Friday, 24 December 2010

Tidings of discomfort and nausea

Not content with the trauma of getting married this year, I decided to do the double and go ahead and start breeding. Initially shocked at my own fertility and the fact that all those naff Sex Ed videos they showed you at school weren’t lying, I’m now slowly managing come to terms with it and accepting that it is actually a wondrous thing.

While I am definitely enjoying looking limply at heavy shopping bags waiting for someone else to offer to carry them, my new condition still comes with some well-publicised pitfalls made even worse by the business of Christmas.

For starters, I can’t drink. Aside from not wanting to cause my unborn child brain damage, the smell of anything alcoholic turns my stomach with such uncharacteristic violence I have to look in the mirror to check it is actually me and that no Quantum Leap-style body swap has taken place.

This does mean I can forgo standing around on cold train platforms or shivering outside bars waiting for taxis as now, for the foreseeable future, I am the designated driver. Yes, I get the heady pleasure of watching everyone else get tight, red in the face, generally bellicose and/or licentious while I sip on enough sugary soft drinks to ensure I’m toothless by the New Year.

I’ll never understand those weirdoes who make disturbing statements like: “Oh I love not drinking; you’re the only person who can remember it the next day.” Why, out of interest, would I want to remember and an evening of other people breathing their foul booze stench breath on me and confiding in me about the affair they’re having/the fact that they’re looking for a new job/filing for bankruptcy? Delete as appropriate.

It gives me no sense of power and lofty superiority knowing they’ll be feeling bad the following morning, worrying about what they let slip. For one thing, the chances are I’ll be just as sick and the secrets they imparted really weren’t up to much anyway.

Then comes the day itself. I’m counting down to it with a building sense of dread. The moment I discovered I was with child, I instantly developed a nasty aversion to chicken of any sort. At the moment the thought of being within six feet of a roasting one brings me out in a cold sweat. And what, may we ask, is going to be on the menu come 25th December? A huge, poultry-stinking, cousin of the chicken, turkey, most likely cooked for double the time necessary and another hour just to be on the safe side giving it the texture of cardboard. Delicious.

So as you’re all sitting down to your Christmas feast wearing new trendy jumpers and tucking into a glass of Champers, think of me in clothes which are rapidly getting too small, sipping on an Appletise, or maybe even a Shloer if I’m lucky, waiting for the contents of my stomach to begin a riotous surge up my oesophagus the second I see the centrepiece of a traditional Christmas lunch emerge from the kitchen and head my way.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. I’ll still get presents ... right? What’s the betting that instead of something that might actually cheer me up through the next few months of hormonal insanity I’ll get gifts for when the baby comes. Great. And what’s the betting that the nice sparkly something the husband might once have bought seems a bit too decadent as now all spare money should be saved for, you guessed it, when the baby comes. Oversized 100% acrylic cardigan from Primark it is for me then.

From now on I’m going to have years of Christmases that are not about me, that begin at 5am with little voices shrieking, that see me in Mothercare buying creepy children’s Christmas outfits or in drafty churches watching terrible nativity plays complete with inadvisable live donkey. And while I’m sure a part of me will love every moment of it and say afterwards that I wouldn’t have changed it for the world, is it too much to ask to want one last one for myself? Read more by Rosie.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Packed trains, bulging bags; it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

So, Christmas. The season of goodwill. To be jolly. Merry, even. Maybe; if being ridiculously hungover, three stone heavier and five grand in debt makes you feel particularly chirpy. Bah, humbug.

To be fair, though, Christmas can be good fun. Yes, so we spend too much money and over indulge, but, all in all, it is a time to catch up with your friends, see your family and switch off from reality for a while. I mean, it’s hard to worry about job losses and the rise in tuition fees when you are glued to the EastEnders Christmas special whilst shovelling another fistful of dry-roasted in your mouth and gulping down mulled wine, isn’t it?

Christmas has its place. Only problem is, its place is at least three train journeys, two suitcases and one great big headache away. You see, Him Indoors and I live in London whilst our folks live in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire respectively. And as for our friends? Every corner of the UK, baby.

The first dilemma is where to spend the day in question. Usually that depends on where we spent the previous year, but you can guarantee that something or other will come along to complicate things. This year, it's a get-together with my aunt and uncle arranged for the 28th that has thrown a holly-covered spanner in the works.

Particularly problematic as we have arranged to spend New Year with friends in Peterborough, which has made our travel up and down National Express’s East Coast train line resemble a hyperactive yo-yo if, indeed, we stick to our usual formula.

So, with trepidation, I broached the possibility of spending the 25th with the “in-laws” with my parents, who, in fairness, accepted my argument that it didn’t matter when we saw them, as long as we saw them at some point. And brought presents.

This, of course, introduces the added problem of luggage. Christmas does not allow light packing. Oh, no, siree. We need a large suitcase for the presents alone, plus another for a week’s worth of clothes for the two of us. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if we were travelling at any other time of year, but, of course, at Christmas, about half of London’s population is escaping to the sticks, and 50 percent of them are headed up North. On the same train as us. Oh, what fun.

Needless to say, this means that the possibility of getting a cheap ticket became obsolete about six months ago when the more organised amongst us got online and snaffled them all up whilst the rest of us were still sweating it out at the gym in an attempt to lose last year’s Yuletide muffin-top.

So, why not just spend Christmas at home? About 11 and a half months ago I swore to myself that this year would be the year we stay in London, cook our own bird and mong in front of the telly with nothing more than a glass of Cava and a tub of Celebrations for company. Ah, what bliss.

As the date came closer, this dream seemed to fade into the distance behind a pile of wrapping paper and Seasons Greetings. Why? Well, I’m not sure exactly. But part of me thinks that, despite all my moaning, huffing and puffing, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for the chaotic train journeys, the mad rush to see everyone you’re related to within the space of one week, and that moment of relief when you finally get back home and realise you don’t have to do it again for another year.

Merry Christmas? Happy New Year? Oh, go on then. Just don’t expect me to do it more than once every 365 days. Read more by Shelly.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The right hand doesn't know what the left hand's doing...

If there’s one thing bound to get any woman, of any age, grumpy, it’s getting married. For all the joy and newly-wedded bliss of being joined in a legally-binding union to the object of your affections, it is an ordeal.

Whether you go for the full-blown circus of horse-drawn carriages, a dress the size of a small car and sit-down seven-course banquet for two hundred, or a do with the least possible amount of fuss, it still ends up causing no end of stress. I know this first hand, as this summer I went through it. Twice. Thankfully both times with the same man or else this would then be a slightly uncomfortable tale of modern bigamy.

Somehow, I survived, and once it was finally over started to look forward to that magical moment when all the gifts from generous friends and family arrived. Along with the predictable plates and spoons, I also picked out a few items that were less practical but much more fun. Or so I thought. Of these the one I eagerly anticipated the most was a large punchbowl.


Once upon a time a classic wedding gift, the punchbowl has fallen out of favour as punch itself has, inexplicably, become very unfashionable. Armed with glass punchbowl (complete with ladle and eight cups) I could begin a one-woman revival bringing a delicious drink concept back to the masses. And what better excuse than Christmas to start that?

My plan hit an early stumbling block when I discovered that some nefarious product designers had created a ladle impossible to pour from if you are left-handed. Left-handed like me. In a flash it set me off on a tirade against the years of unfair leftie discrimination I’d suffered. The pain of being told constantly as a child that your handwriting isn’t neat enough – hardly my fault when pens are made to be held in the right hand – came flooding back.

Followed by the bitter memories of an agony that endured all through my teens, nearly thwarting my attempts at learning to drive due to my inability to tell left from right. At a point in my formative years, some prize twonk had helped me learn it by explaining that my right hand was the same as my writing hand. My infant brain accepted this and it was years, via the odd fit of hysterical crying and wearing different coloured bracelets on either wrist, and even my driving test, until the damage was undone.

Indignant at yet more unfair favouritism towards you eight-out-of-nine people who are so boringly right-handed, I contemplated a sternly-worded letter to the department store from which the now offensive item came, followed possibly by a further missive to my local MP, and then finally some legal advice on whether this contravened my human rights in any way or was in breach of one of the numerous pieces of anti-discrimination legislation.

The sad fact is that we’re not a trendy minority and making too much hue and cry about having to buy special scissors or use normal ones looking special only opens us to the sort of ridicule directed at Ned Flanders and his Leftorium.

But we’re used to the pain of verbal taunts, the subtle thorns embedded into the English language waiting to rip our sensitive, left-handed flesh. We’re accused of general clumsiness and branded “cack-handed”. And, out of interest, who decided that a bad dancer had “two left feet”? To all these cruel and insensitive accusations, I would like to say one thing: how do you reckon all you smug righties would manage in a world where everything was the wrong way around?

But it goes a lot deeper, a lot more subliminal. Aside from all the mild slurs, we’ve also been branded diabolic. For those of you not bang-up-to-date on your ancient languages, the word ‘sinister’ comes from the Latin sinistra originally meaning ‘left’ but then - and I’d love to know how - it then went on to also mean ‘evil’. It’s really heart-warming to know that, because I hold my pen in a certain hand, I’m seen as being in cahoots with Beelzebub himself.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom of the underworld. Such glassware design bigotry does mean that this festive season I do not have to worry about staying sufficiently sober to pour the punch without dropping the ladle, smashing the bowl and causing litres of boozy liquid to cascade onto the frocks and chinos of guests as they gape in horror. Instead I can waft around, as gracefully as my plastered state allows, insisting someone else mans the bowl and keeps the drink coming. Because I cannot physically do it myself. Read more by Rosie.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Deck the halls with ob-li-ga-tions, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-laaa

Ah, that season is upon us. Winter? Yes, that’s arrived. Like every news programme has already confirmed, it’s cold, snow is falling and we can’t handle it. We know. But that’s not the only thing lurking around the corner, waiting to make our lives more difficult.

I’m talking about the ‘holiday’ season. Whisper it quietly...Christmas. I almost forgot all about it until I was kindly reminded by my efficient borough council who hung Christmas lights in the middle of November. How I love paying my council tax. They seem to be of the same mind as television executives. It started with issuing reminders early, insisting on adding jingling bells to perfectly serviceable theme tunes and boasting about their imminent festive programme schedule. All the same old movies as last year, then? Can’t wait.

Anyway, I’m not exactly sure why it’s called a holiday as the whole concept of ‘time off work’seems redundant. There is always more than enough work to replace that undertaken as part of the normal day job. And you’re not getting paid for all the extra toil.

The reason why it is so problematic: it’s the season of obligations. From cards to gifts to food, they all bring their own duties and tasks. Of course, you have to send a card to everyone that sends you one – trees, be damned! First class Christmas stamps must be purchased, even if the service is actually rather third class.
Technology minded types have worked hard to make sure we have the wonders of telephones and email, lets not waste their gifts. Besides, ‘charity’ Christmas card makers often only give a pathetic fraction of their profits to good causes. You’re better off giving the money directly to a homeless shelter yourself.

We must all buy excessive amounts of food, especially all those that are disliked by many and end up getting thrown away. Well, a bin overflowing with sprouts is traditional, isn’t it? Though the stomach doesn’t suddenly develop a larger capacity, eating to excess is now requirement. Possibly because it makes it easy to choose ‘go to the gym’ as a new year’s resolution.

Recession? What recession? Spend, dammit, spend! Christ’s birth? Who? It’s all about consumerism, which means having to work out what to get people and, for some, taking into account what they got you last year. Of course, the wonders of the Internet mean you don’t have to trudge the cold streets, but then you have to concern yourself with an inept postal service. All for the sake of those essential gifts.

You’re duty-bound to see every member of your extended family- whether you like or get on with them regardless. That can never be good. I’m sure the pressure to have a fantastic time is how all the traditional Christmas arguments begin; exhausted and stressed that infernal goodwill to all ends up working against you.

The problem of feeling obliged is so widespread that even pop stars are suffering. They are obliged to record (bad) cover versions of Christmas songs to inflict them on the world when the season of giving rolls around. Well, they have to make a few bob somehow – they need those royalties to pay for multiple cars, houses, boob jobs, divorces etc.

There is an easy way to improve Christmas...only do what is necessary. Decrease the pressure, increase the pleasure. Easy to say, but imagine how stress free it could all be if you only adopted the attitude: it doesn’t have to be done and I’m not doing any more than needed. Partial bah humbug! Read more by Shermaine

Monday, 13 December 2010

Are season's greetings too much to ask for?

Am I the only person under 40 who still bothers with Christmas cards? A great deal of time and energy goes into choosing the right one, often starting months in advance. Not only is care and attention paid to the card itself but then I faithfully write a personal message in each one. None of this sign-the-name-shove-it-in-the-envelope business. I’ve decided if you value someone enough to send them a Christmas card then you should at least be bothered to write a personal sentence to them inside it.

I’m definitely in the minority with this philosophy. Without specifically shaming anyone in particular, I’ve even received cards that don’t contain my name at the top, merely on the envelope. Such aloof bits of paper conjure up either a minor celebrity signing away as if it’s the latest kiss-and-tell autobiography or the world’s most stressed woman ploughing through 3,256 cards before knocking out 912 mince pies. Surely no one who sends me a card is that famous, or that harassed?

Totally impersonal cards are like a blank email. Yes, it’s nice to know you dedicated a second and half to thinking of me, but really I’m a little offended you couldn’t spare me the full minute. However, I would take any of these over nothing at all, or worse: Christmas card criticism. The season of joy on earth and good will to all men means I socialise to the point of exhaustion and near nervous collapse. To each occasion I always take cards – for my hosts and for other friends I might see there. Why? Over-zealous card compulsion? Irrational desire to keep writing my own name? No, because it’s polite.

At least, I think it’s polite. As a child I remember people thanking my mother when she handed these envelopes over, smiling and making appreciative noises. Sadly that’s not my experience. I’m often greeted with a look of definite irritation and statements like “Oh, I’m not doing cards this year”. Suddenly my gesture of good will is four inches square of unwanted paper making all around it distinctly uncomfortable. Longing for the courage gleaned from a third glass of mulled wine, I imagine saying “Well, maybe you should. It is tradition, good manners and stops you feeling so awkward in situations like these.”

Instead I nod and look sympathetic as the excuses start. It’s either “work’s been manic”, or “as we’re away for Christmas we didn’t the see the point” or, increasingly, “it’s not very environmentally friendly”.

With the word ‘RECYCLE’ ready to burst out of my mouth at volume, I find it safer to stick to a non-committal “Mmm” while wondering when the whole world became so lazy that writing out a Christmas card was too much effort.

This maddening trend is symptomatic of society losing sight of the little thoughtful actions which make it a more pleasant place to be. I’m so sick of hearing that everyone’s so incredibly busy it’s a miracle they even have time to go to the bathroom. And yet these are often the same people updating their status every five minutes on Facebook announcing what they’re watching on the telly or having for dinner that night.

No one’s suggesting you make the damn thing from scratch in a frenzy of gold pen and glitter – just spend a few minutes, once a year, to remind people why they’re important to you.

However, if that’s still beyond you due to a job as rocket scientist, on-call brain surgeon or self-appointed television critic, then at least have the good grace to thank someone who has taken the time.

At Christmas it’s common to put differences aside, so is it really too much to ask for a little good will towards a well-intentioned friend proffering a few kind words lurking behind a picture of Santa getting stuck down a chimney? Read more by Rosie.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

When is an anniversary just an irritation?

Happy Birthday, Grumpy Young Women! As one of the resident grumps I’m impressed but not surprised that we’ve managed an entire year recording our rattiness, while slowly but surely putting the world to rights. All that self congratulation aside, I can’t help but wonder whether this should be celebrated as a birthday or actually as an anniversary. And if the latter is the case I suspect we might we heading toward one of my real pet hates: the celebration of anniversaries that aren’t really anniversaries.

Before I really get going I would just like to state for the record: I’m not exactly a fan of birthdays either. They’re a bit like the Devil’s heroin luring you in with those addictive early hits packed with sugary cake and the heady pleasure of being a year older and therefore able to do more. But before you know it, it’s stopped being fun and you’re locked into a totally toxic relationship with this one day of the year which taunts you for months beforehand and then causes you to act like a borderline psychotic, culminating in a week-long hangover/shame cycle. Or maybe that’s just me.

Still, however bonechillingly dreadful the birthday is, at least there is no ambiguity about it. The date is there, in black and white on your driving licence and in your diary circled in furious red pen with ‘AGGHHHHH’ scrawled across the page. It could be worse, though: unless you’re a reigning monarch, there is no possibility whatsoever of going through that merry hell more than once each calendar year.

Then there are anniversaries, and even though it’s none of my business, and even though technically it does affect me, I’m so often intensely irritated by how other people choose to celebrate them sorry, not people, couples and how they choose to mark the ‘birthday of the relationship’. I can already feel a shudder coming on.

In my rather disapproving mind, you are you are only permitted to celebrate your wedding anniversary and that is it. At this point, I expect many of you to heartily disagree to the point of removing a shoe and hurling at your computer screen. Hold fire for a just a second. If you still disagree after hearing my reasons, please feel free to leave a comment.

My problem starts with the date itself. What is it actually anniversary of? The first time you met? Romantic in a way but also a bit creepy. I imagine on these celebratory evenings the lucky twosome play vomit-inducing music like Savage Garden’s I Loved You Before I Met You and other cringy numbers from their Top Ten Tunes for Stalkers CD.

So, how about a first date? A bit more sensible but sadly we’re not Americans and the majority of Brits didn’t have an official first date with their significant others until they’d already exchanged saliva along with a string of donor kebab meat on the walk home from some salubrious nightspot.

So that conveniently brings me to the first kiss. Again, in theory a reasonable idea if you were lucky enough to have your first kiss in a Hollywood movie. Personally I can think of nothing less romantic than an annual reminder of misread signals, jerky head movements and the taste of someone else’s beer breath mixed with nerves. Yuck. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any classier, there’s always the possibility of celebrating the consummation of your relationship. Best of luck telling your mum that your wonderful partner is taking you away for the weekend to commemorate the fact however many years ago he, or she, got to shag you.

A more sensible solution lies in celebrating the date when you ‘got serious’. But that all so wishy-washy, so unspecific. At least there's no ambiguity with a wedding day. It is the ultimate act of getting serious with someone, requires no awkward explanation and even has the added benefit of coming with its own annual gift guide.

I accept that people do celebrate other ‘unofficial’ anniversaries as the general trend is to marry later or possibly even not at all. And I do understand that couples wish to honour the period of time they have spent together in a committed relationship. It is an impressive achievement.

For those of you determined to never walk down the aisle, I can begrudgingly accept it. However, what happens when a couple does marry after many years together? Cast aside the original anniversary? Or go through the whole rigmarole twice a year? By the time you’ve also added in Christmas, New Year, Valentine's Day, two lots of birthdays, the year quickly becomes a bonkers merry-go-round of cards, naff novelty gifts and so-called special occasions on which you feel compelled to have an amazingly extra special, totally exhausting great time. Read more by Rosie.