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?'


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.'


Tuesday 9 June 2020

Things that no longer happen in Lockdown

A more reflective post today.  

Things I have let slide since Lockdown started:

Wearing earrings.  In fact I'm not wearing much jewellery at all.  Why is that?  It's not as if I'm usually blinged up to the max, but right now most days even putting on my engagement ring seems a bit over the top.  Unless I'm off to the supermarket, of course - well, one has to keep up appearances. Note to self, however; it's no big deal if you don't wear rings from one week to the next, you just slide them on when you want.  Earrings, though.  Ouch.  OUCH.

Wearing make-up.  There have been a few evenings recently when I've begun to take off my mascara only to realise that I never put it on in the first place. Not quite there with the keeping up appearances, then.

Doing laundry every day.  I have no idea how this one's working, but somehow there is less laundry to be done.  I don't THINK my sons are re-wearing dirty-clothes - with the exception of the shorts I mentioned in my last post - but somehow there just don't seem to be as much to wash.  Maybe I've gone noseblind?

Congratulating myself on keeping a lid on the amount I spend on supermarket shopping.  As in, I don't congratulate myself any more.  Because it's gone through the roof.  With a husband home full time (he usually travels 4-5 days a week) at home and two teenage boys eating lunch and snacks here rather than in school will do that.  Every time I open the kitchen bin there's yet another empty digestive biscuit wrapper in there.  (And yes, they eat fruit too.  Particularly the fruit that I've bought thinking I will eat that instead of the biscuits.  So when I reach for the fruit and there's none there, guess what's left?  You got it.  Biscuits.  Oh well. Elasticated waists rule).

Planning a trip abroad.  Oh, alright - I AM planning.  Just not expecting to actually be allowed to go.  


For more Lockdown-related posts, click here

Friday 5 June 2020

Clothes shopping for teens in Lockdown

Boy #1 has grown - they do that, I'm told.  This is a problem; he's grown so much that none of last year's shorts fit.  Well, I say 'none'; what I actually mean is that only one pair fits - and they are of the quick-dry sports-related variety.  He loves them, obviously.  I detest them, but have been putting up with them because there's no alternative until the two pairs of replacements ordered online reach us.

The new ones arrive, and he tries them on.

Boy #1: 'Oh.'

Me:  'Quite.'  

We watch them slide off his hips and onto the floor.

Me:  'So when you said you wanted that size, what were you basing it on?'

Boy #1: 'The trousers I have upstairs.  You know, the only trousers that are long enough.'

Me:  'The ones with the elastic adjuster in the waistline?'

He nods.

We send them back.

Three pairs of new shorts in a smaller size arrive 5 days later.  I have grown heartily sick of his wash & wear shorts in the meantime, in the main because he refuses to hand them over for the wash part.  Even though the weather has now changed and he could be wearing trousers instead, still the shorts make a daily appearance.

At my insistence Boy #1 tries the new shorts on soon after they arrive (if it was left to him they would stay in the bag for the next week).  Much to both our relief, they more or less fit (although he's still able to slide them down off his hips without undoing them, I note.  Obviously, for a teen-aged boy that's a bonus, but I make a mental note to suggest he wears a belt.  I am a mum, after all).  

Me: 'Why don't you change into one of the new pairs now, and put your old ones in the wash?'

Boy #1:  'No.'

I'm taken aback.  'No?  Why on earth not?  They're disgusting!'

'Because I want to go for a run later, and if I put a new pair on now then two pairs of shorts will need to be washed, when I only really need to sort one. '

I'm speechless (and not because the incidences of him doing his own washing are less regular than I might like).  He has managed to come up with just about the ONLY reason I would let him get away with continuing to wear his quite frankly filthy shorts.

He knows it, too:  'Yeah, Mum.  Boom. Mic drop.'

We leave it there.  I know when I'm beaten.

Wednesday 3 June 2020

Lockdown Stretches

We do a stretch every school day at 10.00am, my sons and I.  We put aside whatever we're working on, get up from the kitchen table, and spend five minutes jumping around.  The dog tries to join in, we all bumble around in an effort to escape him (shorts weather offers no protection from his too-sharp claws), and we finish by properly Shaking It Out.  It lifts our spirits, wakes us up. It helps.  Then we make ourselves a cup of tea, sit down, and get back to whatever we were working on before.

When I started The 10.00am Stretch (yes, more capitals.  Get over it) back in the dark days of the third week of March, we were new to homeschooling.  We were also new, like everyone else, to Lockdown, and the whole complex combination of awfulness, relief, dread and - dare I say it - spasmodic sense of peacefulness that comprise it.  We - or I - hadn't yet realised how much it was going to mess with our heads.  The constant low-level fear of what might happen next seemed likely to be a temporary condition.

Well, it's now Lockdown - or a version of it - Week 11.  I wish I could say that the cocktail of feelings I described above has changed significantly but it hasn't, not really.  Of course, boredom has been thrown into the mix, along with frustration and despair at how badly the response to Covid19 has been managed in the UK, and a guarded sense of acceptance that other than by wearing a mask whilst shopping, I can make very little difference to that.  And obviously there's yet more fear.  Not for me personally, but for my children; what will this mean for them, long term?  For my parents; will they have to stay in isolation forever?  For the world at large; for those still unable to venture out due to health conditions and who consequently can't support themselves and their families, and finally yes, I'm going to say it, the horror of being a distant witness to the unrest - and the causes of it - in the US and elsewhere. 

But, we have to keep on keeping on.  Time and tide wait for no man and all that, so we need to push through this the best we can and hope it all comes out alright in the end.

For me and my boys, keeping on means jumping around the kitchen for The 10.00am Stretch, even when we (or, increasingly, I) don't particularly feel like it.  Because, even if the dog's claws are sharp, and my shoulder hurts, and we're feeling a bit meh, we're doing it together and it makes us feel better.  

It helps.

Monday 1 June 2020

Lockdown Laundry. Or, I'm Spartacus.

Husband and I are on our way to a socially-distanced drink with good friends when he glances down and tuts.

'My shorts are a bit mucky.  I need to get them washed.'

I blink.  This is too good.  'Get them washed?'

Husband realises his mistake and tries to backtrack.  'I only meant-'

'Get them washed?  You make it sound as if you're planning to send them out to the laundry.'

'I didn't-'

I'm laughing and so is he. 'That's very grand.  Are we people who send our washing out now?  To a laundry?  You do know that the laundry is standing next to you.  I'm the laundry.'

He's apologetic.  'Yes.  I know.  Sorry.   God, I'm not going to live this one down, am I?'

'I don't know what you mean...'

When we reach our friends, I am proud to say that I manage to keep the above conversation to myself for all of fifteen minutes.

For more posts on Lockdown Life, click here

Saturday 30 May 2020

Lockdown Creativity #5

So here we still are in Lockdown - sort of.  Being stuck in something of a perpetual Groundhog Day can get a bit wearing, so here are a few links to lift your spirits.

First off, Sam Neill has kept busy making a series of shorts from home.  Covering everything from learning the ukulele to feeling inadequate, this gentle humour is a great antidote to what can sometimes seem like the all-pervading grimness surrounding us.  Here he is with Helena Bonham Carter in Das Fone Hell:


Then, for something completely different, take a look at this.  An archeologist (Dr Jean-Loup Ringot) demonstrates a prehistoric lithophone.  Our ancestors would have listened to this music - astonishing.


And finally, in case you missed it, here's a link to the trailer for Taika Waititi's reading of James & The Giant Peach - with friends - to raise money for Partners in Health.  Friends, in this case, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Nick Kroll and Chris & Liam Hemsworth (I thought that might get your attention).


Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday 28 May 2020

Lockdown Admin

'Are you going to return that?'

Husband gestures at the cardboard sleeve on the table.  It contains a mobile phone case that was too large and which needs to go back to the vendor.

I nod, irked that he's reminding me.  I'll get round to it - sometime.  'Yes.  Of course.'

'Because if you don't do it soon, you won't be able to.'

'I know.  I've got until July to send it back - it'll be fine.'

'Well, just so you know....'

We stand in silence for a moment, then Husband grins.  'You hate me sometimes, don't you?'

After a pregnant pause I say 'Of course I don't.'

'But you paused.'

'No, I didn't.  I was just thinking.'  (Specifically, I was thinking; 'Oh it has to be returned?  No shit, Sherlock... ' but that doesn't seem a helpful thing to say out loud.  Particularly because I've already had it a week and haven't yet got around to it.)

'Thinking what?'

I turn away so he can't see me smirk.  'I was just wondering if you can read my mind.'

Husband considers this, perhaps trying out his - thankfully - non-existent telepathic skills.  'No.  No, I have to say I can't.'

'Huh.  Well, that's probably for the best.'

We snort companionably at the horrific thought of being able to read each others' minds, and the cardboard sleeve remains on the kitchen table.

Monday 25 May 2020

Lockdown Life Skills

I'm trying to take advantage of this prolonged period of Lockdown Togetherness with my kids (yay!) to teach them life-skills.  Nothing extraordinary, just how to make a bolognese sauce, pick things up from where they dropped them, putting the breakfast bowl inside the dishwasher instead of on the worktop above it.  So yesterday, after one of the boys had (on request) put a load of clothes in the wash...

Me: Can you empty the washing machine, please?

Boy: Me?

Me:  Yes, you.

Five minutes later...

Me:  You know you emptied the washing machine...

Boy:  Yes?

Me:  And now the damp clothes are sitting in the laundry basket on the floor in front of the machine?

Boy: Yes?

Me: Now, you need to actually hang the clothes up to dry.

Boy:  Me?

Me:  Yes, you.

Boy:  But I put them in the machine.

I look at him blankly.

Boy:  And I took them out.

Me: And...?

Boy:  And now they need to be hung up?

Me:  Who'd have thought it?

Boy:  But why?

Me: Well, because, if laundry isn't hung up, it won't dry properly.  So the clothes will smell.

Boy:  No, I meant, why me?

I look at Boy.  He looks at me.  Luckily - for him - I don't need to say out loud what I'm thinking.  (Although, if you're interested, it involves the total number of washes I have put on, taken out of the machine, hung up to dry, and then put away since he was born.  Yes, I have done that maths.  That's what Lockdown does to a person.)

He takes the clothes basket and and goes to hang up the laundry.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Lockdown Eating

Is it just me who's default reaction to the stress of the constant onslaught of bad news is to reach for the snacks?  For example;

The UK runs of out PPE : Oh, a second helping?  Don't mind if I do

Struggling to help my kids stay on top of their schoolwork :  That last piece of cake looks a bit lonely, doesn't it?

Infection rate climbs:   Yes, I'll have one of those biscuits please.  Oh, go on - make it two.  Dammit, pass me the packet.

Death rate continues to rise:   Pass the crisps.  And the dips.  Don't bother to put it into a bowl - we all know there's going to be nothing left in that pack in five minutes time.

US president decides to take unproven (and possibly fatal) medicine to guard against Covid19d, and to publicise that fact widely:  What the hell happened to that chocolate stash?  It was meant to be MINE.

UK's key government adviser blatantly flouts lockdown rules and appears to think he's not subject to the same restrictions as everyone else:  FFS.  No, those are not my teeth marks in that block of cheddar.

Like I said before folks; I'm only trying to fatten the curve...

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Lockdown house-elves

This is Dobby.  He is a house-elf.  (You may recognise him.)

This morning, Mum looked up from the sink where she was using her good shampoo to scrub the results of a nosebleed out of Boy #2's sheets, to ask Boy #1 to clear away his cereal bowl.  The house-elf was not working today, she said.

Boy #1 complied, muttering, before handing her a sweatshirt.

Since it was not Mum's sweatshirt, she handed it back.

Ha-ha!  said Boy #1.  I'm free!  You gave me clothing.

Mum and Dobby were confused, until they realised: Boy #1 thought she meant HE was the house-elf!

Oh, how Mum and Dobby laughed.  Dobby, perhaps, laughed harder than Mum.  He was not the house-elf, either.

Monday 18 May 2020

Having it all in Lockdown

There are a lot of mixed messages regarding Lockdown floating around in the UK right now.  Lockdown is over, but it's not.  You're allowed to see people, but only one at a time.  If you want to see both your parents you can, but only outside and one at a time; if you want to see both you should leave a ten minute gap in between.  We should wear masks - but only in confined spaces, not necessarily in all inside spaces, and they may not help much anyway - but they might, so you should.

Most people seem to be navigating their way through this host of confusion quite sensibly.  But if you look online - and take it seriously - there's a whole other mess of Lockdown advice, most of which seems expressly designed to make us feel bad about ourselves.

Lockdown, it seems, is a chance for us not to power-down and get through it, but rather the opposite.  Leave aside working from home and holding onto a job, we're supposed to be getting more sleep, more exercise, eating better, learning new skills (masterclasses, anyone?), and generally re-organising our lives for the better.  Our homes are supposed to be cleaner than they've ever been, the shelves tidier, the freezers organised, the annoying little rats' nests of change, clutter, keys and receipts tidied up, once and for all.  Our wardrobes are supposed to rationalised, though quite where we're supposed to take those clothes that have been outgrown etc, I'm not sure.  Oh - wait - they can be repurposed into NEW clothes, that you make on the sewing machine you've unearthed at the back of one of those cupboards you just organised.  Oh, and sourdough!  (Fabulous; sourdough starter - something else to kill.  I can't even keep a house plant alive...)

Well.  Bollocks to that lot, frankly.

If I can stay on top of my children's home learning schedules (their school is still running to time-table.  So that's fun), put a wash on and remember to take it out again, go through the surreal experience that is visiting the supermarket once a week or so, and occasionally remember to run a hoover around the place to avoid our needing to wade through drifts of spring-time moult from the dog, and still be talking to my family in complete sentences by bedtime, then the rest can go to hell.

That's my version of Lockdown having it all, anyway...

Friday 15 May 2020

Lockdown Ageing; Facebook, how very DARE you?

This morning Facebook decided to offer me the option to see their screen differently via a beta layout they are providing.   It was going to be easier for me to navigate, they said.  Things would be easier to find, they said.  The text would be BIGGER, they said.

I became instantly suspicious; were they making this offer because of my age?  At 53 am I now considered to be so old that I need the interweb to be made more accessible to me?  Has Lockdown impacted on me even more visibly than I previously thought?

It wouldn't be so bad if there was no merit in their suggestion, but I'm aware that the last couple of months have not been kind to me, physically.  There is the unavoidable fact of my jeans becoming noticeably tighter on the one day of the week I force myself into them - the result of too little exercise and too many fxck-it glasses of wine - and let's face it, I need a haircut.  Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but about a month ago.  Has fb been snooping and drawing it's own conclusions? 

If they have, there is the remote possibility that they may have heard me muttering about on-screen images getting harder to see.  They may have noticed I have increased the size of the font I use here, or that the best time of day for me to look at images on my phone is in the evening, just before I go to bed, when - crucially - I have taken my contact lenses out.   They may even - gasp - have seen the photo I sent to a WhatsApp group of girlfriends yesterday, showing my in-dire-need-of-attention too-long and increasingly-grey hair...

Obviously, I took a look at the new layout, and it does what it says on the tin.  Bigger text.  A simpler layout.  Easier to navigate.  You know, accessible.

But none of the above is of any interest to me because I am not old.  I have no need of this new dashboard.  I have, therefore, declined their offer and reverted to Facebook Classic (the one that has smaller text and a more complicated layout.  No, of course it isn't only because of the principle of the thing). 

Even though, deep down, I suspect I have cut off my nose to spite my own face.

'Rage, rage, against the dying of the light' and all that...

Thursday 14 May 2020

Lockdown Creativity #4

It's approaching the end of Lockdown Week 8 in the UK.  The restrictions here are easing, a little obscurely perhaps, but distance learning continues for now.  Which brings me straight to my first suggestion for a hit of Lockdown Creativity, and the reason why I'm hitting publish on this post on a Thursday rather than a Friday (as over the last three weeks).

(Note: if you can't see the embedded videos, I've attached a link at the bottom of each paragraph)

The English National Ballet have put together a temporary and free programme of online masterclasses (click here to access those) which in themselves - if dance is your thing - are worth checking out.   However, the reason I'm publishing this week's Lockdown Creativity list a day early is so that if you have the time and inclination, you can check out their Wednesday Watch Party before it is taken offline tomorrow.  Each week they are putting a performance from their archives online where it can be viewed for free for 48 hours.  This week it's the strange, other-worldly and ethereal 'Fantastic Beings'.  Well worth a watch, and if you miss this week's don't worry - there should be another performance available next Wednesday.

For something a little less highbrow, take a look at Andrew Cottar's zoom meeting with his two labradors.  If you've not already come across them Olive & Mabel have become Lockdown internet stars since this all started, due mainly to Andrew's inspired racing commentary of his dogs' behaviours.  This one's a little different, but still hilarious.

Finally, three weeks ago I mentioned ITV's series of 4 short plays 'Isolation Stories' and how much I was looking forward to them.  Whilst they can't (yet) be viewed online, if you're interested in the challenges presented by producing new tv content during Lockdown, here's a fascinating insight into that from the BFI, also filmed in isolation.  Artists commenting on art, as art imitates life...

Monday 11 May 2020

Lockdown Haircuts...

It may be that you are one of those organised people who, when Lockdown started to loom on the not-so distant horizon, organised hair cuts for everybody in their family.  

I am not that person.

Or, it may well be that you already owned - or placed an early order for delivery of - haircutting scissors and clippers, to do the job yourself.  Guess what? I'm not that person either.  

You may, instead, be someone who has an admirably relaxed attitude to the whole Lockdown Hair issue, and has shelved it until the world returns to some kind of normal.  What's a little long hair, after all?  But no, that's not me.

I am, instead, the person who didn't think about haircuts at all before Lockdown started, and then continued not to think about them for another couple of weeks after that.  Although the odd  'Boy #2's hair is looking quite interesting', thought crossed my mind there was so much to think about with home-school etc it took yet more time before I bit the bullet and tried to find now almost-impossible-to-get hairclippers online.  Throw in long delays to promised delivery dates, cancellations and reorders, and by the time they arrived the men in my life had begun to look 1970's throwbacks - or the hair-bear bunch.

Thank the lord, the hair clippers finally arrived on Friday.  

Boy #1 was first to the slaughter.  Except, it wasn't - a slaughter, that is.  I had decided that some prep would be a good idea and thanks to my bloggy mate Toni Hargis (aka Expat Mum), I found Nevsy Zee on YouTube.  I can recommend taking a look (not a promotion, I promise) since as a result I didn't make too much of a hash of Boy #1's hair when we tackled it yesterday.  Not saying that anyone should pay me for my efforts, mind you - he looks a little bouffant around the edges - but still.

Unfortunately that led to an excess of confidence - for me, Boy #1, and my next victim.  Our learnings from this experience are set out below, for the benefit of all...

  • Whatever your husband and son say, it is not a good idea to give your 16 year old a set of hair clippers and let him 'have a go' on his father's head. (Actually, I suspect that you already knew that). 
  • Once you wrest back control of the clippers to try and repair the damage, be aware that for some reason the less hair a person has, the more difficult it is to give them a presentable haircut.  (Just saying).
  • Fun fact: if a person has greying temples and you cut their hair really short (perhaps as requested or perhaps - ahem - by mistake) then it looks like they have bald spots on that part of their head.
  • Finally, it is important to always - ALWAYS - check the length setting on a set of clippers.  This will ensure that when you pick them up again after a fit of panicked hysterical laughter at the previously-mentioned looks-like-bald-spots, the setting is the same as it was before you put it down.  Otherwise you may end up using a shorter setting, and giving them actual bald spots where their hair is a different colour, where this misfortune shows up even more clearly.
You're welcome.

(Needless to say, Boy #2 has passed on the home haircut.  Smart boy).

Friday 8 May 2020

Lockdown Creativity #3

Here in the UK we're approaching the end of Week 7 of Lockdown.  It looks as if we may be reaching the end of the beginning of the Stay At Home orders, but that doesn't mean life will return to a normal we recognise anytime soon.

To keep our minds off that, here are a few more wonderful examples of creativity from home.

Let's start with this: 32 prima ballerinas from 22 dance companies in 14 countries performing 'Le Cygne' (from Swan Lake) to music by Camille Saint-Saens, in support of Swans For Relief.  This was organised by Misty Copeland, and the cello is played by Wade Davis.  Transcendent.  (Click the link below the video on Youtube or here, to donate to the charity at GoFundMe)

Then, if you are a fan of Catherine Tate, David Tennant, or remember Lauren's classroom antics from *ahem* years ago, this from Comic Relief's Big Night In will make you laugh out loud.

And finally, you may remember that a couple of weeks ago I linked to a reading of the Ancient Mariner as part of the Big Read.  It's been updated with further verses read by yet more luminaries (Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, Lemn Sissay, and Neil Tennant included) since then.  Take a listen, it's magical.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Lockdown; too many hats and fattening the curves

Yesterday, Husband asked me to do a very simple financial task.  No problem, I thought.  Should take me 15 minutes, tops.

When I sat down to do it however, it seemed overwhelming.  The information I needed wasn't where it should have been, and the prospect of going through lists of emails was enough to push me to the brink of tears.  Why, I wondered, was this easy job so bloody difficult?  It shouldn't be; I should have breezed through it - but I couldn't face it.

I shut my laptop in disgust and went outside to try and gather my thoughts.  As I did so my phone rang; a friend was calling in to check on me, and she couldn't have done so at a better time.  She asked if I was OK and for a change I gave the real answer: not really.

As I explained why I suddenly realised that it wasn't about the poxy task.  What had pushed me to the brink were some of the same issues many parents are facing in Lockdown, starting with - but not limited to - home-schooling recalcitrant teens.  Sounds quite straight-forward, doesn't it?  But that requires a host of skills over and above those we would normally need if our children were in full-time education: teacher (I knew that was a difficult job but my god...), internet provider, tech expert, interpreter, police officer, authoritative parent, design & technology expert, 10.00am pt instructor.

Then there are the other, non-school based tasks that have become important during isolation...

Mediator.  Between my sons.  Between my sons and their father.  Between my sons and their teachers.  Between the dog and the cats next door.

Cheerleader.  Cheerer-upper, putter-on of a brave face.

Chief cook, bottle-washer, organiser of shopping lists, stock checker & rotator.

Laundry supervisor.  Domestic engineer & household tasks time-tabler.

And, finally, let's not forget, nutrition expert - though not for right now; it's more of a planning role at present.  I mean, diet in Lockdown?  Take a hike - this is hard enough already.  So whilst some are getting through this situation fuelled by wine, gin, beer, vodka and so on, I personally have chosen chocolate.  Consequently once this is all over, if I don't want to have to go out and buy and entire new set of clothes, I will also be trying to flatten the curves I have been working so hard on fattening over the Lockdown period.

It could take a while.

For more Lockdown musings, check here

Friday 1 May 2020

Lockdown Creativity #2

Creativity is still hard to come by in this house.  I'm spending lots of time 'working' at the kitchen table in an effort to ensure my sons are keeping to their timetables, which in effect - since my laptop screen faces away from theirs - means that in reality I'm spending way too much time falling down internet rabbit holes.

There are some benefits to that though; here is another dose of people being way more creative with the lockdown restrictions than I am.


Let's start with Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski (The Good Fight, Mamma Mia) and Audra McDonald slaying Stephen Sondheim's Ladies Who Lunch - all the while observing social distancing rules. 

I'm dating myself here, but Crowded House's 'Don't Dream It's Over' takes me back 33 years in an instant.  They still sound amazing; here's a link to the band performing a live lockdown version for the 'Music From the Front Line' benefit concert in Australia.

Then, this is - well, enlightening.  Watch if you have a spare 12 minutes and if, like me, you grew up thinking slapping on foundation, eyeshadow, mascara, blusher and lipstick was a bit of an effort.  And especially watch if you don't have daughters to educate you otherwise.  Plus, Hamdeyy gets her male friends to give the commentary, and that in itself is worth a watch.

And finally, something to look forward to: filming has just begun of a lockdown version of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads.  I can't wait.  Full details here.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Lockdown priorities

Me to my family as I get ready to take the dog for a walk yesterday:  'It's tipping down.  Anyone seen the umbrella?

Husband: 'By the front door.'

Me: 'No, not that one - it's way too big.  The other one.'

Boy #1: 'By the back door.'

Me: 'No, that's the yellow one.'

Family: ?

Me: 'I don't like the yellow one.  It's square.  And it's got an estate agent's name on it.  And it's yellow, for pete's sake.  I mean the other one.'

Boy #2: 'You mean the medium-sized blue one?'

Me: 'Yes!   My favourite.  Not too big, not too small.  Sturdy, reliable. Where is it?'

Boy #2: 'No idea.'

I sigh, and leave my nonplussed family rolling their eyes as I take the dog for a walk whilst sheltering underneath a bright yellow square umbrella.  I look like a cross between an estate agent and someone who - other than for the odd Zoom call (oh, happy day!) hasn't had to make themselves presentable in 5 weeks.  Which, in fact, I am.

Later that day - after I spend an hour hunting fruitlessly for the missing umbrella - the family WhatsApp lights up.

Dad: 'Anybody claim this superior little number?'  

His message is accompanied by a photo of the missing umbrella.  MY umbrella.  My FAVOURITE umbrella.

I call to claim my prize - at least in theory, since there's no way to collect it right now.

Mum: 'Oh, it's yours, is it?  It's very good.'

Me: 'Wait, you used it?'  (NOOOOOOOOOO!)  'Doesn't Dad have that excellent one Sis bought him a couple of years ago?

Mum:  'Well, yes.  But he doesn't like to share that one.  Says it's too good.'

I bet he does.  

Mum:   'I like this one, though.  Are you sure you want it back?'

Me:  'I do, sorry.  But don't worry; I've got another you can have instead.  Just as good.  And it's really easy to see, which is helpful.  I'll put it to one side so it's ready when we're allowed to come down there.'

The yellow umbrella is now in the boot of the car, waiting for when we can finally visit.  The blue one is my favourite, after all...

Is it possible that Lockdown is getting to me?

Sunday 26 April 2020

Lockdown Moment of Calm

It's all a bit crap, right now.  So I thought I would post this moment of calm, to lift the spirits - birdsong, woodland, with added dog crashing through wild garlic just for fun.  Turn the sound up for maximum effect.


Friday 24 April 2020

Lockdown Creativity

Remember when Lockdown started, a zillion years ago, and everybody was like 'oh, I'm going to be SO productive' - myself included? 

I had visions of boxes first taped up 10 years ago and which stayed that way for 3 moves (2 of them international) finally being unearthed and disposed of.  Then, the garden was going to look lovely.  I thought maybe I might bake some bread.  And of course I was going to get back to The Great Work - the one that's been sitting in a folder since last July, temporarily shelved due to, in no particular order; school holidays, renovations, recalcitrant children, travel, sickness and the interference of every-day life.

Well.  The garden does look rather lovely, but that's because it's spring rather than anything I've done to it. As for the rest?  Not so much.  My creativity and productivity appear to have fallen off the edge of a cliff, lost in a fog of homeschooling, constant low-level worry about what the future holds (on a macro and micro scale), menu-planning, and debating when it's acceptable to have the first quarantini of the day...

But there are others out there who seem less affected than me and who - luckily for the rest of us - have embraced the creative opportunities this situation presents.  I thought I would list a few of them here, in case you're interested. 

https://www.ancientmarinerbigread.com/readings :  The Ancient Mariner, split into sections and read by such luminaries as Jeremy Irons, Jeanette Winterson, Hilary Mantel, Willem Dafoe - the list goes on.  What a way to breathe life and relevance into this extraordinary poem.

Isolation Stories on ITV from 4th May on.  Read this Guardian piece to see how a series can be conceived and filmed in lockdown - completely looking forward to this one.

Then, this wondrous piece from the dancers at L'Opera de Paris will lift your heart

And finally, this.  Because, dancing cockatoos.

You're welcome.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Lockdown Gardening

I am not a natural gardener.  Neither am I an enthusiastic one; the sheer frustration of spending time weeding, clipping, mowing or pruning only to find just a few days later that you have to do it all again is not for me.  I like my hard labour to have long-lasting results, not just a couple of days of smug satisfaction whilst looking out on a well-ordered flower bed.

Generally, my approach to keeping our garden reasonably presentable is hit and run; if I find myself with both time and inclination then I may pull out the messiest looking weeds or cut back the rose that is threatening to obscure the kitchen window, but other than that I treat our outside space with benign disinterest.  Our better-organised neighbours probably hate it.  That said, I've been spending more time outside recently so have been paying more attention to what's going on out there...

This morning, as I look out at the pouring rain and contemplate just how wet the Dog and I are going to get when we venture out, I find myself - foolishly - thinking out loud.

'You know, the moss on the lawn isn't as bad as I thought.'

Husband breaks off from his ceaseless perusal of various news streams.  'How do you mean?'

'Well, you can see it from up here (I'm standing at our bedroom window), but as far as I can tell, the people either side of us - and either side of them - have it far worse.'


'Although D, at the far end - his lawn is practically perfect.'

'Of course it is.  But D's a maniac in the garden.'

There's a pause whilst we both consider the madness of being emotionally invested in one's garden.  Then;

'Does it make you feel like you've won, then?  That we've got less moss?'

I'm horrified.  'No!  Of course not! Gardening shouldn't be a competition.  It's just, you know...'

'That you're happy we've got less moss.'


'Because you've won.'

Goddamit, he's right.

Monday 13 April 2020

Lockdown conversations

It's amazing how attractive a trip to the local Sainsbury's becomes when the alternative is these four walls, isn't it?  Husband and I have taken to divvying up trips to the supermarket as a sort of illicit treat, now that it's our only way to get further from the house than the couple of circular miles we cover on dog walks

It's been great having him at home for such an extended period of time, but Husband's more frequent than usual assumption of Lockdown Hunter Gatherer duties has had some adverse effects.  Household snackage has gone up, mainly due to the fact that crisps and dips are being purchased at higher frequency than usual.  The cost of our shopping has increased (see previous note about snackage). The fridge was deemed to be ineffeciently filled, so has been 'reorganised'.  Not emptied out and cleaned, you understand; just reorganised (mainly to make space for beer). There have been suggestions made that the food in the storeage cupboard be itemised on a spreadsheet. (Be my guest, I said.  It hasn't happened yet, for some reason).  And a certain level of executive oversight on the contents of said fridge has been in evidence.

I give you Exhibit #1, m'lud.

Husband, standing in front the fridge, sighs disapprovingly: 'Look at this.'

Me:  'Look at what?'

Husband:  'These grapes.'

I look.  'They seem fine to me.'

He tuts.  'No.  Look there; the best before date.  It was yesterday.'

Me:  'Well, they are in the fridge, so... I'm not that bothered.'

Husband: 'But that's why they are at the front of the shelf - so we could see the date.  So that they could be taken out of the fridge and used.'

Me:  'Oh.  I see.  You're right, of course.  If only there was someone other than me who could open the fridge, check the date and take them out so they could be eaten.'

Reader, we left it there.

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Observations on Lockdown living

# 1

The morning after last week's post, when I asked for wine to be sent to mitigate the 'Husband wfh* situation', I asked my beloved what his plans were for the day.

'I'm going to the wine shop.  I will be buying all the wine.'

Reader, I wasn't sure whether to be relieved or offended - especially since he doesn't read this blog and so must have decided without prompting from me that this would be a wise course of action...


I walked the dog this morning and when I got back home went to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea, only to find Husband had commandeered it to make a Very Important Phone Call.

He ssshhh'd me as I entered the room.

I raised my eyebrows as I thought; if only there were other places he could make that call.  Somewhere low-traffic, out of the way.  Somewhere without the fridge, and the kettle, and the mugs and teabags.  Somewhere like, oh I don't know - a home office.  Or a sitting room.  Or a bedroom.

Oh - wait...

* wfh - working from home

Friday 13 March 2020

WFH - WTF? (When Lockdown gets real)

As a result of Covid 19 my husband, the inveterate traveller, is being forced to work from home (wfh) for at least the next three weeks.

Send wine.

We've been here before, for longer than that. One of the best things about writing a blog is that you can search up a word on your old posts and be transported back in time - my own personal Tardis.  (Boy #2 and I are currently working our way through the back catalogue of 'Dr Who'.  Matt Smith is the current doctor - a personal high point for me).  Anyway, I managed to find a post I wrote back in 2008 when my husband was made redundant from the bank he worked for.  He was wfh home for around 4 months - on and off - and it prompted this observation:  

We've already had the arguments over my incorrect stacking of the dishwasher. I am ineffecient, apparantly. Are the plates clean? I ask. That's not the point, I'm told. I bite my tongue. (I am doing a lot of that recently). We reach a compromise: I won't mention the un-emptied gym bag or the coffee cups left around the place, he mustn't criticise the way I stack the blasted dishwasher.

That was two weeks into his 2008 wfh experience.  Only two weeks.

Like I said; send wine.  Send ALL the wine.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

A Different Kind of Bank

The fact that 14,000,000 people across the UK are living in poverty, and that of that number 4,500,000 are children, is an uncomfortable truth that many of us choose not to dwell on for long.  It's hard to imagine; a fifth of the UK's population fall into that bracket.  One in five.

Juggling the responsibilities of every day life and it's resultant costs - utilities, rent, phone bills, clothing - mean that many of these families are unable to get by without the help of food banks.  Put food in the fridge and on the table, or put something towards the long overdue bills?  It's a balancing act, and without the food banks' support, many people would not have enough to feed their families.  In some case, even with their support, there is not enough.  The prospect of the forthcoming school holidays is not a welcome one; without breakfast clubs and school lunches children often go hungry.

In the current environment food banks need our support more than ever - and yet donations have decreased substantially since Covid 19 started to make an impact.

If you can afford it, however - and it's doesn't have to cost a lot - it's not hard to help out.  The next time you go to the supermarket stick a few extra items in your basket and drop them off at the trolley on the other side of the checkouts.  Ideally, check in with your local foodbank before you go to see what they need (click here to find the one nearest to you).  Interestingly, the list doesn't seem to change that much from one week to the next, so if you forget to check before you can just go with what you've bought before.  For example, here's a shopping list from my local food bank.  It's remained more or less the same for the last few weeks.

You don't have to spend a fortune; even a few items will make a difference, especially now when food banks are running perilously low on stocks (click for a link to a Guardian article giving more details).  Unsurprisingly perhaps, many people are so distracted by world events that buying a couple of extra tins of sweetcorn or tomatoes is the last thing on their minds, but if you can find the time and the impetus to do so, you could make all the difference.

Here are couple of useful links if you would like to know more about how to help: