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…


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!

3 ways to tell you’re getting old

getting-old2Before we get started, let me just clarify a couple of things.  Firstly, getting old does not mean wearing comfortable shoes.  My passion for sky high-heels in vibrant colours rages on unabated.  Nor does it mean abandoning dancing for more sedate activities.  I may look naff and be completely out of time, but I dance with commitment.  And lastly it doesn’t mean you’re useless with technology.  Mr B is an avid consumer of all things tech, with the result that I haven’t been able to work anything remotely technology-based in our house since my twenties.  It’s really not an age thing, it’s a husband thing.

So putting the myths aside, here are three ways to tell you are getting old:

  • You love the news
    When I was growing up, my father thought that television had been invented for the sole purpose of watching the news. In those days there were only three channels and no internet, so options were limited, but he would frantically toggle between them trying to catch as much news as he could.  It seemed like a pointless and boring thing to do.  I mean, the news is the news, right?  Wrong!  Now, I am older, I am obsessed with it.  What’s more, I love documentaries too.  I watch them late at night and in secret when Mr B is out.  I particularly love anything that features Lucy Worsley (a historian with attitude – seriously, follow her on Twitter) or Mary Beard, the Cambridge Professor who writes for The Times and makes Roman history rock.  If you’ve taken to watching the news on a reasonably regular basis or started enjoying documentaries, I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re definitely getting old.
  • You think Mary Whitehouse was right
    Younger readers may not remember Mary Whitehouse, but for years she campaigned for taste and decency in the media.  She saw anything that was remotely popular, interesting or targeted at a teenage audience as a dangerous risk to the moral fibre of our society. I always imagined she was some joyless old harridan in thick stockings and comfortable shoes.  But now I have two daughters, I see her entirely differently.  I don’t want my children to grow up thinking they need to dress or gyrate like the women they see in pop videos.  And I don’t want their boyfriends to think they should either.  I don’t want them posting nude selfies on Twitter and I worry about the imagery and expectations that young people are exposed to.  Suddenly, and unexpectedly, I find I’m with Mary, are you?
  • You’re shameless

There are a number of things I’ve started doing that would have seemed appalling and inappropriate five years ago.  For starters, I dress to please myself, not to blend in.  And what pleases me is loud colours.  Recently I’ve started talking to strangers.  I was always mortified when my mother used to do it, but now I find myself happily chatting away to random people in the checkout queue at the shops.   And I already mentioned my penchant for dancing.  It doesn’t bother me in the least that I look ridiculous or that my dancing is 80s-style.  I was wondering whether to highlight dressing, chatting or dancing as a sign I’m getting old, but then I realised that they all signify the same thing: basically, I’m shameless.  If you’ve done even one of these things recently, you’re on the slippery slope to shamelessness with me.

If you have read all this, and think that these are not the signs of getting old, there is a very simple explanation: you don’t recognise them because you are not old yet.  Come back in five years’ time and we can have a cup of tea and reminisce about how naïve you used to be!