Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Night must fall and we shall be forced to camp


Along with the children, my husband and I recently attended what I can only describe as the most wonderful and extravagant 50th birthday party, or joint birthday party. Two of our friends celebrated this milestone by having what was effectively an amazing private music festival for around 400 of their friends. The event spanned two days on a farm, with pretty much round the clock live bands, excellent catering, a 24-7 bar, a wonderfully equipped babysitting creche, and luxuriously kitted out tents for our overnight stay. I'm told this kind of glamorous camping is referred to as 'glamping'  - but have to admit that my experience of camping per se is severely limited thanks to negative past experiences.

I have never been keen on communing with the outdoors except when it involves admiring nature or the animals knowing full well that the day's activities will end with a hot tasty meal that doesn't require me to kill or clean an animal, a nice glass of wine, and a soft warm bed that where my body does not have to make direct contact with the ground. Oh, and a toilet and hot shower that does not include a risk of athletes foot, or encountering bears or insects in order to access it in the middle of the night. I'd go further and say my ultimate fantasy camping experience involves conjured images straight out of Poirot episodes or Out of Africa, where, despite being in the middle of the Egyptian desert or African bush, people dress up beautifully for dinner and eat around tables with white clothes, silverware and crystal, and there is a gramophone playing while we enjoy post dinner port and hear the lions roar (far far far) in the distance.  


When I talk about my views on camping, a friend of mine (who does one of those back to basics men and the earth type camping trips with his mates on a fairly regular basis) shakes his head in disgust, tells me I am bourgeois, and that the reason why I have such a shamefully negative attitude is that I just haven't done it properly in the past. He is referring to the time, after I caught a fish and had to clobber it to death with a small mallet, I spent the whole night freezing cold and getting sharp pains in my shins. And then another whereby I spent another entire night unable to sleep because of what felt like a dozen rocks penetrating every part of my body. Oh and the communal bathrooms, well, that's just a deal breaker every time. I appreciate were the world to come to some sort of nasty post apocalyptic end, I would not fare well in the living off of the land and roughing it stakes.

We are currently on holiday, and in the absence of the wonderful person who regularly helps clean our house in London, the children have been set to work to make their beds in the mornings, tidy up after themselves, and help in the house.  They are rising to the occasion to such an extent that I realise that (a) even small children are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for, (b) they are actually quite keen to help and feel like they are contributing and (c) we are probably doing them a great disservice back home by not getting them more involved with helping around the house. A friend of mine told me that having grown up with people to look after her home and prepare the meals for the family, she left University and moved into her own apartment with absolutely no idea how to cook or run a household. Another guy I shared a communal house with at university, and who was a fairly good cook, told me he learnt while he was growing up by hanging out in the kitchen and watching the family's Zimbabwen chef. I suppose these things are relative. I learnt how to cook because as a teenager I spent four years eating as a vegetarian after reading a book of how animals are killed in abattoirs, and my mother (quite understandably) refused to cook separate meals for myself and my carnivores relatives. 


This holiday we have used Uber for the first time here on Long Island. Our first driver was a large African American man who had a 4 out of 5 rating. Upon entering his car his said enthusiastically  "Hmmmmhmmm, what is that smell? Yeah, that's the smell of dinner folks,"  before admitting that he didn't really know his way around where we lived and that even his Sat Nav got confused. We got to the restaurant fine in the end, with navigational assistance from my husband who was using Google maps that is, but I did have a residual concern that we were going to be late or take a circuitous route. I guess this is a potential downside of inexperienced drivers in the navigational stakes working as part of the Uber service.  In London I more often than not plonk myself down in the back of a black cab and check my email or make calls with the assurance that my driver knows exactly where he is going, although most recently, I have had at least two black cab drivers cheekily admit that sometimes they have done the circuitous route intentionally to garner a bit of extra cash - notably when passengers are four sheets to the wind.

While waiting for our Uber collection back home after dinner, my husband and I saw fireflies for the first time in our lives. At nearly 40 I love the fact that I can still experience or learn something new for the first time. Apart from say, muggings, an acid trip, or getting arrested that is. But these little insects were quite mesmerising; at first you think you are seeing something out of the corner of your eye they way you sometimes do when you get up too quickly, but then you see another and then another, like tiny burning embers floating past you. And as quickly as you see them the little light in them goes out. Quite beautiful.

Our homeward bound Uber driver was a tall, thin, gaunt-looking man from Turkey with a slight lisp, who had lived in the USA for 25 years. He had a very large and unexpected collection of TicTacs and chewing gum, as well as drinks and a singular packet of Doritos on display in the storage bit between the front seats that faces the back seats - where one would, say, normally put a box of tissues, and in the gap where the arm rest usually sits. He told us to help ourselves, and I wondered if he was testing out a sort of mini shop slash taxi service concept. When we told him we had not yet visited Istanbul he quickly and rather dramatically blurted out: "Oh don't, dont visit Istanbul!". My husband and I looked at each other and then at him, "Er, why?" Expecting some terrible tale of unexpected crime or natural disasters, only for him to counter, "Because you will never want to leave. Istanbul is soooo beautiful." The rest of the journey was spent listening to him telling us about all the things he wanted to do in his life but had missed out on doing - seeing the 'Pyramints' and having children being just two. 

This week we were grocery shopping in the local store and I overheard a group of three tall hearty-looking college-aged American men discussing whether or not girls would like avocado's. It's a small store and at various points this topic repeatedly came up depending on what food stuff they were looking at. I imagined they were using one of their parent's holiday homes and hosting one of those parties you see in movies where there are kegs, someone has a very bad drug experience, and the whole party gets busted by the cops. The guys then went on to the butchery section and ordered what looked like half a cow while the butcher gave them precise cooking instructions. After he had handed them the large parcels of meat, one of them handed him some money. He told them it wasn't necessary but they insisted, and he said thank you and that he appreciated it. I felt certain that in his 20 or so years of working in the store it was probably the first time he had been tipped for serving steaks, but with this being America (a heavily tip-driven place) I could well be wrong.

Subject header credit to Withnail and I (1987). Full quotation: Monty: "Come on lads, let's get home, the sky's beginning to bruisenight must fall and we shall be forced to camp."

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Relativity

An old school friend recently contacted me and asked me what I was planning for my 40th next year. Oh shit, that's right, I'm turning 40. Thanks for the reminder dude. I honestly don't give it that much thought which may well be a form of denial. Or perhaps I am going to be like one of those energetic youthfully attired 80-year-olds you see hanging out at clubs saying things like: 'I might look old, but inside I still feel 28!' I worked with a woman who told me she was going to start doing drugs when she became elderly. "What have you got to lose right? You spend your life trying to be healthy and worrying about stuff, so when you get old, that's the time to cut loose." 

My eyesight isn't what it used to be, I have to write things down, a lot, and I don't bounce back from hangovers like I used to. In fact a particularly late and boozy night can set me back about 3 days or so. I try and alternate drinks with a glass of water so I save myself the pain the next day. That and the fact that with small children one of you has to remain sober to see to them should they need you in the night and children have absolutely zero respect for a hangover - they wake you at an ungodly hour, continue to shriek, demand, and expect energetic visits to the park etc. The youth of today, pah. These days I'm also very careful about what I put into my body, I exercise twice a week, and then walk whenever I can. Having had a spinal MMR a couple of years ago the consultant said to me: "You've still got time to fix your body but don't leave it too long"  - a massive 'now or never' get your shit together wakeup call.

But the first time I really came slap bang broken nose against the glass aware of the fact that my body was ageing was when I found a grey hair. What's next, some down there too? Oh the horror! My girlfriend suggested continued highlights and for my nether regions a Hollywood wax. "You can get rid of it," she assured me, "no one needs to know." I'm not sure what scared me more? The realisation that my body had embarked on its inevitable decline and eventual shutting down, or having to assume the downward dog pose while getting my tookus waxed by a young woman chewing gum.

I'm hoping the whole steady decline thing happens a lot slower and later what with the exercise and good diet, but I can see why turning 40 throws so many people into midlife crises mode.  Although personally I am not planning on buying a sports car, getting lipo or having an affair. OK, maybe the sports car and maybe just maybe some Botox. People have started asking me why I look worried, even when I am at my most tranquil, and it's all down to a blasted set of twin lines between my eyebrows. In truth I am medication and non essential surgery phobic, so Botox or any kind of filler is extremely unlikely. Instead I'm trying very hard to un-train the muscles by not frowning at all, even when my son makes me extremely angry, which is tough. I look psychotic - zen calm face while shouting expletives. 

I recently read somewhere (don't ask me where - memory is another thing that aint as hot as it used to be) that we change a lot in the different stages of our life - not just physically but in terms of our personality. OK, obvious right? But for me, to stop and think to myself: I am probably a vastly different person to what I was in my early 20s (which btw, is a good thing because I was a bit of a train wreck in those days), is somewhat of a mind f*ck. It makes me wonder about people that get married to childhood sweethearts or in their early 20s. Do they have moments when they look at the other person and go, 'Actually, I'm not really sure this is what I would choose now?' Or perhaps some just get very lucky and meet a person early on that they can weather the changing storm with. I think more positively the realisation and acceptance of change in yourself can also be quite freeing though: You don't have to hold onto old ways of being or opinions, or even people in your life that no longer enrich you. Likewise bad hairstyles. 

I am currently organising a big party for my husband's upcoming 40th milestone. I'm not sure if I am going to have a party next year myself though. The kind of party I think I ought to have to prove that I am still young (and terrified of getting older) is probably not something I would enjoy in reality. I have some friends that are younger and far cooler than I am or ever was for that matter. We go to places like Mahiki or uber cool restaurants that play loud music meaning you cannot actually have a conversation. I nod and smile and look like an idiot in these places, and most of the time I feel like a tourist in their young cool lives. The last time I visited Mahiki it was virtually impossible to get a glass of wine in the club as they refused to serve anything but vodka and cocktails at the table. I don't drink cocktails because the last time I had a couple I lost an evening - complete memory loss. I went to the bar and asked for the wine list and was told they only had Pinot Grigio by the glass, which was my cue to leave. Another shitty thing about getting older is that you become increasingly inflexible and set in your ways. 

What I would like for my 40th is a few days away with my husband while my sister who has promised to spend a week at our house, takes care of the children. They love her; she's fun, patient, sweet and kind and comes bearing armloads of gifts. I fantasise about lying at the pool with a glass of wine (that is not Pinto Grigio), having meaningful (uninterrupted) conversations with my husband that are not only about the children, bills, and what we need to do in the house. But maybe, you know, asking him what he is thinking about, what his 'If I won the lottery' dreams are, to tell me about the current book he is reading etctera. And having nothing more strenuous to concern myself with than applying sun lotion, some tennis maybe, an afternoon nap, a long bath, and then getting ready for a night out on the tiles. And then turning in at 11pm with a cup of herbal tea and maybe a Poirot on the iPad in bed. Bring it!

And finally, I took my mother to see Dolly Parton at the 02 for her birthday. My mother is fond of extolling her views on how the youth of today are out of control due to lack of corporal punishment. My parents were firm believers in the whole *bullshit* spare the rod spoil the child philosophy. My mother and I will never ever see eye to eye on this, but I still love her. At the Dolly concert I'd say I was one of a handful of people that wasn't over 60. And let me tell you, the 60 plus bunch weren't exactly flying the flag for good manners either. The four women to the left of my mother did not shut up during the entire performance - even the slow and sweet melodies where Dolly sat on a chair and played a guitar while singing. The two women to my right (a boozy mother and daughter duo) started off by walking past us and spilling wine all over my mother's feet, and then getting into a massive argument with a couple behind them because they refused to sit down throughout most of the performance. "You're a selfish git" spat the 70-something-year-old woman behind us." "Yeah yeah, get over it. I'm not spoiling my Dolly experience for you!" retorted boozy mother. I pretended to ignore the elbow that kept getting jammed into me by this woman while she jumped and jived to '9 to 5' because experience has taught me that liquored up post menopausal woman can be surprising lithe and quick on their feet in a fight.

Despite the rowdy oldies, the concert was AMAZING. Dolly was exactly what she says on the box and didn't disappoint. Amazing energy, gracious, funny, and full of lots of lovely anecdotes about her life growing up and her career, interspersed with her iconic music of course. If that's what 68 can look like I think turning 40 might not be so bad after all.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Circles

Yesterday, my six and a half year old daughter was playing with a little plastic toy that she got in a party bag. A flying copter sort of thing where you pull a ridged piece of plastic through a hole and it makes the top spin off and fly up to the ceiling. She said quite earnestly: "Mom, I bet in your time this was a really popular toy." I replied: "Yup, along with the wheel we'd just invented."

My four year old son returned from using the toilet minus his trousers and underpants and when I asked him where they were and why they were missing he replied: "I want my penis to hang free." Given I do not have a penis, I didn't feel confident saying something like: 'I fail to see why that is necessary,' because who knows? Perhaps it is? So instead I told him he had better be wearing them when he sat down to dinner. Later he seated himself at the dinner table wearing his underpants on his head.

Right now the children are actually fairly easy going compared to my cats. The older one of the two, a former rescue cat, is behaving like a wayward teenager. Staying out all night, coming in only to eat, then going straight out again. She uses our house as a hotel and I spend a lot of time worrying about where she is, who she's hanging out with, and if they are doing drugs. Yesterday as we were leaving the house we saw her cross the street and head for the neighbour's house, and I could have sworn she looked jaunty doing it. I never did like the neighbour's cat. I think he is a bad influence on ours.

The kitten is like a little kid. He wakes me up in the morning by standing on my chest purring loudly. This is an indication that he thinks it's time for me to get up and give him his cat milk. If I try and check my email first he paws at my hand or tries to bite the phone as if to say: 'Yeah OK, enough of that, I need my milk.'

My husband and I are having a massive clear out. We seem to do this a lot, most likely because we have moved houses a lot. And it has nothing at all to do with my Amazon Prime usage. Each time we move, we lug the same old bunch of boxes and stuff we haven't opened or used in 10 years to another place where we have to find place for them. And each time I cull a bit more stuff and each time I find a reason to keep this or that champagne cork (because of the memories) or ugly multi-coloured pair of trousers (in case there is a circus themed fancy dress party). On which subject, why is it people hate costume parties so much? I adore them. Any opportunity to dress up and forget the serious business of embarrassment for a night. 

I like sites like Freecycle , Freegle or is it TrashNothing? They keep changing the name. I give a lot of things away, especially our children's pre used clothes and toys. I like the idea of other people getting use out of things and I also know how expensive it is to get kitted out with baby things, especially when it is your first time. One man arrived to collect a pushchair I was giving away. He was a smallish Italian man in his 30s. He told me he and his girlfriend had got pregnant 'accidentally' and he honestly wasn't sure how long they were going to last as a couple, but they were giving it a go. I imagined our lovely pushchair that had transported both my children through the years in rain and snow, and sometimes in other countries too, having its second life in what sounded like a bit of a war zone. And it made me feel sad for the baby that was going to be using it and, if I am honest, my pushchair too (blasted anthropomorphising). As the guy left on his bicycle, balancing the pushchair (in its bag) on one shoulder, I asked him if it was his first child. To which he responded, "Well the only one I know about, because being a man, you can never be too sure right?"

I accompanied my mother to the hospital recently. While she had a procedure done, I chatted to an elderly woman who was looking a bit nervous ahead of her own procedure. I like older people, I think perhaps it comes from having spent a fair bit of time with my grandmother  - that being my mother's mother. Although my grandmother was not a warm, cuddly, funny sort of grandmother that sat you on her lap and sang you songs, I still adored her, although I was also rather afraid of her. She was strict and didn't believe in sugar coating things. She once told a second cousin of mine that she looked like a monkey's arse and shouldn't wear so much blue eyeshadow. My poor cousin looked as though she wanted the floor to open and swallow her up. She also announced at a family lunch that men were not unlike dogs and would sleep with anything that would stand still long enough. My father interjected: "Good god Mary, not in front of the children!" Against that she had a huge heart and was very generous, she also taught me how to crochet, watch Soap Oprah's (with accompanying biting commentary), and was a fine cook. To this day whenever I smell frankfurter sausages on the hob I think of my grandmother in her kitchen preparing them for me. And she also made the most delicious chocolate milk and whenever I asked her how she made it she would smile wryly and say: "Ohhh but it's a secret."

The woman I met while waiting for my mother lived in North London but her children were all in America. Some of the other people having things done had relatives to collect them after but she had a friend. She told me she lived in an assisted living arrangement which she really enjoyed. I asked her how she found it and she told me through a woman she was introduced to who went on to become a firm friend and neighbour in the apartments she now lives in. I said: "Oh how lovely to have a friend there to hang out with when you want to." And she replied sadly, "Oh, no, Janet died last year of leukaemia. That's the problem with getting older, all your friends are either sick or they die."

And then we talked about her family, and how she and her husband had lived in France for 35 years (he wrote books on France) before he died. And how she really misses the family home and all the children in the kitchen making a noise and everyone pouring drinks and talking at once. And I thought to myself - wow, that's the kind of thing people like me with young families take for granted. And as the years pass and your children leave home and you get older and your partner dies, the house becomes quieter and quieter. It's very sad, and it's also a reminder to enjoy it and be present; The stuff that gets on your nerves now often lands up being what you miss later on.

On the subject of past and present, I've been meaning to note on here that my mother read my post about the cats and told me she did not have our Burmese cat put to sleep. Instead she contacted the RSPCA who had ties with a Burmese cat-owners organisation and he was given to them to re-home. I asked her why she thought my brother would tell me that she'd had him take the cat to the vet to be put down. And with a somewhat sad and disapproving expression on her face, she started talking about kids who announce parties on Facebook when their parents are not home and the house gets trashed. I imagined my brother, somewhere in the heavens, laughing and laughing.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Le jardin après la pluie

There's a perfume by Hermes that's called 'Un Jardin Apres la Mousson', which translates to 'The garden after the monsoon.' And I thought to myself, upon hearing it, what a brilliant idea. It conjures up something that I happen to love and find incredibly beautiful, which is the garden after the rain; seeing the flowers and leaves sparkling with water drops and that sensual heady smell. I took these recently as I was walking home from taking the kids to school - mostly other people's gardens as I walked past on the pavement.














Thursday, June 05, 2014

Back and forth

Recently we made two small adjustments to our kids diets that have made a big difference. The first I have to give credit to my husband for: My son is not a big fan of food that is not chocolate and sweets. He will eat fruit sometimes but apart from raw carrots, edamame beans, and on occasion sweet corn, forget vegetables. As a result he was getting constipated and I really started worrying when I saw blood in his stool on a couple of occasions. But the child has my stubbornness and no matter how much I beg, plead or threaten, he stands firm in not wanting to eat certain things. And he doesn't like food with sauce on, so forget trying to sneak vegetables into a pasta sauce. He doesn't even have milk on his cereal. My daughter is more adventurous, will eat veg if asked, likes fruit but probably wasn't getting enough. So my husband suggested that when I collect them from school, a time when my son is ravenous, instead of taking a croissant or brioche or madeline (his usual favourites) along with a packet of Pom Bears, or one of those small party size boxes of smarties, I take fruit instead. I told him that our son would throw a shit fit if I turned up without a chunk of processed carbohydrates and he told me, "Yes, but he'll get over it." And by god, he was right. 

This week I have a picked him up armed with a lunchbox full of strawberries, black berries, apple, a banana and some brazil nuts. On the first day he started crying and when I explained I had nothing else he eventually ate the lot! Except the Brazil nuts, but it's a good start. My daughter, the same, although she didn't complain. Yesterday the same, he ate all of his fruit and as a treat I gave him some of those cheese twists they do at M&S which he loves, but he knew he'd only get those once he had eaten his fruit. When we got home he got hold of the raisins of his own volition and then ate carrot sticks and edamame beans while waiting for his dinner. 

I suppose reading this you think it makes perfect sense: if you simply remove the junk and only offer kids healthy stuff they will eventually develop a taste for it. But those of you that do have kids also know that they ask for certain things and already have their preferences, so it's tough being tough. Before I had children I used to see people prancing around their children saying things like: "Edwin, I promise you the sauce did not touch your pasta! (Edwin begins screaming and purses his lips shut and refuses.) OK, OK, I'll get you fresh pasta." And I thought: No way in hell am I going to be that indulgent - my children will eat what they are given. Forgetting of course that as a child I often sat at the table alone a good hour after everyone had finished and were happily enjoying Dallas in the lounge, while I stared at my cold vegetables that had succumbed to rigor mortis. My father was insistent that I remain at the table until I eat all of my food. I once paid my brother with saved up chocolate bars to sneak in and eat my food until my parents caught on. But I never gave in, and my parents eventually relented. It is a reminder that threatening children is often an ineffectual tool and you have to find another way. As a child, my poor father had to drink castor oil on occasion, so my kids having to eat lovely fresh fruit and veg is hardly a punishment. I remind myself.

And the good news it that the children have been going to the toilet, and without going into too much detail, it's as it should be. *And breathe out.*

The ice-cream man parks outside of my daughter's school and my son and daughter ask for an ice-cream pretty much every day. I've began to resent him somewhat, and then I remembered my friends and I pooling our change together to purchase an ice lolly from the skinny African guy with the torn trousers who used to park his bike outside our school while we waited for our parents to collect us. Anyway, I gave in to my kids a couple of times and then they started asking for one every single day, and so I instituted the 'Friday only rule.' Firstly because it's a lot of sugar to have every day, and secondly because it interferes with their dinnertime (especially my son who has usually had his after school snack by the time we arrive at my daughter's school). But a third, quite unexpected benefit has occurred: My children are learning, probably for the first time in their little lives, what it means to want something and to have to wait for it. This morning I heard them discussing the fact that tomorrow is Friday and what sort of ice-creams they are planning on having, in my daughter's case licking her lips as she described hers in detail. It was a wonderful thing to hear them actually anticipating something and appreciating that it was a treat rather than a given.

As a child my parents didn't have much money and there were four of us children. Apart from clothing and things for school, any toy or special request was only received on birthdays and Christmas, and even then it wouldn't always be exactly what I wanted or asked for (the entire Tinkerbell makeup range - a perfectly reasonable request). I am not saying we were better behaved more well adjusted children for it as opposed to say my wealthier friends who got things as and when, but we certainly didn't go to stores and start crying or kicking up a fuss if my parents didn't get us something each time we went out. The expectation simply wasn't there. In fact I remember the very first time, which means I must have been four or older, when my mother and I were in a clothing store and she said to me: You can choose a dress. And that memory has stuck with me because (a) Up to that point all of my clothes had been hand-me-downs, and (b) I was invited to choose and the choice was entirely up to me - an incredible luxury. To this day I remember that dress; a tan coloured sleeveless a-line with a camel and palm tree on it and slightly scooped neck with a little red belt. My mother looked at the price tag and remarked: "Well you've got expensive taste, I'll give you that much."

My children don't have to wait for birthdays and Christmas to receive things. I only have two, and am fortunate enough to be able to afford a few extra things. Also, my feeling is that very small children don't have a very good concept of time and for my son even waiting for Friday ice-cream day feels like an eternity. But what I tend to do if they ask for something is say they can have it if they get a good end of term report. In my son's case this is mainly behaviour related, and it's proved to be a good incentive. OK so every morning he wakes up and asks me if it is the end of term and can he have the hulk figurine he's currently lusting after, and I have to gently remind him it's still a few weeks to go. But it doesn't kill him, and he's beginning to understand that things don't just get handed to him and he has to earn them. I have been using this method with my daughter, very successfully, for a couple of years now and she has an impressive Schleich fairy and unicorn collection as a result.

If you read my previous post you will know that getting toys willy nilly does have some exceptions such as visits to Disney Land or something small at the airport to entertain them on a flight, although the latter is probably more so for my husband and my sanity as much as my children's entertainment.

And then there was the housekeeper's child, a slight 5-year-old girl, on my grandparents's farm whom I invited to join my sister and I to watch Princess Diana and Prince Charles's wedding on television. And she arrived with her toys which were a small collection of rocks and stones, before her mother told her she shouldn't be sitting inside of the house with us children and ushered her home. She was black and we were white you see, and the daughter of the maid. But at the time I didn't understand any of those cruel, obnoxious bullshit social rules that I would come to learn were an unfortunate part of my heritage, and was very upset that she had to leave. But thinking about those rocks and stones it occurred to me even at the time, that I was lucky to have a Cindy Doll even if it had belonged to my older sister before me and had an unfortunate hair style. 

Monday, June 02, 2014

The happiest place on earth if you are on crack


This evening I reached for the honey and noticed some ants around the lid. I grimaced before being transported back to my childhood: I am opening a tin of biscuits in my grandmother's kitchen and there are tiny black ants in it. I belt out a scream, she comes running, sees I've not been mortally wounded, sees the ants, and then begins admonishing me for being a fussy young person of today and tells me if I had lived through the depression, ants on the biscuits would have been the least of my worries. Fast forward about 10 years later, I watch 'Empire of the Sun' and how the boy in the concentration camp eat the maggots in his food for the protein, and I think maybe my grandmother wasn't so crazy after all.

We recently visited Disneyland Paris with our children. My grandmother would have hated Disney. She hated people and things that displayed a kind of forced exuberant happiness and enthusiasm. The only reason I go to Disneyland is because of our children and I am genuinely surprised every time I see adults there without kids. I look around to see if their offspring are standing a few steps away from them, or pretending they aren't actually there with their parents, or are perhaps at a concession stand buying something, and when it becomes apparent there are no kids I am shocked. Why would an adult, of their own volition, minus any nagging or manipulation, voluntarily use their precious free time and money to go to such a place?

At breakfast in our hotel one morning two middle aged men sat at the next table. Each time the characters came past one of the men, who had strangely dyed punkish-looking hair, would get excited, and just about manage to contain himself to wait while my kids had their turn getting autographs and roughhousing with Pluto, or Donald. Then he'd jump up with a huge grin on his face, pose for pictures and make jokes with the characters. When his friend went off to top up on his breakfast plate I heard him happily singing to himself, and realised that this was evidently a dream come true for him. Later I noticed that he and his friend had a large collection of Disney badges all over their jackets.  Maybe some people have a rotten childhood and make up for it by going to Disneyland as adults, or perhaps they happen to genuinely like theme parks and rides? 

My father, an electrician, hated roller-coasters and maintained that they were dangerous devices that could kill you at any time, specifically when you least expected it. He told us a story of a boy who had been killed on a faulty one when he was a boy himself. As my father was an electrician he was therefore considered by us to be an expert on anything electrical and its potential dangers. Maybe this stuck with me somehow, or maybe, like my grandmother, I'm not buying all that fake happy shit. Or perhaps further still, there is some kind of developmental Disney milestone that I failed to achieve as a child. Either way, I just don't get the appeal apart from the bursts of pleasure my children derive from it – that is when they are not crying or complaining about being tired or thirsty or because we won't purchase the giant round lollypops that will cause instant diabetes.

I am however in awe of the creativity and legacy of Disney animation and love many of the films which are as much a part of my childhood as anyone else's. But I just don't get excited when I see a struggling actor dressed in what looks like a suffocatingly hot Minnie Mouse or Chipmunk suit. You don't see adults react like small children on E numbers when the guy at the mall dressed as a giant hot dog hands them a flier, but at Disney if Donald Duck or Cinderella happens into view – it's a flash mob of adults in shorts and flip flops wearing Mini Mouse alice-bands and Sorcerer’s Apprentice hats.

The Disneyland experience reminds me of Christmas; I have moments of enjoyment in a vicarious manner through my children's joy and excitement of it, but the rest of it is like having to sit through a root canal. The crowds of people, the eternal waiting in queues, the terrible food. On this most recent trip I went on the rides with our kids and some of them were fun, I'll grant that. But they lasted for what felt like seconds, and I came off thinking: For that I waited 45 minutes with two small tired and on the verge of losing their shit kids next to the very smelly man? 

My daughter, who is six and a half, asked me one day how the people inside of the costumes could see out? And the first thing that came to mind was: Yes! I won't have to keep doing this for much longer. Which is not to say I am in any way wishing away their childhood - god knows it's quite the opposite and I am morbidly sad in anticipation of my children's inevitable growing up and not being these delightful little people any more - but can't I have the delightful little people without having to go to Disney? (Note: I am hoping they grow into delightful big people too).

The crowds and queues are brutish, but what I most take exception to at Disney is the food and just how much bad food costs. Foolishly I, perhaps like others before me and I'm certain those to follow, think that because I am in France, the food is going to be good, and maybe even excellent. We have visited Disneyland Paris three times in four years now and I am yet to have this misguided assumption proved correct. The food in our hotel was a buffet and it was basic in terms of choice, but tasty - certainly nothing to write home about though. Think cafeteria food at say, the BBC. This snobby sounding description is not quite so snobby when you see the prices which are very steep and for that you are accustomed to expecting good food, not just OK food. The food on the go in the park is fast food which I cannot eat because of a variety of boring food intolerances that happen to cover pretty much all fast food's basic ingredients: Wheat, gluten, lactose, aspartame. Oh and sugar – which I am allowed to eat but avoid because I read somewhere that sugar, rather than fat, is what is causing heart attacks and a host of other serious medical conditions. And I cannot in good conscience give that kind of food to my children either - especially if I don't eat it. But the food in the Auberge de Cendrillion (a much sought after lunch with the princesses experience - kind of like trying to get into Spargo back in its heyday) really takes the cake when it comes to really bad food.You can check out my TripAdvisor review here. One other reviewer said he had been a chef for the past 20 years and thought the food was excellent. And I thought really? A chef where? Prison?

And then there's the money. You spend a lot of it in Disneyland and not just on the bad food. To contextualise: A friend of mine bought my daughter a Frozen Elsa dress at Disneyland Paris, and it cost 60 Euros which roughly translates to 50 pounds. A couple of weeks later I bought the newer version in John Lewis for a friend, for 30 pounds. That's a pretty steep markup. But my husband and I are not tight when it comes to these things. You cannot take a child to Disneyland and not be prepared to get them a toy (even a small one), a costume,  some candy or other branded crappy merchandise - it's not fair. But I don't think people appreciate just how much they will land up spending because it's a kind of Vegas equivalent for kids with toy shops and candy stands everywhere you look. A friend of mine recently asked my opinion as she was considering a visit, and I advised her beyond the cost of the entrance to the park and food, to budget in an allowance for purchasing, and then some more purchasing and then some more on top of that. She told me her husband was tight, so I told her to not bother going because he would probably have a stroke.

I have to end this post on a vageuly positive note because I don't want people thinking I am a sad cow that doesn't derive joy from anything other than Kafka and red wine, so here goes:

The Small World Ride remains lovely. Although as my husband accurately mused as we gently waded through in our boat: “I don't think this is a very accurate depiction of the world.” (If only it was).

In the Fantasyland part of the park there is a fantastic little known about rollercoaster/train ride called 'Casey Jr. - le Petit Train du Cirque'  – perfect for the under 5 crowd. And next to that a little boat ride called Le Pays des Contes de Fées or The land of Fairytales. Both of these don't have enormous queues and are actually quite fun - well the train ride is fun and the boat ride is boring as hell, but very small children might like it as it's gentle. 

The Buzz Lightyear ride accepts the Fast Pass, very few other rides do which makes you wonder why the hell you got one in the first place. But if you have a child like ours that remains obsessed with Toy Story and specifically Buzz Lightyear (2 years running), it's worth every penny.

Autopia is a ride that consists of you driving cars around a lovely meandering track with your kids which actually lasts for a decent amount of time. This was my favourite ride. They can steer, but the go/stop pedal is wisely positioned in the middle of the car so you, the adult, can operate it. The cars are on a track so the kids have the delightful illusion of driving independence which my daughter simply loved. This also gives you a window into their future driving style and having to teach them how to drive which means that while they are driving around laughing maniacally and having a great time, your face is fixed in a deeply worried expression.

And finally if you stay or eat in the Disneyland Hotel you get to see a lot of different characters at meal times - more than you will see out and about in the park. Plus you can pinch some ham, jam and bread-rolls for food on the go if you don't want to mainline cholesterol in the park with all the deep friend sugary fast food. Do not, like my husband, try and (in his case incorrectly) guess who the characters are though, as they do not talk. And it's sad and cruel to watch an aspiring actor inside of a boiling hot duck suit attempting to use giant four fingered hands to charade-like mimic their character's true identity. One such character got so frustrated at my husbands continued incorrect guesses, he eventually took my son's autograph book and in large eejit-proof letters wrote his character's name and handed it to my husband. Later my husband confessed to me that he still couldn't place which film the character was supposed to be from.


Thursday, May 08, 2014

nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Since giving up Facebook back in February it occurred to me the thing I miss most about it is the ability to communicate things I happen across that move me or inspire me. Pictures, photographs, things I see on my day to day journey, conversation pieces I overhear (always a delight especially when heard out of context), scenes from films that come to mind. And today I thought, well, given I have this space to communicate and express myself, who says all of it as to be 1200 worded blog posts? Certainly I can talk and write for England, that is true, but sometimes just an image, a thought, or a poem is in and of itself valuable. So here, today, a contribution in this spirit. One of my favourite if not my favourite poem, by E.E. Cummings entitled 'Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond.' Those who know me and know his work, will also know this features in a much loved (by me) film  'Hannah and Her Sisters' (1986) by Woody Allen.

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

E.E. Cummings


With thanks to goodreads.com