Tag Archives: humour

Tiny Curses for People You’re Just a Little Bit Cross With

There are all sorts of excellent curses in literature. You know the kind of thing: pricking your finger on your 16th birthday and sleeping for 100 years… having to spend the rest of your life as a frog, or a beast, or a nutcracker… being obliged to dance forever or always do exactly as you’re told.

The trouble is, none of them seem to be terribly useful for everyday life. For starters, the difficulty of implementing them is considerable. You generally have to either be a witch or a wizard, or at least to be very good mates with one.

They’re also not particularly relevant to the modern world. I’m not sure I’ve ever laid eyes on a spindle; and very rarely do I find myself wandering alone in a dark forest, and I’m therefore really unlikely to come across an old crone, who then curses me when I refuse to help her when she asks me.

And then, they do seem awfully drastic. You’ve got to be really, really cross with your friends and acquaintances to want to turn them into hideous beasts, or stop them from speaking until someone declares their true love for them.

It’s much more likely that you’re just feeling a bit irritated with someone. So you need to have a few very mild curses up your sleeve: things that will slightly inconvenience people as opposed to turning their lives into one of chaos and disaster.

Here are some helpful suggestions:

Curse 1

Curse 5

Curse 9

Curse 3

Curse 2

Curse 7

Curse 10

Curse 8

Curse 6

Curse 12

Curse 11

I hope that you’ll find these useful. Either way, do please suggest some more of your own in the comments section.

Readers use them at their own risk. The writer accepts no responsibility for any unwanted effects.

I originally got this idea from an internet post that I saw a while ago that was based on the same sort of idea. I’ll happily link to it but I can’t remember any details that would let me find it. If anyone knows it, please tell me!

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Missing the Car Wash and the Colour of Nuns – the Traumas of Being the Youngest Child

It’s rubbish being the youngest in the family, and I should know. When I was born, my closest brother in age was already 7, and the oldest was 14. Even Prudence our cocker spaniel was older than me.

This huge age gap meant that my brothers were able not merely to tease me, but to weave elaborate scams that I had no hope at all of seeing through. It was a completely one-sided arrangement because I was far too inexperienced ever to get my own back.

For example…

We were privileged enough to be a two-TV family. We had a colour set in the living room, with a dial to change the channel between BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. It was very similar to this one:

IMG_3577
And we had a black and white TV in the dining room with four separate channel buttons… “In case they ever bring out a fourth channel,” my dad explained to me.

If my brothers and I wanted to see something different at the same time, then of course we argued about who got to use the colour set. On one particular occasion I wanted to watch The Sound of Music. My brother Nick, maybe 13 at the time to my 6,  explained to me that I would be better off watching this particular film on the black and white TV.

“Why?” I asked.
“Because of the nuns,” he replied, completely dead pan.

And I bought it. I trotted meekly off to watch in the dining room. Although I assume that there must have been a tiny suspicion in the back of my mind that I was being had, because why else would I remember the incident 35 years or so later?

A more regular, and possibly even more surreal piece of teasing, happened every Saturday when we would all drive from Sunderland to Newcastle to visit my grandma.  My parents would sit in the front, and the four of us would be crammed into the back (no seatbelts obviously) with the dog across our knees.

Part of the way through the journey, there was a car wash. A perfectly ordinary car wash in a petrol station next to a roundabout. Every week,  my brothers would wait till we’d driven past it (with me invariably looking the other way) and then they’d chant:

“Susan missed the car wash! Susan missed the car wash!”
“AND” they’d add, “it had a white Rolls Royce in it!”

Then they’d fall about laughing. And my parents would tell them off, but you could hear that they were trying not to laugh, too.

And I’d cry.
Every single week.

Now that I’m nearly 42 my brothers are really quite nice to me. And over the years I’ve become much better at making sure I don’t miss car washes.

But still, when our youngest child (who is only 4) gets furiously angry because his older siblings are laughing at something unintentionally funny that he’s said, I empathise. I really do. Though it can sometimes be a struggle not to laugh, too.

***

Do you have any equally traumatic stories of sibling teasing? If so, please tell me about them in the comments section.

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Christmas Kitsch and Family Arguments

Every year on 1 December, with great ceremony, we bring this creature out of the cupboard.

image1

We are Jewish but this doesn’t prevent us from embracing the spirit of Christmas. And what better way to do so than with a reindeer dressed up as Santa Claus who, when you squeeze its hoof, bobs about playing Santa Claus is Coming to Town?

Every year, as soon as it emerges, the same argument starts: is it a moose or a reindeer? Debating this point is at least as important as actually playing with it in the first place.

We are divided into two factions, with the older children on my husband Anthony’s side (in the moose camp) and the four-year-old supporting me (advocate of the reindeer theory).

Anthony argues that it’s a moose because it looks like a moose. It has a squishy flat nose like a moose, not a pointy one like a reindeer.

But obviously, it is a reindeer. Look at it. It has antlers. It has a Santa costume. It plays Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

I come from a family of scientists and, even though I’m not one myself, I’m a fervent supporter of evidence-based research and rational thinking.

But this isn’t a scientific question, and therefore an objective empirical approach is inappropriate. It’s all about context.

My late father-in-law, the excellent Bryan Reuben, Emeritus Professor of Chemical Technology, was a keen and very good cook. He had a baking tray in his house that he once mentioned had been used by his children, when they were small, to hold frogspawn.

I expressed concern over the fact that he was still cooking with a tray that had been formerly used to hatch tadpoles. (I don’t think I actually said ‘Bleeeuurrgghh!’ because I wouldn’t have been so rude – but that was the general gist.)

He said that the tray had been thoroughly sterilised and any amphibian organisms definitively extinguished many years ago. I replied that I completely understood that – but that it was the idea that it had been used to hold frogspawn that I found revolting. The fact that if you examined the tray under a microscope you would find no trace of its former use was simply neither here nor there.

Similarly, I don’t care how much, objectively, our jazz-playing reindeer looks like a moose. It’s obviously supposed to be a reindeer, and therefore it is a reindeer.

I canvassed opinion on the matter on Facebook and people were strongly divided.

My friend Gemma did have this key insight, though: ‘It could be a moose. They are great saxophonists. Reindeer are usually percussionists.’

Be that as it may, I feel the matter is finally closed.  I have discovered a hitherto unseen label on the reindeer’s back:

image1 (1)

Anthony has implied that I may have planted this message. I can’t believe he imagines that I’m so lacking in integrity and moral rectitude that I would be prepared to fake something of this nature.

Happy Christmoose.

***

Does your family like arguing for the enjoyment of it? And if so, what about?

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High fashion and Publishing Chic

Until last week, I worked for Macmillan Children’s Books – an ancient and illustrious publisher home to Alice in Wonderland and The Jungle Book, Judy Blume and The Gruffalo. The offices are situated in the heart of Kings Cross’s trendy redevelopment.

Just round the corner is what I believe to be a training school for Mac Cosmetics. (More below about why this is uncertain.)  Every morning and evening, employees of the two businesses walk up and down Wharfdale Road from the tube to their place of work and back. At lunch-time they take a similar route, this time to the nearby Pret.

The workforce of both institutions is almost exclusively female, and to an observer in the street, there is no question at all who works for Mac and who works for Mac-millan.

The Macmillan staff are characterised by their woolly jumpers and dungarees, colourful tights and pinafores. They carry ‘Books are My Bag’ bags and wear glasses. There is an abundance of patterned skirts, flat shoes, fingerless gloves and cardigans.

Books are my Bag

The Mac staff are dressed entirely in black. But it’s not a uniform. The brief seems to be that they can wear anything at all provided that it’s black, tight, shiny, accompanied by high heels, and complemented with make-up that wouldn’t look out of place in a Vaudeville act or a Burlesque club.

You’ll notice that I haven’t actually named any specific items of clothing or styles. That’s because I don’t know anything about fashion – I’m one of the woolly jumper and patterned skirts people. These Mac girls (and they are all very young) wear garments that I don’t even know the name of. Their clothes defy ordinary descriptions such as ‘skirt’, or ‘jumper’ or ‘dress’.

I’m well aware that I sound like someone’s maiden aunt here. But I’m actually not judging – just describing. This is clearly the way you have to look if you’re working for a high-end cosmetics brand. It’s simply that that world is so far removed from anything that I know about, that it’s like looking at an alien species.

So why the uncertainty about the identity of the Mac Training School? Well, while everyone in my office always referred to it by that name, for the purposes of this blog post I wanted to check that that was its formal title. So I Googled it.  And it doesn’t appear to exist.

A couple of generic postcode-finder sites refer to ‘Mac Cosmetics’ with an address on Wharfdale Road, but with no further information. And aside from that, it doesn’t appear under any other type of search.

So I’m coming to the conclusion that the place is actually a top-secret front for some kind of spy operation. The black clothes are possibly Ninja costumes, and the whole cosmetics-training angle is just a cunning rumour, propagated to explain the staff’s outlandish appearance and allow them to buy their lunch from Pret undetected.

But no longer – I’ve blown their cover!

Meanwhile, tomorrow I start a new job at HarperCollins Children’s Books, home of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, David Walliams and Dr. Seuss. This is situated in The News Building – a huge glass box next to the Shard, that also houses The Times and Sun. I wonder whether the styles of the people working for those three organisations will be equally distinctive.

 

So what do they wear in your office – and what does that say about the people who work there? Do let me know in the Comments section!

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How to Bake a Middle Class Birthday Cake – a Guide

This is the cake I made last month for my daughter’s 7th birthday. The fact that it exists ticks many of the right boxes in the middle class world I live in:

  1. It took me hours of effort and concentration. This shows what an engaged and wholesome mother I am and how much I love my daughter.
  2. I can post a picture of it on Facebook, allowing my friends and family to say suitable things about how impressed they are. (It doesn’t matter whether they really are impressed or not – this is the joy of Facebook.)*
  3. It allows me to do something fun and creative in a way that isn’t really acceptable as an adult with most other media.So I can’t, for example, paint a picture and stick it on my wall like I could when I was a kid – because I’m rubbish at painting. I can’t knit a scarf with wonky edges and dropped stitches because people would just think it was embarrassing.

    The very act of producing something artistic as an adult carries with it an unspoken implication that you yourself think you’re pretty good at it. But not so with your children’s birthday cakes. They are produced out of love, and therefore people will admire them if they look good and forgive them if they look awful.

  4. AND… and… best of all… this entirely self-serving exercise has the incidental benefit that your child is properly and utterly thrilled with the result. So you can pretend throughout that you’re doing it entirely for her.

A couple more tips:

The taste of the cake itself is, surprisingly, not that important. Though being not only a middle class London mum, but a Jewish middle class London mum, I do mind quite a lot if the end result doesn’t taste good.

You should preferably do the whole thing at night time after your child is in bed, and stay up till the early hours perfecting it – ideally while also having to go to work the next morning. This increases your score in all of the above categories.

The doll on my mermaid cake is, incidentally, a special one designed for the purpose. Her body is just a spike, so when the cake is cut and all is revealed, there is a risk of the more delicate party guests being permanently traumatised.

Doll pick

Good luck, and do make sure to sound suitably self deprecating when people admire the result.

* Any notion that this entire blog has been written in order to show off my cake is entirely false and without foundation. Shame on you for even thinking it.

I would love to hear about your birthday cake-making experiences – triumphant or disastrous. Please let me know in the comments section below.

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Why don’t we talk on the phone any more?

In the early 1980s, my dad, brother and I would watch Doctor Who, religiously, every Saturday afternoon.

(Religiously is perhaps the wrong word, because being Jewish, we shouldn’t have been watching TV at all on a Saturday afternoon. But anyway…)

My dad would sit in his special armchair, with me aged seven or so on his knee, and my big brother squashed in beside us. This was a good set-up as it made sure we were well protected from the Daleks and any other aliens who might wish the Doctor ill.

One day, though, we were out on Saturday afternoon, and we realised that we hadn’t remembered to video that day’s episode. My mum was at home but – disaster – we didn’t have any cash to phone her. What to do?

You remember how it was with red telephone boxes… you didn’t have to put your money in till the person at the other end answered? You’d hear ‘Hello!’ and then you’d put push in your 5p.

So, we dialled our home number, and when my mum said ‘Hello?’ we simultaneously shouted ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ before we were cut off.

Just to be sure, we phoned again.

‘Hello?’ said my mum, sounding a little bemused this time. ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ we shouted over her.

The third time, her ‘Hello’ was starting to sound slightly hysterical…

It worked, though. When we got home, my long-suffering mother had understood the message and duly recorded the episode.

None of which has got anything to do with why we don’t talk on the phone any more – it was just a quirky story about telephones.

The thing is, I think if you’d said to us that day:

‘In the future, everyone is going to carry tiny rectangular computers in their pocket. If they want to communicate with someone they’ll be able to choose either to:

a) dial their number and talk
or
b) type a message to them on a miniature keyboard and wait for them to reply…’

…and if you’d then asked us which method people were likely to choose more often, I’m pretty certain we would have answered ‘a)’.

We would possibly have added, ‘Derrrr’… except I don’t think that sound had been invented at the time.

But we would, of course, have been wrong.

So why do people (including myself) treat most phonecalls as stressful, intrusive and unnecessary? I really don’t get it. And yet, I really do embrace it.

The other day at work, I needed to contact the IT department. Being reasonably new to the company, I asked a colleague how to do so.

She helpfully picked up my phone, dialled IT’s extension, then handed me the receiver, leaving me in a state of panic.

‘Oh my god. She’s expecting me to talk to them? I didn’t want their phone number – I wanted their email address! This is sheer madness!’

Luckily, the IT department clearly felt the same way, because the call went to voicemail and I was able to put the receiver down (without actually leaving a message, obviously), find out their email address and write to them instead – like any sensible person.

It only took them 24 hours to get back to me. What more could you ask for?

*******

So, do you dislike using the phone, and why?

Or do you love doing so, and hate that no one picks up any more? 

Please let me know in the comments section.

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The Perils of Sarcasm

As anyone familiar with Ray from the Mary Whitehouse Experience will know, the propensity to be sarcastic can get you into all sorts of trouble. Ray is the man cursed with a sarcastic tone of voice. You can watch him here.

"What a personal disaster."

“What a personal disaster.”

When I was at university – it was in the early days of email – an Australian friend sent me a message to say that he’d heard that a rare type of walrus had been sighted off the coast of the UK and had I seen any? He was, he explained, a walrus enthusiast.

I replied that while I hadn’t seen any walruses, if I happened to spot one while walking through Cambridge I’d be sure to let him know.

“Thanks – that would be great,” he replied.

He then signed me up to a walrus aficionados’ e-newsletter.

I quite enjoyed reading it, actually. It was a little window into a world I would ordinarily never have known existed.

Of course, it’s well known that it’s really difficult to convey tone of voice in an email, and you therefore have to be extra careful what you say. I’m not good at taking heed of this. The problem is, I also run into trouble when talking to people face to face – particularly strangers.

My husband Anthony suffers from the same problem. A few years ago we were in the Lake District with our four-month-old baby. (This was the same trip on which we acquired All Terrain Pushchair Walks, South Lakeland – click here to read more about that.) Out on a walk, our son began screaming hysterically in his pushchair.

A passing lady said in consternation,
“Gosh, he doesn’t look very happy, does he?”
“That’s because he’s starved of affection,” Anthony replied.
“Oh dear!” said the lady, clearly alarmed, and scuttled off looking as if she were about to call social services.

Having failed to learn from this encounter, I make sarcastic comments to strangers all the time. I imagine I’m being funny.

Given that sarcasm tends to consist of saying the exact opposite of what you really think, if the person you’re talking to doesn’t realise that you’re being sarcastic, it is excruciating. The chances are you’ll come out of the encounter looking stupid or crazy, or quite possibly both.

And yet… it’s difficult to give it up because sometimes – just sometimes – the stranger I’m talking to gets the joke and laughs. And so my comment allows us to make an immediate, genuine connection that no amount of small talk can create.

It is almost never worth trying to dig your way out of these situations by explaining yourself. That just leads to embarrassment all round. I tend to just swallow the misunderstanding, grit my teeth, and accept that this person now thinks I’m socially or intellectually deficient.

Perhaps the answer is to carry a sarcasm sign around with me, like Leonard does for Sheldon’s benefit in the Big Bang Theory.

Leonard

If I hold it up whenever I’m being sarcastic, I’m sure that will solve all my problems.

NOT!!!!!
😉 😉 😉

*******

Have you ever found yourself in trouble due to being sarcastic? Or do you hate it when other people are? Do let me know in the comments.

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