Saturday, 19 April 2014

Why are my children so different?

When I was young, I always assumed that when I grew up, I would get married to a tall man with a nice smile, and have a boy and a girl.  One of each, job done, roses round the door, thank you very much.

So two boys (and a failed marriage) later, my 'one of each' dream shattered into tiny manly pieces, I comforted myself by thinking: two boys from the same gene pool.  They'll be pretty similar, if not just like twinnies.  They'll like the same stuff, want to do the same stuff, act the same way.  Ha! to one of each!  This is going to be a piece of piss!

I look back at my naive former self and wonder how I could be so deluded. In truth, my boys couldn't be more different.

The evidence for this was plain even when they were didders.  As a baby, teen would go to bed early, and wake up early.  Sometimes at a time beginning with a five.  (This was unpleasant.)  And when he was up, he was immediately full of beans, wanting company, wanting attention, wanting, wanting, wanting...

Tween, once we had extracted THE DUMMY and settled his sleeping down, was a later riser. And when he did wake up, his mood would be veiled until toast and telly twonked him into life. But he was happier on his own, more independent...easier.

Teen grimaced throughout his early years.  Tween smiled.  Teen loves tomatoes, hates green beans. Tween hates tomatoes, loves green beans.  Teen has a small head.  Tween has a fat head.  Teen wears glasses and gets headaches.  Tween does not. Teen is co-ordinated.  Tween has hands like hams.

Teen is obsessive.  Tween couldn't care less.

I could go on but frankly, I'm starting to bore myself now - you probably left ages ago to make a cup of tea. My point is, it would be much easier to describe their similarities than differences.

What seems to have happened is that, at the point of insemination of Teen, my ex's genes muscled in.  In a recent study (done by me, with a whopping total of three respondents), I've noticed that first borns, very generally, seem to be more like their fathers. I read somewhere - or maybe I made it up - that this is some evolutionary development which means that the father is less likely to reject the child.

Whether it's hokem or not, son #1 in our household is pretty much an exact replica of his Dad. And, bearing in mind that I left his Dad because of who he was, this can cause some heavy internal wrangling inside my head.

Son #2 has my genetic make-up, so even when he's being a complete shit, I can see why - I just know - and so I tend to cut him some slack.

This all makes for very complex and sometimes extremely bad parenting on my behalf (which I touched on in previous post: Do I love my children equally?)

And they fight.  My God, they fight.  I wonder sometimes if, if they were just a tiny bit more similar, that they would have more empathy with each other - and perhaps there would be less back-thumping, goolie-kicking, name-calling and worst of all, not saving the other's xbox game like they promised.  Or whether, actually, the horrors of sibling rivalry would happen however much they had in common.

By the way, it's now 10.20am.  Teen has been up for ages, itching to get out and about.  But I can still hear Tween snoring in his cave.

It's going to be another long day.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Shaver has arrived

For a while now, a dark smudge has been growing on my teen's top lip. At first I thought it was just a trick of the light; a shadow formed by winter sunlight.  Then I thought that maybe he was up to his old 'never going near water' trick, and it was just a build up of daily grime.

But, eventually, like every mum does, I finally admitted to myself that he is not a child any more. I've already told you about the pubes (which I find hard to even type, never mind think about).  But pubic hair can be hidden, tucked away, forgotten about (until you see them again by accident when your paths cross in the bathroom. *shudder*).  Your boy's little furry moustache is always there, smirking at you.  Saying - I am leaving the warmth of you soon.  You were everything to me once.  I still quite like you, but now I'm much more attached to my xbox and to my own weirdly changing body.

Well I don't want to see that downy lip any longer.  Hence the arrival of THE SHAVER.

Buying a boy's first shaver should really be a Dad's role, I think, but as my ex shows no interest in actual parenting, I've taken on the Shaver Mantle.

Ever been shaver shopping?  Let me tell you, it's a minefield out there. A veritable forest of shavers is available, from budget to luxury; three heads or two heads; titanium, rechargeable, trimmer attachments, flexible, retractable, cordless, wet and dry, bladed...  He's only got a bit of fluff, for God's sake!  I could probably blow it off, given enough puff!

So I went with the cheapest.  And it has arrived.

It is sitting on the dining room table, all boxed up. Teen is embarrassed about opening it in front of us, as if it's a box full of porn videos, or a pair of fake breasts, or instruction manuals on how to make your penis bigger - or something.  Neither he nor I will really know what to do with it when we've set it up.  What's the parenting line, here?  Should I test it on my legs, to show him it doesn't hurt?  Or will that make him a tiny bit pukey?  Or should he just run off with it to his room, and experiment with it?

Is it the male equivalent of putting a tampon in?  I remember spending a very uncomfortable half hour in the family bathroom with the door locked, trying to work out how a blinking tampon applicator worked, which way to put it in, does the cardboard come out again, how far up should it go, will it stay, is it in the right place, why does it hurt so much, will I walk like John Wayne once it's in, etc etc.

Surely a shaver is simpler than that?

Well.  Let's see.



Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Cyclists are the good guys

Dear Emma Glanfield,

After you wrote an article in the Mail Online on air pollution on 27th March, saying that "‘Tens of thousands of people die prematurely in the UK annually because of dangerous air pollution" and that road traffic is "the main cause of most of the UK's pollution," I was really disappointed to read your article on cyclists with 'bad habits' on 9th April.

Disappointed because perhaps you could have seized the opportunity to follow up on your pollution article with a PRO cycling piece. A really exciting article showing how cycling is becoming more and more popular, with interviews with cyclists, cool gadgety advice, cycle routes, even interviews with a few pro-cycling celebs (Richard Hammond comes to mind.  And while we're at it, why not go the whole hog and get Wiggo on board). 

Publishing a video showing a cyclist riding along a deserted towpath with a phone in her hand, or another cyclist riding along a deserted one way street - and associating these cameos with cyclists' deaths by printing those statistics at the end of this article - was just a tad outrageous.

Some of those cyclists were idiots.  Some were cycling safely.  One was filmed having a nasty accident (bit insensitive to publish, do you think?).  If they were cycling dangerously in any way, they were putting themselves in danger.  And if you have just opened your mouth to say that riding on the pavements puts pedestrians at risk - well, you'd be right in one respect. Between 2001 and 2009, 18 pedestrians were killed by cyclists.  But in the same time period, 3,495 were killed by cars.

Oh.

In 2012, the most recent year we have statistics for, 118 cyclists died.  I've no idea whether the accidents were their 'fault'.  I do know that a recent hit and run near me, resulting in a cyclist's death, was the fault of the car driver. He just drove off and left the cyclist for dead.  Which he was.

Do you cycle in the city, Emma?  If you do, you'll know that it's scary.  That you have to be assertive in order to be seen. We are 'assertively safe' - wearing high viz, helmets, reflectors - anything that will stop the car or the taxi smacking into us from behind (25% of cyclist fatalities are caused this way).  We also need to make sure that we are seen by HGV drivers, who have a habit of squashing us by turning left and cutting us up.  Literally.

Have you ever been on your bike, and been overtaken by a vehicle that it has grazed your handlebars, and it's taken all your energy to keep upright on a busy road?  Have you been knocked off at a junction, when a driver didn't see you - despite the high viz gear?  Have you been passed by a lorry going so quickly that it has literally blown you off your bike?

Have you been spat at by drivers?  Has someone ever leaned out of their car window and tried to push you over, whilst going past you? When cycling up a hill, and your heart feels like it's coming out of your chest, have you had a car driver sit behind you and lean on his horn, for minutes at a time?

I have.

We need to get more people cycling, not fewer.  We need to promote it as a green, healthy, fun way to get from A to B.  We need to share the roads; cars do not own the roads of course, something that drivers seem to forget. In fact, bicycles were here first.  

And the more cyclists there are, the safer it will be.  Smeed's law - look it up.  Safety in numbers.

I'm not banging on about this just because I love cycling, by the way.  (Which I do.)  But if your own papers are to be believed, we need more people to cycle.  In The Metro (owned by Associated Newspapers, a subsidiary of The Daily Mail) on Friday, the front page was swallowed up by a huge article about how poor air quality claimed 29,000 deaths last year.  The main cause?. .... Diesel engines.  

Let's just clarify.  That's 29,000 deaths caused by air pollution, the main cause of which is diesel engines. Plus the 1700 + fatalities caused by powered vehicles year on year.  Plus of course the sedentary nature of driving that is contributing to the county's obesity crisis.

Anyone can see that this isn't good.

We simply need people to get out of their cars, and walk or cycle more.  And as a journalist, you have a responsibility to promote it, as a big idea.  You need to find a way to convince car drivers that cyclists aren't all adrenalin-led junkies with some crazy need for speed.  Most of us just want to stop poisoning everyone else. We're the good guys. But media spin - like the article you published - is not helping our cause.

Why not talk to some cyclists?  Get their views on why they cycle, what scares them, how the roads can be safer for all of us.

If you can do it, you will save lives.  Thousands of them.


Sources:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24987425
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2600627/Cyclist-outraged-fellow-riders-bad-habits-installs-helmet-camera-catches-jumping-red-lights-cutting-motorists-using-mobile-phones.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-13040607
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8296971.stm
http://www.rospa.com/roadsafety/adviceandinformation/cycling/facts-figures.aspx
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2600627/Cyclist-outraged-fellow-riders-bad-habits-installs-helmet-camera-catches-jumping-red-lights-cutting-motorists-using-mobile-phones.html

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Six luxury foods for the family on a budget



I ran into a lovely nutritionist friend of mine the other day, and we were talking about whether it's possible to feel like you and the kids are eating luxury food when you're surviving on a gnat's budget.  And more to the point, food that's good for you.

Now let's get this straight. All I know about food is What I Like, and What I Can Cook.  Everything else blurs into insignificance when you're trying to feed kids on not very much at all.

But the fantabulous Emma - contact details at the bottom - has written a guest post for me about wonderful foods that, in the great scheme of things, are very good value indeed.

I have decided to jump on the bandwagon and have slipped in my own tiny bit of foodie knowledge.  See if you can spot the difference between her wise words and mine.

1. Asparagus


Often thought of as a pricey vegetable, asparagus is in season right now (April - June) so you can proudly buy your British Asparagus during these months and save money as well as your conscience. Asparagus is a super healthy vegetable packed with nutrients, including folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, and also the mineral chromium, which helps keep blood sugar balance stable. Added to that, it is rich in the super antioxidant glutathione, which helps to protect cells from free radical damage and helps your liver  to break down harmful toxins and chemicals. These vegetables go perfectly with a spring or summer meal, especially a barbecue - try chargrilling them or steaming and served with butter (see below - it's officially good for you!), mayonnaise or hollandaise.

 2. Eggs

Considered by those in the know to be the perfect protein, they are also inexpensive when compared to protein that comes from meat and fish. The protein they contain is really well absorbed because they contain all the essential amino acids in the correct ratio, including high amounts of the amino acid, leucine, which helps with muscle recovery after exercise. Eggs are also a good source of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins and vitamins A and D, which help with energy production, immune system function and the formation of strong bones and teeth. They are incredibly quick and easy to prepare, and are at their tasty and healthy best when scrambled and served with chives, smoked salmon and rye bread.

3. Nuts 

For the price you pay, nuts are the heavy weights when it comes to nutrients.  They are loaded with calcium, zinc, magnesium, manganese, folate and vitamin E, while also providing heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats. Despite being high in fat, research has shown that diets enriched with nuts do not cause weight gain; in fact they can even help with weight loss. Research has also found that eating nuts brings other health benefits, including lower blood pressure, lower blood lipids and higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Nuts provide a great snack, add crunch to salads and main meals, or why not try using ground nuts, like almonds, for baking instead of wheat flour. The best nuts to choose include raw and unsalted almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, brazils and pecans.



4. Coconut milk

Tinned food doesn't tend to be thought of as a luxury ingredient, but I think coconut milk is the exception. Low in price, yet rich and creamy, it will add delicious depth to your morning smoothie and bring a mild coconut flavour to curries and soups. It is a really useful store cupboard standby as it has a relatively long shelf life, and is a great option for those avoiding dairy products. Coconut is also now known to be a 'super food', rich in healthy medium-chain fats, including lauric acid, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.  (Pic from wholelifestylenutrition.com.)

5. Bananas  
They are cheap, yellow and good for you.  And what's more, they're shaped like a gentleman's sausage.  What's not to like?
(pic from fairtrasa.com)


6. Butter 


Butter is an affordable luxury that has had a bad press in the past, leaving many people choosing margarine instead in an effort to be healthy. The truth is that more recent research has now disproved many of the claims that link saturated fats to cardiovascular health problems, meaning butter is back on the menu. Margarine, on the other hand, is highly chemical and processed in nature, with much research revealing it to be far from the health food it claims to be. Butter is rich in vitamins A, E, and K2, as well as a short-chain fat called butyric acid, which is used for energy by cells in our colons and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Add to steamed vegetables to boost flavour and help your body absorb the fat soluble nutrients they contain.

Did you spot my own tip?  If you did, and you'd STILL like to talk to Emma about nutrition rather than me, you can reach her at the Nourish Nutritional Therapy Centre, www.nourishcentre.co.uk

All the photos are mine unless specified. Please feel free to use then whilst referencing this site.





Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Attractive Man

A particularly English tableau to share with you this morning.

I was walking to work, and spotted an Attractive Man walking towards me.  He was dressed in well-fitting jeans, a light sports jacket, suitable shoes.  His hair was short.  His skin was slightly tanned.  He was age appropriate.

Even though he was a hundred feet away, I could feel my hormones prepare for launch.

Getting closer now, I decided that it would be best if I didn’t look in his direction.  In fact, anywhere but.  So I positioned my eyes up to the top right hand corner of my vision, in what I thought was a cool, nonchalant I’m not at all interested in you kind of look.

Unfortunately, this eye positioning also meant that I wasn’t looking where I was going.  And as he was just about five feet away, I tripped.

It wasn’t just a trip - a steady - a walk on.  It was a trip and then, to cover the trip, a skip and a slight hop.  And then a tiny jump.  Of course, all of this was accompanied by a small yet incredibly high pitched ‘Oooooo…AY’, escaping from my mouth before I’d had time to stop it, just as he passed me by.

And finally, to finish off the routine, I started to cackle loudly at the absurdity of it all.  In fact, I couldn’t stop myself.  I found myself bent over on the pavement, holding my stomach, letting all my embarrassment out in one huge, loud, old lady laughing bout.

It was a wonder I didn’t let out a huge fart, just to cap it all.


I wonder if I’ll ever see him again?  Perhaps next time I can improve on my performance by falling on top of him and having a tiny wee.  

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Anti Fashion Police

I've just read an article, on a well-known Parent community site, that has made my blood boil.  It has made me see red.  But instead of using The Magic Finger (Roald Dahl reference - which is about the height of my reading at the moment) I've decided to bubble over here.

Sorry about that.

It's people who write about fashion as if it's an important thing.  It isn't.  In fact, I can barely think of anything that's more wasteful, meaningless and shallow in this topsy turvy world.

This article was talking about the apparent tragedy of 'mum dressing'.  Now, you might think that a slummy mummy outfit worth noting would be a coffee-stained dressing gown with bunny slippers, or perhaps a pair of joggers and a T-shirt that had been worn day and night for two weeks without a sniff of deodorant.  Add a touch of ketchup in the hair and something unmentionable under the nails et voila!  Perhaps then, we've got something to share.

But no.  Apparently the outfit of woe is a pair of Converses, a stripy Breton top, jeans and a parka. Fashionistas everywhere are (apparently) cursing mums who wear this 'mum uniform', criticising us for not making more of an effort.

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

Number 1.  Who gives a shit?  Really? Who is watching what we wear, what labels we have on, whether our lipstick is NARS or Collection 2000 or actually just a blob of jam left over from this morning's breakfast?

Number 2.  Someone obviously does care, otherwise this article wouldn't have been written and the whole fashion industry wouldn't exist.  But why?  Don't tell me that it's to do with 'the cut' or 'the fit' because I won't believe you.  Don't tell me it's because you like to see a woman make the best of herself, or I might lamp you.

Number 3.  Converses are BLOODY EXPENSIVE.  To my mind, they are akin to designer gear.  So why criticise them for being common as muck?

Number 4. Mums' clothes need to be practical.  Really, we should all be shuffling round in an apron, shower cap and wellies considering the amount of chuff that gets thrown at us, day in, day out.  But we make some sort of effort, a nod to society, to keep ourselves smartish and try and make sure that our clothes aren't on inside out.  But to don, as this article suggests, heels and the 'must-have coat of the season'...I'm sorry, I've just had a tiny bit of mouth vomit.

Fashion has always been a mystery to me.  Aged 13, I was still in a pinafore dress when others were in luminous bat wing tops and ra-ra skirts.  I remember looking at these girls, and thinking: that's odd.

Now don't get me wrong; I love colour.  I like clothes that make me look thin.  I love it when someone says "Oo, I love your skirt."  And I love hats.  Any sort of hat - there's something a bit romantic about them.  A bit old school.

It's the whole following the crowd thing I don't understand.  Spending money for no sake.  Having a wardrobe full of perfectly good clothes and just ignoring them. Not mending clothes when buttons come off, or they rip a bit.  Or refusing to wear them because of that tiny stain that no one else can see.

It's a waste!  And an artificially contrived - um - thing that seems to have overtaken the lives of some of us.  Surely, instead of buying 'this season's must have', we should be spending our money on experiences for us and our children; holidays, day trips, adventures.  Or if we are lucky enough to have money left over, perhaps we should invest it in learning; evening classes perhaps.  Or spend your money on a decent bike and get your car off the road.

In short, we should all be happy with a pair of Converses.  And a bit of muck on our jeans.