Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Mum's the word (which I will get my son to say - oh yes I will)

Today marks the end of my first month as a full time Mummy. The plan was that I'd take my boy to visit my parents and he'd have a lovely day. Instead it was chaotic, delayed and unfortunately he was also poorly and needed an unscheduled change of clothes and a wash at my Mum's house. By the time we got home I was convinced that I'd failed so spectacularly as a parent that it would be a blessing on the poor child for me to go back to work and let a professional look after him instead.

As therapy I've decided to reflect on the month I've had and share the things I've actually learned:

1. Hubbie feeding the boy before he goes to work and giving me a half hour in bed is what makes it possible for me to function without turning into a hideous Mummy Monster - without him I'm just a screeching, panic-stricken mass.

2. Taking my boy out to activities every day makes him happy and encourages me to talk to other adults. It's not like he can't play at home, but being in different play settings helps him try new skills and shows me how much he has learned.

3. It is very, very upsetting when other children hit my son, or take toys from him. I judge their parents for this and even though it probably isn't their fault I hold it against them.

4. Having a cup of tea at a playgroup is a treat. At home I make tea, put it down while I fold the washing and then remember the (by now cold) cup half an hour later.

5. My boy is a master at the art of distraction. If he has knocked over a table, while I am turning it back the right way he is off through the now open kitchen gate to get to the washing machine dial which he is forbidden from touching. This skill will prove invaluable later in life, I'm sure.

6. Always have a small make up bag with lipgloss and eyeliner in it. The number of times I've gone out with inappropriate footwear on is more than made up for by being able to put on a bit of glam before stepping out of the car / off the train.

7. Never leave the house without at least a piece of fruit. The number of times I've been delayed for some reason or other and had to deal with a grumpy infant (or even grumpier me) it's been solved by sharing an apple or banana in the car or waiting room - works every time.

8. I am not cut out to be a Mumpreneur (and don't get me started on how much I hate that word). Arts and crafts are hobbies not a job. Sometimes I bake, sew, knit, make cards, arrange flowers from the garden or even grow stuff in pots. I don't, however, have sufficient skill or interest to do it over and over for a living.

9. A bit of quiet time does none of us any harm. There are times in the day when the boy is playing quietly in the back room (yes it does happen, he does stop being a whirlygig at times) and the cat is napping in his basket and I stop and look at them both and start making a cuppa. I switch off the radio and the television and just look out of the window for a few minutes. Then it all starts again.

10. Make time to do something for yourself. Whether it's 20 minutes in the morning to do some Zumba, 15 minutes to have a shower and wash my hair (during his morning sleep) or an hour to drool over Alex O'Louglin in Hawaii Five-O (during his afternoon sleep) I have to do something I want to do every day. If I don't exercise I am properly loopy (and not a little grouchy).

So that's my top ten things that I've learned about being a Mummy to one very busy, funny, cheeky boy. I could have added that getting a child into a highchair / car seat / walker when he doesn't want to is a feat of superhuman strength with very little reward. I could have added that the meal is over when he decides to drop food or his water cup onto the floor followed by "Oh dear." I could have added that the minutes between me taking the boy upstairs and Hubbie arriving home to take over the bedtime routine are always punctuated by tears, throwing of toys and tantrums (which my son finds highly amusing to watch).

Instead I'll add that however hard a day at home with my son might be I remember how magical it felt when we found out we were having our much longed for baby. How I prayed every day for him to be born safe and happy. Most of all I remember how many of my friends would love to be able to stay at home and care for their children. Leering at Alex O'Loughlin is just a bonus :o)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

My fair lady ( Oh wouldn't it be luvverly ?)

In the last two days I've been following two news stories that show how important we feel it is to be fair. In the case of an LA fitness gym insisting on a couple paying their 2 year membership despite them being close to destitute there was outrage on Twitter. In the end for fear of further opprobrium the gym chain climbed down and waived the contractual arrangement. Cue hand wringing and wailing and gnashing of teeth over how hideous the contracts are when we all know that it's people paying up front and not using the gym that renders profit and enables people like me to have so many free trial sessions.

The other story being played out today on local news radio is that babies will need paid for tickets to attend Olympic events. The last I heard they were reconsidering this as various Mummy websites and even the (mostly useless) equality and human rights commission suggested there might be a case for claiming sex discrimination if a mother taking a child to the games was required to pay for that child. I bought tickets to some events and at the time had no idea I was also expected to buy tickets for my son. There is no question of him not coming with us. How can I not take him to a once in a lifetime event taking place in his own home town ?  Mumsnet and Netmums - for all the pointless meandering tub thumping about mini dramas that affect their precious little Avi-Mays and Ocean-Blues - do stand up for the things that they believe to be fair.

My own issue with fairness is one that causes people to look away muttering in almost complete disgust. I am the person who does the unthinkable. I check the bill at the end of the meal and work out what everyone owes in order to be fair to all - it's not popular and it's completely unEnglish. I have a strong opinion about why it is important to do this and there are two meals in particular that have caused me to become the human calculator and social pariah.

Firstly when I was a student I didn't have a lot of money, but I did work during holidays and even during term time to finance my way through my degree studies. I still met up with friends who I had worked with in my Saturday job at a library and at one particular Christmas meal I ordered one course - the cheapest dish - and one soft drink as I knew I didn't have the means to splash out. The senior librarians ordered massive sharing starters, expensive main courses and puddings, wine and coffees. When the bill came they split it 5 ways and I didn't want to make a fuss so I ended up subsidising their meals by paying well over the £10 that my meal had actually cost.

The second time was when a friend chose a reasonably priced venue for his 30th birthday which was offering a three course menu for £16. Me and hubbie went along and the other diners had already been drinking before we arrived. They had ordered champagne for the birthday boy (very generous we thought) and they also thought it would be a wheeze to order him some shots - after all you only turn 30 once don't you ? When the bill came it was carved up and we were told we owed £45. I questioned how this was so when I hadn't had any alcohol and hubbie had one beer and our food was only £16. A recalculation was done and we were still ordered to part with £30 each. That means my cup of tea and hubbie's beer cost £14 each.

I vowed from then on to not be taken advantage of again when other 'friends' decide to be generous with my money.

This was tested when I was on a skiing holiday with some friends in Whistler and we went out for dinner with a couple we didn't know very well, but who seemed nice enough. He wanted to order a particular bottle of red wine and we said that was fine, but we didn't want any. When the bottle came he insisted we try it which we politely did. So when he divided the bill up for us all to pay I said that wasn't fair as one of us had only eaten soup and the others hadn't ordered the wine. We paid for what we had eaten and included a tip. The correct money in the dish we all got ready to leave and he again asked us for money for a tip which we explained to him we'd already included. He had expected us to subsidise his choice of wine and we were pretty clear that wasn't going to happen.

I don't think twice about challenging bill payments now as I think I'm old enough not to care if someone is offended by me saying I'll only pay what I owe. We're all on a budget these days so if you want to splash out pay for yourself - it's only fair.

Fairness is a simple concept and one that in principle we all agree with. It's just that some people think it's only fair to take advantage of others. It's a small stand to say no I won't pay for your dinner, or your extravagance in wine or cocktails, but it's a start.

Oh and I'm taking my son to the Olympic games whatever Seb Coe says - and so there !

Friday, 20 January 2012

To be or not to be… a social butterfly

Going out when you're a stay-at-home Mum is simplicity itself. Most of my social interactions involve drinking tea in churches or children's centres. On a Monday there is toast, on a Wednesday there is usually home baking and on Tuesdays and Fridays the lad gets fruit before we all sing songs. Playgroups and stay and play mornings provide activities for children while also giving Mums a chance to stand or sit around making small talk with other Mums / grandparents / aunties. Occasionally the church group I go to has a pamper morning and we get to come home with slightly smudged, but freshly painted nails. 

So imagine my unbridled joy this week at being able to have not just one, but two evenings out sans son or hubbie. I went to watch Michael Sheen as Hamlet - three and a half hours to myself with an interval ice cream and a leisurely walk in the crisp London night. Before you feel sorry for me, please understand that watching Hamlet is a solitary activity for me. I don't need to discuss the plot or the acting with anyone and I prefer to just settle in to the performance and take it all in. Not least as it's a long time to sit with someone if you think you may run out of small talk by half time. 

Tonight, however, was the sociable kind of night out with food, drink and chat. I saw friends I haven't seen in a few years, some of whom haven't met our new family member and they did politely ask to see photos. If you don't have children seeing photos of other people's can be at best boring and at worst wildly inappropriate. I've lost count of the number of people who have shown me photos of their children naked. It's completely uncalled for and makes me very uncomfortable. 

The other thing with meeting up with a group of diverse friends is that the level of noise is like going to my Mum's house. The volume increases as more people arrive at the venue and as my fellow diners imbibe more and more alcohol their volume (and speed of speech) increases exponentially too. Now bear in mind that most of my conversation during the day is slow, deliberate and repetitive. We had more than 20 rounds of Old Mcdonald had a farm in the car today as my boy likes to sing "ee aye ee aye oh." So being at a table of adults who are not comparing stories about teething, eating vegetables and choosing pre-schools is a welcome change. It is also, however, massively difficult as I am just not used to the scattergun chat as I try to teach my son to listen nicely and not to talk over people. It took a long time for me to slow down to a child's pace so really I should have eased myself back into the world of full on noisy adults. 

What is has also given me is an insight into the joy of being away from my family so that when I see them again I remember how much I totally love them. Even as I type the cat has wandered over to see me - he usually just asks for food - as he missed me while I was out. Absence does appear to make the heart grow fonder, even if it's only for a few hours. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Putting the Yummy into Mummy - one cake at a time :o)

One of the highlights of being a stay at home Mum and housewife (besides the obvious one of being with my boy) is that I can indulge my love of cooking and cookery programmes. I am selective though and very snobby about what I consider worthy of my precious viewing time when the baby is asleep.

I cannot abide the 'food porn' style of cooking: Nigella, Lorraine Pascal and Sophie Dahl seduce with food. They caress, tease and flirt with the camera. Very little is said about how to cook the dish and no actual instructions are involved. Nigella is far too busy telling us about how she entertains her retinue of adoring guests who fawn over her gingerbread, Lorraine Pascal keeps referring to her international pedigree (a Polish aunt and some Italian heritage apparently) while Sophie floats through her show as though she's advertising Cadburys Flake. When we do get a reference to the cooking it's all a bit vague - her pinch is my handful and when will they give the temperature in gas marks for those of us cursed with terrible ovens ?

Lest ye think I am being sexist I also loathe Jamie Oliver for his freehand pouring of olive oil like it's on offer in Sainsburys. That's not a splash you fool it's half a bottle !! His other crime (although he's far from alone) is to constantly say "the smells are amazing" are they Jamie ? I'll take your word for it as I didn't get a scratch and sniff card with the Radio Times.

Rick Stein is another one I fast forward on Saturday Kitchen. I think it's down to a personal grudge against him because I once stayed in Padstow while working in Cornwall and was horrified to discover that it's not even a one horse town, but has a great antiquated book shop. I was so disappointed that I didn't even try his food and bought something from Budgens instead which is how come I found the bookshop where I spent the evening browsing Dickens rather than sampling his seafood delights.

Nigel Slater is the exception for me as he only ever uses about 4 ingredients (supplemented with herbs from his garden) and few measurements or exact timings, but is so personable that I don't mind. He makes it look like you could just put something together after watching his programme with the things in your cupboards. Unlike Delia whose motto seems to be why use only 5 ingredients when 15 and something we've never used before will do ? Remember it's thanks to Deals that we have limes in our supermarkets as she caused a run on them when she made a recipe featuring a lime and they were not widely available at the time.

Delia was scathing about TV chefs endorsing supermarket products and openly criticised them until Waitrose came a knocking with clearly just enough money to buy her endorsements and recipe cards. Don't get me wrong, I'm the first to pick up her cards and have a stack of them with my cookbooks. Feel free to promote a supermarket I have no issue with it. I do, however, take issue with her Christmas cake recipe which I've cooked two years in a row using the pre-measured ingredients and followed the instructions to the letter and it's been soggy in the middle both times.

Mary Berry joined the 'make your own cake using this bag of stuff' brigade this year and as well as a traditional fruitcake she also offered delicious and simple cupcakes (also pre-measured) and the recipe is so simple I've kept it to make from scratch. I'm delighted she's back in fashion as her Christmas cupcakes saved the day for me ! Mary Berry was my first love with baking - years ago I used to make and decorate cakes for my siblings' birthdays so if you see a birthday photo featuring a calculator cake, a hedgehog or a dolly that'll be my handiwork.

Of course it's thanks to the Great British Bake Off that Mary has made her triumphant return, but it is one of the shows I don't watch. That and Masterchef, because while I find Greg Wallace very amusing I cannot watch John Torode. It was his one time covering for James Martin on Saturday Kitchen when he kept telling the chefs to wash their hands like an overeager Home Economics teacher. It is, of course, good sense, but it's also very dull.

I'd make a terribly boring TV chef as I'm a precise cook. I measure everything and follow the recipe to the letter (if I use one). Having said that I'm not too proud to do a cooking programme and if asked I'd be right in there. It seems you don't need to be an actual chef to get a TV show now, just someone who has cooked something once in your life - that's me qualified then.

Of course my first loyalty is to the one and only Come Dine With Me because I prefer my cooking programmes with a heavy handful of sarcasm. That is also the reason why I'd never apply to go on the show. When they were looking for contestants in Croydon one of my friends even sent me the application form. I politely informed her and everyone else who suggested I apply that the very reason I watch it is why I wouldn't go on it. I love shouting out "if you don't eat anything why are you on a cooking competition !!!" and I'd end up yelling at my guests if I did do it.

Also, I am guilty of equating food with love as that's how I was brought up. If anyone criticised my food I'd take it so personally I'd probably come across as a total loser. I never assume my cooking is anything other than adequate, but at the very least I like to cook things most people will enjoy. There are some ingredients I just can't stand. Cooked bananas just don't do it for me, yet I still make banana bread and ply hubbie and my reflexologist with it to buy favours at a later date.

I'm now that person who consults a handful of cookbooks (or t'internet) if I have some pecans to use up or some treacle that I forgot about in the back of the cupboard. Christmas was kind to me and I now have a brilliant selection of cook books to refer to, including one called the Meatfree Monday cookbook that I won from Ocado that was signed by Paul, Stella and Mary McCartney - which was nice.

Just don't ask me what my favourite dish is. Depending on the day of the week it'll either be a fishfinger sandwich or parmagiano melanzane. Now that would get me onto CDWM !!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The secret life of cats

A belated happy new year. I would like to pretend that I've been hungover from drinking far too much at New Year, but in truth we've been the plague house. Hubbie was poorly most of the Christmas break and then I got poorly just in time for him to go back to work.

All the time indoors has given me a new insight into what my cat does all day. Not everything, of course, only the things I can actually see him doing. So that's mostly sleeping under the radiator, sleeping on the spare bed, staring out of the window into the garden, running around the garden, miaowing at me for food, eating food and back to the start again. I kind of assumed that was his life, but the neighbours often comment that they've seen him and it does beg the question what does he do when we can't see him ?

When you're not around your cat has a whole other life that you know nothing about. We've always known that they have different names in other people's houses - I like to guess that Neo is called Snowball, Snowflake or Snowy in his alternate life. What we don't know is if they have friends, other favourite places to sleep, a family that feeds them.

When we first met Neo he had been staying at Battersea for a few weeks and we knew he was around six and a half years old. He was friendly and clearly loved attention and hubbie knew immediately that he wanted Neo to come and live with us. We were advised that he had some health issues that would need to be checked regularly and that we would be advised to have a reliable vet to care for him.

Strangely, while he's always complained about the travel to get to the vet, once at the surgery Neo is always very content once he's there. On one occasion when he was having a check up with the senior vet she commented that years ago they had a kitten called Neo whose owners had moved far away.  I've wondered ever since if he's the same white cat called Neo and if he remembers living in this area years ago.

Hubbie is still considering a 'cat cam' but I suspect we'll have hours of footage of a very still feline and some of an empty space. I'm amazed no one has ever considered employing cats to work as spies, they have stealth, they rule the house and they still manage to get us to love them.

Until a time when my cat decides to share his other life with me I can only imagine. It's this kind of 'time on your hands' stuff that leads to multi million pound book deals you know - well I can dream can't I ?