Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas: It's not for children.

Pre-child, I had a rather romanticized idea of what Christmas would be like when I had kids.  It generally featured a happy family with rosy cheeks drinking hot chocolate (stirred with candy canes a la Pinterest), gathering foliage to decorate the house with and visiting stately homes to see Father Christmas and buy artisan bread from farmers markets.  I thought of all the magical traditions I'd introduce and all the afternoons we'd spend curled up on the sofa together watching The Snowman.  It was bloody lovely, my idea of Christmas with a child.

Reality: You will not make it through December without wielding a sick bucket at some point.  There's going to be snot everywhere, and when they reach school or preschool age, they're going to  be fractious and knackered because it's the end of term.  The Snowman is declared to be "boring" after the age of 3 and they'd rather stay in watching Tom and Jerry and picking their noses than go to a farmers market.  And you can forget about the tasteful winter foliage; if it's not covered in glitter and playing a tinny version of Jingle Bells, they're not keen.

This year, I've found myself getting nostalgic for when Christmas was an adults only affair.  You know, when you and your partner would expend all your energy on choosing the perfect gifts for each other, when alcohol featured at the top of the agenda, and you could please your damn self.

Mr Disgrace and I moved into our current house two weeks before Christmas six years ago - two years before Rory came along.  We awoke on moving day to find the country encased in ice and snow, pelted up the motorway, full of naive enthusiasm and discovered that the contracts hadn't even been exchanged yet.  We sat freezing in the car until close of business at 5.30pm, when someone finally pulled their finger out and gave us the keys to our house.  Then, we discovered that there was no electricity, gas or water in the house, so we had to move in by the light of 3 candles.  We spent the next fortnight wearing all our clothes and shivering under a duvet because nobody could connect the gas.  It was so cold in the house that we could see our breath.  Plus the ceilings were falling in and all was exceedingly grubby.  Nevertheless, we bought a massive Christmas tree in an attempt at festive cheer and cracked open the Baileys.

Beacon of cheer in an otherwise bare house.

On Christmas Eve, we hit the M6 for my parents house (4 hours late because Rich got held up at work) in foul moods.  I was angry because he was so late and we were both pissed off with our useless, ugly, arctic house, not really sure about the little town we'd moved too and were desperately missing my cosy flat with underfloor heating in beautiful Harrogate.  Never had Christmas felt less Christmassy.  Then Rich put Radio 2 on to break the hostile silence, and the Suzi Q's American Rock 'n' Roll Christmas programme was playing.  Criminally, this is not available to listen to now, but the playlist is available at the link.  Suddenly, we couldn't stop singing along and sniggering at the crazy songs, and the last hour of our journey was spent singing, laughing and finally finding our Christmas cheer.  Then we pulled up at my mum and dad's house and good things were cooking and the house was warm and decorated for Christmas and there was Winter Pimms.  The happiest no-child Christmas followed.

Earlier this week, in an attempt to recapture a festive vibe after a couple of days with Rory and the vom bucket, I tracked down that playlist and found some of the songs on YouTube.  Then I cranked this up and grabbed Mr Disgrace for a bit of freestyle jiving around the house, some mulled wine and a mistletoe kiss.

"Nobody loves me any more.  Nobody wants me", sulked our jealous (and very dramatic) only child who never has to fight with anyone for our attention and doesn't approve of hugs that he isn't involved in.

I explained that we do still love him - very much - but that we have to work on still loving each other too. Because one day he'll be grown up and probably wanting to spend Christmas with his girlfriend's family, and that if we forget how to have fun without him, those adults only Christmases of the future could feel very lonely affairs.  Because the truth is, despite the vomit and the grumpiness and the endless kids telly Christmas specials and the tat, of course I'll miss child Christmases when they're gone.  He'll only be small for such a short amount of time, and I love that he believes in Father Christmas, and that he took a pile of Quality Street wrappers to bed with him last night because they're his 'treasure'.  I love Christmas stockings, and making wonky tree decorations with him and school nativities and seeing everything through his innocent, excited eyes again.  And my husband.  I love him too, which is why it's important that we occasionally ignore our child in favour of a grown-ups only dance.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Croods Review (with added anxiety)

We love a good sofa and film afternoon here at the Disgrace HQ.  We had nothing planned as a family for this weekend and, frankly, I'm fit for nothing as I've finally surrendered and gone back on the Sertraline after an epic battle with anxiety over the last month or so.  I've spent the last week running the gauntlet of side effects as the meds kick in again, including a disconcerting amount of 'room spin', so sitting under a blanket in front of the telly for a couple of hours suited me just fine.

Thanks goodness, then, for Twentieth Century Fox, who sent us a copy of  DreamWorks 'The Croods' to watch and review ready for its release on 9th December.  We grabbed our blankets and a big packet of strawberry bootlaces and settled in for the afternoon.

The story centres around the Croods - the last remaining cavemen, who just happen to be a dysfunctional family with an overbearing father, a rebellious teen daughter, a pesky mother in law and a savage baby.  Eep, the daughter, is desperate to escape the boredom of the cave and to explore, but her father, Grug, has taught them to survive by being fearful of anything new or different and won't allow it:  "Fear keeps us alive. Stop looking for new things. New things are bad. Curiosity kills. (Cue Mr Disgrace sneaking a meaningful look at me.  This could be my current catchphrase).  Desperate to escape the monotony, Eep sneaks out of the cave one night and meets Guy, an adventurous loner with big ideas.  Her father is furious, but at that point, the world as they know it ends, their cave is destroyed, and if they are to survive the end of the world, they're going to need to do something radical.

The rest of the movie is basically a family road trip with action packed adventures, bizarre creatures, male one upmanship and plenty of slapstick, which pleased Rory who likes nothing better than seeing people getting hit in the face with stuff.  The animation is stunning and vividly detailed and the action and story never flagged, keeping us all watching laughing and sniffling (the husband, not me - he's a complete girl about films) all the way to the end.

It definitely took my mind off of the gruesome side effects I was going through for an hour or two, but also, unexpectedly, it spoke to me when I needed it to:

"Never NOT be afraid." Says Grug, in an attempt to save his families lives.
And Eep replies "Dad, this isn't living. This is just not dying."

And that, my friends, is why I'm enduring a week or two of non-stop nausea and dizziness as SSRIs make their merry way around my veins once again.  I want to live, not just not die, and I have to do what I have to do to get there.  Who'd have thought a kids animation could be so profound, hmmm?

The Croods:  Out Monday 9th December on DVD and Blu-ray.  It definitely gets our seal of approval as a Christmas stocking filler.

I was sent a copy of The Croods to review free of charge.  I was not paid for this review.  All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Stupid Bears and Baby Clothes: A Rant

God, I hate bears.  Well, no.  No I don't.  Actual bears like this one aren't doing anything to wind me up.  I can get on board with proper bears.

But kids TV bears need drop-kicking. Quick - list all the telly bears from your childhood that you can and I bet there's not one bad-ass in the lot of them:

1. Sooty and Soo.  Well, you already know how I feel about Soo.  I have been known to drop the c-bomb regarding her on occasion.  Sooty's not much better either.  What's that you're saying Sooty? SPEAK UP, CAN'T HEAR YOU.

2. The Care Bears.  The only good one was the blue one with the pissed off expression, and that's because he was always getting a rollicking for not caring enough.  There he is in the middle, not giving a fig.

3. The Gummi Bears.  Bouncing here and there and everywhere.  Exuberant little fuckers weren't they?

4. Yogi and BooBoo.  I will make an exception for Yogi Bear - he's quite cool.  Booboo, however, is not.  I was going to compare him to Jar Jar Binks, but actually I think that would be inaccurate because as far as I know, he's always been a character in the show.  Therefore, I will simply compare him to a penis.

5. Kissyfur.  The clue is in the name.  I don't remember anything about Kissyfur other than him being nauseating.  Look at his annoying, simple face.

6. Teddy Ruxpin: No idea what was going on here either, but I clearly remember thinking that Teddy Ruxpin was a knob even though I was only about 7.  

7. Winnie the Pooh:  Not very bright, always moaning, always getting a fudging honey pot stuck on his stupid lard guzzling head.

But by far the worst rubbish little bear  has to be this one:

Tatty Teddy, the bland little grey git.  I hate that bear.  I think we're supposed to feel sorry for it, what with it falling apart and having sad eyes and stuff.  I don't buy it.  Tatty Teddy just makes me think of domestic abuse.  Here he is being sorry:

"I'm sorry Lisa.  I'm sorry I called you stupid/,made you cut off contact with your friends/locked you in the house so you couldn't go out/kicked you repeatedly.  I'm so sorry and I'll never do it again.  You just make me so angry.  You need to try harder and then it will never happen again, because I'm sorry, OK."

"I'm sorry too, Tatty Teddy.  I'll try really hard next time not to buy the wrong brand of mayonnaise/wear a low cut top in public/say anything to make you smack me in the face.  You're right, it is all my fault.  You'd better flagellate me now, actually, while I'm cowering."


Now, where I'm going with this meandering rant about bears, is down the route of clothing for babies and toddlers.  Here's the thing:

Baby clothes designers seem to take a perfectly decent and serviceable item of baby clothing (usually in pale blue or pink depending on gender, because those are obviously the only colours allowed and what we really need is gender stereotyping right from the moment we come out of the womb, don't get me started), and then they ruin it by putting a really rubbish cartoon bear on it.  You cannot escape Rubbish Bear baby clothing - there's examples of it in most high street stores.

Exhibit A (M&Co)

Exhibit B (BHS) 


It's not always a bear: It usually is, but sometimes it's a particularly insipid bunny rabbit, or a jaunty crocodile or a smirking giraffe, but they've always got the same bland expression and are right there, ruining an otherwise perfectly acceptable piece of clothing.  To make matters worse, the designer then adds a pointless embroidered phrase, usually with a pun relating to the rubbish creature portrayed.  If it's a monkey, you can guarantee it will say 'monkeying around'.  If it's a dog, it will be 'dog tired'.  Unless the designer is designing an item of sleepwear but still really wants to use a bear instead of a dog, in which case "I'm beary sleepy" is trotted out, and we all consider homicide.

Please high street baby clothing designers, stop it with the pointless, bland bears.  Just because babies are babies does not mean that they need an inane character on their clothing.  Leave it plain or use a particularly fabulous pattern please - yes, one that involves bears if you really must.  Only good bears though.  Look, H&M have got it right:

and this polish brand which I can't pronounce or spell:

JUST SAY NO TO INSIPID BEARS.  Hashtag it on Twitter.  Pin it.  Whatever, just join me in my crusade to ban the pointless little bleeders and make the world of children's high street clothing a less annoying place.

Hampergifts Review (Working Title: Hurrah! Now we can eat!)

You might imagine that there's not much better than being sent a massive hamper stuffed full of chocolate, wine and baked goods to test and review.  You're wrong.  The one thing better than that is being sent a hamper stuffed with chocolate, wine and baked goods to test and review 2 days before pay day when you've run out of money and are down to the tin with no label in the cupboard that nobody dares open, some stale bread, half an onion and a bit of crusty cheese.

Picture the joy as the delivery man arrives and the shriek goes up: "WE CAN EAT!  WE CAN EAT! AND IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE CHEESE ON TOAST AGAIN."

Oh yes my friends, we could eat:

And there were three bottles of wine under all that food that you can't even see in the picture.  Our end of the month blues were clearing up in record time.

We were sent the Christmas Sparkle Hamper from www.hampergifts.co.uk who sell a huge range of beautiful looking hampers for all budgets.

Here's a much better picture of it than the one I snapped in the 3 seconds before my growling stomach took over and stuffed the entire contents into my mouth:

Within seconds we were feasting like kings, stacking up preserved fruits on biscuits and sandwiching them between mince pies and using chocolate mint thins as kebab sticks.  Everything got a bit of chutney of a chunk of fudge on top and the jam tarted up our stale toast no end.  All in all, it was like some bizarre modern day re-working of an Enid Blyton midnight feast.  When Rory went to bed, stuffed full of delectable little olive bread sesame nibble things, we cracked open the wine and put our feet up, thanking the God of Hampers for our gluttonous pre-payday treat.

You'll be pleased to know that some of the contents of the hamper have survived well into December and are still going strong.  Everything was delicious, and the basket is really nice quality and is going to make an excellent home for all the crap lying about the house decorative piece.  Everything was really well packaged too.  A hearty recommendation for this company for all your hamper needs from the Disgrace family this Christmas.

I was sent a hamper free of charge for the purpose of this review.  I was not paid and all opinions are my own.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Heinous things that nobody's actually going to make you do #1: Soft Play

Something seems to come over you when you have a baby.  You're suddenly dropped from a great height into a world that you previously knew nothing about.  What do you do when faced with alien territory?  Try to adapt and squash yourself into this odd world that seems so foreign.  There's not really another way to approach it seeing as you're in it for the duration and there's no going back.  What you don't have to do, though, is stop thinking for yourself.  Here is my first installment in a series of pain in the arse, sickeningly twee or just plain hateful things that - believe it or not - you don't have to do when you're parenting a small child:

1. Soft Play

Here is Rory (18 months), smacking himself in the face at soft play: even he hates it.

JESUS.  If there's ever a thing that's going to make you stop at having one child, it's soft play.  Everything about it is odious. If the grime and the all-pervading stickiness of everything doesn't make you want to curl up and weep for your happy place, then the unbearable noise of 50 hyped up toddlers in close proximity, the  miserable staff in grubby tabards, the eye-jarring colours and the smell of stale chip fat will.  There is always a child called Sebastian running about maiming the other children.  Sebastian's mum quite clearly doesn't want to take him home and deal with him on her own, so you get a running commentary of "Now stop that, Sebastian.  Sebastian, if you hit that little girl one more time then you're going home.  I mean it.  One more time and we're leaving.  Don't hit that boy.  If you do that again then it's home time for you." (Translation "I AM FULL OF SHIT: CONTINUE TO HIT EVERYONE AS MUCH AS YOU LIKE").  Something about being in a play barn seems to send kids feral, and they spend the entire time either sobbing or kicking seven shades of shit out of the other children (dependent on their hierarchy).

The argument for soft play is that it's a relatively safe environment for children to use to let off steam.  We all know that children need to burn off a bit of energy sometimes.  But even so, I'd really rather that Rory burnt off his excess energy outside, where his shrieking has a less concentrated effect on my eardrums and he can get some fresh air into his lungs.  I also really dislike the fact that they are basically padded cells.  Plus they're not as safe as we're led to believe.  A friend's son had to go to A&E after a particularly nasty fall at soft play, which resulted in him being knocked out for a few seconds.  He had the worst black eye I've ever seen for weeks afterwards.  We're led to believe that they're secure, child friendly places where we can sit on our backsides and drink coffee while our children run riot.  Some parents forget that they're still responsible for their child's safety and behaviour at soft play.  And, before you start thinking that I'm being sanctimonious, that includes me:  seven month old Rory was found climbing into a cupboard in the (supposedly secure) reception/kitchen area of our local play barn once when I took my eyes off him for all of 20 seconds.  Obviously that was partly because he was an evil genius as a baby, but I have to take some responsibility for it.

Really though, the worst bit is the germs.  When anyone tells me that they like going to soft play, my immediate response is to look at them with incredulity.  What about the germs?  Do they not know about all the bodily fluids in the ball pool?  THE BODILY FLUIDS IN THE BALL POOL.  How often do they think the stuff is washed?  I'm thinking never.  Congratulations: You have been fast-tracked to the front of the Norovirus queue.

Please come down from the bacteria infested padded block, sweetheart.

Around the time Rory hit 18 months old, I suddenly grew a pair and decided that we would not be going to soft play even when our friends were.  He hated it, I hated it, we were just not going to do it.  I felt more relaxed instantly.  Since then, we tolerate it for the odd birthday party (and he has only recently actually started to enjoy it on these occasions, although this is mainly because he's so excited to be at a friend's birthday party at all, regardless of where it's held) and otherwise I take him maybe twice a year, generally at that point when it's rained for 4 weeks and we're desperate to leave the house. In the summer holidays.  When there's less germs.

What do you think?  Do you love soft play?  If so, we can still be friends.  Albeit friends who will never quite fully understand each other. I still like you though.  For now, however, I'm off for a good wash; even writing about it makes me feel grubby.

Stay tuned for installment number 2: Dressing your child in stuff with bears on it.

Monday, 25 November 2013

GIVEAWAY - Stick on edible eyes

I bet you didn't know that you needed edible eyes that you can decorate your food with in your life.  Well, you do.  They're entirely free from any point whatsoever, but very cheering, and have been making my son laugh hysterically at plums and things all week.  We were sent ours by www.iwantoneofthose.com (or IWOOT as they now like to be called), and their arrival created all sorts of OMGZOPENTHEMNOWBRILLIANTBRILLIANTBRILLIANT hopping up and down in the smallest member of our household.  You'd think that we never gave him anything, but really it's just because he has a bizarre love of sticking eyes on things that shouldn't have eyes.  You may remember this epic post from a couple of years ago.  Yeah.  Just imagine how much better that would have been if we'd had some ready made eyes instead of crappy ones that I'd made myself out of stickers and a biro.

We started small by putting them on the contents of the fruit bowl, with the pleasing result of Rory begging for apples and pears with faces all the time, which doubled his fruit intake within days.  Then we progressed to scones:

What's not to love about scones with eyes, right?  Plus they're made of what tastes like a very thin but strong sort of sugar paste, so you can eat them.

Get those pastry cutters out and use them as crowns.  Give your scones toothpick spears.  You have a baked goods battle just waiting to happen.  Now, who wants some for Christmas?  YOU DO.

Buy them for £6.99 for a pack of 10 pairs of eyes from IWOOT or I have one pack to give away, so fill in the Rafflecopter below and I'll draw a winner at random in a week's time.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 18 November 2013

Why does Google send all the weirdos to my blog?

I don't often check my blog stats.  Mainly because, well, who cares?  But also because looking at things like that makes my head want to explode.  However, I do enjoy a good chuckle over the things that people type into search engines which somehow land them on one of my pages.  Some are recurring themes.  Some are genius one offs.  Others...well, they're more than a bit disturbing.

I thought it might be handy to gather some of the most popular ones together all on one page for easy reference, so I can help the searchers find the information that they're looking for.  I will also add some of the batshit crazy ones so we can all have a good old laugh at someone's expense:

Search term 1:
'Katy Ashworth Naked'

Katy Ashworth is the very annoying lady who presents I Can Cook and jumps around like a drama student who's had too much candyfloss during the CBeebies continuity links.  I have slagged off Katy here and here.  After a good poke around the internet I can categorically state that you are not going to find any naked pictures of her online.  Seriously, horny dads, I've done the leg work for you and there aren't any.  Abandon your search.  However, while we're on the subject of Katy, I'd like to mention that my opinion of her changed for the better recently when she posted this lovely photograph of her and her new baby online:

Looking gorgeous, exhausted and a bit broken, just like any other new parent.  It's so nice to see someone portraying early motherhood as it really is and not piling the make-up on and photoshopping everything.  Now Katy, if you could just see your way to looking a bit suicidal when you present CBeebies after a run of 14 or so sleepless night and to have a constant cold for the next year a la the rest of us mums, we could come to a happy understanding, I think.

Search term 2:
'Is Mister Maker Gay?'

As far as I know, he is not.  However, he could be.  The definitive answer to this question should be "nobody knows, but he certainly won't be when he finally meets me."  Yes, I know I need help.  *insert obligatory joke about rummaging in his doodle drawers here, because that never gets old*.

Here he is, shortly before being taken roughly over his arts and crafts table.

Search term 3:
'What is Mister Maker's Gloopy Glue?'

Mister Maker gets me a lot of traffic.  My hands are itching to type out an innuendo here, but I will behave and tell you that  the type of glue to which he is referring is PVA glue.  Mystery solved.  Here I am giving a Mister Maker Christmas special a test drive.

Search term 4:
'Reading Eggs'

Yes, I reviewed Reading Eggs some time ago.  Yes, it's good.

Search term 5:
'Is Tree Fu Tom suitable for Christians?'

This one comes up in my stats a lot.  Possibly because I referred to him as a satanic little bum nugget somewhere along the line.  I stand by the bum nugget comment, but the satanic bit was just speculation.

So, I searched for this on Google, and it appears that there is much debate over this at the moment (whether he's suitable for Christians that is, not whether he's a bum nugget.  He is clearly a bum nugget).  It's the fact that he gets children to join in with casting his spells that has people all of a dither.  My opinion is that he's fine for Christian children to watch as he's a fictional character doing fictional things and children can differentiate between fact and fiction from very early on.  However, if you're the sort of parent who bans Harry Potter, The Worst Witch and any kind of magical imagination, Tree Fu Tom can also be added to the list of banned characters in your household.

Now some less popular but still brilliant searches:

1. 'rat gnawing toilet seat disgusting'  Yes.  Yes it is.  And how in God's name did you end up at my blog via that?  I know I'm pretty slack with the housekeeping, but no rats have ever gnawed my toilet seat.  Probably.

2. 'I want to screw my mother'  You're going to want some therapy for that, love.  Off you pop, now.

3. 'house looks shit can't be arsed'  Yeah, that sounds accurate enough.  Welcome to the fold.

4. 'help there are flying ants everywhere'  Again, you have found your spiritual home.  Come on in.

5.  This gem from someone who had obviously forgotten what my blog was called and was desperately trying to find it based on everything they remembered about it:

'disgrace kitchen love mr maker ants swears crazy child rory'  
It's like you're watching my life on CCTV, mystery blog searcher.  (You're not are you?)

Now your turn:  Tell me the best search terms that have landed on your blog.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Thorntons Christmas Hero: In praise of my dad

I was recently contacted by Thorntons to see if I'd like to take part in their Christmas Hero promotion.  They've been sending out boxes of chocolates to people nominated by bloggers as an early Christmas treat and wondered if I knew anybody who likes chocolate and deserves a treat.

One person sprang to mind.  

This is my dad: Grumpy Old Man at large and very big chocoholic.  There are a few reasons why he deserves a treat:.

1. He puts up with the annual festive game of Dad Buckaroo with good grace.  

To play Dad Buckaroo, you will need:

* A dad who's having a snooze in a chair
* Lots of miscellaneous stuff

Method: Take it in turns to place objects on the sleeping dad.  Start easy (tissues, leaflets) and progress through heavier and larger objects.  Extra points for balancing them on his head.  If your dad wakes up and moves, scattering the objects everywhere, you lose.

2. He rejoices in the not very good:

"God, I love my car", says my dad as he trundles down the road in what we fondly refer to as 'Dad's Fun Bus'.  "It's so rubbish.  I feel really good and subversive driving this."  He even starts flashing his lights and honking his horn if he sees someone else driving a Fun Bus the same as his.  No penis extension sports cars for this dad, oh no.  And I can't believe I've just used the word 'penis' in the context of my dad.  Especially as I used the words 'vagina' and 'my dad' in a a sentence in yesterday's blog post too.  Sorry Dad.

The Vengabus is coming...

3. My son calls him Grumps:

This is definitely the short straw of all grandparent names.  It's not even Gramps.  He accepts it as his lot in life.  It suits him, actually.

Rory and Grumps: Bestest friends.

4. This phone call in July:

*ring ring*
Me: "Hello?"
Dad: "Oh, hi Lizzy, it's your dad."
(He never phones me. That is 'womans work')
Me: ""Hi Dad, how are you?"
Dad: "Oh, fine, fine.  How's your boy?"
Me: "Well, not asleep yet, the little sod.  Yeah he's fine."
Dad: "And how's work?"
Me: "Yeah, good, good.  What have you been up to, then?"
Dad: (long monologue about adventures in the Fun Bus and the caravan and the dog and being nagged by my mother and what heinous crimes he's witnessed the neighbours doing and so on).
*long pause*
Me: "So, did you want anything?"
Dad: "Oh yes.  I'm going into hospital tomorrow."
Me: "Oh right, why?"
Dad: "Having an operation."
Me: Oh. What are you having done?"
Dad: "Having a kidney out."
Me: "Having a...er, why?"
Dad: "Got cancer."
Me: "......."

For all his studied casualness when announcing this news, I know he must have been terrified.  Both of his parents died of cancer when I was 12 or so.  It was horrible and they were both so unwell for so long.  They were also both relatively young, and I know that The Cancer Gene must have weighed heavily on his mind ever since.

So far so good, though.  He came through surgery fine and as far as anyone can tell, they got it all out and he's doing well.  Brave Grumps.

He still deserves a big box of chocolates though.  As do my mum and their lodger, Annie, who both had to put up with him ringing his little bell and making ever more pathetic requests to have his pillows plumped and things when he was in recovery.  Thank you Thorntons.

Monday, 11 November 2013

My Top 5 Mortifying Bits of Pregnancy and Birth

Everyone who's given birth tells pregnant women that by the time you  push your baby out, you no longer care who sees what because your dignity is long gone.  Well, mine had disappeared into the sunset well before I even got pregnant.  I had terrible endometriosis in my 20s (think this is coming back again actually but am doing the mental equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and shouting "LALALALALA" in the hopes that it might quietly disappear) and was well used to gynaecologists, surgeons, nurses and doctors poking about in my nether regions with a torch.  You couldn't phase me with talk of dildo-cam scans and membrane sweeps.

But it turned out that pregnancy related humiliation lurked in the most unlikely of places.  Here are my top 5:

You might want some backing music for the countdown:

5. Having an enormous, screaming contraction at a red light on the way to the hospital.  All I remember (apart from seemingly unending agony, obviously), is the horror of the driver in the car next to us whose view was of me with my face pressed against the window, mouth twisted into a silent scream as I clawed against the glass with my fingernails and Richard tried frantically to make "it's OK, I'm not killing her, she's in labour" gestures at him (quite difficult to put across in mime, as it happens).

4. I hemorrhaged quite badly after having Rory, although wasn't aware of it at the time as I was so out of it.  Possibly because half my blood was on the floor, now I mention it.  Several hours later, I was lying in a hospital bed looking the colour of porridge and feeling like complete shit.  My parents were visiting and as my epidural had worn off, I thought I'd better attempt to get up and go to the toilet while there were people there to help me stand.  I stood up, immediately felt like I was going to fade away there and then, but before I could get back on the bed, something akin to a waterfall of blood spurted out of me and all over the floor.  "Um, Rich, could you pass me a baby wipe? Only there's a bit of blood on the floor" I said, in a far away voice, despite the fact that I was actually paddling in the stuff.  My dad went green.  Bleeding profusely and uncontrollably from the vagina in front of your father: the wonders of childbirth.  "Nurse to bay 5 please.  One with a big mop and bucket, if you will."

3. Approximately 3 or 4 weeks into starting my new job, I had to have this conversation with my boss:

"So, turns out I'm pregnant.  Hahahaha.  That was unexpected, right?  Wasn't supposed to be able to do that, you know.  Anyway, it doesn't matter because I've been told by my specialist that I won't be able to carry a baby past 12 weeks, and I'll probably miscarry a lot sooner than that actually, so if you'll just be aware that I might need to leave work in a hurry at some point over the next few weeks and then I'll need a couple of days off after the miscarriage..."

About 10 weeks later, after being in and out of hospital with bleeding, off work for emergency scans and spending most of the time that I was actually in work retching into a carrier bag in my cupboard, I then had to have the following conversation:

"OK, I've got past 12 weeks.  Who knew that could happen, eh?  So, um, looks like I might be needing some of that maternity pay stuff at some point"...*retch*...*heave*..."sorry about that..."

Never have I been less popular at work.

2. I had all day sickness throughout my whole pregnancy.  I'm severely emetophobic, so managed to suppress actual vomiting, but would have attacks of violent retching with little warning.  Chain eating Jaffa Cakes seemed to help, so I carried them about with me wherever I went.  One day near Christmas, I'd been to the doctors to beg for medication to ease the nausea because I felt so awful.  I'd turned up at the surgery looking like a sweaty, wild eyed, mad haired, grey skinned, skinny wreck and had been rewarded with some Avomine tablets, which I clutched desperately in my hand as I raced home feeling appalling.  Just minutes away from my front door I started to feel deathly sick.   I stuffed a Jaffa Cake in my mouth.  Before I'd even swallowed it, I'd got another one in there, then another - this was a desperate situation.  I got to a van with a man in it, who was eating a tuna sandwich for his lunch, and the smell pushed me over the edge.  I gave a massive  heave and sprayed his van with bits of chewed up Jaffa Cake, before dropping onto my knees and retching violently into the bushes for a good few minutes.  Still no vomit, but the sight and sound of me probably put him right off his packet of Chipsticks.  I eventually stood up, soggy and muddy because I'd knelt in a puddle, eyes watering profusely, and felt I owed him an explanation, but couldn't find the words ("Sorry, I'm pregnant" would have sufficed, surely?) The best I could do was to mutter "I'm not drunk", before I staggered off down the road, swaying and fumbling for my Jaffa Cakes.  The shame.

1. It was midwife appointment time: One of those boring ones in the middle where they check your blood pressure and your urine and nothing much else happens.  I got my urine sample pot out of my bag and unscrewed the top, as requested by the midwife.  She then went to take it from me, but slipped and knocked my hand upwards.  Both urine sample pot and the contents therein flew up in the air and the walls, the floor the desk, the midwife, my husband and I were all covered in piss.  Time stood still as we all looked at each other in poorly disguised horror.  I wiped a bit of wee off of my mouth.  Awkward.  I wasn't really sure of the required etiquette for such a situation.  It was my urine after all - should I offer to clean it up?  But then again, it was the midwife's fault and her room, so maybe her responsibility?  In the end, she took charge and cleaned it up, while Rich and I sat there in mortified silence, until I broke it with "I bet that happens to you all the time, doesn't it?"  "No," she replied. "NO."  Oh. 

Do not be fooled.  Inside this mild mannered looking pregnant lady lurks a screaming, bleeding, Jaffa Cake vomiting, piss sprinkling employee in disgrace.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Psychologies Magazine review and giveaway

"How to Fake the Perfect Tan", "The Hot Bags That Will Change Your Life", "Getting Him to Make That Commitment", "50 Ways to Orgasm This Weekend".  None of these articles are of any interest to me and never will be (although, I can imagine that there's a lot to be said for the 50 ways to orgasm one. Who has the time, though?  You'd never even get a wash on).  It's not that I hate womens magazines or anything; it's just that I find them entirely irrelevant to my life and personality.  I look how I look and that's that, a bag will never change my life, and I got married seven years ago to a man who offered me commitment without any need for game playing and dirty tricks, because that's how relationships should work.

I don't want to be patronized or made to feel unattractive and inadequate, and that's why I like Psychologies - a magazine which, to quote editor, Suzy Greaves, "doesn't care what age you are, what you look like...or which handbag you buy".  Instead it focuses on how you feel and what you're thinking about and encourages you to try different ways of living.  It's always been a good read and a magazine that I'm happy to read on a long train journey, and it has just been relaunched with a new design and layout.  I was sent the December issue to write about and have five copies of it to give away at the end of this post, so read on...

This issue focuses on the theme of talking: Difficult conversations, an unexpected but life changing chat and a test about how you speak to yourself.  ("QUIZ!" shouts my husband. "BRING ON THE QUIZ! Oh my God, I love a quiz.  I'll get the pencils."  He really is a complete girl).  As a softly spoken observer, I particularly enjoyed Rin Hamburgh's article about speaking up and making yourself heard when everyone can shout louder than you, which contained some useful advice.  I also thought that Doc Brown's feature about casual misogyny was an interesting and thought provoking read, and later on in the magazine I was surprised and pleased to discover a new bevy of agony aunts who look beyond giving superficial advice and aren't afraid to delve into the issues behind the problems that they've been tasked with solving.  "Aim for the nearest patch of sunshine," says one, which is sound advice that I'll try to remember next time I'm in a depressive slump.

Over all, I thought it was a refreshing and absorbing read and that the re-vamp had only improved an already commendable publication.  I did find that I missed the book section that the old version of the magazine used to carry, but that is my only criticism.

There's currently a promotion offering the first three issues of a subscription to Psychologies for £3.00 over here: http://www.kelseyshop.co.uk/home/mpurchase.asp?m=923&src=C101 or if you'd like to win one of the 5 copies I have to give away, get filling in the Rafflecopter form below.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway Win competitions at ThePrizeFinder.com

Monday, 4 November 2013

Bonfire Night: You are doing it wrong

We went to the local bonfire night event last night, and it was wrong in so many ways that there was a point at which Richard and I both gave up and sat on the floor with our heads in our hands at the immeasurable incorrectness of it all.  Here is why:

1. It wasn't on actual Guy Fawkes night.  However, we will forgive this point as it is much more convenient to go and watch fireworks at the weekend when you have children.

2. It cost £6.00 per adult and £4.00 per child to get in.  A crude bit of mathematics on my fingers tells me that this totals £20.00 for your average family of four.  TWENTY QUID.  TO WATCH SOME FIREWORKS.  WHICH LASTED 15 MINUTES. (we'll get to that later).

3. As we walked through the gates into the park, we were greeted by the most disagreeable, eerie sound one could imagine to hear on a cold, dark night in November:  Someone doing a Punch and Judy show.  Are you kidding me?  Punch and Judy is petrifying even on a hot summer's day, but I assure you that hearing Mr Punch's unearthly, nasal screech penetrating the darkness is enough to send you running in the opposite direction.

4. I'm still on the Punch and Judy show here.  Lets suppose that people actually like Punch and Judy (which is a huge suspension of disbelief, because nobody actually does): What is the point of putting it on in the dark at an event attended by thousands of people?  It takes place in a tiny puppet theatre booth, making it impossible for more than about 50 people to see it.  Whereas we all got to hear every single haunting "Mr Crocodile is coming for you" and "that's the way to do it" because they'd mic'd it up so that it could be heard for miles around, with extra added reverb to make it even more terrifying.

5. Sparklers were banned for health and safety reasons.  I know they're dangerous.  I know.  But they're fun.  And anyway, they were replaced by a stall that sold light sabres for the kids to swoosh around instead.  I refer you back to the health and safety point here.  Whoever decided to replace sparklers with light sabres has obviously not got a child, because if they had a child, they'd have been poked in the eye with a light sabre, or belted over the head with one, or prodded in the guts, or worse.  I'm quite glad that Rich and I have made the decision not to have any more children, because after the blow to the spuds that he took with one of said light sabres, I'm not sure he'd be capable of providing me with any.

6. It was hosted by someone who I can only compare to Brian Potter off of Phoenix Nights.  We were subject to what felt like hours of inane gibberish and playing for time via another microphone.  At one point he was joined by some bloke from the fireworks team, leading to a particularly unfunny Chuckle Brothers effect.  We did at least three countdowns to the start fireworks, by which point, nobody cared any more. "FOR GODS SAKE, SOMEONE SHOVE ONE UP HIS ARSE" heckled a bloke from behind me to a small but vehement chorus of approval from those around him.

7. More health and safety:  a) apparently the ground was too wet to put any fairground rides up.  This doesn't bother me, because why on earth does a bonfire and firework display require fairground rides anyway?  b) It had rained a bit earlier in the week, so they couldn't do the bonfire.  Whaaaaat?  I remember watching bonfires in cascading rain in the 80s and 90s.  Other displays around the area managed to have bonfires, why couldn't we? Basically, we were charged £6.00 per head, but two of the main attractions (aforementioned pointless fairground rides and a bonfire) were not on.  Gah.

8. When Brian Potter had finally stopped talking and the (admittedly lovely) fireworks had started, someone whacked up what seemed to be something along the lines of Greatest Club Classics 2007 on the speakers.  Seriously?  Fireworks don't require backing music, especially not when it's shit backing music.  One of the other local displays apparently had their fireworks to the music from Star Wars, which is a bit pointless, but at least makes sense.  Or if you really wanted music, you could have fireworks to a rousing classical piece.  Handel wrote a one entitled 'Music for the Royal Fireworks', which gives you a strong clue that it might be suitable.  Something that sounds like it's pounding out of a squalid nightclub at chucking out time is generally not.

9. The fireworks lasted 15 minutes.  They were beautiful.  But 15 minutes long.  For £6.00 per head.

Here's what I want instead.  Take note local firework event planners:

A bonfire:  A Big One.  One that a Guy is chucked on at some point, because, after all, Guy Fawkes is what this night is all about.  There's a best Guy competition early in the evening, possibly presented by a self important middle aged man with a megaphone. There are hotdogs - made with real sausages, which several dads are cooking on huge barbecues - none of that frankfurter malarkey.  Real sausages, fried onions, mustard, tomato ketchup.  Also, enormous jacket potatoes in tin foil with baked beans and cheese.  And toffee apples, and possibly those apples on sticks dipped in chocolate and hundreds and thousands, which are basically just toffee apples for wusses.  Steaming hot chocolate with marshmallows and a nice WI bake sale table with cakes.  If it's deemed necessary, perhaps there would be some old fashioned village fete games like splat the rat and hook a duck.  AND THEY WOULD COST 50 PENCE PER GO, NOT 3 QUID.  There are sparklers everywhere, because people are not goddamn stupid and follow the clearly set out safety precautions.  They could even be kept in a designated area if necessary.

Fireworks would be announced, by the self important man with a loudspeaker from earlier and would last about 40 minutes.  They wouldn't be as fancy or coordinated as the ones we're used to now, but that's all part of it.  A few firecrackers go off and everybody cheers.  Pause for a few minutes while some dads in day-glo orange tabards set up the Catherine Wheels, and everybody goes "oooh, look, it's time for the Catherine Wheels now", because it's exciting, you know?  Three rockets go off together.  Yes, three.  "OOOOOOOOOH" says everybody, followed by an "AHHHHHHHH" at the quieter, prettier fountains showering sparks everywhere.  The display is punctuated by orange tabarded dads bravely running up setting lights to them, then pegging it back to the crowd whilst trying to maintain a hint of masculinity.  It's all a lot calmer, a bit quieter, a bit old-school and one hell of a lot more charming.  "AND THERE'LL BE A LOAD OF BOYS STANDING AROUND NEAR THE BONFIRE CHUCKING CANS OF BAKED BEANS INTO IT" interjects my husband excitedly.  I don't think this is entirely safe or necessary and it's probably something that was only ever a 'thing' in Trowbridge where he grew up, but you have to admire his enthusiasm.

There's no fairground rides to pay for or freaky Punch and Judy show.  And most importantly, everyone goes home when it's all over feeling like they've had a cosy evening out rather than like they've left the house for half an hour and been robbed blind.  How novel.  Just a thought.

Crocs Winter Boots Review

Items of clothing that I was not allowed in the 80s:

1. Neon socks.
2. Neon hairbands
3. Anything else that was neon.
4. A puffball skirt.
5. A body warmer.
6. Moon boots.

Everyone else was allowed everything on that list.  Everyone.  Not me though.,  My mum said that they were neither classic nor chic and that they wouldn't suit me.  I'm not sure why that mattered because as a child I couldn't be described as chic in the slightest, but for reasons only known to my mother, I was dressed instead in neat pinafores, Laura Ashley dresses, red wellies and cream tights.  Not cool.

When I was sent this paid of Crocs Crocband Multi 11.5 Winter Boots to review, my fashion deprived inner child was full of the sort of inappropriate glee that you get from defying your parents.  Because, look - they're more or less styled on moon boots!  A definite mind trip back to the 80s.

On taking them out for a jaunt around the local countryside, I discovered that like moon boots, they're very warm because of all the padding, and they're waterproof and although I couldn't locate any ice or snow in this weather, I could tell that the soles are grippy enough to be perfect for those sorts of conditions.  What makes them different is that the shoe part of the boots are made from Croslite™, which is the closed cell resin material that Crocs are made from.  This is a lightweight, non-marking and odour resistant material and very comfortable.

All great, right?  Just one problem:  I had nothing to wear them with.  Well, I had skinny jeans, which tuck into them perfectly, but otherwise I was at a loss.  It seems that my mother's obsession with buying 'classics' has infiltrated my life, and I find myself with a wardrobe full of velvet, fake fur and smart wool.  The jeans are about as casual as I get.  I ended up having to steal a stripy top from my husband's wardrobe for the purpose of the photo (below), but what I feel they really need is a sportier style and maybe a Back To The Future style body warmer.  Or gilet.  I think they're called gilets these days.  I wouldn't know: they're on the list of contraband clothing of my childhood.  Anyway, my friend Jo tried them on and they looked really good on her.  I'm not convinced that I quite pull them off.  Maybe my mum was right after all.

If you're somewhat cooler than me (not a great challenge), have a wardrobe full of pretentiously named body warmers and want to buy some of these retro babies, they're available now at £69.99 on the Crocs website.

I was sent this pair of boots to test free of charge.  All opinions are my own.  

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Check out my shiny new kettle

The kettle of kings.  A master of its kind.  The sort of kettle that says "I like my boiling water to come stylishly presented.  Now move aside chaps; I've got a teapot to fill". (I really do own a teapot by the way, all you doubters).

You could be forgiven for thinking that I'm perhaps a little over enthusiastic about my new kettle, but it's the happy ending in a story of kitchen implement love and loss, so perfectly understandable.

The truth is, we used to have a good kettle.  It was cream and sleek with vintage styling and was a wedding present along with a lot of other sleek, cream, vintage styled kitchen accessories (including a bread bin, which I like very much but has never held bread in the 6 years we've owned it.  It is currently home to an old copy of Heat magazine, a couple of sticklebricks and a bottle of vodka).  It was most definitely a grown up's kettle: reassuringly expensive and solid.  Trustworthy.  Worked when you plugged it in instead of having to be bashed into action with a wooden spoon like our last one.  Then it went and broke after two years and not even a sound thrashing with a spatula could save it.  My in-laws came to the rescue with their spare kettle - a decrepit looking plastic jug thing that would have been more at home in a student house in 1994.  My in-laws never throw anything away.  Ever.

It was supposed to see us through until we could afford a nice new one, but we ended up using it for 4 years, during which it's been dropped, knocked into a sink full of water and had a load of flying ant carcasses fall into it after a particularly vicious culling session.*  It still works.  It must have cost about a fiver and is 20 years old but it still works.  Where is the justice in that?  Richard decided to channel his parents by refusing to buy a nice new one when the ugly old one still worked perfectly well, even after a few bouts of attempted sabotage.

Finally I was rescued from My Ugly Old Kettle Hell (note to self: flog this story to Take a Break) when I was sent the nice new one pictured at the top of this page to review.  It's this stylish little Russell Hobbs number and is currently £44.99 from a range of kettles at Argos.  There's not an awful lot I can say about it other than it...you know...boils water and stuff.  And it has a limescale filter, so that's nice.  And also a 360 degree swivel base.  I'm not sure what one of those is or why it's good, but it has one, and my left handed husband is impressed by it, so up with 360 degree swivel bases, I say.  It also switches itself off when the kettle is empty, which is a handy feature if you're useless a bit forgetful like me.  It's a bit difficult to see the water level, but in the great scheme of things I'd say that's forgivable, and I haven't had to whack it with a spoon yet, so I'm happy.  It also sets off my cream toaster and vodka filled bread bin a treat, and I'm no longer embarrassed to make people a cuppa in my kitchen.  Who's coming round for tea and cake, then?

*Those of you who've had a cup of tea at my house since the flying ant episode need not fear - the kettle was emptied of ant corpses, bleached, rinsed, boiled, bleached and rinsed again and then boiled again to ensure that it was hygienic.  Sometimes it pays to have OCD.

This product review was brought to you in conjunction with Argos.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

China Snobbery

Whose parents had these plates thirty years ago?

If they did, it was likely that they only ever came out on special occasions, and that you were threatened with certain death if should happen to break one.  This design was called Eternal Beau (I only know this because the proud voice of my friend's mum announcing "lets get the Eternal Beau out" will forever sound in my head whenever I see a plate like this one) and was the only-comes-out-at-Christmas-or-when-the-inlaws-visit china of choice of the 80s.

We did not have Eternal Beau in our house.  My parents shunned Eternal Beau.  Eternal Beau was the obvious choice and therefore a bit crass (was the never vocalized feeling that was somehow made abundantly clear).  We, instead, had these plates:

This collection was called Ashberry and was from M&S, and therefore slightly superior (in 80s north London commuter-belt, at least).  Again, it only ever came out at Christmas and on vicar pleasing occasions, and was generally accompanied by a fishwifely cry of "WATCH THE ASHBERRY" when anyone approached the table.  

The rest of the time, we ate off of this Pyrex stuff, which the world and his wife had in various different colourways and nobody liked, but it never ever broke so everyone was stuck with it.

We also had some craptastic Kelloggs cereal bowls like these ones, which some relative or other had procured by collecting tokens off the cereal boxes:

I always wondered what the point was in having a set of china 'for best'.  And in using it when in polite company, were we showing our visitors who we really were via our posh crockery, or were we actually hiding a less desirable side to ourselves by keeping the dodgy 70s stuff in the cupboard?

Whatever the true purpose was, to my worldly wise teenage self, it seemed a bit provincial and 'Abigail's Party' to do such a thing, and I resolved never to have a special set of china 'for best' when I was a grown up.  I would use the good stuff all the time, because life is too short and all that and OMG I am just soooo subversive.

Cut to my wedding many years later. Nothing announces that you intend to be a proper adult and live a grown up life like having a wedding list, and nothing negates this statement entirely like picking your crockery to go on said wedding list by flicking through all the available options in a bored fashion, beer in hand, failing to dredge up any enthusiasm for plate picking and finally going "oooh, that one's got stars on it. Lets have plates with stars on".

Here is our wedding china:

Yes, that Emma Bridgewater stuff with the hefty price tag resides in our cupboard, and no we didn't 'save it for best'.  We've used it all the time (the novelty of having stars on your plates takes approximately two years to wear off, if you were wondering), and I have never once shrieked the words "watch the Emma Bridgewater", because they're just our normal plates - not for special occasions.  Got that?  Did you see how cool we are with our no-best-china and devil may care attitude to our £18.95 per piece bowls?

Good.  Now lets have a look and see what's left in the cupboard after 6.5 years of marriage.

We have:

1 Emma Bridgewater teapot (used twice. I don't drink tea).
1 Emma Bridgewater milk jug (used twice. Seriously, who actually needs a jug for milk? The milk is perfectly happy in its bottle)
6 large Emma Bridgewater dinner plates (success!)
3 small Emma Bridgewater side plates (other 3 lost, broken or otherwise AWOL)
3 Emma Bridgewater pasta dishes (other 3 broken etc etc, and one of the remaining ones looks like it's been repeatedly thrown at a wall and glued back together)
2 Emma Bridgewater bowls (both with several chips, other 4 disappeared)
6 Emma Bridgewater mugs, 1 with massive, unhygienic crack running through it but neither of us willing to give in and chuck it away because that's £20.00 worth of mug there).

2 small Winnie the Pooh plates of dubious origin, 1 with crack.

2 of these babies (told you the buggers never broke).

6 crappy Ikea plates - whatever the cheapest ones were when I was a student.  They cost about 50p each and none of them have ever broken. Hmmmm.

Some slightly stained melamine jobbies that I think were sitting in my parent's garage for 20 years under mouse droppings and crumply newspaper, possibly they even belonged to the previous owner of one of their houses.

2 disgusting blue plastic plates that my mum bought for picnics in the 80s from Woolworths in a fit of bargain hunting and quickly cast aside as they got scratched and grubby looking straight away.  They've been thrown in the bin and taken out again several times in plate related emergencies.

Basically, the Emma Bridgewater ones cracked, chipped, fell off things and got lost (cough, STOLEN) like you would not believe, leaving us with the pathetic remainder of our parents combined china cupboards of the 70s, 80s and 90s.  It's like crockery Russian roulette coming for lunch at our house.  Who knows what you'll eat your sandwich off?  We had a tricky moment the other day when I forgot that we only have two bowls and made soup when my in-laws came for lunch.  Awkward.  In the end, as they were our esteemed guests, I gave them the bowls (MIL got the least chipped one as she would Notice These Things) and the rest of us had to eat our soup out of an assortment of mugs and mixing bowls.  It's like bloody Steptoe and Son around here.  This is not the life that I was promised when I produced a wedding list filled with Emma chuffing Bridgewater.

We keep meaning to replace everything, but it's 20 quid per plate.  One might as well burn money.  Also, it turns out that you can go off stars.  The other week, I voluntarily bought a pie dish from a charity shop that matches the rubbish 70s Pyrex plates that won't die.  At least I know it won't break, and I actually kind of like the comfortingly kitsch pattern around the side.  And then I found myself hankering after a set of 1980s Kelloggs cereal bowls on Ebay.  Perhaps the trick is never to buy the good stuff anyway; then you're not only saved from having to have a set of china 'for best', you're also guaranteed not to break a fortune worth of plates in the process.  So...Ikea plates all the way.  Or vintage Pyrex.  Or bowls that came free with a cereal box.

Conclusion:  China snobbery is the most pointless form of snobbery of all.  And you can eat soup out of a pasta bake dish at a push.  I'll fight you for the Pyrex.