Gloomy Sunday


Everyone in the country was meant to be going shopping mad on Friday. Brawling in Argos, shoving in Sainsburys and a general elbowing of ribs and stamping on each other’s feet. We all saw it on the news last year. Like me, you probably watched in open-mouthed horror, yet couldn’t look away, as people were filmed physically fighting over electrical goods. I gather that one particular store deliberately opted out of inter-customer wrestling this year. There is a part of me that finds this disappointing because I would like to go to places where people are behaving like this armed with either a water cannon or a set of foam fire extinguishers (or both); if people are going to be so ridiculous over purchases that cannot in any way be essential, then they and their electrical goods deserve to be covered in foam. Of course, the annoyingly sensible part of me would also have to have prior agreement of the store concerned, signed disclaimers and a wide range of cleaning equipment for the aftermath.

Similarly on the appalling behaviour front, I have spoken to friends, heard things, read stuff, and it appears that some people have taken the Brexit referendum as a licence to be as racist and offensive as they like – sometimes casually in conversation and often with more sinister and threatening with comments such as “why don’t you go back to your own country?” I feel that I should pause here – that is not to say that everyone who voted for Brexit is such a person. I have friends who voted for Brexit – I don’t agree with them on that particular point anymore than they agree with me, but unfortunately for them, and for all of us, their voices are being drowned out or silenced by our papers, our news and the aforementioned idiots. I believe what has upset a lot of people on both sides of the Brexit debate is the staggering realisation that these individuals have always held these views, and for some baffling reason, they now think it acceptable to air them.

So in a week that we have had Black Friday, the Chancellor has made a gloomy prediction about the British economy and put a large amount of it down to the Brexit vote. It is predicted that the national debt will rise to 90.2% of GDP in 2017-18.  I am not an economist so in an attempt to put that into context, according to the IMF, the GDP of the UK in 2015 was 2.849 trillion US dollars ; it is predicted to be £1.945 trillion by 2021. I cannot quantify that number in a way that can begin to contribute to my understanding of it. However, I do know that ninety per cent of a figure of a sum that large sounds like rather a lot of money to me. And I think we all know that ninety per cent is good if that is the number of questions you are getting right in an exam and bad if that is the number that you are getting wrong. It seems to me that if this number is the debt of the country, that particular figure falls into the latter.

The money to pay off this increasing and vast debt will have to come from somewhere and I suspect that a rummage down the back of the sofa at Number Ten is not going to cut it. As an EU bailout is no longer on the cards, it will inevitably have to come from us, the taxpayers via more tax, higher interest rates, and I would anticipate under a majority Conservative government, further cutting of public services. It may even take a slightly more sophisticated form in the hope that we don’t notice it. For example, an increase in insurance premium tax has been announced and slipped by almost unnoticed, because none of us live in houses or have cars that we need to insure do we? No, they’ll never notice that. The media will focus on a fuel duty freeze instead. As a former colleague of mine once said, he had absolutely no objection to paying taxes, but he did wish that the government would spend it responsibly. The expenses scandal and the red Brexit bus tell us all we need to know about that one.

You may well be jumping up and down and shouting “you don’t understand, you fool, no one knows what’s going to happen, it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom”. Maybe I don’t. Maybe it won’t be. And I hope you’re right. But I’m damned sure that the government don’t understand it much better either. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong, but the current plan, if indeed there is one, seems to be a lot less cunning than one of Baldrick’s infamous cunning plans. If the past few years have taught us anything it is that the government does not have a magic wand, and even if they did, they could not be trusted to use it wisely. It is a distinctly uncomfortable truth that they are sufficiently puerile to play out Old-Etonian ego- spats on a public stage and then when it all goes tits-up, attempt to bugger off and leave someone else to tidy up afterwards. A number of monstrously vacuous statements like “Brexit means Brexit” are now being repeated to us as if they mean a damned thing. Maybe they are a brave yet excruciating attempt at a show of strength, authority and grasp of the situation, when we all know that there is none. That coupled with an alarming number of people who seem to think that unbridled racism and offensive remarks, stoked by the press, to people who live, work and pay taxes in this country, has me extremely worried that we are marching towards the far right and laying the foundations for World War III. And we all know what Einstein said about World War IV.

So if you have been thinking about whether it is entirely appropriate to body-check someone to get to an LCD TV on offer on Black Friday, maybe we should all generally re-consider our post-Brexit positions regardless of which way we voted. The economic outlook isn’t great. But the human outlook seems to be worse. To anyone who now thinks it is okay to make comments of the nature discussed above, which were confined to their own front rooms pre-Brexit: in the post-Brexit world, please continue to confine such comments, and preferably yourselves, to your own front rooms. It is not acceptable for a child to tearfully ask their teacher on the morning after the referendum if they are going to have to move to their parent’s country of origin when they themselves were born here and that is all they have ever known. It is not acceptable for a parent to post an apology on social media for taking a job from someone with a British passport when the British passport holder concerned has never worked a day in their life. It is not acceptable to refer to refugees as migrants – they are refugees. People put their children on dinghies in the Med because they are that bloody desperate they would do anything, anything to save them; what parent wouldn’t? Do we really want this for each other? Do we want it to become accepted behaviour to fight over microwaves once a year? For children to be worried that they are going to have to leave their homes? And for some people to be crowing over the prospect whilst the rest of us stand by and say nothing? Surely the chance of living in safety, free from tyranny and with love is something that everyone deserves? And isn’t it what our grandparents’ generation fought, and died, for?

Please tell me somebody cares.




It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one electrical item in your house goes wrong, almost as soon as it is fixed, another one decides to blow up.  And we also all know that bad things come in threes, which makes me wonder: Nigel, Donald…..????

Number One

Six months ago my laptop developed a fault.  It was fixed under warranty as it was less than a year old and has been fine for about three months.  It now has the same fault; it is something of a lemon.  The company who made it and the company who sold it to me have said that it is nothing to do with them and there is nothing to see here.  They have even deigned to tell me that the law does not apply, the latter saying that this is because they have excluded the law in their terms and conditions. I wonder how that logic would apply to, say, the law of murder? There is nothing like a red rag to a bull more than those who don’t know the law trying to argue the law with a lawyer.  I had already referred the company who sold me the laptop to the specific section of the statute that applies and explained why I believe that it applies, but they don’t want to read that because computer says no.  I have therefore explained it to them again in shorter words and I am waiting to hear.

Meanwhile I have an expensive but useless laptop that cost £1,000 eighteen months ago and they want £750 to fix.  I am typing this on a laptop so old that I have finished typing the sentence before it actually shows on the screen – it’s driving me nuts.

Number Two

Three weeks ago our heating and hot water went kaput.  It was the first day of the first cold snap of this Winter, which you may remember because some of the papers were confidently predicting ten feet of snow and a White Christmas.

Some minor electrical work had been carried out at our house earlier in the day which was supposed to involve changing light bulbs and the observation of bare wires outside together with a discussion as to what best to do with them.  It also seemed to involve opening and shutting lots of cupboards, pulling knobs, tweaking buttons and generally having a good furtle around.

Four hours later, the boiler tried to fire up and our lights and heating went out.  We were plunged into darkness and it was already pretty cold.  Man of the House was on it.  He strode around the house with manly equipment like a wrench and a big torch. The kids ran around excitedly with a less impressive torch and started asking for candles and matches. About half an hour later, Man of the House managed to get the lights back on.  He then went into the garden with his mobile ‘phone to take manly counsel as to how to get the heating and hot water back on.  Meanwhile, I decided to observe the boiler and take note of the manufacturer.  I got on my ‘phone and googled them.  Man of the House returned and shoo-ed me out of the way so he could have some space in which to huff and puff.  I retired to the lounge and telephoned the helpline that I had googled.  I spoke to a very helpful lady and explained the problem.  She said that they could get an engineer out in less than forty eight hours; I said that would be great.

So two days later we still had no heating or hot water and when the engineer arrived I could have kissed him.  He got the hot water working again and also established the reason for the problem in the first place; the electrics for the heating had fused.  This had been caused by a valve for the underfloor heating being knocked, said valve then leaked onto the electrics, and the electrics then took exception to getting wet, and shorted out. Interesting. A remarkable coincidence. The boiler engineer decided that it was probably safer to disconnect all electricity to that system until it was deemed safe again by a heating engineer.  So no heating for a fortnight until a heating engineer could come out.  If I could have kissed the boiler engineer, the poor heating engineer must have feared for his life when he came to fix the heating.

Number Three

A week after a heating engineer was last seen running full pelt down my road and screaming, clearly feeling left out, my washing machine decided to make a passive aggressive cry for attention.  It decided that it would wash clothes, but then refuse to drain.  I therefore needed to drain it manually, which involved me positioning pretty much every pot in my kitchen under the hose and then emptying the water in the sink.  If having released the door, I was to have the temerity to wish to spin the clothes to get the water out rather than use a mangle, it was necessary to repeat the performance with the pots.

This was mildly annoying but okay as a system until I managed to knock one of the pots all over me and the floor and in the process, kick the one under the hose out of the way.  So there I was, standing in my underwear mopping the floor.  A terrifying vision in the dark.  But broad daylight?  Just not necessary for anyone to risk having to see that.  I decided that it was time to telephone a washing machine engineer.

After a few minutes conversation, it was established by the washing machine engineer that the pump had gone.  I know that the company who had made the washing machine ceased to be over four years ago and advised the washing machine engineer of the same. “You’re buggered then, love.”  Nothing like someone who gets straight to the point.  I thanked him for his help and his time.

So there are my three things. I was feeling irked about them happening, and happening just before Christmas.  The injustice of large companies ignoring the law because they think they can is guaranteed to get my blood pressure up.  And the expense of having what most of us consider to be essential household items fixed before Christmas is not ideal.  Then I got a letter from Crisis in the post.  As I opened it in my lovely warm kitchen in my lovely warm home, with a hot coffee next to me, I decided that it was more than time for me to shut the fuck up.

If you would like to find out more about Crisis and support their work this Christmas, follow this link:  http://www.crisis.org.uk

Photograph: Bench in Winter by Petr Kratochvil


Happy Birthday

Oh wow! My very own blog I have been umming and ahhing over what should be my first blog post. Brexit and the American elections are obviously prime targets at the moment – should I do a piece on the advance of the far right and the fact that the Western World seems to be going down the toilet? Should I write about feminism and Hillary Clinton? Feminism and Marine Le Pen? Which I admit are two items that I never considered shotgunning together until I wrote it down just now. I intend to tackle a range of subjects from the sublime to the ridiculous. I shall ponder on issues such as – is it really a good idea to let a man with a quiff cum comb-over loose with the nuclear codes? Why does our government insist on spending lots of money on reports (love a good report) and then announce the results to us as if it is news? Is your family doing a mince pie survey for Christmas 2016 and which is your favourite? It will all be on here so please have a look and see if you fancy reading, sharing or commenting on whatever I am spouting about.

For my first blog post, I thought that I should perhaps strike a lighter note than fretting over whether we are marching towards total annihilation or the state of festive baked goods in the United Kingdom. And today is my youngest daughter’s fifth birthday. I wrote all three of my ‘Mummy’s Guide’ books when my children were tiny little dots. And now I have not only waved my youngest child off to school, but she is one of the oldest children in her class. Today, in about an hour and a quarter to be precise, she turns five. Five years old. How did that happen? I cried when she was born. I cried when I left her at nursery to go back to work. I cried when she left pre-school. I cried when she started school. And anyone who knows me would say that I am not a crier. For someone who is not a crier, I seem to have spent quite a lot of the last five years leaking salt water.

Naturally my daughter is so excited about being five that she woke up very early this morning, having been bursting with excitement for about a week. The night before last I had to go into her room at around 3am and suggest that whilst her singing was lovely, I did not really want to hear it in the wee small hours. And I particularly did not want it to wake her brother and sister up. If I was honest, I would have been less upset about waking her father up, given that he would probably sleep if a marching band went through the bedroom. This morning she ripped open her presents, throwing cards and clothes onto the bed and running around with delight at a plastic necklace that I had bought for her. She happily ate her birthday breakfast request of pancakes before bouncing off to school with a bag of sweets to share with her class. Tonight we are going out for birthday pizza, at her request. On Sunday I have the prospect of twenty seven four and five year olds for lunch. My daughter is excited; I am not.

Birthdays are different when you’re a mother. At least for me, I am thinking, “hmmmm, well my waters broke around eight o’clock this morning…” I remember my husband dropping my son at school and my daughter off at nursery. Almost as soon as we drove out of the car park, my contractions ramped up as if my body was saying “right, they’re all right now, you have until 3pm to get this human out, so let’s get on with it”. As we walked to the labour ward, pausing every time I had a contraction, a woman who was trying to be helpful gave us directions to the ultrasound department. “Er, no, this one is going to be in colour very shortly.” As I write now I am remembering that I was really in quite a lot of pain at this point in time five years ago. In an hour, it was all to be over in the sense of the agonising physical pain part of proceedings; the non-stop worry was only just getting started. And I think that if your baby grew in your heart and not your tummy, whilst you leap-frogged the excruciating pain bit, I think we all landed fairly squarely at the bit when you become a parent and we all think, “shit, what have I done? Time to step up.” For me it was that moment when the hospital staff told me that I could go home with my child. I wanted to ask if any of them were coming with me, but apparently not. We were on our own now. We had made our cot, and now we had a baby to lie in it.

So whilst my daughter leaps about the classroom like a coiled spring today, I sit here remembering that I was screaming the hospital down because they wouldn’t give me any drugs. Whilst we eat pizza later, I will remember my own mother decided that she wouldn’t bother to visit her new granddaughter that evening – she’d come the next day because that was more convenient to her. As my daughter scoffs her ice cream this evening, I will remember that my mother in law came into the ward, laden with food because I had mentioned that I was a bit peckish. And as I read her a bedtime story tonight, I will remember the first time I changed my daughter’s nappy. Battered and bruised I couldn’t really see what I was doing and I was faffing about quite a lot. And how did my baby thank me for bringing her safely into the world? She pee-ed in my face. Just charming.


Editor’s note: To celebrate the launch of the blog,  ‘A Mummy’s Guide to Gardening’ by Natalie Gist will be on free download on http://www.amazon.co.uk from 8am GMT tomorrow Friday 18th November 2016 until midnight GMT on Saturday 19th November 2016.