Monthly Archives: October 2012

The terrible tooth fairy

Six years in and I’ve started to take this parenting thing for granted. I don’t know if this is a sign of being busy or just taking my eye off the ball for one minute. Big mistake. Because, as all parents know, you give your enemy children a small amount of ground, they will stomp all over you. Never relax. Hell, you’re a parent of small children, what is relaxation?

So this is what happens: the Chatterbox loses her fourth (maybe fifth tooth) on Sunday night. We are all sitting around the table when it happens. She’s happily munching on her food one minute and then crying the next about how the tooth is about to fall out.

I turn into the dentist – it’s one of my many roles around here – and extricate the tooth with a paper towel. Her mood lifts immediately and now all the Chatterbox is thinking about is MONEY. Tooth fairy money.

We go through the ritual of putting the tooth under the pillow and making a big deal about what she will get. She’s excited and goes to sleep, undoubtedly thinking about how much money she will receive in the morning.

And it’s NOTHING. I don’t know if the English Husband and I were having too much of a good time on Sunday night. He came home from the pub in an advanced state of hilarity (i.e. drunkenness) and I was drinking red wine while watching Downton Abbey. Whatever the reason, we forget to put the money under the pillow.

(This does not happen the first time she loses her tooth – read my blog post here.)

Socialist tooth fairies

The next morning the Chatterbox is crestfallen, literally. I’m not sure what to say about this. I think about various excuses: the tooth fairy doesn’t work on Sundays; tooth fairies in England are essentially socialist and get a lot of days off; the tooth fairy went on strike (she’s socialist, remember?); and tooth fairies can be forgetful, even if they aren’t human.

I decide to tell her that maybe we need to write her a note. The Chatterbox takes this seriously and writes to the tooth fairy on a piece of stationery:

‘My tooth is clean. I will go to bed tonight. Please pick up my tooth.’

Well, the note nearly breaks my heart. The English Husband leaves the money under the pillow; there’s no forgetting this time. The lucky girl wakes up to find £2.

That night, as she is going to bed, she looks up at me, eyes as wide as saucers, and says: ‘Mommy, the tooth fairy forgot to take my tooth!’ She is holding it aloft, and I verify it’s the tooth.

I am speechless. I left this small task to the English Husband while I went out to my book club. He later tells me that he thought the tooth was in the envelope with the note and never bothered to check.

At this moment, though, I am standing in this child’s bedroom and wondering how I will explain myself out of this crisis. The Chatterbox is staring at me. I can see her thinking. I’ve got seconds to come up with a plausible explanation.

Finally I mumble, haltingly: ‘I guess she must have got confused. Maybe she’s a new tooth fairy. She’ll definitely spot it and take it tonight.’ I put the tooth on the dresser in plain sight.

I have no idea if she believes me. Frankly, I’m rather worried that she might. Is this is a sign that she will struggle with logic later on?

With Christmas coming, my only hope is that Santa Claus won’t get too drunk on Christmas Eve and screw the whole thing up.

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The demise of print: Newsweek

Newsweek magazine goes online

Newsweek magazine ends print edition to go online-only

Just spotted this news, which seemed to add a bit more steam to my story about the demise of print. My parents have subscribed to Newsweek since I was a child and it has sat in our bathroom as reading material for as long as I can remember. The Brother can tell many tales about how it has provided hours of entertainment in the bathroom. Shame those days are over. How many people will read a tablet while on the toilet? I wonder…

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The cleaner: a modern dilemma

domestic help in uniforms

‘Uh, no, I don’t want to clean your damn house despite the smile on my face.’

I’m not entirely sure when getting a cleaner became as common as traffic jams in Los Angeles. Somewhere between the 1990s and today, cleaners have gone from being the preserve of the rich to being the affordable ‘luxury’ of anyone who has spare bit of change kicking around the house.

Let me be clear: I am not rich and have never had a cleaner in my life, not even when I was eight months pregnant with my second child, and I was squatting on my hands and knees to clean the bathtub. Scrubbing the toilets is as second nature to me as designing chic Chanel jackets are to Karl Lagerfeld.

The dilemma

For the first time since having these children, however, I find myself working full time. This has perpetuated my modern, 1st world dilemma – do I get a cleaner with the tiny bit of spare cash I now have or do I continue to clean the house every Saturday, cursing everyone who steps in my path, wielding my cleaning products like weapons and shouting at the English Husband for putting me in this predicament in the first place? Cleaning during my ‘spare time’ has put my marriage in jeopardy.

The first thing that has stopped me from getting a cleaner is having the awkward conversation. You know what I mean. It would go something like this:

‘So I would like you to change the sheets on the beds, do the bathrooms, dust, vacuum and mop the floors. And, yes, I think you should manage it all in three hours maximum.’ In my head, this cleaner is always a frail 60-year-old Columbian woman who limps and nods at me timidly.

Sulky teenager syndrome

Then there’s the issue of trust. While I would love to trust everyone on the planet, part of me is suspicious of nearly everyone on the planet. I don’t think they’d try to do something as ordinary as steal – I have nothing to steal anyway – but I can imagine they might take shortcuts. The arrangement starts off well until month two, when suddenly I find that the flat looks like it has been cleaned by a couple of sulky teenagers.

I know I’d never be able to speak up and demand that things ‘get ship-shape or else’. I’ve never had the knack of being threatening or managerial.

This human weakness has been exploited a bit in the past. When my mother in California finally caved in and got a pair of cleaners a few months ago, she asked me to tell them what she wanted while she went off to work. I honestly could barely look them in the face. I’d mumble a few requests and then retreat to my bedroom or, better yet, leave the house altogether.

That’ll be $90

When the cleaners would ask me, three hours later, whether I approved of their efforts, I’d always nod ‘yes’ and tip them $10 each on top of their $90 charge and smile at them graciously. I almost had to restrain myself from treating them like guests and walking them out to their sport-utility vehicle in the driveway (better than our car, might I add).

My mother and I would then spend the next few days dissecting their domestic failings and finding things they hadn’t done. Yet we would employ them again out of guilt and the apathy that comes with finding someone to replace them.

In London, cleaners don’t cost quite as much as they do in California. In fact, they are positively cheap by comparison – it’s about the only thing I can think of that is cheaper here.

Columbian connection

But first I need to get over my hang-ups about what it means to have a cleaner. Then I’d have to get over my urge to clean the house before the cleaner even arrives, to spare myself the humiliation of having this person appraise my mess. And then I’d have to reconcile myself to employing someone who is effectively doing something horribly mundane and, yes, horrible.

Why can’t I shake this feeling that exchanging money for this service is a bit like giving a drug dealer some cash for class-A drugs? (The fact that I keep imagining my cleaner is Columbian doesn’t help.) There is something deeply uncomfortable about paying a cleaner – how far removed is it from a servant? – when you’ve grown up without titles and trust funds. But everyone is doing it these days, dahling. I think people used to say the same about cocaine in the 1980s among certain circles.

Do you have a cleaner? Would you ever go back to the dark days of cleaning the floor on your hands and knees? I’d appreciate some advice, please.

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The demise of print

Free magazines and newspapers on a table

Just a few of the publications I got for free in a week

Nothing has cemented my belief that print is dead – or at least on the way to the morgue – like the proliferation of free magazines and newspapers. These last two weeks I’ve become part of the working masses again. With my return to the economy, I have noticed that the number of free papers I’m accosted with on the way to and from work have multiplied since I was last dragging myself to the office.

I don’t know if this a London curiosity (it’s possible), but taking public transportation to work in this city means that you will no doubt encounter a number of people who will literally try to throw a free newspaper or magazine in your face. I could be given an average of three to four publications for free on any given day.

Time Out goes free

The latest to join this growing stable is Time Out, first launched in London in 1968 by its chairman Tony Elliot. It once used to boast a weekly circulation of 110,000 in London in its heyday in the 1990s; now it is about half that.

A BBC news item says that ‘after extensive research’, the decision had been made to offer the listings magazine for free to London commuters. Global editions, such as the one in New York, will remain paid-for publications.

I’ve had a little time, while madly dashing to work, to observe the vendors who are trying to flog these free print publications to a number of weary commuters being spit out of the mouth of tube stations. Many of them don’t seem eager to take what’s on offer, even though it won’t cost them a penny. Some people will even swerve to avoid the outstretched hands pulling one free copy after another from their arms.

Yesterday morning I observed a pile of free Time Out magazines sitting sadly against a damp and cold traffic light near an intersection. Would they all find warm homes? Possibly. But I don’t know if the Time Out brand has the authority it once did. It has already shrunk its editorial substantially.

Changing attention spans

It does make me wonder about what is happening to print. There is no doubt it’s literally shrinking, losing out to the ever-powerful internet with its acres of ‘free’ cyberspace. I’m all for progress, but I don’t want to see good-quality journalism die out or shrivel to make room for a bunch of free magazines that no one even wants.

Could it be that no one wants them because everyone is reading the content from tablets, iPhones, Android phones and other portable devices? Will people’s 5min attention spans finally spell the end of the analysis, the commentary and the reflection that you still get from some of the broadsheets?

Call me old-fashioned, but I still like to feel a newspaper between my hands, even if it leaves my hands feeling dirty. I think the quality of newspapers in general will decrease if they are given out for free. Where is the competition? Standards will inevitably slip, employees will be laid off, with a fewer number of people doing the work of their ex-colleagues.

I used to work for a newspaper until it closed – 12 colleagues shrunk to three. Now it’s solely online and there’s no doubt in my mind that the quality isn’t quite as good. It’s not because the writing is any worse or because we care any less. It’s simply because we no longer have the resources or money to do what we used to.

Just pulp

And there’s this too: things that are given out for free are not seen as desirable. The more piles of these papers lay by the side of the road or litter empty trains, the more people will just see it as pulp. It’s human nature to be skeptical of anything that doesn’t have intrinsic value.

There are so many of these free newspapers nowadays that people have become quite cynical about them. I know all print is destined for the recycling bin, but piles of papers you can grab off the street – many of them indistinguishable from each other – are not incredibly appealing.

I might be part of the problem. I mostly read stuff I can get for free. Unlike some of my fellow human beings in London, I’ll take anything on offer if I don’t have to pay for it. If someone like me – who believes in the value of print – isn’t buying the newspaper any longer or doesn’t feel compelled to shell out for expensive glossy magazines, things will only get worse for print.

Danger of apathy

I believe that apathy is more dangerous to print than the internet. Just look at what it can do to democracy. If print publications are to galvanize people to fight for their existence, they really need to up their game and carve a niche for themselves that the internet can’t compete with. And this is unlikely to happen while free papers circulate on every corner, giving people the impression that you don’t have to pay for content. The average person won’t care whether that content is good or bad, it simply exists.

My conclusion? Not all the best things in life are free.

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Olympic torch

Me and the Olympic torch

Like a schoolgirl at a One Direction concert – that’s how excited I am

I am not known for my sporting prowess, the only time I run is for the bus and I wouldn’t be able to last one lap in the pool, but here I am carrying the Olympic torch.

Since I’m fairly certain I will never be a future Olympian, this had me giddy with excitement. Just look at me: it looks like I’m about to swing it like a baseball bat – and that thought is pretty scary. My ex-classmates can fill you in on how bad I am at softball.

The torch is a tad heavier than I thought it would be and it has the London 2012 logo jutting out from its side, which you can’t see in this picture.

How did I get hold of it? I’m afraid that would be giving the game away. A hint, though: I always knew there would be some perks about returning to work.

Off to do some athletics training and push-ups.

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Newsflash: Verruca disappears after 12 years

Robbie the cat

Since no one wants to see a picture of my wart, I thought I’d show you a picture of my cat Robbie. He’s much cuter.

I like the truth. The older I get, the more I think it’s pointless to hide the very things that make me the most human – and this includes my warts. Yes, I have warts. But I think they are disappearing spontaneously and this is more exciting than discovering a Miu Miu bag for $20 in a charity shop.

Here’s my story, warts and all. About 12 years ago I got something called a verruca (commonly known as a plantar’s wart). The English Husband gave me this little present when we were living in a flat with a damp, windowless bathroom.

The verruca virus, part of the HPV (human papillomavirus) family, is contagious and can thrive in very damp places such as public swimming pools and sweaty gyms. (It doesn’t like porcelain baths – so don’t worry if I’ve used your bathroom.) A small cut on the skin is enough to let the virus in, while the body is the perfect host. About 7 – 10% of the US population will get a verruca in their lifetime; 20% of children between the ages of 16 and 18 will have one.

The English Husband also passed this virus on to our best friend and my brother. Both of them managed to get rid of the wart within about a year or two. I have had mine for more than a decade.

Let me put this timeframe into context. Twelve years ago:

  • I had never heard of a little company called Google
  • George Bush Junior was president of the United States
  • Justin Bieber was only six years old
  • Gladiator and Cast Away had just been released in the movie theatre
  • Destiny’s Child released Say My Name

If you’ve never had a verruca, let me tell you now it hurts. They look a bit like a cauliflower and have tiny black spots inside the wart, usually only visible if you look closely. These are small hemorrhages caused by standing or walking on the verruca. Warts are quite fascinating things, really, and I’ve become a bit of an expert.

Invariably, a verruca will hurt if you squeeze its sides. It will also give you pain in the mornings when you put pressure on the foot or if you are wearing tight shoes. When you are feeling run down, it will throb. I’ve noticed that it can also throb on airplanes.

This ugly wart has stopped me from getting pedicures. I’ve become incredibly self-conscious about showing the soles of my feet to other people, whether at the beach or in a yoga class. I always felt like I was holding up a red flag saying, ‘Look at me, I have huge wart on my foot.’ It functions a bit like a lighthouse does with boats – this wart, I felt, was a beacon for people’s stares.

All of a sudden, though, it seems to be disappearing, and it’s taking some smaller warts with it. I had all but given up hope. I had tried all the familiar treatments – bazuka, tea tree oil, salicylic acid, duct tape and even going to a chiropodist. I might even have prayed. Nothing has ever worked.

Everything I’ve ever read about verrucas says that they will eventually go away on their own. Normally this happens within months or a couple of years. For some unlucky people, it could take much longer. To get rid of it, your body will need to make antibodies.

I truly didn’t think it would happen to me. I thought I was going to die with this wart on my foot, so this is as close to a miracle as I’m likely to get.

I thought I’d share this with you because there might be people out there, thinking that they will live with warts forever. I want to offer you a bit of hope.

And because I’m feeling charitable, I will add this little bit of trivia as a bonus. Oliver Cromwell is credited with the modern expression, ‘warts and all’. The 17th-century republican, who had King Charles I beheaded, told a painter that he wanted to be portrayed with ‘pimples, warts and everything as you see me’.

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