Welcome to Musings on the Mundane! The world as depicted in the media can often seem dark and overwhelming. So join me and my blog posts to marvel in the mundane and laugh at the little things in life.



The Corona Chronicles: Week 2: Keeping a neighbourly distance

It’s breakfast and Grunting Teen is complaining about the extra, after-school GCSE input.

‘No one else will be there, Mum,’ he groans, ‘it’s optional. We don’t have to go.’

I sigh. Is it worth a battle? But the Nearly-Beloved has strong moral principles.

‘You’re going mate and that’s that. If your teacher’s bothered to give up her time to help, then the least you can do is turn up. It pays to do the right thing.’

Grunting Teen gives one of those grunts that signifies both capitulation and contempt, and slams his way out of the house.

The Nearly-Beloved heads off to his new home-office and I decide to get to grips with the shopping situation. Last night’s news coverage of panic-buying has reminded me why I avoid the big supermarkets at Christmas, and so I opt to support our local traders instead.

I amble down to our small supermarket, where the shelves have seen fuller days but there’s still some choice available. As I round the aisle, I bump into a neighbour from across the road.

‘Oh, hello, how lovely to see you,’ we chorus in unison before springing back like startled rabbits when we remember the new social distancing rule.

So, as she stays in the safe vicinity of the jammie dodgers, I hunker down with the cream crackers and we talk about how strange life is and how there’s no pasta or loo rolls to be found.

‘I’ve got loo rolls if you need any,’ says a familiar face appearing over the top of the canned soup display.

‘And I saw pasta down at the Whole Food shop,’ says another voice from the bowels of the freezer section.

I smile. I don’t think the Nearly-Beloved’s ready for the healthy variety yet. But this is so nice! It’s a neighbours’ impromptu get-together. Too often, in our busy lives, we rush past each other but now we spend a pleasant ten minutes catching up on gossip until we realise there’s a queue forming outside.

‘I’ll forward you the video on how to wash your hands,’ beams next-door-but-one as she leaves the shop and we all agree we’ll have a massive street party once this is all over.

Returning home, I see the Nearly-Beloved about to get in the car.

‘Where are you off to?’ I ask.

‘The office. I forgot an important file.’

I seize the opportunity. ‘Great. I’ll come with you and we can pop in at a bigger store. I really do need to get some loo roll and pasta if I can.’

However, I later regret this decision as the Nearly-Beloved hasn’t stepped foot in a supermarket for over a decade and cannot comprehend the concept of stock-piling.

‘This is ridiculous,’ he says, reading the labels on the empty shelves, ‘why is there no bread? Where’s the pasta and rice? Why are people buying jars of Bolognese sauce?’

Why indeed? But there are two left and I’m having them. I’m not sure how this fits into my weekly menu-planning but I fill my basket all the same.

We head for the check-out, with the Nearly-Beloved spouting the government line that if only people would buy what they needed, there’d be enough for everybody.

‘Where’s the assistant?’ he asks, not realising this is a self-check-out.

I ignore him and start scanning. This grabs the Nearly-Beloved’s attention. He likes a gadget and reckons I’ve got my technique all wrong.

‘Here let me do it,’ he says, relegating me to the packing.

‘Unidentified item in the bagging area,’ screams the screen and an assistant magically appears. He takes one look at the Nearly-Beloved and shakes his head sympathetically at me before turning off the alarm.

I grab the chips and put them in my bag.

‘I haven’t scanned those,’ objects my soon-to-be-ex.

‘Item has been scanned,’ intones the machine,

‘Or those,’ he says as I pick up the jars of sauce.

‘Item has been scanned,’ mocks the monotone voice.

‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ I say pressing the pay-key and swiping my card, ‘let’s get out of here.’

Back home the Nearly-Beloved brandishes the till-receipt in my face.

‘See, I told you! You’ve made me shop-lift! I’ll have to go back and pay now.’

‘Seriously?’

‘Seriously. It pays to do the right thing you know.’

And our social-distancing for the rest of the day turns out to be surprisingly easy…

Luckily, the hand-washing video pings into my feed to keep me occupied. It shows a nurse in surgical gloves, covered in paint which represents the virus. She demonstrates how to effectively get rid of it all. Flippin’ ‘eck, this is taking more than two rounds of Happy Birthday! Perhaps I’d better have a go myself.

I furtle round in the craft cupboard, last used with the sweet child that used to be Grunting Teen, and come across a bottle of red poster paint. That’ll do nicely. I get to work on my Corona-catching mission.

The door thumps open.

‘Told you! I was the only one there!’ grunts the teenager.

‘At least you had one-to-one attention,’ I call back, half-way through my tenth round of the birthday song.

‘Yeah, well. Miss did seem pleased with me,’ he says, coming into the kitchen, ‘Oh God! Mum! What’s happened? Dad, come quickly! Mum’s injured. There’s blood everywhere!’

The Nearly-Beloved appears in the doorway and rolls his eyes at me.

‘Don’t worry about your mother, son. You should listen to the news. They’re closing the schools on Friday and your GCSEs have been cancelled. Apparently, you’re going to get grades based on teacher assessment. Good job you went to that after-school session. It pays to do the right thing.’

And to celebrate my son’s top marks in Business Studies, we have a delicious meal of chips and Bolognese sauce, followed by a handful of indigestion tablets.

The Corona Chronicles: Week 1: Gold-medallist hoarders beat me to prize sanitiser

These are strange and worrying times that we’re currently living through and we have a choice of being overwhelmed by fear or of trying to ‘find the message in the mess.’

Today – because tomorrow, who knows? – I’ve decided to put a positive spin on the situation and find the ‘crown in the corona’ and the ‘victory in the virus’.

Unfortunately, I’ve fallen behind in the stockpiling stakes, so soap, sanitiser and paracetamol have already been bagged by the gold-medallist-hoarders with their triple-decker trolleys, leaving me to raid the booby-prize shelf, with its oven cleaner, wasp spray and indigestion tablets.

Back home I spray the chemical cocktail randomly around. It’s pretty potent and before long my lungs have taken a hit. I decide that a walk in the fresh air is just what I need. There are a few pedestrians out and about but, as I cough up the waspy oven cleaner, they magically disappear and I have the streets to myself. It’s remarkably peaceful without the usual traffic noise, and the air tastes clean and fresh. With no office to rush to, I have the time to admire the miniature daffodils, nodding their golden heads appreciatively at this new world order.

Zen peace doesn’t last long though as, on my return, I discover the Nearly-Beloved, rummaging through the kitchen cupboards

‘What are you doing here?’ I ask nervously.

‘We’ve all got to work from home – ‘it’s meant to be safer, more hygienic.’ 

His expression suggests otherwise, as he’s had over 30 years to realise my limitations as a housewife and my personal immunity-building strategy of exposing the family to as much dirt and bacteria as possible.

‘Ah, found some!’ he shouts victoriously and from the space under the u-bend of the sink, he conjures up 2 bars of coal-tar soap, circa 1998.

‘At least we’ll be able to wash our hands now! And maybe if you do a bit of de-cluttering, who knows what else you’ll find.’

And the Mr Right I married turns out, as usual, to be Mr Always Right. As I visit storage places last opened in the 20th century, I discover a bottle of disinfectant, nozzle missing – but beggars can’t be choosers – and a pocket-sized anti-bacteria gel, wrapped up in a nappy sack. I feel like I’ve won the lottery!

And even more so when a note pops through the door, suggesting we start a neighbourhood Whatsapp group to look out for each other in the community. It feels good to know that the media portrayal of selfish individualism is not, in fact, the case and that strangers can still open their arms, metaphorically at least.

However, when I open my arms to the Grunting Teen, on his return from school, he recoils in horror. ‘Mum, you’re old and decrepit! I’m not supposed to go near you!’

‘I assume you’re showing concern for the potential risk you may cause to us?’ I say, pointing him towards the bathroom.

It feels almost festive as I hear him singing the government-prescribed, two rounds of ‘Happy Birthday’ upstairs. Just a shame that, instead of the homely aroma of baking cake, there’s a pervasive scent of tarmacked road.

‘Mum’, he says plaintively, peering over at me from the landing, ‘are you going to die?’

‘Well of course I’m going to die,’ I reply, looking at his shocked face, ‘it’s the one given in life. And that’s why it’s important for each of us to contemplate this fact, decide how we feel about it and what we believe. You know, ‘die before you die’. That way it really makes you appreciate every moment of life you’ve been gifted, so you use it wisely and don’t waste it…’

My words, apparently, haven’t reduced his anxiety. I try a different tack.

‘Listen, 96% of people recover completely from this illness and, if I get it, then I intend to be one of them. Because, if I peg it, your big sister will inherit a teenager and I couldn’t possibly do that to her.’

In response, there’s a grunt and a ‘Can I go on the PS4 then, mum?’

Whilst the boys are otherwise engaged, I crack on with the cooking duties. I’ve not done a good job on stocking up for the current crisis. But down the cellar I do have random supplies in case of a ‘hard Brexit’. So, dinner tonight is a medley of tinned chili con carne – sell by date 2019 – and a packet of reconstituted mashed potato, followed by some healthy peaches in syrup. Thank goodness for those indigestion tablets – far more useful than paracetamol!

And even more gratitude comes my way as, in the spirit of ‘social distancing’, Grunting Teen retreats to his Cave, the Nearly-Beloved finds solace in his CD collection, leaving me to retrieve the Christmas Quality Street and binge-watch season 3 of The Crown.

All is well, as long as I retain my sense of humour … And if we all survive until the summer, then you’re invited to a BBQ at mine – no wasps guaranteed!

Speaking the Lingo

I am in a restaurant in Galicia, Northern Spain – an area popular with Spanish tourists but not yet geared up towards the UK market in terms of communicative ease.

That suits me though.

I have never been your typical Brit abroad, who assumes that if you shout loudly and slowly enough, then even an imbecile will understand your mother tongue.

No, I have an ‘O’ level in Spanish and although that was over 30 years ago, I am determined to make myself understood and show my 13-year-old that it’s both easy and cool to get by in a foreign language.

The problem is, that although I spent the week before my holiday flicking through an ancient school text book, with useful sections on ‘my family’, ‘the weather’ and ‘plants and animals’, I didn’t make it as far as the chapter on ‘food’! Never mind – I am nothing if not a great improviser.

The waitress comes over and I flash her my brightest smile.

Please, Mum! the teenager begs in anguish, as he sinks below table level ‘Just ask her in English’.

I sigh. It’s hard being the mother of an adolescent!  Do I satisfy my desire to try out my linguistic skills or risk embarrassing my son? I reach a compromise.

Hablas ingles? I ask politely.

The waitress looks alarmed and backs away slightly. ‘No!’ she states categorically.

‘See, she doesn’t speak English.’ I explain, dragging my boy upwards. ‘So if you want to eat, you’re just going to have to let me order. Now you and Dad wanted steak and chips and I’m going to have some seafood.  How difficult can that be?! I’ll just ask her a few questions. It’ll be fine.’

I turn to the waitress, who is hovering reluctantly nearby. I point at the ‘gambas’, which I hope are shrimps and ask confidently.

 ‘This fishing…’

I stop suddenly. I’ve forgotten the phrase for ‘does it come with’. Not to worry, I will paraphrase.

‘This fishing. Does it live with green vegetation?’

The waitress erupts into a coughing fit, then replies at speed with a very long and incomprehensible sentence that includes the word ‘ensalata’ – ‘salad’. I nod in agreement and she writes down my order.

Encouraged by this initial success, I point at ‘costilla de Angus’. I am guessing it is an Aberdeen Angus steak. Still it’s always better to check.

‘Is this cow or pig?’  I ask, throwing in a helpful ‘moo’ and ‘grunt’ for good effect, ignoring the adolescent who now has his hands over his face and is mumbling ‘Please let this not be happening. Please let this not be happening’.

The waitress is having trouble composing herself. Perhaps I have given her too much to think about, so I decide to simplify my question.

‘Is it cow?

She nods, obviously not trusting herself to speak. I continue enthusiastically.

The cow. Does it live with green vegetation or chips?’

The waitress replies with a tirade of rapid fire Spanish amongst which I cling on to the word ‘patatas’ and assume all is well for the steak and chips, so I confidently order ‘two cows and chips for my wife and the child’.

Linguistically incompetent husband is looking at me admiringly as if I were a seasoned UN interpreter, ‘Don’t forget the drinks,’ he reminds me.

Ah yes. ‘2 beers and a cola’ trip off my tongue with such fluency that even the 13-year-old is now back on board, albeit to make my life more complicated with his diva demand   –  ‘Can you ask for ice in it Mum please?’

‘Ice’? Now that’s a tricky one! But I need to demonstrate to him how effortless language learning is, so I frantically search my brain for vocabulary linked to ‘ice’. Of course! Weather words! They will be close enough for her to work it out.

I beam confidently at the waitress and ask, ‘The cola lives with is it snowing?’

Blank stare.

I try again, wrapping my arms around me and mimicking a shiver.

‘The cola. Please bring with winter’.

No … she’s still not got it. Honestly – I don’t even think she’s trying that hard!

So I launch into an Oscar winning performance of dropping ice cubes into a glass and then in a flash of inspiration with a word whose difficulty level deserves an A* grade at the very least, I shout out ‘Hailstones! Put hailstones in the cola please!

The waitress looks at me in disbelief, then in a sudden lightbulb moment, she understands what I mean, nods abruptly, wipes away a tear of emotion for my performance from her cheek and rushes off to sort out our order.

She returns shortly after with the 2 beers and for some reason makes a great play of rattling the ice cubes in the coke. Still, I want to thank her for her patience in communicating with me, so I point happily at the beers.

2 beers. Very good’ I say.

‘2 beers?’ she repeats in confusion.

‘Yes, yes – 2 beers’ I reply, waving her away. Honestly, she seems to have lost it again! Still the beer is good, the teenager has ice and the food is on its way, so all in not yet lost.

A short time later the waitress reappears bringing 2 more beers, 2 plates of ribs with boiled potatoes, a dish of prawns with vegetables and a humungous salad that fills the entire table.

‘Mum!’ my disappointed son wails, ‘that’s not steak and chips!’

The waitress looks at me with slightly less patience than before.

‘Vale?’ she asks with raised eyebrows.

‘Va?’ ‘Le?’ No – neither word is registering for the moment. I plunge deep into my polyglot memory. French – that will do. ‘Va’ – ‘go’. ‘Le’ – ‘the/it/them?’

Oh I see! She’s realised her mistake about the extra beers, she must be asking if she should take them away.

Yes, yes. 2 beers. Take them away!’

The waitress frowns and looks at me with a hint of contempt before stomping off, deliberately ignoring the beers and muttering something about ‘los ingleses’ and ‘cervezas’ under her breath.

‘What did she say about the steak and chips?’ the teenager demands.

I swig back my beer before answering. If I admit I haven’t a clue what’s going on, he will lose all confidence in my language abilities, so I do what all great interpreters should and make it up.

‘She said she’s very sorry but they’ve run out of steak and chips. The ribs are the house speciality and they come with potatoes from their own garden, which are famed for their flavour. Honestly, love, don’t make a scene and show us Brits in a bad light! Your meal looks delicious and you can always fill up on that lovely salad’.

Minutes later the waitress is back and unceremoniously plonks 2 more beers down on the table.

Monlingual husband looks non-plussed.

‘Why has she brought us 6 beers?’ he hisses, ‘Does she think all Brits are alcoholics?

To be honest, I have no idea but I am half way through my 2nd beer and past caring.

No, no,’ I improvise, ‘It’s just to thank us for not making a fuss about her messing up our order’.

3 beers later and, whilst the salad remains intact, the ribs and shrimps have been declared ‘really tasty’, and desserts have been ordered effortlessly (due to the helpful photos that accompanied the sweets menu).

English speaking husband has been so seduced by his slice of local cake that I have asked them to wrap up a whole one to take back with us. ‘It’s a bit pricy love’, he argues when I tell him it will cost 7 euros – but it is artisan, a regional delicacy and after all, we are on holiday…

It’s just as well then that it is me who asks for ‘the receipt please’, as I quickly sober up when I realise that I have misheard ‘siete’ – 7 – for ‘dieciesiete’ -17-and that we are now taking home the most expensive almond dessert in Europe, on top of paying for the 4 extra beers and salad!

Much to the lazy teenager’s annoyance I decide it’s such a beautiful evening we should walk back to the apartment rather than taking a taxi. But half an hour in and he’s refusing to go any further unless he can refuel his adolescent, hollow legs with an ice-cream.

We are passing a ‘heladeria’- ice cream shop. I stop. I hesitate.

Yes, I may think I’m a linguist but there’s a limit to all things.

 As the assistant smiles helpfully at me and asks ‘Que quieres?’, I point at the tub of pink ice cream and bellow very loudly and slowly in my best English, ‘A STRAAAW-BERRYYYY, ICE-CREAMMM, PLEEEASE!’

The City Divide

Musings on the Mundane

Welcome to Musings on the Mundane! The world as depicted in the media can often seem dark and overwhelming. So join me and my blog posts to marvel in the mundane and laugh at the little things in life.

The city divide


‘Are you s-s-s-sure this is s-s-s-safe?’

Helicopter Mother winds down the window and sniffs the air to detect any hint of danger.

‘It’s just a park!’

I’m already beginning to regret inviting Marcus’ mum on this day out! Although, to be fair, due to her lack of trust in my parenting style of ‘benign neglect’, she rather invited herself!

I know! But we’ve never been this side of the city before!’

Ah yes – we live in a divided city, where those in the affluent south can expect to live an extra ten years longer than their neighbours in the north. A shocking statistic but one that today I hope to take advantage of.

You see, it’s holiday time again and I’ve exhausted all ideas of how to entertain an eight-year-old. Due to government cuts, the park ranger programme of Easter events, which used to be city wide, is now only running in certain areas. I pay my taxes and, as a true Yorkshire lass, I want my money’s worth – so here we are today!

‘Wow mum! Look at that adventure playground!

The boys pile out of the car and race delightedly towards the zip-wire in the distance, oblivious to the frantic shouts of ‘Marcus! Your inhaler darling!’

We mothers make up the rear-guard, with our rucksacks full of provisions and hand sanitiser, and set up camp on a bench.

‘Look at the great views! And we’ve practically got the park to ourselves!’

Helicopter Mother does not share my delight. She’s on high alert and her radar has detected a potential threat. Over in the corner, shielded from normal view, at the top of an awesome slide is a group of dodgy-looking teenagers, all greasy-haired attitude and foul-mouthed posturing.

                          

Marcus comes running over.

Mummy – those big boys are smoking! And we can’t get past them – they’re blocking the tunnel. They’re scary. Can we go home now?’

My own Small Child shrugs his shoulders – ‘We could always go on the seesaw or the climbing frame…

Helicopter Mother starts packing away her organic fruit’n’nut snacks but I’m not ready to give up yet – we’ve only just arrived for heaven’s sake! It’s time to bite the bullet – they’re only teenagers after all – not wild animals!

I wander over nonchalantly towards the slide – small boys following at a safe distance.

Excuse me lads!’ I cough hesitantly in the direction of the teenagers.

‘You talking to us Mrs?’

Acne-face blows a stream of smoke in my direction.

‘Err – yes that’s right. I wonder if you could help out. These little boys here want to have a go on the slide but they’re a bit nervous about getting through the tunnel.’

‘Is that right then?’

Acne-face peers down aloofly, then his eyes light up as he catches sight of Small Child.

‘How old are you mate?’

‘I’m eight.’

‘Aah, is that right? Same age as my little brother.’

‘Is he here? Can we play with him?’

‘Nah – he’s in Care.’

Acne-face jumps down from the slide. Small Child is impressed.

‘Wow you’re like a ninja!’

‘That’s right. We’re all ninja warriors, aren’t we gang?’

One by one the rest of the ninjas jump down and surround our two boys. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Helicopter Mother frantically searching through her bag.

‘Do you want to play with us?’

Acne-face laughs.

‘Yeah – why not? Do you want us to push you on the roundabout?’

And off they disappear, whooping and karate-chopping, ninja style to the other side of the playground, just as Helicopter Mother rushes up, brandishing a mace spray.

‘It’s alright.’ I say, ‘the natives are friendly! Shall we leave them and go and get a coffee from that van over there.

Helicopter Mother looks as if I’ve suggested 1st degree murder.

‘Ok – you stay here. I’ll go and get the coffees.’

I’m on my way back when a police van pulls up and, as the officer gets out, Acne-face and his gang pelt past me in the opposite direction, leaving our boys looking sad and abandoned.

Perhaps it’s time now to search out the Park rangers and their advertised activities?

We head up to the small, multi-cultural queue that has formed to try the tree climbing. Small Child, who has had climbing lessons for over a year now, scales the ladder in seconds, whilst Marcus is still struggling to put on the safety helmet his mother has insisted he wear.

 A slightly podgy Asian child is making his way painfully slowly up the rungs. When he finally reaches the top, he breaks out into the biggest smile I’ve ever seen! I smile back encouragingly. Small Child is not impressed.

‘Why are you smiling at him mum – he was rubbish!

‘And so were you when you first started!’ I hiss back.

Gradually the park that was once empty, is starting to fill up. News of the events has filtered through. A throng of pasty-looking children have prised themselves away from Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, to experience the unknown delights of fresh air and wholesome activities.

Life and a festive atmosphere is being breathed into the park.

The catering van is doing great business in cheap burgers, hot dogs and ice-creams and Small Child looks on enviously as he makes do with hummus and carrot sticks. On a grassy slope nearby a group of international students and their families are lighting up forbidden BBQs whilst the rangers turn a blind eye.

Streams of overweight kids queue patiently to try out the grass sledging whilst others take it in turns to hold the magnifying glasses on a bug hunt through the undergrowth. In one of the sheds, wild life and wild children meet, sometimes for the first, miraculous time.

Wonder, fun and amazement are what my taxes have paid for today.

But I still want to get my money’s worth. I turn to Helicopter Mother, who is busy putting sun cream on Marcus’ face – ‘just in case’.

Come on – let’s have a go on that zip-wire before we leave.’

‘Oh no! It’s for kids not adults and, besides, I’m not sure it’s sate.

And so, as I sail down the wire, the wind whipping my face, I’m aware this might be my last ever day out with Marcus’ mum. But I’m not worried – I’ve got to live a little before I return to the privileged south! After all, I’ve got an extra ten years to play with…