Archive Page 2

26
Jun
09

Is that a moon rock in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

Frankly, I’m still smarting over all those lies we were told at primary school about how we’d all be living on the moon in the year 2000 and flitting about in hover cars with robot slaves to attend to our every whim.

It’s a harsh blow, therefore, to discover that not only were my teachers big fat liars, if their uneducated predictions had been correct and the human race was living on the moon, we’d all be big and fat too. Oh, and bald. Big, fat and bald – three cheers for the future.

Dr Lewis Dartnell, from the University College London, has single-handedly burst the space bubble, meaning that only the terminally masochistic would consider signing up to a long period away from the earth.

“With very little effort required to move around in microgravity, future spacemen and women are likely to become pretty chubby. Also with no need for hair to insulate the head or eyelashes to flick dust from their eyes, future humans may become totally hairless,” he said.

BEFORE: Mum? Im off to space for a decade. Remember to record Cash in the Attic

BEFORE: 'Mum? I'm off to space for a decade. Remember to record Cash in the Attic'

It’s one big step for mankind that I’m not sure many astronauts would be willing to take – or able to take, once they’d halved in size.

Jetting off into the stratosphere is pretty sexy: returning as a hairless, rotund dwarf is slightly less so, even if you do have a few moon rocks in your pocket and an absolutely enormous helmet to show for your intergalactic troubles.

AFTER: This is a wig, you know

AFTER: 'Ladies? I've been to space. Form an orderly queue'

If we had all decamped to the moon, Gillette and Immac would have gone into administration overnight, no one would be able to reach the top shelf in the kitchen and the human race would be slowly dying because no one would be able to summon up the enthusiasm to go on the (gravitational) pull. It’d be like living in Wales, albeit with a far better view.

And it gets worse. If our future truly does lie in the skies, we’re not only going to be smooth, shiny dwarves who break a hip if we brush up against a cobweb thanks to our muscle and bone wastage, we’re also going to have huge, swollen heads.

Dr Dartnell added: “Without gravity, fluid would float up to pool in the skull, which would cause the head to look permanently swollen and out of proportion.”

Bloody marvellous. Anything else? Will we grow horns? Or tentacles? Or start farting smoke?

I’m waiting until they invent a space where you come back home thinner, better looking and more intelligent. I still want the robot slave, though, that’s a given.

PS My Uncle works for Nasa (FACT!), which means I’m pretty likely to get a trip on a rocket any day soon. Will you still love me when I am a fat, bald, huge-headed dwarf? Oh hang on, I already am. Phew.

23
Jun
09

Tell me what to write in my newspaper column again, and you’ll be reading it in hospital

When you write a column for a newspaper, people are forever making the mistake of telling you what you should be writing about.

They forget, of course, that I am a world expert on everything and therefore always know exactly what I should write about, even though I don’t actually do so very often.

Sometimes I write a not-so-brilliant column just to make the other columnists feel better about themselves – in addition to being an expert on everything, I’m also an extraordinary humanitarian (although I don’t like to talk about it).

Anyway, if I had a pound for every mind-numbingly dull tale which has ended with “…put that in your column!” I would have about £392.

And had someone actually paid me that £392, I might have been slightly more cheerful about being told to highlight someone else’s problem with their plumber/hip operation/neighbours/corns/demonic possession on my page.

As it is, I have developed an impressive ability to switch off while nodding – a bit like your work colleagues do when you show them your holiday photographs – because I figure that it’s hard enough to have my own opinions, let alone someone else’s.

People release their venom about the builder, the buses, young people today, old people today, MPs’ expenses, interest rates, Iraq, men, women, children, animals, humanity as a whole or the fact that BA lost their baggage on a flight back from Ibiza and so forth, then step back slightly, look at you expectantly and boom: “Well? What do you think to THAT?”

There are three answers to such a question.

The first is the answer the person wants you to give them. “WHAT? You mean to say the builder expected you to PAY for that driveway? Despite the uneven bit near the garage? If you’ll excuse me for a moment, Sir, I must call our presses immediately and stop the front page.”

Or you can try a stalling technique: “I will definitely bear that in mind.”

And finally there is the truth. “Sir, I am standing in the frozen food section of Sainsbury’s. My children were last seen scaling the shelves in the crisp aisle three hours ago. Although I hear what you are saying, I cannot pretend to give a monkey’s chuff about your piffling problems.”

I never try the truth.

Anyway, I lumbered out of the dentist’s the other day, a few hundred pounds lighter (sadly only in monetary terms, which is a shame, because hiring that winch to get me in and out of the bath is proving to be costly) and was innocently waiting for a bus when I felt a jab in the ribs.

“You want to write about that (jabbing man gesticulated with his head towards a new development of flats at the site of a former furniture shop called Courts in Norwich) in your column. Bloody ridiculous. What do we need more luxury flats for?” said the man queuing next to me.

Although anaesthetised to a point where my head felt like a balloon only loosely tethered to my shoulders, I still had enough mental and physical fortitude to pretend I hadn’t heard anything. Not that this ever stops anyone.

“Eh? Them flats. Ridiculous.”

I have to admit, I am not aware of a huge gap in the market for luxury loft-style apartments in Norwich, even if they have got scenic views of a roundabout, an office block, a travel lodge and a funeral director’s.

Practically every disused building in the city has been converted into a luxury apartment – I’m surprised someone hasn’t put plate glass windows and some laminate floors in the disused, haunted toilets at the bottom of a hill near my house and marketed them as a low-rise luxury studio flat. With lots of en suites.

You see vile old boarded up public toilets full of rats and dribbling tramps, I see luxury flat(s)

You see vile old boarded up public toilets full of rats and dribbling tramps, I see luxury flat(s)

And since when has “loft-style” been luxury? Aren’t they just unfinished beige warehouses with nice taps?

I’m always concerned about the history of the places where I have lived and to this end have never bought a property on the site of an old abattoir, in a converted warehouse, next door to a concentration camp, in an old nuclear power station or on top of what used to be a Native American burial ground.

Thankfully this has been fairly easy to do in Norwich, although the housing development at the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital sailed pretty close to the wind on several counts.

With this in mind, might not the spirit of Courts be lurking in the very fabric of these new flats? Might you find yourself looking for minimalist furniture for your aircraft hangar only to find yourself drawn to the mahoghany-look TV and video cabinets, the stained-glass effect spice racks and the nests of wicker tables?

Anyway, there you go, Sir, I did bear your suggestion in mind and I did write about them bloody flats.

Although I have to say, you were pushing it when you asked me to try and settle that problem you’re having with the milkman (maybe he didn’t GET the note about the orange juice – did you think about that?).

**** Apologies for my absence, again. All I do is apologise to you, like a pathetic partner who has been unfaithful – or hit you – yet again. In my defence, I’ve been working on the mother of all freelance projects which has not only eaten my time, but also a vast proportion of my soul. So blame Satan and his tempting freelance jobs, that’s all I can say. Don’t tell me what you’d like me to write a column about. I’m not listening, even though I’m nodding ****

05
Jun
09

My children love me reading aloud to them. Selfish little sods.

A major new survey of children’s reading habits has revealed that a third of the multi-GCSE owning youngsters of today believe that books are for “nerds” and half think libraries are boring – and that’s despite plans to introduce gay fairytales into the National Curriculum.

Personally, I thought that gay fairytales had been around for years – Snow White and the Seven Co-Habiting Dwarves, anyone? – but thanks to Clause 28, a bill which in my day banned schools from “promoting homosexuality” in case children became gay overnight after discovering that there’s more to love than boy meets girl, I never got to read ‘Jenny lives with Eric and Martin’.

Poor old Jenny caused uproar in the 1980s, when the Daily Mail discovered that the Labour-controlled Inner London Education Authority had placed copies of the book about a little girl living with her father and his gay partner in school libraries.

 

Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin. Deal with it.

Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin. Deal with it.

She was quickly removed, and replaced with lots of staunchly heterosexual books about morally upstanding subjects like algebra, geography and the Cold War. By God no one was going to catch gay from a school library, or if they did, it’d be because they’d looked it up in an uncensored dictionary.

These days, children are so intelligent that they are passing 34 GCSEs each while simultaneously being the least literate generation since we sent nine-year-olds up chimneys or down mines. When pupils from 35 schools were asked what they thought about reading, one wrote: “Reading is the last thing i (sic) would want to do i would rather die.” And that was the most enthusiastic response.

The gay fairytales need to be drafted in quickly before reading becomes something quaint which used to happen in the olden days, like riding side-saddle or smiling at people in the street without being knifed. Who could resist ‘And Tango Makes Three’ about gay penguins who fall in love and raise an adopted child? Or ‘King and King’ about a prince who searches his kingdom for a princess to marry before realising he actually fancies other princes?

I only wish my own children favoured such literature instead of steadfastly sticking to the kind of books which give you newfound sympathy for the unnamed pupil quoted above.

For example: I challenge anyone in full possession of a working brain to read The Scooby Doo Storybook Collection without mentally assessing any nearby beams for their potential to bear the weight of a noose and a swinging body.

Hours of my life have been squandered to that damnable book, clearly written by a revengeful depressive attempting to bring the rest of the world into his dark nightmare, and I will never, ever get them back.

 

Now let me think: where did I put the Scooby Doo Story Collection again...?

'Now let me think: where did I put the Scooby Doo Story Collection again...?'

On the rare occasions that I have been able to hide the Scooby Doo Storybook Collection somewhere so cunning that my son can’t find it (past successes have included putting it in a plastic bag and placing it in the toilet cistern) I am faced with a book about the revolting personal lives of insects.

I say “a book”, I mean one single passage, which I have now been reciting on a continuous loop for several long years. Let’s put it this way – I finally have a specialist topic which I could take to the Mastermind studios.

My boy is endlessly fascinated with the life and times of the Bombardier Beetle, a highly-strung creature which defends itself from predators by firing a high-pressure jet of toxic boiling liquid out of its rectum. 

 

Whos up for some water sports?

Who's up for some water sports?

No laughing yet, you haven’t seen the money shot: if the Bombardier Beetle gets really, really angry, it squirts so much toxic liquid out of it brown eye that it blows its own arse off. Now imagine how much my son, an eight-year-old boy whose idea of highbrow comedy is farting on a leather sofa, loves the Bombardier Beetle.

Personally, I long to hear what other insects can fire out of their arses or whether they can blow off their thorax with a particularly loud belch. But we have settled on the Bombardier Beetle, and I fear we may never turn the page – I should be so lucky as to read the adventures of a gay penguin.

My daughter, thankfully, would rather die than listen to me reading after suffering years of my attempts to emote my way through the latest Spot the Dog potboiler or yet another identically-plotted Rainbow Fairy “adventure”.

Now she disappears into her bedroom with a Harry Potter book which, judging by the slow progress of the bookmark, is less to do with her thirst for literature and more to do with a large bag of sweets she has hidden under her bed (more on H Potter another time. I have much to say about that magical little shitfish). 

Personally, I say bring on any books whatsoever which might capture the attention of children, whether they be about gay princes, co-parenting same-sex penguins or transexual elephants who’ve lost a balloon. Anything bar Scooby effing Doo or the Bombardier Beetle. Even if they start co-parenting together.

**** What can I say? Work has been insane. Apologies for my sporadic posting – I will try and be slightly more productive. Blame my son – that bastard beetle eats up precious time when I could be writing for you and he’s only eight, so most of you (Ram not withstanding) could take him in a fight ****

17
May
09

‘The new baby will fit around our lives’ and other lies you tell yourself pre-children

It takes a brave soul to offer a new mother advice about how to look after her baby – when someone tried it with me, the mood swiftly degenerated into something closely resembling a scene from Saw V.

The other day, while listlessly flicking through TV channels in a bid to bore myself to sleep, I came across a series that aired a year or so back on Channel 4 called ‘Bringing Up Baby’.

I figured that it might just be dull enough to banish insomnia (which is ironic, because insomnia was the last of my problems when I was bringing up babies. Babies bringing up milk in my face, however, was definitely on the list).

The programme tested three different baby care techniques, Truby King, the Continuum Concept and Dr Spock, to see which method is best for children and parents. My own choice ‘The Path of Least Resistance’ has perhaps been left for a later series.

The latter method, Truby King, is ideal for parents who, on the whole, would rather they’d given birth to Sky+ or an iPhone.

Having brought your newborn home, you then set out to ignore it as much as possible so you can start having loud dinner parties at 7.30pm the day after you’ve given birth to illustrate the fact that you’ve given birth to a robot who could sleep through Krakatoa erupting next door.

Truby King nanny Claire Verity, who tellingly has no children of her own, is often hired by the rich and famous for £1,000 a day to practice the method on their offspring.

The technique involves rigid four-hourly feeds, no cuddling during the feeds or at most other times (‘attention seeking!’) and leaving babies outside in their prams for three hours a day in Siberian temperatures so that they can scream themselves knackered enough to sleep through the night.

It lends a whole new poignancy to Tom Jones’ hit, Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Verity’s aim is to restore ‘normality’ to new parents as quickly as possible. As far as she’s concerned, a baby is a bit like a flat-pack wardrobe from Ikea: a nightmare to begin with, but it swiftly blends into the background to the point where you forget it’s even there.

In essence, ‘normality’ appears to involve getting the parents to have a bottle of wine at 7pm every night to prove what little effect having a baby has had on them.

Parents clink glasses and look unbearably smug as Verity lurks outside the baby’s room, muttering darkly about how she refuses to be ‘manipulated’ by a distraught baby who is screaming itself mental in a darkened room.

It’s a definitive guide to the class system: pay someone a grand a day to tell you to get bladdered while your baby screams for attention and you’re middle class, ignore your kid on your own initiative while you down a few cans of cider and you’re working class scum who can expect a visit from Social Services any day.

Using the Truby King method, parents can expect their children to be sleeping through the night from six weeks, goose-stepping by six months and uttering their first sentence (‘who are you again?’) by nine.

Being ignored as a baby never did me any harm!

'Being ignored as a baby never did me any harm!'

Another method on trial in the C4 programme was the Continuum Concept, also known as the ‘Osteopath’s Meal Ticket’.

Parents must maintain body-to-body contact with their baby at all times for the first six months of its life, carrying the child in a sling throughout the day and allowing the baby to sleep in the parental bed at night.

The concept was inspired by the child-rearing techniques of the Yequana, a tribe of Amazonian Indians, who carried their babies continually throughout their first few months and seemed to raise particularly well-adjusted, happy children.

There are many good points about the Continuum Concept, not least the fact that you’re not expected to ease a six-inch lip plate into your mouth like the Yequana in the spirit of authenticity, but the technique has its downsides, mainly the whole non-stop carrying thing.

Just for the record, I’d like to make it clear that I maintained body-to-body contact with my babies for nine, not six, months – I called it ‘pregnancy’.

Finally, there’s the Dr Spock method, which is the perfect baby-raising technique for anyone too lazy, tired or sensible to read a baby manual.

Spock babies are fed on demand, sleep in the parent’s room in a Moses basket and basically rule the roost like miniature dictators without the facial hair (some even have the facial hair – there were some monsters born when I was in hospital).

As a Spock baby myself, I am still feeding on demand, although I am making a concerted effort to cut out the 11pm and 5am bottles thanks to continuing support from Alcoholics Anonymous.

With my own children, I decided that I could either study baby manuals and equip myself with as much information about child-rearing as possible so that I could make an informed choice about which technique to use, or I could spend the time I’d have wasted reading claptrap sitting on the sofa watching Hollyoaks and eating chipsticks.

By the time I gave birth, I knew nothing about child-rearing but a great deal about Chester teenagers and the differing quality of own-brand chipsticks from several leading supermarkets.

As a result, I made it all up as I went along. We quickly established who was boss in the house (the babies) and what kind of routine would work for us (one that involved me not getting dressed for days on end and looking as if I’d recently escaped from an asylum).

Instead of trifling matters like routines and consistency, I concentrated on far more important issues, such as buying really nice babygrows, identifying which jars of Organix baby food caused the much-feared ‘up the back and into the hair’ nappies and honing my withering put-downs for non-parents who dared complain about feeling tired in my ear-shot.

There’s nothing that irritates a parent more than a non-parent telling them how tired they are. Even if the non-parent has plenty of good reason for being tired, parents never accept that it can be the same kind of ‘I just washed up the margarine and put a hair brush in the fridge’ tired that we suffer from.

In turn, non-parents feel patronised when new mums and dads claim to have the monopoly on being knackered.

Of course, both camps have valid points, although you’d think those disposable-income spending, mini-break taking, tidy house owning, wide-awake, well-rested childless gits could cut us a bit of slack now and again.

Yes, you’ve just climbed Mount Everest with a fridge freezer on your back for charity and you’re moving house again, but I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since 1997.

I see your stress at work and I raise you impetigo, head-lice, threadworms and children’s entertainers. Now tell me you’re bloody tired again and I’ll brain you.

As I see it, I am selflessly continuing the human race so that there are enough care workers to wipe the backsides of the people who won’t have any sons or daughter to do it for them when they are old and infirm.

Obviously it won’t be MY children doing that particular job because they’re both going to be architects, but my point remains the same.

The least the childless can do to repay us is to let us have the upper hand when it comes to being shattered.

Oh, and maybe they could babysit a bit more often; say twice a week, preferably on the nights one of the kids has got tennis and the other one has football, simultaneously.

**** I’ve been away. I am going away again. But I’ll always be back ****

05
May
09

Camera phones at gigs: how to spot an arsehole in a matter of seconds

Many years ago, I stood in a field at Glastonbury listening to The Waterboys and wishing I had a lighter with which to mark yet another interminable Celtic folk sing-a-long.

In the half-light, the small flames swaying in the air looked quite magical.

I was, as you can imagine, absolutely rat-arsed at this point, and full of Glastonbury spirit (cider) therefore keen to see the magic in everything, even the portaloos and the goths vomiting snakebite and black outside my tent at 4am.

Having got hold of a lighter, I swiftly realised that marking a ballad with fire isn’t remotely magical, especially when the skin on your thumb starts melting and you realise you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere without any plasters.

Fast-forward a few decades and the new ‘ballad lighter’ on the block is the camera phone and it’s not just used during ballads, it’s used throughout entire gigs.

 

I used to use my eyes. But they were shit.

'I used to use my eyes. But they were shit.'

Last week, I somehow found myself partaking in the grime revolution at the request of my daughter, who is a budding urban princess with an iTunes library packed with N-Dubz, Tinchy Stryder and Dizee Rascal.

Apologies if I’ve lost 95 per cent of you. For those in the dark, I’ll spark up a lighter: grime is an amalgamation of UK garage with a hint of drum ‘n’ bass, a soupcon of punk and a splash of hip-hop for added flavour.

No? It’s marginalised youths shouting really fast while wearing ill-fitting trousers. That just about covers all (drum ‘n’) bases.

The moment Tinchy Stryder exploded on stage (not literally. That was poetic license) the camera phones were in the air. Rather than watching the gig, half the audience were recording it on equipment that made my archaic home video camera look state-of-the-art.

Without exception, the footage they were recording was as clear as the water in the aforementioned Glastonbury toilets.

It appeared that a huge number of people were intent on recording a pirate-quality gig they were supposed to be watching with those other high-tech lenses – the ones implanted in our skulls.

One girl next to us recorded five minutes of blurry shapes moving in the far distance and then excitedly told her friend she was sending it to her Mum. She’d have done better to wait until she got home, where she could have drawn a hasty picture with some crayons and passed it to her old girl while shouting about getting her gums whipped (it’s grime slang. Keep up, granddad/grandma).

Even worse, one of the amateur lens-women next to me had the worst BO imaginable.

Every time she raised her arm in the air to capture another pointless, blurred shot of other people’s arms in the air waving camera phones it was as if she had raised the lid on hell’s sewage treatment works.

At some points, all I could see was LCD screens waving in the air: it was like that scene in Clockwork Orange when the Minister of the Interior clamps open Alex DeLarge’s eyes and forces him to watch disturbing televisual images in order to de-programme his violent, sociopathic tendencies.

This is ironic, because after the third or fourth blast of camera phone BO, I was feeling both violent and sociopathic (I almost said something, but the woman in question was quite burly. And agitating her may well have increased the BO).

I don’t remember this sea of LCD at the last gig I went to, which – as memory serves – was the Happy Mondays.

I first saw the Happy Mondays at Manchester’s infamous Hacienda club when I was at university in Liverpool and they were at the height of their anarchic, chaotic brilliance.

Fifteen years and an industrial quantity of controlled drugs later – the band, not me (I’m a journalist. I have to put my alcoholism first) – they sounded tired and jaded, much like the 30-something audience they were playing to: there’s a certain irony in singing ’24 Hour Party People’ at 10.30pm in order to finish in time for an 11pm curfew.

Holding a mobile phone above your head in the Hacienda days would have involved a bionic arm, anabolic steroids and a reckless disregard for muggers.

Holding it above your head at the comeback gig would have meant you were searching for a signal so you could send a text to the au pair reminding her to make Grace take her Omega-3 tablets before bed.

Maybe I’m just too old. Maybe memories really are better if you download them to FaceBook or maybe I just realise that if I’d tried to capture N-Dubz and Tinchy Styder on my camera phone I’d have been stuck in a sub-menu trying to work out how to use the zoom until the house lights were up and everyone had gone home.

Not captured on my camera phone. This is N-Dubz. And no, apparently hes not being ironic.

Not captured on my camera phone. This is N-Dubz. And no, apparently he's not being 'ironic'.

**** Life keeps getting in the way of blogging. My work has ‘relieved’ our freelance cover (got rid of, rather than sexually pleasured) and I am now working even harder than I did when I worked really, really hard. Interview went well. I felt your vibes. Even the slightly dirty ones from Tannerleah. ****

29
Apr
09

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

25
Apr
09

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. ****




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