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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Two burst pipes, one flat tyre and a partridge in a pear tree…

The Big Freeze UK

The Big Freeze UK (Photo credit: niOS)

Two burst pipes, one flat tyre and a partridge in a pear tree.  Yes, it has been a truly fabulous week and to top it all, we’ve woken up to snow….again.

This has been a landmark year in my relationship with snow.  In the past, I have always greeted the white stuff with great affection and childish excitement.  In fact, nothing at the grand old age of 40 has the ability to roll back the years to childhood more than pulling back the curtains and seeing snow.

However, relations have got a bit frosty this year.  This morning I pulled back the curtains and my heart sank.  It is two days after the first official day of Spring and yet again my world is shrouded in white.  It is not right and I’ve got this feeling that the snow and I are going to fall out this time.

The children didn’t even bother to look up from the TV when I announced the snow’s arrival this morning.  Seen it all before. I guess the only positive from their snow-weary response is that no-one has yet suggested that we must go sledging.

Now don’t get me wrong – I understand how magical sledging is for children but the magic has sort of worn off by the age of 40 for women.  I say “women” advisedly because in my experience men turn into 5 year old versions of themselves when they get within a metre of a sledge.

A woman’s experience of sledging is very different to that of a man.  First you have to find all the winter clothes, dress three children in winter clothes, take all the winter clothes off again when they need to go to the loo.  Finally you get out of the house, usually to be hit full in the face by a snowball thrown by one of the children who inevitably finds this hysterically amusing, whilst you are at this point just mildly hysterical. You then have to haul the kids on the sledges to the slope of choice and stand for approximately 2 hours in the freezing cold whilst they go up and down, only moving to tend to the inevitable first aid crises and to extricate at least one child from a close encounter with some brambles. Of course there is the added dubious “entertainment” of watching grown men flinging themselves down a slope on a small piece of plastic designed for someone a fraction of their weight. Then it is off home again, at least one child now whinging about how cold they are and refusing to go any further.  This whole experience then has to be repeated at 3 hourly intervals until the snow has either disappeared or one child has injured themselves to a point where sledging is now inadvisable.

I know I am sounding very ungrateful for the joy that snow brings to children but frankly I’m sick of it this year.  It has made me realise that I’m not sure that I could live in a country where snow is a permanent winter fixture.  Obviously the UK’s inability to cope with more than a centimetre of snow doesn’t help – for goodness sake, they even shut Sellafield yesterday not because of some “incident” but just so the staff could get home safely!

I think perhaps my antipathy towards the white stuff is less about the snow itself and more about a yearning for this interminable winter to end. Maybe it is an age thing, but this winter has gone on for far too long.  In part, the problem has been the lack of blue skies.  I don’t mind the cold as long as the sun is out but this winter in the UK it would appear that the sun has taken a sabbatical.

As is the norm in the UK, we have been bombarded with weather statistics by the media.  This weekend is apparently the coldest March weekend in 50 years. The media are revelling in compounding our misery by showing footage of people sitting in daffodil filled Hyde Park this weekend last year where temperatures soared above 20 degrees.  No country talks about the weather more than we do but ironically no country is less prepared for any extreme  weather (and really it is not that extreme is it?) than we are.

I’m off now to hide the sledge and put all the snow clothes up in the loft….just in case, my children get some misguided idea that going sledging would be fun.  Then, I’m going to pull myself together and stop whinging – I’m starting to sound like one of my children on the way back from the toboggan run – and try to enjoy what is hopefully the last blanket of white for several months.

Cold, white stuff…

Snow Cat

Snow Cat (Photo credit: clickclique)

Everybody knows that the weather is a national obsession for the British and no more is this true than when it snows.  Most of the UK is currently residing under a few inches of snow – yes, for my Canadian readers, I do mean a few inches not a few feet.  Now, I know for Canadians a few inches is laughable, not even worth mentioning, but for us, Brits, these couple of inches of cold, white stuff is dominating all news headlines pushing far more important events unfolding on the world stage into the realms of “And finally, in …..”.

Never before in my lifetime has snow being so widely and dramatically predicted, talked of, warned about (and indeed correctly forecasted which is unusual in this country where our weather forecasters are inclined to get it wrong more often than right).   With pinpoint accuracy we were told when the snow would start, how long it would last for, how much would settle etc.

If you live in one of those countries which are covered by a blanket of snow for months on end in the winter, you may well ask why such drama is necessary – after all it’s a little bit of snow.  Let me tell you the reason – we can’t cope with it, the country grinds to a halt.  Add to this the fact that all Brits love talking about the weather (and moaning about it ) and you’ve got the “perfect storm”.  The TV is full of endless news reports from around the country showing closed airports, closed schools, closed railway stations and empty supermarket shelves.  Do you know what?  We, Brits, love all this – weather drama!

In addition, it gives us a naturally reserved nation the opportunity to “all be in it together” – we start talking to people we don’t know (very un-British) in the streets, in the shops – “Isn’t it cold?  Do you think it’s going to snow?” or “apparently we’re expecting 10 inches of snow”.  There is nothing the Brits like more than a feeling of its “us v the rest of the world”.  Nothing galvanises us more – we are united!

Snow also brings the menfolk the opportunity to behave as children (although many don’t appear to need snow as an excuse for this).  Nothing demonstrates this more than snowball fights.  To me, snowball fights are nothing more than a legitimate excuse to regress to the age of about 8 and then pelt those you are not terribly fond of with large balls of ice and snow, all under the guise of “having fun”.  I have witnessed some pretty aggressive snowball fights over the last few days and it never fails to amaze me how entertaining men find these to be.  In my experience, most men are unable to be out in snow for any length of time without hurling it at someone – bizarre but I guess explicable by the fact that the snow gives a legitimacy to something which if it was done with any other material would end up in court.

So today I sit here at my computer, looking out at a white world, with one child whose school is shut (health & safety again) and the prospect of yet another afternoon of watching my kids hurling themselves down a slope, on what is essentially an overpriced plastic tray, trying to avoid the brambles at the bottom and failing.  I like snow but I am over this particular “sprinkling” – come on schools, please open and get on with it like every other country.

40 and no washing line…

“40 and no washing line” – that’s what one of my friends said to me today and it got me thinking about the things that at the grand age of 40 we don’t have but probably should.  As it happens, I don’t have a washing line but I hadn’t attached any particular importance to it until today – actually, I lie – I did once have a washing line but I think it got used perhaps twice in the whole year – the UK is not a country for washing lines – we do talk about the weather incessantly for a reason!

So what haven’t I got that I probably should have or indeed what should I have done but I have never done? Well, one thing springs to mind – a fairly innocuous thing but very significant I feel – I have never ever eaten a kebab from a kebab van.  Of this I am very proud – I managed 4 years at university without ever succumbing to the midnight urge to visit the van on the High Street.  Admittedly, the urge has lessened to nothing over the past 20 years but still the fact remains, I am a kebab virgin.

Actually, if I am honest, my last year of my thirties has been marked by obtaining and doing many things that I’ve never had/done before – presumably all part of the sense of impending doom that 40 throws at you.  In the last year alone I have had my ears pierced (strange I know – definitely midlife crisis), gone from blonde to brunette, acquired far too many slow cookers (refrained from a rice cooker – just don’t get those – what’s wrong with a saucepan?), started entering strange village photo competitions (and winning – even stranger!), baking cakes and making meringues on holiday abroad (worryingly strange) and most concerningly of all is that if pushed, I would have to say my favourite shop is “Robert Dyas” – yes, you’re right the writing has been on the wall for a while and for my friend worrying about a washing line – well, that’s small fry!

I would love to know what you have reached 40 without having/doing.  Help me feel normal!