Friday, June 4, 2010

The mystery of pens

Biros, bics, ballpoint pens. Whatever you call them they are a big part of my working life which requires me to scribble furious notes on the minutiae of other people's jobs.

This week I noticed the pen I was using bore the legend 'Crufts Dog Show Stewards' . I was a little surprised as I've never been to Crufts and don't know any dog trainers. However, it's not the first time I've had rogue pens. I've found myself in possession of pens from Alcoholics Anonymous, a locksmiths company in Surrey , a wedding dress shop and Hampton Court.

It's as though there is some pen black economy out there where everyone acquires pens from different places which then just circulate randomly in the same parralel universe where all the pegs, coat hangers and teaspoons live.

The other explanation is that common condition Free Pen Acquisitiveness Syndrome. Having run the odd exhibition stand in my life, I've seen this at its worst. Sufferers come past your stand, they clock your free pens and out shoots their hand. By the time you've noticed they're there, they've made off with half your freebies.

I have in the past suffered from a mild dose, finding myself involuntarily taking one pen from each stand along with any free mugs, post-it notes, sticky gonks etc. I see it as doing the stall holder a bit of a favour as it makes them feel the frankly dull time spent staffing the stand was worth it.

None of this however adequately explains my Crufts pen. It's a nice pen mind you - heavy, flows nicely and looks smart - but I won't be sucking it any time soon. Who knows where a Crufts steward puts it?!

ETA: Found out where the Crufts pen came from. Apparently someone at school gave it to Flora. But why did they have it......

Friday, May 28, 2010

A room for a view

Tomorrow I have two viewers coming to my house. I've seen all the programmes so know what needs to be done. First of all there are the fresh flowers. Yep, been to Sainsbury's and now have some tulips casually arranged on the kitchen table and some stocks in the living room. Aspirational toiletries have been a little more difficult. It's time to hide the Head and Shoulders, Canestan and Quick and Clear Blackhead Removing Wash and replace them with, er, well anyway. I'm just thanking the Lord J isn't here with his Real Leathers Lynx and worse still the ersatz Lynx he bought for a pound somewhere which bears the classy legend 'For extra pulling power!'.

The instructions from the estate agents recommend classical music as a background. Now I agree that heavy metal or gyrating urban shagging music might not be the done thing but classical is a genre that encompasses a wide range of music estate agent folks. Are they suggesting I show people round my house to the strains of Ligeti or open the door to my loo to some crum horn music? What to choose? In the car I was listening to some music which features a man growling 'They were whores, nobody cared for them. We didn't just eat their bodies, we eat their souls'. Mmmm, maybe a little off putting for a potential buyer. Maybe some Chopin tinkling in the background a la Harley Street clinic will do the job or a little gentle Mozart (again Mozart could mean the final scene from Don Giovanni, hardly unchallenging).

Then there is the showing the person round the house. Should I walk around with them leading them like a demented tour guide? Should I hang back in a vaguely stalkerish way, appearing at just the right moment to advise them about some feature like the shop keeper in Mr Benn. Should I simply hide and let them explore my house unaccompanied? But they could be exploring my knickers drawer in that case!

Basically selling ones house is a big voluntary invasion of ones privacy that nothing really prepares you for. I'm making a note to myself not to take it all too personally and to make sure all the knickers in my drawer are in tip top condition.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My own visitor from Porlock

I'm a poorly girl today. It started with a patch of soreness on the side of my throat and now it's red raw. A sip on some orange juice was like pouring acid down my gullet. I'm feeling sorry for myself.

However I am also enjoying, if that's the word, a host of bizarre dreams probably caused by being a little febrile. I've driven to pick up J, or rather flown, in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, given out the host at Holy Communion without anyone realising I'm neither a priest nor even christianed and I've settled a debt in a subway for my sister with a usually gentle hearted friend who came on a bit Quentin Tarantino in my dreamworld.

Then my mother arrived like the Visitor from Porlock with a pharmacies worth of throat sweets and sprays, breaking into my personal 'Xanadu'. I will now never know where we went in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and whether J broke with his usual demeanour and let me drive/fly. I imagine I did the singing as I've been perfecting my Sally Ann Howes impression since I was five. Nor will I know if I was outed as a pretend vicar and defrocked. As for S's debt, never mind it's all sorted. It's FAMILY!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Farther and farther, all the birds

Ah, I return to one of my favourite themes - wildlife. Last weekend was one where I enjoyed the bucolic side of life. Lying on a bed in Dorset with the woods just across the road, I heard a cuckoo for the first time in years and then, hoorah that night I saw a badger! My first ever non-squashed badger.

It was if spring had forgotten to arrive and then rushed through the door in her best outfit. The sun shone, the breeze was soft, the flowers in the fields were abundant and the birds were so vocal I was reminded of the verse from Edward Thomas's poem 'Adelstrop' -

'And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire'

Then on arriving at J's after a trip out we discovered that two tiny swifts had become stuck between the static and moving parts of one of his ancient sash windows. Moving the sash upwards risked crushing their little heads and they flapped about impotently, their wings limited. Fortunately J moved in like Ray Mears on extra testosterone (is that possible?) with, characteristically, the tools for the job from his garage. The side of the window removed it was possible to release the beleagured birds who swooped off non the worse for their ordeal. As for J he could not have made me fancy him more at that moment had he danced in leather pants (no please, don't!). What is they say about spring and a man's fancy? Applies to we girls too you know!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Through a shop darkly

About six months ago a sign went up in Milton Keynes shopping centre announcing the opening of a new shop and calling for 'attractive' people to apply for jobs. As I imagined how humiliating it would be to be rejected for a shop job on the grounds of your unattractiveness, I also wondered what shop would insist on such a condition. It surely couldn't be Superdrug where fairly ordinary people ask you if you want any stamps with your waxing strips nor was it likely to be British Home Stores, where staff range from homely to unthreateningly attractive.

Soon I had the answer. The shop was part of the Abercrombie and Fitch empire called Hollister. It has been done up to look like the outside of a nightclub with bare chested young gentleman standing at the door to greet you or put you off, depending on your viewpoint. I had a feeling it wasn't a shop meant for me and avoided going in until Flora told me she had ventured inside and and found it staffed by more bare chested men and good looking women in skimpy outfits.

Intrigued, I brazened it out and decided to take my chances with the hostile looking and inadequately attired young men. What greeted me was an interior of Stygian gloom. It was as thought there had been a powercut and only the emergency lighting was on. As I peered into the dark recesses I could just make out what I thought were clothes but the prices remained a mystery. As I felt my way around the shop, I could just make out the attractive staff; what a waste, I thought, when you can't even see them. They could have employed cheaper, ugly people and we'd be none the wiser.

It may be that the lack of lighting is supposed to add to the nightclub ambience but I suspect it's mainly to keep anyone aged over 35 out as you need the night vision of a younger person to find your way round. As someone who had great difficulty seeing the name of a lipstick in the blaring lights of Debenhams, I didn't stand a chance in Hollister. I was like a mole, bumping into things and blinking into the distance with no hope of actually seeing anything.

I only hope M and S don't decide to follow suit as I like to inspect my smalls before purchase.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Get out or burn out?

I am starting to realise that morally I am not a big person. I will never make Archbishop of Canterbury or be Mother Teresa, I won't even be Anneka Rice. The tribulations of a typical walk through Luton town centre are getting to me and I am finding my patience wearing about as thin as it can get.

Last week, a walk to an appointment involved first avoiding a lorry on the pavement and walking into the path of a maniacal bike rider. This was followed by avoidance of eye contact with a crazed, hatchet faced young woman with the smell of drink on her, stepping round an insistent beggar with guilt in my heart and then coping with someone gobbing, with an enthusiastic expectorating sound, next to my leg. I stood there, my eyes pricking with tears, screwing my face up, thinking out loud 'Oh God! I hate Luton!'. Half of what I hated was myself for not being good enough to cope with it all, for finding all this human degredation unpalatable and insuportable, like some latterday Margot Leadbetter. I imagine I looked like a nutter myself but all I wanted was to knock my ruby slippers together and be transported away to somewhere more civilised and bucolic.

It made me realise that the only way you can cope is by becoming innured to it all and there lies danger. No wonder social workers start to miss things when each day they are coping with the shitty stick of life. If you don't shut some of it out, how will you ever cope? Even my cursory encounters with the underbelly of urban life leave me feeling sullied and disturbed.

So perhaps it's time for me to get out before it gets me! At least my colleagues understand. K told me her trip to an appointment recently involved negotiating a doorway in which someone was standing with an aggressive dog, avoiding people asking her for money and then walking passed a man sitting on a wall 'playing' with a chain saw! Welcome to our world.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lark Rise to Far From the Madding Cider with Rosie

I've always fancied myself good at accents so when Flora was asked to play Mary Anning in a film, it seemed the ideal opportunity to teach her my one size fits all, Thomas Hardy adaption, any location on the South Coast rural accent. If I had been to drama school I would have learned it there but I learned it watching TV and, er, listening to family members.

I thought I could ask some of the proper Dorset people in my family to help Flora achieve some level of verisimilitude with her accent but my Dad professes himself too posh these days, having lived in South East England for over forty years, and my aunt, who still lives in Dorset, doesn't think she has a very strong accent. I would take issue with my aunt actually but that's how she feels. My Dad has loads of brothers all with strong Dorset accent but they are rather harder to track down.

Then there is J, who lives in Dorset, and fancies his chances with the old local accent almost as much as me. Much as I hate to tell him, his Dorset accent does have a faint Northern twang and therefore won't cut the mustard. My experience of the people he knows in Dorset is that there are very few people we could call on to do the proper accent although I feel sure he could dig someone up.

So there's nothing for it. She will have to do the Lark Rise to Far from the Madding Cider with Rosie accent, on which I am the country's leading dialogue expert. Oooooh Arrrrrrrr!

Monday, May 3, 2010

When quilts were continental

I was the first person to have one in my family, in my extended family, perhaps on the whole of the Harebreaks Estate. I speak of a duvet. Except in 1971 it wasn't a duvet, it was a continental quilt; a name which evokes how radical the duvet was in bedding terms. Yes, in the early 70s the now ubiquitous duvet was as foreign and sophisticated as Edith Piaf, existentialism, baguettes and spaghetti bolognese.

My continental quilt was much admired with people coming from miles around to see this new, European alternative to Welsh blankets and a candlewick bedspread. Look now easy it is to make the bed, they exclaimed. How do you put the cover on? Or behind their hands, why was my mother engaging with this Frenchie nonsense, wasn't it bad enough that we were in the Common Market without having to take on their strange quilts.

The reason I was the pioneer in duvet terms was my asthma. My mother quite rightly thought it would be better for me than blankets and the aforementioned candlewick bedspread. Of course the fact that my sister, who shared a bedroom and therefore dust mites with me, still used the bedding of the ancien regime was not lost on our parents and soon she too was sleeping like a European.

From there, or so it seemed to me, continental quilt use grew exponentially and they morphed into the duvet. No longer continental but actually quite British now. The duvet had swam La Manche, dragged itself soggily on to the beach and found a place in the heart of we Brits. Even my grandmother gave up her traditional Welsh blankets for one, sad really as today they would be ultra chic.

Today we are so much part of a global culture that those times when continental quilts were outre, Vesta meals the height of daring foreign cuisine, Angel Delight was a treat and we still had the remains of an air raid shelter in our garden seem in many ways as distant as the nineteenth century. Yes, we are all continental now and I like to think my little duvet lead the way, in our family at least. So Vive La Duvet!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My cubicle pitch

I love people. I'm happy chatting to old ladies on the street, little children, teenagers, men on building sites. I can chat to anyone, make friends with people easily and find people warm to me quickly and me to them. Why then do I hate networking so much? Isn't 'networking' just a posh name for chatting?

The song 'You will always find me in the kitchen at parties' pretty much applies to me. Despite having a very gregarious, warm nature (I flatter myself), I find parties nerve wracking and my coping strategy tends to be to get as drunk as possible. The same goes for networking where, in the absence of an opportunity for drinking, I usually just hide in the toilets.

I think the difference between my happy interactions with random people on the street and my nervousness at parties and networking events is that talking to people in an everyday setting is serendipitous whereas you go to parties and network with a mission to 'meet' people. At parties I often feel as though everyone is far cooler and more interesting than me and are no doubt finding me deadly dull, actively plotting their escape from me to be reunited with their fascinating friends. Similarly at networking events I always worry that the other person is far too important to talk to the likes of me and is probably looking over my shoulder for someone more worthy.

Interestingly I often meet some great people in the toilets and while I may not have the much vaunted elevator pitch taped, I may just have a 'cubicle pitch'. There's something very levelling about meeting someone in the loos. No matter how glamorous or successful you are, we all need a wee. Similarly at parties, there's often a more relaxed vibe in the kitchen and it gives you a reason to be there, eg: refilling your glass or searching for the Twiglets,

The fact that there are 'gurus' out there earning a fortune out of telling others how to 'network' indicates to me that I'm not alone in loathing and fearing the whole thing. Personally I find professional networkers annoying. The most successful and delightful networkers seem to be those people who look as if they're not even trying - and probably they're not.

So if you want to speak to me, come and meet me by the wash hand basins in the ladies. I'm bound to be there. Bring your own Twiglets.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Where is my Wales?

As a very small child, I knew where Wales was. It was the coal yard down the road from my little Welsh grandmother's house. Even as an under five I associated Wales with coal even if my geography was somewhat parochial - the coal yard was in North Watford!

As I grew up I had a slightly more accurate idea of Wales athough it remained for me a mythical place. It was the location of my grandmother's stories of washing her brothers in tin baths when they came up from the pits, of speaking only Welsh at home and learning English at school, of people with mellifluous names and tragic stories. My grandmother was a great story teller and prone to repeating herself so that the stories, the mythology of her Wales, became part of the warp and weft of my life. My Wales, her Wales, was no doubt the Wales of the 1920s and 30s and for a child with hopelessly romantic soul her tales were irresistable.

It was this week, now in my forties with my grandmother dead for almost a decade, that I visited the village of her childhood: Tumble, the place with the slightly comical name that literally is/was the Land of my Fathers. I was on my way home from Pembrokeshire, a place of pure soft light, glittering seas and secluded inlets. Tumble is on the way home and I felt a real desire to visit this place that was so much part of my life yet which I had never seen.

So it was that at about half past eight on a Sunday morning I parked on the steep high street. I so wanted to love Tumble and yet I was filled with a terrible sense of sadness and, dare I say it, disappointment. This was not the staunchly working class mining village with bucolic tendenies of my imagination. It looked bleak, the houses were grey and eyeless and my overall impression was one of a place that had been a victim of de-industrilisation as much as its people, and my relatives, were a victim of the mines that once supported it.

I couldn't wait to get back in the car and leave. It's the people that make you love a place and for me whereever my dear grandmother was it was 'Wales', with whatever that meant for us as a family. We definitely had our own culture, our own mythology, words and ways and she was the centre of that and so much of what I am today is because of her influence and loving presence. So I'm going to content myself with the Tumble of my heart but I do hope that behind those early morning windows there was warmth and happiness and maybe people with whom I share the odd gene!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why we asthmatics need you to listen

I'm utterly incensed! I've just read a story about a young boy who died of asthma after his school left him waiting in a corridor and did not seek help. As a lifelong asthmatic, I can't say I'm surprised. Despite the fact that asthma is far more common than when I was a child, understanding of it among non-medical people doesn't seem to have improved an iota. Countless times I've been instructed to breathe into a brown paper bag (not a good idea at all), calm down (not at all helpful) or sit next to an open window (again not very helpful)

While a school child I always had bad attacks around September and was constantly being told it was because I was a nervous type and worried about going back to school. My sensible mother was unconvinced and she was proved right as I still have bad attacks at the same time of year, probably as a result of tree pollens. And anyway you'd be feckin' nervous if you were taking Ventolin and having asthma attacks!!!

Perhaps my worst experience was an A level French revision trip I attended aged seventeen . The location was a large, dusty Victorian mansion where we were provided with woolen blankets (lethal for me). In loco parentis were a bunch of inexperienced French assistants, probably barely out of their own teens.

Every night I had bad asthma attacks and one night had probably the worst asthma attack of my life, coming close, I believe, to dying. While I don't believe in religious near death experiences I did experience the 'going down a tunnel towards a light' phenomenon as my breathing became more and more laboured and I assume my body more and more depleted of oxygen. At one point I decided, with a strange acceptance, that I was going to die and basically gave in. I was very lucky that a friend intervened and I will be forever grateful to her as our French teachers were too busy flirting with one another in the staff room to be remotely interested (a few years later I did the Heimlich manoeuvre on my friend when she was choking, so we're quits I feel)

When my friend informed our temporary carers, nobody took me to hospital or did anything except coo 'doucement' (sounds nice but pretty crap really). The only thing that saved me was said friend sitting up with me all night while I overdosed on Ventolin and black tea. I arrived home in a hell of a state and my parents were furious.

I had hoped that nearly thirty years later, things would have improved, that understanding of asthma would be more widespread. But sadly I fear people still don't understand asthma at all including the lady who decided she could 'cure' me of my 'panic attacks' on the train back from Edinburgh a couple of year ago when I had a sudden and scary asthma attack. I had quite a job getting away from her, which added no end to the stress of the situation. I ended up hiding from her ‘kindness’ in the corridor next to the toilets where a thoughtful guard offered to stop the train and get help. Fortunately,I managed to control my attack with the use of drugs while my sister took the flaky lady, who was remonstrating with her about not understanding my 'panic attacks' , to task.

We asthmatics have to take some responsibility and I'm forever boring newbies to my life about which inhalers are preventers and which is the one for emergencies. I just wish a few more people would listen though, take us seriously, put on hold some of their prejudices (we don't do it to get attention or because we don't like your cat or your blankets) and dispense with homely remedies and old wives' tales (put your brown paper bags away). Maybe then we could avoid unnecessary deaths like the loss of that young boy. We're not highly strung, we're not hyperventilating and we're not in need of shoving towards the nearest open window. We're asthmatic.

The problem with the word 'boyfriend'

If there's one word that I find problematic it's 'boyfriend'. It's alright calling someone your boyfriend when you're 16 (if slightly embarrassing) but when ladies of a certain age are calling their equally elderly lovers their boyfriend, I can't help feeling slightly squeamish about it. A big bloke with no hair on his head but quite a bit in his nose and ears can't be your boyfriend. He's your man, your fella, your whatever but no, not your boyfriend.

It seems to be socially acceptable to call women 'girls' at whatever age, however much we may resist the idea, but men aren't boys. It makes me think of Private Pike; 'stupid boys' in tank tops who still live with their mums.

Also 'boyfriend' seems to have become an indicator of a woman's girlishness. This is evidenced by the trend for calling any women's clothes that are basically baggy 'boyfriend'. So we have 'boyfriend jeans' and 'boyfriend jackets'. The inference is that they are soooo big that the wearer looks all teeny-weeny and sweet in it, like she's wearing her big boyfriend's big manly jacket/jeans/insert other garment (but not Y fronts).

But what to call one's beloved once one is over 35? There are a number of alternatives all of which are equally squirm-worthy or rather too business like and lacking in requisite tenderness (e.g: partner - sounds like you work for a firm of accountants . It's also a bit right on. People who call their significant other their partner often come out with my least favourite expression 'we're pregnant'. as if the male half of the 'partnership' has suddenly sprouted a womb.

So you end up plumping for the bf word because basically there isn't anything better. The only solution is to marry your bf and make him your husband but that's a whole other issue! You know what I mean girlfriend?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Too much information

There was an item on Woman's Hour yesterday about people who 'overshare' on social networking media such as Twitter and Facebook. I squirmed for a couple of seconds - was I guilty of this I wondered as one who posts regularly on Facebook and has a blog (albeit one read by one man and his dog).

As the item went on I felt my discomfort dwindle. I definitely am not the sort of person who would Twitter about the progress of my abortion in a blow by blow, no holds barred account. Nor am I like the man who Twitters about his haemorrhoids. No compared to these people I really am the soul of discretion.

Despite this, J (who because I am so discreet I never mention by name or relationship to me - actually) reckons that I have revealed an awful lot more than I realise about myself on the web. My view is that I don't reveal anything deeply personal and I certainly don't go in for spilling my love life all over Facebook with regular updates and changes to my relationship status. In fact I don't even have a relationship status, that's how discreet I am. Nor have I mentioned my religion, political stance or even my favourite film.

However, today I did post that I'd accidentally put on a pair of child's tights and had spent the whole day hoiking them up and walking round with the crutch around my knees. My view is that while I'm spilling all this silly stuff, nobody will be interested in the real stuff and actually the real stuff is pretty dull anyway.

How about a blog on my menstrual cycle called Monthly Martyr? Too much information?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wibbly Wobbly Lane

For some time I've been intrigued by a road sign just outside Hitchin on the road to Luton. It tells you that the road is Carter's Lane formerly known as Wibbly Wobbly Lane. Why it isn't still known as Wibbly Wobbly Lane I'm not sure but I was sure that I wanted to go down it.

So on Saturday, with Patrick for company, for who knew what wobbly terrors might greet us, I drove down Wibbly Wobbly Lane. Quite what I was hoping for I'm not sure. Wibbly Wobbly people perhaps wibbling and wobbling down the road to the sound of Rolf Harris on the wobble board.? Perhaps a wibbly wobbly driving experience where I negotiated bend after bend?

The truth is more prosaic. Wibbly Wobbly Lane is a bit wibbly wobbly but not excessively so. I've been down many a wibblier wobblier lane. However it is a fantastic name and I don't really mind that it doesn't quite live up to it. If that's wibbly wobbly for the good people of Hitchin, that's good enough for me.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Yes we'll have no bananas!

Bananas are the comedy turn of the fruit and veg world. They wear pyjamas and come down the stairs, people slip on them in an 'hilarious' fashion and of course they look a bit like willies. Bananas are nice, bananas are friendly, bananas are a bit naughty.

However an event of iconoclastic proportions has occurred which has changed my view of bananas for ever. A friend told me this week that she parted her bunch (of bananas you perves!!!!!) and discovered a big cocoon of spiders web. Worst still an empty cocoon. Where had its spidery inhabitant gone? She spent the next few days checking her bed, shoes, baby's cot etc, worried sick that a massive tarantula was at loose in her house.

Sense tells me (and a certain J - which amounts to the same thing really) that they ship the bananas from a long distance and that any nasties are likely to die en route. Also bananas are gassed to preserve them, which will also kill any horrid passengers. Yet who is to say there aren't some of our eight legged friends who get off on the gas, who literally get stronger and wilder like arachnids on steroids or go crazy and hallucinate like creepy crawlies on ketamine.

With this awful thought in mind, I approached my own bananas with trepidation. When you think about it, the idea of a banana coming down the stairs with pyjamas on is quite scary. Imagine them all yellow and bent over, and potentially harbouring a huge tarantula, coming down your stairs wearing stripey nightware. The horror, the horror! Yes, I'll have no bananas!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pass me a canape Mr Eno

Last night I went to a party with Brian Eno. That's my story and I'm sticking to it, whatever a certain Mr G might have to say. To begin at the beginning, I was invited to a party and the invitation did come from Brian Eno. I would like to pretend that Mr Eno personally asked me to come but the truth is a friend was compiling the guest list and thought S and I might just like to pop along.

Whoever invited us, the invitation did say that Brian Eno requested our company. That's good enough for me. We turned up at the venue and were first treated to Brian (or Bri as I like to call him) being interviewed by Polly Toynbee about his curatorship of the Brighton Festival. All very interesting and there was time enough to brush up against his Roxy Music-ness.

But no, for when we all piled outside for the wine and canapes it became clear that there was, literally, a two tier system. Eno and all the great and the good were installed on a mezzanine floor above us while the rest of us mingled around on the lower floor, as befitted our lowlier status. No matter, for there was free wine aplenty, a good buzz and even a flashmob. At first the wine made me wonder if I'd have the guts to inveigle myself on to the mezzanine floor but after a few more glasses, I found I didn't care that much. I was having a good time, Brian or no Brian.

Cut to this morning and S and I did a quick embarrassment audit to ensure we hadn't said anything awful to anyone, been sick anywhere or danced inappropriately. Having reassured ourselves that we had not, we decided that if Eno had met us he'd have liked us very much indeed. We were still at his party though.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Taking the pledge - again!

I am an addict! Yep, I have fallen off the wagon yet again. Not Class A drugs, cannabis, alcohol or cigaretttes. My vice is the silver ones, Diet Coke. They sit on the shelves looking benign and even 'good for you' but let me tell you, they are the devil's own water.

Why I can so quickly be addicted to it I know not. I don't like the taste of it that much and when I'm not drinking it, I wonder what I saw in it in the first place. But once I'm in its thrall, the little silver bastards speak to me from the chilled cabinets like caffeine filled sirens.

This has to be the week I give up. I was doing really well and had managed a number of months without them. Then a few weeks ago I had to sit around in a mind-numbingly dull place with a colleague waiting for people to whom we could sell the services of our organisation. No one turned up and the two of us chatted, twiddled our thumbs and went next door to the newsagents for crappy magazines. Then my colleague decided to 'treat' me to a drink and I heard the siren call of Diet Coke yet again. I should have known that whatever chemical kick they deliver would bring my resolve crashing to the ground again.

The worst thing is that I start to believe that I actually won't be able to cope if I don't drink the shitty stuff, that somehow it is 'helping' me to cope with life's struggles and challenges. The truth is it does quite the opposite. What's good about your nerves in tatters, fractured sleep and a horrid sense of forboding. Yes folks, that's how wonderful Diet Coke is.

So tomorrow I am going to take some paracetemol with me, for my headache is likely to be gargantuan, and I'm giving up again. I hope!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

'Only connect'....actually don't

At the risk of sounding a bit deep, or worse flaky, been thinking a lot about juxtapositions over the last few days. I'm listening to Devendra Banhart Radio on Last FM which starts off with an artist you like (in this case, er, Devendra Banhart) and then moves on to tracks it thinks are related or you will like. This results in some very peculiar juxtapositions of music, some wonderful discoveries and some awful crap. I give you Radiohead Radio which started off with a sublime Radiohead track and through some circumlocuitous route ended up with Coldplay. Nooooooooo!

Juxtapositions were on my mind too as I walked through our local subway. There was evidence of alcohol consumption and drug taking under there and bizarrely someone with a serious Bakewell tart habit. Then earlier in the week there was the unfortunate juxtaposition of a wedding dress stall at the local shopping centre and a stall giving advice on chlamydia!

Finally in my week of peculiar combinations there was the photo of the band which we are using to promote a couple of forthcoming gigs. There we are trying our hardest to look moody (and by gad it's hard to look moody when you look like us) and behind us is a high chair and a microwave. Rock n roll!

Perhaps these combinations of the banal and quotidian and the edgy are a good thing. After all we wouldn't know other things were dangerous, original or pleasant if there weren't things that aren't.

I seem to remember that making spurious connections between things is a sign of madness. Oh well, pass us a Bakewell tart, I might as well enjoy myself.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

To pea or not to pea - wet is the question (sorry!)

If you'd asked me what peawet was a week ago, I'd have guessed a peewit that wets the bed or maybe a special kind of hard rain that feels like peas hitting you. However, peawet is neither of these highly plausible explanations. I have it on authority that peawet is a special gastronomic delight from the fish and chip shops of Wigan. It is the watery bit around mushy peas and apparently was given away for people to have with their chips or if you were really broke scraps.

Now mushy peas are nice but they are pretty watery in themselves so peawet must be particularly watery. Despite this there are several Facebook pages where Wiganites and the Wigan diaspora get all misty eyed about the stuff.

I am glad though that peawet isn't what happens when your pelvic floor goes and you cough too hard. I am looking forward to the opportunity of using this new word in a game of Scrabble and being very smug when I'm challenged.

Monday, February 15, 2010

'Why do badgers avoid me?' and other wildlife conundrums

It's no good, badgers don't like me. I like them, I really do, but they don't like me. I base this on the fact that I only ever see dead badgers despite living close to one of the biggest badger sets in my area. Other people see them gambolling with black and white glee in their gardens but not me. I see they've been in my garden from the way they dig up the ground but I never see an actual badger, well at least not a live one. I've seen many a dead badger on the side of the road but try as I might I've never seen one that hasn't been flat packed.

Last weekend I was in Dorset driving in the dark down a country lane where you are almost guaranteed to see a badger or even badgers. Did I see one? No, of course not. I'd swear badgers let one another know I'm coming and send special badger instructions to hide. The next day I was driving along the same roads in the daylight and there was a dead one on the side of the road. My cynical side wonders whether it was actually a live one playing dead simply to taunt me.

It's always been the same with dolphins. Whenever I venture into dolphin territory, dolphins have only a moment ago been seen jumping the waves and putting on a display for anyone lucky enough to be there. But not for me!

So c'mon badgers, c'mon dolphins. Give a girl a break. I want to see you soon. No badgers in the sea and dolphins in the woods though. That would just be weird.

No need to be needy if you're tweedy

As part of my ongoing effort to be a bit more 'country', I went to my first Point to Point yesterday. I had no idea what one was but fortunately Wikipedia and my friend Violet were very helpful. Armed with a little information, I wondered what I should wear. J gently dissuaded me from wearing anything too lairy (i.e: my usual clothes) and when I reached the event I saw why. It was a veritable sea of green tweed, a total tweederama.

There was a real 'anything as long as it's tweed' vibe going on. Everywhere were stalls selling various types of tweed based clothing, from gorgeous, horribly expensive, tailored coats to fashion chimera in the shape of hoodies with tweed bits on (I thought David Cameron might like one of these when looking for a hoody to hug), tweed skirts and trousers and even tweed Y fronts (OK, I made the last one up but I bet you can get them). By the time I got home, tweed patterns had seared themselves on to my retina.

With all this tweed based entertainment around me, I almost forgot about the horses , some of whom were also wearing tweed as it happens. As they were walked around the paddock I was seized with a feeling of inadequacy as one who doesn't know a fetlock from a flank or a gaskin from a pastern. There was much umming and ahhing and taking in of 'form 'around me but not being up to the job, I decided to go for a name I liked. This proved to be a good idea as my horse came in third on an each way bet meaning I broke even , although sadly I didn't win enough money to clothe myself entirely in tweed.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Giving way to history

Today saw me going not once but twice round Britain's oldest roundabout, albeit in different directions, in Letchworth Garden City. It looked like a pretty ordinary roundabout but according to the sign it dates from 1909 making it 101 years old.

What on earth did they need roundabouts for in 1909? Surely there were only two cars and lots of horses around in those days. It's hard to imagine horse congestion. I'm sure it happened in London but in Letchworth? Doesn't seem likely. Just as well really as according to Wikipedia, traffic could travel around it in either direction, the rules of roundabout use we recognise today not coming until the 1920s.

I can only assume it was a result of Quakerish zeal for order and discipline. The whole town has that considered, orderly feel as befits the first garden city and an early exemplar of town planning.

Can't say my heritage trip around the roundabout was that exciting. However I did find out it's called Sollershot Circus - now that is interesting.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Missionary Zeal

For me one of the joys of a visit to Toni and Guy to get one's roots done is the chance to read the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. It is always an edifying experience, helping me to become conversant with current sexual mores, physically challenging sexual positions, the latest theory on where my G-Spot might lurk and how to send a man wild with desire simply by whispering the words 'my knickers are in my pocket' in his shell-like.

Interesting as Cosmo is, and keen as I am to read it at the hairdressers, I can't help thinking that they make a lot of it up. Surely there are only so many positions one can adopt in the pursuit of fulfilling intimate congress for a start. The more of it you read, and I've read a lot of it, the more you notice that they repeat themselves, often just slightly changing the content to make it sound like some amazing new sexual technique that we all must learn. For instance one month spreading chocolate over your lover and licking it off slowly might be the most amazingly sensual thing to do and the following month it'll be ice-cream or if it's a healthy eating issue some low fat creme fraiche.

I think it's time for a complete overhaul and would like to offer Cosmo my services. I propose a sex column entitled ''Jenny's Practical Tips for Successful Procreation Within the Bounds of Decency'. I'd dispense sensible advice based on sound principles of hygiene and propriety. There'd be none of this silly nonsense about starfish and not wearing any knickers. Instead I'd have 'Winceyette Nightie of the Month' and 'Missionary Zeal: an illustrated guide to sensible intercourse without recourse to gimmicks, expensive or unecessary equipment or food'. Now that's a magazine I'd want to read in the hairdressers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Middle aged? Not me (well a bit)

I am officially more middle aged on Friday than I am the moment. I know 45 is middle aged, I acknowledge and accept it, gracefully even, but I'm not giving in completely yet. Recently I stopped to get some petrol at a station just outside Yeovil (the town in the heart of the country with the mind of a city incidentally) and advertised on the pump was my nemesis. For £4.00 one could purchase a cosy blanket with armholes and, wait for it, pockets for your remote controls. Note remote controls plural. To me it felt like nothing less than a fleecy shroud. Wearing that would be giving up, saying yes I am officially ancient, pass me the big slipper, the Emmerdale box set and a packet of Werther's Originals.

Nor am I ready to dress like a middle aged person. Of course I can't dress like a 16 year old - that would be embarrassing - but I say nay to Juicy Couture Lite velour tracksuits and pah to sensible blouses. I want to grow old with just a modicum of style and cause my children just a little character building shame.

Today I was thinking about my hair, as I often do. Should I dispense with my trademark blonde bob which feels really me and go for a middle aged lady's hairdo with tasteful golden highlights? Part of me thinks there will be a time when I should give it all up but it isn't today. So I say nuts to being 45 - I'm off out with my super blonde hair, pink shoes and lairy tights. If you want to stop me, you'll have to arrest me first!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Music to be blue by

According to William Congreve 'Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast'. Well my breast has been pretty savage recently, in fact both my breasts. And it was to music I turned to help me with what we prefer to call PMT these days.

The music I turned to was my typical PMT fare. I suddenly have a craving for Liza Minnelli, show tunes and Rufus Wainwright droning on about this and that. I want to listen to the final trio in Der Rosenkavalier and torment myself with Scott Walker singing Jacques Brel songs. There's definitely a camp theme to the sound track of my hormones, I can't deny it.

I am wondering whether it's possible to change ones mood by making happier music choices. Certainly when I'm feeling on top of the world I like listening to dance music, kitsch sixties tracks and jolly bebop. Could I prescribe these to myself when I have the premenstrual blues or are my miserable choices doing a job? Are they channelling my feelings of disorientation, low self-esteem and self-doubt or exacerbating them?

Next time the black dog descends I'm going to force a diet of jolly, inconsequential music on myself. I could end up tearing a picture of Britney Spears to shreds but it's worth a try.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Where's your airer?

My house is currently festooned with washing. Every radiator has been pressed into service for drying purposes, a variety of clothes-horses stand to attention draped in tops and trousers and the family undies hang in a slightly undignified fashion off a device made to look like an octopus. Personally I think your average octopus is an intelligent and diginified creatures who would not stoop (if indeed an octopus can stoop) to being a tentacled receptacle for airing my knickers. But I digress.

What struck me very much this morning as I came downstairs to my laundry is that you never see a clothes-horse in home style magazines or television programmes. Where do people who live in those minimalist homes dry their minimals? Are those posh vertical radiators any good for hanging out a pair of trousers? Do they just send it all away to be done?

Of course your rustic home is often seen with one of those pulleymaid dryers, artfully dressed with lavender and a few Cath Kidston bits and pieces. You never see one with greying underpants and the black top what did it hanging disconsolately off them.

It's the same with outside drying. I've yet to see a garden design programme that integrates a nice rotary dryer or a washing line. It's all very well having a postmodern structure in your garden made of stainless steel and recycled bricks but where are you going to hang out the sheets?

I could make a plea for more realism in the magazines and TV programmes but that would be disingenuous; I'm as much a mug for decorating porn as the next person. To be honest, I don't want to see homes where people live my banal, quotidien and often chaotic life. I don't want to see their toilet brush, their temporary Sainsbury's bag bin or their washing up bowl. I like the fantasy and it gives me something to aspire too. Still wonder where they put their smalls though.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I'm so zen - well almost

I dreamt last night about a special kind of portable piano called a Nosh-Nosh. Apparently these are special quiet pianos made by gypsies to use in their caravans. I also dreamt my sister and I were involved in a project to remove all the lichen from an old ruin. We're not really and neither, as far as I know, is there a quiet piano beloved of Romanies called a Nosh-Nosh.

I put my vivid and rather bizarre dreams down to the fact that last night I was deeply stressed. I slept fitfully, dreamt outrageously and overthought to a degree that's bad even for someone like me who's made overthinking her life's work. Add to this my flickering eye and thick throat and I really was a classic example of anxiety.

Tonight some level of calm is restored. I've just been walking in the snow and found myself enjoying the crunch beneath my feet and the way the street lights make it twinkle. In fact I'm so much calmer I might even get the Nosh-Nosh out and have a bit of sing-song before doing some lichen scraping. Aaaaah.

Friday, January 8, 2010

High Men!

If I could go back in history in a time machine I would like to go to the 18th century and listen to Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli, sing. He was supposed to the greatest of the castrati singers with amazing technique, phenomenal breath control, artistic brilliance and the ability to make the ladies swoon. Despite being robbed of their testes at a young age in order to become a castrato singer, the castrati were sex symbols of their time.

So what is it that's so sexy about men singing in high voices. It shouldn't be sexy should it? Men who speak with high voices are considered ridiculous but a man singing in a high register, whether naturally or in falsetto, has enormous erotic allure. I recently watched a video of a Russian singer called Vistas teasing his mainly female audience by singing in a natural male voice before launching into a male soprano voice they had all clearly been waiting for judging by the loud sighs and use of programmes as fans.

I was listening today to a band called The Wild Beasts where one of the singers uses his falsetto voice to great affect, sounding bizarre yet oddly louche, as if he were recovering from a bout of exhausting love making. Jeff Buckley's beautiful high voice touches me both viscerally and spiritually, at once incredibly sexy and yet other worldy. Don't get me started on counter tenors like Andreas Scholl.

So what is it that makes men singing in high voice so attractive. I think it feels slightly dangerous and on the edge for a start, vocal risk taking. Then there is the quality of the male voice at that register. It's still manly and strong but with this great beauty when done well and utterly different to a woman singing at the same pitch. Ultimately though, I think it's a matter of tension (which is surely the key to all eroticism) - it's not at all effeminate or emasculating because it always essentially male yet playing on the dangerous margins of what that means.

I can completely understand why the 18th century ladies fainted over Farinelli and his ilk. My time machine can't come quick enough!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Let me entertain you

I was in bed last night musing on what a stupid name for a show 'The Vagina Monologues' is. If my vagina was in a show-business, I wouldn't settle for a monologue or even, ahem, a 'talking head'. I'd want to really put on a show with musical numbers, magic tricks and guest artistes. There might even be artistic tableaux and some mind reading activity a la Derren Brown. In fact I might even take it to Edinburgh and call it 'Minge on the Fringe'.

Of course the benefit of a show called 'The Vagina Monologues' is that it desensitizes people to the very word. Even maiden aunts of the most proper kind, receive flyers for the the local theatre containing the 'v' word. Every Z list actress in the world - and some non-actresses - seems to have been in it so you can bet your bottom dollar it'll be on round your way at some point.

Since the show began you can even say 'vagina' in the office without shocking anyone as in 'Have you seen The Vagina Monologues?' (although never as in 'Have you seen my vagina?' - this can result in dismissal on the grounds of gross misconduct).

So hoorah to TVM for helping the 'v word take flight but c'mon let's have Vaudeville Vulvas, full of fun and old-fashioned, family entertainment.

ETA: I've never seen 'The Vagina Monologues'.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sixteen today

It's Patrick's sixteenth today which lead to a discussion between J and me on just what you are entitled to do on reaching this milestone. We came up with the obvious one and riding a moped and discussed how in our day you could legitimately buy fags at sixteen. However we were a bit stumped for any other benefits to moving on from fifteen.

Thoughtfully Connexions have made a list of things Patrick and his fellow sixteens are allowed to do:
  • You can have a full time job if you have officially left school. You need to remember that you can't work full time until the last Friday in June - even if you have turned 16 before this.
  • You can live independently, subject to certain conditions being met.
  • You can get married with your parents' or guardians' consent.
  • You can ride a moped of up to 50ccs.
  • You can pilot a glider.
  • You must be 16 before you can legally have sex, whether that's with someone of the same sex or opposite sex.
  • You can have an abortion without your parents consent.
  • A boy can join the armed forces with his parents' or carers' consent.
  • You can apply for your own passport.
  • You can have beer or cider whilst eating a meal in a restaurant or an eating area of a pub, but not in the bar.
  • You can buy lottery tickets, including scratch cards
  • You can change your name by deed poll, with your parent or guardian's consent.
  • If you are in work, you are now old enough to join a Trade Union.
  • You can choose your own GP
  • You can claim social security benefit
Choosing your own GP, joining a Trade Union and buying a lottery ticket! I imagine most sixteen year olds will be breathless with excitement at the prospect of any of these. Possibly a little more exciting is being able to pilot a glider (perhaps one your parents have kicking around the garage) or ride a moped (ditto although slightly more likely than an abandoned glider).

The one I think I'd like best, were I sixteen, apart again from the obvious one, is being able to change your name by deed poll. I would have loved a more glamorous, outrageous name which is probably why you can't do it without parental consent.

So how will we celebrate Patrick's new rights.? I suggest I buy my sixteen year old a beer, or cider, to eat with a meal in a pub this weekend (whether he wants it or not) You never know, we might even go there in my spare glider after he's selected a new GP and bought a few Lucky Dips.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sitting in the corner with a half empty glass

If there's one thing that makes me feel negative, it's positive thinking. I've always felt that the idea that if you wish for something hard enough you'll get it and that you can somehow control your destiny by the force of your own will is dubious at best. The orthodoxy of the positive thinking gurus is that somehow you can make yourself happy, successful, prosperous, desirable etc just through having the right mind set.

Personally I find this deeply flawed; of course we can all make choices about whether we are cruel, lazy and abuse our bodies but shit happens and it happens to nice people who don't deserve it and can't prevent it - no matter how hard they try. No, I think 'positive thinking' is an idea that rather than liberate people traps them into feeling an onerous sense of responsibility for things beyond their control.

So I was glad on reading '59 seconds: Think a little, change a lot' by Professor Richard Wiseman, to see that science actually supports me, concluding that creative visualisation exercises are 'at best ineffective and, at worst, harmful'. He cites a case often used by 'positive thinkers' in which a team of researchers interviewed a number of graduating seniors at Yale in 1953. Twenty years later they followed up these individuals and found that those who had specific goals at that time had achieved more than their colleagues who had not, thus providing proof of the power of goal setting. The problem is there is no evidence that the experiment actually took place and it may in fact be apocryphal.

About a year ago I won the chance to have some life coaching. In the middle of a very difficult period in my life, just getting myself back together after a hellish divorce, I thought it might be interesting and so approached the idea with an open mind. My life coach was a lovely and credible lady who has done very well for herself. I have enormous respect for her achievements but I found her ideas difficult to accept. She asked me visualise where I wanted to be in five years time , telling me that we have control over what happens to us and whether we get the things we want through the power of positive thinking. She called this concept 'vibrational escrows'

Vibrational whats I hear you cry? The idea apparently comes from a woman caller Esther Hicks.

'You have in your vibrational escrow all those things you want and you could pick any one thing on the planet that's going wrong or in your life and give it your undivided attention and you could keep all of those things that you want from happening because you've activated such a vibration of lack over this one thing....'

I thought about this very deeply; it seemed to be a barmy idea and one I found difficult to swallow. I asked her about a situation in my own life. My baby son was stillborn at term. I had no warning of this, I didn't take illicit substances, smoke or drink during my pregnancy, I ate the right foods and went to all my appointments. I never for a second had negative thoughts about my baby and yet he died. For years afterI tortured myself trying to think what I might have done to 'make it' happen. Over time I came to accept that I could have done nothing and that it was simply 'one of those things'. It didn't happen because I was bad, any more than the women I saw as I left the hospital smoking like chimneys while heavily pregnant, kept their babies because they were somehow good or better.

My coach listened to me and said that maybe it was too early for me to understand and accept the concept of 'vibrational escrows'. I had to agree and didn't go back for more. To be honest I feel I have more control over my life by being rational, active and thoughtful about it. Positive thinking seems to me to be another way of delegating responsibility for your life to another 'being' and to me that's the beginning of where it all goes wrong.

Nah, I'm happy with my half empty glass thank you.