Sort it out…

Another year, another load of wrinkles on my face and the likelihood of me being Prime Minister is fading fast.

Fear not, just because I probably (definitely) won’t reach those dizzying heights, it does not mean that I can’t dream about what my agenda for change would be.  I’m not going to bother with all the things that really matter to people – health, education, housing etc – I’ll leave it to those in power to deal with those issues – but I shall concentrate on the rather more minor (indeed some might say irrelevant) issues which affect (annoy) me and my kin. So this is what I want sorted (said in a “Phil and Grant from EastEnders” voice):

– Store/Reward Cards:  what could possibly be wrong with them you ask?  Nothing – they’re a great idea but there are just too many of the b***** things.  My purse is unable to shut – not through any great personal wealth, just a million reward cards.  It goes one of two ways for me depending on whether there is a queue of people behind me at the till – either I have to conduct a full and thorough search of every pocket in my wallet and my handbag to locate the correct reward card (only attempted when the queue is less than 2 people) or I don’t bother looking and accept the receipt, nodding vigorously when told that I can bring the receipt with me next time and have the points added to my card then – come on, does anyone do that? Surely, in the age of phenomenal technology someone can produce one card that stores all the reward points for various shops on it. I’d have a go at creating one myself if my technological expertise extended beyond endlessly recreating new passwords for various sites for which I have forgotten the original one.

–  Self-service checkout tills:  one word – scrap! They don’t work and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in one of my local shops where the self-service checkout till is manned full-time by a member of the shop staff – self-defeating rather than self-service.  Add to this that “unknown item in the bagging area” makes me feel irrationally violent and more pre-disposed to self-harm than self-service and it seems quite clear to me that they were a crap idea (like the taxi lane on the M4) and should be quietly but swiftly removed.

– Recycling/bin collections:  I know this won’t make me popular with environmentalists but if I’m really honest I yearn for those days when I could just dump everything in one bin.  As it is, I spend (waste? bad pun) time every day debating (internal dialogue ) whether such-and-such is recyclable and if it is which particular recycling bin should it go in.  Then there is the “should I rinse it?” issue and the constant low level anxiety that you’ve got it all wrong.  As for the food waste bins, I’m sure I’m not the only one who regrets, on a twice weekly basis, overfilling the kitchen caddy and then having to transfer it to the outside bin without it splitting all over me and having to revisit all of the last week’s meals.

– Too small parking spaces: when I am out and about and not worrying about my refuse issues, this vexes me hugely.  Multi-storey car parks have become a minefield of worry and questions – “If I get into that space, will I be able to get out again?”, “If I get into that space, will I be able to get out of my car?”, “If I get into that space and out of my car, will I be able to get back in my car when I return?”, “If I get into that space, will the person parked next to me be able to get back in their car?” and so it goes on.  It’s high time that we accept that cars are bigger now and scrub out the old lines and get one of those little wheely things that draws white lines and make parking spaces bigger.

I know what you’re thinking, she’s always moaning.  What about something positive?  OK, well here we go – if I were elected to serve, then these are two programmes I would put in place for the benefit of the people of this country:  Firstly, free watches for all builders, plumbers and tradesmen with a free course on telling the time and the importance of time management.  9 o’clock means 9 o’clock not 12 o’clock or even 9 o’clock three days later.  Secondly, an admittedly niche proposal,  which came to me this morning as my daughter started back at school  – I would initiate a free hairdressing scheme for all mothers of girls for the all important “school hair-up” – how can I be expected to compete with those who spent their childhood years plaiting horses’ manes?

Right, that’s enough of power that I’ll never have.  What what your agenda be?

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Spoilt for choice

Gola

Gola (Photo credit: masochismtango)

Choice, choice and more choice.  Options, options and more options. Life is so complicated nowadays it is a wonder that we are not all completely paralysed with fear of making the wrong choices in even the most simplest areas of our life – what to have for breakfast, what TV channel to watch or what fruit to eat as a snack.  Back in the seventies life was (relatively) simple: take the three things I have just mentioned – breakfast was cereal and/or toast (or croissant on high days and holidays); there were only three TV channels (until the major excitement of Channel 4) and there were only three fruits – apple, orange, banana (and occasionally the very exotic pear) – end of.  Nowadays we have to choose between a million types of potential breakfast items (my daughter almost persuaded me this morning that a sugar-covered donut would be OK on the grounds that it is bread-like and had jam inside); there are so many TV channels that flicking through them all takes the same time as watching the omnibus edition of EastEnders and as for fruit…my children think it is perfectly normal to have mango, kiwi, pomegranate, pineapple and pawpaw and the only person who still eats good old apples and bananas in my household is me.

Although people my age may find the choice available nowadays quite bamboozling, it is perfectly ordinary for our children.  If I were to present my children, for example, with the choice between an apple and a banana, they would almost certainly say “is that it?” They expect choice, they demand choice.  This was very starkly demonstrated to me a while ago when I took a large group of boys aged 7 to a restaurant.  All the boys chose their drinks – variations of coca cola, orange juice and apple juice – until one boy who seemed to have difficulty deciding on what to drink.  I read him the options from the extensive menu and without hesitation he said “No, I don’t want any of those, I think I’ll have an elderflower pressé” – jaw-dropping – without batting an eyelid he rejected a fairly comprehensive list of drinks for a completely different drink which by anyone’s standards sounds slightly strange coming from a 7 year old’s mouth.  Needless to say this child will never be coming for a play date in my house in case he discovers that we only have the clearly inferior “Ribena” on offer.

Take shoes as another example.  When I was young, footwear was very simple  – girls wore flat Mothercare sandals (and I mean flat, totally pancake flat) in the summer, t-bar shoes in the winter (a very lucky few, whom I envied greatly, were allowed patent) and Dunlop Green Flash for sport.  This morning I have been trying to buy my son some trainers – it has so far taken me the best part of an hour online without resolution as I have waded through hundreds upon hundreds of trainers – astro, cross-trainer, running blah, blah, blah. There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as a plain simple trainer – in fact you can get any sort of trainer as long as it is not plain and simple.  Of course, neon, flashing, air-pocketed, ankle-supporting, breathable trainers also come at a high price – criminally high price.

Choice has permeated through every single fibre of our lives. Man’s best friend – the dog.  In my childhood, dogs basically came in sizes and colours and if you wanted to get technical they did officially have a breed name. My first dog was quite big and black and white and my second dog was small and brown.  Not today, oh no, no, no. It would be very very amateur to describe dogs by mere colour and size.  Today we have so many new breeds that one could be forgiven for thinking that someone somewhere is having a real  laugh at our expense, creating such preposterous breed names as cockapoo, spanador, labradoodle, shepadoodle and spoodle…..

Ok so I know you are thinking “here she goes again on one of her rants”…but I do actually, unusually for me, have a serious point to make. Not only do I think that all is this choice is frankly bad for our children and contributes greatly to the highly pressurised society in which we live where simplicity doesn’t appear to be an option, but if you stand back for a moment and consider what we have and what so many other people do not have, this level of choice seems at best ridiculous if not totally grotesque.  How wrong is it that we are wasting our lives worrying about whether to have rye bread, pitta bread, multigrain bread, half and half bread when half the world’s population has nothing to eat at all? How wrong is it that a 7 year old is asking for an elderflower pressé when half the world’s population does not have clean drinking water? I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel deeply uneasy and really very uncomfortable.  Our children are not just spoilt for choice, they are spoilt – full stop.  It’s easy to say but I don’t think it is easy to rectify –  some may think that all this choice signifies progress but I am not sure, if anything it is widening the gap between those who have and those who have not and I find this very worrying for future generations.  What do you think?

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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?

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!