The middle-aged parent’s guide to getting a tattoo

7 Dec

 

tattoo-2020311_1920

This isn’t me. I rarely wear a flat cap.

In September I got my first tattoo. A small and simple one. “They’re addictive!” I was warned. I doubted it.

But then this week I got my second tattoo. A bigger and more detailed one. I warn you, they’re addictive.

What do you need to know to make the transition from the school run to the tattoo parlour pain-free (relatively)? Is it okay to wear a top from M&S? Do you need to pretend you’ve heard of Stormsky and Jason Dorito? ARE YOU JUST TOO SQUARE?

Start small

If you’re not sure if you can handle the pain, then start small. There are different entry level points and you don’t need to go the full shebang with a complete tattoo bodysuit. This is a luxury that you don’t have with childbirth, where there is only one entry point and two exit points. If you have squeezed out a baby then in all likelihood you’ll be able to manage the discomfort of a tattoo with ease. (If you’re a man who’s had kidney stones and a doctor has told you some b*llocks about that being more painful than childbirth, then there’s your benchmark. Cling to it.)

You don’t need to get a portrait of your children

Let’s rephrase that: Don’t get a portrait of your children. Or indeed their birthdates, initials or any recreation of a stick man drawing they’ve produced. If you’ve got to middle-age and have decided to get a tattoo, then it should only be for you. Get something you like (that may even rule out your kids), something that reminds you that you are more than simply a bum wiper and a nose blower.

Not everyone will like it – get used to it

Rolling up your sleeve and seeing the look on the face of someone who hates tattoos takes some getting used to. People tend not to hide their dislike. (Remember to return the favour next time they show you a photo of their children.) Yes, you will feel judged, but as Ms Swift once wisely said: the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate. Remember why you got a tattoo – I’m 99.9% sure it wasn’t for other people. My first one was upside down as it was only important for me to see it the right way up. And, hell, you’ve made it this far – it’s time to stop worrying about what other people think.

Show how sensible you are

Waiting until your 40s to get a tattoo is an excellent way to teach your children not to rush into things they might regret. My two now understand that even though Mummy has always wanted a tattoo, she thought for an awfully long time about it. Decades. It’s only now that Mummy is really sure about what she wants, so, no, we won’t be letting you get a tattoo when you’re 18.

Telling your mother

If you anticipate any issues with introducing your mother to your tattoo, don’t tell your child about it and suffix the conversation with “but don’t tell Nanna”. In fact, the sure-fire way to let the whole world know about your inky addition is to tell your children. If you’ve had your tattoo somewhere intimate, be prepared to reassure strangers that, contrary to what your child has said, you’re not going to get it out to show them

Yes, it is a mid-life crisis …

… and, no, don’t be ashamed. It’s not like you’ve bought a sports car and dumped your family. There are far worse things you can do. There are some things you’ll regret because you know you’re too old to achieve them now – winning an Olympic medal – or that responsibilities and mortgages are stopping you from doing, so make the most of the things you can do. Visit places you’ve always wanted to visit, go and see Jedward live if you so wish, get a tattoo (even if it’s just one little one to say “I did it!” and tick off the bucket list).

Tattoos don’t automatically make you cool

If you’re a square (like me), you will still be square – just a square with a tattoo. The tattoo might be a really cool one but, just remember, a Robin Reliant with a spoiler doesn’t suddenly become a Porsche. Donald Trump with an awesome tattoo would still be Donald Trump. Fact.

Don’t expect miracles, but do enjoy the guilty joy of rebellion as you settle down with a sherry to watch Pointless and sew on Brownie badges. You and your tattoo kick ass.

 

Chasing the Sun: book review and giveaway

3 Aug

I’m a bit of a book snob. When I was asked to review Katy Colins’ Chasing the Sun I thought, ooo, ‘fluff’ and quickly filed it under ‘books other people like to read’. But then I stopped and considered what I’d read most recently, or in fact had not read. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – abandoned. Sorry Brontë (Anne), I’m sure an exciting climax was coming (I’ll never know) but did it require such a preamble? And apologies to E.M. Delafield: your Diary of a Provincial Lady was lovely – very funny – but just didn’t do it for this lady.

Suddenly Chasing the Sun (Colins’ fourth novel featuring the character Georgia Green) seemed really appealing. Well, slap it with a label and call it Chick Lit, but it was the start of the school holidays and did I really want something heavy to offset a day of sibling warfare?

Chasing the Sun was everything I wanted it to be: absorbing, funny, a book to forgo sleep for. Says the publisher’s blurb:

“Georgia Green is on the conveyor belt to happiness. Live-in boyfriend, perfect career and great friends, it seems like Georgia is only a Tiffany box away from her happily ever after. But when she arrives in Australia for her best friend’s wedding and is faced with the bridezilla from hell, she starts to realise that she might not want the cookie-cutter ending she thought.”

If you enjoy Bridget Jones then you’ll love this book, complete with its awkward moments (“I’m not pregnant!” I shouted, wishing that he would stop that. “I’m just fat!” I wailed). Katy Colins is also a travel blogger (www.notwedordead.com) and, if you so dared, I reckon you could even use the book as a travel guide to Australia. (I googled the ‘Big Things of Australia’ but sadly couldn’t find the home of the ‘well-known willie’. Snigger.) The author’s eye for locations adds the extra something that makes the book stand out from standard girl/boy/do they/don’t they fare. Chasing the Sun is most definitely a page turner and it’s always a rare pleasure to find a book like that. Proper indulgence. Dive into this rather than the paddling pool and you may just make it through the school holidays.

Chasing the Sun by Katy Colins, HQ (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), paperback, £7.99, published 27th July 2017.

WIN!

If you fancy ditching your Dostoevsky and hurling your Hemingway this summer, I have just the giveaway for you. For your chance to win a copy of Chasing the Sun please just leave a comment below telling me where your ideal holiday destination is. Easy as that. One lucky winner will be chosen at random at 5pm on Tuesday 22nd August 2017. Entries from the UK only. Good luck!

A newbie’s guide to being owned by a cat

8 Jun

black and white cat

After finally relenting to the kids’ pleas, our cat arrived 6 weeks ago (2 weeks before the kids lost interest in it). I’m not a cat or dog person or indeed an any kind of animal person (with the exception of sloths perhaps, I like them) so it has been quite a learning curve. As I blow yet another cat hair off my keyboard – it might have been the one that was stuck between my front teeth earlier but it’s definitely the one I’ll find in my lunch later – here’s what the past 6 weeks have taught me …

Mad cat lady = inevitable

You may snigger at ‘cat people’, those singletons who share their lives and beds with their feline fur babies. You may yawn and wonder how many variations of a cat looking cute whilst licking its genitals someone could possibly post on social media without finding their friend list empty. Believe me, I was the same. Then you get a cat and suddenly you find some stranger has been posting photos of your pet on your Instagram and Facebook accounts and that stranger is YOU.

Really, it happens that quickly. One day you’re a normal person, the next day you’re a cat person (or, as a proper aficionado would say, a cat’s person). You know that such activity will pigeonhole you as someone to avoid, but you just can’t help yourself. You can barely remember how much you used to hate next door’s cat for sh*tting in your garden, the darling little ball of fuzz. Stroking your pussy becomes something you talk about shamelessly, suffixing the conversation with “Gosh, I’ve turned into a mad cat lady already” just in case it stops the other person from backing away from you slowly.

With cats, the parallels with parenting a human being are endless (and not just their fascination with watching you on the toilet) …

Poo

Cat poo in the garden used to make me want to gag. But your own cat’s poo? Smells like roses. Remember how wiping your own children’s bums is completely acceptable but you’d still never touch the faeces of a stranger?

If you get a moggy, I thoroughly recommend clumping litter. For those not in the know, the fine gravel basically sticks to poo and wee enabling you to conveniently lift it out with a scoop in neat little chunks. At its most satisfying it equates to panning for gold. Dig your scoop in, pull it out and give it a little shake to get rid of the loose litter and then see if you’ve got treasure!

By mistakenly feeding our cat squirty cream, I’ve discovered clumping litter works a treat on cat diarrhoea too. When my 6-year-old ‘mistakenly’ fed our cat squirty cream for a second chuffing time, I also discovered that Vanish stain remover can remove a one-and-a-half-foot long cat skid mark from a white duvet cover. And from beige carpet. Fortunately, a white leather Eames lounger is wipe clean.

Cats’ a*ses in places and faces

Cats are supposedly regal, dignified animals, yet they parade their behinds as proudly as a Bulbous Big Butted Baboon. Our feline friends do not deign to use their tail to preserve their modesty. (It doesn’t even help that my cat’s butt looks like a little sleeping baby owl.) Get used to butts waved in your face, butts on your head while you’re sleeping, butts on the worktop, butts on your Lucienne Day cushions. “Remember meeee?” whines the pack of Dettol wipes, just when you thought you’d passed through that stage of parenting.

Mind you, if our cat hadn’t presented his a*se to me I wouldn’t have noticed his issue with follow-through during the most recent squirty cream-gate. I wouldn’t have been able to chase him with a tissue and – casting aside any dignity I had left – wipe his bottom before he found some pale-coloured home furnishings to s(h)it on.

Should you get a cat?

If the quantity of social media likes and shares you get are no longer sufficient to boost your self-esteem, then a cat can fix that. There’s nothing quite like the ongoing battle to win the love of a cat and all hopes being dashed when it farts in your face as it jumps off your lap.

Why questioning Trump’s mental health has set us back years

17 Feb

Trump mental health

Psychiatrists in the US are questioning Donald Trump’s mental and emotional stability. By doing so they have broken a long-standing rule that experts shouldn’t ‘diagnose’ someone – including a public figure – unless they have evaluated them in person. They certainly shouldn’t announce it in public. It’s the latest big gun to be rolled out to attack a controversial president, but it is in danger of setting perceptions of mental health back several years.

Campaigners have long been trying to break the taboo surrounding mental health issues. Most people suffer problems with varying degrees at some point in their lives. After all, who and what is ‘normal’? In reality, struggles with mental health are the norm and the challenge has been to stop it being defined as ‘sick’, ‘peculiar’ or ‘mad’. We seemed to be getting there and then along came Trump.

A clown. A madman. A DANGEROUS madman. A power-crazed narcissist unfit to run a country. It’s very easy to call someone you don’t like names. But with this latest onslaught on Trump comes the label of ‘mental illness’. Labels are very neat and stick easily. They’re also very convenient for applying not just to one person but to a large group of people – the process of tarring with the same unsubtle brush. If you suffer from mental health issues then you’re now as ‘bonkers’ as Trump. You shouldn’t be trusted because you are unhinged. You might not be President of the United States but are you sure you can handle the responsibility of your desk job? Should your employers be worried? Maybe you should be sacked.

The trouble is that Trump has never had the world’s sympathy or affection. If Barack Obama had been perceived as displaying signs of mental illness then would it have been treated sensitively? I suspect so. If a man like Obama could suffer then anyone could – it’s normal and we could all have opened up about our own struggles without fear of judgement. But if Trump is now the poster boy of poor mental health then for god’s sake keep your mouth shut or you’ll be carted off with him.

I have no sympathy for Trump. He’s a disaster as a President because he’s not a politician. This is not about feeling sorry for him. What this is about is witnessing the giant leap backwards as psychiatrists and the media sling mental illness at someone as an insult, as a way to bring them down.

The worst thing US psychiatrists have done is not to break with their principles – it’s to forget their responsibility to everyone who suffers from mental issues to not perpetuate the stigma. And that is far more unethical.

So long hygge, hello lagom!

10 Jan

Hygge

Hold on to your woolly hats, there’s another trend on its way from our friends in Scandinavia. Conveniently, it arrives to coincide with everyone worrying about how to carry off cosy hygge when the weather warms up. Now there’s no need to sweat out the summer in furry blankets with your hands wrapped around a mug of steaming hot chocolate. Out with the (c)old, in with the new. Say hello to lagom.

Translated from the Swedish, lagom means ‘just the right amount’. Not too much, not too little. It’s all about balance, self-restraint and living simply and sustainably. Clever people in the know describe it as a way of living, compared to hygge which is about creating and feeling moments in time. Lagom may be an easier, more universal concept to grasp than its snuggly, subjective counterpart. One person’s experience of hygge as they pull on woolly socks might be another person’s itchy, rash-inducing nightmare.

If you’ve bought into hygge (and I mean literally bought into – Scandi chic adds pounds to the price of any product), then how can you embrace lagom without breaking the bank? Here are some straightforward steps to help bring lagom into your life simply by de-hyggering the sh*t out of it.

Blankets

You won’t need faux reindeer skins in the summer and, let’s face it, hygge will have made a Brexit by next winter so don’t even bother storing them. Embrace sustainable lagom living and limit your impact on the environment. If you can’t turn your unwanted blankets into costumes for school Viking history days then – fleas permitting – your local cats’ home willingly accept them. (Forget the Danes, we all know that cats really invented hygge – let’s give it back to them.)

Nordic deer / moose / reindeer

Put anything with antlers out to pasture. If you can’t manage that then at least take the fairy lights off their horns. Think simple – these magnificent beasts were not created to bear the weight of the Blackpool illuminations. And remember, Christmas decorations are for Christmas, not just for life.

Quality time with friends

Ah, hygge, the ‘art of creating intimacy’. Throughout 2016 you have welcomed your friends into your home to sit on your white-washed wooden bench and share your expensive hot chocolate. If they’re not as middle class as you or tend to follow their own path rather than buy into expensive trends then they may not have returned the favour. Now’s the time to get your own back. Lagom is about moderation, so if your guests outstay their welcome then go ahead, tell them that you’ve had ‘just enough’ of them. It may mean setting aside your self-restraint but it will make everyone happy.

Candles

Burn them! Burn them all! When every candle is gone they will no longer drain precious oxygen and the equilibrium of the atmosphere in your home will be restored.

Be comforted – some things won’t change

Whether you go Swedish with lagom or Danish with hygge, you are without doubt destined for great happiness (although where was hygge when Hamlet needed it?). It seems that all our troubles can be solved with a dash of Scandi. Thankfully, lagom presents precisely the same opportunities to be smug as hygge did. You’re just doing it in a less wintery way.

Of course, as with hygge inspired products, you can also expect to pay over the odds for anything giving off a mere hint of lagom. Warning: following a trend of moderation can be expensive and involve a lot of indulgent props if you want to do it right and really impress your friends. There’s just about the right amount of irony in that.

What not to wear when travelling

27 Nov

airport

Airports are wonderful places for people watching. Where is everyone going? Why are they going there? Story after story can be imagined, nothing is impossible. But there is one thing that knocks me out of my reverie and invokes the letters W, T and F:

Airport fashion crime.

As I often say in my head to the person tramping tourist trails in stilettos: What were you thinking? What was going through your mind when you decided that was the most appropriate thing to wear?

This is what not to wear to the airport (I saw someone wearing very similar treating the VIP lounge like it really was somewhere for VIPs rather than just normal airport space with less chance of finding a seat):

airport-fashion-1

Here is what I wear to travel in (and by extension of that I assume what most normal Earth dwellers wear):

scarecrow

There are a number of reasons I can’t/won’t go to the airport dressed like a fashionista:

1.   I save all my nice stuff for the actual holiday

I don’t have enough on fleek outfits to waste them on a glorified bus journey. Anything decent I do have is safely packed away in the suitcase in a plastic bag (in case any toiletries leak). I will choose wisely during the holiday when the appropriate time is for those items to appear – too soon and they may not be clean if a more fitting occasion arises. Sometimes those clothes don’t even see the light of day such is my desire to keep them spick and span, ready for if royalty should unexpectedly join my package holiday.

2. The K-Factor

Kids. It’s hard enough to keep yourself clean when you’re safely across the other side of a table from them, but levered into a space the size of the monk’s suitcase? Not a chance. The last flight we took, my husband settled his warm derrière on a Malteser that had rolled across from our 5-year-old in the next seat. You can imagine what that looked like when he stood up.

That’s the low end of the scale. If you’re unlucky your child might pee on your lap or fail to hit the 2cm x 2cm gap that forms the opening of an airplane sick bag. That’s really unlucky – but also highly likely – so best not to be in Versace.

3. Spillages in the course of going about your everyday business

“The harder you try to keep something clean, the more likely you are to destroy it” (Messrs Muscle and Sheen, 2003). To give you an example: In a bid to take my tray from the stewardess in a safe fashion – ie using two hands – I once placed a bottle of drink between my thighs for safekeeping. As I manoeuvred the tray, an elaborate and unexpected muscle sequence occurred that caused my thighs to contract and squeeze the contents of the bottle onto my crotch. Turns out the blankets you get on planes aren’t that absorbent. Result: looking like I’d peed my pants and the walk of shame to the toilets. But silver linings, folks! At least I wasn’t in a white silk dress and a black thong.

4. Is it so bad to just want to be comfortable?

Whilst some people may be happy to sit through a 13-hour flight with their leopard skin leggings riding up their crack, I’m content to forgo a mile-high wedgie in favour of some old-fashioned comfort. I may even slip off my shoes (or at least loosen my laces). If my family would let me I’d wear my granny slippers as I traversed the globe:

slippers

Life’s too short to be retrieving your stiletto heel from an airport travellator (nope, it’s not a catwalk). Your designer bag may look awesome on the crook of your arm, but are you able to fit all the sh*t in there that you need? I’m rocking my rucksack, baby, with its stink from years of sweaty trainers. And when I do get a foil dish of scolding hot unidentifiable airline food in my lap, I’ll have had plenty of space in my hand luggage to stuff a spare pair of cheap joggers. If I’m really lucky they’ll even be clean.

Book review: Around the World with the Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure

18 Nov

ingreedies-main-photo

When I was asked to review this recipe book for children, I was in two minds. My children are firm believers that if they’ve not eaten something a hundred times before or if it isn’t coated in breadcrumbs then that’s their cue for a bout of overdramatic gagging.

But then I thought: Goddammit! Thou shalt eat foods that aren’t yellow! One day we shalt go on holiday and you shalt eat something other than chips!

My kids aren’t unique or peculiar, their foodie horizons are just limited like those of thousands of other stubborn pint-sized stick-in-the-muds out there. It’s this that the couple who created Around the World with the Ingreedies, Zoë Bather and Joe Sharpe, are cleverly trying to address.

This isn’t just another cookbook for kids that persuades them to eat by making faces with tomatoes or sailing boats from stale bread. This is a beautiful, imaginative book packed with geographical foodie facts and exciting recipes and ideas. Chris Dickason’s illustrations of the Ingreedie characters will take you right back to the 1980s and Pedro Orange and Merv Marrow in the Munch Bunch books.

Aesthetically, the book won me over as soon as I opened it. In practice? I was sceptical. There needed to be a taste test. To do this I asked my kids to pick a recipe and then pitted them against the book’s ‘Mealtime Manifesto’.

australia-page

“We think family mealtimes should be fun. There’s a wealth of exciting dishes out there that the whole family can enjoy together”

Agree. Who wants to spend an hour banging their head against a brick wall telling their kids to eat their broccoli? This book certainly has a range of dishes that I’d be happy to eat – with or without the kids. The issue we had was finding something we could “enjoy together” because the youngest taste buds in our house only want fifty shades of bland. My little darlings refused to try anything in the book other than the Australian Fusion Burgers (minus the chilli of course).

“The book is full of fascinating food facts from around the world, along with a recipe for each country we visit”

Absolutely. This is far more than just a recipe book (there are only 13 recipes included). The pages are packed with facts, maps and information – and humour (think Richard Scarry). Did you know that Napoleon asked for his bread to be made long and thin so his soldiers could carry it down their trousers? Is that a baguette down your trousers, Claude, or are you just pleased to see me?

chopping-vegetables

“We don’t expect kids to like everything they’re given to eat. But we do believe if you tell them about the history and culture of food, it will inspire them to try something new”

Predictably, my kids didn’t like the burgers. I’m not sure knowing the “recipe fuses the flavours of Thailand with the famous Aussie meal – the barbeque” inspired them, but at least they tried the tiniest fleck. Mummy was of course wise enough to have bought some plain bulk standard burgers in anticipation of this.

australian-fusion-burgers

“We want to encourage the next generation to become inventive, passionate cooks, and leave them with a greater love and understanding of food”

We had great fun cooking together and the recipes were easy to follow. Ultimately, the recipes may be a little too adventurous for kids like mine. But you know what? If it gets kids enjoying the creative process of cooking, who cares if you end up having to substitute their food with something less exciting (and probably yellow). It’s about setting in place skills for the future and leaving their minds open (or at least slightly ajar) to the potential for a world beyond cheesy strings.

In short, a fabulous book that looks great and is fun to read. If you know any children with even slightly more culinary balls than mine, then you won’t go too far wrong buying them a copy for Christmas.

Around the World with the Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure is published by Laurence King Publishing, £12.99, ISBN 9781780678290.

Period policies : a woman’s friend or foe?

3 Mar

Period policy at work

It seems that a forward-thinking company in Bristol is planning to put in place a ‘period policy’. It would to allow women to take time off work during their period, thus boosting  overall productivity and efficiency. The director of the company claims it will help synchronise work with the body’s natural cycles.

*splutters tea over laptop*

It’s all very admirable. Unless you think it’s just plain balls.

Whatever next? Paid leave for bouts of hysteria? Pregnant women being turned away from the office and forced into confinement until their child is delivered into the arms of a wet nurse? Tying underperforming female colleagues to a ducking stool? Well goodbye 21st century and hello Dark Ages.

I have several problems with something that proposes “a radically new model of the menstrual cycle as an asset for your entire organisation”. (Just imagine if that popped up as the title of a Powerpoint presentation at work!)

1. Yawn, another stigmatising nod to de-stigmatisation

Yes, periods can bloody hurt. They can leave you doubled up, nauseous and feeling like you’re at death’s door. Of course they’re not an illness and we all know how women can still roller skate, swim, ride bikes and dance in tight-fitting white lycra when the decorators are in, don’t we? Far from de-stigmatising periods, the special treatment proposed by the ‘period policy’ is just that: special treatment – and not in the positive sense. It seems to be yet another way to demarcate women and highlight their ‘difference’ in the workplace.

Please let’s not lumber women with another ‘weakness’ that sets them one step behind their non-menstruating, non-child-bearing colleagues. But, I hear you cry, the article says that the “spring section of the cycle immediately after a period is a time when women are actually three times as productive as usual” – surely we can harness that? In reality, would a business really wait for your period to pass?

“Oh, don’t talk to Beryl – she’s got her period. Give that important client to someone else. Beryl’s just not that creative when she’s on the blob … No, the client won’t wait. But don’t worry, there will be another less important client for Beryl when she’s back to her normal self. Bless her.”

2. Isn’t this unfair on men and anyone else who regularly feels a bit yucky?

Most men don’t do the period thing (and obviously not in the literal sense). I can clear my husband from a room by tossing an unused, wrapped tampon at him – they’re like kryptonite to his Spider-Man. Integrating menstruation into the workplace (another Powerpoint title for you there) isn’t going to happen. Why expect men to suddenly start feeling comfortable talking about menstruation around the water cooler? From a woman’s perspective, I wouldn’t want everyone knowing or assuming I’d got my period. Not because of any stigma but because it’s personal. In the same way I wouldn’t want the whole office knowing if my bowel movements had been a bit loose that morning. Most importantly, I’d hate for people to feel they had to treat me differently.

Interestingly, an article in the Telegraph last year reported on a study which found than 25% of British men believe they have a monthly ‘man period’. Should they be let in on the ‘period policy’ too then? Whilst we’re at it, I’d also like to put my hand up for a ‘migraine policy’ please. And perhaps a ‘my kids have been up all night puking policy’. It’s only fair.

3. Shouldn’t it be about better workplace policies generally?

This shouldn’t be about new-fangled workplace policies. If someone feels they cannot take some time off when they feel genuinely unable to perform at work, then there is a problem with the culture of their company. If “when women are having their periods they are in a winter state, … they need to regroup, keep warm and nourish their bodies” then sort out flexible working policies and let them work from home beneath a humongous hot water bottle. If employers treat their employees well and meet needs where they can, then they will be rewarded with loyalty, productivity and creativity – it doesn’t matter one jot whether the employee is male or female.

I’m sure some women would say I’ve completely missed the point. Perhaps the article caught me at the wrong time of the month. Maybe my body temperature was 0.5 degrees too high to be able to appreciate how truly bloody brilliant the idea of a ‘period policy’ is. I hope for the sake of that business in Bristol that their female employees aren’t all on the same cycle. As the tumbleweed blows through the office they’ll have time to discuss the wisdom of the policy, if they can make themselves heard over the sound of men rubbing their hands together in glee.

Confessions of a spanking good half term

27 Feb

Chips photo

As I get more and more school holidays under my belt, I feel less of a need to justify why we didn’t conquer Mount Everest or deliver newborn lambs in half term week. Bloggers write an awful lot about their guilt in order to seek reassurance from their peers and be a Better Parent. Mostly it’s self-flagellation. It’s not about the well-being of the kids: it’s about measuring yourself on the yardstick of perfection that is waved in our faces by the internet and social media. It’s time to grab that yardstick and snap it in half.

Let me tell you this: what you’re about to read wasn’t written to make myself feel better. It was written to make you feel better – to let you know that it’s okay. Really, it’s alright if you didn’t take a photo of your kids frolicking in snowdrops and apply Instagram’s Vintage filter with a smidgeon of a vignette. (Vintage because that makes life look retro and kids were so much happier in the olden days when they could race across open fields and only return home for tea, etc, etc, blah blah blah.)

It’s time to stop using other people’s Facebook timelines as a must-do-or-I’ve-failed guide to activities to cram into the school holidays. Your children will not be disadvantaged in their future life if you choose iPad time over roller skating the Inca Trail. Another episode of Paw Patrol will not cast them onto the educational scrapheap. (Many apps are highly educational and played alongside Candy Crush and Panda Pop will balance your child out as comfortably mediocre.)

Here’s a fancy infographic for you. It’s the first time I’ve done one and I can reassure you that no children were harmed in the time it took me to do it. They were not knocking over pans of boiling water or sticking their fingers in plug sockets as they revelled unsupervised.

half-term-infographic-copy

There you have it. I’ve done my little bit to make parents feel moderately better. (And that’s only half term – just think of what you won’t achieve in the summer holidays!) If I were to now fall off the sofa and die, the old Cheerio in the rug that I inhale with my last breath would be utterly worth it.

Help – my child wants a hamster!

2 Feb

Pet hamsters for children

Egads! My 7-year-old wants a proper pet. Not a kitten or a puppy – we’ve come out the other side of her dog phase with thankfully nothing but the ability to spell Chihuahua. She wants a pet hamster. We’re not completely new to pets having had goldfish for a while. We’ve done the fish naming, the renaming, the wearing off of the novelty, the renaming (again), the dying, the crying and the burying in the back garden. But a hamster? That’s a proper bona fide pet with personality.

No disrespect to the fish. They need more care than I ever imagined or indeed signed up to. Long gone are the days you could win a goldfish at the fair and simply pop it in a bowl of tap water with a bit of gravel. In favour of fish, their tank has a filter to keep it clean between my irregular interventions with a siphon and we enjoy a pretty hands-off relationship. Hamsters, on the other hand, require handling. They wee in jars and trample it through the cage on their knobbly paws, finger painting with their own urine. They poo tiny pellets that are – to us short-sighted folk – undistinguishable from sock fluff until you give them a little squeeze or sniff. Hamsters bite, escape, demand a never-ending supply of sunflowers seed and toilet rolls and get wet tail.

Despite all this, we’ve not said ‘no’ to welcoming a furry friend into our home. We were already resigned to the fact it was going to happen before my daughter found this ‘helpful’ video on YouTube:


 

The advice in the video explains some unusual behaviour we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, namely my daughter’s sudden interest in being helpful. Our first thought was that pocket money was the motivating force, but we were one step behind: responsible behaviour + chores = pocket money = BUY OWN HAMSTER, SO THERE. There had been warning signs. The jar next to her bed labelled ‘money for hamster’ is perhaps something we should have taken more seriously.

Thanks to the internet she’s done her research. (And all without inadvertently stumbling upon anything relating to Richard Gere.) In fact, she’s become a veritable hamster guru. Her friend took me aside before a recent playdate and asked not to be made to watch hamster videos – it’s a fine line between guru and bore. Did you know that mesh wheels are bad for hamsters’ feet? No, nor did I. Did you know that it’s good to feed a hamster cucumber on a car journey to keep it hydrated? No, nor did I. Neither did I envisage that we’d be taking our hamster in a car with enough regularity or for such a distance that we’d need to worry about Hammy shrivelling up.

There, it has a name. Hammy. It’s practically boxed up and on its way out of the pet shop now. But we wouldn’t call it something as unoriginal as Hammy. My daughter had something in mind a bit more Kardashian, a bit more Hollywood: Sadness. (She has also earmarked the names Misery and Silence for her children. And I was surprised when she asked for a wall in her bedroom to be painted black?) Fortunately, Auntie Jackie, the other all-knowing hamster guru in our family, successfully vetoed Sadness and so Precious is now top of the list. Clearly, a good old-fashioned human name isn’t what the modern hamster aspires to. What psychological damage did I do to Oscar, Amy and Henrietta, the hamsters of my own childhood?

I owned several hamsters. They live such a short time, it’s amazing how many you can cram in if you don’t mourn too long. They were all loved and well looked after but strangely they still haunt me. When stressed, most people dream about being chased or sitting in an exam they’ve not revised for. I dream about having forgotten to clean out the hamster. A mere whiff of worry and hello hamster anxiety dream. That’s deep psychological damage I’m about to unearth.

Here’s hoping hamster ownership doesn’t prove to be a nightmare.

 

 

 

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