Saturday, 25 June 2011

Finger Trouble

One of the things about being a parent (which nobody tells you when you sign up for it, incidentally) is that you should also have a teaching degree to go along with your new status and to equip you for the years to come.  No, I'm not talking about teaching your child to walk/play nicely/read/wipe their own bottoms (although sometimes, I'm far from convinced that mine have managed to master any of those tasks...).  What I'm referring to is the seemingly endless job of inculcating life skills and general responsibility for one's own actions (and acceptance of the consequences)  into our progeny.  Sometimes, I find this utterly exhausting - actually, scrap that - I constantly find it exhausting and very often I am hugely tempted to just take the easy way out and overlook transgressions/stop nagging and do it myself etc etc and sometimes I do.  BUT... there are also times when my patience runs out and I become utterly immovable in my refusal to comply with the whingeing, begging, pleading and downright snarkiness that only someone with all the energy of youth can muster.

Last weekend neatly illustrates one of those times and, reader, I lay myself bare before you (not literally, you will be delighted to know because that would be "eewwwww, like gross, mum") but I am not ashamed to show myself in a thoroughly bad light.

Having a full time job is a really, really bad idea if you have no P.A. to go with it and, funnily enough, I don't.  I have the Shah and regular readers will now be snorting into their tea at the mental image of the Shah poised with pen and pad, brow furrowed in concentration and the tip of his tongue protruding from the side of his mouth, helpfully awaiting instructions as to how he can serve my every requirement.  Consequently, last Sunday, I came to the realisation that our teenage son was about to turn 19 and I had done not a damn thing about it.  No greater betrayal is there than a parent forgetting your birthday, so I was anxious to treat him properly, buy him suitable gifts and lavish him with (unwanted) attention.  Let's face it, the requirements of your average teenager are simple:-

  1. to be given a large and constant supply of money 
  2. to be left the fuck alone by their mum and dad


So far so unremarkable.  However...(and mothers of teenage girls will weep with solidarity at this point) IT IS APPROACHING PROM WEEKEND.  I have already written about 16year olds and the phenomenon that is a Prom here but going through it oneself is a whole new experience.

So - the teenage daughter and I venture into the nearest large town and spend the day shopping not only for her brother's birthday (she allotted approximately
 5 minutes to that part of the day) but also for Prom accoutrements - shoes, jewellery and so on.  First stop was the Superdry store.  (For the uninitiated, this is a teenage clothing emporium, dark and cave-like and populated by etiolated youths with over-long fringes and cricked necks caused by constantly flicking said fringes out of their dull, lifeless eyes).  NB I am primarily out to shop for the boy's birthday.  TD has inveigled herself onto the trip in the guise of my fashion consultant.  Unfortunately, her ability to pick clothes up and inspect them is severely limited by the need to be constantly texting - sorry, BBMing - on her Blackberry.  This has become the soundtrack to my life and if there is no incessant clicking going on near me, I think there is something wrong.  Like when your children were playing and it all went quiet and you just knew that one of them had dared the other to drink water out of the lavatory, or worse, the potty.  The phrase "wee-wee tea" haunts me still.

But back to the point.  I pick up a t-shirt at the front of the shop and hold it up for inspection.  We instantly agree on it!  The sun comes out!  Birds sing!  We venture further into the abyss and find a denim shirt that is also deemed suitable.  Huzzah! We queue up and pay and I try not to squeak when hearing the total price which is roughly equivalent to the GDP of Namibia.  We leave.  this is great - it's all going really well - we could be home by lunchtime.

Now make a whooshing noise and imagine yourself fast-forwarded by oh, approximately four footsore hours.  We are still in town.  We have bought nothing other than lunch and this only after Mademoiselle has inspected three eateries and rejected them all for not meeting her strict Vegetarian principles. *sigh*.

My get up and go has got up and gone long, long ago.  I just want to GO HOME.  But we have not yet found the right earrings and I know deep in my heart that, until we do, we will not be allowed to get within a hundred yards of the car and the road homewards.  So I think positive!  I engage fully in the earring choosing and we whittle it down to three possible pairs.  I think that any of the three would look absolutely fine and say so.  No,  this is not good enough.  She wants to know which are my favourites.  So I point out the pair I like marginally more than the others.  "I don't like those!" she says.  That's fine - no problem - in fact, it's a good thing - it means we only have two to choose from so it makes it easier to decide I say (still positive!).  then comes the killer line.

"So, which should I get?" she says

Oh no!  You don't get me like that.  I have been a parent for far too many years to be caught out that way.  Don't forget that I also work in a school, so I deal with teenage girls on a daily basis.  I am well-versed in their wiles.  I am not going to be responsible for the final decision - that would be far too easy.  It would mean that, on Prom night, when you have a crisis of confidence about your looks, it will all be "BECAUSE OF THE SHITTY EARRINGS THAT YOU MADE ME BUY!!!"  No siree.  No way José.

She pouts.  She whines.  She badgers.  She cajoles.  She shrieks.  I stand firm.  She snarls.  Eventually, I lose patience and hiss at her that I will wait outside the shop whilst she pays.  I stomp away.  Outside, I text the Shah.  This is what I wrote:-

I hit send and look away for an instant, distracted by a toddler chasing a pigeon.  I glance back at my phone.  In a heart-stopping moment, I realise that I have just sent my text to a member of the Senior Management Team at work.

At 4o'clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the good burghers of Kingston going about their shopping are unexpectedly treated to a red-faced woman standing outside Accessorize glaring at her mobile phone and shouting FUUUUUUUCCCKKKK!

PS.  Guess which earrings she eventually bought?  Yup - my faves - the ones she didn't like.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Flawless Logic

Sorry - I know this is a really lazy post but....the older you are and the longer you have been married, the funnier this is... (and I am indebted to my good friend Mrs H for supplying it!)

The wife and I were sitting around the breakfast table one lazy Sunday morning.
I said to her, "If I were to die suddenly, I want you to immediately sell all my stuff."
"Now why would you want me to do something like that?" she asked.
"I figure that you would eventually remarry and I don't want some other wanker using my stuff."

She looked at me and said: "What makes you think I'd marry another wanker?" 

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Anxiety Almanac

So there we were, en route to the West Midlands to visit the Shah’s parents.  We are going cross-country and quite enjoying the drive in a middle-aged sort of way.  That is if you can call the Shah bellowing at every other car on the road enjoyable.  His prize comment on this particular journey was “that’s the woman behind us in front.”  Don’t ask.   In order to take his mind off the inefficiencies of his fellow road users, I remarked (following the nth panicky phone call from his mother) that, if we could invent a pill to counter old-age anxiety, we’d be on to an absolute winner.  The Shah laughs a hollow laugh.  “Yes,” he opines “and we could call it the Geriatric Anxiety Healer or GAH! for short.”

At this point in my tale, I should issue a caveat – this is not a moan about the Shah’s parents – far from it.  Rather, it is an exposé of the vicissitudes of old age and it applies to everyone I know in their dealings with elderly relatives.

So me and the Shah fall to discussing (running a sweepstake on) the varieties of Anxiety (yes with a capital A) we will encounter when we get there.  Reader, I have to tell you that, whatever we imagined, the reality beat it into a cocked hat.

The Shah had already spoken to his parents, so they were expecting us.  It was his dad’s birthday and he had asked if I would make him a chicken curry as a birthday present (once again, don’t ask).   Mother-in-law (Mil) has never allowed a single piece of meat to pass her lips, so I think the poor old buffer was getting a bit desperate for some first class protein.  Consequently, the Shah and I spent most of the evening before cooking.  Chicken Curry (two types) Bombay Potato (a farm’s worth). The Shah also made a leaning tower of pizza – well not quite, but the Indian equivalent, a sort of spicy rotli.  We departed for Coventry well and truly laden with scran.  

So, even before we arrived there was anxiety about the food – would we bring it?  Would there be enough? Is there a famine in the West Midlands?  We also had  “Arrival Time Anxiety” which produced several stress phone calls demanding to know if we were dead on the motorway yet.  We were happy to assure them that we were not.  
On arrival, there was the Amount of Food Anxiety to deal with.  It transpired that neither father-in-law (Fil) nor Mil had actually believed that we would, or even could, fulfil their demands for curry, so they had made some themselves.  Oh goody!  Four people in the house and enough grub for 44.  Mil opens one of the plastic containers.  “What’s that?” she asks, pointing a finger at my delicious Coriander and Lemon chicken.  “Is it potato?”  “No,” I tell her.  “It’s chicken.”  Mil makes some rather too convincing vomiting noises.  Following a gargantuan feast (after which we are exhorted to eat a rich, creamy pudding flavoured with pistachio and cardamom in a true Mr Creosote moment to avert Starvation Anxiety), the Shah is despatched upstairs to sort out the satellite TV/computer link and I am led to the kitchen sink to do women’s work.  I start to rinse crockery and stack the dishwasher.  “Do you want to use the dishwasher or would you like to wash them yourself?” asks Mil kindly.  Although thrilled by her kind offer, I nobly decline.  This leads to a severe attack of Housework Anxiety  and Mil does not allow herself to be deflected so easily. TWICE MORE she asks me if I wouldn’t rather wash up by hand and twice more I demur.  Eventually, the Shah wanders in and I ask him for the Gujarati version of “Why buy a dog and bark yourself?” but apparently it wouldn’t translate well.  As fast as I am stacking the dishwasher, it is being re-stacked according to Mil’s strict rules and, of course, Dishwasher Anxiety.  The only problem is that neither she nor I have any idea what those rules are or what I have done wrong in the first place. 

A wafer-thin mint sahib?
Meanwhile the Shah, having failed to sort out his dad’s router, has been despatched to the garden to mow the lawn and do some weeding. Aha! Yes – now we have Titchmarsh Anxiety which means that Mil is frantic about the incipient ruination of her garden by a pair of weed-pulling wallies like us. The garden is not huge and is by no means weed-infested, but I still spend some pleasant time in the sunshine pulling up several miles of bindweed and the odd groundsel.  Mil follows us around yelling at the Shah to make sure to put the weeds in the bin.  Eventually the Shah tires of this nonsense and snaps back that he will be lobbing them over next door’s fence if she doesn't shut up.  

Finally, we are allowed to leave.  Mind you, not before we have Leftovers Anxiety to deal with.  Due to Mil’s prodigious cooking, there is a ton of food left.  We try to leave most of the chicken with them for Fil to have when he fancies.  We agree to take a little bit of it home for a quiet life and decant it back into one of our own Tupperware containers where it covers the bottom 2 inches.  This, for some reason, incenses Mil and she lectures the Shah in rapid-fire Gujarati about the necessity of filling it up (what with, FFS?)  The Shah responds in kind and Fil stands by laughing.  

The Shah mutters under his breath.  I think I hear the words “pain” and “arse” being mentioned....

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The last word on Gwyneth Paltrow

Okay - sorry to go on AGAIN but, in the wake of yesterday's post, I received an email from my old friend A who is an avid reader of the blog.  Her comment is so sane, I wish I had thought of it first.  She says:-

This tutor they want, chuck in a few more skills and what have you got? 

A parent. 

Silly cow should spend less time making cupcakes and honing her emaciated frame and more time learning Aristotle and Japanese then she might be able to give something to her kids other than cringe-making embarrassment.

Yet another person who has made me laugh out loud.  Okay - now that's it and I promise to find someone/something more interesting to dribble on about soon.

Friday, 3 June 2011


Regular readers may be starting to feel that I have a Gwyneth Paltrow obsession.  Whilst it is true that I have written about her and her website Goop here , I cannot begin to tell you the number of times the Shah has locked me in a bare room and left me scrabbling at the door, whimpering the name of the great one over and over again whilst begging to be allowed out to continue blathering on about her and her charmed life.   In other words, dear reader, I have resisted far more than I have indulged.

Today, however, resistance is futile.  Gwyneth and her husband Chris Martin are all over the papers because they are apparently looking for a tutor for their son and daughter.  Yes, that most middle-class of affectations, the tutor.  In my experience, tutors are generally engaged by parents who are either in denial about the academic abilities of Rollo and Camilla or are trying to shift the fruit of their loins from the state education system into the independent sector and fear that they will not be able to compete with Hermione and Jasper who have the benefit of half a dozen years at St Haribo’s Prep under their costly House-colours-available-from-Harrods belts.  Now I have no idea where Mr & Mrs Martin have chosen to educate their progeny but I am damn sure that it is not Gasworks Community Infant School.  So why the need for a tutor?  Do they need a bit of a leg up with Maths?  Possibly a little work on their spelling? Nope.  The lucky person, sorry, polymath, who will be appointed will require the following attributes:-

Ability to teach Ancient Greek, Latin, French, and Japanese or Mandarin.  Able also to coach tennis and sailing, appreciate Art, Drama, Chess and understand (and presumably discuss at infant level) Philosophy.  Oh, and I almost missed out the need to be ‘youthful, sporty and easygoing’.  Phew.  I feel quite exhausted just writing that lot down.  True, the rewards will be great:-  free accommodation in a West London apartment, use of a car, travel with the family (a real “I’m with the band” moment), 9 weeks holiday and upwards of £60k a year for a few hours work during the week, but up to 7 hours a day at weekends.

This sort of job description raises not just a few memories for me but also a few questions.  Let’s deal with the questions first.
  1. Just where exactly do you think you are going to find someone "youthful" who has had the time to acquire that sort of expertise?
  2. If your children are already attending Mrs Hothouse's Educational Emporium why do you feel the need to fill up their few remaining hours of freedom with Latin, Japanese etc?   7 hours a day at weekends?  When do the poor little buggers get some downtime?  When do they get to veg out in front of CBeebies for an hour or two?
  3. Just generally, WTF?

The memories revolve around my own childhood experiences of having Au Pairs – nothing as grand as a tutor was ever thought necessary for me and my bro. I should explain that, at this point in a somewhat peripatetic childhood, our parents were running a pub in central London.  It was on the fringes of Soho and my dad (well ahead of his time) had the gastro-pub idea many years before anyone else.  They also encouraged a group of local Beatniks (great word and link included for younger readers...) to hang their artwork on the walls – for sale of course.  The living quarters were (from my young memory anyway) huge and covered several floors.  There was a gigantic kitchen and many bedrooms all of which were occupied by a frequently-changing group of family, friends and assorted hangers-on.  My dad was the eldest of 7 kids and his siblings were always around bringing their friends too.  Our maternal grandfather lived with us as did a random Sri Lankan guy called Raniel.  Various aunts and uncles came and went so it was no problem adding an Au Pair into the mix.

We had two Au Pairs in quick succession.  The first one was called Sheila.  I remember her quite well – she had long dark hair which she wore up in a sort of a beehive up-do.  She lived in and I desperately wanted to watch her do her hair one morning but she sadly explained that it couldn’t happen because she had to fix her ears on with wire and, if anyone watched, the whole operation would fail and her ears would fall off.   I thought she was impossibly glamorous.  She thought I was impossible.  She tried (and succeeded) to have as little as possible to do with us and didn’t last very long. 

The second Au Pair was French Evelyn.  She had caramel-coloured hair, an outrageous French accent and pouted a great deal.  She used to take me and my brother into the park next door to play in the playground.  And she used to leave us there, aged 6 and 2.  Quite apart from the wisdom of leaving a 6 year old in charge of a 2 year old whilst you swanned off round Soho, there was also the small question of Health & Safety.  Needless to say, this was non-existent.  There was a really high slide.  In order that you didn’t kill yourself by falling off the top of it, it had a man-made hillock built underneath it.  Unfortunately, the hillock was just a pile of earth and stones that had, over many years, set rock hard.  I can still see my brother rolling down it and landing with a thump at the bottom.  There was also a sandpit – well there was six inches of sand at the bottom of a 3 foot deep pit.  Unsurprisingly, my brother (he was a bit accident-prone as a child) managed to fall into this and crack his head open.  I had been primed by Evelyn not to let on that we were left alone and I was an obedient child so she got away with it for quite a while.  The end came when she was discovered by my (deeply religious) father in bed with a visitor and then it was rideaux for Evelyn.  After that, we were occasionally left in the charge of the cleaning lady, whose name escapes me now.  She was an elderly Irish lady who seemed to live in a permanent state of high anxiety.  We though it was hilarious fun to sneak up on her and screech so that the poor woman jumped out of her skin. The last straw eventually came for her the day my infant brother stuck a fork in her arse. She lifted as much loot as she could fit into the pockets of her apron and fled.

That was the end of a golden era of communal living.  My parents decided that they should have a change of lifestyle and pay more attention to their children before they died of neglect.  Can’t say the lack of Greek and Japanese did us any harm though.