Hi-de-Hi Campers!

English: Modern 'dome' tent

English: Modern ‘dome’ tent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just returned from my first ever family camping trip in Devon.  Frankly, camping is a blogger’s paradise for material but I am going to cut to the chase and just give you the nitty gritty…

Camping is all very well until…

– You have to put up the tent. The tents of my youth have all but disappeared from British camp sites, to be replaced by superstructures.  The result of this?  Putting up a superstructure is a full-blown architectural, building and interior design project.  No half-hour of japes and ‘hysterical’ jokes about ‘erections’ – this is a very serious job taking 2 hours and requiring elite teamwork.   My husband and I were just rank and file and we listened closely to our leaders who have years of experience in this highly technical exercise.

– You start participating in “competitive camping” – by which, I mean constantly prowling around the campsite, nosing at others’ tents and accoutrements and then scurrying back to look online at how much they cost and how quickly you can get the same. Camping 2013-style is highly competitive.  Size is important – I shall admit to a small twinge of jealousy at my neighbours’ superstructure (we were sleeping in their “cast off” as virgin campers).  However, the devil is in the detail: spotted on our campsite – bunting, fairy lights (everywhere), blow-up sofas and chaise-longues and garden gnomes.

– You want to sleep. In my experience, camping and sleep are mutually exclusive.  However, I accept that I appear to be alone in this as the rest of my family seemed to sleep soundly.  I have to admit to moments at about 3am when I did wonder why I had chosen to “sleep” on a blow-up mattress in a confined space with my whole family, wearing an eye mask and ear plugs at the age of 40.

– You need the loo in the middle of the night.  Forget the adverts about bladder incontinence and retraining your bladder on the back of the doors of public conveniences in motorway service stations.  There is nothing better for improving bladder control than camping a 5 minute walk from the nearest loos.  In every tent, there is a woman, in the wee hours (sorry, pathetic pun), wondering if she can possibly hold on until morning and cursing the men who can liberally water the foliage outside the tent.

– You leave a rubbish bag out overnight. Elementary error, dear Watson. What followed can only be described as making Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” seem mild in comparison.  Gull attack.  Gulls are big, gulls are noisy and frankly no-on in our tent had the courage to face up to them at 5.30 am when we were under siege, gulls tramping all over the top of our tent.  We lay there, frozen in fear, hoping that the Gull army would finally march on elsewhere to some other amateur who had left out a bag of rubbish.  It will, I think, take years of therapy for us to come to terms with the trauma of the night when the gulls attacked.

– It rains. Camping is a fair weather sport. The solution to rain, however, is simple.  Make sure you are friends with people who own a larger tent than your own, with blow-up furniture, rugs, pretty lighting and a fully-stocked larder and then settle down with a glass of wine and laugh.

– Your child starts to suffer from repetitive showering syndrome.  At home, my requests for my eldest to shower fall on deaf ears – he looks at me as if I have suggested something deeply unpleasant.  Not so when camping. My eldest proudly informed me that he had showered 14 times in 4 days.  When questioned about this, he told me that he liked showering at the campsite because he had his own cubicle and no-one disturbed him.  Very disturbing indeed.

So what did we really think about camping?  We loved it and despite all my reservations, we have booked to go again next year.  I shall admit that a large part of this is due to the fabulous friends we camped with (whom I think were as surprised as we were that we survived the trip).  I shall leave the last word to my daughter, just turned 4, who in a late night tent conversation, was asked by her brother where good people go to when they die…”Devon” she said – not far off I suppose (give or take the first letter).

It’s not cricket…

google cricket bat & ball

google cricket bat & ball (Photo credit: osde8info)

Yesterday was a revelation.  I sat and watched 8 hours of cricket. No, not the Ashes but an under 9s local cricket tournament.  Now admittedly 80 degrees and wall-to-wall sunshine definitely enhanced my viewing experience but I can actually say I enjoyed it and by “it” I do mean the cricket itself.  I still can’t believe what I am saying as until yesterday I found the prospect of watching a game of cricket less appealing even than being forced to watch 24 hours solid of Peppa Pig.  I would even go as far as to say that the cricket was exciting which is an adjective I am unlikely to ever use in respect of Peppa, George, Daddy Pig and Mummy Pig.

However, before you fear that the summer heatwave we are currently experiencing (Day 17 apparently – no wonder we are the laughing stock of the rest of the world when we count the days when the temperature rises above what many other countries would consider an average day), there are certain things I find bizarre about cricket.

Firstly, a sartorial point.  Why do they wear ‘cricket whites’?  It seems remarkably stupid to me to wear totally white clothing when you are playing a sport which inevitably involves skidding and leaping around on grass.  Yes, earth-shattering news – grass is green, grass stains and it is a complete nightmare to get out (although I grant you this is a point that may have escaped most men as it is women who on the whole have to scrub the whites clean swearing profusely).

Secondly, yesterday I realised that actually cricket is a fairly simple game and it is dressed up to be remarkably complicated in order for men to think they are playing some incredibly sophisticated game.  It’s basically rounders with two bases instead of four.  Baffling language such as slip, gully and silly mid-off are thrown in to confuse the non-cricketer and to ensure they feel excluded from the cricket in-crowd (sorry, bad pun..in??).  Cut through all the nonsense language and there’s not much to it as far as I can see – bowl, bat, run, catch.

Incidentally, this deliberate over-complication is not confined to cricket.  Football suffers from the same condition.  Nothing illustrates this better than the off-side rule which men always challenge women to explain as a way of demonstrating their inability to understand the game.  Well, ladies, the off-side rule is not remotely complicated and indeed nor is football – kick, run, pass and score. Easy.

The only game which seems truly baffling to me and perhaps defies my complaint that male-dominated sports are over-complicated for no good reason is rugby.  Rugby seems to me to be genuinely complicated and unnecessarily so.  It seems so complicated that for a large part of the game, no-one appears to have a clear understanding of the rules – players, referees or those watching. I know I am going to be accused of totally missing the point but take the scrum for example.  Why?  To the layman it looks like a group of men with overdeveloped physiques, bundling in and achieving very little – a sort of acceptable group man hug – the ball gets put in and then pushed out again often where it came in.  I know that all men (and probably quite a few women) will be shouting at my idiocy at this point but I’m just saying it how I see it.

Back to cricket.  It seems to me that cricket suffers from a bit of a PR problem.  To my mind, this boils down to one simple point – the game goes on too b*****  long.   That is not to say that test series are not exciting but to compare international cricket with village cricket is lunacy.  There is nothing interesting about watching an entire day of village cricket which is often “village” in standard.  Cricket is quite possibly the least family-friendly game and I speak from experience as one who could in the past have fairly called herself a “cricket widow”. I know much has been done to make cricket more exciting – T20 etc – but it is still too long and unpredictable in length.  At least with football, much as I loathe it, I know that after 90 minutes it’s all done and dusted.

When all is said and done, I really enjoyed yesterday’s cricket but let’s face it, in this country with our reliably unreliable weather, it would not have been the same if I had been forced to sit wrapped in jumpers and blankets for 8 hours, shivering in the usual British summer temperatures, bathing in the glorious light of yet another overcast day.

Finally, a note to my husband who I am sure will vehemently disagree with me…spending two days at Lords watching cricket is not a justification for the length the game takes to play – I know and you know that you are not just watching the cricket and that there is more than a small element of socialising involved too…

My phantom pregnancy…

A pregnant woman

A pregnant woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am back in the “office” and rather gratifyingly my clients seemed to have missed me.  The week started well largely because Monday signalled the end of half term and a return to sanity.  I muddled through the week until Thursday when my sense of humour was tested to its full.

Let me explain.  Thursday started innocuously enough.  I did some exercise – yes, I know what you’re thinking…that doesn’t sound that innocuous considering that I am the girl who dresses for exercise when I have absolutely no intention of exercising in order to appear as though I have been exercising.  Confused?  So am I a lot of the time.  Anyway, that morning I had actually been exercising and in order to maximise my post-exercise smugness, I wore my exercise kit for the rest of the day.

That afternoon I went to a meeting with a friend as part of my class rep duties.  At the start of this meeting, I was introduced to someone who is helping us with a class party.  I was still attired in my exercise clothes (arguably not that suited to a meeting).  The man to whom I was introduced seemed rather fascinated with my stomach – or at least that was where his eyes were focused (makes a change, I guess, from another part of one’s anatomy!) and he said hello and then said something on the lines of “Who’s been eating lots of chocolate then?” – yes, I kid you not, this was his opener.  Those who know me well will attest to the fact that I am very rarely lost for words…on this occasion I was literally struck dumb.

First reaction:  what the…? Second reaction:  I must be wrong, he must mean something completely different. Third reaction: surely not…he can’t mean that…perhaps he does mean that.  No worries, he soon clarified what he actually meant by digging himself into the most extraordinarily large hole with the immortal words “Oh sorry, I thought you were pregnant!”. Yes, you read that right, he did say that and not for the first time in that few minutes, I was once more left entirely speechless.

Let’s face it, you wouldn’t really take the pregnancy option with a complete stranger unless you were fairly confident that they were well into the gestation period, would you? It’s not the kind of thing you want to get wrong, is it?  By my reckoning, that would make me at least 5-6 months pregnant…I don’t know who was more mortified  – me or him when the error of his judgement was pointed out to him.

Suffice to say, the best thing to do in such circumstances is laugh and hold your stomach in ad infinitum – both of which I have been doing since Thursday last week.  It must be said that this little  incident could not have had worse timing as Friday signalled the start of a weekend in France for me, my husband and some friends and that weekend clearly meant swimwear horror.  I didn’t let it put me off and in fact I just milked it all weekend…”eating for two”, “need to put my feet up in my condition” etc.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and mine came on Friday evening at 3.30am outside a french nightclub.  As I sat outside the club waiting for our taxi,  I was approached by a man (in front of husband) –  a good-looking man in his mid-twenties I should add.  He asked me if I was tired as I was sitting down and I replied that at my age, 40, (and in my condition!), tiredness was an occupational hazard if you dared to go anywhere after midnight.  He looked genuinely surprised and said he couldn’t believe I was 40 and had thought I was 29 tops. OMG, distended “pregnant” stomach immediately forgotten as I basked in the ultimate (although clearly ludicrous) compliment.

I of course related this to my friends in the taxi with great glee – divine retribution, I thought, for the earlier horror visited upon me on Thursday. My husband and my friends were less convinced.  They pointed out the obvious (which I was trying to ignore) that it was 3.30 am, dark outside and the man in question was almost certainly wearing a very strong pair of “beer goggles”  Thanks guys!

Unpaid Leave

English: Logo for the United States TV series ...

English: Logo for the United States TV series “The Office”. Français : Logo de la série télé “The Office” diffusée aux États-Unis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the first time in 9 years I am taking unpaid leave from my job.  I am going to Colombia to visit family and leaving my colleague, the husband (strictly speaking my underling as I am Chief Executive and he is my deputy with special responsibility for “financial services and support”) in charge.

Now without wishing to cast aspersions on my colleague’s abilities, I do have my reservations about leaving him to run the “office”.  I am not convinced that he really understands the full extent of his new responsibilities and what the day to day running of this extremely busy “office” entails.  Not only will he have to deal with the administrative nightmare of scheduling but he will also have to deal with three of my most difficult clients for a whole week.  These clients can be particularly demanding and do expect to have someone on call 24/7.  It is not unknown for them to call me at 3 am and expect me to perform a full laundering service or the like.

Of course, being such important clients, it is vital that my colleague and I manage a seamless handover of responsibilities and that these clients are virtually unaware of the temporary change in their client relationship manager. I have warned my colleague not to expect much praise or affirmation from these clients – indeed rather to expect numerous complaints and a regular and often harsh critique of services provided.

Unfortunately for my colleague, the “office” driver, chef and laundry assistant are also away the same week as me so he will have to perform their duties too.  I realise that he will feel this goes way beyond his job specification and I can only apologise for asking him to do the impossible and carry out my job responsibilities and that of three other “office” workers.

I am of course aware that I am asking a huge amount of him.  To this end, I have produced a manual which outlines all the responsibilities and the schedules of our three most important clients.  I have stressed the importance to him of ensuring that the schedules run like clock-work and that our clients will not tolerate lateness or a lack of preparedness.

I am very grateful to the large number of female colleagues in different “offices” who have offered their support in my absence and have provided a telephone tree of emergency numbers in case he should find it all too much. I am much comforted by the thought that there is a strong network of very capable women ready to leap into action if required.

I am very keen to let my colleague find his way on his own, prove himself to me. To this end, I would encourage my female friends in other “offices” to hold back unless strictly necessary.  Examples of situations which do not require intervention: one or more clients dressed in totally inappropriate, clashing-coloured clothing (to be expected), one or more clients arriving at least 20 minutes late for any appointment and one or more clients appearing in unexpected places at unexpected times.  An example of a situation which does require intervention would be if you see my colleague with two clients but not the third – in this situation it would be perfectly acceptable just to ask him where the other client is (just check – in case he has dropped one of the juggling balls).

So I am going to go off on Thursday and try very hard not to think about work for a week (of course I shall be available for nightly skypes with my three most important clients) and leave my job in the very capable hands of my colleague.  Hasta Pronto!

If I could turn back time…

je ne regrette rien

je ne regrette rien (Photo credit: Diana Torres tatuajes)

Imagine your life so far as a film played in front of your eyes.  Imagine you have editorial power and you could cut out or change various scenes.  What would you change?  What would I change?

– Perhaps I would have done a different degree at university.  Latin and Ancient Greek are all very well but let’s face it, they are not particularly relevant in professional terms in 2013.  People always ask me whether I speak Latin/Ancient Greek – no, I reply, they are dead languages.  Really useful. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my degree subject but I hold it partly responsible for my total lack of ability to decide on any one career. Classics is not what you would call vocational (unless you want to be a classics teacher of course) and apart from all that very worthy “it is invaluable in learning any of our modern European languages” blah (which is, by the way true), the only time I have used Latin since 1996 is when people ask me to translate inscriptions on monuments – something which I fail to do almost 100% of the time, thereby looking like not only someone who did a fairly irrelevant degree but was also not particularly good at it.

– I would have had long hair when I was a child.  Looking back at photos of me between approximately the ages of 3 and 15, I had a deeply unflattering short layered cut. My sister, who is only 20 months younger me, had very pretty long hair in plaits, bunches and the like.  Why didn’t I, you may well ask?  Well, some misguided hairdresser informed my mother that the only way to thicken up my very fine hair was to have this hideous bowl-like short hair style.  My mother, rightfully bowing to this woman’s supposed superior tonsorial knowledge, kept me shorn for the next 10 years.  Result – I’ve still got very fine hair and I’m emotionally scarred from my hideous childhood hair.

– I would have been slightly more circumspect about my teenage crushes.  Boris Becker (why o why?), Bruce Springsteen (cried when he got married for the first time???) and James Dean (he was dead for God’s sake).  OK so things have improved since then but I can’t help but feel it says something rather concerning about me that my room was a shrine to a dead man, that I fell for a middle-aged rocker and  Boris Becker…well, what can I say about that…

–  I would miss out my slightly goth stage (admittedly it was a blink and you miss it one) – purple paisley shirts, dark hair, dark mini skirt, dark tights (ripped), dark boots, dark eyeliner, dark lipstick, white face and a penchant for Jesus and the Mary Chain. It was definitely not one of my finer moments.  Although, now I come to think of it, I am not sure that my “brown suede jacket from Kensington Market” (which was second hand and stank) stage was that much better.

– I would definitely not have worked in a Harvester restaurant when I was 15 (despite making one of my best friends there). Not only did we have to face the daily humiliation of wearing a see-through brown and yellow checked outfit, but we had to ask the same mind-numbingly repetitive questions to each and every customer – “Have you been to a Harvester before?” and “Can I show you to the salad cart?”.  The tedium was only temporarily relieved when a customer found a large piece of concrete in his lancashire hotpot.

– I would have passed my driving test first time.  I know everyone says that the best drivers don’t pass first time but that is just one of those rubbish statements made up to make you feel better (along the lines of acute morning sickness is a sign of a strong pregnancy). Anyway, it is not relevant to me as I didn’t even pass second time. Admittedly going through a red light in my first test was fairly fatal to my chances and doing my 3 point turn in about 17 turns didn’t boost my chances in my second test. I eventually passed third time and this was probably only because I don’t think I saw another moving car during that test. I imagine that my chances of passing nowadays with the theory test would be slim at best. Although perhaps marginally higher than those of someone I know who when presented with a road sign of falling rocks, declared that it meant “No falling rocks allowed here”?!

– I would have taken a different career path – journalism.  Now, I would be a successful writer with best sellers to my name and the odd Airport exclusive…and as I count backward from 10, you will open your eyes at 3 and be totally awake by 1…instead of a 40 year old blogger who has tried her hand at more careers than most and who blogs about largely irrelevant issues and just doesn’t seem to be able to start that novel…

Actually, as Edith Piaf sang “non, je ne regrette rien” – all of the above have made me who I am today.  I guess it’s good to still have dreams at 40 and actually, you know what, just perhaps this is my time to start fulfilling some of those dreams.  Watch this space.

The Jeans Diet

English: Mannequins wearing jeans in Sânnicola...

Finally we are having some good weather here in the UK…don’t get excited, the rain is returning tomorrow.  It seems to me that David Cameron et al are missing a trick here.  When you have just been trounced in the local elections, why not just go for a really cheap but effective publicity stunt – make today a spontaneous bank holiday.  After all we have fewer bank holidays than most other countries and let’s face it, the sun only makes the odd rare appearance in the UK of late. I am not suggesting that we are fickle voters, but an extra bank holiday in the sun might just get a few more people off their politically apathetic behinds.

Anyway, it’s not like me to get political, so let’s return to much more important matters  – not matters of state but matters of weight.

When I was in my twenties, I could eat anything…and I mean anything, as often as I like and in whatever quantities I liked and I never put on an ounce. All to do with metabolism apparently.  I would happily eat an entire box of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers (a personal favourite) in one sitting.  Now, even if I look at a chocolate finger, I can feeling it pointing accusingly at me and saying, “go on, eat me, I dare you,  you know you can’t just eat one and even if you manage to stop at 3 or 4, you will immediately gain a pound”.

It doesn’t seem fair that as well as having to deal with the injustices of ageing, we also have to deal with a slowing metabolism. For women, this weight likes to sit around the waist sort of like those rubber rings you had for swimming as a child.  Apparently, we’ve got to build up our cores (which incidentally, biologically did not exist before the year 2000). Well, I’m sorry but my core is less steel and more jelly and I don’t believe that will ever change.  My theory is that anyone born before 2000 is at a distinct disadvantage in all this core business as we were born without the genetic modification required to have a core.  Having a core will be seen in generations to come as a part of the evolution process and I was very much born pre-core.

My problem is that since I don’t even have the discipline to stop myself having two large slices of swiss roll (at 9pm last night), how am I ever going to have the discipline to follow a diet. In any case, most diets are so flipping complicated, you need a degree in nutrition to follow them.  Also these diets always tell you to have one day off to eat whatever you like.  The problem is that whenever I read about celebrities on diets, what they eat on the day off (the naughty day) is usually what I would be eating on the diet days – they allowed themselves a piece of bread…shock horror.

So I have decided a new approach is necessary.  As my husband said yesterday, I am 40 and I have had three children, so just accept that I am not going to look like I am 21 ever again.  OK so that’s not rocket science (my eldest son’s favourite expression at the moment) but it is completely true.

We women stress so much about weight, do men?  I don’t see many men calorie counting obsessively, or eating quinoa (or whatever that stuff is) or substituting beef mince for quorn (frankly, a crime against bolognaise in my book).  I am not suggesting that I am going to go back to eating a whole box of Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers in one sitting (tempting as it is) but nor am I going to starve myself for the next 20 years in an attempt to get down to some magical weight that is totally unrealistic.  Anyway, until someone invents a low calorie white wine which doesn’t taste like rats’ p***, then I haven’t got a chance in hell – life is too short to give up all the pleasures.

One practical thing I have done to put my new attitude to the test is that I went through all my jeans (I have (or rather had) more pairs than the average Levis shop) and threw out all the impossibly small pairs that I really am never ever going to get into again.  I did the knee test – i.e. if I had trouble getting the first leg above the knee without cutting off the circulation, out the pair went. Very therapeutic. The jeans diet – cut out all the pairs you will never wear again. Slim down your wardrobe rather than yourself. Don’t cut out all the foods you love, just cut out all the jeans that will never ever fit you again.  Much simpler and I can highly recommend it.

Mad Science

Mad scientist

Mad scientist (Photo credit: BWJones)

You know how the saying goes…if you fall off a horse, you’ve got to get straight back on again.  Well, it’s taken me 2 years but I have held another “Mad Science” party for my son’s birthday and I have survived.

Two years ago, this would never have seemed possible.  That party – twelve 7 year old boys in my house (first huge error), one mad scientist and two shell-shocked, utterly horrified parents – ended with me bursting into tears of sheer relief when they all left and only narrowly avoiding an extended stay in The Priory.  The only word I can think to describe that party is apocalyptic – “Lord of the Flies” South-West London style.

It was a seminal moment in my child-rearing – the moment at which we lost total control.  The boys were in charge and it wasn’t pretty. I genuinely think I suffered with a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder after that party.  One thing was certain – never ever ever would I hold a child’s birthday party in my house again.  I have kept to that.  The other thing I thought was certain – never ever would I wish to hear the words “mad” and “science” in the same sentence let alone combined with the word “party”. Somehow my resolve weakened on this.

That brings me to today – “Mad Science” party 2.  Not content with twelve 7 year olds, this time I upped the stakes and we had twenty four 7 year olds (all boys), one mad scientist (female) and four potentially shell-shocked, utterly horrified parents (yes, this time, I shared the annual burden of the birthday party).  Before the party, as I contemplated my idiocy in agreeing to endure another two hours of utter hell, I tried to work out what sort of person would choose to endure such a party again at a significant financial cost with absolutely no visible upside.  Clearly, I am a lunatic.

Well I survived and you know what….it wasn’t actually that bad.  Admittedly the memory is already fading at the edges thanks to the indecently large glass of wine that I am currently attacking like some sort of slightly deranged, dehydrated dipsomaniac.  The mad scientist certainly earned her money this afternoon and I am fairly sure she is reconsidering her career choice (she’s just completing her teacher training) after 2 hours with 24 boys, a load of goo, dry ice, bunsen burners, potentially lethal chemicals and a non-launching rocket.  I am also certain that being a mad scientist and spending 2 hours trying to control a roomful of crazed 7 year olds must be one of the most effective forms of contraception on the market.

I know I probably shouldn’t say this but I don’t believe I’m alone – children’s birthday parties are an ordeal, something to be endured, an annual burden.  But they are a necessary rite of passage and I remember (just) the excitement I felt in the build-up to my birthday parties when I was a child. Of course I wouldn’t want to deny my children that excitement and celebration.

Two things bug me though: firstly, children’s parties were simple affairs when I was a child – some games, home-made cake and a party bag full of nothing much.  Nowadays, we are expected to shell-out hundreds of pounds on entertainers or hold our parties in ever more exotic venues, buy in the cake (gone are the days when an 8 inch round with chocolate buttons on it sufficed; no, now kids expect an entire football pitch replete with favourite team and realistic-looking icing turf) and a party bag brimming with the latest must-have toys.

Secondly, “thank you” would go a long way. Not from the kids at the party – they were all very polite; from my own children.  After every party we hold for our children, the conversation goes like this: me: “Did you enjoy your party?”, child: “Yup”, me: “Do you have anything to say?”, child – silence, me: “It would be really nice if you said thank you after all the effort we’ve made”, child “thank you”, me “not now, before would have been good…”

Time to collapse in a post-party heap.  Ticked that box for another year.  Conquered my fear of “Mad Science” parties.  Yes, it has been a good day on the whole.

Things I shall never do (or never do again)

Cartwheel - Evolution #1

Cartwheel – Evolution #1 (Photo credit: Thomas Z. Photographie)

The  sun has at last been out this weekend and my children have come blinking mole-like into the daylight from enforced indoor imprisonment for the last 5 months.  Hurrah!  Finally they can partake in wholesome activities like cricket rather than the definitely less appealing screen-based activities which form such a large part of their lives, particularly in winter, only relieved of course by the odd game of Cluedo (see previous post).

As I sat outside and watched them play, my daughter who is currently going through a purple-gymnatics-rapunzel stage (sometimes all at once), attempted a roly-poly (technically called a forward roll I believe).  For one insane moment, I thought I might show her how it’s really done and then thankfully I remembered the “cartwheel incident”.

A couple of years ago, showing off, I thought I might demonstrate my childhood gymnastic skills by cartwheeling on the beach.  It became abundantly clear half way through the cartwheel that this was possibly one of my more foolish decisions.  Too late. 38 year old women who only irregularly partake in exercise should never attempt anything that they did with ease in childhood.

My cartwheel was less beautiful circle in motion and more immediate and somewhat explosive irreparable puncture.  As my son pointed out at the time, he had learnt something from my cartwheel demonstration just not what I had intended – how not to do a cartwheel and how to keep a straight face when your mother starts her gymnastic demonstration with the grace and flair of Olga Korbut but ends it splattered on the sand looking as though she has been run over by said cartwheel. Utter humiliation.

So somersaults are something I shall never do again. It got me thinking. What else will I never do (or never do again)?  I will never dive or even jump off a diving board again. My relationship with swimming pools has definitely changed over the last decade. When I was young and on holiday, you could never get me out of the pool – pools and I had a largely harmonious relationship.  Now, it’s a little bit more fractious, and honestly I’d be perfectly happy to spend 2 weeks in the sun sitting around a pool without ever getting in it.

Why? Well for the reasons outlined above with regard to my gymnastics prowess, it would be potentially mortifying to dive/jump/bellyflop off a diving board at my age – the permutations for embarrassment and humiliation actually make me shudder.

As for swimming itself…I know it sounds a bit pathetic but I don’t really like putting my head in the water now – not because I’m precious about my hairstyle (far from it…largely as I don’t really have a hairstyle as such to be concerned about) but I just don’t really like it.  A nice leisurely, but regal, breaststroke is about all I can manage these days with my head firmly out of the water.  I’ll leave the more energetic strokes to those a little younger than me.  To be honest, I never really got the point of backstroke anyway – why would you swim on your back, unable to see where you are going, towards a concrete wall?  Backstroke is pointless and to my mind potentially dangerous.

What else?  Oh yes, I am unlikely to spend an entire day (unless ill) watching back to back soap operas like I (obviously occasionally) did at university.  There was a brief period after the birth of each of my children when I dabbled in Neighbours, Home & Away, Hollyoaks and even, on a particularly bad day,  Doctors, but I managed to wean myself off them once I no longer had the excuse of sitting on my sofa for hours ostensibly feeding a baby.

However, at university, (obviously occasionally) soaps determined my daily schedule and it was not unknown for me and my best friend to spend an entire afternoon watching back to back soaps just because we could. Now however I have much more intellectually challenging tasks to complete such as deciding whether pesto pasta is on the cards for dinner (which it is today incidentally) or driving my “taxi” around the local area, picking up my non-fare paying customers and depositing them at their various required locations for tennis, football etc.  I do allow myself one little indulgence though – EastEnders.  Love it.  I always watch it and feel so hugely lucky and grateful for my little life – however miserable my day has been, at least I don’t live in Albert Square.

There are, of course, hundreds of other things that I shall probably never do or do again equally as trivial as the above.  There are lots of things, not just trivial things, which I wish I could do or wish I had done.  Equally there are lots of things that I can do now which I couldn’t have done when I was younger and that’s where the focus should be I suppose.  What would you never do now or never do again?

Your Cabin Crew Will Now Point Out Your Nearest Exits…

airplane in sky

airplane in sky (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Hello, anyone there…?  I’m back.  Have you missed me? Deafening silence…

You probably haven’t noticed but I’ve been away for the last couple of weeks and haven’t been blogging.  Before you get out the bunting, throw street parties and issue special edition stamps to celebrate my return, I don’t want any fuss, any fanfare – I’m a very modest, unassuming person after all – but it would be nice if someone had missed my blogging/whinging/musings about nothing very much at all.

I don’t think it would be fair of me to bang on endlessly about white sand beaches, azure seas, cocktails and all the other holiday clichés.  There all true.  I don’t want to alienate my readers – particularly British readers who have endured the most vile of winters. So instead I thought I would share with you a couple of observations about the ordeal which is “travelling” – that time of huge stress which prefaces the white sand beaches, azure seas etc. I don’t know, maybe you are a cool, calm and collected sort of traveller…not me, despite my best attempts, travelling is always rather an ordeal, a case of the end result justifying the means.

Packing is a skill I still have not mastered after 40 years. It doesn’t seem to be particularly intellectually taxing or require any particular dexterity or co-ordination – I just can’t do it well.

I usually get off to a pretty good, controlled sort of start but as the deadline for departure approaches my packing becomes frenzied, bordering on manic .  I start packing things I could not possibly have any use for, just in case…for example, on this holiday I took not one but two full first aid kits.  Why?  Good question.  What is the likelihood of me needing the entire contents of two full first aid kits on one 10 day holiday? Remote but as I said, just in case…On this holiday I took enough Calpol to administer to an entire children’s hospital – enough to give each of my 3 children a 4-6 hourly dose for the entire 10 days and still only use 1/4 of my supplies – overcatering, perhaps, but just in case…On this holiday, I took 4 jumpers and 4 cardigans, to a place where the temperature at 3am never dips below about 24 degrees.  Why?  Expecting a freak snow storm in the Indian Ocean?  You never know, just in case…

I can only think that this extreme level of preparedness harks from my Brownie Guide days, motto “Be Prepared”.  If only I had known then how much excess baggage this would mean I would be forced to take every time I go away, then I might have reconsidered my promise “To do my best” etc and turned my back on the Brownies while I still could.  So those of you with daughters, consider carefully the potential long term effects of introducing your offspring to the Guiding Movement.

Airports make me behave in a very out-of-character fashion.  I am not a mad shopper normally – I like shopping as much as the next woman but for some bizarre reason airports turning me into some sort of supermarket sweep shopping freak. I feel like I am in a shopping version of “Countdown” – up against the clock, flight leaves in 45 minutes, got to shop, got to shop, got to shop…I find myself considering purchases that I would never even look at the other side of security – a combination, I guess, of tax-free, holiday fever and that old chestnut, preparedness – what if I can’t buy ‘X’ “over there” – ‘X’ usually being something that I would never ever have use for in this country so I have no idea why I feel it might be of use on a 10 day holiday somewhere else.

Finally, time to get on the plane.  Why, please tell me, do people queue at the gate to get on to the plane?  It makes me want to scream – “Weirdos, your seats are pre-allocated, no need to queue at this point.  We’re all going to get on eventually”. I guess this might be a peculiarly British feature – queueing being part of our national identity?

The days of fervently praying that you don’t get the seat next to the crying child are unfortunately a thing of the past for me.  I always get the seat next to the crying child…my child. The first 10 minutes on a plane (assuming you are turning right like me when you get on) are spent apologising…apologising to the poor person who despite their fervent prayers is sitting next to you and your screaming child, apologising to the person sitting in the aisle seat in advance for the number of times you are going to have to climb over them during the flight, apologising for practically knocking a fellow passenger out when attempting to put your bags in the overhead locker, then apologising again for having to climb over the person sitting in the aisle seat in order to reopen the overhead locker and get out the particular Peppa Pig book that your daughter wants right now and only now.

You take off – not before you’ve watched the safety demonstration avidly – as if you have never seen it before.  For me this is complete superstition – I could pass the British Airways safety demonstration test (if there is such a thing) word perfect – but I have this horrible niggle that if I don’t watch it, then this will be the time that I have to perform a complicated passing of the life jacket strings around my waist, securing them in a knot, fully inflating my life jacket (after I have gone down the emergency chute, having removed my high heels (?)), then using the little tube to top up the air before blowing pathetically on my little whistle  (in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean???).  I’m afraid I am also always that person who surreptitiously kicks under the seat just to check my life jacket is there. Goes back to the Brownies again, “Be Prepared”.

Then off you go.  Within 3 minutes of take-off, at least one of my children has already asked me twice “Are we nearly there yet?”. Thank Goodness for inflight entertainment.  I swear my two boys, once settled in front of the screen, did not blink or utter a word for the next 12 hours. I don’t care whether that is bad mothering – flying doesn’t count, anything goes on a plane, survival is all that matters.

Destination reached – fanatical peering out of the plane windows to assess the weather.  Unbelievable, after 12 hours in the air – it’s raining…yes, we’ve travelled several thousand miles, endured so much…to step out into the identical weather we left in the UK, just warmer. Welcome to Paradise…

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.