Sunday, 26 September 2010

Special Kids

For Real: Sign outside Pepe Rosso restaurant in New York

I met my friend Polly at the pool here in Baltimore back in August. Polly is a teacher at one of the more pretentious preschools here, and she’s getting pretty exhausted by the parents.

“I have to make believe like every child is special to their parents,” she said. “It’s a gigantic pain in the arse, since most of them aren’t. If there’s nothing off-the-charts special about the kid’s academic achievement, the parents will try and make out that he’s special in some other way. Like, one mother has already been in touch with me, even though school doesn’t start for another three weeks, to talk about her son. She told me, ‘I just thought I should tell you that Brendan’s mother and I are in a same-sex relationship and his uncle was the sperm donor. And I am just hoping that the unique circumstances of his conception will not alienate him from the rest of the class.’”

Polly continued: “I just said, ‘Oh, I’m sure Brendan’s situation isn’t that unusual and he will fit in just fine.’”

“I bet she didn’t like that,” I said.

“No, of course she didn’t. She didn’t even seem to want Brendan to fit in. She wanted him to be special.”

So, there we were, laughing our heads off about this, when Polly said, “Uh-oh, here comes someone whose kid is going to be in my class in the fall.”

“You mean Nicola? Oh, poor you, she’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.”

Nicola came up to us. She’s got this weird manner about her, in that she always stares over your shoulder while she’s talking to you. She’s one of those people who has simply never gotten the message that I think she’s a tedious nutcase.

Nicola said, “Where’s Scarlett? I just see Sausage in the pool.”

“Oh, Scarlett’s been staying in Ireland with her grandma for the past few weeks.”

“Really?” Nicola replied, aghast, as if I’d told her Scarlett was working sixteen-hour days at a sweat shop.

“Yes, quite a relief, just having to look after the one, you know! I bet you couldn’t spend even one night away from your daughter, Anna, could you?”

“Probably not, but not because I couldn’t bear to be parted from her,” replied Nicola. “It’s just that I’m still nursing.”

Right. Bear in mind that Anna is four and a half years old. Nicola went on, “And I would hate to artificially break up that nursing relationship before she was ready to give it up.”

“I must say, I simply don’t get this stuff about nursing a four-year-old,” I said. “I mean, you advocates of extended breast feeding always point to third-world countries, where women nurse for much longer than we do in the West, making out that’s the ‘natural’ way. But they only do that because there is often no other adequate nutrition for the child other than breast milk. And since there are many other sources of nutrition here, why nurse for more than one or two years?”

“Oh, none of this was planned,” replied Nicola. “I thought I would give up after about a year.”

“Believe me, you would have if you’d had biters like I did. They practically chewed my nipples off, so I weaned them both at one.”

Nicola ignored me and continued to ramble. “But since Anna did not choose to wean at one year, I decided to keep going. And here we are, still nursing!”

More like, you didn’t want to give it up, is what I didn’t say. This mother is at the upper echelons of overprotective. You know the type—they have to stand by the slide while their kid is using it, in case, oh, I don’t know, the child falls off the slide and kills itself, an all too common occurrence in playgrounds today.

Well, after Nicola had chewed Polly’s ear off about what an advanced reader Anna was and could Polly possibly let her start on War and Peace (okay, maybe I am exaggerating a tad here), because Anna’s already reading at a first grade level, she eventually sodded off. I rolled my eyes at Polly.

“You do know that you’ll have to tell Nicola that because her child is so special and has such a special nursing relationship with her mum, that Nicola is welcome to come to the classroom and breastfeed her daughter any time. Tell her that the school wants to nurture their special relationship.”

Polly looked a bit scared. I was joking, but I think Polly was wondering whether it was not so far-fetched that Nicola might turn up in the classroom one day and lift up her shirt, ready to breast-feed her special child.

Here you go: an irrelevant but super-cute image!

Buy Cocktails at Naptime here:

(International shipping available)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Kids in Cars

Last week I left my twelve year old and seven year old in the car whilst I went to the supermarket.

"Don't touch anything!" were my final words.

Needless to say when I came back I practically had to rebuild my car and the two of them had taken photos of themselves on my camera to further piss on my authority. Regardez:

No that is not a Golden retriever, that is my son, Indy.

Evo minutes before she decided to nick
the wheels and leave my car up on bricks

Still, I have a cheek for even mentioning my kids' own bad in-car entertainment. If me and my brother, now known as Uncle Ginge, formerly known as Red Belly Button Boy, were ever left alone havoc would ensue.  This is one of my favourite stories from my childhood about how we invaded France in a T-Reg Audi......

The story breaks down into four notable points of interest, which I'll summarise for you now:
  1. We packed seven people into an Audi 80 and whinged them across the UK, France and the Pyrenees.
  2. Excuse me, has Mum only put one cassette tape in the car for this two day journey?
  3. We all nearly die through misadventure.
  4. We all nearly die again. But my mum predicts it, so we're OK.

Cast and location
So the story concerns our first family holiday abroad. My mum and dad had rented a villa in St Jean de Luz, the first town in France after crossing the Spanish border. Or if you are a Basque separatist, one of the towns in the Basque Country.

We were to go by ferry and car as planes weren't invented yet. The von Schneider Family as we were known, were five individuals: Mama von Schneider, Papa von Schneider, RedBellyButtonBoy, Misssy M and CheekyMonkey.

How to pack seven people into an Audi 80 and whing them across the Pyrenees.
We had a green Audi 80, as befitting our Germanic heritage and were destined for France, also befitting our Germanic heritage.

Oh, and did I mention Aunt R and Uncle T were being shoehorned in too? So, imagining a Sesame Street counting animation, let's count! 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 people in a family saloon.

This all took place in the days before people-carriers, but funnily enough not in the days before 7 people legally should have been split between two cars.

So now let’s look at what was involved in this journey with two adults in the front, two in the back and three children sat wherever they could get purchase.
  • Aberdeen to Plymouth: 14 hours
  • Overnight stay in car waiting for ferry to leave: 6 hours (yes, we all slept in the car!!! I know!!!)
  • Ferry crossing to Santander (thankfully outwith the confines of the car): 12 hours
  • Santander to St Jean de Luz (over the Pyrenees): 5 hours*

Total time in car: 25 hours

Should I call Guinness?

A quick footnote on the Santander-St Jean de Luz stretch. You know that bit at the end of the Italian Job with the truck hanging over the side of mountain…that’s the kind of thing that is par for the course on that stretch of road.

O.M.G has Mum only put one cassette tape in the car
for this 2 day journey and two week holiday?
So we’ve got everything stuffed in the Audi. Miraculously we’ve managed to fit enough luggage to serve four adults and three kids for two weeks into the car. There was probably a roof rack, there might have even been one us kids strapped to it at one point. So have we got everything, then?

No. It’s not long before we realise that we’ve only one cassette tape in the car. It is a homemade tape. Worse; it’s one of Mum’s.

Side One: The Long Run by the Eagles
Side Two (and this is going to hurt): Rock and Roll Juvenile by Cliff Richard

To this day, each of us three kids would be able to sing along perfectly to either of those albums without one single lyrical mistake. We're not proud of this.

The tape just got played and played and played. If I go to hell, that same tape will be playing in the purgatorial waiting room. And the Devil will look like Cliff Richard circa 1979.

Nobody EVER buy me this.

We all nearly die
Well two of us do. I’m jumping past the whole holiday and back to the return ferry journey.

My parents, Aunt R. and Uncle T. take my five year old sister, CheekyMonkey, to arrange our ferry tickets, leaving me and my brother Red BellyButtonBoy in the car alone (alone except for Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Cliff). Their biggest mistake here, is thinking that CheekyMonkey is the root of all trouble. This is just a smoke-screeen RedBellyButtonBoy and I have carefully constructed over the years.

As soon as they are out of sight, we jump into the front seat and start messing about with the car controls, and generally arsing about.

It's important for you to know at this point, that the car is parked facing the water at the quayside of St. Malo harbour. There is a chain across the quayside but this is merely for decoration, as it is not high enough to stop anyone falling in. It merely signifies the end of the quay and makes the place look finished.

Whose idea was it to start the car up whilst it was in gear? Accounts vary. But let’s just say, for argument’s sake that it was RedBellyButtonBoy in case my parents are reading. This close to going in the Channel, we were. THIS close.

My parents only remark on the terrible smell inside the car on their return.

No, we really could have nearly died
The reason we're in St Malo is that the original return ferry was cancelled in Santander due to mechanical failure. The ferry company offered us an alternative route.

They would fly mothers and children home, leaving Dads to drive their car back across the Pyrenees and across the whole of France to Northern port, St Malo. My dad, Aunt and Uncle looked forward to the Cliff and Eagle-filled two day trip with no kids on knees. But one thing stood in their way. My Mum.

My Mum didn’t want to fly on her own with us kids. Maybe it’s not surprising given that we were the kind of kids that would drive a car over a quayside like in this road-sign which was designed after us.

I really don’t know why she didn’t want to go on that flight, but something made her nervous. That "something" is now confirmation of my mother's soothsayer status. Six hundred years ago in France she'd have been thrown on a bonfire alongside Joan D'Arc for that kind of stuff.

That plane had to crashland in Kent. Actual fact. The plane WE would have been on had my mother not refused the offer of a flight home instead of a two day car journey.

Mechanical failure, apparently. Some engines stopped working or something. No one was hurt. But my God, can you imagine? You'd never board a plane again.


Buy Cocktails at Naptime here.

(International shipping available)

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Strike a Pose!

Well this week sees that book we're always banging on about "Cocktails at Naptime: A Woefully Inept Guide to Early Motherhood" appearing in bookshops over Australia and New Zealand. By our reckoning it'll start appearing on shelves on the 22nd of September, although it is officially launched on 1st October.

So it's time for the launch of our competition (one of a few we'll be running over the next few months, we reckon).

We want those of you who buy the book to send us a photograph in which the book must appear somewhere in the frame. It should be inspired by something you've read in the book. The best, most inventive and funniest ones will appear on our blog here and our gallery on our website here. And there are prizes for the ten best ones.

"So, Misssy M and Emma K what do I win?" I hear you say.

Well, our fantastico publishers Finch Publishing are offering ten prizes. Our top ten posers will get to choose their prize from a huge selection of Finch's back catalogue. There are loads of amazing titles on there and really something to suit everyone. Go and have a browse if you don't believe us. Click here to go to Finch's website.

So what are the competition rules:

1. Take a photo with the Cocktails at Naptime book somewhere in the shot.
2. Make it as cool and funny as possible.
3. Email a decent sized jpeg of it to 
4. Await the fame and fortune (!?) that comes with it
5. Tell your mates
6. Enter as many photos as you like

To start the ball rolling Emma and I have posed with our copies of the book.

Here's Emma roiling around with hers like Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal ...

And here's Gillian fitting a bit of reading into her busy schedule...

We are also asking all our followers and readers a massive favour...spread the word of the competition. Let your friends know, your blog readers know, your twitter buddies know, hell, let your granny know...Cut and paste this  URL , spread the word and let's get those wacky photos rolling in.

You'll be able to buy the book:






and anywhere in Australia and New Zealand where good books are sold.

Strike a pose!

Buy Cocktails at Naptime here.

(International shipping available)

Friday, 17 September 2010

Playgroups 101 - From Bad Boys to Metrosexual Dads

Ah the smell of it ....the waft of freshly brewed coffee mixed with freshly pooped on nappies. Sometimes when I smell it all the memories come flooding back. Of the days I'd crouch like a Hobbit in a dark church basement singing 'The Wheels On The Bus' with my two tots. Today I am talking about playgroups. Ah yes, playgroups, finger painting, damp rusks in hair and all saved my sanity during those first fraught years. I actually miss them a bit now the kids are at school. But for any newbies out there who want the lowdown on playgroups this guide is for you.

Once you have a baby you will find people asking you if you are part of a playgroup. Your initial reaction will be “Why would a four month old need a playgroup?” Well the answer is that the playgroup is not for your baby, it’s for you, to prevent you going gaga. Sometimes playgroups take place at people’s houses but this is, frankly, to be avoided as it basically means having a bunch of toddlers and overwrought parents in your house and the situation is totally unrelaxing and will leave your house looking like a tip. Also people will expect you to provide soy milk and non allergenic biscuits at the drop of a hat while constantly making sure their baby does not plug himself into a light socket. Frankly you’ll need a lie down after hosting such an event not to mention a stiff drink so avoid avoid avoid.

The best place to join a playgroup is a church hall because there you will usually meet a colourful cross section of people and can just let your baby run wild amongst the throw pillows and play mats while you chill out. The first thing to do when you join a playgroup is to make sure they have an industrial strength coffee machine on the go. There will be some who’ll poo poo the idea because they feel that the combination of boiling water and rampant toddlers is a bad combination but where there’s a will there’s a way and if necessary special ladders can be constructed to reach the industrial strength coffee machine because let me just say right now you will not get through a two hour playgroup without coffee.

It can be downright weird joining a playgroup because it will give you a strange sense of déjà vu and you will be transported straight back to an under thirteen’s disco at secondary school. All the parents will skulk round the edges of the group at first eyeing everyone else up suspiciously. But after a few weeks contact will be made and the same different gangs that existed at school will emerge here too – the popular crowd and the misfits, the nerds and the jocks will quickly form into cliques. But the most significant delineation will be the male female divide. The men will stay with the men even if the only thing they have in common with the other man is that they both have X and Y chromosomes. In a playgroup situation this is a natural defence. The stay at home dad is massively outnumbered by the stay at home mum and must therefore skulk in packs for his safety and sanity.

In a group of stay at home dads the guys will mostly be average joes who take being a dad in their stride while talking football scores. But on the cusp of this there will be two fringe demographics: Bad Boys and Metrosexual Dads or MADS. MADS will stand around going into way too much detail about nap schedules and do you have a good recipe for baby food, not to mention hour by hour detailed descriptions of their babies’ bowl movements. MADS have made being a dad to an art form and will often carry around baby related flow charts and venn diagrams for every aspect of their child’s daily routine as if they were running a mini corporation.

Bad Boys on the other hand tend to be stay at home dads because they are unemployable. They skulk around the outskirts of the playgroup reeking of cigarettes and wearing shades or trenchcoats while eyeing up the hotter mums. They will often say they have a part time job but when pressed for details you will find the job will be something like ‘playing on line poker.’ Beware of being too friendly - give these Bad Boys an inch and they’ll take a mile. After a few weeks of pretending to be good, Bad Boys will start bunking off school. After giving you a charming grin they’ll say ‘Look after Timmy will you while I go for a smoke? I’ll be back in a minute.’ You’ll agree to do so - then won’t see hide nor hair of Bad Boy for two hours.

While the stay at home dads are clustered in a corner the mums will form their own giggly clusters. Chat up lines between playgroup participants are silly and obvious not to mention shockingly banal, similar to the chat up lines at the under thirteens’ disco which were: ‘Wanna dance?” “Wanna snog?” “I like you,” or “Nice hair.” Remember how you wouldn’t get a slow dance at the disco if you gave a smart alec answer, well the same is the case here. Avoid answering in a cynical fashion or risk alienating yourself and finding yourself in Playgroup Purgatory. There is no room for a smartarse in the playgroup environment and if you want to be clever clever you will soon find yourself sucking the fuzzy end of the lollipop aka don’t be surprised if, come circle sing a long time, the only cushion left is the smelly one with the puke stain. You have been forewarned.

So when a cheerful Mummy or MAD asks brightly:

“Wow, he’s so cute, how old is he?”

Don’t say: “Sixteen, but I could never be bothered to potty train him, that’s why he’s still in nappies.”

“Wow, she has so many teeth for her age!”

Don’t say: “Oh they’re false ones. She ate so much candy I had to get her a set of dentures at six months.”

“My what pretty girls. Are they twins?”

Don’t say: “No, they’re actually clones, I got them mail order from a secret laboratory in Korea.”

In summary, you will rarely find any stimulating adult conversations at a playgroup because everyone will be talking about their kids. But you will hopefully find industrial strength coffee, the weird sense of nostalgia that you are reliving an under thirteens’ disco and hopefully the opportunity to have a small nap while hiding behind a large teddy bear.

Buy Cocktails at Naptime here.

(International shipping available)

Monday, 13 September 2010

Pilot Light

Amongst all the bizarre things that happens to a woman when she has kids, there are some that you are just not prepared for. You expect the tiredness, the boob saggage, the tendency to wear cardigans but some cumulative effects sneak up you with such stealth that when you experience them it takes you a while to even connect their causal root to your being a parent. You just think you’ve gone mental. But I didn’t see this one coming and I know it’s because I am what a policeman friend calls a “pilot light”. I am a “pilot light” because I never go out.

One night out in town and two things happen; I get way too excited and end up doing handstands in a bar, but far worse than that (because doing handstands in a bar is actually quite good fun-try it!) I am easily startled by the goings on outside in the streets and behave like a frightened pensioner making her way to bingo through a troubled sink estate with a rolled up wad of pension cash in her handbag.

It’s starting to get dark at nights up here in Northern Scotland and I know I’m a couple of weeks from an evening walk home freakout. Last year as I went back to my car at 5pm when it was dark with my Christmas shopping I nearly did a reverse ninja kick to a girl behind me who I was convinced was going to knife me in the head, steal my kids’ Christmas presents and carve her initials in my face for good measure. On reflection, the potential assailant was nothing more than a teenage girl wearing one of those fur trimmed hooded armless anoraky things, maybe walking just a little too close behind me, but nevertheless, minding her own (stupid teenagey “what-evaah!” type) business.

A night out with workmates sees boys running past me in the street calling each other the c**t word. This equals me involuntarily shrieking in bloodcurdling terror. And then when I’ve calmed down I’ll bend my friends’ ears for a good hour about how people just think they can use the C word as a term of endearment these days. “When did we get so hard to shock?” I say, downing a medicinally calming flaming Sambuca. Of course, I’m saying this to cover up the fact that I was indeed so shocked that I did a bit of wee in my pants back there. hey,  I thought someone was coming at me yelling the word, it used to be a threatening word, not a jolly little nickname!

Then later that night someone with a gelled to Hell and back shark fin haircut will look at me a full nanosecond too long in the taxi rank (probably because I’m looking at them like one of those cowering dogs in animal cruelty infomercials). This sustained look equals me dialling 999 and having my trembling thumb poised on the send button on my mobile phone lodged in my pocket. I’ve read Stuart McBride’s novels on crime in Aberdeen, I've seen CSI. I KNOW there are psychos out there. I don’t want my torso to be found in pieces in a black bag on the beach and my head on a countryside golf course. I'm too young to die!

Another occasion will have me having to (I’m starting to get palpitations just thinking about this) take out money from a cash machine the twilight hours WITH SOMEONE BEHIND ME in too close a proximity in the queue . Someone who clearly is going to draw a blade across my throat and steal my money on the first bleep of the dispenser alarm. This equals me getting into such a state that I forget my PIN number and get my card swallowed up OR I end up shakily withdrawing my card and going to the next ATM with no-one about and my car keys splayed through the fingers of my free hand like the blades of Edward Scissorhands or Freddy Kruger.

Has society got worse since I popped some kids out, or am I just a lightweight unused to social activity in a public place... where there might be guns, knives, scary dwarves and vampires at large??

When did I become such a scardey cat? Albeit one that can do a headstand on a barstool.

Buy Cocktails at Naptime here.

(International shipping available)

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Oxford English Dictionary of Man-Speak

 A Martian yesterday

Men aren't from Mars, no more than women are from Venus. We're all conversant with the operating instructions on the whole but sometimes you just need a little help with the understanding of your man on a day to day level. Obviously I've got my hands full with the Cocktails at Naptime book launch (1st of October, fact fans!) but I'm already working on my next tome- I'm going to pitch it to the Oxford Dictionary people. It's called The Dictionary of Man to Woman. Here's my proposal and sample extract:

Ladies, learn to understand your man! By learning the hidden meanings behind these few simple phrases you can unlock the mysterious vault of your man's psyche. (Please feel free to add your own in the comments box. Together we can crack this thing...)

1. Uh-Huh: "Uh-huh" is the man-sound equivalent of the snooze button on an alarm clock. In response to piercing annoyances along the lines of “Will you take the dog out?” or “Can you take the kids out of the bath?” the sound "Uh-Huh" will buy men another five minutes until the noise starts again.

Note to men: The Uh-huh snooze button can only be pressed once. Pressed a second time it will only cause the piecing annoying request to be repeated more loudly with possible expletives and a frying pan thrown in .

2. Very reasonable, actually: The phrase “Very reasonable, actually” is one of a collection of phrases belonging to the monetary group. It is used to fob a partner off after a large amount of money has been spent on an expensive yet frivolous gadget or item. Other examples of this include the phrases: “Quite cheap”, “less than you would expect”, “A giveaway” and “an opportunity of a Lifetime”.
Items that are "very reasonable actually" can usually be bought on Ebay, late at night after 4 glasses of wine.

3. Five minutes: "Five minutes" is the time it takes for anything to happen that won’t be soon. "Five minutes" can be anything from 1 hour to never. Often used in the phrase, “I’ll be home in five minutes” or “I’ll tidy up in five minutes” or "It'll be done in five minutes".

4. “Where’s my...(+ noun)?”: The phrase “where’s my...(+ noun)?” is a lifelong man phrase that has been oft recorded as a male infant's first sentence. In the first 16 years of life it is directed at a man’s mother, but then converts into being directed at a man’s wife or partner. It is used in lieu of ever actually looking for anything one’s self and can be an important time saver. Variations include the more pointed “Where did you put my...(+ noun)?” and the more casual"Have you seen my...(+noun)?".
Note: the phrase “Where’s my.. ...(+ noun)?” is often bellowed from an adjacent room to the recipient.
The +noun element of the phrase rarely involves anything that the woman herself will use.

5. “Hardly”: A staple of the man vocabulary, “hardly” is key component of any good male sentence. Its main use is to mask copiousness. Examples include, “I hardly drank anything”, “I hardly touched it” and “I hardly noticed/know her”.
Note also the phrase “hardly anything” which can be used in place of any of the phrases in Phrase 2.

6. “Sorry”: The word every female dreads hearing. In the male vocabulary “sorry” is rarely used as an apology. Sorry is a portent of doom which can involve indiscretions with money, women, employment and gloss paint which there can be no hiding from.
Note: The word "sorry" used on its own and shouted can also mean the opposite of its dictionary meaning.

7. “OK” the word “OK” in short means one thing: “I’m not going there” or “I’m not touching THAT one”. It is often used when a man doesn’t want to commit to any one polemic view for fear of his life. Here are some uses.
Woman: “What do you think of Dave’s new girlfriend?
Man: “She’s OK”
Woman: "How did you and my dad get on, then?"
Man: "OK"
Woman: “What do you think of me in this bikini? Do you think I can still get away with it?”
Man: “It’s OK”

So people, what would you add?

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Much Ado About Parsnips

This molded vegetable salad from 1974 was an early attempt to dupe kids into eating lima


Now, I’m the first to admit that I have trouble getting my daughters (seven and nine) to eat their vegetables.

As far as I am aware, the only ways to get reluctant kids to eat them is through one of two methods:

1. Being mean

“Eat that bit of cauliflower or you won’t get dessert.”


2. Being really mean

Leaving your daughter to stare at a mound of cold Brussels sprouts indefinitely while admonishing her with “This is all there is so suck it up,” until she falls asleep face down in the veggie mush.

But neither of these is that great. In fact I recently found out that a pretty foolproof way to get kids to scarf down vegetables is to brainwash them into thinking that being served a steaming platter of freshly boiled beets is not only normal but desirable. And that the only way to do this is to start young and deaden their taste buds from an early age. Alas it is too late for my kids to go this route but I take my hat off to some friends of mine who are both vegetarians and the most godawful cooks on the planet. If they’re not boiling the life out of vegetables they’re doing insane things like making sushi out of cucumber and cream cheese that has the consistency of wallpaper paste and the gastronomic appeal of licking a snail. Now I’m not saying vegetarian food can’t be delicious – it certainly can – but in the case of The Thompsons their food is definitely an acquired taste. Their daughter, Tina, her palate deadened from birth hoovers up any variety of mush that’s proferred and shrieks with delight when presented with a platter of limp, over boiled broccoli. I have one of the strongest stomachs known to man but I cannot touch their tofu fried with onions (that’s it – no spices, no sauce, nothing) or eat their pseudo meat nuggest that remind me of Styrofoam peanuts. They lucked out that Tina is so pathologically unpicky that she accepts it all from boiled squash to squished marrow.

But all alas was not rosy in the garden of the vegetable eaters. The Thompsons' son, Jake, once a passive bovine member of the family who troughed at the communal dull tasting fare one day went to a friend’s house, ate a real chicken nugget and never looked back. Suffering from an overload of E additives and synthetic flavours he turned his back on nut cutlets and kept his mouth pressed firmly shut. At first his parents liked to joke about how Jake was ‘a vegetarian that wouldn’t eat vegetables’ until they finally cracked and offered him hot dogs while trying not to think about all the pigs that died for the cause. Jake’s case proved that even if you try to keep the diet of kids limited while at home at some point they may smell a forbidden chicken nugget and be lost to the cult of fast food forever.

Some parents – against all odds try and take the bull by the horns and exert control over their children’s diets. Known as Health Food Nazis – and we all know one – they are people who have to have their kids eat every type of vitamin, mineral, protein and carb every day or they self destruct. So their daughter might have to say, eat one lettuce leaf, three prawns, two carrots, an apple, a slice of cheese and a tofu burger before she can have a ‘treat’ of soy yogurt that looks like hair wax. The amounts of vitamins etc the child has imbibed are entered onto a spreadsheet at the end of each day and mum or dad has to take a Valium if their girl forgot to eat a complex carbohydrate. This kind of ‘extreme parenting’ is all well and good but I think it can backfire. Mark my words, as soon as such a child is old enough to walk to the shops on her own I’m pretty sure she’ll be truffling through a mega tub of Kentucky Fried Chicken or be found half drowned, flailing about in one of those supersized Big Gulp cups of Coke.

Cucumber and beet ice cream anyone? Emma in ecstasy as she discovers you can have your cake and eat it

But actually there is another – relatively sane – way to get your kids to eat veggies. I recently discovered veggie ice cream in a variety of flavours from butternut squash to corn on the cob. And yes, the kids love it. So it’s got a ton of sugar and fat in it but what the heck – they’re still eating red cabbage! No need to thank me for the tip. You’re welcome!

But I'm certainly still open to ideas. How do you get your sprouts to eat their Brussels sprouts? I do draw the line at making penguins out of aubergines though - life's too short!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Angel of Death

I have two friends with small babies in my village. Me? I’m closed for business on the baby front. Sometimes I feel a teeny bit sad that I don’t have a little baby to cuddle and look after but on the whole I’m completely fine with it. Two's enough for me and frankly I don't think my pelvic floor would hold another one in.

One of the more positive knock-on effects of our decision to stop the baby making is that we will no longer have to endure visits from our Child Health Visitor, known to us as, The Angel of Death. One of those two aforementioned friends has completely lucked out and I spotted The Angel coasting up her front steps this morning. I ran hastily inside lest she spot me.

The Angel of Death has no kids herself, but knows everything about bringing up a kid since she learned it at college. Apparently. She manages to do her job despite the fact that all children and their parents are visibly terrified of her.

She is broad country farming stock and looks like a big knitted bag that is filled with runny porridge. She has unrestrained, unsupported, massive, pendulous breasts that end somewhere around her waist. The upper front part of her body is not so much a décolletage as flesh-mountain landslide. It’s truly remarkable and may be visible on Google Earth.

Whatever the weather, she always wears jumpers, with a pattern that looks like the vomit you see on a Sunday morning beside a lamp-post outside the pub. She must knit them herself as I have never seen the like on sale in a shop anywhere.

Moving past the jumper area and up to her head, she has a haircut like a bloke, a bit like fifties crooner Perry Como or bewigged late stages Frank Sinatra. She wears those horrible Reactolite tinted specs. You know the sort; they instantly make someone look sinister. The more light there is the darker they go. They lack the coolness factor of sunglasses and retain all the geekiness ofprescription wire-rimmed specs with an ever changing gradient of brown insipid tint. My gran also has a pair and they make her look like Dr Strangelove.

There’s a whole catalogue of incidents with the Angel of Death, but I think our first meeting gives the most succinct impression of her. It's the occasion of my son Indy's 2nd birthday and hence his 2 year developmental assessment. We've just moved into the area and have not met the Angel of Death in the flesh yet. Of course, being as it is the day after Indy's birthday, I have forgotten that she is scheduled to come round.

At that point, I was the only one of my friends to have a kid, so Indy’s birthday party had consisted of our friends coming round for a barbecue, getting pissed and watching the wee fella do cute things for our entertainment. So at 10am Indy and I are sitting in the debris of all yesterday's parties eating leftover birthday cake for breakfast in our jammies watching Clifford the Big Red Dog on telly, with me nursing a slight headache and all the barbecue dishes still in evidence.

I spot the not inconsiderable frame of the Angel of Death lurching past my living room window. It's too late to do anything about the situation. Hiding is futile as she has already glanced through the window giving me quite a start. And as it's particularly sunny, being May, the Reactolites are in sociopathic full tilt tint. I have to let her in. Stopping her from entering would look even worse.

Once in, she starts to "assess" my boy, whilst no doubt making a mental note to contact social services as soon as she leaves.Her assessment is frankly odd. For one she does not speak directly to me when Indy is in the room, she talks through Indy like he's some kind of parent medium. She also shouts at Indy the way that ignorant people shout at deaf people or foreigners.



I have done none of these things. A cross is indelibly marked somewhere on an official sheet as my failings as a parent are recorded forever.

The most hilarious thing about her is her accent; it’s not just broad Aberdeenshire, which is impenetrable enough. No, the Angel of Death appears to have her own language.

"Aye jist wait, we'll hae Thunner and Lichhtnin'" she says by way of small talk about the weather as she arrives.

Lichhtnin'? How does one get from light to liccchhht via making the sound of a cat bringing up a hairball? This is taking Scottishness too far. Even I can see that.

I fixate on this speech affectation..I go into a dream...I wonder if she wears tichhts on her legs.

  • If she goes on holiday, does she go to the Isle of Wicchhht?
  • Does she wear the Reactolites to compensate for her failing sichht?
  • Is her favourite Elton John number, Saiturday Niccht’s alricchhht for Ficcchttin’?

To this day, if we hear the faintest rumble of thunder we say,

"Aye jist wait, we'll hae Thunner and Lichhtnin'"

The Angel of Death goes on to test Indy’s development on ridiculous things that can’t be part of any recognised programme. She gets some little Thomas the Tank Engines out of her big black bag. She then asks Indy to point out which one is "James" and which one is "Henry" .

Now, we don't like Thomas the Tank Engine in our house, so Indy knows none of these characters and is no more able to pick out Thomas than he would be to pick out the Prime Minister put in a line up of insurance salesmen. Oops, this is not good, the boy can’t even pick a well known character out of a host of other well known characters. I demand a recount. But given that I'm in mismatched jammies, reeking of Chardonnay, un-showered, hurriedly shuffling around trying to collect what seems like hundreds of wine glasses with chocolate fudge on my face, I haven't a leg to stand on.

“We don’t really know the Thomas the Tank Engine characters,” I say, “I couldn’t even tell you the answer to that one!” I squeak.

She looks at me blankly and puts another mark down on another official form that probably says something like,

“Does the child have any skills- Yes/No”

As the years went on I had another child to offer up to her. She would give me advice on breastfeeding, despite her ample bosoms never having seen a hungry baby, only terrified ones trying to get away from her grasp and back to their mothers. She would talk me through childbirth, despite never having possibly even seen a grown man naked, never mind getting pregnant. I am unsure if there is a Mister Angel of Death; I suspect not.

So goodbye Angel of Death, we won’t miss you. But as I sit here, I’d like to think of her on her way right now, to terrorise a family with a new baby, trundling along a street in her Vauxhall Vectra and looking out her windscreen at the skies and weighing up the possibility of “thunner and licchtnin”.