Toddlertalk

Teach your daughter to say ‘vagina’ loudly and clearly and not to be embarrassed by the word.

So said a Facebook forward.  Crikey – was this even contraversial?

I read through the comments just in case.  And yes, it turned out to be.  I found people commenting to the effect that we don’t teach our children to say ‘brachium': we just call it an arm.  So why use ‘posh’ medical terms for the private parts?

Well, because I don’t know a ‘common’ unloaded, child-friendly universally-recognised equivalent for ‘vagina’.  The words all sound demeaning, jokey or rude.  As though you’re trying to avoid referring to something by its real name.

‘My tuppence looks a bit funny….’

As a vet in South Yorkshire, I have examined a lot of tuppences. The first time I gritted my teeth in case i’d guessed wrong.  But I had not.

It gave me false confidence in my guessing though.  A few months later, a bloke in Newcastle brought in a huge, uncastrated male great dane and asked me to look at its dominoes.  His face was a pretty colour when he had to explain he’d meant its teeth.

dominoes

So can you think of a better word?  (For vagina, not teeth).  Is there a word as sensible and unloaded as ‘arm?’

Obviously, I googled it.  There were descriptive ones:  ‘Box,’ ‘Bearded clam,’ ‘Badly wrapped kebab,’ ‘Sideways smile,’ ‘Melissa’s mop-bucket.’  There are ruder ones (I’ll spare you those) and then there were things like FuFu, Fanny and Pussy.

So. ‘Vagina’ it’s going to be.  As soon as Toddler realises it isn’t part of her ‘bottom.’  And I have already heard her explaining very cheerfully to strangers that her bother has a ‘penist.’

Talking of Tiddler; Tiddler’s talking too.  He says the usual sort of thing:  ‘Quack-quack,’ ‘more,’ ‘mum,’ ‘Uh-oh’ and ‘No.’  Especially ‘no.’

Now is a traditional time for ‘Mother-ease’ (as researchers used to call it in the sexist seventies), more commonly referred to as ‘Baby-talk.’  You can imagine I’m not the sort of person who does this naturally (‘Shall we put our socky-wockies on our piggy-wiggies, then?’)  which is a shame because it’s supposed to be useful for the kids. Parents apparently have an evolved or cultural urge to do it.  But not this parent.

Still, I’m good with silly poetry and animal noises. I focus on that.  Toddler could make all the farmyard noises before she got ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada.’  Except for rabbits, of course.  There’s always that awkward silence when they want me to make a noise like a rabbit.

Pig noises cause issues, though.  I nearly died when Tiddler was the only one at Cathedral playgroup who did loud, realistic pig snorts in ‘Old McDonald’ instead of squeaking ‘oink, oink.’

There are times when linguistic development is not something to celebrate.  Soon they will learn that ‘bad’ language that shows a lack of imagination.  Of course, I say this with my tongue in my cheek: ‘Fuck’ is one of my favourite words:  it can be used as a noun or a verb, or adapted for adjectives with numerous different meanings.  Or simply as an emphatic space-filler.

You’d never have heard my Grannie say ‘fucking.’  She used to use the word ‘Damn,’ but it didn’t quite have the same versitility. ‘Damn’ was a polite swear-word harping back to a time when words to do with hell were even more evocative than those to do with sex.

Anyway, ‘Damn’ it was. And occasionally, ‘Sugar.’  But surely it takes as little imagination to say ‘sugar’ as ‘shit?’  ‘Damn’ as ‘Fucking?’  Sure, your choice of swear word marks out your generation but swearing is the way you use the word, not the word itself.  I thought I’d try ‘crocussing’ out, to describe my singing.  It is spring, after all.

I don’t want to “convey my frustration, isolation or embarassment at being unable to vibrate my vocal cords at such a speed that they resonate with those of the people around me in church.”  This is not what I want to say.

I want to say….

“How crocussed off am I not to be able to crocussing sing!”

You see?  For the introduction of a swear-word, the meaning comes out far more emphatically.

But there are words that make me wince.  I don’t like the c-word much (not ‘crocus,’ the other one).  I’ve already mentioned that words to do with sex were last generation’s shocking (following on from those about hell which were dying out by my Grannie’s time).  Well, one of my generation’s most evocative swear-words is to do with the female private parts and that ,makes me feel very sad.  Did I mention that I like the word ‘vagina,’ myself?

But back to the point: what should i tell the kids?  That I don’t swear?

Perhaps if they were stupid.

Sadly my kids are brighter than me.  They seem to win battles where, given the size and strength of the competetors, you would have thought the odds should be stacked against them.  They spot double-standards everywhere.  (‘Stop whining, Mummy,’ said Toddler the other day,  She sounded like my mother…..).  ,

Anyway, they’ve heard me swear so they are going to have to learn the more complex version.  About assessing situations before breathing out certain words.  I sometimes get that wrong and doubtless so will they.  I worry about getting into trouble with their school-teacher.

Still, they can always revert to their wonderful childish charm they carry about in their mouths.  Toddler now has sentences, and the ones that don’t begin with ‘why’ are beautiful.  I’ve never been more proud than when I heard her say she’d ‘putted’ something away – and not just because of the tidiness, but because she had taken the past tense rule and applied it to the word ‘put.’  She hadn’t copied ‘putted’.  It was something to celebrate.

And then there is a chestnut that still makes me smile every day:

‘Look, Mummy.  I’ve found snowdroppings.’

Thoughts on a First Draft

book

When I was about fourteen (which would make him about seventeen) my big brother set me a challenge.  He didn’t mean it as such.  He probably only said it to counter my whinging and has probably long forgotten:

‘If you think everything you write is so rubbish, why don’t you try and write a story you think is good?’

But I haven’t forgotten.  It has been bothering me even since.

You see, it would be impossible – or at least would require an ego even bigger than mine – to think your work is perfect.  But ‘Good?’  Well.  ‘Good’ should be acheivable, shouldn’t it?

Which is basically the reason I am still trying to write a story.

* * *

Actually, I have written a story.  Kind of.  I am sensible that it doesn’t work and wouldn’t call it ‘good.’

I’m not sure that it begins in the right place or ends in the right place, or that it is told in the right order.

In fact, I am sure that it is not told in the right order, but I can’t decide which the right order is.  Or even if I’ve told the right bits.  In the right voice.

Or even, to be honest, if I like the story any more.  You can suffer over-exposure to stories, you know. Even to good ones, like Frozen.

All I can say for sure is that the quality of the writing deteriorates from the place where I started to write to the place where I stopped.  That was my spirit flagging as I wrote.

And having written it, I am full of confusion as to what to do next.  So I save it as ‘First Draft’ and send it to one or two people who have never seen it, who I hope are going to give their different takes on why it doesn’t work.

Maybe, I think, I can put it right.

* * *

I am about to hit ‘send’ when a thought occurs:  what if my friends think these characters are ME?  Sure, there is a bit of me in every character.  A different bit of me:  people are so complex that you can take a bit of yourself and invent a whole new person around it.  But what if people assume I am writing about myself?  One of my characters actually commits suicide.  Bu you don’t need to worry, folks:  you don’t have to hammer my door down to check I’m still alright.

There’s conventional wording of course, that I could use:  This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is entirely coincidental.

But I hovver of the send button:  is that entirely true?

Then I think: some of the situations in this story are based on a small part of my own experience, but not beyond the first extremely basic idea and usually not really that.

Bit wordy, though.

Even wordier:  don’t worry I haven’t done a William Horwood.  I was half-way through his first memoir when i was struck by how similar his life was to my favourite of his characters, Jim Stonor.

Or how about:  I am an oversharer.  If my sex life or job or feelings were like the more extreme of those of my characters, you can guarentee I would already have written all about it in my blog.

It still sounds too much like denial.  I delete it.

These characters are not me or anyone I know.

I delete that, too.  Write it back in again.  Delete it.  Rewrite.  And eventually I get bored of this process and get round to pressing ‘send.’

* * *

Imagine you congratulate a runner on their time, then look at their face and realise that  they are disappointed.  Although, as a runner, I like to pretend that I am completely uncompetitive and think it’s better to run a race slowly than never having run at all.

I try to apply these scenarios to story feedback.  If people say my story is wonderful, it will be a bit embarrassing because I know it’s nowhere nearly ready yet.

If they think it’s rubbish….. I can pretend I’m not competing with anyone except myself.

In 2005 or thereabouts I showed a bit of writing to a guy.  At that time, I had never asked anyone except my school-teachers for feedback before (I don’t know what my long-suffering writer-friend Viv did with her spare time in those days) and neither had I been very critical of my work.  Anyway, the bloke (I happened to know) fancied me, so I sat down and waited for a complement.

Unfortunately he was studying film at uni.  He knew a bit more about storytelling than me.  He scanned the first page and said ‘Meh.  That character’s compeltely flat.’

My arrogant little head nearly rolled off my shoulders in shock, but it was the best thing he could have said.  I went away and started practising writing characters.  I’m still not sure they’re convincing yet.

* * *

Self-delusion is terrible.  I’m trying to write something I think is good so that I can share it with you all.  But honestly, this may take some time because I have to like it first:  I won’t be self-delolved (real word, that).  Meanwhile I tell people I write ‘stories’ or ‘am pretending to write a book.’

Gareth raises his eyebrows.  ‘Has it ever occured you to stop pretending and just write one?’

I probably pull a face, and don’t mention that he sounds a bit like my big brother sometimes.

Toddler (3) and the trip to A&E

It’s five minutes to bedtime.  Today the stars were in allignment: nobody currently has chicken-pox, the weather has been sunny; we had picnic food in.

We have only needed Frozen once today.  And they ate all their veg at dinner.  What’s more, they are now chomping apples while Mummy loads the dishwasher, singing ‘For the first time in Forever…..’  because she’s awarded herself a Golden Mummy Star.

A full evening’s writing beckons.  What could possibly go wrong?

 * * *

I think I might be at the laid-back end of risk-assessment the spectrum.

olaf

Yes I did let my kids play on the stairs / swing / grown-up swing / slide / climbing frame as soon as they felt ready.  Yes they did feed the animals at the farm / look a little too closely at the cow-pats / let Canada geese take bread straight from their hands.  Yes I do let them walk on the ice without holding on / eat out-of-date food / eat things that have touched the floor (within reason) / climb on chairs.  I even feed them my own cooking.

So I never go a month without somebody forecasting some terrible accident for them:

– that kid’s going to hit the deck.

– you’ll be in A & E with both his legs broken

– I can already hear the sound of his skull hitting the table.

Now.  I am not so stupid as to maintain that it will never happen to my children.  But I am also averse to teaching my children to be afraid.  Let’s just say there’s a balance point and that if you place any two parents in a room together, there will always be two different ideas of exactly where the balance falls.  There will always be someone in your life more paranoid – and someone shockingly less paranoid – than you.

It still makes me chuckle that Naomi was stopped in a department store by someone ‘not wanting to criticise her parenting style’ but just wanting to point out that she was exposing her daughter to the risk of being kidnapped by standing too far away from the pram.

Anyway.  I don’t think even Naomi’s concerned woman in John-Lewis would have found fault with my letting the children eat apples while i filled the dishwasher.

But I’m sure you realise there is an A&E trip coming.  It went like this:

‘Mummy.  I’ve got something up my nose.’

‘What sort of something?’

‘A bit of apple.’

‘How did that get up there?’

‘I poked it up!’  The word ‘poked’ was given animated, high-pitched emphasis.

‘Let’s have a look.’

Actually, I have pulled something out of my daughter’s nose before:  a furry red pom-pom about the size of a small conker when unsquished.  For that I used a headtorch and a pair of forceps (I wouldn’t have got a gold Mummy star that day).  Anyway, here we go again.

I can see the apple.  I banned those pom-poms after that (can you imagine one in a small intestine?  Shudder!) but at that moment I was regretting it:  bits of apple are harder to grab.  I don’t try too hard because she keeps wriggling, and because I know it’s badness to push it further in or damage the mucous membranes.

*sigh* What I ought to be doing is getting an educated opinion on the matter.

‘Mummy,’ says Toddler, looking over my shoulder at the letters on the screen.  ‘Is that word ‘Google?’ ‘

Anyway, the NHS website suggested A & E.

What a gruelling place.  Tiny babies look limp or fight for breath; toddlers cuddle up to their parents.  A happy, bigger child plays in the soft-play bit, completely oblivious to the grotesque-looking eye / wound / head-lump that is worrying the rest of us.

My two just look excited.  It’s past their bedtime and there’s soft-play!  A girl accompanying her toddler sister is soon chasing them around, pretending to be a shark.

I want the ground to swallow me up.

‘Scream quietly, Toddler!’ I hiss, as she leaps over a pile of foamy blocks and bounces, giggling, off the wall.  ‘Calm down!  Look ill, can’t you!’

‘Why?’ says Toddler

‘Because we’re in hospital.’

‘I like hospital.’

(Sometimes I think we give kids the wrong idea.  They also think that ‘medicine’ means ‘special treat’, ‘Mummy’s Medicine’ being wine gums and their medicine being Calpol).

Anyway, the triage nurse was fab.  What I should have done when my kid got something smooth and round lodged in her nose:  blocked off the opposite nostril with a finger, made a seal round her mouth as though doing mouth-to-mouth on an adult, and blown.

Fine.  We could go home.  Which was just as well as the risk of my children being strangled by some other parents was probably rising.

‘Oh no! You ddin’t venture into A & E!’ says another parent the next day.  ‘They’ll probably come down with viruses now.’

And 48 hours afterwards of course, they did.

How are my Stories Going?

storee

I was in the middle of an in-depth discussion (read, ‘disagreement’) on Facebook last week, when suddenly I realised that the other person had been right all along.  I decided to say so, but buried it in lots of ‘but-I-was-sort-of-right-about this-tangent-because’ bullshit.

The reply I got started ‘WTF!’

I said something like, ‘I just agreed with you – but I probably used too many words.’

Now then.  To me, ‘using too many words’ is being verbose, excessive, indirect. Packing so much crap in that the point is not being made.  Bad writing.

I completely failed to notice that the way that the other ninety-nine point nine per cent of the population read it, I’d obviously just insulted her by calling her thick.

So you could say, I’m living on a different planet. that my writing’s not getting better, but worse.

But never-the-less, I think it might mean that I’m a writer.

I have this little gang of imaginary friends, or ‘characters.’  I spend quite a lot of time trying to make their voices speak to me.  I have their lives and personalities mapped out in arrow diagrams in notebooks and try to make them do things on paper.  They have a really unpleasant habit of rebelling and wanting to do something else.  When that happens, I have to end the scene, quickly.  My scenes tend to be quite short.

I think I’m taking it a little bit too seriously.  One story happened in a vets and I kept discovering things about veterinary science that I do not actually know.  Surely, if a vet isn’t sure on the exact accuracy of some minor detail, the rest of the population will probably be fine, but I keep finding myself messaging other vets for second opinions on imaginary cases.  Do I need to be worried about this?

My Google search list is getting to be amusing.  I Google-imaged ‘Real Middle-aged Ladies, UK’ tonight, to try to work out how a minor character might look.  Not like any of the pictures that appeared, that’s for sure:  they were of models, celebrities and David Cameron.  I was distracted for a couple of minutes to notice how many came from websites about women’s weight.  It was a shocking proportion.  I nearly made her a feminist campaigner and maniac google-imager in order to point this out.  (That’s something I have to do a lot, actually:  delete scenes in which characters discover things by google-image something.  Just because I suddenly do it all the time, doesn’t actually mean it’s a likely thing for a character to do…..).

Writing and google-imaging is all I want to do at night. I rarely even write this blog now, and you will see there has been no attempt to edit.  I keep forgetting to have a bath, and baths are my favourite thing.  Our TV has somehow got permanantly stuck on the CBeebies channel and i really do not care!  The kids are in bed, the computer goes on.  Sometimes I am still typing at two in the morning.  I once had to use a Frozen DVD for distraction the next morning while I have dozed off my ‘writing hangover’ under a duvet on the reading chair.  Luckily, the kids thought this was marvellous and ‘snuggled’ (read, sat on top of me) mesmerised, until Anna got frozen when I had to wake up to hold someone’s hand.  The bad news is that the big one now sings ‘For the First Time in Forever’ on loop (not the whole song, just that line) all day long.  And that I now stick to a bed-time to keep them safe and me sane.

Sometimes i put them in nursery so I can go for a run.  I am supposed to be training, but actually I am thinking.  About my novel.  And if you ever watch what happens to your feet when you walk or run while thinking hard, you will notice that they stop.  I keep finding myself stopping on my runs, staring up at a trees.  The trees don’t seem to know the answers.

It said in one of my ‘how to write a story’ books that you don’t have a story if you can’t pitch it to a friend and are not ready to start your first draft.  So I tried to tell a friend my story.  I’d been talking for an hour or so and not getting the words out, when the friend said, ‘What sort of book is this again?’ – but I keep telling myself that the ‘how to write a story’ book is actually probably wrong….

I would like to point out, also, that I am not writing a book.  I am writing stories.  The difference is that if I am not trying to write a book, then I can’t really fail at all.  They do say that every person has a book inside them and it might be true, but the truth is that most of us go completely crazy before we actually get the buggers out.

Labels

Tricky things, labels.

Be careful with them.

And not just those saying ‘salt’ and ‘sugar,’ or ‘Drip flush’ and ‘Digoxin.’  I’m talking about labels for people.  Try “Feminist” for size:

Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights

on grounds of equality of the sexes.

I know this is right; I looked it up in the Old (deliberate error) English Dictionary.  Now that I am thus enlightened, I would be happy to get a label from my label-drawer, write FEMINIST on it and stick it to my forehead.  In fact, it has become my secret hobby.  I have that very label sticking to my forehead right now.  I am an advocate of women’s rights on grounds of equality for the sexes. 

Doesn’t sound too contraversial, does it?

Britain’s dear Prime Minister wasn’t taking the risk when he declined to wear a ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like‘ t-shirt to be photographed for Elle Magazine last October.  Although later he appeared to have changed his mind

‘What I should have said is yes … If that is what you mean by feminist, then yes, I am a feminist.”

If that’s what you mean by a Feminist?  Where was it David Cameron went to University again?  Didn’t they have a copy of the Old English Dictionary there that students of subjects like Philosophy and Politics, could have borrowed? 

But I suppose he has a point.  People use the term ‘Muslim’ when they mean ‘terrorist’, as opposed to A follower of the religion of Islam (The religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah)

Similarly, people will use the word ‘feminist’ when they don’t mean one who practises said advocacy of women’s rights on grounds of equality of the sexes.

So what the hell do they think it means?

Once upon a time, perhaps they thought it meant: 

The burning of one’s bra by mobs of angry ladies. 

Caitlin Moran, however, has dealt with this problem:

…to any idiot who says, “You a Feminist?  Do you burn your bras then, huh?  HUR?  You burn your bras, you feminist?”

You must reply calmly, ‘Fool.  FOOL.  Bra is my friend.  My bosomist buddy.  My inti-mate.  Except for the balcony-cup Janet Reger one that was one inch too small and cut off the circulation to my head.  Yeah.  That one, I covered that one in petrol and torched it outside the American Embassy.’   (How to be a Woman).

Bra-burning associations are old-hat now.

People view feminists as extremists.  Standing up for a cause can sometimes appear extreme.  Perhaps hate all men and are secretly planning to suicide bomb them….

OK so maybe I’m getting carried away.  But Lady Gaga once said she couldn’t be a feminist because she loved men. 

Gwyneth Paltrow famously suggested that the feminists would string her up because she had decided to work less in favour of spending time with her family.  Because a woman deciding to make her own decisions about her life / work balance couldn’t possibly be a feminist. 

And then we have the likes of Madonna, Demi Moore and Sarah Jessica Parker, who gets an extra point for knowing that playwright Wendy Wasserstein thought of this before it hit the popular culture:

I am not a feminist.  I am humanist.

Back to the Old English, then:

Humanism (mass noun) A rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.

But feminism isn’t a religion!  It means – aw, forget it.

The point, beyond nit-picking about definitions, is this: ‘Feminism’ has had a bad press for as long as the word has existed.  This is because, if you approach a dominant group and say: ‘I want things to change so that you have less control and we have more control,’ there are always going to be members of that dominant group who kick against it.

If you go into any aspect of any culture in the world – be it business, family, regiion, whatever – and say ‘I don’t want things done the way we’ve done things previously,’ people of all walks are always going to kick against it.

At least Carrie Underwood gets some points for honesty:  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a feminist, that can come off as a negative connotation.

But is it really negative to want women to be treated the same as men?  No?  Well ,the word for that is feminism and if it has made people angry in the past, that changes nothing.

The other problem is that whenever you have thousands of millions of people all believing the same thing but coming at it from different angles, disagreements are going to arise. 

Worse, the core values of the cause are sometimes going to get completely misrepresented. 

Sometimes people kill innocent other people under the name of ‘God.’

Sometimes innocent people are killed under the name of ‘Allah.’ 

Sometimes you’re going to hear things on your local news station, like:  ‘The daughter of an Oldham sponsor has received rape threats from feminist campaigners if the proposed (Ched Evans) contract goes ahead….’ 

The difference between Christians or Muslims and feminists though (presuming that you are intelligent enough to work out for yourselves which is a value, and which a religion) is that no Muslim says, ‘Because people are killing innocents under the name of Allah, I am not a Muslim.’

No.  Surely the smart move is not to turn and run from a label, but to stand up for it.  I have great respect for people who say:

‘I am a Muslim.  And terror is not what we stand for.’

Likewise, I am not afraid to say: ‘This is what a feminist looks like.’

(Good link: http://rockstardinosaurpirateprincess.com/2015/02/15/feminism-is/)

Season’s Aftermath

box2

The presents are unwrapped, the boxes played with, the paper scattered and all that packaging rehomed to the bin. The last of the chocolate coins were eaten (I’m sure I’ve digested at least my bodyweight, most of it when the kiddies were asleep) and any family-sized chocolate boxes that aren’t completely empty, now only contain the ones that nobody likes.  My fridge is empty, save for milk and a few good cheeses left over from New Year.  It’s surprising how long you can try to feed a family on dry stuff and cheese when you hate shopping as much as I do.

The tree –

(Yes.  I bought a tree.  It wasn’t intentional:  it was nine o’clock on a Friday night, the Tiddler was crying and we were completely out of milk.  Even UHT and left-over formula.  Toddler said, ‘Make him stop, Mummy’ and I said, ‘Get dressed.  We’re going to the late supermarket.’

Anyway, there was a lovely man selling Christmas trees outside the supermarket, who didn’t blink twice to see a three year-old and a bare-footed Toddler out so late in their pyjamas.  Toddler pointed at the biggest tree and said, ‘we’ll have to get a big house to put that one in, won’t we, Mummy?’

‘I don’t think we’ll buy one that size, love.’

Toddler looked suddenly excited and I realised that I’d just consented to a Christmas tree.  It struck me that if we bought one then, I wouldn’t have to think of anywhere to take them in the morning because they’d be so excited about decorating it.

‘Twenty quid for a tree? Oh go on then.’

Then I thought about the horrors of searching for half-bricks to stablise buckets, so I paid a tenner for a stand as well.

Yeah, I know.  Duped.  And I nearly forgot the bloody milk.

Anyway, to all my friends who posted pictures on Facebook of trees their three-year-olds had decorated, you’ve been rumbled.  I know exactly what a tree decorated by a three-year-old (with the assistance of an eighteen-month-old) looks like. Still; they loved it.

A rare consolation of January:  soon I will be able to walk into my local cafe again without my Cortisol soaring.  Why is it that people get trees, cover them in lights and shiny things that appeal to children, leave them in a corner and then spend all their time tut-tutting from behind the counter as I try to place my order –

‘A coffee please.  What do we look with, Toddler?  Our EYES!’

‘OK.  You can touch one.  Gently.

‘I don’t know, do I.  Whichever one of those means a normal coffee.  With milk in.  NO!  That’s NOT gently!

‘No!  Don’t pull it ooooooff!’)

Anyway, what was I saying?  The tree keeps getting put off until tomorrow.  I keep thinking about all the Thankyou Letters I am going to write.  (I love writing thankyou letters.  They are important to me and I savour them.  Often until the summer….)

Anyway.  Welcome to ‘after Christmas,’ that long fabled time in your life when you were going to get round to doing all sorts of things.  I already told you that it’s a rubbish time of year for resolutions, so instead let’s talk about the Box Game from Hogmanay.

Take a big open box and a circle of people.  Each person has to bend over and pick the box up… in their mouths.  Without using their hands.  Or knees.  Even to touch the floor.

When everyone’s done this, you tear a strip of cardboard from all sides of the box, making a moderately lower box.  Repeat.

One by one, the players cannot do it and drop out.

Now then:  I admit to choosing this game because I am good at it.  I have played it before, with GirlGuiding types (all adult, after a few drinks, a lot of them ten years younger than me).  One by one people dropped out and I felt more and more smug, bending lower and lower.  There were just three of us left when the box was reduced to a flat peice of card on the floor.  Three of us succeeded and we were pronnounced joint winners. It was worth it, even if my legs ached one hell of a lot once I’d sobered up next morning.

boxgame

Well, it turns out that the box game isn’t nearly so glorifying when a) you have had 2 children since then, b) your friends are not a random distribution of people who happen to be girlguiders, but climbers / walkers / rowers / cyclists and that sort of thing.  In particular, if c) one of them is Emma ( https://lizziebulleyment.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/what-you-want-it-to/ ) and another of them is Gareth ( https://lizziebulleyment.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/competition/ )

Turns out, there are some rules I didn’t know about.  After everyone has picked up the flat bit of card from the floor with their mouths, you can continue to increase the difficulty by standing on increasing numbers of Alpine journals to do this….

Sigh.

Anyway, it made me think quite hard about my flexibility, which has decreased markedly over recent years and particularly since I started running.

Apparently you’re supposed to do something called stretching – who knew?

So it turns out I’ve got a New Years Resolution after all.

(NB the Box Game picture is stolen it from another WordPress blogger, https://keiradownunder.wordpress.com/2013/06/page/2/ which explains why the people are mostly wearing shorts, where as I had changed into my PJ bottoms in case my jeans were to blame (they were not).  This is the only relevant photo you get if you google ‘box game, drinking, bend over pick box up in mouth’ but a few pictures later you get one of Mary Berry and Paul whats-is-name.  Explain that.

Other picture: http://www.examiner.com/article/after-christmas-uses-for-the-tree

Pretending to dislike Christmas – One

card

We Mums take great care of our Facebook pages during the festive run-up.  Prepare for snaps of presents under glittery trees; of 10-year-old Talisker left out for Santa.  Of Tiddler and Toddler done up as angels, faces rosy in the candlelight, the lisping of ‘away in a Manger;’ gasps as the Christmas story unfolds.

But you can rely on me to shatter your bauble:  Christmas has as many sides as a chocolate Euro.  I show the cute side on Facebook, but it’s important to complain about the frustrating side, too. To quote Love Actually, ‘If you can’t show your feelings at Christmas, when can you show ’em, eh?’

Best start moaning early, as soon as the C-word first appears in the shops some short while after Easter.  To be fair, even advent is too long: it already seems to have been going on forever, yet we’re not even on the fifth day of no-you-can’t-open-tomorrow’s-window-yet-or-you-won’t-have-any-windows-to-open-tomorrow.  And that’s just hubby….. (no, I am kidding. He’s gone climbing early this year).

Toddler loves making cards, which is super-cute and potentially useful too.  But we keep having creative differences, escalating from simple things like me refusing to stick ‘On Your Wedding Day’ to the front of an otherwise servicable Chrsitmas Trees design, or to glue enormous pom-poms to the front of cards that have to fit inside envelopes.  Yes, I know what a perfect parent would do, and admittedly the mechanic who fixed our car despite being ill, was just delighted to receive his pom-pom catterpiller Get Well card, sans envelope, delivered by hand.  But his was a special case:  in general I want to post my Christmas cards. I dont want them to get stuck to the inside of the envelope, either.  I hate cajouling and am quite likely to loose my temper, so I’ve imposed a limit of two cards a day to save arguments.

Then there are presents.  Toddler came home from nursery informing me that Father Christmas would be visiting our house, which reminded me to get a wiggle on and donate some of our toy collection to the charity shop.  You’d think someone who’s vetted greyhound races could be trusted to make tough decisions, but why are the ones I’m nostalgically attached to not the toys that the kids most like to play with?  Three hours of sorting later, very few culls had been made.

Then I wondered what she wanted: trickier still.  I’ll never forget Mum saying outside a grotto somewhere: ‘I don’t think Father Christmas actually had a clue what you were talking about.’

I tried to protest that he was magic, but Mum later said she’d caught him in the staff-room and he’d said that he really, really wanted to bring me something else, something I’ll been asking for for several months now.  He was a very busy man so she’d already said on my behalf that that would be alright.  And it was.

Then comes the actual shopping.  I dislike myself for allowing big corporates to dodge their tax, but it’s damned useful when things are cheap and arrive by post.  December is the season of standing in the parcel office.  We also talk more to our neighbour (who is in a lot) more at Christmas than at any other time of year.  He is better than the parcel office because he doesn’t demand that I remember ID when I pick things up.  In fact, he very often delivers. But I daren’t ask him whether he minds because I’m scared that he’ll say ‘yes.’  I’ll just make sure Toddler puts extra glitter on his Christmas card.