Thursday, 29 November 2012

Business Magnate

Ten years ago I decided to become the boss of a small business. The staff was minimal – just me, one part-timer (the Vicar) and a couple of advisors. The overheads, however, were enormous. Eye-watering figures were spent investing in infrastructure and researching core strategies. But what I hadn't bargained for was the emotional cost: the sleepless nights; the anxiety when projected deliverables failed and the fear that storm clouds would scupper my blue-sky thinking.

I wonder why it has taken everyone else until this week to realise that parenthood and corporate management are the self-same thing. Mothers, some expert has belatedly acknowledged, are essentially CEOs of a small business – it's just that the assets are infants and the core product body fluids.

Why, (also this week) it was calculated that over seven days during Christmas we CEO mothers perform £2,500 worth of work, ranging from chef to chauffeur. What a triumph it is for the sisterhood to know that their notional pay places us almost on a par with the British prime minister!

There are many souls, of course, who are not born with the entrepreneurial spirit and who fear the cut-throat world of family management. And there are yet more who have taken the plunge and feel adrift in a competitive climate that demands year-on-year yields alongside sustainable human resources.

My advice is to trust your own instincts and to master the jargon. Once you're fluent in corporate lingo, noone will point out that you, like they, haven't a clue what you're doing. Here, to get you started, is a brief glossary of essential terms: 

First-mover advantage: get your baby in before the rest of your social circle so you have first dibs on the best girls' names/godparents/trust funds before the pool runs dry.

Assess core competencies: do you possess the patience of a prophet? Can you rise unflustered in the small hours and simultaneously change a soaked cot and soothe a soiled banshee? Can you put in an 18-hour day on four hours of sleep? Can you vacuum a hallway while latching on a newborn?

A paradigm shift from high-level to drill-down mode: stop dreaming over the JoJoMamanBebe catalogues; it's time to focus on how to disengage body parts from the breast pump.

Update your go-to-market strategy: nip out and buy a bumper box of Thorntons to safeguard cherished friendships when you discover that no known chemical can shift the residue of baby poo from your neighbour's seagrass matting.

Think mission-critical: learn what matters. Which is an unimpeded evening of Strictly Come Dancing; three nights a week in a bed without a baby in it; Pinot Grigio in the medicine cabinet; Tena Lady.

Leverage the propisition: persuade your partner to accept the urgency of the above.

Gain traction: elbow a route into the outstanding primary school in the next town. 

Enable Push-back: oblige a recalcitrant toddler/tweenager, through threats or bribery, to engage with spinach/algebra.  

Upskill: Train your partner to detect a full nappy with a forefinger, change the bucket of Napisan, locate the TV off-button at feed time, operate the Hoover and put the bins out so you can hoof off to All Bar One.

Multiply your assets: have another baby while the going's good.

Experienced household CEOs are bound to have more technical insights. Share them here...

Monday, 26 November 2012

In Memoriam

Grey is the prompt for this week's 100 Word Challenge. Some twenty years ago, when I wandered through a Richmond cemetery, I came upon a grave that stopped me in my tracks. I visited several times over the following few seasons and I know I shouldn't have peeked, but I'm glad I did for the memory of it has inspired me ever since.

She was 14 when she died. A letter, taped to the headstone, told of teenage grief at the loss of a soulmate and pictured teenage revelry at discos in Heaven.

For two years the letters continued. As earthly adolescence brought rows at home and trouble with the police, the dead friend lived on as a confidante. The world would have seen tough young troublemakers, but it was bewildered souls with an innocent faith in the afterlife who unburdened themselves to the 'angel' who empathised.

And I, who had read despair in that grey tombstone, now, through their certainty, gained hope.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Fashion Guru

Children, I read, are hogging appointments with personal shoppers at posh department stores because their mothers are too busy to keep abreast of the latest wardrobe must-haves.

Now I frequently fear that, when it comes to motherhood, I'm a failure. I rush to check my blog stats before I greet my children. I shout at them when they're obtuse about decimals and supper is often a panicked improvisation with the Vicar's breakfast leftovers.

But deficient as I am, my daughter does have a personal shopper. Me. And I am expert in the latest wardrobe must-haves. In winter I am tireless in my pursuit of insulating thermals. I steer her knowledgeably away from kitten heels in Barratts to the supportive rubber soles of Clarks. I can sniff out a polyknit from a hundred yards and my sartorial savvy allows me to guage, at a glance, the most durable pyjamas and the most washable wools.

But does my ten-year-old appreciate this personal service that unluckier children have to pay for? Not a bit! Her uninformed eye is distracted by leopard-print wisps and confections of spangles that would be murdered on a hot cycle. She teeters on metal studded heels in New Look and lusts after £40 T-shirts in Hollister that can be got for a fiver in Marks.

Her childish ignorance confirms just how vital is the expertise of a seasoned pro like me and I am therefore relieved that juvenile demand for personal shoppers has doubled in the last twelve months.

As I fold the sensible knickers from an M&S multi-pack, I can feel the dismay of my watching daughter. But when she hears that personal shoppers are the latest wardrobe must-have I know she'll thrilled to realise that, for once in my life, I've started a trend!

What do you think about parents recruiting personal shoppers so their offspring can keep abreast of fashions? Would you let yours do it?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Devil Child

The prompt for this week's 100 word challenge is I really tried not to laugh. Which means I had no choice but to write about what happened after the Sunday service this week. 

My son hurried to the church hall to snaffle Oreos. His blond head bobbed angelically amid the faithful and I watched with pride as he beguiled a bevy of rapt ladies. Then I glimpsed the iPod. The ladies were posing for portraits and waiting expectantly for the results. I darted forward, but too late. With five finger taps he'd deprived the churchwarden of her hair and aged her twenty years. The ladies from the choir had gained ten stone apiece and grown moustaches. And the Vicar? I really tried not to laugh as I realised that for 13 years I've been sharing my pillows with this:

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Growing Pains

'You'll come to my parenting session on sex?' begged the headteacher grabbing my tweed elbow and steering me into the school hall. The lady sent from the council to make us face up to our anatomies scrawled biological terms on a white board then addressed the captive mothers.

'What,' she asked, 'is the average age that girls reach puberty?'
'12?' ventured the bravest of us. '14?'
'Eight!' said the lady triumphantly and wrote 'eight' on the white board.

There was a bewildered murmur from the audience. Only I was unsurprised. Puberty, I've learned, is not heralded by packs of Bodyform Ultra or incipient bristles. It begins with a rash of equally unnerving symptoms, none of which biology guides warn you about. And in our vicarage it commenced around the age of seven.

It's taken me a couple of years to realise what these symptoms signified and I was about to share my wisdom with the anxious mothers in the sex session. But before I could find my voice, the lady from the council had started sketching aspects of puberty that I do not yet feel mature enough to cope with and, with shrill excuses, I fled.

Here, though, for the benefit of those with small girls, I intend to reveal all. If you realise that your own infant daughter is showing any of these signs, then don't panic. It's a natural biological process - it's just that it starts so darn early in modern Britain.

You know your little one has reached puberty when:

You find metallic blue nail varnish smears on the bath tub.

Leopard print creeps into the house, like said nail varnish, by unidentifiable processes.  

She becomes physically incapable of walking proper distances unless it's down a shopping mall. 

She starts borrowing your shoes.

You start borrowing her jewellery.

She asks when she may start shaving her legs.

£1.50 pocket money becomes a £2.50 'allowance'.

'Will you do my bath, Mummy!' becomes 'Wot you hanging round the bathroom for, Mum!'

Her bedroom chaos morphs from Barbies, shoe-box castles and rolled-rug 'ponies' to Matalan catalogues, lip salves, clothes purloined from your wardrobe and mysterious twirly gadgets to perform mysterious twirly functions on hair. 

You need a torch and ear mufflers to browse T-shirts in her preferred mood-lit high street supplier.

I'm bound to have left some crucial symptoms out. If you can think of any please add them here. And don't be disheartened. Puberty is a painful process for a parent, but there are plus sides: my 10 year-old still almost believes in Father Christmas

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Function of Mothers

Compliments, say researchers, are a sounder currency than cash when it comes to motivating people. 
I read this with interest. Efforts to bribe my children to perform basic domestic functions have failed. A carnage of Barbies obscures my daughter's carpet and flung socks and sweet wrappers track my son's progress through the week. 
And so I changed tack. 'Your hair looks like Emma Watson's,' I told my 10-year-old, 'and you sing like Adele. Now will you wash up your supper things!' 
The silence was deafening. 
'You're always telling me not to act older,' she retorted at last. 'Well, washing up is what mums do.'

This week's prompt for the 100 Word Challenge is the silence was deafening. As you can see I am accustomed to this phenomenon. If 50p extra pocket money a week and fawning flattery don't work, what else do you suggest I try?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Daily Mail Columnists Should Wear Burkas

Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones has provoked the ire of Twitter with by declaring that mummy bloggers are blinkered dimwits whose lives are spiced by Napisan. I'm afraid I have to sympathise with her, for all of her prejudices echo my own:

Writing about my life has pretty much ruined it. Supper last night was an elderly carrot glued to the fridge shelf by a pool of brown mucus and the floor was flooded when I left the bath taps running because Blogger has diverted me from domestic essentials. I've had to shut the children in front of the television when a new post has assailed me and some family members no longer speak to me because Twitter interactions leave me no time to reach the telephone.

But there is a big part of me that thinks writing should be hard: you should cringe whenever you press that 'publish' button. Artists – and I'm sorry, I do consider myself an artist – have to wrench the dirtiest, most disgusting part of their inner soul and show it to the world so that others can make of it what they will. I shed anguished tears before deciding go public about the shredded tissues that emerge from a hot cycle with the vicarage smalls and, if I were not burdened by artistry, I would never have found the courage to tell the world about what I did to the Vicar's Le Creuset. I am aghast when people say they will stop writing when it comes too hard for others, or too exposing. My confession about the business with the nipple tassles after the Sunday service left me feeling naked, but writing is only interesting when things go wrong.

Occasionally I raise my head from the cut-throat world of blogging and find myself confronted with Daily Mail columnists. I've not been a columnist's best friend over the years, not because I don't like newspapers, but because I'm the one left taming toddlers and scrubbing the lavatory rim, while columnists disappear on eight-hour stints in air-conditioned offices - or as I like to call them, holidays. 

It appears that Daily Mail column-writing has become the new powder room, enabling women to hog a desk in the workplace writing things like, and I quote, 'I was still smarting from the fact I'd discovered, via a casual remark on Twitter of all places, that my boyfriend had been to London and had not even bothered to get in touch with me. He'd been out to dinner and not invited me!'

Every Daily Mail columnist I read says pretty much the same thing. These women whinge about celebrities who show their faces without make up and ponder the relative merits of Strictly Come Dancing and The X-Factor. 

I have queasy feelings in my exhausted womb about all of this. The most influential tool we have - namely campaigning journalism - has been turned into a giant gossips' coven with women being PAID to sit at their desks, ignore mass annihilation in Syria and celebrity paedophile rings, to write about the vices of their ex husbands.

Questions raised in Daily Mail columns, and by God they are bitchy and competitive, range from ' 'How dare a greasy, tasteless chef insult superstar Nigella?' and 'Who'd have thought the sexiest dress ever made would be so demure?'.

Suddenly, rather than feeling I'm following a group of women who want to change the world, I am in a cage of lemmings ranting about traffic jams on Home Counties trunk roads and the pain of stiletto heels, so that they can remain in their latte-scented offices.

I had no idea that column writing could be so lucrative. I wonder too what their husbands (those of them that have managed to retain one) think of them and their rantings. I imagine it makes them feel like  proper men with little women who, instead of raising the next generation of tax payers, offer opinions on Kate Middleton's dress sense and how to look after ear piercings.

As I close my Daily Mail I feel the hand of patriarchy on my back. Women have again been duped into thinking that the world exists in their safe, open-plan offices and revolves around bitching.

Columnists might just as well don a burka and shuffle, so narrow is their vision.


It is the Sunday service and the Vicar is preaching about mementos. We all gaze appreciatively at his late father's qualification from the Royal Institute of Chartered Accountants and his certificate from the Royal Life-Saving Society. Then he draws out a large framed photo of his sister's old school friend.

Note to self: find where the Vicar keeps this photo and substitute a portrait of
the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

The friend, he tells the assembled cubs and scouts, had raven hair and filmic cheekbones and, on a family trip to a fairground, he made sure that he shared a pod with her on one of the rides. Unfortunately the ride was a fast and furious one and unfortunately he had just eaten a large portion of chips. The vicar-to-be threw up all over the school friend's shapely knees.

The memory, he says, came back to haunt him last year when he saw his sister's old friend in the national newspapers - and he draws forth another framed photo:

If it hadn't been for those volatile chips, he concluded, he, not Daniel Craig, might have become Mr Rachel Weisz.

The congregation swivels to watch my reaction. I smile serenely in what I hope is a filmic fashion, but I regret the knobbled woollen tights that buffer me from the cold of the pew and I regret the used tissue that has just slithered from my sleeve.

Then, suddenly, I'm seized by joyous enlightenment. Every good man deserves to have his fantasies realised and I shall sacrifice myself to embody the Vicar's. I shall decline to make chutney for the  Christmas bazaar and leave off baking for the weekly church tea. I shall swap my M&S polyknits for Stella McCartney and bed down nightly with Dr Colbert's Facial Discs.

I'll need an allowance to fund my transformation, of course, so the Vicar will have to divert a portion of his stipend to lay in some L'Oreal. And he'll have to make other adjustments. I doubt Rachel Weisz would accommodate his afternoon nap and he'll need to clear his diary to babysit while I'm night-clubbing in Soho.

The Vicar places the two photographs back in his father's old brief case and I stuff the tissue further up my sleeve. I am agog to get back to the vicarage and Google Jimmy Choos. For I intend to start my reincarnation immediately - just as soon as I've finished Hoovering the Vicar's study.

Friday, 9 November 2012

More than a Mother

My name is 'E and G's Mum' and I am a mother:

Stimulating my children through public indignity

I don't always look like that, obviously. Sometimes I look like this:

Nurturing my children with Fairy non-biological

And on occasion, when I leave the house, I look like this:


My main place of work, as many of you have already seen, is here:

Hub of the house

My evenings are spent reading bulb catalogues under a woolly tartan rug in an armchair while the Vicar sits under a woolly tartan rug on the sofa and plays Angry Birds.

It was not always like this. No, once upon a time I answered to Anna. I read the paper over hot tea in at breakfast time and I thought a wet wipe was a killer cocktail. In those days my place of work was an ergonomic chair in a glass office with a latte machine. And in those days I could sweep men off their feet:

My two-day body guard training course

And transport them to heavenly spheres:

High life in Bavaria

Sometimes when my feet are mired in cat litter and my thoughts assaulted by infant demands, I think wistfully of those days when I was myself. When my sofa rugs were edgy stripes, not tartan, and when only my nose blew into the tissues that swelled my handbag.

But then I imagine a house without my babies and a glass office without school runs to recall me and I realise that despite snot on my sleeve and an enslavement to Hoover, motherhood still allows me to fly high:

Katetakes5 wants us all to show the world through a long-ago photo that we were once more than just mothers. You can see how very much more others once were here. And tell me, how was it for you?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Miss Malaprop

‘Mummy,’ announces the 10-year-old, ‘is too tired to exclaim her consequences!’

As her ambition outstrips her vocabulary, her conversation becomes rivetingly surreal. She admonishes the Vicar for nitpicking: ‘Don’t be so nutritious [pedantic]!’ She sympathises with a friend who has been insulted. ‘I’d feel very bedraggled [dismayed] if someone said that to me!’ and exclaims in disgust when her brother exhibits a half-chewed Malteser: ‘That’s a bad privilege [habit]!’

I love this fearless manipulation of language. My children, armed with a handful of primary-school nouns, can make themselves understood more confidently in France than I can with my university degree, because they are oblivious to grammatical embarrassments and inventive of expressive alternatives.

Only children could converse with the profoundly deaf teenager in our first parish, because they were unfettered by self-consciousness. They talked and gestured normally, whilst we adults smiled uneasily and scarpered. Ignorance of official sign language prevented us, we assumed, from communicating.

In her struggle to articulate, my daughter invents words that don’t exist but ought to. She prefers the Vicar to take her to school because he drives the Skoda, while I march her a mile through mud. ‘What I like about you,’ she compliments him, ‘is that you’re not very walkative.’

Her good opinion is short-lived. The Vicar nags her about her slack tie and her bling school bag and he won’t let her substitute her school shoes for plimsolls. She eyes him severely, pondering the ultimate put-down. ‘You are,’ she decides triumphantly ‘getting to the drive with me, Dad!’

Are your children linguistic experimenters? Share your favourite malapropisms here:

Monday, 5 November 2012


The picture is the prompt for this week's 100-word Challenge. The orange spot daubs trees that are to be felled to make way for the rest. It's an apt choice as our ash trees are incinerated, but it made me think of a worn leather album that records my family through the 1930 and 1940s.

There's the woman in uniform beaming in a field, a teenage Hercules posed in a loincloth and a girl in a garden with dramatic tumbling hair. 

Each died young and violently - the woman crushed during wartime training and the teenager electrocuted at work. The flowing-haired girl slit her throat. 

I gaze at their smiles and hunt for a portent - a sign in their eyes that they knew Fate had marked them. But they gaze gaily back, vitality frozen in sepia.

And now I fear future eyes finding my albums, studying the smiles of my children with the awful benefit of hindsight.  

Saturday, 3 November 2012


Kate on Thin Ice has kindly offered me a Reader Appreciation Award. I don't fully earn it, however, until I have faced down an inquisition. I'm not sure my readers will appreciate wading through my mental trivia, but I'm always greedy for gongs so, with multiple apologies, here's my life story:

Where do you do most of your writing/blogging?

At a desk by the spare room window so I can keep an eye on the Vicar as he paces the parish and watch passing drivers discover the council's vicious new speed bumps.

What books were your childhood favourites?

Dostoevsky saw me through my first years of primary school. Oh, all right - it was Enid Blyton! I refused to read anything else until I was 15. Then I discovered Anne of Green Gables and Tom's Midnight Garden and have yet to find anything to match them.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Anne of Green Gables, obviously. And the murderess in My Cousin Rachel (Daphne du Maurier).

Have you ever Googled yourself and been surprised at what you've found?

Yes. First up was the lunch menu at Tim's on Lake Anna. Their torch-lit tiki bar is apparently an unforgettable place to eat pulled pork.

What is your favourite time of day and why?

Mornings when my freshly-brushed children come down to eat my freshly cooked breakfast and swap loving confidences about the day ahead. Actually, I'm lying. Mornings are a pauseless banshee wail and invariably involve a catastrophe in the cat litter tray. My favourite time of day is 8.15pm. Because that's when I open my bottle of beer.

Who would play me in a movie of my life?

Whichever Hollywood mega star is prepared to have three bristles latexed to their chin.

One material possession I could not live without.

My daily journal. Or rather all 30 volumes of them. Haven't missed an entry since 1983 so if they ended up in a skip I would, quite literally, be throwing my life away.

Have you ever been naked in public?

Are you kidding? I've never appeared without at least three thermal layers in public (although I have developed a strategy for discreetly shedding my vest when it gets hot on buses).

What is your dream car?

I'm quite happy with the family Skoda.

What/who/where was your first proper kiss?

I thought this was supposed to be a literary quiz...

Is that it? Yes, seems that's it. Except that I have to tag some others whose literary achievements I appreciate. Are you up for it Sahdandproud, Random Pearls of Wisdom and Bibsey?