I don’t know about you, but for the last couple of days I’ve been feeling vaguely depressed. Some of my feelings of malaise are undoubtedly to do with tiredness brought on by having a houseful of guests to feed, and the late nights spent sitting on hard, upright chairs, playing games like Mexican Train Double Dominoes around the kitchen table. The game, purchased for us by a chum visiting America, has been a huge success with friends and family. But I’ve woken each morning wondering: why we do this to ourselves, punishing our minds and bodies with sleep deprivation?
My depression could also, I have to admit, have its roots in the foods in which I’ve indulged in the past fortnight. Our normal fare is quite plain and healthy – though that’s not to say that it’s boring or bland! We simply love fruit and vegetables, my better half and I; eat meat in moderation; plenty of pulses; little in the way of alcohol; and virtually nothing in the way of fats or processed foods. There’s nothing self-righteous or fanatical about this, it’s just how we like it. And I’ll tell you what, your taste buds positively zing when you use only fresh ingredients! But bring on the rich, creamy, fat-laden fare of Christmas, and my whole system seems to grind into a sickly and sluggish decline.
Because I suffer from Hirschprung’s disease, I usually follow Audrey Eyeton’s F2 cook books, and make copious amounts of soup (very nutritious and stays in the stomach longer than solids, or liquids alone, so staves off hunger pangs if you’re dieting) which I freeze in two-portion, purpose-bought, containers, for lunch every day. Dinner is also frequently the result of batch-cooked pulse-laden casseroles, which we refer to as our ‘convenience meals’ (not to be confused with junk-food). Combined with a walk to fetch the paper, this usually keeps my weight in check.
However, since I started blogging six months ago, I’ve noticed not only a gain in weight, but also a definite middle-aged-spread. It’s sickening, isn’t it? At just the point when you lose your pretty, plump lips and cheeks in favour of an unattractively thinned down version (sometimes, when I look at myself in the mirror, I wonder if my mouth is slowly disappearing down my throat overnight) everything else decides to mushroom and bloom like dough proving in a baker’s oven. Your tummy sits on your lap; and your thighs (which my husband once – and only once! – dangerously described as being like cream slices when you bite into them) are in danger of being sat on by the person in the next seat. Worse, by far, is that when you wave goodbye to the family, your bat-wing upper-arms wave, too – and continue to do so long after you’ve stopped and the family has disappeared from sight.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes! The gain in weight. As a consequence of which, four weeks before Christmas, I joined a friend at Weight Watchers and had the pleasure of seeing the scales go down by six pounds – an unheard of loss for me in so short a time. Well, now, of course, I must admit to a two-pound gain over Christmas – and that’s on my scales. The WW ones are not nearly so kind; in fact I’d go so far as to say they’re downright waspish, pinging their smug, red, digitally displayed kilos at you with a nasty sting in the tail. Currently, I’m avoiding them! And who can blame me? With biscuit tins still full of foil-wrapped chocolate delights, which have to be eaten before the use-by date (which my husband says is 2010, but I don’t believe him) and a fridge full of cheeses, what’s the point of paying to be told you’ve gained weight?
But that’s not the only cause of my melancholy. Nor yours, I suspect. What about the peace-keeping tactics, sometimes required on a scale not unlike that of the UN, and which, oddly, seem to have their fall-out on you? All the cajoling and manipulation you’ve had to practice to get the aged parents out for a walk (because one of them, for his own safety, can’t be left alone in the house) is misconstrued by others. All you were trying to do was to make sure everyone enjoyed themselves – together. But some people see your efforts rather differently: as a loss of dignity for said aged parent; and, because you have to shout to make yourself heard because he won’t wear his hearing aid, as a display of bad temper on your part.
Then there are the misunderstandings with sons-in-law, whose methods of child-raising have undoubtedly produced delightful children, but who seem sometimes, to you, to use brutal means to achieve the desired result; and at others to over-indulge or to indoctrinate. You don’t interfere, but you worry that it might all backfire in the future, and when a tentative and discreet mention of your concerns has the undesirable affect of making your daughter piggy in the middle – oh, hell, who’d be a grandma?
Well, I for one, naturally! Because there’s nothing to beat it. Watching the four-year old cupping her hands around the face of her twelve-year old male cousin whom she’s only met a couple of times and saying, with all the affection she can muster: “Aaah! My cousinly little teddy bear,” is worth more than all the presents, the turkey, the plum pudding and mince pies put together. And once I get some sleep, wade through the mountain of washing and ironing and get myself back to Weight Watchers, I shall be looking forward to next Christmas. But then again – it won’t be our turn to put it on! How about you?
Photograph: Relaxing with some of the grandchildren
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