Is there Facebook after death?

15 Apr

The thorny issue of technology and the afterlife is tackled in the current issue of that beacon of investigative journalism, Take a Break’s Fate & Fortune magazine.

My best mate bought me a subscription for my birthday this year for a laugh and now, every month, I learn invaluable lessons such as “how to be your own shaman” (lots of sitting cross legged involved, slight problem with our family history of bad knees) and which spell to cast in order to help an alcoholic partner (worryingly this begins “you’ll need a large glass of red wine…”).

I am also offered the opportunity to purchase such gems as angel candles – Michael or Metatron, which have the dual benefit of both containing secret powers AND being pleasantly fragrant -and my own private Tarot readings by text message. All for £1.90! Astonishing. And I haven’t even mentioned Texas the Psychic Horse’s problem page.

Anyway, back to the hot topic of technology, which crops up a few times this month, somewhat unusually.

As tends to be the way with all things connected to the afterlife, expert opinion on whether GPS or Google Maps will help you over the River Stix is somewhat divided.

At the beginning of the magazine “angel expert” Jacky Newcomb rather helpfully suggests that if you’re having problems with Facebook, Twitter or even your mobile phone you should try asking Archangel Gabriel for help as he/she (can be either apparently) has cleverly rebranded him/herself the “communication angel” and therefore “works comfortably with technology”.

Worth remembering next time you’re having problems logging on in the office, or DrawSomething has frozen again on your infuriatingly stupid smartphone.

Six pages later, however, controversial fraud medium Derek Acorah (who famously once claimed on a TV show to be possessed by a spirit made up by the production team – this however did nothing to dent his faith in his own abilities) is unequivocal on the subject of supernatural social networking.

In answer to a reader’s question about whether there is such a thing in the afterlife Derek replies that there isn’t. But the good news is that spirits are “too busy” to faff about on Facebook. It’s the perfect time to take up hobbies such as “skydiving or skiing” he assures 22 year old Sam from west London.

Well that’s a relief. I’d have hated to float around bored out of my mind for all eternity, bereft of topical tweets to read or pictures of friends out on the lash to laugh at.

It is wonderful to know that a period of extreme sports awaits instead. Thankfully it also gives me time to work on curing my issues with vertigo.

Not sure Roberta from Carluddon on page 52 is going to agree with Derek though – because according to her, both her late baby daughter and her brother both regularly give her a ring on the telephone to let her know they’re still around.

There’s a little fact box accompanying this somewhat astonishing declaration. It contains the bold claim that “calls to mobile phones from spirits have rocketed by 43% in the last six years”.

Woah. Firstly, did someone actually decide to start monitoring phone calls from ghosts in 2006? Who? And why? and, erm, how? That last one gets an answer (Nothing gets past the intrepid reporting team behind Fate & Fortune). Apparently these calls often show up as “withheld number” or “00000000”.

That accounts for pretty much every phone call I have ever received from work. But as I am sitting here on my mate’s sofa writing this blog and not out astrally bungee jumping off Ayrs Rock I assume I am not dead.

The psychic community is surely missing a trick here. Of all the phone numbers for mediums listed throughout the magazine – and there are many – not a single one is either withheld or contains lots of zeros. I would possibly be more inclined to take Cheapest Best Psychics or Nirvana Light marginally more seriously if they had a spooky phone number or – and here’s another thing – if they called me.

Food for thought eh? At least until next month. The June issue, which very appropriately for a fortune telling magazine goes on sale in May, promises to teach me how to feng shui my love life.

I can’t wait.

Of Hats and Handbags (and shoes and Princess Diana)

4 Apr

Today I took my nine month old son to see an exhibition called “hats and handbags” at the county museum.

No gender stereotyping here.

I even let him try on one of the fascinators, although in all honesty he was more interested in dribbling on it, and as he doesn’t yet have much hair there wasn’t a great deal to fasten it to.

There were quite a lot of hats on display, mostly labelled simply “Hat” and then a date. So, the sign “Hat, 1920s” appeared with comforting regularity. A curiously minimalist choice of phrase, I thought, for an educational exhibition about hats.

To be honest I’m struggling to recall a single handbag. There were quite a few pairs of shoes, standing self-consciously in the middle of the room in a big glass display cabinet. There was also something about Princess Diana. Did she like hats? Yes, maybe that was it.

All I can remember on the handbag front is reading something which ended with the enigmatic sentence “then, as now, the contents of a lady’s handbag were very private” (insert your own pun about government snooping here).

It was clearly written by somebody who doesn’t have children. The contents of my handbag are strewn around Dorset on a regular basis, usually in the search for wetwipes, teething rings,  my mobile phone etc.

Recently a friend routed around on my behalf in search of my house keys.

“I know they’re in there, I can hear something jangling,” she said optimistically. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that at least half of the things in my handbag do that.

There’s the “emergency penguin” – a felt penguin head on a stick so-called because it seems to have have the mystical ability to instantly stop any size of baby tantrum. That has a bell inside it. There’s also the baby’s rattle, the Christmas bib that has somehow not yet made its way into the washing machine, a squeaky little rubber alien that the baby likes to gnaw on… frankly it’s more difficult to think of something inside my bag that *doesn’t* make a comedy noise of some sort.

There’s a mantra that people who work in TV tell each other, because you never have enough time to fit in everything you want to. “Leave them wanting more!” they say cheerfully after telling you that you have approximately 90 seconds to explain the evolution of mankind.

This exhibition certainly achieved that. I would have liked to have known more about the hats other than the fact that they were, erm, hats. I would also have liked to have seen some handbags, as promised.

Still, it was fun trying on some of the more outlandish creations (they weren’t all behind glass, which was refreshing) and my son laughed his head off when I balanced an enormous pink felt affair on my head. Straightaway he grabbed hold of the bushy, brown, furry ribbon adorning it… which I suddenly realised in horror was the tail of a dead cat. They don’t make em like they used to, do they?

Come dine with me (you won’t want to after reading this)

9 Mar

Supermarket sweep? Oh - you already have. This is our local, most days.

Since the baby rather selfishly started demanding actual food instead of permanently guzzling milk, I’ve found myself playing a nutritional game of hide and seek as I try to figure out what the fuck to feed an infant who can’t have anything containing added salt or sugar.

It turns out that almost everything on the shelves in our local supermarket (ok that’s not a lot) has both. In abundance.

It’s come as a big shock, because it means I have to cook everything myself from scratch.

And I am a shit chef.

My only memory of Home Economics lessons at school was the time I got caught studiously trying to carve my initials into the table with a vegetable peeler. It was either that or throw up, having just gutted my first (and last) fish.

That fish got its revenge the other day when I decided to turn my clumsy hands to the challenge of making fishcakes.

The recipe in my Yummy Mummy Cookbook (or somesuch – I found it in Help the Aged and it’s printed in a delightful handwritingesque font. I am that shallow) made it sound so easy. Boil a few spuds, poach a bit of fish, mash the lot together and fry for 3 minutes each side. Simples.

It didn’t mention that the local fishmonger would put the fear of God into you about the potential of finding a stray bone in your expensive fish fillets, forcing you to spend 45 minutes flaking every morsel of fish flesh between your thumb and fingers just to make sure. Actually I’m glad because I found four. I do however still smell of fish 72 hours, 3 showers and a bath later.

It also didn’t mention that your carefully boiled and drained spuds will still somehow contain enough water to flood the sodding Sahara, meaning that rather than sizzle in the frying pan and turn golden (shut up, Yummy Mummy Cookbook) your lovingly shaped fishcakes will sit sad and pale in a sodden lump surrounded by a lake of virgin olive oil. And then fall apart the minute you try to turn them over with a spatula.

Ninety minutes in and the bloody fishcakes are still neither golden nor cakelike. So I bung them in the oven at 250 degrees to see if that will dry them out. It does. Slightly.

Fortunately the baby is not yet able so comment on my presentation skills and actually seemed quite happy with his fish and potato gloop. Even more surprisingly the husband also held off from anything but praise when we had them for dinner that night. Good news all round because I churned out about 30 of the stupid things.

Tomorrow I’m attempting Cheese Straws. My poor family.

The great childcare debate

5 Mar

The prospect of returning full-time to work is just a few short months away. Much as I love being a mum I have to go – for the sake of my sanity as well as my dwindling bank account.

My day used to start with international news gathering, editorial meetings, strong coffee and newsroom gossip.

Now my morning routine goes a bit like this: feed baby his morning milk and bring him into our bed. Spend the next 30 minutes being kicked and pummelled by little fists. Get up and make baby porridge. End up wearing most of porridge. Put baby in bouncer and hope he won’t notice as I sneak away to have a shower (this has a 50/50 success rate). Read baby a story that invariably involves small talking animals being lovely to each other. Ogle Mr Bloom, the sexy gardener on Cbeebies. Worry about baby watching too much TV so attempt something educational. Open another book about small talking animals being lovely to each other.

And so on.

I must be the only person wishing my work/life balance had a bit more work in it. I’m not saying it’s easy – personally I’d much rather see public figures do 12 hours of childcare as their Sport Relief Marathon – and of course it has big rewards. Sometimes though I wonder whether the baby would mind if I read him Private Eye instead of “Dear Zoo” or “Sleepy Me” but they don’t appear to publish it on wipe-clean pages and we have a bit of an ongoing dribble issue.

But when I go back to work what will I do with him? It breaks my heart to even think about it at the moment. Today he cried when I went to hang out the washing.

Well, the three options are nursery, nanny or childminder.

Those in favour of nurseries tell me they are stimulating, routined, educational and fantastic for the early development of social skills. Those against mutter about young staff (mind you I’m at an age where everybody seems young. Especially doctors) and concerns about individual care.

The childminder brigade say it’s a smaller environment and therefore more like being at home, while others warn that childminders often have their own children there too, who inevitably get most of the attention.

Nannies are one-to-one, although they require bedrooms and National Insurance Contributions. And what if the baby (and/or the husband) starts to prefer the nanny?

I honestly don’t know what to do. Any advice?

Curb your Enthusiasm

15 Feb

Last night I was treated to a wonderfully romantic surprise – a seafood and champagne supper in a beautifully secluded manor house restaurant in leafy north London. It also came with the unexpected comedy bonus of being sat next to a man quite clearly channeling Larry David.

Somewhere between the lobster brisque and the salmon in oyster sauce I overheard him rather triumphantly congratulating himself on his choice of soiree while his partner nibbled at the only remaining half a breadstick in their bread basket that he hadn’t scoffed yet.

Then their talk turned to family.

“… and of course we were all so devastated when grandma died,” said Mrs Larry David.

“I didn’t know you in those days,” he replied.

“You did – you came to her funeral!” she answered.

A lesser man may well have been stumped by this. It’s not every day you accidentally admit to your spouse that the time you shared their grief over the death of a close relative has utterly erased itself from your memory.

Not this guy.

“Oh!” he exclaimed. “That was your grandmother!”

Great recovery. I wonder whose funeral he thought it was at the time? As they were a Jewish couple presumably he also sat Shivah for a week steeped in prayer and nostalgia for this mysterious dead woman who had suddenly appeared in his life. You’ve got to admit, that takes guts.

I missed the next bit as our next courses arrived, giving The Husband and I the opportunity to entertain ourselves by trying to figure out where on the plate the chef had hidden a vegetable concoction exotically described on the menu as “broccoli mousse” (turned out he’d forgotten it. Maybe he was equally engrossed by the drama on the next table).

Speaking of which, North London’s answer to Larry David could potentially have saved himself when the bill arrived – but of course he didn’t.

“Okay well…. how shall we do this? You had that Bellini…”

“I didn’t bring any money,” began Mrs D. “You told me not to…”

A withering stare ensued.

“You didn’t. Bring. Any. Money,” he repeated as the realisation sank in. “No money at all?”

“You said not to,” repeated Mrs D (fair play to her). “So no, I didn’t.”

“But…. the Bellini…” he muttered before composing himself with the world’s weariest sigh, the type I generally reserve for the kind of occasion when I’ve completed a 14 hour babycare marathon only to discover we haven’t got any HobNobs in.

“It’s fine – I can cover it, just about,” he eventually concluded (like he had any choice in the matter), although he was still clearly tortured by the ghost of that solitary Bellini which had contemptuously burst his budget without even touching his lips.

“Happy Valentines’ Day,” I whispered as they left.

The woman rolled her eyes.

Herding cats

25 Jan

These days 99% of my social life revolves around going to entertainingly named parent/baby groups. Puddle Ducks? Check. Plaza Babies? Hell yeah. Under Ones and Tums? Bring it on. In fact if it doesn’t sound like the title of a toddler’s tantrum it’s probably not my thing. For this reason I am still trying to persuade my husband to go to Men Behaving Dadly, if only for the free bacon sandwich.

I really did think there were no limits to the places I would go in order to keep my little son away from CBeebies and the bloody Jumperoo, with its tinny theme tune that haunts my nightmares.

Today however I met my match in the form of Notelets. This group ambitiously offers “music for the under-fives” on a Wednesday morning in one of the many local church halls. My friend and I naively pictured our beloved infants happy-clapping along while we harmonised well-known nursery rhymes like a pair of 21st century Von Trapps.

The reality was somewhat different. The first thing we had to accept rather quickly is that a group of “under fives” is more like a group of 18 – 80 year olds. If in the kingdom of the blind, the man with one eye is king, then in the world of the under fives, the toddler who can scream the loudest is unquestionably leader of the pack.

At the tender age of 11 months, my friend’s son experienced the pain of unrequited love when his two year old amour failed to appreciate the affectionate ways in which he repeatedly stole her favourite pair of shoes. The lady attempting to run the session decided the way to best defuse the situation was to gather the girl up and essentially attack her with a glove puppet in the shape of a fox. It didn’t work.

Another fact about under fives that seemed to be overlooked is that while the older ones are perfectly capable of “running round the mulberry bush” and jumping in “the puddle” (a tile of blue carpet), the younger ones are left watching gormlessly from the sidelines. My son passed the time furiously trying to eat the little wooden drum he had been given to participate with. Giving a drum to a seven month old baby is a rather pointless exercise.

A major flaw to the singing side of things was that nobody – including the group leader – knew some of the songs on the sheet we were given. And although others were different words set to familiar tunes, it is surprisingly difficult to sing about fairies and woodland to the melody of “My Old Man’s a Dustman”.

One advantage of the rather chaotic surroundings was that it was all getting strangely soporific. My son was looking decidedly sleepy, a fantastic result as he’d been bouncing off the walls since 5am. Unfortunately the group leader took this very moment to bring the proceedings to a lively finish by blasting out Katrina and the Waves “Walking on Sunshine” and giving everybody brightly coloured ribbons to throw around. \

It was another two hours before he calmed down again.

Thanks, Notelets.

Mission: Impossible

16 Jan

If someone had said to me this morning that my mission today would be to survive for as long as possible with just one baby, one almost-out-of-battery smartphone and a car fuelled by roughly two wine glasses full of petrol I would have said forget it. I’m staying in bed. Put the kettle on, would you?

Little did I know, when I volunteered to drop my husband at the train station at 9.15am, that it would be around five hours before I was back in my house. If I had realised this I would probably have had a shower and brushed my hair. I would most definitely have bothered putting on a bra, and ditched the flip flops.

It was roughly four minutes after R’s train departed on its 120 mile trip that I realised coming out without my gigantahandbag had been a bad idea. Especially when said handbag, containing all my bank cards, cash, nappies and the only set of keys to our house in the whole of Dorset, was now deadlocked in the hallway next to the buggy thanks to my security conscious (and rightly so) other half.

I drove home at about 14 miles per hour to conserve petrol (apologies to all who got stuck on the neverending single carriageway behind me), parked the car as close to our Wifi access as I could get and started googling locksmiths. My phone helpfully informed me it had 20% battery life left.

The first locksmith lived around the corner but was on a job 20 miles away all day. The second was an hour away. He got the gig.

It was around that time I realised the baby had last eaten at 6.30am. This meant I was about seven minutes away from a major infant meltdown.

Time to channel How to be a Woman author Caitlin Moran, who claims that she once managed to get from Crouch End to Downing Street for an interview within half an hour on a Tube strike day when her cab didn’t turn up – because she’s a MUM and mums can do anything.

Resisting the urge to fall to booze, I called a friend (15% battery) and drove (slowly) over to his house to borrow 69p for a carton of formula milk. Once I got to the chemist I realised I had nothing to actually feed the baby with and no money to buy something – which meant a call to another friend (10% battery) to borrow a milk bottle.

While all this was happening the locksmith spent two hours doing battle with our locks in vain, keeping me up to date on the phone (5% battery). He was essentially on his own outside our house hacking away at the street door for most of that time. Interestingly, nobody called the police but hey, I have already told you our neighbours are a bit mad.

Ordinarily I would be proud of our little Fort Knox but today I cursed every tooth in the fucking-five-barrel-super-bastard-proof-lock on our front door. The locksmith was just about to give up when we came up with a rather genius solution. If I told you what it was I might as well list myself on pleaserobme.com so all I’ll say is that it was a similar trick somebody used recently to nick my mate’s Mini Cooper. This leaves me in the odd position of feeling strangely grateful to the criminal underworld today.

With spectacular timing, the phone died just as I walked in to the hallway, like the best expendable heroes in the action movies. The baby, who had by this point miraculously fallen asleep in the car, was put in his cot without waking up. I celebrated this almighty victory by studiously ignoring the calls of the wine rack and mashing up an avocado for the baby’s lunch. Because Caitlin was right – I am also a MUM and this is what we do. Stupid aren’t we?