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.

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How to tell if a woman is over 40…

a-ha 11

a-ha 11 (Photo credit: thierry.cote)

Do you think she’s in her late thirties or early forties?  How often do we guesstimate someone’s age? All the time.  At my age, the obsession of looking young/old for your actual biological age becomes fanatical.  So to make this job easier, I thought I would devise a little test which will accurately pin down whether a woman is under 40 or over 40. I realise this is of no great consequence nor life-changing in anyway but it’s kept me amused for the last half an hour and on a Monday I’ll run with anything that I find semi-amusing.

So, here goes, a woman is over 40 if…

– she has begun to express a desire to or has actually started to visit garden centres on a regular basis.  The odd trip to a garden centre to buy a ready planted-up hanging basket does not count and should be taken as a sure sign that a woman is still in her thirties. The sign to look out for that this has been replaced with regular and much longer visits is the acquisition of a garden centre loyalty card.

– she suddenly cuts a fringe into her hair.  This budget Botox alternative is a desperate attempt to cover up the wrinkles on the forehead but is almost as obvious an admission of ageing as the inability to raise your eyebrows after Botox.

– she has a glass of water for every glass of wine. This is a combination of middle age sensible, responsible behaviour and a morbid fear of the forties’ hangover. Although largely effective at avoiding the “hammer in the brain” feeling the next morning (and for the next 5 days when you are over 40), it does have the rather undesirable side effect of requiring numerous bathroom visitations through the night.

– she visibly shudders at the mention of wearing little shorts with opaque tights underneath. Never in the history of fashion to my mind has there been a trend which is so not designed for the over 40s. Any woman sporting this trend is either under 40, an ex-supermodel or frankly delusional.

– she knows exactly who Morten Harket and John Taylor from Duran Duran are. Say no more. Enough said.  She also knows who Harry Styles is but is acutely aware that she is old enough to have gone through school, university, two years of a job and then given birth to him.

– she remembers writing SWALK and LOL (original meaning) on letters. She also can’t quite bring herself to writing ‘u’ for ‘you’ and ‘4’ for ‘for’ when texting and always texts in full sentences – noun, verb, object etc.

– she always tries to stay in on either Friday or Saturday night.  The ability to manage two nights out in a row significantly diminishes after the age of 40 and becomes nigh on impossible after 45.  Anyway, staying in with a bottle of wine, a takeaway and Ant and Dec on the TV is ideal, isn’t it?

– she remembers when the Blue Peter garden got vandalised and it couldn’t just be fixed with double-sided sticky tape and “who shot JR?”.  These were her first encounters with crime.

– she suddenly understands the point of a lip liner pencil. Having always thought it was yet another one of those beauty cons, she now realises that without it she runs the risk of being mistaken for a clown in Billy Smart’s Circus.

– Finally, she starts blogging and banging on about it being her time now….

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.

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…

My Room 101

Room 101

Room 101 (Photo credit: gusset)

Last night I was watching “Room 101” – for those who haven’t seen it, this programme is half an hour of semi-famous people arguing the case for things/people/subjects they dislike and which they believe should be consigned to “Room 101”.  I rather enjoy this programme largely because I have what could be described as a low irritation threshold.  So I thought I would create my own Room 101 in my blog and consign everything that I dislike to it and encourage you to do the same.  So I am going to start it off with a few ideas – let me know what you think.

“Thank you for waiting, your call is very valuable to us and we will be with you as soon as the next representative becomes available” – this is just plain untrue.  If my call really was valuable to them, then they would bloody well answer it rather than subject me to half an hour of piped “Greensleeves” or the like.  I’d much rather they were honest with me and said “actually your call is not at all important to this, we can’t be a***d to answer because we are having a tea break and discussing altogether more important issues like who Becky got off with last night at the office do – you’ll just have to wait”.

Supermarket cashiers asking me in a loud voice whether “I need bags”.  Isn’t it perfectly obvious that unlike Mrs Smug and her collection of jute bags in the line behind me, that I need bags unless I am planning to carry my shopping one piece at a time to the car?  I have no objection to paying for carrier bags, I just object to the moral overtones of the question.

Hairdressers asking where I have been on holiday, where I am going on holiday this year and where I am planning on going on holiday in 2020. To my mind, all hairdressing qualifications should include an “how to make interesting conversation” module.  Just like the British always discuss the weather, hairdressers always discuss holidays. This is all done in the full knowledge that they are not remotely interested in where I am going or have been, and I can say with certainty that I am not remotely interested in where they are going or have been.  In fact, if I’m honest I quite like the “no conversation” option in the hairdresser – for me, it is the perfect opportunity to catch up on celebrity magazine gossip without having to fork out for the magazines myself.

Handheld shopping scanners in supermarkets.  Now, I like this idea, in theory – mainly because it makes shopping with three children vaguely bearable by giving them something to do rather than push me to the edge of a nervous breakdown.  However, in reality it can fast become a totally terrifying experience which ends up with you protesting your innocence over one unscanned object and fearing that you are going to end up down the nick.  I don’t think the staff in my local supermarket have ever looked at me in the same way since I mistakenly forgot to scan a yoghurt – I can see suspicion in their eyes. In addition, there is always the possibility of being picked for the random “rescan” which totally negates the reason for scanning in the first place (although if you are “spot on”, you can’t resist a little air punch and “Yes!”).

Candles.  Everywhere I look in my house, there are candles – you could be for forgiven for thinking I indulge in séances on a regular basis. I was never remotely interested in candles in my twenties and early thirties but somehow I am now candle-addicted (not sure what the word is for that).  The fact is that I don’t even light them very often, I just collect them.  I especially cannot resist discounted candles.  Even now at my desk in my postage stamp sized room, I can count three single candles and two 3 wick candles all with competing fragrances.  Candles have become the present of choice for someone you can’t think what to give them.  Candles are omnipresent and I think it is time to start a revolt.

Hamsters.  What a pointless pet. Why would anyone choose a pet that spends its days asleep and its nights rotating endlessly in its wheel? I get dogs, I get cats (although I loathe them and they loathe me), I even get rabbits at a pinch but hamsters – just wrong. I had this brilliant idea once (well at least I thought it was brilliant) to start a rent-a-pet business where you rent your pet of choice and its accoutrements for a 3 month basis with the option to buy at the end.  I thought this would be the perfect solution for those children who want a pet but lose interest almost immediately leaving you to look after it.  I realise that perhaps the RSPCA would not be thrilled with this business idea and I’m not sure it works for some pets like dogs but for hamsters, it’s perfect.

Stonehenge.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of historical sites but I don’t understand this  one.  I think I must be missing something and I have to admit that although I have passed it many times on the A303, I have never stopped to look properly.  It just seems to me to be a rather disappointing circle of different sized and shaped stones.  Perhaps I am not being very imaginative but if I was a tourist visiting the UK, I would find it distinctly underwhelming especially after spending the best part of an hour crawling up to it on the permanently congested A303.

People who bring objects to the “Antiques Roadshow” which they well know are worth a fortune and then feign smug surprise at the expert’s valuation. Now I know this dislike of mine is partly fuelled by envy but these people are not actors and it is all too obvious when the antiques expert tells them that some obscure (often quite ugly) piece of pottery is actually 15th century and worth upwards of £20,000 – “You’re joking, I had no idea” – “Yeah, right, you’ve already got it insured for £30,000” and then the follow-up comment of “but the value doesn’t matter, I’ll never sell it because it has huge sentimental and personal value, I couldn’t  possibly part with it” – one word, b******s!

So there you have it – as I said I have a low irritation threshold and this is merely the tip of the iceberg.  What would you consign to Room 101?