A lament for reading…

Florence Nightingale, also known as the Lady w...

Florence Nightingale, also known as the Lady with the Lamp, providing care to wounded and ill soldiers during the Crimean War (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am currently residing in a sick household ( I mean “sick” in its true sense rather than that often used by the” yoof” of today to describe how amazing something is).  Two out of my three children are ill, my other child presumably will succumb in the not too distant future to the same as her brothers and my husband is doing his tax return. The last week in January is the only week in the year when I feel a semblance of pity for accountants because they have to deal with people like my husband who treats preparing and filling in his tax return as some sort of extreme sport – an adrenaline-filled search for paperwork, an exhilarating surge for the finish line up against the clock.  I have, over the years, learnt to ignore the frantic paper chase and while he panics I sit back and take the opportunity to watch all the programmes I have sky +ed that he wouldn’t ever want to watch (One Born Every Minute”,”Big Fat Gypsy Weddings”, “Don’t tell the Bride” – you get the picture).

However, this usually calm (and frankly smug – tax return, tick) time of year for me has been rather less relaxing than I might hope for as I have been forced into that role which is such a natural fit for me (not) – Florence Nightingale.  They say patience is a virtue but as those who know me well will attest, it is not a virtue which I possess in abundance.  That said, this week I have really tried and I think Flo would be proud of my efforts.

Now, when I was a child and I was ill enough to be off school, I spent the day in bed.  I would lie there all day feeling sorry for myself, eating a meagre lunch from a tray and perhaps attempt a little light reading in the late afternoon (violins, please…).  To this generation of children, this would be tantamount to parental neglect.  Being ill seems to be a ticket to an entire day in front of the TV with turning the channels over using the remote control as the only activity indulged in.  So many people have said to me that since they’re ill, it’s guilt-free TV.  I don’t agree and actually it has really been bothering me.  It’s not the TV itself – although after almost a week of one child being off, I would happily hurl it out the window now – it’s the lack of reading that’s bothering me.

To be fair, this is not something that only bothers me when the kids are ill, but it is something that bothers me full stop. I have no idea at this point whether my youngest – a girl – will be the same but the boys are totally disinterested in reading for pleasure. Is this a boy thing?  Is this a generational thing?  I just don’t know. When I was their age I practically inhaled “The Magic Faraway Tree”, “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” and its ilk.  I loved getting totally lost in those fictional worlds and felt bereft without a book of some sort in my hands or beside my bed.  Not so for the boys.  They are both extremely good readers but they would never choose to read for pleasure.  I have, in fact, in the past endured the agony of my elder son reading “The Magic Faraway Tree” to me, chapter by chapter, over a period of 4 months showing no desire to read more than the minimum he can get away with.  It saddens me that they do not seem interested – I feel they are missing out on something which gave (and continues to give) me so much pleasure.

Before you get the impression that my boys read so little that the only book they’ve ever read cover to cover is “The Gruffalo”, I should say that they do read (of a sort) – largely football annuals and football and cricket statistics books. They are extremely knowledgeable on the intricacies of these sports – they have an admirable recall of every league match, score, penalties etc.  When it comes to their football team, Arsenal, there is literally nothing they don’t know.  Actually, there is very little I don’t know either as every sentence my middle child utters begins, “Mummy, did you know that…?”. In fact, I do believe I could go on Mastermind, specialist subject “The history of Arsenal Football Club” and score 15 points and no passes.

I just wish that they would discover reading for pleasure – by this, I mean fiction.  I feel they are missing out on such a wonderful world and one which I loved so much at their age.  Maybe this lament is just a sign of the times – there was very little competition for reading in my childhood – now there is so much TV, Xbox, DS etc etc.  Maybe reading at this age is less of a “boy” thing – I don’t know, I grew up as one of three girls.

Time for my lament to stop – I must pick up my lamp and attend to my medical duties as I have been summoned (to the TV room) to administer medicine and provide sustenance for those suffering.

My Room 101

Room 101

Room 101 (Photo credit: gusset)

Last night I was watching “Room 101” – for those who haven’t seen it, this programme is half an hour of semi-famous people arguing the case for things/people/subjects they dislike and which they believe should be consigned to “Room 101”.  I rather enjoy this programme largely because I have what could be described as a low irritation threshold.  So I thought I would create my own Room 101 in my blog and consign everything that I dislike to it and encourage you to do the same.  So I am going to start it off with a few ideas – let me know what you think.

“Thank you for waiting, your call is very valuable to us and we will be with you as soon as the next representative becomes available” – this is just plain untrue.  If my call really was valuable to them, then they would bloody well answer it rather than subject me to half an hour of piped “Greensleeves” or the like.  I’d much rather they were honest with me and said “actually your call is not at all important to this, we can’t be a***d to answer because we are having a tea break and discussing altogether more important issues like who Becky got off with last night at the office do – you’ll just have to wait”.

Supermarket cashiers asking me in a loud voice whether “I need bags”.  Isn’t it perfectly obvious that unlike Mrs Smug and her collection of jute bags in the line behind me, that I need bags unless I am planning to carry my shopping one piece at a time to the car?  I have no objection to paying for carrier bags, I just object to the moral overtones of the question.

Hairdressers asking where I have been on holiday, where I am going on holiday this year and where I am planning on going on holiday in 2020. To my mind, all hairdressing qualifications should include an “how to make interesting conversation” module.  Just like the British always discuss the weather, hairdressers always discuss holidays. This is all done in the full knowledge that they are not remotely interested in where I am going or have been, and I can say with certainty that I am not remotely interested in where they are going or have been.  In fact, if I’m honest I quite like the “no conversation” option in the hairdresser – for me, it is the perfect opportunity to catch up on celebrity magazine gossip without having to fork out for the magazines myself.

Handheld shopping scanners in supermarkets.  Now, I like this idea, in theory – mainly because it makes shopping with three children vaguely bearable by giving them something to do rather than push me to the edge of a nervous breakdown.  However, in reality it can fast become a totally terrifying experience which ends up with you protesting your innocence over one unscanned object and fearing that you are going to end up down the nick.  I don’t think the staff in my local supermarket have ever looked at me in the same way since I mistakenly forgot to scan a yoghurt – I can see suspicion in their eyes. In addition, there is always the possibility of being picked for the random “rescan” which totally negates the reason for scanning in the first place (although if you are “spot on”, you can’t resist a little air punch and “Yes!”).

Candles.  Everywhere I look in my house, there are candles – you could be for forgiven for thinking I indulge in séances on a regular basis. I was never remotely interested in candles in my twenties and early thirties but somehow I am now candle-addicted (not sure what the word is for that).  The fact is that I don’t even light them very often, I just collect them.  I especially cannot resist discounted candles.  Even now at my desk in my postage stamp sized room, I can count three single candles and two 3 wick candles all with competing fragrances.  Candles have become the present of choice for someone you can’t think what to give them.  Candles are omnipresent and I think it is time to start a revolt.

Hamsters.  What a pointless pet. Why would anyone choose a pet that spends its days asleep and its nights rotating endlessly in its wheel? I get dogs, I get cats (although I loathe them and they loathe me), I even get rabbits at a pinch but hamsters – just wrong. I had this brilliant idea once (well at least I thought it was brilliant) to start a rent-a-pet business where you rent your pet of choice and its accoutrements for a 3 month basis with the option to buy at the end.  I thought this would be the perfect solution for those children who want a pet but lose interest almost immediately leaving you to look after it.  I realise that perhaps the RSPCA would not be thrilled with this business idea and I’m not sure it works for some pets like dogs but for hamsters, it’s perfect.

Stonehenge.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of historical sites but I don’t understand this  one.  I think I must be missing something and I have to admit that although I have passed it many times on the A303, I have never stopped to look properly.  It just seems to me to be a rather disappointing circle of different sized and shaped stones.  Perhaps I am not being very imaginative but if I was a tourist visiting the UK, I would find it distinctly underwhelming especially after spending the best part of an hour crawling up to it on the permanently congested A303.

People who bring objects to the “Antiques Roadshow” which they well know are worth a fortune and then feign smug surprise at the expert’s valuation. Now I know this dislike of mine is partly fuelled by envy but these people are not actors and it is all too obvious when the antiques expert tells them that some obscure (often quite ugly) piece of pottery is actually 15th century and worth upwards of £20,000 – “You’re joking, I had no idea” – “Yeah, right, you’ve already got it insured for £30,000” and then the follow-up comment of “but the value doesn’t matter, I’ll never sell it because it has huge sentimental and personal value, I couldn’t  possibly part with it” – one word, b******s!

So there you have it – as I said I have a low irritation threshold and this is merely the tip of the iceberg.  What would you consign to Room 101?

To ski or not to ski, that is the question?

Skier carving a turn off piste

Skier carving a turn off piste (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sorry for the radio silence this week but I had a knee operation on Monday and have been extremely busy doing absolutely nothing since except periodically inspecting and admiring my surgeon’s impressive attempts at giving me back a useful knee albeit one that looks as if it has had a drawn-out battle with a potato peeler.

As you know I was slightly uncomfortable about the impending forties and this is in part I think down to the three knee ops I have now had in the last year. Knee surgery is definitely one of those surgeries which reeks of age, wear and tear and threatening arthritis. Although, before you feel too sorry for me and the terrible toll the ageing process is taking on me, I should point out that I actually wrecked my knee last year whilst attempting the impossible – keeping up with my kids on the ski slopes. It should have been obvious really that I was going to struggle when their skis never deviated from pointing directly downhill whilst I took a more leisurely turning approach to my descent!). Aside from always playing catch-up, there is also the fact that when it comes to skiing, kids bounce when they fall and adults shatter.

I am probably insane but I am in fact going to a ski resort with the kids in half term. I use the words “ski resort” advisedly as “skiing” would not be an accurate description of the activities I shall be indulging in – drinking and eating in alpine bars and telling anyone who will listen that I would rather stick rusty pins in my eyes than put on skis again. I have now joined that group of people – non-skiers – who desperately hark on (lie?) about how wonderful ski resorts are if you are not skiing. Of course I’ll look the part – I didn’t invest in those now ever-so-slightly tight salopettes and après-ski boots (always known as moon boots to my generation) in order to consign them to the back of the wardrobe because of a mere skiing accident that has just mildly dominated the last year for me. After all skiing is only partly about actually skiing and partly about looking the part.

The writing was on the wall for me with skiing from very early on – the signs were all there if only I had taken heed. On my first ever skiing trip, in the final day race, I came a distinguished 45th…out of a field of 45. I knew then that I was no Franz Klammer. On a skiing trip in my late teens I was knocked out by a rogue button lift within my first 5 minutes on the slopes. On this occasion it wasn’t just my head that was dented but definitely my pride too – there is definitely nothing cool about being knocked sparko by an evil little button lift in front of a packed piste.

This humiliation led, not surprisingly, to a voluntary retirement from the slopes until my ill-fated trip last year. Surely nothing bad could happen this time – I’d done my skiing penance hadn’t I? Oh no, those pistes were ready for one last “taking the piste” which led to me taking the not very dignified blood wagon route down the mountain and the even less dignified request for payment (extortion?) at the bottom of the mountain or risk being unceremoniously dumped to find my own way to hospital.

It’s funny how things turn full circle – the one thing I remember from my first ever ski trip was my instructor imploring me to “bend ze knees” – ironically 30 years on as I sit on my sofa recuperating I am still desperately trying to do the same thing. All I can do is take heart from what one blood wagon attendant said to another, under the impression (largely accurate) that my French is elementary and therefore I would be unable to understand, roughly translated, he commented that “she has kind eyes”. Who knows maybe that wasn’t exactly what he said or meant but I’ll run with it – I’d choose kind eyes over beautiful knees any day!

Cold, white stuff…

Snow Cat

Snow Cat (Photo credit: clickclique)

Everybody knows that the weather is a national obsession for the British and no more is this true than when it snows.  Most of the UK is currently residing under a few inches of snow – yes, for my Canadian readers, I do mean a few inches not a few feet.  Now, I know for Canadians a few inches is laughable, not even worth mentioning, but for us, Brits, these couple of inches of cold, white stuff is dominating all news headlines pushing far more important events unfolding on the world stage into the realms of “And finally, in …..”.

Never before in my lifetime has snow being so widely and dramatically predicted, talked of, warned about (and indeed correctly forecasted which is unusual in this country where our weather forecasters are inclined to get it wrong more often than right).   With pinpoint accuracy we were told when the snow would start, how long it would last for, how much would settle etc.

If you live in one of those countries which are covered by a blanket of snow for months on end in the winter, you may well ask why such drama is necessary – after all it’s a little bit of snow.  Let me tell you the reason – we can’t cope with it, the country grinds to a halt.  Add to this the fact that all Brits love talking about the weather (and moaning about it ) and you’ve got the “perfect storm”.  The TV is full of endless news reports from around the country showing closed airports, closed schools, closed railway stations and empty supermarket shelves.  Do you know what?  We, Brits, love all this – weather drama!

In addition, it gives us a naturally reserved nation the opportunity to “all be in it together” – we start talking to people we don’t know (very un-British) in the streets, in the shops – “Isn’t it cold?  Do you think it’s going to snow?” or “apparently we’re expecting 10 inches of snow”.  There is nothing the Brits like more than a feeling of its “us v the rest of the world”.  Nothing galvanises us more – we are united!

Snow also brings the menfolk the opportunity to behave as children (although many don’t appear to need snow as an excuse for this).  Nothing demonstrates this more than snowball fights.  To me, snowball fights are nothing more than a legitimate excuse to regress to the age of about 8 and then pelt those you are not terribly fond of with large balls of ice and snow, all under the guise of “having fun”.  I have witnessed some pretty aggressive snowball fights over the last few days and it never fails to amaze me how entertaining men find these to be.  In my experience, most men are unable to be out in snow for any length of time without hurling it at someone – bizarre but I guess explicable by the fact that the snow gives a legitimacy to something which if it was done with any other material would end up in court.

So today I sit here at my computer, looking out at a white world, with one child whose school is shut (health & safety again) and the prospect of yet another afternoon of watching my kids hurling themselves down a slope, on what is essentially an overpriced plastic tray, trying to avoid the brambles at the bottom and failing.  I like snow but I am over this particular “sprinkling” – come on schools, please open and get on with it like every other country.

Frankie Says Relax…

música

música (Photo credit: hang the t-shirt)

Having been asked recently by my middle child whether I qualify as “elderly” and having reminded him that I hadn’t even reached middle age yet and that I had every intention of at least paying lip service to that stage of life, I got to thinking about what it is that I actually miss about being young. I have spent so much of the last few months angsting about turning 40 and all that being that age entails that I haven’t really thought about what it is I actually would like back from my late teens and twenties…

Let’s get the obvious out of the way – my face and body. You see I never appreciated what I had in those days – no wrinkles, the fresh face and the ability to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted without gaining a pound. I think Mother Nature has got it all wrong – we should have the body and face of a 40 plus woman in our twenties and then the process should reverse in our forties because then we would really appreciate it and look after it. As it is, we take it all for granted in our twenties – eat entire packets of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers in one sitting (which I can still do by the way), not take our make-up off for days in succession and exercise once a year – and then Mother Nature sticks two fingers up to us in our forties and presents us with what I now see every morning in the mirror and in the deafening silence when I walk past a building site.

Something I really miss about my teens/twenties is the feeling of immortality, invincibility. It was me against the world and I definitely had the upper hand. At that age, we throw caution to the wind, we take risks, we have adventures. Not so in your forties – throwing caution to the wind is having a take-away on a Friday evening, opening that second bottle of wine or perhaps dancing “gangnam style” with a whole load of similarly-aged, equally “reckless” people (well, at least, that’s what happened at my 40th). We are so much better at weighing up the risks in our forties and this can make it very difficult to be spontaneous or take chances. Although I did promise myself on my fortieth birthday, that I would take chances…perhaps this blog is my first steps?

In a funny way, I also miss the emotional highs and lows. Especially in your late teens, life is a rollercoaster (as Ronan Keating sang) and although those lows could be pretty damn low, that emotional lability did make you feel very alive. One minute you are totally and utterly in love, besotted and the next the object of your affections is a complete and utter b******! Through your thirties and beyond, cynicism creeps in and all that up and down becomes very tiring. Perhaps on reflection, this is not something I really miss – it really was very tiring indeed and I guess now I am much more emotionally stable (although I do recognise that this is relative and there are those out there who might not agree with my self-analysis!)

One of the things I miss the most is the music and the dancing. I still love listening to all the music that is in the charts now (god, I sound like I’m 140 rather than 40) and there is nothing more I like than an evening of drinking and dancing with my friends. However, I am acutely aware that I have probably, in my kids’ eyes, become a bit of an embarrassment on the dance floor (parents dancing – hideous!). I also really miss all those great tunes from the 80s and early 90s – there is nothing for me more evocative of my youth than when a huge 80s hit comes on the radio. Those tunes bring the memories flooding back and largely they are wonderful memories. My children may (and do) look on in utter horror when I shriek out “Ride on Time” but you know what, I don’t care!

Anyway, enough looking back and wishing…time for me to put a tape in my Walkman, put on my “Frankie says Relax” t-shirt and pour myself a cinzano and lemonade!

Open to Interpretation…

Parenthood

Parenthood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was thinking earlier about how, as parents, what we say and what we think or mean in reality are often two completely different things.  I was wondering if this is a peculiarly British trait as our natural reserve and detached politeness dictate our responses, often masking what we really think. I suspect it is not just the British. Often, when it comes to our children, there is a whole subtext underlying what we actually say both to them and to parents of other children.  What do I mean?  Well, perhaps it is best illustrated with some examples, each with what might be said first, then what is actually thought or meant:

“Horatio Lancelot – what a fabulously interesting and unusual name to call your son” = “What the bloody hell were you thinking?”

“Gosh, doesn’t he look like his dad?” = “Poor sod, only a mother could love him”

“I’ve been so lucky with her, she’s a great little eater and sleeper” = “she eats nothing except toast with marmite and peanut butter and she has never slept for more than 2 hours at a time”

“He’s just a ball of energy” = “Little tyke”

“It’s so lovely, my kids go everywhere with me” = “I can’t even go to the bloody bathroom on my own”

“I’d love it if little Johnny could come over for a play and tea” = “I’d rather stick rusty pins in my eyes”

“Right that’s it, I warned you, no more TV for a month” = “There I go again with a threat I can’t carry out”

“What do you say?  What’s the magic word?” = “What is so complicated about the words please and thank you that you have still not mastered them at nearly 9”

“My kids are just letting off steam” = “I’ve totally lost control again”

“No, you absolutely cannot play on the Xbox today” = “I’m sure I can be persuaded if you ask me again in half an hour”

“Your son is a really good little footballer” = “My son is way better and he should be in the team, not your son – that coach needs his eyes tested”

“We’re really trying to bring our little one up with two languages – English and Spanish – it’s so useful to be bi-lingual” = “She watches far too much Dora the Explorer”

“I love those days when we stay at home painting or clay modelling – all those wonderful messy activities which it is so important for kids to do, such fun” = “That’s the whole point of nurseries, isn’t it? A place to do all those things which I loathe and which leave my house daubed in paint and looking as though it has been burgled ”

“The kids got on brilliantly and your son was an absolute delight” = “That was the playdate from hell and over my dead body will your little darling be stepping over the threshold of my house ever again”

“We’re really very relaxed parents” = “We follow Gina Ford to the letter, every minute of every day is accounted for”

“Every day is different as a stay-at-home mother” = “Every day is a relentless round of cleaning, washing, ironing, cooking and taxi-driving”

“I feel very valued as a mother” = “What did your last slave die of?”

Tongue-in-cheek -yes,  and deliberately exaggerated – perhaps just a little,  but there is some truth in the gap that often exists between what we say and what we are actually thinking. However, to redress the balance, one thing that we do say which is exactly the same as what we think, is when we say to our children”I love you totally” because we do (perhaps I should just add the caveat “even though you can be rather challenging”!).

The Meaning of Shoes

English: A pair of high heeled shoe with 12cm ...

English: A pair of high heeled shoe with 12cm stiletto heels. Category:Shoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little while ago a reader of my blog asked if I could blog about shoes.  Many people might think that a bit strange – shoes, what about them?  A shoe is just a shoe, right – wrong, very wrong.  For the first 30 years or so of a woman’s life, shoes are just shoes.  Then quite suddenly they take on a whole new meaning, shoes become SHOES. For a lady of a certain age shoes become an all-encompassing obsession.

My personal epiphany, my moment of shoe enlightenment, happened in my mid-thirties when I was given my first pair of truly desirable shoes. Up until that point, shoes were just those things I wore on my feet – a necessary clothing item which I tried somewhat inconsistently to match to the rest of my attire. In fact, I didn’t even like new shoes – I hated the “wearing-in” process – I would happily have paid someone to wear my shoes in for me and then pass them back for me to wear.

It took a major shift for me to appreciate shoes and I am not for a moment suggesting that it is the cost of a pair of shoes that focuses the mind (although in my case, as the queen of bargains, it certainly helped, and with my lack of shoe interest it was going to take something quite dramatic to convert me). My moment came when I was bought (by my very generous husband) a pair of shoes with a red sole (can I add that this was very much a one-off) – now you know how significant that red sole is?  That sexy little flash of the red underside of your impossibly high-heeled shoes which signifies to all present – especially all other women – that yes, you own a pair of Christian Louboutins. You understand the power of shoes. It doesn’t matter that they are hideously uncomfortable or that they have cost more than a month’s grocery shop – you have your place at the top of the shoe hierarchy assured.

An aside – it reminds me of that apocryphal story of the lady who took her beloved Louboutins to a shoe repair shop to have some new heel tips put on and when she came to pick the shoes up, the repair man said “I noticed that the red bottoms of your shoes were wearing away and looking rather scuffed so I’ve replaced them with some of ours” – now that is tantamount to treason.

So what is this obsession with shoes all about for women of a certain age?  It has nothing to do with the fact that men apparently find women’s ankles sexy – any old high heel will do for that purpose unless unfortunately you have “cankles” in which case, apart from radical cosmetic surgery, there is nothing you can do.  It will come as no surprise to you that I have my own theory which I’m sure probably does not stack up on any deep, psychological level but here goes: put simply rather than draw attention to our increasingly leathery faces, we would rather draw the eye to the leather on our feet.  Put bluntly, you can’t really tell the difference between the ankles and feet of a 20 year old woman and a 40 year old woman, whereas the same cannot be said for faces.  Hence the “shoe epiphany” – I can’t really do that much about looking older at eye level but I can wear a damn sexy pair of beautiful shoes and that will make me feel a whole lot better, and it does.

I am not saying that you have to spend a fortune on ferociously expensive shoes – far from it – but the shift is more the realisation that shoes have the power to make you feel great about yourself.  Just because I am forty and no longer ( for public decency’s sake (and my children’s)) going to wear a micro-mini skirt, a boob tube or a backless, strapless little number, does not mean that I can’t wear a pair of utterly gorgeous, actually very classy (well-heeled, if you like), fiendishly sexy pair of shoes! If I am teetering towards middle age, I am going to do it in a well-shod way.