Monday, 29 March 2010

Could do better....

Following on from last week's diatribe on Parents' Evenings, I am mooching about the Garden Centre (having typed that, I realise how middle-aged I sound) when my mobile buzzes.  'Tis TS on the phone wanting to know if he can open his school report which has just arrived in the mail.  This is his final ever school report - within a few short months he will be a school boy no longer, but an incipient undergraduate.  We hope.

Now I can't get terribly excited about school  reports.  They were the subject of much horror when I was young and the nuns would hand them out to be taken home at my awful Convent School.  I remember the sick feeling of dread as the offending document rustled uncomfortably in my pocket, burning a hole. When I actually got home, it would be opened with great ceremony by my father and there would follow the inevitable sighs of disappointment and recriminations.  I got wise though.  We didn't call it 'Grounded' in those days, but that's what I inevitably was. anticipation of sanctions to come, I would do the groundwork a couple of weeks in advance and make up some concert or party that I was DESPERATE to go to, knowing full well that I was just supplying my parents with the ammunition they needed for when the howler arrived.  So we followed a well-trodden path to its natural conclusion.  I don't think it ever occurred to me that it might just have been easier on all concerned and led to a quieter life if I had just knuckled down and applied myself a bit better.  Hey ho.  

Mind you, I blame the nuns for a lot of it.  A bunch of crabby old bags, they made us kneel on the floor to measure our skirt lengths and weren't above having us stand in a line so they could come down behind us, lifting each skirt to make sure we were wearing the regulation knickers.  A colleague who went to a different Convent, run by a different order of nuns at the other end of the country from mine reports a similar experience - presumably this was thought to be not only acceptable but desirable at the time!?!  

And don't get me started on sex education.  Ours was all about inseminating cows and then we had a 10 minute film, all jumpy and crackly, which gave us a diagram of a cross section of the female body.  This was in a Biology lesson and was followed up by our form tutor, Sister Pat, telling us that, if a boy asked us to sit on his knee, we should put newspaper or a telephone directory on it first and if that same boy should try to, er, kiss us, we should raise our right hand and say firmly, "STOP!  I am the temple of the Holy Ghost."  Honest - no word of a lie!  No wonder half my sixth form had to leave because they were pregnant.  If I ever venture onto the pages of Friends Reunited, most of my school mates seem to be grandparents many times over....gah - what a thought :(

But I digress - back to the final report of TS.  We arrive home.  "What's it like?" I enquire.  "Well," he says calmly, "pretty much like every report I've ever had really.  You could pick up one of my Year 4 reports and it would say the same things."  The enduring theme of TS's school career has been "could try harder".  He is an extremely bright boy but doesn't seem to quite believe in his own capabilities.  As the years have gone on, only the language has changed.  We have gone from "must pay more attention to the presentation and accuracy of his work" to "displays a somewhat laid back approach to his studies."

Asking him about any of this will produce an exaggerated yawn and the terse reply "ceebs".  For the unititiated, I should explain the terminology here.

Teenagers have their own language, which I love incidentally.  I love the way they are so inventive with words and make the English language work for them.  Generation after generation has done it and the current lot are no different.  This lot, however, seem to suffer from an extreme form of ennui.  This is characterised by the word "effort" which was, until recently the standard response to any request for action. e.g. "would you make me a cup of tea please?" the answer?  "Effort!"

Eventually, however, it became too much effort to say 'effort', so they resorted to "Can't be arsed" a quaint and charming English phrase, I'm sure you'll agree.  Needless to say, a few weeks of the extreme effort of saying 'can't be arsed' resulted in mental exhaustion so extreme that they had to shorten it to the acronym "cba".  This can be used as an all-purpose reply, viz: "put that mug in the dishwasher, not on the worktop," answer? - "cba".

Now, bear with me here.  Imagine the appalling trials of being a teenager - mortgage free, living in an abode you can treat exactly like a hotel, bed and board provided, washing done for you and you will, I'm sure, agree that the poor little loves can't possibly be expected to exert the enormous amount of energy required to utter "cba" over and over again.  So...yes - they cba to say cba and it is now "ceebs".

Back to the report.  Allow me to quote some of the contents. The following comes from his Politics teacher:-  "He is a delight to have in the class, reflective and modest (some mistake here surely? Ed.) he is also positive with a very dry sense of humour, but he can collapse into fits of laughter which is most unfortunate."

As you might imagine, this sentence leapt off the page and the Shah and I demanded an explanation.  "Well, y'see there's this American political economist called Frank Fukuyama and, in one lesson, Mr W had us all reading bits of his work aloud and we all pronounced his name differently."  There is a silence and that familiar feeling of dread nestles in the pit of my stomach, just like the old days.  "And," I say slowly, "how did you pronounce it?"  "Well," he chortles, "I called him Frank Fuck ya mama and someone else said Frank Fuck You, Ma and then another guy said...."

"Yep, okay, I get it", I said.  "I'd love to hear the rest but, frankly, ceebs."

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Who do you think you are?

I am a devoted people watcher.  I am one of those sad sacks who can while away many happy hours at an airport, simply observing, with a misty eye, the comings and goings, the separations and the reunions and never get bored.  I love giving the assembled characters names and a life which is based purely on how they look, how they dress, their behaviour and their body language.

Stuck at a recent Parents’ Evening for two hours (9 subjects, 5 minutes per teacher, should have been out in an hour max – you do the Math) I was driven by the sheer boredom of constantly queuing for the next slot, not to mention the jostling for position and the fending off of queue jumpers, to imbue some of my fellow parents with new (or maybe just accurate) personae.

I give you now the Every Silver Lining guide to the parents we all love to hate:-

Mr Anxious Older Dad:   Mr A-O Dad is a funny one.  He takes every little thing inordinately seriously and, as soon as his little girl has a falling out with one of her friends (which she does on a regular basis, being an entirely normal child) phones the school, demanding to talk to the Head, the Chair of Governors and God himself if that’s what it takes to make his baby happy.  His baby has already forgotten she ever had a spat with Katie/Charlotte/Jessica and is happily Facebooking them and countless boys from the local comp at all hours of the day and night, unbeknown to Daddy who fondly imagines the hours spent in her room are devoted to academic excellence.  He is horrified by her sudden development of boobs and buttocks and this has led him to become convinced that any male figure connected with the school is a closet Paedophile.   He can be heard twitchily demanding to see evidence of CRB checks while a harried teacher patiently explains that the school is not legally bound or, in fact, able to give him access to all the CRB clearances they have on file.

Mrs I Know All The Answers:   This is one of the stroppiest  humans on the face of the planet.   Given to demanding meetings with already over-stretched staff at the drop of a hat, she routinely turns up with a flow chart of events, the better to illustrate her total dissatisfaction with every damn thing the school does.  She has an opinion on everything and hers is, of course, the only view that matters and her answers are the only right ones.  She wears anoraks and saggy Ugg boots in winter and sandals that display a yard or two of horny, unvarnished toenail in summer.  She never, ever plucks her eyebrows.  Or any other part of her face, although the need is visible.

Mr & Mrs You Have Nothing Better To Do:  This couple are frequently returning expats who are back in the country and on a whirlwind tour of every school in the area. They demand to come and see every subject head, meet the boss and tour the school at a moment’s notice and regardless of how many calendared events may already exist for parents like them.  Having sucked up all the school’s resources for hours on end, they go silent for weeks before casually letting drop that they are sending the girls to Saint Asbo’s  because “the uniform is prettier there.”  They are closely related to:-

Mrs I Pay Your Wages:  How arrogant can one human being be?   None so much as this lovely lady.   Her catchphrase has actually been said to certain teachers from time to time and worse, her child occasionally says it too.   She wears dark glasses whatever the weather or time of day, and when they are not on her nose, they are perched on top of her head, pushing back the blonde hair to reveal a tranche of black roots.   She drives a BMW 4x4 at high speed onto the school premises, scattering staff and students before her.  Her personalised number plate, which was a gift from her banker husband, reads             B1 TCH but she has no sense of irony.  She is married to:-

Mr Wide Boy:  This guy circles the school car park a few times in his Maserati before swinging it into a Disabled bay once everyone has clocked his arrival.  Walking with an exaggerated swagger, he is constantly attached to his mobile phone and has a tendency to bark meaningless phrases into it such as “Yah, Nico!  How do the numbers stack up?”  He was christened Darren but has changed his name to Ed as he thinks it’s more macho.  He has absolutely no idea what he is doing at Parents’ Evening; in fact, he’s not even totally sure he can remember the names of all his kids because his wife chose such ridiculous monikers.  He also feels like a prat having to discuss the progress that Velvet, Sparkle and Sweetie are making in Philosophy & Ethics, given that he thinks Ethics is a county to the east of London.  He is slightly worried that Sparkle is showing a penchant for Rugby and secretly wonders if she might ultimately turn out to be a lezzer in later life.

Mrs Oh No Not My Baby:  No matter how heinous the crime, it is never the fault of this mother’s child.  Indeed, one such parent told me that she had phoned the school after her child had been given a ticking off to tell them that it couldn’t have been the child’s fault - hers was a child who refused to watch Harry Potter films because the children in them disobeyed their teachers.  Yeah, right!  She is second cousin to:

Mrs My Child is a Genius:   Demands an inquest when her child gets anything less than an A*** in underwater basket weaving.  Insists that Vienetta will be a Cambridge Astro Physicist when all the poor child wants is to be a MAW (Model, Actress, Whatever) and put her own makeup videos on YouTube.  She lives next door to:-

Mrs Omelette:  So called because she frets endlessly about her child’s diet.  La Petite Omelette is not allowed to have meat, eggs, cakes, sweets, biscuits or anything that is not strictly vegan and has been handled by more than one uncircumcised person.  She may have a special treat of Quinoa Porridge (no added sugar or salt) every other Tuesday week if there’s an ‘r’ in the month.  The staff avert their eyes at break time when they see her scoffing Jaffa Cakes and Creme Eggs with gusto.  Mrs O is twinned with:

Mrs Munchausen:  Insists her child has every allergy and ailment known to man.  Produces  Piriton, steroid creams and Epipens at the drop of a hat.  Demands a map of the school area with all medical facilities and acute hospitals marked on it.  Practices emergency runs in her car so she can learn the quickest route to A&E Departments in three counties.  Requires her child to text her every time he or she sneezes, then rings the school nurse in a frenzy, accusing the staff of neglect and proffering a diagnosis of Lassa Fever.  The child has a permanent ghostly white hue to its skin because of mama constantly plastering him or her with Factor 50 due to an imagined sun allergy.

People go on about how easy teachers have it – all those holidays, they cry!   Work that ends at 3.30pm every day!  Let me tell you, there isn’t enough money in the world to persuade me onto the chalkface.  All those hours of marking and lesson preparation!  All those school trips, desperately trying to keep track of Tyrone and Destiny as they run amok in the Science Museum, counting heads with your heart in your mouth as the coach pulls away, doling out the sick bags – and as for the parents - euch, no thanks!

Monday, 15 March 2010

I’m a Lady, you see...

In life, we all have our guilty pleasures. This week, I have been rather taken aback to realise that one of mine is The Lady magazine. I’m not a subscriber (honest) but my mum is and she is also a firm believer in getting as much use out of an item as possible – it’s that wartime generation thing.

So The Lady gets passed around various of her friends and family before each dog-eared copy makes its way to me. I started out flicking through it to please her but, slowly, I have found myself enjoying it more and more – OMG! There is something in the very mention of the name that inspires images of yesteryear when life was slower, kinder somehow. An age when a gentleman raised his hat to a lady rather than his fists. Indeed, the job advertisements in the back few pages can still transport you to another world. For example:-

Housekeeper required: Just the job title sounds like something out of Upstairs Downstairs. Who on earth seriously has a Housekeeper these days? Only the mega- rich or mega-posh I guess. There was an advert recently for domestic staff and the details went something like this “Domestic staff required for large country house, rarely visited but always kept in perfect condition.” I immediately had visions of some mansion, owned perhaps by foreign royalty, which sits in solitary splendour, peopled only by the ghostly figures of the minions paid to look after it but never actually lived in or brought to soulless must that place feel, when Sheikh Yerbooty arrives for a flying visit from one of his other palaces dotted around the world? No thanks!

In fact, The Lady actually ran a “Win a Housekeeper” competition last October – the prize being some saint who would come and work for you for a week over the Christmas period. I wish I had seen it in time to enter but my copies are several weeks old by the time they reach me and, anyway, could a genteel housekeeper (they probably aren’t at all genteel, it’s just the name makes me think that) put up with the hurly burly of life with teenagers, a workaholic husband and the ASBO cats?

Can you imagine coming down to breakfast to find the table beautifully laid with a lace tablecloth (I don’t possess a lace tablecloth but work with me here) adorned with perfect plates of oh, say, scrambled egg and smoked salmon, a pot of Earl Grey and slender slices of perfectly browned toast?

Me: Oh wow! How delicious, Thankyouthankyouthankyou!

Teenager: Woss this? I wanna bowl of cornflakes.

All of a sudden the dream bursts like a bubble.

I have discovered also that, every week, the writer of a short article entitled The Lady and I wins a bottle of Gin! I laughed for about half an hour when I read that. How deliciously old school and politically incorrect - I didn’t even realise anyone drank Gin any more!

Another attraction is the regular column penned by Penny Smith of GMTV – or shortly not to be of GMTV as they have reportedly given her the heave-ho. Why? I love Penny Smith; she has a deliciously wicked sense of humour and, if you ever watch her on the TV, she always manages to give the impression that she is just about to say something utterly inappropriate but hysterically funny. Also her diary seems to consist largely of reports on how much food she has managed to snarf and alcohol she has drunk. A recent entry reads, “Dinner at Michelin-starred Chez Bruce in Wandsworth. So  stuffed that can’t eat complimentary chocolates so just lay them gently on my thighs. They’ll end up there anyway.” See what I mean?

It also does a fine line in punning headlines – and why would I admire that in an article, I hear you cry?!  For example, a piece on raising chickens is called “Chicken Chic” another on a certain American politician “Beyond the Palin” and an article on how to use up leftover Christmas food, “Remains of the Day.”

But possibly my favourite bit is the Diary page which is guest-written each week. In a recent issue, Tania Kindersley relates this little nugget, as told to her by her godfather.

Winston Churchill was sitting in his study when one of his great-grandsons burst in. “Great Grandfather,” said the boy, “Are you the greatest man in the world?”

Churchill looked up. “Yes,” he said. “Now bugger off.”

There is a documentary on the revival of The Lady at 9pm on Thursday 18th March, Channel 4 and I will be glued!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Squirreled away ...

Because I am a good and careful mother and I make sure I feed my children (and their friends) a balanced, nutritious diet, I ordered in Pizza a couple of nights ago. Well, I have my excuses. I was due to go out with a couple of girlfriends who are known to my kids as ‘the usual suspects’ because they are the people I see most of for GNOs (Girls’ Nights Out in case you hadn’t managed to figure that one out).

We had decided to go and see A Single Man, the film for which Colin Firth was Oscar-nominated, on the grounds that the chances of any of our husbands taking us to see a film with gay men in it were - well - what can I say but oink, oink, flap, flap... I had arranged all this, cheerfully forgetting that TD wanted to come home with a friend, tart themselves up, grab a bite to eat and then be transported back to school to watch their mates in a Gymnastic display. I had also forgotten that the Shah had headed off to the Midlands somewhere on a business trip (for which read ‘Getting Smashed in the Hotel Bar’ Trip). Not that the culinary welfare of my children would have been much different if the Shah had been in residence – it would have been Pizza out of the freezer as opposed to Pizza out of the Delivery Man’s scooter box. But I digress.

So....the pizza man rings the doorbell, the girls are upstairs and I hear TS coming in through the back door from his hockey practice. As I open the front door Paddy, the ASBO cat, has obviously come up behind me and shoots past and out into the front garden. Nothing unusual in that – Paddy is obsessed with the front door, spending many happy hours staring at it, willing it to open.  I pay the nice man, take the boxes and shut the door again.  I turn and yell out to the girls (by now half way down the stairs)and TS that Pizza’s up. Then I take one step forward in the direction of the kitchen and land fatefully on something soft and yielding. Of course I jumped a mile, thinking that I had stepped on the other cat’s tail or something, but he hadn’t yowled so that didn’t quite ring true. Holding the pizza boxes flat in front of me meant that I couldn’t actually see my feet, so I lifted the boxes up to look at what I had stepped on.

There, supine on the hall rug, lay a very large, very mauled and very dead squirrel.

(Cue voice over from Keifer Sutherland...) What follows takes place between 6pm and 6.22pm last Tuesday evening...

Actually, what follows is a bit of a blur. I do believe I shrieked “FUUUUUUUUCK” at the top of my lungs and ran into the sitting room. The girls screamed in unison and shot back up the stairs. Big beardy TS also bawled something beginning with ‘F’ and ran through the house, driven by a morbid fascination, to have a look at the corpse. I also have a vague memory of yelling “where’s your (expletive deleted) father when I need him?” as it dawned on me that TS’s rodent phobia (see previous posting entitled A Tale of Two Kitties...) meant that he was going to be feck-all use in clearing away the carcass.  I was so utterly repulsed by the sight of this giant rat-with-a-furry-tail spread-eagled on my favourite rug that I could hardly bring myself to go near it, and I’m not the squeamish type (well not really).   Then, of course, I managed to convince myself that it wasn’t dead, merely unconscious which actually made me want to retch as I got close to it.

Eventually, I had to grab the coal tongs and two carrier bags, one inside the other for safety, and then gingerly, and at arm’s length, pick it up and bag it, tying the ends in a double knot. Meanwhile, the girls had kept up a stream of squeals and “like ewwww, grrrrooossssss, Mum” from halfway up the stairs where they remained, gazing horrified through the banisters until the coast was clear.

So, being the kind of good and careful mother I really am, I then spent a happy ten minutes chasing TS round the house with dead squirrel in a bag to get him back for leaving me with the cadaver.

As I left for my GNO, his voice drifted after me down the garden path...”You are a bad, bad person!”

He loves me really. Honest.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Mummy, Mummy...

One of those idle conversations you routinely have over lunch with your colleagues happened the other day, and it revealed a weakness for those “Mummy, mummy...” jokes that were around about thirty (gulp) years ago. They took us all back a few years and, in the interests of disgusting everyone else, here is a selection of the ones we could remember....

Mummy mummy, can I lick the bowl?
No, flush it like everyone else

Mummy mummy,can I play with grandma?
No, you've dug her up three times today

Mummy Mummy what's for dinner?
Shut up and get back in the oven

Mummy Mummy, I hate my sister's guts.
Well, leave them on the side of your plate then.

Mummy Mummy why do I keep running round in circles?
Shut up or I’ll nail your other foot to the floor

Mummy mummy can I have a spoon?
What do you want a spoon for?
The dogs been sick and my sister’s getting all the big bits.

Mummy Mummy Am I really a vampire?
Shut up and drink your soup before it clots

Mummy mummy, I don't understand this book
Shut up, nobody said reading Braille with your stump would be easy

Mummy, Mummy! What happened to all that dog food Fido wouldn't eat?
Shut up and eat your meat loaf

Mummy, Mummy! What happened to all your scabs?
Shut up and eat your cornflakes

Mummy, Mummy Grandpa's going out
Well throw some more petrol on him then.

Mummy, Mummy Why are we pushing the car off the cliff?
Shut up son, you'll wake your father.

Mummy, Mummy Why is Daddy staggering round the garden?
Shut up and reload

Mummy, Mummy It's cold and dark and damp down here.
Shut up or I'll flush it again.

Mummy, Mummy Can I play in the sandpit?
Not until I find a better place to bury Daddy.

Mummy, Mummy Daddy fell into the bonfire
Shut up and get the barbecue sauce

Mummy, Mummy I like my brother very much.
All right, you can have another slice

Mummy, Mummy! I don't want to go to Australia
Shut up and keep swimming

Happy memories!

I fully expect to get arrested for this.