Good Hair Day


I hope that you have all had a great couple of weeks of being fabulous and gorgeous.  I know I have.  I can’t tell you how wonderful and brilliant and not forgetting incredibly talented I have been.  And if it were possible to be even more alluring than I already am (pretty difficult, I know) I have also been to the hairdressers.

A woman’s relationship with their hairdresser is a mystery to most heterosexual men – they don’t seem to understand two things.  The first is how having their hair done is a recreational activity for a woman.  And the second is why it takes so very long.

The second one is easier to explain so I shall take that first.  Look boys, we generally have a lot more hair than you, even if it is just longer, and it therefore takes a lot more time to deal with.  We tend to have more complicated cuts, colours and blow drying which tends to increase with age. Whereas boys tend to have less hair and less interesting things done to it – if you ever were attentive towards your hair, then that is more likely to decrease with age.   I have a lot of hair even for a woman.  And when I say a lot of hair, a lot of hairdressers have not really believed me until they have witnessed it for themselves.  I am now familiar with the crestfallen look on the poor trainee’s face when they are presented with my barnet and told that it is their task to put the colour on it.

The first one is more difficult – the recreational aspect.  You know when you go to buy a new pair of shoes and you go into the shop with your old, grotty pair on your feet and you feel ashamed that you’ve been walking around with such awful shoes on that up until that point you didn’t think were that bad?  Then, after talking yourself out of the sparkly high heels (it’s not as if you go anywhere to wear them now) you leave the shop with a new pair of shoes that do not look as if they have been chewed and you feel like you’re dancing on air?  Well that’s how I feel when I go to the hairdressers.  Or to be more specific, that’s how I feel when I leave the hairdressers.  When I arrive, I usually look like the wreck of the Hesper.  A few hours later I leave looking like I imagine the Hesper did when she first began to founder (they’re hairdressers, not Hogwarts), but nevertheless a miraculous improvement on what fell through the door first thing.

Every woman reading this will be familiar with arriving at the hairdressers.  After what feels like two hours of shouting at someone to put their shoes on, and searching for a lost cardigan, we are all welcomed warmly by the receptionist or our stylist.  Our coat is taken and we are offered a drink.  As it is probably the first opportunity that we have had to have a drink, we gladly accept.  We are shown to a chair and given some magazines.  Man of the House goes to a barbers where if you are five minutes late they not only disapprove and make their disapproval known to you, they refuse to do your hair, make you re-book and send you away with a flea in your ear.  Probably an actual flea if the cleanliness of their salon is anything to go by.  Meanwhile, I am being sat in front of an exceedingly unflattering mirror.  Then my hairdresser wafts into the room, places both hands on the back of the chair and asks me “what are we doing with your hair today, Natalie?”

Every single time I say “Whatever you like as long as it’s not awful.”  I then gesture to the mangled creature that resides on my head.  It has an entire life of its own.  Over the years I have tried to curl it, straighten it, get it to go a particular way, stay up in a style, stay in a clip even, and it won’t.  So I no longer bother. I would say that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but my hairdresser can.  My hairdresser rifles through my hair and then talks a lot of numbers at a trainee standing next to her which I am given to understand relates to the colour.  I am put in a gown and a towel, then some plastic around my neck and the poor trainee takes a deep breath and sets to work.  It would be difficult to describe how stunning I look with a colour on my hair and crocodile clips helping it stick up in every direction, but I am sure that you can all picture it.

Across town, if Man of the House has managed to beg an appointment, probably on his hands and knees, his hair cut is almost done.  Which is just as well because if he needed the loo he is probably risking dysentery given that they never ever clean the toilet there. His barber starts huffing on a mirror and rubbing it with his sleeve to try and create a space so he can show him the back.  Man of the House steadfastly refuses – he doesn’t need a reminder of what once was.

As he’s paying with one note, and possibly having the door slammed behind him as he leaves, I am just settling into reading ‘Cosmopolitan’ for the first time since the last time I was there. As usual it’s full of adverts of impossibly thin women holding handbags that look as if they might snap their twig-like arms and wearing sunglasses that really could do with a nose to sit on.  Oh, and lots of articles about impossible sex lives.  Nothing like filling our young girls’ heads with ridiculous notions of what they can expect from being a grown woman in 2018.  As I flick through on the one hand thinking “This is an outrage, these women haven’t eaten properly for years” and on the other “oooooohhhh, nice shoes…..” the trainee is still painting colour on.  And then s/he puts me under a heater that looks like it ought to be on the Starship Enterprise.  I imagine Hollywood stars whom the tabloids would describe as “age-defying” being sat under these with a head full of foils.  I am then taken over to the basins and the colour is washed out and I am given a lovely head massage.  On one occasion, the lady at the basin next to me was so relaxed that she fell asleep and started snoring.  When she snorted herself awake, someone appeared at her side with a cup of tea.

My hair cut takes another hour.  Yes, an hour.  But in that time my hairdresser updates me on her love life and tells me how lovely the colour looks on my hair.  She makes my hair look beautiful.  And as she gets a mirror to show me the back of my head without the need to clean it first, I confirm that the colour does indeed look lovely, I have lots of hair, and there is no way I will be able to make it look that nice myself.  I then look in the unflattering mirror and ask if there is anything that she can do with my face.  She always laughs as if I am joking.

I hand over many more notes than Man of the House did.  My coat is held for me as I put it on, the door is held open for me with wishes for a lovely rest of the day, and I leave.  Straight back into the real world.  And as usual I’m on a tight schedule. I have three children to pick up from school and three swimming kits to get ready before that as well as a load of washing to get out of the machine and on the airer and another one in.  Did I mention that everyone will also be starving hungry the minute they emerge from school?  The Childerbeasts hand me their coats, their school bags and then run off.  Laden, I follow them.

And that’s why women like the hairdressers.



Photograph courtesy of hansbenn on Pixabay


Because You’re Worth It


Last week a man who has avoided being drafted into the military five times claimed that he would have run, unarmed, into a classroom where people were being murdered by a person armed with an assault rifle.  Of course no one believes him.  But he doesn’t care.  Like he doesn’t care that the entire world pokes fun at his hairstyle.  He doesn’t care that The Establishment are permanently frothing at the mouth that he is doing exactly what he said he would.  He doesn’t care that a recording of him talking about grabbing women’s genitals was heard all over the entire world.  He simply does not give a monkies.  He thinks he’s brilliant and gorgeous and nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to change his mind.  He’s right and anyone with a different opinion is just plain wrong.  There seems to be a lot of people like this in the world – people loaded with self-confidence, the skin of a rhino, and not a lot of anything else.  And then there’s the rest of us.

I must admit that I have a grudging respect for The Deluded Narcissists because it doesn’t seem to hold them back any – they think that they are both very good at their job and incredibly attractive.  What a brilliant way to go through life.  A friend was sat in a team meeting at work the other week. I say, sat because that was all they and their colleagues, bar one, did.  The meeting was meant to be collaborative, hence the word ‘team’.  As we all know, there is not meant to be any ‘i’ in team.  However, the person who assumed the mantle of leading the meeting presumably got a different memo advising that they were the ‘I’ in team.  They treated everyone else to an inspiring monologue about how attractive and talented the speaker was and how everyone should be more like them.  I am given to understand that a bewildered audience sat and listened to this speech, steadfastly refusing to make eye contact with each other in order to not give the game away, not that the speaker would have noticed.  Being British they didn’t want to call the person out and say “oh do shut up, you’re an insecure arse, none of us are interested and we’d like to do something useful” but I bet that’s what they were all thinking.  So they sat politely until this person decided to stop speaking.  I gather that it was some time.  Maybe they just ran out of superlatives.

Another friend has a colleague who is hopeless.  Lovely person.  But genuinely hopeless at their role. It would seem that everyone except them knows it.  Believing themselves to be the best thing since sliced bread, the colleague has been muttering loudly about wanting to “talk money” to the boss.  Everyone else has been trying to think of ways to stop this excruciating conversation taking place to save their much-liked colleague from themselves.  The colleague is adamant that the conversation must, indeed, needs to take place and cannot be dissuaded.  Some people just can’t be helped.

All of us have been treated to the social media post.  I don’t mean other people telling each other about their lives: children growing up, holidays, landmarks of life – none of those things.  I mean two things specifically.  First, the selfie and secondly, the nauseating boasting posting.  As far as selfies are concerned, I am referring to the duck face selfie or the selfie of someone if not in a state of undress, then some article of clothing clinging on for grim death, the only purpose of which can be to show off how attractive they think they are to invite affirming comments.   I read something yesterday about someone taking 200 selfies a day and the point, just in case we had missed it, was hammered home by an accompanying picture of the self-confessed narcissist pulling the duck face. Write the article by all means, but don’t post the photo – you’re feeding the beast. We look at those Victorian photos when everyone had a very serious expression and we know it was because photography was in its infancy and there was only one shot to take.  But the duck face selfie?  What are our grandchildren going to think of that?  That everyone was poised to snog someone else at a moment’s notice? There was an unexplained penchant for sucking lemons?  Or maybe everyone will be too busy admiring themselves to actually meet anyone to make babies with and there will be no grandchildren.

Moving on to the passive-aggressive boasting post.  Usually, but not always, on a professional website, so to be viewed by people that the writer doesn’t know all that well and along the lines of: “Forgive the self-congratulatory post, but I am so thrilled to have been nominated as one of the people most likely to go to the opening of a crisp packet.”  I am afraid that we won’t forgive you.  Not unless you have come through the other side of a rough personal struggle, won an Olympic Medal, broken a world record, or done something significant to contribute to the peace, safety and security of our planet.  Sir David Attenborough, Knight of the Realm and a man who has probably contributed more to our understanding of the natural world than anyone else in history of the world ever would never do such a thing.   And if David’s not doing it, you definitely shouldn’t be.  If you have to tell people that you are something, you aren’t.  Tell us something useful or informative, or tell us nothing at all.

As for the being attractive thing, I truly believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Why do people insist on foisting their supposed attractiveness on everyone?  These are usually the same people as those who like to tell you how wonderful they are at their job.  A friend of mine goes weak at the knees if you mention a certain racing driver to her.  I wouldn’t know who he was if I tripped over him. And he’s quite short, so I could easily trip over him.   Similarly, mention the words ‘Kylie Minogue’ to the Man of the House and he will get a glazed and faraway look come over his face – he’s gone to a place that is very warm and friendly.  I know someone who genuinely thinks that if a man smiles at them, they want to sleep with them.  They also think that if someone asks them the time that it is actually a secret code they are asking them if they have time for sex, not any desire to know what the actual time is.  I’d love to live in that world for a day, I really would.  That must be a day when you get out of the shower and after blow-drying your orange bouffant into a comb-over-cum-quiff, you look in the mirror and instead of thinking “oh my, what the hell is that?” you nod approvingly and say to yourself, or even out loud “not bad, not bad.  Still got it” and sashay out of the bathroom.  Naked.  Because why wouldn’t anyone want to look at you in the buff?

And then there’s the rest of us.  Do you think that any of these people wake up in the night in a cold sweat?  It is very much a thing in the legal profession to sit bolt upright in bed at four in the morning and think “oh Christ, did I remember to do that?” and either have to logon to double-check or stay awake worrying about it until you can get up to go into the office early to make sure.    I still remember how it feels to have that rush of horror when you think you might have missed something on a file.  I bet we’re not the only ones.  Are these people racked with worry?  After I went on a safeguarding course when I was a trustee of the Pre-School and was told the statistics of at-risk children I rushed back to the manager in a blind panic (because statistically speaking we had at-risk children) and said “what have we missed?  Who have we missed?”I worried about it for all of the six years I was a trustee. Do those people do that? Something tells me they don’t.

If a man smiles at me, I assume that he’s either lost, has wind, or maybe he’s just trying to be pleasant and non-threatening.  If I am asked what time it is I believe that the person asking just wants to know what time it is so they can continue to plan their day.  Irresistible as I may be, don’t assume that they are trying to squeeze a shag with me into their hectic schedule.

So The Rest of Us, I have a proposal.  There is not a cat in hell’s chance that we can beat people who are as mad as a box of frogs – the sky in their world must be either pink or mirrored.  Even if they’re reading this they’re just thinking “Well I am brilliant and gorgeous, what’s your point?”  So as we can’t beat them, we are going to join them.  Every morning for a week, when you peer at yourself in the mirror, even if you don’t believe it and even though you’ll feel a complete fool doing it you are going to repeat, three times, after me: “Goodness me I’m brilliant and gorgeous.” No one has to hear you.  You can say it under your breath, or in your head.  But do it and see if it makes a difference in how you tackle the day ahead.  If someone congratulates you, even if it is just for getting out of bed, invite people to forgive the self-congratulatory nature of your post, and then tell people how amazing you are for getting your pants on the right way round/turning your computer on/making a colleague a cup of tea.  And finally, if someone says “good morning” do not assume that they are merely wishing you a good start to your day, they’re not.  You’re hot.  And everyone, simply everyone, is just desperately trying to find a way of letting you know it.  But you already know it because for the next seven days you’re brilliant and gorgeous.  Good luck.

Remember, Remember the Ninth of November



Lots of headlines this week about it being one hundred years since women got the vote.

The first thing that has got me riled is that it is not correct.  Only a very specific group of women got the vote on 6 February 1918; you had to be over thirty and own property of a value of over five pounds, or had a husband who did.   It was another decade before women got the vote on an equal footing to men.  In 1918 any woman under the age of thirty who didn’t own property worth five pounds was persona non grata as far voting was concerned.  Heck, we don’t want someone who might not agree with us voting.  That would be disaster.  So we shall allow the rich women who should be old enough or rich enough to know better to vote, or if they don’t know better then their rich husbands can tell them, because women should always do what men tell them.

I cannot help but wonder if British men were feeling a little threatened in 1918.  700,000 of their number had been killed in the First World War.  That was just over 11.5% of the six million British men mobilised.  I have seen comments along the lines of “that’s not very many”.  Perhaps not in comparison to the bloodbath that came just over twenty years later, but 700,000 is a large number however which way you cut it.  Everyone must have known someone who died in the war.  Perhaps people were feeling pretty vulnerable, and maybe men in particular when they came back to a country that had been run whilst they were away.  Hands up who knows who was holding the fort back home during the First World War?  Anyone?  Anyone at all?  Yes, you at the back.

It wasn’t until 2 July 1928 that Royal Assent was given to the Act that gave all women over the age of twenty one the right to vote.  My grandmother had not long celebrated her first birthday when that Act was passed.  I’m not really that old – my children told me only yesterday evening that it is only the wrinkles and that patch of grey hair at the front that make me look old – I just can’t hear that enough. So someone whose hand I held for the first twelve years of my life was born into a world that did not recognise her, her mother, or her sister as having any formal contribution to make at all.  It was not considered that she had a contribution worth making.  My grandmother was ten when it was decided that she might be able to be let loose in the ballot box with a pencil when she reached her majority.

It has also been one hundred years since women were allowed to practice law.  The first female solicitor admitted to the Roll was Carrie Morrison in 1922.  Miss Morrison had earned a first class degree from Cambridge University, but the university refused to award it to her because she did not have a penis.  Or testicles.  I don’t think that was specifically referred to in the official refusal but as the refusal was because Miss Morrison was a woman, that was what it amounted to however euphemistically it was phrased.

In 1913 the Law Society refused to allow Miss Morrison and three other women to sit the Law Society examinations.  Had the Law Society been asked and had they had been minded to be so bloody unreasonable eighty six years later then I could have avoided a lot of stress and expense myself.  Times had moved on and I, and all of my female peers were allowed to sit Law Society Finals with, and be judged on the same basis as, the males, which was all Miss Morrison et al wanted. The Court of Appeal upheld the Law Society’s 1913 decision with the judge ruling that (you’ll love this) women were not “persons” within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843.  Not persons.  I bet they were persons for lots of other things, such as, oh I don’t know, bearing the next generation when the population had been literally decimated by war.

In 1919 the Sex Disqualification Act came into force and women were allowed to practice law.  Presumably that is because women became persons within the Solicitors Act 1843 at that point.  I wonder if becoming a “person” was like when The Doctor regenerates.  Obviously being admitted as a solicitor was, and is not instantaneous, so when the law changed it took a very small number of women time to train and then be admitted hence Miss Morrison being admitted in 1922. If in 1922 a  solicitor found themselves to be female, under thirty and not owning of property of five pounds or more then no voting for them, young lady.   Practice law, yes.  Voting, no.

There has also been much discussion about whether the suffragettes should be pardoned.  The government has said that it is “complicated”.  I’m not sure why it is complicated, but far be it from our elected public servants from explaining anything to us.  Bless us, we probably wouldn’t understand anyway.

As we have already established, apart from one or two barely-noticeable wrinkles and a light peppering of grey hair that makes me look distinguished, I am not that old.  As it happens I was poised to make my entry into the world a few months after the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 came into force.  That was when it became illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their gender.  Well it may have been on the statute book, but minds take a little longer to change than legislation.

About fifteen years ago I was introduced to someone at a dinner as an assistant solicitor and whilst sloshing a glass of red wine to and fro he uttered the immortal words “but you’re a girl.”  I was one of very few women at said dinner, so I can only assume that he had thought I had been bussed in for his entertainment.  He must have been bitterly disappointed when he realised that was not why I or any of the other women were there.

More recently I was told that my career was on hold whilst working part time.  A seemingly outrageous and undisputedly, a discriminatory and illegal statement.  However, as much as it pains me to say it, it was factually correct.  Regardless of how good I was at my job or how much money I brought in there was no prospect of advancement when I was working part-time.  Ever.  I wonder for how many women this is a day to day reality.

The decision for me to work part-time was one of pure economics for us and I suspect is for many working families.  Man of the House out-earned and had an ability to out-earn me by some considerable margin.  And we did the same job.  Almost precisely the same job.  So are we to blame for perpetuating the cycle?  Probably.  Maybe I should have stood up for my gender by working full time and jumping up and down for more money.  But should I have had to?  We all need to feed and clothe our children and not at all oddly, we chose the kids.

I have no idea whether the suffragettes would want a posthumous pardon. I am particularly mindful of not falling into the trap of telling women what they should or shouldn’t want, posthumously or otherwise.  The world they lived in thought it was an outrage for women to vote, be educated, think.  That was and is something to be angry about.  I am not sure how a pardon now makes that ludicrous line of thinking all right.  Would it stop men in positions of power today from cornering women in hotel rooms because they think it’s their right to assault them?  Would it stop men-only dinners where women are brought in with instructions not to wear too many clothes and cosmetic surgery is auctioned to “spice up your wife”?  Women being paid less because……er…why are we paid less than men for doing the same job?  Is it because we haven’t got a penis? Or testicles?  That can’t be right.  This is 2018.  It’s ninety years since women got the vote, surely it cannot be that men are consistently paid more than women for having a Y chromosome?

Gather round people, we still have much to do.

Bye January


Hands up who is currently living with a snot goblin?   Child Number Three is making barking noises at the moment.  There were five children off in Child Number One’s class a couple of weeks ago.  Kids barfing.  Parents barfing.  Everyone barfing.  Child Number One has escaped so far, but as I have two other children, and it is currently sweeping through the school, I have two more tempting opportunities to hold a child’s head over a sink awaiting me in the next few weeks.

Child Number Two had very painful legs last week.  I am of the view that unless you have lost a limb and the bleeding cannot be stemmed then you get up and go to work or to school.  I was also not sure if it was a case of Skivitilis. I therefore administered paracetamol and sent her on her way.  When I collected her from school, she was not feeling very well at all, and we decided that unless there was an impressive overnight recovery, she would stay home and rest the following day.  The next morning I needed to get some petrol so I could collect the other two children.  Immediately after I ended an unexpected call from The Mother of the Year Award Committee,  I wrapped Child Number Two up and popped her in the car with the plan that she would be back on the sofa within the hour.

Whilst I was filling up the petrol, I realised that I should not be filling up with petrol, but diesel.  Never done it before, believe me, won’t be doing it again.  No, I didn’t start the engine.  I decided to do what any sane person would do in these circumstances; panic.  I ran into the petrol station in a flap and the lady serving very calmly told me to telephone my breakdown people and they would advise me what to do.  She would shut down the pump and take my mobile number so I could take poorly child into the coffee bar for warmth.

I ran back outside and made the call.  A recovery was necessary and it would be ninety minutes.  Ninety minutes in a freezing car with a poorly child.  Man of the House was in a meeting all morning so I telephoned the next best thing – his secretary and decided to tell her all about it.   She said that she would tell him as soon as she spoke to him.  I telephoned a retired relative for assistance – they were going out for a cup of tea in the afternoon, so for reasons unknown to the rest of the English-speaking world, no one in their house was able to assist. So I did what I should have done in the first place; I telephoned the Oddfather.  The Oddfather and his wife, The Godmother, are family friends, without whom I would, on many occasions, have been buggered.  He was there within twenty minutes.  He took crying Child Number Two, from a tearful me, collected The Hound and they were all ensconced on his sofa before I could say ‘Transylvania Two.’

So began my wait. During this time a male member of staff helpfully pointed out to me that my cap does say ‘diesel’ on it – what a pity I am not able to take him with me everywhere to point out everything that I do wrong.  His female counterpart decided to be more constructive and gave me a hot chocolate. Ninety minutes turned into two hours, two hours turned into three, and three turned into four.  I felt increasingly envious of people filling up their cars with the correct fuel and then going about their day.  One of my friends felt increasingly envious of me sitting on my own with a hot chocolate and a magazine for hours on end.  If I could have felt my feet by that point, I would have agreed with her.

The recovery truck arrived.  Four hundred pounds, yes four hundred pounds, worse off for my own stupidity and a lot of inconvenience to several people, I got the car back the next day.

By the end of this already trying week it had also become apparent that my deaf and aged cat was giving up her very long and hitherto healthy life. I asked the vet to try and get her to eat.  I thought that after seventeen years I owed her that.  The vet tried, but after twenty four hours, we decided that enough was enough and rather than let her starve to death, it was time to let her go.  So I stroked her head, kissed her and said goodbye.  The only thing that made it feel better was walking out into the waiting room to humans who smiled at me knowing exactly what had happened in the room, and the owners of wagging tails who had absolutely no idea but appreciated a fuss from a red-faced and tearful woman who needed it more than they did.

Never have I spent so much money in a week and felt so unutterably crap. I was cross with myself for doing something so idiotic with the car.  I felt angry that a cup of tea was more important to someone who ought to feel better, than my poorly child.  And the soul of my furry companion of the last seventeen years has flown and it is going to take me a long time to get used that.  But as always, try to take the positives.  The lady who insisted I have a hot chocolate on the house.  The recovery driver who told me about the person who drove out of a car park, through a fence and straight into someone’s back garden taking out a trampoline (blessedly with no one bouncing at the time).  The Oddfather coming to my rescue once again.  Friends offering to help with my children.  The vet so kind in making a difficult day bearable.  Man of the House bringing fish and chips home because he knows I love it.  The kindness of strangers, the kindness of friends.

Knowing Me, Not Knowing You


I thought that I would have got it all sorted by now.  I thought that I would have seen everything.  Of course, I only thought this when I was about eighteen, and that was a time when my mentality was rather like my friend’s five year old who declared yesterday that he would stop counting after thirty nine “because there aren’t any numbers after that”.  Now that I have discovered that there are numbers after thirty nine, I wonder if I will ever stop being surprised by the world around me.  Not that I spend everyday leaping about because everything is just too much, but often I discover something and am left thinking “good grief, I didn’t expect that.”  You know what I mean?  Like it being the current fashion for women to remove their eyebrows and then paint them back in.  Didn’t very little and very old ladies do that when we were small along with a purple rinse to complete the look?  In fact, dying your hair grey and then purple is a thing now isn’t it?  What is that?  Geriatric-chic?  The Elephant (see Dumbo blog).  President Fart and his tiny button.  Rolf Harris.  I was surprised by all of it.

I have just put down a book to write this piece.  It is a serious book covering about 3,000 years of history.  I have just read a section which if I have read it correctly, claims that there was once a couple of Vandals, one called Suebi and another called Alan.  Now I have no wish to question the author as she has a brain the size of Jupiter and I do not.  However, I have known a few Alans in my time, and I also once met a canary of the same name. Alan the Canary seemed like he may have benefitted from meeting Colin the Cat, but Alan the Humans were pleasant company and all perfectly well behaved.  So I read this thinking to myself, “Alan?  A Vandal?  Are you quite sure, Bettany?”  This is small fry in comparison to something else that I found out about the other day, which shouldn’t have caused me to raise an eyebrow and yet it did.

As many of you know I live on the border of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire.  It is a beautiful part of our lovely country, and I am very fortunate to live here.  A number of people visit  the area enjoying the walks, scenery and the pubs.  Every Sunday me, The Three Childerbeasts and Man of the House are treated to a selection of people enjoying a bracing walk which also involves them staring in at us eating our Sunday lunch.  When we start waving at them and the children shout “hello Starers” these people tend to realise that we are not an exhibit and quickly move their gaze and their pointing (yes, they point) and pretend that they were actually admiring the shed.

Now there are a number of lovely establishments in the area to suit all tastes and all budgets in which you may wish to rest your aching fingers and your weary feet.  Apparently there is also one venue where you would perhaps only go if you have a very specific taste.   If I were to tell you that I was told that it was carpeted for comfort and not with linoleum for ease of cleaning (as I had assumed), you might begin to catch my drift.   I found the website (yes, there is a website with photographs) where there is, for me, a complete head-fuck of chintz in the bed and breakfast area and leather and wipe-clean surfaces elsewhere.  I showed this to Man of the House to read and he declared that he stopped reading when he got to the word ‘enema’.  Another friend, until that moment a woman whom I (and she) had considered to be an experienced and broad-minded person. She asked me what an “inspection chair” was.  I replied that I was unsure but I did not think it available in the DFS sale which was a shame because it ends this Friday.  Reviews also report that the breakfast is excellent.

I was shocked.  I shouldn’t be.  I’m not a nun.  And I don’t think a nun would be shocked either. I firmly believe that if there are two consenting adults in private then what they get up to is entirely their business and their business alone.  This venue is not near to my house. The website would suggest that the business is run in an entirely discreet and professional manner.  Statistics would dictate that there a number of entirely unpublicised places inbetween.  My eyes tell me that there are many, many private homes with couples living in them also in which I assume there may be also some sexual activity at some point.    So why was I surprised? And why am I surprised that I am surprised? I have absolutely no idea.  But if I bump into anyone called Alan asking for directions when I’m walking the Hound, I’m running for the hills.

The Brown Dog


img_2596The Big Day is over, you’ve bought everything, wrapped everything, cooked everything and rather unlike The Little Red Hen, everyone else has unwrapped it all in a tenth of the time it took you to source it, buy it and wrap it in the first place.  And they have also eaten everything that you have lovingly bought and prepared in a similar timescale.  Whilst you are glad that everyone enjoyed it, you do wish that the food didn’t take twice as long for you to prepare it as it does for everyone to eat it.  I think it also safe for me to presume that there has been the annual festive strop from a family member who didn’t win at the Christmas game of chance and they simply could not be placated with a piece of chocolate orange (note to Terry’s – don’t think we haven’t noticed that you have taken the middle bit out and put the price up – you’re on a very short lead).  Naturally there was the mystifying gift from a family member or friend whom you haven’t seen for years.  And I’m afraid that by Boxing Day that Mariah, the only thing I want for Christmas is for you to be mute.  It’s done people.  Well done everyone.

Then we moved into that period between Christmas and New Year.  No one was quite sure what day of the week it was, even if you were required at work.  During this time everyone was very stoically trying to “get through the chocolate” and “finish off the Christmas Cake”.  We became, as we do every year, a nation of nibblers; sausage rolls, a forgotten selection box, the cheese…nothing was beneath our attention. Except that rather sad looking bag of unopened salad languishing in the veg drawer in the fridge.  I am sure that by looking at a bag of salad that you absorb it’s nutritional value – it certainly seems to apply to Scottish shortbread.  Every year it takes us this interim period to polish off the Christmas food, sometimes with more family members and friends being drafted in to assist or vice versa.  That is what I love about being British, we are always willing to help each other out in a crisis.  One of my friends came over with my goddaughter for the day and we decided that the offering from my fridge was insufficient for our needs, so we went out.  For an All Day Breakfast.

Now the kids are back at school, everyone is back at work and routine begins again.  I find this bit of the year quite difficult.  When the leaves fall in Autumn, there is the tantalising promise of the time in Winter when we can all be tucked up fireside reading a book whilst it rages outside.  Or getting Hygge to coin a popular phrase.  It’s lovely.  The children are looking forward to Christmas, we all enjoy the school play, this year Sister B made cranberry gin….we’re all getting ready.  By the time that Christmas is over, we are not getting ready and Winter is the reality that is facing us. And it is cold and dark and wet for the next two months at least.   I am either outside with The Hound who during this time of year is brown rather than black, and I am carrying half a pound of mud on each boot as I try and make my way across a ploughed field.  If I am inside I am trying to cope with The Three Childerbeasts and their endless creativity for creating more mess. I don’t know about you but I have more washing than it is humanly possible to get through.  Ever.  If the ironing pile gets any higher I fully expect a family of muntjac to knock on the door and ask if they can move in.

And whilst I am struggling through all of this, I often wonder two things to myself. The first is: how on earth do women who work in paid employment manage all of this and their paid jobs?  I used to with Man of the House doing half, but I have no idea how we’d do it now.  Besides, it is a truth universally acknowledged and backed up by statistics that women still do the lion’s share of the housework.  As if the lion’s share is a prize to be won – yey, well done girls, you win a pair of marigolds and the loo brush!  And the second is: I used to have a paid job where multi-national companies listened very carefully to what I had to say.  They used to ask me for my advice, pay me for my advice in fact, and when I responded they would show all the signs of considering it very carefully before giving me their instructions.  Maybe not forever, but for now, I have given that up.  And I have given it up in exchange for speaking directly to someone on the very contentious subject of “juice with bits in” so they can (and they do) look me in the face as I am speaking to them and then just walk off as if they never heard me and I have never existed.  I suppose you could say that as I have made and squeezed this persons out of my own person that I have only myself (and Man of the House) to blame.   But it doesn’t stop me wondering.

I love the Seasons and how they change.  The importance and the necessity of the leaves falling and rotting to make food and the way for the new life in the Spring has not passed me by.  Winter is vital to that cycle. Hedgehogs, badgers, foxes, barn owls – all our peculiarly British wildlife – so beautiful and so very precious, seem especially so in Winter.  I know that with my head and I love that with my heart.  My logical brain tells me that it is lack of vitamin D, a lack of a vitamin that helps my general feeling of wellbeing, and my body has less opportunity to produce that when there are fewer hours of daylight available. As with so many things, I do wish my head and my heart could come to a more satisfactory arrangement between the two of them and then let me know what it is.  Because it’s been dark for months now and it’s beginning to feel like I’m in Narnia and that it may be a blessing to be turned to stone – not a good place to be.  My only solution, unless anyone has a better one, is head down and press on like the rest of you.  With the rest of you.  And if any of you feel like struggling across a very muddy field with me sometime in the few hours of daylight that we do have over the next few months, then, me and The Hound would be delighted for you to join us.

Happy New Year.

Secrets and Lies


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?


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




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.



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.