Category Archives: Mini mumbo

Chess Megafinals

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You are having a nightmare. You’ve done something very bad and have been sent to Hell. Worse, you have to drive yourself and two children there at 8.30am on a Saturday morning.

Welcome to the Hertfordshire leg of the under 7s Chess Megafinals, a 9am-6pm torture marathon designed to redress the karmic balance of tiger parents.

Rufus and his retro-gaming chum are in a state of pre-match nerves. They are worried that mini Kasparovs lurk therein, blissfully unaware that a pulse and a self-harming mother in a car were the qualification criteria.

We have been up since before 7.30am, a goal that has never knowingly troubled my Bank Holiday weekend wish list. I’ve been trying to pep talk both contestants all the way up the M1: get your Knights and Bishops out sharpish; behave like you’re winning; take modest sips of beer between moves.

A helping of traffic, weird car park directions, and a G-force of doom impede our punctuality, so that we arrive in the school gymnasium panting and wild of hair.

But no order there awaits. Large, confused groups mill in random motion with panic in their eyes, like lost scenes from Towering InfernoWhat do the lists mean? How many lashes for a stalemate? Are we black, or white? (Sorry, M. Jackson; that DOES matter here.)

70 chess sets anticipate their 140 pint-sized strategists, as an intellectual hum settles. Immediately, I know these 6 and 7 year olds could take me in a pub quiz, even without their side-partings and bow ties. They’ll grow up to cure diseases and unravel Hawking. I wonder if I might persuade one of them to handle my accounting spreadsheets, for a lollipop.

Boys and girls are split. Attempts to gain feedback on the reason for this fall at the first furlong, though presumably the girls get to play on pinker boards, shifting around My Little Pony horses.

Presiding over the welcome trestle table at the front is a bearded organiser, who has enjoyed a bumpy route to chess, having passed through Ant Collecting along the way and found it too flustering. Today his agitation is betrayed by a large red patch on his ancient-fleece-flanked neck. Seems a cruel God gifted him 2 flat tyres enroute to the venue, forcing him to take a taxi. Safe to say, this man hasn’t used a cab service, or been late, since 1962. Now his clockwork-efficient championships are half an hour in arrears, and he’s near imploding with the unjustness of his destiny.

Kick-off is close. Board game pheromones and competitive genes crowd the air; if the room came to life it would be Tom Cruise.

Time now for the rules, the best of which is encouragement not to thrust your hand out repeatedly between moves to offer a draw. Apparently, this could land you in a harassment lawsuit, the upside of which is preparation for your awaiting career at Goldman Sachs.

Parents are asked to bugger off. Parents won’t bugger off. Parents are asked to bugger off. I’m unsure how long this plays out because I’m hotfooting to Harpenden Town on a desperate junkie-style mission for espresso, leaving behind a sea of players in uniform concentration, stop clocks being tap-tap-tapped, like so many pesky mosquitoes.

On my return, Round 1 is wrapping up, and the emotional vista of the next 7 hours clears miserably. Two tots are choking back sobs while their opponents air pump excitedly. As a rule of thumb, the sort of people who play a game to win are also the sort of people who don’t like to lose, which will present a problem for roughly 70 children per round. Multiplied by 6 rounds, that’s 420 apple-sized hearts due to be broken in one extra-curricular day near St. Alban’s. You’d have to go to a Latymer School entrance exam, or steal the take-home bags of the entire guest list of 21 average birthday parties to replicate that sort of angst; so, on that front, it’s impressive.

Results just in, and it turns out Rufus mis-stepped by offering a draw whilst in possession of a functioning Queen. Meanwhile, his friend was an air pumper. This means my cohort have dodged the first heartbreak ball, and number one of a series of snacks delivering ever-diminishing nutritional returns can commence.

Many have come to witness their treasures reassuringly dis-engaged from an X-Box for 8 hours. All I hope for are some venal, pushy parents to satirise. But, for all the world, I can’t sniff them out. The crew are a mite too amiable, camping out jovially with their instant coffees and packed lunches in the school hall foyer, like refugees glad to have fled a natural disaster- indeed, casting a not unfavourable glow on the dead-eyed karate folk at Cheam gradings who make you re-assess the redeeming features of solitary confinement.

Ding- ding-ding Round 2, 3, 4, 5- it all becomes a blur.

A helper- with the looks and persona of Michael Mcintyre’s weaker twin- patrols to resolve disputes, rarely having to restrain hands behind backs with a rope. (That said, you do NOT want to mess with a 6 yr old who believes his Rook’s been swiped by foul play.)

Highs and lows ensue within a predictable paradigm; there are no nail-biting wet tyre changes in chess.

I pass into a zone of institutionalised apathy, like Dustin Hoffman at the end of Papillon feeding his chickens. Resigned to quaffing polystyrene tea on school chairs, from which I mete out lukewarm trickles of praise and commiseration, I find there’s scant fight left in me. Round 3, 33, 3,333: I’m in a place no league tables can reach.

The tykes are hanging in there. Buoyed by bouts of hide-and-seek and fruit pastilles, they’ve got the prize in sight- the one where we are all released to go home, rather than the one where they win.

In fact, the only thing I know at this point is that neither of my little buddies must qualify for the next-round Gigafinals; nothing at all has ever been clearer. It’s as if my whole life has been leading up to this moment, where I must mid-wife convincing failure.

Rufus’ friend suffers some setbacks. I manage a sad face by thinking about rain and Donald Trump. Now I need to break Rufus. He’s met with losses, too, but not quite enough, and a ball of fear is gathering in my gut. Luckily, he’s in tune (‘would I have to do another day like this?’) so I only need nurture a ‘cooler’ vibe and jazz up their attention spans with Walkers and Fruit Shoots.

Round 6 folds. The long-haul flight has landed. The kids are spent, the adults hollow and resentful. Dare I wait for the results? Do we have to stay for prize giving? Will I have a parking ticket?

Sweet Mary and Joseph, Rufus lost. So, the boys break even, and the buck stops here.

Now it’s me who’s air pumping and gathering the kids close, ready to tackle the motorway home: ‘Guys, there’s this amazing new video game, you’re gonna love it, 2,000 levels…’

*

 

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I hate playing

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This mini post is about a small personal triumph, within a broader context of failure.

I hate playing: pointless, wholesome, innocent, care-free, life-giving enjoyment.

I like fun, which is naughty. And sports, where stuff happens. And board games, when someone might land on your Mayfair hotel and make the delicious face of impending defeat.

Less so the therapist stuff, where you re-discover your childish lack of inhibition.

I’m what you might call ‘outcome-focused’- or crap at taking practical jokes.

Everyone in the family has clocked this.

Gethin knows that if he lobs a bouncy ball at my head when I’m cooking, it won’t end with us running gleefully through the house towards a sexy pillow fight.

It’ll end like the incident 15 years ago when he licked my cheek with a chocolate tongue, at a cashpoint: that is, humourlessly, with ‘I’m not laughing’ and a row down the King’s Road.

Bruno knows we have outings, and discussions, and do activities where we stick diodes into lemons, to activate a light.

Rufus knows we do art for birthday cards, or to raise money, or to stop mentalising other diners at restaurants.

No-one ever came home and found me with socks on my ears, getting involved with Lego.

The trouble is, other peoples’ kids aren’t always on board with the concept.

At playdates, they’re not shy in expressing their appetite for entertainment, when you fail to materialise with a gingerbread-making kit.

This necessitates The Talk:

See here, Johnny, seems you and I disagree fundamentally on the play-date model. You regard me as a sort of Jangles the Clown, or Mr Fiddles, or whatever his name is. Whereas, I view you as a bundle of fun I import in exchange for board and temporary lodging. I wouldn’t want to call you a playtime prostitute- that would be wrong, and your mother wouldn’t like it. But are we approaching an understanding?

Make my dinner, old woman.

Last night, we had Arthur over. Arthur understands the playdate model; no- he invented it.

He’s so much fun I get close to ditching the onion-chopping, to join in robots.

So, he says, We’re going to hide. Will you act mean and come and find us?

Arthur- the clever little bugger- has found my sweet spot.

Because if there’s one thing I LOVE doing, it’s scaring people: that fabulous moment when their features distort, and they lose all of that boring, studied composure.

Children are especially great, because they spook easily.

Now you’re talking, Arthur. Now, you’re shaking things up. Forget tigers coming to tea and eating up all of Daddy’s dinner. Let’s simulate the hunt and some limb-tearing.

I’ve got form, too. I still remember the sweet screaming of my tiny childhood friend and her sister, terrorised onto my bunkbed, gripping each other for dear life, when I became ‘The Ogre’.

So, away go the kids and I get into character. I’m borrowing heavily from the Wicked Witch of Oz. There’s Angie from Eastenders in there, along with Katie Hopkins’ nostrils. 

And I’m off. Chasing them up the stairs, into the bedrooms, around the garden, cackling and promising to throw their smelly little bodies into my soup, after mirthless tickling.

And they’re all bright pink cheeks, and terrified little faces, and shrieks caught in pumping chests.

When he leaves, Arthur lisps huskily to Rufus, Your Mum is SO scary! She’s almost like a real witch! It gives you the frights inside.

RESULT.

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May 25, 2016 · 10:02 am

Note To All Users

The written word is premeditated.

You can’t just blurt out nonsensicals, unless you’ve got weird fingers.

In theory, it should say what it means.

Interpretations may differ.

What is left unsaid can also be relevant.

But occasionally, pretty much the entirety of a piece of communication conveys a meaning other than its apparent one.

(Is this a feature particular to the English language, and/ or simply the British polite/ sarcastic/ passive-agressive thing?)

I found a funny example of this in B’s school staff toilet:

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So it’s a small note asking everyone who uses the toilet to leave it in a decent shape.

It’s cute (‘little’ x 2); non-confrontational (!!!); proper (‘most appreciated’, ‘adjacent’); and light-hearted (‘it’s not an ornament!!’)

Only, of course it’s not.

It’s a very non-little message to one singularly demented person (they all know who that is!) who is repeatedly leaving the shithole in a shithole (‘I mean, what the HELL? Can’t they SEE it’s still floating?!), from a group of staff members who have liberally bitched about it in the staffroom and- sorry, but they’re going to have to say something.

It says:

‘DUDE, FFS!’

I resisted the temptation to graffiti it with some light sparks coming off the top loo, an offending beastie rearing its head from the bottom one, and a ‘me again! x’ sign-off, mainly because it has been solicitously laminated by someone who marks homework with a set of (strictly) colour-coded pens.

 

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Taco Night

Tacos crop up in lots of American films.

‘What kind of inordinate pleasure would unfold if we made them at home?’ I thought, and shared this with the kids.

‘Tacky’s?’ said Rufus.

‘Well…’

I feel sorry for Mexicans because of the way they get patronised.* (*that’s a ‘cute’ sentence; it’s wearing a beard and a buttoned-up plaid shirt.)

Stereotypes don’t flatter but the comical, lazy and short version dumped at the modern Mayans’ door never seems to get balanced with any better stuff.

Salma Hayek’s killing herself out there- a lone wolf battling the legacy of Speedy Gonzalez.

(Tangent: I thought Speedy was a kick-back character against the slow thing. I thought he might spawn Wolfgang the towel-folding pool attendant, or Pierre the garlic-hating vampire. Apparently he sprang from a joke about a Mexican man’s overly-eager bedroom performance. Man, do the Mexis get a bad rap.)

It’s hard to think of another country so comprehensively theme-wrapped; are Tex-Mex restaurants a result of this phenomenon or a contributory factor?

Historically, the only ones who chose these places for an evening were the maid of honour or best man who did the block booking.

They were a blur of Ay Caramba! throat-throttling music and Aztec dyed wall hangings, offset by the promise of salted margarita vorp.

Every item on the menu was a flour tortilla re-appearing Mr Benn-styley wrapped, crispy or deep-fried in cheese depending on your preference of heart attack- genius hangover food consumed while you’re in the throes of assembling one.

Take re-fried beans (and eat them; go on, just for a dare).

They manage to make something already inspirationally disagreeable and dial it up a notch.

Why did they stop there? Why wouldn’t ‘poo-marinated re-fried beans’ have worked harder towards another round of licking salt off your boyfriend’s neck only to marginally miss re-introducing tequila soup over it later in bed?

Anyway, there’s really no need to venture out for this kind of experience because Old El Paso have got it sewn up. In fact, you could say they’ve cornered the market; their trusty red and yellow food kits are available everywhere, including dry cleaners.

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Ahh, Old El Paso. Makes you want to smile just by-passing them on the food aisle every day for 10 years.

But not this week-end! On Saturday night, nostalgia won over. Today these leedle suckers, they come-a back-a to the casa wi me,’ I chortled to myself light of spirit in Tesco.

There’s not strictly speaking all that much inside Old El Paso boxes. They’re only that big so there’s space to fit in all the acidity regulators on the list of ingredients. If you turn off the lights the tough little casings glow in the dark.

Lock the kids in a cupboard so you can listen very carefully, and you’ll hear them singing a corrupt Mexican lullaby.

There were fajita building units too, though without the sizzling centrepiece skillet I knew there would be an excitement shortfall.

I also balked at the reconstituted guacamole possibly devised in the presence of an avocado but not necessarily inclusive of one (a large specimen of the Hass variety, for example, given an authoritative role as the substitute contents parade by: ‘Copydex? Yes.’ ‘Bile? Ok. ‘Psoriasis flakes?’ Wouldn’t be the same without them.’)

I darted between soured cream, tomatoes, grated cheese, limes and lettuce like Dale Winton doing Supermarket Sweep in a poncho.

I actually left with enough food to construct another winning development of luxury homes in Hammersmith (and with mostly the right materials).

And so it was I became that special kind of arse that feels the need to parcel every experience for kids as an event, in adherence with the secular commandment that they’re too numbed to enjoy something that can’t be made into a WordPress blog post.

TACO NIGHT was born and I knew it was going to be successful because we’ve got a pair of maracas and a wide-brimmed hat that’s been waiting all its life under the stairs for this opportunity.

I was going to bring Central America to W3. I was going to prop our desperate little evening. I probably wasn’t going to dress up as Frida Kahlo but, ‘See, kids, Mummy does ‘fun’. I told you I did, didn’t I? I did tell you that.’

Clock forward a few hours and the fiesta’s in the can, from whence barely 50% of it came.

The table’s a wreckage, strewn with the unsuccessful transportation of toppings to shell.

There was some anxiety about getting the ratio of guac to salsa wrong or, worse, forgetting the sprinkled cheese altogether on one of your ‘go’s’.

The jalapeno peppers were missed (forsaken because the overwhelming remainder would inevitably calcify in the fridge).

The powder-enhanced mince was tasty and if it rang of Soylent Green at all, you just put that out of your mind.

The re-fried beans- Sweet Jesus, the re-fried beans; the kids warned they’d issue a restraining order on them if necessary.

They aped solidified diarrhoea in appearance, tasted like a Bushtucker trial and used their unmistakable scent to falsely advertise the imminent satisfaction of a dog’s appetite: a 360 degree sensory experience of unparalleled invidiousness.

But overall, it was a minor novelty sensation.

Geth was the architect of structurally sound taco towers, with shredded lettuce roof terraces; Bruno discovered (and wore) his new favourite food; Rufus didn’t understand what the hell was going on but gave a nod to the deconstructed serving approach; and I got indigestion by taking incessant photographs but mostly enjoyed the inordinate pleasure unfolding.

2024 we’ll be back: Ariba, ariba! Andale, andale!

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Pants

I took time off today from searching for solutions to world problems in order to sort out the criminal negligence that is Kids’ Clothes Mountain.

It involves sorting on an industrial level and gives me much grief because:

1. It’s mundane.

2. I feel uncomfortable when things are outside their categories.

3. There’s never enough space to store stuff.

4. I hate the notion of storing stuff.

5. I hate storing the stuff.

I’m surrounded by sartorial mess and bags and boxes when I come across a rogue pair of pants that are too small for either of the boys and so belong in a category I’m not even dealing with (0-2 years), thus offering a tangential strand to my headache.

 

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‘What happens next? What happens next?’!

Well, I go on a mental journey- where ‘mental’ is used colloquially and not helpfully, as one unlucky human being (Rufus) actually had to be a part of it.

What am I going to do with these pants? So annoying. They don’t belong here. But I can’t be bothered to go and find the baby bag to put them into. What can I do with them? I know, maybe I can do something funny with them. Shall we do something funny with these pants, Rufus? Yes, OK, that’s a good idea. Let’s put them on one of your soft toys. Would that be funny? Rufus? Rufus? Sod it, I think that would be funny. OK, let’s find an animal. How about this dog, it’s perfect:

 

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Hmm, they sort of fit but his tail has to be stuffed into them and that would be uncomfortable. Stupid me, it’s a toy! But still, his tail shouldn’t be stuffed in like that. I would feel regret every time I looked at him.

How about this bear? He’s a little bit small but that doesn’t matter- hey, this is just a bit of fun! No-one will see!

 

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But still, he is that bit too small and they just don’t fit. I’ll do the puzzle in a minute, Rufus- Mummy’s just busy doing funny things with the pants. What’s that? How about Bambi?

OK, let’s try Bambi. See, we’re even managing to have fun while looking for practical solutions at the same time- isn’t this great?

 

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No, that’s not cool, Darling, that really doesn’t work. The proportions are all wrong, it looks like a nappy or something. And it detracts from his form somehow. All wrong.

Let’s have a dig around… piggy perhaps. Yes, puzzle in a minute, just need to stuff in piggy.

 

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Now here we have a problem, Ruff. See, the pants are a perfect fit but what’s the best thing about piglets? Come on, you should know this. What’s the best thing about piglets, Rufus? Concentrate. I’m asking you a question. Fine, I’ll answer it myself. It’s their little curly tails, yes it is. And this one’s got a slightly suede-y finish. It would be a sad thing to squash that away.

Then I took the pants off the piggy.

Then I photographed the toys in the pants to tell the story.

Then I went to find the baby box and put the pants in it.

Then I heard the innermost part of my soul crying out and weeping.

Have a good week-end.

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Kids

This evening, a man comes to the door.

It is right in the middle of homework and making dinner and Third World Debt solving so he would have had to be delivering news of a Premium Bonds win to get a warm welcome.

He is mid-40’s and weathered, with clearly more than a care in the world.

He gets out this little card that says he’s Polish and deaf and trying to sell drawings for money. I can see them poking out the bag he’s holding under his arm and he makes a move to reveal them further.

I don’t want to get involved in this. I don’t want to give him the time. I don’t want to embarrass him and myself by looking at drawings I probably won’t like and get his hopes up and then have to dash them.

I don’t want to give him money because I’ve just spent £30 on Amazon buying birthday presents for a privileged 6 year old.

So I make an I’m-really-sorry-but-no-thank-you face (which I’ve already offloaded free today onto Jehovah’s Witnesses) and he steps away with understanding and dignity.

There’s not a shred of persuasion or appeal. He slightly raises his hand in a gesture that says, ‘You don’t need to go on’, and moves to the next house, like this is just part of the path he knew he was going to tread.

Now I’m feeling bad and guilty. So I scramble to find £5 in coins to give him because I still don’t want to see the drawings but he’s just trying to make his way in life and he’s had the guts to knock on doors.

I track him down and give him the coins and he looks a bit surprised but says, ‘Thank you’, and seems grateful but not in an ingratiating way; he’s not offended either.

I take this to mean he’s trying to earn his money but he needs it enough for charity to be an acceptable means of getting it- a powerfully poignant confrontation of pride and desperation.

Back in the kitchen, Bruno questions me:

B: Why did you give that man money?

Me: I regretted being hasty in sending him away. I wanted to help him out so I gave him £5.

B: If you really wanted to help him, why didn’t you give him £10?

Me: Silence.

B: And why did you give him money for nothing, anyway?

Me: I felt sorry for him because he’s deaf and trying to make money.

B: He’s trying to make money from his drawings, not for nothing. Just because he’s deaf, doesn’t mean he’s sad.

Me: Silence.

B: Why didn’t you look at them, then?

Me: I thought I might not like them.

B: But if those were your feelings, you would just say your feelings.

Me: Silence.

B: And anyway, you might have liked them. They might have been really good. Just because he’s deaf, doesn’t mean he can’t draw.

Me: Silence.

So to summarise on Bruno’s behalf, now the man:

1. has some money but not enough to make a difference.

2. has not been afforded the courtesy of having his work considered.

3. knows he is assumed to be talentless.

4. knows he is pitied.

Kids: if you value your hypocrisy, don’t let them anywhere near it.

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I mean really, Part II: it’s War

Loyal Follower,

May I remind you of my recent pursed lip response to Bruno’s reading homework, Captain Underpants and the Big Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, after which he came home with dishwater material for a few weeks- still, dishwater composed of real-ish words.

Imagine the self-righteous excitement the subsequent appearance of Stink stirred in my somnambulant loins.

I had won the first battle, but this! What else but a declaration of WAR?!

I imagined that having dedicated lonely nights to finding the dullest books ever committed to paper (in order to drive home the point that cartoon profanity stories are fun and engaging) the teacher had decided enough was enough and Bang! she’d take out that chip on my shoulder.

In fact, Bruno had chosen it because he thought it looked fun and engaging.

For the second time, I scribbled a note:

Hello, Bruno’s Mum again. This book is American and full of slang. Do you have any English books, please? Th-u. Smiley face.

(The last two bits of my message were supposed to communicate subliminally that Look, I use text language and cartoon imagery and I’m an uptight prig- what’s going to become of my offspring if he isn’t even made to learn uptightness and priggery? He’ll become a career language criminal, that’s what!)

Whereupon, the prodigal son brought home another pet story and order was restored until…

Mr Gum was out on the table and I was back to patiently explaining that ‘strangery’ rhymes with ‘mange’ and not ‘fang’ and it’s not even a bloody word in the firstery place.

Whilst perhaps not quite as conspicuously odious as the other offenders, this one had the following on its cover (and I barely paraphrase): ‘So this book’s about Mr.Gum, right? And he does this, yeah? And he’s SO no doing that. So it’s dead fab, got it? Ok, see ya!’

Inside, it had Zoe Ball dumbing down to praise its contents along the lines of, ‘This wordy turd is a well wicked read.’

Next day, traumatised child tells the teacher Fascist Mum’s gone off on one again and this reply materialises in the homework book, penned in tight little writing.

Dear Mrs Stout,

We will change Bruno’s book to a more traditional one but it might be helpful if he encounters slang because we discuss non-traditional uses of language as it appears in SATS papers- as do speech bubbles (in more comic forms of literature).

Miss Wotsit

The upshot is, I’m going to run with the wolves.

I’m going to start crunching scary statistics on the percentage of primary school children who don’t speak English as their first language because I no longer have to worry that it’s the teachers who are making my child a dunce:

Hey, Miss Wotsit- whassssuuuuuuuuuupppp?

So, groovy, yeah, I’m totes on board with the whole alternative English learning thing.

I can see I’ve been cramping your style something chronic with all my traditional crap, running bonkers through the library like Cath Kidston in a bonnet- it’s SICK!

I thought 6 years old might encounter slang helpfully in the playground but it’s great the National Curriculum wants them to actually sit down* and study it.

It means I can stop boxing B’s ears judiciously for spelling ‘fart’ with a ‘ph’. (I’ve put that chunk of language in a speech bubble- whaddoyasay? I mean, it’s just no FUN without one, right?)

Where the hell’s he going in life without getting the basics down, right, yeah? Certainly to a no-good, shit, arsebag, pimplefink secondary school- I can tell you that for starteries.

In fact, why stop at comics and American slang? Have some fun, woman! How ’bout some porn? A couple of BNP pamphlets? A bit of Jeffrey Archer?

Pirate adventures are for sissies!

I’m warming to the wise-cracking kids dissing each other and their parents in all your Stink, Bum, Shit stories- it’s cool.

Plus, unless a joke’s based around an audible bodily function, I’m sorry but it’s JUST NOT FUNNY.

So keep at it, Sister, and Respect.

Yours sarcastically (a non-traditional, highly enjoyable use of language)

Mistress Underpants and the Great Big Oleaginous, Scatological English National Curriculum Bonnet Bee xx

*that’s a split infinitive. I said a split infinitive. It’s when you… oh, forget it. It’s all a bunch of bollocks, innit?

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