Open wide…

Yawn. Click.

And there I stood, doing my best impersonation of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

That’s right; I had somehow managed to dislocate my jaw while yawning.

Cue silent panicking.

Silent by necessity rather than by choice you understand because despite the frantic mantra of ‘ohmygodohmygodohmygod’ that was running on fast-forward repeat in my head, the only vocalisation of which I was capable was a deep-throated gargle along the lines of ‘aargh-aargh-aargh-aaaaargh‘.

Very caveman-esque and not at all attractive to my way of thinking.

Once I was able to breathe without hyperventilating and the little black spots stopped dancing in front of my eyes I tried to manoeuvre my jaw back into place – tentatively at first and then rather more forcefully – but it was no good. My visage may as well have been carved alongside the Mt Rushmore quartet for all the movement my near-frenzied prodding and poking elicited.

Of course this had to happen on one of the nights that Mr S was playing tennis so Miss S and I were home alone. I had just tucked her into bed and was looking forward to curling up with the latest episode of White Collar but my plans to spend an evening drooling over Matt Bomer now appeared to have been put on hold.

Not that I needed any Pavlovian-styled visual aids of the sexy-man variety to get me drooling; I was doing a pretty impressive job right off my own bat. Apparently humans produce a staggering amount of saliva – close to 2 litres a day according to Wikipedia – and with my mouth stuck on open and no way of swallowing, the saliva had been pooling in my maw and was now threatening to overflow. I dashed to the basin and made like the teapot in the nursery rhyme – I tipped me up and poured me out.

Effective, yet sadly transient as my mouth immediately started re-filling. Obviously the first item on the agenda was to find a more permanent method of dealing with my overworked salivary glands. I decided to go with the eminently practical method of stuffing my mouth with tissues to absorb the never ending cascade and… Success!

Well yes, admittedly a very small victory but at that moment I’d take what I could get. Silver linings, and all that; glass half-full rather than half-empty, right?

Which reminded me; it was time to tip me up and pour me out again.

Having ensured that I would neither drown in my saliva nor drool on myself for the next few minutes I was finally able to move on to more pressing matters. Namely, how to… I was unsure of the correct terminology – un-dislocate? relocate? – my jaw. So I did what any intelligent person does when drawing a blank; I Googled it. Unfortunately, for once Mr G let me down as there were no informative postings or YouTube videos providing helpful instructions for the DIY un-dislocating of a dislocated jaw. All postings agreed on one thing though; a dislocated jaw was to be considered a medical emergency and required the dislocate-ee to proceed immediately to their nearest A&E.

Roger that.

But how to get there?

I briefly considered phoning 999 but as the conversation would, perforce, be one-sided it didn’t take me long to realise that the only way I was getting to A&E that evening was if I drove myself. Apparently I do have to do everything around here.

First port of call was rousing Miss S. There was a very real possibility that being woken by a wide-mouthed, drooling, ‘aargh-ing’ mother would scare the pants off her so before waking her I wrote her a brief note explaining what had happened. Naturally I had to take into account that she was only seven and that words such as ‘dislocated’ would be met with a blank stare despite the graphic visual aid that was my face.

I decided the following served my purpose nicely – ‘my jaw is stuck and I need to go to the hospital’ – and taking a deep breath I gently shook her awake her and shoved the note under her nose. She read it, nodded and started to get dressed. Apparently I had finally hit on the one sure-fire way to render her speechless. Just when I need her to be my mouthpiece. Go figure.

While Miss S quickly dressed I wrote out some flashcards so that I would not be reduced to charades once we reached the hospital. The first one simply stated: ‘Dislocated my jaw yawning’. My driver’s licence would provide them with my personal details so I didn’t have to write down those. But beyond the obvious questions I didn’t know what else they would ask so was obviously going to have to improvise once we got past the basics. However, I drew the line at playing charades in front of a crowded A&E waiting-room so packed plenty of paper and pens, together with my phone and iPad. Like the boy scouts, I believe in being prepared.

My flurry of activity was interspersed with numerous text messages to Mr S even though his phone doesn’t receive signal at the club. Keeping him informed at least made me feel as though I had some sort of handle on a rather surreal experience. The texts started with a frantic ‘OMG, come home NOW; dislocated my jaw!!!!’ and progressed through the more laid-back ‘Meet me at the hospital when you’ve finished tennis’  to the impassioned ‘Will rip out my own salivary glands if I don’t stop drooling!!!’.

We finally booked it out the door, pausing only long enough to scoop up the kitchen roll – emergency anti-drool kit, you understand – and my sunglasses, for which I have no explanation seeing that it was dark out, other than I was obviously running largely on autopilot at the time. Or maybe, like Superman, I was under the mistaken impression that they would provide me with an adequate disguise.

And so we set off to the hospital armed with kitchen roll, flashcards and sunglasses. Admittedly, I would have preferred an all-concealing burka but my well-stocked closet had, for once, been lacking so it looked like I would have to rely on my natural charm to see me through this embarrassing situation.

Things were not looking good.

Although the drive to the hospital was only fifteen minutes long – OK, so I may have been speeding; sue me – my salivary glands continued to gush. Throughout the drive Miss S – my hero! – wordlessly passed me a steady supply of kitchen roll and I arrived at the hospital looking like a demented chipmunk but with drool-free clothes.

A major achievement.

Interesting factoid for those that like to collect useless bits of information: kitchen roll soaked in saliva and left overnight sets hard as rock. When I cleaned out the car the next day the centre console was overflowing with a pile of concrete-like globs which Miss S fell upon with glee, declaring them to be perfect for some arts and craft project she was planning. I gagged at the thought and hurriedly threw them away.

Apparently I never let her have any fun.

A deep breathe and I entered A&E which thankfully, was largely empty, and proceed to show my first flash card – Dislocated my jaw yawning – to the receptionist. This elicited murmurs of sympathy from her and she proceeded to ask the usual questions – name, address, date of birth – all of which were easily copied from my driver’s licence. Her next question was a bit harder: ‘how long ago did it happen?’ By holding up one finger and then tapping my watch I successfully conveyed that this farce had been running for almost an hour.

Inquisition over, I was told to take a seat and scrunched down as far down as possible while holding a piece of paper in front of my mouth. My attempts to appear inconspicuous seem to be successful as no one spared me a second gland. Huh… Either I could look forward to a lucrative career as The Human Chameleon or having wild-eyed, drooling lunatic-types cluttering up the A&E waiting room was an everyday occurrence. The fact that it was more likely to be the latter was a scary thought.

By now Mr S should have finished tennis and as I knew he was unlikely to check his phone when he left the club I decided to call him, hoping to catch him before he drove all the way home. Of course I wouldn’t be able to speak to him so I had to write down my plan so that Miss S understood that she would translate for me and, more importantly, what she had to say.

A few minutes scribbling and the newest set of flashcards were ready, the main take home messages being: ‘Don’t panic’ and ‘Read you text messages’.

I finally got Mr S on the phone and handed him over to Miss S who naturally decided to ignore my nicely worded prompts and ad libbed her lines, leading with ‘Mom’s jaw is stuck. We’re at the hospital. Come quickly,’ and hung up; the equivalent of yelling ‘shark’ while at the beach if Mr S’s reaction was anything to go by. Not surprisingly, he frantically called back and I passed the phone to Miss S and waved the ‘Read your text messages’ prompt under her nose and thankfully this time she didn’t fluff her lines. Radio silence for a few minutes while Mr S presumably read all the texts I had sent that evening followed by a terse ‘On my way’.

Hooray, the cavalry rides to the rescue!

I was finally called by the triage nurse and got to practice my high-speed writing skills as he fired questions at me. Fortunately, each time, he caught my drift before I was halfway through my written explanation so the consultation progressed rapidly. Fifteen minutes later and there was still no sign of Mr S even though, when I called him, he was only a ten-minute drive from the hospital. Apparently his excellent sense of direction doesn’t work in the dark and/or when stressed. Fortunately, after driving around most of central Milton Keynes for the better part of thirty minutes he finally stumbled across the hospital by accident.

In the meantime the triage nurse had sent me off for x-rays. These were taken by a tiny Indian lady standing four-foot nothing in her mismatched socks, who addressed me as ‘dah-leeeeng’ and lengthened all her short ‘i’ sounds. “Now dah-leeeng, I need you to place your cheeeen on this theeeeng for me and stand very steeeeel.” I placed my chin on the thing and remained motionless while the x-ray camera orbited my head. Happy with the first image she then told me to open wide for the second one; perforce, I assumed the same position as before – cheeen on the theeeeng and mouth still stretched wide. For the third shot she told me to close my mouth.

Seriously?

She wanted me to close my mouth?

While at x-ray technician academy, she’d apparently skipped the lectures on ‘how to read the patient’s file’; her observational and deductive reasoning skills weren’t too hot either.

Not surprisingly, my third image was identical to the first two. Free to go I returned to A&E to find that Mr S had arrived. He took one look at me and fell about laughing.

Yeah, love you too, honey!

Apparently this was Kodak-gold so while I glowered at him he whipped out his phone and snapped away. He first got me to do The Scream pose and then in a dire French accent instructed me to ‘show him playful…’, ‘how him sexy…’, ‘show him pouty…’

Instead I showed him the finger and he reluctantly pocketed his phone.

Deprived of entertainment Mr S instead chose to while away the time by describing to me, in great detail, how he fixes dislocated jaws in cats. Apparently the trick is to dislocate the jaw completely before sliding it back into place.

Up till then there had been surprisingly no pain associated with my jaw but Mr S’s enthusiastic descriptions – illustrated by a YouTube video – filled me with foreboding.

I didn’t need a crystal ball to predict that my future was going to be filled with pain.

A lot of pain.

The doctor’s appearance thankfully saved me from further tales of gore and I was ushered through to the examination room; he seemed confident that a slight nudge was all that was needed to manoeuvre my jaw into place. I was sceptical but played along.

He drew on a pair of gloves, gripped both sides of my head and slid his thumbs into my mouth until they were resting atop my back molars; a position disturbingly similar to that of someone holding a games controller. I prayed that he was really good at Mario Kart and gripped the chair tightly.

A subtle downwards pressure was applied to my jaw which had no effect whatsoever except that his thumbs keep sliding off my molars thanks to the saliva pooling in my mouth. To provide a more secure hold he grabbed two disproportionately thick wads of gauze, jammed them over my molars and yanked downwards. Hard.

Nothing much happened.

Except that I was now choking on all the gauze being rammed down my throat.

I ‘aargh-aarghed’ urgently to get the doctor’s attention and he stopped, enquiring solicitously whether he was hurting me. I mimed choking and pointed to the gauze and thankfully he got the message. He moved aside to confer with the nurse and I used the time to loosen my white-knuckled grip of my chair’s armrests; I may have left permanent dents in the wood.

The doctor returned and informed me that I was going to need muscle relaxants before he would be able to pop my jaw back into place and so I was ushered through to the resuscitation room.

Wait… The resuscitation room? Seriously? What do they know that I don’t know?

To add to my worries there were now two doctors and three nurses clustered around my bed. Either it was a very slow night in A&E and I was the main attraction or they knew something I didn’t.

Either way it was not reassuring.

Fortunately I discovered a small silver lining; as I was now reclining on a bed rather than sitting upright in a chair the saliva had finally stopped flowing and I could surreptitiously remove the glutinous wads of kitchen roll from my mouth. One of the nurses gravely offered me a cardboard bowl into which I graciously dropped the disgusting globs.

They landed with a squelch and we both shuddered.

Glutinous globs discretely disposed of, the nurses buzzed around me; one took my blood pressure and another inserted an IV. The third regaled me with the story of the time she dislocated her jaw while yawning; her brother accompanied her to A&E but gleefully insisted she do all the talking and then laughed himself sick over her alien-speak. Mr S’s photo shoot paled in comparison.

Finally it was time for the drugs. First came the morphine; this confirmed my previous assumption that my immediate future was going to involve a lot of pain. A muscle relaxant and sedative followed the morphine in rapid succession.

The room began to spin in slow, lazy swoops.

Suddenly my thigh muscles started spasming lightly in a manner eerily reminiscent of many years back when I was given a drug to which I was allergic. Despite being surrounded by a phalanx of medical experts, all of whom were well qualified to correctly diagnose an allergic reaction, in my drug-induced haze it was suddenly imperative that I tell them about this.

My urgently gargled ‘aargh-aargh-aargh-aaaaargh!’ was accompanied by writing motions in the air. Everyone looked at me uncertainly for a moment before leaping with great enthusiasm – and disturbingly little success – into a game of ‘Guess What the Patient is Saying’.

Nurse 1: “You’re going to be sick?” Head shake.

Nurse 2: “You need more morphine?” Violent head shake.

Nurse 3: “You’re hungry?” Eye roll and head shake.

Doctor: “You need to pee?” Seriously? How does miming writing even remotely resemble miming the need to relieve myself?  Face palm and despondent head shake.

 Take away my ability to speak and my communication skills are apparently on a par with those of a chimp. Less so in fact; my Simian cousins can at least hurl faecal matter to show their displeasure; move a couple of chromosomes closer to wearing a t-shirt – on which will definitely be printed ‘I’m with stupid ’- and that pleasure is denied me. It’s sad really, what evolution and a few thousand years of civilisation have taken from us.

But now it’s Miss S’s turn to have a go at that thrilling new game show ‘Guess What the Patient is Saying’.

Miss S: You want pen and paper?”

Yes! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Let’s hear it for Miss S – the only one to guess correctly what I was trying to sign while qualified professionals didn’t even make it out of the starting gates. God help us all if I had been trying to tell them that Timmy had fallen down the well.

Three different people shoved paper and pens in my face and I grabbed the nearest one and scrawled as quickly as I could, given that my muscles were turning rapidly to jelly, ‘maybe allergic to drugs – muscles twitching‘.

Nurse 3 who is reading aloud over my shoulder as I write pats my arm kindly. “Don’t worry, dear. You’re in the best place possible if you do have a reaction”.

My inner monologue always has a tendency to sound like Sheldon Cooper (of The Big Bang Theory) but this inclination becomes even more apparent when stressed; I can almost see Sheldon sneering at the nurse “Yes of course, how silly of me. Because all the evidence so far suggests that the medical staff of this facility have the most amazing powers of observation and deduction. Not.”

I’m pretty sure it was a good thing no one understood what I said.

By now the medical cocktail was really taking hold and I closed my eyes and enjoyed the swooping feeling. Unfortunately, even though I was aware of everything going on around me my brain had effectively shut down; at least that’s my excuse for what I did next.

Because Miss S (a seven year old, mind you) was the only who correctly interpreted my gargling and signing and not my beloved husband of almost twenty years, in my drug-induced haze I impetuously decided that she was my new BFF and laboriously scrawl across my piece of paper ‘I’m going to marry Miss S as she is the only one who understands me’.

Thankfully, before I could embarrass myself further I finally passed out completely and stated to snore. Loudly.

For the next 30 minutes I slept soundly – and snored – while the doctors tried everything, short of a crowbar, to move my jaw back into its usual position. Eventually though they admitted defeat and I woke to the words ‘Well that didn’t help at all.”

As all their other attempts had failed it seemed the only option left was surgery. Unfortunately Milton Keynes Hospital did not have the necessary maxillofacial surgeons on its register and I would therefore have to be transferred to Luton & Dunstable Hospital.

While they completed the necessary paperwork I lazily counted ceiling tiles when, with absolutely no warning, my jaw suddenly popped back into place and my mouth eased shut.

How very anticlimactic.

I tentatively opened and closed my mouth a few times. So far so good.

Mr S called the nurse over and I proudly showed her that my jaw had slipped back into place all by its self; she seemed rather put out for some reason and vanished to find the doctor. He told the nurse to send me for further x-rays to make sure that my jaw wasn’t cracked but otherwise seemed to have lost interest in me.

I was bundled into a wheelchair and returned to the domain of the diminutive x-ray technician where I was once again ‘dah-leeenged’ and obediently placed my cheeen on the theeeng. To tell the truth, I didn’t so much place my chin on the thing as allow it to support 99% of my weight; goodness only knew when the muscle relaxants would wear off.

Disappointingly, this time round, I was not required to demonstrate my jaw’s natural proficiency by opening and closing on demand and after taking only one x-ray I was on my way back to the resuscitation ward.

As everything seemed to be back to normal – jaw-wise that is – I was told that I could leave as soon as I could walk out of there under my own steam. This proved to be bit of a problem as the muscle relaxants were still doing their job and the messages my brain was sending my legs were obviously getting lost in translation because I wasn’t doing a very good job of staying erect for more than a few seconds at a time.

It took another hour of slow pacing next to my bed before I was finally able to walk out of there. I like to think that the drive home involved witty and intelligent conversation on my part but, to tell you the truth, I have only the vaguest recollection of it. When appealed to for his version of the journey Mr S pleaded the fifth suggesting that the witty and intelligent conversation was probably all in my head and that the real scenario involved loud snoring. And possibly drooling.

Once home I remember locking up the house for the night and tucking Miss S into bed before collapsing into my own bed to sleep the sleep of the heavily drugged.

The next day I emptied my bag of a surprisingly large number of rock-hard globs of kitchen roll and made sure to shred the piece of paper on which I had announced my intention to marry Miss S; handing blackmail material on a plate to one’s offspring never ends well.

To infinity and beyond…

Despite 10oC temperatures trying to convince me otherwise, spring is definitely here. Verges and gardens are a-bloom with massed daffodils and tulips; shrubs, trees and hedgerows are a haze of pale green and the geese are flying north again. Although to my mind it looked more like west…

Maybe the geese I saw were taking the scenic route? Maybe the honking I heard was the Anserinean version of the young child’s ubiquitous whine of ‘Are we there yet?’ To which Mother Goose would reply with a sharp honk and a toss of her feathered head, ‘If your father would just condescend to ASK someone for directions we might actually reach the breeding grounds before the end of summer!’ But then who am I to question the navigational abilities of migrating geese? They fly halfway around the world each year while I can barely find my way out of my own driveway without my trusty satnav to guide me.

Now there is a truly amazing invention! I wonder how many marriages have been saved since satnavs became commonplace, because arguing about why women can’t read maps and why men never stop to ask for directions has to be right up there when it comes to Most Cited Reasons For Divorce. In fact of you really want to know why women can’t read maps I suggest you try Allen and Barbara Pearce’s Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps – an informative guide to understanding the opposite sex (although personally I prefer Peppa Pig’s version of the story in which Daddy Pig always has the map upside down). Seriously though, read the book. At least I now understand why Mr S is more than happy to buy me a new car, yet never thinks to take out the dustbin or load the dishwasher.

However, satnavs can sometimes lead you astray. Mine is usually very reliable except when it’s urging me to take the fifth exit from a four-exit traffic circle. Picture me hunched over the steering wheel, a wild gleam in my eyes as I pass the Little Chef restaurant for the third time in my attempt to locate the mythical fifth exit. Maybe it’s like Brigadoon and only appears every 100 years? Thankfully though, my satnav’s blips have so far been restricted to its apparent quest to find an existential bridge in the space-time continuum. Unlike one person who has named his temperamental satnav Thelma (of Thelma and Louise fame) because he honestly believes it will one day lead him off a cliff…

As a result I am considering potential names for mine. Initially I referred to it as ‘the voice in my head’ but dropped that as I had trouble differentiating it from all the other voices in my head! Current contenders in Name That Satnav are:

  • Voyager (to boldly go where no man has gone before)
  • Buzz Lightyear (to infinity and beyond)
  • Peter Pan (second star to the right and straight on till morning)

And of course, Thelma.

I have to admit that I currently favour ‘Thelma’. Not, I hasten to add, because I suspect my nefarious nav device of plotting my demise-by-cliff. Rather, the name is a reminder that it is only by overcoming obstacles and journeying through the difficult times that we grow and learn. On the other hand ‘Voyager’ and ‘Buzz Lightyear’ remind me to keep moving the goalposts and to reach for the stars.

Hmm, tough decision…

I may just have to stick with ‘the voice in my head’. After all, with so many in there already, what’s one more between friends!

A DIYer’s ode to autumn…

I know that spring cleaning is supposed to be very popular here in the UK, but I have observed that the British are equally keen, if not more so, to prepare for autumn. Hedges are trimmed of their summer growth, patio furniture is cleaned and packed away, gardens are tidied and the outside of houses undergo some serious sprucing. Last weekend I seemed to be surrounded by people readying their homes for the coming ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness‘. My neighbour at the back had someone in to trim the twelve-foot high conifer hedge that separates our gardens while my neighbour to the left had someone in to pressure-clean the back patio and garden pathways.

And so, besieged as I was on all sides by diligent and hardworking people, I decided that if I couldn’t beat ‘em, I might as well join ‘em – or as Mr. S sardonically observed, I caved to peer-pressure – and decided that now was the perfect opportunity to use the pressure hose I purchased on a whim a few months back to clean the driveway and front patio.

Famous last words – or actions in this case. You see, there is a reason why my neighbours all hired someone to do their autumnal chores rather than opting to get all hot and bothered themselves. But rookie Brit that I am, I enthusiastically start preparing for a morning spent outside enjoying the last sunny day of summer, working up a teensy bit of a sweat and feeling superior to my lazy fellow men who shelled out a few hundred pounds for someone else to do an itty-bitty chore they could easily do themselves.

The first step is to sweep the driveway and front patio to remove the drifts of leaves that have accumulated against the walls over the summer (apparently the trees in front of my house didn’t receive the memo about autumn being the season of leaf-loss). The way various muscles are aching by the time I deposit the last leaf on the compost heap should raise all sorts of alarm bells regarding the inadvisability of tackling this job on my own, but I’m still feeling ridiculously superior to my fellow-men and so I proceed to step two – assembling the pressure cleaner.

Surprisingly this is relatively simple and for once, does not require a degree in mechanical engineering. I attach it to the hosepipe (after actually remembering to first check online to make sure that the hosepipe ban has indeed been lifted) and encounter my first problem. We don’t have an outside tap in the front garden so our hosepipe is attached to a tap in the back garden and barely reaches the front of the house. Not a problem though as the previous owner very kindly left a second hosepipe hanging in the garage – she obviously encountered similar problems – so if I join the two together I’ll be able to reach the whole area to be cleaned.

Of course I don’t have one of the necessary hosepipe-connector-thingamajigs so I down tools and it’s off to the local hardware store to buy one. While I’m there I get slightly distracted in the paint section (I’m currently trying to track down just the right colour for my hallway) followed by the outdoor plant section (the fact that it is the beginning of autumn has never stopped me from browsing and mentally redesigning my garden) and I suddenly realise that I’ve been there for almost an hour. I pay for my connector-thingamajig and rush back home.

Get the second hosepipe out of the garage and find that it has one of those ancient metal clip connectors rusted on which resists all my attempts to remove it so have to search Mr. S’s work bench for a suitable knife to cut off that section of pipe. I can’t find a utility knife so end up using one of my kitchen knives which works surprisingly well but also slices open my finger. Upstairs I go in search of a plaster before I bleed to death. Of course there are none as Miss S used them all on her dolls last week when she was playing hospitals. So I wind a thick wad of tissue paper around my gushing finger, get back in the car and drive to the local corner cafe to buy a box of plasters.

Back home, bind up my finger, retrieve the second hosepipe from the garage and join it to the other one without further incident – apart from dislodging a few spiders which necessitates some minor screaming and violent shooing with a broom, and knocking over that box of electronic bits and pieces that Mr. S insists we keep just in case he should need a certain type of obsolete cable someday. Me knocking everything over and having to return it all to the box was the first time any of these things had been touched in two years, but still we keep them – ‘just in case’!

I’m finally ready to clean the driveway and it’s only been a mere three hours since I started this itty-bitty autumnal chore.

Connect hosepipe to pressure hose and turn on tap. Big puddle of water rapidly forms on the driveway from the multiple holes in the second hosepipe….

By now I’m seriously considering just packing everything back into the garage and phoning the garden service to make an appointment for them to come and clean the driveway but for some inexplicable reason I’m determined to see this through. So it’s back to the hardware store for the second time to buy a new hosepipe. This time I avoid the paint and garden sections and storm in and out with my new hosepipe, barely resisting the urge to snarl at the spritely teenager at the checkout when she tells me to have a nice day. Yeah right!

Back home, connect up the new hosepipe, turn on the tap and …. success!

Well, success as in there is no longer a puddle forming on the driveway but when I press the trigger handle of the pressure sprayer I just get a dribble of water splashing onto my toes. Cursing the fact that the water pressure for our garden tap is obviously so low that it renders the pressure cleaner ineffective, I decide to check the instruction manual one last time to see whether there is anything I have missed and lo and behold, there is a Diagram for Dummies with a big arrow pointing to the ON switch.

So I hand the spray gun to Miss S to hold while I trot over to switch on the machine. The roar of the machine is accompanied by a shriek and a thump and I turn to see that the recoil from the now-working pressure hose has knocked Miss S onto her ass. Fortunately when one is seven years old such mishaps are hysterically funny and the only tears are as a result of me callously refusing to allow her to do it again.

Four hours after I decide to join the neighbours in The Big Autumn Clean-up I’m finally ready to actually get down and dirty. By now it’s lunch time but I’m blowed if I’m going to let that get in my way of Cleaning The Driveway so when Miss S starts to whine about feeling hungry I simply point her in the direction of a tin of Pringles and leave her to it (it’s the sour cream and onion flavour so they contain three of the five food groups, and one of her five-a-day so I’m not overly concerned).

I finally point the pressure hose at the driveway and gaze transfixed while a black brick magically turns salmon pink before my eyes as decades of dirt is removed under the force of the water spray. This is so cool!!

Nine hundred and ninety-nine bricks to be cleaned,

Nine hundred and ninety-nine bricks,

You clean one off and move to the next,

Nine hundred and ninety-eight bricks left to clean…

Twenty-or-so bricks later and my childish delight in watching the bricks revealed in all their natural glory is starting to wane; OK, so I have a short attention span. At least I now have time to notice other things such as the fact that it is a windy day and the spray from the hose is being blown everywhere and I’m getting a little wet. Soaked in fact. Miss S, ever the opportunist, has already changed into her swimming costume and wellingtons and is capering gleefully in the fine mist, while the water drips pathetically off my nose. But onwards and upwards, right?

Bored with bricks – did I mention the short attention span? – I decide to move on to cleaning the garage door. I’m happily blasting away at cobwebs and years of dirt, watching the door change from dirty white to brilliant white under my onslaught when I realise that the fine mist in which I’m cloaked is now speckled with flecks of white paint. Apparently a pressure hose is a very effective paint stripper when used on a forty-year old metal door. Go figure! But at least it’s clean, right? A beautiful, brilliant white interspersed with large patches of silver metal…

And so it’s back to the driveway.

Nine hundred and eighty-six bricks left to clean…

Four hours of preparation and unforeseen mishaps, six hours of back-breaking cleaning and many, many verses of ‘Nine hundred and ninety-nine bricks to be cleaned‘ later and I’m finally finished. In every sense of the word.

Every muscle in my body aches and I am wet and muddy but the driveway and front patio are sparkling clean and weed free. On the down side, the garage door is missing half its paint and I no longer feel at all superior to my fellow men who wisely hired someone else to do their autumnal chores for them. But I have every intention of learning from my mistake.

Next year when the leaves start to turn yellow and the air crisp, and my thoughts wander to the chores that need to be completed before we settle in for the cold winter months, I fully intend to follow the excellent example set by my neighbours and hire someone else to labour away while I sit in the garden enjoying the last of the golden summer days with a mug of coffee and a cinnamon sugar muffin. But that is next year. Right now there is a garage door and a tin of white paint with my name on it…

Kittens and Pringles and pink maps, oh my…

Has your child ever asked what you do for a living and, unless you are lucky enough to be something self-explanatory such as a fireman or doctor, you stumbled through a vague explanation that left your offspring glassy-eyed and as clueless as when you started?

As a child-slash-teenager I always hated being asked what my parents did as, although my mother was nice and simple – secretary (thanks mom!) – I always had trouble explaining exactly what it was my father did. He worked for the South African version of British Telecommunications and the closest I got to what he did was that he planned where telephone cables should be laid for new properties. Not something easily described to one’s peers when one is young, and even Googling it now still leaves me at a loss for a succinct one-or-two word appellation. But apparently, what goes around comes around, and it is now Miss S’s turn to try and get her head around what it is her parents do for a living.

At school recently it was careers week and the teacher went round the class asking what everyone’s parents did. Fortunately for Miss S at least one of her parents has a job that is easily described and well-recognized so she was quite happy to inform her classmates that Mr. S is a vet. Apparently this career path is synonymous with saving puppies and Christmas and so Miss S was able to bask in the glory of having a parent who does something really interesting. From Miss S’s point of view it gets bonus points as her father periodically brings his work home in the form of a stray cat to add to our ever-expanding collection of adopted felines. The most recent adoptee, Eileen, is a fun-loving tabby kitten with a penchant for eating Pringles, destroying Christmas trees and hogging more than her fair share of my duvet at night. As I already share my bed with one of our other cats my nights are getting a tad crowded. You know those chalk outlines that you see on murder mystery TV shows? Well, that’s what I now look like when I sleep as I try to fit myself around the cats. And as cute as Eileen is, if she continues to assume that my Pringles are some exotic form of feline treat she is in for a rude awakening because the whole family knows that when it comes to Pringles, I don’t share. It will shortly be ten paces and handbags at dawn if she doesn’t learn that lesson very quickly.

And so, having summed up Mr. S in a word, it was on to trying to describe what I do, which is actually not that easy for a youngster to comprehend. A few years ago, when asked what I do, Miss S replied ‘My mom sits at a desk all day and plays on her computer’. Possibly not how my boss would describe what I do, and actually not that informative when you consider that, in this day and age, a large proportion of jobs can be thusly described. But it was a good try for a five-year old.

Yes, my job involves sitting at a desk and working – not playing! – on a computer. I am in fact a spatial epidemiologist which in the simplest terms means that I create maps to show, among other things, where diseases currently occur or might occur in the future. Not, I’ll admit, the easier thing for a seven-year old to wrap her head around and as Miss S has frequently seen me in front of my computer ‘playing’ around with maps it came as no surprise that she told her class ‘my mom makes maps’. At least it is a step up from playing on the computer!

Despite being quite impressed with her answer I decided to educate her a little so sat her down in front of my laptop and tried to explain, in the simplest of terms, what spatial epidemiology is all about. I should have known better than to waste my breathe but for some reason I actually thought I had a shot at it – must have been the end of a long, caffeine-free day at work. And so I proceeded to elucidate, using the simplest of terms, what it is I actually do. When I got to the end of my little spiel there was silence for a few beats while she stared intently at my laptop screen, mental cogs spinning, before her eyes lit up with, what I assumed was understanding.

‘Yes!’ I thought exultantly. ‘I am the best teacher ever!’

I waited, practically quivering with excitement, for the questions I knew would come tumbling from her. I was finally going to trump Mr. S and his kittens.

She pointed to the screen and turned to me excitedly. ‘Can you make that map pink? It would look so much better in pink!’

I thunked my head on my desk. Repeatedly.

And made the map pink.

However, that wasn’t the end of the ‘what I do’ saga. A few days later Miss S saw me inspecting the graph which shows the number of views this website gets each day and asked what it was. This is what followed:

Me: It’s a graph that shows the number of people that read what I write.

Miss S (suddenly very excited): So, you’re an author?

Me: Uh, yes, I suppose so…

Miss S (even more excited): Are your books at Waterstones?

Me: Uh, no. What I write is only on the Internet.

Miss S (somewhat less excited): So they’re on Amazon?

Me: No. They’re only on my own website. Miss S (disappointedly): Oh….

Miss S (peering intently at the graph): Ooh look, only two people read what you wrote that day!

Me (abruptly closing iPad): Yes, thank you for pointing that out, dear.

Apparently ‘author’ is not a word Miss S will be using to describe me at the next careers week.

I’m a survivor…

While at the hardware store a few days ago, Mr. S mentioned that he had been meaning for a while now to buy a generator. I confess I stared at him blankly for a few seconds while trying to come up with possible reasons as to why we, living just north-west of London and reliably powered by the National Grid, might need a device for generating electricity. The only reason I could come up with, implausible as it seemed, was that Mr. S wanted us to embrace The Good Life. I actually tried the whole self-sufficiency thing once; a summer spent diligently tending my little vegetable patch provided enough potatoes for Christmas dinner; ditto peas. And winter trips to the compost bin quickly got old when they involved cold, mushy, windblown apples squishing through my toes as I felt my way carefully through the dark to the compost bin beyond the apple tree.

Fortunately, before my brain had a chance to go into meltdown trying to picture creature-comfort-loving Mr. S volunteering to live The Good Life, he pointed out that, should we have a really bad snowstorm during winter and loose power for three days, a generator would enable us to survive in some degree of comfort. Now, I had no problem with his reasoning and applauded his foresight. However, I did have a problem with his definition of ‘survive’. You see, generators come in different sizes ranging from small, use-your-power-tools-outside models to the large, light-up-a-small-borough-of-New-York-City versions. So when Mr. S said we needed one to survive the hypothetical, power-outing snowstorm I was naturally leaning towards one of the smaller models. After all, if one is trying to survive being snowed in for three days with no power what exactly are one’s needs?

The survival picture I painted for Mr. S was very Little-House-on-the-Prairie-esque. After closing off most of the house we would camp out in the living room with our duvets, blankets and pillows. A crackling fire in the fireplace, augmented by my plentiful supply of scented candles, would provide both light and heat. We would toast slices of bread, cook sausages and melt marshmallows over the fire while reading books and playing board games. Cosy yet quaint.

Looking slightly aghast at the charmingly romantic scene I had painted, Mr. S then proceeded to list – with detailed, explanatory footnotes (he had obviously given the matter some thought) – the items he considered necessary for a three-day, survive-in-your-own-home jamboree.

  • power his (1) computer and (2) modem together with the (3) TV, (4) DVD player and (5) satellite box (the fact that we lose satellite signal in heavy snowstorms didn’t seem to register)
  • keep all the gadgets attached to his marine fish tank ticking over
  • charge our iPads and iPhones
  • maintain heating and lighting in the whole house and be able to cook normal meals
  • power the hot water tank so that on-tap, hot water would be available 24/7.

Apparently Mr. S and I are not on the same page when it comes to ‘surviving’.

I was about to argue the point with him when the last school holidays flashed before my eyes with chilling clarity. When she wasn’t proclaiming – in an overly dramatic fashion – that she was bored, Miss S was either glued to the TV watching never-ending episodes of SpongeBob or her Alvin and the Chipmunks DVD (will I ever get those annoyingly high-pitched chipmunk voices out of my head?) or playing games on my iPad. Ditto Mr. S,, although in his case it was a How I Met Your Mother marathon, all six Star Wars DVDs and the online-version of World of Warcraft.

Now picture being snowed in with the two of them for three days and no electricity…

Forget Little House on the Prairie. If I’m going to be snowed in with Mr. and Miss S for three days I need every single mod-con known to man or be driven insane.

Which is why we now have in the garage, a generator capable of lighting a small borough of New York City and I am looking forward, with some enthusiasm, to the first real snowstorm of winter and the hypothetical, three-day power outage. However, Mr. S and I agreed to compromise; just because we can light up the whole house like a Christmas tree doesn’t mean we should (read: don’t want to be invaded by the neighbours). Instead, we decided to limit ourselves to five electrical appliances that we consider essential to survival, bearing in mind that we already have a gas cooker, portable gas heaters and plenty of scented candles so cooking, heating and lighting the house will already be taken care of. Some hardy types might argue that those are the only items really needed for a three-day survival stint but then they have obviously not thought through the repercussions of being holed up with confirmed techno-junkies and no power. So here is the list of electrical appliances our generator will be powering during the hypothetical power-outage:

  • Computer
  • Modem
  • iPad
  • Hot water tank
  • Dishwasher

The first two are essential so that Mr. S can keep himself entertained playing computer games and watching TV programmes and movies. The iPad is so that Miss S can watch TV programmes, movies and play games, and once she has gone to bed I can use it to listen to music and update this blog while relaxing in a steaming bath. And the dishwasher? Well, if I need to explain its inclusion on the list you obviously don’t own one.

So while the neighbours huddle together in one room, eating cold baked beans by candlelight and resisting the urge to strangle their offspring for reiterating that they are indeed bored, I’ll be relaxing in a steaming bath, while Miss S watches endless episodes of SpongeBob on my iPad, Mr. S saves the world from computer-generated monsters and the dishwasher murmurs soothingly in the background. Can’t wait!

I am woman, hear me roar…

There is no denying that I am a woman and I am usually very happy with that state of affairs. Some of the advantages of being a member of the so-called weaker sex include being able to classify chocolate as an essential food group, being able to give a man your supposedly undivided attention and make suitably encouraging noises in all the right places while bored out of your mind and . However there is no denying that there are occasions when it is actually better to be a man. Cases in point:

When Mr. S walks through the door in the evening he is greeted with a joyous hug from his adoring offspring who is simply happy that he is home. When I arrive home the first words that greet me, before I am even properly through the door, are ‘I’mstarvingwhat’sforsupper?’ You can just feel the love, can’t you?

Similarly, when Mr. S has to provide the doctor with a urine sample the procedure is quick, accurate and mess-free. When I have to provide the same sample it usually involves a lot of peering down below, dribbles interspersed with the odd un-catchable gush, a change of trousers, mopping the floor, and being unable to look at a glass of apple juice for two weeks without shuddering.

When Mr. S gets dressed in the morning he reaches blindly into the closet, pulls out a random shirt and pair of trousers, and dons them together with socks and shoes. Job done. Getting dressed for me involves checking the current weather and looking up the forecast for the next twelve hours so that I don’t get caught short by an unexpected shower or blizzard, deciding whether to wear trousers, a long skirt or short skirt – a decision determined more by my mood than my plans for the day – choosing suitable shoes and other accessories to tie the outfit together, and finally deciding how to style my hair. Needless to say, a mental run-through of the whole procedure is usually necessary the night before to ensure that all goes smoothly the following morning.

All good reasons, I am sure you will agree, for occasionally wishing I was a man. But the most compelling reason of all lies in the sex’s polar-opposite approaches to shopping. When men go shopping they have a mental list of, at most, three items and they return home with those three items; nothing more, nothing less. Unless of course that man happens to be Mr. S, in which case he returns home with nothing because within five minutes of encountering the jostling and shoving crowds at the mall he has broken out in a sweat and bailed.

Now consider when women go shopping. Our original intent may well have been to buy three items but you can guarantee that we will return with at least ten, which may, or may not necessarily, include the items for which we originally went. The trouble is that once we are exposed to that emporium of pleasure and retail therapy (aka The Mall) we see all the things without which we simply cannot live. Men on the other hand put their innate tunnel vision to good use and simply home in on the items for which they originally came (the same tunnel vision also comes in handy when ignoring dirty dishes, clothes lying on the floor, dustbins that need emptying and lawns that need to be mown). They just don’t see all those artfully displayed goodies which are practically quivering with ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ enthusiasm. And even if they did see them they just don’t see the need for items which are purely decorative yet which, when artfully combined with other purely decorative items, turn a house into a home. And a well decorated one at that. Most men, no matter the length of time for which they have been married see no reason to have more than the essentials in a house.

Case in point: I recently popped into a local vintage home accessories store intending to buy just one item that had caught my eye the last time I was browsing there – a beautifully embossed, silver concierge bell, which Miss S now annoyingly dings every time she walks past – and instead I left an hour later with…um… Well let’s just say that I left with a good few items more than I originally intended to buy including a pair of gigantic candlesticks that now dominate my mantelpiece, some old-fashioned glass paperweights, a mannequin on which I hang my handbags and a lovely china tureen that I use as a cache pot but which Mr. S – the Philistine – insists on calling a toilet and in which one of our cats – another Philistine – sleeps, if she can first remove the plants. In fact I may have single-handedly pulled that store out of the recession, although Mr. S exaggerates when he implies that my unexpected spending spree reduced us to eating baked beans for the rest of the month. As a result I am currently suffering a mild case of buyer’s remorse and wishing I was a man so that I could have walked into that shop with my mental list of one item and walked out five minutes later, the guilt-free owner of said item. Instead I left, an hour later, the proud – yet slightly guilt-stricken – owner of a car-load of tasteful vintage home accessories, all of which have helped to make my house a home, and a well-decorated one at that.

What can I say? When it comes to shopping I am one hundred percent woman; hear me roar…

Festive faux pas…

Coming from South Africa where Christmas, more often than not, involves a barbecue next to the swimming pool and thirty degree temperatures, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I love the idea of a traditional, white, English Christmas. What I did not realise though is that their enthusiasm for all things Christmassy can lead to the Brits going a little overboard during the holiday season resulting in some serious festive faux pax. The following are my top four so far.

Festive faux pas No. 1: While recently breezing through my local supermarket my eye was caught by their latest soup-in-a-tub. It was evocatively named ‘Christmas lunch’ and according to the ingredient list contained turkey, pork sausages, stuffing, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, roast potatoes and everything else you might expect to find on your plate come Christmas Day. So essentially, after slaving away for hours over a hot stove to create the perfect Christmas meal, someone suggested putting the results of all that hard work into a blender and pushing ‘pulse’….

I can only imagine that this novel notion originated during the wee hours of the supermarket’s annual Christmas party, because for that idea to have sounded sufficiently appealing to the point where it was actually implemented, there had to have been alcohol involved. Lots of alcohol.

I naturally had to try the festive-lunch-in-a-tub and I’m sorry to report that what could have been a delicious meal looked like grey, greasy dishwater with lumps of stuffing floating in it.

And it tasted like cabbage.

So, sorry local supermarket, but this year I’ll be sticking with the traditional, solid version of the festive meal but I’ll certainly keep the Christmas-lunch-in-a-tub idea in mind for a future in which I have lost all my teeth. And hopefully my taste buds.

Festive faux pas No.2 involved her school sending Miss S home with a letter informing parents that all children would be allowed to wear party clothes to school on the day of the annual Christmas party. Of course, to a seven-year old ‘allowed to wear‘ translates as ‘must wear’ so this festive faux pas involved me losing an argument I was never going to win anyway followed by a trip to the Mall ten days before Christmas to trawl through the shops in search of a young girl’s party dress that didn’t scream kitsch.

And they all screamed kitsch.

And shed sequins faster than a budgie moulting in spring.

We finally found one that was acceptable to both of us (navy-blue velvet, no sequins) and I was looking forward to heading home for a much needed cup of Early Grey when I discovered that my frequent monologues on The Art of Accessorising an Outfit have apparently fallen on far more fertile ground than I could have ever hoped for.

Damn it.

After fighting our way through a few more stores the navy-blue velvet dress was finally set off to perfection by navy tights, red shoes sufficiently sparkly to transport Dorothy home with a single click of the heels and a white, faux-fur bolero – explain to me again why winter party dresses always have short sleeves? Thankfully though I managed to talk Miss S down from the tacky tiara that was shedding fake jewels faster than the dresses were shedding sequins.

We finally had an outfit fit for a princess and could return home for that desperately needed cup of Early Grey. And how many times will this fabulous ensemble see the light of day? Exactly once. Remind me to send the school a thank-you note for ‘allowing‘ my child to wear party clothes to school.

Festive faux pas No 3 ensued when I assumed that our new kitten would ignore the Christmas tree. Big mistake. Huge, in fact. Thankfully said kitten was at the vets when we decorated the tree so we got through that part of the festive tradition in peace but once she arrived home her eyes lit up with ‘For me?!’ appreciation and that was the beginning of the end. She started out small, batting the baubles hanging temptingly from the lowest branches until one came loose and was chased around the house until finally being cornered in the cloakroom. As so she took apart the tree, one bauble at a time. For some reason most of them ended up in the cloakroom – maybe there is a slight tilt to the house that I need to worry about? – while the tinsel ended up a chewed and soggy mess under the dining table. She undoubtedly swallowed copious amounts of glitter during this period of merry destruction so the next thing to which I can look forward is glittery poop in her litter box. Maybe it will act as guiding lights for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve.

Festive faux pas No. 4 was buying Mr. S a remote-controlled drone as an early Christmas present. This little stealth-bomber wannabe contains a camera which live-streams video back to the iPad used to steer it, so that the person flying it can see what the drone sees. Truly a toy to gladden any man’s heart.

Unfortunately, the fashionably short buzz cuts that my indoor plants now model testify to the fact that Mr. S’s first few attempts to fly his new aircraft lacked panache. However, he did get the hang of it eventually and I was able to empty the last of the shredded leaves and chrysanthemum petals into the bin. My plants weren’t the only things to suffer while Mr. S mastered the art of steering. Our cats now have an alarming tendency to abandon ship as soon as the drone gets taken out for a spin – furry, felines fluidly fleeing out of every window as the drone buzzes happily after them. Roll on summer when Mr. S can take it outside, although that may open up a whole new can of worms if the neighbours ever realise that the aircraft hovering above their trees contains a live-streaming video camera.

But the stain remained…

A recent study estimated that it costs around £150,000 to raise a child to age 17; the equivalent of buying a Ferrari apparently. Not that I would know anything about the cost of any kind of luxury car as I doubt whether I will ever rise above my little Honda Civic despite having long coveted a Jaguar XK. Recent events in our household however, point to Miss S being determined to cost her long-suffering parents at least two of the luxury sports cars and it all started with a glass of fresh orange juice and a red felt-tipped pen; Exhibits A and B, Your Honour.

Let us first hear the story behind Exhibit A: a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice. I am happy to reveal that I am a veritable mine of information when it comes to orange juice. For example, I know that it is high in vitamin C and therefore generally good for what ails you. Similarly, it’s high in antioxidants, which neutralise the effects of free radicals (unstable oxygen molecules in your body believed to cause ageing and some diseases). Furthermore, after chocolate and vanilla, orange is the world’s favourite flavor while Christopher Columbus brought the first orange seeds and seedlings to the New World on his second voyage in 1493. And so on and so forth.

What I did not know is that, if spilt on a taupe, pure wool carpet, orange juice is indelible. Permanent. Enduring. Everlasting. Call it what you will, fresh orange juice cannot be removed from a pure wool carpet. Ever!

And believe me, I have tried everything.

Picture the scene: Miss S knocks over her glass of fresh orange and we have a rapidly spreading stain on the taupe carpet in the master bedroom. I leap into action, grabbing the towel Mr. S always leaves hanging over the bedroom door (you’d think that almost twenty years of marriage would have cured him of that particular bachelor habit but apparently he is living proof that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks) and mop up the juice that hasn’t yet soaked into the carpet, before rushing downstairs to get the Vanish stain remover. Many squirts of Vanish and a few minutes of hard scrubbing later and the stain is no more. Hugh sigh of relief and Miss S gets (another) lecture on drinking and eating only in the kitchen and dining room. But my satisfaction was short-lived as, when I returned to the bedroom later that day, I experienced a nasty episode of déjà vu as the stain was back. How it happened, I don’t know, but apparently the effects of Vanish on spilled orange juice are not permanent. The stain remained.

Some minor panicking and a quick trip to the local hardware store produced two more generic stain removers, neither of which had any effect on the large, rust-coloured, Panagaea-shaped mark. The stain remained.

In a last ditch attempt I went online to Lakeland and bought a couple of their ‘miracle’ stain removal treatments – ‘removes any stain or your money back’ – according to the products’ blurbs. Five days later the money was returned to my bank account and Lakeland was considering changing the wording of the blurbs to ‘removes any stain except orange juice’ because – you guessed it – the stain remained.

I then bought a carpet cleaner – ‘Looks like we’ll be getting a lot of use out of it,’ sighed Mr. S when I questioned whether it was really necessary to spend that kind of money. The carpet cleaner was successful in its own way – the area around the stain came up a beautiful clean taupe but, of course, the stain itself remained. As we had now tried everything possible I felt justified in trying one last thing – bleach. Ever cautious, I started off with a solution of dilute bleach but then simply up-ended a whole bottle of neat bleach onto that mocking mark and scrubbed like mad. But – as always – the stain remained (is it just me or is this starting to sound like a Dr Seuss book?).

As all attempts to remove the stain had failed the only remaining solution was to have a new carpet installed so the next Saturday I popped into the carpet store in the neighbouring village and chose a replacement carpet. Measurements were taken and the order placed, only to find that the carpet I had chosen was no longer in production. Neither was the next one I chose. With gritted teeth I returned to the carpet store a third time. Within seconds of walking through the door, Miss S had pointed out the perfect sample which looked exactly like the first one I chose but was twice the price. Not a problem as by then I was willing to pay four times the price if it meant having a stain-free carpet in my bedroom. And so the new carpet was finally installed.

The only good thing to come out of this (besides a new carpet in the bedroom) is that I can now confirm that Miss S has inherited more from me than just my brown eyes; she has also inherited my expensive tastes and ability to choose the most highly-priced item in a store within seconds of stepping inside it. ‘God help her future husband’ muttered Mr. S with what appeared to be fellow-feeling for this futuristic unfortunate.

Unfortunately Miss S did not stop there. The next incident involved a red felt-tipped pen (Exhibit B) going through the washing machine together with white bed-linen. The result? Sheets, pillowcases and duvet covers for the master bed having to be replaced as apparently, bed linen which has been tie-dyed an attractive pink does not guarantee Mr. S a peaceful night’s sleep. Suffice to say that the sum of those two incidents made a sizeable dent in the second luxury car and any chances I might have had of being able to afford a Jaguar were successfully destroyed.

All part of the plan…

A few months ago I did something very clichéd – I joined a health club. OK, go ahead and laugh; Mr. S certainly did. In fact he couldn’t stop guffawing once he heard what I’d done. Little Miss Copycat then joined in and proceeded to roll around on the living room floor in an exaggerated fashion, clutching her stomach and shrieking like a banshee before suddenly sitting up and asking ‘Why are we laughing?’

Why indeed?

Maybe it’s because the last time I rode a bicycle was at least twenty years ago when I was still a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young undergraduate. Or perhaps it is the fact that I can count on one hand – with fingers to spare – the number of times my current swimming costume (bought about nine years ago, if memory serves) has seen the light of day. And so I have to concede that maybe the family has every reason to laugh at the thought of me joining a health club as, an enthusiastic exerciser, I most definitely am not.

So, why the sudden change of heart?

I’ll let you in on a little secret – my joining the health club had nothing to do with the very real need to work on my ever-expanding wobbly bits and everything to do with the need for a little time to myself, away from my shadow, and constant companion, Miss S.

For that reason I did not even spare a second glance at the local gym two miles down the road, which seems to be a decent place, but there is no escaping the fact that the goal of its members is to exercise and get annoyingly fit and toned. It has no extra bells and whistles, just lots of toned and trim people pounding away on treadmills, getting all hot and sweaty and – God forbid – fit! As I was technically looking for a hideout – masquerading as an emporium of health and fitness – the type of equipment and exercise facilities came a poor second to all the other things necessary for quality alone-time.

And so I was given a tour of the impressive facilities. However, while the overly-enthusiastic PR person pointed out the finer points of all the wonderful state-of-the-art exercise equipment, I was taking surreptitious note of all the ‘extras’ which were vital if this was to become my new home-away-from-home. The soundproof, adults-only area was a must as I certainly did not flee the never-ending chatter of my own child just to be subjected to the screams of someone else’s little darling. While hiding out one naturally requires plenty of sustenance in the form of delicious food and mochachinos so the on-site restaurant and coffee shop got bonus points. The absence of anything chocolatey was to be deplored but I suppose one has to make sacrifices in the interests of ‘getting fit’ and besides, this was more than made up for by their to-die-for carrot cake muffins. These delicious slices came topped with cream cheese and nibbled walnuts. That should actually be ‘nibbed’ walnuts but the first time I read the product description the mush that masquerades as my brain supplanted ‘nibbed’ with ‘nibbled’ and so it has stuck. Of course, the first question that came to mind was ‘who nibbles them?’ and I amused myself for a while with a mental picture of a production line of chipmunks all nibbling away at the walnuts needed to decorate the carrot cake slices. Once I’d Googled the word I found that it actually refers to almonds (although if even the walnuts are now nibbed it appears that no nut is safe) prepared solely for decoration and shaped like old-fashioned pen nibs. Huh…

And so I took some time to appreciate all the effort that had gone into preparing the decoration for my carrot cake muffin although I have to admit that whoever is being paid to nib (can the word be used as a verb?) the nuts is not earning their wage. There were no pen-nib shapes that I could see; the whole thing was more like an ink blot test and so I didn’t feel too bad about scarfing down my carrot cake muffin and crunching happily on my nibbed nuts.

So there I was, all set to enjoy thrice-weekly sessions of ‘me time’ in quality surroundings when my plans for a few hours of peace were blown out of the water. You see, the family decided they would join me in my endeavours to ‘get fit’. Various appropriate homilies spring to mind; you are probably thinking ‘the family that plays together, stays together’, right? I’m thinking more along the lines of ‘your sins will always find you out’… As a result Mr. S now plays tennis four times a week while Miss S has been signed up for weekly tennis lessons.

And me? Well, the thrice-weekly sessions of ‘me time’ in the company of a mochachino, some carrot cake and a good book have been replaced with thrice-weekly sessions in the gym (and no, that is no longer a euphemism) while Mr. and Miss S play tennis together (aka father-daughter bonding time). This is followed by a delicious supper at the health club restaurant, which I didn’t have to cook. It also provided me with the perfect excuse to indulge in a little retail therapy as I could not expose the members of the health club to my outdated swimming costume and therefore I am now the proud owner of a chic navy swimsuit. But the real plus is that I have convinced Mr. S to take Miss S to her tennis lessons, complete with breakfast at the health club restaurant (aka more father-daughter bonding time), and so I get two whole hours of ‘me time’ every Saturday morning in the quality surroundings of my own home.

Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together 😉

A rose by any other name…

Earlier this week Miss S had to visit the dentist so that he could ‘assist’ out one of her baby teeth because it has been refusing to fall out of its own accord for the past year. Three days later I am still trying to understand how tugging a tooth out with a pair of pliers can in any way be termed ‘assisting’. I appreciate that the dentist felt the need to sugar-coat the act for the benefit of my seven-year old daughter but when did we become so politically correct in our speech that dentists now have to ‘assist’ teeth out as opposed to – oh, I don’t know – pulling them out? I certainly hope the tooth fairy is paying her ‘assistants’ well because believe me, dentists that ‘assist’ teeth out are one step away from sporting fuzzy, pink wings and a gaudy badge that reads ‘Tooth Fairy’s Assistant’.

Today I read a couple of pages of Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance in which Ms Walker, quite correctly, encourages writers to use powerful, vivid language when describing something in order to add to the emotion and drama of a scene. For example:

He ‘strode’ or ‘marched’ instead of walked. He ‘thumped’ or ‘banged’ on the door instead of knocked.

So why don’t we follow the same advice when speaking? Instead, in order to be PC we lean too far in the opposite direction in our everyday speech to ensure that we don’t hurt anyone’s delicate sensibilities, and now use euphemisms such as ‘assist’ when we really mean ‘pull’.

When I looked up synonyms for ‘pull’ – surprise, surprise – ‘assist’ was not on the list. Neither was facilitate, aid, help or encourage. Instead there was draw, extract, yank, pluck, wrench – good one! – rip and root out. All powerful, emotive words which – don’t get me wrong – I am not asking the dentist to use. The last thing we need is patients fainting away because the dentist gleefully tells them that he has to wrench out one of their teeth. But there is a world of difference between using an inappropriately emotive word that has the potential to send patients fleeing out the door and an appropriate, middle-of-the-road word that does exactly what it says on the tin.

I guarantee that if a patient screams when the dentist tells them that he needs to ‘remove’ a tooth, it is not because they have been traumatised by his choice of verb. Far more likely to be the thought of the hefty bill that awaits them once the tooth drawer has finished wrenching, yanking, ripping and rooting out the offending gnasher.

So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to save the PC language for when you are discussing potentially sensitive subjects, and instead call a spade a spade because as Shakespeare so rightly said ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.

My musings on anything and everything