On the Seasonal Aisle

It’s true about the cheese.

When we lived here in Moscow before, all of ten plus years ago, the shopping was always much more seasonal when it came to fresh fruit and veg than in the UK. I spent years trying to get my head round the infinitesimal changes to the produce in ASDA, and just as I was actually noticing that peas were 2p cheaper in June, I have been wrong footed by the fact the over here we have had the berries glut, we have had the courgette glut, we have had the pointy tomato glut, we have had the blueberry glut, we have had the peaches and nectarines glut, we have had the pepper glut and we are currently coming to the end of the turnip glut, and very little have I made out of any of them.

It looks as though we will be down to the big tomatoes, the small and knobbly cucumbers, the white cabbage, the sour apples, the giant oranges, the conference pears, the mismatched beetroot, the plentiful bananas, the tiny grapes and potatoes for the winter.

Next year I am buying a really BIG freezer and cramming it full, making lots of chutney and investigating the finer art of canning.

And praying to the gods above that someone teaches the Russians how to make blue cheese. What is with a nation that has so many milk products but cannot make its own cheese? Vinegary cheddar does NOT count. Woman cannot survive on fifty seven varieties of cottage cheese alone.

On the upside, peanut butter seems to be a thing. I won’t have to make my own this time round. And they are selling rabbit everywhere.

I wonder how hard it is to mature Stilton in your bathtub?

On watching a film I don’t know the name of.

Tonight you are watching a Russian movie about the stilyagi, or hipsters, the men and women who followed jazz and rock and roll, the music, the clothes, the lifestyle in the Soviet Union of the fifties.

It’s not historically accurate. It is, appropriately enough, stylised with a strong touch of the musical about it. Everybody lives in beautiful rooms, even the ones who live in communal flats. The shops are very chic, even if they are full of black or grey clothes, the better to highlight the vibrancy of the stilyagi. And the musical numbers are in Russian, which wasn’t how it worked at all. As you understand it. Everything you know on the subject comes from a book called ‘Back in the USSR’ by Artemy Troitsky. But he definitely knows what he is talking about, although mostly it’s not about the stilyagi.*

Mind you, the film makers seem to have read it too. They are certainly doing the highlights anyway. Atmosphere of hostility. Much spitting and haranguing. People getting their hair shaved by well meaning mobs. Bootleg copies of American records on old X-rays. Many of the leading lights being the children of the upper ranks of Soviet society. Someone has just got arrested.

The story charts the journey of a young member of the stilyagi from onlooker to leading light in the movement. We are nearing the end of the film now and his best friend and wife have just spent the last half an hour highlighting how they over the fad they are in contrast to our hero, who is still determinedly sporting a quiff and playing his sax loudly enough to wake the baby.

You are not sure if the film has a point. Possibly there is a bit of sniffyness at what is essentially something of a hollow lifestyle, and one that is built on a romanticised view of the West at that. But the film definitely doesn’t stint the contrast between the joy and enjoyment of the stilyagi in contrast to that of the rest of the country either.

Plus the rather jolly song at the end sees the boy with delusion intact, albeit somehow also in the present day, surrounded by the youth cultures of the last fifty years, and seems to have trumped that rather downbeat conclusion. Who knows?

Pushkin**. Or someone with a better command of Russian, anyway.


You have found the film. It is called, appropriately enough, Stilyagi. And here is the lead at the moment his hipster life really takes off.

And you really like this song.

*You highly recommend this book, but only to people who have a working knowledge of Russian rock music, otherwise it probably makes no sense at all. Still, there’s always youtube.

**There’s nothing worse than a bad joke explained, but it might help to know that in Russian, there’s a little call and response thing which goes: ‘Who knows?’ ‘Pushkin knows.’ I dunno, become a revered national poet and writer of dirty limerics, and suddenly you are omniscient.

On joyful crowds

You can’t remember when B heard that Napoleon had once called the English a nation of shopkeepers, but it made him laugh a lot.

He considers it very true. Take (he is wont to say) the average Anglican church service and compare it to the Orthodox one. Orthodox worship goes on and on and on. The Anglican genuflect lasts a scant hour. It wouldn’t do (says B) for the English to have to take too much time off from their family business. Can’t leave the shop unmanned for too long!

You think it is more noticeable whenever the UK tries to do public celebrations.

The British are supposed to have street parties, a la the Victory celebrations at the end of the Second World War. Or at least they are being strongly encouraged to. Community! Neighbourliness! Nostalgia! Very little for the authorities to do except allow residents to close their piddling little street for the day! Although woe betide you if you attempt to close a ‘strategically important location’ aka a High Street. Which is kind of the point.

Beaufort Place, off Roundhay Road, Leeds © Yorkshire Post Newspapers

You hope it does catch on. Certainly it all looks a lot more fun than the times you have toddled along to a central area on a high day and found everybody holidaying in a few small side streets or the pavements only of a busy main road. Given how the British love their personal space, their willingness to try to celebrate by shouting at full volume whilst having their nose in one person’s armpit, their bum gently rubbing against the butt cheeks of somebody else, and warm beer tipped down their collar never ceases to amaze you. It’s not fun, it’s loud, and you are constantly worried that the Star might disappear in the seething mass of humanity, or get pushed under a car.

The most spectacular example of this kind of celebratory fail came when you attended the switching on of the Christmas lights at your local High Street this year. You arrived to find five other spectators crammed up against some railings while commuters pushed past and heavy traffic entirely drowned out the small choir who were perched on a smaller platform placed in the middle of a busy T-junction. You missed the actual countdown, and the minor celebrity who was pushing the button got the name of the area you live in wrong (“Hello Edinburgh! Or Glasgow rather!”). There was a prolonged squirt of artificial snow, but after the Star had been growled at a few times by people tripping over him while trying to get home to their tea when he tried to dance in it, you gave up and went home.

The thing is, you got used to a certain ruthless approach to national holidays back in Moscow. The whole centre of the city would be shut down so that people could take to the streets, listen to music, drink and so on. This has got firmly stuck in your head as the Model for such affairs and every. Single. Time you attend the British version you are taken aback anew at how paltry the affair is.

But of course the mere thought of shutting down large swathes of the capital for something as unimportant as having fun is out of the question. It is already obligatory for the news to run stories about how much business, in pounds sterling, has been lost to the UK’s coffers every bank holiday, and doubtless you will get a double dose of this next month when the UK gets not one but two days off to wave flags for the Queen. And as the Olympics get closer, you are confidently expecting the current trickle of articles about how the disruption will devastate small businesses to increase to a defining roar. Someone in the Conservative party will probably try to blame the next dip in the recession on it, in fact.

This annoys you.

But you were saddened today while watching Vladimir Putin’s reinauguration as President of the Russian Federation by the sight of deserted streets for the entirety of his drive to the Kremlin.

Now you are not anti-Putin. Never have been. Your opinion over the last ten years has been closer to this man’s. Russia in the 90s was a mess. No-one got paid (assuming they had jobs), the ruble collapsed, you were a couple of hundred metres away from a fatal hit not once but twice. Western commentators were calling it an ‘oligarchy’, not a ‘democracy’ because of the influence of the people who had become billionaires off the back of the asset stripping frenzy that went on at the beginning of the decade. Putin and his government brought stability to the country and gained a measure of control over the powerful businessmen. Soon the Western press was calling it a ‘managed democracy’. The country started to work again. 100% of your friends back home have thrived under his time in office. They’ve got jobs, started families, bought property, got promoted, gone on holiday to Egypt every summer, become, in short, fairly distinctively middle class, and that, frankly, wasn’t something you would have put money on back in the day.

You think, actually, that he should be proud that people are comfortable enough to look around them now and say, that’s not enough. Corruption, particularly electoral corruption, isn’t what we deserve. And proud that people are confident enough to actually get out there and protest about it.

You were disappointed, though, when you heard that he was going to stand for president again. Of course, he won that election and by and large all sides agree that he did, in fact, win it. There isn’t, really, anyone else to vote for. Whether or not this is actually Putin’s fault is a matter for debate.

Still, while you are irritated by the British habit of sticking to the letter rather than the spirit of the rules at times, and while you are not always particularly fussed by some creative bending of those rules, you are upset at the implication that Putin is so far above the little people he holds sway over that it seems perfectly rational to shut down and shut off the whole of the centre of  the capital city and keep its people out just so that a car can be driven from a to b as part of what everybody hopes will be a reasonably regular ceremony. Not a 60th anniversary, a six year one. A ceremony that should be for the people who chose him, not about the man.

I mean, was that really necessary? No-one is that important. Not even the Queen.

On blogging for the BBC

You are proud to announce that you are now blogging in Russian (*cough* in translation *cough*)  for the BBC World Service. 

Writing something you knew would be translated was an odd experience. Especially translated into Russian. You have read a fair number of Russian-to-English texts in your time and many of them have been quite odd. Translated Russian can be brutally choppy, something you suspect the fact that Russians do commas all wrong* doesn’t help with although it’s probably the fault of having both more flexible word order in sentences and some really dauntingly information-packed adjectival phrases. In addition, any attempt to render slang across the language barrier is invariably a horrible horrible mistake.

As a result you have decided that the two languages are fundamentally incompatible.

So you decided to try to make life easier for your translator by eschewing things like the affected ‘you’ and the hyperbole, the overuse of adverbs, and the ungrammatical subordinate clauses made to do the work of a full sentence that you use on this blog. A bit. Still, you are deeply grateful to the person who translated this, who clearly had the bigger job of the two of you.

This is what you wrote:

I first went to Russia in 1996 intending to stay for six months and have never entirely left. Well, that’s not literally true. Right now I live in the UK, but in a corner of London that will be forever Slavic because my husband is Russian and my two children are, therefore, half Russian.

Why Russia? No reason, particularly, except that I wanted to live abroad for a while after university and had a choice between Russia and India.

I really hate hot weather.

I come from a small town about thirty miles outside of London. The most interesting thing about it is that Lewis Hamilton, the formula one driver is from there. It’s pleasant but not terribly exciting and Moscow was a bit of a shock, made more so by the fact that I didn’t speak a word of Russian before I arrived. I learned to read the alphabet while negotiating my way round the Metro stations.

Moscow, you see, is big. There are big buildings, some tall, some just heavily monolithic. The doors are built for giants. The roads have seventeen million lanes (some of them). Parks are like walks in the country, and as you fly into the airport, you look down on miles and miles and miles and miles of forest. It is very disconcerting to realise that Moscow has been built in one rather large clearing.

In fact what with coming from a small island nation, I never have really managed to comprehend properly how big Russia itself is. You have to show three maps just to get the weather forecast done and even then the distances involved are mind-boggling.

In addition, the history is impressively, and sometimes oppressively, huge, and it was a history that Russia was still very much living through when I arrived almost completely (you will have gathered) unprepared. I may be a historian by training, but I specialised in 18th Century France and Venice.

I survived and refused to leave because I enjoyed finding out everything I didn’t know before I came and because I adore Russian people (and snow). They are warm, helpful, funny, intelligent, determined and practical. Which is why, of course, I married one of them (and miss snow in winter).

In the fullness of time we had children. And at this point, multicultural families often hit problems, not least of which is whose language do you teach them? Or, how do you make sure that they learn both languages? If you don’t want them to, why not? If you do, how well do you want them to speak?

Our decision, when our son was born in 2008 and reaffirmed when my daughter joined us this year, was that we wanted them to be as balanced bilingual speakers as possible, which means that we wanted them to speak (and read, and write) both English and Russian equally well. This presents some challenges again, especially as we live outside of Russia. I do a lot of the childcare and my Russian is brutal and largely ungrammatical (but with a really good vocabulary relating to potty training, weaning and childhood illnesses).

So I will be writing about how my husband and I, with a lot of help from their Russian babushka, are trying to bring those children up bilingually and with a sound bi-cultural understanding of both Britain and Russia as well.

At the moment this seems to involve me watching a lot of Soviet-era cartoons and having my Russian grammar and vocabulary corrected by a three year old.

*Or is it the English speakers?

On why I heart Martin Brundle.

Today, you were mentioned on live international TV. Today, you influenced live international  TV. Today, Martin Brundle* made a special effort to say ‘petROV’ rather than ‘PETrov’** until the race got too exciting, which was about as long as it took the man himself to pile ignominiously into the back of Michael Schumacher***.

You have been laying siege on this issue via Twitter to the BBC F1 team for *cough* some months now.

This is because you are cross at the BBC.

To recap, those paying attention to this blog may know that back in January, the BBC announced it was to cut loose your favourite online community.

This is not why you are cross. They could have shut the place down cold, but they didn’t, which gave you a chance to save it. And you**** did.

No, you are cross because in the ten years they had it, they ran it into the ground. Nearly into the ground. And this week it has become clear that the code has been held together with chewing gum and rubber bands for quite some time*****. Heroic efforts by the volunteer (but expert) tech team has got it up and running and plans are afoot to drag the site kicking and screaming into 2006*****. And then? Then it will get really interesting. But still. It should never have got to this point. In your opinion.


This meant that when the BBC announced that the same spending cuts which had axed your hangout meant that it would be sharing coverage of Formula One races with Sky, you were in two minds.

On the one hand, schadenfreude ruled .

On the other hand, AAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Pay per view for 50% of the races? And even more importantly, what will be happening with the superlatively splendid line up of people covering the races they have this year?

To be honest, you had been rather hoping that making David Coulthard into a race commentator represented a radical cost cutting measure. Previously, Martin Brundle, who has been on the commentary team for over ten years was ex driver expert, there to lend colour to whoever was calling the minutiae of the action.  For the last couple of years, David Coulthard, a much more recently ex driver, has been one of three pundits, including Eddie Jordan******, former team owner, flown around the world to talk at the beginning and of the race. This way, the BBC at least made a net saving of one person’s wages and travel expenses, and they were getting DC and Martin******* to work harder for their money.

Sadly it appears not. And as you cannot feel but that, given a choice between working on only half the races********* and working on all the races, the cream of the crop will disappear of to Sky.

And this lot are the cream. Jake Humphrey is the host and the straight man, the Formula One layman for all the others to bounce off. Coulthard and Eddie Jordan provide the opinions, as well as extensive contacts in the business and a soupcon of bickering. This is always entertaining.

But Martin******* and DC together for the race has been inspired.

Now, you haven’t really cottoned to the last two lead commentators. James Allen tended to get a bit obsessed by the British drivers and Jonothan Legard seemed often to be doing the F1 for dummies version, although you could well believe that was the policy of the BBC rather than his own preference. You darkly suspect the person producing the programme was not a fan of motorsport and insisted that this was the level of information people would understand.

Given that races of late have been 55-75 laps of processional driving, punctuated by brief flurries of activity as everybody pitted, this got old very quickly. I mean, there really was a limit to how many times you needed the action recapped.

So the prospect of having two former drivers to call the race made you rub your hands together. You fondly imagined that you would have a soothing one and a half hours of knowledgeable and leisurely chat and reminiscing from two experts in their field, vaguely related to what was happening on the screen behind them.

Of course, the first  of time the cars set tyre on track this season put paid to that. You’ve mentioned this before**********, but various mucking about with the rules has produced some breathtakingly energetic racing. Which clearly took everybody them in the commentary box by surprise as well.

For the first few rounds. But while it was fun to listen to the frenziedly incredulous enjoyment that resulted, it’s been even more fun to hear the commentary since Martin and Coulthard have really found their feet. You still get the ‘squeeee!’ factor; you get the eagle-eyes spotting things as it flashes past them at speed that someone who hasn’t done it for a living would have to spend twenty minutes and extensive use of the pause button trying to see; and now you also get a decent idea of who is where, who’s gone out, who is about to overtake and who is having a complete shocker.

And you do get the leisurely, well-informed chat too. As long as you press the red button after the race has finished.

So, when the cuts were announced, you signed up to the ‘keep F1 on the BBC‘ campaign. Mainly, you have to confess, to needle the Beeb in your own small, insignificant way. You don’t expect the Beeb will listen. You don’t expect they can, having spent the F1 budget for the next twenty years on tantalising you with the prospect of F1 commentary Nirvana this year, thus virtually ensuring that you will have it, and half the races taken straight away. But you would like them to know how monumentally pissed off you are about it.

Now this campaign involves trying to get the twitter hash tag #keepf1onbbc to trend on race weekends.

But you don’t tweet about Formula One as a rule. So while you were contemplating this tricky issue, you heard Martin say ‘… PETrov…’ and an idea was born*************.

Because people on the telly are always getting the stress wrong in Russian names and this really scrapes fingernails across your soul. This particularly scrapes fingernails across your soul when it happens on the BBC, as you heard from somewhere that the Beeb employs a whole department to work out how to pronounce those pesky forn names and tell their on screen staff************.

So you started tweeting about this to @MBrundleF1 and anyone else who might be listening.

After a while you turned it into a virtual drinking game. Any mention by the F1 team where they mispronounced petROV’s name got a tweet.

You had a lot of fun.

But you had rather given up the hope, the very faint hope, of anybody actually taking any notice of this when suddenly, today, Martin spotted petROV’s car as he was doing his grid walk to pounce on lounging drivers, busy engineers, posing celebrities, and passing heads of state, paused, struggled briefly with the pronunciation, and conceded your point.

You are ‘someone having a bit of a moan on Twitter’, and you are so, so proud.

Sadly, the rest of the BBC has not caught on to this yet. You will clearly have to redouble your attack next Grand Prix.

Here’s the BBC iPlayer (available for one week only, to those in the UK).

Your bit starts at 41 minutes 59ish seconds. It lasts until (optimistically) 42 mins 15ish seconds. Hang about for a bit, though, and you’ll hear him forcing the stress into the right place any number of times up until petROV’s accident. Which starts at 1 hour 32 mins or thereabouts. Enjoy!************

This is petROV! Not PETrov! Image via Wikipedia

*Martin Brundle is the lead commentator on the BBC’s Formula One coverage of the sport, for the Formula One challenged among us.

**The first Russian Formula One driver. Since you have been paying attention, which would have been 1996 or so, in case anyone is feeling pedantic.

***Do you need to explain who Michael Schumacher is? Surely not.

****You use the word ‘you’ somewhat loosely here. But as you type you are clinking virtual champagne classes in the go/no go meeting which has just relaunched the site.

*****You have shamelessly stolen these lines from some of your fellow researchers.

*****It’s tempting to add ‘the flamboyant’, but that’s really just his shirts.

******You feel confident that you and Marty are now on familiar terms.

*******If anyone is interested, the deal is that Sky will broadcast all the races as part of one of its pay per view packages. The Beeb will get half the races (including Silverstone********! So that’s OK!) and the others will have ‘extended highlight shows. Broadcast after the fact.

********The British Grand Prix. Do try to keep up.

*********Does anyone actually read the motorsport posts?

**********It helped that Martin was himself ribbing DC about his inability to pronounce VETtel correctly.

***********Of course, it’s entirely possible this department has gone the way of the budget downsizing, if it ever existed. In which case, please take the rest of this post as being you doing your bit for the Big Society.

************Oh, by the way, Red Bull won the Constructor’s Championship this week. Vettel won the race, and the Driver’s Championship last week. They’ve been having an good year. This pales into significance, of course, in comparison the the much more important news of the patchily correct pronunciation of petROV’s name. But still. Well done, Red Bull and Vettel.

On Mothers Day.

For the last three years you have been trying to get B to recognise Mothers Day.

It’s not going well.

He just doesn’t feel it. Russians don’t celebrate it at all. They have Women’s Day, which in principle you prefer to both Mothers Day and Valentine’s Day as it is somewhat less specific to certain stereotypical roles women are supposed to play in their lives and considerably more inclusive to all women in general. Who should, after all, be worshipped at least once a year.

Although you’d prefer all three times.

Of course, the irritating thing about Women’s Day in Russia is that lately it is apparently impossible to mention it without sourly drawing attention to the discrepancy between its intended status as a celebration of feminism, and the fact that feminism in Russia is a dirty word and that this is just an excuse to throw the downtrodden female masses in the Former Soviet Union a paltry sop in the form of a limp bunch of flowers in lieu of any actual appreciation of their rightful place as equal and valued members of society.

If you were in a feisty mood, you would find it almost impossible to resist the temptation to point out in return that taking mother out for lunch is also something of a paltry sop for taking her for granted the rest of the year in a society with doesn’t even have the decency to be honest about the second class status that women still hold. Because otherwise, why would the bulk of childcare, cleaning and career suicide still be left to the female half of the parenting partnership? Why wouldn’t this holiday have become ‘Parents Day’ a long time ago?**

Plus you do wonder if anyone who thinks the female masses are downtrodden in Russia has ever actually met any Russian women. Stronger-minded ladies are few and far between. Although they do dress well.

However, you are not in a feisty mood. Or even a pensive mood.  You can get irritated with Mothers Day on ideological grounds, but it’s never bothered you on a personal level, not when you were childless, not even when you were unwillingly childless. You tended not to connect the dots. Mothers Day was a day for presenting your own mother with a homemade scribble and a bunch of daffodils with a beam of benevolent affection, and for turning up at Granny’s with the annual pot plant.

It didn’t have anything to do with you.

But when you realised that you were about to qualify, you spotted an opportunity, as a down trodden female mass, to wangle a bit of a lie in. Well, what you are aiming for is breakfast in bed, actually. Lounging around in bed. A bit of light bathing, with the door shut, and a book. Someone else doing the cooking and wiping the Star’s snotty nose. Someone else stuffing the suddenly eight armed toddler into clothes in preparation for a walk. Someone else answering the question ‘where going?’* about yourself, himself, the ladybird, the lady on the street, your neighbour, the pigeon, the worm, the man getting off the bus, the man getting on the bus, the other pigeon, the other lady bird, the other lady on the street, the rook, the crisp packet, the boat, your neighbour again, the water in his bath and Papa after he has said good night.

For a day.

Of course, a card on a grubby bit of paper that makes you look like a demented female dinosaur is also absolutely indispensable.

However, this year you got a framed black and white photograph of what you are reasonably sure is a late eighties Lotus formula one car, with a dedication from someone whose signature you can’t quite make out (yet) to someone called ‘Q’, which B found at a car boot sale and has been hoarding for the occasion.

As presents in general go, this is pretty up there on your list.

As Mothers Day presents go, it really needs work.

But you felt entirely unable to complain as April 3rd – Mothers Day 2011 – coincided rather unfortunately with B’s birthday.

You made him a cake. Of course.

What do you get the Soviet medal enthusiast who has everything for his birthday?

You make him a Soviet Order of the Patriotic War, Class I cake, of course.

And this is what it's modelled on.

You will say this. You will never laugh at Cake Wrecks again. How people, even professional people, get the icing onto the sponge in one piece and without getting it covered in either powdered icing sugar or jam is beyond you.

Fun though.

*’Why?’ will be a relief.

**Well, card sales on Fathers Day would take a bit of a hit perhaps.

On pissing on trees.

The Star appears to be pretty much potty trained.

This has either taken a couple of weeks or over six months, depending on how you calculate it.

He’s been using a potty at home quite happily since the summer. Since, in fact, being locked in a room for a week with a small boy his own age who was quite happy to wee to order in a glorified chamber pot.

Recently, you’ve even managed to get him to do so despite wearing pants and trousers, which probably relieved guests’ sensibilities somewhat. There’s nothing quite like being greeted at the front door by a small boy waving his pipiska. Although having the Star shout ‘Kaka! Kaka! Kaka! Kaka! Kaka!’ loudly in your ear when the time comes is always a bit alarming.

However, you recently decided it was time to take the show on the road.

This is partly because you will soon have a new entity whose bottom will need 24 hour wiping in the house and partly because this summer, the Star will be returning to Russia.

If it was embarrassing to be the mother of the only two year old in Moscow still in nappies, imagine the horror with which a pampers wearing three year old would be greeted.

So armed only with his potty and a spare change of clothes, you have been sailing boldly into the great outdoors for three weeks now.

The first problem you had was that the Star has always decided himself when he wants to sit on the garshok. The idea of listening to your suggestions about when he might want to try a preventative widdle fell on extremely stoney ground.

He also stopped telling you when he needed to go, preferring instead to hold it as long as possible, presumably in the hope that Mama would stop this nonsense and put the nappy back on, or that you would arrive back home where emptying himself was safe and comfortable.

Needless to say this led to accidents.

Including one day where, when his Russian playgroup went on a trip to a nearby park, you found him, plaintive and disconsolate, behind a tree in extremely wet trousers and shoes and surrounded by a large and muddy puddle.

You hugged him and took him back indoors, changed him and had a quiet chat, and he agreed that in future he would go to the toilet when Mama thought it was necessary.

Which he has been doing.

Next you learned to dispense with the potty.

This was as simple as leaving him with his Papa in the Great Outdoors for an afternoon. Real Men do it standing up, Papa declared, and apparently the Star agreed.

The next time you found yourself in the vicinity of a tree with a Star who was overdue to pass water, therefore, you coyly suggested that you both go and say hello to that oak over there. Just like he did with Papa the day before.

The Star looked at  you with scorn.

‘Not say hello. Me piss on tree,’ he declared firmly, and proceeded to lean obligingly forward (‘Not piss on shoes!’) and allow Mama to arrange his apparatus appropriately. Yes, in answer to a fascinated friend of yours who has only girls, you do have to teach boys to hold their own penises.

He will also stand on the toilet seat and send a stream of wee in the general direction of the bowl in public toilets, although you both have to improve your aim a bit there.

Or perhaps not, she says, contemplating some of the males of her acquaintance.

But the attentive reader will have noticed that so far you have only been talking about emptying the Star’s bladder. And it is true that pooing in public is not going quite so well. You are managing fine in some ways because the Star generally manages to defecate at home. Unfortunately, on the rare occasions he doesn’t, he simply dumps in his pants, which leads to protracted cleaning up sessions in baby change facilities and the smell of shit following your pushchair for the rest of the day, because no matter how many plastic bags you smother the poo smeared trousers in, it is still quite quite penetrating.

You suspect that only when you forget to take spare clothes with you and the Star is forced to travel across the capital in squishy, smelly underpants will he see the wisdom of shouting ‘Kaka! Kaka! Kaka! Kaka! Kaka! Kaka! Kaka!’ on the street with the same enthusiasm he shows at home.

When it will be time to stock up on those little bags that dog owners carry around with them everywhere.