Category Archives: Behaviour and Etiquette

Well done darling, have this award for existing

In which the Wartime Housewife discusses the modern need for constant approbation.

There was a news article recently which reported on a couple of teenagers who found £5,000 at a bus stop and handed it in to the police.  The owner was delighted to have had the money returned (obviously) and thanked the boys for their honesty.  However, he didn’t give them a reward.  The newspapers picked up on this and were ‘outraged’ that the man didn’t offer a financial reward and suggested that the boys had learned that honesty doesn’t pay.  To their credit, the boys weren’t in the least concerned.

Why does absolutely everything we do have to be rewarded?  Was it not enough for the boys to know that they had done the decent thing without having to have an outside agent confirming their decency with a material reward?

Many modern parents have got into the habit of praising their children to the skies for every tiny little thing that they do.  Everything must have a positive affirmation or they will grow up feeling negative about themselves and lacking in support. Children practically receive a round of applause for breathing in and then out again.

Bringing up children is a difficult business and there is no perfect way of doing it.  We are all different and our children are different; sanctions that work with one child may not work with another.  One parent’s childrearing technique may work for their family but not necessarily for yours.  We just have to get on with it the best we can.

One thing I do know is that our job is unequivocally to equip our children for the rigours of adult life and the key word, as in law, is ‘reasonable’.  We must teach them to have a reasonable degree of self esteem and confidence and yet show compassion and empathy for others.  We need them to stand on their own feet and fight their own battles.  They must learn that failure is not the end of the world and can sometimes teach us more about life than success and that we can’t be good at everything.  Sometimes they may not be invited to the party or picked for the team and they have to learn to take it on the chin and move on.

As parents, the teaching of these things means that we are sometimes going to be unpopular.  If your child has never, at any point, turned round to you and said “I hate you, you never let me do anything!” then you’re doing something wrong and that something may be that you’re spending too much time trying to be popular.

A parent should not be a child’s best friend.  They’ve got mates, your job is to be their parent and that means doing things that, sometimes, they’re not going to like.  It also means not jumping in and rescuing them at every turn, not fighting their battles and not intervening every time they face a difficulty.

My sisters and I were brought up in a family with no guidance or support of any kind and I know that I have sometimes had to fight the urge to jump in and ‘save’ my boys from difficulties or unpleasantness.  I wouldn’t wish my childhood on anyone and neglect of a young people is a difficult thing to forgive, but by God, we three girls are tough and there’s not much that life throws at us that we can’t cope with, each in our different way.

Young people have to learn to cope and that sometimes means letting them fail, helping them to overcome difficulties on their own and giving them the freedom to make mistakes.  Let them fall out of trees, fall out with their friends, fall in love with unsuitable people.  They will never manage risk if they don’t take risks. My sister talks about ‘Slopey Shoulder Syndrome’ where people are too feeble to tackle anything for themselves and constantly plead for others to do things for them.

In real life, everyone you meet is not going to tell you you’re great. Your boss at work is not going to hand you a certificate for doing the job you’re paid to do and you are not going to receive constant reassurance from every colleague, tutor, manager, client, lover, that you are a super human being.  If your every childhood move has been praised to the skies with a burst of fireworks, this is going to come as one hell of a shock.

If your kids fuck up you have to tell them so they can make better decisions.  If they behave badly, you have a responsibility to punish them to teach them consequences.  Don’t let them do everything they want to do, just because you have the resources to make it happen, it devalues what they chose to do and tells them nothing about the assessment of choices.

I read an interesting article recently about a psychologist who, as well as the normal parade of those with unhappy backgrounds,  has started seeing a lot of 20 to 30-somethings who feel a lack of purpose, anxious, confused and empty inside.  On further questioning, these young people have had fabulous parents, who were their ‘best friends’, supported them at every turn, talked through their feelings, always helped them with their homework, were attuned to their every need.

Now, is it possible that these wondrous parents had simply done too much, had actually disabled their children through their constant support and intervention.  I am always deeply suspicious of people who hero worship their parents, because cynical me can’t help feeling that somehow those parents have tried too hard to be popular and I find that those people are often not as empathetic or sympathetic to the difficulties of others.

Don’t make your children’s lives too perfect, if you really love your children don’t shield them from the things they need to learn.  Teach them to do their best, not yours.

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Star Charts – hit them where it hurts

Don't know why BTY has crossed his stars out - an investigation is underway

My children are unbearably untidy, intermittently violent and vile to each other and sporadically lazy.  They only do their apportioned chores if I’m waving a metaphorical big stick at them, Boy the Younger spends his evenings trying to sleep in Boy the Elder’s bed and keep him awake and both boys are genuinely frightened that they will melt if touched by water unless it is a full moon or a Friday in May.

Although I can’t help feeling that Boy the Elder, at 14, is too old for star charts, he is definitely not too old if said star chart is index linked to his pocket money.  Boy the Younger spends his money on random Lego figures and Kinder Eggs, whilst Boy the Elder spends his on books and film magazines.  Either way, pocket money matters, so I have to hit them where it hurts.

I am determined that, seeing as they have bedrooms, it is not unreasonable to ban toys and mess from the sitting room as I have to have at least one place into which I could bring another adult without  bursting into a volley of excuses – I’ve been ill, the vacuum’s broken down, we were burgled, we were raided by immigration – you know, the usual.

Firstly, I cancelled their pocket money and removed all privileges.  For privileges read TV, DSs, computer access, iPods and the portable DVD.  Then I re-vamped their childhood star charts and called them Achievement Charts which has a more adult and positive edge.

They can earn stars for being tidy, doing chores, staying in bed at night, washing, cleaning teeth, leaving me alone to work, playing nicely, being kind etc.  They get black spots for fighting, disobedience, laziness, lack of hygiene, failure to do chores, shouting and screaming, looking at me in a funny way etc.

The key thing though, is that stars represent 50p pocket money earned and black spots represent 50p pocket money lost. They can also earn privileges back for not getting any black spots in a day – yesterday they re-gained their DSs which is a bummer for BTY as he can’t find his. Unlucky – he should look after it better.

The other problem is, that in the past, I have been unable to remember exactly what I’ve banned and why and things start to slip back without my noticing.  To rectify this, I have purchased a notice board which is half whiteboard and half cork board.  The Achievement Charts are pinned to the cork board and I can write sanctions and returns on the whiteboard. Problem solved, consistency maintained.

When they were younger, they would happily wash and stay in bed for small treats such as sweets, but money is a whole different ball game.  They crave independent spending power and the realisation this morning that, after ten days, they are each only 50p up is starting to hit home.  The end of the month draws nigh and BTE can see his copy of Total Film slipping from his grasp.  BTY may actually expire if he doesn’t get his hands on another piece of preformed plastic shite.

It’s in their hands.

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Harvest Festival

Foodscape photograph by the wonderful Carl Warner

Aha!  I am back amongst you!

However, I am in such bad humour about so many things today, that it’s hard to know quite where to start.

I will begin with Harvest Festival because I attended the Harvest service at Boy the Younger’s school today.  As we went in, I said to my friend “what do you think the chances are of us singing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ or ‘Come ye thankful people come’.? “Zero,” she said, laughing.

Well it was worse than zero.  I realise that in some aspects of life, I am an unspeakable old fuddy-duddy, but why does everything that involves children have to be turned into an entertainment?  In a moment of desperation, I fed my programme to the beaming baby in the pew in front so I am unable to delight you with the nauseating detail of the ‘service’.

The children sang several feeble pop songs with the word ‘Jesus’ in them, most of which had stupid actions with which the parents were encouraged to join in.  When we were asked to clap our hand to our heart, I’m sorry to tell you that I quietly intoned “I pledge allegiance to the United States of America…” followed by a hand-jive, which had the parents on the row behind dissolving into nervous giggles.

Then there was a really good bit where it all stopped and young and delightfully handsome young man from the nearby CARE village stood up and thanked us all for the donations of food which would be given to the residents.

After this, the Reverend Blodwyn stood up and began the ‘It’s behind you’ section of the service where all the children were encouraged to shout out stuff about vegetables, after which she delivered a lecture about the environment.  Just in case the children hadn’t worked out what rain was, she put up a handy Powerpoint presentation with a character from a ‘Peanuts’ cartoon in which the character gets rained on. Ha bloody ha.

There is absolutely no need for church to be boring.  A good minister can deliver a sermon which will not only uplift and encourage, but will leave the congregation with something to think about for the rest of the week.  Hymns can be joyful and spirit raising, a reading in the hands of a decent reader is a lovely thing to listen to.

But Church, among many other things, is one really good opportunity to teach your children that there are times in life when they have to be quiet and behave with decorum.  There is an unending stream of complaints about how children can never sit still, can’t concentrate, can’t keep quiet.

A large part of the problem is that children are not taught to be quiet and behave with decorum.  Everything they do has to be entertaining.  Well life isn’t always entertaining, in fact, quite large chunks of life can be a bit boring and require us to keep our gobs shut when we’d rather not.  Sometimes we have to be quiet for the comfort of others.

Children need to be taught that there are times to have fun and times to be quiet and still.  How can they learn to think and reason if their minds are being swamped with a constant and unrelenting cacophony of sounds and sights and ‘stimulation’?  How can they learn to appreciate the small and simple things with which they’re surrounded if they never have a moment’s peace in which to do it?

I love Harvest Festival; whatever one’s spiritual pathway, it is completely reasonable to be grateful that we have enough food and that we still have farmers out there producing it.  It is a gratifying experience to share some of that produce with those who have less than us. I personally thanked the farmers in the next pew for growing our milk.  They did the narrowed eyes thing and left.

When I was at school, the Harvest service was a beautiful thing.  The girls doing cookery baked fabulous loaves to look like sheaves of corn, flowers graced every windowsill and the joyful Harvest hymns rocked the rafters as the organ thundered and the choir sang descants that could have lifted the tiles off the roof.

The last ‘hymn’ was called ‘Harvest Hoe Down’ accompanied by a tinny recorded sound track and a bazooka solo from some invisible children – I don’t need to draw you a picture of how awful that was.  I left Boy the Younger’s service with my teeth ground down to powder.   I accosted a teacher in the playground and pleaded that, just once before I BTY leaves, could we sing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’? Just once. “Why?” she answered.

It all makes ‘Cauliflowers fluffy…’ seem positively Wesleyan.

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Education, Life in general, Religion

Shire Books of the Month: ‘Royal Weddings’ and ‘Discovering the Folklore & Traditions of Marriage’

William & Kate - clearly in love

Weddings being all the rage at the moment, it seems fitting to review these fascinating books on Royal Weddings and the Traditions of Marriage  Whether one is a Royalist or not, there is something tremendously hopeful about a marriage, in the belief that no matter what else is happening, people fall in love and decide  to get married.  Months of preparation ensue as couples opt for the full blown ‘fairytale’ bash or a quiet ceremony in the Register Office

Henry V & Kate de Valois - clearly strangers

Marriage between the high born and the low born historically served different purposes.  Up until the last hundred years, marriage between royalty existed to consolidate the power of the monarch and stabilise the relationships between countries who might otherwise have posed a threat.  Love was not even considered and young aristocrats were often betrothed when they were little children and even underwent a ceremony to cement that commitment.  That is not to say, however, that love didn’t sometimes develop in spite of the business-like arrangements.

Nowadays, we expect our royal families to be in love with their chosen partners (let’s forget Charles and Diana who appear to have conformed to the ‘stability’ model) and we expect the wedding to be a spectacle in which the whole nation takes part.  But looking back through the centuries royal weddings have taken place at venues as different as York Minster to hurried late night ceremonies in locked rooms.

Henry I was the first Norman king to marry on British soil and married Edith of Scotland in 1100 at Westminster Abbey to both demonstrate his claim to the English throne and to endear himself to the downtrodden masses.

In 1464, the youthful Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville in a secret ceremony at her father’s manor.  Henry only mentioned it to his advisors when they announced plans to secure a more politically profitable match.

George V sweeping away German title & tradition. Cartoon from 'Punch' by L Raven-Hill, my great grandfather as it happens

Royal Weddings’ charts the social and political backdrop to a thousand years of matrimonial monarchs and gives a fascinating perspective on the changing ideals and interdependency of royalty and the people they ultimately serve.

“But what about we ordinary mortals?” I hear you cry.  In many ways our story is more rich and juicy than anything the royals can cook up because tradition and folklore varies so widely from region to region.

Many people have been absorbed by the recent TV series ‘My Big, Fat Gypsy Wedding’ and whatever one’s views about that community, their traditions and expression of their culture serve as a perfect example of the different roles marriage has to play in communities with different needs and expectations.

Discovering the Folklore and Traditions of Marriage’ takes us through love and courtship, preparation for the big day, the wedding day itself and the celebrations, as well as the social implications of being obliged to be together forever.  I wonder if the marriage ceremony would include the words “’ till death us do part” if they had known that future couples might live to be 90 or more?

After the Stag Night. Great bunch of lads...

Fleet Weddings, Gretna Green, Besom Weddings, Penny Weddings, Wife Selling – it’s all in here.  Throwing stockings was the forerunner of throwing bouquets and it was done when the newly married couple were actually in their marriage bed.  Who would consider having a ‘Rough Band’ banging saucepans to be a lucky thing and yet Chimney Sweeps still advertise their services to appear at weddings.

The Wartime Housewife never married (but lived ‘o’er t’brush’ with two bastard children), but after reading this book, she might just consider it.  But only if she can re-enact the scene from the Mayor of Castorbridge and, having got drunk on ‘furmity’, her husband promises to sell her and her children to a passing sailor.

If you want your wedding to stand out, you will find everything you need in here to make your day a truly historic occasion.

Seriously interesting - even if you're not the marrying kind

Royal Weddings is also available as an e-book

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Family and Friends, History, Life in general, Slider

Landfill

Forgive the lack of articles for the last two days.  We have just spent 8 hours tidying Boy the Elder’s bedroom.  A room, I might add, that is a mere 8 feet square.   1 hour per square foot.  I have been completely bewildered by the fact that Boy the Younger’s clothes and underwear have been going missing over the last couple of months and now I know why.  They were all stuffed under Boy the Elder’s bed, chest of drawers, desk and radiator.  As were nearly 30 DVDs with and without boxes, 3 saucers, 4 spoons, 3 mugs, 2 plates and 1 broken egg cup.  3 pairs of pyjamas have turned up which BTE claimed to have lost on various Scout camps… and 37 odd socks.

On the bright side, at least I haven’t had an asthma attack yet.
Yet being the operative word.
Tomorrow we are tackling Boy the Younger’s room.
Our Father, who art in heaven………

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Bad mannered children

Send them out to work

Just another quick rant about manners to start off February.  Yesterday morning, I was approaching the main entrance at Boy the Elder’s school, and was about to open the door when a 12-year old pushed straight past me, opened the door and let it slam in my face. I collared him, pointed out his error and acknowledged his mumbled “Sorry” and let him go.  Bugger me if, less than two minutes later, another child did exactly the same thing going in the other direction.

I’ve also noticed that on the rare occasions when the Head Teacher is standing at the school gates, I have never yet seen anyone say good morning to her as they walk past.  To be fair, I’ve never seen the hatched-faced cow greet any of the children either.  Disgraceful.  However, my increasingly low opinion of the school means that I’m not surprised that those at the top are not setting standards.

But I nearly reached boiling point in Sainsbury’s this afternoon when several children crashed into or pushed me with no apology.  Then a young girl of about 10 marched straight out of a side aisle and pushed me out of the way.  I instinctively said “Oh, I’m so sorry” and then turned on my heel and said very loudly to no-one in particular “Why the bloody hell am I apologising to exceptionally rude children for crashing into ME!”  The girl turned round, looking startled and I pointed at her and said “Yes You – you’re a very rude little girl”. 

She darted off into the crowd and there followed a general discussion with other shoppers about how lacking in deference many children are.  I’ve taught the boys that you always stand back for a grown-up, always hold the door open and let them go first, say good morning, treat them with deference, particularly much older people, offer to help, apologise if you bump into someone, smile and say thank you when someone gives you something or pays you a compliment, say ‘may I please’ not ‘can I ‘ave’.

I recognise that you can only teach what you know, but how can schools expect any level of order when basic courtesies and respect are neither encouraged nor demonstrated? Gggrrrrrrrrr…

Signed:
Livid of Leicestershire

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Hiking it up – or should that be camping?

I have to be up at a disgustingly early hour in the morning because Boy the Elder has decided, at the last minute, that he is going for a day’s hiking in Wales tomorrow.  This activity was offered by The Scouts last month and he initially declined because he was worried that it would be too demanding, but then a friend rang and said “Oh go on!” I also suspect an added incentive is the presence of a certain Girl Scout who is much admired by BTE and his chum.

My sons love being outside and are very active – show them a tree and they’ll be up it like a squirrel after his nuts, but they are not sporty.  Boy the Younger has attained a greater degree of mastery over his limbs than BTE, which helps, and he approaches sport with rather more vim and vigour than his brother, but they are both devoid of any competitive edge whatsoever.

One of my favourite examples is when BTE had his first Sports Day and one of the races was a Fancy Dress Relay.  The children ran along, stopping every so often to put on a hat, then a waistcoat then some trousers etc.  My son ran to the first pile and put on a hat.  He sauntered nonchalantly along the track to the pile of waistcoats, decided that the one on his pile didn’t co-ordinate with the hat, so he went to the pile in the next lane and took that waistcoat instead.  The same happened with the trousers and the scarves.  He arrived at the finishing line looking like a 5-year old Beau Brummell, but he was not popular with his team mates.  I ignored the smugly sympathetic looks on the faces of the fathers in running shoes. 

I had high hopes that he might be gay, but his earlier, fastidious approach to personal grooming has vanished into the mist.  His Scottish cousins call him Swampy. Q.E.D.  I offer him plenty of motherly advice to guide him safely into the world of mutual attraction, for example:-

You’ll never get a girlfriend/boyfriend if you don’t:-
 keep your knob clean and fragrant
clean your teeth
change your socks / pants / ways
spray something on your hair to make it look as though it’s deliberate
stop walking/running like a tangled marionette

A male contemporary of mine once said that he wished his mother had told him things like that, but he seems to have turned out perfectly fragrant and upright without her help.  BTY is a far cleaner child in that he will spontaneously wash on a weekly basis without any threats or growling from me.

Still, at 06.30 on Saturday I will be depositing BTE in the Minibus of Hope for a journey to savour the delights of  “the famous Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall in the Welsh borders for a demanding day hike in the Berwyn Mountains, to the summits of Cadair Berwyn (830m) and Moel Sych.  Scouts will walk in accompanied groups, with the opportunity to practise navigation skills and work towards the Hillwalking Activity Badge.”  

I confess that I’m slightly worried that he won’t be able to manage it and will end up holding the others up  but I hope I’m proved wrong.  The Girl Scout may well prove to be the incentive he needs to build up his stamina.  Let’s hope he’s washed his……….

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Family and Friends, Health and Fitness, Leisure, Life in general, Outdoor Activities

Boy and Girl Shopping (or internet dating)

Can we have a chat about internet dating?

A couple of years ago, I dipped my toe into the festering pond of internet dating, as much out of curiosity as anything else, and I know quite a few other people who have also tried it.  I know two people who have successfully met their partners on the internet.  I have encountered a few people who use it for sexual liaisons and I have met lots of people who become completely addicted to it.

Now, I am the first to admit that I am a cynical old Hector but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the amount of lying that goes on.  One man who described himself as ‘medium build’ and put a quite handsome photo on,  turned out to be 22st and the photograph was years old.  Another chap swore blind he was single but turned out to be married, and most of the untruths revolved around appearance, status or intention.  But by far the biggest problem was that people didn’t know who they were or what they wanted.

 Tip No. 1:  You can never, ever succeed with someone who doesn’t know what they want.

When I showed my profile to Sister the Second, she read it quietly and then said ‘Blimey!  That sounds scary.’  I think the phrase to which she particularly referred was “May I also politely ask, that before you contact me, read your profile carefully.  Is it a true reflection of who you are, or does it only say who you think you’d like to be?  If it’s the former, I’d be delighted to hear from you.  Also, please just check that you are actually single – I don’t go out to play with married men.”  I was also very clear about my interests, status and background and yet I had lots of contacts from men who didn’t read, weren’t into music, arts or culture and even some who were arsy about my children although I made it quite clear that I possessed a brace of them.

Tip No. 2:  Don’t drag out the e-mailing for too long.  People warm to a pen-pal persona and fall for the concept they’ve built up in their minds.  If you are disappointed on meeting, you’ve wasted a lot of time for nothing.

I also discovered from reading many profiles, that people develop a lazy, clichéd vocabulary and I apologise in advance if I offend anyone.  These are purely my own prejudices with a few that have been discovered by male friends thrown in for balance.

Laid-back kind of guy = emotionally lazy, can’t be bothered to tackle issues
Romantic kind of guy = soppy
Feisty woman = argumentative and irritable
Just as happy curling up in front of a log fire… = wants a shag
Fun loving = not much fun at all and probably a drinker
Sincere = no sense of humour
Gent = (as opposed to man or gentleman) dinner out will mean a fish & chip supper
Looking for romantic lady = wants a shag
Sassy = vulgar, argumentative and irritable
Looking for my soul mate = emotional and unrealistic
Looking for that ‘special someone’ = wants you to replace their mother or father

You see, I told you I was cynical.

Tip No. 3:  Anyone who makes a point of including their religion takes it seriously.  If you are not religiously inclined, give them a wide berth.

Some other points to look out for might be:

Grammar and spelling:  If they can’t even be bothered to spellcheck an advert for themselves which might dictate their future happiness, what are the chances of them remembering your birthday or being fastidious in the lavatory?

Hobbies and Interests:  Anyone who puts down ‘Watching TV’ as a hobby is probably better off single unless they can give a jolly good excuse for it eg. being a paid TV Critic for the broadsheets.  Say. 
If they state that they’re mad about cycling or mountain climbing and you think walking to the corner shop is aerobic, they’re not for you.  You might fancy the physique of a lycra-clad individual with taut buttocks but they probably won’t fancy you.

Photographs:  Don’t go near anyone who doesn’t post a photograph.  There’ll be a good reason for it, eg. ugly, lying, married etc.

Trust your instincts:  If you look at the photo and think the person has a weak face, they’re probably weak.  If someone is good looking but you feel there’s arrogance or aggression there, you’re probably right.   Or if they say something in their profile that rings even the slightest alarm bell, then steer clear.  Be choosy.  If they have a bad relationship with their family, find out why.  It could have a significant bearing on how they conduct relationships in general.

On a serious note, both for men and women, think about your safety at all times. 

  • Use as pen name or pseudonym until you are absolutely sure the person is OK, even then be circumspect.. 
  • Never give out your mobile or landline number until you’re absolutely sure the person is OK.
  • Never reveal personal details about yourself or your children until you have established enough regular contact to be sure of the person.
  • Arrange your first date in a public place, in the daytime, ideally a coffee shop, cafe or a nice pub.
  • When you meet for the first few times, make sure someone knows where you are, who you are with and some details about the person and roughly what times you will be with them.  Ring that person when you get back so they know you’re safe.
  • Even if you’ve been meeting someone for a while, never, ever have sex without a condom.  It is unlikely that you know every detail of their personal and sexual history. 

Better still, try to meet people in real life, especially if you’re young.  I know it’s difficult nowadays, particularly when you’re older, to meet single people who are on your wavelength.  When you’re twenty it’s easy because everyone’s out there for roughly the same reason.  When you’re older, divorced or widowed, maybe not in a job where you meet like-minded people or don’t have interests that lead you to meet other single people, it’s much harder.  There are possibly very good reasons why someone of fifty, who has never been married or in a long relationship, is single.  Alternatively, if you are leading an incredibly busy life, with no free time and commitments coming out of your ears then maybe one shouldn’t even be thinking about a relationship.  You have to be realistic.

Tip No. 4:  If you feel really desperate for a relationship, maybe this is just the time when you should be on your own for a bit

There are also introduction agencies where a representative meets with you and conducts a very in-depth interview to ascertain what sort of person you are and will then match you with another member with whom they think you will be compatible.  After all, the spectator often sees more of the game and I think these organisations are often quite successful and rather more dignified, although a bit more expensive I think.

I know that I will never do internet dating again and I would rather be on my own for the rest of my life than be with someone who does me no good.  Right now I don’t really have time  for all that so I’m not looking.  But if I bumped into someone out of the blue… who knows?

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Tell it to them straight

This morning, while I was doing some paperwork, I watched the Jeremy Kyle Show.  Now, I don’t often watch this as I am usually otherwise occupied at that time of the morning, but I find the show absolutely fascinating. Over the years I’ve seen other similar shows, Tricia springs to mind and that blonde woman whose weight goes up and down, but they don’t serve the same purpose.

Now I expect you think I’m going to lambast The Jeremy Kyle Show as sensationalist, bullying rubbish, a modern day amphitheatre.  I’m not.  I think it’s absolutely brilliant.

The majority of the people who go on his show come from families where no-one is providing a role model of any kind.  No-one is dishing out good advice, setting standards or guiding their behaviour in any way.  Nobody in authority e.g. social workers, doctors, dole officers or teachers are going to tell them that their behaviour is unacceptable because it’s not their job and they would probably be disciplined for doing so.  Even if they did, the people concerned probably wouldn’t listen or just give them a mouthful of abuse.

When they go on the Jeremy Kyle show, firstly, one of the people concerned  has actually made the ‘phone call which means that at some level they want to change things.  Secondly, if they have genuine problems there is a team on hand who are skilled in the areas in which they need help and support.  Thirdly, and in my opinion most importantly Kyle will say to their faces “You are a rubbish father”, “You’re behaving like a slut”, “You should be ashamed of yourself”, “Stop being a useless coward and face your responsibilities”.  He says the things that no-one else is ever allowed to say.

Nice, middle class people watching it are probably horrified by the aggressive stance that he takes with some of the participants, but if no-one ever tells it to them straight, what possible chance do they ever have of making their lives better?  He can also be incredibly kind and genuinely upset for the people involved but he and the show’s counsellor are still very firm and clear about what needs to be done.  What really scares me is that he maybe has two or three guests on every day and they will only represent a tiny fraction of the population who are behaving in similar ways.

I was watching a girl last week was only 19, she had five children by four different fathers and she and her boyfriend were doing a lie detector and a DNA test because he thought he wasn’t the father of her last child and he’d caught her shagging another bloke at a party (“only because I was drunk”) while her baby was upstairs needing to be fed.

Many of the people behave like animals, they have no respect for themselves, their partners, their children or their families.  Violent, drug addicted, aggressive people.  Sobbing, floundering, chaotic, bewildered people. Some of them can barely speak. Young men and women having unprotected sex with anyone who’s up for it and producing children that no-one wants, no-one knows how to care for and who will grow up to behave in the same nihilistic way.

I have sometimes actually wept when I’ve seen the futility of some of those young people’s lives and the appalling cycle of neglect, lack of respect, laziness and complete absence of responsibility which is as ‘hereditary’ as heart disease, diabetes or mental ill-health.  If a session with Jeremy Kyle and his team can sort a few of them out, or stimulate a few others to take a good look at themselves, then the rather voyeuristic nature of the show can be absolutely justified.

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We don’t do culture: a birthday treat at Audley End

Boy the Elder is now 13.  I have stared at him very hard for two days now but there is no discernable difference is his nature or comportment.

As mentioned in Saturday’s blog, The Father of My Children (TFMC) and I took The Boys, plus six of their friends, down to Audley End in Essex for the day.  I’m sorry to say that the weather was not kind, but we all had raincoats and, despite the fact that Boys of That Age are normally very fearful of water (or soap or toothpaste) they’ve worked out that rain will not kill them. Saying that though, there was one girl in the group, who certainly has the power to encourage more than one of them to spontaneously freshen up.

The Stable Block

We arrived at about 10.30 – it was dull and damp but not actually raining – and went straight to the newly opened stable block.  From the outside, it’s hard to believe that this beautiful building was designed purely for the comfort of thirty horses as it looks like a fairly luxurious country house in its own right.  Inside there were two tiny ladies demonstrating the harnessing of two of the largest horses I have ever seen; a big black shire horse and a ginger Suffolk Punch.  They explained what sort of work the horses would have done and that there are only 400 Suffolk Punch horses in existence.

We then went to the play area to let them all run off a bit of energy (while TFMC and I had coffee in the warmth of the cafe) before a tour of the house.  The father of one of the boys had said to me before we left “Oh, So-and-So doesn’t do culture” so I was a little worried about how they would cope going round the enormous and spectacular Jacobean mansion.  My two are used to it, but one’s never sure of other people’s children. I had given the little ones activity sheets which they completed with great seriousness, but we lost sight of the older ones almost immediately.

Audley has been much altered, enlarged and shrunk throughout its history.  Initially it was adapted from Walden Abbey, after the dissolution of the monasteries, by Sir Thomas Audley.  It was then re-built by his grandson to three times is current size, fell to rack and ruin, bought by  Charles II, proved too costly for William III and was then returned to the Suffolk family.  When the Suffolk’s died out, the Countess of Portsmouth bought it for her heir who later became the first Baron Braybrook.  It then stayed with the Braybrook’s until 1948 when it was purchased for the nation.

The grounds were modelled by Capability Brown and a suite of rooms was created by Robert Adam.  The art collection was acquired by the young gentlemen of the house during their Grand Tours and it is a collection of such quality and beauty it would make you weep.  The boys got very excited about the Natural History Collection which comprised a corridor lined with glass cases full of hundreds and hundreds of stuffed birds and animals.  The 4th Lord Braybrook’s motto should have been “I came, I saw, I shot and stuffed things”.  Latin translation please…

Then we looked around the magnificent kitchens where servants were working as though it was a real, living kitchen; baking things, mixing with their hands, making butter and talking to each other as though it was still 1881.  Brilliantly done and it really brought everything to life.

It was starting to drizzle a bit, but we bravely set out our picnic on the tables by the Cloud Hedge and tucked in with gusto.  We attempted to light BTE’s candles on his cake, but it was too windy so he just pretended to blow them out, made a wish and we cheered like mad and sang Happy Birthday.

We prowled around the gift shop hoping that it would stop raining, but instead the clouds hit the ground and the torrent began.  “Let’s go to the Temple of Concord!” (in the far reaches of the grounds) a hardy boy shouted.  “Yes let’s!” they cried in soggy chorus.  “Not bloody likely” said the grown-ups. “We’ll meet you in the cafe and get the hot chocolate ready”.  And off they went, returning half an hour later having seen the Temple, fallen off the ha-ha, and visited a tent full of birds of prey for whom, sadly, it was too wet to fly.  They had an absolute ball, with the boy who “didn’t do culture” having more questions than any of them.  I was also most gratified when a member of EH staff came over and complemented us on  how enthusiastic and well behaved the children were.

Making spicy cabbage

We were just planning to leave, when a fellow visitor reminded us that it was Apple Day and there was a big marquee full of people cooking things with apples – a delightful cook and food historian called Monica Askay was making spicy red cabbage which filled the tent with a tantalisingly piquant aroma.  The Estate was selling produce from the enormous and impressive organic kitchen garden, there was row upon row of obscure varieties of apple, the Essex Bee Keeping Society were being informative and selling their produce – it was a hive of activity! (sorry).  We saw a Victorian apple press and drank the juice, sampled fruit wines and were beguiled by a tray of insects demonstrating the differences between bees, wasps and hornets.

Finally we left for home, sopping wet, tired and happy.  They all came into the house briefly to open presents and run about shouting, after which they were delivered to their respective homes.  BTE and his lovely friends so enjoyed themselves and we could tell by the expressions their faces that it was a day they would all remember. 

And, because we are English Heritage members, it hardly cost a thing

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Tantrum Analysis

This morning everything was bright and breezy.  My headache had gone and Boy the Younger was sweetness and light.  As I was lying in the bath last night, I was racking my brains trying to think what might have triggered the outburst.  But first, I must go back to give you the details of what happened.

The Wartime Household is a busy place at the moment.  As I mentioned last week, I am tutoring Boy the Elder four nights a week with one night with his tutor.  I am also helping Boy the Younger with his handwriting because, despite being top of his class in virtually everything, his writing is almost illegible.  I only ask for four lines of four different letters each day, I have explained why he needs to do it and he either does it with alacrity in about 10 minutes, or World War 3 breaks out.

Boy the Younger has always has always been a man of two settings i.e. Angel or Bastard.  From birth he was 80% Bastard until I got him to the Cranial Osteopath  and, as time has progressed, he now averages out at 80% Angel, 10% Bastard and 10% deciding which way to jump. 

Boy the Elder was an easier person.  He had his moments but, by and large, I’d give him a bollocking, he took it on the chin and we moved on and certainly this is the case now.  On the rare occasions when he got a smacked bottom it did the trick and lessons were learned.  On the whole, he accepted my authority and rarely pushed the boundaries to extremes.

Boy the Younger questions absolutely everything.  If he perceives that he’s heading for trouble, he will push and push and push until my ears are bleeding.  Then, and only then, will he back down.  Consequently, I have had to evolve a completely different style of management to that which I used for BTE.  

When their father and I separated, the boys’ reactions were very different; BTE had some counselling with Relate which he found very helpful and BTY started knocking eight bells out of his little colleagues at playgroup.  We worked through this by using a programme of incentives, star charts, rewards and a lot of talking, reassurance and cuddling. 

When he started big school, the negative behaviour started again, except that this time, he was having massive tantrums at home.  These tantrums involved various combinations of screaming, throwing things, attacking and biting me and BTE, throwing himself on the ground, slamming doors, refusing to eat, accusing me of hating him and so on.  He would threaten to run away and would describe how he was going to walk into the road when he saw a car coming and get himself run over and then I’d be sorry and would miss him and regret having treated him so badly. Another time, he said he was going to jump out of a window and die of blood loss from the broken glass before anyone had time to mend his broken legs.  And this from a five year old boy.

On the occasion when one tantrum lasted for four hours, two of which were spent sitting on the stairs, physically restraining him whilst determinedly not talking to him, looking at him or colluding with the behaviour in any way, I realised that this was more than just bad behaviour.

Now I am a strict parent, but I also talk to my children and give them reasons why they have been asked or told to do something.  We talk about our feelings, I tell them I love them, I am quick to praise them when they’ve done something good and I don’t hold back when they’ve done something wrong.  I lose my temper sometimes when I shouldn’t and I say the wrong things because I’m knackered and human.  I just couldn’t work out what was causing these outrageous outbursts from BTY and it was having a terrible effect on the whole dynamic of the family.

So I started to keep a record of everything he did, every day.  What time he got up, how much sleep he’d had, what he had eaten and at what time, flashpoints with BTE, behaviour at school, how much fresh air and exercise he’d had and what my behaviour had been like.  It emerged very quickly that there was a pattern to the bad behaviour and that virtually all the outbursts happened within 30-45 minutes of coming home from school and that the trouble at school was predominantly associated with one particular boy at about the same time every day.

The Father of My Children gets extremely bad tempered if he goes too long without food, so I started to chart the interval between when BTY had a meal and the onset of an outburst.  The correlation was immediately obvious, particularly in the afternoons when having had lunch at 12.00, there was a gap until he arrived home at 3.30 or later if we had had to go to the shops.

I asked his teacher to give him a banana at break time, and as soon as he got into the car, I would give him a cereal bar, a biscuit, a bag of raisins or something to boost his energy levels, so that by the time he got home, his blood sugar was up a bit.  The transformation at home was miraculous and  his behaviour  improved ten-fold.  I believe him to be susceptible to hypoglycaemia which is effectively low blood sugar but not being actually diabetic.  The school bit was more complicated as it involved several uncomfortable meetings with his teacher and the other boy’s mother.  I won’t bore you with that bit, but it has been resolved and at the end of last term, BTY was given an award for ‘Improved Social Skills’ – i.e., he has stopped thumping people.

The tantrum yesterday was pretty much my fault because, as his behaviour has been so much better for so long, and I have been so frantic and busy, I completely forgot about the need to give a snack.  I settled BTE down to do an essay and gave BTY his writing to do.  The bribe for completion was two chocolate chip biscuits.  Thinking it would only take him ten minutes or less, I didn’t give him a snack first.  Big mistake.  He would not write the letters properly and because I wouldn’t accept them, the tantrum kicked off almost immediately and I couldn’t then reward the bad behaviour with the biscuits which he actually needed. 

He swore at me, threw things, slammed the bathroom door so hard and repeatedly that he broke the mirror that is screwed to it.  Stalemate.  I told him to go and sit quietly in his room until he felt able to try again. Every time he came down, once hugging me and saying he was sorry, I quietly repeated that the letters needed to be done, that I knew he could do them beautifully and quickly, and all would be well.  I really tried to give him an opportunity to resolve it without feeling as though he had totally backed down. After several scribbled pieces of paper were thrown at me, he kicked the kitten across the room and attempted to storm out.  At that point he got a smacked bottom and I shouted at him as I carried him, kicking and screaming, to his room and told him to stay there until he could behave like a human being.  It was horrible and I was nearly crying myself.

After about ten minutes, he came down, quietly took the paper and pencil into the other room and wrote two perfect lines of letters.  Two biscuits were handed over, much praise was given for the neatness of his letters and we hugged and made up.  Today, he was given a  snack as soon as he got through the door and a two fruit pastilles were placed at the side of each line of letters.  He did the first two lines, got the pastilles, refused to do any more and the pastilles were removed,  When we got back from the tutor, the two remaining lines were done without prompting and pastilles were handed over.

I don’t know whether this is the right approach, but experience tells me that children need boundaries and they need to know who’s in charge because it makes them feel safe and loved.  If they don’t learn acceptable behaviour now they will become monsters.  I don’t believe that one should negotiate with children.  Listen to them, talk about behaviour and its consequences, allow them to make age-appropriate choices by all means, but ultimately the parents must be in charge.  It is not fair to ask children to make too many choices because they don’t have the life experience to do it, and if we as grown-ups don’t know better than them in most situations, then there is definitely something wrong. We should try to lead by example and teach them obedience and respect by demonstrating it to them and the people we meet.

I have learned that different personalities need to be handled in different ways and that children within the family need to be treated as individuals.  I have found this process very difficult and I’m still working on it.  I’m bound to bugger it up one way or another because everyone does because we’re human and fallible.  But I’m trying…

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Sorry…

… no post tonight.  Boy the Younger has been so utterly, utterly vile this afternoon and into the evening that my attempts to resolve it without either of us harming the other or further exacerbating the situation, have brought on the beginnings of a migraine.  I am full of Nurofen (Tension Headache) and Ovaltine and I am confident that, come the morning, I will be headache free and Boy the Younger will be restored to his normal, scrumptious and cuddly self.

I wouldn’t  mind, at some point, having an open discussion about the handling of tantrums.  I would be really interested to hear your experiences or opinions.  Maybe Friday…. we’ll see.

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Through the keyhole

One of the things I really like about blogging is the input and diversity of my readers.  I’m always pleased when a debate starts because it means people are thinking about what’s been said and make the effort to comment.  Some of the comments have made me change my mind or stimulated me to think why I think or act as I do.

On September 6th I wrote an article about getting The Boys to tidy Boy the Younger’s room, one of the most pressing reasons being that we had located a pile of cat crap, but the room was too untidy to get to it to clean it up.  This is a fairly clear-cut hygiene issue that had to be dealt with.  However, the state of their bedrooms is an ongoing problem which gets me down for a number of reasons:

  • I am unable to clean the rooms if they are so untidy
  • The chaos means that a lot of time is wasted trying to find clean clothes, shoes or uniform
  • People have worked hard to earn the money to buy, and put a lot of care into choosing, lovely things for them and to treat those things in such a cavalier fashion shows lack of respect
  • I feel a responsibility to teach them how to be tidy and look after their things
  • Learning to be orderly is part of learning discipline
  • They enjoy their rooms more, play better and sleep better when the rooms are tidy

I am quite an authoritarian parent and if I have asked them to do a job or behave in a certain way and they don’t do it, I have no hesitation in instituting sanctions because it is my responsibility to teach them that their behaviour has consequences.  I was really interested, therefore, that a friend of mine (for whom I have a lot of respect) left a comment on the aforementioned article, suggesting that my sanction of taking their toys away was virtually abusive.

The question is does tidyness matter?  What motivates us to keep, or not keep, an orderly house?  As I have said before, I am not a naturally tidy person and I am also a very busy person and I find it very hard to keep the house clean and tidy when the boys are in it.  I also live in a small, badly appointed house, but I have a lot of stuff, which makes it even harder.  But I do my best for several reasons:

  • Whilst I can live with untidy, I cannot bear lack of order, because it’s so time consuming
  • I want to live in a house that I’m not ashamed to bring people into
  • I have collected many books, pictures and ‘things’ throughout my life and I like them displayed to best advantage so I can enjoy them
  • I can’t think straight in a chaotic environment
  • I had a very unstructured, unguided and chaotic childhood and I don’t want my children to experience that
  • I spent chunk of my life not giving a toss and it is an unhealthy place, pointing to lack of self esteem

I have been into houses where I have hesitated to accept a cup of tea because the place is so dirty and unkempt and, for a split second, there is a moment of envy, because this person is so free of social convention that they feel no need to conform for the sake of appearances.  But this soon wears off, particularly if you’re desperate for the lav.

Then there are the houses that are so pristine and empty of character that you’re frightened to accept the tea in case you spill it on their cream carpets.  These houses frighten me more.  Not a book in sight, not a thing out of place, vast empty shelves with one characterless vase placed precisely and coldly against a bare wall.  The cream slacks brigade.

I try really hard to keep the sitting room tidy and clean and it is officially a No Toy Zone because I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have a room that is ‘grown up’.  Also the television is in there, which we all share.  The dining room is also my office and the place where homework tends to be done and, any day now, I’m going to clear the remaining miscellaneous oddments left over from the move and it will become a pleasant place to be.  There is an open fire in there as well, or will be when I remove the board which has been attached to the 1930’s fireplace with mastic.  And when I can afford to get all the carpets cleaned, thereby removing the vast and best left unidentified stains left by previous incumbents, it will be tickety boo.

Our homes should be places that reflect who we are and what we do.  They should show the character of the people who live there and be, by extension, a welcoming place to people who visit.  I rather like the idea of a Front Room or Parlour, which is always kept neat and tidy and that one can always take a visitor into with complete confidence. 

I get terribly embarrassed if people drop by and the place is a tip, and I find myself making excuses, hurriedly arranging cushions and tidying papers.  I shouldn’t care, because it’s their fault that they didn’t ring to check that it was convenient – but I do.  For this reason, I always give people a quick call if I spontaneously intend to drop by, just to allow them a fighting chance.  Someone once said to me that having a tidy round before someone comes says ‘I care about you’ and actually we’re back to manners again aren’t we?  Manners say ‘I care about you’ and removing curry smeared plates from the sofa before someone comes in says the same.  And incidentally, so does a quick call to say you’re on the way!

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Evil Mother

I have droned on in the past about the magnificent untidiness of my sons.  Despite the advice that Long Lost Cousins 1 and 2 gave me, which was to let them be as disgusting as they like, I have found that I just can’t.  I’m not a naturally tidy person myself, so I don’t expect Stepford Children, but the chaos has such a knock-on effect in being unable to find school uniform, clean clothes, PE kits, shoes etc that it is simply not sustainable.

As I have also mentioned, we are now a two-cat family.  Smog, the first to arrive, hates Jeremiah with a passion and left a large pile of protest crap behind Boy the Younger’s bed.  We were fairly quickly alerted by the smell, but the unconscionable mess in his room meant that we just couldn’t find it.  We started the clearance procedure last Monday, which almost certainly exacerbated my asthma attack, and the offending ordure was finally located. 

However, the mess in the room was at such a level that I couldn’t pull the bed out far enough to get behind to clear it up, so Boy the Younger has had to sleep with me.  We have been so busy the last week that I just closed the door until we had the time to finish tidying in one hit. 

That one hit was yesterday.  At 3pm I told The Boys that they had until 7pm to completely and utterly clear the room.  Every single tiny toy in its correct box, every sock, every bit of Lego, every miniscule Playmobil accessory must be picked up and put away properly.  They have labelled plastic boxes for all their different toys so this is not technically difficult.

And the punishment for failure?  For every item that I found on the floor after the 7pm deadline, one complete toy box would be sold on Ebay and I would keep the profit.  I didn’t care whether it was all their Lego, The Playmobil Pyramid that was a joint present from the whole family or the Nintendo DS.  Leading up to Christmas, I reckon I could make a tidy packet.

The room was perfect by 6.30pm and Boy the Younger is back in his own bed.

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Children should eat what the rest of the family eats

I was in the supermarket buying sausages yesterday and I was perplexed to see that Jamie Oliver has brought out special sausages for children.  Since when have children had a problem with sausages?  I’m not a huge fan of Mr Oliver at the best of times, but I do appreciate what he was trying to do regarding school meals.  If schools provide lunches then they must achieve decent nutritional standards.  Jolly good, well done, carry on.

My problem with his children’s sausages is, yet again, one of training and good habits.

We should not give children special children’s food.
We should not be running in-house cafeterias.
Children must learn to eat what is put in front of them
Children must learn to appreciate the effort that goes into producing good food.

I am not a complete fascist and I recognise that children have less sophisticated tastes than adults and that there are some things that individuals simply don’t like.  What I absolutely can’t bear is when children (and some adults) will claim not to like something they have never tried.  I will accept that someone doesn’t like something if they’ve at least had a good run at it.  If they eat most things, there is a reasonable chance that they genuinely don’t like something and that’s fair enough.

Fussy children turn into fussy adults and there are few things more frustrating, particularly to keen cooks, to be presented with a grown-up who doesn’t like this and doesn’t like that.  It should have been trained out of them when they were children and it makes them unwelcome dinner guests.

A lot of this goes back to table manners again.  If families sit together round the meal table, all eating the same thing, enjoying good food and conversation, and let’s not forget good manners, those habits will stick.  It probably means that when your children are young, you may have to hold back on the really spicy food a bit or not give them Stilton and oysters at every meal, but surely this is not an excuse to start running a cafe where different family members are eating different food. 

I have sat at tables where three different meals are served to accommodate fussy children.  I’m sorry, but this is parental weakness, a ridiculous use of the cook’s valuable time and is utterly uneconomical.

Ideally, one ought to start from the word go, as soon as your children start eating solids.  Make food that they are likely to eat when they’re older, but without the spices and salt.  Mash it down, but leave some texture in it so they get used to having to chew or at least gnash a bit.  I made all my own baby food in big batches and froze it in clearly labelled portions.  I made soups, Shepherd’s Pie, cauliflower cheese, baked squash, fish cakes, fish pie, liver and onions, fruit crumbles, rice pudding  and so on – you get the drift.  Also, I found some great recipe ideas in Annabel Karmel’s super book on feeding babies and toddlers and I even adapted some of her recipes for all of us to enjoy.

If your children are still relatively young, it’s not too late to start clamping down.  I have Boy the Elder who would wolf down oysters and mussels when he was 7, and Boy the Younger who would live on nothing but Sunday roasts given half the chance, and deep down suspects me of trying to poison him.  I blame the latter scenario entirely on my own lack of discipline because at the time when I should have been strict I was going through a very difficult ‘life event’ and I let things slip.  However, I have since toughened up and we are making progress.

Food is put in front of them and they are expected to eat it.  I give them age appropriate portions and they don’t get pudding until a valiant effort has been made.  If they sit in front of it for over half an hour without eating, it is quietly taken away.  If I know they are being deliberately arsey, it sometimes comes out again at the next meal. The same rules apply to their friends who come for tea.  No alternatives are offered.

But don’t let mealtimes become a battlefield.  There are plenty of ways that children can exercise choice in their lives and it’s up to you to find choices within (your) acceptable parameters that make them feel independent.  Food is not one of these choices.  Fussy children become fussy adults.  Fussy adults are a pain in the arse.  I also believe that people who don’t eat well are often limited in other aspects of their lives and are unwilling to embrace new things in general.  Just a thought.

So Jamie Oliver can keep his poxy sausages and Bernard Bloody Matthews can definitely keep his twizzlers and dinosaurs or whatever other life limiting crap they turn out.  Ditto children’s pizzas, cereals and anything that’s spelled ‘Kidz’.  And while I’m at it, a note about cereals.  If the name has ‘chocolate’, ‘cocoa’ or ‘sugar’ in the title, it’s pudding.  Not breakfast, pudding.

For what we are about to receive…

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