It’s Halloween – and I have my cushion ready

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We didn’t really do Halloween when I was a child.

I’ve never lived in an environment where small children dressed up for Halloween and walked round the neighbourhood after dark, blagging sweets and threatening retribution if the treats were not forthcoming.

I’ve seen it on the TV – usually in some film set in America though. Who can forget the sight of ET staggering along a street full of zombies, fairies and mini mock axe murderers?

When I worked in children’s homes, we did our best to discourage the children from going out on Halloween – we usually had enough trouble with the neighbours as it was and the sight of anyone emerging from the Home dressed up as a witch or skeleton would have brought forth a multitude of phone calls and the inevitable blue lights flashing outside.

Not In My Backyard.

So we looked at the situation in a more lateral manner and decided to have a Halloween party instead.  We invited social workers, our favourite policeman and a couple of parents who were actually grateful for the work we were doing with their children.

We worked with the children to decorate the building and make tantalising food.  My drama school training came in very useful as I painted faces and fashioned costumes out of whatever could be found in the store cupboards or begged from staff who weren’t that  fussed about attending but didn’t mind contributing.

It became an annual event and only ever attracted adverse attention once from a particularly right-on newly-qualified social worker who felt that we were encouraging  the children to participate in pagan celebrations. For a while we thought that we were going to have to abandon the party but assistance came from a very high place.

It appeared that the assistant director of children’s services had intervened and basically told the social worker to wind her neck in.  We weren’t sacrificing the children, nor encouraging them to go out and persecute the neighbours – in fact we were keeping them occupied and – dare I say it – happy!  The AD even contributed a tenner to the party fund. They don’t make assistant directors like that anymore.

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Two very heavily disguised members of staff having a jolly time.

Unfortunately the management team changed after that and the local authority decided to shut down  several of the homes. In the reshuffle I moved to a larger observation and assessment centre where children were only supposed to stay for a period of six weeks at the most while we observed and assessed them. In reality many of them were stranded there for several months before anything practical was done about their futures.

It was a much larger establishment and had a huge dining room  – ideal for parties! I moved there in the spring and by autumn, had managed to convince the other staff – and more importantly the children – that we should have a Halloween party – with a disco!  Well, when I say disco I mean a record player someone donated to us, and my ever-growing collection of singles – which I still have. There were obvious gaps as I changed records and this was long before the days of  scratching and mixing but the children seemed to like it.

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This photo and the following two photos were taken at one of our Halloween discos. There are better photos but I have no idea where the children in them are now so I can’t get their permission  to use them here. I’ve chopped off the naughty boy who was trying to remove my headphones, and the other two children fell victim to my facepainting skills so that even their own mothers wouldn’t have recognised them.

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You can at least see the lengths we went to with black and orange crepe paper, inflatable skeletons and false spider webs. We played games too; apple dunking, eating a donut off a piece of elastic and that good old standby – can you eat three cream crackers in three minutes?

Not easy.

Nearly as hard as eating a sugary donut without licking your lips.

The cook even allowed us into the kitchen for the evening and as well as the usual buffet favourites, we served up chips in newspaper squares, and sent the kids into a fizzy frenzy with elaborately decorated mocktails of cheap lemonade and fruit juice (they’d have preferred Coke or Pepsi but the budget didn’t run to that). It’s amazing what gory things you can do however, with glace cherries, cocktail sticks, marshmallows and cochineal.

Life in a children’s home – however big or small – isn’t the way it’s portrayed on the TV.  There’s a lot more arguing and fighting – and that’s just the staff.

I learned a great deal about life in the ten years I spent in children’s services. I also acquired a social work degree and a level of cynicism about social care that has increased over the years.  You do your best but it is often a thankless job due to a lack of resources, unimaginative management and children that have been desperately damaged by their families before they even get to you.

I got out of childcare. I got out of social care entirely for a number of years I spent enjoying life with Hub and subsequently Uni Boy, Gap Boy and a large number of cats.

I forgot about Halloween.

And we moved Up North.

One night, in the middle of September, I answered the door to a pair of hoody-clad yoofs wearing fright masks.

“Trick or treat.” Their voices alternately squeaked and rumbled which gave me a clue to their approximate ages.

“It’s not even October yet.” Quite bravely considering it was nine o’clock at night and I was alone in the house with two small children.(and five cats who were lined up behind me being curious).

“Yeah, well we’ll be in Tenerife over Halloween. It’s half-term.”

“I have a couple of bars of chocolate in the fridge but they’ll probably melt in Tenerife.”

They looked at me, then at each other and pulled faces that implied that I might be lacking in the brain cell department.

“We don’t want chocolate. We want money.”

I drew myself up to my full five feet two inches and tried to forget the fact that I was wearing huge padded comedy slippers purporting to be the Queen and Prince Phillip.

“Right, so you are attempting to extort money from me by use of menace then?”

“What?!’ They both took a step back from my door.

“Oh yes.” I was warming to my subject now. “It is nine o’clock at night and I have two males dressed in dark clothing, wearing masks to cover their identities and demanding money from me. I’ll phone the police now then.”

They legged it up the road before I could count to five.

Result!

I shut the door  and managed to navigate my comedy slippers through the cat barricade and collapsed with trembling knees on the sofa. The cats followed me into the front room and I could have sworn they were laughing – or maybe just smirking. My cats had seen through my bravado – you can’t fool cats.

My own little cherubs didn’t fancy venturing into the cold Northern nights and neither did many other children from our area. The Coffee Morning Group Mums (alter known as OptiMums)  including my Lovely Friend, took action. We decided to have – yes – you guessed – Halloween discos!

These were the best though; we made costumes and painted faces, decked the halls with crepe paper and cooked up a storm with such delights as Dead Man’s Fingers (cocktail sausages), Slime Soup (LF’s wonderful pea and ham soup), the entire range of additive filled Halloween sweets and those wonderful orange and raspberry drinks in plastic cups that you inserted a straw into. They were cheap and cheerful and invariable made the kids hyper – but they were our kids so nobody minded!

It’s twenty-past seven now and there have been no Halloween knocks at our door.  Our neighbourhood now consists of elderly people or families like ours – whose children are no longer children and  too old for such frivolities.

The only small children in the road have gone away for half-term and thank goodness, so has the naughty boy who used to live across the road and chuck eggs at the windows regardless of whether you tried to bribe him with chocolate  – or money.

Bezzie Mate has just told me that in his part of the world, the streets are busy with large women clad in black with cats ears shepherding large groups of suitably garbed children from door to door. They are also having fireworks there as well.

I’m not sure but probably word has got around that there is a large black dog on the other side of our front door and he doesn’t like VISITORS! Or fireworks.

To compensate for no-longer children and lack of trick or treaters, Hub and took a parcel of Halloween goodies with us when we went to visit Dear Friend and her lovely family. They sampled Vampire’s Veins, chocolate eyeballs, green slime cakes and marshmallow skulls.  I wish we’d had such a variety of naughtiness to offer my  broken-homed children, or even my own two monsters.

Here they are; Uni Boy as a pumpkin and Gap Boy (rather appropriately) as a little devil. I have been told recently that I abused my boys by dressing them in such bright colours – Gap Boy can be really ridiculous sometimes – they looked so cute in those days – sigh.

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Oh, the cushion! I nearly forgot! have to confess that I cannot watch horror films without having a cushion in front of my face for the really scary bits. I can remember watching ‘Halloween’ with a group of older teenaged girls one night .

“What’s happening? Who’s screaming?”

“I don’t know. I’ve got a cushion over my face.”

“So have I.”

“And me.”

“Me too.”

Giggles.  In this age of technology I prefer to ‘watch’  horror films on DVD so that I can fast forward them when a scary bit rears its ugly head – only works well  if you know the film already.

No blogs during November unless something really exciting happens – I will be busy doing NaNoWriMo and none of that goes to Blogland after the disastrous events of 2012 which resulted in all sorts of people getting offended and my having to become self-employed.

1600 words a day is quite enough thank you.

Happy Halloween – however you choose to celebrate it.

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‘No Yo Ho Ho! – Not For Another Month at Least, Please?’

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We all love Christmas.

Well, most of us love Christmas.

Erm; a decreasing number of us love Christmas.

I loved Christmas as a child.

I still love it.

I cherish the story that I wrote at infant school about how I got a scooter from Father Christmas – with pictures too.  I can remember the bright blue paint, clean and unsullied. I rode that scooter round the streets until it eventually fell apart and was beyond repair.

I think that may have been the Christmas that I got a Teeny Tiny Tears too – considerably smaller than Tiny Tears but she still had the capacity to cry and wee once you had filled up the water reservoir in the middle of her back.

This could have caused me to grow up with some very strange notions about how babies took on and expelled water but luckily I had baby cousins who dispelled those notions the first time I watched my aunt changing a nappy.

There were rules about Christmas in our house.

We didn’t start it too early – usually around the weekend nearest the tenth of December – the Chinese lanterns and crepe paper streamers were unearthed and strung around the room.

Christmas wasn’t a real Christmas without the tree lights malfunctioning.  A vivid Yuletide memory is of my Dad swearing quietly under his breath as he tried to track down the wayward bulb. We knew instinctively to keep out of the way until  the tree lit up, at which point we would all appear and make noises of glee and approval.

Christmas Eve was special.

We used to go to the house of one of my aunts; it started off in a quiet way with sandwiches and nibbles.  Giggling with our cousins at our great-aunt when she took her false teeth out and flicked fag ash into the peanuts (given a very wide berth by us knowing children but we didn’t tell the adults – cue more giggling).

Over the years, as their family expanded and they moved to a bigger house, my aunt and uncle’s pre-Christmas celebrations grew as well.  My uncle was Polish and introduced much of his heritage to the rest of the family at their parties.

Polish sausage, pickled herring, Bigos (ham and sauerkraut stew) and (shudder) brawn.

The sight of the pig’s head boiling away in the kitchen to make the brawn left me reluctant to even sample a tiny bit.

The peanuts were safe from fag ash now, the great-aunt had smoked her way into another place.

I miss those Christmas Eves; the joy of meeting up with the family and putting presents under the tree, buffet browsing Anglo-Polish style and pinching the odd glass of sherry when no one was looking.

Blessed as I am with a bevy of beautiful and talented cousins, I think that the reason we are so close – despite geographical distances – is because of those Christmas Eve parties.

It was usually Christmas Day by the time we left, tired and giddy and clutching carrier bags of presents that we weren’t allowed to open till the morning with the other presents that Father Christmas would be bringing.

Of all the Christmas Days I enjoyed as a child, the one that sticks in my memory is the Christmas When Every Thing Went Wrong.

The day began with the sprouts (eurgh) melted the plastic colander.

Then it was discovered that my Lovely Mum had forgotten to take the giblets out of the turkey before she cooked it. They were in a plastic bag. Mum invented an early form of shrink wrap.

Dad put too much alcohol on the Christmas pudding and rather than burning with a bright blue flame, it incinerated to a black shrivelled lump.

Needless to say, tempers were frayed.

My Dad shouted.

My Lovely Mum hit him with a rolled up newspaper.

We howled.

The dog, unsure if this was domestic violence or just a playfight, decided that it needed to be stopped.

So he bit Lovely Mum on the arm.

Things went very quiet after that.  The dog went out in the garden very quickly and Mum’s arm went under the tap – bruised but not bloodied.

There was also a strict rule about when the decorations came down.

I know a lot of people take them down as soon as they can – after New Year’s Day usually  – but as Lovely Mum’s birthday was on the 4th January, we left them up for her and had a mad dash to get them down and put away before Twelfth Night. Although Lovely Mum has left us, I still leave my decorations up till after her birthday.

I do like Christmas really.

Christmas carols make me cry; in my semi-religious phase I couldn’t get through Midnight Communion without blubbing – ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ gets me every time and ‘Silent Night’ – I’m welling up just thinking about it..

Little school choirs singing in shopping malls turn me to a gibbering wreck .

I never managed to stay dry-eyed during either of my children’s nativity plays and had to make sure that I always wore a large scarf to absorb my tears and hide my quivering lip.

“Oh Mother – you are SO embarrassing!”

So why the grumpy title?

It’s only the 28th October!

Just under two months till Christmas.

So why are the shops full of Christmas stuff?  Poor old Halloween is being shuffled into a side aisle.So unfair to think of skulls, witches and ghouls being ousted by snow-persons, fat robins and Father Christmas.

Shops are beginning to play ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ on an endless loop that drives the salespeople bonkers and does not encourage a festive spirit because we’ve all heard the tunes SO many times before.  Even the starving poor across the world will know that it is Christmas because of that flipping song!

Now this is the bit where I show myself to be a hypocrite. Having moaned about the early incursion of Christmas into the shopping arena – I cashed in on it.

Two years ago we got rid of our huge holly berried and fir-coned false Christmas tree and bought a nice fibre optic 1 metre high tree that needed very little in the way of decoration and took less than ten minutes to put up.

I loved that little tree.

We had to get the decorations down a bit sharpish as, for the first time ever, we were flying off on holiday for the New Year and couldn’t face the idea of unpacking, washing and undecking the halls.

I don’t know what happened to my little tree.

We hunted high and low in the run up to last Christmas but it was nowhere to be found so we went off to the garden centre to get a replacement.

All the nice trees were gone and a real tree was out of the question, as Scooby had come to live with us and we weren’t quite sure if he could differentiate between an outside tree and an inside one.

We continued our search but by this time it was mid-December and they were beginning to set out the Easter egg displays.

We settled for a slightly larger tree that appeared to be fibre optic and looked as if it could stand the vigors of tail lashing and large-male bashing.

It was a hideous monster tree and what I thought were fibre optic lights turned out to be translucent globs on the ends of the branches.

Every branch had to be fluffed out and attached  to one of the three stems that made up the body of the tree. The fake fir was rough on the fingers and I broke two nails trying to insert the branches. When we finally got it upright it was HUGE and very drab, so we had to go out and buy MORE decorations for it.  Of course, by this time there were hardly any decorations left, just a mish mash of broken or ugly coloured baubles. We could have used Easter eggs I suppose.

Bezzie Mate and  went for lunch at my favourite garden centre a couple of weeks ago  and I noticed that they had the mock-Christmas trees on display.  Against my better judgement but fuelled by a decent lunch, we had a rummage in the festive section but they didn’t have the tree I wanted.

Undaunted we drove down the road to the bigger  garden centre (more choice but the cafe is more like a transport cafe and always seems to be full of screaming kids).

My heart leapt; we had barely got in the door when I spied my long-lost tree shimmering amongst its larger (and uglier) fir-y brethren.

BM toddled off for a browse amongst some boots and I combed the centre desperately seeking an assistant.  I found one but he was having an intense conversation about bulbs with a very demanding woman who kept grabbing his forearm.  He didn’t seem to mind though.

I waited.

And waited.

I got bored then and had a competition with myself to find the most tacky Christmas decoration in the store. It was a toss-up between some very ugly opaque white rigid plastic trees of about 6 inches and an array of ‘fibre-optic Christmas tapestries’. Closer inspection revealed them to be printed material pictures with lights in funny places. They were the winners but they were all hideous I couldn’t choose the worst.

My assistant was free!

I took him to my tree and asked if he could find me one that was boxed up.  He took the tag and disappeared.

I went in search of BM who was in the process of falling for some stout walking boots that were half-price.

My assistant returned toting a long white box. He turned it round to look at the picture and check that he had the right one.

He had the wrong one and disappeared again into the bowels of the garden centre.

We carried on browsing but feared the worst when he returned with a furrowed brow.

“I can’t find it.”

“But you have one on display. You can’t have sold out of them yet? “

“No, they’ve only just come in but it wasn’t where it should have been. If you want to reserve one, we could call you when we find it?”

I’ve been caught like this before. I reserved something then turned up to find that another member of staff had sold it because they thought it was a returned item.

“Can I pay for one now? Then I can come in and collect it when you find one.”

“Oh – erm – okay.”

So I bought it and filled in all number of forms with my name, address and telephone number.

By this time, BM and I were exhausted and had to test out a range of conservatory furniture before toddling home for homemade curry.

I got a phone call a couple of days later to say that they had found my tree. Hub and I went to collect it and found that with his (not-very-constant) gardener card, they could knock off a further eight pounds! We also bought BM’s boots and sent them off to him because they weren’t on sale online. They rub one of his ankles.

Bargain.

I admire people who get all their Christmas presents in the January sales – almost as much as I admire those who dash around the store on Christmas Eve snapping up ‘bargains’.

Hub is notoriously hard to buy for. He only really wants paintball bits – although now he and Gap Boy are sharing a motorbike there might be some mileage there. GB has already started demanding his Christmas presents. Uni Boy is home this weekend but I doubt that he will come up with anything helpful.

Ah, but I am blessed with good friends who like silly things, and an adorable bunch of small children and babies who can revitalise my Christmas spirit.

Mine’s a very large sherry please.

‘Spring Forward – Fall Back and Why I Need a Mars Bar’

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So much for getting an extra hour’s sleep when we put the clocks back 😦

Gap Boy went to Manchester for a jolly night out with his mates.

Hub and I accordingly left the lights on outside and took the key out of the door so he could get in whatever time he returned.

As GB’s door key was ‘somewhere in my room’ I had to chip a nail in order to wiggle my key off the keyring for him.  At least he had a key, unlike the time when he woke the whole house up at six in the morning by banging on the patio door.  Scooby went into guard dog mode, then into paroxysms of delight when he realised that it was his Boy. Hub and I were somewhat less overjoyed to see him.

My achy breaky leg caused me to hop out of bed at 0810 hours; the clocks were still saying 0910 hours but my laptop had reset its time and reassured me that I wasn’t going mad.

As I sat on Sunday morning, blearily checking FaceAche and the BBC news, I noticed that the little red light on my Blackberry was flashing.  Unless Hub is on nights, I turn the sound off and leave my mobile in its charging cradle in the office.  I use it as an alarm on night shifts so that Scoob and I can be up and ready to meet Hub at the garden gate when he comes home.

Instead of the red flashing light, I then noticed the face of my baby boy glaring back at me and realised that it was a phone call – not a text. By the time my brain had moved up a gear, GB had rung off in disgust.

So I called him back.

He was cold.

He had walked back from Manch.

He was cold.

His legs were cramping up.

Oh, and he was cold.

Could Dad come and get him………………………………………………………please?

Told him I would call him back in a mo, and went to wake my sleeping Hub, who desperately needed a lie-in after his early rising for paintball the day before.

I woke him in the long-established way (a kiss of course), and broke the bad news about GB before he could get too excited.

I called GB back, and listened patiently whilst he told me (again) how cold he was, how cramped his legs were and how tired he was.

Why is it that both our sons go clubbing without coats? It makes me shiver just looking at them.

I established GB’s whereabouts and passed the coordinates to a slightly less befuddled Hub.

Scooby got very excited at the sight of a fully dressed Hub coming downstairs, then moaned pitifully as his dad shot out through the patio door, grabbing a fleece for his undoubtedly hypothermic son.

I came downstairs once he’d gone.

The sight of me in the morning causes Scooby to roar happily and run up and down the room until I have checked the gates, opened the door, thrown on a hoodie and some boots, grabbed his lead and the doggy treats of course.

We are then ready to greet the world – well the driveway – and continue Scooby’s assault on the St John’s Wort (we’re giving the Hebe a rest).

Having fed Scooby, I was halfway through preparing my own breakfast when my hero Hub returned with the frozen Boy.

GB claimed that he was slurring his words because he was so cold and tired  but there was a definite undertone of vodka in the air.

They had stopped off at the service station to get fuel for the starving (and cold) Boy.  Something must have addled his brains because he announced with extreme disgust that he appeared to have brought a four-pack of Mars Bars instead of Snickers (I still prefer Marathon). He gave them to his dad with a shrug of his shoulders and a look of horror as Hub put them in the fridge.

One way to stop GB pinching our chocolate is to put it in the fridge. The idea of taking it out and allowing it to warm up doesn’t seem to have occurred to him – yet.

GB stomped his way off to bed and that was the last we saw of him for the day – which was quite nice actually.

Bezzie Mate was supposed to be travelling North to go to the theatre with us and stay the night, but his venture into the Southern lands had given him a dreaded lurgy.  His texts told a tale of phlegm, sore throat and hacking cough, so, much as we missed his company, we told him to stay home in the warm. We love him, but not his germs.

There was some discussion about Hub and I going out for a breath of fresh air but as Hub had already been out and was recovering from his paintball wizardry, we decided to stay home after lunch instead.

Halfway through an afternoon of dog-dozing and catching up on digiboxed stuff, I had an overwhelming desire for chocolate.

In the words of the song – ‘I need a Mars Bar’ – and we had some in the fridge!

Many moons ago, when I was a fresh-faced teenager, I used to go out with a boy who lived in Hythe. Neither of us had much money and we took it in turns for him to visit me (in the daytime) and me to visit him (in the evening).

Daytime visits were often facilitated by the Hythe Ferry – it didn’t run on Sundays or in the evenings. The alternative method of transport was the Hants and Dorset bus to town and then the Corporation bus to my house. Not surprisingly, love’s winged heels saw me making the bus journeys home more often than my paramour. It was a very long journey and the timing of the Corporation bus meant a mad rush from the bus station to the High Street in order to make the connection.

Occasionally there was a delay and I would stand forlornly watching the rear of my bus disappearing up the road, before summoning up the courage to phone home and beg for a lift and the lecture that came with it.

By way of compensation for my arduous journey, my boyfriend would have a sweet love letter ready for me to read on the bus, and would also buy me a Mars Bar from the off licence to eat on the way home.

It’s amazing how long you can make a Mars Bar last when you need to. I would nibble the outside chocolate like a discerning marsupial. Then I when I got half way down, I would attack the toffee, leaving the caramel till last. Having accomplished this, the process was repeated on the lower half – still safely ensconced in its wrapper. It was usually pretty cold at night and Hants and Dorset buses were not known for their efficient heating systems so my Mars Bar never went into meltdown.

I rarely made it last all the way to the bus station though, I did try.

On a chilly October afternoon, as I tucked into GB’s shopping error Mars Bar, my mind went back all those years.

I looked at the Mars Bar.

Sitting on my sofa.

With my snoring dog.

Watching ‘The Goonies’ on TV.

Did I revert to teenage habits and slowly devour it?

Did I heck!

They must make them smaller these days.

Four bites and it was gone.

Spontaneous – but no combustion

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Apologies for the absence of blogging yesterday.

Our well-planned day took a delightfully unexpected turn which kept me from my desk and the opportunity to blog off.

We were supposed to be doing some food shopping, collecting my bag of drugs from the pharmacy and an air bottle from Gap Boy’s friend’s house, taking Scooby out for a nice long walk and then coming home to whip up some lasagne for dinner.

Hub was due to desert me for the paintball fields and forests the next day, so post-dinner occupation would be a case of Hub packing his HUGE paintball bag in readiness for an early start, Scoob watching him balefully – he knows what that bag means  – No Daddy ALL day:-( and me trying to find something else to watch on the TV because we are digiboxing all the good stuff so we can watch it together.

I was just putting my face on prior to the shopping trip  – sorry but this is a face that needs a little assistance before it greets the outside world – when Hub came up the stairs in an unusually tentative fashion.

“Ummm, you know my friend from paintball that plays saxophone?”

I nodded and smiled encouragingly.

“Well, he’s got a gig in Liverpool tonight. How do you feel about going?”

Even if I hadn’t wanted to go, the look on his face would have persuaded me. The tentativeness was due to the fact that the pub was just up the road from the university building where I had taken so many Open University exams and the scene of the fateful exam where I was so ill I fell asleep and failed as a consequence of the accident that blighted our lives for over eighteen months. He didn’t want us to go if it would bring back bad memories for me.

All that is behind me now.

We decided that the lasagne could wait till tomorrow when I had a day to myself and Hub could come home from paintball, grubby and battle-scarred to the welcoming smell of freshly cooked food.

Face on.  We did the shopping, picked up the drugs (nothing Class A, B or C), collected the air bottle that was an essential part of Hub’s paintball kit and got home for a late lunch and a rollicking row with GB.

Apparently we should have known that he meant us to collect his bag, top and hat from his friend’s house at the same time.

Did we know this? Nope.

Did GB at any time tell us that he wanted us to collect anything other than the air bottle? Nope.

Is it GB’s fault for not telling us? Nope (well yes but he wouldn’t admit it).

We employed the time old method of dealing with a stroppy teen.

  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Say nothing.
  • Carry on doing what you were doing before the onslaught started.

It worked. GB stomped off upstairs muttering insults and imprecations.

We stayed in the kitchen with Scoob and had lunch. Peace.

After lunch, like two conspirators, Hub and I tried to get Scooby’s rucksack of walkies needs  put together without him noticing.

Fat chance. That dog has eyes in his paws as well as his tail.

Scooby gets very excited at the mention of the word ‘walkies’ but the phrase ‘going in the car’ causes him to squeal and run up and down the room in ecstasy.

Trying to get your shoes on in a room with a happily rampaging hound is not easy.

GB had calmed down by now (like me – his explosions are short-lived but even more rapidly erased from his memory).

He was outside revving up the engine of his beloved motorbike. Luckily Scoob has undergone motorbike de-sensitisation training (carried out by GB of course) so he was more concerned with getting into his car seat and being strapped in than the roaring metal beast on the drive – and the motorbike..

I like Spike Island.

When the boys were younger we used to take them to the Catalyst Museum at the top of the road.  They could spend hours playing with the experiments, riding up and down in the glass lift (think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and badgering us for everything on sale in the Museum shop.

My Lovely Mum and Ronnie used to drive down to the canalside at Spike Island; Mum would sit in the car and watch whilst Ronnie fed stale crusts to the mass of swans, geese, ducks and seagulls that gather there every day.

Stale crusts must have been short on supply when we visited with Scoobs; the wildfowl had  settled on the grass, which made me slightly worried because although Scoobs is on a lead, the sight of so many white and grey fluttery things was liable to set him off on a massive wuff fest.

Scooby was on a lead but the very excited lurcher that ran through the birds scattering them up into the air wasn’t.

His owner, completely oblivious to the havoc his dog was causing, was striding off in the opposite direction to us, and having made three passes and sent all the birds up in the air, the bouncing brown lurcher followed.

It was a surprising peaceful stroll (me and my stick) and run (Hub and Scooby) round the island.

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They are starting to build the new bridge from both sides and there are plenty of vantage points on Spike Island where you can keep an eye on the progress.

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It was a lovely day for dog walking – and people walking too. Scooby was particularly happy because it was dinner time for him by the time we got home. The car! Walkies! The car again! Dinner!

As a consequence of the late hour, Hub and I decided to dine out especially as his friend had informed him that the food at the pub was awesome.

I booked us a table. I mentioned that we were coming to watch a friend play.

Even at our advanced age, there’s something more than a little exciting about driving into a big city in the dark and facing an unknown quantity.

We found the pub – at the opposite end of the street to the university building so not even the tiniest of bad memories.  We were greeted like royalty by the staff and told that they would save some seats for us down near the performance area for when we had finished our dinner.

Oh, what a dinner! Hub says that the pork was the best he had ever eaten. I had lamb – lamb that was a world away from the fatty, stringy thin slices I remembered from roast dinners of the past. This was pink and luscious, and the sort of meal where you put your knife and fork down in order to taste every mouthful.

Too stuffed for pudding, we moved down to the other end of the bar where ‘Reserved’ notices had been placed on the table near the band.

I say band – it was our friend the saxophonist and another lovely man on keyboards who had the most incredible voice. Think mellow. Think blues. Think sitting back and letting the glorious sax wash over you whilst you sip on a Baileys over ice.

I love being an adult 🙂

GB texted us a couple of times towards the end of the evening – ‘When are you coming home?’, ‘Do I have to take the dog out?’, ‘I feel bleurgh’, ‘Can you get me five cheeseburgers from MacDonalds?’.

It was way after midnight by the time we got home  but yes – we bought him the cheeseburgers.

Spontaneity.

It is a wonderful thing and an aspect of life that I think, keeps us young.

I remember the excitement of my Dad waking us up in the night to watch a spectacular storm. I’ve never been frightened of thunder and lightning as a consequence.

The school day on which I called in for my friend, only for her mother (a school governor) to decide that we both looked peaky and needed a day at the seaside instead.

Getting on a bus to go to a nightclub that opened at a time when I would previously have been thinking about going to bed.

Needing little persuasion to go out for a late night curry with my drama school mates – despite the fact that I was far more overdrawn than I should have been able to be on a £10 per day student cashcard.

Cheers Barclays. It took me a good six months of working full-time to pay off that overdraft.

Hub is a master of spontaneity.

He is okay with routines and rules but one of things I love about him is that he has always had a very flexible outlook on life.

When Uni Boy was a baby and got very colicky at night, we used to put him the car, pick up some Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut from the all night garage, and drive down to Portsdown Hill to look at the lights below.

When we moved North and became a part of our much beloved coffee morning group, spontaneity sent us off on last minute picnics, pub lunches or a trip to the chippy for those of us who were enjoying each other’s company so much that we didn’t want it to stop just yet.

Full-time work and school put the mockers on being flexible although we still managed to squeeze in a surprise trip to London for GB’s fourth birthday.  He thought that we were just going for a visit to Daddy’s airport and squealed with delight when we climbed on a Luton-bound Easyjet, then a train into that London place, the Underground and – joy of joys – the Science Museum! Uni Boy was slightly more restrained about the surprise – but only slightly.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always told Hub that I don’t want any surprise parties – especially if there is a stripogram. That kind of surprise would be difficult for me to reconcile – especially as the one male stripogram I saw kept his socks on – eurgh! And they were black nylon socks.

Now that I work at home for myself I am free to say ‘Yes!’ when a friend invites me out for lunch, or when another friend texts to say that they are in the area and in need of coffee – especially now that I have my wonderful Pingu-like coffee maker.

Two years ago that wouldn’t have been the case.

Two years ago I was hobbling painfully, too scared to go out alone, stressed  from head to toe, worried that I was grumbling about the pain too much, or that in an effort not to being boring, I was underplaying just how horrible everything was.

At my worst moments Hub was always there to guide me out of my doldrums and into the car; taking me off to Crosby for half an hour with Anthony Gormley’s standing men and an ice cream, or down to Spike Island to watch the swans, just like my Mum.

Through all the bad times my Lovely Friend gave me gorgeous nails that took my mind off my mangled toe and  gave us time to talk and put the world to rights.  She is definitely a lady to lunch with.

My Dear Friend accompanied me to horrible meetings, made me smile through the tears and knew just when I needed a large glass of red to sort me out. Afternoons spent in the company of DF, and her adorable family leave Hub and I with a happy contentment that lasts all the way home and beyond.

Then I found my Bezzie Mate again and he gave me the motivation to get out of the house, go on a bus – and a train – in order to reclaim my life and freedom. BM and Hub have become friends too and I love listening to the pair of them rattle on about airplanes and motorbikes.

Uni Boy is away most of the time now but I love his checking-up-on-me calls and the texts telling me exactly what time his train is due in and what he has to accomplish in the short time he is home.

Scooby and Gap Boy are my constant companions when Hub is at work.  Whilst GB and I fight like cat and dog, he gives the best hugs and is still my baby even though he is six feet two and wants to go in the army.

Scooby Doo – where are you? Inevitably sat beside me curled up on the sofa, snoring or moaning happily.  Lying on the kitchen floor as I cook, one eye open in case I drop some food on the floor.

Hub and I are so lucky with our families and friends. Old and new friends.

Thank you all for giving us those moments of inspiration that lead to days that you never forget.

Right.

GB needs his shirt ironing because he is hitting the town tonight.

Scoob and I need to clear up the kitchen – my lovely kitchen that has changed life for the better – so that we can make lasagne for dinner.

No combustion.

GB tried to teach me how a combustion engine works once.

Epic Fail.

Sheer Indulgence – My Top Twenty-Five

 

download (1)https://www.thisismyjam.com/

In May 2012 whilst flicking through Twitter, I discovered a link to a site called ‘This is my Jam’.

The site gives you the opportunity to choose your favourite piece of music (or comedy clip) and post it.  You can leave a brief comment on the post and as well as sharing your choice with other jammers, you can also link it to FaceAche and Twitter – to name just a few social media sites.

I love ‘This is my Jam‘ because it enables me to play my favourite songs and to listen to those enjoyed by other people.  I’ve found old favourites that I’d forgotten about and discovered new singers and groups that might otherwise have been lost to me.

Apparently 130 other jammers appreciate my choices – which is nice 🙂

Since May 2012 I have posted 162 of my favourite jams – which is roughly (very roughly – numbers are NOT my strong suit) one a week.

From that 162, I’m going to extract 25 – and in no particular order (ooh, sounds like Strictly Come Dancing!) attempt to explain why they are special to me.

Some of my jams have been shared by at least 75 of my fellow jammers, some  have fewer shares but I love them anyway and the others appeared on the site for the very first time – some surprises for me there.

They are songs that make me want to dance, songs that make me smile or cry so those offended by sentimentality may as well bog off now.

Ta Ra La!

One – Somebody That I Used To Know – Gotye – I put this on after hearing my very talented young cousins singing it at a family birthday party. I like it and so did 776 other jammers.

Two – Rip It Up – Orange Juice – A song that always makes me smile and want to sing along with its boppy, popcorn beat. Huge respect for Edwyn Collins after all he and his family have gone through.

Three – Teenage Kicks – The Undertones – A common love shared with John Peel – I think I’m having more fun now than I did when I was a teenager though.

Four – Shipbuilding – Robert Wyatt – Covered by others more famous but there is something in the plaintive wispy singing of Robert Wyatt that makes this song even more poignant.

Five – Rock The Casbah – The Clash – Another song that makes me want to get up and dance – preferably in the dark.

Six – River – Joni Mitchell – My big sister and big brother introduced me to Joni Mitchell and my love for her music has never gone away.

Seven – Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand –  Another choon to jig around  the kitchen to.  Love that beat.

Eight – Weapon Of Choice – Fatboy Slim –  I couldn’t believe it the first time I saw the accompanying video.  Having only ever seen Christopher Walken in sinister or menacing roles, this was a wonderful revelation.  The man can really dance!

Nine – Life’s What You Make It – Talk  Talk – Guaranteed to lift my spirits however bad a day it is.  The wailing guitar solo sets the hairs on the back of my neck quivering.

Ten – Peaches En Regalia – Frank Zappa – I was amazed to find that 75 other jammers liked this one too.  I listened to a lot of Zappa  music in my teens – my mother hated it – but not quite as much as she hated Captain Beefheart.

Eleven – Roxette – Dr Feelgood – Timeless  – and as I listen I can see Wilko Johnson stalking ominously around the stage – a fitting tribute to a lovely bloke.

Twelve – Rush Hour – Jane Wiedlin – I have to stop and sing along whenever I hear this song on the radio. Happy words and an equally happy tune.

Thirteen – Rocking In The Free World – Neil Young – ‘One more kid that will never go to school, never get to fall in love, never get to be cool’. Heartbreaking.

Fourteen – A Dream Goes On Forever – Todd Rundgren – If I had to choose the best, this is a song I would never grow tired of hearing.

Fifteen – Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon –  This is dedicated to the one I love – my Hub.

Sixteen – Go Buddy Go – The Stranglers – Yeah! The definitive get up and boogie song.

Seventeen – Loveshack – B52s – Hub and I have made complete and utter fools of ourselves dancing along to this one – and we DON’T care!

Eighteen – My Sharona – The Knack – A song to sing along to in the car with the sound turned up to eleven.

Nineteen – Capricorn – Motorhead – If Lemmy can be said to be romantic – this comes near it – dedicated to me by my Hub.

Twenty – Sail On Sailor – Beach Boys – Love the Beach Boys but love this one the best – it’s a bit spooky.

Twenty-One – The Time Is Now – Moloko –  Such a smoky, sexy song. Flippin’ heck!

Twenty-Two – You’ll Hear Better Songs Than This – Eleanor McEvoy –  My Bezzie Mate introduced me to Eleanor McEvoy. Love her voice and love the humble and beautiful message of the song.

Twenty-Three – As The Snowflakes Fall – Smith and Burrows – This is just one of the wonderful alternative Christmas songs on the album.  I had to force myself to choose just this one.

Twenty-Four – Northern Sky – Nick Drake – ‘Brighten my Northern skies’. A beautifully romantic song to lighten the saddest of hearts.

Twenty-five – My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains – Captain Beefheart – Not renowned for romance, I love Beefy’s ballad the best.

Having got to 25, I am now discovering loads of other songs and singers that I’ve left out – so…

Anything by Steely Dan, The Stranglers, Paul Weller (in all of his incarnations), Paulo Nutini, Foo Fighters, Carole King, Jake Thackeray, The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac.

When I pop my clogs I would like ‘Old And Wise’ – Alan Parsons Project – playing as you troop in to the Crem, and ‘Meet On The Ledge’ – Fairport Convention‘ playing as you trudge out to admire the flowers – freesias please?

Not that I have any intention of shuffling off this mortal coil for some time to come – but it’s nice to get these things settled way ahead of time.

Oh, and the Lovin’ Spoonful, The Mamas and Papas, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Robert Palmer – ‘She Makes My Day‘ – Glorious!, my cousin Jake singing ‘Witchita Lineman‘ in my front room and making me blub.

Yes, music hath charms to soothe this savage breast (not beast) – well said William Congreve.

Time to break out of my mellow mood now and catch up ‘The Neighbours From Hell’.

This week’s jam is ‘I Won’t Back Down’  –  Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ – I love the song but I think Sam Smith might have been listening to to around the time that he wrote ‘Stay With Me’.

Just sayin’.

Check out ‘This Is My Jam’. You’re worth it.

 

 

 

A Counterblast to – ‘A Counterblast to Tobacco’

 

smoking

As you can see from above, King James the First was not impressed with tobacco back in 1604. His feelings were based on a personal dislike rather than on the reams of statistical evidence that assaults us everyday and provides proof positive that the black stinking fume is bad for us – for all of us – whether we smoke or not.

I hold my hands up in supplication.

I was a smoker.

I am writing this, not to defend smoking or smokers, nor to jump on the anti-smoking bandwagon, but merely to express my own very subjective thoughts on the  subject.

As I write, my atmosphere is slightly polluted by the whiff of Gap Boy’s latest fad – he has taken to sitting in a garden chair and smoking cigars round the corner of the patio where he thinks I can’t see him.

Ah, but I can SMELL you my dear!

And I won’t admit it to my darling GB but I quite like the odd whiff of cigar smoke because it reminds me of Christmas Past.

I know that GB dabbled with smoking at school, closely followed by a self-righteous condemnation that would have put old James to shame. Uni Boy has always been scathing about smoking – but then he IS a scientist!

The current cigar smoking is a GB affectation that Hub and I refuse to condone by actually buying any for him – yes, he actually put them on my shopping list! Neither do we complain however, because this is a surefire way of prolonging his fad.

Like his mother – GB is very good a being a rebel – so we try hard not to provide him with a cause.

My own first taste of the aforesaid offensive weed came after scrambling over the back fence of my primary school into the gorse bushes of Donkey Common, and ‘enjoying’ half a No. 6 pilfered from somebody’s dad’s  fag packet..

It was gross.

It was worse than gross, it tasted foul, smelled foul and made me feel very sick.

I was in the minority however because I wasn’t actually sick and I also managed to get back over the fence and eat a masking Murray Mint before playtime finished.

In terms of the playground etiquette, I had made my bones. Not bad for a posh speccy four-eyes who liked poetry.

Smoking did not become a habit at that time fortunately. I changed schools and having a fag wasn’t a part of their curriculum.

My next experiment with tobacco was in senior school and did unfortunately lead to my subsequent addiction – although I never smoked at home – my mother would have KILLED me!

I worked my way through Peter Stuyvesants and progressed on to Rothmans.  Then style and a Saturday job in Boots enabled me to explore the delights of Sobranie Black Russians  – and when I was feeling really outrageous – Sobranie Cocktail cigarettes.  They looked too pretty to smoke; lilac, pink, turquoise, yellow and a delicate shade of green, but they did have the advantage of enabling an element of colour coordination with my outfits.

Colour coordination has always been SO important to me.

I had a brief dalliance with St Moritz but the fresh mintiness seemed at odds with the naughtiness of smoking. The teacher who upbraided me for smoking them outside the school gates was outraged. I’m still not sure whether this was due to my temerity in smoking so close to school or whether she felt embarrassed by her own rather drab Silk Cut.

A change of boyfriend and I moved to Gauloise and Disque Bleu – accompanied by a hacking cough and a bad stomach from too much strong black coffee. I looked cute in the beret though.

In an attempt to please another lad and wean myself off the evil drug, I tried smoking Honeydew herbal cigarettes. I smelled like an autumn bonfire and very nearly gave up smoking altogether because the thought of sparking up the herbs made me very nauseous indeed.

Luckily for the tobacco producers, I changed boyfriends, gave up the Saturday job and took to rolling my own cigarettes. Oh, the delights of a fresh packet of Old Boots or Golden Virgins! Oh, the sadness of scraping together a few stale strands from the bottom of the packet to make a limp rollie that went out every few seconds.

I gave up smoking when I went off to drama school.

It was a choice between alcohol and tobacco, oh, and the odd meal here and there.

Two years later I left the bacchanalian delights of the theatre and took a more hardcore approach to alcohol by becoming a barmaid.

Asthma reared its ugly head and compounded by the boozy , smoky atmosphere of the pub, I managed to avoid taking up smoking again although, once I’d repaid my student overdraft, I had plenty of money at my disposal.

It was the stress of social work that was my undoing.

Having left the safety of the public bar for the complicated hierarchy of a children’s home, I quickly learned that a guaranteed way of getting respite away from the children, was to go into the office to write up the event book whilst having a ciggy.

Non-smokers had to wait till the end of the shift to be able to do this, and if it had been busy, this could add another half an hour onto the end of an already knackering shift. The possibility of having an asthma attack was preferable to doing unpaid work or looking on longingly when other staff disappearing for a fag break.

If you can’t beat them, join them, so I did.

I worked my way through Camels, Raffles (very sweet-tasting – ugh) and finally settled on 555 State Express. This was partly because they tasted okay and partly because my uncle and cousin worked in the baccy factory that produced them.

Even in my addiction I could be loyal!

I still didn’t smoke at home though, despite the fact that I had finally purchased my own first home – a ground floor studio flat that was mine, all mine – apart from the large part that belonged to the Alliance and Leicester Building Society.

I worked my way up the social care ladder, and as I did, so rules and regulations changed to ensure that vulnerable young people were only allowed to smoke in designated outdoor areas, had to be supervised by a member of staff (or two or three – depending on how many smokers were on duty), and that all cigarettes, matches and lighters had to be locked away in the office at the end of a smoking session.

My ability to make roll-ups made me quite popular with the kids – and although nowadays, social care departments would be up in arms at the very thought of a member of staff condoning smoking in this way, back in the eighties my nimble fingers were seen as part of my skill set. My manager was known to smile benignly at the sight of me, sitting on the verandah surrounded by maladjusted adolescents learning patience whilst waiting for me to roll them a ciggy.

It was whilst I was taking my social work degree and working part-time that I was struck down by a three-week bout of ‘flu that saw me bed-bound and existing on food that my mother ferried round to my bijou and Bohemian (untidy) studio flat.

The very thought of smoking  made me heave and cough. I had unwittingly given up the drug.

I still liked the smell of cigarette though and there were moments when our study syndicate meetings (which took place in the Bay Tree pub) tempted me to partner my drinking hand with a cigarette-wielding other.  The thought of how ill I’d felt stopped me and within another couple of weeks all my cravings had gone.

I was cured! And without the benefit of hypnosis, cold turkey, peer pressure, medical advice or guilt.

I’d also put on all the weight I’d lost during my ‘flu bout and acquired several pounds more.

So I take no real credit for kicking the habit and don’t feel that I can ever be one of those horribly self-righteous ex-smokers who make snide comments but look envious when the smokers troop outside to sit in designated gazebo.

Hub and I didn’t know each other then. He gave up smoking at almost exactly the same time – although his habit had been whittled down to a luxurious rollie smoked at the end of a long day at work whilst strolling around his parents’ rather large garden.

We met. We moved in together. We got engaged. We moved to a house. We got married. Neither of us needed to smoke. Twenty-seven years later we still don’t need to smoke. We are very, very lucky.

But, we love our friends who are smokers and wholeheartedly empathise with those who know the perils but can’t give up.  I have often gone outside for a spot of passive smoking when attending courses and conferences – it still seems to be the cool kids that are outside having a fag.

Things are getting more difficult though; not only do intelligent smokers appreciate the potential harm of their habit, they also get penalised at work as well as at play.

 In my last office, smokers had to clock off and on, and leave the premises in order to have a cigarette – or two – or three – may as well make it worth the walk.

Management smokers, however, got round this by leaving for meetings a good ten minutes early so that rather than being on a smoke break, they were considered to be ‘en route’.  Some managers would play the same game after meetings, claiming that the meeting had only just finished despite the fact that everyone had seen them out of the window, lurking in Smoker’s Corner.

Hub and I are unanimous however in our dislike of those who use their addiction to skyve  and dump the workload off onto the non-smokers. Neither do we like having to breathe in the stench of smoke-drenched breath – get a mint or some chewy for heaven’s sake!

I also think that there should be a separate office coat stand for non-smokers.  It is revolting having to rummage under a pile of stinky coats and jackets to find my own – now equally smelly and polluted coat.

I hate it when people stand right in the doorways of shops and smoke.

I hate it when a crowd of patients, some pregnant, others on drips, all in their nightclothes, stand or sit in wheelchairs outside the entrance to the hospital – having a fag.

I used to hate it when I was in a restaurant or cafe and someone on the next table lit up a cigarette when I was still eating.

I hate it when the government starts making noises about banning e-cigarettes despite the fact that they appear to have proved a life-saver for many smokers who are desperate to give up.

I have never tried one and I’m not sure that I fancy having a ciggie substitute that tastes of vanilla, bubblegum or chocolate.

GB had a very short-lived flirtation with e-cigarettes.

Another fad.

Dining with a friend with an e-cig does not offend me. On the contrary, I am no longer deprived of their company and they aren’t sitting there twitching, having rushed through their meal because they are desperate for a nicotine fix.

I am not against smoking.  I am against dying from smoking related diseases.

Bless my Kith and Bless my Kindle – Part 2

back to front

Yes.  It is backward 🙂

Okay, Hub has gone to work and Gap Boy is horribly awake having slept all day – he did a 30k bicycle ride this morning (it was actually 27k but he has managed to increase his stats whilst asleep – exaggerate? GB? Never!).

I spent a good hour and a half being woken intermittently by his thundering feet as he stomped up and down the (wooden) stairs this morning. At one point I was convinced that he had invited several friends in to tap dance in his (laminate) floor.Or perhaps they were rehearsing for ‘Strictly’. Hub and I laid that flooring so I suppose it is our fault really – who am I kidding EVERYTHING is our fault!

Neighbours from across the road woke me up at 0150 hours – why do they feel the need to stand out in the street and yell at each other? To be fair, the couple that were arguing were young and probably the offspring rather than the house owners.  I’ve a feeling that the male was out there a couple of weeks ago, wandering around the cul-de-sac in a drunken haze yelling ‘Dead! Dead! Dead!’ at the top of his voice.

I checked the local news for a couple of days after that but there was no sign of any gory murders in the locality.

Anyway, thanks to them – they had a poor little shivering dog with them too – some people are REALLy thoughtless – and GB, I got about five hours sleep last night.

When I staggered to the bathroom at 0730, GB passed me on the landing in his cycle attire – he has inherited my latent desire to be dressed appropriately for the occasion.

This is something of a handicap as he is reluctant to organise any more motorbike lessons at the moment because he doesn’t possess the right gear for wet weather.

When I pointed out that having lessons in inclement conditions would be very useful with regard to handling his motorbike whatever the weather, he gave me one of those horrible superior looks that both my boys are SO good at, and told me that I knew nothing about motorbikes and it was none of my business.

Once he had ridden off into the red sky yonder (I was praying that the shepherd’s warning wouldn’t start just yet), Scoob and I did have at least one quiet hour before he came roaring back again.

Whilst out on his mammoth cycle ride this morning, GB managed to collide with a stray bramble branch and perforate the side of his ear.

Much blood!

Fortunately it had dried off by the time he got home but  the sight of a blood soaked youth seemed to have put the frighteners on the mad mothers driving past to school as he rode up our road.

Like all good mothers, I cleaned him up with an antiseptic wipe (I knew I had one somewhere and the bleeding had stopped by the time I found it).

As is his habit, GB texted me a shopping list but said that he would like us all to go shopping once Hub had finished his breakfast.

Hub was rushing his scrambled eggs on toast in order to take me to my appointment with the osteopath, after which we were going to town to do some banking, sort out Hub’s motorbike helmet visor and maybe take in a spot of lunch somewhere.

We did not want to go food shopping, especially for a loud, sweaty, bloody and demanding GB.

There was a frank exchange of opinions and as a result, we went to the osteopath and GB went to bed – grumpily.

Result! Oh Go us!

After the initial ache had worn off from the pummeling delivered by the Phizard (my osteo is a wizard with physio) I felt spry enough to accompany Hub to the motorbike shop -a huge place with a Biker’s Bistro on the top floor. The smell of fresh cappuccino alone was sufficient for me to agree to a return trip when Hub gets paid next week.

Thence to town and a pleasant lunch at Caffe Nero watching the wage slaves rush back from their lunch hours.

Tee Hee.

This afternoon I flopped on the sofa with Scoob and got my daily Jezza fix; some very bad hairdos  and missing teeth today!

Eventually we shopped for us – and the deeply ungrateful GB – who emerged from his mancave just as we were watching ‘Only Connect’ and didn’t take kindly to being shushed.

Victoria Coren Mitchell or GB? No competition.

So here I am burning the midnight oil up in my back bedroom office, tappity tapping and eventually getting around to writing about me and my Kindles.

I have five Kindles – yes that probably is rather extreme but then I have always been something of a gadget girl and don’t like to think that technology is leaving me too far behind.

I always had a Walkman; moving through audio tape to CD player to MP3.  I even have a special MP3 player that lives in the bathroom and has its own peacock-blue speaker so that I can listen and sing along whilst in the shower.

Uni Boy and Gap Boy are very scathing about my gadget prowess. They both feel that their abilities and knowledge are hugely superior compared to mine. I feel that UB has the edge because he did actually build his own water-cooled computer with his birthday money last summer, whereas GB seems hell-bent on breaking his computer judging by the number of replacement bits he orders on his dad’s Overclockers account.

I would never admit this to either of them.

You will note that Hub does not even enter the running in the gadget knowledge stakes. He knows what he needs to know about his computer and his mobile, what he doesn’t know, he asks me and if I don’t know, I’ll check the Internet and only ask one of my frightfully knowledgeable children if there is no other option.

This is one of the reasons why Hub won’t have his own FaceAche page but piggybacks onto mine. As a consequence we have a curious but hugely entertaining pool of friends between us. There are times when Hub’s paintball friends want to tag him in pictures or invite him to games, and have to tag me instead.

No, I don’t play paintball and I’m not an air traffic controller but I know a very lovely man who is.

Back to the Kindles.

Hub and the boys bought me my first Kindle for a birthday present. It is a first generation Kindle without a touch screen. I eagerly filled it with free e-books, cheap Kindle books and audio books. Being a prototype, Kindle no 1 has some features that the later models don’t have, particularly the text to speech feature.

It means that I can put my scribblings into a PDF, load it onto Kindle no 1 via a USB and then have the excitement of hearing my own words spoken back to me (rather haltingly) by a male or female American voice.

Having filled up Kindle no 1, I bought a Kindle Touch and transferred all the books onto it, leaving Kindle no 1 purely for audio books and my own stuff.

I was quite happy with my two monochrome Kindles; one audio, one visual.

Then Amazon brought out the Kindle Fire.

A dinky little full colour sweetheart that I could use as a tablet; I could even watch TV programmes and films on it, and play games.

I should have been content.

I would have been content.

Then Amazon brought out a big brother for my little Fire; full tablet size, HD and even more goodies on board. Christmas was coming and Santa brought me a big Fire for being SO good.

Then came the Paperwhite Kindle.

I had to have it. It makes reading remarkably easy on the eyes.

On a train journey to visit Best Mate a couple of months ago, the train operator put on two carriages with no lighting.  They very kindly supplied us with guards at either end of the carriage wielding torches in case anyone should decide to panic when we went through a tunnel.

Cue a very smug me, continuing to read my Paperwhite when the dark engulfed my fellow travellers.

 I look after my toys. All my Kindles have covers; no 1 has a nice black and white flowery padded pouch, the Touch has a more utilitarian leather book cover and so do the two Fires. The Paperwhite has a beautiful 50’s lady cover that attracts attention in the strangest places.

The Big Fire and the Paperwhite went to Amsterdam with us and came under particular scrutiny at security in case I had concealed explosive devices inside them – or so I thought.

Security at Liverpool seemed particularly interested and I started to panic a little when I was beckoned over.

The security guard wanted to know where I bought the cover because it was ‘gorgeous like’.

During the period of enforced immobility caused by a large object falling from some height onto my toe, my Kindles saved my sanity. So wonderful to be able to search through the works of Shakespeare (free), the collected novels of H P Lovecraft (also free), wallow in Robert Frost and Wilfred Owen, and renew my acquaintance with the authors of my youth; Austen, Bronte and yes, even good old Zola – all for free.

The Kindle library at Amazon is expanding daily.  I’ve managed to acquire some much-loved (and lost in a house move) books that are now out of print and would cost a fortune if I tried to track them down in hard copy.

In a fit of nostalgia I downloaded all the Enid Blyton school stories that Lizzy and I revelled in at primary school. They were not only very cheap but had been put into collections covering the various terms.

Bliss!

Whatever my mood, if I have my Kindles nearby I can read books, poetry, listen to my own words and those of others, check out FaceAche, look at my photos, watch TV and films and yes play games of endless patience.

Packing to go away is much easier too; courtesy of Amazon’s Cloud, all my book purchases and audio books are nestling nicely in metaphorical fluffy cotton wool stuff and I can download whatever I want to read before I go. Hub is enjoying not having to take a separate bag because of of my holiday reading matter.

My Kindles don’t stop me buying books however.

There are some authors – especially my much-loved cousin Ali Sparkes – whose books will always need to be a tangible presence on my bookshelves.

So now that

Oooops – the road to hell is paved with good intentions….

dilemma

Oh dear – three days in and I have backslid (slided?) already

Not going to manage 1600 words today I’m afraid but I have ……

Done my hair and had a shower – and got dressed and all that

Played ball with Scooby in the garden – he got bored first

Gritted my teeth and smiled when Hub went off to work on Gap Boy’s motorbike – he texted me to say that he had arrived safely and when he was coming home again – phew

Baked some small potatoes and ate some of them – Scooby drooled

Did a huge pile of ironing – then forgot to bring it upstairs

Had several long and interesting phone conversations with Best Mate

Troubleshot (shooted?) an annoying problem for BM and solved it – hurrah

Caught up on the digibox programmes that Hub didn’t want to watch – more room for Jezza programmes – more hurrah!

Managed to watch Pointless Celebs, Strictly and Downton with the subtitles on because Gap Boy wanted to upbraid me about my dishwasher stacking talents

Shame about Tim Wonnacott 😦

Got Gap Boy to bring down his dirty crockery and cutlery so I could fill up the dishwasher (badly apparently)

I will try to be more productive tomorrow but I’m seeing my Phizard (osteopath with magical fingers), going to town with Hub afterwards, making a birthday card and wrapping presents for a lovely little girl who will be two next week, and packing up goodies for her sisters and brother

I lurve being self-employed 🙂

Get your red pen out Christine xx

Bless my Kith and bless my Kindle(s) – Part 1

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Kith comes from the Old English  “knowledge; known, familiar country; acquaintances, friends.”

I love reading.

Anyone in my family could tell you how much I love reading.

Hub, Uni Boy and Gap Boy have all been known to make less than kind comments about the number of books in our house – to be fair to them my books have taken over the house somewhat.  There is no more room on the bookshelves and strategically placed book towers earned my humble home the title of Haemorrhoid House (full of piles – geddit?).

I have always loved reading and from an early age, could be seen with my nose stuck in a book, a magazine or newspaper, or even a cereal packet when all else failed.

The discovery at age eight years that I was very short-sighted meant that I could move further away from the printed page courtesy of my pale blue NHS spectacles and not spend so much time rubbing my weary eyes.

I read my way through the small local library; I moved from having two library tickets to four,  and finally to eight – the maximum number allotted to junior readers.  On wet and miserable days I  would often be found choosing the second set of eight books mid afternoon.

My brother unwittingly introduced me to the delights of Willard Price and his seemingly endless ‘Adventure’ series.  Very obviously aimed at boys, the exploits of Hal and Roger Hunt were sheer escapism for a girl from a council estate in the South of England, who had never ventured further than Bournemouth to the West or Hayling Island in the other direction.

Because Enid Blyton’s books were banned from the library, I had to use my pocket-money to buy paperback copies of ‘Malory Towers’ and ‘The Twins at St Clares’. Luckily, my best friend at primary school was also addicted to them. Her father was the principal at the local tech college, her pocket-money and her collection were both larger than mine, but as we were the only Blyton fans in our class, the financial disparity  between us didn’t seem to matter.

I don’t mean to imply that my classmates were reading more highbrow literature than us,  or that Lizzy and I were limited purely to the Blyton catalogue.  We had already read our way through Austen and Bronte to Zola – well maybe we skipped a few booka here and there – whilst our schoolmates were content with the colourful pages of Bunty and The Beano.

Because my mother insisted on good manners and speaking politely, as did Lizzy’s parents,  we were both considered ‘snobs’ by many of our peers.  Sometimes I would lapse into colloquialisms for the sake of a peaceful school day but the strain of having to remember where I was would often lead to a slip of the tongue  and my mother’s disapproving frown.

Mine and Lizzy’s prior knowledge of boarding schools was non-existent; we truly believed that we were deprived because we hadn’t been sent away to some marvellous educational establishment  near the sea where midnight feasts were the norm and lithe young women played lacrosse and rode horses.

It was this fantasy that led me to nagging my parents into letting me enter the exam for a place at a private senior school.  I dreamed that – although it wasn’t a boarding school – it might have the Blytonesque elements that appealed to me more than my current school. Perhaps my mother’s desire to move me away the glottal stops and dropped aitches of my peers played an important part in this too.

I passed the exam and was kitted out in a uniform which included a pale blue polo shirt and navy culottes for games. The whole uniform had to be ordered from a particular store and was very expensive but just like St Clares, we wore felt bowlers in the winter and straw boaters in the summer. I didn’t stop to think how my parents were going to afford all this additional expense or the fact that the school was two bus rides away from our home.

The school lunches were wonderful.

I liked the art teacher.

I got very sick on the bus journeys.

The snobbery I encountered from my new schoolmates confused and confounded me.

I cried.

I cried a lot.

How could I have gone from being a ‘snob’ at one school because I read books and spoke politely, to being ‘common’ because I came from a council estate and my mother sewed blue braid onto a cheap black blazer instead of paying out for one that cost five times as much?

I missed Lizzy too.

After six weeks of endless crying and travel sickness, it was decided that I should leave.the school for the sake of my health, and go back into local authority education.  I didn’t want to go back to my old school; Lizzy had left and so had my favourite teacher. I felt embarrassed and unable to admit that I had made the wrong choice.  My mother got me into another school but my final year of primary education was not a happy one.

Like a small but very hungry bookworm, my thirst for knowledge and escapism knew no bounds – until I got into my teens and discovered other forms of entertainment. Even then I found time to read and the travel sickness disappeared almost magical once I went to senior school – which was just as well as my next school was on the other side of town too.

The long bus journeys  provided the ideal environment for uninterrupted reading; my satchel usually contained more lightweight material than the books that the school syllabus recommended.

In my early teens, romantic and vaguely historical paperbacks were my daily diet. The prolific Barbara Cartland fuelled my adolescent dreams; I knew that they were trashy, formulaic and only a teeny step up from Mills and Boon, but I could lose myself in them in much the same way that the stories of Darrell and the Twins had done when I was younger.

Real romance pushed fiction into the background and my mother’s influence and encouragement caused the rebel in me to emerge like a stroppy butterfly from my awkward teenaged chrysalis.

I carried ‘The Little Red School Book’ in my satchel together with contraband copies of ‘Oz’ and ‘Fat Freddy’s Cat’. It was only my ability to hand homework in on time and the kindness of a teacher who understood that this was just my anarchistic phase, that kept me from expulsion.

She sent me off to drama classes at the local tech as an outlet for my histrionics, she encouraged me to work my way through Shakespeare, and thereby diverted me from being the naughtiest girl in the school. I fell in love with the poems of Robert Frost. Thank you Mrs Skett.

I even took my English Language ‘O’ level a year early – and passed well.

Lizzy’s father left the tech college the same year that I started there in order to take my ‘A’ levels. I hope it was a coincidence. New literary doors opened up for me; Thomas Hardy, James Joyce and Chaucer’s very naughty Wife of Bath. Ibsen, more Shakespeare and the discovery that I had a strange talent for writing rhyming couplets – not always printable!

I continued to read anything and everything I could lay my hands on and stuff into my bottomless student bag. I had left the satchel – stuffed with half-empty rough books covered in doodles – in the waste paper bin when I left school on 13th May 1975. I wish I’d kept it now – it was a good satchel and I could probably sold it for a small fortune on eBay.

There have been times in my life when reading has been the only available option; the late stages of pregnancy, illness, accidents, waiting rooms and green rooms, my bed, my sofa, someone else’s bed or sofa. I worked my way through crime novels when I was pregnant and had a Harry Potter reading competition with Uni Boy as each new book was released. My consumption of autobiographies reached epic proportions, crossed referenced with more salacious gossip from the glossy magazines, and latterly the Internet.

Although I can recall my childhood memories with great clarity ,together with  audition pieces and poetry, social care legislation and adult protection policies, I also have the facility to forget the endings of my favourite books, so that I have shelves of novels that I can read and enjoy all over again.

That doesn’t stop me buying new books however.

My set of Terry Pratchett novels is much cherished, together with several books by Maureen Lipman.

Nor does it prevent me from browsing through musty second-hand bookshops for dog-eared tomes, their margins covered with some other student’s scrawl.

The men in my house have put their collective feet down regarding my library.  Every now and then I am subjected to a book cull; a box is packed up and taken off to my favourite musty bookshop. I stay in the car for fear of going in and buying more books than I have contributed. If I dare to object, Hub very gently reminds me that there are three large boxes of books in the garage that have been sitting there since we moved into the house sixteen and a half years ago.

The men in my house thought that they had found a solution.

They bought me a Kindle.

More of that in part 2……..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cultural Divisions – Part 2

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Is this the real life – or is it just fantasy?’

I sincerely hope that you know where that line comes from.

More musings from the sofa – the joys of being not-very-gainfully-self-employed – and sharing my viewing with a happily moaning Scooby.

Hands up all those who watch ‘The Apprentice’?

Ah – depleting numbers obviously.

I can remember when the candidates were reasonably sensible young men and women with an earnest desire to become Lord Sugar’s latest employee, and the ability to tell some semblance of truth about their backgrounds and experience.

Harrumph!

The latest crop of  apprentices can no longer slide into a well-paid job in Lord Sugar’s mighty business empire but have to come up with an innovative business idea for SurAlaaaaaan to invest a quarter of a million pounds in. What a difference a life peerage can make.

Sorry. Did I say innovative business idea?

Innovative  – ‘a new idea, device or process’.

Innovative.  One of this year’s candidates wants SurAlaaaan to invest in a residential unit for young adults with learning disabilities.  What is innovative about that? There are already many such units around the country; some able to provide a safe and inspirational environment for their service users,  but others charge a small fortune, often employ untrained and sometimes abusive staff, and hit the headlines when someone has the courage to blow a whistle on them.

Innovative – yeah.

SurAlaaan hit on a winner with Tom Pellereau and his StylFile – a truly innovative product. A lovely curved nail file that enables you to get to those awkward finger and toe corners. The idea was inspired by Tom’s sister and is readily available in Sainsburys and Amazon – to name but a few. I have three Stylfiles, one of which is handbag size and has a curly wire cover to protect it from the other strange things I keep in my handbag (which may be discussed at a later date).

I also liked the fact that Tom’s main boast was that he was a nerd.

Good old Wikipedia defines Nerd  as (adjective: nerdy) a descriptive term, often used pejoratively, indicating that a person is overly intellectual, obsessive, or socially impaired.

I like nerds. The nerd admission is honest but usually inaccurate  –  all the nerds I know are entertaining, fonts of knowledge, very handy in a pub quiz and often quite shy.

The current would-be apprentices are not nerds.

They are a mixed bunch.  Some have ordinary occupations – social worker (yes – he spent a year doing community work with Eskimos in the Antarctic and is the person with the residential unit proposal), a couple of lawyers (who really ought to know better), some marketing managers (can sell a variety of products on a market stall) and others who skulk under the dubious titles of ‘operational manager’ and ‘brand manager’.  There is also a bank manager, the owner of a swimming academy and the most irritating woman in the world, who does at least admit that she is a former PA and a hypnotherapist rather than anything containing any job title containing meaningless business jargon. This woman volunteered to project manage the first task and her team unanimously agreed in front of SurAlaaan that she was lazy and bad at the job. Perhaps she’d better brush up on the self-hypnosis before she tackles the next task.

The Apprentice stage that I love the best is when we get down to the final three candidates, and each one is interviewed by SurAlaaan’s head-hunters. All the fabrications and fantasies contained in their CVs and application forms are hauled out, laid on the table in front of them and systematically hacked to bits till all that is left is a name and date of birth – and sometimes these are false too.

Of course, the production team could save a lot of time by having a more rigorous research process at application stage so that the true fantasists (sounds better than ‘liars’ – a tip I picked up from watching Jeremy Kyle) will be weeded out right from the start.

But hey, that would make the whole series far less amusing, wouldn’t it?

Part of the enjoyment for me is watching those fantasies burst like multicoloured balloons filled with confetti.

After watching four hours of Jeremy Kyle, I came to the conclusion that SurAlaaan’s apprentices have better teeth, glossier hair and more expensive clothes. Even those with regional accents have polished them up to an more intelligible level.

Essentially though, many of them are every bit as deluded as the cheats, the philanderers, the liars and the drug takers that are given a platform on Jezza’s show.

Apprentice  Mr D says that he can charm any woman into buying his goods – and some men too – well he is a barrow boy aka marketing manager and has an impressive line in patter.

Some of the males on Jezza’s show exhibit the self-same arrogance with regard to their lovelorn cheated partners. The spotty face and missing front teeth gurning above the uniform grey hoodie and tattered jeans, is less convincing than Mr D’s designer stubble above his sharp-cut suit and tie. Mr D committed a cardinal business sin however, and lost a contract by criticising his team’s own product – does he diss his market stall wares in the same way I wonder?

Cue a volley of rotten tomatoes and flawed china plates.

If I cringe at Jezza’s participants, they can at least be excused their ignorance once they recount their abused childhoods, lack of schooling and familiarity with the penal system (males and females). That’s penal as opposed to penile – another kettle of proverbial Jezza fish.

SurAlaaan’s apprentices have – on the whole – had the advantage of an education and some element of wealth that Jezza’s bunch could only fantasise about. I have no doubt that some of the apprentices started by selling chocolate bars at an inflated price in the playground, or that Ms B knows enough about stockings and associated lingerie to encourage SurAlaan to jump into a metaphorical business bed with her.

What about life experience?

Ms B – she of the former PA and hypnotherapy status – is an elegant blonde who informed her team that they had the sales advantage over the male team because ‘men will buy anything from women’. She exhorted her team members to wear their highest heels, their shortest skirts and to slap on the make-up – thereby setting back the hard work started by the suffragettes and promoted by those who followed in their footsteps. Fortunately Ms B’s simpering principles were shot down in flames by some of her more sensible team members – but there was still a lot of power-dressing strutting around and some shots of very high heels as the team climbed into their chauffeur-driven cars.

Ms B really was a rubbish project manager. She was significantly quiet on the second task (also won by the female team – go girls – whose project manager was more proactive but still hopelessly inexperienced). Perhaps she did some self-hypnosis on keeping her mouth firmly closed so that her foot had nowhere to go but the floor.

Although he was  unbearable snobbish and effete, I will miss the lofty proportions of apprentice Mr R, who was sacked by SurAlaan for having the temerity to refuse to be project manager when SurAlaan ‘suggested’ it.

Mr R had a natty taste in clothing but moaned about the lack of wardrobe space in his team’s accommodation – and the lack of a shower curtain! He stuck the final nail in his Apprentice coffin when, as his prospective clients were questioning the ethics of wearing a sweater with an inbuilt video recorder and filming in public places, Mr R shouted ‘Privacy is History!’.

Hmmm. Phone tapping. The right to a personal and private life. Data Protection. Current – not historical thank goodness.

Mr R was tall. He was thin and a flashy dresser.  He was entertaining but he was undoubtedly a prat.

SurAlaaan has raised the stakes this series by having twenty apprentices  but having fired three of them in the first week – I worry about whether he’ll have enough bodies  to last till the end. Other reality shows have a crowd of desperate subs sitting on a bench comparing entertainment column inches, CVs, and fake tans – so why not ‘The Apprentice’?

Silly me! Unlike these other live ‘reality’ programmes, SurAlaaan and his team have already picked their winner but the participants have signed a secrecy contract so that they can’t kiss and tell until the whole series has been broadcast.

A large part of my viewing enjoyment comes from the lovely Dara O’Briain and his Apprentice follow-up show on BBC2 straight afterwards.  His panel usually contains at least one of my other favourite comics, together with more successful business entrepreneurs whose critical comments cut through the candidate’s crap like a laser beam.

What confuses me most is that Dara’s programme is live and by this time the apprentice we have just seen fired by SurAlaaan has often changed their hair and style of dressing completely, and has opted for contact lenses or glasses depending on what they were using before.

Their failure to impress SurAlaaan is just an unpleasant memory by the time they get to sit next to Dara and have people poke fun at them. I expect this is written into their contract however and that they get well paid to sit and sport a fixed grin whilst the audience waves red and green fired or hired cards at them.

We decry the people who are desperate to appear on the Jeremy Kyle show as sad sacks who are desperate for their fifteen minutes of fame.  What about the Apprentice candidates though, who have spun their elaborate fantasies so littered with popular buzzwords and corporate jargon that they are unintelligible too?

Ah but the Apprentice candidates have a bit more savvy.

They must have, because they are being well-paid to make themselves look stupid, incompetent and false, whereas Jezza’s lot are lucky if they get a return train ticket and overnight accommodation to bolster their DNA results and lie detector tests. Even the first apprentice to be fired gets more airtime than the most garrulous of those baring their unhappy souls on daytime TV.

There are so many ‘reality’ shows now that escapism is a far more attractive prospect.

Let me get lost in ‘Dr Who’, gossip below stairs at ‘Downton Abbey'(I know my place) or chortle at ‘Plebs’.

Ah but despite my desire for escapism – I am drawn like a moth to a flame by Jezza and SurAlaaan – Dara on the other hand I will watch in absolutely anything.