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Tim Dowling: I’ve recently been added to a mystery WhatsApp group | Life and style

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My phone pings while I am sitting at the kitchen table. I take it out of my pocket and discover that I’ve been added to a WhatsApp group by someone I’ve never heard of. This is, I think, marginally preferable to being added to a WhatsApp group by someone I know.

Dozens of other people, added alongside me, have already left the group. I don’t know whether it’s a scam or a mistake, but even as I press the exit button, I find myself intrigued by the name of the group. It is called, simply, “Cliff’s situation”.

“Chatting to your little friends?” says my wife who, I realise, is seated across from me.

“Not really,” I say, trying not to look startled.

“What’s for supper?” she says.

“Dunno,” I say.

“I bought chicken,” she says. “And coriander.”

“Two random foodstuffs,” I say. “Excellent.”

“I thought you could make that chicken and coriander thing,” she says.

“That’s your recipe,” I say.

“I don’t cook,” she says.

At the start of 2020, my wife announced that she would never cook again, and she has kept her word. At the time I accepted her retirement without protest, because I don’t really mind cooking except, it transpires, when I do. I return to my phone, scrolling up, scrolling down.

I know that back when my wife was still cooking, she would have looked up the chicken and coriander recipe before she went to the supermarket to remind herself of the considerable number of ingredients required to make it. Now that she doesn’t cook, I am certain she has purchased only the two ingredients in the title. I think: Cliff, man, what happened to you?

“Hello?” my wife says, waving her hand in front of my eyes. I glance up at the clock.

“Oh look,” I say. “It’s nearly time for my boring drink.”

Like a lot of people, I have forsworn alcohol for the month of October. My wife, who stopped drinking about the same time she stopped cooking, has let it be known she thinks this is a good idea.

I stand up, take a tall glass from the cupboard, open the fridge and look inside.

“That’s not enough chicken,” I say.

“It’s only the three of us,” my wife says, indicating the oldest one sitting behind his computer at the end of the table.

“Yo,” he says.

“Where’s the other one?” I say.

“At the pub,” my wife says.

I fill my glass with ice, freshly squeezed lime, sparkling water and a generous measure of expensive ginger cordial, before retreating to a spot on the sitting room sofa to drink it. Twenty minutes later, I feel exactly the same. My wife comes in and sits down next to me.

“I’m hungry,” she says.

“Fine,” I say, standing up and walking into the kitchen. A minute later, I return.

“There are no onions!” I shout.

“Oh dear,” my wife says.

“I bought onions yesterday!” I say.

“Someone must have used them,” she says. “You’re not the only one who cooks round here.”

“I think you’ll find I am,” I say.

“This is not my fault,” she says.

I pull on my coat, check the pockets for a face mask and step into the night. I walk quickly to the shop because it’s raining hard, but on the way back I slow down to make sure I come home wet enough. My phone pings. I stop to peer at the screen through rain-spattered glasses. Messages are being exchanged in the family WhatsApp group.

“Do you still need me to cook,” writes the youngest one, from the pub.

“No,” my wife writes. “But Dad’s in a rage because there are no onions. He had to go to the shop.” This is accompanied by an expressionless emoji: it doesn’t even have a mouth.

“Am I allowed to eat what is cooked then,” writes the youngest.

“Yes!” my wife writes.

I look up at the rain falling at a slant through the light of the street lamp above me, and wonder if I wouldn’t prefer to be in Cliff’s situation.


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What cooking skills should children learn? | Food

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What’s the best way to get children interested in cooking, and what should I teach them?
Georgie, Suffolk

The golden rule, says Thomasina Miers, is patience – and lots of it. “It can be a slow process,” she sympathises. “I talk about how delicious food is and always put olive oil, lemons and herbs on the table for them to add to their meal.”

And it’s a good idea to start them young. “Kids are mimics,” says restaurateur and author of Australian Food Bill Granger, “so they’ll do what you do.”

Darina Allen, who runs the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland, puts toddlers on stirring duty. A messy strategy, yes, so gird yourself. Granger agrees: “They’ll make your life hard,” he says “but just involve them.”

Perhaps controversially, Allen then turns to knife skills: “Lots of parents wouldn’t be happy with this, but from three and a half to four years old they can hold a knife. It’s vital they’re shown how to use one safely, keeping the tips of the fingers tucked under the knuckles and, if they’re using the tip of the knife, to put the index finger along the back of the blade.”

Don’t be afraid to deploy underhand tactics, AKA bribery. Miers suggests banana and chocolate bread or fairy cakes to tempt five-year-olds into the kitchen: “They’re fun and sugary – you’ve got to get them that way.” Allen finds success in drop scones: “Children can put spoonfuls on to a frying pan, wait until the bubbles rise and burst, flip over with a palette knife and cook on the other side.” If enthusiasm wavers, baker Lily Jones, founder of east London’s Lily Vanilli, relinquishes control over decorating cupcakes or cookies: “Their enthusiasm can drop off a cliff abruptly, so I’m quick to do the boring parts.”

By the time they’re eight, Granger looks for dishes with a bit of a process: “Pizza dough is great: I use three cups of flour, a cup of water and a couple of teaspoons of yeast.” Kids can then go all-out on toppings. Try quick and easy dips, such as hummus, which children can cut celery and cucumber into sticks to dip in, or get the box grater out for vegetable fritters (Allen recommends carrot and spring onion). Miers says: “A cheese and herb omelette is also a good skill to have. Children can grate cheese and cut herbs (with scissors if their knife skills aren’t up to it).”

Come 12, Miers ups the ante with homemade pasta, while Granger makes life easier with a gnocchi bake, adding a simple tomato sauce (using passata) and mozzarella. Crumbles and traybakes (think flapjacks) are, of course, good for most ages, but Jones suggests adding basic icing techniques to their arsenal too: “Use a dessert spoon to scoop icing on to a cake or cupcake, then use the back of the spoon to create waves and spread on the icing.”

When they hit their teens, it’s time to experiment. “Find out what their favourite food is and get a cookbook,” Granger says, who then puts them to work cooking for friends. “After all, kids like showing off.”

Do you have a culinary dilemma? Email [email protected]


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My stepson saw an explicit video of his dad on my phone. What should I do? | Life and style

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My husband of 10 years used to travel a bit on business, and we would send each other explicit photos and videos of ourselves. I thought I had hidden all incriminating images in a protected folder on my phone, but, the other night, while I was randomly flicking through old family videos with my husband and 13-year-old stepson, up popped a video of my husband in all his glory, holding himself. There was stunned silence from the two of us, then panicked laughter, while my stepson looked at me with a bemused “busted!” expression. He still seems unconcerned about it, but both of us feel terrible. Should we have a conversation about it, wait to see if he acts any differently towards us, or trust our first instinct, which was to be a bit embarrassed and then pretend it never happened? We’re not a prudish household, but we figure that forcing him to talk could make this episode even weirder and more awkward than it already is. What should we do?

Our children pick up on our attitudes towards sex without any words being spoken. In fact, the most powerful learning they receive is the unspoken message. They easily absorb how each parent views sex, through our reactions when sexual content appears on TV, or the way we react when someone alludes to sex in conversation. Given that unspoken messages are the most powerful ways parents communicate ideas and feelings about sex, you have already let your stepson know everything he needs to understand about this. He is old enough to put it into context, and if he questions you in the future your job is to simply give a relaxed answer. You were right to normalise the accidental revelation, and there would be little point in returning to the subject.


  • Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

  • If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns to [email protected] (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.

  • Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.


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#EtimesSuaveMen: Five ways men can experiment with scarves

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Whether it is to protect yourself from the cold weather or you need a statement accessory, every man requires a scarf or two in his wardrobe. And, now as the winter season is approaching, it’s time to get creative with your scarf draping styles. Be it a casual or business look, learn stylish ways to wear a scarf. Here’s a look at five ways you can wear a scarf and beat the chill in style:

Casual
For a simple and casual look, you can pull off a laid-back style with your scarf. Wrap the scarf around your neck and pull out the ends and adjust at the same level. You can tuck it into your jacket or layer it on top of a fuzzy sweater.

casual scarf men

Smart Casual
If you’re not a fan of the ‘too casual look’, you can drape a scarf over the shoulder. Simply drape the scarf over the neck and keep one end longer than the other. This can help to add a touch of finesse to your casual look.

casual scarf

Formal
For a formal setting, it is important to drape the scarf with clean lines for a smart look. With a suit, you can try the ascot knot by draping the scarf around the shoulder and form a cross. Then, put one end under the other and pull it up to make a knot and tuck it in for a neat look.

Ascot knot

(How to tie an ascot knot, Photo: Blacklapel)


Business
For a business or official meeting, your scarf needs to look sophisticated and sharp. Ascot and loop knots can work well for a clean look. For the loop knot, fold the scarf in half and wrap it around your neck. Next, add the loose ends through the loop to make this knot.

loop knot

loop knot

(How to tie a loop knot, Photo: Blacklapel)


Evening
Whether you’re wearing a tuxedo or a suit, a stylish scarf can make a sartorial statement. It’s best to stick to fine fabrics like silk and cashmere with subtle patterns. You can wrap the scarf around the neck and tuck it behind the lapels of the jacket as shown in the photo.

scarf with suit


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