Strictly Come Dancing.

Courtesy of thisisbigbrother.com

Courtesy of thisisbigbrother.com

It’s become a bit of a Saturday night tradition in our house this autumn, that we all sit in our pyjamas (now there’s an image) watching Strictly Come Dancing.

My girls adore Strictly, and the dark nights and cosy appeal of the fire, combined with the safety of Tess and Claudia’s familiar presentation, serve to keep them enthralled all evening.

I must admit that at this early stage of the programme, I usually find my mind wandering part way through. There are too many couples and not much of a competitive element, so I prefer it when things have warmed up a tad. Nevertheless, I enjoy the mindless reverie, the therapeutic snuggliness of autumn nights with the promise of Christmas to come, as well as the sense of family that surrounds the ethos of Strictly.

It was a hideous shock therefore to have to witness 53 year old Daniel O’Donnell pretending to be a teenager whilst strictly prancing to Summer Lovin’. What was THAT all about?

It’s a rare day that my gag reflex is induced by something on the television that does not involve gore, but my skin crawled as I watched it. And this in itself was one of the very worst bits about it, in that it made for compelling viewing. In the same hideous way that some people enjoy watching blackheads being squeezed on Youtube, I found myself unable to fully disengage from the visual and emotional disturbance that was being played out in front of me.

As for Daniel’s poor dance partner, she’s earned every penny of whatever her salary entails simply for managing not to sprint as fast her lithe legs could carry her, straight off the stage, into the nearest London cab, never to dance again.

The sight of O’Donnell, mouth hanging open in what I presume to be a heinous attempt at a Travolta cum Elvis lip curl, but more closely resembling one who had been for root canal surgery and administered with too much anaesthetic, was a sight to behold (from behind a cushion.)

The cringe factor of his hip thrusts was up there with when Cliff Richard played Heathcliff. And don’t get me started on that travesty of literary depiction. On the one hand we have Cliff, and then, on the other, a few years later, Tom Hardy. Hands up ladies, whose window would you prefer to claw at on the moors? That’s right, get lost Cliff. And whilst I’m at it, good riddance Daniel, too.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 27th October 2015.

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Halloween: that one time of the year when we actively encourage kids to beg for sweets from strangers.

Courtesy of someecards.com

Courtesy of someecards.com

Halloween is nearly upon us and, to my children, this means two things: dressing up and scoffing sweets. When laid bare, these two activities aren’t quite as innocuous as they first appear.

For starters, the ‘dressing up’ consists of being clad in highly flammable costumes that look, to my adult eye at least, about as confortable as sitting down for the evening and watching Fifty Shades of Grey with your Nan.

Secondly, the ‘scoffing sweets’ involves, aside from enough sugar to power a rocket, the receiving of said goodies from total strangers. In any other context, it’s utterly wrong.

“Don’t accept sweets from strangers!” we cry on the one hand, whilst actively encouraging our poor, confused offspring, to not only accept sweets from strangers, but to trawl up and down the city in the dark, knocking on their doors and begging for them.

My girls adore the Trick or Treat aspect of Halloween, and my husband usually decorates the front of our house with huge ghosts (a balloon under an old white sheet goes a long way in Lush Land). We go out with friends, and we knock only on the doors of people that are actively participating.

However, last year, my little ones realized exactly why it is called ‘trick’ or treating, and not just ‘treats, please.’ For when we returned from our nocturnal travels up and down the road, we found our house (pumpkin unlit to signify no callers whilst we were out), smothered in raw egg. Not that I’d have expected them to have been lightly scrambled first of course, after all, I’m guessing it wasn’t Ainsley Harriot who threw farm produce at my windows. But what I would have expected, is a modicum of respect for the fact that this is somebody’s property, a house that clearly has little children living in it, and that those little children, before they return home to answer their own door with their mummy and daddy, are out innocently enjoying themselves.

Nor am I one to stereotype teenagers – I work with young people. I find them witty, gregarious, and fun, and usually extremely polite. But on the other hand, I don’t think any OAPs were likely to have been practicing their bowling on my house instead of the local green, using half a dozen of an organic chicken’s finest, and a swift overarm.

I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for an egg-free front door this year, and an easy time for our more elderly neighbours.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 20th October 2015

Happiness: Is Your Glass Half-Full?

Courtesy of linkedin.com

Courtesy of linkedin.com

I’m generally a happy person and my glass is half-full. In fact, I’m so adept at consciously trying to appreciate the minutiae of life, that my glass practically spilleth over in comparison to millions of people across the world.

If I wake up in a grumpy mood, I try hard to think to myself that I am being silly, and I turn my thoughts instead to the umpteen, literally myriad things, that I have to feel ridiculously happy about.

These might include tiny things, such as the fact that it is autumn, my favourite season, or that I can already begin to look forward to picking my girls up from school in the afternoon.

I enjoy the sensation, as I assume most of us are evolutionarily programmed to, of being happy, and sometimes we just need to consciously remind ourselves of all the beautiful things in our lives, as opposed to simply the stresses and strains of 21st century living.

This week has been a busy week for me, and when I arrived in work this morning I was definitely near to losing my positive thoughts, but I am lucky enough to work in a place where even the staff are like an extension of family. No sooner had I bemoaned my morning, than my colleagues had cheered me up, to the extent of my laughing very hard – and what better cure is there than that?

Not only did they make me laugh, they also empathized, and actively sought solutions to my daft woes, and then, a few minutes later, my colleague Sandi did something even sweeter.

Sandi came over to the desk where I was sitting, and presented me with a bunch of stunning roses and lilies that somebody had given her. She knew I needed cheering up, and she literally passed her own little piece of happiness on to me. Such a kind and selfless act, and I was incredibly touched.

I am so lucky in my life to be surrounded by such a supportive family. My husband and my mum, and my closest friends, totally have my back, and I theirs. My colleagues are the strongest team of people that I’ve ever been fortunate enough to work with, sharing one core goal which is caring for the students we are privileged enough to teach, and I have a career that I love. I have also been lucky enough not to be touched by the black dog of depression, thus far anyway.

Not everyone is so fortunate, and that’s not a cliché, it’s simply a truth that we all need to remember some days. We won’t always be happy, sometimes life drags you lower than you ever imagined possible, so recognise those sweet times, cling to the good, and package them up in memory for the days when living hits you hard.

Be happy.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 13th October 2015

The Art of Keeping Secrets. Or, when to stay schtum.

Courtesy of quotes gram.com

Courtesy of quotes gram.com

Ssh, come a little closer… Can you keep a secret?

Or, come to think of it, can you keep other people’s secrets?

When was the last time that a friend told you something, in confidence, and you kept it entirely to yourself? Can you think of a time when you breathed not a word to anyone?

Secrets are a little bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, in terms of children and secrets, they can be both innocuous, such as “I broke the pen”, or malignant, such as “our little secret,” and all the horror that this may entail to the vigilant adult mind.

Subsequently, it’s a little tricky to teach your children when to tell and when not to. Secrets are a sensitive issue, because keeping secrets can be dangerous for our children, but it can also be the sign of a very good friend.

Think for a moment of a time when you have had to speak to someone about an issue that is causing you stress. This is usually highly personal stuff; finances, relationships, employment and so on. It’s all very well if you speak knowing that this is open information, but if you’ve imparted this in total confidence, and sworn a friend to secrecy, then the very least you expect is that it will go no further.

Think again of all the times you’ve sat and listened to somebody tell you about one of their friends, and that particular friend’s finances, relationships, or employment woes. Is that person somebody that you would class as a ‘good’ friend, or merely a person who thrives from the thrill of spilling secrets that translate as cheap gossip? Because it’s one thing keeping our own secrets, for self-preservation, but it suddenly seems less crucial when it involves someone else’s life or reputation.

Alternatively, perhaps you work in a sensitive environment that demands confidence and discreet behaviour, and so are adept are keeping confidences? Or maybe you pride yourself on an ability to keep schtum for your friends, allowing them to off-load on you when necessary, without fear of your spreading their life like verbal manure on the roots of gossipville.

It is a sensitive line to tread and an indistinct one to impart to our children, yet it is also surprisingly important. If they cannot be trustworthy and respectful and able to keep confidences, then they will not be good friends or citizens, yet, as parents, we feel a need to know what is afoot in their lives, whilst respecting their privacy. Not as easy as it sounds, as many a parent has discovered when faced with a diary or a mobile that their teenager has left lying around.

I suppose, at the end of the day, we need to teach our children to keep themselves, and their friends, safe. Anything that makes them scared, or worried, or uncomfortable, is the time to speak to a trustworthy adult. Modelling a culture at home that includes openness and non-judgmental attitudes will help… and, of course, resisting the peek in the diary to see who they fancy this week.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 6th October 2015