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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Remember that time your husband tried to run a bath? And burned the house down?

Says Father Ted to a middle age woman whose husband is domestically helpless. I’m thinking of this, because I’m currently staying with dad while mum is being settled into a nursing home. Dad is in his mid seventies. He enjoys his food and has been ‘spoiled’ (his words) by forty years of mum’s excellent home cooking. It’s always been her domain and he rightly points out that whenever he tried to help she would irritably shoo him away. Once when I mentioned that The Husband was away for a few days, mum sighed and said: ‘Isn’t it grand not to have to cook a dinner when they’re away?’ The idea of wanting to cook a nice dinner for yourself or even more radically, asking your partner to cook for both of you was unthinkable to her.

But despite knowing all this, I find the combination of learned helplessness and the unspoken expectation that because I’m female, I’ll take over the domestics, incredibly irritating. Yesterday when I suggested he cooked dinner for The Girl and myself, as I’d been working all day and racing round nursing homes, he looked shocked, before producing what looked like a plastic packet of cubed brown stuff from the fridge. ‘I could cook this,’ he said hopefully, waving the noxious bag under my nose. It smelled like curry coated poo. ‘How are you going to cook it?’ I asked.

‘Don’t know,’ said dad.

Years ago, I had a boyfriend who invited me round for dinner and produced two salmon steaks which he ‘hoped’ I could cook. I laughed but he was serious. Shortly after I left him with his salmon steaks. He didn’t understand why I was so annoyed.

But my dad is from another generation, so maybe I should be more patient. Yesterday I made his favourite pork chops with a mustard sauce and he stood in the kitchen, shuffling about, and hands behind his back like Prince Phillip, as the chops browned and I whisked them onto a warmed plate, poured a glass of wine into the sizzling juices, and added some mustard and a small spoon of cream. When I turned round to ask him to give it a stir, he was fumbling through the cutlery drawer cursing because he couldn’t find the forks. The forks were obviously hiding from him, purely to get at him. Like the plates yesterday. They were hiding too. Bastard things. His frustration at inanimate objects goes from 0 – 60 in ten seconds.

Later I typed out the recipe for him and suggested buying a simple cookbook. Jamie Oliver? No – he can’t stand Jamie Oliver. It’s the mockney accent. What does that have to do with cooking? Nothing – but he can’t stand Jamie Oliver. What about Two Fat Ladies? No – they’re fat. And fat women only appear on television to annoy him personally. I take a deep breath and mention that Robbie Coltrane is also very large but he doesn’t rail against him. Veering between compassion and the desire to throw something at dad, I finally suggest Delia Smith. He agrees.

Of course, dad can manage to feed himself – even if it’s just packaged stuff with the vegetables he grows in his allotment. But such is his fear of failure/trying anything new, coupled with a low tolerance of frustration that I fear he’ll give up too quickly at putting together nice meals for himself. Even if there’s nobody to witness his efforts much less eat them. But I do wish he’d try. He loves food and once he’s mastered a few recipes, he’ll grow in confidence. I tell him this and he kisses me and says he couldn’t have gotten through the last few months without me.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Buying clothes for The Boy

It's The Boy's birthday on Saturday, so I popped (arggh - middle aged word) into a store called BENCH, which describes itself as an urban lifestyle brand, thus explaining why they charge £25 for a tee shirt. Was fingering a mud/poo coloured top that he might like when a spotty teen sales assistant shuffled over. We had the following conversation:

HIM: (IN HIGH PITCHED SQUEAKY 'MY VOICE IS BREAKING' VOICE) Can I help you wiv anyfink today Madam?

ME: I'm looking for a t-shirt for my son.


ME: Er right. I need it in a small.

HIM: I don't fink we have it in a small.


HIM: Where?


HIM: Oh. Please let me know if there is anyfink I can be of more assistant wiv?

ME: Thanks.


ME: You're in my way.

But it was worth it to see that momentary light of love appear in The Boy's eyes (or it might have been avarice but never mind). There were several anxious moments while he tried it on and said: 'This isn't a pyjama top is it?' and I assured him that it wasn't. He then nodded and said: 'Not bad mum. Thanks' before adding, 'Don't tell anyone you bought me this.' And then he gave me a hug and I felt his long bony chest against mine and remembered how when he was small I would say: 'Hold onto mummy like a monkey' and he would wrap his arms and legs round me as though he were trying to climb back inside me.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Fat Kids

When I was about 9, there was one fat child in my class called Ellen. Or Ellen the Melon as she was known. She would stand next to me in cookery class and scream hysterically when we we were making sausage rolls because my mum gave me sausage meat with lots of garlic and herbs mashed into it. 'Eurrgh I hate garlic - Miiiissss!'

When I was invited to her party I asked mum for some chocolates as a present and she, with characteristic diplomacy spluttered: 'I'm not giving chocolates to that big heap!' But growing up, I don't remember even thinking about whether I was too fat or thin or even considering my body shape until well into my teens. The word 'slim' was used, not 'thin' and several relatives and teachers commented on the fact I was a 'bit too slim' even though I ate like a half starved gannet. Being thin was not a worthy goal.

It sure as hell is now. And The Girl, even though she's just six, and built like a twiglet is acutely aware of 'fat' being 'bad'. To be honest I'm anxious about her growing up in a world with so many toxic messages about acceptable body weight for girls. I've hidden my scales and she has never ever seen them. I don't use the word 'fat' at all, and I've threatened The Boy with death if he ever teases her about her weight. I've told my dear dad that the word 'buxom' is not acceptable. 'But buxom is great!' he says, bewildered, having grown up lusting after real women like Ava Gardner and Sophia Loren.

I was disturbed though to read that parents who fail to help their obese child, and ignore all advice could be considered guilty of neglect. Now come on - we've all seen the lumbering children pouring vast packets of monster munch down their faces as they heft along the street. And don't tell me you don't tighten your lips when you see a small child drinking some fizzy crap drink in their pushchair. Oh yes you do. Just before you check yourself for snobbery, a little part of you thinks: Coke!? For breakfast?! You bad bad parent.

The thing is, this proposal will target the very poor because the poorest sections of the population are the ones who feed the most processed food to their children. Add to this, the fact that we have a generation that seem unable to cook (doubly ironic when posh restaurants are serving up the cheaper cuts of meat our grannies would have knocked up in their kitchens blindfolded), and you have a generation of children less healthy than their parents. Remember that boy Connor McCreaddie, eight years old and weighing 14 stone who was briefly in the news because the council were considering taking him into care? Legions of middle class journos sped up to North Tyneside to lambast his mother. But I'd like to have seen any of them put together decent meals on benefits, with the nearest superstore two bus rides away and a fast food outlet on every corner. No greengrocers, no butchers - all driven out of business by the Superstore.

Sure there are parents you want to slap round the head (or maybe it's just me) and shout: 'You are condemning your child to a lifetime of obesity and health problems you drongo. Put that doughnut down!' But these initiatives seem to do nothing but stigmatise and blame the poorest people which is perhaps simpler than tackling the deeper malaise of obesity; the massive power of the Food Standards Agency, the fact that the likes of Tesco are driving small foodshops out of business and fast food is cheap and tastes good because it's so pumped up with fat and sugar, and teaching children to cook.

Actually teaching The Boy to cook was like pulling teeth until he realised that girls are impressed by a man who knows how to chop an onion.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Mel Gibson - a giant (racist and misogynistic) toddler

I find it very funny when female celebs put their post-pregnancy body down to running round after the baby. Because one of the advantages of babies is a tendency to stay where you put them. It would be like saying, oh yeah I stay superfit by running round after my cat.
Even when babies turn into toddlers they waddle furiously, then plomp down on their bums, but still not fast enough for you not to be able to catch up in a couple of strides. Toddlers are exhausting though – maximum mobility, minimum sense, zero tolerance for frustration and a marked tendency to scream when they don’t get their own way. Add homophobia, racism, and misogyny to the mix and you’ve got Mel Gibson
If you’ve been living in a cave the past week, this story may have passed you by. Gibson has been taped by his ex partner Oksana Grigorieva while he tells her she deserves to be raped by a pack of ‘ni....s’ and he’s going to kill and bury her in the rose garden. And it’s all her fault . . . .she made him do it, the classic clarion call of the violent. Meanwhile, defender of powerful child rapists everywhere, Whoopi (it’s not ‘rape rape’) Goldberg jumped to Gibson’s defence saying that he wasn’t a racist because he’d spent time with her kids! Wow – so he didn’t march into her house and say, 'You didn't tell me your children are black too!' so he’s not a racist. But he is a ‘bonehead’. And Grigorieva is a ‘gold digger’ and shouldn’t have made the tapes in the first place. What a harpy. No wonder he threatened to burn her house down and punch her in the face while she was holding their baby. Maybe if he does break the restraining order Grigorieva has taken out and ends up killing her and burying her in the rose garden as he threatened, then Whoopi’s summation of his behaviour might be changed from bonehead to ‘jerk’.
How do you get to be like this? Gibson is a hugely successful actor and respected director. He is hermetically sealed off from day to day normality in a world where the only things that really matter are power and money. He is no doubt surrounded by lackeys who never say ‘no’ to him or ‘that’s a crap idea Mel’ or ‘pick it up yourself’ or ‘Don’t talk to me like that you shortarsed wanker’. His every whim is anticipated and attended to. It must be like being a Roman Emperor. And didn’t a large proportion of them go stark staring mad and ended up assassinated by their own soldiers?

After Gibson’s last rant where he was pulled over for drink driving and after calling the female police officer ‘sugar tits’ he said that the Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world, there was a collective intake of breath. But his film Apocalypto came out, went down a critical and commercial storm and the rant was forgotten. This time I would imagine he’ll stay in therapy, make a public statement of attrition, announce he’s stopped drinking and probably send a few cheques to everyone he’s offended. I really hope this doesn't happen. I hope Gibson is arrested. But I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, 9 July 2010

I can’t talk now. My daughter is sitting on the toilet dressed as a cat

And The Boy is skumbling (a heady mixture of skulking and stumbling) around the bedroom mumbling: Where’s the hairdryer?

You’re holding it, I reply testily. Then I go back to the phone conversation I am trying to have with my sister about finding a suitable nursing home for mum. It’s 8.15am and I’m trying to get dressed and talk on the phone at the same time.

Wipe my bum mummy! The Girl is perched on the edge of the loo, cat ears askew, her costume unzipped and pooled round her ankles. The Boy stops loudly drying his hair and mumbles something at her. She yelps with feline rage.

I’m not licking my own bum! I’m not a cat. Oh. I am. I’m still not licking my bum. Muuuum he said I should lick my bum! The Boy shrugs. She’s supposed to be a cat! Where’s the hair stuff? The Boy needs products, lots of them, to achieve that carelessly tousled, just got out of bed look. The products that are Right in Front of Him. He’s supposed to be attending a college interview today, while Husband and I are dropping off Cat Girl at school, (It's Alice in Wonderland day) then dropping him off. I wipe Cat Girl’s bum and zip up her costume while she chatters away. But soft! In comes husband, red with rage because The Boy is Not Ready.

We’re going in eight minutes he shouts. Why can’t you get up earlier? Because my body won’t let me counters The Boy. Where’s the blue hair stuff mum?

Is my phone invisible?

I point out that I’m on the phone having a serious conversation. Husband points loudly (I don't know how he does this but he does) at his watch. The Boy considers for a second.

Yeah but where’s the blue stuff?

Meanwhile there’s a wail from The Girl and she holds up the tail she has managed to pull off. I struggle to keep my voice level. You’ll have to be a Manx cat.

My sister and I agree to talk later.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Mourning Mum

The Girl is at primary school and regularly brings home books along with a parental notebook which is supposed to be filled in, to keep track of her reading. Myself or Husband, or occasionally The Boy listen to her picking through Camping Adventure, or Birthday Adventure and then fill in the book with comments like: Brilliant Reading or Read Well or in the case of The Boy, Rubbish.

I looked through the book yesterday. My mother had looked after the children while Husband and I were in Singapore. I saw mum’s handwriting: Exemplary reading from my clever granddaughterr. The day after she wrote that, she travelled home, and while standing at the top of her stairs, had a cerebral hemorrhage, fell down the stairs and sustained serious brain damage. She won’t write a word like exemplary again, or say it. She won’t sit up or walk or look at us and have a conversation. She won’t cook or snap at dad or send me cuttings from the newspaper about osteoporosis, cancer, or other illnesses to brighten my day.

Mum is being sent to a nursing home because there is nothing more the hospital say they can do. For the last couple of months, myself, my dad and my sister have been ringing, arguing, asking for a second opinion and trying to fight our way through NHS bureaucracy to get her the best possible treatment. It’s like knitting fog. Speaking to the same person twice in a row is almost impossible, so I’m used to hearing phrases like: Sorry I don’t have the notes – I wasn’t at the meeting – I’ve only just been assigned to this case – I don’t know – I don’t know – I don’t know. I ring the hospital switchboard and it has this bizarre system of you speaking the name of the department or person you want to talk to. It goes something like this:

Hello – you are through to the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother switchboard. Which department or person would you like to speak to?

You say loudly and clearly,

Minster Ward

The machine replies,

Putting you through to Dr Klalid Abdullah

It’s funny the first time.

Mum isn’t technically dead but the woman who brought my sister and I up, fed us the home cooked food that has given us a lifetime of good health and stable weight, been a brilliant grandmother who sent parcels and letters to her grandchildren, and once asked: Is Freddie Mercury gay? (Is the Pope Catholic? replied dad) is gone for good.

I miss you mum.