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.

  

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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!

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! 

A Goldfish Moment

It would appear I have the memory of a goldfish. And I therefore possibly shouldn’t schedule posts as I forget about them. 

Such was the case with my last post. I’ve finished it now (you can read it in full here) but thank you to those who were lovely enough to respond kindly to a semi-written piece anyway. If it wasn’t for you I’d have completely forgotten.

Sorry.

Lucky?

 “It’s a troublesome world.

All the people who’re in it

are troubled with troubles 

almost every minute.

You ought to be thankful,

a whole heaping lot,

for the people and places

you’re lucky you’re not!” 

It’s been a troubling few weeks. An MP was murdered for having morals and being a decent human being, leaving behind two young children. Britain was a nation divided and fear and xenophobia won out. We’re no longer sure of our footing and what the future holds. And that’s just in the UK. 
This morning I spotted an ancient copy of Dr Seuss sticking out of my wardrobe. I’m not feeling very lucky right now – more than anything I feel betrayed and ashamed of my country. But at the same time I’m pretty sure Dr Seuss is not wrong.

I just can’t decide whether that’s a comforting or horrifying thing though.

So Near, No Spa

I have been looking forward to tomorrow since December. Grandy had bestowed a spa day on me and my sister as our Christmas present. Work schedules, distance and babysitting had made the orchestration complicated, but it was booked. I’d got my eyebrows and lashes sorted to withstand a day of water, steam and excessive lounging sans make-up. I’d scoured my feet to make them worthy of further pampering (because no beauty therapist deserves to endure my manky trotters in the usual state!).

And then, with my bag packed and my exit strategy planned, my sister called…the venue had had an extreme electrical fault – they were having to cancel!!!

😩

Funnily enough, Teflon Man’s not sad about having avoided a night of parental responsibility. My dad’s not sad that he doesn’t have to babysit a perkier, but still whiny Noodles. Noodles has subsequently reattached himself to my lap, so is also happier that he’ll get to disrupt my sleep rather than his dad’s tonight.

We can re-schedule, but it’s still devastating to get so near and no spa. To prevent utter despair I’ve tried to switch my thinking round.

Who wants five Babor treatments, access to spa facilities and champagne afternoon tea anyway? 

  
The positives of a spa-free day:

1) I’m not going to have to expose my post-Easter body to strangers.

It’s March, my flesh is flabby and pale. My brows might be spa-ready, but my thighs, stomach and backside are not. After gorging on Easter chocolate I’d have to inhale all day so as not to be mistakenly offered maternity treatments. 

I can get in shape by June though, right? 

In which case, bring on more chocolate!!!

Never mind not having a 45-minute massage. Or a 30-minute facial followed by a pedicure.  

  

2) Any stress only returns on the journey home anyway.  The A17 is a bastard of a road with or without a massage as motivation. I may as well be grateful that I get to maintain the status quo of stress levels without leaving my sofa.

That’s got to be better than a 15-minute scalp massage and salt body peel, right? And reheated Chinese takeaway will hit the same spot as champagne afternoon tea. Hmmmm.

  


3) Instead of sitting and steaming and lounging in a fluffy robe I can get stuff done. I can still wear a fluffy robe, but do the washing, tidying, holiday packing, revising. Less indulgence tomorrow equals less headless chicken action on Wednesday.

Yep, definitely better than the agonies of the use of a spa cave. I don’t need to be lying around on hot rocks loungers or making use of ice and steam rooms. *Sigh*

  

Or, more likely, I’ll be child wrangling, feeding, mopping, answering random and extremely difficult questions on the works of Jacqueline Wilson. If I’m wearing a fluffy robe at lunchtime it’ll be because I’ve not had a chance to get dressed! And I’ll still be a headless chicken on Wednesday!

Who wants a spa day anyway?  Me! I want a spa day! I want my five treatments, champagne and dinky sandwiches and to sit in a spa cave!!! So unless you’re bearing aromatherapy oils and a glass of complimentary prosecco tomorrow, approach with caution. Chances are I’ll be steaming, but not in the way I’d hoped.

All the Things We Didn’t Do This Easter

Ah, Pinterest. I’ve been here before, comparing my life to your perfection. But today’s Easter Sunday: less pressure than Christmas but still with a side order of expectation. There are two problems with trying add a dash of Pinterest loveliness to reality though: a) reality’s already pretty much rammed to be adding egg-blowing to the To Do list and b) time pinning perfection severely eats into any time available to actually replicate it!

It was never really going to happen – deep down I knew that. But you never know. Ok, I don’t play the lottery so that’s not going to happen and I don’t have any wealthy relatives at death’s door (or otherwise, to be honest), but maybe an unexpected gravy train will roll in from somewhere that will bestow upon me endless time and wealth to spend on glittery chocolate mini eggs and bespoke artisan-crafted nests.

  
Added to my lack of the impossible happening, Noodles has been unwell all week. Clingy at the best of times I have therefore either been at work feeling mum guilt in extremis or pinioned to the sofa by his little body desperately in need of constant big cuddles. 

No time for applying gold leaf to quail eggs or dip-dyeing lambs then.

  
So here’s my list of things that haven’t happened this Easter (and truthfully aren’t going to happen any Easter thereafter) even though my Pinterest and photo stream of screen grabs suggest otherwise.

No breakfast bunny pancakes.

  
Look, so cute! And surely not that hard to replicate (if I bought ready-made pancakes and chopped them into the right shapes, because I’m not going to get anything that spherical myself). But I didn’t buy them…or any strawberries, bananas or whatever that is making up the tail. Everyone had to fend for themselves instead (I’m such a bad hostess when family visit). Suffice to say it was largely Easter egg chocolate for breakfast instead.

No family day out

  

The sun shone yesterday. Which is rare at Easter (or on any family day out to be honest), so a nearby egg hunt would be great, right? From the pictures on other’s Facebook feeds it was lovely. We were glued to the sofa, remember? I was lucky to get to the loo without wailing from the smallest one. No way on Earth were we getting in the car!

So today, instead, we stuck to our house and garden. But, I guess, at least that way you get all the eggs to yourself.

  

 

I counted them all out and back in again this year, so at least I won’t be finding chocolate ovoids in random footwear come next February.

No beautiful Easter tablescapes 
  
Ploughing through laundry after a washing machine malfunction two weeks ago (with normal service only resumed yesterday) it was miraculous that we could actually identify the location of our dining table enough to clear it! 

There were tulips…but ones that were bought for me weeks ago by an angel of a co-worker who wanted to make me feel appreciated after a less than perfect Mother’s Day. There are plenty of tulips on Pinterest, but none with missing petals.

No jaw-dropping Easter roast

  

I don’t mind cheating when it comes to cooking and was planning on being inspired by The Pool’s suggestion of A 50:50 roast where you fiddle around with the meat a bit and then add ready-made sides. Aunt Bessie does a more reliable roast potato than me anyway. 

I did make my own cheese sauce for the leeks…and then Noodles’ persistent wailing because he wasn’t attached to my lap got too much and Husband had to take over!!! Which meant that not everything made it to the oven. Those bits being the only bits that Boo would eat, of course. Cue tears and chocolate making up her third meal of the day.

But at least the roast lamb made it to the table. Which is more than I did. I got to eat a tepid dinner in the living room with Noodles asleep on my lap, snoring through a bunged up nose.

  
At least I didn’t miss out on the beautiful tablescape/freshly picked tulips/decorated egg place settings that I hadn’t made.

No Easter cake

  

Probably for the best, as it would never have looked like this anyway, and my kitchen would have been covered in flour and melted chocolate and I probably (definitely!) would have sneaked a taster of  several too many mini eggs so the topping would have looked sparse.

Instead I made Crunchie Munchie Fridge Cake, encasing chocolate bars in more chocolate and topping it with melted chocolate and another chocolate bar. It looked like diabetes on a plate.

  
But, you know what, when you’ve induced a sugar coma on your entire family, no one notices that your Easter hasn’t been Pinterest perfect.

I may use that as my tactic next year too.