2012 – Reflections

New Years Eve 2011 London

New Years Eve 2011 London (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

So as we hurtle (or in my case limp due to age, a bad knee and the fact that I’m currently lurgy-ridden) towards 2013, I thought I would wrap up 2012 (“put it to bed”as those corporate types like to say) with a few reflections.  There is lots I could say about world events, economies, tragedies, successes and I’m sure I could do this in a serious fashion but I’m going to leave that up to the broadsheets and magazines who love nothing more in the period between Christmas and New Year than compiling endless lists about the year gone by – the highs, the lows, the events that shaped our world etc. No, I am going to focus on what directly affected me (not that I’m ego-centric or anything) and as you would expect much of what I say will be bordering on trivial and utterly irrelevant from a world perspective.

Firstly, this was the year that I turned 40.  Admittedly this is of no consequence to anyone except me and actually of very limited interest to anyone except perhaps a handful of family and close friends.  However, since I started this whole blogging lark in the run-up to turning twice twenty, it seems only right that I should mention it first. I have to admit that I currently feel closer to turning twice forty than twenty but putting that aside, I have to say that my experience of reaching this landmark age has been largely positive.  We had lots of celebrations and everyone was really nice to me in November (the month of the actual turning twice twenty) so I can’t complain.  I’ve decided that being 40 is infinitely preferable to 39 which is undoubtedly the most non-age of all.  I am feeling quite comfortable in my own skin (although there does seems to be rather more of it than I might like on my face in the form of wrinkles which I am sure were not there 12 months ago) and I definitely feel invigorated and determined to do more with my life.  So watch out, 2013, big things are going to happen.

2012 also saw the end of various activities which I have to say I shall not miss in the slightest.  No more nappy changing – hurray – I can leave the house without that tell-tale shoulder bag containing nappies, wipes, Sudocrem, nappy sacs, foldable changing mat and various toys to distract my child whilst I wrestle with the hell that is nappy-changing in public facilities. The other thing I have said goodbye to after 8 years is baby music classes – I know I am not the only person who actually only really enjoyed the first ever music class they did with their first child (novelty value) but then endured countless thousands more because if I didn’t go, then I felt that whole parent-guilt thing going on about not doing enough “activities” with my child.  I really admire those people who teach these baby/toddler music classes – how do they stay happy and smiley all the time.  I feel dangerously unstable after just half an hour once a week of singing “wind the bobbin up”.

Now to arts and culture – you know me, a proper little culture vulture.  2012 was the year of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and I reckon that with the exception of only one of my friends, I am probably the only person in the world who owns a copy but has not read it at all.  I don’t feel like I’ve missed out, actually if I’m honest I feel a bit smug that I have managed to resist the allure of this “mummy porn”. The other great cultural revelation of 2012 was that one man wonder PSY and his unmissable “Gangnam Style”.  I don’t care how old I am but I can safely say that some of my funniest moments this year have been either watching others or participating myself in some rendition of “Gangnam Style” – that “horse” dance has been the greatest leveller for all ages and all backgrounds.

It would be remiss of me not to mention “Great” Britain in this year.  Not only did we have the Jubilee as a wonderful excuse to indulge in extreme levels of partying nationwide, but we also managed to pull off the greatest show on earth with the Olympics and believe me that although this was obviously a surprise to many from other countries, the greatest surprise was for us, the British.  We are not a nation prone to hyperbole and excessive enthusiasm.  Indeed, on occasion, we seem to enjoy revelling in serious cynicism and an expectation that we shall fall short of any targets we set ourselves.  The Olympics took us by surprise – what an enormous success! Perhaps best summed up by our three gold medals in the athletics stadium in that glorious 45 minutes on Super Saturday.  Despite all the phenomenal talent on show from team GB and all the other competitors, it is worth mentioning that in 2012, it was a DOG that won the popular TV talent contest, Britain’s Got Talent – this would only happen in the UK.

So there we go – that’s 2012 wrapped up, except to say that it is raining again and that is the other record we have broken this year – the wettest ever on records. It reminds me of a statistic I read in The Sunday Telegraph that Britons use their lawnmowers for only 4 hours on average in a year – says it all really. However, think on the positives – what on earth would we talk about if we had wall-to-wall sunshine all year round?

Happy New Year to all and I’ll “see” you on the other side!

Advertisements

Christmas Capers…

Turkey

Turkey (Photo credit: Mike_fleming)

Happy Christmas all! The good news is the world didn’t end on December 21st as predicted although you would have been forgiven for thinking it was going to end on December 25th instead, judging by the manic, frantic, bulk-buying that was taking place in the supermarkets around me on 24th December. The once-a-year Christmas “preppers” were out in force buying all sorts of things that will remain in the back of some cupboard until they are joined the following Christmas by exactly the same sort of things.  For example, at the last count, I found 4 jars of Cranberry sauce – all unopened and promptly joined by jar number 5 on Boxing Day.

I do sort of get these Christmas “preppers” – I’m as guilty as the next person – but as an aside I don’t really understand preppers for real.  I’m afraid that given the choice between spending months underground in a confined space with all my family eating tinned artichokes and muesli and just going with the rest of mankind in some sort of apocalypse – well, it’s a no brainer for me.

So the day itself has been and gone in a whirlwind of over-indulgence on every level – food, alcohol, presents, spoilt child behaviour (indeed one of my children is still 2 days after the event asking me on an hourly basis whether there are any more presents for him despite a mountain of toys to rival most small town toyshops). I do actually love Christmas and particularly now with children – nothing beats the magic for kids. However, there is no doubt that as the hostess and responsible adult, stress levels are not low.  Christmas Eve was spent tracking Santa online – a bit like tracking a UPS delivery.  The evening was punctuated with constant interruptions such as “he’s in Pakistan”, “he’s in Timbuktu”, “oh no, he’s getting close, he’s in Turkey and I’m not in bed. What happens if he gets here and I’m not asleep?”. Middle child who is nothing if not entirely rational then decided that there was absolutely no point leaving a mince pie for Santa or carrots for the reindeer since having performed an over-complex calculation as to number of presents delivered per second (helped by a rapidly moving “present delivery counter” in the top right screen of the tracking Santa webpage), he decided that there was no time for Santa to stop and eat anything at all. Eldest child seemed more concerned with what sort of alcohol we should leave out for Santa – he reeled off a veritable drinks cabinet – red wine, white wine, vodka, gin, brandy ….all rather concerning for an 8 year old.  Having finally decided on red wine, one small mince pie and a rather mutant carrot, peace reigned.  Letters to Santa were inevitably, given the fact that my two eldest are boys, a series of questions about which football team he supports (Arsenal for the record), which rugby team he likes and whether he found time to watch the recent England/India cricket match.

As for Christmas Day itself, that was the usual frenzy of present opening and a preoccupation with trying to break all world records for most food consumed by a human being in a 24 hour period. As head chef this year, my Christmas Day was a mixture of low-level anxiety that I might have forgotten some vital ingredient – turkey (aside: why do we eat a meat at this most important meal in the calendar which we wouldn’t dream of eating on the other 364 days of the year?), tick; parsnips, tick; bread sauce, tick; Christmas pudding with money inside, tick etc – and a moment of intense smugness and satisfaction when everything finally came together at the same moment and I presented everyone with their own body weight in food.  I am now left, inevitably, with a ton of leftovers from brussel sprouts to stuffing to turkey to gammon to potatoes – all in the fridge waiting for me to do something with.  I suspect that they will still be waiting in a weeks time and I’ll still be talking about the wonderful turkey curry and vegetable soup that I am going to make. I also suspect that the final resting place of these leftovers will almost certainly be the bin which makes me feel terribly guilty.  I’ve always thought it a bit bizarre that we mark this important Christian festival by displaying some of the most gratuitous excesses and unchristian behaviour.

Once Christmas lunch is over, I always find the rest of the day is a bit of a blur as we heave our heavily inflated bodies onto the sofa, refill the wine glass for the umpteenth time (yes, it’s Christmas so just as it is perfectly acceptable to eat a month’s food on one day, so it is perfectly reasonable to match this with a month’s wine too), and watch the Christmas edition of EastEnders (poor old Derek Branning) and that new staple – “Downton Abbey” (now that wasn’t a very festive ending, Mr Fellowes, was it?).

For all its rituals, traditions and eccentricities, Christmas in the end is for children.  This was summed up for me in two very different comments from my children. The first one showing the mindset perfectly of this generation of children : to the tune of Wham’s famous Christmas hit, “Last Christmas” – “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day you sold it on eBay”.  Then secondly, back to the timeless innocence and magic of Christmas when one of my children pronounced ” Mum, this is the best day ever, ever, ever” – so all the preparation, all the cooking, all the angst is worth it just to hear that. Happy Christmas everyone!

What’s your job?

Writer Wordart

Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

At my fortieth birthday party, my husband described me (in his speech) as a collector of careers.  He said this very affectionately but what this rather euphemistic term actually means is that I am a jack of all trades and a master of none.  It is certainly true that I have tested the waters in many different fields and have definitely not, in that dreaded phrase, “fulfilled my potential”.

I was thinking about careers today when my son asked me over breakfast what I did for a living.   Tempted as I was to point out to him that it was staring him in the face and that looking after him and his siblings was a full-time, grossly underpaid profession, with unpaid, daily overtime, no prospects of promotion and constant appraisals (“Mummy, why haven’t you washed my football kit?”, “Mummy, you were 30 seconds late picking me up from school again”, “You know I hate fish pie”) without any hope of those new trendy corporate 360 degree appraisals (“Son, Why do you insist on calling me mate? “Son, what did your last slave die of?”).

While all this was going through my head, I think I sighed and said that my job was looking after them at the moment – the best job in the world (I think  my fingers might have been crossed at that point).  My son then asked me whether I had ever worked (I’m assuming that he felt that looking after them did not count as “work”).  I took him through a potted career history moving seamlessly from banking, through speechwriting, through teaching to life coaching – even if I say so myself, I really have managed an alphabet of careers in my forty years.  At this point, he lost interest and turned his attention to flicking honey cheerios at his sister.

What he didn’t ask is what I wanted to do in the future when they no longer needed me to be there 24/7.  I wouldn’t of course expect him to be remotely interested in this question at his young age but it got me thinking.  I know what I want to do but I just don’t know if I can and how to get myself started – I want to write and I guess this blogging lark is my small beginnings.  I’ve always wanted to write and while some dream of being in films, on TV, being a doctor, lawyer…whatever, I always from a very young age wanted to see something I had written in print with some glamorous pseudonym on the front cover.  Perhaps this is the year when I finally start to put the wheels in motion for this particular ambition – to be honest, right now, I’d settle for writing a column for any publication at all – Deep Sea Divers Monthly or Hair Removal Weekly – not fussy!

What did you want to do when you grew up? I remember my sister, at about age 5, having very clear and very lofty career aspirations – she wanted to be a train driver and if that wasn’t possible, a burglar.  I can tell you that she is definitely not the former and as far as I can be sure not the latter either. I can’t remember what I wanted to be at that age – I think my main ambition was to make it to Mary in the Nativity (never realised I’m afraid) but I do know that as I got older and started choosing subjects that would influence a career decision, I was very envious of those who knew exactly what career path they wanted to follow.  I would have loved to have been able to announce airily that I was going to be a human rights lawyer or a neurosurgeon or particle physicist but I never really had a clear career path.  I just knew that I hoped I would end up writing.

So for the moment I will get on with the day job (what I do for a living as far as my children are concerned) and keep hoping that one day I shall fulfil my potential (there’s that expression again that I absolutely loathe) and who knows perhaps that opportunity to write for Beer Glass Collectors Monthly will one day drop onto my desk!

Family Events Manager and Co-ordinator required

Taxi

Taxi (Photo credit: twicepix)

Campaign update: Day 3 – Operations abandoned due to serious casualty this morning requiring onsite paramedic assistance (middle child sustained nasty gash to head after a skirmish resulted in his head becoming too closely acquainted with a door lock).  This has put an end to his active service for the next couple of days which has inevitably resulted in the reinstatement of TV viewing rights.

So life has returned to normal in this house. I have abandoned my role as commander-in-chief and returned to my civilian duties – cook, cleaner, childcare, taxi driving.  However, I appear to have acquired a new job in addition to my already onerous duties: Family Events Manager and Co-ordinator.  Now I didn’t realise when I signed up to this mothering job that it would involve so many varied skillsets and a quick read of my CV does not reveal any relevant past experience in events management.  Latin – tick, ancient Greek – tick, finance – tick, events management – well, a couple of badly-managed birthday parties for marauding 4/5/6 year olds???

So how did I acquire this new position you may well ask?  Well, I just sort of fell into it.  Over the weekend, my children have asked me upwards of 10 times what I have got planned for them this week (the first week of the school holidays) and when I reply “nothing”, they look utterly horrified and say in a slightly desperate way, “but what are we going to DO all week?” The first couple of times I resorted to my stock answer of “well when I was your age we played games and entertained ourselves…” which was met the first time with a glazed-over expression on their faces (the “here she goes again” expression) and then more insultingly with one of them making that mouth opening and shutting gesture with his hand and mouthing “blah, blah, blah” to his brother.

This got me thinking – am I being a bit unfair?  Did we really play and entertain ourselves all the time when we were young?  Or is that just my rose-tinted glasses view of my childhood? I do believe this generation of children is the most pampered and over-indulged yet but actually I did have some wonderful treats and trips when I was a child and although I maintain that I definitely entertained myself far more than my children seem capable of doing, perhaps I should not begrudge this new job title I have been afforded.  After all, Family Events Manager and Co-ordinator actually does sound rather exciting compared to some of my more mundane duties.  I am going to throw myself into my new role with real energy and commitment and if nothing else I can add it to my CV (2012 – present: Events Manager and Co-ordinator for a team with widely varied and diverse needs and interests).

So, kids, you are in luck – so far I have planned two events for this week:  a trip to John Lewis tomorrow to see how much we can break in the glass department in a 10 minute period and then a mass trip to the optician on Tuesday for back-to-back eye tests.  I think they may regret appointing me to this role but I am sure as I settle into my new job I shall attempt ever more exciting and challenging events – the possibilities are endless.

Time to switch hats again now…time to come down from the elevated heights of Family Events Manager…taxi driver required followed by dinner for five.

Operation Christmas School Holidays

Household Cavalry on Garter Day

Household Cavalry on Garter Day (Photo credit: hmcotterill)

Operation Christmas School Holidays:  Commander-in-chief – me; soldiers under my command – 3

Day 1: injuries sustained – one bruised chin (from scaling the kitchen table during dinner), one  minor knock to head during a skirmish (friendly fire incident (between brothers)). Morale – high; obedience – minimal.  Some issues with chain of command.

Yes, it is that time of year again – my favourite – the school holidays with the added stress of Christmas thrown in too.  So I have decided to adopt a different approach this year and treat the entire holidays as a military campaign.  No doubt there will be victories and defeats along the way but I am determined to instil respect for authority and behaviour fitting of those representing their family on the world stage.

I wouldn’t say the first day has been an unqualified success.  My first hurdle has been a degree of overfamiliarity amongst the ranks – notably, I have been addressed by one soldier as “mate” throughout the day which is not a form of address that I feel befits my status and as “idiot” by another soldier when I suggested that he might like to entertain himself rather than play Fifa 12 on the X-box.

A second issue that has arisen has been the inability of any of the soldiers to sit anywhere near the table when eating or in fact sit at all.  Indeed it has become patently obvious why a “mess” (in military speak) is named thus when you look at my kitchen floor post eating.  I am definitely going to have to crack down on this over the coming few weeks and will need to form a strategy for coping at mealtimes (i.e. me coping with their disregard for the food I’ve cooked, table I’ve laid, floor I’ve cleaned etc).

Perhaps the issue which has raised the most dissent amongst the ranks today has been my (some might say ambitious) decision to spend a day without any TV or electronic devices. In retrospect I am not convinced this was a strategically sound decision for the first day of the holidays and I suspect that the person who suffered the most was in fact, me.  After a rather trying start to the day, I can report that the troops rallied and even attempted a group activity by mid-afternoon (decorating Christmas tree shaped ginger biscuits).  Astonishingly, this activity was completed with minimum destruction to the kitchen and without a single skirmish.

So here we are towards the end of the day.  One soldier has been granted leave to attend a local pantomime; one soldier is watching a division 2 football match from circa 1976 (why?  I have no idea) and the youngest soldier is “learning” Spanish from Dora the Explorer.  I do have to report that the TV has now been switched back on – I do believe it is important for personnel to have down-time before re-entering the fray.

What about me?  Well, I need down-time too – leading is so exhausting – and I am going to reward myself with a glass of wine.  Mission accomplished – Day 1 completed, all troops present and correct.  As for Day 2, we’ll be joined by Field Marshal Husband who shares command – sort of – at weekends. Progress report to follow.

A girl after my own heart!

charlotte's musings

As far as punctuation goes, my favourite symbol is the exclamation mark! I believe it is no surprise that the exclamation mark has been given pride of place above number 1. I also admire its next-door neighbour, the at symbol. To have had one foot in the grave just a few decades ago and turn that around to become the veritable go-to guy of punctuation marks is surely an impressive achievement by anyone’s standards. Next down the row is the gutsy, forward thinking hashtag which I like to imagine as a Gen Y up-and-comer who has just dropped out of business school but is likely to be CEO of a multibillion dollar company within the next few years. And who doesn’t adore the humble question mark? Without it, where would we be??

There is much to love about many of the punctuation marks at our disposal; we are blessed. But there…

View original post 441 more words

Christmas – the good, the bad and the ugly…

Regular readers of my blog will not be unduly surprised that I have some pretty strong opinions on Christmas – the good, the bad and the downright ugly.  I am very aware that I am tending towards the negatives in my blog so with a most out-of-character burst of Christmas joy, I promise that I shall match every negative with a positive in this piece – that is my gift to you this Christmas. Bah humbug!

Let me start by saying “I love Christmas” – I really do – even the greatest cynics cannot help but get swept up in the magic once a year particularly if you have children and you see it through their eyes.  However, this brings me neatly to my first complaint about Christmas – Christmas, technically speaking, is 25th December give or take a few days either side – it is not, as some people seem to think, a year round festival that starts really gearing up in mid-October.  Christmas should be a magical, exciting time of year and I am unaware of anyone who can realistically maintain a level of frenzied excitement for 3 months.  I do not want to hear piped Christmas music in the shops at the start of November, nor do I want to see constant TV Christmas advertising 10 weeks before I can even contemplate Christmas shopping.  This is not in the spirit of Christmas at all but just a reminder of the truly commercial value that has been placed on Christmas.

What else do I not like?  Tinsel.  I don’t just not like tinsel, I hate tinsel.  It is one of the things that man has invented which is intrinsically pointless, aesthetically very unattractive and downright annoying. You may be thinking that perhaps I have a rather over-developed hatred of what many would see as a rather harmless, benign decoration.  Well, I come to this blog fresh from sewing (yes, sewing..) tinsel onto my daughter’s costume (as a star) for her school Christmas play.  My only advice to you after this painful process is that in much the same way that actors say you should never work with children or

Christmas in the post-War United States

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

animals, mothers should never work with tinsel.  I now have as much tinsel on the floor as I do on the dress – it has “bled” everywhere.  All of this is quite apart from the fact that tinsel just looks horrible – tacky – and the  worst of it is that of course children love it because it is sparkly and they want to drape it everywhere.

That brings me on to my next dislike – one of which I am not proud – my children helping me decorate the house and the tree.  Look, I know it is meant to be a lovely bonding family affair – christmas music and a nice glass of wine for the adults – well, it’s not like that in my house. Yes, there is copious wine and I can stretch to the odd Christmas tune too but there it ends because I have Christmas decoration OCD.  There I said it – I want to put the decorations where I want them to be.  I don’t want my Christmas tree to have all the baubles on one side nor do I want my staircase swathed in miles of tinsel.  I know that I am missing the point and so I do, with gritted teeth, allow my children to decorate as long as I can re-decorate immediately afterwards.

As I mentioned, I have just made my daughter’s school play costume and that has reminded me of another of my Christmas “issues”.  Quite aside from making costumes (which incidentally I loathe doing as my sewing abilities are remedial at best), I have a slight issue with this tendency for school plays to be a mish-mash of nativity and other Christmas (or often totally non-Christmas) ideas.  Take my daughter’s play – which I should quickly say was absolutely wonderful – the story of the Christmas Postman and the nativity.  Magical as it was, I have now got to explain a thousand times to my daughter that the Christmas Postman is not part of the original nativity so she shouldn’t expect to see him with his postbag in his 21st century Royal Mail outfit standing alongside Mary, Joseph and the baby in the manger in every nativity scene we come across over the next few weeks.  Actually, on the subject of nativities, as much as I love a traditional nativity, it is always a reminder of my failure in childhood to ever be cast as Mary – boy did I try over the years but I never made it beyond the host of angels, not even Gabriel.  This has been a source of much disappointment to me over the years and has made me absolutely determined that my daughter at some point will play Mary in a nativity even if I have to create one myself to ensure it.

Enough of my bah-humbugging, I promised to balance the negatives with positives.  So here goes.  I actually love Christmas shopping – choosing the right presents for everyone – I can get quite obsessive about getting it right and I do love the giving of presents when I think I have got it right.  This is in contrast to my husband who complains every Christmas that he is a “net giver”!

I do love listening to the Christmas tunes on the radio (albeit in December rather than October).  For me and I suspect a lot of my generation Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas” is the ultimate Christmas song guaranteed to get you in the Christmas mood – I still find myself playing the “guess who sings which line” game – Simon Le Bon’s and Boy George’s being the easiest to spot, I find!

Most of all, since I have had children, Christmas has regained so much of its magic for me because their excitement is so infectious and I love passing on all the traditions which we had as children at this time of year.  Every family has their own way of doing things (none as good as your own) and with children around you the magic that is Christmas is tangible once again.  Decorating the house (OCD aside), cooking Christmassy foods (except Christmas pudding which is in my view an aberration), writing letters to Father Christmas, opening presents on Christmas morning (at 5am with kids), singing (badly) the descant to “Hark the Herald Angels” and generally over-eating, over-drinking and laughing lots (with the odd family feud thrown in).  This is Christmas and despite my whinging I wouldn’t be without it (in December, not October, that is).  On a serious note, at this time of year, I am reminded just how lucky I am and my children are and how easy it is to forget the stark contrast between my children’s happy and safe childhoods and those of so many other children around the world.  I am determined to make sure my children realise how lucky they are and once you strip Christmas of all its commercialisation (and tinsel), this is what is important.