Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Because "Fate" is better than "Mishap"

Interior.  A cramped, dusty office.  Files are piled high on the floor.  Three enormous bearded old men wearing yellow-stained togas sit perched on stools, each at his own desk, arranged so that the men can see each other.  The three desks are also overflowing with files.  Cigarette smoke fills the air, and numerous ashrays are over-flowing with butts, some still smouldering.  Name-plates are barely visible on each of the desks:  “War”, “Famine” and “Pestilence”.  In the far side of the room we can see a door, closed, bearing a plate marked “Death”.  Through a small, dirty window, we see bare trees and driving sleet.  We can guess it’s sometime in late January or early February.
Pestilence picks up a file at his feet.  It is relatively dust-free.  He opens it, leafs through it, and sniggers.  Famine looks up. 

Famine:     What’s that?

Pestilence: That old bird we like to torment.  The haggard one with the bonkers kids.   There’s a note on the front to revisit it every few weeks and add something new.  Any thoughts for today?

Famine:       (Sitting back and looking thoughtful)  Um.... I could throw a stomach bug her way.  Not just her – the kids too... That should put them off their food for a bit.

Pestilence makes a note of this in the file. 

Pestilence: (Distracted) And how about... a really horrible dose of flu.  Let’s stagger it a bit.  Stomach bug first, each of them in turn, and then the flu, a few days later.  All at once. 

He scribbles furiously in the file.  War looks up from the enormous file he’s working on, which he closes and tosses to the ground.  We see the word “Syria” on the front. 

War:          God, I am SO BORED with this shit.  If it isn’t one fucking dictator murdering his own people, it’s another one.  Humans are fucking crazy.  I can’t believe they just buy into everything I throw at them.  I need some light relief.  (Seeing the file in Pestilence’s hands) What’s that?

Pestilence tosses it over to him.  Opening it, War quickly scans it, then looks back at his colleagues. 

War:            Stomach bugs?  Flu?  You guys can be such      amateurs sometimes. 

Famine:       Oh yeah? What would you do?  And we can’t change it anyway, it’s in the system now. 

War:       What you need... (pauses)... is to think outside of the box.  It’s Winter.  She’s going to be expecting bugs and flu.  How about something a little bit more... long term.  A mini-war, of the mind and body, perhaps?

Famine and Pestilence look confused.

Pestilence: You’re not thinking of something terminal are you?  Because you know anything like that has to go through the Big Guy first.  (He nods in the direction of the closed door.)

War:         No no no.  Nothing like that.  I’ve had enough dealings with him with this Syria file as it is.  No, I’m thinking something which will fuck with her mind a bit more... Hold on...

He opens the file at a particular page, reads for a few minutes, then leans back and smiles.  Grabbing a pen, he writes a lengthy note on a clean page, and inserts it in the front of the file.  He throws the file to the others.  Famine catches it, and reads the page.  His jaw drops, he stares, wide-eyed, at his colleague. 

Pestilence:   WHAT?

He grabs the file and reads it.  He blinks, and looks up, ashen-faced.

Pestilence:   You can’t be serious?

War:            Why not?  It’s all good clean fun.  Most people would be delighted.

Famine:       But... You’ve read the file... You know what this will mean?

War:             Shit happens.  Now (turning back his back on them, and reaching for a file marked “Somalia”) if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I have work to do.  

Interior.  A bathroom in a house. Beyond a shut door we can hear the muffled screams of young children, and occasional thumps as they – presumably – throw each other off furniture.  Pan to the toilet, where a  woman is sitting hunched over, her trousers around her ankles, her head in her hands.  By her feet lies a white stick.  There is discarded packaging nearby.  Close up to the white stick.  We see two oval windows, with a red cross in each. Pan back to the woman, and she raises her head;  from behind the mess of hair obscuring her face, we can just about make out a shocked, horrified expression, and dull, vacant eyes.

Later that day:
Interior. A car.  A drawn, middle-aged woman is in the front seat, driving, distractedly.  Two vast children sit strapped into seats in the back.  The obviously younger one has her finger stuck up her nose and is staring out the window.  We can see that, despite the layer of grime covering her, she’s quite pretty.  Every so often she removes her finger to point at something, shouts “caw caw!”, then puts the finger back in the nostril.  The older one – a boy – is kicking the back of the driver's seat.  He is wearing a plastic eye-patch, a pirate’s hat, and is playing with a small knife decorated with skulls. He has an oddly-menacing look about him.

Boy:            Mummy?

Girl:             Caw!! Caw Caw!

Driver:         (Distracted)  Mmmm?

Boy:            Today, why you shout “Fuck Fuck Fuck” from the bathroom?

In the front seat the woman sighs, apologises, and changes the subject. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

Basket - and Charity - Cases

We are into week FOUR of nursery holidays, and week two of incessant rain, and are all somewhat losing our minds.  The Boy is so starved of human interaction – his friends are all on holidays, his parents and sister don’t count - that he flung himself at the postman yesterday and cried when the poor man managed to disengage himself. While he was busy conversing (“Who are you?  What’s your name?  Why are you here?  Why you have funny teeth?”) the Girl managed to squeeze her way through our legs and was off down the street like a shot.  Despite the blowing gale and lashing rain, she too cried she was caged up back in the house.  But the worst affected by our protracted house-arrest has been yours truly.  I’ve been in a rotten mood for over a week, yelling and shouting at the slightest toddler infraction – they are driving me MAD  - to the extent that it’s now become a very bad, but unshakeable (and, if I’m honest, not entirely unenjoyable) habit.

That it might be affecting the children more than the usual rolling of the eyes and stomping of the feet became clear yesterday when the Boy disappeared off upstairs.  After 20 minutes the Man went looking for him. He found him, naked from the waist down, hiding under a pile of dirty clothes in the laundry room;  “I can’t come downstairs because I wet my pants and Mummy will be very cross with me and shout.”

The GUILT.   (Compounded by the fact that he was right – I would have shouted.)

So I’ve decided to instigate my own Good Behaviour Snake*.  The original idea – that I get a wine sticker every time I restrain self from screeching, which I can then trade in for a glass of wine – was rejected by the Wine-Keeper.  I then proposed that I be presented with a large, expensive gift, if I can go a week without cracking.  This too was rejected – despite my assurances that it would be at least 2028 (when I estimate the kids will have left home) before I’d realistically achieve this goal.  So I’ve come up with my own carrot and stick. 

Actually, it’s just a stick.  I’ve given the Man £100, in £10 notes, and a piece of paper.  Every time I screech, a note is made of this on the paper.  Every screech directed at the children is worth £1 to the Man.  Each time I hit 10, he takes £10 from the kitty.   Originally, the idea was that he’d give this to charity.  But because I am so darn bonkers, I know that a part of my brain will justify my mean, bad parenting as being for a good cause, and the bellowing will continue.  So he gets to keep the money, and do whatever he likes with it, and I then match every pound he gets and give it to charity.

Basically, I’m setting up quite an expensive swear box, the proceeds of which will benefit the Man and an, as yet, unspecified charity.   £2 isn’t really so much, but honestly, at the rate I’ve been going, that £100 wouldn’t make it till lunchtime.  

We’ve inserted a couple of rules, to take account of real life, and my current general disposition towards the children.  I get two free passes a day (if you live in the SW4 area of London, brace yourselves – I plan on getting my money’s worth from those babies);  I am also allowed justified yelling – if the kids are being REALLY bad (ie hurting each other, or, more likely, me), or if they’re putting themselves in danger and I can’t get to them in time (possibly because I’m sitting in the broom cupboard rocking backwards and forwards and muttering imcomprehensibly to myself).

The Man thinks there’s no way I can do it, and is dancing the dance of glee danced by one about to come into easy money.  I have, over the years, managed to convince him that I really don’t care all that much about money.  He’s wrong tho’.  I just don’t care too much about his money.  Mine?  I care about it VERY much. 

Anyway... I am planning sugar-filled treats to ease what might be a rocky road.  The Boy and I made these yesterday – part bonding session (fuelled by guilt over the pants-wetting event), part greed – and I think they’re the best things I’ve ever made.  And then I remembered Bird’s Custard!  And the glory that was plain jam tarts was lifted to dizzy heights. 

You don’t have to be a horrible parent with a personality disorder to make these, but you do have to be quite mad not to realise that they are what’s been missing in your lives all this time.

Ridiculously Easy Jam Tarts (makes about 8)
  • Ready-made all-butter puff pastry  (the ready-rolled stuff, while the height of laziness, is easiest)
  • A jar of jam.  Go for the nicest one you can. 
  • A teeny splash of milk.
  • Some sugar (any type).

Preheat oven to 170C / 325F / 3Gas
Roll out / unroll the puff pastry.   Cut into squares / circles / rectangles twice the size of your preferred finished tart.  Dollop a fair amount of jam on half of the pastry, then fold the un-jammed piece over and press down the sides with a fork.  Stab a hole in the top of the pastry, and brush lightly with milk. (If you don’t have a pastry brush, do what we did and dip your finger in the milk and rub over the top of the brush.  Washing your hands before this is, of course, optional.) Sprinkle sugar over the top.

Stick in the oven until the pastries have risen and are golden brown – about 20 minutes. 

You really do need to let these cool before eating – the jam is molten, and will not only burn your mouth, but stick to the roof of your mouth and then burn it.  Argh.

Wonderful on its own, but really wonderful with Bird’s Custard.  Eat while sitting in a broom cupboard.

* I know.  Imagine having to bribe yourself to be nice to your own children.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Disgusting Things

It is beginning to occur to me that the Girl may be somewhat deranged.  Possibly no more than your average 21-month-old, but to my mind, unhinged nonetheless. She showed an inclination for potty-training during the nice weather the other week – “Poo-poo!  MINE!!!!”, roared every time she saw the toilet, and then she went NUTS when she realised what that blue plasticy thing in the laundry room was.  So I took the blue plasticy thing and brought it into the garden, stripped her, and let her get on with it.  “How clever,” I mused.  “Potty trained before she’s 2... How easy that’s going to make my life...”

Half an hour later I realise two things:  (a) that the average 21-month old can’t hold in their wee for more than several minutes at a time, so she spent the morning wandering in circles around the potty, like a Labrador trying to find a cosy spot on a rug; and (b) she is deranged.  She has some weird ritualistic ablutions performed after each wee, involving – not, as is usual, fresh pure water, but – gah – the wee itself.  
I couldn’t be dealing with that shit (excuse the pun) for very long so, to wails of consternation,  the potty has been packed away and the nappies reinstated. Now she’s stripping herself from the waist down as much as is possible (I’ve taken to putting three layers of those clip-shut vests on her), and rifling through the kitchen looking for potty substitutes.  As I write she is wearing a wife-basher vest, which is flapping open at her nether-regions, and is sitting on a saucepan.  Yes, I realise this may result in some unpleasantness, but it’s keeping her quiet.  She has also taken to wearing nappy-sacks on her bare-feet, and a small mixing-bowl on her head, and so generally resembles a pervy semi-scrubbed-up midget surgeon from the first world war.  (I should also point out that before she put the bowl on her head, she pretended to vomit into it, giggling uproariously between retches.  See?  Crazy.)

I wish I could take a photo to show you – it’s flippin' hilarious – but God only knows what sort of readers I’d attract through the Google word-search then.  And anyway, this week my sister told me that she’d like to Pinterest some of my photos, but “they’re all really really disgusting.  Sorry.”

Disgusting?  Really?  Golly.  I had no idea I was causing such offence with my complete lack of photographic talents.  Isn’t it just enough to, you know, point-and-click?  I apologise if others amongst you baulk in horror at the composition of my weekly illustrations.  I’ve made an effort this week. 

It’s called: “Saturday Morning, 9am.  A fantasy.” (I can’t show you a photo of what all mornings are in fact like, because that REALLY would be disgusting.  Similarly the scene behind the camera is one of utter carnage, a sort of Hunger Games on a smaller scale.)

It comprises all the components of what every Saturday morning should be like: A pot of loose-leaf tea, FRESHLY-MADE muffins (by me, not Mr Supermarket), and a fresh, unripped, newspaper.  You will notice too that the table is clean, there are no small paws reaching up to spill something, and ideally you should get the sense that the house is... quiet

That, of course, is the greatest fantasy of all.  

The muffins were real – and delicious - tho’.  They’re Nigella, who I’m beginning to suspect is yer only man for fool-proof baking.  My only alteration has been the addition of some walnuts (which I didn’t do for the muffins in the BEAUTIFUL picture above, but did for the next batch, and much the better they were for it too).
Banana Muffins (Easy and quick enough to rustle up for breakfast).

You need (for about 12 muffins):
  • 75g/3oz Melted Butter
  • 250g/9oz Self Raising Flour (or plain flour, but add a tsp of baking powder to the mix)
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon (optional)
  • Handful of chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 115g/4oz Caster Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp Honey
  • 2 Large Ripe Bananas (the browner and mankier, the better)
  • 2 Medium Eggs
  • 125ml/4 floz Milk

Preheat oven to 190c / 170c Fan / 375f / 5g

Melt butter (microwave is easiest) and leave to cool. 

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon into a bowl. Add the sugar and walnuts and mix well.

Mash the bananas well.  Add the eggs, vanilla extract, honey, butter and milk to them and stir like a crazy woman.  

Make a well in the dry mixture and add the egg mixture. Stir roughly with a folk. (Don't stir too much – it’s meant to be thick and lumpy.)

Grease the cups of a muffin tray well and fill each space to the top with the mixture.

Put in the oven for about 20-25 minutes.

Nigella then says that you need to leave them to “cool for 5 minutes in the tin and then 5 minutes on a wire rack.”  Don’t be ridiculous.  Leave them for as long as you can wait, which in this house is about 47 seconds.

Stuff as many as you can into your gob before your children get their hands on them (and you).