Sunday, 21 February 2010

This weekend (2) ...

1) We won the pub quiz. Our answers all felt rather more like guesses than a presentation of knowledge, but we pulled it off!

2) I was told that I didn't fit in with a group of artists because I'm too professional. It was (a) the first time I've been told I was too professional and (b) the first time I've considered being too professional to be an insult!

3) After her bath, when I was combing her hair, I teased my goddaughter, telling her that she was the second most beautiful person in the room after me.  She cocked her head on one side, looked at me thoughtfully and said, "well, maybe if you put some makeup on ...".

4) I lost at Monopoly to a real life millionaire with hotels on all the yellows and reds.

5) I went to a birthday party which featured wellington boots ...

... and deep puddles.

6) I flirted with an Italian.  In English.  

7) I went to Brighton to watch a friend run in the Brighton half marathon, in the pouring, driving, icy rain. My heart goes out to the 8000 pour souls idiots who ran 13 miles in such foul weather.

8) We played a game.  Would you rather give up bacon or sausages, meat or cheese, ketchup or brown sauce, cakes or doughnuts?  Answers by four people aged 33, 32, 6 and 4 were debated and well presented.  Until the six year old floored us with the question; would you rather have no central heating, or an elephant in your house.  And no-one had an answer.

9) The oven timer was set so that, when we got home, the house smelled of roast lamb and garlic.

10) I had lots of jobs and errands to do when I got home, but dash, dash, dashed, and got it all done in a little over an hour.  If only my life was always so efficient.  

Monday, 15 February 2010

Ungood English #4

... or is it ...?

I am, as you might have noticed, a stickler. I get bugged by poor grammar.

I should clarify that it's not typing errors that vex me - let's face it, we're all capable of the odd slip. What I find irritating is a laziness or a lack of care. Or worse, people thinking it makes them look clever to use punctuation, only to look like a numpty for using it badly.

My favourite all time boob was in an email that was forwarded to me by accident. The background is that I'd been asked to proof read a report which contained an over enthusiastic use of inverted commas. I took out any that weren't required (which was all of them). The author didn't like this and sent an email to my boss complaining about my attitude (!), and this was inadvertently forwarded to me. In it was the phrase, "she says I use too many "inverted commas"". Honestly. you couldn't make it up.

Anyway, I digress. I spotted a poster today which made me laugh so much that a bit of wee came out. The thing which is amusing is that it's SO wrong, that it's actually right!

As background for international readers, there is a show currently on TV here called Dancing On Ice. I don't know if it's something rolled out around the world. One can only hope not. It's a reality show in which professional ice dancers are paired up with celebrity novices, and have to complete weekly to stay in. The calibre of celebrity is, frankly, poor. Of the 14 contestants this year, there are six retired soap opera actors, two people who aren't famous, but are married to famous people, an 80's pop star, a retired athlete, and four people who, frankly, they could have picked up at the bus stop for all I know. Get the idea?

So you can see, then, why this is so fabulously wrong!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Be Mine ...?

In Reading, not long into the new year, we shuffled home, three of us groaning under the weight of our full tums, when we came upon a lovely and unexpected thing.

On the side of the road was an illuminated advertising board, usually dedicated to shampoo and TV show promotions, but instead showing a lovely selection of adverts from days gone by.

Arranged, collage style, were old Sutton's Seeds posters sporting beautiful oil paintings of flowers and vegetables, and adverts for gentleman's outfitters, and sweets long forgotten, alongside a rather sobering list of people tried in the local courts for minor misdemeanours, and sentenced to transportation.

But amongst them all was a poster for an event which looks lovely in every way!

What a shame I'm sixty years too late to enter. Otherwise, would I have been there? Not 'arf!

However you are celebrating (or avoiding!) today, have a good one!

Now ... pucker up!


Saturday, 13 February 2010


Breakfast this morning in the cafe in Tooting, on the end of a road that used to be home.

Sitting in the scrunchy armchairs in the window, I can watch the world go by.

People pour on an off buses. People in uniforms going to work, people with bags, going shopping, mothers with buggies. An old lady, in a matching skirt and jacket, and black patent court shoes, bought when "Sunday Best" still meant something, walks with a stick, looking lost and frail, but when her bus comes in, she barges a teenager out of the way so she can get on first.

Couples walk briskly to the station; men in suits and ladies in dresses, heels and carrying hats, heading to weddings and champagne. People drag trolley suitcases behind them, destined for weekends away, and others walk away from the station, chattering happily with their weekend hosts.

101 men carry furtively carry roses. 101 bargain hunters carry brown paper Primark bags. 101 people with orange Sainsbury's carrier bags bursting with groceries and goodies. 101 nations represented before me, and 101 stories waiting to be told.

A man walks up the road in his pyjamas looking lost and confused, until a nurse catches up with him and gently turns him around. A girl, about my age, I'd guess, wears mittens on a cord which runs up the sleeves of her coat, and she twirls one absent mindedly whilst she waits to cross the road. Two women meet on the street, and greet one another with a hug - they mirror one another's gestures subconsciously, and have similar frames. They can only be sisters. A little girl stands next to her mother, who is reading the menu in the window above my head. I wink at her, and she tries to mimic, scrunching her whole face up in the effort to close only one eye.

A steady flow of people go to and from the hospital. Anxious looking first-time-visitors peer up roads, wondering which leads to the hospital entrance. Nurses and orderlies in uniforms dash up the roads with the confidence that comes only with doing the same journey daily. The walking wounded walk away from the hospital, sporting bandages and stitches new from a wild Friday night out.

My friend Steve walks past with a bag from the supermarket in one hand, and his phone in the other, which he is tap-tap-tapping away on. My old neighbours cross the road with the purpose of people running late, and I now with certainty that they will be heading for a day in an Irish bar to watch the rugby. Another old neighbour walks past in her own personal uniform - fishnet stockings, mini-skirt, plunging neckline, and too much makeup. We never knew what she did for a living, but everyone presumed ...

Cars and lorries shuffle up and down the high road. Horns toot. Mopeds squeeze through narrowing gaps. Three police cars, one after the other, weave between the traffic, sirens blaring, heading to the rescue of someone in need.

I can see into the shops facing me. Drivers and passengers shuffle in and out of the cab office, and the strange, customer-less patisserie gets a huge delivery of cream cakes that no-one will eat. The man in the aptly named "Taki Menswear" redresses the mannequins in his windows with cheap-and-not-so-cheerful shirts and jumpers.

Old and young, tall and short, busy and idle. They're all here. And I'm one of them.

I have a warm affection for Tooting. I love it's slightly grubby edges and it's tight packed mix of residents. I love it's buzz and bustle and the churn of people always around the station. And I love that I'm part of that, and that people were watching me right back.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

This Weekend ...

1) ... started early. Even earlier than usual, considering that I don't work on Fridays anyway. I had to work from home on Thursday morning to wait for my boiler repair man to come. Having been given a time slot for his arrival of 9am to 1pm, inevitably he arrived at 4pm. Thank heavens I brought loads of work home to do! Anyway, the good, if slightly embarrassing, news is that, before I'd finished making him a cup of tea, he'd fixed it, and we're now piping hot again. Phew!

2) ... I had my hair cut. My friend Amelia (of 101 Birdtales fame) was there at the same time, and our hairdresser, Crazy Martin, turned the chairs so we were facing one another, instead of the mirrors, so that we could chat. We set the world to rights, and had a lovely hand massage (well ... four of them between us) whilst we gossiped and plotted our next artistic venture. And consequently the first I glimpsed of my new Do was when I was all done! I am now asymmetric, dontcha know.

3) ... I went to see Avatar. I will acknowledge that it's very clever, but personally, I didn't enjoy it. I can't help but feel that, were it not for the 3D element, the thing would have been panned for it's simpering, moralistic clap-trap. But that's just my opinion. I did get some pleasure, however, from looking around at all the people in their 3D glasses.

4) ... I went for dinner at a friends house. She and her new husband had three of us over, plus the lovely baby Amie, with whom I got to have a cuddle and play. It was a lovely evening of fine dining ("yes" agreed Mark. "It was ... fine.") although when I made a joke about women with facial hair (which would have been hilarious in other company) it fell flat and I felt like a proper turkey.

5) ... I had house guests. I shall call them Kelly and Nathan, for those are their names. We spent the weekend bowling from one opportunity to eat to the next, since that is all of our most favourite hobby. When they arrived we had tea and cake, then went out for lunch and to stretch our legs, then back for more tea and cake before we went out for dinner. This morning, after breakfast, we walked to the pub for lunch.

6) ... we spent some time entertaining ourselves by thinking of song titles which would be made better by the insertion of the word "fart" into the title. Favourites included, "Absence Makes the Fart Grow Stronger," "Everybody's Got A Hungry Fart," and "Unbreak My Fart." I know it's juvenile, but we enjoyed it. Today we also speculated about the fact that, at any age, someone farting in the toilet cubicle next to you is funny.

7) ... I've burped a lot. I don't know why. It's most out of character, but at times it's sounded like there's a toad in the room.

8) ... I've finished reading New Moon by Stephanie Meyer. I'm well aware, thank you very much that it's a book about vampires, written for teenagers, but I rather enjoyed it. I think that I might be a little in love with Edward Cullen (NB - the fictional character and not that young whipper-snapper who plays him in the films). I like that he is, at once, far too old for me (109), and far too young (17).

9) ... I seriously over-catered. I do that. I have no ability to think "well, I'd eat this much, so three people would eat three times as much." Then we ate out a lot anyway, so it's all still here. I've just snacked on some toast and pate and cheese and olives and tomatoes for my tea. Grazing food is my favourite.

10) ... I have learned that I am destined to marry a thief. A couple of weekends ago I taught my Goddaughter to count her olive / cherry stones out to see who she'll marry - tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, or thief. It prompted debate about whether it's better to have a poor man or a beggar man, and exactly what a tinker does. Today my olive pits told me I'd marry a thief. Bugger it!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Hidden Surprises

As a part of my job I have to visit shops. I know that sounds like a ruse that what I actually mean is that I "go shopping", but it's not nearly as decadent as that. I inspect the building rather than the merchandise.

Of course, sometimes the merchandise gets in the way and I have to give it a passing glance ...

The customer facing bit of a High Street shop - the actual SHOP bit of a shop - is usually pretty slick. It's all co-ordinating corporate brainwashing. Wall colours that co-ordinate beautifully with the flooring which is accentuated by the clothes rails, which is emphasised by the music, which make you aspire to wear the clothes which will make you part of this beautiful world. Oh yes! The front-of-house is usually a glittering display of loveliness.

When I was young, I was always desperately curious about doors in shops that say "staff only" or "do not enter" or have those number pads on the doors. Well now I get walk through those doors. And you know what? I was missing nothing!

I've been in basements that have ceilings about five and a half feet from the floors (I'm six feet tall). I've stood in cellars that are apparently damp, to be told later that sometimes the sewage pipes back up. I've stood in kitchens and staff rooms in which listeria must be rife, judging by the way the mugs are fused together in the sink. I've walked up staircases in which every other step is rotten (and some of the others in between). I've walked into attic rooms and had to duck as a flock of pigeons make for the broken window. I've knocked on a wall to see if it sounded solid and had to jump back when a lump of it dropped off. I've leaped holes in floors and come face to face with mice. Take it from me. Back of house is Not Nice.

Today I had to visit a shop where, on arrival, I explained that I'd need to see the whole building. "Would you like to go to the first floor?" Yes. Everywhere. "What about the second floor?" Yes please. I'd like to go everywhere. "The basement?" YURRRS (It sounds like that when you say it through gritted teeth). But my heart sank - the more floors there are, the less pleasant it's likely to get.

The ground floor was typically neat and clean. The basement was, inevitably, damp and spider infested. The staff room on the second floor was knee deep in back issues of Heat magazine and empty coke cans. The kitchen was a food poisoning scare waiting to happen. The back room which "we never really go in" was inch deep bird shit. So far, nothing out of the ordinary.

But the first floor stock room was quite, quite fabulous. (Forgive the slightly grainy photos - I only had my phone with me).

It was the ceiling that I noticed first. I don't think I've seen anything as lovely, in the most extravagant stately homes of England. It was a lovely duck-egg blue, and covered with the most fabulous designs. Curlicues and twiddles stretched from the central rose, and radiated to lovely vases of flowers and bowls of fruit and deer and dogs and birds. It was just beautiful.

Then I noticed the fireplace! I hadn't seen it at first because boxes and crates were leaning against it. But there, standing about six feet tall, on the back wall, was the most lovely carved fireplace.

This was a fabulous room, designed
to be used by grand people for a grand purpose. This room was showing off. It was sticking two fingers up at other rooms and blowing raspberries at them. This room was magnificent!

And just when I thought that it was the antithesis of the stock room, a mouse ran across the floor, and I came back to earth. A stock room, it seems, is still a stock room, however romantic the setting.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Think Warm Thoughts

Oh, reader, reader, what am I to do!?

My boiler is broken. Kaput. Knackered. Without boil. It is an ex-boiler. It is deceased. It is no more.

I'm exaggerating. I hope. The Boiler Man is coming on Thursday morning to either (a) make it all better and earn my love forever, or (b) tell me that it can only be fixed at vast expense and I should mortgage a kidney to pay for it.

Still, it's not like it's as cold as a cold thing from Coldville at the moment, eh?! (*shiver*)

Meanwhile, you find me writing this whilst wearing fleecy jarma bottoms, a jumper, a giant cardigan, two pairs of socks, a trashmina, and fingerless gloves, from my bed, where I am under the double thickness winter duvet and a blanket, with a hot water bottle and a mug of hot ribena (my current drug of choice).

But I wonder if you think that I should knit myself one of these gorgeous combos, just to make sure I'm really snuggled right in? After all, these two cool dudes look VERY hot indeed!

I'm off under the duvet for the night. Think of me, you lucky centrally heated buggers. And if you get the chance, please send chunky knitteds.

Monday, 1 February 2010

A rose by any other name

I have a pretty unremarkable name. My christian name is one of the most common in the UK, as is my surname. If you look for me on Facebook, you will find more than 500 people who share my name internationally. (I don't know how many more than 500. Facebook can only count that far. But more than 500 is a lot, no?)

In fact, one of my friends is married to someone (a friend-in-law?) who shares my name, that's how many of us there are sprinkled about. Fancy being at a wedding and sitting next but one to someone with your actual whole total name!

I don't have a middle name either. In my first job, our computer system required everyone to have three initials, and our IT department, dumbfounded by my incomplete identity, gave me the gift of a middle initial - X. Mysterious, no? I like the idea of Tooting X Squared being my pen name. I was asked repeatedly over the course of three and a half years if my middle name was Xanthia, Zantha or Zina.

More recently another friend convinced himself that I must have a middle name really, but one so embarrassing that I'd deny it. In jest I told him that my middle name was Blodwyn. He believed me and told all our mutual friends. I ended up having to take my passport to work to prove that it had only been a joke.

But actually, my name has always done me proud. It's uncomplicated and I like that. There is never a time that I have to spell my name over the phone, or correct pronunciation. As a tag, it works for me. I like it.

On Saturday night I met a friend for a drink in a pub a bus ride away. Here in Old London Town, we now have clever things called Oyster cards - a sort of credit card that you charge up for all your train, tube and bus travel. It's all very modern. When I got on the bus I put my card in my pocket. When I got back on the bus to come home, it was gone. Bugger.

So, on Sunday morning I called the nice people at the Lost Oyster department (The Tale of the Little Lost Oyster, by Tooting X Squared ...). I explained my situation to the girl on the phone, who cheerfully told me that my card could be magically find my card, stop it being used by someone else, and send me a new one. Splendid!

She asked me what the twelve digit reference number was on the back of my card. Well I don't know. The card's gone, you see. She sighed. "Name." Pardon? "I'll need your name to find you on the system." I gave her my name. She sighed again. "You'll have to narrow it down a bit. You're very common."

Perhaps simple isn't so simple after all.