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Daughters and Dinnertimes

Dot is at home sick today and in time-honoured home-sick-from-school fashion, she is embedded in the sofa, wrapped in her dressing gown, watching kids’ TV on RTE. To be fair, she does have the pale complexion, watery eyes and listless demeanour that justify the day off.

Gabriel Metsu, The Sick Child

Gabriel Metsu, The Sick Child, 1663 - 1664

As a worker-from-home, there was a time when a sick child spelled disaster work-wise. Rather inconsiderately, children never give notice about being sick – they simply present themselves on the morning in question, glassy-eyed and sweating. So there is rarely time to re-negotiate deadlines with clients. Previously, to make up work time lost to minding a sick child, I had to work in the evening, usually in the form of a multiple-hour late-night session that left me feeling like I needed a day off, too.
Now that Dot is an independent and competent seven-year-old, she is happy to mooch about the house, help herself to drinks, watch TV, read and rest, while I can work pretty much undisturbed apart from the occasional request for toast (independent or no, a recent close encounter between a knife and the toaster means she has not yet got her Toaster Pass).
In other news, Carmel Somers’ new book, Eat Good Things Every Day, is having positive effects in the Curmumgeon household. Carmel runs the highly-regarded Good Things Cafe in Durrus, West Cork. In this book, she applies her professional chef’s practicality and organisational skills to the domestic sphere. I have always been a fan of leftovers and since having children, I have been allergic to cooking from scratch on a daily basis. Carmel shows how to best create dishes that yield plenty of leftovers and how to use those leftovers to create further meals (real, delicious ones, not simply reheated) on subsequent days. Besides the ample recipe section (many of which feature on the menu in her cafe, apparently, which makes me really want to visit), there are very useful sections on stocking your store cupboard, the “basics” (including a blindingly simple method for cooking a few days’ worth of deliciously-flavoured rice), and some common sense on cooking for children (in a word: don’t!).
The result in this house has been some new dishes that met with great approval (egg-fried rice (made with the rice mentioned above) with roast chicken leftovers and spinach (ready in five minutes) and roast shoulder of pork with divine gravy being particular hits) and a smoother-running kitchen routine that has Curmumgeon a little less frazzled at dinnertimes. Now that’s definitely a good thing.

On snow, slush and socks

The year got off to a good start for curmudgeons in this part of the world, with snow and sub-zero temperatures keeping people housebound for weeks after Christmas. Today, despite a slight thaw, the omnipresent slush is ensuring that we still have plenty to grumble about.
Now for the Top Five bizarre sights of Ireland’s recent bad weather (in no particular order):
1. People shuffling along ice-bound footpaths wearing thick socks over their shoes. This shows a suspicious level of practicality and good sense by the Irish public. Sure enough, it emerged that this “snow tip” was communicated to Irish national radio by a German (who, along with the rest of his compatriots, is probably tickled pink by the chaos caused in this country by a few inches of snow).
2. People out on the footpaths at all. Ireland is a nation of car-lovers, which, coupled with disastrous public transport, makes driving something of a national pastime. Now that the ice on the roads has forced many to re-think the two-minute drive to the newsagent’s, we are seeing more of that rare breed: pedestrians!
3. Snow. The last time that Irish children were able to make snowmen and have proper snowball fights was a generation ago.
4. Dali-esque snow figures. Today’s thaw has seen snowmen and -women shed various limbs, or heads. Some of the less robust ones have imploded altogether, creating disturbing post-apocalyptic images in front gardens and public parks.
5. Drivers, obviously rendered giddy by the slight rise in temperatures, reverting to their normal driving habits – overtaking, speeding, not watching the road – despite repeated warnings in the media that slush is more hazardous than snow.

Angel therapy

Hot, Dot, Bot and I were out this evening for the first time in ages. Frugality is very much in vogue here at the moment, so dinner in our local Irish-Italian eatery had the air of a novelty. Hot and I had braced ourselves for an hour and a half of snatched bites of dinner in between crowd control measures, ranging from verbal warnings to physical restraint, depending on the amount of Coke Dot managed to sneak past us and into herself.
Dot caught us completely off guard by being a total angel. Dinner was ordered in a Shirley Temple voice with manners to match. Please and thank you were said. Requests for drinking straws, small spoons, colouring books and extra cheese were made at our table, sitting down. Even Dot’s recession-coping mechanisms were successfully tested – the news that the restaurant no longer does Babychinos (now there was an example of the Celtic Tiger gone completely doolally) was received with stoicism.
Bot tried to balance things out by pulling a button off my new boyfriend cardigan, but I barely noticed, so giddy was I with delight at Dot’s model behaviour.
Now I am spending the rest of the evening fighting off evil musings about what it is she wants. Bad Mommy!

Rights and wrongs

Feeling very curmudgeonly since hearing about the breastfeeding mother in Beaumont House pub in Dublin last week who was asked by the owner to move “out of consideration for other customers”.

Apart from all the issues around discrimination, people thinking breastfeeding is the same as indecent exposure, the sheer ignorance of people who would complain about someone breastfeeding in public, etc., this incident also makes me think about children’s rights. Why should a child having his/her lunch in a pub be asked to move? If children were recognised in law as equal citizens, there would be no question that they could eat where and when they need to, like anyone else.

Three cheers for the mother who raised the issue publicly and spoke so well on Joe Duffy yesterday, and for her father-in-law who also came on to defend her. I actually felt a bit sorry for the pub owner on the show – he contradicted and implicated himself several times, not to mention making it obvious that he had been totally unaware of the legislation that protects against discrimination on any grounds, including breastfeeding, in public houses.

Guess he feels like a bit of a boob now…:-)

Enlightenment of age

I’ve always been a keen subscriber to the “You’re only as old as you feel” philosophy (especially since turning 30, funnily enough). Most days I can convince myself that I feel around 17, if I avoid the mirror and visualise my particular inner 17-year-old as a shrieking banshee with baby puke on her jeans.

But other days it’s a struggle.

On my most recent visit to the hairdresser, the salon assistant asked me if I would like some magazines. Suppressing the real answer (“This is the only time every two months that I get to sit and read magazines for an hour so – hell yeah!!”), I nodded and watched approvingly in the mirror as the youth sifted through the magazines on the table behind me, clearly taking pains with the selection. I berated myself for pre-judging him by his appearance – electric blue Mohican, waistband practically around his knees and studs through every available flap of skin – and reminded myself to be more open-minded. What did he finally bring? “Good Housekeeping”.

Sometimes the subtle messages come from those closest to you. Hot was going to the supermarket last week and I asked him to get me some shampoo without specifying what kind (hair again!! aaargh). He returned with a very expensive-looking bottle and proudly handed it over. The label read “For tired, stressed hair.”

I’m not saying that I think everyone I know is commenting behind my back on how much I’ve aged lately. That would be ridiculous. I’m just saying – just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you.

(Did I just quote a rock star that most of today’s under-25s have probably never heard of?)

Please, Mr. Postman

I am always amazed at my own reaction to the sound of the postman’s footsteps on our driveway. It has been several years since postmen and postwomen were the sole channel for written communication with the outside world. In those days (yes, I do remember them), there was always a sporting chance that the daily post would contain goodies such as  handwritten letters, useful information that was certainly not considered junk and, best of all, cheques. Now that we have email, texting, Facebook, Twitter and other such wonders, the postman’s visit promises bills, reminders of bank account-breaking appointments with the kids’  medical consultants, and little else. So why do I have this Pavlovian reaction of racing heart and the irresistible urge to go and check the post? The answer is in the question, I guess: conditioning. Now where are those biscuits?

Venomous and proud

A little education is a dangerous thing, they say. Personally, I think a reasonable amount of education can be even more dangerous. I mean, the term “blissful ignorance” didn’t just come from nowhere. Some days – usually when I’m driving down our road for the fifth time, or finding myself confronted with the daily puzzler of “what can I make for dinner in ten minutes from virtually no ingredients” – I genuinely think I would be better off if my education had stopped sooner than it did. That way, I simply wouldn’t know about a lot of the stuff that causes me headaches on a daily basis.

Do I really need to know that Anna Karenina threw herself under a train in response to the pressures of modern womanhood? And speaking of Tolstoy, I would definitely be better off without the knowledge that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Aaargh! I don’t want to recognise myself or my family in epic tragic figures, thank you!

There are definitely days when I almost believe that the guys at The Fast Show got it right about education turning women into venomous harridans – just going by myself, of course.

In this spirit, I’ve recently been conducting an experiment with myself as guinea pig. For two weeks now, I have read nothing but fashion magazines and chick lit novels. So far, I’m feeling pretty good. (I had a brief slip last weekend when I unthinkingly bought the new Colm Toibin, but I remembered myself and haven’t looked at so much as the cover since.) I reckon I’ve undone at least the first few weeks of my undergraduate degree already.

If I persevere and apply myself, I might even be able to erase that Master’s from my mind forever.

Napoleon managed on four hours' sleep, so can I

Having been a model baby in the sleep stakes for several nights, Bot undid all her good work this morning by waking up at 4 am. (With a very impressive, whooping, gasping, catch-you-in-the-throat croupy cough, it must be said.) Now, almost six hours later, Bot is home sick from the minder’s, sleeping off the effects of her broken night, not a trace of the cough remaining, while I squeeze in some work before she wakes up again and the planned gym visit (yes, really) postponed to another day. Not for the first time, I give thanks that I work from home. I don’t think my clients would see the funny side if I turned up to work with pyjamas posing as daywear, bed hair (not the sexy kind), and bags under my eyes so huge that if I were at the the airport, Ryanair would slap on an extra charge before you could say “Did you pack those yourself?”

Closing the gap, Part 1

Mums on the edge have to take their comforts where they can. I made it to the gym today. The boss lady kindly did not linger over the fact that I had extended my maternity break well beyond the bounds of biological possibility. I did my round on the machines feeling conflicted, as usual: yes, I am back at the gym, but I should be working. Still, there are worse things to agonise over. Such as: my gym tops no longer cover my belly when I do my stretching exercises. Remembering the new positive me, I valiantly turn it into a goal: get gym top to cover belly by Christmas! Watch this space (not the one between the hem of my top and my trousers).

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