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I HAD always wanted a big family. After I had my first child, Calum, I joined the La Leche League, which promotes breastfeeding. Many fellow members enjoyed having a large family and that inspired me.

I had misgivings about contraception, because of possible side-effects. Also, I trust God to give me the number of children he wants.

Although one of my children, Guy, died when he was a year old from a serious heart problem, he will always be part of our family.

When people ask how many children I have, the answer is eight, only one of them is no longer with us.

My eldest, Calum, is now 29 and is in the RAF. My other surviving children are Euan, 26, a sports science student, Dana, 24, a hotel employee, Sian, 22, also a hotel employee and my three youngest - Cerys, 14, Rhian, 12, and nine- year-old Joel.

My husband Duncan and I married 32 years ago in South Africa. I'd gone out there with my parents after finishing nursing training. Mutual friends introduced us at a party and we hit it off.

Duncan loved children. As a teenager, he enjoyed playing with his nieces and nephews. He has an easy- going manner and a great sense of humour.

We both wanted a large family, and Calum was born two years after we married. Our first five children were born in Africa.

Soon after Calum was born, people asked when I was going back to work. I have always made it clear that I want to enjoy every second of my children. I did not want to be parted from my baby.

I am still a full-time mum and I feel very contented and fulfilled in that role.

As a family, we have moved 29 times, between Zambia, Rhodesia, Belgium, England and Scotland.

Eventually Duncan and I decided the moves were too disruptive to the children's education. For the past 15 years, we have educated them at home. The eldest four have left home, so there's only Cerys, Rhian and Joel still to educate.

They have workbooks to teach them maths, English, word building, science and social studies. We're about to start them on Latin and Spanish. Answer books are also provided. My job is more to supervise the work than to teach.

They study each day from 10am-1pm. That's what's recommended for home- educated children. Because they don't have so many disruptions, their work is more concentrated.

Afternoons might be spent doing arts and crafts. We have a workshop with a pottery wheel and they can make models and jewellery. Otherwise, we might spend time on computer work or going for walks along the beach.

Home now is Tayinloan, Argyll. We have a three-bedroom house, just yards from the sea, overlooking the Sound of Gigha. From my living room window, I can see Islay, Jura, Gigha and the Mull of Kintyre. It must be one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Over the years, our fortunes have fluctuated. When the first four children were small, Duncan was in a well- paid management job, so we had enough for luxuries.

But in 1993, he was made redundant and we sold our house in Ayrshire and moved into a caravan. We ended up having to stay there for three winters.

A sense of humour was essential, especially when the toilet froze.

Eventually, friends offered to let us live in a cottage. After six months there, we got the house we are in now. That was five years ago.

DUNCAN managed to get work at a drug rehabilitation centre. It wasn't at all well paid, but it kept us going.

Then he got a job as project manager at the Vesta Celtic wind turbine factory, at Machrahanish, 15 miles from here, and is very happy.

Fortunately, our children are not materialistic. They always say they don't feel they miss out, that they're quite happy. Although they don't have a PlayStation, they have computer games. We also have Sky TV now, for CNN and the Discovery Channel.

Things are easier now, but in the past we'd get by on hand-me-downs. We'd get a lot of our clothes from charity shops. When Dana and Sian were children, if Dana got something new, Sian would go along too to give her approval because she knew she'd end up wearing it. Needless to say, the washing machine and drier were always on.

I don't think anyone should be embarrassed about buying second-hand clothes, but I always buy shoes new, often in the sales, because feet are important.

We make a big deal of birthdays. Everybody gets the day off from home education and gets presents, but not in huge quantities.

Joel recently had a birthday. We gave him an Action Man CD Rom. He wanted new clothes from the catalogue, so he had a leather jacket and new shoes.

When everybody is home, we get through a lot of food and most things are freshly made. I reckon we spend around pounds 70 a week, depending on how many are at home. We have lots of fruit and vegetables, and meat every day.

I do a lot with mince, often filling it out with lentils, grated carrots, lots of vegetables, and gravies.

We have gone periods without holidays because of cost. Our first holiday for a while was last year when we did a house swap with a family in Holland for two weeks.

We booked cheap EasyJet flights from Glasgow to Amsterdam and, for five of us, it cost just pounds 195. This year, Euan, Joel and Duncan went camping in the Highlands and Rhian, Joel and I had a holiday in Ireland while Duncan was over there for work.

I've never been a stern disciplinarian, but I believe in the importance of boundaries. Sometimes you need to say `no' to your child. Like any parent, however, there are times when I give in.

It's true that they've had to learn to do without when times have been hard, but I feel that will stand them in good stead for the future. When things go wrong, they won't collapse, because they've experienced so much already.

Cerys and Rhian get on really well. Joel gets on well with them too, but he is a boy so it's not so easy for him. Joel often says he wishes he had known Guy.

The older ones are always there for each other. If anything happened to Duncan and I, the older ones would take care of the younger ones.

I am very proud of our children. They are all individuals. Each is different and very interesting.

With a large family, there's never a lot of money around, but there are plenty of compensations. When the kids are in the car, I drive along to the music of Travis, Britney Spears or Destiny's Child.

I'm happy to say I am very up on the pop scene, while many women my age are subscribing to Saga magazine.

Full Time Mothers, PO Box 186, London SW3 5RF.
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Title Annotation:Vital
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 19, 2003
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