Sunday, 22 January 2012


I have a new computer. It's American and it can't spell.

That's probably not fair. It's an American computer and it can spell in American but I am English and it's frustrating. So, after adding more 'u's than was good a girl, I decided to go in search of something to change the language settings.  I found a setting called 'British English' and, without really giving the matter much thought, I clicked on it. This morning, when it informed me that 'tantalizing' is spelt with an 's', I started to get a bit cross.

I don't mean particularly that my computer's spell check cannot cope with the vagaries of English. Let's face it. It's not the most complicated language in the world for nothing. (Actually, it might not even be that but that's a different posting.) No. What has annoyed me is that we have to define English in terms of being British. British English. Surely that's ridiculous. It's English. Pure and simple. It's a language all of it's own.

But then nothing seems to be truly English any more. The Scots are fiercely proud and the Irish identity is pretty secure. Even little Wales knows what it stands for. And then there's us, hiding quietly behind the mantle of Britain hoping that no one will notice that we're there or, which is infinitely worse, apologising. I know we have stuff to apologise for. Imperialism perhaps wasn't our finest hour and no other nation tries to wear socks and sandals in public. We drink too much, speak loudly to foreigners, insist on showing far too much flesh when the sun comes out and eat food from photo menus. But I'm sure that's no worse than any other nation. We all have our faults.

I'm not convinced that Britain is any good for England. Somewhere along the line we seem to have lost our sense of national identity - the things that make us English. I don't mean all the silly things that I've listed but the important stuff. True grit in the face of adversity, a desire to explore and discover, scientific endeavour, the stiff upper lip, stopping for tea in the middle of the afternoon. Ok. I know. I've strayed back into silly but you take my point.

And the worst thing of all is that even as I type, I'm worrying about the response that I'll get. There's a fairly good chance that by blowing the trumpet for England I will cross a line for some readers into some vague and unidentifiable xenophobia which should be only spoken of in hushed tones. But why is it unacceptable to be proud to be English but not Scottish, or French or German? I don't get it.

I might write to Apple and tell them that there's no such thing as 'British English'. I doubt they'll listen to me but they might learn how to spell tantalize.

Monday, 16 January 2012


I seem to have stopped listening to music. It wasn't a conscious decision - it just kind of crept up on me. I gradually slipped from being someone who always had music in their life to someone who didn't.

My preference for silence springs from my home. It is a very noisy place. All manner of sound spills out of every room almost all the time, resulting in a cacophonous din which makes clarity of thought an impossibility. In desperation, I began to protect the rare moments of peace by not destroying them with my own music.

However, made aware by the constant references to musical selection on Facebook, that I seemed to be out on a limb, I thought that I ought to revisit my music collection and see if anything appealed. After careful analysis, it seems that most of my records fall into two camps - stuff I have because it reminds me of something else and stuff I have because I thought, at some point, that I ought to have it.

The first group is easy. It's made up of music that I think I like but when I listen carefully, I realise that I simply enjoy the connotations that it carries. These are songs that remind me of people or of a holiday or a great year at school. If I were to hear most of that music for the first time now, would I bother listening for a second time? Unlikely. So does music like that have any merit for the purposes of this exercise? Well, I suppose I enjoy the memories but that doesn't make it music that I like does it?

The second group is more complex. There is stuff I bought because people whose opinion I respected liked it. There is stuff I bought to ingratiate myself with people I considered to be important at the time. There is stuff I bought because I thought that I should listen to enhance my own knowledge. I don't really like any of it. It is music I own because someone else likes it. What's the point of that?

So I looked at every album I have and imagined that I had never heard it before. What did I actually like when looked at in those terms? What remained was very small. Boys singing sacred choral music and soulful stuff circa 1965 -80.

So this makes me think that perhaps it's not listening to music that is the problem. It's listening to the wrong stuff. Instead of playing things I thought I liked, I should listen to the music that makes my soul sing. This is probably really obvious to everyone else but it has taken me an awfully long time to get there.

On reflection I do probably prefer silence but a more discerning approach to what I actually want to listen to might get me better results. And, as in so many things, I need to stop thinking that I am missing out on some crucial aspect of life. Just because everyone else tells me what they are listening to, doesn't mean that I need to be doing it too.

Sunday, 8 January 2012


My socks keep twisting round in my boots.  I know it's not the kind of news that is going to keep you awake at night but it is really annoying. I'm constantly having to stop to sort it out, hopping around on one foot whilst I twist and turn the uncooperative fabric back into place.

Before you start casting aspersions about the shape of my feet, let me assure you that they are not the problem.  Sock twisting is a relatively new phenomenon for me. It's the quality of my socks - my new socks let me add. If they were old and worn with the lycra long since gone to meet its maker, I would be less irritated. But these are new Marks and Spencer's socks.

I suspect that you are wondering where on earth I could possibly be leading you with this erudite and insightful observation. Well, this is a post about quality verses price. You get what you pay for, as someone once said to me. Marks and Spencer's socks now cost next to nothing. A veritable bargain in fact at £4.50 for three pairs except they are not fit for purpose and won't stay right way up in my boot.

It's not just socks. School polo shirts seem to have fallen for the old "Never mind the quality: feel the width" adage as well. Cheap as chips but almost see through and washed out of shape long before they are grown out of. It's the dumbing down of retail. Perhaps they think I won't notice? Well I have.

But times are hard. People are price conscious and, lured by the temptations of the super cheap stores, our expectations about how much things should cost are becoming muddied. After all, who wants to pay top dollar for something when you could buy it for a third of the price just down the high street?

Well, me actually. Call me old fashioned but I'd rather pay a little more for a pair of socks that stay put. I'd like to throw my socks away because they have worn down to the warp and weft and not because they have gone baggy before their time. ( I generally draw the line at darning. I'm not that old fashioned.) I was taught to launder well and take care of my clothes but I seem to be a dying breed. At some of the prices in Primark it hardly seems worth laundering at all.

I'm hoping for a backlash. Perhaps eventually we will tire of this disposable world that we live in and yearn for quality once again? It does seem to be happening in other areas but I fear that soon we will be so far down the road of cheap clothes that it will be culturally impossible to turn back.

I could, of course, shop elsewhere for my socks. I know that if I paid a little more I could get socks that stayed put. It's just that I have bought my socks in Marks and Spencer's for as long as I can remember and it seems a betrayal to jump ship. Then again, they have betrayed my too. They have some in Harrods, I note, that might fit the bill!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


There is something very satisfying about throwing things away. It gives me a sense of order, of moving forward. It reminds me that in the fight between me and stuff, the stuff may win the occasional battle but that I can win the war.

I'm good at getting rid. In a house of six people with walls made of brick and not elastic, it is a necessary skill and one that tends to fall soley to me as the rest of my family don't seem to have my talent for it. It hasn't always come naturally though. As a child and a young woman, I was sentimentally attached to all kinds of things. I had items in boxes and files all over the place, precious treasure that was important in some way. I have a sweet that a boy that I fancied gave me in class when I was 11. I have all my 'O' level exercise books. I have the sugar flowers from the top of my wedding cake. 

Then one day I opened a box and found things that no longer held any significance for me. I couldn't remember why I'd saved them. Whatever it was that I was seeking to preserve had been lost, notwithstanding the keepsake and at that point I decided that hanging on to random things was pointless.  I had my memories no matter what else I kept. 

This realisation coincided with me having my fourth child. With the first baby, I kept everything, squirrelling it away for posterity. Paint daubs, shoes, birthday cards. By the time I got to number four, I realised that something was going to have to change or we would sink under a tsunami of preschool art. I started to be selective. Each child has a box file and things only make it in if they are really good or really special. 

However, the rest of the house is a bit hit and miss. I'm great at throwing away clothes because my wardrobe is tiny. I'm less good with shoes and coats because you never know when they might come in. I'm rubbish with books too but fortunately my kindle arrived just as I was going to have to start making some difficult decisions in that department. Current areas in need of attention are the pantry (far more containers than any woman could ever need), the kids' wardrobes (toys that haven't been touched for years but are too good to throw away) and the garage (I really need to master eBay.) 

But I can't just throw things away. I have to be in the right mood. I have to be feeling ruthless and practical as there can be no turning back halfway through. Today I was like that and took full advantage. But tomorrow I may be feeling more sentimental, less gung ho. Tomorrow I may think that the past deserves a second chance. Who knows? Life's funny like that, isn't it?

Sunday, 1 January 2012


Happy New Year to you all. I type this with a huge New Year's Eve lash up kind of bandage on my little finger which makes hitting anything on the extreme left of my keyboard a bit hit and miss so please forgive any errors!

I know you are all dying to know what necessitates such an inconvenient arrangement but if you are of a squeamish disposition you might want to look away now. Or perhaps in a paragraph or two whilst you permit me a degree of suspense building.

I haven't really celebrated "New Year's Eve" since the Millennium. A combination of too many children, not enough available friends and my disinclination to party have resulted in it generally being a quiet affair. But this year we had an invitation for an early doors gathering for games and nibbles. Three families, nine children and someone else's house. Perfect.

In the morning I raced up to Marks and Spencer's for party food and 'free' cava and around we all traipsed mid afternoon ready for a bit of fun. And fun we had. First, a glass or two of bubbly as we attempted to chat over the noise of the children careering around the house unrestrained. Once relative calm had been restored, we played a game whereby each team had to build a structure using spaghetti and marshmallows. Predictably, those teams containing a dad focused on structure whilst those with a mum had a different emphasis.

I know you're still waiting for my finger story but please indulge me a moment longer whilst I briefly consider New Year's Resolutions. January is a terribly time to make life changes. Everyone is exhausted and skint with a slight veneer of self loathing and a long winter ahead. It's a time for pampering and indulgence not strict regimes and yet more guilt. That said, I do feel that I need to work smarter this year and waste less time on the trivialities of life. Already I feel failure snapping at my heels.

So, back to slicing those mini burger buns with the new ceramic knife. I was chatting, I knew the knife was razor sharp and I'd had two glass of champagne. So when I sliced the pad virtually off my little finger I was entirely to blame. It bled. Well, you can imagine and kitchen roll isn't quite as absorbent as I'd been led to believe. I was playing things down whilst trying to hide my bloody finger from a particularly squeamish child. There was talk of Casualty which I quickly batted away. In the end I was whisked off to some poor GPs house who reconstructed it with steristrips and a tube bandage.

It's hardly life threatening but it will mean that New Year's Eve 2011 will be one of those that goes down in the annals of time as one to remember. And that, after all, is what good memories are all about. Happy New Year !