Grin and Bear It

This was meant to be a post about school photos. About bad choices (my mum trimming my fringe the night before) about the results never being what you expect…

I didn’t get round to writing it.

Instead my unwritten scheduled post got forgotten about and then posted itself last night.

In light of today’s events Stateside it seems appropriate though.

When half the country’s gloating, but the other half’s in shock. When half are grinning and the other half have to bear it. We had that here in the UK with Brexit…we get how you’re feeling. We sympathise. The bruising on your chin will fade, but the lack of comprehension and feeling of betrayal kinda stays.

Just to say, we’re thinking of you, America.

GSM x

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For Christmas Sake

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that last time I checked it was still October. That month slap in the middle of AUTUMN. Venture into the shops though and you’d be mistaken that you’d fallen asleep for 6 weeks and had woken up as Christmas was here. Fairy lights and baubles have started to appear. Signs  and shop windows declare the looming imminence of Christmas in a way that would make a host of angels on a hillside look subtle. In M&S I heard staff discussing the need to put a poster up of David Gandy in his pants though, so it’s not all bad.

  
But at the same time the shelves have been cleared of practical things you might actually want to buy in favour of the Christmas gift set.

Last week I was shopping with Noodles in Mothercare. (By “shopping” I actually mean following Noodles up and down the aisles until he decided we could eventually go home.) The store was festooned with festive decorations: tinsel, fake presents, clothes with Christmas puddings and snowmen on them. Simply stepping across the threshold I got Noddy Holder tinnitus: “IT’S CHRIIIIIIIISTMAAAAAAAS!!!”

And then I heard it…the sound of Jingle Bells!!! The store was already playing Christmas music!!!

“Oh my God,” I said to an assistant. “I can’t believe you’ve got Christmas music on already.”

I expected her to roll her eyes at the prospect of having cutesy kids Christmas tunes played on a loop for the next two months. Personally I was already starting to twitch on her behalf.

“Yeah, but it’s the season, innit?”

Well, here’s the thing, world of retail, it’s really not! I’m lucky to get 6 hours undisturbed sleep, not 6 weeks. I may be sleep-deprived but I’m definitely sure it’s still October and thus very much NOT the season.

  
Don’t think we see what you’re doing too. We see you sneaking rolls of Christmas wrap by the tills in late August. We realise that September brings the first sightings of the Roses selection box. We know that the second you whip the school uniforms away the day the schools go back (which is beyond annoying as it’s only then that you realise that you’ve bought the wrong size/the knees in the trousers have failed survive the playground/they’ve already lost their jumper and need a replacement) the Christmas onslaught is going to begin in earnest.

And here’s the thing, retailers, we’re not stupid. We know when Christmas is. It’s the same every year after all. Those who want to get organised can do so just as well without the decorations going up before the leaves on the trees have turned brown. We don’t need the gift sets out until December because those things are only bought as panic buys for the great aunt you only see once a year/Secret Santa purchases for the colleague you don’t know very well/donations for the school fête. None of those purchases happen until they really desperately need to, so none of that stuff needs to be given precious store space until December. Put your Racing Grannies and lavender drawer sachets away for now and let us carry on as normal.
 

I haven’t needed an inflatable hipster beard so far this year
 
Ditto the food. Are people really stock-piling frozen sausage rolls and turkey? If they are, how come Christmas Eve is a battleground of supermarket shopping. That’s when you need the abundance of Brussels sprouts. Not now.

And Mothercare…please please don’t get the kids uber excited about Christmas yet. It’s like starting a long car journey and telling them we’re nearly there as we back out of the drive.

Kids know what toys there are. They’re also greedy and fickle. We know, retailers, that you are also greedy and have a lot to gain from force-feeding images of all the wonders Christmas can bring. But have some sympathy for the parents. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’re organised with gifts hidden in the loft by October only for the Number 1 Item of Desire to change on 23rd December. And if you do insist on luring our kids into really really really really really really wanting whatever’s the top of your let’s-shift-this-shit marketing campaign, for the love of God make it readily available and in plentiful supply. Toy frenzies might make good news stories, but they make for miserable Christmases.

  
It’s too late for this year. But have a thought before 2017, retailers. Let us have an autumn. We’ll still buy just as much tut by the time Christmas rolls round, but we might be less inclined to turn into the Grinch about it all. Plus, Mothercare, Noodles got so excited about your fake presents he destroyed two of them hoping to find goodies inside. Good luck having any left by Christmas.

It’s not hard: just hold back on the Jingle Bells in October. The David Gandy poster can stay though.

  

Another Side

Ok, a confession: I have another blog. (Another two, actually…but this isn’t the post for talk of memorable meals.)

I gave up on this blog for a bit because life became not very funny as we waited for Noodles to be diagnosed with Autism. There aren’t many puns to be had out of a cycle of assessments. And chuckling about public tantrums wasn’t so funny when the child in question was doing so because the world was just being one big struggle.

By the time we finally got his diagnosis this March my head was whirling. I realised I was going to have to decide how much I’d want Noodles to be shaped to conform to the norms of society versus the way he truly is (which is stubborn, single-minded and brilliant – in a lot of ways I wish I could be more like him rather than him more like me). So I started a blog to sort my head out. Thus Living With Edges was born. (BTW Noodles became SP – my Square Peg in a world of round holes – and Boo became Amy, because she said that that’s what she would be called if she had a choice.)

It’s more niche than things here, but some people found me and I have a little band of followers. Im not posting here to boost that number; I don’t expect follows or even for anyone to give it a glance. 

But at the same time, in light of Mental Health Day, my last Edges post was about the realisation that I perpetuate the stigma attached to mental health issues through inaction. (I told you it’s not a giggle-fest over there.) But if I want mental health issues to have acceptance they have to be normalised. And so I thought it was important to post here too: just to say how amazingly proud I am of Noodles.

  
It’s not always easy, but at least we have a better understanding of his issues now and so we’re trying to find a way that suits him as an individual and us as a family. It takes a lot to be different, but he does it with style. 

Kitchen Wars: GSM vs the Rebel Appliance

Once, in a kitchen not so far far away:

“I think I’ll get a new fridge at the weekend,” Teflon Man announced last weekend.

In fairness, our fridge has become increasingly broken for about 5 years. First the water filter stopped working, then the ice cubes, then the freezer and then the top two shelves of the fridge. The freezer has now started to smell of death! 

Needless to say, TM hasn’t bought a new anything. He hasn’t even been anywhere near Curry’s website. 

As ever I’m disappointed, but not surprised.

The other appliances, however, have clearly overheard the conversation and are standing firm alongside their about-to-be-abandoned comrade and have formed the Rebel Appliance!

First the dishwasher went on strike. We’ve only had it about a month, inherited from my mother-in-law in exchange for buying her a house last year. A month is just long enough to get used to having it; to marvel at the joy of not having a sink perpertually full of dirty dishes and the way the glassware glistens. Except then the dishwasher decided that pumping water at any sort of pressure was a job too far for it now we’re back to washing things by hand.

Dishwasher, you’re an arsehole.

The trouble with hand washing is complicated by the fact that the sink is also blocked somewhere and takes an eternity to drain, thus leaving a gradation of grease around the sink after a session with the pans. This is not due to any solidarity with the fridge though. This has always been the case (either due a bodge of a plumbing job on installation, or possibly a ghost baby).

Sink, though, you are an even bigger arsehole.

The cooker is also on the fridge’s side and has started the long slow road to non-function by degrees. This week the smallest hob stopped working. With no reasoning behind it, it just decided to stop. 

The cooker was also inherited from mother-in-law’s house move, replacing one so old it had guess marks rather gas marks and pans had to be balanced so precisely due to the worn away pan stands they could have joined Cirque de Soleil. 

I loved having a new cooker so much! The ability to know that things are being cooked at the right temperature and with oven doors that actually click shut! (The old ones had to be held closed with a briefcase of bricks!)

At least my old cooker used to ignite! New cooker, you too are an arsehole!

The microwave will also spontaneously set itself on a timer loop, the digital display going crazy of its own accord. At least I can unplug it until it’s needed. But it’s still being an arsehole.

I fear it’s also only a matter of time before the toaster and iron join the ranks of the Rebel Appliance. 

Just as long as the washing machine doesn’t defect I think I can cope though. Although don’t let the appliance alliance know my weak spot, otherwise I’ll be wringing out pants in the bathroom sink by the end of the week and nobody wants that!

I thought household appliances were meant to make life easier. Ours are just further additions to The Shit I Have To Put Up With. 

There are some upsides to a broken fridge though. If the wine won’t stay chilled you just have to drink it all in one go. Is “the fridge made me do it,” an acceptable excuse for alcoholism though?

But never mind, Pixar will hopefully be hot on my heels for a future animation where kitchen appliances get feelings and fight together against being sent to the dump. I hereby claim copyright in the hope that they’ll pay me enough for me to afford a new kitchen with non-rebellious appliances. Which, after all, is probably more likely to happen than TM finally getting round to buying a new fridge!

Falling 

According to my emails, it’s official: coat season is here. 

  
At 8.01 am it was on its way; by 9.46am it was here! Ah, coat season. I always thought it was autumn, but my primary school education has failed me in other ways (The Great Fire of London didn’t wipe out the Plague, King Harold wasn’t shot in the eye with an arrow, ‘i before e, except after c’ is wrong more often than it’s right…) so it’s no surprise really that the Autumn Days, that we’d sing so passionately in assembly, should apparently have been called Coat Season Days.

Either way, I’m not a big fan of autumn. Maybe it’ll be better if is re-branded as coat season. In which case, maybe I should try to put a positive spin on it.

Crisp cooler days

  

The sun is shining, but you don’t melt in the midday sun or fail to sleep at night because it’s too goddamn hot.

Except

Those perfect fall days are few and far between. Mostly it’s wet and dark and cold. Bleugh. It’s not coat season; it’s HAIR FRIZZ season!

  
Oh, and there are all the jobs that haven’t been done to the house  over the summer (like draft-proofing, leak-sealing, central-heating installation and new windows). The prospect of another cold, draughty, damp winter looms large.

The evenings draw in

The kids will go to sleep earlier as it’ll actually be dark at bedtime, thus we can indulge in peaceful evenings, rather than convincing them that it’s reasonable to expect them to go to sleep whilst the sun is still up.

Except…

The morning’s get darker too! Rousing a sleeping child and getting them accept that it’s reasonable to have to get up for school before the sun has risen is the most depressing parental fight of them all.

Back to School

Yaaay! After six weeks of child/work juggling in extremis, combined with bankruptcy after every family day out, the kids are back to being somebody else’s problem for 6 hours a day. Family start talking to you again, free of the fear you might ask them to babysit for an eight-hour shift/entire week of the holidays. 

Except…

With school comes homework. The second most depressing parental battle of all. With added maths.

Autumn TV

As soon as the first leaf turns orange and falls to the floor it’s time for elimination TV. Yaaaay! Whether it’s a bunch of bakers in a marquee, a glittering of celebs on a dancefloor or a group of annoying twonts in a boardroom, I’m in! 

  
Except…

Did I mention the kids still won’t go to bed? Try avoiding the spoilers before you get to watch on iPlayer on your phone. Argh!

Conkers

Who doesn’t love a shiny conker? Especially kids. Move over, Pokémon – let’s collect them all!

  
Except…

You end up with a house festooned with shrivelled conkers. And all that leaf-rummaging is just going to end up in a concealed dog poo-related incident, you just know it!

No More Bikini Body 

Yay! We can finally exhale (and stop exfoliating for that matter!). We no longer have to pluck and wax and colour our white bits orange. We no longer have to exist on lettuce and stomach crunches. Oh blessed relief! Bring on the mashed potato!

  
Except…

Christmas is coming – or should that be party dress season? – and this goose is getting fat. But who wants to eat lettuce when it’s 12°c out?

Autumnal Dressing

Ah, sleeves, I’ve missed you! Free from the possibility of armpit sweat, bingo-wings are once more under wraps. Literally. And cute ankle boots – so much more comfortable than summer sandals. The end of thong-rub* has got to be a good thing.

*The flip-flop kind, obviously. It’s been a long time since I subjected myself to the other sort.

  
And let’s just take a moment to appreciate opaque tights! Concealer of stubbly legs and cellulite! Pick a high enough dernier and suddenly everyone can have a thigh gap!

There is no ‘except’ with this one. Maybe that’s why fashion has rebranded the most disappointing time of year as Coat Season. Get a great coat and it covers so many sins. Although not the frizzy hair. But we can work on that.

I wonder if anyone else will fall for it? 

Bake It ‘Til You Make It

It’s been a harsh week or so. School is back and I’m pretty sure I’m topping the Worst Parent list already:

1) A request has been made for the Educational Psychologist to see both Noodles and Boo. I feel like we’re a walking, talking  Philip Larkin poem;

2) The school are struggling to support Noodles’ needs at the same time settling in 30 other kids…so he’s been moved to only doing half days. Part of me feels that it’s my fault for not preparing him better…but how do you prepare a child whose condition includes time blindness? The past is anything between 5 seconds ago and before the dawn of time with no differentiation; anything in the future is translated as happening NOW. I also realise it’s the fault of a tight-arsed foot-dragging local authority and a school inadequately prepared for what they were taking on, but yeah, the guilt is still there;

3) The fact that these unplanned half days are a pain in the arse when it comes to juggling things with work. (Think you’re frowned at just for being a working mum? Try it when you’ve got a special needs kid and you can multiply that by a hundred! How can you possibly devote yourself to advocating for their needs when you’re out earning money?!?! How selfish!)

(Meanwhile constant lateness because SP has to be dragged through the school gates, plus telephone calls plus meetings, plus lunch breaks timed to cover the additional school run equals a finite capacity for work-based sympathy.)

4) Receiving not one phone call but two because one child or other has been forgotten about and not picked up at the right time…on the SAME DAY.

Yep, I’m topping the Bad Mums list! Sadly though, I don’t look like Mila Kunis whilst doing so. 

  
But – but! – I’ve found the ideal way to drag your name out of the staffroom gutter and to (superficially) elevate your life to Level 10: BAKING!!!

The Great British Bake-Off is in full swing her in the UK (Selasi and Bejamina are my personal favourites) and as ever its appeal has been phenomenal. But then, what’s not to like? People who know how to whip up a genoise sponge or a creme pat without a recipe, a marquee, worship of carb-based goodies and national treasures, Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry and Mel and Sue. It’s perfect!

  
(How well this will stand up once moved from the warm oven of the BBC remains to be seen – like an underbaked soufflé it could collapse if they mess with recipe too much – but for now I’m enveloped in the sheer comfort of it all.)

And inspired by this, I took to the kitchen with the intention of replicating the technical challenges. It’s been a while since I’ve baked, what with days only having 24 hours in them. But I wanted to be good at something. And can stirring sugar and eggs together really be as difficult as they make out? And if their recipes are truly as basic as they say and no one has ever heard of a dampfnudlen how come each baker ended up with almost identical bakes? After a weekend that involved homemade Jaffa cakes and Viennese Whirls, this much I learned:

1) Baking isn’t stress-free akin to mindfulness, but it does give you an excuse to hide out in the kitchen!

Sunday afternoon I literally hid in the kitchen whipping up my whirls whilst TM took over with all of Noodles’ requests. We never hear “Daddy” when “Mummy” is an option and – sorry, Noodles – it was bliss!

2) Jaffa cakes out of a packet are nicer than homemade ones. (Sorry, Mary Berry.)

 

There were 12, as per the challenge…but I forgot the photograph them for the locusts – my family – got to them.
 
Maybe over 40 years of nothing-but McVities I’ve been duped into thinking that, but biting into my own version, the sponge was too light and unyielding. Give me a stale sponge to my Jaffa any day!

(That said, I did enjoy making them. Peeling a sheet of jelly to reveal 12 cut discs was particularly satisfying. How can I make jelly discs a thing?)

  
3) Grannies have lied to us forever: jam making is a piece of cake!

I’d never made jam before, always under the impression that it required levels of alchemical ability far beyond my ability. Bullsh*t! Jam-making is essentially mashed fruit + sugar + boiling for 5 minutes + cooling. Et voila! Nanas, I’m calling you out on this!

 

Note the massive ironing pile overspill in the background. Oops.
 
However, the very act of making your own jam will have everyone treating you like a boss! So, actually, maybe I should stay quiet on that one and just take my place amongst the granny covan.

4) Taking baked goods to work will make you hero for the day.

  
Nobody minds if you rock up late if you’re carrying a tin of homemade biscuits. Dropped the ball with something? Distract them with the feathering skills and feed them until you induce a sugar-based coma. (I might very well attempt just that with a Bakewell tart come bank rec day!)

5) A good bake fools everyone. Even yourself!

Things can’t be that bad if you’ve managed to whip up a perfect batch of biscuits or a sponge as light as air!

  
6) Instagram will convince everyone that you’re living a Level 10 life.

A close-up of your baked goods with a flattering filter and everyone will assume you’re living the domestic dream. Such heaven can surely only be created in a kitchen worthy of the baking gods? Err, shhhhh. They don’t have to know the truth!

 

What you cant see are the crumbling biscuits and the ones with singed edges that didnt make the Mary Berry standard.
 
Unfortunately you do then have to step through the sugar haze back into the real world. Urgh! And I can’t share my creations with the school otherwise I’ll het roped into school fête bake sale territory (being duped by their sneaky tactics last time was enough). Or would 300 mince pies in the run up to Christmas ensure enough goodwill to secure Noodles an inclusive education? Maybe, if I soaked the filling in enough brandy (the true meaning of ‘Christmas spirit’) any nativity play misdemeanours by Noodles could conveniently not be held against me.

Yes, I think I’ll have to just suck up my position on The List of Shameful Parents. Meanwhile, if you need me I’ll be in the corner licking cake batter from the bowl. Now, you never see them do that on Bake-Off!

 
Or maybe you do! 

Tripping Up

You know how the Gluestick Family doesn’t do family days out very well? Well, it seems that school trips are hard-wired into our DNA to be a disaster too.

I don’t know why I ever thought it was a good idea to stick Boo on a bus with her school peers last week. Probably because she asked me to with big, excited eyes following a very exciting assembly months ago. (Getting to see a mummified cat seemed to be the biggest draw!) But after a concerned response to a lonely-looking Facebook photo and a call from the school to report bad tidings, I’ve now got a meeting scheduled to discuss Boo’s mental fragility.

(With Noodles starting at the same school with all his autistic quirks and challenges, we’re topping the list of the school’s Families in Need right now. I can’t walk through the school without a member of staff wanting to hold my hand or looking at me with concerned, sympathetic eyes like some collective Princess Diana tribute.)

I won’t go into details, but although Boo enjoyed the things they did on the trip, the experience as a whole was horrid. But, to make her feel better, here are the top five ways members of the Gluestick Family have failed at the school trip. May it give perspective to your tribulations, Boo.

#5: Sitting in the Damp Spot

(Blakeney, Norfolk – some point in the early ’80s.)

  
Aw, seals – aren’t they adorable? Back when school trips were less than ambitious (but also devoid of risk assessments) my school considered it a good idea to stick a bunch of under-7s in a wooden boat and send us out to see to see these cutesy animals. Except it rained. So a tarpaulin was erected over our heads, removing all possibility of seeing anything. 

  
If that didn’t suck enough, I got the patch of tarpaulin with a hole in it. By the time we got back to shore I was soaked. 

The only upside was being given a bag of Foxes Glacier Mints when I got home.

#4: Abandoned

Dieppe, France – 1988

  
One minute I was drawing some touristy feature of the town…the next I looked up and my teacher and group had disappeared without me! 

Thankfully another group had rocked up, the town clearly unable to accommodate groups of more than five children at a time. I joined them instead and all was good…for me. Meanwhile across town, this being the days before mobile phones, my teacher was having a small fit! 

Serves him right though. It’s not that hard to count to cinq!

#3: On the Rocks

Anduze, France – 1990

My sister’s turn this time and I was so jealous of her getting to go on the activity trip to the south of France. Even though I was the most activity-averse child going.

  
Jealous, that was, until my sister came back telling how they’d had to jump from a  cliff into a river. My sister knocked herself out on a rock as she landed in the water and would have drowned if the attractive, young science teacher hadn’t spotted her and hauled her to safety. Then I was really jealous.  Some girls have all the luck.

#2: Escaping Arrest

Athens, Greece – 2011

Indy this time. She and Eve and others in their Classics group were shopping around the touristy area in Rome. Nobody looks less likely to partake in criminal behaviour than Indy. But she must have been fondling the beaded bracelets a little too suspiciously as the next thing she knows the shopkeeper grabs her arm and accuses her of shoplifting. Maybe he noted her archaeologist’s eye and thought he’d seek small-scale revenge for the Elgin Marbles.

  
Indy was escorted to a back office whilst the rest of the group luckily ran off to find the teacher-in-charge (ie the only one who can speak Italian) rather than just running off. Unfortunately, the teachers ignored the frantic students and sat enjoying a coffee instead. Brilliant! (This bit I’ve only just learnt! Bloody teachers!) I’m not sure a Grecian criminal record helps when your long-term aim is to become an archaeologist, digging up bits of Europe in the search for treasure, but Indy was able to prove her innocence. 

#1: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Calabria, Italy – 1992

Three weeks in Italy and it’s amazing any of us made it back alive. Events included:

– A minibus driver, whose only English was “fishy fanny”, drove off whilst three of us were still climbing into the back of the minibus. If we hadn’t had the upper body strength to hang on whilst the others collectively yelled “STOP!” we’d have been face-planted in the gravel. 

  
– A beach trip that involved a pedalo, lifeguards and absinthe instead of a refund;

  
– Near-drowning whilst attempting to swim at the same beach, 1) because of a deceptively sudden drop to the seabed that created a perilous current and 2) swimming’s probably not best done after the consumption of absinthe;

– A night out to a middle-of-nowhere club with some local lads with very flash cars who decided to end the night with a road race around the country lanes near the beach resort we’d been taken to for the weekend. Said race was ended by a minibus road block (only a minibus driver as insane as Fishy Fanny would be insane enough to roadblock the Mafia!) and we were frogmarched back to the apartments with a lecture not to discuss the events with our parents when we got home!

And then I had the honour of giving a goodbye speech on the final night…in Italian. The start of the speech is still ingrained on my brain 24 years later: “a nome degli studenti turistico, desiolero ringraziavivi per tutti durante l’ottima tre settemane…” when what I actually wanted to say was “What the actual fuck?!?!”

And a bonus:

You don’t even have to be a pupil for a school trip disaster. For my sister (whose a secondary school teacher) her biggest fear is fire. So when an attraction at a theme park burst into flame (as part of the attraction, I hasten to add, not a really unlucky incident) she literally went into meltdown. Losing your shit in front of your students when you then need retain a sense of authority for the rest of your time away and back in the classroom, is not a good move.

  
And thus, little Boo, it’s no wonder you had a horrible trip. It’s a right of passage, unavoidably in your DNA. And just be glad that these days schools have to do risk assessments and your bus wasn’t allowed in the monkey enclosure at the safari park. It could have been a lot worse.

  
And a tip for the future, as your trips take you to foreign lands always learn how to say the following phrases: “Help!”, “I’m lost,” and “I wish to speak to my lawyer.” Y’know, just in case. 

* * * * *

Update: I’ve amended Indy’s experience in light of her comment below.