Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Hunter-Gatherer: Mouse Botherer

We have a cat named Mowzer.  He was named after one of my son’s favourite stories, “The Mousehole Cat.”  He is also a magpie cat and so resembles his fictional namesake.  A friend with a particularly warped sense of humour recently likened Mowzer to Hitler (he has a splash of black covering one eye and a little black nose, which, through squinty eyes, could pass as a moustache); however, the similarity ends there, for Mowzer is a very easy-going cat.  He’s a lover, not a fighter.  Except, that is, when it comes to creatures smaller than him.

We have a long wilderness of a garden, backing onto woodland - a cat’s paradise.  Mowzer takes full advantage of this and has brought back a selection of “gifts” to show his appreciation for the hideously expensive cat food we buy him.  So far, we have received a blackbird - no longer singing - in the dead of night, numerous shrews and a number of mice.

Unfortunately for Mowzer, we have recently carried out an assault on our garden and in particular, an overgrown wisteria and buddleia clinging to the side of our house.  Following this pruning session, Mowzer’s killing spree suddenly ceased.  We speculated that the mice and shrews had taken shelter amongst the roots of the now ex-buddleia and we had inadvertently deprived Mowzer of such easy targets.

Mowzer took to sleeping more and hunting less.  He grew more aloof and, dare I say it, sulky.  It was as though he blamed us for desecrating his stomping ground, forcing him to go further afield for a kill.  Clearly he wasn’t prepared to do so.



That is until a September chill pervaded the night air, bringing with it an influx of worryingly large house spiders.  A few nights ago, Mowzer had just eaten and was cleaning his whiskers and thinking hard about another sleep, when from the shadow of the dishwasher, a spider emerged, so big, I could see the whites of its eyes.  Mowzer pounced with a nimbleness I had not seen him demonstrate for weeks and in one direct hit, caught and consumed the eight-legged beast without a second thought.  I admit, I had to avert my gaze during this stomach churning process, but confess to a sneaking admiration for his speed and agility.

But this was just the beginning of a very active night for Mowzer.  Buoyed up by the realisation that there were creatures to hunt inside the house, Mowzer went temporarily insane.  He darted around the house, stalking anything that moved - from shadows to human toes. 

Eventually, he settled under our bed whilst we were watching TV.  I say, “settled,” but in fact a glance under the bed would be met by a pair of eyes the size of dinner plates and a swipe of his paw.  During that evening, Mowzer managed to locate and annihilate two more house spiders before disappearing through the cat flap and into the night.

In the middle of the night, I was vaguely aware of a series of thuds and noises somewhere between Bambi on ice and a centipede in Doc Martens.  The grim discovery, early on Wednesday morning, was a murdered mouse and a scattering of shoes in the hallway.  The poor creature had obviously taken refuge in the shoe basket before Mowzer, the hunter-gatherer, despatched him.

I can only conclude that the house spider has had the same effect on our cat’s enthusiasm for his life’s work as viagra has on an ageing lothario.

Mower is back.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

All Work and No Play



After months of fighting it, deluding myself that I'm a writer darling and do not have creative juices "on tap," I have finally succumbed.  I have at long last, admitted to myself that in order to write, to be a wife and mum (with all that entails) and to ensure that there is food in the fridge and a steady supply of coffee by day, chilled wine when the sun is over the yard arm, I need to grow up and get a schedule.  I have a Blackberry for God's sake!  I'm half way there! 

As most writers and bloggers with children will acknowledge, it is near impossible to achieve anything worthy of public scrutiny during the summer holidays and come September, I was itching to get back to my writing.  So last weekend, I compiled a Monday to Friday work schedule.  And mighty pleased with myself I am too!

That's not to say I haven't included a few very important sanity-preserving activities, such as Facebook checking, Daily Mail on-line gossip fix, my Twitter feed and a twice-weekly swim.  But under my shiny new schedule, these have new, more imposing titles, such as "Research" and "Free Period" (very sixth form).

So on Monday, I stuck religiously to my timetable and was amazed that I resisted the urge, first thing, to visit Facebook, thereby avoiding a dangerous foray into the time-devouring evil that is Right Move.  Instead, I immediately went food shopping (just food shopping you understand; no perusing the rails of supermarket clothes I will never wear, cut-price DVDs I will never find time to watch and post Olympic giveaway souvenirs, which would end up languishing in my already cluttered drawers).  I then tackled the leaning tower of Pisa that was my ironing basket, before swimming 40 lengths of my local swimming pool and preparing an evening meal.  Monday, on my new schedule, is a day of catching up on household tasks and trying not to catch a verruca from the swimming pool changing rooms.

Tuesday, I worked hard.  I pitched some ideas to a magazine editor, carried out some research, experienced the buzz of new ideas and felt a growing sense of optimism and achievement.

On Wednesday, I wrote poetry, formulated some of Tuesdays ideas into something coherent and purchased two birthday presents, one of which I will probably take back.  Dangerous territory for me.  A valid reason to interrupt the schedule? I could get distracted...

So here I am.  Thursday.  It's sunny and I'm resisting the urge to go back to the shops by paying my neglected blog some attention.  All work and no play.  I'm on a mission!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Clothes Doth Maketh the Woman


So how was your Easter break?  Mine was a hectic two-week whirlwind of impromptu planning (my self-employed husband was working for most of the holidays and forced to snatch time off here and there), chocolate consumption and praying that Whitsun brings with it better weather and better getaway prospects. 

I sat around for much of the Easter break, variously at the park with friends (in between rain showers), playing Mario Kart on the Wii (during heavy downpours) or drinking litres of coffee at a local indoor play centre (when all hope of a sunny dry spell was gone).

This Easter, as the rain hammered down, I frequently sought solace in stolen moments enjoying stolen pieces of my son’s Easter Eggs and had time to reflect on the sameness of my day-to-day outfits.  Add to this general sense of dissatisfaction the fact that I was unable to get a much-needed appointment with my hairdresser to get my roots done and you have a woman on the edge.

Post Easter break, which, let’s face it if you didn’t manage to go away, was literally a wash out, my mind has been pre-occupied with updating my wardrobe.  I have become a “safe” dresser – a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl, but secretly have become obsessed with acquiring a pair of Aztec-patterned leggings, the perfect ankle boot and a really wearable day dress.  I have decided that once in possession of these items (and having had my roots done), I will feel more like me and revert to a fully functioning writer, be inspired to complete my book and be a happy and contented wife and mother once again.

Without straying into Samantha Brick territory, I used to be comfortable in my own skin and adept at selecting items of clothing I felt confident wearing, with a nod-to-but-not-dictated-by current fashion trends, all the time conveying my own sense of individuality.   I remain a size 8-10 and yet, those days seem to have slipped by the wayside.  Life gets in the way.  Age gets in the way.  And therein lies the key to all this.  Age.  Women over the age of 35 are expected to adhere to fashion rules.  We should not wear skirts above the knee or skinny jeans for example.

I have conducted some preliminary research into this attitude on Twitter.  Katy Pegg (sister of Simon) recently tweeted that she was thrilled with her new Aztec print leggings.  I seized the moment and confided that I’m not sure whether there’s an age limit for patterned leggings.  Katy replied that she is 32.  I’m 38.  Does that make a difference?

Given time, I could ramble on all day about my inner struggle with this issue.  However, it seems that all it took was a word from the original fashion darling herself, Twiggy.  Flicking through a magazine in a waiting room earlier this week, I read an interview with Twiggy in which she said that she was sick to the back teeth of being told what mature women should and shouldn’t wear and that she was jolly well going to please herself, trust her instincts and wear what the hell she likes!  Of course, I am paraphrasing wildly here, but you get the gist. 

The result of this pep read?  I went shopping and am now the proud owner of a bargain pair of ankle boots (reduced from £65.00 to £10.00), a fabulous and wearable day dress and, as my Twitter followers will testify, a pair of Aztec print leggings, which, combined with a long length grey fine knit, biker boots and fresh highlights, have inspired me to write this blog.  See?  It worked.

Now if I could just find the perfect outfit that says “Hot New Literary Talent” then my work is done.


Thursday, 22 March 2012

Alcohol Anxiety



It’s a little embarrassing to admit that alcohol consumption has long been something of a national sport in the UK, but more latterly it has become a national obsession, as the media continues to drip feed a steady stream of seemingly contradictory medical advice.  For example, from recent memory, I can recall that we have been advised that alcohol can be of benefit to the middle aged, only to be told subsequently that middle aged people are consuming way too much alcohol and are unaware of the dangers their “problem drinking” presents.  Officially women are permitted 2 units per day, but even that piece of government advice now has a big, fat, red-flashing question mark hovering over it.  The latest theory is that we should all have at least 3 alcohol-free days per week to allow our livers to recover.

British journalist, India Knight, has recently waded in with her opinion, rejecting the stark media coverage comparing the middle aged to partying, vomiting teenagers and suggesting that the middle aged should not allow themselves to feel guilty for enjoying a glass or two of wine.

However, I’m the first to admit that I have leanings towards hypochondria and, given that I rather indulged in the “high spirits” of the nineties (not to the point of flashing my pants in street gutters, I hasten to add), this extensive media coverage only serves to increase my anxiety over any historic hangover so that any pleasure derived from relaxing with a glass of something sparkly is now tempered by the ever present media warnings.  As far as I’m aware, there isn’t yet a help group catering for women like me, who would love to stand in the middle of a circle of sympathetic listeners and announce:  “My name is Claire.  I worry about health issues.”

This leads me to the issue of socialising with other parents.  Whilst we all cherish our children, there are times, it has to be said, when, come 8.00 pm, the desire to crack open a bottle of wine is almost overwhelming.  I know many parents who are intent on re-living their youth, their children having reached an age where they are more self sufficient or happy to stay overnight with grandparents.  The fact that time alone as a couple or spent mingling with friends is more limited by the presence of a family, only serves to heighten the thrill of any down time and the temptation to let loose and exceed the recommended daily allowance of alcohol units (or, as the powers that be put it, “to binge drink”) during those late night conversations, is something that many of us succumb to.

I know of at least three intelligent, responsible, well educated mothers who are flying the flag for the over 40s in terms of their approach to socialising.  These are the mothers who can be found donning sunglasses at the school gates after a heavy night on the town (or at home), sheepishly admitting to the number of empty bottles resulting from the previous night’s festivities.  Yet they do it again and again.  I on the other hand, have no wish to be a party pooper, but my alcohol anxiety prevents me (most of the time) from over-indulging.  Hangovers, as we all know, can be eased by a cup of tea, a bacon sandwich and some ibuprofen.  It’s the guilt I struggle to erase.



So, time for another admission.  I have been known to invent an excuse not to drink.  There, I’ve said it!  Only last night, in preparation for an evening at a friend’s house, I sent a text to another invitee, offering her a lift.  Her prompt response sought to clarify that the lift was only to my house, so that we could walk the rest of the way, ending with the loaded statement, “I hope you’re not driving!” 

Miraculously, I managed to stay within the recommended daily allowance pretending that I had had a heavy weekend celebrating another friend’s 40th and simply couldn’t risk another hangover.  Is it not pitiful that I am still bowing to peer pressure?!  It seems that we Brits simply cannot believe that it is possible to have a good time without alcohol, but until the facts and risk factors associated with alcohol can be scientifically established (will that day ever come?), I am happy to just dip my toe in the water, so to speak, whilst outwardly striving to maintain my “cool/fun mum” persona.


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Lessons in maths


A new report suggests that children should learn maths through using it rather than focusing on abstract concepts.

Judith Burns, the BBC Education reporter, writes:  “Professor Dave Pratt of the Institute of Education argues innovative teaching techniques and technology could help more pupils engage with the subject.”
This is particularly relevant to me this week, after my son raised his confusion over division.  After a quick demo involving half a dozen eggs from the fridge and three bowls and confirmation that “to divide” means “to split,” my son seemed happy enough to resume play as his alter ego, Batman.

Shortly afterwards, we attended his primary school parents’ evening, to be told that whilst English is his strong subject (no surprises there given the stories he tells me on a daily basis!) he lacked confidence in maths. 

Given that the teacher nonetheless was unconcerned with his progress in maths, I continued to nod earnestly (as is my usual form at such events), before suddenly recalling our at-home division discussion.  Instead of continuing my Churchill nodding dog mimicry, I decided to ask if there was anything we could do to help.  The teacher proceeded to give us an example of how she is currently teaching the Year 2 children to add double figures, by adding the tens and units separately, something my son was apparently struggling to grasp.  They call it “number squashing” and a typical example of such a calculation would be as follows: -

TU   TU
32 + 24

30 + 20  = 50

2 + 4 = 6

50 + 6 = 56

Just a simple tweak in presentation from the way in which I was taught – back in the day – and I was left wondering whether all future mathematical challenges would be as straight forward.

Truth be told, maths was not my strong point at school.  I wasn’t a poor student, but I did have to work at it and much of the GCSE maths I learned in school has been all but erased from my memory in the intervening years.  (I blame the mercury in the floorboards at my Victorian era school).  So, it’s no surprise to me to learn from Judith Burns’ report that Government figures show that almost half of the working adults in England have only primary school maths.

So how are we to help our children with their maths homework when the problems become “trickier?” 

On discussing this with another mum, her only comment was “Wait ‘til they get to Year 6!”

In the absence of a direct hotline to Carol Vorderman, I am clearly going to have to up my game if I am going to assist in broadening my son’s mathematical knowledge.  The same mum who issued this stark warning for the future advised that her focus has always been “time and money.”   By this, she did not mean private tuition, but literally ensuring that her children could tell the time and handle money. 

I suppose it’s a start, although all the clocks in our house have roman numerals, which is confusing for any 7 year-old.  However, clearly more is needed, preferably an all-encompassing bible of mathematical teaching methods.  So if you see a woman staring blankly at the shelves in the education section of Waterstones, take pity and point me in the right direction!


Thursday, 8 March 2012

International Women’s Day – One Woman’s Wish List



Before you read any further and pass judgment on me, let me make it clear that I am well aware that the significance of International Women’s Day extends way beyond me insisting on a day of rest and demanding the boys in my household indulge my every whim.  For the record, I shall not be dangling my legs over the side of the bath and ordering my husband to shave them.  Nor will I condemn my young son to a day of drudgery at my expense (although his keenness to bake could be turned to my advantage!)

However, it has made me rather selfishly reflect on the things I have yet to achieve, some momentous, some less so, and some downright silly, which make it wondrous to be a woman. 

  1. Wearing and carrying off with aplomb, a walk along a red carpet in a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes.
  2. Becoming someone’s muse.
  3. Experiencing that glow of pride at being escorted somewhere, at some point in the future, on the arm of my fully-grown, healthy and happy son.
  4. Finding a freedom of expression without fear of causing offence, having reached the age where, in imparting wisdom and witticisms, my words are at best perceived as those of an inspirational elder and at worst, the musings of a beloved eccentric.
  5. Creating the perfect capsule wardrobe, neatly contained in my own walk in closet.
  6. Doing something truly worthwhile for a charitable cause – something over and above a cash donation.
  7. Gathering all my friends from far and wide at one time in atmospheric surroundings and hosting a party to remember.
  8. Finding the perfect shade of red lipstick.  It must be wearable and it must transform my lips into Angelina’s.
  9. Going out clothed from head to toe in vintage clothing (a sight to behold in the suburbs) and not giving a damn!
  10. Proving to our child that long-term relationships need hard work and commitment to flourish and that without love and laughter we are nothing.
What’s on your wish list?

Monday, 5 March 2012

A Butterfly Mind



I hate Mondays.  Always have.  Always will.  Nothing good ever comes of them.  They mark the beginning of a five day uphill struggle until the next two day window of life affirming pleasure and relaxation.

This morning, I attempted to lift the mood in our house as my son began to complain about the all round gloominess of Mondays.  I explained that we all feel the same.  It's a universal truth.  Mondays suck.  (I actually loathe that word, but it does do justice to the M day).  However, I pointed out that we need contrasts in life.  Without the dread of Mondays, the joy of Friday nights would be nowhere near as thrilling. 

So, after my little pep talk, my son walked into school with a spring in his step.  I, on the other hand, felt unsettled and on a quest to find as many reasons to break from my usual routine as humanly possible.

I loitered around the supermarket during my weekly shop, closely scrutinising the deals to be had and questioning whether or not I need to be buying Easter eggs just yet and spending way too long inexplicably considering Dragon fruit and clearance SIM cards.

Back home with shopping unpacked, I decided to start work.  Well, I say work, but first I had to visit the BBC News webpage to see whether the world is still turning.  Oh and then I had to look at my Facebook and Twitter accounts and have the obligatory look at Right Move to check (again) whether my dream house - within budget - was on the market somewhere on the coast of North Devon. 

I then decided I needed to be more comfortable to work.  I changed into some cotton jogging bottoms.  Jogging bottoms are working-from-home attire you understand and never see the light of day unless of course I am actually jogging.  I put on my bright pink jogging bottoms, which then channelled my thoughts towards pink skinny jeans, more specifically, the rather cool pastel pink leopard print pair I saw in the Sunday Times Style supplement at the weekend.  I began a preliminary Google search, convincing myself that this could also qualify as research for a fashion blog.  (I use this justification with disturbing frequency.  If I don't limit myself to blogging on a specific topic, then the world's my oyster.  Anything goes.  I can surf the internet to my heart's content, all in the name of research).

And then reality hit.  I may be slim and I may love fashion, but I am also nearly 40.  More to the point, I am simply indulging myself in cyberspace because I would rather my mind was anywhere but here, in the present moment on this cold and grey March Monday morning.

Reluctantly, I opened my blog and then once again allowed myself to become distracted by messing around with the design for a while before reverting to the original settings after all.  I then began in earnest and here's the result.

Oh, is it that time already?  I fancy a bacon sandwich.  Anon!