Monday, 22 February 2010

And the crowd goes wild

So, I'm laid in bed listening to the curling in Canada. There's no need to point out the absolute pointlessness of listening to a sport that in itself has got to be the most pointless example of a mis-spent youth. If you're not even watching the Olympic awkward-lunge-and-letting-go followed by the maniacal Olympic ice sweeping in full flow, the sound of one stone hitting the other stone isn't going to tick many entertainment boxes.

But I didn't have the energy to sit up and watch, so I listened. With raised eyebrows. I had the energy for that at least.

And then I noticed something. The man whose job it was to let go of the stone with an obligatory expression of unbearable seriousness (yes, I could hear it), was then screaming instructions down the ice to his Olympic domestic brushmen to scrub harder, longer, softer, in a more sportsman-like manner... I don't know what, but the urgency and anger in his voice was quite alarming. Was he really taking this so seriously? Was he really so angry?

It’s kind of odd that we Brits like curling, and I don’t mean for the obvious reasons that it’s no more suitable as an Olympic sport than hoovering. The thing is, we’re quite good at it, aren’t we? And don’t we hate it when other people are good at things? Isn’t that the true definition of Britishness, ‘to be of a disposition of perpetual resentment and distrust of anyone who can achieve, and to only have a natural leaning towards the under dog, [caveat: until they start to achieve]’.

So, we like the curlers, even though they’re pulling off their second Olympic medal winning sports page domination. We fell in love with them as underdogs in 2006 and in 2010 we’re still lovin’ it.

But, anyway, it’s ok after all, because even if we don’t follow the book with our love of curling, we certainly do in defeat – our state of mind of choice. So the final British curl is about to be cast down the ice, and the over emotional Canadian supporters started singing the national anthem. Theirs I mean. And our guys couldn’t concentrate – but most importantly the sweepers couldn’t hear their instructions. That’s the actual factual explanation of our subsequent failure. After four years of practice, pre-breakfast broom training, late nights studying their instruments and endless cancelled family holidays in the hope of Olympic glory, the sweepers couldn’t hear Mr Angry shouting ‘sweep’ so they didn’t. Or couldn’t. So, the match was stopped, everyone had a nice cup of tea, and the crowd was calmed. But the seeds had been sewn, and our skipper chucked a bad ‘un and we lost on the final stone.

I know this isn’t the kind of thing I usually choose to dwell on, but I felt a huge sense of national pride in the whole sorry episode. My kids enjoyed watching the curling almost as much as they enjoyed watching the bobsleigh team coming down the run on their heads. A friend once quoted someone perceptive and told me 'If ironing's all your good for, you better be damn good at ironing.' If it works for sweeping, I might have found my answer to navel gazing.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Who do you think you are?

A question was posed in the pub on Friday evening. It was the one of those rare spontaneous evenings where an unexpected babysitter lead to a last minute decision to head to Soho for drinks that taste much better and work much faster for the simple lack of organisation that went into them.

Anyway, in this gin-fuelled hedonism granted by a small space on the heaving pavements of Dean Street, my husband posed the question. Who do you want to be? Not what – which is essentially a career question, and one that he knows me well enough not to approach even with an extremely long barge pole. How many caveats, excuses, angry accusations, guilty denials and general despondency can one question inspire? The ‘what’ question is tainted for ever now with the echoes of school bells and after-taste of petit filous, let alone the shadows of the glass ceiling and a four-year CV gap.

So it was ‘who’ that was questioned. And not one of us (we had a couple of other over-excited escapee parents with us) could answer without turning it in to a huge joke. Hardly appropriate considering the gravity of the question. Hardly surprising considering the inappropriateness of the timing of the gravitas question.

Years ago, I was on a uni coach trip to Amsterdam, and we were playing games to entertain ourselves in anticipation of the main event. One game involved someone asking questions to everyone else in order to guess which one of us we had chosen to be ‘it’. The questions had to be of the ‘what type of song would this person be’ variety, and I was asked what item of clothing ‘this person’ would be. It so happened that I was ‘this person’, so my answer was ‘a big baggy cardi’.

Only you would ever describe you as a big baggy cardi, so the game was over fairly quickly and awkwardly at that point.

And the embarrassment of my completely exposed lack of aesthetic pride still haunts me, particularly because it also exposed my clear lack of inner belief. Why couldn’t I think of one nice thing to say about myself out loud? I knew there were better things about myself than my penchant for shapeless knitwear. I knew it, but I didn’t believe it enough to vocalise. And that was when I was young and thin, and life’s boundaries were self-imposed. Now I’m not-so, and life’s boundaries are super-imposed. And life is richer, but the ‘who’ question still inspires a knitwear-based response. Maybe it’s now a cashmere one, but there’s not much extra self-confidence woven into the stitching.

How is it possible that almost 20 years later I can’t answer the ‘who’ question because I know that the list of things I think need changing is essentially pathetic. You can’t get to 38 (bloody hell, 38) and be entirely disappointed in yourself. I like myself a lot actually, but I would never admit that to anyone. Mainly because I assume that all they see in me are the few things that will always be unattractive or unnecessary.

So, who I’d like to be: someone who could name an item of clothing that they both liked and could honestly associate themselves with. I’d also really like to be someone who doesn’t worry that they might have said something a bit rubbish in 1992.

Monday, 1 February 2010

The List

I wasn’t going to do this this week. I had decided to have one Sunday night when I didn’t lie awake worrying about what, who, why and whether I could be creatively interesting enough to entertain myself and a few significant others with a posting. A musing about my relatively untroubled, unremarkable life over the past week, and all the incredibly unchallenging things that haven’t been playing on my mind. Then I found myself writing lists instead.

Lists are great right? I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t love a good list when it’s presented in the right way. I think they’re actually the only things that really galvanise the different parts of you life. The longer and fuller your life becomes, the more spurious the links between the different areas of your life become.

Compartmentalism is a natural state of survival, so lists are like those yoghurt-pot-and-string telephones linking all the boxes together. There’s not much that links the necessity to both own and put on a posh ‘client skirt’ with the hurried playground planning of a new-school-mum’s social – other than the to-do list you’ve made to help you overcome the fact that you’ve had no time to either prepare for, or avoid, either event.

The Ocado list provides a direct link between your aspiring social needs, your fridge, your newly embraced fascination with iPod apps and your hatred of the general public when armed with a shopping trolley. It also provides an essential link with your husband. You can sit quietly at the kitchen table, together, on the same side, sharing input in the list. It’s quality time.

Anyway, there’s not much more to say about lists. That’s the great thing about them. They’re pure, they work. I’m not interested in the psycho-analytics that could go behind why we love them. They’re neatness and order in an otherwise chaotic world. It’s even good to list your most hated things. Everything can be made easier with a list, even guilt.

So the list that has spent most time buzzing around in formation this week is the music one. Those soundtrack to life songs that wriggle around as ear worms for days before becoming weirdly prophetic. These are mine.

1. Single ladies (Put A Ring On It); Beyonce & my eldest, her biggest nine-year-old fan
2. I’m Being Eaten By A Boa Constrictor And I Don’t Like It One Bit; Reception music class
3. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; Nina Simone
4. Neon Rainbow; The Box Tops
5. The Wanting Comes In Waves; The Decemberists
6. Happy Birthday To Me; my littlests putting in some early practice