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Daddy Cool

This week a number of people have been quietly muttering to themselves whilst they have been making or are planning to make their way around the shops looking for Father’s Day cards and presents for Sunday. Sister B telephoned me this morning to ask me what I thought our father would like. I said that I had a vague memory that he liked fudge. In the absence of any ideas, let alone better ones, she immediately made her way to Thorntons.

Twenty minutes later she telephoned me in some distress from outside a jewellers. She had impulse-bought her Man of the House a bracelet and was clearly wondering whether she had made the right choice. I enquired as to whether her Man of the House was jewellery-wearer. She said she wasn’t sure. She said that the jeweller had said that she could return it for a full refund. On receipt of this news, I made soothing noises, comments such as I am sure it will be fine, couldn’t she blame the choice on my niece (aged eight) and that jewellery is such a personal thing it is difficult to get right. She said she’d send me a photo.

I received the photo. It was a man’s bracelet. I have strong opinions on a number of things – you have probably noticed- but men’s jewellery has as of yet, passed me by. Thinking that it was the right thing to say, I said that it was not too bling. Apparently that was the wrong thing to say, as he would probably like more bling. At this point, realising that sense and reason had left the building, I did the only thing a responsible sibling could or should do in such circumstances – I sent her a clip from Youtube of that episode of Friends when Joey buys Chandler a bracelet and he hates it.

All was quiet for about another twenty minutes and then she rang again. This time from The Body Shop. Would our Dad like a shaving kit? I said I didn’t have a clue. Not the faintest clue. I expected that he does shave and therefore might find a use for it. And everyone appreciates something useful. This should not be an unusual conversation to have with a sibling. Except that I haven’t seen our father for thirty years.

My parents split up when I was twelve. I know I am not unusual and I am not claiming to be anything but ordinary. In common with many people their behaviour followed a particular pattern; my father tried to pay as little as possible after leaving the matrimonial home as somehow in his head physically leaving the house meant he had absolved himself of any responsibility for the life he had brought me and my sisters to. Therefore my mother made life as difficult as possible for my father to see us by being vile–a constant reminder that seeing him was utter betrayal. To cut a very long, tedious and upsetting story short, the ultimate result of this game of two cats and three mice was that me and my sisters didn’t see my father and we went hungry. Literally. What little my mother had she kept for herself. My father knew that, I suspect it is one of the many reasons he left her. The only positive I can take from the immense amount of energy that my parents continue to pump into hating eachother over three decades is that they must have really loved each other once.

Therefore, for obvious reasons, Father’s Day was at best, a non-event for me until I had children myself. I loved my stepdad and in stark contrast to my mother he never demanded anything – certainly not attention and definitely not on Father’s Day. So that first Father’s Day when I was still mourning his loss and I shuffled off to buy something for Man of the House from Childerbeast Number One was a little strange for me as it hadn’t featured on my radar for nearly twenty years. When Sister B started seeing our dad again, much to everyone else’s confusion, Sister A and I supported her absolute right to self-determination, regardless of that being in a different direction from us. It is therefore testament to the strength of our relationship that she feels able to ask me what our Dad may or may not like for a gift in the expectation that I will genuinely try to help.

So this Fathers’ Day, I want to thank you, Dad. It is a daily struggle to unlearn all that crap from you and my mother, but struggle we must. And struggle we do. My wish for you this Father’s Day is that you let go of hating my mother just long enough to see the real tragedy of what you both did. The little girl that became a woman and mother herself can only really remember that her Daddy might like fudge. So I hope you like it. I’m afraid it was that or those dates you get in the oblong boxes at Christmas. If you play your cards right, next year my sister might get you a bracelet.

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Nul Points

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I have a confession to make. It may well lower your opinion of me, if indeed it could get lower. I love the Eurovision Song Contest. I love it. I love the staging, the costumes, the dancing and oh my goodness the lyrics. I loved Sir Terry’s commentary (“This woman has been poured into something black”). I love Graham Norton’s commentary (“Not sure I’d want to hear a Netta album”). I watch every year. This year I watched in horror as that poor Russian man tried to escape whilst singing in a shower in a thunderstorm. Last year I was wondering what on Earth Freud would have made of the line; “This trumpet makes you my girl.” And although not a particular fan, I did notice that Man of the House commented on how effective one female entrant’s outfit was in successfully distracting him from the song.

As you all know it follows the same format every year. The host nation introduces each act with a few minutes that they use to advertise what a wonderful country they live in, and to pique our interest in visiting that country by poking the entrants with a stick and getting them to prance about in some of the more enticing places. Tel Aviv Museum in Israel, Castle of Sao Jorge in Lisbon, that sort of thing. It always looks lovely, but frankly, just drags out what is already a very long event.

I appreciate that Eurovision is an excellent opportunity for countries to advertise themselves on an international stage. However, in order to hold the interest of the viewing public instead of them thinking “can’t we just hear the song?” I think it is time for a change. Surely if one wants to really understand a country, get a real flavour of it, then you really should experience it as the people who live there do? Therefore instead of getting artists to cavort in places of national beauty and/or interest, I propose that all twenty six entrants are filmed experiencing life as a national of the host nation. As I am British, I can only suggest my country and I do so in complete confidence that the UK is never going to ever win the Eurovision Song Contest ever again. I am sure that you all have some excellent examples, and I didn’t want to hog the field, so here is my top ten.

10. Queuing

Had to be. One simply cannot understand Britain or the British if you don’t get people of other nations to understand queuing. It doesn’t matter where or why. There doesn’t even have to be a reason. But queue you must. Put the performers in a queue. Let them observe and learn sighing, the non-aggressive smile to someone else in the queue and if someone tries to push in, the British expression of fury: the tut and the eye roll.

9. Making a palatable cup of tea

 Leave the baffled artists in a room with a kettle of boiling water, three tea bags, a tea spoon, a teapot, a bottle of milk and a mug together with a colour coded card highlighting the correct depth of colour for an acceptable cup of tea. The cup of tea is then presented to Sir David Attenborough for testing.

8. Successfully make a same day appointment at the doctor’s

Present them with a telephone and a landline with instructions that they are to call the number and make an emergency appointment for the same day. Failure is not an option. “Is it an emergency?” “Well I haven’t lost a limb, but I am not a doctor which is why I need to see one –do you mind me asking when you passed your medicine finals?”

7. Buy lunch from M&S

Parachute the group into any British town with directions to M&S. There they must purchase the most British of foodstuffs – an egg and cress sandwich, a packet of scones, some strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream. In order to be successful they must do so without bumping into any pensioners. Unbeknown to them is that in spite of being able to shop at any time in the week because they are retired, a great number of British pensioners venture out on weekday lunchtimes simply to swing their trollies into the path of people trying to buy a quick sandwich for lunch.

 6. Swim at the local leisure centre

A swimming costume, a towel and a pound coin for a broken locker – beware the obligatory floating elastoplast, oh, and for the love of God, don’t touch anything – go.

5. Translate the Daily Mail

Using gloves and tongs for hygiene and keeping contact to an absolute minimum, present the singer with a copy of the Daily Mail and ask them to answer a question on the ‘news’ it contains as follows: • Are all of the problems in the world the fault of: A) Women showcasing their jaw dropping curves; B) Gay people flaunting their incredible figures; C) People from ethnic minority groups wowing with their enviable bodies; D) Immigrants flashing their incredible abs; or E) Combination of all the above.

4. Get onto/off the Coventry Ring Road

Driving on the left isn’t sufficiently interesting. A professional racing driver dressed in a dinner jacket and bow tie takes the performer towards the Ring Road and as they approach this horror in a moving Ford Fiesta the professional driver escapes by being winched through the driver’s window James Bond style. They have one instruction: get off the ring road and do so without your passengers leaving their nails in the dashboard. Best of British.

3. Go to Ikea and don’t buy anything

Blindfold them and lead them into Ikea. Remove the blindfold and leaving them only with a bottle of water they must get to the exit within thirty minutes and (this is the clincher) without having bought anything. Not even a hot dog.

2. Find a seat on a peak time train

Hand the fellow European a credit card with an eye-wateringly high credit limit. Ask them to pick where in the country that they would most like to visit and ask them to buy a return train ticket to that place at peak time. Neglect to mention that they will be standing shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers for three hours in order to reach their destination.

And finally – Drive around the M25

It’s a circle – how hard can it be? A simple instruction: drive around this road and then get off again. The professional racing driver drives this artist onto the M25 in the Ford Fiesta. This time, rather than the exciting helicopter exit, they simply open the door, step out and walk away through the parked cars.

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Every Second Counts

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Nearly twenty years ago a couple were out on a date.  They had been seeing each other for a while – both divorced and with children – they had both been through the mill a bit as is the same for most people who have lived even a little bit of life.  The man was nervous.  He was going to tell the woman that he couldn’t see her anymore. Not an easy thing to do. He wasn’t sure how to tactfully bring it up.  Telling someone that that you can’t see them anymore is not nice for anyone to say or for anyone to hear.  Can’t, rather than won’t.  Won’t is the reason why most people stop seeing each other, and also not nice to hear.  Can’t is a different ball game.

After fussing his pint for a bit he decided to just blurt it out.  Get it over and done with.  That had to be for the best.  At least it would be said then. So he did.  He told her that he couldn’t see her anymore.  He wanted to, but he couldn’t.  He had been diagnosed with cancer, and he was going to die.  So it really wasn’t fair that they kept on seeing each other.  And then he waited.

The woman took this news in with remarkable calm.  And responded in the only way that she knew how, which was to be entirely tactless.  She dismissed him as talking nonsense.  This was not the reaction he was expecting.  He enquired, with some considerable interest, as to why a terminal diagnosis was, in her non-medical opinion, nonsense.  He considered it to very serious and was coping with it as well as could be expected in the circumstances.  The woman advised that it was nonsense because she also had a blood cancer.  She had been diagnosed in her early thirties and her diagnosis was not promising at the time.  It was not particularly promising now but her doctors continually did their best.  A number of years had passed with her future being knowingly and medically uncertain, so she had learnt to live with it.  And so would he.

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A man is rushed into A&E in an ambulance.  He had collapsed at home. The consultant on duty has no information about the patient other than there is a man with leukaemia lying dying in A&E.  The patient’s file would be coming over from the hospital treating him so the doctors could see the detail.  But that wouldn’t be quick enough for the consultant faced with a person dying right then and there.  So he did what he could with what he knew in that moment to save his life.

He couldn’t have known at that point that the man had undergone six years of chemotherapy.  He couldn’t have known that he knew the name of all of the nurses and doctors in the haematology department, and they him, because he had spent so much time there.  He didn’t know that his wife had sat there each and every day, holding his hand.  He didn’t know that he had got up at four o’clock every morning for the last six years to see the birds when the sun came up, because he knew he was dying and he couldn’t face it lying down.  And he didn’t know that the man had got on his motorbike less than forty eight hours earlier, because that was what he loved to do, and bugger it, he was going to do it.  Just one last time.

The doctors were trying to buy time whilst the file came and then they would be able to work out what best to do.  Time that could not be bought because the man now had sepsis.  They probably knew that but they tried anyway because that is their nature.  The (grown up) children were summoned by his wife to his bedside.  They watched the monitors and talked to him, hoping that he could hear them and that they could make sense of the bleeps and the numbers and that they meant something positive.  They knew.  They all knew. But they didn’t want to. Always the medical team worked quietly away.

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It is said that love comes quietly. One minute you don’t think or don’t know that you love someone and the next you know that you do. And then you know you’re stuffed because love takes some undoing. After being completely and utterly abandoned by my own father, I never expected anyone to come into my life that could even begin to fill the gaping hole in your heart that you just have to live with.  Not that they didn’t or even don’t love you.  Just not enough. 

My stepdad wasn’t perfect.  He was grumpy, he was miserable and you could never give him enough damned tea to drink.  He was on so many drugs at one point that he shook.  If he got his hands to stop shaking long enough to get his fork to his mouth, his head started shaking so he couldn’t get the fork in his mouth.  We did the only thing you could do in such circumstances, which was to mercilessly take the piss.  When he died I felt completely and utterly broken.  I cried every morning in the shower for two years so that no one would know.  I don’t know when I stopped doing it everyday.  Such is grief. 

When he was first diagnosed the doctors said that they hoped to give him five years; he lived for six.  That was two thousand one hundred and ninety days in total.  Fifty two thousand five hundred and sixty hours.  Three million one hundred and fifty three thousand six hundred minutes. I shall be grateful to the NHS for the rest of my life for every single last one of them.

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Smear Campaign

close up of microscope
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Right listen here you women under thirty. And, I address Welsh women under thirty in particular. Headline in the news yesterday is that up to a third of you are not going to your cervical screening tests. This is not good news. Not good news at all. What’s that all about? I want to have a stern and matronly word about what might be bothering you.

The Nickname

Yes, it is awful.  Named because the cells to be examined are smeared across a slide before being placed under the microscope.  I am not a scientist but some of you are – I would expect that a number of things that are put under a microscope for examination are smeared across a slide first.  Am I right?  I have absolutely no idea why it has become common parlance for an important scientific test that can save a woman’s life. It’s almost as if they were trying to put us off. I can only assume that the word ‘smear’ was attached to it by someone who didn’t like women very much – the common and everyday sort of misogynistic language that is very slowly being eradicated. A bit like ‘mankind’ or women getting wrinkles, but men getting ‘fatigued’ – that sort of crap. It’s proper name is cervical screening, for that is what it is: screening your cervix for abnormal cells so that those cells can be quickly and easily dealt with before they become a more serious problem.

The Embarrassment 

I get this, particularly when you are younger. And we’re British – we pretty much have the international monopoly on being uptight. I have had three children, and age and numerous medical procedures and examinations have knocked the embarrassment factor out of me. The first time you go is a bit nerve-wracking however much you have or haven’t been poked and prodded in your life. The second time isn’t much better tbh. By the time you get to the third you are pretty much resigned to the whole thing.  But as a woman who has had many cervical screening tests, there is no point at which any of us will ever skip into the surgery, shout “yippee!” and leap up onto the bed in eager anticipation of the speculum.  None.

Now it may be first, second or third time for you, but it will not be the first, second or third time for the medical professional carrying out the procedure. It is difficult for me to emphasise enough to you how disinterested medical professionals are in any of your body parts, and that includes your lady parts. Medical professionals in this area see them all day, everyday. You don’t. In fact, unless you are very bendy indeed, you are the only person in the world who has the least chance of a proper look at your own cervix. But you know for you have a job yourself that any job, whatever it is, stops being a novelty after you’ve done it for a week. Otherwise, how would you do your job?

Yes, a complete stranger performs the test. I think that’s better don’t you? What if you’re lying there and your aunt, who is a doctor, walks in? If a stranger performing the test is a bit embarrassing then someone you know would be positively mortifying. You never have to see this person (except possibly in this context) again. And even if you did happen to bump into them socially, unless you were to whip off your trousers and assume the position, it is unlikely that they’d recognise you. Your aunt, on the other hand…..

And whilst I am here, the person doing your screening does not care if you have waxed vociferously; they don’t care if you have a bush like a rhododendron; they care not one jot if your legs are hair-free or if you’ve just shaved that bit that pokes out of the bottom of your jeans; they could not be less interested in whether or not you want keep your socks on because your feet are cold. What they care about, what they really care about, is getting the test done and done properly so it can be sent off to the person with the microscope to analyse and they can go home at the end of the day and watch ‘Bake Off’.  Just like the rest of us.

So wear a skirt so you can simply lift it up and not feel quite so exposed, take a friend to sit outside so they can shuffle you in and wait with cake for when you emerge, tell the doctor/nurse that you are a bit nervous, babble inanely to them, take some earphones so you can listen to some music instead, do whatever it is to make you feel better about the whole thing, but don’t not go because you’re a bit embarrassed.

The Procedure  

I agree that it is not the most comfortable way to spend five or ten minutes of your life. But it is only five or ten minutes of your life, potentially for your life. And I wouldn’t say it hurts. It’s uncomfortable. You all must know someone who has had cancer and chemotherapy. If you don’t, seek someone out and talk to them about their experience. If you’re sitting in a quad at work, at least one of you will have been affected by cancer, and if you haven’t, one of you will be. Five minutes of uncomfortable is a picnic in comparison to being faced with chemotherapy.

And there is some more good news. Short girls take note – one of my friends (we shall call her Diminutive Friend, for she is teeny tiny) told me that your height makes a difference to how easily your cervix is located. Diminutive Friend claims to be five feet two inches tall (Diminutive Friend is optimistic).  However, that is why she feels like her cervix is located in her throat when she goes for her cervical screening. I, on the other hand, am five foot nine, and Diminutive Friend has made many uncalled for and unkind jokes about the doctor or nurse advancing on me with a miner’s helmet, compass and a map in order to locate my cervix. There you go ladies of less height, something to be grateful for at last.

The Worry of What They Might Find  

There is a statistically small risk that the person with the microscope might report that something transpired from your test that requires further investigation. This would probably require someone else, if you’re lucky another complete stranger, having a bit of a poke around your now freshly waxed lady area. On the other hand, if you don’t go for a test, there is a statistical certainty that the person with the microscope will not make such a report.  If something does pop up in that report, you have two things that are vital; information and time. If nothing does pop up, then you can go about your daily business not wondering what might be because you know you’re looking after yourself.  However, just because they can’t make the report, it does not mean that the thing you are frightened of finding isn’t there.

Also, let me take this opportunity to assure you; your foo-foo is fundamentally no different or unusual to anyone else’s. Common sense and the continued survival of the human race dictates that bodies, including vaginas, are broadly speaking, all much of a muchness based around a generally successful design that has worked for millenia. The person performing the test is not going to recoil in horror declaring that they’ve never seen one that looks like that before. And, if there is by some infinitesimally small likelihood something slightly unusual about your vagina that is likely to affect your health and well-being that is also visible to the naked eye, then they are the person to spot it because it is their area of expertise.

I can’t make you go. I know I can’t. And your mothers would not have brought you up as I am hopefully bringing up my children if you weren’t prepared to stand up for yourselves. We want you to be strong and strident and shouty. For we are strong and strident and shouty. We want you to do all the things that are over and above what we have achieved, and continue to achieve, because we’re standing on the shoulders of the women who went before us. We want you to learn, to write, to sing, to dance, to read, to travel. We want you to vote, to protest. To help us sort the bloody government out – now that really is embarrassing. To get your noses pierced, get a tattoo. Cover your hair, not cover your hair. Wear utterly inappropriate shoes.  We want you to fall in love. We want you to fall out of love and say you’re never doing that again. And then we want you to do it all over again. There are times when a stiff British upper lip is called for – an unfortunate haircut, watching Boris Johnson trying to speak French, someone else taking the last chocolate biscuit – this is not one of them. Tell me I’m wrong. Please. Argue with me. Tell me I’m out of touch, that I don’t know what I’m talking about. And then tell me why. I want you to do that. I need you to do that because we’re buggered without you. And the thing is, the thing is: you can’t do any of those things when you’re dead.

Because you’re dead.

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Make It Snappy

https://pixabay.com/illustrations/crocodile-sea-islands-rock-cliffs-1557483/

You know when something awful has happened in your life and when you wake up in the morning there is that briefest of moments when you don’t remember it?  For that one spark of time everything is okay and nothing has changed so as to be unrecognisable from how it was before. Then you do remember it. And you feel even worse because you can’t believe that you could have been so stupid to have considered that the catastrophic thing that has happened, hasn’t happened.  Because it was so massive, how could you even have thought to forget? There is also the horrific event itself which you felt dreadful about anyway, which now you feel even worse about because for less than a second you thought it hadn’t happened and then you have to relive the horror all over again.  I had those experiences when both of my grandparents died, when my stepfather lost his titanic battle against leukaemia and also now, to a lesser extent admittedly, when I know it is going to be World Book Day. 

Parents of primary school-aged children will know exactly what I am talking about.  They didn’t do it last year at school and that had lulled me into a sense of false security.  Imagine my delight when I discovered that it would be happening this year and two costumes were expected. Not by the school, by the Childerbeasts.  Childerbeast Number Two wants to go as a person possessed of magic– okay, not too bad, we have magical items in the dressing up box.  Childerbeast Number Three will be enjoying ‘The Enormous Crocodile’ and can attend school in crocodile colours if they so wish.  Also not too bad.

However, although they can just go in green or brown or yellow, my Childerbeast does not wish to keep it simple.  No, they want to go dressed as an actual crocodile.  And she’s not the only one in her class.  I think the little buggers have got together and discussed what could possibly inflict the most pain and irritation on their parents.  A crocodile costume you say?  In forty eight hours?  And to go on about it constantly?  Yes, let’s all do that.  We’ll get them to break their “no wine in the week” rule before Tuesday.

Yesterday with what I thought was only twenty-four hours to go, I found myself perusing a well-known department store looking for crocodile-themed items.  It was not an not easy task.  Partly because not only do people who stock department stores seem to think that little girls are obsessed with unicorns, they also seem to think that the only colour they like is pink.  So, I made my way into the boys’ section where it would seem that people who stock the same store think little boys are only interested in blue, green and yellow.  Equally annoying for boys, but handy for me on this occasion.

I availed myself of some crocodile-coloured clothes and a green scarf that I thought would do as a tail.  As I was paying, another woman placed a blue hoodie at the till next to me and advised the sales assistant that although it was blue and from the section labelled ‘boys’ it was for her daughter who was not a fan of pink.  I felt a warm glow of pride for this woman’s daughter.  I placed my items on the counter and told my sales assistant that I was going to fashion a crocodile costume out of them for World Book Day and I hadn’t got the faintest idea where to begin.  She offered her sympathies and failed to hide a note of distinct glee from her voice as her children weren’t having to do it this year.  I refrained from advising her not to be too smug, but as we all know: The Gods of Parenting are always fair.

I returned home and the items purchased were greeted with what can best be described as a muted response. She wanted to go as a crocodile; this was merely green trousers and a yellow t-shirt.  I said that I was going to make some scales and staple them on.  That helped.  A bit. Along with the discovery that I had another twenty -four hours than I thought I had.

I was expressing this sartorial concern to Brunette Friend on the way to school this morning.  One of her Childerbeasts also wanted to go the full David Attenborough and she had been up late into the night making the costume.  She is infinitely more skilled at these things than I am, which is rather like saying that Michaelangelo was better at painting than the Hound.  She offered me her green and brown felt and a glue gun with which to assist my own descent into hell. She said she’d come and free me when I had overdone it with the glue gun because it did peel off with a layer of skin if you got it on yourself. I returned home to begin. 

If I could just pause here – I know why people become teachers.  I had previously thought it was something to do with caring for the next generation or wanting to help children reach their potential.  Or if the Daily Mail is to be believed, the massive pay cheque and the long holidays.  But it’s not is it?  It’s because you all get let loose with glue guns, I know now.  I’ve had a lovely couple of hours cutting and sticking.  And when I ran out of crocodile scales, I just went around the house looking for things to stick.  So far, I’ve glued the washing basket lid closed, the toilet seat down and the chocolate cupboard shut because I stupidly said I’d give up chocolate for Lent.

So I now have a sore back from sitting in a fixed position for too long and something resembling (and I wouldn’t put it any higher than that) an outfit that has a strong hint of reptile about it.  In two hours I shall discover whether my work is of sufficient standard to please the Childerbeast.  And if it is not, then I am out of options and I can’t even comfort myself with chocolate. 

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Chicken Run

eggs in tray on white surface
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For those of you who read my blog regularly you will know that my family and I keep chickens. I came quite literally face to face with my nemesis the other week. No, not my mother. A fox. As I came back from walking the Hound I encountered some feathers in the road. Not those of Speckled Jim, but feathers which looked very much like they had previously been attached to one of our speckled chickens. As I walked further up the hill I saw a bushy, black-tipped tail above the brow of a low hedge in our garden. I chased up the garden and the tail picked up speed to a light trot. I surmised that Mr Fox was still in the vicinity and his name was not Basil. I got to the top of the garden and Definitely Not Called Basil had reached the brow of the hill ahead of me. He stopped, turned, looked at me and then slowly walked away. If he could have flipped me the bird, he would have done.

At this point some of you may be wondering why I didn’t unleash the Hound. Those of you who have met the Hound will not be wondering. So for the benefit of those of you who have not been brought a shoe on arrival at my house, the Hound thinks he’s a chihuahua and is no match for a dog fox Definitely Not Called Basil.

So then began the grizzly and unpleasant job of securing the crime scene. As far as the Childerbeasts were concerned, we had six chickens in the morning and only two in the evening. That caused enough upset. The reality was rather more unpleasant. I found one headless body not far from the house, and whilst I was locating suspicious piles of feathers and trying to coax anyone hiding back out with some corn, my neighbour came round to let me know that she too had located an equally suspicious pile of feathers on her front door step. As her chickens were in, she had reached the inevitable conclusion.

Whilst I was in the garden with my neighbour, Definitely Not Called Basil, brazen bastard that he is, came back. His paw stopped mid-air as our eyes locked and in that moment we assessed eachother. He wisely concluded that he did not want to take me on and retreated.

After an hideous evening with lots of tears shed by the Childerbeasts, Man of the House spent an entire weekend trying to create a secure area for the chickens. We agreed that it would be unwise to create a buffet arrangement in that Definitely Not Called Basil could get in but the chickens could not get out. One of his suggestions was to put an electric fence around our entire garden. Tempting as that was to deter some visitors, I was not keen. Another would have looked like Colditz which might be considered a little too elaborate. So we have settled on some fencing. The enclosure is close to, and in the sight of, the house. And four new chickens have joined the two who came home on the evening of that fateful day.

However, the two who came home keep getting out. They jump onto a wall, sneak under the hedge and into the woods beyond. In order to try and limit the future carnage, I have put some canes across the top of the wall with some bunting to encourage the two escapees to stay in the enclosure near to the house. The bunting I have chosen is all twenty eight flags of the European Union. We have been having much Fun with Flags and they have been re-arranged several times to try and encourage the two chickens who insist on escaping, to remain. I am not suggesting that the other four will not be literally snapped up at any point, but the enclosure was made with their longevity in mind and one hopes it provides a certain degree of protection. However, there are only so many times I can re-arrange the flags and chase two chickens around the garden with a stick and some corn to try and save them from themselves before they get devoured. Therefore, I must prepare for the inevitable, which in spite of the efforts of the adults in the house, will affect us all.

It is almost as it there is some sort of analogy that I could draw with current events, if only I could put my finger on what it is.

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The Sock Fairy

Thank goodness that in addition to Father Christmas and his elves taking the cumbersome task of present acquisition, wrapping and delivery off my hands, that I also have my House Fairy Team. This morning they were able to flutter about looking for school cardigans at the last minute because although they had been washed, The Sock Fairy had not put them into Childerbeast Number Two and Three’s drawers.  Tut, tut.

If you don’t have a resident House Fairy Team, I strongly recommend that you get one immediately for 2019. They cost nothing and really make life so much easier for everyone – usually the female in the house in particular (Human in Charge).  As we all know, more often than not, it is still deemed the female’s job to shoulder the majority of these tasks, paid or unpaid employment, full or part time – the statistics are widely and publicly available if you’d like to argue the toss with me.  I think you can mix and match your requirements, but if I run through the main team for you.

  1. The Monitor Fairy.  No, not like the lizard.  S/he (for no one has ever seen a House Fairy) is essentially in charge.  Not a very glamorous title, and not a very glamorous job either.   S/he has a number of tasks, but in summary:
  • Clothing and bedding.  S/he is expected to know not only precisely what items of clothing are in everyone’s wardrobe, but also their whereabouts at any given moment in time, their status in the wash cycle, and crucially, when the owner of that item of clothing is likely to want it to grace their person, but before they have actually communicated that wish which usually only happens at the point of dressing.   This excludes all items belonging to the Human in Charge – they’re fairies, not wizards.
  • Food.  S/he is to take a note of all of the foods that the Humans (and any animals) residing in the House like and dislike.  They are to ensure that there is an endless supply of those foodstuffs into the House in order that no Human in the house (excepting the Human in Charge) is left to the mercy of The Fridge Troll (see below).  It is also vital that there is a number of nutritious and balanced snacks available at any one time.  It is essential that these are available so that the Human In Charge can list them to the other Humans in the house who announce their hunger for the sole purpose of them being listed and subsequently roundly and repeatedly spurned, even if they were a favoured item previously. 
  • Cleanliness.  It is The Monitor Fairy who instructs The Cleaning Fairy to chisel the toothpaste off the bathroom sink and sandblast the kitchen floor.
  • Diaries – social and unsocial.  Every single Human’s movements, social and work-related are to be noted so that there is not a diary clash.  It is also vital to ensure that the points above re clothing and food can be seemlessly dovetailed to encompass the movements of everyone in the house (Human in Charge exclusion applies).  If there is a diary clash then it is to be noted that as a first solution, if the Human in Charge is one of those involved in the diary clash, then whatever they had planned (work, career, wee on own) has to be ditched first so as to cause the least disruption.  If the Human in Charge is not the cause of the diary clash, then simply cloning of self is all that is required to resolve the issue – see Hogwarts.

Also in the House Fairy Team are the following:

  • The Sock Fairy.  As I am sure you all know, The Sock Fairy is the one who creates all odd socks and let widely known, also puts all of the clean underwear away.  So when someone shouts “I’ve got no pants” in an accusatory tone five minutes before you’ve got to leave the house in the morning, you can take comfort in knowing that it isn’t you that they’re blaming for the shoddy service, but the most wayward and undisciplined member of the House Fairy Team. 
  • The Toy Fairy. S/he knows the location of all toys.  And when I say all toys, I mean toys and playthings that have been completely ignored for months, even years, but suddenly and inexplicably become the best thing sliced bread and need to be located.  This is usually when The Tidy Up Fairy is trying to sneak them out of the house to a charity shop.
  • The Tidy Up Fairy.  Not to be confused with the Cleaning Fairy, who actually cleans once s/he can get to the floor after the Tidy Up Fairy has worked their magic.  If you get nothing else get a Tidy Up Fairy.  They spend all day every day picking up toys, pieces of paper, drawings and other bits of general debris and putting them into small piles around the house.  They are so focused on their task that they go into one room with the express intention of helping The Toy Fairy but then get distracted by something that needs tidying up and then wonder why they came into that room in the first place.  They are constantly concerned that this means something more serious is happening to them rather than they have too many things going on.

Being a House Fairy is not an easy task.  There are always baddies working against the House Fairy Team, and the most notable of these are The Fridge Troll and The Toothpaste Terror. 

  • The Fridge Troll.  S/he (for no one has ever seen a Fridge Troll) sneaks into your fridge and eats all of the food.  One minute it is full, then next it is not.  This can cause such distress to one of the Humans that they feel the need to shout, immediately, whilst their head is still in the fridge and they themselves are hanging off the fridge door and leaning into it that “there’s nothing in the fridge.”  Again, this has a tone which suggests that this parlous state of affairs is All. Your. Fault.  Of course it is not, it is The Fridge Troll and their evil works.
  • The Toothpaste Terror.  Rather like Pan’s Shadow, this Creature of Darkness flits into the bathroom and layers toothpaste onto the basin in such a manner that it hardens in seconds and then, just so you know they’ve been, they spit the remainder all over the mirror. This needs particular monitoring just after the basin and mirror has been cleaned as that is the time when the bathroom is at its most vulnerable.

Before taking a team on, please also consider that most days it will look as if the House Fairy Team have been doing absolutely nothing all day.  On occasion you may well wonder why you are convinced that you can hear the tiny, high-pitched sound of fairy snoring at nine o’clock in the evening if so little has been achieved.  Please do remember that they are to all intents and purposes, invisible and their task is quite literally, thankless.  Except one day, just one day, maybe they will hear someone mutter something that will keep their heart warm when their magic starts to fade: “Mummy, sometimes when I can’t get to sleep, I put my nose into the pillow because it smells of you. It makes me feel better and then I can go to sleep.”

Happy New Year. 

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Chooks Away!

 

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Mock me if you will, but this household has recently acquired six chickens as a part of our continued strive to have less impact on the planet, and yes, whip up an omelette when we’ve all had an oeuf of Brexit (gosh I am so funny). Yes, yes, I know. If the French and English fishermen move onto less middle-class catches than scallops to fall out over, Operation Stack becomes Operation Car Park because the ports are blocked and the NHS has finally collapsed the death knell being that drugs that are not manufactured in this country are not able to come into this country, then six chickens are not going to save me or anyone else.

In the short time that we have had them I have noticed how incredibly thick chickens are. They have not a thought in their head. Yesterday they escaped from their capacious living area for doing whatever it is that chickens do, and had made their way up to the lawn, which is at the top of our garden. And when I say the top of our garden, we live on a hill and the lawn is not only the only flat portion of our garden, it is higher up than the roof of our house with steps for humans to reach it. The lawn is a substantial work of engineering, much adored by Man of the House, and lovingly re-seeded two weeks ago.  I made my way up to shoo them back down to their area. Five of the six went with little trouble. One of them decided to break free from the group and run off in completely the opposite direction. I was around thirty feet from her when she decided to launch herself from the top of the lawn. She flapped her wings as she cannoned over the hedge (planted specifically to stop a child doing something similar) and mid-air it became apparent that her flight feathers on one side had been clipped. She banked left and disappeared from view. I heard a thud, which I presumed was her ricocheting off the chicken coop. I rushed back down the garden expecting that my quandary over what to cook for dinner was now solved. I found her having rejoined the group without a care in the world. A perfect demonstration as to why chickens are the descendants of dinosaurs. They are made of stern, uncomplicated stuff and a big bang was nothing to them.

In addition to half a dozen mini velociraptors trashing the lawn, like lots of people who adore Sir David Attenborough and wonder if he is the only person in a position of authority with an ounce of sense, I have also been on a mission to eradicate our house of plastic. This is a much easier task to say than it is to do isn’t it? I have a veg box because they don’t wrap cucumbers and broccoli in plastic (who the hell thought of that cretinous idea? They should join Mr Gove and have their feet roasted on an open fire as suggested by a fellow Twitter user for the fronted adverbial crap), I have switched to beeswax wraps (www.beebeewraps.com are excellent – no I don’t get any money for suggesting them, they have no idea who I am), and bars of shampoo and soap in the bathroom which cause endless amounts of confusion. As of this morning I think that Man of the House is washing his body with hair conditioner, his hair with a body bar and I don’t want to even think about what he’s doing with the bar of shampoo. I also buy eco-friendly washing products that are made in eco-friendly factories, have less impact on aquatic life and are packaged in recycled plastic. I have also been trying not to buy palm oil which is even less easy because the bloody stuff is in everything. And I have started ordering milk from the milkman again.

Except, according to news this week, the single biggest cause of pollution in the world is a kind of fart. And you would be entirely forgiven for thinking it might be President Fart, but it’s not, that would be fake news; it’s cow farts. And by buying milk, in addition to (as one of my vegan friends has previously horrified me) I am not only supporting young male calves being shot at birth and their mothers being permanently pregnant, I am also contributing to cow farts. As I am by eating beef. And I am not a big beef eater. In case you missed it, the upshot of that if we carry on we’ve got about twelve years until we’re all completely buggered. So just enough time for the children of those us of my generation to be reaching adulthood and being left with a bigger mess than the one their grandparents and the current government are intent on leaving them with Brexit. Great.

We are British, so let us not be defeated by this news. We must press on, and press on we shall. This weekend, I am going to avail myself of all of the milk alternatives available to a person at my local supermarket. Such is the wealth and privilege of the country I live in. And me, Man of the House and the Childerbeasts are going to do a blind tasting. I may take photos of some of the more disgusted expressions for my own amusement. Then we are going to see which one we like the best. And we are going to attempt to make the switch.

I am not going to make any rash promises. We are not going to become vegan overnight and start cycling everywhere. However, I am going to attempt to demonstrate to my children that we should all attempt to be what I believe Mahatma Gandhi actually said which was “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change….We need not wait to see what others do.” If we don’t do something, and twelve years really means now, we the Europeans won’t be able to bicker over Brexit, the Americans will not be able to tittle-tattle over Trump and the Russians will not be around to visit Salisbury in the snow or otherwise. Smaller, feathery and not very scary this time, but after sixty six million years, dinosaurs will once again rule the Earth. So much for homo sapiens, sapiens – wise, wise man.

 

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The Thigh’s the Limit

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The other week my daughter (who is the length and build of a racing snake) commented that her thighs were fat and they should be covered up.  She’s eight.  And she’s not overweight.  Still coming back from the stratosphere after last week’s Cartastrophe,  I explained to all three of my children that hips, thighs and bottoms are very important, as not only do they hold your entire body up to permit you to move about, they also help to keep all of your internal organs in the right place.  I spoke at length about how important it is that these parts of your body are strong, and looked after, and in order to be strong and looked after, they need to have a food source and also some muscle to them which involves exercising, because they have the weight of whole body resting on them.  Who knows if they were listening to me?  They probably weren’t given that they kept asking me to move out of the way.  However, I spoke to Sister B earlier today and she said that Niece (also the height and build of a racing snake and aged eight) had made a similar comment whilst poking her thighs.  This displeases me intensely.

In an entirely unrelated conversation, a couple of weeks ago a friend revealed to me that at the age of forty she was “going to get the legs out.”  Rather than it being her issuing me with a warning to run for cover as she was about to strip off, she meant that she was wearing (woo-hoo) a dress with a short skirt.  Now when I say a short skirt, I don’t mean a bum-skimmer.  Just a perfectly decent and acceptable skirt above the knee.  She had decided that she was not going to hide her legs away anymore.  So after forty years of keeping them under wraps she has unleashed them.  And they are perfectly lovely legs, which I am given to understand carry her about without any difficulties and have been known to run occasionally.

Inspired by the latter conversation and enraged by the former, last week,  I purchased a pair of shorts.  I can hear you wolf whistling now.  And I don’t mind telling you that partly because I wanted to show my daughters that thighs without that ridiculous gap are normal and nothing to be ashamed of, and also because I too have spent forty years covering my legs up, I had all good intentions of wearing them.  They’re not short shorts.  Whilst I strongly believe that you should wear whatever the hell you like, as far as I am concerned, no matter how good my legs may or may not be, short shorts are only for anyone under the age of thirty and Kylie Minogue.  It is to my (and that of Man of the House’s) eternal chagrin that I do not fall into either of those categories.  Plus my legs are quite fair indeed; unlike Kylie’s, they are translucent rather than transcendent.

Of course, just by making a purchase, it is not as easy as all that for a woman to wear a pair of shorts.  Men buy shorts, put shorts on, and they’re good to go.  It’s like swimming.  Men think to themselves “oh I fancy a swim, I shall take my shorts, a towel and a pair of goggles and make my way to the local swimming pool.”  It should be that easy for women, but it isn’t.  Women think “oh I would like a swim.  But do I want to go through at least an hour of hair removal before I am fit to be seen in public? And where I am going to find this hour undisturbed so that I may gather my array of tools in order to shave, pluck and wax so that people will not gasp in horror or faint when I disrobe?”    So I had to commence on the task that is not dissimilar to painting the Forth Bridge.  Ladies of diminutive stature be grateful because whilst those of us on the taller side may be able to reach some things on the high shelves, not only do we continually bang our heads on the cooker hood, it also takes us bloody hours to shave our legs.  Deary me you don’t know how lucky you are.  So after a geological age, my leg hair was dealt with for at least twenty four hours.  I could have got the shorts on and the legs out there and then.  But I felt that it would be unkind to everyone, and especially unkind to the Hound who can only see in monochrome, not to do something about the glare.

I decided to set about dealing with this issue with some fake tan.  I first had a fake tan only a few years ago.  Man of the House had said “why don’t you have a fake tan before we go away?”  Thinking to myself “Blimey, if he thinks I need to have a fake tan, I really do need to have a fake tan” I immediately booked myself in to a beauty salon.  Someone stood me in a shower cubicle stark naked apart from the tiniest disposable pants in the world (me in the pants, they were professionally and appropriately attired for the task) and advanced on me with a spray gun.   If I hadn’t have given birth to three children when I couldn’t have cared less if a brass band had been in the room, I might have felt a tinge of embarrassment.  As it was, I barely flinched when I was asked to put myself in all number of ridiculous poses, which the therapist confidently assured me was to achieve the much-vaunted all over glow.

This year I thought that I could probably manage my legs myself. I had been advised by a friend that one should moisturise one’s legs prior to application of the fake tan to ensure even cover and no streaks.  I placed a towel on the bed, myself on the towel, moisturiser on my legs and then the fake tan.  I lay down to let it dry and closed my eyes.  That was a mistake.  I woke up to a little face next to me at the side of the bed, for whom a promising career in the diplomatic service awaits: “Mummy why are your legs orange?”  She should have looked more carefully.  They were orange at the front and stripey at the back.  A wash did not improve them.  So I am afraid that the shorts, and my not very subtle point about thighs are going to have to wait for a few days until the legs aren’t streaky and I can spend another eon shaving them.  By which time Summer will be over and I can retreat to the comfort of my jeans.  Thank God.

 

 

 

 

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Bum Vote

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Defiling my Twitter feed this morning was the news that The Sun thought it a good editorial decision to run a front page frothing at the mouth about M&S deciding to change all of their Percy Pig sweets to vegetarian-friendly ones.  I suppose in one respect it was, because here I am, sat typing about it.  According to the BBC website, which is also allowing this story (I use the term loosely) to take up space on their webpage, people are complaining about it not being ‘normal food.’

I am not a vegetarian.  But first, what is the issue with changing from one product that includes gelatin from the boiled bones of pigs (which cannot be particularly good for anybody – especially the pig) that does not include this product?  Anyone?  Anyone at all?

Secondly, and I have to ask, because I have been wondering all morning – do they really not have anything more important to worry about? Because if they are that upset about a pink sweet, then where do you have left to go when something really important happens?  I cannot help but wonder if this is story was somehow a crass right-wing segway into trying to make this into an issue of sovereignty – damned EU, telling us we can’t have goo from boiled pig bones in our sweets.

So tomorrow, I hope that we are all off to vote.  And voting, no doubt, around the issue of what we consider to be sovereignty.  Females and people who haven’t voted before, I am talking specifically to you.  Women, because look at what the second female PM this country has done for feminism (yes, that’s right, nothing), and people who haven’t voted before, because your voice is every bit as important as those of us who have been trooping off to put crosses in boxes as soon as the law said we could.  And in three week’s time, we get another go.

Now, probably like you, I have been pondering as to how best to use my vote.  There are a number of messages I want to send, and given that nothing else seems to have worked on Prime Minister Tin Ears, this is an important opportunity for all of us.  Before she is removed in a second vote by her party.  I think it is important to note here that according to the government it is entirely democratic for the Conservative Party to vote on the same issue twice, and for Parliament to vote three or even four or five times on precisely the same thing, but undemocratic for the Electorate to vote on something that is an entirely different animal from the one presented three years ago.  I wish someone could explain that to me. I have asked my local MP to explain it to me – he either can’t or doesn’t want to.  Short words are fine.  I will try and understand.

The first message I want to send, because I am a Remainer, is to vote for someone who has unequivocally set their stall out to Remain.  Not “ it depends what our party gets out of it”, “can I keep my job if I do?”, “how much money can we have?” or “we’ll see”.  No ifs, not buts.  Remain. You may not feel the same and wish to vote in entirely the opposite way – absolutely fine with me.  However, I should warn you that if you think JRM and Bojo are destined for things higher than Strictly and you have a Nigel Farage calendar in your kitchen, then we are never going to be friends. 

The second message is for those currently in parliament, or more specifically, government, which is: “wtf?”  Not erudite, not clever, but I’m not sure how best else to describe the unfathomable shit storm that we have all watched in wide-eyed horror for the last three years.

Thirdly, a final point which I feel has been somewhat overlooked is the thing that John Lennon said about life happening whilst you were busy making other plans.  Apparently we, the Human Race, have twelve years. Twelve years before the natural world is in an irreversible decline. Sir David Attenborough phrased it much better, and I am sure he would never use such language, but I took twelve years to mean “by 2031, we’re fucked, people.”

It is symptomatic of the staggering and continuing arrogance of the Human Race that we think all of the nonsense that I have just spouted about is even vaguely important whilst our world is dying around us.  It’s not even a matter of a world we will be giving to our children – twelve years.  I’ve been married to the Man of the House longer than that.  Poor chap.  And it is us who are in trouble. The Earth will be okay until the end of time, which is actually a thing (as explained by Professor Brian Cox).   Nature doesn’t care about all the crap that humans concern themselves with and when it comes down to it, really comes down to it, neither should the humans.  And we’re coming down to it. Nature doesn’t care about the humans either, or the animals, or the environment.  Because it adapts to survive.  And survive it will. Charles Darwin taught us that. However, if I could make an appeal to your better nature; just because it doesn’t care about us, it does not mean that we shouldn’t care about it. Or the animals, or the environment, or goodness me, each other. That is, after all, what makes us human.

Finally, if that doesn’t appeal to your better nature, because you don’t have one, it is also entirely acceptable for you to cast a shameless vote to save your own arse instead.

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Stand By Me

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As I type our MPs are debating the latest Meaningless Vote to be put to them by Dictator May.  I would say the government, but it seems that even they can’t agree with each other, with the latest Brexit Secretary standing up to commend a motion to the House one minute and then marching through the door to vote against it the next.  Asked what was going on, one Cabinet Minister has been reported in the Press as saying “Fuck knows.  I’m past caring.  It’s like the living dead in here.”  Of course, whilst I suspect we all may have some sympathy with that position, I have been observing our politicians for the past few weeks, for observe it seems is all we are permitted to do. 

I commenced my observation from the comfort of my sofa with a cup of tea and some biscuits, shouting at the television.  I then moved a cushion in front of me and stopped shouting.  I muted the sound at one point – it made no difference to my understanding of what was going on with an endless stream of (mainly) male (mainly) white politicians standing up to speak.  The Speaker had confined each of them to seven minutes – seven whole minutes– of talking each.  Geez. I put my cushion over my face for the really scary bits.  That was insufficient and I eventually got behind the sofa because I couldn’t watch anymore.  I am now frantically trying to exit the cinema but all of the doors are currently locked. 

So as the government, whoever the hell they are at the moment, try to browbeat their agreement through Parliament for the third time, but Parliament is making them comply with the constitution to do so, I cannot help but wonder what is unconstitutional about following the constitution.  I would also like someone to explain to me, in short words if necessary, why the Meaningless Vote being put forward three times and the Conservative Party doing some sort of dodgy deal as to who will be the next (unelected) Prime Minister of this country is apparently entirely democratic, and yet it is undemocratic to ask what we, the Electorate, think of any of it now the cards are on the table.

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I voted Remain.  I am deeply upset at the prospect of leaving the European Union.  Some of you hold entirely the opposite view as is your democratic right in a free country, and I respect that, even if I don’t understand it.  However, I was not sure why I was so very upset, and this morning as I stomped through the fields with the Hound, I finally worked out why.

Since the result of the referendum, the daughter of a friend has been shouted at in the street to “Fuck off back to Poland.”  She’s British.  She happens to have dark skin and hair. I am sure that Poland is a beautiful country but as of yet she hasn’t visited.  Another European posted on Facebook apologising for taking jobs from British people – they were doing a job that very few British people would get out of bed for.  Another woman I spoke to said that her mother took extreme offence at a group of students speaking (within her earshot, not in a conversation she was part of) in their own language which is why she voted to Leave.  She has since met a boy and moved to Germany.  One man interviewed on the news had a holiday home in Spain.  When he voted Leave he didn’t realise that by voting to end free movement it meant that it would also apply to him. It is this sort of crap that is really bothering me.  I am extremely worried that Brexit is the start of the ball rolling towards the Third World War.

It is said that people come into your life when you have the most need of them; I have a friend who voted to Leave.  My friend is an intelligent, kind and loving person.  They are not sexist, they are not racist and they are not homophobic.  They don’t care one jot what job you do, the language you speak or where you were born.  I am so grateful to have this person in my life. With Mr Farage being the most horrific and self-promoting of poster boys (asked the Electorate eight times for their view and eight times rejected – why can he not accept the Will of the People and stumble into obscurity where be belongs?) one could believe to be surrounded by people like that odious twerp. My friend reminds me constantly by their presence alone, that he is the minority and we are not. So whilst the Grand Wazzocks think it acceptable to change their minds based on self rather than national interest, refer to burkas as letterboxes, people who go to State Schools as thick as “potted plants” and that it is an hilarious jape to give themselves a name that harks back to the KKK, I know that I am far from being alone in thinking it is not. Now is the time for all of us, whichever way we voted, and whatever the hell happens over the next few weeks, to raise our hands, together, and say to these people: “You don’t speak for us. You have never spoken for us. And you never will.”