Thursday, 9 February 2012

How to celebrate Valentine's Day when it's your son's birthday


In my experience, Valentine’s Day, far from being the most romantic day of the year, has always been tricky to negotiate.

From the moment I became a teenager, Valentine’s Day immediately became a calendar date of enormous significance.  The anticipation and let’s face it pure, unadulterated fear that I would be overlooked by the Valentine’s Day postman, took on monumental proportions.

I suffered from that affliction typically reserved for teenagers – awkward shyness.  If there had been a vote on the pupil(s) most likely to nab a cool boyfriend, I wouldn’t have even made it onto the list.  If anyone did take a liking to me, they would have to be pretty direct for me to notice.  I would dread the arrival of Valentine’s Day and wince at the thought of a whole day spent in the shadow of my friend Debbie and her hoard of Valentine’s Day cards and cuddly bears.

My teenage years occurred at a time when the post arrived at a set time of day and unfortunately for me, the postal delivery service in our village was way too efficient and pretty much guaranteed a delivery before I left for school in a morning.  Accordingly, there was no get-out clause.  If I didn’t receive a card, I could not simply blame the post (pity today’s teenagers who presumably send e-cards, which are instantaneous, affording the unloved no excuses).  The best my boy-repellent peers and I could hope for was a heavy snowfall, which might slow the postman down and provide us with some semblance of an excuse.

As it turned out, I need not have worried so, as I received two Valentine’s Day cards for all but one of my years at secondary school.  This was no mean feat given the lack of boyfriend material in my year (being awkward and shy does not make one less fussy).  I only ever identified one of the senders.  The other remains a mystery to this day. 

Even at the start of my career, my Valentine’s woes still did not disappear altogether.  Office politics promote competitiveness and this would extend to Valentine’s Day celebrations.  Everyone was at pains to upstage their colleagues with the most adventurous weekend break, the most lavish gift or dinner at the best restaurant.

My then boyfriend and I decided to buck this trend.  We would bemoan the fact that Valentine’s Day was nothing more than a commercial exercise and we would laugh behind closed doors at the suckers who spent a day’s salary on the obligatory and unimaginative bunch of roses.  However, as much as it pained me to be romantic just because it said so on my calendar, I still had expectations for Valentine’s Day and luckily my boyfriend did well to see through my mock disdain.  He would mark the occasion with an impressive home cooked meal and a bottle of fizz.  We would also exchange cards, although they were invariably home made and a little leftfield.

Eventually we became husband and wife and after a few more years of dropping out of the Valentine’s Day circus, I became pregnant and it somehow became fitting that our son was born on Valentine’s Day.  What better gift than a healthy baby boy?

So now, when our social life has been somewhat curtailed, is at the mercy of the availability of babysitters and Valentine’s Day happens to be centred around the birthday celebrations of one soon-to-be 7 year-old, we are even less likely to make a big splash about Valentine’s Day.   Add to the mix our son’s propensity to stay awake later than most, which is a true passion killer (it’s all there in my book, Diary of a Sleep Deprived Mum), we might just about manage a swift glass of something sparkling before our heads hit the pillow.

Yet none of this bothers me.  We have a happy and healthy son and for me it’s my husband’s smaller romantic gestures I appreciate, like remembering to chill my wine on a Friday evening, for bringing me a cup of coffee when I need it most, for the handmade Christmas card I received, inscribed with a message and opened by a metal clasp (how clever?!) and for his ability to rustle up a mouth watering meal when I would stake my life on there being nothing in the fridge.

However and whenever you celebrate your love for someone, enjoy!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Blog Obliteration

I will be brief.  I must be, otherwise I risk taking a large and heavy object to my computer or assuming the foetal position in the corner and silently crying.

I have spent the last few hours attempting to increase the profile of my blog.  I have trawled through the help pages of www.blogger.com and checked my settings to ensure that I am maximising my potential to reach as many complete strangers in cyberspace as is humanly possible.  I have achieved very little.  My settings, in the main, required no alteration from their default statuses. 

During this process however, I found that I had failed to attach labels to my posts, which I discovered would enable other users to be directed to my posts more speedily if the labels match their search criteria.  Accordingly, I set about labelling each and every one of my posts.

Feeling very pleased with myself, I reclined with a coffee and eagerly awaited the traffic I felt sure would magically flow towards my blog.  It was at this point that I noticed my posts were no longer in the correct order, my most recent effort having been relegated to third position.

An embarrassingly long period of time ensued as I attempted to find a way of remedying this.  I’ll spare you the details, but the resulting loss of two of my posts has left me bereft, particularly as one of the posts has also mysteriously vanished from my hard drive.  It is possible that I am now suffering from eyestrain and quite feasibly a form of temporary insanity, as it’s inexplicable that I should fail to save a blog post.

The only glimmer of hope in this sorry state of affairs is that I did successfully complete my Google+ profile.  But even this is somewhat tainted by the fact that no one I know is currently using the facility so I will be touting my wares to a handful of apathetic celebrities.  That is if I have managed to connect Google+ to my blog in the first place.  We shall see…

So, if the Dalai Lama, Caitlin Moran or The Guardian happen to be reading this, please could you just give me the heads up and save my poor, faithful scapegoat-of-a-computer from the scrap man?  Pretty please?

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Women behaving badly

Warning, one of my favourite poems by Jenny Joseph, begins:

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.”

The predicted behaviour goes steadily downhill from here, but that is why I love it.  Who doesn’t find the idea of an old lady spitting in the street or stealing flowers from other people’s gardens amusing?

Admittedly, I don’t know many old ladies who behave like this, although my great-grandmother once consumed two thirds of a bunch of grapes for a solid twenty minutes before machine gunning the seeds around the living room of her residential home, much to the shock of the Matron and other residents (and to the stifled giggles of my eleven-year-old self).  But she was not well at the time and seedless grapes were scarce. 

Most old ladies I know are gentle, loving and respectful.  It’s lamentable, but they are largely fearful of today’s youth, not at pains to emulate the notorious members of the younger ASBO generation.

Having said that, there are a few women shaping up to become senior citizens of that ilk.  Denise Welch for one.  Her unapologetic flashing tendencies in this year’s Celebrity Big Brother show no sign of abating and she is coming under fire, interestingly not solely for the flesh baring, but for daring to do so at the age of 53!

So, is there a cut off point for risqué behaviour and does it only apply to women?  The mantra for women of a certain age seems to be less, less, less, not more, more, more.  Less make up, less jewellery, less wine, less cake, less….fun!  There’s nothing new in saying that our behaviour seems to come under greater scrutiny than our male counterparts.  As I’m writing, I can think of a number of fashion rules, which only serve to curtail women’s freedom of expression.  I know for a fact that women are expected to forego mini skirts after the age of 35, but I couldn’t tell you who made that rule.  Isn’t that strange?   There are others.  Only the other day, I was watching the new M.I.A. video for “Bad Girlz” and coveting her mint coloured leopard print skinny jeans, all the time reprimanding myself for thinking I could wear those at my age!  For the record, I am not yet 40.

I know, I know, we all like to look and feel good.  But we are also expected to modify our behaviour and maybe even stop doing the things we enjoy at a certain point in our lives.  I could take a feminist stance and argue that there are and always have been many men out there actively behaving badly and being revered for it – Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Colin Farrell and Russell Brand to name but a few.  However, it strikes me that there is a key to behaving badly and getting away with it. 

Provided the perpetrator has intelligence, creativity, a sense of humour, an appreciation of irony and a rapier wit, they can pretty much do anything and still command respect.  Not fair perhaps, but true all the same.  Problems start to arise when an established pattern of behaviour quickly becomes a permanent fixture, with nothing else on the table so to speak.  Boob flashing, if you’re so inclined, is all well and good, but there are only so many times viewers, or anyone for that matter, will be shocked by this or moved to react. 

Dorothy Parker, notorious writer, poet and critic, is a good example of a woman we allowed to behave badly.  Her private life was complicated at best and certainly blighted by alcohol addiction.  Yet, when you realise that she was responsible for the infamous line: “One more drink and I’d have been under the host!” all is forgiven.  Likewise, notorious bad girl Tallulah Bankhead, acknowledging her own chequered history, stated defiantly:  “If I had my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner!”

Some would say that Madonna has done more than her fair share of flesh exposure in her time.  However, she has also covered up, written books, stage-managed and controlled her entire career and most recently directed a film.  Only last weekend, she has triumphed with a spectacular and athletic half time performance at the Superbowl.  Incidentally, she teamed up with the aforementioned M.I.A. for a live rendition of their musical collaboration “Gimme All your Luvin’.” However, this has not prevented Madonna’s detractors from questioning whether, at the same age as Denise Welch, she should be on stage performing at all! 

But fear not, bad girls.  Madonna is shrewd.  She has followed one of the golden rules of senior and guilt free bad behaviour.  She surrounds herself with people younger than herself, thereby keeping her finger firmly on the pulse whilst providing her fellow artists and collaborators with a platform for unrestricted expression.  One of the headline-grabbing stories resulting from Madonna’s Superbowl appearance was the “obscene” gesture courtesy, not of Madonna, but her younger protagonist, M.I.A.  No longer at the eye of the storm in press terms, Madonna is now merely guilty by association.

Madonna has worked hard to achieve longevity, which in turn has earned her the right to explain away any bad behaviour as “art.”  Poor Denise just likes, in her own words, “..getting them out for the lads.”

So there has to be another talent in evidence and preferably some younger, equally talented and naughty friends to help take the heat off.  Provided you have other strings to your bow, you have full permission to start wearing purple, flash and spit to your heart’s content.  Go on ladies, knock yourself out!