A message for my fellow bloggers…

I am experiencing the same, and just spreading the word. Thanks to Vanessa for writing this. Please check your spam folder as one or other of us (or some other harmless blogger) may be languishing in there with the processed ones….

Vanessa-Jane Chapman

Spam

Over the last week, WordPress, or rather Akismet spam catcher, has been putting most of the comments I leave on other people’s blogs into their spam folder. This does happen sometimes to us genuine bloggers, where for some reason we get blacklisted; I understand it’s happening to a few other people at the moment. I have reported myself to Akismet for this. Akismet does a great job of filtering out spam, and it’s understandable that it won’t always get it 100% right.

So if I usually comment on your posts, and haven’t this week, please check if I’m in your spam folder and release me! I checked my own spam folder this morning and found a real person in there! I haven’t commented as much over the last week because it’s frustrating to take time to write a thoughtful comment, only for it to disappear, so if I’m not hiding…

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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? 😉

Death of the fairies.

My daughter has that look of Nanny McPhee at the moment.  In normal circumstances, if you can see past the attitude, which is almost a physical presence in itself, she’s all Rapunzel length blonde hair, broad grin and flashing Steve McQueen blue eyes.  At the moment though, all I can focus on is the one great big haggle tooth, going greyer by the day and hanging by a thread.  I am struggling to resist the urge to just reach over and give it a good hard tweak.  It’s a bit like that spot you shouldn’t pick at, but just can’t ignore.

When she sees that look come over my face, she bats me away and tells me to get off, in no uncertain terms. She knows quite well what I have in mind. I respond by telling her that the tooth fairy will be very slow to visit if she doesn’t get on with it.  She rolls her eyes and laughs. ‘Mum I am a bit OLD for that now you know.’ She’s 7 and I think I’ve managed to keep the fairies alive until very recently, but now they are definitely on their way out. I tell her that every time someone says they don’t believe, a fairy dies. I dramatise the death. The fairy’s light goes out, she gets paler and thinner, starving and in pain, clutching at her sides and groaning, she eventually collapses to the ground and fades into nothingness. And I tell her that everytime she says this, this will be all her fault.  Unfortunately she knows my sense of humour and just grins. I curse myself for not taking the opportunity to make the death gorier.

I love the fact that she has held on for this long.  Last year, her friends began to tease her for still believing in fairies. She was angry with me for keeping the myth alive and I didn’t know quite how to respond. Is it wrong to want to keep my little girl little for a bit longer? I dragged it out for a bit. On one occasion, she swallowed a tooth and was desperately upset that she wouldn’t get the cold hard cash that the fairy brings. Fortunately however, the tooth fairy is resourceful. She wrote a note explaining that one of her best friends the drain fairy had located the disappeared tooth after it had eventually made its way into the sewer, and had passed it on to her. It hadn’t been the most pleasant of jobs, but you know, friends do things for each other. When she found the note in the morning, C’s eyes lit up – and mine too.

She knows the truth – but we have reached an understanding now. She asks about the tooth fairy and about Father Christmas. A smile flickers over her face as I tease her with what is only ever a half answer.

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Photo of the Dan Baines Derbyshire ‘dead fairy’ from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/derbyshire/6545667.stm

 

To dye or not to dye – that is the question.

I was reading keepingitrealmom.com’s blog post the other day about whether or not a woman should have long hair after 40. It brought me back to to a conversation I had some weeks ago, with a small group of internet friends I have, all in their 30s and 40s, about what they were going to do when their hair went grey. It turns out that some have already ‘dealt with the situation’ and I just had no idea.  Even the ones who don’t wear make up have balked at letting any white hairs see the light of day.   I don’t know many women who go ‘au naturel’ at this age.  It got me wondering what I should do when I have to accept that there are more than a few twinklers threaded through the chestnut.

Grey hair, if you look at a single one on its own, is actually quite beautiful. It’s reminiscent of starlight. It glitters and sparkles. A whole head of grey though on a young (or youngish) woman, unless you can do a glamorous Vidal Sassoon bob, worn with elegance, confidence and expensive clothes, is hard to pull off. Throw curly hair into the mix (mine is) and what you have is a look that says less ‘attractive older woman ageing gracefully’ and more ‘wicked witch of the west’.  I really don’t want my children suggesting I lose my current wardrobe and replace it with the Halloween dressing up clothes – and I wouldn’t put it past them. They can be scarily blunt.

I found my first grey hair last Summer on the way back from a holiday with my family in France. I nearly choked on my croissant. I was not happy. I am not comfortable with the whole ageing process, inside, outside, in any kind of way. I am seeing the older generation in my family slowly fading out at the moment. My paternal grandmother is in her 90s, living in a nursing home, slowly becoming demented and already almost completely bedridden. She hasn’t liked people photographing her for a long time, her skin is paper thin, her hands claw like. She’s not giving up easily though, singing ‘Onward Christian Soliders’ at the top of her voice in the middle of the night, still retaining the upper class airs of someone who had has a less than average life, and demanding that she’s kept in an adequate supply of chocolate biscuits. Whilst I have to admire her spirit, she’s clinging on rather than enjoying life.  Grey hair, rather than wrinkles, seems to signifiy the start of a long road in that direction. And I plan to be the woman in the well known poem ‘Warning’,  http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/warning/, rather than taking old age lying down.

If I eventually dye my hair though, which I suspect I almost certainly will, am I not contributing to the ongoing beauty treadmill that women get on from their teenage years? Should I make a statement and try having my hair grey? Caryn Franklin of howtolookgood.com seems to have it right. Daphne Selfe at 83 looks pretty amazing. And Helen Mirren always looks like she is having a pretty good time. But unless anyone can prove me wrong, there are far less of the women more towards my end of the age spectrum who’ve bucked the trend and not reached for the hair dye.

My little sister (she’ll always be that) while holidaying in Milan in her twenties, sat in a square with her friend and later re-counted to me the number of ‘silver foxes’ walking past. She was not talking about the women. Growing silver (note, not grey) is fine for a man. It’s distinguished, it seems to emanate gravitas and a deeper understanding of life. It’s a little bit Sean Connery and it looks good with a dinner jacket. On women though? I’m not sure the world has moved on that far yet. I’m not ready to be put out to grass, for people to assume I can’t run a marathon, or that my brain doesn’t work just as well as someone twenty years younger. So I suspect the #634 chestnut honey creme gloss will be hitting my bathroom shelf at some point in the next few years. In the meantime though, I will be retaining the right to change my mind. After all it’s a woman’s prerogative. 

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In praise of the fishfinger sandwich.

I’ve been parenting solo this week. This will be the second week this month. As my husband would say ‘we’ve had a bad run of it’. This is the nature of his job and I’ve had to get used to it. As the children have got older, it has got easier; they don’t wake up in the night, they don’t cry themselves to sleep because daddy isn’t there and they are confident he will come home again.  As another local mother whose husband is often only there at weekends once said to me, ‘you get into a routine’. And you do.  I try to keep things as ‘same as usual’ as I can, making sure they still get  to football training, brownies, cubs and swimming. Even more so than normal, as in an average month I do allow myself to drop the ball occasionally. We don’t speak about dad much while he’s away. There’s a huge elephant in the room – but we’re ignoring it.

What I’m not great at though on these occasions, is looking after myself. I love food and I’m fussy about restaurants. But when I’ve just spent the last half an hour making three packed lunches, I can’t be bothered to whip up a gourmet meal for one.

Packed lunches – I hate them. I made my own lunch every day from when I was 14 years old.  Opening my lunchbox at school, I always wished I would find something other than a badly made door step sandwich (mum didn’t do sliced bread), oily with peanut butter, slightly squashed and sweating under the clingfilm.  I don’t know what I was expecting but somehow I always hoped that the packed lunch fairy might have been and furnished me with something slightly more interesting, having utilised better presentation skills.  Whipped goats cheese with sun dried tomato and a few rocket leaves maybe?

So when there are two of us at home, I make an effort. I don’t eat meat so the traditional (and easier) meat and two veg are out.  Mr N once ate guinea pig in Peru, I’m pretty sure he’s tried haggis and we’ve shared deep fried chilli crickets in Mexico so he’s not afraid of a few lentils and an experimental beetroot risotto.  But when you’re by yourself, it’s late and you’re tired, this kind of meal just isn’t going to cut it. There have to be some advantages of being by yourself.  Green and Blacks white chocolate and wine for dinner probably being one of them. Sometimes I just go to the fridge and gather together what is in there. It is picnicking in your own home and normally it wouldn’t be allowed. When I want something a little more nutritionally balanced though, I don’t think you can beat the fishfinger sandwich.  It’s the only time I ever eat ketchup but it’s delicious, reminds me of my student days and is somehow comforting. Go on, you know you want to.

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