Are your clothes revealing too much?

The weather here is dismal. No don’t fall over in shock, but it has been raining today. All day. Not only that, it is cold.

Possibly the right clothing for the current weather conditions.

Possibly the right clothing for the current weather conditions.

A few days ago though, things were different. Spring finally burst into life. We had a long long Winter and then suddenly, almost overnight the birds were singing, the butterflies flitting, the tulips, grape hyacinths and daffodils all coming up at once. English people reacted in the way that they always do. They went out in as little clothing as possible, lit the barbecue, got the Pimms out and sat in the garden all day, with no sunscreen. They smiled even while they (almost) burned.

Me? Well I wasn’t ready. My Summer clothes were still in the garage. I had to make an emergency dash to the loft, scramble up the ladder and heave down the right bag so I could find something cool enough to wear so as not to have a Jane Austen era style fainting fit.

On looking through the things I haven’t seen in some months, I suddenly realised that my Summer wardrobe bears absolutely no resemblance to the fact that I live in England. In a village in the countryside. Where it rains all the bloody time.

I seem to have stealth acquired a rainbow of dresses that make it appear as though I’m waiting for a role in a remake of John de Florette or Chocolat. In some of them I would look just right with a baguette tucked under one arm and a basket of flowers nestled in the crook of the other. I can almost imagine myself wandering happily down the alley of some remote French mountain village, nodding at the older generation as they sit gossiping outside the front of their houses.

I do have a bike (that mostly sits in the garage looking pale blue and beautiful) but I also have a mum bus which is the transport I actually use. I won’t talk about that too much though as it ruins the imagery.

There are no children in this picture. I don’t have to stand in muddy parks, on wetter than they ought to be cricket pitches, or walk along shingle beaches in Gale Force 10 winds, trying to catch up with my Mother and her Dog. I don’t appear to do anything involving dirt or in fact to do any actual work.

There’s the dawning realisation that the trouser suits, the dry clean only, the freshly pressed white shirts, the ‘don’t-mess-with-me-I-know-what-I’m-doing’ clothes have all but disappeared from my cupboards, wardrobes and chest of drawers. I’ve worked from home for the majority of the time over the past three years. I’ve only needed the occasional smart outfit when I’ve had to travel to the office, sometimes more, but usually only once or twice a month.

So this, I suppose is how my dresses have eventually revealed me as a bit of a romantic idealist, (ignoring the outlier of the running kit) who apparently sub-consciously wants to live in the South of France.

In reality, most of the time, at least when it isn’t hot, I’m in my jeans and Converse. If anything ever happened to me though, I’m afraid that if they looked in my wardrobe, the detectives piecing together my last moments would form a very different picture.

This one looks practical doesn't it?

This one looks practical doesn’t it?

Smiling while running?

Yes, despite the unsmiling runners, this proves others do love it too...

Yes, despite the unsmiling runners, others do love it too…

Until recently, I didn’t understand why a lot of other runners wouldn’t smile back at me as I was limbering up to full speed on the country roads leading out of the village I live in.

Running makes me unbelievably happy. I was a pretty good long distance runner at school but didn’t rediscover it until my late thirties. Now I’m a regular. I will run in wind, rain, hail, snow, heat (in England ‘heat’ is anything over 20C) – balking only when I think I might break my ankle on ice. I once ran 9 miles in pouring rain. If anyone else had been out, which they weren’t as they were clearly saner than me, they’d have seen someone so wet you could have wrung me out and filled the nearest reservoir.

After my initial rediscovery of running, I felt like I’d had some sort of epiphany. I wanted to go up to total strangers, poke them and explain what they were missing. I was like some sort of running evangelist, leaping about, hands in the air, trying to spread the word. I’ve calmed down since then, although if no-one is looking I have been known to start waving my hands in the air for other reasons, generally because of whatever is on my iPod. I really do hope no-one ever does see that, as the blue lights and sirens might end up not being far behind.

I have to be honest and say that initially I took it up as I was working from home and needed some exercise to lose weight. However, unless you’re really going to get the miles in, this doesn’t really stack up. For example, two days ago, I ran almost 5 miles and according to my beloved Garmin, I burnt off something in the region of 550 calories. Basically if you went into Starbucks and ordered a Grande wholemilk hot chocolate with whipped cream, you’d have wiped out the whole run in the course of the ten minutes it took you to drink it. Fortunately buckets of hot chocolate don’t do it for me, so I’m relatively safe. Puts it into perspective doesn’t it?

You’re ok if you’re an ultra runner though. For those 40, 50 mile or longer (try this one?) runs, which are a whole other level of craziness addiction, you are allowed to eat cake on the way round.

So I don’t run to lose weight or even to maintain my weight. In reality, I run to let go of stress. There are very few things that have the same effect on me and now I understand why some other runners don’t smile. It is because they are focusing on being alone. When a slightly sweaty woman in skin tight pink and black neon flashes them a broad grin from the other side of the road, this is interfering with their production of Alpha waves. These are the ‘smooth, regular, electrical oscillations in the brain that occur when a person is awake but relaxed’ source. Even that definition makes me feel relaxed. When I run, I can go out feeling like a bag of knotted rope and come back feeling like a bunch of little white flowers have opened out in my brain. I’m happy when I come home and the rest of my family get the benefit.

One of the other things that seems to do this for me, is writing. So despite the fact that I have a million things to do today, this is why I’m here, writing about running.

What does the same for you?

Monkey worries.

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My 4 year old is worried. His 5th birthday is in slightly less than four months time and his mother has done NO PLANNING AT ALL.

Apparently, he would like to go to the monkey sanctuary we went to last Summer. This one is going to be tricky given that it is in the Poitou-Charentes region of France and we live in England. Fail number one. So I offer him the chance to go to another zoo with monkeys.

T: No, mum it won’t be the right kind of monkeys. And I can’t have balloons! (wails)

Okaaay I think, I’m losing the thread here.

Me: You can have balloons at home.

T: No, because they won’t be the right balloons and they won’t be the same kind of monkeys! You need to get the cards out mum. Or NO-ONE is going to come! (I’m sorry, is this a wedding? Have I missed the fact this has been advertised in Tatler?)

Me: Shush T, just think of the Chima lego and the Ninja turtle things you’re going to get. Don’t worry about your birthday, it is a long time away.

T: But I don’t know, I haven’t seen the presents yet! (Er, no.)

T: (goes for complete change of tack) I want to go to Jambinos.

This is a soft play centre and if you’ve read my previous post on the subject, you know what I think about those. Easy win though I think.

Me: Ok, that’s fine, we can go there.

T: But last time, I got lost in the balls and I couldn’t find my way out! (becoming increasingly high pitched again)

Finally, the penny dropped. Did I mention it was bedtime? I gave in and called in the big guns. Dad.

I’m 40, this is my last child and I still don’t always realise when they’re playing me like a violin.

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?

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.

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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