Stale Bread

I have had enough.

I cannot cope with buckets of information thrown at me day in, day out.  Recently I have been:

  •  learning names of current movers, shakers and losers 
  •  following conflicts, debates and other developments 
  •  sifting through facts and irrelevant data
  •  ignoring the latest spats on the feminist scene
  •  catching up on fashion trends
  •  ignoring parenting fads
  • memorising Dear Zoo and Postman Bear so that I can recite them on demand in hope to distract Peanut from diving into the toilet

Do not get me wrong, I like knowing what is going on in the world and there is nothing I love more than a good debate but increasingly I have been feeling like sitting down with my hands over my ears and screaming blah blah blah at the TV, my iPod and its constant updates, newspapers, radio and all the non-fiction books piled in front of me.

There is only so much one sponge can absorb.

I have been trying to be on top of everything and as a result I have nothing to say about anything.

I am taking a break from the world of news and constant updates because this is what it is like to be my brain right now:

Stale Bread

My loaf of brain has gone stale, the crust is mouldy;

greenish-blue stink and sprouting hair, my last fresh slice wastes away.

I have nothing to say.

Bloody politics.  Boring.  VIPs and celebrities dangle

from my key ring.  I don’t even try to understand

interest rates, independence twaddle and modern affairs.

Instead, I stuff my brain with carefully selected poultry grain.

Easy to digest and ready-made.  No complaints.

There

you go and listen. I’ve tried to keep it fresh. Years of whizzing

through university.  Vacuum packed knowledge.  Exams were a breeze.

They teach you what goes into well-made bread – you recite

ingredients in your sleep.  You have no idea

how to mix them.

My loaf of brain has dried out around edges.

Tough.  Dear judge, I have tried.

Put me in prison for letting my brain go off.

Sartre, Kierkegaard and Plato will turn the key

and bury it under the last standing library.

I even froze that stale brain of mine,

plastic wrap, no silver screen and the so called smart

technology – an orgy for hot air that made my brain go stale.

It did not help. There is nothing left. The shelves are empty.

I have nothing to sell.

And you…Yes, you over there.  No browsing allowed.

Either buy my stale loaf of brain or…

Go away.

Dear Edinburgh (Festival) Tourist

dear tourist

I love Edinburgh most of the time, but during the Festival it doubles its number of inhabitants, which means a distance I could once walk in 5 minutes I now struggle to complete in 5 hours.

So there we go – first written formal warning from BlueBeretMum.

Dear Edinburgh (Festival) Tourist

Oh how I loathe thee at times.

Your obvious ignorance to the rest of  us, the non-tourist population.  Snail – steps and that indecisiveness as to whether to walk into a shop or stand outside and block everyone else’s chance of doing their shopping/passing by and getting home before their blood sugar levels get so low that they will collapse in the street in front of you.

You see, if someone is walking very fast with a roaring toddler in their buggy it probably means only three things: they are in a bloody hurry, yes, they are local and no they have no idea where that café from your guidebook (11th edition from 1999) is, and they are probably late so no they cannot spend the next 100 years trying to figure out where it is you should be right now (that makes four things but I don’t care).

The truth is that you, your family and that herd of Highland cows that you got on sale during your two hour trip of All Things Worth Seeing in Scotland (the cows, the hills and the Loch Ness monster) are taking up my public pavement space.  The rest has been monopolised by a woman with 1,000,001 piercings in her face, a dubious Spanish singer, an incompetent belly dancer and a guild of pickpockets, which means that plain pedestrians like me have to either develop a superpower to fly or use whatever means they have to make any headway.

In my case, the weapon of choice is German and it has four wheels.  The Hauck Shopper buggy has brought down a barrage of luggage and de-heeled the owners on a few occasions.

Not everyone speaks English but if you hear a loud voice behind your back, followed by ‘Raaaaaaaaaah raaah raaaah’ that may imply that someone is trying to tell you something, like ‘Get out of our way or Peanut will miss In the Night Garden and things will get NASTY.’

On the other hand, I must admit that not all tourists are bad and some representatives of your species have provided me with an endless supply of giggles and party jokes.

Life is full of trials and tribulations and I feel for your dilemma:  ‘Should I get a cashmere scarf or shawl?  Do they sell them in pink?’

Alex Salmond is bound to love this great feedback on one of the famous visitor attractions: ‘How convenient they built that castle so close to the shops.’

There are more similar quotes of random spontaneous wisdom that make me question how we, the supposedly thinking kind, manage to get by from one day to another but my bruised subconscious has erased them all in a heroic act of self-preservation.

I understand you are on holiday.  You have never been to Scotland before.  You are in no hurry and want to cherish the sweet moment of admiring the intricate display window of Primark.  You perambulate up and down the Royal Mile in hope you can spot the Queen stuffing her face with the heavenly Edinburgh fudge.

Please, be my guest, take your and my time and have a good long look at the legendary tram works and the workers digging yet another hole in the ground.  Yes, pay extra attention to the famous cracks on show (no, not the pavement ones).

I really understand all that.  After all, I have been on holidays myself (believe it or not) and I cannot read a map to save my life either, but please have mercy because that woman with wispy hair and mad confused expression on her face has probably endured a morning of having bananas rubbed into her only clean pair of trousers and a mini toothbrush shoved into her ear.  Then she spent 45 minutes chasing a toddler around her house.  Said toddler decided to go to nursery bum-bare.  Then he decided to hide.  Toddlers are pretty clever. They can squeeze into fairly small spaces like the washing machine, the kitchen cupboard, the bin and the favourite of all times, the toilet bowl.

So that woman lost all her patience within the first 63 minutes of her awake time.  Now anything else means war.

Every good relationship is about compromise, as in ‘If you move your pile of rucksacks, shopping bags and other travel attire by 2 millimetres I could just squeeze through without risking getting run over by a taxi driver who does not seem to have a great start to the day either.’

Please don’t get me wrong.  I support tourism and the livelihood it provides with all my heart.

Travelling shapes one’s character and expands one’s horizons.

However, hell is other people with suitcases on wheels, so dear Edinburgh (Festival) Tourist , I am asking you nicely.

Please get out of my way.

I will not repeat this request. Again.

I am off to rub some oil into the wheels on Peanut’s buggy.

Yours truly

BlueBeretMum

Help!

help

Yesterday I was rushing to work down North Bridge, striding by hundreds of small independent shops their display windows and in one of those windows I saw something/someone that made me put on the brakes and stop.

In said window I saw a monstrosity.

Wispy hair flying in all directions, covering up most of its flushed face (that wasn’t that bad though considering any woman in Edinburgh who doesn’t transform her hair into a cement helmet before she leaves her house suffers similar image distortion) and a hunched back, dragging a huge red sack behind it.

Half woman, half Quasimodo.

Poor, pitiful soul I thought. Aged before her time. That hair. That bent back. Those mismatched socks and banana smeared on the back of her black skinny jeans.

I looked closer and so did the Quasi-woman. I moved the hair out of my eyes and so did she.

OMG.

I covered my mouth and my eyes filled with tears. I was staring my crooked posterior in its face back.

‘Why me?’ I bemoaned my fate. I do yoga (occasionally), walk at least an hour a day and I have never been to Paris, let alone seen Notre Dame (I’ve read the book though so it’s almost like being there but cheaper and without all the hassle).

Then it dawned on me. It wasn’t my fault or bad karma.

It was my bag or rather the weight of it that made me sport a posture aged well before my time (for the curious among you, I am approaching mid-thirties at a snail pace which translated into the modern attitude are the new late teens but with better skin and more life wisdom, ahem).

My handbag is the evil of all evils.

Raspberry red, faux leather, bought on sale in Poland because I refuse to spend an amount of money that could just about pay off the debt of a small developing country for what basically are two squares/triangles or circles stitched together, with or without a strap attached to them.

On a good day I’m about 1 meter 63 centimetres tall. The bag is half my height. Sometimes I use it as a shield against dragons and confused annoying tourists.

It weighs about as much as an adolescent blue whale.

In a desperate attempt to save my spine, give the vertebrae some rest and send my shoulders on a well-deserved holiday I decided to do what I haven’t done in the last 3 years.

I opened the zip, turned the bag upside down and emptied its guts onto the dining table.

Here is what I found:

1. A spare (clean) nappy – you never know when you are going to need one

2. An impressive collection of Calpol spoons and syringes (some had attracted all sorts of crumbs and alien forms of life)

3. A lipstick (I’ve been searching for it for years), and 4 different lip balms (some vintage)

4. Five travel size hand creams

5. Two dummies

6. A paperback collection of poems (estimated weight –about 10 kg), two average size hardcover notebooks, a diary from two years ago, three pens, an Ikea pencil (I haven’t been to Ikea for the last decade) and Harry Potter’s magic wand

7. An iPod, iPod charger and headphones

8. House keys, keys to my parent’s flat in Poland and work keys (three assorted sets)

9. A mobile phone and all the singles socks that the Washing Machine Monster scoffed and spat out into my handbag

10. About a million paperclips, a hairbrush, a few hair bands and hair clips

11. Bills dating back to 2001 and a bunch of receipts (Christmas shopping)

12. A live chicken, half a cow and a folding bicycle

13. Today’s groceries – a tub of formula milk, a bottle of vodka and a supersized loaf of bread (because you can never have enough bread)

14. Wooden pegs, Korean banknotes and Japanese coins (a remainder from a holiday two years ago and I didn’t even own that bag then)

15. A warranty book and instruction manual for Peanut’s car seat
‘Time to do something about it. Time for a change’ I said to myself.

Then…

…I put it all back in, just in case one day I HAVE TO read a poetry book while I am cycling to visit my parents in Poland and decide to take a detour across South Korea and Japan.

As you can see, dear reader, this is a lifelong crisis. My handbag has become my personal black hole swallowing any debris that comes its way.

My backbone’s ball and chain pulling it into disrepair.

If you can break my habit of using my handbag as my home/office/library/warehouse you can probably bring peace to this shabby world too.

As a prize for this impossible achievement I will offer you a live chicken, half a cow and a few wooden pegs as a bonus.

Many have tried and failed. Miserably. The author herself included.

Good luck.

Welcome To My Room 101

101

My brain has been cooking up this post for a while.

I am a big fan of Frank Skinner, his dead pan sense of humour and his Room 101  show.  If you haven’t seen it before Room 101 is a place where the lucky chosen can throw things/people/anything that makes their blood and brains boil, shut the door and never have to face the annoyance again.

My Room 101 list has been getting longer and longer over the years and here are snippets of it ( oh yes, and thank you George Orwell for coming up with the concept a long time ago).  In fact, the list is so long that it will take me a few years to publish it all.  It is ok. I have time.

A disclaimer: everything mentioned below is my personal pet hate, I haven’t been paid to dislike any of these items and the views expressed are mine and mine alone.

Fashion: Ugg boots and everything Ugg–related.  Walking badly in Ugg boots.  Soggy Ugg boots.  Wearing footwear that makes one look as if one had skinned a yeti and shaved his feet to then somehow wobble about town is bad for you, your feet (I guess the smell after an average of 8 hour marinating Ugg time could be easily bottled/canned and sold to the military forces) and yetis.

And while I am talking about shoes I might as well say that balancing on heels so high they make the Shard blush is not that great either.  Whenever I spot a woman stumbling forward like a wounded stilt walker I feel sorry for her.  We all have heard it a million times – men love women in high heels, but I am not sure men love women falling over left, right and centre and filing their bunions in front of TV in the evening so that the next day they can squeeze into their Manolos, Kurts and the likes.

A while ago I conducted my own personal market research and asked a handful of representatives of the male species whether stilt tripping was in any way appealing.  The answer was ‘Ah?’

It turns out that most men, unless they are Karl Lagerfeld or Dolce or Gabbana, don’t notice if you wear Ugg boots, stilts or your slippers chewed on by a Chihuahua with an inferiority complex, and as long as they are allowed to watch news/football/the latest 5 hour long documentary about the first rugby players of Pompeii they are happy.  Your footwear is probably at the bottom of their list.  Unlike your bottom, but that is an entirely different type of post that I will not be writing any time soon.

Modern life: Urban 4×4 vehicles taking up all the pavement space and not giving pedestrians their well-deserved priority respect.  I count myself very lucky to be able to live where I do, in a lovely green area, a two minute stroll from the Gallery of Modern Art.  However, our block of flats is sandwiched between two Hogwarts-like public schools and every day on my way to work/nursery and back I face the same challenges and tiger mums and their cars.  And every day I want to ask those women the same question: ‘Should I wheel my buggy straight into your urban tank since you think that pavement equals your personal parking space or should I leave it to the pigeon militia?  And since I am rude enough to try to cross your road are you going to run me and Peanut over now or maybe after you have checked your nails, Twitter and that rebellious Botox-resistant muscle above your left eyebrow?

Travel: This is a tricky one because I love travelling.  Discovering new places, foods and people watching have been my life-long hobbies and inspiration. I am the kind of person who can turn up at the airport 5 hours early (just in case) and not be bored or tired of guessing who the fellow travellers are and where they are scurrying off to, but there is something/someone to do with airports that I am going to chuck into my Room 101, turn the key and throw it into the flames of Mordor.  It’s the type of traveller who will queue at the gate 2 hours before boarding time is announced and once they are allowed to proceed, they and their spouses, children, uncles, grand grandparents and a random stranger that has been following them since last trip to Corfu charge ahead like a herd of wild buffaloes escaping a very irate wolf.

Boarding a plane is not the same as playing musical chairs.  There is (in theory) space for everyone.  Seats are either assigned beforehand or you have to make do with what’s available.  A seat is a seat.  If you don’t get to sit where you really want to some reasonable stranger may swap with you so that you can admire the plane’s left wing, a piece of unidentified propeller and some clouds.  And some more clouds.

But if just before I boarded this Iron Bird you crushed my toes, broke my nose while flapping your elbows and bruised my ribs with your hand-luggage made of granite then no, I’m not swapping. I will keep all those clouds to myself, and occasionally will chuckle so that you think you are missing out on gazing at a brilliant cloud.  Blame yourself.

Writing: I love writing (D’oh) but I don’t love writing self-help books promising to make the next Dickens out of you, if you can only part with a few quid and a couple of hours of your precious time.  While creative writing courses offer human interaction, heated discussions and a healthy dose of destructive  constructive feedback, most of those books give nothing other than a concept of a magic wand (well, I guess it works if you are a magic wand believer or Harry Potter fan or even Harry Potter himself).  Below is the best writing advice I have ever heard summed up in four short statements.  And it’s free:

1.            Just write.

2.            Read a fair deal.

3.            Sometimes go for a walk.

4.            Oh, and while you are at it, live a little.

Modern Attitude to Ageing: Getting older increases the maintenance costs year on year since, after all, aging is a terrible disease inflicted on us by Time.  A disease that has to be fought off with snail slime, nightingale droppings, liquid gold, caviar (not to be washed down with quality vodka unfortunately), seaweed, Dead Sea Mud, Botulinum toxin and chemicals that make Kryptonite seem like a child’s putty.  Why do we find it so hard to accept that life experience, wisdom (ahem, ahem) and a few memories of those nights out that we have been pushing deeper and deeper into the subconscious come, yes, with a few grey strays and wrinkles. The world in which 15 year olds advertise miracle creams for 50 year olds has gone a tiny weenie bit mad.  Leave the snails and their slime in peace.  Use an iron instead. Works on linen and we all know what linen looks like pre-ironing stage.  Sorted.

Current issues/discussions: I know I’m not going to make any friends by saying this but I am bored from top to toe and beyond by all the discussions and rows and about feminism and what it means. Radical feminism.  Lipstick feminism. Floundering feminism.  Mention the F-word at a dinner party and give me 3 seconds so that I can fall into a deep coma.  I have very little interest in debating whether a feminist should wear a lipstick or pretend she doesn’t own lips/breasts/shiny hair just in case a male chauvinistic pig finds her attractive.  Neither am I interested in slagging off men.

Replace the F-word with the E-word as in Equality, chant to me about social justice and I am with you because as much as we have to fight for women to have equal chances in life we can’t forget about the Discarded White Young Males, Unemployed with Not a Chance in Life, the Overlooked Carers or Any Other People in Need of Support.

And when I am done with writing this post I will be off to change the world. If you see a Wonderwoman with freshly ironed face, smeared in snail slime and some lipstick, charging ahead with a buggy and sending pigeons off to bomb luxury 4x4s – that’s me.

Say hello if you dare.  Just don’t mention the F-word or I may throw nightingale droppings at you.

*********************************************************************************************

What would you throw into your Room 101?  Here is your one and only chance to get rid of anything that bugs you!  Feel free to add to my list!

A Report From a Swedish Sandbox

sandbox

A couple of weeks ago I went to visit my friend in Örebro, Sweden.  We don’t see each other very often and both of us are guilty of not responding to emails within the first 3,475 days of having received them but every time we meet up we pick up where we left off.  No awkward silences.  No grudges.  Just good old chat.  This is what friendships for life are all about.

Anyway… there I was, relaxing on the couch, watching the Swedish answer to Antiques Roadshow, sipping red bush tea and thinking about the recent conversations I had with Swedish mums while we (without much success) tried to prevent our merry offspring from consuming all the sand in the sandbox.  The conversation went a bit like this:

  • I tell them about how much Peanut’s nursery costs per month for 4 days a week – they gasp
  • I tell them that after BlueBeretDad and I have spent about 30% of our hard earned salaries on nursery fees, and the remaining 70% on bills, rent and a monthly Blueberry Muffin treat we have enough left to pay for:
  1. about 55 packs of standard nappies
  2. about 55 boxes of Toddler formula milk
  3. 1.8 Alexander McQueen Studded Pump Shoe
  4. 250 Green and Black’s Maya Gold chocolate bars,or
  5. 416.6kg Asda organic carrots

and the Swedish mums gasp again (Swedish is a very gasp-friendly language).

  • I tell them that a lot of women cannot go back to work as their earnings would not even cover the childcare costs let alone any other essentials, like food or mortgage – they gasp
  • I tell them that we could have sent Peanut to nursery at the age of 3 months (Swedish nurseries don’t accept such young babies) and had I had my first ever job that didn’t provide any additional maternity/paternity pay apart from the statutory support I would be facing a very tough choice or (more likely) Peanut would not be feeding their children with all that sand right now ..yeah yeah, they gasp (I begin to wonder whether I have somehow acquired a new superpower – The Ability to Make Swedish People Gasp as soon as I mention childcare in the UK – and I start cooking up a plan to take over that poor planet Earth). They gasp. I yawn.

When it is their turn to shock me they tell me that:

  • both parents in Sweden are entitled to combined total of 16 months paid leave per child and I shed a tear
  • first 13 months are paid at 80% of the parent-on-leave’s most recent income, rest is paid at flat daily rate and I cry
  • public childcare is guaranteed to all parents with fees capped at 3% of parental income I sob.
  • a lot of shift working parents have access to night time nurseries… Whoop! I know what you are thinking, as I was thinking the same! Until I found out that you need a confirmation from your employer that you actually work nights… Oh well, maybe one day! I blubber.
  • parents have 480 days (240 each) of paid parental leave per child (pay depends on the earnings) that can be used to cover school holidays/sickness etc. until that child is 8 years old I bawl and stuff my face with sand

Now don’t get me wrong, it is not all IKEA and elks dancing on ice in the land of Sweden.  The generous help with the childcare comes at a price – my sandbox friends tell me that there is a higher expectation on mothers to go back to work after having been mammalediga. Being a stay at home mum is not common and may be frowned upon or gasped about.  But there is a choice and if as a parent, you want to continue working the Swedish government does not financially ruin you for having made that “lifestyle choice” to have children.

It also seems fairer that both men and women can take out a considerable amount of paid leave to care for their children, which means that it is not important what gender candidates one employs.  It makes sense and it points Swedish society in the right direction on its way to equality.  It is a shame that Britain is toddling way behind when it comes to taking care of its children citizens.

Just before I went to bed I scratched Nova, a very friendly Labrador with the patience of a Blue Whale,  on her very full belly.  Nova had a great day in her dog nursery today, playing and making new furry friends.  For those of you raising you eyebrows, ready to gasp, it is a legal requirement in Sweden to provide care for your dog if it is on its own for longer than 6 hours at a time.

On the way back from the sandbox I asked my dear friend how much Nova’s nursery cost.  It turned out to be about a third of what we pay for Peanut’s nursery.

They say it is good for a child to grow up surrounded by pets…