Monday, 31 January 2011

Listography - 5 Most Annoying Kids Programmes

So this week's listography subject over at Kate's is '5 Most Annoying Kid's TV Programmes'.

To be honest I'm going to find this one hard as I don't allow my children to drain their brains in front of the tv. I'm too busy hothousing the 1 and 3 year old into appreciating classical literature (so far they love Dostoevsky and Flaubert). I've been using flashcards to teach them French and Cantonese Chinese, and encouraging their creative side with patchwork quilting.........oh who am I even trying to kid?

Too much time is spent with the mind numbing tv babysitter which is Cbeebies, and to be honest it would be far easier to come up with a list of the kid's tv programs I do like.

Anyhow as I'm sure many of the major annoying culprits will be fully outed by other contributors I'm including some vintage options in my listography:

1. Any Timmy Mallett programme, ever, even if he was just doing a guest appearance. No need for explanation is there?


2. Little House on the Prairie. I loved these books with an all consuming passion. I still have them, but their translation onto the screen with that toothy, saccharine, wholesome Melissa Gilbert just annoyed me with it's bad acting, overt sentimentality and never-bloody ending episodes which after the first couple of series were absolutely nothing like the book. Nellie Oleson's hair was scary and used to give me sympathy ponytail-too-tight headaches. Little sister Carrie just smiled her gummy smile and barely spoke a word ever and big sister Mary's 'Ooh look, I have a major visual impairment' over acting was just horrendous.

Of course in real life they now all have drink problems and have starred in a few dodgy porn movies.*

3. Any program containing Roland Rat. As with 1. above, I'm sure no further explanation is really needed.

4. Moving on to current times I hate, with a passion, Big Cook Little Cook. Even more so since I found out that they are an actual stand up comedy partnership called Electric Forecast. It's not so much the inane repetitive storylines, and terrible song and dance routines which make me shudder. It's more that I have a sense of the palpable waves of self-hatred emanating from these credible performers as they realise the creative depths to which they have sunk in the name of regular money.

5. Come outside. The one with Nurse Gladys Emmanuel (showing my age) and her perky little dog. So far, so nice. And then she goes outside and climbs into her light aircraft just to visit the bloody library. Then invariably looses the dog. So not only does she show scant regard for her carbon footprint, but she is also a negligent pet owner, and on that basis she has to be included in this list.

* This is absolutely not true. No not at all. It was a joke. Not, I repeat, not intended to be taken seriously. Not libelous at all then.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Silent Sunday - Nappyhead

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Redundancy - It's All In The Planning

So one week into the new year my colleagues and I get called in to see our boss, and are cordially advised that we have a choice of:

a) 20% pay cut, or
b) voluntary redundancy.

Oh and Happy New Year!

Having pondered this Hobsons Choice, I have plumped for option b). So like many other casualties of these current economic badlands it appears that I have a little downtime stretching ahead of me.

Am I downhearted? No, not I. Instead I am planning how best to use this little windfall of free time.

I plan to use my home gym to get fit;

(redundancy exercise plan)

I intend to catch up on some reading;

(redundancy reading matter)

I plan to spend time catching up on popular culture:

Click for larger image
(redundancy culture)

I intend to improve my culinary skills:

(redundancy cuisine)

Maybe even turn a regular lunch into a boozy lunch with the girls:

(redundancy drinking)

I plan to take a few day trips:

Job Centre Plus
(redundancy excitement)

and I plan to take some time to work on my wardrobe:

(redundancy chic)

Wow. It's going to be great. Really!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Listography - Things I Wish I Could Do

Thanks to Kate for this week's list, which is 5 things I wish I could do.

1. Have the right response at the right time.

You know the feeling. Someone has just put an argument to you/insulted you/laughed at you. After stewing over things for half an hour it suddenly comes to you in a flash of brilliance. The response you should have given which would have utterly defeated your nemesis/husband/colleague and made you look dazzlingly witty/erudite/intelligent. But it's not much bloody good 30 minutes later is it?

2. Dance an Argentine street tango in Buenos Aires.

Who wouldn't?

3. Whistle

4. Burp

I just wish I could. These two choices aren't big things I know, but when you can't do them you look with admiration upon people who can. I have previously blogged about my
burp envy. If you are blessed with this talent drink a fizzy drink and do one for me. Then whistle in appreciation. How cool are you?!

5. Write a novel.

Am in total agreement with Kate on this one. I love writing and have tremendous respect for anyone who can sustain their train of thought long enough to actually get several thousand cohesive words down on paper. One day I'd like to have a go, but I'm just a bit worried I won't be able to do it, so I'm putting it off for now.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Remarkable Women: Diana Mosley

The second of my remarkable women blogs concerns Diana Mosley. She was born Diana Mitford, on 17 June 1910. She was the third of the Mitford sisters, a subject of fascination, and latterly scandal and hatred. A figure mired in controversy, with distasteful, even dangerous politics, she is nevertheless a figure of popular historical interest and remarkable in her own way.
Her aristocratic origins were far from luxurious. She, her five sisters and one brother were brought up in a draughty country pile by parents who did not believe in education for girls or in anything as modern as central heating or even hospitals, with Diana famously undergoing a childhood appendectomy on the spare bedroom table.

Subject to parenting which vacillated between disinterest and authoritarianism, the Mitford children relied on each other for entertainment, with eldest sister Nancy being a merciless wit and tease, and Diana filling the role of the beauty.

By the age of 18 Diana was chafing to escape from her restrictive upbringing and meeting Bryan Guinness, an Irish aristocrat and heir to the Guinness fortune, was a welcome escape route. Despite parental objection based upon their young age, they quickly became engaged and married when Diana was only 19. At the time she was feted as one of the most beautiful and glamorous women of the age, and the union was the society wedding of the year.

Diana and Bryan lived a glittering life of parties and society events. Evelyn Waugh dedicated his novel Vile Bodies to the couple having been inspired by one of their raucous parties. They mixed with the main figures from theatre, literature, art, politics and society and existed within a gilded cage of luxury and glamour which was not curtailed when two sons came along in quick succession.

However the bubble was shortly to burst when after only three years of marriage Diana met Oswald Mosley. A swarthy, fiercely passionate man, he was born to a Baronet, had been a conservative MP at the age of 21 and then served as a minister in a Labour Government. Having become disillusioned with the available party politics he had set up his own political party and over time had become fascinated by the various fascist leaders springing up in Europe. He founded the British Union of Fascists in 1931 (also known as the Blackshirts) with the Daily Mail being one of his early supporters.

Mosley was also married to Cimmie, the daughter of the Indian Viceroy with whom he had three children. No stranger to infidelity Mosley had an extended affair with Cimmie's younger sister amongst many others, however his affair with Diana resulted in her quickly leaving her husband and children to be Mosley's mistress. Bryan behaved in an impeccably gentlemanly manner over the matter by producing fake evidence to allow Diana to divorce him on the grounds of his adultery instead of the other way around. (Bryan went on to have a second happy marriage which produced nine children.)

Cimmie was aware of the affair between Diana and her husband, however Mosley was committed to his wife and their three children and would not leave her. This situation changed dramatically in 1935 when Cimmie died of peritonitis at the age of 35 leaving the way clear for Diana and Mosley to be together.

Diana was entirely seduced by Mosley's fascist politics, and indeed many aristocrats of the time admired the Nazi movement, including the then Prince of Wales, the future Edward Viii. Diana's sister Unity became obsessed with Hitler and the two of them attended the Nuremberg rallies in 1934. They went on to meet and indeed become friends with Hitler.

When Diana and Mosley eventually married in October 1936 it was in the house of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels and Hitler was one of the guests. Another two sons were born; Alexander in 1938 and Max in 1940 (who has of course recently been the subject of much salacious reporting as regards his alleged predilection for ladies dressed in Nazi uniforms).

By the time of Max's birth public opinion as regards the Mosley's both personally and politically was poisonous. When Max was only 11 weeks old Diana and Mosley were arrested and imprisoned without charge or trial. After a personal intervention by Diana's close relative, Winston Churchill, the pair were allowed to live together in a cottage in the grounds of Holloway prison. There they were allowed to garden, employed neighbouring sex offenders as domestics and used the time to read extensively. They were eventually released after three years imprisonment to much public disapproval, and were placed under house arrest until the end of the war.

Following the war Mosley tried to re-start his political career forming 'The Union Movement' and calling for a European single nation state, but he faced too much opposition and disillusioned the Mosley's left England to reside mostly in Ireland and France. Mosley did periodically try for re-election to the British parliament, usually on an anti-immigration stance, but without any success. He died of natural causes in 1980 and Diana mourned him for the rest of her life. All else aside there is no doubt that she deeply, passionately loved her husband from the moment she met him, at the expense perhaps of her own morality and certainly of her public and social standing

In later life Diana remained ambiguous as to whether she regretted her political views and infuriated many by refusing to repent for her views and actions. A many times published author she wrote in her 1977 autobiography 'A Life of Contrasts'; "I didn't love Hitler any more than I did Winston. I can't regret it, it was so interesting". A view I'm sure was shared much more discretely by many other high profile figures of her era.

Diana died in Paris aged 93. She left her four surviving sons, a large extended family including her model granddaughter and grand-niece Jasmine Guinness and Stella Tennant, and the sole surviving Mitford sibling; Deborah, the Duchess of Devonshire.

Journalist and author India Knight described Diana as "Briefly sinister but also clever, kind and fatally loyal to her Blackshirt husband, Oswald Mosley". She was certainly a woman I find intriguing, though far from admirable, whose life touched and was touched by many of the major figures and events of her day.

Silent Sunday - Little Bit Snotty

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Silent Sunday - Ipad Babysitting

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Remarkable Women: Coco Chanel

The first in a very occasional series where I get to indulge my inner history nerd and write about some of my favourite extraordinary women from history.

Coco Chanel. A universally recognised name and brand, the woman behind the glamorous facade lived a rags to riches fairy tale life. But all fairy tales have a dark side to them and Chanel's life certainly had its share of heartbreak.

There are many grey areas concerning Chanel's life. She was not always too familiar with the truth, preferring to concoct a tissue of fantasies to blur unsavoury parts of her life, or to inflate and perpetuate her own legend.

She was born Gabrielle Chasnel (a clerical error on her birth certificate) on 19 August 1883 to desperately poor parents. One of six children, her father would often vanish and leave her mother in very poor health and with little means to look after her children. Tragically on one of these absences Chanel's mother died when she was 11 years old and the youngest child only 4 years old. When discovered nobody knew how long the children had been existing with their mother's remains in the one room hovel they lived in at the time.

Chanel and her oldest sister were immediately placed by their father in an abbey to be brought up by the nuns, and it is from here that she developed her love for simplicity in clothing and the use of the colours black and white in clothing. They never saw or heard from their father again.

Whilst in the abbey Chanel was taught to be a seamstress and found work with a tailor when she left the care of the nun's at the age of eighteen. At night she and her Aunt (only a couple of years older than Chanel) would go to rowdy music hall events. As a pretty girl she received a lot of male attention and enjoyed singing songs to them. One of these songs was about a lost dog "Qui qu'a vu Coco" and it is this song that gave Chanel her lifelong and celebrated nickname.

At this time, maybe due to her singing, Chanel formed a relationship with an aristocratic playboy and in unclear circumstances she ended up living at his chateau sharing his affections with his mistress, a famous courtesan and actress who ended up as one of Chanel's first clients.

Chanel remained with the playboy for several years during which time she become known for her style of dress. In the early nineteen hundred's the preferred fashion for women involved frills, flounces, bustles and ribbons.

Vintage 1900-1909 French Fashion Image Detail
In complete contrast Chanel preferred simplicity and would often dress in a simple mans white shirt, straw hat and tweed suit. She started making simple boater style straw hats, and soon built up a following for her pared down style promoted by the high profile connections she was already beginning to make.

In 1909 Chanel formed a relationship with 'Boy' Capel, an English playboy, polo player and son of a wealthy industrialist. She always referred to Boy as the love of her life and he was also crucial to her business as the funder and co-founder of her first clothing boutique at the fashionable resort of Deauville in 1912. The boutique was a success from the start as women, tired of the constrictions of corsetry and bulky dresses, continued to covet Chanel's style of hats and clothing. Chanel had by this time also opened a millinery shop in 1910 on Paris's Rue de Cambon, where the company's headquarters and atelier are still based. Chanel subsequently bought several adjacent properties on the road as her success grew. Interestingly it is thought that the interwoven double C which is the Chanel logo refers not to Coco Chanel, but Chanel and Capel.

Chanel's relationship with Boy lasted 10 years during which time he also married an English aristocrat and became a father, however he was killed in a motoring accident in 1919. She was devastated.

Chanel understood the power of celebrity. The celebrities of the time were the aristocrats and glitterati of the Parisian scene whom she courted and was courted by in turn. She became heavily involved with Diaghilev's Ballet Russe who were the sensation of the 20's (Njinski danced for them, Picasso designed the sets for them, Stravinski the music and Chanel the costumes) and this in turn brought her great fame and notoriety.

However without her amazing designing ability she would have been nothing. In the twenties she introduced the 'little black dress' to which we all remain indebted. She was the first to design loose flowing jersey garments for women, and it is entirely down to her that breton tops and wide leg trousers are still as chic an outfit some 90 years on. In addition she was one of the first designers to understand the power of branded fragrance introducing Chanel No. 5 in 1922, followed by many other successful fragrances which provided the cash flow to sustain her business through many future lean years.

Chanel never married or had children, but had many significant love affairs along the way. She was the mistress of Britain's richest man; Bendor (yes really!) The Duke of Westminster for many years in her forties. She was also the lover of Stravinsky for some time, and more shockingly in her fifties, during the Nazi occupation of France, she conducted an affair with a German Officer. After the war other women with German lovers were put on trial for collaboration or had their heads shaved and had to endure being paraded naked through the streets as punishment, however no such allegations about Chanel ever stuck. It has to be said that through her British aristocratic connections she was on first name terms with Churchill, however it is more likely that Chanel never actually did anything anti-French to merit prosecution.

Notwithstanding this she had lost all popularity in France and decided to move to Switzerland in 1945. There she remained until 1954 when she returned to Paris at the age of seventy with a new collection. The French remained ambivalent if not suspicious of her, but she was lauded by the British and Americans who to this day remain faithful customers. Within three years she was at the top of her game, where she remained until her death in 1971 at the age of 88 in her private apartment in the Paris Ritz.

Some quotes from Chanel:

"A dress isn’t right unless the arm lifts easily… Elegance in clothes means freedom to move freely."

"Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve."

"A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous."

"As long as you know men are like children, you know everything!"

"Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future."

Silent Sunday - Sunday Fresh Air

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Review of the Year - Things I have learnt

Stop fannying about with cheap and/or old crusty make up. Use a Bobbi Brown foundation brush to apply Bobbi Brown foundation over Bobbi Brown concealer. I am a 39 year old working mother functioning on too little sleep and too many lattes. Trust me, this makes you look human.

Ironing is not necessary. Not remotely. Maybe work shirts but that is absolutely it. No-one really judges you for being a tad rumpled every now and then.

Playing with your children means letting them make the rules not imposing your own, despite the fact that they are ruining another game of hungry hippos by outrageous cheating. In all seriousness I give a big thank you to the lovely friend (and lurking reader of this blog!) for buying me this book containing the above and other very helpful advice when I was despairing over my sons behaviour at times.

Blogging is good for the soul, but getting bogged down in stats, numbers of comments and followers is not good for mine.

All the recession related talk about not buying frivolous fashion and just saving up for one or two quality investment pieces is bullshit. Would you rather have one fancy schmancy £300.00 dry clean only dress or 30 bung ‘em in the washing machine pieces from H&M? Me too.

When your child is misbehaving, shouting and screaming at them vents your frustration but does not tend to improve matters. I need to stop shouting as much.

Try hard to find the positive in life. For example a recent four day bout of tonsillitis caused me misery and pain, but also had two bonuses:

1) Not eating as much means you lose weight. My work clothes are fitting better than before Xmas, so in a nod to a healthy lifestyle I have now resolved to replace my usual morning latte with a nice green tea instead. That's as far as it goes though.
2) Being physically unable to shout and scream meant I had to use alternative parenting techniques, such as three warnings then a time out. Surprisingly this actually worked quite well and I wasn’t immediately filled with self-loathing afterwards. Genius!

Say yes to more stuff. Make a bit of effort to do things and see people, and hard though it is to force yourself off the sofa of an evening, it is usually worthwhile.

Be kind to yourself. If there is one wonderful thing to be taken from the parent blogging world it is that we all have ups and downs. No-one is perfect, no-one is constantly happy, everyone has doubts, everyone thinks they are failing as a parent from time to time, but the very fact that we can acknowledge this means that we are good parents trying to do our best, but still only human.

Finally, if you really, really want the White Company slipper boots in the lovely mink colour next winter just buy them for yourself. Don't trust anyone else to read your Christmas list and buy them for you, as when they don't the damn things will just be sold out come Boxing Day...again.

And to round off my review I would like to hand out some awards based upon my lengthy research for the kerry on reading section of this blog:

Best fiction – Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant,
Co-incidentally also given to me by the lurky blog reader referred to above, this truly has been my favourite fiction of the year. Admittedly I am a sucker for the Italian Renaissance period, but dry though that subject may sound, this novel was an exquisite read. I judge a book by how at home it makes you feel when leafing through it's pages, and I was absolutely transported to the intrigue and politics of life in these 16th centrury cloisters, never mind that it was heart in your mouth exciting at times. For total transportation away from 21st century life this is a must.

Best non-fiction – Billy by Pamela Stephenson,
This was published in 2001 and so a bit old now, and I will admit that I picked it up in a charity shop having developed a bit of a crush on the magnificent Ms Stephenson during her amazing stint on Strictly Come Dancing (please let me half as amazing as she is when I reach 64!). I think Billy Connolley is funny but probably wouldn't go out of my way to see him, but after reading this book can only express admiration that he has achieved such an amazing career after a shockingly bad start to life with horrific neglect and abuse both physical and sexual to contend with. A rollicking great read, which is particularly interesting given the fact that the author is his wife and has a quite different perspective to her subject than most biographers. I especially liked the final chapter, extracted from the book and repeated here for your entertainment:

Billy's Life Lessons:

Tread gently on anyone who looks at you sideways.
Have lots of long lie-ins.
Wear sturdy socks, learn to grow out of medium underwear and, if you must lie about your age, do it in the other direction. Tell people you're ninety-seven and they'll think you look fucking great.
Try to catch a trout and experience the glorious feeling of letting it go and seeing it swimming away.
Never eat food that comes in a bucket.
If you don't know how to meditate at least try to spend some time every day just sitting.
Boo joggers.
Don't work out, work in.
Play the banjo.
Sleep with somebody you like.
Eat plenty of liquorice Allsorts.
Try to live in a place you like.
Marry somebody you like.
Try to do a job you like.
Never turn down an opportunity to shout "Fuck them all!" at the top of your voice.
Avoid bigots of all descriptions.
Let your own bed become to you what the Pole Star was to sailors of old.....look forward to it.
Don't wear tight underwear on aeroplanes.
Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that, who cares? He's a mile away and you've got his shoes.
Clean your teeth and keep the company of people who will tell you when there's spinach on them.
Avoid people who say they know the answer. Keep the company of people who are trying to understand the question.
Don't pat animals with sneaky eyes.
If you haven't heard a good rumour by 11:00am, start one.
Learn to feel sorry for music because, although it is the international language, it has no swear words.
If you write a book, be sure it has exactly seventy-six "fucks" in it.
Avoid giving LSD to guide dogs.
Don't be talked into wearing a uniform.
Salute nobody.
Never run with scissors or other pointy objects.
Campaign against blue Smarties.
Above all, go to Glasgow at least once in your life and have a roll and square sliced sausage and a cup of tea. When you feel the tea coursing over your spice-singed tongue, you'll know what I mean when I say: It's good to be alive."