Don’t Eat That!

It seems to me that just about everything on the menu is bad for us these days.

SUGAR! GLUTEN! LACTOSE! MORE SUGAR! (Tax it).

I don’t doubt that there is an issue of obesity and likewise, I don’t doubt that there’s an increase in allergies. When I was a schoolkid, I was the only one in my class with asthma, wheezing away in the corner. Now it seems every other child has asthma. My own son has a peanut allergy. I don’t know why – no-one seems to know why. Did I, or did I not eat peanuts during my pregnancy? Am I guilty of doing something to give him that allergy (as if I don’t feel guilt enough already at my less than perfect attempts at parenting).

What I find amazing is that the diet of my generation growing up in the 1970s was pretty appalling, yet many of us seem to have survived (relatively) unscathed.

The diet of the 1970s

Think about it. Did you, come on, own up, ever eat Vesta Beef Curry? All those chunks of delicious, rehydrated meat… or the Vesta Chow Mein with crispy noodles – flat yellowy strips that you coSpamoked in a pan of boiling fat until they puffed up – full of the fat. Nice. Fat had a lot to do with Spam. If you’ve ever eaten a Spam fritter you might wonder why you’re still alive today.

How about Findus Crispy Pancakes? Pancakes covered in breadcrumbs available in various fillings (including, we learnt a few years ago, horsemeat). I couldn’t believe it when I discovered these were still being made until this year. Why oh why?

And who could forget Smash? For mash, get Smash. Nasty beige coloured powder that you added boiling water too and fluffed it up into a bowl of nasty beige goo. It had a certain tang that remains with me to this day.

For pudding, Angel Delight. What WAS that made of? Certainly nothing celestial.

And the non-processed food?

I remembered recently that my mother not only made a big tray of Yorkshire Pud for our Sunday roast, if any was left over after the meat course, we’d eat the rest for pudding, with great daubs of golden syrup. Lovely. And chips, although cut from fresh potatoes, were cooked in a deep fat fryer with fat that seemed to last around 10 years before it was changed.

Vegetables boiled to within an inch of their life! No such thing as a steamer in our household. Just a pan of water filled with carrots, bubbling away for hours. Sprouts? They took approximately two days to cook properly.

Okay, I exaggerate slightly. But what I’m not sure about is what is it now that’s making the difference? Most of us have some awareness of healthy eating. I call myself a mix and match parent. Sometimes I don’t have time, or I’m just too tired, or I haven’t been able to get to the shops, so the pizza will come out of the freezer. Other times I love to create homemade stew, make a pie or rustle up a stir fry. My children seem okay, they are relatively slender. They both exercise, which helps (although I heard today that you’d have to run half a football field to burn off the sugar in one M&M…

I suppose the moral of this story is nothing strikingly original. Moderation is key. Balance is important. Even too many aduki beans won’t do you that much good in the end. I don’t think you need to ask why.

Vesta

Deer, oh deer, it’s catching

As children we were dragged around the New Forest every Sunday for a bracing walk before sitting down to the weekly roast. And, without fail, our mum would spot a deer. Or two, or three, and sometimes a whole herd. “Look, look, over there!” was her cry, as we peered in the general direction of her waving hand to see… absolutely nothing.

It happened so frequently that, of course, it became ingrained in family legend. The vaguely, nay, highly batty mother of five (who had an equally barmy university lecturer for a husband), seeing deer around every tree, prancing through every glade, bathed in sunlight, dappled Bambis all.

At what point, I wonder, did the second sight (of deer) get passed down a generation?

It didn’t come as much of a surprise when I realised I had started to sound like my mother, especially after I had my own children. After all, she was in the frame for the first 18 years of my life, something was bound to rub off on me. I hear it in the way I speak to my children –  I have the same tone of voice. Then there are the phrases (“cough it up, might be a gold watch” “sun’s over the yardarm”) – crikey, at times I thought I was becoming Beryl the Second.

But seeing deer? I think this might have started happening even before she conga’d her way to the Great Pantomime in the Sky, but it is certainly the case now. On the very day my mother left us, I was driving down the lane when three deer leapt from the hedge and trotted calmly across the road in front of me. Since then, I regularly see them, usually in the distance but sometimes breaking cover right under my nose. Every time I feel really thrilled that I’ve seen deer.

It’s only natural that my four brothers guffaw merrily when I mention any occasion of seeing deer. My teenage children really aren’t that interested, they never see the deer (though let’s see what happens when my daughter has children of her own, will she take on the deer mantle?).

I’m not sure why I love to see deer more than many other animals. It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a softy when it comes to animals in general, but there’s something about deer, their shy way of life and their grace when they leap.

Whatever it is, there’s something quite comforting in being the deer spotter in the family. There’s something quite comforting in realising that it’s perfectly okay to be batty, too.

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Penny-pinching, moi?

When my children were young and we were living more or less on a single salary (and not a high one at that), finances were an endless juggle. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. And neither of them were wealthy either.

Both being self-employed, there wasn’t much in the way of support from the State, maternity pay was hilarious at £50 a week, and tax credits gave us £34 per month for a few months (and we had to pay some of that back some years’ later, I’ll never know why!). So I made do, and somehow made it work.

Now, I wasn’t brought up to be ungenerous or thrifty – my widowed mum was forever splurging out on things she couldn’t afford; holidays, dinners out, treating friends, theatre trips – including, once, double glazing which had me shouting down the ‘phone at an unscrupulous salesman of the type that preyed on widows who really should have known better. Apart from the windows, my attitude was ‘Good for you mum – life’s too short!).

I too, have a habit of wanting to punch above my  financial weight. I’m not stupid or profligate, I just want my children to try out things: ballet, horse riding, Tae Kwando, or learn to play a musical instrument, and definitely have plenty of pants and socks without holes in them for heaven’s sake. That’s the way I roll…

But even now, when things are a little easier with an upsurge in income (equalled by an upsurge in working hours), I’m finding it hard to shake off that feeling of guilt every time I buy something.

“Do we really need that?”

I have one of those magnifying mirrors (no, I don’t need to shave) which for a couple of years has been loose with the consequence that I have to crouch in all sorts of weird positions when I’m trying to apply mascara. I need a new one, but how do I justify it?
When I decide to buy towels to replace nasty old ones that can stand upright on their own so stiff are they, oh what a dilemma I have. Heaven forbid we have fluffy towels that actually dry us rather than exfoliate our skin.

I wonder at what point, if any, I will shake off the guilt of spending money on things I want to enjoy. Well today is the day! I’ve ordered the magnifying mirror from Argos and I’m on my way to pick it up. As long as I can prise my debit card from my purse when I get there…

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‘Tis the Season to Eat Holly

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When I was a young lass, Christmas was a magical time. It tended to start in December with the Advent calendar (no chocolate back then, just the excitement of opening a little flap to reveal a snippet from the nativity scene, with Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jee always behind number 24).
The Christmas tree came into the house about a week before Christmas day, and was duly decorated in a jumble of mismatched Christmas DSC_0004_renamed_22729decorations of varying quality, including a very sad fairy that topped the tree for many years whilst deteriorating before our very eyes. The Chinese lantern lights though, they were always amazing. I have them still, and one day I will find someone to make them work again.
A friend of our parents, known as Mouse, always gave the family a homemade cardboard snowman or similar, with little gifts tucked inside.
There was always the Crib service, where local families would pile into St Nicholas Church in Stoneham and troop up to marvel at the lambs, donkeys and kings in another nativity scene. We’d sing our hearts out and be very proud of ourselves when we were old enough to break away for the descant parts in the carols. Small pleasures.
In our house we didn’t have stockings, we had pillowcases, laid at the bottom of our beds. There was such anticipation, we never had a clue what Santa would bring, despite our hopeful Christmas lists. Some years there was joy, others disappointment (I really didn’t want a giant doll when I was 11, and the suitcase I received at 13 made me wonder if my parents were hinting at something – well, I was an obnoxious adolescent).
As I grew up, the festive season continued to be special as it became centred round friends and alcohol, but always with the huge family gathering, a chaotic Christmas dinner and the legal requirement to wear any Christmas pants on your head, and socks on your hands (which made eating the Christmas meal rather tricky). Mum was up at 4am to put the turkey in the oven, and the Brussels sprouts were cooked at least a week in advance.
Christmas has changed over the years, it’s no secret. As children, we weren’t subject to aggressive advertisements for toys from September, or the constant expectation of having ‘the best Christmas ever. Ever, ever, ever.’ We didn’t demand gifts costing hundreds of pounds. If we had done, we wouldn’t have got them. As my own children grew up I got a little sucked into the commercialism, chasing around after the year’s ‘must-have’ toys and trying hard to make everything perfect. It was exhausting.
The ‘meaning’ of Christmas, whatever your faith, has more or less gone down the plug hole. I’ve no idea anymore what it’s all about, although the word ‘greed’ comes to mind. So, I was amazed this year when I said to my teenage children that Christmas would be a little quiet, and the presents not terrifically thrilling. They both replied that Christmas was about family aDSC_0002_renamed_5672nd being together. And actually they’re right, that is the meaning now if we can only hold on to it, which I think gets harder every year.
Suffice to say, despite (or perhaps because of) my best efforts, our own Christmas tree is a jumble of mismatched Christmas decorations of varying quality. Although we sadly don’t have that dilapidated angel, who was consigned to the Great Tree in the Sky many decades ago, this year we did have Rudolf the Red Nosed Camel, and for that I will always be grateful.

Oh how the other half lives

David Playford sxc (playboy)I do like Graham Norton, I’ve always loved his irreverence. No guest is entirely safe. On a recent Star Wars-centric episode, it was fantastic to see Carrie Fisher. She looks naturally aged, I love her for that – irreverent and slouchy, just fabulous. Another guest, Kylie Minogue, shockingly didn’t look like Kylie anymore. Pop Princess with an immobile forehead. That’s sad.
The show included an appearance by David Beckham. Famous for football and for being quite a pretty bloke. Well don’t get me started there, football schmootzball. I actually think Mr Beckham is a decent fellow, but why he’s so famous I will never understand. Looks, pop star/fashion designer wife, loads of money. Maybe that’s it, maybe that’s enough.
Beckham was asked if his sons went to the Star Wars premiere. Well of course they did. And they were probably taken there in a private car, bless them. But I wondered just why these particular children had been given invites to the premiere, save for the fact that they are sons of ‘celebs’ and one of them has lots of followers on Twitter. Yay. I hope he has some real friends too.
How much nicer would it have been if invitations had been given to children who don’t have the privilege of wealth? Some kids who aren’t going to get thousands of pounds-worth of the latest must-have ‘stuff’ for Christmas, who aren’t able to borrow their dad’s Armani jumper.
I often mentally rant about the injustice of the division of wealth, usually while I’m walking the dogs in my leaky wellie boots and my socks have just got wet.
But there’s a recent thing I keep seeing on TV that’s causing my jaw to drop, in a most unsightly fashion. It’s called ‘Rich Kids of Instagram’ – all to do with how the young uber-rich like to flaunt their wealth. Buying a Birkin bag for £30,000 (seriously?) and ‘stuffing wads of cash in their pockets to show off’.
Apparently the rest of us are desperate to know about the lives of these people. Really? Are we? Or would most of ‘the rest of us’ actually prefer not to know that some young idiot pours himself a bath of champagne that costs the same amount of money as most people earn in a month, or horrifyingly, a year?
I know I’m ancient, old-fashioned and probably a little bitter, but I’m also principled, always have been, and this sort of thing, so blatant, worries me, it really does.
In fairness, I did ask myself the question if my children had been offered tickets to the premiere of Star Wars, what would I have done? Well I’d have probably agreed to them going, because for them it would have been the experience of a lifetime. And yes, the popcorn would have gone everywhere. It might even have bounced off Kylie’s forehead. Graham Norton would have been entertained.

The cracks between the walls

cracks in wallsThere may be one or two people ‘of a certain age’ out there still watching Dr Who. If so, you might recognise the phrase ‘cracks between the walls’ – a reference to the cracks created by the Silence when they blew up the Tardis.
Eh? Not following so far?
Well, in fact, the Dr Who thing doesn’t matter. (I don’t really follow it these days, it’s all gloom and doom, wars and endings of the universe. Pah! Bring back Betty and jelly babies I say). But the cracks in the walls thing does matter. Because my life seems to be made up of cracks in the walls. Gaps, breaches, apertures, openings, where important things can hide when they don’t want your brain to remember them.
We all laugh, ha ha, about losing items as we get older – glasses, wallets and keys being the most common, I think. Everyone knows that feeling of opening a cupboard and forgetting what we opened it for, or going upstairs to get something we really need…. we really, really need. Which is… Oh for goodness’ sake, what is it? Where is it? Who am I?
What’s your record time for standing there, stock still, hoping for a clue whilst gazing into the middle distance like a statue? All these question marks, there was a time when there would be just one.
I suspect the whole thing is way more sinister than simple memory loss. I have a strong suspicion it’s those cracks in the walls. I believe the glasses, keys, Lost keypens, matches, socks and sometimes cars (who hasn’t returned to a car park with not the foggiest where the car is parked?) have fallen temporarily into those cracks, or, even more weirdly, been snatched by something living in the cracks.
When we pick up the phone, and can’t remember who we’re about to call? It’s not part of the aging process, no! It’s because our memory has also fallen into the cracks. Or because the boggart living in the cracks has borrowed it. Perhaps just to find out how to make a boiled egg or whether Tesco has a BOGOF offer on chocolate oranges. Good luck with that, boggart.
Sinister, you see. It’s nothing to do with getting old, no. It’s a conspiracy. Please let it be a conspiracy.

Now, where’s my cup of tea gone, I could have sworn I’d put it right here…

Spatial Awareness, Nil Points

Bracken (2)When I was young (oh so much younger than today), I was a very balanced person. Not in terms of mentality, you understand, but co-ordination. In rounders, the crucial fourth base who could catch every ball thrown at her. Even those thrown by Demon Headmaster Mr Blatchford, memorably a blinder from the bottom of the playground that left my hands stinging for days. Netball, goal keeper (GK) extraordinaire, able to toss that ball almost carelessly into the hands of the waiting C (centre). Horse riding, dancing*. Gymnastics, walking the beam as if my life depended on it. Effortless balance, effortless grace. Until the past few years, that is.

I first noticed something had changed on my dog walks. Throwing sticks for ‘fetch’-obsessed Saffy, which, instead of flying through the air started to fly into trees. Or bushes. Or bracken, or gorse. Anywhere, in fact, where the dog couldn’t get them. Those that hit trees breaking into pieces, useless. Then tennis balls, thrown by Basset Green Primary’s ace fourth base, suddenly landing in rivers, getting stuck in branches, dropping into our fetid pond, irretrievable. Hanging washing out has become a trauma of dropping pegs into the grass. The garden is strewn with rotting and rusting pegs.

It was almost inevitable that this loss of co-ordination would lead to a personal injury. Well, this is me we’re talking about. I’ve been crashing about in the undergrowth for far too long, getting away with my penchant for ‘off-roading’ on my walks. This week, I finally walked into something. In fact, a rigid bracken stalk (there is such a thing, believe me). It poked me in the eye,  that very evil bracken stalk. It hurt.

After a few moments of excruciating pain I decided the only thing was to fall over as well, into a peaty puddle where I lay like a dead ant until the pain subsided.

So I am looking glamorous at the moment, with a blurry red eye making me look as though I’ve been on the cider for a long weekend. Patently untrue (though in all honesty, perhaps the degradation in my spatial awareness is actually a result of previous long weekends on the cider, wine, vodka, etc). Such joy.

*This is, in fact, a lie. I was always bad at dancing, apart from the ‘table’ manoeuvre in Laban technique.

(Online) catalogue of disasters

Tesco 2I wasn’t going to ramble about this, but now I am at t’end of my tether (Northern voice please).

The background: I haven’t spent any of the Tesco Clubcard vouchers accumulated over the last year, so I decided to make the most of the current Clubcard Boost offer and buy a small laptop to take to client meetings. I duly ordered a Lenovo Yoga online for £299. My order went through, I received confirmation and a date to collect from the Honiton store.

Two hours later I received an email saying the order was cancelled. No reason given. I called Customer Service (to their credit, quick to pick up) who talked about low stock being the problem. Online, the item was still there, available, but now for £349. All very odd.

Three phone calls later, with money refunded into my account, an email gift card for the value of the spent Clubcard vouchers and Customer Services holding an extra £50 to cover the price increase (stick with me), I ordered the laptop again with them, over the phone. Order confirmed, email giving date to collect from the Honiton store. Three hours on, an email arrived to tell me the order was cancelled, without explanation.

I fired off a grumpy email online, to which no-one responded, and called first thing the next day. The Customer Service agent was as bemused as me (they have all been bemused, to be fair). He suggested that when the money returns to my bank account I hotfoot it to the nearest superstore and buy one on the spot to carry away with me then and there. I understand his thinking but I also think this negates the very point of online shopping for customers, like me, who live in the sticks.

I’ve wasted hours over this (shall I invoice Tesco for my lost working time?). It’s now a point of principle rather than a desire for this particular laptop. To my credit I have not had a single Mrs Angry moment with any of the Customer Service agents, they all did their best and all our conversations have been peppered with laughter. I have successfully managed to mask the rising hysteria in my voice.
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The present: I don’t think I want that laptop now even though it’s still there, apparently available to order on the Tesco website. I’ve lost the will to live.

Whatever the reasons for the cancellations, Tesco, every little helps, but nothing really doesn’t help very much!

I won’t even start about dented ovens from John Lewis and dented dishwashers from Argos. That’s for another time.

Queue Jumping and (almost) Sweet Revenge

TaikoRecently I took the teen to see a Taiko drumming group, Mugenkyo. It was a Sunday night and a special treat for him, and me. We arrived in good time, and he said he really fancied a hot chocolate.
The queuing system at the bar was undefined – it seemed there was one queue for hot drinks and another for the main bar. The folk behind me appeared bemused, too, so I suggested they moved ahead of me if they wanted drinks from the bar, which they did, soon walking back past me with their drinks.
I stood patiently in my ‘hot drink’ queue with the teenager for a very long time. The man in front of me was getting antsy, and I was feeling a little fidgety, especially when I realised that there was in fact no separate queue. If I’d gone to the main bar I would have been served much more quickly.
Finally it was my turn and a pleasant barman took my order. Further along the bar, a lady spoke out in that loud type of whisper that can be so, so irritating. “She pushed in!” I realised she was referring to me, and I turned full sail, as it were, glared at the woman and boomed in my best Lady Bracknell, “I DID NOT push in! I’ve been waiting here patiently for a very long time!”
The woman, who was with a thin, balding man (saying that gives me pleasure I’m afraid), looked visibly shocked. “Calm down,” she said. Calm down? That was a red rag to a bull. I can’t remember my exact response but the teen asked me to hush (although he agreed later with my actions, admitting the woman was ‘very rude’).
During the show we sat five or six rows behind the couple. It took me a while to calm down from the queue debacle. The loud drumming helped, or maybe not. The biggest distraction was my burning desire to grab a handful of Josh’s sweets, Skittles, and rain them down upon the silly woman and her baldy partner.

 Now that would have been ‘sweet revenge’.

And all I want is a cup of tea in bed….

Back when I was but a mere snip of a thing, I would make my parents a cup of tea most mornings. It probably tasted vile, but this, for me, was an early way of helping out. For my mum had a brood of five, which must have been mind-bending. I have two and my mind is well and truly bent out of shape all of the time.

I suspect my desire to be useful started during my stint in the Brownies. Even though I never made ‘Sixer’ (I was robbed). I don’t know which part of ‘Brownying’ put it into my head that helping my mum out would be A GOOD THING. Whether she liked it or not.

I was, for a time, the household ironer. I’d iron anything, from sheets and pillowcases to my dad’s handkerchiefs. I think I ironed his Y-fronts once or twice, too. I made puddings for our Sunday roast (my eclairs were legendary) and Vesta Beef Curry for tea if mum was too busy to whip up her usual, liver and bacon. I made perfume out of rose petals in a plastic washing up bowl, and tried to raise household funds by selling this to our neighbours. I was very useful.

I peaked one Christmas when my brother Malc and I decided to take the load off mum for Christmas dinner. She was sceptical, but we proudly managed to get it all done and served up on time. And the Brussels sprouts weren’t cooked all to mush. However, halfway through the dinner, Malc went to the kitchen to get the peas, which we’d forgotten. He came back and asked if I wouldn’t mind checking something. In fact, the kitchen was filled with black smoke. Malc, I’ll blame him, had left the bone-handled fork in the turkey when he’d put it back into the gas oven, and it had caught on fire. Suddenly there was mum, stood in the doorway, arms crossed, a smug ‘I-knew-you-wouldn’t-manage-it’ look on her face. Well, at least we tried.

I’m wondering where I have gone wrong with my own children. If I ask them to help, it’s big deal. Even though the chores are minimal – emptying the dishwasher, sorting the plastics for recycling, stripping their beds, remembering to bring the bins in. Walking the dogs seems to be a demand beyond belief. Hey, that used to be the ultimate pleasure for me, escaping the madhouse of my four brothers for a walk with Hawker Siddeley Vicious Smith (also known as Syd) along a stinky stream that often had shopping trolleys living in it.

And I can’t remember the last time one of the kids brought me a cuppa in bed.
Kids these days. They don’t know they’re born.

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