Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Sleep Deprived and Lactose Intolerant

I have to confess to being fairly useless without sleep. Any type of disruption to my 8 hours leaves me feeling nauseous, dizzy and incoherant (okay, so the dizziness and incoherance is standard - perhaps I should have just mentioned the nausea..)

My good friend GBM does not seem to have the same problem, appearing to survive quite happily on a tight ration of roughly six hours. How I envy him.

This morning I had agreed to attend the Kabbalah Centre for a meeting that started at 6am, which is impossible to do from my own house. The earliest train from Bishop's Stortford arrives in Liverpool Street at 6am, which is still a 15 minute journey from the centre. And as I said yesterday, I don't 'do' late.

But the tube ride from GBM's location arrives at Bond Street at 5:57, so I arranged to stop over at his. In fact, GBM and I are such close friends, that I hold a spare set of keys to his house and am trusted to come and go as I please. And if I had a spare set of keys to my house, I would be happy to entrust them with him, too.

But before arriving at his, I had my second date with Potential New Man in the centre of London, which consisted of two hours of decaf coffee, bottled water, pleasant conversation and a bit of flirting and hand holding, followed by a lift back to Chancery Lane tube and 5 minutes of tonsil hockey. In other words, it all went very well. So well, in fact, that I was prepared to let my travel deadlines slide in to my sleeping time, arriving at GBM's town at half ten at night.

I gave GBM a call from the top of his road to let him know where I was. Two minutes later I arrived at his front door and decide to let myself straight in. GBM emerged from the kitchen wearing headphones and nearly died of fright when he saw me in the hallway, despite my prior warning. But then, this is standard. Every time I stay at GBM's, I scare the living daylights out of him at least twice - he gets so absorbed in his groove that he forgets where he is, let alone where I am.

Wanting to spill all of the ins and outs of my date, I again forget the time and end up going to bed at midnight. Midnight is too early for GBM on any day of the week, but all the same, I was surprised that he planned to head out to Asda before he went to bed. I could never see myself doing the same.

I crawled in to bed and set my alarm for 3:50am - four hour's sleep. Four hours sleep less one hour's switch off time, where I allow my Geminian brains (I have enough mental activity for at least two) to analyse the evening's events in an attempt to somehow predict my future.

At half past twelve, I realise that GBM hasn't yet left the house, because I can hear him laughing out loud downstairs. It starts as a deep 'huh huh huh huh..........huh huh huh huh' and steadily evolves in to "BWAH HAH HAH BWAH HAH HAH HAAAAAAAAA........... BWAH HAH HAH.....HUH HUH huh huh huh......BWAH HAH HAH....BWAH HA BWAH HAH HAAAAAA"
which interupted my thoughts with "is he still going to go to Asda?" and "what on earth is he watching that could be so funny?"

At 1am I realise that I have forgotten to collect the hairdryer from his room and timed my bleary stumbling on to the landing with him coming up the stairs, making him jump out of his skin for the second time that evening.
"Forgot hairdryer" I mumbled "what were you watching?"
"Hidden camera show" he replied "very funny". I guessed the last part.
Shortly afterwards I heard him talking on the phone (to who? at that time of night?) and then leaving the house for his shopping expedition. It was a while before I fell in to a broken sleep and I didn't hear him come home.

So the alarm went off at 3:50 and I woke up surprisingly easily, showering, dressing and eating an almond croissant (purchased for me during last night's shopping trip - thank you thank you thank you) to the tune of GBM's intermittant snoring. I left the house just before 5am and caught the 5:09 tube which was surprisingly full - where were all of these people going at this time in the morning?!

The meeting at the centre finished at 7am and I caught the train home, popping to the supermarket for my own shopping trip. The lack of sleep was just starting to kick in, but I remembered to avoid buying anything dairy due to a recent breakout of eczema on my chin after a weekend consumption of ice-cream and cheese. Feeling pleased with myself for resisting all things dairy, I made my way to the coffee shop to buy breakfast as a rare treat as the almond croissant had all but worn off. I browsed the selection: cakes, cakes, pastries, soup (lunchtime only), flapjacks.... where are the bacon sarnies?

I asked the girl behind the counter
Me: Excuse me, do you have anything savoury?
Girl: We got paninis.
Me: No, not quite ready for a panini yet..
Girl: We got sandwiches.
Me: No, not ready for a sandwich either.
Girl: We got crisps.
She seemed to be operating on the same amount of sleep as me.
Oh sod it. A pot of tea and a cheese scone with butter. How's that for dairy free?

I somehow managed through my haze to spread the rock hard butter without snapping the flimsy plastic knife in two. And the milk for the tea? Dairystix - proudly advertised as though the manufacturers had invented a new wheel. I would have been impressed were it not for the fact that it was impossible to open. Perhaps the Universe is asking me to take this lactose intolerance thing more seriously....

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

I'm sorry I cannot take your call right now...

...I'm too busy blogging.

I like to think of myself as an organised person. My house is relatively tidy most of the time, save for the multiple projects that get dragged out and end up scattered all over my living room. I have a place for everything and most of the time everything is in its place. I can find anything that I need pretty much immediately, the house is passable for unexpected guests and can be cleaned from top to bottom within an hour for expected guests.

But lately I have realised that my home organisation isn't anything to do with a matron-like tendency to make everything ship-shape and bristol fashion - but more of a desperate habit of keeping my surroundings in order and under control because my brain cannot cope otherwise.

I panic when I cannot find something. Not finding something when I am trying to leave the house means that I will be late, and I hate turning up after something has already started, or making someone wait for me.
Being surrounded by clutter makes me feel as though I am not in control. Perhaps that is because I sit in it too much. I spend far too many hours of the day sitting in my house which leads me to being far too familiar with all possessions, and familiarity, of course, breeds contempt.

I am a procrastinator. Big Style. A daydreamer. An Escapist (which is different than an escapologist although I can think of some handy uses for that too). I daydream my future life, get bored of the dream, and try another one. And when I do finally start to make some progress, I am so willingly distracted.

The phone rings, I answer it. I revel in a long conversation because that takes me away from all of the things that I don't want to do. Added to that, I spend so much of my day in solitude that I am delighted at contact from another human being. I even felt disappointed yesterday when the guy who came round to sell Sky TV didn't accept my invite of a cup of tea and a chat.

I check my email and find a message from an old friend who has taken weeks to reply, and I decide to respond straight away (and then spend the next hour giving them the latest update on my life, which is no different that the previous email because I haven't actually managed to change anything except my thoughts and daydreams).

I am a great planner. I have lots of To Do lists. But most of the items are things that I don't actually want to be doing, but feel that I should, and because I don't get round to doing them I add them to the list day after day after day. And the things that I want to be doing, I start but never finish, because I feel guilty for not spending time doing the things that I don't want to be doing...

New Potential Man (second date tonight, so far so good) recommended "The 4-hour Work Week" by Timothy Ferriss, given that I was looking for ways to make money that don't involve getting sucked in to the 9 to 5. I looked at the Definition section yesterday - all about defining your goals, working out which were most important, setting very close and 'unrealistic' deadlines to keep it exciting. And then there was Pareto's Law (the 80/20 rule) and Parkinson's Law ('Work expands to fill the time allocated to completing it' - guilty as charged...)

Today I have been reading the Elimination section, and the suggestions are fantastic. Here are a few:
  • Check your email at 12noon and 4pm only, and create an autoresponse telling people that you only check your email at these times and if it is urgent they can contact you on your cell phone.
  • Put your regular phone on to voicemail at all times, with a similar message, checking twice a day.
  • Use specific phrases that prevent people from chatting to you on the phone.
  • Get rid of cubicle interuptions at work by wearing a headset and pretending to be on a call, so that when you speak to them, they get to the point because they think they are interrupting you.
  • Avoid unnecessary meetings by asking to be listed first on the agenda and then dropping out after you have presented.
The aim of this is to up your productivity by reducing your distractions. And I can see how they would work, but does this guy have any friends? (The answer to this is that he spends 4 hours working every week which funds his fabulous lifestyle, leaving more time to spend with his friends than you or I could shake a stick at).

I guess I have a lot to learn in the productivity stakes. First though, I need to re-read the book so that I can properly work through it. I think I'll add that to my To Do list....

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The role of "Auntie"

I am blessed with two beautiful nephews. They are 5 and 3 years old - Captain Underpants and Johnny Drama. They are not the kind of boys to leave their presence unknown. In fact, you could say that the mere prospect of being responsible for these two boisterous individuals is what caused my sister to start going grey 18 years before she had them.

I don't get to see them an awful lot as they live 4,000 miles away - it averages out at two weeks in a year, but given that they seem to time their raucous behaviour with the second that my sister picks up the telephone, I get to hear them quite a lot. Not that they need a telephone to transmit their voices 4,000 miles, mind you.

When I do get to see them, we have to start all over again with building up the relationship, something that is currently difficult to do because they are boys and gravitate more towards men as opposed to 'girls'. But thinking about how I may or may not measure up as an Auntie led me to think about my own favourite Auntie: Auntie Marje.

Auntie Marje is my Mum's (fraternal) twin sister. My Mum is the same size as me - UK Size 10. Auntie Marje is four times our size.

The great thing about Marje being, well, so Large, was that whenever she visited I could fall asleep on her with ease. I could never get comfortable with Mum - snuggling up with Mum always resulted with a hip bone in my ear, or a rib in my chest - there was nothing to sink in to.

So it's just as well that my nephews have little inclination to snuggle up with me, because if they did, I couldn't offer the same level of comfort as Marje.

Auntie Marje was (and still is) incredibly funny. Or is 'complete nutcase' a more apt term? She always seems to get herself in to scrapes and laughs her way out of them.

Marje was once in town with my cousin (who was probably about 6 years old), and when they reached Woolworths my cousin's usual whinings started to brew in to a temper tantrum. Wanting to nip this behaviour in the bud sooner rather than later, Marje turned to give my cousin a swift clip on the back of her head. But unfortunately her hand accidentally (and only slightly) connected with my cousin's nose, which was prone to violent nose-bleeds with the smallest provocation.
Within seconds of making contact, Marje found herself at the centre of a disapproving crowd who had been drawn to the scene both by the copious amounts of blood all over the floor and by my cousin's loud screams of:
And the only words of explanation that she could find?
"Oh don't worry - her nose is always bleeding like that....."

One Christmas, my cousin and I delighted in trying to creep up on Marje, at which point she would spin round and chase us with her fist raised, shouting "D'YA WANNA BUNCH OF FIIIIIIVES? .....OR A KNUCKLE SANDWICH?!" We thought this was hysterical and continued until our knees were weak with laughter and the hallway carpet was threatened with little puddles.
The following Parents' Evening, Marje was led to my cousin's desk where all of her latest work was on display. There was her Maths book, her History book and oh yes, her English book. Marje looked down at the open page under the teacher's watchful gaze and with horror read the words written in careful and serious blue ink:
'My Mum often says to me "Do you want a bunch of fives or a knuckle sandwich?"'

And then there was a wedding only a few years ago at which Marje catered a buffet, for a friends daughter. Within half an hour of arriving (halfway through the main meal) she had:
- Fallen over in the centre of the hall's wooden floor, lying stranded on her back like a tortoise until two strong men came to her assistance and used two chairs to lever her back on her feet;
- Sneezed all over the bride upon introduction, being highly allergic to the table flowers;
- Been invited to shuffle in to join her friend at the top table for some cake, requiring everyone else to shuffle out first;
- Broke the plate of her false teeth on the first mouthful of cake, causing everyone to shuffle back out again and leading to cries of 'anyone got any superglue?' amongst the wedding party; and lastly:
- Accidentally stuck her false teeth firmly to the palm of her hand whilst trying to glue them back together in the ladies toilets.

Not surprisingly, the wedding video captured the voice of the Groom's mother loudly proclaiming "Who IS that fat woman?"

Oh, maybe I'll never be an Auntie Marje in the boys' eyes.. but that's okay. I'm sure one day I will make them laugh with her stories..

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

All over the place..

I love blogging. I love getting my thoughts out there, to anyone who wants to listen. I love turning events over in my head when I am away from my computer until I land on something funny with both feet and know that it will make somebody, somewhere, smile.

I also get enormous pleasure from reading other blogs and have found myself getting sucked down a rabbit hole on more than one occasion, which leaves me less time to write my own half-witted ramblings. Lucky for some.

At first I didn't want to read other blogs. I thought that I would feel jealous and insignificant by comparison, but I don't. I've discovered that I love reading what other people have to say. Maybe a few months ago I would have felt intimidated, but maybe now I can look at the skills of other writers (a term which I very loosely associate with myself) and not see their greatness as a sign of my insignificance.

If you read no further on this post, where I intend to splurge a collection of random observations, I don't mind, but please read SinnerViewer: Live Your Truth and tell me that you aren't touched in some way.

So what to say today? Nothing and everything, as usual. I am currently waiting for the girl from my Letting Agency to come round and perform a property inspection - something that I have to endure every 3 months and which I used to feel frustrated with. Now I look at it as a godsend - at least the house will be hoovered, dusted, tidied and the loo cleaned four times a year.

On the subject of the man defined by kettle, I had a call from New Potential Love Interest this morning to arrange a date for Thursday. And he sounds quite nice and I feel more relaxed about meeting him. So we arranged to meet at a location in London, where he then said "Oh, and I'm 5'10" and will be wearing a pink carnation" which I thought was a bit strange because we've already met, and if I need a reminder of what he looks like, I could take a(nother) peek at his website. He registered the pause and then said "Oh, don't worry. I'm a bit mad". So what was I saying about 'slightly unhinged'? Perfect. I'll save telling him that I have a tattoo of a gecko on my shoulder, called Bernard (no, really) until I can see the expression on his face. Game On.

And lastly, I have been wanting to write something about Jade Goody for the past couple of days. Jade Goody has been vilified, criticised and abused by the media from the moment she appeared in Big Brother - but now that she has been diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer, the critics have fallen silent. And I am glad and mad all at the same time. Glad because she deserves to be left alone, but mad at the media for being so incredibly two-faced and for the abuse that they have already thrown her way (even if it has earned her a lot of money, much of it was pretty nasty).

Jade Goody is the reason why I stopped finding Graham Norton to be funny. Whilst she was inside the Big Brother house, he jumped on the media's badmouthing campaign, likening her to an ignorant pig. (Okay, so he may not have started it, but he was well and truly on the bandwagon). The jokes were fine (along with the teasing of Helen: "I like blinking, me" and "So do chickpeas have chicken in them?" but the pig mask wasn't so funny. And then when she was evicted after coming fourth, he invited her on the show, and said 'Oh I love you reeaally, Jade' and tried to turn it all in to an innocent poking of fun. Oh Graham Norton, if only there were more about you that I could like.

Luckily for him, Jade seemed to be able to handle anything that was thrown at her. I can't say that I ever wanted Jade to become my bosom buddy, but I have always admired her confidence and the things that she has achieved. Where I fear to open my mouth, Jade jumps in with both feet. Where I hold myself back with lack of confidence, Jade pushes ahead. Where I might not feel deserving or worthy, Jade says 'this is me, like it or lump it'.

And having been down the whole "abnormal smear" route, I feel sick at the thought of what she is going through. I am one of the lucky ones. I cried whilst getting to grips with terms such as 'severe diskaryosis', 'colposcopy' and 'loop diathermy'. I escaped with having my cervix removed under local anaesthetic (a bit of a shocker in itself - they don't leave anything to chance) and a clean biopsy and follow up. I remember the utter relief I felt when the follow up results came through - which makes me wonder why I am not living each day as though it were my last. Because one day, it will be.

God bless, Jade. There but for the grace of God.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

A nose for appliances...

For the past few year or so I have been suffering from the delightful affliction known as "Post Nasal Drip". Big apologies if you were mid-mouthful when you read that.

I had a cough that started over a year ago that wouldn't shift, and a 'lump' in my throat when I swallowed and eventually I was concerned enough to go to the doctor, thinking that I could possibly be ignoring some life threatening disease. In truth I wasn't so much concerned as embarrassed by the prospect of hacking up a lump in the middle of a job interview.

I was sent to the asthma nurse (who confirmed it was not asthma), the blood clinic (who confirmed there was nothing lurking in my blood) and the radiologists (who confirmed that there were no scary shadows on my chest x-ray). My grandfather died from severe bronchitis and emphesema - but they turn out to be non-hereditory - so they were ruled out too.

So what was I left with? Post Nasal Drip. What a fantastic term.

Something is obviously 'getting up my nose'. I can't say that I was very surprised at this, given that neither my Dad or my brother can breathe without the aid of a Vicks Sinex permanently jammed up each nostril, and I am, come to think of it, allergic to just about everything (cats, dogs - oh the hell with it "everything with fur", early flowering trees, late flowering trees, grass pollen, dust mites and fungal spores). My sinuses are a tad over-protective, methinks.

Unfortunately the only solution that the doctor suggests (and I haven't yet been to see the ENT specialist - not really wanting a standard medical solution of drilling out my sinuses so that my nose runs without notice) is to use Beconase nasal spray and antihistamines. But I can't say that I really want a lifetime of pumping steroid spray up each nostril, especially given the warning "if symptoms persist for longer than 6 weeks, consult your doctor". What's the point?

So there has to be an alternative solution. The first one being that I could cut down on - or remove - dairy from my diet, and the second to inhale methol vapours.

Now, I refuse to give up chocolate (because that is a crucial element of my five a day: Chocolate, Tea, Sweets, Coffee, Mashed Potato) and I have a hard time refusing cheese and real butter when offered, but I've switched to soy milk and spread (soy milk and spread in mashed potato - bleh!!!!) and I haven't bought any ice-cream for a long while (the winter is helping with that one). But as a general rule I am eating less dairy than I was and I have noticed a slight improvement.

As luck would have it, my step-mother had a Carmen Facial Steamer sitting in a kitchen cupboard, unused. And for a couple of weeks, until this morning, it was sitting in my kitchen cupboard, unused. But after a few uncomfortably snotty days, (after spending time at a friend's on Friday where I had more butter, cheese, full fat milk and chocolate than you could shake a stick at) I decided to give it a whirl.

It is a simple appliance, but the instructions are lacking somewhat. You can either choose to 'Mist' (recommended for inhalation) or 'Steam' (which could potentially spit hot oil mix in to your face) and this is controlled by a simple rocker switch. One way 'mist', the other way 'steam'. But is the switch up or down when the option is selected? I know that I should know this, but the instructions don't say and I really didn't want to find out the hard way.
Also, the measuring cup on which all of the timings are based, is missing. And the instructions only refer to 'level one' and 'level two' on the cup and don't actually provide any measurement. So I looked at the drawing - how big does this cup look? Is it drawn to scale? It looks bigger than a medicine cup, but smaller than the cup that fills up the iron...
Oh sod it, how hard can it be? I filled the chamber to halfway, switched the appliance to what I hoped was 'mist', stuck a tea-towel over my hair and, leaning my elbows on the side of the kitchen counter, lightly rested my face in the mask. And waited.
And waited.
And waited.

By the time that the machine was properly 'misting', my shoulders had locked, I had red marks on my elbows and a deep line carved in to my forehead. Top marks for selecting 'mist', but zero marks for over-filling and for using cold water. I think I took about two deep breaths of warm steam before giving up and making a cup of tea.

Which leads me to the kettle. I have a lovely kettle. It is a very expensive kettle made by Bosch, selected partly for its aesthetic appeal, partly because it is so solid and partly because it looked so reliable. Oh, that and the fact that I was 'doing my bit for the environment' and wanted a jug kettle that would boil only enough water for one cup of tea, which it does - extremely quickly (so it is great in 'tea' emergencies too).

In fact, the description of my kettle sounds like the kind of man I am looking for.

And then yesterday, the bits of plastic that held the lid springs broke. And at first I panicked, because if I had to buy a new kettle I would have to settle for second best - and that just wouldn't do. But after a short time trying to fix it and failing, I realised that the lid still holds shut firmly when clipped in to place and still boils as much water as I choose. It just has to be opened manually, rather than gently pressing the button and watching the lid rise like a hydraulic door opening on a space craft.

And then I realised that only now does my kettle represent the kind of man I am looking for: reliable, aesthetically pleasing, solid, cares about the environment, still functional, flexible.... and slightly unhinged....

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Things I like a lot... and not so much

I couldn't resist this post and I apologise for my lack of knowledge on posting clips from You Tube! But I have to share.

Names that make me laugh
The following names make me giggle whenever I see them or think about them:
Rip Torn (actor)
Nina Nannar (news reporter)
Annette Curtain (no, seriously)
Russell Sprout (honestly)
Jenna Taylor (didn't the parents think about that one?)
and last but not least - and you have to pity my sense of humour on this one..
Mary Burger-Curry. The name is hyphenated - wouldn't you want it to be one or the other?!

Adverts that make me laugh
A blast from the past - SuperNoodles
Another blast from the past - No, but I know a man who can..
New Barclays advert - Love the bit in the library...
John Smiths... 'Ave it!

Adverts that somehow really get my back up... every time!!
Specsavers Christmas ad - if she is serving the Xmas pudding, why haven't they eaten the f%£$@#!! turkey?!?! Grrrrrr!!!!

And the second advert that gets up my nose is even more irritating because I can't find it. Probably because I switch off so quickly that I haven't yet understood what product it is for, but more likely because it is for only one of the plethora of anti-wrinkle face creams which "fills even deep wrinkles". Marvellous. What I don't understand is how this advert can be effective. The advert starts by aging a woman's face on screen to exagerate all of her lines, make her skin look grey, give her dark shadows under the eyes. She looks pretty knackered by the end of it. Then another woman appears in close up, twenty years younger, with absolutely no lines on her face whatsoever. None. Not a crease. Not the mearest hint of a crinkle. Either this woman has never laughed in her life, or she is full up to the scalp-line with Botox, or the film has been methodically air-brushed (oh, you think?). Either way, it doesn't encourage me to believe in their product! I'll stick to looking wrinkled, creased and baggy-eyed like everyone else, and spend the money I save on chocolate!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Monthly Dragon

I would like to write a nice witty entry today, but instead I have PMT and can't think of anything funny.

I think it started yesterday, when I grumpily started to clean up my house and ended up furious with all household appliances. I think you could call it a fit of pique. But I have no idea what that means.

The frustration started when my Dyson refused to pick up the sock fluff on my bedroom floor, which appeared to be thoroughly ground in. I pushed the damned thing backwards, forwards and sideways to no effect, until I had virtually rammed my wooden bed frame and the bottom of my chest of drawers in to oblivion. 'Calm down' I thought and decided that maybe the Dyson would stand a better chance if I had emptied it once in the past year. So I emptied it and started again - to no effect - and wondered if this was really a job for the Sebo in the downstairs cupboard. Feeling far too frustrated and angry to drag the Sebo upstairs (fearing for the banisters), I started picking at the sock fluff with my hands, breaking a nail. Fantastic. That helped.

But I couldn't stop there, because I had to clean the bathroom. It was suffering from severe neglect and I could no longer bear the slow draining sink and the dust bunnies wafting around behind the toilet. Sucking up the dust bunnies was actually quite fun (once I started shouting "run, bunny, run!" as each one was drawn towards its doom), but that still didn't stop me from almost pushing the plunger through the bathroom sink in a rage when it wouldn't clear.

I got there in the end.

What amuses me is that PMT sneaks up on me every month. Without fail. It is only when I realise that I sound like a three year old (How about testing out that website? Don't.Want.To. Well how about re-writing your CV? Don't.Want.To. What about cooking something for dinner? Not.Hungry. You might get hungry later... No.I.Won't.And.If.I.Do.I.DON'T.CARE!!!) for longer than half an hour that I think to check my calendar and realise that once again I have been caught out.

Now, back to writing my CV...
Strong points... Hmm.. I am organised... I am a great communicator... I am calm under pressure.... I am a pleasure to work with....

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Stop The Pigeon!

Today was a signing on day. Every two weeks, I sit on a bus for an hour, kill time for another hour, spend ten minutes standing in a queue with the rest of the great unwashed, then I go to a coffee shop (a lovely place called Serenity in Hertford) for another hour and wait for the bus home.

This week for my journey home I arrived at the bus station early, skipping the coffee shop in order to pay full attention to an animated, positive and lively conversation with my sister. Once my phone was back in my bag I had little else to do but hang around and, tired of being 'in my head' (a.k.a. daydreaming) all of the time, I took the opportunity to people watch.

My attention focused on a young girl in her school uniform - she must have been no older than six - playing with the slush, squeezing it between her feet in to mounds which rose up to her ankles, and then kicking it, just for the sheer hell of it. Her tights and shoes were saturated and I mentally raised my eyebrows at her before remembering that I used to do exactly the same when I was her age. She then wandered over to the stream of icy cold water running from the roof and held her coat sleeve underneath it, soaking it through. I used to do that too.

Her brother (who must have been eight-ish) then picked up a lump of slush and threw it at her, and she ran screaming to Mum who - with absolutely no idea what was going on - looked up from staring at her mobile phone and said "See, I told you you'd get cold" then looked back down and returned to her staring, not hearing her daughter scream "But he threw slush at me!" and her son deny the accusation with "No, I did NOT!" (throwing me a sideways glance when he realised I had witnessed the whole thing).

Deciding not to push his luck, he turned his attention to a couple of pigeons who had finished fighting over a discarded crisp, and threw a handful of slush at them instead. The target pigeon hopped two feet in the air at the last second and instead of flying away, anxiously paced back and forth as though playing out a pest control version of Space Invaders. Each handful of slush that was thrown, the pigeons hopped over, scuttled and then turned, getting quicker each time, and I thought "he'll never hit them." Because pigeons always escape, don't they? Otherwise Dastardly and Mutley would have caught Yankee Doodle Pigeon in the first episode and Hanna-Barbera would have had to think up a whole new cartoon series.

And then I remembered two stories about pigeons which made me think again.

The first was from a work colleague who was recounting the highlights of his business trip to Amsterdam and despite all the usual distractions that Amsterdam has to offer, the one thing he couldn't get out of his head was the time when he was waiting for a tram to pass so that he could cross the road. A pigeon was standing on the tram line nearby and he expected it to fly away at the last second as all pigeons do. But this one didn't, and was run over by the tram right in front of his eyes. What he couldn't get over was the really loud "POP!" sound it made as it was squashed. I guess there's nothing like being remembered by going out with a bang.

And the second story was from a student friend of mine who, when told the above pigeon story, proceeded to tell me about the time when two of his mates went to visit him in a city 'somewhere up north' (i.e. I can't remember - I think it was Leeds). Anyway, in the middle of the day they were strolling through the busy city centre and came across a square full of pigeons. One of his friends suddenly announced "Oh, I've always wanted to do this!!", ran full tilt towards the birds and at the last minute - to the horror of the crowd - launched himself in to a spectacular belly flop right in to the middle of them, expecting them all to scatter and possibly cause havoc with fear-induced mass pooing.

It was only as he looked up at the horrified faces of the crowd that he realised that he was, in fact, face down in the middle of a busy city centre, lying on top of a rather flat and newly deceased pigeon.

In fairness to Hanna-Barbera, the "Dastardly and Mutley in their Flying Machines" theme tune ("Nab him! Jab him! Tab him! Grab him! Stop That Pigeon! Howwww!") gave absolutely no reference to trams or belly flops.

The pigeon attack at the bus station finally abated when the pigeon's bus arrived, and they hopped on it to go back home, narrowly avoiding the swoop of a bi-plane flown by a wheezing, sniggering dog. Oh my, I need to watch less daytime TV....

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Slip Sliding Away.....

Like most English people, I love the snow. But it is a conditional love, and those conditions are a) I am in a foreign country b) I have a pair of skis on my feet and c) I have access to a lovely cup of seriously thick and calorific hot chocolate.

Snow in England is not so much fun. We are not equipped for snow - never have been, never will be. But despite everything from the buses, trains, traffic, post services and rubbish collections grinding to a halt, to the schools closing, the first day of snow is a novelty. In addition to the picturesque new landscape, there are so many things to take in, like the anxious expressions on dogs faces when they can't work out where their feet went, or the screams of delight and pain resounding from children when they realise that there are no rules in a snowball fight or the complete absense of cats (hurrah!).

Once the snow stops, the novelty instantly wears off. What was yesterday's soft fluffy snow is now trampled in to hard-packed ice or has become slushy enough to lose small dogs in. Added to that, I live at the top of a rather steep hill which makes it a tad tricky for walking in to town (looking on the bright side, I will never have to put in an insurance claim for flooding).

So today I set off down the hill, looking for hand holds along the way and not finding any, and picked my way delicately from one slushy patch to another to get to the top of the steps leading down to the church. Realising that my walking shoes had no grip whatsoever, I managed to navigate the steps by using all of my upper body strength to cling to the handrail, trying to make it look effortless (which it would have if it weren't for all of the grunts and cursing under my breath).

The last hurdle was the slope by the church wall which didn't look too bad until I realised that the clear patches of ground were actually black ice. I discovered this when I tried to walk normally, stepped on to a 'clear patch' and started to slide, and when I tried to recover, my legs started to go in different directions. First they went one way, then the other and soon it became clear to me that if I wanted to put a stop to my impersonation of Bambi I needed to change my approach to tackling this hill. So I held on to the hand-rail (thank heaven for the hand-rail) and with the words of my mother ringing in my ears ("DON'T slide on the pavement - you'll only make it dangerous for the old ladies") I slid.

I wish I could say that it had been a graceful descent. One which, if viewed from the other side of the wall looked as though I had been standing on an escalator. But it wasn't. I was bent double with my legs in the 'snowplough' position and I was wearing a grimace on my face similar to that of someone with acute abdominal pains. But beyond the fact that I stayed upright, I'm not proud.

The funny thing was when I left the supermarket, a man overtook me on the (indoor) travelator, slid, slipped and stumbled, tried to walk normally and slipped again. Saving face, he then ran a few paces to get up some speed and slid right to the very end as though his previous slips had been completely intentional. Good recovery. I wish I'd thought of that one.

As a final thought, and I know this is mean, but I would love to have watched a dog come down that hill.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

There will be no mirrors in this house...

Before I can create my 'Tag, You're It' post, I need to transfer my photos from my old laptop to my new laptop. So whilst they are transferring, this post will have to do.

I am sitting quite comfortably with my lovely new laptop on my lap. The sun is streaming in through the window which means that all I can see in the lovely widescreen is a reflection of myself typing. And I was managing to look past the reflection and read the screen until a bright burst of sunshine lit up the side of my head and illuminated my grey hairs.

I have always considered myself to be fairly blessed with respect to my appearance. My skin is - for the most part - smooth and well-behaved, and my hair is the kind of colour that doesn't tend to go grey. I take after my Mum on the hair front, and my Mum's hair isn't grey. My sister, on the other hand, takes after my Aunt who started to go grey at the age of eighteen. So I always made that assumption in my mind: Sister's hair grey, mine not grey. And so I never looked for grey hairs.

Until last year, that is, when I decided to start growing my hair out from its usual cropped status. I was using a brush to blow-dry my hair for the first time in years, and noticed a couple of grey hairs. So I pulled them out (surely the myth cannot be true that two grow in each hair's place?) and forgot about them. Job done. And then the next day I discovered another two. And then the following week, more appeared.

I am still thankful that a) I have a lot of brown hair on my head and b) the grey hairs don't tend to show, but what fascinated me was the fact that the more I looked, the more I would find. I couldn't understand how a new fully grown grey hair could appear from nowhere, the day after I had 'cleared a patch' so to speak. Where were they coming from?

My question was answered when my friend GBM heard my plea of "I just don't know where all of this grey is coming from" and offered his grooming services to extract the ones that I couldn't see at the back of my head. "Man, there's loads! Look, here's another one!" he said as he slowly (and rather vindictively, I thought) pulled each one out by the root and lay it on top of the ever growing pile. "Hey, look at this one - it's half grey and half brown!"

Aha. Mystery solved. I thought that grey hairs were born and not made. I hadn't even considered the possibility of my lovely brown hair slowly losing its pigment - a reminder that despite still feeling perpetually young and stupid, I am 38. 38, single, jobless, no kids, renting a house.... boo hoo hoo.....

But I think I have found the answer. GBM rang yesterday and was telling me about an understanding on how the brain works from his NLP book. What you see, apparently, is what you are. Pretty tricky, given that we tend to look in the mirror and form an association with what we see. I think it's quite important to know what you look like, especially when looking through photo albums or trying to find your way out of the maze of mirrors on Walton pier.
GBM then went on to tell the story of a young man who suffered from very bad acne and had used every lotion, potion, chinese and prescription medicine to no avail. He was at his wits end, as you can imagine. Then he was sent away on holiday for two weeks and was banned from looking in mirrors for that time. The only mirror at the holiday location was securely tucked away in his mum's makeup bag. Do I need to tell you the outcome? Once he stopped checking for the update of his spots and stopped confirming to his brain that his face had acne, his spots then ceased to be...

So that's it for me. I will be blow-drying my hair and applying my makeup and getting dressed without the aid of a mirror from this day forward. Heaven only knows what everyone else will see when they look at me, but in my mind, I am a Goddess.......

Sunday, 1 February 2009

I wish I was Doctor Dolittle....

.. you know, the one who can talk to the animals. And I pretend to be. I have always professed to have a marvellous affinity with nature's beasts. Reading 'Some Mother's Do Ave 'Em' latest post Tag you're it, I was reminded of a time when I was given the opportunity to prove exactly how great I am.

I discovered that a local privately owned wildlife park accepted volunteers. So I applied.

The day started at 8am with mucking out. Nothing like a good bit of mucking out first thing on a winter's morning, scraping up camel, zebra and reindeer poo with a shovel from the 'hard standing' (that's concrete to you or I), refilling the water troughs, changing the straw. And I like working with the big animals because I could stand in the pens and looked the part when the public arrived, whilst the animals themselves were locked in to another area of the field, out of harm's way.

The park had a variety of animals: racoons, coati, red pandas, ostriches, emus, tapirs, red deer, tigers, lions, genets, a few rare breed cats, meerkats, a variety of monkeys and of course the petting zoo, with rabbits, ferrets, chinchillas, barn owls, mice, guinea pigs. Pretty much the whole of Noah's Ark, really, now I come to think of it.

As the weeks went by, rather than becoming a revered member of the volunteering team, I discovered that I am nothing but a big fat coward.

It wasn't all bad, I guess, and I do have some wonderful memories. The meerkats I loved, and twice a day one of the keepers took food down to the meerkat's pen, climbed in to feed them and gave a talk to the public. After showing an interest and learning everything I could about all things meerkat, I was regularly allowed to go and give the talk to a crowd of envious children, who wanted the meerkats to climb on their laps or bite their shoelaces. One of the reasons why this was not allowed was that the meerkats shared their pen with the porcupines, who are nocturnal and hence stayed out of sight. Except for two occasions when they charged out of their pen, spines rattling, helping me to realise exactly how quickly I could vault the wall of the enclosure from a seated position. Porcupines aren't in to negotiation and I wasn't in to arguing with them.

One of the big cat keepers asked me to help him feed the siberian tigers on one occasion, which I would have loved if it weren't for the fact that we were locked in (to keep the public safe) and I kept having visions of the doors to their house being opened by mistake. Like it would only ever happen to me.

As time went by, I realised that I was really great with animals so long as I didn't have to hold them, touch them, or come within close proximity of their teeth or claws. I was asked to handle a parrot, and was bitten by that. I was asked to handle a chinchilla and was bitten by that. I was asked to pick up a huge buck rabbit, and refused. Have you seen the size of the teeth on a buck rabbit? Ferrets.. bitten. Squirrel monkeys... slightly nibbled.

Two experiences stand out in my mind from my eighteen months of becoming less and less confident with animals (and I am not going to include the incredibly hot, sunny day that I took five different living animals to a local fair for a 'show and tell' and came back with only four that were still breathing).
The first was being sent in with the red pandas. Red pandas are such beautiful, cuddly, cute bears. They sit quietly up in the trees and they eat fruit. I was asked to clean out their house and told that the only problem was that one of the keepers was on holiday and they had taken the key to the panda house with them, so the only way in was through their little 12 inch hatch at ground level. I was the only person on hand small enough to fit through the hole, hence my selection.

I clambered in to the pen and realised that both pandas were in their house and not in the tree. Not a problem, for two such cute, amiable creatures, surely? So I crawled through and stood up... and came face to face with Mr Panda, standing (bristling) on a ledge at the height of my chest. Oo, and he wasn't happy. He wasn't Mr Cuddly Bear. He made a low growl in the back of his throat and starting shifting from side to side on the shelf as though he was about to launch himself at my chest. I have never felt so afraid in my life (well, with the exception of being chased by a large taxi driver with a kitchen knife in Goa, but that's a whole new story). I could literally feel all of the blood being diverted from my internal organs to my muscles - my stomach went ice cold. What do I do? 'If I duck down and try to crawl back out of the hole, he'll have me!' I thought. I could picture the headlines now "Foolish keeper mysteriously slain at WildLife Park. Cute panda says 'wasn't me'". I was in such a panic that I couldn't think. One of the other volunteers was cleaning the windows to the panda house.
'He-e-e-ellllp' I croaked 'What do I do? He's gonna get meeeeeeee.... ooooo, I don't like thiiiiiiissss.....' She looked in, quite calm (hey, fine for her, she wasn't faced with a psychotic bear - have you seen the size of their feet and claws?!) and said 'Oh, just move away from their door. He'll be fine'. So slowly and unconvinced, I did, realising that this would mean I was trapped in the corner of the house and completely at his mercy. And he jumped on to the floor, keeping a close eye on me as he did so, and swiftly left the house, followed by his mate.
It was only then that I realised that the poor panda was probably enjoying a peaceful lie in, only to be confronted by a huge human being, who insisted on a stand-off by blocking his escape. Poor thing. Where was my common sense? Later in the day I was asked to help feed the pandas, and they were back to their cute teddy-bear selves. Red pandas don't appear to hold grudges, luckily for me.

The second occasion related to my life long desire to hold a tarantula (just to prove that I could), so I was invited to handle various different beasts - a king snake, an owl (pray tell me the link?!), a bearded dragon, a tortoise (easy) and Rosy, the red-kneed tarantula - at the twice daily reptile show.
I have been told that nobody has been bitten by Rosy, and much as they tell everyone in the audience that being bitten by a tarantula is like being hit with a sledge-hammer, the keepers told me that according to one of their friends it was more like a bee sting. I can't say that made me much more relaxed given that I'm not partial to being stung by bees either. I was invited to handle at the 5:30 show as most people had gone home by then and the theatre was always empty, so I didn't have to worry about screaming kids frightening the spider. I was also told that if I stayed calm there would be nothing to worry about, but Rosy would be able to sense my fear. Oh good.

I arrived a few minutes early to practice picking Rosy up, and realised that I felt quite impossibly sick. I was terrified and I had no idea where the fear came from because it was something that I have always wanted to do. It was primal. But the practice went well, and at 5:29 the theatre had one adult and two older children. Fantastic. I can do this.

And then the clock struck 5:30 and the doors opened... and an extended and very noisy family who had been running riot through the park all day streamed in. There must have been twenty-five (sugar-rushed) kids and ten adults, all ready for the show, all excited at touching snakes and owls and tortoises. It was my worst nightmare. In fact, I can feel sweat forming on my top lip even as I type this.

To all intents and purposes, when I did pick Rosy up at the end of the show, I must have looked like a beacon of peace and calm, carefully tiptoeing through the crowd for them to all look at the spider, with a confident smile on my face. Hey, I do this aaaaallll the time.... Inside, however, I was a babbling mess, sobbing internally as I could feel the sweat pouring up through the palms of my hands, thinking 'any second now, any second now, here it comes, she's got to bite me... oooo nice spidey.... breathe.... breathe....'

The kids, however, were fantastic. They transformed from their entrance as a single, baying mob, in to rows of silent, careful and fascinated children, looking at both me and the spider in awe, no doubt with the thought that they would rather the spider stayed safely in my hand. They behaved beautifully, and hence, so did Rosy.

Perhaps I ought to remember this time whenever I open my mouth to say "I've never really been great with children" or "I just LOVE working with animals". Or maybe the only way to tackle a scary, baying mob of children is to carry a tarantula....
Or maybe just forget the tarantula, avoid the children, and stick to dogs instead.