Saturday, 27 August 2011

"Attack of the Midges" Part 2

Part 2: They're He-re!

Part 1 found here

So there we were, The FH and I, camping. Sat outside our little blue tent, talking about what a good team we were and how well we put the tent up.
"Yeah we didn't need to do a practice run like it suggested" he said
"Actually when I was reading the instructions, it said we only needed to do that so we would be prepared to put up, and dismantle, the tent in "adverse conditions", I think we're safe in North Yorkshire in August” I chuckled.

When Little O woke, stiff and confused, I took him off to the play area.  Our tent was pitched nearest to the woodland and the whole site was on a hill, with the campsite shop at the top and us, the play area and a few other pitches sat on the bottom rung.  It took us minutes to get to the play area. I sat in the background, whilst O mingled with the campsite riff raff "Ya got any brothers like?" a boy, claiming to be three, but who was head and shoulders bigger than O, asked him.
"I have a brother, who is asleep in the car, and another brother in my Mummy's tummy who makes her tired and slow"
That was pretty much the end of that conversation.

 Meanwhile, lots of little flies were using my forehead as target practice. The adventure play area was nestled in amongst the woods and it seemed to be midge paradise. I sat it out as long as I could, but started to get the uncomfortable itch that midges create. "Come on Little O we've got to go" I said removing the flies from eye sockets as if were mascara goop.

"There are loads of midges over at the play area." I said to The FH as we returned to find him swatting the air around his head.
"There are lots here too" he said, slapping his arm and then his leg.
"Ooh dear. I'm sure they'll calm down in a bit."

Next thing I know, I’ve lost all self-control and I’m fleeing from the inside of tent. “Look in there; it’s infested!”
"Fuck me - where'd they come from?" The FH panted, running from the tent and then diving into the car, he emerged with a canister of... Dettol.
"It''s all we've got" he explained to my puzzled face. "I'm going in"

Five minutes late, he emerged, coughing, spluttering and swatting his shaven head, whilst zipping the tent firmly closed.
"Gone?" I asked.
"Well I don’t think they liked it. They are even dead or very clean. Shit! Now I'm getting bitten to death out here!.
"I'm OK" I said, as I watched him swat the air with one hand and slap his ankle with the other.
"Really?" he asked taking in how tightly I had tied my hoody around my face and how I had put a pair of leggings on under my dress. "Because they are really getting on my nerves" he continued through gritted teeth and swatting hands "and to be honest, I’m already wondering if I can stay"
"Oh come on” I scoffed “You get midges on most campsites." While I said this I was trying my damnedest not to show that I felt like I had ants crawling on every part of my body
"What about the kids?" he asked.
I looked across at Little O and Fearless, who had been playing catch, only pausing occasionally to pull at their ears and scratch their heads.
"I think they're handling it better than us" I said. Then suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to itch and peel all my clothes off I spied the washing up bowl full of dirty dishes. Craving the protection of stone walls and a sealed door, I made a run for them "I'm just going to do the washing up" I said over my shoulder, picking up the pace.
"Not so fast" The FH butted in, grabbing a child under each arm and following me, who in turn, was followed by a dark cloud of flies who had picked up his scent.

"Quick shut the door" he said as we all clambered in on top of each other. "Is it shut tight?"
"Yes it's shut"
We stood there, panting, scratching and sighing. "Ooh it's nice in here" I said.
"Great, shall we stay in the utility room all night?" he asked, sarcasm dripping from his lips.
"So what do you suggest we do?  Pack up and go home because of midges? - We'll never hear the end of it." I was sure the threat of humiliation would help him to man up.

We washed the dishes. Little O helped dry and Fearless destroyed the utility room waste bin. We made a plan. The FH was to go to the campsite shop and ask the campsite manager for some advice and then buy whatever products he had on offer. We would then have something to eat and head back to the coast for the evening. Then, on returning to the campsite we would hope for either the wind to have picked up, or the temperature to have dropped, and the vicious midges to have retreated back to their stagnant bog of breeding.

He paused before opening the door "Ready?" he asked.
And then when I pushed him out said "Will you be ok?"
"It's only some tiny little flies" I replied arrogantly.

When he got back from the shop he found the three of us locked inside the car watching Toy Story on the portable DVD players.

"Shut the door! Shut the door!" I screamed when he climbed him. "Oh you've let some in" I sighed.
"Just some little flies eh?"
"They're not flies, they're devil spawn"
"I don't like them flies" Little O piped up from the back seat, trying to swat the ones on the car ceiling with his wooden sword. "I'm gonna kill them with my sword"
"Well I got this..." The FH brandished a can of fly spray.
"Is that it?"
"He said he had some really good stuff, but it was 7 quid a tube and when I asked him if it could be used on pregnant women or children under 5 he just shrugged."

So there we were, the four of us, camping, locked in-side our own car, with a can of fly spray as a weapon.

I looked around, fellow campers were sat outside their tents, the student campers were having a game of footy, and children, with exposed flesh, we're playing a board game on the grass. "Is it just me, or do we seem to be the only people who are bothered by them?"
"I know I was thinking that" said The FH scanning the campsite. "And you know, up at the shop, I didn't notice them at all"
"Right let's stick to the original plan. The kids can stay in here, I'll make their dinner. We can grab a sandwich on our way out. You spray. "
We fastened our hoodies around our foreheads in synchronization, The FH grabbed the fly spray and together, we ran from the car towards the tent.

There were more.

The FH disappeared inside the tent. I grabbed a tin of ravioli, some bread and cheese and started cooking. I was crouched over the stove, hands swatting around my face, trying to spot if any of the little blighters had opted for a dip in the orange goop. It was one of those moments, as a parent, where you think "you know what, if they eat a midge, it won't kill them".  As The FH emerged from the tent, for the second time, coughing, spluttering and slapping his arms and legs, dinner was ready to be served. I decided to head further up the hill to eat; blanket under arm, a plate of gourmet delight (tinned ravioli and cheese sandwiches)  in each hand and two little hungry boys at my heals.

I found a spot, put the blanket on the grass and sat them down. I tried to spoon-feed Fearless, but he was having none of it and insisted on grabbing the ravioli squares by hand. I ran back to the tent for some kitchen roll and returned, breathless, and... SCREAMED!  The FH came running over and where once our second, blonde-haired, angelic faced child had been was now an orange faced child with a head full of black flies. He was crying and slapping is orange gooped hands around is face in irritation. Meanwhile, his elder brother was sat on the floor, swatting the air above his head crying "They're 'fusing me. They won't let me eat my dinner."

I grabbed Fearless and a towel and ran to the wash room.  The FH put Little O in the car, with his remaining plate of ravioli, telling him “Don't worry if you make a mess, your grandparents will understand".

When  I returned with a clean, towel robed, still screaming, Fearless, I asked The FH to look at his face. He looked like he had chicken pox, his sun kissed skin was covered in red spots where the little suckers had had a field day.
"Get him in the car. Let's get this tent down. We're going."

So operation dismantle began. The well-oiled team sprang into action. He dived into the tent, whilst I stood outside waiting for instructions. He returned with all the sleeping bags and their sleeves and asked me to put them away. He then disappeared back inside the tent. Next the air beds came flying out the door. I guessed I was in charge of deflating them as well. So I sat on the floor, rolling sleeping bags and using my underestimated  brute force to manipulate them into their sleeves. All the time, the mist of midges surrounding me seemed to be increasing. The FH came out "Are you alright?"
"There in my eyes. MY EYES!” as I spoke, to distressed to cry, I spat soggy midges from my mouth.
"It’s horrible, fucking horrible" he said, dancing around the tent, pulling pegs from the ground as if they were blades of grass.

I pulled the last draw string on the sleeping bag and sighed. Right. Air beds. I had the slight problem of trying to use the car pump to deflate them without letting any of the little bastards into the car. But I managed to create just enough of an opening in the window and sat deflating the beds, whilst standing as a force to be reckoned with in front of the window gap. My children were in there. The midges would have to eat their way through me first.

The car air pump does a very good job of deflating, but there is only one way to get the last bit of air out - squash it out! This entailed me folding the air beds into a square shape and lying on top of them.  I was aware of how ridiculous I looked. I had my hood tied like a Inuit,  I was sporting a 5 month pregnancy bump that rivaled most 7 month pregnancy bumps and I was lying face down, doing the caterpillar (or worm if you prefer)  on top of a deflating air bed. I looked up to see The FH, creased in laughter as he dismantled the tent, also sporting the Inuit look. I was pulling midges from my eye sockets, my nose, my ears and my mouth. I heard laughter behind me and look to see the students are happily kicking a ball to one another, can of beer in hand. "What is wrong with you?" I scream in their direction "Who are you? Deet Robots!"

They didn’t respond. Deet robots rarely do.

Airbeds - done! The FH threw them into the boot, along with the rest of our stuff. There was no time for placing equipment and sensible packing. Open the boot, throw them in and slam it shut!

The final task was to get the tent and all its fiddly components in the tent bag and zip up the bag. This was a two man job...

So there we were, The FH and I, dressed like Inuits, in August, lay on top of a tent bag, trying to zip the fucker up! A cloud of flies were hovering around our heads, every other second one, with a sharp set of gnashers, dived in to take a bite at our exposed cheeks and hands.

"This is like horror movie" The FH said, between grunts. Then surveying the campsite "But we're the only ones in it."
"What’s going on? How can they not be bothered?" I gasped
"It must be some sort of initiation. You know 'cos we're new" he laughed.
"Oh yeah. They'll all be laughing at us. Look at the newbies, running away from the midges" I started giggling, we were on the verge of hysteria. "Yeah - take your midget windbreak with you, you amateurs."
“Seriously though” he asked “What have they done - bathed in Deet for a week before they got here?"
The zip wouldn't budge; the hook was caught on the inner tent. If we pulled it, either way, it was going to rip and our little blue tent would be ruined. We looked around the campsite, which was carrying on as normal; no swatting, no panic, no discomfort.
"This place is weird. Something's not right. Fuck the tent." he said picking it up and chucking in in the boot "We're not staying here another second"

We got in the car, fastened our seat belts, and looked round at the boys, contently watching their DVD, their faces dotted with red spots. The FH started the engine.
"Well I guess we can tick off dismantling a tent in adverse weather conditions" I said as I closed my eyes, tipped my head back and sighed with relief. Slowly, I opened my eyes and saw the black mist that was clinging to the car ceiling.
"Don't. Look. Up “I whispered.
He did.
"Arrgggh" he screamed "And put his foot down so we roared out of the campsite. "We're gonna take them back to Saltburn. It'll be Midges 2- The Revenge"

Rumour has it, that a week later, they claim to still hear our screams, and see our arms swatting the car roof, as we raced off down the country lane.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

'Attack of the Midges" - Coming to a Cinema Near You!

Part 1: Before THEY Came!

We went camping!

We picked a site, 40 minutes away, on the North Yorkshire Moors. We raided my parent's loft for camping equipment. We packed the car (my parent's car, as this time we had swapped).We set off!

We arrived. Found a pitch. Pitched (in under 30 minutes). Blew up the airbeds (well, the air pump did). Retrieved Fearless from a muddy puddle he was lay face down. Put Fearless down for his afternoon nap. Watched the sun emerge from the drizzly skies. And sat down with a cup of tea. "Well that was all a bit too easy, wasn't it?" I said to The FH whilst trying to peel off the smug grin someone had plastered across my face.

Growing up we camped ALL the time. As both parents were Teachers, we would spend the six week holidays making our way down to the South West of France, trailer in tow, spending as long as we could there, exploring pine cone forests, discovering  markets that would shame London and  taking the locals on at boules. Then we would head back to Calais; bronzed children, exhausted parents and a trailer tent jammed with barrels of red wine.

But in my adult years I swapped ferries for planes, spontaneity for package, camping stoves for all inclusive buffets and lakes for pools. Safe to say, on arrival, I felt out touch. It seemed camping had moved forward and left me behind; laundry rooms, electric hook ups, family wash rooms (more impressive than our recently fitted bathroom) were all sure signs that “Glamping” was present.

We'd camped once, as a couple, in the early days, before kids, with a tent named "titch" so small we thought it had been nicked when we came back from the pub, but soon realised, as we stumbled closer, we had parked the car in front of it. But that had merely been a pub crawl in The Lakes disguised as a walking holiday. And to be honest the camping part is a bit of a blur. Nothing like this. This time we had two children under 4, a baby bump and no booze - we were hardcore.

I found myself suffering Tent Envy "Look at that one FH! That's got a living room and a canopy!"
"Our tent is fine" he'd reply.
"Ooh look at their camping stove, it's got a grill and FOUR hobs!
"Our stove is fine" he's reply.
Eventually, I stopped commenting and just silently tent watched. I discovered wind breaks were the new camping accessory. Fortunately, my parent's windbreak had randomly been left in their car, so I got it out and asked The FH to put up, I didn't want us to look amateur. Unfortunately the camping windbreak is double the height of the beach windbreak, so it probably had the opposite effect, as experienced campers scoffed inside their tents at our midget accessory “Newbies”.

Little O and I were itching to explore the campsite; him wanting to go to the play area, me the campsite shop. Returning, itchy feet  satisfied, we all headed to the local pub for dinner, where everything was accompanied with homemade chips -yum. Full bellied and heavy eyed we  returned to the little blue tent, a lot later than anticipated, and settled the kids down for the night. Our little tent has two bedroom compartments. the plan was to take a child each. I was settled in one bedroom, but then decided that the other bedroom looked roomier (even though they are exactly the same inner tents) and the airbed was clearly pumped up further, so asked to swap, The FH sulkily obliged - the things you can get away with whilst you're pregnant!

And the night went well - no midnight toilet visits needed, no waking children, air bed still full in the morning and the tent still dry. it was a little bit windy, well quite a lot actually. In fact, so windy, that when little O woke at 5.30 (no black out blinds in tents) and had to go for a piddle, The FH followed us out inquiring if Hurricane George had passed through here during the night and said he just wanted to check if my parent's car had blown away. We came to the conclusion the windbreak (which was still flapping) may have enhanced the sound effects - maybe camping ones are quieter.

Still, all in all, the first night was a success. Now it was time for breakfast. Breakfast? What were we planning to have for breakfast? As I eyed a food stash, it slowly dawned on me that we may have overlooked that one. We had no grill, one small camping stove, a loaf of bread, no butter, and an array of tinned produce… We hadn't quite covered breakfast. As the campsite shop didn't open till 8.30 and we were all wide awake by 6.00 am, The FH roared off in the car to find the nearest garage. He returned half an hour later, the garage was only 5 minutes down the road, but he had to sit outside for 20 minutes waiting for it to open! Alas, he had cereal and bacon!

We soon discovered the necessity of a windbreak as The FH had to wrap himself and the camping stove up in it to keep the flame alight, but 10 minutes later, there we were sat outside our little blue tent, eating bacon sandwiches, attired in hoodies and pyjamas, hair flapping like flags in the wind.

The morning was very pleasant. I even got chatting to fellow campers, as I ran after Fearless, retreieving him from their tent. We made camping small talk; "Ooh yes it's a lovely campsite" They'd say.
"Umm. Very clean" I'd reply, handing them back their saucepan Fearless had ran off with.
"How'd do like your spot?" they'd enquire.
"Great yeah, lovely view of the woodland."
"Not bothered by the midges then?" they'd ask as Fearless emerged from their tent with a wooden spoon.
"Hadn't noticed them" I'd say walking away, Fearless restrained in arms, spoon discarded on the grass.

"Funny that" The FH said later, when I retold the conversation. "The landlord said that last night. Something about the wind keeping the midges down"

But we thought no more about it as we were having a lovely time watching the kids dive in and out of rock pools in a lovely bay on the north Yorkshire Coast. Actually, we were letting are children entertain most of the beach as they dashed around us naked, rolling/bombing/shrieking/belly-flopping in and out of the pockets of sea water. The wind had died down, the sun pushed out a few more degrees and found ourselves sunbathing and craving ice-cream! We ate out for lunch, promising each other we would be eating tomato soup and cheese sandwiches on site for tea. We did have a budget after all.

We returned to the campsite, both children snoring in the car, we left them there, car doors open (because you can do that camping) and had a cup of te Al fresco, enjoying the sunshine,  whilst  I reminisced about my childhood camping adventures and The FH listened politely. "Well hasn't this been lovely" I said after a pause and a sigh, but secretly slightly disappointed there had been no drama "Don't think it'll make an interesting blog post though..."


Monday, 15 August 2011

That's right - blame the teachers.

We switched on the news and saw the devastating effects of a broken society. We read the papers, pausing to absorb, then struggling to read on. We were drawn to You Tube, blogs and Twitter, sucking in opinions like a sponge. Then we listened to the radio, and a member of the public rang in and said "I blame the teachers me" and we looked at each other and said "That didn't take long".

So it's our fault; our lack of discipline in the classroom means we have taught young people it's acceptable to destroy your community, set fire to cars and buildings, mug innocent bystanders and attack the police. It's amazing that exam results are improving when we're all so busy inciting anarchy.

Teacher’s jobs are to teach. They are not there to bring up children, neither is it the government’s job, that responsibility lies solely in the hands of their parents or carers.

Teachers stopped being disciplinarians a long time ago. This power was taken away from us. Somewhere between then and now, children started being "always right" like customers, schools became businesses and head teachers managers. Parental complaints became more important than teacher's professional opinions and shouting only resulted in a sore throat.

There were no punishments that mattered any more, there were no consequences, no after effects.
"So what give us a detention. It's only an hour"
And they were right. That’s all it would be, their parents wouldn't care, they wouldn’t take their pocket money off them, ground them or confiscate their PS3, because that would make their lives "too hard", or that they had to spend some time with them.

Today's youth are spawned from a generation of parents who have yet themselves to learn about responsibility. This youth have had no one to teach them about consequences, they don't feel guilt or acknowledge their behaviour to be disrespectful or irresponsible. They are preoccupied with their own rights and what they believe to be owed to them - their hand-outs.

To this generation triumph is not a feeling, it is a materialistic reward. In the class room a teacher's praise and a good grade is not enough - "So what'd I get? Don't y' have sweets or summit?" They have learnt right from wrong through bribery and when they stopped believing in Santa Clause their parents ran out of ideas.

They are a generation that has been overindulged, bailed out and had materialistic items lavished upon them. They have grown up in a bubble of invincibility where they have been allowed to walk out of schools shouting over their shoulders "You can't talk to me like that I'm going to get me Dad up here". And the same parent that comes to the school at year 7, defending their child's honour, putting in a formal complaint about a teacher, will be the same parent who comes to the school 5 years later sobbing "He's out of control! I dunno what to do with him?"

"For me, the deepest issue at play here is one of responsibility. Who is responsible for law and order in our nation? Who is responsible for the behaviour of our young people? Can we blame the state when parents have been allowed to abdicate responsibility for the behaviour of their children?" Shaun Bailey, The Guardian. 

Shaun Bailey has worked as youth worker in London and writes for The Times and The Guardian. He looks at the youth through the fragmented glass from a broken society. He questions how we have allowed people to expect the government to provide them with a house, an income and bring up their children.

In schools, the ultimate weapons of exclusion and permanent exclusion are made a mockery of when parents are allowed to freely appeal against them. The decision, which was best for the school, is then over-ridden by a troop of governors, who make decisions based upon figures and statistics. And once again we send out the message - "You're untouchable".

It is easy to point the finger, it may even you feel better, abdicating your own responsibility, but don't point it at teachers. Yes, there are some bad teachers out there; there are people who teach because it's a job, not a vocation, ones which would rather be anywhere else but a classroom, ones who teach because they couldn’t think of anything else to do with their degree. But the good outweigh the bad; if not in numbers in their presence. There are people working with children who may agree with the riots, some may even have taken a role in them: a learning mentor from a primary school in London has been charged with attempted burglary during the riots. But this is out of the ordinary; that’s why it made the news.

The majority of Teachers work really hard to make a difference. Even though many of our Teachers find themselves working amongst the products of neglect, abuse, deprivation and social injustice. Even if their classroom is full of students who are already foregone failures on paper, they still go back the next day and try all over again.

"If a person suffers from such lack of self respect, why would they have any respect for authority or their community? It is easy to believe that increased discipline will work, if you yourself fear exclusion." Emma Jones,

In Emma Jones' article she talks about issues that Willy Russell was fore-fronting in 'Our Day Out' in the 1970's. The outcomes are different but the issues are still the same; the oppressive environment, the lack of opportunities, children fulfilling society's expectations and the rest.  Can there still be the same problems thirty years on? Well Band Aid released the same song twenty years later because there was still famine in Africa. Nothing is fixed with a play or a song. Nothing so big can be so fixed so simply.

But I do know one thing - it's not the Teacher's fault. I'll accept that we can be blamed for an illiterate youth (even though the BBC need to take responsibility too - as they no longer feel the need to use capitals or apostrophes). I'll accept that children are spoon-fed for exams and lack real depth in their learning and I'll even accept they we are to blame for the bad weather during English Summers, because as soon as Teacher's holidays begin the sun disappears. But riots? No. This one's not down to us. This one we all need to take responsibility for.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

I'm so easy to please - a trip to Ikea and I'm yours!

The Future Husband and I have a love-hate relationship with Ikea, I love it, and he hates it. But every so often, through a bit of emotional blackmail, trickery and female persuasion I get him there.

This week we our converting a small reception room, which was once the quiet room/study/music room, now a dumping ground, into a playroom. This is a vain attempt  to reclaim the larger living room as our own.

So I did the internet research, I measured the walls, I got the parents to babysit (as child-friendly as Ikea thinks it is, taking children is not a pleasant experience) and we set off. "Are you sure you don't want to swap cars with Mum and Dad for the day?" I asked for a final time as we closed the doors and fastened our seat belts.
"No this'll be fine." he said "I've measured it."
"Ok" I replied, unconvinced, as the Golf vroomed off down the road, leaving the large Honda estate as a tiny speck in the rear view mirror.

So we arrived and fought our way into a parking space. "Great." he mutters. "It's packed. Let's go join the zombie trail" 

Thankfully The FH had forgotten about the shortcut, which meant I could dawdle through the showroom, blaming my slowness on my newly found bump and the first signs of a waddle.

Reasons I love it:
  • It's affordable - well actually it's cheap.
  • It looks good; boxy frames, oversized bookshelves, quirky patterns - it's me!
  • It does "organisation" very well! Clutter drives me mad. My house is full of clutter - Ikea organises it for me.
  • I'm always allowed to stop in the cafe - because it's SO cheap.
  • It does wooden toys (not plastic)
  • It sells everything I never knew I needed
Reasons he hates it:
  • We all follow the same path round, going snail pace, looking brain dead, he calls it "The Zombie Trail"
  • It's cheap and prone to falling apart
  • It serves bad coffee
  • He has to do all the lifting, carrying and car packing logistics, whilst I stand there looking daft.
  • He has to pay.
  • An Ikea shopping trip always ends with an evening of flat pack DIY hell
So, we are in the showroom, I'm full of inspiration and have already forgotten what we've come for as I've see so many things we need instead! He is full of despair and either constantly looking at his watch or eyeing-up the veins in his wrist.

The rest of the trip is filled with disparaging comments, from both of us; big ideas shot down in flames, by both us, some begrudging compromises and a final agreement.

Two hours later we reach the end (we did stop for meatballs and chips halfway, but The FH wasn't hungry so he ogled my food as he drank some brown water that the Swedish call coffee). As I descended the final escalator, I found myself reading The Ikea Mission Statements posted on the wall beside me; posters reading things like Why do I have to get my furniture from the store room myself? and Why do I have to pay extra for home delivery? and Why do I have to assemble the furniture myself? and I ask The FH if he wrote these. He doesn't bother to answer. But that's what keeps the cost down the last poster tells me and I nod in agreement and think no need to tell me Ikea, I'm on your side. 

We find our flat packs, without the usual stress of losing the catalogue numbers, and head not to the check out, but to bargain corner, which The FH has been eyeing up the sign posts for.

 "This is why it's called Bargain Corner; it's all crap!" he mutters to me as we manoeuvre through battered wardrobes, chipped vases  and wonky coffee tables. Then, at the end, like a prize at the end of a maze, is the leather arm chair from The Future Husband's dreams. It has a scratch barely visible to the human eye and price tag that makes it utterly irresistible.

We spend 10 minutes taking it in turns to sit the chair, measure it with our arms and consider if there is any chance we can fit it into the Golf with the 185cm tall bookcases. I think not, but instead I say the words that have been bubbling inside me for the last 15 minutes "We should have borrowed Mum and Dad's car." He doesn't bother to reply. We ask about Home delivery, which will cost nearly as much as the chair and ask if we can reserve it and are bluntly told "no". We decide get the book cases in the car first and see from there...

Oh famous last words...

We stand outside the Golf, me pregnant and useless, him hot and bothered, two delivery men eat an ice cream on an adjacent bench enjoying the entertainment, as we manoeuvre just one of  the 5 flat packs in and out of the car, angling it every way possible, chairs up, chairs down, chairs forward, chairs back, whatever we do it still hangs out over the lip of the car boot. So in the midst of this stressful situation, with the realisation the leather chair is definitely not going to fit in, I say. "Do you think we should have borrowed Mum and Dad's car?"  He doesn't reply, instead just silently shoves the bookcase around the car with a new found force. We are there for twenty minutes before a solution is found. This solution entails me sitting in the back, on top of the folded down seat, without a seatbelt, and for the first time in my life looking VERY tall". This is how I travel home: head bobbing against the ceiling, arse completely numb, baby kicking in my bladder every fifteen minutes and a seatbelt hooked over my should, just in case.

We are not long on the A1(M) when we meet a traffic jam, the place seems to be swarming with police and The FH is twitching with guilt. "Look normal!" he tells me. I try, but I've never been this tall before. Just when the coast is clear, and the traffic begins to move again what does our beloved and reliable Golf do? Stall. And fail to restart. This is an on-going condition of the Golf, resulting from when The FH filled his diesel car with petrol and told everybody that I had done it. But never has it done this on the outside lane of the motorway, with police cars a stone's throw away, when your pregnant fiancĂ© is perched, without seatbelt, in a very unsafe position on the back seat.

It was intense.

But with a lot of swearing and a bit of luck, it started again. "Maybe we should have borrow..."
"Don't Fran. Fucking. Don't"

N.B That evening was not filled with DIY flat pack hell. Instead The FH made another 100 mile round trip to Ikea to get the leather armchair, thankfully it was still there, otherwise some poor Geordie may have found The FH rocking in a corner of the warehouse.

Long live the day when The FH went to Ikea... Twice! 

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Do women really like sport?

I'm not sure if I actually like sport or I've just conditioned myself to it. Somewhere, between childhood and the present, a strange relationship has evolved and now it's left me doubting the whole female race.

By "sport," I am not talking partaking or exercising, I'm talking watching. You know the capability most blokes hold, to sit for hours, not moving (except for their mouths,) remote in hand, watching other people playing sport on the TV.  Sometimes I find myself doing it too - but only when The FH is in the room. Surely there's a reason for this.

So this is how it started...

My earliest memories of watching sport revolve around my dad playing cricket.

The Cricket Club.

Now I don't remember watching much of the game, or even learning the rules. But trips to the Cricket Club did teach me something. I learnt that my cousins were allowed a bottle of Coca Cola and a packet of S&V's EACH! My siblings and I would ogle them enviously as we shared a bottle with three straws and took it in turns to prize a crisp from the singular packet, hoping to get a bigger one than the other two. It taught me how to develop the technique of hill rolling. We spent hours racing, sausage roll style, down the grassy banks behind the cricket field, acclaim only given to whoever could make it to the bottom without a breaking the rhythm. It taught me that you could build a den anywhere, with anything. It taught me that my dad wasn’t the only person who had a dingle dangle, as one afternoon me and my sister crept into the changing rooms and peeped, from behind the wall, at the cricketers getting showered. We then ran off squealing with giggles, and sat in the long grass comparing notes about what are innocent eyes had seen. I learnt the joy of rebellion, crossing over the white line - "Never cross over the white line!" adults yelled over their shoulders. We did. It was exhilarating. It taught me that the best sports had a tea break in the middle.

Next came the boys. This happened at primary school. Boys were footy obsessed and I soon cottoned on to this. What was the best way to impress the most popular boy at school? Wear the Football Kit he supports. Obviously, a nine year old girl can't just wake up morning and say "Mum will you buy me a Liverpool strip?" You've got to show a keen interest first. So I started small. I got a Panini sticker book of The First Division (pre-premiership young whippet snappers). Dad was impressed. I showed extra interest in the school football team, my Primary Teacher was the Footy Coach and somehow I ended up training with the squad. This was before primary schools insisted on a girl on the squad and was slightly controversial. However, result. Off we trudged to a sports shop where I was kitted out in footy boots, and the football strip of my choice. Now, unfortunately, the shop had sold out of Liverpool Kits, and even more unfortunate I with my Mum. So when the shop assistant, clutching for a sale, said "We've got Everton strips, that's in Liverpool". Me and Mum though "close enough". I know, *hangs head in shame*. So as I proudly wore my Everton strip the next day and strutted past the object my affection and was greeted with "Urgh ya dirty blue nose!" The FH is also a red, so even now 21 years later, that Football shirt haunts me.

I made it my mission never to be caught out again. I listened. I learned. I went to matches (tagged along with Dad and brother). I even watched Match of The Day. But, it paid off. As a teenager I prided myself on knowing the off-side rule, revelled in being able to join in with Footy chants on the walk home from the pub, and realised that being able to talk about football was a great way to start a conversation with boys. Success - 10 years on.

Wimbledon was easy. 1992. Andre Agassi - with hair. Strawberries and cream. Lots of posh people sat in the rain. I loved it. Then the Henman Years - "Come On TIM!", followed by the discovery of Pimms. What's not to enjoy?

Then there was cricket. Again. Now football I could cope with it. it was fast, popular, there was a world cup or Euro every 2 years to get your teeth into, swearing, controversy and male models doubled up as goal keepers. But cricket? Slow, long, tedious cricket. My family are big cricket fans. But I had vowed I would not become of them. Nothing could drive me to watch that. Nothing except A Level revision. The only time my parents weren't nagging me to revise is when I said I was watching the cricket (the only time they have bothered to nag me to do school work was when they feared I may actually fail my A Levels and would have to live at home for another year a\s I did re-sits). And  do you know what? I got quite into it. Helped along by the delightful Mark Ramprakash (10 years before his Strictly Come Dancing appearance) and the charismatic Darren Gough. I was smitten.

So by the time I met The FH in my early twenties, having discovered my extensive knowledge of sport had impressed previous suitors, I was in full throttle. Have I mentioned The FH is a PE teacher? I was put to the test. I think I passed. I'd overhear him talking in the pub. "You see I don't have that problem lads as Fran loves Togga" I'd catch his eye, wrinkle my nose and smile. Then a little bit of guilt would rumble inside me as I tried to work out if Match of the Day would coincide with the repeats of Sex in the City this week.

So that’s just me. But I cannot tar the rest of the female population with my devious and conniving ways. There must be some other women out there who have a passion for watching sport, and not just because they are conditioned to.
My Mother loves cricket, but then does admit her favourite part is listening to the commentators because they make her laugh. My best friend works for the premiership, but up unitl her career took her down the path she had NEVER watched a game of football in her life. My sister makes an effort, on her boyfriend’s behalf but the following phone conversation took place during the ashes…
Me: What you doing?
Curls: We’re just watching cricket. It’s quite exciting our batter is doing well
Curls: [to boyfriend] Now, Where’s he going? Why’s he walking off?
Curls’ BF: He’s been got out.
Curls: Oh
Me: Where did you think he was going?
Curls I thought he had gone to get his ball.
Maybe it’s just my family, we’re kind of fickle like that. But Curls, in here busiest of working of week of the year, was astonished to find herself checking the BBC sport website for cricket scores. So maybe some women just need a gateway – I suppose after years of being side-lined with hockey and netball (you don’t find them on TV) it’s difficult to then be expected to master the rules of sports we weren’t allowed to play. Or maybe would rather be taking a trip down memory lane with Carrie Bradshaw and wondering if we will ever own a pair of Manolos.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Never work with children or animals.

They're not daft, these professionals, who feed us these clichéd snippets of wisdom.

 "Never work with animals or children."

The phrase is banded about, at least once, on most reality TV shows (i.e. a barely celebrity in the jungle says it whilst being pecked at by an angry ostrich wielding a star).But it is good advice; we mere amateurs should take it.

An idea was formed between two brothers - to get a family portrait done for their Father's 60th. A photographer was booked. A location decided. The family was there. Six adults; three children. We had them 2-1. It was going to be fine.

To be honest, I hadn't really thought about the logistics, as a last minute thought I grabbed a packet of quavers and Fearless’s favourite toy, you know, just in case. But ever the optimist, I rarely plan for disasters. I was  an amateur and embarrassingly underprepared.

An hour later we were all STILL chasing Fearless around the park, photographer in tow, in a bleak attempt to get at least one picture where we are all in the shot and Fearless wasn't looking distraught, screaming, crying, hiding, or fleeing.

At the start the oldest children were as good as gold; willingly hugging this post here, holding hands there, dancing with bubbles anywhere. But by the end, when Fearless had run out of puff and was being unenthusiastically restrained by The weary FH, the glum facial expressions of the rest of us confirmed the general ambience...

Say Cheese”