Secrets and Lies

68539650-free-tea-wallpapers.jpg

If you ever want to send me into the stratosphere, then lie to me or keep a secret from me.   And when I say a lie, I don’t mean “no, no of course the dog didn’t lick that sandwich”  I mean an enormous whopper.  Or and entire tissue of whoppers, which inevitably follows a whopper.  When I say secret, I don’t mean a good secret.  But what we call in our house, a bad secret.  A good secret is a secret that you can tell absolutely everyone in the entire world, but the person for whom the secret is intended (eg a surprise birthday party).  A bad secret is a secret that you are told to keep between yourself and the person who told you to keep it.  That is a bad secret and is the sort of secret you should immediately tell to someone else you trust to help you decide what is the best thing to do about it.

This year I have been lied to a few times in the whopper sense.  The first example was blatant. They haven’t even tried to cover it up.  The person concerned lied to me about when something was going to happen, when at the time that they gave the details, they already knew that it was not.  They would probably consider this lie to be nothing serious – they still did what they said that they would, just later than they promised.  The fact that it had quite serious knock on effects, and they were well aware of this, would seem to be of no concern to them given that they did not extend me the courtesy of a response to my telephone calls or my emails.

The second one was my mother. She told me that she had sold a necklace that my father had given to her.  I can’t say that I was particularly thrilled at this news, but they divorced nearly twenty five years ago, and it was given to her so it was not really my call to make.  Besides, the deed had already been done.  However, sensing that I was not dreadfully impressed, when my mother attempted to canvas the opinion of my two sisters on the subject it then transpired that it was not my mother’s necklace, but one that had belonged to her mother, my grandmother.  And not just one necklace that belonged to my grandmother, but all of her jewellery.  My grandparents were not wealthy in monetary terms, so the financial value was negligible.  The sentimental value to me and my sisters was incalculable.  And no, I don’t think she needed the money to eat or keep warm.

Of course, there are always areas of grey.  I read a most interesting ‘open letter’ in The Guardian which is a very good example of a grey area. A woman was expressing deep sadness and it seemed, much confusion as to why her in-laws would visit her brother in law in the area but show no interest whatsoever in her family, which includes their only two grandchildren. She advised that they used to come and have a cup of tea when they were around and then leave after about half an hour.  They declined all offers to babysit or spend more time with their grandchildren, but would stay with the other family for the weekend, help them regularly with their canine babies and not tell them they were there. They arranged visits, weekends, outings with their preferred family and utterly excluded hers.  Of course she knew about all of these because her husband and his brother had contact.  Is that a secret or a lie?  Is something a secret or a lie if you don’t openly say it even though by your actions everyone knows it?  I’d call it both.

Every one is different, but personally, however bad it is, I would prefer the truth.  I don’t mean that nasty group of people who believe in “telling it like it is” when they are just being damned rude and hurtful on a daily basis.  We all need to keep our mouths shut sometimes.  I mean with important stuff.  If Man of the House were to decide that he didn’t love me anymore, I would rather he would come out and say “Natalie, it’s over.  I don’t like your cooking, your foul temper, and if I have to watch you stack the dishwasher one more time, I won’t be responsible for what I may do with the cutlery tray.” I would prefer that the man I mentioned at the start of this piece had said “yes, we said it would be that day but if you were to lock me in a brewery and ask me to organise a party I would not be able to do so, so it’s going to be at least a week later.” My mother: “I sold your Nana’s jewellery.”  And that woman in The Guardian’s in-laws: “We prefer them to you.  Sorry, not sorry.”

No matter how bad or upsetting the reality is, reality can be faced. At least with reality you can stand and look it square in the eye and deal with it.  Lies leave you feeling like you’re in The Matrix. And it makes no difference if that reality is trying to be concealed by the person peddling the lie, it’s still a lie, just an unspoken one.  Of course if said out loud then the person telling the lie or requiring that the bad secret is kept would have to confess to their fault, and perhaps that is what is the real problem.  My Christian friends would quite rightly point out that I need to work on that thing called “forgiveness.”   And I do.  But does forgiveness mean that you should be a push over?  When a project is risked because of a steadfast refusal to communicate anything at all.  When my children are continually overlooked.  And when my only earthly connection to someone I truly, deeply and innocently loved as a child has been sold to a bloke on the market.  Should I whistle and pretend it’s all fine when it’s really not?

I reflect on this every Christmas. Each and every year, I am upset and heartened in equal measure by the selection of people peripheral and closely weaved into my life who both disappoint and surprise me.  I suppose that some people are decent and some are not.  Those who are meant to love you don’t always and you can’t make them.  Love just doesn’t work like that.  Loves comes quietly.  One day, when you’re not looking, not expecting it and in the most unlikely of people and places you will find it, or it will find you.  And by then it’s too late because it’s already happened, probably because like John Lennon said, you were busy making other plans.  And most of us probably never say it to each other because we’re British and that would be far too embarrassing.  Cup of tea anyone?

 

Advertisements

While You Were Out

 

gift-1915820_1280Last Christmas, no I didn’t give you my heart (George, we miss you 😦 ) – I had a most entertaining time looking at the ridiculous claims that advertisers were making in order to encourage you to buy their product as a Christmas gift. This year, in spite of receiving an email from a company desperately trying to get me to treat myself with the heading: “Your Face Needs This” (how do they know? Have they actually seen my face? My friends aren’t usually so polite that they wouldn’t have mentioned it), my favourite is still “Make Them Owe You One”. Just a charming sentiment for any time of year, but at Christmas in particular.

This year, I have decided to consider the lot of the delivery driver. I realise that they are under an awful lot of pressure, particularly this time of year. There is a lot in the news about delivery times, zero hours contracts, self-employment as a way out of companies dodging any obligations – not nice. But I do wonder what is in their minds sometimes when they are on the job.

I shop on the internet a lot. Saves me some (but not all) of the hassle of beating my way through throngs of people all trying to find a gift so that their loved ones feel obligated to them for the rest of the year…oh no, wait, so that their loved ones have a lovely present that makes them happy. I very much enjoy browsing from the comfort of my own sofa and with a cup of tea, clicking something into my electronic basket and then someone delivering it to me. What I do not enjoy is then trying to locate the item if I am not in when it was delivered, or delivery was attempted.  Rather than go through a “What Would Jesus Do?”, “What Would Madonna Do?” or “Think Like a Lawyer” process when deciding what the best course of action is for a given situation, on this occasion I have to enter into the strange and troubled mind of “What Would a Delivery Driver Do?”

Last year a parcel wasn’t delivered because I was upstairs. You will be surprised to learn that I am not yet able to apparate and I could not get downstairs fast enough to open the door. The driver had gone. He took a photo of the glass in my front door, which was just a flash on glass, as evidence that he had tried to deliver the parcel. As far as I, or, I would suggest, any Court could tell, it was merely evidence of a window that needed cleaning and not necessarily a window at my house. Being a laid back sort of person, this raised my blood pressure from simmering to nuclear; picture the scene when it transpired that the company he worked for are so deliberately impenetrable to communicate with that I was not able to send them an email or make a telephone call telling them where to stick their evidence of me not being in. I decided to Think Like a Lawyer but with an alarming hint of Daily Mail Reader thrown in.  I emailed the company who instructed them in the first place. The company from whom I ordered the item. I told them what had happened and advised them that I would not be shopping with them again. I never heard from them, so presumably they don’t care about my custom either and I haven’t ever shopped with them again. Yes, I have got to that age. And no, I don’t care.

This year I ordered a large box of stocking fillers. For reasons probably not even known to themselves, the retailer felt that it was imperative that I receive a box of three nail varnishes twenty four hours before the rest of the goods. I suppose you never know when someone might need sparkly nails. I knew that they had been delivered as I had a note. The note, however, was coy about where the box was secreted. I began the search.

I live on the side of quite a large hill and my house has a flat bit of garden at the bottom, a section in the middle that needs mowing on a bungee rope, and a flat bit at the top. I foolishly assumed that the item was on the flat bit at the bottom of the garden and that was where I commenced my hunt. Mais non! I discovered it at the top of the garden under the barbecue. Silly me! It all seems so obvious now. Lots of places to hide it at the bottom of the garden and the barbecue that you can’t see from the road was the place that was chosen. I can only assume that the delivery driver wanted to admire the view. In collecting the box, I slipped and fell on the decking. For those of you who have read my Twinkle Toes blog, on this occasion and in the interests of variety, I fell flat on my back rather than flat on my face. It is one of the few times in my life I have been grateful for a generous posterior.

Having retrieved the nail varnishes from under the barbecue, the anticipation of where the next, larger delivery would be left the next day was just too much for me to stand, so I took the Hound out to work off some nervous energy. I returned again to a coy note. Nope, not under the barbecue this time. It was nowhere to be found. Believe me, I looked.  And this was a big parcel.

During what one of my friends refers to as ‘The Throttling Hour’ – the time between feeding the Childerbeasts and actually getting them into bed, I ate a banana. I went to put the banana skin in the green bin before putting it out for bin day the following morning. Guess what? The parcel had been rammed into the green bin. No one would think to look in there would they? I certainly didn’t. Except for the refuse collectors. They might when they emptied it into the truck.

And it’s not just delivery drivers in Warwickshire. Leicestershire also seems to have an issue. It may be the Midlands, or possibly the entire nation that is affected by this phenomenon. It could even be a First World, worldwide issue. My sister (we shall call her Sister A – she’s the nerd – see Codebreakers blog) lives in a cottage that has a be-shrubbed front garden and then steps directly down to the pavement. She is also a keen internet shopper, particularly at Christmas. My other sister was popping round to collect her hound for her (we shall call her Sister B – she’s the one in the Generation XX blog) as Sister A has a social life and wouldn’t be back until late. Yes, gutting isn’t it? At the bottom of the steps, and on the pavement next to her bin (also to be collected that day) Sister B discovered a parcel that Sister A had ordered. It had been delivered to the highway. Not up the steps, not by the front door, not behind a shrubbery, and not quite as good as in the bin…..but on public land and in full view of the entire world. How Sister B is going to explain away her lovely new Christmas jumper that exactly matches the one that was never delivered to Sister A’s house is anyone’s guess.

Tomorrow I am expecting the delivery of another parcel from the company that BBQ/Green Bin Man works for. It’s a big parcel. I don’t know whether to stay in so he can hand it to me. Or do I set aside the whole afternoon to spend it searching through bins? You are quite correct that this may cause concerned mutterings from my friends and neighbours, but on the other hand, they may also take pity on me and invite me in for a cup of tea and a mince pie.

Happy Shopping!

 

 

Flying High

dove-41260_1280

 

 

My eldest child is off to secondary school next year.  That has sneaked up on me.  It only seems like five minutes ago that they were in Reception, covered in tinsel and jiggling about being a star in the Nativity play.  How did it get to secondary school so quickly?  In fact, how did we all get here so quickly?  I’m sure that we’re all still eighteen.

Middle class problem, but the whole secondary school thing has been and continues to be quite stressful.  I don’t think I am alone in this.  I’m not sure which school my child is going to yet, and like everyone else, I won’t know until the County Council pronounces next year.  I am sure it wasn’t this complicated when I was little – we just went to school.

The whole thing has been made a lot more controversial in my area by the eleven plus. Some children sat it, some didn’t.  Some parents are regretting putting their children in for it, some are wishing they had given it a go.  Some parents object on moral grounds.  Some parents just plain object. One mother I spoke to said that some parents had said to her “we want this” (complete with fist pumping of the air).  Another mother expressed relief to me that she was not going to enter her child for the exam as they were not “bright” enough.  Maybe not if you were posing a maths problem or dissecting Shakespeare.  I have, however, seen one of that child’s drawings – I could never draw like that in a million years.  I understand all of the points of view (apart from the fist pumper, I really don’t get that).  It is almost as divisive as Brexit.

As a race, humans have always valued high intelligence.  The pursuit and acquisition of knowledge has always been, and hopefully will always be, something to which humans aspire.  However, does our superior intelligence make us superior to other animals or even to each other? It seems that increasingly within our society that higher intelligence, or rather high academic achievement, is viewed as something that should not only be aspired to, but crucially, if it is not gained or achieved by a person, then they are somehow inferior as a human being and of less value. That is quite a narrow definition of worth.

At the end of 2013, a little boy was born six weeks early.  He was not expected to survive, although the doctors wisely kept their counsel at that time.  Wise because it was not something that anyone needed to hear at that time, it would not have helped, and on that particular occasion, the doctors would also have been wrong.  My nephew celebrates his fourth birthday next month.  As well as having blue eyes, blonde hair and a bit of a temper which I am sure he gets from his mother (my sister), he also has an extra chromosome.  This means that he will view and experience the world through entirely different eyes from most of the rest of us.

It was unexpected.  Partly because he arrived six weeks sooner than his due date and no one had bought him anything yet, but also because of the extra chromosome.  We had been conditioned to think it was meant to be a devastating loss.  In the melee and relief of everyone being all right in the end, I started thinking of all of the things that my nephew was never going to be – brain surgeon, astrophysicist, barrister, racing driver – those things, will almost certainly, be out of his intellectual reach…..But then I started to think of all of the things that he was also never going to be – murderer, liar, thief, bully. And as I have watched him learn and grow these past four years – a happy and healthy child who is not yet old enough to see the looks that some people give him – I have wondered why his life in particular is viewed by some as having less or no value…and how, why or when that was decided. Then I have wondered exactly where we, as a society, should draw the line and why it is that we think that we are entitled to draw that line?

When did not being something matter so much?  What is wrong with leading a good, kind and honest life and not causing damage to yourself or other people?  Why is this of less value?  Some of the things we aren’t, or will never be, are good things not be.  I am not suggesting that brain surgeons are not good, kind and honest people.  But what I mean is that we can’t all be brain surgeons and I don’t think we should get quite so het up about it.   Without someone to build the cars, the brain surgeons and most of the rest of us wouldn’t be able to get to work.  Without teachers to teach our children, they wouldn’t be learning to be the best that they can be, whatever that may be, and most of us wouldn’t be going to work, or at least not until the kids are old enough to be trusted not to draw on the walls with your lipstick.  Worse still, without someone working in the underwear factory, barristers would be literally breezing into court.  What a terrifying prospect.  If our rubbish was not collected each and every week, in less than a month, we would all be swamped. A few weeks longer and there would be a significant public health problem.

By all means, do that degree in a subject that no one understands a word of, throw yourself off a cliff with nothing but glorified knicker elastic tied around your ankle if you must; if you’re not hurting anyone then do whatever it is you want to do – everyone should have that opportunity, regardless of their place in life.  And if the only thing stopping you from doing it is that you’re scared of failure, then you definitely should proceed without caution.  However, if you don’t, won’t or can’t because your gifts don’t lie in that particular direction, don’t sweat it.  Maybe your gift doesn’t fall within that narrow definition.  And maybe, just maybe, how we live rather than what we live is all that really matters in the end.

Dumbo

Dumbo

My continuing naivety was revealed to me this weekend with an enlightening conversation with my girlfriends.  It was announced (to great consternation amongst the group) that The Bush Is Back.  I admit that I have been wrestling with nappies and bottles for a good part of the last decade but I was hitherto unaware that The Bush Had Left and this was news to me.  Obviously I know that Brazilians have nothing to do with the country and that Hollywoods are not for the faint-hearted.  But an out of fashion bush?  Really?    I found it as bewildering as the notion that seemed to be doing the rounds a few years ago that breasts were not the thing to have.  Most heterosexual men that I know would beg to differ.  But apparently those of us above a B cup were persona non grata.  That had passed me by as well.

So according to my friend, it has been the same for The Bush.  A few years ago if anyone had known that you had not had all of your pubic hair removed, then you might have been asked to vacate the premises, or at least you would have heard people tutting behind your bush, I mean, your back.  However, no need to panic, you now can rest easy – if someone checks your lady parts at the door and finds you not to be fuzz free, you will be allowed into the building once more because you are back in fashion.  What a relief.

This prompted an entire discussion about body hair in general.  We are women of the world; intelligent and educated (the two not necessarily being one and the same).  And yet not one of us could not come up with a single decent reason as to why we remove body hair.  Not one.  The best explanation was that in Western culture, it is not really accepted for women to have body hair, particularly on their legs and under their arms, but we could not get to the why.  None of us could.  We agreed that if a woman wanted to wear a Summer dress with unshaven legs or leap into the local pool bikini line poking out, that she should be allowed to do so, and no one should raise an eyebrow about that, but simultaneously we all agreed that eyebrows would be raised, ours included.  Although we concurred that there were no circumstances in which we were prepared to go the whole Wildlife on One, we could not think of a single reason as to why not other than we didn’t like it.

This was a most unsatisfactory state of affairs, so I decided to question a professional.  I asked a beautician friend of mine.  She confirmed it to me.  Yes, pubes were previously very unfashionable and grooming of body hair is increasing. No, she couldn’t come up with a decent reason as to why either.  She said that a lot of clients do come and see her regularly for topiary, with the irony being that you do have to let your hair grow quite long in order for her to put her foot on your chest and rip it out by its roots.  She said that most of her clients have this procedure for themselves given that the area concerned does not tend to be for a wide audience, which makes sense.  However, she was not able to be more forthcoming as to why people consider it to be taking better care of themselves.

The other irony is that a lot of grown women are paying a lot of money to be made to look like pre-pubescent girls, when they are post-pubescent themselves.  Maybe it is because I am a mother of daughters, but that makes me feel uncomfortable.  Not that children are standing in beauty salons listening to the screams, which they would probably think was hilarious, but children pick things up.  I inadvertently taught my children two new swear words and a hand gesture when another car cut me up on the M40 the other week.  It is known that it’s all part of the joy of parenting to spend the entire time wishing you hadn’t done/said something because it is giving the wrong message.  I am not sure what message the body hair thing is giving to my children, but I know I’m not keen on it and yet I am fully aware that I am helping to perpetuate the myth.  And oh my goodness the internet.

As I had got her, I asked my beautician friend if men were doing the same.  A family member teaches teenagers and she has remarked in the past that boys are starting to be equally affected by concern about their physical appearance.  Another worrying trend for another piece at another time.  Apparently things are moving in that direction. Specifically a male client may wish to dye, wax and contour.  And when I say dye and contour, I am not referring to head hair or cheekbones.  I have spent much more time than I should have wondering how that works and not out of choice. And no, I don’t want to google it.  As it happens there has been no need; apparently each of these has a name, depending on the look that the client wishes to achieve.  One of these was The Elephant.  So if you’re curious, and you’re looking for a different sort of Christmas present for the man in your life, your search is now over.

You’re welcome.

 

True Colours

rainbow_183687.jpg

A lot of women seem to have a very complicated relationship with food.  A friend of mine was talking about it the other day and was feeling bad that she has an emotional connection to food.  This person is an intelligent and attractive woman.  She both acknowledges and understands that she needs to eat to be healthy but then seems to struggle because she isn’t a sylph.  She knows, as again, we all do rationally, that being underweight is as bad for your health as being overweight – she is neither.  She has never expressed any desire whatsoever to be a size zero.  And yet……

It’s a worse open secret than Harvey Weinstein (allegedly) being unable to keep his hands to himself that the pictures of women we see in the media are not true representations of the women themselves.  I am not saying that Angelina Jolie should have a photo of her first thing in the morning splattered all across the papers or that Kate Winslet be subjected to being interviewed hair scraped back whilst she doing washing up – we all want to look our best and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that – these ladies work in an industry where looking your best is a seller.  The thing is, they’re beautiful anyway.  If they walked into a room with the rest of us, they would be so far the most beautiful-looking person in the room that everyone would turn to look at them.  I bet Julia Roberts’ husband has to pinch himself every single morning because he can’t believe his luck.  They are just much better looking than the rest of us and no amount of photoshopping will make that more or less true.

The other thing is – what is wrong with having an emotional connection to food?  Why is that such a bad thing and why do so many women seem to beat themselves up about it? My sister doesn’t buy biscuits because she says that they sing to her from the kitchen whilst she is trying to watch a film in the lounge and she finds the noise very distracting until she eats them.  Another friend does not buy chocolate.  She says that even if she put chocolate in the loft, and she was down the bottom of the garden, it would call to her and she would be up there to get it out. I admit that I have never heard anyone having a similar issue with fruit and vegetables, but there must be an inbetween.  My sister and my friend deny themselves chocolate and biscuits on a ongoing basis.  And that must make them feel even worse about all food.  It’s just not on.

In around 1965, a young woman aged seventeen had just passed her driving test.  Her father, somewhat reluctantly, had let her borrow the family car.  Cars were a relatively new and very expensive thing to own at that time and not being particularly wealthy it would have been a considerable spend.  Nevertheless, he loved his daughter and against his better judgment, let her borrow the car.  (Yes, the story is going to go the way you think it is).

The daughter returned home a few hours later and the conversation went roughly as follows:

Father : “Hello.  How was your trip?”

Daughter : “To be perfectly honest, Dad, it was a trip of two halves.”

Father : “Oh really, why was that?”

Daughter : “Well, you will have noted, Father, that I have returned to the family fold on foot, whereas it would not have escaped your notice given the tense discussion before you handed me the keys, that I left at the wheel of your new automobile.”

Father : [uneasy now] “Yes, I had noticed.  Do you mind me asking where it is?”

Daughter : [speaking quickly] “It’s coming in a minute…..[mutters]… on a recovery truck…..”

Father : [string of expletives]

Daughter : “But the good news is that when I walking home, (yes I am absolutely fine by the way), I went past a bakery and I have bought you your favourite –  an egg custard.”

Yep, my mother yet again.  An endless source of material.  It will not surprise you to learn, that the proffered pastry did not improve my Grandad’s mood, regardless of it being his cake of choice.  It probably took until I was born over ten year’s later for my Grandad to be able to see the funny side.  By the time I was old enough to understand, it was a story he always told at family gatherings to raucous laughter – the time when my Mum wrote off his car but bought him an egg custard.

My Grandad dropped dead when I was twenty.  I loved him with the whole of my heart and at that point in my life my heart felt broken.  Now, twenty years on, every time I eat or make an egg custard, I think of him.  Me and my sisters gather round, bickering over who has the biggest slice and share the memory and our love for our Grandad over a baked item, the monetary value of which is negligible.  It is as if his hand is still touching ours through the years that will forever separate us.

My head tells me that maybe I could be shed a few pounds if I laid off the odd egg custard here and there. And if I was doing it every day, I should.  But what about my heart?  Why feel bad about looking after your heart?  We all need to remember – loved ones, friends, people who love or loved us once – and that is a good thing.  And things that connect us to those memories are a good thing, even if there is a risk that they may make us a bit more squidgy round the middle.  It comforts me to know that whatever lies in my future, just one small cake can remind me that in my past, and by one person at least, I was adored once too.

We all need to know that.

Twinkle Toes

Disco Ball.png

People of Libya, the British Foreign Secretary’s words yesterday do not represent the views of the British People and I apologise unreservedly to you for him.  Not just his words.  For him.  There are no excuses and we have none to give you.  We are truly sorry.

I have to ask, and you may not want to answer as it does seem to be a sensitive subject, but are you happy with your feet?   It is well documented that we have a complicated relationship with our bodies.  Most of us aren’t happy with something – some people aren’t happy with their bum, or boobs, or their tum.  Some of us don’t like our hair frizzing in the rain, others get antsy about the tops of their arms being on display.  But I have noticed that lots of people, all sorts of people, seem quite unhappy with their feet and I wondered if you were one of them.

A former colleague of mine was most displeased with her tootsies in both size and appearance.  I queried as to whether they got her from A to B in a satisfactory fashion – neither stumbling about whilst in transit, nor causing her any pain.  She confirmed that they were entirely satisfactory in that respect but nevertheless she remained dissatisfied, although she could not be more specific about what it was she disliked (Too big?  Too small? Ten toes??).  I was unsure as to what other support I could offer her at this point, her being to all intents and purposes, a fully-functioning biped.

Another friend cannot bear for you to touch her feet.  She is so ticklish that she will flail and boot you in the chops.  I took her to have reflexology once.  For those of you who have not had reflexology it is a relaxing treatment for your feet.  You lie under a big fluffy cover and a therapist schmoozes your feet whilst you doze.  You then come round about forty minutes later and apologise for nodding off and wonder if you had muttered something you shouldn’t have whilst under the therapist’s power.  My friend was a little stressed and I had spent some months persuading her that she might find it beneficial, or at least relaxing.  Eventually she relented and I took her along.  I was sat outside the treatment room trying to read a magazine, the silence split by loud shrieks, and then cackles of laughter.  She really does have ticklish feet.

I have quite large feet. Size eight. It bothered me when I was younger as I had to get used to people muttering about going into the bowels of the stock room to see if there was “anything in that size” [read ‘massive’ for size].  I take the positives; there is always a rather good selection of shoes available in my size in sales, and (I may be flattering myself here, but with swimming being the only sport that I am have been half decent at), I like to think that they contribute to me being able to move through the water with a reasonable amount of efficiency – when I’m fit, and on a good day, and with a strong following wind. I am also quite tall at five foot nine, which no one ever seems to notice until I put heels on.  So if I had size five feet, not only would I look ridiculous, I would have some considerable trouble standing up without wobbling about.  Getting from A to B would be even more problematic.  Unlike my colleague, I am now at one with my big feet.  And I am really not bothered what they look like; they’re feet.

However, some days they do let me down.  Like yesterday.  I was out with the Hound.  And if you have read some of my other blogs you will be aware that it is usually the canine that lets me down, resulting in me being wet, muddy or both.  Not yesterday.  I was feeling quite positive; the day, the pace of our walk, the crunchiness of the Autumn leaves and the Hound was doing as he was told for once. Due to this uncharacteristic positivity, the eye of the Gods of Fairness was momentarily distracted from business up North and was drawn to me.  A ripple was sent through the Universe and hooked my right foot under a branch.  Over I went.  Face first.  One minute I was standing, the next I was lying face down in the mud.  To make sure that I was entirely covered, I then rolled over onto my back.  Realising that I was all in once piece and unharmed, being British, the next thought in my head was “oh dear lord I hope no one saw me.”  I debated belly-crawling into a shrubbery to check whether anyone else had witnessed my misfortune, or standing up and brazening it out if I discovered anyone there.  I plumped for option number two as no one had appeared to see if I was all right.  I sprang up, readjusted my coat and hair, and scanned the field.  Phew!  Apart from the Hound looking at me like I was out of my mind, I was entirely bereft of other humans.  Thank goodness.

Their work now done, the eye was drawn back northwards to Manchester and the Conservative Party Conference.  It was here that our illustrious Foreign Secretary was making the latest of his many bids for a place in the Guinness Book of Records for a politician managing to get both of their very large feet into their even larger mouth at the same time. Alas, and due to my over-confidence earlier in the day, the ripple had been delayed and arrived too late to knock him off the podium at the optimum moment, instead only resulting in the PM having a bit of a nasty cough when she spoke. Sorry.

So Bojo now has the record.  Everyone who heard that held their head in their hands and wondered what on earth possessed him.  “….all they have to do is clear the dead bodies away.”  Maybe it was not properly explained.  I am sure that there are a number of bodies with IED devices that need to be moved as safely as possible to prevent further loss of life.  But the thing is Mr Johnson, that is not what came out of your mouth.  You are a Conservative politician, and to all intents and purposes from a very privileged position within our already very wealthy country, and you are also the Foreign Secretary.  Why do you not understand that you of all people cannot say things like that? Please apologise for your exceedingly poor choice of words.  Please.  We would think more of you if you would.  If you cannot or will not stop saying such excruciating things, then remove your feet from your mouth and use them for the only purpose for which they were intended – walking.  Strictly 2018 awaits.

Cornucopia

cornucopia.jpg

This coming Friday morning before school, like many parents in England and Wales, I shall be rummaging around my kitchen looking for three suitable items for each of my children to take to their school’s harvest festival.  Last year there seemed to be a competition between the children as to who could take the largest squash-type vegetable, which resulted in some very small children with some exceedingly large vegetables struggling up the hill to Church. This year there is going to be three tins from my family:  not too heavy, won’t result in a big mess and lots of tears if dropped and easy for small hands to carry.

At two minutes past nine o’clock at night GMT on Friday 22 September, when most of the people at the harvest festival earlier in the day will be fast asleep in bed, it is the Autumn Equinox.  The Earth hits the turning point in its orbit when neither of its poles are tilted towards the Sun; day and night are the same length, hence equinox, meaning equal night (I know it’s right because I’ve looked it up). It is the end of Summer and many cultures have celebrated this for thousands of years and continue to celebrate, joining together in that brief moment of balance to give thanks for the harvest and to share its bounty before the coming Winter.

In Ancient Greece Hades took Persephone into the underworld each year to trigger the start of Winter.  In China they have the Moon Festival to celebrate the harvest, and from what I can gather it is an opportunity to stuff yourself with moon cakes, which I hear are quite delicious.  Pagans call this time of year, Mabon.  There seems to be some debate about where this name originates from – in Welsh Folklore there was a Mabon ap Modron, the son of Modron, the Earth Mother goddess, who features in the Arthurian legends as Uther Pendragon’s loyal servant and a follower of King Arthur.  There was also a female Cornish Saint named Mabyn.  Her festival is on 18 November which is half way between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.   I also assume that there will also be a number of Druids at Stonehenge on Friday night celebrating the setting of the Summer sun for another year.

In England we have been picking blackberries and apples like mad and have started stuffing them into pies and crumbles.  I am thrilled to announce that custard is once again a regular feature on the pudding menu.  Some people are making cider ready for wassailing later in the Winter.  Children pester their parents to stick holes and string through conkers so they can have competitions.  My son wanted to chop some conkers up for deer food. I counselled against this as unwise, but what do I know?  He cut his thumb and we went to A&E.  I thought the cut was deep, and the doctor (who admittedly who works from an entirely different brief as to what constitutes a bad injury) declared it not to be the case as the top of his finger was still attached….moving on…..leaves fall, animals prepare for hibernation….everything gets ready to go to sleep.  Except for the humans.  The humans have to stay awake all Winter.

As the days shorten, daylight becomes less.  We’ve all heard of SAD syndrome, which can make Winter a real struggle for some people.  Now the ideal solution to this would be to book a sunshine holiday.  However, funds and annual leave allowances may not allow this, certainly not for three months every year and particularly with the C word coming up in December.  There has been much talk and publicity about getting hygge – snuggling up with your family and friends, furry or otherwise.  I think we should get behind that.  Let’s all do more of that.  It doesn’t cost anything and at the end of the day, why else are we here?  To be rich?  To be famous?  Or to love and be loved?  One of the things we can all celebrate on Friday when the Earth shifts into that brief state of equilibrium is that in our tiny corner of the World, however dark the days themselves may be in the coming Winter, we are warm and we are fed, which are already two more blessings than most of the people who share our planet.

 

 

Photograph courtesy of carolinasimonorganics.wordpress.com

Summer’s Out for School

lime-907124_960_720

Oh thank goodness.  I didn’t think we’d get through it.  I honestly thought that I might not make it this year.  If someone were to utter the words “what are we doing today?” to me one more time not only was I going to cry, there was a very real possibility of me turning to drink at seven o’clock in the morning.  The words “what are we doing next?” after having got back from a day out of activity were pushing me so far towards the edge, that there was a real possibility that I could have tried to drown myself in the bird bath, if we owned a bird bath.  And from the sounds of it from the Summer lots of other people were having, not one parent I know would have blamed me for it.  In fact, some of them may have already beaten me to it.

One friend went on holiday for two weeks and all of her family caught a sickness bug.  Not at the same time, which would have been pretty awful.  But in succession.  So just as one person was recovering, another one started to become ill.  And just for good measure, my friend caught it twice.  What a lovely break that must have been for her. Another missed her flight because her son, usually a robust young man, became so poorly so quickly that she had to take him to hospital (he’s absolutely fine now btw). Another friend, supposed to be enjoying a lovely and rare lunch out with her husband at a nice restaurant was so stressed by the pre-school build (see Abacus blog) that she didn’t eat most of it.  I also presume that her husband had some difficulty in changing the subject of conversation as well.

I seem to have had a Summer of my children constantly bickering with each other and not paying the slightest bit of attention to me.  I spoke to them, they looked me in the face, they turned without answering and then they walked away.   I asked them to set the table to eat the meal I had prepared – they ignored me.  When they eventually set the table, I requested that they sit at the table to eat, it fell on deaf ears.  And when presented with the meal, at least one of them declared it to be utterly inedible, even if it was they who had asked for it in the first place.  It seems that a lot can happen with the taste buds of a five year old in the space of an hour.  I asked them to get ready for bed.  My request was treated as advisory only.  Twenty minutes later, when I started shouting, everyone would cry and tell me how mean I am and query why I had not asked before I started shouting.

Some people had a good time: my son’s godparents visited France, and from what I could tell, made a very good fist of testing most of the wine and cheese available.  My daughter’s godmother had a game of football on the beach and managed to do a most impressive face plant into a puddle of wet sand.  Naturally her family rushed over immediately to make sure she was unhurt.  My sister had a lovely week in Sicily.

I am not alone in finding the task of trying to keep three children occupied for seven days a week for seven weeks every Summer holiday a daunting task.   I usually have a challenging schedule planned – holiday, days out, a few days away with my best friend and her child walking everyone’s legs off, holiday club, bracing strolls – you name it.  This year was no exception as in addition to a punishing regime, I was also involved with helping to build a pre-school.  Not me physically building anything you understand – dear lord, no – I think the building control officer would have been most upset about that.  But helping where I could, usually with a dustpan and brush and appearing with the odd baked item. You can see that it added to my timetable.  And the timetables of the other trustees I work with.  It seems to have been a Summer to struggle through for lots of people, for the mostpart in a first world problem kind of way.

But now…..oh, hahaha!  Now they are clean; they are pressed; they have shoes that not only fit them, but for the next five minutes will be scuff-free.  All of their tops and socks are currently brilliant white.  At the moment everything is in the right bag and everything has a name label on it.  And until October, for six hours a day, they are out from under my feet and under those of a paid professional.  Someone who actually chose to have a constant headache from the noise for a living.  Well, as much as I admire that, after the last seven weeks, I am happy to admire it from a safe distance.  In my case that distance being about two miles.  School – they’re all yours.

 

 

 

Photograph courtesy of Pixabay

Pack It In

18564946-british-castle

This time two weeks ago I was frantically trying to pack for five people and a dog to go to Norfolk for a week.  As any of you who have undertaken this task (and it seems that at the moment we are a nation of people undertaking this task), this is not something you come to on the day of departure hoping to chuck a pair of knickers and a toothbrush into a bag and be on your merry way.  I had been washing and getting stuff ready for weeks.

After trying to count out the necessary number of pants and socks, I then started trying to gather the items of clothing that I had been secretly stockpiling.  That would be all of the clothing necessary for every possible type of weather that could be encountered on the east coast of England.  Rainy, obviously.  Windy,  undoubtedly.  Sunny, possibly.  Just the selection of footwear was enough to fill a skip.  Toiletries for cleaning unwilling children were essential.  A bizarre first aid kit was required because when you’re seven and you don’t want to go to bed you simply do not know what previously unknown ailment may strike.  And it could be a different one each and every night for a week.  Then I had the Hound to consider.   Apparently he would want feeding and generally tending to as well.  Damn him!  And let us not forget that I also had a size restriction in that I had to fit it all into a car along with five humans and said Hound.

My thoughts started to run away with me.  What if there was a freak hurricane and we needed special weights in our shoes? Would I have the right type of pants for an unexpected Summer fete? What if we happened upon some morris dancing  – was I prepared with a sufficient number of hankies?  Things were starting to get out of hand.

Did I mention that I was also trying to exchange contracts on the pre-school project before 3pm that day or all bets were off this Summer?  (See Abacus blog if you missed it). And collect and deliver sold raffle tickets and tombola prizes for our village fete to a neighbour at the bottom of the village at a time when she was in because she would need them ready for before we got back? Oh, and I was packing stuff from the lounge into boxes so it could be decorated while we were away.  Apparently it is easier to decorate a room without three kids and a dog in it as well.  Who knew?

Man of the House arrived back from work and announced that he had been rushed off his feet all morning but if he could possibly just have a sandwich, as soon as he had eaten he would be ready to “load the car”.   I see some of you have raised an eyebrow there and have muttered “would he?”  Yes, he would.  If I could just pop and get the kids from school, then by the time I got back he would have finished and we would be ready to go.  I was a donkey on the edge.  He took one look at my face and knew that I was a donkey on the edge. He drove all the way to Norfolk.

In the end I resolved that we were remaining in the UK.  Not venturing into the Amazon rainforest (although I have had a bottle of Coca Cola in the Amazon Rainforest) and not foraying into rural India (where I was still able to buy a banana).  But Norfolk, England.  And if for some reason I had omitted to pack a sufficient number of knotted hankies or emergency cravats, then we would just have to buy it when we were there or go without.

Since my return, it has occurred to me from the white-faced and starey-eyed look I have observed on several people’s faces that I am not alone in experiencing the horror of “packing for holiday”.  One friend told me that he had been ironing the children’s clothes at ten o’clock at night (no, I don’t know what he’s doing ironing the children’s clothes for holiday either, his standards must be infinitely higher than mine) whilst his wife (also a friend) was working.  Wife is a beauty therapist and apparently the minute she announces she’s going on holiday, all of her clients have to book in a treatment.  I have heard of people getting themselves waxed and buffed ready for their own holidays, but I must admit that having to rush in an intimate wax at ten o’clock at night before your therapist goes away had completely passed me by.

Meanwhile, across the county, another friend is also preparing for her annual week of ice-cream testing.  As he keeps on growing (how selfish!) she had purchased her son some shorts and invited him to try them for size.  They were returned to her a few minutes later with a declaration that they were too small.  Son had already removed the labels thus making an exchange questionable in an already tight timescale before the off.  When she raised this with him, my friend was treated to being shouted at and a slammed bedroom door.  I bet he’s looking forward to a beach holiday with his family.  In his pants.

Finally, another friend is also undertaking the clothes gathering exercise prior to cramming it all into a selection of bags and sitting on them to get the zips done up.  She was opining as to the reason why her Man of the House had not yet produced any clothes to pack.  Was it a) he wasn’t intending to join his family on holiday b) he was intending to join them but had already washed everything ready or c) he would hand her the clothes he needed to take the day before departure and mumble something about them needing a bit of a wash?

Oh the joy.  The sheer middle class horror of it all.  The bickering in the car.  The being two miles down the road and someone needing a wee.  The dropped Mr Whippy.  The sand.  The bloody sand.  And let us not forget the enormous pile of washing when you get back.

Have a lovely holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

No

peacock-1973546_640

Interesting article online this week about a woman called Cheryl Yeoh.  Ms Yeoh is a tech entrepeneur who has gone public in respect of the sexual harassment that she was subjected to by a man she was working with.  Working in the tech industry, it is notoriously male-dominated, but I should like to say that her allegations relate specifically to one man only.

She alleges as follows:

1. She was sent a text by this man prior to a meeting, inviting her to his hotel room.

2. There was a meeting in her hotel room (Ms Yeoh states that this was not unusual in her industry) to brainstorm ideas.  The other people at the meeting (male – it is a male-dominated industry so that is not unusual either) brought alcohol and kept pouring whiskey into her glass before it was empty, which she found “a little weird.”

3. Then later on everyone left, but this particular man did not seem to want to leave.  She asked him if he wanted to leave and he said “no”, at which point she offered him her guest room as she thought he was too drunk to get back to his hotel.

4. He then came into her room and told her that he wanted to sleep with her.  She told him that she had a boyfriend and asked him to leave.

5. Ms Yeoh showed him to the door and on the way out he backed her up against a wall and tried to kiss her.  Ms Yeoh then pushed him out and shut the door.  She has commented that she was very pleased that she hadn’t had more to drink and that she was strong enough to be able to do this.

The sad thing is that this incident wasn’t news to me.  Nor, I suspect, is it news to any woman reading this.  And I am equally sorry to say that to some of the men reading this, it probably isn’t news, but they are as appalled as any of the women.

There are numerous accounts of sexual harassment that I can think of from my own life, or those of my friends which show that the attitude of some males to females is changing at a snail’s pace, if it is changing at all.  Examples, off the top of my head:

1. I know of two women who have been raped and who did not take it to the police.

2. A friend of mine was escorted back to her room by a colleague after a work party, and when she emerged from the loo expecting to be alone, found a naked colleague in her bed inviting her to join him.  She invited him to leave.

3. A man I knew quite well at university offered to walk me to somewhere slightly off campus (it was early evening in Winter and therefore dark).  My instinct was to refuse, although I couldn’t put my finger on quite why, so I told myself I was being silly and accepted.  As soon as we reached the dark section of the walk, he grabbed me and pulled me towards him.  I remember spinning round and round to try and get away from him and the tussle ended up with me facing him, him holding both of my wrists.  I debated whether to knee him; he let me go.  As soon as I could get away from him, I telephoned my housemate (who happened to be a man); he collected me from the bus stop and took me home.

4. A man I knew, a good friend at the time, drunkenly asked to feel my breasts one evening and acted as if I was the one being unreasonable when I refused.

5. I have had a hand put up my skirt by a man in a nightclub.  As soon as I turned around to see what the hell was going on, he immediately removed his hand and put it up my friend’s skirt.  A male friend went to punch him, and another stood inbetween them to stop a brawl breaking out.

6. A former boss made repeated and open references to me being “fair game” when he found out I was going out with someone in the office, and asked the person I was dating if I was a “good shag.” Yes, he really wanted to know.  And, yes, he was a prick.

7. A former boss of Man of the House attempted to persuade him to go to a Christmas party by saying that if he played his cards right, he might be able to feel up some of the women there.  When Man of the House advised that he didn’t want to go to parties and sexually assault women, his then boss said that it was absolutely fine to grope a woman’s breasts, because if a woman didn’t like it, then she would slap you.  Yes, he was a prick too.

8. A friend was literally cornered in the office by a male superior to her (in rank only) who congratulated her left breast very warmly, and for a number of minutes, on its recent exam results.

9. Every single woman reading this will know that moment when a man wants to touch, or has touched you, but presents it to you as either a mistake, or friendship and would therefore make you appear the unreasonable one if you were to say anything.

There are four things that are telling about these examples.  The first is that half of them are about me, and I am not trying very hard to think of them.  I am just an ordinary woman going about her day.  There is absolutely nothing so irresistible about me that men can’t control themselves, I assure you.  And even if I did look like Beyonce, I am yet to grasp how that would constitute justification.  So on that basis, I know that most women reading this would have similar stories to tell if you asked them, assuming that they were willing to share.

Secondly, these incidents are over a range of twenty five years, and not just involving “men of a certain age”.  Five of the eight specific examples that I have given relating to me involved men of a similar age to me.  I do not believe that Ms Yeoh’s experience involved a particularly aged male.  This is particularly saddening.

Thirdly, nothing formal happened in respect of any of these incidents.  If we must put aside the first example, then what can you do?  I’m a lawyer and I am really not sure, in formal and legal terms, what you do unless you are feeling particularly brave and are prepared to stake your job and your reputation on it – which is presumably what men who behave like this rely on.

Finally, on several of these occasions, for every man behaving like a Neanderthal, whatever his age, there was another man pointing out that that is not how we treat women.  To the three men who were there when the examples given occurred to me, you may not even remember what you did, but thank goodness for you. I know that two of the three of you are now fathers.  This gives me both comfort and hope for our children.

Photograph courtesy of Pixabay