Friday, 27 February 2015

SHAKE YOUR BIG THANG


A friend of mine, who has a child in the King’s class, just called to tell me that she was just kicked out of a music class with her other son. She wasn’t dragged by her hair or anything (although I wouldn’t put it pass these particular people who run this class) but she was told that the leaders of this music class have decided that her 2-year-old son is not 'Blank’ material. I shall withhold shaming them (for now).

The King and I used to go to this same music group when he was the same age. From the start I was not a fan, as you have to become a member (for a fee of course, for a sodding music class) and then pay on top of that for the class itself. Fine, I can live with that; they’re running a business. But from the get go, as they have been in operation for many years, they give you this diatribe as if joining this group, you are being inducted into the Rock ’n Roll Hall of fame and you should count yourself lucky. Um, you’re singing to my kid dressed up in costumes, this is not the West End people.

Now don’t get me wrong, the women leading the group had fine voices and they were quite creative in terms of costumes and what they’d sing. And some of the songs, and we’ll get back to the word some, the kids ‘were allowed’ to join in the dancing and take part. The King of course used to think this was pretty damn amusing, as most children would. The problem was (and IS, as my friend just got kicked out), that if it wasn’t a song they deemed participatory, your child had to sit on your lap like a stone and not move an inch as they performed for you. If your child did get up and move, they would lead him back to you by the hand with a stink eye that would fill you with mother shame. I hate mother shaming, in any form. They would then after class remind you that in their class, children must be kept under control. (Clearly none of these witches had boys).

Now keep in mind, most of these kids that take this class are under two. Can you tell an under 2 year old to sit still? Cause I sure as hell can’t. In fact, Benadryl couldn’t make the King sit still back then, even if I poured the whole bottle down his throat (don’t panic, I didn’t try this). Not only would the King hear the music and want to get up and dance, stroll, bend, skip...what have you, he would also want to play with their props and interactively participate (this was sometimes hysterical as they’d be mid song and he’d just walk up, pick something up and take off with it). I'd of course cheer him on from the sidelines, 'run boy, run!!!'

So in short, after being scolded and stared at one too many times by these ‘Take That’ singing, wig wearing militants, the King and I decided that we needed a more free form sing and dance class, where he (like his nutty mother) could shake his groove thing with reckless abandon and not be hemmed in by rules. (Don’t they know there are no rules in dancing?!)

So, according to my friend who was just asked to leave the class, apparently their stringent manifesto is still in place. Her son, similarly to the King, is another boy (ahem, toddler!!) who finds sitting still challenging at the best of times. And fine, in principle I get it, from an early age you want to tell your children that there will be times when they will have to sit still and obey the rules (zzzzzzzzzz, sorry, was I saying something?), but from where I stand, dancing and rules have no place at the same party!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

DO YOU SEE ME NOW?


Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with social media. Or a ‘Seriously, is this what it has come to?!’ relationship shall we say. As much as I know that technology is a freight train that is near impossible to slow down, sometimes I contemplate jumping off this speeding train of voyeuristic narcissism, into a nice boring field of luddites reading books and drinking chamomile tea without anyone having to know about it (happily I still read and drink tea, so all is not lost).

But in today’s voyeuristic culture, as we all have surmised from one glance at Facebook, for some reason people want and need to show everything. In some ways it’s a good thing. One can connect like never before, it’s a community of sorts in an age where communities are short supply (although I’m thinking we need more tangible ‘in the flesh’ communities as opposed to those in the cyber world, but alas), movements can be started, politics debated, friends reunited, and it’s a brilliant PR tool depending how you use the various platforms. 

Conversely, as we all know, it can also be a bad thing (for the above reasons!) as some are compelled to share every last solitary detail of their lives and do not feel like they exist unless they are doing so. I know this is a human compulsion that was not born with the Internet – our need to be seen, to matter, to exist, but now that we have the platforms to show the world we indeed exist, it’s safe to say that things have run amuck. People post what they had for breakfast; what their breakfast had for breakfast; how long their husband’s nose hairs are and so on. And as most of us have surmised by now, like ourselves, people choose to put their best foot forward. It’s not often you see someone posting a photo of themselves without make up, in front of the mirror in a bikini with their gut hanging over, whilst in a fight with their husband, with their child in the background screaming on the floor because there is no more cereal. BUT no, that would be far too real for social media. (And that would also be too much information, but it’s certainly never stopped anyone before).

There is also an in built pressure that goes along with things like Twitter, Facebook and the like, in regards to the 'friending' process. I’ve hated this whole side of things from the beginning and hence why I basically use certain platforms purely for work related matters (i.e. writing) and other social media avenues are kept much more private. But I’ve always been amazed by those that are actually shocked if one actually chooses to exercise some power over one's social media accounts. “You’re not friending me? Gasp, how could you? But I knew you 20 years ago, don’t you remember?!!” And you know that sometimes you feel the peer pressure to give in, don’t you? Go on, admit it, how many times have you been sent a friend request that you felt obliged to accept? (If you never have experienced this, you must not have been raised Catholic. My guilt is always rearing its head despite my having left the flock). You literally have that moment where you feel badly for not ‘friending’ someone despite knowing them for ten minutes when you passed them in the hallway in the 2nd grade. So note to all those that keep friending despite getting rejected or ignored the first time round. It’s not personal, honest, it’s a choice on behalf of the individual you keep trying to friend, for whatever reason that has nothing to do with you, that you should respect and well, move on.

I suppose from time to time, our society may want to ask themselves what drives our obsession with social media; then again, if you're not self reflective, perhaps you simply don't give a toss about why you cling to your devices like your life depends on it. [For me, it's solely to see how many creepy and hysterical John Travolta photos can go viral in a given year]. Is it to truly show the world how great we are, that we're cuter, better, thinner and more accomplished than the next guy with above average children/pets/relatives who can succeed at anything and travel to the coolest places, whilst eating the best food? (And of course most of these boastful posts are crude exaggerations or mere glimpses of reality that make life a lot more serene and utopian than it really is). Or is to purely scream to the universe I'm here and I'm leaving a big fat footprint so that when I die, someone will know I existed (or of course, it could be, and most likely is the third option: advertising and marketing at its finest and most pervasive, disguised as harmless connection).

Sadly from where I sit, social media and all its offshoots are as much of addiction as any other. Have you ever tried not to look at email, tweet, Facebook or Instagram for an entire week? Not easy is it? I usually try to do this once a year around Christmas as we head off to the sticks with no Internet in sight. It's not easy at first and often my hand for the first few days keeps reaching for my phone like an awful tick, but after a day or two it's frighteningly liberating and I realise that barring a few work emails that can certainly wait until after Christmas, every thing else can wait, or simply, isn't that sodding important. And of course I find that I'm more present with every task, and more importantly, the world didn't stop spinning; the King still grew and accomplished things (or didn't). My relationship with my husband still carried on in all it's bumps and glory, breakfast was eaten, words were written, and yet, gloriously, the world didn't have to know about it. 


Friday, 6 February 2015

BABY GOT BACK


[ONE FROM THE ARCHIVES TODAY]

A well-known department store over on this side of the world has published several shots of a bikini model in which they show how a photo is retouched and to what lengths magazines/advertisers go to achieve this image of perfection. On the heels of this, this store also proclaims that from now on they will be using non-airbrushed photos to launch their new swimwear line. Their goal: to sell just as many swimsuits whilst showing a ‘real woman’ in one of their suits than one that looks like she came from planet perfect. The funny thing is, the photo they show as a before photo, the woman was thin, in shape, and attractive and didn’t need much help to look better.  So in short, we're still using models who clearly take care of themselves and have good genes, and don't spend all their time sitting on the sofa shoveling in potato chips as they watch Jeremy Kyle. 

I suppose I’m now wondering what the definition of a ‘real woman’ is; is a real woman indeed the one in the photo who looks after herself? Or the one I saw stumbling out of the pub last night with a tank top two sizes two small squeezed over her ample beer belly, or is it the woman on the corner that sells The Big Issue (a local magazine over here sold by the homeless) who is missing three of her teeth. Trust me, I make no judgments here, the woman is very sweet and is trying to make her way in this world, I’m just wondering who is defining a real woman these days and what exactly that entails? And furthermore, how much realness do we really want to see in our ads? Cause trust me, I see REAL every time I go into a changing room under that florescent lighting and it scares the crap out of me!

On the other hand, let's be honest, clothing looks better on tall thin models who are hot. That's the truth, and I can take it. In fact, I’m not sure I want to see women ladened with cellulite trudging down a runway like a Clydesdale as they do their best to squeeze into some haute couture number. Fashion - to me anyway - is a world of fantasy, (have you seen some of those outfits, who would wear that stuff anyway??) I know that these women are starving their asses off - and I like food far too much to starve - but damn can they make a dress look good. I also understand that if you don't quickly realize that you have to work with what you've got, you're going to have one tortured existence. I'll never be Amazonian like most of these women, but I'd like to see any of them wrap one of their legs around their neck - I may be short, but I'm bendy as hell. And that my friends can be a definite asset. :-)

Don't get me wrong – along with millions of women out in the world – I do my fair share of retouching before I leave the house. (Studio Fix by Mac, how I love thee!) But what has been happening for some time is that retouching has gone from a few simple fixes - remove some cellulite here, a dark circle there - to an all out whitewash that makes the model or celebrity look like some wax-like freak with skin like the Velveteen rabbit, who doesn't exist in nature.  The funniest photos are those of the celebs over 40 that end up so bleached and wrinkle free, that their faces look like they’ve been blasted into oblivion. And the irony, the next day you’ll see a real photo of them out and about clutching to their oversized glasses that cover half their faces and they look nothing like their photo. Cause well, they're human and humans AGE. Trust me I wish we could get around this, but it's not going to happen anytime soon.

It's a business, and there is product to sell, so I understand the clients wanting to put their best foot forward. But I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not buying so and so's latest night cream cause Julia Roberts looks like a five year plastic doll old in her photo. I’ve been around long enough to know that most creams don’t do squat. In fact, I think I’d be more compelled to buy a product if the photo showed me a woman who had a few wrinkles, some eyebags for good measure, and then showed me how this product helped cover up some of that damage. Here's a campaign I could get behind: "Do you look exhausted, those wrinkles and sun spots starting to show? Here's a cream that won't work miracles - cause honey you ain't 20 anymore -  but at least people won't turn and run from you screaming in the supermarket." Now that I could get behind.







Wednesday, 21 January 2015

COUGH UP NO SHOW


A recent story had me laughing out loud due to the sheer lunacy of it, and how apropos it was to my own life. This weekend the King has two birthday parties back to back on the same day. That sheer sentence sends shivers down my spine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for celebrations, especially the kind when you can drop your child off and run for the hills; but the thought of being trapped at a germ ridden location with 30 screaming kids hopped up on sugar, well, a techno rave would be more soothing on the adrenal system. But alas, after asking the King copious amount of times if he wants to go (the King is not in full grasp of the RSVP protocol) and telling him that he cannot change his mind at the last minute, he seems pretty excited about his burgeoning social schedule (or let’s be frank, just wants to eat cake twice a day).

The story that caught my eye, and sent me howling with laughter involves a 5 year old boy that was sent an invoice for not showing up at a birthday party. Yes, you heard me. As the story goes, a young boy from Cornwall was invited to a birthday party just before Xmas at a dry ski slope. His parents accepted the invitation, but then realized they had double booked  as the boy was supposed to spend the day with his grandparents (why didn't granny and gramps just come to watch him ski? Fun for all). The parents then failed to let the mother know who was throwing the party that they wouldn't be coming. A few weeks later, the child received an invoice for £15.95 in his book bag that said that the little boy’s non-attendance left her out of pocket and she wanted them to pay up.

The boy’s father was told that if he didn’t pay the invoice he would be taken to small claims court, but legal experts said the money would be extremely difficult to get back as there had been no contract created that stated that a 'no show fee' would be put into effect. (If birthday parties get to this point, you can definitely count me out). Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the parent who lost money felt annoyed by that, and we have all been the victims of the rsvp process. Just plan a wedding and you’ll want to mow down half your guests for not getting back to you until a week before the ceremony. But to go as far as issuing an invoice to a child, well now you are just coming off looking like a petulant child yourself. The parent of the boy in question explained that he understands her being upset, but she could’ve approached him in many different ways and explained the situation. Her response, the information was on the invite, you didn’t show, pay up.

So what’s the moral here? People have bad manners…yes, that’s a given [and one of the reasons I keep my circle small; less disappointment and less interaction with the fray]. Don’t throw a party that is going to cost you an arm and a leg…check! And if half the party doesn’t show, don’t go off half-cocked and start writing invoices to your kid’s entire class, probably not the best course of action. It’ll certainly lose him friends and set him up for a playground beat down.

My advice, keep parties small, cheap and stocked with booze (that way, if someone doesn’t show up, you simply won’t care).

Happy hump day all.

Monday, 5 January 2015

A YEAR OF NEW


Happy New Year's people. Another year, another holiday season behind us…are you as tired as I am? Yes, I am back in the land of the living, and somewhat ready to face another year (although when traveling with children, one is never vacationing, one is on a ‘trip’). This holiday, like many before, we went to Wales for a little country retreat. Our main goal for going is to breathe clean air, be as remote as possible (although I’m reevaluating this decision) and give the King a taste of non-city life. And usually our mission is definitely accomplished. 

We usually rent somewhere in North Wales near Snowdownia. If you haven’t been, it’s worth the trek, I can assure you. What you can expect from said surroundings….rolling hills, snow capped mountains, Welsh cakes (yum), a ton of sheep and road signs you can’t decipher for the life of you. The Welsh language is an utter mystery to me and appears to have more consonants in a word than the Polish language. Which is a hard feat. Basically a car conversation with my husband goes like this, him: ‘Look at all those sheep...Wow, there is a lot of sheep here….So, where are we? Um….Dgonelllynennnwmetlllen. I think? I can’t read the road signs….Whoa, look out for the sheep!’

The house we rented was a lovely stone and wood beamed house in the middle of the nowhere. And I mean nowhere. It was on a working farm, up a 3-mile mountain traverse with roads smaller than a pavement. How we managed to navigate up there in the pitch black (street lamps are not a Welsh indulgence) is beyond me. After several wrong attempts and having to be rescued by Farmer Rob, we finally managed to find the house. We went up with another family with two kids, and with three kids under the age of 5 in one small house, let’s just say, we took ample opportunity to run them outside like dogs (and yes, young children scare the crap out of sheep). Barring a few hiccups (a few broken glasses, and a potential house fire thanks to the children and their desire to cover the lamps with stuffed animals) we got the lay of the land quick enough. 

What does one do in Wales you ask? Well, we always manage to slip into country life with city ferocity of course. My husband channels his best camp counselor (whilst baking every twenty minutes… the man loves to bake) and organizes our days like a military commander. Then we wrap the little people up like they’re going to the tundra and head out for adventure walks (as my husband calls them; my best summation, the adventure is trying to avoid all the cow and sheep sh*t), forest hikes, beach runs (this is Wales people, you hit the beach in full snow gear not a bikini in site) and food of course. Being Wales, (and being Londoners) this isn’t always the easiest feat. After eating a meal in the local town we decided cooking in for the rest of the trip was the wisest option. Not to mention, the only large supermarket was 45 miles away and of course the one day we set out to do our shop, after an hour drive with kids in tow, we showed up at the market to be told it had closed at 4. Yes, I had a true Chevy Chase (in Vacation) moment when I was told that bit of information.

Needless to say, after 8 days of no internet (sublime), plenty of board games, being well fed by the husband, kids running around like maniacs and fresh Welsh air, we were very sad to return to the city. Although this said, something tells me that the sheep were very happy to see us leave.