Friday, 18 December 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Cole is five months old and has never seen snow. He was therefore rather impressed this morning with this:

The Teens and I took him for a walk this afternoon, but he was far too excited to stand still for even TEN BLOODY SECONDS so I could take his photograph:

And even if I manage to snap a photo, a coal-black coat is not the best colour for showing detail:

The Teens, on the other hand, will happily stand still when I want to take a photo of them:

And they don't pee on the carpet either.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Don't come crying to me........

My beloved son was home this weekend. Well, I say home. I hardly saw him. He arrived at midnight on Friday, slept till noon on Saturday, went out on Saturday night with his friends, slept till eleven on Sunday and returned to his school two hours later. His room, which I had scrubbed, dusted, tidied, made up the bed with fresh linen, etc etc (you get the picture) looked like a typhoon had had a party in it within 20 minutes. Without thinking, I found myself yelling: "You treat this place like a HOTEL!"

Arrrghh. I have become my mother. When did that happen?

This got me thinking (rather like Carrie in SATC, only thinking about it, not rather like Carrie, in that I weigh more than two stones) about the stuff our mothers said to us when we were growing up. Here's a sample. Feel free to add your own bon mots.

(When asking if I could have a bike for Christmas five minutes after I'd spilled tomato soup all over the kitchen table) "Bike? I'll give you bike!"

"You'll be smirking on the other side of your face!"

"If you climb up that wall once more and fall off and break your legs - don't come running to me."

"Eat like a Christian." (Yes, I know. My mother is Irish and a devout Roman Catholic. I blame the nuns.)

"If the wind changes, you'll be left looking like that."

"Don't sit on a cold wall. You'll get a chill on your kidneys." (Perhaps there is a mysterious wall somewhere that is warm?)

"You can't go out with freshly washed hair. You'll catch a chill." (Whereabouts of said chill, unspecified.)

Me to my mother as she was making a cake: "Can I lick out the bowl?" Mother to me: "No. If you eat raw cake mixture, you'll get worms."

Mother to my sister and I: "If you two are going to kill each other, do it outside. I've just washed the floor."

"Keep that crying up, and I'll give you something to cry about!"

"Look at the dirt on the back of your neck." (How, Mum?)

"There's starving children in Africa that would be grateful for that cabbage."

"Eat your crusts or you'll never get curly hair."

And finally:

"One day you'll have children. THEN YOU'LL SEE..........."

Monday, 30 November 2009

She's behind you!! (Oh no she isn't.....)

It's Panto season. And this year, I've come into contact with both a Wicked Stemother

and a Fairy Godmother
(you know who you are).

I've had just the BEST few days away from home, staying with a terrific Twitter friend and meetings lots of other Tweeters. I went down South to see my son in his school play, "Animal Farm". I'm biased, obviously, but I thought it was a tremendous production (well done, Aldenham School)and afterwards I met my son's housemaster, who told me my son was doing really well. I can't tell you how pleased I was to hear this.

Those of you who read my blog regularly (hello, and thank you) will know that I was nervous about the son and heir leaving home and going to a new school and living with his father and stepmother and although the school has worked out brilliantly, home life has not.

His stepmother did not enjoy having her stepson living with her AT ALL. She made life increasingly difficult for him as the weeks went on. He was not allowed, for example, to study at home at the weekends. This, apparently, was not productive and he had to take himself off to Barnet library every Saturday and Sunday. Last weekend she caught him taking a small bottle of water with him and made him put it back in the fridge. "You get pocket money - buy your own water," was the instruction. Several hours later, he returned home in the pouring rain and couldn't get in (he's not allowed a house key; no reason given). He rang his father who explained that he and his wife were shopping and would be home in an "hour or so". He was to "find some shelter" and wait.

Then a few days ago, he was told that his father and stepmother wouldn't be coming to see him in "Animal Farm" as his stepmother, believe it or not, "didn't feel wanted".

On Friday last week I was told by my son that as from January, he would be a full-time boarder at his school. Presumably the decision to whisk my son down to Hertfordshire and live with them hadn't, um, worked out.

Fortunately, he's delighted to be boarding. And because he's happy about it, so am I.

I have no idea what it must be like to be a stepmother, but I imagine it's difficult. Welcoming someone else's child into your home cannot be easy, indeed it must be fraught with difficulties. I'm not going to say what I think of his father's role in all this because I can't do so without recourse to........... well, I'm sure you know what I'd like to say.

I worry every day how this will affect my son's feelings about himself: what will it do to his self-esteem? What kind of relationship will he have now with his father? Will he ever have any relationship with his stepmother? Somewhere along the line I feel I've failed him, but I don't know how to rectify this other than to make sure he knows he is loved and that I'm proud of him for dealing with this farcical situation with more grace and dignity than I would ever have thought possible.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

And they call it Puppy Love

If you all want to tell me I'm mad, that's fine. I know.

But just look at him. How can you not love that little face? His glossy black coat that makes him look as though he's been in the tumble drier? The teens raided their savings accounts to buy him and he wasn't in the least bit expensive either. He's an English Springer Spaniel, Patterdale Terrier cross, although at only seven weeks' old he is already much more Spaniel than Terrier.

We love him. Although I hadn't banked on his piteous mewing noises being quite so loud.

Especially when he's asleep.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Back for good - or not

Oh blog. I've neglected you. I have my reasons, of course. Well, reason. I've had a lot to deal with and I'm as miserable as sin. Here's why.

My beloved son did not do as well in his GCSEs as I and indeed he, hoped. He was away on holiday with his father when the results were issued so when I called the school for his results, I was told I would have to attend an interview as the powers-that-be weren't convinced they would allow him to join their Sixth Form.

I duly went to be interviewed the next day and did my level best to persuade them to allow him into their Sixth Form. One of the panel remained unconvinced and so I had to wait for their decision. Four days later my son returned (I might add that his father was reluctant to take any of my calls or increasingly worried emails as to what the alternatives would be) and went into the school to meet said unconvinced teacher. Again, this teacher wouldn't give him a decision. By this stage, most pupils were starting the new term. I didn't know what to do. I asked my ex-husband if perhaps we should consider a school in Hertfordshire which is where he lives. Hmmn.

Anyway, long story short, a school was found down there, my son visited it, loved it, they offered him a place and more importantly they said he could study the exact subjects he wanted for A Level. His current school remained silent until three days before their term was due to begin and said he COULD come back, but with some fairly rigorous provisos. My son said no and the next thing all of us knew, he'd gone to spend term time with his father, but of course returning to me at least two weekends a month and every half term and school holidays. Or so I thought.

Not only has my son been told that now he is staying with his father he is not to go "running back to Yorkshire" because "his family is HERE now", but the maintenance payments I receive from my ex-husband for my son are to stop with immediate effect. All my pleas fell on deaf ears. I'm struggling to make ends meet and keep a roof over our heads as it stands even with this monthly sum of money, so I asked if some compromise could be made, say, I still received a proportion of the maintenance to cover when my son would be with us. No dice. He put it plainly. He "didn't need the money" but it was the "principle". Apparently his latest wife thinks that I am "robbing" her. Considering that the amount I receive(d) wouldn't even cover the monthly fuel bill for her new Aston Martin, this was a tad hard to swallow.

Anyway, funds, or lack thereof, being what they are, getting myself a solicitor was out of the question. I don't qualify for Legal Aid (not many people do unless they're on Job Seekers' Allowance, I discovered via the Citizens' Advice Bureau) but I did get a free half hour's consultation with the firm that handled my divorce nine years ago and thank God I did. I was given a copy of the Consent Order that categorically states I am to receive this maintenance, or periodical payment as it's known, unless either party went to Court and requested it to be stopped or varied.

I managed to speak to my ex-husband and told him this. I was told that unless I accepted his decision to stop paying, then he would take my son out of the school he had just started, send him back to Yorkshire and he could "take his chances". In other words, it was the Hertfordshire school (which is fee paying) or no school. I'd already investigated the possibilities of a place at the two state schools in Harrogate which are excellent, by the way, but was told they were full and that I should have applied for a place last March and they wouldn't let him study the A levels he wanted either. Well, I'm not going to jeopardise my son's happiness at his new school so - there it is. He's there and we're here.

I am, however, going to take my ex-husband to Court. You can do it without a solicitor. The various people I've spoken to at Harrogate County Court couldn't have been more helpful and I am eternally grateful for their patience and understanding. he's definitely got a case for reducing the maintenance but you've got to go through the Courts to do so. In the meantime, however, I have no idea how I'm going to meet all the bills but even more importantly I miss having my son at home. I know I should get over it and everyone's children leave home eventually and he's not gone for good etc, but man: it's hard.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Shanewatch (an ongoing series)

She's at it again. You may recall my trashing of Shane Watson in a previous post and I'm afraid to report she's at it again.

In her latest must-read column in The Times she's back on the subject of WHAT MEN WANT. Oh yes. And what do they want? Shane, in her infinite wisdom, is able to tell us:

"We know that smudgy eyes and Balmain jackets and snakeskin heels are hot, even if men insist they prefer us in bias-cut dresses with shiny wavy hair and a pair of flip-flops.

Ah, how right she is. Men are forever poring over the Boden catalogue, suggesting that their girlfriends/wives buy that nice little bias-cut dress and then jump artfully over the nearest puddle/rock pool.

How would we ever get dressed without her?

The Magic Finger

I'm going to cut to the chase today. I cut through my finger, right down to the knuckle, last week. See, I'm not mincing my words, am I? I minced my finger though. Well, not minced exactly, more sort of sliced, but that wouldn't work, would it, saying I'm not slicing my words and I don't have a sub-editor to go all Giles Coren on.

Anyway, the finger slicing happened because some months ago the ceiling underneath my bathroom collapsed, all due to something and nothing really; running a bath and then, er, pratting around on Twitter and forgetting all about it.

The plasterer (lovely chap) has been and gone, and the decorators are due to start work this week. This led me to stare speculatively at what I believe is called "the paintwork". You know, skirting boards, banisters, door frames, doors etc. I didn't need to be the impossibly rude Ann Maurice to recognise that all of the aforementioned needed re-painting. The doors in particular have taken rather a lot of abuse. A shouty mother and two teens makes for rather a lot of slamming.

Funds being non-existent, I decided to brave the hell hole that is my utility room and see what half-used tins of paint might be lurking in the cupboards and could be pressed into service. Who cares if the various shades of white (china/chalk/cotton) don't match? Pish. Eventually Homes and Gardens will catch up with me and recognise that not-quite-matching shades of white are interior design's new black.

The search for suitable paints took rather longer than I'd anticipated, as the utility room is a repository for all kinds of crap. I have inherited my mother's thrifty gene, which means I am afraid to throw stuff out. Unfortunately, I haven't inherited her concomitant practicality, which would mean I actually do something with the object, instead of shoving it in a cupboard in case it "comes in" later.

So, after I'd waded through mountains of guarantee certificates and instruction booklets for various appliances that broke down years ago and were sold on via car boot sales (don't judge me, I needed the money)I found a plastic tin of paint that looked entirely suitable for the job. If I liked the colour, I'd start with that. Only I couldn't get the lid off, could I. Not even with my special paint tin lid remover gadget thingy. So I moved onto kitchen knives (nope), forks (bent in Uri-Geller fashion), screwdrivers (nope again) and finally my son's Swiss Army pen knife. I don't know exactly how I did it, but the plastic lid bent, the knife blade closed back on itself and seconds later I was clutching the knuckle of my right index finger, screaming "Arrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggghhhhhhhhh!" and trying to stem the flow of blood with dishclothes, tea towels and anything else I could reach.

About an hour later, when I'd stopped blubbing, I peeled off the makeshift bandages and had an experimental wiggle of my finger (bad idea of the week). Blast. Still bleeding. I couldn't ignore this, I would have to go to A&E. Now, I enjoy four hours of sitting in a waiting room looking at children with pans stuck on their heads as much as the next person, but I had a meeting to go to in a couple of hours and I couldn't afford to miss it (collecting payment). On the other hand, I was in rather a lot of pain, and it was a weekday morning, so surely Casualty couldn't be that busy? Pausing only to secure my bloodstained, tea towel-bandaged finger with a scrunchie, I got onto my bicycle and started the long cycle to the hospital.

For a mercy, the roads weren't busy, and you'd be amazed at how quickly one stops when one brakes only with one hand, although there is a certain amount of skidding involved. Free-wheeling downhill, the scrunchie failed to hold everything together and my now bright red tea towel unravelled, flapping gaily in the wind and scattering droplets of blood on startled passers-by.

When I arrived at the hospital and went to park my bike, I realised that in my panic, I hadn't brought my bike lock. The Hospital Reception staff greeted my pleas for some sort of substitute with blank stares. Eventually one bored charmer looked up from her computer monitor and called behind her to her equally bored colleague: "We haven't got anything that would do, have we Leanne?" Leeane dragged herself away from the no doubt thrilling occupation of gazing into space and replied "What?...............No."

I was then treated to a gripping lecture on the hospital's policy of parking at one's own risk, cannot be held responsible, more than my job's worth etc, and decided to cycle back home and patch my finger up myself, rather than face the distinct possibility of having my bike stolen for the sake of an elastoplast.

The following night I went round to a friend's house for dinner and one of the guests was a male nurse, who kindly gave the offending digit the professional once-over, asked me what I'd done to fix it (sprayed a bit of antiseptic spray on the wound, applied a couple of steri-strips, a dressing and covered the lot with a finger bandage) and said I done exactly what he would have done and not to worry.

And where did I find such professional wound dressing supplies? You'll never guess. The utility room.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Patronising Claptrap

I'm sorry. I should have posted ages ago but sometimes I'm a lazy cow and so I, er, haven't.

Last time I posted on this blog was to bore you all to death with tales of my birthday. Still on that subject - you can tell not a lot happens to me - I received lots of lovely presents, and one not so lovely. Shane Watson's book.

The irony of this is that I had written about her book before and I wasn't too complimentary about it either. There is just so much about this book that I dislike. The title, for one thing. How To Meet a Man After Forty. The multitude of assumptions in this title infuriates me and I can only assume I was given the book by a well-meaning (married) girlfriend because I, as far as she is concerned, fall into the the correct demographic.

I looked over what I had written earlier this year and I haven't changed my opinion at all, so here is an only slightly modified version of my original review.

What you first need to know is that the author, Ms Watson, is actually a Mrs, having finally hooked her own bloke three years ago. (I'm sorry to say, the poor sod is referred to as The One. No pressure then.) Now happily validated by society, she is free to fret in a particularly smug manner at the plight of her single, aged sisters. Yes, this book is for those of us for whom the bloom of youth is now but a distant memory, or would be if only the ageing process hadn't robbed us of so many brain cells.

I'm sure Ms Watson means well - or at least, means to make a lot of money, which may be the same thing - but this sort of patronising claptrap really gets my goat. The assumption underlining every word of this magnum opus is that a woman is incomplete without a man. A man who is married. To you.

For those of us who have dithered about, unsure as to what characteristics constitute "The One", Ms Watson has helpfully compiled a "list". This list has on it seven, absolutely immoveable, non-negotiable conditions:

- Must be kind. If you have heard him be vile about anyone, seen him be cruel to animals, children or boring hostesses, then this man is not kind.

- Must like women. You think this goes without saying. Of course every man you've ever been out with has loved women. But are you absolutely sure? Did they like it if you contradicted them in public? Were there many women they found attractive who were a) over 50, b) large, or c) noisy? Thought not.

- Must adore you.

- Must be smarter than you, or at least as smart. Smarter, probably, or you will keep looking for that Achilles heel.

- Must have bigger feet than you. Obviously. And must be hairier.

- Must be able to make you laugh in all situations, including when you get to the airport and discover he has no passport.

- You must fancy him unconditionally.

What I find particularly offensive about this list is the requirement that "The One" must be cleverer than you are. Or, to put it another way, you must be a silly little woman if you are to bag your bloke.

It is, therefore, not enough that we must be pea-brained fools with size two feet who laugh like a drain. If we are to nail our hairy, clown-footed Oxford don with a great line in knock-knock jokes, personal grooming must be attended to. Every hair below eyebrow level must be napalmed into submission and the resultant hairless limbs must be spray-tanned. All of this is fairly pedestrian advice and rather assumes that a single woman hasn't got time for a spray tan as she's too busy teaching her cats to sing and knitting her pubic hair into a sporran.

There are more sage words to come, however. "If you want sex, then you need to dress with sex in mind." And our super-successful sex kitten authoress has very firm, if unexpected, views about what turns men on. If we wish to get our man, then we must choose from "a bias-cut floral dress and kitten-heel slingbacks, wrap dresses worn with cashmere cardigans, and pastel ballerina tops over slinky skirts". One can only sit, slack-jawed in amazement, at her ability to see into the minds of men. Why, at this very moment, chaps up and down the country are simply begging their wives: "Please, PLEASE take off that black satin babydoll negligee and matching crotchless knickers darling. Can't you slip into that gorgeous bias-cut floral dress, just for me? Aaaaaaaaaaaah. Not the kitten-heel slingbacks. I cannot resist........"

And yet, and yet. As we hairless, perma-tanned creatures, all wearing pastel ballerina tops the better to disguise our dowager humps, prepare to launch ourselves on the multitude of available, hirsute, quantum physicists out there, we are unable to dispell the nagging feeling that there is something missing from our ensemble. What can it be?

Fear not. Ms Watson has already thought of this, and on our behalf turned to international fashion icon Isabella Blow. "Once, a long time ago, the brilliant Isabella Blow told me I must wear a hat if I wanted to find The One. You have to stand out in a crowd. You have to let them see you," she said. "And men love a hat. They see the hat and they want to meet the girl."

Alas, Ms Blow does not reveal what kind of hat will clinch the deal. Perhaps it does not matter, and any one that comes to hand will do. I have an old riding hat somewhere in the house. I shall wear it, safe in the knowledge that it will definitely make me stand out in a crowd, particularly at a drinks party.

A plague on this asinine book. Nobody can really be this shallow. Or desperate.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Fag Hags and Glad Rags

Today is my birthday. Yay! I've given up caffeine, chocolate etc for the moment, so after much behind closed doors discussions, the Teens (who don't really have any money of their own) bought me a box of my absolute favourite, but too expensive for everyday drinking, Bettys "Special Rare Green Tea". It is, as the blurb on the box says, a "light delicate blend of rare green teas, with pale pink rose petals." Isn't it lovely?

Sometimes my teens are capable of the greatest sweetness.

This came with my present:

The slim, wrinkle-free, top bird is, apparently, me. I WISH. Mind you, when they want to, they can certainly put me in my place. I remember one occasion, several years ago now, my daughter had a nightmare and wanted to sleep for the remainder of the night in my bed. The next morning, I turned to her sleepily and looked at her lovely little face, flushed pink with sleep, and I smiled gently at her. She smiled back and said: "Your face is all wrinkly, like Granny."

Actually on that subject I have just this minute bought from their latest "miracle" cream, No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Beauty Serum. In four weeks, I fully expect to look, ooh, at least six months younger. Man, I hope it works. I've got frown lines that make me look like Evil Edna.

Remember Willo The Wisp?

I'm also going to take the opportunity of saying huge thank you to all the wonderful people on Twitter who wished me a happy birthday. Many of them asked me what I would be doing to celebrate my birthday and I told them all that I would be going to Hales Bar in town for their Stars in your Eyes competition with a bunch of friends, most of whom are gay. Henri is coming with me. She'll be meeting everyone - including me - for the first time, so I hope to God it's a good night and everyone behaves. Having been informed about the planning revelries, Carrie asked if she was allowed to refer to me as a "fag hag" (saying she was one herself). I rather think I am. But are you?

Answer the following questions:

Your significant other dumps you. What do you do?

* Cry hysterically for a week, refuse to get out of bed and check your mobile for signal every 30 seconds

* Indulge in a spot of retail therapy, then go out with your mates and get blind drunk

* Invite your friends round to bitch about what a loser your ex is, drink copious amounts of champagne and finish the evening performing a selection of Broadway musicals

Speaking of musicals, what is your favourite Julie Andrews show?

* Mary Poppins

* The Sound of Music

* Who the hell is Julie Andrews?

Have you ever had a boyfriend who later turned out to be gay?

* Don’t be ridiculous

* Not that I’m aware of, but so what anyway?

* So that’s what happened to my shimmering cleavage enhancer after we broke up

Your local gay bar is:

* Against God’s law

* Really good fun, actually

* About to name a cocktail after you

When you go out on a Saturday night, your aim is to get:

* Drunk

* Laid

* Arrested

Answer yes or no:

* Has a friend ever left you alone in a strange city in the middle of the night because he met someone cute and had to have sex immediately? (Award yourself an extra bonus point if he was dressed as a woman and had all your money in his purse.)

How did you do?

Monday, 27 April 2009

Oh Grow Up

Returning from one of my regular, shrill lectures to my teen son about being of an age (16) where he ought to start taking responsibility and understanding that it is about time he started to grow up and revise for his very important GCSE exams, I expect a thunderbolt to crash through my kitchen ceiling any minute, striking me down as punishment for my appalling hypocrisy. I'm happy to harp on, insisting that preparation is everything, yet I wait until a deadline is breathing down my neck before I do anything myself. It took the advent of Google Street View to frighten me into sanding down and re-painting the rusted railings outside my house, and pulling out all of last year's withered, brown and crispy bedding plants from the variety of knackered terracotta pots that reside in the tiny "area" that is definitely not a garden. Is it a terrace? Er, an outdoor "space"? Whatever, it was a mess and it was only the thought of this fetid mush of bin bags, rust and dead foliage being photographed for publication on the Net that made me sort it out.

What else should I do to set a good example to the Spawn? They're not accepting, biddable little toddlers any more. They're capable of making their own, considered judgements now and are quite happy to interrupt my rants with completely irrefutable remarks regarding my own failings. My previous fallback position of: "Never mind what Mummy does, that's not your concern," just doesn't cut it.

I have therefore vowed that from now on, I will:

Work with neglected children. Preferably my own, although guarantees cannot be given.

Open my bank statements when they arrive, not file them down the back of the hall table.

Ditto credit card statements.

Develop a lasting friendship with at least one man who isn’t gay (re guarantees: see first point).

Hand my mobile phone to a trusted friend before embarking on a night out, to stop me from ringing old/ex boyfriends when I am cocooned in a happy cocktail-induced haze.

Expunge from my mobile phone all the numbers that I either never call or have no idea who they are, but only keep in my phone to reassure myself that I have the acceptable number of friends.

Tolerate fools better, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.

Stop correcting people’s grammar and pronunciation (with one exception: anyone who says “pacific” instead of “specific” must be punished ruthlessly).

Give up drinking alcohol.

Except at parties.

And when having dinner with friends.

And when I’ve had a hard day.

Empty the cat litter tray on a regular basis instead of waiting until it looks like an IRA dirty protest.

Stop spending hours on Twitter whilst pretending it is "work”.

Stop dating men who have no recollection of Charles and Di's wedding because they weren't born then.

It's over to you now, people. What will you vow to do in future?

I have been asked to publish the following anonymously. Read it and I think you will see why...

I vow never again to clean the rim of the en suite toilet with husband's toothbrush - unless under extreme provocation - for heaven's sake it's not unreasonable of me to expect him not to say hello.

I will not feign how much I will miss him whenever he travels away from home. I will not plot & plan dastardly things I could do whenever he is away from home. (Sadly these only ever stay at the plotting and planning stage - but infidelity is a state of mind, is it not?)

I vow never to swear again (however elegantly, relevantly and indeed, in received pronunciation) and then tell my child that it would be quite wrong to copy Mummy

I will not encourage my child to read books or watch programmes that are way out of his age group because I need someone intelligent to discuss them with & husband doesn't come into that category.

Never again will I allow myself to play the drunken dialling game. No-one wants to hear from me at 3.00am no matter how much they profess to love me.

I will never visit any of my inlaw's homes again and deliberately break something.

Easier actually just never to visit any of my inlaw's homes again.

I will never again express surprise when my child finds nefarious substances in my office drawer and then say "What a silly place for Mummy to have put her herbal tea". (I vow to find a safer hiding place).

I vow never again to have a period that lasts for three solid months and will revert to trusted method of telling my husband that I have a headache like normal women do.

I will never again speak to ex boyfriends when husband is at home. They do not like to be called Susan or Hermione.

I vow never again to mark letters from banks or building societies and then send them back with the advice that I refuse to respond to them until they start to write in proper English.

I will not giggle uncontrollably at funerals.

I will not make a stye look much worse than it is by adding purple & green eye make up.

I will be honest when books arrive for me from Amazon & will stop telling husband how lovely it is of best friend to have sent gifts to me.

I will generally become a much nicer person and will stop being sarcastic.

I will try hard to stop lying about becoming a nicer person and not being sarcastic.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Local shops for local people

The thing about blogging is that one is suppposed to blog, not faff around thinking "I'll write it tomorrow," and then not writing it. I respond best to deadlines, as the graph below illustrates:

So, following on my from post about shopping at Lidl I thought I would tell you about the place where I shop most frequently: Kings Road (no apostrophe). It is a lovely place and only a short cycle ride from my home. However, the route to Kings Road involves two hills (well, they're hills to me) and I don't like cycling up hills. Neither are very steep, but but I am not yet fit enough to cycle up both in one go. I make it to the top of the first one, then I have to get off and prat around with the wheels of my cycle in order to give passing traffic the impression that I have only stopped to check something important, not because I am a purple-faced slob with burning thighs.

This is the second hill:

Call that piffling incline a hill, you say? Well yes, I do. It is a hill, I tell you. Not steep, admittedly, but a long, slow incline that when you're cycling feels like it will never end. I set myself little goals, such as "keep going till you reach the first hotel," - there are tons of little hotels and bed and breakfasts on Kings Road - and "see if you can keep breathing normally till you reach the doctors' surgery", which is handily placed at the top of the hill where each day I fully expect to gasp my last.

It's worth it though. For when you reach the shops, there is everything you could possibly want. There are two beauticians for example, both excellent, one now offering "Hollywood Lashes" for the frankly bargain price of £50:

Just as soon as I can lay my hands on a spare fifty quid I'm getting them. Goodbye to looking like a mole blinking in the sunlight, hello to batting my eyeslashes like Cheryl Cole. Just along from "Kingsgrove Hair and Beauty" is the "Ramus Seafood Emporium". This is a place of wonder, selling everything from oysters to Sauvignon Blanc, from Hollandaise sauce (made on the premises) to Monkfish tails. It is deservedly famous in Yorkshire and attracts the well-off (there is always at least one mahoosive 4x4 parked outside it).

Sometimes I just wander around it, just looking at the glistening piles of crayfish and helping myself to the whatever is piled high on their "taster" plates on the counter, chewing thoughtfully and looking as though any minute I will definitely be buying a whole side of smoked salmon.

Saturday mornings are always particularly busy in Ramus, because this is when Harrogate wives come to buy for that night's dinner party. Raffish looking gentlemen, usually wearing pale pink sweaters over yellow corduroy trousers - or it could be pale yellow sweaters over pink corduroy trousers - stand patiently beside their Boden-ed wives as they pick over the sea bass and point their manicured nails at the assistants: "No not that one, THAT one. Tsk."

None of these couples know the meaning of discreet conversation, used as they are to having to raise their voices in order to be heard in their vast, many-roomed palatial homes. "Heff you checked with Joyce if Bodger's complaint has cleared up, daahling?", yells the corduroyed husband. "Oh do shut up Geoffrey," bellows Mrs Boden. "If it flares up again I shall simply never invite them to another dinnah potty."

My favourite shop is the grocers, "Regal Fruiterers". Everything you could possibly want is there, and if you buy, for example, some coconut milk, red chillis, coriander and cashew nuts, they will ask you if you are making a Thai curry and make informed and incredibly useful suggestions for other ingredients, methods of cooking and suchlike. I love that shop.

As you can see from the photo, next to Regal is "Archimboldo's", an Italian delicatessen that sells the most divine bread, pasta, proscuitto and a wide variety of dishes they cook themselves, including Lasagne, Tuscany Beef Stew, Melanzane alla Parmigiana - you get the picture. Of course, the downside to this is that any Harrogate wife who serves an Italian dish at her dinnah potty is immediately suspected of having bought it from Archimboldo's and passed it off as their own work.

If you haven't stuffed yourself with the bits of bread and cubes of smoked meat on their counter, you can wander along to Swanky Pants and buy yourself some sensational undies or swimwear (I ignore the Couture Bride section, for obvious reasons).

I missed out the butchers, cycle shop (very handy when I don't know how to adjust my brakes or gears, they always help and don't charge when it's just something small), the teeny Sainsburys that is open till 10pm, the off-licence, the French bakery, the interior design shop......... ooh I nearly forgot. Shine. Shine sells lovely, inexpensive jewellery, most of it hand-made. I at the moment, I covet all of these:

especially the leather cuffs with the roses on the bottom shelf.

Kings Road is not in the centre of Harrogate. Yet is has every shop - and more - that anyone could want. Sadly, we lost the post office last year when our lovely Government closed so many of them around the country. Still, it is a five minute cycle ride from my house and apart from my regular bus trips to Lidl, this is where I shop. We should all support our local shops because once they're lost, we won't get them back.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

You Know You're Getting Old When......

A “roast” isn't some sort of sordid, Premiership footballer thing, it is a dinner that comprises a joint and all the trimmings

You’re more excited about being invited to the above on a Sunday than going out the night before

When you open the pages of your weekly local newspaper, you go straight to the “Planning Permission Granted” column to spy on your neighbours rather than read the court round-up to spy on your friends

You cry at Britain's Got Talent

You see someone else's point of view - first

At any sporting occasion, you leave early to “beat the rush”

Rather than throw a knackered pair of trainers out, you decide to keep them because they’ll “do” for the garden

You buy Birkenstocks because they’re comfy, not because they’re fashionable

You only go to bars where they have comfy seats, because, you know, you like to sit down

You use words like “comfy”

You buy t-shirts without anything written on them

You need "something sweet" to finish off a meal

At night time, you like to "get settled"

Sometimes when your teen children are playing loud music, you say "I remember this the first time round”

You punctuate your conversation with meaningless phrases such as “believe you me”

After five minutes in a club you leave, not because you’ve had enough but because you can’t stand having to shout “WHAT?” and, God help you, cupping your ear every time someone speaks to you

You start to see the point of boxed wine

You always have eggs and milk in

You don’t think there’s anything boring about a four-door car

The kids you once babysat for are now fighting in Afghanistan

That pair of tummy-flattening Spanx you bought is getting a lot of mileage

After sex you wonder if it would be inappropriate to put the bottom sheet straight into the wash

You watch The Apprentice and blather on to anyone who will listen about how you wouldn’t employ any of them and anyway, not one of them knows how to draw up a decent marketing plan blah blah

When you get up in the morning and look in the bathroom mirror, you see your Mother looking back at you

You realise that your mother was right about most things (dammit)

You go to bed at 11pm, as opposed to thinking about getting ready to go out at 11pm

You raise the median age of your Pilates class by your mere presence

You start to wonder who on earth you’re keeping in shape for – it’s not like your cats are bothered

You have cats

(With thanks to Twitter friends AnotherJulia, Clareharryruby, Gibbzer, Kirstieh and ClareH)

Saturday, 18 April 2009

On Line, Off Message

I am single. This is a particulary delicious state to be in when one is in one's early twenties, with the glorious freedom to do what you want, when you want and yet still have the very real possibility that you will meet your soul mate tomorrow. And when you do, you will live together in a fabulous house, have tons of money and the biggest problem you will ever face will be whether or not to invite the Hendersons to dinner again, after that unfortunate episode with the loo roll and the chocolate mousse. It's not the same a couple of decades later though. Ho. You are officially on the shelf, and not getting dusted either.

When I was newly single a few years ago, I rather expected things would carry on as before, only with one less person, yet I found myself shunned by the married community. Friends - good friends - who would previously include me in their dinner parties, trips to the theatre, holidays even, completely and utterly dropped me. If I extended an invitation, they were mysteriously busy. The only conclusion I could draw from this mean-spirited behaviour was that they thought I would, without question, go after their troglodyte husbands. This was confirmed when I got myself a boyfriend (a ridiculous term when one is 40, but what else to call him?) and I was back on the invitation list. Two years later when we split up, I was dropped again.

Anyway, this whingeing is for the purposes of scene-setting only, as my married friends are not my friends any longer (and half of them have got divorced themselves now, HA) and I move in different circles.

No, I'm telling you this because a while ago, when I was moaning about my single state, a fellow single friend suggested internet dating. I didn't like the sound of this. All the ads have an air of of both superiority and desperation about them ("What? Not found your soul mate after six months? Tsk. Go on then. Have the next six months' membership free, you LOSER.")

Unless you're a member, you're only allowed a sneak preview of the goods on offer. If I wanted the full low-down, I would have to join one. But which one? There's tons of them. Some, judging by the photographs, seemed to specialise in people who had recently been released into the community. Others suggested you submit yourself to a personality test in order to ensure compatibility. (A brief side note here: surely the point of dating is to hide all your ghastly faults until you’ve successfully ensnared your prey?) Some were right out there on the fringes of ‘dating’, dedicated to nothing more refined than a couple of hours of, ahem, activity.

These sites, although populated with photographs of upstanding members, they weren’t the kind of members I had in mind. In the end, I chose to join the dating website of one of the UK’s most reputable broadsheets. This dating website would, I was confident, present me with a gorgeous man who had no hang-ups, issues, baggage, bizarre fetishes or crushing debt. How wrong can a girl be?

I looked through the photographs first (yes, I'm shallow, I know). Each photograph had a jaunty alias attached, usually along the lines of “Funkindaguy” or “Happy2shag”. “Made4luvinU” leered at me unpleasantly from his photograph, the shoulder of his girlfriend still clearly in shot. One very good-looking chap had given himself the rather startling moniker of “Tinseltits”, although with hindsight I suspect he hadn’t paid close enough attention to which box he had ticked in the Sexual Preferences section.

Some less confident candidates clearly felt their looks didn’t quite cut it, and so included a photo of themselves with their car, a Ford Focus presumably counting as the clincher should any fair maiden be dithering about. A large number of men posted photographs of themselves in Thailand, usually pictured with an elephant, or, more worryingly, a small boy. At the less glamorous end of the destination market was a hopeless-looking chap photographed in his garden, his face best described as plain but his begonias, magnificent.

And who is to say any of these chaps would want me? Nope, I don't want to do it. I just don't like the whole arranged marriage atmosphere of dating websites and anway pretty much everyone says the same things about themselves. If these people are to be believed, it is one of the great mysteries of our time as to why the centre of every town, city, hell - VILLAGE, in Britain isn't absolutely deserted at the weekend, as all declare themselves to be lovers of fresh air, long country walks, fireside chats, red wine and watching old movies.

It might work for some - indeed, it must work for some - but it's not for me. I shall carry on as before. And tell you about it.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

I'm just going to label these - what were you thinking?

Today, I don't much want to write about myself. Instead, I want to laugh at celebrities.

Top of my list is the strange mixture of eccentricity and banality that is Gwyneth Paltrow. Through the auspices of her website, Goop, I learn that Ms Paltrow is returning to her "day job". Ironically, Oscar-winner Gwyneth feels she has to enlarge on what this day job actually entails "(filming a movie)" in case I have forgotten what it is she does, apart from wear ovary-skimming dresses and have lunch with Madonna.

I like to think Gwyneth writes Goop herself, because if she doesn't, she needs to sack her copy editor pronto. She's had a good look through the Spring collections, has Gwyneth, and she's not noticed anything particularly revolutionary. Indeed, "They are still selling gladiators that are almost identical to the ones I got last spring." Really? Gladiators like, you know, Spartacus? Or the kind that wears a leotard? Frustratingly, Gwyneth does not say.

However, she is prepared to share one or two insider tips for her readers' Spring wardrobes, tips which I will be following the minute I have any money. What should I wear to cater for the warm/cool/changeable Spring weather, Gwyneth? Like a fashion confucius, she is on hand to set us on the right track. Trenchcoat, jeans and a pair of flats. Who knew?

She's on less sure ground though when she tells us that jumpsuits "work well with any shape". What shapes would those be, Gwyn? Twiglet? Toothpick? And Gwyneth models a jumpsuit for us herself, her botoxed face failing to expunge the embarrassed gleam in her eye that says "Uh-oh. I look crap, don't I?"


Oh, Drew Barrymore. Heidi meets Racing Stripes.

But look! She's not the only one!

Only Gwen Stefani looks comfortable, as indeed she should, the dress being her own L.A.M.B. label. Thandi's mouth is smiling but her eyes suggest that the minute she gets home, that Giles Deacon frock is going straight on E-bay. And as for Sienna's Calvin Klein ensemble: the whole outfit smacks of indecision. "Do I pull the dress up a bit? What about pulling the shoulders down a bit? Up a bit? Down a bit? Just, sort of, you know, crumple it a bit? Oh crap. There's no time to blow-dry my hair now."

Monday, 13 April 2009

So Far Away

My teen children's largely absent father calls (a rare enough occurrence in itself) and asks them if they would like a holiday in Los Angeles. For the entire month of August. My daughter, ever receptive to an opportunity to party, says yes immediately; my son is hesitant. I convinced him this was a "chance of a lifetime" and he should say yes. It means he won't be able to collect his GCSE results in person or go to Leeds Festival, a long cherished ambition and something which he has saved for over the past year, but the pull of L.A. is stronger, as it should be.

I am not party to any of these negotiations as I am not allowed to talk to the Ex (I'm afraid I am sufficiently petty that I usually refer to him as the Vile Ex but here I will attempt to be better than that). In the decade since we divorced we have had periods when we speak, periods when we speak a lot and periods when we don't speak at all. We are not speaking now because last year my son broke his wrist playing rugby and had to undergo two separate operations, both times under general anaesthetic, to reset his wrist and the Ex refused to visit him in hospital as it was "inconvenient". Yes, he lives in Hertfordshire these days, but still. Or perhaps you think me unreasonable to mind this? Anyway, I reacted with fury and since then there has been no contact.

Anyway, he generally communicates with his children - well, my children with him - via email. Christmas Day, for example. One line. He was on holiday somewhere - I think it might have been Mexico, none of us were told exactly - but surely his hotel must have had a telephone? To be fair, he had met them in November and bought his son an i-pod as his Christmas present. His daughter had been invited to Barbados with a mate (wowser, not jealous at all) so I paid for the flight and he gave her her spending money. However, this money was in lieu of both her Christmas and Birthday presents. I might add her father is extremely rich. That's all I'm saying.

I whinged about this rather a lot and eventually one of my closest friends told me that I did this with boring regularity and I should give myself and everyone else a break and stop it. Once I'd come out of my huff I recognised that she was probably right. Okay, absolutely right. I can't do anything about his behaviour and I might as well shake my fist at the sky when it rains for all the good it does.

So far this year, the kids have seen their father once. In March. Actually I'm wrong, only my son saw him as my daughter was competing in a singing festival and also singing at Ripon Cathedral on the day he chose to visit Yorkshire. He bought my son a laptop for his birthday. This was absolutely brilliant, my son was thrilled, but it rather raised one or two thorny questions of equality with his sister (see above).

I'm fearful as to how they will cope for a month with two adults they barely know, their two step-sisters (19 year old twins, I've met them once, seem perfectly nice) they barely know and a three year old half brother they barely know (but like, naturally). Of course, a month-long holiday in what will, without question, be luxurious surroundings must be view as a GOOD THING and I do view it that way, honestly I do. More importantly, it might result in a better relationship with their Father and Step-Mother which again, is a GOOD THING. And there's bound to be exciting sight-seeing trips and so on. All GOOD THINGS.

I do wish I could afford to take the kids on such a holiday though. I'm small and petty aren't I?

Friday, 10 April 2009

Half a Sixpence

My income now being one third of what it was this time last year, certain economies of scale have been forced upon me. No buying of lovely clothes, for example. No holidays. A tragically curtailed social life. I am not yet reduced to cutting my hair with the kitchen scissors, but I have sharpened them in anticipation.

I have, however, become a food-buying ninja. Goodbye Waitrose, a supermarket where I used to pop in for a yoghurt and somehow come out clutching a small carrier bag, the contents of which had cost me at least £50, and hello Lidl. Lidl is a discount supermarket chain and a new branch opened recently in the town next to ours.
It is a small store and there is none of that "eye level is buy level" nonsense, just tons of stuff piled up all over the place. No deli counter. No bakery. None of that 20 different kinds of olive oil schtick either. Instead, there are many, many cannned goods. Lidl's awfully fond of cans. And now so am I. My cupboards are so full of cans that they look as though I am hoarding for the outbreak of a war.

Shopping there is a little like shopping when on holiday. You don't recognise the names on the packaging but instead use the pictures as your guide. For some inexplicable reason I am absurdly comforted by the sight of familiar goods. "Ooh, look," I say to my teenage daughter who has been roped into the supermarket trip of doom and is bored stiff, "They've got tuna fish!"

The atmosphere in-store is similar to that which is prevalent at 5.25pm on Christmas Eve. People happily crash their trollies into mine, lean over me to reach for something without saying "excuse me" and tut loudly when I linger too long in front of the cold meats section, unable to make my mind up between the Danish or German salami, both varieties of which are an unfeasible neon pink. Against my better judgement, I am drawn towards a gathering crowd (Kidney beans! 14p a can!) and shove six cans into my daughter's reluctant hands, who is blissfully unaware that this means we will be eating nothing but chilli for the foreseeable future.

I wasn't quite prepared for the extreme briskness of the checkout procedure either. The assistant hurled everything past the scanner and back into my trolley (boop boop boop boop boop boop) with the honed skill of a woman who was hating every second of her shift and didn't give a toss who knew it. Packing your bags at the checkout is a big no-no, lest you hold up the Dwain Chambers-like speed of the stoney-faced hammer thrower.

Back home, some of my purchases turned out to be the foolishly impulsive sort. "I'll make houmous!" I declared brightly, confronted with a towering edifice of tinned chick peas. There was so much of the damned stuff I could have filled a couple of buckets, if it hadn't had the consistency - and sticking power - of tile grout.

I like Lidl though. The food, although I have made fun of it, is pretty decent and it is certainly cheaper there than at Waitrose. I like cooking (apart from the houmous disaster and I'm pretty bored with chilli.) I shall continue to shop there. Stick with me. There's more thrifty shopping tips to come.