Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Phew what a talker

Newspaper rules.

Have you ever wondered why some stories get in the papers and some don't? Who decides we're interested in Cheryl Cole, Katie Price and Prince William this week? Well, news folk will say it's because the public is interested - or even, more pompously, it's in the public interest which isn't the same thing at all. If it's in the public interest, we'd all be worried about fishing quotas wouldn't we?
There's a thing called news sense - it's impossible to quantify, or, ironically, even write down. But it's the thing that tells journalists that, for instance, anything with gnomes, parrots or monkeys is going to be more interesting than anything with fairies, bluetits or guinea pigs. It's sort of linked to some base curtain-twitching urge most of us have - a hotline to the spiteful tittle-tattle that dwells within.
Whatever it is, journalists guard theirs jealously and are fast to call others' into question. Clearly with something this personal, it's not fixed: one man's "wow, look at this" is another's "whatever". Many hack conversations will be based around what's on the front page and what you would have put there instead. There's a huge element of fantasy here as those with the loudest criticism will almost inevitably have the least chance of being in the position to make that decision.
What we're all looking for is a "talker". A story that must be shared, or sparks discussion. That's when we know we've hit the nail on the proverbial. It used to be that talkers could be measured by pub or white van conversations, clearly, ahem, an elastic yardstick.
Now, though, it's easy to know what the talkers are. What's being searched, re-tweeted, linked on facebook, clicked from Google news? This should make it simple shouldn't it? We can look at what people want to read, discuss and pass on, measure it and create some model to be copied.
But here's the rub. Now that we know what people want to read, lots of online news emporia spend much of their valuable time and resources chasing tales they know will be popular in the short term. That way appetites for the latest Cole saga, Robert Pattinson spit or Lady Gaga cough will be satisfied and, after all, clicks will be high that's - sort of - what counts.
The danger though is that so much effort is spent going in ever decreasing circles around the hot topics that new - and equally interesting - propositions will be ignored.
The old-school news gatherers, like our friends at The Sun, are still gathering their stories with passion, authority and integrity (yes, really) but if the persuit of the click takes over in those places it might be sidelined there too.
I don't know what the answer is, although I'm sure there is one. People want interesting news. They used to be happy to pay a few coins a day for it so there's no reason to think that isn't still the case, good journalists still know what people want to read... and more importantly what they will want to read about next. The news isn't dying it's just the landscape is changing faster than we can quite deal with. Parrots, gnomes and monkeys will always be interesting. But we need new ideas of paying for the hacks to get out there and find them. Any ideas?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Changing bag bomb, bottoms and some more chemistry

Things I've learned from my children today.

When dirty clothes come back from the childminder inside three plastic bags this is no pass the parcel. Open with great caution.

Arse is the funniest word... ever. Watching The Mummy Returns, Izzy (mad flying machine driver in the manner of that chap in Mad Max) says: "Everytime we go anywhere together, it all goes wrong and I end up getting shot in the arse." Boy Two must have repeated it at least 100 times since Saturday night. By the way, can anyone explain what those small nasty creatures were? Were they gremlins?

Science is all very well but not everyone's cup of tea. I gave Boy One a new mug a few weeks ago. In the short term it may not have been the wisest of purchases. The Periodic Table of Elements has featured in many conversations this week.
"Mum, what elements are you made of?"
"Er... water, calcium, maybe some iron..."
"What about the rest? You know, what elements is your DNA made of?"
"What are your genes made of?"
"Denim," I ventured. Apparently not though.
Then when little friend H stayed.
"H, what's the first element in the Periodic Table of Elements?"
"Er... I don't know."
"I'll give you a clue it begins with H."
"Dunno, Ally."
"Do you give up? OK It's hydrogen. But you can have a second chance if you want."
"OK," she's a competitive one.
"Right, what's the second element and it begins with H too."
It's going to be a long morning.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Tweets and Taggart

Things I've learned at work

Multitasking is possible - but only if one of the tasks is to tweet. At the recent Scottish Social Media Dinner, Scottish Lib-Dem campaign director Andy Reeves made the assertion. He reckoned it was the only time he could do two things at once: tweet a commentary and pay attention. I didn't get to see this in action as organiser Craig McGill had thoughtfully booked the bash into a basement where there was no mobile signal. However, it did get me wondering, is this the case? Are 140 hasty characters as rude and intrusive as making a phone call or doing the crossword? By the way, the dinner was excellent - food, speakers and interesting people.

Taggart's back. Six more episodes. I'm very excited - I've been a huge fan since the beginning. Excitement almost peaked when the crew were filming in a house just down the road here as I walked passed. So I'm a little concerned about how I might retain my icy cool demeanor if I bump into any of the cast at work.

Relative age, telly pioneer and a bad smell

Other things I've learned.

Lionel Jeffries was six years younger than Dick Van Dyke who played son Caractacus Potts to his Grandpa Potts. Lionel died this week.

John Logie Baird made the first long-distance television broadcast in 1927 from the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow. The floors of the hotel are, apparently, still marked by Trigger's hoof prints from a visit with Roy Rogers. The hotel is being restored and will open again later this year.

The chips from the deep fat fryer are, indeed, scrumptious. HOwever, the fat smell isn't. It seems to hang about everywhere and, while housekeeping isn't our strongest suit, offends both the Panther and I. Does anyone know of a fryer that doesn't niff?

Washing, travelling and bedtime hassles

Things I've learned from my children today.
Hygiene is relative. Boy Two seemed to go suddenly from a moderatly tidy child who didn't really like feeling sticky or grubby into Stig of the Dump. After school, his hands, face and neck were grimy and smeared.
"Wash your hands and face - they're horrible."
"But, mum I did it yesterday."

Although the travel is a noble calling, it must be tempered. Boy One is doing the European Union at school this year. Learning about different nations, their habits and traditions is admirable. Visiting them too is a great idea. HOwever, this morning I've fielded requests to visit Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia and Lithuania. It's only 9.35am. And enthusiam for Europe is so great that news of our planned holiday fell somewhat flat.
"But Turkey isn't in Europe mum. Can't we go to Poland instead?"
Er, Boy One, no.

A higher vantage point is not always better - although it may seem that way at first. Boy Three is finding his feet. He's taking any opportunity to get on them. However, this isn't always wise. When you're in your cot in your sleeping bag, repeated attempts to secure your toes on the mattress will only end up further shortening the distance between your chin and the bed.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Putting the mouse down

Later today I'm actually meeting some real-life people to talk about social media.
My former colleague and Scottish Social Media Guy Craig McGill has organised it.
Now it's a huge departure for me. One of the reasons I love the 'new' media is that I don't have to go and talk to people. I can sparkle and shine in a moderately professional manner from right here at my desk. And no one can see the food encrusting my clothes, the baby milling around in the background and the fact I'm typing fast to go and attend to other children. I've made friends here, learned new stuff, and, lately, learned new ways of making a living. In spite of all that, and, it all feels slightly pretend and hobby-like. Perhaps that's because it's such enormous fun.
Anyhow, within two days I'll have signed two contracts for entirely online work and gone out to actually meet, real people to talk about it. I have to say it feels slightly peculiar. Even The Panther of News is starting to see that there might be something in all this internettery.
I was slightly concerned that the whole social media real people thing might be somewhat blokey. You know - chaps all talking techy gadgety chap stuff about it all and I'll have to pretend I understand then go home to google furiously to find out what it was all about.
However, I learn that one of the speakers is Alison Thewliss - blogger, expectant mum and definate girly.
Yikes, I've just seen the clock and I don't have time to think of a witty pay-off line. Suggestions below please.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Out of the oven...

My name is Ellen and yesterday I bought a deep fat fryer. There now you know my latest secret. I've never owned one and only used one once while I was the chef on a luxury motor yacht. It was stormy and the whole frying thing was presented some less-common challenges at the time.
In theory, I don't really do frying (except the stir variety in some fancy cold-pressed or flavoured oil).
However, The Panther of News is from Yorkshire which apparently is enough to explain a fried potato addiction and my bigger children have come to survive on chips or similar. I blogged about their dietary quirks here.
So I've come round to thinking that maybe real chips from real potatoes might be better than something impregnated in slimy stuff and put in the oven.
Why then is there something inside going "Nooooooooo"?
I sidle up to the thing in the kitchen like it's going to leap out and make me wear a tracksuit to Tesco. So far it hasn't set the kitchen on fire, given me acne or given me the urge to phone Jeremy Kyle.
Then someone said: "You could make churros, or that Japanese veg in batter stuff."
"Oh yes."
Now I'm beginning to see that the thing in the corner of the kitchen might become my friend. And the chips were pretty good too.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Is love in the air today?

Roses are red,
crocodiles are snappy,
He might not be perfect,
but my Panther makes me happy...

OK so it's not going to win any literary prizes, but it's sort of the spirit of the day. Eh, Snookums? Fluffy bunny-bum? A dozen red cliches and some scratchy pants.
Valentine's Day is clearly a load of commercialised tosh - you only have to glance at the heaps of overpriced pink, red and heart-shaped tat to know this.
But what's the harm in pausing for a think about your Significant Other? The Light Of Your Life. Him Indoors.
Man bashing is really easy to do - there are whole discussion groups set up for it., and the facebook group Does Anyone Know a Man Who Can Look After Himself? or @sillybillyboyswiththeirwillies on twitter.
We all know Men are from Mars, that they don't understand shopping and can't be relied upon to plump a cushion properly.
But isn't that rather the point - they are different. They are the outie to our innies, the Yin to our Yang. the Pot Noodle to our Wagamama ramen soup. How dull would it be if they understood us totally? Actually not just dull - downright depressing and awkward. They'd know when we had been on a sneaky shopping spree or scoffed all the kids' chocolate. They would probably be really understanding about PMT when what we really want is a squabble. Where would the satisfaction be in that?

So here's a little list of the things I think are marvelous about The Panther.

He's on my side, no matter what.
He says he doesn't care how fat I am - except he did cheer when, pregnant, I overtook him on the scales, but I forgave him because he went out and got me some ice lollies.
He makes brilliant pancakes and fried potatoes.
He does all that noisy, fighty stuff with the Boys that I can't stand.
He takes the Boys to see hideous movies like Transformers so I don't have to.
He fills my hot water bottle for me without asking.
He does most of the night feeds for Boy Three.
Every night he goes and checks on all the Boys before he gets into bed.
He cares what I think.
He comes to the rescue.
We've been through so much together.
We both understand life's too short not to make the best of it.
He - usually - notices when I've made an effort.
Just when I'm really exasperated by him, he'll reveal that he's actually done/ not done the very cause of my frustration. It gets me every time.
He laughs at most of my jokes.
And he makes me laugh out loud a lot.

So there you have it - sounds good, doesn't it? Well hands off he's my Panther.

Friday, 12 February 2010

My name in Lego, a happy box and a three-way split

Things I've learned from my children today.

Lego sometimes makes me happy. I'm involved in a secret new blogging project - if I told you I'd have to delete you or unfriend myself or something equally nasty, so I won't... yet. However, I was telling Boy Two that I might need to take a picture of something to go with it. He said he'd do me something out of Lego and - tadaa - here's the result. I love it.

Teamwork makes it happen - sometimes. Boy One got busy. It involved, as usual, a box, Sellotape, scissors and lots of patience. This time he's made a play house for his baby brother. Boy Three loves it.

It's hard not to be totally even-handed with the boys. Even though the boys' needs and demands are varied, I like to think I give them a fair distribution of resources. Lately some work I've been doing has involved writing - and thinking - about one of them more than the others. It's made me feel strangely out of balance. How odd.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Croup, robotic legs and a hard think

Things I've learned from my children today.

Croup is not left behind with the Victorians. I thought croup was a relic of mob caps and knickerbokers along with consumption and gout. But when Boy Three started coughing and barking last night I found out that I was wrong. I'm pleased to report, however, that he is no longer making alarming noises and seems to be almost back to normal.

Mr Milligan has a robotic leg. According to Boy Two, Mr M, their gym teacher has a robotic leg. Apparently he told the class the day Boy Two was off having his swine flu injection. It's got pistons and wires and the bits are all hidden under his skin. So now you know too.

My punishments aren't harsh enough. Boy One is permanently cross with Boy Two. Boy One is a bit of a police boy and likes to see rules enforced and lines toed. Boy Two doesn't really... doesn't at all actually. This gives rise to conflict. Boy Two may have done something hideous, like picking up Boy One's magazine. Boy One said: "You're not strict enough mummy."
"Shouting doesn't work on Boy Two."
"Not always," I agreed.
"I think you should give him a good, hard thinking."
"What's that then?"
"You know, like when you burst his balloon for hitting you with it. You sent him to his room for a good think."

And a joke from Boy One:
What does Medusa wash her hair with?
Sssssssssssssssshampoo obviously.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

No sweat, the aerobics learning curve.

Things I’ve learned from going to exercise classes.
I was there yesterday – leaping up and down like a good ’un – wearing a look of grim determination and some sweat.
I suppose I must enjoy classes, I’ve been doing them long enough, but I really hate that big mirror. There’s just nowhere else to look and nowhere to hide.
From the mirror I learned that my body has managed a clever trick of being scrawny at the ends – neck, hands and shins - while maintaining a bolster-like lump in the middle. Nice.
That set me thinking of all the things I’ve learned since I first went to a class – around 1988 in Aberdeen’s splendid Beach Ballroom. Swedish Exercise, no less.
Aerobics (or whatever it’s called these days) is a competitive sport. The instructor will inevitably say “work at your own level, don’t worry what other people are doing”. Like hell. You pick someone about the same level of lardiness and make sure you do more, go harder and grumble less that she does.
Legwarmers are nobody’s friend. They look silly, go under your shoe and make you slip and, really, what’s the point of warm ankles when you’re about to get hot all over?
You will never, ever achieve your physical ideal so get over it. Marco’s Gym, Edinburgh. The instructor was a glorious specimen with long lean muscles and such firm abs that she may well have lacked any internal organs. My efforts to emulate her ended with sore knees and calf muscles that would have been more at home along the road in Murrayfield.
Exercise alone is not enough. Kelvin Hall, Glasgow. After a certain age – 26 in my case – leaping up and down will not keep the girth down. Eat less, that’s all.
There are some women I will never be able to be friends with. A gym in Southampton I’ve forgotten the name of. Two days after Diana died one woman announced: “I’ve been at the doctor’s with an infected tear duct. He said it was because I’d been crying so much. I just couldn’t stop.”
And a week or so later another woman is horrified about her German au pair: “She looked lovely in the dress she’s going to wear to the (posh social function) but when she lifted up her arms there were her pits – unshaven. It was disgusting, I felt sick. How could such a beautiful girl be like that?”
Crèches are marvellous. Linwood Sports Centre. Boy Two loved it. He had so much fun and I learned that he’d be just fine in nursery.
I am not a whooper. I don’t really like it when the instructor whoops, oh yeahs, uhuhs with the sheer joy of exercise and I hate to do it myself. In fact, I can’t so there’s no point in shouting at me to do it. Likewise, I don’t want to smile, sing or count out loud.
I’ve got quite nice hair. Bowfield Country Club. In an attempt to avoid eye contact with my chicken neck, spare tyres or VPL I light on my head. That colour still looks OK and it’s weeks since it was done.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

How I'm Turning Into My Mother

Other things I've learned.

I'm definitely Turning Into My Mother.

Today I was pondering the items to add to my shopping list and considering that I probably should just by twice as much of the things that won't go off - toothpaste, shampoo, maple syrup.
"What's wrong with that?" you may ask. On the face of it, not much, but it's another signpost on the road to Turning Into Your Mother.
When I was little I have vivid memories of Mum talking about how Granny had at least two of anything. She wasn't moaning, just sort of indulgently amused. Latterly Granny's doubling up led, I believe, to wearing duplicates at the same time - corsets, pants.
Recently, at Mum’s house during hunts for toilet roll, soap, headache pills and ketchup, I've feared double vision. Two - or more - lots of everything. It's great though, she never runs out of anything and there's always a spare plus just the thing for any eventuality.
Are there other signs? Well there's the catering. Granny cooked. Her ingredients were local and good and fresh. I remember childhood days in her kitchen garden when she taught me the pleasures of plucking fruit and popping it lush into your mouth, of rubbing soil off a tender tuber with your thumb and crunching it. She showed me the gloriously tactile sensation of breaking the creamy fat of lambs' kidneys and how soft it made your skin. I was too young to know if she enjoyed feeding people, but I do know she was good at it - her guests were always satisfied and happy.
Mum's the same. Her kitchen is at its best full of smells of food and appetite. More hunger than meal would be a failing: a failing I don't ever remember happening. I don't really recall learning to cook, but I must have inhaled it there. So I also recognise that slight anxiety while I calculate how much to put in the pot, knowing there must be leftovers.
Then there're reference books. Whatever the question or dilemma: Mum's got just the very volume. She can generally lay her hand on just that poem, recipe or suggestion to cure the rash. When something new walks into our lives, of course, I'll research, Google or whatever. The Panther will say: "You've looked it up, haven't you? You're Turning Into Your Mother."
He said that too the other day at the park. For a moment no one was whining, Boys were playing nicely and he and I were holding hands. It was fleeting, but lovely. “Isn’t our family fantastic?” I said.
During gatherings when no one whines and there’s food and laughter, Mum will always pause and say: “It’s so lovely to see you all.” She’s right, of course, and now I know what she means.
So I'm on the lookout for new Signs. Granny liked to burn things she'd finished with - toothpaste tubes, undergarments. Only she put them on the hearth in the sitting room.
Mum's not done this, but, recently, she told me about how her office clearout had led to a satisfying session of fire feeding at the bottom of the garden. I wonder where that garden brazier thing got to...
Super Sister and I occasionally point out that the other is Turning Into Mother. It's not a bad thing - it ties we three together and there's comfort in knowing what at least some of the future will bring.
But I must point out that as far as the doubling up thing is concerned - I'm doing trendy layering, not wearing two of the same thing.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Box room, the Look and relative mess

Things I've learned from my children today.

I was wrong about the spare room. When we got the extension built, the spare room was supposed to be a serene spot - a place of refuge for family members and visitors alike. I imagined it all sunshine, clean sheets and dust motes dancing. Well I was right about the dust motes. Boy One is a cardboard box magpie and a particularly juicy one found its way in the other day. He was making off with it and I asked where he was going.
"I'm going to take it to the room we keep cardboard boxes," he said knocking things off shelves on the way to the spare room.

There will probably never be enough mummy to take away the slightly injured look. Boy Two has a Look. It's the set of his head and the tightening of his mouth. To me it says: "I'm hurt, you've short-changed me, I'll bravely survive although I may be scarred, I trusted you and you betrayed me."
It's not that he gets ignored or rejected - much. We play games, talk and have cuddles. I answer endless inane questions: "What are your favourite socks?", "How many times have you been to the library/hairdresser/garden shed?".
Sometimes, though, in the interests of hygiene, fairness, or - if I'm honest - sanity, I have to stop and do something else.
That's when I get the Look. Either that or when I turn down his kind offer of a game of Star Wars Monopoly because it's 4pm on a Friday and there are a squillion things to be done before I can begin to think about R&R. Or I decline to make him pancakes because it's 6.40am and I have to be 20 miles away by 7am and I've just glued my eyes shut with mascara.
But the Look cuts me to the quick. It makes me want to apologise and scurry to his command. I don't though. But I do wonder if he's a talented Looker or I'm a paranoid mummy.

Your own baby's mess is much less revolting than that of other children. Boy Three is graduating to the next size of car seat. Actually this move is long overdue as for a while we've been forced to push quite hard to get the buckle done up. And he resents the view - the sky, the top of the trees and, whoosh, a lorry. So it was into the cupboard under the stairs to find the two chairs that were handed down to us. Yuk. All grubby with other child drool and crust. So I washed the covers and am now bracing myself to try to get them back on the skeletons again. But I've realised that the high chair and baby walker are both properly manky with dried and sticky puddles and crusts of posset and smear. But that's OK because he put them there. Isn't it?

And waiting for me...

545 feed posts
15 pages left open as reminders they are must reads
5 facebook messages
1 new blog follower
4 new blog comments
3 new twitter followers
93 unread emails
at least 7 emails that need replies out of manners at the very least
2 playdates to arrange
undisclosed amount (because I'm only looking through my fingers) housework needing done

All these things are waiting for my attention. You see, I've been doing a week bit of proper work in someone else's office this week (two offices, actually). I'd forgotten just how much working like that gets in the way of all the other stuff. So if you're feeling snubbed, rejected, ignored or perhaps you hadn't even noticed my absence, never fear, I'll catch up soon.

But meantime:
1 small boy going to football practice
32 minutes to football practice
1 number of socks small boy has found
3 number of children needing packed into car to take Boy Two to football
1 number of son's friends needing sent home
So I suppose I'd better get going again.

PS I've only just realised that I have a patter of lumps under the should-be smooth front of my shirt today: seeds from the bagel I ate for breakfast in the car. Suggestions about how to do this grown-up going to work thing most welcome please.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Butterflies, speaking Scots and the pouch of doom

Things I've learned from my children today.

Butterflies taste with their feet. Boy Two sneaked into bed with me at stupid o'clock this morning.
"Mum I'm going to tell you something you don't already know."
I quite often ask the boys to tell me something I don't know in an attempt to get them talking. Lord knows why. For a while we did Good News Bad News, where they had to tell me a piece of each at bedtime, but they've stopped playing, each using it as a chance to moan about the other.
"Butterflies taste with their feet. And now I'm going to tell you some jokes."
And with that he slammed the light on and started reading from his depressingly fat joke book. I suppose there are worse ways to start the day.

I am uncertain about the teaching of the Scots in schools. Boys One and Two came home last week with poems to learn. Now the poems were in the Scots dialect and included the rather splendid Jeelie Piece Song. Both Boys had a good go at reciting theirs, in Scots. Now neither of my boys has a particularly marked accent, or at least I don't think so. The Panther has a soft Yorkshire burr and I don't think I speak with anything other than a hint of slightly posh and Northern.
So I sat and listened to the Boys proudly knowing - if not quite understanding - the words of their poems. But it just felt too peculiar. It wasn't them - their voice. Especially Boy Two who, arguably, sounds the most Scots of all of us. The words gummed up his mouth like a particularly truculent toffee. I can't really get to what I think about this. On the one hand it's important for the Boys to know about the country they are growing up in and about the sometimes lyrical nature of its dialects. On the other hand, why did hearing my Boys using those words make me feel quite so peculiar?

Beware the pouch of doom. Pelican bibs - remember them? They're great. They catch all the bits that baby-led-weaning tots cast aside. They keep the clothes dry and even let them have a second go at some of the more tasty morsels. And now they aren't even that rigid scratchy construction. But how truly horrible is the moment you plunge your fingers into the pouch filled with now cold, half-gummed, slimy stuff. Yuk.

Here's the poem:
(Adam MacNaughton)

But I'm no gaun oot to play ony mair,
I'm a skyscraper wean, I live on the nineteenth flair,
Since we moved to Castlemilk, I'm wasting away,
'Cause I'm getting one less meal every day.

O ye cannae fling pieces oot a twenty-story flat,
Seven-hundred hungry weans will testify to that,
If it's butter, cheese or jeely, if the breid is plain or pan,
The odds against it reaching earth and ninety-nine to one.
On the first day my maw flung out a piece o' Hovis brown.

It came skyting oot the winda and went up insteid o' doon,
But every twenty-seven hours it comes back into sight,

'Cause my piece went into orbit and became a satellite.
One the second day my maw flung me a piece oot once again.
It went and hit the pilot in a fast, low-flying plane.
He scraped it off his goggles, shouting through the intercom:
'The Clydeside Reds have got me wi' a breid-and-jeely bomb!'

The Salvation Army band was staunin' doon below.
One the third day my maw thought she would try another throw.
But the oompah-man was playing a piece-on-marmalade.
'ONWARD, CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS' was the piece they should have played,

We're going to march to George's Square, demanding civil rights,
And a' the weans in Castlemilk have formed a ''Piece'' brigade;
We've wrote away tae Oxfam to try and get some aid,
Like 'Nae Mair Hooses Over Piece-Flinging Height!'
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