Sunday, 7 September 2014

Silent Sunday - 07/09/2014

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Hairwashing The Sassoon Way, Health & Other Concerns

It is 4 pm and the Husband has taken the kids to their swimming lesson.  I am sat in blissful silence, save the now permanent sound of house renovation taking place in our street and the monotonous drone of an outsize lawn-mower chugging across the postage stamp of a lawn in one of the houses backing on to our garden.

The day is unseasonably warm with the kind of heat that leaves you drowsy and heavy-limbed.  I briefly tidy up the house and, in a fit of domestic fervour, whip up a blackberry and apple cake in tribute to what promises to be a golden autumn.

As I wait for the cake to bake, I ponder all manner of things, particularly my various ailments, the latest of which is a strange tension headache which grips me either side of my skull at odd moments.  I worry, given the presence of epilepsy and numerous brain tumours on my mother's side of the family, that I am potentiallly a goner.  Then there are the back exercises I am supposed to do to strengthen my lower back.  And the hearing aids I am supposed to wear to help my tinnitus.  The week after next I have one visit to Llandough Hopsital and another to the Heath scheduled.  Let's put it this way, I am no stranger to the gynaecology department.

So it is with no small irony that I recall a book I once read many years ago by Beverly and Vidal Sassoon entitled "A Year of Beauty & Health".  It was written in 1975 and since that time I have had approximately a year of beauty and health!  Actually the one piece of advice I can remember is that, when shampooing your hair, you only need a dollop of shampoo the size of a 10p piece.

This was before celebrity hairdressers realised that, in order to sell your product, you had to encourage hair washing on a daily basis, together with conditioner, mask, conditioning spray, straightening balm, hairspray and a small payday loan with which to purchase said items.

This is probably why I have a cupboard full of shampoo and conditioner remnants - the latest include Brazilian Macademia Oil shampoo and Elvive's Fixology, neither of which have given me hair like the late Farrah Fawcett.  I truly don't understand how the Hair & Beauty Industry survives because it takes me an age to finish anything - from shampoo to cleanser and lipstick.  I suspect that the houses of the United Kingdom are stuffed with half used beauty products whilst we all dance to the tune of the Pied Piper that is Beauty Industry marketing and walk zombie like towards Boots and Superdrug in a state of fervent anticipation.This is also probably why the annual beauty awards tend to go to the same products ad nauseum.  Liz Earle, YSL Touche Eclat, Clinique Chubby Sticks, you know the ones.

I wish I could remember what I've done with the Sassoon tome.  Given the state of the old bod, there are probably things more important I should have been doing than rationing my shampoo usage.  Like drinking 8 glasses of water a day.  And exercising.

That's never going to be as exciting as a trip to Boots though, is it?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Where's Roger The Shrubber When You Need Him?

Fuchsia Mayhem

Early Autumn and, given that the kids are wound up like tops ready to rejoin the rank and file of sticky fingered and over-excitable school pupils, and the now deflated paddling pool has completely ruined the lawn, I feel it is time to pick up the secateurs for some gardening.  I use the term "gardening" loosely because, although my friend The Sybil (she of infinite and random wisdom) introduced me to the pleasures of horticulture and I now can almost see the point of Alan Titchmarsh, I must confess I'm still not altogether sure what on earth I'm supposed to be doing.

The previous owners of our house must have had a thing about Fuchsias because their purple tendrils reach everywhere, no matter how often they are trimmed (hacked!) back.  They have totally swallowed up the sunshine along one length of our small walled garden which consists of raised beds along two sides of a square and a long garage running the length of the third.  The shrubs I have planted there have wilted in the constant shade.

The garden is reached either through the kitchen or, primarily via glass french doors at the end of an extended lounge outside of which is a small patio.  The potential for mud and mess as the kids run through the lounge is, as you might imagine, considerable.

I have tried to add some shrubs and some herbs, mostly procured from Morrisons or our local garden center on SWAT missions with The Sybil. These generally involve her pointing at plants and me putting them in the trolley.  Some I can recognise, roses, lavender, rosemary, pansies - all the easy ones are in my "Dummies Guide to Gardening For the Peri-Menopausal".Sadly, despite recognising them, their fate is very hit and miss.

Geraniums (I think)!

I have managed to grow some strawberries and last year had a bumper crop of tomatoes and beans which, shamefully, mostly went to waste.  I am afraid my vintage housewife score dropped radically through failure to produce a batch of spicy tomato chutney or anything vaguely inspiring involving runner beans.  I may try again next year when I am better prepared and armed with a full chutney kit!

If in doubt, use the old statue and wind-chimes disguise....

I have cunning pruned this, erm, plant to resemble a triangle

The biggest problem I have at the moment is the whacking great bald patch on the lawn where the paddling pool sat. It looks like a monk's tonsure and I'm praying the grass grows back quickly.  

My Bald Spot

The husband is campaigning to fill the raised beds with chippings and replace the plants with things in pots. He may have a point.  If he does, I shall take a leaf out of the Knights Who Say Ni's book and call for Roger the Shrubber. Does anyone have his number?

Roger The Shrubber, Monty Python & The Holy Grail

Thursday, 28 August 2014

It's a Grand Design for a #TigercubHideout

Caitlin's vision:  some day all houses will be built this way

When Sir Robert McAlpine started building houses in 1869, I think it's safe to say that there was little provision made in the blueprint for a 'fairy room' or a WC with enough headroom to comfortably house an enormous pink bow suspended from the ceiling.  

These are just two of the items my six year old daughter, Caitlin, deems a prerequisite in the des res of any young lady in this brave new millennium.  She has designed this, by the way, as her entry into a competition to design a dream house by, the prize being a marvellous wooden hideout for the garden. Quite why the toilet features so prominently in her design has more, I suspect, to do with the general state of the family waterworks, than it does to any architectural whim.

Were Grand Design's Kevin McCloud (MBE) to don his leather jacket and wander round, he'd no doubt be stunned by the room filled entirely by a fridge containing nothing but ice cream.  Instead of marvelling at the quality of glass and aluminium, he'd be awe-stuck by the room filled entirely by a table for water and sand play.

There are rooms for 'art' (more Tate Modern than National Portrait Gallery) and 'dressing up' on a scale which would make Kim Kardashian clap her hands with glee.  Like many 6 year old little girls, Caitlin thinks nothing of accompanying me to the supermarket in the guise of her favourite Disney princess - the identity of whom changes on the hour.  There is a TV room with a screen worthy of our local multiplex and a mysterious 'secret room' - presumably in which to imprison her little brother. The house can also be exited by an emergency pole.  

It is clear that sleeping does not appear highly on the agenda since there's no bedroom - which bodes rather ominously for her teen years and food is provided out of the ether by mum's incredible catering / reheating service.

I quite fancy living there myself.

This is Caitlin's entry into the #TigercubHideout competition run by inviting children to draw a picture of their dream home.  

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

My Front Door Gives Me Superpowers

Is it our front door - or a portal to a difference space / time reality?

Ours is a pretty unprepossessing, some may say scruffy, front door.  It does not, it has to be said, rank in the top ten front doors of history. These include (in a straw poll conducted in the queue at Tesco) the residence of master sleuth Sherlock Holmes at 22l b Baker Street, 10 Downing Street, the wardrobe entrance to Narnia (N.B. not supplied by IKEA) and the bridge doors on the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek. Then there are the doors to the Big Brother House (most likely IKEA) and, as voted for by Ieuan (aged 5), the doors at our local Pizza Express.

Over the centuries, man has always had the urge to protect his home and property and though we have dispensed with a moat and portcullis, alarms, mortice locks, chains and CCTV systems are important weapons in our armoury against burglary and vandalism.  Indeed these items are insisted upon by many insurance companies. Some Tory MPs even still have moats.

Our front doors stand sentinel 24 hours a day, being dressed up only for Halloween or Christmas - the latter being the only time when we actively encourage callers.  I have, however, noticed a very strange phenomenon that takes place on a daily basis, whenever I enter through our front door.

From mild mannered and slightly harrassed wife and mother of two, I become ......SuperMum..... a creature forced to inhabit a different reality spanning numerous time zones all at once. My weapons are not, to quote Monty Python, "fear and surprise" (nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition), rather a collection of displeased facial expressions running the gamut from apoplectic to zen (the latter required a serious amount of vino to achieve).

When I step through the magical portal that is our front door, I acquire the ability to multi-task.This may often involve heating up a pizza whilst shouting but it's still more than one activity at once, isn't it?  I am caterer, chauffeur, laundress and moneylender.  I am seamstress, psychologist, tutor and nurse.  I am regularly called upon to inspect malfunctioning body parts and required to mend toys with the speed of a ninja.

 Working on my 'Supermum' look is very time consuming

It is a job whose description expands constantly and which tests my Supermum mettle to the full. And yet another, equally curious transformation occurs when I step back through that same front door on a Saturday night en route to our local hostelry.  I become - incredible! - an adult (well, grown up) once again. The husband and I are able to talk about things occurring outside our four walls, knowing that our trusty front door will be keeping the kids and babysitter safe and warm.

I suppose given the protection our trusty front door gives us, an extra special Christmas wreath and possibly an extra Halloween pumpkin are in order.  Now that's a job for Superdad.

This is my entry into the Yale Door competition to win a brand new front door.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Where I Get My Story-Telling Inspiration

My two are always on the lookout for an adventure

When I was young I used to share a bedroom with my little sister and, every night, would regale her with (as she recounts it) hilarious tales of her and my adventures in school.  Now the clock has turned full circle and I am able to listen to my children (aged 6 and 5) tell each other stories with similarly comedic potential. 

To be truthful, this is because there is a rich vein of barely veiled lunacy residing in our family and its precious archives.  At tea, my father used to tell us that the gherkin which resided at the bottom of our jar of pickled onions (nope, no idea why) was a monster similar to Nessie but very shy.  I spent many a tea time staring at said jar of pickled onions trying to spot the beast.  If conversation lulled, father would either take his teeth out or put the tea cosy on his head and pretend to be Napoleon.  If mother annoyed him, he would simply place a tea-towel over his head and impersonate a budgie.

My sister and I would frequently get our own back on father, knowing, for example, that he was terrified of snakes and spiders.  On one occasion we left a toy snake (an adder, quite realistic, from Bristol Zoo) in the upper branches of our apple tree whilst he was collecting the fruit.  The resulting scream could be heard at the end of the street.

Mother was completely unphased by my father's behaviour, probably because her father, a man we referred to as 'Flash Harry' was a legendary mischief maker and story teller in his own right.  Harry was a bus driver in Plymouth who had been practically blind in one eye for many years.  His favourite tale was how he passed his advanced bus driving examination despite his eyesight - hard to believe these days.  He would also take my sister and I to look at the scrumpy drinkers collapsed in a heap in Plymouth Market and sing songs such as "Ain't it grand to be blooming well dead" (Leslie Sarony, 1932) and claim he didn't want a funeral, just to be stuck in a black bag and put out for the bin men.  Nowadays of course he'd be stuck kerbside for a fortnight but that's local government for you.

My mother's grandfather was a quaint looking little man who greatly resembled Hercule Poirot and who was an excellent violinist, despite having a wooden arm due to a farming accident.  Her own mother came from a family of 11 and several of her uncles were bandsmen in the marines. 

So you can see that when I have to reach into the wine o'clock reaches of my imagination to lull the kids into a state of happy peace, I have plenty of material to use.  Not least my own, er, foibles and slightly worrying experiences - for example getting locked in a train toilet and having to pull the emergency cord (always a favourite tale), or during a ballet lesson as a young girl doing a pirouette (well, spinning a bit) and having one of the lenses of my black NHS specs fall out and smash on the floor.

My children love all things spooky so I claim to know all the magical healing powers of various gems and herbs.  My daughter and I recently made up a 'potion', devised by Caitlin, which consisted of one entire apple, some springs of Rosemary and some wine vinegar plus a rock from the garden which we had left out overnight so it could be 'charged with the moon's power'.  Is there anything truly more magical than a child's imagination?  They both love tales of the naughty goblins who live in the wood and are just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting children who wander off the path (or annoy their mother one too many times....).  Halloween is always celebrated by draping lengths of pretend spiders' webs throughout the house, together with black plastic spiders.  We have a plastic full sized skeleton we have named Mr Bones who joins us for tea. My father's face last year when he came for a Halloween tea was truly a picture to behold, particularly since we had made sure that there was an ample supply of spiders artfully arranged in the bathroom. This time, though, the extractor fan muffled his scream.

Story telling, to me, is a vital ingredient in a magical childhood because a good story carries with it lessons about emotions, family, morality and even spirituality.  I was, and am still, an avid reader.  I somehow managed to finish the school's reading syllabus first out of my classmates and my English teacher, Mr Jones, would let me have free run of the book cupboard whilst the other pupils dutifully read through the prescribed texts.  I can still remember reading The Shrimp & The Anemone (L P Hartley) in the warmth of the school room, basking in the sun and watching the motes of dust from the blackboard chalk swirling in the air.  I loved Gerald Durrell's "My Family & Other Animals" and was lost on the moors with Cathy in Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights". Books were places were magic resided - where stories revealed landscapes as surprising and wonderful as Narnia.

I also used to write avidly.  My favourite English assignment was always the essay writing tasks and I have begun to write again.  My first short story is posted on my blog here. I have in mind a children's novel too - featuring a hedgehog and his friends on a magical journey to find an enormous gem buried deep underground which is the beating heart of his woodland home.  

My children's current opus is a series of 'programmes' entitled "Hulk and Puppy" where a very grumpy incredible hulk (played with practically no behavioural adjustment by Ieuan) is accompanied by a small, yappy puppy (played rather fetchingly by Caitlin).  Each episode involves the puppy ending up in a scrape and a subsequent rescue by Hulk bursting in and smashing things.  I am required to provide the voice over and plot development as and when required.

When it all gets too much for me, I just put a tea towel over my head .....

This post is my entry to the Mumsnet / The Big Idea Competition (