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Springitis …. And Other Diseases of the Sap

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Does anyone else suffer from “Spring-itis”? You know….that funny little disease that hits around the time of the emergence of the smell of wild garlic in the hedgerows? The cheeky little virus that pops up when the tulips slump their faded petalled faces into the mud. Well I do. And this year – I’ve got it baaaaad, baby.

I’ve never really been one to sit still and just….be. Don’t get me wrong – I am generally happy and positive and have counted my blessings until I’m cross-eyed with the sheer numbers of them on more than one occasion. I live a charmed life, I know. But still…there’s always a bit more isn’t there? More to see. More to do. More people to meet. More places to tick off. More, more, more. Sometime around the rising of the spring sap, an insidious germ sneaks into my breakfast cereal and starts to make me restless with my lot. It’s happened every year at this time for as long as I can remember and has nothing to do with being happy, contented, fulfilled or otherwise. Those are pretty constant drivers, but this frenzied wistfulness is an annual side effect, where everything I’m doing currently or have done in the past seems to be a bit too…safe.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t yearn for a new man(Hog). I do sometimes yearn for a new sty to keep him in…but he’ll only mess it up with his untidy ways so that soon passes. I’m not trapped by difficult circumstances – in fact I have more freedom than most, I suspect. I’ve just been sailing around Scotland for the past weekend, for example. The thought of picking up my current house and dumping it down in a new town/village always seems to appeal…logistically difficult, however, and tends to play havoc with the sewers and the wiring. I’m not looking for work (although am always open to offers!) particularly and my kids are on the rails so far, not off them.

This year, then, the itchy unexplainable plague seems particularly virulent. I’ve retired (finally) from competitive netball – I am nearly a hundred years old after all. I’ve been forced to fork out for my first pair of proper spectacles (as opposed to my usual rock chick Raybans). The Teen Pig is leaving college and starting out in the world of work – how did that creep up on me? My Scottish niece has just finished an amazing gap year in Africa and is just starting out in nursing. My nephew is applying for engineering courses at Uni, and one of our other nephews has just had a baby, for goodness sake! Something about all these eras ending and new ones beginning has perhaps set me off and now I feel like a slightly rubbish, four-eyed, under-achieving stick-in-the-mud because I haven’t produced a baby, finished a Masters degree or started my own business. Ridiculous – but there it is.

Maybe it is just hormones….perhaps it’s me glands, as the Man-Hog likes to say when questioned about medical issues. Could the warm air rising and the sun finally shining trigger a release of “oomph” hormone somewhere in the body, causing us who suffer from Springitis to morph into a state of needy perpetual forward motion? Perhaps the winter months of lethargy and sloth are a “dormancy” of sorts, a state of catatonic mental stillness which is then released with the first Spring daff. Oh Christ- I am a dormouse! Great.

I don’t really know. All I know is I need to do something or else tie my hands and feet together with string so I stop being so annoyingly fidgety. Is it normal to want to do something positive, something that yields a gain, either tangible or intangible, but only really once a year – in Spring? Odd, non?

Well hopefully there are others of you out there who are feeling me, Felix, if you see what I mean. Some of you also suffering from excess sap? Let’s start a club then. We’ll call it the “Fidgetty Digit Club”. Quite catchy, don’t you think? Now all we have to decide is what to do. Any suggestions? Before I start hammering things together for the heck of it? Answers below. Thank you!

The Weight-Loss to Home Improvement Correlation Theory

For the past few weeks I have been doing the Cambridge Weight Loss Plan. This was all sparked by my friend Sue – now forever know as “Non-Starter” for her immediate abandonment of the idea in the first week! – who thought we should both drop a few bags of sugar from our hips before the start of the new netball season. I gamely went along with it. I did not weep at the thought of twice – nay, sometimes thrice! – daily shakes or freshly-shat slurry masquerading as low-calorie soup. Nor have I moaned at the consumption of more lettuce leaves than a hutch full of fat lardy bunnies. No, stalwart that I truly am, I have just got on with it.

Five weeks in, the Man-Hog has just noticed that I slip easily through doorways and have to avoid storm drains more carefully these days lest I descend through the bars into the low-calorie soup below. Relief then – at least the old fella doesn’t need new specs just yet. Possibly a nursing home specialising in slow cognitive decline? But not new specs. Money saved – KERCHINNNNGGG!

Which is just as well really as I appear to have spent the national debt of Greece in a flurry of home improvements which appear to be directly correlated to the number of pounds I have lost. 15 DIY projects on the go at the last count. The main thrust has centred around creating the “WOM Room” as the Teen Pig has named it. WOM stands for “waste of money” – her principal beef being me squandering her potential inheritance on unnecessary structural alterations and the DFS sale. Such naivety! She doesn’t yet know I plan to blow every last bit on fast living and hard liquor before I shuffle off this planet. She’ll work it out eventually.

On Friday night, I sat in the WOM room for the first time, leaving barely a dent in my new cushions, lighter by degrees as I am each day at present *smug smile*. The WOM room is not yet finished – there’s still the installation of a ludicrously expensive woodburning stove, and the purchase of a decent reading lamp and a set of cast iron tongs to tweak my logs with.

Incomplete as it may be, this is no WOM. This is most definitely womb for me. No TV noise. No beeping of phones. No yelling. No mess and general stickiness. Come to think of it, no reason to be in here unless I invite you! The rest of the family have their own spaces for doing all the things they like to do. All I have ever had is the bed (sad) or the loo (sadder). This, then, is a proper, grown-up room for me to read in, listen to music in and have jolly mates round to. The stove will warm my seemingly permanently frozen cockles, heat will drift up the stairs and hopefully lower my gas bills releasing more money for shoes.

The House of Pig is slowly coming together. Mrs Pig is shrinking altogether. Non-Starter Sue has lost no weight whatsoever. Everyone is happy. Except the Teen worried about her own personal poverty following my clearly imminent demise. Selfish moo. But I do have to thank her for the WOM/womb idea – without those Pigs there’d be no blogs at all really.

Headless Chickens….

I’ve been reading quite a few articles recently about mums and dads wanting to carve out more “Me” time in their lives to spend doing the things they want to do. I think the concept of time spent on a hobby, sport or other pastime is very important and, for some, literally a lifesaver.

It’s just that right now I’m feeling the opposite. I would dearly love to spend more time with the Man-Hog and the Mini-Pigs. Something that seems impossible to organise. It is not me separating myself off. No. It’s THE SCHEDULE.

Those of you out there with babies and toddlers experiencing the full-on 24/7 that comes with that territory are not aware yet of the subtle shift that begins to seep in at around 9-10 years old. We spend our kids’ formative years teaching them life skills, independence and self-esteem only to have that come and bite us right on the behind about 10 years into Project Parenthood.

With independence and confidence comes exploration and activity. The kids want to do, see, experience and embrace everything they can – in addition to all the activities they already do that we, as their nurturing parents, have arranged. And my local area, for a rural community, is surprisingly comprehensive in its variety of opportunities. So it is not enough that Mini-Pig Boy plays or trains for football three times a week already. Now there is rugby and, today, a vague murmuring of rock-wall climbing Saturday club. Mini-Pig Girl already spends as much time out with friends as she can (pocket-money and catty girl group arguments permitting!). Now she’s playing netball league (albeit at my instigation) and is out two nights a week minimum. She is also looking for Saturday work which will no doubt eat up a further day of the week that I then cannot spend with her. I can’t selfishly stand in the way of her earning her own money. She has Primark and Hollister Co. to support after all. Single-handedly it feels like! Thank goodness for quite hefty teeth braces still present in the mouth – at least boyfriends are not on her personal radar too just yet.

Man-Hog has started going to the gym a few times per week to coincide with the Boy’s football training. Consequently I have a giant toddler in the house again nodding off into his dinner plate and emerging, gravy-stained, to stagger up the stairs for a hose-down and an early night – the gym having sucked the life-force out of him. Between this and his plans to manfully prevent our 400 year-old house crumbling to a dusty heap while the woodworm point and laugh openly, he really is quite busy. I haven’t had Loose Women‘s entire lunchtime episode re-told to me in weeks. I am happy about that, by the way!

Me – well I’ve just come back from a weekend’s race-sailing. Not a weekly occurrence, I grant you, but a hobby that cannot be done within an hour’s session; that requires at least two days to achieve anything useful. I play netball twice a week, every week, and work 12-15 hour days with the commute. I’m not complaining about it, it is just how it is at the moment.

Besides all this, the Man-Hog and I still try to fit in an adult social life. Even more important in a country environment where effort must be made to meet up.

So we have had to devise THE SCHEDULE. A running tote of who will expire from exhaustion first. (My money’s on the Man-Hog – he’s out of practice and likely to fall at the first hurdle.) THE SCHEDULE allows our poor over-taxed neurons to work out who is going to be where and require picking up at what time. It has addresses and driving directions to sports fixtures all over Sussex. It has netball grids of all three teams playing league in Eastbourne each week. It also contained, up until last weekend, the days and times of England’s rugby World Cup journey. Hmph. Those slots have now been filled by domestic tasks and the occasional foray to the supermarket. Shortly, I suspect, it will have the times at which we may pee and sit down. I kid you not.

What THE SCHEDULE does not contain, nor seems willing to factor into its demanding little squares, is any family time. I miss my family. I miss having the Mini-Pigs sitting on my lap watching Thunderbirds on a Sunday morning. I miss sprawling on the floor with the Man-Hog and his Sunday papers munching baked doughnuts from the local village shop with a side order of calorific-guilt – so bad, yet so good. I miss little people bathtimes where many a fun moment was had with a kitchen jug and some silly string. I even miss the “I’m boooorrrreeeedddd!” whines of the recent summer holiday…..I know! Shocker! But at least we were together and bored. I clearly didn’t appreciate that time enough.

I could choose to curtail family activities that stop us spending much time together but I shy away from clipping their wings in these days of computer games, endless TV and potential childhood obesity. I could say no to shopping trips, sleepovers and playdates at weekends, but wouldn’t I just make myself entirely unpopular and the recipient of several gut-shaking door slams? I could cut the labels out of Man-Hog’s jeans so the size doesn’t upset him and force him to the treadmill; but wouldn’t such marital deceit be discovered eventually, inducing a crisis necessitating his dive into the nearest comforting Pot Noodle?

So no, I will not do that, For now, THE SCHEDULE, like a Cyber-Man on a completely incomprehensible episode of Doctor Who, rules the world. I am holding my breath and hoping that, in continuing, I won’t wake up in a few years and regret giving in to it. I hope family time will return, perhaps in a newer and even more fulfilling way, at some later date. Until then, I do have some nice nostalgic photos and a lot of netball trainers to console me.

What about you? Me-time or family-time: how are you making it work?

Umpire Strikes Back….A Bit Too Often

Netball – the beautiful game. I truly believe that, played properly, it is an extremely skilful, tactical test of mental and physical ability. Of course if you play it like me, it’s more like watching your one-legged Granny trying to hurdle over some over-filled skips but nevertheless, I strive to be better each time I play.

Tonight’s league match was a disaster in so many ways I have neither the strength nor the lightness of typing finger to go into all the reasons why we didn’t win. Sour losing grapes aside, one of the principal reasons was simply bad umpiring.

Our league is a friendly one and all the teams appreciate that the umpires are amateurs and only get paid a pittance for turning up each week. Most are good, fair and games proceed smoothly. What I cannot condone is the league using umpires who clearly aren’t ready, confident or knowledgeable enough to do the job properly.

The FA, RFU, LTA and England Netball all bang on about respect for the umpire; about not arguing with decisions made during play; about bowing ostensibly to someone who knows best. At national level, I can appreciate that certain standards of umpiring/refereeing are rigorously maintained allowing consistency and therefore fairness to prevail. Not so at local level.

Many a local league football game has a willing supporter “run the line” checking for off-side, fouls, throw-ins etc. Netball too relies on amateur umpires; hunters turned gamekeepers if you will. Decisions and interpretation are a lottery. Some of the ref or linesman calls made in haste or because of a fundamental lack of understanding are shocking.

What I cannot stand most of all is losing goals or points in a game to poor decision-making by the ref. It irritates me beyond belief. If you don’t know your arse from your elbow, don’t put yourself out there. I wouldn’t know the offside rule in football if it came up and bit me on the butt but then I don’t pretend to and I certainly don’t put myself in a position of authority nor would I unless I knew exactly what I was talking about. Particularly when youngsters are involved – confidence is a fickle thing and one bad ref or decision can knock a kid back. It still knocks me at my great age and experience, so Lord knows what it does to a player just starting out. My own son was ruled to have fouled a player during a tackle in the box, leading to a penalty kicked goal to the other side. It wasn’t a foul – that’s not me saying, that’s EVERYONE who was there saying – it was a poor and too hasty refereeing decision. Son was mortified at “giving” a goal to the opponents and has never forgotten it. He’s 11 years old.

Sports governing bodies have invented a neat “get out of jail free” for quelling anyone who is aggrieved by a bad umpire. At least in netball. It’s called the “dissent” rule. Basically you cannot argue against an umpire’s decision – that would be dissent. In a game with two umpires, you cannot appeal one ref’s decision with the second umpire (even though in tonight’s match she openly admitted afterwards the other ref’s mistakes) – that would be dissent. You cannot trip over your own feet, graze your knees painfully on a concrete floor and mutter “Ooh bugger!” to no-one but yourself in the ref’s hearing – that would be dissent. Well, I have another name for it. Utter bollocks!

Why are players not permitted to question a wrong decision? “Don’t argue with the umpire” is trotted out as a lame litany in response. “The umpire is always right” is another. Well, actually, no.

In tennis, since the advent of the Hawkeye system, the LTA have allowed players to challenge some decisions – this has resulted in many an unjust ref call being overturned. And rightly so. No more “Chalk dust!” screeched by fuzzy-wigged Americans either, thank goodness.

Rugby too uses a TV monitor ref if there is any suggestion that the linesman or ref is not 100% sure what happened. The system works well and above all is fair to all. Rugby players engage with the ref on decision-making, penalties are explained and, before instantly penalising, players are guided. It makes for better players and therefore a better game.

Football and netball lag behind in acknowledging that refs and umpires are not perfect. I’m not advocating a free for all by any means – slanging matches and open hostility are not what I am talking about. But surely brief common sense dialogue should be allowed? Are we all to stand meekly by while a bad ref dictates the outcome of our games, because to argue leads to a penalty or sending off for “dissent”? Are refs and umpires so intimidated by a simple comment or query addressed to them that they instantly reach for the yellow card for protection?

Respect works both ways. So does communication. Players (and supporters) would have more respect for a ref who allows sensible dialogue in a contentious situation than for one who holds his hand up and refuses to engage. Players like me get angry when bad umpiring leads to an unfair advantage. We should be allowed to question in such situations without fear of penalty reprisal. Otherwise bad refs will continue to ref badly without recourse for the impact their actions have on a game, players will continue to be frustrated by a dictatorship of pretty poor quality and the whole idea of a ref as an objective unbiased overseer of the game rules becomes a farce.

Rant over!

What do you think? Should refs demand respect from players, or earn it?

Fashion – turn to the left. Fashion, turn to the right. Oooooooh Fashion! (David Bowie stylie)

So last week goes down as the time when my long friendship with Sue was sorely tested.

Sue and I have known each other for 8 years, and set up a local village netball club together. We compete in a nearby friendly league in separate teams. Sue is ambitious to win all her matches, I try to pick the positive out of every result. Our captaincy styles blend and it works. Our youngest sons are the same age and in the same class at school. I helped strap her into her wedding dress on her big day and we have shared many a silly, giggly evening over the years. You get the picture – Sue and I are good friends.

Er – scratch that. Were good friends.

For Sue is responsible for my attendance at the Pampered Food Fetishist party (thereby showing me up as a domestic devil, not goddess), the subject of a recent blog. Last Friday, blind trusting fool that I am, I went to another Sue-prompted event – the PTA Fashion Show.

Now what I know about fashion can be written on a grain of rice. One that’s been nibbled by mice to half its original size. Then ground into dust. My own wardrobe consists of sporty jeanswear that I am possibly too old for; workwear in any shade you like so long as it’s black; some dodgy butt-covering cardies; and a series of hideous evening outfits bought for one event, hated beyond belief and never worn again. And pyjamas – there is a glut of pyjamas going on. Not sure why.

I adore shoes and handbags. But that has nothing to do with fashion. I like what I like – simples.

So the usual sense of my impending failure as a normal woman began as we entered the village hall. Ten minutes previously I’d been ensconced in front of a warm fire, hubby had been lightly stroking the stubble on my calves and the kids were, for once, watching TV and not bickering. Now here I was, ten minutes later. Ripped from the bosom of family life. Slightly soggy from a cloud burst that, of course, erupted the minute I stepped outside the front door.

Oh my days. It was worse than expected. The lighting made you wince in its unflattering brightness. One girl had a definite greenish tinge to her and will now forever be known as “Shrek”. Someone else tall and thin thrust a raffle book in my moo-ey before I’d even taken my brolly down and picked the twigs out of my cleavage. The walls were lined with an assortment of hanging rails not a million miles from a church jumble sale (albeit on hangers instead of on the floor). The audience assembled was an average age of 72. And there SHE stood next to the microphone, waiting with evil anticipation and crinkly hair for the show to start.

What is it with the women who run these type of events? Chirpy, overenthusiastic, vocal in the extreme and – if they only knew it – alarmingly threatening. A sort of Fashion Commandant.

So Frau Fashion kicked us off, and some of the braver school mums strutted their stuff in items rejected politely by several High Street chains. The models were a little hesitant and the outfits were – ahem – challenging on occasion but under the blistering command of the head of the Fashion SS, overall they conducted themselves well. One poor love seemed to have been labelled as the “Fashion for the over 60s” model – she has a great figure and would have looked good in anything, but was type-cast into elasticated slacks and drapey net thingies in a myriad of garish colours, designed to cover a multitude of sagging bosoms and varicose veins she did not yet have. Bless.

Once Der Fuhrer had finished her patter and the “show” was finished (plus my illicitly snuck-in bottle of white wine), we were encouraged to begin a cat fight over the items around the walls. A couple of women did actually sprint to the nearest rails. I worried for their hip replacements.

I did not run. Instead, a friend and I sought out the rails to find the worst item of the night. And it was hard, believe me, with so much to choose from! But my quiet competitiveness rose to the fore, and not to be discouraged I found the piece de resistance. A handbag!

In a beautiful shade of diarrhoea tan, with a matching fringe that should catch nicely on fire at any BBQ or firework party, there it sat. I was immediately drawn to it. Not because it was nice. I didn’t want to own it, you understand. Or use it in anger for the purpose for which it was intended. No. I wanted to give it a name and a decent home – it was an ill-treated animal needing to be rescued. The name came to me instantly. I would call it “Smelly Monkey”. It would be looked after all its days and go to the great unpicking factory in the sky when its time came to be reincarnated as a butt-covering cardi in the next life.

I was only stopped from purchasing it by my friend Kate who said “Sarah – put it down. It’s probably got fleas.”

At the thought of having to de-louse it, I lost interest. Despite knowing that I was consigning him to a life spent with Eva Braun and her posse, I walked away. Who knows where Smelly Monkey is now – I hope wherever he is, he is happy.

As for Sue, she and I will be discussing what constitutes a good evening out as somewhere along the way, she has clearly lost her way. The Pampered Pickling party I can allow – it was fun with friends and pink fizz – but this – well. I have no words.