A Poem for Today

My last remaining grandparent died yesterday.  Old enough to remember a time when the gas lamps on the street had to be lit each evening, she faded away in a nursing home in the middle of the night.

Only taking water at the end, there was so little of her left that each bone in her hand was clearly visible, not an ounce of fat was left.  I am glad to say though, that I visited her a few days ago,and in between humming hymns with her eyes shut and saying the odd few words, she looked up at me and gave me the most enormous smile. Her mind had been in decline for a while, she may have recognised me, she may have thought I was another of her granddaughters, but I’m glad I made her smile nonetheless.

Supporting my grandfather in his career throughout her life, she never worked but was a botanist by education and I will remember her for her love of plants and gardening.  She was always proud to show my children her yellow raspberries and could not fathom my eldest son’s complete dislike for fruit. She had a maternal fondness for cats, birds, hedgehogs and any stray animals that came across her path and exasperated relatives by insisting the strays were still fed long after she had left her home and garden to be looked after elsewhere.  I hope I can always recreate her amazing tarragon salad dressing and potatoes with paprika. She would never allow my Grandpa his favourite puddings for fear of his waistline expanding but was zealous in the way she would drink a bottle of Cava, given half the chance.

I had been planning today to post a poem that my daughter wrote recently, as I saw it in print at the weekend and every time I read it it makes me see another side of my stroppy, feisty, seven year old blonde whirlwind. I am adding it here anyway, as somehow it still seems apt in the way it looks across the ages. So goodbye to my Granny, with love from me and one of your great granddaughters.

When I was little I noticed the waves looked like white horses galloping and tossing their manes

and though I am older now I still notice them riding the waves

and when I am older still I only sometimes notice them rampage in and out of the sea

and now I am very old I don’t go to see them anymore

but I sometimes look out the window and see them

they make me remember those happy memories by the sea.

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Bring out the beige?

So lately I’ve enjoyed reading a few posts on how women dress as they get older and it seems to be a perennial topic. Joan Collins once decreed that the over forties shouldn’t wear jeans. Well except her of course. Actually I think she probably looks better in jeans than in some of her stuck in the 80s ‘I-really-am-still-in-Dynasty-and-I’ve-still-got-it’ outfits, but there you go.

But really, what are women supposed to do when we hit 40? Break out the slanket, the elasticated trousers and eradicate our wardrobes of any shade of colour that isn’t a variant of greige? My father-in-law’s wife seems to think so.

Last year she saw a full-length winter coat in the Jaeger sale in a beautiful shade of scarlet. But did she buy it? Nope. Her reasoning was that it was an investment piece that ten years later she wouldn’t have been able to wear any more due to the colour. She bought herself some red leather gloves instead. Lovely as they were, part of me wanted to scream at her. Who said you can’t wear red when you’re 65? And if Honor Blackman can be photographed in her 80s wearing Converse then so can I. I’m not giving up my gold ones any time soon.

Something does seem to happen to a woman in her late thirties/early forties though. And I’m not talking about middle-age spread or brain freeze (I know this from looking at my Aunt who is a young 58, has just taken on a PhD in glass blowing, cycles everywhere and wears a UK size 10 (US size 6)). Yes, women do sometimes get a bit thicker round the middle as they get older but it doesn’t have to happen if you exercise and not all of us will go (or choose to go) that way. No, what happens is the self doubt, the anxiety, creeps in. I run and I like to think I have reasonable legs. So I can still wear a fairly short skirt. But as I’ve got older I’ve started to worry about how that looks.

article-1007951-00CCE80400000578-443_468x411_popupI am married. I am not out to bag myself a man. As they get older, I don’t want to cause my children to facepalm when I come downstairs in the morning. If you still have a reasonable figure, and even if you don’t, then the issue is not really ‘can I still wear it?’ but whether it is sending out the right message if you do. So in that sense, the rules about not dressing like your daughter probably apply here. Other than that though, I say shop where you like, wear what you like, cover your arms or don’t cover them. It doesn’t matter. My step grandmother was still wearing make-up every day until her late 90s. She’d often be sporting something glittery, or a purple hat. Or even – as I recall – wore a semi-sheer blouse to my wedding (and got away with it). It always made me smile to see her making an effort to look stylish and wearing make-up almost right up until the end. Ok, so the lipstick started to get a bit crooked but it made her feel better to put it on and who was it harming?.

So I say ignore the rules. I’d also like to remind people that being young does not always mean you are an arbiter of style….

Leopard print anyone?

The Greenhouse

One of the things I love in life, and won’t scrimp on, is food. My theory is that since you never know what is going to happen next, there’s no point in wasting the time you have and it’s the smallest things that often make the difference. For example, if you can afford it, why eat what my mum used to call ‘plastic bread’ (the sliced white kind that weirdly lasts about two weeks before it goes off), when you can pay a little bit more and really enjoy eating an amazing piece of sourdough, a slice of kalamata olive loaf or a freshly torn off wedge of baguette. As you can tell, I’m clearly never going to survive on the Atkins diet. In fact diets in general upset me. You are never going to persuade me to eat fat free yoghurt, diet Coke, margarine, or any other fake food; especially when it doesn’t even taste good.

I am fussy about restaurants. If I could cook something perfectly well at home, I don’t understand why I should pay someone three times the price to make it for me when I’m out. I dutifully attended my husband’s aunt’s 70th birthday party at the weekend. It was a happy occasion but the hotel where we ate was stuck somewhere in the 1970s. As I scanned the menu, I almost spat out my Chardonnay at the mention of an orange juice option. There is no reason why ‘natural fruit juice’ should appear on the menu as a starter, anywhere, ever, in the year 2013. I suppose we should have been grateful it was natural though, as I wouldn’t have liked to try the unnatural sort.  The meal was fine, my children ate it (mostly) but it was equivalent to eating a British school dinner. Boring, a bit heavy, it smacked of mass catering. There was no joy evident in the making of it and yes I could have cooked something better myself.

I contrast this with The Greenhouse, which I had the very rare opportunity of eating in two days ago. This is not a restaurant you would find by chance. Hidden down a little Mews street in an exclusive area of London, you suddenly come across a path bordered by clumps of bamboo, their tall green leaves waving in the breeze. The feeling is as though you are about to enter a spa not a restaurant. As you wander in, already feeling relaxed, you are met by waiting staff who seem to have been born in charm school. They are knowledgeable, polite, friendly and warm but not overbearing. They seem to love their jobs. It is waiting staff as waiting staff are meant to be. I want to bring their trainer home and get him to educate my children. Are you sensing my rapture about this place yet? 

Then there’s the food. I took a few pictures but since I only had my phone, most didn’t come out very well. So you will have to imagine the the tandoori Highland scallops with green asparagus, ginger and lemon. However, I’ll allow you a glimpse of the line caught sea bass with yuzu, chlorophyll herbs and polenta.20130416_132636 (2) 
One picture my friend took really does show what I am talking about.

 What came with coffee

Like something out of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory,  this is more than food, it’s art. The chef who made this has passion for what he does. Every dish is beautiful, every mouthful a flavour bomb. I don’t believe in doing things without putting in 100%. Clearly he doesn’t either. I’m not one of those people lucky enough to be able to afford to eat in this kind of place very often but maybe I don’t want to as I don’t ever want to take this kind of opportunity for granted.  The memory will keep me happy for weeks.

Why do bowling alleys have condom machines? (and other mysteries).

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My spirits are lifted by the sea, the hills, a big expanse of open sky. Sometimes though to keep the children happy in the holidays, I have to go to places I’d really rather not. Two places I will happily wave goodbye to as they grow up: soft play centres (jungle gyms) and bowling alleys.

I do not know any parent who loves soft play. My local centre has its own Facebook page. This is possibly not their best advertising strategy seeing as the half term post they left ‘thanking everyone for coming to play and hoping they’d had a lovely half term’ was followed by no fewer than ten complaints and not one positive comment. It is a place where you go out of desperation, if you’re parenting alone at the weekend and the rain is coming down in sheets. The coffee is terrible. Whilst stories of used syringes being found at the bottom of ball pits are (I-am-hoping-to-God) just an urban myth, if you want the certainty of your children catching an unpleasant virus that they will take a week to recover from, soft play centres are ideal. On a busy day, if you could bottle the ‘essence of toddlers with nappies so full they are hanging round their ankles’ that permeates every corner of the place and sell it to take home and ward off burglars, you’d make a fortune. Still, your children will come home worn out, you don’t get wet and if you take ear plugs to drown out the screams of yet another child who has lost a front tooth coming down the giant slide, you’ll be absolutely fine.

So on to bowling alleys. I am scarily competitive with my children, but will write about that another day. Throwing balls at skittles though, whilst wearing clown shoes, in a place lit by neon lighting and dark enough to wipe out all sense that it could still be the daytime, does not float my boat. Then there is the sensory overload from the hundred television screens all showing different music videos (*can I still say music videos?) turned up to a volume that only people living in the next actual town could not still hear, combined with the overwhelming stench of carpets soaked in stale beer. The one I had the pleasure of attending last week also involving the staff playing mind games with us at reception. The conversation went something like this: ‘So it’s £8.99 each but we’ve got a special deal on at £6.99 with food’. ‘Oh, we don’t want the food, can we just get the deal and not have the food?’ (lunchtime was an hour ago). Cue receptionist looking really confused. ‘Um no, to get the deal you have to have the food.’ It ended up that we got the food as my friend and I didn’t want to be responsible for a member of staff having to leave work early with stress induced anxiety.

Last but not least, I fail to understand why bowling alleys feature condom machines in the toilets. Forgive me for saying so, but I’ve never been overcome with amourousness while subject to any of the above conditions. I have never, not once, felt the urge to shout ‘take me now husband, that shiny hard floor looks just right to lie down on and I’d really like to hear the word ‘STRIKE’ while watching a bit of Justin Bieber during the act’ that would require the emergency purchase of a strawberry ribbed one to avoid the obvious pregnancy that would follow. This is lucky, as otherwise I feel it could take the whole ’embarrassing mother thing’ that I usually enjoy playing on, a step too far. I would also have to give my children a lot more information than they’ve required on the act of human reproduction up until now.

There are many other things I question the need for in life. Don’t get me started on the existence of the baby wipe warmer, any item of clothing made in beige polyester or on Truman Show style holiday parks. Before I think of others, I had better ask if there is anything you won’t miss as life moves on and I will go off to calm down in the Spring sunshine while it lasts.

I’m not going husband shopping again…

I have a strong work ethic; I’ve worked since I was 13 years old. My first job was working in the village pub on Saturdays. I spent most of the day with my arms plunged to the elbows in greasy water, scraping encrusted food off catering sized pans and learning new swear words from the chef. The pub’s signature steak and kidney pie was my least favourite to clean off. Glued on pastry anyone? 

If I was lucky, I was given the next level up of crap task to do:  peeling huge pans of hard boiled eggs or whacking the hell out of turkey steaks with a mallet, to tenderise them. I came home with the smell of frying ingrained into every skin cell, clothing fibre and strand of hair – but I loved having the independence that job gave me and was addicted to that from the start. It is now the middle of the Easter holidays, a couple of years shy of 30 years later and I’ve spent a good week with my husband and the children. (And that’s even counting being dragged to the local swimming pool where we attempted to look like we were both enjoying sitting in a bath of tepid chlorine slightly diluted by water, while fending off the verrucca virus.) But I’m still thinking about work as this is the first week I’ve been without it for twelve years.

I’ve come a long way since my days in a pub, spending my days writing, problem solving, project managing and trying not to cry over being told about yet another yard of red tape to cut through before I could reach the end of weeks and weeks of work.  I have sat in meetings with Government Ministers. Early on in my last workplace, as a press officer and before I (thankfully) moved to where the actual work got done, I knew which ones, long gone now, had a crate of Red Bull in the office to get them through the day and which ones picked their nose in meetings. Some things that have happened over the years I could have happily missed. Personally I think that when you are managing a team that it is probably best not to tell them about your Hollywood wax. But most of the time I’ve spent there, I’ve can honestly say I’ve looked forward to each day working with some very funny, clever and committed people. I’ve made friends and I’ve helped get things done.

I’ve still got another week of the holidays to go and I’m enjoying the time with my family. I’ve had little gaps – and bigger gaps – between jobs before. I’ve got an iron in the fire which I’m waiting on. But this time I feel someone is telling me to do something different. I’m mildly concerned seeing as the last time this happened I went abroad, on a whim, with a friend and saw six countries in six months (that’s too many in case you’re wondering – and I still have to fight the urge to overschedule). I never expected that both of us would meet the men who would eventually be our husbands along the way. I met mine on a boat trip through Vietnam, she met hers while scuba diving off the coast of Northern Australia. It makes a better story to tell at dinner parties than some of them. I am not going husband shopping again and seeing as I definitely haven’t won the lottery, I’m not planning on a round the world trip for five. With the spark of my old self floating about though, I am wondering what might be around the corner this time.

The most important numbers are not the ones you thought they were….

If you ever watched Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer is 42. But for my 4 year old, it appears there is a more worrisome number. So for April Fool’s Day, and because so many people out there have made me laugh today, a quick post detailed from yesterday evening’s conversation with the youngest comedian in the family, which explains:

T: ‘Mum, I love you more than bogeys*.’ (*boogers for the non natives of the UK – this is not about golf or ghosts)
Me: Laughs. ‘That’s not very much!’
T: ‘Ok I love you more than pigs walking down the road.’
Me: ‘Keep going …’
T: ‘How much do you love me?’
Me: ‘More than the World’.
T: ‘Ok I love you more than the world x 100 million.’
Me: ‘I love you more than infinity. Now go to sleep.’
T: ‘I love you infinity x a million.’
Me: ‘Ok now go to sleep or the amount I love you will go down.’
T: ‘To 26?’
Me: ‘Yes to 26.’

See? 😉