Monday, 28 December 2009

Mum's Gone to Have a Lie Down

My Boys - with matching dvds

Christmas Eve, nearly midnight, and my son Rory had decided not to go to sleep. I'm sure this was a familiar scene across the globe but in this case it wasn't because he wanted to see Santa: rather, at 13, he wanted to stay on Facebook so he could be first to update his status on Christmas Day. I gave up. Husband Dougie was exhausted from a busy day at work so it was left to me to play bloomin' Santa, clomping up and down the stairs then artfully arranging the piles of gifts. My pile was significantly smaller than the other two so I harrumphed a bit more and set off for bed.

The next morning I woke up excited and wanted to know if Santa had been, even though I knew the answer to this one. Son was still in a deep sleep so Dougie and I showered and dressed then ran into his room at 9am shouting "It's Christmas...wake up...let's see if Santa's been". Rory was not best pleased to be woken at such an early hour and chastised us, "It's still a bit early but okay, if you insist, just give me a minute".

The presents were a success - even my little pile included some lovely jewellery, so I couldn't complain. The prize however, for the most pointless present of the day, went to a fitness gadget called a Powerball that Dougie received from his partner at work. The idea is to rotate the ball quickly in the palm of your hand. I'm sorry but what man on earth really needs a mechanical aid to improve his wrist action?! Dougie spent the rest of the day rhythmically shaking his arm up and down, startling his mother and ended the day with an improvement of his tennis elbow but acute tendonitis of his forearm. What a w**ker!

The highlight of the day was the turkey dinner. Dougie had been given two huge turkey breasts from a grateful patient and, as each of them weighed 5lbs, and there were only five of us for dinner, we froze one half and cooked the other. A lack of preparation on my part meant a frantic search on the internet as to the best way to cook one massive breast. In the end, hubby got creative, shoved butter and orange slices under the skin and we cooked it for two hours. It was fantastic - so moist and no fannying about with legs and other bones. Just slice after slice of perfect white meat. Quite a difference from my culinary disaster the day before with Nigella's chocolate pistachio fudge. I used evaporated milk instead of condensed and wondered why it looked a bit runny as it went into the fridge. The fates were on my side, however, as it set into a fondant-textured pudding, reminiscent of a "Gu Pot au Chocolat". Nothing like fudge but bloody lovely all the same.

The Burgess Boys - Rory, Dougie and George.

After dinner you will be pleased to learn we had another round of arthritic charades with the inlaws. They had forgotten the rules from last year so every time one of us wiggled our ear to do "sounds like", dear old George kept shouting "Hear...listen...lobe". Along with arthritic fingers, making the deduction of number of words nigh-on impossible, we had the inability to see the small writing on the card. Lovely Emily, on her turn, would have to go into the corner to stand under the reading light. By the time she came back to perform her charade, she inevitably forgot what it was. But it was teenage son who had the classic mime of the evening. I will never forget choking on my sweet sherry as he took to the floor and proceeded to shake his head in the negative and then thrust his hips to and fro in an obvious sexual way. Emily thought he might be skiiing but his father and I knew better and before the act got even more creative I "gave up" and he said the card he'd been given was The Virgin Queen. "So I was shaking my head to say No", he explained, "then I was doing sex. No sex because she was a virgin". Another mince pie anyone?

We quickly moved on to Family Fortunes, finding the top five answers to taxing questions such as "Things coloured red" where we had answers such as "a carrot" and my favourite, "Different types of jacket", when we'd exhausted "dinner", "life" and "strait", Emily leapt in with "potato".

The evening ended with mother-in-law smiling at her grandson and saying "You're really coming out of your shell now". Son, affronted, retorted, "what do you mean, coming out, I'M NOT GAY".

I'll get the coats.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Mum's Gone to Buy her Own Present

Out in my wellies AGAIN!

Whilst visiting other blogs this weekend (I know, I should really have been making my own mince-pies and creating salt-dough decorations like other good mothers but a coffee, Twix and a bit of bloggy surfing was preferable) I came across this post at Dulwich Mum: a competition asking for the worst Christmas present you've ever received. The prize was a £20 HMV voucher for the top ten, courtesy of Western Union.

This was a no-brainer for me, so I shot off a reply and found out today I was one of the winners. Excellent news! And I'm going to spend it purely on myself as, despite hints over the past few months, there is nothing remotely CD-shaped under the tree.

My competition offering had been the wonderful year when my husband and I were engaged, still in that "loved up" stage of our relationship, when the thought of Christmas in our own house was very romantic. Dougie, bless him, returned home from the supermarket on Christmas Eve with my present, unwrapped, in the boot. What was it?.......A DEEP-FAT FRYER. Yes, you did read that correctly.

It didn't go down well and even now when I ask him, twenty years on, the only explanation he can give is that he really fancied having some chips.

I responded the next year by giving him a trouser press.

Thankfully he has tried to make amends every year since. However we have both received some hideous presents by a lovely couple, closely-related (to him!). Our top three, for your amusement, are.....taa daa....
  • a pair of Chelsea football socks (no, he doesn't support them or play football. He had asked for ankle weights but they couldn't find any. )
  • an enamel belt buckle they brought back with them from the US, with a picture of a wolf on it (with a label saying "Made in China")
  • a china figurine of a little boy in pantaloons (I broke it, accidently of course)

Can't wait for Friday.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Mum's NOT Gone to Newcastle

How festive is this? I trudged out in my wellies this morning to provide you with this offering.

This was the morning we were due to drive up to Newcastle to see my parents for a couple of days. This is now scuppered due to heavy snow here in South Lincolnshire and icy weather guaranteed all the way up the A1. We now plan to do the trip on Boxing Day: having entertained the inlaws with turkey and arthritic charades on Christmas Day itself, a four hour drive will be a welcome relief.

I had been looking forward to getting my regular fix of Geordie-ness. And now I haven't got Cheryl Cole and little Geordie Joe to remind me of my heritage every Saturday night, I am at a loss! I have been annoying husband and son with my uncanny impersonation of Wor Cheryl since about October. If Hubby brings me a cup of tea of an evening, I like to congratulate him: "Eeh, luv, ah just think that was amayzin. Yer just reeelly made that yor sooo proud of yer!" It's starting to grate on him now, so I'm thinking of going the whole hog with hair extensions, teetering heels and attaching some saucepan lids to the bosom area of my LBD.

For your delight, here's a couple of snowy scenes, which I took from the warmth of the living room and bedroom so I could keep my slippers on. Enjoy!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Mum's Gone to Buy Baubles

"'Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even a mouse..."

IS THAT RIGHT?! Last Christmas we had a little family of mice come to stay and they were creating absolute havoc, never mind "stirring". Simple enough problem, you might think, no need to over-react. However the little furry creatures decided to make a my box of Christmas decorations.

Picture the scene if you will. Husband brought the box of beloved baubles in from the shed and left them on the hall floor for me to do my arty-farty thing with them. Box sat there for a couple of days until I summoned up the necessary creative juices to get on with the job in hand. Sunday afternoon, early December, CD of kitsch Christmas music entitled "Cool Yule" playing in the background, tree was ready to be dressed. It's artificial. So sue me - I like uniform branches. I lifted the box nearer to the tree and saw a wet patch on the carpet. We have no animals and our son is past the age of leaving puddles so I was perplexed by the stain. I then discovered a hole in the base of the box. I opened the box and shrieked, very loudly, as little Jerry and his family scuttled out and ran into the kitchen.

Dear readers, can you feel my pain as I looked into the box? All the collected decorations from my own childhood, the lop-sided fairy and my son's early, painstaking attempts to make snowmen out of loo rolls and cotton wool, all soaked in mouse pee and covered in droppings. I cried. A lot.

There was no way to rescue the treasured decorations, so we had a ceremonial burning and I cried even more. This was on a par with the disaster that occured when we forgot to tell the painter not to paint the back of the door in the spare room where we had marked our son's height over the years. He wondered what the marks were but, not having a family himself, just slopped a coat of gloss over the top. Thank you for that. I was inconsolable.

But hey, I had to keep some perspective on this so decided to see the positive. I now had a reason to buy a whole new set of co-ordinating decorations for my beautiful tree. I could now have a proper "John Lewis" tree.

A long time ago I used to work for John Lewis and in my burgeoning youth spent three years in the Christmas department. I am good at decorating trees: I like them balanced (and plastic) and I like them themed. And now I could make my own from scratch. My silver lining after that awful cloud.

I had the time of my life buying everything in red and gold: beautiful baubles, delicate glass teardrops, all tasteful, no grotty ones you would normally hide round the back. Husband felt so bad for me and was so anxious for me not to dissolve into tears again, he didn't bat an eyelid when the credit card bill arrived.

For the next few weeks we waged war against Jerry and his mouse posse and eventually won. The new decorations were packed away in a mouse-proof, plastic container and remained in the house. This year, when I unpacked them, I was even able to say "ooh I'd forgotten about that lovely bauble" as if it were some pre-war family favourite.

Unlike me to regale you with a sad tale though, so to cheer you all up, I must share with you a story from my John Lewis days. It was the beginning of September, a rather warm September, and the Christmas department was about to open. There I was, unpacking boxes of tinsel, when a very glamorous, blonde woman strutted down the aisle. She stopped in her tracks, looked disdainfully at me and announced very loudly:

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Mum's Gone to play charades

My hubby's parents have always come to us for Christmas ever since they moved from Edinburgh on their retirement to live near us, so inevitably it has become a "tradition" as sacred as crackers, mince pies and satsumas. Over the years we have gradually shifted the Christmas feast from lunchtime to teatime so now we have the morning to sleep in, open presents and vegetate before they come over at 3pm. Last year, the in-laws asked us if we could have games after dinner. Games?! Good grief, is it not enough that we feed and water them and provide a perfectly good TV to fall asleep in front of, but now they want us to entertain them? Being the grinches that we are, we chuntered an agreement to this then promptly forgot all about it.

But on Christmas afternoon, after partaking in plenty of fizz and food, we were reminded of their request and, after a less than promising start with some trivia quiz questions, we decided upon that classic Christmas parlour game, Charades. We really should have prepared for this with some pre-set titles but took the dubious decision for everyone to think of their own movies, books etc, with some interesting results. Dad-in-law, George, who unfortunately has arthritic fingers, had difficulties if the charade had more than three words as none of us had any idea how many fingers he was holding up. Even his wife, Emily, shouted out "Three and a half!" at one point. He then proceeded to delve into the depths of television history with a selection of shows my poor son had never even heard of: Z Cars and Dixon of Dock Green!

Husband Dougie strutted up and down the lounge like a demented chicken, constantly pulling at his ear until we realised that he was trying to be a hen and it sounded like den! A few snarls later and we realised it was Dragon's Den. It was at this point his father, sounding puzzled, queried:"Where did the ear come into it?"

Son Rory then had everyone perplexed with a strange contorted version of Spongebob Squarepants, which meant nothing to the older generation. It was at this juncture I remembered we had a proper box of charades somewhere and amazingly I found it. It was Rory's job to hand them out to everyone, regardless of whether they had heard of these obtuse titles. Poor Emily, having forgotten to bring her reading glasses, mistook a book title The Horse Knows the Way for The House Knows the Way. Once she was corrected by her grandson, she ignored the rules regarding not speaking and started neighing loudly. It took a dreadfully long time before we worked this one out.

But my favourite charade of all belonged to dear old George again who kept us puzzled for ages with the simple title Robin Hood. For some reason we struggled with the first word, constantly thinking it was "stealing" as he kept hiding ornaments under his jumper. He then did a fabulous pretend striptease as a "sounds like" for the second word. When we eventually got round to guessing the title we asked him what on earth the strip was all about:
"Easy", he said, in his lilting Edinburgh accent, "it was NUDE, sounds like HOOD ".

Monday, 7 December 2009

Mum's Gone to see the Doctor

Waiting for Dad to come out of hiding....
There are a few advantages of having a husband who is a doctor. There are always a few paracetamols knocking around the house and getting a home visit is a distinct possibility (though I usually have to wait until the evening and then there's an awful lot of muttering to go with it!).
When we go on holiday, even for just a few days, my man takes a mountain of medicines with us for every eventuality - pills for when you're bunged up, pills when you need to be bunged up, anti-histamines, painkillers, dressings, creams for a myriad of skin infections, antibiotics, worming tablets (!), the lot! If my husband's case was ever to be properly searched at customs I'm sure the officials would have the rubber gloves on in no time - in fact, Hubby could lend them a pair.

My husband is very proud of never having had a day off work in all the days he's been a GP. And if anyone dares to criticise men for not being able to cope with the common cold he will hit the roof, as he complains that it's always women who are at the doctors and that "man-flu" is a complete fallacy. However my take on this is that he may not have taken any time off work and obviously possesses the constitution of an ox, but when he is ill he picks his moment for maximum disruption. So in the last twelve months he has succumbed twice: once at my birthday party and once on Christmas Day last year! Not for him a bit of a snuffle mid-February on a Monday morning. No, far better to go down like a bag of hammers on days when I really need him.

My birthday was the only warm summer day of July and we had invited a few friends to a barbecue. Everyone had arrived, drinks were being served and Hubby was doing his bit turning the sausages, when he came over all faint. Granted he looked very white and poorly and at first he tried to battle on, probably because I was looking daggers at him, mouthing the words "DON'T YOU DARE!" while trying to keep our guests happy. But minutes later he shakily handed me the tongs and disappeared to have a lie down! A LIE DOWN!? AT MY PARTY! And what the hell was I going to do with a pair of tongs and a few cows and pigs to cook! A barbecue is male territory and I was clueless. I am WOMAN and this is job for MAN! WOMAN make salad; MAN cook meat! Thankfully two willing men spotted the vacant position and fought over the apron to take over as head baster and turner-over. I had to soldier on being the good hostess, every so often stomping upstairs to hiss rude words at moaning husband, who eventually joined the party at pudding time. But by then I was tired out from the stress of the day and just wanted it all to end.

Christmas Day - thankfully just the inlaws coming over for dinner but nevertheless a big day on the catering/entertaining front. Hubby had been sniffly all that week but Christmas morning woke with horrendous ear-ache. As he moaned and groaned I asked,

"Have you taken anything for it?"

"No", he replied.

"What would you advise a patient with these symptoms?"

"I'd tell them to take some paracetamol and if that doesn't help, maybe antibiotics a day or so later but only if it isn't a virus!"

"Well go upstairs and take both, just in case".

He came back down and then asked me to have a look in his poorly ear with his auriscope (that funny gadget for looking in ears). Now I know I'm married to a doctor, but contrary to popular belief, that doesn't mean I'm a nurse. But hey I'm game for a bit of doctors and nurses role-playing so, under his instruction, I peered into the dark abyss and tried to see something.

"Can you see the ear-drum?"

"Don't know, what does it look like?"

This wasn't going to be easy, especially as I freaked out when seeing what wax looks like through an auriscope:

"EUGH, there's a horrible black thing, looks like a tumour!"

I then poked about in the good ear and stated that it was less red than the other one so yes, he probably did have an ear infection but could he now peel the carrots! Hubby revived somewhat with a strong painkiller and alcohol combination so the meal went ahead. When his parents eventually left at 7pm, my poorly man slithered under the duvet "just for ten minutes". Two hours later I found him still there, roasting himself alive wearing a thick sweatshirt under high-tog goose down!

"And what do you say to your patients who have a high temperature?"

"Keep yourself cool...remove layers of clothing...." he whispered, and pulled the duvet up around himself just a little bit more!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Mum's Gone to Fetch a Plumber

I should have trusted my instincts and phoned a plumber a week ago when I first noticed our water softener was making strange hissing noises. But instead I believed my husband when he reassured me that it always made a funny noise and that the pipes at the back of the softener, which to me looked unnervingly like wet, crusted stalactites in our very own Wookey Hole, were in fact "just a bit dirty".

I've never really had much confidence in the machine in the first place. We had it installed when we re-did the kitchen about ten years ago. I didn't understand how it worked. All I knew was that Hubby now and again put salt in it and it was supposed to regulate itself. The fact that my upstairs taps were just as limescaley as the main unsoftened water tap in the kitchen and the shower head required more than just a quick squirt of Cillitt Bang, didn't really register. But something was now definitely wrong. I should know, I'm in that utility room every day keeping the washing machine and tumble-dryer company! But, annoyingly, I trusted my beloved and accepted that maybe I was hearing things.

Friday afternoon and I am now convinced there is water somewhere there shouldn't be. Hubby has managed to get away early from work so as soon as he walks in the door at 4pm I thrust a torch in his hand and order him to look a little closer at the limescale caves at the back of the unit. He agrees it doesn't look too good but instead of ringing a plumber, reading the softener instructions or at the very least getting out of his good suit, he lays down on the floor and decides to pull the softener out a bit "to have a proper look".

He gets a proper look alright. His actions pull the machine away from the pipes so that water pours out down the back of the cupboard. A few choice words and then a mad scramble to find the shut-off valve. This is in the adjoining cupboard - the "craft" cupboard - in other words a Blue Peter haven of old paint, pipe-cleaners and dried up play-dough. These forgotten items from previous years are tossed wildly over his shoulder as he yells "WHY DO WE KEEP ALL THIS RUBBISH?".

The valve now turned off, water is still dripping and my darling husband goes into Surgeon mode with me his little nurse running around after him. "GET ME A TOWEL!", "FETCH A BOWL!", "NO, A BIGGER ONE!", "GET MY TOOL KIT!", "SHINE THE TORCH SO I CAN SEE PROPERLY!", "MORE TOWELS!" This goes on until he wrenches a side panel off the cupboard to see where the machine's bypass valve is located. This too is leaking, so no matter which valve he turns, water continues to flow.

It is at this point I suggest it might be a good idea if he actually switches the unit off, as the plug isn't a million miles away from the leak. He grudginlgy admits this is probably a wise thing to do and gives himself an electric shock in the process. Comforted by this I tell him I'll call a plumber!

I know it's the start of the weekend but I ring the chap who has done all our plumbing over the years and, significantly, fitted the water softener. Miraculously he answers his mobile, tries to instruct hubby over the phone, gives up and says he'll be round in twenty minutes.

My hero on his white charger - well, Ford Transit - appears even quicker than stated and is soon lying down with his head between the boiler and the water softener, doing whatever he has to do whilst I, most relieved, make him a strong cup of sugary tea. Hubby watches the expert at work, nodding with conviction at the explanation though I can tell he is none the wiser. The softener is isolated and then chucked ceremoniously out of the back door. Ten minutes later a new pipe is fitted and all is well.

The moral of this story is that if you suspect something is not right and it involves electricity or water, don't mention it to your other half, especially if he is not dressed for the occasion. Regardless of not having the necessary skills, a man will "give it a go" to save money and to appear macho. Don't put the poor soul through the agony - get a man in!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Mum's Gone to Hell's Kitchen

I'm recovering in a darkened room after yesterday's encounter with four 6 year olds, flour, eggs and an oven.

I help out at my son's former primary school. Normally my role is to assist with computer lessons for Years 1 and 2. I can just about manage that: my IT skills are marginally superior to the 5 and 6 year olds I have to teach. But the Year 2 class teacher, Mrs C, asked me last week if I could help make brownies with some of the children to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Now I'm all for doing my bit and I would have quite happily played the part of the willing parent buying some thumb-marked cake from my adored offspring. But as for assisting in the baking, well that's just not my forte. So why I said yes, I can't imagine. Mrs C is a bit of a cake-maker and she probably had no idea of my concerns, happily informing me that the recipe and all the ingredients were waiting for me in the PTA kitchen. She had a few caveats for me, however, which did little to calm my nerves.
1. "The oven isn't very reliable so turn it on early to get it going"
2. "There is a school assembly going on in the hall next door so try to keep the children quiet as the voices will carry through the serving hatch"
3. "I will be upstairs in the staff room kitchen with the other children....but I'm sure you'll be fine"

Vastly reassured by these words I gathered up my four little chefs, three Nigellas and a Jamie, and took a deep breath. Children sense fear. They just know when they have the upper hand. In the computer suite I am King but here in the kitchen they found my Achilles' heel. They had hardly tied their aprons on before the first chorus of "Can I do that?" resounded round the little room. I tried in vain to look masterly, but my frightened-rabbit-in-the-headlights look fooled no-one. Four extra pairs of hands picked up the recipe and bless them, their reading was remarkably good. Jamie was the first to take charge, expertly weighing the chocolate, whilst Nigellas 1 to 3 did a marvellous job of breaking it up into tiny pieces. The noise level picked up a bit and as I could hear nearly every word the headmaster was saying as he took assembly next door, I was pretty sure he would soon be able to hear every word from us. So the first set of shushes began from me as I strove to take control. Who was I kidding?

The melting of the chocolate and butter had to be done by me as it was HOT and in any case none of them could reach the hob. So now the mother's skill of using the eyes in the back of my head was invaluable as I tried to ensure chocolate didn't boil and my mini-cooks didn't get up to mischief. There was an awful lot of "Put that down", "Just wait a minute" and "No you can't" coming from me and plenty of "Can I measure the sugar?" and "It's my turn now, you've had a go" from the children as Jamie 1 took charge of the reading of the recipe.

"Can I break one of the eggs?" asked Jamie eagerly."Yes", I said and instantly regretted it. I was desperately trying to keep check on which child had helped with which activity, forgetting that I was saying "yes" to egg-cracking despite having three eggs but four children. Nigella 3 instantly became tearful as she had wanted to crack an egg. Thankfully Nigella 2 handed over her egg to stem her friend's tears and I could have kissed her. Jamie missed most of the bowl with his egg and Nigella 1 added a large quantity of shell but we had nearly three gritty eggs-worth in the end which would have to do.

Everyone had a go at whisking but I wasn't sure how long to continue the activity as the recipe wasn't clear. Getting into my stride at this point, I instructed the vanilla essence and the sugar to go in before explaining how to "fold in" the flour. Just as I was beginning to enjoy myself I re-read the recipe and realised we should have added the melted chocolate and butter before the flour. Forgetting myself I very nearly swore like a trooper, but at the last second refrained and said "Oh blimey!". It all went quiet as I started shrieking like a harpy: four pairs of trusting eyes watching a mad woman pouring a vat-full of chocolate into the egg bowl. I was losing it.

Gung-ho mentality took hold: let's just whack it in the oven and hope for the best. Once in the oven we had to clear up. I couldn't find ANYTHING! Where were the dish-cloths, towels, pan scrub, washing-up liquid? No idea. The children were given instructions to search the cupboards for me. Eventually Nigella 3 held up a huge industrial-sized bottle of washing up liquid. House point for that girl! The water was extremely hot so it was down to me again to do this task. My back turned, all my little helpers "cleaned up" of a fashion using clean white hand towels to wipe the floor and smearing egg around the table with a dry paper towel. I then made the fatal mistake of allowing them all to lick the chocolate from the pan. Nigellas 1,2, 3 and Jamie 1 were smiling up at me and chocolate was everywhere except on their aprons. Their mothers would kill me.

An hour after we'd begun, a child from the other group arrived to take my buddies away for a spelling test and I was left alone to look forlornly at the oven for the last few minutes. By some miracle, when I took the tray of brownies out they looked sort of okay: they wobbled more than just a little but with a bit of luck would be vaguely edible when cooled.I had an email last night from Mrs C saying the brownies had been scrummy and the parents had willingly paid to eat them. Even the photographer from the local paper had eaten one when taking the "children make cakes for charity" photo shoot. Ah, I'm obviously a more talented cook than I thought. I told Mrs C she needs to alter her recipe: you see, the secret of brownie-making is to use two and a half eggs not three (shells included) and add the flour BEFORE the chocolate: simples!