Sunday, 11 December 2011

Boat with a View

I had a wonderful new experience yesterday. One of those moments where everything feels calm and well placed. It was on the way back from the Skiff Club 'Santa Skiff' - a lovely day out on the Thames in traditional, wooden rowing boats. The boats were decorated with tinsel and the crews dressed to match. Our insides were warmed with mulled wine to get us going on the frosty morning. Our insides continued to be warmed as we stopped at each conveniently placed pub on the Thames, until we reached our destination for lunch. Come to think of it, there was a lot of 'warming' of insides before lunch, luckily there are no yard arms on rowing boats to complicate things.

Lunch was one of those good ones, where it gets dark before you leave. Five of us were in our boat for the return journey, and I rather envied the chap lying in the bow (pointy end) as I did some of the hard work rowing. When someone suggested a changeover, I managed to swap into the coverted horizontal position (not an officially recognised skiffing place) and found that Nirvana was waiting for me. I confess, the drink might have had something to do with it by that point.

So I'm lying on the bottom of the boat, head into the pointy bit but propped comfortably on a ruck sack. The boat is sitting lower in the water than usual due to the number of occupants. The water is rather disconcertingly close to my nose, but gives the vantage of seeing across the Thames at an angle not usually enjoyed by vertical beings. There is a full moon with occasional cloudscapes passing by. There are stars. There are the intermittent silhouettes of moorhens, or the luminous glow of a swan. The blades are dipping in and out - I hadn't noticed before the deep throated swooshing as they shove blocks of water out of the way. The boat thrumped with the movement, and well oiled boards creaked as the rowers slowly cantilevered back and forth. There was the muffled clicking of leather buttons on thole as the blades helped to feather themselves. From the other end of the boat, the soft sound of conversation drifted into the night.

All this was going on as the tops of the trees went past the stars in freeze-frame animation. I was being gently rocked to sleep in my watery bed.

It all looked and felt wonderful.

It doesn't get much better.

It really doesn't.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Another Christmas Note

You know the festive season is really here when you find yourself navigating round the pools of sick to get to work. The latest offering would have been helpful to any detective trying to find where the accused had walked. Repeated puddles, with necklaces of milky bile joining them together. You could be certain it was the same person as the contents of each contained the same 'signature' items of regurgitated food.

As Christmas is approaching, I decided to start finding presents and went for a jolly day out with a friend. We stopped for coffee in a ghastly, global conglomerate. There were long queues, screaming children waiting for Santa and somewhat strangely, 'Merry Costa' slogans adorning the walls.

This morning there was a disturbing article in the paper about how some white women inject illegal chemicals to become darker skinned, and how some darker skinned women use creams containing mercury (yes, mercury) and steroids to look paler. The article frequently referred to types of coffee to describe their skin tones.

The woman were so keen to achieve, I think it was 'golden cappuccino' that the threat to their long term well-being, or scarring, didn't alarm them at all.

It's all about excess isn't it? Drink until you vomit (seemingly not even considered an unusual pastime anymore) spend more than you can really afford, while being excessively obsessed about how you look.

Merry Costa indeed.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

More on Christmas Confusion

It's still sunny, and now it's late November.

That's confusing.

It might explain what I heard when I went shopping this morning.

In a side street a busker was sawing through 'Summertime' which intermingled awkwardly, in certain parts of the high street, with 'Jingle Bells' played by a youth band. I resisted an urge to pop back for my recorder and join in with an early Easter rendition of 'There is a Green Hill'.

The nightmare teddies with encephalitis are back in the shopping mall, nodding with equal enthusiasm at everyone and no-one. The ghastly mall was festooned with over-sized Ali-Baba inspired baubles and ribbons. Harassed parents were trying to jam double buggies with screaming children past shop displays of 'Rockin' Santa'.

Something odd happened in all this chaos though - I found myself buying Christmas presents - which I wasn't planning to do until December started properly.

Just goes to show, the hard sell really does work, however much you think you can avoid it.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Christmas is coming - already?

I was horrified to see a pub down the road had put out an advert, 'Office Christmas parties, book now!'.

It's September.

It's still reasonably sunny.

Children have only just gone back to school. I so don't want to be thinking about Christmas yet.

It also made me have a 'miserable git' moment about office Christmas parties in restaurants or pubs. There seems to be a new 'tradition' that every office in the land is expected to book a Christmas dinner in a local haunt. These venues try to induce panic in us all that if we don't book the venue in September, we might be the only employees not to be able to celebrated Christmas.

In my experience, there is very little 'celebratory' in these dos. A restaurant that usually comfortably seats 50, squeezes in 100. One example of this in our local town meant that every time someone wanted to go to use the facilities, half those assembled had to rise to allow them to get past. Repeating the movement again on their return. What with all the drinking going on, this made the event start to feel more like musical bumps than a pleasant meal. The restaurants also seem to have trouble catering for several large parties at the same time, in spite of choosing what you want three months previously (which you would think would enable them to get organised). This ends up manifesting itself as one end of the table finishing their dessert, while the other end is still awaiting the starter. Any hope of conversation is quashed by the loudspeakers treating everyone to a medley (what an awful word, what an awful concept) of festive songs, usually including 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer'.

All this is then capped by trying to divide the bill 50 ways, with those that drank tap water subsidising those that drank their way through the wine cellar. And let us also not forget that all this 'fun' has to be experienced while wearing a paper hat that will, inevitably, drop into your gravy at some point.

Let's have a ban on parties that are no fun. Let's have a ban of any mention of Christmas before 1st December!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Balaclava

From my youth, the balaclava is inextricably linked to things like The Beano, snowmen and my brother’s acne (looking all the more dramatic framed by the ribs of beige wool). Even aged about five, I knew the balaclava was the ultimate in ‘uncool’. My hatred of the garment was only matched by those thick, slightly yellow vests, which caused angst in PE lessons, where the better off children had snowy white, thin ones.

Yes, generations of children have railed against an army of mothers pulling lovingly hand-knitted balaclavas firmly down over their ears on a chilly morning with the mantra, ‘you know you’ll get poorly if you don’t wear it’.

How times have changed. I’ve just read about a youth being in danger of being arrested for the wearing of a balaclava. In fact, the very last thing a mother wants her adolescent child to be seen in is, the balaclava.

What about all those rioters who have had grommets put in their ear-drums, problems with sinuses, toothache? Are the police in danger of being taken to the European Court of Human Rights for causing outbreaks of ear, nose and throat diseases by outlawing this, almost mythical, healing item of clothing?

Perhaps we can end the cycle of violence in our society by once again getting mums knitting with that thick, itchy wool and insisting their wayward teenager can’t go out without keeping their ears warm. This will quickly render the balaclava once again the item of dread, and our streets will be safe.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Working Lunch

Walking out of the office for lunch today, I regretted my decision to wear shoes with no socks as my feet were hurting with every step. ‘Another reason to complain about the sunshine’, I thought grumpily. I fancied a lasagne for lunch. First I thought I would buy a paper. It was too depressing in the newsagent with the front pages emblazoned with invitations to ‘shop a moron’. Yet another reason for it to start raining soon, it might stop all this rioting and looting.

With a more upmarket magazine, I winced my way to the café a bit further down the high street, where I had once enjoyed an excellent Italian lasagne. My heart sank when I saw an anaemic specimen plonked at the back of the counter, that looked like it had been languishing at the bottom of a vast deep freeze for millennia. My heart sank further when I heard the depressing beep as a microwave was pressed into action.

What I expected arrived on my plate, pale and soggy, sitting in a puddle of tepid fat.

I was so hungry, I’m ashamed to say I ate it anyway.

Leaving the café, I realised I needed something to wash the taste of gristle out of my mouth. I decided that the stall offering curried goat wasn’t likely to help, so hobbled into my local Superdrug for a Bounty. For once, I was pleased there was a queue that would give my sore feet a rest, and the opportunity to ponder the merchandise on the shelves. I spotted the perfect couple with perfect bodies, in perfectly white swimming costumes and perfect bronze skin with a backdrop of perfectly blue water on the advert for San Tropez suncream. She looked like she never had to hobble down high streets in badly fitting shoes for badly cooked café fare. Mind you, Coleen Rooney was looking a bit faded on her gift box of toiletries designed to help me marry a footballer. The box was torn and dusty, the plastic window to the designer life beyond sagged like the sales in JD Sports.

Back at my desk, I took my shoes off. I might not be about to marry a footballer or shop a moron, but I’ve got a cup of tea and a Bounty, so all is right with the world again.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Unwanted Guests for Dinner

I went for a meal in an upmarket restaurant last night. We decided to sit on the terrace to enjoy pre-dinner drinks.

I have to say my enjoyment was considerably lessened by seeing a rat scuttle happily along the edge of the terrace and bounce down the steps into the distance. The staff were very nice about it, said they were coming up the drains due to building work. If we saw another one, to let them know and they would help chase it away.

The menu seemed less tempting after that, I wasn't too sure about veal escalope, being rat coloured and the diameter of a well fed rat, but enjoyed it in the end. It does take quite a lot to put me off my food.

The ladies lavatory was situated very close to the terrace. It brought to mind something that happened to a friend's neighbour when the water board were digging up the road outside her house. She heard a strange knocking noise in the bathroom, went in and noticed the toilet seat rattling. On lifting the lid, saw, horror of horrors, a rat leaping around in the toilet bowl. It was difficult to use the facilities on offer before leaving the restaurant, but needs must as they say. On a scale of scary toilet visits, it did only come second to checking the bathroom for cobra, as I had to do in India.

I'm not going to name the establishment in question, because I hear they do good work for charity, but I don't think I'll be going back anytime soon.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Coming back from holiday.... hard isn't it?

If I want to go for a swim, I have to brave the scummy, over-chlorinated local pools full of screaming toddlers and people who walk backwards into you. Not at all like swimming in the crystal-clear water off Jura or Iona, where you have a complete bay to yourself and the fish dart out of your way and the soft sand squishes up between your toes. Oh for the long, white beaches with rounded lumps of granite and marram grass framing them.

No more walks through ancient, enchanted woods. No more red deer melting into the shadows. No more taking drinking water from the spring behind the moss covered rocks, or sitting for ages just watching the evening light changing over the mountains.

Ho hum..............

Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Corrywreckan Whirlpool

There is a distant place, where the devil stands just beneath the surface of the sea.

He keeps the water mirror-smooth, inviting you to cross.

Don't be fooled.

Not for one minute.

For when a boat tries to pass, wild with anger and unable to contain his frustration, he starts frantically leaping about.

He flings his tail in furious loops with one hand and spirals his pitchfork with the other.

Venomous bubbles vent from his twisted mouth and boil to the surface. Gimlet eyes cast spikes of foam to jump into the air. Waves crash into each other in their confusion.

The devil wants that boat, and all who sail in her.

And he wants them now.


Thursday, 30 June 2011

Submarines - vote now!

I’ve become addicted to Submarine School (on Channel 5), where trainee nuclear submarine commanders have to take charge and cope with all sorts of alarming scenarios. I was a big fan of Das Boot (1981 German U boat film and series – claustrophobia, filth and boredom from WWII), and this is the nearest thing to it for years.

I do think the Royal Navy have missed an opportunity though. What with all the cuts to the services, they should have made this a Simon Cowell-esque talent show to raise money. We, the viewers could vote off who we thought was the least promising commander-to-be. Of course, confusion would reign if one trainee stopped paying enough attention to his periscope(?) to garner voter support by playing to the cameras instead, or flinging bitchy comments to his colleagues. Chaos would also reign if a terrorist organisation realised they could weaken the British navy by getting as many people as possible to vote for the most useless commander-to-be. We would end up with a fleet of submarines run by men who were good at tap-dancing or wore their uniforms with ‘must have’ sequinned accessories, but who didn’t know they needed to hide the sub behind a rock when a warship approached.

However, seeing as I’ve never understood the point of having a sub somewhere nobody knows (so we don’t even know if they are really there) I think all these chaps should give up and enjoy playing ‘Battleships and Cruisers’ on strangely satifying squared paper instead.

Monday, 27 June 2011

I've Got Me a Bad Case of the Sunshiny Blues

28 - 32 degrees!


I think hot is over-rated.

When it's this hot, everything smells worse, you can't move without breaking into a sweat and you can't sleep without over-heating. Being cloistered in an office where fans can only move the stale air around is pretty grim. It's hard to be bothered to do anything, let alone think.

At night, with the windows open, you get to hear all the people around having more fun than you.

You can't wear thick woollies and pretend it's the jumper's fault you look like this.

All your food goes off quicker, even though it's in the fridge (I've never understood that).

The car feels like an oven when you get stuck in a traffic jam, and the cold air blowers feel more like your hair dryer.

I know this is an odd confession, but overall, hot is bad.

Bad unless you are lying on a beach, sitting in a shady garden, or eating strawberries at Wimbledon of course.

My best weather is a gentle, ethereal mist, with just a slight chill that hits the back of your throat when you breathe in. An autumn morning, a Scottish mist, ground mist swirling round open water. Cool and refreshing, making you feel bright and alert. Cosy scarves, open fires, jacket potatoes, warming stews and the smell of bonfires.

Today at lunchtime, I even found myself wishing I had a camping chair to put up at the end of the aisle in the most wonderfully air-conditioned supermarket. I wanted to throw myself into the ice cream freezer and drown in raspberry ripple.

Bring on the shorter days! Bring back the snow! Bring back a wonderful winter!

Oh woe is me!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Sun, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I arrived home at 4.30pm today (I start early), looked at the settee and thought I might have a moment or two to relax. I woke up two and three quarter hours later wondering what happened.

Just how tiring can sitting at a computer all day be? It's my favourite day of the year too, the longest, although I've now missed most of it.

Strangely, I found myself yearning to join the druid king at Stonehenge next year, and working out whether being there for sunrise would still give time to make it back to Prefab Towers in time for work. I'm not sure whether the combination of hippy vibe and end of the Northern line otherworldliness would work well, but it would be fun to try.

I also found myself yearning to join the world's largest skinny dip. All that joyful celebration of skin and surf, and no-one seeming to mind who's naughty bits were floppier than anyone else's.

All in all, midsummer madness seems to have arrived. I will stand in front of my wardrobe this evening and try to decide between dusting down my cloak and magic wand (C S Lewis has nothing on my wardrobe), or frolicking naked to check the floppiness ratios.

What's that I hear you cry?

'The cloak!'

No need to shout!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Plumbing - not my strongest hand.....

There had been an odd smell in the kitchen for a while and I finally decided the culprit must be the long defunct dishwasher that sat, patiently watching each time I did the dishes. I thought there might be stagnant water in the tubes. I also wanted to get rid of the deep freeze, that had ice trying to escape out from under the lid, but alarmingly, no sign of ice at the bottom. It was always a bit touch and go as to whether anything actually froze before it went off (you will be reassured to know I hadn't used it for a while).

So, a trip to the dump was in order.

The freezer was easy, unplug it and wrestle it upstairs with helpful son, into the Skip. The dishwasher was slightly more complicated. I unhooked the waste pipe, which I noticed left an alarming hole in the kitchen's drainage system. I then cleverly (or so I thought) turned off the cold water feed. As I couldn't unscrew the pipe from the feed, I decided I could saw through the pipe with a kitchen knife. I took my place under the kitchen unit, sat in a puddle of fetid water that had indeed drained out of the dishwaher, and sawed through. The story of the boy who put his finger in the hole in the dyke came to mind very quickly, as water, at what seemed like mains pressure (I recalled a plumber once warning me that all the water in the house was direct from the mains) started squirting all over my cave. I managed to hold the ends clamped together, and sat feeling a) uncomfortable, my knees were very wet and b) foolish. There was also a feeling of mild panic rising from somewhere inside me. I started screaming for helpful son, but sadly, as he was two floors up, wearing headphones and I was shouting into the kitchen wall, nothing happened. Rather than sit there for twenty minutes or more, I had to let go of the pipe, and dash to the feed switch as my kitchen floor was watered as if from a fireman's hose. Luckily I managed to switch off the supply, and paddled back to the dishwasher as yet more stinking water flowed out across the floor. As helpful son and I struggled up the stairs with the white goods, I felt something go 'twang' in my back, which didn't help my general mood.

Many hours and many mop buckets later, my kitchen is back to something resembling clean. I have gaffa-taped up the offending holes in the pipework, and even risked putting the washing machine on, half expecting Niagra Falls to re-appear in the basement. All seems well, for now anyway.

One interesting thing that I discovered while clearing out the space where the deep freeze had been was that some of my plastic carrier bags had reached their half-life. They broke into tiny fragments as I tried to move them. Strangely fascinating, but also reminding me to have a cupboard clear-out more than once a decade.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Me and My iPod

I've invested in a new iPod. 'What fun!' I thought, remembering one I had before which gave me hours of happiness. Sadly, this one hasn't been a great experience so far. Apart from the fact it took several hours of grating frustration to even get a reasonable proportion of the tracks I had paid for onto my computer (and my son having to buy me an extra hard drive to help) it still hasn't really come together as hoped. Since the Skip had a new starter motor put in ('engine out job' the bloke behind the counter said, looking suitably depressed) the radio/cassette player(yes, you read right, cassette player) hasn't worked. So I was very pleased to plug myself into my new ipod for a long journey. Sadly, as the tracks changed, I received what seemed to be a mild electric shock.

I think it might be something to do with my ear-rings short circuiting and then something odd happening to my brain. I never was any good at the electric bit of physics at school, so it's all a bit of a mystery.

Having exerted so much effort getting the little device to work, I'm eschewing any safety concerns and ploughing on regardless. It might even be beneficial to have a little bit of electro-convulsive therpay to jolly up some of the more depressing tracks. Just to be on the safe side, I might return the solid platinum and diamond ear-rings to the shop next to the tube station too, and definitely not wear them in electric storms.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Empathy not Sympathy

I'm going deaf, at least I think I'm going deaf. It's hard to tell - I have tinnitus.

I realised for once and for all that this was becoming quite extreme while having my most recent hearing test. I was really struggling to differentiate the electronic bleeps from the cacophony in my head. The results were bleak, quite a drop from the last test only months previously. As a result, I am still not clear whether my actual hearing is affected, or whether it is the wall of sound I am trying to hear through that is causing the problem.

When I tell people this, in the hope they will understand why I sometimes either apparently ignore them, or give an answer to a question they hadn't asked, they quite often say, 'oh, I have that too'. While I don't deny loads of people have some level of background noise in their ears, I question their understanding of the severity of symptoms in some cases. Being an 'invisible' problem, some folk are highly sceptical and give me a wayward look that tells me they think I am exaggerating, or making a fuss. I tend not to go into detail as it can sound whinging and attention seeking. These people will start to realise after they have been around me for a while anyway.

On the other hand, some people are magnificent in their understanding and patience. I have found this with my colleagues at work, who have become used to repeating phrases several times and letting me know which phone is ringing. I have been given leave to attend lipreading classes and audiology appointments, and have been given a headset to enable me to hear better when answering the phone. In our most recent office move, I was able to select a seat the reduced the amount noise behind me, which even after an hour, made a considerable difference. I have also taken ownership of a hearing aid, but sadly this doesn't seem to have helped as much as I hoped - if at all, if I'm honest.

The whole experience has been an insight into how life changes when you lose one of your abilities. Gradually, almost without realising, I found myself reluctant to go for meals in groups. In a noisy restaurant I can just about follow the person sitting opposite me, using some lipreading as a backup, but stand no chance of joining in anything further along the table. After a couple of incidences where a well meaning person has tried speaking more loudly across the others, and me ending up feeling embarrassed, I started to withdraw into my shell. I am a very sociable person and it is odd to start to notice behavioural changes like this.

It can be difficult chatting on the phone too, especially if the caller is speaking quickly. Mobile phone conversations can be next to hopeless if I am out and about, due to all the background noise. I now rely much more on texts and e-mail than previously, but how lucky I am that this technology is available.

Stress aggravates the tinnitus, which can quickly trigger a downward spiral. As I become increasingly anxious on missing words, the tinnitus gets more obstructive and I miss yet more. However, it has been really illuminating to learn how my brain works with all this. I particularly remember one conversation around a dinner table. I was only hearing about one word in three, and I became aware of a process happening in my head that can best be described as being like an elongated fruit machine. The words I heard fell into place, but with wheels of other options spinning around in the gaps between. My brain was busily spinning the wheels around looking for a combination that made sense. I could almost hear a clunk, clunk, clunk as the 'cherries' fell into place then, hooray, a sentence emerged. I answered the question and everyone around the table fell about laughing - it wasn't the right one. Humiliating yes, but fascinating too. When you have problems hearing it slows down your thought processes while you work out what makes sense. Even when you do hear, you have lost so much confidence in being able to compute the information, that you still take an extra beat or so to respond. The extra time, even though relatively short in real terms, can make you look or feel 'slow' and compound any lack of confidence. It's also exhausting, the additional concentration you have to put into every exchange to just keep up is quite considerable.

The lipreading classes I recently attended were run by a gifted teacher. It felt very reassuring to be surrounded by people who understood hearing problems and learning common-sense strategies for dealing with day to day problems. Other teachers weren't so gifted, and I was saddened by a couple of others who came into the class and made me (and probably the others) feel a bit 'dim' by the manner of approach. One teacher from another class came to speak to me, putting her face very close to mine and mouthing the words in a greatly exaggerated manner, which had the effect of making me feel very small indeed. I do understand that she was trying to be helpful, but sometimes even the best intentions can be 'cloying'.

We were told in the lipreading class that 'lipreading' is really the wrong term, it should be considered 'facereading' as you use subtle changes in expressions as well as the lip movement to help decypher words. Not surprisingly, I had already become adept at spotting the gentle expression of faint confusion coupled with mute graciousness when I do answer a question that hasn't been asked. My heart sinks when I see that one.

I have been moved by some other people's reactions though, I have already mentioned my colleagues, but I went into a local coffee shop recently, and the chap behind the counter was making polite conversation. I have no hope whatsoever of hearing anything with coffee machines hissing away, and we were in a stressful stalemate of me saying 'sorry, sorry, I can't hear' and him patiently repeating again and again. He then, very thoughtfully, came out from behind the counter, thought for a moment, and chose different words to use. I finally got the message and almost wanted to cry with relief that someone had insight into how to defuse the situation.

The very worst thing someone can say is 'oh, don't worry' and then to shut off. It makes you feel completely worthless and depressed. It is also a mystery to me how no reasonable person would ever make fun of someone who can't see, but still think it is funny to poke fun at those of us with a hearing problem. If I hear one more person go 'pardon?' with a cheeky smile after I have explained about my difficulties, I won't be responsible for my actions.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A Corner of Some Foreign Field

When you watch a good film, it hangs around in your head. Sometimes for years. I had 'Johnny Got Your Gun' imprinted on my mind for a few decades. The imagery of Jesus riding in the guard wagon of a troop carrying train on its way to the front line of the first world war, the paralysed soldier hallucinating that rats were jumping on his face. The horror was bald, raw and quietly excoriating. It was brought up again a few months ago when my son told me he had watched an horrific film the night before. I just knew what it was, and I was right.

I've read quite a lot about the horrors of war, the conditions in the trenches,the lives of the fighter pilots in the second and what Vietnam was like. It astonishes me that with so much literature and other documentary evidence available, young men and women will still go to war. Or maybe it is us, society, that is belying belief to still be sending them, to expect them to donate their limbs, lives or sanity for whatever cause is politically correct at the time.

That is not to diminish the bravery of those who take risks and show great courage in times of immense stress, but more to diminish all of us who's failure to find a better solution sends young men and women into their own personal armageddon. There are many MPs we can't trust not to fiddle their expenses, yet we trust them to make the decisions to send our best into situations so grotesque we may never be shown them. Heavy censorship will prevent us ever really understanding the conditions in places like Afghanistan, what we see in the press will always be a thin truth.

We need the artists, film-makers, poets and writers to find a way to bring the reality home.

And all this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country`s pride. Bertrand Russell 1914

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Writing a Note to the World

I like words, it's a way of getting to who you really are, beyond your physical envelope. Behind a blog it doesn't matter about your age, your race, any disability and so on.

Being able to use words well is a gift. They don't have to be long words, or showy words. Some of the best writers can use plain words with great eloquence. The real skill starts more with observation. A person who can detect nuances in behaviour, and then is equipped with the tools to describe them from their unique viewpoint, can make for stirring stuff.

It used to be the pen that was mightier than the sword, but now its the keyboard. You can lie in bed and write a note to the world from a tiny little computer. Having access to the internet is like having the fountain of all knowledge tucked next to your pillow - a torrent of facts and feelings.

Using the web is more reliable than sending a message out in a bottle. The latter did have a certain romance about it when I was younger, the idea you could send a letter to someone you had never met. And now, here we bloggers are, throwing our bottles into the waves with shattering frequency.

It's intriguing to think which shores the messages are washing up on.

Monday, 16 May 2011

A Princely Sum

There was a magazine in a clinic that caught my eye recently. There was a slogan writ large, 'Get Older, Go Faster!' accompanied by a glossy photo of a silver haired, lycra clad chap sporting a rictus smile. He was on a lightweight, vastly expensive bicycle that must have cost him a good proportion of his pension. He was also half way up a mountain track.

While I waited to be seen, I had plenty of time to contemplate the cause of the grin. Were his lycra shorts too tight? - they would have been a courageous choice on a man half his age.

No, I decided that his expression was down to the immense effort of attempting to pedal back into his twenties.

It made me think about how we know when we are old.

Is it when you start finding Nicholas Parsons funny?

Is it when the NHS have a more intimate knowledge of you than your lover?

I saw another magazine today, an out of date photo of Wills and Kate superimposed on a tropical beach backdrop to look like a honeymoon exclusive. One day they will be on the throne.

That's when I will be old.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Positions of Authority

Henry VIII knew that if he stood tall, with his hands on his hips, he exuded confidence and magnificence. Judges wear wigs to make them look taller and austere in their anonymity. Some people are awarded gongs by the Queen to wear on their lapels, the rest of us have to do the best we can with whatever crumbs are thrown our way.

With this in mind, I am very pleased to announce that I am going to be a Sargeant at Arms. How magnificent. I am already dreaming of gilded maces, a uniform with enough gold braid to overshadow Prince Harry, and to have everyone in awe of me.

The harsh truth is that it is only Sargeant at Arms of a local Speakers' Club. I only actually have to book a room every so often and make sure the lectern is assembled. There's no mace, no gold braid.

I'll have to make do with standing with my hands on my hips, with my chin in the air and wearing a haughty look, rather than an embellished uniform.

A crumb maybe, but possibly holding the promise of exciting things to come?

I'll carry on dreaming.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Hazy, Lazy and a tiny bit Crazy

All this sunshine is quite amazing. The weather seems to have gone back to how I remember it being as a child - really cold winters with snow and lovely hot summers. I know we should all be worrying about the climate, but it is hard to maintain anything resembling genuine concern while your skin basks in the warm glow of a hazy afternoon, or long shadowed evening on someone's patio.

The weather has lead me to alternate between extreme laziness and extreme (for me) exertion. Over the last two weeks I have been punting, skiffing (generally to the oldest pub on the Thames for bacon butties), cycling and walking in the New Forest (been going for years and never explored so thoroughly as I did in three days last week), swimming, picnicking, partying (thank you Wills and Kate) and generally having a bit of a ball.

It has to be said that punting is rather a tricky art, balancing in the grandly named saloon - which is about as deep as a fruit crate and equally as well appointed - while trying to retrieve your punt pole from a particularly gluey patch of mud. I managed to astound the cynics and have remained both dry and upright throughout my first two lessons.

All this activity has been combined with a concerted effort to reduce the birthday left-over champagne, which I have to say added to the jollity of the whole holiday period.

The royal wedding was fantastic, apparently watched by over two billion people worldwide. It is as hard to imagine two billion human beings as it is the number of angels that can dance on a pinhead. All those people, concentrating their thoughts on one event and one couple at the same time - I couldn't help but wonder whether that many people sitting still by their TV sets changes how the earth moves at all.

But maybe that's just me being a bit crazy.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Suburban Pirate

My sister and I have suffered for many years from being given the middle name,'Gilbert'. I can promise you a girl called 'Gilbert' does not have much fun at school. We both wondered at the level of sadism our parents had in this respect.

I dropped the name when I was married, but now, decades later, I find that one of my distant relations was A PIRATE KING. We are apparently direct descendants of Sir Humphrey Gilbert. I am now EXTREMELY proud to be a Gilbert!

I'm a suburban pirate! Yes, after years of watching, 'Who do you think you are' on TV and wishing I had some distant relation of note, I find I am related to nothing less than buccaneering aristocracy! I share DNA with a realio, trulio pirate. How happy am I? Time to start swashbuckling around Teddington me hearties.

No wonder I like rowing!

All that's missing is the treasure!

Throw me a shovel! Fly me a parrot!

I'm off to find the gold!

PS Does anyone know how to swashbuckle?

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Sanctuary - a place or a person?

Is sanctuary a place? Thomas Becket was famously murdered while seeking sanctuary in Canterbuary Cathedral. I remember feeling outraged as a small child on learning this fact. I don't think I knew what an altar was, but it seemed a very bad thing indeed to be killed while in a special place. With the wisdom of the years I can now recognise that murder isn't that great wherever it happens. Still, the concept of sanctuary is beguiling.

Our homes are our sanctuary, somewhere to retreat to for a while. Safe from civil conviction and arrest too - just be careful who you open your door to.

Can sanctuary also be your faith? Lost in prayers or meditation, in communion with a higher being?

Maybe your sanctuary is a piece of music that brings peace and calm. Perhaps working out at the gym, or losing yourself in a book at the end of a busy day is how you feel protected from the outside world.

Could it be something more ephemeral too? A friend once explained how dismayed she was to find her marriage turned out not to be the sanctuary she expected it to be. I hadn't thought of marriage or relationships in that way before.

It made me think about important relationships in my life, and reassess them as things of sanctuary, things that bring peace and calm. Friendships that weave a safety blanket of love around you.

Sacred things.

Fruit of the Loins

I've just come back from a lovely, relaxing weekend away. On return, I could sense that fun had been had in my kitchen.

That's OK, I'm up for fun, I like people having fun and I think it's good for the house to have fun happen in it. In fact, it is a particularly good house for fun.

'Welcome to the house of fun' in fact.

However, apart from the pack of cards and empty wine bottles dotted around, the occasional poker chip stuck under a chair leg, and the inevitable pile of washing up waiting for attention in the sink, I was surprised to see what had happened to the contents of my fruit bowl.

The oranges were no longer just, well, orange.

They were black and orange.

On closer inspection I couldn't help but notice that they now sported diagrams helpful to those unclear on how procreation happens.

The graphic graphics were done in a rather charming style, reminiscent of the Beano.

The artist has helpfully signed them. Maybe I'll go and find him, and see whether he feels like 'volunteering' for some washing up and other kitchen duties!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Hello Mojo

Mojo -

Personal magnetism; charm.

Today at work I was having a chat with a colleague, and we were rejoicing that it felt like our mojos were making a reappearance after their winter sojourn.

Obviously you can feel your mojo when it is operational, but what does it look like?

Bet you'd never thought about that before.

My colleague went quiet for a while, wearing what is best described as an 'inward' expression. After several minutes he decided it was like a lavalamp with gloopy, fluorescent bubbles merging and separating slowly, glowing in the dark.

He didn't give a colour, but orange seemed to fit the bill in my mind.

It didn't take long to realise mine was like a mirror ball. Nothingy without any light, but then sparkly and spangled, spreading glittering reflections far and wide when lit up.

I love mirror balls, and finally I've realised why.


Friday, 25 March 2011

Be Still Small Voice

Occasionally a strong sense of stillness washes over me. It's like I've opened a window to something and am hearing things more clearly in the silence.

I remember the last time this happened, I was looking around the room I was in. All the objects were bringing back memories, like mismatched pieces of jigsaw puzzles, from different periods of my life. The old lantern slides from my childhood, my father's academic and professional certificates rolled up and tied with green ribbon, representing everything from the war to his passion for chemistry, books and DVDs different members of my family have brought into the house through the years. Games stacked up, with laughter folded into the boards inside. Small gifts from friends, a wedding present in a frame on the wall, a tapestry stitched by my mother, the piano somehow still reverberating from all the tunes played on it. A camping stove stowed under the desk, with a few blades of dried grass from Devon still stuck to it.

It felt like every sense was jangling and waiting to be called upon in some way. Like great poetry should flow from my pen, or a masterpiece from a paintbrush. I was either about to cry forever, or feel a great weight lifted from my shoulders.

Moments like this remind me that we are functioning on different levels, one part of us is moving along the conveyor belt of life, getting up, getting dressed, going to work and seeing to hum-drummery, but that there is also a river flowing through us all the time.

Occasionally you get to put your hands in the water and take a sip.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Bellringers' Arms

It sounds like a pub, but actually it was an affliction I was suffering from a while ago having experienced a bellringing training day. I didn't really notice, until I went for a swim, and found raising my arms over my head more arduous than usual.

I've also just been on another training morning, and now have blisters on my fingers from wrestling enthusiastically with the rope. I hadn't really considered it an extreme sport before, but am starting to change my mind.

I also occasionally suffer from rowers' arms. In fact, I can see why my bingo wings have disappeared lately, they've turned into solid muscle. I noticed this at work, when a couple of people were warning me not to lift a particularly heavy flip chart stand. I felt quite smug as I picked it up and wandered off, thinking it didn't weigh anything compared to the wooden skiffs I help fling around twice weekly. I am also quite nifty at hauling 25kg bags of coal around, so I think I am officially a bit of a toughie. It's good not to be a feeble weed - and strangely, typing that has reminded me of the whiney voice of Little Weed on the Bill and Ben programme I watched as a child. Being 500 has its benefits, you can recall these things that more youthful mortals missed out on. On that theme, you really couldn't beat the Wooden Tops for fun. OK, so it was black and white and you could see the strings, but it didn't stop it all being totally real.

I've also always liked wicker picnic hampers, maybe I'm waiting for Andy Pandy and Looby-Loo to appear.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Heaven is.....

a multi-screen battlefield.

That's what the flyer that came with my son's new computer said anyway. We decided it must have been somewhat tongue-in-cheek. That's what I was hoping, but it was hard to tell.

It reminded me again of a cookery 'party' I went to years ago, which was actually one of those ghastly sales parties where someone tries to make money out of flogging over-priced gadgets to their friends. The desperate woman demonstrating actually announced, 'this is a garlic crusher to die for' and over the apple corer, 'I thought I had died and gone to heaven'. I felt very sorry for her and purchased a flexible spatula for around ten pounds, recognising it had possibilities beyond cookery.....

Heaven, a place littered with flexible spatulas and garlic crushers? A place filled with multi-screen battlefields and pasty faced adolescents crouched over them who have become bored looking for vampires (absent due to the multitude of garlic crushers)?

I don't think so.

My heaven is windswept beaches and hills and damp woods and love, and endless tingling happiness.

Heaven, what's yours like?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Universal Standards

Having just passed a milestone birthday (500 if you must know), I was delighted to be the recipient of luxury chocolates. As I was merrily chomping my way through them, I pondered the complexity of knowing which chocolate had which filling. There was an instruction manual, but that would mean I would have to heave myself up and find my glasses. As you will all be aware, having found the comfiest part of the settee and arranged the chocolates at the optimum distance to enable you to reach them without too much of a struggle, you really don't want to get up and start again.

'Why' I thought to myself, 'can't we have a universal standard for the shape and markings on chocolates?' In other aspects of our lives, we know that green indicates semi skimmed or cheese and onion, and that blue is full cream or salt and vinegar, red ready salted or fully skimmed, and we are soon going to have universal phone charger connection sockets. I even have a neighbour who is working on the international standard for the kilogram, so why can't someone sort out the marzipan from the strawberry fondant in a similar, universally accepted way?

I suspect this is starting to happen, I have worked out that a square choc with diagonal lines generally indicates caramel, and rectangular with straight lines usually means Turkish delight. I am still confounded by the array of circular ones.

I guess I will just have to go back and be more diligent over my research.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

How to Eat Your Pet

I was in a meeting at work this evening. Somehow the conversation ended up with me mentioning how burying a body in your back garden would make the plants grow well. Worried that those present might think I was a mass murderer, I felt obliged to expand on how I knew this.

It was a supposition really, from the experience, many years ago, of burying a guinea-pig in our tiny back garden. Later on, I planted some cauliflowers over the 'grave'. The cauliflowers all thrived (bit of a pity really, I'm not that keen on them). The one that was directly over the body grew to be supersized. A good double the height of the others.

I felt a bit funny eating it, when it so obviously contained molecules of my pet, but no stranger than a farmer eating one of his chickens I suppose.

Slightly better maybe, being once removed in terms of physicality.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Painting your life with Poison

At a tube station recently I was noticing how many ads there were for female cosmetic surgery. Then one advert leapt out at me. It was of a twenty-something chap and the promotion was about 'improving your pecs'. There was something about a young, healthy male advertising cosmetic surgery that highlighted both how sad it was and how female surgery has become so commonplace it doesn't really register as shocking any more.

In most other areas, society is making progress against prejudice, but there seems to be a growing trend to be hyper-judgemental about physical appearance. This is so extreme we think nothing of our healthy, young people succumbing to the scalpel and people queueing up to have neurotoxin injected into their faces to remove wrinkles. There was even one tragic story of the death of a young woman having industrial silicon (the stuff you seal your bath with) injected into her buttocks rather than the medical quality product.

In times gone by it was considered attractive to use white lead paint on faces - which eventually proved disastrous, and yet we let non-medically trained people introduce poison into our bodies - in the hope of what exactly?

Attracting a better class of mate?

Improving our inner happiness - with poison or surgery?


Why are we so conditioned to feel guilty about having grey hair, lines on our faces, bags under our eyes? Why do we all pour money into the products that convince us we too can look like Hollywood stars, particularly the ones that tell us without irony, 'because you're worth it'? Why can't we just say 'grey is good' and value the physical signs that show we have probably gathered great wisdom and learned a lot about life?

It is what's inside that counts - and most people recognise that at some level. Maybe it's time to start an anti-advertising revolution, and deliberately not ever buy anything we see advertised. It might make us all happier.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Dress Codes - Fascism on the Quiet?

The pub across the road has reopened. This is good news indeed. We locals really appreciate our community focal point and enjoy a casual drink once in a while. The bad news is that the pub now has a dress code,'No jeans' it says on the door.

This in a pub I have been known to nip to in my slippers.

Who is going to put on a lounge suit or 'slacks' to go for a quick drink after work or to join in the pub quiz? Why do you need to be in chinos to answer questions about the longest railway platform in the world?

I loathe dress codes at the best of times - people should come in what they feel comfiest in - it's freedom of expression. It must have something to do with having to wear a purple school uniform for five years. It smacks of homework and authoritarianism. Dress codes seem to be about social one-up-man-ship. Who's wearing the biggest diamonds, the funkiest coloured cummerbund, the witty Thomas the Tank Engine shirt back. Does your jacket lining match your handkerchief? Are your cufflinks gold, which Rolex are you wearing? Strangely, dress codes also hint of fake tans and over-manicured fingernails.

Why should we care?

Why do we care?

Perhaps next time I pop across the road for a glass of house red I should go in my ballgown. I could sneak a pair of jeans and my slippers underneath

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Dead or Alive

When people speak about being 'haunted', or feeling 'a presence', an assumption is made that it must be by someone who has died.

Could it actually be someone alive who is invading your personal space?

Do humans possess as yet unidentified skills and senses which are being used inadvertently? Could the act of imagining you are in someone's house resonate with them so that they 'sense' you are there? Can we project some part of our being that can have an impact on another person's environment?

Does casually reminiscing about a place you once visited mean that someone standing there at that moment has the experience of being watched, whether or not they have ever met you?

It makes more sense to me that 'ghosts' are actually living people projecting themselves, rather than dead people coming back for a visit.


So am I!

Friday, 28 January 2011

Laptop Life

Oh, I can see all this sitting around with a computer attached to one's form as if by an umbilical cord can be beguiling. It's a bit like having a second brain which, let's face it, is a very useful thing to have. The only other time I have enjoyed having two brains is when pregnant, and strangely, this had the opposite effect to that expected - I became less clever.

I blame hormones.

I think hormones have a lot to do with what is wrong in society. All those awkward urges one has to deal with while wearing a nonchalant expression, all the hot flushes where you have to wrestle with the feeling of experiencing ground rush to the Zimmer frame, all those young men drinking too much and waving broken glasses in each other's faces and all the fast mine's-bigger-than-yours cars and things with engines in, all the stroppy teenagers slamming doors and all the annoying adverts for men's anti ageing hair rejuvenating juice or whatever it's called with smug men looking newly chirpy at the prospect of mating again in spite of their advancing years.

No, the world would definitely be a better place without hormones. But then it would probably be a better place without these nifty little electronic devices attached to the ends of our arms too.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Fenella Fielding and Fags

I've turned into Fenella Fielding with a ninety a day habit. That's what I sound like anyway, with my husky, bar room voice and hacking cough. So I've 'taken to my bed'. Such a splendid Victorian phrase. How right they were too. A day cocooned in the fluffiness of my duvet and goose down pillows, a day where the hardest decision will be whether my next soothing drink should be hot chocolate or tea, or whether to read some more Adrian Mole or listen to Woman's Hour. These decisions are so difficult to make I am really relieved I'm not the prime minister, having to decide between thermo nuclear war or sanctions. The tea bag question is testing enough.

It was very exciting to realise I can connect to the twenty first century with my little netbook, and become a pest e-mailing my work colleagues, who I am missing, from the snuggliness of my mattress. I can also take the opportunity to reinforce my current brainwashing programme. Yes, Paul McKenna is kindly sorting my life out via a rather dull CD. All I have to do is listen to the half hour of rather droning blurb every day for all eternity and I transform into another being. Very strangely and unexpectedly (being a cynical type) it seems to be working. I will soon be more me-like. Whether or not that's a good thing will be for you to judge.

Maybe I should see whether there's an 'I can help you become more decisive' CD - then I'd know whether I'm having chicken or tomato soup for lunch.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Help! Where Have My Veins Gone?

There we were, all having as nice a time in Oop-under-North as it's possible to have, when someone suggested we stop off for a cuppa at the local Weatherforks. My heart sank. Weatherforks is not my sort of place, but not wanting to be difficult, relented gracefully.

It was actually alright, the chap swearing behind the bar was quite good at pouring boiling water into a mug. He didn't go that extra mile and actually unwrap the over-wrapped tea bag and immerse it in the water. I comforted myself with the thought that he was obviously following the Italian method of tea making (not one I'm a proponent of however). We found the best seats in the house, squishy settees, and I sank happily into one and enjoyed the chat and started thinking Weatherforks wasn't that bad.

After a while I went off to find the facilities and was shocked to find my veins had disappeared. Had I yet again transformed into a zombie? The 'ladies' was quite posh, but lacked the plush, deep buttoned, crushed velvet I would hope Weatherforks would have in their 'Heaven' branch, and luckily obviously wasn't quite bad enough to be 'the other place' (although some Weatherforks might well be). Was there an extra ingredient in the hot water that had sent me speeding to the afterlife? I felt a sharp pang of resignation that my last moments on this earth had been in Weatherforks, but you don't always get to choose I suppose.

Luckily it turns out the special lighting effect was to stop junkies finding their veins to shoot up. I made a note to add establishments with blue lighting in the lavatories to my list of places 'not to frequent'.

While I'm at it, I'll add anywhere with a bouncer on the door.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Best Pudding

I had the best pudding at the weekend. It was chocolate profiteroles and a goodly sized dollop of that really nice icecream that twirls out of a machine, all sloshed about with hot chocolate sauce. It doesn't get much better than that, until I had a pudding later the same day. I didn't think you could go to heaven twice, but it was a chocolate sundae with honeycomby crunchy bits in it, more twirly white icecream from maybe the same machine, cream and more chocolatey sauce. I think I would like to buy a twirly ice cream machine for the kitchen, but it probably wouldn't be too long before I wouldn't fit through the door. You only used to be able to buy twirly icecream from Mafia owned vans parked in devious locations, usually near playgrounds, or outside museums in London to alleviate the dreaded dose of culture.

I was particularly excited once by the prospect of chocolately twirly icecream from a van in the local town centre. I placed my order and waited expectantly. The machine didn't work, so to my horror, the slightly unwholesome chap behind the counter rolled up his sleeve, lifted the lid on the magic box, swirled the contents around with his dirty finger-nailed hands and then topped a cone for me.

No thanks mate.

This has prompted me to give you some helpful advice about places where not to 'dine':

Avoid the wipe clean menu venue,
Avoid restaurants where the noise of other patrons clearing their nostrils/throats/ears puts you off your egg and chips,
Avoid restaurants where you can smell the other diners,
where diners read tabloid dailies, pouring over the ladies who have forgotten to finish dressing that morning.
Avoid anywhere that offers a wooden stick to stir your beverage,
Anywhere where the patrons don't bother to look up when someone starts shouting. Anywhere that offers 'surf 'n' turf'or 'best roast on the coast',
Themed restaurants where they have music blaring in the main area, and radio stations tuned in in the lavatories.
Also avoid eating where a cardboard tray replaces the plate or you have to unwrap the different elements of the meal separately.
Avoid establishments that serve the butter in neatly cut cubes, but which have a finger print indented on each face.

If you follow these rules you will have a much more enjoyable time. You'll thank me for it one day.

Happy munching!

Friday, 14 January 2011

You Are Under Surveillance

As the last slice of my super large Christmas cake finally gets eaten, it seems a good time to reflect on how things went this year.

We all decided to eschew (what a fantastic word that is) the Christmas advertising frenzy and do something different. Some presents were made, some bought from charity shops and some taken from our own shelves to redistribute to better homes.

The most surprising hit of all these was a gift wrapped catalogue of industrial signs. I am sensitive to the fact this makes my family sound a) poverty stricken and b) extremely sad, but it was a wonderful thing. As soon as it was unwrapped by the lucky recipient, everyone gathered round, pointing out their favourite warnings (man drowning was very popular for its slightly comic take on personal disaster) and 'corrosive substance' for its no holds barred approach to showing a hand dissolving under a dripping test tube. The old favourite, 'Slippery when wet' is always good for a laugh too. I liked the movement suggested by 'descending counterweight', and felt sorry for the man suspended for all eternity mid-fall from what looks like a bookshelf. I resisted a chuckle at the person foolishly 'pipetting by mouth' obviously expecting to enjoy a milk shake. The surrealism of 'Do not watch arc' was confounding while 'No escape' carried despondent undertones of darkness. We also had a very jolly time inventing personalised captions for other graphics.

It still sounds sad, but was actually very funny at the time - but then some jokes don't travel well out of context. I did suggest my older son write to the catalogue company to let them know their manual was his favourite present, it could give them a new marketing idea for next year, while boosting sales........

Or maybe they would just think we're all a lost cause.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Supernatural Animation

I arrived in Surburbiden early this morning. It was dark, wet and cold. I clutched my super hot hot chocolate to my chest and hurried towards Prefab Towers. It was then I saw it.

Something chilling.

A glimpse into a bus swinging round a bend in the gyratory system, crammed with the undead. They slewed sideways en masse, packed too tight to fall.

Faces pale and devoid of expression, ghostly apparitions under the neon strip lighting of the 173.

All in need of salvation. Salvation from the grind and pointlessness of the daily commute.

From being held in limbo at the bus stop, on the platform, or in the murky underworld.

I quickly rearranged my face into a contrived joyful expression in case I was mistaken for a walking corpse. Someone passed by, they looked confused.

No one should be happy in Surburbiden at 7.30am on a winter weekday morning, unless they have a lovely cup of hot chocolate to drink, that is.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

New Boots and......

Getting carried away in the sales, I did what I do every year. Look at the sales stuff, turn my nose up, and buy things I didn't need at great expense from the non-sale stock.

This year my purchases took the form of two pairs of rather wonderful suede ankle boots. They are identical apart from the colour. One pair is black, the other a resplendent purple. Anyone walking close to me on the way back home would have heard the strains of 'Purple Rain' being sung quietly, but proudly. There is something pleasantly anti-disestablishment about deep purple and I thought they would go well with the mood of my 'urban anarchy' scarf.

The other morning I was getting dressed in a poor light, and you've guessed it, was getting out of the car at work and saw that my feet were different colours. Quite radically different too. I wondered whether I could get away with making a 'fashion statement' but chickened out and put on an old pair of black shoes I had in the bottom of a drawer. This made me grumpy as they didn't go with my green skirt of existential happiness. The old shoes had been discarded as being too uncomfy, so my feet hurt all day and I walked funny as a result.

So your tip for today is to always get dressed in good light, otherwise be prepared to brazen it out as a fashionista at work.

Monday, 10 January 2011

How Many More Miles to Go?

A bit of the news caught my ears today. Something about a breeding pair of Landrovers doing well in China.

Maybe I heard wrong?

My father once brought a Landrover home from work in the early 1960's. I was very little, but remember the basic clankiness of chains rattling around, lots of catches and cold metal stuff. It was the most exciting thing that had happened to me up to that point in my short life - sitting in the back of a Landrover. (As I think I mentioned earlier, life was a tad dull in those days). My parents owned a Morris Minor at that time. It was a ferocious beast. It had blue eyes (there was some tinting on the headlamps). I remember having the onerous duty of putting out an empty milk bottle one morning, turning to look up the drive towards the open garage, and being so scared of the evil creature ready to pounce on me, that I dropped the bottle, which smashed dramatically. Maybe I did it deliberately to halt the progress of the creature, subliminally recognising that the tyres would deflate over broken glass.

In a later decade, my brother enjoyed driving a Morris Minor estate. It was a half timbered affair, sort of mock tudor. Frightfully sophisticated, with all that wood, who needs chrome? And a car that you can clean with a can of Pledge and a duster. How quaint is that?

We used to spend a lot of time in cars, going on family holidays to Devon, to see Grandad. In those days it was a two day journey. We three siblings would cram in the back of whatever car we had then (I mostly remember the Corsair). Me being the smallest had to sit in the middle with my feet resting on the bumpy bit in the middle. We were fed boiled sweets from the 'sweetie mine' (or glove compartment to normal people), which, when my mother executed an emergency stop (which seemed to happen with alarming regularity) would lodge in my throat. I felt my life ebb away and as I fought for breath, arms flailing, gagging and clutching my throat, my father would utter soothing things like, 'You'll be fine in ten minutes'. This always happened, it was horrible, but he fed us boiled sweets on every journey I can remember for years. I didn't have to eat them I suppose, but you are a bored child on a long journey. A pear drop is the highlight of the day.

Mother's emergency stops were a result of my father screaming 'leap, leap, leap' at road junctions, so she would accelerate hard, lose her nerve and stamp on the brake and then he would remonstrate with her to the next junction. We lurched like this for the several hundred miles (or so it seemed) to Grandad. He never seemed that bothered to see us, and would shuffle in his carpet slippers and oddly out-of-place labcoat to his pantry. He would make gutteral noises in the back of his throat, and shuffle out again, with a catering size tin of honey clutched to his chest. I think this is why I have always enjoyed Winne the Pooh so much.

I wonder how many stories will be unfolding in the Landrovers in China? They will probably cover far longer journeys, with far more exotic landscapes. Wherever they go, a good proportion of them will have children sitting in the back asking, 'How many more miles to go?'.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Feeling Waspish

I was sitting on the sofa, enjoying a moment of pointlessness, like you do, when things took an unpleasant turn for the worse. A very large Lancaster Bomber sized wasp appeared, as if from nowhere, and started buzzing around. I could understand this if it had been late August, but it was January for goodness sake.

When I want to enjoy my pointless moments, I light the fire and a small congregation of church candles. The room was illuminated by soothing flickering light, and then this enormous wasp the size of a small county came to terrorise me.

'Why?' I questioned, eyes raised heavenward.

I suffer from intense bouts of inertia once my backside hits the soft cushions of the settee, so I sat, transfixed, hoping the stripey beast would leave me alone. It turned from nudging along the wall behind the telly (it must have been disappointed that magnolia paint didn't offer the fragrant allure of the real thing) and headed straight for me. I was just contemplating the optimum direction for a duck, when it tactically changed course, and flew straight into the flame of the church candle nearest my head. There was an unpleasant popping and fizzing noise, and the wasp was incarcerated in solidified wax for all eternity. My relief was mixed with unease at a living creature committing suicide so close to my head, the unsavoury noises that accompanied it, and pity that while it's ancestors were incarcerated in the much more glamorous bling of amber, this wasp was going to have to make do with cold wax. It would never be immortalised or bejewelled in its afterlife.

But then, I don't suppose I will be either.

Earth and worms...........

Earth and worms.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Leaning on my Oars and Watching the World Drift By

I went skiffing this morning. It was really great to be out on the river again, although a little bit chilly around the edges. I had the opportunity to sit quietly, leaning on my oars while some teaching took place. The river was flowing faster than I have seen it do for quite a while, and when we weren't rowing, the boat started to drift sideways and float downstream. People walking along the banks smiled as they hurried by. I felt pleased that I was the one on the water. When I used to go for walks by the river, I wished I was in a boat - and now I am. I also love 'The Wind in the Willows', and sometimes it feels like I've stepped into the pages - especially on a beautiful summer evening, with a picnic stowed in the bows. It's also wonderful on a chilly evening, when an ethereal mist settles over the surface and the only noise you can hear is the gentle dipping of the sculls and creaking of wood. The oars leave little full stops on the surface, marking progress.

In the dark, the lights from bars and restaurants cast long reflections in the water and drinkers watch, slightly amused, that people are rowing in the cold and in the dark. Only the fishermen on the banks seem to understand the draw of the water like we do on nights like these.

Most people seem to like being near water though, maybe it's about where we all came from, an acknowledgement of the primaeval soup we once slithered out of.