Christmas squee

Your son’s key worker assistant teacher lady pulled you over on the last but one day of school.

This rarely bodes well. Last time this happened she told you that the Star had said a heartfelt fuck when he dropped his scarf on the grubby floor. You smiled that special smile parents have when their children’s teacher admonishes them. The very bright, overly delighted one. The one that says ‘I do not resent your right to pass judgement on my child at all‘. You also feigned horror, shifted guiltily, muttered ‘appropriate communicative function’ and made a mental note to stop swearing at all the other drivers when you are in the car. Or possibly stop driving in London altogether. Yes, that would do it.

This time, however, she wanted to tell you about the Star and Father Christmas, who had paid the class a visit that day. Gave them all a rather nice book, too, which was generous of him. Being a religious school it was about Noah. But being a Church of England school it has about as much religious content as All I want for Christmas is you.

Anyway. Towards the end of Santa’s visit, your son got up and went to stare intently out of the window up at the sky. The assistant teacher lady drifted over and asked him what was up.

And the Star said ‘I’m looking for the reindeer’.

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

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On demanding chocolate with menaces.

You love Halloween. What’s not to like? Dressing up, dressing up as a witch, dressing your children up. Chocolate, chocolate in the shape of bats, ghosts, cats and pumpkins. Pumpkins! Pumpkin pie!!!  Hacking a pumpkin about in the name of crafting. Crafting which involves knocking up things to decorate the house with. Decorating the house with inexpertly made items in vaguely the shape of bats, ghosts cats and pumpkins smothered in glitter. It’s all good.

This pumpkin looks more worried that worrying. Eh well.

This year you decided to go a bit more all out than on previous years. The Star is getting to the age where he appreciates a good celebration. So you even had a party a few days before. Quite low key, just you and the neighbours and, more to the point, the neighbours’ children. The Star was a ghost. Much business with the white face paint and a paper table cloth. At the last minute you both decided he was a blood drinking ghost, so you got to add lipstick wildly all over his lower face, which is really playing to your strengths as a make up artist.

You did apple bobbing in the living room. In actual water, and this is where having a baby bath still lying around comes in very handy. Also, many many towels. There’s nothing like the hostess sticking her face in warm water and her bum in the air before spitting quantities of water in the general direction of her guests to really get a party going. The kids were useless – no-one wanted to stick their head underwater – and the Comet just wanted to play. Ah well, maybe next year.

Still what with that, the opportunity to catch up with friends and the fact that you had emptied ASDA of Halloween related snacks and sweets earlier, you had an excellent time. The Star and the Comet seemed to enjoy themselves too.

Yes it is a little burnt. Tastes just fine though.

About the only thing you didn’t do was go trick or treating. You have no objection to trick or treating except that no-one has ever knocked on your door here. It has only just occurred to you that this might be because you live in an upstairs flat and no-one can see your decorations from the street below. Even so, you are thinking of going and bothering your parents’ neighbours next year rather than wander around the other blocks of flats here.

B, however, has a better plan. He figures you should all go off to Kensington* and ring doorbells there. You feel this idea has merit but also that you might need to up the costume ante for such an outing. While you coverted the Star’s all in one bat suit, complete with flared legs and wings bought from a nearly new sale for 50p, and the Comet looks charming in green leggings and a green top as a frog, you really think that extorting money with menaces from the rich and Russian of London demands a higher level of effort than gluing a few sequins onto a silhouette and calling it a mask.

Glue! Glue and glitter! Holidays don’t get much better than that.

You are quite looking forward to rising to the challenge.

And for a second treat: a toddler’s Guide to… Sir John Soane’s Museum.

*Home of the really quite well off for the London-challenged.

On anticipation.

You had a little crisis in Asda today. You very nearly broke and started buying holiday food. After all, everybody else was.

But you need to be a bit canny about these things. Your big cooking days are 31st December (Soviet Christmas) and the weekend closest to 7th January (Russian Orthodox Christmas). Buy your ready-made brandy butter now and it will have gone off before you even make it into the New Year.

Theoretically this should be a good thing. You can get presents in the sales and nobody can accuse you of being excessively cheap. You can buy up the half price salmon in Tescos on Boxing Day and not have to salt it away in the freezer  until Easter. That kind of thing.

The problem is that last year you left it too late. By the time you had got back from your parents’ there was nothing worth cooking left in the shops. Gammon to make a ham was in particularly short supply. And woe betide anyone looking for chestnuts on the 27th.

When your holidays only start on the 24th December, there you are, full of the glad tidings of the season ready to bound around the shops picking up your festive bits and bobs, and yet there everybody else has stopped. No more Christmas music. No more bells and snow motifs on TV. No more Santa hats on the supermarket elves. No stocking fillers on the shelves either. Nobody pressing you to a complementary glass of mulled wine. Some places even have the decorations down by the end of the 24th. It’s a real buzz killer.

What’s most irritating is that even though this dissonance is brought about by your family being caught up in trying to celebrate customs from elsewhere, it shouldn’t. It is, after all, only a little longer than the twelve days of Christmas. You are the authentic one.

However, trying to bring Anglo-Saxon capitalism to its knees by the power of your disapproval is clearly not going to work, so you have decided this year to start a bit earlier, even if this does mean that by the time you get to the Star’s yolka* on the 8th you will be twitching of you do catch sight of anything red, green or jingly.

But not until ooooooh tomorrow at least.

*A cross between a pantomime and a nativity, except not really. The Star will be a cockerel. You are quite looking forward to finding out whether this is like scoring the pat of one of the Kings or more equivalent to being third sheep from the left in the school Christmas play.

On Remembrance Day.

You have certain reservations about Remembrance Day.

This is not because you are anti-war, anti those/these wars or anti Britain particularly, although some of those are somewhat true.

Remembrance Day in the UK is in some ways a historical anachronism, instituted at the end of a war which saw every family in the UK touched but where the outcome was largely inconclusive, devoid of any real sense of victory and without much material benefit for returning soldiers. The result was massive emotional investment in war memorials and the rituals surrounding them as a focus for the grief of the nation, a nation who didn’t have much to cheer about. This set the tone for the way war has been commemorated in the UK ever since, yet it is noticeable that the Second World War, a war which had some fairly obvious winners and losers, and which resulted in things like the welfare state being set up, did not produce a rash of war memorials. Names tended to be tacked on to the old World War One monuments.*

It’s this almost exclusive focus on the dead that you consider, at best, a little hypocritical, and at worst, rather dangerous.

It’s easy to say, isn’t war awful, look what it leads to, those poor dead boys, wasn’t it tragic, let’s wear this symbol, bow our heads, say we are sorry and feel morally cleansed by our acknowledgement of the horror. You worry that by wallowing in one day’s mourning, we, the non combatants, feel that we absolve ourselves of involvement in the issue of war the other 364 days of the year.

Plus, whilst you appreciate that the day is a comfort to those who have lost family or friends in war, and that this is not an inconsiderable point, nevertheless, the dead are dead. Remembrance Day can’t help them now. You consider that the focus on the dead means we lose sight of our responsibilities to living solders. Where, you wondered, is the day to support the troops currently under fire on our behalf, to celebrate the maimed, the traumatised, the returnees from war?

Well, actually, there is a day of sorts. It’s called Armed Forces Day (formerlyVeterans Day). Anyone know when that is? No, you thought not.

The thing is, you think that history is repeating itself, in that the longer we engage in a protracted, depressing and inconclusive war, the more focus will be put on Remembrance Day, to the detraction of actually doing anything about it, or about the increasing numbers of young men exposed to the unpleasantness who have to come back and try to get on with their lives.

Not to mention the people who actually have to live in areas of conflict.

So you buy your poppy and you wear it. In fact, this year you bought two pin on poppies, two stick on poppies, a Remembrance Day balloon, a sticker and a pennant, because when you discovered that you only had a five-pound note, rather overwhelmed by your largesse and the Star’s obvious excitement, the Royal British Legion‘s representative kept producing new items as you attempted to stuff your money into his collecting tin. You approve of their work.

But you don’t think November 11th is the best day to do our best thinking about war, our roles and responsibilities.

A paper poppy, worn in the United Kingdom from...

Image via Wikipedia

*You did quite a lot of research once on the meaning of First World War memorials, it bothers you that much. Some of that research ended up here.

On Ooooooooooooooh Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

You took the Star to his first fireworks display yesterday.

It’s not the first time he’s seen fireworks. You took him to the Ancestral New Town last year for rockets and Catherine wheels  in the back garden. He loved it, so for 2011 you decided that it was time to take him to the real thing in the Big Park Near You. Oh, and the Comet. The Comet really benefits from being a second child. There is no way the Star would have been out so far past his bedtime at her age.

You set off with a good half hour to go, thinking that you would just pop on the bus and get to the place you and B had decided would be a good one to observe from.

This happened to be on the other side of the river to where the display was actually taking place. You are cheap, you see, and didn’t feel like paying the £20 entrance fee (‘kids go free!’ Yeah. Right).

First snag. You had insufficiently considered that everybody else in your corner of London would be doing the same thing. You were eventually forced to walk an extra 15 minutes to the other bus-stop, miss another two buses due to overcrowding, muscle your way into the last seats on the top floor on a third, roar off round the corner, and then get promptly stuck in a traffic jam.

You got off the bus.

You began trotting towards the river, determinedly dragging the toddler. But at some point, you and B decided that you weren’t going to make the far bank in time and cut left through the houses in order to go and ooh and ahh from the boundaries of the park.

As it happens, when the display started, the fireworks marshals were too busy removing the fencing in anticipation of the exodus to come, and so you and quite a lot of other people ended up standing just inside the park, with a pretty good view of the bangs and wizzes.

The Star really enjoyed himself. He ended up on his Papa’s shoulders shouting WEEEEEEEEEEEEE! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! and DAAAVAAAAAI, DAAAVAAAAAI!* at the top of his voice throughout.

The Comet started stoically at the pretty lights. Very occasionally, she blinked. You had your hand over her ears, but still, you’d expected a bit more reaction.

Then it was time to go home.

You meandered back along your side of the river, watching the party boats sail by and allowing the Star plenty of time to throw leaves into the water.

Then you got to your bus stop. They’d closed the roads round the park and the traffic was pretty chocka, but your bus was coming so you weren’t too worried.

The bus was terminating there and turning round again rather than trying to force its way through the jam any further. They do that. It’s irritating. It’s especially irritating when you have an over stimulated toddler and a baby to get home. Eventually you decided to bite the bullet and just walk.

You walked and walked and walked. B carried the Star, but the Star is 20kg these days and he could only do so far before you both had to find new incentives to keep the kid on his feet a bit further. Sadly, pigeon chasing is impractical at night. There are no pigeons.

You made it to another, different bus stop after a while. The Star entertained himself, as he is wont to do in such circumstances, by commanding passers-by to STOP! As ever, a few revellers did so, which just thrilled him right down to his little socks.

Your bus came.

And went again. Too overcrowded to even stop.

You ended up getting the Inconvenient Bus and then Yet Another Bus after that, arriving home at 10.30pm.

The fireworks finished at 8.30.

Next year, you will probably be partaking of your parents’ hospitality again.

*’Let’s go! Let’s Go!’

On Mothers Day.

For the last three years you have been trying to get B to recognise Mothers Day.

It’s not going well.

He just doesn’t feel it. Russians don’t celebrate it at all. They have Women’s Day, which in principle you prefer to both Mothers Day and Valentine’s Day as it is somewhat less specific to certain stereotypical roles women are supposed to play in their lives and considerably more inclusive to all women in general. Who should, after all, be worshipped at least once a year.

Although you’d prefer all three times.

Of course, the irritating thing about Women’s Day in Russia is that lately it is apparently impossible to mention it without sourly drawing attention to the discrepancy between its intended status as a celebration of feminism, and the fact that feminism in Russia is a dirty word and that this is just an excuse to throw the downtrodden female masses in the Former Soviet Union a paltry sop in the form of a limp bunch of flowers in lieu of any actual appreciation of their rightful place as equal and valued members of society.

If you were in a feisty mood, you would find it almost impossible to resist the temptation to point out in return that taking mother out for lunch is also something of a paltry sop for taking her for granted the rest of the year in a society with doesn’t even have the decency to be honest about the second class status that women still hold. Because otherwise, why would the bulk of childcare, cleaning and career suicide still be left to the female half of the parenting partnership? Why wouldn’t this holiday have become ‘Parents Day’ a long time ago?**

Plus you do wonder if anyone who thinks the female masses are downtrodden in Russia has ever actually met any Russian women. Stronger-minded ladies are few and far between. Although they do dress well.

However, you are not in a feisty mood. Or even a pensive mood.  You can get irritated with Mothers Day on ideological grounds, but it’s never bothered you on a personal level, not when you were childless, not even when you were unwillingly childless. You tended not to connect the dots. Mothers Day was a day for presenting your own mother with a homemade scribble and a bunch of daffodils with a beam of benevolent affection, and for turning up at Granny’s with the annual pot plant.

It didn’t have anything to do with you.

But when you realised that you were about to qualify, you spotted an opportunity, as a down trodden female mass, to wangle a bit of a lie in. Well, what you are aiming for is breakfast in bed, actually. Lounging around in bed. A bit of light bathing, with the door shut, and a book. Someone else doing the cooking and wiping the Star’s snotty nose. Someone else stuffing the suddenly eight armed toddler into clothes in preparation for a walk. Someone else answering the question ‘where going?’* about yourself, himself, the ladybird, the lady on the street, your neighbour, the pigeon, the worm, the man getting off the bus, the man getting on the bus, the other pigeon, the other lady bird, the other lady on the street, the rook, the crisp packet, the boat, your neighbour again, the water in his bath and Papa after he has said good night.

For a day.

Of course, a card on a grubby bit of paper that makes you look like a demented female dinosaur is also absolutely indispensable.

However, this year you got a framed black and white photograph of what you are reasonably sure is a late eighties Lotus formula one car, with a dedication from someone whose signature you can’t quite make out (yet) to someone called ‘Q’, which B found at a car boot sale and has been hoarding for the occasion.

As presents in general go, this is pretty up there on your list.

As Mothers Day presents go, it really needs work.

But you felt entirely unable to complain as April 3rd – Mothers Day 2011 – coincided rather unfortunately with B’s birthday.

You made him a cake. Of course.

What do you get the Soviet medal enthusiast who has everything for his birthday?

You make him a Soviet Order of the Patriotic War, Class I cake, of course.

And this is what it's modelled on.

You will say this. You will never laugh at Cake Wrecks again. How people, even professional people, get the icing onto the sponge in one piece and without getting it covered in either powdered icing sugar or jam is beyond you.

Fun though.

*’Why?’ will be a relief.

**Well, card sales on Fathers Day would take a bit of a hit perhaps.