Posted in Family, Personal life, Travel

Will the Real Jordan Please Stand Up?

Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, (English and...
Image via Wikipedia

Half-listening to the radio in my car the other day, I picked up the start of a news story: “Jordan is calling for the repatriation of ancient manuscripts from Israel…”

Gosh, I thought, maybe she’s trying to reinvent herself as an intellectual in the wake of her second divorce.  Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing she’s usually up to.  I thought she preferred cavorting in Ibiza night clubs, if we’re to believe the tabloid newspapers.

I’d driven another mile before I realised that John Humphrys was not talking about the infamous Katie Price, aka glamour model Jordan, but the Middle Eastern nation.

It’s not the first time I’ve been confused by a country’s name.  Years ago, at a dinner party, the whole table was held in thrall by the hostess’s account of domestic habits in Iceland.  It was only when someone piped up “I didn’t know you’d been there for your holidays” that it emerged she’d actually been talking about Iceland, the popular frozen food chainstore. I’d been wondering how she knew so much about foreign shopping bags.

There’s something rather appealing about hijacking a country’s name for other purposes.  I’m usually a traditionalist with babies’ names – I did after all choose Laura for my own daughter – but I rather like the growing trend for calling children after countries. India and China suggest elegant, dainty girls, while states’ names like Georgia and Alberta summon up a more robust, outdoorsy type.  Nations terminating in a consonant sound more masculine.  Israel, of course, and Chad have long been used as boys’ names, but Egypt and Sudan would be equally rugged. How refreshing it would be to see a little America and Libya holding hands in the playground, or Laos and Denmark playing tag. Report some of these events on the news and we could all believe that we’re living in a new, more peaceful age, at least for a pleasant, fleeting moment.

Posted in Family, Personal life

Let Blending Commence!

krazy kitchen tea towel
Image by wine me up via Flickr

Still flushed with the success of my recent purchase of a glass kettle, I am stopped in my tracks tonight in Sainsbury’s by the sight of a shiny new food processor, the subject of an alluring special offer.  I take down the huge cardboard box from the shelf and turn it over, admiring the pictures of its smart design from all angles.  Such a contrast to the dusty, rusting 80s model in my kitchen cupboard!  Its awkward uncleanable crevices harbour ecosystems all of their own.  I’ve long since stopped using it for fear of what new lifeforms might have evolved in there.

Can  I justify this impulse buy?  I’ve onlycome in to Sainsbury’s for a pint of milk.  Yes, I jolly well can!

A flashback to our half-term trip to the Science Museum  endorses my decision.  As we looked around its fascinating exhibition of antique household appliances, it had occurred to me that my old cream and brown (how 80s is that?) food processor would have looked right at home there.

This particular machine was a Christmas present from my then boyfriend.  Fresh out of university, we were feeling terribly grown-up and we were starting to embrace a domesticity that had passed us by until then.  I’d made it through my degree course with only a milkpan and a frying pan in my kitchen locker – and I was one of the better cooks in our hall.  My previous birthday present to him had been a “Multiboil” – a kettle that included a little plastic basket in which you could supposedly rest tins or eggs and boil them till done (provided that you didn’t mind turning the kitchen into a sauna in the process).  It pre-dated the “forgettle kettle” so it wouldn’t switch itself off when reaching boiling point.  We thought it was the apex of kitchen sophistication.  The Multiboil was also, inevitably, cream and brown, as was most of my wardrobe and indeed most of my possessions at that time.

My new food processor, by contrast, is snow-white, sparkling, compact and modern. I take it home and lovingly lift it  from its packaging.  Clearing a space on the windowsill, I set it down gently alongside the new glass kettle, as if introducing it to a new friend. It’s much too smart to hide in a cupboard.  By now my old machine is gracing the inside of the wheelie bin.

At this point, my small daughter comes  into the kitchen.  She looks at it and frowns.

“Why have you bought another kettle?” she asks seriously.

I don’t let her criticism burst my bubble.  I’ll treat myself to a new food processor every thirty years, whether I need it or not.

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Glass Kettle is a Revelation

AEG electric water kettle designed by Peter Be...
Image via Wikipedia

This week my stainless steel electric kettle decided to self-destruct.  It had been self-harming for a long time, bunging up the water gauge so it looked permanently full, and repeatedly coating its insides with a thick layer of limescale.  That’s one of the occupational hazards of being a kettle in the Cotswolds.

I learned long ago that the best way to descale a kettle is to fill it with cheap malt vinegar, which costs about 20p for a huge bottle.  (My school science lessons were not entirely wasted.)  I looked forward to watching the acid dissolve the gritty alkaline and it was satisfying to swoosh out all the bits into the sink.  But this week even that trusty technique didn’t restore life to my kettle, so I resorted to the Argos catalogue to choose a new one.

Years ago, when I was a student and a proud owner of my first electric kettle, the choice was simple: a “forgettle kettle” (the strapline for the newly-invented type that turned itself off when it boiled) or one that you had to turn off yourself.  When your kettle started to play up, you went to the hardware shop (a presence on every high street in those days) and bought a new electric element, giving your old kettle a new lease of life.  These days, when we’re supposedly so  environmentally aware, we have no choice but to chuck the whole thing out and start again.

So which new kettle to choose?  I cast my eye over the many makes and models on offer.  They were grouped into numerous categories, becoming more and more bizarre as I turned the pages.  Who needs “illuminating kettles” , for heaven’s sake?  Unadventurous, at least in the kettle department, I wrote on the back of my hand the product number of the one that looked most like my late kettle.

But then when I got to Argos, something made me flick through the catalogue again.  And this time my eye fell upon the last one on the last page, one that I had missed before.  All alone, in a section of its own, was a “glass kettle”.  Glass kettles?  Hmm, never seen one of those before, I thought, but watching the bubbles and rising steam will provide a useful physics lesson for my small daughter.

So I picked one up and brought it home.  From the moment I eased it out of its box, I fell instantly in love with it.  For what’s not to love about a glass kettle?  It doesn’t block out light on the windowsill the way my metal one did, which just sat there looking brooding, dark and ugly.  It’s almost as good as having an invisible kettle.  You can see at a glance how full it is.  You can spot when it’s close to boiling.  You will even be able to see when it’s starting to fur up with limescale, and reach for the vinegar before it reaches crisis point. (And I do like to have advance warning if I’m going to have to go without tea for longer than 10 minutes at a time.)  In fact, it’s so great that I wonder why all kettles aren’t made of glass?

This got me to thinking about other items around the house.  I’m sure a change of materials could revolutionise all kinds of things.  Firstly, and perhaps a little obviously, there’s the glasses.  If only our beautiful set of Rennie Mackintosh wine glasses that we had as a wedding present had been made out of plastic, we’d still have enough of them left to put out at a dinner party.  Of the original 18, we’re down to 2 after 9 years of marriage, so I suppose if we break those last two, we’ll have to get divorced and start again.

Sorting through my daughter’s sock drawer to weed out the ones that are tantamount to Chinese foot binding, it occurred to me that children’s clothes should all be made of elastic.  That way, you could buy clothes for them to grow into without making them look like they’re wearing hand-me-downs – and when they do grow, their clothes would grow with them.

And why aren’t all cars made entirely of rubber?  That way, when I had a close encounter when cornering a dry stone wall the other day, I’d have just rebounded, instead of taking part of it with me and leaving some of my paintwork behind.

There must be endless items out there that could do with this kind of rethink. If any entrepreneurs out there want to have a go with some of these inventions, please feel free to do so – I give you my ideas as a gift.  Just remember to send me your catalogue when you’re ready, so that I can place my orders.  And could you please make sure you print the catalogue on newsprint, rather than the usual glossy paper?  It’s so handy for lining the guinea pig’s cage.  And if you could make it cucumber flavour, that would be even better – after all, it is her favourite.

Posted in Family, Personal life

The Perils of the Supermarket

Guinea Pig baby. About 8 hours old.
Baby guinea pig, 8 hours old - image via Wikipedia

At first, the stress of this week’s supermarket shop is magnified by the need to dodge frequent ambushes of Christmas goods, displayed in virtually every aisle.  But it is also assuaged by bumping into a friend of mine by the petfood.

At this point my small daughter begins jumping up and down, doing what my friend calls “the toilet dance”, so I despatch her to the customer loo near the vegetables while my friend and I enjoy  a stress-busting chat before tackling frozen foods.

I’m confident that I won’t have moved on by the time Laura returns, but in any case we have in place our emergency plan as to what should happen if either of us ever gets lost in the supermarket – to meet at the checkout furthest from the entrance.  In Laura’s opinion, the person getting lost won’t necessarily be her – she defines the lost person as the first one to notice that the other one is missing.  So mostly that’d be me, then.

After a jolly chat, my friend, up against the clock, makes her farewell and trolls off with her trolley.  I turn back to the  pet food.  Hay, for the guinea pig – not to be confused with straw.  If you’re a guinea pig, the difference is crucial, according to the Piglogpedia, a wonderful reference book that the guinea pig rescue lady made me promise to buy before entrusting us with Brownie and the late lamented Ginger.  She must have had her baby by now, I realised, and wonder whether hay would work as an environmentally-friendly alternative to nappies.

“Excuse me!”

I’m wrenched from my reverie by an elderly lady with pink hair, whom I’d seen earlier out of the corner of my eye while I was chatting to my friend.

“Don’t you think you are being rather irresponsible sending your daughter off to the toilet by herself?”

I blink, taken aback.

“No, I don’t think so.  She knows where it is.  We went there on the way in.  She’s been there lots of times.”

She scowls at me and shakes her head, setting her pink curls trembling.

Anything could be happening to her in there while you are chatting with your – friend.”

She spits out the last word contemptuously.  My friend, I hasten to add, is the pillar of society, respectable, sober and about as sensible as you can get.  It’s not as if she were covered in tattoos and offering me a swig from her cider bottle in a paper bag.

I shake my head.

“I don’t think so.  Laura’s 7 and she’s very sensible. You have to let them start to have some independence sometime, you know, and that’s what I’m doing now.”

Her reaction makes me wonder if she thinks “independence” is a slang for some kind of illegal drug.

She narrows her eyes, threateningly.

“You may think so.  But my friend’s daughter is seven and she was attacked two weeks ago in a toilet in Tesco’s.”

It’s on the tip of my tongue to say “And that’s why I don’t shop in Tesco’s” but I don’t think this would go down too well.

“Thank you for your concern, but I am happy with my parenting skills,” I say tersely, trying to take her advice in the spirit in which it was intended.

Happier than you should be with your hairdressing skills, I’m thinking to myself.  I bite my lip.

And right on cue, Laura comes skipping back round the corner.

“Hello, lovely Mummy!” she says winningly and the lady with pink hair shuffles off, clearly disappointed.

But as I turn back to the hay, I give Laura an extra little hug.

“Hello, my lovely big girl.”

And as we progress to the bakery aisle, I’m holding firmly on to her small, trusting hand.

Posted in Personal life

Mix and Match

Marks & Spencer
Image by jovike via Flickr
Checking my inbox today, I find it peppered with emails from clothing suppliers trying to persuade me to buy a new winter wardrobe.  The thermometer having plummeted in the last few days, we’re all going to need our winter woollies by the time we come back from half term, so I take a look at what they’re offering.First on the list is a message from Marks and Spencer highlighting their new “coatigan” – a combination of a coat and a cardigan.  It sounds just right for inbetweeny, Halloweeny weather.

I’ve never seen a coatigan, but I don’t need to.  This portmanteau word conjures up a precise vision. I’m intrigued by the cross-breeding that fashion retailers believe is going on in our wardrobes.  First came the skort (is it a skirt? Is it shorts?).  Then last year the shoe-boot (no explanation necessary).  This was swiftly followed by jeggings: the spawn of jeans and leggings.  Whatever next?

If the trend continues, here are my predictions for your warmer winter wardrobe this season….

The Jumpover – as sleek as a jumpsuit but practical as an overall, this all-in-one  outfit will keep the fashion-conscious woman clean but elegant while working around the house.

The Underall –  not dissimilar to old-fashioned combinations, this underwear features the added benefit of practical overall-style pockets for storing essential tools.

The Shocking – a seamless, streamlined cross between high-heeled shoes and fishnet stockings for the girl who really wants to get noticed at the office Christmas party.

The Harf or Scat – a hat with scarf attached around the lower edge to avoid the annoying gap that lets the draught in between conventional hat and scarf sets.

But my favourite this winter will be Pyjippers – ending chilly ankles when I go down to make the tea first thing in the morning.  I wonder if I can get them patented in time for Christmas?

(This post originally appeared in the November edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News.)