It has been a while since I’ve gone all linkified on a Saturday. Maybe it’s the sunshine that’s made me go a little bit wild this weekend. Thank you to Butterfly World for the photo below. My son, however, clearly isn’t thanking anyone. Captions please! (And for more photos do head over to the lovely Mammasaurus’ blog for all the #SatCap entries ….)
It’s that ugly time of the year again when I look back at my blog and review the sheer scale on which I failed to adhere to any of my 2012 resolutions. 2012 was the year of ‘taking the trouble to’. The plan was to shift my sorry behind and get on and do the things that I might normally grumble about because they are too much trouble. My example was using the milk frother: I love frothy coffee but could rarely be bothered to use our machine as it was too much of a pain in the butt to clean. Well looky here! 2012 has been the year of the homemade frothy coffee. If I measure my success on that criterion alone then for once I may actually have kept my resolutions. The phrase ‘taking the trouble to’ did oft ring in my ears during 2012. Having a ‘mantra’ rather a set of rigid resolutions gave me the illusion of choice (rather than of denial) that I had hoped would help chivvy along my success.
So what of 2013? I recently had a conversation with someone who is splitting up with their wife after a decade of marriage. He told me that in 2013 he was going to have a ‘yes year’. Not very original of course but nonetheless an outlook that never fails to inspire people to do things they would normally reject. As a consequence he is already signed up to run a marathon and is contemplating changing his career after many years in the same job. And he’s not even into 2013 yet. Good man.
Now, people who know me may start to draw some parallels – running, many years in same job – but rest assured this is a real not a hypothetical ‘friend’ I’m talking about, it’s certainly not a cloaked reference to me. (Actually, anyone who does know me would know that it would take an awful lot more than the reward of personal satisfaction for me to run a marathon. Think diamonds and gold bars, then add some more.) However, he has inspired my new mantra for the coming year: 2013 – the year of considering saying ‘yes’, thinking about it for a bit then uttering the word ‘maybe’. It’s the year of the tentative ‘yes’ as opposed to the outright ‘no’.
That may all sound a bit wishy washy, lukewarm and (yes, I know you’re thinking it) pathetic. Believe me, it’s a step forward. It will give me time for a spot of gentle internal persuasion before I take any plunges I might regret. I’ve always thought that life is too short to be doing things you really don’t want to be doing so for me saying ‘yes’ to everything risks encountering situations that turn out to be as bloody awful as I expected them to be. As a half glass empty person, that risk far outweighs the benefit of discovering that, for example, against all my expectations, I have a natural talent for sky diving.
Whilst 2013 might not be the year in which I jump out of a plane or streak at a major sporting event, I will nonetheless be dipping my toe into waters where I wouldn’t normally dip them, hoping to feel the gentle nibble a garra rufa fish (pre their health scare status of course) rather than the jaws of a great white shark.
And if I do encounter any sharks? Will I venture back into the waters of the unknown and the potentially uncomfortable? Yes, well maybe. I’ll have a think about it at least.
Just when you thought Father Christmas was scary enough, along trots Zwarte Piet with a handful of sweeties. But what’s worse is that he tags along with Santa. Double trouble. Lock up your reindeer.
Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) is a familiar character in the Sinterklaas celebrations in early December in the Netherlands and Belgium. Tradition has it that Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) arrives on a boat from Spain (like Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas dreams of, he has clearly ended up in a sunny ex-pat community) bringing with him a mischievous Moorish companion, Zwarte Piet. Piet ably assists Sinterklaas in deciding who has been nice and who has been naughty and, dressed in his colourful pantaloon and feathered cap, he looks very much the clownish companion of his sharper suited and bearded boss.
Nothing wrong in that you might think. A long-standing tradition from the 19th century. Harmless fun. You might be feeling some warmth towards Zwarte Piet already, imagining him darning Santa’s socks after a long day’s sleigh ride (or boat ride in this case). Gently brushing the snow from Santa’s beard. Bringing him a brandy. Nothing there that could be remotely unsettling for an adult or child. Right? We like a bit of history, a bit of colour. Would you like to meet Piet in his full glory?
This is the Zwarte Piet that you will see striding through the streets of Holland in the run up to Christmas, handing out sweets to children. He is also a staple feature of the decorations adorning shops and streets, as ubiquitous as the Christmas robin or reindeer. My first reaction on seeing Zwarte Pieten in the flesh in Holland was “Seriously? They’re blacked-up? In afro wigs? You’re kidding, right?” Coming from the UK where the Black and White Minstrels were given short shrift some time ago and assigned to the pile of once embraced characters now branded ‘politically incorrect’, Zwarte Piet made my PC alarm ring louder than the herald angels sing. To the non-local eye, he is an anachronism from a time when being sensitive to racial background simply wasn’t a consideration.
Opinion about Zwarte Piet is divided, even in Holland, with those complaining that the tradition is racist often being accused of trying to spoil was is just a bit of historically rooted, seasonal fun. Political correctness aside (hard as it is), what is obvious is that Zwarte Piet has the potential to scare the Christmas cheer out of small children like a festive Papa Lazarou. Our host in Holland (the very lovely Bee and Barlie’s Books) has, as a resident, been subjected to Piet overload. She describes how her daughter was left traumatised after a troop of “beyond black … and very, very tall” Zwarte Pieten visited the local school – “She came out and just jumped pretty much up onto my chest. Last time I saw her like that was Halloween”. That sounds like great Christmas fun. Of course there are exceptions. My 4-year-old was more than happy to meet someone who so filled her hands with sweets that she had to steer her scooter using her wrists.
Zwarte Piet is an unsettling character on several levels and makes any jitters about a scary Santa pale in comparison (if you’ll pardon the pun). Both are in the tradition of the grotesque characters that pepper our folklore and history and show that there’s nothing we like more then to be a little bit scared, even at the merriest time of the year. So deck your halls and rest ye merry but remember to bolt the door and block the chimney.
My Kindle arrived yesterday. All I can say is that I was PPPing: Positively Peeing Pants. God help the postal system if the parcel had been delayed. It has taken a while for me to succumb to the future. Having worked in publishing for over 12 years, the so-called ‘death of print’ has always been a sensitive topic, but as I see more and more projects at work move from paper to pixels I’ve finally reconciled my guilt and gone all 21st century. I’ve got down with the kids. Not without a couple of flinches and shakes though, I might add.
The age of the ebook has been a very, very, very long time coming. I was forced into dabbling a few years back when my husband bought me a Sony Reader. I didn’t like it and to be honest I felt like a right ponce getting it out in public. (Bear in mind these were the days when mobile phone were still being used to make phone calls.) Year after year the ebook was going to be the Next Big Thing. No one would want books anymore. “Yawn, yawn” was my response, “I like my paper.” Yet lately when I’ve got a paperback out on the train I’ve felt like I might as well be wearing crinoline and lace collars.
It was a giant leap forward then when I ran up to bed last night to choose and download (*shudder*) a book – nay, an ebook. I had a spring in my step in the same way I do when I finish a book and plan my next trip to the bookshop (of a bricks and mortar design). And it was with even more anticipation that I settled myself on the train this morning knowing that I had my Kindle in my bag and it was full of goodies. Ironically, today the people sitting around me were all reading paperbacks, not a drop of electronic ink in sight. Flipping typical. Suddenly my £89 purchase felt like a vanity.
The pangs of guilt resurfaced. I felt jealous of their paper with its squashed flies, food stains and tatty edges. Worse than that I felt embarrassed. Not embarrassed of my shiny new gadget. Not embarrassed by the smug expression I’d probably had as I reached into my bag. No. Embarrassed because I thought everyone was thinking I was reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Being a woman of a certain age what else could I possibly be reading? In fact, when the book I was reading included a bit of saucy talk (literary saucy talk of course), the typesize seemed to quadruple and flash neon and I very nearly skipped the page in case the person next to me spotted it and jumped to the inevitable conclusion. Believe it or not, I’ve not bought a Kindle so that I can be titillated privately in a very public place. Or indeed titillated publicly in a very private place.
Now, where’s the vibrate option on the Kindle?
Call it what you will – intergluteal cleft, vertical gluteal crease, bicycle park, builder’s bum – we’ve all got one: a bum crack (or butt or ass crack, if you will). There isn’t a pleasant name for it. As a meeting point for the buttocks, it doesn’t have a specific purpose other than perhaps as a quasi pair of velvet curtains to drape the least pleasant exit point in our body. Such is the personal nature of the bum crack, we tend to keep them covered up. Even the skimpiest of thongs gives a nod to the sanctity of the bum crack.
Of course bum cracks do occasionally make a bid for freedom and unless the offending crack is hairy and sweaty this generally raises a giggle rather than disgust. I assumed this was a universal reaction. On a recent trip to the US, however, I was amazed to discover the existence of what I can only call the Crack Police. Upon arriving at one of the Disney parks, poor Mr C&P was taken aside by a security guard:
“Excuse me sir, but I … errr … thought I should … errr … let you know that you are showing your … errr …crack. You might want to … you know … just in case … you know.”
He was obviously embarrassed but clearly not embarrassed enough to stop him pulling someone aside and having a serious word. Is showing your bum crack down there in the Disney Rulebook alongside not taking Mickey’s name in vain and not mentioning Donald’s speech impediment? And “just in case” of what? The mind boggles.
An amusing one-off? Well, no. It seems there is something in the American psyche that finds bum cracks enormously troublesome. A few days after the above incident, Mr C&P was carrying our daughter on his shoulders when we heard quickening footsteps behind us. I turned to see an elderly lady signalling to us and I expected her to be clutching a dropped hat or toy. But, no, she was an undercover officer from the Crack Police:
“Your little girl is showing her bum crack. I wanted to tell you just in case people … you know …”
Just in case of what??! In case 1 cm of her crack ends up in a photo on a dodgy hard drive? Hell’s bells – some perspective please! Just as Mr C&P was made to feel like a wannabe flasher, I somehow felt a bad mother. My daughter should be wearing industrial trousers pulled up under her armpits and fastened with a padlock. I’d not packed these – I’d only packed skimpy summer stuff for the baking heat. Bad BAD mother.
Florida is one of the most conservative states in the US. Topless sunbathing is illegal so maybe showing an inch of crack is perceived to be the start of a slippery slope to whipping your boobs out in the local 7-Eleven. If anyone can shed any light on this ‘interesting cultural difference’ that would be cracking.
There are moments at Disney World when one half of a family will be left to ponder the Disney dream. You’ll find yourself sharing a seat on a wall with the claustrophobes, the adrenaline averse, those prone to motion sickness, the tired and the downright disillusioned. But you won’t class yourself alongside these people. No siree, you’re the regular, normally fun-lovin’ guy who has a child asleep, a child who doesn’t meet a ride’s height restrictions or who refuses to queue for an hour for a five minute spin in a giant teacup. Straws have been drawn to see which family member must sacrifice their turn. You drew the short straw and you alone must deal with whatever and whoever have been left in your care. Fear not for there is plenty to do while you wait. Here are my suggestions for games to fritter away the time, all of which can be played comfortably from a seated position whilst feeding your face with a Mickey ice cream:
Who is dressed most inappropriately for the hot weather? Top points go to thick tights and all-over nylon. Look out for the ‘fashion conscious’ as there are points aplenty to be scored here.
The worst tattoo award. There will be plenty to choose from. Remember, you’re at Disney and dolphins are popular (dare I say common?) so only score one point. Bonus points go to badly executed tattoos of babies and children.
Pin the tail on the couples about to kill each other. After a magical Disney day, which ones will be taking advantage of the $99 divorce you’ve seen advertised on the roadside?
Spot the child most likely to throw a tantrum of Cinderella’s Castle proportions when they don’t get to meet Rapunzel. Sometimes this one can be a little too close to home …
Spot the child wearing the most polyester. Because, yes, in the Magic Kingdom it is okay to dress your child as their favourite Disney character in 90 degree heat and not bring a change of clothes. Note that it’s not good gamesmanship to play this in a thunderstorm as the static generated makes the spot too easy.
Guess the combined weight of the family. The weight of any mobility scooters must not be included. Really, you’ll be spoilt for choice with this one.
As the name of one saccharine ride at the Magic Kingdom states “It’s a small world”, and at Disney World you’ll find a microcosm of the world’s good, bad and ugly. If you enjoy people watching then this is truly the place ‘Where Dreams Come True’.
If you’d like some super (and proper and practical!) advice on a trip to Disney World visit SAHMlovingit’s Beginner’s Guide to Orlando and Walt Disney World.
I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I always make the same ones and the only thing I succeed in is failing to keep them. Another year passes and I kick myself in the realisation that, had I kept them, I could now be rich and thin and dripping in bling. I could now be a much nicer person, bunnies hopping at my heels and bluebirds swooping in my perfumed wake. (Too much Snow White in the car over Christmas?)
So can I make this year different? Here’s the plan. This year resolutions are OUT and ‘taking the trouble to’ is IN. I am resolving (eek, that full-of-pressure and guilt-laden word) to enrich my life by taking the trouble to do things that my broad, lazy behind often thinks aren’t worth the time or effort. These can be small things (take the trouble to use the milk frother as even though I hate cleaning it I do love some froff on my coff) or large (take the trouble to devote five minutes a day to promoting world peace etc etc etc).
What I’m trying to do is make resolutions with no attached guilt. Consider it a little trickery of the mind. I’m tricking myself into believing my new year’s resolutions are all about choice and reward and not punishment and denial. (The hippy sex of resolution-making rather than S&M.) By ‘taking the trouble to’ I’m giving myself the chance to choose to be kind to myself and do something good. No shoulds, no self-flagellation, just a gentle nudging in the right direction. One direction is fine but choose the other and it could be oodles better. No pressure.
So this year I’ve no list of resolutions to keep. Instead, when I’m being too lazy or too mean or too darned pigheaded to do something that will bring positive consequences, I’ll be reminding myself to ‘take the trouble to’. I’m reckoning on getting a whole lot more done and being able to look back on 2012 and see my broad, lazy behind whipped into shape (and I’m not talking butt blasters).
Happy New Year!
My mum is the archetypal ‘silver surfer’. In her early 70s, it wasn’t that long ago that anything with a cable, screen or microchip gave her palpitations (the exception being her crossword solving gadget). A year or so ago we finally persuaded her to buy a laptop. Lured by the promise of family photo sharing, the Lexulous app on Facebook and just a hint of curiosity (noseyness?), she was in no time poking and liking with the rest of us.
And thank god for mum. She reminds me that the online world is all about real people – individuals doing our best to keep pace with the changes around us even though we don’t always like or get those changes. It’s about being brave and putting yourself out there, seeing what happens and not worrying about getting it wrong. What follows is a genuine exchange I had with my mum on Facebook and an example of why I love my cybermum!
My Facebook status update: Wow! Looked out the window to find some massive golf balls had landed in my garden! http://t.co/TCJ5pDS
Mum: Are you back home?
Me: No mum – still in Cornwall, back Fri. The photo was of the Eden Project – not really golf balls in our garden!
Mum: There wasn’t any picture on my screen!!! Hope that you have had a good time.
Me: Mum – click on the link http etc …
Mum: Silly me!! I did manage to book my travel insurance on the net!!! How’s about that!!!
Mum (slightly later): Better late than never. It is a beautiful flower.
Me: It’s not a flower!!! It’s a photo of the domes at the Eden Project!
Mum: No. I know that. I was commenting someone else’s message about their wisteria, and my reply came up in the wrong place! I know that I can be stupid, but not that stupid!!!!!
Me: You’re forgiven!
Mum: Gee. Thanks. Been to hospital this morning. All ok, back in 6 months.xx
Interestingly, her hospital appointment was related to her eyes. (Sorry mum, couldn’t resist!!) Now to get her tweeting …
Halfway through the year and it is with some trepidation that I look back at my New Year’s resolutions. Healthy eating, pelvic floors, being nice. Nothing extraordinary but, needless to say, none have been kept. I can’t play the “I’ve just had a baby” card to explain my failure (although I do use that card liberally as Mr C&P will confirm). The problem lies in some fundamentally wrong, deep-set beliefs. What follows are the main culprits.
1. It’s the thought that counts
Otherwise known as ‘all trousers and no action’. The simple act of ordering a copy of the 30 Day Shred has made me feel five pounds lighter (and not just my paypal account – boom boom). The longer it takes to arrive in the post, the fitter I feel just through the sheer intention. As it traverses our postal system, I’ll carry on eating junk and wearing maternity jeans because I know that when the DVD drops on my doormat I’ll become a better person simply by opening the jiffy bag. There is no doubt that the good intention is there – unfortunately the action and effort aren’t. Let’s see if the shrinkwrap is still on the DVD in 30 days’ time.
2. Exercise earns credits
Even if I do get ‘shredding’ for 30 days I will still fail. This is because exercising gives permission to eat like a pig. An hour of pilates in the morning permits me to bake chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon. A walk into town is a green card for cake. This is my idea of a healthy balance. Unfortunately, the scales are always tipping the wrong way.
3. Homemade is healthy
Since being on my second stint of maternity leave I’ve attempted to become a domestic goddess. I have Nigella’s curves (although not so beautifully drawn) so that’s a start. In pursuit of this goal I’ve dusted the crumbs off Leiths Baking Bible and have started creaming and folding. It’s something that gives me great satisfaction. Okay, who am I kidding? It makes me feel very smug. Baking bread makes me feel particularly smug. It’s the middle class mamma in me. I’ll be knitting jumpers for charity made of hair lodged in the bathroom plughole before you can say “primary school catchment area”.
Homemade cakes, biscuits and desserts are of course far healthier than their shop-bought brothers and sisters. This means that they can be eaten without fear, shame or any nod to appropriate quantity. What’s more, because they are lacking in preservatives they must be eaten very quickly.
Finally, and worst of all …
4. There’s always tomorrow
My ultimate downfall is the belief that there is always tomorrow. Along with a long list of other things, I’ve been saying for the last year that I must go to bed earlier, yet still I sit up faffing around on the internet until I start to cry about how tired I am. Another classic: I’ll start doing my pelvic floor exercises tomorrow. If I’d started doing them when I said I would I’d be selling out the O2 with my ping pong ball act by now.
It’s very easy to put things off until tomorrow. However, it’s even easier to boot yourself up the behind when several months of inaction have gone by – especially when you’re still in maternity jeans (you just don’t get the same leverage in skinnies).
Midday on Radio 2 and it’s time for the Jeremy Vine show. Those of you with too much time on your hands will have seen my recent Facebook updates and anticipated that a Vine blog post was brewing. My posts are normally inspired by something that raises my temperature a little and Jeremy Vine (or the format of his show at least) does this on a daily basis without fail.
The format is described on the BBC website as “Jeremy Vine and guests discuss the news headlines and talk to the people making them”. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, the stories are even (on occasion) interesting. The BBC site then goes on to say: “Jeremy loves music. But he’s also a journalist. There aren’t that many shows that do music and news. In fact there’s only one.” Thank the lord for that. And there’s the nub of what I object to – the juxtaposition of ‘serious news’ (Japan earthquake/tsunami) and banal local news (today – whether it’s right to pick daffodils in parks) and jolly pop songs. Hold on folks, we’ll have to leave our Japan correspondent now as here comes some Sister Sledge … Is it just me or is this just plain silliness?
For those who think Jeremy doesn’t do enough damage on his own, the show is not short of ‘experts’ seeking airtime to make their point (as quickly as they can before the intro to Billy Jean takes over). Oh but really Jeremy, drafting in the Daily Mail science correspondent does not add to your show’s credibility in any way. What tipped me over the edge today was a pre-recorded snippet from an expert we all associate with hard-hitting news and serious journalism – Madonna. If I want to hear serious news and great music I listen to Jeremy Vine blah blah blah. Thanks Madge, there’s a Pulitzer on the way.
Jeremy Kyle – sorry Vine – is a serious journalist having presented Newsnight and been a political correspondent at Westminster. Okay, so there’s no harm in wanting to branch out and seek the attention of the broader public but as a clever man can he not see how pop-peppered news leaves it devoid of any seriousness?