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It’s a Funny Old Game….

It has been a strange few weeks here at Pig Central. Having never really been at home for more than a week at a time during the whole of my adult life, I suddenly found myself thrust firmly into a weird new world of family life – together with inordinate amounts of unexpectedly free time.

Firstly, let me say I have enjoyed it. I have loved being here to make breakfast for everyone. I have really loved being here when the Mini Pig gets home from school: that fresh air smell that fills his hair and the increased noise level from the minute he enters the front door – precious moments. I have laughed aloud at the Teen and her mates as they loll around snacking after college and telling me all the gossip and funny bits. I have even enjoyed the slightly bemused by it all presence of the Man Hog – all day, every day. We’ve had a lot of fun and too many pub lunches – in between the barbed banter!

What I have realised however is:

A) Staying at home will, in my particular case, lead to diabetes, morbid obesity and eventual death. Fact. All I do is bake. Endless buns, brownies, batter-based goodies and all manner of sweet homely treats. Fantastic, some would say. But this is far from the truth. There is no consistency: said baking veers wildly from the sublime to the completely inedible. It’s anybody’s guess how some of it will turn out. I’ve produced a bun whose surface was not unlike the face of Barack Obama – go figure? Maybe a dodgy oeuf? Who knows? I’ve also produced a batch of brownies that were so hideously vile the Man Hog actually retched as he tasted one. When it’s good, I devour more than I should. When it’s bad, I devour it anyway because no-one else will and it would be a shameful waste of ingredients if it went straight in the bin. This has to stop. I must step away from the baking. And the eating!

B) If I continue to stay here, I am well and truly under the Man Hog’s feet. I inadvertently perch in “his” corner of the sofa. I tut openly when he sneaks in from the garden for a round of Hobbit-Second-Breakfast toast. I am in the kitchen cooking or ironing something when he wants to wash his shoes in the sink (a filthy habit I knew nothing about until now). The home, at least during daylight hours, has been his personal fiefdom for over ten years now. And he wants it back. Sans moi!

C) I simply cannot afford to stay at home. I see too much that needs to be done: repainting the ancient crumbly windows or, failing that, replacing same crumbly windows; a new kitchen; a complete garden overhaul; painting everything inside and then buying/making/stealing the necessary soft furnishings to go with….the list goes on and on. The Man Hog scoots away like a whipped puppy with his tail between his legs when I start any conversation with “Do you think you could just…..” I find myself chasing him from room to room with my prioritised snagging list while he harrumphs and insists he needs to check the oil in the car. The iPad glows a sickly red with the sheer strain of all the bookmarking I have done on the John Lewis and Dulux websites. I had less time before now to notice the endless decay that accompanies owning an old house but now…I see it all. It’s a little bit like Steve Austin, the bionic man….it is a house barely alive. But Gentlemen –
we can rebuild him. Or knock the bugger down and start again? Actually….put that on the snag list: New house.

D) I have discovered I’m unable to relax and am therefore not very relaxing to be around. After years of work, deadlines, ego massaging and deftly managing my own usually very limited time I now find this lack of structure means I simply cannot sit still. We went on holiday right at the start of the redundancy and that was fine – away from home I cannot meddle or control or tidy and so all is well. Back home: all bets are off. I’m literally driving the family bonkers – I think the Man Hog may even have developed a slight tic.

E) I actually need to work. The most soul-searing and honest thing that has come out of all of this is that I truly do love my family to distraction, but….without a job I am rootless. Surplus to my own requirements. Pointless. I truly like going to work and most of the time, I’m quite good at it. Staying at home – it’s a really tough job fraught with constant decision making and the potential to fail at the most basic of tasks.

So I have taken another job – a tougher one than the last and for less money, with longer hours, sporting an unknown group of people to try to win over. Daunting? Yes! Scared? A bit. Swap it for permanent retirement? Not on your nelly!

Call me a monster but I have come to the conclusion that I am a better wife, mother, friend, sister or whatever I am simply for going to work. It’s what I know. It’s what I do. It’s my function, my contribution, my commitment to the life we have built. More importantly, it’s what the family knows I do. It defines me for myself and for them. Without it, I am genuinely uncomfortable. So I’m off to do it all again – with the family’s blessing.

And……hopefully…..I’ll relax!

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Gandhi and the Mental Middle Finger

middle-finger

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi

My son is a legend. Seriously. He should get a medal, an award or some sort of formal recognition. There should be a national holiday in his name. On that holiday, everyone can choose to ignore anything they don’t wish to hear that is said to them. Everyone may adopt selective deafness and persistent apologising. No-one needs to worry about modifying their behaviour. National Ignore Day will have been born. Hallmark will probably make a card you can buy for that. Or they’ll simply ignore it??

The Mini Pig is not so mini now so I sometimes have to be cross with him. It is allowed. The puppy dog eyes no longer tear up when I am forced to mildly tear a strip off him. He no longer cuddles as much as he did when he was little so I won’t miss those so much when he withholds them after I tell him off. For the same thing. Again. And again. And again.

Is it me? Is it too much to have asked for – ooh – going on two years or more now for him NOT to drop his used boxers and clothes in a heap shoved behind his bedroom door? Am I unreasonable to ask him NOT to have lights in two rooms plus a TV, PlayStation, PC for Facebook and my iPad for Lord knows what purpose ALL switched on at the same time? The poor leccy meter is dizzy with the amount and speed of revolutions it is expected to make of an evening. I am positively hyperventilating at the size of the bills it decides I should pay!

Mini Pig has heard the nice requests. I know he has because I sat him down for those.

He has heard the firm but still fair plea to his better nature (global warming for the leccy usage, rats and dust allergies for the tip that is his room, mum’s time and energy spent cleaning up after him and in fruitless nagging). I know he heard because I sat him down with the Man Hog present as a witness for those ones.

He has heard the stern and not remotely amused threats of property removal from his possession. He has witnessed me physically carrying out those threats. He has absorbed my screaming ab dabs like a parched sponge and stoically accepted he needs to find some other entertainment until I deem him punished sufficiently enough to return the goods. Having previously secured his solemn promise to do what I ask.

And then he ignores me. Legendary.

How many times can one over-stressed woman ask a boy to change out of his uniform after school so it does not end up with whatever that night’s meal is all down it? Vanish is great but until they invent “Miracle” or a tree that grows new school shirts overnight there will still be hints of stainage and I can’t have that, OCD about it as I am. How often can one small almost teen say sorry so convincingly and then KEEP ON DOING IT!!! AAAGGGHHH! *pause for necessary deep breathing and ohm noises*

Yet if the Man Hog and I happen to be chatting about anything to do with him or his sister or anything mildly of interest from behind closed doors an entire floor away, young Bat Flaps can hear all that OK! If I go into the kitchen and stealthily ease open a cupboard for a sneaky Malteser, again from a whole floor away, there he is! Like a starving rabid dog with the hearing of a hungry hawk. If I’m wrapping a present locked away somewhere with seven doors between me and him, he’ll tune his sonar into the rustle of paper and come looking for the source.

Nothing actually wrong with the hearing then. Nor the brain functionality – passing all tests with flying colours at school. Well, except for DT but he has small hands – it’s not easy making a shed with those. Be fair.

How do you get through to someone whose capacity to ignore you is greater than your patience to deal with him? How do you handle a kid you love more than life, but who is without a doubt sticking his mental middle finger up at you? I am trying to be all Gandhi about it – slowly, slowly catchy monkey, patience is a virtue, he’ll get it eventually and all that. But the slowness is more likely to send me head first into a vat of sloe gin before he ever conforms.

I am seriously considering some form of training. Apparently for gun dogs and guide dogs, they reprogramme the dog’s brain during a four week breaking session. It involves a lot of lemon juice up the snout and a bit of ear pinching, I believe. But I would do that – if it meant he would listen to me, do the very small things I ask like “Rinse your toothpaste spit, please” or “Please don’t leave your shin pads under the cushions so I get goosed every time I sit down“. If it meant he would eat all his meals from a bowl on the kitchen floor too (less food on the clothes?), well there’s a bonus right there.

Now then……who’s got the number for a decent Dog Whisperer? Whoever it is, I bet they won’t whisper quite like me. At the top of my lungs with a wooden spoon at the ready to carve out my own eye sockets from the sheer frustration! Maybe I should just go the old fashioned route – a hissed directive and a sharp poke in his little porcine buttocks with a cattle prod? No?

OK, so……Any other suggestions before I sell him for medical experiments? I soooooo would, you know.

Quote credit to: http://www.brainyquote.com

Picture credit: http://www.punjabigraphics.com

Review Blog: The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studios

What to do with the Teen/Tween combo during the Easter holidays? How to avoid days of stultifying TV watching, kerb-trawling around the village and general boredom and lethargy? Well, we found the solution.

Yesterday we took the Terrible Two to the Warner Bros. studios at Leavesden, near Watford. A bit of a trek by car, given the state of the holidaying M25, but nevertheless we got there in one piece and without any tantrums. Result number 1.

The Two had no idea what they were going to, and it was a sick and twisted pleasure to keep the whole thing a secret from them for over three weeks! They were expecting the usual parental tortures of visiting castles and digesting historical facts;  yomping through open spaces requiring much movement of legs; or – worse – something involving home-made crafts. No, yesterday was not what they expected at all. Entry into the inner sanctum of the studio that filmed the Harry Potter movies was not on their radar. Result number 2.

We were ushered into the foyer to await our tour into the innermost workings of the Potter movies. We are all fans, even if we are far too cool and teenage/old to admit it. The first thing we saw was the poignant sight of Harry’s actual understairs bedroom:

Complete with cobwebs, spiders and a pair of round-eyed spectacles left by the side of the bed. Poor Harry! Then we went into a cinema for a brief film explanation from the main stars of the movies as to what we were about to see. Staff then lead us on to the first of the “wow” factors – the Great Hall. Gobsmacked doesn’t begin to describe the Mini-Pigs faces. I haven’t included the picture I took of them as they took it all in – I don’t want to spoil the surprise when you go along  – but it was an absolutely hysterical portrait of two kids who were trying not to show that they were seriously impressed!

The exhibition contains original sets, props, costumes and artwork from the movies that were filmed there. Harry’s Quidditch cape, the cloak of invisibility and Dumbledore’s robes – all here, all original and incredibly detailed pieces of work. The tour also explains to the layman how a movie is put together, who the main players are from the director of photography through to the make-up girls and runners. Satisfyingly, it also reveals how the children were part of a huge extended family of cast and crew – something I found very comforting given the 10 years or so the main characters spent at the studios and on these films.

There is also a creature workshop with all the ghouls, goblins and fantastical creatures that featured in the movie, from conceptual art to the moulds to the finished masks. There is even a hairy werewolf chest – the Man-Hog was momentarily intimidated by such manliness in a human dog. Then there’s the animatronics – moving works of art simply staggering in their detail and lifelike actions.

After all that, you can pay a visit to gringots Bank, wander through Diagon Alley, stop by the wand shop and pick a cage for your owl. You can sit in the flying car – and yes, that’s the real Hogwart’s bridge in the background there, not a painting:

Jump aboard the bike or take a photo on the back of the triple-storey night bus (seen in the background in the pic below):

You can even swoon over Ron Weasley’s bed with hand-knitted blanket, as the Mini-Pig Girl did….who knew she had long harboured such a crush??

Or, like the Man-Hog, you can marvel at the level of detail given to each prop, piece of original artwork or paper model which at every stage transforms the unbelievable creativity of J K Rowling’s mind and works into actuality. You can, like me, be moved by the simple things such as the sight of the REAL sorting hat (pic at top of page) or the incomparable final surprise of the tour which is so breathtaking and awesome I will not ruin your experience by detailing it here.

Besides all of this were the extremely courteous and knowledgeable staff, who knew details and snippets of information you will not get anywhere else. They were able to point out things to the children that they may not otherwise have noticed, and the experience was the richer for that. The Starbucks cafe at the entrance to the venue is an excellent, clean and comfortable place to meet with others before starting your tour. The shop at the end is full of everything a child could want and the prices were no more than you would pay in your local Disney or other concession store. Result number 3.

Forget what you may have read in the press, and don’t baulk at the price – I promise you it is well worth the money. The cost at the time of writing is £83 for a family of two adults and two children. The audio tour and digital guide are extra but are, apparently, excellent though we did not take advantage of it as I sometimes think those audio headphones cut off family enjoyment of being able to share things together. The price was worth every penny when your cynical “too cool for my own good” teenager turns to you in the final room and says, “Mum, that is just the most amazing thing I have EVER seen.” Worth the drive there when your son says “Thanks for today. I was a bit worried it would be boring but….it’s been brilliant.” Forget all of that when your husband says “Thanks for booking this….it wasn’t what I expected at all.”  The Man-Hog is rarely impressed by anything except my roast beef and Yorkshire pud. Successes on the family entertainment front, then, don’t come much better than this. Final Result: Harry Potter – 1,  Boredom & Lethargy – Nil

In conclusion, go and do this tour –  if you have even an inkling of the scale of astoundingly skilled work and people involved in bringing the Potter books to life, you will not be disappointed. You can book tickets at their website at http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk 

DISCLAIMER: All opinions expressed in this review are my own personal views and I have no link to Warner Bros. or any affiliated entity whatsoever. I wrote this review because I was impressed by the venue and did not write it for any form of monetary or other personal gain. All photos are my own.

Can You Hear The Drums, Fernando?

Poor old Fernando Torres. As die-hard Chelsea fans we could be forgiven for being a little…disgruntled…at his goal tally to humongous price tag ratio. But as a mother, I can feel great sympathy with his situation: a combination of insane pressure to perform from those that pay his salary; an increasing psychological barrier to performance manifested in a huge loss of self-confidence; and, the outside world – that bastion of armchair experts – with their opinions on everything about him from his choice of hair clips to his ball skills and even, sometimes, whether he’s a good kisser. (He is, so it would seem but Tevez is not. No surprises there.)

Parallels can be drawn with Tozzer’s Footius Horribilus. As mothers, we are expected to meet every parenting challenge wearing our natty pink-dotted “Perfect Parent” onesie, despite the fact that inside we are still 14 years old, scared, confused and unsure what to do with these balls of demanding flesh produced from our own interiors. We are supposed to cope with everything life with babies and kids can throw at us and are not supposed to get it wrong – there are children at stake here!

But I do slip up – often – and regularly fail to be a perfect parent or even a slightly lame one. It could be something huge like losing my rag with Whingey Teen Pig’s catatonic earphone-clad, Blackberry-toting state. Pea-hen screeched threats of boarding school, borstal or permanent adoption by people resident in Belgium are not an advert for good mothering. Or minor things, such as neglecting to give the sufficient time and effort required to chopping the smallest Pig’s mushrooms for his spag bol so microscopically small that they are undetectable to the human eye. Lumpy mushrooms = Bad Mum.

This week has been a particularly torrid Torres-esque week of mothering. Not in an earth-shattering, life-limiting way, but you know me by now – miniscule dramas are my life. Simply consumed entirely by the search for the perfect prom dress, talking about prom dresses, applying for prom tickets, attacking me with dress print-outs, hair up-dos and shoe price tags the minute I open a sticky eyelid in the morning and so on, and so on. You get the picture. Poxy prom! I’m sick of it already and it’s not until May. When I grumbled slightly at such intense subject focus and claimed immunity from shopping, online or otherwise, on the grounds I don’t really give a stuff, I was growled at, screamed at and ignored. Phrases such as “For God’s sake, all my other friends’ mums are interested – what’s wrong with you?” were muttered incoherently from behind a sneering top lip and the iPad where yet another http://www.effingfluffycrappypromdresses.com site is being researched.

Alongside this, the Boy Wonder was having a little crisis of confidence of his own. Having always been challenged in the height department, he’s currently feeling it acutely as his compadres go through a sustained growth spurt that we know he has to wait at least 6-12 months for – the pattern of his growth to date. He blames this “growth lag” for his presence on the subs bench at footy for the past few weeks where tough games have, ostensibly, required greater physical size and “strength” than he would appear to offer in his somewhat smaller package. Now, as a perfect parent I should boost his self-esteem with chats about strength of character, showing skills count as much as size, growing his desire to win, and rising above one’s physical limitations (see what I did there?). As the rubbish slack Mum I actually am, I’ve let him talk me into Maximuscle whey powder milkshakes which he is convinced are going to transform him into Sussex’s very own Charles Atlas. Fingers crossed he grows all over, and doesn’t just sprout a massive earlobe or an unfeasibly long big toe.

Whenever such challenges arise, I know I am supposed to grasp them in a smooth nettle-like manner and not allow parental perfection to slip through my Mum-fumbling grasp. Rarely happens and I usually upset someone, ruin something or bury my head in the woodpile until it all goes away. Result? I leak self-confidence. First in myself and then in motherhood itself. It oozes from my pores and evaporates into thin air. “Who do I think I am kidding?” says my inner Slacker. “I can’t do this job for the rest of my life – it’s full-on, constant pressure to perform while being watched by unsympathetic bystanders.” The world views mothering as natural and we women that enter into it as perfectly suited and up to the task. Crap. Crap. And more crap. I find it really hard work sometimes on top of a full-time job which, given the Texan boss’s inability to deal with a single minute issue, is tantamount to double-parenting: work as well as home.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore my children more than life itself – the loving them part is easy peasy. I walk it and gain enormous pleasure from giving that love and receiving it back, albeit in a haphazard fashion linked to my overall mothering performance. But mothering – the job – that’s not easy at all. What other job consumes a person so entirely 24 hours a day forever without monetary or seemingly any other gain or upward momentum? In modern society, such servitude is illegal, surely? And where is the end goal? The pinnacle to aim for? You think once you’ve managed the standard set tasks: getting them to pee in the loo and not in the corners of the rooms or on each other; eating without showing everyone what’s in their mouths, etc.; that you’ve “achieved” something. That you are now, officially, a parent. Not true. There’s always another hurdle to overcome; another parenting conundrum to solve; another way you can screw things up without even trying. Almost 17 years into it, I’m still waiting to score a sweet, perfect parenting goal!

So, Fernando, I see your dilemma. I feel your pain. To some, it’s only scoring that goal – an insignificant elusive little goal. In my case, it’s remembering to include a vegetable in the kids’ meals at some point during the week and not send them to school with pink-dyed shirts. Minor in the big scheme of the world but not achieving these seemingly simple things is enormously pressured and smarts like a smacked arse. We both know that our respective jobs just aren’t that easy. Ask your Mum – she’s bound to know, isn’t she??

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?

Caution: Parental Guidance Advised

Don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into a lurid tale of my sexploits (such as they are) or put up photos that nobody needs to see. No, this is a post about the start of secondary school and working out how on earth to impart self-motivation and responsibility into the average 11-year old.

My boy has been at his new school for over four weeks now. He has a time-table and the threat of detention which, you would think, would be motivation enough to bring some sort of order into his life and get him started on the path to self-responsibility. 

No.  In four weeks, the Man-Hog has already had to embark on several mercy dashes to school with emergency dinner money, forgotten PE kits and missing bits of homework.  Not a day goes by that the boy doesn’t leave the house to get the school coach (thankfully holed up just across the road from the house) only to return again 10 minutes later when he realises he has forgotten a vital piece of kit. It is like watching the worst case of short-term memory loss in action that I have ever seen. It’s Super-Tween-Dementia and it’s getting worse.

I’ll admit the boy has led a very cushy existence to date. He is terribly cute and I am an incredibly guilty working mum, so having to remind him to clean his teeth, tidy his room and not leave his skateboard at the bottom of the stairs has never seemed a burden. Doing these things for him when he’s forgotten has also been my way, perhaps, of making up for only seeing him an hour a day. And it’s not that he is unwilling or stroppy about doing any of it. He just has to be constantly reminded. In the end, it’s often quicker to do it ourselves.

Aside from all that, I  just thought that at 11 years old there would be signs of him taking some things on board for himself, at least the school stuff. But that is not happening.

I don’t understand it at all. In school he is learning new subjects, taking on new languages and creating plastic key fobs with joy and gusto. All of this new information is being retained and subsequently regurgitated at the dinner table, so I know it is not a learning issue. At weekends, he can remember everything he needs for football training including what time to be there, where the matches are  and the scores for the previous 27 games down to the names of who scored. So it is not some rare form of childhood memory loss per se. What I think we are dealing with here is “selective responsibility” – similar to only hearing what he wants to hear, my boy chooses to take control of only those things that interest and have meaning to him. School bags, uniform, PE kits, homework and feeding himself clearly do not. 

So, do I seek medical advice? Drill a hole directly into his brain and pump it full of omega-soaked fish oils for intelligence? Or discover the best way to apply electrodes to his head? How do I instill some sort of sense of responsibility into this boy? And where do I start? We are talking about an ability to retain certain information shorter than a millisecond. On occasion, our goldfish himself has had to lift the tank-lid to remind the boy what he should be doing.

It’s the most frustrating situation. I veer wildly between gentle lovely Mumminess: subtle clues and invention of clever codes, tick-charts and a plethora of colourful post-it notes dotted around the place;  to very unlovely non-Mumminess: absolute screaming foot-stamping hissy fits when despite all of the preceding help, he still doesn’t get it. Is this payback for treating him like the precious last baby that he is? Is it my own paranoia having dealt with a parent who actually had dementia and my inate fear that it is, somehow, genetic? Or is he, in fact, a Scientologist? Outwardly human but with an alien inside his head being controlled by a higher force? Is Tom Cruise, a vocal proponent of the philosophy, also as disorganised at home? I would like to get Katy Holmes on speakerphone and grill her on her domestic arrangements. If she’s allowed to speak that is – hasn’t she been silent since the birth of Suri or was that only during it?

So here we are on Monday of week five. I deliberately left for work early this morning so I did not end up sinking my teeth into the doorjamb as the bumbling, fumbling forgetfulness started another week’s domination. So far, however, no phone calls home the Man-Hog reports. That could mean one of two things: success at last (please, God, Jesus and all the archangels of domestic bliss let it be so!) or….he’s missed the coach, forgotten where school is and now even where he lives and is still sitting slumped in a fit of befuddlement in the bus shelter opposite.

I don’t think I can stand to know which, in all honesty.

So come on, you wonderful supportive people, what suggestions do you have for correcting a responsibility-starved 11 year-old? Am I being unrealistic expecting it this soon? Do you advocate the carrot or the stick approach? Have I, regardless, child-pampered my way to my own private Hell? Would love to hear any and all advice.

 

 

Trolling for Information….

Was shocked at the recent news that Dom Joly has had to call in the police over recent “trolling” attacks on his Twitter account. I grew quite fond of him and his scaredy-cat ways when he was on a reality TV show a while ago and, while I accept he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the troll in this particular case makes really horrid threatening remarks about his family and, in particular, his children. Up until now, I had heard of trolling in regard to certain comments on blog posts etc., and never been that concerned – you can delete these comments after all. Then last night, on Twitter, someone was receiving a troll “attack” on their blog and having a little back and forth dialogue on the subject. This was just a regular mum with an inoffensive blog post. I finally woke up and realised it can happen to anyone. But I am also appallingly ignorant about them. I have no real idea what a troll is, so I decided to educate myself.

The first thing I have learned is that the term “troll” is not adopted from the name usually given to small, hunch-backed midgets with challenging hairstyles living under bridges and waiting to scare random goats. That’s where I thought the term came from: someone who sits “underneath” a comment stream or Twitter message trail and just watches; then comments nastily to disrupt the conversation. Well, Mrs Pigletinapoke, you are wrong. According to website http://www.flayme.com “trolling” is actually a fishing term, a method of “trailing bait through a likely spot hoping for a bite.” I’m no Ray Mears, so would never have got that one in a million years! However, this definition puts a whole new perspective on the activity for me. Trolls are not the passive watchers I thought they were, waiting for a chance to assert themselves inappropriately. No, these are people actively seeking confrontation; actually instigating it where none exists.

It seems a troll is more like your regular stalker-type but with a serial killer’s mentality. They’re not your average “autobot” that seeks out and feasts on any keywords in your blog posts or tweets and then signs up to follow – in the main these bots are equivalent to the irritating telephone salesmen that keep phoning you with offers on things you don’t want. Annoying but essentially harmless. No, a troll is much more personal. He or she likes to be mean. Nastily mean. Death-threat mean. Not just in a cynical, dismissable way but in a really unpleasant, trying to screw around with your brain kind of way. Offensive, bigoted and often appallingly well-informed, trolls can attach to you or your internet persona for whatever their sadistic reasons are and literally make your on-line life hell.

Lord knows the internet is a scary enough place! This blog alone has been randomly found by people searching the web for such things as “man-pig”, “men dressing up then kissing”, “wasps in knickers” and the absolute weirdest: “dried pig scrotum”. In what context one would ever be searching for that, I don’t even want to know! So the emergence of trolls who search for people to pick on is a given when you consider the sheer strangeness of some of the people active on the world-wide web.

I’m no psychologist but even I can assume that these people must be attention-seeking shut-in types with an axe to grind against anyone who does not fit their mould or who catches their eye in some way. They pick on a person, a personality trait or an opinion and crap all over it for the sheer “fun” of it. It’s worrying stuff for someone like me, and for the children I have brought up in my image. I don’t do well with full-on confrontation, and I’m pretty sure my kids would be horribly upset by anyone deliberately being hideous to them, even if that person is only on-line.

So what can we do to protect ourselves against these so-called trolls?

There are three main theories from what I can glean. One camp advises not to “feed the trolls” – ignore, disengage and even remove yourself, your blog, your social network accounts etc. for a time before changing your online ID etc. This is the most straightforward option, but a little voice in my ear whispers “Isn’t that a bit defeatist?” I don’t do confrontation, but neither do I do bullying and this seems like a clear-cut case of bullying to me if you have to remove yourself and re-set your on-line life while the troll that caused the problem remains untouched. So hiding is not what I would recommend.

Another camp advises “understanding” the trolls – trying to get to the route of their issue with you and realising that they are probably depressed or have some sort of impaired judgement problem of their own. Yeah, yeah – enough with the “kill it with love” approach. Some of these trolls may also be vindictive little teen busstards who simply think it’s funny to sit on-line and insult other people. Loving and understanding a fairly normal teenager is hard enough, without having to pick the best bits out of a twisted sick “misunderstood” one. I would love to see the altruistic person who can receive such abuse or see it being directed at their loved ones and still “love” the poor depressed person doing it to them. I’d like to shake that person’s hand, they are a better human than I will ever be.

The third camp seems to make most sense to me. You don’t engage with the troll, you simply report him to the site host each and every time he/she enters your sphere. The website host or social network have an obligation to investigate anyone making threatening or abusive comments to another person on their network. They can shut the troll’s account down. He may re-surface, but surely even a depressed aggressive shut-in is going to get fed-up with having to re-create an account 300 or so times and will go back to pulling the wings off bluebottles or whatever they do for their sad kicks. If the comments and threats they have made are racist, religiously motivated or sexist, those messages and the promotion of them is also illegal. You can bring in the authorities to deal with them. Some may think they are untraceable, but my friend in the Met Police assures me there are ways to track anyone down on-line: it just takes time.

I guess the upshot is that the internet, like the school playground or workplace, is just another dog-eat-dog arena where everyone is trying to be top banana and crap on the people they consider beneath them. It is society displayed in on-line form. It’s been going on for centuries, and I have concluded that what I have to do is teach my kids to recognise on-line trolls for the bullies they are, and deal with them as they would in any other social situation. Their existence is a fact of life – how you deal with them is the important thing for you.

Have you been the victim of a trolling attack? How did you deal with it? Would love to hear what other people think.

Kiss Me Baby…..

 

I was on a train to London today with the 15 year-old and we somehow got to talking about kissing. This was sparked by the recent re-run of Casino Royale, in which Daniel Craig kisses his co-star in a disturbingly droopy-bottom-lipped fashion.  We have been taking the mickey out of him ever since, and have sent notes of condolence to Rachel Weisz as she now has this to look forward to every day forever or at least until they get sick of sharing LA mansions together.  It’s difficult to describe how droopy his lip is when in the kiss-zone, but if you watch him, you’ll see exactly what we mean. It’s a little bit like a thick wedge of sashimi coming straight at you. Or a huge slice of beef tomato. Ugh.

But to be fair to Daniel, he is not alone. There are other celebrity crap-kissers out there. Colin Firth – not only does he have trouble speaking the King’s English, but he cannot unpurse his lips enough to impart any passion on the pouting popsies of his co-stars. In the Bridget Jones films, he sort of pecks at Renee Zellweger like a parrot. Far more passion-killing than any big pants I’ve ever donned. Russell Crowe is another. He wetly smothers his leading ladies in a Granny-lick lather. Thanks, Russ, but I’ve already had a shower today and if I wanted that much tongue I’d buy a giraffe. Then there’s poor old Liam Neeson. Yes, he has had some personal tragedy. But this does not excuse his inability to snog on screen. Seriously.

So the girl and I decided on a new business idea: School for Kissers. Designed to help all those face-suckers, parrot-peckers, lip-biters, lick-merchants, tongue-chokers and nose-squashed-until-you-can’t-breathers. Because these boys need some serious help. The girl-child can tell this already and she’s only 15.  If memory serves, it is one of the things she should most look forward to when thinking about future potential boyfriends, meantime spending time practicing on a hand or pillow. It will be an unfortunate life lesson for her (like us all) to discover that some boys just have no kissing clue.

There are a myriad of dating websites out there that hook men and women together based on compatibility, attraction etc. But not one that teaches these men how to kiss once they have hooked up that soul-match. THAT’s why their relationships don’t work! It’s not incompatibility, but unabletokissability. A problem that’s been swept under the carpet for too many years, and now we at Piglet World have decided to bring it out into the open, approach Duncan Bannatyne for some dragon funding for classroom space and lip balm (£50,000 for 10% of the business and free lessons because he looks like a prime candidate) so we can help these chaps out.

There are men out there to be admired, of course. Mel Gibson, whether you like his politics or not, can deliver a good smooch. As can Hugh Grant – although I have it on reliable authority that he is in fact a right grumpy sod. Keanu Reeves is a perfect gentleman with a kiss to match. He just needs a quick back, sack and crack and he’d be heaven in a human.

So taking these as our role models, we will be planning our lessons, making YouTube video demonstrations and searching for suitable teachers to impart our wisdom. Bad kissers need not apply. Nor anyone with fag or coffee breath.

Anyone got a particularly bad kisser in their midst? Either leave him, or send him along. Because, Men of the World, it’s neither clever or funny to commit Grevious Bodily Lip.

Thursday at the HogHouse

Today began early – 3.36AM to be precise. This was when the Man-Hog’s ritual cries of epiglottis-shaking joy (or horror, who can tell?) breached the decibel tolerance levels of even the dead. The dead being me. Refraining from stuffing left-over dried apricots and last month’s Land Rover Monthly up his nose sideways, I decided instead to just get up and de-camp to the sitting room.

Sleep eluded me: mainly, I’ll admit, owing to a film about rugby on Anytime; always worth a watch and a sigh of once-youthful yearning. Two hours later, the somewhat thinly veiled troubled-teenager-nice thighs-but essentially a sod-finds rugby-coach turns out to be a brick-wins National playoff-changes life-wins girl plot whimpered to its final lame-ass conclusion and I was still wide awake watching the credits roll.

At this point, toast and a comfort vat of Ovaltine with extra sugar were the only obvious choices. As I slapped the butter on so thick it melted and ran like lava into my cleavage, I lifted a silent middle finger to cholesterol monitoring, WeightWatchers and Hogboy upstairs. Diets always start tomorrow, don’t they?

Cookery School starts at 5.30AM for those who are interested. It consists of a rotundly arrogant Chef (there’s a surprise – someone really should study the chef size to over-inflated ego ratio – there’s definitely a genetic link) undercooking meat in a frilly fashion whilst his female-totty-for-the-masses sidekick smiles sweetly as she assassinates the hopes and dreams of the victims – sorry, contestants. She even CROSSES THEIR NAMES OUT on a blackboard in front of them before they leave with the Chef’s Hat of Shame tucked into their undies. Heartless harpy.

Having despatched some poor woman in tears in this manner to lay her head in her inadequately pre-heated gas oven, I was left feeling FINALLY a little drowsy. The excitement had been too much. I drifted off.

My mobile shrilling in my ear heralded the start of today’s traumas. My pre-teen son has been at Chelsea football camp since Sunday, has worked super-humanly hard and was today supposed to be heading off to his reward – a tour of Stamford Bridge complete with dressing room sweat, a potential rub-up against an actual player, finishing with a presentation which his proud parents would attend in order to worship him.

Not to be. Viral plague; dehydration from unexpected and unseasonal sunshine; and/or a surfeit of Haribos consumed in a single sitting had done for him sometime in the night. Vomit was his task and Bucket his reward.

So I set off at just before 8AM after inadequate mumblings from the man in charge of hurling minors to drive the equivalent of the Paris-Dakar Rally to collect said Puker. I’m exaggerating OBVIOUSLY. You know me by now. But at that time of the morning and with unattractively wet hair (no time to primp for fit Chelsea coaching staff) it felt far! The dulcet sound of his nodding head clunking into the stainless steel bowl I forced him to hold in front of him all the way back will live with me a long time. It was like a lackadaisical steel band who simply couldn’t be arsed to stay in tune.

Since then, my day has been filled with intermittent gagging, loud shouts from Man-Hog of “Not on the carpets, Son!!!”, a Vesuvian pile of ironing, braving the supermarket for more butter (don’t say a word) and “When are we eeeaaaatttiiinnngggg?” on a plaintive wheedle loop from the older and clearly insensitive-to-situation Teen with the Bottomless Pit for a Stomach.

*Sigh* Motherhood? Marriage? Honestly? Poke it.

Photo credit: www.tedhickman.com

I’m Bored….Summer Holidays Suck

“I’m bored…”. Two of the most overused, annoying and machine-gun-attack inducing words in the English language. Usually accompanied by flouncing, flopping, leaning etc. Ugh.

One and a half weeks in to the six-week summer holiday, and I have heard these words no less than 4,000,000 times already. As I write this, I am hiding in my office. Ostensibly working but actually in retreat from those words, those faces and those expectations. This is the bit they don’t tell you about becoming a mum. You also have to become a clown, magician, comedian, sports supremo and party planner ready to whoop up some fun and creativity at any given moment the children are not in school. Sadly, it is clear I just don’t have it in me to be all of those things, all of the time.

Only ten days of it so far, and I have already started to become sarcastic. I even suggested to someone on Twitter this morning that they might like to dart their hyper-active toddler with a safari-style tranquilliser gun. Stick a Haribo on the end and they’ll be mesmerised enough to let you get them square between the eyes. Anything for a few moments respite from “I’m bored….what can I do, Mum?”

There are many helpful blogs out there devoted to entertaining the kids (for free, in some cases) throughout the nightmare that is the school holidays. Most are aimed at younger children than mine and so simply do not apply. I have a pre-teen and a teen. One male, the other female. The combination alone is enough to induce a migraine. They never agree on what constitutes “fun”, and never will. So to retain my sanity, I have resorted to cynicism when it comes to what I am prepared to do to entertain them this holiday.

One of the depressing things about working from home is noticing that the ironing pile is bigger than me. 5ft 4 inches tall is one mo-fo of an ironing pile. And there’s more in the machine being washed as we speak. So this morning I suggested to the children that they lay all of the clothes out flat on the lawn and spend the day rolling over them until they got all the wrinkles out. That suggestion was met with blank stares.

The other bit about working from home is I am suddenly drawn to Delia Smith. First and foremost, you should know that I sometimes fantasise about stuffing Delia with apricots and breadcrumbs, wrapping her in tin-foil and shoving her into a pre-heated oven until she says sorry for making me and anyone else out there feel inadequate with her smug organisation. No-one smiles that much whilst making a spag bol unless they are chopping magic mushrooms. That aside, her recipes are easy enough for even a numpty like me to follow. Or Numpty’s children. So I have suggested several times over the past week or so that we could all make a nice meal for Dad/brownies for a picnic/phallus-shaped cookies to amuse Mum together, a way of whiling away the long hours between 11am when they rise from their pits to 10pm when I decide they either have to go to bed or be sold for medical experiments. None of my cooking mamma ideas have yet cut the mustard. I hate mustard anyway.

We are lucky enough to perch practically on top of tennis courts which are free to the public. When I suggest to the children we go and play tennis, they are – almost – enthusiastic. Only yesterday did I realise that this is because they can tag-team at one end to cleverly aim balls at anywhere except where my racket can reach and therefore have me running around like a maniac, sweating and turning puce much to their amusement. Even this nasty tennis-bullying, however, does not entertain them for more than thirty minutes. Only happy-slapping would do that. And to be honest, I am in danger of imminent cardiac arrest so tennis is most definitely off the menu.

Bike-riding is something they would like to do, but frankly I object on the grounds that nothing has ever been the same shape since double-ventouse deliveries. There is not a saddle known to man that does not make me pee, chafe or simply weep. So forget it, kids. When I suggest that older teen might like to take pre-teen out cycling around the lovely country lanes, that blank serial-killer stare greets me once more. Ditto swimming. It appears unless I am in the pool with all my wobbly bits on display for public- and offspring – ridicule, they are not happy to just let me sit at the side watching. Selfish mutts. They have no appreciation of the pain of the Brazilian that would be necessary before I can even don a swimming costume, not to mention the Hay Diet I would have to embark on which takes at least three months, I’ve been told. It’s not happening.

So here I am at Wits’ End. The only thing that appears to be interesting enough to illicit a grunt from Teen Girl is Chessington World of Over-Priced Crap. Except when we get there, she will be happy for ten minutes then want to go to Dubaiiiiii (said in a whine only she can perfect). Pre-Teen Boy is off on a football camp in eight days (and counting) – hoorah for the beautiful game. May it always release me from parental servitude! As for the remaining four weeks, I am already thinking they could dig their own holes under the patio and perhaps erect a springboard so they can somersault into them in creative ways before I cover them over and give them marks out of ten?

Hang on a mo – Social Services are at the door. How boring. Must dash.