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!