Friday, 25 May 2007

Trailer Tent Trash

I can’t believe I have been so completely suckered by the elements. The recent hot weather lured us into booking a camping holiday for half term next week. I should have realised that, as Monday is also a Bank Holiday, there wasn’t ever going to be the slightest chance that the weather would be good. That now looks like being a complete understatement. I believe the forecast is for torrential rain, gale force winds and temperatures of around 11 degrees – all very character building.

I need to state upfront that camping is not really my idea of fun. In my family though, that opinion puts me in a minority of one. H, the eternal Boy Scout, loves setting up rusty gas stoves and mouldy sleeping bags, whilst whistling ‘Ging gang goolie.’ The kids love running around non-stop for days, unwashed and slightly feral. There is some consolation in that I usually take a wine box (or two) but this is for medicinal and anaesthetic purposes, of course.

We are travelling up to the Lake District, which is one of my favourite places in the country, but the vegetation there is green and lush for a very good reason.

This time, we are taking a trailer tent that we acquired from my brother. This clever contraption folds out to a full, if rather basic, tent in minutes. Unfortunately, in the apartheid world of camping, a trailer tent places you firmly in ‘no-campers’ land. You are shunned by the owners of cosy camper vans and glossy motorhomes, because of your humble ‘trailer trash’ status, and you are scorned by the hardened canvas addicts because you clearly aren’t suffering enough to be camping properly.

Camping is not the most romantic of getaways, either. Despite the fact that H and I have a cosy double sleeping bag, the lack of basic personal hygiene becomes an increasing barrier to intimacy as the week wears on. If smelling like a Greek wrestler’s jock strap isn’t enough to dampen one’s ardour, then the seductive night time survival kit of thermal underwear, track suit, thick socks and a woolly hat is sure to do it. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the additional passion-annihilating effects of having your children sleep near you in an enclosed space.

As a last ditch attempt at some luxury before the austerity, I am opening a bottle of the Drunk Mummy Favourite Fizz – La Marca Prosecco (£5.99 Ocado). I’m wondering whether I should take some of this with me next week - I could always chill it inside the sleeping bag.

Sadly, I will not be taking my laptop with me (it’s not waterproof), so I can’t blog for a week.

Have a great Bank Holiday everyone, and for those blessed with children, have a stress-free half term (ha!).

Thursday, 24 May 2007

The Bore and The Trout

A friend was telling me today how she was going to meet her husband for lunch at a very nice restaurant. Apparently they do this every couple of months - which I think is rather romantic. I would imagine that it feels like a secret tryst, or having an affair. I suppose the drawback is that you can’t have much to drink at lunchtime, so there wouldn’t be much point in eating either.

I can just about remember the last time H and I met up for lunch. It was definitely in the years BC (before children) and I think it may have been when we had just got married. We were at this wonderful foodie pub, where children are either not allowed, or are sensibly chained to the car park railings. The sophisticated menu was chalked up on blackboards, rather than printed on wipe-clean laminated cards, and there wasn’t a nugget in sight. At least ten wines were offered ‘by the glass’ so it seemed churlish not to sample them all. We ordered our food, then gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes and talked about films, music and books. These were the sort of topics that filled our lives in those days. The conversation flowed effortlessly, due to the total lack of mid-sentence interruptions, assisted visits to the loo, or the need to apologise every five minutes to nearby diners. I didn’t bang my head on the table once, as there were no crayons to retrieve from under it. (I did bang my forehead on the mirror in the Ladies, though – trying to apply lipstick with one eye shut to help me focus).

After half an hour, the rather stressed waiter/manager came up to H and delivered the immortal line:

‘Are you the bore and the trout?’

We weren’t quite sure how to respond to this, until we realised that he was talking about the wild boar and fish that we had ordered. Apparently there was a problem in the kitchen, and the food was going to take a bit longer to prepare. This actually wasn’t a problem as far as we were concerned. It was just an opportunity to continue the world tour we were taking across the wine list.

I didn’t even have to confiscate all the knives from the table while we were waiting.

I have retrieved a bottle of Villa Maria Private Bin Gewürztraminer (£8.49 Ocado, Sainsbury) from my fridge. It has been driving me mad, because I can’t for the life of me remember which blogger recommended it, and I do like to link the blog to the post. Not only does this omission indicate how rude I am (I didn’t make a note of the name, only the wine), but it also shows up rather glaringly where my priorities lie. I have sifted through all my post comments, but it’s not there. If you recognise that you recommended this wine, please let me know, so I can thank you. It is very exotic, and tastes of lychees and, strangely enough, ginger. My knife is poised to perforate the plastic on the Thai curry, and I think this wine will go with it perfectly.

I have been thinking that maybe H and I should try and give this lunch time dining without kids another go. I long for those lazy, languid lunches of old, but I don’t suppose it will ever be the same again. Would the conversation be about cutting edge recreational events, or exotic travel? Or would we just sit there and talk about the next visit to the grandparents, whether its my turn for a lie-in at the weekend, or some nasty rash that has appeared on one of the kids?

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Property Porn

Most days, I drive past a lovely but rather run down house, which is being extensively renovated. I could not afford this house even when it was a complete wreck. I read about it when it was for sale a few months ago in one of the local ‘property porn’ publications which I consume frequently but furtively. I know its wrong to look at these magazines, but I just get drawn in, even though I always end up feeling ashamed of myself afterwards. I have also found recently that I need more specialist material to get the sort of thrill that I had when I first started flicking through them out of curiosity.

Anyway, I have been watching the progress of this renovation, and the house is nearly complete. The builders on the project are a group of burly middle-aged men who had decided to remove their T-shirts today and reveal the full glory of their bowling ball bellies to the outside world – or maybe I’ve got it wrong and they are all seven months pregnant.

As I drove along in a very slow moving line of traffic, with the car window down, I had a chance to marvel at the new roof, ogle the freshly painted windows, and lust after the side and attic conversions. I don’t think I was drooling. Well, not excessively.

My fantasies were rudely interrupted when one of the builders, obviously a stranger to the salad bar, shouted at me from the scaffolding: ‘Getting an eyeful, love?’ and winked.

There really was no suitable response. I either had to let him continue the sublime self-delusion that he is something of a demi-god, whose rotund, hairy torso is worthy of worship, or confess my sad, carnal property lust.

I opted for the middle ground, and told him I was just admiring his bay window.

Tonight, I am drinking a glass of Tesco Finest Howcroft Estate Shiraz (£7.99). H is more of a Shiraz fan than I am, but this is a good smooth one which tastes of raspberries.

I am hoping it will help to dispel the deepening concern that I am now of an age where builders on scaffolding think I am lusting after them, rather than the other way round. Perhaps attack is the best form of defence. Tomorrow I shall drive past the house and yell at the assorted builders’ bums: ‘Look at the arse on that – you could park your bike in there!’

Maybe I should just have another glass of Shiraz instead, and try to keep my dignity intact.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Ol' Red Eyes Is Back

I’m struggling a bit today. My eyes feel gritty, having over-dosed on the Eye Dew (blue) last night. The whites have gone from the bluey whiteness so beloved of housewives in soap powder adverts, to looking like road maps. My voice has deepened to a ‘bar-room baritone’ from too much drinking and laughing (and probably too much shrieking loudly, but I don’t want to think about that right now).

The Italian Wine Dinner last night was fantastic. I knew we were on for a great night when we started with a prosecco which was wonderfully fresh and light. Prosecco is rapidly becoming my favourite fizz. Why drink one bottle of champagne, when you can drink four bottles of prosecco for the same money? When the chap talking about the wines mentioned the huge increase in sales of prosecco recently in this country, H started shooting me meaningful looks, as if my personal consumption was solely responsible.

There were two white wines – a delicate, peachy Pinot Grigio, and a very unusual Soave, that tasted of apricots, with a creamy finish (who needs desserts when there are wines like this!). I haven’t drunk Soave since I was in my twenties. We used to put it in the fridge with the one and a half litre bottle of Lambrusco, and chill it so much that you couldn’t really taste anything.

The reds were interesting too. There was ‘a nice Chianti’ (thankfully not served with liver and fava beans) which all the women at our table liked, and a big, syrupy, alcoholic Barolo, which all the men preferred.

Finally, there was something I have never drunk before - a red Valpolicella dessert wine. I’m not a big fan of 'stickies' but this was very pleasant – a bit like sneaking a slug of undiluted Ribena straight from the bottle.

I think I need to stay off the juice tonight, or until my voice goes back to its normal pitch. I have spent the day sounding like a female impersonator. If I had better hair, clothes and make-up, I might look like one too.

Monday, 21 May 2007

The Italian Job

In my opinion, when it comes to indulgence, Italy seems to have hit the jackpot – great food, great wine, and great weather.

When I was nineteen, I spent a summer there, selling books door-to-door. I paid for my own flight, and spent three months travelling around Italy selling books that I couldn’t read, and ‘speaking Italian’ by adding ‘i’ onto all the French words I knew. Bizarrely, it seemed to work, and although the job was something of a slog (the pay was commission-only) it was great fun, especially as I was with a group of other young people of different European nationalities – including French, Spanish and Dutch.

To my young parochial eyes, Italian boys looked well-groomed and sophisticated as they whizzed about on Vespas, or drank strong coffee in pavement cafés. They were so much more glamorous than the boys I knew at home, who hung around outside the chip shop, with a meat pie and a can of Tizer.

In Italy, I learnt how wonderful it feels when someone says you are beautiful - even if the gorgeous preening youth is actually looking over your shoulder at his own reflection.

When I think back to that summer, I am astounded at my own youthful optimism. I had never been away from home on my own before, and I remember my mother really didn’t want me to go. She was convinced I would be sold into the white slave trade, and threatened to hide my passport. I did a lot of foot-stamping, snorting with derision, and rolling my eyes, like a mad horse. I even had the temerity to suggest that she had read too many Jackie Collins bonkbusters (doubly unfair, since ‘sneaking a peek’ inside the one she had read was the only sex education I had ever received). More like a cheeky mare than a mad horse, then.

All this reminiscing is because H and I are off to another Wine Dinner tonight, and all the wines are from Italy – what a treat! Of course, the food is Italian too, but I think I would be happy just drinking the wines, and opening a tin of Heinz spaghetti.

I am mortified to say that over twenty years after battling with my mum about my trip to Italy, my daughter and I regularly re-enact the eye-rolling scene, as she tries to break free of her own parental shackles. It is one of the many cruel twists of fate involved in becoming a parent that the role of my mother is played, with startling accuracy, by me.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Bedroom Secrets

Well, the netball was great fun last night, but despite an excellent start and a thrillingly close match, England lost 40 – 47 to Australia.

Disappointing though it was, there was no ripping up of seats at the venue, and no fighting or smashing of car windows on the way back to the station. Just lots of excited girls (young and old) holding hands, waving flags and singing.

Of course, as a result of the late night, I had to drag my daughter out of her bed this morning. It took me about ten minutes to find her under the pile of assorted soft toys, cushions, random strips of material and hair accessories. It looked like ‘'Tracey Emin - The Early Years'.

I noticed that she also had Action Man’s evil nemesis Dr X in there. Not the clean cut hero Action Man whom you would introduce to your parents, but the thuggish bald-biker-lookalike Dr X. Her attraction to a character that has his own weapon of mass destruction for a left arm is a little disconcerting, but I’m sure this is a mere taste of the greater horrors to come.

A quick look in the boys’ bedrooms shows that the gender gap is alive and well, and as wide as ever, even in the under-tens.

One son appears to be nesting, judging by the scraps of torn comic, inserts from video-game covers and the odd Top Trump card. The other has neither soft toys nor books in his bed, just large quantities of grit.

Friday night means Cheap Fizz night, and tonight I am drinking a Marques de Monistrol Rosé cava once again (£6.49 Oddbins). Its quite dry, with a slightly bitter finish reminiscent of burnt currants (I’m not doing a very good sales job here, I know).

It’s rather sad in some ways, but we have been trying to encourage the kids to stay out of our bed, now that they are getting older. This has been driven more by embarrassment on my part, than anything else. One morning last week, my son climbed in next to me for a cuddle. I don’t wish to reveal too many bedroom secrets, but he had the misfortune to lie on the evidence of our marital bliss (i.e. the damp patch) - an unusual situation for a male of any age.

‘Oh Mummy’ he said, with disappointment in his voice, rather than disgust, ‘You’ve wet the bed!’

It shows what a coward I am that I just admitted it, and said rather meekly that I would try not to do it again.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Bully For You

Last night’s parenting workshop on bullying was very informative. I went to one of these school workshops a while ago on the topic of ‘Self esteem’ which was also very helpful. I had been to that one because I was a little concerned that one of my kids seemed to be rather anxious and unsure of himself (but then, if you read this blog, it will hardly come as a great surprise, given his mother).

Instead of fanning the flames of parental neurosis, the workshop helped me to see that in fact, he doesn’t have low self esteem at all. It’s just that many of the kids in his school suffer from eye-wateringly high levels of the stuff.

High self esteem seems to be the modern parenting Holy Grail, it’s what we all want for our kids, to help them become strong, confident individuals. But it also has a very unfortunate side effect, which is lack of empathy. The woman who ran last night’s workshop pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, many bullies do not suffer from low self esteem at all. In fact they frequently have way too much of it, which is why they have very little empathy with their victims. I know it’s not a simplistic topic, but this makes a lot of sense to me.

There was a great section at the end of the workshop about what to do as a parent if you think your child might be being bullied. Among the suggestions were the following:

1. Don’t over-react (moi?).

2. Talk to your child about what has been happening (without going into Spanish Inquisition mode I suppose. So, no staccato machine gun fire of: ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Who did?’ ‘When did this happen?’ I don’t think they encourage the use of the term ‘little shit’ either).

3. Communicate with the school (The fantasy scenario of grabbing the bully by the throat at the school gates and threatening them will have to remain a fantasy then).

If one of my children was being bullied, I think I could probably manage the first two. I’m not so sure about the third. Deep breath. Repeat the new mantra: “I am a grown-up.”

I am posting early today, so I am without my usual ‘mother’s little helper’ glass of wine, which always helps to correct my warped perspective.

I am taking my daughter to an International netball match after school. England beat New Zealand (world champions and Commonwealth gold medallists) earlier this week, for the first time in 32 years. Tonight they face Australia, who are currently second in the world rankings, so we shall both be screaming our heads off (no change there for me then!).

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Pump Up the Volume

I was walking along the pavement to school with the kids this morning, when I had one of those heart-in-mouth moments. My youngest, playing ‘It’ with his sister, dodged away from her on the pavement and stepped into the road, narrowly missing a car.

I have a loud voice. It’s the sort of voice which can perforate eardrums, and shatter windows.

In full fishwife mode (and I don’t mean Sweet Molly Malone), I bellowed at them both to “Come here NOW!” The entire street appeared to freeze, and then a couple of kids whom I’ve never met started to gravitate towards me obediently. There was even one harassed-looking man in front of me, who turned and, for a nanosecond, started to move towards me too. He just managed to stop himself in time, but our eyes had already met and registered our mutual embarrassment.

My children, of course, were the only two people in the street to take no notice whatsoever.

The problem is that I have continually ‘raised the bar’ in terms of the volume I use to address the kids. They take no notice of any instruction issued in a moderate voice. Therefore, for anything to get done, I need to shout to add the necessary emphasis. This has continued across the years, with the amplification gradually ratcheting up. When it got to intolerable levels, I made a major effort to go in completely the opposite direction, and say things so quietly that they were forced to listen. However, this resulted in me talking to them in the menacing tones of an East-end gangster, and was equally ineffective, although it certainly frightened some of the other mums.

More recently, I have concentrated hard on not shouting so much, but the trade off is that I have to repeat every request ad infinitum. The result is a pressure cooker effect, where I am determined to maintain a calm control of my voice, but am forced to breaking point by the repetition. The longer I try to maintain control, the messier the subsequent explosion.

There seems no way back from the Mummy As Shrew scenario. I want to wipe the slate clean and start again (if I had a penny for every time I have said that as a parent.....I would have £19.73).

I think I might try and start tomorrow by communicating with them in whispers. I reckon we will be back to full Godzilla roaring within the week.

I am not drinking any wine tonight as I am going to a workshop for parents on bullying, organised by the school. I can guarantee they will say that if you want your children to avoid being bullied, DON’T SHOUT AT THEM!

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Feeding Time at the Zoo

This afternoon, I managed a nagfest of epic proportions. Starting with the school pick-up, I nagged my kids at considerable length about such diverse topics as lost items of school uniform, wrestling on the kitchen floor (them, not me), lolling on the sofa instead of doing homework, and the inappropriate use of the word ‘gay.’

By the time it came to putting their meal on the table, I was all nagged out.

As they moaned about the food, then picked bits up with their fingers, slurped, belched and generally mucked about, I wondered whether or not I could summon up the inclination to tackle the exhaustive topic of ‘table manners.’ Maybe just getting them to use cutlery properly would be a start, and to stop slurping their drink, which in turn might prevent the gaseous emissions.

In the end, I settled on merely trying to get them to eat with their mouths closed, so we wouldn’t all have to watch that washing machine effect of food swirling around in their jaws. Even this proved difficult, as they are all at the stage where their mouths can barely contain their emergent second teeth.

After about forty minutes of meal time, I didn’t really care how bad their table manners were, just as long as they ate the damn food, and then I could clear up the mess and get on with doing the bath and putting them to bed.

I do think that good manners which are based on kindness and consideration for others are important, and I think that is a battle worth fighting with my kids. Table manners though, are very close to the domain of etiquette, and that is something for which I have very little patience. It appears to me that etiquette exists in order to provide snobbish divisions between people, on the basis of whether or not they know some small piece of irrelevant information.

I really don’t care whether people eat asparagus with their fingers or their fork – I am more interested in whether they would like sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio with it.

So much that falls within the realm of table manners seems trivial or misguided. Reading at the table is bad form, but boring people senseless with conversations about property prices or good schools is considered acceptable.

Why is placing your elbows on the table so impolite? I have been to dinner parties where I would gladly have placed my forehead on the table to alleviate the utter tedium, but I could appreciate how bad-mannered that would have appeared. But elbows on the table? Sometimes my elbows have been the only thing stopping me from sliding gently under the tablecloth.

Having barked at the kids through bath time and bed time, I am now sitting here with something to revive my jaded spirits. It’s a glass of Saint-Véran Blason de Bourgogne Chardonnay (£8.99 Ocado). It has a fresh melon taste, and it's hitting the spot perfectly.

I know that I’ve got to put some effort into improving the kids’ table manners, otherwise they will continue to eat like cavemen. This point was rammed home a few weeks ago, when my daughter had a friend over for tea. This very polite, civilised little girl asked if she could have a fork to eat her piece of cake. As I handed it over, and she delicately manoeuvred a bite-sized piece into her mouth, I looked across at my three. They looked like pigs hunting for truffles.

Another glass of this chardonnay, I think.

Monday, 14 May 2007

You Are Offal - But I Like You

The ‘American Moms’ visit went extremely well. They very kindly brought New York Yankees T-shirts for the kids, so I spent a good ten minutes trying to explain to my three about baseball. No, not really like cricket. Yes, a bit like rounders, but with steroids.

There was no sniggering about fannies (from me), and only one cringeworthy moment when one of the kids asked in his best Little Lord Fauntleroy voice what a ‘dawg’ was.

I decided to make good old fashioned Bangers and Mash for lunch, as this seemed to strike the right balance of authentic British grub, but without the terror-inducing properties of offal. I had forgotten how easy it is to frighten Americans with talk of steak and kidney pie. An American friend once had to leave the room when I happily described how my Mum used to feed us roast lamb hearts. I think subsequently she always viewed me as a not-so-distant relative of Hannibal Lecter. Good job I never told her that I like a nice Chianti.

I have become a lot more squeamish about food as I have become older. In the past, my ‘cast iron stomach’ has ingested all manner of stuff from frog’s legs, snails, tripe, brains and various other glands. I have even eaten Rocky Mountain Oysters, but I thought they were just a load of bollocks. I am not so adventurous any more – I just tend to stick to liver, or black pudding, and am partial to the occasional tongue sandwich (but that’s another story).

I am finishing up the last leftover glass of Montana Reserve Pinot Noir, Marlborough (Ocado £9.99). It just sneaks in under the £10 pain barrier, but it is so smooth and silky, and I knew it would go really well with the sausages.

Judging by the way my kids view everything on their plates with the utmost suspicion, I really cannot see a great future for offal, despite the huge part it has played in the culinary history of our nation. But then, there will always be sausages, which contain all the wobbly, stringy and gristly bits that we can’t face, but just chopped up very small, so that we don’t quite realise what it is we are eating.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Madeleine McCann

Friday, 11 May 2007

Mothers Day, USA

Sunday is Mother’s Day in the USA. I know this because we are having some American visitors over for lunch. Two friends from New York are flying over to England with their mothers, as a Mother’s Day present, which is a bit more upmarket than a handmade card and a box of Maltesers. Part of their trip is a visit chez Drunk Mummy, for Sunday lunch (eeek! I’ll have to get out of my dressing gown!).

I am unfashionably fond of Americans. I think they get a really bad press. The USA is a country of 300 million people, yet there frequently seems to be a snobbish and rather patronising tendency to portray them all as George Bush-loving thickoes, with no sense of irony. If people were to make assumptions about me (as one of 60 million people) on the basis of Tony the Vicar of St Albion, and reality TV, I would be seriously hacked off.

I find most Americans I meet to be extremely friendly, once you get over the initial shock of hearing a middle-aged lady discuss how she has put weight on her fanny. It also surprises me when they are derided for their insincerity (see T. Blair, above) especially with regard to customer service. So what if the American shop assistant doesn’t really care whether or not I actually do have a nice day? I would rather have fake interest than the genuine disregard I encountered today from the languid shop assistant, who glared at me for having the cheek to want to actually buy something. I think she was annoyed that I had interrupted her long-running daydream about becoming (or maybe just having) a personality.

The other important cultural difference that I need to sort out when meeting up with American friends is the use of the phrase ‘really pissed’. I suppose it’s possible to be really pissed when you are really pissed, but then, no-one likes an aggressive drunk.

I ought to be drinking something American tonight, but I have been waiting for Friday night to finally sample a Marks and Spencer rosé Prosecco (£7.49). This is a recommendation from Rob and Silvana at Landcroft House, whose blog is always a feast for all the senses. I love prosecco, and this is an unusual one - fresh and light, it reminds me of those ‘cherry lips’ sweeties I used to get when I was young.

It seems that I have a few cultural prejudices to overcome in my own household. When I told my kids that our friends were bringing their mothers over for a visit, and that one of these lovely elderly American ladies was really looking forward to meeting them, one of them asked me “Will she have a gun in her handbag?”

Maybe I will tell them that she has, just to make sure they behave themselves.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Putting the Men in Mensa

I was standing next to a small group of women today, when I overheard one of them say: “Of course, he is a member of Mensa.....” The others widened their eyes in admiration, and started nodding their heads solemnly.

I used to work with a couple of men who also claimed to be members of Mensa. This fact was usually uttered in reverential voices by co-workers, and people were always embarrassed to be caught doing the Sun crossword if they were around. However, I am always suspicious when I hear of someone belonging to Mensa. It seems as if they are trying to show off, but at the same time, it smacks of chippiness. One the one hand, they are saying:

‘I belong to Clever Club’

but on the other, they are saying:

‘I need something to show how clever I am, otherwise no-one is ever going to know.’

A quick look at a few Mensa websites reveals that membership can be a whole lifestyle choice. You can buy Mensa tea to put in your Mensa mug, to remind people of your intelligence, either at home or at work. You can go on holiday with the Mensa Travel Club, which sounds a bit exhausting – not just one know-it-all in the group. (Maybe the final evening sing-song in the bar is in Latin). There is even a ‘G & T advice leaflet’ which, rather disappointingly turns out to be support for Gifted and Talented children, rather than how to mix a decent pre-dinner drink.

Talking of which, I am drinking Tesco Finest Howcroft Estate Merlot (down from £7.99 to £3.99 until 15/5) and letting its rich, mellow flavour wash over me. I like Merlot, despite the bad press it received in the film 'Sideways' (great film though).

I suppose in the climate of universal dumbing down, I should not be sniping, but applauding the fact that organisations like Mensa do exist. If anything, they are likely to become even more popular as people seem to be constantly seeking a competitive advantage. If there was a Mensa for babies, then I suspect it would be overwhelmed with applications from crazed, ambitious parents, desperate for their children to be classified as Gifted and Talented.

Interestingly, the membership of Mensa is 65% male and 35% female. So I suppose the women should just get back into the kitchen (without their shoes), and make a cup of Mensa tea for the chaps then.

I think I had better pour another glass of Merlot.

By the way, before I forget, the Tesco Wine Festival finishes on 15th May. There are some fantastic bargains, including lots of excellent wines that are half price (in my book that means you can drink twice as much). Get down there before Tuesday and fill your boots!

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Faking It

I could not resist any longer, and now my recklessness has come back to haunt me.

I am not talking about an extra-marital affair here. I am talking about my inability to withstand the lure of the fake tan bottle. However, as with an extra-marital affair, I am left with a sense of guilt, disappointment, and a concern about how I am going to get the stains out.

Being the less-than-proud owner of very pale skin, I have always been fascinated with fake tan – but only on my legs. I am happy to ignore the obvious discrepancy between the colour of my legs and the rest of my body, and have always spent the summers looking like one of those children’s books where you flip the different parts of the head, body and legs to create a hybrid creature.

My love affair with fake tan started with the late Eighties arrival of the mighty (stinky) Duo Tan. The directions promised that after liberal application of this clear cream, I would wake up in the morning with beautiful bronzed legs. In fact, although my legs always did change colour (more ‘rust’ than ‘bronze’) this was eclipsed by the horror of looking at my bed sheets. I still remember the heated discussions with my mother that, no, I really didn’t need to take Immodium.

Then there was a craze for tanning tablets, which my mother forbade me from using (this from a woman who, in the post-War period, used to soak her own legs in cold tea). These tablets consisted mainly of beta-carotene and carrot powder, so you can imagine the resultant shade of ‘tan’ that they produced. I believe you can replicate this effect in your kids if you give them plenty of Sunny Delight to drink.

You would think that I would have seen enough fake tanning products to put me off for life. But no, like the gullible fool I am, I am always ready to try a new one. Of course, it always ends in tears. The initial rush of delight and euphoria quickly wears off, along with the tan.

To try and prove the triumph of optimism over experience, I have recently been experimenting with the much-lauded Johnson’s Holiday Skin. It all started off really well, and the last few days have seen me springing about with apparently sun-kissed limbs. But this morning I noticed pale streaks on my shins, and dark, dry patches on my battle-scarred knees. The overall effect suggested by the nicotine shade is that my legs have a forty a day habit.

I have a glass of Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon (Tesco £5.48 down from £8.48 until 15/5), and as I am enjoying its slightly minty smoothness, I am stretching my blotchy legs out in front of me.

Presumably I will either have to wait for the fake tan to wear off, or scrub at my knees until I remove the top layer of skin. Or, I could do what I probably should have done in the first place, and just wear trousers.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Gardening Therapy

The highlight of our Bank Holiday weekend (apart from the netball) was a mammoth gardening session. Now, my idea of gardening is to wander around in a floaty dress and big hat, humming Vivaldi and wielding a pair of tiny secateurs. A quick dead-heading of a rosebush here, the careful selection of a perfect bloom there, all laid across my trusty trug.

What we actually did was more akin to an Amazonian rainforest slash-and-burn. The garden is almost unrecognisable, and we appear to have nothing left in it that is actually growing.

I blame H (but then I always do!). In the Man versus Nature struggle, Man must conquer and subjugate. If the struggle was Woman versus Nature, we would probably come to some amicable agreement over a few glasses of wine – perhaps arrange a job-share or something.

I think the use of power tools is what attracts men to gardening. Who wouldn’t feel like a Master of the Universe with a hedge cutter in their hands? Well, me, actually. I always think I’m going to cut through the cable and electrocute myself.

I prefer the good old fashioned garden shears – the metallic slicing is so therapeutic. That busy, busy woman with the swinging ponytail, who blatantly queue-jumped in front of me yesterday, while she was yakking on her mobile? Snip! She won’t be so busy now she doesn’t have to put her hair up. That white van man who cut me up on the school run? Snip! He can yell abuse in a much higher voice now. Ah, the gentle joys of gardening.

Now that the weather is a bit colder, I am ready to hit the reds again, after my glut of whites and rosés. I am enjoying a glass of Château Saint Maurice Côtes Du Rhône (£5.49 Ocado - my auntie always used to call it Coat Jerome). It is quite spicy and tastes a little tannic, but that could just be that I am gulping it too fast.

I am looking grimly out of the window at the pile of chopped undergrowth which is still stacked up at the side of the garden. It will have to remain there until I can face bagging it all up and taking it to the dump. That is going to be a while. The last time I tried to force garden refuse into the council collection bags, I ended up looking as if I had spent my entire life self-harming, or wrestling with cats.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Long Tall Sally

There were two very tall girls in my class at school. They were always on the back row of the school photos, slightly round-shouldered and stooping, as if to try and apologise for the extra space they were taking up in the world. When we all got to our early teens, and boys became a huge feature in our lives, their height became even more of a problem, despite the fact that they were both pretty. Most males in their early teens still look like little boys, albeit a bit spotty, but the tall girls looked like fully grown women.

No teenage boy wants to look like he is slow-dancing with his mother, so at the school discos the tall girls never experienced the thrill of the ‘last dance’ gropefest. For them, there was no opportunity to inhale at close quarters the hormone riddled essence of pubescent boy. They were strangers to the sound of grinding tooth enamel resonating through the skull, and the feel of an alien tongue writhing like a fat maggot in the mouth.

I often think about the tall girls, and wonder if they made up for lost time when they were in their twenties, and all the boys had finally caught up in height with them. Maybe they eventually got to wear the slinky high heels we all coveted, instead of being confined to the calf-widening effect of flatties. Did they recover from being marked out at such a young age? Did they go on to revel in their physical superiority?

I suppose I also think about the tall girls because I see my daughter developing into one right before my eyes. Currently she sees her height as a source of pride, as it gives her a big advantage at sport, but I worry for her teenage years, when the boys who are her age will be about the same height as her navel.

It is hard to find tall female role models that are not anorexic clothes horses, but I think we have found the answer. Since netball is her current passion, we are off to a Super League match this weekend. Forget the school netball days of sweaty airtex and corned beef legs, these women are lycra-clad goddesses, all young, lean limbed and athletic. Here the amazon is queen - I don’t think there is a player under five foot ten.

They sometimes televise these matches on Sky Sports, so you may see us in the crowd (I am the one with the hip flask).

Tonight, though, I am getting stuck into a Hardy’s Crest Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay (was £9.99, down to £4.99 at Tesco until 15/5 – you really can’t go wrong) as recommended by my mate Dulwich Mum. Like her, it is smooth, classy, and a little bit fruity. Unlike her, it is cheap, easily available, and has a hint of yeast.

I suppose from my daughter’s point of view, there will be some huge advantages to being tall. She will probably look old enough to get into clubs when she is fourteen, get served with alcopops when she is fifteen, and snog fully grown men when she is sixteen. Maybe I need to go easy on the confidence boosting talk about her height.

Have a great Bank Holiday weekend!

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Worth The Wait-ing List

Am I the only woman in the western world who owns just the one handbag? I think mine was fashionable round about 2003, when I bought it. Since then, it has steadily amassed so much crap that I think if I were to decide to clean it out, I would need to enlist the services of Rentokil, just to be on the safe side. Needless to say it is the size of a small suitcase, and weighs as much as my left leg. The muscles I have had to develop in my neck and back in order to keep it on my shoulder, have left me with an uncanny resemblance to Quasimodo. Since I appear to be going deaf as I get older, I may as well just get the eye patch, and then the transformation will be complete.

A friend of mine has several dinky little bags to match her several dinky little outfits. My bag is brown, therefore it already matches all my clothes – although the effect is not quite the same.

I have never quite understood why some people are prepared to go on a waiting list in order to buy a handbag. Is it really that mortifying just to choose a bag that is actually for sale in the shops? Yet again, I am probably missing something here. Whereas waiting lists seem to increase some people’s desire for certain things, I find that they have exactly the opposite effect on me. I remember a time last year when a mother urged me to put my children’s names down on a waiting list at a local tennis club. I knew there were other places they could learn to play tennis, should they wish to do so, so I asked her why I should bother with one where there was a waiting list, of nearly five years (apparently). “It’s for the discos” she hissed, “The social side is very good for teenagers!” What? Sign your children up for a sport which they may not be interested in, just so they can snog the ‘right sort of people’ when they hit the teenage years? Apart from the golf club style snobbery, this plan is so obviously flawed, that I cannot believe all these parents are following it so slavishly. Surely everyone remembers the horror and embarrassment of being asked to “be nice to” the gawky teenage son of their mother’s friend? Just imagine being forced to go to a disco where all the totty had been hand-picked by your mother? I have told H that if I ever try and do that to our kids, then he has full licence to smother me with a pillow. Although maybe I ought to retract that, as he probably doesn’t need much encouragement to wilfully misinterpret the pre-requisites.

I am drinking a Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc (£7.99 Ocado) which is crisp, but not too sharp, in the way that some sauvignon blanc can be. It is a Drunk Mummy favourite.

I can remember, in the Eighties, there were waiting lists for the cleverly marketed and much-hyped Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Unsurprisingly, I was never on such a list, but I do remember being given a glass by someone who had been. With his newly-acquired status as one of the chosen few, he poured it out with the sort of reverence normally reserved for religious rituals. I think I must have failed to give it due veneration (probably necked it too fast) because I was not offered a second glass. I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think I belched.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Tea For Twenty Two

I went to a coffee morning today, after school drop off. It was in a spectacular house – straight out of the pages of ‘Homes and Gardens’. I have recently decided to stop regaling H about the neo-palaces that some of the people around here inhabit, as I don’t want him to think I am indirectly criticising his role as provider. It has also taken me some time to realise that not everyone lives in a house like this – just the people who host the coffee mornings. They are probably forced into it by the class rep, and must spend the whole time feeling like they are under scrutiny about everything from their choice of scatter cushions, to whether or not they’ve bought the right bread maker.

The hostess had provided a range of beautiful pastries, and someone had brought along home-made brownies. Of course, no-one actually ate anything. Instead there were several requests for bizarre tea concoctions (‘Got any nettle and echinacea?’) and at least three people had brought their own soya milk. Not because they are allergic to cows milk, you understand, but because it gave them something to talk about.

The gathering ended with the usual awkward requests from the class rep, asking us all to donate time/money/raffle prizes for a Summer Fair. This is so we can further line the coffers of a school that we already pay handsomely for our children to attend. I suppose I could have just taken a stand and said no, but I like the class rep, and wouldn’t wish her thankless job on my worst enemy. When I looked at the list of suggested raffle prizes I nearly fell over. If I was in a position to buy tickets to a major sporting event, or an iPod nano, or Nintendo Wii, then I certainly wouldn’t be donating them to a raffle. I scanned the list, thinking there might be something I could donate from the Drunk Mummy wine vaults (actually, it’s a cupboard under the stairs). No luck. Just a request for ‘cases of champagne’ – note the plural there. I guess a bottle of Blue Nun really isn’t going to cut the mustard then.

I certainly won’t be donating any of this delicious pink (despite the name) White Grenache from Ernest and Julio Gallo (Tesco £5.18) as recommended by Mutterings and Meanderings – I shall keep its fresh berry flavours for myself and H, to while away these warm summer evenings.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007


I’ve been feeling a bit subdued today. It seems such a long time ago that I was able to party like a demon, fuelled only by cheap fizz and a bag of crisps. A couple of hours of frantic fumbling on a lumpy futon, then I was up, fresh-faced and ready for a full day’s work.

Last night I sat at a restaurant table all evening, eating a delicious Lebanese meal and drinking wine in a very civilised manner. I was home by midnight, did not indulge in any bedroom gymnastics, and slept soundly in a comfy bed.

So how come my face looks like it needs a good ironing?

I don’t often go out midweek (or at weekends for that matter), and now I know why. It seems that unless I get at least eight hours sleep, I can’t function properly. Maybe my body is still trying to rectify the sleep deficit I incurred when the kids were babies. I know for a fact that my jaw hasn’t recovered properly from that time. I did so much yawning in those days, that I nearly dislocated it, and it still has a tendency to “click out” if I am chewing a particularly combative piece of toffee.

I suppose feeling knackered is a small price to pay for attending the Wine Dinner last night, where all the wines were from Chateau Musar in the Lebanon. They are very interesting wines, and the story of producing them in a war zone is fascinating. There were several reds of varying vintages, all remarkably different in character (I thought the Chateau Musar 2000 was outstanding). There was also a white, which was so unusual that it almost tasted like a red. We started, though, with a rosé which was unlike any rosé I’ve ever tasted. Despite the sugary promise of its pale salmon pink colour, it was bone dry, like a fino sherry. It was a bit like taking a sip of what you think is lemonade, only to find out that it’s tonic water – not unpleasant, just unexpected (although I suppose I would be pretty hacked off if someone replaced my G&T with a lemonade).

You can buy Chateau Musar 1999 at Ocado for £13.99, and Majestic for £14.99, but the 2000 is not being released until the end of May. I am SO ahead of the game! I suppose it’s a bit sad that the only thing of which I can claim to have my “finger on the pulse” is Lebanese wine, but never mind. I suppose I should be grateful that I can still feel a pulse.