Monday, 28 December 2009

We wish (hic) you a Merry Mishmush

Poor old Mr Grumpy was up at 5 am on Christmas Eve to help his friend who runs the local butcher's shop. He had spent hours the previous day writing out tickets to match customers' orders and got everything out of the chiller and stood in the frozen yard in the sleet for seven hours, as everyone came and collected their turkeys, ham, etc. By the evening, he felt rotten and went to bed early. Come Christmas Day, the poor man had a streaming cold, which he'd caught off the butcher's two youngest sons. He spent the whole of the weekend feeling dreadful but put on a very brave act and cooked the turkey while I did the veg.

He gave me some wonderful presents, one of which was a Pegasus pendant which I'd seen on line earlier in the year. He had put me off it, saying he didn't like it, whilst secretly planning to buy it for me. Only he lost the link to the jewellery designer's website. I found it again but, woe... no Pegasus was on it. It looked as if she had sold out. However, an email elicited the fact that she had just one left, so I was lucky! He also gave me a digital photo frame which I have had lots of fun with. When I get a moment, I shall get some collections of photos together to show on it.

I drank half a bottle of red wine on Christmas Day (Mr Grumpy doesn't drink), which was just enough to create a mellow glow. I finished the bottle on Boxing Day while Mr G shivered and groaned beneath a blanket and I made him countless mugs of tea. I felt a bit icky on Boxing Day - overstuffed tum - so vowed to give up alcohol for a week and go on a nice, plain diet. But Fate had other plans up its sleeve.

Yesterday, we had a panic phone call from Mr G's friend who lives in Spain. She was already over here, spending Christmas with her sister in Essex, but had heard that her son had split up with his wife yesterday morning. They have three kids between them, one each and one mutual one, and our friend had presents for all of them. She was quite distressed, not knowing if the wife had departed, taking her granddaughter with her, so she asked if we could give her a bed for the night as her son lived just down the road.

Now, Mr G's friend - let's call her B - is well acquainted with the bottle. Any bottle. My heart sank as I knew I wouldn't be able to resist joining her in a glass or two. I had two bottles chilling in the fridge, one flat, one fizzy. It turned out B couldn't drink fizzy. Then ring-ring at the bell and in trooped a couple of Mr G's old friends with their extended family, consisting of children, partners, grandchildren. Mr G knew the couple themselves were arriving - in fact, they were supposed to be coming for a meal on their way home to Kent and he had cooked one of his famous potato, ham and cheese pies specially for them. But he hadn't expected an army, especially one which had just finished a huge dinner and wouldn't be wanting his pie.

As it was the festive period, and as the white wine had almost gone, I broke open a wine box of Rose, and got out some beers for the boys and a large bag of Bengal Bites, or whatever those Indian nibbles are called. By now, it was 8 pm, I was starving, having eaten nothing since a small bowl of soup at 1 pm, and soon I was shovelling spicy nibbles down my throat with the greed of a starving mouse that had just fallen into a grain silo.

As we waved them off an hour or so later, I picked up a leaflet from the floor that had been popped through the letterbox in the intervening hour. It was the answer to a prayer, something I'd never seen before. A new... wait for it... home delivery service for alcohol! Yes indeed, wine and fags delivered to your door. B and I pounced on it and in no time at all, three more bottles of white wine had appeared, with only a £2.50 delivery charge.

The rest of the evening faded into a blur and a few crumbs of ham, cheese and potato pie. Oh, and some chocolates. And... well, I can't remember, but at 3 am I had major heartburn and kept having to swallow my acidy wine for the second time. Oh well, at least I got twice the value out of it. And today, miraculously, I don't feel too bad at all.

My G will be putting a fire in the wood-burning stove later. He always searches for pieces of paper to add to it, to get the first flames flickering. What's the betting I never see that Home Alcohol Deliver leaflet again!!!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Seasonal phobias

When Christmas precedes a weekend and bank holidays follow, I get in a panic because it means the dentist's is shut for five whole days. Every tiny twinge in jaw or gum becomes an incipient agonising abscess. Every slight pain when I bite becomes a filling about to fall out or a tooth about to break. My front crown has wobbled slightly for years but now it feels as if one nibble of turkey will cause it to detach completely, leaving me looking like a vampire. Then there is that pain in my stomach that's come and gone for years and years... Could it be a grumbling appendix that is biding its time and is planning to rupture on Christmas Day?

There is only one solution and that is to get uproariously drunk from now till next Tuesday. Merry-hic-Chrishmash!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

My baby goddaughter

I met my new goddaughter yesterday and I am totally smitten! I've never been very good with babies. I've not had much exposure to them. I don't know how to pick them up (when I try they always cry) and am much better with kittens and puppies. But this time was different. From the moment Elaria smiled at me, I was a goner. What a shame she will soon be back in Vancouver.

She actually has three godmothers and three godfathers spread around the globe. As she gets older, she'll feel like royalty. But there'll always be a big, soft, squidgy place for her in my heart.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Gift-Wrap Rap

My nerves and tongue are snapping as I do my Christmas wrapping
And my language and the air are turning blue
As I make a nice, neat packet of my sister's sparkly jacket,
Then find that two hands simply will not do.

As my left hand grimly holds the reindeer-patterned folds,
My right gropes for the Sellotape in vain,
Just to find the stuff is stuck in a nail-defying tuck
And the end is never to be seen again.

I hear the paper rip as I release my grip
To go scrabbling at the tape with huff and puff.
Then behind my back the parcel spills out across the carpet,
Collecting lots of cat hairs, dust and fluff.

I shake and brush and blow (thank God she'll never know),
Then I reach for sticky tape with happy grin,
For I've thought of something clever; I'll cut several strips together
And I'll park them for the moment on my chin.

Aha! This is the ticket! I can hold and fold and stick it
And rip my chin hairs out for free as well.
But as I get underway, Sod's Law comes into play
With a ding-dong-bloody-bing-bong on the bell

I get a funny look as I sign the postie's book;
In fact his attitude is downright weird.
But as I pass the mirror, I scream aloud and shiver
At the sight of mad old bag with sticky beard.

At last my wrapping's done, though my chin looks like a plum.
As I glug my well-earned wine I vow, "No more!"
Next year I won't go crackers, I'll just pay the extra ackers
To have the blinking lot wrapped by the store.


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Singing styles

We all have at least one unfulfilled ambition and my main one was to be a singer-songwriter of the Joni Mitchell kind. I wrote my first song when I was six, and just kept on. Even now, a song bubbles up every so often like lava from a dormant volcano, reminding me of the existence of music in my soul.

When I used to sing, I loved the tonal quality of notes, drawing them out and making them ring. To me, singing was about the beauty of the sound and the emotional sense of the words. My voice was of the pure, folky soprano type as delivered by Mary Hopkin and Joni Mitchell in her early days prior to The Hissing of Summer Lawns when she started to go jazzy, which caused as many ripples amongst fans as Dylan did when he decided to go electric.

Now, though, singing seems all about style and much less about meaning and tonal quality. Listen to the singers on X-Factor and you won't hear a pure note amongst them. What you get instead is a series of tricksy twiddles and hiccupy catches. It's 'clever' singing, technical singing, rather than singing from the heart and letting it pour out of an open throat in the way an opera singer does. It's a style I knew nothing about until the day I went to put a track down in a recording studio about 20 years ago and the producer wanted all kinds of vocal frills and furbelows that I didn't have a clue how to do. Next time I heard my song, he'd got another female singer to ad-lib all the twiddles.

So how refreshing it is to hear Camilla Kerslake's high, pure tones on How Can I Keep From Singing. Not a twiddle in sight, just the lovely, lilting melody, unadulterated by affected modern pop 'style'. This is the kind of singing I do. In fact, I can reach her notes, which is quite a miracle. Though it's been some time since I could hit Minnie Ripperton's very highest squeak on Loving You. I can still reach the note below it, though. I tried it when I was all alone in the changing room at the gym the other day. There's a stone floor, tiled walls and a very good echo. Then I heard a male voice clearing his throat very loudly and realised that the male changing room was on the other side of the wall. Oops. Bet he thought someone had pulled their thong up too high, with a twang. Ee-ee-eek!

Monday, 14 December 2009

The Tale of the Champion Mouser

Knotty Ash, Liverpool, isn't just a place Ken Dodd jokes about, it's the area where my mum grew up. Back in 1918, when Mum was ten, phones were rare commodities, as were cars, especially when you were council tenants like they were, so people communicated by letter and caught the bus.

One day, my gran received a letter from a friend who lived way over the other side of the city. "We have mice in the house. We need a cat," the letter said.

Now, my gran kept a menagerie which at once point consisted of cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens, a monkey called Jacko and a swearing parrot that my grandfather adored (another story). One of the cats, a huge, scabby old ginger tom, was a brilliant mouser so my gran decided to lend it to her friend. Old Ginger was bundled, protesting loudly, into a shopping bag and my mum, Muriel, a pretty little girl with big blue eyes and lovely strawberry-blonde ringlets, a real Pears Soap child, was walked to the bus stop and told where to get off the other end.

At first, Ginger protested loudly. Loud, mournful howls such as only a tom cat can produce, emanated from the bag and old ladies gave Muriel sympathetic looks. After a while, all went silent. 'Good,' thought my mum, 'he's fallen asleep.' Not so. There is another reason why a cat falls silent and that is when he has done something so momentously, horrifically, wickedly terrible that he is guilt-struck dumb. This was one of those occasions.

All of a sudden, a terrible stench arose from the bag. As the miasma pervaded the bus, passengers produced handkerchiefs and started to move seat. Scarlet with embarrassment, Mum prodded the bag and called, "Puss, Puss," to no avail. Silence prevailed. She was just a little girl with a shopping bag and everybody thought the vile aroma was coming from her.

Eventually, wobbly-legged and weeping, she humped the heavy, silent , stinking bag down the stairs of the bus and made the long walk to the lady's house, the swaying bag bumping against her knees and making her slender, ten-year-old arms ache most horribly.

Finally, wearily, she arrived. "My gran has sent you a cat," she said with a sweet smile, plonking the bag on the lady's hall floor. As she undid it, out shot a furious, filthy, hissing, spitting ginger ball of teeth and claws which frightened the woman so much that she fainted. When she came to, she told Muriel, "Catch that horrible creature and take it right back where it came from. I wanted a sweet little kitten, not that... that demon!"

Without allowing Mum to clean out the bag, old Ginger was stuffed back into it and Muriel was forced to carry her smelly cargo all the way back to Knotty Ash. No wonder they say friends and business don't mix!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

In days of yore

Mr Grumpy's 76-year-old brother was here today and they started reminiscing about the past. One story involved the day their six chickens disappeared from the back garden, where they lived a happy, free range life. Mr G and his brother were sent to investigate and found the back gate had been forced open and no sign of the chickens. Then Mr noticed something on the ground. A wallet, with a name and address in it. Aha, they thought; the culprit. They sneaked up to the house and sure enough, they could hear chickens and peeking over the fence they espied six, which seemed more than just a coincidence.

They went to the police with Mum. A while later, an officer came round and asked them to come to the address in the next street and identify their clucking property. Now, it so happened that one hen - named Henrietta - had had a fight with another hen and had her comb partially torn off. Dad had trapped Henrietta between his knees, taken a needle and cotton and sewed up her comb, but she wriggled free before he could cut the cotton. Once inside the thief's garden, Mr G, who was only about five at the time, shouted, "Look, there's Henrietta!" Sure enough, the tell-tale piece of black cotton was dangling from her (now healed) comb. Proof enough.

Weeks later, the case was up before the judge, but Mr G's family were told they had to produce the stolen goods. So Mr G and his brother, who was in his late teens, Mr G being the baby of the family, were packed off on the bus with a cardboard box containing six chickens.

The fowl were quiet (probably in shock at finding themselves shoved unceremoniously into a hot, smelly box and treated to a long, bumpy bus ride) and all was well until they got to the courtroom and were forced to wait. And wait. And wait. The chickens grew restive and began to cluck, very loudly. One even laid an egg. The boys were mortified as everyone was staring and laughing. After they had waited several hours, they were told that the 'evidence' was not needed after all as the culprit had pleaded guilty. So back onto the bus they went with their bouncing, clucking box. By the time they got home, their egg was scrambled.


The Tale of the Champion Mouser

Friday, 11 December 2009

Definitely ill this time!

Have felt awful for the last three days, with diarrhoea, nausea, headache and shivers, and yesterday all-over aches and cystitis added themselves to the list. Woke up at 3-ish and every muscle and joint was hurting so I took a paracetamol and went back to bed. Was supposed to catch a train to Shropshire this morning to my goddaughter's baby's christening (in fact, it left 18 mins ago sans moi), but thought I'd better ring my goddaughter and her parents and check if they wanted to run the risk of catching it. The answer was no! In fact, my goddaughter's mum said it sounded very like swine flu so I checked the symptoms. The health website says if you have a temperature plus two or more on the list, you've probably got it. I could tick off seven out of the eight!


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Sex in the stars

Although I resigned my astrology column in Scarlet Magazine as they made me wait all year for my money rather than pay me regularly every month, which is what I expected and needed, I am still contracted to write the rude stars for men's mag Fiesta. Years ago, Fiesta sent me on an astrology course. 25 years on, I am still friends with three people I met on it - Tony, Nigel and Mo - and I have been Fiesta's tame astrologer since then, providing such vital info as Best Sex Day of the Month. Let me know your sign and I'll give you the hot dates for Jan and Feb!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Death on the Tube

There is a nasty app on Facebook that predicts (humorously) when and how you will die. It told me I would be eaten by cannibals at the age of 103! However, the poor person that gave me such a terrible time on the Tube today can't have used that app or they would never have ventured out.

I had an appointment with an estate agent to see three houses at 12.30. I left two hours to do the hour and a half journey. Got to Kings Cross on the Met with no trouble. Was too early so went to Accessorize and bought an extra Christmas present, then headed for the Piccadilly Line. A train came, I got on. An announcement came, we all got off. Someone had been taken ill on a train further up the line. The platform got more and more crowded. I decided to go two stops further towards my destination on the Victoria Line. As I headed towards the exit, I overheard a lady talking to a member of the Undergound staff. "What happened?" she asked. "Somebody had a heart attack," said the member of staff. "Did they die?" asked the lady. Now come on, did she really have to ask that? "Yes," was the reply.

I completed my journey by Tube and overground train and was only fifteen minutes late, but all the journey I was thinking how ghastly it would be to die in a hot, crowded Underground train in front of all those people. To be struck by an agonising heart attack, crying out, clutching your chest, collapsing, in front of strangers, all at a loss as to what to do, all not knowing how to help, all shocked. With children maybe, asking questions. "Mummy, what's wrong with that man/woman?" Dying is bad enough anyway, though we all have to do it. But dying in public on a train? Give me the cannibals any time. But... that poor person. Just before Christmas, too. I feel so sad for them and their family, and wish I hadn't overheard that conversation.

And, for the record, the houses were awful, it rained and I wished I hadn't gone out at all!

A weird dream

Last night I had the most vivid dream about Louise, my friend who died six weeks ago. I was walking down a road and suddenly there she was, coming towards me. "Yes, it is me," she said. The only difference was that her hair, instead of being long with grey streaks, had a reddish tinge. I asked if she were a ghost and she took hold of my hand. She felt warm, solid and real. She told me she had to come back to finish all the books she had started. She said she couldn't go back to her house in Cornwall as it would upset her husband too much, so I said she could stay with me.

She told me she didn't need to eat or drink, but she had the ability to make herself invisible at will. We embraced, but I didn't feel the emotional warmth that usually came from her. Her voice was the same, her looks, her witty remarks, but it wasn't quite her. I asked what sort of form she was in and she explained that she was a 'simulacrum'.

The next step was to arrange a meeting with her literary agent, who, having told all her publishers that she was dead, would have a difficult job persuading them that she was still writing books! We met near his office at Tower Bridge and he tried hard to hide his amazement. In the end, we decided to say she was a close relative, a first cousin, who had inherited the story-writing gene, and was going to take up where Louise left off.

I asked her if she could still sing and asked her to sing one of her favourite songs. I was testing her, to see if she still retained the living Louise's memories, and she did indeed sing one of her favourites, a sea song called The Last Leviathan, a tragic tale of the very last whale. She said we could still make that CD together and I awoke feeling very happy.

Wonder if I'll meet her today???

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Charity Shopping

My wardrobe is stuffed with garments both weird and wonderful. A fab leopard print coat; a Wallis party frock that fits like a dream; mauve Nike trainers; sleek, black, sexy leather trousers; beaded wraps and scarves; velvets, silks, linens and lace. And none of them cost more than £8 because they all came from the local charity shops.

Mr Grumpy calls me the Charity Shop Queen. He says that if the staff catch sight of me walking past without calling in, they collapse in tears behind their tills, thinking their best customer has deserted them. I first visited a charity shop, Oxfam it was, in the late 1960s and can still remember what a bought - a wonderful green and silver brocade coat, a la Beatles album covers. This was the hippy era, after all. Wandering down Carnaby Street with my waist-length red hair, dressed in that coat plus knee-length white boots, I felt like a star. Surely, before very long cameras would be snapping and I'd be 'discovered', a cross between Cilla Black and Julie Christie?

'Twas not to be, but I nearly got there. I got a manager, a recording contract, a tour with a hit rock band called Family, and if my manager hadn't done a runner, I might have been Britain's answer to Joni Mitchell. I wrote all my own songs, which was rare for those days. But the one thread running through from those days to now is the charity shop and it's rare that a week goes by without me giving in to the impulse to pop in 'just to see what they've got'.

Yesterday's haul was a brand new looking Next sweater for Mr G (£4) and a sports top and an Oasis skirt for me, both of the £1 rail. My friend Claire did the best, snaring a pair of Hotter shoes, practically unworn, for £3.50 - plus the famous Hat which we both loved and have agreed to time-share, though it fits me the best! This summer, I had a wardrobe clear-out and made over £300 selling items on eBay. I've just sold a pair of very uncomfortable hiking boots and have a wonderful Lulu and Red silk skirt, size 16, if anyone is interested! Brand new with labels. I bought it for £5 in a charity shop. Yours for £6.50. A girl's gotta make a profit!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

For shame!

Sometimes one can wallow in the shallows while one's friends are forging ahead and doing the creative equivalent of three minute miles! One friend in particular, Joan, has in the last year, following redundancy, deaths of parents, bad health and awful depression, achieved the following: winning a photography prize; having some poetry published in Southbank Poetry Magazine; getting a name for herself for performing her poems in public; and this week, having one of her photos displayed in the Bankside Gallery in London. Well done, Joan! Instead of moaning for the last year because my literary agent didn't understand me, I should have taken a leaf out of Joan's book and gone ahead and done my own thing. Joan has no agent, and look what she's achieved? Mea culpa! It's self-adminstered kick up the arse time. Tomorrow, I shall write a poem.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Cafe Mozart

When I was living in and around Highgate, North London, the favourite lunchtime meeting place for me, my friends and my goddaughter, was the Cafe Mozart in Swain's Lane. I love the name, Swain's Lane. Makes you go back in time to the days when Parliament Hill and Highgate Hill were countryside and shepherds drove sheep along the main road to market, and swains canoodled with their milkmaid girlfriends beneath the trees and bushes. Cafe Mozart, or Mozart's as we always called it, is also a blast from the past as it's like an old Viennese coffee house complete with Austrain cakes and schnitzels and populated by greybeards who read the Morning Star in dark corners - or perhaps they are retired spies from the Russian Trade Delegation buildings further up the hill.

I met my old friends Jill and Pete and, having absorbed various bits of rather sad family news, we then proceeded to put the world to rights, including climate change and each other's love lives. It was great fun and I only wished I lived nearer so I could do it more often. It was tantalising to see Hampstead Heath just across the street and not have time for a wander. My friend Jill must be the only pensioner to go rollerblading on the Heath. Every time it's even vaguely sunny she is up there, whizzing around.

Ages ago I decided to write a poignant novel called Meet Me at Mozart's. I think it has a certain ring to it. I can see the movie. All I have to do now is write the damn book!