Tag Archives: Marmite

Naked, Shameless Exploitation

29 Apr

I’ve met a good few journalists in my time. Some of them local hacks. Some of them household names. Some of them happen to be low-life scum who wouldn’t think twice about slicing their own mother’s fingers off if it resulted in a line or two in The Daily Mail. Others wouldn’t think twice about slicing their third cousin’s twice-removed fingers off if it led to a…

One of Jon Ronson's many fantastical productions

One of Jon Ronson’s many fantastical productions. I suspect that he interviewed my children for it.

Okay, okay. I jest.  A good few of them are quite nice, really.  And one thing that I have in common with some of the more credible journos out there is that they tend to be *okay* with mentioning their kids in their writing. Jon Ronson for example – a smashing chap (who has never sliced anyone’s fingers off as far as I am aware) – has often written about his son. And Jon, like many others who do chat about their kids publicly, tends to come in for a lot of flak about exposing  his offspring  to the pointy fangs and vicious, frothily-flecked snarls of the country’s commentators.  But Jon is a rare soul who deals with this kind of thing in a very unique way. (And yeah, okay – Jon has incredible talent and has the London-literati connections to begin with – but don’t get me all bitter n’ twisted on that one…)

My experience is radically different to Jon’s. It isn’t The Telegraph slagging me off. With me, it tends to be negative comments from normal, everyday parents. Usually women.  Fellow mothers who fret that  I choose to mention my children ‘out there’ – in the public domain. And actually, I tend to think that this is all a wee bit ironic …  when 99% of parents don’t have a problem at all with endless photos and achievements of their nippers scrolling round and around Facebook.

But it is only sensible to try and walk that oh-so tricky line of ethics and parenting sensibilities if you are feeling the burn to chat a bit about Da Fam online – or in print. At the moment my kids are too young to be surfing the net unsupervised – but in a couple of years – I feel sure that I’ll be radiating discernment and true consideration for their little souls and for their blossoming social life (GIRL: “Jeez Mum, was it REALLY necessary to blog about the fact that I refer to Tallulah in my English Lit class as ‘Tallulah Tan Tits and Town Bike? See this black eye I’ve got? See?”…..BOY: “Oh THANKS, Mum for telling the entire world that I’m 17 now and still can’t wipe my arse properly and that you’d rather buy new underpants for me every week than have the trauma of dealing with them.”)

Sick of me telling the world about his caffeine addiction issues.

No Photos Please; sick of me telling the world about his caffeine addiction issues.

And so I do try and limit the number of blogs, tweets, posts etc. that chat about my kids. I mean no, really – I do.  Because if you don’t have kids – hell if you don’t LIKE kids (and I’m with you on that one from time to time) – then apart from the fact that you’re alienating a huge section of society; (those non-parents who often possess pearls of wisdom that the rest of us cannot access due to that Wood For The Trees affliction) the blogging and the communications just becomes dull. The same-old same-old. Non-stop use of your kids for ‘material.’ And it becomes the very thing that I swore that I would never become part of: The Exclusive Parenting Club.

But today,  I’m going to go for it big time. A blatant ‘Roll Out The Kiddy Barrel’, I am going to demonstrate to you my latest – much more practical – application of putting your children to good use. Some shameless child exploitation. But all taking place within the home.

Most recently, for her literacy homework (they used to call it ‘English’ in my day) the 10 year old has been studying letters written to newspapers; their content, style etc. Cue much hilarity, consternation and comments such as ‘are these people right sad idiots or what? Don’t they have a life?’ (and that was just the 7 year old) and cue some fun and fruity ideas in relation to ‘what letters do you think that WE should be writing to a newspaper then, Mum?’ But then I thought – hell – we can go one better than this. The little lass can exercise her literary muscles, have a laugh AND tick a few items off Ma’s ‘To-Do’ list.

So this is what their father was faced with when he came home from work yesterday;

DAD: (to 10 yr old) Hey. Nice to see you typing on the computer. What you doing?

GIRL: Chatting to someone. Shush. Live chat.

DAD: Blimey. I hope that’s not one of those chat forum things. You get some right nutters and grooming paedo sorts on there. Even on the kiddy ones – you get adults pretending to be children and … (Looks at me). Surely you’re not letting her…?

ME: Don’t worry. This is probably as kosher and as boring as you can get.

Calling the Town Hall! Thrills and Spills For All!

Calling the Town Hall! Thrills and Spills For All!

GIRL: Shush! I’m talking to the Council call centre! It’s LIVE CHAT! It’s brilliant!

ME: It’s quicker than phoning a local authority actually. They pick it up a bit faster. You’d know that if you could ever be bothered to sort important household issues out.

DAD: (to daughter) Wow. That’s impressive. What are you saying?

GIRL: Okay. I’ve just typed this; “the binmen forgot to leev Mum binlyners AGAIN quiet frankley its not GOOD ENUF!!!!!” See Dad – Mum said I could spell it ‘enuf’ because most people can’t spell it these days anyways.

DAD: Fair enough. But don’t shout at them, love. I used to work for the Council and it was awful when people shout at you. Especially if it’s only about trivialities like bin liners.

GIRL: I’m not shouting! I’m just exclaiming. With exclamation marks. Lots of ’em. I love ’em. Anyway. Bin liners are important. And see – now Carol here – that’s the name of the lady typing me back, see? Carol says… ‘I will pass on your request for new bin-liners and I hope that you enjoy the rest of your evening.’

If I don't get my bin liners I do worry that this might happen. It keeps me awake at night.

If I don’t get my bin liners I do worry that this might happen. It keeps me awake at night.

DAD: That’s great. Very helpful.

GIRL: Yeah. I did have to say that I was you though. Or Carol might not have helped us out.

DAD: Oh great! Now Carol will think that I’m an illiterate. With nothing better to do other than complain about the bins.

GIRL: Well. I can hardly do it in my own name, can I? I’m only ten.

ME: Actually – yes you jolly well can! We pay our Council Tax so that our children have …. nice libraries. Well. We did have. Before they axed them. Oh – and schools. So that you can be educated. And this is another way of educating you. So. Go ahead. I am here, supervising you. Put the next message in for them. Use your own name this time.

GIRL: You’re not supervising me. Your messing about with the freezer. You’ve got too much in it again. That’s why the door won’t shut.

ME: Shush. Go on. I am supervising you. From a distance. Allowing you a bit of independence and a feeling of empowerment.chat sign


GIRL: Okay. Right. Here we go…. I’m clicking the ‘LIVE CHAT’ key and… Waiting. Waiting. And… oh no! It’s Carol again!  She’s going to think I’m a right weirdo if I say that I’m actually Me now. And not Dad.

DAD: Or that I’m some sicko middle aged man now posing as a 10 year old girl…

ME: No she won’t. Just tell her the problem.

GIRL: Okay. (Types- slowly) ‘Hello Carol. It’s actually Me now and I am reporting this for all of us. Here is my name and address…’ (continues typing)

DAD: (watching screen) Well Carol hasn’t told her to Sod Off and she can’t speak to her because of the safe-guarding rules or whatever.

GIRL: So Carol …. ‘has sent me a link what I have to click on. Cool. (types) ‘Thanks Carol + I hope u have a nice evning 2.’ See,Dad? Mum lets me put ‘2’ instead of ‘two’.

DAD: She would.  Anyway. Click on the link. Ah. You have to report this one by email. Want to use mine? You can say it’s your Dad’s email and you are reporting it for the family. (Sets her up with the email. Girl begins typing)

ME: Right. Let’s have a see of what you’ve written. (Reads aloud) “I am writing to compleyn about the amount of dogpoo on our walk to school.My Dad always makes us walk to school and its DISGUSTINNG! I know that I speake for ALL of the children and parents on our street and its getting WORSER!! So please do something about it and contact me. Yours respectfly….’scoop-the-poop-sign-k-0727

GIRL: Cool eh?

DAD: It would be. But the grammar needs tightening. Your clauses are all over the place. It reads like you’re saying that me – ‘making’ you walk to school – is the disgusting aspect. Not the dog poo.

ME: (giving him a look.) No. That’s really good actually, sweetie! Brilliant job! (to DAD) I mean –  how could that not bring them goose-stepping down our lane in the fascist jackboots and doling out the fines to every poor sod who happens to own a dog round here?

DAD: You sound like you enjoy scraping the crap off their shoes every day.

ME: Yeah well, you’re the one that insists that they walk.

GIRL: This is SO.. well cool! Do you think that they’ll pull me out of lessons so that I can show them where every piece of poo is?

DAD: No.

GIRL: But really – I love complaining like this. It’s brill! What else can we think up to moan to them about?

ME: I don’t know. I’ll have a think. But thanks sweetie,  I really appreciate the help. You’re not feeling… exploited or anything… are you?

GIRL: Oh no! This is one bit about being a grown up, that I’ll really like! And actually – I’m going to write to the local newspaper about The State Of Butter.

ME: The what?

GIRL: Yeah. I’ve noticed that it’s been tasting right horrible. these days. It’s even making me want to have margarine instead of butter with my Marmite. It’s not the Marmite, like. ‘Cause I’ve tried it on toast without it. So I know. It’s the butter. So something has got to be done about it! It’s actually a bit of an outrage if you think about it!

DAD: Changing the world one baby-step at a time. Small activist in the making.

GIRL: This is so cool. And actually – is there like, a LIVE CHAT for butter complaints?

ME: Good point. The butter-crew have a Facebook page. So there’s bound to be something as ridiculous as that. Let’s go see…

Clinical trials have proven that something has happened to Britain's butter. And don't you be blaming that Marmite!

Clinical trials have proven that something has happened to Britain’s butter. And don’t you be blaming that Marmite!





Naked, Exposed … And the Knickers

8 Sep

Of course, none of the nice writer-chums who encouraged me to write the dratted book and to get it published TOLD me that I would feel all of the above.

Why didn’t they explain to me that every time I meet someone who has read the damned thing, I would feel just a tad bit unnerved?

Oh sure, I had all of the “prepare to steel yourself – or just don’t read the book reviews”  side of things. Plus the “you might get  a bit of jealousy.” Also “your more paranoid friends might avoid you and fret that you’ll write about the time they had it away with the really ugly lad from the tyre shop.” And I even received a bit of sage advice along the lines of “don’t give your heroine the same hair colour as yourself or they’ll all think you’ve been at it with someone in local government. And that you wish your husband would kick the bucket in a freak motorbike accident” (wise titbits which readers of the book will know that I duly ignored…)

But the lack of helpful guidance on what to do with the E factor (EMBARRASSMENT) has been utterly appalling. I feel as sold down the river by my writer friends on this little one, as I do by the older generation who told me that having kids was “hard work, but rewarding” (i.e. about as helpful as giving someone a jar of Marmite who has never tasted it before and telling them that it tastes like chocolate spread.)

Yeah. Every time someone – whether a good pal from old times – or a random stranger says ‘Hey – I’ve read your book!’ I just want the earth to open up and swallow me.  What DO you say to someone who tells you this? Because publishing fiction is a little bit like … Well. I’m supposed to say something along the lines of ‘exposing the dark edges of one’s soul – of laying out for the masses the very depths of one’s being.’ But that just sounds a little bit too up-itself for me. So I shall have to use a knicker-analogy. It’s a little bit like showing someone your knickers. Or perhaps… your entire knicker drawer (the good, the bad and the very dodgy looking ones that you should have binned years ago.)

I get all wound up. See?  (one of the earliest Comic Relief events...)

I get all wound up. See? (one of the earliest Comic Relief events…)

Bit of a conversation stopper. For me, at any rate (although a certain sister in law of mine will tell you that I have no problem in flashing my knickers at people. But that was when I was 15, dear!)

So I get wound up about chatting to people about my book.

I’ve tried the simple “Oh, thank you!” (makes me feel like grovel-bag of the century, makes them feel like that have to follow it up with “No – it was really good!”) I’ve also used the “Really? Who was your favourite character then?” (makes them panic as they feel they have to remember all of the names. Or induces guilt – that they’ve fibbed about how much of the book they’ve actually read.) And I’ve done the “Great! Will you do me a review on Amazon or Good Reads then?” (makes me feel like a mercenary scumbag and makes them fret that they have to give it pretend to like it, when they thought that it was a bit bobbins.)

So all that I’m left with is the flippant “Blimey. You must have been bored with your life recently, in order to get through all of that.” (And not everyone shares my sense of humour.) Or the shoving of hands over my ears and bursting forth with a song.  I find that old Black Lace tracks such as ‘The Conga’ are the best for blocking out any further responses from people. But quite frankly, reacting to people with dreadful 80’s pop makes me come across as a little bit eccentric.

So, if you have any suggestions on how I should respond to people’s very lovely and (usually) very warm-hearted approaches towards me in relation to having read ‘Mind Games and Ministers’ – then please do send them on.

In the meantime – I want to share one of the latest reviews.  A real out of the blue critique. And written by someone which much experience in social housing, who had heard aboout my book. And who’s take on my scribblings had me laughing out loud.

In fact, I’ll go with my gut instinct on this one – I’ll just say CHEERS.  No fretting over wobbly embarrassing moments. Just a big Cheers to John Perry – Mr Social Housing and International Development Himself and writer of this review who really made my day!


(PS – if you clicked on The Conga link there – more the fool you. Because you’ll be singing it for the next 6 months. As we have been doing in our house…)






The Boris Test…

7 Aug

Love him? Or hate him. I am enjoying the Marmite analogy…

I have my own views on Boris’ politics. But the power of the charisma, the affability mixed with the sharp mind…means that even those who are ultra-cynical about the fella, even those who consider themselves to be committed Commies can be fallable.

A few months ago me and mine were hanging out in the Kalahari – the African bush. No phone, no TV, no internet access. All good fun – once we had gotten over the initial shock of being back there again. We managed to convey the lack of telecommunications to our nearest and dearest back in Blighty and every now and then – when we hit a town – we were able to pick up the odd message.

And a so-called friend of ours had sent us a gabbled email. Something along the lines of “Hope you’re having a great time! Must be weird not having access to outside world news etc. Bet you haven’t heard about Boris Johnson! He’s been a tragic accident and things are looking v bad for him.”

End of quick message.

We didn’t have a strong enough signal to find out more about Boris. Instead, we spent the next few days saying things to each other along the lines of;

HIM: I wonder what happened?  I wonder if he fell off his bicycle and went under a London bus or something.

ME: Either way, it’s awful. I mean – I don’t agree with his politics and all of that….

HIM: And the acting like a total twonk thing – that was always SO transparent…

ME: But even so – it’s just dreadful. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I quite like him. In a sort of….

HIM: … Perverse kind of way?

ME: Yeah. That. I hope he pulls through. From – whatever happened.

HIM: Let’s try and ring your dad when we can get a phone signal or something.

We spent the next few days begging African friends to try and find out the info on this ‘London Mayor with Yellow Hair’. Whom they had never heard of. But the Namibian papers were either not interested in Boris J. Or they also thought that he was a bit of a twonk.

And then we managed to get a phone signal and I called up my dad.

Phonecall to Manchester:

ME: Hi dad! Gotta be quick – costs a fortune from here!

DAD: Hello back. What time is it there? What’s the weather like there? It’s spitting here! Spitting, I tell you!

ME: Never mind the Peter Kay jokes, Dad. What’s happened to Boris Johson?

DAD: No idea what you’re on about. He’s still as bloody annoying as ever.

ME: So he… hasn’t been fatally wounded in an accident with a pigeon in Trafalgar Square, or anything?

DAD: Not what I know of. Anyway. What do I care about London? They can do what they want down there. Nowt to do with me.

So that was it. End of Big Filthy Lie about Boris Johnson, which our ‘hilarious friend’ decided to spin for us whilst we were On Incommunicado.

It certainly taught me a thing or two:

1) Rumour can be a powerful thing

2) You think that you dislike a politician but when push comes to shove – you discover that you may have a secret soft spot for them (Durr…! I *do* mention the guy in my book…go figure!)

3) You think that you’re trying to raise your kids not to be too partisan, but even your kids catch on (‘I never like the bad blue party – but the jolly mayor wasn’t so bad. I’m sorry that he drowned on the Underground thing.’)

To conclude. Boris Johnson is clever, clever. And capable of shrugging off the amiable buffon image.

Watch this space.

Don't look now! But is Boris about to fall foul of a London Bus?

Don’t look now! But is Boris about to fall foul of a London Bus?