Wednesday, 31 December 2008

New Year's Eve PS

I've just remembered THE worst ever NYE. I was living with a boyfriend who had a cleanliness fetish. Every night he would go for a bath with his radio and a book and be in there at least an hour and a half. So I had the champagne on ice and told him to be sure and be downstairs before midnight to pop the champagne and wish me a happy new year. At 11.30 I gave him his first time check. Every ten minutes after, I gave him another. Then the bongs started and he was still in the bath. Then my tears started and it was 1985 and the champagne was unopened and I was as alone as I had ever been on all those NYE's in Soho.

Dear reader, you'll be glad to know I finished with him. And that was why.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2009!!!!!

New Year's Eve

How I miss the New Year's Eves I had when I was younger. Evenings full of such expectation when my best friend and I would set off, eyes aglow, hearts aflame, wondering what sensual and alcoholic wonders the night had in store, who we would end up kissing, what new relationships would be starting. Invariably, we would end up in some dodgy pub in tears, having heard the countdown of Big Ben bongs in desperation because, instead of swaying in the romantic arms of the only good-looking guy in the room, we were being kissed by the sixty-year-old wrinkly friend of the landlord who was already inviting us to stay in his mozzie-ridden flat in Calpe. Oh, the disappointment and the expense of a 3 times the normal rate taxi home with a fuzzy head full of Irish navvies with road drills.

Now, in my dotage, I am sensible. I and my steady boyfriend go round to visit friends with a bottle, drink it (well, I do, he doesn't drink and so is able to drive me home, shrieking and swaying to Dancing in the Moonlight and maybe dribbling slightly, less from anticipation, more from senility), come home at 11 and watch Jules Holland, with a quick flip to bagpipes in Edinburgh for midnight itself. Then a (fairly) sober bed and a not very bad hangover in the morning. But oh, how I miss the expectation and excitement of New Year's Eve trips to the Sun and 13 Cantons, or whatever it was called, in Beak Street, Soho, in 1973. Sore head, sore feet, sore heart, but still with youth and hope on my side.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Confucius and cats



Confucius he say cat with whole bed to sleep on will choose clean washing instead. In this case Mr Grumpy's underpants. Fleas, please!

Buff weather

Everyone in our household is out of sorts today. Flad because, just as he was about to go out, he caught sight of another cat in the hedge. He bristled, then turned tail, this being the same cat with whom he had turned into a spitting, slashing, tumbling cat-ball a couple of weeks ago. He then asked to go out, tried to drink from his usual water supply (he likes a sludgy mixture of pond and rainwater with a few dead leaves to add je-ne-sais-quoi) and found it frozen solid. Wel, it is only 3 degrees C right now. I broke the ice for him, but he stalked off and began playing silly buggers, swiping at knot holed in the pine floorboards, pretending they were leaves, a game he always plays when discombobulated.

Mr G is out of sorts because every time his stomach rumbles, he thinks it's the onset of the bug I had on Sunday. We have now traced the source. As I suspected, it was the grandchildren of the friend I visited on Boxing Day. The two-year-old kindly spat out a piece of paper he'd been chewing and stuffed it into my hand. Nice. I heard yesterday that the kids have had the vomiting bug several times and keep reinfecting one another. It says on the health websites that you should quarantine yourself for 48 hours once symptoms have ceased. This means I can go back out into the world tomorrow...

Which brings me to my reason for being out of sorts. It's so bloody cold! And of course Mr G, as usual, won't have the heating on. Ten minutes ago I brought a cup of tea into my office. It has gone cold already. The keypads of my laptop feel cold. I am wearing: ordinary socks with thermal socks on top, and thermal slippers; thermal longjohns and thick tracky bottoms; thermal long-sleeved top, sweatshirt and fleecy tracksuit top; a buff.

Now, if you don't know what a buff is, oh, what joys you have in store. And no, it's nothing to do with getting your kit off, although I bet there is a place for a buff on a naturist! Go to http://www.buffwear.co.uk and you'll find various hilarious demonstrations by outdoorsy types showing how to wear them. Basically, a buff is a textile polo mint. A topless beanie. It's round with a hole for your head and it can be worn as a scarf, a hat, a jheadband, a solar kepi with flap to keep sun off neck, a balaclava, even a bra top and, if you have a big enough safety pin, I should imagine a pair of knickers, too. There are probably roles for the buff that are as yet undreamed of. Hamster's hammock? DIY fanbelt? Catapult sling? I'm sure my sister Merrylegs, who works in an outdoor clothing shop, can think up a few new ones. Come on, M, let's have your suggestions!

Monday, 29 December 2008

Bleeuuurgh!

You've heard about the 'winter vomiting bug?' You don't want to catch it, you really don't. It strikes out of the blue and you don't know which end to attend to first. In fact, you need to be sure that the rear end is on the loo at the same time the head is over a bucket, because 'projectile' is an understatement.

It struck me at 3 am on Sunday morning and I spent all yesterday wishing I were dead. Mr Grumpy kindly gave up his double bed and electric blanket and slept on the sofa with Flad. Or rather, didn't sleep because of Flad, who thought 4 am was breakfast time.

Now Mr G is huddled inside a sleeping bag as he thinks he's about to get it, too. He's warned me that if he does, I shall be searching for a new place to live before the New Year. That means tomorrow. Help!!!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

My Christmas miracle





I have mentioned before about my mother's love of thrushes. I think I have told the story about how, after she had died, when my sister was on the phone to the vicar arranging the funeral service, I happened to glance out of the window into her garden, the garden of the house in Liverpool 18 that my sister and I had grown up in, and saw perched on the fence the biggest thrush I had ever seen. It had a magnificent speckled breast and its golden eyes stared straight into mine, fearlessly.

"Quick," I said to my sister, "get off the phone, you've got to see this!" But she waved me away and even though my pleadings and beckonings got more and more frantic, she continued her conversation for another ten minutes at least.

But when she'd finally finished and was telling me off for interrupting her when she was in the middle of something so important, I told her that I'd seen the biggest thrush ever and drew her to the window - and, amazingly, it was still there. That big bird locked eyes with each of us in turn, a powerful, searching look, then finally raised itself and took flight and sailed slowly and majestically off over the gardens and up into the sky.

"That was no thrush," said my ornithologist sister, "that was a hawk of some sort."

"But you don't get hawks in suburban Liverpool gardens, especially ones that sit there for so long," I pointed out. Then the penny dropped and we both stared at each other and knew for sure that it had been our mother who had come to see us both, perhaps to bid us farewell.

Last night, I woke some time after three. As I lay there hoping to get back to sleep, a bird started to sing a most beautiful song. I listened for a while, glanced at my clock which told me it was 3.38 am, then got up, walked to the window and looked out at the silver birch tree outside. The silver birch was Mum's favourite tree. The bird on it was a thrush, singing its heart out. I opened the curtain, gazed out into the clear, fine night and said, "Merry Christmas, Mum."

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

My Christmas wish


Me and Mum in the mid '80s


Yesterday, I found myself wishing with all my heart that I could have my mum and dad back for Christmas, just for one day, so we could enjoy Christmas dinner together. I wondered, if I wished hard enough, would I be able to see them there? And if they did come, would they look as they did when I last saw them in their eighties, or as they looked when I was young - healthy and active and good-looking, my mum with her softly waving, strawberry blonde hair, my dad with his horn-rimmed specs and impish grin. Yes, that would be it.

Mum would be wearing a purple jumper and the silver pendant in the shape of a swan that I bought for her on a stall in Hampstead at Xmas 1970. Dad would have on a green shirt and a fawn tank top knitted by Mum and both would be sporting paper hats, my mum having fought Dad for the yellow one. Dad would be laughing at his own puns, Mum making risque innuendos and hoping he wouldn't understand. The sherry would be brought out - just one apiece - and then the wine, usually supplied by me, and, as they didn't care a lot for wine, most it would find its way down my greedy gullet.

The grand opening of presents would be left till as late as possible in the day, when we had suffered enough from masochistic anticipation and just couldn't summon up the effort of will to postpone the suspense any longer. So at 4 pm, when the rest of the nation had either broken their gifts or put them safely away, we would be tearing at wrapping paper and revealing the goodies therein - books, records (no cd's or dvd's in those days), perfume, something hand-knitted from mum with her love for us in every stitch. A book of silly cartoons, poems about cats, calendars, tights, shirt and socks for Dad and a treat for Cloudy the cat. Liverpool Christmases I should have treasured at the time, but I was always too busy missing the latest boyfriend from whose side family duty had torn me. Christmases I treasure now that it's much too late.

So this Christmas I shall set two spare places at the table, one for Mum and one for Dad, and imagine them sitting there, laughing, eating and joking, and beam the love at them that I didn't give them then but I feel now, welling up in me, especially now that I have found their only grandchild, lost to adoption in 1969, re-met in 2006, a grandchild they were not lucky enough to meet. Happy Christmas to my family, reunited in my heart - and may all of you who have lost a loved one include them in your conversation, your thoughts and dreams, and keep them forever alive like a candle of love in your heart this festive season.

Monday, 22 December 2008

The Lollipop Shoes


It was a huge sigh of regret that I finished reading Joanne Harris's The Lollipop Shoes two nights ago. Every night for a fortnight, I had crept off to bed as early as possible in order to read another couple of chapters of this delectable novel. Just as Zozie cast her glamours over Vianne Rocher's chocolaterie in Montmartre, so Harris had cast a spell on this book, making it as tempting and delectable as one of Vianne's chocolates that whispered, try me, taste me to the customer. I simply could not get enough of this book, its pages packed with intrigue, humour, magic, mouthwatering descriptions and vivid, unforgettable characters. Only one of the latter did not come up to scratch and that was the rather faded and insubstantial character of Vianne's real mother, who I felt should have been more multi-layered as befitting a woman who had given birth to someone of Vianne's extra-sensory talents.

If you read Chocolat, this is even better. And even if you didn't, The Lollipop Shoes provides enough glimpses into Vianne, Anouk and Rosette's past for it not to matter. Try it, taste it, read it. I can't wait for Harris's next offering.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

The Cursed Curry

On Friday night, Mr Grumpy and I ordered a curry from a takeaway we have used scores of times before. The food, never too spicy, has always agreed with me and I have felt fine the following day. Yes, I know doctors advise people with stomach ulcers to avoid curry like the plague but, as I said, this particular restaurant has always gone easy on the chilli.

Until Friday, that is. Our curries arrived. Mr G's was a Balti Chicken while mine was a Peshwari King Prawn. I arranged my plateful on a tray and took it to the sofa so I could watch telly, while G ate in the kitchen. Before long, I heard loud splutterings and curses. Oh dear, thought I smugly. His is hot but mine will be fine. Wrong! The first prawn landed on my tongue and I mouthed it cautiously. It seemed OK until, SHAZZAM! The chilli kicked in and suddenly my whole mouth had turned into a fire pit. I felt like the ad for Gaviscon. Oh, how I needed those little firemen to hose my throat down with cooling liquid. Of course, I had swallowed the damn thing by now.

I stared thoughtfully at my plate. This curry had cost £8.99 and Mr G had cooked the rice himself. Add the cost of a poppadum and the aloo gobi side dish and there was over a tenner's worth sitting there. Was I about to throw a tenner into the garden for the fox? No. Instead, I made for the yogurt in the fridge, only to discover that there was no plain yog and the choice was between Vanilla or Coconut flavour.

I opted for the Vanilla. Nasty. I slathered it all in mango chutney, heaped rice around the prawn and took another mouthful. That was enough to persuade me that the fox was going to get a very expensive free dinner. Two, in fact, as Mr G had just thrown his Balti onto the lawn, where he witnessed Olive, the semi tame fox, take a mouthful, shake her head violently and spit it out again. She had the right idea. I now have a hideously painful interior at which I have thrown, over the past 36 hours, Omeprazole, Gaviscon and bicabonate of soda.

Talking of throwing money out into the garden, £1,300 of mine is rotting in the front garden, in the form of a rusty, mossy van that doesn't go. But that's another story.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Legend Press

Yesterday I had a half hour meeting with Legend Press boss Tom Chalmers. He was every bit as charming as his name suggests and in looks resembles the young Hugh Grant, complete with cheek dimple and sparkling, crinkly-eyed smile. If I was 25 years younger...

As always when I'm nervous, I went into motormouth babbling mode and could not shut myself up. How on earth, in a business meeting, did I end up talking about my massage in Cumbria from a Scottish ex-butcher who had seen 47 UFO's? As if TC would be remotely interested, unless there was a book in it. (Is there, I wonder?) When I got home, I sent him an apologetic email and now I have an entire novel to edit for him before the New Year. Not much festive yo-ho-ho and a bottle of plonk for me!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Up all night

Went for dinner with an old friend and ex magazine colleague, her partner and another old friend, Loftus Burton from Evolution Management, an ex RSC actor who is an agent for various models, entertainers and sports stars. I hadn't seen Lofty for a few years but he hadn't changed a bit and was brimming with zest and ideas, which made me feel clapped out and quite ashamed of myself for 'giving up' and not continuing to try and make it in one way or another. Everyone agreed that I wouldn't get anywhere until I had a place of my own where I could work uninterruptedly and when I wanted, not during daytime only, as dictated by Mr Grumpy.

Came home to find the place blissfully warm. Then saw that it was only because Mr G had done a wash and the radiators were laden with jeans and socks. Tomorrow, with the washing dry, I shall be forced to shiver again. My old friends couldn't understand why I put up with it, why I was so passive. They don't know what living with Mr G is like.

I stayed up till the wee small hours watching property progs on Sky once Lofty had gone and my pal's partner had gone to bed. It was so lovely to have some 'girly time' but once I'd crashed slightly drunkenly into the guest bed, I was, of course, wide awake again and could hear the birds singing. Outside the window, not inside my head. It wasn't that sort of a night!

On another subject, until a few days ago, I could change colours and fonts in my blog. Now I can't. In fact, the colours' icon has vanished from the toolbar. Anyone know why? It really is most annoying.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Christmas - A Cautionary Tale

CHRISTMAS - A Cautionary Tale

I've done my Christmas shopping,
I've written every card.
I'm cut and bruised and bleeding
'cos the wrapping was so hard.
I've planned some jolly meetings
with all my favourite folk
to give them cards and presents
and laugh and chat and joke.
Then suddenly it's Christmas,
the very day itself.
I open fridge and cupboards
and examine every shelf.
And then I slap my forehead
and shout out something rude
for I may have bought the presents
but I clean forgot the food!

By Lorna Read

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

2 pm Update

Glory be! Mr G has put the heating on. I thought at first that he was a secret reader of my blog and had taken pity on me, but then I noticed his washing festooned on the radiators. Nevertheless, I benefit too, even though I am not even an afterthought in his lofty, practical mind. I am now trying to wrap a cake slice which does not come in a handy box. Help, Christo, help!

Wrapping up the presents


Present-wrapping requires a range of skills ranging from brute force to the artistic talents of the married artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude and wrap items like the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris.

The force comes into play as soon as you grasp one of those rolls of nice, shiny gift-wrap. Snip the tough polythene at the top and you'd think the rest would just part easily and waft away from the paper. Wrong. It is bonded to it like a laminated condom and rolling it off requires the skill of a hooker removing a too tight prophylactic from an over-stimulated male member. I am still tugging.

Next comes the really tricky part, which is how to fit a rectangular piece of paper round a non-rectangular object. Take a teddy-bear, for instance. We all know how soft and cuddly teddies are, but is paper soft and cuddly? Not a bit of it. Try and mould the paper round Teddy's legs and ears and that gold foil that appears so tough will rip, leaving you wrapping it around the bear's limbs like a First Aider on Lesson 1.

But teddies are easy compared to hard plastic objects with numerous projections, like a tank or, in the case of my sister's present, a kettle. A teddy can be swathed in layers of tissue paper first, to turn him into a more rounded and wrappable object. But a tank or a kettle? Forget it! Even if they come in a box, the corners will pierce the wrapping, forcing you to apply layers of Sellotape and ruin the prettiness of the parcel. As for the kettle, the spout stuck itself through the paper like the beak of a baby bird pecking its way out of its shell, so I ended up taping Kleenex round it and popping on a condom of extra gift wrap. I once tried to wrap a kite. Christo would not have been proud of me. Or perhaps they would, for my solution was to cut the paper into strips and wind it round and round in a curly-wurly of beheaded and generally dismembered robins and Santas. (Thinks: Christo and J-C wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin. Maybe they'd do us the favour of wrapping the Houses of Parliament - with the MPs inside.)

Mr Grumpy uses newspaper and binbags, an easy if not beautiful solution. The answer is probably to pay the extra £2.50 and get everything gift-wrapped in the store. Then you get it all home and suddenly realise you don't know what it is in each gorgeous parcel and, sadly, scissors in hand, you are forced to snip into each one and peep, and hope to disguise the tear with ribbon and the gift card.

So, if you get something from me that looks aged, ripped and mangled and as if it's been chewed up in and spat out from the steel jaws of the garbage truck, just think: they say pets and their owners often bear a resemblance to one another; maybe the same is true of presents, too.


FOOTNOTE
I nicked the pick from the website of www.the-green-apple.co.uk who specialise in recycled gift wrap. Now, there's a good idea! My daughter and I to and fro with some gold paper in which she wrapped the very first gift she ever gave me, three years ago. My mum and I did the same with a birthday card featuring a happy hedgehog. We used it for Christmas, too. She used to iron paper and re-use it but as I tear into parcels like a dog rooting for a bone, it's generally too tattered to be of use to wrap anything larger than a 50p coin. Or a £50 note, and the more of those, the merrier, please. Cheers!

Feeling sorry for myself

I am sitting at my study window watching the lady over the road. She is standing in the front window ironing clothes. She is wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt. I am wearing (not a pretty sight so be warned): thermal long johns, thermal long-sleeved T-shirt, fleecy black tracky bottoms, blue Regatta fleece, thermal socks
and black thermal slippers.

Why?

Answer: Mr Grumpy won't have the central heating on in the daytime. Which is when I sit up here in my open-plan study area which is a room with no door to close it off from the staircase, so my little fan heater doesn't warm it up. In fact, Mr G wastes more energy through using fan heaters than he would if he had the heating on.

It isn't the coldest day but the temperature where I work has only just crept above 50 degrees F. If I were working for a company, industrial working regulations would permit me to walk out, but I'm at home, so I can't. Unless I move out, and I tell you what, there are times when, sobbing on Mr G's bed because I am so cold and miserable, I really, really feel like it. He has a lovely office which is a real room with a door that closes so he can get it nice and toasty. It looks out onto the garden and is the only peaceful room in the house. But it is his house, so it is his office. When I complain, he tells me to go down to the shed and work there.

Please pray for a lottery win for me so I can buy the nice, warm home that I crave for, near my friends, so I can be happy, warm, creative and have fun again.

'Nuff said. I shall now do 20 star jumps to try and warm up.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The North Lakes, Dec 2008






From top: My sister Marian contemplating the snowy peaks.
Natural ice sculptures of a swan and a... well, I'm sure I don't know what it looks like!
Frozen lake reflections.
Ice textures.
The finger points...

Snowy wonders


I was so lucky with the weather in Cumbria. A brief snowfall brought glory to the Fells and gave my sister and I the opportunity for a wonderful, if slippery, walk up near Striding Edge. The clear blue sky and bright sunlight gave the scenery an unusual intensity. It was as if I was seeing everything with coke-enhanced clarity (not that I've ever indulged in such things, of course). The starkness of twigs, the hard line of an iced pool's edge, gnarled trees, harsh rocks softened by melting snow on vivid green moss. I'm still downloading the 200 photos I took, so I'll post some later but for now, here's one my sister took of me.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Frozen North

Tomorrow I am off to Cumbria to visit my sister. I shall do my best to keep warm and resist her efforts to ride her horse, which is far too lively for me, and also so tall that I would need scaffolding to get on its back.

I ordered some presents for her for Christmas, some of which have arrived and some which haven't. I'm hoping one, if not both, will arrive tomorrow before I have to leave for the station, and save me the postage. Clue for you, Merrylegs: it's horse-connected...

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Virgin Active - the case deepens

Remember I said the sales manager from Virgin Active had told me that no money had been debited from my account? Wrong! I discovered today that they had taken out £45 for a month's membership which I had been unable to use because, according to them, my paperwork had been lost and I was not on their computers!

I drank a strong coffee and then, fuming, rang up and got an answering machine on which I left a polite but strong message, refraining from swearing with great difficulty. Later, the sales manager rang back, sounding extremely apologetic - "I don't know how this could have happened", etc. I demanded a refund, which she said would be in my account within the next couple of days. We'll see. If they've 'lost my details', I wonder how they're going to pay me the money? By telepathy? I knew gym machines could do wonderful things these days, but I didn't realise VA were in the Mind Gym business!

Meanwhile I had an urgent text from dear daughter, who was in an airport in NZ, asking if I'd be kind enough to whizz £50 into her account. Funny how it always whizzes out of mine faster than it whizzes in. I need to win the Lottery!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Hatastrophe!


I couldn't resist this hat for myself as I was doing some Christmas shopping from the Rosie Nieper catalogue. (Don't look, Merrylegs - one of your prezzies is coming from there!). Mr Grumpy chortles every time he sees anyone wearing one of these Tibetan yak herder headpieces and calls them Twat Hats. Now I have to suffer his derisive snorts every time I wear it. But it's silk and wool and very warm. I'm wearing it while typing this. I may even sleep in it.

I once had a boyfriend who said he'd finish with me unless I stopped wearing my tiger striped wellies which I'd bought in Amsterdam in 1985, when patterned wellies were outragous. I think they were the only patterned wellies in Britain for two decades! Did I stop wearing them? Did I hell. I finished with him instead, after telling him I was going to be buried in them. Perhaps I'll ask to be buried in my Twat Hat, too.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Virgin Active named and shamed!

My gym sessions have been nipped in the bud. The day I joined, a very pleasant young lady filled in all the paperwork and allowed me in for a swim. I came back for an aquarobics session a few days later and my swipe card worked okay. It was on my third visit that things started to go wrong. I had an appointment for an induction, meaning that someone would be showing me how all the equipment worked.

On the appointed day, I showed up but the person who was supposed to be 'inducing' me didn't. Not only that, my swipe card wouldn't work and I started getting hot under the collar as the girl on reception disappeared behind the scenes for ages to find out why. I felt like a criminal who was trying to get in under false pretences. Only the fact that I could show them the card bearing the name of the girl I was meeting allowed me access. Then I was informed that the girl was off that day and I should go into the gym and find someone else who could show me the ropes.

I ended up with Mr It's-Not-My-Job, who rushed me around from machine to machine, pushing buttons and pulling levers. Then, as I was frantically trying to scribble instructions in a notebook I'd brought, he told me not to bother as he'd put all the info on a kind of USB stick thingy and all I had to do was post it into a slot in each machine and it would tell me what to do. So far, so confusing. I was also freezing cold as I was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and the gym had the aircon set to Arctic.

After he'd disappeared for ages, leaving me shivering, he reappeared brandishing my 'key' as it was called and telling me that I had to stick it in a machine as I entered the gym, whereupon it would register the fact I was there, tot up the calories I had used, and at the end of 6 months it would tell me how much weight I'd lost. (Huh? So I'm not expected to eat for 6 months? How about Christmas?)

My head in a spin with all this technical info, I went for a swim. Three days later, all fired up up to start using my new key and show the other gymmers what a technophile I was, I returned. Not only would my swipe card not work again but I was told they didn't have me on their system at all. No sign of me. Nichevo, nilch, nyet. As far as Virgin Active were concerned, I did not exist and the girl who had filled in my forms was on holiday. Once again, I felt like a criminal as they grudgingly agreed to let me in.

Then my woes really started. I 'clocked in', went to my first machine, slotted in the key, contorted my legs around the weights and closed myself in and then, guess what? On the little screen a message appeared: SEAT POSITION? That's right. With a question mark. Releasing my legs with a sigh, I examined the seat for a button to press. Nothing. I repositioned my legs and placed the metal prong in the 20 kilos hole. Then I tried to move the weights. Ouch! Although the prong was in the 20 kilos position, the screen told me I was trying to move 40 kilos. In despair, I disentangled myself and looked around in vain for an employee in a red T-shirt, of which there was no sign.

So I went for a swim then discovered I had only brought a small hand towel to dry myself on. By that time, I was naked, my swimsuit merrily spinning round in the dryer. I blotted as much of myself as I could, but imagine what a wally I felt, walking into a changing room full of clothed people with only a small blue hand towel to hide my ten and a half stone of wobbly cellulite. I got outside, it was cold, windy and raining, my hair was damp and I had a 15 minute wait for a bus and a 20 minute walk home from the bus stop. Not a pleasant experience.

Yesterday I had a call from the gym regarding my membsership. My paperwork had gone missing on its way to be scanned. I would have to come in and fill it in all over again and bring my passport as they needed proof of my age. The girl said she had asked me the day I joined to bring my passport next time. Yes, I had forgotten, but on the other hand she had seen my Freedom Pass so surely that was enough to prove I am eligible for the Over 60's membership? Apparently not. My urge to get fit evaporated at this point. I told her I would not be returning till the New Year as I was going away for the first week of December, and then there would only be two weeks before they closed down for the Christmas holidays. In fact, I not returning again. Not ever. Any gym who touts for membership then loses your paperwork and makes you suffer embarrassment and long waits while they disappear into the office to be told 'computer says no', during which time your urge to work out evaporates and you have missed the start of the class you wanted to attend, is not worthy of my membership. I shall go back to my previous small, friendly gym, where, if you hadn't been for a while, someone would ring to ask if you were okay. It may not have a pool but Flex Lifestyles is worth its friendly weight in gold - or, in my case, flab!

OH MY GOD! just realised that the paperwork Virgin Active have lost contained all my bank details. Someone could rob me blind. Right now, as we speak someone could be helping themselves to a sizeable sum that I moved out of one savings account in order to open a new one with it. It's too late to ring the bank. Don't think I'll sleep well tonight...

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Addict or goal-driven?

I never thought I had an addictive personality. I managed to give up smoking without too much difficulty, apart from my first ever attack of bronchitis plus a sensation, that went on for months, that someone was gripping my throat and squeezing. I own up to the occasional alcoholic binge at a party, which I always regret for days after as booze annoys my stomach ulcer and gives me a migraine. I buy the occasional lottery ticket, but am not driven to buy one every single week, and I have never placed a bet on the gee-gees. So why am I now wasting over an hour a day (understatement!) playing word games on the computer?

Having achieved the highest Pathwords score of my group (1550), why do I feel such a need to better it that I play at least ten games a day, trying to see if my brain is brighter at spotting words in the morning, at noon, or at night? Once I get onto Pathwords, I am a driven soul. I ignore the phone, I snarl at Mr Grumpy and if I really MUST break away mid-game to answer the door, I am a snarling, spitting, cussing fiend. As far as Babble is concerned, if it's a large grid, I content myself with scoring 1000. That's my target.

And I guess that is the crux of the matter. Not having a job any more, and being used to work deadlines, I have lost my focus and am desperately in need of a goal of some sort, a target to achieve. Where once it was getting my magazine, Loving, to the printers on time, now it is finishing Babble or scoring a higher goal in Pathwords. Tragic, isn't it?

So I have decided to set myself a new target, which is to start a new book and give myself a deadline to finish it in. I know I can do it. Only trouble is, it lacks the short-term thrill of achieving a quick finish. I guess I shan't be giving up Pathwords.

PS: 6.20pm. Got a new high score of 1750 points. Am I sad?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Sad, or SAD?





I feel down. So do a couple of my friends. In fact, we're swapping emails about how we are bursting into tears at the slightest thing, have no patience with our loved ones (in fact, aren't even sure if 'loved' is the right description any more), can't sleep, feel achy all over, and so on.

It struck me that we in Britain have seen very little sun for the last two years. Not only that, but grey, damp, dismal weather inspires one to stay in rather than go for a bracing walk, or even go off to the gym. My three swims so far have taken place on pouring wet days so that no sooner have I dried my hair, when I have to go out and get it wet again.

According to the medics, we all need at least ten minutes' exposure to sunlight a day - or at least what light manages to filter through the grey blanket of clouds - in order to manufacture sufficient Vitamin D. Lack of it can cause aching muscles and bone pain (tick), insomnia (tick), restlessness (tick), depression (tick), weak bones especially in post-menopausal women who have a harder time absorbing D ... the list goes on. Vitamin D can be found in salmon, shrimps, milk. sardines, cod and eggs. As I don't normally encounter many of these in my daily diet, I have just started taking Vitamin D tablets. I shall report any sudden lifting of symptoms.

Mind you, six months eating fresh sardines in the Med and getting lots of sunshine would be vastly more pleasant. Hmm... do I really want to buy another house in a grey London suburb where the air stinks of traffic fumes and which also may well be situated in a 'cancer corridor' where planes circle and waste fuel as they wait for their slot to land at Heathrow or Gatwick? The sea, the sea, the open sea, the blue, the fresh, the ever free.... Aaah! That's better.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Long wiggly things




One thing I didn't mention was the antics we got up to in the aquarobics class itself. (NB I'm warm again now, thanks to the down-filled house boots I bought from www.presentsdirect.com for £14.95. Highly recommended. I have the purple ones.)

I am dispraxic in water. I can't control my own limbs, let alone props like those long foam tubes, or floating weights. One of the exercises involved threading a pink foam tube that looked like an elephant's willy between my ankles and knees, through my thighs and up my back. I was supposed to lie back on it while drawing my knees up to my chest. Some hope. At the merest hint of a weak ankle, the thing took on a life of its own, boomeranging tween my thighs and whacking me on the back of the head, or else boinging over the other side of the pool and hitting someone else. I was not popular. I was laughed at. But I didn't give up. No, not moi. Not even when it whacked me on the lips and demanded a blow job. (Keep it clean. Ed.) I aqua-soldiered on amidst much splashing, thanking heaven that my specs fitted tightly behind my ears. (Note: must get prescription goggles.)

One of the tunes Victoria, our lovely instructor with body to die for, played, was Elvis's Jailhouse Rock. I joined in, belting it out bigtime in spluttery fashion. One of the ladies - Vera, or Doreen, or even Chlorine (yes, we were all of a 'certain age'; in fact, I may just have been the baby of the group), turned round and declared, "Oh! Listen, ladies, we have a voice amongst us." Envy? Sarcasm? Nah, it's bound to be the latter. Unless someone behind the scenes is planning an aqua X Factor show. Though personally speaking, it's time they had a Specs Factor.

Nice weather for ducks. And hippos.

"When Mr Grumpy told me you'd gone to aquarobics, I thought, 'She's gone mad," said my friend Jill. Pity I hadn't spoken to her before going, as I'd doubtless have agreed. The pool wasn't as warm as it had been last Thursday. I was half an hour early. By the time the instructor arrived, I was goose-pimply. 45 minutes on and my goose-pimples had gone crinkly. Then another lady in the class suggested going in the jacuzzi. This was warm and the jets on my chilly, aching muscles
were powerfully good.

I paddled back to the locker room, had a shower, then found I couldn't undo my new lock. It was one of those combination ones. And no, I hadn't forgotten the combination. I couldn't get the damned numbers to line up where they were supposed to. In fact, fiddle though I did, they wouldn't move at all. By the time I had discovered that you were meant to squeeze the revolving bands with the numbers on, not just shunt them back and forth, I was a delicate shade of blue.

By now, it was gone two and coffee and food were in order. I know, I thought; I'll try the snack bar in the gym where they have comfy chairs and the day's papers to read. Well, I waited, and the man in front of me waited, and nobody appeared to serve me. By now, chilly and with blood sugar taking a nosedive, my gruntle was exceedingly dis-sed.

Then I remembered the lady (Joan) who'd lured me into the jacuzzi saying that there was a coffee bar opposite the gym that did 99p cappuccinos. That sounded good to me. Half an hour and £4-worth of coffee and ham and salad ciabatta later, I was really to face the downpour. After ten minutes, the bus came. Remembering last Thursday when I'd hopped off the bus to soon, got lost and had to ring Mr G and ask him to come and find me in somewhere called Goulds Green, I stationed myself by a window. Which was steamed up, like all the others. The heating was on and as fast as I smeared away the steam, it reformed. By the time I realised where I was, it was too late.

Half an hour's puddle-hopping later, I made my weary, mud-splashed way through the front door vowing never to go to aquarobics on a wet day again unless I magically turn into a duck. Though Mr G informs me I resemble a hippo somewhat more closely.

Friday, 7 November 2008

The perfect swim

Turned up for my first gym session only to find out that I didn't know how to use any of the equipment as it was so different to the gear in the last gym. I have to wait for my 'induction' next Thursday. Luckily, I had brought a swimsuit so, rather than waste a week's membership, I tried out the pool. And what a pool. It must be full Olympic length because it seemed to go on for ever. The water was warm, there were only a few other people in and as I swam along, gazing through the two glass walls at the lovely park scenery outside, wintry blue sky, golden leaves, pleasant patio with chairs and tables, I decided it was the best pool I had ever swum in in the UK. Of course, nothing could beat the view of Fethiye Bay from the Horizon Hotel's swimming pool in Turkey. But, if this is second best, it's bloody good.

I was all set to go again today till I realised how stiff I was. I can hardly move my head forward, my shoulders are so sore. Of course, swimming breaststroke as I do, with my head up stop my glasses falling off (can't see a thing without them), I set off my old whiplash injury in my neck, where I have two fused vertebrae. I just can't win!

* Just checked: it's a 25m pool - I think Olympic is 50m - and I did six lengths. It was the first time I'd swum for two years. No wonder I'm stiff!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The continuing saga of the gym

On Monday I was all primed up to go to my new gym for the first time. I was bright and bouncy and fancied immersing myself in chlorine even if I did end up looking like a leftover Hallowe'en witch. I hadn't filled in any membership forms, though I had paid over the phone, and didn't want to get all the way there to find they wouldn't let me in, so I rang the marketing lady. She wasn't there so I left a message.

She didn't get back to me all day. She rang yesterday when I wasn't feeling so bright and bouncy. "Oh, you could have come yesterday," she said. "I had left your forms and membership card with someone." Well, how was I to know? We know have a 'date' for Thursday when, no doubt, I shall feel exceedingly unbouncy following tonight's Guy Fawkes party. On the other hand, I might zoom down there with a rocket up my a*se!

Monday, 3 November 2008

To gym or not to gym?

That is the question. Today, my new gym membership begins. I chose this one because it has a pool and at the time, the weather was still reasonably warm and autumnal and I fancied immersing myself. Now? Hmm. I already mentioned the green hair possibility. Add the walk to the bus stop - 20 minutes - and the hanging around in the cold and wet for the bus, and I am already thinking, have I made a ghastly mistake?

Will laziness win? Watch this space. If I actually get there once a week, it will be a miracle. Membership is on a monthly basis so I shall count up how many visits I make for my £45. It could be one very expensive swim.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Pigging weather

... in both senses of the word. It's p***ing down and I can't stop picking at biscuits, cheese, just about anything. Reckon my body thinks it needs extra calories because it's got so cold. I've never known a year like this one, that has gone straight from what passed for summer, to winter, bypassing autumn in all but the leaf colours. I haven't even been able to wear my 'tween seasons green coat. It was a race to get my jumpers out before I developed chilblains.

My new gym membership starts on Monday. It's a 20 minute walk to the bus stop, which takes me to a Virgin Active gym with a swimming pool. I could have rejoined my old, pool-less gym for a lot less money, but at the time, I wanted to swim. Now, with water hammering at the windows, I'm not so sure. Anyway, the chlorine might turn my hair green. (A photo, I promise.)

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

First snow


Last night at around 11 pm, as I sat cowering in the kitchen while the fireworks of Diwali, the Asian Festival of Light, hammered the air like a WW2 bombing attack, it began to snow. I didn't notice at first as I was too busy poring over the atlas, wondering if there was any country on earth where fireworks were banned, to which I could move and live in peace. At the sound of a big explosion, I have a visceral response. I flinch, cry out, my stomach knots and I want to dive into a cupboard and cry. (See my Nov 2007 post for an explanation as to why this might be.) Last night, I simply stuffed earplugs in, which made watching CSI a bit difficult as I'm not good at reading American lips.

Then I glanced outside and noticed a large, feathery flake floating past the patio doors. And another. It was a bit wet, but settling. The outdoor temperature was 30F.



This morning, the snow had gone but the decking was a sheet of ice upon which Mr Grumpy nearly measured his length in his carpet slippers as he went to feed the fish. If he had done so, he would have landed face-first in a frozen fox turd, which our red friend had kindly deposited right where we step out of the door. Such is life!

The temperature in my study is 48F as I write (why, oh why was Mr G so sparing with the radiators when he modernised his house?) and the snow that still clung to the roof window has just started to melt. I have been on the web ordering thermal underwear - long johns and long sleeved T-shirt. They promise delivery in 3 days, though I may well have turned into snow woman by then with a long icicle hanging from my nose. I think we're in for a hard winter.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

My chemist's shop

My transformation into the Aunty Vera of the old Giles cartoons (she of the perpetually dripping, pointy nose, thin, drooping body and tote bag full of pills, potions and boxes of tissues) is no recent thing. It was already fully developed 30 years ago when I left my first (and only) husband and after I had gone he complained that he had had to throw out a large cardboard box full of pills and potions that I had left behind. Being a man whose bathroom cabinet contained nothing more than some sticking plasters and a bottle of TCP, he couldn't understand my need for verucca plasters, Friars Balsam and ear drops. When he got things, he just put up with them till they either went or, like the grumbling appendix that flared up every time he ate peanuts (did he quit eating them? did he hell!), hospitalised him.

I now have a set of plastic drawers ('set', note; not 'pair'. Those will probably come in ten or so years' time), each of which is dedicated to a different set of ailments. Painkillers and antihistamines inhabit the top drawer, as those are the things I usually need in a hurry. The drawer beneath holds everything connected with stomachs, such as cures for diarrhoea, constipation and piles (yes, I know bottoms are not stomachs, but there seems to be a direct connection), and my ulcer tablets.

The third drawer is labelled Beauty (yes, I can hear those snickers, thank-you). In it are lipsticks, eye shadows and pencils, hand cream, lip salves and lots of those sample tubes of Clinique and Clarins moisturisers. I also keep sachets of Lincobeer combined shampoo and condtioner (so handy for holidays), plus hairslides and bands there, plus a tiny furry teddy bear. No, I don't know why, either.

The fourth drawer is where I keep large bottles of anything from cough linctus to vitamin pills, as it and the fifth are deeper than the others, so bottles and jars can stand upright in it. I must own up that there are some things in there, the purpose of which I cannot now remember. L-Theanine? WTF?) But as long as they are not past their sell-by, they can remain there rubbing shoulders with Vitamin D and Peppermint Oil capsules for as long as they like.

Now we get to the bottom drawer. This holds a large bag of Slippery Elm powder, only slighly past its sell-by (Jan 08), a digital thermometer which I tardily discovered was in degrees Centigrade (36? I must be dead!) and a collection of ankle supports, wrist supports and only slightly grubby crepe bandages. Oh, and a plastic bag containing those tiny tubes of Bazooka That Verucca and Blist-eze that always lose their caps and ooze stickily into sponge bags if not coralled in plastic, plus tiny vials of homoeopathic and Bach flower remedies.

You may think that's it, my chemist's shop is complete, but you'd be wrong. Beneath the bathroom basin is a cupboard. Well, it's Mr Grumpy's cupboard to be precise, but the only trace of his former ownership is a congealed and rusting can of Gillette shaving gel. I have filled the cupboard with products pertaining to hair, teeth and body. Fragrances, hairspray, BOGOFs of toothpaste, spare brushes, body lotions, hair mousse, all the tall cans and containers that one needs in the bathroom and that won't fit in my plastic drawers. (Oh, go on, you're allowed one snigger).

Someone suggested that way back in time, I must have been the village Wise-woman, dispensing cures and love potions to all and sundry plus their horse and dog. Well, oddly enough, I had an ancestor who was called Gaspard Wyse, rather than wise) and he was... an apothecary in Liverpool! Many a true word spoken in jest. (What was that, indigestion? Hold on, I have a pill for that somewhere.)

Thursday, 23 October 2008

50 years on!


Yesterday I met a fellow pupil from primary school in Liverpool. We hadn't seen each other since we were 11. I felt really nervous beforehand, wondering what on earth we would find to say to each other. A whole lifetime had gone by for each of us, after all.

Her name is Pam and she found me on Friends Reunited and I needn't have worried because we were soon swapping notes about Mr Jones, the head, and Miss Bocock and Miss Parry. Lunch spend by, once we'd failed to get into the restaurant I'd earmarked, and dismissed three others as looking like school canteens. We ended up in a quaint little pub, where we quaffed some wine, ate turkey sandwiches (well, I did, she had a Ploughmans) and tried to name all the faces on the old photo. Sadly, we knew some faces we couldn't put names to, and vice versa.

I hope Pam and I will meet up again. It's a strange feeling thinking we shared six years of lessons then became total strangers for four whole decades! I've been back on the site and emailed a couple more familiar names. Ann Smeaton, Paul Winkles, Marion Moncrieff, Zella Jones, where are you now?

(PS I'm 3rd from left on the 2nd row from the back, in the grey jumper with lambs on that my mum knitted. I lost the matching cardie at the Liverpool air show. Mum was not amused.)

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Hat trick


Here's the photo from the other day, doctored by Jacula who thought I was doing a Tommy Cooper impersonation. Love that fez! Talking of which, I can thoroughly recommend the entertaining travel book, A Fez of the Heart, by Jeremy Seal. Very funny and a good insight into life in Turkey.

Hard-hearted Virgin

I have in my hand a pair of rail tickets to take me to Penrith next Monday to see my sister, and back again. I haven't seen her for at least 18 months, apart from a brief couple of hours when we rendez-voused (sp?) in Liverpool last December to swap presents.

Due to the untimely death of the son of one of my closest friends, brother to my goddaughter, I now have a funeral to go to. It is in Shropshire next Wednesday, bang in the middle of the Cumberland visit. This morning, I rang Virgin trains and patiently explained the situation, only to be told that no refunds were allowed under any circumstances.

"But this is a funeral!" I emphasised. "People don't choose when to die. Show a bit of sympathy and understanding and give me a refund."

The jobsworth with the very strange accent and mangled English kept insisting that Virgin tickets were non-refundable and referring me to the terms and conditions, which were not printed on the back of the tickets. I can rebook and lose a £10 admin charge, or throw away the money, just like I had to do earlier in the year when I'd booked to go to Devon and my daughter was ill and said I'd better not come. I am not free again for a 5-day stretch until the very end of November when the hours of daylight will be few, the air full of driving, boot-soaking rain and Ullswater will be lapping at my sister's kitchen door, as it always does when it rains a lot. I have to let them know when I want to re-book by Saturday, said the unsympathetic customer services robot.

What is wrong with these companies? Surely, if you give them enough notice, you should be entitled to a refund? They can always re-sell the ticket, after all. I am just hopping mad. Has everyone forgotten the word, 'humanity'?

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Pond protection


Mr G spent all morning yesterday making a wooden framework and nailing that hideous orange plastic netting that road maintenance men use onto it, to stop one-year-old Ethan falling in. Every time he visits, he takes an unholy interest in the pond and the fish. We took our eyes off him for an instant last weekend and he was halfway in, dangling over the edge trying to catch a fish. In view of the terrible tragedy this week with the twins who fell into a pond, resulting in the death of one of them, Mr G decided it had to be done.

"That's strong enough," he proudly proclaimed. "I stood on it and it took my weight." Not to be outdone, I placed one foot and about three quarters of my weight on it. There was a serious of explosive snapping sounds and the whole thing began to give way. Some nasty snipes about my weight followed (around 10 stone if you must know), but Mr G was actually grateful for my demonstration and this morning we went to B&Q to buy some wire netting which he is now busily attaching to the frame with orange tags and a staple gun.

I shall try it later and if I fall in, I hope the camera will be handy.

PS I did try it later, I didn't fall in, but note the look of apprehension at the thought of plunging into five feet of cold water full of fish poo.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Wiggin' out




My new astrology column requires a photo of moi to head it up. As Scarlet is a raunchy magazine,
most of the ladies whose photos appear in it are holding vibrators and looking perky. They are also at least 30 years younger than me. So out I went to buy some party wigs and props. The results, a friend of mine commented bluntly, don't do me any favours but boy, I had fun. Mr Grumpy did a real David Bailey, with a white sheet and a stepladder. I wonder which one the mag will choose? A zany Dolly Parton-like blonde (sadly minus famous appendages), a witchy brunette or a natural freckly ginger? As for the 'vibe'... is it a torch? A candle? I shall leave you guessing.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Drowned at the dentist's

Last week, feeling weak and wimpish and suffering from the dreaded jeans allergy, I put off my appointment for the hygienist and a check-up but this week there was no escape short of a total tube strike or me being abducted by aliens.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong but I can't imagine anyone actually enjoying the scraping, jabbing, palate-tormenting torture that such a visit entails, though maybe there is the odd (very odd) man who gets a kinky kick out of having a girl like the pretty, slender, blonde Polish lass I had today pressing close, bending over him and fixing him with a baby-blue stare over the surgical mask. Today, I had to add drowning to the torture. The water jet machine wasn't working properly ("This is really bad equipment. I cannot work with such equipment. I think I will go home," she hissed through pursed lips, then made me promise not to tell the dentist that she'd complained) and squirted water over my face, up my nose and down my neck. On both sides, too. I was well and truly drenched.

In a fury, she abandoned the water jet for the pick and shovel method and, in a fury, skewered me into submission, ignoring the strangled 'ows' and the hand held up in submission. Then it was her turn to diss me. I was missing places with the floss, I wasn't cleaning the inside backs of the teeth properly. I crawled out of there feeling like a naughty child... only be informed by the dentist that my awful, dingy teeth that are held together by thirty-year-old amalgum were looking good and I was obviously looking after them well. Hygienist nul points, moi un point! Jolly bon!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

More knicker trouble!

The Awful Itch was back again yesterday and I thought back to years ago when I presented myself at the doc's with the same thing and she asked, "Have you changed your washing powder or used any different products?"

Living in a house which firmly belongs to Mr Grumpy, a fact he reminds me of at least once a day when I complain about the faulty glazing, the draughts, the tiny hot water tank, the unheated area where I have to work, etc., and I am not in control of things like which washing powder is used. Mr G buys these things and ergo I have to use them. Having run out of the huge tub of Macro Non-Bio powder which I was fine with, he bought some Tesco Non-Bio tablets which may or may not be the problem. I think the new jeans sensitised my bits and they are now on red alert for anything else vaguely irritant.

Which brings me to bathing. The tank being small, and Mr G only allowing 2 hours of hot water heating time a day - in the morning, I ask you! It's getting tepid by evening bath time - there is enough for just one bath per day. Mr Grumpy likes one bath per day, meaning we have to share each other's bathwater. He likes an early evening bath whereas I like a bedtime bath, something of which I have been deprived for three whole years, which is how long I have been living at his house. He always beat me to it and runs the water and sloshes in some vile, cheap purple supermarket gloop which promises a relaxing bath experience. By the time I enter the grey, slimy water, it is also polluted with his shaving gel and shampoo. God help my bits!

Anyway, I have rewashed all my knickers in Fairy Liquid - the washing machine variety - and will see if there is any adverse reaction. I have also sent off for some hyperallergenic washing powder from www.ethicsgirls.co.uk

Mr G says that if I don't like his washing powder, draughts, hot water cistern, etc., then I know what I can do about it, a statment he accompanies with a "bye-bye" wave. I may just have to do it, in order to be warm, have quiet nights, and stop burning and itching. Thinks: wasn't there was an old 'round' - one of those songs where someone starts, then someone else chips in a line behind - called 'Fire Down Below'? It will have to be my signature tune.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Curse of Empathy


My mother had it. I've got it. It's the ability to put yourself so much in another person's shoes that you over-identify with them and get so upset by that person's particular trauma that it may as well have happened to you. I wonder if my mother and I should have taken up acting, as we are (were, in her case) so good at taking on roles. This leads me to wonder how actors shake off their roles; how they mimic suffering physical and emotional agonies on stage or on camera, then switch off and become themselves again. It must be possible to do this, otherwise there would be far more nervous breakdowns in the acting profession. Though didn't Daniel Day-Lewis have one after his tasking role in My Left Foot? And I'm pretty sure Stephen Fry had one, too. Perhaps they suffer from the curse of empathy, too. The picture is Sargent's famous portrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth. Oh, to have that wonderful robe!

Years ago, I used to think, 'Who shall I be today?' and go out as that person, walking differently, talking differently, sometimes pretending to be Russian, wearing clothes that would suit my make-believe persona. I was in turns the super-spy, on the look-out for people tailing me and hidden cameras following my every move, scanning for clues and dead-letter drops (I did in fact witness a briefcase swap in a shop on Victoria Station concourse, though I didn't do anything about it as I didn't know which of the two men to follow); I was the famous person going out incognito; the alien from another planet; the songwriter about to sign a mega-deal; the singer about to be talent-spotted. I was never just plain me. Until now. Now that I have become old and unnoticeable. Maybe now's the time to become that super-spy!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

So tragic

My best friend from uni days has just lost her son. He'd just had his 37th birthday and was found dead at his flat of a drug overdose. He had his problems including the after-effects of a bad road accident, but he had a loving girlfriend with whom he was planning a future and had just been offered some work, so it looks as if it was a tragic accident. I feel so, so sad. He was an ff-beat genius who wrote brilliant poetry but had difficulty finding his place in the world and being accepted for what he was. He is at peace now but has left a mountain of grief behind. My heart goes out to his family tonight.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Tess and me

Out of wedlock. Fallen woman. Unmarried mother. Living in sin. Love child. All words and phrases that went out of fashion since the government legitimised illegitimacy in the early 1970s by giving council flats to the de-stigmatised 'single mother'.

It was my misfortune to be an unmarried mother in the late Sixties, with all the social slating that was attached. My baby's father cruelly abandoned me, like Alec d'Urberville abandoned Tess. Whilst pregnant, I took a job with the Government Social Survey department and was told by Personnel that I must wear a wedding ring and pretend to have a husband so as not to shock my fellow workers. Imagine telling a young woman to do that today! I bought a cheap ring from Woolworths that turned my finger green. I didn't fool my colleagues one bit. How they probed and sniped, wondering if this 'husband abroad' was really in gaol, or if he existed at all. The beady eyes withered my soul. My boss took me out one night and, as I had proved myself of easy virtue, tried to rape me.

With my poor, innocent baby girl in a foster home I tried to find a flat - "No, I'm not having any babies here" - sound of door slamming in my face. This was, after all, the era when it was legal to put the words, 'No Blacks, No Irish' beneath the To Let sign. They may as well have put, 'No Unmarried Mothers', too. I tried to find a job ("You say you haven't worked for the last few months because you were having a baby? How do I know you weren't in gaol?"). My father: "You marry the next decent man that asks you and don't let this disgrace befall our family name again." I was in effect in a gaol of society's making yet my only sin was to get pregnant by a man I loved, who promised to marry me then ran off with another, bustier, more beautiful woman.

This is why I so empathise with Thomas Hardy's Tess and shed bucketloads of tears at the way society treated her. It really didn't change much in the next 100 years. My baby was adopted, hers died. She was 'damaged goods'; so was I. A kind boyfriend offered to marry me and bring up my daughter but I couldn't marry him as I didn't love him and it wouldn't be fair on him.

At least I didn't have to work in the fields like Tess of the D'Urbervilles. A wonderful gay man who I met at a party saw through all the social mores nonsense and gave me a job in advertising that set me on the career path I am still following today, almost 40 years on. He opened all the doors society had slammed in my face, as he, too, knew what it was to be stigmatised.

When Tess murdered the man who had caused her downfall, it brought back something terrible in my own past - the day when, like Tess, I decided I would murder my baby's father. Like her, the balance of my mind was definitely disturbed. Fortunately, unlike her, I didn't go through with it. Why? Well, I'm saving the details for the memoir I've just started, called Murder In My Blood. You see, I wasn't the only member of my family who had murderous thoughts. An ancestor of mine actually ... No, you'll have to read the book. I'm thinking of uploading each chapter onto a website as I write it. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Canniballs

I'm a bit worried that since posting my murderous poem about Algernon Sadie, I have started a trend. Glancing at MSN news this morning, the first thing that greeted my eye was an item about how the first Mr Gay UK, a chef, butchered his lover then carved off a steak, seasoned it and prepared it for cooking. The second item was about a loony Texan who killed and ate his wife. Maybe those old cannibals didn't call white missionaries Long Pig for nothing...

Which reminds me of the time, years ago, when I shared a flat with a friend and her thieving Siamese cat called Roxy. One day, Roxy came bounding up the wooden steps of the first floor maisonette and proudly deposited a pork chop at my feet, all seasoned with pepper and herbs and ready to be cooked for someone's supper. Imagine what they must have gone through. 'Where's my dinner? It was there a minute ago, I know it was. Am I going mad?' But now I'm thinking, was it a pork chop, or... ?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Maybe not just Mars...

Yesterday I was wearing new jeans. Just now, I found the label I'd cut off them. It said: 'Wash Before Wearing', which of course I hadn't done. I hadn't even noticed the instruction which was, as they say, writ small. Could that mean that the dye can irritate the skin? In which case, mystery solved. In fact, the 'flea bite' mentioned in my last post is probably an itchy allergy, too, bcause a similar itchy lump has come up in the same area of my other leg. Though it's still a coincidence that it should all have happened on a 'Mars day'...

I think that, just like food ingredients are listed on the packaging, so the ingredients of dyes and fabric treatments should be listed on the labels of clothing and furnishings. Then we wouldn't have situations like happened a few months back, with people suffering dreadful skin allergies due to anti-fungal chemical in their leather sofas.

Mars and Fashion

My astrologer friend also told me about how the planets influence what you put on in the morning. Apparently, when Mars is strong in the sky, you see lots of people wearing red or khaki - I never would have thought that the latter was a Mars colour, but as Mars is the god of war, maybe that explains it. The bloodstone is connected with Mars and that is red and green. There is a lot of purple in the shops at the moment. I think that's a Neptune colour. Fascinating... (or a load of rubbish? Make your own mind up).

PS. Just after I had finished writing this, I felt an awful itch on my leg and found a cat flea had hopped up my trouser leg. Bugger off, Mars, I've had enough now! (Yes, cat does get flea treatment but there is always the odd hoppy lurking around.)

Effects of Mars

I woke this morning and every inflammation I occasionally suffer from had visited me in one fell swoop. From painful finger joints, to itchy patches on my back (bra strap allergy), to a bad stomach (five visits to the loo to date), to cystitis symptoms, to a dreadful itch in the unmentionables (see Allergic to Knickers entry), I was (and still am) on fire.

I was booked in for the dental hygienist and a check-up, requiring an hour and a half on the Tube each way. I cancelled (receptionist was not amused). Then I phoned Tony, the friend I was meant to be meeting afterwards for lunch. Tony is an astrologer with a photographic memory for every birth chart he has ever done. He informed me that Mars is bang on my natal Venus and that can go either way, causing an inflamed libido, or an inflamed, er, you know. Mars is energy and irritation. It can cause headaches and itches and irrational urges to run marathons or roger the milkman! However, I shall spend the day sitting in an ice bucket. Cheers!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Algernon Sadie

Just remembered a short but pithy poem I wrote ages ago; here it is...

Algernon Sadie, a butcher from Fife,
Once kissed a lady who wasn't his wife.
He then kissed his wife, who wasn't a lady
And she took a knife to poor Algernon Sadie.


God only knows where this one came from. I must have been reading too many Patricia Cornwells.
Oh, and feel free to substitute another word for 'kiss' if you like.

House-hunting again




Went all the way to N22 to view this house. Just the brown bit. The white part belongs to two flats. It was the width of the average public convenience, the whole footprint being 24ft x 12ft, and had a peculiar clutch of small, dark, uninhabitable rooms on the other side of that black door, which were the tail end of a very large workshop/outbuilding belonging to somebody else and not only that, the other person's vast chunk of it, 50 feet or so, the inner wall of which ran right along the garden, had windows in it. And a door. An intriguing red door into, what? One of the windows that overlooked the garden had bottles of bleach or washing-up liquid on the windowsill, so was obviously a kitchen or a washroom of some sort. It all felt a bit weird. You could be sitting in your deckchair and anyone could be perving at you between the bleach bottle and the scrubbing brush. Urrrgh. It gives me the cold shivers.

Houses with flat roofs are a no-no for me, anyway. Not only do they require expensive maintenance (I have forked out six and a half grand in the past to repair bloody flat roofs), but the rooms directly beneath them, usually bedrooms, get roasting hot in summer (ha! Did I say a rude word?) and have to be painted with an anti-reflective coating, which cost me two grand last time I had to do one.

So all in all, it was a four hour journey (two each way) for nothing. Well, not quite nothing. I have explored a new area, the cheaper - and, yes, grottier - part of Bounds Green which, if you know North London, is just north of Wood Green and to the right of Muswell Hill, and found it terrific for transport.

The big problem is, do I buy somewhere now, when I am earning next to nothing with which to pay the bills, or do I stay with Mr Grumpy till the spring and save a bit of extra cash? I vowed I wouldn't spend another freezing winter at Mr G's, where I have to type on a big, open-plan ledge at the top of the stairs with no radiator, and where the north wind whistles through the gaps around the windows and where I am not allowed to have the heating on till the evening, and thus end up typing book reports in fingerless gloves, three fleeces and my hiking boots.

It's now that awful hiatus between autumn and winter. Some morning a few weeks from now, I shall awake in my freezing north facing bedroom with the bullet hole in the window (see entry for 2 July 2007) and find frost riming the grass and my nose. Then I shall think longingly of all the flats and cottages I saw and didn't buy, which had central heating boilers that would have been mine, all mine. 'All I want is a room somewhere...' If only it were that simple. But I have a lifetime's worth of belongings that need a minimum of four rooms plus a large attic. Or an outhouse. Or, damn it, I could leave them in Big Yellow for ever!

Dormant Volcanoes

Chronic ailments are an odd thing. They're like dormant volcanoes. People go about their business on the slopes of Etna or Vesuvius, blindly ignoring the slumbering beast beneath them as it hasn't given them any trouble for so long. Then suddenly one day there is an ominous rumble and a cloud of smoke and all at once they don't feel so safe any more.

My arthritis has been like that. Aches in my fingers, but staying pretty much the same until suddenly, a few days ago, I had a flare-up and suddenly my already stiff fingers wouldn't bend as much as they had done the previous day. I panicked. If they stuck in that position, with all the joints seized up, how would I be able to pick things up, fasten buttons, do all the normal little tasks you don't even think about? All at once, that dormant volcano was threatening my whole livelihood. My supplier of strong arnica has shut up shop on the web and the other varieties I've tried haven't been nearly as efficacious. Did you hear the sick joke that was doing the rounds during the Olympics? It went: Did you hear that one of the Paralympic competitors has tested positive for WD40? Now, there's a thought.

Friday, 3 October 2008

The Ministry of Disappearing Socks

Last time I did a wash, I put in two grey socks. Only one came out. I rotated the drum of the washing machine, stuck my head in, peered all round, looked in the garden to see if I had dropped it, felt inside the duvet cover and the pillow cases; no sock. It hasn't been seen for a week.

Just 45 minutes ago, I took off one sock to treat my fungal nail with its weekly Curanail routine, involving filing it, swabbing it, soaking it, trimming it and painting it with the very expensive solution. (I read the other day that Vicks Vaporub does the trick for only £3.99 as opposed to £13.99 - I am now on my third bottle as it takes a year to work!) Then I stripped everything else off and had a bath. Cleansed, dried and moisturised, I then started to get dressed again and lo and behold, only one sock awaited me. The other has hopped off to God knows where. It wasn't up the leg of my trousers, or stuffed in my sweatshirt pocket, or on the bed, or on the floor. It has simply gorn, vanished, disparu, evanui (Ok, my French spelling is as appalling as my pronunciation), buggered off. It is no more. It is a late sock.

I think that there may be a Ministry of Socks that, like an alien abduction, targets single socks and whisks them off for fiendish experimentation. Trying to make the ultimate glue from toe-jam; selling toenail clippings to witches; supplying moth breeding factories with food. It could be a nice little earner. But please, don't take one next time, take both. I can't match up one grey one, with one black one with yellow toe and heel. All my single socks end up in a bag, then every so often I chuck them out. Then I start finding the missing ones, of course, and end up with another bag full, till I remember I've already thrown away their mates, whereupon I throw the latest lot away, only it contained some that were put there only recently, and then of course I find THOSE missing ones. Perhaps it is the endless cycle of missing socks that keeps the world, if not the solar system, if not the whole universe, turning.

Handsome Gentleman


His name is Benson and when I first arrived to look after him, he greeted me like this... I mean, if that doesn't say "b*****" off, what does?


By the time I left, he was calm and laid back and much more like this.

He is a very intelligent cat who gets very bored when left on his own. As I tried to write a note to his owner, he insisted on trying to swipe the pen from my hand, leaving me with a page covered in illegible lines and scribbles. Maybe he was trying to write a message! By the way, his Mum had left a message saying 'No more fleas'. She was right. I didn't see any more at all. Mind you, he did fall asleep on my jacket. Better turf out the pockets in case they've hitched a ride.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Allergic to knickers!

Years ago, I was strolling around Ruislip Lido when I experienced a suidden, fiendish itch in my groin. It burned, it was excruciating and no amount of jigging around or pressing my hand on it (couldn't start scratching my crotch in public, could I?) would get it to abate. When I got home, I had fiery red lines where the leg elastic had met my flesh. The elastic had nylon lace on it. Then I remembered my allergy to sticking plasters.

Since then, I have avoided lacy lingerie, lovely though it is. My skin has told me in no uncertain terms that it will NOT put up with that scratchy nylon thread like fishing line, that's used to sew on so many garment labels. So many labels also have scratchy corners that as soon as I buy anything new, I have to cut them out, sometimes damaging the garment in the process. (Why DO manusfacturers sew the labels in so well that they are embedded in the fabric of your T-shirt or dress?)

Last week, I bought some new M&S knickers, having surreptitiously opened the packet first to check for smooth gussets and lack of hidden lace. Everything seemed fine so I bought them and yesterday wore a pair for the first time as I was going for a massage and would be lying on the couch with them on display.

All seemed well till I was walking through Debenhams afterwards. Suddenly, I got a most fiendish itch on the left, just where my pants met my old operation scar. I scrabbled inside my jacket, trying to get my jeans to do the work of scratching for me. No luck. In the end, I resorted to surreptiously scratching through my jeans pocket, like a pervert, hoping nobody would notice.
I got home, examined my underwear anf there was no sign of anything that could have caused it. I can only think it was a reaction between the massage oil and the elastic this time.

OR... and this is a big, scary or, I picked up a flea last night when visiting the lady whose cat I am going to be looking after for the next few days. It is huge, it is ginger, it is surly and it was hopping. I caught a flea while being introduced to him and plunged it swiftly into my glass of water, before flushing it down the loo. So I am on my way there now with antihistamines and a canister of flea spray. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Big Spid's Back!


Remember the spider I so cruelly chucked out into the garden when it wanted to be our House Spider? Well, a couple of nights ago I went into the bathroom and there it was, not by the light switch or in the bath, but in the basin this time! I persuaded it to stroll onto a piece of loo paper and carried it into the kitchen. Haven't seen it since, but I have no doubt that, once humans and cat have retired, it is patrolling the house from floor to ceiling, munching up every smaller spider it can find, because there is a sudden absence of those daddy longlegs spiders that, until recently, were lurking in every corner. Bloody cannibal! I did take a photo but the memory card chose that moment to give up the ghost. Another one is eagerly awaited from eBay.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Cobwebs in the mist


I was trying to photograph a spiderweb on Mr Grumpy's study window and didn't realise that both our reflections were being captured too, his superimposed on mine!

I liked the contrast between the spider's ladder and the builder's one!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Stars in my eyes!

I have a new freelance job, writing the astrology column for Scarlet, the sexy mag for women. Until a year ago, I was 'Claire Voyeur', doing the horoscopes for Fiesta, the men's mag. Now Fiesta has dispensed with my services after 20-odd years, I sent out a few email enquiries and lo and behold, it so happened that Scarlet were considering a change of astrologer. I take over from the January issue.

No, I don't do it all from a computer software program. I draw the chart up by hand, with the aid of an Ephemeris which charts the movements of the planets for the coming year, then I sit and think. For hours. For days. A monthly column will take me four days to do, so the fee only works out at £50 per day, but hey, it's better than starving, having the leccy and gas cut off, or getting repossessed. And from little asterids, big galaxies can grow. (?) Hope so, anyway!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Bank v Mattress?

On top of my usual insomnia, I have another pressing worry that is keeping me awake at night, which is how safe are my savings? They're not actually savings. I'm no earthly good at saving. If I have a few pounds kicking around in the bank and spot something delicious in a sale (wot? pay full price? me?), a treat always feels in order. No, I am referring to the vast sum gained from the sale of my house a year ago. It's not vast by London standards, but it's pretty good by Liverpool standards and I have been casting my eye over the estate agents' websites in Scouseland lately, wondering if I should buy two properties there, live in one and let out the other? On the other hand, a villa in Turkey overlooking the sea has a certain appeal...

Seriously though, I divided the cash between three different banks and building societies, putting it on instant access in case I suddenly found the place of my dreams and needed it in a hurry. In the past, I have always put house sale money into just one pot, as it's far easier to cope with moving cash out of one account than it is out of three. Now I discover that you're only covered for the sum of £35,000 if the financial institution where you have parked your cash goes bust. This means I should open six more accounts right away.

This is what is causing the headache, insomnia and downright panic symptoms: if I find the thought of organising cash from three accounts a problem, how the HELL would I manage nine? How do you know they will all transfer the money into my account in time to complete on the purchase? And it's not just getting it into my account that's a problem. It has to go in there, then out again and into the solicitor's account. The amount of organisation involved is immense. I don't feel up to the job and have just been in floods of tears at the very thought, wishing I had a Husband who could pat me on the head, say 'There, there, don't bother your pretty head about it, I will take charge of all the financial things from now on. You just sit there and write your books.'

Once that thought had entered my fluffy head, I shook it, appalled. Had I really thought that? Over the past century, thousands of women have fought, and some had died, to win a woman's right to have the vote and manage her own finances, and here was I mentally throwing it all away. I thought of a friend who, having won a substantial sum in damages against a hospital who wrecked her health, failed to protect it from her wicked husband who gambled it all away. Do I really want to turn back time and go back to the days when not only was a wife her husband's property, but all her worldly goods, too!

When I bought my first flat in 1979, it was very hard for a woman to get a mortgage in her own right and my boss had to stand as guarantor. Now, teenagers can get one - or could, until the present economic downturn began. But... nine different savings accounts? Aaaargh! Would it not be easier to buy a property - any property - and only have to manage one? Or shall I take every penny out of every account and stuff it all under the mattress? This is my current dilemma.

Last night I was at a do at Claridge's entitled, How Green Is My City? In the company of much money, old and new, a sprinkling of titles (Sir Clive Sinclair being one) and much flashing jewellery and gilded hair, I listened to talks about Living Walls and how to encourage bats into one's belfry. The wine was vile - white and acidic, I drank half a glass - and the nibbles were sushi, and today I am feeling ghastly, with thumping head and roiling tum. I have cancelled both my massage and the appointment I had to view a house. As for staring at the screen for hours as I research savings rates in various building socs, forget it. I hope the sheer force of my anxiety will keep the three to whom I have entrusted my every penny afloat for another day. Now, there did I put the Valium?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Spider time

September means spiders. I have a deep respect for my eight-legged friends, unlike my mother who shuddered at the memory of walks in woodlands where trees were joined by cats'-cradles of webs, each with a swaying occupant at the centre that was, in my mother's words, 'wearing its striped football jersey'. I still don't want too close a contact with them, though. They can run so fast, and it might be up your leg or down your neck!

Last night, I entered the bathroom, performed my ablutions in a relaxed state, winding down towards slumber, a state that was abruptly broken when I reached for the light switch and almost came finger to striped jersey with... IT. It was a cool, nonchalant example of an arachnid. In fact, it stood on tiptoes, swaying slightly, eyeing me with all eight of them. I eyed it back, crept out, closed the door and found a torch. Well, if I went in there during the night, I didn't want to touch it. It might be sitting on the doorhandle by then, like the wasp that stung Mr Grumpy last year. I mean, who would expect a wasp or a large spider to be on the handle, for heaven's sake? Worse, I didn't want to squidge down on it with my naked foot. Uggggh!

But when I went in for a wee at three, there was no sign. Had it gone under the door and through the gap beneath the adjacent door - my bedroom? I stumbled back, switched on the light, searched on and under pillows and duvet, but phew, no sign.

This morning, into the bathroom I went again and there it was in the bath. I made a mental note to rescue it in a glass after breakfast but Mr G got there first. He didn't even contain the beast. He had it sitting on a piece of kitchen towel and chased me round the kitchen with it, the sadist. No wonder I get indigestion so often. Fancy getting spidered in the middle of one's toast and marmalade! It's now out in the cold, but I feel sure I can hear a tiny tapping of eight feet on the patio door and a sibillant, pleading whisper of, 'Pleasssssse let me in!'

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Er... the road to hell...

... is paved with good intentions, and one was not to drink till Wednesday. Well, I needed something to help me sleep last night and a bottle of red wine seemed the answer, so I drank half of it and slept half the night. Maybe I should have drunk all of it and slept all night! Though maybe not, as what woke me was my stomach making sounds like the Last Night of the Proms' percussion section (to be truthful, slightly more than just my stomach was involved) and when I got up, my head was thumping. I've suspected for a while that red wine and I do not get on. In fact, I have a strange allergic reaction if I mix red wine and seafood. The room spins and I am violently ill. And guess what? With half a bottle still to finish (can't waste it, can I, with the cost of wine today, and Mr G doesn't drink), I opened the fridge to find Mr G defrosting prawns. They are obviously intended for tonight's dinner. Damn! Actually, I don't feel like either wine or prawns today. I have a nice piece of lemon sole in the freezer. And a pack of Yogi Stomach-Ease tea. And one of my friend Jacula's divine chocolate and ginger cookies which have just arrived. Thanks, Jac. Cheers!