Sunday, December 25, 2011

We wish you a Merry Christmas.....

Well, it's nearly midnight on Christmas Eve so time to turn in before Santa arrives. It's been a hectic run up to Christmas and not without it's drama.... well it wouldn't be Christmas in our family if it all went smoothly, so I just want to take a moment  to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Stylish Mum? Moi?

Yesterday I received an e-mail from Mint Velvet, an online fashion retailer, telling me about an exciting new feature on their website, Mums in Style, and asked me if I'd like to join.

Apparently it's for women 'who believe that being a mum doesn't mean you have to sacrifice style and plays (sic) homage to those mums who arrive at the school gate looking effortlessly cool (even if they've been knee deep in Marmite, unfinished homework and floods of tears 5 minutes earlier).'

At the bottom of the e-mail are photos of ubercool, stylish mums showing off their effortless coolness.

My own particular style as I read the e-mail was a pair of jean, a pyjama top and a shower cap... but it was effortless though possibly not that cool.

As far as arriving at the school gate, in the days when I did, it was often in my pyjamas, wearing the Marmite down my front and the tears were usually mine.

I don't personally subscribe to the Yummy Mummy idea, god knows, just being a parent these days is hard enough without setting yourself impossible goals of lipstick and mascara but I must say Mint Velvet does have a few nice threads which, were I to want to try and transform my own very personal and slightly crumpled style into something more upmarket, would no doubt help me on my road to being a schoolgate fashion icon.

To be honest, I think the best thing that any parent can ask for is to get through the day with the same number of children as they started off with, never mind all the alphamummy- induced competitiveness that seems rife these days. Why do you have to be a stylish mum? Can't you just be a mum?  When your kids grow up do you really want them to say 'my childhood was crap but at least my mother always looked good'?

When we took our recent extended family holiday (from hell - ooops, did I really say that?) we accidentally found ourselves on 'Boden' beach, stuffed full of husbands barking wankspeak down their mobile phones while their gym-toned wives urged their high-achieving offspring, Xander and  Allegra, to build a better sandcastle than that family a bit further down the beach before they headed off to do a bit more revision for their SATs (which they'd be taking in a few years timne). Mummy could then dash off and take in a quick spinning class - am I the only one who doesn't get spinning? Why on earth would you sit on a stationary bike and peddle like buggery rather get on a proper bike and go for a nice ride in the country? Meanwhile Daddy would set up yet another hedge fund and teach Xander the ins and outs of the stock market using the new LeapPad 'How to Fleeced the Taxpayer' game.

A little bit of competitiveness is a good thing and should be encouraged but the lengths that some people go to these days to try and assert their superiority over their fellow man is really quite ridiculous. It's time we were all just ourselves.  There are far bigger problems in the world than whether or not Fellatia's mother turned up without the full slap on and wearing M&S rather than Joseph.

my a**e!

NB. This is not a sponsored post. I haven't received any payment from Mint Velvet - but I think I probably should!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Its to EuroPanto Time!

Stuck for some entertainment this festive season? Well thank goodness for the EuroPanto which is playing out right now on our television screens. Instead of forking out to watch jaded has-beens prance around the stage in outrageous costumes, you can sit the children down in front of the television with a giant bowl of pop corn for a spot of cross channel willy waving (figuratively speaking of course) in our very own 'CindEurella' starring David Cameron as the baby faced Obstinatia, Nicholas Sarkozy as  the poison dwarf Arrogantia, the two Ugly Sisters, Angela Merkel as Knöpfe (that's Buttons in German, I'm such a polyglot!), the single currency as 'CindEurella' and the entire Eurozone as Baron Hardup.

To a cry of 'It's behind ours' (your economy that is) watch Arrogantia and his chums Noyer (which means to drown in French, and I bet Obstinatia wishes he would) and Baroin point their  fingers and shout 'Oh no we didn't' (try to talk down your economy) while Obstinatia and his poodle, Cleggy retort 'Oh yes you did' (try to get Fitches to downgrade us instead of you).

Meanwhile  Knöpfe is running around like a madwoman trying to prevent CindEurella falling off a cliff and taking the wicked Baron Hardup with her.

And if the kids get bored of that, goodness knows this Panto has already run and run, you can always entertain them with the comments pages of most national newspapers where Arrogantia's serfs are claiming that  in any case their cheese is better, while Obstinatia's are pointing out that they may have 400 cheeses but all of them are brie and in the great scheme of things does it really matter?

Seriously though, the behaviour of Sarko, Baroin and Noyer has, in my opinion, brought French politics to a new low, if that's possible after Chirac was found guilty this week of embezzlement and only escaped jail because of his mental condition - that'll be all that unpasteurised cheese he's eaten no doubt.

They have acted like a bunch of petulant kids who's party has been spoiled because one kid didn't want to come. Whether or not he was right to stay away from the party only time will tell. However,  France has massive problems to face with most of it's major banks having their ratings downgraded and the country's economy put on negative watch but, in true Gallic style, is refusing to see the bigger picture and instead trying the 'My economy is better than your economy' style of playground politics favoured by the average 5 year old. And accusing Fitches of 'an Anglo Saxon conspiracy'? Don't they know it's a French owned company?

I'm no fan of British politicians by my answer to M. Baroin's claim that he'd rather be French than English would be so am I. We've got enough idiots in our own government without you. Merci.

My two favourite quotes of the week:  'The UK is isolated in the same way that someone who missed the Titanic is isolated' and 'Economists forecast fifteen of the last five recessions'.

"Oh do shut up you ridiculous little man"

"Well mah economee ees beeger than yoz.. oh no, wait a minute... Merde!"

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What's in a name.... Part Deux

Today, the school published the list of students receiving awards at the end of term awards ceremony. Naturally, The Boy and The Girl are both on the list – well they take after their mother of course! 
But more interesting than reading who won what, is who’s called what. A name is such an important thing and the odd poorly thought out name combination can lead to years of schoolyard-hell as my old friend Valerie Davies found out when she spent her formative years with VD beautifully chain stitched to her PE kit, much to the amusement of her classmates and visiting netball teams.
Another friend’s brother is called Piran, a Cornish name, St Piran being, apparently, the patron saint of tin miners. He said it ruined his life as he spent his entire time listening to people say ‘what?’, then having to spell it, explain its origins and so on. He now calls himself Pete.
Although the huge majority of names on the awards list were perfectly normal it did throw up a few interesting ones, some of which were a reminder of what was on the tv or in the pop charts in the late 80s and early 90s, some of which use a bit of ‘individual’ spelling, one of my pet hates. I mean, why Izzabelle and not Isabel, or Rebekka instead of Rebecca or Aleksandra instead of Alexandra? There was even an Indya for heaven’s sake. The name only has five letters. Is it really necessary to change one?
There were two Summers, one Summer-Louise and one Hollee-Summer (thus incorporating two of my pet hates, misspelling and seasons), three Nikitas (Elton John or the film, take your pick), a smattering of Tiegans (Dr Who) and two Crystals (Dallas maybe? Or Crystal Gayle?). There was one Giverny (I’d like to think Monet’s Garden but more likely the song by Chris Rea) and one Robson (Green maybe? He was pretty big in the 90s).
Our proximity to Wales provided two Anghareds (a name I love to be fair), a Rhydian (most likely not after the former X Factor contestant) and then there’s Deanna with a TRIPLE barrelled surname (possibly veh, veh posh but more likely her mother is unsure of her parentage so is covering all bases). On the ‘I made this up’ front is Taya, Sharra, Kahlan (from the Terry Goodking fantasy series maybe?), Tanisha (clearly from the West Wiltshire ghetto), a Sanchia (although there is a sleb journo called Sanchia too) and my personal favourites, Zoeena and Poppyella! There are the twins, Cima and Rima (why?) a boy called Izzy – not short for anything – Mica-Louise (maybe after Mica Paris who was having a bit of success in the 90s) and Finian (who may or may not have a rainbow).
I’m a lover of some older traditional names but Euphemia is possibly a step too far, Mahalia’s parents were probably left wing hippies who spent too much time bemoaning the departure of the Grateful Dead whilst smoking weed and banging on about human rights and poor Honeysuckle, god, how do you live with a name like that?
For pure chavness there are Sade-Tia (I went to a Sade concert and she was shite), Eboni (who isn’t black) and Siantelle (possibly a chav of welsh origins). To be honest, they could all have doctorates from Oxford but their names will shut more doors than they open.

But my absolute favourite of favourites is Regyqueen. Yes dear reader, I have found someone called Regyqueen but to be fair, he/she has a very foreign sounding surname so I’ll let him/her off.
So, if you are having a baby soon, or know someone who is, tell them that it may seem like a good idea to name your child after a singer/soapstar/reality tv star/season/plant/tree/from the combination of 5 consonants and 3 vowels from last week’s edition of Countdown, but the poor bugger has to carry that around for the rest of their lives and if it makes people groan, assume a poor level of literacy, snigger or just plain laugh out loud, well, it’s just not that fair.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dear IT Department................

Firstly, can I just say thank you for the new art installation that has been sitting in my office for about 3 weeks now. What? It's not an art installation? It's the new printer is it?

Thank you also for your e-mails explaining that it was sitting there awaiting 'remote installation', although I was a bit unclear how you were going to remotely unplug the old one, wheel it out of the way, schlep over the new one and plug it in but hey, what do I know.

So imagine my excitement when I went into my office on Monday to find that you had done just that, although I'm not entirely sure that you really did do it all remotely, you little tinkers.  In the spirit of 'remote IT' you kindly sent me an e-mail explaining that I could learn how to use this new piece of kit online. There was a step by step guide, complete with screenshots, which told me everything except how to turn the damn thing on. Call me old fashioned but I prefer to learn about new technology from a human being. Makes it so much easier when the inevitable questions arise.

I was also delighted to hear that I could now print out my documents at any hub in the county. Marvellous!  Except that I don't go to any of the other hubs so this wonderful new benefit really wasn't much of one, all said and done. But still, you have reliably informed me that this new printer will save me time and my employer money and represents a new era of IT networking. Fabulous!

I was slightly less excited about the fact that I now hav to type in a pin number in order to get said printer to print my documents. This pin number must 'be kept secret and not divulged to any other staff member'. Well quite right! Just imagine the anarchy that could be wrought if anyone else has access to my pin number for the printer. It really doesn't bear thinking about.  People could be photocopying their arses willy nilly on MY account.  I'm delighted that I now have yet another secret code I have to remember on top of all the other ones I already have remember for my laptop/email account/online timesheets/procurement system/database/evidence room/office door. Is sticking it up on the office noticeboard secret enough? You see, the thing is I have such a bad memory for numbers.

So, I duly typed up a whole load of letters to those naughty lorry drivers who keep driving their big heavy lorries over the little Town Bridge (yes dear reader, I have progressed from counting sheep and cows to lorries. There really is no stopping me).  It is nothing too difficult, one letter on headed paper, one on plain paper. Simples. I follow the instructions on the internet to the letter, if you'll excuse the pun. I even remember to change it from duplex to simplex. It printed out one letter on headed paper. I waited for the second one on plain paper.... and waited.... and waited.  Oh well, never mind. I'll just print out another one on plain paper. That should be easy because that is the default setting.  TA DA! It printed out another copy on headed paper. So I go back to the beginning, for surely I must just have done something wrong.

Step 1. Select Paper Option. Check,

Step 2. Ensure 'automatic selection' is shown in the first window.  Check.

Step 3. Select 'simplex'. Check.

Step 4. Press 'Print'. Check. 

Nip over to printer, type in pin number, press 'login', select 'secure print', select my document, press 'secure print and delete'  - is i't just me or does this actually take twice as long as the old printer - and VOILA! It prints out on headed paper again.

I call one of my colleagues who checks me through each step in case of a blonde moment but he concurs that everything is as it should be. He suggests we select 'plain paper 80gsm' instead of 'automatic selection'. I press 'print', nip over to the printer, type in my pin number,  press 'login', select 'secure print', select my document, press 'secure print and delete' and wait with baited breath. It whirrs and chunders then beepsand flashed a red light at me. Now I don't know much about modern technology but I do know that red lights and printers are never a good sign.  It asks me to 'load paper'. Phew, that was all it was. I check the paper drawers but they were all full. Hmmm. So I opt for my usual method of troubleshooting which involves pressing every button as fast as possible in the hope of tricking it into believing that nothing was wrong.  It doesn't work but I do discover that it now wants me to load paper in the manual paper feed on the side. I mean, why? I didn't even know it had a feed on the side so why would I ask it to print out from there?  I so load the paper as instructed and the red light goes off. Hurrah! I press 'print' again and it prints out my letter. On headed paper.  I use a very rude word.

So back to Steve in IT. I describe my problem in detail and even send him a few of my own screenshots - two can play at that game. He replies straightway.

Problems like this, he tells me, are notoriously difficult to sort out. It's really a question of trial and error. Well that bit was true, it was a trial and there were lots of errors. But, he continues, 'what I think you have to do is.....' You know when somebody in IT says what he 'thinks' you have to do, that you are in trouble.

Neither of his suggestions work and by this time is was 4.30pm.  The chances of finding any meaningful answer to anything at work after 4.30pm is unlikely such are the demands of working in the public sector.

So, dear IT department. I lost approximately 2 hours doing battle with your new sooper-dooper all singing-all dancing labour and time saving printer.

Please may I have my old one back? I miss the comforting whirr of the toner cartridge squeezing the last bit of toner out.  I miss the paper jams and the slight smell of burning that used to waft from it.

                     Thank you

Thursday, December 1, 2011

All together... in UNISON... or maybe not!

Firstly I should put my cards on the table and say to those who don't already know that I am a <<whispers>> public sector worker. Yesterday many public sector workers went on strike over reforms to their pensions which they feel are unfair. It was either 'a damp squib' if you believe the Government or the biggest public sector strike since  yesterday/the 1920s/dinosaurs walked the earth, if you believe UNISON. Personally I'm not particularly minded to believe either of them.

Fortunately, I don't work on a Wednesday so the awkward question of whether to strike or not didn't rear its head. Even if it had, I would have chosen to work as normal. I don't agree with striking. I don't think it really achieves much. While I'm not quite up there with Jeremy Clarkson,slightly ironic considering the majority of his salary is paid by the taxpayer,  I do think that there are better ways to try and resolve disputes. To be honest, I'm more aligned with Eleanor Smith, the vice-president of UNISON and a theatre nurse at Birmingham Women's Hospital,who told the press, rather unwisely I would have thought, that she only joined the NHS for the pension. A case study in how to alienate the public perhaps?  I also wonder what she would have made of our own UNISON rep who actually went to work because striking would affect his final salary pension when he retires in a couple of years. How's that for solidarity with your fellow workers!

The Boy went shopping in Bath with his friends and was surprised to see many, many of his teachers, supposedly on strike, were enjoying an extra day of Christmas shopping. Surely they should have been manning the picket lines, or lobbying their MPs. At work, the picket line had disappeared by lunchtime. 

I'm not sure how many people in the public sector actually realise how much the private sector is suffering. My brother is now entering his third year without a pay rise. The Husband is now working for around £600-800 a month less than he was two years ago. My dad has seen his pension cut by nearly 70% in the past two years. He was told it was either that or the pension fund would collapse. He's accepted the hit because he hopes that it will get better in the future. He can't go on strike because, after all, who'd care? Meanwhile my colleagues gripe about losing their very generous petrol allowance. 

Only something like 35% of the private sector even have pensions, compared to around 82% in the public sector. Many private sector companies have no pension schemes and the returns on private pensions are so dire that those that can actually afford them will have to work well beyond the public sector retirement age of 65 just to be able to afford to retire. The Office for Fiscal Studies estimates that a private sector worker would have to pay between 15% and 40% of their monthly salary into a pension to get the same return as an average public sector one.

It's a difficult world we are living in today and everyone is suffering both in the public and the private sector. While I do blame the banks to a great extent for the mess we find ourselves in now, most of us also played our part in the financial crisis by maxing out our credit cards and buying houses we couldn't really afford. It's now time for everyone to pull together, to take one for the team, to do everything we can to dig out way out of this mess. And that's not going to happen while people are still demanding benefits that others can't afford or expecting to retire earlier on a pension that is funded by people who can't afford to retire themselves.

What has happened to that old Blitz spirit that the British used to be so renowned for? Everyone  seems so self-centred, not interested in the bigger picture or the greater good, just in what they can get out of it.  If we all pull together, act a bit more selflessly and a bit less selfishly, then things might just improve in the future for everyone.