Friday, November 27, 2009

Syrup of figs!

When Mother Nature gave out hair she dealt me a raw deal. All my life I have struggled with baby-fine, flossy stuff that grows incredibly slowly, has a slight and annoying kink and just won't do as it's told. As a child, while my sister had thick, ropey plaits mine just made two pathetic, thin sticks. Ribbons wouldn't stay in my hair as it was so silky and fine that they just slipped out.

The only thing in favour was that until I was in my early twenties my hair was a gorgeous pale blonde (I have to buy if from Toni and Guy now although my natural hair is still pretty light). Indeed my piano teacher dubbed me The Girl with the Flaxen Hair. Even my Dad, not known for dishing out compliments, said my hair was beautiful - until I went out!

I've always longed for long, rich swishy hair which does what it's told and isn't like a small baby's cast offs. As a little girl I used to draw pictures of long-haired princesses whose tresses reached past their knees, while my own hair would barely grow past my shoulders. By the time I was nineteen I'd had enough and had it all chopped off into a funky crop which suddenly made me realise I had cheekbones!

The desire for amazing hair has never dimmed however, so I was quite excited to buy a long black wig to wear to a fancy dress party where I am hoping to look like Vamipira from 'Ed Wood'. With visions of me looking like Winona Ryder or Catherine Zeta Jones, I put on the wig and realised I looked more like a deranged transvestite.Deciding the fringe might be the problem, Iasked Flora to cut it which she interpreted as 'cut it off' rather than 'trim it', leaving my wig with a stumpy fringe that stuck out. According to my mother this modification made me look less like a deranged transvestite and more like Sitting Bull.

A little wig gardening followed and it now look almost reasonable. Well, at least it looks right for the costume but does it suit me? Sadly not a bit. I took if off and realised that Mother Nature gave me my fine, fair hair for a reason - like it or not!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Three little words

I love you. Those three little words that mean so much. One always feel that such iconic words should be said with just a little effort on the part of he/she who proclaims them, which is why I felt a certain sadness on discovering that the careless lover can simply pick a template on his/her mobile phone to say 'I love you'. How galling to discover the one you love and/or are stalking pressed a button, probably with one hand while stirring his/her beans (which is not a euphemism unless you want it to be, in which case invent your own).

Worse still there is another template for 'I love you too'. How low can you go? My charitable side reminds me that these templates might aid the ardent but dyslexic lover but personally I'd rather have a misspelled but deeply felt message than one supplied by Mr Nokia.

Where can it go from here: 'Sorry to hear you're dead', 'Pass the salt' 'How about it?' Soon nobody will need to speak, we'll just blue-tooth our platitudes to one another.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Feeling the benefit

I was wondering today when it was we started to tell people not to wear their coats indoors as they won't feel 'the benefit' when outside. Is that true? Are you more likely to succumb to pneumonia because you wore your coat inside?

My grandmother believed any number of things would give you pneumonia including going outside with wet hair and not wearing an adequate vest . I suppose in the days of antibiotics we are more cavalier about these things, however I can report that I have ventured outdoors with wet hair and no harm came to me although I had a slightly cold head.

But the old coat chestnut? Is it a testable theory I idly wondered. You would need two groups of people - those that normally feel the cold and those that don't. I belong to the first group and know I would moan about being cold in any situation so it's not really scientific. Then you'd have to have a control group of people who don't care one way or the other. Then there's the coat. Does it only apply to thick or thin coats? Astrakhan or wool? Fleece or quilted? It would not be a straighforward study, that's for sure.

Oh and the meaning of the word 'benefit': what benefits one person might not another. As a permanently cold person, I'm all for wandering about in a duvet with a zip up the front (in fact my winter anorak is essentially a duvet with a zip up the front with the mildest nod to style) but for some a skimpy cardigan affords benefit.

Sod the Hadron collider, this is an experiment that needs doing - now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A gottle of geer!

S had bought herself a vent doll? Vent doll, apparently, is what those in the know call a ventriloquist's dummy. He's the real deal too with a square mouth, apple cheeks and a maniacally disturbing expression. Let's just say you wouldn't want to wake up in the night with him looking down at you!

This acquisition awakened in me a desire to learn the gentle art of ventriloquism. I've been looking at a book on magic which, three pages in, hits me with the revelation that the chief skill of ventriloquism is to avoid moving ones 'countenance'. Well glow me gown!

Still I am convinced that I could learn to do it, up to a point. I rather like the Shari Lewis and Lambchop style which involves gritting your teeth and speaking through them with a rictus grin on your face. The magic book says you do this to look as though you are enjoying/responding to what your puppet is saying.

The next step is speaking and this involves replacing some letters with others that sound vaguely like them, which is harder that it sound and more stupid. The book recommends copying the speech of 'uneducated people' or children as this will render your garbled speech more natural. Who doesn't know a child who asks for a 'gottle of geer' after all?

So to summarise, it really couldn't be easier; speak like someone very thick, grin a lot and keep your countenance still.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I am considering offering myself to the Guiding Association as a 'rudeness consultant'. Flora recently joined and was given a very trendy little booklet called The G-File. The name immediately made me flinch slightly, with it's unfortunate amalgam of elements of G-Spot and, er, paedophile.

I imagine people with cleaner minds will now be saying 'I didn't see that at all. It just made me think of 'gee whizz' and nail-file'. Ah dear innocents, you are losing out on a whole world of smuttiness. I recently stopped the car to take a photo of a van belonging to a company called Tracklube who dealt in 'flange lubrication'. Oh how I chortled to myself - it really made my day.

Returning to the G-File, it's clear that the Guiding Association failed to take advice from people with fertile imaginations such as mine. I would have warned them, advising them to choose something slightly less dubious sounding such as The Guide Guide for instance. I like that, it says what it is, the repetition of the word Guide has that ironic, noughties feel about it and most importantly it plays with notions of meaning in a satisfyingly post-structuralist way; it says what it does on the tin but the tin is just a linguistic construct anyway and has no essential tin-ness about it. So there is no meaning which means there is no need to come to Guides and get badges because language is slippery and therefore you haven't got a badge anyway but something that isn't a dog or a kettle..... Fantastic!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The lady's not for turning....

....doing three point turns, parking or reversing. Due to a temporary malfunction on my modest little Su uki WagonR, I am driving my Dad's humongous, eff-off people carrier. I feel like I'm driving a tank in one of those old Soviet military displays.

How do people drive big cars? And how do people drive lorries and the like? Only today I saw a tanker driver do the most precarious maneouvre in a tight space, terrifyingly close to some parked cars. I watched from the window, with a person who owned one of the aforesaid parked cars, my heart in my mouth as the driver negotiated the limited space with the articulated vehicle. How can he do this yet I can't even reverse out of a parking space in my Dad's car without asking someone, anyone, to see me out?

A lot of it's about spatial awareness - something I don't have much of to be honest. The rest I suspect is to do with believing you won't hit anything. I can be miles away from an obstacle and still convince myself I'm going to hit it - which somehow makes my chances of hitting it greater (don't ask me how this works but it's true).

My little Su uki may be mocked (yes, you know who you are cruel mockers) but at least I've got a cat in hells chance of parking it and getting it round a multi-storey car park without scraping it against any walls. Come back Suki, all is forgiven!

Pig headed

Yesterday I was looking through the Observer food magazine when I came across, oh horror, a picture of a pigs head. There it was with its bristles bristling and its piggy nose still slightly moist. Apparently this should have filled me with joyous apprehension for the approaching festive season. Actually, it just made me yearn for a nut roast and nut roasts are pretty awful too.

My repugnance earned me an exasperated reaction from J, the arch carnivore extraordinaire (I swear that if he was desperately hungry that man wouldn't balk at biting a lump out of a passing hedgehog or slow moving rabbit), who told me that my reaction was the result of conditioning and being removed from the process of food production.

He does have a point. My contact with food is mostly via Sainsbury's where meat is packaged and sanitised, with no need to think about where it came from and indeed what happens to the rest of the animal. I can totally see that it makes sense to use the whole animal. To slaughter a creature just to use only a part of it doesn't make sense on any level. Yes, I can appreciate this even if I'm not willing to suck on a pig's trotter myself.

Debates like this always makes me think of the scene in 'Jude the Obscure' where Arabella, Jude's wife, gets him to slaughter the pig. Jude is so 'sensitive' to the pigs plight that he ends up putting it through more distress, spoiling the meat and kicking over the bucket of blood that Arabella was going to put to use. Arabella, who is a viscerally practical woman behind her pert exterior , is furious and reading the book you can't help feeling for Arabella being married to Jude and having to cope with his finer feelings when as she says 'Poor folks must live'.

J's argument is that in the event of a nuclear holocaust he'll be a survivor as he's happy to eat all sorts of animals (not to mention his willingness to embrace Mother Nature as his personal en-suite). There won't be Linda McCartney veggie sausages come Armageddon according to Mr G. I do see that his Bear Grylls type propensities will serve him well should things go badly and indeed I'd quite like to have his company in this situation as I think he'd know what to do (although whether he would take me along with him whinging all the way is another thing).However I do have one major reservation. How do I know that when he's finished dining on all the local wildlife he won't turn to look at me in the firelight and see, not a woman, but a potential juicy snack? Every bit of me!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What sort of mad axeman are you? The problem with personality tests

I was quite upset the other day to be deemed a 'vain, self-centred egotist' by a personality test. 'You say it like it's a bad thing' joked a friend but actually it is. I suppose I shouldn't take it too seriously as the test was on Facebook and involved a total of five 'searching' questions. This devastating judgement is based on the fact that I take long strides when I walk (I've got long legs for goodness sakes) and look for people I know at parties (c'mon, who doesn't?).

If I had answered that I kick 'lesser' people out of the way as I walk along and only talk to people that admire me at parties, I could understand. Once I'd got over the initial hurt (about five seconds later) , I thought two things; why are personality tests so addictive and can they ever really test personality?

Perhaps I am a bit of an egotist as I can't resist a personality test and have been known to buy Psychologies magazine which is full of the judgmental buggers. I want them to reveal the inner me, to tell me something about myself that will help me cope with the world just a little better. The problem is I also want them to reveal what a really rather wonderful person I am. Needy me? Surely not.

I answer the questions diligently but am I truthful? Possibly not. Not when I am trying to wangle the result so that I come out as super-dooper. You know the sort of thing - creative and sensitive but great to be around and full of the milk of human kindness. Not a vain, self centred egotist anyway! So I try to answer the questions in a way that will show me in a good light. Of course a well-thought out test is supposed to allow for this sort of manipulation but don't underestimate the abilities of the serial personality test user.

The problem for the deeply needy is that personality tests, or psychometric tests as HR people like to call them, have pre-ordained parameters. You can't win really! If there's a test called 'What sort of crazed serial killer are you?', well you're bound to come out as a crazed serial killer of some kind. And while that's a fairly silly example, strikes me the other tests are doing pretty much the same thing but in a, often only marginally, more subtle way.

But will it stop me from doing them? Er, no. I'm still searching for that 'aha' moment where I'll realise what I'm all about. Just so long as it's flattering. I wonder if there's a test called 'What sort of nice, cuddly, great human being are you?'

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Laurie Lee Defence

What, I hear you cry, is the Laurie Lee Defence? Well, it's like this. Occasionally I have a moment of worry about Patrick being brought up surrounded by eccentric women with no permanent father. Will it turn him funny, will he be feminised, is his life lacking a suitably burly role model? My mother and I frequently have this conversation and just as frequently we say: 'Well, didn't do Laurie Lee any harm'. That, in a nutshell is the Laurie Lee Defence.

Laurie Lee you will remember was the author of that book of bucolic wonder 'Cider with Rosie'. He was brought up by his mother and a gaggle of loving sisters after his father deserted the family. Despite being the little darling of a group of adoring women, he went off manfully to the Spanish Civil War, didn't turn out gay, played the fiddle like a fiend and, incidentally, wrote a best-selling book or two.

Yes, it did him no harm at all. He professed himself: 'perfectly content in this world of women'. His three 'generous, indulgent, warm-blooded, and dotty' half-sisters were 'the good fortune of our lives'. I just hope Patrick will be as positive about his own idiosyncratic mama, outre aunty, dotty grandmother and singular sister.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mad, bad and maybe quite nice to know

Why am I a nutter magnet? If there is a nutter in the vicinity they seem to be inexorably drawn to me, like a deranged moth to a flame.

Yesterday I was waiting quietly at a doctor's surgery to see one of my learners. The choice of places to sit was rather limited, involving either sitting next to someone dribbling, grinning inanely, rocking and talking to himself or cheek by jowl with people with alarmingly tubercular sounding coughs.

I found a suitable nook and congratulated myself on avoiding the sanatorium and the asylum. Then in walked a gentleman, who I imagine was once a fine looking man. He had good bone structure and a slender, neat body but a rather sunken face and wild eyes. He sat down near me and started mumbling to himself and staring about indiscriminately.

He managed to catch my eye and made a direct address to me about how he always felt better at the doctors even before he'd seen his GP - at least I think that was the gist of it. I smiled so as not to seem rude and tried to continue my examination of the carpet. However my smile was his cue to tell me all about how his condition would have killed him in the days of the Roman Empire (I didn't like to ask what it was!). I did a bit of polite nodding, inwardly hoped he wouldn't expand on the theme and wondered to myself why it's always me.

I find these situations very difficult. A very big part of me feels that everyone deserves our attention and courtesy and I find I can't just ignore people. However another part of me tells me that being nice gets you into trouble. Like the eccentric old lady I was nice to on the ferry over to the Isle of Wight. There we were engaging in harmless conversation when without warning she stabbed me in the arm with a device she'd produced from her handbag. Turned out it was an item for removing wasp stings but it hurt a bit (I think it was shock and surprise more than anything) and I was a bit concerned she'd punctured me with something more sinister.

On the other hand, being open to people gets you into all sorts of interesting and edifying conversations that enrich your life and expand your understanding of humankind. I would miss out so much if I didn't have an open face (or maybe a gormless and guillible face) and an instinctive interest in people. I'm one of those people who can find out more about a person in half an hour than some people find out in a decade (I think it might also be called 'being nosy').

On balance, I think the benefits of meeting all sorts of people outweigh the risks from meeting nutters. Give me a few years and I might be the nutter in the surgery - perhaps I am already!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Central heating bleating

The kids and I are doing our bit for the environment at the moment. We're not deliberate eco-warriors it's just the central heating has broken down. And it's effing freezing here! Yes the system has given up the ghost just when the weather has decided to turn wintry.

How I long to hear the twanging of a radiator warming up and smell the hot paint. Instead I am sitting here in my bobbly woolly cardigan feeling cold and fed up. I might even go to bed in a minute just to be cosy and it's only twenty to seven!!!

I suppose I shouldn't moan as a friend is currently living in a caravan and he's going to be very, very cold indeed. I suggested he get a dog as Aborigines are said to use them for warmth, even measuring the coldness by the number of dogs required to keep warm. So tonight is probably a three dog night. He replied that a woman might be a good idea , I suggested he invest in a nice plump one who would retain heat. The advert for that position is one I'd like to see!

ETA: I've been keeping myself warm in the meantime by doing domestic tasks such as washing up (hot water) and tumble drying the towels (hot air). But now all is well, warmth has been restored. With the help of some cutlery, Patrick has managed to get the central heating working again. Not sure what he did but he had his head in the airing cupboard and was taking instructions from my Dad. Bliss! You can send back the extra blankets, flasks of hot soup and tin foil capes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The shame of the rose

If I was a misery memoir or a chick-lit tragedy book I'd be called 'The Midwives Daughter'. For that's what I am, the daughter of a midwife. In fact I am also the great-granddaughter of a midwife as my great-grandmother in Wales was a lay midwife, delivering all the village babies.

So it's no surprise really that I know an awful lot about women's bits. There's never been any pussy-footing (cough) about lady parts in our family. No, it's always been vulva this, vagina that and labias have forever been majora or minora. I was the only girl at school to have a letter from my mother saying that I couldn't do PE as I had dysmenhorrea (period pains). I'm sure the PE teacher had no idea what was wrong with me but let me sit on the side lines lest my womb (that should of course be uterus) fell out on the lacrosse pitch.

I was also the girl who's mother bought her a copy of Sheila Kitzinger's book,'Woman's Experience of Sex', when she visited Mrs Kitzinger's home for a conference ( which incidentally took place on Sheila's capacious bed among her many uterus/womb shaped artefacts). Not just any copy too but a signed copy dedicated to me by name! The book was full of black and white photos of ladies who looked as if they'd taken a quick break from duties at Greenham Common to inspect their genitals with a mirror or pleasure themselves while sporting a macrame jumper and lush matching pubes. It was enough to put you off sex for life to be honest!

Fast forward twenty five or so years and I am sitting in my mother's living room wearing a recent purchase: a rather boho tunic top with a big print of a rose on the front in purples and pinks. 'Funny top' opines my Dad casually as he passes me. I take no notice, he wears Hawaiian shirts with check shorts, who is he to talk? Then my Mum looks at me quizzically and tells me that the rose on my top looks like - well - a vulva! I cannot gainsay her as she has seen many a lady garden in her former professional capacity and therefore knows one when she sees one.

My sister now looks at my top and decides that there is a certain fanny-ish look about the rose. It's then that my inner Sheila Kitzinger rises up. Why should women not be able to wear tops with fannies on them? Are not ladies' bits things of beauty and potency? No, I shall wear my rose/vulva top with pride? I shall wear it and shout 'vaginas' from the rooftops for anyone and everyone to hear. Anyone who thinks it's a fanny is just weird - or a midwife.