Friday, February 27, 2009

Flushes, Fillers and Fortune Telling

Last night Sara and I went to the Las Vegas of Bedfordshire, which used to be a bed shop pre credit crunch. If I was hoping for James Bond types and Cappucine lookalikes dripping with diamonds I was to be sorely disappointed. A friend told me to expect a sort of upmarket arcade and he was about right. The clientele was mainly old ladies in crimplene jackets reeking of fags and old men in action slacks and sweaters with the odd ageing lothario type and woman in an ill-judged mini skirt and vertiginous heels.

However, this being a ladies' night, their numbers were increased by a number of curious ladies. Sara and I hit the tables and spent the princely sum of £5 between us, confirming our status as hardened and incurable gamblers. However our interest was predominantly taken by the many stalls set up for the 'ladies'.

I decided to put rationality to one side and have my tarot cards and palm read. The reader was an attractive and empathetic woman with the requisite Romany gypsy look. She took my palm and immediately told me I was the creative type (I was wearing shocking pink tights and matching high heels so that might have been a bit of a clue), had been in an on-off relationship with a man, had a very strong communication line and probably worked in a job requiring highly developed communication skills and was a person with lots of friends who felt they could come to me for advice and whom I could make laugh (sort of true). She went on to say that I liked animals but couldn't cope with their hairs (spot on), was in a new job (amazing!) and that I liked to watch dance (astonishing!). She also said that I was attracted to domineering men who dominated me and weak men who I came to despise. I don't tend to despise people and in our conversation afterwards my colleague Sharon surmised that there really wasn't any other kind of man anyway - the old cynic!

So was my tarot reader psychic? Certainly she seemed to 'know' lot about me but some of this might have been gleaned through clever and astute observation. For instance she said I was a clean sort of person who, although I liked animals, wouldn't wish to deal with their poo and hairs; absolutely right but was she looking at my short clean nails I wonder? Equally, as she held my hand she must have noticed that here was a forty-something woman without a wedding ring. Making comments about difficulties with the opposite sex, particularly if phrased in a one size fits all way, was therefore a sure fire winner. Yet, sceptic though I am, I have to admit that some of her comments were uncannily accurate and left me wondering, despite myself.

After the tarot reading I joined Sara who had been accosted by some ferociously Botoxed beauty therapists. At first I thought she was considering colonic irrigation as she was holding a leaflet on the unpleasant practice but it transpired she was discussing how she might deal with her 'naso-labial lines', which the beauty therapists opined were 'very deep', probably genetic and would require not one but two syringes of expensive filler to sort out. Not wishing to see my beauteous friend dissed in this manner, I showed solidarity and said perhaps I needed mine doing too. No, they proclaimed, grabbing my face in a disconcertingly intimate and impertinent manner, my problem was not my naso-labials but my dreadful crows feet. Grabbing my maligned face again she stretched my nasty old crows-feet to demonstrate to Sara how much better I would look with a touch of Botox. This combined with darkening my eyebrows (too light) would transform me from a haggard old bag to, well, a less haggard old bag at any rate.

To ensure we were not utterly crestfallen, the beauty mavens did us the kindness of saying that Sara had very youthful skin and I had beautiful bone structure but the damage was done. Fortunately neither of us takes ourselves too seriously and we left wetting ourselves laughing at the insulting consultations we had both endured, probably deepening our wrinkles as we did so. I for one was loathe to take advice from two women who could barely move their faces and who both possessed preternaturally plump lips like two overstuffed pillows and lacking definition or ,crucially, a cupid's bow. Personally I'd rather have a friend who can have a laugh, wrinkles and all, than someone who only have one facial expression and that one with severe limitations! Bring on the crows feet, I'd rather have a personality!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stupid Questions, Stupider Answers

There seems to be a trend at the moment on Facebook for doing these lists of stupid questions which are supposed to reveal something about the inner you or more likely show everyone how banal you are. So in the interests of banality, I am going to answer these questions (I got this idea from someone else's blog if you're interested). 1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? My grandmother's sister 2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? Today when I heard about David Cameron's son 3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? No, it's awful 4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? I am a vegetarian 5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? Two 6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON, WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? I'm quite nice so yes 7. DO YOU USE SARCASM? Frequently but not at people if I can help it. 8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? Yes. 9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? Absolutely not 10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Quaker Oats 11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF? Not always 13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? Fruits of the forest sorbet 14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? Teeth and whether they have any bogies coming out their nose. 15. RED OR PINK? Pink. 16. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? Physically: my tummy Psychologically: My tendency to doubt myself and go over and over things. 17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My children when they are away. 18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO COMPLETE THIS LIST? It's up to them 19. WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? Black polka dot knickers and green and black flowery shoes 21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? Silence 22. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Green 23. FAVORITE SMELLS? Old fashioned roses, Germolene, petrol, lavender, freshly washed linen, cotton being ironed, the napes of my children's necks, Chanel No 5 24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? Neil 25. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? Nobody did so I can't answer that 26. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? I don't watch sport 27. HAIR COLOR? Blonde 28. EYE COLOR? Grey 29. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? No 30. FAVORITE FOOD? Baked Beans on Toast 31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Happy Endings 32. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? Slumdog Millionaire (well not all of it - long story) 33. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING? Black (jumper) 34. SUMMER OR WINTER? Summer. 35. HUGS OR KISSES? I like both. 37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Now that's silly 38. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Even sillier 39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de la Mare 40. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? I haven't got one 41. WHAT DID YOU WATCH ON TV LAST NIGHT? I didn't watch TV 42. FAVORITE SOUND(S)? Laughter, my favourite music, babies laughter, accents like that of my late grandmother 43. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES? Hard one that. Can I say The Smiths? 44. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME? Boston, USA 45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? I can sing a top F above top C and have double jointed fingers and toes 46. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Maternity Home 47. WHOSE ANSWERS ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING BACK? Now that is silly 48. HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR SPOUSE/SIGNIFICANT OTHER? There is no longer a spouse and there is no significant other. Boo hoo

Little old lady hoo!

I am supposed to be finishing the coursework for my health and safety course, so naturally I have been pondering on yodelling and looking up my favourite exponents of the ulvular art on YouTube.

I've always fancied yodelling. S once took an online course in yodelling and even received a certificate, although the virtual 'examiner' had no idea whether she could actually yodel at the end of the instruction. I took the same course, although I was unable to print the certicificate, but suspect I sounded more like Julie Andrews doing 'The Lonely Goatherd' than Slim Whitman or an alpine maiden.

The problem is that for me yodelling goes against the grain. The way I've been taught to sing is all about keeping the tone even throughout the voice, making the break between head and chest voice as smooth and imperceptible as possible. Yodelling by constrast appears to about exploiting the break and moving very quickly from head voice to chest voice.

The other vocal technique I've been looking into this week is throat singing and more particularly creating overtones. These are the whistly harmonies you hear throat singers producing. It seems to be something to do with singing with a raised tongue and moving the lips to create different vowel sounds and curling in the sides of the tongue to change the shape of the aperture. Easy as that! I can only assume that Mongolians learn it from birth and don't sit for hours in their yurts trying to curl their tongues and wobble their cheeks.

Sadly I haven't been able to find any yodelling or throat singing teachers in the Yellow Pages, which is a pity as I feel a bit of token yodelling or throat singing would add a certain something to my performance. If I could master both of them a career could await me in Mongolian Country and Western with songs like 'One Steppe at a Time Sweet Jesus' and 'My Goat of Many Colours'. You heard it here first!

This bit of yodelling makes me mad, simply mad and gives me the urge to yodel too.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Steampunk? Who me?

Steampunk meant nothing to me at the end of last year and I'm not sure it means that much to me now. But it appears I am 'steampunk' by association so I felt I should acquaint myself with this genre.

The reason? S and I performed at a steampunk event yesterday night. Well this morning really as we weren't on till after midnight, by which time this punk had definitely run out of steam! Those who were identifiably steampunks were dressed in 'Victorian' garb with added items of a retro-technical nature, mainly goggles, and the whole aesthetic seems to be the future as imagined by Jules Verne. It's all very Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Phineas Fogg.

The steampunk crowd seem to have a taste for variety in their entertainment and so welcomed us with our automated bells (uber steampunk), theremin and kooky vocals. The atmosphere was warm, welcoming and faintly shambolic, which suited us as shambolic is one of our calling cards, and at once inclusive and tribal - if that's possible!

We discovered that we weren't the only people present mystified by the term 'steampunk' but we've decided to embrace their world, even if we stand on the margins brandishing our googles and looking in with rather confused but delighted expressions on our faces.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A gift from William

The truth about me is that I am not a mother of two but a mother of three. Thirteen years ago my second child was stillborn at term. That phrase 'stillborn at term' , so bleak and matter of fact , doesn't begin to describe what this experience is. It remains the single most devastating experience of my life and one that I will take to my grave.

Pregnancy should be a time of nervous but happy anticipation and so it was when I was pregnant for the second time. Never for a moment did I expect that right at the end of my pregnancy I would be faced with delivering a dead baby. Nothing in my life had prepared me for this moment, nothing in any book told me this was going to happen to me, nothing in the experience of my family had made this even the vaguest possibility.

The baby I delivered was a beautiful boy who to all intents and purposes was perfect. He looked like my other two; wide high cheekbones, deep set eyes and a beautiful, deep pink rosebud mouth. We always have lovely babies in our family even if we don't all grow up to be oil paintings.

I never saw the colour of his eyes as they were gently closed as though he were sleeping deeply Both my remaining children, unlike their mother, have dark eyes so I assume his too would have been dark although initially blue. I held him in my arms for as long as I could and slowly his body became cold and I felt that he was really leaving me. I longed to take him home with me but I knew I couldn't, leaving his little body at the hospital was agony.

The post-mortem found nothing wrong with him and I have been left with nothing to explain why my beautiful boy died. Inevitably you blame yourself, you search for answers everywhere. I have spent many nights trawling the internet looking for 'unexplained stillbirth at term', hoping that one day I might find the answer and knowing that if I do the answer in itself might be painful. I've come to the temporary conclusion that stillbirth at term is a bit like a cot-death in the womb.

So why after thirteen years am I going over this ground again, which never ceases to be painful. Well it's for a positive reason. I've recently been able to help someone else who has had the same experience. One thing I said to her was that I didn't want to forget my son or the grief because he is part of what I am. I don't feel the grief as painfully as I did thirteen years ago, I get on with my life and don't think about it constantly but it is absolutely, fundamentally part of who I am - for better or worse. Just as my living children are flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood, so is he.; I embrace the grief and loss now. I didn't want it in the first place but it is what I have and if I reject it, I reject my lost baby.

My baby left me one gift, the ability to speak about grief and loss in a way I never had before. If I can use this gift to help one other person then I'm honouring his memory. Sorry if that sounds mawkish and sentimental, for I'm not a sentimental woman in most senses, but that's the only way I can explain it. I was deeply moved then to find that someone else has found some comfort and inspiration in my experience, inadequate though my explanation of it feels.

PS: The picture is of Sweet William, appropriately the flowers that were out when my Sweet William was born.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ssssh....anyone want a knitting needle

So the tricky time of the month has passed and I can now swap unhealthy introspection for my more usual take on things. Prozac doesn't do everything you know! Well not that jolly as today I have been learning all about health and safety. In fact this was day one of four days learning about health and safety which meant people falling off ladders, amputating limbs, blinding themselves and at best falling over and looking a bit of a prat (this one I understand, I give you my recent posterior injury). Not on the course I hasten to add but in the slides, film etc although I did get a rather nasty paper cut.

I was concerned it was going to be three days of boredom but today has been rather interesting to be honest. I am now wandering about doing little risk assessments on my environment. So I note that there is a bit of laminated plastic on the floor, on which I am certain to slip and crack my head open (whatever that means, I've always wondered what that actually means). That's a high risk but a low consequence but I can limit the affects by elimination, ie: putting it away. Or I could build up static electricity with my nylon socks on the carpet, thereby creating a huge electrical charge, electrocuting myself and starting a fire. There's a big risk of that, I think you'll agree.

Then there's my knitting needles, they represent an ever present danger to anyone who has knitting needles. Those without can breathe a sigh of relief. Just imagine if I slipped on the bit of laminated plastic - if of course I hadn't picked it up - fell into my knitting bag and thereby skewered my eye with a upward pointing knitting aid. That's a medium risk I feel but a high consequence, so I'm going to change my practice and put together protocols for dealing with knitting needles which I will distribute to all parties (that's just me then).

Knitting needles though are not just considered dangerous by me. No, they are officially offensive weapons. Apparently they can be bought at charity shops but the nice ladies who work there have to keep them behind the desk. This means you have to sidle up to them and whisper hoarsley 'You got any 6mm'. They look you up and down and reply 'Who wants to know?'. before bringing out a jam jar containing a variety of lethal shiny implements. Say the right thing and you could have yourself a pair of really hot 3mm but say the wrong thing and you'll just leave with a flea in your ear (or your coat).

The police keep it quiet as they are worried about encouraging copy cat OAPs but there have been a spate of drive by knitting needle stabbings with elderly ladies whizzing past in motorised wheelchairs, sticking their needles in the unsuspecting and nicking their post office books. In some cases the knitting was still on the needle, affording the police some excellent forensic evidence. Then there's the spate of grannies holding up post offices with sawn off crochet hooks. The police have tried to introduce a knitting needles amnesty but nans still manage to get them from dealers on the street, one of whom was spotted on CCTV wrapping a particularly vicious pair in a copy of The People's Friend.

The problem is these pensioners think that they have to have one because all their friends have one and the whole situation just spirals out of control. Commentators are putting it down to the influence of entertainers like Val Doonican, Max Bygraves and Gloria Hunniford, who incite violence with their vile songs like that one about tulips from Amsterdam - we all know what your going on about Max!

This automatic knitting needle is what's coming next to a 'hood near you. We need to stop them now!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Taken to task

A friend contacted me today to remonstrate with me, kindly, about a comment I made about myself on my blog. I have a tendency, especially at those tricky times of the month, to target my sense of humour at myself in a self-deprecating, sometimes savage, way. I thought I was making a joke at my own expense but when I thought about it, I had to agree that I had been ungenerous about myself in a way I would never be about anyone else. So I've edited out the offending comment.

It's always hard this sort of thing. On the one hand I do want to be at peace with myself, feeling deep and satisfying self-love and enjoying the wonders of security and self-esteem. On the other hand, my hang-ups are part of what I am. Perhaps the trick is to use those hang-ups in a more positive way and to afford myself the same respect as I would afford another human being.

So I stand corrected, thank my friend for caring enough to tell me and am going to check myself in the future. Lecture over!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Oh no, its VD again!

If ever there was a woman made to be adored it is me. That's not to say I'm adorable, just that I'd like to be adored. However my life's experience so far is that it's the ones who don't actually care who are the adored. Their very insouciance makes them alluring, a skill I have failed to grasp being less like an iceberg ready to be thawed and more like a warm, comfortable puddle.

At this time of year, one becomes acutely conscious of being neither adorable nor adored. The shops are full of bloody VD! Yes it's Valentine's Day tomorrow. I'm all for a bit of romance and I think the original idea of Valentine's Day is rather lovely i.e sending a little anonymous billet-doux to someone for whom you harbour tender feelings but I don't find today's Valentines industry at all romantic. There seems to be huge pressure on people to buy the biggest padded card, the most expensive bunch of flowers and it's all expected and no longer a sweet and simple surprise.

I was talking to a young colleague today who had high expectations of receiving a proof of her beloved's devotion from Elizabeth Duke at Argos and possibly something nice from the sweet aisles. She in turn was thinking of showing her love by bestowing a Manchester United ring, or failing that dog tag. Aaaaaaaah.

Of course if anyone is adoring me from afar, please feel free to send me any small favours, bijou lovelies, gewgaws, baubles, trinkets - whatever you like, I don't want to pressure you. or spoil the surprise. And let me add, you really must not feel limited to sending me these small tokens of your esteem on Saint Valentine's Day, I will accept them at any time. Hope that makes you feel better all you potential adorers out there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On becoming a domestic goddess

I have just shined my sink! I can see my face in it and it smells of bleach. I was exhorted to do this by my new online friend - FlyLady. FlyLady is an American website that promises to help you develop new routines and reduce the chaos in your life.

I cannot begin to say how seductive the whole FlyLady scenario is. If the sheer will to be a domestic goddess was enough, I'd have joined the pantheon of the polished years ago. Inside me there is a Stepford Wife just waiting to be released. The idea of an orderly home that smells of clean linen, artfully arranged flowers and posh candles really appeals. I suspect the truth is my house actually smells of fishfingers, Flora's lastest wheeze-inducing bath bomb from Lush and the delightful scent of fabric softener from the washing draped over the radiators. Not nasty exactly, quite clean even but not very Martha Stewart.

My problem is I want to be a domestic goddess, I so do, but I just can't be arsed. Being perfect takes a lot of effort I am discovering as I follow my FlyLady instructions. The other thing is while I like to be in control, I dislike being controlled. So I find myself bridling at FlyLady's daily instructions telling me what clutter zone I should be homing in on, to put on a pair of lace-ups when I get up (uh?) and to keep, and this is the worst bit, a Control Journal, in which you list all the tasks you are required to do. See, that makes me feel like not doing it. Inspire me do, tell me how lovely my home will smell, how I will see my face in my sink, how organised and uncluttered life will be but don't force me into keeping a journal. I don't mind a little list but a journal reminding me each day that I haven't yet swished the bath, wiped the workstops or shined my sink is just depressing and, quite frankly, bullying. I refuse to buy into the concept of bullying myself.

Right, I can't just sit here writing my blog. I've got a zone to declutter you know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The day the snow came

Well Flora was right. The red sky in the morning was indeed a warning of bad weather to come. On Sunday we met S and C at Ashridge Forest and went for a bracing walk. We were well wrapped up and the walk was chilly but bearable and much less uncomfortable once we were among the trees. As we walked along little flakes of snow started to fall and we saw a herd of deer running into the woods for shelter, pausing to observe us before they melted into the trees.

By the time the evening came snow was falling heavily and by Monday, in common with most of the South East, we were greeted by heavy snow everywhere. The schools closed, S and C were snowed in and unable to return home and I had to find a way of getting to work. While the children were ecstatic about an unexpected day off and the prospect of tobogganing down the local hills, I was worried about how I might get to work and how I could make sure they were cared for. The latter was easily solved as S and C found themselves trapped at our house for the day. As for the former, I left for work early and made my way with exquisite care to the office, arriving in amazingly good time.

As the day progressed the snow became steadily heavier and we all looked apprehensively out of the windows, wondering what our journeys home would be like. The strange skies and threatening weather felt like some horrible metaphor for the situation we were all in as our boss called each of us separately into her office to tell us whether we still had a job or were to be made redundant. The sense of gloom, amplified by the weather, was palpable and although I was relieved to find out that my job was safe, finding out which colleagues we were to lose, some of whom I have worked with for over a decade, was heartbreaking.

It was a relief then to be allowed to leave at 3pm as the weather worsened. I reached home and found the children had enjoyed their unexpected day off. I decided to make the most of the weather and went out with C on to the Downs to take photos. We ventured into the woods which had been transformed from their rather scrubby usual appearance to an enchanted scene. Ditto the view over towards Kensworth Quarry from the ridge above. It was difficult to see where the snow stopped and the chalk began and the lights of the vehicles still moving around the quarry looked like mysterious torchlight in the mist.

It has to be said snow makes even the most quotidian things look magical but slush does not! Nor do I relish driving or trying to go about any normal business in the snow. So I am glad to see it melt, the children return to school and life become slightly more boring but infinitely more predictable.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Facing up to getting older

I will be forty four in a few days. Forty four! What happened? One moment I was forty and now I'm forty four.

This officially makes me middle aged but I find it hard to accept this. I really don't feel middle aged, except when I realise that one of my young colleagues could be my son or daughter. Or I have I register for something on the computer and scroll for half an hour to find the year of my birth! However there is one place where I've given in to being middle aged - the dressing table.

Yes, my dressing table is a sad indictment of the ageing process. Here I keep my Simple Anti-Ageing Facewash, No 7 Refine and Rewind anti-ageing beauty serum (I've upgraded to this from Protect and Perfect, dubbed Protect and Survive by my friend and me) and Aldi's Anti-Wrinkle day cream (very cheap and reckoned by gays and beauty editors - say no more). Every day I slough off my dead skin and rub these many unguents into my skin, in the hope that they will stave off the effects of ageing.

Occasionally I try to convince my facial muscles to stay in place by doing some face exercises I saw once on the TV. These involve lots of gurning and puffing out your cheeks so that you look like a bullfrog with an overactive thyroid gland. These exercises apparently will keep you looking youthful and taut, if you can be bothered to do them that is.

Somebody gave me a very expensive cream recently which contains a substance called Synake, made from the venom of a temple snake. I was extremely fortunate to be given this cream as it's a premium product sold to rich people in Selfridges. But somehow I found the idea of rubbing snake venom into my face problematic and also I doubted it's efficacy and the science behind it.

Ultimately it's down to your genes. My grandmother had beautifully soft skin even in her 90s and all she used was a spot of Nivea and a bit of powder. She drank a little bit of sherry now and then, lots of tea but mostly I think her face was being held up by her Welsh high cheekbones. I'm not too keen on sherry but I have inherited her bone structure, so my only hope is that they will provide me with some sort of scaffolding for my face as it becomes more and more wrinkly. Unless Aldi come up with something in the meantime of course.