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Not The Sunday Times

.........quite yet! But, life musings for fun, providing solace and sanity for those in a similar (life) boat! 

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The Mental Load

Compass on map

The Roadmap

Fresh Produce

The Weekly Shop

Red love heart on hearts

Happy Valentine's Day

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You Can't Handle The Truth

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Romance and Why I've Been Looking in The Wrong Place

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The 80s Holiday to France

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You. Me. The French Alps.

Beach

It's A Holiday Jim, But Not As We Know It....

The Mental Load May 21

Mental Load
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Recently a good friend has been talking to me about the mental load. For a quick recap, click on this handy link :   https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/26/gender-wars-household-chores-comic. Fab, funny pictures and I for  one identify whole-heartedly with the cleaning the table scenario.

 

Now, in the grand scheme of things, I have a pretty good deal in the sharing of the mental load. My husband can    cook for a start, which is a huge blessing as I'm a one-pot wonder with a very limited repertoire, and we read Fair Play by Eve Rodsky ages ago. In this book, she recommends a specific course of action to address the imbalance in the mental load. You have to write down every single one of your household jobs on post-its, before divvying them up by into two piles for who did what. It turns out that of our particular household load, I did 60% and he did 40%. I was a bit miffed if I'm honest, feeling sure it was more 80/20 but the stats don't lie. At the time, I was working part -time, so it seemed fair I'd do more and in the end we were both left marvelling at just how many jobs/tasks/chores we had to fit into a working week - no wonder we got a bit snappy with each other from time to time.

And yet...there's a hitch. What the book doesn't do is award more points for a certain type of job in terms of emotional/mental load - it's one job for one job no matter how taxing it is, mentally or emotionally. This is where I think we women get a rough deal because usually we are assigned the role of chief operations manager and head psychotherapist and these roles top trump IT support and uber refuse-manager any day of the week in my book. . Herein lies the rub.

 

Take this week for example - one in which I've dropped the ball so many times, I've spent most of it berating myself and wondering what on earth is wrong with me.

 

A run down:

On Monday I forgot it was ballet. My little leotarded girl was left standing at the windowsill for an hour, crying. In a desperate bid to stop this hysteria and get on with some work, my husband had promised her I'd take her to the park when I got back. At 6pm, I practically fell in the door, having completed a 10 hr + day and eaten lunch at my desk. I was beyond knackered and cross with myself and Michael for giving me another job. At 6.45pm I was in our local park pushing a swing, bemoaning the fact that bedtime was now well and truly scuppered and it was only bloody Monday. Wednesday, I forgot to put the reading books out so that they could be taken into school for the weekly covid-secure changing. Thursday, I still hadn't bought my son new school shoes or trainers and he was still moaning they were nipping him. Saturday, I forgot to pay for gymnastics and to fill out an insurance form for it too. On top of this, the gardener needed paying, there was a quote to chase for some building work, and I needed to sort a return furniture delivery to Holland. All this was to be done with a bandaged hand - I'd had to go to A n E on Sunday after absent-mindedly picking up a white-hot fork that had been resting on the hob.

 

No, this week has not been good. On a purely operational level, it's been under par. I'm better than this; usually my ship runs much more smoothly and these setbacks (albeit first world problems I know, I know..) have been really frustrating. At least I fared better on the emotional side. There have been several heart-to-heart bedtime discussions with one child, messages back and forth to school, two zoom parents' evenings, a request for more in-depth wife-talk....social events to plan( it's my birthday next week.)... and my eternal nemesis : The Laundry (part-fail)

 

I immediately called some empathetic girlfriends (on the commute of course - none of us has time to talk otherwise) and of course they completely get it. These are other working-mums with their own operations to manage: same-boat solace.

 

I've come to realise through these female chats and life-shares that we are literally collapsing under the weight of a mental load that is completely unsustainable....for anyone. That is why we're all so tired all the time. It's not hormones or age (although they undoubtedly play some part) or the fact we've become lazy, woke snowflakes, or that we eat too many carbs and don't exercise enough or a lack of vitamin D/zinc/fish oil. No - it's because there is simply TOO MUCH to DO. TOO MUCH to THINK about for one person. We cannot hold down one demanding career and do another equally demanding one on the side AND expect to be breezing through it. To my mind child-rearing of school age children and house-management accounts for at the very least, 0.5 of a full-time job, so effectively we're doing 1.5 jobs in 1 week. Impossible without your brain and/or body malfunctioning from time to time or completely breaking down after years of years of this sort of lifestyle.

 

What riles me is that this state of affairs is portrayed as hugely comical. You only have to watch Motherland or other such series to see it: frantic, bedraggled women drive around in litter-strewn SUVs, failing at work presentations, PTAs, kids' parties - I mean what a hoot! We mums of today are meant to accept all this frenetic urgency, ball-dropping and perpetual chaos as normal. We can always post about it later or recount another Men Are From Mars anecdote to our mates over a glass of wine. It's funny isn't it? Well err no... it really isn't. It's pretty tragic if you think about it. Our precious, one-shot-at-it lives are hurtling away at such a speed on a cocktail of adrenalin and cortisol and that's not good for anyone. While we're all 'keeping on, keeping on' to quote the wondeful Alan Bennett, life is whipping past and we haven't got a minute to take it all in. At the end of the day, all we're doing by buying into this model is martyring ourselves. And, because nobody but nobody likes a mummy martyr, we choose self-parody instead. Equally tragic.

 

No ladies. Something has to give, and if we don't change the status quo, it will be our own physical and mental healths.

The RoadmapMarch 21

Compass on map

I've never been one for maps really or directions. Once, on a particularly difficult car journey from Yorkshire to Lichfield, I screamed at my brother to 'Stop giving me all these lefts and rights!' as he attempted to direct me to his house. It's become a family catchphrase. And now, as we study our roadmap out of lockdown, utterly confused over what can be done when and by whom, I'd like us to consider the fact that we need a far more detailed version to get over a year of Covid 19. Boris, I'm afraid before any of us follow your national roadmap, we'll need to seriously address some problems with our minor B roads.

 

If, like me, you did pretty well the first time round but by Winter's imprisonment gave in to the treats and the telly, then you'll be in dire need of a roadmap out of your turkey pants and into something with (look away)...... a button fastening! To do this, you'll have to a) stop eating and b) start moving more. Euugggh. OK, so we all know that the first thing to do is to buy new sportswear. I have just done this and my husband asked me if I was planning to watch Netflix in it. Well, it's a start.

 

Then of course, there's the roadmap out of your own hair. Hair on your head, your legs, your face, your nether regions. If you've begun to draw parallels between your own hirsute image and that of the bearded lady in The Greatest Showman or Tom Hanks in Castaway, again you're in good company. If your hair looks like a nest, a hedge or a greying squirrel of some sort, then before you step out anywhere social, you'll need some serious grooming. Good luck getting an appointment this side of September!

 

Then I'd like a roadmap back to romance please. For a year now, my husband and I have become closer than most couples ever would, or probably should. We have become each other's pair of comfy slippers about 3 decades too early. There's definitely some merit in this, but right now we're both flipping sick of slippers and want to dance about in ridiculously high heels (metaphorically speaking in his case). Perhaps a nice holiday will do the trick.

This is by far the most important roadmap of all as far as I'm concerned - the roadmap out of Britain. I'm as patriotic as the next woman but I'm in desperate need of something non-British, non-English speaking and moreover sunny! I want colour and vibrancy and newness. I want to watch my skin glisten with sun-tan lotion as I sit sipping an ice-cold presse in a market-place cafe....jab 2 had better come quickly and the EU had better let us in!

 

Then there's the energy required for all of this. A major shortfall of Boris' national roadmap is a woeful lack of petrol needed for the journey. When the most you've travelled is 5 minutes away from your own house and the most you've socialised with anyone for ages is over Zoom, then it seems like a gargantuan effort to meet pals for a dinner party or barbecue. Talking to people outside your bubble for any amount of time is quite frankly a little over-whelming. You've got nothing to say. Nothing. Nothing has happened.

 

It's bad enough visiting them, but if people come to you, you'll have to clean your house, which let's face it has come in for quite the hammering over the past year. Lockdown has robbed us of fluffy towels, unstained tea-towels, living plants, edible herbs, a clean sofa and left us with all that to fix plus a pile of ironing that magically grows as soon as it's been put away. We have grouting that needs sorting, walls that need 'featuring', cupboards that I'm scared to go into it and a long overdue kids' clothes audit. I have not the slightest motivation to do any of this, but in a bid to nudge myself into action, I've tentatively stuck up Mrs H's cleaning rota to the fridge that I wrote out during Lockdown 1.

 

Back then, a year ago, I was a real eager beaver, merrily jumping up and down with Joe Wicks, convinced that this little lockdown blip would simply allow me to have the time to unveil killer abs and one of those homes from House Beautiful. Alas it did neither. I still have my mum -tum and am surrounded by a surreal mix of random crap everywhere - it's like a Pinterest parody. Does anybody actually live in those blush-white, serene Pinterest children's rooms? I think not, because in reality , they'd be felt pens with lids off all over the floor, a toy from a Christmas cracker and a doll with its head off.

 

A year has passed. We're here, we're safe and at least we've got a map to follow. I should be thankful for that and I am, it's just my roadmap seems a bit of an uphill slog at the moment.

The Roadmap
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The 80s holiday to France - March 21

Not so long ago a couple of friends and I had an hilarious afternoon bonding over our shared experiences of family holidays in France. They were so similar, we could've actually gone back in time, swapped vehicles and had the exact same holiday with each other's parents, so below is a fused recollection that some of you other forty -somethings may recognise....

 

The Packing - this divided parents straight down the middle with approaches that were so at odds, it's a wonder we ever pulled out of the drive! The dads were usually leaning over the front seat of the car, carefully placing things into the glove compartment: maps, a neat canvas folder (passports, tickets, car insurance etc) and a strange assortment of coloured sticky tape destined for the headlights...(it was generally viewed as most inconsiderate in the 80s to blind French motorists with a British high beam, but nowadays we don't seem to care). Now, apart from making room for a couple of tennis rackets, the dads simply could not see why anything else was necessary, and they were very mindful of there being enough room for a bountiful stop at the supermarche on the way home. Mums, on the other hand, couldn't really contemplate the end of the holiday as they were being blind-sided by the stresses of it actually starting. Mums were bleach-wielding dervishes, who insisted on cleaning the house from top to bottom on departure day. They'd get all hot and bothered and announce rather forcefully, 'This is the last time you can wee. I'm warning you now. Once I've cleaned that downstairs bathroom, that's it." Despite the French forecast looking decidedly hot and sunny, they'd be huffing and puffing and loading up the boot with cagoules, wellies and in our case one year.....jelly.

Jelly???? Dad nearly lost it. But Mums are nothing if not prepared.

Every year was the same. It was a highly stressful departure. My brother and I were silent, taking cover - quite literally really - as due to the fact that the SUV hadn't been invented yet, we'd sit in the back squashed, a barricade of bags between us. We would then begin round 1 of 'Whose side has the most suitcase on?' There are two main methods of play to this game: Violent, blatant ramming or sneaky, surreptitious nudging while the other one slept. On average, you could expect to play about 187 rounds per trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ferry

Once at Dover, we'd join a long line in Mini Metros and try to guess which boat was ours. They were impressive these ferries, huge heavy feats of engineering loudly hooting and honking and capable of welcoming row upon row of cars into their mighty bowels, and all in under half an hour. I always wondered how on earth we didn't sink, especially as it was de rigour back then to leave the bow door open.....for the whole of the crossing!! Good call P n O, fantastic idea you have there Sea France...You can imagine it now...

The Pride of Dover, P n O : See how I can cross this channel whilst seemingly inviting the Atlantic ocean into my lower decks!!

Bonnet de Douche, Sea France: Ah-ha zis is nothing. I too can open ze back passage - pas de probleme!

I mean what nonsense was this?

Unfortunately the sea got its revenge in1987 in the Zeebrugge disaster and bow doors have remained firmly shut ever since. Thank goodness. 

 

The Crossing

I'm not sure whether the sea was particularly choppy in those days or the captain's steering a bit iffy or whether it was the fact that the bow door was open (mmm probably), but something definitely interfered with the ship's balance and it used to sway... a lot. 15 mins upon the ocean waves and Mum would retreat to a cave at one end of middle deck with all the other green people vommitting into white bags. I visited once. Gross. It stank and the people looked like they were being exorcised. Better to stick with Dad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He'd be up on top deck, playing our favourite game: 'Spot the desert docs/Jesus sandals' You got one point for spotting them, but two points if the wearer had chosen to pair them with white socks. Hilarious, if a little cruel. Dad was more of a non -money carrying, sporty Dad, most likely found in a pair of tennis shorts, collared T-shirt and Adidas trainers. He might choose to put on a tank top if it was a bit blustery, but in the main he looked match-ready at all times: at parties, washing the car, funerals, his look has rarely changed now he's nearly 80 - think a shorter John McEnroe with similar hair. He would not have been seen dead in a pair of sandals (for women), and it amused him that quite a few of his compatriots would bumble along the deck in this footwear, loudly practising their French. Little did any of us know that this particular look would be incredibly fashionable in 2020. 40 years too early for some of these dads but heh.

 

In addition to a penchant for observational comedy, Dad liked to dance with danger - or in his eyes 'show us that there was nothing to be scared of' (more of this later) One year he encouraged me to fall asleep against him. I think I was 6. He was stood up leaning against a railing from which a 70 foot drop fell into raging Atlantic waters below. I was terrified. I've never understood why there are only railings, even today, just railings with massive gaps between them that a small child could most definitely fit through. Why aren't they solid, preventing people from falling out? Why??? I just don't get it. Anyway..

Dad: 'What's the matter, you can swim can't you?" Err yes, Dad, one length of Park Road baths - I'm 6! Anyway, when I woke up, I vommed down his Slazenger anorak so that showed him.

 

En Route

My parents loved to drive through France. They'd marvel at the scenery, the locals, the flowered roundabouts, study the map in detail, perhaps listen to some French radio. They'd be really very happy, enjoying the welcome break that wide, unpopulated autoroutes provided from the traffic jams on the M62. They were proper francophiles - still are -- totally into Allo Allo and French-themed dinner parties, a bit like Rick Stein before Rick Stein.

My brother and I were less enthusiastic. One, it was cold. They insisted on driving with the windows fully down, thus creating an irritating wind-blast into the back seat. Second, the boredom and bag trench-warfare led to arguing, a lot. This would eventually become so tiresome and loud that it would drive Mum demented and she would try to slap both our legs backwards from the passenger seat. Many an 80s mother has dislocated her shoulder in such a manner, and that's probably why slapping children in this way was banned in the 90s. Well apart from the fact that it was a completely ineffective move that usually led to fit of even more irritating giggles.

For entertainment, without a personal TV, Nintendo Switch or the Internet,  it was the usual: I Spy, 20 questions, singing all our school songs etc but my favourite by far was The Petrol Station Game. As the name suggests, we'd each pick a petrol station: Esso, Shell, Elf, and you got a point if you passed one. It was pretty thrilling I can tell you.

Eventually we'd stop for the night, but not at a place we'd actually booked. No, no. For some reason this was not the done thing in the 1980s. What you had to do was randomly select a small town, seek out the Tourist Information or Hotel de Ville and in your best O-level French enquire as to whether there was a room to be had for the night. Parents loved doing this. Even more satisfying for them was simply pulling up in a desolate village and asking a doddering, beret-wearing French man in the street if he could recommend un logement.  Sometimes they'd try to get you to do it!! Quelle horreur!! Basically, it was a satirical version of the Nativity and totally bonkers. Brothers and sisters would watch through the car window and after lots of gesticulating, a parent would return thumbs up and pretty damn pleased with themselves for speaking da lingo successfully. Phew. A place to stay - thank God we didn't have to sleep in the car then.

The hotel would be really old with shutters and lots of stairs to climb. But you couldn't go in straight away. It had to pass the test : did it have clean sheets? Mum didn't care about anything else; she'd sleep in a bunker if it had clean sheets, and this is what she'd check for before we accepted any room from anyone. Once the establishment was declared 'Mum-clean', we could look forward to sharing a double bed, kicking each other under the covers and watching Dad use the bidet!

In the morning there'd be croissants, French bread, chocolat-chaud, le cafe, encore du cafe........a veritable morning feast in a charming petit cafe in the square perhaps.......well for the parents at least. Us children were to dine in the Mini Metro - well not actually in it of course (no eating in the car!), but we were to wait in the car, playing with the locks until breakfast had finished and our parents would return with a couple of buns from the patisserie. I think breakfast was too expensive for all four of us or simply pointless as Mark had once nearly thrown up at the sight of a Frenchie dipping jam and bread into hot chocolate. We didn't care anyway as eating a mille feuille or coffee eclair every morning for breakfast was a pretty good start to any day in our book.

Les Toilettes

I think quite possibly the worst trauma of a childhood journey in France was needing to go the loo. The function of a bidet had nothing on the hole in the ground affair that was where you were meant to make your deposits. When it dawned on me that what looked for all the world like a swimming pool shower was actually a toilet, I could not fathom how on earth you were meant to poo standing up. And quite clearly, given the state of the footwell, neither could the French! I have no idea who on earth made zi toilettes this way or why it was a perfectly acceptable way to relieve yourself for many many years, but a considerable amount of time was spent by many a holidaying Brit trying to find a good old English toilet for their traumatised and constipated children. Not one of your finest inventions Frenchies - best stick to the cheese and wine!

 

Nous sommes arrives!

Most of our time in France was spent at Saint Palais sur Mer - so at the beach. We'd roll out the bamboo mats, plonk the parasol in the sand and that'd be us day after day, watching the Lucky Lucky Man attempt to sell his wares, building sandcastles, playing with French kids and swimming in the sea. We had a large orange dingy at the time with navy blue oars. In another one of his 'Now that's what I call swimming!' collections, Dad had a habit of rowing us a long, long way out to sea in this boat. Out we'd go until the beach was barely visible and we were way beyond the life-guarding area or any reassuring buoys. At this point, he'd insist that we take it in turns to jump out of the boat and swim around it once. What?? La mer was pretty frightening that far out. For one there were loads of jellyfish ("it's just a plastic bag!"It wasn't.) and two, we'd both seen Jaws. Dad would reassure us that we could swim so it was fine and he wasn't wrong, for this little exercise proved that we both could swim, and pretty damn quickly too when pursued by a Man-of-War. One year in Now That's What I Call Swimming 5, he took us to the aptly named 'Point de le Coubre' where the waves were so fierce that you were sucked under and spun around so quickly that you no longer knew which way was up. After spluttering away for a few hours, coming face to face with the prospect of drowning many times, but enjoying it nonetheless, we left, whereupon a local lady informed us that two people had died there last month. Ah.

 

Homesick

After a month or so, it might rain. We'd be in the car, probably post-grotte or cognac museum visit, and Mum would begin to frantically tune in the radio. Crrrr, whirr, squeak, backwards a bit, forwards a little, 2 degrees to the left, 3 to the right, back a smidgeon, then Bingo - the sound of England: The Archers! We were at once silenced under pain of death and had little choice but to listen to the comings and goings of Shulah and Ambridge's antics for the next hour. That said, since it was the only English we'd heard in 4 weeks, apart from each other, it was kind of comforting. It makes me smile now to think of how many British mothers would be tuning in from Normandy to Nice back then, a little bit homesick for Tupperware parties and Terry Wogan, yet smiling triumphantly at the fact they'd packed those cagoules and wondering if it was time for jelly.

 

The Great Escape

Before returning home, there would always be a final pilgrimage to Le Clerc's or Mammouth. These giant supermarkets were called hypermarkets, but really they were Ubermarkets. Indeed, I'm pretty sure if we hadn't kicked the Nazis out of Paris, this particular French export would have been transported to Germany along with all the nabbed Monets and Manets. In short Edouard LeClerc made John Sainsbury look like Pete Beale.

 

Mark and I (now wearing matching clogs and neon fashion bracelets due to acclimatisation) were completely wowed by the amount of stationery, cool posters and mini car collectibles this place had. Toys in a supermarket? Genius! And we'd wander off to see what we could get for 10 francs.

Mum and Dad were equally wowed by the sheer volume of inexpensive, quality wine. Parents everywhere would attempt to get as much Beaujolais and Bordeaux as possible into their cars, which meant strategically positioning bottles in all the footwells, the side doors, wrapped in pillows ,rammed in the boot. It was not easy, and I remember an expensive bottle of red shattering all over a car park once when my essential book 'Horses' dislodged it from the boot. Dad was not happy. Car smelling of charcuterie and brie and probably rattling and clinking under all that quality red, we'd pitch up at the port, ready to take our chances on another Pride of something or other. But you couldn't just drive on. Oh no. First there was ......CUSTOMS.

Ah merde!

At this point, voices would fall ominously silent on the approach. Mum would start doing her hair and smiling (only politely) at the police. Dad would appear cool and calm, yet his tapping of the steering wheel and faffing with the heaters suggested otherwise.

'Right kids, look innocent.' they'd say or 'Pretend to be asleep!'

Why? Because everyone knew that sleeping, innocent children were a dead cert in dissuading any French copper from stopping and searching Brits who might be carrying a couple of bottles over the quota. Eager to make up for being fooled by drug-smuggling pregnant women for years on end, the French police or customs officers were extremely thorough and pretty scary. They had dogs, usually Alsations (no doubt with rabies) and guns. They didn't smile and could make or break you with a mere gesture of the hand. Sometimes, they'd do the 'wind the window' down sign and out of a half-closed eye, you'd watch your dad being interrogated by a moustached gendarme like a subtitled version of Juliet Bravo. Were we criminals - how much wine was too much? Like most self-respecting families we had stuck to the limit - more or less - and weren't smuggling French fags or lingerie of whatever else they made better than us. No, it turned out the whole customs nail-biting anguish was simply induced by the prospect of having to pack up the bloody car again!

 

Once through customs though, it was all plain sailing - quite literally. The way back never seemed so choppy somehow, and there was something so delightful about the rows of British number plates and the smell of metal and oil below deck. Dogs would bark (British non-rabied ones) and we might be allowed to have a full English breakfast from the cafe. And English milk!! Ahhh England.

 

After a few hours, the Brits would patriotically gather to watch the white cliffs of Dover come into view before the call to their respective cars came and the honking of the foghorn signalled our arrival back to Blighty. At this point, It would immediately start drizzling. We'd all shiver for the first time in a month. Then it would rain, biblical rain Literally lash it down all the way home, and we'd fall asleep to the sound of the wipers swishing back and forth and the click-click-clicking of the indicators.

 

Until the next year.

 

Happy Days.

Wine Bottle Selection
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80s Holiday to France
Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day - Feb 21

Red love heart on hearts

Last weekend, I went to M and S and had a 'you get it' moment with a total stranger. I love it when this happens. We both entered the store, bemasked of course, then simultaneously did an eye-roll and long sigh before retracting our steps and meeting at the card section.Ah yes, Valentine's Day. This amused us both of course and after a wry smile and backward's nod...

Me: Ha-ha. You can tell we're not newlyweds!

Him: Ha- ha! Yes.

...we set about trying to find just the right message for our loved ones.

Painful. We swapped sides. Nope - nothing to see here. After a few minutes, he departed first with a "that'll have to do". I stayed a bit more and lost more of my life to a pointless activity. Having migrated to the generic card section, considering whether I could 'Valentine' one up, the lovely man passed me with a "Jeez, you're not picking that one are you!" joke and merrily went on his way, shopping all done and dusted.

 

I remember when Valentine's Day was THE day of the school calendar. It was ace. My best friend and I would spend hours in Clinton's, followed by more hours sat on my bed, making up poems, each letter in a different coloured pen. The recipients were two super-fit fifth-years who we'd been obsessing over since giving up on Matt and Luke Goss. Every year, we'd have to plead with my brother to deliver these massive A3 cards. He would tell us we were both ugly and moan about how embarrassing it all was before reluctantly hiding them in his Head bag. It was SO exciting. Today might be the day they smile or wink at us, or even better give up going out with their really pretty girlfriends with boobs in favour of two stalkers and 28AAs.

 

It never happened of course, but we were undeterred and this same rigmarole went on for- like-ever!! Unrequited love was big at our school, so in turn we'd get cards from boys in our year or the year above who were obviously disgusting and gross. One year, one hapless admirer with a Glenn Madeiros hair cut and very red cheeks sent me a card with a condom in it. He was 12 ...but that's comprehensive school for you!!!

 

Back to mid-life. I got a card from a different shop in the end. Better but still not hitting the mark, so I resolved to write my own version of the fifth-form poems:

Not bad. I stopped short of signing it Goose.

 

Michael dug deep this year (I always moan that he isn't sentimental) and wrote me some err Java Script....

 

What made us both laugh was the reference to slave/manual labour.

 

Love is......being on the same page.

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You. Me. The French Alps. Summer 19

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The One Where We Left Them…

 

We have just returned from a full week’s holiday……without the children. *

The Destination: The French Alps.

The Babysitters: Grandma and Grandad

Children: Age 3 and 6 years

What I’ve learnt….

1. You won’t miss them nearly as much as you think you will.

Day 3 into this adult jaunt and my husband and I guiltily admitted to each other that we didn’t miss our precious offspring one bit. Were we terrible parents? Should we have not bothered pro-creating after all? FaceTime helped with this we reasoned, but I think for the most part we were enjoying just being ‘me’ and ‘us’, and you know what, there’s nothing wrong with that. I didn’t sleep properly for 4 out of the last 6 years - 4 whole years.

2. You will realise that your neck feels strangely relaxed and free. Being responsible for little people necessitates a kind of 360° rotating neck movement to scan and track in case you lose or damage one. I had no idea how in-built this had become. Like a tick. Indeed, it took us a good few days to relax and shake off the ‘lost ‘passport/wallet/keys’ feeling all the time. It was also a breath of fresh air to be able to mooch about shops as long as we wanted without any tugging of arms or scary potential breakages of glasses/pots/vases etc...

3.You can drink a full cup of coffee, outside, taking in breath-taking scenery

Bliss. I mean just look at this! A full hot coffee listening to birds. Nobody requesting Nutella on Toast, shouting that ‘Shane the Chef’ is on or arguing over who sits in the comfy chair.

4. You will be amazed at how quickly you can leave a building for a day out. This was genius. We unpacked everything in about 10 mins and had found our bearings in about 2 hrs, having toured the village and sourced the necessary. We were pros at ‘getting ready’. 5/10 mins max - me included. Just what the hell I’d been doing in my 20s when it took at least an hour or two, God only knows!

5. Time will be returned to you

By 11am one day, we’d played a game of tennis, checked out the local pool and done a 5K local river side walk. Usually, by 11am on a weekend, we’ve just about schlepped everyone to the tennis court, somebody is crying and we’ve forgotten to go to the tip…. again.

 

6) You get to meet interesting people

This was the nature of our holiday I guess, but having never shared a chalet with strangers before, I was a little apprehensive about what this would be like. I needn’t have been. It was brilliant. Mealtimes were so interesting and funny as people shared their life stories and experiences - all rich and varied. It took me all I had not to secretly scribble in a notebook Alan Bennett style detailing idiosyncrasies and funny asides. Life-affirming.

 

7) You can finish a conversation

Free from the shackles of the multi-task parenting wheel, we could remain on topic for an adult amount of time, actual finish one conversation and start another. I was pleased to say I still found my husband pretty damn interesting and hopefully he felt the same about me.

 

8) You return invigorated, refreshed and with a much needed spring in your step….match fit and ready for another 10 rounds of hunt the lost shoe.

* This piece was written in Summer 2019 - aka the last summer anyone could wear lipstick without realising you'd gone and stained the sodding mask again and really should've bought black so nobody could tell.

You.Me. The Alps

You Can't Handle The Truth - May 19

Friendship

The one thing that is an absolute deal-breaker for me in any relationship is when the truth becomes muddied, when lies creep in. Free and truthful communication is one of my core values and unfortunately there are times when, with great sadness, I’ve had to walk away from people whom I no longer trusted or whose value system seemed to have allowed truth to slip a few rungs down the moral ladder.

 

One thing I’ve observed is that adults are a bit more savvy about lying than children, and so rather than out-and-out whoppers, the untruths tend to take a different form. Usually, this will be in the denial of a current situation/past event, or a lack of acknowledgement of something deep down you both know to be true.

 

Now, most of us are taught from an early age that we mustn’t lie, but what about concealing, reframing, deliberate misleading, manipulation of the facts? Here’s where it gets complicated, but then not really, because in the end, no matter how you look at it, they all belong to Family Falsehood.

 

So, why do we lie?

 

Sometimes it is to protect, and in this case I guess there are reasons when telling the truth might actually be the wrong path to take, but I’m talking about a lie that unequivocally benefits the teller and patently hurts the one it's been told to.

 

Sometimes the truth is not nice. Sometimes it means having to confront and come into conflict with somebody. It might mean admitting that things are not perfect. It can mean being vulnerable. Therefore, pursuing it can be unsettling, upsetting and uncomfortable, but if you don’t deal in the truth, then how good is your relationship anyway?

 

Despite this, I've seen that some people will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid an unpleasant truth, especially if that truth is particularly inconvenient or shines a light on a less than admirable trait of their character. I’m intrigued by the way people can lie, not just to other people, but to themselves, quite easily and without question, so that the new ‘truth’ is more palatable and acceptable. Some will even deliberately distort the truth and sell a loved-one down the river rather than hold their hands up and admit any wrong-doing on their part.

 

What I cannot fathom here is how the liar's conscience allows this to happen. My own conscience is a pretty hard task-master, which has all sorts of other issues I admit, but it does tend to keep me on the right side of honesty. Any sort of messing about in lie and deceit, and it’s like my inner voice begins to admonish me for my appalling behaviour.  Sleepless nights may follow, along with a perpetual gulp in my throat. If the untruth is told to me, it’s the same. It niggles me, goes round and round in my head, annoys me, bothers me, upsets me over and over. So you see, when it comes to having a difficult conversation, I’d rather have that and face the truth than any of what I’ve just described. But maybe I'm just different....

 

I belong to a family where you are encouraged to say your bit, clear the air and move on. Sulking was not tolerated as a child, and there was free communication where adults and children aired their views liberally and vocally. I thought everyone was like that, but I’ve met so many people in my life whose family set-ups weren’t like that at all. Grievances went unspoken, mistakes were never to be admitted, sulking was allowed and accepted, and generally any ‘unpleasant’ conversation of any kind was to be avoided at all costs because introducing one meant you weren’t a 'good' or 'nice' person. I don’t understand how adhering to this allow anyone to live their lives with any kind of authenticity. 

 

Let’s face it, life is a ‘rich tapestry’. It will inevitably throw up difficult situations within relationships, tricky waters to navigate, and the closer you are to a friend or family member, the more likely it is that a difficult conversation will need to be had at some point. Nobody but nobody likes having difficult conversations, but if we don’t address the bad bits in our relationships, they have a nasty habit of festering and rotting away at the fabric of friendship anyway. It is here where we need to step up and be the adults we are supposed to be because there’s a golden prize to be had if we do…a stronger, better, healthier relationship.

 

Because I’ve been called a bit of a ‘fire-starter’ in my time, and in order to perhaps be more ‘mature’ about a situation or not meddle in others’ relationships, I have tried it the other way. I’ve let things go. I too have turned the other cheek when the lies crept in. I’ve avoided the confrontation and played along with all the pretending and kept schtum. But I've learnt that that was and is a mistake, one I won’t be repeating. Here’s why:

 

When people lie, no-matter what the reason, it belittles you both and sullies the relationship. If there is some kind of issue between you that isn’t acknowledged or discussed, the relationship will fade away anyway. It simply cannot flourish because there’s something unsaid, something not right. The grievance, lie, deceit, whatever it is, lurks heavy in the corner of every room you’re in. Conversations become stilted or guarded, behaviour starts to alter on both your parts. You may still be in the same family or friendship circle, but your relationship will be a poor substitute of what you once had or of what you could have had. Instead of feeling happy and uplifted when you see this person, you will feel hollow, distant and very sad. Not the point of seeing them, surely?

 

And yet, if you’d have been brave in the first place, faced the truth head on, with honour and dignity, then perhaps you could have saved your relationship, made it stronger and enjoyed a closeness and love for many years to come. 

You Can' Handle The Truth

Romance and Why I've Been Looking in the Wrong Place - Feb 2019

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A long time ago, when I was formerly me, I was a sucker for romance. I loved it, really loved it. Ever since ‘I carried a watermelon’, I was hooked. I grew up on an almost exclusive cinematic diet of romantic comedies. Yes, there was a bit of Freddy Krueger thrown in for good measure, but basically I watched (and re-watched) hour upon hour of love story. Thus, my idea of what love was like, or was going to be like, was taken from all those Hollywood 80s/90s films.

 

And you know, life didn’t always disappoint. I once tried a dress on in Oliver Bonas. It was one of those small branches with only one dressing room, and you had to come out into the shop to look at it properly. After some deliberation, I bought it and, on getting home, found that the guy on the cash-desk had written a lovely note on the label with his name and number. Another time, I got chatting to a guy on a plane about the rom-com ‘Before Sunrise’. A few weeks later, a package turned up at work with a DVD of the film inside and a page-long letter. Aeroplane man had somehow tracked my work address down, and this was pre -Facebook people; it was a hell of a lot harder then!

 

But that was then. Now that I’ve been married for 7 years, I can’t watch a rom-com without cringing and thinking how saccharin and unrealistic they are, and the only people who talk to me on planes these days are my two children and a sympathetic flight attendant. It makes me a bit sad. I don't want to scoff and harrumph at romance like some wizened old fart, and I miss it.

 

I think we can all agree that romance kind of goes out the window once the little people arrive. You kind of forgo it in exchange for the joy of parenthood, and I’m not being ironic. The joy bits of parenthood are bloody amazing: there are days when you almost burst with love, you bask in the warm circle of your little family, and you both count your lucky stars. Yet, along the way, the romance between Mummy and Daddy Pig dwindles…..or I assume it does. For all I know Daddy Pig is treating Mummy Pig to endless trotter massages and spontaneous mini-breaks, but as they don’t televise those bits, I like to think they’re like the rest of us. Quite frankly, the window of opportunity for candlelit dinners, spontaneous nights out and unexpected arrivals at airports and train stations is just not as open to you both as it once was, and even if you do get a spot, you can’t guarantee that you won’t be just too knackered to bother.

 

We’ve tried, we really have. We've scheduled in romantic nights out at expensive hotels, mini-breaks, nice restaurants - none of which have turned out to be what we hoped for. And it makes you feel old, guilty, boring, disconnected. Is there something wrong with your marriage? With you? Him?….Will you still be together at 80 after all?

But something happened this weekend that made me realise that we hadn’t lost the romance at all. It just looked different. 

We took a train to London and got up super early to get there. Without the pressure of travelling with children, it was exciting and, coffees to go, we boarded the train in the dark and cold and chatted the whole way there. Uninterrupted. Cuddled up. It was nice, really nice, just to be content in each other’s company. An hour or so in, I presented my husband with a Rebus puzzle I’d been given at work. This gave way to an exciting, new discovery: the Only Connect connecting wall app! We love this programme. It's one of the last vestiges of good mainstream TV, and while I appreciate this might sound geeky, we play eachother every week. The wall is our favourite bit. By the time we arrived, we'd managed to solve quite a few. Feeling pleased with ourselves, we walked down the concourse hand-in-hand, excited for the day ahead.

 

We had a mooch about Covent Garden, remembering the days of our youth, and had a great night out with friends.

 

On the train back up, it was a similar situation, except I was feeling a little worse for wear, so those connecting walls were proving a little more difficult. However, as I sat there, two bottles of water in front of us and post analysis of why all cafes in St Pancras were rubbish and wasn’t there a niche market to be had, I thought, this is what real romance is. It’s about connecting with someone so closely that you could finish each other’s sentences.

 

They get you. Completely. You get them.

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Romance Wrong Place
Holiday Jim

Holidays from Hell - an extract

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It was about this time last year that my thoughts turned to summer holidays. I’m not really sure what possessed me to click ‘purchase’ on a two week holiday to Lanzarote. Of all places, ‘Lanzagrotte’ was not on my bucket list, but we wanted sun, sun and more sun. Having spent plenty of time cloud-bathing in several other European countries, the Canaries looked the safest bet. This was to be a misplaced meteorological prediction on my part, as it then turned out to be bloody boiling in England! The Cornwall/Northumberland crew were about to have their day in the sun…. literally.

 

For ease, we decided on a resort hotel. With kids (ours 5 and 2 yrs ) surely it would be better to have everything on site? Plus, it was 5 star and not cheap, so it had to be good. 7 pools, a spa, 3 cafes, 5 restaurants, a kids’ club, a playground…yes, it was Lazarote, but it was posh Lanzarote, so we looked forward to it….a lot.

 

Then we got there.

 

Now, to be fair, as a huge disclaimer to what I’m about to write, I’m sure without children and for those with a greater tolerance for wind, cabaret and Brits abroad, this hotel would be perfectly acceptable. Indeed it had many redeeming features… it’s just we couldn’t access them.

 

The Wind.

Note the savvy children in wetsuits!

First day……’Mummy, I’m cold’. Not surprising really since if you emerge from a swimming pool (unheated and flipping freezing) and then stand in a gale force wind that’s so strong it’s battering parasols and whipping towels off sun-loungers, then yes you will be cold. The outside temperature was actually 30 degrees in the above shot, but you wouldn’t know it. People bang on about the refreshing ‘breeze’ of the Canaries; it prevents them from getting too hot and bothered, it lifts stifling heat, blah de blah, well yes absolutely, because beads of sweat are literally blasted off your body! My husband and I do not fall into this camp. We like to bask and bake in the sun, and HATE, and I mean HATE the wind. I have long hair. We have small children. Enough said. So you see the 7 pools were of little use to us, even if they did have an amazing pirate ship slide thingy. Devoid of any body fat whatsoever, our two would emerge goose-bumped, shivering and asking what we were ‘going to do now’ after about 15 minutes…Which is exactly the amount of time it would take me to collect all our detritus that had been scattered mercilessly around the pool......This, I came to realise, was why everyone else had attached their towels to sun- loungers with weird giant pegs and were not wearing sun-hats. Mmmmm.

 

Hiring Bikes.

 

I love my husband, I really do, but holidaying with this man pushes me over the edge every single year. For a start, things happen to him when abroad. Past experiences have been: losing his phone on a Lufthansa flight, losing his phone near the Eiffel Tower, putting the wrong fuel in a hire car, leaving the hand-break off a vehicle on a ferry, forgetting his lift pass, losing his lift pass, leaving ski gloves in a toilet, losing the hotel key in his ski jacket….need I go on? And so, as we’ve been married for 7 years now, things happen to US while we’re on holiday.I should hardly have been surprised, then, by what happened when we hired bikes…

 

After much faffing on and the 'breeze' actually blowing over my bike in mockery of its ineffectual stand (merely reinforced steel and no match for the mighty Canaries Wind), we were almost ready to go. Michael was disgruntled; the bikes I’d ordered were not up to his mark of cycling quality, but in the absence of anything better to do, we set off, me going solo, him with our two children in a cabby car thingy on the back of his bike.

 

Now, about the route……

 

.....there wasn’t one. The concierge-type person had given me rubbish instructions, and because Michael is more of a ‘wing it’ kind of guy, we’d just set off, plus I was in agreement this time.

In order to get to the promenade where we wanted to cycle, there seemed to be only one way down and that was via a sort of red, dusty hill - like a derelict piece of waste land about 300 m from the sea. Michael shouted something back at me about ‘Was I sure?’, but I couldn’t really hear him due to the busy road we were cycling next to and did I mention the wind?! So, he made a right turn down the hill. I was fairly confident at this point. He does mountain - biking, he’s an athletic being, not short on muscle or stamina. I had faith in my co-pilot's ability to steer his family down this precipice. What I hadn’t bargained for were dodgy brakes and fixings.

 

About half way down, I could only watch in horror as he stumbled nearly head first off his bike, before crashing down violently to one side. The cabby car (transporting our two young children) detached from his bike and began its descent towards the sea!!!

"Muuummmmmmmmyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!" came the terrified shrieks from the cart as it bumbled perilously over rocks and gravel.

Dear God…..!!!!!

Horrendous scenes flashed through my mind, headlines of ‘Crap Parents Lose Children Down a Cliff’, hospital visits, drowning.. it’s amazing how vivid and quick these images are when your kids are in danger. You have to imagine this in slo-mo to get the full benefit, but as I threw my own bike down and scrambled down the hill panicking, the Hand of God intervened. The runaway cart suddenly came to an abrupt halt when the attachment pole drove itself into the ground, thereby producing enough friction to stop it. He must have felt sorry for me.

 

Thank you, thank you, thank you Lord. I turned to share this moment of intense gratitude with my co-parent, tears in my eyes. 

 

Half way up the hill, in precisely the same position he'd fallen in, Daddy was in a similar state of heightened emotion. Issuing expletives, he was lamenting his grazed knees, but what had really distressed him (notwithstanding both children careering off towards the sea) was the fact that dirty, red dust marks had stained the white soles of his brand new Nikes.  I mean, what a nightmare. Tragedy. Just awful. Husbands are definitely from Mars.

 

Now all we had to do was get two ramshackle bikes, a lone cabby car and two terrified children down a hill….which we did, but then.....

 

Continental health and safety at its best. "No, I can't fix it again. It's bloody broken. BROKEN!!"

Read more on 'Holidays from Hell' with Part Deux: Kids' Club and the Giant Daisy Man, Tantrums and Macaroons in the Dining Hall, Wind-related injuries, Child drops bollard on Mummy's foot, 1 hotel room and nowhere to hide, 1 novel read - on Witchcraft (apt), no zzzzzz for 2 weeks and the mother of all Mummy Breakdowns.

 

Author's Note: In 2019 we shall be getting the ferry to France, where we will subject the children to 3 days travelling in the car, from North to South. They can read and eat pastries in the car while we sit at outdoor cafes having our petit dejeuner. We can stop off at really remote auberges and chambres d'hotes where we will encounter no other English speakers. I will shop au marche, wearing a chic sundress and conversing with the locals who take me for one of them. Ah yes, we could watch the world go by from a quaint cafe. I might even start smoking Gitanes. The children will be bi-lingual in a week and will be exceptionally well-behaved in all manner of lovely restaurants where they'll enjoy all the rich and varied local produce. After all, this worked for my parents for years (except the smoking bit!).

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The Weekly Shop - Dec 18

Fresh Produce

Aldi

Whenever I toy with the idea of upgrading our supermarket, I cannot escape the fact that it’s a good thirty quid cheaper than elsewhere, and this negates the inconvenience of not being able to buy okra, fenugreek or Pip n Nut peanut butter or deliberate over a range of organically -farmed milks. Times are hard for us mummies, even on two good salaries, so we all suck it up and go errr Deutsch.

There are benefits of course to shopping in a ‘continental’ supermarket…an endless choice of meats and salamis for one, two entire rows of random merchandise you'll never need but are embarrassingly drawn to, and some great deals on booze. But, overall the supermarket shop is not the same experience it used to be BC (before children) - much like a litany of other marital joys……nope, you don’t browse in Aldi the way you do in Booths. In the polished aisles of the North’s answer to Waitrose, you convince yourself you have enough money for a trolley-full of the most beautifully packaged goods around. You don’t. Nobody has - that’s why there are more baskets than trolleys, but with its arty, trendy packaging, boasting quality and provenance, this is food shopping for the sheer joy of it - the pleasure, the gastronomy - you could almost be ‘au marche’ for goodness sake! This, dear reader, is where my husband laxidaisically meanders of a Saturday afternoon, whimsically pondering pesto and smoked Bavarian cheese, brushing shoulders with the Yorkshire landowners and people who know their Dom Perignon from Veuve Cliquot.

I, on the other hand, rough it mid-week in the ‘fatherland’ of supermarkets where people negotiate well-worn aisles with quasi-household brands while wearing year-round flip-flops.

 

In supermarkets such as these, the onus in on speed and efficiency. Nobody meanders or muses. Here, people root and scurry, and, if they’re lucky, they’ll find the Aperol and Sistema making a cameo.

Every week, I end up with a haul of pretty good booty at a very reasonable price, but then…. ..

I’ve got to face paying for it. And here's the rub. In Booths, I take a deep breath after the goods have been scanned before I realise I’ve blown half the monthly budget on a weekend top-up. In Aldi, I take a deep breath before approaching the check-out because I need to steel myself for the task that lies ahead.

 

For a start, you have to wait until the very last second before actually committing to an aisle, lest the good people behind the tannoy decide to open another, but, once committed, you must at all costs load that conveyer belt with the speed and stealth of a munitions worker. This is the warm-up.

Before you know it, it’s the main event, and it will be your turn to approach the till. This is where the weekly challenge ramps up. Let me explain to those who may be blissfully unaware: This is a till/paying process unlike any other, and there are unspoken rules of conduct. What you are supposed to do is chuck all your goods into your trolley willy -nilly and then approach a kind of holding area to sort and bag up your groceries before exiting the building without a fuss. Nobody wants to have to undertake this time-consuming nonsense of course, and so, with a lesser or greater rate of success, we all attempt what I like to call the ‘pack off’.

Now at this point I would like to point out that I strongly suspect the tillers of having had some kind of specialist scanning training, probably like a boot camp for would-be cashiers. Only those with particular dexterity and ruthlessness can pass; the other softies find work at Booths if they’re lucky or Morrisons where, God forbid, they are actually encouraged to enter into a conversation with the shopper!

Well, in Aldi you will not be spoken to, except at the very end when you will be asked in exactly three words your chosen method of payment. They’re not rude; they can’t talk, as they have to get on with the task in hand, and you can’t talk, not if you want to win. So, what is this game? Well, it goes like this: they try to scan as many goods through as quickly as possible onto precisely one square foot of ‘bought goods’ area. This ‘area’ is, by virtue of its size, quickly overloaded, and should you unwittingly allow a ‘pile up’, not only will your produce fall to the floor, but other shoppers will tut and harumph at you for clearly flounting the packing rules . You must at all costs avoid this. If you are not speedy enough, you will be forced to perform the ‘sweep in’ - a move where you literally ‘sweep’ all goods into your trolley with the length of the forearm, no bags, no category separation..aka total disorder. Not recommended.

However, if you put the time into training, remain determined and above all focused, as I have done in my PC (post-children) shopping career, you will soon be able to tackle the Aldi challenge, firing produce so rapidly into a series of strategically-positioned bags in your trolley that onlookers can only gawp and marvel at your skill. No packing area for you. No siree. You will be able to load meat, dairy, freezer and larder goods separately in a matter of minutes. Why it’s almost Germanic in its efficiency and ‘ordnung’….You may break a sweat of course, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are victorious.

Now, in order to claim victory over the STT (specially -trained tiller), you must be poised and ready with your wallet, as they ask you the question of just 3 words: Cash or Card?

Those are the unspoken rules.

If successful in your quest, the cashier will look at you with the utmost respect. They don’t usually come across shoppers of your calibre. Onlookers almost applaud you. You are good, oh yes very good, a kind of ‘uber-shopper’ if you will…..You lift your head a little higher. A small triumph but a triumph nonetheless. You allow yourself a little smile, as you load up the SUV while the Dambusters plays in the background.

Boom!

The Weekly Shop
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