Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Oui, je regrette beaucoup

Two things I regret this week:

The first: I had to leave the house on Sunday after a heated exchange with The Little Prince. He’d asked me to help him prep for his music assessment. That was why I found myself downloading the backing track and searching for lyrics to Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’. The Little Prince played football outside with his friends (as I’m writing this, I realise how bad that sounds. Bear with me, it gets worse).

An hour later, I’d downloaded the music and printed the words. I even listened to the original and had written helpful notes in the margin so that he’d know how many bars to count in between verses and so on. I continued to try to help whilst he was practising. Until he told me that he couldn’t concentrate with me standing there, that I was trying to be too helpful and that he really didn’t need to practice anyway.

He’d just ‘wing it’.

So after a brief discussion in which I failed to behave like the adult I’m supposed to be, I left, muttering about the dire consequences of not putting in hard work. Of course I went to my parents for a soothing cup of tea and the chance to tell on my son…’but Mum, he’s not playing nicely…’

Fast forward to the ’phone call I received yesterday. The assessment went very well. His music teacher loved his ‘beautiful singing’. Two other teachers were drawn from their classrooms to listen. All three were in tears.

The Little Prince earned himself an A* and has learned nothing. No, that’s not true. He’s learned that, not only can he get by with no prep, he can score top marks and wow the ladies. Good grief, Charlie Brown (my favourite new phrase).

The second: I was in the throes of a successful diet last week, and signed up for lunchtime netball. WHAT???

Alas, am no longer in the throes of a successful diet. But I am on the list for netball, along with women who, if this were a comic book, would be the Magneto to my Dr X. My polar opposite. They are very nice, but... they are skinny, very, very fit, eat well, they work hard and run marathons (oh yes – a few weeks ago, one ran a half marathon before work, arriving at our meeting ‘so refreshed!’).

Soon I will be thundering across the court whilst they skip about and run rings around me (as long as they’re not holding the ball, obviously). I’ll stick myself down as Wing Defence, the netball equivalent of sitting in the corner.

It’s as if the last 25 years have never been.

Will I never learn?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Away in a manger

Here’s a question – is it in poor taste to dress up as the Virgin Mary for our next team dressing up day? I go to church every Sunday, so it’s my religion. Surely that earns me the right to dress as VM herself, and to ask Venki, my colleague from Bangalore, to accompany me as Joseph?

My efforts to bring the team together have moved from drinks at the pub on Fridays, to baking and bringing in cakes on Mondays, to encouraging everyone to dress in a festive theme for a day near Christmas.

My desperate attempts to enthuse a sense of togetherness into the team have even made me betray standards. I’ve broken my one cardinal rule, normally invoked at this time of the year, and am organising Secret Santa. That’s right. This year I will be buying some cheap tat and handing it over to someone with whom I’ve not spent five minutes outside of the work environment.

Time to break out the chocolate willies and fluffy handcuffs.

Never mind, I’m hoping that my costume will bring a sense of class and decorum to the proceedings. I’ve persuaded my colleagues to dress up as Father Christmas, a reindeer and a Christmas elf, so some religious input is needed.

I’ve told Venki that I’ll organise a staff, a tea towel head-dress and a beard for him, and I’m sure Big Al will donate his striped dressing gown. I have a lovely royal blue evening dress I can use for myself, and will be ripping up sheets to use as a shawl. A pillow under the dress will complete the look for the morning, and then in the afternoon I’ll switch to carrying Tiny Tears in a blanket.

Perhaps it would be a step too far to bring in a donkey?

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Dear Sir/Madam...

FAO Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools
Alexandra House

November 2000

Dear Sir/Madam,

Re. National Curriculum - Pre-School

I have recently decided to move to Somerset and have subsequently been visiting nurseries and play groups in the area.  My investigations and my own experience of raising a child of pre-school age have led me to a disturbing conclusion - the Early Learning section of the National Curriculum is severely lacking in several areas.  As a result, I would like you and your team to consider including the attached topics in future versions of the Curriculum and have included several questions as a useful teaching aid.  

Please note - these are all questions I have been asked by my four year old.

Please contact me if you wish to discuss the questions further.  Please do NOT contact me if you wish to discuss the answers.

Yours faithfully,

1.  The Body
Why do we have skin?
Why do I need to sleep if my batteries don't need re-charging?
What does my brain do?
Why do we have legs?
Can I still breathe when I'm dead?
Why does all your skin fall off when your dead?

2.  Reproduction
What was it like in your tummy?
Why couldn't I see in your tummy?
Was I laughing when I came out of your 'china'?
Did my head hurt when I came out of you?
Why was I borned a boy?

3.  The world around us
Why are there clouds?
Why does the world move past us when we drive?
Is a cyclone badder than a hurricane
If Frosties tigers eat Frosties, why do ordinary tigers eat people?

4.  Natural history
If dinosaurs were alive before we were born, were we dead?
What did dinosaurs do all day?
Which is badder, a brontosaurus or a tyrannosaurs rex?
If I tell you that there was a brontosaurus with horns, and you always say that there wasn't, would you keep quiet and say yes?
Can a sabre toothed tiger run faster than a cheetah?

5.  Philosophy
When I die, will I be born again?
Can you still hear me when I'm dead?

Thursday, 13 November 2008

All grown up?

So, only 7 months, 1 week, 3 days and 20 minutes until I'm forty. This made me realise that I'm almost a grown-up and really don't have much time to sort myself out.

With this in mind, I've compiled a list of goals which, when reached, will make me a real Grown Up.

10 ways to know when I'm a Grown Up -

1. I will wear matching underwear every day.

2. I will tidy the drawer for my matching underwear so that items are grouped into Special, Going Out, Weekend and Work. As my mother told me (not long ago) 'Keeping a tidy underwear drawer takes hard work, FK. It doesn't just happen on it's own.'

3. I won't feel sick every time I go to the ATM.

4. I will stop swearing at other drivers, especially women at roundabouts.

5. I will delay changing into my pyjamas until at least 9.00p.m. At the moment, Big Al greets me at the door, I hand him my laptop bag and head straight upstairs to change into an old yoga outfit.

6. I will try yoga for the first time.

7. I will stop buying Walkers' French Fries as diet food, and eating three packets in a row.

8. I will get myself on the PTFA cake stall for the Christmas Fayre. Whoops, too late on this one for the third year running. My mother should have put my name down at birth.

9. I will have a tidy i-Pod full of worthy and meaningful songs, so that I don't shuffle through 89 tracks on my way to work, stopping only for the Spice Girls, Elbow and the occasional OMD hit from 1986.

10. I will shave my legs more than once a fortnight so that Big Al doesn't get velcroed to me in bed at night.

On a more positive note, I feel I'm moving in the right direction:

10 reasons why I know that I'm almost a Grown Up -

1. We have a guest room, which is tidy most of the time and not really used to store bags for the charity shop.

2. I put towels in the guest room when guests come to stay. And feel slightly shocked when they are unused after the guests have left the following morning.

3. I drive at 30mph in built up areas. I'd like to say it's because I had a 'road to Damascus' moment at the speed workshop I attended last year. But that would be lying. It's because I get such pleasure from making others behind me drive at the same speed. Especially Jonnie Boden types in large 4x4's.

4. My car has both front and rear fog lights.

5. I have comfortable insoles in all of my shoes. And not many of my shoes need re-heeling.

6. I made a Christmas cake. AND I'm feeding it. When I remember.

7. I went to the Lake District at half term and drank coffee out of a flask whilst wearing water-proof over-trousers.

8. I use a micro cloth on the shower door EVERY morning.

9. I buy the Christmas edition of Good House Keeping magazine and follow the instructions for a 'simple' Christmas Dinner with a diligence and attention to detail that would have made Barack's campaign team proud.

10. My creative son made a pretend security swipe system for his bedroom door out of an empty box previously used for my sensitive bladder panty liners.

Surely you can't get more grown up than wee-ing when you sneeze?

The Good, The Bad and The Hairy

So, the Good Stuff and Bad Stuff from yesterday…

Good – ‘C’s Hair Day’ went down a storm. Everyone took part and C was touched that we’d created a day just for him. I’d attach photos, but would have to ask their permission which could lead to uncomfortable questions about blog addresses. You’ll just have to imagine the wondrous sight of 30 assorted IT analysts in small black and silver afro wigs.

Bad – We thought that The Cat had recovered from the trauma of the night before (see previous post). Big Al talked him down from the kitchen window (The Cat is a man’s man and treats me with the disdain I deserve) and comforted him with treats. All was calm. Until early this morning, when The Cat broke into our bedroom and sicked up several hairballs of black and silver afro wigs, over the duvet. Changing the sheets and scrubbing the carpet at 4 a.m. brought back many happy memories of The Little Prince’s early years.

Good – I looked hot yesterday. I wore an amazing pair of CHEAP jeans from New Look which took me from a size 16 to a size 12 and gave me super model legs.

Bad - said jeans turned out to be made from cheap stretch denim and grew bigger throughout the day. I had to hold them with both hands when walking and hitch them up every time I stopped. It reminded me of being 5 years old in the playground and pulling up baggy woollen tights. Not a great look in front of my team.

Good – Last night, I managed to fit in to the dress I brought last week for the impending Christmas party. I brought a size too small (WHY?) but after the three of us struggled for 10 minutes and after much shouting, swearing and sweating from all sides, we finally managed to do up the zip.

Bad – It looked rubbish. I’d had to hoist my industrial sized boobs to one side in order to get the dress done up, and it was so tight that I couldn’t move them back into position. The bright purple, which seemed funky and sexy in the shop, just looked ridiculous in our sitting-room. I looked like a lop-sided Quality Street.

Which reminds me, someone has brought in a tin of Celebrations. Now that I have no dress to slim for, I think I’ll tuck in. There’s always a silver lining.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Hair Today...

So, tomorrow is 'Wear C's Hair to Work Day'.  

Last month I made a gentle start to my team building strategy by persuading thirty IT analysts to buy shirts from a Nigerian colleague who moonlights as an importer of the loudest shirts this side of Trowbridge.  

This month, we're going a step further.  One of the team is fast approaching 50 and, in the throes of a mid-life crisis, has been quietly growing his hair.   He likes to think of himself as the office eye-candy, but the aging rocker is not a good look for him (he's a friend, so I can say this to him. And have done, many times).

We decided to celebrate this with a tribute in wigs.  Each of the 30 team members have paid to wear a small afro tomorrow (we're collecting for Children in Need).  C doesn't know about this, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the embarrassment he has avoided so well to date.  Remember people, humiliation is a vital item in the line manager's toolkit.

Anyway, The Little Prince and I have spent this evening spraying the wigs with silver paint (see above).  A perfect salt and pepper 'do'.  The cat is traumatised by what appears to be thirty small badgers hibernating in the kitchen.  He won't come down from the edge of the kitchen window and is threatening to jump.   If the wig day fails and the joke falls flat, I may join him.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Nigella & I

So, today's question is:  does the traditional wish for peace and harmony for next year, made whilst stirring the Christmas cake ingredients, still count if one is bickering with one's husband and 12 year old over the best way to fold in the flour?

I've recently bought the ultimate festive recipe book, 'NIGELLA CHRISTMAS'.  In capitals.  It really is that good.   A whole chapter on preparation, and on how to appear perfect when you've actually just changed out of your jammies five minutes before the guests arrive.  A whole chapter on cocktails.  And (my favourite), a whole chapter on Christmas baking.  

I love Nigella.  I want to be her friend.  

Big Al used to say (before he met me, of course), that the reason he and Kylie were not married was because she hadn't yet met him.  

I know, deep down, that the reason I'm not Nigella's best friend is because circumstances have kept us apart and that, if we did meet, she'd want to be my best friend too.  We'd be kindred spirits.  I would be the Diana Barrie to her Anne of Green Gables.  The Edina to her Patsy.  The C3PO to her R2D2.  You get the picture.  

If we were friends, we would exchange tips on the best places to buy magic knickers or which newspaper makes the best recyclable Christmas wrapping (I suspect she's a Telegraph reader).

I  used to dream of being Delia Smith's god-daughter, but lost all respect for her after the debacle on the Norwich City pitch.  Too much sherry at half time, methinks.  So Delia has been relegated to the back of the kitchen book shelf and is only retrieved when the situation requires an emergency chocolate bread and butter pudding (probably more frequently than is healthy).

'How to Eat' and 'Domestic Goddess' led me to Nigella's Christmas book and the situation in which the Knees family found themselves this evening.  

After a long day in school and office, we were tired and probably not in the best frame of mind to be pushing 2lbs of cake ingredients around a too-small bowl and most of the kitchen work surfaces.  

Big Al kept glancing at the book cover and the picture of Nigella bursting over the top of her festive dress whilst holding a plate of roast potatoes (rolled in mustard powder and cooked in goose fat?  I can't wait to find out).  I suspect he was aware of my crush and jealous of the potential competition.

He really shouldn't have worried. 

 The eggs separated in the mixture and I had to crush and sieve the cloves myself so people will be picking the stalks out of their teeth until Twelfth Night.  I've just realised that I forgot to switch on the oven timer and have no idea how long the cake has been cooking.  I'm a disappointment to Nigella and I know it's only a matter of time before I have to hand back my apron and say a tearful good-bye.  

I'll join Delia in football's Division Four and will crack open a bottle of Croft's Original.

Chocolate bread and butter pudding, anyone?

PS:  PM - I know I said I would stay away from the PC and tend to my post-cake kitchen, but I'm hoping that the tidy-up fairies will take pity on me and pay a visit.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Fluoride and fillings

So, Bonfire Night is finally over.  What a relief.  Big Al, the husband, managed to inveigle an invite to a 40th birthday party and therefore avoid the onslaught of the Little Prince's friends.  So what if the party was for an old college friend of 20 years - how could he leave me with four 12 year olds, a clutch of rockets and a large box of Standard's finest?

Of course, I did what any self respecting fast approaching middle aged mother would do.  I went to my parents, taking a large slab of parkin, red wine and a car load of pre-teens.  It was not an entirely selfish act - my father suffers withdrawal symptoms if he doesn't have anything to burn around the 5th November.  Bonfire Night was always a big deal in our family, which is strange considering we were card carrying Catholics.  Unfortunately I was too young to appreciate the irony of sitting in the front pew of our local church on the morning after we had burnt a newspaper and tights based effigy of poor Guy Fawkes.  

For me, of course, the highlight of the celebration was not the fireworks, sparklers or 20 foot bonfire.  It was the treacle toffee - a concoction solely responsible for my frequent visits to the dentist and many painful fillings. We kids had to live through annual fluoride treatments  - an unpleasant and probably expensive business for all concerned (lots of gagging and gargling involved).  My mother could have saved us all a lot of bother by cutting out the toffee on 5th November.  I always missed most of the impressive fireworks whilst skulking in the darkened kitchen, shoving as much toffee into my mouth before I choked or someone walked in.  

That does seem to be a recurring theme through my life.  I was always the last to leave the table at birthday parties, throwing as many sausage rolls and French Fancies down my neck  as I could before being forced to play Musical Chairs.

But, I digress, back to this weekend.  As I mentioned, BA had escaped and The Little Prince had company.  I was the dutiful parent and asked the friends' mothers if they were happy for us to have fireworks.  One mother was unsure about kids handling explosives.  I replied that I would make sure that her son wore gloves when holding the 10lb rocket which I planned to light using a burning copy of the Firework Code.  Meanwhile, back in the world outside my head, I assured her that I would make him watch the proceedings from the safety of the conservatory.

We arrived at my parents to find Dad preparing for a military tattoo on the front lawn, glass of mulled wine in one hand, lit taper in the other and five large rockets under his arm.  A more cavalier approach to the Firework Code I have yet to see.  What did he do whilst I had to sit down with a large G&T and definite chest pains after being hit in the leg by a rogue Roman Candle?  Lit another firework of course, and retreated substantially less than the 30 paces recommended in the instructions on the side of the box.   

I'm not joking about being hit in the leg.  This was the first of several incidents, which included a Catherine Wheel careering over to where we stood and a large rocket heading straight for us, as if guided by the NSA itself.  Of course, I had saved the kids first by herding them into the conservatory - sorry Mrs S, a little late with the promised focus on safety.

However, I had hoped that the evening would serve one purpose.  I'm due to start my pre-Christmas diet on Monday, so appreciated the opportunity to bulk up on sausages, toffee, cake and ice cream.  I always find it's best to fatten myself up before a diet in the hope that I'll feel so ill that I'll welcome the chance to stop eating so much.  One big blow-out before the final push towards the ever elusive size anything-less-than-I-am-now.

It didn't work.  I'm brushing the parkin crumbs from the keyboard as I type.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Snow ploughs and adult education

So, last week I signed up for a creative writing course at the local Adult Education Learning Centre.  Adult Education makes me think of cartoon men in beards and sandals from the pages of a sex education book which my mother brought for my elder sister and I at the far too young ages of 8 and 6, when she announced that she was pregnant (with my darling younger brother).  The cartoon pictures of pubic hair, sperm and female anatomy are forever burned into my memory and were never discussed once the book had been handed over.  

I'm always surprised that my mother thought to give us the book.  After all, we're talking about a woman who, a few years later,  was dismayed to hear my news that we teenaged girls had been given a talk on female hygiene, complete with instructions on how to insert tampons. 'I'm not sure I approve of that sort of thing,' she said, and returned from her next shopping trip with several large boxes of brick-like sanitary towels.

Anyway, back to the Creative Writing.  With a capital C.  Unfortunately, the Dummies' Guide to Creative Writing, also known as the introductory course, began several weeks ago and rather than have to wait until next September, I had to join the Intermediate level.   The word 'Intermediate' strikes fear into my very soul.  It's a word often used in skiing literature when booking lessons.  I'm a serial beginner and haven't moved past a snow plough or green runs after 5 seasons.   More of that in a later blog, perhaps.

I tentatively asked the college assistant if the introductory course was a prerequisite and she replied, 'It says here that you just need an interest in reading'.  So far, so good.  'Oh, and you have to have been writing seriously for some time.  Have you been writing seriously for some time?'.  If you count shopping lists, birthday cards and writing my 10 favourite songs to be buried with, during a particularly boring meeting last week, then yes, I have been writing seriously for some time.  I paid the course fee and started to panic.

And have been panicking ever since.  Time to start some SERIOUS writing.  Unfortunately, this will coincide with my time to start some SERIOUS exercise.  The writing course starts the day after I return from our 10 day long ski trip in Canada.  After I returned from a week's sweating across the slopes last year (I never, ever point the skis downhill), I swore that I would be 2 dress sizes smaller and have a heart rate 20 beats slower before I returned.  Of course, I have done nothing and so now the SERIOUS stuff starts.

Hence the appointment with a personal trainer on Monday evening and the stream of consciousness you are (perhaps) reading now.  Of course, all things are relative.  Painful though both may seem now, I'd rather be hunched over my PC or even the cross trainer than leafing through the pages of 'How I Was Made' with my sister, trying to blink away the imagined faces of my parents, super-imposed on cartoon pictures of long haired and sandalled '70s couples.