Pan of the Year

My little fella was hanging over my shoulder as I was doing the online shop. On this unusual occasion, I was ordering kitchenware as well as the usual fridge, freezer, stock-cupboard shop. I was actually after a 2lb loaf pan, but a zillion irrelevant results popped up on my screen, including an exclusive offer for the 10-inch non-stick Pan of the Year.

“How do they know it’s the pan of the year?” my son demanded.


“It’s only January! They can’t possibly know what trouble this pan could cause!”

I couldn’t answer for a moment because I was smothering giggles at the thought of said pan hiding future criminal tendencies from the general public. “Um, darling, some years don’t run from January to December. Some award years—”

“My pan’s great. It’s only small but it does a great poffetje* and a perfect egg. Why isn’t that the pan of the year?”

“It might be a runner-up. It might even be a front-runner in the one-egg/stewed Pippin apple category. Let’s have a loo—”

“And they haven’t thought about other pans, have they? What if there’s a way better pan in September?”

Realising my son was getting emotionally involved, I softened my tone. “Better than your pan?”

“Better than any pan!” Bas leapt to his feet. “What if there’s a pan where six sausages don’t stick, but they don’t bring it in until November? Is that fair? It’s still 2016 in November but that doesn’t matter because it’s only January and THEY’VE ALREADY DECIDED ON THE PAN OF THE YEAR!”

I brought him down to earth by explaining the birth of appreciation societies at various times of the year, and their insistence on rewarding achievements in their particular areas at those times of the years, even if those bore no obvious relationship to the Gregorian calendar with which he’d been raised. It took a while, but once I’d reminded him about Chinese New Year, and explained that some every items were more important to some people than others, he’d rid himself of the filthy notion that he was surrounded by product-nomination corruption.

His peaceful innocence has been lovely, these last few days. Remind me to keep the TV off when Oscar season comes round…

* poffetje = dutch pancake slightly fatter than a blini, and appx 2 inches in width. On a wide day.


Culture, or cruel and unusual punishment?

I don’t hear enough now to try to get attached to new music, so I console myself by reliving my teens whenever I’m driving. I have quite a few CDs burnt to disc—thank you, Apple—and the marker-penned scrawl on two of them is a fair warning: Severe Cheese 1 and Severe Cheese 2. Just about any soft-rock anthem you can think of from the late eighties and early nineties is represented on those two discs.

My little boy has become quite attached to Severe Cheese 1. His particular favourite is ‘holding out for a hero’, and he likes to howl along with Heart’s ‘Alone’. He’s also become quite conversant with the volume control knob. I’ve had some interesting driving experiences when the mid-song scream in ‘Alone’ has coincided with me arriving at a particularly tricky roundabout. But, for all the alarming moments, I’ve been warmed through and through by his acceptance of the music his mummy grew up with. One of his favourite songs happens to be ‘You’re the Voice’ by John Farnham. It’s a classic of its kind, all urgent vocals, fierce and revolutionary lyrics, hard drumming, and random bag-pipey breaks in the middle of the song.

My father was slightly unhappy to learn that my teen music preferences were making a cameo re-appearance into his life. He discovered this when he found Bas and his two cousins using my iPad to create their own Severe Cheese 3 playlist. As a proud technophobe with Victorian notions about the acceptable forms of entertainment for the male under-10s (ie Ludo, marbles, throwing mud or poking icing on cakes), he regarded their DJ preparations over the top of his newspaper with silent, grave misgivings.

I can hear my father’s silent misgivings from the other side of the house. They’re quite powerful.

I knew, the moment I heard Def Leppard’s Hysteria booming through the lounge that there was going to be some kind of generational impasse. The boys have been urged to consider the lounge as their own. My father urges himself to consider the lounge as his own. Peace was unlikely to prevail. For the sake of controlling my blood pressure, I stayed in the kitchen with my head down as Hysteria gave way to ‘You’re the Voice’. My sister Phili, who operates on the basis that there is always going to be some kind of small-person scene in the house, was at the back of the garden, chopping blocks for firewood. So it was left to me to absorb my father’s billowing clouds of disapproval through the seventies service hatch between kitchen and lounge while the three cousins bawled along with the song.

It’s no mystery to me that Bas has the lyrics down pat—he’s heard it often enough. It was slightly surprising to find that his two cousins were almost as fluent. But then again… Phili and I always did have the same taste in music.

I could feel dad’s knuckles tightening around the edges of his newspaper as the song barged its way towards the second chorus, the vocals of my son and nephews in hot pursuit – perhaps only half a beat off – and fairly tuneful, as far as I could tell with my limited, deaf expertise. They were certainly putting some effort into it.

“You’re the voice, try and understand it,” they chorused, “make the noise and make it CLEAR OH WOAAHHOHOH!”

My father turned round to the hatchway, meeting my eyes in painful, pointless remonstration. I had my hands full of soup, tuna sandwiches and hotdog cans, and gave him a thin, barely-remorseful smile.


“So I see!” My father flung down his newspaper and fled the room.

“WE’RE NOT GONNA LIVE IN FEEAR! AAAH! Whoa! Waaaa-oooo-ohohoh!”

“This is cruel and unusual,” my father pointed out, as he came into the kitchen.

“It’s culture.”

“It’s horrid. Make it stop. It was bad enough twenty five years ago.” Dad groaned and headed outdoors, where he could be frozen in peace.

I spent a few minutes seething while I organised three different sets of lunches, wondering how he could be such a stick-in-the-mud. I shared this reflection with Ray, who wondered (quite reasonably) why I was slamming hotdogs into buns like hated people into geographical faults, and he made a very good, gentle point. The most recent track on any of my CD’s is Kylie’s ‘Can’t get you out of my head’, which isn’t exactly…current. There’s a lot to be said to attachment to one’s past. It just so happens that my fond musical past and my father’s didn’t exactly overlap.

I hope my son and my nephews keep up the accidental influence of the Severe Cheese and develop it in the name of musical history. I’d be delighted to hear them inflict those songs on their kids when I’m in my seventies. Then, it wouldn’t be cruel and unusual punishment – it would properly be ‘culture’.


Mummies can’t play FIFA

Because my husband’s away a lot, I find myself having to be dad as well as mum. I’m quite excited when I first sit down with my son to play FIFA 16 on the X-Box. It looks good fun, and it can’t be any more stressful than Arbitrary-Rules football (in which I get penalised for scratching my nose, scoring a goal, or tackling successfully). Anything has to be better than that.

Alas, to carry out the ‘dad’ role effectively, I need to be able to play FIFA to a reasonably competitive standard.

“You’ll need lots of practice for that,” Sebastian tells me gravely. “It’s not normally a girl-game.”

I take the controls rather briskly and decide to give my seven-year-old lad a demonstration on the dangers of uttering sexist remarks. FIFA 16 war commences.

For those unfamiliar with this incredibly frustrating game, it combines a freaky amount of CGI realism (strikers who throw complete paddies when they miss during a penalty shoot out, goalies who collapse in despair after an own-goal) with a total divorce from reality. This divorce lies in the relationship between the wild and desperate flurries of my thumbs, and what appears to be happening on the screen.

My son has become a good sportsman with maturity, and has considerately loaded my Classic VI team with the best players in the world, but this makes no impact on my playing standard whatsoever. In every other area of life I’m a good multi-tasker, but faced with the myriad actions required for this game, I suddenly develop all the hand-eye coordination of a concussed squid loaded to the eyeballs with Oxycodone.

All I want to know how to do is:
A) Make the player with the little ring around it DO something (deliberately).
B) Kick the sodding ball.
C) Run in the correct direction.

I start out being methodical, but then things get a little stressful and weird. Half my players appear to be suffering some form of catalepsy, two of them devote themselves to giving each other wedgies (well, that’s what it looks like), and the little circle around the player I’m supposedly ‘controlling’ is never anywhere near the ball. Quite often, the elusive Mr Circle isn’t even on the screen.

With a sigh hard enough to blow over a modest sapling, my son pauses the game and tells me that to change player, I need to press the left bumper. I wouldn’t recognise a bumper if it slapped me in the face, and tell him so. A second sigh blows the crockery off the coffee-table and he prods the correct button with his pointy-finger. We resume the game. My performance worsens.

After half time (which gives me a full ten seconds to regain my composure), I acquire an audience. My Dutch father- and mother in-law come to observe my skills and I know without even looking around that my FiL is wearing his trademark expression of profound, despairing affection. On-screen, I accidentally take out Diego Costa by leaping upon him from a surprising height. I jump as I feel the warm clap of a very real hand on my shoulder.

“Verschrikkelijk (terrible),” my FIL says fondly. “Mothers cannot play FIFA. This is known by nearly all men.”

MiL takes exception to this appalling (yet accurate) bit of sexism and takes the controls from me. She commands my son to pause the game and give her a quick button-lesson. This completed, they go to battle on the pitch.

After two minutes, all her players have congregated on one bit of pitch like cows on a wet day, and she’s managed to get my striker red-carded by beating the crap out of Lionel Messi.

“You see?” FiL observes, then moves with pace and wisdom to the garage as MiL chucks the controls back at me and stalks into the kitchen.

The game is over two minutes later. I have hardly any players left and those still on the pitch seem to be sobbing with shame. Sebastian offers me a rematch ‘to redeem myself’. Yes, he actually says that sort of thing. There’s nothing quite so undignified as being on the receiving end of displays of pitying compassion from a small boy. I put my shoes on and leap to my feet, reaching for my coat.

“Fancy a game of proper football?”

His eyes light up and he gets dressed, running outside with me.

Ten minutes later, I’m 6-1 up and he’s marching back to the house in a huff.

My father-in-law’s right, I think. Mummies definitely can’t play FIFA. But we do know how to retrieve our dignity when it’s gone AWOL. We get lots of practice at that…