Thursday, 14 January 2021

Walking with dinosaurs

As Lockdown #3 begins I walk the dog through our local woods, trying to pin down an elusive thought.  There's a scene from a movie that sums this situation up, I think.  Somewhere, rattling around in the back of my memory, it's there - but I can't quite touch it.  It floats elusively on the edge of my consciousness, just out of reach.  A child - IS it a child? - commenting on the fact that he - I think it was he - was back where he started.  Was there a car involved?

I can't quite grab it.  It'll come to me, eventually.  For now, I try to focus on the beauty of my surroundings, on the sunbeams angled through the empty branches, the patter of the dog's feet through the leaf litter under the bushes and the crunch of gravel under my feet, but instead am swamped - again - by anger.

It's distressing to consider how little progress has been made by the UK over the last ten months, and how many opportunities to learn have been ignored in our encounter with Covid19.  That's not to discount the herculean efforts and sacrifices that have been made by so many, the fortitude of even more. and the astonishing speed with which individuals and companies have marshalled themselves to battle both circumstance and this pernicious virus.  But just as this situation has brought out the best in some, it has highlighted where our government has come up short.  Their lack of foresight or interest in learning from their mistakes, the shocking cronyism that has seen good money thrown after bad, their absence of confidence that the majority will follow sensible rules and, of course, the lack of accountability when they are caught ignoring their own advice; all of the above have brought us to the current parlous state of affairs. Again.

Those are the thoughts I have as I stomp crossly along, wrapped up warm against the cold snap.  Eventually though, the calm of my surroundings works it's magic and I start to focus on simply breathing in, and out, in, and out, and begin to look forward to a cup of tea and a flapjack (because, Lockdown) when I get home.

As I reach the gate at the end of the fields my brain has cleared enough and finally, the memory I was grasping for comes to me.  When I get home I check and - even if I do say so myself - I was right.  This scene, from a movie that is nearly 30 years old, perfectly sums up how I feel about where we in the UK are right now.



Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Scores on the Doors, please!


 So Advent is finally here.  All across the land families are opening Door 1 on the calendar and rejoicing in the wholesome Christmas-related images that lie behind it (unless you're my sister,  who is currently wondering what on earth a pig on a skateboard has to do with the Holiday Season, but that's a story for another post).

I'm a fan of an old-fashioned advent calendar myself, loving the nostalgia of the process.  Who doesn't enjoy the hunt for the right number hidden in an overly-crowded design, the subsequent battle with the inadequate perforations around each door, or the jolt of recognition as you discover a candy cane or a toy train pictured behind it?  (Both of which still seem to look the same as they did 45 years ago, which shouldn't be a shock, because how many ways are there to draw a wrapped present, after all?)  And let's not forget the joyful surprise of the inevitable discovery, a couple of hours later, that the glitter from the calendar has somehow transferred itself to your cheek.  Twelve year old me liked to pretend it was make-up.  I always have loved a bit of sparkle.

Consequently I've been fighting a rear-guard action against the inevitable march of chocolate advent calendars since the Boys were tiny.  Mainly this was down to my reluctance to give them a sugar rush before breakfast each day, (what's the point of making them eat Weetabix rather than sugared cereal if they've already been snacking on milk chocolate or, nowadays, Percy Pigs?).  But this year?  This year I couldn't be that cruel.  This year, after all, is 2020.  Normal service is currently suspended.

This, it turns out, is the year I finally caved and bought each of my sons a chocolate advent calendar.

I didn't tell them in advance, simply presenting them with their calendars when they came down for breakfast this morning.  Boy #1 - the junk food king - was delighted, and had ripped open the card and gobbled down the milk chocolate bunny behind Door 1 in 2 seconds flat. 

Boy #2, however, doesn't like milk chocolate.  Do you know how difficult it is to find a dark chocolate advent calendar at the end of November?  Or at least, how hard it is to find one that doesn't cost £40?  (I love him, but there are limits).  Nevertheless I managed it eventually, returning home in triumph with a 70 percenter for less than five quid, only to find - after he tried what lay behind his Door 1 this morning - that there is yet another brand of chocolate for us to add to the list of those to which he is allergic.

Oh well.  My intention is that my Husband will benefit from his younger son's misfortune.  But I'm home alone, and you know what they say; the road to hell and all that...


Thursday, 5 November 2020

Ground Hog Day: Lockdown Mark #2

 It's Ground Hog Day...

Well - it's not, obviously.  But on the first day of England's second national Covid19 lockdown it sort of feels like it.  Some things are different, of course.  My sons are still in school (and thank god for it.  Frankly every day of face-to-face education is a win, from my perspective.  More space at the kitchen table and fewer demands for snacks, for starters).  Husband is - for now - still allowed to travel for his work (the positives here are surprisingly similar; more space at the kitchen table and fewer demands for snacks.  Huh.).

Oh, and there is still loo roll on the supermarket shelves.  At least the shopping public (and I include myself in that number) seem to have learned that any shortages last time around were caused by people buying enough toilet paper to fill an entire wall of their bathroom, rather than there being a shortage in supply. 

The feeling that this whole situation has been incredibly badly handled, though.  The knowledge that more could have been done earlier, to avoid necessity of these measures being implemented.  The disillusionment with a government who have wasted valuable time prevaricating and ignoring the obvious, who have thrown good money after bad and refused to accept the situation soon enough to make a tangible difference to keeping the numbers down.  All those things.  

All those things? Exactly the same.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Shoes & boys.

In town with the boys, I look at my oldest son's feet.  'Your trainers look very tight.  Aren't they uncomfortable?  We're walking past the sports shop in a moment - shall we go in?'

He shakes his head.  'No, don't worry.  They're fine.'

'Are you sure?  They really look as if they pinch.'

'No, Mum.  They're really OK.'

I give up, and then happen to glance down at Boy #2's feet.  'Your trainers look tight, too.  Should we get you some new ones?

Boy #2 tuts.  'Mum.  They're fine.  Don't worry about it.'

Two days later, on holiday in the middle of nowhere, we walk down a hill.  Well, I walk  Boy #2 runs.  When we get to the bottom...

'You were quick.'

'I know.  I had to run - my shoes were pinching.'

Wait - what? 'But you told me they were fine!'

'They are - unless I'm walking downhill.'

'Well, that's it.  We're going to get you new ones - though not until next week.  There's nowhere here to buy any.'  

Boy #1, who has been standing quietly by, pipes up.  'Actually - can I get new trainers too?  Mine are a bit uncomfortable, now I think about it.'

Give me strength.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Lockdown Dogwalk Conversations

Apologies - laundry features in this post.  Other stuff does happen in my life, I promise...

I'm out walking the dog with my sons.  It's the early afternoon and warm enough for t-shirts but as we walk I notice that my younger son - who likes the formal look - has paired today's shorts with a button-down collar shirt.  It occurs to me that this is a style he has adopted more often than not since Lockdown started, and suddenly the pieces of a rather perplexing jigsaw slot neatly into place.

That look, right there, is the reason why the ironing pile has doubled in size since the boys have been home schooling.  As someone who takes the non-iron label on an M&S school shirt literally, I've been wondering why the workload has increased since the boys have stopped wearing them.

As I look at my smartly-turned-out younger son I make an executive decision; the extra ironing has to stop.

Me: 'Boy #2, I just realised you're wearing a proper shirt every day.'

He starts, looks guilty, immediately anticipating where this is going.  'I like to look smart.'

Me: 'And that's fine.  But could you maybe look smart in a collared polo instead?  It's just, you know...'

'The ironing?'

I nod.

'But polo shirts are not as good.  I'm comfortable like this.'  He looks at my raised eyebrows.  'I'll iron my shirts..'

I'm sure we've had this agreement before.  'Really?'

'Well...'

I decide to capitalise on his sort-of-willingness, and go for a compromise.  'Alright.  If you iron them yourself, that's fine, wear as many shirts as you want.  But from now on, I will only be ironing 2 of your shirts each week.  OK?'

Boy #1, a more typical teen in that seeing him in anything other than t-shirts & shorts is only ever the result of a sartorial three-line whip, nevertheless stops in his tracks and does a dramatic double take. 

'Mum! Do his OWN ironing?  Where's your humanity?'


Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Lockdown Home-schooling - What Have We Learned?

(Before I start, apologies for the ENORMOUS text.  I'm not trying to shout - this post's settings are just screwed up...)

So.  Here we are in Week 14 of Home Learning.  (Well - Wk 12 if you deduct the two week holiday in the middle.  I don't.  Because it didn't really seem like a holiday, what with all the fretting and worrying etc).  What have we learned, parents?

  • Back at the start of this, you may have set up work stations to help everyone get their work done in peace.  Cue hollow laughter.  We've always known it, and Lockdown has confirmed it; the kitchen table is magnetic. It draws in people, pencil cases, clutter, bowls of fruit, old receipts, unread books and laptops like some kind of domestic Death Star.  To top this off, the chairs around it will be festooned with charging cables, earphone cords, dog leads, cardigans and sweatshirts like the cobwebs in the cave of Shelob the spider in The Lord of Rings, and all of them - ALL of them - are directly in the dog's path when the doorbell rings and he goes from snoring noisily in the corner to a one hundred mile an hour dash though the house. And as he races, barking crazily, towards the front door to defend his territory from the evil postman, you and your kids will have to throw yourselves across the whole set of wire spaghetti to stop your precious electronics crashing to the floor like a sea captain and her crew trying to protect their charts in a heavy squall.

  • And whilst we're on the subject of the kitchen table (that you and your children sit at all day, every day, Every. Ruddy. Day.  FOR EVER.), sooner or later books will be lost, pens mislaid, cups of tea and glasses of water knocked over and you - YOU - will have to a) clear it up and b) not lose your shit about this because c) this whole situation is ridiculous and frankly, not your childrens' fault and d) if you don't it's your phone that will get soaked (because your kids' phones are, of course, in their hands).

  • Speaking of your phone, it goes missing, about twenty times a day... 

  •  ... and it's always exactly where you left it, in the first place you looked but couldn't find it, as if some malicious house elf has been messing with your mind.

  • You can never find though, until you ask one of your kids to call it for you and it reveals itself nestled in the leaf-litter on the kitchen table, tucked safely between a Domino's pizza flyer and the text book one of your children last opened on Lockdown Week 2 and which - despite repeated requests it be put away - has somehow mysteriously made it's way from table to counter and back again every day for the last 12 weeks 

  • Breathe.  Deeply.

  • Furthermore, and I can't believe this will come as a surprise to most parents, children can be impressively sneaky when it comes to online learning.  (MY children, at any rate).  They will wait until your attention is directed elsewhere and then toggle across from whatever they are supposed to be looking at online to something way more entertaining.  And should you dare ask questions about what exactly they've been working on, or ask to see the work they need to submit, you may be treated to an Oscar-winning performance of hurt and disappointed indignation that you could ever doubt their actions.  (This is usually where I point out that they're not fooling me - I was once a child, too).

  • I don't blame them, having been known to flip my screen from browsing through holiday porn to that VERY IMPORTANT E-MAIL when I hear them about to enter the room...

  • Last, but most definitely not least, time spent alone outside for odd huff, puff and - possibly - scream is an underrated form of therapy.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Lockdown Teen Wrangling - or is it Lockdown Parent Management?



Lockdown is pretty crap, there's no doubt about it, but it's certainly giving me the chance to work on some of my parenting skills.  I've always been a 'You've started so you may as well finish' kind of mum, but it's finally dawned on me that perhaps this is an approach I need to keep unspoken since - who would have thought it? - sometimes kids can work that out for themselves.  For example:

Boy:  'I'm so bored.  I think I might go into town.'

'OK.'  (Don't ask him if he's finished his schoolwork.  Don't ask him if he's finished...) 'What are you working on?

Boy:  'Imperialism in India.'

He starts to collect his books and I busy myself with making a cup of tea.  I have been drinking a LOT of tea during Lockdown - such a useful prop...   

After I judge enough time has passed for me not to seem too invested:  'Right.  Imperialism. Is it interesting?'

Boy.  'I don't know.  Maybe?'

Me.  'How much more do you have to do until you finish the bit you were working on?'  (Note use of past tense here: 'were working on'.  Very important.  Don't let him think you have any expectation he's going to finish it right now.  Softly, softly...)

Boy: ' Not sure.  I'll take a look.'  He flips open his book.  'Not much.  Probably ten minutes.'

Me: drinks tea.

Boy: 'I'll go when I've done it.'

I wait until his back is turned before I do a quiet fist pump.  But then, oh then...

'Don't do that, Mum.  It's so not cool. And you were doing so well, too.'

Busted.