Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Scared to breathe

What a busy few weeks it's been.  On the positive side, my eyebrows are mercifully growing back and I haven't experienced anyone doubling up in hysterics upon encountering me.  Mind you, the whole sorry experience did end up costing me even MORE as I ended up having to enlist the help of my lovely beautician friend Ursula to try and make me appear slightly normal.  Come to think of it, she DID double up in hysterics...

As it turns out however, my eyebrows ended up being the least of my problems over the last few weeks.  Ali has been embroiled in a series of dramas over - well, over nothing really.  Even so, it has culminated in him changing schools by his own choice before he got involuntarily kicked out.  I know, serious stuff, huh?  In all the years I was at school I NEVER heard of anyone getting expelled.  As the boys have grown up and gone through school I've heard of quite a few instances of people getting expelled for offences such as drug use or assault.  Fair enough too!  I have no problem with bullies being kicked out either - if they really are bullying.

It seems in this day and age though that bullying has an extremely broad description.  I should know as my youngest son apparently has a 'history of bullying'.  I'm the first to admit Ali is no angel.  After all, he was involved not so long ago in the infamous 'penis sculpture' episode.  But at least his sense of humour is alive and well.  I honestly think these days that people are so busy bending backwards to be politically correct and please everyone that they have lost theirs.

Now don't get me wrong; I know how serious bullying is and if I thought any child of mine was physically or verbally causing real harm to anyone else they would be in for some serious consequences, not to mention a boot fair and square in the backside!  But take a look at the following.  I would love to know in all honesty whether this catalogue of events really constitutes bullying?  Does it look serious enough to you to warrant threats of suspension and expulsion?

Incident 1.  Ali called a ginger kid 'ginger'.  The child in question was a friend of his, he said it in jest and his friend laughed.  He was sent out of class.

Incident 2. Ali 'teased another child about his body odour'.  The child in question farted in class, Ali laughed and said 'Did you just sh*t your pants?' and the child went running to the dean.  Now call me a bad mother but I ask the same of Liam at least once a week and I don't think he's been scarred for life.

Incident 3.  Ali 'intimidated a teacher'.  To this day, neither Ali or the teacher involved knows what he actually did but the meetings and discussions carried on for days and Ali duly apologised to the teacher for whatever it was he was supposed to have done and cleaned the teacher's classroom as punishment.

Incident 4.  Ali 'deliberately upset an overweight child by talking about food in his presence'.  Never mind that the friend he was talking to at the time was actually larger than the child who took offence.  As Ali pointed out 'So if people DON'T talk about food in front of me, does that mean I'm being bullied because I'm skinny?'

Throughout these instances he was withdrawn from class and put in isolation.  There were many more times he was also sent out of class for talking, laughing and holding his tongue wrong.  In the end he was spending so much time in isolation that we decided if nobody was going to teach him there we would take him somewhere that would.  So we did and he hasn't looked back.  He is in all the top classes, is earning top marks in all his subjects and hasn't been growled at once.  Brilliant!

Unfortunately the whole chain of events has left Ali scared to even breathe.  I answered my mobile this morning to a terrified Ali who was worried he was going to be suspended for throwing a muesli bar.  The muesli bar hit another child by accident and Ali immediately went and apologised and offered him his fizzy drink but he was still convinced he was going to be dragged into the principal's office for his crime.  Makes you wonder in the end, who was the one really being bullied?

As for me, I'm afraid I've been left feeling pretty disillusioned.  Ali has wanted to be a marine biologist since he was nine, yet found his career dreams already at stake at the age of 14.  And over what?  It seems to me to be almost laughable but like I said, I think a lot of people's sense of humour shrivelled up and died with the introduction of political correctness.  As I told Ali, the best revenge he can have on all the people who have labelled him a bad kid is to do as well as he possibly can at his new school.  That's what he's doing and he's loving every minute.  Good on ya mate.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Skin deep

So it turns out I’m living more dangerously than I thought.  Ohh good grief the lengths we go to in order to try and look half decent.  Work has been pouring in lately, which is brilliant and very enjoyable.  However it’s going to take a long, LONG time for the bank balance to recover and as happens to the best of us, when the finances take a hit, the first thing to go are life’s little luxuries such as manicures, posh hair-do’s and the like.

Still, if you can’t afford it at least you can try and fake it and I’ve been doing this for a while now with not too bad results.  I do my own facials, paint my own nails and even cut my own hair.  I thought I might have come a bit of a cropper recently when I read that olive oil made a wonderful conditioning treatment for your hair.  I slapped bucketfuls of the stuff on and rubbed it in with gusto before wrapping my head in Glad wrap.  What a truly wonderful sight that must have been to behold; particularly coupled with the chocolate mud facemask I was wearing.  I felt like a true professional! 

Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling quite so professional three days later when I still looked as though I’d had a fight in a fish and chip shop and lost and was madly Googling how the heck I was supposed to get the oil out of my lank, greasy locks.  The answer, dear reader is time.  Time and lots of shampoo.  And it turned out Google was right because once I actually managed to get the last of the oil out my hair was wonderfully soft and shiny for ages.  I would definitely do it again – but only when I’m not planning to leave the house for a few days!

There are some things which I'm not game enough to attempt however.  Like the first time I ever tried to wax my bikini line.  I enlisted the help of my husband and can still picture the kids bursting in to come to my aid after hearing the blood curdling screams coming from my room.  Needless to say I didn’t try to repeat the experience again and to add insult to injury I didn’t realise the pot of microwave wax I had hastily picked up and taken to the pharmacy counter was a ‘naughty’ version and came with its own set of stencil templates such as hearts, stars and lightning bolts.  Far too Marilyn Monroe for my liking – and look what happened to her!

I should have known after that to leave the stuff alone but I always did learn the hard way and this morning was my piece de resistance.  I’ve always gone to the salon to get my eyebrows done but once funds no longer allowed I began plucking them instead.  However I soon decided this lengthy form of self-torture wasn’t really for me so I was excited when a friend recommended waxing my own with a specially manufactured facial wand.  I got the local chemist to get it in for me especially and looked forward to my transformation from Brooke Shields to – well, someone less bushy.

I duly prepped the area with the special fruity-fragranced wipes, then carefully applied the wax.  Well, as carefully as I could – the stuff was about as easy to work with as toffee, and the same consistency too.  I was beginning to have second thoughts as I tried to get the sticky, gooey wax to stick to the right places and was more than a little perturbed at the stringy bits going all over the place – what if they took off some of the hair I didn’t want removed?  Still, I followed the instructions to the letter and expertly ‘zipped’ off the strips on my first brow.  Success! 

Buoyed by the fabulous results of my first brow I did a repeat performance on the other and stared at my reflection in horror at the realization that my second ‘zip’ had gone very, very wrong.  You know those stringy little bits I had been a tad concerned about?  I was right to be.  One of the little blighters had gone and attached itself to the middle of my brow.  The result?  I now look like Jonah Lomu back in the days when he had number 11 (his rugby position) shaved into his eyebrows.  The difference is, he did it on purpose and carried it with manliness and aplomb.  I on the other hand look as though I've had an unfortunate accident with a lighter.

So much for my efforts to save money.  I now have to go and fork out for an eyebrow pencil so I can draw some in until they grow back!
TODAY I LEARNED: Some things really ARE best left to the professionals. 

Living dangerously

Some memories stay with you forever.  Such as the time I got my bum pinched by Witchy Poo in the May Day parade.  Every child in the village was terrified of her - this tiny but scary looking woman, always dressed head to toe in black and pushing an empty pram everywhere.  We always used to run past her house as fast as we possibly could and me, with my typical luck had to do it more than anyone else. 

Heaven knows why she pinched MY bum that day out of a whole village full of people.  It scared me half to death!  But then I've always been a magnet for mad people and still am.  In fact it's got worse as I've got older.  If there's a glue sniffer on a train you can make darn sure he'll sniff me out too, just to make my journey that little bit more eventful.  I remember years ago sitting in McDonalds and happily tucking into my quarter pounder when a man at the next table started talking to me in a low voice.  I smiled benignly and said 'pardon' before leaping up and bidding a hasty exit when I realised that what he was saying was extremely rude.  Looking back I should have asked him to repeat it so I could have written it down and gone on to make my fortune with a nineties-style 'Fifty Shades of Grey' - but we weren't like that back then, were we?  And besides, this chap was definitely no Christian Grey; more like a toothless Danny de Vito.

Then there was the time when Liam was about two years old and we had to get a security guard to get us safely to our car when a rather odd chap decided to stick to us like glue in Pak n Save.  That really shook me up but I think the nastiest experience I can recall was last year when I was training for the Auckland Marathon.  It was just a regular week-day afternoon and I was running along the beach as usual when a large man dressed all in black appeared out of the sand dunes and started running after me.  I wasn't too worried to begin with.  I could tell from the way he was staggering that he had to be drunk and besides, he was obviously overweight and I was a long distance runner!  There was no way he was going to be able to keep up with me.  But he did; he just kept going and going.  After 2km it became apparent that he was being fuelled by something a lot stronger than alcohol and that was when I got really scared.  There was nobody home for me to ring and there wasn't another soul on the beach.  Eventually I managed to get sufficiently ahead of him to duck into a sand dune and by some miracle somebody was standing in the window of one of the beach front holiday homes.  He quickly smuggled me through his house, out through the other side and onto the safety of the road before my pursuer could see where I had gone.  Too close for comfort if you ask me!

Would you walk a swing bridge from here to here?!

However last week's encounter wasn't too bad; in fact it was quite thought provoking.  Once again I was at the beach, this time walking, when a very big man came walking out of the sea towards me.  'Tell me', he said, gesturing towards the two landmark islands off Whangamata beach.  'If there was a swing bridge from one island to the other - would you walk across it?'  'Umm... no', I replied.  'I would have to say no because I'm no good with heights'.  'Well you'd be much better about them once you had walked across that though, wouldn't you?' came the reply.  'I guess I would!' I had to agree.  'You want to take more risks in life y'know.  Live more dangerously!' came the lofty reply.  'Maybe I do!' I agreed once again.  From there we went into an earnest discussion about the Seven Sisters (I didn't know what on earth they were and had to rush home and Google them), trouble brewing in the Middle East and goodness only knows what else before he turned his attentions towards a little old lady and I was left to go on my merry way.

But it did get me thinking.  Do I need to take more risks?  Should I indeed make the effort to live more dangerously?  And I started thinking about a common topic in today's society - bucket lists - a list of things you want to see or do before you die; some goals for me to aspire to.  And you know what?  I couldn't think of a darn thing!  Sure, there are some things I would LIKE to do.  I would LIKE to learn how to surf.  I would LIKE to learn how to play Enter Sandman by Metallica on the drums.  I would LIKE to visit Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia.  But none of them are burning desires.  If I were to kick the bucket tomorrow I wouldn't feel any worse for not doing any of them.  Which leads me to think that in that case, I must have had a pretty good life so far!

TODAY I LEARNED: Bucket lists might be all the rage but it doesn't mean you haven't lived if you don't have one!

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Apologies that my posts have been a bit few and far between.  I don't always have a plethora of blogs in my head, full of the latest exciting news and I originally thought this was a problem.  Then I realised yesterday that it actually isn't.  I mean, a blog is a blog.  You can write about whatever the heck you like, that's the beauty of it!  So today I'm going to write some things I have never shared with another living soul.  I'm going to write about Luke.

Luke is my firstborn son.  Were he still here, he and I would have been celebrating two big birthdays on December 16th.  My 40th, his 18th.  On the same day.  But while I grow older every day, Luke will never get old.  He will never drive a car, graduate school, go on a date, get drunk or do any of the other things other kids his age get to do.  But who knows, maybe where he is he's doing much more important stuff.  Like watching over his two younger brothers. That's what I like to think anyway.

I'm a great believer that things happen for a reason.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and all that.  But some things I will never understand and losing Luke is one of them.  The thing was, I had an inkling all along that something was going to go wrong but I told myself I was being silly and put it down to first time nerves.  It was only in my later pregnancies that I realised that there were symptoms with Luke which were very different that perhaps would have given a more experienced mum an indication that something was wrong.  But I was 21, just married and my family was on the other side of the world.  None of my friends were having babies yet so I had nobody to compare baby stories with.  The doctor told me everything was progressing well and I thought they were too so I just got on with things and kitted the nursery out in blue as there was no doubt from the 18 week scan that we were having a boy!

Luke was due to be born on February 1st 1995.  The funny thing was, we always knew he was going to be born early - in fact we even joked about it.  'Knowing you, he'll be born on your birthday!' laughed Noel - and I laughed too.  Of course there was no way that was ever going to happen.  My birthday was in December; that was much too early!  Seven weeks early in fact.  But on December 14th 1994 I woke up to find a spider running down my leg.  It turned out to be a very persistent spider because try as I might, it wouldn't go away, no matter how often I brushed it off.  And suddenly I realised that my waters had broken.

I was scared, but excited.  OK, so he was going to be early but let's face it, seven weeks is nothing in this day and age.  The main thing was that we got to hospital in time, which we did.  Once we arrived there, the nurses told me that I was going to have to stay in hospital for the rest of my pregnancy and they were going to do their utmost to keep the baby safely in my tummy until his due date, giving us both medication to strengthen his lungs and prepare him for life on the outside.  I was pretty persisted off at the thought of spending seven weeks in hospital but resigned to my fate.

Luke however was having none of it and as the clock hit midnight on December 16th, I went into labour.  No warning, no gradual build up, just straight into it.  The nurses flatly refused to believe me and by the time they finally got me into the delivery room I was screaming I had to push and they hadn't even called Noel to come into the hospital yet, even though we lived over an hour away.  The doctors were dragged out of bed and rushed in with their hair all standing on end.  It soon became apparent that Luke was breech but there was no time for pain relief.  I still vividly remember thinking I was going to die from the pain but assuring myself the worst that could happen was that I would faint.  I couldn't see the things that Noel could see, like the panic on the doctors' faces that they couldn't get Luke out.  Just as emergency back up was called, my baby made his entrance into the world after a three-hour labour.  The doctor bundled him up and quickly showed him to me.  And Master Luke William Gower immediately stopped crying and stared at me with a pair of intense brown eyes.  I remember thinking at the time how unusual that was - weren't babies' eyes supposed to be blue?  Either way, they were unmistakeablely brown and I thought it was pretty cool that his were different.  That was the first and only time I saw those eyes open.  Then the doctor whisked him off to intensive care, as they had told me would happen.  I didn't mind, I was just happy he was alive and as the pethidine finally kicked in, I settled happily, hearing my baby's tiny plaintive wails further down the corridor.  He was going to be alright.

'Happy birthday!'  giggled all the nurses as they set about making me comfortable.  Oh that's right.  It was my 22nd birthday.  My baby and I had the same birthday, how awesome was that!  They brought me photos of him up to the ward as I wasn't strong enough to go and see him.  It was kind of hard to see him under all the tubes and enormous nappy but he was doing well and besides I honestly wasn't worried.  At four pounds in weight he was by far the heaviest baby in the newborn unit - he was plump for goodness' sake!  Lukey and I would have all the time in the world together.  Until then I looked forward to the frequent reports from his dad and grandparents, who spent hours with him when I couldn't.

What I didn't realise was that while my baby looked perfect on the outside, things were far from perfect on the inside.  Luke's traumatic forceps delivery had resulted in severe brain damage. Had he lived, life would have been an immense struggle for all of us.  But we didn't know any of this until two years later, when the doctor caring for me when I was pregnant with Liam showed me my notes from Luke's birth and informed me I had every right to sue the hospital and he would back me every step of the way.  I didn't.  What would be the point?  Nothing would have brought Luke back. 

My hospital room was buzzing throughout with people that day, all excitedly celebrating mine and Luke's birthday.  In fact there were so many visitors that I began to feel bad.  I wanted to be with my son but I couldn't get away.  Eventually I was able to go to the newborn unit to see him but every time I went I couldn't stand it for long.  I wanted to be with Lukey but it was so unbearably hot and I was still in so much pain from all the stitches I had needed that I just couldn't sit on the stools they had provided next to the incubators.  The first night of Luke's life was endless.  The doctors feared that he had contracted a virus called Strep B, in the 24 hours that he was unprotected between my waters breaking and going into labour.  Apparently up to 25% of adults can have this at any one time but we don't know we even have it.  Unfortunately this is not so for babies; in the majority of cases it is fatal.  As we anxiously waited for the test results nobody knew whether he would make it through the night but we were all overjoyed when he did.

Day Two was the same, another constant stream of visitors and by the time I got down to see Luke, it was almost the end of the day.  The nurse was lovely and so pleased to see me.  'He's been so doing so well all day!' she said excitedly.  I was over the moon and took my seat next to him, stroking his tiny hand  And almost immediately things started to go very, very wrong.  I can't help thinking that he was waiting for me before he felt he could go; the timing was just too uncanny.  Noel and I watched in a daze as alarms rang and a flurry of doctors and nurses rushed to our corner.  It was all over in a matter of minutes.  Before we knew it, we were ushered into another room and our beautiful wee boy had been disconnected from all his tubes, gently wrapped and brought to us to take his final breaths.  The test results were through and Strep B was confirmed but it was too late, not a single soul could do anything about it.  I felt wooden, like a zombie as I held him for a few minutes, then silently passed him over to his dad.  I didn't know what else to do.

The nurses came and took him and asked if I would like to help bathe and dress Luke.  I said no.  To this day I have never forgiven myself.  I robbed myself of the only precious time I would ever get with my baby but I didn't know how to be a mum.  If I had truly thought for one second that he would die, I would have spent every moment with him - but I never honestly believed he would.  If I ever had the chance to say anything to him now, it would be that I hope he knew how much I loved him and wanted him to stay.  That I'm so, so sorry that I handed him over, that I didn't cuddle him for hours when I could have; when I should have.  Poor little guy.  All I can put it down to is that I felt completely numb, everything happened so fast and felt so unreal.  As it turns out, I did learn how to be a mum a couple of years later - a pretty good one I think.

Luke was buried two days later, in the December sunshine, in a tiny cemetery on a hill.  Half the town turned out to support us, from the man who owned the corner shop to the girl who worked in the petrol station.  It was overwhelming and very humbling.  So many people helped us through that time; I know some of them will read this blog and they will always have our love and gratitude for everything that they did.  Shortly after his funeral, we went and placed a bright blue windmill next to his grave.  We kind of liked the thought that there was always something there when we couldn't be.  Gradually, other people started doing the same with their loved ones and before long that little cemetery was covered in brightly coloured windmills.

My birthday has never been the same, it's always tinged with sadness but also happiness because it's the one day I feel close to Luke and nobody can ever take that away.  The hardest part after the funeral was I was terrified that I was going to forget what he looked like.  But it will be 18 years this December and I never have :-)

TODAY I LEARNED: That everything does indeed happen for a reason.  We just don't always know what the hell that reason is.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Highs and lows

Yep, you said it Garfield.  I confess, I've been in a bit of a dark place lately.  You see, it turns out when it comes to money there is broke and broke.  There is the broke where you THINK you're broke and the broke where you really ARE broke.   There have been a lot of times over the years where I have thought I've been broke but none of these have compared to the last month.  I remember reading a discussion on the Simple Savings website not so long ago entitled 'How broke have you been?'  and sat wide-eyed as people described not being able to afford to buy a tube of toothpaste or worse, tampons.  I was horrified.  I couldn't possibly imagine what that was like.  Not being able to afford life's most basic essentials, how bad would that be?  How things have changed since I read those stories.  I apologise for imparting too much information but I can now say that I DO know what it's like not to be able to afford tampons.  And whilst surviving without buying them was empowering in an odd sort of way, it's not really an experience I am keen to repeat.

The good thing about not being able to spend any money whatsover is that the results are rather like Pantene.  It won't happen overnight, but it will happen.  Eventually, your living expenses get to the stage where they are so low that you start to notice the difference in your bank balance.  I'm still waiting for it to get to the stage where we actually get to KEEP some but just knowing that you are actually making a difference is enough to keep you going. 

Which is good, because there have been a few days where I've been gloomier than Eeyore and not even a beach walk has helped.  I guess we all feel like the most useless, worthless being on the planet now and again and I am a champion of beating myself up. Fortunately when this happens I have the love of some wonderful people to talk me out of it.  Except they don't pat me on the shoulder and tell me how nice and lovely I am, or bring me cups of strong, sweet tea.  Instead they make me laugh until I cry and my stomach muscles ache from being doubled over.  They are my boys.

Liam has mercifully made it through the teenage grunting stage and has now progressed to using proper words and sentences once again.  He still doesn't say much as a rule but what he does say is usually hilarious.  When it comes to cheering me up however it's more about the things he does than the things he says.  As any mother of a 15-year-old boy will know, hugs are pretty few and far between so to get one means a lot.  In Liam's case they come in the form of a great bear hug which just about squeezes the life out of me and lifts my feet considerably off the ground.  To get a hug like that - correction - for someone as gloriously and perpetually vague as Liam to even NOTICE that I'm sad enough to need a hug like that - usually means I must look like absolute crap.  Which makes me snap out of it pretty darn quick because I hate for my boys to see me sad.

Ali on the other hand knows exactly which buttons to push to make me laugh.  And I mean literally because usually he'll call me in to show me something funny on YouTube.  Seeing as we're both equally mad he knows instinctively which gems of insanity to share with me, from my favourite Miranda Hart clip to the rather disturbing Dubstep Dentist.  However I think the other day was his biggest triumph yet, and all thanks to the humble iPod Touch.  'Talking Pierre' is an app which features a talking parrot.

Basically, you can record whatever you like into the microphone and he will say it back at you, parrot fashion.  This sounds funny enough in itself when you listen to it but then dear old Pierre started throwing in random words in random places and I was soon an absolute mess.  Once again I was in tears - but this time it was because I was laughing so hard I thought I was going to die.  Ali on the other hand was being heartily congratulated by the rest of the family for being the only person who had successfully pulled me out of my hideous black hole of gloom all day.  Mind you, I think they were kind of over my virtual feathered friend when I was still shrieking with hysterical laughter two hours later!

It goes both ways of course.  Nobody knows how to cheer up my boys when the chips are down better than I do. I've got it down to a fine art, not that it happens very often.  If Ali's the one with the problem we head out with the dogs for a long walk where he can rant and rave to his heart's content.  Or, if I'm feeling really generous I'll let him watch one of my recorded episodes of 'The Weakest Link'.  Precious because usually I have to watch these without him, otherwise all I get is 'MUM!  STOP ANSWERING ALL THE QUESTIONS!' even if they are answers he couldn't possibly know.  By the time we've beaten the rest of the other contestants, slagged them all off for being thicker than us, won £3,000 (being the UK version) and congratulated each other on being true geniuses he's usually stopped worrying about whatever was bothering him in the first place.  With Liam the answer to regaining happiness lies in his stomach.  As yet, I've found there's nothing a potato top pie or a banana split can't fix.  Throw in 'The Inbetweeners' on DVD for good measure and he's soon back to his cheery self. 

We all have highs and lows and our family has adopted a new dinner time regime which we have shamelessly pinched from six university students who are flatting together.  Every day they sit down at dinner and share the high and low points of their day with each other.  I really liked this idea and as soon as the boys reach the dinner table they race each other to say 'Highs and Lows!'  We have found this awesome because let's face it, who REALLY talks about their day?  Aside from the 'Hi honey, I'm home!' or 'Hey, how was school?'  'Alright', how many of us really get beyond that?  Since we have been sharing our highs and lows everyone is communicating much better and we are finding out much more about what is going on in each others' lives and more importantly, how we are all really feeling.  I'm so glad we started doing this and am very grateful for the idea.  Give it a go, you may be very surprised!

TODAY I LEARNED: That there is still a great deal of wisdom to be learned from younger people.  Just don't tell them I said that!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Gaga, ooh lala!

I was shocked a few months back when my best mate called me judgemental.  Judgemental, moi?  You've got to be kidding!  I'm as open minded as - as - OK well as it turns out I am more judgemental than I considered myself to be.  However I had my eyes well and truly opened a few nights ago and all thanks to someone I thought I hated - Lady Gaga!

Whilst I would admit to humming along to some of her songs, on the whole my opinion of Lady Gaga was rather low to say the least.  Here was a person who was making a fortune out of deliberately shocking people - crude, sleazy and on occasion even meaty.  Every time I saw her on TV my reaction was more 'Gaah!' than Gaga.  I honestly thought she was repulsive and when it was announced she was coming to our shores I couldn't imagine anyone I would rather see less.  Until a couple of weeks ago when quite by chance I saw her perform 'Marry the Night' live on the Alan Carr chat show, just her and a piano. I was absolutely gobsmacked.  What a voice!  I literally sat in the lounge with my jaw on the floor - and kicked myself for not getting tickets.

Fortunately for me, as destiny would have it the opportunity presented itself quite unexpectedly to go along to her first Auckland concert and I grabbed it with both hands (oh thank you cousin Jenny I am eternally in your debt *mwah*!) I also grabbed the opportunity to wear the new purple dress which had been sitting in my wardrobe for months, unworn and begging for an outing.  As we made our way to Vector Arena I was worried I was overdressed for the occasion.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

As we entered the venue we were immediately greeted by the most colourful, outlandish throng of people I had ever set eyes on.  There were glow-in-the-dark cats' ears, wigs of every colour, bows intricately woven into the wearer's hair, there were bra-tops, stockings of every description, sparkle, lipgloss, leather, sequins and pearls - and I don't just mean the women.  Ahh yes, I had completely forgotten.  Lady Gaga has a big gay following.  It was like being a fly on the wall at the annual convention of the Village People - and it was brilliant!

You know when people say things like 'I'm not racist, but...' and immediately follow with something which IS totally racist?  I'm embarrassed to admit to being a bit like that when it comes to 'I'm not homophobic, but...'  I have several gay friends who I went to school with and am still friends with today and I was absolutely fine when they 'came out' to me.  I didn't have a problem with it at all and it didn't change my perception of them.  Because I was at a safe distance of 12,000 miles away.  I know, I know, how small minded can you get...

Yet here I was now, laughing and chatting away like old friends with the bloke next to me; a very sweet young chap with stars and butterflies all over his face.  And who could help but notice what surely must have been the outfit of the night - an elderly man with snowy white hair dressed from head to foot in a silver and white sequined suit.  Now that takes a lot of guts! He was having a blast too, bless him and as I looked around I realised something about Lady Gaga that had never crossed my mind before.  She brings people together.  All kinds of people.

Suddenly the curtain lifted and we were greeted with the sight of an enormous Gothic castle.  Before we knew it, the great Gaga was making an entrance on her unicorn (as you do) and 12,000 people were immediately gobsmacked, just as I had been in my lounge a few weeks before.  Her voice was amazing; powerful and flawless throughout, which was no small feat when you consider how much she was dancing and jumping around.  Even when she was singing upside down she never missed a beat!

Once again I was impressed.  Yep, this was what we had all bought our tickets for.  OK, it was weird - how many singers do you know who actually give birth to themselves on stage?  Or shove their dancers into a giant mincer and appear in the next instant sitting on a meat couch (yes, you read right) wearing a meat dress?  But hey, I expected her to be weird.  What I didn't expect was for her to be so... nice.

I've been to a fair few concerts in my time.  Everything from *cringe* New Kids on the Block when I was 16 to Jimmy Barnes, Robbie Williams and the Eagles - even Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. I am nothing if not cultured!  But I have never witnessed an artist take so much time to talk to their audience and make them feel special before.  If you're lucky you might get a 'WE LOVE YOU AUCKLAND!' or 'EVERYBODY PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!' but not Lady Gaga.  Instead, she sat on her motorbike - which, naturally had a piano built inside - and talked to us for around 15 minutes.  Except she didn't just talk, she  inspired us.  This woman was so humble, so genuinely grateful for everything she has and just wanted to give us the best show possible.  More than anything, she wanted us - this big, colourful crowd of Village People - to embrace our differences and not be scared of being ourselves.  And why not.  After all, look at where it got her!

She picked out individual people in the crowd and invited them backstage, much to the delight of the crowd.  She would be in the middle of a song and all of a sudden spot someone and say 'Look at you, you're so pretty! Oh don't cry, you'll ruin your Judas t-shirt!'  A definite high point of the night was when she interrupted a song to go and chat to a 78 year-old man and his wife.  'Look, you're probably wondering what on earth you're doing here and have thought about leaving at least 10 times already.  I understand if you would rather just sit here than dance.  I just want you to know that I think you're lovely and thank you for coming'.  By the end of the show, that same guy had his jacket off and was dancing his heart out.  Like I said, Lady Gaga brings all kinds of people together.

I left the concert buzzing.  It had been an incredible show and no mistake, but not just for the music and the special effects.  The lasting memories are of the woman herself.  I learned a lot that night about so many things and I am so very glad I went.  I guess you could say my opinion of Lady Gaga has undergone a complete turnaround - and I'll be first in line for tickets next time she comes to Auckland!

TODAY I LEARNED: Never judge a book by its cover.  Even if it's covered in meat.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Beaten by Beeton

A couple of years ago my mum presented me with a dog-eared copy of 'Mrs Beeton's Everyday Cookery and Housekeeping Book' dated 1894.  I was a very excited recipient, not least because I would finally get to see what all the fuss with the legendary Mrs B was about, but also because I saw it as a surefire way to make my fortune.  In my mind I was guaranteed a spot as the next Julie Powell.  I would follow in her footsteps, cook my way through all 1000+ pages of recipes and merrily blog my journey, gaining squillions of fans as I did so.  Before I knew it Warner Bros would be knocking on my door begging for movie rights and Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock would be fighting over who would get to play the character of yours truly. 

Unfortunately this was before I had taken a good look at the revered recipes inside.  I had imagined a glorious anthology of timeless classics which would make everyone's mouth water just as Julia Child's had done.  Instead I opened the book at page 91 and was faced with my first obstacle - 'Calf's Head, Moulded' - closely followed by 'Calf's Head, To Carve'.  Ohh my giddy aunt.  I'm not even going to share the full instructions with you as they would turn even the strongest stomachs, even without the diagram which contains FAR too much information.  As to serving suggestions however, 'the eye and the flesh round are favourite morsels with many, and should be given to those at the table who are known to be the greatest connoisseurs.  On a separate dish there is always served the tongue and brains and each guest should be asked to take some of these'.  I can just picture the rush at our family dinner table over that, along with boiled marrow bones, whole sparrows or roast leveret (baby hare) for that matter, washed down with a generous glass of egg wine!  Egads!

It's not just the ingredients which proved challenging - I mean what on earth is 'flead' and where do I get it to make my flead crust? - it was the instructions themselves that were so lacking I wondered upon reading the recipes if I would ever actually be able to complete ANY of them.  For example 'as much honey as will flavour the mixture nicely' or 'sufficient pounded sugar to sweeten', I mean how long is a piece of string?  And how hot is 'a good oven' temperature?  Dodgy quantities aside though, I love all the old fashioned terms.  For example, to make beef curry one needs 'a few slices of tolerably lean cold roast beef' and you can be assured that when you go to make any one of the many cake recipes that you'll know exactly what it's for, such as 'Nice Useful Cake' and 'Common Cake, Suitable for sending to Children at School'.  

Mrs Beeton was nothing if not organised bless her, and should I ever be able to make any of her recipes I will never have to worry about what to cook for dinner thanks to her handy menu planner, with such gems as Lark Pie and Roast Ptarmigan topping the billing, complete with French translation if I really want to impress the household!  The parts I love best however which are a real joy to read are the chapters on household management, which recommends everything from the best time to serve meals to cultivating a good relationship between mistress and servant.  Speaking of which, I wish I'd had dear old Mrs Beeton's book around when my kids were small.  Not that I wish them to be servants you understand, but they would have been experts at setting the table and cleaning their rooms from a much earlier age!

All things considered though I feel I must admit defeat.  Alas I will NOT be following in the footsteps of Julie Powell a la Julie and Julia, instead I have been resoundingly beaten by Beeton.  Mind you upon learning that the poor woman contracted syphilis from her husband and died at just 28 I have decided that I would rather be me, servants or no servants.  And besides, as it turns out I can't even make an old fashioned steamed from the modern day Edmonds cookery book!  Full of nostalgia for the yummy, sticky golden syrup puddings my mum used to make me, I was keen to share this childhood memory with my boys.  The recipe was easy enough, it was tying the blasted string around the bowl to keep the foil lid on which proved most challenging!  By the time I had got it to stay put and refrain from ricocheting off the bottom of the bowl the air in the kitchen was a brilliant shade of blue but I did it and triumphantly popped it into the biggest pot that I had. 

Well, I figured that was what I was supposed to do; to be honest the Edmonds people were about as clear with their instructions as Mrs Beeton.  It said the recipe was for a 'steamed pudding' but it didn't actually tell you HOW to steam it.  I had no idea whether I was supposed to bring the water to a boil before plopping the pudding in and let it simmer, or chuck it in and bring it all to the boil or what!  Still, it looked alright to me as it bubbled away and before I knew it, the cooking time was done.  Or so I thought.  Upon excitedly removing the foil I was gutted to find just a big brown gooey mess - a bit like when you make bread and you're waiting for the yeast to rise.  'Stuff this, I'll finish it off in the microwave!' I said huffily.  Five minutes later it was done.  It looked and felt like a concrete brick and the syrup, which I remember being all warm and drizzly on top of the pudding had all evaporated IN to the pudding and was dry as a bone.  On the positive side the kids had never eaten it before so didn't know what they were missing and attacked it with their usual enthusiasm.  Even so, from now on I'll be sticking to Aunt Betty's!

TODAY I LEARNED: That progress is sometimes a very good thing!