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…

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Quetiquette

Queuing for Muse @ Teignmouth - 4th Sept 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Operation Christmas School Holidays

Household Cavalry on Garter Day

Household Cavalry on Garter Day (Photo credit: hmcotterill)

Operation Christmas School Holidays:  Commander-in-chief – me; soldiers under my command – 3

Day 1: injuries sustained – one bruised chin (from scaling the kitchen table during dinner), one  minor knock to head during a skirmish (friendly fire incident (between brothers)). Morale – high; obedience – minimal.  Some issues with chain of command.

Yes, it is that time of year again – my favourite – the school holidays with the added stress of Christmas thrown in too.  So I have decided to adopt a different approach this year and treat the entire holidays as a military campaign.  No doubt there will be victories and defeats along the way but I am determined to instil respect for authority and behaviour fitting of those representing their family on the world stage.

I wouldn’t say the first day has been an unqualified success.  My first hurdle has been a degree of overfamiliarity amongst the ranks – notably, I have been addressed by one soldier as “mate” throughout the day which is not a form of address that I feel befits my status and as “idiot” by another soldier when I suggested that he might like to entertain himself rather than play Fifa 12 on the X-box.

A second issue that has arisen has been the inability of any of the soldiers to sit anywhere near the table when eating or in fact sit at all.  Indeed it has become patently obvious why a “mess” (in military speak) is named thus when you look at my kitchen floor post eating.  I am definitely going to have to crack down on this over the coming few weeks and will need to form a strategy for coping at mealtimes (i.e. me coping with their disregard for the food I’ve cooked, table I’ve laid, floor I’ve cleaned etc).

Perhaps the issue which has raised the most dissent amongst the ranks today has been my (some might say ambitious) decision to spend a day without any TV or electronic devices. In retrospect I am not convinced this was a strategically sound decision for the first day of the holidays and I suspect that the person who suffered the most was in fact, me.  After a rather trying start to the day, I can report that the troops rallied and even attempted a group activity by mid-afternoon (decorating Christmas tree shaped ginger biscuits).  Astonishingly, this activity was completed with minimum destruction to the kitchen and without a single skirmish.

So here we are towards the end of the day.  One soldier has been granted leave to attend a local pantomime; one soldier is watching a division 2 football match from circa 1976 (why?  I have no idea) and the youngest soldier is “learning” Spanish from Dora the Explorer.  I do have to report that the TV has now been switched back on – I do believe it is important for personnel to have down-time before re-entering the fray.

What about me?  Well, I need down-time too – leading is so exhausting – and I am going to reward myself with a glass of wine.  Mission accomplished – Day 1 completed, all troops present and correct.  As for Day 2, we’ll be joined by Field Marshal Husband who shares command – sort of – at weekends. Progress report to follow.

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!