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 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.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Meet Claire. Meet Cancer.

Until recently I thought that the worst thing that could possibly occur would be for something to happen to Rory.  I can't even bring myself to say the words, but you know what I mean: The Unthinkable.  For a parent to lose a child...well, the thought just crushes me.  You know what those thoughts are like:  You can't help yourself from briefly imagining the worst, and then you're rubbing at your eyes, crushing at your head with your hands trying to physically remove the thought to convince yourself that it could never happen.

But several months ago, I realized that there was worse: What if something happened to me?  Oh, I know that sounds selfish, and on the surface, how can that be as bad as the first scenario?  But when I think about it - really think - what destroys me is the thought of my son hurting and grieving and desperately wanting me, and the knowledge that I wouldn't be there to comfort him.  He's my baby and I'm his mum, and while he's a child., I should be there holding his hand and reassuring him, I should be cuddling him when his heart is breaking and wiping his tears away and helping him to find acceptance where understanding is impossible.  The thought of not being there to do that and the unbearable grief that he would feel without me floors me.  Perhaps this is what people spoke about when I was pregnant - how it feels like to love your child so much that their happiness and welfare comes before yours - before anything -  every time.  I voice this thought to my husband.  "It's bloody morbid, that's what it is," he says, with a long suffering sigh.  He's right.  It is.

But my friend Claire had to live with the this thought every day for two years, because at the age of 36, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and right from the start, it was made clear to her that this was it:  There was no way to fight against it, no second chances, no possibility that she'd pull though.  It was terminal and aggressive, and it was going to take her away from her husband and two young children, and there was not a damn thing that anybody could do about it.

Claire was one of a very special group of ladies that I am a part of.  We met online many years ago (which conjures up images of internet geeks playing Dungeons and Dragons. We don't) and happened to have babies at similar times.  This led to a close-knit community of around 50 of us who chat most days about our lives, our children - everything.  We've been there for each other for sleepless nights, post natal depression, divorce, domestic violence, and a lot of really.  When she first discovered the lump in her breast, we all encouraged her to see a doctor, reassuring her that it was probably just a cyst.  When she told us it was cancer, we supported her and told her to have hope - that so much can be done these days that she was likely to be fit and well in a couple of years.  When she found out that it was terminal, none of us knew what to say, but we said it anyway, and we tried to be there, keeping things normal and holding her up while she was falling apart.  When she finally died in April after facing life with cancer with admirable humour and bravery, she left a gaping hole in our group.  She was right there until the end, chatting away, making us laugh and with a gift for saying exactly what needed to be said in exactly the right words, especially when one of us was being a complete tool and needed to be told.  We couldn't believe she'd really gone.  Still can't.  And the most painful thing of all for me is not that I've lost my friend, but that she had to live for two years, knowing that she'd never see her children grow up or be there to make sure that they read that book she loved when they were old enough, or to check that they'd cleaned their teeth properly before school, and knowing all the time how devastated and lost they were going to feel when she finally went.  Because no matter how many times a counsellor tells a child that mummy's sick and never getting better and that one day she'll die, how can you really prepare a child for something like that?

On 19th October, some of our group are doing the Race For Life in Claire's home town in her memory.  We want your money.  We want to contribute to the research and treatment of this frightful disease in the hopes that one day no child will have to lose a parent to it when they're so young, nobody will have to die this painful, drawn out death, no circle of friends will be incomplete because cancer stole one of them away far too young.

Our Just Giving page is here:  if you can't donate, please share this blog post - tweet it, email it, share it on Facebook - do whatever you can do to make it go viral, because the more money we can raise, the more work can be done to prevent and cure cancer.  Thank you.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

When am I going to have another baby?

I had a tantrum when I was pegging the washing out the other day.  It was pretty mild as tantrums go; I am not given to histrionics.  In fact, I think all I did was drop kick a peg and frown a bit, but inside I was seriously fed up.  Why?  Because my washing line will never be perfect.  Everyone knows that a washing line should billow with immaculate cotton sheets and towels and clothes for tiny people, all in spotless blue-white.  That's what you see on the washing powder adverts.  That's what you imagine life will be like when you have a family and hang your laundry out to dry, a smiling baby balanced happily on your hip, all soft downy hair and smiles.  My washing line does not look like that.  It is a dirge of greying towels, hand-me-downs, murky sheets of indeterminate origin and colour and bobbly t-shirts, interspersed with the odd pair of slutty knickers.  None of it is white.  Much of it is black or navy blue or red.  Dark haired, pale skinned people don't wear white - it doesn't suit them. Messy, clumsy people avoid it too.  That's all three of us out, then.  I don't think there's one item of white clothing in our entire house.

It's just a way of getting your laundry dry, but on that day, it really riled me.  It's another thing that I can't get right, another little detail of my life that won't ever be picture perfect.  I really think I could forgive the messy house or the constant worrying or the fish fingers for tea again if only I could be the sort of person who has a line full of lush, white washing once in a while, just as a sort of symbol to myself that I haven't failed entirely.  But the only time I ever had a TV-perfect washing line was when Rory was a new baby, and it was bobbing with tiny babygrows and vests and those muslin squares - before they went grey with over-use or orange with carroty weaning stains.  I sometimes think it might be worth having another baby just for the washing line. Then I mentally punch myself in the face for being so stupid, because, well, when am I going to have another baby?

When I was bent double and retching in my classroom cupboard from constant 'morning' sickness, praying for oblivion, a tiny voice in the back of my head told me that I'd still have another one.  When I was unable to move from bed in hospital, grey faced with exhaustion and blood loss, I still assumed I'd do it again one day.  When I was being treated for shock in an ambulance after I fell asleep holding Rory because I'd had no sleep the night before and I'd woken to find him face down on the floor, having rolled off of me, silent and looking lifeless, I still didn't consider that I wouldn't do it again.  Even when we weren't welcome anywhere because all he did was scream and wreck things because he could walk before he could think while the other babies slept, it seemed like only a matter of time.  Then my friends who'd had their first babies around the same time as me started getting pregnant again and my only thought was overwhelming horror that I might have to have another baby.  I congratulated them and got exited for them, but all the time I was thinking "are you mad?" and "why would you do that?" and now we're another couple of years down the line and those second babies are two years old, and the further I get from the baby years, the more I recoil at the thought of going back there. And I didn't understand why, because Rory is the loveliest boy, truly my best friend.   I adore him.  Why not another baby too?

At first, I told myself that I wanted a bigger age gap.  I saw so many two year olds, following their mothers around with hurt in their eyes, confused bewildered by the arrival of a new sibling.  I didn't want that, even though I know they get over it in a couple of months and then forget they were ever only children.  But then, I didn't want a four year gap like the one between my brother and I, because we were too far apart in age to play well together, but too close in age for me to take a more maternal role.  Perhaps a five year gap. Or six.  Or ten.  Also, I don't really like babies, so that's a problem. I never have.

But although not liking babies and age gap politics and are a valid reason, to me they were really only a convenient excuse.  The truth is, I am just too anxious for more babies.  I don't think I can bear the worry of putting a baby down to sleep and being convinced that they won't wake up again.  I even check on Rory's breathing several times a night now, and he's four.  I panic when he's ill, or even when he's not ill but there's a nasty sickness bug or bout of flu doing the rounds.  My hand is constantly feeling his forehead, trying to convince myself that he's healthy, and when he is ill - really ill - my maternal instinct to nurture and nurse back to health is nowhere to be found, having been replaced by the urge to run far away.  I can't cope with another baby's constant attempts to scale the sofa, another round of a feckless toddler climbing things and landing on their head, making a sound like a coconut being dropped.  I can't cope with more years of never quite sleeping properly and being constantly on edge, waiting for the screams that signal that something's very wrong.  Night terrors.  Vomiting.  Fevers.  Screaming non-stop for no discernible reason.  Choking.  All the things that keep me awake in the small hours, fizzing with  a sort of non-specific dread.  I know I have an anxiety disorder and that this isn't the way a normal person thinks.  I know you probably think I'm crazy to worry like this.  But, in turn, I think you're crazy for not worrying about this stuff.  How do you cope with the uncertainties and the not knowing?  How do you even leave the house without turning yourself inside out with anxiety about all of the things that may or may not happen?

So, when am I going to have another baby?  When the age gap feels right.  When I finally start cooing over them like women are supposed to.  When life feels less messy.  When I can think of vomit without wanting to die.  When  I'm not scared of illness and contamination any more.  When someone can guarantee me a baby who sleeps and doesn't scream all day.  When there's a cure for morning sickness.  When someone can assure me 100% that I will not die during labour.  When the house is tidy.  When we can finally afford our dream home.  Hell, when the house is completely safe for a toddler, something like a padded cell. When we get on top of our finances.  When I stop waking in the night and lying there for four hours panicking about things that may or may not happen.  When I start to enjoy going to Rhyme Time and every other horrible, brain numbing baby group.  When just the three of us - Richard, Rory and me - stop feeling like the perfect team.  When my washing line is filled with perfect, billowing white sheets.  When I'm a completely different person.  Never.


DISCLAIMER: Unless I ever screw up with my contraception again.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Stay At Home Mums need workplace injury lawyers too.

I've been thinking about this, and it's not very fair.  You see the adverts on TV all the time: you have an accident in the workplace and you can make a claim for compensation.  Slip on the newly mopped floor in the office - got it covered.  Fall off a ladder in the warehouse?  No problem.  Gardeners UK-wide are free to stand on garden forks and get smacked in the face. Basically, any sort of work accident is fair game for a no win no fee specialist, and that's brilliant.

But what about stay at home mums?  Where's our injury compensation?

You're wondering exactly how looking after a child all day can be a hazard aren't you?  Good job I kept a list of my injuries sustained in the line of duty of the past four years then, isn't it?

Type of injury
How it occurred

Broken toe

Whilst trying to entertain my 9 month old son by doing the shaky tea towel dance from Big Cook Little Cook, I accidentally kicked the table.
Unable to walk properly for well over a week.  Marriage damaged irreparably due to husband laughing hysterically at my misfortune.

Wounded sole of foot

Running across a minefield of Lego bricks to answer the phone. (Turned out to be a fascia board salesman).
Agony.  Irrevocable damage to relationship with fascia board company due to all the swearing. (No bad thing).

Large bruise on forehead, possible hairline fracture

Walking into a wall at 2am due to severe sleep deprivation.
Nothing.  When you’ve survived on 2 hours sleep per night for 5 months, what’s a little concussion thrown into the mix?

Sprained wrist
Slipping on a blob of baby sick.  I say ‘blob’, I mean ‘reservoir’.

Unfortunately, I could still hold the baby with my other arm, which meant that I couldn’t get Richard to take some time off work to let it recover.

Groin strain
Trying to impress fit dad at playgroup by demonstrating how I can do the splits. Turns out I can’t do the splits any more, possibly due to episiotomy scar.

Walked like cowboy for a couple of days, self respect AWOL ever since.

And that's just my injuries.  A friend of mine actually broke her bum going down a bumpy slide at soft play.  It's a hazardous business caring for children.    Surely we deserve some compensation?  Or more wine.  One or the other.