Posts Tagged ‘children


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.


Things you should know before you spring clean (number one, don’t bother)

By nature, I am a tidy, clean person whose delicate sensibilities are assaulted by dirt, clutter or mess.

I, like William Morris, the famous designer of gaudy wallpaper much loved by the colour-blind and terminally smug, believe that nothing should be in one’s house which is neither useful nor beautiful. Sadly, by transposing this mantra to the contents of my house, not much would be left. The kids would scrape through on the latter clause, perhaps, but I’m not sure I’d meet either of the criteria.

No one else in my house is either clean or tidy. They are slatternly, filthy and strew their detritus over impossibly large surface areas. I know it’s fashionable to say that children should get dirty/lick germs off the floor/surf on landfill sites etc, but in fairness, the people who say this kind of trite nonsense aren’t standing by the washing machine offering to do my laundry. I’m all for a bit of dirt. Just not a huge amount of dirt. Especially if it’s trodden into my bed and discovered at 2am when I’m half-cut and unable to remember my own name, let alone how to operate a vacuum cleaner.

All my lofty ideas about dressing my children in natural fibres so their innocent skin could breathe without being hampered by a layer of chemicals went out of the window when I realised that they were both far too toxic to wear anything hewn from hessian or hemp.  Five minutes in linen and  my children will look as if they’ve just crawled out of a skip, even if you’ve kept them in a hermetically-sealed, empty Perspex box since the moment they got changed.

But still I persevere. And so, it comes to pass that it is time to ‘deep cleanse’ the house, a job that should by rights involve the chemical incident unit from the local fire station, a battalion of obsessive compulsive cleaners and an exorcist, but which in reality involves me with a rag and some Mr Muscle.

I think its healthy for the children to get really dirty. Oh yeah? This is their bathroom in 15 years time. After theyve cleaned it

"I think it's healthy for the children to get really dirty." Oh yeah? This is their bathroom in 15 years time. After they've cleaned it

In the true spirit of one who procrastinates about procrastinating, I have devised a handy 10 point list to help all of you out there who are contemplating a spring clean in the near future. By reading it, you are wasting precious scrubbing time. Read it twice. Read it until it’s summer and therefore illegal to spring clean in all civilised parts of the world.

1)    The custom of an annual spring clean began more than 3,500 years ago when an ancient Jewish tradition involved thoroughly cleansing the home in anticipation of the spring-time holiday of Passover. The idea was to remove any leavened foodstuffs (generally breadcrumbs) from the house – ‘bedikat chametz’ involved searching for crumbs by candlelight. In the olden days, this passed as entertainment.

2)    In Britain, the practice was adopted in springtime because, after dusting, the high winds of March would blow away any debris. Or blow it around the house, one or the other.

3)    You know that you are mentally prepared for the mammoth task of cleaning your house from top to bottom when you can answer ‘yes’ to the following question: “Can I cope with whatever horrors might be lurking behind the fridge?” Only the hardcore make it past this particular deal-breaker, fewer still cope with pulling the oven out to have a look at what’s underneath (I believe I may have struck oil behind mine. Other options are too distressing to contemplate). 

4)    Typing ‘spring cleaning’ into Google throws up around 277,000 entries – proof, if ever it were needed, that people will do absolutely anything to avoid getting out the dusters and the window cleaner, including building their own spring cleaning tips websites.

5)    Using ‘fun’ spring cleaning products, like leopardskin-patterned dustpan and brush sets or a hilarious pair of rubber gloves with fake ermine cuffs, will not make the actual task any less miserable, sadly. It will just make it a miserable task you are completing while looking like a total twat.

6)    You don’t have to use industrial amounts of chemicals to clean your house – you can use vinegar for most jobs, instead. Then, in addition to being clean, your house will smell like a pickling factory, a fish and chip shop or a particularly rancid tramp.

Ive cleaned the toilet. I want you to make a real effort not to ever use it again.

"I've cleaned the toilet. I want you to make a real effort to never use it again."

7)    Always clean from top to bottom. If you live in a bungalow or a flat, consider yourself completely exempt from spring cleaning due to circumstances completely out of your control.

8)    Snow White famously spring-cleaned the dwarves’ cottage with the help of her forest friends. Your family pets are highly unlikely to offer anything but a hindrance and are very possibly the reason you need to spring clean in the first place.

9)    If you simply can’t motivate yourself to spring clean, make a point of seeing the positive side of living in impenetrable filth. Those cobwebs are a ready-made Halloween decoration, and if you spray them with a little glitter they’ll look a treat at Christmas.

10) Ardent spring cleaners won’t just stop when the house is sparkling. With the merest encouragement they will also start zealously spring cleaning their finances, their relationship and their entire lives. These people must be avoided at all costs unless you are amongst their number or enjoy feeling deeply insecure, worthless and desperate.

 Thus far, I have cleaned out one drawer, and I am utterly exhausted. Next stop: dusting the Tequila bottle.


PE knickers and the newest way to skive school – get so fat you can’t fit under a desk

School children have come up with a cunning new way to skive lessons – they’re becoming too fat to fit under their desks.

According to a policy commission on the future of education, standard school furniture is based on measurements made in the 1960s when children were smaller and thinner. New research suggests that the average height of children has increased at the rate of 1cm a decade, with the majority of growth in the lower leg, and that the prevalence of obesity among pupils has risen from around five per cent in 1985 to 15 per cent in 2008.

Positively anorexic in comparison to schoolchildren in 2009

Positively anorexic in comparison to schoolchildren in 2009

I’m not sure about you, but when I read those figures I’m not worrying about school furniture, I’m worrying about 1,000 years hence, when all our children will have lower legs that are a full metre longer than they are today.

They’ll look like grasshoppers. Finding them a pair of trousers or some wellies that fit will be even more of a nightmare than it is now.

Additionally, if the obesity crisis continues rising at its current pace, those spindly lower legs aren’t going to be of any use whatsoever – the first time children stand up they’ll buckle under their own gigantic weight and need to be wheeled around on giant skateboards for life. Thank God I’ll be dead by then.

According to studies, unless schools start ‘going large’ with their school furniture orders, children’s schoolwork could suffer as back pain distracts their attention and causes absence from school.

We may not have had an over-sized obesity problem at my high school, but we did have more than our fair share of those freakish early-developers who reach puberty at six and look like 45-year-olds by the time they’re 12, and they managed to fit under the desks.

As for myself, I certainly wasn’t overweight at school, although I may have been slightly under-height for my weight.

But even at my lowest height, ahem, I could still fit under a school desk and have room for a copy of Jackie magazine to read during geography, particularly when we were learning about the import and export trade in Nigeria (a subject as relevant to my life then as it is now, ie not at all).

Maintaining a healthy weight in those days meant not being so fat that your thighs persistently rubbed against the chewing gum left on the bottom of the desk by its previous occupant. These days it means being slender enough not to require being washed with a rag on a stick.

Namby-pamby excuses about desks and bad backs would have been met with hollow laughter and a month of lunchtime detentions in the lair of the terrifying bearded maths teacher whose hatred of young people was considered a bonus, rather than an impediment, to his teaching career.

It practically took the production of a death certificate to get you out of PE lessons, let alone ordinary lessons, and even if you had that, you’d still be expected to carry the netball bibs, keep score and apply pressure to wounds when required.

Forget about small desks and chairs causing backache, the PE knickers at my school in the late 1980s caused the kind of injuries to one’s self esteem from which many, including me, never truly recovered.
Even the good-looking twig-legged girls struggled in those monstrosities, so for those of us who had nice personalities and arses so large they had their own gravitational pull and corresponding solar system, the knickers were an appallingly unsubtle form of torture.

Quite why fostering team spirit amongst people that, on the whole, you probably wouldn’t spit on if they were on fire was considered edifying is anyone’s guess.

More to the point, why that fostering had to be done while wearing a huge pair of pants made from  an exotic blend of manmade fibres – one stray spark during hockey practice and the entire school could have been blown sky-high – also remains at issue.

Skiving PE, unless you were a future Oscar winner, was difficult, but avoiding communal showering was attainable with that classic Get Out Of Jail Free card – your period (unless you were a boy, when it was less likely to work unless you were dealing with one of the foreign student teachers).

There were many girls in my class who appeared to defy biology and have their period every single week of the month in order to evade the showers, but it was when it came to  swimming that the menstrual situation got really out of hand.

In the end, we needed a letter from our parents to prove the painters were in – teachers rightly feared a situation where only one student ended up in the pool, the pregnant one from the fourth year who realised the period excuse was out of bounds for at least nine months.

Come to think of it, even she could get behind a school desk. Just how big are kids these days? Should I be saving up for a winch for when my children hit puberty?

I think all this trouble began when they got rid of the nit nurses.


Harness the power of your children’s annoyingness to lose weight and tone up

There’s good news and there’s bad news.

The good news is that doctors have discovered that six minutes of exercise a week does as much to improve a person’s fitness as a regime of six hours every seven days.

The bad news is that you still have to do six minutes of exercise a week.

According to the Journal of Applied Physiology, moderately healthy men and women could cut their workouts from two hours a day, three times a week, to just two minutes a day and achieve the same results.

Of course I’m not entirely sure what a “moderately healthy” man or woman is like, but presumably they do everything in moderation, and therefore smoke only five to 10 cigarettes a day and eat deep-fried Mars Bars just on Fridays and Bank Holiday Mondays.

Anyway – presuming you’re moderately healthy (somewhere between terminally ill and Madonna) you can get away with “enduring the discomfort of high-intensity activity” for six minutes a week by “cycling furiously on a stationary bicycle in four 30-second bursts”.
This seems but a simple step up – or perhaps down – from what I’m already doing, which is driving while furious in 30-second bursts in snarled-up citycentre traffic in a car which is normally stationary. Perhaps this makes me more than moderately healthy.

For those of you less active souls, you’re going to have to find a stationary bicycle, which means strapping your entire family to the saddle of your normal bike and trying to make it up Mam Tor or Snowdon or visiting a gym and unleashing a whole new level of self-hatred into your life.

By rights, when you visit a gym you should be surrounded by grossly obese individuals wheezing like punctured bagpipes and sweating like onions in a hot pan – after all, they’re the buggers that need it.Instead, you find yourself in a sea of pure muscle, searching for an inch of body fat like Zammo hunted for heroin on the toilet floor at Grange Hill.

Why aren’t these people out celebrating the fact they can see their toes?

If I had abdominal muscles that could crack walnuts, I wouldn’t be in the bloody gym every night – I’d be dancing on a table in Stringfellows andinviting some bloke from Hollyoaks to open his beer bottle on my navel. This kind of attitude is, of course, why I do not have abdominal muscles that could crack walnuts.

Facing facts, the very best you can hope for at the gym is that there will be a sizeable contingent of desperately ugly people who work out obsessively because they want to make sure that, at the very least, they look OK from the back.

Perhaps it’s possible to bypass the stationary bike and substitute cycling for other forms of equally strenous exercise, like “enduring the discomfort” of taking the children shoe-shopping, or listening to other people’s kids singing at school shows.

Granted, my fitness plan takes an hour and a half a day, five days a week, but I think you’ll find it easy to fit into your daily routine without having to waste six precious minutes cycling nowhere when you could be using that time to eat a bun.

Start: 3pm. Finish: 4.30pm. Special equipment needed: children.

How it works: You burn off calories depending on the activity you undertake. Your aim is to burn off more calories than you ingest, but if you break even, frankly it will be a miracle. For example, the following activities burn off the following number of calories:

1) Rush to complete work before leaving for school run: 40 calories.

2) Rush from work to school, fail to find parking space. Finally find space 1.5 miles from the playground, limp to school in high heels while mowing down as few tinies as possible, arrive eight minutes late (again) and receive disapproving frown from classroom assistant: 150 calories.

3) Have a bar of chocolate and can of Coke at the shop while buying “sorry for being late (again)” treat for daughter:  minus 800 calories.

4) Attempt to squeeze through the gap between the hedge and the row of 4x4s parked between shop and car: 200 calories.

5) Argument about why I cannot buy another jumbo pack of cereal in order to get a mini light sabre which will inevitably be blue again, because we have a backlog of 478 cereal packets at home and we still haven’t found a green light sabre (substitute for whichever toy/book/pointless piece of tat is currently being given away by cereal companies): 70 calories.

6) Try to get children to eat dinner, including the “children in Africa…” lecture: 600 calories.

7) Eat children’s dinner because it shouldn’t go to waste: minus 800 calories.

If you feel particularly strong, you can supplement this plan with extra options, such as chasing children up and down stairs brandishing a nit comb (100 calories), removing plasters from their knees (200 calories) or explaining the facts of life to them (9,000 calories). Suddenly cycling for six minutes a week doesn’t seem like such a bad deal.

Add to Technorati Favorites
    follow me on Twitter