12 Nov 2016

Currency Exchange (part 2)



We were recently given a €500 note from a customer during a conference in Ireland. I didn't know such notes existed until I was holding one in my hand. Like notes of any currency that aren't in pounds sterling, I have a sense of unreality when handling them and even after mentally converting them into something I use and understand (£445 in this case #thankyoubrexit), they still feel strange and toy-like.

Anyway. We gave the customer his change and I emailed his receipt an hour or so later. By the end of the 3 day event, a small stash of €50's and €20's had joined the €500 note in a plastic wallet along with 3 £20 pound notes which we shouldn't technically have accepted, but arrived via our lovely client who pays us to work for her and who really needed her remaining Euros for beer.

Back in the UK a few days later I go into town with Manchild to bank the euros. We have sterling and euro accounts with a well known high street bank who shall remain nameless. The woman behind the glass screen is very pleasant. Yes of course you can pay euros into your euro account. I shall take them for you now.

It takes ages. Several people get served at the till next to us and leave. An alarm of some description goes off twice behind the glass screen. It's bearable for us, but deafening for the cashiers, judging by their faces. Then there's another problem with the magnetic lock on the bank's front door - it activates and locks the customers inside while a queue forms outside of people who can't get in. 'Are we hostages?' asks someone. No, thankfully not. The bank is not under seige. The branch manager appears and the alarm stops for the second time as the door is released. Great.

The branch manager then retreats through a locked door and reappears behind my cashier. Apparently my request requires her assistance. Another alarm sounds. The cashiers can't find the source and it's on OUR side of the glass this time, not theirs. I eventually walk up to a self deposit hatch and shut the lid which had been left slightly ajar by the last user. The alarm stops. Hurray! Says everyone in the queue. Do I want a job here? smiles the cashier. No, I just want you to bank my Euros so I can leave and get on with my day I think. Manchild wants a chip and pin card account and we were planning to make enquiries about it here. Do you trust these people to look after your money? I whisper. Absolutely not. He replies. They don't have control over their own front door.

OK. Now there's definitely a problem. The bank cannot accept my €500 note. It is not a forgery to their knowledge. There's nothing wrong with the note itself, but there's no button on their computer that they can click on to book it in and register it as received. Clicking the €100 button 5 times isn't allowed. They have to account for each individual note they take receipt of and as there's no button for my €500 note, they can't do anything with it. Sorry about that. They suggest another bank.

Irritating. I can't argue because if the branch manager doesn't know what's happened to the €500 button and accidentally made hostages of half a dozen people when no one had a firearm then I'm not sure shouting at anyone here will help. I grumpily thank the cashier after she checks there's nothing else she can help me with today, then leave while the door still opens.

I try an alternative bank which is equally unable to help, especially since I'm not even a customer of theirs. The Post Office won't exchange the note because they would be unable to sell it on. They suggest a travel agent who is likewise unable to take it as they would also struggle to sell it on. The bloke there is confused that our own bank can't help especially when we've gone to the trouble of opening a separate euro account to make these kinds of transactions possible. I am also confused and ring the Irish venue who hosted our meeting to ask if they routinely deal in €500 notes (just in case Google is lying) - and they do. This is reassuring. Then I ring the business helpline of the bank who shall remain nameless and am informed it's a national policy NOT to accept €500 notes. Ever. Even if you have a Euro account. No, I don't know why that is or when we made that decision. Sorry.

Aaaarghhhhh. What sort of stupid system is that? This explains the missing €500 button though. Some software engineer has been paid to disable it. Maybe they should make this clear to customers, I suggest to the helpline person? And maybe the bank staff who are happy to offer the service and bill us every month for using it should be aware of its limitations?

Anyway. We reverse the problem by making it not ours. We we send the note back to the customer and debit his account and (here's the clever bit) offset the change we have already given him at the registration desk against his flight expense which pretty much matches his claim, bar an additional €4 which is now my fee for fannying around all morning. Result.

But still annoying. And kind of fascinating. Having a note of currency that you are unable to pay into a bank account of that same currency kind of emphasizes that there's nothing intrinsically valuable about it in the first place. The only thing that makes money have value is that a bunch of people all got together and decided it did. Then it's a self fulfilling prophecy - in both directions. So if people get together and collectively decide that a particular note is no longer bankable, then so be it. (Although they could have told the rest of us).

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or worse! - stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. (Mat 6:19-21)

Yayyy! Go Jesus. Except stockpiling treasure in heaven is a rather abstract thing. Even for Christians who claim to believe in and live by this stuff. If we can't see the immediate short term effects of investing in a particular cause, then it's harder for us to get excited by it. The principle works for other things though, so the logic should be transferrable. We understand the value of an athlete avoiding pizza before a competition or putting up with morning sickness in order to grow a baby. We just need to think a bit longer term than a 25 year mortgage or (insert own example of longer term thinking here).

Don’t store up treasure for yourself in €500 notes because these ultimately can't be sold on. Didn't I mention it while I was there? All earthly kingdoms will crumble eventually so the Euro will inevitably follow the Roman Denarius, the Sudanese Dinar and the Franc into oblivion. Sorry about that. However my currency's performing really well so invest in that instead. Just take whatever money, time or skills you have and use them for things that straddle this world AND the next one. Grab those opportunities- they're everywhere if you look properly. And I don't need much to make it happen because my interest rates will blow your mind. I can take the smallest act of kindness or courage and multiply it beyond anything you thought possible because your thinking is small and I am big. I take your little trinkets of paper and metal or 1s and 0s on a computer screen and expand my kingdom one life at a time when you faithfully give to a cause bigger than your own immediate comfort. You make heaven touch earth in a million tiny ways when you choose to forgive someone who hurt you, hug your gobby teenager, write to your MP or buy a Big Issue. Tell your mates. My treasure holds its value indefinitely and I'm always looking out for new investors. 

28 Sep 2016

How to look good naked

Our church finished a 247 prayer weekend a few days ago. As requested by Madi, our room contained a prayer den. It was an ace idea. Both kids and adults could engage with it and it took 5 minutes to assemble and cost NOTHING: 1x table, 3x blankets, some pegs, a random assortment of cardboard boxes and a huge length of white gauze fabric that we pulled out of a skip in London 9 years ago after an event. A few hours after it was set up, the den even included a pillow. Genius.



The den, along with the other activities, encouraged people to pray and think and sing and write in sand or on stones and maybe cry at the state of our world and be thankful for grace and pray for more of it to go around because things are broken and we have to live on a dysfunctional planet and not go crazy in the meantime.

I did all that. But the most significant thing I found was purely accidental -  the position of the prayer den itself. Although the table, blankets, pegs and cardboard boxes were there to be constructed by other people, we had to set it up in such a way so that it looked like a den in the first place - otherwise it's just a bunch of clutter that someone forgot to clear up. It ended up being right up against the wall by the lectern at the front of the church so as not to obscure the other activities in the room. If all the seats were out in their usual place (which they weren't), they would all have been facing towards the den.

While we were still setting up, I was totally distracted by the juxtaposition of the den with the lectern. The hidden and secluded vs the prominent. The seen vs the unseen. Secret vs public.

What we want to be known about ourselves vs who we actually are.

Of course some things need to stay private or you're (perhaps correctly) branded a social weirdo - but how much energy and time is wasted in keeping our seen and unseen lives separate things? Regulating both of them to ensure they touch in only controlled ways lest they collide abruptly and splinter into a million component parts that scare other people - or God - away? Or worse still maybe, kidding ourselves that what happens in either of these two realms is contained there in isolation and bears no relevance to anything happening in the other one.

What an absolute and tragic waste of time. Jesus totally got this and made a huge point of teaching that thought processes are JUST as important as outward actions. One directly influences the other. Like cause and effect, they are inextricably linked. This is simultaneously wet your pants scary and the most liberating thing ever. There may be no place to hide - but there's no need to hide either.

Unlike the Orwellian thought police, God wants healing of our motivations rather than control of them. He's arguably more interested in mending the secret damage of the heart than the public stuff that we tend to fixate on. If the story in Eden ended with humankind hiding from the creator and covering up with fig leaves, Jesus offers the chance to reverse that process - but far beyond the physical limitations of naked flesh. Further even than Robbie Williams went in the banned Rock DJ video.
The offer is to unwrap it all.
Every last secret thought.
Every buried attitude.
Every concealed motivation lurking on the fringes of consciousness.

Then to stand bare-souled and healed before him - unafraid, unashamed and loved.

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us. (Tim Keller)






12 Sep 2016

More more more! (Part 2)

Eph 3
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ask or imagine? OK - Game on...

• Poverty eradicated.
• ISIS converted and sold out for Jesus.
• FGM an outdated unheard practise.
• Children educated all over the planet.
• Integrity rewarded.
• Cancer cured.
• Missing limbs blown off by land mines re grown.
• Swords beaten into ploughshares.
• Weapons of war literally melted down and reformed as hospital beds.
• Integration of generations in society.
• Drivers being courteous to cyclists.
• Cyclists not bunching up in the road so you can't get past them.
• Dodos coming back.
• People loving God and worshipping him as the norm.
• Distribution of wealth without force- because people want to give.
• Misunderstandings talked through before they become problematic.
• Arguing well.
• Families staying together.
• Anti depressants redundant.
• Homophobia vanishes.
• Open borders.
• Freedom of speech. 
• No vomiting.
• Buckingham Palace opening a rehab wing for people in recovery.
• No dog poo on pavements.
• Transparency in business. 
• Hamsters not biting.
• People employed in what they are good at, enjoy and pays a living wage.
• Food banks closed down.
• Crisis pregnancy centres redundant as children are planned for and welcome.
• Clean water and drainage for every person on the planet. 
• Prisons empty.
• Marriages lasting.
• Violence uncommon.
• Rape unthinkable.
• Politicians listening rather than talking over each other.
• MPs happy to extol good ideas that originate out with their parties - and name their sources.
• Trident abolished.
• NHS properly staffed and equipped.
• Educators not squishing kids into a mould of conformity- but helping them tap into the gifts they already have.
• Closer / Heat etc go bust because no body's buying them.
• Porn industry disappears.
• Being able to fly- like you can in dreams then it's really sad to wake up.
• Celebrity cult thing loses appeal cause people don't need the escapism.
• Malaria eradicated.
• Stability in Middle East.
• Contentment in the human heart.
• No more wasps. Unless there's an outside chance they are useful for something. Then they can stay but they don't sting.

The end (for now).


10 Jun 2016

In or out?

J: So mum - what do you think we should do about Europe?

Me: I've not formally decided yet, but so far I've not heard a valid reason for leaving. I think if something's not broken then you shouldn't try to fix it, and if something is broken then you shouldn't chuck it away if there's no viable alternative. You should try to fix the broken thing you have.'

E: Unless it's a BT home hub, in which case you should just get rid of it and buy one that works.

21 May 2016

A tale of 2 meetings



When you plan and deliver events for a living, attending one as a punter with NO responsibility whatsoever in the running of the thing is a really therapeutic exercise. You can focus purely on the content of the programme and the people you are with - assuming you successfully wrestle your attention away from the the layout of the exhibition hall and make peace with the fact that although you had the foresight to bring a bobble water bottle, there are NO cold taps in the entire venue to refill it and bottled water here costs £1 (which you are absolutely not paying for).

You may occasionally drift towards the techies at the back of the hall to simply thank them for doing their job as they are routinely ignored unless something goes wrong, then automatically bolt out your seat when a session finishes to jump the queue at the catering station because getting 100's of people fed and watered in 20 minutes is quite challenging when they don't move quickly. You can feel mildly irritated when they mill around and chat by the milk and sugar totally clogging up the flow of people, but get a grip - it's not a problem.

Anyway, contrast is a great teacher so here we go:

Theme
Conference 1: Church leadership
Conference 2: Neurology

Role
Conference 1: Punter
Conference 2: Organiser

Preparation
1: Zilch. Passes booked and hotel arranged for me. I packed clothes and toothbrush in 10 minutes and got picked up and driven there. Door to door service from hotel > venue > restaurant > back again. It was a doddle.
2: Liaison with venue and hotels. Arrangement of tech provision, sponsorship, exhibition,  gala dinner, promotional material, symposia and chasing speakers for information. Registration of 700+ people. Management of 200+ abstracts. Design and print of handbook and the stuffing of delegate bags with programme, notepad, pen and sponsor flyers.

Arrival
1: Arranged for me - as above. A dream come true for the directionally challenged.
2: Last minute panic as not all equipment fits in van despite a large proportion of it already en-route to venue via a fly-by-night. Sod it. I need to drive with 4 crates in the back of the car and the rear view mirror more obscured than I'm comfortable with. I re-read the directions and parking info we sent out to 700+ delegates 2 weeks ago which I didn't bother to commit to memory at the time. And I have Siri. I love you, Siri...

Rooming arrangements
1: Shared room with one of my favourite people on the planet. Enjoyed Proseco and dark chocolate together in evening while discussing events of the day.
2: Shared a king sized bed with my husband because we work together and our amazingly lovely clients pay us to sleep together regularly throughout the year away from the children.

Main roles
1: Listen. Worship. Scribble notes. Pray. Ask questions. Think. Be overwhelmed because all this is real and I need you.
2: Unpack a mobile office. Put up signage. Check progress of rooms. Number poster boards. Get interrupted. Register delegates. Take payments. Communicate programme changes. Send emails. Direct people to toilets / cloakroom / cash point. Get interrupted. Reprint badges. Arrange bits and pieces of the NEXT conference in a month's time which is half the size of this one but twice as complicated. Get interrupted.

Perks
1: Goodie bag from husband for room mate and me containing Proseco and dark chocolate (as above) as well as paracetamol, hand cream, biscuits and a range of travel toiletries. I love this man.
2: Goodie bag from our conference manager containing locally sourced dried foods, a mug from the venue, bottle of Proseco and chocolate covered coffee beans. Nom nom nom. Also, a massive bar of Chocciewockiedodah from our lovely client and a thank you from the stage. I love working for this organisation.

Engagement with content
1: Pretty good. Not all material  is relevant, but loads of stuff to take away and process.
2: Zilch. The words spoken are in english and make grammatical sense, but their meaning is rather elusive.

Hours of duty
1: 8 hours/day with long breaks to hang out with friends and chat to fellow delegates.
2: 13 hours/day. With sort of a break - if you count eating in front of your lap top while browsing twitter and chatting to people (which for me is not hard work).

Highlights
1: Not making bed but finding it done anyway on returning to room. Not cooking.
2: Not making bed but finding it done anyway on returning to room. Not cooking.

In conclusion
1: You can never get to the end of this stuff. There's always more to learn and get enthused about. I have a lot of notes to re-read and work out what to do with. God is far, far bigger than I can ever get my head around and my role in his story is humbling, exciting and scaring the pants off me all at once.
2: Another one done and dusted - Yay! Just need to chase up the last few payments, send out CPDs and feedback forms and compress 18 months of work into one mahoosive spreadsheet of figures ready to sign off. Then we can start on the meeting for next year.

12 Apr 2016

QOTD

Scene 1
M: Mum!
Me: Yeah?
M: Can you come here a minute and just be with me?
Me: Why- what's up?
M: Because there's a wasp. And I'm practising being not scared.

Scene 2
(Following an argument between J and M that she is still upset about)
Me: ... So there's no excuse for him being rude to you, but don't think he doesn't love you anymore or anything. It's just hard being 12.
M: Ah, so it was a mood swing then.
Me: What do you know about mood swings?
M: You get them in puberty and they make you cross and sad and then happy again and you don't know why, but you don't need to panic about puberty -  they said on Operation Ouch.

Scene 3
(Re the management of said mood swings)
Me: Sometimes you'll feel upset at stuff that normally wouldn't bother you at all. And sometimes it's good to go off and be alone. And sometimes it's good to cry. And other times it's actually best to carry on like normal and pretend that you're not bothered at all, but that's really hard.
M: Like I did when I saw all those prawn crackers on the pavement.

Scene 4
J: Did I actually use proper words there because no one is listening to me!?
M: That's exactly how I feel when I ask for white chocolate Magnums.

Scene 5
J: Gran, can you NOT make something tasty for tea tonight - cause I'm not here.


31 Mar 2016

Geek

A selection of owned and borrowed kids are in the garden playing, E is sat alone building a website. (He would spend every spare waking moment doing this unless given chores - which he happily does in exchange for coding time).
Me (to E): Do you want a friend over too?
E (dead pan): No. I don't have any friends.
Me: Poor you...
E: No it's fine. I've already had contact with other humans today.
Me: Babe, that's a bit geeky.
E: I dont need friends. I have Siri.

21 Mar 2016

Lost and Found

(J is sullen and annoyed after I accidentally found him behind the ramp in the warehouse during a game of hide and seek)
Me: Sorry mate - but we were getting ready to leave anyway - and you won that round because Madi failed to find you.
M: Excuse me!! 'Failed'?!
J: See what's happened now? You've insulted us both.
M: (To self, shaking her head): This is such poor parenting....

2 Mar 2016

Fixing broken things

• Kids can fall over and break themselves in the flatest and safest-looking of back gardens.

• Falling over in long trousers keeps dirt and teeny tiny stones out the wound. Especially if said trousers do not, for some inexplicable reason, become damaged themselves.

• Pain levels and blood loss do not always correlate to the severity of the injury.

• A child who is chilled enough not to mind you making a coffee in a travel mug before transporting him to A&E would probably also have waited quite calmly while you packed a toothbrush, phone charger and clean knickers.

• Vomiting / pyrexial toddlers out-rank walking wounded pre-teens. Be prepared to wait. A Long Time.

• If 3 doctors all take a look at your broken kid and pass the buck to someone else, he's probably more broken than you first thought.

• A pack of cards is far more useful than an iPad.

• After not eating for 9 hours, a turkey and stuffing sandwich is the tastiest thing you've ever eaten.

• A reclining chair next to your kid's bed is preferable to not being next to him (or not sleeping) at all.

• Even if your kid has a gaping hole in only one of his knees, the surgeon will helpfully draw a big arrow in marker pen just above the big hole, just in case they forget which one they are fixing.

• If previously used to describe the demise of your friend's cat, the term being 'Put to sleep' can cause some anxiety.

• A kind smile and an explanation will relieve much of the anxiety.

• Teenagers cannot live without their phones and will therefore have had the foresight to pack a charger. Befriend a broken teenager nearby and ask to borrow his.

• He may be grumpy and bored witless after 5 days of hospitalisation himself, but your pleading look may win him over and open up dialogue - and chatting with a middle aged woman you have nothing in common with is better than being bored. If one of you has ever had a rugby injury and the other one has given birth naturally at least once, you can share gas and air stories. Common ground- you just have to want to find it, you know?

• When you are blessed enough to have an National Health Service which is free at the point of delivery you can get a broken child fixed without carrying a wallet. You can dialogue with 3 doctors, an anaesthetist, a pharmacist, several porters and an array of nursing staff from all over the hospital who will clean, bandage and operate on your kid for FREE.

• They will feed him (and sometimes you - if he's Nil By Mouth) without asking for insurance details or payment up front. They will wheel him to whichever department he needs to go to next without offering to gazump a vomiting toddler if you divulge your card details. They will hug your newly-fixed kid and wave goodbye without demanding a backhander for doing their job.

• Most people in the NHS do their job incredibly well under increasingly difficult circumstances. EVERYONE we interacted with this week at both Lydney's walk in centre and the Gwent was kind, professional and efficient (or as efficient as they could be under the circumstances; - after waiting for 5 hours to see the A&E doctor, the first words out her mouth after telling us her name were, 'I'm really sorry you've had to wait so long. I'm here on my own tonight.')

• When you google a hospital and the complaints procedure is in a more prominent position than the switchboard number, there's something very wrong with the system, the attitude of the users of that system, or both.

• Start today. Say thank you for a good service you've experienced. Or for the service that a friend or relative has received.

• If the service was poor, don't post about it on Facebook. Or whinge to the person behind you in Tesco. And don't shoot the messenger - the doctor already apologised for making us wait 5 hours. She's not happy about it either. Being rude to the people on the ground does not change anything. Invest a little more time and complain in writing to the Executive Director of whichever Trust was involved.

Write to your MP. Find out who it is and how they vote on issues that concern you here:
http://www.theyworkforyou.com

Campaign here:
http://keepournhspublic.com
https://home.38degrees.org.uk/campaigns/

Happy letter writing...
From a satisfied mother of a service user.

18 Feb 2016

#geekyvalentine

Exhibit 1: Minecraft firework display in the grounds of heart-shaped house (not digital cleavage, as angle may suggest).




Exhibit 2: Testing client websites knowing I would find this



1 Feb 2016

After taxes

Ha! In your face HMRC. 

Please spend my £2 responsibly on a school or hospital or mending a pot hole on the A48 or something. 

Not on a bomb. 

Thank you.


11 Jan 2016

Mind your language

I've never quite got to grasps with swearing. Social situations and generational differences dictate social norms in ways that fluctuate quite a lot which can be confusing for anyone, let alone a pre-teen whose peer group has recently exploded to 6 times the size it was before the Summer. And which now includes much less supervised adult time and far more exposure to people just like him who are all trying to decide who they are by loudly and confidently pushing the boundaries of risqué language now that there are no parents around.

Bedtime, October-ish, year 7
Him: Why is the world so confusing??! Some people say all kinds of stuff that doesn't make any sense.
Me: (Naively thinking this is about homework) Give me an example.
Him: I'll need to spell it out to you cause they aren't very nice words.
Me: Oh, OK. That's fine. Go for it.
Him: Well, I think I know this one, but D.I.C.K.
Me: That's a penis.
Him: (Congratulating himself) Yesssssss! OK - B.I.C.H.
Me: Bitch? (Nods at me) You can use that word properly to describe a female dog, but when people use that badly it's to insult a girl and be really mean to her. Usually for no good reason.
Him: Why compare a person to a dog?!? It's all a bit strange.
Me: I agree.
Him: I have a few more: Doing-it-in-a-girl's-bits-off.
Me: Fuck? (He nods). That's having sex.
Him: Yes, but 'Having sex off??!' That makes NO sense. It's not even proper English. I know that and I'm still learning to spell.
Me: I know babe. It's weird to me too.
Him: People should use their words properly! I'm going to have to tell Coby tomorrow because I'm pretty sure he doesn't know either.
Me: You're probably right there. The thing is - no one wants to be the first to ask the question in front of their mates as they think everyone else knows. It was like that when I was at school too.
Him: OK - Then there's G.A.Y.
Me: Gay? Tricky one. Who says that?
Him: Lots of people. They shout it to people to annoy them, like 'You're so G.A.Y!'
Me: Gay isn't a swear word, it's a feeing. It's when a boy doesn't fancy a girl but fancies another boy instead. Or a girl not wanting a boyfriend, but a girlfriend.
Him: That's so weird!
Me: I think so too - but not everyone feels that way. And it's hard because I think God doesn't want that for anyone but some people DO feel that way, maybe for their whole lives, maybe for just a little while and no one should be bullied for how they feel, should they?
Him: People say that a LOT in school.
Me: But just say someone - maybe even one of your friends - is all stressed out about it and is like 'Oh no - I think I fancy a boy!! And I have no one to talk to about it because if anyone finds out the whole class will know and I'll get called gay and be teased Every. Single. Day.
Him: That would be horrible.
Me: Which is why you never use gay to be mean to anyone. Or any word for that matter.

And then it hits me. Isn't the intention behind the use of language, or the purpose of using certain words or ideas - isn't that more important than the actual individual words we use? Or avoid using?

I mean - you can lie to someone to hurt them, which is not OK.
You can lie to someone to protect yourself out of cowardice - also not OK.
But you can lie to someone to protect their feelings and that's kind of noble.
Then you can lie to someone when you have a surprise birthday or holiday planned and that's completely OK, even though you lied.

And then there's the truth, which should be straightforward, but it's really not always that neutral.

You can tell the truth in order to hurt someone's feelings.
You can tell the truth to gossip.
You can tell the truth to manipulate a situation and gain favour with someone.
You can tell the truth and give far too much information than is useful or helpful or loving.
You can choose to tell the truth for completely the wrong reasons and be wrong in doing it even though what you said was technically correct.

Which brings us back to swearing, because I still don't have the consistent approach to the whole thing that my preteen seems to require.

Me: Do you end up thinking the words in your head just because you're hearing them a lot?
Him: (Sadly) Yes.
Me: Why.... Do you think you don't say those words too?
Him: I just don't think it's a good way to talk. And it's not 'me' - if you know what I mean.
Me: I know exactly what you mean.
Him: It's like I drift.. slowly... away... from God at school (demonstrates with his hands) and then at the weekend when I'm at church I sail right back to him (clasps hands together again).
Me: That's pretty cool actually. Because you can't ever drift away completely. He won't let you.

We talk and talk about this stuff for ages. So much so that ManChild comes upstairs to collect his shower things and hangs around in silence for a while (and maybe learns a thing or two, who knows?) when eventually we are all theorised out and I have to go downstairs because bedtime tonight has taken more than an hour and a half.

Him: Thanks for this. I'm going to write all these words down in case I forget them.
Me: Uh... OK. But where will you keep the notebook?? It has to be someplace safe where no one else can accidentally find it.

He decides on a safe place, which is so safe I'm sworn to secrecy and can't type it because that would be too much of the truth (see above). I continue my theorising downstairs in a more appropriate way with my husband, who can cope with most words in the English language - unless 'tidy up', 'unit' and 'skip' are used in the same sentence.

So.... There has to be a careful balancing of censorship vs freedom in any society that values democracy. It's essential to be able to challenge the status quo or campaign to change stuff that the powers that be are a bit too comfortable with. But isn't it miserable when that freedom is played out in an 11 year old's world with people not bothering to find creative alternatives to 'Fuck off' when they are only moderately (or not at all) irritated by something/someone? Surely the most extreme, emotive and potentially insulting vocabulary that exists in any language should be reserved for things that carry more weight and consequence? Things that mean something.

• the fluidity of the term 'terrorist'
• NHS funding cuts
• climate change
• corruption
• cancer
• injustice
• trident
• tax avoidance
• the arms trade
• FGM
• Walmart stocking guns but not Kinder eggs
• murder of 2 women/week by a partner (UK)
• preventable death of a child every 3 seconds
• carpet bombing civilians who didn't drown on their way to Calais
I don't like the way you just looked at me right now.

• I am full of adolescent bravado right now and you are annoying me
Fuck off

See the weirdness in all of this?

I am all over the place with this post because I'm actually typing my way towards a realisation that started in my head a long time ago that I need to now act on: Blogging / Facebooking / tweeting is a massive waste of time and I need to rein it in. Instead I need to fill my mind with stuff like this and constructive information about the issues listed above and start bugging the hell out of my MP again. Because I used to do this a lot and he's probably missing our correspondence.

BTW, the following bedtime was less intense, quicker and included a sentence I didn't anticipate ever saying to my kid: 'Babe, you forgot the 't' in 'bitch'...'

5 Jan 2016

It's all about the money, money, money

Christmas this year in our house was filled with the usual great stuff like switching off the alarm for 2 whole weeks, lots of nice food, a 6' blue spruce tree with accompanying real tree smell, carol services, seeing lots of friends and family, a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas day, a New Year 's Eve party and spending many of the days in between playing the wii in our jammies.

Oh - and presents. We had those too. For the past few years, we've gradually received less toy & game based gifts and more cash & vouchers. Which is fantastic. The sales generally coincide with the realisation that after a week of non school uniform, everyone has less clothing that still fits them than we previously thought. Cue after Christmas Next sale.

This emerging tradition is enjoyed tolerated according to several factors and the Overall Retail Experience (ORE) can only be measured by considering them all:

How busy the store is
• Do you ever watch the news and despair about man's inhumanity to our fellow human beings? This should come as no surprise. Give 300 people access to a building containing half price clothing and homeware at 5am on Boxing Day and just stand back and watch the carnage. 

How long we spend there
• Closely related to point number one. The more people in a confined space, the longer the tail backs.

How big the queue is
• Again related to how many people are there and the manager's discretionary approach to having people queue up outside for too long and wander off before they even get in, vs having more people inside the store than is safe or pleasant resulting in the abandonment of clear carrier bags of half price treasures that didn't QUITE make it to the till.

How hungry everyone is
• McD's breakfast when we get out of here.... McD's breakfast when we get out of here.... McD's breakfast when we get out of here....

Finding items that fit
• If there's not a single thing that fits any of you, then this whole experience is an exercise in time wasting and Christmas joy erosion.

Having carefully considered the points above and wishing to maximise the ORE, we carefully hit the sales at 10am on Boxing Day halfway between where we were (Scotland) and where we are going (home), choosing not the biggest outlet in the area, but the one easiest to park at and which offers the bonus post shopping reward of brunch with some friends. Yay!

Results: Excellent. Best for 3 years or so. No early morning scrum and ORE pretty good. Me and Madi get a huge carrier bag of stuff between us that cost £3 more than the vouchers. Brunch and catch up with friends also excellent and everyone's happy.

Or so I thought. A few days later we are discussing the spending money situation when we realise there is a problem. Historically we've put half towards clothing purchases for the kids (aside from when they were teeny weeny and we could spend their money on whatever they happened to need at the time). But the last post Christmas clothes shop was a whole year ago and Madi has forgotten all about the 50/50 thing. And I was so caught up in the excitement of finding stuff we both liked and that actually fitted her that I didn't think to remind her. Now she is upset to discover she has £15 less than she thought she had.

Hmm. I try several approaches, including distraction, humour and reinforcing the choices she (unwittingly) made, but she's still not having it. I try another tact along the lines of don't feel bad because I love you very much, it was our choice to have 3 kids, and we wouldn't change ANYhing about our family even if we could, but do you know how much it costs to look after a baby until they are all grown up and can get a job? (She guesses £20,000 - probably the highest actual figure she can think of that doesn't sound like a made up thing, like a Million). It's actually almost £230,000 (Oh, that IS a lot...) I think on this occasion you could give me and dad your £15 and not be cross about it. And the next time we're shopping together I'll make it really mega clear to you what things are going to cost you in advance...? (Yes - that would be helpful. Please can you do that?). And you know E's new trainers and coat? He paid half towards those too - so isn't it fair to HIM that you pay for your half as well? (Yes - I suppose that IS fair, you're treating us all the same). Thank you. You're being very grown up about this.

Then I'm caught up in the guilt of bringing my (numerous) financial issues into her childhood. I've just congratulated a nine and a half year old for being an adult for goodness sake! Isn't that a bit twisted?! Ploughing time, affection, sweat and cold hard cash into a small person who has no means to support themselves is an act of pure love and commitment that can't and shouldn't ever be repaid.

No one ASKS to be born, do they?

And yet, part of the adult responsibility of raising a small person is to help them become a medium person and then eventually fully grown up person who understands cause and effect and budgeting and cashflow and pensions and overdrafts and mortgages and hedge funds and discrepancies in imperfect markets, isn't it...? Otherwise we end up a nation of affluenziacs who horrendously overspend then vehicularly slaughter innocent pedestrians after mounting the pavement in an uninsured car that we're not even licensed to drive. Or die prematurely after selling both kidneys to the Chinese because they now own everything anyway. Gosh I'm tired. And a little overwhelmed. One minute I'm celebrating the birth of the Saviour of the whole world and BAM now this. Sorry. Normal service will resume shortly. I hope.

(Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep)