Archive for April, 2009


Woman who not many men want to bone can sing shocker

There are many mountains to climb this week for the Woman in Black, who has an interview on Friday and is spending every spare hour finding new and imaginative ways to say: ‘PLEASE GIVE ME THE JOB’ (is weeping and wringing my hands a good, or bad idea? It may be involuntary by the time I sit in front of the panel).

But I didn’t want to forsake my readers. And because I am a born leader, motivator, multi-tasker, ideas generator and all round fabulous employee human being, I am offering you part of this week’s column – slightly rewritten for those of you who have already read it and feel short-changed – until I can turn my attention to you fully. You’d give me a job, right? RIGHT?

It’s about Scotland’s darling (stay away from recently-returned honeymooners who’ve been to Mexico, Susan!) Susan Boyle, who recently caused a YouTube sensation by being able to sing at the same time as looking a bit like a partially shaved warthog. That was mean. All this ‘blue sky thinking’ is making me darker than ever. Susan looks like my first boyfriend’s mother. That my first boyfriend was a warthog is neither here nor there.

Back on patrol soon. Please invoke whatever idols you worship (unless it’s Ben Affleck) to help me in my quest to get a better-paid job.

BREAKING NEWS: Reality TV show contestant Susan Boyle single-handedly shatters accepted wisdom that only the slim, attractive and young can sing.

The Britain’s Got Talent auditionee sparked worldwide interest when she managed to sing a song DESPITE being on the homelier side of fairly average-looking.

Astonishingly, her physical appearance didn’t seem to affect her vocal chords whatsoever – I know, I couldn’t believe it either.

Before: The virgin Connie Swayle. Sorry, Susan Boyle.

Before: The virgin Connie Swayle. Sorry, Susan Boyle.

There’s no denying it, Susan Boyle can hold a tune  and she’s got the kind of back story that makes news providers, like me, salivate at the chops with unadulterated, undignified glee.

She’s a 47-year-old virginal charity worker who looked after her dear old Mum until she popped her clogs, lives alone with her cat and hasn’t picked up a pair of tweezers this side of the millennium.

Indeed Macbeth’s crones, sitting on the judging panel of BGT could barely disguise their incredulity that before them stood someone who wasn’t blindingly attractive yet still professed a desire to become a famous singer.

After all, it’s a proven fact that only good-looking people have any talent: just look at Kelly Brook.

‘So what’s the dream?’ asked Simon Cowell, his eyebrow racing towards his pubic weave in that trademarked ‘God you make me feel physically sick you pathetic nobody’ style he’s honed to perfection over the years.

Susan name-checked Elaine Paige, joked about her appearance, exhibited the natural ease of a vampire in full sunlight and then opened her mouth and let her voice do the talking.

Judge Amanda Holden was so moved by the fact that someone without a store card at Harrods could sing that she shed a tear and Piers Morgan claimed Susan was ‘the biggest surprise’ he’d ever seen on the show.

It’d have been surprising if Susan had suggested she’d like to be an in-house Chanel model before squeezing into a bikini and suddenly becoming jaw-droppingly gorgeous in front of our eyes. But why is it surprising that she can sing? Have these people never seen Neil Young?

**** Since writing this piece, Susan has undergone a dramatic makeover. By dramatic, I mean her mono-brow has been tamed with shears, her hair has been cut and she’s put on some lipstick. Whether or not this will have an effect on her voice is yet to be seen: perhaps the excess hair balanced her vocals. Lord knows what might happen to her voice if she loses her virginity. Before I lost mine, I had the voice of an angel. Now I sound like Darth Vader with swine flu. ****

After: Susans radical makeover, including hand amputation

After: Susan's radical makeover, including hand amputation


I’m back, by popular request (well, one request anyway)

One of my friends has recently announced her second pregnancy almost ten years after the birth of her first child.

“I’m not worried about childbirth, sleepless nights or starting all over again with a baby,” she told me, “what I can’t face is the bloody Mother and Baby group again.”

It brought it all back in hideous technicolour.

Twenty women leaking hormones in a draughty church hall with only a packet of shortbread, a leaflet on meningitis and their howling, shitting, puking babies for entertainment; you think it’ll be a place to share stories and swap advice, you discover rapidly that it’s actually a place for Lottie to boast about the clockwork regularity of Merlin’s poo.

Mother and Baby groups are, in fact, one of the most compelling reasons to be born a man, alongside periods, sports bras and netball.

When I had my first child, I made the mistake of going to several such meetings, the high point of which were a grim session where our babies were weighed by a hatchet-faced crone who looked at you accusingly if your baby hadn’t put on “enough” weight.

In between weighing sessions and tear-soaked mobile phone conversations to our partners about being inadequate because little Tarquin had only put on three ounces instead of four, we ruthlessly competed to see which of us had the best baby.

I say “we”, I mean “them”. I didn’t need to compete – I had the best baby.

There is a certain kind of mother who always manages to convince herself that her child is “exceptionally gifted”, despite all evidence to the contrary.

You can spot them a mile off: prone to wearing Birkenstocks, spent her early 20s travelling in India and the next 15 years banging on about it, uses organic tampons, drinks herbal “infusions” and spends a fortune on dressing her kids like miniature Greenham Common protesters.

Little Raphael may only be three years old, but  his paintings are already reminiscent of Matisse’s early work. Jocasta has been reading Trollope since she was 18 months old. Felix the baby sees dead people. 


Ok, write this down. He says to increase our investment-grade corporate bond exposure, but that equities represent a stronger return profile over the longer term.

Ok, write this down. He says to increase our investment-grade corporate bond exposure, but that equities represent a stronger return profile over the longer term.

To the outside world – with their untrained eyes – Raphael, Jocasta and Felix are crashingly dull, ordinary, average and normal; to their mother, they represent a trifold manifestation of the second coming. 

Such people, as Vic Reeves used to say, could never let it lie.

If your baby was crawling, theirs was Riverdancing and competing at a county level in the 100m. If your baby had just started eating rusks, theirs were eating bruschetta and asking for stuffed vine leaves. If your baby was saying “Dada”, theirs was quoting Chaucer and pointing out spelling mistakes in the Guardian.

In a very short space of time, I realised that the Mother and Baby group was only serving to make me bitter because my daughter wasn’t bilingual, suggesting uses for the unidentifiable produce in organic vegetable boxes or playing the harp. 

Not even my assertion that she had cornered the market in producing textbook “up the back” nappies, explosive creations which leaked from nappy to hairline and required an entire bottle of baby bath to remedy, was enough to impress my peers.

Unable to compete any longer, I stopped going and from then on had no idea what my child weighed (although she felt heavy enough when I had to physically remove her from the crisp aisle after an incident at the Quavers section in the supermarket some months later).

After a few minutes reminicing about the fun we’d had at Mother and Baby groups, my friend swiftly decided that this time round she’d shun the weekly humiliation at any such covens of competitiveness.

There are some very sensitive digital scales at supermarkets these days – and none are operated by a judgemental harridan with a face like a lemon (or if they are, it’s because the aforementioned face belongs to you).

**** Apologies for my prolonged absence from the coalface. It’s been a mother (and baby group) of a week and there are still many more words to write before I can relax this weekend. Sometimes I think being a reporter is the hardest job in the world. Way harder than sulphur mining, for example. ****


A Fish By Any Other Name is Still a Bloody Fish

You’ve heard of A Fish Called Wanda (and, if you’re an insomniac like me, probably seen it a billion times thanks to the BBC’s cut-price ‘twilight programming’ too), but how about A Fish Called Colin?

Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s has sexed-up the humble pollack after carrying out consumer research that revealed many customers were too embarrassed to ask for it at the fish counter.

Now I can understand being embarrassed about asking for Anusol or Vagisil (especially at the fish counter) but pollack? Is it because it sounds a bit like ‘bollock’, or because it’s the kind of fish my Mum used to feed the cat when we couldn’t afford Whiskas?

At first I thought it was an April Fool’s joke; giving a fish a makeover and renaming it Colin, pronounced Co-lan, in order to persuade more people to buy it? Surely not.



Pollack: I shun thee at the fish counter

Pollack: I shun thee at the fish counter

Co-lan sounds far too similar to colon, the storage tube for our ‘solid waste’. You might as well just call it Arse Tube Fish and be done with it.

Then again, I suppose the more literary fish buyers amongst us can amuse themselves by asking for a semi-colin if they want only half a fish.

Sainsbury’s hope the makeover will highlight sustainable sourcing and protect dwindling fish stocks – that’s the fish in the sea, not Oxo cubes – while reminding customers that there’s more to the fish counter than cod and haddock.


Colin: Fancy coming round to my place for dinner?

Colin: Fancy coming round to my place for dinner?

Personally, I have been protecting dwindling fish stocks for decades, on the basis that I’d rather lick pollution-flecked nettles on a motorway verge than eat a fish.

Although it seems impossible to believe now, there was once a time when I ate meat with incredible, carnivorous enthusiasm.

As a young flesh eater I ate the very meatiest of meat: really well-hung pheasant – I refer to the technique of preserving game, not the pheasant’s phallus  – rabbit, veal and oxtail.

The meatier it was, the more I liked it.

Even at my bloodiest, however, I couldn’t be persuaded to willingly eat a fish, unless it was heavily coated in orange breadcrumbs, endorsed by a kindly sea captain and rendered tasteless thanks to copious quantities of ketchup.

This was, in part, due to my mother’s insistence on serving some fish whole, their heads intact and their opaque, baked eyes staring accusingly up at me from my plate. And the bones, dear God the bones: it was like eating a box of haunted matches.

Giving up eating meat was a small price to pay for knowing I’d never have to eat fish again; in fact the moment I grasped the concept of vegetarianism (“you mean they never have to eat tuna? Sign me up!”) I became one.

My family have no such qualms, even though – up until recently when ‘Survivor’ turned up his tiny fins and was despatched to heaven via the toilet – we actually owned fish as pets.

I never understood their logic. We have cats too, but if I’d tried to serve them a roasted one of those for dinner, I feel confident there would have been protests. Bloody hypocrites.

Time alone will tell whether the Fish Formerly Known As Pollack, complete with its hilarious ‘Jackson Pollock’ inspired packaging, will enjoy renewed popularity, or indeed some form of popularity whatsoever, with its new sexy moniker.

It reminds me of that tiresome Norwich Union advertisement in which fabulously wealthy celebrities (Bruce ‘Walter’ Willis, Alice ‘Vincent Furnier’ Cooper, Ringo ‘Richard Starkey’ Starr etc etc) took the Aviva dollar to ask the public if they’d have been quite so famous if they’d kept the names they were given at birth.

With this in mind, I suggest Sainbury’s commissions its own advertisements: “Ask yourself this: would Pollack Firth have gotten to play Mr Darcy?”

**** An apology. I know the above is horribly Anglicised, and if you’re from across the Pond/continent some of it may mean nothing. Then again, most of what I write means nothing, so perhaps you won’t have noticed. Do you lot have pollack? It’s a kind of really shit fish, if you hadn’t worked that out already. And you know who Colin Firth is, right? He’s a posh actor, the kind of man that makes people who aren’t British think we’re all really self-effacing and charming and go around apologising all the time. Which is what I’m doing right now. More to the point, this column is tomorrow’s newspaper column, so I’m short-changing you there, too. I’m off to don my hair shirt in penitence. ****


I used to be a nanny. What were they thinking?

Once upon a time, a long time ago, before I’d wasted three years of my life at university and spent another year desperately trying to persuade anyone that would listen that I’d make a really good reporter (even when young I was an adept liar), I was a nanny.

I figured that nannying would be a fairly easy way to make a living; all you have to do is keep a few children alive during the day while you watch TV and drink tea, read the odd story, make a few models out of cereal boxes and, Bob’s your drunken uncle, you’re a childcare professional.

I had no brothers and sisters, very few friends with younger siblings and basically had no idea whatsoever what I was letting myself in for. I thought that looking after children would be fun. I thought it would be easy. I soon learned otherwise.

The room used to be white, you say?

'The kids? They're fine. Last time I saw them they were under what used to be the bed.'

By the time I was 18, the only things I’d ever had to assume a degree of responsibility for were guinea pigs.

I say that I assumed a degree of responsibility for them – I named them.

Feeding them, cleaning out their cage, clipping their hateful nails, dealing with their hideous mange, attempting to stop them copulating with their own brethren, I left this all to my mother; had it been up to me, the guinea pigs would have resembled hair-tufted skeletons within about a month.

After all, she didn’t have anything better to do, what with being a 24-hour carer for my bed-bound Dad, running a house without a bread-earner, running my social diary and putting up with me wafting round the house like a little black cloud in gothic rags; I expect that sifting the guinea pigs’ food for tiny turds was a bit of light relief.

I hasten to add that now I have children of my own, the circle of life is complete: having promised faithfully that they would take on full responsibility for their hamsters, the kids have interpreted this to mean that they’ll occasionally ask me if I’ve fed their pets/cleaned out their cages/ refilled their water and so on. This is, to be fair to them, a step up from the respect I showed my guinea pigs (or my mother).

Suffice it to say that I didn’t expound on the whole guinea-pig-responsibility-issue when I went for my first job as a nanny, not that my interview was particularly soul-searching. The closest we got to probing was when my potential employee asked if I knew how to use a microwave oven.

Ah, those were the days. No police checks, no health and safety, no NVQs in bead threading or papier mache, just honest-to-goodness unqualified, useless teenagers looking for jobs that didn’t involve getting on a minibus at the crack of dawn and driving to a grim poultry factory to masturbate turkeys for pennies or stacking shelves at the local supermarket (worse than the turkeys. At least someone in that transaction was enjoying themselves. And I don’t mean me, before you ask).

Within a week of my interview, I was in charge of two small children for five days a week, from 8am until 5pm. One of my tiny charges was a very sweet little girl, aged about four, who was genuinely a pleasure to be with, on the basis that all she wanted to do was (a) sleep (b) watch TV or (c) play with Lego.

The boy, on the other hand, was somewhat more of a trial. As his mother flitted out of the house on my first morning, she told me that little Rupert had “toilet issues” and was, as I was to find out later, an anal-retentive in the truest sense of the term.

For those not familiar with Sigmund Freud’s theories on the anal stage in psychology, and trusting that you have not recently finished eating your dinner, I will explain.

Dr Freud believed toddlers were fixated with their bowel movements and that the way toilet training is carried out can determine the way a person develops in later life (I am paraphrasing here somewhat, if you want the full story, ring my premium rate line for more anal chat).

Heaven knows what kind of toilet training little Rupert had had, because he hadn’t bothered waiting for later life, he’d become an anal-retentive at the age of two. He would do anything whatsoever to avoid going to the toilet and was, therefore, suffering from self-imposed constipation and fearsome flatulence.

On the plus side, I never had to change any rancid nappies. On the minus side, I was a slave to a toddler’s bowels, and expected to use my most impressive powers of persuasion to cajole him into evacuating them, a task which Hercules would have passed on had he seen the glint of determination in little Rupert’s eye.

His mother admitted, at a later date, that one time, when matters had reached crisis point, an on-call doctor had once “manually evacuated his bowels using a teaspoon”. I never made a cup of tea in that house again.


How to lose 10lb fast! Be a vegetarian in France.

Remember all that fuss a few years ago about a diet book called “French Women Don’t Get Fat”? It’s come to light that the publishers left a word out of the title.

It should read “Vegetarian French Women Don’t Get Fat”, with the subtitle: “We Ride Horses, The French Eat Them”.

A vegetarian salad in France is one where the cow’s heart, liver, kidneys and anal glands have been removed from your plate at the table and replaced with bacon. Or a crayfish with an accusing look on its face.

Being a vegetarian in France is like being an intellectual in Ipswich. You stand out like a sore thumb, no one understands you and frankly everyone just wishes you’d leave – as quickly as possible.

A press trip looms to the epicentre of excellent cuisine (as a fully qualified war bore, I tend to be invited to write long, florid pieces about seminal WW1/WW2 anniversaries. I’d post some, but the pretentiousness might kill you by paragraph four) and I’m already stockpiling emergency rations for when I am unable to find anything without a face to eat from a French menu.


French Vegetarian Salad

French Vegetarian Salad

The last time I hopped over the Channel for some war anniversary or other, I watched my colleagues enjoying six courses of French cuisine while I debated the finer points of vegetarianism with the waiter. I say “debated the finer points of vegetarianism”, I mean “drew pictures of carrots while weeping”.

After 19 hours of high level talks and etchings, the restaurant – a centre of gastronomic excellence – produced a meat-free option for me.

It was three pieces of cheese and a slice of bread.

On other days, I fared better. Once, I was given a plate of plain pasta with two chives placed on top – for this, my Granddad lied about his age to join the Army and fought at the Somme.

Thanks to our deeply inadequate education system and our inherent mistrust of anything foreign, there are only about three people in Britain who understand French menus, and they’re all too traumatised to speak of the horrors they have seen.

Everything on the menu looks fantastic, but that’s because you have absolutely no idea what it is and are simply bowled over by the fact it’s written in another language. The French telephone directory would look equally tasty.

A typical French menu reads as follows (V indicates vegetarian option):

* Bald eagle stuffed with peacock entrails, served with a side salad of offal and goujons of horse.

* Slices of raw baby seal presented inside a whole frog and accompanied by otter fritters and kitten stew.

* Bottlenose dolphin, clubbed to death at your table, with hummingbird sorbet and a fan of lightly-seared timber wolf wafers.

* Lightly cooked calf’s brain in a vinaigrette followed by scallops stuffed with selected glands and lungs, served with a snail soufflé.

* Bacon salad (V).

Incidentally, one of those menu options is a genuine meal I had to watch someone eating on my last visit (and here’s a clue: it wasn’t the bacon salad).

At times I wondered why the waiters didn’t just cut out the middle man by putting a raw cow on the table and giving everyone a spoon.

And the drink, mon Dieu, the drink.

We are forever being told that the Europeans are streets ahead of us when it comes to their attitude to alcohol, and that what we call child abuse (giving Jean-Pierre wine at the age of two) they call a “relaxed drinking culture”.

According to the French, the Brits approach licensing laws like a parched man in the desert who comes across a water fountain – we drink as much as we can as quickly as we can and then we fall over, vomit, fight or stand in the road shouting “Darren leave it – he i’nt worth it.”

In France nobody spends their weekend binge drinking and passing out on the pavement. This is mainly because they are all far too pissed to get to the pub, having had their first aperitif at 6.30am.

They drink in the morning. They drink at lunchtime. They drink in the afternoon. They drink in the evening. I’m not entirely convinced that they don’t spend the night hooked up to a wine drip.

Now that I have learnt that a “relaxed drinking culture” means being drunk all the time, as opposed to a few hours at the weekend, I am finally ready to accept the European way of life.

The French drink so much because they’re expected to eat the stuff our slaughterhouses stick in the bin – without this hurdle, the Brits can just embrace the grape without feasting on pets and guts.

PS French women do get fat. I heard one swearing when she got stuck in a turnstile at a museum – one thing’s for sure; she wasn’t a vegetarian.


Press 1 for top-up, press 2 if you have lost your phone, press 3 if you want to talk to a halfwit called Glen

Mobile phone sales people are, with frighteningly few exceptions, slipperier than an eel wearing banana skin shoes on an ice rink.

They regard the truth as one of those quaint, old-fashioned concepts which died out with the dinosaurs, replacing facts with a blizzard of startling and complex contracts which even Stephen Hawking and his research team of impossibly clever boffins would find impossible to decipher.

You walk into a mobile phone shop for a mobile phone, and you come out with a slice of technology with an 8 megapixel camera, internet connection, several trillion polyphonic ringtones, more applications than the Pop/American Idol auditions combined and a year’s subscription to Premiership goals sent direct to your handset.

Whether your new phone makes or receives calls is open to debate.

You will have also locked yourself into a contract which is only slightly less financially devastating than if you left your entire life savings in an empty room with a pyromaniac and a box of matches. Extricating yourself from a contract is technically possible, but only after the kind of blood pressure raising phone calls which shave decades off your life and yet more money off your bank account.

If you have been hoodwinked into paying for the highly-recommended extended warranty cover, your phone will work perfectly until you choose to upgrade it. If you haven’t bought the warranty, the phone will self-destruct in a matter of weeks.

Either way, you have sold your soul to Beelzebub which is, incidentally, an easier contract to wriggle out of than an 18-month lock-in with a network provider (Satan, are you listening? It’s time to recruit some salespeople from the mobile phone industry).

Vodafone and I had been together for 10 long years when we split.

At first, things were good between us – in fact it felt like the first honest relationship I’d had for years; in the past when I’d really needed to talk to a boyfriend it had cost me an unpleasant sexual favour, or a bottle of wine at the least: Vodafone simply charged me 12p a minute.

But over time, we began to take each other for granted.

They were spending more and more time with newer, younger customers and my eye was wandering to more attractive deals which didn’t require me to choose between paying my mobile phone bill or feeding my children.

I flirted with the idea of leaving them for another, more thoughtful phone provider, they started randomly charging me for services I’d never used and bombarding me with texts about how to ‘meet sexy singles in your neighbourhood by text!’

Things came to a head when my recently upgraded phone decided that it would receive calls but not make them. The final straw was when the phone’s screen remained resolutely blank, meaning that answering any calls I did receive became pot luck –  the very definition of cold calling.

I called Vodafone.

Me: The screen on my phone has gone completely blank. I’ve only had it for three months.

Vodafone: Did you take out an insurance policy?

Me: No. I naively assumed you were selling me a phone which might last more than 12 weeks. Isn’t it under warranty?

Vodafone: Technically, yes. Do you ever carry your phone in a bag, or in your pocket?

Me: Yes. Sometimes I even carry it in a pocket in a bag.

Vodafone: Ah. If you carry your phone in a bag, it can get damaged. Your warranty won’t cover that.

Me: But it’s supposed to be a mobile phone! What am I supposed to do? Have it carried around by bodyguards on an erskine cushion? Should I not be able to carry it around in a bag without it ceasing to work?

Vodafone: Perhaps you threw your bag on the floor and it got a bit bashed around. Maybe you sat on your bag or something. It’s easily done. We can send your phone off to our repair centre, but nine times out of 10 there’s nothing that can be done.

And so on and so forth. This idle banter continued for several light years, my rapier-like wit redundant in the shadow of a blank-faced automaton spitting out company policy like a corporate muck-spreader.

No, Vodafone would not replace my mobile. Yes, they would sell me a new phone but No they couldn’t give me a good deal. Yes, the new phone would involve taking out a second mortgage, No I couldn’t afford any of the nicest phones on my budget but Yes the one in my price range did come with its own free ermine-lined wheelbarrow to cart it about in.

Coming hot on the heels of our last major bust-up – when my phone had been sent away for repair, the engineers had identified ‘liquid damage’ and the salesman had suggested it might be due to having “quite sweaty ears” – it was the final straw.

Giving up the phone number I had cherished for a decade, and which it had taken me nine years and 11 months to learn off by heart, was a wrench, but it was time for Vodafone and I to go our separate ways.

I now have a new phone and am therefore able to ignore 99 per cent of my calls like in the good old days. My new number includes the figure ‘666’ (no, really). There is a prize for anyone that can guess the remaining eight numbers in the correct order. All you need to do is call me before midnight on April 30. I won’t answer, of course. But you will have won a moral victory, and that, I am sure you will agree, is worth its weight in gold.


Presents not to buy your mother

I wrote this post after Mother’s Day (the UK version) and was going to save it for next year until I discovered that my transatlantic cousins have yet to celebrate this special day. More pertinently, I lost the post in a file on my Mac and have only just discovered it – vintage gold, my friends, vintage gold.

When the best you can hope for is a Mum’s Night Off bucket from Kentucky Fried Chicken, it’s a fair bet that Mother’s Day is going to be another wash-out.

Mother’s Day works on the principle that you can treat your dear old Mum like a domestic drudge for 364 days of the year and then wipe the slate clean for the cost of a nauseating card and a bunch of flowers from the garage which have been Mother’s Day-ed up with a sticker that says I Heart Mum.

It’s a bit like your employer spending an entire day being really nice to you – letting you come into work a little bit later, buying you a pot plant
for your desk, making you a nice cup of tea and telling you how much they appreciate you – and then not bothering to pay you for the rest of the year.

Every year the Brits spend around £100 million on Mother’s Day, which coincidentally falls on the same date as Retailers’ Money Spinning Day and Florists’ Mark Up the Price Day.

A hundred million pounds is a lot of money. It makes me wonder who got the rest of my share, taking into account the fact that I got a homemade card with a teabag taped to it and an I Love Mum mug from the 99p shop. Which of course, if my children are reading, I adored.

Oh lovely! A painted pasta necklace AND earrings! Now. Wheres my real present?

"Oh lovely! A painted pasta necklace AND earrings! Now. Where's my real present? Oh."

The market has even worked out how to squeeze a few quid out of people whose Mothers have had the very bad form to die and offered some suggestions to those of us who rather boringly only have one Mum to buy pointless and expensive rubbish for.

According to the frankly terrifying, it wasn’t just our own dear old Mater who we should have been sending a card to, we should also have forked out for our “stepmothers, grandmothers, mothers-in-law, godmothers, aunts and even friends who are Mums”.

Fast forward a few years and we’ll be sending cards to every single female we know, including our pets and all those women who are causing a baby shortage in Britain because they selfishly want careers and white sofas without Wagon Wheels welded to the arms (“Happy Respecting Your Right Not to be Mothers Day!).

The answer to all this rampant consumerism is, of course, for us all to rise up as one and declare that we will shun future Mother’s Days and simply be nice to our Mums all year round without prompting from Clinton’s Cards or Interflora.

Whenever I need to shift mucus, Ill think of you.

"Whenever I need to shift mucus, I'll think of you."

But back in the real world, where people genuinely do appear to need reminding that the maid in the kitchen actually gave birth to them, it seems unlikely that we can do away with Mother’s Day entirely.

For a start, being nice all year might cost considerably more than a fiver and secondly if Mother’s Day was outlawed, the retailers would only come up with something even more all-encompassing, which would involve us buying cards and presents for everyone we know, regardless of whether we like them or not. Oh hang on, they already did: Christmas.

But anyway. Mother’s Day is here to stay and with this thought in mind, damage limitation is the only option. So here is a list of the presents you shouldn’t buy your Mum next Mother’s Day or indeed, ever.

1)    Anything remotely associated with the kitchen. Oven gloves which say “World’s Greatest Mum!” are still oven gloves. No one has ever said on their death bed: “I only wish I’d had more Mum-themed kitchen accessories”.

2)    The Mum’s Night Off bucket from Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s a dream come true! A deep-fried meal served in a bucket and eaten with plastic cutlery! I do, however, see a marketing opportunity for KFC – how about renaming the product “Bulimic’s Night Off” and highlighting the fact that the bucket will cut out all those time-consuming trips to the toilet?

3)    One of those huge Toblerone chocolate bars with Mother’s Day branding. Have you ever tried to eat one of these monsters without the benefit of a hammer and chisel? It’s like gnawing on a section of the Forth Bridge.

4)    Oil of Olay Regenerist cream. Whatever “celebrity beauty writer” Nadine Baggott might say, buying her a cream for ageing skin is almost
literally laughing in your Mum’s face. You might as well find a picture of her when she was 20 and paste it inside her Mother’s Day card under the
heading “what went wrong?”.

5)     Purple Ronnie’s Little Book for a Lovely Mum. All tiny books full of cutesy cartoons or saccharine quotations are the work of the Devil. Trees have
died to produce this pointless, fiddly, idiotic nonsense. Adding Purple Ronnie – who is as heartwarming and amusing as a case of leprosy – into the mix is simply taking the piss.

My hatred for Purple Ronnie shows no bounds. Purple Ronnies Little Book of Being an Immense C**t more like. Swearing sponsored by Tannerleah

My hatred for Purple Ronnie shows no bounds. Purple Ronnie's Little Book of Being an Immense C**t more like. Swearing sponsored by Tannerleah

6)    Housework Songs by Various Artists. The very fact that this compilation album was ever made makes me fear for the future of the human race. Anyone who buys their Mother a CD designed to make them get a move on with scrubbing the toilet bowl should feel ashamed of themselves. Ashamed and dirty.

7)    Flowers which cost less than £10 (unless you are an infant and have the paperwork to prove that you have no savings whatsoever). If you had any idea how much giving birth hurt, you would not be buying your mother pollution-flecked flowers from a garage forecourt.

8   A “MUM” sovereign ring. Touching as it is to buy your Mother a present which prepares her for being attacked outside a pub, you might like to think about buying her something a little more subtle. Like a flick knife or a flame thrower.

9)    Any gift which bears a large sticker saying “Perfect for Mother’s Day!” (unless it’s diamonds, Johnny Depp, a vineyard or a self-cleaning house). This rule is especially important in supermarkets, where gifts labelled thus will inevitably involve the presence of Ronan Keating, Barry Manilow or jam.

10) A DIY Will Kit. It’s not thoughtful, it’s creepy. Particularly when your Mother finds the first line of the “chief beneficiaries” section already helpfully filled in.


‘I feel like a failure because I had pain relief during labour’. Really? I had so many drugs I thought I’d given birth to a tomato

As I lay staring at the ceiling, a strange, sweating man labouring above me, I reflected on the conveyor-belt mentality of our National Health Service.

I had only just met this chap and within seconds he was pouring Rohypnol down my throat, levering open my mouth and advising me to lie back and think of England while he wielded his fearsome tool inches from my face.

Had I not been paying for the procedure, it probably would have ranked as one of the most romantic moments of my life.

I had spent the past six months barely existing under a cloud of indescribably terrible toothache – the severity of which I can only liken to having had Nirvana perform Smells Like Teen Spirit inside my brain for 24 hours a day, seven days a week . Finally, it was  time to take action.

My decision had something to do with the fact that my Matthew-Perry-from-Friends-style addiction to painkillers had seen me almost sever a toe without registering any pain whatsoever despite the fact that I could still clearly feel every last twinge in my mouth.

I realised at this point that even if someone were to cut my head off and liquidise it, the tooth would still keep hurting.

Despite being in agony, I was mindful of a survey I’d read claiming that 12 per cent of women suffer “psychological trauma” and “feel like failures” because they use pain relief during childbirth. I have enough psychological trauma and failure in my life already; and if pain is good enough for women in labour, surely the same rules had to apply for tooth extraction.

I resolved to experience tooth extraction without recourse to any soul-sapping drugs. I arrived at the dentist’s with my herbalist, acupuncturist, spiritual guide and a suitcase packed with essential oils, Enya tapes and an ermine-lined casket for my tooth.

All were dispatched in seconds by the fearsome receptionist and forced to wait for me in the foyer with only musak and Heat magazine to keep them company. Undeterred, I asked the dentist what his thoughts were about drug-free tooth extraction procedures and told him that I didn’t want to leave his surgery feeling psychologically traumatised or like a failure.

To the ringing of his hollow laughter, I was immediately strapped to the leatherette chair, cranked backwards into a prone position and drugs were tipped into my protesting mouth and injected into my gums before I could even ask him his views on third world debt.


You think this hurts? Wait til you see the bill.

"You think this hurts? Wait til you see the bill."

I emerged a few minutes later feeling psychologically traumatised and like a failure. Then I realised that I was a failure without toothache, and I perked up no end.

Whenever I hear women bragging about how they went through labour without any drugs as if it is an Olympic discipline, I wonder if they spend their lives harking back to the good old days when old ladies with cats and warts were burnt at the stake as witches and we spent all our time embroidering pastoral scenes and getting the tea on.

My only regrets about my labour are that I didn’t have more drugs. With two deliveries in theatre (I refer to a surgeon’s workplace, not an emporium of entertainment) I had plenty of drugs; when I gave birth to my daughter, I was convinced I’d had a tomato. But I definitely could have done with more drugs after the birth – enough supplies to last past their 18th birthdays would suffice.

Anyone with a new baby who has enough time on their hands to carp on about feeling “cheated” because they accepted a paracetamol while their nether regions were on fire gets no sympathy from me. People with toothache, on the other hand, deserve medals for endurance. And lots of hard drugs.

*** This post is dedicated to my good friend Ram, who came into our lives briefly and enhanced them all with his unique blend of multi-animal milk dairy products. May his life in Mexico be long and prosperous and may he find the hairy-backed woman of his dreams. You will be missed, Ram, and it’s only because I have your brother Raj’s store in the UK that I’m not holding a Tannerleah-style protest of my own. ***

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