Thursday, 23 December 2010

Then and now

Time was that by 23rd December I was knackered as a result of 23 days of parties, drinks dos, dinners, and theatre trips. December was a write off vis a vis sleep, and rest. Consequently, come 24th December, every year, I'd get sick, and spend Christmas day sniffling, and wheezing and dozing off.

This year I've spent December planning for and attending craft fairs, sitting up until the wee-small hours stringing beads until my eyes watered. I've been out, of course. I am not a girl who goes long without a glass of red in her hand. But it's not been the nightly occurrence that it was of Decembers a decade ago. Yet still I'm knackered. Still I only finished my Christmas shopping yesterday. Still I've only just wrapped everything. And STILL I'm now sniffling a bit and feeling a bit under the weather. Still, it's traditional I suppose.

Of course, the whole thing used to culminate in Christmas Eve drinks. The gang of terrific friends that I grew up with would all descend on the Beauty of Bath, the seediest pub in England, and drink wine out of a tap, and warm lager, and generally make merry, then all stumble back to one of our houses and see if we could catch Santa in the act of putting out the presents. We never did.

But these days, most of the gang live away, and the time in the home town for Christmas is precious. Plus they all have children, and apparently Christmas is all about them. Honestly. Kids are SO me, me, me. Pah! So the boozy night out doesn't happen now.

Back in the day when it should have been all about ME, I would fret. In retrospect, I was a nervous child. On Christmas Eve, when I was small, I would lie in bed for hours worrying about what presents I might have been bought. I don't mean that I worried that I would get what I wanted, but what if I was bought something that I really didn't want, and then I'd have to say I liked it, and it would have been a waste, and how would I pretend to like it, and ... and ... and ... Like I say, I was an anxious wee thing.

Now, I sleep like a log. All the time, actually (another post for another time, I think, on a theme of my semi-narcoleptic tendencies). The red wine helps, of course. But I don't worry so much about what I might or might not get any more. Nothing, after all, can be as hard to be positive about as the year I was bought a roll of draught excluder tape by my mother. I worry more that people will like what I've bought them. This year I think I've got Brother and Father Tooting sorted, but I suspect that Mother Tooting will upcycle my gifts to her. Again ...

And decorations used to be a big thing to us Tootings. They'd go up not the weekend RIGHT before Christmas, but the weekend before that. A tree that touched the ceiling, adorned with EVERY bauble in the box, including the ones we made at nursery, the ones that came free in Happy Meals, the ones that were broken, but still shiny. If you could still see tree, there wasn't enough on it. Then we'd hang streamers from the ceiling, and hook things over the pictures, and put a second small tree in the front window, and lights in the outside tree, and dangly things along the hall ceiling and a garland up the stairs and a wreath on the door and mistletoe in the doorway (x) and more besides.

My house is minimalist. There's no tree. I just think it'd be in the way, wherever it went. And absolutely no streamers. There's a garland on the stairs, and a six inch tall sparkly tree on the mantle piece, and the mistletoe, of course. And that's about it.

So tomorrow, I'm off to the Tooting country residence for a couple of happy family days; odd presents, giant mental tree, and all.

Happy Christmas to everyone in blogland. Have a good one!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

What did you do today?

I turned my lounge from this ...
... to this ...

And my dining room from this ...
... to this ...
All in the interests of the Handmade In Tooting Christmas Market.

Nine lovely creative friends have pulled together to turn my house into a two day market, selling our lovely wares, to lovely people in lovely surroundings (even if I do say so ...) listening to lovely music and drinking lovely mulled wine.

I've had a great day!

And I get to do it ALL again tomorrow!

If any of you are in the south west London area, and fancy dropping in, drop me a line and I'll send you directions.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A Tale of Dexterity, Co-Ordination and Social Grace

Today was our company Christmas party. In fact, I suspect that, for some, it's still ongoing. But I am an old and tired and a bit decrepit, so I sloped out early.

It's been fun though. A couple of hours at the pleasingly grubby Bloomsbury Lanes; an exercise which proved who had the mis-spent youth, then a quick drink in a seedy pub, before going to the frightfully sophisticated Charlotte Street Hotel for an aperitif, then a fancy Soho restaurant for dinner.

It is in the Charlotte Street Hotel bar that my tale unfolds.

It was busy when we arrived, but the ten of us battled through to the bar and, once there, realised that it was as good a place as any to set up camp. Over the course of our first half an hour, we were shunted around by the natural push and shuffle, and ended up at the action end of the bar. The end that the immaculately dressed, and frightfully efficient waiters were serving from. Every time one of them darted past us with a tray of drinks for the lucky buggers with a table, they had to dodge around us, mumbling their, "excuse me madam, excuse me sir." Not once did any of these charming people ask us to move. They just glided around us.

Meanwhile, largely oblivious to the fact that we were clearly in the way we mingled and gossipped and laughed and drank.

In the course of the mingling, I wound up chatting to our newest recruit; a lovely young graduate trainee by the name of JW. (I'm not abbreviating his name in the interests of poetic licence. His name is actually JW. No ... I don't understand it either. Still, he is a lovely young man). Throughout our conversation, I was aware of JW's eyes darting over my shoulder. Something had his attention, but as I half turned to see what it was, his hand shot out and grabbed my arm. "Don't look!" he hissed. The impertinence of youth! Pah!

He leaned in, and gestured for me to do the same. "I think I know the bloke sitting behind you," he whispered, followed by another, "DON'T look," through gritted teeth. "I think I went to school with him. But I'm not entirely sure. I don't want to say hello in case it's not him and I'm just a tosser saying hello to strangers in a bar."

I was sympathetic, obviously. "Just say hello. We won't laugh if it's not him. Honest ..." JW didn't buy it.

Discretely, I made him switch places with me so that I could look at the bloke in question. Well. I say discretely. I was on my second gin cocktail, so who knows. The table now behind JW had three people sitting at it. Two were middle aged women, unmistakably sisters. The third was a lad about JW's age, and presumably the son of one of the two women. As I looked on, his eyes flicked our way a couple of times. He appeared to be working out whether he knew JW too. The two of them edged around one another, not quite making eye contact. But the mood at the table was frosty. The two women snipped a little at one another, and the lad was largely mute. Something had occurred, and the cool mood lingered.

The conversation in our group, meanwhile sprinted on, and turned to anecdotes about school friends, mistaken identity, Facebook, and more. We were just finishing our drinks when the boss caught my eye to say it was time to go.

Still talking as we pulled our coats on, none of us really noticed one of the super-slick waiter heading for the end of the bar. We didn't notice him slalom his way through our group. We didn't notice the tray of empty glasses that he carried.

Then two things happened at the same time. JW said, "it is him. I'm sure of it. I'm going to say hello." Simultaneously, I put my left arm into the sleeve of my coat, and stretched it out, and in doing so, swiped the underside of the passing waiter's tray. His dexterity being superior to my own, he managed to adjust his balance, and keep all the empty glasses upright. Only one glass ... the one full of water ... teetered. For a moment, it hung on the edge of the tray at a precarious angle, and then, in slow motion, tipped.

It fell down the back of the chair of one of the two middle aged women, upside down ,spilling the water down her back. Her white blouse was instantly transparent, and she was left sitting in a pool of water. The glass then bounced off the chair and onto the floor, smashing into a million tiny pieces.

There are occasions when you say sorry, and know that it doesn't come close. And on those occasions, the best thing to do is to leave. So that's what we did.

But not before JW went to say hello to his friend. In spite of the fact that his new colleague had just attempted to drown his mother, JW leaned over and said, "Ryan, hi! How's it going?"

And it turned out, it wasn't Ryan at all. It was a stranger. A total stranger. Boy did JW look like a tosser.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Detoots Guide To Modern Manners

Do you ever find the palm of your hand itching with the effort of not smacking total strangers who behave badly in your presence?

I do.

Today, as I sat in the caff enjoying a coffee and a danish, I realised that my teeth were grinding due to the behaviour of a girl at the next table.

She was enjoying a full English breakfast, and, whilst she chewed, she banged her cutlery on her plate in time with her chomping jaw. The energy that it took to not swing around and pound my fists on her table was sufficient to power several eco-unfriendly light bulbs.

Then I went into Sainsburys, where I was barged out of the way by an old lady to get a shopping trolley, stood in front of, walked into, rammed, ignored, and queue-jumped. By the time I got back in the car, I was fizzing. Then the same thing happened again, on the roads of Tooting.

Is it too much to think that people might be a little bit, just a weeny bit, socially aware? Too much to hope that some people would acknowledge that everyone on the bus doesn't need to hear them shout into their phone? Too much to hope that, once in a while, someone might say, "no, no REALLY, after you..."? Too much to hope for a simple "please" and "thank you" once in a while?

On my way home, I swung 'round to a friend's house, and arrived as her two young sons were finishing their lunch. Georgie, aged five, asked, "Mummy, can I have a biscuit?" "Can you have a biscuit what?" Dutifully, he replied, "can I have a biscuit please?" The biscuit was handed over. Isaac, aged two, learning from his brother's mistake, simply held his hand out and said, "please". He's a smart kid. He knows that only one word matters.

So tell me this. At what age do you stop telling people that they need to be polite? Should I have turned around to the twenty-something cutlery banger in the caff, and said, "do we bang our cutlery? No we do not!" Should I have said to the pushy old lady, "please don't push. It's not polite." Would it be wrong to say to the shouty girl on the bus, "Shhhh. Everyone doesn't want to hear." Is this the answer? Should I simply treat them the way I would an unruly five year old?

Or is it ok to satisfy the itchy palm, and just smack anyone who's rude to me in public?

Monday, 29 November 2010

There's no place like ...

I've had a long standing arrangement to go to a friend's new house for dinner tonight.

She's a friend from a former job. She worked in my department, but in a different office, and she married a man who worked in my office, but in a different department (Following? Good!) Anyway, they're both about the same age as me, both do, to all effect and both do the same thing as me.

Here's the crack. They bought flats independently when they were pretty fresh to working life, then sold the two to buy one, sold that, bought another, sold that at the peak of the market, moved into a rental, and have now bought this; a house that had been sloshing around at the bottom of the market for long enough that it was reduced to about three quarters of its initial asking price, costing them just shy of seven figures.

Today I got the guided tour. And it was pretty hard not to draw a few comparisons.

Their neighbours are retired army majors and stockbrokers. Mine are youth workers and mini-cab drivers. Their neighbour's children drive Fiat 500s that they were given for their 18th birthdays. Mine steal their mother's second hand Corsas when they see a chance. Their garage is a detached, oak beamed building. Mine is ... well, it's non-existent.

Everything in their new pad screamed class. The six ring range in the kitchen. The American style fridge-freezer. The utility room with underfloor heating. All four of the bedrooms, and all three of the bathrooms. The summer house. The driveway with an "in" and an "out" gate. It all just reeked of success and glamour and being a proper adult. I felt more than a little like I might not have made the best of every opportunity.

So here I am now, in my house with only four burners on the stove, two bedrooms, and one bathroom, and ... can you believe ... no utility room, garage, or driveway at all (oh, the shame!) But when I came in, the house was nice and toasty warm, and it struck me that their house had been a little cold. And whilst I don't have a two-seater sofa in my bedroom, I do much prefer the lovely rich blue on my bedroom walls to the beigey cream on theirs. And I might only have the one bathroom, but it is massive, so lots of people could ablute in there at the same time if they wanted ...

So on balance, I'm inclined to say that you can keep your million pound residence in Surrey. For this girl, there's no place like Tooting.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A Terribly Exciting Adventure

I have a little brother. Well, I say he's little, but he'll be 30 next year. Imagine! Me with a 30 year old little brother. I know ... I don't look old enough.

But anyway ...

He and his lady friend live in domestic harmony in Loughborough, with their small furry housemate, Charlie the Hamster. Charlie is a lady hamster. When they first got her, they didn't know if she was a she or if she was a he, so they gave her an androgynous name. Having established that she was a girl hamster (or, at least, not endowed as a boy hamster should be) they determined that Charlie was short for Baroness Charleston P. Hamster The First. Naturally.

They make a happy trio, Brother, Lady and Charlie. It's a living arrangement that works well for all parties. That is, it did until ...

... three weeks ago, when disaster struck! Brother Tooting trotted downstairs from his morning ablutions to find an empty cage! Charlie-mouse the Hamster had escaped! Her door was ajar, her cotton wool bed was empty, her night-time choccie drops untouched. She was vanished without trace. No note. No clues. No hamster. Just an empty cage.

They turned the place upside down, looking under things, behind things, around things, inside things, and on top of things that could be tempting to a hamster, but to no avail.

Brother was anxious. He suspected that he might have been the one who had left the cage door open, and that Charlie's escape might therefore he his fault. He was also aware that there had been a bag of recycling waiting to go out just before escape was noticed. Perhaps she had seen a big bag of bedding and rooted in, only to be put out for the bin men in the morning.

On an estate frequented by foxes and populated by cats, no-one liked Charlie-mouse's chances if she'd got out of the house, and no-one really thought that she was still in the house. No-one voiced their feelings, but everyone thought that Charlie had gone to hamster heaven. After a couple of days of food trails not being followed back to the tantalisingly open cage door, the assumption was that she'd gone never to return. Poor, poor Charlie.

Two days ago, there was a knock at the door. Brother opened it to find his neighbour on the door step. "Have you lost a guinea pig?" "Erm. A hamster. We've lost a hamster." "Yeah, that's right. It's in our kitchen."

The neighbours had come down that morning to find a "guinea pig" sitting in their cat's food bowl, chomping away. When they approached, the "guinea pig" had scarpered behind the fridge, so they didn't get a good look. Presumably leading them to think that it was several times larger and guinea pig shaped. Slightly sceptically, Brother put Charlie's cage in the neighbour's kitchen that night, door open and homey looking, and would you believe it, but Charlie came home!

Three weeks! Where has she been? Did she get carried away in the bin bag, and slowly wend her way home, only to take a wrong turn and go into the wrong house? Had she been next door all along, nibbling on tasty cat food? Could she have been to visit a hammy cousin in the country, and missed the train home?

Who knows.

All we know is that she went away, and now she's home ...

... until the next time ...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

It's so beautiful, but what does it mean?

What with one thing and another, my garden hadn't been put to bed for the winter, and consequently, what had, in the summer, been a lovely haven of tranquility had become a jungle. The shrubs almost met in the middle, the weeds were knocking at the window to be let in, and a climber was making its way along the washing line from the back wall towards the house.

Frankly there could have been things living out there. Bears, lions or monsters. Really. I'd never have known.

Anyway, today I ran out of excuses, so despite the biting cold, I put on my mucky gardening clothes and hit the back yard.

I'm not going to lie to you. It was hard work. Hard. Work. I really grafted, up one side of the garden, along the back wall, and down the other side to the Big Bed. I dug up weeds, lopped back shrubs, pruned, tied up, nipped ends, replanted, dug up, dug down, swept and even dug one whole plant right out of the ground. Deliberately, I mean.

So, there I was, almost finished, when the first big fat ploppy drops of rain started falling. Heck! Sweep, sweep, sweep, and gather up the last stuff and fling it in a sack and collect up the tools and sweep up again and move the bench back and put the chairs away in the shed and ... and ... and ...

A neighbour ran out into her garden to gather in her washing from the rain, and suddenly shouted back into the house, "girls, come quick! There's a double rainbow!" And she was right. There is was. One rainbow inside another rainbow. So I finished up and stood in the rain for a minute looking.

And then I started laughing to myself, because I remembered this guy, and I realised that he's right. They really are pretty amazing!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Two letters

Letter #1

Dear Bob Crow

Another tube strike, eh? Thanks for that.

So just to clarify, you're objecting to the possibility that some of your ticket office staff will be made redundant, and you're objecting on safety grounds?

90% of tube passengers now use the Oyster cards that YOU pioneered, and which are charged up at a machine. That doesn't mean that your ticket office staff might be made redundant. That means that your ticket office staff ARE redundant. If you started recruiting professional lead swingers, they'd be more useful than ticket office staff.

And Bob, losing these people poses a risk to safety? Really? REALLY? Have you SEEN your ticket office staff in action? If I thought for one second that my safety was in the hands of your ticket office staff, I wouldn't get on a tube train again. Actually, cramming all the people that usually use the tube onto the buses is a massive safety risk. I was in serious danger of trampling old ladies in my attempt to get on a bus last night. See? Safety risk.

So. Can you do me a favour, you strange shiny faced man you? Can you NOT strike for dumb-ass reasons again in the near future? You are not warming people to your cause one bit.

Thank you


Letter #2

Dear Royal British Legion

I write to congratulate you.

I buy my poppy every year from someone who I assume to be a survivor from the Somme; a poor bent old soul, more wrinkles than flat, and a strange smell of wee about them. It was a tactic that I thought you used to make people think of their Grandpies, and feel bad, and dip their hands in their pockets. And to be fair, it's always worked. You raised £34million last year. That's quite something.

I noticed that, when you launched the Poppy Appeal this year, you said you wanted to raise £90million. I've got to admit, I was sceptical. I mean, it's a charity that gets people's attention and all, but three times last years income? You were going to have to pull something pretty good out of the hat.

And today, you did just that.

Please can I offer my greatest thanks to whichever wonderful person in RBL HQ had the brilliant idea of sending out some lovely uniformed servicemen onto the street? This morning, when I got off the bus, I was greeted by a very tasty young man in American Air Force jacket, and his young, fresh-faced friend from the British Air Force. So I bought a poppy from them. Well, they looked so ... um ... enthusiastic.

Then at lunchtime three young men in army fatigues came at me down the street. Three of them. Together. Well, I've got to tell you, that's a pretty underhand tactic. What choice did I have but to buy another poppy?

And this evening, when I was running for my bus, I ran full tilt into a Queens Guard. There he was, poppy's on a string 'round his neck, and a bucket in one hand. Bearskin and everything. Well, he looked so handsome charitable, that I thought I'd better buy another poppy from him.

So I wanted to write and congratulate your PR team for such a simple, yet effective idea. You want to triple your income this year? Well I've now got three poppies. The system's working.

Best wishes


Monday, 1 November 2010

Very Exciting

Last weekend, my vacuum cleaner packed in. It worked for five minutes then overheated and cut out. Then it cooled down a bit and worked for five minutes, then overheated and cut out. I halfheartedly wiggled a few bits and shook out a filter thingy and unplugged and plugged in a few bits, and then decided that I wasn't clever enough for it all, and gave in. It had started making a burning smell too, prickling at my paranoia about killing myself alone in my house, and being found a month later, half eaten by cats. (Another blog post for another time, perhaps).

I've not had it that long. Just over a year really. But I suppose in that time it's moved out of a flat and into a house and decorated three rooms, including the fill-and-sand-and-fill-and-sand dining room. Maybe it's been asked to do more than a hoover should in a few short months. Poor old girl.

I was rather fond of her. She was one of those upright ones like Freddie Mercury used, and she was white and shiny and had a whizzy attachment for doing the stairs. My first hoover that was all my own. **sigh**

I was going to take her along to the rubbish dump and have an emotional farewell there, when it dawned on me that someone a bit cleverer than me might be able to get her back up and running. So I listed her on Freecycle, and waited to see if anyone wanted an old broken vacuum.

Within five minutes, I'd had a reply. Igor said he'd have it for his DIYing. "If you think I can be lucky one, please let me know." All yours Igor. You are lucky one. When can you come and get it?

This evening Igor turned up. "I am freecycle man. I come for Electrolux." Wonderful! Come in, come in. "I don't come in, no. I have bicycle here for looking after." WHAT?! You're taking it home on your bike? Igor, I don't think that will work. Igor smiled at me benignly. "Is ok."

I wheeled the "Electrolux" out to the street for him. "Oh yes yes yes." He walked once around it in an approving way. I half expected him to kick the tyres. "Is nice one." How are you going to manage it on your bike though? He carefully pulled off all the bits of hose and nozzle from the outside and tucked them in his panniers, then in a fluid movement he picked it up and flung it over his shoulder, then got on his bike, holding the handle of the hoover in one hand, and his handlebars in the other.

Igor, will you be ok? "Yes, yes. Thank you a lot. It is very exciting. I will fix it and let you know how it is." Very exciting? Well yes, I suppose so Igor. Mind how you go now.

And off he pedalled, slowly, precariously, and a bit nervously on the corner at the end of the road.

My new pull-aroundy vac, with a long elephant-trunk hose, and a pedal that sucks the cable back in is ok, but it's not as nice as the old one. But she's gone off for a new life with Igor, and he thinks that she's very exciting. I'm sure they'll be very happy together.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Local Derby

Rivalry between Premier football clubs is rife. Chelsea, and all her fans, loathe Arsenal, who loathe Tottenham Hotspurs, who loathe Chelsea. Deep set hatred between waring tribes is part of the spirit of the Beautiful Game.

I don't pretend that it's something I really understand. Being our national game, there's a kind of expectation, I think, that you have a level of passion about it all, but I can't quite shake the feeling that it is, essentially, only a game.

The friction between local teams is the most gritty. Birmingham City v Aston Villa. Newcastle v Sunderland. Manchester United v Manchester City. The competition between these teams often frames the spirit of a whole city. You're either one or the other, bit rarely neither, and never both. Pubs are given over to one side or the other, and woe-betide anyone who fecklessly crosses the line. It's a deeply ingrained and passionate competition.

Liverpool city centre has seen something of a transformation in the last couple of years, culminating in the opening off a large and swanky new shopping centre called Liverpool One. It's typical of big city centre retail developments of the last few years; a big glass roofed beastie full of the same high street retailers that are in every other city centre development in the country.

But this week we got wind of a new tenant there. Everton FC have opened their official club store in the centre, selling everything from pencils to limited edition, framed, signed shirts. A sea of blue and white.

And the shop name?

Everton Two.

That's right. The official Everton club store has the address Everton Two, Liverpool One.

And so the rivalry goes on ...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A Little Bit Mills McCartney

Seeing the Lovely Lucy mid-week is a rare luxury. On Thursday she had a meeting in London in the morning, so we planned an impromptu late lunch.

When we got to the restaurant, it was busy. A hurrying waiter said they'd lay us a table, so we stood and nattered until, out the corner of my eye, I saw a movement. Our waiter was trying to draw our attention to the table that had been laid for us, using the unconventional technique of jumping up and down and waving his hands in the air.

He was about 5ft 8 tall, and about the same around his middle, bald, and camper than a Bank Holiday at Butlins. He cooed and oohed and aghed at us, and made us feel like his new best friends. When Lucy said that she'd just have a glass of water, he rolled his eyes at me. "Is she always this boring?" he teased, in his soft Scottish purr. "I'm afraid so," I confirmed. We ordered and off he skipped to the kitchen.

So our food came, we ate, we chattered, set the world to rights, and from time to time our waiter came to check we were ok, and we were. He struck the balance between attentive and laid back that suited our mood, and it was all good. When we'd finished our meal, he asked if we wanted coffees, then winked at us pointedly and said they'd be on the house. He told us he'd only worked there a week, and whilst he was at the Gaggia, we speculated on whether he'd still be there in a week's time.

Whilst we were sorting out the bill, Lucy got up to go to the loo. There was one just near where we were sitting, and she made a b-line for it, but there was a kerfuffle at the door. Our waiter, another waiter and Lucy ended up doing a little dance at the door, "after you," "no, no, I insist, after you." After she'd closed the door, the other waiter rounded on ours. "Don't let customers use that toilet. It's a disabled toilet for disabled people. The customer toilets are downstairs." Our waiter waited until the other guy's back was turned, then rolled his eyes at me. When Lucy came back she apologised for causing a fracas.

So there we were, pulling on our coats, and draining our cups, when suddenly our man was back by our side, leaning over our table in a conspiratorial way. "I've just told him, 'you can't talk to that lady like that, you don't know anything about her. You can't talk to her like that.' And then I said to him, 'you see, she's only got the one leg.' So now, when you leave, you've got to limp a bit so he knows."

Limp a bit?! We were both laughing so hard we could hardly stand! I think we might have slightly over-egged our part.

Monday, 18 October 2010

A break for freedom.

This morning, started with the screeching of tyres and the honking of a horn.

It's an alarming way to start a Monday morning.

At first I couldn't see what had caused the snarl up in the traffic, or work out where the horns were coming from, but a dog suddenly appeared on the pavement in front of me, lollopping around in a clueless kind of a way, and the traffic started moving, so I assumed he'd been causing a fray.

He fell in alongside a woman ahead of me, trotting at her heel, running a few steps ahead, hanging back to sniff at something. She dropped a hand to run over his head and he kept pace with her. They appeared to be a happy duo, and together they rounded the corner at the top of the road at the station.

Thirty seconds later I rounded the same corner. Up ahead, on the bridge, was the back view of the woman, but no sign of her dog. I assumed he'd gone on ahead, lured by a particularly tempting whiff.

But no! I stopped at the newsstand at the station entrance, and there was our mutt, sniffing around behind the counter, and nudging the stallholder in the hopes of a scratch behind the ear. The stallholder obliged, simultaneously running his hand around the dog's neck, looking for a collar or name tag, but there were no clues. Mutt took off into the station, ducking under the ticket barrier, in a blatant flaunting of the rules and he was away.

Down on the platform, confusion reigned. "That was a dog!" "What's a dog doing here?" "Who does he belong to?" He wove between the morning commuters, sniffing here, nuzzling there, begging for scraps and attention. All the time the trail was wagging, the tongue was lolling, and he skipped along, keeping just ahead of me.

Then things got a bit hairy. He kept right on off the end of the platform. Where it sloped down at the end to the train tracks, he just kept trucking, sniffing exploring. The crowd got restless.

A combination of quick thinking and lunchbox shaking on the part of one commuter lured him back onto the platform, whereupon he trotted along to my side, looked at me in a happily feckless way, turned himself around, and say on my feet.




Would you mind ...?


OK then.

I scratched him behind the ears and he leaned in. His tail was still drumming the platform, and he wasn't showing signs of moving. This was a dog who was comfortable, thank you very much. Another girl just along the platform watched on, then set off. "I'll go and get one of the men from the ticket office."

So I kept scratching his head and talking to him, and hoping that he wouldn't bolt when the train came. Then the train came and I realised that I wanted to bolt. That was my train!! My new furry friend and I watched the train pull in and watched the train pull out.

So STILL I kept scratching his head.

Suddenly a man was by my side; one of the ticket office men. "You again?" he asked, looking at the dog in mock frustration. He looked to me, "we'll take it from here. Thanks," and he clocked his fingers. The dog hopped up, stretched, and wandered off with the station guard.

And that's as much as I know.

Frustrating, isn't it, to not know what happened next? Well that's how I've spent my day, so I thought I'd share the frustration with you all too.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010



I've been away for a while.

Well the thing is, I was quite busy, and a week went by without a post, then I missed a "this weekend ...", then I thought that when I wrote a post it had to be really good to make up for so much radio silence, but I was still busy, and then writing anything seemed a lot like hard work, which isn't really the point is it? So in short, I haven't blogged for ages because I just haven't. I have lost my blogging mo-jo. (My "blo-jo"?)

But today I did something slightly (very) embarrassing, and it struck me that in the old days (like, a month ago) I'd have blogged about it. So I thought I would ...

So. I had a meeting in Tooting this evening in a part business, part pleasure, part busy-body way, at 6:30pm. That kind of meant leaving work at about 5:45pm. I actually left work at 6:15pm. Woopsa! So I ran, and I ran, and I ran, and I ran, and I got on the Tube. Maybe it was that I was running late and was flustered that discombobulated me.

These days I don't often travel on the Tube. I tend to be all about the overground trains. Perhaps it was this unfamiliarity that discombobulated me.

Then when the train came in, it was rammed. Proper heaving. Maybe it was the general level of over crowding that discombobulated me.

Maybe I wasn't discombobulated at all. Maybe I have a bit of Tourettes.

So. There I was. Out of breath, and wedged in the middle of a very squished train carriage. As the doors closed, and the train set off down the tunnel, the draft that runs through each carriage picked up a scent. On the breeze there was the unmistakable aroma of fried food. And I acknowledged this fact by raising my head, raising my voice, and saying loudly, clearly, and with fine voice projection, "I CAN SMELL CHIPS!"

Fifty pairs of eyes turned on me for a second, then turned to the floor. Fifty people stifled sniggers. Fifty people said nothing. And one person (me) pretended to have said, or heard nothing.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

This Weekend (19) ...

... has been a combination of busy, frantic, organised, successful, confusing, nerve-wracking, indulgent, quirky and chilled out. Let me explain ...

1) On Thursday evening, I went home for a thrilling night of ... counting. Open House is now only a fortnight away (eek!) and I had 10,000 leaflets delivered last week for distribution. They were to go to 77 artists exhibiting in 29 houses, plus 48 cafes, bars and shops around the area, plus some spares. Nothing for it but to count them. All of them. All 10,000. **sigh** So I had a rock and roll night with cardboard boxes, rubber bands, post it notes and the ability to count to 100. Yawnarama!

2) Friday morning saw the end to the counting (I went to bed on Thursday night at 2am, when I’d lost the ability to remember what came after 79). Then I set out to start trying to smooth talk the local businesses into putting some out on display for us. It’s interesting to see which businesses want to support local events and which don’t. One cafe – a regular hang out for us arty sorts, point blank refused. I think it’s possible that they’ve just lost 77 regulars ...!

3) Friday evening then was the organised bit. One person came to a meeting from each of the 29 houses, to collect their leaflets. They’d to give me £4 for each artist exhibiting in their house, collect 100 leaflets per artist, collect instructions for the competition (slightly different for each house), know where they’re delivering leaflets, and collect a bunch of pink balloons. Sound simple? You clearly have never tried to herd artists. They are all, to a man, deliciously lovely people, but my word, are they hard to direct! But we did it! Only two no-shows, which I think is pretty good going. Even if it did leave me with a pocket full of pound coins, and a surfeit of pink balloons ...

4) Then I set out to drive to Mother and Father Tooting's place in Kent. All going well, until roadworks forced me off the motorway one junction early, then an accident wouldn’t let me back on, so at beddie-byes time, I was still bowling around the greater Maidstone area (never good ...) hoping for a familiar looking road sign. I made it out in the end, tired, hungry, emotional, and in desperate need of a wee.

5) Saturday morning. This was the nerve wracking bit. As regular readers will know, I own, but rarely drive, a Nissan Figaro. Style-wise, they are, to my simple mind, the most beautiful cars on the road. They reek of 1950’s style, Japanese quirkiness, and urban nippiness. But mine was a money pit. I’m not going to tell you what it’s cost me in repairs in the last eighteen months, but it comfortably runs to four figures, and is enough to make me well up a bit. On Saturday I took it to a used car lot near my parents, haggled with a nice man / foolish soul, and agreed a price to trade the old girl in for a five year old Polo. It’s not glamorous. It’s not sexy. But it was the right move, and it was a good deal. So why did it feel like such a massive decision to make? Sitting in the car deciding that I'd do it felt like a big moment. And the second I walked out of the garage, having signed the papers, it felt like the most obvious thing in the world. I pick up the new motor on Friday. It's a boy, I'm sure, and he will be needing a name. Any ideas?

6) The rest of the day was lost to sighs of relief, and pottering jobs. Nice. It’s been such a long time since I had time to just mooch about that it was nice to enjoy a bit of not-very-much with Mother Tooting for a while.

7) On Saturday night, they took me for dinner to a pub that is new to them, but clearly not a new place. Kent is peppered with these places. Clap-board pubs that look tiny on the outside, but extend to three or four cosy, fire-warmed rooms on the inside; all low beams and mis-matched furniture. This one is on the bank of a tributary of the River Swale in a teeny village called Oare, and it's called The Three Mariners. If you're in the East Kent area, go there. You'll need to book - it was rammed last night. Prosciutto and figs, slow roasted pork, and a cheeseboard to finish. Are you drooling? You really should be. It was deeeeeeeelicious!

8) This morning we went to a car boot sale. We Tootings like a car book sale. Father likes books and old vinyl long players, Mother likes old china, and I like all of this, and anything else that looks bargainous. But this is a car boot sale with a difference. Every two years, the Stately Homes of Kent are invited to come together to sell the family silver, and it's great. They all turn up with their detritus in a horsebox, and spend the day in their Barbour jackets and Hunter wellies saying things like, "darling, would you mind awfully if I asked five pahnds?" There's none of your usual car boot rubbish - not a cafetiere or a foot spa in sight - but you can't move for ski-boots, golf clubs, and tureens. Just marvellous. The parents bought a couple of casseroles and I bought a present for a some-time reader of this blog, so Mum's the word!

9) This afternoon was chilled out Sunday afternoon stuff. Speaks on the phone with family, films on Channel 4, jewellery making, tea drinking, and breezy conversation, then dinner and a lift to the station, with cries of, "see you next week!". I decided that I'd leave the Fig in Kent for the week, rather than drive it home and back again. Knowing my luck I'd crash or breakdown now, and have some big explaining to do at the garage. Not worth the risk so the train home for me. Quite nice to know that I've an excuse to pop back next weekend when I pick up the motor, albeit that it'll be a flying visit.

10) What a journey home though! Works on the line, so a replacement bus through the narrow streets of Medway, then a slow train the rest of the way, which meant I just missed my connection, so in total my journey from the family seat to Tooting Towers took a whopping three hours. Craziness. Then I came upon TWO fire-engines at the end of my road on my way from the station. Eeeek! Fortunately nothing to do with me or my neighbours, but something that looked a lot like a false alarm at an office around the corner. What a shame that firemen in Tooting aren't any too reminiscent of Backdraft ...!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Street Life

Our office is on a pretty quiet mews.

There are offices and back entrances to shops along it, but, until you get to our end, there's not much life. After our office, there's a fancy restaurant, a pub, and an EAT sandwich place. That's it. It's pretty tranquil on our little lane usually.

So, imagine our intrigue when, just before we left the office this evening, we heard a lot of shouting from the street. There were only three of us left for the evening, and we were mulling over whether to go to the pub for a quick one, or just head home. Suddenly the three of us were bolting across the floor to push our noses against the front windows.

On the street there were three tramps; two men and a woman. The men were brawling - properly going at one another, and the woman was hopping around behind them shouting eloquent things like, "fuck off you fucker!" Naturally, we were gripped.

The row, it seems, was over a sack of leftover EAT sandwiches. There were twenty or so in the bag that the shop staff had put our for the rubbish, and one of the men and the woman had picked up the lot. This, it seems, does not adhere to the rules. The done thing is to take one item each and leave the rest for the next people to come along. Mr Tramp II came along in time to see them make off with the goods, and took issue.

So the three of them were tearing pieces off one another in the street, and, in the process, kicking over the sack of sandwiches. One man ripped the sleeve off the shirt of the other. "You bastard! That's my only shirt!" "No it's not! You're not even really homeless! Give me the food!" (Lady Tramp skitters around them shouting, "kill him! Kill him!") The Sleeveless Tramp thumped the other in the face. One bloody nose. The Bloody Tramp looked at the blood dripping down his front and thumped back. Two bloody noses.

"Kill him! Hit him harder! He's hardly bleeding!"
"Give me the food!"
"You tore my shirt!"


We cast our eyes around. Every window along the mews had people hanging out of it, gawping with the same obvious glee that we were.

Lady Tramp looked up and saw, presumably, a hundred faces pushed to the glass. "You can all fuck off too!" She spun around, shaking her fists at the buildings around her, and tipped backwards in the process. Somewhere above us, someone cheered.

A man appeared, walking towards them slowly, holding a role of kitchen role. He's the guy who works in EAT. "There's more sandwiches. Calm down," and he handed the two bleeding men handfuls of kitchen role to stem the flow. Standing between them, in his new role as Peace Keeper, he rotated slowly, as they sidled around one another, keeping them both at arms length.

"Kill him too! Get him!" the woman shouted. They both lunged. EAT Man dived. They hit one another, and immediately got one another in headlocks. Stalemate.

Another man entered the fray. A fourth tramp shuffled in from stage right. He stopped six feet back from the interlocking tramps and stopped. Everyone froze and stared at him. A silence filled the air. New Tramp looked from the men, to the EAT Man, to the woman, to the sandwiches, and back again. After a short pause, he walked past them, bent down, picked up two sandwiches, and walked on. A hundred pairs of eyes watched him go, and once he was safely out of harms way, a new cry went up.

"We're more homeless than you!" They were off again.

By now there were bits of clothing, clumps of hair, pieces of sandwich, littering the street, and still the fight went on. EAT Man tried to get between them and break up the fight. Tramp Woman egged them on. Every office worker on the block peered out the window. A crowd gathered outside the pub.

Then the police turned up. The crowd shuffled with dissatisfaction. Someone on the opposite side of the road booed. Bloody Tramp took off. He just turned on his heel and ran. The crowd cheered. The police looked on, dumbstruck. Woman Tramp shouted after him, "you're not that fucking hungry then, are you?"

And then it all quietened down. An ambulance arrived and mopped everyone up and the police moved the crowd along. EAT Man bagged up the now-trampled sandwiches and threw the bag back with the rubbish. And we went for a pint, safe in the knowledge that we wouldn't have that exciting a Wednesday night again for a long time.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Commuter

Today, whilst I waited at Victoria for my train, I watched my fellow commuters.

The businessman rushes. He has stayed in the office until the last second, then rushed for the train, making his lateness everyone else's problem. No-one understands the day he's had, or the pressure that he's under. His pinstripe suit has the slackness of a day's wear, and his trousers ride up when he runs to reveal threadbare socks. But he is, in his world, a Very Important Person.

The business woman, a rarer breed, is more equipped for the job. She has paired her pinstripe, idiosyncratically, with trainers so that she can run for her train to greater effect. But then she is burdened with a capacious handbag which slows her down.

Then there is the casual businessman, less sharp, less panicked, and less time-sensitive. He's in the uniform of the freelance consultant - beige slacks, blazer, brown brogues and a pastel coloured shirt. He's left himself time to pick up an Evening Standard and an M&S meal deal ("it's the bottle of Rioja that makes it such excellent value.") and strolls to the platform whilst looking over the day's headlines.

The IT consultant is in his 30's but his wardrobe belongs to a man ten year's younger. Again, there's a uniform - jeans from one of a handful of on-trend brands, blue checked shirt, and earphones connected to an invisible gadget, like some life-supporting battery-pack. He has planned his journey; forty-five seconds to cross the concourse, thirty to get to the second door of the third carriage of the train on platform nine. No need to rush. No time to spare. The system works.

The shoppers rush, but ineffectually. Come to The Big Smoke for a day's hardcore retail therapy, and to flex the husband's credit card in John Lewis, by home-time the ladies of the commuter-belt have remembered that the streets are not, in fact, paved with gold, but with other crazed shoppers. The home-time dash is left too late, by people who forget why it's called a "rush hour", and the plentiful bags make the process of finding the cheap-day return in the inside pocket of the Radley handbag a bit troublesome. They move in gaggles, these women. "Oh DO come along Julia! We'll miss the 6:42 and I'll not have time to hide the shopping before Gerald is home from the office!"

The tourists gaze, without comprehension, at the lists of station names on the board, their tank-sized suitcases sprawling across the concourse. Their dithering is the nightmare of their fellow traveller. Their unpredictability is ... well ... unpredictable, and The Commuter can't cope with any kind of break from the system. And the cases, rucksack, clinking bags of duty-free and Alps of Toblerone make them big space users, which is never popular with the, "can you move down inside the carriage," brigade.

The students loaf around in herds. They don't rush. They expect the timetable to wait for them. They scuff across the station, a Greggs pasty in one hand, and their parents hopes and dreams in the other. They drift between the other commuters, spreading their waves of ambivalence through the crowd. Their too-big or too-small clothes look like they've landed on the wrong person, and they appear to have no real sense of urgency, but they move in the right direction almost instinctively.

Young men shout into mobile phones, "we drank, like, six pints! Man, we were wasted!". Middle aged women mutter into theirs, "I'll pick something up on my way home for dinner." Latecomers run, dawdlers stroll, regulars stride, and day trippers shuffle. Middle aged men in expensive suits push and shove, and teenaged boys in slouchy jeans and offensive t-shirts say, "excuse me, please." Noses in books, or magazines, or tabloids, or broadsheets. Fiddling with phones or MP3 players. Eating, drinking, snapping gum.

We're all just commuters.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Party's Over

First full day home from a glorious weekend away, and it's back to earth with a bump.

Baby Amie is the cutest little button you ever did see. She was a bit off colour last week, but, being keen to see them all, we told her slightly nervous mother that they should come anyway. Amie was ok in herself. Just a wee bit ... y'know ... pukey from time to time.
And inevitably, being a cutie, the crafty little minx lured us into lavishing her with cuddles and games and hand holds all weekend.
On balance, we shouldn't be surprised at the results. Her father was sick by Saturday morning, and laid up all weekend. But Baby Amie kept trucking. By Monday morning, hours after the departure of Amie and her family, Birthday Girl Lorraine was sick, and a little after they set off for home, her Baby Rachel was struck down too. Rotten luck, no? But Baby Amie kept trucking.
This morning, I woke up very early, and knew that all was not well. I was right. It was not. So I've spent the day in my jarmas, moving between the sofa and my bed. Baby Amie is, as I understand it, still trucking.
Checking in with the Birthday Girl Lorraine I discovered that Mr Birthday Girl was also sick, and that they'd learned that the first husband to depart was also laid up. Andy "Buns of Steel" Carter was also out of action, sitting around on his perky little buns all day.
So, is anyone keeping track? That's eight out of thirteen people that one little girl has put out of action. Not bad going for one cute little button, don't you think?

Monday, 6 September 2010

This Weekend (18) ...

This weekend I've been away, and I'm not long back. I've had such a good time with such lovely people (between you and me, they are some of my favourites, but don't tell them, or they'll get cocky) that I feel a bit flat and forlorn to be home again now.

I can't really do it in usual "This Weekend" ten point format, so instead I'll ramble.

So, this weekend, the lovely Lorraine turned 30. She has had the good sense to leave hitting her third decade until a couple of years after us, which (a) makes us jealous, and (b) allows us to drag out the 30th birthday celebrations.

The thing is that, two and three years ago, when we turned 30, most of us were footloose and fancy free. Now our group of ten has become a group of thirteen, with two more on the way, and we're all shackled to our mortgages. On balance, we thought that a weekend away was a better way of celebrating this landmark. And I'm jolly glad that we did!

On Friday, I picked up my hire car and set off for Basingstoke, to collect the cake. All was going to plan until the direction to take the last left before the one-way system, which I missed, catapulting myself into a system of roundabouts, one way streets and dual-carriageways about ten miles long. RATS! After A LOT of driving 'round in circles, I finally got to my destination, and aren't I glad that I did? This little beauty was made for us by the magnificent Hazel of The Purple Cake Company (plug plug plug). The reason for the theme will become apparent ...

And then off I went to Gloucestershire, to this house. What do you think? Grand, ain't it? Well, this is the back view (oh, err ...) because it's nicer than the front view, and I want you to be jealous. Is it working?

Anyway, ten people and three babies sure can eat a lot of food, so no sooner was I there than Simon and I headed straight for the nearest supermarket to stock up. Exhausting! But thank heavens for bob-a-job week! When we got to the check out there was a nice young Boy Scout waiting to help us with our packing, and BOY did he earn his Bob from us! When we were done, I double checked that he'd packed a bottle of gin. "You sound like my parents," he observed. We both laughed at his foolishness for thinking we were so old, then realised that, in truth, we probably were old enough to be his parents. Don't you hate it when reality strikes?

Anyway, over the course of time everyone assembled and we got to lavish our birthday girl with presents. You want to see what our girl's husband bought her? Jimmy Choos. JIMMY CHOOS!! Is Simon a good husband, or is Simon a good husband? (And now you know why the theme on the cake!)

And then it was time to get stuck into the booze. And pizza. We bought a lot of pizza. What can I tell you. I'm a domestic goddess.

Saturday was a family day so we all went to a farm park and showed the babies some cows ("Moooo," said Baby Rachel) and sheep, ("Moooo," said Baby Rachel) and pigs, ("Moooo," said Baby Rachel ...). It was pretty cool really. This guy was my fave. Don't you think that he looks kind of majestic? He was a proud and dignified goat ... until he ate the whole bag of goat food, including the bag. Not so dignified with a lump of paper hanging out of his mouth.

I left the kiddies to it to head back to the ranch and get a start on dinner. I don't often get the chance for mass catering, so I've been looking forward to getting stuck into the catering-sized pots of cream, and double sized sacks of potatoes. It was kind of tiring, but you know what? It was fun! People drifted in and out of the kitchen all evening and did the odd job here or there, and chatted to me whilst I stirred things and poured me drinks when I looked thirsty, and it was fun!

And whilst I was at the stove, look what Ruth and the boys were doing in the dining room! Balloons, streamers, dingly-dangly number 30s, glitter and sequins, and ten napkins folded into ten different shapes. Those boys are full of surprises!

It was fun! It was lovely to sit around and eat and laugh and gossip and laugh at Andy's hair, just like the old days. And, with a certain inevitability, there was booze.

And then we had a racing night ... which some people took more seriously than others ...

So yesterday was a proper old fashioned Sunday. We loafed and slouched and pottered and did not very much, before eating the most gi-ga-nor-mous Sunday roast, which the booze of the night before ensured everyone inhaled, without allowing those roast spuds to touch the side!

And then people started to drift away. Angela and Mark headed back to their new house and shortly after Ruth and Adrian headed west with little Baby Amie, and in the mean time the rest of us loafed some more, then, when the time was right, we hit the kitchen and ate every morsel of food that was left in the house. Honestly. You'd think those people had never seen food!

So that was it. The weekend. All fabulous fun, and super chilled out, and, as ever, lovely to see them all. And best of all ... we're planning to do it all again next year!

Monday, 30 August 2010

This Weekend (17) ...

This weekend was a looooooong weekend. Bliss! And here's the killer! NEXT weekend will be a long weekend too! A girl could get used to the three day working week! But anyway, here's this week's news.

1) Thursday night. No pub quiz. I had a date with an actual boy instead. I'm not going to tell you about it. I'm being enigmatic. There's a first time for everything ...

2) Friday morning I hit the supermarket. I'm making an extra special really real effort to buy British where possible, and avoid import unless it's essential. Most of the time it's pretty easy, and I've been buying 'licious food. But tell me, why, in August, is Mr Sainsbury IMPORTING tomatoes from the Netherlands? Grrr! I feel a letter coming on.

3) The local Artists' Open House event is building a head of steam. Well it is in my house, anyway. I and another lady were meant to be co-ordinating the trail around the 29 houses that will form the Tooting trail, but she seems to have absconded, so here I am ... The build up and planning is going to be something of a running theme in posts for the next month, I think. (Early plug ... if anyone's in the Tooting area on 2/3 Oct or 9/10 October, then come and see us! You can see the brochure for the borough here, and keep popping back for more propaganda!) Anyway, it's with this in mind that I now have 300 pink balloons in my dining room. Deflated, unfortunately, but don't let that stand in the way of a good mental image.

4) On Friday night, it was my turn to host our girls Making Night. The five of us had a good old natter whilst we knitted, stitched, beaded, cut card and drank wine. We set the world to rights. It was all good.

5) The Lovely Amelia's youngest came to Making Night with her, and, in spite of his sugar high caused by playing something called The Doughnut Game (you can imagine ...) at holiday club, he flaked out in the spare room in no time. On Saturday morning he and I played out in the car with the top down, went to the park, ate Percy Pigs, and played Graffiti Ball on the iPhone. I'm not sure it was educational, but it was fun.

6) Do you know, I've no idea what I did on Saturday afternoon. I'm sitting here scratching my head, and nothing comes to mind. If I spent it with you, I apologise. The early onset dementia is, unfortunately, kicking in. Now where was I ...?

7) Sunday was to be a jewelling day. All my spare time at the moment is spent planning Open House, but I need to spend a little time making things that I can sell myself too. At the moment, I have about three things to sell. So I made a stack of bracelets and planned a few more and had a few ideas that I scribbled on a list. I'm not in control yet, but I can now see that I could be in control, if I could only concentrate long enough.

8) Then on Sunday evening, The Lovely Robbo (TLR, hereafter) came to visit. He is an old pal from university days, who did live just up the road, but then was made redundant and rather irritatingly got a new job in Newcastle. I'm still very resentful. But he was in town for a few days and I got to see him for the first time in aaa-aaa-aaa-ges. We went out for a bite to eat and nattered about all the things we've not nattered about for yonks.

9) Today was an uncharacteristically mild bank holiday Monday. Tradition has it that it rains on a bank holiday usually, so it made a nice change. TLR and I had bacon sandwiches the size of our heads for breakfast, then pootled along to Abbey Mills, a craft market near here built in ... you guessed it ... old mill buildings. We wandered along the river to Morden Hall Park, which is one of my favourite places in London. It's the most lovely park, beautifully kept by those nice people at The National Trust, and it's in such an unlikely place, that it's doubly lovely. TLR was impressed that somewhere so lovely had been right on his doorstep and he'd never known it was there. Well ... I don't share secrets like that with just anyone ...

10) Then after TLR left, I dropped some empty jars to a friend for her blackberry jam, made some cakes to take to the office tomorrow, wrote the event listings for Open House (see ... it's taking over my life), wrote a begging letter to all local artists asking them for prize donations for a competition, planned menus for next weekend's Big Weekend Away, made dinner, made lunch for tomorrow, and now, written a blog post. So now, I think it's time for beddy bies. G'night!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

I am the Key Master

(Quick houskeeping note: "This Weekend ..." will be posted tomorrow. It's a bank holiday weekend her in Blighty, so we are all lounging by rivers in the sun drinking Pimms for another day yet...)

So, there I was yesterday afternoon, pottering around at home, and generally dodging sitting down and making jewellery for the forthcoming Open House event, when my shuffling took me into the garden.

I pulled up a few weeds, dead-headed a few flowers, and noticed that there was a damned sight more that needed doing that I couldn't quite pluck up the enthusiasm for, when I noticed something on my garden table.

There, on the glass, not in the middle, but safely away from the edge, was a key. Not a nice shiny new key, or even a very large key, but a key nevertheless. It's not rusty, but it's well weathered and if there ever were any discerning features, they have long since been worn away. It's the simplest key that a key can be, and still be a key.

But where did it come from?

My house in the middle of a terrace of about 20 houses. There's no back alley, so the only way into my garden is either through the house, or over ten fences in either direction. The back wall is the 20 ft high school wall. No-one's coming over that baby. So if I didn't put the key there (and I didn't) then who did? Was it flung over a few fences or the school wall? Did a passing bird of fox drop it from their more appetising haul?

Or was it left there by fairies ...?!

And what does it open? It's not for anything in my garden. There are no doors or gates or ins or outs. Not that I've noticed so far, anyway. I've mentioned it to Mother Tooting, who thinks I should leave it, in the hopes that it's joined by a cake that is iced with the words, "Eat Me", or maybe a White Rabbit in a waistcoat. My neighbour Suzanne thinks that it's almost certainly the key to a secret garden.

Either option seems likely to me.

So in the mean time, I've left it on the table. I think that it should stay there, don't you? Maybe someone's lost it and will come looking. Or maybe one day a tantalising door will spring up to go with it. Or maybe it will grow into a key tree right there in my back yard.

Meanwhile, if anyone thinks that their keyring looks a bit light, do let me know.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Lost in Translation

Question: What do the following phrases have in common?

- I get to see very good article.
- To visit the hello, great blog to help you promote a culture.
- Time is shaping the lives of the material.
- To help fight popular, go, go, go.
- Happy to enjoy the results of the work process.
- Time is the life of the soul.
- The best gift in life is to own a slice of pie.
- Death is sad, but even more sad to live unhappy.

Answer: They are all translations of the Chinese comments posted on my blog in the last month.

Now, I hate to sound picky. A comment IS a comment, after all. And it's nice to embrace all cultures. And I like a bit of foreign as much as the next person.

But PLEEEEASE, Mr China-spam, stop commenting on my blog in Chinese!!!

That is all .

Friday, 20 August 2010

Anecdotal Evidence

In my line of work, part of the remit is to collect evidence of deals done on other property similar to ours. We call around other agents and get them to talk us through what they've done, how they've done it, why they've done it, and what they got out of it.
Most of the time this is sufficient, but sometimes things turn nasty* and we have to get mean. And then there are quite strict guidelines on what is good information and what is bad information.
Good information is what you get when someone knows all about a deal and can fill all the details into a schedule, chapter and verse, add it all up, explain it all, sign it and seal it in blood. We like that. It makes us happy. Bad information is when some bloke down the pub says, "between you and me, I heard that shop x was leased to retailer y and they paid a million pounds for it! Of course, I might have misheard ..." We don't like that. It makes us anxious. It's known as "anecdotal evidence."
It strikes me that the same boundaries could be applied to all intel. When you are given information (by which I mean "gossip") you should ask for some kind of authority. The giver of the gossip should have all the information to hand, be able to analyse what they have heard, write it down, and sign it. Anything less should not pass for good gossip. Anecdotal evidence should be taken with a pinch of salt.
I'll give you an example from the Family Tooting.
Christmas of, I think, 2004, was the last that Granny Tooting spent with our side of the family.
She was a lady who, in her time, had enjoyed a gin and a fag. Actually, at one point, Granny Tooting was enjoying a litre of gin a week, and 40 John Player Special a day. God love her, she was pickled. She'd lived the Ex-Pat life, travelling the world with my Grandfather, in New Zealand, Mexico, India, Peru and Trinidad, and probably others that her booze-addled brain couldn't remember, staying in each country for a few years, before coming home long enough to pat her son (raised largely by his Aunt) on the head, and leave again. In each country they soaked up the local delicacies, largely orally, in liquid form, on the rocks. Granny was quite the girl.
My father's family was from a small village in the Dulais valley in South Wales, and Granny would have been in her twenties in the 40s. Life was staid and sensible then. People didn't do frivolous things. Excitement was rationed. So Granny married Grandad in the mid-40s, and he was considered to be a catch because he'd trained as an engineer in mines, and would earn a good trade. That she was to turn into a mildly alcoholic old lady at his hand wouldn't have occurred to anyone. He was a Good Man and that was what counted.
So, against that backdrop, picture this scene. Post Christmas, pre New Year 2004. The Tootings have finished their dinner, cleaned up, and are sitting in the living room watching seasonal TV specials. Celebrity Mastermind comes on the telly and no-one can muster the enthusiasm to change the channel, so we start watching. An ex-soap actor steps forward, and sits in the black leather chair. Chosen specialist subject ... the life and films of Richard Burton. Naturally we play along, despite only knowing a handful of answers between us. End of round, and there's a pause.
"I could have married Richard Burton when I was a girl," pipes up Granny.
Another pause. Four Tootings gawp at her open mouthed whilst we churn this information. About the right age. One valley over. The could, very conceivably, have been at the same dance hall at the same time. Father Tooting lets his head drop into his hand and sighs.
"Dada [her father] didn't approve though. Said he'd never amount to much. Not like your father," she nods her head towards Father Tooting. "He was an engineer. He was really going places." She picked up the empty gin and tonic glass and stared hopefully into the bottom. No-one said a word.
Is it true? Who knows. There's no-one left to ask who would remember, and even if there was, they mightn't say. So I guess it has to be disregarded as anecdotal evidence.
All I do know is this. My Granny could have been Elizabeth Taylor!

The Tooting Grandparents

*"When Surveyors Turn Nasty" will TOTALLY be the title of the film of my life. It will be a deep psychological thriller. I will be played by Angelina Jolie who will survey her socks off!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

I have been reminded that I promised an internet dating update.

First though, an anecdote ...

When I was a student there was a lad on our course called Ray. He came from Dudley. For those not of these shores, Dudley is on the edge of Birmingham, and has a particular sort of an accent. Ray sounded like he came from Dudley. Ray also lived in my hall of residence. Consequently, I saw a lot of Ray.

This was not a good thing. He was somehow distant and clingy at the same time. Quiet, but also probing. He was a bit creepy. Sometimes you'd be happily sitting there, having your dinner with your friends, and when you looked up you'd find him standing there at the end of the table watching you, without casting a shadow, and with no-one being aware just how long he'd been there. Similarly, in lectures, you'd sit down next to an empty seat, and at some point you'd notice he was sitting in it. But how long had be been there? It was impossible to say. He would arrive, stealth like, next to you. It was, to say the least, unsettling.

And then he'd kind of stick. He'd be there, just a little bit too close for comfort, and not saying anything, but looking like he wanted to, for long enough that you started trying to think of ways of saying, "did you want something?" without being rude. Sometimes we'd just say, "did you want something?" and to hell with sounding rude!

On one occasion my parents had brought me back to uni after the holidays and were helping me to unpack and get straight, which is no mean feat in a small room that you have to sleep, study, sometimes eat, and wash in, when there are three grown people, and lots of boxes around. Ray came to the door. He didn't say anything. Moving imperceptibly slowly, he glided into the room until he was sitting on the desk and we had to keep asking him to move. Still he said nothing. Everyone else, feeling slightly uncomfortable, also said nothing. In the end, I asked him to leave. I told him that there wasn't room for another body in the room, especially one that wasn't helping, and that I wanted to enjoy the last bit of time with my parents before they left. Mute, he slithered out of the room, and later told a mutual friend how he'd met and had a nice chat with my parents.

A couple of his mates were quite popular lads. You know the sort that can flirt outrageously with you and say borderline cheeky things, and get away with it? Well Ray would, on occasion, try to emulate this. He must have seen that the cheekiness won favour, and think he'd give it a go. But being the character that he was, he couldn't get away with it, and just ended up being rude.

All in all, not a popular boy. He was unceremoniously dropped after graduation, and, whilst he'd crop up from time to time for the first few years, he diappeared after a while, and no-one knows what he's up to now. Vanished into obscurity.

Why do I mention this now?

Well. On Tuesday I had a date with an internet boy. Because I'm optimistically thinking there'll be other dates, I'll call him Boy 1. We've been in touch for a couple of weeks, swapped a few of the ridiculous prescribed Q&A things that the website enforces and been emailing a bit. I had a hunch that he was a bit nerdy, but he asked me if I wanted to meet, and you know how it is. A girl's gotta eat!

We had a nice time. Couple of drinks, then a bit of dinner. And the conversation flowed all night about all sorts, so there were no awkward icy moments. He seemed ... y'know ... nice.

Why the reticence?

He reminded me of Ray. Nothing that I can quite put my finger on. Maybe hint of an accent? Maybe the shape of the specs? Maybe the colour of his hair? But something. There was definitely something of the Raymond about him. And it was the biggest turn off since Henry VIII said, "a daughter, you say?"

Boy 1 will not see Date 2. Irrational, but I just can't do it.

So let's see what Boy 2 has to offer!

Monday, 16 August 2010

This Weekend (17) ...

Look at me, bowling seamlessly from one weekend to the next! My life is a sea of time off, punctuated by small doses of working for a living. Tra la la! Let me haul myself from my semi-reclined position to tell you about my weekend ...

1) Pub quiz. There is a rule that there are always two answers the same. In the film round, a sound track was played. "Dur-dur... dur-dur ..." All teams but one quickly wrote, "Jaws," on the answer sheet. The team of teenaged boys at the back of the room, dutifully in attendance every week, and always bottom of the table, were heard to mutter, "it sounds like Jaws, but it might be a trick question," prompting much merriment. Two questions later, the question master read a film quote, "This was no boat accident!" he looked pointedly at the boys and asked, "do you STILL think that was a trick question?" They looked at him blankly, but after A LOT of prompting, were persuaded to write down, "Jaws" again, giving them the much sought after double answer. There was a long pause. "That means that two of our three "Cubas" ain't right." The question master had to leave the room whilst he mopped tears of mirth from his eyes.

2) I've had the German girl (who I thought was Swiss) staying again for a few days last week with her boyfriend. On Friday morning whilst they had their breakfast, I played tour guide, giving them hot tips for cafes and shops in Brighton, then train and ferry links to the Isle of Wight, and a list of must-see attractions once there. It was fun to scour the map for ideas, and I was sad, and a bit jealous, to send them off to enjoy a couple of days of sight-seeing. It was bliss, though, to enjoy those first few minutes of having the house back to myself when they left. Shhhhhhhh ...!

3) Crafting morning in Tooting Mansions. I have some pressed flowers that I wanted to mount into greetings cards, but I was rushing so the little window that I cut in the card was wonky one way, then wonky the other, then a bit skew-wiff. After a full morning's cutting and sticking and making, I managed to make only three cards! I give in!

4) The lovely Concetta came 'round with her equally lovely children on Friday afternoon. Whilst the very grown up I, aged 4, solemnly drew the bunk beds she'd like in her room, T, aged three, flirted outrageously, "you've got lovely hair," "you've got a really nice name," and "I really like your t-shirt" being amongst his best attempts to win favour, all of which worked a treat! What can I tell you? I'm a sucker for a charming young man! In turn, I fed him on vast quantities of still-warm-from-the-oven chocolate brownies, which he happily hoovered up, and then we made fingerbobs together (see Concetta's latest blog post for pictures!) I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

5) Making my dinner (in a rush, obviously!) on Friday evening proved messy. Chop, chop, chopping things for my pasta sauce, I got a bit enthusiastic and took a slice off the end of my thumb. Now I'm not a girl who deals well with the sight of blood, least of all my own, and there was quantity enough of it that I had to sit down with my head between my knees for a minute, before struggling, one handed, into the first aid box to find plasters and TCP. It was all fairly gruesome, and for a time I contemplated going to casualty to see if I needed a stitch. Oooooh, and it throbbed! Now, it's well on the mend, and do you know? It's the smallest was wound in the world! A tiny mark, about two millimetres across, is all there is to see. What was all the fuss about?

6) Friday evening was our latest Making Night at Silvia's beautiful house. Only four of us this week, what with it being holiday season and all, but we were a happy bunch, respectively sewing, knitting, sketching, and beading. Conversation turned to whether we should look into setting up a local W.I., but we realised that we already had all the fun, with none of the obligation to sing Jerusalem, so we're going to stick with our current little arrangement.

7) For Saturday I had more jewellery making planned. There is an event in about eight weeks for which I'll need to have a lot more things made than I currently do! In an effort to try something new, I dug out some old books of ideas, and settled on weaving tiny sparkly seed beads to make cuff-bracelets and fine lacy beaded necklaces. My first attempts were good, but by lunchtime I was cross-eyed from staring at tiny beads all morning, so I gave myself some nice chunky jobs for the afternoon.

8) I'm a keen subscriber to Love Film, an online DVD rental thingy, and have been working my way through ER from series 1, episode 1. On Saturday night, I indulged my desire for a bit of roguishly handsome Dr Doug Ross, and boyishly charming Dr John Carter. He's coding! Shock him! (I'm practically a doctor myself ...!)

9) For weeks now, I have neglected my garden. I've spent so many hours making the inside of the house look lovely that I forgot there was an outside to deal with too. Yesterday, in a rare un-rainy moment, I shot around with a bucket and a trowel and dug up the biggest weeds (markedly bigger than some of the plants). My neighbours are on holiday at the moment, and aren't very green fingered at the best of times, so, being a nice neighbour, I threw all the snails I found in my own garden over the fence. Well ... it's good exercise for them!

10) Brace yourselves for a revelation. I have (*sneaky looks left and right*) signed up for internet dating. Actually, I did it a couple of weeks ago, but I've been in denial until now. My profile basically says, "Girl. Would like to meet boy. Own hair and teeth preferable." I know, I know, I KNOW that this is what people who are bored of being single do these days, and I know, I know, I KNOW that it doesn't have the same connotations of being sad and desperate that it used to, and let's be honest ... left to my own devises, I've hardly been successful! But I feel a bit of a loser still. I'm using eHarmony (the one with the smug Americans on the advert) which requires a girl to jump through multiple-choice hoops before she's allowed just just email a chap, and which all feels a little patronising. Still, the young (and not-so-young) men that I've been eHarmed with thus far seem nice and non-psychopathic, which is nice. I'll keep you posted, but only whilst I'm meeting people that I'm not too keen on. If I meet a keeper, I'll be coy and reserved (rather than have to say, in a few months time, "Oh yes darling, I blogged ALL about you! What? Stop! Wait! Where are you going ...?!") So to that end, I have a date tomorrow with a chap who cites one of his passions as the novels of Terry Pratchet. Well ... a girl's gotta eat!