Monday, 28 March 2011
Three year old G adopts a glazed expression when she hisses under her breath "I've been chosen..."
To her father and I, both Toy Story aficionados, this is rather endearing. We ruffle her hair and laugh at her mimicry of a small green alien. To her grandmother, less familiar with the film, the behaviour is deeply disturbing. The first time it happened she backed slowly away, bringing up a hand to touch the tiny silver cross hanging around her neck. I intervened before she called for an exorcist.
At the weekend we came across a family who were playing with a new puppy in the park. He was an adorable ball of black and white spotty barks and the little ones were entranced. In the midst of this pleasant scene G's twin sister E drew herself up imperiously to her full height (95 cm) and pointed a quivering finger at her brother J. Sweeping an imaginary fur stole over her left shoulder, she bellowed, "KILL THE PUPPY" and turned haughtily away.
The puppy's owner, a sweet looking seven year old, blanched and burst into tears. Even her mother looked rather frightened and bustled her family away before I had a chance to explain that the children were simply re-enacting 101 Dalmatians.
I hope we don't meet anyone who looks like Shrek.
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
|With journalist Adam Edwards|
The remarkable Jenny Joseph, author of the famous poem 'Warning' (When I am old I shall wear purple/with a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me), is nearly eighty, but was looking remarkably spritely as she bantered stanzas with fellow poet and entertainer Pam Ayres. I was on Pam's table and rather awestruck by her, particularly when she leant across to tell me how much she'd enjoyed my last column. Struck dumb, all I could think of was that her teeth looked absolutely fine, and that presumably she had looked after them in the end.
|With Jilly Cooper and Sue Simmons|
|Dudley Russell & Katie Fforde|
My literary smorgasbord was topped off by scoffing a rather naughty dessert over a chat with Katie Fforde about the Romantic Novelist Association, the wearing of Fat Pants and Twitter addicts. I could have stayed all day, but reluctantly disappeared for the school run, snaffling three cupcakes into my handbag to take home for the pygmies. And I only ate one of them on the way home.
Sunday, 20 March 2011
For some reason remonstrating with the domestics has become my responsibility. I'm not quite certain how this happened, but any dirty work is left to me. I'm not terribly good at it. I'm so desperately grateful that anyone would voluntarily spend five days a week with my pygmy terrorists that I tend to mumble my way apologetically through any ticking off, then send her home early with the Sauvignon Blanc I was saving for supper.
"Of course, darling, I'll have a word with her."
There was just the teeniest problem - I had absolutely no clue how to clean the filter in the tumble dryer. I knew it needed doing and I did mean to ask where the bloody thing was, but by the time I thought about it again we'd had the machine for nearly a year and I couldn't bring myself to confess to my slatternly ways.
I would have to brazen it out.
I collared the nanny soon after she arrived. "Um, I've been meaning to mention it... the er.... the tumble drier... it's the filter, you see... it needs cleaning out each time you use it. Sorry."
Impressive, aren't I? Decisive. Confident. A real leader of men.
"No problem." She said. "Would you mind just showing me which bit it is?"
"Oh gosh, you'll find it!" I said breezily, sailing off to work in a fog of guilty conscience.
And she did.
I'll have to spy on her next time she's doing the washing, to figure out where the filter is. On second thoughts, I still don't know how to empty the vacuum cleaner, and I seem to have got away with that one.
Thursday, 17 March 2011
I work in a rather male-dominated organisation, with a hierarchy which is pyramid-shaped rather than pear-shaped. We have a strict dress code and a high regard for formality which means everyone ends up looking the same. I quite like that – it saves me searching for my personal style, which is buried somewhere beneath three years of nappies and an expandable waistband.
This morning I had an appointment with The Big Boss so I brushed down my skirt and straightened my hair in preparation. I looked professional. A woman in a man's world.
The meeting went well; I felt a glow of pride for my contribution to the working mother’s cause. Too often women in business are seen as too fragile, too frail, just too feminine – I like to show the guys I’m really no different to them.
As the meeting finished I stood up to leave, at which point I felt an alarming sensation around my right thigh. A band of elastic was peeling itself from my skin like a plaster in the bath, leaving an icy chill up my skirt. Rather like its wearer, my hold-up stocking was losing its grip.
I should never have bought them. I should have stopped my economy drive at own-brand beans and watered-down washing up liquid, and never extended it to lingerie. For the sake of a nail the horseshoe was lost; for the sake of the horse the battle was lost; for the sake of a high-quality hold-up my dignity and professional image was about destroyed. I simply had to get out of there with my stockings intact.
Fearing that a sudden knee bend might hasten the stocking’s descent, I shuffled towards the door without lifting my feet from the floor. I felt a crackle of static from the floor tiles and stopped, lest I set myself on fire. I wondered if perhaps I could create a diversion – shout “look over there!” and leg it when his back was turned. But the corridor stretches for miles; I’d never make it to the Ladies without being spotted. This called for caution. For s-l-o-w movements.
The Big Boss continued talking to me about this and that. I clamped my legs together like a child bursting for the loo, in an effort to stop the slow but unstoppable roll of nylon towards my knees. Perhaps he thought I had a bladder weakness problem. Was that better than allowing my stocking to fall round my ankle, I wonder?
I slipped a hand in my pocket. By wriggling slightly and stooping to one side as though suffering from a peculiarity of the spine, I was able to grasp the stocking top through my skirt lining. It wasn’t ideal, particularly when The Big Boss extended a hand to bid me farewell. There was a long pause, during which he looked at me curiously. I shook his hand awkwardly with my left one, and hunched out of the room, gripping my stocking firmly and dragging my leg slightly to avoid excess bend. It was with great restraint that I didn’t add “the bells, the bells...” as a parting shot.
Women in the workplace? We're really no different to men.
Monday, 14 March 2011
I haven't always been this cold. It's crept up on me over the years, like my diminishing memory and lack of elasticity. I worry that it's only a matter of time before I start buying clothes based on their tog-value. My bedtime attire has slowly attained Michelin Man proportions. Gone are the itsy bitsy baby-doll dresses I favoured in my early twenties. Gone is the raunchy tight pants-and-vest combo which replaced them. Gone, thankfully, are the ghastly nursing nightdresses I lived in for two years, complete with milk stains. Shudder. As for sleeping naked - a thing of the past.
At bedtime I reluctantly peel off my clothes and leap as quickly as possible into toasty pyjamas, thick fluffy bedsocks and an enormous sweatshirt. Occasionally I add a woolly scarf, and perhaps some mittens. My husband despairs of the great woollen walrus beside him; any spontaneous ardour is somewhat dampened by the half hour it takes to unwind me from the extra duvet I've snuck into bed. He complains it is impossible to distinguish any potential shudders of pleasure from my shivers of cold. I've told him that on balance, it's more likely to be the latter.
Last week he came home with a gift for me. The sort of gift one would normally consider suitable for Great Aunty Enid ensconced in the Memory Lane nursing home. The sort of gift - I suspect - which would in other homes be responsible for sparking threats of divorce proceedings.
He bought me an electric underblanket.
I was enraptured. No longer would I freeze between the sheets. No more would my teeth chatter as I counted sheep in pursuit of sleep. I threw my arms around my husband in delight and gratitude. Such a thoughtful gesture. Such unselfishness on his part, to seek out a gift solely for my comfort. I turned on the blanket ten minutes before I slipped into bed and sunk into its cosy warmth. Such bliss!
"You won't be needing those pyjamas now, then, will you?" My husband said, as he fumbled at my waistband.
Ah. I see. Not such a selfless present after all.
Wednesday, 9 March 2011
I find the ballet parents as fascinating to watch as the children. Clutching miniature coats and shoes they perch on chairs at the back of the room, mouthing encouragement to their prodigal child as it lumps past in supposed butterfly mode. It pains me that my own off-spring show none of my childhood aptitude for dance. They leap about with the grace of an elephant seal, intensely concentrating on mimicking the teacher, yet somehow producing something entirely different in response. Ah well, it'll come. At least they do as they're told.
There are children in the class who have no sense of discipline. They don't listen. They don't do what they're told. They stand when everyone else is sitting and they sit when... well, you get the idea. Their parents smile on indulgently, while I sit on my hands and refrain from marching over to hoike the little ASBO-in-waiting out of class.
Several of the children clearly don't like ballet. Some spend so long sitting on their mother's lap each week that I wonder why on earth any parent would want to repeat the experience for an entire term.
The highlight of the class for me are the parents who are determined their child will get their money's worth out of the session - even if that means joining in themselves...
Over the last year I've watched grown men dance and prance their way across a school hall, a significantly less enthusiastic toddler trailing in their wake. I have a hunch these parents secretly enjoy it - there appears to be little resistence to the small hand tugging at theirs when the music starts. The mothers make me smile; they adopt wry expressions and an air of forced insouciance, the occasional rolled eye as if to say "how tedious, what a pain, how embarrassing". Yet this casual not-trying-too-hard approach is entirely undermined by their own physical performances. Because these women - the product of a decade of ballet classes themselves - these women really try. They point their toes, they stretch their arms in the air and swoop down with theatrical abandon. They flick their hair as they twirl on tiptoes and curtsey as if it's the closing night at Covent Garden. I suspect that if you were to remove the children entirely at that stage, the mothers would continue, pirouetting to a crescendo with a self-styled expression of bored indifference on their faces.
One mother was so carried away last week that she not only joined in with the closing chorus of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, she performed equisitely selected harmonies with such extraordinary operatic power that one by one the children tailed off and sat open-mouthed and silent as the vibrato rattled the windows.
"She's in the operatic society." Another mother whispered to me. You don't say.
I have yet to be called upon to coax my children onto the dance floor. Annoyingly independent, they have no need for my encouraging lead, no desire to see me perform. It's wonderful they're so confident, but perhaps it would do them good if I just joined them for the last bit. I can still do the most marvellous pas de chat...
Monday, 7 March 2011
Last week I headed to London to record a programme for Radio 4's spring series, Between Ourselves. Presented by Olivia O'Leary, the show features discussions between two people who have had similar experiences. Previous episodes have brought together opera singers, headmasters and even two women who had lost their sight. Inevitably common ground is found between the two participants as the discussion develops, but just as interesting are the differences in perspective which emerge. However similar the event, no two people will ever experience it in quite the same way.
This particular episode is about parenting multiples. What's it like to discover you're having twins - or more? What impact does it have on your life when two become four overnight? As presenter Olivia O'Leary asks, is it really like winning life's lottery?
The BBC Broadcasting house is a truly beautiful building and as I waited at reception I imagined the people who had walked through its doors. Star spotting radio presenters proved tricky; perhaps if I closed my eyes and tuned into their conversations... I was nudged awake by the man next to me, reading his newspaper aloud, complete with explosive commentary to accompany every story.
"Thirty five? Forty five if she's a day!"
I hoped he wasn't talking about me, but concluded that Broadcasting House attracted the eccentric. He shuffled off shortly afterwards, leaving his paper neatly folded on the seat. Just as I was craning my neck to see who it was that looked older than her years, Zoe Ball swept through reception in a whirl of fur coat and heels. Finally a name I could later drop.
We recorded the programme in a tiny studio on the sixth floor, with few interruptions and scarcely a need to re-do a question. The other guest, Dawn - mother of nine year old triplets - was warm and open, and we got on immediately. We discussed our pregnancies, the shock of the scan, and the difficulty in simply leaving the house in those early days. We talked about triple buggies and the cost of childcare, and how impossible it is to go to the loo on your own when you're the mother of three small children.
It was comforting to find acknowledgement of the small things I suspect many of my friends would not see; how holding your daughter's hand is a treat for her and for you, because you always have one more child than you have hands.
Olivia asked for my own story; the premature birth of my sons, the death of my eldest, my subsequent pregnancy with twin girls. Adamant I wouldn't cry, I edged my way through the questions, feeling a little braver with each one. We touched on the numbness I felt following the girls' birth and how much more likely it is for post-natal depression to occur in mothers of multiples.
I left the studio exhausted yet exhilarated and headed to Oxford Street for some retail therapy. Dawn and I had differed on only one point, and I mulled it over for the rest of the day.
Would I have preferred to have had my children one at a time?
Dawn would have done. She said she would have enjoyed the one to one, would have felt less stressed, been less pressured that way. I simply can't imagine it. Having had two sets of twins doesn't define me, but it undoubtedly changed me, and I wouldn't undo that for the world. My children have to fight for attention, they have to share toys, hang back for a cuddle, wait until it's their turn to hold my hand. That's all part of being a multiple, and I wouldn't have that any other way either.
Between Ourselves will be aired early April. To make sure you don't miss it, make sure you 'like' my Facebook page, where I'll be sure to post an update when the programme's listed.
Friday, 4 March 2011
The first film my husband ever saw at the cinema was Bambi, when he was just four years old. Last weekend I instigated a cosy family viewing of this childhood film. I thought how lovely it would be for him to come full circle and watch it with his children thirty years later.
The children loved it. The adorable Thumper, the endearing baby Bambi - their forestry antics had my three in stitches. I was rather concerned about how they’d take the death of Bambi’s mother – shot by a hunter in a scene I suspect wouldn’t be included in modern day children’s films. With a lump in my throat I turned to my eldest.
“That’s very sad, isn’t it, darling?”
He shrugged. “He’s still got his daddy.”
I was more than a little put out at this. Neither of the girls seemed even the slightest bit upset.
“But he loves his Mummy.” I persevered. “And now she’s gone. Dead. Killed by the nasty hunter.”
I would have rammed this point home a bit further only I got a jab to the ribs from my husband, who presumably thought that pushing our infants to the brink of tears wasn’t an ideal parenting tactic. Personally I thought he was looking disproportionately smug at the suggestion that Mr Bambi would be able to cope perfectly well without Mrs Bambi.
“And Bambi’s daddy will be lonely too.” I tried. “He’ll have no-one to cuddle, or to share his... um...” I wasn’t quite sure what deer ate for supper.
“He’ll find another lady deer.” My traitor son responded. “Look Mummy – there are lots for him to choose from.” He pointed at the screen, where dozens of pretty doe were tarting around Bambi’s widowed father. Hussies.
“But who’s going to tuck Bambi up at night?” I was determined to get at least a small amount of recognition for mothers, if it killed me. “Who’s going to give out the Calpol? Who’s going to tidy the playroom, make your lunches, fold your pyjamas?” I became faintly hysterical at the thought of my callous children barely even noticing their mother’s absence. I wiped a tear from my eye.
The children stared at me open-mouthed.
“Bambi doesn’t wear pyjamas, Mummy.”
My husband slowly shook his head. "You are quite insane." He said. He turned back to the film and considered the fawning deer surrounding Bambi's father. "I'd go for that one on the left. Nice legs."
Oh for heaven's sake.
Many thanks to Disney, who provided us with a copy of Bambi on Blue Ray.
Wednesday, 2 March 2011
There is a piece of equipment in my gym called the Power Plate. I think it stemmed from a celebrity craze a few years ago, when Madonna appeared at some event looking even more svelte than usual. Women everywhere started installing Power Plates in their living rooms, for the ultimate workout whilst watching Coronation Street.
I haven’t used it yet – it looks a little daunting and I’m not entirely convinced it counts as Real Exercise. I see the Lycra-clad woman hop onto it for a couple of minutes, stand in a variety of poses then hop off without breaking a sweat. It’s not quite as impressive as pounding the treadmill until the veins start throbbing in your temples.
Still, the poster on the wall promises me a complete body workout in just 15 minutes! which is pretty impressive. My standard gym workout takes me an hour – it’s no wonder I don’t come very often. If it only took me fifteen minutes, why I’d come every day. I wonder what else could be condensed into quarter hour slots? It would be awfully handy.
I step tentatively onto the Power Plate and decide on my options. Low, medium or high intensity? High, naturally. I want results and I want them fast. Thirty seconds, forty five or a full minute? Is a minute really the most one does? Gosh, I would have thought it would take longer than that. Still, I press the sixty second button and grasp the handles in preparation for the first move on the wall chart – the deep squat.
Without warning my head whips back as the machine grinds into action. It’s like being handed a pneumatic drill. My entire body shakes uncontrollably and my teeth are chattering so much I bite my tongue. There is a low moan coming from somewhere and I realise with horror that it’s me, but I can’t seem to stop it. I abandon my attempts at a deep squat and just hang on for dear life like a novice water skier. My thighs start to burn and I can feel my buttocks wobbling alarmingly, which can’t be a pleasant sight for whoever is on the Stair Master behind me. Never before have sixty seconds passed so incredibly slowly.
The Power Plate stops as abruptly as it started but I daren’t uncurl my white-knuckled fingers from the handles in case it starts again. Every muscle in my body is tense and I can’t move – I appear to have early onset rigour mortis. They’re going to have to carry me out on a stretcher. Gingerly I unlock one hand, then the other, and feel myself all over to see if I’ve sustained any lasting injuries. I don’t seem to have done, but when I step off the Power Plate my legs scoot from under me like Bambi on ice. I feel nauseous, like I’ve had one too many goes on the Waltzer.
Who on earth buys one of those for their own home? There must be a whole breed of sado-masochistic fitness fanatics out there.
I look at Exercise Two on the wall chart, the adductor massage, which requires you to lie on your side on the floor with your hips pushed up against the Power Plate and your upper leg wrapped around the machine. Given the intensity of the vibrations in a standing position, I can’t imagine what that must feel like on your... Oh. I see. That’s why they’re so popular.
And you say you can buy these for use at home?