Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas Rappings

Firstly, sorry about the pun above - this is a perennial joke in our house usually followed by me pulling my trousers down to an unseemly teenager level and doing some very bad impressions of the dads in Three Men and a Baby. However, on to the more serious stuff...

My son taught me a lesson the other day. He doesn't know this (and unless he reads this, is unlikely to find out) but on Saturday morning he was asked to play golf with his friends. He is a keen golfer and for Christmas, he is getting a new (well, new to him) set of Calloway irons. But on Saturday morning it was, surprise, surprise, very cold and he looked out of the window and said he didn't fancy it. There then followed a conversation between mother and son along the lines of how his friends weren't worried about freezing on the golf course and what was the point of large amounts of money being spent on new irons (which he can't use until after Christmas as they are wrapped) if he didn't go and practise. There was a shrug of the shoulders and he disappeared upstairs, re-appearing moments later in his check (a la Ian Poulter but not as loud) golf trousers and the rest of the ensemble, ready to go. I heard him leave the house, chatting to his friend's dad who picked him up, sounding full of excitement and looking forward to playing eighteen holes. He went with a good heart.

It strikes me that in 2010, I have done a lot of stuff but not always with a good heart. 'Doing it, not digging it.' It's been a really busy year in terms of work, and in terms of the charity I am involved with (and no, I still haven't updated the website but I'll get there). Added to that, I've had two/three children at home and a very exciting, though up and down year with the fourth, a lodger and a whole host of other stuff including school governorship etc. However, this is no excuse. I like being busy, it's part of what I am. So unless I re-prioritise what I want to do with my life (the twilight years that remain!) I need to consider not just what I do, but the manner in which I do it. I need to live my life with a good heart.

Yesterday I rang one of my dear friends who had definitely borne the brunt of the great grumpiness, particularly of the last few months, and apologised for being an old bag. She laughed, agreed that I had been grumpy and met me yesterday with a lovely poinsettia and a smile and a hug. I feel better already. I have also apologised to the one who really does get the worst of my moods but he wisely said I had not been any grumpier than usual! (I am still working out how to interpret that...)

So if you have been the unlucky recipient of some of my less endearing moments in 2010, please accept this as an apology and feel free to remind me in 2011 that I have decided not to be a rat bag in future.

Have a lovely Christmas, dear reader, and a wonderful, healthy and happy New Year.

PS I realise this sounds like a New Year's Resolution and I suppose it is, though of an early variety. I am hopeless at keeping New Year's Resolutions, but I made one in 2008 which I still keep (the only successful resolution amongst many over the years) and that is to give blood, which I do on a regular basis and did yesterday. This is not to sound smug but if you can, please do.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Winter Revisited!

Last January, my beloved went to Las Vegas on business...why am I already imagining the quizzically raised eyebrow of my reader?... anyway he did. He drove to Heathrow Airport with oldest child (on way to Dublin where she was working at the time) in the only 4x4 vehicle possessed by the family. That was the first day of what we describe as 'The Terrible Snow'. Obviously he couldn't get to Heathrow through the prevailing weather conditions without the 4x4 so he left me at home with my lovely mini and middle daughter's yaris.

Day two of TTS was spent with our delightful and hilarious next door neighbour (he of the enormous aircraft hanger-type barn construction, dear reader) who kindly towed the mini up our lane with his tractor so that I could drive it to our local and leave it in the car park there - thus confirming to the rest of the village that I am, indeed, continually in the pub and therefore have a drink problem. Practical and useful boyfriend of daughter 2 and I drove, pushed and generally cajoled the yaris to the pub as well - cue for more speculation about full scale drink problem chez moi.

Thereafter, children 3 and 4 were walked the mile through thick snow morning and evening to the school bus which stops on the village green together with trips to the supermarket by car which were followed by mile-long walks back down carrying heavy bags of essential grub (note to self: do not buy potatoes when you have to carry them a long way - pasta and rice are lighter!)

Finally, after some ten days of this activity during which the lane changed from snow to sheet ice, proving equally difficult to drive on, the weather conditions finally improved. This blessed event was, of course, neatly combined with the equally popular return of the man of the house. Words like: 'Well, it doesn't look too bad to me' and 'Are you sure you couldn't get the cars up the hill?' went down like, well, a lead balloon and resulted in major hostilities.

Imagine therefore, my joy yesterday when, having driven back from Twickenham (remind me to have a word with those boys about waiting for the word 'engage' after the words 'touch' and 'pause') and later collecting my man from a snowdrift where his van was stuck about 5 miles away, he announced he was driving to London today and needed the 4x4 for the whole week! As ever, he kindly managed to get my mini up the lane and lodge it in the pub car park. I could sense he felt he had done his vehicular duty and all that remained was for me to walk the mile to the pub through the snow every day as I had done last January until he returned.

However, I pointed out that I would be happy to help him dig the van out of the snowdrift (slight artistic licence here - it was only about eight inches deep) this morning, load a dozen or so tellies plus associated bits of kit into the van so he could take that to London. And yes, dear reader, I did!

So whilst the Stout One is driving to London in the slightly less luxurious van this afternoon, I can see the 4x4 from my office window and I WILL be driving it for the rest of the week - hurray!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Men in Hats - Yes Please!

When I am sitting at my desk, I have a photograph of my lovely late Dad in my eyeline. His presence often makes me consider what he would think of this strange world we live in now - when he died, computers were still the size of houses and mobile phones were larger than bricks! But it also makes me think of how life was when he was 'in his pomp' and, today, the significance of hats.

When I was a schoolgirl, my father regularly worked in London as well as in Coventry and Leamington where his offices were. I could always tell when he was going to London as he would be wearing a bowler hat. Indeed, my father had a range of hats - each of which had its own particular occasion for wearing. He wore a trilby (greeny-brown) for normal working days which he would take off immediately on entering any kind of building - home, office etc. He had the black bowler for London days - very smart. Recently Genevieve (oldest child) wore one in the television serial she appeared in and it so reminded me of Dad. 'Girls in bowlers - never!'

He also wore a flat cap for all sporting occasions: rugby - which we all went to with Dad, point-to-points, racing etc although, thinking about this, he might have put the trilby on for anything horsey. (Dad never actually went anywhere near any kind of horse, including my pony, ever. 'Kick at one end and bite at the other!') And, of course, he had his own top hat which we now have. This was for weddings, with morning suit, and Royal Ascot. Since finding a home with us, I fear that the top hat has made two appearances in Oliver on the head of the Artful Dodger - possibly not a suitable end to the career of a fine hat.

How sad that hats are not worn so frequently now. I love that JK in Jamiroquai - the Cat in the Hat - always wears one though what my dear Dad would have thought of him wearing it inside, I don't know. However, he probably would have liked the fact that my lovely husband is particularly fond of hats and purchased a turban only yesterday! He has a whole range of dressing up hats (the dressing up thing is one of his particular interests - and not in a pervy way, really) and is very fond of his Jamaican woolly hat complete with dreadlocks. In fact, when he was presented with it by the aforementioned daughter Number 1, he immediately suggested he wore it to the pub! Why not, he went to the pub dressed in a toga and laurel wreath the week before! (I pointed out that we were going to a Roman Orgy, not just the pub!)

Anyway, bring back hats for men I say! No fear of helmet head for them - always a problem for us girls. I love a man in a good hat - any takers?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

That 'can't sleep, can't lie in' thing

It's half term and I have been up since six.

It's funny - I always look forward to half term as a sort of mid-term get-out-of-jail free card. We've done half a term of mornings comprising me being nice to the children at seven - 'wake up darling', 7.15 - 'are you still not up?' (louder and less gentle), 7.30 - 'why didn't you have a shower and do your hair last night?', reaching a crescendo (great word - had to look it up) at 8.10 when I lose the plot completely as I have one child in the mini ready to go with school bag, games kit, trumpet etc and the other still doing the Paris Hilton thing with her hair in her bedroom. Anyway, half term, I can relax, get up at eight, feed animals, start work at 8.30 as usual and stay in my jamas until I feel like having a shower - without having to fight for the bathroom. So why am I awake at six?!

Sometimes, of course, the old brain wakes me up. I am a firm believer in the 'If you build it, he will come' theory of creativity. If I am working on generating some creative ideas for clients, I have to make lists, brainstorm a bit with myself (hard, but not impossible) bounce a few ideas off the husband, dogs, children - and then walk away and do something else. The 'something else' might be walking dogs, doing laundry, blogging (oops, that's a giveaway!) . And then I come back to it - I have 'built' the structure - lists of ideas, etc and then (eventually) 'he' - the idea - will come. Of course, Field of Dreams is not my favourite movie and Kevin Costner should have stuck to being Alan Rickman's straight man in Robin Prince of Thieves but it is such a great line.

The other reason for being awake at such an unearthly hour nearly every day this week is, of course, the orchestra I sleep with. The percussion section is the worst, random (and sometimes so loud that he wakes himself up) but the woodwind were playing a rhythmic but persistent tune from about 5.30am this morning and there was nothing to be done but get out of the orchestra pit. We have tried various remedies and I know friends who have made their husbands ...wear watches that give off small electric shocks when they snore... have operations on their throats...wear those nostril-opening plasters and so on. We resorted to homeopathic drugs for a while but he became rather reluctant to take them so here we are ... or rather, he is upstairs asleep and here I am.

Anyway, it is now nearer 8.00am than 6.00am so I can start my day without fear of too-early-waking either of the twins, the French Exchange student and the 'Barnsley exchange' as we have now named the lovely trainee teacher who is also staying with us for a month or so. I don't think I necessarily want to go and stay in Barnsley in exchange, but hey, if the brass section gets going, it's always a possibility.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Don't Press 'Send'!

It would not be unreasonable to suggest that I don't have the longest fuse... Fortunately I am married to the most placid man in Yorkshire and generally, I don't think I lose the plot too often (children may disagree here but I don't think they read this...) However, occasionally, someone emails me something that makes me want to fire off a less-than-polite email in response.

Now this is the trouble with emails - tone of voice. It's not always clear whether the comments contained therein are politely, helpfully but firmly meant or whether it is just a case of 'I know better and I am telling you this!' Generally I guess emails of the critical type fall into the first category but, because tone of voice is hard to detect in this high-speed communication world and because it is all too easy to react and respond quickly, sometimes something which one might have thought better about later is already in an email and...oh no...I pressed 'Send'.

A while ago, a neighbour of ours started to build an enormous barn. He had obtained planning permission and we all knew it was happening but I guess none of us bothered to work out the dimensions of what he was actually constructing. As the barn began to grow into something which the locals in our village community referred to as 'the aircraft hanger', the natives definitely started to become restless.

The barn-builder is a lovely bloke - digs my car out of the snow in winter, helps with minor rural catastrophes that tend to occur when my other half is away on business - so I was not about to get involved in this controversy. However, another neighbour fired off an email to the council regarding the dimensions of the construction, with a copy to me. Hours later, his wife rang to say that he bitterly regretted making a fuss and that in real terms, it wasn't a problem. He had, in the heat of the moment, pressed 'Send'.

I was likewise guilty of doing the same thing the other day. End of day, end of week, tired and grumpy, I received an email which was probably designed to be helpful but the tone of voice (in my state of grump) appeared to be 'I know about this and you clearly don't' so I did what people do when they are tired and grumpy and fired a short, pithy one right back and, yes, I pressed 'Send'.

Suffice to say, I am feeling suitably guilty and really I should have just pressed delete. So, what can I say? A lesson learnt the hard way, like all the best lessons, and I shall attempt not to re-offend. Just don't send me stroppy emails on a Friday because I still can't promise!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Blogging and Pilates - Uncompetitive Sports?

Someone asked me the other day if, when writing my blog, I was 'free writing' or writing for an audience? Tricky one, this, and I have been considering it ever since.

I am in the middle of a very long writing/editing job and, as soon as this is finished, I have another one in my in-tray so I need some light relief. So, I thought, I might write my blog. But then I am back to the question my friend asked. For whom am I writing - me or you?

Yesterday, I went to my first Pilates class. Actually, this is not strictly accurate as we have, much to the entertainment of our twins, been having home visits from a Pilates teacher for the last few weeks. The lovely, young svelte Pilates teacher has been encouraging my husband and me to adopt ever more unlikely stretchy, muscle-toning positions on the conservatory floor whilst the twins watch in hysterics from the other side of the glass door in the sitting room. Friends have been kind enough to offer to come round and watch and requests that we put the entire experience on YouTube for everyone's general entertainment have been rebuffed.

Anyway, having convinced myself that I would not make a complete fool of myself in a class situation, I bit the bullet yesterday and went to a class. And yes, it was fine and I quite enjoyed it ... but non-competitive exercise/sport is something of a contradiction in terms to me. I am doing this to protect my back - a few niggles during the tennis season tell me I need to do this - but still, and I know this is ridiculous, I want to compete somehow. I was lying on the mat yesterday, rocking gently in an appropriate manner, thinking 'I want to be the best at this!' There - I am ridiculous! So I am trying to drill this out of my system, at least at Pilates, though running, tennis, monopoly, backgammon and every other game/sport we play will be continue to be fought out to the death - as usual.

So, back to the blogging question - for you or for me? Unlike lots of other stuff I write and edit, this is, I think, for me. No client, no ready-made audience, only, I suspect, an occasional passer-by. So it doesn't have to be the best blog in the world because this is not a competition and, if you read this and enjoy it, I shall regard that as a bonus (if you let me know...) and in the meantime, I feel I can get back to the major work project in hand, feeling refreshed.

Oh, and I read a truly awful blog yesterday in the course of my work (it having been written by a competitor of one of my clients) and I was forcibly reminded that blogging is not an excuse for demonstrating the symptoms of 'Me, me, me syndrome' - unless, of course, I am writing it just for me!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Patriot Games?

When it comes to sport, I am, of course, completely irrational. My problem being that I have a patriotic streak a mile wide - and it seems to me that in the UK (especially England) a lot of people appear to have a problem with this. Take Andy Murray, for instance. We have just returned from an amazing trip to New York to see the Men's Semi-finals at Flushing Meadow - this being my birthday present (in February) from my lovely husband. Obviously, the plan was to see Murray whom we could confidently expect still to be in the tournament on 'Super Saturday' as they call it in the US. He wasn't. We had a great time anyway but it would have been the icing on the cake to have had a Brit playing.

Anyway, cue lots of general grumbling in the press about 'Andy's failure'. As I see it, he is Number 4 in the world - still - and most tennis playing countries would give their eye teeth - whatever they are - to have him playing for them. Yes, he lacks certain social skills but hey, we had Tim Henman (also one-time Number 4) - all charm and Britishness and even fewer people seemed to like him!

The point of all this is that if we have a Brit playing sport at the highest level, I am right behind them. Yes, I did stay up till a ridiculous time watching those Scottish curling women in the Commonwealth Games a few years ago! And yes, Jonny Wilkinson is the greatest man ever to have laced up a pair of rugby boots.

However, the Yanks have no such issue. The hurrah when the finalists for the Boys Final at the US Open was announced was huge - two American boys in the final! And if it is one thing that I bring back from my trip to the US it is that patriotism - in sport, in life, hanging the stars and stripes outside your front door, you name it - is not a dirty word.

Can you imagine the general reaction if I was to erect a flag pole and hang the union flag from it at home? The men in the white coats would doubtless be called. It's easy to support the player - or the country - that you think will be the winner. I am not ashamed of my Britishness and I will - sometimes irrationally - continue to support the Brit in any sport - even when they are the underdog. Go Andy!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Doing without a water cooler

And if you've got time to blog... does it mean you no longer qualify as busy? My theory, for what it's worth, is that blogging and micro-blogging (my current favourite as this is merely a toe-dipping exercise into the unknown, perhaps shark-infested, waters of 'proper' blogging) is the on-line alternative to a short walk to the water cooler. Since I haven't worked in a real office for quite a few years now, the idea of a water cooler, rather than a kitchen with working cold tap, is a bit modern for me but most of my working life is spent in my really lovely office at home with, in winter, at least one dog lying on/over my feet and in summer, a view of the rosebeds.

At the moment, of course, it is the summer hols (school age children still rule the calendar) and there are girls making what is undoubtedly a big mess in the kitchen and a boy who will need picking up from cricket and taking to golf, though why he should want to do either when it is siling it down outside... But, aside from the holidays, I rather like the peace of working on my own. The only proviso being that sometimes it's hard to tell whether the idea that's popped into my head, has been biffed around in my brain for an hour or two and now seems brilliant, may really be genius or am I actually bonkers? If there was a water cooler scenario then I would say to my fellow co-workers, 'What do you think the idea of a Guinness World Record attempt on the number of people playing Twister?'  Of course, the dogs are useless at brainstorming, and as a general rule, anything with the word 'Guinness' in it sounds like a good plan so I ambush the client with the idea, full of enthusiasm and find them strangely bemused. In my defence, the client in question was a colour printer and could have produced the fantastic Twister mat of biblical proportions... nevertheless...

So, this (and Twitter, my first blogging love) may well turn out to be my water cooler - my 'let's have a break and a chat', my 'what did you do at the weekend?', my down-time from the job not involving laundry or domestic duties and most of all, my 'am I a genius or am I bonkers?'

Oh, and by the way, if I find anyone doing the Guinness World Record attempt on the number of people playing Twister, I shall be hunting them down with the appropriate weapon ... spinner, anyone?