Man, I feel like a WAHM-argh

We’re up all night to get mum. We’re up all night to kill mummy.

People often say to me ‘Jenny, how do you write words for money AND look after a toddler all day long?’ and ‘How do you come up with column ideas while sleep deprived?’ and ‘What’s that smell? I think it’s coming from the sink?’ So here are my top tips for being a work-at-home mum, huzzah!

Wear real clothes

Slobbing around in your pyjamas all day makes it really difficult to get into work mode; I find the most efficient way to maintain a srz bznz persona is to sleep fully dressed. Stick a discounted Joules blazer over that rumpled fine knit and you’ll look like a goddamn professor when the Tesco man arrives at half-past sadface.

Interstitial time

Use small idle moments to work on other tasks. Waiting for the bath to fill? Load the washing machine! Call centre keeping you on hold? Wipe down the kitchen surfaces! Toddler insisting you help her crawl up and down the stairs over and over again? Develop a complex imaginary relationship with your favourite X-Man! Awaiting the sweet release of death? Chop up some vegetables for dinner! Note that none of these tasks will ever be completed, leaving you feeling like Martha Stewart has attacked your home with a mallet.

Write anything, anywhere, whenever

It’s important to develop your own USP. Mine is ‘Scarecrow woman blindly pecks out acceptable copy on her phone at 3am. Sometimes in the car*.’

Let your toddler help

Ada loves to help out around the house! From inspecting the contents of the bin to sticking crayons up the hoover, it’s amazing how the most mundane tasks can become an enrichment opportunity. Or a trip to A+E.

Drink a lot of coffee

How much coffee do you currently drink? Double it. If it’s not yet dawn, add condensed milk.

Listen to Chris

Chris says I should conclude this post by pointing out how unsuccessful I am at sane WAHMing lest I come across as some kind of smugpants princess lazybones. Done. #coffeetime

*Parked. Safety first, insomniacs!

Shameless self-promotion, December edition

Here, in a bid to convince Google-happy employers of the future that I didn’t (just) sit on the floor eating bonbons for the whole of 2016, are some actual real-life places you can find my work this month. If you want, I mean. No pressure. Bonbon?

Ohhhhhhh Comely


Be the sexiest mofo in your local artisanal coffee house with issue 34 of Oh Comely. It includes my piece about returning to the motherland, but don’t let that put you off – there’s also pretty photography! And time travel! And other writers who don’t throw exclams around like cheap confetti at a 1960s wedding! Check out the sampler then buy it here and head to Costa, tiger.

99 problems but a chainstitch ain’t one


What do you mean, you haven’t yet crocheted a giant retro stocking for your child/partner/cat? Do you have hands and eyes? Then there is no excuse. I made this in a weekend and my fingers almost fell off – totally worth it. Find the pattern in Your Crochet Christmas and get your RSI on this December.

BONUS: Make two and you can use them as actual stockings for a giant or someone with elephantitis of the legs.

Is this real life? Better, it’s MacLife!

I have something in super-awesome US tech title MacLife this month. Do I remember what? No. Is it good? Maybe. Does it feature passive-aggressive mention of something weird my husband does? Almost certainly. Perhaps long-suffering editor Matt will step in and help us out. I’m sure he has nothing better to do SORRY MATT I TRIED. #brandscaping

Edit: Thanks Matt! January 2017 issue, I share my efforts to stop eating like every meal is my last. 


But wait, there’s also some award humblebragging


Chris and I won a PPA Scotland award! Sure, it was in a novelty category, but frankly the same could be said for most of my lifetime achievements. Thank you, PPA! Fistbump!

I want to be in the room where FAQs happen, or Hamilton: a quick-start guide

Haha, have you heard there’s a musical about, like, the first US treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton? A hip-hop musical?

Yep, I told you about it ages ago. To be fair, you probably didn’t listen because I was sweating and shedding like a thyroid-addled greyhound at the time.

Is there like, rapping? Do the founding fathers rap and ‘bust moves’? Because that’s hilarious!

Uh-huh. *examines nails*

I dunno, sounds kind of gimmicky…

Look, you can spend a few weeks scrunching up your nose at the very thought of Hamilton or you can CLIMB ON BOARD THIS SEXY BANDWAGON NOW AND RENEW YOUR ENTHUSIASM FOR LIFE AND CRY HAPPY TEARS AND THANK ME LATER.

Wow. Okay, relax, god. So where should I start, this thing is about a thousand hours long. Also I know nothing about US history or politics and I don’t really like hip-hop. Or musicals. Or things that other people like, because I am a special snowflake with unique and quirky tastes.

Get over yourself, princess; you’ll love this, I promise. You don’t want to be like one of those oddballs who refuses to watch Star Wars, do you? DO YOU?

No.

No. Exactly. Okay, so the speediest way in is probably:

Watch creator Lin-Manuel Miranda perform an early version of the opening number at the White House in 2009 – notice how everyone laughs at the beginning… but not for long. Also notice Michelle Obama snapping along. 😍 Uh, turn the subtitles on if, like me, you are old.

Love it a little bit already? Course you do! Now check out the full cast performing the same number in 2016. Look at those costumes. LOOK AT THEM.

Now go about your life as usual until you start getting the creeping earworms that invade your brain and dreams and conversations with concerned friends and family.

Yep. Okay. Okay. I’m totally with you. Now what? I am a functioning adult with a fulfilling career and social life. I don’t have time to follow two hours of governmental wrangling in the form of dope rhymes!

Hey, no need to brag, Busy McBusykins. First get on Spotify and listen to the first three tracks which are like a juggernaut of blinding magnificence that will make you question the point of your existence. Probably. Then if you’re feeling intimidated by the rest of the album, check out the plot summary on Wikipedia – you can hop around listening to the juicy bits that interest you like Say No To This (sex!), Stay Alive Reprise (death!), Yorktown (war!), Guns & Ships (guns! Also ships!), The Room Where It Happens (political banjo!).

Wait… it’s happening! I can’t stop listening to Hamilton and also telling people about Hamilton and please help me ahhhh!

Shh, you’re safe here on the bandwagon. Just relax into it.

I feel like I can rap now. Can I rap now? Am I a rapper?

No you’re not. And neither am I. Rapping is for the privacy of your own shower, like hair removal and secret leftover pizza.

Gotcha. So can I buy tickets to Hamilton London?

You can certainly try – check out the website here then sob a bit because you’ve missed priority sign-up. LOL, should’ve listened to the crazy sweaty lady back in April, suckah!

Um, thanks. To whom should I address all further concerns?

No problem. First rule of Hamilton Club is ‘Tweet Jim, he’ll know’. Second rule is ‘Secret shower pizza is secret’.

Back from the brink with an iPhone and debit card autofill

September

I have had a baby, it is not going well; sadly because she is sleeping through the night at a freakish 5 weeks old, no one takes any of my problems seriously. 

The baby is knackered but only naps if I rock her on my lap in a dark, silent room. I take to devouring eBooks on my iPhone, the first one I read is Room.

Room is incredible and, for a book set almost entirely in one room, unexpectedly thrilling. I read it during the hours and hours I am (at least voluntarily) trapped in a dark room with my child, not noticing the irony until it’s over and I start wondering if I could roll myself up in a rug and ask Chris to pop me outside on bin day.

December

I have been diagnosed with a post-natal hormone disorder and severe anxiety. Much of my hair has fallen out, I have awful skin and I sweat all the time. I am sent to a therapist who makes me download an app called iWorry Lite; I have to upgrade to the paid version after 24 hours because I have too many worries. Chris finds this darkly hilarious. The baby gets her first cold.

I watch a bit of Australia on my phone each night, then fall asleep listening to David Mitchell’s Back Story and Bill Bryson’s The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid on repeat.

I like memoir audiobooks, mainly because you don’t lose the plot when you fall asleep (although I have, arguably, lost the plot). These two are my favourites; I listen to them over and over, Chris eventually buying me fancy low-profile Bluetooth headphones so that the baby doesn’t develop some kind of Pavlovian narcolepsy every time she hears David Mitchell on a panel show.

March

I am a little better. The baby sits up. I resign from my job and become oddly unmoored. I do an online writing class and read Sarah Crossan’s amazing One, all on my phone. Jim recommends I listen to Hamilton and I buy that too, so the whole month is spent in verse, with weird couplets running around my head. 

I manage to make Hamilton’s massive political and ideological themes all about my ridiculous little life; I do need to rise up! I’m not stupid! I do think these pants look hot!

I fail to convince anyone else to get into Hamilton, so I rap Scottishly at the baby. My inner life has become strange but vast as my outer life has shrunk to mashing pears and inspecting poop.

May

We have moved to the motherland! On our first afternoon in our new town I run into an aunt, and the following day my dad visits and plays blocks with Ada. We put a tent in the garden and she laughs at the wind and pulls up fistfuls of grass. For the first time, I am parenting solo for most of the week; it’s not as bad as I expect. I get some writing work; Chris builds me a desk but I still do most of it one-thumbed on my phone.

I buy the new Star Wars film. I’ve been holding out for a quiet night to watch it on the big screen TV, but I’ve decided to watch it in snatches on my phone as the poorly baby clings to me in her sleep. It’s fine. It’s fun! Life is easier now I’ve accepted that Me Time comes in minutes and seconds rather than days and hours.

Now I’m watching Lady Dynamite, a hilarious Netflix show about Maria Bamford’s descent into and recovery from mental illness. I recognise her flashbacks like they are mine; the raggedy clothes, the exhaustion, the social awkwardness, the confused friends, the keen attempts to use therapy strategy in real life situations, the staring, the blue winter light. You must watch it! Except you, mum, it’s very rude.

I get a lot of flak, usually from older people, for always having my phone in my pocket or on the counter or in the baby’s drooling maw, but it has honestly saved my sanity many times over during this hardest of hard years. Get a good smartphone, pregnant ladies, you won’t regret it.

Probably the most idiotic ‘recipes’ you’ll ever read

I find it almost impossible to cook anything when Ada is awake; she’s too heavy to hold in one arm, hates the sling, and is a violent spoon-throwing maniac in the high chair. Meals have been limited to whatever Chris has the energy to make when he gets in, or whatever I can throw in the oven while she bangs her forehead on my clavicle.

Until now! Dinner time has been revolutionised by freezing the raw ingredients for what US mommies seem to call – ugh! – dump meals. Sorry.

I throw together a few freezer bags of ingredients at the weekend while Chris takes Ada for a walk, then each weekday at about 2pm I just drop a giant frozen food boulder into the slow cooker. When it’s cooked, it stays warm until the baby is down for the night and we’re ready to eat. Magic.

Now. NOW. This is the real, slightly shameful secret. If I was a proper person, I’d chop up and assemble all the raw ingredients completely from scratch, but that takes far too long when I have limited solo kitchen time. So I just chuck in jars and cans of stuff and it’s still awesome.

Here’s what we ate this week; you could easily recreate these more cheaply and deliciously from scratch, but for me it’s all about time, time, time…

Salsa chicken wraps

Freeze in a bag:

Chicken thighs

Tub of fresh salsa

Tin of chopped tomatoes

Fajita seasoning to taste

Cook:

Approx 4-5hrs on LOW (not high, or chicken goes stringy, yuk)

Serve with:

Tortillas, sour cream, sliced red pepper, lime to squeeze over

Lamb rogan josh

Freeze in a bag:

Diced lamb

Half a chopped onion

Tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Jar of good rogan josh sauce – add a splash of water if very thick so that the curry doesn’t dry out in the slow cooker

Cook:

Approx 5-6hrs on LOW

Serve with:

Naan, yogurt, rice if you can be arsed

Meatball subs

Freeze in a bag:

Good quality meatballs (I buy them from M&S, FANCY!)

Large jar of passata

Teaspoon of dried Italian herbs

Cook:

Approx 4hrs on HIGH

Serve with:

Submarine rolls, parmesan to grate over

What we call ‘Sausage Dish’ 

Freeze in a bag:

Little thumb-sized lumps of good pork sausagemeat

Your choice of tinned beans, drained and rinsed – kidney, cannellini and borlotti work well

Large jar passata

1tsp Italian herbs

Cook:

Approx 4hrs on HIGH

Serve with:

Toasted wholegrain pitta bread

Pasta pot

Freeze in a bag:

Chicken thighs

Diced onion or other veg

Jar of good tomato pasta sauce plus half-jar of water (pasta will absorb)

Cook:

Approx 4hrs on HIGH

Add during last half-hour:

Orzo pasta

Blob of creme fraiche

Allow leftovers to sit and go mouldy for:

A whole weekend.

That’s it! Check out this website for some basic tips on cooking times and successful veg freezing, plus loads of frankly-much-better meal ideas.

All the Tumbles: A guide

Our kid doesn’t get to see much TV, but I do often harness its zombifying power at the end of a day if she’s cranky and I need to trim her nails or brush her teeth or polish her horns. I let her watch Something Special, the Makaton show starring Mr Tumble and his assorted relatives. We are now, as a family, obsessed with the Tumbles. Here’s everything I know so far…

Mr Tumble

Mr Tumble is a grown man with few life skills who lives alone in a stylish Cath Kidstonesque cottage. He has a dangerous number of fireplaces and kitchen appliances for a man who doesn’t know how to operate a bucket. He dresses as a clown but isn’t employed as one; that’s just his look.

The confusing schtick of the show is that Mr Tumble (played by Justin Fletcher) magically sends a spotty bag to Justin Fletcher (played by Justin Fletcher) with a list of stuff he (Justin) has to find and send back to him (Justin). My theory is that Mr Tumble lives in a parallel universe where they don’t have gloves, teapots, rubber ducks, etc, and he can essentially use these items as currency to pay for his preposterously nice house.

Mr Tumble is refreshingly open to playing with all kinds of toys; as well as ‘boy stuff’, he owns a toy tea set, a hot pink tutu and the adorable Polly Dolly. You do you, Mr Tumble.

Grandad Tumble

I learned from watching The Tale of Mr Tumble live show that Grandad Tumble actually FOUND Mr Tumble as a baby – they are not blood relatives, despite their weird clowny dress sense. Grandad Tumble lives in a shed and exists solely to nag Mr Tumble about domestic chores. I hate Grandad Tumble, he is a massive buzzkill.

Lord Tumble

Lord Tumble is one smooth bastard. When he shows up at Mr Tumble’s place, Mr Tumble has to serve him like a butler. If I had to shack up with a Tumble, I’d choose Lord Tumble.

Aunt Polly

I fynd Aunt Polly vyaguely dystirbing. Who talks lyke thys? What’s thyat hyat abyout?

Chef Tumble

Chef Tumble used to be northern but is now French. It’s like he was recast, but everyone is played by Justin, so WTF?

Fisherman Tumble

To help him stop being such a creepy loner, Mr Tumble once bought Fisherman Tumble an iPhone (HOW?). Fisherman Tumble repaid this kind act by stealing his sandwiches. What an asshole.

Have I missed anyone? I mean, Justin himself – how is he related to the Tumbles? Why does he have to do their bidding? Who is Lord Monkey? More updates as I receive them.

Life coaching with Hugh

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During the Very Bad Times, I watched a lot of Hugh Jackman films. Nothing bad can happen to you when you watch a Hugh Jackman film, except The Prestige, which may cause your brain to unravel and is a massive outlier on the Jackmanograph.

Anyway, I always wanted to send a postcard to Hugh’s management company to see if I could get some Real World Motivational Words direct from the very man, but never got round to it due to lack of appropriate postcards. So now I just use Imaginary Hugh as my agony-aunt-slash-life-coach. He’s very good, you should try him.

Dear Hugh,

Since the birth of my infant, I’ve become a legit sugar-addict, and spend most weekdays gnawing on oversized bars of Dairy Milk or double-fisting Kellogg’s Krave straight from the box. What can I do?

Jenny

Imaginary Hugh says:

Mate, look at me. Look at my hulking frame and lustrous but manly hair. D’you think I eat Dairy Milk or Kellogg’s Krave or that new kind of KitKat with a double layer of chocolate on the outside? No way; and if you want to be awesome like me, you need to ditch the sugar and PROTEIN UP.

Fancy a biscuit? Grab a handful of cashews. Feel like sugary cereal? Cook some damn eggs and hoover them right up outta the pan. And if you need a snack on the go? Charge into the nearest leafy undergrowth, stalk and kill a small deer or other woodland mammal, then rip it in half and chow down as the scent of blood and raw fear soaks into your clothes and skin. Nice one.

Dear Hugh,

I thought I was pretty cool going along to the local baby and toddler group and mingling with unknown posh Bath ladies and their scary children. But when I got home I realised that my uncombed hair looked mad, I was sweating weirdly and the baby was in footie pyjamas at midday. Do you think I’ve made a poor first impression? Can I go back?

Jenny

Imaginary Hugh says:

Hey, get over yourself, lady. D’you think anyone cares what your kid is wearing? Or if they’d notice if your hair was combed or shaved off or straight-up on fire? Nah, those women have got their own troubles, not least their crazy-named kids. No one with their shit together is hanging out in a church basement on a Monday afternoon.

I’m an X-Man and a song ‘n’ dance man with a foxy older wife,  persistent boring rumours about my sexuality and my own line of ethical coffee. Do I give a crap what anyone thinks? Do I hell. Now shut up and have a skinless chicken breast. Yeah, I said ‘breast’, get over it.

Dear Hugh,

Sometimes, through lack of sleep, hormonal maelstrom and excessive Krave consumption, I find myself uncontrollably enraged by everyday life. I am often infuriated by dirty dishes, random cold callers, and Radio 4’s afternoon play.

Do you have any tips to help me manage my fury?

Imaginary Hugh says:

Sure, we all see the red mist now and then, I personally have been known to run naked through a secret military compound, impaling terrified soldiers with my mighty claws before slashing a hole in the wall and escaping with a roar, teeth ablaze and veins popping in the night air. You know how it is.

Have you tried riding a motorcycle dangerously yet sexily? Or cutting down a tree? Or cavorting in the surf as a paparazzo takes your photo from behind a koala? Or clutching an injured mutant and shouting ‘NOOOOOOO’ as your chest hair escapes your shirt? You just need to find your thing.

Good luck!

Thanks Hugh! You’ve been very helpful.

The imagined summaries of films I’ve missed at the cinema

I love the cinema but now have one loud, squirmy reason not to go any more. (The idea of those Big Scream screenings for baby parents are odd – does anyone really have a baby that’ll sit on their lap in a cinema for two hours? Mine would be chewing the seats and yelling to be put down on the sticky floor within five seconds.)

These are the films I’d probably have gone to see if I hadn’t procreated, plus how I imagine the experience would’ve been…

August 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Tom Cruise is BACK as Ethan Hunt, in a film that is essentially a series of elaborate stunts strung together with drone footage of fancy cars screaming round mountains and braless women in improbable frocks. Everyone wears sunglasses and looks serious, except Simon Pegg, who wears sunglasses and looks like he’s been cast in a feature-length reboot of the Del Monte adverts. I love Simon Pegg and would totally watch that.

September

Inside Out

Inside Out happy meals! Inside Out cornflakes! Inside Out broadband adverts! You’ve been bombarded with the commercial tie-ins, now see the movie! Adorable characters with voices you can’t quite place have an adventure that you expect to be lighthearted but actually makes you question the very nature of your existence, like Toy Story 3. Too upsetting for the recently-pregnant.

October

The Martian

Matt Damon needs rescuing again. Will he be saved? Almost certainly! Now sit back and stick it to The Man by enjoying Flumps, the most lightweight and therefore budget-friendly Pic ‘n’ Mix item.

November

Spectre

Big chase on some unexpected form of transport, like a hovercraft or self-driving car or pogo stick. Gunfire. Explosion. Fade to… amazing title sequence, these days sadly nipple-free. Meeting in a dark room. Expensive watch. Perfunctory sex encounter. Brandscaping. Bad guy is more likeable than Bond but terrifying in some spooky unexpected way. Funny bit with Q. Bond gets kidnapped! But he escapes. Unexpected twist ending. Aerial shot of a European city. Bosh.

December

The Force Awakens

Han, Chewy, Leia, hairdresser, pedal bin; the gang’s all here, plus some other people you might care about later. Deeply glossy and lovely, although it’ll be hard to tell through your tears of nerdy joy.

January

In The Heart of the Sea

Do you like whales and hate boats? Then have I got the film for you! Possible game spinoff – Angry Whales.
Have you seen any of these movies? Or perhaps you’ve just imagined them? Let me know what you thought…

True Christmas

true christmas pic

The weather is horrible and I can’t go anywhere because I have to be at home to let my weird kid sleep every 90 minutes. So you know where I get my jollies now? True Christmas, the best channel in the whole world. It runs festive films all day long, and on our massive telly that means cosy fires, candlelight and lovely snowscapes filling my peripheral vision and hypnotising the baby as she sits in her high chair.

Even better, I never have to follow the plot or even turn the volume up, because there are only 5 basic plotlines for low-budget Christmas movies:

Small town smackdown
Big city lady loses job and has to move back to her attractively snowy hometown. Learns the TRUE meaning of Christmas by kissing a widowed lumberjack/turkey farmer/football coach under a lamppost or near a tree. His surly teenage son stops being a goth and the little daughter talks for the first time in five years. She says ‘Merry Christmas’. A snowman winks at a crow.

Unexpected talent
Old people (or homeless people) put on a play (or form a choir) in order to save a theatre (or an old folks’ home) from an evil corporation (or termites). At the dramatic climax, an elderly man throws aside a Zimmer frame and ‘raps’ Joy To The World while a street kid beatboxes.

Tart with a festive heart
She’s a hooker! He’s an uptight lawyer! He, for some reason, has to bring her home for the holidays! Cagney or Lacey is the horrified mother! A blonde woman wears cashmere! This is an actual movie that’s been trailing for days, it looks AMAZING.

Olde timey Christmas
Ladies in frilly dresses sit around in houses waiting for men to come home from war. The townsfolk band together to overcome a snow-related catastrophe then sneer at a family of grubby outcasts who – SURPRISE! – are actually royalty or something. The men come home missing limbs but remain mentally unscathed. The final scene morphs into a picture postcard with ‘Season’s Greetings’ plastered over the top in a swirly font.

I’ll be home for Christmas
No you wont.