Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Keep taking the pills (the blue one or the red one ?)

Romantic comedy graphic with corny popcorn and big love heart
I've said before that in my head movies are real. This is sometimes a bit odd as I think something has really happened and it's just a scene in a film I've watched. I'm not alone in this - a man I worked with used to tell stories as if they were real that were lifted from movies. eg. the friend of his who did the a job that sounded really familiar then I realised that was because it was the Edward Norton character in Fight Club - I didn't have the heart to tell my work colleague that he was delusional and we all knew, it seemed too unkind.

Then there are the 'facts' I know because it was in a movie so it must be true. The most disturbing fallout of my obsession with moving pictures, however, is how I perceive life events through the filter of screenwriting cliches. Well mostly romantic comedy cliches actually as those are the movies I tend to watch the most as they require very little thinking and even less active engagement with the plot. The reason I even mention this is that it has become a bit debilitating and I'm borderline agrophobic now for the following reasons:

1. I can't tell Hubbie I love him before he goes anywhere because if I do something terrible will happen to him minutes later while I'm washing up and smiling at nothing in particular (the same applies to anyone I love)

2. When I'm sitting in the car waiting at lights I'm convinced a runaway truck will pitch up out of nowhere and jacknife ploughing straight into unsuspecting me

3. A cough always means something sinister (usually consumption of course.) If it's dismissed as 'nothing just a little tickle in my throat' they're almost certainly a goner !

4. If I meet someone new I can't assume they are entirely trustworthy, they could be an assassin or a private investigator befriending me for nefarious purposes

5. Loud noises at night are always bad news. I once phoned a friend to come over to my flat rather than leave my bedroom to check what the loud noise had been hours earlier. I threw a set of front door keys out of my bedroom window to him in the street and he quietly and carefully climbed the stairs two floors up - so as not to disturb the intruders - armed with something heavy. He kindly gave me the all clear when he'd put the suitcase back up into the bathroom cupboard that it had fallen out of.

Matrix image featuring Morpheus, Trinity and Neo against coding background
Can you imagine how tiring it is trying to unpick the cliches from the probable ? Now bear in mind I've picked the examples that show me in the least crazy light - no really I have ! If I was to go into the Bollywood movie cliches too you'd be all discombobulated. Then there's the whole 'what if the Matrix is real ?' thing when the Sky box goes off for no reason. I didn't say it had to make sense. 

So I'm going to bed now, with the stairs fully lit and not in a skimpy nightdress. 

Wish me luck !  

Monday, 25 February 2013

See that bloke doing really old jokes ? That's you that is.

Newman and Baddiel posing in the early 1990s
This time last week I was in Leicester Square watching Rob Newman try out his new show in advance of a tour and a new book. You may remember him from The Mary Whitehouse Experience or the "comedy is the new rock and roll" gig he did at Wembley Arena with David Baddiel before they famously split their highly successful partnership. Baddiel went on to present football shows, write a hit football song and mediocre novels.

Newman went on to write even worse novels, a lot of very worthy gigs (anti-sweatshops, eco causes, etc.) and all the while I was supporting his fading star while recalling his past glories. The unfortunate thing I found last Monday was that he seems to be doing the same. We had heard the majority of his jokes before and while the political haranguing and history lessons may be new material the impression of Jarvis (sleazy character from way back when) the neighbours with sinister sounding voices and the whole schtick that held the serious stuff together was maddeningly familiar. One member of the audience was clearly so put out about this that he kept stealing a march on the punchlines which is unkind, but less rude than the woman who walked out saying she was going to kill herself instead of still watching.
Robert newman image
Most of the audience had heard all this before - you would hardly pay to see a once well known comic doing try out material in the West End on a Monday night unless you were a fan of his would you ?  So it was merely politeness that we laughed at jokes we'd heard many years ago and maybe a misplaced loyalty to him as we guess he probably needs the money. However, loyalty is one thing, blind faith or fandom is entirely another.

Mark E Smith in black and white leaning on a bar Hubbie has a few pretty strong convictions, the number one of these is "never meet your heroes." I first realised this as we were queuing outside the Hammersmith Palais to watch The Fall play the last ever gig there before the venue was redeveloped.  As we waited outside a shambling man in a leather blazer walked between us in the queue and I spotted that it was Mark E Smith - Hubbie's musical hero. I asked him if he wanted to speak to or acknowledge him and Hubbie shared his number one mantra with me. Bearing in mind how unpredictable the Mr Smith can be it is no bad thing to leave him be as you have no idea what state he will be in on any given day. On that day he performed pretty well, but was mistaken by  security for a drunk audience member and almost didn't make it back onto stage after a short break. On other occasions he has disappeared during a gig and not reappeared at all, so that wasn't so bad on balance.

Shabana Azmi with international peace prize from Gandhi foundationOf course if I was to meet an actual hero of mine like Maya Angelou I'd be completely tongue tied and incapable of speech. That's how it goes in real life. I was once asked by Shabana Azmi if I could lend her £5 to pay for a taxi as I waited outside the QE2 centre to go into a conference at which she was speaking. I did that thing where you move your mouth, but words don't come out and took out a fiver from my purse to give her. This does beg the question what journey in Westminster costs £5 that it wouldn't make more sense to actually walk ? Also, do I have a face that looks like it would proffer a fiver to a stranger (albeit a movie actress and now campaigner for women) or did she choose the most obvious person who'd help her ie. an asian woman ? No matter, I was happy to help her as I knew my Mum would be chuffed when I told her about it. An hour later when she sought me out to return the money I was equally eloquent, having spent the whole intervening period thinking "well there's a fiver I'm never going to see again." I was touched that she remembered me and that she made a point of giving the money back - it made me feel very warm towards her. So when I retell the story now it's with a little embellishment and we are now the best of mates. It's not like anyone will check is it ?

Unless you are reading this Ms Azmi, in which case thank you :o)

Friday, 22 February 2013

Foodie Friday: Chips, Chapatis and Cheese Sandwiches.

It's half term and Hubbie has kindly taken time off work and we're having some 'family time'. Our son isn't at school yet so I'm not sure why he chose this week - I think he said something about using up all the holiday he has accumulated - but, nonetheless it's a gesture. If I was sending you a postcard it would read thus:

"Day one: Bundled the boy into the car to go out for the day and he spotted a few horses in the New Forest so that was nice.  Then spent almost an hour finding the otter and owl sanctuary where Hubbie worked when he was 13 - to be fair he didn't drive then so he's hardly to blame for not knowing the way - only to decide that £20 is a rip off so had a terrible pot of tea and got back on the road. Programmed the sat nav to find a pub with children's play facilities, got here and were told that the online listing is 2 years out of date.  Had to do a lot of loud singing to keep the boy awake so that he would still sleep when we got back in the afternoon. Got back opened a bottle of wine and fell asleep by ten.
horses and ponies in the New Forest
Day two: A day at the seaside ! It's fricking freezing so today's trip involved us shivering as we walked along the seafront and desperately trying to look like we were having a good time while losing all feeling in our fingers. The rides were a big hit so getting the boy off Iggle Piggle's boat and the pink Hello Kitty car caused a massive tantrum before we could get him back on the land train - which he also loved. It was far too cold to find somewhere to get chips so we ate our sandwiches in the car before driving home. Tonight it's the chippie for dinner and the last of that bottle of wine.

Can't wait to come home - wish we weren't here xx"
My boys walking along the beach at Bournemouth
I am worried that I've inherited my family's inability to do holidays. I'm the oldest of four siblings and we didn't go away much, but my Mum did her best to give us the experience of family breaks. There was generally a lot of sitting in the car while my folks argued about the directions. Dad would get tired after about an hour and get my Mum to take over driving then he'd fall asleep so we had to navigate from the back of the car.

Mum always packed a huge lunch for us all and we'd stop somewhere to eat our chapatis with dhal from a large thermos and complain loudly that we'd rather have 'normal food,' ie. sandwiches. We'd have to eat in the car so the smell wouldn't offend other picnic folk and would spend the rest of the drive holding our overstuffed bellies through turmeric stained clothes. After getting lost a few times we would arrive at a caravan park in North Wales or Devon late at night and try and get the tv to work then go out to find a chippie for the first night's dinner.

Each day we'd faff about all morning and leave after 11 o'clock to get to a tourist destination that would be far too costly for all of us to go in so we'd take some photos of us outside a castle / aquarium / butterfly park and eat some lunch then head back. On one memorable occasion the car was low on petrol and we appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. My parents got more and more batey with each other as me and my brother gleefully sang 'Honiton' to the tune of the Konica commercials because we kept seeing signs for the mythical place that might yield some fuel before we broke down in deliverance country.

Essentially our holidays were predicated on the next meal and how we would get to it. I do try not to be like that, but it's difficult to fight the genetic indian hardwiring that makes me pack enough food for a week before we leave the house.

Tomorrow we're going to go back to what we do best: I'm having my nails done and the boys are going to watch football. We'll eat lunch indoors and I'll meet my friend for dinner and leave a hot meal for Hubbie. I predict it'll be the best day of our holiday so far :o)
Sooty, Sweep and Soo playing music in an amusement arcade by the beach

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

It's not all sandalwood and sanskrit

Black bullock statue It's always catches my attention when I hear a news story about somewhere I know and India has been in the news a fair bit at the moment. Firstly because the Prime Minister is there on a trade mission and secondly because of the growing media interest in women's rights in India following a brutal rape that caused the death of a student in Delhi.

The PM's visit to Amritsar today caused a flurry of Radio 4 consternation as he visited the memorial site of a massacre undertaken by the British in 1919 and the question was asked if he should apologise for this historical event. Hubbie and I have visited Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar and it is a moving tribute to the 379 demonstrators who were shot there by British soldiers. This one event was key in leading to India seeking total independence from the British and it is part of the Sikh 'tour' you do taking in the Golden Temple and the tribute to the 'martyrs'. Apologising with hindsight has become a standard following the belated apologies for Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough, but is it so much going through the motions ? Does the catholic church apologising for child abuse in any way reduce the suffering of those who experienced it ?

The handwringing about how women are treated in India comes in response to a vicious and brutal attack by a group of men on a woman and her boyfriend. Big questions are being asked about how women are viewed in indian society, but it's not like these are new questions or new issues. What is new is that people outside India are taking an interest where they previously thought it was none of their business or was culturally appropriate for women to be subjugated.

My parents are Indian by birth and I have visited a few times since I was a child. Both my parents went to university in India, they had an arranged marriage and my mother has always worked as well as raising a family of four children. They - like a lot of their contemporaries - have a vision of India that is preserved in aspic from the time they left. In their minds it is like a Bollywood movie starring Saira Banu and Dev Anand with a swinging soundtrack and colourful frocks as well as insane eyeliner and beehive hairdos.

dancing indian women on elephant
On my visits to India I used to only stay with family so for years I didn't see how people other than my family lived. My educated, female dominated, feisty and hilarious family. I had no idea that outside the door was a culture where women were not permitted to go to school, to speak up or to talk to men in public. In recent years I've been to India as a 'tourist' and seen a whole other side to how women are treated.

While I can't comment on how the entire country operates I can recount my own experiences of women not being treated with respect as a matter of course. On our last visit to Bangalore where there is a culture of 'pubs' (what we would call a club) there was a disturbing new trend. Mobs of men would protest outside these pubs and drag women out who were drinking and smoking as a way of 'preserving indian culture.' There is so much about this that is wrong I don't know where to begin. Suffice it to say that the men who smoke, drink and associate with these 'bad women' aren't castigated or punished in any way.

India has always had a problem with honesty. It pretends to be a very moral society and yet young girls are forced to marry making paedophiles of their 'husbands.' There is a lie that says women are revered (separate seating on public transport, modest clothing is encouraged) yet men leering, propositioning or touching is considered acceptable. I recall being very uncomfortable being stared at as an 11 year old and my parents said to 'just ignore it' which is hard to do when you are still a child. There is also a culture of grown men being highly inappropriate with women and children which is overlooked as they are 'friends of the family.' In a society where respect for elders is more important than the right to personal space it is difficult to make a stand against what is essentially molestation.

Bhagvad Gita cover with image of Krishna and white horses I now travel to India with Hubbie and because he is not indian we are treated very differently. I do not expect to be harrassed by indian men as I did when I travelled with my sister or my mother. I recall how hilarious I found my auntie battering a man with her handbag for accidentally brushing her arm as he passed her in the street. Not all women are that bolshie and no woman should feel she cannot go out with her friends (male or female) or have a drink without fear of being attacked.

India wants to be seen as a powerhouse in the world of IT and trade. Women go to university, work alongside men and run businesses that trade internationally. Yet the movie business still portrays women as either sexual objects or mothers. The Karma Sutra outsells the Bhagvad Gita the world over. Girls are treated as second class citizens and left to die in their millions by poor families who cannot afford to pay a dowry, despite this practice being prohibited since 1961. This is in a country that had a female Prime Minister before the UK.

It would appear that India is now being pressured to deal with its schizophrenic attitude to women and girls. Until half the population are treated as something like equals I'm ashamed to say I can't be proud of my indian roots.

Monday, 18 February 2013

When I grow up I want to be Siouxie Sioux

It's Monday morning and I've dropped the boy off at nursery, meditated, practised yoga and planned my radio show for later, so I have time for my "I don't like Mondays" style ponder.

Bellatrix Lestrange with wand and in mirror image
Before I met Hubbie and I was a single girl about town I was less Bridget Jones and more Bellatrix Lestrange - in dress sense and temperament.  I did internet dating at a time when you would rather tell people about your toilet habits than that you met via the internet. It was for about a year and I was pretty honest with my friends about it as I needed them to make my emergency phone calls an hour into the latest foray into the world of meeting strangers who really were the definition of strange.

For example the man who looked like a young Elton John and told me how he attacked his neighbour and practised tai chi on the tube. I popped to the loo, asked my housemate to ring me as a get out - which he did - and then I proceeded to do the best acting of my life to get out of the date. How I ended up giving him a lift to Victoria station is not recorded in history, but suffice it to say if he was weird to have a drink with in a bar then how much worse was it to have him in the much smaller space of my car ?

Then there was the chap I dated who bragged about the value of his sports car, his Breitling watch, etc. etc. and then wondered why he only ever attracted women who were interested in money. He would regularly list the nationalities of all the women he had dated as though he was working through a list or ticking them off on a map of the world. He now lives abroad and posts pictures of himself flying planes and hanging out with what look suspiciously like ladyboys.

Not all the failed relationships started online though, I also met an ex-school mate - many years after we left school - at a friend's 30th. It was a few years later that we actually dated and I had memories of how gorgeous he'd been the last time I saw him so what I failed to see was that he was not at his best at that point. He'd had a massive breakdown and was living with his parents, drinking a lot and was generally not in a good way. He would arrange to meet me and turn up over two hours late and not entirely sober.

Now I know that trashing your exes is the preserve of crazy ladies who admit to knitting jumpers for their room full of cats. It's not classy, but to be honest I've got enough tragic material here for a book that would make less of a misery memoir and more of a desperate dating diatribe. I only really mention these case studies as an example of my credentials in offering advice to friends with relationship woes.

One beautiful yoga teacher friend who I met through her husband was in a toxic situation that I summarised for her was clearly about their physical attraction as they were so different in character. Another lovely friend was drowning in debt, but very much in love. I suggested she might decide whether she could be with him and not hold it against him that she paid for everything. I'm pleased to say they are very happy together.

Sopranos psychiatrist in chair listening
I often wonder if I could be any cop as a counsellor. I did the training a few years back and having had a failed marriage and a chaotic dating history I think I've put in the ground work in person too. If knowledge is best achieved from personal experience then I'm pretty much qualified to be the new Claire Rayner as no one seems to have taken over from her kindly manner and no nonsense advice. I would say that against these pros there is one pretty big con and that is that I have a skin to few for the job. I take things far too personally - it's really a pain - and it's only getting worse as I get older. I'd like to be more like Tony Soprano's shrink. She is the ultimate listener who knows what he does for a living and yet keeps focused on the task at hand and appears not to judge him.

I feature a guest on my radio show every week and they talk about the work they do with passion and enthusiasm. It is inspiring, but also makes me wonder where my true calling or passion in working life lies. When I was younger I was experimental with my hair, clothing and career choices. As the title of this post suggests I had aspirations to become Siouxie Sioux (who shares my birthday by the way) or another colourful strong female. Now I'm pondering what I do in this next phase of my career having had a child, so you may get a few more of these rambling posts as I think aloud about what I should do.

Bear with me please. Unless you're a career counsellor in which case let me know what you think.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Foodie Friday: the food of love

boiling homemade mushroom wontonsIn foodie terms this last week has been an obstacle course of planning and preparation. Last Sunday was Chinese New Year and despite the various offers out there for prepared meals I decided to try my hand at homemade wontons. I had some wonton wrappers in the freezer that I'd bought a while back and I found a recipe in a veggie cookbook that my lovely friend Vicky gave me last year. Double bubble - working down the freezer contents and managing to get another of my resolutions going too. It was a very simple recipe with only a few ingredients: garlic, ginger, mushrooms and soy sauce. Preparing the ingredients and assembling the wontons took a little bit of time, but I used the one knife I love and hardly ever use (the proper chopping knife) and was very proud of myself once they were done. Cooking is very quick as they only need to be boiled for a few minutes and they're ready. They look like soggy samosas, but tasted really good.
homemade wontons and pad thai on a green plate.
I also made a pad thai using a kit from Waitrose to which I added prawns and an egg. It was half price, but to be honest I wouldn't buy it again as it's far too pricey when not on offer. We scoffed my efforts with some ready made prawn toast and some spring rolls. Not strictly chinese really, but it was delicious and made a change from the usual noodles and stir fry that we have. I plan to do the wontons again at the weekend, but next time I might pinch them into a small bag shape instead of folding them over. It has made me realise how few ingredients it takes to make very tasty dishes and that nothing beats the feeling of cooking from scratch and it tasting delicious.

Shrove Tuesday was a working day for Hubbie and a nursery day for my boy so we didn't have pancakes until teatime. One of the nursery staff told me they'd made pancakes with the children and my boy loved it - if he sees me using a frying pan he often encourages me to 'flip it' even if I'm making eggy bread so I do try and oblige to make him happy. I have a recipe for buckwheat pancakes that I'll be doing at the weekend - maybe a post swimming brunch or a light lunch I'm not sure yet. We usually eat pancakes for breakfast so having small ones with fruit for post nursery / work snacks made a nice change for the boys. I know it's lazy, but bought in scotch pancakes are such a lifesaver that I keep some in the freezer at all times.

heart shaped red velvet cupcakes with chocolate topping The freezer also came in handy for Valentine's morning as we had fruit and pancakes complete with heart-shaped sparklers. At first my boy wasn't sure what to make of the sparkling and fizzing that was coming from Daddy's breakfast plate, but when I brought his food out sans sparkler he was most insistent that I go back and rectify the error. Now, of course, he's a bit put out if he's served breakfast without the pomp and ceremony, but I'm sure he'll get used to eating toast or Weetabix without so much fanfare,

I did my Valentines baking on Wednesday afternoon following a few weeks of planning and a variety of recipes to try. In the end I went with heart shaped red velvet cupcakes with chocolate topping. There was so much mixture left over from the dozen cakes that I made a red velvet loaf cake with chocolate topping too. It took a while to find a recipe I was happy with as I've found that what disappoints me with red velvet cake is that it just isn't as good as I expect it to be. In my imagination it's as rich as devil's food cake but bright red. Instead it's always a pretty dry chocolate cake with a buttercream topping and falls apart.
Red velvet loaf cake with chocolate ganache topping
The recipe I used turned out pretty well although I might add a bit more raising agent next time for added oomph. The chocolate topping was partly so it would keep for longer (buttercream has a shorter shelf life so it compels me to eat them against my will !) Also, I like the contrast of a soft cake and a harder topping, but I did add icing sugar to the chocolate to make it spreadable and a bit sweeter because I used the 70% cocoa variety the same as in the sponge.

I've written before about food being about love and for me the challenge of a week like this one is being able to keep things interesting and delicious while also encouraging my boy to enjoy his food.

The bigger challenge is stopping myself from scoffing all the baking I've done when they boys aren't looking !!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Lips like sugar (from eating so many treats)

Happy valentines day

red velvet cupcake with chocolate topping in heart design paper caseIf you don't celebrate it then happy Thursday between pancake day and half term. Nice that the sun is out again today isn't it ? Well don't let me keep you I'm sure you have better things to do than read about lovey dovey nonsense.

If you do then I hope you're feeling suitably full of chocolate and are surrounded by cards and flowers from a legion of admirers as well as a helium balloon that popped out of a big box and a large teddy holding a red heart and "I wuv you" on it's belly. Ok maybe not the last one as even I'm feeling a bit queasy at the thought of that.

There is a scene in the Sex and the city movie where Carrie and Miranda go out for dinner on Valentine's Day and they are in a restaurant surrounded by balloons and couples in love. It's the nightmare vision of overblown 'romance' that haunts the single and terrifies the coupled who just want to get some dinner.

digestive biscuit with heart design in gel Thanks to our kindly neighbour offering to babysit we are going out this evening for dinner - just us two. I didn't want my boy to feel left out so we had a family breakfast before Hubbie left for work complete with heart shaped sparklers in the pancakes which our son loved. He even got a card from a secret admirer (although a clue was in the paw print at the bottom). He actually has so many admirers thanks to his flirtatious ways and cheeky smile that I think it's no bad thing to get him used to the idea of being a romantic.

To give him a head start here are some of my favourite valentine surprises:
  • A dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts delivered to my desk at work - Cliff the security guard brought them up to me with some ceremony so I tipped him a doughnut for his trouble 
    box of red velvet cupcakes with chocolate topping
  • A trail of paper hearts from the front door leading to the bubble bath surrounded by candles - we didn't live together at this time so it was a bit presumptuous, but still sweet.
  • Hubbie (before we were married) taking the day off to prepare a romantic meal for me - we had a bottle of rose water and most of the bag of dessicated coconut in the kitchen cupboard for months afterwards. 
  • Hiding a card in Hubbie's bag for him to find when he is at work - today he found it at lunchtime :o) 
  • Baking a dozen red velvet heart shaped cupcakes with chocolate topping for my boys - I'm not sure they will last the day :o) 
We go in for being lovey dovey in a big way in our house - it's cheesy, but fun. 

Whatever you do today I hope that it's filled with love. 

range of valentine's themed items including chocolates, cards, soft toy and handmade cards.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Chocolate, chocolate everywhere...

February is crazy time - it's the shortest month with the most going on from dragon dances to pancakes to lovehearts to half term fun and the return of Creme Eggs !!

Chinese dragon dance We are now in a new year on the Chinese calendar and last weekend we stumbled upon a dragon dance taking place in the most unlikely quarter of downtown Croydon. My boy found it all a bit too much with the loud drumming and large headed dragon, but he talked about it afterwards with glee so I'm pleased we experienced it first hand. Chinese New Year seems to have become lost in the glut of celebrations that we have over this short period, but we did made a lovely paper dragon at playgroup last week so the year of the snake hasn't entirely gone unnoticed.

Then we have shrove Tuesday - a magical day dedicated to the simplest foodstuff known to humankind that brings a smile to my boy, Hubbie and me all at once. We pile ours high with fruit and tuck in most weekends, but to have a special day just for pancakes is something else.

My boy made pancakes at nursery today and he was delighted to report that they were "delicious" a word he says with relish and saves for only the best foods. Poor Hubbie had a horrendous journey home so imagine how wonderful it was to come back to mini pancakes with bananas and maple syrup as a treat for my boys instead of their usual teatime.

Later this week we have one of the busiest nights in the restaurant world and the day that florists make more money than any other with the possible exception of Mothering Sunday. Valentine's Day causes so much consternation for new couples who don't know if it's too soon to go overboard on gifts and established couples who either have a 'routine' or feel it's all been done so what's new any more ?

a selection of valentine gifts, a teddy bear, a love mug, chocolate and a mini cake
In the past we have always taken turns to make a special meal at home rather than go out, but now that we are parents an evening out just the two of us is such a rare treat that we have decided to go out for a meal despite it being a cliche. I start planning gifts a long way back so by now I've got a pretty good stash of pressies for both my boys (sshhhh don't tell them !!) I am fascinated by the offers from dine in meals to overpriced roses to 'sexy' underwear. If you are in any doubt as to what you are supposed to give the retail sector will give you a lot of ideas.

Next week is half term then we have the preamble to Easter - the bus posters claim that Creme eggs aren't around for long, but seriously don't we just have them all year round now ? With so many celebrations in close proximity February is a pretty sugary month.

When me and Hubbie were first dating we used to celebrate everything. Any excuse to go out or to give each other gifts. So we would do the pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, the card and fancy meal on St Valentine's day and a tonne of chocolate at Easter. Hubbie makes the same promise each Lent to give up eggs and cauliflower (neither of which he eats) even though neither of us are Catholic or Christian.

I guess we just like having markers in the year that remind us where we are and give us excuses to celebrate.

Now it's even more fun as there's someone for whom it's all new and exciting as he's doing them for the first time. (Just don't tell him that his Valentine is from Mummy).

Sunday, 10 February 2013

This too shall pass (I hope)

The terrible twos graphic featuring a giraffe
As it's that time on a Sunday evening when the looming spectre of Monday morning is only held off by the hope of a good night's sleep I have been pondering. I left school over twenty years ago and I left my job over a year ago so why would Monday hold any dread for me ?

Other than the logistics of getting the boy to nursery and ensuring I'm home to receive a delivery at almost the same time it's hardly the most trying of starts to the week. I also do my radio show on a Monday so apart from a little bit of a panic about my guest finding the studio I tend to look forward to it. By the time I pick up the boy from nursery and then Hubbie from the station we've all got stories to share about our day.

So why is it that by the time Hubbie is home - having commuted for a few hours and suffered a full working day - I hide in the kitchen with a cuppa and Radio 4 and let him deal with the boy ? After all I don't have colleagues to drive me crazy, or the travel delays to wind me up or even a toddler at home on certain days ?

Well my theory is that it is precisely because I don't have colleagues or a commute or delays that I have lost all sense of perspective. My day is punctuated with breaks for hot drinks and planning my needs around my son's. I no longer have a role at work or a salary to spend or even adult company to discuss office politics with. All those necessary components to keep my sanity and identity intact.

Later in the week I mostly escape to the kitchen at 6.30pm because it's been one of those days - again. The ones where I have bruises from being kicked changing nappies, a headache from being head butted in the chin, a ringing in my ears from being slapped across the side of the face and backache from wrestling to get the boy to sit in his car seat. To top it all off I usually also have a sore throat from saying "Stop !" and "No !" so often.

Try as I might not to I do mutter swear words under my breath or in the next room, but his supersonic hearing will catch me out eventually and he will cause a sharp intake of breath at a bus stop or in front of his grandparents one day and I will have to hide from them too.

So the phrase 'this too shall pass' is my mantra to get me through my son's terrible twos and my muddled middle age.

In the meantime any tips would be much appreciated.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Foodie Friday: Horses for (main) courses

om shanti elephant
Do you recall how a few years ago there was a major public health scare over CJD in beef ? The photo call with a minister feeding his children burgers in front of cameras ? Every public authority from old people's homes to hospitals trying desperately to distance themselves from having fed those in their care contaminated meat products ?

And now we're hearing news items practically frothing with excitement that horsemeat has been found in supermarket foods that are labelled as beef. Headline writers have been free-flowing with puns (hence the terrible title of this post for which I apologise) and foodie writers have been terribly smug about 'the end of cheap food.' For it is the budget lines and the processed meat products like burgers and packaged meals that have been found to contain very little beef.

fresh cherries Why anyone is surprised by this baffles me. A meal that costs £1 and purports to have meat in it is going to be padded out with something cheap and in some cases it is rusk or water. When my Mother used to work at Walls she told us that she never saw any actual meat go into the sausages so she still doesn't eat them to this day. I've read the contents of cat food (I get bored) and found it contains ash - which is more often a hair colour or a paint chart description, not an ingredient surely ? To discover that the padding is actual meat is a revelation to me as I was under the impression that foodstuffs like cheap sausages were practically vegetarian anyway.

The big deal with beef that is horse is the fraud for some and the cost for others. So we've been lied to about what is in the food and have paid too much for a meat that is cheaper than the one we were told it was. Except I haven't. I don't eat beef - unless the next discovery is actual beef in Quorn lasagne in which case we have some serious ethical issues - so in theory it's not my problem. However, upon closer inspection it turns out that some sweets and desserts contain beef gelatine, so I may have inadvertently eaten beef in the days before clearer labelling. It would appear that as well as being worried that our chocolate 'may contain nuts' we now have to worry that our cheesecake 'may contain hoof.'

illustration of rabbit doing yoga poses Back when the whole CJD thing was going on I joked to my friends that if only non-beef eaters were left the planet would be solely populated by practising Hindus, Sikhs and vegetarians. Yoga would become compulsory on school timetables, orange would be the new black and not believing in reincarnation or karma would be considered 'kooky.'

How ironic would it be if the beef that everyone worried about being contaminated with 'mad cow disease' was horse all along ? Would that make it better or worse ?

I can see the makers of vegetarian foodstuffs rubbing their hands with glee (and a lovely lotion made of organic beeswax) at the thought of all the new converts to meat-free living. Personally I'd just issue a few words of caution - sausages in trifle aren't just a nightmare meal choice on Come Dine With Me - it's possible you've bought something similar in the budget puddings aisle.

Oh, and I don't eat trifle either.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Let me tell you about the birds & the birds and the bees & the bees.

To my beloved son,

As I type there is an urgent debate taking place on Twitter, in the Houses of Parliament and on news channels about the free vote taking place on marriage between gay couples. The most interesting part of this for me is how we retread the same old arguments for years and years. In my youth the debate was about 'promoting' homosexuality in schools - in other words acknowledging that some relationships exist outside of the man and woman scenario that was considered the norm. Of course you know that there is no such thing as 'the norm,' there is just who we are and how we live.
Hubbie in morning suit and me in cocktail dress in the gardens of Elmers Court Hotel
I heard a discussion on the radio this morning where a woman claimed that it was 'God's law' that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Now let's be clear where I stand on this issue. Anyone who wants to be married and who is free to in law should be able to. If they want to do this in a religious ceremony that is up to them and if they want to do this in a legal, but not religious way that is fine too. That means: a man and a woman who want to be married, a man and a man who want to be married or a woman and a woman who want to be married.

Can you believe there was a time when me and your Dad being married would have caused a similar hoo-ha because we have different coloured skin ? I know, I know, it's ridiculous the things that people think are any of their business.

You are nearly two and a half now and you have no preconceived ideas about the people in your life. I just have a few things that I need you to know and remember as you grow into the amazing man I know you'll be:
  • Treating someone differently because of who they fancy is stupid, plain and simple. 
  • I bitch-slapped a grown man (ok he was a young man, but he was in the army at the time) for repeatedly using the word gay in a pejorative way -  I will not hesitate to do it again.
  • Whoever you fancy / adore / love we will always love you - there is no question. 
  • If you want to marry or not marry the person you love you deserve the choice either way. 
Most important of all, to meet someone you love enough to want to marry them is a special gift - not everyone is that lucky.

If anyone tries to stop you from being with the person you love come and get me - I'm nowhere near out of slaps yet.

All my love always,


Monday, 4 February 2013

You've got to be in it to win it

Meatfree Monday cookbook Like a lot of people I enjoy competitions. I love to watch Come Dine With Me, the Great British Bake Off and in the days before we had our boy we were pretty active in the pub quiz world. At one point we had an elite team of 6 of us each with a specialist skill area. I am fiercely competitive and this was possibly not the best way to channel that need to win.

I don't go in for actual gambling like bingo or poker. I'm far too risk averse for that kind of thing and I'm not sure I'd be able to get to Victoria Coren's level of skill in poker without seriously sacrificing a lot of my family life. I also don't play the lottery or scratch cards - they're far too random for me.

No I get my kicks from entering competitions online, usually via other blogs and I do occasionally win. I know there are people who commit a lot of time to competitions and win all sorts of goodies, but my own winnings have been pretty modest. In the last year I have been lucky enough to win:
  • a Meatfree cookbook signed by Paul and Mary McCartney 
    Signed front page of meatfree Monday cookbook
  • a waterproof music player 
  • a gorgeous baking book
  • a beautiful bracelet 
     and just before Christmas I won something just for my boy
  • the Snowman dvd and soft toy
I'm hoping to win some big ticket items this year. I hardly think it's too much to ask to win a Smeg fridge, a new car, an exotic holiday or my beloved Kitchenaid is it ? 

Warning: Shameless self-promotion up ahead

Of course this is not a post without a purpose and like many of my fellow bloggers I'd love it if you would nominate me for the MADS awards with Parentdish. There are a lot of categories and you can be entered into more than one of them so I'm suggesting the family life and best blog categories, but you may choose others if you prefer. There is a link here you can click on the box on the top right of this page.

I have no idea if I even stand a chance, but if you don't try you don't know do you ?

Wish me luck (and don't forget to nominate me will you ?)