Monday, 30 April 2012

Rain, rain go away...

As the month comes to a close we have had repeated weather reports announcing it's been the wettest April on record and incredulous news reports about how the UK is still officially in a drought. I don't mind either way as I rarely use a hosepipe and we have a water butt to collect rainwater in. I do, however, find it bizarre that a bit of rain causes everyone so much distress as though they've never seen it before.

It's like we've all forgotten what a normal Autumn is like with the almost constant drizzle and permanent feeling of dampness and that smell of wet coat that followed you around in your schooldays. What amuses me most is the small talk we make about it. A friend once told me about an American who commented that she never understood why the British are so obsessed with weather until she moved here. Then she realised that weather is the main topic of conversation (other than tea) because we have so much of it. In a single day it can go from torrential downpour to blazing sunshine and back again by bedtime.

To make this demoralising experience bearable we have adopted a few choice phrases that are bandied about when we have this climate. Some of my favourite lines are:

"Nice weather for ducks"

"Well the garden needs it"

"It's the kind of rain that wets you right through" (as opposed to that really dry rain you mean ?)

In our house we also have the twin joy of having a toddler who has discovered the joy of jumping in puddles (I blame Peppa Pig for that !) and a cat who when he comes in cannot disguise that he has been in the rain as a) he miaows loudly to be dried off with his special towel and b) he smells of wet fur and that smell travels !!

Of course following a weekend of dismal weather it was gorgeous and sunny today and with Bank Holidays coming up we can look forward to a few more rained off barbecues before the Summer does finally dawn on us.

Oh do you see what I did there ? I managed to blog what would usually be a bus stop conversation. Thanks for listening :o)

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The incredible Sulk

For those of my readers who are not in a relationship this post will either be of little interest or make you glad you're not. It's about the trials and tribulations that living with another person can cause.

People are annoying. They can be friendly, kind, loving and even funny, but mostly other people are annoying. From the music they listen to on their headphones, to the opinions they have to the way they eat food in public, other people are just a mish-mash of things that are designed to get on your nerves. Take all these qualities and put them in your house and try living with them and you have a marriage. Or if you're not that into marriage, you have a partnership.

I live with someone who doesn't argue (and I don't mean my son - he's already able to yell within an impressive range !) My Hubbie is perceived by everyone as being a nice guy and a bit of a softie. So those who think I'm a meanie have this idea that he is hen-pecked. In actual fact he's perfectly able to stand up for himself and not arguing is a real bonus as I come from a family where shouting and arguing are considered primary forms of communication. In fact my father's preferred form of punishment in my teenage years was to just not talk to me for ages. The longest time he ignored me was 4 years and at this point he even walked past me in the street and pretended he hadn't seen me. In his mind withdrawing any form of communication was the ultimate sanction in a household where the decibel level was critical all the time.

If I'm upset I snap, or I cry, or usually I do both. It's immediate, it's done with and as soon as it's over I regret the bad feeling I've caused to others in my warpath during the dark mood. This is why I can't abide two things:

1. the lingering nonsense that is sulking.
2. being constantly reminded of how I was really angry about something that time. 

If you sulk it's self indulgent and it doesn't achieve anything. It doesn't clear the air and it doesn't explain to anyone what your issue is. It also doesn't leave any space to apologise for being selfish as it's just too long drawn out for that. Reminding me that I was upset about something years ago (or as one person I know likes to do constantly telling me I'm unreasonable) ignores the fact that I do apologise and try to make up for being in a bad mood which a sulker doesn't do. 

I live with the world's primary expert in sulking. If there were a prize for being able to sulk the longest and with the least reason he'd have won it long ago. I blame myself. Mother-in-law did tell me this years ago and I smiled and thought, "what does she know ?" I mean she's only his mother after all. He is able to sulk for days that go into almost weeks. I make his favourite foods, offer him the remote more often and keep asking if he's alright. The mood doesn't shift. Then I finally snap and lose my temper and revert to type and demand an explanation for the moping around and get a teenage response akin to "nuffin" and a shrug.

In some ways it's good to have different conflict styles. Not for us the constant hum of low grade bickering you see in other marriages. I remember getting caught in the cross fire of an argument about whether or not to paint radiators once - it was petty and ugly, much like that couple's arguing style. Just once in a while though I'd like the simplicity of one of us saying what is wrong and the other one responding with kindness and a cup of tea. 

It's difficult enough to be nice to strangers without having to do pleasantries with him indoors. If you can't just say "Oi ! Stop leaving your socks on the floor it pisses me off !" what is the point of being married ? Surely it's about being able to let off steam to the one person who you know can take it and will be alright with you about it because they know you're just upset and not being a nasty, selfish pig.

Every now and again I want to switch off from making sure everyone else is ok and just have an off day. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. A cup of tea and a bar of chocolate is a great solution, but just not having someone else sulk about it is even better. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Politics Schmolitics

Years ago I took part in a mock election at school. It wasn't really a choice as only three of us had any interest in politics and as they both took Labour and Conservative I was left (reluctantly) to stand as a liberal. I read the manifesto and gave it my best shot, but pretty much could see through the nonsense back then. I also knew from day one that Labour would get all the votes in a safe labour seat as the school was. It was interesting to do, but didn't inspire me to go into politics. It is depressing to become disillusioned at the age of 16 by the futility of my attempt to persuade people to vote for me when I knew they would all vote the same way as their parents.

I avoided going into student politics at University mostly as those who did take part were insufferable "hacks" and I couldn't see myself associating with them. Instead, I did a bit of radio, a bit of journalism, a bit of charity, a bit of film and not a lot of anything really. When I came back to London friends suggested that I should try stand up - do a few impersonations and make people laugh and they flatter you that you have a talent ! My fledgling attempts, however, suffered from my lack of confidence and lack of material as I wasn't able to translate my political thoughts into funny jokes.

In recent years I've been repeatedly asked why I don't go into politics. Even Hubbie has encouraged me to and while it does appeal I have a few (probably very stupid) reasons why I haven't:

Firstly, is the fear of falling out with people. While I like a healthy discussion and a robust exchange of views my problem is when I disagree with someone I like. It makes me feel bad and if I felt like that every time I had to make an unpopular decision what kind of politician would I be ? Oh yes I'd be a liberal in the coalition goverment (probably).

Secondly, I have a pathological fear of being judged and portrayed negatively by the media. When David Blunkett was keen to introduce ID cards as Home Secretary I recall hearing an interview with someone who said, "for a blind man he's keen to see everything" and I was appalled. Now, I'm no apologist for Blunkett or his policies, but when did it become ok to mock a man for his disability ?Surely that is too low a blow even for the most hideous of the media commentators. Of course we now know that this is the same media that would hack the phone of a murdered girl, so they are hardly in the business of being fair or playing nice.

Thirdly, I actually want to make a difference and help people and from what I can see that is the last thing that happens when you become a politician. In between compromise and towing the party line where is there room to actually get someone help for their aged parents or to stop a children's playground from being closed ? Every now and then an MP is able to get a result for a constituent and it makes a massive difference to that person's life. That's the stuff I want to do.

What I don't want is to get wheeled out on Question Time every few weeks to show how diverse my party is (yes Warsi we are bored of seeing and hearing you, please switch the lights off when you leave). Or to be pushed through the ranks quickly and always wonder if it was because of my gender or race rather than my ability.

Instead I think I'll just try to do my best without the need for a rosette. Although, I did always like the idea of being in the 'standing at the back looking stupid party.'

Monday, 16 April 2012

All creatures great and small

At the weekend two horses died as a result of taking part in the Grand National - a race generally seen as very hard on both riders and horses. Once again people have raised issues of safety and animal welfare in a sport where horses have a 'shelf life' just as the dogs in greyhound racing do. For me this raises the ugly question of whether we have the right as humans to use animals for our entertainment.

Of course as someone who shares their house with a cat we have plenty of entertainment of the feline kind. Only yesterday Hubbie was looking out of the kitchen window and said "who is that at the end of the garden ?" He meant the tabby cat who is a newcomer to our garden, but I thought he meant the fox that was tiptoeing his way towards the cat. We scrambled to get outdoor shoes on to chase off the fox and I quipped that if I had a red coat and a horse we wouldn't have this problem. In the early days of our courtship me and Hubbie took part in a debate about fox hunting where we took opposite points of view. It's not the first time I've had that discussion and I still cannot fathom how anyone can see fox hunting as a fun day out rather than a brutal 'sport.' I don't see the appeal of chasing a fox using a pack of dogs and surely being drunk in charge of a horse is just irresponsible ?

I have the same problem with zoos, so not taking my son to see the animals is something I will have to explain to him when he is older. In the same way I'm sure he will want to know why Mummy doesn't eat meat. I stopped eating meat in my teens mostly as I read an interview with Madonna where she said that vegetarians are thinner and paler (yes at the age of 13 I cared what she said !) but also as I was horrified by how animals were kept and cared for in order to be eaten. Battery farming especially made me very distressed so seeing the free range hens that live a few doors away makes my heart sing every morning.

About 15 years later I went through an experimental phase with meat. I had been struggling with IBS for a few years and took advice to get some tests to see if it was the food I was eating. The testing was pretty dubious and I was told I was 'intolerant' to wheat, caffeine, peppers, onions, cabbage, red wine, etc. The usual rubbish that you get when you go for a non medical or 'natural' explanation is to cut out wheat, dairy and sugar, ie. all the nice foods. As a veggie I pretty much lived on pasta and potatoes so to be told that my staple foods were off the menu came as something of a shock and left me with few options (or so I thought). I started to eat some chicken then slowly reintroduced other foods that I hadn't eaten for over a decade. To be honest I found meat really uninteresting and dull. It didn't inspire creativity and frankly I'd have preferred to just be able to eat toast. A few years ago I decided again that I prefer not to eat meat and as it is so much more normal now than it was when I first became veggie and the choices are better.

I still vacillate on the decision about whether or not to eat fish and it is one that vexes me as I am always  on the brink of giving it up. I do really enjoy fish though and despite my high minded ideals there has to be space for enjoyment in life doesn't there ?  Speaking of which I did try being a vegan at university (didn't we all ?) and was exhausted, spotty and pale as well as very hungry all the time. I mean who can live without a piece of cake and a cup of tea (no soy or rice milk just doesn't cut it I'm afraid). I admire those who can eat well on a limited diet, but frankly my body was built on chocolate, chips and cheese. Oh, and the occasional piece of buttery toast.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Never, never, never… Oh well ok, as it's you

John Cusack often tells his Twitter followers that if poor grammar and spelling bothers them they should unfollow him as the content is more important than how it's delivered (my words not his). It's not a philosophy I adhere to usually, but I make an exception for him as I think his tweets have the capacity to entertain and inform, but to be honest I break my own zero tolerance rule because I like him. It's the same rule that applies to the films he has been in - yes even Hot Tub Time Machine which when I saw an online trailer for I genuinely thought was an online spoof as it looked so bad. I can't say the same for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which despite being directed by Clint Eastwood and starring JC (a dream combination in my book) didn't hold my attention and bored me to actual sleep. Otherwise I heart John for wearing a Clash t-shirt in any movie where he has wardrobe approval as it shows he has great taste in listening to English bands - if he wore a Smiths t-shirt I might properly explode.

The same exception applies to my friend Jan who sends me text messages in teenage text speak which grates on me if done by anyone other than her. I suspect it's because I find it endearing that someone who has a senior citizen's bus pass writes "gr8 to c u on Sat, thx 4 cream t." I mean come on that's far too cute to be annoyed about.

On a different tack my husband follows any and all sports (except Rugby, but in extremis he has been known to watch that too) despite the fact that years ago I swore blind that I would never marry a man who was obsessed with sport. Clearly he won me over with his witty repartee, his massive intellect and that meal he makes with prawns and pineapple. Actually I refer you to the previous blog post that lists the lovely things he does which make me heart Hubbie (yes, yes I know I hate when people do that too, I promise not to do it any more). 

An area in which we are perfectly matched is our shared interest in politics which is why my friendship with my closest friend is the most puzzling example of my exception to the rule theory. Our politics are polar opposites, yet we get along and don't actually argue. We disagree, but often find common ground that is not party political. In fact it's thanks to SJ that I shadowed a Green London Assembly member (the lovely Jenny Jones) when I took part in a programme to encourage BME women to become involved in politics. I discussed the scheme with SJ and told her I wasn't sure which party to ask to be matched with and she said that she considered me to be most closely aligned with the Greens. She showed great insight that revealed in all the years we've known each other she has identified something that I haven't acknowledged myself. Now that's a good friend ! 

The most recent revelation has been just today. I have for years been very sniffy about people who home school their kids - and as a yoga teacher and part-time Yummy Mummy I know a few - as I've always seen it as self-indulgent and hippie to take Jacinta out of school because she's far too bright for the rubbish teachers at her school to cope with. This opinion has altered since I've realised that if my son was only offered a place at a very poor school I'd have to seriously consider home schooling him as I daren't risk some yobbish Croydon yoofs hurting a hair on my darling boy's head. Today, however, I found out that my NCT teacher Wendy is taking her daughter out of a local school to home school her. I can't blame her, from what she's told me it's the best decision to improve her daughter's chances of actually getting an education. My own fear has always been that even though I'm a qualified teacher I'd struggle to do a good enough job teaching my own child(ren) the curriculum and I'd feel guilty for letting them down.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I have a strict zero tolerance policy on most things with the following exceptions:

1. Poor spelling and grammar - unless you're John Cusack (or Alex O'Loughlin if he's on twitter)

2. Text speak - unless you're old enough to know better and do it to be cool

3. Sports obsessives - unless I married you in which case you put up with far more than I do (and bless you for that)

4. Tories - unless you're SJ, that is the only exception

5. Home Schooling - unless you're a normal person in every other way like my friends Wend and Siobhan. If you're a homeopathic, 'spiritual,' yurt dweller just move along now and we'll say no more about it.

Thanks for listening :o) 

Friday, 6 April 2012

Chocolate, chocolate everywhere...

On the way to visit my family today we saw a parade of churchgoers walking alongside the road we were driving on. Some were carrying crosses and Hubbie pointed out to our boy that this was taking place. It reminded me that for some people Easter is about a lot more than chocolate eggs and Bond movies on the telly. For my family it is pretty much about chocolate, eating food and hanging out for the long weekend. In particular for me it's catching up with as many Come Dine With Me episodes as possible and telling myself that I'm not going to ruin my diet and pig out (which is not helped when Hubbie has given me a chocolate Percy Pig !!)

I should know this, but I have no idea why we associate Easter with chocolate eggs. It might be that Cadbury were particularly hot on selling the idea of an ovoid filled with fondant and created a parallel celebration to the resurrection. Maybe sales start flagging at this time of year with Valentine's Day and Mother's Day gone - after all Father's Day isn't until June. It's not really much of a chocolate day anyway since Red Letter Days sold us on the idea of vouchers for adrenaline events so that grown men can pretend to be James Bond instead of just watching Daniel Craig drive fast cars.

My own conspiracy theory is that it's the diet industry that creates all these food related celebrations so that we are always fighting to lose weight for something. The post Christmas diet, the pre-holiday diet, the pre and post Easter diet, it's never ending !! Many moons ago when I was still at university I stayed at the student house over Easter to do some work and was following a low fat diet plan. Of course I was twenty years younger than I am today so I was already slimmer to start with, but it's the only time I've actually lost weight over Easter as instead of eating chocolate I was exercising every day and eating sensibly.

The problem with everyone knowing you love chocolate is that there is so much of it out there and even when you say you don't want any it still finds you. The Easter Bunny has been very generous to us this year, so I'm going to pace myself and hopefully the damage won't leave me looking ovoid !

Sunday, 1 April 2012

My mother's daughter

As I was half listening to Radio 4 yesterday I heard that a report had found that mothers who work are less likely to become depressed than women who stay at home with their children. One of the women commenting on this report stated that she would be bored senseless if she stayed at home with nothing to do but look after children and going to work gave her purpose and meaning in life.

Having been at home for over a year looking after my boy I noticed that recently I had become resentful of not having any time to myself in a day and waited with impatience for Hubbie to get home so that I could go and do something other than be with my beloved offspring. I was a seething mass of unexplained anger and found that being by myself with my son was appealing for only so many hours of the day. I don't know many people in the area where we live and the ones I do have mostly returned to work or are pregnant again so I don't even see them much. The weekly routine of playgroups and activities gets us both out of the house and I make sure that we do something constructive every day even if it's just a walk to the park. Coupled with an insane paranoia about leaving the house because of a spate of burglaries in our local area I've become a bit reluctant to go too far or out for too long. This is no way to live I was aware that if I didn't pull myself together I was going to become agoraphobic.

I finally opened up about this to a few friends and they concluded that I needed to go back to work as I was bored and underachieving at home. So in the last month I have returned to working a few days a week at a job that is not far from home. I was absolutely miserable for the first few weeks. I missed my son terribly and couldn't bear being in an office on my own for a whole day with only the scale filled kettle in the finance office to lure me out for the occasional cup of tea. It was, however, lovely to come home to hear all about what my boy had been doing and to see his smiling face and acknowledge that he hadn't been irreparably harmed by me not being there to tend to his every whim.

I'm still not entirely sure that this is the dream job for me, but I do know that when my son waves me off in the morning he's in good hands all day. I enjoy going for a walk at lunchtime and I like using my brain for something other than planning meals for my family and deciding if the bookcase should stay where it is or be moved a few feet to the left. Ok so I don't get to bake as much - which is completely overrated as a pastime by the way - and I'm sure the cat will lose some weight without me giving in to his plaintive cries for biscuits every time I go anywhere near the kitchen.

My Mum worked full time most of my life and didn't have a choice about it. She still cooked a meal for us every evening and managed the household budget as well as ensuring we were all doing well at school. In my mind that is the gold standard of what I should be aiming for and anything less is just me being lazy or not trying hard enough.

Trying to be a yummy mummy is pretty demoralising stuff. From comparing how much slimmer every other mum appears to be, to feeling guilty for sitting on the sofa watching mindless telly while the baby naps it all adds up to not being the woman who "has it all." Which brings us back to where I came in and the Radio 4 piece about the myth of women wanting it all when actually we just want to not be bored or depressed or taken for granted. Being pregnant again would be a pretty sweet bonus too if anyone is asking :o)