Month: December 2015

Why do we think next year is going to be any better?

Today is New Year’s Eve. Facebook is already starting to fill up with statuses waxing lyrical about how great next year is going to be and how hard and challenging this year has been. Everyone wants to put the past behind them and look to the future with head held high in an optimistic cloud of goodness.

So my weird thought is: why do we always think that the next year is going to be any better than this year and that we are going to behave any better than we have done this year?

Tomorrow is another year

Tomorrow is another year

It isn’t and we aren’t. 2016 is going to have the same amount of ups and downs and good and bad days as 2015 had. The bad times don’t end today, the good times don’t start tomorrow. In fact, chances are, things tomorrow will be pretty awful: we’ll be feeling tired, hungover, nauseated and fat. That’s not a great start to a new year. Then there is also that sick feeling that work is about to start soon and the knowledge that January is going to be a horrible, cold and boring month.

Are we really going to be nicer to people after tomorrow? Exercise more? Drink less? Eat better? Help more people across the road? Stand up on trains? Perhaps for a week or so, ten days at a stretch.

So I say that today instead of standing proud in a waft of sentimentality we should stay firmly on realistic ground and look back and accept that 2015 was a good year and a shitty one and look forward and expect 2016 to be the same. We should always strive to be nice to people, help them across the road (unless they don’t want to be helped), exercise regularly, drink and eat sensibly, and be forgiving of our adversaries. I ask you, dear reader, to do something extraordinary next year (as you may have done last year), take up something new, have a goal, seize the day. Those are all good goals to have all of the time. But equally accept that there will be times when you find yourself drawn into gossip, or letting a friend down, or not noticing the pregnant person standing on the train or wallowing in self-pity.

My new year’s resolution is: just keep doing the best I can with the resources I have to hand and keep seizing the day. Oh, and to keep blogging.

Why I like the no man’s land of Between Christmas And New Year

Today is the 28th December. I am in the midst of one of my favourite times of year: the no-man’s-land days between Christmas and New Year.

Today’s weird thought is about why I like these days.  No, correct that, why I LOVE these days.

I like this time because for 362-ish days of the year I am running around like a headless chicken: working, ferrying children, governoring, volunteering, being an art student and being a parent. I don’t just sit. I ride on the wave of anxiety. I don’t watch TV without doing something else at the same time. I flit from Wolverhampton, to school, to home, to school, to Zumba, and back home again. I don’t pause for thought or anything else.

Eat some Christmas pudding

Eat some Christmas pudding

I cope with that level of activity because for four or five days a year, I stop. I might dip in and out of work or my art after Christmas but I don’t do much of it. I mainly do nothing. I relax. Most of all, I sleep. During this time, my body says STOP! And I obey. I stop. I get up late, I have an afternoon nap or I sleep in the car or on the sofa, I doze in the evening, waking only to make the journey upstairs to bed. I am surrounded by family and we have nothing better to do than play with our presents, eat leftovers, drink wine while catching up on Christmas Day TV, ignore the mess building around us, and watch daytime television for no other reason than it would be rude not to.

Pick at the turkey

Pick at the turkey

So it amazes me when people are so keen to get their decorations down and get back to a routine (even those that do it on New Year’s Day – that’s still too early). I see (and hear them) get their hoovers out. Our next door neighbour was hoovering on Boxing Day morning. I say: stop your tidying and embrace the lazy days. Embrace the mess. You live busy, tidy lives the rest of the year. Sit, get fat, hibernate, sleep, do nothing and enjoy. Don’t worry about the mess. Let it lie. There is plenty of time in January for tidying. Just stop and feel proud of all you’ve achieved this year. For once, my advice is: don’t bother seizing the day. Leave the day to pass you by. Be a sleepy teenager.

I urge everyone over these few days to do something indulgent, read a book, lie in bed, drink Bailieys in bed, have long baths, play with Lego, eat pickled cabbage until you turn into a woopie cushion (that is what it does to me), eat it out of the jar with bread and butter, pick off the turkey carcas, and dip into the trifle. Enjoy. Make the most of it. You will burn it all off again in January.

Yum city

Yum city

I love these days. They all feel the same. What day is it? I think it is Monday or Tuesday. I don’t care. All this typing has exhausted me. Time for a sleep.

The older you get, the more boring your presents are

I have to start this blog with a disclaimer: when I say ‘boring’ I mean it in relative terms (i.e. imagine the judgement is being made by a ten year old). I’m in no way saying that I find the presents I got this year as a forty-something year old boring to me as a forty-something year old. I’m saying that they would be boring to a ten year old.

So this is my weird thought:

When you are five, for example, all your Christmas presents are large. They arrive in huge cardboard boxes, they often need batteries, they flash and play tunes. They are bright. They are interesting. They occupy you for hours. The pleasure you feel on receiving these is high. You feel sick with excitement.

Colourful presents

Colourful presents

Then you are ten. Your presents are a bit smaller but they are still interesting. They still often come in boxes. They might contain sheets of paper and words. They are able to occupy you and your siblings for a good few hours. You still get that sick feeling when you open your presents.

Presents for ten year olds

Presents for ten year olds

Once you get to fifteen, your presents shrink a bit more. In fact, they may shrink quite a lot. They probably don’t come in cardboard. They may be clothes or money, which you will probably spend on clothes. You may even get some cleaning products (to clean the skin, rather than the sink). You feel happy, but not excited.

For buying those to-die-for boots with

For buying those to-die-for boots with

At twenty your presents generally increase in size from five years previously. They may be decorative and useful. You will perhaps receive things for the house, or jewellery (of course my experience is gender biased, as I am female, I’m not sure what a twenty-year-old man would get) or a new watch. You may still receive clothing and money.

A nice watch

A nice watch

By thirty, your presents will be much more utilitarian: plates, mugs, kitchen utensils, and the odd vase. You will most certainly receive some self-cleaning products. The money-as-present has now disappeared completely. You may get books and DVDs, especially if you are childless at this point. You feel warm and loved, not excited.

The perfect present for a 30 year old

The perfect present for a 30 year old

At forty, especially if you have young children, your presents will be pamper-related: lots of bathing products, lots of scarfs that you might not buy for yourself, and gloves. You may get jewellery (if female) which is again, not something you’d buy yourself. You could also get some wine or spirits (your children drive you to drink, they think). You enjoy the wine, and wear the scarf. You just feel tired.

Perfect for the school run

Perfect for the school run

At fifty, your presents will consist of more scarfs and bath products. You will no longer receive domestic items – you have all you need. You may now get more books and DVDs as your children, if you had them, are likely to be more independent. You have more time to read and watch. You may also receive wine and candles. You are still tired, the dinner needs cooking.

This is what a 50 year old likes to do for relaxation

This is what a 50 year old likes to do for relaxation

When you reach sixty, I’m afraid, you will get lots of scarfs and bath products. You will also receive chocolate. You can sit in your scarfs, in the bath, and eat chocolate. You feel relaxed, someone else is cooking.

Which one to try first?

Which one to try first?

By seventy, see above. You will probably get slippers as well, and maybe a new dressing gown.

A lovely pair of pink slippers

A lovely pair of pink slippers

By eighty: slippers again.

In case you need another one

In case you need another one

By ninety: definitely slippers. I’m sure when I am ninety I will be very grateful for slippers, but my ten-year-old self would not be happy with a pair of slippers for Christmas.

A very comfortable slipper

A very comfortable slipper

Beyond? I don’t know yet.

So my point, next year if you surprise your seventy-year-old great aunt with something colourful and flashy and she won’t thank you. She was hoping for slippers.

 

 

Why I like Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day

This is the weird thought I’ve had today, it being Christmas Eve.

Everyone is out and about on Christmas Eve

Although all the shops are always very busy on Christmas Eve, everyone is cheerful and full of Christmas spirit. If you go shopping on the 23rd December, or the 22nd, everyone is grumpy and pushy, determined to grab that last bag of sprouts. Wait until Christmas Eve and they are happy and don’t care about the last sprouts. The people who are working in the shops are cheerful and happy to serve you despite the big queues They are wearing their Christmas hats and looking forward to when they can shut their doors to their last customer.

Worth fighting over?

Worth fighting over?

There is excitement about what is under the tree

I love that feeling of expectation that only comes on Christmas Eve. Once Christmas Day arrives and the presents have been opened, that feeling deflates like a whoopee cushion. It’s not that we don’t like the presents we get and we aren’t grateful, but that element of surprise has gone. That ‘it must be a book’ has a name and colour. The magical object becomes tangible and real.

Spot the present

Spot the present

Christmas Eve feels Victorian, and perhaps also medieval

There is something antiquated (but in a good way) about Christmas Eve that Christmas Day lacks. I think it is the carols, the busy ye olde English shops (if you live somewhere like I do with lots of black-and-white Dickensian buildings) and the mulled wine. If you don’t go to church regularly but don’t object to a bit of Christmas church, there’s a good chance you will go to church on Christmas Eve (I used to take the children to the Kristingle service every year) and this always gives me a butterfly feeling about the following day.

People in the pub are your best friends for the night

If you go to the pub on Christmas Eve, the magic is there too. Everyone loves you and you genuinely wish them a Happy Christmas. Wait two weeks and they won’t give you a second glance and they resume their British grumpiness.

The Father Christmas magic

Once night falls, the magical feeling grows exponentially, and as the stockings get hung up on the mantelpiece that expectation of something wonderful in the air and of a special guest coming, is even more heightened. Even at my age, I still believe.

Our magical visitor

Our magical visitor

It never rains on Christmas Eve

Perhaps is just my perception but it feels to me as if the sky is always clear blue on Christmas Eve and there is a frost in the air. That is what the weather is like here today.

And then finally comes Christmas Day…

I like Christmas Day, of course, it is my birthday after all and I get loads of presents, and it is fun. I don’t have to work on Christmas Day and there’s nice stuff to do and lots to eat. However, I find Christmas Day overwhelming. I always feel overloaded by the end of the day: in terms of digestion, alcohol consumption and present opening. Also, my sense of sight, hearing and touch suffer from not enough disk space. I get to a point when I can’t take any more and I crash. I don’t know if that is just me or whether other people feel like that. That doesn’t happen to me on Christmas Eve. It only happens on Christmas Day. I actually dread that point in the day when I feel like that (usually about 6pm). Then the depression sets in as I realise that it is all over. The house is full of stuff, paper, food, boxes and tired people and it will be another 11 months until I can play Christmas music again.

So in conclusion, I wish you, dear reader, a happy Christmas Eve and hope that tomorrow meets your expectations and brings you joy. I think the key is to keep an open mind how Christmas Day will pan out and the day will be good. In other words, take a chill pill. I will try to take one too.

Greg Lake, I Believe in Father Christmas sums up very well how I feel today: excitement, anticipation, wishes, belief, sparkle.

The Smiths Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now sums up my feeling at 6pm on Christmas Day: overindulged, overstimulated, and just plain over.

 

 

What ‘Freud on cats – narcissism’ refers to

I have a note book that I keep by my bedside and when I have a weird thought or an idea I write it down in there. I recently wrote ‘Freud on cats – narcissism’ and this morning when I woke up, for the life of me I couldn’t remember what that was about.

I googled ‘Freud on cats’, ‘Freud cats narcissism’ and nothing initially jogged my memory. However, in my search I learnt that Freud did not like cats, which sparked my interest as a cat lover. It is commonly assumed that he did. He is even attributed with saying ‘Time spent with cats is never wasted’. He didn’t say this. For most of his life, he preferred dogs and books to cats. According to the Freud Museum in London (the authority of which I do not doubt) he once said, in contradiction to his alleged famous cat quote: I, as is well known, do not like cats’.

Freud next to a quote he didn't say

Freud next to a quote he didn’t say

Determined not to give up I kept googling various combinations of ‘Freud and cats’, ‘Freud narcissism cats’, ‘Freud narcissistic cat’ as I knew there must be something there, and eventually I hit jackpot.

It is true, Freud, largely, did not like cats. However, he was once bewitched by a cat. He started off disliking the creatures and probably said the above words during this phase in his life. But, the truth is, he was turned into a cat lover, by a cat.

I put it to you, dear reader, that this beguiling cat was one of the many cats plotting to take over the world and in this aim, this cat managed to create a whole branch of thinking in the world of psychoanalysis which sticks with us today. This cat, very cleverly, led Freud to come up with his thoughts on narcissism. These thoughts, which turned into a book, it could be argued, contributed to the rise of feminism in the 1960s and beyond. Therefore, I argue that the cat is responsible for existence of the feminist movement and feminist thought. If it wasn’t for the cat, we wouldn’t have had Margaret Thatcher. If it wasn’t for Margaret Thatcher, the British economy wouldn’t be in such a state and we wouldn’t have as much support for the likes of UKIP as we do.  I suspect that this is part of the cats’ grand master plan to take over the world. They are going to lure us into chaos and then strike. The story hasn’t finished yet. I’m not sure what is going to happen next. One thing I am sure of, the cats know.

So back to earth, how did this cat bewitch Freud? I will tell you the story.

Lou Andreas-Salomé knew that Freud actually liked cats

Lou Andreas-Salomé knew that Freud actually liked cats

Freud’s friend and contemporary, Lou Andreas-Salomé, I have found out, wrote an entry in her dairy in 1913 recounting a story Freud had told her about his one encounter with a cat. This story is called ‘die reizende Erzaehlung von der “narzisstischen Katze‘ (the charming tale of the ‘narcissistic cat”‘). I quote from her diary:

When Freud maintained his office on the ground floor, the cat had climbed in through the open windows. He did not care much for cats or dogs or animals generally, and in the beginning the cat aroused mixed feelings in him, especially when it climbed down from the sofa on which it had made itself comfortable and began to inspect in passing the antique objects which he had placed for the time being on the floor.… But when the cat proceeded to make known its archaeological satisfaction by purring and with its lithe grace did not cause the slightest damage, Freud’s heart melted and he ordered milk for it. From then on the cat claimed its rights daily to take a place on the sofa, inspect the antiques and get its bowl of milk. However, despite Freud’s increasing affection and admiration, the cat paid him not a bit of attention and coldly turned its green eyes with their slanting pupils towards him as toward any other object…. Finally, after this unequal relationship had lasted a long time without any change, one day he found the cat feverish and gasping on the sofa. And although it was most painstakingly treated with hot fomentations and other remedies, it succumbed to pneumonia, leaving naught of itself but a symbolic picture of all the peaceful and playful charm of true egoism.

The book that came from a cat

The book that came from a cat

So there are two conclusions here. Freud did grow to like cats despite what the Freud Museum in London claims. Cats are indeed very dangerous creatures if they are capable of influencing the intellectual thought of the father of psychoanalysis, and through him changing the minds of a nation’s population (and indeed the world’s) and we need to watch them very, very closely.

See - the man loves cats

See – the man loves cats

Doesn’t everyone have a favourite motorway services?

A while ago, I wrote about my collection of roundabouts. I have roundabouts that I am fond of. I even have a favourite roundabout. I also have a favourite motorway service station (and a number of runners up). So my weird thought is: doesn’t everyone?

My favourite motorway station is Michael Wood services in Gloucestershire. I’ve just been told, by someone more aware of his surroundings than me, that Michael Wood services is actually  Michaelwood services and that Michael Wood isn’t a person, Michaelwood is a place. This has shattered my twenty-five-year-long image of my favourite services being named by some local celebrity chap called Michael. I’m not the only one who was under this illusion. Gyles Brandreth also posed this question.

The best university in the world

The best university in the world

There are a just two Michael Woods who it could have been named after (even though it isn’t): Michael Wood historian and Michael Wood Professor of Arts, Languages and Cultures at Manchester University. Sadly, though, it isn’t named after either of them. And also, even more sadly, they are one and the same person. There is only one Michael Wood. And he has no connection with Gloucestershire at all.

I wonder how often he gets asked about his motorway station?

I wonder how often he gets asked about his motorway station?

These services mark the half-way point between Stafford and Exeter on the M5 and so was a frequent stopping place for me when I was at university. I am therefore very fond of the place. My dad used to treat me to a cup of coffee and a jam doughnut there on our way to and from Exeter.

Time for a coffee?

Time for a coffee?

However, reviewers on trip advisor do not share my love for this west-country service stop:

‘I’m sorry for being negative but there is little to tempt the weary traveller here at Michaelwood services.’

‘We stopped at this services before reaching Exeter and wished we had carried on. The place is a mess.’

‘Oh dear the place looks shabby and run down.’

I haven’t been there for a while so perhaps standards have slipped. But until I do, it remains my favourite.

 

 

The little lies parents tell you

I was thinking the other day about those little lies that you get told as a child to determine behaviour and / or have a little bit of peace. The cat was sitting on my lap demanding affection. I had been the one to feed her that evening.

The lies I was told are as follows:

Whoever feeds the cat, will earn the most love.

This one, may or may not contain some element of truth. I don’t think any scientists have studied it yet. But I can’t say that as an adult I notice any noticeable extra love dished out to the adults in the family because they feed the cat. I think this lie came from parental laziness.

Liquorice, rest her soul, loved us all equally

Liquorice, rest her soul, loved us all equally

If you stand on your head for long enough, your head will flatten and you will get better at headstands.

This was a lie told to me by my grandma. I believed this for many, many years and shortly after she told me this, I spent an inordinate amount of time on my head in an effort to perfect the skill of hand-standing. I do not know her motive for telling me this lie. Perhaps she thought it would keep me quiet for a few hours. If so, it worked.

I'm very good at this now

I’m very good at this now

The shape of your earlobes determines whether you are able to have earrings or not.

This lie was also told by my grandma. The motive is clear. I believed her until I was finally dragged by my best friend to get my ears pierced at the age of 18. The irony of this lie is that I wasn’t actually particularly keen to get my ears pierced. I wasn’t a girly girl.

This person has the right sort of earlobe

This person has the right sort of earlobe

‘Your tea is really delicious’.

This wasn’t a parental lie, but a lie told to me by my elder siblings. I believed this lie for many years and happily made all the hot drinks in the house until I left home. They didn’t confess their atrocious untruth telling until I was in my thirties.

I really thought I made the best tea in Stafford

I really thought I made the best tea in Stafford

‘You need more sleep than other  children’

I’m sure that when my mum reads this she will object to its inclusion in this list, and insist that I did / do need more sleep than other people. But there is a nagging doubt with this one. I was sent to bed after Crossroads for many years, and then that progressed to after Coronation Street and later Brookside. My school friends were allowed to stay up to watch the likes of The Young Ones, That’s Life and Not The Nine O’clock News which to me seemed mysterious and terribly rude, and very glamorous. For years I pretended to my friends that I watched The Young Ones. I didn’t.

If you stay awake on Christmas Eve night, Father Christmas won’t bring you any presents

This is probably a universal parental lie. I remember one year, aged about 9, I had a really bad cold at Christmas. I got into quite a panic about not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve. I did sleep. I subsequently received presents. I firmly believed the two were related.

If you wear high-heeled shoes your feet will be ruined in your adult life

This was another gem from my grandma and I think there is an element of truth in this although I’m not sure this is universal (otherwise most elderly ladies would have bad feet). She had a lot of problems with her feet and used to keep sheep’s wool around her big toes. As a child I certainly didn’t want to suffer as she did with her feet. As a result, I’m wearing Dr Martens at the age of 43.

This lady will have poorly feet when she's 60

This lady will have poorly feet when she’s 60

I would like to know what parental lies other people have been told. If I find out any, I will add them below.

And here are some ‘lies’ told to friends:

Friend One’s first lie: ‘If the wind changes your face will stick like that’. This is a classic. I think most children were told this at some point. I’m not sure that many believed it.

Friend One’s second lie: ‘If you don’t eat your crusts your hair won’t curl’ Another classic. I always wanted curly hair and I ate all my crusts and it never happened so I quickly learnt that this was a complete fib.

Friend Two’s first lie: ‘My boyfriend’s little brother when he was about 12 asked me why I took a pill everyday (referring to my contraceptives) and I told him it was to stop me from growing a beard and that was why women weren’t hairy. I told him all women do this so he asked his older sister if she took a pill everyday also and she said yes!’

Friend Two’s second lie: ‘My mum used to tell me that if I didn’t go to sleep at night the bogey man would get me. I believed he lived in the loft and was too scared to go to the toilet in the night in case he got me. She also used to tell me this to get me to nap in an afternoon.’

Friend Two again: ‘My boyfriend says his mum used to tell him when the ice cream van played music it was because they ran out of ice cream.’ I’ve used this one on my three children. They didn’t believe it at all.

Friend Three’s lie: ‘My partner’s mum would tell him if he told a lie his tongue would turn purple, so if he was fibbing he wouldn’t open his mouth so she knew he was fibbing! We now say the same to our little boy’.

Friend Four’s lie: ‘I spoke to the tooth fairy on the phone when I lost (actually lost) a tooth and was very upset about it. It was YEARS later before mum confessed the beautiful fairy voice belonged to her, speaking from the upstairs phone.’ This is a lovely ‘lie’. I do worry about what my children will say when they inevitably find out that the likes of Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are not real people who come into the house at night to leave things.