“Cold”spiracy Theory

Coughs and sneezes

Coughs and sneezes (Photo credit: peretzp)

I’ve got a real stinker of a cold.  Not one of those little sniffling, piffling ones that don’t really count.  You know the ones when you dab delicately at your nose with a little tissue. No, I’ve got one of those full-blown, all-consuming, brain-fogging, head-clogging colds.  You know the ones – one minute you feel fine and the next you are streaming and your head feels like it has been forced underwater and weighs three times its normal weight and you don’t so much need a tissue as some industrial strength suction device to release the pressure in your nose.  Point of interest – a cold such as mine also goes by the moniker of “man flu” amongst a certain section of the population (incidentally the term “man flu” is also often applied by the particularly feeble amongst this population sub-section to the type of cold which only requires delicate dabbing of the nose with a tissue.)

My cold is the sort of cold which means people instinctively move away from you as you approach and surreptitiously (or not so in some cases) put their hand over their mouths or hitch up their scarves in a desperate attempt to avoid your germs. Mine is the sort of cold which should make it a criminal offence to visit any public place unless absolutely necessary (ie to do the school run).  Worst offenders are those who “struggle in to work” – DON’T, NO-ONE WANTS TO BE ANYWHERE NEAR YOU, YOU SELFISH, GERM-RIDDEN PERSON.

I like to think of myself as altruistic and to this end, I have cancelled all my engagements over the last few days, saving the small part of the world that I can from my germs.  I have had coffee this morning with a friend who is similarly afflicted but we have kept our distance to prevent cross-contamination – we can’t be sure we’ve got the same cold, can we?

True to form, yesterday, I visited my local health store and invested a small fortune in various vitamins, supplements and cold remedies.  I only ever visit my local health store when something is wrong, never in a pre-emptive strike, and I get some sort of comfort in my cold-embattled state from buying something to help me deal with it – makes me feel sort of cosy. Clearly, this is acting once the horse has bolted and what I should be doing is taken all these mega, super, extra, uber vitamins as a preventative measure.  No, not me – I shuffle in there, full of my vile cold, bursting with self-pity and spend a small fortune on stuff that I shall only take for the duration of my cold; that will, of course, not alter the duration of my cold; that will sit in my cupboard for the next 10 years but will not get a look in when I go out and buy yet more when the next cold strikes. In fact, one look in my cupboard suggests that I could indeed operate my own independent health store if there was a legal market for already opened but hardly used vitamins, supplements and cold remedies.

It’s got me thinking though about the common cold.  How extraordinary that in an age when we travel in space, we can use vastly complicated technologies, we can isolate genes responsible for so many of the more complex and rare diseases that affect us, we can map the human genome itself…but we can’t do anything about the common cold. That’s all wrong. Imagine how many days of productivity are lost for the economy due to the common cold (by the way selfish, germ-ridden people who “struggle into work” that does not mean that you should use lost productivity as an excuse for your determination to infect all your co-workers)?  Why in this age of such advances, have we got no further forward in treating the common cold than generations before us?

I would be the first to admit that in my current germ-infested state, my brain is not working at full capacity – in fact, it is currently somewhat foggy (fuggy?) in there – but it seems to me that there are two possibilities when it comes to the riddle of the common cold: either it really is the Gordian Knot of medical afflictions or there is some sort of “cold” conspiracy going on.  Stay with me even if you think I am showing signs of paranoia and incapability of rational thought…

Imagine if a cure for the common cold had actually been found and colds (and man flu I might add) were things of the past?  How wonderful, you are thinking, how fabulous that never again would I need to sniffle and snuffle or cough and splutter my way through large swathes of the winter.  Well, it would suit you and me, of course, but imagine how many businesses depend on the common cold’s existence.  The common cold is  very big business indeed particularly for the large pharmaceutical companies – imagine your local health store/pharmacy without any common cold remedies, any vitamins, any supplements or any of the other cold paraphernalia they sell?  Imagine if people like me didn’t shell out for every new remedy on the market in desperation to feel slightly more human again?   Forget butter mountains, imagine the mountain range we could produce if we all cleared out the half-used cold remedies, supplements and vitamins that reside in the dark recesses of our cupboards?  With this in mind, perhaps that cure has been found; perhaps it was actually discovered years ago…in fact, it is right under our noses (excuse the pun) but we are being kept in the dark…

Perhaps my cold is making me paranoid and perhaps I’m just annoyed at myself for yet again falling for the “cold” comfort visit to the health shop.  Whatever the truth, everyone likes a good conspiracy theory, don’t they?

My non-skiing skiing holiday

Allalinhorn, Alps (Switzerland). Panoramic vie...

Allalinhorn, Alps (Switzerland). Panoramic view from the top. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Half term ended – tick. Children back at school – tick. All back from skiing holiday in one piece – tick. Relative calm and good humour resumed – tick. General irritation with British weather – high.  Desire to see snow again in the next 9 months – zero.

So I’ve returned from my oxymoronic non-skiing skiing holiday.  The advantage of such a holiday is not to be underestimated, largely as this year I am in one piece, standing on my own two feet and not doing battle with the well-intentioned, woefully underfunded NHS. That said, to guarantee this outcome it did mean giving up an integral part of a skiing holiday, the skiing.  Did I miss the skiing? Yes.  If I’m honest, although I had a lovely time (largely because I had a non-skiing friend there too), there is something a bit odd about choosing to spend a week in freezing temperatures whilst not indulging in the one activity in which everyone else is indulging.

With this in mind, it will come as no surprise to you that much like my faux-exercising (ie dressing up as though I am/have been exercising, remaining dressed as such all day and being mistaken for a member of the “smug women who do actually exercise every day” group), I was attired in full ski gear.  Somehow I didn’t get the same satisfaction out of this duplicity as I do from my pretence at exercise.  I guess that’s because those wearing ski kit were actually doing something I wanted to be doing too.

There is something rather sad and pathetic about coming down a ski lift (especially in full ski regalia) – no-one does that, do they?  Well, I did, every day.  Although I have to admit coming down in glorious isolation is infinitely preferable to being squashed into a transparent box, dangling in mid-air, with an unnatural proximity to total strangers, playing the “avoid the ski-pole in the eye” game all the way up the mountain and worrying whether you will get off the lift in one piece, with all your skiing paraphernalia and pick up your skis (and not someone else’s – are you reading this, Mr Pain in the Backside, who took my husband’s skis?)

So I’ve established that, for me at least, it was not a skiing holiday.  Actually at the risk of being accused of pedantry, “holiday” doesn’t really cover it either.  Certainly there were elements that come under the verbal umbrella of “holiday” – eating too much (not a good plan when you are not skiing to work it off, as the scales screamed at me this morning), drinking too much and laughing (a lot) with friends.  However, there were also elements that transgress any trades description of “holiday”, most obviously “children”. I have long ago stopped calling going away with children a “holiday” because it simply is not a “holiday” in the sense that you might have used the word in those halcyon days of youth and no kids.

No, with children, a holiday is more accurately described as a “change of scenery”. Obviously this “change of scenery” is very welcome although often more challenging than staying at home and never is this more true than on a skiing holiday.  Trying to get three children (four if you count a husband) dressed in 200 layers, fed and out on the slopes before 9am requires a herculean effort. It is not possible to get through this daily trial without at least 3 missing gloves, two full-blown tantrums, serious over-heating (not surprising with thermals and 199 other layers – the timing of layering is crucial), at least 15 mentions of “you don’t know how lucky you are to be skiing at your age, we didn’t do this when I was young”, at best 2 out of the 3 children requiring a loo visit just as you are exiting (which requires removal and replacement of 200 layers X 2 to accomplish) and of course you still have the dubious pleasure of carrying all their skis to the slopes as they walk/slide/fall over alongside whining about how cold it is (whilst trying to stop yourself from shouting, “Well, what the bloody hell did you expect in a country covered in a metre of snow?).

Yes, I definitely missed skiing.  I hope that I shall ski again. However, there is nothing quite like the piercing blue skies in the mountains, the perfect white duvets of snow and the odd glass of wine (medicinal of course) to lift the spirits and the best thing of all, watching the children thoroughly enjoying – for the  most part –  an outdoor activity which doesn’t involve hours glued to a screen or tapping away on a keyboard.  If you’re going to have a “change of scenery”, you can do a lot worse than the mountains – I always find the grand, awe-inspiring scale of the scenery puts everything into perspective and makes you glad to be alive!

Parlez-vous anglais?

French flag

French flag (Photo credit: Nebel)

8 years – that is how many years I learnt French at school. I got an A in my French O’Level. How have I started every conversation on my holiday in France so far? “Bonjour Monsieur/Madame parlez-vous anglais?”

It is utterly pathetic – no other word covers it. Can you imagine a French man or woman approaching me in England and saying “Good morning, do you speak French?” They’d be laughed out of town! So why is it deemed acceptable for me to expect someone to speak a foreign language in their home country just because my grasp of their language is so utterly feeble?

My memory of French speaking at school is confined to passing the dreaded 5 minute French oral component of the French O’Level. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that my 8 years of learning to speak French came down in the final analysis to the moment in my exam when I discovered whether the role play in my French oral would be buying tickets at a railway station or doing the weekly shop in the supermarket.

The emphasis in schools at this time was not on speaking a language but on reading/writing a language. I’ve lost count of the number of fictional French pen pals I wrote letters to over the years in my French lessons. Suffice to say that in my opinion the emphasis was all wrong. What is the point of being able to write a beautiful letter in exquisite French if you can only do an impression of a mute when actually faced with a Frenchman.

It is of course shameful that we, as a nation, have always expected others to speak English and therefore consider language learning as nothing more than a pleasant pastime, nothing to take too seriously as we can always speak English loudly and slowly (and patronisingly) and be understood.

Are things changing nowadays in our schools and more importantly in our national psyche? I can only hope so. My children are exposed to so many more languages than I was in their curriculum – both my sons are currently learning Mandarin – well, this term at least. I really hope that this does not amount to lip service to a variety of languages but results in a generation of children who do not expect English to be spoken by everyone around the world but who feel comfortable expressing themselves in other languages. After all how can you really understand other cultures without some comprehension of the main communication tool – language?

The world is a much smaller place now and the Internet has provided a whole new universal language and also wonderful opportunities for our children to communicate with others across cultural barriers. At school my sons recently skyped with a class of similarly aged children in a Chinese school – what a fantastic communication experience that beats hands down the endless contrived role plays of my language learning experience of the 1980s.

Quetiquette

Queuing for Muse @ Teignmouth - 4th Sept 2009

Queuing for Muse @ Teignmouth – 4th Sept 2009 (Photo credit: tj.moore)

Queue: chiefly British, a line or sequence of people or vehicles awaiting their turn to be attended to or to proceed (Oxford Dictionaries Online)

Queuing is an integral part of the rich tapestry of British culture. We know how to queue, how to behave in a queue – in short we are masters of queue etiquette – quetiquette for short. Some people of other nationalities appear to have a somewhat confused understanding of quetiquette. By the way did I mention that I am holidaying in France at the moment?

So because I am so public-spirited, I thought I would enlighten those who appear a little unsure of the basic rules of quetiquette – below are the cardinal rules if you want to queue successfully.

1. Join the queue at the end. This may seem blindingly obvious but it is extraordinary how many people think it acceptable to join half way or worse push in towards the front. We Brits have a word for such people – queue-bargers. If you should fall foul of this very basic rule then expect a lot of tutting and cries of “this is a queue you know”.

2. It is perfectly acceptable to listen in on others’ conversations in a queue. It is totally unacceptable to look as though you are listening to others’ conversations. One of my favourite queue occupations is constructing plausible lives for my fellow queuers from snippets of overheard conversation.

3. The very nature of queuing means you are closer than you might like for an extended period of time to total strangers. Be careful not to be a space invader. The merest accidental touch/bump of a fellow queuer must be accompanied by excessive and effusive apologies.

4. Conversation whilst queuing is a potential minefield and should only be with the full consent of both parties. Just remember that if you say the wrong thing, there is no quick exit and in addition, note point 2. It is advisable to keep to safe topics. In the case of conversing with the British, safe conversational topics are the weather and of course the finer points of the art of queuing.

So there you have it. Keep to these quetiquette rules for successful and socially acceptable queuing. Of course these are just the cardinal rules, the art of queuing has many other more subtle nuances which take years to master. I must dash now as I have a queue to join (at the end) for a ski lift to take me up a mountain on my non-skiing skiing holiday or my après-skiing holiday as I prefer to call it.

Political Rant

English: Helix pomatia, Helicidae, Burgundy Sn...

English: Helix pomatia, Helicidae, Burgundy Snail, Roman Snail, Edible Snail; Karlsruhe, Germany. Deutsch: Helix pomatia, Helicidae, Weinbergschnecke; Karlsruhe, Deutschland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“What do politicians actually do apart from talk a lot?” – so said one of my children the other day. It got me thinking (and unusually for me, thinking seriously).  When I was at university and in my twenties, I considered myself politically engaged and fairly well-informed.  Now? Well, at the moment, I feel about as politically engaged as the snail I am currently watching on my window ledge. Not to do snails down – for all I know this snail is actively involved in discussing the finer points of democracy with his fellow snails – but I doubt it.  So what has happened and am I the only one who feels like this?

I reckon I’m not. If I am totally honest I would struggle to name the members of the Cabinet at the moment and I’m not proud of that. I find myself switching off when political issues are on the news; I skim read newspaper articles.  I have totally lost any passion I had for politics. I do, of course, care deeply about the issues which affect the world I live in but I’m just not interested in the political angle.

What concerns me most about this is that if I feel like this at 40, then what about the generation below me? It seems to me that with the exception of a few, most are not just disinterested in politics but it goes further than that, they are deeply cynical about the motives of our politicians and their ability to effect real positive change in society. This generation can not even be bothered to vote – that is how little they care.  They feel far removed from the workings of Westminster; they do not trust our politicians; they do not believe in them or their motivations; they no longer respect them; they are totally “turned off” politics and the politicians who are elected to represent them.

I find this extremely worrying. It is crucial, I think, for politicians of today to find a way of re-engaging with young people.  Politicians need to find a way of galvanising the younger generation, of making them feel political passion again.  I have no idea how this can be done especially as scandal after scandal, misdemeanour after misdemeanour rocks our political system.  It is one thing to re-engage with someone like me who is suffering largely from political inertia (mixed in with a dose of cynicism) but quite another to re-engage with a generation who do not trust or believe in those who have been elected ostensibly to represent them.

I really feel that this is an issue that needs to be addressed with some urgency before another generation – that of my children – grows up disillusioned and cynical about our political system and those who inhabit it.   My child was right – stop the rhetoric and start doing something to inspire the next generation, to spark their interest in the political arena, to make them want to vote, to care who represents them and most of all to make them respect and trust again.

Political rant over. I realise that you may be thinking this is rather “serious” for my blog.  Fear not, I am sure I shall be able to lower the tone in my next piece.  However, sometimes things just need to be said and today I felt like saying them. Do you agree with me?  What do you think about this issue?

 

Pensioner Pop…

English: A40 Western Avenue The A40 looking to...

English: A40 Western Avenue The A40 looking towards London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I knew today was going to be a good day when I drove onto the A40 towards London and then heard the travel report on the radio less than 30 seconds later – two incidents on the A40 London bound, expect delays.  Typical.  So I thought to myself this could go one of two ways: either I swear a lot, bang the steering wheel, get stressed or I just sit back and let it wash over me.  Quite out of character, I decided to do the latter.  I think it was because the sun was out, something of a rare occurrence in the UK of late.  I think I was a bit giddy from a glimpse of blue sky.

 

Sitting on the A40 for an hour and a half co-incided with one of those “guess the year” radio shows in which they play you the top ten on that day in a particular year (usually from many years gone by – pensioner pop as I affectionately call it).  I think I’m pretty good on the ’80s ones – I would go as far as to say really rather good, not so hot on the ’90s and pretty damn useless on the ’00s.  As usual there were the phone-in guesses and their back stories, “1982 – I just know because that was the year that Gazza and I met at a roller-disco” or “1983 – I’m sure it is because that was the year that Jezza dumped me and I went to Corfu for a girls’ holiday”.

 

It got me thinking about how memories are sparked, how they become almost tangible, how you are thrown right back into a moment from the past.  We all have different triggers. For some people, it is something visual – a photo or an object; for others it is a smell – a perfume that someone wore or a food that you used to cook; for me, it is music.  A tune can come on the radio or my iPod and I’m straight back there, the time passed evaporates.  I have different tunes that resonate with different phases in my past.  For example, take James’s “Sit Down, Sit Down Next to Me” – immediately I am back in a hovel of a nightclub in Reading on a Sunday evening, I am about 18 years old and we are all sitting down on the dance floor for the duration of the song.  Yes, we thought this literal interpretation of the song was really funny and really cool – like we were staging some sort of sit-in, protest of sorts.  This particular period was at the end of my “goth” phase – lots of dark make-up, lots of black and paisley shirts in various shades of purple – it wasn’t a good look then – hideous actually -and is quite horrifying to me now.

 

Take another tune – “Ride on Time”, Black Box.  I think I’ve mentioned this one before but this is for me the tune that sums up the late ’80s for me (summer of ’89 to be precise) and if I hear it, I immediately want to get up and dance but this time I am wearing one of those lycra mini-skirts so beloved of the late ’80s – the same skirt which my father insisted on calling a belt which gives some indication of just how short it was – and a “body” (do you remember those – basically the same as babygro vests with poppers underneath that your average 6 month old wears nowadays).

 

It is not just the memories that flood back but also all the accompanying emotions of those heady days on the brink of adulthood.  At the risk of sounding like someone who is 40 (oh yes, I just remembered I am 40), I do wonder if the songs I hear on the radio today will do the same for this generation of youngsters.  I promise I am not going to say they all sound the same but I can’t help thinking that those of my youth were better, more memorable.  Actually, in fairness I do actually like a lot of the music released at the moment and I do have a playlist of such stuff to play on the school run – don’t let anyone say I am not a cool mum.  However, I also have a playlist of my so-called pensioner pop – music from my prime.  I would never play my pensioner pop on the school run – I have an image to uphold after all – but today on the A40, on my own, I had my pensioner pop playlist on full volume and I knew every note, every lyric and I loved it.  Thank you A40 for being predictably jammed this morning – blue skies, just myself for company, great tunes (a few odd looks from those who were sharing the road with me) – I had a ball.

 

Pull a sickie – no chance…

Duvet Dog

Duvet Dog (Photo credit: mrwalker)

Apparently yesterday – Monday 4th February – was the most likely day in the year for Brits to pull a sickie.  I do love these completely meaningless stats that some poor person has to dream up in order to pad out the morning news bulletins. It’s not exactly earth-shattering that Monday 4th February is fairly unpopular with the working population and not one on which we leap out of bed full of the joys – after all it is a Monday in the most god-awful month of the year in the UK.

There is very little to recommend February in the UK.  I know that in January I wrote a defence of January and I stand by that.  However, I’m afraid I find it less easy to defend February.  It’s cold, it’s dark, there’s no bank holidays for ages. In fact, the only positive thing about February is that it is the shortest month.

Unfortunately for those in my line of work, pulling a sickie is not an option. As much as I might like to pull my duvet over my head, hide and only emerge to shout profanities at anyone who dares to approach me, I can’t.  There’s no sick pay in my job.  Actually when I think about it, there is no holiday entitlement, no overtime, no time off in lieu and no bonus either.  Funny really when what I do is one of the most relentless, time-consuming, all-encompassing, unappreciated occupations. When my daughter shouted at me the other day that she wanted a new mummy, I almost felt sorry for her.  She can’t fire me, she can’t even make me redundant.  She’s stuck with me – my contract is for life!  Apart from the obvious joys that parenting brings, there are upsides to this job – no power-crazy boss to report to (if you exclude my children); no office politics; no commute. On balance, I am a fairly satisfied employee of “Motherhood”. Anyway, even if I wasn’t, I couldn’t really go on strike – who would cook dinner?  Who would drive the taxi? Who would do the laundry?

So yesterday, even though I knew that joining the masses in a duvet day was not an option for me, I can’t really say that I leapt out of bed, champing at the bit to get cracking on another fun-filled Monday in February. In fact, yesterday, was one of those days that just passed without any real input from me.  I must have looked fairly shambolic as at least three people on the school run asked if I was feeling OK. One person passed off my neglected appearance by reasoning that since I was wearing tracksuit trousers, I was going to do some exercise.  Obviously this was not the case, I just couldn’t be a**** to get dressed properly – in fact, if my pyjamas hadn’t been pink stripey brushed-cotton obviously pyjamas, I’d have kept them on all day.  Not, of course, that I told her that – I just nodded – just a little head movement that wasn’t a lie as such, more of an acknowledgement.  As I have said before in my blog, I often dress as if I am doing exercise in order for people to think that is what I have done (it’s almost as good as doing the exercise itself, go on try it!) and I am absolutely convinced I am not alone in this little sartorial trick.

So today, well now it’s Tuesday and after “no effort at all” Monday, I decided this morning that I would make some effort with my appearance.  I not only brushed my hair but I also put on make-up.  This is not the normal state of affairs for the school run and it would appear to have unsettled the children somewhat.  My elder son wanted to know where I was going – he was not convinced by my “nowhere special” response.  My younger son was more to the point.  He said “are you feeling ok, mummy, it’s just that your face looks sweaty”. The sweaty look that he was referring to was my very expensive Laura Mercier illuminating tinted moisturiser.  It would appear that its slightly too good at its job – giving more of a perspiration look than a ladylike “glow”.  My daughter was much more interested in the lipstick I was wearing – she looked at it intently before asking me if she could wear lipstick when she’s 4 – I looked at her benignly – I can always rely on my daughter to appreciate how I look.  This solidarity was quickly swept away however when she said that when she wore lipstick (when she’s 4 apparently), she wouldn’t wear a colour anything like the one I had on. Excellent, so before I’ve even got out of the front door, my effort to make an effort has been totally obliterated by my delightful children.

So tomorrow if you see a woman on the school run wearing tracksuit trousers with unbrushed hair and no make-up – it’s me and before you ask, no, I’m not going to do any exercise and yes, I’m feeling fine, thanks.  That is not to say that I wouldn’t rather be hiding under my duvet, emerging only to shout profanities at anyone brave (or stupid) enough to approach me.