Monday, 31 May 2010

lessons from the vegetable patch

Time to face the truth: I'm not nearly ruthless enough to grow salad. Reading this has given me the courage to confess my own similar dilemma with the vegetable patch - like its author, I just can't bring myself to do thinning out.
I know you have to pull out the weedy/surplus seedlings so the rest have space to grow. But a combination of stinginess - I hate throwing away perfectly good (embryonic) rocket - and soppiness makes me wimp out every time.
Surely if the spindly, yellowing ones were lavished with a few weeks of top quality fertiliser/sunshine/twice-daily watering/private education, they too could grow up to be spinach! All that potential gone to waste is so sad. Even if it was only ever destined to be lettuce.
This deep feebleness has, of course, resulted in a salad jungle: vast thickets of red mustard, great tangles of rocket - none of which will mature properly because they don't actually have any room.
My fellow garden wimp, Douglas Carswell, saw his veg patch as a metaphor for coalition government: weak policies have to be weeded out to let other ideas flourish. Hmm. My overcrowded, stunted lettuces are reminding me more of the first law of working parenthood: you can't do everything, and failure to prioritise only means nothing gets done well.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

how to tell you're a grown up

My son turned three recently, which has prompted several conversations about what being grownup means. He seems confident he's more or less there now, but does concede there are a handful of desirable things that only grownups can do. After much debate, he has boiled these down to:
1. Cut with sharp scissors
2. Shave
3. Change a lightbulb when it's blown
4. Drive a cement mixer
5. Swim in your pyjamas (I think this relates to some older kids he saw doing lifesaving practice at the local swimming pool)

The more I look at this list, the more I think it roughly covers it. As for the moment I finally gave up on the illusion that I am in any way still young, it was probably last week, walking through some water meadows nearby which are popular with tourists.
I didn't just tut at the rubbish left behind by last weekend's picnickers: I actually picked it up and took it home.
Which means I have finally become my mother.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

back to the kitchen cabinet

There is a line, in the Winnie the Pooh book with which my son is currently obssessed, about Kanga suddenly feeling 'motherly, and wanting to count things', like vests for Roo and clean spots on Tigger's feeder. It must have been on my mind, because this week - when I was planning to do absolutely nothing, after a month working flat out - I've found myself mostly wanting to count things instead.
Or not so much count as sort. There is a great, underrated pleasure in sorting: ruthlessly chucking out old paperwork, tangles of chargers whose phones are long gone, laddered pairs of tights. It's an almost physical relief.
And the great bonus of being mostly slatternly is that on the rare occasions you do spring clean, there are so many surprises. Who knew there was sunlight outside, once the windows were washed? Or that I'll never actually need to buy another biro in this lifetime, given how many were lying around the house?
There is a secret, retro pleasure in this bringing (if briefly) of domestic order to chaos. The urge doesn't strike me very often but it tends to come after an intense period of work: I think there's an element of wresting back control, reasserting yourself in the domestic world you've become disconnected from.
And this time, maybe some displacement activity too. A new government has formed, and for the first time in four elections I don't have a ringside seat next to it.
Perhaps what I'm really doing is confronting the fact that, after a month embroiled in my old world during the election, it's time to move on. It's Cabinet reshuffles for them, and reshuffling kitchen cupboards for me.
Oh well. I still don't quite know what the future holds: but at least now I've chucked all the jars long past their sell-by dates, it's less likely to hold salmonella.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

why this hasn't been a Mumsnet election

A few days ago, a woman about my age came up to me on the street while I was out with my son. She apologised for bothering us but said she was desperately looking for some part-time childcare for her daughter, who's recently started school.
She worked at a local hospital, which often meant late evening shifts: but she couldn't find a local nursery or childminder open much past 6pm, while afterschool clubs aren't open that late either (and even if they were that's a terribly long day in school for a four-year-old.) I guess a nanny was too expensive on an NHS salary, and there were no grandparents nearby.
If she couldn't find someone, she would no longer be able to do her job: and she was getting desperate, which was why she was stopping complete strangers like me, hoping that the local mummy grapevine could somehow magically produce a solution.
And as we chatted I thought: during almost four weeks of this so-called 'Mumsnet election', with politicians supposedly targeting middle class mothers in marginal seats, I have heard nobody even come close to offering practical help with problems like this.
We live in a 24/7 economy, with supermarkets open round the clock and millions of people in the public sector working night and weekend shifts, yet childcare is still too often organised around an 8am-6pm working day. How do you hire and hold onto parents in those circumstances?
But nobody wants to talk about complicated things like that. What we get is photo opportunities amid the fingerpaints to promote tax breaks for married mothers or toddler tax credits (worth £3 a week and just under £4 a week respectively: hardly enough to compensate for having to give up one's job) and gushing talk from the leaders' wives about what great dads their husbands are.
As a bunch of eminent (and clearly cross) women make clear in this letter to the Times today, too many of the really big questions for women haven't even been touched. If this was the Mumsnet election, god help us when politics reverts to normal.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

oh yes, the camera does lie

For as long as I can remember, I've hated being photographed. My best friend couldn't claim I'm photogenic (my passport was once returned to me at Customs with the words 'I'd change that, it's doing you no favours'): let's just say there's a reason this blog is illustrated by a picture of a road.
So when Grazia magazine said they wanted to shoot me for an article I'd written about what it was like giving up my Proper Job, I just hoped it would all be over quickly. What follows, folks, is the truth about what it takes to turn a haggard old crone into the Grazia-fied stranger in this week's edition. And no, the lovely mac is not really mine. Sob.
That one oh-so-natural picture took a team of five (photographer, photographer's assistant, stylist, makeup artist, shoot stylist) half a day to create. They arrived, trailing two rails of clothes and a high street's worth of shoes, just as the builders were fitting a new door to replace the one wrecked in the burglary. I think it's fair to say ruralshire builders are not used to the fashion world.
Nor, I'm fairly certain, were the sensible matrons out walking their dogs nearby who rounded a corner to find me poncing across the river meadows in (borrowed) designer labels trailed by the full Grazia entourage, with the makeup artist dashing forward every five seconds to top up my lipgloss, while I tried vainly to look as if I was just out for a stroll.
Freddie was a little confused ('Why are we going for a walk but not walking anywhere?'). The dog let itself down by licking the camera. And the lovely Paul & Joe dress didn't quite zip up my non-model back: thank God for that mac, really.
Still, the end result is about the only photograph I've ever seen of me that I quite sort of like. The bad news is that left to my own devices, I look absolutely nothing like it.
Oh, and my son keeps asking loudly in public places when 'the makeup lady is coming to do you again'....