Tag Archives: She Who Was Born To Worry

A long overdue Halloween missive

It’s pretty astonishing how being a father to a month old baby can change your perspective on the things that matter in life. Although, for the avoidance of doubt, I will never like peanut butter, no matter how much my daughter comes to believe it to be the lifeblood that keeps her in existence.

Nut spread issues aside, all other opinions and theories are now officially open to change. And that was never more evident than in my reaction to Halloween this year.

Now, bear in mind that I am the man that wrote this. I think it’s fair to say that I have never been the biggest fan of Halloween. Most Americans tend to take it more seriously than, say, breathing. In the same way that the likes of Hallmark have managed to persuade us that Administrative Professionals Day is a worthy use of our hard-earned cash, so costume manufacturers have managed to convince Americans that a pagan ritual is a good reason to provide extensive job creation for 7 year olds in Indonesia.

But then introduce a small child to the mix (one too young to even see a pumpkin two feet away from her, let alone participate herself) and everything changes. Suddenly when Halloween arrives, you’re focusing on whether you’ve got enough sweetscandy for everyone, and pondering whether you should probably go out and buy another three tons of mini Snickers bars just in case.

Of course, the presence this year of She Who Was Born To Worry probably helped foster the festive spirit. Particularly as after a couple of visits from local kids, she designated herself The Candy Witch, refusing to dole out more than one sweet per child, and giving venemous looks to anyone who failed to say thank you.

So while I resisted costume this year, and instead dressed merely as ‘confused new father operating on two hours sleep’ (a look that I pulled off with comparative ease, if I’m honest), I nonetheless entered into the spirit of the occasion. Fortunately enough questionable events occurred to ensure that I could maintain the healthy dose of overarching cynicism that you all have come to expect of me.

1. The little princess with dietary restrictions
The very first knock at the door came from a tiny princess, who could have been no older than six. She immediately endeared herself to us by pushing her nose up against the screen door to peer inside. Indeed, she was so sweet, I even managed to fight off the overwhelming need to get some spray cleaner and wipe off her smudgy little paw prints from the glass.

And the first thing she said as The Special One opened the door and proffered the bowl of many delights? “My mommy says that I’m not allowed any chocolate.” This came as a blow, given that the “many delights” in the bowl were solely chocolate-based. Thankfully The Special One managed to convince her that the Reese’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup (the root of all candy evil, by the way) actually contained no chocolate, and sent her on her way with a smile on her face. But what parents send their kids out with specific dietary restrictions? “Now, little Elsie, remember that high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavourings are fine, but chocolate and gelatin are out. And don’t ring number 87’s doorbell this year – you know your brother’s never been the same since the electric shock.”

2. The little brothers and sisters
The age range of the trick-or-treaters varied wildly, from the three year old who practically had to be dragged up the steps to the door, to the dubiously aged teens whose skirts were short enough that their parents felt the need to accompany them. As a side note, I’m all for the principle that Halloween is an opportunity for women to show some skin, but I live by the motto that says if your parents need to come with you, you’re not old enough to show some skin. And as a further side note, if my daughter is reading this in – say – 2025, the age at which you are old enough to show some skin at Halloween is approximately 35.

Anyway, I digress. Kids of all ages came round, and they all received candy for their efforts. Even the ones who had dressed as “a kid wanting candy”. But on at least six separate occasions, once they had received their bounty, a kid would proffer another bag and say “Candy for the little one – she’s too young to come.”

Now, I’m still new to this parenting lark, but I tend to believe that if you’re too young to trick or treat with your whole family in tow, you’re too young to be eating sugar snacks. Leading me to the inevitable conclusion that “the little one” is a Halloween scam, with kids taking advantage of doting parents who sigh wistfully at the thought of poor little Johnny in his Merlin outfit, crying at home on his own while the older children go out to forage for him.

Next year, “the little ones” will be getting a bag of raisins and somw dried apricots, mark my words.

3. The double dippers
I appreciate that I’m getting on a bit now, but I’ve still got all my own teeth, and most of my mental faculties are intact. Sure, I forget the occasional thing or two, but The Special One’s electro-shock punishments are having a positive impact on my will to remember, I can tell you.

Anyway, the point is, if you come and get candy from The Candy Witch while dressed as a purple fairy, and then you come back twenty minutes later to try to get some more, we will remember and we will send you away with a flea in your ear. If you come back as something completely different (say, a pink fairy), we will almost certainly not rhave any recollection of you whatsoever and will lavish you with as many Twizzlers as a girl can eat.

4. Commuting to Trickortreatsville
Despite my cynicism, I have to say that Halloween promotes a healthy sense of community, with all the residents of a neighbourhood interacting with each other on a level that’s more harmonious than “for the 837th time, can you sodding well turn that music down?”

But when you’ve got carloads of kids being shipped into an area by their parents because it looks like a place where you might get Toblerone rather then Tootsie Rolls, it’s suddenly less about community, and more about a 12 month campaign of reconnaisance and intensive evaluation of candy sales across the five boroughs. The kids probably sell their swag in their schools for the next year. Or save it for the next Halloween, to provide the gift of gastroenteritis to unsuspecting locals.

Still, I’m starting work on my Halloween costume for 2010. Like a born-again convert, I’m going to put some serious effort into getting it just right. I’m thinking ‘new-ish father operating on three hours sleep rather than two, but still as confused as ever’. Better start working on those bags under my eyes right away…

The game of the name

As I may have mentioned before, my mother is a worrier. Whether she’s panicking that I’ve got some kind of tropical sleeping sickness simply because I momentarily yawned on the phone to her, or reading a story about a car crash in – say – Idaho and phoning to check that I’m OK, she truly deserves her monicker She Who Was Born To Worry.

Of course, when you tell her that her daughter-in-law is going to have her grandchild, her worrying swoops into overdrive. Every pause, phrase or look is microscopically examined for medical problems, and news of morning sickness is greeted with bitten nails and nervous enquiries. I tried to tell her that it was probably just the dodgy kebab that I’d eaten the night before, but she’s not listening by that point.

But if She Who Was Born To Worry was being truly honest, there’s one thing that she’s more worried about than anything when it comes to the impending arrival. One thing that keeps her awake at night, and sends her off into paralysing emotional agony whenever she thinks about it. And that’s her fear that she could have a grandchild that has got an American name.

Don’t get me wrong, She Who Was Born To Worry has nothing against Americans, although you wouldn’t necessarily know it when she’s barging them and their oversized cameras out of the way on the streets of Chester. But whatever she thinks of Americans themselves, I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to the name game, she’s of the opinion that the United States should be represented on the outside of her latest grandchild’s passport but not the inside.

Of course most names these days are universal; there’s now probably more Dylan’s in America than there are people in Wales, after all. Whether it’s Joshua or Thomas, Grace or Olivia, people on both sides of the Atlantic tend to work from the same book when attempting to pick a name for their child that will provide bullies with one less reason to pick on their precious one.

That said, classic American shortenings such as Chuck, Herb and Hank are probably out. As indeed is any name which would seem to make the child more suitable for a career in the US Army than for life as a professional morris dancer. Similarly, while I have an oft-professed admiration for country music, and The Special One hails originally from Tennessee, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be ruling out names such as Millie-Jo, Billy-Ray and Tammy-Lou.

She Who Was Born To Worry’s greatest fear though is that we’ll be seized by the American desire to make up strange names, such as Shawnika, Raynard or Johnetta. I think she could almost live with Messiah, Huckleberry or Melky, as long as we don’t go for Paige Darcie.

Still, nobody need get hot under the collar just yet. With the hastily-established naming committee having decreed that both The Special One and I have the chance to use a full and final veto on any name that the other one comes up with, we’re yet to find any name that we mutually agree on. And while we’ve got some options for girls, the cupboard is pretty much bare for boys. Feel free to send your thoughts our way – just don’t bother with Cody or Madison though, OK?

The way we were

When I left home to live in London (to discover that the streets were not actually paved with gold, but actually covered in discarded chewing gum), returning home to North Wales or Chester was always an eye-opener. Not because I was now some big city kid who laughed at the little people and their provincial ways. I’ll still be a black pudding munching Northerner who reads the Chester Chronicle online when I pop my clogs. But whenever I went through my home town, even after eight weeks away, it always seemed that another city landmark had closed down, to be replaced by luxury apartments or a new restaurant.

As far as I’m concerned, time has stood still in Chester since 1992. So, when She Who Was Born To Worry tells me that the shop I need is two doors down from the Liverpool FC club shop, I have no idea what she’s talking about. Of course, if she’d told me it was near the old Athena store or Our Price, I’d have had no problem. Similarly, if I’m told that we’re going for a beer in the Slug & Lettuce, there’s not a chance in hell that I’ll be there before closing time. Tell me we’re having a drink in the old Owen-Owen’s on the other hand, and mine will be a pint thank you very much.

In New York, I’ve got none of the same historical touchpoints. I have no idea whether the current home of the Apple Store is an old hospital or a former squirrel warehouse, and I can’t join in the conversation when it turns to the eight restaurants that have been on the site of the latest here-today-gone-tomorrow hotspot. In any case, most restaurants stay open for less time than it takes to me get around to writing a new blog post. My memory is good, but I’ve got no chance of remembering that place that was open from May to September 2003, even if their French onion soup was to die for.

Of course being away from a whole country rather than just a small part of it makes the whole “what the f***?” moments all-the-more frequent. Except now it’s more like losing whole chunks of my heritage, rather than little fragments of it.

For instance, there’s not a single person under 40 who has not bought pick’n’mix sweets in Woolworths, and yet now it’s on the verge of going under. You now can’t say that you’re going to Virgin Megastores to pick up a CD or DVD, but have to resort to confessing that you’re making a trip to the patently ridiculous Zavvi. And the way things are going with the credit meltdown, it won’t be long before you have no need to say whether you’re a customer of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds or the NatWest – we’ll just all be patrons of The Bank.

But today I’ve just been pushed over the edge. I turn my back for five minutes and suddenly Carol Vorderman’s gone from Countdown. America, imagine losing (*quickly surfs to Wikipedia*) Alex Trebek from Jeopardy, and you’ll still have no idea of the country’s loss right now.

It’s time for Britain to start getting its act together, and look after the things that are important to us. Otherwise, next thing you’ll be telling me that Princess Di is dead.

Just one dollar can save a New Yorker

When you’re in the midst of turmoil, it’s difficult to understand what the rest of the world thinks about it. When I was sitting at my desk in London in July 2005 trying to catch up with the terrorist attacks on the capital’s transport system, it was hard to get a sense of how the rest of the world was reacting. Did they see it as a continuation of the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, or were they thought of as isolated incidents with no real connection to the world at large?

On a wholly different level, when I first realised that there was a vague possibility that my hairline was imperceptibly moving backwards, it was a dark day in the Brit Out Of Water household. Tears were shed, and innocence was lost. Admittedly, this might just have been me, but it felt like a big thing at the time. Clearly, when you’re in the middle of something, it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees.

Talking to She Who Was Born To Worry over the weekend, I casually mentioned that the weather was awful, with driving wind and rain.

“I know, it looks pretty nasty,” she commented.

“What do you mean? Have you secretly been popping over here for a bit of shopping?”

“No no, I’ve just been watching the news about America’s financial collapse. New York’s on its knees begging for mercy, you know.”

Sure enough, with the recent travails of Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley et al, New York has been the focus of the world over the last few weeks. While I’ve been complaining about chocolate brownie munching commuters or waiters washing their hands, the Big Apple has been crumbling around me.

Indeed, as far as She Who Was Born To Worry is concerned, New York is currently in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations are airdropping bagels and coffee into the outer reaches of Brooklyn, while desperate queueslines are forming outside pizza places across the city, out of fear that mozzarella rationing is about to be instituted.

I tell you, if SWWBTW is right, Sir Bob Geldof is on the verge of getting on a plane over here to put on a fundraising concert with Phil Collins and the remnants of Queen.

Bono’s apparently up for it, but only if organisers will guarantee the availability of pancakes and maple syrup. The way things are going in New York, nothing’s certain.

I come from a land down under

Having tired of the geographical incorrectness of calling me a shandy drinking southerner, She Who Was Born To Worry has now taken to calling me her ‘Yank son’. Not that she actually has another son and needs to differentiate us as a result. Although there has been talk of an elusive half-brother called Eric (the forklift truck driver from Belgium) now that I come to think about it…

Actually, I think she just imagines that I’ll pick up the phone to her one day and start talking with the mid-Atlantic twang much beloved of the likes of Joan Collins and Shirley Bassey. As it happens, I’m taking active measures to ensure that never happens, including listening to plenty of podcasts from British radio, and a compulsory three hours of BBC America every week. I’ve even persuaded The Special One to watch the first series of Spooks with me, having picked the DVD up on a whim at Heathrow Airport. She’s not so keen on the presence of Keeley Hawes, but as I’ve presented it as a means to maintain my British identity, I think I’m going to get away with it.

The strange thing is that while She Who Was Born To Worry thinks I might be in danger of turning into an American, America is pretty convinced that I’m not even British in the first place.

When accent identification skills were being handed out, America was obviously eating a burger and fries, and reading Entertainment Weekly. In what is rapidly becoming the linguistic equivalent of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, I’ve lost count of the number of people who, on hearing my pretty robustly English voice, have firmly identified me as an Australian. I’m not alone in the problem either – as far as most Americans are concerned, Brits must be walking around with metaphorical corks dangling from metaphorical hats, throwing virtual shrimps on the barbie. The grill, that is, not the faintly pneumatic Mattel creation.

The strange thing is that Australia has a population three times smaller than the UK’s, and most Americans will never even have met an Australian, let alone correctly identified one. In contrast, the relatively close relationship between Britain and the USA (and the fact that it only takes seven hours to get between the two, rather than more than twenty) means that Britain and the British are a much more familiar concept than Australia and Australians. Of course, with many Americans still struggling to understand the need for a passport, it’s likely that Lilliput and Lilliputians are more familiar than the two combined, but that’s a side issue.

Incidentally, I’ve been also been identified as Irish, German and Scandinavian as well since arriving in the States. It’s a source of undeniable pleasure that nobody’s accused me of beingcalled me an American yet. It’s only a matter of time.

As I cooked dinner tonight, The Special One and The Young Ones sat down to watch the X Men movie. Having seen an interview with the cast half way through, The Youngest excitedly bound into the kitchen to say that she had no idea that Wolverine was British. Ironically, Hugh Jackman’s actually an Australian. The three of them have been living me for a year now, so their ‘all foreigners must be Australians’ radar will have to go in for a 10,000 mile service.

A lesson in money management

I still vividly remember the feeling I had when I first lost a substantial amount of money. I was probably about twelve years old, and my sister and I were visiting my grandmother’s house with She Who Was Born To Worry (aka my mum). My grandmother lived just outside Chester, and I often used to be allowed to take a short walk to the corner to get a newspaper or some sweetscandy. Walking back from one such mission – no doubt with a sherbert fountain or a quarter of chocolate limes in my hand – I reassuringly patted the back pocket of my jeans to check for my money, only to find it was no longer there.

Obviously, I retraced my steps in an attempt to find the little leather wallet, getting more and more frantic as I remembered the £10 note (a birthday gift from one relative or another) that had been neatly folded up within. But it was nowhere to be found. I tearfully walked back to my grandmother’s house, and dutifully received the ten minute lecture on looking after my money. All I could think about for the next five days was the lucky git who had picked up my wallet, and was now probably sitting smugly in their house surrounded by what felt like a lifetime’s supply of cola cubes or wine gums.

Of course, since that day I’ve lost plenty more money. Sometimes it’s fallen out of my pocket, and on others it’s been willfully extracted by The Best Man, The Beancounter or Sickly Child playing poker on a trip up North to see Manchester United. I’ve also found money, although wherever possible I’ve tried to hand it in just in case it belonged to another forlorn 12 year old with an inability to keep his cash safe. That’s not to say that I haven’t seen a twenty quid note floating on the breeze with no one else in sight, and deftly pocketed it. I mean, I’m an idealist but I’m not a fool.

As a result, maybe last night was karma wreaking its revenge.

Picking up a few items at the local supermarketgrocery store in order to feed a sickly Special One, I pulled a twenty dollar note out of my jeans pocket at the cash desk. Given that the dollar is like toy money, and you can pick up a notebook worth of dollar bills in any one day, I have a startlingly bad habit of stuffing all my bills into a pocket in one giant (but worthless) wad. Sadly that wad sometimes includes a few coins, and last night three or four quarters came flying out and scuttled across the floor.

More embarrassed at the noise than anything else, I quickly picked up the three coins that had fallen at my feet. Another had rolled no more than a couple of yards away, and a man in his fifties kindly bent down to pick it up for me. I smiled self-consciously at the shop assistant, paid for my shopping, then turned to the good samaritan for him to return the coin.

Except the man wasn’t there any more. He’d picked up my quarter and walked off with it.

Community spirit – you can’t beat it.

The change

When I first moved down to London, She Who Was Born To Worry (or my mum, as I generally know her) took the wind out of my fresh faced and eager sails by calling me a shandy-drinking southerner. The implication being that the north of England was rough, the south was posh, and I’d have to start watering my beer down with lemonade because I’d lose all my gritty ruggedness. Clearly the fact that I was always about as rugged as a baby’s bottom had slipped her mind. Not to mention the fact that my home county Cheshire sells more champagne per head of population per year than any other part of the UK. It’s hardly South Central LA, put it like that.

Of course, a move to New York has done nothing to dampen my status as a shandy drinking southerner. That’s despite the fact that a barman in New York is no more likely to know what a shandy is than Nigel at the Union Vaults in Chester would be able to make a decent Long Island Iced Tea.

But now I’m starting to fear that I am fulfilling the prophecy. Maybe I’m becoming a big softie after all.

I’m currently in the UK on business, and having previously checked the weather in London and found it to be in the high 60sF/20C, I merrily packed no jacket. After all the heat and humidity of New York, it’d be nice to get to the relative normality of British weather. But after walking down Kensington High Street yesterday afternoon, I suddenly realised that despite the sun shining, I was rubbing my arms to keep myself warm. All around me people are in summer gear, and yet I find myself wondering whether it would be a fashion faux-pas to wear a balaclava in June.

If that wasn’t bad enough, when I get inside the office or a shop, I’ve started to feel like I’m overheating, and regularly hear myself internally bemoaning the lack of air-conditioning in this country.

I fear that I may have turned into one of those Brazilian footballers who start wearing tights and gloves after their big money move to the Premiership, when they realise that a trip to Blackburn on a wet Tuesday night in January is marginally less appealing than a night at the Maracana.

It’s either that or I’m going through the change. You’ll read about me in the Lancet in years to come, I tell you.

Now, where can I get a shandy?