20 November 2014

Other stuff : When I've got a cold

Slippers: check. Telly: check. Silly Christmas loungewear:
check. Tassled blanket for extra self-pity: check.

Bah humbug.

Obviously having got all overly-enthusiastic about Christmas I now have to write about one of the utterly rubbish things about this time of year: colds.

The common (and by common I mean the not-unusual-but-nonetheless-exquisitely-miserable) cold.

Littlest and Biggest are on the mend from their lurgies, thanks to large doses of antibiotics, which is excellent. The Middle-size one (that's me, although I may upgrade myself to House-size over the coming weeks), however, now has a stinking cold. I HATE having a cold. On the plus side, it's about the illest I ever really get; on the minus side, it's pants. Mornings, evenings and nights are so full of gunk and throbbing sinuses that there are only a few hours in the middle of the day to get anything done.

What I have realised is that every single time I get a bad cold, I say/moan about exactly the same things, which must be delightful for those around me. So I'm putting them in a list, and then maybe this time next year (because mid-late November appears to be the moment our entire household plunges head-first into germs) I'll just refer back to this post and won't need to say any of it.

1 : "If we could only work out how to harness the power of snot, we'd have no energy worries ever again. I alone could power a small country."
I'm pretty sure this is my standard Facebook status update when I'm ill and it's the only Twitter update I've bothered with this week. I know it's a ridiculous, but- what if it worked, hey? What if it could actually work?!

2 : "If we can <insert latest scientific/technological breakthrough here>, why can't we cure the COMMON COLD?"*
Current example: "If we can land a probe on a comet 510 million kilometres from earth which is moving at speeds of 135,000 kmph, why can't we cure the COMMON COLD?".
*This in any case is a moot point because inevitably a cure for the common cold, had it been discovered, wouldn't be deemed safe for pregnant women to take anyway. Much like every other cold remedy. I say it again: Bah humbug.

3 : "I will never take my nose for granted again."
Noses. Wow. They are AMAZING. The ability to suck great loads of air through those nostrils- whilst similtaneously filtering out all the nasties you don't want in your body (aside from cold germs, clearly)- is just fantastic. You're probably reading this bit thinking, 'my nose? Yeah, whatever, it's just there doing what it's doing. Move on,' but trust me, when your nose is unable to do what it does- not just that brilliant breathing thing but the glorious sense of smell it also provides- you will appreciate it a whole lot more. So just take a brief moment, right now, to love your nose. Go on.
Of course, as soon as it's all working again I will just carry on disliking it's general size and shape and totally take it for granted.

4 : "I will never take my sense of taste for granted again."
This is one of the few, utterly depressing occasions where even comfort eating isn't going to help because YOU CAN'T TASTE ANYTHING. Including chocolate.
Bring it on Armageddon; I'm done for.
In theory this should mean that I can sit down with a giant plate of healthy steamed veg or a salad or a food that has enormous nutritional value but zero flavour and not mind, but of course I don't. I live in hope of something breaking through the taste barrier, and so far have only succeeded with jalapeno peppers (thus: pizza) and a really hot curry. Good pregnancy diet.

5 : "You have no idea how bad I'm feeling because you're not PREGNANT!"
Obviously having just been quite ill Husband is trying to be sympathetic and supportive by saying "I know how you feel", but no. No, you don't. Aside from the fact that my cold is clearly worse than yours (don't argue- I'm pregnant) I am also- did I forget to mention it?- pregnant and therefore most of the remedies that make a cold just about bearable are not available to me. I have paracetamol, and hot water with honey and lemon. Woo flipping hoo.
(Clearly this one is only applicable during certain times of my life and probably- nervous laugh- won't be usable this time next year. But it's worth mentioning if only so you feel some sympathy for my poor long-suffering husband.)

An utterly pointless list. Anyone got a nice little list of top natural remedies for easing a cold suitable for pregnant women? Anyone? Anyone?!

11 November 2014

Other stuff : Christmas (and an apology)

Firstly: sorry.

This was not intended to be a post about Christmas. I know how upset people get when you start talking about it six weeks (only six weeks!!!) before the event. I was going to write a bit about my week and how I have struggled for inspiration to write a post (again); I was going to write about bursting into tears because Husband brought me tea in bed in the wrong mug; I was going to write about the lurgy that has been plaguing our house for ALL OF LIVING MEMORY (about three weeks).

On second thoughts, I think I might be doing us all a favour by writing about Christmas.

I am more excited about Christmas this year than usual, and I'm usually quite excited. It's got something to do with celebrating it in a lovely new house which already has something quite Christmassy about it (it's old), and to living in a village (well, alright, it's part of Londonish, but you know, it likes to think of itself as a village, as does every other slightly gentrified part of London) that would look really pretty under a blanket of snow (because that happens around every December 25th, right? And when it does, I don't ever complain about how hard it is to get around. Oh no.)

But it'll also be Cub's second Christmas, and the first where I think she'll actually understand enough to get swept up in the excitement and the decorations and the music- oh, the Christmas music- and yes, okay, the presents. I am also predicting that it'll be the one day of the year when she has a lie-in but I'll be awake and up by 6; that she'll manage to pull half the decorations off the tree and attempt to eat them; that she'll open at least one present that isn't hers and snaffle a few grown-up chocolates without anyone noticing. I just hope the tree manages to stay standing and that she stays off the mulled wine. And that she only steals a few chocolates. Without vomiting.

So here are some- perhaps slightly alternative- things I am excited about this Christmas...

1 : A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector
Yes, I admit it, I love Christmas music. Keep your John Lewis ads, the tunes are where I'm at. I love Last Christmas and Do They Know It's Christmas. I am a sucker for proper Christmas carols. But this album is my Christmas earworm of choice. I like to think it's cool because it's Motown but actually I know that anything I think is cool becomes, by definition, not cool at all. (As a bonus extra, may I also recommend Sufjan Stevens's Christmas In The Room as a particularly lovely Christmas tune.)

2 : The Box of Delights
Husband thinks this is part hilarious and part awful- look, it was made in about 1984 so yes, the 'special effects' are, erm, special. But I remember watching this when I was seven and it still makes me all excited about Christmas. Just the theme tune is enough to send a shiver of anticipation down my spine. Two years ago I wrapped all my Christmas presents whilst watching this on repeat. And then I discovered from Twitter that Simon Pegg did the SAME THING. So it's cool. Okay?

3 : Bunting (and garlands and lights)
I seem to have concluded that our lovely house- with a wooden-floored hallway and proper staircase and wooden beams and all- calls for an overhaul of our years-old Christmas decorations from Ikea and Woolies. This is obviously just an excuse for some retail therapy, but I'm going with it.

So this year the Christmas tree will be colour-coordinated (get me) in silver and blue and bronze, and we're even going to have stockings on the fireplace, and bunting. Yes, bunting. I've never even thought of bunting before, never mind actually had any. And garlands. With little twinkly lights. And a wreath for the front door. If I could get away with putting them all up right now, I would. (The bunting in the picture is by Ginger Ray, who sell lots of lovely vintage-style Christmas and party decorations).

4 : Guylian Chocolate Seashells
Most people's Christmas sweet treat of choice might be a moist fruity marzipan-and-icing laden Christmas cake; or a boozy Christmas pudding; or perhaps just some buttery, flaky mince pies. Yuck. I hate dried fruit, particularly raisins, but I reserve most of my ire for fruit peel. So I'm not very festive when it comes to Christmas desserts.

In previous years we might make my mum's chocolate mousse (and as it turns out, also Delia's- recipe here), but what has ended up an unintentional tradition is my box of Guylian chocolate seashells. I don't eat them at any other time of year- and that's probably because at Christmas I tend to polish off a box in a day, maybe two, and then never want to see them again. Even now- early November- I'm not sure I can stomach the idea of them, but give me a month and I'm sure I'll be ready for the challenge.

5 : Advent Calendars
The thing is- and brace yourself for this- it's not the chocolate ones I love. When I was little I had one which had little plastic charms in it- they were probably terrible quality and I've no idea what you were supposed to do with them- but I loved it. And similarly I love advent calendars that- horror!- just have pictures. So this year Cub has an Oxfam pop-up picture advent calendar (which I can't find to link to online) and I am really looking forward to opening the windows with her each day. This is of course on the assumption that she won't insist on open all twenty-five on December 1st. Which she probably will. Loudly.

And for us? Well. I am wavering. Probably we won't have one- or maybe we'll have an advent candle, which Husband quite likes- but I have ummed and ahhed over the exquisite-looking Hotel Chocolat Advent Calendar for Two here. But you don't like chocolate advent calendars! I hear you say.

Oh, be quiet.

02 November 2014

Mum stuff : Advice for a daughter

by Star Athena on Flickr

A lot of lateness this week. I'm late with my post (just a day or two- I blame half term) and I'm even later catching on to this article by Caitlin Moran (by a whole year. What? I've been, erm, busy). On top of that I have not exactly been overwhelmed with exhilarating ideas for posts (you will be getting Five Favourite Pasta Dishes, Five Slow-Cooked Wonders, and Five Journeys I Once Did But Can't Remember Much About Other Than The Photos soon, though, don't worry), and the words are not flowing easily.

So anyway, I thought that copying this lovely letter- written in 2013 by Caitlin Moran to her daughter- might be an easy solution to my lack of inspiration, but I may change my mind on that in a moment when I realise that adding my own five pieces of advice I would similarly give to my daughter might, just might, turn out to be a little bit harder than I thought...

My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to get out – I’ve thought about writing her one of those “Now I’m Dead, Here’s My Letter Of Advice For You To Consult As You Continue Your Now Motherless Life” letters. Here’s the first draft. Might tweak it a bit later. When I’ve had another fag.

“Dear Lizzie. Hello, it’s Mummy. I’m dead. Sorry about that. I hope the funeral was good – did Daddy play Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen when my coffin went into the cremator? I hope everyone sang along and did air guitar, as I stipulated. And wore the stick-on Freddie Mercury moustaches, as I ordered in the ‘My Funeral Plan’ document that’s been pinned on the fridge since 2008, when I had that extremely self-pitying cold.

Look – here are a couple of things I’ve learnt on the way that you might find useful in the coming years. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start… The main thing is just to try to be nice … Just resolve to shine, constantly and steadily, like a warm lamp in the corner, and people will want to move towards you in order to feel happy, and to read things more clearly. You will be bright and constant in a world of dark and flux, and this will save you the anxiety of other, ultimately less satisfying things like ‘being cool’, ‘being more successful than everyone else’ and ‘being very thin’.

Second, always remember that, nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous breakdown – you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit. You’d be amazed how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two. Get a big biscuit tin.

Three – always pick up worms off the pavement and put them on the grass. They’re having a bad day, and they’re good for… the earth or something (ask Daddy more about this; am a bit sketchy).

Four: choose your friends because you feel most like yourself around them, because the jokes are easy and you feel like you’re in your best outfit when you’re with them, even though you’re just in a T-shirt. Never love someone whom you think you need to mend – or who makes you feel like you should be mended. There are boys out there who look for shining girls; they will stand next to you and say quiet things in your ear that only you can hear and that will slowly drain the joy out of your heart. The books about vampires are true, baby. Drive a stake through their hearts and run away.

This segues into the next tip: life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLING EXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES. However awful, you can get through any experience if you imagine yourself, in the future, telling your friends about it as they scream, with increasing disbelief, ‘NO! NO!’ Even when Jesus was on the cross, I bet He was thinking, ‘When I rise in three days, the disciples aren’t going to believe this when I tell them about it.’

Babyiest, see as many sunrises and sunsets as you can. Run across roads to smell fat roses. Always believe you can change the world– even if it’s only a tiny bit, because every tiny bit needed someone who changed it. Think of yourself as a silver rocket – use loud music as your fuel; books like maps and co-ordinates for how to get there. Host extravagantly, love constantly, dance in comfortable shoes, talk to Daddy and Nancy about me every day and never, ever start smoking. It’s like buying a fun baby dragon that will grow and eventually burn down your f***ing house. 

Love, Mummy.”

And my five:

1 : Don't eat chocolate. Okay, it's better than smoking, but don't even start on that slippery slope, if you're anything like me, and you probably are. Chocolate is brilliant and wonderful and would solve all the world's ills if only it had the chance, but it also- after the initial lovely, silky, comforting hug- will ultimately lead to your downfall. If you are able to enjoy it in sensible small doses, then go ahead. If not, avoid it. Having said all this, if your voyage of rebellious discovery is- because this is a realistic scenario- between chocolate and say, crack, please, please, please take the chocolate. All of it. Here, have it now. That's how much I love you.

2 : I can't help but echo Caitlin's first point. Be nice. Be happy. Be yourself. Treat others like you would want to be treated, stay away from anyone who doesn't treat you well and spend lots of time with those who do. I've no idea what you're going to be like when you're older but if how you are now is any indication, you'll be fairly clever and you'll enjoy laughing and dancing and hugs and you'll have a very cheeky smile. Just don't change, not too much. (Except for blowing raspberries whilst eating yoghurt. Please stop doing that. Please.)

3 : You're a girl. I'm not sure you've entirely sussed that there's a difference between girls and boys yet (though I am nervous when I ask what you've done at nursery and you reply, "boys"), or why it's important, and actually, really, it's not. There's nothing you can't do. You don't have to play with dolls and diaries and make up and dress up as a fairy or a nurse and love pink, BUT equally you can do all those things if you want to. Make up your own mind- and that's easier said than done. Just don't listen to anyone who tells you what you can and can't be. (I reserve the right to retract this last statement in certain circumstances. Drastic ones, and none I'm going to specify here. There you go, some good old parental hypocrisy, but let's save that for an argument when you're 15.)

4 : Spiders are your friends! Really! They're lovely, cute, entirely inoffensive little balls of fluff with funny spindly (*shudder*) legs that scamper about like little... oh, forget it. I'm scared of them. For no good reason, other than I just don't like the way they look. I hope you won't be. (But if you're not- well done!- please don't ever think it would be funny to pick one up and dangle it in front of mummy's face. This goes back to that whole 'be nice' thing. Okay?)

5 : Take opportunities. Have adventures. Even if it seems frightening, and even when your little scared inner voice tells you you can't, or you shouldn't: be brave. Be confident. Be sensible*, but be brave. Even if it's a disaster, you'll get something from it, and- in another appropriation of Caitlin's tips- it'll one day make a very funny story, probably. 

* But really, be sensible. Drinking some unidentifiable South American 70% alcohol to excess then going for a walk alone along a narrow promontory at high tide out to a small rock in the North Sea is not brave or adventurous, it's just plain stupid. And if you do do that, I can only hope you too have a good friend who follows you and makes sure you're all right.

Caitlin's article was first published in The Times, here (£).