Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The straight and narrow...

What keeps us on the straight and narrow? Why do we not steal, hurt and cheat at every opportunity? Aside from the obvious scientific arguments that humans are moral animals or that we obey rules of natural law, the question is of great interest. My four year old is trying to discern which behaviour may result in gaol time. Threats of calling the police seem to work with him. Hell and damnation seem to work a treat with his brother. Let me stress that I am not the one making these threats!

So assuming we are basically good, though capable of doing wrong, what keeps us honest besides the threat of punishment? I was contemplating this in light of my long overdue trip to the confessional this Holy Week. I always feel a bit fraudulent as I sheepishly wander in with my list of sins, many of which are the same now as they were in 1978, when I first gave this any thought. ...Not being kind, critical and intolerant. Perhaps my rather lacklustre transgressions are a a reflection more of the banality of my life than my essential "goodness".

Certainly, being out of the mainstream workforce brings little in the way of temptation. At least in the office the odd exaggeration on a time sheet or theft of Post It notes gave one something to feel bad about. An extra long lunch could always be seen as stealing time or bearing false witness. The occasional snide remark about fellow employees or manager explained away - stress of the moment and all that. But working from home does not offer the same opportunities/perks. Stealing chocolate from oneself is hardly a crime - though the pimples on the chin really ought to be. Pilfering paper or surfing the net on the employer's time is likewise a non-event. Rather, I surf on the children's time on the basis that it is good for them to amuse themselves; I use paper I paid for but which they think is theirs and I am known to mutter uncharitable things about them and their father under my breath from time to time. Let she who is without sin cast the first stone.

I recall once being undercharged for a coffee. With an infant in tow I immediately alerted the attendant and gave back the extra change, feeling compelled to set the right example for my son. Ironically, he still struggles with the idea that one gets change back when one pays for something. The psychological underpinnings of that mentality will await another posting... In any case, while one might justify keeping overpaid change (Tesco can afford a 40p loss on me) or not correcting a miscalculated bill (it's all built into the cost of doing business afterall), being responsible for raising decent citizens changes things somewhat. Mind you, children aside, it is good to feel good and right as often as one can.

One is not always so deeply rooted on the moral high-ground though. I have to admit that I once discovered unpaid for carrots buried under an old nappy and the Cat in the Hat in the pushchair basket. Lawyerly inner voice assured me there was no intent to permanently deprive Sainsbury of its carrots! It was an accident. I was home before I realised. I had a crying baby with me and was distracted. Who would want old grimy carrots stored under a nappy anyway? You see - now I protest too much.

So, do the myriad little wrongdoings really count? Are 10 little white lies motivated by selfish whims as bad as one huge betrayal? Is there a sin balance sheet? A score card? Are there bonus or demerit points if the sin is well executed or justified? Is it a sin if there is justification, or excuse? Analogous to income that is exempt from tax as opposed to income that was never taxable in the first place...

It matters to me because selective lying might be one of my strengths. Principles higher than honestly always are at play - like self-preservation, keeping the peace and sparing someone's feelings. Nevertheless, as I prepare to make good for Easter and my sons grapple with what they need to do to stay out of gaol and Hell, (oh and the hands of baddies, dentists and mean girls), I muse over how and why we resist the temptation to do wrong, own up to our mistakes and endeavour not to repeat them.

A work in progress.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Once bitten, twice shy...

While Mrs Rational (often confused with Mrs No-Nonsense, her close ally and confidante) would advise Springgirl to focus on her large reading list - coaching screeds, positive pyschology tomes, "The Girl Who Played with Fire" - the Escapee is very excited that Springgirl took the plunge, began the blog and now has two followers. This show of support and interest has buoyed Springgirl's spirits measurably. 

Mrs Rational is sulking in the kitchen over the dishes with Mrs No-Nonsense who is sweeping the floor. The floor could always do with more sweeping, it has to be said. Meanwhile, the Escapee is stretched out on the sofa with a nice cup of tea and the latest "House and Garden", luxuriating in the glow of success she always feels during those "I told you so" moments. 

So where will Springgirl go with this now? The critics seem to be losing ground in the battle for her heart and mind. Will they take the opportunity to devise a new offensive while they attend to the domestic preoccupations they savour? They can be heard muttering things like: "keep it in perspective Springgirl, this is not paying the bills". Churlish pair, those two.

Shall we see what will unfold:

I have been rather vexed these last few days by a succession of large bites - almost welts - on Son Number 1's neck and legs and on Middle Son's arms. Son Number 1 has a tendency to find all forms of malady extremely discomfiting and worthy of endless attention and anxiety, so naturally he drew the bites to his teacher's attention. She approached me at pick-up today to show me the latest additions to the collection - they appeared during morning break apparently and Miss T said that Son Number 1 was rather uncomfortable. I knew of them already, as the first thing he uttered on greeting me was - "I have three more bites. Look!" 

I have had a range of spider, mosquito, sandfly, midge and ant bites. I have also suffered from wasp, bee and blue bottle stings. Basically, where I come from if it's not  a red-back spider or a box jellyfish everything should be fine. I suspected, perhaps naively, that my sons' bites came from insects or their larvae emerging in the communal garden in which they play. "Stay out of the shrubbery," I suggested.

Miss T was concerned that the bites were those of bed bugs or fleas. I gather she knows both from personal experience. When I said they are not exposed to any small animals and I very much doubt they are bed bugs, she elaborated that she grew up in the country. Before I could stop myself I replied "I would have guessed you grew up in the country." The Barbour coats, the posh voice, the sense that one could very easily be in an episode of "All Creatures Great and Small" or about to be recruited to join the Land Girls circa 1943 are just some of the reasons. Admittedly, one makes all sorts of snap judgements and relies on first impressions often without foundation, but in the case of Miss T one is confronted with a veritable poster girl for the Young CWA.

She seemed to find my remark humorous, much to my relief.

I am in actual fact a huge fan of the countryside. I love all things green and pastoral and stamp around in my wellies in glee through many a muddy field, over stiles, past hedgerows, up hill and through icy streams, in quest of the peace, serenity and cream teas so abundant in the English landscape. So I certainly intended no offence.

I must admit to feeling decidedly itchy now though...

Note to self: call the exterminator.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Pig Pens, reading and cross-stitch...

Any doubt I had that Spring would ever arrive in the UK was finally laid to rest last week when I had the pleasure of accompanying my son and his nursery/ kindergarten class to a farm. Apart from the delights of tramping in mud, throwing feed pellets to sheep and goats and bottle feeding quite enormous lambs that were most certainly not born any time this year, the day was made memorable by the events at the pig pen.

Poignantly, we were savouring our ham sandwiches just moments before realising there were indeed more animals in the nearby enclosure. The farm is geared almost exclusively to visits from schools and families, so in many regards is a little sterile. But there was nothing whatsoever sterile at the pig pen. This Pig - a female, we adults ascertained, though the children insisted it was a boy because it was so dirty and so noisily grunting - was no Wilbur.

While the Shetland Pony and cuddly rabbits had been the highlights before lunch, nothing could really trump the joy that ensued watching that enormous, heaving, stinking hog covered in its own excrement and mud, proceed to vomit, and then almost delicately back away from the puddle and seek solace inside its little house of straw. Having alerted several friends to the drama unfolding in the sty, not less than five four year-olds waited eagerly for an encore. Clearly anticipating further regurgitation, Not-Wilbur re-emerged into the now less than fresh air and huge, hairy, pink stomach a-heaving, did not disappoint!

The Vomiting Pig will loom large in our memory of the day for years to come. We have visual aids as well if needed as several photos captured the magic of mother nature at work. The whole event, despite the drizzle, the leaden skies and the cold, seemed so infused with optimism. Indeed, Spring really was on its way.

Accordingly, today is about preparing for the the new season. Like so many major events, changes of season must be the virtual holy grail for retailers. Unlike in Australia, or at least those parts of the eastern seaboard with which I am familiar, where there are really two seasons with a month of 'tween seasonal excitement, if you're lucky, here in the UK, Spring is a veritable bonanza of shopping, branding and publicity stunts, all aimed at getting us to spend and be happy the long grey days are finally behind us.

Mother's Day is long forgotten as we rush to buy Easter eggs and new bright clothes, outdoor furniture and gardening tools at the Home Shows, to book cruises and holidays abroad and renew our memberships with the The National Trust, the local pool and Kew Gardens - thereby giving ourselves the very best chance of not missing a single sunny afternoon getting our kit off in the parks or barbecuing in a tin foil tray.

So much has been said and written about the British weather and the nation's obsession therewith, that I will steer clear of it. Suffice to say that the beginning of Spring heralds a time of growth and action on the personal front, or it should.

How better to avoid cleaning windows and paths covered in moss and lichen, than to embark on some really wonderful Spring time reading.

I would recommend "What the Ladybird Heard" by Julia Donaldson, creator of the Gruffalo, for the under 8s.
If you have tired of vampire and horror themes, perhaps give some celebrity chefs a go. Voluptuous (gratifying to the senses - not merely curvaceous and sexy) recipes are now a big thing...

For the thriller lovers - try Fred Vargas. Truly graphic, original and entertaining with great characters.

If you still need some procrastination strategies to put off clearing out those cupboards, try cross-stitching. The relaxing and therapeutic benefits abound. Not only does one focus entirely on the colours and pattern, the hand eye coordination and creative aspects of the task will no doubt keep dementia at bay while providing a new wall hanging for that spot where the wall really could do with a lick of paint.

Failing that catch up with "The Closer" or "The Good Wife".

Saturday, 27 March 2010


To blog, or not to blog. That is the question. There is a vicious and heated internal debate going on over this. In one corner there is Mrs Rational, heckling with remarks like - "get a job", "who do you think you are?" and "don't be a hypocrite". In the opposite corner is "The Escapee"*. The Escapee is eager to see the blog become a well-received form of humorous social commentary.

On the sidelines are some critics, even detractors, some of whom resemble Springgirl's siblings ("she has started a blog! How embarrassing", "too much time on her hands...", "leave her be, she is enjoying herself..."). There are a few cynics. The cynics are whispering behind their lattes - "this is all about promoting her business and her book".

Still, a few well-wishers have also gathered. Their cries of "you go Springgirl", "keep us posted" and "if you have something to say, we want to hear it", spur Springgirl on.

Stilling the crowd - hardly a crowd, to be honest -more like a small party of elderly stragglers waiting for the final credits at the end of a film screening - those who just had to see who it was that performed that lovely song right before the end of the film - Springgirl clears her throat, smiles tentatively and, throwing away her last vestiges of self consciousness, begins:

Welcome. As the name suggests, the Spring to Mind Blog purports to:
  • express Spring like thoughts and musings;
  • express decidedly not-Spring-like thoughts and musings in the hope that a more Spring-like attitude might be developed;
  • clarify ideas so that one can spring to action - into a new paradigm (ssh detractors!);
  • facilitate the quieting of those subversive, intolerant or frustrated thoughts that prevent one from accessing one's internal spring (of joy, happiness and engagement).

Topics will be broad in range, if not in in point of view. Among the first subjects to be addressed are:
Find your inner Spring
Spring cleaning and how to avoid it
Eat more spring onions - acidic and pure
The colours of Spring

How fitting then as the clocks go forward and we here in the UK embrace the promise of a new season, a new time, that we pause and give thanks for the winter that was.

Thanks Winter.

Spring has come. The little green shoots on the trees in the gardens and parks smile at us as we bustle by beneath them on our way to school and work. Blossoms, increasingly bountiful, tantalise us and herald the hay-fever season ahead. And the more optimistic fashion followers appear like Eric Carle's butterfly - to be admired and revered - bringing colour once more to the grimy, puddled streets.

That might be enough, eh? No point wearing yourself out Springgirl. Keep a few cards up your sleeve for your next posting, if that's what it's even called.

Remember to move the hour hand forward tonight. Musn't miss the Palm Sunday service in the morning. Also there is still that pile of ironing to do and one less hour to do it in tomorrow, so best sign off now.

* The Escapee was in deep cover for several years and recently found her way back into mainstream life. Her return has been generally well received. Indeed, in some quarters she is very popular. The Escapee is all about giving things a try, enjoying the journey and seeing the fun in everything.