Sort it out…

Another year, another load of wrinkles on my face and the likelihood of me being Prime Minister is fading fast.

Fear not, just because I probably (definitely) won’t reach those dizzying heights, it does not mean that I can’t dream about what my agenda for change would be.  I’m not going to bother with all the things that really matter to people – health, education, housing etc – I’ll leave it to those in power to deal with those issues – but I shall concentrate on the rather more minor (indeed some might say irrelevant) issues which affect (annoy) me and my kin. So this is what I want sorted (said in a “Phil and Grant from EastEnders” voice):

– Store/Reward Cards:  what could possibly be wrong with them you ask?  Nothing – they’re a great idea but there are just too many of the b***** things.  My purse is unable to shut – not through any great personal wealth, just a million reward cards.  It goes one of two ways for me depending on whether there is a queue of people behind me at the till – either I have to conduct a full and thorough search of every pocket in my wallet and my handbag to locate the correct reward card (only attempted when the queue is less than 2 people) or I don’t bother looking and accept the receipt, nodding vigorously when told that I can bring the receipt with me next time and have the points added to my card then – come on, does anyone do that? Surely, in the age of phenomenal technology someone can produce one card that stores all the reward points for various shops on it. I’d have a go at creating one myself if my technological expertise extended beyond endlessly recreating new passwords for various sites for which I have forgotten the original one.

–  Self-service checkout tills:  one word – scrap! They don’t work and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in one of my local shops where the self-service checkout till is manned full-time by a member of the shop staff – self-defeating rather than self-service.  Add to this that “unknown item in the bagging area” makes me feel irrationally violent and more pre-disposed to self-harm than self-service and it seems quite clear to me that they were a crap idea (like the taxi lane on the M4) and should be quietly but swiftly removed.

– Recycling/bin collections:  I know this won’t make me popular with environmentalists but if I’m really honest I yearn for those days when I could just dump everything in one bin.  As it is, I spend (waste? bad pun) time every day debating (internal dialogue ) whether such-and-such is recyclable and if it is which particular recycling bin should it go in.  Then there is the “should I rinse it?” issue and the constant low level anxiety that you’ve got it all wrong.  As for the food waste bins, I’m sure I’m not the only one who regrets, on a twice weekly basis, overfilling the kitchen caddy and then having to transfer it to the outside bin without it splitting all over me and having to revisit all of the last week’s meals.

– Too small parking spaces: when I am out and about and not worrying about my refuse issues, this vexes me hugely.  Multi-storey car parks have become a minefield of worry and questions – “If I get into that space, will I be able to get out again?”, “If I get into that space, will I be able to get out of my car?”, “If I get into that space and out of my car, will I be able to get back in my car when I return?”, “If I get into that space, will the person parked next to me be able to get back in their car?” and so it goes on.  It’s high time that we accept that cars are bigger now and scrub out the old lines and get one of those little wheely things that draws white lines and make parking spaces bigger.

I know what you’re thinking, she’s always moaning.  What about something positive?  OK, well here we go – if I were elected to serve, then these are two programmes I would put in place for the benefit of the people of this country:  Firstly, free watches for all builders, plumbers and tradesmen with a free course on telling the time and the importance of time management.  9 o’clock means 9 o’clock not 12 o’clock or even 9 o’clock three days later.  Secondly, an admittedly niche proposal,  which came to me this morning as my daughter started back at school  – I would initiate a free hairdressing scheme for all mothers of girls for the all important “school hair-up” – how can I be expected to compete with those who spent their childhood years plaiting horses’ manes?

Right, that’s enough of power that I’ll never have.  What what your agenda be?

Full of Festive Spirit…

It’s been quite a while since I wrote anything in my blog but it would appear that a couple of people (and I mean literally only a couple) have missed my whinging so always ready to oblige, I thought I would start writing a bit again.

Where to start after so much time apart…well, it’s Christmas so why not start there? First off, let me state for the record that I actually do love Christmas – mostly.  I’m sure I’ve written about some of this before – I am nothing if not consistent in my whinging.  However, here goes – my top Christmas gripes.

– Visiting Santa’s Grotto: am I the only one who goes in “to see Santa” (with my children I might add before you think that I have made some sort of weird regression to childhood) and finds it the most excruciatingly awkward few minutes?  Poor Santa has to have the same banal conversation with each and every child about their behaviour this year (why bother asking – it seems patently obvious that the majority of children if presents were given on the basis of behaviour would receive nada) and what they want for Christmas.  In my experience, children seem to go mute at this point, either staring rather unnervingly at Santa (trying to guess who it is beneath that facial hair that is slowly sliding down his chin) or looking downwards and scuffing their shoes through the mountains of fake snow on the floor (#nightmarecleaningupjob).  It is left to me to have this insanely cheery chat with the big man about how wonderfully behaved my kids have been and how much they deserve wildly over-expensive tat for Christmas (all the time keeping my fingers crossed behind my back to counter the blatant lies I am telling).  Meanwhile the real reason we are all there is delayed interminably – the presents, Santa – hand them over and we can all move on.

– Sexy santa outfits: I just don’t get these at all – it seems so wrong on so many levels.  Santa is traditionally a man, so why do all sexy santa outfits consist of skin tight mini skirts clearly more suited to the female form?  Presumably because there is no woman alive who in her right mind would find a man dressed in a red jumpsuit, trimmed with white cotton wool and topped off with a faux white beard even remotely sexy.  Anyway, Santa is a kid-friendly concept so sexy santa suits just seem plain wrong.  Sexualising Santa is at best confusing, at worst rather creepy.

– Hats in crackers:  OK, I am prepared to accept the part that crackers play in Christmas – I mean who doesn’t desperately want one of those little screwdriver sets or irritating puzzles with rings you have to separate?  Let’s face it, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without an exchange of appalling jokes and general dissing of those whose job it is to write those jokes for the other 364 days of the year.  But the hats… no need, no purpose, don’t fit and no-one looks good in them. Yet everyone feels obliged whether it be the school parents dinner, the office party or whatever to put their ill-fitting paper hats on their heads as if somehow this is a sign to others that they are having a great time and “entering into the spirit”.  Let’s ditch the hats, people – no-one wants to wear them, end of.

– Fairy lights:  I love fairy lights.  Well, I love fairy lights of the mostly white variety but I am able to tolerate coloured lights.  However it seems that every year the nation’s obsession with fairy lights is growing inexorably. When I was young, we put lights on the tree – the end.  Now, we are expected to put lights absolutely everywhere – up impossible-to-climb trees, intricately wound around staircases, in windows, round doors, along fireplaces, even in big glass vases (some sort of temporary pseudo-art installation).  It is as if we are all in some sort of mad competition to put up as many million lights as we humanly can in the time available, starting in mid-November if that is the only way to beat our neighbours and friends.  What puzzles me is why we have suddenly gone fairy light-tastic – it’s not as if electricity/light is a new concept.  Am I missing something?

– Writing Christmas cards: every year I promise myself that this is the last year I write Christmas cards – not only does it give me repetitive strain injury in my right hand for the rest of the festive season but increasingly in the age of email and multimedia it seems a fairly pointless task.  Then it happens…the cards start to arrive through the door from other people and the guilt sets in.  Then the fear sets in that if you don’t send any cards then you won’t receive any next year yourself.  The guilt and fear grows until I find myself sitting down and madly scribbling festive wishes to people I either never see (and quite possibly won’t ever again) or equally people I see almost on a daily basis (for whom a simple “Happy Christmas” would suffice).  One year I shall be brave enough to resist the overwhelming urge to write cards – in the meantime, if you haven’t received one from me, then you can assume you are off my Christmas card list or your surname is at the end of the alphabet and I haven’t got there yet (and I have to admit might possibly never get there).

– Endless bloody festive editions of TV shows.  I can’t think of one single TV show that is improved by the addition of copious amounts of tinsel (my personal pet hate), wrapped up cardboard boxes to look like presents, TV hosts wearing Christmas jumpers and/or santa hats and nudge,nudge..endless references to “balls’.  Why does every show have to have a Christmas edition?  You are more likely to find me watching “Homeland” or any other programme where the chance of any reference to Christmas is negligible.  All those shows do along with adverts with over-decorated houses, roaring log fires and mountains of food on the table is to make you feel that everyone is having more fun than you (and has more fairy lights than you).

There you go, I feel much better now I’ve got that lot off my chest. Now I’ve shared my grievances, I shall try very hard to look at Christmas through the eyes of my children – remember how magical Christmas was when you were a child? Anyway, I’ve got to go as I’ve got at least six more sets of fairy lights to hang up this evening.

BLOOMing Bands

Summer 1967 – the Summer of Love; Summer 2014 – the Summer of the Loom Band.

This is not going to make me popular but I’m going to say it anyway. Loom bands (or Loon Bands when you step back and reflect on the elastic band hysteria which has overtaken the world) are or rather were all very well. Am I the only mother who is secretly sick of this kid-friendly but deliriously-frenzied cottage industry?

Ok – I quite liked the craze at the start. It made me feel all cuddly and warm inside (and a smidgeon smug) to think of all my children crafting together, making stuff, creating stuff. Isn’t this precisely the sort of “Blue Peter” moment that most of us dream of – actually hearing my ten year old son say “here’s one I made earlier”. At the start I didn’t mind wearing a collection of intricately woven (or not so intricately woven in the case of my 5 year old) elastic bands – more smug feelings – “look at me – arty, crafty mother” (which incidentally has always been one of my weaker parenting skill sets). However, enough is enough – I have been totally “loom banded” – no finger, toe, ankle, wrist, neck, ponytail in my family is unadorned. I have turned into one giant loom band – elastic fantastic.

I never thought I’d say this but I almost want my children to go back to playing Minecraft if only to stop the incessant requests to make me a ring, a bracelet, an ankle thingy, followed by an in-depth discussion of the pluses/minuses of a “ladder” loom band pattern as opposed to a “fishtail” and finally the constant measuring to see if it fits. Minecraft has always seemed extraordinarily pointless to me – our recent holiday was dominated by a row of children sitting side by side on the sofa on individual iPads inhabiting their own and each other’s virtual worlds – whatever happened to the real world…try talking to each other – radical concept I know. However, pointless as it is, I am starting to think that loom-banding is even more so.

Hats off to the inventor of this craze and the near-mythical hundreds of millions he has supposedly made from it. It reminds me of the Emperor’s New Clothes. He has convinced us all to part with our hard-earned cash for a load of elastic bands which are no different to common or garden elastic bands except for their garish colours and most offensive of all in some cases for their smell (reference 80s kids – “scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers were way better – particularly bubblegum).

No doubt, come September and the return to school, the craze will be over. What will be left with? About a trillion elastic bands – too small to be of any practical use but small enough to invade every nook and cranny. Oh yes, and a million broken vacuum cleaners. Hoovers all over the country are going on strike at the extra work pressure. I’m sure some entrepreneurial type will appear on Dragons’ Den next series with some impossibly over-valued business idea for all those trillions of elastic bands. But I can’t wait that long – I’m out – I’m loom-banded out. There I’ve said it…”yes, darling, I would love another ring – fishtail please, pink and purple…”

A recent health study has found…

English: Keeping your family active is the bes...

English: Keeping your family active is the best way to avoid obesity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Am I the only one who is not only bamboozled by but utterly sick of the plethora of medical/health-related news headlines with which we are bombarded on a daily basis. I decided to look back over the last 2 weeks and see exactly what I am supposed to be doing or not supposed to be doing if I were to follow the advice and findings of various reports and it is quite astounding how much tripe there is out there.

Firstly, let’s take the word of the moment: obesity.  This is undoubtedly an increasingly large (no pun intended) problem for this and future generations but it is this very subject which gives rise to some of the most ridiculous studies and conclusions. My favourite groundbreaking study, the results of which have been recently released, is that which comes to the startling conclusion that those living or working near to ‘clusters’ of takeaway outlets are more likely to eat unhealthy food and become obese.  No s*** Sherlock. How much time and money has been wasted in carrying out such an extraordinarily informative study? Another equally useful study of recent weeks concludes that the activity levels of a mother and her child are directly linked – i.e. the more physically active a mother is, the more active her child will be….wow, that is quite astounding.  Surely there can’t be a link between a mother who sits on her sofa watching daytime TV all day, only moving to switch channels and her equally lazy offspring whose ambitions extend to appearing on Jeremy Kyle.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news to those conducting this study but it does seem blindingly obvious to me that this would be the case. Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs springs to mind.

Apparently according to another study, childhood obesity is partly caused by strict parenting.  How convenient, yet another reason for us to pander to our children and to feel guilty for setting any boundaries.  So as not to appear strict, saying “Yes, darling, of course you can have another 6 packets of crisps and 2 cans of coke,” is clearly going to help prevent the obesity epidemic.

According to the newspapers this week, our 5 a day of fruit and vegetables is not enough and we should be aiming for 10 a day.  I can’t work out if that is one of those reverse psychology tricks that the nanny state is playing on us (after all it was April Fools Day this week) or whether this is a genuine piece of advice.  Perhaps by overstating the amount we should eat it will push us into increasing our intake and therefore move us towards actually achieving our 5 a day ( a bit like when I tell my husband that a party starts at 8pm when actually it starts at 9pm but as he is always late, we have got some chance of being on time if he believes me).  However, if the advice is genuine, I am already hyperventilating at the prospect of providing 50 portions of fruit and vegetables daily to my family of 5.

Other than obesity, the most oft reported ‘breakthrough’ studies seem to refer to exercise. Now I realise that doing exercise is a given (or at least in my case wearing sports clothing to mimic taking exercise) but no-one is able to agree on how much, what type and with what intensity.  Take two health headlines in the last week or so: aerobic exercise in your 20s may protect the brain in middle age and jogging can be harmful if done for more than 2-3 hours a week.  As you can imagine, I have paid scant attention to the first as sadly I am so way past my 20s that protecting my brain is really not an option. Although what I am not sure is whether the study means that aerobic exercise is pointless in your 40s – I suspect not, but I can live in hope.  The second headline is music to my ears.  Not only is running, to my mind, the most boring exercise known to man (I realise that I have now alienated scores of you who are running-obsessed) but I have to admit to a feeling of smugness that all those people who have run religiously for hours every week and made me feel unfit and lazy could in fact being doing more harm than good. Exercise in moderation – always been my motto – although I don’t think my definition of moderation and some others would be commensurate .

These are only a small proportion of the findings reported in the press in the last few weeks. Clearly, many studies are extremely important and represent true medical and health progress.  However it seems to me that far too many are plainly ridiculous, with patently obvious conclusions that only serve to contribute to an already overwhelming degree of health anxiety amongst this generation.  In fact, for me, all this conflicting advice leaves me with no option but to ignore it all.  It is not really feasible for me to eat 10 portions of fruit whilst jogging (not too much) but not outside due to pollution from a Saharan dust storm and certainly not in the vicinity of a ‘cluster’ of takeaway outlets and be nice to my children (not strict in the least) all at the same time.

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Yum Yum Moments

Delicious cakes in Marks and Spencer

Delicious cakes in Marks and Spencer (Photo credit: Gran Canaria Go)

My middle child and I had a row about “Yum Yums” yesterday.  “Yum Yums” for the unitiated are sugar-covered doughnut-type cakes to die-for from Marks & Spencer. I bought Yum Yums as a snack (before you shout, yes, I am aware of the endless lecturing in the media at the moment about sugar being more dangerous than alcohol, drugs, smoking, skydiving, solo circumnavigating the globe etc) thinking that my son would be pleased. I bought them with him in mind, a sort of bribery to get him to his tennis lesson after school.  His response: “I hate Yum Yums, yuk, disgusting”.

So what you may ask?  In itself, nothing new, same old “never getting it right” I suppose.  Predictably, our interaction degenerated from therein to what can only be described as a right royal dressing-down by child of mother. I could rattle on about lack of respect, a need for firmer boundaries, a lecture on courtesy etc but actually although all of the above is valid what I actually started to think about what something quite different: success and how you measure it.

What has my child’s abject horror at the sight of a harmless Yum Yum got to do with that?  Being a parent, particularly a stay-at-home parent, is a job like all other jobs in some ways but a job unlike any other in many ways. Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of parenting is the lack of any sort of reassurance that you are doing well, any external acknowledgement of success.  In fact, many people regard staying at home with your children as the soft option.

Many days with children can feel like an endless critique, an interminable ‘Yum Yum moment’. Conversations with children can become negotiations of the greatest sensitivity, requiring the skills of the United Nations.  However when resolution is reached, there is no-one there to say “hey, you did a good job there” or to high-five you. There is no-one to marvel at your patience and ingenuity.  There are no resolution skills courses, no time management courses, no presentation courses to go on in order to further your professionalism.  All this and you are dealing, on a minute by minute basis, with little people who often defy all logic and all reason whilst throwing in the odd tantrum or left field comment such as “I want to be in another family not ours” (my daughter’s most recent refrain) to sorely test your people management skills.

It is not surprising then that we often question our parenting skills, wonder whether we are failing.  We have no annual appraisal, no slap on the back, certainly no bonus or salary increase.  So how do we measure our success?  Success lies in all those moments which make the ‘Yum Yum moment’ worthwhile – when your child is happy, laughing, doing well at school and when they tell you that they love you.  Those moments far outweigh the ‘Yum Yum moments’, they are precious and to be cherished.

There will not be much external approbation and you will have to put up with the glazed-over look at dinner parties when you say you are a stay-at-home mother.  Your successes will not be shouted from the rooftops (although reassuringly your failings will remain largely unnoticed too!) but you will know when you’ve done well and the highs are incomparable with the highs from the average job. It’s worth remembering that actually you are doing the most difficult, most relentless, job of all even if you sometimes doubt your ability to succeed and your hard work goes largely unrecognised.  It is OK to punch the air sometimes and go “yeah” – anyway, probably no-one will notice and if they do, so what?

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No Internal Dialogue…

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know where you are with your children.  Yesterday, I went to the hairdresser and had my hair coloured and cut.  My new appearance generated a favourable response from the mothers at school, from my friends and from my husband (once I had pointed out that I had done something to my hair – I couldn’t expect him to notice without prompting).  My youngest child just stared at my head as if I had suddenly grown an extra ear or nose, no comment made but I felt the disapproval.  My middle child didn’t notice any change at all, he was much more concerned with some never-ending explanation of why he had got one thing wrong in his maths test.  My eldest child was more observant and didn’t hold back.  “Don’t like it” he said, “preferred it as it was”. I suppose I should be grateful that he a) noticed and b) didn’t use one of his incomprehensible descriptors like “sick” (although would have quite liked “epic” as I have noticed everything is “epic” for him except me).

It got me thinking about filters.  Children are largely devoid of filters.  Thinking before speaking is a skill which is mostly definitely learned and not inherent. One of the delights of being a stay-at-home mother (let’s face it there have be to some bonuses to a grossly under-appreciated job) is never quite knowing what your child is going to say next and just how inappropriate it can be at the most inopportune moment.   This ranges from the excruciatingly embarrassing – “Mummy, why has that woman got a moustache?”whilst standing approximately three feet away and pointing directly,to the downright bizarre such as when my son asked me in a crowded supermarket whether babies were born out of a mother’s mouth…I didn’t really know where to go with that one except to comment that he was on the right lines with orifices but wrong location!

Generally speaking, however, we can laugh off whatever our children say – admittedly when my daughter asks me whether I want a glass of wine with my breakfast in front of a whole hotel dining room it can be hard (have to resort to the ‘I’m a mother = functioning alcoholic’ line). For adults without filters, there is less excuse but it seems to be a remarkably common condition – I call it “no internal dialogue”. We all know people like that and somehow when an adult tells you how it is – especially with regard to personal appearance – it is not quite as endearing as a five year old child.

Not that long ago, I turned up to meet someone for the first time wearing my gym kit – (for regular readers, I had actually been exercising as opposed to just wearing…) – this person on introduction to me said “who’s been eating all the chocolates then?” (frankly, gob-smackingly awful on its own and BTW before you picture me as morbidly obese, I think my friends would agree that this was not really a fair description).  He followed up this little gem, when realising that perhaps he had said something at best inappropriate at worst downright rude, with the immortal line, “I’m so sorry, I thought you were pregnant” (which I most definitely am not). As you can imagine the meeting was nothing short of excruciating after that – although I have to admit to enjoying watching him squirm.

So let’s enjoy all the wonderful, bizarre, sometimes inappropriate things our children come out with and for those of you without any “internal dialogue”, engage brain before mouth.

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Lost in Translation…

Cover of "Do I Look Fat in This"

Cover of Do I Look Fat in This

Many years ago, in one of my many professional incarnations, I taught English to foreign students.  Some found the English Language fairly easy to learn, others less so.  However one thing that always caused confusion was when I explained that often when an English speaker says something, they actually mean something totally different.  I don’t know how much this is an issue in other languages – my grasp of other languages is so embarrassingly bad that I can barely tussle with the literal meaning let along any subtext.

In English, as spoken by a Brit,  however, subtext and etiquette play a huge part in the language and failing to see the subtext is a minefield which many have accidentally wandered into.

Take the innocuous “You must come for dinner, let’s get a date in the diary” or “I’ll give you a call”.  Woe betide you should think that is what the person actually means.  Don’t make the mistake of fishing out your diary or worse still waiting by the phone for it to ring.  When we say these things what we actually mean is “my diary is full for the next six months” and “I have absolutely no intention of ringing you”. We’re not being rude, it’s just that it is much easier to be faux-polite and to exchange the required formalities than it is to say “Bye then, I’ll see you around” which is what we really mean.

The British are for ever saying “sorry” or “I’m sure it’s my fault”.  This is not because we think we are at fault; confusingly quite the opposite.  Saying “sorry” is an automatic response for us Brits.  “Sorry” in this context is not remotely intended as an apology but again is a form of politeness.  Probably the worst thing you could say in response would be “apology accepted” – be warned, there was no apology intended.  It’s just words.

This politeness is acutely apparent at the British dinner party.  When presented with flowers or a gift by a guest, the hostess will inevitably murmur “Oh you shouldn’t have…”.  This is another example of where what we say is actually the opposite of what we mean.  What your hostess actually means is “Yes you should have bought me something, I’ve been up since 6am cooking your bloody dinner and sweating blood, sweat and tears over Nigella and Jamie Oliver”.

A common mistake that non-British people make when meeting a Brit is in response to the oft-used question “How are you?” or “How are you doing?”.  This question is almost rhetorical in nature.  The person is not remotely interested in how you actually are, but courtesy and greeting formality demand the use of such a question.  The mistake commonly made is to reply with a lengthy account of your current medical status.  This is neither required or indeed desired.

Relationships are another linguistical minefield with some very clear rules.  If a woman asks “Do I look fat in this?” do not hesitate to consider your answer.  Any hesitation will be taken as doubt by the woman.  This question is a stock question which requires a stock answer for reassurance purposes only.  The woman is not actually interested in whether you actually think she does look fat in it, she just wants to hear you say “Of course not, darling”.  Whatever you do, do not try and give a fuller answer – for example, “not at all but I think the red dress looks better” – as this will only serve to antagonise the woman and result in the accusation being levelled at you, “You do think I’m fat, don’t you!”  Take the easy option, you are not required to answer with any more detail, in fact it is actively discouraged.

If you are out with a group of people and you hear someone describe another person as “having a heart of gold” or “such a lovely, kind person”, do not be fooled – this is subtext speak for that person being, how do I put it kindly, “no oil painting”.  In fact, we have a lot of expressions which thinly disguise the brutal truth – my personal favourite is “he/she is not the sharpest knife in the drawer” – sounds so much kinder than “thick as two short planks”.

There is one situation though where you can take what we say at face value.  If your girlfriend/partner/wife says to you, “I’m really sorry but I’ve got a headache” – she means it.  Yes, there is a subtext here, of course, and by all means offer her a paracetamol but don’t dispute it, otherwise the headache will inevitably get worse and recur more often.

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