When is a rub-down just a rub-down and when is it sexual harassment?

Last week my friend and I had a tennis lesson.  Although the courts are public, they are surrounded by a wall, so you can play as well or badly as you like and nobody but you and the coach will ever know how near (or far) from qualifying for Wimbledon you are.

There are no amenities.  There is no club house.  There is no club.  The protocol is that when your tennis lesson finishes, you depart.  But last week the person before us – a man probably in his late 60s – was somewhat reluctant to leave the court.  As we started our lesson he loitered a little picking up balls, and, once that was done, he sat on the bench beside the court and began to sip his water.  After a couple of minutes, I began to feel uncomfortable – the tennis lesson is for me to learn tennis, not for us to provide light entertainment to random strangers.  My friend and I began to mutter to each other that it was time for him to move on.

But he had no intention of leaving.  Instead he stood up, took his top off, pulled a flannel from his bag, and began to give himself a leisurely and ostentatious rub down.  And he was doing this barely two metres from the tennis net during our lesson.  It was like an elderly peacock preening.  And, just to be clear, he was not about to rush off to an important meeting that he wanted to look good for; he was about to get on his bicycle and cycle back to his house, less than five minutes away.  ‘Inappropriate’ is one of the kindest words I have to describe his behaviour.

As soon as he left we spoke to the tennis coach, who is a lovely man.  But he clearly felt unable to say anything, and suggested that if we were upset we should speak to Captain Inappropriate ourselves.  I’ve thought a lot about why we didn’t say anything at the time, and I think it’s multi-layered:

  1. We didn’t like the initial loitering, but it wasn’t a big enough deal to make a fuss. We didn’t realise that by not drawing a line at that point, we had opened the gate to much worse behaviour.
  2. When it happened, the sense of disbelief was palpable: am I really watching an elderly man strip off and rub himself down in front of me on a public tennis court? We were too non-plussed to say anything.
  3. It’s a very English thing not make a fuss, and women in particular are expected to suck up all sorts of inappropriate behaviour on a regular basis.
  4. Complaining is always a risky strategy, because you don’t know what support you’ll get. As it turned out (and this is not even a criticism of the tennis coach), if we had said anything, it is clear the coach wouldn’t have backed us up.

Obviously, this behaviour doesn’t make the man Harvey Weinstein, but it is on the same spectrum.  A spectrum that starts with rubbing yourself down on a tennis court, goes via opening your hotel room door for a meeting naked except for your dressing gown, and ends with coercing women into sex (or worse).

And isn’t this exactly how Harvey Weinstein and countless others have got and continue to get away with it?  The women on the receiving end feel disabled from saying anything for a variety of reasons, only some of which I’ve described above, and the men who might or should support them also feel unable to speak up or prevent it in future (remember: this man, and probably some of his friends, pay part of our tennis coach’s income).

I told the whole story to a male friend, and was shocked when he told me that if we wanted to say anything we shouldn’t make a scene.  After all, he reasoned, Captain Inappropriate might not know he was doing anything wrong.  Whaaaaat?  If I was 20 instead of 40-something, would he know then?  If he did it in front of my daughters (currently 9 and 11), would he know then?  (I recall being on the receiving end of similar behaviours when I was those ages, by the way, and still remember how threatening it feels.)  How inappropriate does his behaviour have to be, for me to make a fuss?  And should I suppress a full expression of how disturbed and angry it made me, because we don’t want to make the person whose behaviour was out of order feel bad about it?

I’m lucky to work in a sector where, if anything, the gender balance favours women and I am also sufficiently senior that I am rarely aware of any discrimination in a professional context.  I have also reached an age where random men on trains no longer hit on me (and yes, when I was younger that used to happen a lot).  But this incident has reminded me that society as a whole still has a significant distance to travel and we need everyone who can to call out bad behaviour and hold the perpetrators to account.  Until we do so, too many people will continue to consider it an acceptable norm.

I don’t know if I’ll see Captain Inappropriate again, but if I do, I’ll let you know how it goes…

 

What do others say?

I like what the University of Exeter has to say about ‘inappropriate behaviour’: The biggest challenge to ensuring an inclusive community isn’t the obviously illegal acts of discrimination. It’s the persistent, pervasive behaviours that fail to respect or value each other and our differences.

And the importance they place on calling it out: You may have decided not to challenge it because it’s uncomfortable, you didn’t want to stand out, you hoped someone else would have said something, or you might have thought there was no point saying anything because it wouldn’t make a difference.  And then it happens again, because no-one has challenged it (my bold).

They’ve also got some sensible advice on how to call it out without making ‘the scene’ my friend was worried about.

Dinosaur delight in south east London

It’s true I like dead people – some of my happiest days out have been spent in cemeteries – but I’ve never really been that interested in dead animals, or dinosaurs to be more specific.  So I really wasn’t expecting Dinosaurs in the Wild to be quite so much fun for adults and children alike.

If you like your entertainment to be immersive, then this is for you.  The central idea is that a company called Chronotex has invented time travel and are now taking tourists back 67 million years to their dinosaur research facility in Montana.  I loved the careful detail with which everything has been planned and executed, from the realistic laboratory set-up, to the fridges filled with samples, to the scientific notes casually left open on a desk.  In fact, it was so realistic, that my 9 year old decided to hold my hand for some of the more ‘wild’ bits of it.  In contrast, my eleven year old (no previous interest in dinosaurs) and her friend (a dinosaur officionado) were desperate to ditch the mums and tour around on their own.  And, given how well-managed it is, they were pretty much able to do so.

IMG_6648.JPGAs you move through the tour of the facility there is a mix of dinosaur models, animatronix and 3D films, which ensures you never get complacent about what you are seeing.  In each lab or zone there is a member of Chronotex’s team talking about their work, which includes everything from incubating dinosaur eggs to conducting dinosaur autopsies.  There are interactive parts (like putting on gloves and sifting through dinosaur poo) and the opportunity to ask questions and engage with the ‘scientists’ at every stage.  I have read elsewhere that the information they present is accurate and incorporates up-to-date information from recent scientific studies, which doesn’t surprise me given the level detail that is everywhere you look.

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This is how Chronotex have mastered time travel

There is so much to watch, listen to, read and do, that there’s no time to get bored and the tour guide keeps up the pace, moving you from one zone to the next.  If anything, we could have spent longer soaking it all up.

I also want to give a mention to how fantastic all the staff were.  It wasn’t just all the actors playing out their roles, but everyone from the man on the door to the lady in the cloakroom finding our coats, everyone was friendly, welcoming and helpful.

It is such a unique experience that the kids and I were talking about it for ages afterwards.  I thoroughly recommend it for children, adults, dinosaur lovers and cemetery geeks (me) alike!

Prices

I’ve got to be honest, it is quite expensive for something that only takes about an hour and a half (£26 for a child and £95 for a family of 2 children and 2 adults), but, although there is a shop at the end, there is no real push to sell you merchandise that so often bumps up the cost of taking children out. If there are any special offers, other than for groups and schools etc, I couldn’t find them.

Booking

Dinosaurs in the wild is on until 31st July, and tours run from 9.30am til 4.30pm Tuesday to Sunday.  You can book a date and time slot to suit on-line depending on availability.  Find out more

Getting there

Dinosaurs in the Wild is on Greenwich Peninsula, a ten minute walk from the O2 and North Greenwich underground on the Jubilee Line.  It is on a number of bus routes.  Find out more.

Cemeteries

If you’ve read all this, and still think you’d rather go to a cemetery, why not read my blog about Nunhead and Highgate Cemeteries, or my blog about Brompton.  Or follow my blog, because I’ve recently been to Kensal Green cemetery and I’ve got to tell you it was awesome!

7 top tips for running the London Marathon from a lady who knows

Julie Creffield, author of The Fat Girls’ Guide To Marathon Running, shares her top tips with runners for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

Taking on a marathon is a daunting task, particularly if – like most of those running for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust – it’s your first.  This year the marathon falls on the 25th anniversary of Stephen’s death, making it particularly poignant for all those running.  The Trust decided to add inspiration to all the perspiration by organising an evening with Julie Creffield, who writes popular blog toofattorun, recently published The Fat Girls’ Guide To Marathon Running, and is an all round good egg.   I was really chuffed to sneak a place at the evening, even though the furthest I normally run is to catch the train…

All the Trust’s marathoners said that running for a cause they really care about keeps them motivated whilst training, but Julie had some other practical advice to get them to the finish line.  I’m sharing some of her wisdom to help others, and if you get something out of it, please make a donation to the Trust or sponsor one of their runners.

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#Stephens Team meeting Julie Creffield (3rd from the right)

 

Julie’s top tips

  • Have a plan. Work out which will be your fast miles and where you expect to go more slowly; if people are coming to cheer for you, tell them in advance where to be; think about the sights and sounds that will motivate you, so you can count down to them as you run.
  • Let loved ones know that in the six weeks run up to the marathon, you are the Mo Farrah in your family. That means you need looking after – you don’t want to be humping shopping and get an injury at the last minute that means you have to pull out.
  • Don’t change anything on the day. Wear the kit you have practised in.  Eat and drink as you have been during your training.  Marathon day is not the time to find out that your expensive new trainers give you blisters!
  • Vaseline is your friend. It’s not glamorous, but every runner gets chafing, and often in the most unpleasant of places.  Avoid the worst of it by lubricating liberally!  You can also avoid it by re-dressing carefully after a toilet stop – lots of chafing happens because people rush to get dressed and don’t put their clothes back on properly.
  • Have an emergency plan. Statistically more people die playing monopoly than running a marathon, but its still worth planning for the unexpected.  Know what point you are happy to walk from and how you will get in touch with your loved ones if they, or you, are not in the place you expect at the end.
  • Make sure you have someone to travel home with. You’ve already been heroic and now your blood sugar will be low and you will be exhausted.  Now is the time to take it easy and let someone else take the strain of making sure you get home safely.
  • Remember the difference the money you raise will make. For Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust it means more support to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, helping them learn about different careers, and helping them get the qualifications, knowledge, skills and confidence they need to follow their dreams.

A massive thank you to Julie Creffield for giving up a precious evening to talk to #StephensTeam and for sharing her amazing expertise!  If you like what you’ve read, please show your appreciation by supporting the runners and donating to the Trust at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/25thanniversaryappeal or by texting the word SLCT25 to 70070 followed by either £50, £25, £10 or £5.

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Review: Indoors and educational – we love the Science Museum

You live in London, it’s the school holidays and it’s raining.  Every parent knows that this is a terrible combination.  Because unless you find something for the kids to do, your little angels will spend the entire day trying to (a) kill each other or (b) demolish your home.  In the worst case scenario, they may even do both.

science logoWhich is why I was particularly pleased with myself when I came up with the plan to take them to the Science Museum.  It is indoors, it is entertaining and it educational.  That is like the holy grail of parenting!  And the good news is that kids (or at least, my kids) even like all the boring train and tube travel it takes to get there.

The first thing to mention about the Science Museum is that it is completely free to enter, although there are some things you pay for such as the Wonderlab and Imax Cinema (more of which later).  There is a sign asking for donations, but the woman on the desk as we came in looked absolutely stunned when we made one, so I guess not that many people do, although it’s such a great resource that – if you’re not going to any of the paid exhibits – it seems only fair to make some sort of contribution.

On arrival, we hurried straight up to the Wonderlab on the third floor (I say hurried, but the lift was broken, so huffed and puffed would probably be more accurate).  This space is designed for young people to get real hands on experience of science, watch live experiments and listen to talks. Judging from the age ranges there, I would say it would appeal to kids from about 4 to 13 or 14.  We paid £28 for a family of four for the day (umlimited entry and exit), but if you think you’ll go more than once, it’s definitely worth getting an annual pass.

science julieAmongst other things we did in the Wonderlab, we explored the colour room (learning about the impact different coloured light has on how we perceive the colour of objects).  The girls raced each other for who could pull themselves up a rope the fastest using a pulley system.  We all had a go on the friction slides (verdict: astro-turf makes the slowest slide, and the wooden slide goes so fast it made mummy scream).  We watched dry ice whizzing over the surface of water as it dissolved, and we went to a talk about rockets.  The kids thought the talk was the highlight and I was amazed and to hear my 11-year-old talking to granny about Newton’s first and second law the next day, so I guess she genuinely learnt something.

After about two hours, it started to feel a bit relentless, so we dipped out and went for lunch.  The kids wanted to stay longer, and we could easily have gone back after lunch and there would have been plenty more to see and do.

For lunch we eschewed the pleasant looking, well-lit Energy Café which serves all the kinds of food you would expect (hot and cold dishes, pizza, salads and sandwiches) and instead went to the Deep Blue Diner.  Unfortunately this was not a good choice.  The main source of light in the diner was the light-up tables, which made me feel slightly headachy and snow-blind.  The service was slow, the portions were small, and none of us felt like the food was great.  Next time we will definitely go to the Energy Café instead.

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Under the Sea in 3D at the Imax Cinema

After lunch we went to the Imax Cinema.  This is where things start to get expensive, as a family ticket was £23.  We saw Under the Sea, a 3D movie about different sea creatures and the impact of the modern world on their environment.  I’ve never been to a 3D movie before, so I jumped a couple of times as eels darted out of the screen to eat their prey, and I had to resist the urge to put my hand out and try to touch some of the creatures as they floated serenely towards me.

After the movie we visited the Exploring Space gallery as the kids were all fired up about rockets following the talk earlier.  There are some amazing artefacts, including a re-entry capsule from one of the Apollo missions to the moon, but we were all definitely flagging at this point.

We stopped for a reviving cup of tea and slice of cake at the Energy Café, before heading back out into the rain and home on the tube.  I am not sure how, but we seemed to have passed an entire day at the Science Museum, we all enjoyed it and the children even learnt stuff.

The trip was such a success that I am sure we will go back (I wish we’d bought the annual pass to the Wonderlab!) and next time I will plan specific galleries to look at.  I’m really keen to see the Winton Gallery – not only to explore mathematics, but just to see the incredible space designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.  I’d also really like to see the exhibition Wounded about the medical and human impact of the First World War.  And if there’s time, I’d also like to squeeze in the Challenge of Materials, which includes a steel wedding dress (no irony intended).  In fact, next time, maybe I’ll take a friend instead of the children because it’s packed with stuff I want to see, and then I can be completely selfish and I won’t have to share my cake either.

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The Winton Gallery – made for maths enthusiasts

A couple of practical notes

  • Travel: The Science Museum is on Exhibition Road (as are the Victoria and Albert Museum and Natural History Museum) and is a short walk from South Kensington Tube.
  • Prices: The museum is free to enter and you could easily lose yourself in the galleries for the day, but you do have to pay for the Wonderlab, Imax Cinema and certain exhibitions.  Check the website for details.
  • Eating: There are a series of different cafes, but there are also a couple of picnic areas where you can sit down and eat your own food if you fancy taking a packed lunch.
  • When to go: The museum is open daily (apart from 24th – 26th December) from 10am to 6pm.  We arrived at the Wonderlab at about 11am and walked straight in, but the website does warn that there may be a queue of up to 90 minutes at peak times.

3 lost skills of our parents that are ripe for revival

There are lots of things about parenting in the past that wouldn’t pass muster today: like handing out sweets that looked like cigarettes for children to ‘smoke’; or serving spam fritters with Smash like it was an actual meal rather than a dietary outrage.  But they also had some genuinely useful skills that are lost to modern parents.

So instead of worrying about whether my children have eaten all of their five-a-day, maybe I should give a little bit of time to re-learning some of the more useful things parents of the past could do.

The skills I’m thinking of reviving include:

  • Sewing – It’s so dull that after the first term of sewing name tags into my children’s clothes I bought a permanent marker pen. Same effect, but your index finger doesn’t end up red raw.  My mother, on the other hand, could create an entire capsule wardrobe from an off-cut of old fabric.  For my first school dance (because proms hadn’t been invented in those days), we went to a shop, chose a pattern, picked a fabric and my mum made my dress.  Not only that, but she actually seemed to enjoy it. Weird.
  • Fixing stuff – The only thing I’ve ever really tried to fix is my husband and, to be honest, I think the problem may be me, not him.  My parents, however, could fix nearly everything.  Broken toilet cistern?  Banging noise under the car bonnet?  Dangerous sounding hum when you turn the light on?  The older generation knows how to fix all that stuff.  And they pretty much wrote the manual on boring basics like bleeding the radiator and re-wiring a plug.  Although, in fairness, they can’t work the smart TV, so I feel like I might be winning that one…
  • Growing and cooking – Our parent’s generation grew up without the luxury of dial-a-pizza, or ready-made meals, and so had to do it all themselves.  As a result, my mum can somehow make a tasty meal out of whatever sad remains are lurking unloved at the bottom of the fridge.  Not only that, but when I was little, a lot of what she cooked was stuff she’d actually grown in our back garden.  I would starve to death if I couldn’t book my supermarket delivery online, but older people know how to grow what they need.  They will totally survive the apocalypse.

I know it sounds a bit Amish, but these are cool skills to have.  Our parents knew how to make the most of what they had without depleting our planet.  They didn’t need to sort their rubbish into different bins for recycling, because they weren’t throwing away plastic packaging every time they cooked supper.  The very same people who call you up to fix their internet connection, were busily protecting the world’s natural resources before anyone pointed out that we needed to.  Respect.

So if you put aside their propensity for feeding us sugary death-sweets and their worrying disregard for health and safety, our parents actually have some ninja survival skills.  I don’t need to be able to do everything they could do, but if I could just get the toilet to flush after my children have broken it, who knows what other dizzying heights I might achieve…

 

Why I’m ditching black and so should you

I just don’t understand why people wear black to parties.  I mean, I wear black to meetings so people know to take me seriously.  And it’s an absolutely first-class choice for funerals.  It’s pretty much de rigueur if you’re an undertaker.  Essentially black is the colour of being serious and of death.  It is definitely not the colour of parties.  Or Christmas.  Or joy.

It’s like choosing vanilla ice cream instead of pistachio or death-by-chocolate.  Sure, everyone will eat it, but it’s never going to rock your taste buds the way cookie dough can.

I prefer pink.  Pink is the colour of strawberry ice cream, and holiday sunsets.  It’s the colour of candy floss and rosy-cheeked children coming in from the cold.  What’s not to like about pink?  Or if that feels like a colour too far, what about green?  Green is the colour of Wimbledon and the scent of freshly cut grass.  It’s the colour of cool forests on hot summer days and mistletoe at Christmas.

The whole concept of the Little Black Dress is an affront to all that is great about parties.   Black is the colour of conformity.  The colour of corporate anonymity.  But parties are the time to be utterly yourself, not constrained by other people’s expectations, or who you have to be for work.  They’re for chatting animatedly and laughing uproariously.  They’re for dancing wildly and kissing passionately (depending on the parties you go to, obviously).   Everyone should be able to be unreservedly themselves at a party.

What’s the worst thing that could happen?  Maybe someone won’t like what you’re wearing.  But if it makes you feel great, what’s the problem?  That’s the beauty of us all being different!  The kind of people who judge you on your dress are not the kind of people whose opinion matters anyway.

black lilac breasted roller

The Lilac Breasted Roller is out and proud

I know that my tastes, like my personality, tend towards the extrovert.  So if you’re reading this, but don’t feel ready to dress like a Lilac Breasted Roller threw up on you, might I suggest you start with shoes?  Shoes can be a little burst of joy in a grey world.  A chance to flirt with danger without risking your reputation.  And, as Cinderella will tell you, the right shoe could change your life…

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This is how to let them know you’re serious…

When all’s said and done, it’s not about what colour you wear, but how good you feel.  Now go out there and be fabulous!

 

Is it weird to love cemeteries?

We’ve been at it again, me and my good friend Devon.  Stalking the dead.  This time we’ve been visiting Brompton Cemetery, where the dearly departed of West London are interred.  What could be more joyful on a crisp December morning than stepping amongst the tombs of those who have been loved and lost and reading inscriptions about their lives?

Brompton is one of the Magnificent Seven – the fabulously-named ring of ‘garden cemeteries’ built in the late Georgian and early Victorian period to relieve the pressure on London’s crowded ancient churchyards.  And for keen cemetery-visitors like Dev and myself, it does not disappoint.

It is positively bijoux compared to vast Highgate Cemetery and rambling Nunhead.  The well-maintained graves are packed tightly together like a giant game of dominoes, as if with a mighty push you could send a ripple of falling tombstones that would run all the way round the cemetery.  I like my graveyards densely packed – all the better for seeing as many dead people as possible in the time you have available.

bromptonBrompton has some fancy mausoleums and some simple haeadstones, and at the southern end is a rather beautiful chapel – built at vast expense and nearly bankrupting its investors – which looks like a mini-version of the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford.  And who doesn’t love the Radcliffe Camera?

For those who enjoy variety, Brompton’s inhabitants represent a good mix of the famous, the slightly well-known and people who were possibly somebody at the time, but are now quite forgotten.  I always find it strange to think everyone who knew or cared about someone is dead, yet here I am reading about their lives a hundred years later.

Here’s some of the highlights from mine and Dev’s latest outing…

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To live in the heart of those we love is not to die

This tombstone is not damaged, it was designed like this.  I think its solid simplicity speaks volumes about the General.  Clearly Bill was a man of few words and no messing.  I respect that about him.

The same can’t be said of the next lady:

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To the memory of Blanche Roosevelt Macchetta… By her brilliant accomplishments and rare graces of mind and person she gave distinction in the world of literature and art to the name of Blanche Roosevelt.

I can’t help feeling she might have written that eulogy herself, although in fairness she has her own page on Wikipedia, so maybe I’m too cynical…

I do love a Latin inscription, particularly if it’s a mosaic.  This little beauty is on the floor of the family vault of Herbert Fitch.

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Deeds not words!

Other members of the family buried in the vault get little more than their names and ages, but the eldest son gets a poem:

Come unexpectedly! Give me no warning.

But in a brighter land, bid me ‘Good Morning!’

Rather lovely, I think.

I think the gates below look like they come from the film set for Cleopatra, but they are actually the entrance to the catacombs – I’m not sure whether the snakes are there to keep visitors out, or the dead in!

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The next lady gets a lovely inscription, although I can’t help feeling that the author (her husaband) had obviously run the poor woman ragged.

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In loving memory of my beloved wife Elizabeth Baker… who was a charming companion, a helpmate under all difficulties, a comforter in sorrow, a true wife and sincere friend and now alas the most blessed memory of mine age.

The inscription on the grave below is in Russian so I’ve no idea what it says.  I am filling in the blanks by imagining that she is a Russian aristocrat who fled her homeland during the Russian revolution.  Feel free to investigate and correct me.

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Sadly, despite being quite large, the monument below doesn’t take a good picture – and for some reason the statues around it are all headless.  But I love the idea that the community were so swelled with pride at Robert’s rowing achievements that they all chipped in to give him a good send off.

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This monument was erected by public subscription by the warm friends and admirers of Robert Coombes, champion sculler of the Thames and Tyne.

Rumours abound that this Egyptian-style mausoleum is, in fact, a working time machine.  And I don’t see why it shouldn’t be, since it looks very much like it might be a Tardis.  Although no-one let me in when I knocked…

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Mausoleum of Hannah Courtoy who conveniently inherited a fortune from her husband and invested it in this lovely monument to herself (and her daughters).

And lastly, a nod to science:

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To John Snow MD. Born at York March 15th 1813, died in London June 16th 1858.  In remembrance of his great labours in science, of the excellence of his private life and character.  This monument (with the assent of Mr William Snow) has been erected over his grave by his professional brethren and friends.

I’ve included John Snow because I once watched a very interesting documentary about him, and I thought it would be selfish to keep my learning to myself.  By mapping cases of cholera, Snow was able to demonstrate that they clustered around water pumps, showing that it was water-borne, and not caught by breathing ‘foul air’.  His systematic approach (i.e. using evidence, instead of making stuff up), means he is often cited as the founder of epidemiology. Go John Snow!

Hungry for more stuff about cemeteries, but don’t know where to get it?  Why not read my exciting blog about Highgate and Nunhead.  It’s got all of the fun of Brompton but less of the photos – enjoy!

 

Getting to Brompton Cemetery

The nearest London Underground & Overground station is West Brompton (District Line, Wimbledon branch, and London Overground): turn right out of the station, and the North Gate and Lodges are within two minutes’ walk.

Earl’s Court Station (Piccadilly and District Lines) is within ten minutes’ walk to the north: turn left out of the Warwick Road entrance and walk south along Warwick Road to Old Brompton Road.

Find out more about the Cemetery on the Friends of Brompton Cemetery website.

Death by sparkly asphyxiation – in pursuit of the perfect party dress

I have accepted that I will never get back the body I had before children.  (Since I haven’t got it back in the first nine years after my youngest child was born, it seems reasonable to assume I won’t get it back in the next nine either.)  But I have absolutely not accepted the body I actually have.

I have adopted a sort of passive-aggressive resistance by buying clothes that are between my two sizes – too big for the size I was before children, but too small for the size I am now.  As a result, my wardrobe is full of clothes that can only be worn on very specific occasions – trousers that aren’t suitable for sitting down; dresses that can’t be worn if I want to eat; not to mention several outfits that work much better if I try not to breathe.

I blame cake.  Lovely delicious cake.  If there’s cake in the house, I’m going to eat it for every meal.  Who says that a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge isn’t a healthy and nutritious breakfast?  And carrot cake has got to be at least one of your five-a-day, right?  In the matter of cake, I am like Oscar Wilde – I can resist anything except temptation.

Only I may have let things go too far.  Now even things that used to fit are troublingly tight.  ‘Breathe in, mummy,’ said my daughter the other day as she battled valiantly to zip me into a dress that was patently too small.  Unfortunately I had been holding my breath for some time and was already puce from lack of oxygen.  The only way that dress was zipping up was if I cracked a rib or two.

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Too much for a wedding, or not enough?

And now a dear friend is getting married and I’ve been wondering what to wear.  There’s bound to be food, and dancing, and sitting down.  I don’t think anything in my wardrobe will accommodate all three activities.  If I buy something that’s a sensible size, it could see me through all sorts of Christmas razzmatazz; but it will also mean accepting that I am not, and never will be, Kate Moss.  And I’m just not sure that’s something I’m ready to give up on quite yet.

I want to look young, and sexy and cool.  I want to dance like everyone is watching (I’ve never been a shrinking violet) and feast like a lion gorging on baby antelope.  And all I need is the perfect dress to do it in.

So now I’m trawling the internet for something sparkly that’s just the right side of asphyxiating.  Something that says ‘I see you Christmas, and I’m ready.  Bring it on!’  Oh, and it will need to have a sturdy zip.  Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

Important lessons you can learn from canapes

I love canapes.  I love them the way Romeo loved Juliet, or Nigel Farage loves Brexit.  They are bite-size morsels of deliciousness, with the added benefit that nothing so small could possibly contain any calories.  I hoover them up at parties like Pac-Man eating Pac-Dots.

So imagine my joy when my old university invited me to a soiree at the Royal Society.  Doesn’t the word ‘soiree’ just scream ‘canapes’ to you?  And as if that weren’t enough joy, my bestie Liz was going too.  She’s the woman who spotted early on that I was a bit flighty, and assiduously safeguarded me through three years of drunken student antics.  In fact, she did such a good job that I sometimes think she should have been awarded my degree as well as her own.

Now I may be blonde, but I’m not completely naïve.  I know that I haven’t been invited to this illustrious event purely because university is missing me and anxious to know what I’ve been doing over the last decade.  They want my money, and they’re prepared to serve me any number of canapes to get it.  Little do they know, all my spare cash is ear-marked for fancy shoes, which closely rival canapes in my affections.

And so it was that I went along last night, dressed appropriately smartly and in a pair of shoes I thought would set the room on fire.  And, what do you know, there were a series of really interesting talks – the future of the interweb (hello, Dr Anil Madhavapeddy!), the science of fat (thank you, Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly) and how Muslim housewives can influence politics through exercise classes (interesting stuff, Dr Sertac Sehlikoglu); all rounded off with a few amusing anecdotes from lovely Tim Brooke-Taylor (I’m a fan).  Not to mention as much wine as I could drink.

And from the evening, I have learnt three important things:

  1. It’s really not my fault that I can’t resist cake. It’s totally, incontrovertibly my genes.  Science says so.
  2. I’m too old to wear fancy shoes two nights in a row. I was hobbling like the wicked witch of the west on the school run this morning – no wonder she uses a broom stick.
  3. I type this with great sadness, but the terrible truth is that no matter how many canapes you eat, they will never soak up the amount of alcohol you drink.

So much fun and so much learning!  It was such a good evening that I may even forego a shoe or two and make a donation.  It probably won’t pay for a new library, but it might buy a book or two. Long live education!

 

Thanks to Cooking With Julie for the picture at the top.  I need a woman like you in my life!

How to unravel mummy’s sanity – a guide for kids

The thing to remember about mummy is that she loves you very much, so you can try a selection or indeed all of these sanity-eroding activities and – once she’s regained her composure – she will still love you.  She may be stressed.  She may be exhausted.  She may howl at the moon and drink heavily.  But – and this is the important thing – she will still love you.

  1. Loiter aimlessly in the mornings. Mummy feels an obligation to get you to school on time, and it’s your job to challenge her compulsion.  Top challenges to her obsession with timeliness include: staring vacantly into space when you should be eating your breakfast; and playing hide and seek with your sibling instead of getting dressed.  Why not further spice things up by waiting until you’re half way to school and then announcing that you’ve left your bag at home?
  2. Never ever put laundry in the basket. Unless, of course, you have just tried something on, but decided not to wear it.  In that case, you should always put it in the basket.  A fun way to create extra laundry is to have friends over for a play date then get them to try on all your clothes and do the same.  I mean, if mummy didn’t have laundry, she would literally have nothing to do all day.
  3. Never eat vegetables. In fact, carefully pore through every plate of food looking for anything green and, when you find something, immediately declare the entire meal unfit for human consumption.  If mummy wants you to eat even one of your five-a-day, she needs to get much more inventive than carelessly chopping a few vegetables into your spaghetti Bolognese.
  4. Behave like the perfect child at other people’s houses. Tidy up.  Eat all your vegetables.  Tell your friend’s parents how much you love school.  Mummy will be completely baffled by reports of your good behaviour, but unable to tell other parents that you are actually a complete horror.
  5. Never do anything the first time mummy asks. I mean, if she’s only asked once, how do you know she’s serious?  Wait till she’s really yelling and then take the high ground by telling her you were about to do it, but because she’s shouting you’re not going to.  This might also be a good time to remind her that she should be using her inside voice.
    spirit crush 9a

    Because I said so!

  6. No matter how foul you have been to mummy, become an absolute angel as soon as daddy gets home. This will undermine the credibility of everything mummy says about you, whilst giving daddy an excellent opportunity to share his parenting wisdom.  Mummy loves hearing from daddy how her parenting could be improved.
  7. Start a fight with your sibling for no reason. The best time to do this is in the car, as that is when mummy is least able to figure out who started it and deal with it appropriately.  Mummy will be trapped in a sort of double jeopardy: she wants to turn round and conduct the Spanish Inquisition, but she doesn’t want to take her eye off the road and veer headlong into the oncoming traffic.  Honestly, next time you’re bored on a journey, just quietly lean over and give your sibling a quick pinch, then sit back and enjoy the fireworks.
  8. Save the best to last. When you think mummy really can’t take any more, when she has completely lost it and looks like she may never get it back, tearfully throw your arms round her and tell her you love her.  She will (almost certainly) forgive you (eventually) because, like I said at the start, mummy loves you very much.  And now you have laid the groundwork for starting it all again tomorrow…