Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A Truly Special Brew

This afternoon, as my children ran around the garden in superhero suits, I made a pot of tea.  It was loose leaf Assam, and it was wonderful.  It's become a fairly regular pleasure of late, and always makes me feel charmingly Edwardian.  I feel as though the vicar might pop by at any moment, ideally on a bicycle, and enquire about my forsythia (for some reason I am obsessed with forsythia today, I have no idea why, sorry).

Anyway, as I sipped my tea, I realised a milestone had passed without my noticing.  My tea was hot, and indeed has been for some time.  When did this happen?  I remember shedding actual tears when my first son was only a few weeks old - tears for hot tea.  Tears for a time when a woman could make a cup of tea and drink it without (obviously, a very sensible) fear of scalding the baby, or a cycle of feeding, winding, nappy changing and crying keeping said woman away from her tea until it had gone distinctly lukewarm.  I remember genuinely envying my husband for going to work and being able to consume hot beverages whenever he liked.  Now, in a faintly more rational mood, I concede he probably can't just stick his phone on mute mid-conference call and head off for a Lapsang Soucho, but back then it seemed like that's what everyone else was doing.  Every other adult I knew was probably quaffing the stuff in steaming mugfuls, while I - in NEED of caffeine - couldn't get near it.

I'll be honest, in the early years people always said "Oh, enjoy this time, it's gone before you know it", and more often than not my smile in return was through gritted teeth.  The early baby years were not my finest.  I didn't feel maternal instincts coursing through my veins immediately.  Oh but I had love in abundance, the sort of love that fulfills all the cliches and genuinely does make you catch your breath in wonder at the small people you've created.  It's a love that pours out of me freely and easily, much like the kids spilling their squash, but I kept waiting for some sense of  'just knowing' what to do, and it didn't really come for a long time.  Mr W and I have always been fairly academic sorts, so we stuck our heads down, read a ton of books and kept going until somehow we all popped through the other side.  And here I am, drinking hot tea.

Over the last few weeks both children have been offered their school and nursery places, and now I can see parents buying school uniforms (yes, for September, yes I know it's April), and making plans for what they'll do until 3pm each day.  For ages I've looked forward to buying the little name labels to sew into my eldest's school uniform as and when he gets it.  And yet suddenly I find myself saying "Oh there's no rush" and smiling fondly at Mums with babies in the park, almost daring myself to tell them how quickly it passes.  I remember Mr W and I remarking during the baby years that every time we got the hang of it, the goal posts would move and we'd be on to a new stage.  It didn't occur to me at the time that this could just be parenthood in general (maybe Mr W clocked it but thought it wise not to mention it to a woman who was already crying about tea).

And so we roll towards the next chapter, I suppose.  As a frazzled mum of a newborn, the first day of school seemed miles away.  Suddenly, it looms large and I feel a compulsion to squeeze every last superhero-costumed drop out of the coming months.  If you are reading this with children of a similar age, then good luck, old chum, as we prepare for this new adventure.  If you're still in the baby years, come on over and I'll gladly cuddle the baby while you try the Assam...

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

St George & The Dragon

Sometimes my mind likes to go off on adventures of its own.  Here's what happened when it did so today...

A valiant knight trots by on his steed
As sunlight dapples a lake in Silene,
Where the people fear a dragon
That's hungry and mean.
For years it has been their custom
To present this beast with fine lambs,
But now there's a shortage of poor woolly friends,
And the dragon eschews their burgers and hams.

"There's an obvious solution"
The town's menfolk declare,
"We'll give him a maiden!"
The ladies look scared.
"Are you crazy?!" they cry
Manicured hands held aloft -
"We'll slay him ourselves,
If you're all too soft."

"Don't get all Beyonce on us"
The men retort in a huff.
"Ok", the Princess steps forward,
"I think that's enough!
I'll talk to the dragon,
I love a good cause"
As she goes over to chat,
He grabs her in his jaws.

The princess screams out
As the people watch the saga
"Get off me, you half wit,
This dress is Balenciaga!"
She spies St George and cries:
"Help me, good sir, I can't do this solo"
St George shrugs his shoulders:
"Sure, after all - YOLO"

And verrily he slays the dragon,
(Who I imagine felt rather bitter)
"Let us feast and be merry!
But first, let's get this on Twitter"
Thus the legend became recorded
With many a Facebook 'like' and 'share'
And St George felt jolly relieved
To have saved the maiden so fierce and so fair.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Alpha seems to be the hardest word

Is it possible to wonder if you're an Alpha Male or Female, or is the mere act of wondering distinctly un-Alpha?  Today, much (more) is being written about a very famous Alpha Female, and it prompted me to ponder where I stand in the greek alphabet order of things.

I've never thought of myself as being particularly Alpha.  I've always associated it with a hardness and ruthlessness that I can't identify in myself.  However, it may be my understanding that's the problem.  Outside the animal kingdom, there seems to be no universal definition for Alpha-ness - everyone brings their own prejudices, insecurities and values to bear, particularly when defining what makes an Alpha Female.  The characteristics that most often come up - forthrightness, ambition, arrogance - tend to have an especially negative connotation when applied to women.

I've been fortunate enough to work in an agency with two incredibly strong women at the top, and whilst they were clearly ambitious, competitive and sharp, I'm not sure they would buy the 'Alpha' label.  But perhaps that's the secret weapon of the Alpha Female - possessing the empathy and communication skills to wrap ambition and sharpness in gorgeous cashmere.  Perhaps the first rule of Alpha Female Club is to never talk about Alpha Female Club?

For me, Alpha status has always seemed like a pretty unlikeable position to hold, and I am nothing if not keen to get on with people.  If I ever purport to be keen on confrontation, you may remind me of an incident in Paul's Patisserie, Canary Wharf, a few weeks after our eldest child was born.  It was my first trip out without my new baby, and all I wanted in the world was a good chocolate eclair (fear not, the inlaws were with him, I wasn't that ruthless in my pursuit of patisserie goods).  Mr W had gone off to browse, and I was left to purchase the goodies.  Just as the eclair was handed over, still in its packaging, I read the description and discovered that it contained chocolate cream, not fresh cream.  I asked the gentleman very nicely if I could return it and he refused, rather bluntly.  Try not to judge me when I tell you that I then sat in their cafe, blinking back tears, until Mr W returned, at which point I recounted the whole sorry tale.  Is there anything more sad than a slightly soggy, overtired, overwhelmed woman in need of a proper chocolate eclair?

Mr W was galvanised into action.  He began pacing up and down beside the counter, furiously channelling his inner Rumpole.  All I remember is his opening statement "I ask you...definitionally, what IS a chocolate eclair?  Is it not the classic and specific combination of choux pastry and fresh cream?"  And so he went on, as my bleary little eyes brimmed with tears, my hunting-gathering hero took that Saturday patisserie assistant DOWN.

Not my finest girl power hour, but I like to think that having given birth, I'd already demonstrated my credentials.

I remember a few days after having our youngest son, thinking back over the labour and the point at which I became really genuinely frightened about how I was going to do it.  I had rarely, if ever, felt real fear before, but in that moment I was really very scared. Afterwards, I felt this huge sense of pride and courage - I'd been afraid but had delivered him safely anyway, and what was left to fear now?  I'd made a freakin' person!  Two, no less.  It was a really liberating moment, a rare flash of "Check me out!". 

Which is why I've always feared the idea of Alpha Parents, especially Mummies.  I imagine that if you were always a fairly formidable woman, the added boost of having given birth must give you veritable super powers.  I've yet to step into the world of the PTA, but I'm already imagining a cross between The Apprentice and the Great British Bake Off.  A bit of me can't wait to see how I measure up, and the rest of me would rather keep my head down and run with the gammas.

I guess that's the thing about being Alpha.  On some level, you presumably have to care about being the leader of the pack, and assert your dominance accordingly.  To be honest, I'd rather just eat really good, "proper", chocolate eclairs with people I love.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Etiquette of Playdates

The etiquette of playdates fascinates me.  Much like dating, or indeed that very first client meeting, you quickly seek to establish common ground, share view points and assess chemistry or 'brand fit'.  Over the course of a few hours you establish whether the new Mummy is your sort of Mummy.  Of course, with dating and client chemistry meetings, you don't tend to have toddlers present.  Thus, in those cases your careful preparation and cheery warm welcome is unlikely to be thwarted as soon as the door opens by a small person declaring "Oh no, Mummy, I didn't want you to invite THIS James, I meant the OTHER one..."

Anyway, the inaugural playdate is booked.  Assuming that you're hosting, there's prep to be done.  Firstly, whether or not you think it's ridiculous to clean the house before double the usual number of marauding small people run through it, you will inevitably try and tidy to some sort of universally acceptable standard.  Apparently being too clean can inhibit creativity and play, but no-one wants to be the Slummy Mummy, so somewhere between OCD and E-Coli, you should be good to go.  Next up, snacks.  If etiquette is about making others feel comfortable, then it makes sense to take your snack cues from whoever is coming to visit.  Some Mums are fruit only, others will happily break out the Bakewells.  If you don't know where they stand on the snackage spectrum, then you aim for somewhere in between and hope the kids don't rat you out for never usually having organic flapjacks.  Oh, and the juice vs water debate, that's another thorny one.  Basically, so long as you don't offer Coke (yes yes, of any kind), all should be fine.

Your playdate companions arrive.  Your kids were well dressed when you last saw them but are now either naked or wearing superhero costumes.  You go with it.  Snack time hopefully passes without incident.  You now face the final hurdles: Discipline and CBeebies.  Telling off your kids in front of someone you don't know very well is always a bit uncomfortable.  I always wonder if the other parent thinks I'm being too hard or not nearly hard enough, but - much like horses - the boys can smell fear, so I tend to put indecision to one side and go with what feels right.  When they are old enough to be threatened with being embarrassed in front of their friends, I suspect that's an area that will resolve itself.  The question of whether you can tell off the playdatee is a whole other issue.  I think on a first playdate it's probably out of the question unless the child and parent are so awful you plan never to see them again.  After that, there are probably gentle ways and means, but it's a minefield. The last decision is whether or not to put on the TV.  For some people, it is absolutely unthinkable to put on the television during a playdate.  For others, the commanding tones of Captain Barnacles are infinitely preferable to a soundtrack of squabbling kids, and the TV is put on without hesitation.  As with snacks, when it comes to TV, I tend to take my cues from my guest.

Again, much like dating, by the end of your time together you'll have a fairly good idea of whether it's ever going to happen again.  The Mummy circuit is remarkably intertwined, so to some extent you can never quite shake someone off, but equally there seems to be an understanding that some people just click better than others and no offence should be taken if you happen to see some Mums more than others.  Which is just as well as there's a real mixed bag out there...

Anyway, today the children and I had a second playdate with some people we've known for a while.  We had in our midst 2 Spidermen, 1 Spiderwoman and a Superman.  No-one bit anyone or wet themselves, and everyone enjoyed the hot cross buns.  That, my friends, is a playdate match made in heaven.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Roughcut

There was a time when a roughcut meant the first edit of a new ad.  I used to love getting the phone call that heralded its arrival, and would positively skip up the stairs to the creatives' office, to view it in all its glory.  Except, it was never that glorious.  As I came to learn, there are thousands of caveats one must give when presenting a rough cut, as it is literally just an edit of the footage that the director and creatives are happy with, without any post production magic or (boo hiss) client feedback.  Speaking of client feedback, the following never fails to take me back to those days with a smile:  The Rough Cut Lady Song

Today, I completed my first roughcut of the year.  It's the first time I've mowed the lawn in 2013.  I like to refer to it as a roughcut because it's generally just about cutting back everything that's grown over the autumn and winter, and getting it to a manageable state.  No fancy stripes or finer details for this cut, just the basics.

I also like to refer to it as a roughcut because it tickles me to use my old industry language in my new Mummy world.  It's like seeing an old friend in an unexpected place.  Recently, over dinner with dear friends from advertising, I referred to my brand onion. For those of you questioning the sudden use of vegetation, a brand onion is a marketing tool used to establish what's at the heart of a brand and then each layer that goes around it builds a picture of that brand and how it connects with its consumers.  Anyway, as we laughed, I heard a particular sort of chuckle in my friend's reaction.  There was surprise at hearing the term after so long (and from someone so far out of that world now), and delight in the shared understanding, the use of a term common to those of us in that industry (and common to poor old Mr W who had to learn all about it when I was in it).  It made me think about how tribal we all are, and how brilliantly language can bind us together or draw us apart.  We all seek out common ground with each other, and the kinds of words and references we use are such a substantial part of that. 

About a year ago I made a new Mummy friend and mentioned to Mr W after one of our first playdates that I particularly loved hanging out with her because "She'll refer to something as being 'very Temperley' and she knows I know what that is!"  A few weeks ago, on a rare Mummy night out, I had to hit the dancefloor when Sweet Female Attitude's one hit wonder "Flowers" came on.  To my delight, one of my Mummy friends was right there with me, singing all the words too (ok, fine, so it's not exactly lyrically taxing, but still).  In the search for common ground, beyond just knowing the same version of "Hop little bunnies, hop hop hop" (and seriously, who knew there could be so many?), occasionally we bump into old terminology from new people, and we get a glimpse of our old selves, in our new roles.

So today I'm celebrating those nods and smiles of recognition, the chuckles of delight at shared terminology, and of course, the smell of freshly (rough)cut grass.