Monthly Archives: July 2011

The joys of soft play

Yesterday I went to hell. Or, more specifically, Gambado during the school holidays.

Gambado is your average soft-play centre, only bigger and more garish. It being the holidays, there were a lot of older children there. What you forget about older children, when you spend little time with them and have been hoodwinked by sentimental Victorian notions of innocence and purity, is that most of them are vile little shits, who would smilingly murder each other if it meant they got to the slide quicker. I stood near a large group of them in Bunhill Fields the other day, their picnicking parents close by but out of earshot, doubtless grateful their offspring were playing so nicely. Except they weren’t. They were tormenting each other, calling each other knobhead and loser, and kicking footballs aimed squarely at each other’s faces. And those were the nice ones, the ones called Arlo and Felix, who have long hair and wear organic, fair-trade cotton tees.

Anyway, Gambado. Don’t know why I went there. For a start it’s in Chelsea Wharf, possibly the hardest place in London to get to from Shoreditch. I couldn’t face driving, and the law of the underground is that, if there is a lift, it will be out of order, and you’ll have to stand teetering a buggy over the top of the stairs until someone volunteers to help. You’ll then smile gratefully, making out like you didn’t realise buggy + kid + all the random kid crap = around 60 kilos, thanking them as they quietly despise you for daring to take the Tube in rush hour when everybody knows it is only for office workers during this time. ‘You won’t need to go to the gym now!’ you’ll joke as, red-face and panting, they drop the buggy at the other end, a light film of sweat coating their brow. Nyuh, they’ll grunt, silently vowing never to help another mother again. I know, I’m spoiling it for everybody.

To top it off, the boy didn’t much like Gambado. He screamed much of the time he was there, hating the crowds and finding the bumper cars too scary. What I am learning about small boys is that they do not need complex entertainment. Show them a building site or some public transport and they’re pigs in shit. Fifteen quid on a warehouse full of soft-play equipment is frankly a waste of money. Although, to be fair, my Mum friends tell me that on a Monday morning during term time it’s a different place altogether, which no doubt means that at some point I’ll be persuaded into giving it another go.

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Filed under General rants and moans, Kids, parenting... Non-mums may want to move along

How hard can it be to buy a bikini?

Very fucking hard is how. For starters, I made the schoolgirl error of trying to buy one in July, when naturally the rails are filling with gloves and ski jackets. Admittedly this wasn’t a total shock as the shops have been pulling this stupid six-months-ahead thing for a while now, and I was sneakily hoping it would work to my advantage and I’d be able to pick one up in the sale. But the XXS girls had all the luck on that one, as anything that wasn’t sequinned and push-up only came in random sizes.

And yes, then there’s the sizing. There must be 10 women on the planet who can wear the same size top and bottoms and yet still manufacturers persist with their belief that all women are broad of back and pancake of chest, even though we all wear bras, which you’d think might be a clue to the contrary. But Freya does bikinis in cup sizes, people say to me. You should look at Freya!

But Freya makes the kind of bikinis Judith Chalmers would wear:

That fabric is making my eyes bleed. And don’t get me started on the shape.

Problem number three is that I don’t want to spend a lot of money. After all, we’re talking about two scraps of viscose here. I’ll be wearing it for a total of a week this year (though fairly solidly during that period). But swimwear seems to have gone the way of the handbag, in that for some reason it has become inordinately fucking expensive.

Take this one by Norma Kamali, which I like very much (and seem to remember the cast of Desperate Housewives wearing on the cover of Vanity Fair):

But £300? Really?? For that I’d want the holiday thrown in.

Still, as annoying as bikini shopping is, it’s not as bad as bra shopping.

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Food that should be disgusting but isn’t

This weekend I went to a kids’ party where the adults were served, among other things, a watermelon, feta, mint and black olive salad. It sounds odd but was actually delicious, the kind of thing that shouts summer.

I just Googled it and found a million variations on the recipe, so clearly this is something the world has been enjoying without me. What I like about it is that there is no actual cooking involved, merely the assembling of four ingredients. This makes it as easy as a lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad, the difference being that if you serve this people will think you are a clever and imaginative hostess, rather than lazy and cheapskate.

But if, like me, you’re so insecure in the kitchen you need a recipe for porridge – although seriously, if you do, this one is great – I will point you in the direction of Diana Henry’s recipe, because she is brilliant and her book Cook Simple: Effortless Cooking Every Day would be my bible, were I a dedicated enough cook to have such a thing.

The real reason watermelon salad feels like a treat is that people don’t actually buy watermelon very often. This is because they see it in the supermarket marked £2 or whatever and think, ‘Ooh, that’s not a bad deal,’ forgetting that the marked price is per kilo and that the melon in fact weighs the same as a small child. You only need to get caught by that little sting once before you start sticking to oranges.

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Pottery Barn Kids starts shipping to the UK

Although I like to think I have good taste (everyone thinks they have good taste, just as everyone thinks they have a sense of humour), I’ve a weakness for most things twee. I’m not quite at the ornamental-pebbles-in-a-vase stage, but whether it’s the mock-Provençal kitchenware peddled at Anthropologie or Not On The High Street’s personalised home portraits, I’m all over it.

But as sugary as they are, both Anthropologie and Not On The High Street must bow down before the sovereign ruler of twee, which is Pottery Barn Kids, master of the gingham ruffled crib skirt and faux-Colonial bedroom suite. During those final, lumpen weeks of pregnancy I spent many a happy moment trawling its website and imagining my son would grow up with a wood-panelled ceiling and boat bed, complete with personalised sail headboard.

And now it’s shipping to the UK!

Pottery Barn Kids personalises pretty much everything. It’s a neat trick in a world where so many kids have obscure names, and the British High Street has been surprisingly slow to follow suit.

My personal favourites are the critter towels and Peter Rabbit bibs:

Twee? Why, yes. But admit it – if someone bought them for your baby, you’d be pleased.

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Mother-son matching shoes part II

Look! We both have Toms! The same as we both have Converse!

My friend Penny says that I can just about get away with this because I have a son, but if I was running around in the same clothes as a daughter I would be PsychoMom.

As ever, it’s a fine line between sexy and sexist.

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Back in London

So we’re back from LA, and having taken a toddler to Sea World, the zoo, Travel Town and 55 other places designed to keep carping kids amused, I’ve learned that for him there is no greater entertainment than standing beside a toilet and watching it flush.

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Coping with Californian friendliness

So I’m in line at a cafe in Studio City and the old guy standing behind says to me, ‘You look cute. I love your outfit – it’s really funky.’ (I’m assuming he means this in the English sense, Modern and stylish in an unconventional or striking way, rather than the American, Having a strong, offensive, unwashed odour.) In any case, my immediate thought is, ‘Ugh, get the fuck away from me, you geriatric, perverted freak.’

And then I remember. This is what Californians do: they are friendly and nice, with a demeanour as sunny as their climate, and I must override my natural inclination to assume that pleasant overtures from strangers must signal a conman, rapist or psychopath. I’ve got to ditch my Londoner’s tendency to treat everyone with squinty-eyed suspicion until I’ve met them 47 times. Because here people just, y’know, chat. To strangers. To anybody.

In queues, lifts, shops – people of every age, race and background will have frank and open conversations with whoever happens to be standing next to them at the time. I admit it’s the aspect of American culture I find hardest to deal with, since I’ve been in London long enough to have it ingrained into my soul that any stranger who talks to you on the Tube is either mad or foreign – probably both – and generally we Londoners like to extend this assessment to all public places.

But I appreciate that this is my shortcoming, and being genial and courteous is obviously A Good Thing. Spread a little happiness, and all that.

So I’ve tried, I really have. And I think these efforts have paid off. After a year of living in Los Angeles, my standard reaction to someone starting a conversation had progressed from a pained grin, accompanied by a huhuhuh-please-leave-me-alone false laugh, to (in response to a request that I have a good day now) a cheery, ‘You too!!’

Which is a definite improvement, no?

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Filed under General rants and moans