Saturday, 31 December 2011

Just in case you get bored...

Just in case you find yourselves at a loose end waiting for the chimes of midnight to strike tonight, have a look at this  - 100 things we didn't know this time last year, courtesy of the BBC.

Meanwhile, rather than conduct a tedious review of the year, I am going to opt for brevity and simply share with you what, for me, was the quote of 2011.  Did it come from a statesman with gravitas?  No, Nick Clegg was too busy to answer my request for a quote. Did it come from an international sportsman? No.  Did it come from a leading patron of the Arts?  Well sort of.  It actually came from acclaimed piss artist the Shah and it was as follows:-

"To you, I'm just a human piñata, aren't I?"

This made me laugh so much that the wine I was drinking at the time came out of my nose. (Just thought I would share that with you).
Not the Shah
You will notice that I have included a link to help out those of you who are not familiar with the ancient Anglo Saxon term "Piss artist".  This was an insult that was popular in my youth but which has largely fallen out of use these days.  I couldn't think of a more appropriate term to describe my beloved as it happens.  Indeed, it has fallen so far out of use that most of the definitions I found for it were absolute nonsense - like this from Urban Dictionary:- " Someone who has no control over his penis" The mind boggles!

Here's wishing all those kind people who took the time to read my blog over the past year a very happy and healthy 2012!

CQ x

Friday, 23 December 2011

The Hangover

Okay.  So it is the morning after the Ice Bar incident and I have woken up with a banging head and a mouth like a Turkish wrestler’s jockstrap.  Shabby is not the word.  It’s okay though, because as I lie comatose on the bed wondering how long it is going to take me to get upright, my head is swimming so much, I remember that it is Friday and I am still on holiday!  Huzzah!  Then I remember that it is the last day before the Shah starts his new job and that he too has the day off and we are due to spend it together....oh God.

Yes, we have promised each other that we will go up to town (again – hurray.  Not.) and spend a happy day in each other’s company.  I could wimp out and spend the day in bed, sipping tea until I feel human again, but this day out was the Shah’s idea and those ideas are, let me tell you, like hen’s teeth.

So I stagger out of bed and lurch around a bit, feeling totally dreadful but pretending to be FINE.  We get the train up to Waterloo and I can go no further.  My head is swimming, my stomach is rumbling and I know that the only thing that is going to get me through the day is a large, greasy meal.  Ideally, we are talking a full English but, in the absence of bacon and eggs on the concourse, we settle for Burger King.  Never has anything so vile tasted so good and hit the spot in quite the same way.  2 minutes after finishing it, I am a woman transformed!  We head to the taxi rank (well I wasn’t transformed quite enough to consider endless Tube journeys...have a heart.)

First stop was Tate Modern.  Just so’s you understand, any outing that involves both of us, has to be very democratically arranged because our interests are so totally and utterly divergent.  The Shah avoids matters cultural like the plague.  His interests are basically technology and sport, both of which send me into a stupor.  So, in order to keep us both happy, we have agreed to a gallery, a film and a curry.

So, like I said – here we are at Tate Modern.  I absolutely love it – there’s always something interesting going on – loads of different things on offer – The WeatherProject installation by Olafur Eliasson in 2004 was stunning and I could have stayed there for hours just watching it.  The Shah pronounced it to be shite.  What a surprise.  According to him, anyone could have bought a yellow light bulb and bunged it into the Turbine Hall.  As if.  However, the good thing about dragging him around such a place is the monologue he keeps up all the way round.  In his defence this time, I have to say that quite a few of the exhibits we saw were um, inexplicable and (whisper it if I dare) *crap*.

Here are a few examples.  It’s not the exhibits themselves per se, it’s more the explanation that sits on the wall beside them explaining their meaning, or attempting to:-
How quaint - a melted elephant.

This one, I like to call 'Teenager's Bedroom'
The Shah meandered from room to room becoming more exasperated by the "Art" on show with every footstep.  The sighing grew louder, the cries of "what the actual f...?" came more often.  He declared himself a mug because, if only he had thought of banging a few dozen nails into a piece of wood and painting the whole lot white like this...

and calling it 'White Field' he could have made a mint.  

Here is a particular favourite called 'Some broken sticks adorned with fluff.'

But this one really stole the show...

Yes, this is a piece of paper stuck to the wall
The explanation on the wall next to this gave its name as 8th Paper Octagonal 1970 by someone called Richard Tuttle.  I am not familiar with Mr Tuttle's work but apparently he makes a habit of cutting wonky paper shapes and sticking them on walls.  Indeed, the blurb informed us that "...the Octagonals are paper shapes that he cut from a template and glued to the wall..." just like in playschool, you mean?  Apparently, "the orientation of the shape can vary from one installation to the next."  Which roughly translates as "sometimes he sticks them upside down".  Also "as an object, it is paper thin but still takes up an awkward place between painting and sculpture."  Oh really?  So it's not just covering an awkward water mark on the wall then?  You do surprise me.  

The Shah rumbled on. I decided it may be time to leave - via the shop, of course as this allows him yet more grounds for huffing and puffing over the inflated prices charged and give him immense satisfaction in the process.  

Later on, over a well-deserved curry at Masala Zone, we fell to discussing cultural differences after I had to spend 10 minutes convincing a sceptical waitress that, yes I did like my food spicy and that, if she brought me some pap like Chicken Tikka Masala, I was likely to stick her with a fork.  The Shah wondered if he would be treated differently if he changed his name to an Irish one.  I suggested he give Phil O'Stine a try.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Through a glass darkly...

...or Cider with Rosé.

I realise my blogging has been pretty lax of late and I have kept going with the odd cartoon or photo nicked from someone else.  It’s not that there’s been nothing to write about – far from it – there’s been SO much going on that I just haven’t had time to put fingertip to keyboard for ages and then I’m so knackered by daily life that I’m generally falling asleep on the sofa by 9pm which doesn’t help either.

Anyway – I’m going back to half term and a ‘works outing’ (I love that phrase).  Some bright spark (you SMH!) thought it would be a great idea to go to the Ice Bar in London.  For the uninitiated, this is um, a bar made of ice. 

You book a time slot (you only get 40 mins or so) and some nice boys chuck a huge cape over your head which has padded gloves on strings hanging through the arms – just like your first day at Primary School (well okay then – my  first day at Primary School).  Once inside, the price of entry includes a free cocktail which gets served in a shot glass made or er, ice, natch.  It looks like this...
Nice drinky, don't hurt me...

So what could possibly go wrong?  Nothing – as long as you follow these rules:-

  1. When booked into the Ice Bar for a certain time, do not turn up an hour early.  They are sneaky down the Ice Bar and charge around a tenner for a bottle of wine early doors and then double the price (for the same Chateau Vinaigre) after about 7.30.  This means you will feel obliged to order massive quantities of Rosé which you then slug back on an empty stomach.  It was just about mild enough to sit outside although “drinking to keep warm” was also a popular option.  Mind you, I don’t know why the temperature worried us – most of us have our hormones to keep us warm.
  2. If you are eating at the Ice Bar afterwards (and the food was actually very good) do not feel the need to demolish ALL the Rosé before you go in.  They will take it to your table for you.  But they don’t tell you that until you have demolished ALL the Rosé – sneaky on two counts – one that you have to then order more Rosé at double the cost because, by the time you emerge it’s gone past the witching hour and two, you are so, ahem, tipsy by the time you go in, you think ordering a second cocktail is a fantastic idea.
  3. Once in the Ice Bar, do not a)lose your shot glass b)drop it on the floor and watch it shatter into a thousand pieces c)lick it so that your tongue sticks to it or d)put it down on a wet patch and watch it freeze solid to that surface.  If you do, and you then want a second cocktail, they will charge you a fiver for the second shot glass.  That is £5 for some frozen water.
  4. On emerging from the Ice Bar and entering the Restaurant, do not order another ocean of wine which you then consume rapidly, via a series of toasts – each one more hysterically funny than the last.  What is also funny is that I can’t recall a single one of them.
  5. When you live 5 minutes’ walk from the station do not arrive home so plastered that you friend’s husband has to come out and rescue you all and drive you home.  This is especially true when he has to be up at 4.30a.m. for a shift at the airport.  He was amazingly good natured about it.  I think.
  6. Do not arrive home arsey drunk and then pick a fight with your husband  over why he has not washed up the cat’s bowl.

The famous Moose-Zebra
And the equally famous Moose-Dog
 It was a fantastic night – one of those that will live on in the memory despite the shocking hangover the next day...more of which later.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The next best thing...

Although I failed to find "Bah Humbug" in neon lights, I did come across these in Sainsbury's...

Charles Dickens must be spinning in his sepulchre...

Friday, 25 November 2011

Lazy Christmas....

I found this on Twitter - I'm currently searching for "Bah Humbug" in Neon Lights.  Might try EBay ....

Monday, 14 November 2011

Sheer ingratitude

The theme of recent days has been gratitude – marked by Remembrance Sunday and rightly so.  I had considered writing something along those lines but serious stuff is not my natural metier so I thought I would turn the theme on its head and write about ingratitude.  For some reason, the following tale came to mind.  This is a true story, from many years ago, involving my darling son and daughter when they were roughly 7 and 4 respectively.

To set the scene:  daughter had gone to play with a little friend from Nursery for the first time.  This was the only child of older parents and clearly was a very precious gift who led a somewhat Enid Blyton existence, unlike my two whose natural inclinations were (and still are) more Andy McNab, truth be told.

However, no matter how obnoxious and abrasive your offspring, there is still the tiny bubble of doubt that lingers when you take them to play at the house of a friend. The children know each other well, but the parents do not.   Perhaps they’re covert child molesters?  Worse still, perverted philatelists who might try and get my Special Issue under their First Day Covers?

I needn’t have worried.  I turned up to collect my daughter, with my son in tow, when the allotted two hours were up.  She emerged from a plastic play tunnel and glowered at me.  Her mouth turned down in disappointment and she bawled ‘I don’t wanna go home and I’M NOT GOING.’  This statement was followed up with a right hook that Amir Khan would have envied.  She aimed for my chin.  However, being only 4 years old, she missed by about two feet, but connected neatly and fatefully with my crotch. 

Every bone in my pelvis reverberated with the shock of the blow and I was, as luck would have it, struck dumb by the pain.   The parents of the host child stopped and stared in amazed embarrassment.  Their guest, an erstwhile compliant little angel, had become a whirling dervish.  She sensed my distress and hesitated momentarily – just long enough for me to grab her and head for the exit. 

Her brother had stood quietly by all this time.  I looked beseechingly at him – willing my brave 7 year old to rescue the situation. 

As I hobbled to the door with his sister firmly held in a Half Nelson, he stepped forward to speak and fill the vacuum left by my inability to form any sounds other than wheezing grunts. He smiled a little sadly. 

‘You know, she’s the worst sister I ever had,’ he confided to our shell-shocked hosts, ‘and her bum stinks like a rubbish dump.’

Back in the car, I treated them to a lecture, delivered at such a pitch that probably 80% of it was audible only to the neighbourhood cats or a passing dolphin.  I spent the rest of the day wondering why my children, diving deep into the gene pool available to them, had emerged triumphant clutching fistfuls of rogue genes and undesirable character traits.  Frankly, I blame the Shah.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Giving a F....

I haven't had a lot of time for blogging this week - it's been half term, I've had some days off and I'll be writing about these later on.  Meanwhile, here is something sent to me by my good friend Annie which entertained me immensely and, I hope will raise a laugh from you as well.

The final result of my life's scientific research

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Much obliged...

When the Postman knocked on the door recently and asked the Shah to sign for a package (which he did with the pen clasped in a chubby fist and the tip of a pink tongue protruding cutely from between his lips) he left us with a cheery wave and a “much obliged!”

In the same way that the smell of our son’s shared university house transported me back to my own student digs, just this one phrase was enough to instantly place me back with my long-dead grandparents, decades ago.  Suddenly, all the sayings that were common currency during my childhood came flooding back – expressions such as ‘mustn’t grumble’ or ‘fair to middling’ described one’s physical health or state of mind.  Going on a trip to the shops, Granny would insist that our mode of transport was Shanks’s Pony and if we walked really quickly, we might be going like the clappers.  If I bickered with my brother en route, I’d have told him to shut his cakehole or offered him a kick in the cobblers whereupon I would have been told off for behaving like a guttersnipe and told “I’ll have your guts for garters young lady!”  Dodging out of the way of a clip round the ear, I could come a cropper and drop whatever I was holding because I was so cack-handed.

Do something a bit daft (there’s another one) and I’d have been a Nit or a Nitwit or possibly a Clot or a Chump; maybe even a soppy date or a daft ha’porth.  Asking an obvious question would have provoked the instruction to use your loaf.  Over-excited children were acting the giddy goat; an adult doing the same might well have been called a BF (bloody fool) or a silly sod – quite mild reproaches compared with the ease with which today’s teenagers blithely instruct each other to f*ck off quite unashamedly.

Something a little disturbing would have caused the adults to nod knowingly at one another and describe it as a rum do or perhaps a diabolical liberty.  My mother still likes to opine that there’s nowt so queer as folk.  But then she hails from an era when gay meant happy and queer meant odd.

Gordon Bennett! (who he?) was a favourite exclamation along with Lord love a duck!  and Oh my giddy aunt! 

While I don’t regret that language moves on – it has to, otherwise we’d all still be thee-ing and thou-ing – it does seem a shame that it has become coarser in so many ways.  Years ago, pretence at sympathy might have resulted in someone saying hard lines or hard cheese.  Today, you are more likely to hear 'tough tits'. 

Whereas people routinely live together before (or instead of) marriage these days, when I was a child it was called living over the brush and much frowned upon.  However, the cost of living today means that coughing up for a wedding would leave many couples stony broke

There are so many regional variations too – idioms that are particular to one area of the country.  One that I’ve only ever heard from my maternal Grandmother was “you’d laugh to see a pudding crawl” usually employed when a bunch of grandchildren had a fit of the giggles.  I still have no idea why puddings might crawl...

Perhaps you could enlighten me or at least tell me how many beans make five...?

Thursday, 27 October 2011

7 billion and you

The increase in the population of the world has been much in the news of late.  Apparently, it will reach 7 billion souls sometime next week.  As if that wasn't mind-boggling enough, I came across this interesting little gadget on the BBC website.

See where you fit in the great scheme of life, the universe and everything....

What number am I?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

A philosophical question

And that question, dear readers is this:-

Why is the Shah such a goon?

God knows, I have blogged about his, ahem, little foibles time after time.  In fact here, here and here just for starters.  But tonight just about plumbed new depths of lunacy, even for him.

So - picture the scene.  All is peaceful at Crap Cottage.  The boy is at Uni.  The girl is out at a friend's house.  My mother has only phoned three times (once in the middle of the day when I was in a meeting) to tell me she needs a new washing up bowl and the Shah's mother has only phoned the once to complain that he never visits (he went last week).  We are enjoying a civilised supper.  Just as we finish eating, I turn my head slightly and catch sight of the family calendar hanging on the wall.  There are four columns for each week - one for each of us.  On Thursday, in the Shah's column it says one word.


Yes, the Shah is meant to be out at a curry night with his footie mates.  

What a goon.  

Does he phone them up and feign illness?  Does he phone them and 'fess up?  No he does not.  He rushes upstairs like a cat with a firework up its bum, changes his clothes at the speed of light and heads out of the door yelling "Feck!  Now I'm going to have to eat all over again!"  

Like the Shah, only paler
And he wonders why he can't lose weight.....*sigh*

Monday, 17 October 2011

Missing - one cat

I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front this week.  One of our cats has disappeared and I've put quite a lot of time and effort into trying to track him down.  In the process, I've discovered a website called Animal Search which has so far been incredibly helpful.  They will liaise with your insurance company directly, add your missing pet to a database and supply you with posters and flyers to display and distribute.  Insurance companies will often fund a reward as well and Animal search provides an 0800 number for people to ring in confidence.  Handy as I guess they often don't want to be the bearers of bad news.  However, any news is better than none.

Sadly for us, it's been a week since Jim just didn't come home one night. There have been no phone calls so far and we are slowly becoming resigned to not seeing him again.

Very sad.  He is hugely missed.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Fascinating Aida

If (as the saying goes) you only see one show this year - make it Fascinating Aida's 'Cheap Flights Tour'.  I have been vaguely aware of their existence for years now but without actually realising what it is they do.  Essentially they are a cabaret act I hope they wouldn't kill me for saying that) and sing hysterically funny (and wonderfully rude) songs that they write themselves.  

They shuffled to the forefront of my consciousness recently when someone sent me the link to the now famous 'Cheap Flights' song which you can watch here:-

Ignore the audience applauding - keep watching till the end.  There are versions on YouTube with subtitles if you prefer.

Anyway, I managed to get tickets for a Sunday matinee recently.  The Shah was very sniffy.  "Who are you going to go with?" he asked snidely.  "YOU" I said, "and, for that, you can drive."  After a period of whining and bleating (all of which I ignored as ever) he gave in half-gracefully and the promise of a G&T at the theatre cheered him up no end.  We had brilliant seats - 2nd row - and the atmosphere was great - relaxed and friendly.  The trio came on stage to rapturous applause from a packed venue.  Their opening song (about Bankers) called Companies Utilising Nifty Taxation Systems (and I'll leave you to acronym that one for yourselves) rendered the Shah a weeping, hysterical blob.  By half way through the first half of their act, I sincerely thought the woman next to me was going to vomit with laughter.  She almost had to be stretchered out and given a hefty dose of gas 'n air.  Adele Anderson announced 'Cheap Flights' by saying that they had written it specially for a swanky party they played at in Ireland, had put it up on YouTube and it had gone fungal. Dillie Keane interrupted to say patronisingly "I think you mean vinyl..."

Another gem is The Dogging Song.  Needs no explanation from me...:)

The pair of us laughed ourselves stupid.  It was a fabulous show and I thoroughly recommend it.  Afterwards, the three of them came out to the foyer to sell DVDs and CDs and chat to their fans.  Never seen an act do that before!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Memories are made of this

We’ve just taken the son back to Uni – this time to a shared house.  He spent last year (his first) in Halls which was great at first but the attraction of living with people he hadn’t chosen to live with soon wore off and he got fed up with them using  his stuff and not cleaning/replacing it.  Consequently, he and six mates have rented a house together and we were graciously permitted to take him up there today – the car groaning with stuff.

So we arrive at the narrow Victorian house on the narrow Victorian street, not designed for cars but parked up both sides.  Across the road, other harried-looking parents were lugging boxes and duvets into similar houses, accompanied by similar, grumpy-looking teens.  Our boy had not complained at all about getting up at 9am but was clearly suffering in the sleep department.   We waddled up the road, laden with all the stuff and he opened the front door.  And then it hit me.


I was instantly transported back thirty years to all the rented dumps I ever lived in.  It was that mixture of musty carpet, damp and old cooking smells.  It reminded me of the various shitheaps I inhabited in North London....boy – the memories!

In one flat I shared in Stoke Newington, we had a combi boiler which was so unpredictable that you had to turn on the hot tap in the kitchen, then run out of the room until the boiler had ignited with an almighty BANG.  How none of us were ever killed or poisoned is a miracle.  Snails got in under the back door and slithered their way across the kitchen and into the living room to leave luminescent sticky trails across the carpet.  The garden was full of dog poo from the Alsatian called Randy who lived next door and used to jump over the fence purely (it seemed to us) for the pleasure of shitting in our garden.  He belonged to a West Indian family who used to incessantly shout at him.  It got to the point where we would hear Mr Randy (as we called him) shout “Rayunday!” and we would all chorus “Git in yo box!” to save him the trouble.

There was no central heating.  We had convector heaters which were hopelessly inadequate.  One day, whilst on duty at the local A&E, I got a phone call from one of my flatmates.  Annie announced laconically– “Hi it’s me – H burnt the flat down.”  Our third flatmate had wanted to dry a towel and had draped it over the heater, forgetting to remove it and causing a small conflagration.  Their memories of the whole incident may be different from mine, but I remember the culprit incurring further ire from both of us by mooning over the hunky firemen who came to sort it out rather than expressing any sort of apology.  As we stood regarding the blown-out windows and the smoke and water damaged mess that had been a double bedroom, Mr Randy appeared from next door.  He was carrying some huge sheets of hardboard.  He said nothing – it would have been difficult anyway because he had a mouth full of nails.  He simply strolled over to the broken windows and calmly nailed the wood into place, humming all the while.  As we stuttered our thanks, he simply said “no problem” and strolled out again.  I doubt my boy will have neighbours as good as him.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Log off

On Saturday morning, I despatched the Shah to buy some logs.  Autumn is setting in and I would rather run out of food than run out of logs.  When he returned, I thought I would make myself useful and help him to stack them in the porch where they dry out slightly, ready for use.  I stuck the keys in the front door because it always slams when we are out front and the likelihood of getting a teenager to raise its carcass and drag itself to open a door for you is ...well, you can imagine what it is.
Happy, helpful teenagers
 Here is my lovely log-pile – partially constructed.

This log-pile, despite its great beauteousness, caused the Shah to adopt his WTF? face and speak to me as if I were some sort of idiot savant who deserved a good pat on the head and 5 out of 10 for trying hard.  He promptly deconstructed the pile and built it up again, lecturing me all the while about angles of slippage or some such bollocks.  Of course, I hardly found this irritating at all and there was very little bickering and name calling while the general public strolled by our front garden, regarding us with a collective quizzical expression.

After a while I left him to it as I couldn’t stand the alternate sighing at my efforts and smirking as he lectured me on basic Physics and stamped off indoors to sit down with a cup of coffee and the papers slog round the supermarket.

Here is a picture of the Shah’s super-duper 10/10 all-star medal-winning log pile. 


So far, so what?

Let us fast forward to Sunday afternoon.  In the intervening hours, all four of us were out on Saturday night, at least three of us not returning until the early hours and one not returning at all (this is relevant, I promise).  At around 4pm on Sunday the doorbell rings.  World War 4 then breaks out as nobody can find their feckin’ door keys.  The Shah’s are not in their usual place, mine are in my handbag upstairs etc etc.  Eventually, and after a lot of argument, some keys are located and I open the door to find one of those blokes standing patiently there with his crate of sponges, dishcloths etc in his arms and his script at the ready.

I know full well that my face has fallen as I saw him and I have adopted an expression that basically says ‘FFS – not more money?  Don’t you realise, matey, that I have just haemorrhaged cash this week already?’ So the conversation goes a bit like this:-

Me (hoping to cut to the chase):  I’ll have one of those dishcloths (now bugger off and leave me alone so I can catch up on last night’s X-Factor)
Him (determined to spout his script): Hello! My name’s Tony and I’m pretending to be a reformed character after several spells inside but am, in reality, just here to fleece you by charging megabucks for utter tat whilst carefully casing the joint...
Me: Yep, lovely Tony.  Now can I have one of those dishcloths or wot?
Tony: Er, yeah.  Like I was saying, my name’s Tony and I’m..
Me (unable to disguise irritation any longer): I’LL TAKE A DISHCLOTH
Tony: My name’s Tony ...
Me: Gaaaah (flecks of foam gather at corners of mouth)....
Tony (delivers killer blow): Oh, by the way missus, you left your door keys in the door.....(hands over bunch of keys to EVERY EXTERNAL DOOR IN THE HOUSE).
Me: Argh.  Er, Tony – thanks so much for your honesty – I’ll take one of everything...

World War 5 then ensues as the Shah and I argue bitterly over whose fault it was that the keys were left in the door not only while we were out carousing but also overnight and that fact has necessitated me spending the GDP of a small African nation to buy Tony off.  He blames me for putting them in the door in the first place and I blame him for being the last one through the door – in fact he must have used the feckin’ keys to let himself in so the moral high ground is surely mine.  Don’t you think?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Loving the wild life

You read it here second - today’s offering comes to you from the pages of last Friday’s Daily Mail – the Richard Kay page to be precise.

On his page, Mr Kay offers us a small article which alludes to a certain Rio Ferdinand, footballer of this parish.  Those of you unfamiliar with Mr Ferdinand may wish to follow that link.  If you can’t be bothered, let me tell you that he is a Premiership footballer and multi-millionaire who has played for Manchester United for almost ten years. 

This is what Richard Kay has to say:-

He earns £120,000 a week, lives in a £5 million home and has a taste for flashy cars – but one thing apparently lacking in footballer Rio Ferdinand’s life is nature.  For the Manchester United player has, I learn, asked for plans to be drawn up to build a large, barn-style home  on an ecological reserve in the Cotswolds which is home to more than 4,000 rare species and just a corner kick from Prince Charles’s Highgrove estate.

‘Rio wanted somewhere secluded and away from the paparazzi, but it’s the rare creatures that live on the reserve that have been the real draw for him,’ says a friend.  ‘He is particularly excited by the beaver colony which has lived there since 2005.’

In fact, a key feature of the 5-bedroom house, designed by architect John Pardey, will allow the soccer star to do just that – an elevated hide and jetty on the 80-acre lake have been designed so Ferdinand can happily observe the beavers in their natural habitat.

Now I don't know about you, but I was comforted to realise that some of our high-earning (and utterly deserving) footballers have an interest in rare wildlife.  Who would have thought it would be beavers?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Conversation with a teenager

We are mooching about in the kitchen.  I have a conversation with my (Undergraduate studying History and International Relations) son.  It goes like this:-

Me:  Are you going to go and see 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'?
Him:  Nah!  S'gay.  Why?
Me:  Well, it's about the Cold War and I thought you might be interested...
Him: Oh!  I thought it was some spazzy kids' film...

Which just goes to prove that you can lead a boy to culture but you can't make him think. (To coin a phrase).

Sunday, 11 September 2011

My Darling Happy Anniversaree!

Over the holidays (by which I mean the school holidays – I work in a school – keep up)  I spent a happy day meeting up with two old chums I see far too little of these days.  One of them lives in Bury St Edmunds and faces some particular physical challenges in travelling long distances so our contact is mainly via email.  The other (I am ashamed to say) lives less than 10 miles away but she also has two kids and a mad dog and a demanding job that involves frequent travel so, if we are lucky, we see each other for a coffee about once every six months.

So we decided that we would all meet between Bury and Surrey and chose Lakeside Shopping Centre as the venue – plenty of parking, places to eat and a bit of retail therapy thrown in – what could be better?  And it all went swimmingly.  I collected friend 1 on the way and popped in to view her (very lovely) new home.  The traffic was pants but, as friend 2 was late also, it didn't cause any problems and we met up and had a delicious lunch at Wagamama and caught up on our lives, our mutual friends, our various siblings’ activities and all those things that women of our age like to natter about.

But.  There’s always a but, isn’t there?  I mean, it wouldn’t be my blog if there weren’t a but in it and, after all, if I finished up with “and then we went our separate ways and had a lovely, traffic-free trip round the M25” that would be damn boring ne c’est pas?

So – we were strolling through the shopping centre after lunch and friend 1 says casually that she wouldn’t mind popping into Charles Tyrwhitt to see if she can find a nice shirt for her husband as their wedding anniversary is coming up.  “Yeah, why not?” I say casually.  “By the way – when is your anniversary?”    “Oh, it’s a week today,” she replies cheerily.  “It’s exactly a week after yours – remember?”


No I feckin’ didn’t remember.  Bugger.  I felt as if a bucket of cold water had just been poured down my back.  The Shah and I are absolutely rubbish at this anniversary thing – and we’ve had 21 of them so it’s not like we need the practice.  He is actually better than me and this was the crux of my anxiety because he is somewhat Machiavellian by nature and has been known to hide cards, gifts etc around the house for me to discover when he has left for work and it’s too late for me to rescue the situation.

So, with rapid heartbeat, I phoned him.  He was, as it turns out, on his way to a meeting in London and was in full work mode*.

Me:  Hello – it’s me.  Can you talk?
Shah: (sounding distracted and not in the least interested):  Umm, okay...
Me (biting the bullet):  Is it our anniversary today?
Shah (Loudly) Oh BOLLOCKS!
Me: Phew!

A sigh of relief.  Well in our defence, there are too many things to remember in August.  There’s my birthday, my mum’s birthday, his mum’s birthday, his nephew’s birthday, er Madonna’s birthday, er, the Queen Mother turning 122 or, um, something *voice tails off feebly as she flails about grasping at straws*

To be honest, we’re not the sort of family that go berserk on fulsome gifts, flowers etc for every occasion but we are given to buying the odd card and maybe going out for a meal.  Unfortunately, my ginormous portion of chicken raisukaree at Wagamama had rendered me a dead ringer for Mrs Creosote so going out for another meal in the evening was out of the question. I mean, it's not as if our house rings to sounds like this:-

So, all in all, it was a bit of a damp squib.  A couple of nights later we had a late celebration and went to see The Inbetweeners choosing the local independent cinema - not just because there is a bar and you can take drinks in with you, honest – because the kids all go to the local multiplex and eschew the local place because it doesn’t have fancy seats and mega-surround-sound etc etc.  Needless to say both children are disgusted that we find The Inbetweeners funny and would rather have plucked out their own eyes than been seen there with us.  We were worried we were going to be the oldest people there but there was a white-haired old codger a few rows in front who left looking somewhat shell-shocked at the end. 

We wondered if he had got confused with The Tweenies?   

*Work mode - once the Shah gets to work, all other thoughts leave his (pitifully tiny) mind.  He has been known to phone his son as follows:-
Shah:  "Hello - this the Shah speaking." 
Son & heir:  "Dad?  Are you ****ing barking mad?
Shah: Oh, er sorry....

Monday, 5 September 2011

The end of summer

Ah yes - another trip to the Midlands to visit the outlaws.  This time it was to say goodbye to the Shah's big sister who has been visiting from the USA.  Her soothing presence in their parents' house meant that at least we did not have to suffer the usual anxiety attacks that habitually mark our journey.  Mind you, there was a bit of a stand-off between Mother in law and Father in law when we arrived - her swooning with relief that we hadn't spontaneously combusted on the M40 and him threatening to do away with the landline and only have a mobile which he would keep on his person and deny her access so she couldn't make panic-stricken phone calls every five minutes.

The Shah and I are very democratic in our driving.  We almost always share journeys and it has become known that, whenever I am at the wheel, we will have the worst possible trip - be it traffic, weather, whatever.  And so it came to pass once again.  Horizontal rain most of the way to Coventry and a bunch of feckwits on the motorway who think driving at 90 mph with no headlights on in zero visibility is the recommended way to travel.  Hey ho.  So, of course,the journey home was altogether less remarkable with Shah in charge - a beautiful evening of scattered clouds and bright sunlight.  Grrrr.

But hang on, can I just rewind a bit?  There had been what I shall euphemistically call a breakdown in communication between the Shah and his son and heir.  Viz - the Shah forgot to mention the trip to s&h who was a) slumped in a drunken coma on a friend's floor somewhere and b) expecting to play cricket yesterday, not endure approximately 2 hours in the car in far too close proximity to his sister and then spend another 6 hours or so being asked all the usual questions that grandparents and aunties like to ask and hearing yet more comments about his height (6 foot dead on, if you care.  No, I didn't think so).  When we eventually tracked him down and explained the cock up change in plan, he threw a tantrum of monumental proportions.  This proved to be as hilarious as it was unexpected.  He reverted straight back to the person he had been at 5 years old and screamed and bawled his frustration very volubly.  Unfortunately, this only had the effect of making the Shah and me laugh.  And when he began kicking the back of my car seat, I became almost hysterical.  Eventually, he cried himself to sleep (sort of) and peace reigned. 

On the way home, I was watching all the other bored-looking kids slumped in the backs of cars southbound on the M40 and it reminded me of journeys with my parents in one of our ancient jalopies.  Holidays tended to be spent in this country not only because we lived up north and the rest of our family lived down south so there was always someone to visit, but also for reasons of cost - this was the era before budget airlines and package holidays.  None of our cars seemed to have inbuilt entertainment - like radios that worked - and even if they did, it would have been tuned to Radio 3 so it wouldn't have entertained us much anyway.  Consequently, my brother and I had to find our own amusement where we could.  This generally involved some or all of the following:-
  • Chanting games.  Guaranteed to drive any parent wild and therefore most satisfying.  Chant anything - made up words/phrases that sound vaguely rude were our particular favourites e.g. Big Fat Wanny; Rumbumbum; Dick Van Dyke*
  • Toe wrestling.  No seatbelts remember, so all and any wrestling games were great and could involve rolling off the back seat onto the floor and enraging our parents.  I can still see my father's huge hand coming round the back of his seat to whack whoever was closest.
  • Kneeling up on the back seat and leering and waving at other drivers.  For some unknown reason, this game was called 'Kings and Paupers'.  If they waved back they were Kings, if not - you get the idea.
  • Flicking covert V-signs at other bored children in the backs of cars.  Of course they flicked them straight back.  This caused our parents to embark upon a long homily on the youth of today (plus ca change etc) little realising that their own offspring had been the catalysts all along.
Once, our parents decided to brave the Continent with children in tow.  They were both great lovers of Spain and spoke both French and Spanish quite well so surely it was a no brainer to drive to Spain in an ancient Morris Minor?  As I read that last sentence I truly cannot decide if it was an act of the greatest bravado or the greatest foolishness.  Actually, I think I can decide after all.

There were several er, incidents en route.  First of all the big end went in Carcasonne - a beautiful fortified city which we saw a great deal of whilst waiting for spare parts to be flown out from the UK at vast expense.  Secondly, my brother developed the kind of car sickness that surely inspired The Exorcist film. (This links to a clip which I am not going to imbed as it's too gross but if you really want to see what I mean....)

Setting off once again, unabashed, my Dad decided that we would drive straight to Lloret de Mar 

(at that time a small fishing village which had 3 hotels!)  This plan worked fine until I needed the loo.  We pulled into the side of a country road and I was instructed to hop into the bushes sharpish.  Reluctantly, I did as I was told and jumped back into the car.  That was the point at which we discovered that someone or something had been in the bushes before me and I wiped several pounds of shit off my shoes and down the back of my dad's jacket which was hanging over the seat in front.  The jacket was irretrievable, much like dad's temper.  Once there, my dad fell asleep on the beach and burnt the soles of his feet, causing him to spend the next week walking like John Wayne and entertaining the locals.
Not my dad
For many years afterwards, it was Lytham St Annes for us.

* Dick Van Dyke is not, of course, made up but it is the kind of phrase that just keeps on giving if you are a bored child on a long car journey.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Day of Reckoning

It finally came – yes – GCSE Results Day.  For the uninitiated, the kids are given a slip of paper some weeks in advance which contains instructions and a PIN which will enable them to log onto the exam board website from midnight the day before and obtain at least some of their results.  As you might guess, in our house the conversation(s) have gone something like this:-

2 months ago:-
Me:  Here’s that PIN thingy – why don't you register in advance on the website?  If you try and do it on the day, you’ll never get in because there’s too much traffic....
TD:  Meh.  Shu’up – Hollyoaks is on.

1 month ago:-
Me:  Did you ever register?  It would be a good idea to do it – that way you have the option of getting some of your results early.  You don't have to do it if you change your mind, but at least...
TD:  LIKE OH MY GOD!  JUST, LIKE, CALM DOWN?  I’LL DO IT IN A MINUTE, RIGHT? (points nose at computer screen containing images of a YouTube makeup video)

1 week ago:-
Me:  Um, about results day...?
TD:  Yeah I’ve, like, lost that slip of paper thingy.....(voice trails off disinterestedly)

What was actually worrying me was that our ultimate conversation would go something like this on the day the results came out:-

Me:  Meh.

But no, she and about 10 mates have gone to Reading Festival straight from getting their results and the planning, shopping and general hysteria surrounding their first ever trip to a festival has meant that GCSEs have been the furthest things from her mind.  She decided that she would wait until she got to school and open the envelope with me and the Shah hovering nervously at her shoulder.

This whole experience was made worse by the fact that, working at her school, not only does everyone know me and know her, I know that they have all seen her results already (schools get them a day in advance) so I was busy parking up and not meeting anyone’s eye in case they were unable to disguise their looks of pity/triumph/hilarity.  In the event, it was all fine.  We were delighted with her results but the most exciting thing was that she got an A in Maths!  And her school does the IGCSE which is harder than your average GCSE paper.  I cannot even begin to find the words to express the levels of trauma that I have suffered with Maths papers (with both children, but particularly TD) over the years.  They both hated it with a passion and have sworn never to go near another Maths book as long as they both shall live, so help them God.

So – that’s that ordeal over with and we can sit back and relax for a wee while.  Oh, but she’s gone to a music festival....she’s never been to one before....anything could happen....pass the Gin :-)

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Home again

There is no better description of the family holiday than that given by David Nicholls in his wonderful book ‘One Day’ ...a sort of harsh experiment in the limits of human proximity.”

As far as holidaying with teenagers goes, never a truer word was spoken or written.  It is for this reason that I only booked the holiday for one week this year.  I knew full well that, by the end of 7 days, we would all be heartily sick of one another.  The trouble starts when someone – well let’s not lie – it’s me - tries to book a holiday.  I go around the family and ask them to tell me where they would like to go and what sort of place they would like to stay in.  The reply is big fat silence.  After several weeks of this, I get bored and book the kind of holiday I like – ie one that is basically pretty antisocial – a villa with a pool.  This year’s offering was on the Algarve – close to various lovely beaches (I believe – we are not keen beach people and didn’t visit one of them).  I chose it on the basis that a) it had the biggest pool of any of the ones that were available in our price bracket and b) it was suitably remote from any vestiges of night life (ha ha!) as I don’t need to spend my holiday worrying about the whereabouts and safety of drunken teenagers.  I can do that at home, thanks very much.  Consequently, the teens spent a little time whingeing bitterly about the lack of wi-fi and then actually settled down to playing with the resident cat population and (whisper it) reading books in between mucking about in the pool, playing cricket and generally trying to drown or otherwise kill each other in poolside games.

The Shah and the boy played golf, TD and I spent hours just lazing around and I read four and a half books in the space of that one week.  In other words, it was great and I feel recharged and ready to go back to work sometime in the next couple of weeks (I'm not thinking about it just yet.)  The beauty of working in a school is that I managed to negotiate a contract that gave me about 9 weeks holiday a year.  It’s a beaut.  I have to be there during term time but I do get large chunks (not all) of the holidays off.  The payoff, of course, is that we can only ever take holidays at the most expensive time of year.

The cats have returned home with colds and are sneezing continually in a highly disgusting manner.  I’m intending to tough it out, well  they’re going to tough it out because we’re getting to the point where I may as well just have my salary paid directly into the bulging coffers of the sodding Vet.

However, the bin men managed to take away the maggotfest I referred to last time.  Life is good!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Radio silence

Pretty much this time last year, I wrote about 9 things not to do before you go on holiday.  I could make this the shortest post in the history of blogging by just referring you back to it now.  Why don't I learn from my mistakes?  Why do I consistently go on holiday with the Shah and our children, each year believing we are off to enjoy some bucolic, Cath Kidston-decorated idyll and everyone will skip through meadows with wild flowers adorning their hair when the reality is so bitterly different? we are again.  It is the eve of our hols and here is this year's list of things not to do once more.

  1. Do not make the same mistake twice.  If you can be arsed to click on the above link and read last year's list, I refer you to no.3 which involves cats, vets and emergency appointments.  Yup - exactly the same thing happened this year.  Fab. Oh and it cost the thick end of £100.
  2. Do not go on holiday on same day that your bins are collected.  This means that you cannot leave your food recycling bin out front because, if it is left out for more than one nano-second after the bin men have been, the local oiks will purloin it and chuck it into neighbours' gardens/the woods/wherever causing huge irritation to moi.
  3. Do not, therefore, put all your food waste into your landfill dustbin.  In a heatwave.  If you do this, you will open your bin to put the final bag in and find it crawling with maggots.  This will mean that you have to cause your husband huge irritation by insisting that he helps you clean out said bin, re-bag everything and hope the dustmen don't notice because you will be several thousand feet above France when they come.
  4. When your family show themselves to be utterly indecisive and come to you with ridiculous questions such as "shall I take some trousers?" (guess who) smile calmly and say something kind and loving, not "What a stupid feckin' question!  You can go around with your knackers hanging out for all I care."
  5. Get out beach towels well before you actually have to pack them.  That way you will discover that half of them have mysteriously gone walkabout more than 2 hours before you have to leave the house and, more importantly, while the shops are still open.
  6. Finally, don't book a flight which leaves at 6am, necessitating you leaving home at 3am and arriving in Portugal at 9am when the poxy villa won't be available until 4pm.  I. Just. Never. Learn.
Toodle pip!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to

So.  It is Saturday, early afternoon and the Shah and I are out in the front garden discussing its train wreck rurally idyllic properties.  I am laughing at the Shah because he has got his Lopper out and is attempting to lop high branches off some very overgrown (for which read tree-like) shrubs.  He is most proud of his huge tool and refers to it as “Mr Lopper-Lopper” in the style of the Shaggy song, whilst gyrating indelicately.  Unfortunately, he brings to mind Mr Bean more readily than Shaggy...viz:-

So while he is shimmying, we slowly become aware that the sound of huffing and puffing is coming from next door’s front garden - the sort of huffing and puffing that denotes a man trying to achieve something but being buggered if he’s going to ask for help because that would mean he has a 2 inch penis.

Happily, despite our house being further up the hill from these neighbours, our garden is sunken below theirs – don't ask – it’s all part of the shitehole  rich tapestry that constitutes Crap Cottage.  This means that it is perfectly possible for us all to ignore each other in a very English, middle class sort of a way, unless we actively want to say hello.  The Shah and I glance up and over the dividing fence and see a large bunch of helium-filled balloons and a bald patch bobbing about.  The balloons are being wrestled into several black bin liners and crammed into the car.  Mrs Neighbour appears at their front door. “Shall I give you a hand?” she enquires mildly.  “No!  I’m good, I’m done!” snaps Mr Neighbour as balloons bob frantically about his pate (see previous remarks re penis size).  Mrs N remains admirably calm.  “We need to get going,” she remarks in a totally stress-free voice.  I am filled with admiration – by now, I would have been running at the Shah with the biggest carving knife I could find.  And suddenly, I get it.  It is clearly Master Neighbour’s 2nd birthday party today and he cannot be brought out of the house to be transported to his party until all the balloons are safely hidden in the bin bags in the car.  If he spots them, there will be the mother of all tantrums, tears and snot everywhere and the 2 year old will get quite upset as well.  Lol.  Eventually, it all works out and Master N is led from the house, excitedly shrieking “Daddy!  Daddy!”  Aah bless.  I haven’t seen him for a while and I have a soft spot for children that are not mine own, so I peer over the fence and wave at his happy little face.  Then I see Mrs Neighbour.  FUCK ME!  Always an attractive woman – lithe of limb (I have blogged previously about their personal trainer here) she is TRANSFORMED.  In a glance, I can see that she has a golden tan, her hair has been straightened, she is fully made up and dressed as if she is a walking advert for yummy mummydom – tight, tight jeans, vertiginous heels and a teeny jacket.

Cue wobbly vision and spooky’s all coming back to me now.

The competitive children’s birthday party!  OMG, the number of these we have been to and held ourselves.  The amount of money we have wasted on hiring halls and entertainers, and trawling Toys R Us for suitable crud with which to fill the party bags when all the little dears really wanted was to run around as much as possible (boys) play soppy games (girls) and ultimately beat the shit out of one another fuelled by as many E numbers as they could consume in the space of a couple of hours.

I honestly think I could write a book about the various irritations and indignities we have suffered but, to save you exiting the page early, I offer below some edited highlights of the past 19 years’ worth of children’s parties:-
  •  Years 1-4.  Dead easy – you just need to invite doting grandparents, any local cousins and few of the girls from the Ante Natal Group. 
  •   Years 5-12 – somewhat more difficult.  Now you not only have to outdo yourself every year, you also have to outdo every other child in the class.  You run out of options very quickly.  To add to the complications, your son/daughter refuses to invite Harry/Lottie because they had a spat in the playground last week.  Unfortunately, the mother of Harry/Lottie is your best school gate chum.  Tricky.
  •   Years 13 upwards – no problem – you can bung them a few quid to take some mates to the cinema and then for a pizza.  They would rather chew off their own leg than have you accompany them.  You hope they don’t swerve the cinema, spend the money on fags and the afternoon hanging round the shopping centre.
  •  Party Bags – a minefield.  The trick is to hand them out at the door as they leave. This way, you avoid Jake/Jessica inspecting the contents and saying things like “Eugh!  This is lame.  And I hate chocolate cake.”  It also avoids Jake/Jessica receiving a clip round the ear.  Accidentally, of course.  The single best party bag toy I ever found was for the son’s 5th birthday.  They were called “Squish Bugs” and they are no longer available from Toys R Us, sadly.  They featured a large plastic replica of a Stag Beetle which came with a tube of blood (red slime) and a tube of pus (yellow slime) and you filled up the beetle and then stamped on it.  Let joy be unconfined!  The following day, I was greeted by a phalanx of wild-eyed mothers at the school gate.  It was brill and my boy’s status in the playground rose stratospherically for a while.
Then there are these actual events that took place either at parties we have held or those of our friends:-
  •           The father who dropped his brat at our daughter’s party and left with a parting shot of “You do know she’s vegetarian, don’t you?”  Sorry no – my psychic powers seem to have deserted me for today, you dick.  We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to wrench bits of cocktail sausage out of his daughter’s mouth, largely unsuccessfully.
  •          Our party at the play area where a very large girl managed to pee down a slide with such volume that every child that followed her landed in a puddle at the end.  And cried and cried.
  •          Our son’s party where I was newly pregnant with the daughter, hadn’t told anybody  and was feeling like shite.  I had to keep leaving the room every so often to find a quiet place and put my head between my knees.
  •          Another soft-play party where we had invited the daughter of an actor who was appearing in The Bill (she was at nursery with our daughter).  She came in beautiful Buckle My Shoe shoes which were promptly stolen by some little toe rag.  We were mortified – the mother was beyond gracious, but the memory brings me out in a cold sweat even today.
  •          A friend’s party for her son where a child puked in the ball pit.  Her husband was despatched into the fray and spent an unhappy half hour picking lumps of vom out of the area whilst we jeered from the sidelines.
  •          The party where we hired a magician who managed to set fire to himself.  The kids thought it was great.
 Of course, the trick of it all, no matter how stressful, is to appear beautifully coiffed, calm and happy at the end when the other parents come to pick up.  I never managed it, always looking red-faced and sweaty and hugely relieved to get rid of all children.  I bet my neighbour did though.  I bet you’ve all had similar party nightmares…..go on, share!