I like a mince pie. Not daily throughout December, but occasionally, warmed up, with a dab of cream. My 14 year old boy absolutely adores them though. Last year, this was revealed as his eyes lit up each time one came out of the oven.When we got to January, I naively assumed you could find them year round - not in EVERY shop, but surely in the big supermarkets they’d be tucked away in the cake aisle for mince pie crazed fiends. Not so, my friends, not so. (I did try making them but they weren’t as good apparently). So this year, I’m stockpiling them. Not because of any (sshh) Brexit related madness but because you can’t buy them come Jan 6th. The shelf life on these babies is April, so I reckon a few packs will keep him going. He’s as thin as a rail, so he could have one daily, but he’s self-imposedly stringent, so will only have 2 or 3 a week. I would describe this as indulgent mothering, which I don’t often get to do with him as his needs and wants are few (apart from musical equipment).
Otherwise, things are just about in place. I did my last bits (I hope!) of food shopping today. Sometimes I miss having a partner, but not so when encountering the furious sotto voce conversations between overwrought couples in the supermarket. I can do things my way. If things feel all too much, here’s a piece I wrote a few years back about this time of year. Asda has a different ad this year I've no doubt, but I’m sure the sentiment is much the same.
It seems to me that mums have the roughest time at Christmas, because all the expectation and planning falls on their shoulders. If you don’t think that’s true, ask yourself this? Who will be sending the cards to your husband/partner’s family…? Come on, be honest, it’s probably you, isn’t it? Because you know that they will send cards to your house and if you naively assume your fella will pull his finger out to send one in return, it won’t get done and there’ll be pursed lips from Great Aunt Ethel about the ingratitude. The same applies to presents for all the extended family, the arrangements over the festive period, the entire food and drink shop and everything else besides. Not to mention all the paraphernalia the kids will need.
Last year Asda cottoned on to the fact that mothers undertook this mammoth task every year. Their blurb read – ‘we know that there’s a mum working hard to make it magical for the whole family – that’s the theme of our latest TV ad.’ The advert featured our pretty blonde heroine, sometimes dishevelled, but always cute and winsome, as she heroically battled on through all the work. The tree won’t fit in the car – how amusing; the lights for the tree are all tangled – bust a gut; there’s only a pouffe for her to sit on at the Christmas table – stop now, it’s really hurting! But she doesn’t mind, you see. When she sallies forth to the living room at the end, where all the family are spread-eagled, groaning with food and her husband calls out, ‘What’s for tea, love?’ (ho, ho, ho!); she smiles because all her hard work has paid off. They’re completely ignoring her and are glued to the telly.
‘Behind every great Christmas there’s mum,’ intones the male voiceover, ‘and behind every mum there’s Asda’. Their website eagerly assures us this ad struck a chord with lots of mums who said it’s just like that. Really? Had they all been driven to drink and valium by this stage?
Do you know what I’d like to have seen happen? Halfway through this nauseating tosh Santa Claus comes crashing in. In my imagination, this will be George Clooney, but you can picture whoever you want. He’ll sweep Mum up under his arm (her apron will fall off at this point to reveal a sparkly dress). She’ll announce, ‘Stuff the lot of you (especially you, Great Aunt Ethel), I’m going to enjoy myself…..’ and off they’ll go on his sledge, necking champagne and wolfing caviar.
If this sounds like I whoop things up for the entire fortnight that Christmas now is, you couldn’t be more wrong. I’m just as bad as all the other mums, including our heroine, in doing way more than my fair share. But I’m telling myself, and all of you, to take a bit of time for you. A lot of the stuff is not necessary. Have a long bath, go out to the pictures, read in bed while eating all the choccies. The world won’t fall apart and you’ll be able to resume duties with a lighter heart. Have a truly lovely Christmas.
My younger son (nearly 11) told me he wouldn’t be having a speaking part in the Christmas show this year because he had one last year. Only about 7 or 8 lines, but he did make quite the impact. Apparently there was a point in rehearsals this week where some lines that no-one wanted to say in performance were up for grabs. He offered but was told no because of having had a part last year. The lines will remain unspoken. This might not be true, it seems extraordinary to me that you would cut your nose off to spite your face, but there you go.
I quite see why schools want to be fair and give everyone a chance. Myself, I’d rather see a good show, but I suppose it’s not about that. You can’t help feel it’s setting up disappointment in the future though. The world is tough, we all know that, but generally if you work hard you will be rewarded in the workplace. If only that were the case in the entertainment industry.
‘No, Olivia/Helena/Keeley, you’ve HAD your turn already. It’s time Maggie had a go. True she hasn’t acted professionally for many years, largely due to living in Brighton and having children, but she’s ever so good and she deserves a chance, don’t you think…?’ said no casting director/producer EVER. This sounds bitter and sour grapes-y, I’m well aware, but I have actually moved on. I know I’m not a contender any more, but I do know several heart-breakingly good actors who will NEVER get a chance, no matter how hard they work.
The thing that irks me though is when the offspring of the well-known claim that their lineage is nothing to do whatsoever with their success. They think just because it’s in a different field – they’re a musician say, whereas their parents are an actor and a film producer – it has no bearing on the fact that a door, however small, was opened to them once. Obviously if they don’t have talent, it won’t open very far and might slam back in their face, but it was open a chink. A definite chink. After that, it is indeed up to them to wedge that door to full capacity, which doesn’t always work. I was at drama school at the same time as the daughter of a very famous actress indeed. She has worked since, but has not achieved anything like her mother’s success, her talents being not in the same league.
I was struck a couple of months back by the arrival of the book ‘Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies)’. Sounds exactly my sort of book I thought. How did 23-year-old Scarlett Curtis manage this impressive book, filled with pieces from several well-known women? Ah yes, having Emma Freud and Richard Curtis as parents can’t exactly have hindered those doors from opening that chink. They didn’t help her at all she says, which is very probably true, and it’s not to say her success isn’t deserved. She is clearly bright and talented. But it meant that her book idea was the one that was developed, not the book of someone without famous parents.
In the meantime, my son accepts that school doesn’t operate like real life. His time will come, I think.
Couldn't decide if this was going to be a rant or a reflection. Who cares!? I'm sure all my two and a half readers will cope.
I've got a YouTube channel for Mary Christmas. There's also a Livestock/Mothers Uncovered one - neither of which do all that much in terms of numbers. I don't know how people manage to create these multi-million subscriber channels when they're talking about their bags and outfits but I'm obviously way out of their demographic. I only notice them when they stumble into my arena via The Guardian Weekend in the shape of Tanya Burr.
I watched one of her videos, well about half of it, I got depressed looking at her putting on her make-up ten billion times more competently than I could ever manage it. She's probably near the top of the Premiership, the reigning queen seeming to be Zoella.
However, she has recently been in a play, Confidence, at The Southwark Playhouse, a small London theatre. There was a quote doing the rounds that said all her subscribers would fill the theatre for 89 years. This startling point couldn't be realised as the play only ran for a few weeks, but it gives us pause for thought, mostly about how many more people look at YouTube than go to the theatre.
A lot of actors were very cross that she'd leapfrogged into this role ahead of those who scrimped and saved to do their drama school training and trawled the audition rounds for years. I'm sort of one of those, both in viewpoint and experience, although I haven't been on the 'scene' for over ten years now, being a mum and not living in London any more. I have a plan to go back to it some day, I used to call it a 'reverse Glenda' (as in Jackson), although she's done her own 'reverse Glenda' by turning her back on politics to return to acting. Damn her (I coulda been a contender....). In my case, I've moved from performance into social activism, but same ballpark.
I'd imagine if I was still living in London, trawling the auditions as some friends of mine are, I would have been much crosser. Hell, I'm cross enough about all the actors/comedians I worked alongside popping up on all the panel shows! Although I'm too old for the part anyway - I played a similar kind of role back in the 90s. Nepotism and bum-on-seat casting has been going on for decades, dear Tanya didn't start it. The point should surely be, not the fairness or not, but whether she was any good. Impossible to get an accurate picture from the reviews. She's clearly comfortable with public speaking, so I'd imagine she was confident in Confidence. It might not have been the most subtle of performances, but it didn't sound the most subtle of parts.
Good on her for having a go. It's no worse, and indeed braver, than the slew of faces thrown up by Love Island/TOWIE/Made in Chelsea/Big Brother et al we get clogging the channels all the time. If we create the space, someone will fill it, there's no doubt about that.
Just a small coda to the earlier Round 2.
I eventually trekked to the Halifax with ID, only to be told that they had disbanded my bond and put the money into a savings account. This, DESPITE the fact, their letter expressly stated they would be taking NO action until they'd heard from me (indeed were unable to because of the whole space time continuum crashing thing).
I got very cross and stormed out. I tweeted again. And what do you know, a helpful chappie eventually called me up, reinstated my bond and gave me £60 as a goodwill gesture.
It's a shame companies will only respond when you badmouth them on Twitter. I only have just over a thousand followers, but it works even for me.
* Actually, when I say '2', it's more like two MILLION but you can get carried away with hyperbole. I thought Natwest was the nadir of these things, but it appears Halifax is right up there. Or down there.
Last year I had changed the name on my Halifax credit card account following my marriage. Some months following the marriage - I knew they might mess it up, so I hadn't bothered.
This was duly changed, as was the name on my OTHER credit card, which was actually issued by Bank of Scotland. When, with sinking heart, I phoned to object I was told it was because I couldn't have two names registered with them.
'I've had both cards for about TWENTY YEARS.' I pleaded. 'One is my professional name. Surely there must be many women with this situation.'
Apparently not. They consulted higher up. The machines would literally crash and the space-time continuum cease to function if I persisted in willy-nilly flaunting two names at them.
I explained, slowly and painfully, that I might as well cancel the other card because it was no point me having two cards with the same name. They sounded slightly offended, as if this was being unduly irksome. (Incidentally, I obtained a card in my professional name with another company in about five minutes.)
I would have let this pass, if it weren't for the fact that recently I requested to transfer some money into a bond I hold with Halifax. The name on all the accounts I have remaining with them is my married name, yet this letter arrived with my pre-married (Maiden? No, thank you, I'd rather use a term less patronising) name.
I didn't bother calling. I have other things to do than listen to Four Seasons being mauled over my handset. I tweeted instead. I pointed out that they had said it was impossible for me to have more than one name and they had changed ALL my accounts to the married name. Yet, inexplicably, there they were using a different name. How was this possible? They didn't know and they understood it was annoying, but could I 'pop' into the branch with ID.....?
Since the closure of the recent branch, this 'pop' is over three miles away.
I'll go, because I have no other option. They are unable to manage these things over the phone. Or even accept a scanned copy of the marriage certificate emailed. Or, tragically, grasp the concept of irony.
So, we're nearly halfway through January. Sorry, 'Dry January.' As if that wasn't enough misery to heap onto one's shoulders, we've now added in 'Veganuary' for good measure. Dontcha just LOVE all these things?! Stoptober, Movember.....
I do actually think it's an excellent plan for the world to eat far, far less meat. And also treat our environment better. Of course I do, I live in hippie Brighton, after all. I'm intrigued as to why vegetarianism seems to have sidestepped in favour of veganism though. I guess Vegetarianary isn't half so easy to manage as Veganuary. And also, the vegans will tell us, that if we're exploiting the animals for their milk or eggs, it's really no different to eating them, which is not an argument I concur with at all. Factory workers in certain parts of the world are exploited. I think there's quite a large difference between that exploitation and them being eaten.
Also, I don't think the nice kind farmers would carry on letting the lambs, pigs and cows roam freely on their land without some kind of payoff if we all did become vegan.
I do only eat small amounts of organic meat less than half the week. This does not make me a saint and I'm not pretending otherwise, but it's a help.
What irks me, alongside the smug zeal that is often present, is remarks such as the one an acquaintance of mine received when she announced (foolishly in my opinion cos everyone piles in) on Facebook that she was attempting Veganuary. 'Be careful and start slowly' - someone had advised, I'm paraphrasing here - 'because going from carnivore to vegan will be difficult.' CARNIVORE?! Cats are carnivores. Unless humans want to get seriously ill they won't be carnivores, they are OMNIVORES. Or pescetarians, vegetarians or vegans, if they prefer. I wish these vegans would get their facts straight. ;-)
It was London Fashion Week a few weeks back. I knew it was upcoming because a brochure displaying overpriced textiles weighed down my weekly newspaper. It’s a shame I don’t have a fire that needs stoking – it went straight in the recycling.
My opinion of fashionistas is about the same as my opinion of slimy politicians. Truth be told, it’s not been helped by my encounters with two stylists; one a childhood terror, who bossed us all around from her self-elected pedestal, the other I tried to work with on a project years later. It would seem that to be a stylist you have to be an egocentric narcissist with no thought for the feelings of others, but perhaps I was just unlucky. Designers do at least design the clothes, stylists just use others’ clothes to dress a model – the Emperor’s New Clothes of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
Anyway, I was minded as to how far removed Fashion Week is from real people and real clothes (in the same way Michelin-starred restaurants bear no relationship to what people actually eat) by my recent despairing search to find a pair of lightweight trousers. I wanted some that weren’t either made of linen (creased forever more in the way a car loses value when driven off the dealer’s forecourt) or look like pyjama bottoms - these nightmarish patterned clown garb make up ALL other casual trousers. What I wanted was what used to be called chinos I believe – a lightweight, mostly cotton mix, with a couple of handy, possibly zipped pockets to pop your phone and keys in when striding off on a summer walk.
Wearily I trudged round all the chain shops and even some boutiques with no luck before facing the inevitable. Once the shops were stuffed with chinos, but women clearly don’t go striding off any more. They lounge in their pyjama bottoms or sit on yachts with staff to iron the sodding linen trousers.
It ends on a happy note, however. I stumbled into good old Mountain Warehouse looking for a backpack and there were rows of them, nodding and twinkling in the breeze. I got two pairs - I would have bought more, but those were the only two left in my size in the sale. So Fashionistas can jog right on (or totter in their heels), I’m striding off once more.
I have been with Natwest bank for about 20 years, in which time there have been many incidents of crass incompetence. A couple of times the incompetence was so great I received a complimentary bottle of wine and a credit of £100 to my account. Before you say it, I could change banks, but from talking to others, it seems they are all much of a muchness. There isn’t space to detail all the incidents – I’ve just picked a couple.
The branch in London that I used to frequent some years ago had queues of immensely depressing length and density (this was before the paying-in machines). Whole civilisations have risen and fallen in the time that it took to get to the front of that queue. The staff were clearly uncomfortable at dealing with the level of ire manifest in customers who had entered the building several years younger, so would conduct the whole exchange of monies in a defiant mumble. Then a whole lot of money was wasted on market research trying to find out why their customers were so cross. Their conclusion was because the staff hadn’t talked to them. For the next few weeks, the staff would chirrup nervously: ‘How are you today?’ ‘Well, I just ate my own foot while I was waiting.’ ‘Ok, do you want to pay that cheque in…?’ This was eventually dropped in favour of, ‘Sorry to have kept you waiting’, which was a significant improvement.
I was a signatory for a company for a while. One day two of us from the company went into our branch to change some details relating to the account. The staff member said, ‘But we need to see X because she’s a signatory.’
We explained that X had left the company, was no longer a signatory and we had told them this, in writing, at the time.
As if we had not spoken: ‘Yes, but we’ve got X as being a signatory.’
‘Well, that’s wrong. Y and Z are now the signatories and have been signing cheques for the last two years.’
‘No, that wouldn’t have been allowed, because X is the signatory.’
‘It WAS allowed. It happened. Cheques were signed by Y and Z. The money left the account.’
You get the picture. It ended with raised voices and storming out.
There was the time they sent a letter saying we were required to set up internet/telephone banking for our new company. We dutifully filled out the torturous, incomprehensible garbage that passed as a form. A few weeks later another letter arrived stating we wouldn’t be able to use internet/telephone banking because we had more than one signatory on the account. Forgive me if this sounds naïve, but don’t a great number of businesses require more than one signatory for cheques?
Lastly, I noticed a few months ago I had stopped receiving bank statements. I phoned them to report this and asked did they have the address correct? (they have on at least 3 occasions in the past changed the address they sent mail to, to an old address of mine for no reason at all)
‘I’ll have to take you through security’, she said, ‘can you give me your address…?’
I pointed out that this was the nub of the problem.
After I’d told her the address, predictably. ‘That’s not what we’ve got on the system.’
I said, ‘Can you tell me the address you’ve got?’
‘No, we’re not allowed to for security reasons.’
Deep breath. I suddenly had a flash of inspiration from a dimly recollected incident some years back. ‘Would the address you have be 218 Upper St, Islington, London?’
‘That’, I said gravely, ‘is the address of one of your branches, where my account is held.’
‘Oh, I don’t know how that happened.’
‘You’re saying that my personal statements are being sent to one of your own branches and no-one has noticed.’
Now there’s a nip in the air and the flip-flops have been wistfully put away, perhaps you’ve forgotten the irritants of low cost air travel, especially if you’re travelling en famille.
Let’s start with the booking, when your heart is aquiver with excitement at what lies ahead. Looking online, those flights really do seem good value. Ah yes, but you haven’t factored in the fact that you need a bag, probably two at least, if you’re a family of four. Bang goes a hundred quid.
Speedy boarding?! Why would you want to pay extra just for getting on the plane? Surely we’re all getting on the plane, unless that’s some new sinister twist, where those that haven’t paid extra are meant to charge down the runway and hurl themselves through a window at the last minute. What added delights are provided for those that are first - a little bag of nuts and a snifter of G&T? I think not.
Purchasing the tickets entails another thirty pounds in undisclosed booking charges. Why? Buying the ticket is not an either/or option. So there’s your tickets, at double the price they were when you first looked. Don’t forget to check-in online and print out your boarding pass with each person’s ticket on a separate piece of paper, will you? Because it’ll be another FORTY POUNDS EACH if you have the temerity to turn up at the airport without having done so. Here’s the thing – if I have already checked in, why am I still standing in an incredibly long line at the airport to reach a luminous top lady wearing too much make-up? Ah yes, it’s a check-in.
Next we get to the mysterious strictures surrounding the weight of baggage. It is acceptable to have two bags of 15kg but not one of 10kg and one of 20kg. Are we worried about the baggage handlers' ickle wickle arms being pulled out of joint by uneven distribution? The terminal is awash with people frantically repacking, displaying their smalls to all and sundry as they desperately try to cram half the contents of one bag into another. Well, that’s really speeded things up now. Happy days.
Finally, the bags have gone - to be hurled about out of sight and we can proceed to ‘security’. I can understand why knives, scissors, tweezers(?) etc are not allowed in hand luggage . If someone were to be tipped over the edge due to the indignities of the travelling process, these might be employed in an inappropriate fashion. A small plastic bottle of water and a tub of moisturiser bigger than the allotted 100ml. Phew! Hold your horses! I’m not making light of the terrible actual and attempted terrorist acts that have occurred, but it’s time to look at the situation again. All these people desperately glugging down their drinks and then hopping about in agony because they need the loo while they’re still queuing are not planning anything sinister. It’s a ploy on the airport’s part to make you spend more cash in buying replacement drinks.
After the five mile hike to the gate, it’s time to board. The contradiction in terms known as the ‘Speedy Boarding’ call results in 98% of the departure lounge bundling towards one small door in a heaving mass then breaking into an undignified trot to the plane to ensure they’re not parted from their companion for as much as 90 minutes.
On board the crew spend twice as long rearranging the plane once it’s realised some children have no seat anywhere near their parent. Once, when returning from Bergerac with my two under-fives, I was marooned in the aisle not able to see any free seats, let alone together. Eventually, a crew member announced, ‘Would any passengers mind moving, so the “lady” and her children could sit together...?’
Everybody stuck their noses into their free bag of nuts and G&T thinking, ‘I’ve paid my £5 Speedy Boarding fee, I’m buggered if I’m moving.’
The crew member then added: ‘If we don’t get underway in five minutes, we’ll miss our slot and be here for four hours.’ The entire plane rose as one body and we were seated in the twinkling of an eye.
In honour of the Jubilee or the Olympics or something I ironed 2 pairs of culottes and a skirt yesterday. I don't iron, on the whole. The last recorded instance of it was in 1496 I believe. But occasionally even I realise that something is just too crumpled to wear au naturel. Damn you 100% cotton summer wear!
I cannot understand why people claim to like ironing, even going so far as to do sheets and underwear. These people need to be removed in jackets that keep their arms snug. After about a year (3 minutes perhaps in truth..?) of ironing this sodding skirt I thought, 'this panel looks familiar...' Yes, I'd gone all the way round and was doing the same bit again. BECAUSE I AM RUBBISH AT IRONING AND COULDN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE. Actually, that's a slight exaggeration. It did look marginally better – the creases were ironed rather than un-ironed creases.
'Oh, but you can watch the telly while you iron', say the defenders of it. I don't want to watch the telly while I'm ironing. I want to watch the telly while I'm watching the telly. Lying comatose on the sofa – surely what it is designed for – perhaps going so far as to sup some wine and munch a bit of choccy. I don't want to have to be continually missing the arched eyebrows of Margaret, Goddess of The Apprentice, in her all-too-brief appearance, because I'm trying to negotiate a tricky pocket.
And don't get me started on the medieval instrument of torture that is the board. What idiot designed this mousetrap like sliding snappy hinge thing on the bottom? In my Room 101 – the Orwellian one rather than the increasingly flabby TV version, I would be locked in a room filled with wasps and a never-ending pile of ironing, that Sisyphus –like (Google it, youngsters!) I would be compelled to keep attempting to clear.
Ironing. It can jog right on.
some of these...
Rants appeared as ‘My Pet Peeves’ for a blog on The Argus. Everyone has pet peeves. Maybe yours is 'people who have pet peeves'. That's fine. You bog off and be peevish about that. These are my peeves and I'll cry if I want to.