A lament for reading…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christmas Capers…

Turkey

Turkey (Photo credit: Mike_fleming)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pointless Update

Reunión Furby I

Reunión Furby I (Photo credit: alvarezperea)

Update on my “pointless” list – a kind reader has given me my first (and last) onesie – fortunately for me it does not have novelty headgear too – but all the same it is a onesie probably best described as resembling a snow leopard.  Now I love the person who gave me this onesie but I can confirm that I look more than faintly ridiculous in it and I definitely look like an overgrown giant baby (not my favourite look).  One thing I had not appreciated before I owned such a must-have garment is how flipping hot it is inside one of these onesies.  I started to sweat profusely within about 5 minutes – a sweating snow leopard in a babygrow – not a pretty sight!  I have to admit to being slightly fascinated by the speed with which these onesies are flying off the shelves this Christmas – who (apart from my friend) is buying them? Imagine if you were an alien arriving on earth for the first time and you were greeted by the sight of giant babies wearing all-in-one, furry, faux animal outfits – I’m fairly sure if it was me, I would turn right round again and return from where I came, very disturbed by the sight I had just witnessed.

On the subject of Christmas shopping, I am also very distressed at the return of that hideous creature the “Furby” – who thought it was a good idea to bring it back for this Christmas season for god’s sake?  To add insult to injury this ugly, little monster retails at well over £50.  Sometimes I really do think I live in a parallel universe to everyone else.  I get Peppa Pig (regular readers will know I am actually a little partial to a bit of Peppa Pig) but Furbies – they are wrong, all wrong.

I’m on a roll now…one last bugbear (bah humbug!)…football kits for kids.  My boys support Arsenal.  I know nothing about Arsenal – a deliberate ploy to prevent me from ever having to discuss football leagues with my children or worse go and watch matches with them.  An aside, the only thing I find vaguely interesting – actually rather pleasing in an odd way – is that the Arsenal Boss is called Arsene – almost poetic.  Anyway, my problem is very simple, premiership football teams change their football strip (home and away) every season so I am forced to buy new football strips every season too.  These football strips are not only deeply unpleasant to look at but they are also extortionately expensive.  In my view, these premiership teams are committing daylight robbery by hiking the prices of these kits way beyond their value because we poor unsuspecting parents, ever keen to encourage our offspring into supporting a team, are forced to buy them on an annual basis (last year’s strip is so passé) in order not to embarrass poor little Johnny in front of his mates.

So there you have it, rant over for the day.  You could be forgiven for thinking I complain about everything.  Well I do, I guess, but only with good reason, and actually those who know me will testify that I can be nice too!