Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Resolution Road

It's nearly upon us, New Year, and with New Year comes New Year's Resolutions. Our annual character self-assassination. Regret-soaked promises to change for the better. Our vows to work harder at being perfect, become a 21st century interpretation of Michelangelo's David, ideal in every way, golden in proportion, honed, serene, and universally venerated. We stare at our bloated, tired, pallid bodies in the mirror, repulsed and guilt-ridden, then slavishly hang, draw and quarter ourselves, piece by piece. We all do it; it's mass flagellation of the highest order. And so then the bacchanalian orgy of eating, drinking, loving, fighting, and slobbing that is Christmas is replaced overnight with a puritanical knee-jerk instigation of starvation, teetotalism, and an exercise regime that would suit an Olympic athlete. We vow not to swear. Instead we will enrich our conversation with a new word learnt each day from the Oxford English Dictionary. We must work harder whilst simultaneously spending more time with the family. We will cook from scratch. Every day. Out damned pizza! Be gone ye cheating ready meals! The pure, addictive EVIL that is chocolate will forevermore be replaced with broccoli, grilled chicken, and celery. We must have more sex. Or less. We must moan less, laugh more, vegetate less, read more, and we must absolutely, definitely, cross-our-hearts-and-hope-to die, stick-a-needle-in-the-eye, NOT watch Britain's Got Talent...

On Saturday my resolutions will be as follows:

1     I will not eat anything with sugar in it, so will be two stone lighter by March.
2     I will run three miles five times a week, so will be two stone lighter by March.
3     I will limit Twitter usage to ten minutes per day.
4     I will listen to, and heed, the advice given to me by those wiser than I.
5     I will not shout at my children. At all. No matter what they do. Even if they walk muddy boots through the house just after I've mopped the floor. Yep. No shouting. None.

Mark Twain, a man far wiser than I, once wrote:

New Year's now the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

So with some careful searching through the words of those wiser than I, then listening to, and heeding, the advice (and therefore fully abiding by Resolution Number 4), I can happily restart scoffing chocs, slobbing, Tweeting, and shouting on Monday 2nd January 2012, safe in the knowledge that keeping to one of my five resolutions will absolutely, definitely, bring me closer to that David-esque ideal. Brilliant!!

Happy New Year! xx

Monday, 19 December 2011

There's Always Gin...

The bread and cranberry sauces are made and in the freezer (Delia said it's okay, so panic not). An army of mincepies sit patiently in cake tins. And I've just ordered my husband's present, which should (fingers crossed) arrive on the 24th. There are, however, a few things I need to do, for example, restock the advent calendar. We have one of those ones you re-use year-on-year, a twee plywood Victorian townhouse with little drawers to fill with chocolates. I raided days 21 onwards last night (the chocolate called to me relentlessly from nine pm; little muffled clamouring that I wasn't strong enough to ignore). I need to ice the cake and make the brandy butter, but otherwise I am, most would note (possibly with a little envy), really quite organised. This is unusual. Organisation is a gene I don't possess. I forget assemblies, I run out of milk, I'm always the last one through the school gate in the morning, I double book social events, I forget to wash uniform...the list of errors in the ridiculous chaos that is my life is endless. So, unsurprisingly, as well as the sauces in the freezer there is also a pile of unsent birthday thank you cards written by my two oldest children three weeks ago that I failed to send on, my godchildren's presents still sit, unposted, in carrier bags in the hallway, and I have just announced that we are replacing Happy Christmas cards with Happy 2012 cards. (I am peddling the line that this is a statement of my individuality, a small rebellion if you like. We all know the truth...)

However, I have had to work hard to battle this innate disorganistion, because, on paper, the next ten days look horrendous. The family (my parents, grandmother, and sister's crowd) are coming to us on Christmas Day, we have friends for supper on Boxing Day, three families joining us on the 29th, and four families, staying (yes, staying) on New Year's Eve. It's a social train wreck. I predict death and destruction (my husband's death, my sanity's destruction). But rather than panic I have frozen the sauces. I have also remembered to have my annual haircut, then if all else goes tits-up at least my hair will look good. And anyway, my mother likes me coiffed, it's actually her ideal Christmas present: me, coiffed and not weaing my muddy old jeans. (Happy Christmas, Mum!). Slight problem with the haircut: while I was resolutely ignoring the grumpy old crone, with her frightful, pale and tired-looking face, staring out from the mirror in front of me, I lost concentration and, without thinking properly, said to the teenage colourist the fatal words: "Do something Christmassy. Something fun. Suprise me!" I should have noticed the glint in her eye, the gleeful set of her mouth, the speed with which she dashed off to prepare the colours for my highlights. When I opened my eyes three hours later the old crone had pinkish stripes in her hair, a cross between a tabby cat and Amelia Lily, only with wrinkles. More worryingly the old crone appeared to be me.

So with frozen sauces, pink hair, and the spectre of Christmas cards removed, I am ready, as ready as I'll be. The only thing left to worry about is the bird. I had no idea how expensive a free-range Turkey was. I have remortgaged the house to pay for ours. I presume the beast was fed exclusively on smoked salmon, caviar and lobster tails, that it slept in a gilded nest on the top floor of the Savoy Hotel with views of Buckingham Palace, and was treated to daily massages with it's best friend, Wagyu Cow. Considering I think I prefer chicken to turkey anyway, the knowledge that I could have bought two chooks for a fifth of the price of this Prince of Birds is weighing heavily. Will the damn thing fit in the oven? Will I overcook it? Will I drop it? The pressure is tampering with my hairdo. If I had one wish, it would be that I was the Queen or Victoria Beckham, and had Delia on speed dial. I'm not and I don't, so I suppose it's just old fashioned hope and a very large glass of gin.

Happy Christmas! I hope you get a good walk in, enjoy the Ab Fab Christmas special and get at least one purple one from the Quality Street tin.

See you on the other side...

Monday, 12 December 2011

Aliens, Machine Guns & Severed Fingers

Last week, whilst helping out at school, my sister heard a teacher say the following: "would the two shepherds at the front PLEASE stop using their crooks as machine guns." You gotta love nativity plays. A few days previously, my smallest daughter was due to find out what part she was playing in her primary school's production of that well-known classic: Christmas with the Aliens. With her cousin as the Angel Gabriel in her own school play a few miles down the road, my smallest had high hopes. Another Angel Gabe? The Christmas star? Maybe, even, (fingers tightly crossed), Mary...

As soon as I arrived to pick her up from school I could tell things weren't quite right. "Are you okay?" I asked.
She shook her head, her face contorted into that cartoonish sad-mouth that only small children can carry off. "I don't like what I am in the play."
"What are you?"
"I...I'm..." There was a long pause, followed by a dramatic palms-over-face, and finally a banshee wail. "I'm...a...CHHIICCKENNNN!"
This drama-queen gene is carried by all the women in our family, including myself, so I had full sympathy. I swallowed my laughter, gathered her on to my lap and told her what an important part the Chicken plays in the Christmas story. Thankfully, her teacher sensed her uncertainty, and the following day bestowed on her the pinnacle of responsibility. Presumably due to the lack of a Chistmas Stork in this nativity-meets-ET extravaganza, it was now the Christmas Chicken's role to present the Baby Jesus to Mary at the appropriate moment.

So there I am, not long after, crammed into the hall with the other mums and dads, all of us grinning indulgently, as we watch a small group of colourful Aliens crash-land on Earth, stumble across a nativity production, and ultimately learn the importance of pre-booking hotel rooms. And then when Joseph, Mary, and a donkey in grey pyjamas, reach the stable, my eyes fall on my Chicken. She seemed agitated, looking madly around her, trying to get the teaching assistant's attention. The TA ignores her concern and ushers her on to the stage, along with the Christmas Pig, the Christmas Sheep and the Christmas Chick (my Chicken has a baby! Very proud). I hold my breath. This is her moment. The delivery of the baby to his yawning mother. My Chicken walks up to the edge of the stage and, in sotto voce worthy of any am-dram farce, says: "someone's taken the Baby Jesus." Then she makes a who-cares-anyway face, and the nativity continues without the main character, until all the Aliens are safely back in their spaceship, taking the story of Christmas home to those corners of the Universe it has yet to reach.

In peculiar juxtaposition, three hundred miles away, before the start of another nativity, two fathers get into a fight. During this kerfuffle one of them bites the other one's finger off.

Did you hear that? He bit the finger OFF.

Now call me old-fashioned, but as far as I'm aware a primary school nativity play is the least appropriate place for biting anyone's finger off, least of all someone else's. A dog fight, a death metal concert, or a Mike Tyson appreciation convention would be far more suitable events for such dedigitation. Perhaps in the future we should provide shepherd crooks at the door so any would-be finger-eaters could grab a couple on the way in and shoot each other instead.

That or make sure there are enough mince pies to go around...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Homage to the Washing Machine

We have just experienced four weeks and six days without a washing machine. From the moment our Hotpoint stopped working it's been a trial of patience. The saga itself is dull, merely a catalogue of failed diagnoses and screwed up deliveries that most of you will recognise. But living without a washing machine for five weeks was hard, obviously not refugee-hard, or terminal-illness-hard, but within the confines of domesticity, losing this particular appliance is traumatic. My 97 year old granny was deeply sympathetic; the horror of living without a washing machine, even for a day, concerned her greatly.
"You should buy a Miele, dearest."
"We have a Hotpoint."
"It's broken. You must get a Miele. My Miele has never broken. I've had my Miele 18 years. My Miele has never let me down."

When the Man-Who-Knows-Washing-Machines finally pronounced ours deceased, we decided to take her advice; I was desperate, on the verge of tears and wearing bikini bottoms in place of pants. Don't get me wrong, I am not a domestic goddess by any means (my eldest daughter, when aged three, picked up a plastic iron in the Early Learning Centre, and - no joke - asked what it was), but there is something deeply depressing about seeing each of your children morph into Stig of the Dump, about humongous piles of washing growing in the corner of every room, about cupboards stuffed full of grubby towels and sheets. I felt dreadfully spoilt and princessy, moaning about laundry when the economy is going to the dogs and poverty ravages the lives of 1 billion people globally. I reminded myself that only a few hundred years previously I would be sat at the mangle for hours each day, my red-raw fingers scrubbing cinders off rags, while I scolded the children for playing marbles too loudly, and looked forward to bread-and-dripping for supper. None of this helped. I was down to my last pair of bikini bottoms. Soon, I'd be going commando. This scared me.

So, when my Miele arrived, I have to admit, sod the three births and the wedding, this was the happiest day of my life. I literally screamed with euphoric glee. Shiny and new, it glowed in all its Miele glory, its proverbial chest puffed up, muscles flexed.
"You must not vorry any more, Frau Jennings," it purred in authoritative, Germanic tones. "I am here and I vill vosh all of your clozes."
"But Meile," I said, crying tears of ecstatic joy. "How? This mountain of washing..?"
"Zis is no match for me, Frau Jennings. Voshing warst piles of voshing is vot I do best."
And then Miele - with his multitude of programs, his helpful display, his temperature variations, his soft-wash, extra-wash, short-wash, and variable spin - voshed and voshed and voshed, until finally my children stop resembling grubby street-urchins and I am wearing normal pants. These are happy days. You are now safe to venture into my home.

One thing though, if you do come and visit, you mustn't go into the spare room....

...unless you want to help me sort and fold.