Tuesday, 27 January 2015

#Facebookdown. How I coped.

Facebook was down for a few hours last night and this morning. 

It hit me hard. You know the drill. I hit refresh. I hit it again. Then, with no warning, I was hit with this;

Suddenly, my life lost all meaning. Where was I heading? Back to MySpace? Surely not. 

I wasn't sure how I felt about anything anymore. Without a status to update, who cares?

All the cute pictures I'd taken of my kids doing routine things that day felt pointless. 

What was I supposed to do while I waiting for my daughter to fall asleep? Go back to the Dark Ages? Literally?

Who knew how empty it would feel not knowing the whereabouts, stream-of-consciousness and dinner-choices of distant school friends and long-lost colleagues? #lonely

My thumbs were twitching with inactivity. Should I take up knitting? 

I couldn't stop thinking about the plight of all those unseen selfies and Candy Crush Saga Invites. Tragic.

It must have been chaos out there in the real world. Rumour has it some people were even having eye contact instead of looking at their phones. Nutters.

Thank god for Twitter - but it wasn't easy condensing all my social media needs into 140 characters.

At least my cats were happy. I was forced to like them. In real life. Instead of photos of other people's in my timeline.

But what's the lesson here? Maybe I could actually live without feeling crazy-envious yet simultaneously bored by 'friends' holiday snaps for a whole hour? 

Who knows. It's a crazy I won't have to deal with; Facebook is back up. 

And my God, it's beautiful. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Women Are Paid £200,00 Less Than Men In Their Careers. Why Do Conservative MPs Not Support Change?

Hands up. I'm totally rubbish at politics. My highly political brother-in-law despairs at how hard it is to fire me into a debate these days. Things is, by the time I actually get round to thinking about the big issues of the day, I'm normally all argued-out; knackered from keeping the peace on the school run and coming up with uncontroversial dinner solutions. But when he asked what I thought about an Equal Pay Transparency Bill, I did have an opinion.

On the 16th of Dec 2014, Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, introduced a bill calling for big companies to come clean on the differences between male and female pay in their business. 

To be honest, I was gobsmacked this was still such an issue. Who knew that from the age of 22 to 64, women earn an average of £209,976 less than men! That's a whole house less!

Even more shockingly, even when faced with Labour's analysis of these stats from the Office for National Statistics 7 male Conservative MPs voted against enforcing existing legislation to solve the problem. Shame on you Adam Afriyie (Windsor), Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase), Christopher Chope (Christchurch), Stewart Jackson (Peterborough), David Nuttall (Bury North), Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury), and John Whittingdale (Maldon). What are you thinking?

I listened to Adam Afriyie on Woman's Hour talking to Jane Garvey about why he's against the proposed transparency.

Afriyie reckons the new bill isn't necessary cos the issue is covered by the 2010 Equality Act. 'Women should feel empowered by the existing legislation,' he said. True that, but the thing is the existing legislation has been shelved by the coalition Government. WTF? Right, so you want to ignore something in favour of something that is already being ignored, Adam. You've lost me... 

Afriyie is also concerned that the new proposal is very narrow in that it doesn't include minority groups who might also suffer from unfairness in pay. Of course minority groups should also receive equal pay. No question. But last time I checked women weren't a minority group. They make up the majority of the population - a pretty good place to start if you want to tackle unfairness, surely? 

Afriyie was all about how voluntary, business-led initiatives rather than legislation are better at driving a culture change - yeah right! Like businesses are going to voluntarily increase anyone's salary, just cos. Let alone a woman who doesn't even know she's being paid less than her male colleague. *Snort!* And what about the woman who does know her predicament? The woman who's taken time out to do an investigation herself, gather evidence and present her case to her employer; yeah, she's gonna be up for employee of the month isn't she? NOT. And why should proving her company's unfairness be her responsibility?

Afriyie was also worried about how businesses will put the things into practise. In other words, 'sorry, love, I just can't be arsed with the paperwork.' Admin's a bitch, right? Just to be clear, we're talking about a line in their annual report here, using information that payroll already has on record. How hard can it be? Lots of big companies such as Tesco, Bupa, Centrica, Royal Bank of Scotland, Unilever, BAE Systems, easyjet, Carillion, Eversheds and BT already do it without resorting to paperwork panic stations.

Granted the new bill won't hit the statute books until after the election, and could be seen as a nice bit of posturing and gesture politics to beat up Conservative MPs in the run up to the election but frankly, I don't care. And neither do the 9,782 women who signed a petition organised by Grazia Magazine to get Section 78 of the Equality Act enacted. We just want equality.

It’s been over 40 years since the machinists walked out of Dagenham in protest over the pay divide. We can't wait another 40 years for change. This needs to be sorted so you, your friends, sisters, daughters and grand-daughters don't have to sit next to male colleagues - doing the same job, with the same skills and experience - and be paid less. Women deserve equal treatment and equal pay. End of.

And then the fun began...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Things you should know about a Playdate with us

So apparently sending out invites for 'play dates' is a thing now.

A card would save me the cringe-fest of saying the phrase out loud, I suppose, which totally makes my teeth itch. So twee! And it smacks of a type of hyper-scheduled, Alpha-parenting I'll never achieve.

'Can Sebastian come for a play date after Orchestra?' 

'No can do, Veronica. He has Mandarin that day, then we all sit down for Family Meditation.'

But I guess the phrase is symptom of modern life. Today's parents work and worry more than previous generations, so even if we like the idea of spontaneous play, it's difficult to put into practise. Kids don't knock about together on the streets these days. All the playing happens behind closed doors. 

Things inside are lot more complicated too. When I was a kid, having friends 'for tea' was just that. I don't remember any crafty activities or play-room envy. (Were play-rooms even a thing then?) Us kids would hang out in the garden, making 'perfume' from soggy petals while my mum whipped up the Angel Delight inside. Big thrills.

These days leaving the kids to it just doesn't cut it. Having a 'playdate' in the diary means it's an event, and an event needs entertainment. 

The word 'playdate' also brings an element of judgement. When I think back to my single days, any 'date' no matter how casually arranged, always had high-steaks and the possibility of rejection. What if my son's chosen playmate doesn't want a second date? What if we don't? Awkward.

Still, like it or not, playdates are a part of school life I'll have to get my head round if I want my son to have any friends.

There are a few things you should know about playdates with us.

  • Please know it isn't cute when your kid invites themselves back to ours like, NOW, with no warning at all. I haven't scanned the house for dirty nappies and dog fluff. Do you really want your child to do it for me?
  • Know that if I have invited your child over, it's likely I've been stalking them for weeks. Not in a snobby way, honest. (I do my best to judge without being judgemental.) All I really want to know is that our kids genuinely get on, that my son's interest is reciprocated and there's some natural chemistry.
  • I've probably indulged in a bit of light stalking around you too. Sorry! I'm not asking to be your new BFF, but it would be nice if we could pass the time while the kettle boils.
  • Know that I've probably got an activity planned, but not in a 'Pinterest Parent' type way, honest. I won't be offended if your child tells me where to stuff my Play Doh. My son just plays better with a bit of a direction, somewhere to channel his nervous energy. 
  • I'm no Food Police. I can just about manage my own children's quirks (Bouncing Boy only eats cheese on Pizza. Baby Girl only eats it raw.) I'll do my best to encourage your child eat their Fish Fingers before their ice cream, but I'm not gonna get all Annabel Karmel about it. I'm not ashamed to admit I just want them to have fun and like us. #FunAuntyJude
  • I don't mind if you want to dump and run, (you know how I feel about hosting) and genuinely hope you enjoy your few hours of freedom. Don't look back, sista. 
  • Please don't cancel at the last minute. It's likely I have been dangling the playdate carrot all day as a reward for good behaviour or something to cheer my son up in tricky moments. He's fizzing like shaken-up bottle of pop. Quite simply, I can't take the explosion alone.
  • If we're lucky enough to score an invite back to yours, you'll be lumbered with me too, sorry. Call me a helicopter parent but I still shudder at the thought of leaving Bouncing Boy with anyone I don't know really well. He's not ready. Also, he's a messy eater, I'd rather it was me picking peas out of the carpet than you. 
Sorry to sound like a total loon, but we're new to this playdate malarky. It's no child's play.

And then the fun began...

Monday, 29 December 2014

Help! We're in Crimbo Limbo!

We had an awesome Christmas. So many highlights.
  • Bouncing Boy was a stellar snowflake in his Nativity play, channelling pure, heaven-sent twinkly joy. 
  • Baby-girl made magic salt-dough decorations for the local Christmas Tree festival. Proud. 
  • Father Christmas turned up at our door, on a carol-singing sleigh, with lolly-pops and a hearty 'ho ho ho' (thank you, Round Table)
  • On Christmas Eve, amongst millions of stars, we saw Santa's sleigh pass overhead. (No, it's wasn't the Space Station.)
  • The kids were asleep by 7.30
  • Next morning, they forgot it was Christmas and slept in! Surely a Christmas miracle?
  • When they did wake up, they were full of magic and wonder. (Even better, I was full of waffles with chocolate spread.)
  • We didn't have to host Christmas lunch
  • My in-laws rocked it. Three puddings. Oh yeah.
  • I managed not one, but TWO, naps on the sofa
  • Bouncing Boy kept saying he loved us. Baby girl was in full-on copycat mode.  
I'm not sharing this to be smug - more to explain the mahooooosive Christmas Comedown we're currently sporting. 

Crimbo Limbo. Such a tricky time. No more Elf on the Shelf working his magic. No more advent calender chocolate to coax us out of bed in the morning. Fewer and fewer Christmas lights, blinging up the car journeys. The whole 'Sod it, it's Christmas,' vibe is starting to wear thin too. Sooner or later I'm gonna have to reign the kids back into a routine and ease off the sugar high.

We're coasting back to reality slowly, dismantling the Christmas decorations bit by bit, hoping the kids won't notice. Instead of chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we're pulling out all the old favourites and inventing some news ones. We're lighting the fire every night and reading stories in front of it before bedtime. And of course, there are all the new toys. Yay!

But the bleak mid-winter is coming, it's cold, the tree is starting to droop and the Easter Bunny is miles off. Ekkkk! Help! I'm not ready to go cold turkey!

How are you surviving Crimbo Limbo? I need withdrawal tips, a step-by-step programme and rehab tips, people.

In the meantime, I hope you all had a jolly time. xxx

Friday, 12 December 2014

Hate hosting? Ten liberating tips to help you chill out.

Christmas Scrooge alert: I hate hosting. There, I've said it.

So now you know the truth behind the smile that greets you at the door should you ever turn up at mine - it's a grimace.

'Come in, let me take your coat,' I say. Or we could just hover on the doorstep. That's fine too.

'Cup of tea?' To go?

It's nothing personal. I'm just not an 'all back to mine' 'door's always open' type, no matter how much I want to be. I need a booking policy and a last orders bell. I live in fear of people 'popping in' unexpectedly and settling in for the night. Please don't bring your slippers, they give me palpitations.

I know I sound miserable but it's not you, it's me. Honest.

I'm a nervous host. Are you sitting comfortably? Probably not cos I'm fussing about whether you're too hot, cold, want a softer seat or if your elbows are sticking to the table cos I forgot to wipe up before you came.

The stress means my chat stinks - I'm too busy digging out the posh mugs and cursing my shabby tray for anything as trivial as conversation. And please don't tell me you take sugar. It's solidified into a massive lump and chiselling it in front of you is a cringe too far.

I hate having to explain my quirky house. Yes, the oven always sounds like it's taking off. The tap will drip unless you tweak it just so. But if you pee in the dark to save me the phaff of standing on a chair to reach the broken light pull in the downstairs loo, I'll love you forever.

Luckily my kids don't share any of my neurosis. Watching them P.A.R.T.Y at the two year old's birthday at the weekend was liberating.... In hindsight...

Here's what I learned.

  • No need to dress for the occasion. Party clothes, hell, clothes in general, only slow you down.
  • And if you want to wear your dressing gown over your party dress, that's your prerogative.
  • Expect - nay, demand - visitors hand-over gifts before being allowed in, but feel no obligation to appreciate them.
  • Conversation a bit stilted? Just shout louder.
  • Don't be precious about decorations - balloons are for popping. Christmas Trees are for climbing. Christmas lights are for electrocuting. 
  • Not enough seats? Guests go on the floor. Besides, sitting down is for light-weights. A party isn't a party unless the sofa gets trashed and the table gets danced on.
  • Food; no need to share or hold back. Hog it all, steal off your guest's plate and throw it over your shoulder when done.
  • Music; sound tracks are overrated. Except Gangman Style on loop, obvs. 
  • Over it already? Guests boring you off? Don't let them keep you up. 
  • And finally, always remember, it's your party. You can cry if you want to. 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The most heartbreaking thing you will hear this Christmas

What are you doing for Christmas? Few glasses of wine? Turkey? Snooze on the sofa?

Mike from New Cross is doing nothing. For him, buying batteries for his radio is 'an extravagance'.  

''I’ll just shut the door and listen to the radio... ...I’m living off a tin of spaghetti a day, or a tin of beans,' he told James O'Brien in an emotional phone call to LBC radio yesterday. Mike was clearly desperate.

'People have no idea. Look, I’m a 35-year-old man, bawling my eyes out on a call-in show, desperate for people to know what it’s like." Mike has a degree in Broadcast Journalism but has been unable to find a job since being made redundant. He has resorted to searching through supermarket bins for food.

But when O'Brien responded by offering money, Mike was too proud to accept.

"Absolutely not. I will not take charity."

Please listen to his conversation here and donate to a food bank if you can.

Yesterday a damning cross-party inquiry 'Feeding Britain' called for significant changes in handling welfare, and revealed that 4.3 million tonnes of surplus food is being thrown away in Britain every year. But people like Mike need food NOW. We can't allow them to slip through the cracks this Christmas while we sit back and stuff ourselves.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

My Dishwasher is a Diva.

Never mind the kids, my house has a new diva. Enter The Dishwasher. So blimin' high maintenance.

'Salt me, rinse aid me, empty my filter,' every two seconds. And much like the kids, the dishwasher will tantrum over the smallest of details.

'Washing, you say? Oh no, I won't be doing any of that, not unless you rinse everything front and back, stack the cutlery basket like a flower arrangement and use very expensive products. Yes, I can tell the difference.'

Wine glasses and oven tins? No chance.

Perhaps the dishwasher has been taking tips from the oven. Such a bad influence.

'Looking to wind up the owners I see?' it groans. 'What you need is a funny noise, my friend. Nothing OTT, a low-level unidentifiable clank should do it. The key is persistence. And cranking it up towards Christmas - nothing scares them more than a Christmas without us.

'Oi, what about me?' pipes up the fridge. 'I busted a hinge scaring them stupid the other day. Mwah, ha ha! Now my door only opens on a wonk and very. very. slowly. Good luck squeezing a turkey in there, suckers.'

If only the kitchen appliances could be a more like ye old fire. So reliable. God knows, we haven't swept the chimney since we moved in 7 years ago but still it crackles merrily, making the house all Christmasy, never bothering the carbon monoxide monitor or smoke alarm.

Thank God, cause I think the radiators are in cahoots with the boiler. (The original go-to drama queen of every house.) Every year they gang up on us at the first sign of a white Christmas.

'Bleed me, balance me, reset me!' they moan, only to give us the cold shoulder for days, heating up a miserable amount at the bottom just to tease us.

Upstairs is less demanding, except the curtain rail in our bedroom. Such an attention seeker. Been refusing to close without Prima-Donna levels of coaxing for months, before pinging off the wall and going totally AWOL last week. Probably gone looking for the Sky remote.

Household appliances. Who do they think they are? And is it just mine, or do they all throw their weight around even more at Christmas, just when we need them most?