Saturday 30 November 2013

Seriously? There really IS nothing else to get stressed about?

Dear Mildred,

I've never written to an agony aunt before, but I can no longer help myself; I have a Problem.  I'm feeling disconnected and discombobulated because - well - I can hardly bring myself to say this...

It turns out that the Blessed Nigella may have been Living a Lie.  

That dreamlike world she appeared to inhabit, of a home smelling constantly of vanilla shortbread, mulled wine and/or fragrantly spiced made-in-advance casseroles?  It - gasp - doesn't exist.

Instead, it turns out that underneath the cashmere twinsets, splendid bosoms and luxuriant hair Nigella is (oh, the horror!) just like you and I.  Stressed, struggling and paddling like fxck.  Who knew?  I feel so let down, Mildred.  It turns out that my entire template of domestic excellence is built on a sham.  How can I possibly continue to use her recipe for Chocolate Birthday Cake for my impressionable children?  Where now can I turn to, to replace my standby Greek Lamb Casserole recipe at polite dinner parties?  Dear god, what about the Christmas turkey - how will I brine it? The Macaroni Cheese with ham on Boxing Day?  The Pear & Roquefort Salad that is my fail-safe starter?

All of these recipes, gone, Mildred.  Gone to shit.

Because you know, dear Mildred, it's not as if they are just recipe books, or anything like that.  It's not as if they are simply useful indexes that produce food that tastes delicious, end of story.  It's not as if Nigella's ability to create a menu has nothing whatsoever to do with the potential car crash her personal life may resemble.  I mean, there's the merchandise to consider, too.  The serving plates, the crockery, the aprons.  All of it must go to the Bring & Buy, tomorrow, if possible. 

And - oh god - what about the tv programmes?  How will I fill the gap left in the schedule?  Because I couldn't possibly sit and watch her cook now, giving me instruction on how to make a souffle without fuss when I know that the sparkly lights, the shiny utensils, the artfully placed kitsch, are not in Her Real Kitchen but are, in fact, part of a carefully constructed studio set.  You know, a tv studio.  Where ENTERTAINMENT is made.  Not part of her Real Life, at all.

I may never recover from this disappointment.

Yours, weepily

Betrayed of Moscow.

I'm hoping that if you've read this far you'll agree the above letter is ridiculous and have picked up on the fact that whilst I feel sympathy for all those involved in what seems to be a godawful mess, I'm getting a little bored with seeing it rehashed time and again in my timelines on fb and twitter.  You see, I have a confession; I don't really give two hoots about the personal lives of celebrities or the Great and the Good.

There.  I've said it.  My dirty little secret is out in the open.

I don't care about the personal lives of the Royals and their extended family - or at least, not more than I care about anyone else.  I don't give a flying fxck who that actress in whatever film it was is married to.  I don't want to know goes on behind Gordon's / Nigel's / Fanny Craddock's front door, and I'm not interested in seeing what the mother of the bride wore to so & so rugby player's wedding.

As for Nigella, it seems likely that she messed up.  She presented a face to the world that may not have been entirely the one that existed behind closed doors.  (Who would do such a thing, for goodness sake?)  She allegedly let people down.

And guess what - it's none of my business.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Dear Heathrow Terminal 5 Customer Service...

I love Heathrow Terminal 5.  I do.  The open spaces, the tranquil atmosphere (pre-check in, anyway), the cleanliness, the still-bright-as-a-new-penny surfaces everywhere.  Travelling through it should be a pleasure, really it should.

Funnily enough however, (although I can tell you, I'm not laughing that much), it isn't.  Not for the Potski family, anyway.  Long term readers of this site may be aware that both my sons are highly allergic to nuts.  We're fortunate that Boys #1 and #2 don't have atmospheric allergies - which would preclude air travel - but they can't eat or touch nuts and if they do, we have to resort firstly to anti-histamine and secondly, if that doesn't work and their airways start to close up, to epi-pens to give them a shot of adrenaline.  Thankfully, because the Piriton (our anti-histamine of choice) works, I've never had to use the latter, but I carry one with me always, just in case.  I know it's just a matter of time before we need to use it on one or other of my children - we've been lucky so far, but that can't last for ever.

For now, though, I am never - NEVER - without either form of medication in my handbag.  Well - not unless I've just come through Security at Heathrow Terminal 5, anyway.

I think I may have form with the bods who work at Security in this terminal.  I certainly never seem to have the same problem at any other terminal or airport.  At Heathrow T5, however,  I have had the bottle of Piriton in my handbag confiscated no less than 3 times so far.  It's almost as if they're looking out for me as I queue up with my children, juggling bags, coats, rucksacks and sweatshirts whilst trying to maintain some semblance of dignity as I hunt through my pockets for the paper clip I'm currently using to undo the zip on my boots.  (The pull came off.  What can I say?  They're my favourite boots, and no-one notices as long as I remember to take the paper clip out once I've done them up...)

However, it seems as if every time we reach the other side of the x-ray machine, there is one of our trays on the other side of the glass, just out of reach.  So near and yet so far.  My heart sinks - and the Boys look up at me worriedly; they know what's coming next as the person on duty sighs heavily and extracts the battered but still clear plastic bag from the tray, tutting at me disappointedly.  'It's antihistamine for my children' I explain.  'They're highly allergic to nuts.  I've tried to buy it in bottles of 100ml or less, but they don't sell it in that format.'  'I'm sorry madam.  I can't let it through.  The bottle size is 150ml, see?  Those are the rules...'

And no matter how much I point out that it is accompanied by a prescribed epi-pen so is clearly part of an approved medical procedure, and that it's almost half empty with what is obviously less than 100ml of liquid even in the bottle, they won't be moved.  'Don't worry madam' they say placatingly.  'There's a Boots just over there.  You can replace it straight away.'

Which is, I think you would agree, hardly the point when a) you have a perfectly good partly-used bottle right in front of you,  b) aren't we supposed to be taking care of our resources and c) you're catching a flight with two children so the chances you have an extra few minutes to spare to pop into Boots are quite slim...

So I decided to try and box clever this time.  I went into a pharmacy and bought a 100ml medicine bottle into which I decanted my half bottle of Piriton before going anywhere near the airport.  Then, this morning the Boys and I travelled to Heathrow T5 to head back to Moscow.

This is what happened after we came through the metal detector.

Boy #2:  "Mum - is that our tray over there?  On the belt we can't reach?"

My heart sank.  "Yes, it is.  OK, let's get everything together - Boy #1, can you hold my bag whilst I fish out the paper clip to do my boot up - and go and wait at the end."

We gathered our kit and caboodle and stood at the end of the of the Conveyor Belt of Shame.  I fixed my friendly but firm face on - because I KNEW, for god's sake, that the bottle of Piriton was less than 100ml, the chemist in the pharmacy had told me that - and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Finally, just as the technician in charge of the x-ray machine was getting up to come and talk to us, a cross-looking female officer stomped over.

Her:  "Is this your tray, madam?"

Me:  "Yes, it is.  Is the piriton the problem?  Because if it is -"

Her:  "No.  Do you have any electronics in this rucksack?  Because you're really supposed to take them out, you know."

Me:  "I don't think so, no.  Oh wait - it could be my son's DS - would that do it?"

Her, sighing heavily:  "Yes.  May I open the bag?"  She proceeded to unzip the front pocket.

Me:  "Sorry about that.  I thought it was just computers and suchlike.  It's not in the front pocket, by the way, it's -"

Her: "IF you don't mind madam, I will just do my job."

Me:  "Of course.... I was just trying to be helpful and -"

Her:  "We DO have procedure to follow, you know."

Me (at this stage thinking it might be wise to stay quiet about the other DS and my Kindle, both of which had gone through undetected and lay in bags that had escaped the slash and burn approach now being applied to Boy #2's rucksack):  "OK."  After a few moments of prodding around, and checking the little cloth on the stick in her special detector thingy (this is a technical term) she looked at me.

Her:  "Alright."

Me:  "So, is it OK for us to go?"

Her:  "I just need to check this bottle with my supervisor."

Me:  "I thought it was the DS that was the problem?"

Her:  "No, now I need to check to the bottle.  I don't hold out much hope, though."

Me:  "But the bottle size is 100ml."

Her:  "Doesn't say that, though, does it?"

Me:  "That's because I bought an empty bottle from the pharmacy.  It doesn't have a label on it because it had nothing in it when I bought it at Boots in Smalltown, Somerset."

Her:  "It's made of glass.  Boots don't sell un-labelled glass bottles."

Me:  "Actually, they do - when you can't find 100ml bottles anywhere else and they're trying to be helpful..."

She looked at me, eyebrows raised.  "Well, I'll check with the supervisor.  But I don't think he'll say yes."

Two minutes later she returned.  "Sorry madam.  I can't let you take it."

Our departure time was getting closer by now; I should have just left it but as you can imagine, I found it hard to walk away.  "Seriously?  Because this is vital for my sons' well-being and I really thought I'd done it all right this time.  I mean, this will be the fourth time I've had a bottle of Piriton confiscated at Terminal 5."

There is only way to describe the smile she gave me at that point; nasty.  "Well then, next time I suggest you buy a bottle that is clearly labelled '100ml'.  I would think you would have learned that by now.  Don't worry though - you can pick up a new bottle in the Boots just over there..."

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Save energy, save money. Russian vs UK central heating issues…

This is a sponsored post.

It is also a true story… 

When we arrived in Russia 4 years ago, during the coldest winter for a decade, I was amazed by how super-heated the buildings were.  It was cold enough outside to freeze the inside of the lock on our metal front door (sustained lows of -25 degC for a month will do that), but the temperature in the house was always a balmy +23 degC.  Wearing much more than a t-shirt meant you were ridiculously hot, throwing the almost 50 degC temperature difference between indoors and outside into even sharper relief.    And it wasn’t just our home that was like this; almost all Russian buildings were as warm, if not warmer.

In a country where energy is cheap (petrol, for example, costs only 68p per litre here), most Russians will turn up the thermostat in winter rather than put on another layer of clothing.  And that is assuming that they even have a thermostat; in many buildings the heating is centrally controlled and is switched on mid-October, staying that way until the beginning of May.  This puzzled me.  What do Russians do if they feel too warm, I asked my Husband.  His answer was simple.

They open a window.  It might be -25degC outside, but they open a window.

This is all very well but aside from seeming incredibly wasteful, at some point in the next couple of years we will be returning to the UK.  Winters there may be warmer, but buildings are less effectively insulated and – crucially – energy prices are much higher. 

Not only will I have re-educate my children to put on a jumper when they are chilly inside, turn the lights out when they leave a room, and close the back door behind them as they run back in to find their missing backpack / trainers / swim kit when they leave for school in the morning, but we will need to bite the bullet when it comes to paying higher electricity and gas bills.  Anything that helps us as a family to consume less energy will be very helpful, which is why I was interested in E.ON’s current campaign designed to help their customers do exactly that.

As one of the leading energy suppliers to UK customers, E.ON recognises it has a duty to make sure that everyone has all the information they need to work out the best way to help save money and use no more energy than they need. The new E.ON Saving Energy Toolkit will put customers on the road towards running a more fuel-efficient home. If you’re already set up with an online account then you can get access to plenty of useful hints and tips as well as fantastic interactive tools. This includes a comparative feature which allows you to see how green your home is in relation to similar households in your area and charts and graphs which track the breakdown of your energy usage over a set period of time.

Whether it will give advice like ‘stop being such a wimp and just put on another layer’, however, remains to be seen…

Tuesday 5 November 2013

I choose to be happy. (Well, most of the time, anyway)

It's grey here. Grim November has arrived, and hot on it's heels will come the Russian winter. The laundry needs hanging up, there are toys all over the floor, and I have a million jobs to do which - post half-term - can no longer be put off.  The dishwasher in our UK home is broken & needs to be replaced (although god love it, it has just celebrated it's 13th birthday, so I'm not judging), Husband is travelling most weekdays, and it's raining, just in time for the school run on my bike.

On the other hand...

It's not snowing.  The temperature is above freezing.  My family is happy and healthy. We had a great 4 days somewhere sunny and warm last week.  The house is clean.  There is enough food in the fridge, and before I put on my raincoat (in a jaunty colour I have christened 'In-Your-Face-Winter-Orange') I have five minutes to myself, a whole scope of creative projects I can dip into, the Man Booker Prize winner on my kindle, and the whole of NetFlix to explore later this evening.

See what I did there?  It's called (my version of, anyway), CBT*

Because, without wanting to come over all PollyAnna about it, life really is what you make of it.  I learned this not through having a naturally carefree disposition but during 2 years of counselling after I stopped work outside the home following Boy #2's birth - and fell apart.  It took a while but my lovely counsellor slowly showed me how to reprogramme my results-orientated, work-obsessed, what-am-I-if-not-my-job?, brain into one that could turn my mental inclinations around.  It takes self-awareness, that's true, but the feeling of control when you look at what could be quite a shitty situation and decide not to let it bring you down - in fact, to turn it to your advantage and learn from it - is empowering.

Yes, the days in my mental landscape still seem long and grey sometimes.  But I know, when that happens, that it's not forever.  In fact, if I choose, it doesn't even have to be until tomorrow.

Now.  Off through the rain to do that ruddy school run.  Where's my in-your-face-winter orange raincoat gone?

*Cognitive Behavioural Therapy