Friday, 30 December 2011

In which I extol Christmas traditions

It has been an exceedingly busy year, in the wider world as well as in our own little family group. There have been some very happy times, but there have also been utterly dreadful moments. The Christmas traditions have this year provided me with an anchor in a stormy world and have been productive of great mirth. It is  worth mentioning how much of our ideas of traditional Christmas we owe to Mr Dickens. Christmas at Dingley Dell with the goblin stories, the goodness of the Peerybingles and the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge are responsible for much of the 'season of goodwill'.

One of the high points of the festive season this year has been my first attendance as a proud parent at a nativity play. The Infant Phenomenon’s class did tableaux of the nativity story during the school carol concert. As she had covered herself in glory at her first assembly (reciting a poem by herself as well as correctly pronouncing the word ‘palaeontologist’) I did not expect her to have a starring role. I did not really want her to either, I am a firm believer in sharing the limelight and giving everyone a chance. In the event, she was one of the sheep. She looked absolutely adorable. And of course, she didn’t know where she was supposed to be and ended up trying three different spots before she got it right. To quote from Mr Handel’s Messiah, like sheep, she had gone astray. I couldn’t see whether they’d dressed one of the others as a sheepdog, but I think it would have been useful.

It is a curious thing how people can be such perfectionists about so many trivial things and make themselves quite unpleasant over others' mistakes, yet, confronted with 30 small children, they would be quite disappointed if everybody had got everything perfectly right. There is something about ‘Away in a Manger’ sung out of time and out of tune which tugs the heartstrings like nothing else. Since then I have been teaching her 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'. With actions...

It is pleasant, and feels in keeping with seasonal good will, after having given a comprehensive list (see previous entry) of the Inexhaustible’s less endearing habits, to follow it up with a striking example of his best. Of  course being the Inexhaustible, it was done in front of a select audience of attendees at a carol service in which I had the pleasure of participating the weekend before Christmas.

Some of you may recall my vocal tendencies from an earlier chapter and I am pleased to announce that this year, although far from perfect, my singing was at least not as disastrously flat as on that occasion. I was still slightly concerned about the carol service; not from a musical point of view, we were actually singing rather well, the choice of repertoire was excellent (no Rutter, Ms D!) and had enough singers in each part for good balance. All of which astonished the person in charge. What I was truly concerned about was the potential for disaster should the Inexhaustible decide to embrace his more vigorous tendency to sound and movement during the service. On the other hand, it seemed unnecessary, even unkind, to exclude him.

My dear parents accompanied Mr B and the offspring, so fortunately there was sufficient control should he succumb to the urge for self-expression. In the event, he was only moderately vocal, mentioning to everyone quite frequently ‘Mamma up dere! Mamma sing!’ and similar running commentary observations. He did not howl or run around, much to my relief. This alone was enough to make me feel that the outing was a success. But the crowning glory was at the end.

We had just got to the end of the last carol and the Inexhaustible, with impeccable timing, burst into a rousing cheer and started clapping. Everyone else joined in, which was extremely pleasant and the singers all laughed. I have in my time as a choral singer been as heartily applauded on more exalted concert platforms, but the wild enthusiasm of my own little boy for Mamma’s singing and his perfect timing, will, I suspect never be trumped.

A merry Christmas to you all and as Tiny Tim says, ‘God bless us, every one!’

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

In which I mislay my temper

There is no evading it – on Saturday evening I was a naughty, shouty Mamma. This is clearly a Bad Thing, since one of the principal justifications of my return to the workplace was that I was becoming altogether too shouty when confined to the solely domestic sphere.

It was also in spite of the fact that Mr B took the little darlings to spend a few hours with their Grandmamma so that I could attempt (largely unavailingly) to reduce the home to some kind of order. A full five months of employment allied to the fact that I have had no time off since early September has ensured that we are running perilously low on supplies of tidiness, energy and meals in the freezer.

The mention of the freezer brings me back to my loss of temper. In common I would say with almost every family in the country, our kitchen affords the usual range of large labour-saving devices, such as electric oven, washing machine, dishwasher. The actual problem with these extremely useful implements is that the short-sighted or childless designers of these goods, for some reason which it is utterly beyond me to fathom, always make them with the controls at toddler height.

Nothing delights the Inexhaustible more than to play a game which I am starting to call ‘Washing Machine Bingo’. The implement has an alluring array of buttons which light up when lightly pressed for the selection of 'optional extras', also a programme-selection dial which you can turn to your heart’s content and which changes the numerical display at each turn. His favourite game is to select a laundry programme using the dial and then to press all the optional extras buttons until he manages to light them all and gets a ‘full house’. The challenge to this is that not every cycle permits one to select all the optional extras. When he manages to achieve a full house, he awards himself a resounding cheer and a round of applause. I admit it is at times entertaining to watch, but there are distinct drawbacks.

I can endure it when a) there is nothing in there, or b) the door is open and the machine will therefore not start. This is with the proviso that in the case of both a) and b), I have nothing else to do and can waste as much as a quarter of an hour watching the Inexhaustible play with the gadget.

I can NOT endure this when a) there is laundry in there or b) when there is laundry in there in the midst of being laundered. Especially if he manages to switch some of our more delicate apparel onto a boil wash. It palls entirely as a form of entertainment when I have anything to do. I must also confess to a degree of weariness at finding various small kitchen implements such as whisks, toys, or completely random articles such as my slippers, deposited in said washing machine, and discovering them only after an exhaustive search of all the sensible places in which a non-toddler would leave them.

With the dishwasher, I will grudgingly admit that it is not entirely the Inexhaustible’s fault. A modicum of fault lies with the machine which is extremely slow and far from efficient. This means that any interruption of its progress can delay everything for hours, if you don’t notice what has happened. The Inexhaustible delights in the dishwasher, particularly in switching it off mid-cycle when Mamma and Papa are busy and won’t notice. The upshot of this particular activity is that when one deluded parent says ‘the dishwasher must be finished by now, I’ll go and unload it’, said parent finds the machine full of dirty crockery, with cold, dirty water undrained at the bottom and no option but to start the whole, aggravatingly slow, process all over again. Once the maddening piece of machinery is in full flow, the Infant Phenomenon will without fail demand a piece of crockery or cutlery which is in the machine in a parlous state of filth.

The seriousness of interrupting either of these household gods in their appointed tasks really boils down to the enormous quantity of laundry and crockery that one family can use in a short space of time and the relentless frequency with which both these machines are called on to do their duty.

As for the oven and grill, with their built-in clock and timer… If I had a pound for the number of times the Inexhaustible has switched the oven on, set the grill to high, set the beeper to silent, changed the time on the clock, reset the timer and interrupted automatic cooking times, I would be an exceedingly wealthy woman. It is wearisome, to say the least.

My one consolation is that he is not yet strong enough to open the door of the freezer and spoil all the food within. It is probably merely a matter of time. However he is strong enough to drag a kitchen chair over to the counter, climb up on it and cause havoc at the stove, or on the work surface with whatever happens to be there. I probably ought to add that after one terrifying moment during which he wielded a carving knife, that no longer includes the knife block.

After a veritable gamut of these activities the other evening, Mamma lost her temper quite thoroughly. I am sure someone will ask me why, as the Inexhaustible is my second child, am I so put about by his activities? Surely I have accustomed myself to the wiles of this particular stage of infancy? The answer to this is that my children are bewilderingly different – of which more anon – and the Infant Phenomenon, like Miss Mary Bennet in Miss Austen’s Pride and Prejudice would 'infinitely prefer a book’.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

In which I muse upon the little things

I do not think that either Mr Dickens or Mr Trollope would understand, much less approve, such a phrase as 'corporate culture'. And yet, it is a material fact of working life, which both gentlemen describe in their novels.  For example, the Circumlocution Office (though perhaps that might best be described as an hereditary weakness) or its polar opposite (from Mr Trollope's Three Clerks) the Weights & Measures. The Brothers Cheeryble from Mr Dickens again, or Mr Trollope's Internal Navigation, show how the prevailing tone of the leaders of any enterprise can affect all the persons employed therein. 

I pause for a moment - the Inexhaustible Baby (or more properly speaking, the Inexhaustible Toddler) is stirring. He sleeps again. Phew.

I once attended an entire training session upon the subject of 'corporate culture'. It is a substance surprisingly difficult to define, yet surprisingly easy to understand. I did not admire the language of the definition: 'the way we do things here'; but it grasps an essential truth. Sometimes it is not what we do, but the manner in which we do it which really counts. 

For example, in my new place of work they have a small, but nonetheless significant habit, of holding doors open for one another. It is hard to describe the real importance of this small gesture, which costs the giver so little, yet leaves such a a pleasant impression on the recipient of this minor courtesy.

It is a fine example of real politeness. Historically, one was led to believe, the holding open of doors was yet another example of the strong defending the weak. A lady, after all, or any person suffering a physical impairment, could not be expected to open a door. Heavens forfend! That was the province of the Strong! In our generation, however, we have seen a great improvement in the status of the opened door; it has come to indicate simply a general chivalry. It is now emblematic of a wish to pass through this world considerately, giving space and time to those who need a little more of those commodities. As a fond mamma of two small persons, who frequently rely upon the perambulator, I can assure you I am in no danger of under-estimating the value of that inexpensive yet invaluable gesture.