Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pregnancy (again), Christmas, birthdays and botox

I've done all of my Christmas shopping, barring a couple of things that actually require me to get off my fat backside and venture into the heaving throngs of Central London. Something I've been putting off but is looming. For the record, Boots use way too much packaging. One set of items were in a box so enormous that I asked the delivery person if he hadn't made a mistake, because I had certainly not ordered something that large. Turns out if was mine, containing two small items, the rest full of brown paper bunting to make up for the enormous amount of room in what could have housed an American-style washing machine,

The Internet is great - it's how I do most things these days. There's always the annoying business of actually having to wait for the stuff and ensure you are home to receive it, but at this time of year this seems a small price to pay compared to getting bashed around by people who haven't yet noticed my enormous belly.

Saying all of this, I hate the entitled pregnant woman or person with the pushchair who expects the seas to part in her wake. I don't want to be one of those, so I often wait for people to go in front of me, and act very surprised when someone holds a door open for me. "Who me? Why thank you kind sir," my ever-so grateful expression conveys. I'd probably chuck this Pollyanna act were I to have a long tube journey every day and some able-bodied person sitting in a disabled seat was pretending not to notice me.

This debate rages still. I appreciate that people wait for a seat and everyone feels entitled to one, pregnant or not. But pregnant or not, I've also always considered those disabled/old people/children seats as lucky temporary respite before someone who fits into one of those categories comes along, at which point it is my duty to jump up and offer it to them. I just couldn't sit there while some person with a bad leg or enormous pregnant belly stood nearby. It would make the comfort of sitting pale in comparison to the burning guilt.

On the subject of being pregnant (is there any other for me right now?) I loathe those sloganned crappy T-shirts that say stuff like, 'Kick me baby one more time,' or 'Baby on board,' or 'Funky Mama.' Maybe these are aimed at very young enthusiastic mothers-to-be who are oblivious to the stretchmarks and gravitational pull that is about to befall their young elasticated bodies.

I don't feel like a Funky bloody mama. I feel enormous, occasionally still a bit nauseous, and my body is doing things that are foreign and rather revolting. There are women out there who claim to love being pregnant. I like to believe that these women are either deluded or lying. For me there is no great pleasure in the physical aspect of pregnancy, other than the knowledge that at the end of this rather strange journey I will get to meet the next addition to our little family.

With my first pregnancy I showed properly (as in got a visible bump) at about 4.5 months and only started finding sleeping on my back uncomfortable well into my second trimester and most certainly in my third. With this one I showed already at around 6 weeks and have had difficulty sleeping on my back from the start. My doctor tells me that a lot of this is down to my stomach muscles being knackered from the first pregnancy. See, that's another thing those first time T-shirt-wearing enthusiasts have got to look forward to.

The good thing about subsequent pregnancies is that you don't have to sit through the whole NCT class thing again. Personally I think anyone that tells me I should think twice about having serious pain relief when I pass the equivalent of a watermelon through my vaginal passage is to be viewed with some suspicion. The key word for me, and I believe what should be for every women in this situation, is choice.

These classes strongly suggest you prepare a birth plan ahead of time, and for the first-time mothers, having never given birth before, who honestly knows what they are going to be capable of in terms of such pain endurance? I say, yay if you can push that bugger out without it, but what a relief to know that it's there if I want or need it.

Anyway, bygones. Don't get me started on the whole breast is best thing. Yes yes I know, it's wonderful and great if you can nurse, but again, for women that cannot due to whatever reason, mostly physiological issues, it would be nice to be able to give your baby formula and enjoy those early weeks without the tremendous guilt that you are in some way a bad mother. Why is it that people have to have such absolute and rigid thinking on such matters when our bodies, and indeed life itself, are anything but simple?

Julia had a wonderful 2nd birthday party this past weekend. She had some idea that it was a party in her honour and beforehand there was a lot of talk of cake, balloons , and presents. Nice to have those kinds of concerns, as opposed to say, worrying about what is a good age to book in for your introductory session of botox, or whether or not you qualify for a concession ticket at the zoo.

Christmas is also way more exciting for me personally now that I have a little person. I've always enjoyed it, but at some point it becomes something you do, and you kind of go through the motions. At least this has been my experience. With Julia it's like being a kid again - decorating the tree, choosing stocking fillers, trying to remember what I liked to receive (and almost never got) when I was a kid. And having to remind myself that Tinkerbell makeup, the entire 'New You' collection, and my mother's velvet high heels, are probably not suitable gifts for a two-year-old.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's pregnancy Jim, but not as we know it

On a recent return trip from Berlin I noticed an exhausted and exasperated-looking woman try and maintain some sort of hold on her three small children who were running riot, while also trying to keep an eye out for their bags and extricate said bags off of the luggage belt. She looked like she was either going to have a nervous breakdown or throttle someone, or both. I thanked my lucky stars that I only have one child, who despite a rather calm and patient disposition (well for an almost-two year old that is), can also do her fare share of running riot in inopportune places and at inopportune times.

And then I remembered, 'Oh shit, I'm pregnant.' Our 'tuck one under your arm and you're off' (as my grandmother was fond of saying) life is about to irrevocably change, well, at least from May of next year, if all goes well. And then I'll be that woman looking like a mad person trying to contain her offspring.

I'm not a big family sort of person. I think after this next one that's it for me. I've never had fantasies of a Walton-type brood. Whether it's the product of being one of four, or simply knowing my limits in the patience stakes I don't know. Even having another child was, and I must confess this, primarily a consideration for the sake of Julia having a sibling. Having spoken to some friends who were only children I was continually met with the adage, 'not just an only child but a lonely child.'

I am very excited and looking forward to having another baby. Despite my intellectual feelings my instinctive maternal ones had me broody on quite a few occasions since Julia turned about a year old. But, and I think this is certainly a risk, the older your only child gets, the more of a groove you get into. You get to know each other as people, you get into a routine, you've got your life more or less back (and your boobs), and as a family you've kind of got things figured. So the prospect of throwing ourselves, and Julia now, back into the chaos that was those early weeks and months of bringing home a newborn does terrify me. I'd be lying if I said it didn't.

Also, will the children get on? I get irritated when people wax lyrical with fantasies of their unborn children 'playing together' to a Julie Andrews soundtrack. As one of four I can strongly attest to the reality that from day one children have personalities and these can and often do clash, and kids don't always play together. You can land up with children so different to one another that your peaceful home becomes a war zone. It's an extreme scenario to be sure, but it's also a possibility. In my case differences in ages often meant that my siblings had little interest in playing with me (the youngest), once we weren't very little any longer, and I relied heavily on friends for company.

Still, I'd like to be one of those irritating parents-to-be and have that fantasy that my children will be best friends, look out for each other always, be close as adults (as my siblings and I are), and bitch about their father and me behind our backs. Why not?

A friend of mine recently emailed me saying, 'I know you used to have a blog,' which scared me. It shows how long it's been since I've updated this. My excuse, a valid one I feel, is that I've had horrendous morning sickness.

I had it with Julia and alas I had it again this time round. It started at around week 6 with certain smells becoming intolerable, followed a few days later by these smells making me feel sick. Followed by these smells (and many others fast being added to the list) actually making me throw up. To a few days after that, throwing up for no good reason at all.

Smells could be things like Flash cleaning spray, or one of those thingies you stick in the loo so it cleans it when you flush, or a particular food cooking, or my ultimate nemesis, opening the door to the dishwasher that contains an unwashed load from the night before. Why they call it morning sickness is a mystery, because as any woman that has had had to endure this will tell you, it's 24-7 - morning, noon and night. Nausea and or throwing up. I could go into detail here but I'll spare you.

With Julia I actually lost weight in my first trimester (three months). In this pregnancy if I ate, preferably sugary fattening pastries and breaded-type stuff, every two to three hours, I managed to stave off the severe nausea and just have the mild nausea. The result is that I've put on a stone in three months. Yep, if ever you wanted to know what 3-4 Paul almond croissants a day will do to your waistline, well, now you know.

Then there's the fatigue - not just fatigue, but narcolepsy. Usually an uber attentive (read: paranoid) mother, I found myself nodding off in a chair in an upright position while reading to Julia who was on my lap. So much for never letting your toddler out of your sight. Does being in the same room with your eyes closed count I wonder?

I shouldn't complain because every time I feel ill (which still happens now from time to time) or throw up (ditto) it's a sign of a continued pregnancy, which I am enormously grateful for.

Having passed the three month mark, we've told Julia we are expecting and she is fast becoming fond of telling just about anyone (today the passports clerk at Heathrow) that "Mummy has a baby 'on her tummy'.'" There are also many comments about my fast expanding stomach and breasts, most recently, "Mummy has cake in her boobies." I imagine having seen me wolf down that plethora of pastries from Paul, she's figured it had to have gone somewhere. I guess I should be grateful she hasn't noticed the size of my backside yet.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Forty and da mummy

The title of this post has nothing to do with the inevitable approaching crisis ahead of turning 40 that awaits me, fortunately I have a few years to go yet. Rather it's what Julia called our most recent holiday destination, Forte dei Marmi, in Italy.

I had heard it was an über posh part of the Italian Riviera, and so I took great pains in packing what I imagined an Italian model turned millionaire's wife might wear so that I might blend in. Only think shorter, fatter, and a mixture of Next and M&S as opposed to Dolce & Gabbana or Roberto Cavalli.

There is something about places like Monaco and the like that have a way of awakening certain insecurities in me. Not a lot I can do about the reality that genetically speaking I was never going to be tall and built like a racehorse. Then there's the fact that although I try and make an effort with my appearance, I just cannot keep up with the perfectly groomed thing 24-7. I think you need a lot of time, money, and staff on hand so you can keep those French manicured acrylic nails from chipping, and don't ever have to let those tight white jeans from Joseph get tomato-sauced little hands all over them. It's taken a lot of therapy to get to this point, but I think, finally, I've just about made peace with it.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that although Forte dei Marmi is indeed full of shops like Dolce & Gabbana, Prada (that bastion of civilisation) and the like, it's also got a good mixture of informal restaurants, as well as people and families who don't all look as though they've stepped out of Italian Vogue. Although, admittedly, there are certainly still plenty of them that look as though they do. What I will say is that Italian women, certainly from around there, age very well. There's none of this letting themselves go to seed because they are of a certain age. Women from 60 and over were still beautifully dressed, attractive, and well put together and it was a good reminder that just because you get older, it doesn't mean that you have to fade into the background.

The Italians adore children, and Forte dei Marmi had a very family oriented feel, although don't let those 'screaming brat' phobes among you avoid going there on vacation because it's a lovely place. But yes, the eateries, regardless of how smart they were, welcomed children. So you're unlikely to get disapproving looks from the staff or patrons if you arrive at 9pm for dinner with your toddler. Something which the Italians appeared to enjoy doing, and something which Julia found very strange. A Gina Ford baby, she's never really been taken out at night, and is usually fast asleep in her little bed at 7pm every evening. On a few occasions this holiday, she'd look around in amazement, point and exclaim, "Night time! Stars! Moon!"

Everyone rides bicycles, young and old. I have never seen anything like it in Europe, outside of Amsterdam, but then I've probably not seen as much of Europe as I'd like to think. But yes, lots of people on bicycles, even in cocktail dresses, en route to dinners, clubs etc. Mostly cycling while talking on mobile phones and occasionally some cigarette smoking thrown in too, for good measure.

There is this fantastic central bit in the town which has a little funfare which operates every evening. You can drive these little cars around with your children, or even drive your own miniature horse-drawn carriage. There are also tea-cup rides, pony rides, dodgems, a mini games arcade etc. I think for kids under 13 and those adults who care to admit it, it's heaven.

Some of the negatives about Forte dei Marmi is that taxis are extortionately expensive. To contextualise we got back to Victoria station and caught a taxi which dropped Roberto off at work in W1 and then took me back here to NW3, and it cost around 26 pounds and I thought what a bargain. A trip of that distance and time would cost us around 70 pounds in FdM, standard. The other thing, which wasn't a negative for us, but may be for some people, is that there didn't appear to be any on the beach hotels. The beach is separated from the houses and hotels by a two-way main street, and split into beach clubs, which hotels have affiliations with. So in our case each morning after breakfast we'd grab some towels, put Julia in her buggy, and then walk the five minutes or so to our beach club.

There are also a gazillion people wandering around selling fake designer handbags, and watches, sunglasses, dresses and hats. A bit of a pain in the backside to be disturbed every 10 minutes or so, and so excessive that even Julia began to say, 'No grazie' when she saw them approach. Alternatively there were plenty of Thai women walking around offering massages and both Roberto and I got a very good reflexology one.

The beach clubs are very well organised, but I imagine in season get fully booked, so it may be worth reserving your spot when you make a hotel booking as I don't think that a reservation at the hotel immediately ensures you a reservation at a beach club. Our spot afforded us a canopied bit so that Julia could play in the sand and we could read without incurring third degree burns from the hot sun, plus a couple of loungers and chairs. A restaurant close by for lunch and a place to buy water and drinks. Perfect really.

A couple of memorable moments from our holiday included:
A much older permanently scowling bear-like Russian man behind us at the beach club taking full-frontal topless photos of his much-younger attractive girlfriend as she got a back massage from a itinerant Thai masseuse. Roberto, who was having lunch with me at the time, was in full tilt to get a good view. For academic purposes naturally.

A restaurant owner in Pisa happily telling us that the unborn bump on his very pregnant chain-smoking wife was also to be called Guilia.

The frighteningly loud and excessively ostentatious hour-long fireworks display that initially led us to think that Basque separatists had relocated and decided to include the Italian Riviera on their shit list.

Julia spontaneously bursting into a very loud and somewhat off key rendition of 'Twinkle Twinkle little star' in the Duomo in Pisa. Also, exclaiming, 'Amazing church!' and 'Amazing windows' pointing to the many beautiful stained glass windows in the cathedral.

I liked this part of the world enormously. It's close to Pisa, and that leaning tower really is worth seeing, trust me. Plus the Duomo, which, I imagine, much like many cathedrals and churches in Europe was built at enormous expense while the masses faced abject poverty and starvation, is, well, remarkably beautiful. And then there's Luca, and of course Florence - all train-rides away. We're already planning on going back again next year. Lets hope the strength of the pound versus the Euro improves, what with all those pony rides and gelati's to pay for.

Friday, August 07, 2009


So I fired my cleaner today. Actually, fired is the wrong word. OK, so maybe I did fire her and I'm just trying to make myself feel better about things.

The thing is (and you know there's a massive guilt avoidance rationalisation when someone starts a sentence with the words, 'the thing is') she didn't speak very much English. Not very much at all. Which doesn't make me prejudice, because I don't travel to countries and then throw a hissy fit because the god damn locals aren't sophisticated enough to understand me. Nor do I make the very dangerous and ignorant assumption that not speaking English is equal to a lack of intelligence. Rather it was a case of us just not understanding each other, which on a day to day working basis leaves room for all sorts of misunderstandings, irritations, and conflict.

There are those of you who would question just how complicated communication needs to be when someone is doing something as simple as cleaning your house. But then you're probably not very anal and particular about how you like your house cleaned, which, unfortunately, I am. The product of growing up with a mother who was clean obsessed and living in a house where inviting friends round was discouraged because of the inevitable mess that would lead to. Don't get me started on the incredibly uncomfortable wooden ball and claw lounge furniture - the arms of which we were strictly forbidden to sit on. Although that was more my dad than my mum. Why anyone would choose furniture like that with small children is beyond me, but I guess that's also a generational thing.

I'm a lot more relaxed about our home and probably a lot more tolerant of mess. But there's a big distinction between messiness and a place being dirty. I cannot abide dirt. I have the same reaction to it as some people have upon seeing rats, spiders, or Torries.

Anyway, countless attempted conversations with my cleaner went over her head. Like trying to explain that if you cannot make it in to work or if you are running late for whatever reason, it is courteous to do the texting or calling, rather than have your employee text or call you to find out where you are an hour after you are meant to arrive. Or attempting to communicate that leaving 40 minutes early, while still taking the full hourly wage is impolite. Or that dumping sopping wet towels in with the rest of the laundry in a woven basket is ill advised.

When I managed to find a Babelfish equivalent and asked my cleaner, in Lithuanian, to please stop doing this, what with the laundry basket visibly beginning to rot and all, she smiled a great big smile and said, 'Ahhh, thank you, thank you,' delighted that'd I'd taken the trouble to translate for her. And equally, and strangely, appeared happy and relieved as though I'd explained and she'd finally understood something complex like the theory of relativity. Or perhaps she was just overjoyed to have an end to my painful weekly charade spiel of pulling a bad face and pointing to the unfortunate-looking laundry basket.

Today I couldn't even honour the end of our working relationship as I'd like because once again she stared at me with a kindly blank expression while I prattled on about being grateful for all her work, hoping she would find something soon (I gave her a months' wages in lieu), and being sad to see her go.

We are settling in to the new house and also dealing with a few teething issues. A house as technically advanced as this one (it pretty much runs on a central computer system - lights, heating, shutters etc), is bound to get a bit temperamental from time to time. Think about how often you have to call IT at work, and that gives you some idea. Last night we also had a lot of leaking from the glass roof and skylights, although admittedly, that was some pretty intense rain. Plus there's a mouse, although he has been a bit scarce lately. I'm hoping and praying to god he didn't eat any of the poison that the handyman laid out in a trap and just disappears of his own volition, because having met him he is a very sweet and handsome little fellow with big ears and a small brown face. Probably a field mouse. The idea of him lying under a floorboard somewhere hemorrhaging to death fills me with horror and guilt.

An onwards into August. I find it hard to believe that we are coming to the end of summer. The shoe shops, the windows of which I walk past slowly and salivatingly peruse like a dirty old man, are beginning to stock winter boots already. One of these days it's going to be time to retire my Crocks for the year. A sad day indeed.

On a final note, I went along to see Coco before Chanel last night and it was lovely. Visually beautiful and Audrey Tautou was wonderful as Coco. Benoit Poelvoorde as Etienne Balsan was superb too, and I reckon there's an Oscar tip in it for both of them. It has subtitles, for those of you who find such a thing an irritation, but don't let that stop you. 5 stars from me and also another reminder that I need to chuck those Crocks. I mean, what would Coco say?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

George Michael, moving, and due dates

So we're all moved in to the new place. The move, as in packing up the house and moving it between A and B, went as smoothly as these things go. I can say from first hand experience that even if you use a high-end moving company you still encounter things like wet bath toys and cloths in boxes, despite expressly saying to the packers 'If stuff is wet don't pack it.' Or discovering your soap dish, with the wet sliver of soap still in it, all wrapped up in a piece of paper. The paper, soap, and dish now merged into one dried inseparable mess. Or heavy items placed on top of rolls of wrapping paper effectively squashing the whole roll in half so it's now unusable. Or finding your missing shoes all shoved one on top of the other inside another box with completely unrelated stuff.

But I'm just nit picking and all in all it was an OK experience (as opposed to a nightmarish one that these things usually are), and the movers were careful with our furniture and everything made it in once piece. They also had an excellent moving manager, a man in his late fifties, 'a born and bred Clerkenwell cockney', who I enjoyed talking to over the three days they packed up our house. He had opinions on everything, and appeared to have given a variety of random topics a great deal of thought.

On George Michael, he poignantly noted, "I mean, that one could ave had any woman e wanted. I remember pictures of im with the ladies anging off his arms. Could ave ad e's pick. But no, e's got to go and be stupid and choose that gay business. And for what? Too much choice and time on e's ands that's what it is. They get bored you see."

Asked if he used the Internet much he replied, "Internet? Oose got time for that? We're common you see, we don't use none of that Internet. I work all day, get ome. It's a nice piece of pork and some tatoes, a bit of TV, an bed."

An exchange between him and one of his staff went as follows:
Mover: 'Ow ow, my hand,' (while trying to get a sofa down a flight of stairs and evidently getting said hand squished between the sofa and the wall)
John: "Never you mind your and, just make sure you don't damage that sofa."

The new house is, and I have to give credit to Roberto for this, quite lovely. I had a lot of reservations about how it was going to work for us, with a toddler and all, but so far it's revealed itself to be a remarkably well thought-out family home, but in a very modern setting. I've asked Julia on a few occasions if she likes it and she keeps saying, 'No.' I then follow that by asking her if she likes chocolate, and she immediately says, 'No,' and then gets an expression on her face which reads, 'I've just been had.'

Our two top choices for nursery have no spaces for next year. One of them only takes 16 children, the other's enquiry form asks for your due date, which should have alerted me to the fact that I was wasting my time applying at this late stage. I mean, a year in advance, what was I thinking right? A third place appears to have spaces, thank god, but we have to pay an application fee and then based on an assessment of Julia next year in a playgroup setting, they say yay or nay. So it's not guaranteed. I've also put her name down on the waiting lists of the other two schools, just in case.

This is one of the many things that people don't tell you before you decide to start a family - these hidden forms of worry and stress that arise, like finding the right school. A safe, nurturing, and stimulating environment that is going to have the same approach and ideas about learning that you have. Plus minus any masochistic teachers with a predilection for hitting small children with wooden rulers (don't get me started on my junior school). And without any heavy religious leaning (or any religion at all, sez Roberto).

You just want to get it right and do the best thing for your child, and having said that, I realise how much like my mother I sound. Which makes me appreciate just how much my parents must have loved and cared about me. Which feels like a nice and happy thought to sign out on.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

These are what we call quality problems

So we are just about to move, as in quite literally just about to move. Today the chaps came and packed up most of the house, tomorrow they'll finish, and Friday we move into our new home. It's an all man crew, and I think the 20-something-year-old chap who is sporting some impressive sleeves (that's tattoo speak for both arms covered from wrist to shoulder in ink) will be packing up my underwear drawer tomorrow. I have mixed feeling about this (him being a man that is, not the tats) but then rationalise rather him than me.

Naturally ahead of the guys arriving today, we had to have the requisite porn sweep. This is my term for pretty much anything you want to put into a box yourself rather than have the aforementioned 20-year-old stranger come across, I mean, discover. You know the sort of thing - creams and lotions for embarrassing body ailments, dodgy stuff your girlfriends gave you at your hen night (as yet unwrapped fyi), your copy of Debretts, etc.

Anyway, so most of the house is packed up. The guys left Julia's bedroom as is until tomorrow, "So the little un don't get upset." And they have a point. She's already quite disconcerted to see her home for a year pretty much in boxes. Walls bare apart from a few menacing-looking exposed nails here and there, furniture gone, and everything topsy turvy. She's been walking around from room to room saying, "Is empty."

This is only the second time we've had people pack up our place for us, and while it's a god-send and I highly recommend it, it's also a tricky business. If you do it yourself you are in a position to dig something out if you still need it. Whereas with someone else doing it stuff is packed and sealed and loaded on a van as much as two days before you actually leave your old house. As a result, for e.g., I have peppercorns all over the kitchen floor and no dustpan to deal with them. Oh yes, and I kind of sort of forgot to keep bibs back. And dish clothes, and dishwasher tablets. You're getting the idea right? Fortunately I managed to rescue the bottle opener just in time. What with those cold beers for tonight in the fridge and all.

I've gone through varying emotions about our move. I think anyone that knows me knows how much I love our current house. Built in the 30's it's my idea of the perfect family home; Light, airy, classic architecture but with a modern interior, roomy but still cosy feeling, and a great garden. Unfortunately the landlord doesn't want to sell nor did he want to reduce rent to an amount that was in line with the changed market. Almost everyone we know that rents has managed to get a reduction this year, except us. Indeed not only are we paying too much, but we were contractually obliged to meet a rent increase this coming year. So yes, it was time to move.

The new place is very different to where we live now. Very very modern, which means Roberto loves it. I'm looking forward to the benefits of the integrated family design its based on, which is really just fancy speak for a place that is big enough so a family don't drive each other nuts, but also structured in a way so that you feel connected with one another. Also it's in the heart of the village which means I can pop out to Tesco's in my pj's if need be. Naturally this will never ever happen, but I like the sound of it. It makes me feel like I'm living on the edge.

In and amongst all of this I am phoning around getting Julia's name down for nursery schools next year. One of the places has on its online enquiry form: 'Date of birth/due date:' Yes, that is for parents who want to register their unborn child. I kid you not. And what's worse is as ludicrous as I find this, I still catch myself getting swept up in it all, phoning around like a maniac and saying things like, "No no, but you don't understand. It's vitally important to us that there is some continuity between nursery and reception year. So she has to be on the list!" And breathe out.

I didn't even go to nursery school. I don't think my parents could afford it, and in those days it wasn't really considered a necessity. I think my mum prided herself on the fact that she didn't have to send me to nursery because she was a stay at home mum, like it was something parents only did because they had to work. She recently told me that as a baby she'd entertain me/keep me busy while she did chores, by parking my buggy in front of the operating washing machine. Yes, I imagine an analyst, were I to have one, would have a field day with that. Not to mention the more sarcastic among my friends.

Anyway I did find that the first year of reception or Grade 1 as we called it, was a bit more of a challenge for me than other kids, and this probably had a lot to do with not having gone to nursery. Some of these kids already knew their ABC's, and basic counting, and that it wasn't OK to bend someones finger back until it nearly broke. So clearly there was a lot more to this nursery business than just expensive child care.

Tonight we are having takeout sushi (me love sushi is pretty damn good btw) on our remaining sofa, making sure we have a change of undies and enough clothes and toys for Julia for the next 48 hours (which means a lot), and then it's all stations go. More once we've landed... .

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Hamptons

Before having a child a big part of a holiday for me was having a lie-in. In fact, I'd avoid hotels that did the whole 'breakfast included' thing because I never made use of it. Neither Roberto or I are particularly ambitious sightseers either, so yes, sleeping late, having some sort of brunch somewhere in town or at the hotel, and then a bit of laziness in the afternoon before cards over drinks, followed by dinner and then bed was pretty much standard fare. Occasionally we'd set ourselves an activity so we wouldn't feel too guilty about traveling half way across the world only to eat, sleep and play cards.

With a baby or small child a holiday is a whole different ballgame, in fact I'm not even sure one can classify it as a holiday. Or perhaps it is a bit of one in that you have your partner with you so you can actually go and use the loo alone for once, without a small person trying to squeeze their hand between your generous bottom and the toilet bowl. Or have a shower without said small person yelling at the top of their lungs because you have the audacity to need two minutes to wash yourself while they are left with a pile of toys and books that you wish you'd had as a child.

And then there's the whole self catering thing which, before having a child, I reacted to much the same way a vampire's supposed to upon being splashed with holy water. Memories of my mother complaining about how it wasn't any kind of holiday if she still had to cook, clean and do laundry have stuck with me. Or perhaps it was her smoldering resentment that's lingered in my memory. Either way, I'm inclined to agree with her. Holidays are all about having someone else make your bed, and eating in restaurants, and using lots of towels that magically reappear clean , fluffy, and folded in the morning. Oh, plus all those delicious dinky complimentary bathroom toiletries.

But hotels aren't particularly practical with children. You see you need the self catering thing in order to have access to a washing machine and dryer so you can do a dozen loads of washing a day. And then there's the kitchen so you can wash stuff, sterilize stuff, make food on command, store bottles in fridges etc. Plus place for them to run riot and break stuff, rub biscuits into carpets, spill milk on etc. You're really getting the holiday vibe from all of this right?

So for our most recent holiday in the Hamptons, we rented a house that came with a maid service. We thought it would be a good compromise. But upon arrival at the house we were met with a large pile of dirty laundry (sheets, towels etc) lying in a pile by the washing machine. The upstairs beds lacking bed linen. The dishwasher full and unpacked, leading me, at first, to curse the landlord for what appeared to be a lack of dishes and cutlery in the house. Half used loo rolls in the bathrooms, and a filthy carpet in the lounge which looked as though it hadn't seen a vacuum since it's conception in Bulgaria.

When we confronted the landlord about this mess. I mean, who wants to arrive in the middle of the night at the beginning of their holiday to that right? He said,
'Yes well, um, my cleaner doesn't really like doing laundry.' Hmmm, sounds like his cleaner doesn't like doing anything much at all, except of course to take home the large sum of money he pays her. Personally I thought the guy was getting ripped off, but that's his business, and more so, bad for his business. First impressions are lasting ones, and to have your guests arrive to a dirty house is not good.

Anyway, so having seen how crap his cleaner was I didn't want her services. I think mainly because I couldn't trust myself not to tell her that I thought her work, or lack thereof, was crap. So our catered self catering thing kind of went out the window, and we did it ourselves. But Roberto is a good helper and between us we handled things. Plus the house, when clean, was actually perfectly nice, and there were some very friendly ducks in the creek at the end of the garden who rather liked the bread Julia and I fed them.

The Hamptons are a beautiful part of the world, even when it's raining, which it did, a lot. My favourite places included East Hampton (beautiful and lots of posh shops for window shopping), Sag Harbour (great little bay for the kids to play and oh so pretty), and Bridgehampton because it had the best ever vintage clothing shop. Replete with authentic items such as Victorian jackets, glass beaded evening flapper dresses (salivate), old Chanel handbags, 1920's evening purses, and on and on and on. It was like the British Museum - requiring many return visits to truly appreciate its cavernous treasures. Expensive but a must see for people who like authentic vintage and not some old shyte from Mango that some shops I've been in in London try and pass off as vintage.

The food in the Hamptons was a mixed bag and expensive, especially in East Hampton. A very good place to eat was the East Hampton Point restaurant at the East Hampton Point Marina. Highly highly recommend it. It has a stunning view of the marina, and the food was great. Do me a favour and have the lobster linguine - hmmm.

We got the impression that wealthy New Yorkers and New Jerseyites that have their second homes there begin arriving in drips and drabs ahead of the 4th of July holidays. The table next to us at dinner one evening (four silver haired stalwarts with thick New Jersey accents), started their conversation recounting their latest blood pressure readings before talking about their grandchildren. It's the kind of thing you tend to overhear when you have dinner at 5pm. To us they said,
'Oh, you must come in Joo-lie', this weather has been most unusual.' Which was a polite way of saying that it had pissed down with rain most days.

The day before leaving we drove over an hour to a petting zoo in Manorville, for Julia's benefit of course. Another thing you do on holiday with small kids is drive over an hour to places that you only spend half an hour in tops, because your child inevitably decides that actually they don't really want to be there.

It was a toss up between this petting zoo come animal rescue place and a wildlife themed park. I went for the first because I liked the idea of a place that uses its proceeds to actually help animals in need, as opposed to just acquiring them to make money. However, the animal rescue bit should have warned me that it was going to be depressing. The website boasted that they had rescued some snow monkeys and built them an enclosure thanks to money generated from donations and the income from the petting zoo. In reality that enclosure was something one might have seen in a zoo circa 1973 - all concrete floors and bars. And the animals, quite frankly, looked depressed. It made my heart sore, but it was probably a vast improvement on wherever those poor creatures had been rescued from, plus now they were getting fed and looked after.

I also had to remind myself that without adequate space, money and resources these sorts of places are never going to be Whipsnade. I'd like to contact them and a local animal food supplier in the area and see if I can get some sort of regular donation going.

On a different sort of outing, we visited Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner's house, which was literally a 5 minute drive from where we were staying in East Hampton. That was quite an experience, especially as I had seen the film (very good!) with Ed Harris as Pollock not too long ago. Pollock's studio, a converted barn in the property, still has the paint splattered floor and walls. The plot of land the house and studio is on is vast and ends at the water's edge - very beautiful and inspiring. Perhaps less inspiring is the fact that Pollock died in a car accident, thanks to his penchant for boozing before getting behind the wheel, on the very street the house is on.

I imagine there is a ton of stuff that we could have done and didn't do in this part of the world, so don't rate this as an exhaustive travel guide of any sort. But yes, very very pretty and hopefully, good weather and effective maid service permitting, we'll definitely go back.

Best Vintage clothing shop - ever. Bridgehampton (main street)

Julia and Robert meet the donkeys at the petting zoo

Jackson Pollock's studio. East Hampton

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Blah blah blah

So, Susan Boyle had a bit of a melt down after she lost in the final of Britain's Got Talent. I think it's safe to say that with the pressure that poor woman was under she would have had that breakdown even if she had won. Not helped by tabloid journalists lurking in the hotel she was staying at during the show and winding her up. I hope once she has rested and realised that a record deal is far more lucrative than performing a one-off for the Queen, she will feel a bit better about things.

For those of you elsewhere, we are having absolutely gorgeous weather here in London. Yesterday it reached 27 degrees Celsius. In fact at times it was too hot and one longed for a cool breeze. Definitely pedicure season.

This kind of weather also brings out all the celebrity diet crap in the magazines. If I have to see another celeb-endorsed DVD in my copies of Now and Closer I'm going to scream. Why these people don't just come out and say that they exist on diet coke and fags, and in some cases other more nefarious substances, is beyond me. Makes for much more interesting reading.

There's also always the requisite two-paged spread of a celeb showing what meals she has opted for instead of what she used to eat. So there's a picture of a burger (like she ever ate burgers!) and then an arrow pointing to an anemic-looking grilled chicken breast with some sprigs of lettuce next to it.

In a few months time they will be interviewed in the same magazine saying that actually they had been starving themselves and were miserable.

I'm just moaning because my own diet is a disaster. Actually I never diet per se, because the moment I put myself on one I want all the kinds of shit that I never eat. Like peanut butter on toast, KFC, or Snickers bars and stuff like that. Also, I don't diet because I have yet to find one that I can stick to in the real world that you can adapt to in restaurants and stuff. What I do try and do, once in a blue moon, is cut out the sugar in my diet, likewise the heavy carbs, and not eat late at night. This actually works a treat and I do genuinely lose weight. I tell myself I am not dieting, just eating properly. Yeah right.

Unfortunately I am also very bad at making food for myself, and the result is that I snack instead of eating meals . And a handful of this and a handful of that is full of hidden calories blah blah blah. Anyway, I'm feeling very fat right now so I'm not too happy about it, especially as we are on our holidays soon and I don't want to scare off the fish.

I read a very interesting article about charity shops on the weekend. A well known clothing guru woman (I'm afraid I forget her name) did a makeover on one of the charity shops. I think it was an Oxfam. What she discovered is that most of the work the shop volunteers do is sorting through the crap that people leave outside their doors. And when I say crap, I mean, literally rubbish. People use charity shops as a dumping ground and amazingly something like 90 percent of that stuff is unsellable and has to be dumped.

The charity shops then have to pay for this junk to be removed and taken to a recyling place.

One bag contained a pair of trousers with the dirty knickers still in them (nice), and another black sack contained a whole lot of unusable junk plus two dead mice. Yes, people clearly hold the needy in very high regard.

So it's worth knowing (because in all fairness some people do not know this) that they are not taking your old sweater with the holes in and placing it around the shoulders of a freezing cold but oh-so-very-grateful tramp. These places are shops, and the whole point is that they try and get a few quid from your old gear from someone just like you, and then the money generated is used for charity work. So before you stick it in the Oxfam pile, ask yourself, is it in saleable nick? And knickers, dirty or otherwise, are never OK. Best chuck those into the fabric recycling pile at your local dump. I think the same goes for bras and boxers.

Addendum: I went online to the Association of Charity Shops to find out about what they take and don't take. This is what it said:

  1. Charity shops work because they can sell items with a second life. Please check your donations are both clean and functional e.g. tears or broken zips on clothes – missing chapters in books!

  2. You are helping a good cause AND the environment – re-use is even better than recycling.

  3. The best way to donate is to take items directly to your local charity shop. If this isn’t possible, you could fill a charity shop collection sack, or take items to clothing banks.

  4. If you have more specialist items, for example, electrical goods or furniture, it is best to check that the charity shop can accept these items for re-sale before donating.

  5. If you are not sure whether your clothes can be re-sold – donate them anyway – whatever clothes a charity shop can’t sell they can send off for further re-use or recycling! (A friend of mine (see comment below) pointed out that some old stuff can be used for the purposes of mattress filling etc. I think it's worth putting that kind of thing in a seperate bag and mentioning it when handing it in).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Everyone's talking about Jordan and Peter Andre

OK, well, everyone in the reality that I inhabit that is, which is what counts right? In this weeks' issue of OK Magazine, Jordan aka 'the heartbroken star' confides in the magazine about her 'shock' marriage split. Yes, she's so heartbroken and shocked she's managed to pose for an exclusive photoshoot to accompany the feature wearing 10 tons of makeup to look like she isn't wearing any. She's bare faced, sincere, and coming clean - get it?

It's good to know that despite being so distraught and cut up over the end of her marriage, she's still able to strike poses that show off a good deal of thigh and cleavage. I mean, why break with tradition? The pictures are accompanied by little blurbs to tell you what they are: Facing Page: Devastated Katie - Dress £189 Harvey Nics, Shoes £300 Gina, 5 thousand magazine deals (accompanied by flesh-bearing photo spreads) re public divorce: Millions. OK, so maybe it didn't really have that stuff about the dress and shoes.

It's sad for their children, not least of all because they will undoubtedly get dragged into future photo shoots accompanying their lingerie-clad mother spilling the beans on every last filthy detail of the state and demise of her marriage. But I don't really believe either of them are bad parents - I mean you actually have to spend time with your kids to be in a position to act as a bad parent right?

But (claws firmly retracted now) I do sincerely like Peter Andre. Call me sad, but in the various 'reality tv' pieces they have done he comes across as a genuine sort of person who isn't afraid to be emotional, and it's very clear he adores his children. As for Katie, well, who knows? The woman is about as charismatic as a piece of plaster board and appears emotionally arrested, so it's hard to tell.

There's massive speculation in Heat Magazine about whether or not the split is a publicity stunt, and OK magazine has dedicated almost an entire issue to the history of their relationship which resembles a photographic eulogy. Whatever's really happening, magazine sales are up and everyone's clearly making a buck.

And on the subject of making money, the 'Team Andre' T-shirt featured is something I macced up. Feel free to steal the idea, I'll certainly buy one. I also created it to accompany this post because I'm sick and tired of getting emails from photo agencies demanding huge sums. Haven't you people heard of fair use? Gawd.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Anne Frank's house

On Sunday morning, despite approximately four hours of interrupted sleep thanks to my hotel neighbors coming in in drips and drabs from their various nocturnal activities, I woke up and decided to visit the house that Anne Frank lived in before her untimely death. In retrospect probably not an ideal excursion what with being severely sleep deprived and hungry, but given that I only had a couple of hours to spare before our flight, I felt it was a more worthy use of my time than sleeping or eating breakfast. I bet Maslow would have something to say about that.

After waiting in the queue for 30 mins (getting there early has been an advantage) I entered with a tight feeling in my chest, knowing I was setting myself up for a difficult and painful experience.

For some people I think going to the house is a thing you do when you visit Amsterdam so you can say you've 'done' it. For others it is an integral part of their culture and past, (indeed isn't it an integral part of all of our pasts?) a concrete place to visit, meditate, and remember grandparents, relatives, and friends for whom no such place exists. For others still, and perhaps a category I fit into, it is about visiting an important historical landmark and paying your respects. To remember, and by doing so, become aware, and perhaps try and gain some understanding of the spirit of humanity, both good and evil.

It is no surprise that the experience left me feeling profoundly upset. Shaken in an archetypal sort of way that is hard to explain here. It wasn't just seeing a place that these people had lived and hidden in, both in fear and hope, for such a long time. The height charts still on the wall showing the children's growth. Anne's pictures (the subject matter not that different to things that interested me at that age) cut from magazines and pasted onto her bedroom wall, to try and approximate an outside world and freedom she had no access to. The windows perpetually covered so those people never felt the sun on their face for two long years.

More so, it was a painful template, giving a concrete reality to the millions of faceless families that were systematically torn apart and murdered. Just imagine for a moment, your children and or loved ones being ripped from your arms and taken to their certain slaughter. That feeling that you instinctively experience when you imagine that - that is the feeling that accompanies you when you walk through that house and which lingers long after you have left it.

What is desperately upsetting and deeply worrying, is that this is not just the story of this one family, or of the Jews, so we can reflect, 'Yes that was a terrible terrible thing that happened to them,' and then move on with our lives. Racism, discrimination, and ethnic cleansing are alive and well and happening today. People are being slaughtered en masse as I write this, just look at Darfur. And there's the disappearing of people in Sri Lanka, again, happening right now. And and and. This is not just history then, this is humanity at its worst playing this nightmarish drama over and over again, and one wonders if it will ever end.

As a teenager I asked my grandmother, who had lived through the war in South Africa. "But didn't people know about the Jews being murdered? Why didn't anyone stop it?" "We heard stories," she said, "but what could we do?" Indeed, what are we doing from stopping it happening today? How are the people in Darfur and Sri Lanka, and countless other places were such atrocities are taking place, any different to Anne Frank and her family? What are we doing to help these people?

It was also a very sharp reminder to me of the extraordinarily fine line between casual racist, discriminatory, and bigoted remarks and opinions, and the blanket depersonalisation and objectification of people which led to the Nazi's and their sympathisers doing what they did. How, I ask myself, could you kill all those people? How could you kill children and babies? These terrible cold blooded evils, perpetuated by men and women with their own families and children sitting at home awaiting their return each day.

It is important that we face these dark thoughts, and ask these questions, so that we can remember, become aware, and in doing so keep ourselves in check and teach our children. It is also true that at some point I had to stop myself from fixating on it, and indeed since my return, keep myself from returning to those thoughts, because it is too much. You need to step out of that place from time to time, because the alternative is drowning in it. As Primo Levi said, "One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live."

More positively, the experience was also strangely and surprisingly life affirming, not unlike surviving an accident. I came out of it acutely sensitised to my life and what fills it. It made me feel profoundly grateful for my family, for my daughter (who was showered with kisses and held a bit too tightly on my return), for Robert, for the fact that I live in a democratic society that allows me to voice these thoughts and opinions. That I can live my life without fear. That I can step outside and feel the sun on my face. That I can, god willing, see my child grow and have children of her own. That I am free. That I am free.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Jews for Jesus and intense environmental guilt

There was a neatly dressed middle aged man handing out 'Jews for Jesus' pamphlets in Hampstead today. As he tried to hand me one, I wondered if he had detected my one quarter Jewish ancestry in my features, or if the Jews for Jesus don't discriminate and are trying to educate and invite all and sundry. After crossing the street and taking another look it appeared that he was in fact disseminating to pretty much anyone.

I should have taken a pamphlet, as I'm curious. I mean, there are some questions regarding the central premise there. But I was in a hurry to get home and didn't want to risk a time consuming religious discussion. The last time it happened I managed to get a Scientologist so irate with me, that even as I walked away he was shouting angrily in my wake. Who knew that Scientologists could have such tempers on them? What with their low stress levels thanks to all those Theta tests.

Today I got suckered into buying an expensive cosmetic product that I really do not need. And I'm so angry at myself. I hate those cosmetics sales people. You go there to buy one thing and before you know it they've convinced you you really really need six. That your skin, your life, and the state of the world depends on it. What makes me even more angry is that I know this, and I went there prepared to fend off any extraneous product pitches, and what happens? I come home with something to 'intensely protect my skin from the environment.' What I really need is a product that intensely protects me from evil pushy cosmetics saleswomen and my own pathetic weak-willed narcissistic self.

I try and assuage myself with the (very) remote possibility that my odd extraneous purchase is helping our failing economy - circulating cash back into the market and all. Nothing like a rationalisation to deal with the guilt, if only it worked.

And on the subject of guilt, I'm off to Amsterdam with some girlfriends tomorrow for the weekend. It has to be said that I'm not looking forward to leaving Julia for a whole weekend. She'll be with Roberto, so in hands I consider as safe as my own, but it feels like such a long time to be away from her. This evening, while I was bathing her, she said, out of the blue, something I say to her when she gets back from the park with Anna, "Mamma, Imissya". Yeah, you can imagine how that makes me feel about leaving her tomorrow. Perhaps it's not so much about her separation anxiety as it is my own.

Not sure if I can be bothered to lug a laptop with me to the land of tulips and free syringes, so I'll probably make copious mental notes, forget everything on my return thanks to a couple of late nights, and write a highly embellished account of the weekend come Monday. Ta ta.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Guilt is other people

So I'm sitting in Cafe Nero last week (yes Starbucks, that's right, I'm a flippant hussy), and I overhear an exchange between a woman and her approximately two to three-year-old daughter.

The woman (for the purposes of clarity, let's call her 'Mrs Overbearing') had been having a coffee with a friend of hers. This friend was also there with her daughter who looked to be the same age as the other child. Mrs Overbearing had been constantly bickering with her little girl who was trying to clamber out of a highchair that was evidently too small for her. Eventually the friend announced that she had to leave and run some errands. After she and her little girl left, Mrs Overbearing turned to her daughter and said, "You see Emma, Becky and Ruby left because you wouldn't sit still in your highchair."

Yup, way to go lady. Lay on the passive aggressive crap and guilt tripping early. Not to mention the outright lying. I see great things for you and your daughter's relationship in the future, as well as her emotional development, left to simmer in your company, over the next 18 years.

I am off on a girls weekend trip to Amsterdam in a couple of weeks. Yup, Amsterdam, famous for its great museums, nostalgic architecture, beautiful canals, and legalised dope cafes., Actually, I don't smoke dope. What with the fact that I'm already 100% naturally paranoid and anxious, who needs any help in those departments? But yes, I'm all for choice, and having it, and Amsterdam strikes me as a democratic laid back sort of place. Even the heroin addicts are laid back there, usually in the parks I'm told.

The last time we were in Amsterdam, as in Roberto and I, we decided to do the requisite walk through the red light district, which meant he kept his head down, eyes fixed to the floor, and I walked along staring with my mouth open, trying, surreptitiously, to take photos. The muscular transvestite prostitutes looked like they could smash through those glass cubicles and break my camera and me in two, so I was a bit more careful down those particular strips.

This will be the longest I have ever been away from Julia, which will be a strange experience. But yes, probably necessary from time to time to remind yourself that you are in fact an entity unto yourself, and to have some time to just be outside of your roles as a mother and a partner.

Not sure if anyone has been watching the US Drama series, 'Damages?' I am totally hooked on that and eagerly awaiting series II. Very very good TV. I was also enjoying the American Celebrity Apprentice, for the escapist quality of course, until Donald Trump fired Khloe Kardashian, not because she was shyte on a task, but because he found out she had a DUI. I kid you not. He even said so.

It was quite shocking to watch actually, and while I have a feeling a lot of that show is staged, this felt genuinely real and was very offensive and upsetting.

And what's worse is when you see someone like Ivanka Trump, who is evidently a very intelligent successful young woman in her own right, sitting there and nodding in agreement to what her obtuse dinosaur of a father has just done when I felt sure she was thinking, like the rest of us, wtf?

While I am probably the most anti driving under the influence South African you will ever meet, I felt firing her was totally discriminatory. She'd been punished by the law for what she did, was very open and honest about the fact that she had done it, and was even raising money for people with drug and alcohol abuse problems. But all of that is completely irrelevant. The premise of the show is that people get fired for screwing up a task, and while she was by no means a stellar contestant, the annoying country singer Clint Black was overtly responsible for the failure of the task and everyone knew it.

I don't know why I bother. Bring back Project Runway with the lovely Heidi Klum any day. Oh, and some Top Chef would be nice too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Things overheard in shops

I hate packaging. The kind of stuff they wrap scissors in. The irony being that while trying to rip the indestructible cardboard and plastic encasing the scissors, you need the very pair you bought in order to get to them. Likewise, I hate how tight they make the tops on things, especially the cardboard juices that have little plastic tops that screw off. Always, while trying to open them and ripping the skin between my thumb and forefinger, I wonder how the elderly and especially those with arthritis in their fingers manage if I cannot. And indeed just the other day while in St John's Wood Tesco's, I saw a tiny old lady asking the cashier if she could open her pint of milk for her so she could have a cup of tea when she got home.

I was in Boots the other day, and a young girl, possibly 15, maybe even 13, walked in dressed very much how I imagine she thought a much older women dressed. It looked incongruous, much like me wearing my mother's massive 70's styled engagement ring when going to the British Embassy all those years ago and saying that while I wanted a 2 year working holiday visa, I was in no way planning on staying here and looking for work. I was engaged, in love, and very much planning on returning to South Africa to marry pronto, flashing the dated bling in the woman's unimpressed 'honestly do I look like an eejit?' face.

Anyway, so this young girl walked up to the counter clearly mustering all the confidence she had, and with as nonchalant tone of voice as she could manage said, "Hello, I need emergency contraception please." The man behind the counter looked at her and said she needed to talk to the pharmacist, to which she reddened and said she'd wait to do so. The delay, and then having to say the same thing to yet another person, seemed to shake her confidence.

I felt sorry for her to be in that position, and at the same time I thought it wise of her to be taking care of matters. I also had a compulsion to pull her aside and say in the nicest possible way: "Next time make sure the little shit wears a condom." You can see I am a mother to a daughter now, shamelessly biased.

I'm not sure how we are going to handle the whole sex talk thing with Julia. I've heard from friends and family that kids actually start asking questions about the subject a lot younger than one might imagine. And I myself remember being explained the facts of life rather crudely by a girl called Paige, when I was about six or seven years old. I didn't really process what it meant at the time, but it sounded disgusting and certainly not something I ever intended on participating in. Especially after looking around at the motley crew of smelly, nose-picking scabby kneed boys in my class, thank you very much.

I suspect I'll say something like: When you get to a certain age you may find your body telling you it wants to do things with boys. Ignore it and eat chocolate or go shopping. Boys themselves will tell you that you might enjoy doing these things with them, and in that case you come home and tell your father, and he will get out the shotgun and take care of them. Hopefully that will take care of matters for a while at least.

Separately, but on the subject of guns, I am overjoyed at hearing the verdict in the Phil Spector trial: Guilty. Justice has been served, a misogynistic nutter will be removed from the streets, and that poor woman can hopefully rest in peace.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Snakes, ladders, and gadgets

I recently bough a packet of vitamin tablets that you take when you are trying to conceive. As in a child, as opposed to a money-making invention, for example. Although I suppose if you make your kids work as child models, you could say that you had conceived money-making inventions. But I digress, massively.

We are not actively trying to have another baby, it's just that I'm neurotic and I want to get my body ready for when we do start trying. Some books and nutritionists advise getting your body into shape three months before even starting to try. Saying that, a lot of women fall pregnant after a night of heavy drinking, and indeed continue to drink, smoke, and imbibe other interesting things without even knowing they are pregnant in those early weeks. And their children turn out perfectly fine right? Or like Amy Winehouse.

So these vitamins - the box has an image of an attractive young couple embracing and smiling smugly at the camera, as if to imply that they are intimate with each other, just in case 'For women who are trying for a baby' in clear lettering is not self explanatory. There's also what looks like a large pink moon being attacked by a giant blue snake in the foreground. I think it's safe to say that the marketers were assuming prospective buyers of the product were not only trying for babies but were idiots too. God only knows what non-English speakers must make of that packaging.

We've been house hunting ahead of our move in the summer. You'll be amazed at people's choice of light fixtures. It's always an interesting one. One place was absolutely gorgeous - newly done and with great taste. And then you entered the dining room and there was this eyesore of a chandelier. The landlord stood there and proudly told us it was all Swarovski crystal, and how he'd gone directly to the manufacturing factory in Europe to get it etc. I had a feeling that any request to have it replaced with something a little less ornate would not have been warmly received.

It's come down to two houses, and Roberto and I are split down the middle on this. One is very much a family home - beautifully finished, well thought out, and it has a nice airy peaceful feel to it. I think it's safe to say it's boringly perfect. The other, well, it's kind of like this massive gadget, but no less beautiful, light and airy, just not what you'd picture if you were going for a 'family home'. No prizes for guessing which one Roberto favours, and if you are still in doubt, one of them has fingerprint recognition technology to get into the front door.

I thought back to all the times I've struggled to get the television and phone to work in Roberto's absence, and an image came to me of myself standing in the rain loaded down with shopping, babies crying, trying to get the fingerprint recognition thing to work at the front door, failing, and the state of my marriage being in serious peril.

But as Roberto so emphatically points out, the sensible perfect family home can be rented, or even purchased, at any time. But how often do you get a chance to live in a gadget house? With, lest we forget, fingerprint recognition technology? I think he's got me on that one.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Floor-length capes and the like

Our internet has been down yesterday and today. It is only during these kinds of technical inconveniences that I see Roberto really angry. Apart from when he has to do domestic chores that is, but then, to be fair, he is merely acerbic and grumpy. Apparently Virgin are having technical problems in the Camden area. I thought the only technical problem Camden experienced these days was Amy Winehouse moving out. Just think of the drug dealers and bar owners throwing themselves out of their apartment windows as their assets plummet.

Having no internet is a hassle, especially if like me you work from home. However it’s worse than that, as almost our entire household runs through the internet, including the television and the phone. Yes, our home phone runs through the internet. Roberto tells me our current convoluted set up is actually designed to make our lives easier, this after he had to give our babysitter tutorials on how to (a) turn on the TV (b) find channels (c) change channels and (d) choose a channel.

At my aforementioned visit to my obs gyn the other week she told me that a lot of women experience more acute PMT/S in their 30’s. This, combined with our overly technical household setup, probably doesn’t bode well for Roberto, poor man. During my pregnancy with Julia (PMT times 1000) I once got so annoyed with our TV system, or more specifically my inability to get it to work, that I nearly opened the lounge window and shoved the whole lot out onto the street below.

That internal exam business is a schlep whichever way you look at it. There’s always the thing of worrying about which underwear to wear – certainly none of the greying stuff with holes in it. Then there’s the grooming, and hygiene one must attend to, at least for the sake of the poor doctors. I watched this episode of Oprah where her resident doctor said that the vagina is actually a self-cleaning part of the body. One female GP in the audience piped up, ‘Yes, doctor, that may be so, but that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t shower ahead of internal exams. Please, ladies, keep it clean!' She had quite a desperate expression on her face and I imagined she had seen some unpleasant things in her time.

So you wear the right undies and have a shower, then you’ve got the whole awkwardness of lying there with your kit off, or half off, waiting for the doctor to come in. You both try and pretend that you’re not doing what you’re actually doing, i.e. you lying there vulnerably with your your legs akimbo, and she inspecting your bits. A good doctor almost always attempts to deflect the gross discomfort of the situation by asking you some random question about an upcoming holiday while he/she inserts a jellied speculum into your nether regions, and you try (cheerfully) to expound the virtues of Trip Advisor and how it’s never ever let you down.

And breathe out.

Yesterday, while perusing some photography books in Waterstones, I suddenly found myself next to a very tall man clad in a floor-length fur-lined black cape. On closer inspection I noted that he was also wearing head to toe black velvet, a large cravat, and these rather menacing black leather gloves which had enormous cuffs attached to them. On his feet he wore knee-length black boots, not unlike the feline protagonist in 'Puss n' Boots,' which also featured two sharp spurs on the back. Looking up I noted he had a long thin face with chiseled features and a dramatic Salvador Dali mustache, complete with curly waxed ends. He resembled a glamorous if somewhat effeminate conquistador lost in the wrong century.

What makes a person dress like that to go to the book store? I wondered to myself. Or perhaps he merely stopped in the bookstore en route from some terribly exciting and dramatic adventure where such flamboyant dress was required. Who knew? I imagine he was looking at me and my lack of imagination jeans and T-shirt thinking very much the same thing, only minus any thoughts of adventure on my part.

It's true, I've joined the leagues of boring and unimaginative dressers and pretty much live in jeans these days. To their credit, jeans are hardy companions, and never complain when you smear them with mud, regurgitated pieces of cheese, or stain-inducing baby food. They wash well, most of the food and stains come out, and they are good to go the next day. Certainly I watch episodes of things like Project Runway and make promises to myself to be more careful in my dress, but right now, with a small somewhat mess-prone toddler, I think jeans are the uniform for me. At least in the day time.

Julia had her very first professional haircut today. Discounting of course that time when she was a balding little baby and I cut off the long comb-over strands that made her look like a middle-aged man clinging to the illusion of his lustrous youthful mane. The result of that exercise was that she looked like a little corn on the cob, with a stubby tuft of short hair on the top of her head. The second time, not so very long ago, I attempted to cut a fringe for her, which resulted in the hairdresser today, a straight-talking Portuguese women to say, 'This fringe? This is not the work of a hairdresser.'

She sat there well enough until the hairdresser started blow drying her hair, something which was not only noisy but entirely foreign to her. Not even a lolly could diminish her distress and the final styling and ambitious bouffant was not to be. And later, as if to emphasise her disgruntlement and indignation at being manhandled in such a way, she rubbed a variety of food stuffs into her stylish little quiff, making it known, in no uncertain terms, what she thought of the whole business.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is it me?

Yesterday morning I was en route to see my doctor in a taxi driven by a large distinguished-looking Nigerian man, possibly in his late 50's. The radio was playing, and on the news they announced that Jade Goody's family were finalising her funeral arrangements.

This prompted my driver to comment on how sad it was, and I agreed saying that the disease had taken her quickly. He nodded and added but what had really shocked him, was the death of Natasha Richardson. I agreed that that was indeed a shocking and sudden tragedy. And, of course I had to add, 'And on a nursery slope of all places!' I have long rationalised my fear of skiing by pointing out that you can actually die from it, although personally until poor Natasha Richardson, I have only ever heard of one other person, namely that unfortunate Kennedy cousin who was skiing backwards while trying to catch a football.

My driver, not to be outdone by my Kennedy story, went on to name every person he has known personally, as well as sports people and celebrities, that have died suddenly and unexpectedly. Including an aunt of his that came to the UK for a visit, had a routine medical, and was told her body was riddled with cancer, despite exhibiting no symptoms or experiencing any pain. "Just like that! She never got to go home again, " he said somberly.

At this point, on my way to an internal exam by my gynaecologist, I had had about enough death and cancer talk for a lifetime, and attempted to change the subject by asking my driver if he missed Nigeria.

He told me he missed the weather, the people, the life he had there. He said that people over here don't give a damn about anyone, whereas at home they take time to enquire as to your health and the health of your family pretty much every time they see you.

"Here," he said, "a friend of mine was dead in his flat for four days before they found him. Four days! What kind of place is it to live when people don't even know you are missing? And the neighbours? Forget it! Here you don't even know them. Back home if you were missing even for a day someone would come and knock on your door to see if you were OK."

So we were back to talking about death again, and I did wonder to myself, what the hell is it with me and depressing taxi drivers? Another person I have encountered, not once, but twice from the same cab company, is a thin cynical man from Afghanistan who is full of doom and gloom. OK, so he's probably entitled to his depression what with things back home being as they are. But sometimes, you know, at the end of a long day when you are on your way to see your girlfriends for a glass of wine to help you unwind, you just don't want to hear about how the Americans are getting their targets wrong and killing and entire 200 strong wedding party, including babies, children and the bride and groom.

Our new nanny started yesterday. She's Italian, and a nanny by day and artist by night. And not just 'an artist,' in the sense that everyone who owns Photoshop calls themselves one, but someone who actually exhibits and sells stuff. I happen to like her work a lot, although I tell myself this had nothing to do with my decision to hire her. But yes, I did take a look at her website to try and spot any homicidal tendencies in her paintings. I think I detected a bit of heartache and angst in and amongst some of it, but nothing psychotic, which is always a relief when the person in question is going to be caring for your small child.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rory Stewart on Kabul

Last night my friend Patrick and I went along to the Royal Institute of Architects to hear Rory Stewart talk about Kabul and his work there for the Turquoise Mountain Project. In a nutshell it's a non-profit organisation that's working hard to regenerate the historical buildings in Kabul. They've also built a primary school (for boys AND girls), have workshops that employ local craftsmen to pass on their (prior to this dying-out) trades, and have removed tons and tons of rubbish from the streets employing practically every unemployed man in the city. This really is a nutshell because they have done and do a lot more and most importantly are giving the people of that city a sense of national pride and heritage.

Anyway, so listening to someone like Rory talk and meeting him in person has a two-fold effect on someone like me; The first is that I think, 'Shit, this guy has done an incredibly meaningful amount of stuff with his life and had some amazing adventures for his age.' (He is two years older than me, so I assume he is quite young, because I don't think mentally I have left 26). Then secondly, and related to this, comes the realisation that Rory isn't actually that young, he's 36, which makes me not that young either. But yes, still relatively young in terms of what he has achieved. Anyway, so I come out of the experience feeling as though I have largely failed to make a contribution to shaping and changing this world for the better, and I feel old.

So all in all an enjoyable evening then.

People like Rory Stewart are also a serious reminder to me of why I do not want to stick my child in front of the television for extended periods of the day, or in a push chair while I peruse the mall for pleasure. These are not conducive things to encourage a child's natural curiosity in the world, or to instill a hunger for knowledge. Unless we are talking about shoes and handbags that is, the importance of which should not be sniffed at.

Rory spoke in a magazine interview of how each morning en route to school his father would take him fencing in the park. Now that is the kind of thing we remember from our childhood - that meaningful time spent with parents where they are engaged with us and teaching us, rather than all the CBeebies shyte. Saying that, I do feel that all those episodes I watched of 'The Smurfs' played an important role in my emerging creative development and later my ability to stay in the room with an argument. But that's by the by.

Which brings me back to the importance of having a non-crack taking ex-con nanny that can also teach my child while minding her. We'll hopefully have reached our decision next week and I can start the serious business of having some time to myself. Hmm, time to myself ...I don't really remember what that feels like, so I don't quite know what I am going to do with it. Watch this space ... .

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The interview

So I've been interviewing a bunch of people for the nanny position. I don't really know how to 'interview' per se. Mainly I just have a conversation with them and try and remember to throw in some key questions like, 'Where does one get the best crack in London?' And, 'What do you do if someone takes your bunk in prison?' The answer to these and similar questions yields a surprising wealth of information about the interviewee.

One woman kept remarking how little Julia was and asked me if she was sick, had been premature, and if she ate properly. I was was like, 'Are you kidding me, there are women who would kill for a little waistline like that' (homage to David Sedaris), but I didn't. Our child is slight. She's on par to tall for her age in the height stakes, and she's on the slender side in terms of weight. No muscle wastage, nothing wrong, she's just slender. Hell, that's what I call a quality problem.

Another didn't stop talking, about herself that is. With absolutely no awareness of Julia in the room. Julia could have been dangling from the light fixtures playing with matches, and she wouldn't have noticed. I mean, if you are going for an interview as a nanny, surely you make some effort to interact with the child right? Weird.

On the plus side I have seen at least four people that I would hire, so that is a relief. It's good to know that of all the psycho child minders out there, some of them have at least politely chosen not to apply for the job of looking after our child.

I want to plug a photographer that came and took some family pictures of us this past weekend. Her name is Melanie Moss and her website is She's got a very relaxed nice way about her and took some fantastic photos for us. If you want some pictures taken of yourself for that reality TV interview, or photos of your new baby or children, or some nice family shots for the walls or that Christmas card, I highly recommend her. She's also not overpriced. In fact, she's very reasonably priced for a London-based photographer. So take a look.