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!