Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Letter To My Sixteen-Year-Old-Self.

West Yorkshire
November 2010

Dear Charlotte

Right now, you are terrified. You’ve just started at a new boarding school, the boys are bullies and the girl you suspect you’d like to be friends with is being horrible to you. Ignore the bullies (although I do have a bit of bad news – Tim Payne will end up playing rugby for England. Yeah I know, he’s really fat – go figure.) The girl you’d like to be friends with will end up being a great friend – you’ll even see her when you’re thirty.

Look kid, I’m going to be straight with you. Despite your appalling grades, you know that you’re really rather smart. You’re quietly confident that you’re pretty and you’re damn sure that you will be a success. This is not going to happen if you don’t put some work in. You may have coasted through life so far, but things are going to take a dramatic downhill turn if you don’t start doing some work. Nobody is magically going to make you rich. Steven Spielburg isn’t going to ring, begging you to be a leading lady. Prince William is not suddenly going to ask to marry you (though he will ask a very similar girl 15 years later.) In short, you get out of life what you put in – and right now, you’re putting in eff all.

Try to keep in touch with old friends. A number of mates from your old school are writing to you and you’re too wrapped up in the ‘now’ to bother writing back to them. Bad move. In a few years they will invent something called ‘Facebook’ and you will spend countless miserable hours flicking through photos of people you have lost your connection with; sharing their lives, their children and their husbands with each other. Look after friends. They are hard to make and easy to lose.

Acting might not be for you. You don’t take criticism well enough. Have you thought about writing? I know your mum does it and it seems boring, but you are actually rather good and you could save a lot of time by giving it a bash now, rather than in over a decade’s time.

Alcohol is not your friend. You’ve already got yourself in a lot of trouble and embarrassment with it and that could be set to continue. Keep away from it before it’s too late. You might want to give up smoking now as well. Oh sod it. A girl can’t be too squeaky – keep the tabs if you must.

Be nice to your mum. She gave a lot up for you. You’ll get it when you have your own children.

Stop obsessing about your weight. You’d be amazed how slim you are. For God’s sake don’t go sticking your finger down your throat. You’ll ruin your metabolism and your face will go puffy. Stop eating mayonnaise and learn to avoid cheese. That should do.

Learn to trust your instincts. You're usually bang-on. If you think somebody is no good, 99% of the time, they are no good.

Try to put up with your grandfather. He may be a bit of a bastard, but if he dies refusing to speak to you and never meets your children, you’ll regret it. Trust me on that one.

If you move down to London, do not go out with a bloke called Andy. You hated him when you met him and needing somewhere to live is not a great reason for having a relationship with someone. He’ll mess you up badly. Go home. London isn’t for you.

Stop eating cold curry for breakfast. I know it hasn’t made you ill yet, but it will in around ten years and you’d be better learning that lesson now, rather than losing those three days on the bathroom floor.

Do not go out on the 21st April 2002. Stay in. Read a book.

Realise how ridiculously lucky you are. Most school children do not get to go skiing, riding, scuba-diving etc. Stop turning down opportunities and do every activity you are offered. Playing pool and drinking pink grapefruit ‘Woody’s’ in The Globe with Ellie and Nicky does not constitute an ‘activity’.

Tidy your room. You’ll find it easier to find stuff.

Finally, do not be so upset when the headmaster and his cronies snub you when an external judge/poet awards you the public-speaking cup. Yes, it was mean and it was unjust and they should have congratulated you but don’t let such a stupid thing make you give up on trying. They are merely a handful of wankers in a world full of tossers. Stop being bitter. The only person it will affect is you.

You're quite brilliant in many ways - but not THAT brilliant. Put some work in darling. Believe in yourself a bit more. Stop gambling on fairy tale endings. They don't exist.

Love, Me.

(PS: The winner of The Grand National in 2010 is ‘Don’t Push It’, followed by ‘Black Apalachi’ and then ‘Big Fella Thanks’. You might want to look up what an accumulator bet is.)

(Inspired by 'Dear Me', a compilation of letters edited by Joseph Galliano, available on Amazon.)

Board games or Bored games.

As the nights draw in, my electricity bill goes up, Victoria Wood starts threatening another Christmas special and for some reason my thoughts begin to linger on long family walks followed by cosy afternoon teas - Monopoly board out, a pot of Earl Grey, cucumber sandwiches, a bit of battenbug and a little friendly family banter...

Yuh-huh. Back on Planet Castle I'm sweating away in the kitchen, cooking the Sunday roast and Simon's slumped on the sofa drinking Stella Artois and watching Bond films. Arabella is painting; using every piece of craft equipment she owns - on the dining table that I will shortly need - and my 1 year old son is trying to find a plug socket to stick his wet finger in. Happy days.

Not every Sunday is like this. I did manage to get Simon to go for a walk once. I promised there was a pub at the end. He sulked the entire way and then insisted on getting a taxi back.

It wasn't, therefore, with enormous optimism that I accepted a brand new 'Boggle Flash' game to review recently. Sure, I'd probably enjoy playing it but then I'm easily pleased. You can sit me down with a bag of marbles and as long as there's a competitive element, I'll be - er, in my element. (Note to self. Arabella is five. Beating her at Scrabble is not an achievement.)

Back to Boggle. You will probably remember the original of this. Back in the day, when the only computer game was Donkey Kong, children didn't rule the roost and Simon Cowell had yet to sell his soul to the devil, you might have had one. It had a big perspex dome that you pressed and as it popped up, it agitated all the little lettered dice in it. You then turned over your egg timer and had 30 seconds to make as many words as you could out of the letters you had been given.

Clearly the bods at Boggle have cottoned onto the fact that today’s children will sneer at anything that doesn’t beep, bong, move on its own, or interact with their friends in another room. Bits of paper and an egg timer just ain’t gonna cut it with today’s tech-dependant youth. And so the Boggle Flash was born… and by golly, it’s clever.

You get 5 separate little digital cubes. Each can read the other, and so you arrange the cubes to make the words out of the letters they give you. It will both time you and beep when you make a correct word. There are three games – you can either play alone or with others.

I was most impressed with the quality of the box they come in. It fits easily in a handbag and would be great for going on holiday. Fun for a dinner party too, I think.

The gadget aspect of it entertained my husband. Arabella enjoyed using her alphabet to make words, and I – well I was just happy everyone was sitting down together. Toddler Alex, resolutely suicidal, kept us on our toes by trying to get the coals off the fire. The cat, who is mildly psychopathic, watched in the hope that he would manage. All in all, a pleasant afternoon.

I did think it rather unfair that Simon, by now enjoying himself, managed to score the best word of the day with ‘WALKS’.

The mind boggles.

The Boggle Flash is available from all good toy retailers, starting from around £14.99.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

From the Office of Father Christmas....

From the Office of Father Christmas
18th November 2010

Dear Arabella

Thank you for your lengthy and comprehensive letter to Santa Claus, which we received last night. We have noted your requests, amongst many other things, for a Nintendo DS, a new bike, an ice-cream maker and a pony.

As you are only five-years old, you will be unfamiliar with the terms ‘credit crunch’ and ‘recession’. Suffice to say, even Lapland are currently feeling the pinch. It is therefore with great regret that I write to tell you that not all items on your list will be available this year. (Or any other bloody year for that matter.)

1. In accordance with conversations we believe you have had with your mother on a daily basis since you were four, you are not to have a Nintendo DS until you are both able and desirous of picking up a book for mere pleasure. Books may not bleep, play music or interact with you, but in them you will find some of the most enjoyable moments of your life. When you can read Winnie the Pooh for yourself, then we will re-open discussions on the delivery of a Yuletide Nintendo DS.

2. Your mother informs us that she already owns an ice-cream maker. No, it doesn’t have a picture of fairies on it, but it really does make ice-cream.

3. You live in a small three-bed semi, around which your father has built The Only Patio Visible From Space. Seriously, there’s no room for a pony.

4. We are delighted to announce that we have shiny new bikes (without stabilizers, as specified) in stock and that one will be delivered, by sleigh, sometime on Christmas Eve. Please ensure that you are asleep from 9pm until 8pm as we will be unable to deliver to awake children. Also, your parents wouldn’t mind a bit of ‘them time’.

In addition to the above, as a good will gesture, we will be delivering an assortment of board-games, arts and crafts materials, books and other expensive play items. We hope these will go someway to recompensing you for your disappointment in not getting a bloody Nintendo DS and a pony.

I should like to take this opportunity on behalf of Santa Claus and all of us here at The Office of Father Christmas, to wish you a Merry Christmas and to thank you for your continued belief in us.

Yours sincerely

The Chief Elf.

PS: Could you kindly let your mother know that with regards to her letter of the 13th November, it will not be possible to arrange for her to win the lottery and that Father Christmas does not dispense Valium.