Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Beating the Blues

I am not a fan of February, not least because I emerge from it a year older than I entered it. The frigid temperatures, which I embrace so eagerly as a proper accompaniment to Christmas, have lost their savour and my winter pelt, so fondly cultivated during the shortest days, is impatient for a spring trim.

By the end of this brutish little month I have lost my inner sunshine. I am fractious with my children and neglectful of my Hoover. Days confronted from beneath the rim of my duvet require energies I do not possess and my daily wardrobe is limited to the two jumpers capacious enough to accommodate a hot water bottle underneath. Most cruelly, Lent falls plumb in the middle of this doleful time, depriving me of my twin props of beer and Bendicks Bittermints.

Last weekend, however, I stumbled upon an astonishing remedy for the February blues. It doesn't come cheap - at £3 it cost me more than a dose of Peroni - but boy, is it effective! The first time I tried it the world looked a friendlier place. The children left off their bickering and gaze at me with rapt smiles. The Vicar, who considers Winter the Devil's malice, set off for the morning service with unseasonable radiance and my wintry pallor showed a new glow in the shaving mirror. Even the dour lady in the Co-op looked pleased to see me.

I don't know if its powers will wear thin. Instinct tells me this is a tonic to be used sparingly. But next year, when February dawns, I'm going to be forearmed and I can't recommend strongly enough that you follow suit.

How do you get through February?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

How to Save Your Relationship

In olden days there were four customary remedies when you awoke to find that your life's partner no longer inflamed you: divorce court, adultery, counselling or gin. Progress, however, has supplied a new option to reignite a relationship - all you need is a keyboard and a good memory for past grievances.  Eli Finkel, a US Professor of Psychology, has devised a seven-minute audit which, when completed by couples every four months, should strengthen and lengthen their union, and there must be something in it because the results were published in the cerebral journal, Psychological Science.

A key component of this audit is a resume of a recent rows. This presents a difficulty. I've never knowingly had a row with the Vicar. He's too good-natured and apologetic and I'm too idle to rouse myself to wrath. Brief sulks, maybe and occasional peevishness, but the professor is after far meatier fare than this. Then it occurs to me that his hypothesis is flawed. Revisiting past warfare, when the wounds are half healed and the weaponry decommissioned, is going, surely, to rekindle old grievances.

I am keen, though, to test the durability of vicarage life. And so I have devised my own audit, scientifically tested, which, when completed should expose the inner core of your relationship. Take it, if you dare, and find out how long you've got left together:

You find a web of your partner's used dental floss hanging off the loo seat.

Do you:

a) Waste not want not and give your own pearlies a quick once-over.
b) Use your partner's tooth brush to scrape it into the lavatory bowel.
c) Plot bloody vengeance with a Tampax.

There's one chocolate Hobnob left in the tin at coffee time.

Do you:

a) Fake a digestive tract disorder and beg them to remove it from your sight as a favour.
b) Cut it in two and sneak the bigger half.
c) Tell them their subcutaneous fat layers will see them dead by fifty and swallow the whole thing yourself.

Your partner announces that they have a book inside them and require a fortnight's sabbatical in Greece to coax it out.

Do you:

a) Order them a snorkel set to encourage them to relax amid their labours.
b) Book flights for them - and for both the children.
c) Screech a reminder that it's been three years since you had that one childless day off in Wolverhampton, then shred their passport.

The cat wees on your corner of your just-washed, only available duvet cover.

Do you:

a) Hail a taxi to John Lewis to replenish the linen cupboard.
b) Quarantine the soaked end inside your partner's sock to keep your pyjamas dry.
c) Turn the duvet round so the corner is on your partner's side.

Your partner turns on a re-run of the footie when Mr Selfridge is about to begin.

Do you:

a) Open an improving historical text and thank them for sparing you an indolent intellect.
b) Offer them a loud summary of their failings during the action, then grab the remote control at half time.
c) Dangle their iPad3 over the slow cooker until they switch over.

You are roused in the small hours by a vomiting child.

Do you:

a) Creep out of the marital chamber, sluice child, sheets and carpet single-handed and implore them to throw up more quietly so as not to awake Daddy/Mummy.
b) Elbow your partner awake and tell them to scrape the sheets into the washing up bowl whilst you run a bath for the kid.
c) Remind your partner that you cleared out the last cat litter tray and leave the job to them.

Your partner asks you to accept three speeding points on their behalf to safeguard their future career.

Do you:

a) Sign the forms and plan the mansion their future career may buy you.
c) Sign the forms under marital coercion.
d) Sign the forms then expose the blighter in the national media.

Your score: 

Mainly a): You are a doormat. Your cloying subservience could be undermining your relationship.
Mainly b): You are a cunning compromiser. But remember, compromising positions can undermine your relationship.
Mainly c): You are a loud-mouthed egotist. Your ruthless pursuit of self-gratification could be undermining your relationship.

See? You should be feeling much better about your union now and it will undoubtedly be stronger following these mutual self-revelations. For maximum effect repeat this audit every three months.* Now tell me in strictest confidence, how did you score?

* Warning: the results of this survey may cause side effects. The audit team cannot be held liable for the subsequent breakdown of a relationship. 

Sunday, 10 February 2013

A Brief Guide to Vicarage Life

It can happen to any man. One minute they're running an oil company from a mansion in Mayfair, the next they're living off a clergy stipend on a council estate. I've seen the shock on the faces of wives who married a publican and ended up ironing cassocks when the Calling came.

There's no telling at what stage of life the Church can claim them. All you can do, ladies, is to lay in some tweed and some cake tins, so that you are ready if the time should come. In the meantime, here are some pointers to recognise whether your home has become a vicarage:

Women you've never met before are liable to emerge at any time of day and evening from your husband's study. 

Men you've never met before are liable to require admittance at any time of day and evening when you're alone in the house in your Marigolds.

You are gyrating to the Bee Gees with a potato-masher mike when you discover an archdeacon in the hallway.

Your children are cataloguing your maternal failings within earshot of two unannounced churchwardens behind the study door.

Your daughter replaces your virtuous flatties with a row of her faux Uggs on the hall stand so that her teacher will reckon Christianity is cool when dropping off hymn sheets. 

You find white detergent bottles are shredded for use as emergency dog collars.

There is a regular rupturing of the Hoover belt when the mislaid dog collars turn up.

You discover that the breakfast honey/washing up gloves/candlesticks/your jewellery box are missing - and turn up as props the next Sunday for a sermon. 

Your husband organises an intimate get-together on Valentines Day evening - just you and the other half dozen Sunday School teachers. 

Don't be fazed - it's a wonderful life.  But don't say I didn't warn you...

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Hat Tricks

The eight-year-old has acquired a thinking hat. It's a formidable piece of headgear which enables the wearer to unlock cosmic mysteries. By its powers he hopes to storm the indecipherable code that is his school reading book and to locate the lost key to his diary. And, miraculously, he does find that errant key and his reading, when the hat is on his head (and his new glasses on his nose), is noticeably improved.

I have therefore set my sights on this hat. There are many cosmic mysteries that I should like unravelled; many powers I wish to acquire. I plan to sport it in the supermarket to gauge the fastest check-out queue and to wear it in church to banish Boden bargains from my mind during the Eucharistic prayer. Behatted, I should be able to answer my children's questions about why cats don't have to eat greens and what are seven times eight. Most of all, though, I should like the hat to reveal:

Why my hair is migrating from my head to my chin. 

Why, after three wash-loads in a morning, the level of the laundry basket does not go down.

Why the walk to school with the children is twice as far as the walk back without them.

Why under 16s are expert at working the handle of the biscuit cupboard three feet above their heads, but congentially unable to operate the lavatory flush. 

Why the bathroom mirror reflects a middle-aged matron whenever I floss my teeth.

Why the dried food found under the sofa cushions bears no relation to food ever consumed by the family. 

Why coins found under the sofa cushions are always coppers, never £1s. 

Why I wait eagerly each morning for the weather forecast, then never absorb a word of it.

Why it's so much easier to love ones children when they are asleep. 

If you should come upon a thinking hat in your house, what questions would you want answered?

Monday, 4 February 2013


Beneath the surface is the prompt for this week's 100 Word Challenge at Julia's Place. This morning I visited an auction room where the harvests from local house clearances are displayed before going under the hammer. Antique bureaus stood beside 1970s kitchen cabinets; Victorian chaises longues beside wicker sofas. Someone's bowling kit was mixed in with a warming pan, a china doll, a fur coat and a ukelele. I'd gone in agog for a bargain and emerged chastened by a pair of bedside tables circa 1960...

The scars on the two small tables chart fifty years of married life. Now, shorn of context, they stand degraded, their plywood cheapness shown up by someone else's ornate oak wardrobe. I wince at the intimacy of the objects, exposed to the assessing eyes of strangers. To the auctioneer they are catalogue numbers with a pitiful reserve price, but beneath the surface I catch poignant echoes of dismantled lives. And I realise that the treasures of my own home are made priceless only by memories and when the last of those memories have faded, they'll be flotsam worth a fiver on an auction-room floor.