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!