Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Beating around the Bush

Do you remember reading the post some months ago by Very Bored in Catalunya on the subject of personal grooming? Fascinating stuff it was, discovering who was into pubic topiary and who just wore bigger pants to cover things up.

Well this weekend I read an article in the Sunday Times Style magazine by Gemma Soames: How Does your Lady Garden Grow? Apparently 'with silver bells and cockle shells' isn't far from the truth these days. Gemma uncovers spas which offer a book of "hairstyles" to choose from and enlightened me in the diamante landing strip called a Bollywood.

However, the bit that surprised me the most was the new treatment from the US now hitting our shores: the vajacial, a facial for your nether regions. People suffering from ingrowing hair or hyper-pigmentation following waxes will soon be able to pay good money for a wet microdermabrasion followed by a lovely rehydrating infusion.

Heavens above! Who could do a job like that? "So what do you do?", "Me, oh I'm a labia lubricator".

This is all way beyond what I could ever dream of putting myself through. A rub with a wet flannel has always been sufficient for my needs, having been brought up to believe Femfresh was the work of the devil and would probably bring me out in a rash.

In fact my very Catholic upbringing has probably scarred me for life as regards front-bottoms. You see, can't even say the proper words without blushing. I never saw other girls' bits and pieces, having no sisters to compare to and a mother who would get changed under her nightie. At school we all kept ourselves properly covered-up too.

It was only at University that I was able to see whether my foliage was okay or whether I needed to do more than tuck it in and keep my legs together. It was quite a shock when, one week in, I shared a room with a very game girl on a Geography field trip. She stripped off without a care and I was mesmerised by the quite staggering amount of hair which seemed to cover an area from her navel to her knees. From then on, I was never worried about my own meagre patch.

However, I'm still a shy girl and the thought of a salon waxing is still anathema to me. Having a smear is a necessary evil and even then my eyes are tight shut until the whole sorry business is over. I keep myself trimmed and tidy and presume everything is looking okay in the knicker department. Husband never complains....though, as a GP, the ones he usually sees are needing treatment in some way or another so I presume mine is a work of art in comparison.

May I leave you with information about a Canadian company also mentioned in the article now offering hypoallergenic, paraben-free lotions and potions for your lady-bits. With the glorious name, I Love My Muff, I can see this taking off in a big way. The website is ilovemymuff.com. The perfect stocking filler, surely!


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Mum's Gone all Arty-Farty

I took this photo last Christmas and was damned chuffed with myself. I popped it in a blog post at the time and revelled in the praise that was forthcoming. I remember one reader suggested it could be a Christmas card.

A few weeks ago I came across the photo on my computer and thought, "You know, they were right, this could be a Christmas card". So I did some searching and found lots of online companies out there, happy to take your snaps and turn them into festive greeting cards. Having said that, many of them had this idea that everyone wants a jolly border, usually red, with snowflakes, to accompany the photo, together with the "Greetings from the Jones Family" scrawled along the bottom.

I didn't want that. I wanted a Christmas card like the arty ones from Woodmansterne, or ones you pick up in little chichi craft shops, just an elegant image on the front, a simple greeting inside, and room for me to write my own message.

Much faffing about later, I came across the Bonusprint website and they allowed the customer to have the option of no border. Hoorah! Better still, if I got cracking, they had 25% off for a limited period. It didn't take long to upload the photo, type in the inventive message "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" and press, 'add to basket'.

A few days later, and a day or two of panic when I convinced myself I'd typed 'Chrismtas', they landed on the doormat. The result is this:

How about that! Large A5, stiff card, decent envelopes and all my own work. Of course the problem is, I would like the recipients of the card to know this was ALL MY OWN WORK and by not having anything pre-typed on it, they will think I've just picked it up from WH Smiths. So I will have to scribble "Notice the lovely picture? I did that!" on every one.


Thursday, 25 November 2010

Mum's Gone to read Tiny Acorns

My last post featuring Sooty resulted in such a flood of comments I decided this is obviously the way to attract readers. So pictured above is another teddy....

 Isn't he cute, and very studious? As you can see, he's reading a copy of Tiny Acorns, an anthology of new writing edited by Tim Atkinson. He's also sitting in front of a row of World Books which I thought most appropriate for the acorn analogy. Clever or what!

All the submissions in the book were inspired by a free Creative Writing e-course run earlier this year by Tim. The ten-week course attracted a huge national following. Well over 100 people registered in the first few days and many thousands more followed the lessons informally week-by-week, downloading them from the website.

The genres covered in the book range from flash fiction to more traditional short stories, life-writing, humour, poetry and autobiography. There's something in it for everyone. And if people are inspired by what they read, they can have a go for themselves as the entire creative writing course has been reprinted in the book's appendix.

So what's my involvement? I didn't send in any work myself (hopeless, I know) but responded to a request from Dotterel Press to help with proofreading. Several years ago, when Rory was little, I signed up for a proofreading course, completed it and then did precisely nothing with my new qualification, bar irritating friends and family by criticising their spelling and grammar. This opportunity from Tim was just the ticket: I could hone my skills knowing he would be keeping overall control.

The task of proofreading an eclectic mix of writing was actually rather difficult. I was able to pick up typos and obvious mistakes but each writer has their own style so I was conscious I had to allow individuality as regards speech marks etc. Thankfully I wasn't the only proofreader involved and therefore if I've missed anything I can pass the blame back to Tim!

Tiny Acorns was published last Friday (ISBN 978-0-9562869-1-8) and is available direct for just £8.99 from the Dotterel Press Online store. All the proceeds are going to the BBC Children in Need appeal.

I  bought my copy last week and, while I was at it, bought Tim's novel, Writing Therapy, which I'm looking forward to getting stuck into very soon (I will report back, readers)

I've also had an idea. Can I suggest everyone who buys a copy takes a photo of it in an innovative way or in an unusual place and pops it on their blog (or email to me if you haven't got a blog)?

This has proved to be a very entertaining way to publicise the brilliant Cocktails at Naptime  so I'm sure we can do the same for Tiny Acorns. Remember all the proceeds are going to a worthy cause so get buying and let's see your photographs.


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Gallery - Black and White - Sooty and me

Blackpool, 1967: here I am, a little girl aged three, mesmerised by the spectacle of a live theatre performance of The Sooty Show. Can you imagine how excited I must have been, having only ever seen the show on black and white television prior to my trip to Blackpool? My mum tells me I sat enthralled watching the show, captivated by the bright primary colours and gazing at my favourite characters, Sooty, Sweep and Soo.

During the interval a photographer from the Blackpool Gazette invited my brother Stephen and me to go backstage to meet Sooty and Harry Corbett. My brother is on the left and I'm next to him, shaking Sooty's little paw.

The photo above may be in black and white but the memories are in glorious colour.

This photo is an entry for Tara Cain's Gallery, the theme this week is Black and White.


Saturday, 20 November 2010

Comfort and Joy: SADOS brings Christmas Cheer to Spalding

A foggy night in Spalding; miserable, dank and gloomy. What better way to lift the spirits than a trip to the theatre for a night of pre-Christmas laughs with Mike Harding's sparkling comedy, Comfort and Joy.

Spalding Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society has been performing all week to large, enthusiastic audiences at the South Holland Centre, Spalding; the down-to-earth humour and festive theme of the play has been a big draw.

Written in 1997, Lancashire born Harding's play centres on the character of Goff, a curmudgeonly character in his 70s, played quite brilliantly by the larger-than-life Jon Molson. He ensnares the audience from the off, sitting in his armchair like Jim Royle, dressed in a Santa suit and moaning at the pitiful efforts from a series of visiting carol singers.

He is ably supported by some strong, female characters: Margaret (Jane Moss) and her teacher daughter, Helen, (Amanda Whiting) who both display great dry wit and bring vitality and warmth to the proceedings. Margaret's loveable but hapless husband, Martin, dragging in his knock-off Christmas tree and making frequent trips to the drinks cabinet, is played with excellent comic timing by Brett Moore.

As the play moves from Christmas Eve through to Christmas Day, Goff is reunited with his daughter Fiona (Laura Coates), returning for the first time since her emigration to Australia with Jimmy (Martin Tyrell). The weirdest neighbours imaginable pop in for a drink: Zack Colam and Gemma Cunningham playing the completely bonkers couple which shifts the humour up a gear.

It isn't until the second act that we are introduced to Margaret and Martin's daughter, Kathy (Beverley Moore) and her arty boyfriend, Crispin (Simon Temple). These two characters burst onto the stage with fabulous energy. Kathy prances around, fretting about her two cats who have spent the whole car journey peppering 'doo-doo' all over poor be-suited Crispin, who then spends the remainder of the day dressed in Martin's ill-fitting trousers, trying to smile graciously upon receiving ties from every member of the family as a Christmas gift.

My favourite scene has the whole family, replete from a turkey dinner and too much home-made hooch, playing charades. All the actors play their part in making this a cracking bit of theatre but hats off to Simon Temple whose demented chicken dance, a cross between John Cleese and Norman Collier, will remain in my mind for some considerable time.

SADOS can always be relied upon to deliver the goods when they perform a comedy: this script from Mike Harding was just the vehicle they needed to show their skills. A joyous play, full of banter, just the right amount of slapstick and a cast of strong characters made this a very entertaining night out. Well done to director, Brett Moore, producer and co-director, Elaine Deathridge, and everyone else behind the scenes, for bringing this production to life.

The final performance is this evening, 7.30pm. If you want to get into the Christmas spirit then I recommend you hot-foot it to the South Holland Centre.

Oh and I'd pass on the Twiglets if I were you....


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Gallery - Before and After - The Money Shot!

The theme for this week's Gallery is "Before and After", the idea being to recreate an old photo from years ago. I thought about this and then, as you do, decided to cheat. Totally ignoring Tara's instructions because I'm a lazy bugger, I instead focused on the theme's title, sat with my feet up, 'Flog It' on the telly, cup of tea and a Twix in hand, then browsed through my online photo library for inspiration.

The result is this....



This is a geyser located in Geysir in Iceland. The original great Geysir which gave its name to the phenomenon doesn't shoot its load these days (getting on a bit I suppose) but its neighbour, Strokkur, is a frisky, accommodating young thing and performs for an audience every three to eight minutes, spouting forth a 30m jet into the sky, usually to a round of enthusiastic applause.

To see more genuine interpretations of the theme, pop over to Sticky Fingers.


Monday, 15 November 2010

Top Ten Holiday Fails

Today my post can be found on the blog of Very Bored in Catalunya

I decided, rather than tell you about one of our wonderful vacations, I would make you feel better with some holiday schadenfreude: nothing better for the soul than laughing at someone else's expense!

Pop over there and wallow in my misery.

Have any holiday fails of your own? Let me know via the comments or write your own list and link back.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

My Favourite Teacher

I was chatting to my mum on the phone and she posed the question:
"Do you think your love of Geography had anything to do with your first Geography teacher at secondary school, Miss Kavanagh?"

Well, that took me right back to my first year in 'big school' and my class, 1K, the K denoting Kavanagh as the Geography teacher was also my form tutor.

How to describe this woman? Pretty much a carbon copy of Barbara Cartland - rather ancient with vivid red lippy which was never expertly applied. Her bouffant pink/orange hair never moved: I remember one girl sharpened her pencil over the top of her head during registration one day and Miss Kavanagh left the room oblivious to the decorative shavings. She had a shuffling gait: poor woman was probably suffering from early Parkinsons or something similar, but as young girls we just thought she was inordinately slow, always arriving in the classroom a good ten minutes after the bell had sounded and leaving early to make her way to the next class.

As for Geography, her method was to play 'The Geography Game' every Friday afternoon. She would choose a letter and we all had to think of a country, county, city, river, mountain and animal beginning with that letter. Any girl who wrote down a correct answer which was different to everyone else's would win a prize - 20p. That's right, she doled out money, often a great deal of it, delving into her little red purse for the shiny coins.

If you had any savvy you would swot up on lesser-known examples, hoping to win the jackpot if you could slip in 'Ouagadougou'. We used to have many arguments with Miss K, as, understandably, she had often never heard of many of the places we had unearthed. I remember my friend Colette was furious when Miss Kavanagh called her a 'stupid girl' and refused to pay up for 'Dingo' as an animal. Of course we were also adept at fibbing, shouting out spurious answers and swearing blind we'd climbed it just the other week.

Towards Easter term Miss Kavanagh announced to the class that the Headmistress would no longer allow her to play 'The Geography Game'. She was most upset and so were we, as we'd been used to spending our winnings on  flying saucers and sherbert dibdabs at the corner shop. She could not understand why she had been chastised but she accepted the decision and said that in place of 'The Geography Game' we were to have a weekly 'Geography Quiz' instead. Prize money up to 50p!

If that's got you thinking about your own favourite or most memorable teacher then get posting and link back here.


Saturday, 6 November 2010

Mum's Gone to Luton with EasyJet - eventually.

After three wonderful days in Madrid we took a taxi to the airport in plenty of time for our 17.10 flight to Luton. Having decided this time to just take carry-on luggage, we wheeled our teeny cases through security, not even having to check-in as we'd printed our boarding cards before we left England.

Feeling decidedly smug as we sailed through the airport, we made the unusual decision to have a decent meal before we boarded the plane. This wasn't quite as easy as it sounds; it was extremely difficult to wheel a case and shuffle a tray along the self-service counter whilst carrying a coat over one arm. Rory was sent off as the advance party to bagsy a table.

I chose pasta bolognese for Rory and me (yes, I know we're in Spain: so shoot me!) and Dougie went authentic with a paella. We were both rather over-heated as we tried to locate our son who had, in his teenage wisdom (i.e. lacking any) picked a spot by the window with the sun pouring in. The pasta was a tad rubbery but it was tasty-ish and probably safer than Dougie's meal which was generously peppered with even more rubbery shellfish.
"I thought it would have had chicken in it", he grumbled
"It's a paella!"
"The M&S one at home has chicken in it"

Queuing at the gate was to begin at 16.45 so, in predictable Brit fashion, everyone started queuing at about 16.30. The speedy boarders were forming their own wiggly queue to the side of the rest of us cheapskates. I couldn't understand their reasoning. If they have paid extra to board first, why not take a seat and enjoy the privilege.

By 17.00 there was still no-one at the gate.

At 17.10, our planned departure time, someone turned up, the speedy boarders trickled through, most unspeedily, then the cattle class shuffled on. Being sensible, we moved down the plane to choose seats near the back and avoid causing a bottle-neck at the front. We despaired as others looked for seats as soon as they boarded, standing in the aisle trying to find space in the overhead lockers for their oversized bags. One easyJet stewardess was quite a star at this point, re-jigging everyone's luggage in the lockers so things fitted, insisting people put smaller bags underneath their seats. Granted she was a little bit scary, but she hoisted stuff about like a navvy, far beyond the call of duty or, I suspect, the company's manual handling regulations.

By 17.30 the engines were chugging and we were all having a root-about in the net bag of the seat in front, despite knowing the literature would be exactly the same as that provided on the way out from England. No matter, the travel mag from EasyJet was a great read and I'd started to plan breaks to Copenhagen and Helsinki based on the information gleaned so far.

17.40, it sounded as if someone had turned the ignition off. It all went very quiet and the ominous boing of the "Captain speaking" announcement was heard. We had been delayed, initially because of a technical problem with a small subsidiary engine which needs air pumping into it in order to start the other engines. Of course all I hear is "technical problem...engine". Fortunately the airport provides an air-pumping service. Unfortunately it had taken so long to deliver the air that we'd missed out slot. We could be sitting on the tarmac for another 90 minutes.

Now I have coped with delays in an airport. It's not ideal but there is somewhere to mooch about, over-sized bars of Toblerone to admire and such-like. Sitting in a plane which isn't moving is a different thing altogether. The sense of unease and stress was palpable. It was contained to some degree with the promise that the 90 minute wait was the absolute maximum: chances are we would slip in the rota within half an hour. They also turned the air-conditioning on which was a huge relief.

Half an hour later things were looking up. Dougie had been queuing for the loo and just as he'd reached the front, he'd been turned back as we were about to get airborne. Everyone was smiling as the Captain came over the tannoy. I think he sounded Dutch by the tone of his voice:
"This is your Captain speaking. Yes, well, there's been a bit of a cock-up!"

It was explained to us that a new slot had come through for take-off but some chap at the Madrid tower hadn't told the pilot because he had "forgotten". By the time the pilot had been made aware, we had missed the new time and, because the 90 minute slot was supposedly no longer needed, we didn't have that slot to fall back on. All this was made far worse by the air-traffic controllers being on strike in France so only a small number of flights were allowed over French airspace at any one time.

We were going to be sitting on the tarmac for quite some time, possibly another two hours. Don't panic...don't panic! I closed the blind and tried to tell myself we were travelling to America instead!

In adversity you see the best and worst in people. The co-pilot (or vice-Captain as Dougie referred to him at one point. Vice-captain? Of what, the local cricket club?) was the essence of calm, a wonderfully soothing balm, spending the whole time in the cabin speaking to passengers and explaining exactly what was going on. I loved him. As he walked past us I asked him what was happening, knowing full well Dougie wouldn't ask him because he is a man and would therefore rather guess. The suave First Officer went into much detail about the air and the subsidiary engine.
"Oh I see, it's a bit like jump-starting a car", husband announced with a knowing nod.
"Not really, Sir, no", replied the co-pilot.
I sniggered.

The Captain meanwhile had invited people to come and have a look around the flight-deck. People liked this. A little queue formed, passengers chatted to each other, nerves were eased.

The poor cabin crew had to deal with EasyJet regulations which meant they weren't allowed to push a trolley up the aisle when the aircraft was on the ground. Neither were they allowed to hand out free stuff.
"Would you like to buy a Daily Mail for 50p or Hello maazine for £2?
What do you think? I'd rather re-examine the flight safety card for the umpteenth time.

They don't have much food on board, so what meagre rations they had were sold to people in strict order from the rear of the plane first. As they reached the middle, the stocks were running low and they resorted to hand signals between each other to see what was available. 7 Up was easy enough to decipher but San Pelligrino Aranciata necessitated a quick dash to the back.

"I'm so pleased we had a big meal before we got on", said Dougie
"Let's just hope you don't get the shits then", I warned.
"That half-packet of Oreos Rory's got in his bag could be worth hanging onto: might be worth something if there's nothing left for the poor buggers up front".

The stewardess with the muscles was becoming understandably stressed. A few rows in front of us were a mature Spanish man and his wife: the husband kept pressing the call button, assuming he would be waited on. He didn't understand the new "we're working our way up from the back" concept so Miss Muscle just turned his flashing button off. This button pressing, on and off, by both parties, continued for some time until our angel of the skies put a halt to all further discussion by shouting "I DON'T SPEAK SPANISH" then marching off down the aisle.

We managed to purchase two cold all-day breakfast baps and a muffin and were most pleased with our supplies. Just as the Spanish man was about to be served, and Dougie was turned back from yet another queue for the loos, we were told we would soon be on our way, although as we were four miles from the runway it would take 20 minutes to trundle up there.

Eventually at 20.50 (ten to nine in old money), having spent over three hours sitting going nowhere, we were in the skies.

"When we get to the airport, at least we won't have to collect our luggage from the carousel", said Dougie enthusiastically.
"Yup, that'll make all the difference"


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

An Art Attack in Madrid

ET's Mother?
No, it's 'Man with a Pipe' (Joan Miro)
I do love a good art gallery, me. Over the years we have dragged Rory round numerous exhibitions and we've usually found something of interest for his age at the time. His favourite was the Musee D'Orsay in Paris where he saw Whistler's Mother. This painting is at the heart of the Bean movie with Rowan Atkinson: Rory was delighted it hadn't succumbed to paint stripper and chewing gum after all.

My award for 'Best Gallery for Chumps' is the Louvre for its exceptional way of helping idiots like me find the main attraction. No matter that there are hundreds of famous paintings in the building, most of us want to see the Mona Lisa before we give the rest a cursory glance. So they print off copious pieces of paper with an image of the Mona Lisa and a big arrow underneath then plaster them all over the gallery, pointing the way to Leonardo's smirking muse. Ah it's such a classy way of doing things but much appreciated.

Our hotel in Madrid is situated right in the middle of what's termed the Museum Triangle. A little like the Bermuda Triangle, visitors may well drown in a sea of culture, never to be seen again as their voices can be heard calling like a distant siren "But I thought the Guernica was this way...'

Picasso's Guernica is the big draw of the ultra modern Reina Sofia gallery: a huge hulk of a building, with much light, many empty rooms and not enough useful signage. We spent far too much time hunting down the elusive painting and when we eventually found it there was a ridiculous bun fight for photographs. I don't know why galleries don't just ban cameras altogether: in some rooms here you can take snaps, some you can't. With the Guernica you aren't allowed to photograph the painting in the room itself, but if you stand in the doorway to the next room, you have permission to click away to your heart's content. I did so and managed this shot, sans flash of course. I didn't really need to take a photo but when everyone else is doing so, you get swept along. To be honest I didn't even look at the painting properly and because of that I feel quite cross with myself. However, playing our usual game of 'spot the celebrity in an old master', we came close to beating our Tiger Wood with a Banjo which we saw in Paris with a fairly good Andrew Lloyd Webber frightens the masses.

The Museo del Prado should really have been next on our agenda but we took the bold move of leaving the Big Daddy gallery for another trip, maybe without a grumbling teenager in tow, and plumped instead for the more manageable Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Best decision of the holiday. This heavenly gallery doesn't allow cameras at all so there is a more relaxed atmosphere without curators yelling "No flash...no photos..." every few seconds. A private collection covering a huge timescale in art history, this was fun and educational to boot. Begin on the second floor, work your way anti-clockwise on each floor and you can see paintings by Raphael, Holbein, El Greco and Canaletto through to Kandinsky, Pollock and Lichtenstein. A new wing comprising some beautiful impressionist paintings collected by the lady of the family made this a breathtaking couple of hours. Even Rory admitted they were 'alright' so it must have been good and he took great delight in guffawing at the older, religious paintings where, we all agreed, baby Jesus looked unlike any baby we've ever seen - it must have been ever so dark in that stable.