Ten things it has taken me 40 years to learn

For  an intelligent woman, sometimes I can be surprisingly slow to catch on. Some of this I put down to age and some to a certain degree of denial. I’m sure that there will be many more lightbulb moments as I head further into my forties, but here are ten things that I now embrace, along with my mid-life crisis.

1. Force yourself to enjoy the first minute of the day. I used to hate mornings. Getting up for school was torture; getting up for work was a fate worse than death. The only mornings I enjoyed before I had children were the ones I missed entirely by staying in bed until noon as a student. Now I realise that the first minute of the day, when you are just opening your eyes and your mind is frantically scrabbling to hold onto a dream as it evaporates, is the quietest and most settled minute you are likely to experience for the rest of the day. For a few blissful seconds, you are unaware of what lies ahead. Once you step out of bed, the day can go one of two ways: it can take off and be the Best Day Ever; or it can plummet into the depths of hell. Best to stay where you are for a little while longer and enjoy your cuppa.

2. I will never be tall. At 5ft, you would think I would’ve realised this sooner, but in my head I am definitely taller than what the height chart says. Mentally, I look people in the eye, not in the boob region. However, as my daughters and their friends get older, I am reminded constantly of how short I actually am. I have to look up to talk to them now and I often get lost in a crowd of kids at school, only to emerge from the other side mentally traumatised. However, dynamite comes in small packages and I find that my diminutive stature means I am often underestimated, which comes with the pleasure of knowing that I have plenty of opportunities to surprise people if I feel like it. And maybe one day I will.

3. Heated rollers are never a good idea. I have had my heated rollers since the early 90s and once or twice a year I get them out, thinking that it would be a good idea to try them in preparation for a night out. However, I have yet to use them successfully without looking like a French poodle afterwards. It is time I realised that rollers will never create relaxed gentle curls in my mop of untameable hair. Best to stick to the straighteners.

4. I don’t know everything and it’s best not to pretend I do. When they were younger, my children’s questions were random, but fairly easy to answer, which led them to believe I was the fountain of all knowledge. With this came my short-lived belief that I did in fact have an answer for everything. Then they started school and the questions became more complicated. These days just going through their maths homework is a challenge. For a while, I admit I blagged it and gave what I thought sounded like a credible answer to questions like, “If people say it can be too cold to snow, why is it always snowing in the Arctic?” Thank goodness for the internet as I can now confidently admit that I do not know everything, but can satisfy them by saying, “Google it!” What did our parents do before the internet? Oh yes, they lied too…

5. Some song lyrics will always be an enigma. There are certain songs that I will never understand. “The Riddle”, for instance, “China in your Hand” and possibly the entire Depeche Mode back catalogue. In my youth, I’d sing them unashamedly and contemplate their deeper meaning while trying to draw parallels with my own teenage angst. These days, I still sing them out loud, but now realise that Nik Kershaw didn’t have a clue what he was writing, but it rhymed and suited the tune in his head, so he went with it. Good lad.

6. A beautiful pair of shoes is the best medicine. After emerging out the other side of the teens, university heartbreaks, career frustrations, marriage adjustments and childbirth, I can safely say that the only thing that makes me feel better when my day/week/month has gone to hell in a hand basket is a beautiful new pair of shoes. Forget chocolate and wine; all they do is trick you into thinking you feel better, then make you feel crappy again when you’ve had too much (as you inevitably end up doing, evidenced by the multitude of hangovers I have endured over the years). However, a pair of shoes doesn’t care how fat you are, how many spots you have or if you’ve said something stupid. Every time you look down at your beautifully clad feet, you feel your spirits rise and that’s enough for me. Until you walk in your new heels and sprain your ankle of course…

7. I will never like olives or stinky cheese. They say that your tastebuds develop over time and you will enjoy different foods when you’re older. And in fact I can now eat guacamole, even though I used to think the avocado was devil spawn, and cooked fruit is ok when covered in crumble and smothered in custard. However, I can safely say that I will never embrace the trendy but foul-tasting olive or understand the attraction of eating a cheese that smells worse than Andy Murray’s trainers.

8. I really like sleep. As previously mentioned, I am not a morning person, so why it should take me so long to realise how much I love sleep is ridiculous. It was only once I had children that I realised just how important eight hours of sleep a night are to my mental wellbeing (and those around me). Even now on the rare occasions when one of my daughters wakes me complaining of having a nightmare, I am likely to be short-tempered and brusque, and certainly not the loving, comforting parent they deserve. They learnt that quicker than me and wake my other half instead now.

9. I am morphing into my mother. Much as I always said I would follow my own parenting path, I sound more like my mother every day. Yesterday I heard myself tell my youngest that she would “put her eye out if she isn’t careful” and that “there are starving kids in Africa who wish they could eat that cauliflower”. However, I hasten to add that with this comes a certain sense of relief in knowing that I turned out ok, so my mum must’ve been on the right track and if I can emulate some of that, then my girls will be ok too.

10. Always hold on when riding the bus. How many times have I told my girls to hold onto the rail when we are on the bus? Loads. But do I follow my own advice? No. There I was sitting on the aisle seat on the top deck with my mum over Christmas when the bus took a corner a little too hastily and I fell off the seat onto my back in the aisle like an inverted turtle. In my embarrassment as all eyes turned to stare, I started to laugh hysterically and couldn’t get up. My mortification reached a new level when I heard my mother loudly say in between guffaws, “I told you not to drink that gin with your breakfast.” Always hold the rail, people…


You Know It Was a Good Night When a Fox Ends Up Wearing Your Shoes

There have been occasions when Him Indoors is away on business over the weekend and I have been left to navigate through a social evening on my own. Such an event is looming and I am not ashamed to admit I’m scared. It is not that I am completely inept as social gatherings; it’s just that sometimes I need his gentle hand of restraint to keep me in check when I am having too much fun. My last solo outing without a trusty chaperone is a case in point.

I had been invited to a good friend’s 40th birthday in a local pub. Things started promisingly: with Him Indoors away, a friend had offered to have my children for a sleepover so that I could attend the party. I dropped the kids off with plenty of time to help get them all into bed, which apparently required a glass or two of fizz to ease the process. I then teetered off to the pub decked out in my finery and wearing a fabulous pair of very high, silver Mary Janes, safe in the knowledge that I could party all night long if I so desired without having to rush back for the babysitter.

The party in the pub was an absolute blast – loads of great friends laughing and trading banter over yet more fizz. I am proud to say that when someone started ordering shots at the bar, I deftly avoided them and stuck to what I know best. My pride stops there. By the time last rounds were called, I was well into my second bottle of fizz and feeling very high on life. Then someone suggested a night cap at their house close by. It always sounds like a good idea, but never is. As we stepped outside into the cold air, my inebriation hit me like a truck and I was a goner. I realised quite quickly that trying to walk in my fabulous Mary Janes was proving difficult, so I took them off, tucked them under my arm and strode forth in my tights.

From here, things are fuzzy. I have flashbacks of drinking port, drunken dancing to the same three Example songs on a loop, bizarre rugby-tackling games on beanbags, and drunk-dialling Him Indoors to tell him how much fun I was having. At 4am, my friend and host disappeared for 10 minutes, only to reappear in her dressing gown (but still fully clothed), hand me a glass of water and suggest rather bluntly that it was time I went home. I also remember looking around for my beautiful Mary Janes and only finding one. Having gone beyond the point of sensibility, I shrugged it off, put one Mary Jane on and limped down the (thankfully short) road back home.

The next morning’s hangover green-tinged with morning after embarrassment and recriminations. And it was a Hangover to End All Hangovers. I dragged myself into a standing position in time to fetch my children from my friend, who took one look at me and sent me back to bed with promises to look after the children for a little while longer. She is a saint. Then I remembered my shoe. Had I really limped home in one shoe? I checked the state of the tights left stranded halfway up the stairs and noted that they were well and truly shredded in the foot. I phoned my dressing-gown-wearing friend who confirmed that my shoe was not left at her house and the realisation set in. I was convinced I was the drunkest at the party (I wasn’t, apparently, but everyone else seems so sober when you are reeling), so was suffering from Day-After Shame, and now had to admit that I had lost a perfectly fabulous pair of shoes! I contemplated retracing my steps and lost-and-found posters, but decided against it and resigned myself to the inevitable.

Later that afternoon, my friend rang me with some news. While in the park that day, her toddler was seen rummaging in the bushes and she thought the little explorer would bring her a stone or twig, but instead she brought out my Mary Jane! It would seem it had caught the eye of a fox, which had completely mauled and chewed it to the point of being unwearable. I really hope that fox danced in the street wearing it before she got her teeth stuck into it. Perhaps I will leave the other one out for her so that she has a matching pair.

These Boots Were Not Made for Walking

I promised a good friend that I would write a blog about ironing after I spent a marathon four hours on that most loathed of household tasks on Sunday, but I would prefer to inflict on you my thoughts on something entirely more interesting and cheerful: a woman’s obsession with the perfect pair of boots.

Any self-respecting shoe addict will appreciate that the footwear in our wardrobes tends to fall into three loose categories: shoes to throw on for the school run, trip to the gym, trolley dash at the supermarket, etc; shoes that can be worn out to the pub with friends, which are comfortable to walk there in but not exactly on the sexy side; and killer high heels that cause a stir, attract attention and literally cripple you within ten minutes of wearing them, but that you cannot take your eyes off when you are wearing them, to the point where you find yourself gazing at them in admiration and occasionally stroking when you think no-one will notice (they do). I have a number of the latter because, when it comes to sexy footwear, I am like a moth to the flame. Essentially, no matter what size I am from the knees up, my feet (I am a size 3 1/2) always look good clad in red suede with a high wedge. However, these shoes were not meant for walking. A friend and I were discussing Posh Becks the other day and the fact that she is always in sky-high heels, but then we figured out that she actually doesn’t have to walk anywhere. She is driven, delivered, collected, but never has to run after a bus or stagger home from the pub in the wee small hours through the rain.

I recently heard a pair of wedge-heeled, Italian leather boots calling to me from a rather expensive shoe shop window and went in to investigate further, since boots weather appears to be upon us all to quickly. Now I am sure you are picturing me as a tall, slender, Kate-Mossesque beauty; I’m not. I am the very antithesis. At 5 foot, I am the Ugg boot of women: comfy, warm and prone to sagging in wet weather. Therefore, purchasing a knee-high pair of boots that will fit my shorter than average calves is generally a difficult and trying (very shoddy shoe pun) process. As I stared with delight at the leather boots before me, I considered whether this would be the pair that would zip up over my ample legs. I was suitably attired for the task in skirt and tights, so asked the assistant for my size and made myself comfortable on the teeny-tiny square stool provided.

I have to say I let out an audible gasp when she brought out the boots and I knew that I had to have them, come hell or high water (or the bank manager on the phone). When something gets into your head, only throwing money at it will keep it quiet, I find. I slipped my foot into the first boot and hoped like hell that the zip would do up; it did albeit a little neat. Relief. Then came the second foot. Bearing in mind that we apparently all have one side bigger than the other, from feet to boobs, I slipped my other foot in and pulled like mad on the zip. It went up halfway, then needed quite a tug to get it to the top. I stood up and it became apparent that I would not be running marathons in these particular boots, but that they did indeed look spectacular. I was ignoring the fact that the legs were so tight, I couldn’t actually bend at the ankles, but I reasoned that the leather would give a bit with wear. After striding backwards and forwards in front of the mirror (and resembling a clown wearing stilts, to be perfectly honest), I was sold and sat back down to hand the boots back to the assistant with those joyous words, “I’ll take them!”

However, when it came to taking the second boot off, I couldn’t get the zip back down. It felt like it had snagged on my tights, and no amount of tugging and pulling would budge it. By now, I had started to sweat profusely in panic and the assistant – a skinny, pointy-faced woman with bold, pencilled-in eyebrows – had realised that something was amiss. In order to cover my embarrassment, I told her I would wear them home and got her to package up my old, scruffy boots, thinking that by the time I got home, the new boots would have loosened a bit.

This was not the case. Half an hour later, in the privacy of my own lounge, the boot would still not budge and I was puce in the face from the exertion, not to mention ripping my fingertips to shreds on the zip. I called a friend who, after howling with laughter for a good five minutes, offered to come over and lend a hand. She grabbed the bottom of the boot while I pulled down on the zip. Imagine the scene: she is holding my leg up at a 45-degree angle so that my skirt is riding up my thighs and flashing my crotch while I am turning purple and sweating. She then tried to pull from the bottom and I could feel my tights tearing but no other movement whatsoever.

An in-depth discussion then ensued about the best way to free my leg with minimal damage to the boot. It was no use; the scissors had to come out. I wanted to weep as the scissors sliced through the beautiful soft leather, but my relief was palpable when I finally felt cool air on my sweaty calf (now clad in a shredded stocking). I was furious. I had blown a ridiculous amount of money on a pair of boots that lay shredded on the carpet, not to mention the damage to my tights and my ego. In a fit of fury, I threw on a pair of oh-so-comfy Converses over my shredded tights and stormed back to the shoe shop, sliced boot in hand and still-giggling friend in tow. I demanded to speak to the manager and then presented him with the case that I had been sold a defective pair of boots and therefore deserved a full refund. His face when I thumped the boot down on the counter was priceless; he was momentarily speechless and gaping. I told him I was adamant the zip was faulty and therefore I could not be held financially responsible; his face easily showed that he was convinced my sweaty, chubby calf was to blame. But since the customer is always right, he agreed to refund me in full. However, he got the last laugh. He refunded me in credit vouchers, knowing full well I would never set foot in the shop again.

The next time it happens, I am going to take Winnie-the-Pooh’s approach when stuck in the rabbit hole: starve myself until my legs shrink enough to free themselves. Because there will be another time.

Nice Buns?

I seem to have developed a reputation as a bit of a baker, which surprises me as I have never considered myself to be the next Mary Berry. However, whenever I offer to bring something to our various social gatherings, the request is always for puddings or cakes, which makes me wonder what is wrong with the rest of my cooking of course, because I can never take a compliment on face value.

We hear often on programmes such as “The Great British Bake-Off”, of which I am a huge fan, that baking is an exact science and that the rules should not be broken if you want your Victoria sponge to be light and moist – can I just interject to say that this is the only context in which the word “moist” is acceptable in my opinion and I still have to stifle girly giggles when it is uttered – but in my opinion, baking can be as haphazard as any other form of cooking, as long as you blag your way through.

I taught myself to cook shortly after I moved in with my then-boyfriend fresh out of university. My mum, who considers herself to be a bit of a Delia, never taught me how to cook or let me assist in any way. Probably mother’s intuition about my talents. In fact, the only thing I was allowed to cook was spaghetti bolognese, which I made once a week for my dad because my mum hated pasta and refused to cook it, but it is still one of my dad’s favourites. So when I started “living in sin” – at the “Love Shack” as my dad labelled our starter home for two – I had to teach myself to cook something other than good old spag bol if I had any hope of convincing my boyfriend I was worth hanging on to. I think I have done alright since then; I certainly haven’t killed anyone.

Baking became more of a pastime when I had children and I learnt that it is actually good fun to whip up a batch of cupcakes and see the delight on small children’s faces when sinking their gums into them. (I do remember an earlier attempt at a four-layered chocolate celebration cake for my mum’s then-40th birthday when I was a teenager that did nearly kill someone, after which I steered clear of baking for a long time.) My first foray into baking happened to be for my oldest daughter’s 1st birthday when I created a beautiful pink and purple butterfly cake for her party. Everyone raved about it; little did they know that it had come from a packet supplied by a party website and everything, down to the icing decorations, came with flat-pack instructions so easy to follow that even my 1 year old could’ve made it. It was only when a good friend (herself an exceptional baker) kept quizzing me for the recipe that the deception began to unravel. I started by saying the recipe came from James Martin, but I was unsure of which recipe book. Then, as she kept telling me how she was endlessly searching the internet for the James Martin butterfly cake recipe, I came clean and told her that it had come from a box. You would’ve thought I had admitted murdering James Martin with my spatula the way she looked at me! 

Since my girls started school, I have had ample opportunity to practice and now not a cake sale goes by without me inflicting my little morsels on everyone – and I generally seem to get it right if the feedback is to be believed. This is what is so bizarre, considering what people would think if they witnessed me actually in the process of baking. There is generally an overriding atmosphere of chaos as flour spills everywhere, egg shells end up in the cake batter, I turn the air blue with expletives, and vanilla essence is added with gay abandon and no thought of using a measuring spoon. So the idea that baking is an exact science is surely tosh.

Now decorating, on the other hand, requires more skill and a steady hand, neither of which are my forte apparently. I find the easiest way to decorate a cupcake is to slather the (readymade) icing onto the cake then dust liberally with glitter as everyone likes a sparkly cupcake, even boys if it is blue glitter!

Recently a good friend requested that I make her a cake for her birthday party. This friend has a weird crush on Rupert Grint and, as a result, my first thought was to do a penis-shaped cake complete with a ginger dusting made – unsurprisingly – from a packet of crushed ginger nut biscuits. However, the thought of my friend offering around a piece of “shaft” or “testicle” was enough to change my mind and do Plan A: cupcakes with a twist. Since my friend is partial to booze and decadence, I chose to do mojito cupcakes laced with rum and mint, and chocolate caramel cupcakes. Now I just had to think of some clever ideas for the decorations, but with time running short the day before the party as school runs and kids’ extracurricular activities intruded, I decided to leave the decorating until the next day. My first mistake.

My second mistake was going to a dinner party that night where the first drink constituted a lethal martini. As the evening wore on and the drinks continued to flow, all thoughts of cupcake decorating were pushed to the back of my booze-addled brain. At 01:50am my other half suddenly remembered we were an hour late for the babysitter. At 03:15 I stumbled home with vague memories of having scripted on a napkin a new BBC sitcom that would make me a million. I blame my inebriation on on the olive in the martini; it was clearly off. That and the new “alternate day fasting” diet we are all trying, but that’s a different blog altogether. 

It was nearly 5pm when I dared to even try and stand up the next day. The party started at 7pm. It took me about an hour to bath as I had to keep sitting down and taking deep breaths. Then I realised I hadn’t finished the cupcakes. Between sips of water and bites of a banana (and the odd toilet dash), I set about slathering the icing onto the mojito cupcakes and liberally dusting them with rainbow glitter. One job done.

However, by the time I got to the chocolate caramel cakes, I was feeling slightly better (although my hands were still shaking), so I decided to get more creative and try piping the caramel onto the top of each cake in what was supposed to be a fabulous swirl, before sticking a little cupcake topper in the shape of a high-heeled shoe into each one. Proud of myself for managing to finish the cakes and dress myself into something vaguely acceptable – not to mention applying makeup and straightening my hair, which was a Herculean task and resulted in me burning one of my earlobes – I slowly made my way up the road to the party armed with three boxes of cupcakes and an extremely high pair of black suede heels (I blame my vertigo on my heels, not on the martini still coursing through my veins).

When the time came to unveil the cupcakes and sing “happy birthday”, I opened the boxes and discovered, to the mirth of my so-called friends, that the rainbow glitter had dissolved in the rum of the mojito cakes, leaving ugly psychedelic patterns that only a meth addict would love, and my intricate piping with the shoe toppers looked like lots of little feet stepping in elaborate mounds of dog poo.

I should’ve stuck with the penis cake after all.