because there we all were again, the class of 2000/1/2, those of us who met through our children at the school gates and forged life-long ties, hugging and chatting and laughing together again, and bitter because it was the last time we will all dance together like that (like idiots, that is) in that school hall with that beloved head teacher. There were musical tributes and speeches and a little film that I and some other parents made in my kitchen, from when I invited some pupils and ex-pupils round to share their memories. Twenty-six kids took part in all and the resulting film is on Vimeo if you want to click the link there on the top right of the blog and watch it. Anyway, as I say, we danced the night away, and there definitely were some tears in some of our eyes.

Twin Peaks

Eldest and I have been staying up late watching the Twin Peaks box set I bought him for Christmas because I somehow managed to miss it in the 90's and thought it was high time I caught up, and he is a David Lynch fan. Can someone please explain just what is the matter with that lunatic director? Oh and I also finally made Eldest watch American Werewolf in London with me. It stood up surprisingly well. And do you know Rick Mayall is in that movie? When we googled him he co-wrote it as well! Talk about 80's throw back. Dear old Rick.

God bless us

And finally there has been all the usual Christmas stuff that you and your families will have been indulging in too: food and drink and telly and theatre and games and music and whatnot. Husband played Christmas carols on his euphonium as my mother and I drunkenly sang along, the boys jammed almost co-operatively on their guitars, Middle One played a bit of piano. I shopped and cooked and wrapped and lit the fire and made everyone watch A Christmas Carol again, and felt tearful when Scrooge lifted up Tiny Tim onto his bony old shoulder and the little crippled child exclaimed: God bless us, everyone! Freeze the frame. End Christmas. Re-set the whole jolly lot for next year.

Love E x


Here's our table set for Christmas tea. I thought it looked rather like something from Ideal Home. Good job there's no sound on a photograph and you can't hear the arguing in the background and me just out of the frame there shouting that it's definitely not my turn to take out the rubbish. Again. 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The quiet coach.

I'm going to York for the day to surprise my mother because it's her 75th birthday. I have to get to King's Cross for 10.00. 

Middle One comes downstairs for breakfast. He has just had a whole week off school with tonsillitis, but he seemed completely better the night before. 

"My face hurts," he says, clutching his face, "a lot."

Husband walks into the kitchen. "Eldest has done something to himself," he says, "he is writhing around on the bathroom floor."

"What has he done?" I ask. 

I am sorting out my train tickets and trying to track down my Oyster Card in the bottom of my handbag.

"Somehow he appears to have impaled himself on his door handle as he went from his bedroom to the shower," says Husband. "There's a door-shaped mark on his body and he's broken the skin."

I leave my handbag and go up to Eldest. He is indeed writhing around on the bathroom floor, clutching his side and complaining that he feels sick. I look at the wound. 

"I think you should go to A & E," I say, "in case you have done some damage inside that we can't see."

I go back downstairs and start stacking the dishwasher.

"I'm in agony," says Middle One, "I've just googled it and I think I have a secondary infection."

"It sounds like a sinus infection," I say, leaving the dishwasher and walking over to Middle One, "you had better start taking those antibiotics, and you need to stay at home. I won't be here, I'm afraid. I'm going to York." 

I write out a list of when he should take the antibiotics and then a separate list for when he can take the painkillers and how to alternate between ibuprofen and paracetamol. 

Youngest goes to school. Husband takes Eldest to A & E. Middle One goes back to bed. I go up to his room with a glass of water and the tablets and a hot honey and lemon drink and then I finish tidying up and head for the Tube. 

When I get to King's Cross I ring Eldest as I'm walking across the concourse, and just as a loud alarm starts to go off with an accompanying even louder announcement.

"How are you!" I shout above the sound of the alarm, and the even louder announcement.

"Please ignore this alarm!" says the announcement.

"I'm okay!" shouts Eldest.

I go into Pret A Manger.

"This is a practice alarm!" says the announcement.

"What did the doctor say!" I shout.

"It's bruising and muscle damage!" shouts Eldest.

"Would you like anything else?" says the girl behind the counter, as I pass her my smoked salmon sandwich.

"Pardon?" I say.

"DO YOU WANT ANYTHING ELSE!" says the girl.

"Do you have any miso soup?" I say.

"What?" shouts Eldest.

"Nothing!" I shout back.

"I have to rest!" says Eldest.

"Pardon!" I say to Eldest, "there's an alarm going off!"

"Yes!" says the girl.

"One miso soup as well then, please!" I shout.

"No action is required!" says the announcement.

"I'm going to stay at home today!" shouts Eldest.

"That's a good idea!" I shout back, "you haven't had a day off since the beginning of September, and you have worked evenings and weekends, you are very tired."

Eldest says nothing. I think.

"Is that all!" shouts the girl.

"Yes!" I shout back, "thank you!"

"Well at least you will be there with Middle One so he won't be by himself!" I shout to Eldest.

"What!" shouts Eldest.

"Never mind!" I shout.

I hang up and head for the train. I have to walk the whole length of it because I have booked a seat in coach B. 

It's the quiet coach.

Love E x


Friday, 28 November 2014

Santa is arrested and I have a nice cup of tea.

I was filming in an old folks home last week. The location wasn't far from where we live so I decided to take the car. Unfortunately the minute I got in it and set off I was stuck on our road between a cement lorry at one end and a Tesco delivery van at the other. I had to wait ten minutes with the engine ticking over and my heart-rate thumping at more or less the same speed. 

As I sat there I watched a very tall, fat Santa, in a vest, walk up the path to the house opposite us and knock on the door. Either it's Christmas come early or that's for the video shoot Eldest is working on this week, I said to myself. 

Eldest and I had just had a row in my office about who had priority over the printer."I'm a runner on a shoot out there and I need to print this off NOW!" He shouted at me. 

"Well I'm the director on a shoot happening very shortly and I need to print this map NOW!" I shouted back. 

I could see the funny side. I'm not sure that Eldest could.

I had a lovely time at the old folks home. I joked to friends on Facebook that it was nice and comfortable and I wouldn't mind moving in myself. I said I was going to put my name down.   

A day or so later I was due to film in the home of an elderly couple in Kent as they were visited by a nurse. As I set off I saw a midget, sorry, a Small Person (Eldest tells me it is not acceptable to use the term midget anymore, this makes me feel like my father) jumping out of a very large be-ribboned parcel on the doorstep of the house opposite.

The house in Kent had that distinctive old folks feel. In the living room there were two companionable chairs facing the telly with a little side table in between for things they needed kept close by: two sets of reading glasses, two coasters, a TV guide, a pack of playing cards. My grandparents had exactly the same. Chances are your grandparents did too. 

There's something about old people that draws me in and makes me wonder. What's the story? What happened? What WERE they? They are walking repositories, full to the brim with past, with history, with anecdotes, with challenges met and unmet, with dreams lived and dreams that will forever remain unfulfilled. 

It's this last bit that gives them a terrible pathos, I think. I suppose they fascinate and horrify equally. Fascinate because of what they once were: fit, able, participating, and horrify because of what they now are and what we will all one day become: decrepit, broken, immobile. If we are lucky enough get that far.

Did you know that nearly half a million old people will spend Christmas day alone this year? That's shocking and very sad. Loneliness has become the blight of our age. I read that in the paper last week and then a day or so later I read about an organisation called Silver Line that offers advice and companionship over the phone to people in their 80s and 90s. A younger Silver Line friend volunteers to spend an hour a week chatting to an older lonely person. I resolved to join. What's an hour a week? What's one extra bit of chatting when I have a degree in the subject ? (Well, in English, but it's more or less the same thing.)

When I got home from Kent there was a flashing cop car in the parking space outside our house and two policemen were arresting Santa. He was still in his vest. As he was bundled into the back of the car he turned and stuck two fingers up at me, and then the director called, "Cut!". I parked down the end.

Once inside the house I made straight for the kettle, and as I sat in front of the telly nursing my cup of tea I thought it would be jolly handy to have a little side table where I could rest my cup. I could even keep a pair of reading glasses on it as well.

Love E x


Monday, 17 November 2014

Switching off.

It's six pm on Friday night, my arm is throbbing from the flu jab I had on Thursday, and from carrying six bags of heavy grocery shopping. 

I dump the bags on the kitchen island. Husband gets in from work and pours us both a beer. I decide to turn my phone off. 

This is a high risk strategy because there is one boy out babysitting and another out on the raz, but if I don't stop the flood of messages and text and tweets and emails and Facebook messages, I think my head might explode. 

There are emails about work still arriving, there is a text from the roofer about the hole in the bedroom ceiling where the rain is coming in and dripping noisily into a bucket, there is a question about Middle One's imminent birthday party (a load of teenagers decending on the house on Sunday night), there is a message about the babysitting assignment, there are offers from GAP and LoveTheatre and (how did that happen?) all mixed up with Guardian news alerts, emails from family members, an offer of a night out with friends, some responses to the minutes from a meeting held at the house on Monday night…

Fixing a hole where the rain gets in.

I reach for the phone to switch off but as I do so it slips from my hand, hits the wooden floor, no more violently than it has many times before, and the screen shatters
. This feels symbolic. 

That night we turn in early. Middle One is back from babysitting. Eldest is still out, but somehow I think I will sleep this time rather than lying awake wondering when he will get back, as usual. I am feeling rather flu-ey.

I do sleep: glorious, deep, sleep, until we are woken by a loud thudding noise at 3.50 am. Is it rain hitting the bucket again? Is it Eldest coming in? 

No, he is back, the landing light is out.

I get up and look out of the window. It's the neighbours opposite, the group of boys who recently moved in. They are having a party with all their windows open. They appear to have reached that, 'we are so drunk and stoned we don't care that we are playing a loud techno-beat with all the windows open at four in the morning' stage of the proceedings.

Husband and I both lie awake. For ages. Finally I get up and ring the local council noise abatement people. Someone actually answers the phone. That someone tells me he can't come out because they finish visits at 3 am. 

I ring the local police station and they put me through to the noise abatement people and the same someone tells me again that they can't come out because they finish visits at 3 am. 

We move into the guest room at the back of the house. 

"I don't think I can sleep in this bed," says Husband, "it's so small compared to ours." 

"Yes," I say, "but listen, it's really peaceful." And it is, wonderfully peaceful and wonderfully dark. 

Finally we fall asleep. Only to be woken what feels like five minutes later by a loud insistent ring at the front door. 

I go downstairs and switch my phone back on. 

There are four text messages, three emails from family members, something very important about work, sent at 11.30 pm, a text from Eldest saying he is going clubbing and will be back later, a text about the babysitting, three tweets and a voicemail from the roofer saying he is going to pop round first thing tomorrow, is that okay?

I turn it off again and go and let the roofer in.

Love E x


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

How to build a boy.

I'm busy with work today so
I'm cheating and pasting my article 
from The Telegraph on Saturday. 
I didn't call it 'How do you raise happy boys?' 
by the way, I called it 'How to build a boy'. 
I wouldn't be that presumptuous!
E x

Wednesday 12 November 2014

How do you raise happy boys?

Sticks, snacks and Sellotape, says Elizabeth McFarlane, who has spent the last 18 years nurturing her three sons – and a husband

It’s a man’s world: Elizabeth McFarlane has survived life with her two younger boys Oscar, 12, Arthur, 15, and their older brother, plus their father Alex, with the judicious use of turning a blind eye
It’s a man’s world: Elizabeth McFarlane has survived life with her two younger boys Oscar, 12, Arthur, 15, and their older brother, plus their father Alex, with the judicious use of turning a blind eye  
Take a mother, three boys, a husband, a brother and a brother-in-law and what do you have? A woman surrounded by males. That’s me. 
I am the only female in a house of boys and men. I don’t actually live with my brother and my brother-in-law, you understand, I’m just emphasising the lack of females in my extended family. I do live with three sons, who are 18, 15 and 12, and a husband. 
The four of them drive me crazy and they make my heart sing, often at exactly the same time. I live in a world of discarded boxer shorts, upright lavatory seats and trails of loose change left for me to follow like Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs through the house. 
The boys are mine but I sometimes feel I am only borrowing them until another woman comes along to claim them. “A son is a son till he takes a wife, a daughter’s a daughter the rest of her life,” as the saying goes. 
When my eldest turned 18 a few months ago it gave me cause to reflect. He is now an adult, a man. To me this is incredible. How do you build a boy? 

Mothers of boys must get used to endless reruns of Top Gear REXFEATURES
Well, you will need, in no particular order, love, sticks, Sellotape, interesting stones, firm rules, snacks, outdoor space and judicious use of turning a blind eye. Add time and cuddles and don’t stop giving those cuddles even when the boy towers over you, remarking, “My, you’re shrinking, mother.” Secretly, he still wants them. 
Allow for running, jumping, climbing, even in the house. To minimise this, do trips to the park, followed by trips to the park, followed by trips to the park. “For my birthday can I have a really nice stick?” the eldest said, when he was five. I think that sums it up. Oh, and you mustn’t mind that your house gets trashed. We have whole chunks taken out of our beloved Victorian terrace. 
Be prepared for any or all of the following as they grow up, beginning with: “I can’t find it/where is it?” Then there’s that constant refrain: “There’s never any food in this house!” (You will also spend your entire life making emergency trips to buy more Jaffa Cakes.) 
Wet towels/T-shirts/pants/homework will always be on the floor. Get used to endless reruns of Top Gear and QI. Random plastic bags will be strewn all over the place (why?). No one will notice your new hair/dress/shoes. Don’t expect interesting gossip about school/work (you will become so desperate for conversation you’ll ask them what they ate for lunch). And do expect to be asked questions you are not equipped to answer. A recent example: “What was it like, Mummy, when Space Invaders came out?”
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of great bits, too. Our home is loud, loving and emotionally uncomplicated with plenty of “debates”, jokes and music. Both the older boys play guitar, electric and acoustic, and both are brilliant (me, biased?). I love this. Our poor neighbours probably do not. Plus there is little spite or malice with boys, no grudges or emotional manipulation. Yes, there are rows and tantrums (mostly mine), and there was fighting and lashing out when they were younger, especially between the older two who are closer in age, but all is quickly forgotten. 

Boys are judged as hooligans merely on their haircuts or clothing REX 
My friends with girls have complicated emotional issues to deal with. They fret about the pressures placed on young women: to be slim and attractive, that they are sexualised too young by aggressive marketing and the media. I sit and listen and think how sophisticated and sorted most of the girls I know appear to be compared with boys, and I wonder about the pressures on them. 
Consultant psychiatrist Sebastian Kraemer, famous for his notion of the “Fragile Male”, points out: “The human male is, on most measures, more vulnerable than the female.” 
He explains that male babies are more likely to be born prematurely, with disorders such as autism, and more likely to have poorer motor and cognitive regulation leading to misjudgement of risk, encouraging accidents, crime, drug-taking and violence. They commit suicide in greater numbers, and are more likely to be the victim of violent crime; they are even more prone to asthma. Are they then, I wonder, contrary to popular belief, actually the weaker sex? 
We don’t tick many of those scary boxes in our household, thank goodness, although one boy does suffer from asthma and another has been mugged three times. Which brings me to worry. I worry because society is meaner to boys. “A typical attitude,” says Kraemer, “is that they are, or must be made, more resilient than girls.” 
In other words: big boys don’t cry. So when they run for the bus and have to watch it pull away from them once again, knowing the driver saw them in his rear mirror, as has happened to my boys many times, they must learn to shrug it off and walk home, again. They must be prepared to be judged “hoodies” or hooligans merely on the strength of a haircut, or an item of clothing, and to arouse suspicion in shops. 
And they must be wary of other men. “Never make eye contact with a mean-looking man in a pub,” I say. So this is the worst bit about building a boy: sending him off into the world. Because it is then the mother’s fate to lie awake at night, once he has come of age and is out by himself, trusting to luck and good judgment, and that advice she gave him about the dodgy-looking geezer in the pub, until she hears the comforting click of the front door, his light tread on the stair, and knows that he is safe. 
Leave your house-proud days behind you. We haven’t had the hall and stairs decorated in seven years because there doesn’t seem any point. Chips and scuffs all over the place.
Proffer food such as milk, biscuits, fruit or toast the minute he gets in from school. Never try to talk to a boy about something if he has an empty stomach. This also applies to husbands.
Make sure he goes to bed at a reasonable hour and at the same time. A tired boy is the next worst thing to a hungry boy.
Always have Sellotape to hand. It is amazing what a small boy will want to Sellotape to what.
There will be sticks, stones, old drinks cans, bottle tops and interesting dead insects kept under the bed. Try to turn a blind eye because he will become hysterical if you attempt to remove them.
Do bedtime reading aloud. Boys can be slower than girls to read and this helps. Make sure to read Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl to him at least once – if Dad can do this, even better.
And do not pressure him to read too early; leave attractive-looking non-fiction and cartoon-style books, such as Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, casually lying around as encouragement instead. Once they get the reading habit they will move on to other things.
Forget piano or violin lessons. Not cool. Arrange guitar lessons. The boy is far less likely to give these up when he hits puberty. (According to my middle son, a guy with a guitar case is proven to be more attractive to women than one without.)
Sport. Have them do some to run off energy. It doesn’t have to be football. Our boys took up fencing at the age of eight and two of them still do it.
Give up trying to make him look smart. It’s a waste of time. I buy combs and toothbrushes and they are sorely neglected. You can take a boy to water but you cannot make him wash or brush his teeth.