Friday, 14 December 2012

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen


That's the Danish word for thank you, but also an adjective for some of the complete rubbish sold in the Christmas markets in Copenhagen. We ticked off a first on the cities list this weekend and actually stopped there instead of by-passing it enroute to an industrial estate in Odense (see previous blog on pickled herrings). And what an amazing city it is. We went for the Christmas markets but, actually, we only found one (can't have been looking that hard) and, apart from a very popular Glogg cabin and a hut selling glass Danish flag tree decorations, it was selling really bad shoes which you could buy at home any day if you were suddenly overcome with such a desire. Having just got back from Manchester, it seems all the good Christmas markets are there. Who'd have thought it?

Tak did become a much used word this weekend because the Danes are SO nice. It's very rewarding to have your faith in human nature restored and at the same time drink your bodyweight in champagne and Barbera and not get charged for it. This is what happened when we arrived at the bistro we had booked for dinner on the first night (Adendum). A sign in Danish on the door said (presumably) "Closed - private function". The manager explained he'd been trying to call us for a couple of days. Yeah, right, we thought. He disappeared with the phone, came back, poured us two glasses of champagne, gave us a plate of salted almonds and 400 Krone and said he'd booked a taxi to take us to their sister restaurant where the owner would be waiting for us with more champagne. Happy Days. And so off we trotted to Bibendum where, indeed, there was more champagne, a very fine meal and we weren't charged for our wine either. Consequently we ended up going back to Adendum twice over the weekend. Who said customer service was dead?

Can't explain the dummies
Denmark has a relatively high suicide rate - presumably because the hours of darkness are long, winters are arctic and wine is bloody expensive. But even given that, we were surprised to see so many padlocks strung along the wires of a footbridge spanning the river. Like flowers by the roadside we assumed they had been placed there in memory of those who had fallen to their deaths into the river below but then two things struck us - there were literally thousands of them and the river was only about 6 ft below the bridge. Even the most determined would have been hard-pushed to even break a fingernail falling from there. On closer inspection it turned out that they were padlocks of luuuuuurve. I suppose there's not much else to do when it's dark and sub-zero and wine is so expensive.

"It's not the cough that carries you off,
it's the coffin they carry you off in"
attributed to my gran, c 1982
Ironically, if you are heading towards that bridge with the sole intention of hurling yourself into the icy waters below, you pass a shop window on the way which has a very fine coffin in it. I kid you not. Perhaps the Danes would rather choose their own than rely on their relatives to select an appropriate one - it's actually a very sensible thing to do. I can tell you now that I don't want pink lining in mine.

 I expect that coffin is very expensive, like everything else. It didn't have a price tag and if you have to ask you can't afford it. It costs £12 to get into Tivoli Gardens, the only option once you're inside being to spend even more money on bratwursts and glogg. Or on the world's most expensive roller coaster - £9 for a ride of terror that was so short I barely had time to open my mouth to scream.

As Danny Kaye sang in 1952, Copenhagen is indeed wonderful wonderful.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Ludus Supra Praemium

The Game Before The Prize.

We had that school motto drummed into us for 7 years and I'm fairly sure that none of us really understood what it meant even when we left. If you google that Latin phrase, it takes you straight to the Wikipedia page of the prison of my formative years, Wolverhampton Girls' High School. In fact,  the only references Google seems to find  for that phrase are to WGHS so I do wonder whether it's a motto the school invented. It's been on my mind lately because, through the wonderful medium of Facebook, we discovered on Monday that our beloved Latin and French teacher died at the weekend and the news immediately got me thinking back to how awful we were to him. We gave him such a hard time and apparently he still spoke of us fondly. How bad do we feel now? 

Patrick Royston
Mr Royston - a true legend, source of much
hilarity and permitter of
surreptitious banana eating
WGHS  - god how I hated it. On the day my 11-plus results came through and my parents beamed with pride, I burst into tears and swore I wouldn't go to such a posh school. I don't know whether it's changed but it certainly wasn't posh. I seem to remember around 50% of the year above me leaving when they got pregnant at 15. That may be a slight exaggeration. The only posh thing about it was the head who sported a fine collection of peacock feather-patterned outfits and whose hands were scrubbed to within an inch of their lives. It was a vicious circle - the deputy head hauled my dad in to school when I was doing my 'A' Levels  to tell him I'd been skiving (when actually I hadn't but she swore blind it was me) which in turn made me skive. I turned into one of those middle aged men who get made redundant but can't face telling their wives and spend all day watching the ducks from a park bench. I'd pick up my lunchbox in the morning, drive to school, or in the general direction of it, drive around aimlessly for the day and then drive home. The only thing I used to turn up for were my A level Latin lessons. It's amazing I ever got any A levels. Though Dad was so disgusted with my grades when he drove me to collect them, that he stalked back to the car and drove the 15 miles home on his own, leaving me to get the bus.

Colditz or WGHS? But I'd still send any
daughter of mine there.
Ironically, it's a brilliant school and is always amongst the top few schools in the league tables but it was super-strict (though not as strict as my sister's where the head nun only allowed "salt & shake" crisps in lunchboxes so that she could confiscate the salt. There'd be a human rights case against that today.) Our skirts were regulation, we weren't allowed to stamp our feet during the school song, Latin was compulsory (though I do agree with that - look where it got me) and the lunches were disgusting. I'm dredging through my last remaining brain cells to see if there are any good things I remember about it - I guess gazing longingly and hormonally at the boys from St Peters CofE over the fence, chartering an entire train bound for York for our 75th anniversary, the visit from Lionel Blair where the press photo shows my hair looking like an almost exact replica of his and not having to worry that carving graffiti in the desks that were installed in 1911 was going to, in any way, damage them.

Our Latin & French teacher wasn't a beacon of normality within a prison of weirdness. Far from. But he was a very nice bloke. Very softly spoken, very shy and very kind and as, a consequence, bullied by us. He's the only teacher who ever let me eat a banana in class and on the day I left he handed me a huge leather-bound 100 year old Latin dictionary which he'd inscribed with something I still can't translate to this day. I went on to do Latin as part of my degree but I've always been spectacularly rubbish. Not due to his teaching though, I have to say. Clearly I was inspired by him. Either that or the knowledge that my final year at uni would consist of 3 hours a week and that was on a Monday. It does make you wonder why some people want to do medicine when they could do Latin.

This really is sort of an homage to a lovely man who taught a bunch of girls who are quite upset about his death 22 years after last seeing him. As someone posted  - "Kids - be nice to your teachers as its only when its too late do you really appreciate how fab they were". It's so true. Teenagers are possibly amongst the most evil creatures on the planet. I know, I've seen them getting the train home from Salisbury.

Anyway, there's a very fine rendition of the school song on You Tube. This was recorded in 2010 but still gives you an idea of how truly dreadful it was. Their voices are better than ours were and they don't stamp their feet.
Bizarrely, I have known the words off by heart for the last 29 years which is scary and the same amount of time as I have known the words to Billy Joel's Uptown Girl. 

I'd still send any daughter of mine there. Watch out Molly!

Monday, 3 December 2012

I'm gonna beat that rat, that's what I'm gonna do....

I think 4 bereavements in 18 months is enough for anyone. My Mum, my grandad, Paddington the ginger tom then Euston the silver tabby. Today I had to say goodbye to the rat in mi kitchen (utility room). The Rat Catcher Extraordinaire arrived this morning, unscrewed the skirting under the cupboard and we discovered our little furry rodent friend sleeping peacefully and permanently in his nest. My, he was big and it does explain why I thought there was a body being dragged above my office. But he looked so sweet and harmless dead that I actually felt quite sad. Still, he's now residing in a Waitrose carrier bag in the bin outside and we're 80 quid lighter.

"Just let me at 'im.....see how
mean and menacing I am"
So, I'm not sure if it was the presence of rodents in the cavities that prompted The Boy to exclaim in front of the children "perhaps it's about time we got another cat" or it might have been the beer and wine he'd had in the run up but the upshot is that next week we are rescuing a grey kitten. He's ex-feral, if there is such a state as ex-feral or would you say he's a reformed feral? The point is he was a farm kitten and so mousing should be in his blood. He should be able to smell a rat from 500 cat paces though at the moment, if our rodent was alive, I'd put money on him to win any cat v rat fight.

Talking of rats, I had a nice visit from British Transport Police on Thursday. She was lovely and had been sent to catch the rat who crashed into my car and drove off during the 4 minutes it took me to buy a train ticket. It's not the first time I've had to play detective - I was escorted down to Moss Side police station when I was a student to identify the big scary man who I had confronted hours before as he sauntered out of our living room nonchalantly stuffing our video player under his jacket (this was 1992 afterall and he was deliberately wearing a batwing leather jacket). I identified him sure enough - he was very distinctive. Then the police told me not to bother doing anything about it because the burglar knew where I lived. Very reassuring. So it was refreshing to see a police lady who was very proactive and praised my skills in memorising the number plate of the only car I saw in the car park. I'm pretty sure it was him -he was busy doing a handbrake turn suspiciously near my car which is a feat in itself in that carpark. Not sure how much more I can say in case it goes to court. I wouldn't invariably have been that bothered because I hate that car and the sooner it goes the way of the rat the better but a) we were going to sell it that week to get something altogther cooler than a Skoda and b) it wasn't our Saab my friend reversed into the previous week. This colossal dent would have completely obliterated hers and she would have been let off the hook so it's bad luck for her too. Sorry Judith.

So, next Monday I collect the cat. We are working our way around London railway stations. We've had Paddington and Euston and Fenchurch was going to be next but that's a girl's name apparently. Really?? So, it might be Waterloo. St Pancras sounds too much like an internal organ and Marylebone is too difficult for the kids to pronounce and could result in some interesting conversations. Any suggestions gratefully received.......

He can even have his own monogrammed hoody

Monday, 19 November 2012

There's a rat in me kitchen what am I gonna do?

Fleetingly, I thought it might be a warning.
It was a quiet Friday night, home alone (apart from 3 small children and my dad). In the utility room, fetching the all important ice and tonic for our early G&Ts, I heard a sudden rattle from the cupboard. "That's funny" I thought. "The cat was run over in March. Why would the cupboard that stores his Go-Cat be shaking?" And then I saw it, a snakelike tail, whipping frantically from side to side through the gap between the cupboard door. In a flash it was gone and so was my tonic as I dropped it on the floor and legged it back to the relative safety of the kitchen.

Photo: Now that's what I call a Saturday night........
A gin whizz works wonders on
your sewing technique
Was that a superior being's way of telling me that a gin and tonic was going to cause further damage to my liver? If so it didn't work. The lack of tonic meant I had to improvise and turn the G&T into a Gin Whizz which is basically Gin & Blue Curacao with 2 millilitres of tonic. The 2 ml of tonic lulls you into a false sense of security because it turns it a pretty turquoise colour but it still acts as liver-stripper. Actually it proved a nice blast from the past because as soon as I'd made it I remembered it was mum's favourite cocktail and she was a fairly abstemious and very elegant lady and that made me much calmer.

Needless to say, this morning I called the rat-catcher extraordinaire. At least, I called Barry's number to find that he had bought a canal boat and gone "sailing" for 3 years with his wife. Rat Catcher Mark II (his name was actually Mark and he had bought Barry's pest control business off him) promptly dropped what he was doing (wasps nest in Hindon? squirrel in Tisbury?) and hot-footed it over here. How glad was I. He indeed confirmed that we have a mutant rat. I know he's mutant - I saw his tail. It turns out he had tunneled from outside, under the house, into the cupboard in the utility room and eaten all our poor deceased cat's Go-Cat ( I suppose you're asking why it was still in the cupboard 8 months after Euston died but I've always been quite poor at letting go and you should also know by now that I am the original manana girl - "Why do today what you can possibly put off until tomorrow?"). Where's your bloody cat when you need him? Buried under the apple tree. So, I felt quite reassured that once in the cupboard, the rat couldn't get out, especially when we had taped it up with "fragile" tape. Until I realised that once in the cavity he basically has the run of the entire house. So I spent all afternoon in my office listening to a dead body being dragged across the floorboards between my office ceiling and the loft conversion. At least that's what it sounded like. I know Go-Cat is supposed to endow the recipient with strength and agility but I bet that rat has a beautiful glossy coat aswell.

Roland Rat - I stress I DID NOT listen
to his hit "Rat Rapping" in my bedroom
I am rather torn now as far as my affections and beliefs are concerned. I grew up (figuratively, not literally) with Roland Rat, a  lovable rogue of a stuffed rat whose best friend and number one fan was a gerbil called Kevin. They brightened up my Saturday and Sunday mornings in the early 80s when I was too young to hang around on street corners and had to stay in my room listening to Kool & The Gang and Billy Joel (I still do). Then when The Monkey was learning to talk and couldn't say "grandad" he used to (and still does) call my dad "Rat Rat" and thence there came "Ratty", my mum. As she's now no longer with us I can't say a bad thing about rats but the one running over my ceiling as we speak is making me question the warm, furry connotations that rats always held for me. Now I just want to dangle some chocolate in front of it and bring a make-shift guillotine down on it's furry little neck.

Weirdly I googled "evil ninja rat"
and it came up with my wonky-nosed
hero Owen Wilson
I have only had one experience of a rat before (apart from drawing one wearing wellies when I was about 9) and that was in the utility room of our house in Wimbledon. Home alone again, and pretty clueless, I leaned over the garden fence and called to my Polish neighbour "There's a rat in my kitchen , what am I gonna do?". I have to say it was lost on him though he did come up trumps and come round and beat it senseless before handing it to me in a Sainsbury's carrier bag for disposal in the outside bin.

UB40 were a great band but I never found any useful advice in any of their songs.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Money, money, money, ooh ooh

Anyone got any get- rich- quick schemes?

Sometimes life deals you a blow that gets you thinking for a while. Here's me wingeing about turning into an old crone while one of my closest friends tries to claw back even the smallest part of his former life. As a consequence I am feeling massively guilty - firstly for actually having a life and secondly for lusting after shoes when I could be spending the money on a flight to see him. I tell you, it's put me off getting my teeth whitened until at least after Christmas.

Wrong brand but you get my drift
When I was a wine buyer for a retailer I struck up a strong friendship with a short South African guy called Louis. He won't mind me calling him short - he was fully aware of it and made up for his slightly reduced stature by sporting a particularly fine collection of brightly coloured Pumas  - only a pair at a time obviously. We hit it off instantly, probably because he came from my then favourite country in the whole world (I'm very fickle - it's now New Zealand) and partly because he enjoyed a glass of wine or 8. Don't believe a word people say - as a buyer you favour those suppliers who you get on with most and they end up doing better out of you. The Boy can attest to this. He was one of my suppliers at said retailer and I thought he was a nob so I delisted his wines and cancelled our meetings. It was only when I needed an excuse for a meeting in London and he was the only one who agreed to meet late on a Friday afternoon that I thought he had potential. That and the particularly fine bottle of sherry he handed over. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Louis and I became firm friends, had many big nights out and ended up working for ourselves together. It was only when he didn't return my calls or emails for a few weeks that I realised something was seriously wrong. Eventually his friends in South Africa tracked me down and told me he'd been in a bad accident in Spain, in a coma for 6 weeks and was badly injured.

That was 2 years ago. His family moved him back to Jo'burg and he slowly started to recover some of his mobility but I know he was enormously frustrated - he told me he had to learn everything from scratch again and I'm not sure he's ever managed to wear the Havaianas I sent him to encourage him back to the surf. Now I hear he's had a massive stroke and is back to square one. How on earth is that fair?

The point of this is (and I know this isn't a very cheery one), your mates are very important. Especially the vertically challenged ones who wear orange and turquoise footwear and like to say "What you told Bob?" a lot, even if your name's not Bob. Especially if your name's not Bob. I appreciate today I bought a new camera (a birthday present to myself from the children) but somehow I will have to find a few hundred quid to fund a flight to SA.

I could go down the barracks and become a lady of negotiable affection but I hit 40 tomorrow and I may now be a little on the senior side. I could ebay all my shoes but I'm always put off by having to pack them up and take them to the post office. Any other suggestions would be most gratefully received.

Louis, if you're reading this, I'll see you on the beach in Jeffrey's Bay and mine's a glass of Sauvignon. A large one.

Monday, 12 November 2012

What's the magic number?

The first sign I see every day -
 it's a conspiracy

According to De La Soul's 1989 hit, "3 is the magic number". According to my least favourite author, the number that makes the world go round is 50 (and let's face it, it's worked for her given that's probably how many millions of £s she's made from peddling questionable mummy porn). But I have discovered evidence to the contrary. You know how, when you buy a new car, every second car you see is suddenly the same? Now that I'm only two days away from my milestone birthday, the number 40 keeps assaulting me from all angles.

It starts when we're born. The average pregnancy is 40 weeks. We're born, go to school, learn that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights during the great flood (Noah's Ark, not the one in Lynmouth in 1952), spend 40 days every Lent being coerced into giving up something we truly love, maybe end up with a job that gives us the pleasure of paying 40% tax, develop a 40 a day habit, monitor our football team to make sure they achieve the 40 points they need to avoid relegation, get done for doing 48 in a 40 speed limit and then we die. Admittedly that's much later on (hopefully)  but the average life expectancy in the UK is 80 which means I am 2 days away from being half of my potential average.

How depressing is that? If we look on the bright side, apparently life begins at 40. Whoever came up with that? It is actually a modern saying because until the early 20th century, life expectancy was indeed only 40. Death begins at 40 may have been more appropriate then.  I can't imagine that everything is suddenly going to change on Wednesday. Unless the meeting I have in Park Royal on Thursday is going to have great significance for my future which I very much doubt.

The shoes - lasted about 40 seconds
It's not all bad though. On Saturday I was whisked off to a "surprise " party. You know it wasn't a total surprise because I'd already mentioned that my good friend had copied me in on an email replying to the invitation. Which, in hindsight, was very fortuitous because on Thursday The Monkey asked "Mummy, do you know you're having a surprise party at the weekend?" Don't tell a 5 year old anything. He assumes that because he doesn't like surprises (carrots in his shepherds pie, spiders in the bath, trips to Legoland etc), no-one else does. So I went to my surprise party intending to act very surprised. No need. There were people there I genuinely had no idea were coming and how much of a bonus is that? I was surprised though that I had to remove my unfeasibly high heels at the table. You know you're getting on when you can't even sit down in them.

I did prove that I still have staying power though and managed to drink 40 glasses of wine and stay up until 4.40 am (give or take 40 minutes). Then I was up at 8 with the kids, had 40 cups of tea in quick succession, savoured a medicinal Bloody Mary, made a Meccano motorbike (thanks dad) and watched 40 Year Old Virgin. I lied about that last bit - I've never seen it so can't comment on its artistic merit or otherwise but it would have made quite an appropriate end to the day (apart from the virgin bit). Didn't manage to squeeze in 40 winks during the day though which is something I think all 40 year olds should probably do.

Oh and, before I forget, forty is the only number whose letters appear in alphabetical order. You're never too old to learn something new.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Another fad bites the dust

Remember how I mentioned I can be a little bit faddish? Another fad has bitten the dust.

Hell hath no fury like a woman caught
up in the French house-buying process.
So, we got back from Ooh La La Land and I did indeed manage to persuade The Boy to pursue one of the properties. The owner of the house we really loved was English so we reckoned we knew what we were dealing with and we played hardball for a couple of weeks, starting with a silly offer but intending to meet his negotiated price if we had to. I really hate to say I told you so but when the owner finally accepted an offer for the amount he had made clear he always wanted and from someone who didn't increase their offers in €50 increments, I bellowed I TOLD YOU SO! and then didn't speak to The Boy for the rest of the day. Unfortunately we were due to meet in Trafalgar Square at 5.30 to go for an anniversary drink and meal (this is the anniversary that I forgot and he remembered in a very good example of complete role reversal). We met, me still slowly emitting steam from my ears, and he asked me to suspend my fury. I couldn't not really  - it turned out he had arranged a surprise birthday meal for the friends who can't come to my actual surprise birthday meal next weekend. With The Boy fully redeemed we are now back on speaking terms and have thoroughly suspended the idea of a French house.

And so to the evening next weekend that I don't know anything about. I know I'm having one because a good friend copied me in on his reply to The Boy's invitation email entitled "Boo's Surprise Birthday Party". Normally curiosity would have got the better of me but I actually deleted it without reading it. I almost wish I didn't know anything at all about it because being in the dark has given me a sartorial planning nightmare. At first it was going to be a little black dress which I last wore when I was 30 but I would need suck-it-in pants and they only serve to spew the fat out elsewhere like under your armpits or as a third breast. Then it was going to be a a lovely blue dress I got that I thought was pretty cool but a friend ordered me not to wear it with the warning words " You're turning 40, not 50" and " we all know you have 3 kids but you needn't dress like it ". (Sometimes you need a blunt-talking mate). Now it's going to be my favourite best jeans (which I bought when I was 30), a new top and some impossibly high snakeskin heels. My justification for these is simply that I remember opening the under stairs cupboard when I was about 6 and finding a pair of identical ones (mum's not dad's). Given I don't have my mum I think it is only right that I replicate her choice of footwear. She would want me to, I know.

So, 10 days till I turn 40. 10 days to eat protein only and run 70 miles, wrapped in clingfilm or 10 days to give in gracefully and admit that it's about to happen and I don't even have time to get my teeth whitened.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Living in Ooh La La Land

This is what I want.....

Bonsoir tout le monde

This week I have been mostly tearing around France. The Boy and I decided to go on a half hearted attempt to look at potential holiday homes - deep down it was probably more of a full-hearted attempt at getting some child-free peace and quiet for a couple of days and to avail ourselves of cheaper wine. However, as we all know, the female of the species can be far more conniving than that and I went with the express intention of bullying The Boy into upping our mortgage and shelling out for a nice pad, whether he was aware of that or not. I suspect he was.
This is what I'll get. Only 90% of my time is
spent in cloud cuckoo land - the other
10% is on property porn

It didn't bode well from the start really. One of the first things you do pre-trip is book your hire car. If you do it on one of the generic websites that offers to find you the best deal,your car hire company isn't indicated until the booking has been made. Unfortunately, ours turned out to be Hertz which was indeed unfortunate as The Boy has been banned from hiring from them for life. (He didn't commit a heinous crime, merely wrote one of their cars off the day after proposing to me in Scotland - an omen of things to come perhaps? The crime wasn't even writing the bloody thing off - it was crawling from the wreckage in Glencoe at 6am and minus 10 degrees and hitching to the nearest village rather than freezing our (his) balls off. ). Either way, we thought Hertz might have forgotten by now so we tried it on only for the woman to pronounce "you 'av a problemme wiz Herrrtz end I cannot igh-ur you zis carrr". By you she meant either of us. I quickly corrected her on that point and asked not to be tarred with The Boy's brush. She relented which was fine but it meant I had to do ALL the driving, all 700 km of it and the French now have v strict drink-driving laws so not even a solitary beer at lunchtime.

The boding didn't get much better. We met the first agent, a lovely guy called, rather preditably, Jean-Pierre and agreed to follow him out of the village square to the first property. Unfortunately I followed the wrong guy - easily done given all the French drive Peugeot 106s. There's a reason I'm in the wine trade and not a private detective.  Issue rectified - found the right guy and spent an enjoyable afternoon with him. He even bought us (The Boy - I was adhering to the law) a beer and asked me if I'd do the Lac de Vassiviere Half Marathon with him next July. He's such a nice guy I probably will.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, viewing properties in France is a very interesting experience. They all speak excellent English, apparently because 80% of their clients are English. And I thought we were all selling up and coming home? They can be very charming of course and some of them buy you beer. But the decor is bloody awful. Where else would you get floor to ceiling dark brown flowered wall paper that has somehow managed to find its way between the ceiling beams aswell? In every room. Honestly, I googled "very bad 1970s French wallpaper" and couldn't find anything as bad as the stuff we saw up close.
If The Boy doesn't aquiesce
to my demands I shall decorate
our entire house like this or make him listen to
Rolf Harris on repeat

So, we saw 11 properties. Some were complete shockers, a couple were pretty cool, one was amazing. Then we came home and I tried to push The Boy into making a plan. He's really making me work for it and spouting stuff about exchange rates and other such nonsense that frankly I don't care about because a) I'm a woman on a mission, b) we need another venue for a book group weekend and c) I'm a woman on a mission.

I shall keep you posted.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

13 miles of awfulness

I've surprised myself.

I'm rather like my sister in that we both have fads that last a nanosecond before we find another far more interesting one. She moved from learning Japanese to horticulture to tap dancing within a month and I'm sure she won't mind me saying that. The one thing we did stick at together was learning the Charleston which, I'll have you know, is actually very difficult. Plus you never get to display your skills in public unless you deliberately engineer a 20s themed fancy dress party at which you're the only pair dancing.

Anyway, the point is, today was the long awaited and much dreaded half marathon. Given that I've spent two out of the last three weeks away from home and probably peaked a bit early in my training, it didn't go too badly. I started the week with an enforced version of the Atkins diet. I've never fancied doing that because apparently it makes your breath smell but by far the worst thing about not having any carbs is the rabid hunger that comes with it. No matter how much fruit or omelette you eat, you cannot fill up. Plus the very fact that you can't eat carbs makes you want them even more. Never has a child's soggy marmite on toast that's sat on the floor for 3 hours looked so appetising. The sogginess was from my drool as I gazed lovingly upon it from my bowl of melon (3 types just to make it a bit more interesting).

After that followed three days of carbo-loading. Given that I spent three days desperate for the pasta-fest to start it couldn't have been more disappointing. I was so delighted that three days of protein-only had shed me 3lbs that by the time I was officially allowed to eat again, I didn't want to. I felt my face balloon into the shape of my breakfast as I forced down my marmite bagel. Followed by toad in the hole for lunch and lasagna for dinner. Come to think of it, perhaps that was overdoing it a little.

So, the morning finally dawned. After a bowl of porridge the size of Lake Victoria, I crawled onto the Jubilee line at Stratford looking forward to a nice sit down. It seems 5000 other runners also had the same idea - so I stood, wishing I hadn't lost those 3 lbs and still looked 7 months pregnant. And when I got to the race area, I stood some more in the mile long queue for the toilets which incidentally is all psychosomatic. No-one needs the loo that often.

There was no turning back then.  I stood at the start, gazed at the heavens, muttered " I hope you appreciate this, mother" and set off. And, wow, how easy it seemed. It looks like living in an area of unfeasibly steep hills pays off when training for a race on the flat. My hips gave in, my toes started to hurt (strange) but I swore I wouldn't even think about walking until 10 miles and then I made a terrible mistake. At ten and a half miles I reached round to try and remove the super-power-giving gel pack (that The Boy had lovingly donated) from my back pocket and found it had stuck to the jelly babies I had been storing to give me energy. In order to get energy you're supposed to eat these things, not just store them, but I hadn't been able to because with all the sweat and heat I was giving off, they had fused into one gelatinous mess. So I had to walk while I tried to remove the gel pack, wrestle with it's tab and try to stop myself from gagging on it's vile, warm contents. I looked at a poor guy prostrate on the floor being attended to by paramedics and thought "you lucky sod, you're having a lie down". Hope he was ok. Walking made my legs seize up so it was an almighty effort to get started again but what's the choice? Crossing that finishing line was the best thing I ever did. And then my sister thought I was having a heart attack. Nothing a nice cold pint didn't sort out though.

And now I'm home and I can eat what I want and drink what I want and wallow in a nice hot bath.

And then the real world will begin again tomorrow. But at least I have proved to myself that I can decide to do something new, train for it and do it.

But I've turned down the London Marathon the charity offered me for March. Don't want to let a good thing go bad.
Sorry, no photos, too tired! And before you ask - 2 hours 18 minutes....

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Dublin without the black stuff this time

"I told you I love her more than you do"

Um, I've racked my brains long and hard to think of something new I've done since last posting and I've really struggled. Which I suppose, in itself,  is new. Problem solved.

It's been two weeks since the last post and that's mostly because I haven't really been at home. I come home for a night and then disappear for two which seems to have had a great effect on the children - in that they're pleased to see me and not hurling toddler abuse. I've never really had anyone fight over me unfortunately so it's nice to see the twins arguing over whose mother I am. "She's my mummy!" "No, she's my mummy!" I don't expect it to last.

The last few days have been spent in Dublin which is a great city. I've only been a couple of times. The first was on a university history society weekend. Obviously we didn't go for the history. That's like assuming someone joins a university wine society because they want to learn about wine.  But I did, perhaps misguidedly, think that the weekend might involve some long boozy sessions in proper Oirish bars with my then relatively new boyfriend. Not so. The minute we arrived he disappeared and spent the whole weekend with his ex - a flame haired girl called Yvonne from Londonderry which isn't even proper Ireland. The rest of it is unsurprisingly a blur but we did end up going out for the next two years and I did end up seeing The Committments (it was 1991) in its home town for which I'll always be grateful to him.

Dublin Airport Terminal 1
or Sat Nav error?
Anyway, the point is, as we were going to drive around Dublin for two days this week visiting wine shops (work, not play), I hired a sat nav. This was the first time I have ever used one and will most likely be the last. If you hire a car and a sat nav, presumably you get the cheapest and most unreliable on the planet? I mean, for gods sake, it couldn't even register our planet in its system. We were lucky I suppose that it recognised Dublin when we keyed it in because it didn't recognise anything else. Apart from 32 different Vernon Avenues in a city that doesn't have postcodes. You would think that of all the places it would help you get to, it would be "Europcar Car Rental Return". But no. Having already abandoned our last two meetings because it lost us half an hour on a journey by sending us almost to Limerick, we changed tack and plugged in the rental returns office which, incredibly, was an option in the system. Instead it sent us to the main door of Terminal 1 where abandoning cars isn't usually encouraged. As Thomas Paine, the well known 18th century radical and philosopher once said, " Attempting to debate with a (sat nav) who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead". Warning lights should have flashed when I picked up the bloody thing. It was a Garmin. I have a Garmin app on my phone which is supposed to track my running routes. I have Garmin to thank for the amazing feat of running 15km in about 4 minutes. It doesn't seem to be known for it's reliability. Bizarrely I did actually end up doing around 15km in 4 minutes when I ran from security to the gate as my flight closed. All part of the training.

Talking of which.....only 10 days till race day. I have got to the point where I am past enjoying going for a run. I'm resenting having to clock up miles each week. It used to be quite enjoyable in a sado-masochistic kind of way but now I'd rather stick red hot knitting needles in my eyes than get my trainers on. So I was delighted to hear today from someone who is much more of a seasoned runner than me that, yes, I can start to wind down now. In fact, I need do nothing from next Tuesday other than eat pasta and mashed potato.  I knew there was a reason I was doing this.

May as well ask - if you want to sponsor me you can do so at

It's all in a good cause or at least that's what I keep telling myself.......

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Boys will be Boys

So, the week didn't get that much better.

Poor grandad turned the lights out 9 minutes after I posted that last blog so then I was feeling a bit bad about being relatively jovial when he had breathed his last in hospital. What is astonishing is that he and Nan have been married for 72 years. When I mentioned this to The Boy he made a funny groaning noise and asked if I realised how old we'd be when we got to that stage (the answer is him 107, me 103 - first calculation had it as 164 for me which is very wrong or I look extremely good for my age).
I said "don't worry, I'll have killed you by then". He said "don't worry, I'll have killed myself".

The Boy's arrival home from a hard day
in the office while I pray for the
redemption of my smaller boy
(missing from picture) who is
outside stoning someone's Hillman Husky
Oh happy married life! It made me think of those lovely nuclear families that you used to get in the 50's (I've been watching too much Mad Men), when women wore petticoats and torpedo bras and spent all day putting pineapple and cheese on sticks and men drank manhattans for breakfast.

CN8/1; picture of a workshop, 1937
Borstal - reforming naughty boys
by donning aprons and learning
how to gut rabbits
One thing that also existed here in the 50s was "borstal" which, for those of you outside this wonderful land, was a form of youth prison run in the UK by the prison service and used to "correct" seriously delinquent young boys. Obviously girls can't get seriously delinquent because we're just too nice. Girls were sent off to convents instead and I'm pretty sure they were also run by the prison service. Borstals were for offenders under the age of 21. I'm not sure they catered for boys as young as 5 but that's where my boy would be heading today if he'd been born 70 years earlier. 

Last night he broke his first car windscreen. Or rather he broke a very big and scary friend's car windscreen.  I'd taken him for tea and to play with his two best friends from his old nursery. This is the triumvirate who, even when they were three, were separated at lunchtime and were put in opposite corners of the room on a more than frequent basis. So, they were busy being boys outside and throwing stones at eachother (which is fine apparently) when said big and scary friend came in and asked for masking tape to mend his rear windscreen. I knew instantly my boy was the culprit. I didn't shout and scream, merely gave him a stern talking to, made him apologise and had a glass of wine (me not him). Then I took him home and asked him to tell his father what he had done. Later on I asked The Boy what he thought of this transgression and he said "Well, I don't know what he was thinking because he knows not to throw stones at people". Um, so he didn't mention the windscreen then.......

It must run in the family because when I traced my family tree a couple of years ago I discovered that my great uncle had indeed been sent to a "home for delinquent boys" at the age of 8. That's the Irish side of my family. Funnily enough my great grandmother was also sent to a prison, I mean convent.

I was mortified at the time. I'm just lucky it was a company car and big scary friend wasn't that fussed or I'd be facing a large bill instead of owing 15 quid for duct tape to hold it all together so he could drive to the Isle of Wight. A little part of me was a tiny bit impressed that my boy has fire in his belly.

Although I gather that fire is another thing that little boys like to learn about so I'm just going to turn off all the gas before I go and watch Mad Men.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Up, up and away

Back in the dim and distant past of 1997, I read one of the best books I've ever read but the first chapter or two have haunted me ever since. Well, I say haunted. Not constantly but in a way that has always been there though not necessarily at the surface. Until last night that is, when we were bouncing along in a land rover looking for our launch site for the long awaited balloon flight and I suddenly had this blinding memory of the scene that has lain semi-dormant in my subconscious for 15 years.

Funnily enough I've always, always wanted to go in a hot air balloon so what better excuse than someone else's birthday. Obviously I didn't want The Boy to have to experience such a generous gift on his own, where's the fun in that? So I martyrishly stepped in and treated myself to one at the same time. It was only about a month after buying the vouchers that it suddenly dawned on me while I was brushing my teeth that I actually have a morbid fear of big drops / sheer drops / massive heights. I'm the girl who burst into tears and handed the keys of my soft-top over to The Boy because I couldn't handle the drive up St Bernards Pass in The Alps. But I tried to overcome that only for the sudden flash of memory from Ian McEwan's "Enduring Love" to take its icy grip in the middle of Dorset. It was an unfortunate moment for this to hit me because it's about a hot air balloon accident where one unlucky victim falls to the ground and is found in a sitting position with his spine sticking out of the top of his skull. Nice. Thank god there was going to be champagne on this flight.

Almost as fascinating looking
up as down
It's a strange feeling to think that there's only a layer of wicker separating you from an absolutely certain and very messy end. But weirdly, as you take off it all melts away. It's so silent up there (apart from the woman next to you threatening to throw her partner out because he got lost en route) that you suddenly feel that, actually, if you fell out, there might be worse ways to go. Until you hit the ground at least.

Anyway, the upshot is that a) I have overcome my fear of big drops/sheer drops/massive heights, b) being a martyr is a wonderful and selfless thing and c) it makes you bloody hungry. Shame then that the KFC in Wincanton that we started fantasising about (I know, a sad existence) 10 minutes in, was closed on the way home on account of not actually being built yet.

Not scary in the slightest.
Not our house though unfortunately
Today is Friday. I know we still have two days of the week left but already that has been the absolute highlight. The rest of it has been pretty pants and a series of firsts (other than the balloon) have been thwarted by far superior powers. After a day of meetings in London on Monday and just as I was due to meet my sis, BIL and dad for the Paralympics Athletics, we got a call summoning us to the hospital 3 hours away - Grandad was critical and not expected to last the night. So we drove like the wind up the M40, made a mess of dad's car with our noodle and doughnut picnic and then spent the entire night in the hospital which also blew our plans for breakfast. As Tuesday was the first anniversary of mum's death we were going to go for a swanky breakfast in London to "celebrate" (in the nicest possible sense, not that she ever really ate breakfast). Instead, Dad and I had a greasy fry-up in the hospital canteen at 7.30 having stared at our watches for at least 4 hours, counting down to the minutes till it opened. It was cheap. So are tattoos in Bangalore but neither of them are recommended by the World Health Organisation.

So mum's anniversary passed almost unnoticed which is tragic considering its enormity (to us). How ironic it would have been if the nurses had been right and Grandad had shuffled off his mortal coil on Tuesday. Now it's Friday and he's still clinging on but it can't be long now.

In a funny way I didn't really miss-out on the anniversary. The Boy pointed out that being 1300 ft over Dorset was 1300 ft closer to her which in its own way was quite comforting.

If you believe in all that......

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Every hair has a silver lining

"Oh My", as our favourite sex-craving anti-heroine likes to opine (I did count actually and she comes out with this intellectual gem 24 times in 50 Shades Darker which, incidentally, is as much a pile of complete crap as the first one).

Anyway, the point is, I think I am going through a midlife crisis. I didn't think I was going to be bothered about turning 40 but I'm suddenly feeling, physically,  really old. This wasn't helped this morning by The Monkey telling me that my hair is changing colour and I have bits of "silver" in it (slightly more polite than grey I suppose). His father took him aside and had a quiet word, suggesting that he probably shouldn't mention it again. Anyway, I've told The Monkey off about fibbing before and I pay someone good money to keep the silver OUT of my hair. Yesterday a Silver Fox came up to me in the street and said "Lovely hair - that's a great cut!" Two things, with hindsight, now strike me about that;  firstly that he omitted to mention the now seemingly obvious grey bits and secondly, he was in his sixties. At first I was flattered. Now I'm wondering whether he was saying it was a good cut for his age group and that he wouldn't mind taking a lady with such hair on a Saga cruise. I know 65 is young these days but, please, I'm 25 years (2 months and 16 days) away .

Twins or small planet?
Three small children probably aren't making me feel much younger - nor is the running. I've done 16km in the last 2 days and my legs just want to fall off and tomorrow I'm faced with a BIG one. It's not like I've lost a couple of stone either but I suppose that could be the martinis. I'm sure I read in a running magazine that they're a good energy drink. As every mother of twins or more knows, no matter what you do or how hard you try, you will never get rid of that fold of skin on your stomach. No amount of sit-ups or running can shift something that has been created by two small beings stretching your previously cared-for skin beyond recognition and then suddenly vacating that space - like popping a balloon. So, now that I've been informed by The Boy that "flobby" is a good word for it, (thanks Boy) I'm going to start saving for a remoulding. I use that word because I'm in denial. Surely whatever is removed from a tummy tuck can be recycled into a boob job, thereby saving me money and the surgeon time? All I want is a little bit of shape redistribution.

The future looks bright...
stepping out of my cryo-pod thing in 10 years time
I don't know whether his father had another word with him but The Monkey has since redeemed himself. Watching me brush my hair for the first time this week to go and get him some new school shoes he said I didn't need to put any make up on for him. "You only need to put make-up on if you want other people to think you're pretty. I think you're perfect pretty without it".

No matter how bad things seem you can always rely on that first born son / mother bond to make amends. At least I know I now appeal to both ends of the age spectrum. It's just that 60 year gap in between.

I don't think I've ever really been that vain but if this is what turning 40 does to you then I'd rather skip it and move straight on to 50.

Perhaps I'll investigate cryogenics now.....

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Boo on the loose

Well, this is the first time I have updated this blog from a different country though I am so tired and confused I'm struggling to remember which country I'm actually in. On Tuesday I arrived in New Zealand and flew out again on Friday night - a long way to go for 3 nights. It really freaks me out that, having spent an entire night on a plane, I arrived in San Francisco 7 hours before I left Auckland. Which is just as well.  I was so tired and hungover on Friday that my friend in NZ pointed out that I would at least get another shot at the day and indeed I did. This week I may have completely lost Monday, but I've had two Fridays.  Kerryn, if you're reading this I'm so sorry. Next time I see you I'll take some talking pills. I feel very bad that I turned up for our annual catch up and then said barely more than three words to you before falling asleep in your car.

San Francisco was another first and so was the fact that I was exploring and staying in a new city on my own. How liberating. I would heartily recommend it to anyone - no arguing over which sights to see, which bar to sit in, when to eat, what to eat. You get my drift. The only downside is not having a man by your side in the evening. Well, not having the man you want by your side anyway. When you're a girl on your own and you sit at a bar and order a drink and it becomes clear that you're not waiting for anyone, you start to feel eyes boring into your back and you're convinced that everyone thinks you're a lady of negotiable affection. I know I'm skint after buying the athletics ticket but thank god I wasn't offered $50, or worse, less.

"How much, love?"
San Francisco is my new favourite city. I think I saw pretty much everything during a three hour walk. Union Square (flashy), Fisherman's Wharf (trashy), Alcatraz (bleak) , cable cars  (steep), Lombard St of Steve McQueen fame (twisty). Everything,  that is,  except the Golden Gate Bridge (misty). Which means I shall have to go back.

LA is a different kettle of fish though. Not that I've seen anything other than the airport and I don't have much desire to. The people are less friendly and seem to take pleasure in sending you on a wild goose chase. It's a good job I have 5 hours between flights because it took me almost that long to find the international departures. On getting off a domestic flight I was told to exit the airport and get on the shuttle bus for Air New Zealand. First I missed one then half an hour later the next one arrived. After 20 minutes it dropped me off. That's strange I thought. I know I'm tired but this all looks vaguely familiar. It had done a massive loop of the airport and dropped me off where I'd got on. International Departures was one floor up from Domestic Arrivals. Hey Ho.

And so, back to Blighty. Tired, emotional, missed the ankle biters and a whole week of training and not looking forward to the rain. It's bound to be raining - it's a bank holiday.

Friday, 17 August 2012

And the gold goes to.....

The repetitive strain injury is worth it.

As you'll recall, I spent most of our holiday in Devon hitting the refresh button on the London 2012 Ticket website. Either on my laptop or on my phone depending on our proximity to an electric socket, or both simultaneously just to really increase my chances. I have always been fairly determined and I can quite categorically state now that persistence pays off. When my obsession was becoming a little annoying and The Boy was on the verge of leaving me, those magic words came up. "Ticket available - you have 3 minutes to complete this screen". Frantically I rummaged for my debit card realising that I was logged in as The Boy and he was out and had rather cunningly taken his credit card as far away from me as he could possibly get it. (incidentally, the Monkey even takes the piss out of me now. He came up to me today and shouted rather frantically "Where's your credit card Boy, where's your credit card??" and then wet himself laughing. I struggled to connect this outburst to anything even vaguely familiar and then realised he was parroting my attempt to finalise my ticket). You'll notice that it said "ticket" in the singular. I did try to apply for two, I really did, but weirdly I only got one. Shame. I had to go on a big adventure on my own.

Photo: Olympic park and athletics Fri 10 AugustSo, what a night. I arrived at the Olympic Park in plenty of time (no ankle-biters or husband to slow me down), availed myself of a couple of cold beers, sat in the baking sun then wandered down to my seat. To be fair, I had spent the GDP of a small country on my ticket so it shouldn't have come as a surprise to find out it was a good seat. But, wow, front row?? I promptly broke the world record for over-excitement. Rather predictably I went on probably the only night where we didn't win a medal but who cares. In fact we even got disqualified but I saw a couple of world records and smelt the sweat of the American relay team so it was all worth it. Honestly, it was a night I shall never forget. 
Photo: Olympic park and athletics Fri 10 August
OK, so it's not Team GB but close
enough to see their nostrils twitch
This week as a consequence of the Olympics being over, I am more than a little bereft. In fact, the whole country seems to be a little down and despondent so just as well that the next post I do will be at 3am from my hotel room in Auckland when I've already been awake for 2 hours. Something to look forward to. At least the kiwis can't take the piss out of me for belonging to a nation who are crap at sport. I'd like to remind my good friends that we came 3rd in the medal table with 29 golds, they got 6 and 5 of those were in sitting down sports. The Australians only got 7 but apparently the reason is that they always perform better when their currency is weaker hence their relatively shocking performance this time round. There are many methods of calculation employed to manipulate results and make things seem not quite as bad as they initially appear. Take this for example Brian Dawes, an Australian statitician has ground breaking news for us. He calls it the MAP methodology:

 "Based on a crafty combination of medals won, athletes in your team, and your country's population, I am please to advise that the real winner of the London Olympics is Australia!"
Using the formula, medals won multiplied by athletes in your team divided by home count population (MAP), here are the top four:
  1. Australia 632
  2. Great Britain 565
  3. Hungary 268
  4. Russia 250
Team USA scored a measly 175, and China only 23.

So, that's ok then.

Antipodeans know your place - The natural order of things......

As I have been so inspired by my new hero "Mo", yesterday I ran 12km. As a consequence, today I am having to nurse my aches with a bottle of fine Australian Chardonnay (no, seriously, they do exist) while I wait for The Boy to return from the cricket at Lords where he has been busy high-fiving Yohan Blake. My 420 quid got me within sniffing distance of the American relay team. His cricket ticket got him palm on palm action with "The Beast".

Hey Ho. Next week I will be mostly on a plane, in NZ and enjoying a one-night stopover in San Francisco on my way home. Unfortunately I had forgotten about this when I bought my athletics ticket so I am being forced to check into Alcatraz.

The best thing about trying to do all these firsts is that you live in a state of perpetual excitement. And poverty. But life's too short....