Friday, 28 June 2013


Ten little things you probably know about men already -

  1. that saying to your male partner that you 'like the red one ... because it's red' is the surest route to suffering patronising ridicule when purchasing a car
  2. that trying to give directions to a man when you are unable to quote the actual road numbers - never mind the fact that you accurately state 'third turning on the left after the postbox opposite the Fighting Hens pub' - will result in the same ridicule as in 1. above
  3. that filling the dishwasher is a man's job. Only he will maximise the mug-space-potential. It may take him several minutes of tutting and sighing noisily but he will fit every last mug on the worktop into the dishwasher if it's the last thing he does. It usually is the last thing. As he struggles manfully on, long after everyone else has gone to bed.
  4. that men think women incapable of packing a car boot with the luggage, prams, cycle helmets, dozens of soft toys and picnic boxes required for a family holiday. And tut and repack the rattling chaos should a woman attempt the task first. Most women don't bother and make themselves busy doing something else - a nice relaxing cup of tea before departure time ... it's going to take him at least half an hour of frantic squashing of bags to maximise the view in the rear- view mirror.
  5. that men hate soft toys. They don't see the point of them. They only see their space-filling- capacity which gets in the way of the fine detail of car packing - too many soft toys threatens visibility. They fail to understand that a child does not want her rabbit squashed between the suitcase and the bike carrier to prevent chafing of metal on plastic.They wish that soft toys were left at home and dictate that 'only one' should ever be taken on holiday.They fail to notice the distress this decree causes - 'Who will look after the lonely ones abandoned at home?'.
  6. that the school run is something that men should never do. Okay, perhaps taking to school in the morning is fine; good for their ego - suited, serious guy, loads of bright morning-eyed yummy mummies - and finite: take kid to school, drop kid, get on with the day. Collecting the dirty, tired, grumpy and starving monster at the end of the school day is best left to mum. Mum doesn't mind if her car is permanently full of crumbs and wrappers. She can cope with tears. She has the patience for times tables and spellings, even when it takes weeks for '7x8' and the spelling of 'because' to sink in. She can clean and feed and make the child presentable for dad's homecoming.
  7. that men obsess about the mpg of their cars. Of their friends' cars. Of any car. And particularly about the dip in mpg when their wife or girlfriend borrows their car.
  8. that a man without food in his belly is like a bear with a very sore head. That food plus wine is better that any sleeping tablet. And that the washing up can always wait until the morning because by the time he gets up it will have been done.
  9. that a man can recall the number plates of all his cars. And quite possibly of all his parents' cars too. 
  10. that men hate dog hairs. They variously love, tolerate or detest dogs but they forget that dogs moult. They see dog hairs everywhere. And they're not wrong - there are indeed dog hairs in rooms that are out-of-bounds to the dogs. But the rest of us don't notice. Men notice everything, from straying dog hairs to the dying broccoli lurking in the fridge that you purchased, failed to use and had forgotten was there. They also notice rattles - in the car, on the radio, when the vacuum cleaner runs. Rattles are definitely a man-thing. And have to rank near the top of the 'Things that are most-annoying-to-men' league tables.
More on men another day ...

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

On hating Monday now that it's Tuesday.

On Friday, I caught myself thinking “I really don’t want Monday to come.”

Shortly followed by “If I think like that I’ll spoil the next two days.”

Spoiling in this context refers to walking around in a dream, refusing to make decisions about anything, forgetting the location of the car keys, putting off doing jobs, allowing the washing to grow into piles that would require a troop of sherpas and several laundry-basket-carrying pack-horses to transport down one flight of stairs, failing again to find my green fingers and plant up my pots, not submitting (of course!) and procrastinating into the wee small sleepless hours. Why?

Does working somewhere new do this to everyone? Or does it just happen to me? It’s not the foreign place, nor the clientele but the threat of an alien computer system. Which has a logging-in and password set up that never works at the first attempt. A practice with its own way of doing things; that files letters in irretrievable places and where equipment resides in unlabelled drawers, or cupboards half way down a distant corridor, or with someone in Room 6.  All of which conspires to build my flair for stifling incompetence, renders me dysphasic and feeds a caffeine craving that only exacerbates my already nervous tremor. This is how I feel inside. The expression 'polar opposites' springs to mind (one frequently abused by Littlest even when the subjects are not particularly different like cats and dogs, orange and yellow, peas and carrots) since I must appear completely different outside - evidenced by the fact that I have been asked back! Aaargh!

Acting calm is the key. And don't succumb to panic. 

I have tricks to “stay calm” – concentrate hard on the landmarks during the journey to work and think, think, think about the journey home – it will happen no matter what; breathe; send texts to the outside world and hope that someone replies; have that promised coffee; breathe; make a list of all the things I didn’t do over the weekend and will do tomorrow – imagine doing them and feel good about it while indulging in a patting-self-on-the-back moment; and ... write in whatever breaks arise, such as now (half an hour for lunch). And resolve to post later. Or on Tuesday.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Of fairy cakes, scabby gooseberries and rhubarb crumble

Why are fairy cakes so called? Littlest thinks it may have something to do with their pinkness and typical fairy-dust-like sprinkling of coloured sugar which is a fine theory when the cakes are pink and sprinkled, but fails when they are brown and decorated with chocolate shavings -

So are fairy-cakes cakes for fairies or inspired by fairies; cakes that may at any moment turn into frogs or sprout butterfly wings and fly (butterfly-cakes!); cakes that are tiny enough to be eaten by fairies, or ones that taste of fairy having been made from dessicated, ground-up fairies? Which reminds me - there's a dessicated mouse on a step down to the cellar. The light down there is dim and he is long-enough dead not to smell, so he has long gone unnoticed and is much trodden-on and flattened. I'm squeamish when it comes to the removal of deceased vermin. Four-legged-friend is not squeamish, but has never ventured down the steep, winding steps into the cellar. Something tempted him to try earlier today and his paw hovered over the top step, as he weighed up the wisdom of entering previously forbidden and damp-smelling territory, down stone steps that smelt of mouse and were more precipitous and narrow than any he had attempted before. Wisdom prevailed or was it my "NOOO!" Maybe, I could blame him for my forgetfulness - I retreated from the mouse, bottle of something cold and white in my hand, shut the door and didn't return later as I had intended, be-gloved, to remove the crushed creature. I'm certainly not about to do it now!

Vermin and other household nuisances aside, the garden is filling up with bunnies again - all the big rabbits have gone. Does this mean that the little ones are immune to myxematosis? Early morning, I watch the dogs watch the bunnies. Clearly bunnies are boring. Definitely not worthy of canine attention. Probably too fast to catch anyway and therefore rendered less interesting than grass, rabbit droppings and scabby gooseberries. I have a lot of scabbed or mildewed gooseberries - one entire bush is covered in floury white fruit, while at least two of the others have fruit caked in a brown crust that will rub off, but to do so requires a lot of effort and time; each berry has to be scrubbed with a nail brush. I love gooseberry jam and crumble, but there is a limit! The dogs however have discovered the perfect solution - eat them!

Gooseberry-scab and dog-slobber crumble anyone?

Thankfully the inclement weather appears to have been perfectly clement for rhubarb. Once the boys - son and his guest - had enjoyed throwing and slicing the rhubarb leaves off the stalks in mid air (try it - you need a very sharp knife and others to stand well back: surprisingly satisfying, good simple fun), the crumble was created -

From this

At the interim to this

And finally ... oops! Forgot a finally photo - basically golden brown, oozing with sticky bubbliness at the edges, served with vanilla custard or ice cream and ... gone!

Gluten-free Topping - GF plain flour, GF porridge oats, ground almonds, sugars - caster and demerara, cinnamon and butter - all tossed together and scattered on top of the fruit. Drizzle the dry uncooked fruit with orange juice before adding the crumble topping.

Perfect way to end a busy weekend.

Friday, 21 June 2013

When boys will be boys. And girls?

Boys are ... well? Just boys.

Show them a muddy puddle and they get into it; a bowl full of food and they ask for more; another boy and they preen and strut before launching themselves at each other; the whiff of a bird and they happily sniff around following her trail all day ... I am of course talking about boy dogs.

Some boys - the two legged sort - while having fewer disgusting habits than their canine friends (Bertie Baggins although handsome and loveable has some truly stomach-churning tastes in 'food' - I only deign to refer to it as food because he eats it. And yes - I am referring to poo), do display a tendency toward remarkable mind-temporarily-unhinged-from-body moments. For example, walking along the top of six foot walls; leaping into pools of water of uncertain depth; jumping out of windows - first-floor windows, okay it was onto an elevated grass bank, but what if he'd missed?; catching thrown grapes in their mouths; playing the hold-your-hand-in-a-candle-flame game where last one out wins (... a burnt hand?); pirouetting on top of post boxes; leapfrogging over street bollards which don't give way when you miss and land on top of them; standing near a cliff edge and falling off the cliff edge. And laughing at distraught female relatives when the cliff turns out to be only a very small cliff and has a step jutting out beneath it; piling up all the loo rolls to make a karate totem pole for Littlest to slice through (actually, this was fun and nothing did get broken); walking on frozen lochs ... I could go on, but without all this risk-taking behaviour that has mothers' hearts leaping into their mouths, we would have no Formula One, no rugby, no downhill skiing, no history of film special effects stunt-men, and no women brave enough to follow men into these dangerous but enormously enjoyable activities.

I think the problem here is that boys see what they want to do and do it and then think about what could have gone wrong. Girls on the other hand see all the things that could go wrong first and as a result don't do it or do it cautiously - which negates the thrill and removes all the fun. Or am I guilty of being a mum?  A mum who hopes her son has no aspirations to emulate Felix Baumgardner.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

On not growing up too fast

Imagine being asked by a colleague, "How old do you feel?"

I was. It was the end of a long morning. I wanted to get home. I was fairly fed up - all the reasons for not working were clamouring for space inside my head while being suppressed with fluctuating forcefulness by a timorous voice of reason that was reminding me that work means money and money means ... well, almost everything.

The colleague is someone I know reasonably well - well enough to ask to provide a reference for other jobs, not well enough to know the name of her husband, or where she had just been on holiday, or indeed why she might want to know if I was feeling as decrepit as I probably looked.

There appeared to be several ways of answering - from the self destructive "Not as old as you!" to the cowardly "Ooh, I don't know - older than yesterday." While the self-destructive option would have had the result of never working for her again, the voice of reason won and instead I said "Not as old as the person who looks back at me in the mirror." Which is true. Every day I glimpse this old, greying and when-did-I-ever-get-to-be-that-shape person. Lumpy, lined and frequently limping - if it's not sore feet, it's the hip. Or back. Or all four at once. I guess it's good that this apparition is shocking. And that I don't feel older than it. That would be terrible! Anyway, it clearly wasn't the answer my colleague had expected. She had been fishing - not for my opinion but for reflected questioning: clearly, she wanted to tell me just how old her morning had made her feel and how fast she felt her years were passing.

Time passes. We age. The past lengthens behind us and our futures grow shorter. I like the idea that time may not be linear, or constant. Physicists currently appear to like that idea too. But we will have to wait for the passing of conventional time in order to discover the real direction and plasticity of time. I digress - feeling old is a function of passing time and growing up is determined by how we change and adapt our lives over that time. Sometimes we perceive that time passes too quickly - perhaps this coincides with growing up too fast. Consider dogs - they have to cram a whole lifetime into just a few years. They grow up and age very fast.

Bertie Baggins has just turned one.

Before you ask, no - we did not celebrate his birthday. He's a dog. Dogs don't need cakes and parcels and songs. It seems no time at all since he was a puppy - an accident-prone, sharp-toothed, yellow baby of endless energy and a single-minded intent to bother his big, black uncle. A particular bother to his uncle's soft chewy ears.

He has grown up. At one, he is calm. Attentive without being a nuisance. And a good companion. To all except out dog-despising postman. Four-legged-friend who has just turned four has become the elderly statesman of the pair. But he lapses into frantic catch-me-if-you-can chases, usually early in the morning, often when he senses that food might come between him and Bertie Baggins and when he hears the postman's van arrive at the gate. We enjoyed them as puppies, but we continue to enjoy their growing older together.

Children grow up too. Some faster than others. Littlest grows slowly. And endearingly ... but then, I am biased.

She is naive and credulous believing only this evening (until we disillusioned her) that in a few weeks time we will be visiting a tower built entirely of pizza boxes that someone knocked about a bit so that it grew crooked and 'leans'. It's even in a place with a name very like that of her favourite supper.
She thinks she's won a sports match when in fact her team - christened the "Dream team" by her sports teacher - has been trounced.
And when asked if she knew how the rest of her class had done in their recent exams she replied "Why on earth would I be interested in what anyone else got?"

Sadly we live in a competitive world. Sadly children of necessity will become aware of this. It is part of growing up. But it doesn't have to happen too fast. Better a slowly creeping tide of competitive awareness than a tsunami of competition thrust upon them.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Weeds, weeds, rabbits and weeds

It's that time of year when a time-poor gardener wishes that the plants would grow at least half as fast as the grass and the weeds. And Bertie Baggins wonders what a bucket is doing in a wheel-barrow ... two reasons - one is to avoid dangling chains of poo strung together with indigestible lengths of weed that perplex a pup who can't quite reach to tug them out and the other is that the weeder handle has been chewed enough times already.

Four-legged-friend meanwhile decides to be helpful and starts pulling out the daffodil leaves ... which isn't actually helpful because they had been left to go brown because we want the daffodils to flower again next year. But Four-legged-friend is not aware of the need for photosynthesis and putting strength back into the bulb and it's a good game and he's only copying what I'm doing. Nobody told him that daffodils aren't weeds. Or that what he is pulling at is a daffodil. Or what a weed is.

While Four-legged-friend attempts his version of garden destruction, I reflect that all the gardeners I know have complained about the weather this winter-past and the devastation it has wreaked on their gardens. The frosts were a step too far for the hedge that once enclosed an end of the vegetable patch and has been suffering from rosemary bush die-back - tomorrow it will have to go ... whether 'tomorrow' is tomorrow or another day's tomorrow depends on how the Geography GCSE revision goes - exam on Tuesday, daughter needing help. Tomorrow.

Sadly there is more death and decay and general demonstration of my brand of garden-after-all-the-other-jobs-have-been-done gardening -

deceased honeysuckle RIP (Replace It Pronto ... but probably not very 'pronto') 

we've-been-sitting-here-all-week tomatoes and geraniums and might die of thirst soon

just-how-big-do-you-want-me-to-grow-before-you-notice-and-chop-me-down rhubarb flowers

the strawberry patch that once upon a time was a strawberry patch before the rabbits found it and decided that strawberry plants are good for breakfast

and the return of my these scaly little critters on the grape-vine ... which are apparently a sign of neglect - oops!

'Tomorrow' could be busy!

After an exhausting day of lying in the sun - guarding the wheel barrow and watching me achieving much less than I had planned in the garden while constructing a to-do list in my head that is so long that things will be forgotten ... which will have the advantage of making the list more manageable, but will then be remembered and have to be done at a later tomorrow -

Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins curled up together - in the big crate; the only crate that still has a bit of carpet ...