Hoola hoops and skittles

I was on a training course yesterday. It took place a plush London building which had amusingly named rooms and skittles and hoola hoops in the corridors. I think that meant it was a ‘creative space.’

I didn’t play with the skittles, or see anyone who wanted a game. I did have a nice lunch in the ‘caf,’ ate loads of  fruit and biscuits in the ample breaks, and brought home branded pens and a pad of paper. I also learned a lot about social media strategy, which my boss will be glad to hear as he was paying for all this, including the  lunch and biscuits. It was a good day, certainly better than the daily grind.

I got a certificate too. Just for turning up. Like that time in the school swimming lesson where they gave me a 10m certificate even though my feet touched the floor of the pool most of the way.

I’d arranged to meet an old friend when I finished the course, but she couldn’t make it. So I could go home early and get the kids to bed.

If I got the 5.37 pm train I’d arrive home to ask if homework was done, make packed lunches, ask my boy if he wanted milk and biscuits, fetch milk and biscuits, discard untouched milk and biscuits, supervise my boy brushing teeth, supervise my boy washing face, brush my boy’s teeth, wash my boys face, find pyjamas, turn pyjamas the right way out, ask my boy to put his pyjamas on, put my boy’s pyjamas on for him, read the bedtime story, refuse to read the bedtime story again, find ‘little lamb’, turn the light low, turn the light higher,  turn the light lower while he wasn’t looking, sing twinkle twinkle little star, exit room, ask daughter to find PE kit, find PE kit, persuade daughter it was bed time, tell daughter again that it was bed time, kiss goodnight, sit on sofa, find easy watching TV, drink glass of wine.

Or… if I got a later train, I would arrive home, sit on sofa, find easy watching TV, drink glass of wine.

These were my two options, and no one was expecting me to be home in time for bed time.

Of course family routine is a pleasing thing, I like homely stuff, well most of the time. I had missed my kids in the morning because I’d  had to catch an early train. But would they miss me if I didn’t show at bedtime? I didn’t think so. They would enjoy Dad being in charge. Bedtime would probably be later than usual. There would be chuckles when he got the words to twinkle twinkle wrong again. He wouldn’t know it was PE on Tuesday. I might still have to make packed lunches when I got home. But everything would be just fine.

So I looked around the smart shops at St.Pancras station. I bought a salad in a cafe where you selected ingredients and they tossed it all together for you. It was like a healthy pick and mix. I bought a birthday card, I looked at some jewellery and then books… I looked at the station board for the times of trains.

I caught the 6.07pm and was home for the bedtime drill.

Maybe I’m institutionalised to this life? Or  maybe I’m just not as keen on shopping as I used to be.

I told my kids about the hoola hoops in the corridors and they were impressed. We laughed about making pick and mix salads. The bedtime stuff happened, as it always does, then I kissed my kids goodnight, sat on the sofa, found easy watching TV, drank a nice glass of wine knowing I’d earned it.


Post traumatic pass the parcel stress disorder

Last year there was a poo on my daughter’s bedroom floor, this time it was vomit on the living room rug. These things might pass without remark at a first birthday party, where a nappy leak or a baby’s milky sick are to be expected, but my boy had four candles on his cake on Saturday. He’s a big boy now, and so are his friends, which made for a sizeable clean up operation; with an eventual decision to buy a new rug.

My friend Anne pointed out, “Louis isn’t very good with spinning,” just seconds before the carpet was decorated with regurgitated party rings and cheese straws.

I wanted to ask why Louis  allowed himself to be pushed into a stomach spinning frenzy on our Ikea swivel if he’s, “not good with spinning.”

Instead I went to look for the carpet shampoo. I value my friendships, even when my friend’s kids don’t value my floor coverings.

It was still a good party. I belive that birthday milestones should be celebrated by parents as well as children. After all child rearing goes unrewarded most of the year – so why not celebrate parental efforts on anniversary days?I feel like I’ve worked harder to bring my kids up, than they’ve worked to be brought up. All they have to do is play and stuff,  if I listed everything I’ve had to do this would be a very long blog post.

So while the kids got stuck into sausages on sticks and drank orange squash, I was chatting to my friends and handing out beers and glasses of fizzy wine. So far these joint grown-ups/kids celebrations have worked well. I’m lucky enough to have mum-friends who like it this way, and my boy hasn’t  yet noticed that I control his guest list.

I guess these boozy relaxed kids parties won’t last, by next year we’ll have reached the stage where  parents see a party invitation and chuckle with joy at the thought of  three hours of free babysitting.

I already notice the changes. This was the first year where I’ve been busy organising party games and activities. It was fun, even if I have revised my opinion of pass the parcel.  Isn’t pass the parcel the cruellest of all party games? It seems designed to turn sharing and patience into toddler extreme  sport. The challenge seems to be to test the mettle of the weaker kids, to see if they break down into materialistic monsters. It involves taunting children with gifts presented, then taken away, until they cry, and the music stops, and you give them stuff. If they take this as any kind of life lesson we’re all doomed.

Another party activity involved icing that’s  like play dough. I thought kids could model flowers or animals and decorate a cup cake each. Instead they plonked fat random wodges of icing on the cakes, and demanded that I mould yellow rubber ducks for them. These yellow ducks would each have eye colours to reflect the child’s favourite colour. At first I was flattered that they liked my yellow icing ducks, but by the time I  made the tenth duck it was unrecognisable as a water fowl, and I  got snappy if they wanted any eyes at all.

While I was model making I would look out of the window and see my friends in the sun drinking wine. But of course I was enjoying time with my boy and the other young party goers, and all our new friends in the duck family.

I was back at work  today, feeling shortchanged on the weekend. Although my boy’s party had been good I had spent most of Friday  and Saturday shopping, cooking, cleaning, duck-making, wrapping ten layers of pass the parcel, and soothing ten kids suffering from pass the parcel disappointment. I wonder whether this might  be some new syndrome? Post traumatic pass the parcel stress disorder..? I think I’ve got that.

Monday was my work anniversary, although it’s not  usually an occassion I celebrate. I  work at PokerStars and on the 12th of September 2001 I signed up to play poker, little knowing it would end with it paying my mortgage and giving me bundles of career satisfaction.

My work day anniversary was easier than my son turning four. I sat at my desk and got busy with stuff that made sense and caused no tears, and there was no poo or vomit or chaos,  and I wondered what my boy was doing at the childminders. My boy was four years old and four days and I was missing his special day, well isn’t every day special when you’re four?

I do love my job and I have to work, but sometimes I miss being a full time mum. Like most modern parents (and pass the parcel players) I wish that I could have it all.

Still, I could celebrate my boy’s four year and four days special day when he came home. I could make yellow ducks. Or any other animal on request.  I wouldn’t even mind if he told me his favourite colour was rainbow.

School buses and poker player’s earrings

It’s my daughter’s first day of secondary school, my son turns four this week, but here I am worrying about earrings for poker players.

Yes, you read that right. Earrings. That’ll be two earrings, not one. It might well be that  87% of poker players are male (and I’m guessing a low percentage of those are of the earring wearing type) but  I’m not bothered  about ear decoration for poker playing men, oh no,  I’m only concerned with the ears of  poker playing women.

I had promised my daughter I would escort her to the bus stop on her first day, but I got in a bit of a flap as she prepared for school. I didn’t want her to miss her first ever school bus. She wasn’t in real danger of  being late, but I hadn’t stopped to notice that because the flap was upon me. So I managed to make matters far worse than they ever needed to be by asking her at least six times if she had her phone, then ten times if she had her lunch box. Then I did the unthinkable, I combed her hair, even though she’d combed her hair already. If anything would worry her that would.

I knew I ought to keep calm and get my daughter to school without  panic – and I failed. Well, mums get first day of  school nerves too.

At the bus stop there was a queue of kids in the same uniform as my daughter. This was reassuring.  My 11.45 pm recky of the bus stop had failed to establish whether it was the right  stop, but this was proof. I could relax, there would be no panic drive to Canterbury while I cursed my bad mothering

I was pleased that the bus turned up on time and glad to note that it was clearly labelled with the school name. I had clearly labelled every item of my daughter’s school uniform, the bus labelling made it seem the world might be straightening out. Maybe it was a simple happy place after all?

As I handed my nervy daughter  a tissue and straightened her pony tail yet again, the bus pulled up, and we observed the kids from a rival school pelting sweet wrappers at the approching vehicle. My daughter smiled bravely and clutched her freshly minted bus pass. I smiled nervously, and studied the fearsome girl standing beside my daughter  in the queue. This girl wore a slip of a skirt,  too much make-up, and funky silver earrings in the shape of an ‘A’ . I had read the uniform regulations many times and none of this seemed right. There would surely be a request for her to wash her face, a letter to parents about the skirt, and if the earrings passed the rule as  ‘small studs’ there had to be  some small print about  subversive anarchist designs.

How would my delicate daughter cope in a world of cool kids wearing short skirts? She insisted on trousers not skirts, she had never tried make-up, and her ears weren’t even pierced!

My daughter got on the bus as I gritted my teeth into a grin and forced a cheery wave. She didn’t notice because she was chatting to a friend from her old school. I headed home.  I had to work, I knew what I had to do that day… Oh no I didn’t. How could I work? My daughter was eleven and someone had decided that was old enough for Big School. What to do… I  ruled out online petitions and letters to MPs,  I really did have to work. And I had an idea! Earrings.

In London on October 2nd there will be a poker tournament for women, I will be organising this and handing out goody bags to all those who win seats in online tournaments. In these goody bags there will be some playing cards, ‘PokerStars’ t-shirts, umberellas, binoculars (don’t ask) and I decided there would be some poker earrings too. This is what happens when a worried mother at a bus stop is put in charge of poker things.

I needed to distract myself from worrying about my daughter lost in a maze of classrooms… How many classrooms would there be for more than 1,200 school kids?  Where was I? Oh yes, distracted… So to stop myself being distracted I looked up jewellery designers. I thought about pendant necklaces,  rings, dangly earrings as opposed to studs. And what about gold instead of silver? The day somehow passed until it was 3.15pm and then I could wonder if the phone would ring, worry that she might have lost her bus pass, hope she hadn’t forgotten that the number 902 would bring her safely home.

I remembered her first day at nursery. I’d felt lost without her then. I hadn’t worked so I’d played hold’em poker tournaments until it was time to pick her up.

I’d got into poker when I’d seen Victoria Coren playing on Channel 4. I wanted to be like Vicky, she was posh and charming and smart. I loved watching her beat the men at cards. This was a game of wits, and she was pretty and witty – but not gay. At least I don’t think so.

It wasn’t a game of wits when I played, I was witless not witty. I was bored, at  home with my new baby and I didn’t understand poker’s rules properly so I played the free games at PokerStars. I played all the cards I was dealt and clicked random buttons. If I clicked the wrong button  I could pretend it was all a clever bluff. Vicky Coren bluffed sometimes! I would  breastfeed my daughter as I played, raising and folding while chatting to poker geeks in Scandinavia. They had no idea I was half naked in this most unsexy way. I would spray milk at their online avatars. Take that BigGuy482 from Stolkholm… I raise 200 plus a splattering of foremilk!

I didn’t do much except visit playgrounds, do the nursery pick-up and play online poker, and when I saw an email from PokerStars looking for customer support staff I applied.

I got the job.

I won’t bore you with my whole career path, but somehow I went from support email answerer, to being the poker blogger  writing about the day Victoria Coren won £500,000 at the London EPT. Then years passed, I had another baby, I took maternity leave, someone else took maternity leave which meant a new job marketing poker to women. And here we are with the earrings in the goody bags…

My daughter came home from school (on the bus, all by herself!) and it turned out she’d had a great day.

“Mum, will you take me to the bus stop again tomorrow?”

I knew I had an early meeting, plus a backlog of non-earring related spreadsheet kind of stuff to do. (I wonder how that had mounted up?) But would I take her to the bus stop..?

“Yes, of course I’ll take you to the bus stop, no problem!”

A sigh from my girl. “Oh. I don’t want you to take me to the bus stop again.”

“Oh, okay.” Spreadsheets then.

“And can I get my ears pierced?”

Of pubs, poker promotions and English eccentrics

On a recent holiday to cloudy Devon I visited a rather eccentric pub. It was originally the home of a seventeenth century card-playing gentleman, Squire Ley. George Ley had a sizeable gambling win in 1690 and decided to spend the cash building a house–we must assume that he had mastered ye olde nosebleed stakes! The house was designed as a shrine to card gaming and had four floors to represent the four suits, thirteen rooms for the number of cards in a suit, fifty-two windows, fifty-two stairs, and was built on a ground area measuring exactly fifty-two feet square. The architect took inspiration from the card constructions children like to build, so the building was designed to look like a house of cards. Thankfully the construction was not as flimsy as a playing card tower and this fascinating building has survived for more than 300 years.

I was taking a week away from my work for PokerStars Women, but while I enjoyed a drink in the Pack o’ Cards beer garden, my mind turned to work and I wondered how things were going back at the office. Numbers mean a lot to poker players, and just as Squire Ley had insisted on fifty-two steps in his building I got to pondering the number of Steps that PokerStars Women were going to award in August.


The Pack o’ Cards (Photo: www.combe-martin.net) PokerStars Women’s WCOOP promotion means that WCOOP Step Ticket prizes are added to the final tables of women’s tourneys this month. The plan is to encourage the best female players to get involved in the World Championship of Online Poker, so any woman who makes a final table in the Women’s Poker League or Women’s Sunday will receive a Step Ticket prize. As I sat in the Pack ‘o Cards beer garden I never did figure out exactly how many Step Tickets PokerStars Women would hand out, but it had to be more steps than the 52 at Squire Ley’s old place.

I didn’t have my calculator with me on holiday, but now I’m back in the office I can do the maths. I can tell you that 855 Step Ticket prizes have been awarded at women’s final tables this month so far. The Women’s WCOOP promotion is running throughout August, so that’s 297 tickets still to be won. Perhaps you’ll try to claim one!

The Women’s WCOOP promotion will also acknowledge the best woman of WCOOP with a Woman of the Series prize. The highest placed female on the WCOOP leaderboard will win herself a trip to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) in January.

The World Championship of Online Poker has $30 million guaranteed. It’s nice to dream of some WCOOP women stepping up from their Women’s Poker League final tables to claim themselves a share of that cash. Perhaps some card playing woman might even win a WCOOP fortune and build herself a new house? Perhaps it could have four floors, thirteen rooms, fifty-two windows, and fifty-two stairs…