Miss Scarlet in the Dining Room with the Dagger…

Cluedo

Cluedo (Photo credit: Chez Pitch)

I think it was Miss Scarlet in the dining room with the dagger.  Sound familiar?  Cluedo, of course.  It’s school holidays again (claps hands with glee) and in a fit of good mothering I have been teaching my boys to play Cluedo.

They have adapted well to the novel concept of a board game (heavy sarcasm) – no buttons to press, no electronic scoring, no “sick” graphics.  But Cluedo 2013 is very different to Cluedo c1979.  The principles are the same – amazingly “Health & Safety” has not outlawed the basic tenet of someone getting murdered in a gruesome manner in favour of someone being slightly hurt which wasn’t their fault at all of course.

The board has changed – I swear the corridors and hallways between rooms are half the length/size – presumably not to appear too overwhelming for the exercise-shy younger generation of today. We no longer have Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard et al – much less gender specific nowadays – Plum, White, Scarlet etc. The weapons are the same – although dagger seems a little outdated – perhaps “pistol” and “dagger” are used intentionally so as not to be seen to be promoting guns and knives.  Of course, the rope is no longer a real little piece of rope, it is a plastic version – almost certainly my old friends “Health & Safety” at work again although what a small child could possible do with one inch of string is beyond me.

Perhaps the biggest reflection of the changing times is in the rooms.  Gone is the Billiards Room, in is the Games Room sporting giant TV screen (showing football of course) and among other things somewhat intriguingly a wine bottle lying abandoned on the floor (an interrupted game of “spin the bottle” perhaps?). Gone is the Ballroom (no surprises there, it seemed rather outdated to the average Joe in 1979 too), in is the double Garage and Courtyard complete with faux Greek pillars and gargoyles. Most fascinating of all are the details: in the kitchen, the pre-requisite of a modern kitchen, the island; in the study, the computer with wireless keyboard; in the living room, the corner leather sofa and floor-standing giant sound system speakers and my favourite, in the bathroom, a corner jacuzzi bath and “his” and”hers” side-by-side basins.  All very 21st century.

Actually, thank goodness for the details because they gave me something to focus on throughout the somewhat excruciating experience of teaching the boys to play the game.  Of course, I have won every game despite my best efforts to lose.  It has not proved easy to lose: partly because one son seems totally incapable of not showing me his hand (a rather crucial element in this particular game) and the other son has shown thus far absolutely no understanding of the technique required in order to bluff your opponents; partly, and I am not proud to admit this, I have won every game because I want to win – I know, pathetic to be competitive against your own children.

On a serious note, I am actually very pleased that the boys are enjoying playing a board game.  After all so much of my own childhood was taken up with endless rounds of Boggle, Yahtzee, Monopoly, Scrabble and the interminably boring Snakes & Ladders (which I will only  now play under extreme duress or with a pre-determined conclusion time).  Most gratifyingly, one son actually wants to play Cluedo in preference to watching the drivel that seems to be permanently pouring from the TV screen – in fact, he chose it over The Simpsons – Mother :1, Bart: 0.

Despite my gentle ribbing, I know that the 2013 Cluedo board is much more attractive to my boys than the one of my childhood would be – reassuringly familiar in its details – and that probably goes in part towards their desire to play. Even though by playing the game they are parted temporarily from their beloved screens, the screens are still subliminally playing their part accessorising various rooms in the Cluedo mansion.

Not all changes to board games are a success. Take the version of Monopoly that I saw this afternoon at a friend’s house.  All looked pretty familiar but something was missing – the money: no orange £100s, no pink £500s…all replaced by a single “debit  card” and a debit card machine.  Wrong, very wrong.

If I was to be all worthy about it, I could bang on about how this cashless version teaches children nothing about value, nothing about counting out money, nothing about actually physically handing over money. Of course this is all true but for me a cashless version is an utterly pointless version. How satisfying was it to demand £1000s in rent for your “hotel complex” on “Mayfair” and then watch your siblings/friends hand over a fistful of hard cash?  How gratifying to charge an extortionate amount to your already financially troubled opponent for your “Get Out of Jail Free” card?  How much did you enjoy seeing your mountain of cash building up on your side of the board whilst your opponent fell on hard times with a measly £500 to his name? Perhaps I am sounding like a rather unpleasant “loadsamoney” relic from the ’80s but come on, that’s what the fun was, wasn’t it?  Where’s the fun in a debit card, tell me that?

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Two burst pipes, one flat tyre and a partridge in a pear tree…

The Big Freeze UK

The Big Freeze UK (Photo credit: niOS)

Two burst pipes, one flat tyre and a partridge in a pear tree.  Yes, it has been a truly fabulous week and to top it all, we’ve woken up to snow….again.

This has been a landmark year in my relationship with snow.  In the past, I have always greeted the white stuff with great affection and childish excitement.  In fact, nothing at the grand old age of 40 has the ability to roll back the years to childhood more than pulling back the curtains and seeing snow.

However, relations have got a bit frosty this year.  This morning I pulled back the curtains and my heart sank.  It is two days after the first official day of Spring and yet again my world is shrouded in white.  It is not right and I’ve got this feeling that the snow and I are going to fall out this time.

The children didn’t even bother to look up from the TV when I announced the snow’s arrival this morning.  Seen it all before. I guess the only positive from their snow-weary response is that no-one has yet suggested that we must go sledging.

Now don’t get me wrong – I understand how magical sledging is for children but the magic has sort of worn off by the age of 40 for women.  I say “women” advisedly because in my experience men turn into 5 year old versions of themselves when they get within a metre of a sledge.

A woman’s experience of sledging is very different to that of a man.  First you have to find all the winter clothes, dress three children in winter clothes, take all the winter clothes off again when they need to go to the loo.  Finally you get out of the house, usually to be hit full in the face by a snowball thrown by one of the children who inevitably finds this hysterically amusing, whilst you are at this point just mildly hysterical. You then have to haul the kids on the sledges to the slope of choice and stand for approximately 2 hours in the freezing cold whilst they go up and down, only moving to tend to the inevitable first aid crises and to extricate at least one child from a close encounter with some brambles. Of course there is the added dubious “entertainment” of watching grown men flinging themselves down a slope on a small piece of plastic designed for someone a fraction of their weight. Then it is off home again, at least one child now whinging about how cold they are and refusing to go any further.  This whole experience then has to be repeated at 3 hourly intervals until the snow has either disappeared or one child has injured themselves to a point where sledging is now inadvisable.

I know I am sounding very ungrateful for the joy that snow brings to children but frankly I’m sick of it this year.  It has made me realise that I’m not sure that I could live in a country where snow is a permanent winter fixture.  Obviously the UK’s inability to cope with more than a centimetre of snow doesn’t help – for goodness sake, they even shut Sellafield yesterday not because of some “incident” but just so the staff could get home safely!

I think perhaps my antipathy towards the white stuff is less about the snow itself and more about a yearning for this interminable winter to end. Maybe it is an age thing, but this winter has gone on for far too long.  In part, the problem has been the lack of blue skies.  I don’t mind the cold as long as the sun is out but this winter in the UK it would appear that the sun has taken a sabbatical.

As is the norm in the UK, we have been bombarded with weather statistics by the media.  This weekend is apparently the coldest March weekend in 50 years. The media are revelling in compounding our misery by showing footage of people sitting in daffodil filled Hyde Park this weekend last year where temperatures soared above 20 degrees.  No country talks about the weather more than we do but ironically no country is less prepared for any extreme  weather (and really it is not that extreme is it?) than we are.

I’m off now to hide the sledge and put all the snow clothes up in the loft….just in case, my children get some misguided idea that going sledging would be fun.  Then, I’m going to pull myself together and stop whinging – I’m starting to sound like one of my children on the way back from the toboggan run – and try to enjoy what is hopefully the last blanket of white for several months.

Unsung Heroes

Perranporth - best foot forward

Perranporth – best foot forward (Photo credit: Ruth Flickr)

Today I want to give shout out for three unsung heroes who day in, day out, fulfil professional obligations which go far and beyond the call of duty.

Of course it is only right that we should praise our firemen, policemen, nurses, doctors etc for all the sterling work they do every day to ensure our safety and good health.  However, I want to highlight three professions which remain under the praise radar but for which as far as I am concerned being in the line of fire is all in a day’s work: chiropodists, children’s party entertainers and dental hygienists.

Now I actually quite like my feet as body parts go – not that I spend much time contemplating their loveliness.  However, as much as I like my own feet, I can categorically say that I don’t like anyone else’s feet and that there are a lot of feet out there which could have their own starring role in a horror movie (“Psych -toe”, “The Toe -men”. “The Exorblist(er)”.  This brings me to the very underrated occupation of chiropody.  These people selflessly put themselves in close proximity to other people’s feet every hour of every day.  They not only have to look at other people’s feet but they have to touch them too.  In fact it is a job with sensory overload – seeing, touching, smelling (but not tasting – thank god for small mercies!). Imagine a job where bunions, verrucas, and ingrowing toenails are your bread and butter (as it were).  These are the unsung heroes that keep the nation on its feet.

I guess dental hygienists fall into a similar bracket in some ways – looking after the health of a nation.  There are some differences though which perhaps make them even more heroic than our chiropodists.  Firstly, whereas a chiropodist might come across a well-kept pair of feet may be once a day, I do not believe that one could ever say that the mouth and teeth of anyone over 35 is pleasant to survey.  Secondly, although chiropodists do inflict a level of pain which may make a visit a little uncomfortable, no-one likes going to the dental hygienist.  How depressing it must be to be viewed with such horror and fear by everyone you see, knowing that you will almost certainly encounter blood, shrieks and swearing at every appointment.  But dental hygienists are tough types – they are working for the higher good of mankind (or at least for their teeth).  Yes, they too are, in my opinion, unsung heroes.

So to my third group of people – children’s party entertainers.  My eldest son had his birthday party last weekend and all things considered it was a bearable affair – definitely better than two years ago which nearly resulted in an extended stay in The Priory for his mother.  The thing is I only have to suffer the birthday party once a year – I get 364 recovery days in between parties.  Not so the children’s party entertainer.  No, these courageous people willingly put themselves in a room of up to 30 children every single day and attempt at best to entertain them, at worst to maintain some semblance of control.  Have you ever encountered a more unappreciative audience than a bunch of kids? How on earth do they put up with the noise levels? How do they pretend to be happy the whole time?  How do they manage to pretend for 2 hours that even the most charmless children are a joy to be with?  I take my hat off to them – this is a herculean task which they carry out uncomplainingly and for the most part dressed in ridiculous costumes.

So let’s hear a bit shout for my unsung heroes of the day.  I’m sure there are many other unsung heroes out there – do let me know who your unsung heroes are.

I think, therefore I am…

Mr Blobby (song)

Mr Blobby (song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daughter (age 3, 6am): “Mummy, I need some Calpol ‘cos I’ve got a tummy ache.”

Me (age 40, one eye open, hangover pending): “Calpol is not for tummy aches, it’s for temperatures and headaches.”

Daughter: “Well, my tummy has got a headache.”

Me: silent, unable to counter “child logic”.

There is something about a child’s impeccable logic which makes it very difficult to argue against.  Of course, it is actually not logical at all but it is the conviction with which it is delivered and its ability to catch you totally unawares that makes it impossible to dispute.

It is exchanges such as this which make you realise that how children see the world is so different to how we see it.  There is no sense of responsibility, no mistrust, no cynicism, no world-weariness to mould a child’s reactions. They say it how it is, how they see it. Many times when my children say something surprising, it makes me yearn to be a child again.  It has always seemed very unfair to me that as adults we have largely forgotten those early days of childhood.  It is ironic that our best days are confined to the deepest inaccessible recesses of our memory. We get sudden jolts of that wonderful childhood excitement and wonder.  For me, it is the magic of Christmas which catapults me straight back into my childhood. It is almost a physical feeling as you see the world through your children’s eyes.

The simplicity of a child’s thought process is so clear and free from all the forces that affect our adult thought processes. Sometimes, their comments seem to be so left field but in their simplicity they reveal so much about the workings of a child’s mind.

My middle son asked me the other day “How did God make himself?”. I have to admit to being totally unprepared for this philosophical question, coming as it did in that 10 minute window of hell which is the mad scramble to get on the school run.  It struck me as very interesting that my 6 year old son was pondering such deep questions at a time when I was picking up Shreddies from under my daughter’s chair and wondering whether I could get away with that good old favourite “pasta pesto” for the kids’ dinner that evening. I’m afraid I batted his question away with a “great question, I’ll have to give that some thought” – hoping to buy myself some time in which at best he would totally forget ever having asked the question and at worst I would have had time to dig out my bluffer’s guide to philosophy of religion.

Children do have a knack of asking or saying the most unexpected things at the most inopportune moments.  I remember when I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my daughter and I was heaving myself up the hill home from the shops with my sons (no doubt again pondering whether “pasta pesto” for the third time this week was tantamount to neglect) my elder son suddenly stopped and said, “When the baby is born, will it come out of your mouth?”.  What do you say?  Here I am, just minding my own business, wobbling up the hill like “Mr Blobby” (without the yellow spots) blissfully unaware that my son is contemplating the finer intricacies of the birthing process.  I admired his logic but this was not the time for a full on discussion about giving birth which would inevitably lead on to the “how did the baby get there in the first place” conversation.  I think I responded with a “It’s not quite like that, but not far off” sort of reply.  In normal circumstances this would have been woefully inadequate but fortunately he had been distracted by the fact that his brother had stepped in dog poo which of course he found hysterically amusing and I found painfully unamusing as bending down to remove said dog poo, required a feat of almost impossible balance and acrobatic nature totally unsuited to someone in the late stages of pregnancy.  Although I have to admit to being marginally grateful for whoever’s dog it was that chose to open its bowels on the pavement just there as it saved me from a complicated conversation with my son.

Despite the difficulties which these questions sometimes present, I absolutely love the randomness of their asking. Amongst the relentless routines and order of bringing up small children, there is something hugely refreshing and constantly surprising about the things they say and ask. The way they view the world is so unpredictable and we should celebrate this short period of their lives when they are not constrained by responsibility, awareness or cynicism.  It is through our child’s thinking that we get glimpses of a long-forgotten childhood, of that very special time before awareness creeps in and permeates our thought processes and our responses to the world around us.

Those Two Old Friends – Anxiety and Fear

After Dark: Fear

After Dark: Fear (Photo credit: the_exploratorium)

Let me introduce you to two of my closest, long-standing and most loyal “friends”: fear and anxiety. We’ve been “friends” for so many years, I’ve lost count. Like all friendships we have had our ups and downs – sometimes almost unbearably close, other times we have been apart for lengthy periods of time.  In their absence, I have thrived, come out from their shadow.  As comfortable as I think I feel in their presence, fortunately I do have a wide group of other friends which counter their hold over me: humour, a sense of fun (and the ridiculous), determination and happiness.

I know there are millions of us out there who count these two amongst our nearest and (not so) dearest.  Over the years, I have come to understand that it is these two which actually allow me to experience and appreciate their opposites in sharp relief. They have certainly shaped me, but will never define me.  They have given me the ability to empathise with, sympathise with and understand others.  I am a more rounded person because of them.

Why am I telling you all this? Partly, I guess, because usually my writing is observational and light-hearted but not everything I observe is like this, life is more complicated, and partly in response to an article I read in The Times at the weekend about how you can deal with a child who worries incessantly, who is anxious, unable to relax.  Not only did I recognise myself as that child, but also similar traits in my own children – particularly my eldest.  It got me thinking…is this a trait peculiar to eldest children?  Does that burden of responsibility that the eldest feels from such an early age allow a burgeoning relationship with anxiety and fear which to different degrees stay with you through childhood and adulthood?

I am not just talking about obvious childhood fears, like monsters under the bed (although needless to say I had an veritable zoo under my bed as a child – snakes, sharks, lions, tigers – you name it, they were there – along with the whole cast of Ghostbusters).  No, I am talking about those more intangible fears – fear of failure, fear of not living up to expectation (largely self-afflicted), fear of the unknown, fear about taking risks.

In my experience, the second child, without the burden of forging the way like the eldest, feels a sense of freedom from responsibility and a freedom to take risks, throw caution to the wind, unencumbered by fear and anxiety.  This is, of course, not to say that fear and anxiety are solely the preserve of the eldest child but in my experience, the eldest is far more cautious and less willing to take risks, more concerned about failure and the “what ifs”.

It will come as no surprise then to you that I am the eldest of three children. My greatest wish for my children is that they do not allow my old “friends”, fear and anxiety, to determine their path in life. To that end, I try very hard not to allow my “friends” to stay in my house very often, especially when the kids are around.

Just because something is familiar, it does not mean it is healthy or not to be challenged.  The old adage of “familiarity breeds contempt” is certainly true as far as my old “friends” are concerned and I am finding as I get older (and wiser?) that I am moving away from this circle of “friends” and embracing my new friends – happiness, laughter and joy – much more.  Now, I’m 40, I am also ready to discover new friendships – success (as I see it) and fulfilment of potential.

I have realised over the year, that just because these two hanger-ons are familiar, that does not equate with being comfortable.  Fear and anxiety are largely self-fabricated and built on no real foundations, just years of being allowed to co-exist.  There is no real substance to them, you can just push them away if you really try. Fear and anxiety in a small measure are part of the human condition but you shouldn’t let them be your “friends”.  Real friends make you feel good about yourself, boost you, laugh with you, cry with you and support you.  Fear and anxiety are impostors – see them for what they really are.  Stand up to them and watch them fade.  Well, that’s my experience and that’s what I shall be telling my children.

Just a small token of our appreciation

English: Mother's Day card

English: Mother’s Day card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had my annual job appraisal yesterday. Mother’s Day.

I have to admit to being a little nervous as my three bosses can be quite tough on me sometimes. However, I think I’ve had a pretty good year – I’ve shown dedication, commitment, flexibility and a willingness to work long hours in some quite trying circumstances.  My strengths: reliable, get the job done, multi-tasker, no job too menial (this morning’s task was picking up 143 Honey Cheerios from the kitchen floor), able to withstand “constructive” criticism (of which there is plenty), helpful with homework (except when it is begun at 6pm on Sunday evening), GSOH. My weaknesses: punctuality (I was 3 minutes late on the school run last week which resulted in a well-deserved berating), sometimes turn up for work less than smartly-presented (tracksuit bottoms are apparently not considered appropriate for the work place),  can be a bit “shouty” (my bosses’ description), useless at art/creative school projects (but have mastered the use of “Amazon” for buying in whatever service is required), reluctant ironer (make that non-ironer).

I wasn’t sure what time my appraisal would be yesterday, so when it became evident it was not going to be first thing, I got up and made my own cup of tea and got my own breakfast…It soon became clear that my bosses were very busy yesterday and so my appraisal got pushed back until early evening.

Finally the moment of truth came and I was asked to sit on the sofa and each of my bosses offered their opinion on my work. One of my bosses gave me a written report: “To Mummy, I think you are special because…I like you and you do the washing up”. Nothing if not honest. You can’t ask for more than that – to be liked and to have mastered that life skill of washing up. Very fair, I thought.  It might have been nice if she had also commented on the million and one other things I do for her but I guess I must make it all so seamless, she is not even aware of the extent of the services I provide.

Another of my bosses gave me a token of his appreciation for all I contribute to the “Firm” – a mug with the word “chauffeur” on it.  How clever of him to have recognised one of my key skills – taxi driving – and to have rewarded me with an official title.  My own sort of business card, I suppose.  I am very grateful.  I sort of like the irony of it being a mug too – who is the “mug”? I suspect that my colleague (husband) just couldn’t resist the little joke when he suggested to my little boss that this would make a very suitable token of his appreciation and was a fair reflection of my loyal service to the “Firm”.

Just at the point when I was feeling overwhelmed by their appreciation, they did genuinely shower me with lovely cards, a candle and flowers. It was worth the anxious wait all day.  It would appear my bosses are happy and wish to retain my services for another year.  I decided this was not the time to bring up the thorny subjects of remuneration (still waiting for some), days off (looking increasingly unlikely) and my benefits package (if there was one).

However, I am very grateful that they have seen fit to promote me to “chauffeur” from “taxi driver” – or at least I think that is a promotion.  Of course I can always exercise my share options too…my option to stop all screen-based activities, my option to enforce the doing of homework more than ten minutes before it is due in and most importantly my option to insist that I am addressed only as “mummy” not “mate” or when things are really bad, “idiot”.

All in all, I work for a great company. I have no real complaints.  I wouldn’t work for any other company and I can see no reason why my loyal service of 9 years won’t stretch out to loyal service for the next 20 years (assuming of course that I am fit for work).  I am one lucky lady, I have three of the best bosses in the business and I wouldn’t change them for the world.

Feeling a little discombobulated?

dictionary-1 copy.jpg

dictionary-1 copy.jpg (Photo credit: TexasT’s)

“Mummy, I am feeling rather discombobulated today” – so said my eldest as he came out of school the other day. What a fabulous word “discombobulated” is – one of my all-time favourites.

Before you think my son is showing signs of at best an unlikely grasp of the English language for an 8 year old or at worst deep pretension, there seems to be a sort of competition amongst the boys in his class to use long words. Unsurprisingly this competition has spread beyond the confines of the classroom  (competitive parenting) – you give me “discombobulated”, I’ll raise you with “triskaidekaphobia”.  Yes, I know it’s pathetic but that’s what I sent my son back with, pretty confident that his “discombobulated” friend wouldn’t know the word.

There are a plethora of wonderful words in the English language – many of course with roots in other languages. I think that if I was asked which book I would take to a desert island with me, it would definitely be the English Dictionary. Every day I come across fabulous new words.  My latest favourite word is “callipygian” – any ideas? It means “having well-shaped buttocks” – It comes from the ancient Greeks who always did have a keen eye for the human form! Unfortunately I think my days of being described as “callipygian” are well and truly behind me (excuse the pun).

“Antidisestablishmentarianism” is generally accepted to be the longest word in the English language (except of course the wonderful “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” which doesn’t count as a made-up word from “Mary Poppins”).  However, it is not just the long words that garner attention in the English language.  Some of the best words are the shortest, particularly onomatopoeic words such as “gurgle”, “whir” and “flutter”. I would love to know whether other languages have these sorts of words – I am ashamed to admit that my grasp of other languages is so remedial that I don’t know.

There are also, for me, words which I really do not like the sound of.  For some reason, I absolutely loathe the “oi” sound as in words such as moist, foist, doily, oily, loiter – it’s irrational, I know, but those words set me on edge. Fortunately, “doily” is not a word I use that often…if at all!

Language is always evolving and there are a host of new words some of which frankly I am struggling to understand.  My son uses a whole host of “americanisms” in his everyday speech (mainly gleaned from his rather obsessive watching of the “Disney Channel”) – my least favourite is “butt” which he liberally peppers his speech with.  The word “sick” seems to make regular appearances and has a definition polar opposite to its traditional meaning as far as I can work out.

Then there are the little phrases which he overuses – his current favourite is “it’s not rocket science” which he uses at least 30 times a day as a response to almost everything and usually directed at me when he thinks I am being particularly stupid (in his eyes, an all too regular occurrence)  and with it he affects an air of superiority which is not particularly attractive in an 8 year old child.

My favourite new expression, which I definitely think deserves a place in the English Dictionary, is courtesy of my daughter, aged 3.  She picked up a bra from the washing basket and said “Look Mummy, here is your booby mask”.  Now, that’s a great description and one which has stuck in our household.

Time for me to stop being sesquipedalian (look that one up!) and get on with more mundane activities, like washing my booby masks! What are your favourite words?  Are there any words that you don’t like the sound of?