Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Actually not cooked sand

Years ago, I was a food critic for The List magazine and we were told to 'avoid clich├ęs like the plague' (really). We had to shun common, dull words like 'tasty' and 'delicious.'

Yesterday, I was eating Ryvita crackers and Tess came in to have a bite. 'Mama?', she asked (for she has taken to calling me 'Mama', like a posh child); 'Are these crackers actually cooked sand?'
I loved that: she captured the texture in a nutshell. Oops, I'm mixing up the foodie metaphors, all over the shop.

Friday, July 25, 2014

'The Man' and why he should apologise to children more often

Parents everywhere, I'm sure you too have used The Man as leverage. Don't play on the escalators, or 'the man' will give you a row.  Say, 'Thank you,' to The Man. Sometimes The Lady but mostly, The Man.
Today, The Man got himself involved; dove right in, you could say, and managed to set off a classic parent-child Stress-Fest. Only later at home, when I got a minute's head space,  did I think, wait a minute....where is my true loyalty?
I was  returning, with Hugh and Tess, from a heat-soaked day at Troon beach. We were all stuffed on to a mobbed (Commonwealth-Games) platform at Central Station. The Man, a Games spectator from England, started making small talk with me, which was fine, until, he noticed, before I did, that wee Hugh had found a half empty can of some souped-up energy drink and was bringing his nose to the ring pull.
OI, OI, OI !  shouted The Man, in a tone, useful only for thugs snatching a pensioner's handbag. Poor Hugh nearly cacked himself, stunned to be yelled at, by a stranger.
'The man was only trying to stop you getting germs', I started in  soothing tones, hoping that the man would rush in with similar apology, but the man showed manly restraint. I even think Hugh muttered something, near tears,  about, 'only trying to sniff it.' (Forgive a 5 year old for showing our oldest evolutionary instinct in the relentless 'temptation' marketing from fizzy soft drinks).
Anyway, The Man just kept on with the small talk - something about driving his wife to Milngavie and getting lost - and I could see poor Hugh was not going to recover his composure and started to act out and pinch me. The man tried to make amends by carrying my awkward beach bags (wet towels, toy monkey, crusts of warm egg sandwich) on to the train, and by this stage, Hugh could hardly bear it.
His mother was running away with the berk who'd wronged him and shamed him. He started to really misbehave - arching his back like a toddler, hissing, scowling, with the odd suppressed punch to my arm. And still, I didn't get it. I was more concerned with politeness to The Man. Trying to make The Man feel better. Duh, he was just The  FRIGGIN Man, not my wee boy who needed someone, ideally me, to defend him.
So, here's what I will do differently, if I'm braver next time. I'm paraphrasing, but the proper version is something like this:
Man, oh Man.., I know you're trying to help, but my child didn't mean any harm, and he's hungry and spent after a happy day, and you scared the bejesus out of him, so if you could possibly find a wee apology for him, it would go a long way.
 Don't try and continue the chat with him regardless. When adults feel wrongly accused, they can't bear small talk from the perpetrator, as if nothing has happened!? Kids have an even keener and more desperate sense of justice. Throw him a bone. Say, 'Sorry I frightened you. I didn't mean to'. And, thanks, but there's no need to give them sweets. A toothy smile will do.
Now that harmony has been restored, and my journey home made less of an all-round discomfort, I'll tolerate your boring saga about losing your way and your wife on the way to Milngavie. Or was it Bearsden?

Monday, June 09, 2014

Talent and Teeth

I have just started Donna Tartt's massive Goldfinch and, already I must gasp at her talent. Having never been in an explosion, her searing and vivid description of a bomb's aftermath (early in the book), made me feel able to imagine the visceral horror, more than even TV news has ever done. How does she do it? Darkly compelling.
Lightly compelling (see what I did?) was my amusement earlier, when driving with Tess (4). Harden my Heart, from 1982 came on the radio and the woman sang in her gorgeous, sexy voice about how she was going to harden her heart and swallow her tears. 'Why is she singing about swallowing her teeth?' Tess asked.
Nothing I love better, than driving with my wee girl, to a nostalgic 80's beat, and just starting to hint to her about the delicious mysteries of love and life ahead.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Aliens, Screaming and Private versus Public Sugar

photo - 25g of sugar: recommended limit for adults.
'In space, no one can hear you scream.' As a Wannabe Sugar-Avoider (WAS) mum in the play-date world, I suspect no one wants to hear you scream. I'll admit it, I'm feeling lonely and out on a limb.
The photo above is 25 grams of sugar. This is the daily limit that the World Health Organization recommends *for adults*. Adults. So, do the maths for kids. You can see there's barely enough here to make a biscuit (pauses to scream).
For months now, I've been trying to cut back on sugar (not calories) and eat low GI/GL foods in the house, filling myself with 'slow-burn' food. Naturally, I've tried to take the kids with me. I've learned to bake biscuits that are mostly oats, butter, bananas, raisins and a splash of honey, as surely, these are better for them than a shop-bought Hob Nob. After school, I give them nuts and apples and milk.
But we don't live in isolation, and everywhere we go, the world is fuelled by lavish, 'treat-y', fast, carbohydrates that spike blood sugar like a 'hit'. They are the social currency of the mums' world, and play-date land. People offer your kids treats all the time, often directly, to the kids. So if you blurt out a 'no', you risk offending the host and giving your child food anxieties. D'oh.
And, there is no easy way off the train. Our kids will ask for their birthday parties and how can I possibly throw one with just fruit and oatcakes? Mea Culpa; I have complied like the others. Ah, but parties are rare, you say. No. At this age, they get party invites every other weekend, and why shouldn't they have fun? Can we just find a way to do it without involving about 8 or 10 of those egg cups full of sugar? Ten times an adults daily amount, before the sweet-filled party bags? Just about every childhood celebration is based around sugar: Easter, Halloween, Christmas...
And in all of this, I wonder how I'm ever going to keep the kids within healthful recommendations. That's all I'm trying to do! Yes, the argument rages in my head. I feel like a Nay-Sayer, a Debbie-Downer, a Party-Pooper, and yet all I want is to follow health advice from the WHO and prevent myself and my family from ending up with type 2 diabetes or worse, further down the road.
But I can see that it's going to take a revolution on a much bigger scale. Right now, I can do private no-sugar but I'm flailing with  public no-sugar, involving friends and kids. Is there any advice from Action on Sugar for  this?
I still feel like Sigourney Weaver, floating alone in her space ship, trying to save the Universe, fuelled inadvertently by doughnuts and glucose-fructose syrup.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Knocking down walls / Author turned plumber

Tonight the hot tap in our kitchen sink got stuck in full, drumming flow - the handle clicking uselessly as I turned it frantically. I managed to find the mains and turn off the water supply, phew, and then I phoned my parents, for their brief consolation, which was £80 cheaper than a plumber.
My Dad is an author, and we are the kind of family who can't put up shelves, do grouting or fix taps. (Occasionally, when we were kids, we wished our mum was a hairdresser, and our dad a builder: careers with practical application and bonus results. Loft extensions and 80's perms aplenty).
And so, I was touched when my Dad turned up promptly with his M&S shopping bag, clicking with assorted spanners and washers. He managed to take the tap apart and - thread some thread around the thread, making it work again, at least until we can summon up the 'chore energy' required to hurl ourselves through the automatic doors of B&Q towards the tap section.
This should temporarily distract me from my wall dilemma. As I say, we have never been a knocking-down-wall kind of family. We wouldn't dare. Mind you, the wall between our small, (can I say tiny?) kitchen and adjacent dining room had a cheek ever going up in the first place. It was probably built in the days when wives were referred to as, 'Her indoors'. None of your egalitarian Ikea family space back then.
To fight back I'll need building control, a steel beam and a suitcase of dosh, but most of all, I need to change decades of DNA to become a knocking-down-wall kind of family.