Monday, 30 April 2007

Get A (Second) Life

I was out in the world of the grown-ups this weekend. H and I went to a friend’s house for a lovely meal, with excellent wines. I didn’t drink too much – well, at least I was still able to stand unaided by the time we left.

Half way through the evening, the conversation turned to the subject of Second Life, and the whole idea of synthetic worlds. It took me a while to realise that synthetic worlds had nothing to do with crackly bri-nylon sheets. I am familiar with Animal Crossing because the kids play it. They talk casually to each other about “working for Tom Nook to pay off the mortgage” (I now know that Tom Nook is a raccoon, not a pimp, which was my initial hysterical response). Like the fossil that I am, I knew very little about Second Life, and in all honesty, I wasn’t that interested. Then someone mentioned in passing that your avatar could buy its own genitalia. From that point on, I was intrigued and appalled in equal measures. How would you go about such a transaction? Where would you go to buy them? Would you get to try them on? Would they stock the men’s in any size other than Large, Extra Large and Ewan McGregor? I was fascinated, embarrassingly so, and kept returning to the subject, long after the conversation had moved on.

According to my friend (who was suspiciously knowledgeable on the subject) everyone in Second Life is young, good-looking, with well-honed bodies and perfect teeth. I think it would be tempting to go there just to create a fat, ugly, middle-aged avatar that could spoil the party for the Beautiful People.

We are out again tonight (gasp!). I know it’s a Monday night, but, hey! Sometimes you’ve just got to throw caution to the wind! It’s another Wine Dinner, and this time all the wines are from the Lebanon – should be interesting. Apparently there is some food too.

H has already requested that I “leave the genitalia out of it” tonight, but I’m not sure whether that’s because he thinks such subjects are not suitable for public discussion, or whether he’s just embarrassed that I had never heard of Second Life before.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Do I Look Phat In These Jeans?

Just before we left for school this morning, I reminded my youngest that he was due to have a little friend over for tea. He went into a mild panic, and appeared to start tidying his bedroom. By the time I had scooped my lower jaw off the carpet, I realised that he wasn’t actually tidying, but feverishly hiding anything that might be considered ‘babyish.’ Teddies, Thomas stuff, and any vaguely ‘pre-school’ toys were dispatched to the cupboard with a ruthless efficiency that would have made Alan Sugar uncomfortable.

This is not the first time that I have witnessed one of my children go through such a Judas-like betrayal of old favourites. Yet again, I had mixed feelings about it. Like most parents, I want my kids to have the courage to ‘be themselves’ but I know that like most children, they just want to fit in and be like everyone else. Still, I had to restrain the urge to throw thirty pieces of silver into his bedroom.

It seems that his classmates are very quick to castigate anyone who hasn’t moved on from one set of heavily marketed merchandise to the next. It’s dispiriting, but maybe it isn’t so different for adults. You only have to look at those misguided fashion-slaves whose stumpy legs were far better served by last year’s comfortable boot-cut jeans than this year’s skinny cropped ones. They have obviously had to ease them on with a warm spoon, but presumably their desire to fit in with the fashionable crowd is stronger than their desire to fit in their jeans.

I am breaking with a long standing Friday night tradition by not opening a bottle of prosecco. Instead, in homage to the balmy summer evening, I have a glass of La Gioisa Pinot Grigio Blush (£4.99 Tesco). It looks gorgeous, and tastes rather satisfyingly of strawberries.

I have something of a love-hate relationship with rosé wine. It frequently leaves me with a headache, but that may have something to do with drinking too much of it while sitting in the sunshine. I have fond memories of picnics in my late teens, when my friends and I would cool a bottle of Mateus Rosé in a nearby stream. I wonder if it has now become fashionably retro to have empty Mateus bottles as candle holders, dripping with melted wax. About twenty years ago, no self-respecting trattoria was seen without them.

As someone who appears more fat than Phat in her jeans, I am likely to be considered retro rather than cutting edge. Last week, I inadvertently referred to an ‘LP’ instead of a CD, in front of some Bright Young Things, causing gales of mirth, and instantly reducing my status to that of dinosaur. I should have added that if we put the wireless on, we could listen to the Hit Parade.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Babysitter Blues

When our kids were very small, H and I hardly ever went out in the evenings. There were good reasons for this – mostly to do with chronic fatigue, but also because going out seemed to require mammoth organisational effort. Quite frankly, there was nothing I wanted to do enough, to make it worth the hassle. Instead it was considered a romantic Saturday night if I managed to stay awake for at least half an hour after finishing the Chinese takeaway.

Like many families, we live a long way away from our relatives, and we were also unduly fretful about leaving our small children with someone they didn’t know. As a result, we either went out separately, or if the occasion demanded that we had to attend together, we would get a grandparent to come over and stay for a few days. Facing my mother-in-law at 1am with a skinful is almost as bad as facing her at 8am with the hangover from hell. Maybe not.

H used to say that it was “better a strange relative than a relative stranger” when it came to babysitting, but I think that was before he realised quite how strange some of my family were. We eventually graduated onto a very competent babysitter, who was a trained nanny, and coped with the kids better than I did.

The reason I am remembering all this is because I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time today trying to find a babysitter for this weekend. Whereas in the past, all candidates had to be checked by Interpol, my requirements have slackened alarmingly in a very short space of time. So, the qualified thirty-something nanny can’t make it? How about her twenty-something younger sister who helps out with the brownie pack? No, well what about her 18 year old friend, who likes kids, and only smokes the occasional joint? Busy, OK, what about her 15 year old smackhead brother, who is awaiting his court appearance for arson? He’s free! Great, send him round! The kids have been waiting for someone to play with the Chemistry Set!

I can’t seem to kick my Chablis habit at the moment. I’m drinking some Marks and Spencer Chablis, but I’ve no idea how much it costs, since the bottle was a gift from a friend. I’m not sure I like it quite as much as the Tesco Finest Chablis, but that’s not going to stop me putting a few glasses of it down my neck.

I still don’t have a babysitter for Saturday, so instead of going to the glamorous grown-up dinner party, it looks like we’ll be back to the days of the living room sofa and the Chinese takeaway. At least I can guarantee that I’ll be drinking a wine I like.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Falling Between Two Stools

Do you ever get the feeling that you are being subject to the dark arts of the marketing demographics men? That faint paranoia when you receive special offer coupons for a product you bought only once, over a year ago, or online recommendations for items “you might also like...” I find that unsettling, but I can’t work out if I’m uneasy because I think my actions are being observed, or if it’s just my ‘inner git’ which dislikes being categorised.

When I am slobbing in front of the television, if the adverts during the breaks are all for Clearasil or Heat magazine, then I begin to suspect I should be watching something more edifying. Conversely, if they are about equity release mortgages or health insurance, I reckon I have gone too far the other way, and need to lighten up a bit. If the ads are for chocolate, or cat food, then I know there is no point trying to discuss the programme the following day with any male friends.

On other occasions, I have the opposite problem, when it seems like I am in no-woman’s land in marketing terms. If I read ‘chick lit’ I’ve started to feel like the sixth form prefect supervising the spirited, younger girls - I can remember what it’s like to be discovering sex and fashion, but it would be embarrassing to join in the conversation. The more chronologically advanced ‘hen lit’ seems to be full of miserable elderly relatives, stroppy older kids (I’m only familiar with the junior version), but worst of all, heroes in ‘crisp linen shirts’. I’m just not ready to start fantasising about a man in a crisp linen shirt – the image is too clean, safe and predictable. Maybe the average hen lit reader looks across at her nose-picking, stained-vest-wearing husband and dreams about men in crisp linen shirts. Perhaps I am just heading towards an age where the greatest indicator of a person’s suitability for steamy sex is supposed to be their personal hygiene, or their choice of smart leisure wear. Alan Titchmarsh anyone?

Before it all gets too depressing, I am finishing up the remains of last night’s Chablis.
I reckon that with women’s fiction, I am ‘falling between two stools’ - and I’ve certainly done enough of that in my time. It seems that I must identify with either the sassy, young girl-about-town who gets it on with her rugged alpha boss between shopping sprees; or the brittle, well-preserved forty-something in her gilded cage, whose desires are awakened by the sensible, clean chap who likes children.
I think I need the wine goggles.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

When I Grow Up

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” There were many times in my life when that was a burning question. I frequently fantasised about that longed-for day when I could emerge from the grey torpor of school and the parental chrysalis, and spread my wings into the technicolour freedom promised by the world of work.

However, at no point in my varied working life have I ever been an air hostess, hairdresser, doctor (that one was to please my Mum), actress, ballerina, or any of the myriad exciting careers that were my childhood ambitions. Indeed the list of tedious jobs that actually have filled my adult life would have made my childhood self either laugh, or refuse to go on, due to the obvious dullness of it all.

I have always envied people who have had the certainty of knowing exactly what it is they want to do with their lives from a very young age, and then actually doing it. It seems to show an admirable sense of purpose. I wonder how many teachers, firemen and nurses are fulfilling their childhood dreams? Probably a lot more than the accountants and lawyers, although I daresay the latter are more likely to fulfil their childhood dreams of owning a Ferrari.

One of my kids wants to drive their own ice cream van, and I can see why that would appeal. Another wants to be a taxi driver, but that’s probably because he thinks it’s what I already do, and he rather likes the idea of a family business. It seems that no-one wants to be a policeman any more (too dangerous), or soldier (likewise, unless you want a book deal), or cowboy (condemned for harassing the indigenous population). The power of television in our lives has meant that the ‘glamorous’ jobs from a child’s point of view are presenting programmes, playing football, or singing.

Actually, I ought to confess that the one childhood ambition I have never been able to shake off is to be a singer, even though, like most people, I have absolutely no talent for it.

I am humming now, as I sip this glass of crisp Tesco Finest Chablis from the stockpile (now at £5.49 from £7.99 until 15/05 – hurry Dulwich Mum!). No doubt, when I open the fridge door for a refill, there will be enough of a spotlight to justify me bursting fully into song.

Monday, 23 April 2007

I Scream, You Scream

Back to reality after our seaside idyll – with manky hairbrush and underwear well hidden in the bottom of my bag.
As always, the beaches of South Wales did not disappoint. There was only one slightly tense moment when my luminous blue-white legs emerged from their protective covering, causing bronzed locals to avert their eyes in embarrassment, and hiss urgently at their children not to stare at the poor lady. The sea at this time of year is cold, very cold, but being British it was only natural that we should want to submerge our pasty bodies in it. Of course, the kids were all decked out in several inches of state-of-the-art neoprene, so not only did they look stylish, but they were also relatively inured to the arctic temperatures. I was wearing a baggy lycra swimsuit, which might as well have been knitted, for all the thermal protection it gave me. It took me ten minutes of girly squealing to achieve full body immersion, and I would say that it was worth ten weeks of concerted pelvic-floor exercises. Unfortunately though, it was some time before that pinched, concentrated stare of the ‘secret pelvic-floor clencher’ began to dissipate.
After we had all leapt about like salmon for half an hour, I finally persuaded the kids to get out by bribing them, bizarrely, with an ice cream – although chicken soup and hot sweet tea might have been more appropriate in the circumstances.
In the same way that banging your head against a wall feels great when you finally stop (or so I’m hoping, with this child-rearing lark), when I finally emerged from the icy depths, looking more Honey Monster than Honey Ryder, my skin felt like it was burning in the comparative heat of the air. A brisk rub down with a sand-encrusted towel was a more effective exfoliator than any salon treatment, and totally painless at the time, due to the anaesthetic effects of the Atlantic. I’m sure it won’t be too long before the skin on my upper arms heals properly.

Although I was disappointed that I didn’t even get close to trying any of the Welsh Cariad wine, I am very excited by the prospect of drinking this glass of Barramundi Semillon Chardonnay as recommended by The Grocer (£4.79 Ocado, or go to The Grocer’s shop!).
It tastes of melon and citrus fruit, and makes me long to dabble my toes in tropical waters.
I seem to remember that about ten years ago, this wine used to be sold in a brightly labelled bottle. If so, it has had something of a sophisticated make-over (I could do with one of those myself), but the label still suggests warm, sandy, Australian beaches.
Maybe Cariad wines could do a similar tie-in with the beaches of South Wales - the wine label could include pictures of sand, surf, baggy lycra and mottled blue legs.

Friday, 20 April 2007

There's Lovely

We are off to the most gorgeous part of South Wales for the weekend. If the nice weather holds, the kids will spend the whole time frolicking on the beach, splashing in the sea, peering expectantly into rock pools and terrorising starfish. We can eat cockles, fish and chips and ice cream. Heaven!
This is where H grew up, spending his formative years like a young Ray Mears - camping, canoeing and generally boy scouting for all he was worth. As a result, he is fairly impervious to the beautiful surroundings, whereas I, with the romantic perspective of the outsider, am totally besotted with the place.
I do have to enter a seaside Faustian pact, though. When we visit, we stay at my mother-in-law’s house. Now, as tangled mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships go, I have been let off pretty lightly - you do hear some real horror stories. My mother-in-law cannot do enough for us, but at the risk of sounding churlish, that is exactly the problem.
As an ex-nurse, she is one of the least squeamish people I know. She thinks nothing of removing the manky pelt of matted hair that clings to the bristles of my hairbrush. I have never actually seen her do this; I just spend ages looking for the brush, which is of course, totally unrecognisable when it’s hair-free. My toes still curl at the memory of the time we spent a week at her house, and she kindly offered to do some washing for me. I placed the bundle of ‘whites’ in the washing machine, only to return later and find her washing all my knickers by hand.
There is a Welsh wine called ‘Cariad’ (meaning love, aaaah!) but I’ve only ever bought it in Wales. The white was a little sweet for my liking, but I think they do a rosé which would be worth trying in the warm weather – I’ll let you know if I get my hot little hands on any.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Holiday Haircuts

I took the boys to get their hair cut today. I say cut, but it looks more like a marine jarhead shave. The place we go to is an old fashioned barber’s shop, complete with stripy pole outside and Brylcreem smell inside. The boys have loved going there since they were tiny. It could be the 1970s Technicolour photos of chisel-cheeked heroes on the walls (no ornately coiffed boy bands here) that they like. It could be the good-natured, efficient chaps who wield their shiny scissors with such dexterity. It definitely has something to do with the lollipop they get at the end. But most of all, I think it is just that the whole place is steeped in an atmosphere of benevolent ‘blokeishness’ that you really don’t find anywhere else.
The boys always have their hair cut as short as possible. It cuts down time spent on hair washing and drying, stops them from catching the head lice that their schoolmates are always generously donating to others, and lends them an air of menace. They climb into the barber’s chair with hair that is already shorter than the boy who has just vacated it, and after five minutes with the electric shaver (1 at the back, 2 at the sides, 3 on the top), they emerge looking like rather intimidating newly-shorn sheep.
The reaction of other parents to this extreme haircut is usually mixed. Dads frequently run their hands across the boys’ suede heads and smile nostalgically. Some Mums however, obviously find the whole ‘ASBO chic’ thing a bit too much to bear, and laugh nervously as they manoeuvre their ringletted children away to a safe distance.
We are having fish and asparagus tonight, so I have already uncorked some Gavi La Madonnina Araldica (£6.99 Ocado) which I have mentioned before, as it is a firm favourite of mine. Hopefully there will be some left by the time we sit down to eat.
I realise that, as with all parental decisions, I am probably storing up trouble for myself in the future by having the boys’ hair so short. I can see that the moment they are able to choose their own hair length, they will opt for the full Johnny Depp, and I won’t have any say in it at all. But then, since I won’t have to wash it, dry it, or pull nits out of it, I doubt I will care that much either.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Catalogue of Misery

The thud of slippery plastic bags onto my doormat this morning heralded the arrival of (yet another) clutch of catalogues. Or should the collective noun be ‘an envy’ of catalogues, or ‘an over-spend.’
In catalogue-land there are no longer only four seasons – more like eight. They include such periods as ‘early Spring,’ ‘late Spring’ and ‘deep mid-Winter.’ The inference being that I need to reassess the state of my plastic bowls, doormats and towels according to the weather conditions.
Sadly, I am incapable of throwing these catalogues away without at least a cursory flick through. Perhaps subconsciously, I think I am about to discover the one item that will deliver the Holy Grail of a well-ordered home. Instead, I am just left with the vague awareness that nothing in my house either matches or co-ordinates with anything else. Unless you include the contents of the wine rack.
Therefore, I really should have known better than to look inside the latest offering from “The Sleepover Company” which sells everything you supposedly need in order to have another child stay at your house for the night. If ever there was a publication designed to up the ante on competitive parenting, this is it. My eldest is only just dipping her toe into the sleepless world of the sleepover, yet it’s easy to see the inevitable slide into full body immersion. On the rare occasions that I had a friend over to stay when I was young, it merely involved pulling a mouldy sleeping bag out of the loft, and going to sleep on the floor. According to “The Sleepover Company” not only should you completely re-decorate your child’s room with a stowaway bed and matching furniture, but you will need to install a trampoline and outdoor activity centre in your garden. They even sell stripy ‘Popcorn bags’ for the little emperors and empresses to hold (or maybe hook over their ears), while they sit in front of your 40 inch wall-mounted home cinema system.
I am drinking a soft, vanilla-like Patache Médoc Cabernet Sauvignon (£5.99 down from £7.99 until 6/05 at Ocado) and realising that, if I’m being honest, I am against sleepovers for two reasons. Firstly, the ‘away fixture’ requires me to stay off the vino in case I am needed to pick up my blubbing child at 2am. Secondly, the ‘home fixture’ requires me to stay off the vino in case I have to console someone else’s blubbing child at 2am. That looks like a Lose-Lose situation to me.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Mirror, Mirror On the Table

When I was a teenager, my friends and I used to place a mirror on a flat surface, position our faces directly over the top, and look down. Amid shrieks of horrified laughter, we told each other that this was how we would look when we were forty (gasp!). Of course, with typical youthful arrogance, we didn’t believe we would ever get that old, and certainly not that hideous. Ah, well.....
I was reminded of this game when H and I were at a friend’s house for dinner this weekend. It was all very pleasant, until we sat down at the stylishly set dinner table, where the hostess, in her skeletal wisdom had decided that ‘mirrored place mats’ were a good idea. Every time I looked down, I thought there was a shar pei puppy under the table trying to eat my food - it was extremely disconcerting. I suppose if you extend the idea of the teenage mirror game, then this is how I will look when I am eighty (as if I will ever get that old or that hideous!).
Helping me to forget that troubling image, is a glass of Pimm’s – just with lemonade and ice, since we haven’t got the strawberries/orange/cucumber/mint/borage/cabbage or whatever you are supposed to put in it these days. It’s a shame really, because if we did, there would be enough food in the one glass to call it a decent enough meal, and I wouldn’t have to bother cooking tonight.
Maybe I could just pour myself another Pimm’s and spoon a few baked beans into the glass.......

Monday, 16 April 2007

"I'm not (even) fat, I'm pregnant"

There must be thousands of pregnant women who are looking at the pictures of Gap’s new maternity range, featuring Eva Herzigova’s stretch mark-free ‘bump’, and weeping into their lycra tummy panels. Herzigova (she of the talking tits) is apparently 7 months pregnant, with what I can only presume is a hamster. She proudly displays her gently rounded stomach, which looks look like an over-indulgence on a Chinese takeaway meal, rather than an actual pregnancy. It makes you want to yell “Go on Eva, one burp and it’s gone.”
Of course, I am just plain envious. When I was pregnant I resembled a ship in full sail from about 5 months onwards – I even put weight on my feet. My heart goes out to all the poor souls out there in the latter stages of pregnancy, whose only relief in this hot weather is to ease their massive bulk into the kiddies’ paddling pool and be sprayed with a garden hose.
According to The Sunday Times, Eva is not worried about getting ‘back into shape’ after the birth (yeah, I bet). I always said I wasn’t worried about getting my body back after pregnancy either – I would much rather have got someone else’s instead. Sadly, I had to settle for my own, but with the added bonus of a stomach that had so many folds, I could have put a drawstring through and made a really useful duffle bag.

A glass of slightly smoky La Grille Chenin Blanc (£5.99 – down from £7.99, Ocado) is helping me see a small chink in Herzigova’s gushing mother-to-be perfection.
She reveals, mischievously, that she has developed an unfamiliar liking for sweet things, especially chocolate. Well, that’s not going to go away. I give her a year before she is gobbling leftover biscuits, and surreptitiously licking the insides of empty chocolate mousse pots.

Friday, 13 April 2007


There comes a time in every school holiday when the kids have finally tired of Olympic-level bickering, eating playdough, and watching wall-to-wall cartoons (okay, maybe not the last one). That’s when they turn to the tower of stuff hidden at the back of the cupboard, which can be loosely termed ‘craft kits.’
These are all birthday gifts from schoolfriends, whose mothers enjoy the warm glow associated with giving a present that is both educational and creative. What these mothers have always failed to do is enclose their Filipina maid for half a day to help make the wretched thing.
My daughter has a vast collection of these unopened kits, ranging from plate-painting, T-shirt tie-dying, crystal growing, snow-dome creating, and various knitting and sewing packs. Using my finely-honed procrastination skills, I have always convinced her that she needs to do these kits on a day that ‘we’ have more free time.
Today I was finally forced to stop running. She produced a kit (where you create little fabric toys which attach to a keychain), and set about it with gusto. Less that two minutes in, she was, understandably, having trouble threading the needle. Ten minutes later, despite heaps of encouragement, she was seething with frustration. We eventually spent all morning stitching together a shiny green ‘oyster keychain buddy.’
Now, I am not the world’s greatest needlewoman, and the resultant oyster looks like it owes its heritage to Dr Frankenstein, rather than the shores of Brittany, but she seems delighted with it.
I think my (very domestic) mother-in-law realised I was going to be a huge disappointment to her, when her masterclass on ‘how to put a duvet into its cover correctly’ failed to elicit the expected grateful response from me. Although I am rather scathing of Grandma’s obsession with domestic trivia, I have to agree that her sewing skills would have come in very handy today.
In a futile attempt to avoid gender-stereotyping the boys, I invited them to make an oyster too. Thankfully they preferred to run up and down the garden non-stop, which required no parental involvement whatsoever. They also managed to produce their very own 'Dockyard oysters' as a result.
Given that it is Friday night, I should be popping open the prosecco. However, courtesy of a recommendation from Stay At Home Dad I have a glass of Waitrose Pfalz Riesling (£4.99) in front of me. It is, as he describes, both fruity and dry, and it will go extremely well with tonight’s curry. However, I’m not at all convinced by his argument that its intensity means that you drink less of it. Thanks SAHD! If anyone else wants to recommend their favourite wine for under a tenner, I would be delighted to give it a go.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Colour Me Beautiful

I’ve been skipping about with a spring in my step today! My newly-painted toes are now a summery shade of coral, or, as the nail polish manufacturer would have me believe – ‘Feisty.’
Feisty? The only time I’m feisty is if someone at a party says to me “I think you may have had enough to drink already.” Who thinks up these bizarre names for colours?
A quick sift through my battered nail polish collection reveals a pale pink ‘Sweet Sixteen’ (totally congealed, needless to say) and a rather aspirational ‘Sophisticated Lady.’ Most of the names have no relation whatsoever to the colour of the polish. Why is ‘Pashmina’ a light plum colour? Judging by my school run it could be any one of at least thirty shades.
Maybe Farrow and Ball should bring out a range of nail colours. They could have names like ‘Cartland’s Pink,’ a romantic magenta, ‘Varicose Vein’ a delicate purple shade, and ‘Dandruff’ the classic neutral tone.
The warm weather has got me on a bit of a Chardonnay kick at the moment, so I am drinking a glass of creamy Tesco Finest Oak Aged White Burgundy (on offer at £3.99 down from £6.99, Hurry, hurry!) and getting ready to settle down with the last few chapters of Ian McEwan’s ‘On Chesil Beach.’ I have been trying to sneak a peek all day, as I am tantalisingly close to the end. Instead, I was embroiled in endless tedious arguments with the kids about tidying up the hordes of Action Man and Bratz toys. I did notice that a couple of the nose-less, midriff-baring Bratz (or Slutz as they are known in our house) have painted nails – in shades of ‘Jailbait Jewel’ and ‘Lilac Lolita.’

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Twinkle Toes

I was sitting in the garden with the kids this afternoon, enjoying a picnic. Before you picture one of those ‘lifestyle’ catalogue scenarios where we are all dressed in white cotton, and eating home made quiche off Cath Kidston plates, I ought to qualify the term ‘picnic.’ The food consisted of a couple of mouldy cheese sandwiches and a few bags of crisps, with a carton of tartrazine-rich orange drink each. The defining factor, though, was that we were sitting on an outdoor rug. Therefore, we were technically having a picnic. I have recently made the seismic shift into flip-flops on account of the lovely weather, so I stretched my legs out on the rug towards my son. The expression on his face can only be described as abject revulsion, as he regarded my newly-emancipated toes. At first, I thought it could just be an understandable reaction to the cheese sandwiches, but no, apparently the taste of mouldy cheese was nothing compared to the sight of my hooves. Eventually, he cleared his throat and asked me in his most polite voice if I would mind moving my feet away from him, as they were putting him off his food. I would like to be indignant about this, but unfortunately he does have a point - they do look rather reptilian. Therefore, I have decided to tackle my own pedicure tonight. For someone who used to be very high maintenance, this is a bitter pill to swallow. In a previous life, I had well-tended toes and luscious acrylic fingernails with tips so white they looked like they had been dipped in Tippex. They were absolutely rock hard, and if anyone needed to take a door off its hinges, I was the woman for the job. Sitting back in a comfy lounger every month, leafing idly through glossy magazines while someone made your fingers and toes pretty, was hard to beat. Ah, memories......
Anyway, I have a bottle of Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay (£4.99 Ocado) chilling in the fridge which is crisp, peachy and unoaked, and should keep me company tonight. H is out until late, which is good, since I reckon that the ‘secrets of the boudoir’ should remain just that. I’m not sure that watching someone clip their toenails is conducive to great marital relationships (but then neither are scaly feet). A home pedicure isn’t quite the pampering experience of a nail salon, but I can think of one advantage – I was never offered a glass of wine at the salon.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Photo Love

We are back from our Easter break, which was great fun, involving a sort of ‘gathering of the clan’ with my brothers and their families. The strategy of hiding the Easter eggs on Saturday night worked well, although a couple of the sparkly wrappers proved irresistible to some local magpies. I just managed to prevent my youngest son from eating one egg that had acquired its own slug, but I doubt he would have noticed in the general chocolate feeding frenzy.
There is something about returning to the place in which you grew up that brings you down to earth with a bump. As the youngest in our family, I am always at a huge disadvantage in that all my brothers can remember every embarrassing episode from my formative years (and believe me, there were many). As if this wasn’t enough, my Dad’s house is bursting at the seams with photographic reminders of some hairstyles and outfits that can only be described as “experimental”. Here I am in one picture proudly sporting a brand new perm that makes me resemble a blonde Brian May from Queen. In another, I have a fringe that is so aggressively tong-ed that it looks as though a giant sausage roll is taped to my forehead. As the chronological freak show moves on, I am pictured in various sporting team photos – wearing full make up! In fact, plum eye shadow figured so strongly in my adolescence that I am surprised the social services were never called. Even in my twenties, at every family wedding or christening, I am clearly trying to compensate for something by wearing the biggest shoulder pads and largest hats I can find. Lastly, and most cruelly, are my wedding photos. It was only ten years ago, but for both H and I, the years have not been kind. At least they are only head shots, so the full extent of the decay is not immediately apparent. We look impossibly young and healthy in these pictures. For starters, we both had much more hair. Thankfully, after the birth of our daughter, we drop off my Dad’s photo montage completely, to be replaced by pictures of our kids, first as babies, now as children.
I am drinking a glass of Yalumba “Y” Viognier (£6.99 Ocado) which is a little bit sweet on its own but goes nicely with the supermarket Thai curry I will be ‘cooking’ tonight. I am trying to work out when my children are likely to start being embarrassed by the copious holiday photos we have of them messily devouring ice cream cornets. Judging by their mealtime this afternoon, which was more like feeding time at the zoo, that day is a long way off.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Would I Lie to You?

I am off for the weekend to visit my family. The kids are excited at the prospect of the long journey, because we always stop at the motorway service station for a burger. Its not really the burger they want – just the plastic toy that comes with it. I keep suggesting to them that they would be better off eating the plastic toy, and playing with the food, but they will have none of it.
I am already developing an unhealthy level of anxiety about my role as The Easter Bunny on Sunday morning, when I will have to escape undetected into my Dad’s garden to hide some little Easter eggs for the kids to find. I have always insisted on scrupulous levels of honesty from my children, yet I continue to lie to them in the most bare-faced manner about the existence of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus. I know that any day now they are going to unmask me as the craven liar I really am, and I’m dreading it. As a result, like Madame Bovary, I have resorted to crafting an increasingly tangled web of deceit to cover my tracks. I am seriously considering doing the egg hiding on the Saturday night, when they are asleep, so I won’t be caught red-handed.
The risk is that one of the urban foxes will get to the choccies before the kids do, and I will be faced with explaining away the carnage of empty foil wrappers to my weeping children, who no doubt would be convinced that the Easter Bunny had been eaten along with the eggs.
On the other hand, my family are rather big drinkers (no surprise there) and my children very early risers, so in order to continue the deception, I will have to get up at the crack of dawn on Easter Sunday with a hangover. On that basis, the potential bunny-massacre scene is looking worth the risk – at least I won’t have to lie about it next year.
As I am savouring a glass of citrussy Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc (£7.99 Ocado) I am beginning to see a form of salvation from my years of gratuitous fraud. How about telling my kids that the Tooth Fairy has retired to a ‘Sprightly Seniors’ Community’ where she operates a successful dental implant business? And Santa? Thanks to global warming and high cholesterol levels, he is now running a celebrity ‘fat camp’ at his golf and leisure complex in Marbella.
Happy Easter! I’ll be posting again when I’m back on Tuesday 10th.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Hear, hear!

I took my son (not the grunting one) for a hearing test at the local hospital today. Of course, this meant dragging all three kids along with me. A couple of years ago, a visit like this would have caused teeth-clenching levels of stress, but courtesy of the electronic stun-guns known as Nintendo DS consoles, it all went very smoothly. Instead of them running around the crowded waiting room, or chewing on the grimy one-armed dolly from the toy basket, they had to be roused back into consciousness when my son’s name was called.
Before I had kids I had hardly ever stepped inside a hospital. After three pregnancies, involving excessive levels of medical poking and prodding, I have now got to the stage where every time I see someone in a white coat, I take my knickers off (always causes a bit of a stir at the butcher’s shop).
Anyway, with underwear intact, I explained to the nice doctor that we were here because my son’s teacher had expressed a small concern about his hearing, so I thought we had better get it checked. When he asked if I personally thought my son couldn’t hear properly, I had to restrain my initial response about ‘selective male hearing’, since I doubt he would have been impressed. Instead, I mumbled something about it being impossible to tell in our house, since everyone shouted all the time – he wasn’t impressed with that either.
Thankfully, my son’s hearing turned out to be fine after all, so I am popping the cork off a Marques de Monistrol Rosé Cava (£6.49 Ocado) by way of celebration. Its not at all bad for a cheap fizz, and its pink too! I will make a note to tell his teacher next term that there definitely isn’t anything wrong with his hearing – obviously she just isn’t shouting loudly enough.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Tic-king Off

I was sprawling on the sofa, watching TV with the kids today, when I realised that the youngest was making a slight throat clearing/grunting noise every ten or so seconds. I surreptitiously checked he wasn’t choking, farting or being slowly asphyxiated by one of the others, then sat back again.
Now, I know all the child psychology Fuhrers tell you that you must ignore any nervous tics, or you risk making them worse, so I said nothing and sat there wondering how long he had been doing it – days, weeks, months? I had no idea – couldn’t remember it ever being quiet enough in the house to hear. After about another ten minutes I couldn’t stand it any more, and asked him gently if he was aware of the noise he was making.
“What noise?” he asked, turning his chin towards me, but with his gaze firmly locked onto the TV screen. I explained, doing a passable impersonation of the little grunt, but there was no glimmer of recognition, he just continued gawping at the screen – and continued grunting, only now every five seconds instead of ten. I was left pondering the prospect of his gradual slide into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and then a full blown case of Tourette’s Syndrome by the time he hits puberty. In the end, I had to leave the room to avoid gnawing on my own knuckles, or yelling “For God’s sake, just stop it!”
This is not new territory, so I shouldn’t really be worried. My older son went through a stage of gurning alarmingly, and also developed a ‘spinning around’ tic that would have put the Jackson Five to shame. At the time, I was convinced that it was a result of dosing him up with cetirizine for hayfever, but now I’m not so sure. It could just have been the stress he was under that year at his Alpha-child school. The tics would stop whenever he had a school holiday, and then gradually build up again as the term went on. He grew out of it eventually, but not before he had left me with a legacy of fretting silently about a possible return.
Therefore, I am tucking into a glass of crisp and tropical Jacob’s Creek Semillon Chardonnay (£5.49 Tesco) in an attempt to restore some common sense. I seem to remember having a similar irritating grunt pointed out to me by a school friend once, so maybe its genetic. I daresay that by the time the boys are teenagers, irritating grunts will be their sole method of communication.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Lady Mondegreen

We were singing along to the radio in the car this morning when my daughter asked why Whitney Houston was ‘bending over’ in the song. It turns out that the song “I’m Every Woman” does indeed sound like Whitney is belting out “I’m bending over.” Given that the next line is “Its all in me” I may have to suggest that she sings the correct words, in order to avoid the rather pornographic imagery.
I am enjoying a leftover glass of lemony Gavi La Madonnina Araldica (£6.99 Ocado) and slowly realising that my daughter has inherited the family ‘mondegreen’ gene – the ability to mishear or reinterpret lyrics at will. I blame my own father, who wilfully sings the wrong lyrics to almost every song he knows. To this day, if I ever hear the opening line of the hymn “Holy holy holy” I want to add “Two full backs and a goalie.”
H is just as bad. Last year he bought me a Bee Gees compilation CD (don’t mock) called “Number Ones” (which does beg the question as to whether there will be a follow up CD called “Number Twos” – maybe not). I was singing away to “How Deep Is Your Love” and got to the line “When they all should let us be” when he stopped me and asked me to sing that bit again. He finally fessed up that he had always thought that line was “When they all showed letters B” – imagining holding up giant letter Bs in the manner of a presenter of pre-school TV. He still hasn’t recovered from the embarrassment.
When I was at school, you had to buy Smash Hits if you wanted to find out song lyrics. Now there is a whole rash of websites dedicated to them, so there is really no excuse any more for singing the wrong words – thus depriving a whole generation of school kids hours of sniggering fun. I recall giggling with my schoolmates at the Boney M song “Brown Girl in the Ring” and the line “Show me your motion” which we thought we had misheard – the original presumably being “Show me emotion”. Trawling the lyrics websites today I am astounded to realise that the correct words are in fact “Show me your motion.”
Boney M, what were you thinking?