Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Basket cases

Some months ago, Flora and I found ourselves standing by the fruit and veg in Sainsbury's adjacent to an Adonis of a man. Be still our beating hearts! Despite the fact that she is 11 and I am in my forties, we both recognised him as one of godlike looks. So we decided to follow him for a bit - like you do - the plan being that I would stand close to him being alluring while Flora would act the role of charmingly beautiful but unobtrusive child.

Having stalked him around the dairy aisles looking at things we didn't need and trying not to collapse into giggles, we lost him around dried goods. However at the checkouts we managed to stand behind him again. Oh the disappointment when we saw his selections! His was clearly the shopping of a happily married man, possibly with children; several two pint containers of milk, sanitary towels (a man who cares enough to buy his partner her STs - swoon), healthy cereal, nice smelly things for the bathroom, a range of healthy fruit. His was clearly not the life of a handsome but scuzzy bachelor in need of some TLC.

Looking in other people's baskets and guessing their lifestyle is one of my favourite supermarket pursuits. Today I stood near a rather too skinny man who had a miserable face and a basket full of Geobars and other wholesome food. He looked in need of some fun and I was tempted to rattle my cheese and onion crisps in his face with a cry of 'Go on, you know you want to'.

Who hasn't seen the corpulent family with litres and litres of coke, huge packets of crisps and lots of cakes and sweets or the person who buys very little for themselves but really pushes the boat out for their pet?

If it's so easy for me to categorise people from such a cursory basket inspection, no wonder the supermarkets do it in such a big way. Indeed this is the reason I'm quite glad I frequently forget my Nectar card or equivalent. I just know they've got me down on a computer somewhere as 'mum who buys school lunches and quick meals who is a bit of a lazy vegetarian and is allergic to milk'. They've seen the fish paste, veggie ready meals and gallons of soya milk on my receipt.

In fact I'm tempted to rush out right now and buy six pints of milk and a big joint of beef just to louse up their system, not to mention confuse those nosy types who look in other people's trollies. I mean, what sort of weirdo would do that?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mile high with Patrick Swayze - well sort of.

So Patrick Swayze died today. I can't say he was particularly my type but I have something to thank him for. Some years ago I had to take a transatlantic flight. I hate flying and get very nervous, scanning the faces of the implacable crew for minute signs of fear and listening to every changing engine sound.

Then Patrick Swayze came to the rescue. There were films to watch and I watched 'Dirty Dancing' not once but three times in an effort to take my mind off the fact that I was flying thousands of feet in the air, with no idea how we were staying there, in a metal tube. I focused my attention on Patrick and Baby dancing away, the anodyne and suitably undemanding plot and Patrick Swayze's undeniably hot dancer's body.

So thank you Patrick Swayze and rest in peace. I will be forever in your debt.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Risk perverse

I spent five hours of my life - five hours I will never get back - talking about health and safety today. I felt as though I had been exsanguinated by some hellish health and safety vampire and frankly started to wish a nasty and unforeseen accident would befall me so that I could escape.

I'm not averse per se to health and safety. Accidents and injuries aren't good and we have to take responsibility for people's safety, especially when like me you work with youngsters. However, it does seem to have become a bit of an industry with leaflets galore, initials and acronyms coming out of every orifice and procedures, protocols and policies in anal abundance. In fact so anal is health and safety that I'm sure you have to have an extra arsehole to qualify as a fully paid up expert.

To alleviate my boredom, I ran my own secret risk assessment today. The risk of me expiring from sheer frustration and boredom was sky high and I was sorely tempted to rush up a rickety ladder and play Russian Roulette with the shredder just for the hell of it. Five hours!!!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The world is my oyster. Er, no thanks if it's alright with you.

As part of my ongoing campaign to develop a more sophisticated palate, I tried something new yesterday: an oyster. I've never really fancied oysters, having heard some vomit worthy descriptions of the taste that I cannot repeat here. Also I've never really fancied the idea of eating something whole that's, oh horror, still alive!!! Woody Allen puts it pithily: "I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead - not sick, not wounded - dead."

However I was at the Woburn Oyster Festival with J and it seemed only right that I should try my first oyster. J bought me one for the princely sum of £1.50 and I held it with trepidation in its shell container and braced myself for chucking it down my throat. The first couple of attempts were failures as I just couldn't bear to put it to my lips, let alone open my mouth.

Then J suggested I open my mouth and he slip the oyster in. Conscious of the expense and the much vaunted aphrodisiac properties of oysters, I let it slip into my open mouth and then on J's instructions chewed before the swallow. Except I didn't swallow, the unpleasant texture and odd taste was too much for me. Aphrodisiacs they may be but I would hazard a guess that J didn't feel at all turned on when I spat a half masticated oyster into his hand. This was followed by much grimacing and frankly unladylike behaviour.

I keep wondering if my reaction was more to do with the fact that I knew it was an oyster. If someone had told me it was a salty mushroom would I have been so averse to eating it? According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, oysters are the gourmet's Marmite (I love Marmite but I know what he's saying).

Old Hugh reckons a bit of flattery will get oyster haters to love them, for instance telling them how sexy they are going to look eating them. Right yeh! Furthermore he suggests - well I never - cooking them!

Actually, I don't care if they're cooked or raw, that's the last oyster that's ever going to pass my lips unless I accidentally swallow one swimming in the sea. Oh and for the record, oysters are in the list of top foods for causing food poisoning. I rest my case.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Recreate the Mona Lisa? In pasta? Bring it on!

School projects! They really annoy me. This week I am on a quest to get hold of a restaurant order pad for Flora. Living in a smallish town, the likelihood is that every restaurant you go to has been inundated with children and parents after a pad. So I have decided to branch out - to Luton!

Of course I will do my best for my little darling but I do find some of these school projects intensely irritating. They come home with an edict from school that they must, over the weekend, create the Hanging Gardens of Babylon out of spaghetti and a tube of Pritt or a recreation of the Ten Commandments hewn in Aramaic on cardboard aged to look like real stones.

And we rise to every challenge despite the irritation as we want our kids to do well. Sara has made a Roman head with a very impressive armature supporting the papier mache structure, I spent hours with Patrick and my artistic cousin Helen making an amazing Day of the Dead Altar and we also made a pretty impressive Roman scroll written in your actual Latin and aged by steeping it in tea and holding it over a gas flame (don't try this at home children, oh hang on we are at home). Another friend stayed up all night making a medieval costume out of old sheets and I once put together a 1980s Desperately Seeking Susan look in ten minutes flat.

The truth is that often these projects are the culmination of the parents' efforts and we're often more excited than the kids when we find out what grade we've achieved. Equally there is nothing more galling than getting a bad mark as I know from the 'clarinet' I spent ages crafting from a couple of stuck together kitchen towel tubes painted dark brown and some sticky silver paper cunningly worked with the scissors to look something like the keys. I cannot tell you how cross I was when Patrick returned from school to say the teacher said it didn't look realistic enough. Of course it fucking didn't! It's not a real clarinet! What did they expect, a Stradivarius violin made out of two shoe boxes and a ball of string?

The annoying thing is I know that tomorrow I'll be trudging to Pizza Express in Luton to ask for one of those pads despite all the moaning and if I can't get one no doubt I'll be making one out of newspaper and a rubber band. It's my duty.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Emperors Old Clothes

The other day in Brighton I noticed a display of vintage clothing. Going to inspect further I was surprised and somewhat disappointed to find a rail of unpleasant, crimplene frocks of the type my dear old Nan used to wear. My little grandmother gave them a sort of cosy niceness but stylish they never were and no matter how 'vintage' they might be, they aren't stylish now.

So I was rather amused to be shot a 'you're not cool enough to look at my crimplene frocks' stare from the achingly trendy stall owner. God forbid that I should touch their crackly wonderfulness.

I wanted to be like the boy in the Emperors New Clothes (or in this case 'old smelly clothes') and shout out: 'They're fucking horrible crimplene frocks everyone. They were horrible when they first came out and they're horrible now. Get over it!'.

Beautiful vintage clothes can be wonderful, delightful things that are well made and with some sort of provenance that's meaningful for the buyer. But isn't it high time we got over the idea that old things are good simply because they are old? Some old things are just nasty and past their best. Some of the stuff you see on trendy vintage stalls wouldn't pass muster at the scaggiest car boot sale yet the label 'vintage' catapults these objet d'art and chic clothes, or old tat as some of us call them, into the stratosphere of uber-trendiness.

My dear Nan would have been highly amused to see versions of her old frocks selling at a premium in the Lanes. I only wish we'd hung on to them!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The lost zed

At some point in its history, my modest, unassuming little car had a falling out with the letter zed and became a Su uki. This a source of great amusement for the kids and we've had all sorts of fun thinking about replacing the lost zed with an 'f' or a 'p'.

The other thing we've noticed is the other cars that have lost letters and gained new names. We've seen both a Ford A and an Olvo. We wonder if there is a special place where all the lost letters go and get together to make new names for cars. It would explain that car that's named after an ovulation prediction kit for a start.

I rather like having a car with its own 'special' name and don't know if I'd want the zed back if I could get it. My car has little to recommend it but the fact that it is a car, it's mine (well sort of) and it gets around on a teaspoon of petrol, so I feel that its zedless name makes it a bit special and even, dare I say, edgy. Well as edgy as a Suzuki Wagon R can be, which isn't very edgy.

You know what? Anyone who wants to give me a zed can Su uki off as far as I'm concerned. I like it the way it is.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Back to school

My babies went back to school this week but the thing is they're not babies. My chubby little darlings have gone to be replaced by attractive but definitely grown up kids. Patrick is a bloke and no mistake and Flora is turning into a rather sophisticated young lady.

Half of me feels a bit sad that they are moving on at such a pace but the other half feels proud to see them growing up, especially considering the difficult time we've had in many respects. Seeing them grow up happily feels like testament to our overcoming the challenges of being brought up in a home with a single mum such as me. And I mean 'us' as we've been on this difficult journey together and sometimes it's been hard for them too.

I have to say though that being a single mum isn't easy. It's not easy to make all the decisions, takeall the flak and bear any guilt. However you also get the fun, the love, the memories and the pride in their achievements - you can't ask for better than that.

Being a single mum is definitely much better than being in a miserable, soul-destroying marriage and seeing my children grow up into reasonable adults make me feel that for all the grief, compromise and self-doubt, it's been worth it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Is it wrong.....

to eat both the crusts out of a loaf of bread? To put your shoes on without undoing the laces? To rip open an envelope at the top? To whistle like a man? Just asking, s'all.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Deconstructing an unreconstructed townie

Apparently I am an unreconstructed townie. This grieves me greatly. Am I not the woman who knows that yellow hammers say 'a little bit of butter and a little bit of cheese'? Can I not identify rosebay willowherb at twenty paces (and not just because it grows on industrial wasteland by the way) and explain the difference between blackberries and deadly nightshade? Do I not listen to 'The Archers'? Surely this makes me a veritable woods woman, the female Ray Mears but less fat and smug?

My townie-ness is evidenced in part by my taste for glittery berets, lack of ability to reverse down country lanes without hitting the hedge, sniffiness about and total lack of understanding of the significance and use of sticks and a general, nebulous townie demeanour.

Fortunately, help is at hand via the fashion pages of Easy Living magazine, which has a big feature on country living, showing me how to disport myself in the rustic environment. According to this I should be wearing six inch heel Dolce e Gabanna shoes as I pick blackberries and even when tiptoeing through the sheep droppings. The country lady wearing these heels has sensibly brought a nobbly stick with her, proof of her country credentials along with her £136 silk scarf. If all else fails, I can jump on my rickety, 1950s bike in aforesaid heels and some wool trousers which flap dangerously but charmingly in the bike chain. Again rusticity is pointed up, this time by a big lettuce in her basket and the tweedy but handsome chap at her side.

I am now prepared. Armed with Easy Living, I can make a real stab at being less townie. All I have to do now is master reversing.