Yum Yum Moments

Delicious cakes in Marks and Spencer

Delicious cakes in Marks and Spencer (Photo credit: Gran Canaria Go)

My middle child and I had a row about “Yum Yums” yesterday.  “Yum Yums” for the unitiated are sugar-covered doughnut-type cakes to die-for from Marks & Spencer. I bought Yum Yums as a snack (before you shout, yes, I am aware of the endless lecturing in the media at the moment about sugar being more dangerous than alcohol, drugs, smoking, skydiving, solo circumnavigating the globe etc) thinking that my son would be pleased. I bought them with him in mind, a sort of bribery to get him to his tennis lesson after school.  His response: “I hate Yum Yums, yuk, disgusting”.

So what you may ask?  In itself, nothing new, same old “never getting it right” I suppose.  Predictably, our interaction degenerated from therein to what can only be described as a right royal dressing-down by child of mother. I could rattle on about lack of respect, a need for firmer boundaries, a lecture on courtesy etc but actually although all of the above is valid what I actually started to think about what something quite different: success and how you measure it.

What has my child’s abject horror at the sight of a harmless Yum Yum got to do with that?  Being a parent, particularly a stay-at-home parent, is a job like all other jobs in some ways but a job unlike any other in many ways. Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of parenting is the lack of any sort of reassurance that you are doing well, any external acknowledgement of success.  In fact, many people regard staying at home with your children as the soft option.

Many days with children can feel like an endless critique, an interminable ‘Yum Yum moment’. Conversations with children can become negotiations of the greatest sensitivity, requiring the skills of the United Nations.  However when resolution is reached, there is no-one there to say “hey, you did a good job there” or to high-five you. There is no-one to marvel at your patience and ingenuity.  There are no resolution skills courses, no time management courses, no presentation courses to go on in order to further your professionalism.  All this and you are dealing, on a minute by minute basis, with little people who often defy all logic and all reason whilst throwing in the odd tantrum or left field comment such as “I want to be in another family not ours” (my daughter’s most recent refrain) to sorely test your people management skills.

It is not surprising then that we often question our parenting skills, wonder whether we are failing.  We have no annual appraisal, no slap on the back, certainly no bonus or salary increase.  So how do we measure our success?  Success lies in all those moments which make the ‘Yum Yum moment’ worthwhile – when your child is happy, laughing, doing well at school and when they tell you that they love you.  Those moments far outweigh the ‘Yum Yum moments’, they are precious and to be cherished.

There will not be much external approbation and you will have to put up with the glazed-over look at dinner parties when you say you are a stay-at-home mother.  Your successes will not be shouted from the rooftops (although reassuringly your failings will remain largely unnoticed too!) but you will know when you’ve done well and the highs are incomparable with the highs from the average job. It’s worth remembering that actually you are doing the most difficult, most relentless, job of all even if you sometimes doubt your ability to succeed and your hard work goes largely unrecognised.  It is OK to punch the air sometimes and go “yeah” – anyway, probably no-one will notice and if they do, so what?

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HS2 – the end of the line? Politics – who cares?

HS2 Crosses Here

HS2 Crosses Here (Photo credit: R~P~M)

I am going to do something a little bit different today with my blog piece.  Don’t worry, I am not going to stop ranting.  I said a little bit different, not completely out of character. Today I want to drag myself away from the usual preoccupations of a 40 something year old mother of three and write about something which makes me both very cross and also seriously concerned about the future of politics in this country.

What’s got me so worked up?  Yesterday, I did a little bit of work on a briefing for the campaign against HS2 (the High Speed 2 rail link for those who don’t live in the UK and for those who do but don’t think it will affect them in the slightest (more on this later)).  Firstly I have to declare an interest – I live very close to the proposed line in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  I can almost hear you all switch off – “oh she’s a NIMBY”. Yes, I am a NIMBY but then isn’t everyone?  If a motorway or a railway line was going to be built through your back garden, you wouldn’t welcome it with open arms, would you? NIMBY is a totally meaningless expression, used as a cheap stock insult thrown at protesters to try and undermine their protests and dismiss the validity of their viewpoint.

So, yes, I am a NIMBY but wake-up everyone else who doesn’t live anywhere near the proposed line, this project will affect you, will cost you and will not benefit you.  This Government is using the word NIMBY to alienate us from you, to pull the wool over your eyes, to convince you that this is a project of huge economic, environmental and business potential.

I am not going to bore you with a mountain of statistics and figures – that would be extremely tedious and I don’t even need to because the arguments in favour of HS2 are so fragile and tenuous that you don’t have to dig very deep to expose its nonsensical foundation. Suffice to say that HS2 will undoubtedly cost way more than is predicted as these projects have a habit of doing and the purported benefits are highly disputable.  The latest strategic case is built on frankly questionable assumptions and flawed projections, many of which the Government has failed to provide evidence to support, and as I suspect happens with so many of these projects, once you look behind the headline figures, the calculations are a moveable feast, open to some quite blatant manipulation to suit purpose.

Forget the numbers.  HS2 does not stack up on any level.  All I keep hearing is how we need this super-duper railway system to rival those in other countries like China, France and Germany.  Hello, why do we? One glance at the map answers that question.  We are not a large country, people do not have to travel huge distances between cities – London to Birmingham cannot be compared to Shanghai to Beijing – that’s patently ridiculous.

Apparently we desperately need more capacity as all our trains are overcrowded and business travel numbers will dramatically increase in the future. I don’t agree. With the exception of some extremely busy commuter routes, most of our trains run half empty and surely a dramatic increase in business travel is unlikely as technology progresses further and the need to meet face-to-face diminishes? Even if it does increase, why does anyone need to get to Birmingham and beyond any quicker? The Government seems to be assuming that all business travellers sit on the train, twiddling their thumbs and playing “Angry Birds” on their phones. Most business travellers work on the train – in fact, many relish the opportunity to get things done which they don’t have time for at other times of the day.  Where’s the economic benefit to shorter journey times? Why not just upgrade current railway lines – way cheaper, just as effective?

So no real economic benefit. What about environmental benefit?  The argument about HS2 providing “green” benefits has been largely abandoned – it just does not.  Instead it will destroy some of our most beautiful ancient woodlands and habitats, something which we have a responsibility to preserve for future generations. Take where I live, for example, in the Chilterns AONB – how ironic that I can’t do anything to my house without jumping through thousands of hoops with planning etc but the Government can authorise a train line which will scythe through the countryside, destroying mile upon mile of both land and housing.

I know what you’re thinking – may be she has got a point but frankly it is not really going to affect me.  Wrong. If you are a tax payer, you will be paying for this. Is this where you want to see your money spent (wasted?). Think about your own local area for a minute – is there perhaps a hospital that is being forced to close, a school that requires some serious investment or public services which require upgrading? Wouldn’t you rather see money spent on these things that actually do affect you, rather than a wasteful, unnecessary rail link which appears to be nothing more than a vanity project, a useless legacy which this Government seems determined to leave for future generations?

Looking more closely at HS2 has left me ever more concerned about politics in this country. It is no wonder that increasing numbers of us believe absolutely nothing which comes out of politicians’ mouthes. HS2 is so clearly, in my mind, one of the most outrageously wasteful projects of recent times and the fact that the Government is still trying to “persuade” us that it is for our benefit only goes to make me mistrust their motivations on all other issues both at home and abroad. The result – well me – I’m  mistrustful, skeptical, cross at the actions of politicians, verging on “giving up” on politics. What about for our children?  What sort of faith can they possibly have in our political system if it is so patently not acting in their best interests, if there is always another agenda? In my mind this can only lead to a generation of young people who are totally apathetic about and disinterested in politics.  This is a serious state of affairs and one which politicians need to address urgently.  Trust has to be rebuilt, respect for the people that politicians serve needs to be regained.  HS2 is a small issue on the world stage, of course I appreciate that, but a generation of young people who are simply not interested in politics is not.

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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…

Unsung Heroes

Perranporth - best foot forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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