Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Taking on the Christmas Day challenge

This year, as for the past ten years (give or take), Drake and I divided our Christmas Day between his parents and mine. Before Duckling was born, we used to have Christmas lunch at his folks, then head to my parents late afternoon, usually arriving just in time for dessert following their evening Christmas dinner. Since Duckling and Gosling (his cousin) have been on the scene however, we've gone full Vicar of Dibley and have two full Christmas dinners in one day, arriving an hour or two before dinner at my parents to give the kids time to play together. Gaviscon is definitely our friend come Yuletide.

At 22 months, Duckling is still comparatively portable, and not sufficiently caught up in Crimbo mania to be particularly bothered about where he is or what's going on. By next year however, I suspect he'll rather more switched on, and won't be so keen to pack up his presents mid way through the day for yet more forced brussel sprout eating at his other Grandma's. To be honest, upping sticks at 3pm, ramming a range of oversized toys in an already bulging boot and driving 30 miles across South East England is not my idea of a fun either these days (and that's before we get on to the indigestion issues), so I'm definitely ready for a change.

As such, I have tentatively offered to host Christmas at our house next year, for the first time ever. It's a full twelve months away, but I'm already terrified. Our dual family Christmas has been a tradition for so long, I'm not really sure where to start when it comes to stamping my own, grown up identity on the day. Here follows just a few aspects that will need to be considered:

Opening presents. Drake's parents go for the slowly slowly, one at a time, everybody admires each other's gifts and is suitably complementary approach. His Mum and Dad give each other sensible, practical things, like garden twine and golfing shoes, and we get whatever we put on our Christmas list, and not much more. With my family, it's a bit more of a simultaneous wrapping paper rip fest, not least because my Mum always goes a bit mad on the presents and if we took them one at a time, we'd still be opening them some time in February.

Christmas dinner. Drake's mother cooks a small turkey crown (there are only four and a half of us), Paxo stuffing balls, a few roast potatoes, sprouts from the garden, and just about enough carrots to allow for four (five if you're lucky) batons each. My mother serves up a turkey large enough to feed an army, a navy and an air force combined; homemade sausage meat stuffing; bacon roll ups and pigs in blankets; roast potatoes and parsnips; new potatoes; a ham (usually eaten on Boxing Day); five different types of veg; cranberry sauce; bread sauce; and several pints of gravy. Plus a minimum of three desserts. She cooks everything from scratch (though my sister does help with the desserts), and it's always timed to perfection and absolutely bloody amazing. How in the hell I'm ever going to pull off Christmas day to anywhere near her standard, I do not know.

Helping out. Drake's folks tell us in no uncertain terms that we cannot help with the cooking, as we deserve a rest, and it's our time to put our feet up an relax. My Mum tells us we can't help out because she has it all planned, and it's difficult to delegate anything without spoiling the metaphorical broth (a.k.a we'll balls it up). I'm fairly sure I'll be in the latter camp when it's my turn, though I may try to pass it off as the former...

Post dinner activities. We spend the evening of Christmas Eve with Drake's parents, and the evening of Christmas Day with mine. At Drake's, we are plied with alcohol by Drake's Dad (he takes it as a personal failing if we do not have a full drink in our hands at all times) while everyone engages in polite, and increasingly slurred chit chat about people I mostly haven't heard of, and places I haven't been. Then at some time after midnight (we have to 'see Christmas in', however knackered) we all head to bed, after repeated reassurances that we really don't need hot water bottles as it's 16oC outside, thank you, and we really won't be bothered by the heating 'clicking on' at 5am (I have yet to hear the cacophonous din this apparently involves, but we are warned about it every year). At my parents, we collapse on the sofa, switch on a Christmas Day film on which nobody really concentrates, and vegetate until bedtime. Incidentally, at no point are apologies made for the heating, even though it's a blow-air system that sounds like a B52 bomber starting up every time it comes on.

Family relations. Drake's family are all about harmony, peace and avoiding any form of conflict or awkwardness. As such, discussions about religion, politics and psychology are off limits. Drake's mother once famously snapped at his father for fussing over some placemats, but that is honestly the only time I recall any tension whatsoever. My family, well, not quite so calm and collected. Christmas is usually a noisy affair (particularly with two nearly-twos together) with spirited debate welcomed, and at least one falling out over something pretty much guaranteed (most famously when my Dad bought my Mum a bread bin rather than an ice cream maker. Not well received). I don't want to exaggerate - the arguments are never on an Eastenders scale, and mostly we all have decent enough senses of humour to laugh things off and avoid real issues. But passions definitely run higher in my family abode than they do in Drake's.

In summary, it's a choice between moderation and tranquillity, and (moderate) excess and (mild) drama. Given that Drake and I both bring elements from each family, it's probably inevitable that next year's dinner - if I stick to my promise - will be an odd mixture of all of the above. Plus plenty of stress on my part. I can't cook for people without stressing (usually about gravy. It is my nemesis). Whatever we do, the most important thing will be making it memorable (in a good way) for Duckling. I'm pretty sure that doesn't require a million presents, or two dozen perfectly roasted chipolatas. It just needs happyish, probably slightly tipsy parents, the wonder of Santa, lots of fairy lights and a decent cardboard box to play in. If we stick to that I'm sure we can't go wrong.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Guns in America: a short rant

This is not going to be a long post, as what I'm going to say has been said many times before by people far more eloquent and informed than me. As a Brit, it's probably not even a subject I should hold a strong opinion on, but having a husband who has lived in the US for long stretches, and having spent a lot of time out there myself, I do.

The shooting last week in San Bernardino, California, was the 353rd mass shooting in the USA this year. Fourteen people killed, seventeen injured and the legislative response to such a shocking, appalling waste of life?  For the 353rd time this year, nothing, zip, zero. 

The Republican party's blocking of any form of gun control or even more disturbingly, any form of publically funded research into gun crime, highlights not only a casual disregard for human life, but also an apparently intractable issue in the US system of politics. While the two-house congress structure ensures checks and balances, in certain circumstances (e.g. when the opposition party controls one or both houses), it also prevents the US president, allegedly one of the most powerful people on the planet, from acting to protect his citizens.  A majority of Americans back greater gun control, but unfortunately, in the House of Representatives, gun advocates are in the majority, which means that any attempts to introduce legislation to better vet gun owners is voted down, every time.

Many argue that stricter gun control laws will not necessarily change gun death rates in the US much (although a total ban on hand guns almost certainly would), but even a small decrease would be important, as would the symbolic value to both US citizens and those internationally who look on with horror at the total lack of political action towards such routine slaughter.

I am aware of the mythical history around gun possession in the USA, of the constitutional right to bear arms, of the arguments put forward about guns being necessary to stop a dictatorial government rising up and oppressing the people, of the suggestion that the only thing that's going to stop someone with a gun is another person with a gun... Unfortunately, it's all utter bullshit without any foundation in empirical research, or even reasoned argument.  Look at any country in Europe (and many beyond), and you'll see that mass gun ownership is totally unnecessary to maintain peaceful, democratic nations.  The reality is that these beliefs stem not from fact, but from right-wing media generated fear, the glamorisation of guns and the macho culture surrounding them, and the lobbying power of the NRA and major arms manufacturers.

The problem is that mass shootings, which are on the up in the US despite a drop in other forms of violent crime, have become so commonplace now that they have seeped into the common consciousness.  If you are an individual on the edge of sanity, or belong to a culture where violence necessarily begets violence, shooting a bunch of people has become a legitimised response to whatever grievance you may have, and you have numerous past examples to inspire you.  With few restrictions to prevent you obtaining your weapon of choice, it's simply a matter of point and shoot until the bullets run out.

I am all for freedom - freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of belief. Freedom to purchase an assault rifle with, realistically, no other purpose than to shoot a lot of people in a very short space of time seems like a very perverse freedom to me though, given that it robs other people of their freedom to live unafraid, and could very well rob them of their lives.

Drake and I had the option to start a new life in the USA a few years back.  There are many things I love about America (mac 'n' cheese!) and most Americans, like people anywhere, are decent, honest and kind.  Were it not for my family ties, we would have gone.  Now we have a child though, I'm not sure I would consider it, not because I'd worry Duckling would get shot - the risk of that is actually still very small (though given you're thirty times more likely to be murdered with a gun in the USA than the UK, I would worry a little bit more), but because I don't want him to grow up in a country where lethal weapons are so revered by so many, and where guns - which, let's face it, are designed with the sole purpose of injuring/killing - are seen as an unfortunate but necessary tool for living in a civilised society.  Because no society where essentially one mass shooting takes place every day of the year can really be considered civilised; I don't care how good the mac 'n' cheese is.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The comedy stylings of Master Duckling

The last few weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster in the Duck household, with Duckling's various illnesses and the hospital admission. Now he's better though, he's making up for all the stress and worry in the best possible way: by making us laugh as only a toddler of one-and-three-quarters can.

Honestly, sometimes my child is pure comedy gold. I know every parent delights in the sweet hilarity of their kids (it's their primary saving grace) but Duckling seems to be on particularly fine form at present. At the risk of sounding rather indulgent, here are a few of my current favourite Ducklingisms:
  • He's taken to seeking out my bras and thrusting them in my direction shouting "bye bye boobies!". Because, you know, logically that IS what happens when you don a brassiere...
  • He's totally in love with sitting in items he's much too big for and spinning around. Like saucepans. And colanders. And the salad spinner. 
  • His wonderful "make do" approach to talking. If he can't say the word, he uses something which roughly fits the bill. Hence the bath is a "puddle", an aeroplane is a "neeow", my brush is a "hair", coins and other small objects are "peas/bees" (hard to tell which) and Peppa Pig is a loud grunting noise. When he can say the word, he often likes to emphasise it by saying it twice too ("go go", "door door", "num num"). He can actually speak in rough sentences, but unless you have your Duckling to English dictionary handy, you're never going to understand what "Marmar go go neenor Mummy" means ("Grandma is going home in her car Mummy" for reference). And, my favourite part, if all else fails, he will just call an object a "deedah": his version of a doodah I believe. 
  • The tongue of concentration. Not even two and already displaying one of the traits (sticking my tongue out while concentrating) I get teased about the most by Drake. I'm very proud.
  • His obsession with the fridge. It's floor level and we have no way of properly locking it, so he's in there every time my back is turned. This mostly causes intense irritation and blueberries all over the floor, but it can be quite amusing too. Like the time he made a train out of all of the condiments. Or stuffed 5 cocktail sausages in his mouth at once just as Grandma arrived, then tried to yell "Heyo Marmar".... Or tried to eat a red onion thinking it was an apple...
  • The moments of sheer surrealism. Yesterday he took his plastic farmyard pig into the bath with him. "Wo dat?" he asked, pointing to the line of nipples on the pig's belly. "They're her nipples" I said. "Like her boobies." "Ooooh, num num!" said Duckling, then pretended to pick off each nipple like a grape and pop it in his mouth, smacking his lips and declaring it to be "mmmmm, nummy". After I'd been handed a few invisible nipples and declared them 'nummy' too, it occurred to me I should possibly be disturbed by all this detachable nipple munching. Thankfully he hasn't tried it on me yet though.
  • His odd clothing-related quirks. For example, he absolutely cannot possibly go to bed without socks on, and will wake up to protest if one falls off in the night. Or his love/hate relationship with hats - wears them when he doesn't need to, rejects them when he does. Or his pathological hatred of his snazzy red and grey hoody top (it's lovely - I honestly have no idea what he has against it).
  • His insistence on shouting "Oh no!" at every instance of mild disaster, even when he has quite obviously been the cause of the disaster concerned. "Oh no!" he cried yesterday, with an expression of mock horror on his face as he rammed his block trolley repeatedly into his Duplo farm, scattering various plastic animals across the living room. "Oh no!" he yelled this morning, as he shoved his poor toy meerkat down the back of the bed for the seventeenth time in a row. "Oh no, oh no!" he screeched in the bath this evening as he emptied his watering can onto my lap...
  • The fact that everything in life must be categorised into "Mummy", "Daddy" and "Me". Three different sized teddy bears? "Mummy bear, Daddy bear, Me bear!" Shoes under the stairs? "Mummy's doos, Daddy's doos, Me doos!", Random cars parked along the street? "Mummy's neenor, Daddy's neenor, Mummy's neenor, Mummy's neenor, Daddy's neenor, ME NEENOR!" Apparently he owns a 2005 Ford Mondeo. Who knew?
Yep, sometimes owning a toddler is utterly brilliant. Surreal, baffling and quite often messy, but brilliant nonetheless.