Marriage: a lesson in perseverance

SOMETIMES talking to my husband is incredibly infuriating, but never more so than when he doesn’t do exactly what I want.

Call me unreasonable but sometimes all I want is for him to read my mind, see the world exactly as I see it and then follow the script I’ve already written in my mind.

Am I asking too much?

Over breakfast a few days ago I told him sorrowfully: “I had a bad dream last night and I lay awake for ages afterwards.”

I obviously expected sympathy and soothing noises, and for him to put down his toast and listen intently as I told him all about it.

“Oh no,” he said through a half-chewed mouthful of brekkie, sending crumbs across the table.

Then he picked up a cereal box and started to read the ingredients. Out loud.

I persevered.

“It was horrible,” I said. “I was crossing a road and…”

He looked up.

“Was there a chicken?” he interrupted. “Or an egg?”

Then he laughed loudly, high-fived the baby and went back to reading the cereal box.

I persevered.

“No, there was no chicken or egg. It was actually really scary because…”

He looked up again.

“What was so scary about a chicken? Do you have a phobia of chickens you’ve never told me about?”

I took a deep breath. And persevered.

“No, I don’t have a phobia of chickens. There were no chickens. There were no eggs. There was just a busy road and I was walking across it and…”

This time Smithy sighed.

“Alright, alright. Is this about those brown boots you were looking at the other day? Okay, hint taken, I’ll buy them for you!”

I almost fell off my chair in shock, mainly because the conversation had nothing to do with the lovely brown boots either.

Instead I kept a straight face and said: “Yes, it’s about the brown boots. Maybe we could go and get them today?”

(As soon as Smithy went to brush his teeth I also high-fived the baby.)

Like I said, sometimes talking to my husband is incredibly infuriating.

But sometimes a bit of perseverance pays dividends.

Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on November 19, 2015

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Ladies and gentlemen – my daughter, the interior designer!

THE Smiths’ mini-break in Edinburgh continued in much the same vein as it began (ie. with a constant, low-level vibe of ‘badly planned’).

We’re currently weaning our daughter onto solid foods using the ‘baby-led’ method so a sensible plan would have been to stay somewhere we could make and eat our own meals.

This is because, as far as I can make out, this style of weaning seems to involve very little actual eating and more meals being thrown, shot put-like, at some distant point on the other side of the kitchen.

Of course, at home it doesn’t matter if she gets spaghetti bolognese all over the cupboard doors, porridge all over the walls or if she smears handfuls of banana into the clothes of a passing parent (or the cat).

However, as we are not sensible people, we decided to go on a holiday which involved four full days of eating out.

And, shockingly, it turns out that restaurateurs aren’t overly keen on having their dining rooms redecorated in that nice shade ‘penne arrabbiata’, nor do they like their waitresses having mashed potato flung at them.

I think it’s safe to say the Smiths are now on the blacklist of several Scottish eateries.

In fact, as we crossed the border back into England, I could almost swear I heard a sigh of relief.

A trail of devastation followed us around as the baby (a smiling assassin) grinned while depositing handfuls of food anywhere she could reach.

The carpet underneath every table we were seated at became a graveyard for rejected food.

At one point, while subtly trying to gather up the thousands of crumbs which had once been a cheese sandwich, Smithy genuinely suggested I ‘run to the nearest Currys’ to see if they could sell us a hand-held vacuum cleaner.

So next time I have an urge to do something nice with my family I will suppress it. 

In fact, I will remember the look that appeared on one waitress’s face as she realised there was spaghetti hanging off what had once been a very nice lamp – and then I think the urge should go away all by itself.

Article first published in the Westmorland Gazette on November 5, 2015

Forget the lemonade… I need wine, and a lot of it.

I’m writing this column in the dark from behind a curtain.

Of course I am.

Because Smithy and I decided a few days away would be nice and, without thinking it through, merrily booked one hotel room for ourselves and our eight month old daughter, who goes to bed at 6pm.

This is what life has become. Or, to be precise, this is what holidays have become.

We’re no longer the couple who, at 7pm, are just getting ready to hit the town.

We’re the couple who have already been hiding for an hour under a makeshift curtain-tent, trying to read by the light of our phones, while we drink lemonade straight from the bottle because we’re too scared of waking the baby to look for either the tumblers or the wine.

We’re trying to make the best of the situation though, and Smithy – a man who hears the call of his stomach above all else – had the foresight to bring plenty of snacks with him into our window-cave.

“Please will you pass the crisps?” he just whispered.

“Eh? What?” I responded. 

(I also have a stinking cold and have gone completely deaf, just to make our mini-break even more bearable.)

“What did you say? You’ve got asthma like Chris?”

“No…” he whispered frustratedly, like someone trying to stay very quiet in a cramped hotel room, when they actually want to shout very loudly and then watch the Moto GP. “I said PLEASE. PASS. THE. CRISPS!”

I rooted around in the dark and eventually found over a packet of white chocolate cookies.

“They’ll have to do,” I said.

Thankfully, after several attempts, we’ve managed to connect to the hotel’s wi-fi, so things are looking up: my husband will be able to watch the Moto GP on his phone (on mute) and I’m hoping if I lean out of the window far enough in the direction of the nearest streetlight I’ll be able to read the screen on my Kindle.

I may also, if I’m feeling brave and can remember where I left my suitcase in the dark, venture out of our little den to find the wine. 

Let’s face it: I think we’re going to need it.

Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on October 29, 2015

It’s not Hallowe’en without a sexy lobster

IT’S almost that time of year when it becomes acceptable to turn up at your neighbour’s house half-dressed and demanding sugary snacks. 

I’m talking, of course, about Hallowe’en – a strange old day when people go begging door-to-door and girls will dress up as absolutely anything as long as it involves knee-high boots, corsets and fishnet tights.

(And apparently anything really does go, as I once went to a party where someone had gone as a ‘sexy lobster’).

It’s a day that gives us a fleeting but revealing glimpse into the personalities of those around us.

For example, there’s always the autumnal version of Scrooge; the person refuses to engage and insists they will spend the evening pretending they’re not home.

“I don’t do Hallowe’en!” they announce. “I’ll have my living room light off and if anyone comes knocking they’ll get ignored!”

These are usually the same people who, come December, will get riled about their neighbour’s light-up reindeer.

(“It’s just an inappropriately high wattage, Margaret!”)

The opposite of those types are the ones who spend the GDP of a small country on Haribo sweets and spend the whole evening keeping everything crossed for trick-or-treaters.

They’ve usually scoffed half the stash by the time they get their first knock at the door and end up handing out anything they can find in their cupboards.

But nobody can say they’ve not immersed themselves in the spirit of the occasion.

There are also the surly teens who can barely stir themselves to put on a plastic mask, but expect buckets of treats in return.

And there are the excitable young children and their even more excitable parents who are keen to spread some of the magic of childhood (and obviously nothing screams ‘childhood magic’ like green face paint and false warts).

This year, as Smithy’s birthday falls on the eve of All Hallows, we will be celebrating with a spooky-themed fancy dress party.

I can only hope there won’t be a lobster – sexy or otherwise – in sight.


Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on October 15, 2015

Fifteen pence? Fifteen bloody pence?!

THERE are certain things that only Brits can do properly.

Humour, for example, and making cups of tea.

We’re also exceptionally blessed with an almost sixth sense which can locate fish and chips, roast dinners and scones with jam and cream from several hundred yards.

The men of our nation are fantastic at looking like prize twits abroad (handkerchiefs on the head and socks with sandals: need I say more?) while our pronunciation of words such as ‘herb’ and ‘aluminium’ is top-notch (or better than our cross-pond cousins anyway).

But, in my opinion, the thing we do best is grumbling, and we’ll do it about anything, to anyone, at any time or place.

I say this because I’ve never seen or heard so much fuss from the general public than when the new carrier bag charge came into effect on Monday.

You could almost hear the sigh of happiness go up across the length and breadth of the land as we awoke, as one, to the realisation that it was going to be an excellent day for whinging.

In the supermarket I found myself queuing behind a man who declared he ‘could not believe his ears’ that he would have to pay an extra 15p for the three bags he had used.

“I cannot believe my ears!” he told the cashier delightedly, several times. “Fifteen pee! Fifteen bloody pee!”

He did several comedy double-takes, as the bored cashier pointed to the huge sign explaining the new law.

“I’m appalled!” he continued, sounding more and more pleased with how the day was turning out. “Fifteen pee!”

The woman behind me leaned round, keen to join in the revelry.

“This country’s gone to the dogs,” she said happily. “Five pence for a bit of plastic! I’ve a mind to complain! Not that it’ll do any good because the government don’t listen – they’re just as bad! And another thing…”

They continued like this for several decades while the rest of the queue, not wanting to miss out, happily tutted and grumbled among themselves because they were being held up.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to practice my ‘disapproving head shake’.

This great British past-time takes work, you know.

Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on October 8, 2015.

Extreme sports? – yes! Extreme ironing? – probably not…

I’VE fallen into some very bad habits since having a baby.

Thanks to tiredness and a lack of time and free hands, I now eat chocolate instead of proper meals, collapse in front of the TV instead of pursuing hobbies and stare at Facebook when I should probably be tackling the Everest of ironing.

But the worst habit I’ve developed is using the baby as an excuse to never leave the confines of my comfort zone.

Pre-baby, I was always willing to try new things, from strange and exotic foods to hobbies, rollercoasters and extreme sports.

On many occasions I’ve chuckled, if not laughed, in the face of danger, accepting ridiculous dares and even, once, an invitation to ride pillion on a mechanic’s Harley Davidson to celebrate my car being in better nick than either of us thought (and no, you dirty-minded individual, that isn’t a euphemism).

But in the last six months I’ve become adept at avoiding situations that require even a modicum of discomfort – and my unsuspecting daughter is usually my excuse.

“I’d love to spend the day with you and your two-year-old triplets at a loud, busy play centre which doesn’t serve tea and cake. But sadly the baby is allergic to…er…triplets.”

I suspect my excuses aren’t entirely believable.

So this month – the month I turn The Dreaded Three Oh – I’ve decided to start saying yes when the slipper-wearer in me would rather I said no.

Already I’ve been bodyboarding – a thoroughly uncomfortable, cold but completely exhilarating experience – and by the time you read this I will also have been hot air ballooning, despite having a slight fear of heights, flying and putting my faith in the abilities of complete strangers.

That’s not bad for someone who recently turned down a bar of chocolate simply because it wasn’t Cadbury’s.

So now I’ve got the bug and I’m raring to complete my next challenge.

I won’t be doing that ironing anytime soon though. After all, it’s probably best to take baby steps, isn’t it?

Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on August 13, 2015

The rise of the Keyboard Warrior…

THE internet really is a marvellous invention.

I love how easy it is to keep in touch with old friends, who I otherwise might have lost touch with. 

I love that I can share photos with family with just a few clicks of a button. 

And I especially love how quickly I can find the answer to almost any question (and this is particularly useful during difficult pub quizzes as I am both very competitive and not averse to cheating).

But one negative consequence of such a vast and anonymous network is that people use it to be downright nasty to others.

Forget armchair politicians – these days it’s the so-called keyboard warrior you need to be afraid of.

These are the people determined to ram their opinions (often no more than expletive-filled rants) down the throats of others.

It’s a schoolyard fight being waged with nothing more than a smart phone, an overactive left thumb and a staggering amount of anger.

And these people are everywhere – Facebook, Twitter, photo-sharing sites and even message boards – waiting to strike if you so much as put an apostrophe out of place.

I’ve seen it first hand, with celebrities often falling prey to insults about anything from their weight or looks to their talent.

The more extreme version of this kind of behaviour – trolling – has even made the news in recent years, as people have been driven to despair (and, in some cases, suicide) by the words of complete strangers, who are protected by their living rooms and anonymous usernames.

I had a very small taste of this kind of aggression this week after posting a link to this very column on social media.

‘Constructive criticism’ it was not – and before I knew it I’d been treated to a barrage of four letter words topped off with a lovely round of name-calling.

Sadly I don’t have the answer to this particular problem, although it is heartening to know the justice system is beginning to catch up.

However, the whole thing clearly needs further debate.

Let’s keep it friendly though, shall we?
Article first published in The Westmorland Gazette on July 23, 2015