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 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


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.

I nicked the pick from the website of 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.


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.