Madonna and child

If we could turn back time to the good old days...

If we could turn back time to the good old days…

I now have a fully formed teenager.  A son of 14.  A son of 14 with a constantly vibrating phone.  A son of 14 with a constantly vibrating phone, a more active social life than me and a better wardrobe.

I have a 14 year old son who grunts for breakfast and spends all his time at home in his bedroom.  If he does ever venture forth from his boy-cave you hear him long before you see him, his phone is simultaneously pinging alerts and broadcasting whiny voiced Americans narrating their Call of Duty kill roster.    This has its uses.  His face is so glued to the screen that the tinny audio works like sonar to stop you becoming parental road kill.

I have produced a typical teenage, Kevin and Perry are alive and tutting, the stereotype is more accurate than an Swiss watchmaker’s daily routine and it lives in my house texting “what’s for tea?” and when he doesn’t like the answer replies with “what’s for tea tomorrow”.

Despite trying to ensure a culinary success rate of  every other meal, overnight I have become repellent to him, I am in equal parts embarrassing, irritating and irrelevant.  An annoyance cocktail for one and I am shaken and stirred by this.

I know teenagers are meant to pull away, I know that this is normal development.  I know I would be more concerned if he wasn’t like this, but I didn’t know how much I would miss him, how much I would crave the odd kindly look or gentle word.  The fun of watching a film together, the joy of having dinner as a family and I don’t know to change this.  If it is even possible.  I started to  look to the wider world for solace and advice.  This bought Madonna and her recent disagreement with her son into sharp focus.

I can understand why Madonna was so upset when Rocco went to live with his dad and I admire her spirit.  To dress up in a Pierrot  costume whilst baby pictures of him flash up on the screen behind her at one of her shows,  it a bold gesture.  Even if it demonstrates how little she realises it will drive him away further by showing him up in front of his friends slash the entire world.  I am constantly being told I am too loud even when we are the only people in a restaurant.   If I dressed up in a fancy dress costume in public my son would die of shame.   It was clear that Madonna would not be answer to my prayers.

I spend more time now worrying that I didn’t make enough of the chances when he was younger and did want me around.  Did I change Anakin Skywalker into Darth Varder enough (but those boots were a bitch to get on and off).  Did I play with him enough, or was there always work to be done.  Did I make enough of all the hugs and kisses and adoration in the eyes.  I don’t think I did, but then maybe it is impossible because the love they have for you when you are their world is infinite.

So today, go hug your child, smother them in kisses, put down the cleaning or the laptop and play hide and seek and laugh and laugh and laugh, because you just don’t know when the last time they want to be with you will be and I want you to be able to treasure it.

I’ve got the key…..

IMG_4920Life doesn’t seem to have got any slower since Christmas. If anything it has sped up like a demonic whirling dervish spinning ever faster and more out of control.   Between children, work and selling our house (in two days this time, Emoov.com are the business) life seems to be on permanent fast forward. The idea of being bored is  a quaint novelty from the dark ages of my teens.  Life at warp speed can be exciting and a buzz but it can also make me grumpy and unnecessarily short with people.   Today I was given a very big reminder from the Universe to be a lot nicer to everyone.

After a very emotional draining week at work, one that had been challenging, frustrating but ultimately rewarding, combined with all the normal stresses and strains of getting a mortgage sorted within a pressurised time frame I was spent and very ready for home time.  At 2.12 I saw I have missed a call from my mother in law.  The mother in law I was expecting to pick up our only garage key as she was dropping off our old cot.  Our only garage key that I had carefully taken off its key ring so that identification would be straightforward and placed in a bag along with my brother in law’s card and birthday present in the pre-arranged location.  So far so organised.   The morning was sunny, the wind none existent, it was a rare calm, happy exit to school and work that gave rise to the idea that  I could be a competent mother and adult after all.

What could go wrong?

At 2.14 I called Maggie, my mother-in-law back.  She answered.  It sounded like she was in a hurricane.

“Hello Maggie”

“Hello” in her voice you could hear the effort it was taking to keep upright, “where did you put the key?”

“In a bag with Chris’ card under the plant pot”

“No it’s not there”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeessssssss” there was another massive gust of wind

“What about Chris’ card?”

“He found that in the bushes”

“and the bag?”

“Oh hang on I think I found the bag, oh no it’s an old glove”

“that was our only garage key” I am ashamed to admit I did whine

“Don’t worry, we will keep looking, it’s bound to be somewhere”

I said something along the lines of that it must be in the bushes, Maggie said something cheerful as she always does.  I put the phone down and tried not to have a little weep.  Oh come on Natalie they might find it, have some faith.  I called a locksmith.

“Hello”

“Errfhh”

Hello?”

“Garforth Locksmiths” The man sounded suspiciously like he had just woken up from a post lunch nap.

“Hello I have a garage lock without a key”

“Is is a new house?”

“It’s about 20 years old”

“‘cos some of those new locks you just put drill in and the whole thing crumbles”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“It will be about £100 if it is a standard lock and I can come round tomorrow.”

Ok  I thought, not so bad as long as our lock doesn’t disintegrate, (you can’t have a conversation with a tradesman without that touch of peril can you?)  I would prefer not to spend £100 just before payday and the mortgage people scrutiny but it could be a lot worse I told myself, and you never know my in laws might have found the key.  I called them expectantly.

“Hi there, I was just about to text, we couldn’t find it, so we have left everything on the lawn in front of the house, hope it doesn’t rain.  Sorry,  Bye”

Finally home time, I got in my car, my parting words to my colleague.  “I am going to find that key and I will send you a picture.”  I felt like Scarlett O’Hara pledging her future in Gone with the Wind.

“What’s for tea?” shouts down Harry as I step through the door. “I don’t know” I snap.  Even though I knew exactly, as I had the pork chops defrosting.  Really why couldn’t I just tell him?

“I have to find the garage key”

“Mum, how many spellings did I have to get right to go to Subway was it 10 or Nineeeeeeeee? ” asked Nina very hopefully

“I. have. to. find. the. garage. key.”

I went out to look in the bushes.  I found the old glove, two old food bags and a packet of crisps.  But no key.  I started poking around the undergrowth, a deceptively dense tangle of leaves and roots that had swallowed up a Wimbledon fortnight’s worth of tennis balls over the years and never disgorged any of them .  I found an old tennis ball.   I snarled a bit.  Now I find a tennis ball now?  I  started to fantasize about a giant horseshoe shaped magnet descending from the sky.  Which in a funny sort of way did happen.

“Darling, do you know anyone with a metal detector?” I had called my mum for some moral support.  I had been searching for a whole 10 minutes but it was all feels so futile, already I was thinking about waking up the napping locksmith again.

There was a person working their way up the street knocking on every door.  He was a youngish man, dressed in a long coat with a flat cap and carrying a ruck sack on his back, in his hand a piece of paper.

He was three doors down from me.   He looked over at the mad woman squatting on her haunches moving leaves back and forth.  I am sure I would have been muttering and no doubt swearing.  “I don’t want anything thank you” My tone was sharp and I am sure very unpleasant.

“Oh that is ok” he said very mildly.  “What number are you?”

“What” I barked.

“Oh I just need to mark off that I spoke to you”.    “Do you need a hand?” He added.

“Ha no thanks unless you fancy looking for a key in all this”  I gestured down.

“A key?”

“Yes I know”

“But I saw a key when I was here at 1.00 pm”

“Really”  to say I felt some hope would be the understatement of the year, but I was cautious not to have it dashed away instantly.

“Where”

“Over here”  He led me to a point in the road, near where I park my car.

“Oh my goodness, you are not joking are you?”  still not believing my luck that maybe all was not lost.

“No”, he looked a little hurt “I would never do that”.

We walked over to where he thought he had seen the key.

“Was it silver”

“Yes”

“Was it slightly square at the top”

“I think so”

We tried to analyse the way the wind was blowing by wetting a finger and sticking it up in the air.

We walked over to the house we thought it must be.  We moved some logs.  It wasn’t there.

I turned round and asked him again  feeling slightly crest fallen “Where did you see it..” but the words were not out of my mouth when sunlight glinted on a sliver of silver.  I could hear a chorus of heavenly angels.   There it was.  The key just lying there waiting to be picked up.

I was so delighted  I hugged the man.  “Oh right mmmm I see, right” he said very awkwardly.   (Imagine surprising Clive Anderson with an uninvited display of affection, the result would be the same).   I not sure he is a man ever to have been hugged by a strange woman before and certainly not one twice his age.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you, I hope something wonderful happens to you this weekend you really deserve it.”

“It’s ok” he said ” you just looked like someone in distress”.

I tried to offer him a variety of rewards mainly alcohol, money  and chocolate related.  He refused them all and went back off down the road knocking on the remaining doors on the street.

As I put the stuff back in the garage, I marveled at his kindness.  I had been so rude at the beginning.  Most people would have just thought up yours you snotty cow and left me to stew in it.   It is rare isn’t it to meet someone so happy to help and for its own reward.  It is a salutary lesson and one I want to learn from,  I promise to try, but I fear I might not always succeed but I promise I will try.  Although maybe I am getting some good luck back, I did hand in someone’s beautiful grey suede Chloe Bag that contained their purse, driving licence and credit cards into Sainsbury’s last weekend when I saw they had left it hanging on the trolley in the car park.  Karma does work doesn’t it.   It is the key to a happy life.

Yule it like a Dude

wifecard22_3128762bHow are your Christmas preparations going so far this year?  I address this to female readers in particular.  Does fraught, expensive and never-ending ring any sleigh bells?  Mine certainly have been.  I have had a costume crisis for my little Shepard at 7.40 am on a Monday morning,  just as we were about to step out of the door for work.  I would like to say that I took it all in my stride, sorting it all out in a calm, efficient manner, the very model of modern motherhood, not sobbing on the shoulder of the staff in Sainsburys as I spied the very last costume behind the galaxy of golden stars hanging from the shelves,  and then on my boss when I arrived to work, guilt ridden that my child could have been the only one standing up without her tea towel on her head in front of all the other parents (and yes on the day it was being filmed for the DVD, oh potential for guilt memorialised in perpetuity makes my blood run cold still).   That crisis had come after we had been busy all weekend of putting up Christmas trees and decorations, manning a stall at the Christmas School fair, baking Christmas Tree biscuits for said Christmas School Fair, pantomimes in Harrogate (oh yes there was), baby group reunions (all of these carried out on SAME afternoon and evening) and carols on the green.  All lovely, joyful, festive things to do and that I WANT to do, but  still needing to be crow-barred into a weekend already full with all the cooking, cleaning , washing and homework jobs you need to do to get ready for another week of school and work.

Christmas was starting to become a C word to me, every time I thought about my never-ending to-do list, I felt sicker than a doctor’s surgery during an outbreak of the Noro virus, looking around I saw  women making ther lists and checking them a hundred fold.  In our modern, more secular days who is really benefiting from Christmas?  To my wandering eye it would appear it was only the retailers, no wonder they put so much  effort into those shiny baubled ads.   Could it be that Christmas is just slave labour for women?  Or an even more revolutionary thought was rising up in my mind… do we do it to ourselves?   Time and again people say the same thing, “she is off to the shops panicking she has forgotten someone, but as far as I see we all just swap presents around.”  Texts from friends would be along the lines “have just spent £300 in Sainsburys and I am not done yet.”  One lady who clearly had so many other things on her mind she had no left no time for parking, as she abandoned her car diagonally across two spaces, came out of the supermarket pushing a shopping trolley full of poinsettias muttering “I don’t know if I am an Arthur or a Martha but at Christmas I wish I was an Arthur.”

Then there is the ridiculous but inescapable pressure to make Christmas perfect.  The expectation is so intense, we want everyone to have the perfect present, original and so thoughtful (and on budget), with the perfectly coordinated paper, table settings, and lets be honest we probably even think we should be trying to make it snow on Christmas Eve. (I blame Richard Curtis for this one).   All this before reading blogs from Mumsnet berating parents for not having the vigilance of CIA Carrie from Homeland when keeping the Official Secrets Act about the Big Fellow from the North Pole.  I know the blogs were meant to be light-hearted but in all the stress of  having to decide whether it is more environmentally friendly to have a real tree or a fake one, should you pancetta your sprouts, how the hell does everyone else have a beautifully  themed new holiday decor of Nordic reds and whites, or cool Copenhagen silvers and metallics whilst our decorations are every colour known to mankind?  That is before contemplating the big questions, how and why has Christmas become this  monster of consumerism? And the final kicker, how the devil are you really meant to afford all of this anyway?  My sense of humour seems to vanished quicker than this year’s most wanted toy from the shelves of Argos.

Meanwhile my husband tells me he has had a lovely week watching all the Christmas TV in Nottingham.  Giles Coren and Alexander Armstrong have been delightfully advising on wines for the Big Day, Val Doonican’s warbling from his 1986 Christmas Eve special and Nigella seducing us with her Christmas goodies (although don’t try and put boiled sweets into her Christmas Tree biscuits as stained glass windows, they are not robust enough… yes I did learn this the hard way one hour before having to take said biscuits to the Christmas School Fair).

So I think there needs to be radical revision of Christmas, it needs to be simplified and how.  My idea is to let the boys have a go.  There would be instant changes:

1.  Profits for the Post Office would plummet, there would be no cards sent by mail.  This would also result in the drop in sales of ribbon and those tiny pegs to hang up cards in the house.  There would also be a very positive knock on effect for the environment too with less trees being felled to make the cards in the first place.  Win.

2.   There would be very little wrapping at all as all presents would be sent as electronic gift cards.  What wrapping needed to be done would be supplemented with pages of the weekend supplements.   There would be no bows or ribbons on any presents.

3.    There would be plenty of alcohol in the  house, but Baileys would not have been invented.

4.    The turkey would be cooked to perfection as per Jamie Oliver’s instructions.  There would be roasties, sprouts and carrots but there wouldn’t be any bread or cranberry sauces. Pigs in blankets would be in abundance and we would be eating pork pies and crisps until we return to work.

5.  There would be Christmas Pud, the setting alight  of with industrial quantities of brandy  would probably the highlight of everyone’s day.

6.   There would a lot more time spent in the pub.

7.   It would be a lot less expensive.

So far so very appealing.   But then my sister and her family came round yesterday for our mini Christmas Day, and it was gorgeous.  It was everything I love about Christmas, delicious food and your nearest and dearest  around a table, eating and chatting and drinking.  Balancing a slippery paper crown on your head whilst listening to your adorable 5 year old niece telling the same cracker joke over and over again because she has it memorised.  Christmas lights a-twinkling and Christmas songs crooning in the background whilst presents are handed out, unwrapped and loved.  Really, its worth all the stress isn’t it?  But can you just remind me of that if some sharp-elbowed so and so gets their hands on the last bag of sprouts in two days time!

Merry Christmas Everyone, as Shakin’ Stevens once said.  Hope you all have a good ‘un, peaceful and serene.

National Lampoon

These Penguins are not going Cheap

These Penguins are not going Cheap

What is the most traditional thing about Bonfire night in these modern times, no, it isn’t a penny for a guy is it?   The last firework has only just faded from the night sky when we have to look with wonder at the next twinkling spectacle, the premiere of all those bloody Christmas ads.

Once upon a time, the Marks & Spencers ad was the trademark of British advertising quality.   But just as their fortunes have dipped on the high street their ad men have also fallen from favour.  John Lewis has reigned supreme recently.  Proper little tear-jerkers;  not only selling the wares but selling us the wonders of the human existence.  Every year they hit the double bullseye of heart and wallet.

But not this year.  I know it is heresy for a nice middle class woman of a certain age to say this but #montythepenguin is a bit meh.  It just doesn’t it do it for me.  Yes, the payoff is wonderful, and yes it is so the-done-thing that there is scant merchandise on view, but I am a little fed up of seeing children who look like they  might have been shipped off as cute little evacuees in flannelette pjs and dressing gowns.  I know nostalgia from Cath Kidston onwards sells home furnishings everywhere but I want to acknowledge the era I live in too instead of looking misty-eyed to a time that didn’t really exist and conveniently brushes under the hand-woven rug, all the repression of those times.  Just watch Masters of Sex to remember how little control women had over their own lives in the 50s.

Nope this year the ad that has caught my eye, that makes me feel most akin to the Christmas experience is the National Lampoon Christmas Vacation parody, the Tescos ad.  I know this has come as one hell of a statement from me, a life long member of the anti-Tesco club (see here for previous musings on the corporate behemoth ).   Their multiple recent financial difficulties do smack of a huge dose of karma to me.  But flipping heck I love their ad.   We are all becoming a nation of Clark Griswalds, creating ever brighter Blackpoolesque illuminations to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus.  Perhaps we are all trying to recreate the wondrous sight of the archangel Gabriel lighting the skies proclaiming the coming of the Messiah or maybe there is a deep-seated desire to be the shiniest star on the street to compensate for being a sheep (or an ox or a third tree from the left) in our school nativity.  But whatever it is, I do love the effects of the lights lifting the gloom of winter.

I do feel guilty criticising St John of the Lewis,  but this year I am saying it.. shove off Monty back to the South Pole with your £95 price tag and hello Tescos’ light show; it’s cheesy, feel-good and doesn’t take itself seriously at all.  Just how it should be.  I shall enjoy your take on Christmas cheer but just don’t expect to see me in aisle 5 of one of your stores any time soon!

O Captain My Captain

dead-poets-society-robin-williams-standing

 

The O Captain My Captain scene from Dead Poets Society flashed through my mind the minute I heard about the sad death of Robin Williams.  I wasn’t only one.  All over social media people were playing the above clip in tribute or even, as in the office of ITV2, recreating the scene themselves.

The film had a huge impact on me when I saw it as very unworldly 22 year old living in London.   I would like to say spurred on by John Keating’s message that life was for living, that I did seize the day,  but on reflection I think it took another 30 years.  Still don’t they say better late than never!

So I had been eager to watch the film again as my own tribute to that funniest  (and hairest) of funny men, and I did last night.

The film seems to have held up pretty well over the past 25 years (maybe a lot better than me).  I was stuck by the precision of Robin Williams’ acting as the inspirational English teacher John Keating.  His look, his manner, his voice, I was right back in the classroom.  I was amazed how many lines from the film had stayed with me and how I could remember that O Captain My Captain came from a Walt Whitman poem.  If if had come up in a Mastermind question the week before I wouldn’t have been able to answer.

Moving performances too from the then teenaged unknowns,  now household names, Robert Sean Leonard or Wilson in House, Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles (Will Gardner from The Good Wife).  The only place I thought the film had dated (except for the very obviously late 80s synth soundtrack which jarred otherwise perfect 1959 period piece)  was in our modern age of constant social media, ultra violent video games such as GTA and COD,  underage binge drinking and drug taking that a bunch of boys who went to the woods at night read the poems of dead men would be celebrated by all in education not castigated and expelled.  I tried to read Ode To Autumn, my very favourite poem by my favourite dead poet John Keats (the similarity to name to John Keating can not be an accident) and my, then young, son just sniggered at the perceived rude bits “close bosom’d friend of maturing sun”  “Bosum, mum you said bosum”.

It made me wonder what  Ofsted would make John Keating’s teaching methods.   Would they see enough planning, he certainly demonstrates outstanding knowledge of his subject and it is clear he had high expectations for his class to learn from him.   How though do you measure this ability in exams, and to do it fairly.   For the first time I could see the point in curriculums; syllabuses to be studied and regurgitated at exam time.  How else can you really do it?  Especially as there provides a safely net for parents and students.  Do this this way and you are pretty much guaranteed your result.  Exam Fodder.

The film deals with the culture clash that was to define the 1960s as tradition and conformity made way for personal freedom and emotional expression.   The Old Guard found John Keating’s teaching incendiary.  The revolutionary idea to be yourself, express yourself was, to parents who had made sacrifices to send their sons to the school and therefore felt compelled to map out for their children’s lives into adulthood, to make them accepted, intolerable.   To the Establishment this was treason.    There was no question the Headteacher’s mind.  The blood was on John Keating’s hands.

Not much so much has changed today.  How to educate our children is a debate that rages on still.   Tony Blair swept to power on the platform of “Education, Education, Education”.  You can’t turn on the television or radio without hearing about another change to way we school our offspring.   Just the day before I heard the head of Eton College speak of his desire to get rid of all exams up until A-level.  How schools are in the thrall to the University’s desire for grades.  How we fail our children if we “spoonfeed” them their education.  That we have to make them think for themselves.  How the exam system was so artificial.  That we don’t go out into the world of work and get supplied with all the information to do a good job and work individually.  No we work collaboratively and we have to teach children to be able work like this at school.  But I don’t think there is an educator in this country brave enough to free things up to that extent.  No matter how many times Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk asking is school killing creativity is  played on You Tube.

Of course school is so much more than just getting qualifications, it is about socialising and learning about to get on with your peers.  Exposure to new experiences and cultures help you take those nascent steps to building your own tastes and fashions.  It’s about falling in love for the first, and usually the most painful time.   If you are lucky it is about building self-confidence and resilience.   It’s safe environment to learn about the world and how you fit into it, school is where we realise that we might be the centre of our parents’ universe but to the rest we but one part of it, vital and essential but just a part of it like everyone else.

But back to John Keating, despite how the old guard viewed him I think most parents would like a teacher to inspire a life-long love of learning, to impart an appreciation for knowledge for knowledge sake.  Schools have changed beyond recognition from when I was at school.  I am very glad to see the growth of pastoral care and it makes me wish I was going through the education now.  But  I  had some wonderful teachers, but in particular an incredible English teacher, Mr Thurlow, and an inspirational history teacher Mr Hopkinson.   With his tweed jacket and his mischievous twinkling eyes he dropped  left of centre ideas like truth bombs into minds used to only hearing from the Right.  He was the teacher who said there will be a nugget of information taken away by every pupil and never forgotten.  Well he told me mine and only today I retold the tale of the suspicious Russians serfs feeding the revolutionaries to the pigs after mistaking them for tax inspectors.  Pigs that would eat up every trace of the Moscovites, hair, skin and nails and although I am not a teacher I like to think I am continuing on the tradition in my own little way.

A Portrait of An Artist

Today’s blog is a hymn in praise of Grayson Perry, the Turner Prize winner potter,  sublime artist, transvestite and up there for most interesting person alive award.  He is warm, engaging and completely brilliant.

Who are you?  Grayson and his alter-ego Claire is himself  the perfect metaphor for how we all have our different sides to project to the world

Who are you? Grayson and his alter-ego Claire.  A living metaphor for how we all have our different sides to project to the world; that we are all our own works of art

I can not get enough of him, his art and his ideas.  His ability to articulate high concepts to a layperson in his series of Reith Lectures on Contemporary was extraordinary.  He is a natural teacher.   If you didn’t hear the lectures you can download them from the BBC website.

His Channel 4 documentary last year on taste and class was so revelatory.  He looked at working, middle and upper class in turn and through meeting members of the public and observing them in their home environment examined how we use objects to identify which social strata we belong to and why.    That he managed to do this without judgement, his questioning, probing but always with the utmost sensitivity, was remarkable.  We might have moved away from a “know your place society” but those social-economic fault lines run deep in the British psyche still today.    That he was able tackle this fascinating but potentially very tricky subject without putting a foot wrong says everything about Grayson himself.  How he communicates his thoughts and ideas is so thrilling it feels like my mind lights up as I drink in his words.  It may sound a little far-fetched but I can almost feel my synapses buzzing and fizzing with excitement.  The very definition of mind-expanding.

He is now tackling identity in modern Britain with the same humanity.    In the past two episodes he has created portraits of his subjects using several different disciplines. (They are currently being displayed at the National Portrait Gallery until March).  As you would expect from this thought-provoking artist, he is tackling a very broad array of individuals and groups.  From a recently released from prison Chris Hulme; a White British girl who converted to Islam (hers was a tapestry hijab showing her life story); a transsexual depicted as an Peter Pan like African statue in bronze; a Christian collective; a gay couple with a mixed race child;  and last week so movingly he dealt with a couple whose husband was suffering with Alzheimer’s .  How who we are are is so wrapped up in the lives and memories of other people, especially in our nearest and dearest,  and what happens when that starts to disappear.  It was profoundly touching and when the wife saw the pot where Grayson had depicted their lives and memories with the family photos cut into shards she said you have got it exactly right.

It seemed that night the whole of Twitter were in tears, there was an outpouring of admiration, love and praise for Mr Perry.  If he wasn’t already a national treasure before he certainly is now and it delights me that a man of his many abilities and intelligence is curating our multifaceted modern lives for future generations with such empathy.

If you haven’t heard or watched him yet please have a look, I promise time with Grayson Perry will enrich your life in so many ways.  The third episode of Who Are You? is on Channel 4 on Wednesday 10 pm

and if you live in Leeds The Vanity of Small Differences, the set of 6 tapestries he created in conjunction with his look at British aesthetics is being displayed at Temple Newsam until 7 December.

Do You Want to Sell Your House?

jcxo5b6KiHow I have got to this (not that grand) age without having to sell my house before I am not sure.  Probably because like most life decisions I was too shit scared, until it was absolutely, irrefutably, backs to the walls, and then some, necessary.  Only to discover the thought was way way way worse than the deed, and in most occasions I was a whole lot better at coping/handling/dealing  with whatever the monumental milestone  came my way than I ever could have imagined.

So once we had made an offer on a house we liked, I realised  there was no way out, that saleboard had to go up outside my own house.  (Yes I know I was supposed to sell my house first but I refer you to the first paragraph as way of explanation).

This was it.  There was no backing out now,  I was on the 10 metre diving board of property selling looking down into the pool of house preparation and the stairs to said board were off limits.    There was only one way down.  I had to leap in.  I had to get the house, garden and garage  in order; do a deep clean and a massive de-clutter.  I hadn’t watched the steely voiced Californian Realtor Ann Maurice, the self styled house doctor on Channel 5 all those times without knowing if you “wanna sell your house” you need to clean  and clear surfaces, to stage  your home in a presentation style to appeal the maximum amount of viewers (ie take down any thing personal including all the family photos and that football trophy you won for best attitude 30 years ago).   The house needs to smell of bleach and other cleaning products not coffee and baking bread which are apparently old hat and make person think you are hiding something.  Plus have a mirror and a rug in the hallway to add light and lead the eye into the house invitingly.   (Yes I was one of the show’s most loyal viewers).   I am sure there was something about having some green in rooms too, if there were plants in rooms that gave off appealing vibes too but I might now be confusing her with Malcolm Gladwell or the Freakanomics boys.

I managed the mirror and a new rug in the hall.  She must know something that Ann Maurice because it is now N’s favourite room!

And so further to the golden advice of The House Doctor, I impart to you the top tips I have picked up over the past few weeks since I have been staring out the window at a saleboard that no one can see because it is stuck behind a tree.

1.  It is the closest I have come to dating 20 odd years.  You hope to catch someone’s eye.  You then wait hopefully by phone for it ring.  You  then spend a day scrubbing up and titivating and shoving any thing undesirable out of sight.    You laugh at a stranger’s jokes hoping to make them feel good, whilst making small talk and stating the obvious.  You then hang around waiting for another phone call.  All to be judged and for the most part found wanting.  It makes me madly insecure and as self conscious as a teenager during the first throws of puberty.

2.  When someone leaves your house, no matter who much they have oohed and cooed over your home, if they say with their back to you “I’ll call the Estate Agent tomorrow with some feedback” don’t put the champagne on ice.  There ain’t going to be an offer, they ain’t even going to phone the estate agent.

3.  That parts of the house that have always functioned without a murmur or a hiccup will start to malfunction half an hour for a viewing.

4.  That children can smear microscopic particles of toothpaste over the entire surface area of the bathroom sink 10 minutes before a viewing.

5.  That once you start cleaning and de-cluttering  it starts to take over and it gets very hard to stop.  That I believe Lady Macbeth’s “out damm spot” was really directed at marks on white walls.  After a while you can’t tell if the dirt is real or imaginary.  Is it smear or a shadow?  I can see this way leads to psychosis, especially when combined with the prolonged inhalation of with heavy duty cleaning product (and very possibly some Gin).

6.  That those new magic erasers of Flash are good but they crumble away to nothing very very quickly, making MORE MESS.

7.  That is possible to having viewings, pack for holidays, unpack for holidays, get holiday washing dried and away in the pouring rain and still keep your sanity. Just.

8.  That if you really really really want to sell your house that glossing a door at 6 in the morning is no sweat, in fact you can get two done.

9.  That clearing out the garage can be very cathartic and the joy of finding something your grandmother gave you on your wedding day, that you thought lost forever makes up for all the grumpy viewings.

10.  That I can come over frighteningly Daily Mail about other people’s bins not being put away on time if I have a viewing.

According to a recent survey done by a leading Estate Agent people take just  33 minutes to make up their minds to buy a property.   They take more time to choose a car or a sofa.  So all I need is the right 33 minutes with the right person.  Easy.    Just don’t get me started on stamp duty…….

The Grandest Day Out

C'est Vrai

C’est Vrai

So my children have coped admirably with England defeat.   So much so that as we watched Brazilians openly weeping in the stadium after their comprehensive thrashing by Germany (1 – 7 just in case there is someone on the planet who didn’t know) they would watch so dispassionately and remark that they would get over it.

Buoyed up by their resilience to English football results, I thought I would throw another sport into the mix and I dragged them out of bed on Saturday morning at an UNEARTHLY hour to watch the Grand Depart of the 101th Tour De France from Leeds Town Hall.    For months now I had been watching  with rising levels of interest and excitement as Yorkshire decorate itself (in increasingly more eye-catching and inventive ways) in the tour jersey colours Yellow, Green and White with Red Spots in readiness for the world’s greatest cycle race.

There was disappointment in the week leading up the day when it was announced that Bradley Wiggins wouldn’t be in team Sky due to the support  (domestiques n’est-ce pas) needed for Chris Froome the defending champion.  As any regular reader of my blog will now I have supported him for a long time (click on his name if you want to read it) so I was quite gutted that the first British champion ever of the TDF wouldn’t be riding up the Headrow at 11.10 am on Saturday 5 July 2014.

Still we had Cav, practically a Yorkshire man as his mum lived in Harrogate (the finish for Stage One) so  I managed to get over the absence of my favourite mod cyclist and we joined in the throng of happy (and a few a bit grumpy) spectators and stood behind the barriers and waited, and waited and waited

It was fairly surreal standing in crowd 4 deep on a Saturday morning when then Town Hall clock said it was only 8.15 am watching the oh so cool  Gendarmes walking along the street in wraparound shades even before the sun came out.  There were many, many, many vehicles, from motor bikes to pick up trucks all with French number plates and official looking stickers zooming around looking very official and very important to keep our interest.

We saw Christian Prudhomme (the organiser of the TDF) be interviewed right in front of us.

Monsieur Tour

Monsieur Tour

No 1 of many many many vehicles that drive around the Tour whilst those incredible men race on their two very thin wheels.

No 1 of many many many  four wheeled motorised vehicles that drive around the Tour whilst those incredible men race on their two very thin wheels.

We saw giant fruits shoots and packets of chips fly past us as part of the “Caravan” a convoy of vehicles that precede the riders around the 190km course.  It had to be the most surreal part of the day.  But before we could really process  what we had actually seen the riders started coming out and being interviewed.  The tension in the crowd was palpable and as the riders lined up in front of Leeds Art Galley I had my first glimpse of the pelaton.  It was more thrilling than rows of brightly coloured plastic helmets ever have the right to be.  Then they were off on the roll out up Harewood House where the official race would be started by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  We saw them all, Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish and nearly 200 other sleek lyrca’d machines pedaling leisurely up the Headrow.   It was so exhilarating that moments after they passed my legs were like jelly such was the intensity of the adrenaline rush

We had train tickets to go onto Harrogate for the finish to meet with friends but it wasn’t to be.  N and I came home (and H to a party) and watched the rest of the race unfold on television.  The sun had come out and so had every single person in Yorkshire it seemed.  Everyone on the highest of highs and not just those on Cote De Buttertubs.

Yorkshire Cordiale

just where does the race when and the spectators begin?

blurred lines – just where does the race en dand the spectators begin?

Yorkshire Cordiale

Yorkshire looked so beautiful.  The race was so exciting.  I knew every inch of the road.  Ariel shots of Middleham Castle, home of Richard III, Jerveux Abbey and Fountains Abbey, the location of many a sun-filled family picnic all looked glorious.  Harrogate was full to bursting point and as Cav was lead out by his team up Ripon Road (the loudest shouts coming from my dad I have no doubt) it looked like the sprinter would get his much dreamed of stage win in his mother’s hometown and get to wear the Maillot Jaune on Stage 2.  Alas for poor Cav it was not to be the fairytale ending as he crashed painfully just before the line and and Marcel Kittel crossed the line just outside Bettys on Parliament Street.

The crowds just before the end of the race..

The crowds just before the end of the race..hope Betty’s don’t run out Fat Rascals…

But despite that it was the most intoxicating day, all my friends were messaging each other delighting in their “blink and you miss it” stories that all ended in”but it was so worth it and I have never been prouder of Yorkshire” And best of all we got to do it all over again the next day.  My dad always said it was bigger and better in Yorkshire and really I don’t think there was anyone in the world that would have disagreed.  The Tour in Yorkshire was a Triumph.    This is really what this blog is about.  I want to say thank you to Gary Verity for having the vision and balls to pull this off.  I want to say thank you to every single person who decorated a bicycle yellow and dotted them around the route.  Who bunted or covered statues in yellow jerseys.  The pub in Knaresborough who painted red spots all over their walls.  To the farmer in Killinghall who painted his sheep in the colours of the three iconic jerseys.  To all my friends who swapped pictures on social media to allow us all to get intimate views and pictures of their experiences.  You all made this weekend one of the greatest of my life.

Of course N and I got out on our bikes in the evening.  As the sun set behind Temple Newsam N was determined to ride up the hill to the house.  “I need to conquer this hill” she said.  “Every time my legs hurt I just think of the Tour De France riders”.  Now then, isn’t that a champion legacy. Non? Bien Sur!

Parental Advisory

Happy and Glorious for now…..

Yes I got suckered in.  Admit it you did too.  All the chat about the low expectations of the England football team perversely got my hopes up.  I blame David Beckham too.  I was quite happily ignoring all the build up to Brazil until his journey of self-discovery  up the Amazon, and  who could resist a  beautiful man bearing his soul as he exposed that H&M underwear model bod.  Well I am only human.

So I was in, I couldn’t get enough of the stories from the Favelas.  Of the mum Rosie who provided so much love and fun for her children whilst living on the rubbish dump that also the workplace.   I was very humbled by the simple easter egg hunt of hens’ eggs wrapped in  old newspaper she created that resulted in unmistakable glee from her children.   Despite living in abject poverty their smiles lit up the screen when describing the game and the full belly from the feast afterwards.  It is easy to generalise but we seem to dissatisfied so easily by our lot in the first world. Spoilt in fact.  Each of us little emperors stamping our foot when the smallest whims don’t go in our favour.

I had paid such scant attention to the World Cup this year I found myself on the wrong side of the politics too.  An expression on Facebook of my mounting excitement found me told in no uncertain terms that this World Cup was an abomination to the poor of Brazil who couldn’t eat a football to survive.  A quick lesson via very funny British comedian (but on US tv)  outlining everything that was wrong with Fifa soon put me straight.

I do wonder how Fifa can get away with it, especially the Budweiser Bill.  It does all look “a bit arrogant”  Fifa official.

But despite all of this, the night of the first England match I was football crazy again.   The previous matches had been so exciting, so full of drama and goals I was getting lured in. Brazil, Mexico, Holland, Spain, France, Ivory Coast.  Every night  a mouth-watering prospect that didn’t disappoint.  N and I had been faithfully completing the wall chart.    Already I couldn’t imagine a night without a game.  I certainly didn’t want to miss a minute of our first match even at 11.00 on a Saturday  night.  My  expectations were low but in my heart, well before that first whistle anyhow, my hopes were flying high.

Surely  Roy’s young team would rise the occasion and do us proud.

So we lost the first match.  This is England, we like to make things difficult for ourselves don’t we?  We could come back from this defeat.  We had played well, we were just lucky and it was with these thoughts I prepared to watch the match with the children.  H has been enjoying watching football more and I had been sharing with him my wealth of knowledge which was mainly watching One night in Turin the superb documentary about our glorious campaign in Italia 90.  That tournament had started uncertainly too. Everything was going to be ok.    H & N were excited.  We had put a flag up both in the car and the house.  N was flag-waving during the national anthem, which I was singing lustily.  My children had the football bug, and I had encouraged and delighted in it and we were in for a fun happy night.

Well you know how it goes.  Lost again.  My son shouting at tv… Ref Ref how can you not see that as the Uruguay player stuck his arm at Sterling’s windpipe… These Uruguay players are so dirty.   The hope of the Rooney’s equaliser, abject the despair when Suverz scored again with 5 minutes or so to the end of the match.  The desperate last minute ultimately futile English scrabbles to get another goal.  The pleading deals being offered up to an indifferent God during last minutes of injury time.  “I will not have a chocolate again this week if England scored”  The gutting blow in the heart and solar plexus when the final whistle blows.

What was I thinking?  I was used to this torture.   I was a resigned, cynical, battle hardened England (and Leeds) fan.  I knew this would be how the story would end.   But my innocent children, they knew nothing of this, they were babes in arms.  What was I thinking exposing them, nay actively encouraging them, inviting this pain into their lives.   This was a kin to letting my children watch a video nasty.  I monitor my children’s internet use.  I tried very hard to shield my children from any none-age inappropriate viewing.  Hell I have even spoken to my soon to be a teenager son about how corrosive porn would be if he was exposed to it at this tender time of his life.  As I looked at them so down beat and dismayed I felt like I had ensnared them like the most diabolical drug dealer pushing a narcotic high that lasted for the first 20 minutes then would condemn the user to a life of never ending misery.

WHAT WAS  I THINKING?   I had wept for days when my favourite tennis player had been knocked out of Wimbledon at the same age.

I tried to show them the picture of distraught Gerrard being comforted by Suarez after the match as the true message from the game.  As history will attest, Suarez and his teeth has been somewhat discredited since that gesture of good sportmanship.   But it turns out that either my children weren’t quite so involved as I thought during the game, or had already an inbuilt immune system to England losing,  or they were much more resilient that I was at their age.  And now for the first time time since England went home so anonymously  I felt happy that I hadn’t shattered my children’s innocence.    Now then, all I need to know, who is the team to support for the rest of the tournament, Brazil or Germany?

The Egg is Already Broken – Week Two Mum Solo*

Well she didn’t win the Easter Bonnet competition at the KS1 Easter Disco.  The disco  that  does its very best to recreates Hell on Earth.  Walking into the School Hall  is an assault to every sense.   Normally it is scene of assemblies and children sat neatly in rows whilst a class shows their work and speaks in gentle, slightly hesitant voices.  Now you are temporarily deafened, blinded and crashed into by a sensatory deprived, sugar overloaded  wannabe  Clark Kent doing all the actions to the Superman song.    Every time and then immediately  I always think why did I rush away from work on the dot of 5?  I could have worked late and missed all of this.  Especially when the Silly Brothers play exactly the same songs in the same order, with the same actions.  I don’t know how they stand it.  I can’t cope with it three times a year.

N is dancing away, Easter Bonnet proudly on display.  A quick scan around, there are not too many other bonnets, she might actually be in with a chance.  But after the limbo and the unclean version of Blurred Lines (is it  an appropriate song  to play at a disco aimed at the Under 8s?  Blurred Lines indeed.  Even N said mummy there are swear words in this) it was the competition.  They all lined up and would you believe it the winning hat was whipped out at the last moment and yes guess what.  Won again.  It was all too much for N,  there were tears.  Quite a lot of tears unfortunately and rather surprisingly.  Tears that only a packet of Ready Salted crisps and a 10 p chew could assuage.  I had never been so grateful to hear the opening strains of McFly’s “It’s all about you.”  The sonic cue all parents have been waiting for.  You could feel the sigh of collective relief.   The  finishing line was in sight, only the foam  to endure  and we would be out of there.  As I watched the children dancing ecstatically, arms aloft in the white bubbles I wonder what my younger Ibizan going  self would make of the scene.  That those early Foam Parties that were so symbolic of hedonism on the White Isle would have end up on suburban toddlers and tweenies jumping up up and down covered in the stuff once a term.

A lovely friend had recommended a Tour De France motif for the hat this year.  Which was genius and we tried but we hadn’t left ourselves enough time after decorating the egg.   Yes a job that normally Paul would have helped with the kids.  Last year they did Shegglock Holmes (complete with mini pipe.. how is that even possible?) and Jeggward.    I am not artistic.  My art teacher, Mr Dowell said very archly I would be no loss to the art world when I told him I was not doing Art O’level.  In fact when I reread his comments on my report a couple of years ago they were so horrible they made me cry!.    So helping Nina create an egg to take to school for the Barnardos’ challenge was making me quite nervous and making me feel very Mum Solo*.  Of course I needn’t have worried.  Nina did it all herself and it was really rather lovely

IMG_2393

 

Next morning Jessie Jegg was still standing.  It was a miracle.  We just had to get her to school and displayed.   N was allowed into to office and plonked Jessie right in the middle of the table.  Instantly  I saw  the problem.  We were balancing an egg on top of a loo roll covered in glitterly card, on top of an upturned Chinese takeaway box covered in tissue.  What could possibly go wrong?  I tried to influence N into placing Jessie Jegg in another safer more protected spot.  She was having none of it.  So there Jessie Jegg stood, proud as punch in the middle, looking as vulnerable as images of the Twin Towers look to me now when I see photos of them still standing in Lower Manhattan pre 9/11.

I had to get to work, so I had to leave, full of anxiety that Jessie Jegg wouldn’t last 5 minutes.  Arrgghh.. but then I remembered watching The Middle ( a  US comedy portraying the day to day of family life.  It is very funny and unnervingly accurate, click on the link above to watch a clip).  Well Brick the youngest child suffers from anxiety and after being plagued one episode with a raft of irrational fears he find solace in the Buddhist philosophy that (in his case) the vase was already broken.  Accepting that the vase would eventually break one day  allowed him to enjoy it now, freeing  him of the obsessive worries of keeping it safe and protected from damage.   Well it made perfect sense to me too.  I just imagined that Jessie Jegg was like Humpty Dumpty (hey that could be great idea for next year!) and instantly I felt better.

When I got to the Disco, Jessie Jegg had actually made it through in one piece, hurray, but N didn’t win that competition either.  Boo!  Still it is all about the taking part that counts isn’t it? I am already getting the hang of thinking like the Dalai Lama.  Very Zen.

 

Smooth Radio have aired a TV commercial and I thought some of you might like to see it.     Just to give you an idea who Paul works for now.  Oh and for some of you there is the big attraction of a certain smoothie,  Mr Buble.

 

*Monday to Friday