Monday, 29 April 2013

Real Men

Spiders, it seems, are the secret to machismo. Women, asked by pollsters what vital ingredient marks out a real man, were in broad agreement: real men are unfazed by wildlife in the bathtub. They also support their local football team, drive their own car and earn more than their wives. So finds the stain removal firm, Dr Beckmann which commissioned the survey on household heroes. Quite why a stain removal firm wishes to plumb machismo is a mystery to me, but I could have saved them the trouble, for there is nothing I don't know about manliness. Why, I even possess many of the essential attributes myself.

A real man, ladies, is someone who:

fearlessly, when a menacing midnight sound wakes the household, plunges through the darkness and, without thought for his own wellbeing, swabs the pool of childish vomit on the landing. 

grabs a knife in an emergency and, with a skilfully improvised stew, succours his defeated wife and little ones.

with muscled vigour that brooks no dissent, grabs at his woman and thrusts a Champneys voucher into her nappy bag.

hurtles resolutely through the witching hours to save his mother-in-law from a station taxi fare.

armed only with a biro and his own quick wit, stands shoulder to shoulder with his youngest in face of the eight times table. 

What would you say makes a real man?


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Mod Cons

I'm not a great believer in labour-saving devices. I evicted my husband's microwave when I moved into the vicarage. I rely on the remaining intact pages of my road map rather than entrust myself to a satnav. I've never owned a tumble-dryer and I would be clueless about loading a dishwasher. There are, in my view, few domestic challenges that can't be overcome by a dustpan and brush and a pair of Marigolds.

I am, however, thrilled with my dual-function washing machine: whenever it drains a cycle, it washes the kitchen floor. Muddy paw prints and cemented cornflakes no longer crust my vinyl. Desiccated peas have been washed out from under the fridge and the mysterious scabs round the cooker feet have been dissolved by Fairy non-biological.

Admittedly there are drawbacks. Lately the machine's thoroughness has turned the kitchen into a boating lake. Yesterday's copy of The Guardian is no longer adequate defence. I've had to restrict my laundering to Mondays when the Vicar has finished with his Church Times and the Sunday supplements are to hand.

But the plus points far outweigh the inconveniences. No longer does the spin dry carve creases into the family cottons. And garments outgrown by the children stretch to fit as they sag soaked on the airer.

A replacement appliance arrives next week. The Vicar, weary of wellies at breakfast, insisted. But I am grieved. I'm still wary of mod cons, but I've had a fortnight freed from unloved chores and it was a heady feeling. Now I've got to remind myself where I keep my floor mop.

What's your favourite mod con?

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Thursday, 11 April 2013

Artistic Sensibility

We are in a small gallery devoted to an artist I have never heard of. Gazing from the walls are rows of voluptuously lipped pre-Raphaelite women united by a common problem: keeping their robes decorously in place. I am resigned to the will of our host and embark on a dutiful examination of the brushstrokes. The children are less resigned and demand to know when we are leaving.

Then, while I am studying a damsel whose curves are inadequate mooring for her gown, I realise I can no longer hear my brood. Hastily I glance round. They are moving slowly from picture to picture gazing raptly at each. They even seem to be making notes. 'They're doing well,' beams an elderly room warden. 'So nice to see children enjoying art.'

I beam back, torn between pride and perplexity. I start to hope that our occasional dashes to the National Gallery to use the loos on London shopping trips have instilled in my twosome a sense of artistic integrity. I decide to replace our desiccated poster paints and to find fun facts on Van Gogh on Wikipedia.

As the children approach, revitalised by culture, another elderly attendant approaches. She too has been watching them benignly. 'So what did you get out of your visit?' she asks. 'Bosoms!' shouts the eight-year-old rapturously. 'We've been counting all the bare bosoms and I won 'cos I got 52!'

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Art of Joy

Katetakes5 is celebrating the fact that her son rates David Bowie above One Direction. Heady with pride she wants the rest of us to teach our children that some pleasures are superior to adolescent hollering. I've never knowingly heard a song by One Direction. Come to think of it, I can't call to mind anything by David Bowie either. Anyone with pretence to taste and intellect knows that Doris Day outstrips all of them. It's therefore no trouble at all for me to teach my children five things that are better than a boy band:

Stream wading. This was my birthday treat last year and this. There is an entrancing pleasure to clambering into a stream as far down as possible and paddling up it as far up as possible, defying the hidden gullies and submerged traffic cones and dangling en passant from tumbled trees. The patterns of water whirling round wellies, secret flowers on steep banks and the occasional fleeing rodent give the sense, unequalled on dry land, of being embedded in the landscape.



Pick-axeing. A joy much extolled by me and mystifyingly unappreciated by everyone else. March your rage and frustration into the garden, preferably your own. Grasp the handle of your pick-axe, preferably a wooden one. Hurl the spike viciously into the sod. There is an intoxication in feeling it yield and smash which will instantly cure you. And, if you keep at it hard enough you get a pond out of it. I have three.



Clean sheets. A pleasure intensified by novelty. The vicarage bedlinen is not changed as often as it ought to be, but every five...er, every couple of weeks or so I treat myself to the smug joy of laundered flannelette and even my bunions celebrate the difference.

The vicarage linen cupboard. Ironing is not something I rate above One Direction.

Leaves. Councils pay a fortune to eliminate them. Me, I can't get enough of them dead or alive.



Bedtime. When the voices of your pre-teens itemising your maternal failings are stilled and, softened by sleep, they are your babies again.


What things do you think are better than One Direction?