Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I don't know I'm sure

Tut, tut. Tory yobs at play. But yes, fair enough to point out as does one Sally Roberts, of the United Kingdom in the comments added to this report: "It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Labour might not have arranged the stunt deliberately to discredit the Tories." Although her use of a double negative doesn't help her argument.

You may have noticed that I have a D.M obsession. Much as it terrifies me, I can not stop myself from reading the completely barking mad commentators on a daily basis. Which leads me on to the subject of Madonna and her proposed adoption of another child from Malawi. When I read a comment that began thus: "Madonna, Wicked Witch of the West. What a callous woman." I assumed someone was using sarcasm - but no. It was difficult to select the most poisonous comment made about Madonna, although
the article itself doesn't pull many punches in its full scale attack upon her. I work in adoption, but nevertheless still don't know what I think of adopting a child from overseas. I do though find it a bit hard to work out how a very rich superstar who is able and willing to offer a child a life away from an orphanage in one of the poorest countries in the world is being vilified for it. I have been trying to find out just how many kids from overseas Angelina Jolie has adopted to date. It seems to be three, plus three of her own, but as every report seemed to suggest she was in the process of adopting yet another child I can't be sure if that is still correct. What I don't see though is any sign that she has been attacked like Madonna has been in the past, and is being today for her adoption application. You don't have to like her music to wonder what she ever did to attract such opprobrium? Although maybe Madonna should not have shagged Jesus. It just doesn't sound right does it?

I don't know what to make of adoption at all to tell the truth. I think in my ideal world children born into families that social services know to be somewhat less than 'adequate parents' should be taken at birth and placed for adoption. (I can just hear the Daily Mail though going on about Evil Social Work Child Snatchers.) I see lots of young adult adopted people, who spent their formative years with their natural parents suffering abuse and/or neglect, and they have often had adoptions that ultimately failed, and I think to myself they were never suitable for adoption in the first place, having been too badly damaged before they were eventually taken out of their home environment. The law says natural family has to be given every chance to show they can take 'adequate' care of the child though, so they get one last chance after another. This I am afraid suggests to me that the children we are placing today for adoption will be the damaged young adults of the not so distant future. Not always of course. I have met some remarkably resilient children and do see them thrive with adopted parents. So what the fuck do I know? I am only an adoption social worker.

So what do I know? I know that Man on Wireis an utterly captivating and enthralling film having watched it twice in the past week. I also know that John was spot on when he raved about how good this book is. I am completely absorbed by it. And still with Counago and Spaves, I know we are going to be meeting up with John and Martin on Friday at this. I further know that I am really glad I never smoked.

I had a facial yesterday. The woman who did it for me has been a beauty therapist for over thirty years. She said to me "You've never smoked." It wasn't a question, it was a statement. She said she can always tell a smoker by the lines on their face. Surely reason enough on its own for young girls to never touch the evil weed.

And lastly, I know that it is high time I got back to work.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It is scary being a parent.

No matter what age your kids are you can’t help but worry about their safety. Once they or their friends reach the age of 17 there is the specific fear that comes when they are in a car driven either by them self or by one of their friends.

J does not drive yet, but he gets lifts to and from school with one or another mate who does. What can you do? You can’t wrap these young adults up in cotton wool. All you can do is hope with every bone in your body that these young people are good and sensible drivers.

Yesterday I had to go to the school as it was my daughter’s parents evening. Afterwards we had to do a bit of shopping. We got back about 7 to a house in darkness. I assumed J would be asleep as per usual. In we went and H popped upstairs. She came back down and asked where J was. ‘Oh ‘ I said – ‘it’s Wednesday. He plays football after school on Wednesday doesn’t he?’ ‘Not till this time he doesn’t,’ said H. I went from perfectly calm to feeling like I was going to throw up in less than a second. It really is not like him to be out without letting me know where he is.

I rang his mobile. J is like all 17 year olds I know in that his phone is never more then two inches from his hand and when I ring him he always answers pretty much instantly. His phone rang, and it rang. As it kept ringing for what felt like an eternity but was probably less than a minute I realised I didn’t even know if he had voice mail – I had absolutely always before been able to speak to him practically straight away. Then the phone was answered. The split second relief gave way to even more panic.

I could hear what seemed to be some kind of disturbance going on; there were raised voices and the general impression was of some kind of crisis. What I couldn’t hear was J. By now I just knew I was about to speak with some total stranger who was going to tell me something terrible had happened. I can’t describe the sheer terror I was feeling. But then I heard J’s voice. ‘Mum’. Only it was so quiet I thought an injured, or at best terribly shocked, J was just about managing to speak to me. By now I was in tears and was yelling at him to please tell me what had happened. I had also managed to scare the living daylights out of my daughter and my mum, both of whom were witness to this phone call.

‘Mum’, he whispered, ‘I’m in the cinema.’

It was Clint Eastwood who was responsible for the noises in the background.

Just one silly little example of how our imagination as a parent can go from zero to full scale worst case scenario in the blink of an eye.

Once I had given him merry hell upon his return for failing to leave me a message about what he was doing, he did get an extra tight hug.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

There are people you remember all your life

As the Beatles almost sang. Reading reviews of 'Red Riding' and subsequent on line discussions about corruption in local government included a mention of the Poulson case, and that case, somewhat surprisingly, had a direct impact upon the life of the younger Jane.

I have a very close friend with whom I grew up. Her dad, and her grandad before him were very active Labour party members. Her mum remembers Labour Party meetings at her home when she herself was a child, to which my own grandad used to come. She says of my grandad that he was a right bolshie sod - he sure was! But that's a digression.

F's family were like a second family to me, and I spent much of my childhood with them. They would take me on holidays with them - I especially remember a rainy week in a caravan in the Lake District where an incident involving Angel Delight ended up with the entire inside of the caravan coated with the stuff. They are also the reason I to this day will not eat seafood following a dramatic food poisoning episode on a holiday in Brittany. But those tales are further digressions.

I knew extended family members of theirs, and I knew family friends, but there was one friend of the family I simply loved, and F and I would look forward to seeing this man so much whenever he was due to visit. This man, who would have been in his 50's when we knew him, was the most charismatic person I think I have ever encountered. He must have had something special as why else would I still have such clear memories of someone who was a mate of my friend's parents? He would spend hours entertaining us with funny stories and mind blowing card tricks. Likewise he entertained F's brother who had Down's Syndrome (although we didn't call it Down's in those days). He had time for everyone, whatever their age. My mum still speaks of him and his gift for simply captivating you when you were with him. And of how he made everyone feel they were the most important person in the world when he was with them.

The friendship my friend's dad had with this man very nearly destroyed him by association in the end. The man has been dead a good many years now. I never knew at the time that this man was quite famous, or should that be infamous? They used to call him Mr Newcastle. He was jailed for his part in the Poulson corruption case. But as this obituary says "You could not meet a more engaging character than T. Dan Smith." It also says "There was a time, back in the early Sixties, when covering the proceedings of the Newcastle City Council could be a lot more entertaining than a visit to the nearby Theatre Royal, and it was all down to Dan Smith, the extraordinary leader of the Labour group." And as anyone who has ever been to any Council meeting would know - that must have taken some doing.

I bet he kept them laughing in jail.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The world has gone completely mad.

I rest my case......

I propose that - to commemorate Jade Goody, her inspirational life and her brave battle with cancer - we rename Mothers Day to "Jade Goody Remembrance day" so that she will never be forgotten, and so that she may serve as an inspiration to future generations in the fight against cancer.
My daughter recently discovered she had breast cancer because of Jade Goody. I know she must be looking down upon us now. and to her I say thank you, Jade, from the depths of my heart.

Jason McDonald, Reading, 22/3/2009 8:26

I swear I did not make this up.

9th comment



How to arrest the dreadful run of results

the Cobblers have suffered this year?

Before Saturday since the turn of the year we had won 2, drawn 3, and lost 7 (including last week against our biggest local rivals Peterborough - who still won despite having a defender sent off after just six minutes). Even the non football followers amongst you will realise that this is Not Good. And we have plunged down the table from the heady heights of mid table obscurity we enjoyed over Christmas to the position we had reached last week of 'only clear of relegation places on goal difference' state. That is not a comfortable place to be.

So what to do?

Drop underperforming players? No. That was tried and didn't work.

Bring in enthusiastic youth team players? No. Tried that and it didn't work either.

Bring in experienced loan players to shore up the side? No. That was also tried and did not work.

Try a new formation? No. We have tried every formation known to Football Manager Kind but not one of them did work.

Remind the players they need to earn a new contract? No. Tried that and it seemed they overwhelmingly decided they couldn't care less about a new contract with Northampton Town.

OK - Last resort time. Get JJ to promise to stay away from the match. RESULT! Jane misses her football - and The Cobblers go and win 4-0 (and it could apparently have been far more) in what was easily their best performance of the season.

I've had the chairman on the phone this morning begging me not to renew my season ticket. Going by the football I've actually seen this season I admit I'm tempted..............

Reidksi's fish pond Part 2

Long suffering readers of this blog may remember our little local tragedy involving a goldfish pond and a hungry heron which I mentioned last Septemberhere. To save anyone the bother of reading that whole saga, we had thought that Reidski had two goldfish in his pond. Then after months of quite a lot of work involving getting cleaner water into what had been a rancid and neglected garden pond, finding out that there were actually three, but not for long as a heron came along and took two of them. What I didn't record at the time (too painful don't you know) was that fish number three also disappeared very shortly after the loss of fishes numbered one and two.

What had been so surprising about finding these fish in the first place was the fact that they must have survived for years on end without any care being taken of them whatsoever. Many years ago the house was owned by a garden proud old lady and it would have been her (according to the next door neighbour) who got the fish. She died a long time ago, and the house was converted into two flats, with tenants coming and going, but never at any stage going into the garden and doing anything with it. The garden fell into a state of disrepair - and the fish were forgotten.

The pond, empty of fish, over winter had returned to its filthy state, and this weekend we resolved to empty it and start again. Armed with buckets and with the assistance of him who Reidski used to refer to as The Boy, but who would now more accurately be described as The Strapping Great Teenager, we got started. A lovely job.... if your idea of fun is collecting gallons of smelly black water and emptying it all over a garden.

Inevitably we were faced with horrors in the depths of the murky water. By which I mean lots of frogs - all doing what comes naturally to frogs in spring time, making for lots of beasts with two backs.

As we got closer to the bottom of the pond it obviously became more and more difficult to scoop water out, and we were on the verge of stopping when TSGT exclaims that he can see a fish. And lo - there was a veritable miracle. Fish number three - for it was most definitely he(or I suppose she) - had in fact escaped the hungry heron - and had been hiding in the depths of the pond ever since. Reidski has named him/her Wanda (as in a fish called), but I call him/her Wonder. The wonder being the extraordinary longevity and survival instincts of this particular fish.

I am happy to report that Wonder/ Wanda has now been joined by five new pond mates and, now being protected by netting from evil herons, can be seen swimming - with a certain understandable swagger - once more in Reidksi's nice clean garden pond.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ah ha!

Lisa has already mentioned the latest Guardian lists. This week they are telling us all about the 1,000 songs we must hear.

Today's edition looks at protest songs and U2 get a mention for ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. Thank you Guardian for the reminder of what Alan Partridge had to say about that track.

"It really encapsulates the frustration of a Sunday, doesn’t it?”.

I love this man.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Still on subject of age

I have today written to the Daily Mail website suggesting they start a campaign to keep all women aged 40 or above locked away indoors. In this way we can hopefully avoid causing such offence to youthful onlookers as Sarah Jessica Parker has done today by revealing hands that apparently show her real age (44).

Funnily enough my comment has not as yet made it past their censors - but I'm sure it will be there before much longer. It is only five hours since I sent it after all.......

The actual day

I think I am sufficently over the trauma of turning 50 to mention it here now.

It started in an inauspicious manner whilst I was having a wee.

Now my arms are quite nice I think. They have never caused me any grief before anyway. I do some weight training so shape wise they are OK, and hair wise they are fair and I have never had to get the hairs removed because they are not noticeable.

Or at least - they were not noticeable before I turned 50.

So there I was perched on the loo contemplating my advanced number of years when on my left arm I see not one but two bloody great long dark hideous hairs! "That's it!" thinks I. "I turn 50 and instantly start sprouting unsightly bodily hair. It will be my nostrils next, then my chin." First job on the morning of my birthday therefore involved my tweezers. I swear they were the only long dark hairs I have EVER seen growing on my arm. I hope they will be the last. I assumed the day could only improve.

For a treat for myself I had booked a facial at the gym I go to. It is very rare that I have one of these, but of course they are blissfully relaxing as well as good for (maturing) skin and I was very much looking forward to this.It was booked for 12, and then at 1.30 I was due to meet a friend for lunch. I arrived on time, but it was a bit late starting. I guess the therapist finally got going by about quarter past 12. I am not trying to be cheeky when I tell you that I was only wearing my knickers and was being kept nice and cosy by some thick blankets. What I was wearing is a Need to Know detail.

About ten minutes passed and I was just drifting into a delightfully semi conscious state when we were rudely interupted by the bell. By the fire alarm bell to be precise.

At first I think we both assumed they were merely testing the bell, but as it wailed on and on my beauty therapist said "I'm sorry, but that isn't a test." Other members of staff started hammering on our door for us to evacuate the building. They wanted me to go out as I was - just wrapped in a blanket. I wasn't having that, but did end up throwing on some jeans and a tee shirt watched by three complete strangers all urging me to hurry up. I am at least grateful that the face mask had not at that stage been put on. I am also grateful I wasn't one of the poor sods who had been in the swimming pool. It was a sunny day but not one sunny enough to make one want to stand around outside wearing nothing but a wet costume, as some unfortunate people had to do. I was freezing. They must have been in real danger of catching hypothermia.

We all hung around for I don't know how long whilst the building was checked from top to bottom. By the time we were given the all clear there was no time for me to carry on with the facial and still see my friend, so the facial booked for my 50th birthday did not actually happen. It was rearranged, but nice as it was, it wasn't the same as having it on my birthday. And you might suppose that knowing the facial was to have been for my 'significant' birthday, they might have given me some compensation - but you would suppose wrong.

Lunch would have been nicer had my friend not just been made redundant from her job to which she has devoted the last 17 years of her life. She obviously made an effort for my sake, but was just as obviously struggling.

Reidski was working and the kids had wanted me home in the evening so I didn't see him that day. They were, in the event, obviously knackered by having been forced to make an effort the day before (Sunday) when we had lots of family round, and thus the two that were in spent the evening either asleep on the sofa, or browsing on Facebook. I ended up with no one to talk to and so went to bed at 9.30 with a book.

I am not really complaining. Events around the actual date were very special and will never be forgotten. I just think that there is some irony in the fact that the actual date - one I had been focussed on for what was in hindsight a rather obsessive degree (why else did I go to the gym nearly every day in the year leading up to it?) - was a complete and utter non event.

Life can indeed be all Cobblers.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Joys of Parenthood

My daughter loves ‘Dancing on Ice’. It is the highlight of her week. That same statement is also true of my niece E who is nearly 12, and my daughter’s best friend.

For those of you fortunate enough not to have this programme impinge upon your consciousness I should explain that it is a direct rip off of the wonderful Strictly Come Dancing (yes, I too have my television watching weakness) expect that in this case the ‘celebrities’ learn to dance (clue in the title folks) on ice.

The programme is on Sunday evening – first all the surviving skaters from the previous week dance – then the viewing public get to vote for their favourite – and then later the two pairs of skaters who have the lowest number of votes compete in the ‘Skate off’. Thus far, thus very familiar to any viewer of SCD.

Now it has not been all bad – had it not been for H’s obsession I would never have seen Todd Carty’s hilarious performance to ‘Help!’ (Now available once again on You Tube in spite of ITV’s best efforts to block it) But that apart words that spring to my mind include dire, dull, boring, tedious....you get the picture. The skaters are supposed to be celebrities, but apart from Todd Carty the only one I had ever heard of was Coleen Nolan – and that I guess pretty much sums up the standard of what passes for celebrity these days. (Reidski tells me that one of them was a former rugby league player.) H and my niece who always watch the programme together have strictly forbidden any of the rest of us to open our mouths to comment during their beloved programme. Any hint of criticism or negativity risks tears or a tantrum or both so we have learnt that discretion is the better part of smart wise cracks and we keep quiet.

I should perhaps explain that on Sunday evenings I always have my sister and niece over for dinner – along with various other family members.

And so to yesterday and (at last) the whole point of this post. For many weeks I have been exercising the skill of parental selective hearing. Teenagers are obviously the world leaders in selective hearing as in never hearing lines like ‘Please tidy your room’, but hearing the juicy bit of gossip you definitely don’t want them to hear even when whispered the other side of a ten foot brick wall from them. However, I have been a past master at the skill every time H or E has exclaimed about how desperate they are to see Dancing on Ice – Live. I have not given one tiny indication that I have heard any such wish. Dancing on Ice – Live would be without doubt My Idea of Hell.

So imagine my horror when the following scenario worked its way out last night:

1. H wants to vote for Ray but misses the advertised phone number so she goes on the website to find it.
2. Whilst on the website she comments once more upon how very, very, very much she, her friend C and E want to see Dancing On Ice – Live – and how the show is in Birmingham on E’s birthday.
3. My sister asks how much tickets are.
4. Five minutes later H is on the verge of pressing the button to confirm 4 tickets at a total price of £174.50 (FF'sS!)for her, her friend (who is almost part of our family anyway), E and my sister.
5. One second after that my sister is declaring most firmly that she is NOT taking them on her own.
6. Two minutes after that, with five and not four tickets purchased, I am drinking a remedial brandy as the terrible truth sinks in. I am going to see Dancing on Ice – Live.

What did I ever do in a past life to deserve this?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Anne Frank

I am ashamed to admit that I have only just read Anne Frank’s diary. It is purely by coincidence that I finally read it whilst my own daughter is 15 – the age Anne was when she and her companions were discovered, arrested, and when she subsequently died. The book no doubt gets to everyone who reads it, but maybe there was an added dimension in that inevitably I compared H and her friends to Anne.

It is easy to hear the voices of H and her friends in some of what Anne writes about. When Anne speaks about boys, clothes, her appearance, and how no one understands her she is the universal spokesperson for Adolescent Girl. As Anne points out on numerous occasions “It is so unfair!” Course there are degrees of unfairness, and I think even Anne’s parents would have had to admit that in her case, things generally speaking were indeed somewhat unfair.

My daughter and her best friends are all bright young women. They are in the top set for English and produce high scoring written work, but what kind of talent must Anne have possessed to have been able to express herself as she did with such clarity, wit, maturity and descriptive powers?

My daughter thinks she is deprived if the internet connection is down. Anne is of course terribly distressed by her confinement (“Not being able to go outside upsets me more than I can say, and I’m terrified our hiding place will be discovered and that we’ll be shot. That, of course, is a fairly dismal prospect.”) but fills her days with education in a way that sadly it is hard for me to imagine H ever doing. When H is bored she presents as being incapable of coming up with any means of self entertainment, let alone self improvement! Anne’s drive to learn in direct contrast to H’s is extraordinary; reading any books she can get her hands on in any of four different languages. It is impossible to imagine a 15 year old girl today, no matter how extreme her isolation, raving about a biography of Franz Liszt. I find myself wondering if H has even actually heard of Franz Liszt.

It is hard enough for us to read Anne’s words, knowing as we do what was to be. How on earth must her father have felt after surviving in Auschwitz, learning his family were all dead, and then reading the incredibly vivid words of his daughter? Some of her words must have been so hurtful to him personally, but beyond that they would both have brought her to life as they do to the reader today, and yet also showed so clearly what truly exceptional potential was lost.

Rather than end on a miserable note though, as let’s face it, the Afterword can hardly avoid doing, I reproduce here a joke from the diary on the off chance that there are still some people who will not have read Anne’s book yet.

After a bible lesson about Adam and Eve, a 13 year old boy asked his father, ‘Tell me, Father, how did I get born?’ ‘Well,’ the father replied, ‘the stork plucked you out of the ocean, and set you down in Mother’s bed.’

Not fully satisfied, the boy went to his mother, ‘Tell me Mother,’ he asked, ‘how did you get born and how did I get born?’His mother told him the same story.

Finally, hoping to hear the finer points, he went to his grandfather. ‘Tell me, Grandfather,’ he said, ‘how did you get born, and how did your daughter get born?’ And for the third time he was told exactly the same story.

That night he wrote in his diary: ‘After careful inquiry, I must conclude that there has been no sexual intercourse in our family for the last three generations.’

Monday, March 09, 2009

It is that time of year again

when incredibly patronising adverts appear on the television urging punters to buy something unspeakably awful for their unfortunate mothers on Mothering Sunday.

I have assured my kids that if they buy me this they will be seeking alternative bed and board before the day is out.

I challenge you all to come up with something worse than this to give or receive on Mother's Day. And yes '9 to 5' is on it.

Lunch out

Reidski is now going to have to cope with an entirely new image - he is now officially a real smoothie. It must be the influence of having lived in London for so many years finally rubbing off on him. For my birthday he took me for lunch....in France. Boulogne to be precise.

To be preciser still he took me here which had been recommended to him by a friend of his, and what a great recommendation it turned out to be. We had such a wonderful long lunch, with food that was just as good as I had had at G.R's place. No one has ever taken me for lunch in another country before! It was amazing and very, very special.

After lunch we had a stroll round the old city, before heading for Calais and buying a not inconsiderable number of bottles of wine. Was drinking one of them last night -a fantastic sauvignon blanc which cost - even with the exchange rate as bad as it is - just £2.38.

It was perhaps a little unfortunate that I managed to leave my road map of France back in New Cross, but we only got Lost In France the twice, including a rather nasty moment at the docks in Calais when we found we had entered the lorries only entrance and couldn't work out how we were ever going to be able to escape from there. He must quite like me because although it might be argued that one was my fault, he didn't swear at me, not even once. The other time was unarguably my fault - but no body's perfect!

As an aside - it does seem that what with the credit crunch and the exchange rate plus competition from the Channel Tunnel that we are now practically at the point where the ferry companies will pay us to travel on them. Our trip on P&O from Dover cost £19 return total, and as if that wasn't enough to tempt us they also threw in 6 bottles of wine for the price. How can that possibly be worth their while? It is not as if one would ever have a second cup of coffee on the boat once one had tried the first so they can't make any money that way!

Friday, March 06, 2009

How on earth

can two steaks cost £220?

Well they are from Wagyu cattle who are so pampered they even get massaged (what a job for someone that must be!). But beyond that I can't provide any answer as to how on earth two steaks can cost that much money. Not that they weren't delicious though. Amazingly we didn't get served the steaks my sons cooked - they went out to some unsuspecting other customers - and thankfully they didn't get sent straight back.

My surprise night out took me here in London's Grosvenor Square. We had what they call the chef's table right next to the kitchen, and we had a tasting menu which included food of the most incredible quality. I had cavier for the first time in my life (only took 50 years then) and can kind of see what the fuss is about. It was worth waiting for.

When I heard where we were headed I was actually quite scared. I thought I may have been inappropriately dressed, and too obviously not wealthy enough to set foot in the place - but I needn't have worried as the staff were all lovely and really made us feel welcome. Being invited into the kitchen was a great experience.

Pretty hard to top it as a birthday treat, but Reidski managed to do just that. Will talk about that later.

Monday, March 02, 2009

You will always find me in the kitchen at parties

Although not always in one of Gordon Ramsay's kitchens.

I am pictured with my two sons who are cooking a couple of steaks. The chef's words to them on the subject were - and this is an exact quote - "These two steaks are worth £220 so don't fuck up."

No pressure then.

Had such an incredible evening. More on it will inevitably follow.