Birthday madness and the aisle of many cheeses

I had to go to the supermarket – the kids had gone and eaten the food again – and I decided to get some cheese to go with our spaghetti dinner.  When you want a particular cheese, you really notice how many there are on offer, ranging from the absolutely inedible ‘plastic’ cheeses specifically designed to adorn burgers to rustically packaged Camembert that shows up with almost clockwork regularity on Come Dine With Me, accompanied by crusty bread they have bunged in the oven and pretended to bake.  There were about 20 different types of Cheddar alone and I found it mildly intimidating, to be honest.  And then there was the Quark.  Before today, I thought that was just something I’d heard Brian Cox wittering about – the trendy physicist, rather than the versatile actor – or even an avaricious character from Star Trek.  But now I know that it’s also pretend cheese.

There’s a back story to this cheese hunt.  Recently, our household has been experiencing ‘birthday fortnight’; it’s like Wimbledon fortnight, in as much as it happens every summer, is ridiculously expensive and invariably ends in sweaty exhaustion.  Sadly, there are no generous sponsors, no trophies and it isn’t narrated by John McEnroe, but on the plus side, I don’t have to entertain any members of the royal family or maintain a pristine lawn and it isn’t narrated by John McEnroe.

It isn’t really a fortnight, to be honest – it’s very nearly three weeks – but the structure is this: my birthday happens first and is ‘celebrated’ in an understated way with shop-bought cake and the possibility of takeaway food so I don’t have to cook.  When I don’t cook, that’s a treat for everyone.  Ten days later, it’s my daughter’s birthday and this is taken seriously.

There are birthday traditions in this house:

  • I make a cake, based on something they like at the moment and the design is a surprise, which involves me making the cake two days before the birthday so I can decorate it the following day.  This also means that once the decorating starts, the birthday child has to be kept out of the kitchen, which is an extra gift to them because it absolves them of tea-making duties.
  • I make a card, based on something they like at the moment and featuring the birthday person somehow in the design.  The acquisition of photo-editing software made this much easier than when I used to do it using scissors and paint.  This also remains a secret from the birthday person, so they aren’t allowed within sight of my laptop screen.
  • I make a poster, featuring them doing something odd-looking and with a ‘humorous’ caption.  This goes on the living-room wall for them to see when they get up in the morning.
  • I draw and write on a couple of balloons and hang them near the bed of the person in question once they’ve gone to sleep.

They seem to like these traditions.  The youngest, who has just turned 13, certainly does, although the others may be humouring me on the last one.

So, as I said, it goes: my birthday, ten days later – elder daughter’s birthday.  Three days after that is my father-in-law’s birthday, for which I don’t have to do anything except buy the present and the card, then wrap the present and tell my husband what we bought, so he won’t look surprised when it’s unwrapped.  Since it’s almost always some DVDs, he’s unlikely to look surprised, but better safe than sorry.  Four days after that, so one week after my elder daughter’s birthday, it’s my elder son’s birthday AND my younger daughter’s birthday.  They are not twins.  There is, in fact, 11 years between them and they were both born on a Monday.  I’m considering hiring them out as proof that astrology is nonsense, since they’re very different people apart from the dry sarcasm that my children all, inexplicably, share.

You may have realised by now that the birthday traditions, as outlined above, become quite complicated when two of your offspring share a birthday, but are 11 years apart and don’t like the same things.  I start making their cards and posters early so that the two days I spend, entirely in the kitchen, making and decorating cakes are not fraught with the added stress of knowing I have those jobs hanging over me as well.

But that’s not all.  Two days after the double birthday is my father’s birthday.  This year, he turned 90, which is quite special, so I made him a cake and a card.  I didn’t sneak into his house and hang balloons by his bed, because I don’t think killing him with a heart attack is the ideal way to start his 90th birthday.

So … back to the cheese.  I decided to make a cheese board, which isn’t a group of people who sit around making decisions about cheese as you might suppose, but a small selection of cheeses, arranged on a board – or a fancy tray that came with a garden candle – and accompanied by some crackers.  Amongst these cheeses was a garlic roulade, which absolutely nobody wanted to eat, so I ended up sticking it in the pasta and it tasted quite nice.  So that’s why I ended up in the supermarket, looking for cheese for the pasta.  Which reminds me of the final birthday tradition – living on leftovers.

Advertisements

‘Will write for food’

So, this is the thing.  I’m 47 and I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up.  When I was very little I wanted to be a number of things that begin with the letter ‘a’: architect, artist, archaeologist, apoet.  Oh alright, the list wasn’t as exclusive as I’d have you believe, but I really did want to be those things.  Apart from a brief period when I was about seven and I wanted to be a nun; the outfit seemed pretty cool, my teacher was a nun and she was lovely and I’d just made my First Holy Communion and the ‘holy’ hadn’t worn off.  Oh, and there was that time I wanted to be a Gorgon and tried to magic myself into one using the contents of every bottle from the bathroom cupboard but merely succeeded into turning my mother into a banshee.  But I didn’t end up being any of those things; not even the Gorgon.

This is my work-life in a list, with some of these things having happened simultaneously and some being ‘on the side’ so to speak:

Trainee mechanic (work scheme*)

V.A.T. clerk (temporary*)

Recording studio lackey

Jewellery maker (painting wooden miniatures which someone else made into necklaces etc.)

Pencil for hire (portraits mostly)

Pen for hire (poems, wedding invitations, seating plans, sundries)

Librarian (temporary*)

Finance clerk (several different places)

Health Education Officer

Freelance writer (Published: 1 short story, 3 articles: No, you shut up!)

Mother (It’s work!!)

Supply teacher

Supply TA

Supply teacher again

 

And that brings us to here.  A few things that were unpaid, I have omitted.  And today, I sent my resignation letter to my supply agency so I suppose I am now back to just ‘mother’ (still work!).  I have assessed my bankable workplace skills, which are few:

Good grammer and speling (just kidding)

I.T. skills (Office packages, mostly.)

Good in a team

Capable of working independently

Hard worker

Can feign people-skills if forced (I might stop writing this on job applications)

You see? Not a lot to work with. 

 

On the other hand, I also have these skills:

Can write poems in many styles, on many topics, to order

Can write lyrics but play guitar really badly

Can write in an academic style so it seems as though I know what I’m talking about

Can draw pictures in pencil, fabric pens or ink

Can paint, but not amazingly

Can decorate cakes as long as I can sit down to do it (I don’t copy – I like to innovate)

Can paint pictures on icing, using food colouring (Not a massive call for paintings that melt in a warm room, to be honest)

Can turn things into a pun to the point where you might want to punch me in the face (Also not a big call for this skill apart from on Twitter)

Can make toy cats out of old socks (Alright, technically that should be ‘Have made a toy cat out of old socks’ – He’s all black and his name is Sockrates)

Can be very creative (Currently working on a special creative project involving old eggshells – I will blog this when it’s done. You’re excited now aren’t you!) in fact, CAN’T STOP being creative!

Can usually save you the bother of going for a dictionary because I am a proper cleverclogs with words

So, what do you make of this?  Is there a paying job in this mess?

I’m trawling through the job websites looking for something clerical but I haven’t any recent experience and I’d love to go back to library work but sometimes I wouldn’t be able to access low shelves unless I simply fell on the floor and I’d probably just drop all the books and get shushed by the other librarians.  I’ve written a book for young children and I’m just starting work on the illustrations but from what I read it’s THE most difficult genre to get published.

So let me pitch you some ideas:

  • If anybody wants to pay me to tweet for them I can guarantee** them 300 followers in just 3 years.  It doesn’t sound like many but I have a very strict quality-control policy.  
  •  Do you know anybody who wants a nice drawing of a hedgehog (no idea why I picked ‘hedgehog’ – psychologists, feel free to analyse) or a bag with their favourite cat drawn on it?
  • Should I stand outside Aldi with a sign saying, ‘Will rhyme for money’? 
  • Should I just go back to square one, empty out the bathroom cupboard and turn myself into a Gorgon? 

All suggestions welcome.

 

*This was the 1980s – thank you, Maggie Thatcher!

** can’t guarantee this but it’s where I’m at now

Nigella? Not likely!

smallchriscake2

I know some of you have probably made the assumption that I’m a domestic goddess, which I have recently learned does NOT mean that you have the power to smite cleaners if they refuse to obey your every whim.  But, and I’m trying hard to let you down very gently on this point, there’s a chance I might not be that* good at cooking.  I can make things that I like.  As  vegetarian, I am fond of vegetables; which is handy!  I love a dish of veg, roasted with garlic, pepper, olive oil, maybe a little coarse salt to finish it off.  Lovely! To me! And to nobody else in my house!!  So I struggle to make things they like too and end up in dullsville with baked potatoes, oven chips, pasta that isn’t allowed to have much flavour for fear of it being detectable by fussy children.  If I had some skill, I could probably find something we’d all like.  But I haven’t.

I can do some things in the kitchen, to be fair.  I’m not entirely useless.  I can balance, plank-like on my hands with my elbows dug into my hips and I’m reasonably certain that I’ve done that in a kitchen.  Yes, I can definitely remember having my head right next to the fridge.

If sugar is your poison, I can help you out there, as I can make reasonable cakes in various styles and flavours and, in all modesty, I decorate them very well as only a person who longs for fine art but only has sugarpaste can.  I take out my frustrated desire to be Michelangelo on a covered Madeira like nobody else I know.  My sugarcraft is one of the very few things I do well and in fact, one time, I briefly came 1st, 2nd and 3rd in a cake decorating competition.  When they were giving out the prizes the judge realised they were all for me and changed her mind, demoting my ‘3 Little Pigs’ cake to 4th, in favour of somebody’s ‘Where’s Wally, sitting on a globe’ cake.  It was a bit embarrassing, to be honest, as much for ‘Where’s Wally Lady’ and the judge.  We could see the other contestants and audience looking at each other in disbelief.  The cake that came first had a painting of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane on it and was a 21st birthday cake for my nephew.  He loved it and I was pretty proud of it.  I came away from the competition experience with 2 books, which went on eBay, the following week because I already had them, and a couple of certificates, which I think I might accidentally have left in the books I sold on eBay because I don’t remember seeing them since.  I didn’t enter any more.  

I digress somewhat.  My main reason for mentioning cookery in the first place is that I now have a son who is a chef and I need a favour from him.  He’s only 18 but has been doing various kinds of cookery for years: GCSE, school cookery competition team (for a boys’ school they were pretty serious about their cookery) and then college and work placements, then real work so now he’s a chef.  He helped me make the Easter roast, in as much as he folded some tinfoil, put it over the roasting dish and added some water.  I was glad he didn’t help any more than that because he has an insatiable urge to flambé everything and I end up spending more time waving magazines at the smoke detector than I do actually getting any cooking done. Not to mention the time spent cleaning spattered fat off everything including the ceiling.  BUT, you say, if you don’t want his help with cooking, what do you actually want?  Well, I just want this; I bought a bag of onions and I’d really like him to chop them, bag them and freeze them for me.  That way, when I next make the Pasta-à la-bland, I don’t have to run the risk of looking like I poked myself in the eye with the corner of a brillo pad repeatedly for half an hour as a dare.

(*am definitely not by any stretch of the imagination any good at cooking)