Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Shit shit shit shitty shit shit

So there I was trundling towards 2009 with my biggest problem being that I now weigh 4kgs more than the weight that I begrudgingly accept as ok. I had stocked up on linseed, all bran and any other number of fart inducing, weight loss encouraging foods to be consumed with vigour come 1 Jan. Obviously there's still tomorrow to enjoy a final binge eat. I've even started jogging - yes, that's actual jogging - in a bid to fit back into my clothes.

I would ordinarily just rush out and buy some new clothes that fit. However, along came the big problem facing me in 2009. I don't know how this has happened. I feel like a complete and utter fool. And despite having had a large whiskey this evening, still don't think I am going to sleep at all well due to the worry of it.

You see, I run my own business. The part I like least is the financey bit. I'm rubbish at it. Rubbish. Capital R. Despite my being RUBBISH, I have always been very diligent about doing my invoices/expenses blah blah on time. And I thought I'd been good at putting money away for the tax fairies.

I also thought I was fairly aware of how much tax I'd have to pay come 31 Jan (let me spell that out for you - exactly one month's time). Apparently I wasn't. Apparently, I was living with my head shoved right up my arse admiring my colon. Apparently, I am a whopping great stupid twit.

I am too ashamed to say how much money I need to find in the space of 31 days. But suffice to say that we could re-thatch part of our house which desperately needs doing. I have no idea how I am going to get this money to pay the government so that they can squander it on something inane like a new flower bed for Rotherham City Centre to perk the locals up.

I am beyond angry with myself (and my accountant for not realising that I am a complete fool when it comes to all things financial and that he should have been sending me monthly warning letters saying: you REALLY ought to be putting more money aside to pay your tax bill).

I feel sick. I have a blinding headache. Had I known about this impending tax bill of horrific proportions, I would have cancelled Christmas. We would have had beans on toast. Possibly without the toast. I had booked myself in for some highlights and a fake tan tomorrow so that I could look lovely for our new year's eve pary. Both will now be cancelled. Am tempted to cancel the party only I've already bought the food. Sob. More money that could have gone to the tax man.

I hate the tax man. I hate having to be financially responsible and remember things like tax. I hate being a grown up. Full stop.

The only good thing about this - and one must try to find a silver lining in all things - is that I am now so poor that my new year dieting resolution will be easily achieved as I won't be able to afford food.

All charitable donations can be sent to homeofficemum@soontobehomeless.com


Friday, 26 December 2008

Fridge traffic

You may not know this but the contents of a fridge has a profound affect on a person's mood. A fridge stocked with lovely things = happy mood (unless you're trying to lose weight, in which case it has the opposite effect). A soulless, empty fridge with nothing more than a wrinkling cucumber and a hardening piece of cheese might in fact be a direct cause of depression (note: scientific results pending). At Christmas time, given the volume of fridge traffic, it can result in quite alarming mood swings.

I'm willing to share with you the secret diary I keep with my fridge to provide greater insight into the dynamics of a fridge/owner relationship:

Date: 20 Dec
Mood: Depression coupled with anxiety and high stress levels
Fridge contents: Scrag ends of scrag ends as the fridge owner is NOT doing a shop until the BIG Christmas shop is done. This is also psychologically the pre-Christmas famine in preparation for the forthcoming gluttony.

Date: 21 Dec
Mood: Upbeat, social, happy
Fridge contents: Party nibbles, olives, dips, champagne. Decided to have a last minute drinks party for neighbours so popped out for some yummy looking canapes. Still no regular food and the kids are now living on fish fingers out of the freezer.

Date: 22 Dec
Mood: Satisfaction, Expectant, relief, annoyance
Fridge contents: First all scrag ends, half jars and things beyond sell by date are removed and binned leaving a starkly empty and cavernous space. This is exceptionally satisfying. As the old goes out, in comes the new. The fridge is packed to the gills with a veritable bounty of food waiting expectantly to be turned into sumptuous Christmas dishes. The relief at shutting the door on the well stocked shelves is profound, knowing that the mad dash through pre-christmas supermarket hell is over for another year. Then realising that you're hungry but have nothing to eat for the next 3 days. Annoyance sets in as you realise you might have to make another trip to the supermarket after all.

Date: 23 Dec
Mood: Satisfaction and expectation
Fridge contents: Well stocked shelves only now with a few less ingredients and a few more prepared meals waiting in eager anticipation of the big day. The warm glow of domestic godessness pervades, despite still having nothing to actually eat anytime soon.

Date: 24 Dec
Mood: Excitement
Fridge contents: Many of the ingredients have now found their way into stock pots, pre-made casseroles, cranberry sauces and stuffings. This makes stacking and packing a far more precarious occupation but it's only a matter of hours before some of the goodies are actually consumed. Hooray. Finally we can eat AND make room in the fridge.

Date: 25 Dec - morning
Mood: Ecstasy (with an inkling of nervous trepidation)
Fridge contents: Drastically reduced fridge stock as breakfast is consumed and most of the Christmas lunch goodies make their way out. Although there is a rather alarming number of tupperware boxes containing leftovers from the Christmas Eve meal. We're not happy with this. This means even more leftovers to turn into a follow up meal.

Date: 25 Dec - evening
Mood: Depression
Fridge contents: Even more tupperware boxes. All the promise of the raw ingredients and all the excitement of the prepared meals, have been replaced with LEFTOVERS. Sigh. The only good thing is that we're making room in the cheese compartment as we're about to get stuck into a cheese platter.

Date: 26 Dec - am
Mood: Surly, depressed with a hint of hope and glimpses of satisfying finality.
Fridge contents: Even more not quite finished things, now with the addition of half eaten cheeses, which never look quite as inviting as whole cheeses. However, at least we have Boxing day to eat up all those leftovers. During the course of the day, there are moments of hope and satisfaction as certain leftovers are used up and the tupperware mountain is whittled down.

Date: 26 Dec - pm
Mood: Despair, resiliance
Fridge contents: Despite having eaten leftovers for breakfast, lunch and soon to be supper, there is still a worrying number of tupperware boxes loitering in the fridge. Left over leftovers. Mmmhmm. What's more, no-one can possibly manage another piece of turkey or stuffing. All everyone really wants is some light salad only you ran out of that days ago. You're not really too sure how to turn the now scruffy remains into something that looks appetising, but you refuse to dig into the freezer. It's make do and mend around here now. We will eat the sodding leftovers, we will, we will, we will.

Date: 27 Dec
Mood: resignation
Fridge contents: Half a bag of browning parsnips, a few carrots, several half eaten tubs of dip that have gone a bit runny and 'orrible, cranberry sauce (lots of), stuffing (lots of although it's now been reheated several times and might well not be edible anymore), a few pieces of dry turkey, the rind of a Brie, a wilted celery stick. It's time to go back to the shops.

Soon the 'out with the old, in with the new' will start again. This will continue until 1 Jan. At which point the entire fridge will be emptied and restocked with low fat everything and bags of air which we will live on in place of food.

It's a love/hate relationship I have with our fridge. The sheer volume of traffic over the last week has left me feeling like I've got a bad bout of pmt. I'm sure someone could write a thesis on this you know. Perhaps someone already has. Must explore further.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas (and happy gaviscon)

To be sung to the 12 days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love served to me:
12 chippolatas
11 roasted parsnips
10 buttered green beans
9 crunchy potatoes
8 spoons of red cabbage
7 slices of turkey
6 glasses of champers
5 sloshes of gravy
4 ladels of stuffing
3 bowls of pudding
2 splashes of brandy sauce
And a large bottle of gaviscon!

Merry Christmas to all. And may your trouser buttons be undone.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Twas almost the night before Christmas

I've had several billion things to blog about of late but no time to do it. Plus I've had my husband at home. This is a novelty. And it thwarts my ability to blog. I'm not sure why it does, it just does. But at this very moment he is downstairs wrapping my numerous, here's hoping exceptionally pricey, Christmas presents. So I am banished. I've retreated to my pc for a comforting blog.

You see the last few days have been a little frenetic. First we headed off to Lapland UK. This was the proper Lapland UK costing the same as a short holiday to France, not the dodgy one with stuffed reindeers and a couple of tatty caravans in the New Forest. No, our Lapland had real live reindeers, real live husky dogs and a real live Father Christmas who was so real that for a moment I forgot that I was a grown up and got all nervous and excited to meet him. The children got to wander in an amazing enchanted forest, they helped the elves make wooden rocking horses, the decorated (and ate) gingerbread men and they could have ice skated had they not been throwing tantrums about not being allowed to buy a piece of plastic tat from the gift shop.

It was all snowy and lovely. But the magic didn't seem to have the effect on the children that I'd hoped. I was pretty certain we'd be in eyes out on stalks territory. But they were very whatever-with-gallic-shrugs-type-of-thing about it all. They did brick themselves while they waited to meet Santa and in hindsight they were amazed that he knew their friends' names. But there was quite a lot of 'let's rush there and look at that, oh now I'm bored and would like to do something else, and yes this is all fabulous but I would have been just as happy eating a gingerbread man at home or buying a piece of plastic shite from Woolies.'

Am I getting old or are kids today getting more blasé about stuff? When I was a child (and yes I know that makes me sound about a bazillion years old) Father Christmas came down the river on a boat and gave us presents. It was the MOST EXCITING THING EVER!!! To this day I get excited by the prospect - just a shame I don't live closer to the river in question anymore. My children just didn't seem to have the same level of wet-your-pants-and-can't-possibly-sleep excitement about it.

They're not particularly spoiled. I buy their clothes second hand from eBay. They're limited to very few sweets and they get a reasonable selection of presents. Nothing OTT. Yet their attitude was very 'been there done that, if only there was a Wii Fit version of this Father Christmas world'.

Anyway, since then we've had drinks parties involving many drinks and quite sore heads the next day. And I braved Sainsbury's yesterday to do my GIGANTIC Christmas shop. Finding a parking spot took me 15 minutes alone. I had so much stuff in my trolley that I actually think I might have run some small children and OAPs over because trolleys don't come with mirrors. I couldn't fit all of my stuff on the conveyor belt at check out and the till guy had to call for reinforcements. They provided me with a second trolley, a helper packer and someone to push my second trolley to my car. I think you get this kind of service when you spend more than £300 in a single shop. So I qualified. Thank god for nectar points.

Then of course I had to embark on a bit of strategic fridge organisation when I got home to try and fit everything in.

And thus commenced the cookfest. I began gently yesterday with my cranberry sauce, while today I moved onto the lamb tagine, my stuffing, spiced nuts and red cabbage. Obviously the minute I started to cook I realised that I'd bought the wrong pomegranate juice so had venture forth into the evil world of pre-Christmas supermarkets once again. This time I thought I'd try Waitrose as I was only after one thing. I got there 15 minutes before it opened, not realising the time (your sense of time is skewed when you're woken at 5am by a child and start cooking by 6am).

The middle class masses were assembled outside the shop entrance, revving their trolleys, looking as though they were about to compete in the 'how much can you buy in 3 minutes' competition. The staff were actually trembling and quite pale just looking at us through the windows. It took the shine off the lovely warm glow of Christmas a bit, but I escaped in record time, stopped at the butcher, grabbed my excruciatingly expensive but exceptionally well cared for turkey and dashed home.

My day then vascillated between lovely and not. Lovely going outside to garden to pick some rosemary and coming back inside to warm, gingery smells. Not lovely trying to stop two small boys from killing each other. Lovely listening to Christmassy songs while pootling in the kitchen. Not lovely trying to stop two small boys from killing each other. You get the picture.

One revelation we have had the last two nights is the power of the torch. Our children are bored/excited/hyped up on the Quality Street tin and need exercise. But daylight is limited and parents are busy. So we've been arming our children with torches and telling them to search the garden at night for hedgehogs. Keeps them entertained for hours. Plus we've managed two 'midnight' (i.e. 6pm) walks in the dark across the muddy fields with torches. Again, splendid adventure for small boys and a welcome relief for grown ups.

All the presents are wrapped. My cooking schedule is slap bang up to date. The house is tidy. Ish. Our guests arrive tomorrow. Christmas is nearly here and all I have to say is: Bring It On.

Going to go collapse now.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The unveiling of the menu

Could I have a drum roll please? I have at last finalised my menu for our Christmas festivities. Not only that, but I have it beautifully laid out in a spreadsheet with tables for the occasion, the menu, the recipe book the meal comes from, the ingredients that need to be bought for it and the date on which it needs to be prepared. I am officially a food geek.

So with much drum rolling, I would like to unveil my Christmas menu. If it sounds rubbish, lie and tell me it sounds marvellous. That way I won't have to go through the whole tedious process again. I must emphasise that this took a LOT of whittling down as I'd quite like to have made more. But I fear I will keel over from the effort of it all and we might be accused of gluttony.

Xmas drinks and nibbles with friends on Sunday:
Rosemary gin & tonics
Mulled Winter Pimms with apple juice

Cranberry and soy glazed cocktail sausages
Asparagus with parmesan dipping sauce

Xmas Eve - afternoon tea pre crib service at church:
Home made mince pies with brandy butter (bought although I've been told it's dead simple to make but it's a bridge too far), tea (in my shiny silver teapot)

Xmas Eve
Vodka Metropolitans
Spiced nuts (made by my own fair hand)

Lamb & date tagine
Red onion and pomegranate salad
Festive Cous cous
Green salad with pine nuts
Cranberry, orange and almond pudding with custard

Xmas breakfast
Mango, blueberry, pomegrante salad with lime
Natural greek yogurt
Granola (sniff - I wanted to make this but it too would have ended up being like Operation Market Garden and the old Arnhem bridge)
Bread/pastry selection
Bloody Mary’s

Xmas lunch
Champagne and nibbles (nibbles largely bought rather than made)

Turkey with lemon/sage butter
Super crunchy roast potatoes
Maple glazed parsnips
Lemony/sagey turkey gravy
Red cabbage with apple and pomegranate juice
Lemon and tarragon carrots
Green beans, baby leeks and asparagus with sesame seeds
Gingerbread stuffing
Boozy cranberry sauce

Apple and calvados pudding with cream

Xmas night
Cheese board washed down with gaviscon

Boxing day
Eggs and soldiers for breakfast

Lunch or supper depending on what we're doing:
Leftover turkey
Roast applewood smoked gammon
Dauphinois potatoes and parsnips with porcini mushrooms
Leftover red cabbage

On the 27th I'll probably have to go shopping again and start all over.

But for now, let the feasting begin!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

On the front line of Christmas meal planning

So I was going to go to bed and read my book but then realised that my husband had already gone to bed and put off the light, which means I'll need to sneak in stealthily and not put the light on and not read and not wake him. And that's just pants. So instead I'll tell you about my evening.

I have spent the ENTIRE evening planning our Christmas eating extravaganza. Normally this is something I love doing. This year it's been hard work. Mainly because I'm tired. The bags under my eyes keep getting in the way of my pencil as I scribble out menu ideas. But also because last year and the year before I felt I kinda outdid myself (if I don't mind saying so myself) so really I can only go downhill from here.

I rushed out and bought the Nigella Christmas book today - that's how sad I am. It's not that I want to learn how to voluptuously lick bread sauce off a spoon, I just need some inspiration. And I found it. But sadly, I didn't limit myself to Nigella. I've also called on Gary Rhodes, several different Olive magazines from Christmasses past, my Cocktails book and a second Nigella book, with Delia loitering in the background as a standby.

My Christmas meal planning goes as follows:

List the meals you need to provide for (plus the fillerey bits in between - these are the bits that ratchet up your grocery bill as you buy for every possible contingency but find you end up eating party favourite platters well into July)

Decide what you want for each of those meals. This is the hard part - just when I've decided on something like gingerbread muffins for breakfast on Christmas morning, I realise that I really want to make gingerbread stuffing for the turkey and can't possibly have a double gingerbread whammy. And so I have to start again.

This is not dissimilar to trying to find an outfit to go out in. You decide on the white blouse so pick a white bra for underneath and black jacket with matching black boots but then realise that the white blouse has a mark on it so need to go for the purple blouse instead but that requires a darker bra and a different jacket and therefore different boots not to mention a necklace. This is how my Christmas meals go. Just when I've decided on maple glazed parsnips, I realise that they clash badly with the honeyed beans and off we go again.

Once I'm just about bleeding from the eyeballs from the decision making - and have long since forced my husband off to the safe confines of his bed where he no longer has to hear me debating the merits of red cabbage with apple vs pear - I have my menu.

I then need to go through each recipe (which obviously I've made a note of which of the myriad of books it's come from) and determine what ingredients I need to buy. This isn't a simple exercise. I need to go and check the cupboards each time to make sure we don't already have star anise or whatever inane item I'll require for this one recipe and never again. I invariably end up buying another three bottles of cloves when we already have two and forget to buy butter - or something else essential.

Once I have my shopping list (this is the stage I got to by the end of my four hours), I have to split it into my Ocado shop being delivered on Friday as that was the only available sodding day left. Vs the things I need to buy next week and those are split into supermarket vs farmers market.

And then, I need to work out a timetable as to when I'll be cooking what. This requires miliary precision and I'd really like to call in my husband on this given he's ex-army and all that, but he can't understand any of this. He seems to think that nipping out to M&S on Christmas Eve and buying whatever's left on the shelves is cool. That said, his grand contribution to the entire evening's food debacle was, upon me asking whether we had enough gin and vodka in the house, to say: 'Yes, we need to buy more glasses. Ours are tatty.'

Exsqueeze me? You want me to add household durables to my list of perishable food items? Do not fuck with the Christmas shopping list dude.

I am hyped up. I can't possibly go to bed now, despite utter exhaustion. My head is too filled with spicy nuts and soy glazed chipplotas to sleep. Now I know why the Night Before Christmas poem talks of 'visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads'. It's not a nice dream they're having. It's a poor mother somewhere having a sodding food planning nightmare.

Right, am off to breathe deeply in a darkened corner.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Dancing mice and all things nice

Yesterday was the big day. The day of the school play: Abbaella. In case the title isn't clear enough, it was the story of Cinderella set to Abba music, a nursery take on the Mama Mia musical and film. Unfortunately Pierce Brosnan didn't star in our version but the singing was on a par.

Being the mother to a Reception year child, this was my first ever proper school play that I've attended as a parent (I qualify that because I have been to numerous school plays as a child including singing Japanese in the Mikado and having a bad scottish dancing part in Brigadoon). I do not count the pre-school nativity plays as they always consist of a flock of lost sheep bumping into each other and singing twinkle twinkle little star - which of course has its own very sweet appeal, but they're not quite a full on proper play.

Now Abbaella was most definitely a proper play. It lasted a full hour for a start. It was magnificent. It was so good I watched it twice. The matinee and evening shows.

During the matinee performance, our little mouse reverted to his former self and refused to participate. When all the rest of his classmates stood up and did a mouse line dance, he sat on the side and cried. I tried not to cry. He did sing valiantly throughout the show and even did the arm moves, which none of his friends did. At the very end - finale - to the poignant strains of 'Thank you for the music' he finally stood up and joined in. My heart melted. I weeped. A lot. I pretended not to. I coughed a lot and pretended that my cold had gotten a lot worse all of a sudden.

We had a good long chat in the afternoon about why he didn't want to join in. He explained: 'I've tried and I've tried but I just can't get it right.' Bless. So I said that it really wasn't important if he didn't get it right, it's important just to join in and have fun. It took some persuading (in the form of a gogo bribe) but he agreed reluctantly to have another go in the evening.

Off we went for our second performance of the day. This time daddy came too. And little brother. We didn't officially have a ticket for son 2 and I but we begged and pleaded our way in. Thank goodness we did.

Miracle of miracles, this time he got up and joined in the mouse line dance. He was right, despite his practicing he didn't get it right but that just made it even better. The beaming smile on his face lit up the entire room. He was even brave enough to join in the pumpkin hunt midway through and did a rousing performance once again to 'Thank you for the music'. And once again, I was like a pregnant woman watching Hallmark card ads. The tears just flowed. I was unstoppable.

The entire cast was excellent - just bad enough to be funny, but not so bad to be truely embarrassing. The enthusiasm was amazing and the soundtrack, well, what's not to like about a bit of Dancing Queen? I am so proud of them all and chuffed to bits that we've landed up with such a fab little local school.

But most of all it was the joy of seeing our little mouse (who has never in all of his almost five years of life joined in with anything) dancing his camp Abba dance moves up on stage. With a grin big enough for Britain and a veritable glow of pride beaming from his face, it was one of those moments that make all the nights of no sleep, poo wiping up, tantrum-tastic endlessness of parenting worthwhile.

To quote Mastercard:
Grey mouse outfit - £10
Two tickets to see the show - £3
Getting to see a small mouse belting out Thank You for the Music - Priceless

Slice of life

Three comments to provide a snapshot of my life:

Three year old son
Peering into the salad bowl. 'Please can I have...ummm....ummm...errr...a spaceship?' Me a little confused, wondering how we'd managed to get Apollo 13 in amongst the radishes, finally twigged. 'Oh, you mean rocket...'

Four year old son
'Mummy, where does God go if he needs a wee?'
'I have no idea. Where do you think he goes?'
'On a potty.'
So there you have it, even Godly beings need to go sometime.

Looking perplexedly at the bathroom scale which was shoved into the bin.
'Is this here because it doesn't work, or because it does?'
He then got a slap.

Monday, 15 December 2008

One day I will be a mother-in-law

I've previously blogged about the fact that I am a mother to boys. An article by Jemima Lewis in the Telegraph this weekend reminded me of this fact. Jemima has come to the realisation that she is becoming a mother-in-law and went on to quote three studies that show just how much daughters-in-law hate their mothers-in-law. She then goes on to explain why they are so hated - because it's always the women that are more emotionally involved in family life. It's far easier to hate someone involved in your life than someone who isn't.

There is so much worth commenting on here that I'm not to sure where to begin but I'm going to have a go:

My future daughters-in-law
For a start, here's hoping that I actually have daughters-in-law rather than two permanent batchelors who still expect mummy to do their laundry (or indeed two gay sons but I'll take a sashaying son-in-law if he's willing to do girly shopping with me). I think the batchelor option is highly unlikely as I barely do my children's laundy now and they'd get pretty short thrift if they turned up at our front door age 30 with a bag full of dirty boxers. I am determined that my sons will be self-sufficient males. They will know how a washing machine, dishwasher and cooker work and will employ this knowledge readily. They are already undergoing intensive training with modules on:
- how to tidy up
- how to put your plate in the dishwasher and actually wash a dish
- how to cook (they're pretty good at baking - particularly the licking of the spoon - but they also know what you put in a bolognaise and stew)
- how to put the toilet seat down
- how to use a plate when eating crumbly things
- how to hoover and dust

I'm not saying the training is going brilliantly, but they're only 3 and 4 so we've got a few more years to get it right. The reason I am doing this is threefold.

A) I refuse to perpetuate the venus/mars cycle of life in which men assume magic fairies tidy the house and cook, or that meals come from small boxes in the Tesco ready meal aisle.

B) My cunning plan is to have my sons able to clean and cook by the age of 10 so that I can put my feet up and go into early retirment.

C) I want my future daughter-in-laws to like me and what's not to like if I've presented them with a perfectly trained husband?

You see - and I know I shouldn't set unrealistic expectations as therein lies future disappointment - but one day I'd like to have daughters-in-law who actually want to spend time with me. As Jemima points out, men have to cut the ties with their mothers in order to grow up. The only way to really get them back is via their wives. Which brings us swiftly onto point number 2.

Women - the protectors of family ties
Jemima hits the nail on the head when she says that women hold the extended family together. Years of feminism have helped train men into realising that they too are responsible for helping around the house. But there is something that still remains the almost exclusive female domain: the maintenance of relationships. Jemima describes it as follows: No sooner has a man hoisted his bride over the threshold than he hands over responsibility for the emotional upkeep of his clan.

This is so true that I actually yelped when I read it. It's why I have searched for, bought, paid for, and will wrap every single present for my husband's sister, her husband, son and my mother-in-law. Not to mention his two godchildren. I don't even mind doing this. It involves shopping. What I do mind is that he seems to find it exhausting to even look at what I've bought. As though having to look at and approve of the gifts I've spent hours sourcing is all a little tedious. I believe he'd find watching paint dry slightly more interesting.

Then there's Christmas cards, which again, I have blogged about previously. I'd like to conduct a poll to find out how many men write Christmas cards vs the women in their lives. I'd hazard a guess that 98% would be written by women and the remaining 2% would be written by freaks of nature. This is because men just don't care. Honestly. They couldn't give a shit if they never received a Christmas card or if Christmas cards were ever sent. Women, however, feel that it's important to retain the longstanding friendships. We judge our worth by the health of our personal relationships. This leads us to write cards to people we've never met, who our husbands used to go to uni with and who he hasn't seen since but who he mentioned in passing that we should invite to our wedding and as a result means we might want to stay in touch with.

It's also the reason I spent this morning jogging between our neighbours houses in bitterly cold wind delivering Christmas cards. It's important to me that we have good neighbourly relations. It makes me feel warm inside to know that my 90 year old neighbours will get a hand written note just in case nobody else sends them a card. Yet the sky would be filled with flying pigs and satan would be donning a fur coat before my husband even thought of doing this. It's not that he's a bad man. He's just a man. Ergo, cards do not enter his frame of reference much the same way tampons don't.

There are all the birthday cards, new baby cards, welcome to your new home cards, keeping an up-to-date address book, phone calls enquiring after health/how exams went/saying thank you for a great evening and other ongoing relationship maintenance which all falls into a woman's domain. And while we all accept this, the question is, why do we? It's just plain wrong. I can't believe that any man would genuinely like to lose touch with all of their friends and family. And that's exactly what would happen if women didn't do that relationship maintenance for them.

I guess I need to add a new module to our sons' training programme titled: Relationships - they're your job too. This might mean that one day our children will be the ones buying us Christmas presents because they want to, rather than delegating the job out. And even more importantly, if we end up with daughters-in-law who'd rather visit Wales in winter than come spend an afternoon with us, at least our sons will still pick up the phone and call us occasionally. Most important of all, perhaps our future daughters-in-law won't feel like their in-laws are a burden who they are begrudingly responsible for, but rather, that they're simply nice people that they'd like to spend time with.

Wishful thinking I'm sure. But it's worth a shot.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Life's little annoyances

It's Friday. This is something to be thankful for. It's been a fairly dire week or two. What with poorliness and things going missing. I'm still poorly and things are still missing. Notably the library book that mysteriously vanished in the night. And now a press list that I spent days pulling together has gone. Poof. Just like that. I am almost sure that I saved it as I went but now I think I might not have and it's gone. Gone I say. Days of work just disappeared into an e-vortex. Sob.

I've decided that there are certain things in life that have been put here just to annoy me. Small little daily irritations that will eventually cause me to blow a blood vessel in my brain and my obituary will read: killed by a stapler that wouldn't staple. Or similar.

Here are just some of the little annoyances that are slowly chipping away at my tenuous grip on sanity:

  • the handle on the kids' chest of drawers that comes off everytime I try to open it, which means in order to get the drawer open, I have to grip a screw with my fingers causing painful indentations that seem to be turning into permanent marks now
  • the aforementioned stapler (in fact collection of staplers) that just won't staple. It might be because the children believe staplers are in fact power tools and attempt DIY with cardboard boxes and plastic dinosaurs held together with staples.
  • my lip plumping gloss (blogged about here) which, due to its very weird uber sticky texture, all clings to the application wand so that when you try to put the lid back on, it all squishes out the top.
  • my computer. It makes snails and sloths look like hurried gad-abouts. I hate the way it constantly wants to update itself with the latest version of something or needs to run an automatic spyware scan, which invariably means it requires every ounce of computing power it has, leaving me counting the cobwebs in my study as I wait for a single email to open. I hate it so very much. But if I get a new one, I would have to start all over again getting things set up and the very thought simply sucks out my meagre will to live.
  • looking for missing things. A) it's annoying not finding what you want B) it's even more annoying when you start to look for things in ridiculous places like the inside of a marmite jar and actually believe you might find something
  • my husband's allergic reaction to dishwashers. I've mentioned before that we appear to have a magnetic forcefield around the dishwasher which repels men at a thousand paces. Dirty plates go IN the dishwasher, not ON the dishwasher dear. Incidentally, pesto lives IN the fridge. Not ON the counter.
  • the light in our bedroom that doesn't work, forcing us to use our little bedside lamps for illumination, which doesn't encourage good make up application and drives me to the brink of insanity every time I flick the switch and expect the light to work despite knowing full well that it doesn't.

I could go on but this blog post was not meant to be mumbling like a grumpy old mare. It was meant to be me celebrating the fact that it's Friday. My husband is at his office party tonight, leaving me in charge of the TV remote control which means hours of utter trash for my viewing pleasure. Last night he was left in charge of the remote control as I went out and he watched:

  • Band of Brothers (good series but he's watched it a million times and its about war)
  • Some history programme on ancient ruins
  • Old Top Gear
  • Football match/sports day highlights.

Collectively called: Boy Viewing.

In contrast, my Girl viewing will be:

  • The recorded 'Cheryl Cole factor'
  • A home improvement and/or cookery show
  • Something cringingly bad like ' Don't tell the bride' or 'Britain's missing top model'

Other reasons to be cheery: this weekend we get a Christmas tree. And there's only 3 more sleeps until the grand opening of Abbarella, which I am so excited about I can barely contain myself. Although I do think it's a bit unfair to charge us to come and watch our children perform their camp dance moves to the background strains of Waterloo. £1.50 a ticket. I'd have paid double though so I guess the PTA are fairly cunning.

And my weekend is starting early as my childminder rang to say she couldn't have son 2 this afternoon which is why I'm writing this while listening to the background strains of Peppa Pig's Big Balloon, Big Balloon song. So plenty to be cheerful about really. Must run, Peppa Pig has apparently run out.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Treasure hunts and Christmas inspiration

This afternoon I was on a very determined mission to find the black hole of missing things as the list of missing things has been mounting steadily. I've realised that there's a simple explanation as to why things are going missing: our house is a tip. So the boys were told that we were spending the afternoon having a treasure hunt so that we could find:

- my very expensive watch
- my missing slipper
- my library book
- son 1's school trousers. We're down to one pair. This is not good.
- the charger for the rechargeable camera batteries so that I can actually get some pictures of son 1 in his play next week. The batteries died which meant we failed to capture the our small wailing sheep clinging to his teacher's leg at today's pre-school nativity. Shame really.

Son 2 quickly lost interest in the treasure hunt and decided to run himself a bath instead. As you do when you're 3. He obviously needed a restorative soak in the tub after the stress of his woolly performance. However, while rummaging through the toys in the cupboard under the basin he said very nonchalantly: "here's your watch mummy" handing it to me, before choosing a mouldy submarine to play with.

Fabulous. Tick. Found the first and most important item on the list. So the fact that I asked, begged, pleaded with the boys to let me know if they had stashed my watch anywhere and them denying it emphatically, turns out they had decided my Longines needed to live with some wet, smelly toys. Good.

After that triumph, I set son 1 to work on taking all the shoes, handbags and clothes that have fallen off the hangers and onto the floor, out of the bottom of my cupboard. I asked him to look for my missing slipper and to rearrange the shoes into pairs. He found the slipper. And decided to make a long line of shoe pairs around the bedroom. Not quite what I had in mind, but my lost slipper was found. No more hopping on one foot in the morning. Two quick hits. I was feeling brilliant.

I then rummaged under a pile of clothes that needed to be ironed thinking the missing school trousers might be there and low and behold, the battery charger showed itself. Remarkable. Still no trousers though.

We then set about finding the book. Despite son 1 taking every single book off my study shelf and asking me 'if this is it?' (it never was), we couldn't find it. I shall have to write a novel called 'The mystery of the missing book in the night'.

Anyway, while all of this hunting was going on, I stumbled upon a black, leather bound book that I have used for the last few years to write out my menus for Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving and other big feasts. Not only have I written out my menus, I've also listed all the ingredients to be purchased in advance and those that need to be bought last minute. Apparently I have OCD and I didn't even know it.

Here's last year's menu for example:
Xmas eve: Salmon canapes (except for me as otherwise my head would have swollen up and exploded), hungarian goulash with braised rice, garlic bread, loose leaf salad and finely shredded red onion, pear cranberry crisp with vanilla bean ice cream.

Xmas morning: Eggs benedicts with salmon or canadian ham, bucks fizz

Xmas lunch: Nigella's super spiced turkey, all spice gravy, gingerbread stuffing, chippolatas in bacon, roast parsnips and potatoes, buttered carrots, green beans with toasted pine nuts, cranberry sauce with port and figs; Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.

While reading this, it occurred to me that Christmas is just 14 days away and I haven't given a minute's thought to this year's Christmas meals. About mid-November I did get my recipe books out and I bought a couple of magazines with Christmas menu ideas in them. And did nothing further. But since then, I've simply had a nagging feeling that I really ought to be doing something about it given that we're hosting people for Christmas eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day all the way through to New Year's Day.

For new year's eve we're holding a small party with a rat pack type theme, plenty of cocktails, Frank Sinatra tunes, and chi chi dresses. I don't have a party frock. I haven't thought about how to make the house pretty or what cocktails to serve (although obviously cosmopolitans will be in there) and I've got as far as saying that I'll make boeuf en croute. And that's that where my planning has started and stopped.

I don't know what's wrong with me this year. Exhaustion possibly? I just seem to be completely lacking in Christmas inspiration. Normally by now I'd be whipping up batches of gingerbread men for the tree and trays of mince pies just for shits and giggles. This year...nothing.

I'm going to have to do something about this otherwise I'll wake up on 24 December and instead of heading off to the farmer's market for my lovely free range pre-ordered turkey, I'll be heading off to Iceland for some turkey twizzlers and a Kerry Katona £5 party platter of nastiness. I must find some inspiration. I must, I must, I must. Just not sure where to find it. Perhaps it's loitering in the same place as my missing book.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

I am poorly

My coughing, sniffling, feeling a bit peaky former self of the last week has been replaced with shivering, sweating, sneezing, streaming, hacking, washed out souped up model of poorliness. I officially have man flu - without any of the lying arond doing nothing that goes with it. In fact I am so poorly that my husband actually noticed and made son 2's packed lunch today... without me even asking! This despite him still having a few last remaining strands of man flu himself. It's a Christmas miracle.

I am so poorly that I had to cancel a long awaited girls' night out last night. Sniff. And I had to cancel a business meeting today as I didn't think the client would appreciate my nose dripping into her latte.

But despite this poorliness, I've still not squirrelled myself away in my bed. Which is what I should do. I should be a man about this. I should simply say that I am too poorly to do another thing and assume that the world will continue to turn without my involvement. I mean it would, wouldn't it? The children wouldn't go to school or eat or have their bums wiped but the world would still keep on turning. It's a nice dream anyway.

I have to be better by tomorrow because son 2 is going to be a sheep in the pre-school nativity play. Apparently he's going to be singing Blah Blah Blap Bleep (which is his teenage-like scorn for the original Baa Baa Black Sheep). It could be a riveting show.

Meanwhile son 1 gets to be a mouse on Monday in Abbarella, his school Christmas play which combines the story of Cinderella with Abba songs. Being a massive Abba fan, I think this is fabulous, but it's getting a bit weird having our 4 year old poncing around with his hands of his swaying hips singing: Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight. I'm not too sure where the Christmas message fits in here. Perhaps Father Christmas is the man after midnight. Perhaps Mary's donkey is transformed by the fairy godmother into a pumpkin carriage. It's got all the makings of being a toe-tapper, that's for sure.

Anyway, I must go make another lemsip and get another roll of toilet paper to add to my snotty tissue mountain before writing a press release about washable menstrual pads. I know, the glamour of my life never ceases.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Man flu - could someone please invent a cure?

My husband is ill. He was travelling abroad last week, had a cold before he left, then returned with jet lag and immediately set off on his annual army lads get together weekend of too much alcohol. To be fair to him, he didn't look great before setting off and it wasn't one of those things he could blow off. He has returned from his weekend of merriment very, very poorly. I think he might actually, genuinely be ill this time. And it's not surprising. Curing of colds with several thousand gallons of lager isn't what the best GPs prescribe. But there you go.

Anyway, while he was off trying to drown his influenza bugs in neat spirits, I was left with the kids ... again...following a week of me being on my own with them while he was away. During the course of this week I've had long romantic interludes with the bog thanks to a delightful belly coupled with the constant nagging cloud of poorliness hovering over my head. But let's count the number of hours I spent swooning on the Chaise Longue of Death (or CLD as Katyboo calls it). Erm..uh...hmm...nope. Nada. Not one. Not because I am trying to impersonate Joan of Arc in my martyrdom. But because if I did lie down on the CLD, I'd have approximately 30 seconds before I had two small boys thinking I make a very good trampoline. And shortly after that I'd be getting snacks or wiping bottoms or trying to find grey clothes to turn son 1 into a mouse for the school play.

Like most mothers, being sick isn't an option. You just have to get on with it. This leads men to believe that we are never as poorly as they get when they're ill.

So here he is. At home. Off work. On the sofa. Sighing. Coughing. Sniffing. Sighing some more just in case you missed the first volley of sighs. Meanwhile, I've spent my day doing my usual charging about - making packed lunches, getting kids dressed and off to school, working like a demon all day, collecting children, playing with children, making supper, washing up after supper, doing laundry - all while feeling absolutely wretched, coughing and sniffing. There is nothing I'd like to do more than to crawl into bed, but I still have more work to do, kids to bath and get into bed, more laundry, more christmas cards to write and a teetering pile of ironing that needs seeing to. I might bin the last two come to think of it.

The problem with man flu is this: Whenever men get sick, they ALWAYS make out as though they're on death's door so when they really are sick, you don't quite believe them. It's the whole Peter and the Wolf malarkey isn't it? What's more, because as a woman, you NEVER get the benefit of being really sick or get to swan about on the CLD, you can't help but begrudge their ability to focus solely on their poorliness and nothing else. This results in one thing: Lack of Sympathy.

I have to dig deep, really deep to be sympathetic to my sick husband. And the poor man probably is really ill and in need of some sympathy. But I'm hard pressed to find even a sprinkling of compassion. Men need sympathy while lying on the CLD with man flu. If they don't get it, they sigh more and more loudly until you take notice and ask if they perhaps need something - like a slap around the head.

I sometimes wish I could become a sick man just once to know what it feels like. Perhaps men genuinely do get more sick than women. Perhaps they are less able to cope with pain, which is probably why women get to have the babies (men would get an epidural the minute they saw the little blue line appear on the pregnancy test). Perhaps it's their inability to multi-task that makes getting sick a sole occupation. Whatever it is, I would pay handsomely for someone to find a cure.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Happy thoughts

I've been memed by Katyboo and I must now come up with six frivolous things that make me happy. Given my mood today, this is going to be hard work. I could come up with a very long list of things that make me unhappy, grumpy, mardy, generally not very pleasant to be around, but that is not my challenge. I really should be doing this with a glass of wine. But that's a good starting point:

1) A glass of wine. Large, white, very chilled, Sancerre or similar if possible. This should ideally be drunk on a lovely terrace overlooking a gently lapping ocean with a beautiful sunset and a temperature still warm enough for a summer frock to feel just weighty enough. But I'll settle for having it on my sofa watching some trash on tv.

2) Knowing that I am two thirds of my way through my Christmas card list. There's light at the end of the tunnel man... (that last bit was actually said in a stoned hippy type impersonation. Not sure why really, it just was)

3) Having a son who actually joined in the Christmas carols service at his school last night. He sat still. He sang the words he knew. And when everyone applauded at the end of each song, his face lit up with pride as though it was entirely for him. Made me weep with joy.

4) Braised rice with peas and corn and gravy (ideally roast chicken gravy). This isn't ordinary food. This is comfort food.

5) Cupcakes. Making them. Icing them. Eating them. And very importantly, arranging them on a three tier cake stand. They need to be pink and girly.

6) An impromptu meet up with friends. So much better than something pre-arranged. It feels like a present you weren't expecting.

So those are my happy things. They've cheered me up a bit. Although I now want cupcakes and rice with peas, corn and gravy - none of which are readily available. But the wine is. So I'm off. Feel free to share your happy things with me. I need to hear them.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Why I'm not working

I am sooooooooooooooooo supposed to be working right now. Press list updating and accounts. Woohoo. Could my evening get any more exciting? No sirree. But instead of working, I have been watching this over and over:


Because I am very proud to say that it's all about our little local school which was featured on the BBC tonight. (Sadly, despite my PR profession, I had nothing to do with it thanks to me keeping my head well below the school governors', PTA's and anyone else with a slightly authoritarian role in the school's radar.) It's a piece on how the school dinners are so excellent that the local OAPs join the kids for lunch once a fortnight. I'm very glad that the meals are this good because it means I don't have to make packed lunches.

My son even features in it, briefly, eating with nice table manners (well done son, yes, it's all thanks to my excellent parenting - funny how it doesn't happen at home.) He's not the little boy who decides that the school dinners are actually not that nice because they keep serving 'sprockley' (which I think is Broccoli) - has me in tears each time I watch it.

I've also spent much of my evening looking at properties on the Isle of Wight. This is because friends of ours are probably going to be moving there. I'm not a kind friend who's viewing properties on their behalf. No, I am a shallow, never happy with my lot type of person, who also wants to live beside the seaside. So I just thought I'd take a look and see what type of properties we could afford, possibly with a little bit of water frontage, a mooring and the possibility of buying a yacht. (Obviously this is all incredibly hypothetical and completely unrealistic but I indulged in a bit of real estate porn.)

Sigh. I have a husband tied to the city of Londinium. And Heathrow. So really the Isle of Wight would be completely impractical. But it does have the sea and boats. Have I ever mentioned that I like boats?

You see I used to sail. I was forced into small dinghies called Optimists (so named in honour of the parents of the small children sailing the boats backwards). I spent many a weekend in howling gales, crying with a boom clashing and clanging above my head, my father yelling from the bank trying to make himself heard and me wishing I was a townie. I then progressed onto bigger boats and got reasonably proficient. I even won the odd medal or two. A friend and I did particularly well sailing together in our early teens as our joint weight didn't add up to that of one normal size adult so we literally flew across the water - cheating really.

But despite having spent most of my weekends as a teenager sitting alongside windless dams somewhere in South Africa, I've not been able to sail much since becoming a grown up. For a start, I had more important things to do like get drunk, study, find many boyfriends, then a husband, travel, career, kids - you know, stuff. None of which involved towing a boat around with me. But now, I feel it would be quite nice to have one. My boys are starting to approach the age that I can shove them in an Optimist while I shout from the bank with a loud hailer, them hating me, me thinking they're rubbish, that kind of thing. All good family fun.

And we could do all of this very, very easily if we had a property on the Isle of Wight with water frontage. Perhaps someone will spot my son in the school clip and think he's got super-model/good table manner etiquette guide potential and we can make a fortune out of him and all our problems will be solved.

Or not.

I'd better get back to work.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The joy of Christmas cards

It's December. I probably should have noticed this yesterday given it was my husband's birthday and the first day of the month, but I was so busy running to the loo in between trying to get my invoicing done that the significance eluded me. It's December. Already. How did that happen? Is it just me or are the years really speeding up? Has someone hit the fast forward switch?

I remember being a child and it taking A...G....E....S for Christmas to come around. The month of December felt like an eternity. So how is it that December now goes by so fast that I have to start planning for Christmas in January if I don't want to run out of time?

For the last few years I've thought: 'Wow, this year went fast'. But I don't ever recall a year having galloped by quite so determinedly as 2008. This year holds down my record for the World's Fastest Year Ever. I'm hoping it's a record that holds for some time as I can't face another year going by even faster. It makes me feel like I've just done several loops on a roller coaster. I'd like to sit down and steady myself for a while.

But there is no idling to be done as it, as I said, is December. Despite having completed most of my Christmas shopping I've not yet made a start on my Christmas cards. In fact, I'm toying with the idea of not doing them this year. I've bought them, donating my pounds to the British Heart Foundation charity shop, not because it's a cause close to my er, heart, but because they happened to have some cards and were en route to the car park. No I'm thinking of not doing them because here's what happens:

a) I send cards to people I see regularly. There's no need to send a long detailed letter and pictures catching up because they know what happens in my life. So the card becomes a short, sweet, not very eco friendly way of saying hi.

b) I send cards to people I haven't seen in ages normally because they live abroad but would like to stay in touch with. This ordinarily involves sending a long informative catch up letter inside the card. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I'm now friends with most of these people on Facebook who can therefore also access my blog and so who (if they were interested in the first place) would know exactly what was going on with our life anyway.

c) I send cards to people I feel obligated to send cards to but am not sure how we got onto the hamster wheel of sending cards to each other. Like our elderly neighbours (although the twit who wants my hedge cut down is definitely not getting one this year) and parents of our friends. These people are annoying to send to as I have to temper the rudeness of my cards and need to concentrate on writing neatly and remembering how to address them properly on the envelope. For what? Yes, yes, it's the niceties and all that yadayadayada and in the past I would have been first in the niceties conga line, but this year I feel decidedly nyeh about it. (nyeh being said with a gallic shoulder shrug picked up in Paris)

d) I send cards to people who we used to be friends with and had very good intentions of staying friends with and every year send Christmas cards to saying how we really ought to get together this year (and truly meaning it) but we NEVER EVER DO. I mean let's take the hint people. It's not going to happen is it? So what do I write in those cards: Merry Christmas. I hope 2009 is fab for you. We won't be seeing you and you won't be seeing us. Probably ever. But you know, let's stay in touch via a card once a year. Because. I'm not sure why. But let's. It helps keep postmen in shoes.

e) I send cards to people who fall into any of the above categories but who NEVER send me a card. Until now I've just thought that they were plain rude. I'd tutt and tsk about them and think evil thoughts and vow not to send a card again the next year. But then do anyway. And now I've realised that they've probably had this exact same card discussion with themselves - only they had it years ago and have long since given up on the whole thing.

So that's why I'm thinking about not sending cards this year. I know I will end up doing it. But I think I might be slightly more ruthless in my card sending and might well send some saying: Merry Christmas. This is the last Christmas card you will ever get from me unless we a) meet up b) I get one back from you c) you move abroad but are willing to invite me come and stay with you.

While I'm on this Christmas card rant (I always feel its important to keep ranting once you're on a roll because otherwise it can cause tremendous damage to your heart) I really get annoyed when I get a Christmas card that reads as follows:

Dear xxx

Merry Christmas (this is the printed bit in the card so not their writing)

Love from

I mean Come On. I know we've all lost the use of our hands due to excessive computer usage and therefore holding a pen is hard work, the cramp in your fingers reminiscent of those days when you had to write history exam essays. But honestly, send me a card like that and I'd like to return it saying: Don't bother.

Tips on how to write Christmas cards:
If it's a friend who you see regularly, then comment on something related to their life or how you're looking forward to seeing them soon. If it's someone you haven't seen for a while (or years as I've just pointed out) write some news or at least a message that takes slightly more effort than To X and Love from X. You see, the whole joy in Christmas cards is the pleasure at getting a non-bill related bit of post. It's the excitement of ripping open the envelope to see who's sending you some lovely Christmassy thoughts. But the To/From card variety is about as exciting as getting a bank statement. Only it's worse because a bank statement doesn't fill you with expectation first.

And one more Christmas card related rant. The sending of cards between pupils at pre-school and school. Do me a friggin favour. Unless they can write their own cards and read what the cards say, what the heck is the point??? So my sons each receive 15 or 20 cards in their in trays from their fellow pupils. Does that mean that they write the 15 to 20 replies? Does it hell. It means that I get to ensure permanent finger disability thanks to writing out a bunch more cards that literally say: To Jack, love from Josh. Why???? Surely the sole purpose of this activity is to kill more trees. The children aren't learning anything from it. The parents are simply trying to one up each other or feel duty bound to return the card. It's the first card initiator who should be shot at dawn.

If the children want to write their own cards, by all means, I'll hand them a stack. But until then, I am vetoing the writing of inane cards to pre-schoolers. If I am snubbed at the school gate, so be it.

Phew. I feel soooooooooooo much better for getting all that off my chest. Must go write some cards now.

Monday, 1 December 2008

To crepe or not to crepe

So I've returned from Paris. I'd like to say that I feel thoroughly refreshed and relaxed and thrilled to be back. But I can say none of those things. It's not that Paris wasn't good. It was. Very cold. Lots of walking. Lots of eating. Even more drinking. But good.

However, going out looking glam two nights in a row for someone who seldom gets the chance to wave a mascara wand near her face is hard work. Walking about 8 miles in artic winds, trying to keep warm and still look glamorous is also hard work. Trying to make yourself understood when the only French you know is limited to hello, good bye, please, thank you, coffee and the bill is another thing that falls into the hard work genre. Particularly when the people you're trying to talk to look at you as though you've just been scraped off someone's shoe.

So it's a good tired, but a tired person I am none the less. And joy of deep joys, it appears that I either ate a dodgy baguette or got coughed on by someone sporting a diarrhea bug but I've become best friends with the bog since my return. Nice. It certainly ends the weekend on a romantic note.

While away I missed my children. Not on the first night or even much of the first day. Or even the second night. But by day two I was starting to have a few pangs of maternal missing-ness. And it was lovely to see the boys on our return. For the first five minutes. Then I wanted to get back on the train and return to rude waiters and gastro-laced crepes.

You see small boys are very good at wearing out their cute quotient in a hurry. We presented them with a few French chocolates, which they guzzled and then declared them defunct as they hadn't magically taught them to speak French. After that it all went down hill. I think children save their extra specially delightful behaviour for their parents as the childminder says they were a dream all weekend. Tonight ended with me having to get son 1's teeth dislodged from son 2's leg because apparently son 2 was sitting on son 1 and the reason he was apparently doing that was because son 1 wouldn't let son 2 look at the book. And that was just one of many 'welcome home mummy' incidents.

My poor husband whose birthday it is today is having to buy a ready meal curry from Sainsbury's for his birthday dinner as I am not up to much more than a slice of bread. Which is awful as we have a fridge full of lovely French cheese and saucisson. Sigh.

So on that cheery note I'm going to go downstairs and attempt to eat something and see how long it takes before it re-emerges in the world.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Au revoir - I'm off to Paris

Speed blogging because in 1 hours time I need to be catching a train and I still have to get dressed, make a bed up, finish packing and drive to the station. That's because I'm off to Paris for a dirty weekend. Yes folks, first time in five years that my husband and I are actually going away for TWO WHOLE NIGHTS without the children. I'm not actually sure what we'll talk about come to think of it (but I guess dirty weekends aren't really about talking). We might go into shock having to spend 48 hours together without anyone asking us to peel the wax off their babybel or wipe their bum. But we're willing to risk it.

Of course my husband has had to pack himself a bag and head off to work, while I have had to call in the national guard for advice on the logistics of going away for two days leaving our children in someone else's care. Trying to coordinate who picks up which child where and where the rendezvous point will be and where to leave a key and what bags need packing and what meals need to be prepared - I am already in need of my first bottle of French bubbly and it's not even 9.30am.

What's more, the childminder will be staying at our house but this has meant an early morning spring clean to get the worst of the crunchy bits up off the floor and I actually made the kids beds today for the first time ever because I'd like her to think that I always do instead of being the slob I actually am. I've left the kids with strict instructions on how they need to help her out and to remember their manners and to not pee in their pants and to eat what they're given without saying it's disgusting. But they were busy trying to balance balloons on their heads at the time so I doubt too much of it went in. Good luck the childminder.

Anyway, I've decided that my weekend in Paris is not going to be a mammoth citywide dash trying to take in every site their is. It's going to be a leisurely stroll around with many stops for refreshments. My biggest challenge has been what to wear. I'll be doing lots of walking outside so I need comfy shoes and a warm coat. But this is Paris. I can't don my normal yeti attire and hope to not incur the wrath of the Parisian fashionistas so I've tried to come up with something that looks tres trendy and chic but still meets my practical requirements. I fear I'm going to fail on both fronts.

But who cares. I have two whole days without children. And did I mention I was going to Paris?

Kiss kiss

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Desert Island Discs

I have been invited by the lovely Katyboo to come up with my Desert Island Discs collection as per the BBC Radio 4 show which invites celebrities on to discuss what they'd take to a desert island. I'm allowed 8 pieces of music, one book (not the Bible or Shakespeare but that's cool because they wouldn't have been on my list anyway) and one luxury item (not to be used for escaping from the island).

I do wonder a bit about the logistics of this. I mean, is it a trick question? You take 8 tunes with you but unless you take your ipod, record player, walkman or gramphone as your luxury item, you might as well be humming the 8 tunes in your head. In which case, why limit yourself to 8?

But assuming they've got the technical bit covered - perhaps the tunes are piped out of a low hanging coconut - here are my choices (note: for your listening pleasure, I've linked each song to the YouTube video of it so you can have it playing in the background - it's all about ambience):

Track 1: Andrea Bocelli - Con te Partiro. Because it's beautiful and moves me to tears whenever I hear it. It would be perfect for watching gorgeous sunsets from my lonely island and weeping for home. Plus I walked down the aisle to it so it's got meaning for me. So that's my soppy choice.

Track 2: Walking on Sunshine - Katrina and the waves. Because my island would obviously be sunny. Probably hot. Probably too hot. But I would endeavour to remain upbeat and optimistic despite getting diarrhea from living solely on coconut milk and would celebrate the sunshine. Plus, you just can't help but get up and boogie when you hear that tune. So it's a good work out number too. And it's important to stay toned and trim as you never know when a boat of gorgeous naval officers might sail past.

Track 3: In your eyes - Peter Gabriel. Because it's a falling in love song that I can never hear too many times. It would probably inspire me to whittle coconut shells into the shape of hearts and then link them together as ethnic jewellery (again, useful for when the naval officers come by).

Track 4&5: Bohemian Rhapsody & We are the Champions - Queen. Because where else could you sing these two songs out loud at the very top of your voice using all the lung power you can muster, with a piece of driftwood as a microphone and a palm frond for a mock guitar without a shred of embarrassment? You know you want to do it now, don't you?

Track 6: Under Attack - ABBA. This isn't one of their well known songs. I could have selected any number of those, but this song has special meaning for me. As children, my sisters and I would spend hours, days, weeks, months practicing a dance routine to this song. Time well spent as I can remember exactly none of the dance moves. But with nothing but time on my hands, I could use the time on my island to reach into the dark spaces of my brain and recall each and every step or possibly make up some new ones. Not only that but I imagine myself wearing a camoflaguey type head band and a t-shirt of the same tatty fabric, tied in a knot just below my breasts which would be remarkably pert given their lack of bra and my diet of coconut milk would display my bronzed six pack. Honestly, I'd look bloody marvellous. And if that isn't enough, then just take a look at the first verse words to show you how appropriate it would be for when my paranoid delusions set in:

Don't know how to take it, don't know where to go
My resistance running low
And every day the hold is getting tighter and it troubles me so
(You know that I'm nobody's fool)
I'm nobody's fool and yet it's clear to me
I don't have a strategy
It's just like taking candy from a baby and I think I must be

Under attack, I'm being taken
About to crack, defences breaking
Won't somebody please have a heart
Come and rescue me now cos I'm falling apart

It's a toe tapper.

Track 7: Under African Skies - Paul Simon. Because it reminds me of home and makes me smile. Not to mention giving me a great chance to show off my infamous butt dancing.

Track 8: Lollipop - Mika. Because it is camptastic and I LOVE IT. Sad but true. But no-one else will be there so no tutting and telling me to act my age. So phhht. (I particularly like the brass marching band bit - I might even whittle a baton from palm tree bark and start marching and twirling. I'd definitely have a palm frond hula skirt to go with it.)

So that ends my musical interlude and I've worked up a sweat typing this as I've been bopping to all the tunes (thanks YouTube).

Onto my book. Tricky one. Honestly and this is terribly, terribly sad but if I could get away with 7 books it would be the Harry Potter collection. But as I'm limited to one, it would probably be 'Teach yourself French' so that on the off chance I ever got off the island (or indeed am rescued by some dashing French sailors) I could sound tres sexy.

And finally, my luxury item. Tricky - do I go practical or do I go pampering or do I take something to eat? Probably a diary (that comes with a pen attached so that it counts as one thing). I imagine the entries would go something like:

Day 55:
Woke up. It's sunny (again). I'm thirsty. And hungry. Coconut milk for breakfast then. Again. Feeling a bit down. Probably time for a bit of Katrina and the Waves.

Day 56:
It's sunny. (again). Didn't sleep due to sprained ankle. Must remember not to dance like a loon nearby long drop. Wish I'd brought soap as my luxury item.

Day 57:
It's sunny (again). Think I might try catch a fish today. Coconuts are just sooo yesterday. Sure I'm allergic to them but what the heck.

Day 58:
It's sunny (again). Turns out I really am allergic to fish. But the good news is that I used my pen to stab a hole in my throat so now I can breathe again. Hoorah. Time for some soul lifting Paul and Peter. Might whittle myself a new heart necklace too.

Day 60:
It's sunny (but there is a solitary cloud in the sky). Today I'm going to have noir de coco for breakfast. My french really is coming along nicely.

Day 61:
It's sunny. There's a surprise. Fab sunset last night though. Inspired choice to bring the ol' Bocelli with me. Just as shame all the weeping dehydrates me so badly.

Day 62:
It's sunny which means I need to have an early start before it gets too hot. It's time for a dress rehearsal for my Big Show. I'm opening with Abba, then doing a bit of butt dancing, some baton twirling, before closing with my two big Queen numbers. My audience is a coconut, my washed up log (I call him Bert), a turtle shell and three stones. I'm pretty nervous. Tough crowd. Wish me luck.

Day 63:
It's sunny. Who fucking cares. Not so much as a smattering of applause last night, much less the expected standing ovation. And after all my effort too. This place blows.

Day 64:
I think I see a ship. Ooh, looks like it's got French men on board. And they're all doing the YMCA. Am sure they'll love my Mika track. Must fly.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Tricky, very tricky

Obviously the God of All Things That Can Go Wrong has cast its eye upon me and is giving me a long hard stare. As I got out of my car this morning trying to hold a picture of lovely fragile autumn leaves stuck with copious amounts of glue to blue card made by my 3 year old, and a tray of 6 eggs I'd just collected, I somehow managed to have the car door jolt my arm. This resulted in the picture flying into the road and losing half its leaves and all six eggs leapt to their messy deaths upon the tar. Picture in tatters and eggs scrambled, I went inside, head in hands.

This incident followed a delightful visit to the doctor. For me. Yes, an actual doctor's appointment for something wrong with me, rather than one of my children. The doctor was suprised. He was even more surprised when I regaled him with my sad tale of woe (which I won't regale again as it definitely falls into the TMI category). But suffice to say that it resulted in me performing a swab with a giant ear bud from a place you really don't want a giant ear bud. I really can't go into graphic details, but let's just say that as I'll have to wait for the results before they can prescribe any treatment, it will have an impact on our lovely jaunt to Paris this weekend. Nuff said.

But neither smashed eggs or giant ear buds have been the major problem of the day. No, that honour falls to the fact that this morning the children discovered their Christmas presents. They hadn't been wrapped. They hauled them out and wanted to know who the Hotwheels cars were for and why I had a spiderman mini laptop thingie hidden away. I instructed them to put them back immediately and to never ever go into that cupboard again. That of course is an open invitation for them to do exactly that. So I now need to find a new present hiding place. I wanted to say that there was a monster with large fangs living in the cupboard and that if they opened it, it would jump out and eat them. But I figured that was just opening myself up for numerous broken nights as they shrieked from night terrors.

They persisted and wanted to know who they were for. I said I was looking after them for someone. 'WHO?' they demanded. 'Someone you don't know,' I said before frogmarching them out of the room.

Where do I go from here? They didn't see all of the pressies luckily so those can come from Father Christmas and I guess the ones they saw will have to be from mummy and daddy. But I just don't know how much they saw. I'd like to believe that they will have forgotten all about it come Christmas day. But my almost 5 year old has a memory like a crotchety elephant and there's no way he won't notice that the same toys I was keeping for someone happened to end up under their Christmas tree.

I have a sneaking suspicion that parenting is about to get harder. You can't fool them anymore. They are becoming cunning - like foxes. It sucks.

Bermuda triangle: the mystery of the missing things

I believe that the Bermuda Triangle has relocated itself from the Atlantic Ocean to our house right here in West Berkshire. It's downsized from making ships and airplanes disappear to more mundane household items vanish in the night.

Two weeks ago on the Sunday evening I read my library book in bed. By the time I got into bed on Monday, the book was gone. There might be a rational explanation. Our cleaner came that day and she might have put it somewhere. Unfortunately, she's gone back home to Romania for a couple of weeks so I can't ask her. I seriously doubt that she took it with her because she can't really speak English so an 800-odd page book might be a bridge too far. Then I thought that perhaps my husband had hidden it. It was a feminist book - the Woman's Room by Marilyn French - and he thought it was making me 'uppity'. He certainly noticed fewer cooked meals waiting for him when he got home since I started reading it. But he swears blind he hasn't touched it.

Next up are the kids. They are very, very good at squirrelling things away, never to be found again. Like the mystery of the missing toothbrush which I eventually found squeezed in between a cupboard door and full length mirror attached to the door. But they assure me that they haven't touched it. And even the promise of a chocolatey reward for anyone who could find it didn't bear fruit. I have turned this house upside down. I have looked in completely improbable places like the freezer, in the loos, rummaged through the bins, all to no avail. It has gone. The mystery of the missing book in the night.

Next my watch vanished. I always take it off when bathing the boys because bathing small boys is a wet experience. I put it where I always put in in the bathroom. But it's gone. Again, rewards have been promised to watch finders. I've been through every cupboard, shelf and squirrelling hole in the house. Nada.

Then with a heavy heart, I decided to return to the library to explain about the missing book and return the other now very overdue books. I looked in my wallet for the library cards. And whaddaya know. The library cards were gone too. Not one, not two, but three library cards. Once again, I uprooted the house keeping my eyes peeled for the library book, the watch and the library cards. And still I came up empty handed.

This morning I have woken to find only one slipper. I have a very cold left foot. I have to hope that the missing slipper is simply lying under a pile of dirty clothes somewhere and that it hasn't been taken to the Portal of Missing Things, where no doubt my watch, book, library cards and several thousand single socks are roaming.

I feel as though my life has become a Famous Five mystery and any minute now George, Anne, Dick, Julian and Timmy the dog will come bounding out through a gorse bush clutching my missing things and handing out rounds of sandwiches washed down with lashings of ginger beer. Until then, I have nothing to read, no way of taking out new books, can't tell the time and must hop around on one foot. I'd appreciate it if the Bermuda Triangle could bugger off back to where it came from and return my things.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

In which I practice pouting

I don't know about you but I am so incredibly bored of the whole credit crunch doom and gloom. Personally I hold the media responsible. If they didn't tell everyone that there was financial disaster in the banking sector, the average man in the street wouldn't know and would carry on spending away. This would mean that businesses would remain profitable and people would stay in jobs. I think if we all collectively stick our heads in the sand or our fingers in our ears, we could achieve the exact thing the Chancellor tried to do yesterday by lowering the VAT rate. Only without the higher tax rates at the end of it. Vote HomeOfficeMum for Chancellor of the Exchequer!

But moving swiftly on to far more important subjects. Lip plumping gloss. Now I'm not really very good at being a girl. I do own eyelash curlers which gives me a foot in the door to the Girly Girls club, but that's just a throw back from when I lived in NYC and leaving the apartment without perfectly applied make up was a greater sin than not dressing up for Halloween. I don't follow the latest fashion or beauty trends. I'm not really sure I know what botox is. And achieving 'a natural dewy look' for me means getting out of bed and doing the school run without fully rubbing my moisturiser in.

So while looking for Christmas gift ideas recently I stumbled upon some Lip Plumping Gloss. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain I recalled a TV show where they tested these plumping products. Being the owner of a very thin pair of lips, a pucker pout is something I'd quite fancy having. Thin lips = hard, cold, bitchy. Plump lips = friendly, sexy, lovely. So I bought some of the Soap & Glory Sexy Mother Pucker lip plumping gloss.

With great excitement, I applied it. And watched. And waited. For a full minute nothing happened. Conned again, I thought. Then all of a sudden, it felt like I'd just munched my way through a bowl of prawns. (Being allergic to shellfish, I've had on rare occasions, the pleasure of feeling my lips and tongue and indeed face swell up.) My lips began to tingle. Initially it felt quite nice. Like the first tingles you get when you use a TENS machine during labour. But then it got stronger and more intense. My lips felt on fire. I was convinced the product was actually made out of squashed shrimp. I was about to rub it off when I looked in the mirror.

There before me stood my face with big lips. Not vast. Not Mick Jagger-esque. But certainly on the fuller side. Fabulous, I thought. No pain, no gain and all that.

And then I tried to talk. I no longer had control of my lips. They were a force unto themselves. It felt like I'd just left the dentist's chair after several anaethetising injections. I could feel drool start to dribble out the corner of my mouth. It wasn't pretty and effectively undid the good work that the big, pouty lips were supposed to achieve in the first place. Less sexy love goddess, more dribbling, blubbering mess. What's more, my lips were very, very sticky. I couldn't imagine kissing my husband for fear that we might never come unstuck (not that he really fancied getting a mouthful of drool anyway).

Not a triumphant success then. But I didn't give up. I have used it since and am finally mastering control of my lips so that I can now talk without spitting. I'm beginning to get used to the tingle (in fact regular lipstick is starting to feel fairly dull in comparison) and my husband might even want to kiss me again soon.

So there you have it boys and girls. A beginner's guide to fat lips. For allergy prone people on a credit crunch budget, simply rub whatever you're allergic to on your lips for the same effect.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

A day in which things get done. And a Christmas gripe


It's not quite 7.30am on a Sunday and here I am. Despite the early hour, I have already ticked off one thing from my 'list of things that never get done'. I have tidied out the tupperware cupboard. It was reaching for the kids' milk cups and having an avalanche of plastic land on my feet that I decided that the time had come. And so I now have lovely neat little rows of plastic bowls reunited at last with their long lost lids. The plates are stacked nicely. The cups all have their appropriate component parts (they all come with straws or sucky bits or something half-chewed and annoying.) I estimate that this little haven of perfection will last until 8am when the boys decide they want breakfast and go get their bowls, at which point it shall return to its previous shambolic state. I should take a photo of it just so that I can console myself on dark mornings.

I am also about to wrap up the last of the Christmas presents destined for foreign shores, before heading out on my morning march in the freezing cold air. I had hoped to be stomping through a fresh blanket of snow. Instead it looks like I'll be slipping on a paltry sprinkling of snow that's frozen over the ground. I've got two local mums who've agreed in principle to come marching with me. They might change their minds when I bang on their doors at 8.30am with a gust of icy cold air hitting their ankles. I managed to go for my stomp yesterday morning but it wasn't restful. I decided to trespass on private land again and quite quickly discovered two landrovers parked next to the woods. There's only one reason that people in landrovers would be up that early in the morning - shooting. Not even two minutes walk later a rather loud bang followed by many strident squawks from the woods next to me encouraged me to about turn lest they mistake me for a rather large blue raincoat clad pheasant.

I can feel in my bones that today is going to be one of those satisfying days in which I get a lot done. I like these kind of days. Yesterday was also a picture of efficiency in our household. I braved the madding crowds to buy the rest of my Christmas presents. Apparently Christmas is coming early this year because everyone and their aging relatives, noisy children and dogs were at the shops. It was the Christmas chaos but without any of the festive cheer. So people were just downright grumpy, barging their way through with heavily burdened trolleys, grabbing for things and pushing into queues (yes, even here in England there was queue jumping).

I managed to get most things but failed to find something for my husband, The World's Most Difficult Man To Buy For. I think that my gift to him should be for me to buy something for myself that will make me happy so that he gets to live with a less scowly wife. I fear he won't agree with my plan. I saw many, many things I would like. Most of them were shiny. But I think I might be getting more tupperware. Or new pots. Woohoo. I guess at least pots can be shiny if you hold them at a certain angle to the kitchen lights.

On the subject of Christmas, I have a gripe. (There's a surprise). I've been flicking through the gazillion women's magazines that I have lying around (care of my job, not my spare time or a desire to flagellate myself for not being the perfect fashionista according to said mags). All of the December issues - without fail - tell you how to glam up for the festive season. There are tips on how to do your makeup/hair in a nano-second while feeding children fish fingers. There are all sorts on tips on how to squeeze yourself into little black numbers and other articles on how to wear the same dress three different ways for all the various parties you'll be going to.

And that's my gripe. Am I just Norman No Mates who doesn't get invited to festive parties or is this whole mega party season just a fabrication of the deluded editors? Sure you could have an office party. At a push you could have two office parties - one for you and one for your partner. But I'm willing to bet that a good number of mums don't work and therefore have no office party. OR they work like I do and have an office party for one in which we toot a party blower, wear a pointy hat and don our pjs to settle in with a tub of ice cream to watch the X-factor. I'm also willing to bet that many companies don't invite partners to their Xmas parties (cost cutting in the credit crunch and all that). And even if you do get to go to a Christmas party, you'll be so busy trying to get the kids fed and into bed that your look will be far more 'au-natural-cum-pulled-through-a-bush-backwards' than glamour puss anyway.

The alternative I guess is to be reliant on friends to throw glamorous Christmas parties that you get invited to. We have quite a few friends. I know of no-one throwing a Christmas party. Well, except our elderly neighbours but given they're the ones who want us to cut our hedge down, I don't think we'll be making it onto the guest list this year. How disappointing. Everyone is too busy attending school nativity plays, pre-school parties, carol services and simply surviving to have time to throw Christmas parties even remotely approaching something glamorous.

By the same notion, who really has time to stencil their own tablecloths, create home-made Christmas decorations from pipecleaners and pine cones and snowy white pom pom garlands? I'm all for having festive decorations and a well laid table, but these magazines seem to suggest that we should have started our cottage industry of Christmas crafts last January. And the whole notion of getting dressed up for Christmas dinner. Seriously, do people really wear their Jimmy Choos and YSL frocks while shoving a turkey baster up the poor dead fowl's arse? I don't think so.

So prove me wrong. Tell me about your glamorous parties that you'll be practising your eye shadow application for. Send me pics of your home-made holly wreaths. Convince me of the merits of looking fabulous while slaving over a hot stove. Go on. Make me weep with jealousy.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Sick children have their merits

I have been an absentee blogger. That's because much like the sun in Britain, I've been weak and feeble. I was struck down by the myriad of germs that seem to be lurking in dark corners of our house, pouncing on victims as they unwittingly pass by. Not only have I been poorly, but son 2's poorliness which started on 3 November has continued unabated. This has meant having him at home all...the....time. Despite relying heavily on the babysitting powers of Cbeebies, it's still had an impact on the volume of work I can get through. So blogging got dropped in favour of earning a living, sneezing violently, mopping fevered brows and generally feeling sorry for myself.

But yesterday, he got prescribed antibiotics. Halleluja! I was convinced he had a urinary tract infection and so spent the afternoon crawling around after him trying to get him to pee into a cup, which I could then present to the doctor. He - for the first time in his three year long life - displayed excellent bladder control and refused to pee, despite me running taps and making pssspsspass noises. Despite having no pee sample, the doctor agreed that he'd been poorly long enough and whatever the cause, antibiotics would probably cure it.

It has. Thanks to the wonders of penicillin, the child is back to his normal trying self after a mere 4 spoonfuls. The lethargic, quiet, undemanding child has gone only to be replaced with a hooligan who bounces off the sofas and feeds his peas into his space rocket before sending the whole lot blasting into orbit and landing on the family room rug in a modern art mushy pea tribute.

Now it's supposedly bedtime. But instead of collapsing into a snotty heap in his bed, with me tenderly stroking his forehead and making maternal clucking noises, he is bounding about the place yelling 'I'M NOT TIRED!'. He's just called me into our bedroom (because he apparently can't sleep in the dark so must sleep in our room with the blackpool illuminations going on) saying he just needs me for a second. I refused this request several times but eventually - just to shut him up - went in.
'Yes?' I asked.
'Umm, mummy, umm, umm, umm,' he said.
'So actually there isn't anything in particular, is there?' said I.
'THERE IS, mummy, THERE IS!'
'Well what is it? Because it's bedtime and you should be sleeping,' I say rather fractiously.
'Umm, umm, giggle, umm, umm,' he says not very intelligently.
'Go to sleep. Don't make me come back in here,' I warn.

I turn to leave. He starts yelling. He follows me into the study. In the nano second he is there he pulls three books off the shelf leaving them in a messy pile on the floor before berating me with: 'I did have a real question. You were silly. You shouldn't have left.'
'Well what was your real question?'
'Umm, umm, umm...'
That's when he was frogmarched back to bed.

He's just returned and stood outside my study door yelling: 'I DID HAVE SOMEFINK ACTUALLY REALLY TO TELL YOU, I DID. COME HERE ATMEDIATELY!'
i said: 'So tell me.'
He said: 'I want to tell you in my bed.'
So I promised that I'd be there in two minutes (hoping that in two minutes he will have fallen asleep) but this kid has staying power. Who else is sick for the whole sodding month of November?

But this is why I haven't been blogging. Because I get one sentence in and I am summoned once more to the all powerful children gods who insist on their crusts being cut off, their sheets being straightened, their bums being wiped and their gogos being found.

My two minutes are up. I'm being called. Must go.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Going postal

The various Christmas presents that I've ordered online have started arriving. This is good for several reasons. First, I'm sure I come across as being awfully important/popular/lucky to be receiving so many exciting brown paper packages and stuffed envelopes. Although who I'm supposedly impressing I'm not sure unless I have neighbours with twitchy curtains (quite possible) and the postman himself, although he probably finds parcels dull given the volume he sees in any given day.

Actually, come to think of it, I wonder if postmen do get bored of parcels? Maybe they deliver a stack of bills and junk mail to house A with a heavy heart and then skip over to house B to deliver some brightly coloured handwritten letters and a package. Surely he must get more of a buzz out of the latter? And do you think postmen wonder what's inside them, coming up with make believe fantasies in their heads about who the letters are from? Possibly secret love trysts? Or long lost families being reunited? Or a mafia boss sending a chopped off finger to someone he doesn't particularly like? I would wonder these things if I was a postie. But then again, maybe that's just me.

Moving swiftly back to my original point about the joys of my internet purchases arriving. Secondly, I feel virtuous as I can start to tick off 'my list of things to buy', smug in the knowledge that I haven't had to battle through crowds of the great unwashed all coughing their November germs on me to get them. I did it all from the comfort of my sofa. And lastly, it makes me feel just a teensy tiny part excited about the fact that Christmas is coming. Particularly as my apple cider and calvados pudding arrived today. Not convinced it's going to last till December 25.

On the downside, shopping online has its problems. For example, the beautiful heart shaped fabric keyring with little buttons sewn all over it (which really is more lovely than it sounds) turns out to be a LOT smaller than what the picture led me to believe and is really not worth the £6 I paid for it. Then again, some very patient, long suffering fool, obviously sat there stitching the buttons on for hours (well it would have taken me hours and it would have looked like shit) so perhaps £6 for their efforts isn't too bad.

Then there's the condiment gift selection which arrived and looks ok, but just a bit, well, fake. I could have given away my home made chutney and jam but I undercooked the first and overcooked the second and although my family is forced to eat the stuff, I can't really foist it on other people. Except perhaps my neighbour who wants me to cut down our hedge. But the bought stuff just looks a little bit mass produced, particularly its ye olde worlde packaging that's supposed to make it look home-made. It doesn't.

Then there's the small issue of having to post much of this stuff out again to far flung family. That involves trying to find suitable packaging materials, a trip to the post office (home to the world's grumpiest post master), spending a month's housekeeping money on postage, a drama about why my children can't have sweets/magazines/crisps in the shop and having to restack all the greetings cards once my children have pulled them all out.

All of these things make me less excited by the volume of goodies arriving daily at my door. And it also serves to remind me that I have about two weeks to write and post my international Christmas cards. This involves finding the correct addresses too, so it's more onerous than it might appear at first glance. And it involves a trip into the post office again (to visit my favourite post master) because all the stamps required are different and he's such a cantankerous old fart that I will have to weigh each card despite them all being the exact same size and weight.

I'm beginning to suspect that Christmas is actually a cunning marketing ploy created by Royal Mail to boost annual revenues.

I must away to bath small beasts and to wrap small gifts thereafter.