Thursday 21 October 2010

Trick or Treat or Stand and Deliver?

Oh, crap. It’s Halloween again.

Living on an estate of three-bed semi’s (my God, when did my life become such a cliché?) we don’t just get a handful of trick or treaters. Oh no. Last year I counted over fifty of the little blighters. And each and every one of them requires a small packet of sweets or a miniature chocolate bar.

This doesn’t come cheap. Totting up the potential damage in Tesco’s yesterday, I estimated that I would have to spend a minimum of £10 to ensure I have enough tooth rotting fodder to meet my blackmailers demands – for what else is ‘Trick or Treat’ but an apparently socially accepted command to feed Other People’s Children sweets, or spend the next fortnight washing eggs off your car?

They don’t even bother waiting for the 31st October either. Last year we had two fat kids in plastic masks ring the doorbell the day before. “Trick or Treat?” They grunted.

“Erm, it’s not Halloween yet.” I said, wishing to get the lardy lads off my doorstep as quick as possible so that I could return to Eastenders.

“Yeah, but we’re going to a party tomorrow, so we won’t be able to come round.”

I should have sent them away with a flea in their ear and a lecture on the perils of being overweight, but to my eternal shame I trotted dutifully into my kitchen and ferreted around until I found them a couple of ancient Penguins. (That’s a type of chocolate biscuit by the way - lest my American friends be wondering why I happened to have two very old, aquatic flightless birds living in my larder cupboard.)

You see I take the ‘trick’ threat quite seriously. Up until recently I had a rather nice car on the drive and I didn’t fancy replacing its windscreen wipers.

The parents that escort the droves of children around (and by the way, the costumes get more rubbish by the year too. If you all buy the same things from Tesco, it all becomes a bit pointless. Use some imagination and make something) stand at the entrance to the drive with vapid grins whilst their children order me to hand over goodies or they’ll damage my property. “Say thank you, Kai!” They chirrup, giving me a conspiratorial wink.

“Thank you and f**k off” I mutter.

“What?” A vampire who looks rather too old to be doing this kind of thing gives me a sharp look.

“Er, I said that’s a nasty cough.”

“Oh” He trudges off, plastic pumpkin bucket groaning with junk.

I don’t think people give much thought to the elderly, either. For an eighty-six year old, heaving yourself off the sofa every five minutes to hand over sweets to an unsmiling monosyllabic oik in a skeleton suit can’t be much fun. I’m sure as hell not laughing and I don’t have arthritis.

As much as I would like to blame the Americans for this tawdry yearly horror, the practice does actually have its foundations in a British tradition. ‘Souling’ in England and ‘Guising’ in Scotland and Ireland appear to be the precursors, with poor children being allowed for one night only to embark upon ritual begging for food and cash. This custom was transferred to the States by the 19th Century immigrants and by 1930 had become the ghastly institution that we know now.

Of course, the key word in that paragraph was ‘poor’. Nowadays any child of any background is sent off to pester grown-ups for food they most certainly do not need. And is taking food from strangers really such a good idea? I do not understand why parents, who have spent the other 364 days of the year warning their children not to take sweets from strangers, suddenly find this idea acceptable. It can only be a matter of time before some nutter hands out Mars Bars with hypodermic needles shoved into them.

And yes. I will be saying ‘I told you so.’

Thursday 14 October 2010

Other People's Children. Or in which I lose all my friends.

I have a confession to make. I don’t think it’s going to make me enormously popular but then I don’t think it’s going to come as much of a shock either.

I categorically and unequivocally, cannot abide Other People’s Children.

There. I said it. Wow. I feel like a mule that’s shed it’s load. I’m out of the child-hating closet and I can shout it from the roof tops. “I don’t like Other People’s Children! I only smile and nod because I believe it’s the socially acceptable thing to do! To be honest, I only put up with my own kids because someone’s going to have to help me do the shopping when I’m old and decrepit, why would I like yours?”

Phew. I feel like a new woman. Before you all stalk off to strike me from your Christmas card list (this might be a good moment to say I don’t enjoy smug round-robin Christmas newsletters either. I don’t want to know that little William has just been accepted as the youngest ever lead violin in the National Youth Orchestra – presented with a fiddle my child would simply try to eat it) let me explain a bit.

1. That noise that she has been making repeatedly and loudly for the last half an hour. Not cute. And I seriously doubt that it’s proof that she’s gifted. No, really. I don’t think Mensa are going to be calling anytime soon.
2. Please take that spoon off little Jimmy. If he bashes my antique chest with it one more time I am going to use it to stab him with.
3. It’s Twinkle Twinkle Little bloody Star. Teach her O Mio Babinno Caro and I might be impressed.
4. You appear to be no longer interested in drinking copious amounts of wine. I’m holding your brat entirely responsible for this alarming development in your personality. No, I’m not making more coffee. It’s 2pm and it’s wine time.
5. There. Is. Something. Coming. Out. Of. It’s. Nose. Make. It. Stop.
6. I don’t like wiping other children’s backsides. I don’t liking wiping my own children’s backsides. Truth be told, I find wiping my own something of a chore. Just because I’ve had children does not mean that I, like you, seem to have become immune to the horrors of other people’s excrement. Please ensure you are on hand AT ALL TIMES in case bottom-wiping duties are required. I can’t cope.
7. If your child or children happen to be more intelligent than mine, please keep it to yourself. Otherwise you will rapidly find that I no longer answer my phone and that emails go unanswered.
8. They know I don’t like them. That’s why they scream every time you walk out of the room. They’re like cats. They always recognise the non-cat person. It is not because ‘they don’t know me yet’ and it has nothing to do with ‘not having seen me for a while’. It is because inside their highly tuned, psychic little toddler-skulls they are being alerted to the fact that I not only loathe them but that I will have absolutely no idea what to do should there be a crisis whilst you go to the loo. Take it with you. It’ll be safer.
9. I am utterly and sociapathically unmoved by crying. I can’t help it. There has to be copious amounts of blood for me to switch from mildly irritated to somewhat sympathetic. I wasn’t hugged much as a child.
10. There. Is. Still. Something. Coming. Out. Of. It’s. Nose. And. It’s. Running. Down. His. Lip. Ergh. Ergh. Ergh. ERGH.

It’s nothing personal. If our relationship can tiptoe through the child raising era, I have no doubt that when your child is say, thirty, we’ll get on great; but for the time being please understand, I’m terrified of children and they are terrified of me.

I should probably mention that as a fair woman, I realise that my own children are probably anathema to you. They often are for me. For instance this morning when my son sneezed porridge all over my new… anyway, I digress. You might not like my children. Though I can’t possibly imagine why not. Apart from the bodily function problems they’re pretty much perfect.

Let’s just agree to get a babysitter and go out on the town eh?

Sunday 10 October 2010

'Coping' without Child Benefit. A guide for the 'middle classes'...

There has been much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing from Middle England this week, as news of George Osbourne's Child Benefit reforms hit the headlines.

The decision from the coalition government to stop paying £20.30 per week* to those earning an income of £44,000 or more per annum caused well-heeled Brits up and down the land to spontaneously spit out their organic fairtrade coffee and fling their Guardians down in disgust.

A number of commentators on the Daily Mail website wrote that they 'would not be able to cope' without this cash injection from the state coffers. Well no. I can see how they feel. I mean £20.30... that's Jemima's riding lesson paid for, isn't it?

Having fed and clothed my own family of four for around £20,000 per annum for some years now, I feel the charitable thing to do is to share a few tips with these soon to be poverty stricken souls. With my help, you should manage to make ends meet on £44,000 per year. Should there be much call for my budgeting brilliance, I might write a book.

Guide to 'Coping' on £44,000 per annum.

1. You must resist the urge to buy Cravendale milk. I know it's triple-filtered but I couldn't care less if it was octuple-filtered by virgin maidens in wild-flower meadows on the side of a Swiss hillside - it's milk. Just milk. Buy normal stuff like intelligent people do.

2. I realise you may need a support group for this one, but I'm going to have to ask you to be brave. Repeat after me: "I do not need to buy yoghurts with germs in." That's right my thrifty little friend, Yakult is not a necessity. People have lived long and healthy lives without adding to their good bacterias. Furthermore, given that stomach acid is stronger than car battery acid (fact) not many of the little critters survive the journey into your immaculate tummy anyway. No more Lactobacillus casei. I promise you, life will continue as normal without them.

3. Fabric conditioners that purport to smell of Black Diamonds no longer have a place on your shopping list. Buy the supermarket one that smells of synthetic lilacs. You may not realise this (and I realise it's going to be a shock) but diamonds don't actually smell of anything. Not even black ones. You've been had.

4. Your bottom will cope without quilted loo roll.

5. Mash your own potatoes. It's good exercise.

6. Chop your own carrots. They actually taste better.

7. Five tv channels is enough. You can even have around eighty channels of mind-numbing boredom for the price of a free-view box. You don't need Sky in your life. If there's nothing on... read a book.

Any others I've forgotten? Feel free to add your own below.