Archive for February, 2009

Pop goes the Band

February 25, 2009

OK I admit it.  I watched this on Living this week.  Well, there was a space left in my viewing schedule thanks to Lipstick Jungle having finished.

Even if you didn’t watch it you can’t (unless you don’t have Sky) have missed the adverts.  Dollar – David van Day and Theresa Bazar, 51 and 53 respectively, having a make over before they did a small reunion gig in front of half a dozen close friends and weirdly devoted fans.   They showed them both stripped to their undies and no make up and, to be honest, I thought both of them looked quite good.  Yes poor Theresa had some cracking bags under her eyes but she was still slim and pretty and David’s middle age spread was not too far out of control. 

David got a face lift and a personal trainer.  The face lift looked really sore and I think his ultimate weight loss of a stone had nothing to do with the personal trainer but the fact he must have felt too ill to eat.  Teresa got about 300 jabs of botox (administered by a woman the bottom half of whose face didn’t move AT ALL so that should have given her the hint to run away fast) and was horribly bruised for weeks afterwards.   Both looked better post procedure, both invasive and non invasive, but only in a “had a couple of good nights’ sleep” kind of way.   When they finally went on stage to mime their way through some of their hits it had to be said they did look much better than they had in the before shots but this was primarily because of the following:

1.  They’d had good hair cuts and David had ditched the dodgy blonde high lights.

2.  They had clothes so we couldn’t see their knobbly and wobbly bits anymore.

3.  They had make up on.

4.  The lights were dimmed.

Superwomen – The lesson I have taken from this program  is don’t bother with a face lift, get yourself a good hair cut and colour and some decent control pants instead and with the lights turned down a bit  you’ll look quite a bit fresher.  That said, I’ll be watching again next week.  Think it’s Bucks Fizz .   Can’t wait.

Shirley Conran’s Tips for Working Women

February 23, 2009

For those of you who did not see it in the Sunday Times yesterday, here are the top tips of the original Superwoman, Shirley Conran, for working women:

  • Be realistic.  A woman can have it all but probably not all at once.
  • Dump feelings of guilt about not being at home all the time.  Remember you are dumping them to protect your psychological health, your spouse or boyfrined – if you have one – and any children.
  • One- parent mothers need to remember that no man – however wonderful – can replace a child’s father so help it to see as much as possible of his or her father, and have a bit more time to yourself, too.
  • Try to be a bit healthier than you are at the moment.  Any higher aim is unrealistic.
  • Plan on paper.  Keep a diary and plan your weekends and evenings as carefully as you do your weekdays.  Use an index card to plan your day, with not more than three things to do and three telephone calls to make.  If you add something, cross something else off.  List everything that needs doing and delegate all except five important items.
  • Don’t take on too much.  If you do, get out of it firmly.  Just say no and keep saying no.
  • My gran told me that you can’t get a quart out of a pint pot and this is the key to self-management.  Things haven’t changed.  To get through life you need a fast, adaptable sense of priorities to achieve your particular work-life balance. 

There’s a lot of good advice here.  I particularly like the bit about trying to be a bit healthier but that any higher aim is unrealistic and that women can have it all, just not all at once.  However, what Superwoman plans her day (on paper!) around only three things to do and three phone calls to make and is in a position to delegate?  Only three things to do is a day off for most of us, particularly as the only delegation most of us can do is to tell the kids to pick up their toys and their other halves to pick up their dirty socks.  Still, for being one of the first to tell the world that it is possible to have a career and children and for her OBE for services to equality, we salute you Shirl.

Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and God

February 20, 2009

In the run up to Christmas 2008 my son (aged 10) told me that some of the children in his class had been saying there’s no such thing as Santa but, he said, reassuringly patting my knee, “I don’t take any notice of them.  I believe in Father Christmas.   And the Tooth Fairy.   And God.”  

He hung up his stocking on Christmas Eve with every bit as much expectation as his four year old sister and when a tooth came out on New Year’s Eve it  confidently went under his pillow.   (And thankfully despite rather a lot of  champagne and a banging head I woke up at about 5am and foggily remembered to remove it and shove some money under instead.)   In all honesty I think by now he has serious doubts about the existence of either of these benevolent beings who come unseen in the middle of night to leave nice things for children but he’s canny enough to keep on believing just in case if he stops the nice things might stop too.   However, I don’t think there’s much chance he’ll make it to Christmas 2009 and the ripe old age of 11 still believing in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy.   

So how do I deal with the issue of God?  As far as my son is concerned they come as a threesome – Santa, Fairy and God – who all look out for him.   When he was old enough to realise that everyone he loves will die some day and as a result got very upset he worked out for himself a theory about heaven that comforted him.  In his version heaven is one big party, with bunting  and pop and lots of cheesy wotsits, where everyone  he loves will go when they die and become young again  and wait for him to join the party when his turn comes.    “I’ll ride up on a cloud and see everyone there won’t I Mum?”  he asks.  “Gran and Grandad and you and Dad and Elvis Presley.”   I like this idea so much – can hear the party poppers going off and all the cheers as he steps off his cloud and I get to see him again-  that I can’t bring myself to tell him that many people, myself included,  don’t belive in God anymore than they do in Santa and the Tooth Fairy.    He’s 10 and still a bit afraid of the dark and he believes in everlasting life and frankly I wish I did too.  So when the time finally comes and he asks me the direct question whether Santa and the Tooth Fairy exist I will tell him “No” but when he asks me the same question about  God I’ll tell him that no one knows for sure and that he needs to make up his own mind on that one.

Cakes in the kitchen again

February 18, 2009

Posting this one again because it’s funny and because it’s the birthday of one of our Supermen and he bought us a lot of danish pastries which for  £3.49 for 12 from Costco were pretty good.

Here at Superwoman Towers we get a lot of cake.  Celebrating your birthday by bringing cake into the office is a tradition honoured in offices all across the country and at Superwoman Towers we are delighted that it happens just about every other week.  Every Superwoman’s heart is gladdened by seeing an e-mail slide sweetly into her inbox announcing that there are “Cakes in the Kitchen”

Over the years the following set of rules, never spoken out loud but rigorously followed, has developed at Superwoman Towers on the etiquette of Cakes in the Kitchen.

1.  If you love us make sure the cake is home made.  You don’t have to bake it yourself although we’ll be impressed if you do.  Every Superwoman should be a skilled delegator and have the number of a good caterer saved in her mobile phone that will not only bake the cake but deliver it too.
2.  If it can’t be home made then go for M &S or Waitrose or any of those gourmet supermarket brands.  You know the ones – with the silver and black packaging.  We like all of those.
3.  Bumper packs of value jam doughnuts not so much.  But we’ll eat them of course, especially come 4pm which is the time we used to get home from school and are all centrally programmed to need something sweet to eat.
4.  Buying fruit instead of cake because it’s a healthier option is not allowed.  Ever.  If you insist, you can buy fruit as well as cake but understand that the fruit won’t get eaten until the cake has run out.
5.  Often men say they don’t eat cake.  Often this is a lie.  Men who do eat cake cut slices the equivalent of three days of Weight Watchers points.  Bear this in mind when considering quantities required.
6.  Cakes must not arrive in the kitchen anonymously and must always be announced with an e-mail headed Cakes in the Kitchen.  Corny jokes or clichéd comments about being 21 again or 42 years young or another year rolling by are welcomed.  However, the person who always hears time’s winged chariot hurrying near needs to seize the day a bit more.
7.  When you collect your cake from the kitchen you must do a little skip on your way back to your desk as if you never eat cake and it is a rare and wonderful treat.  You must also murmur appreciatively while you eat it.
8.  In offices of less than 50 people, Cakes in the Kitchen is an office wide event and cakes must be delivered to every floor in the office.  Beyond 50 people it is permissible to confine Cakes in the Kitchen to your particular department.
9.  Food items may also be placed in the kitchen to mark your return from holiday.  The rules for such food items are not as rigid but ideally they should have some connection with your holiday destination such as Canadian Maple Syrup Cookies, Turkish Delight or Spanish Turron.   However, giant Toblerone bars from the airport are also acceptable.
10.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that Cakes in the Kitchen contain no calories.  Thus you may bring in left over cake from other events such as Christmas or your child’s birthday party and they will be eaten gratefully, collectively and without a trace of guilt.

Putting things in perspective

February 16, 2009

Since my husband became unemployed at the beginning of February I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t worried about our finances.    I earn a good salary but so did he and when you have two salaries coming in well you spend them both don’t you?  But for families with only one breadwinner the impact of losing that job is terrible.   Every day we hear of more job losses (like the announcement today that 850 jobs are to go at the Mini car factory in Cowley) and with each job gone the whole of the nation becomes poorer because people affected by redundancy (and that includes people who are not yet facing redundancy but fear they might at some stage) stop buying sofas and tellys and DVDs and pretty much everything else that is non essential meaning those businesses also lose sales leading ultimately to further job losses.    This means that we are all of us in a pretty miserable place at the moment.

However, three stories in the news this week have hammered home to me that misery is a relative thing.   I read the account in Saturday’s Western Mail by Neil Bennett (former deputy editor of the Western Mail and now a photo-journalist in Melbourne) of his assignment to one of the communities destroyed by the bush fires and the requests from the survivors not just for food and blankets but for men’s suits – dark men’s suits to be worn at the funerals – and this detail, this small sad detail, made me cry for the victims more than the telly coverage I’d seen.   We’d had dinner with Australian friends earlier in the week and I’d wondered why so many people had stayed to fight the fires because here we would have grabbed our kids and our pets and possibly the digital camera and got out as fast as we could.  It was explained to me that Australians routinely cope with bush fires and are trained from an early age to clear their gutters and the areas around their houses of vegetation,  dampen their roofs,  stamp out any embers and sit it out.  It was the size and ferocity of these fires that caught people out not the fact that they happened.   

The story of the Websters was equally upsetting – their three young children were taken into care three years ago following concerns that their parents had injured one of them and despite the fact that it has now been shown that the injuries may have resulted from a medical condition the children are to remain with their adoptive parents.  How utterly tragic is that situation for all involved – the natural parents, the adoptive ones and the children themselves – huge upset and hurt whichever way you turn. 

And finally there was Jade Goody.  This woman has lived her life so much in the public eye that you feel you know her even though you don’t.  And to hear that her cancer has become terminal and that she is to wed her fiance in a few weeks time in what is probably a publicity stunt but who cares if it raises money to finance her sons’ future is also very distressing. 

Sorry everyone I know it’s Monday and you could probably have done with a cheerier blog.   But if life has dealt you the redundancy card those stories do put everything in perspective don’t they?  And if you’ve got some enforced time off then be glad of it, spend some time with your family and friends and do whatever thing has been on your personal to do list for ages even if it is only getting out for a walk in the fresh air every day instead of being cooped up at work.   To quote Cat Stevens as my sister often does, doing the funny little dance she always does when she says it “We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while. “

I’m lovin’ Angels

February 13, 2009

Nothing gets people talking like giant public art.    The  recently announced giant white horse sculpture to be built at Ebbsfleet Kent, 50 times real size,  higher than Nelson’s column and dubbed the Angel of the South, has divided opinion.    You either love it or hate it.  The same goes for the 127 illuminated talking buoys to be moored in the River Teifi in Cardigan, to be called Turbulence.  Half the population of Cardigan has petitioned against their installation. 

Twas ever thus.  Built more than 10 years ago people didn’t like the Angel of the North either but now it is one of the most recognised landmarks in Britain and a trip to the North East is not complete without a pilgrimage to the Angel which is on a blowy hill top just off the A1 with not much else around it.    I’ve been and it’s breathtaking – well worth the trip.  Perhaps it’s just tall constructions the public don’t like.  In 1887 when the Eiffel Tower was built people kicked up a fuss about that too referring to it as  “this truly tragic street lamp” and “giant ungainly skeleton” but the critics shut up when in 1889 the tower received two million visitors.    Eiffel also had a hand in the construction of the Statue of Liberty, built in France and shipped to America in 1885.    Americans moaned a lot about her, complaining about her cost and I imagine when a 305 foot giant green woman popped up in New York Harbour she divided opinion too but five million people a year go visit her. 

It seems there is a cycle to these things.   People start off hating them, then  over time grow to love them and eventually millions of people go visit them.   Which is one of the reasons why I think we need an Angel of Cardiff.  I’ve even identified a good spot – that grassy mound off the link road near the turn off to Asda.   Let’s stick a big piece of modern art there – it would complement the Millennium Stadium, the Millennium Centre and the new Cardiff City stadium something lovely.    But it’s got to be  different and innovative and indicative of modern day Cardiff so please no giant sheep, harps, daffodils, rugby balls or leeks and definitely no reference to Millennium or St David’s.  And then we’ve got to think of a dedication to equal Antony Gormley’s wonderful quote for his beautiful Angel of the North:

“People are always asking me why an angel.  The only response I can give is that no-one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them.  The angel has three functions – firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for 200 years, secondly to grasp hold of the future expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age and lastly as a focus for our hopes and fears.”

On second thoughts, nothing could equal that.  Perhaps we should just ask Antony Gormley to build us another Angel for Cardiff exactly like the first one only  a bit bigger.  Then we can call her Superangel.

Scouts v Girl Guides

February 11, 2009

When I was growing up back in the seventies, my father (a leftie graduate of the LSE) refused to allow me to join the Brownies or to read Enid Blyton on the basis that they both fostered sterotypical attitudes towards women and he wanted me to grow up believing I could do anything a boy could do, not hang around at home keeping the place tidy and baking cake.  Furthermore I would have to make a pledge to God and the Queen neither of which he was fussed about.  My mother supported him on the Brownies issue but being more concerned that I should develop a love of reading than she was of the risk I might turn into Ann from the Famous Five she over ruled him on the Enid Blyton front and I read my way through the entire range.  My heart’s desire was to go to boarding school, play Lacrosse and have a tuck box in which to stash food for midnight feasts. 

Eventually I grew out of Enid Blyton but a life long love of reading had been established.  My mother’s mission was accomplished.  My Dad’s too, since I have never been in doubt that I can do anything a boy can do (sperm production and weeing standing up excepted).  However, despite the complete absence of Baden Powell in my childhood,  my son joined Beaver Scouts the minute he turned six, loved it from the start and, four years on , Scouting is definitely his favourite activity by a long chalk.  

Times have changed a bit since my childhood.   Girls go to Scouts now for a start and my son’s mixed sex pack is run almost entirely by women.  They do lots of physical activities and earn badges but they also make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and decorate biscuits for Valentine’s Day.   They still promise to do their duty to God (or to Allah if Muslim) and to the Queen but they also promise to do their best and to help people which are the sorts of promise society needs.  Boys and girls are taught they can each do whatever the other can and if boys want to bake cake and girls want to tie knots then good for them.  Best of all they get to go on camping weekends from which my son returns sodden, starving and exhausted but having had the “best time of his life, ever”.  I run him a deep hot bath (he will usually only ever have a shower) and I sit with him while he soaks and tells me about the fun things he did, the midnight feasts they had and how Ellen is the fastest runner but Callum is the best at hopscotch.    Scouting is  helping teach my son that people are different but equal.  The only downside to it is that having never been to Brownies, I am terrible at sewing on his badges.

The state of our floors

February 9, 2009

I’m not talking about kitchen floors here, you understand, but pelvic ones.    Yess, this one’s about stress incontinence.

Last summer we went to stay for the weekend with friends who had a large trampoline in their garden.  It had been years since I’d had a go on a trampoline and like the kids I couldn’t wait to get up on it and have a bit of a bounce.  Only when I bounced I got a bit more than I bargained for.  Horrified, I scurried off the trampoline.   It wasn’t until much later that evening and after two big glasses of wine that I plucked up enough courage to timidly ask the hostess  “You know the trampoline?  How is it for you when you go on it?”   She laughed.   “Oh did you pee yourself a little?  Don’t worry.  Everyone does!”

Only I did worry, quite a lot.  Back home I googled stress incontinence.  Yet another thing for Superwomen to contend with, it’s all down to the pelvic floor muscles that support your bladder getting weakened by child birth or because we are getting older or fatter.  1 in 5 women over the age of 40 suffers from it.   For many women it doesn’t take something as drastic as trampolining to cause it – a cough or a sneeze will do.    To avoid stress incontinence we should do pelvic floor exercises or Kegels,  involving squeezing together the muscles that stop the flow of urine.   These are called “pull ups”  and we should do both slow and fast ones at least three times a day for at least five minutes a time.   I also discovered that there are special pelvic toners you can buy to help you but on the basis that these cost around £30 and look rather rude (put it like this – you can buy a discreet carry bag for your pelvic toner.  Enough said)  I opted for doing the pull ups on my own.

I tried to do them whenever I was stuck at traffic lights.  Sometimes I forgot but after a while it became second nature.  Now whenever I see a red light I immediately start Pavlovian clenching.  The only downside is that when I do them my eyebrows shoot up and down in time with the pull ups and my kids ask me if I’m feeling OK.   A few months later,   we went to visit our friends with the trampoline again and I insisted I had a go on it (even though it was drizzling a bit) and  – whey hey – the pull ups had worked.  I wasn’t about to try a Fosby Flop or anything but a decent dry bounce had been achieved.   Arthur Kegel (who is accredited as being the inventor of pelvic floor exercises although I bet there was a woman involved somewhere in the background) would be proud of me. 

One thing I have noticed.  Whenever I mention pelvic floor exercises to any woman aged over 30 she immediately starts looking distracted.   “You’re doing them right now, aren’t you?” I ask.  “Huh huh”, they nod, a look of concentration on their faces.    So far though I’m the only one I know of  whose eyebrows go up and down.    Look out for me at traffic lights.

Snow and low

February 6, 2009

Thank credit crunchie it’s Friday.  Three days of cancelled school (due to an amount of snow that Canadians would consider “a light dusting”) is enough to drive any Superwoman to distraction including those stranded at home with the kids and those left holding the fort in the office.   Having said that, when you first pulled back the curtains and saw that thick blanket of snow, wasn’t your immediate, instinctive reaction the same as mine?  “Yippee!  No school!”  The thrill of an unexpected day off is buried deep in us all, no matter how old we are and even if  by now bad weather is no longer a passport to a short snowball fight followed by lounging around on the sofa all day drinking hot chocolate.    Snow makes everything feel different, somehow more special or exciting, and trudging to the corner shop in your wellies to fetch provisions (more hot chocolate and a packet of shortcake biscuits if you must know) is much more of an adventure than getting in the car and zipping off to the supermarket. 

Whether we love it or hate it our attention is so taken up with the snow the fact that interest rates are now down to a record breaking low of 1% is not getting much of a look in during coffee breaks in the office.  Which is amazing really as some of  us remember the last recession when interest rates (briefly) reached 15%.  Most of us are seeing direct financial benefit from the rates cuts and feeling quite smug that we didn’t opt for a fixed rate (just like the people on fixed rates feel smug when interest rates go up) but what is evident from the chat in the office is that no one is actually spending their extra money.  Nobody is hot footing it over to Howells’  sale in their lunch break to spend their extra cash.  Far from it – the talk is all of  cutting back expenditure even further, bringing sandwiches in from home,  shopping in the reduced items aisle and careful fridge management so as to avoid waste and pay down credit card debt.  This is undoubtedly good for our individual  financial fitness but isn’t helping the economy much and this drastic change in our spending patterns is having a direct negative impact on our manufacturing and retail businesses.  So this weekend I urge you all to use a little bit of your interest rate cut and just go out and buy something.    Mind, the only buying I’ll be doing this weekend will be  in Lidl because on Monday my husband became unemployed. Look on the bright side though – at least I didn’t have to worry about child care when school closed again this morning.

Getting down to the nitty gritty

February 4, 2009

OK, before I start, I checked it out and nitty gritty is not a phrase that has its origins in the slave trade, referring to the debris at the bottom of ships after slaves had been removed, but more likely just one of those phrases that uses rhyming duplication like willy nilly and hocus pocus.    Now that’s sorted, let’s get down to it.

My daughter (aged 4) has had nits on and off since November.   When I first noticed that she and my 10 year old son were scratching (and I’ll be honest here at the risk of losing my Superwoman cape; they weren’t just scratching by the time I noticed, they were practically gouging their scalps off)  I scurried off to the Sainsbury’s in town that lunchtime and in addition to a sandwich and a 4 pint of milk threw some nit solution in my basket.  “Crikey!” the woman on the till said when she rung up the total.  “Why is your shopping so expensive?  There’s only three items in here!” And then in a really loud voice “OH IT’S THE NIT SHAMPOO!”.  The people in the queue behind me all took a step back.  No really they did.  “Could you shout that a bit louder?” I hissed.  “There’s some people from my office over at the salad counter who didn’t quite catch what you said.” 

With my son, a good dose of nit solution, a double-episode-of-Simpsons-length session with a fine toothed metal comb and a visit to an understanding  hairdresser sorted him out.    His  hair was so short I could see the chicken pox scars in his scalp that I hadn’t seen since he was a baby (I’ve always wondered whether Mikhail Gorbachev was surprised when he went bald and found he had a birthmark on his bonce or whether his mother forewarned him of it)  and his nits were gone.  My daughter however was a lot less keen to lose  her long locks.  “We’ll cut it so you’ll look like Dora the Explorer,”  I enthused.  “But I don’t want to look like Dora!” she wailed, “I want to look like Cinderella!”  Supernannie (don’t you just love grandparents) was able to persuade her and she got a Dora.   And for a couple of weeks she was nit-free, or at least I thought she was, but then the scratching started again.  

I’ve now tried three different types of nit shampoo and in between applications have been dousing her hair in conditioner every other night  and combing it through with a nit comb, a process which we have both come to loathe, despite the chocolate buttons I give her to shut her up while I do it.   By the time I get rid of her nits I will also have got rid of her teeth.  Her poor scalp has been raked over so many times with a metal comb she scratches now even when she doesn’t have nits.   I can go a week, even two, without finding a louse or a nit, and then, suddenly they’re back. 

Of course, I ended up getting them too.  See, definitely not a Superwoman.  My husband didn’t though.  He puts this down to the fact that he uses wax on his hair so any nit would get stuck.  I put it down to the fact that it’s not him who does the combing or the shampoo application.  Combing my hair was a lot easier than combing my daughter’s and I got rid of my nits very easily although I have to confess that a couple of weeks later when I was at the hairdresser’s having my hair cut I did find myself praying fervently that the hairdresser wasn’t going to lean over and whisper in my ear half way through the hair cut that I had nits and should  leave immediately and never return. 

So after four months of struggling like super heroes against nits, my daughter and I are defeated.  She’s agreed to have her hair cut really short this week.  There are no cartoon characters out there with short crops and definitely no princesses but I found a way to persuade her.  I told her she was getting a pixie cut.  She thinks she’s going to skip out of the hairdressers transformed into a fairy.   Frankly I don’t care if she looks like Sigourney Weaver in Alien just so long as the nits have gone.