Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Bonus Blog

As it's the 29th of February this is our once every 4 years leap day - a bonus day if you will. So what can we do on the 'extra' day to make the most of it ? Well, here's what I've been doing:

Practising yoga - which I should do every day anyway and just never get round to. It's good for me and I enjoy it so why I don't do it is a mystery.

Mulling over some stuff in the hope of letting it go. Heavy stuff about how I'm treated by others and what I've done over the years to deserve it. It's weighing on my mind so I want to let it go.

Admiring the teeny tiny daffodils in the back garden which I only spotted yesterday. I also spotted the ginger cat from two doors down sitting on our path watching the squirrels at the end of the garden and completely missing the squirrel that scurried barely a few feet behind him - dontcha just love comedy animals ? While I was typing this I was trying to ignore Neo miaowing at me and he bit my foot - ouch !

Auditing the furniture we have and where it can go in the house. At this moment we have 3 mug trees, a lot of lamps (not all working) 2 kettles, 2 toasters, a lot of shelving units and a pile of wood that used to be bookshelves in my old flat. I aspire to the minimal living I see in other people's houses where I suspect they have a garage and loft full of crap and nothing on show. My life is on display on bookshelves, window sills and pretty much every spare scrap of space.

Apart from this I've had many cups of tea, taken the boy out to one of his playgroups today and flattened some boxes in the garage.

I like having an extra day, but I think we should get one during the weekend. Maybe an extra Saturday. I could do a lot with an extra Saturday.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Flippin' pancakes

All of us know that we can eat pancakes any day we choose, there is no reason why we wait until Shrove Tuesday, but sure enough the day rolls around and out come the crepe pans and the Jif lemon (unused since last year usually) and an assortment of different toppings. In our house we have the traditional lemon and sugar, Nutella, banana and maple syrup, fresh fruit and occasionally a savoury option on offer. A few years ago I even bought a heart shaped pan so I could incorporate the two big days together and we could have romantic valentine themed pancakes.

I have, however learned a lesson about making pancakes, it's simple and I'm going to share it with you. If you use large eggs in baking recipes they go ever so slightly wrong. Pancake batter is pretty forgiving so it doesn't cause too much trauma. Cakes and biscuits, however, don't allow for an error with a basic ingredient. Sinking and soggy in the middle - and that's just how I feel when I look in on the disaster that was supposed to be a delicious teatime snack and is now a doorstop. Poor Hubbie ends up eating all the mistakes and disasters and as a result he's taken up running again.

It's another of those 'life is unfair' moments when you realise that for a man to lose weight he just needs a partner who ensures there's nothing fattening in his packed lunch or the cupboard when he gets home. For a woman to lose weight it takes leaving home or stomach stapling or a gastric band. I'm not inclined to do any of these just yet so during this period that we will call the winter fat months (Valentine's chocolate, pancake peril, Easter egg tasting practice) I will be mostly running round the house chasing my son.

Tomorrow morning we'll have some small pancakes with the boy so he can experience the joy of pancake day (albeit a day later). Thankfully he loves most things we eat so chopped banana and maple syrup on a scotch pancake should be a magical treat compared with his usual weetabix brekkie. You never know I might even make pancakes another day just for the fun of it if he likes them.

If you're having pancakes enjoy a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sugar on my behalf. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

The streets of London… are paved with living statues.

I turned my back for a few months and something happened to London. I mean I knew that the streets were being ripped up and crossings shifted and stuff, but let's just take Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.

When did the Trocadero become Ripley's Believe it or not ?
Why did the Swiss Centre turn into M&Ms world ?
What is happening behind the hoardings surrounding Leicester Square ?
Who is the multicoloured chap hanging around outside the enormous "London" shop on Piccadilly Circus and why is he waving an umbrella ?
Where on earth did all the bloody moving statues come from and why can I not walk along the pavement without seeing a dozen of them ? It's like walking through Edinburgh during the festival.

Also it seems all the theatres have been renamed so when I went to see The Ladykillers I had to find the Gielgud theatre. Once I found it I realised I'd been there before with my sister who was chatted up by some freshies before we went in. She was very polite, but dismissive in response which I remember being impressed by at the time.

Of course in a few months time the city will be heaving with visitors who are here for the Olympics and they won't have any idea what I'm moaning on about. It reminds me of the time I went to Edinburgh outside of the festival and didn't recognise the Grassmarket as it wasn't heaving with street acts and tourists.

When people criticise London for being busy, dirty, crowded, unfriendly, etc. I get really cross. It's mostly the ungrateful gits from out of town who've moved to London for the work who complain it's not more like 'back home' where they can leave the doors unlocked and the local shopkeeper knows what colour your underwear is. To which my stock response is,  "Oh is that the same place you left because there was no work for you then ?" If you pick on my beloved home town expect short shrift from me.

I can take things changing and I appreciate that being dynamic is what makes cities so vibrant and exciting. When I was a single woman dating in London was fabulous as there are so many places to meet and so much to see. I have a dating memory (variously good, bad or ugly) of most sights in London and some of them are so indelibly imprinted on my brain that any change to the landscape is like rewriting history.

Now I'm working on new memories to share with my son. I can't wait to show him the Transport Museum, take him to play softball in one of the many parks or to walk along the South Bank taking in the sights and sounds. I just hope he loves it as much as me Hubbie do.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Daddy or chips ? (one for the teenagers)

When I was growing up we didn't get to see a lot of my family as they lived in India. Visiting them was an extravagance that we couldn't really afford so it was not often that I got to see my Grandmother or my aunts and uncles. We visited when I was 11 and I remember being really surprised that they all had photos of me and my siblings on display. It hadn't occured to me that people who lived thousands of miles away would have a school photo of me on the shelf. Any news was passed on by letter or telephone calls conducted at high volume in the front room - a running joke in any Indian household is a father shouting "Hello, calling from London."

We have far more options now so if my mother wants to see her beloved grandson we either fire up Skype or use facetime on the iphone. She can enjoy watching him eat his dinner or running away from me and his Daddy as we insist it's time for bed. The pure joy on my parents' faces as they watch their grandson do the most mundane things is truly inspiring. Of course we think he is fabulous, funny, handsome, clever and many other things. He is our son so it's almost arrogant to pay him compliments ourselves, but when our parents do it's adorable.

It's always interesting to meet other peoples' families. I recall visiting my friend Nicola as a child and being very excited that we were having lunch at someone else's house (my parents did not go in for socialising with other people much). Nic was baffled that we hadn't eaten meatloaf before and I was mystified that this was such a big deal. It was around this time that I also went to the birthday party of a schoolfriend called Amber who (sharp intake of breath) has her own double bed. It was also when I learned that everyone else's family seems more interesting than your own.

The main difference for me has always been in the approach to food that my family has compared with any other I've ever seen. As soon as you walk through the door my Mother proffers food and will not stop until you accept and are stuffed. On one occasion I warned her in advance that we'd be eating lunch before we came so not to cook for us. I reminded her in a phone call before we arrived and again when we got to the house. She left it at least half an hour before she asked if we were hungry yet and persisted the entire time we were there until finally we did indeed eat something if only to stop her worrying.

My in-laws have a more relaxed approach to eating (which is why they are slim and my family are not) and I remember being struck by the difference the first time I met them. I wasn't offered a cup of tea until the designated tea time and (unlike my family) the table was not heaving with cake, biscuits and and assortment of other treats. Of course as soon as we pull up on the drive now they put the kettle on - I have them trained.

For years I believed that English people just didn't like food and had no appreciation of eating as a family and socialising over food. Come Dine With Me does nothing to disabuse me of this notion, but at least it shows people willing to try and feed others. Cooking for someone you love is such a warm and caring act (even if it isn't strictly successful) that I'd rather have a piece of toast made by a loved one than a fancy meal with strangers. 

Early on in our courtship Hubbie was cooking something and I asked what he'd done with the remainder of the stock cube he'd used. When he told me he'd thrown it out I launched into a diatribe about how in his middle class household it was probably fine to waste food, but I'd never heard of such flagrant wastefulness in my life. I've since realised that mother-in-law finds no joy in cooking and is legendary for her jellies that don't set, overcooked everything and on any given day we are told 'well of course we don't have dessert normally…' despite father-in-law having a thing with the bun lady in Hythe. (Please don't ask !)

I mentioned to Hubbie the other night - while shouting at Heston Blumenthal cooking chips - that my Mum used to make the best home made chips ever. He told me he grew up eating oven chips - what kind of child neglect is that I ask you ? If you can't have real chips as a kid what else is there in life ?

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Handle with care

Councils refer record number of 

children into care

The number of children referred into care in England has hit a record high.

Last month, local authorities made 903 court applications to take children into care - the highest since courts service Cafcass was set up in 2001.
Numbers have been rising since late 2008 and the infamous Baby P case involving the death of a toddler while on the at-risk register in London.

Cafcass boss Anthony Douglas said: "All agencies need to factor in these much larger increases into their planning."
This story is taken from the BBC News website today and refers to a story that I actually predicted about two years ago. If you have known me for a while you are probably worn out from listening to me mithering on about how the care system is flawed and children are the last consideration in the entire process. For those who are late to the party I'll give you a brief catch up.
When Hubbie and I discussed our family plans we agreed that we would like to have a family that included adopted children. Our attempts to have a baby stalled so we decided to take the adoption route sooner than we'd expected. I had fond recollections of the work of Dr Barnardo being a good thing for poor children so we went to them for our assessment having been told by local authorities that they wouldn't have suitable children for us. Croydon even invited us with about ten other couples to an information morning where eventually they told us that if we lived in the borough we wouldn't be considered suitable. Having written to us all at our Croydon home addresses you'd think they could have saved themselves the biscuits and tea wouldn't you ? 
We underwent the long process of being assessed as suitable adopters including long personal interviews and producing family trees and analysing the effects of our own childhoods on our expectations of parenting. Eventually we were approved by a panel of 13 strangers as suitable and we thought it was going to be a simple case of being matched with children who would be our family. Instead we looked at the profiles of children who were waiting to be adopted and made enquiries whenever we saw any that were asian and white (as we'd been advised to). Also, we were invited to show interest in children who were suggested to us including a family of three siblings, 4 children of a family of 8 and a range of other children from all over the country. 

Our profile had a lovely photo of us and made the case for us to be considered by the local authorities with children in their care. Months passed and we were turned down for a range of reasons including: my faith, Hubbie's lack of faith, my not being the correct faith, we have a cat, etc. and in some cases we weren't even given a reason. 

After a year of looking at the same few asian/white children and being turned down for all of them we were invited to take part in a course which would help us to understand the process and make sense of the long wait. It was run by a man called Ivan who began by saying that if we were willing to wait in a matter of months the care system would be overwhelmed with children being taken from families as a knee-jerk response to the Baby P case (knee-jerk being my words not his). At the time it seemed so obvious and so stupid that I didn't want to believe it could be true. I already knew that social workers were running scared of making a bad decision so they weren't making any decisions and were leaving children in temporary family arrangements for longer and longer.

Our own experience of trying to adopt children was really disheartening. When friends went through the same assessment process and actually managed to successfully adopt their wonderful son it was such a breath of fresh air to see that it can work. 

I have only praise for a Government trying to improve the lives of cared for children as they truly are the forgotten ones in all this. While there is so much rhetoric about doing the best for looked after children they are left in wrecked families while social services give repeated chances to parents who cannot cope or have an over inflated sense of their own competence. Sadly so many children in care keep hoping to return to their own family, however broken it might have been, just so long as they have some permanence and stability in their lives and a bedroom of their own. 

Ultimately children want to be safe and happy. This can be in a family with two parents, one parent, people of the same sex, people of different races or religions, with or without pets, a house with or without a garden and many other features. 

Until all the agencies concerned understand that children are the most important consideration we will keep seeing disappointing headlines. While we're distracted by discussions about middle class white families being denied the opportunity to adopt black children the record numbers being taken into care wait and wait. The one thing missing in all this is the voice of the children themselves. 

How about this radical idea - why not listen to the children ? 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Let them eat cake. Them, not me.

At this moment I have about 5 boxes and tins full of cake and cookies in my kitchen. I've got red velvet cake, gingerbread, banana loaf, chocolate brownies, carrot cake and good old Victoria sponge. Before you panic that I've gone a bit loopy they were left over from a cake sale to raise money for the premature baby charity Bliss.

While I type this I'm watching Gok Wan's TV show about teens and body image which is making me feel like a total pig for even having cake in the house. Like a lot of women I have a schizophrenic relationship with food, eating and my body. I took some photos at the cake sale to send to Bliss. I'm in some of them and when I saw myself I realised that I look bigger than I think I am right now. The fact that I've been exercising every day since 28th Dec and being careful with what I eat and yet I still appear to be gaining weight is very frustrating. Even more so now I have a worktop covered in delicious tempting treats.

I've never been someone who eats an entire packet of biscuits or a whole cake or loaf of bread. I am a grazer and can happily munch away without realising how much I've actually consumed. The way I've always dealt with weight gain has been to exercise (a lot) and to control my food intake or to skip meals altogether. This is simple to do when you are single, go to work and only have to take care of yourself, actually it's even manageable when you have a partner. When I was at work I'd strictly manage how much food I ate and went to the gym or for a run at lunchtime. Now I'm at home I exercise when my boy is asleep (or weather permitting take a hike up the hill with him in his buggy) and eat once he and the cat are dealt with. I made a promise to myself to never eat from his plate or to finish his leftovers. To my horror I've found a stray piece of fishfinger in my mouth as I've been clearing his plate and the justification that it's a waste to throw it away is never far from my mind.

In general I've tried to embrace the idea that taking care of my boy is far more important than worrying about my appearance. However, this falls down when I see other mums looking great and fear that the family curse has set in already and I will be the size of my Aunty Bably if I don't take control of this situation soon. I love my Aunty, but I also remember how she was just as jolly when she was young and slim. When I was 11 and went to India she hung her long chiffon scarf to dry out of the window of a moving train, she slapped a man round the face for daring to drive his moped in the road in front of where we were about to cross and she laughed more than anyone I've ever met. She also ate voraciously and was delighted when I made us chips during a power cut in the village where my Grandmother was headteacher of the local school. It never occurred to me that my family's obsession with food and eating would leave a legacy of self-loathing and fear of loss of control.

The year before I fell pregnant I lost a lot of weight and was the slimmest I've ever been (as an adult). I was wearing size ten jeans for the first time in my life. This feat was made possible by focusing entirely on losing weight and thinking about practically nothing else at all. I wore a pedometer, wrote down everything I ate (which I still do, but the list of food is longer these days) and was weighed every week. It was a miserable, self-obsessed, but ultimately successful, way to do it.

So it would appear my choice is to be happy and jolly and overweight (as it is written) or to spend most of my life obsessing about everything I eat and how much I exercise. For now I just have to stay away from all the cake in the kitchen. Hubbie's job is to take it into work and get his colleagues to eat it. A kitchen free from temptation and guilt - now that really will be bliss.