Monday, 31 December 2007

Plus ça change, etc...

It's New Year's Eve, and despite my best efforts, my mind keeps wandering off and having a go at the annual stock take. I've told it to go and sit quietly in a corner and behave, but it just won't listen.

It's a tough one. I stay at home with my boy now, so what in the name of Quantifiable Achievements can I offer to appease my tragically disaffected ego this year?

I can't actually think of any.

There are the generics of course - I've kept The Boy happy and healthy, and The Husband in clean pants and socks. Priceless, or worthless? Answers on a postcard please...

Still, a quick reference to the progressive educationalist's lexicon makes things all better by allowing me to term 2007 a year of deferred success. Or I could take a peek at the zoologist's vocabulary, in which case, it is simply a diapause.

In any case, what it amounts to is that this is the first time in 14 years in which I have reached New Year's Eve;

  • with the same man and
  • in the same house and
  • doing exactly the same job as I was at the last one.

Staying put isn't something I do well - ever since I discovered the joy of exercising control over my life, I have taken [almost] every opportunity to exercise it by packing up and clearing off whenever I found myself generally dissatisfied and disillusioned with whatever aspect of my life was in the spotlight that year.

Did it work? Materially, probably yes. Emotionally, no not in the slightest.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, as they say.

2008 should bring another house move though, as we need to clear out of here before the dreaded issue of Good Schools starts knocking on the door. It's currently a toss-up between Slightly Overpriced-on-Sea, or Slightly Overrated County Town, taking into account a) Good Schools b) The Husband's Commute and c) my unfortunate tendency to go slightly insane if I live/work somewhere that I dislike.

In other news, The Husband is very sick today. Whilst I feel incredibly sorry for him, I'm also a little relieved that we don't have to go through the whole 'what are we doing for New Year?' bollocks again. My plan so far is to open a bottle of champagne and drink it over a couple of hours in a hot bubble bath with a good book, and hope that he is well enough to fish me out when I'm drunk and wrinkly and toss me into my bed. It sounds like bliss, and I can't wait.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 27 December 2007

A Musical Interlude

Dear FUNtastic!,

Three days ago I had never heard of your band. Two days ago, my little boy unwrapped a Christmas present from his grandparents to discover a copy of Jingle Bell Baby, the Christmas carol board book and accompanying sing-along CD on which you perform.

It's a beautiful book, one which I am sure we will treasure for years to come. But I need to have a serious word about the CD.

Now, I do realise that you are all highly trained fine young singers from 'Europe's leading school for rock and pop musicians' (whatever that means), and I am a comparatively fossilized, poker-arsed choral-singing Nazi, with a generic music degree, but please bear with me.

It may well be the case that my only foray into the world of professional recording to date has been as a backing singer on Roberto Alagana's Christmas Album, and I probably wouldn't have done that if I hadn't needed the fee to get my car released from Croydon Council's car pound (the bastards), but that's another story entirely. As an accomplished choral singer, I've sung for the Pope, won an international choral competition, and had a 4* review in The Times. By and large, I do feel qualified to offer some constructive criticism here.

I've seen more than enough Fame Academy, Pop Idol and X Factor in my time to know how you crazy kids like to sing these days. And you can can sing, I grant you that. But please note the following very carefully, and take it on board for any future sing-along CD projects.

All that swooping and scooping up to every single syllable, the manic over-embellishment and general improvised faffing around with the timing makes the sing-along CD utterly impossible to actually sing-along with. It simply can't be done. And even if it could, there's not a hope in hell I'd encourage my little boy to wreck his voice with pop-star warbling before he's even old enough to understand the difference between bel canto and con belto.

I did wonder if I was being a bit too high-brow choral-anorak about it, so I played the extracts from your website to The Husband, who happens to be an accomplished rock musican in his spare time.

He was sat in the bath, unable to reach the volume button, but his confused and increasingly frantic mutterings of 'Karaoke Mariah Carey' and 'Please. Make. It. Stop.', were enough to tell me that it's not just me.

On a serious note, I love the concept of what you're doing, and I really hope you can find a way to make the idea work. Keep it simple, remember that your sing-alongers are mostly ordinary parents and grandparents, who can't (and won't) swoop around every note like a pub & club circuit Whitney Houston impersonator doing I Will Always Love You after a few too many Bacardi Breezers, and I think you might be on to a winner.

Kind Regards,

Friday, 21 December 2007

Coping with a Toddler: 10 Easy Steps to Keeping Your Sanity

A few weeks ago, I posted some introspection revealing my huge insecurites about dealing with my little boy as he took his first steps and officially entered his toddlerhood.

I've never been one for going all gooey in the presence of small children. Babies are cute enough when they're not screaming or pooing, but there's always been something about toddlers and their demanding, interrupting, juice-spilling, house-demolishing ways that had previously made me want to scrub my toilet bowl with their irritating little heads. So it didn't come as any surprise that I found this stage hard. Really, horribly, insanely hard.

However, today, I think I have just about cracked it. I haven't so much tamed the toddler as been tamed by the toddler, and despite the occasional bad day, I am now loving this amazing time.

Here's how I do it.

  1. You know those expectations of normality and the ability to get stuff done that you were delighted to re-discover once the horrendous, sleep-deprived exhaustion that is the newborn phase was finally over?
  2. Forget about them.
  3. Ask everyone around you to do the same.
  4. You know how you had just about got used to feeling in control of your days again, and able to get around at something resembling the speed of a normal functioning adult?
  5. Forget about it.
  6. Ask everyone around you to do the same.
  7. Remember how your house used to look?
  8. Forget about it.
  9. Ask everyone around you to do the same.
  10. Develop a sound risk assessment strategy, and stick to it in the face of all reasoned debate.*

What it all seemed to boil down to was as simple as finding the ability to remove the cork, say 'bollocks' to what everyone else appears to be doing, and just give in to the mayhem.

It's so very easy to feel insecure about what you're doing, or intimidated by what other mothers seem to be doing, but my observation of and conversations with other mothers tell me that on balance, we're all just working to our own priorites.

The mother who religiously cooks wholesome fresh organic meals for her little darling almost invariably sticks him in front of the TV while she does it each day, and the relaxed, happy mum with the well-adjusted siblings almost certainly lives in a toy and washing-strewn pig sty. We all have our ways of getting through, and I'm certainly casting no aspersions nor making any value judgments here. I'm far too far from perfect myself...not to mention that it would be rude and unpleasant and make me a Very Bad Person Indeed.

*When I say 'Risk Assessment Strategy', what I mean is a foolproof way for picking one's battles when the little buggers get testy. These days, if my boy is unlikely to hurt himself badly, to hurt anyone else (or the dog) or to break something, I tend to let stuff go.

If challenged, I find that an effective strategy is to say 'Well I'm at my battleground limit just now so which of the following [dangerous and destructive] behaviours would you like me to be letting slide instead?'. Provided your list is long enough, your critics soon get the message and back off.

This will probably be my last post before the madness that is our family Christmas gets underway, so I'd like to wish everyone who finds themselves here a Happy Whatever It Is You Celebrate In Late December, and a Fabulous 2008!

Monday, 17 December 2007

The goose isn't the only one...

Christmas is coming,
And my arse is getting fat
Half a stone in just ten days,
I can't go on like that!

I've had three Christmas dinners,
And a number of mince pies.
I guess those second helpings
Helped to pile it on my thighs.

But still, with 9 days left to go,
Perhaps if I am good;
Have healthy food, less wine - my jeans
Might fit me as they should.

By Christmas Day, I'll look superb,
Those extra pounds all gone,
Then I'll eat the Christmas Pudding,
And pile them all back on!

Friday, 14 December 2007

Gift Receipts Get My Goat

This week, I have spent just about every spare moment immersed in Christmas cards, envelopes, address books, stamps, wrapping paper, tags and presents. I have made good progress, and am now just about tolerably organised considering that there are still 11 days to go before the F&?*!ve Season really gets underway.

The upshot of which is that it's now time for a little blog-based Grinching and general Bah-Humbuggery.

Today's topic is Gift Receipts: Contemporary Tokens of Thoughtlessness and Ingratitude.

I do understand the logic behind the extending to a third party of the right to return non-faulty goods. That 's not the issue. The problem with gift receipts is that their very presence tramples all over the twin concepts of generous giving and grateful receiving.

It's probably not fashionable to say so, although that doesn't usually stop me, but I believe that the latter aspect of the gift-based transaction is just as important as the former. The receipient of a gift has the ability and the duty to give pleasure to the buyer by way of their grateful acceptance. Even, or indeed especially when the present itself is a complete horror.

There's nearly an argument in favour of gift receipts when it comes to clothes. As we all know, one shop's size 12 can be another's 10 or yet another's 14. But I think that if you can't be absolutely certain that something is the right size, shape, fit, style and colour for your friend or relative just by holding it up and looking at it, then you don't know them well enough to be choosing their clothes. Buy something else. See below for suggestions.

The gift receipt also carries an uncharitable message of its own. 'Look!', it says. 'This person couldn't be bothered to find something they knew you'd really like'. It's a cop-out that allows your recipient to mentally paint a big, bold thought-bubble above your head at the moment you bought the present and fill it with the words of the well-known Christmas Eve Lament 'Fuck it, this'll have to do'.

I also reject the argument that it saves awkward and embarrassing moments when you have to ask for the receipt. Just how rude do you have to be to ask for the receipt? Really, the gift giver's job is done once they've wrapped the present and handed it over; if you don't like it when you open it, that's your problem, not theirs. Re-gift it, donate it to charity, sell it on ebay if you must, but please, spare me from the tyranny of the gift receipt...if it becomes a socially expected norm, then my cheapskate re-gifting tactics will be screwed, and I'll have to spend even more money, buying everything brand new, just so that I can include the sodding receipt.

And that's my real reason for disliking them so much; I sense a conspiracy to keep us consuming and spending, spending and consuming, We don't need it.

For those of you who might be struggling to find something good for an awkward individual such as myself, might I suggest having a look at the Oxfam Unwrapped Goat? For £25, you can buy a goat for someone who needs it far more than your friend or relative needs another jumper, CD or bottle of bubble bath, no matter how heavenly. I wish that everyone I know would buy goats on my behalf, rather than stuff to unwrap that I don't really need. I would genuinely love that.

Finally, I do solemnly swear that anyone who asks me for a receipt for any present I have bought them will find that next Christmas, a goat bearing their name will be sent directly to a more grateful recipient.

Baaaaaaaaaaaah. Humbug.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

What Men Want. Part 1: Boobies

I've been having fun and games with Next* recently. To cut a long story short, I bought some jeans, which, whilst gorgeous, are so badly made that I've been back for replacements on average every three weeks since I bought my first pair in September. It's been a great way of getting new clothes more often than I normally do, although it's starting to get tiresome now.

On Friday, bless them, they slipped their Christmas Gift Guide into my bag.

Their lovely marketing people have constructed a 'problem page', where their resident Doctor Fashion, Dr Stefan Lindemann (oh of what, exactly?) answers fake queries whilst plugging a couple of products. The Husband, the long suffering endurer of my griping was with me, and the following conversation ensued:

Me: Oh God.

The Husband: What?

Me: I'm clearly too old to be shopping at Next now. Look at this...they've got a fake fashion doctor answering fake fashion questions for people with so-called problems that I'm just too old to relate to.

The Husband: (sighs resignedly) Go on then, read it out...

Me: OK, listen to this one. 'I've got a crush on someone in the office. How do I make him notice me at the Christmas party...'

The Husband: Get your tits out.

Me: I hadn't finished; ...'without looking too desperate'.

The Husband: (thinks for a second) Get one tit out...

QED. Almost certainly a better bet than spending £38 on the the truly awful dress that they were plugging.

Now I just need to wait for a little more unreconstructed hilariousness so I can complete the trilogy. Part 1: Boobies, Part 2: Blow Jobs, Part 3: Beer.

* a major UK mid-market (but aiming lower these days) high street chain store.

Friday, 7 December 2007

A Mother's Morning Rollercoaster Ride

As always, the little blighter wakes you up far too early, and you just know you're in for a rough morning. You get out of bed feeling every inch the malevolent hag-beast that you know you are today, and the fact that he's demanding his milk right now isn't helping.

It's only 7:00 and you're already counting the minutes until his lunchtime nap.

This morning, he discovers that if he just presses the end of the sippy cup, the milk flows out of the end in a continuous stream, soaking your bedclothes.

Your mind starts formulating the letter you're going to write to the incompetent idiots who missed that particular design flaw, but you don't reach a conclusion because you know that once you get a minute to yourself, there'll be another 15 jobs demaning your attention that are far more important than wallowing in narkiness. You sigh, and resign yourself to buying yet another new cup, wishing you'd just given in and bought the expensive one in the first place.

There's no improvement over breaskfast, as he hones his aiming and throwing skills with some soggy Weetabix and your pyjamas. That stuff sets like cement within seconds, and you write a mental note to yourself - 'Must remember to scrape PJ bottoms before washing...'.

It's only 9:00 and you're still counting the minutes until his lunchtime nap.

You take him upstairs to clean his teeth and wash his face and hands, where he wriggles and squirms like a bag of angry cats. That job done, it's your turn, and as you sink into your shallow and by now lukewarm bath, you're hit on the back of the head by one of the balls you have thoughtfully provided to keep him occupied for the two minutes that you get each day to make sure that you are basically clean, and don't smell too horrible.

It's only 10:00 and you're still counting the minutes until his lunchtime nap.

It's Friday today, and there are no activities, so it's up to you to keep him entertained until lunchtime. You switch on CBeebies in the hope of some peace, but it's no use. You read every book he has, and although it's lovely that he likes his books, today he wants that really irritating one that was all the library had to offer, 20 times over. He's then seized by some evil demons of mischievousness, and proceeds to twang every nerve you possess, including your very last one, like the strings of a double bass. He runs from plug socket, to oven, to bin, to stairs, back to plug socket, just testing, testing, testing whether the behaviours that elicited a 'No' yesterday will get the same response today. He's quite clearly a budding scientist, because he seems to have an innate grasp of the fact that a quality experiment must be repeatable many, many times.

2 hours later, it's lunchtime, and your living room looks like an accident at a jumble sale. Still, it's 12:00, and there's only 60 mintues to go. You remember that The Husband insisted on cooking him chilli last night, and you sigh and wish you had put your foot down and insisted on Bolognese instead. There's no chance he's in the mood for something new. Especially rice.

In fairness, he gives it a good try, but spits most of it down his front. By this point, he's getting bored and ratty, and as the arm goes up for the kidney bean long fling, you whip the bowl away, take cover and woof the chilli down yourself, because by this stage, you really can't be arsed to cook your own lunch. One banana, many raisins, a grape choking incident, and a few Pom Bears later, you give up and decide to take him upstairs.

You try to change his nappy, and as usual, he's fighting you every step of the way. You put him on his back again, and lauch into a desperate, yet somehow hilariously ironic rendition of 'If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands' knowing full well, that he's tired and not in the least bit happy, and he doesn't even clap his hands on command yet, never mind in time to music.

Except this time, he does. You're amazed. You sing the second line. He does it again. As you reach the end of the verse, you're both laughing hysterically at this wonderful musical interaction, and he laughs and claps harder and says '' 'gen 'gen" Six verses and one clean nappy later, you pop him into his sleeping bag, draw the curtains, find his toy and settle down for a cuddle. He's shattered but relaxed and happy, and falls asleep in your arms within two minutes.

Just as his soggy little thumb drops slowly from his sleepy mouth and you lay him gently into his cot, you start counting again.

It's only 1:00, and you just can't wait until he wakes up, and you can give him an enormous hug and tell him how much you love him.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

Every so often, my little boy takes the opportunity to let me know who's really in charge.

It all ended in tears, but on balance, I think he concluded that his brief, shivery discomfort while I sorted him out compared pretty favourably with my prolonged shivery discomfort plus total humiliation, allowing him to emerge the victor today.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Underhand Marketing Tactics 4

Mothercare again, and they're becoming such frequent offenders with the bastardliness of their ads that I'm giving them their own tag.

As you've probably gathered by now, I don't like being advertised to without consent. I particularly hate ad campaigns that are designed to ensure that the relevant brand logo is right in my face when I'm thinking about a particular subject.

It's unsolicited anchoring in my view, and I really think that there should be greater concern about it, ethically speaking.

So you can imgaine my utter delight when I bought my little boy some Mothercare own brand pyjamas the other day and found that a major brand of fabric conditioner had hijacked the washing labels:

I've got to hand it to them for this stroke of creative genius, even though it made me swear in a very inventive way. What you can't see so well in the photo is the little ad card attached to every single pair that had to be cut off and binned as well, oh, I was just loving them by that point.

Fabric conditioner doesn't feature on my shopping lists these days, so thankfully, I'm immune to this particular piece of manipulative nonsense. However, before I cottoned on to the wonders of eco and dryer balls, this brand had already made me their bitch.

I feel used. And not in the way that I like.

Incidentally, I also got suckered on the same shopping trip by my little boy hanging out of the trolley and sobbing for a particular toy. I'd been meaning to get one anyway, and didn't fancy making a return trip just for the sake of standing my ground, so I gave in. The time has come to leave him at home, or there will be no money left over for buying gin!

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Underhand Marketing Tactics 3

...the bastards nearly had me as well...

Whilst in the grips of raging PMT yesterday afternoon, I popped into my local Tesco Metro. I was suffering from that sensation of 'if I don't eat a huge quantity of chocolate right now I am going to do some serious damage to something.'

Anyway, there was a HUGE yellow sign right underneath my favourite chocolate bars, saying 'SPECIAL OFFER - 3 for £1.00'. 'Fantastic', I thought, grabbing at them like a deranged pigeon dancing on a discarded pile of chips. 'That ought to keep me going until teatime...'

Hang on a minute though...what does that little white sign poking out from underneath the HUGE yellow one say?

32p each, you say...
Dirty, thieving bastards. And yes, I did complain. The signs are now gone.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Competitive Mothers: Casualties of Feminism?

One of my favourite bloggers recently did a post about a conversation that she overheard between some competitive mums in a schoolyard. She hit on the concept of being 'not so much a product of feminism as a casualty of it', and whilst that comment wasn't directed at the mums, her post got me thinking that actually, perhaps it applies to them too.

To myself and other women born in the mid-70s, feminism is a bit like fluoride in the water* - you get all its benefits without noticing that it's even there. To us, it is the most obvious thing in the world that women can vote, buy and own possessions, have a mortgage, a career and lead a life free from sexual predation and abuse. On a day to day basis, unless we are actively engaged with feminist theory, those things probably don't even cross our mind.

Closer to home, it almost goes without saying that our education will have been equal to that of our male social peers, and that we were encouraged to compete with others in order to stretch ourselves to the very best of our abilities. Later in life, we will have learned about the seductive effects of money, power and status, and it is a reasonable assumption that, along with most of the rest of the population, we will have learned to define ourselves to a greater or lesser extent by how successful we are at what we do for a living.

But here's the rub...

When you have children, you can't switch all that off.

It's a bitch, it really is. You spend 30 years or so training yourself for the ordeal that is paid employment, and cultivating the mental attitudes required to succeed in it. You've made a good choice in the man you married, and between you, you have cultivated a relationship which is largely equitable, and earned just about enough filthy lucre to make it possible for you to give up the job you hated to stay at home with your adorable children.

Then, you bang out the first baby, and all of a sudden your world is turned on its head. And I don't just mean the sensation that feels a bit like your brains got slung down the medical waste chute along with your placenta...

You've got a brand new job to do, and like every other job you have done, it's vital that you are a success. You've read all the books, you think you know what's in store, and there's no way on earth you're going to end up like one of those haggard, harrassed, shouty supermarket mums who are clearly just too damn lazy to bother keeping their kids under control. You're a smart, independent, educated woman, I mean, how hard can it be?

Oh God, where do I start?

Well, firstly, try taking away all the motivational tactics that have kept you going through the tedious but respectable pain in the arse that has been your career to date. Let's start with your pay cheque, which although you probably didn't realise it, did at least serve as a monthly reminder that you had skills that someone was prepared to pay good money for. Along with that goes the promise of deserved pay rises, promotions, positive reviews, appraisals or even the basic satisfaction which accompanies the completion of a project well managed. Financially speaking, you're now just Mrs. T.H.E. Husband, and believe me, you will never again feel that you have completed anything.

So, once that's all gone, it's time to introduce a good old dose of old fashioned sexism and season it with a good pinch of feminist flagellation - self-inflicted, or otherwise. We're all familiar with the lazy stereotype of stay-at-home mums who spend their days drinking coffee, gossiping, watching Jeremy Kyle, spending their husband's money and occasionally ironing a shirt or pushing the hoover round in return. I'm mortified to admit that I was previously guilty of such intellectually lazy rubbish myself...

But we're smart, independent, educated women; we're not going to be like that, good God no, there will be no life of domestic drudgery for us, thank you very much. We are women who are good at our jobs and would frankly rather pass a good sized porcupine than stand accused of letting ourselves go, letting our houses go, not providing the most psychologically healthy, stimulating and educational envinroment for our children that we can possibly manage. We breastfeed until our nipples crack and bleed, we peel, chop and puree the finest organic ingredients, we sign up for the Baby Swim, Music and Movement, Tiny Talk, Tumble Tots, Advanced Japanese for the Executive Toddler etc...classes and all in all knacker ourselves out because we just want to regain that now elusive feeling that someone, somewhere, thinks we are doing a good job.

At the end of each day, we might collapse exhausted in front of the computer, and visit a Mums' internet forum, blog or message board in the hope of some support and encouragement from the motherly sisterhood. Once there, we will no doubt come across a slanging match between working mums and stay-at-homers, where we will find ourselves accused of living off men, being appalling role models, domestic servants, idling spongers, crashing bores, a disgrace to women, and basically just glorified prostitutes who "part their legs and iron his shirt in return for the allowance that pays for their leggings and sweat shirts."


Unsurprisingly, this sort of behaviour sends us spiralling into complete psychological annihilation. We'd always considered ourselves to be feminists, but this sort of behaviour from other self-styled feminists leaves us thinking that actually, they're a horrible bunch of bitter old hags, and hang on a minute, just exactly what is modern feminism doing for those of us who continue to subscribe to the most fundamentally feminine role of all?

So, as a smart, independent, educated woman, who's just utterly marvellous at her job you have two choices:

  1. The 'Competitive Mother' route. You keep on using all those skills, qualities and attributes that got you to where you were before you popped one out. You will have the most advanced, talented child in your peer group, because that's the only way you know of measuring your abilities as a mother, and without that constant self-affirmation, you will be crying into your gin on a daily basis.
  2. The 'Bollocks To You All' route. You accept that the choices you have made are the business of no-one but yourself and your family, that you won't be perfect, but you'll always do your best, and that you'll single handedly take on any rancid old Alpha Troll on any internet forum who might even think the words 'kept woman' in your general direction.

I choose the second route, but I can see how desperately easy it must be to fall into the first. I am lucky; I am not surrounded by other hyper-achieving super-mothers who want to compete with me. I'm also a stubborn old boot. It makes it all so much nicer. But I do understand how it can happen, and remain on my guard against it at all times.

There's not necessarily going to be any conclusions drawn here today. I'd always considered myself to be in sympathy with the feminist cause, but I'm finding more and more reasons to question it. It's not that I think it's fundamentally bollocks, but rather that it's lost its way and is hoovering up casualties and spitting them out to suffer the consequences. Whether you're finding that it's impossible to attract a good man unless you empty out your head and fill it with fluff and 'kittings', or that you can't reconcile motherhood with your duty to the Women's Lib, it's entirely possible that somewhere, somehow, Feminism is Screwing You.

* I solemnly swear that I will credit that idea properly when I remember where I found it.

Friday, 23 November 2007

No, NO, NO!!

OK, that's pretty much all I seem to say these days, as a result of trial by toddler, and I really must get a grip and try some POSITIVE parenting.

Apparently, you are just supposed to ignore bad behaviour, but here's a quick list of behaviours that I simply can't ignore. Please, someone, tell me I'm not misjudging this?

  1. Bashing toy bricks on my wooden table tops
  2. Bashing toy bricks on the windows
  3. Throwing toy bricks at the dog
  4. Playing with plug sockets
  5. Throwing toys down the stairs
  6. Surfing on upturned activity tables
  7. Playing with dirty nappies
  8. Tipping food into Mummy's lap (the icy cereal milk actually made me scream...)
  9. Flushing clothes down the toilet.

Repeat the above sequence of events about 75 times, and that's pretty much my day at the moment. Add to that the apparent dropping of the 2 hour lunchtime nap, and what you get is a woman on the edge of her sanity.

I'm handling it at the moment by taking him out lots. I've got a great story about a sweary parrot and some menacing wallabies at one of the local kiddie attractions, but it will have to wait till another time. The Husband and I are having a rare Night Out, and I must go and make myself look presentable. Finding something without snot trails on the shoulders and tomato sauce up the legs would be a good start. I won't recognise myself without them!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Distraction Addenda

As it turns out, I don't actually know any 'self-satisfied shit-horns', so I was reduced to shouting it at Nigella, for describing a measurement of some ingredient or other as 'about 2 espresso cups'. I'm sure her audience understood her perfectly, but really, how middle-class?

The Husband took an opportunity to remind me why I like him so much; as Nigella's much-hyped 'effortless' tagine came out of the oven, he announced that it looked 'like a pile of monkey turds'. And it really did.

And whilst we're being crude, I had this comment e-mailed to me about my last post and felt that it deserved sharing, along wtih its reply...

"Not sure you’ve considered the implication of the phrase “self satisfied shit horn” or in particular…. the “shit horn” bit. It implies as the cramming of shit into something, playing on shoe horn…I think it’s an even cruder way of saying “fudge packer”. In short – you’re glorifying a term of abuse that I don’t think you mean to."

As I woudn't ever deliberately glorify homophobic terminology, I checked it out on Urban Dictionary and found that what it actually means is:

'When you sit on the toilet and fart. The echo of farting in a toilet.'

As per the following example:

'Every morning dad wakes us up by playing the shit horn.'

I like it even more now. Don't say you never learn anything here.

Distractions 1 & 2

The lack of posting over the past few days is the result of my little boy walking properly now, which means that we have reached entirely new levels of Not Getting Anything Done.

Having always found toddlers incredibly irritating, we are struggling to adjust and I'm overwhelmed by self-doubt about how well I am going to cope with this stage. Just like all the others, muddling along as best I can, I suppose...but it's REALLY HARD!!

Still, I have been cheered up, (and further distracted) this week by my rather belated discovery of Charlie Brooker. He's got a series on BBC Four at the moment, called Screenwipe, which seems to be devised around the idea of him sitting on a sofa, shouting abuse at the TV.

Much the same as I do really, only with a more inventive use of vocabulary.

This weeks' episode had a go at that Billie Piper/Belle de Jour/Prostitution's A Giggle series this week, which was always going to be winner with me. He is clearly a fellow Neo-Prude, although he probably doesn't realise it yet. More on that later, when I find some time and energy,

In the meantime, and with due reverence to the inventiveness of said vocabulary, I'm off to try and find someone to call a 'self-satisfied shit-horn'. It feels good to say, doesn't it?

Thursday, 15 November 2007

The F-word and the Grinch

It's Grinch Day again. It seems to come earlier every year, but checking back through defunct blog and paper diary pages, I find that actually I'm pretty much on schedule.

Grinch Day - the day on which I officially give myself permission to be a rancid old bag on the subject of anythng, you know...


The family over the road could have put their blue lights up for any number of reasons, but there was no escape from today's horror.

A 40 foot inflatable Santa, for sale in the garden centre on the main road into my town. It was the size of my house. And given it's prominence, we can be fairly certain that every bastard in Essex who is not over-burdened with good taste will be getting one.

I can't bear it...

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

High Chair Inferiority Complex

So, I was down at the Booby Group* yesterday afternoon, chatting with one of the other mums whose little boy is just a couple of months older than mine.

These mums are lovely, not pushy, competitive, or desperate to be 'yummy mummies', and it's ususally a great place to get advice from those who have been there already.

Still, I should have known better than to ask Exemplary Food Mum about her boy's eating habits.

Has she had ever had much trouble with H flinging his food across the room, turning the bowl over and shouting into it, that sort of thing, I asked her yesterday.

'No', she said, looking horrified. 'When he's had enough, he just puts his knife and fork together in the middle of his plate.'

'Knife and fork', I said, in despair. 'He eats with a knife and fork...?'

I stand in awe - my boy barely eats with his fingers, and spoons are just little plastic catapults for him to get a better aim with the porridge. Top of the dog's head = Bullseye!

*My local Breastfeeding Support Group, which I help to run.
** Having pinched the picture, it's probably only fair to link to this video. I am sure it is every bit as hilarious as they say.

Monday, 12 November 2007

It's started already.

Someone on my street has started decorating the outside of their house for Christmas. Last time I looked it was barely mid-November. I haven't fallen asleep and missed a month, have I?

It's only the blue lights so far, but I'm just wondering how early they will consider acceptable for the flashing choo-choo trains and animated reindeers this year.

Last time I looked, Christmas was meant to last for 12 days, not for a sixth of the year. Can you imagine what the carol singers would have to go through:

On the 61st day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
61 flashing stars
60 blow-up snowmen
3 nodding reindeer
2 choo-choo trains

And the bill for the electricity.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Slummy Mummy

So, what with the insomnia and the teething toddler (intermittent crying from 3am - 5am this morning), I am not exactly at my best today. Thankfully, this allows me to forgive myself for what I did this evening.

The boy has discovered an insatiable enthusiasm for books this week. It's coincided with the walking - he can now get one from his box and bring it over to me to read with him. 20 times in succession. Then another one, 20 times in succession.

Anyway, by 6:30 this evening, I was pretty much down to my very last nerve, especially with 'Where's Spot?' - 'Is he in the cupboard? - NO; Is he inside the clock? - NO'*and I found myself uttering the unimaginable:

'Oh pleeeeaase, just put the book down and watch the TV'

We will be visiting the library for some new books tomorrow, to keep Mummy from losing her last remaining shreds of sanity.

*He's in the basket. These things can be a worry, I know.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Sylvia Tidy-Harris in 'Same Old Crap' Shocker...

Last week, the Sunday Times gave us a lovely regional supplement about entrepreneurship. I spent a happy few minutes flipping through all the inspiring stories of successful businesses, when I saw her photo. That Bloody Woman. Sylvia Tidy-Harris.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the name, Sylvia Tidy-Harris is a reasonably well-known British female entrepreneur. She runs her own public speaking company, whose USP is that all of the speakers are women. So far, so good. She is also a fine example of a tedious, one-trick media pony. The 'trick' being that she refuses on principle to employ any woman of child-bearing age, and the 'pony' being the load of old crap that she trots out to back up the decision.

Lazy journalists trot her out on the same point over and over (and over) again when they feel that what is essentially quite a dull topic needs a bit of controversy. 'I know', they think, 'let's saddle up that female misogynist, Sylvia Hyphen What's-Her-Chops, she's always good for about 750 words that we'd never get past the editor if a man had said them'.

So back to the point, the only point that STH ever makes, that 'small businesses should be exempt from employing women of child-bearing age because the cost of dealing with maternity leave could cripple them'.

This is what I call a 'Daily Mail' argument. Her rhetoric is seductively facile; she states an unquestionable truth to get you on side, and then backs it up with flimsy, laughable crap.

Let me spell it out. As a small business, it is unquestionably true that (the sum total of) your employees must consistently bring in a good deal more money than it costs you to employ them. It's not arguable - if they don't, you'll go under and lose everything you will have put on the line to get the business started in the first place. This will include, but is not restricted to your house, your livelihood, your social life, your holidays, some of your friendships and probably your marriage/relationship as well. It really is that harsh.

Of course maternity leave is hard on small businesses. I know this only too well - The Husband and I worked together in our own business before I left to look after our little boy. But why be so belligerent about this particular issue?

There are many and varied reasons why an employee might need to take more than their statutory 28 days and not all of them include having babies. Serious long-term illness, sick parents, sick spouses, male employees becoming fathers and needing to get a job 'up the City' so wives can stay at home; they're all there, they're all risks, and if you choose entrepreneurship, then I'm afraid you don't get to just opt out of dealing with them.

What this means in practice is that an entrepreneur must assess their (perceived) immediate risks against the current legislation, and making sure that between the two, their tiny corporate arse is covered. An employee is an investment; the reality of small business is that you're not just paying someone a straight fee in exchange for work done, you're paying them for what they're going to be worth to you in the future.

That's why The Husband spends hours over each and every candidate we see, assessing their potential, and structuring their remuneration packages accordingly. It's time-consuming and tough, but it's not rocket science and I cannot entertain any argument that small businesses should be exempt from the process. If you're not able to deal with every aspect opf running a business, including employment legislation, then perhaps it's not for you.

My favourite piece of mendaciousness from Ms Tidy-Harris was this;

'And some women...may say are coming back - so the owner gets rid of the person they have trained up over the year to do the woman's job - and then, after a couple of weeks back at work demand to be allowed to work part time. But there may not be scope in a new and growing business for a part-time vacancy. Why should the business have to change?'

Er...they don't. An employee has the right to ask. The employer has the right to say no, providing they have sound business reasons, and can follow a tedious but straightforward procedure set out by the government guidelines. Again, it's not rocket science, and if you can't deal with it, then perhaps entrepreneurship isn't for you.

Any ideas for a gloriously fatuous political line I could sell to lazy journalists to get our business mentioned in the rags gratefully accepted. Free canvas print or vehicle graphic to any suggestion that gets us a mention in a national!

Friday, 9 November 2007

Insomnia; not funny any more

For about 5 - 6 weeks now, I have been waking up between 3am and 4am and been completely unable to get back to sleep. I'd get up and do something useful, but I haven't the energy.

It's starting to affect my ability to function now, which really isn't funny. Forgetting where speed limits change on roads I'm very familiar with, not having the motivation to do anything of any use, stupid oversights that risk my boy's safety. And there's no discernible reason for it.

All the sleep-related solutions that I know seem to relate to the actual getting to sleep in the first place; hot milky drinks, relaxing baths, no caffeine, etc. Dr. Internet does not seem to have the answer for when you have no problem dropping off, but can't stay there for long enough to cope with the following day. Drinking too much gin and staying up too late used to help, but it's hardly an appropriate long-term solution.

It's going to be another wall-breathing day, wish me luck.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Double Annoyance

I have been caught speeding, and dealt with accordingly. The best outcome will be a £60 fine and three points. It's a 40mph limit there apparently, not 50mph, as I thought when I merrily shot past the camera van at 48mph without a care in the world.

It's doubly maddening; I am a self-righteous arse on the subject of speed cameras, which means that I can't even have a satisfying rant about it.

Now, where did I leave my emergency stash of Good Grace?

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Tales from The Chair, Chapter 3

Whilst there is no doubt in my mind that I will eventually win the War of The Chair, today I must concede defeat on the current battle; Eating With My Toddler.

The parenting books make it sound so simple.

If you regularly sit and share mealtimes with your toddler, they sagely advise, then he will quickly learn to feed himself, and surpass your expectations and impress your friends and family with his exquisite table manners.

It's not true.

The reailty is this; you need one hand on your plate to stop it being thrown on the floor, one hand on his bowl to stop it being thrown on the floor, a third hand to feed yourself, and a fourth to shovel his food into his mouth. Do you see the problem?

I surrender.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

A Trivial Ethical Dilemma

During the composition of my previous post, I found myself wondering - 98% of which mums, exactly? They never ask me...

But today, I had an email from a friend about a market research group looking for mums like me, taking place later this week.

My dilemma is this; would it be appropriate for someone with my opinions on consumerism and marketing to go along, to put forward an alternative point of view? Or would it just be utter hypocrisy to get involved at all?

I really don't know the answer.

My current reasoning is this: given that true insight can only be had when opinion and experience are combined, it would not be hypocritical to go along, just this once, to find out what really happens at these things. It might even be interesting.

If you come back next week, and I'm suddenly promoting baby sleep aid products, then you'll know that I went, and they made me their bitch...

Monday, 5 November 2007

All Natural Ingredients

The Husband, it seems, is beginning to appreciate the joy of having a really good shout at a really bad TV ad.

He's talented too, especially at digging out any veiled misdirections and tearing them to pieces. His latest observation, levelled at the new Milky Bar ad, is the trend for food products to brandish the phrase 'All Natural Ingredients' as though it were definitive proof that the product must be really good for you.

It's a particularly brilliant piece of wordsmithery, as it invites the consumer aboard this train of thought; 'Natural = Healthy, therefore Milky Bar = Good For You' . Its predecessors 'No Artificial Ingredients', 'No Added E-Numbers' and the like just don't do the same job.

If you're not convinced, the following statement, from
Talking Retail, regarding the switch to 'All Natural Ingredients' might help:

'Responding to the growing market trend for permissibility in confectionery, Milkybar is the first major kids’ chocolate brand to make the move to all natural ingredients.

The change brings with it a number of benefits for retailers, and will help to drive sales by appealing to the increasing number of mums looking for more permissible treats for their kids.

In quantitative research, 98% of mums found the concept of Milkybar ‘made from all natural ingredients’ either very, or quite appealing, with 78% of mums either a lot more likely or more likely to buy Milkybar as a result (McCallum Layton, March 2007).

Whilst I'm all for getting rid of artificial ingredients and E-numbers, it does bother me that the 'All Natural' claim is being used as misdirection on a product that remains a fundamentally unhealthy choice because of its high sugar and fat content. It doesn't alter the fact that you're still better off giving your child a banana.

Still, you have to wonder how far this is going to go.

Are we about to witness an 'All Natural' renaissance of some of the horrors that regularly graced my grandad's plate?






All coming soon, to a '100% Natural' dinner party near you.

Friday, 2 November 2007

And in other news...

My little boy started walking yesterday!

He makes me laugh - for some reason known only to himself, he will only do it if he is holding his shoes in his hands. Take them away, and he's on his arse.

He is an odd bod sometimes, but I am so proud of him.

Ethical Banking: A Contradiction in Terms?

In a recent drive to improve my standards of ethical consumerism, I opened a current account with The Co-operative Bank. It was done with a view to moving all our family and business banking if they proved to be a worthwhile choice. It's not looking good.

Yesterday I had a notice through the post about changes to their overdraft services and charges. 'Boring', I thought, 'I don't have an overdraft facility, I told them that I didn't want one when I opened the account'. Luckily, as my hand hovered over the bin, I spotted the following.

'Informally - If you have not formally requested our overdraft services as above, you may still request our overdraft services by undertaking a payment or withdrawal from your account, even though no overdraft limit has been agreed or where the payment or withdrawal would cause you to exceed any agreed overdraft limit.'

Let's look at that for a second. If I make a very easy mistake, such as forgetting I took cash out yesterday, or handing over the wrong card at a till, there will no longer be that slightly embarrassing moment where my card gets declined and I think that the person on the till assumes that I am an out of control shopaholic or identity fraduster. Instead, there will be an automatic £20 charge, plus a daily service charge of £20. Thanks, but I'd rather take the shame.

The best bit is this - there is no opting out. I was on the phone for 15 minutes this morning trying to get them to find a way round it, but it was no use. The lady I spoke to accepted that it would be an easy mistake to make, that she could see why I'd prefer to go back to my old bank where I can screw up for the price of the interest charge, or just use my credit card instead. She could see exactly why I thought they were taking the piss, but there seemed to be nothing that she could do about it.

I am certain that someone high up in that company has calculated that an enormous profit can be generated from this sort of ruse, even from customers who are generally excellent at managing their accounts. A bear trap like this is hardly in line with their policy of ethical banking; I would be willing to bet that many of the people who get fucked over by these charges can't afford to repay them straight away, and will end up having to fork out yet another £20 charge to arrange the authorised overdraft which they'll be needing in the meantime.

Anyway, I have given them a week to phone me back with a better option, or I'm closing the account. Luckily, I kept my old one open, just in case they turned out to be wankers. Foresight is a gift, you know.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Insomnia Hits Home

So, I have got insomnia again. It has been around for a while now, and today I have reached the stage where I feel sick, am crying at every little thing, and the walls appear to be breathing. This is Not Good News.

Anyway, until I get this resolved, I am unlikely to be able to string a coherent sentence together. I will therefore be taking a short break until such point as I can see properly again. Please bear with me.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Choir Envy

So, this weekend, I spent several hours rehearsing and performing a concert of music in celebration of the BVM* to an audience of about 65 in a beautiful but tiny provincial Essex church.

And then The Husband showed me the TV coverage he'd recorded of the BBC Electric Proms. This is the gig I would have been doing instead, if I lived just 30 minutes nearer to my old choir.

I like my current choir, I really do, but they're just a bit, well, *meh* in comparison. They make a great sound and don't often disappoint me, but this gig, we tackled 2 pieces that the conductor featured on the video taught me, and did it with such passion I'd end up nearly in tears in the performance**. It makes me sad when I do them again and remain mostly unmoved.

* That would be Blessed Virgin Mary, by the way
** O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen, and Bogoroditse Dyevo by Rachmaninov.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Underhand Marketing Tactics 2

Following on from my recent post, here's a new development. Pester Power has grown up!

Nivea are running the following ad for a man's moisturiser in women's glossy magazines at the moment:

'He brushes his teeth; he washes his hair; he even conditions it. Isn't it time he started looking after his skin?

Every time your man shaves he removes a layer of skin and the natural oils that help protect him from harmful UVAs and UVBs. Encourage him to use an Extra Soothing Moisturiser, specially formulated for a man's skin after shaving. This will soothe his skin and help protect his face from skin-ageing rays. Tell him if he wants to stay on top of his game, it's time he started using it.

Nivea Extra Soothing Moisturiser is available in all the same places you buy yours'

I think we're all very familiar with the marketing theories that play on women's insecurities about ageing in order to shift cosmetic products. But I can't quite figure out their game on this one. Are they perhaps realising that this kind of insecurity-based button pushing doesn't work on men, because in general, men aren't afraid of ageing in the same way that women are? (there's a whole post to be had out of that sentence, but not now...).

If so, then this leaves 2 options;

a) they are attempting to foster similar insecurities in men by creating the impression that a life without the product makes you less attractive.
b) they are in need of a short-term boost in sales, and have decided to shift the product by getting women to buy it for their partners.

If my boy starts worrying about this sort of stuff, then I will be introducing him to the wonders that are Aqueous Cream and Coconut Oil. Bollocks to expensive products, you don't need it.

N.B. I am well aware that these sort of rants can be avoided by simply not buying glossy magazines. It was out of character, I regretted it the moment that I opened it, and have been ranting about it ever since. In my defence, I had 2 hours to kill between rehearsal and gig and I hadn't realised that my fellow singers were too tight to go the pub. Packed bloody sandwiches, good grief.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Melissaria's First Law of Toddler Lunchtime Naps

Length of Nap = (Time Taken to Do Chores)+(Bottom Meets Sofa)+7 seconds

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Underhand Marketing Tactics 1

I have many a bee in my bonnet, but the one with the loudest buzz of all concerns what I believe to be underhand marketing or advertising methods. It's the cause of many a debate between The Husband and I, as he's an entrepreneur who genuinely believes that all's fair in love, war and sales tactics.

It's really hard to draw a line between 'fair' and 'underhand' promotional tactics, and I realise I've got a long way to go with my thinking on the subject. But as I'm here and I haven't posted for a couple of days, here are two examples I have spotted or been told about.

Mothercare - will not be getting a visit from me any time soon after a verbal report from my friend ChiefBoobyMum. She says that they are currently employing tactics based on Pester Power to boost sales of this year's Must Have Christmas present; a large, dancing Iggle Piggle toy. They have put the big display of the toys right next to the tills, and the sales assistant encouraged her to buy the toy as her three-year-old was practically crying for it by the time she got served. She has more sense, thankfully, but still felt like a miserable old ratbag of a mother for standing firm.

Sainsbury's - are having a laugh if they think I can't spot Vanity Sizing when I see it. I am well aware of what size the old bootylicious can be squeezed into on a good day, and in my opinion, those knickers were a good 2 sizes bigger than the size stated on the label. Am I supposed to think 'I know, I'm going to do all my shopping at Sainsbury's in future, because just walking through their doors magically makes my arse shrink'?


UPDATE: I saw the Iggle Piggle toy on a child-free shopping trip this afternoon, so I took the opportunity to examine and play with it. It is complete and utter crap.

For the same amount of money you can get a laughing Elmo toy which is much more useful. Another friend of mine has one, and her little girl is so scared of it that she can put it in the doorway of any room she doesn't want her going into, and it immediately becomes a little, menacing, furry bouncer. Now that's what I call value for money.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

An Open Letter

Chief Executive Officer
Corporate Megabastards plc

Dear Sir,

It's about time that someone told you what happens when your website forces customers to give a reason for their purchase 'for marketing purposes'.

We lie to you.

This is for 3 reasons:

  1. We are annoyed that we had to fill in all our details twice because 'some important information was missing' from our first attempt.
  2. None of your offered options came close to reality and in any case...
  3.'s none of your business, you nosey bastards.

If you continue to give us no choice but to answer your poxy questions in order to buy your product, then we will have no choice but to tell you deliberate big fat porkies in order to spoil your marketing fun.

You are all very irritating.

Kind Regards,


Friday, 19 October 2007

The Philosophy of Malcontentment

Apparently, I am 'not satisfied with anything I have'. This accusation was levelled at me yesterday morning, and not for the first time, either.

It's got me thinking, and two key questions are begging to be dealt with.

1) Am I guilty of this crime of which I stand accused?
2) Would that really be such a bad thing?

Let's deal with the first one. I've given it serious thought and reflection, and I'm going to have to plead Not Guilty and ask to be acquitted on a technicality.

I have so much to be grateful for in my life, and I have no intention of forgetting that there are billions of people out there with far, far less. Put like that, it almost seems rude to continue posting. But I decided to blog about stuff that we all often think, but don't necessarily like to say out loud. It's my belief that a permanent state of low-level dissatisfaction with life is a lot more usual than you might think.

For me, as for many of us I'm sure, this simmering low-level grumbliness has nothing to do with being dissatisfied with 'anything that I have'. In case I wasn't clear the first time, I'm happy with all of it.

It's about what I don't have, and in may cases, what I used to have, but don't have now. All of these things are intangible, and some of them are no longer realistic or appropriate, but that doesn't stop me missing them.

For example, I can no longer expect the level of freedom and autonomy that I had as a single late-20-something living and working in London. I have a husband and a child, and I therefore can't just pop out for a drink, and end up rattling home at 3 am in a cab, realising as we pull up outside the door that I have no cash left, and I am too shit-faced to write a legible cheque, or even sign the one that the driver has written out for me because I am on my sixth attempt and he is getting a bit bored with me by now.

I'm not saying that given the choice, that's what I'd do, but I miss having the freedom to make that call. I miss spontaneous visits to concerts and galleries, popping out for lunch, 'popping' anywhere! I miss being able to go to the gym any day I like, rather than when I can get a babysitter. And yes, sometimes I do get pissed off with all the restrictions that security and responsibility bring.

But is that such a bad thing? Let's look at it this way;

I chose to do a degree in Music and followed it up with a diploma in Arts Management. This was for a reason - I care about these subjects, and get great pleasure from being around them in real life. Yet I live in a town which is a cultural and creative vacuum. There is approximately fuck all going on within at least a 30 minute car-driven radius. I simply cannot fill that gap with shopping and TV. It would spell disaster for my marriage if I did.

So, I'm sorry if sometimes, I come across as a bit miserable, I really am. But I am not going to stop trying to achieve some of the things that meant a lot to me when I had unlimited Freedom and Choices instead of Family and Security.

They are the clotted cream in the jam doughnut, the gravy on the chips, the freshly chopped mint in the Pimms. But settling for life without them would be Giving Up. It would be the first step on the slippery slope towards Really Letting Myself Go. It is a path than can only culminate in weekends spent traipsing round Homebase in leggings looking for the latest crappy niknaks to fill the emotional void that my brain used to manage before I let it turn to mush.

And that's just not the way we do things around here.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Mummy's Day Off - Retrospective Introspection

So, I went to Cambridge for the weekend, and now I am all out of sorts.

One of my 'mummy' books told me that, whilst it is great to go back to your old ways once in a while, you can expect to find it all a bit shallow and meaningless in comparison to your new family life. Am I a terrible wife and mother because I had an amazing time, and really wish there could be a bit more of the same around here?

If a day in my old life had been mooching round some shitty shopping centre, and going out to a bar to get pissed, then yes, I see the problem. But the shops in Cambridge are lovely and the pubs are gorgeous and civilised, even on a Saturday night. My favourite chapel is there, where we heard music sung by one of the best choirs in the world, who were just sublime. We browsed in fantastic bookshops, where I was able to buy books about Logic and Postmodernism, as opposed to here, where it's all Jodie Marsh or Diets For People Who Can't Leave Chips Alone, But Don't Get Why They're A Bit Fat.

We also paid a visit to our real old life, on the other side of Reality Checkpoint and got all nostalgic over the lovely, quirky little independent shops that characterise Mill Road. And everywhere we looked, there were motivated people, doing real activities, not just dragging themselves round the shops looking for stuff to buy out of boredom.

And we laughed out loud when we saw this shop front along the main tourist drag. It's a ladies sportswear shop, in case you were wondering....

I think the only logical conclusion to come to is that unless you happen to be one of the very few people who have it all in life, or genuinely want very little, there are always going to be gaps that you still want to fill. I am hugely grateful that for me, those gaps are simply cultural. I would far rather have it that way round than be able to go to King's College Chapel every evening, but go home on my own to an empty house, or have to haul arse every day to the kind of job that nearly drove me to insanity back in 1997.

I'll just have to hope that SweatyBetty decides that she does want to do her theological training in Cambridge after all. I'll be buying a comfy airbed and a big rucksack, and she'll never see the back of me. And if that doesn't send her scuttling to Oxford or Durham, then nothing will!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Blog Action Day - 3 steps to easy Eco-Cheapskating

As part of my decision to post something related to the environment for Blog Action Day, I have been thinking about the best way to communicate my own deeply flawed, but manageable approach to eco-living. I call it Eco-Cheapskating. Or 21st Century Wombling.

I am convinced that deliberate lifestyle alterations work best, and last longest when taken one step at a time. Change one habit, wait until the new approach has become a habit, and then change another one. I've been at it for 10 months now, and whilst my home is not a likely candidate for a feature in The Green Parent any time soon, we are certainly doing a lot better than we were a year ago.

Here's how I do it.

  1. You don't need it. This is pretty much my mission statement for life. It's all about reducing your consumption of brand new goods which use raw materials, energy, transportation, fuel etc. Such consumption also drives the need for further production of said goods. I find it easiest to live by this rule if I deliberately stay away from ads and 'consumer culture' - I don't buy magazines, I don't go to Lakeside or Bluewater just for fun, I don't watch ads on TV. As a result, I find that I don't want 'stuff' anywhere near as much as I used to. Try it for month. You'll save a fortune, I guarantee it.

  2. Freecycle and Ebay. If you really can't do without something, the next best alternative is to try and get it without buying something new from a shop. Have a look at your local Freecycle site - there's plenty to be had that would otherwise have gone to landfill. It definitely depends on the area you live in as to whether this will work for you. My local group advertises a lot of 'hardcore' and I'm still not certain as to whether this is material intended for builders or porn addicts. You can also save time and hassle by offloading your own clutter onto other freecyclers instead of sending them to landfill. If Freecycle won't do it, then there's always good old Ebay. Try to buy 'Used' stuff where possible - again, it keeps consumer demand for the manufacture of new stuff down.

  3. Go Organic. Following steps 1 & 2 regularly will mean that you will are able to hang onto a lot more of your hard earned filthy lucre. There's now less of an excuse to avoid buying organic produce, even if it does cost a bit more. Whether it's food, clothing, beer or cosmetics, I find that the difference in quality is always worth the difference in price, and it benefits the environment too.
So there we have it. Go forth and Eco-Cheapskate.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Mummy's Day Off

I am going away for the weekend for the first time since getting pregnant 2 years ago.

I'm meeting my best friend from my college years - I'm calling her Betty, with apologies to Ms R, because despite having racked my brains for some suitable alternative, that really is what we used to call her at college and it suits her. Sweaty Betty of Baghdad to be precise. I can't remember why - in reality, she is a clean-smelling Anglo-Saxon lady from Salisbury. Students, eh?

We are going to have a nice lunch, a leisurely browse round some of the lovely shops, then go on to a chapel service in an amazing building featuring beautiful music sung by some of the finest young male choral scholars this country has to offer. Then a concert, then out to dinner with friends. In the morning, we will have a lazy breakfast and then go mooching around all the old haunts where we regularly fell over pissed.

It won't sound all that amazing or glamorous, unless perhaps you have small children yourself, but I am delirious with excitement. I haven't been let off my lead for 2 years, and I am going to make this one count.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Tesco Organic Veg Box

Today, I saw that Tesco are selling Organic Veg Boxes. Right there, amongst all the other organic veg that they sell and that you can pick out for yourself.

There's so much wrong with this picture, that I don't even know where to start. Give me time, there's a great rant to be had, I promise. But right now I need to sleep.

Also, you have my solemn promise that when I have a just a little bit more time and money, and when the area in which I live catches up a bit on the organic produce front, I will no longer go to Tesco. It makes me feel dirty, and not in a good way.

Tales from The Chair, Chapter 2

The boy is unwell, so I have relented on my easy food campaign a little and am making him a lovely, wholesome, slow-cooked beef stew. We're about even on the scores this week - I got him to eat his first freshly-cooked meal yesterday (cold roast chicken and penne with a tomato sauce and mixed veg), but he equalised by chucking a spoonful of the red stuff up the sofa. Which isn't leather, and doesn't wipe clean. His aim is improving in both accuracy and distance now, and as it's too cold and wet to feed him in the garden where I could just hose everything down, I think I might be in for a very messy winter.

What is it about the smell of some beef and onions being chucked in a pan to brown that renders him incapable of having his ususal 2 hour lunchtime nap? He's dosed up to the eyeballs on Medised, so it beats me how he's able to keep his eyes open. But somehow, the smell of beef and onions is doing it's trick and he's wide awake, jumping and shouting, shouting and jumping.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Work in Progress

Please note that the below is very much work in progress and should be taken with an entire cellar of salt. Do come and have a go if you think you're hard enough, though - I'm loathe to leave it half done.

I'm well aware of the major flaw with taking this sort of thing through to it's logical conclusion - you end up wanting an Aryan Master Race, or starting to think that, actually, the Taliban do sort of have a point.

Don't worry, that's not where I'm at. I just don't like adverts.

Neo-Prudism - Basic Tenets and Principles

Neo-Prudism: Reclaiming Hearts, Minds and Bodies

  • Neo-Prudism aims to liberate our society and its citizens from the tyranny of constant over-sexualisation.
  • NP recognises that continuous exposure to sexualised imagery and ideals (commercial or otherwise) is psychologically damaging to girls and young women, and actively seeks to criticse and incite reaction against it.
  • NP believes that 'overt sexiness' has replaced 'domesticity' as the perceived ideal for young girls and women. As the Women's Liberation Movement sought to free women from gender-based domesticity, so Neo-Prudism seeks to free women from the constant pressure to conform to a commercially-driven sexual ideal.
  • NP recognises that the development of a healthy attitude towards sexuality is crucial to the development of good mental health in young boys and girls, and in adults. It does not seek to deny sexuality, nor does it encourage sexual repression. It accepts that sexuality has a crucial role in our lives, and promotes a healthy acceptance of it.
  • NP seeks to debunk the notion that sexual desirability is of the utmost importance. It seeks the promotion of more traditional aspirations, such as intellectual achievement, practical or artistic accomplishment, entrepreneurship, athleticism, honour and consideration for others.

Friday, 5 October 2007

My new political movement

Prompted by the comments on Ms R's fabulous blog, and in the face of ever-increasing quantities of revolting skank parading as intellectual feminism, I am starting my own political movement.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you-Neo-Prudism.

It only gets 4 results on Google, so clearly I stand almost alone. I will be back with more when I've had time to think it through a bit.

Don't hold your breath...

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Meat Marketing

I normally hate getting junk mail, especially from companies I have never heard of or ordered anything from. I'm signed up to the MPS dammit, my name, address and consumer habits should not be available for purchase!

But this one, from
Donald Russell made me laugh. They sell home deliveries of posh beef.

Anyway, on the back of the envelope was one of the most unapologetic apologies I have ever seen. It said:

WARNING: This envelope contains beautiful photographs of delicious, juicy steaks. If this is likely to cause offence, please accept our sincere apologies, and return this package unopened.

The best bit was that the whole warning was rendered irrelevant by the big picture of a juicy, rare steak on the front of the envelope. Sod the vegetarians, this would have caused mayhem on the carpet back in my 'morning sickness' days.

I'm really hungry now and want a steak. Bastards. I will not buy anything from you, even though you amused me briefly.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Tiny Talk

So, I have attended the Tiny Talk classes, I have forked out for the DVD and I have baby-signed continuously and consistently for 8 months.

This week, the boy finally started to get the hang of it. He can now sign DRINK and FISH.

He is is father's son on so many levels.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Tales from The Chair, Chapter 1

Every day, at least once, and sometimes up to three times, I am obliged to play the game we call The Chair.

I have a 14 month old son. I think you know where I'm going with this...

Three times a day, between 7am and 6pm, he gets strapped into his chair to face his opponent, who is armed with a bowl of food, a few spoons, possibly a fork, a drink, some fruit or a yoghurt and a big pack of wipes. Then the game commences. It normally ends when one or the other of us starts crying.

I'm lucky - my boy isn't really all that bad. He regularly eats good quantities of healthy food, so long as it is food that he likes. Unfortunately, 'what he likes' tends to be lovingly prepared, slow-cooked stews; hearty, wholesome soups, basically anything that takes the entire fucking afternoon to pre-cook and freeze.

Let's have a look at what he won't eat shall we. What do you think all of these ingredients have in common?

Ham, cheese, eggs (poached, boiled, scrambled), baked potato, baked beans, cream cheese, cucumber, avocado, pasta in tomato sauce, fish fingers, tomato, prawns, carrot sticks, olives, rice.

10 points if you answered 'they are all things that fall into the category 'Nutritious, Quick, and Easy to Prepare' of course!'

My strategy for October's round of The Chair must involve effecting some reduction in the pre-cooked hot mush . I have a book on order called 'Finger Food' which I really hope will strengthen my game. I will keep you posted.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Advert Rant 1: As if we hadn't enough to worry about.

Advertising is a particular bugbear of mine. When I'm not avoiding being advertised to, I'm often to be found ranting about ads; their intrusiveness, the inanity of their content, etc. And tonight I got drawn in again.

Those kind people at Dove have hit on the idea that women of a certain age have nothing better to do than fret and fuss over the state of every last inch of their skin. They've even brought out a 'Pro-Age' deodorant to help with the bits they didn't realise they should be fretting about. Now, I'm some years away from the 'Pro-Age' target demographic yet, so I guess Dove don't care if I shout at their ads, but come on. Armpits?

I don't know about you, but if I find myself in a position where I'm wondering how old another woman is, I don't usually find myself tring to sneak a peek at her armpits when she's not looking. And, just in case any of you were wondering if attention to armpit detail affects your ability to attract men, consider this. When was the last time you saw a bunch of men sat in a bar/on a building site/hanging out of a white van shouting 'Look at the pits on THAT!'?

I rest my case. Armpits only attract attention when they contain more hair than is considered usual here.

You don't need it.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Other Mothers Are the Enemy

Before I start on this one, I just want to make it absolutely clear that the above statement does not apply to the circles of mums in which I socialise in real life.

I think I might be one of the lucky ones. Fairly early on in pregnancy, I started noticing that something that should be one of life's great levellers - an experience to unite women from all walks of life - seemed to be having the opposite effect. Yes, I had started looking at the internet forums and discussion groups for pregnant women and mothers.

Perhaps it's just a reflection on my own failings, but I really cannot bear these sites. For some reason, most of them seem to degenerate fairly quickly into vicious online cat-fighting. Let me give you an example from a recent one:

"Well, the reaction of the usual suspects to this article is to demonstrate how being a stay at home mother makes you totally lose your sense of humour and become a vicious, bitchy, judgemental old nag."

"Of course housewives are hugely dull. It's why most alphamummies can think of nothing worse than chatting to them...The yummiest mothers of all are those with careers, a life apart from (and also with) their children, a place in the adult world and the money to dress themselves rather than having to part their legs and iron his shirt in return for the allowance that pays for their leggings and sweat shirts."

"So those women for whom spending time in the office is more important to them than spending time with their children, won't get the slightest upset at being told they are selfish, self-obsessed cows who don't give a toss about their children, who measure their value by how high up the male corporate hierachy they've clawed their way, and whether they..."


And that's one of the better sites - when I say better, I mean the spelling's good, complete sentences are used, and there is no txtspk or 'lol'-ing. The sentiments are just as awful as those found on the more widely used sites.

As a woman, I find it deeply embarrassing that fellow women can carry on in this way. Does it happen in real life too? My mum-friends seem to get on really well, despite the usual differences - work/stay-at-home, routine queens/attachment parents, green/convenience products etc. Maybe they do go away and slag each other off online, but I'd like to think not. As far as I can see, they're all bright and secure enough to have realised that there is no 'one-size-fits-all' template of unquestionable correctness. I think they realise that if someone makes a different choice, it's not to cause personal insult/damage the feminist cause/irreversibly damage their child; and they don't need stamping all over and publicly humiliating until they concede.

We hear so much these days about online bullying, and it's usually in reference to those still at school. Why is it then that men seem to grow out of this habit, and yet some women still want to sit at their PCs and fling vitriol around like monkeys flinging shit in a cage? Shame on them.

Friday, 28 September 2007

The Price of Milk

I had a letter this morning from the very large organisation that employs my milkman saying that the price of milk is going up. Amongst the usual platitudinous CRM-based nonsense was this paragraph:

"The main reason for this increase is a world shortage of milk, which is affecting the price of all milk and dairy products. This comes at a time when the British dairy industry is also experiencing significant change. The soaring cost of animal feed and poor weather over the summer has led to lower amounts of milk being produced and some real difficulties for many of our farmers."

Oh come off it. I'm no investigative journalist, and I don't have the time to present a watertight case here, but this smells of something else to me. It's been several years since we first started hearing that UK dairy farmers were going out of business at an alarming rate due to the aggressive purchasing tactics of the major retailers. More recently we've heard the allegations of price-fixing of milk and cheese. And now we're short of milk, and it's going to cost us more money.

Did no-one else see this coming? I predict that it's time to start looking very hard at our budgets and what we consider important. I have a feeling that our current fixation with cheap commodities is going to prove itself unsustainable and consumers are going to get a good hard bite in the arse in the next few years. Milk is only the start.