Thursday, 31 March 2011

Catching crabs

On Sunday you may remember I was recalling my rowing days at Cambridge and comparing my failures with my dad's successes. Jody, who blogs at  about last weekend, commented that she had also failed at rowing: too many occasions catching crabs meant that she and her friends were asked to resign. I laughed and then it came to me in a flash, that somewhere I had a hugely embarrassing photo of me doing just that in a boat.

The photo in my previous post showed our ladies' eight looking rather cool, in fact surprisingly together. This was on account of the photo being taken after the race when we were merely paddling downstream. The photo below was taken a few months earlier, during a proper race. I was the stroke of the boat, the one who has to keep a good rhythm going, so getting my oar caught in the water cocked the whole thing up good and proper. What a bloody shambles! I blame that curly perm......


Tuesday, 29 March 2011

So beginneth the new kitchen

This photo shows where our old boiler used to live. It lives here no longer. There wasn't anything wrong with it, as such, but it was elderly, creaking, probably not very green and, with a new kitchen on its way in a few weeks time, it was time to say goodbye.

It used to live in the utility room but our new-fangled, huge beast of a German boiler, shiny and bursting with youth, has taken up residence in the airing cupboard in the bathroom. Don't ask why it's there. It's some new type of boiler that "works from a direct water feed and pressure". I've put that in quotation marks as I have no idea what it means. All I know is that the water tanks have been removed from the loft and the tank in the airing cupboard has also gone awol.

They started work yesterday. It took four chaps to hoist the new boiler up the stairs. It only dawned on me at this late stage that it might be an idea to remove pictures in the stairwell. I have a collection of James Dowd prints of children, all carefully arranged in what I believe to be an artful manner. So what did I do? Took them all off their hooks, all 15 of them, without first taking a photograph of where they were positioned. Just great. I have taken a photograph of them now, on the floor, so you can see what a fun job I will have later today.

We had to suffer the frustration of no heat or hot water last night and this morning, which necessitated the boiled kettle, basin and trusty flannel routine. I usually wash my hair every day so am sitting here feeling decidedly scummy and waiting for the men to bugger off later so I can have a decent shower.

Thank God it's sunny today so I can sit in the window and get some heat on my back. Yesterday we were lucky with the weather too but I decided to escape to Tesco for a while, wheeling my trolley up and down the aisles until I'd warmed my bones up a tad. In the evening we put some logs on the fire and it was all very dib-dib-dib cosy, singing Kum-ba-Yah and toasting marshmallows. I lie. We had a bottle of Pinot Noir, Kettle Chips and watched another episode of our box set of Six Feet Under.


Sunday, 27 March 2011

Shame about the Boat Race

Dad, 1954/5, rowing for Emmanuel
I was so disappointed yesterday when Cambridge lost the University Boat Race. I think it affected me rather more usual as I wasn't able to share the occasion with my dad, who, as you may know, died last month.

Dad and I both went to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 30 years apart, so the annual race was always a time for us to become all nostalgic and reminisce about our experiences rowing at Cambridge. Dad, however, was quite a serious rower, so much so that he cracked a couple of ribs in his efforts in one race. He rowed for Emmanuel not just in Cambridge races but in regattas at Henley and on the Putney to Mortlake stretch of the Thames, just as the University crews did yesterday. In his final year he coached an 'eight' to victory in the Lent Bumps.

For the uninitiated, the Bumps are held twice a year - the Lent Races and the May Races. As the River Cam is quite narrow, boats are unable to race side by side so all the crews in each league are positioned about two boat lengths apart. When the horn is sounded the boats race to literally 'bump' the boat in front, at which point the two boats involved stop then pull over to the river bank. On each day of the four-day competition the boats swap positions with the boat they have bumped, so that by the end of the week, each boat has moved up or down the 'league table' to dictate positions for the following year.

My rowing career was decidedly short-lived. I think I joined the rowing club because it seemed the thing to do in my first year and there was the obvious pull of muscular, male thighs in wellies . For a girl who was not sporty or strong and was scared of the water, preferring to swim widths of the shallow end of the pool, this wasn't a particularly good choice. But I kept at it, cycling down to the river a few mornings a week at some ungodly hour, to practise in the freezing, foggy river.

In the photo you can see me rowing at 'four' (fourth from the right of the picture). This photo was taken as we were paddling back to the boathouse after one of the Lent races in 1983. I can still remember spotting the official cameraman on the river bank and if you look closely you can see I'm looking at the camera but trying to ignore it and put on an earnest expression. The boat I was rowing for, Emmanuel Ladies II, lacked brawn and we were unceremoniously bumped every day by a succession of crews, ending up at the bottom of the bottom league.

The boat my dad coached in 1957, on the other hand, bumped Clare V, Pembroke V, St Catherine's IV and Christ's IV. A complete run of four consecutive bumps like this means that the crew has 'gained their oars' so each rower is given an oar, decorated with their names and college crest. The cox of the successful crew is given a souvenir rudder and the coach, my dad on that occasion, is given a shield with a mock-up of the bow attached. Mum gave me the shield after the funeral and it is taking pride of place in my home now.

As for me, there was no prize for spectacularly losing each day so our cox, Becky, popped out to Woolworths and bought us all a wooden spoon to commemorate the event. I still have the spoon, though the felt-tip pen scribbles on it are now hard to read. I often think that it must have taken some years for the Emmanuel Ladies to claw back to a more respectable position. Share/BookmarkSorry about that!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Vibrators in the mini-bar

The new W London  hotel has recently opened, the first UK branch of an American chain of uber-chic luxury hotels, but my eyes popped out like gobstoppers when I read that in their mini-bars, termed 'munchie boxes', they have included a nifty little sex toy. My immediate thought was that they might be a tad chilly but I reckon a quick blast of the hair dyer would probably warm them up.

Whenever we take our son to hotels he is under strict instructions not to buy movies and not to even think about touching the seven quid half-carton of Pringles or the four-finger KitKat. Imagine how we would deal with this place? Mind you, I understand the vibrator is waterproof so I suppose we could fling it in bath and tell him it's a replacement for Froggy.

The reason I came across the hotel is that we have been pondering going to some of the Olympic events next summer and while husband is checking out the prices for the Women's Beach Volleyball, I'm perusing the internet to get an idea about accommodation. It looks like there will be quite a number of new hotels popping up in the capital to cater for the influx, but my eye is certainly drawn to W London and not only for the munchie box. I love the fact that their rooms, rather than being called Standard, Deluxe, Junior suite and Suite, have names such as Spectacular, Fabulous, Wow and Extreme Wow.

I'm quite tempted to ring up and ask for a Wow room, with an interconnecting Spectacular, but if Rory so much as opens the door of his munchie box, I'll be ringing down to Whatever/Whenever (their terminology for the front desk) and ask for the munchie box to be the Wow next door.

May I just suggest to the W management that if they would like a review of their new hotel, I'm certainly up for the job and they can be assured I'll give it a thorough and rigorous testing.

Update: The Extreme Wow room is actually called an E Wow room. I read it as extreme in another review but the website says E Wow. Maybe it's an "EEEEH WOW" as that's what a Geordie like me would say when she opens the door.


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Gallery - Education - Golden Wonders

One of my very few sporting successes occurred in 1974 when I was 10. Our netball team from Chapel House Middle School, Newcastle, won the Golden Wonder Winter Tournament in our first season in competitive netball. I played centre position and in the photo I'm far right in the front row.

If you had any doubts that this photo was taken bang slap in the middle of the 1970s, there are a few clues(click on the photo if it's too small to see):

  • The psychedelic curtains
  • Our teacher's glorious tank top and blouse combo
  • Teacher's fabulous shoes, which are so on trend today
  • The netball, with the years 1974-5 written on it!

Looking at the names on the back of the photo we have Sandra, Karen, June, Fiona, Nicola, Louise, Ursula and me, Patricia. I also know that Susan was missing from the picture as she appears in the newspaper cutting I have from that time. The selection of names alone would pinpoint the year fairly accurately.

 The theme for this week's Gallery is Education. I think there will be some great nostalgic photos so a visit to Sticky Fingers is a must today.


Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Mum's Gone to fill in the blanks...

It's ages since I've partaken in a bit of meme. You know how it is: you wait to be tagged in some "You're a brilliant blogger, I wish I could write like you and you make fab cakes" award and scroll to the bottom of the post looking wistfully for your name, only to find three other cake-making, laugh-a-minute bloggers have had the baton passed to them instead. You grumble a bit, mutter that you didn't want to do the meme anyway and pass straight on to the next blog in your google reader......Or is that just me?

So when my new buddy from Germany Funky Wellies wrote a meme post called Fill in the Blanks, I scrolled to the bottom, cheered my name was on it, then returned to the beginning to read it properly.

Of course having been tagged I then couldn't think of what to write. Typical. I kept coming back to the open sentences which needed to be completed, and tumbleweed bounced endlessly across my brain. Sodding, stupid meme: who on earth passed this to me? Oh yes, Mrs Funky! It's all your fault.

Anyway, it's Monday evening, I have a glass of wine in hand and I'm going to give it a go in a slightly different way. 

I am....
.......Well there's a cracking one to start. I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses.
I think I am somewhere between these two women:

Angel - Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Sarah Brown - Guys and Dolls

The bravest thing I have ever done..... this
Snow-mobiling in Iceland. Never again.

 I feel prettiest when...
.........don't be ridiculous. How about...

Plastered in Montreal

Something that keeps me awake at night is...
.......with a bit of luck, this chap

My favourite Scotsman
My favourite meal is...
.....preferably not this

Chip pizza - Dordogne, France

The way to my heart is...
.......plenty of this
Ice cream - Lake Garda, Italy

I would like to be...

Martinhal Beach Resort, Portugal. Roll on July!

 So there you go, my blanks are duly filled in, Ms Wellies. Now is the time to pass the meme onto three other lucky bloggers and in doing so upset the majority of you reading this who will think I no longer love you. It may be true but you must be strong and get over it.

 I have chosen three male bloggers for this task, purely to see how they will tackle the sentence "I feel prettiest when...". Good luck chaps.

Troy from Troy's Blog


Saturday, 19 March 2011

Dr McGregor-Robertson's Guide to Exercise

Those of you who enjoyed the little gems I have gleaned from the book The Household Physician (1874, updated 1907), namely avoiding lawn tennis when you've got the painters in and dousing hysterical women with water, will no doubt be excited about a further instalment from the eminent Doc.

Dr McG spouts at length about the benefits of healthy exercise and, indeed, there are five pages of tiny writing concerned with walking, and its value to the human condition.

For men:
 "Take the case of the business man, who takes the omnibus or car to this place of work, spends the most of his day at his desk....his pallor, bad digestion, headaches and general langour and feebleness may be the results of this little exercise. In the case of the middle-aged man, perhaps it is increasing stoutness, breathlessness, rheumatic or gouty tendancies, that warn of the need of muscle work and fresh air. Every healthy man ought, if possible, take a daily amount of exercise which shall not be less than 150 tons lifted 1 foot. This amounts to a walk of about nine miles"

For women:
" A man's business, as a rule, takes him out of door, and if the risk of his taking too little exercise for health is great, how much greater is it in the case of women, whose duties, as a rule, keep them indoors? Thus it is for days together many of them are not outside at all: then they sally forth on a shopping expedition, spend many hours lingering about shop windows and hanging over shop counters, and then return home fatigued to the uttermost, requiring several more days at home before a further expedition is ventured on. This is a most injurious system. A daily walk of four miles, ought to be insisted on"

It would seem the eminent physician has me banged to rights. I must remember not to linger in front of Greggs, salivating at their cream buns and I've been told often enough by the good people at John Lewis that if I continue to take up a position of repose on their curtain-measuring counter I will be removed forthwith.

Finally, the caption competition - such a favourite amongst you last time. Still no prizes but you will be guaranteed a hearty laugh, which will go towards your exercise for the day.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Gallery - Trees - Which do yew like best?

Box Trees, Les Jardins de Marqueyssac, Dordogne, France

Cypress Trees, Retiro Park, Madrid

Husband being an arse in a tree, somewhere in the Cotswolds

The theme for this week's Gallery is, funnily enough, Trees. To see more, take a walk though the arboretum at Tara's blog.


Monday, 14 March 2011

A conversation I wish I'd never started

I think it's an age thing, the inablity to finish sentences or remember names or even simple words. My son despairs of me and we have these ridiculous conversations where he tries to work out what I'm saying and fills in the blanks. It's like listening to the characters Harry and Bert in The Two Ronnies' sketch in the pub.

Last night we were watching Wonders of the Universe. I say 'watching' but in reality Rory was watching it and I was letting the dialogue drift over me whilst I drooled over Professor Cox.

This was our conversation:

Me: I see there's that famous bloke coming to town to talk to the Science Society at your school.
Rory: What famous bloke?
Me: The one who used to do funny science things
Rory: Who?
Me: He's the father of erm, that woman
Rory: What woman?
Me: The one who's on the radio
Rory: Who?
Me: She's married to a DJ
Rory: Vernon Kay?
Me: No, no, a proper DJ, does the spinning things with records
Rory: Calvin Harris?
Me: No, an older one
Rory: Fat Boy Slim?
Me: YES, that's the one!
Rory: What's her name then?
Me: .......Zoe!
Rory: Zoe who?
Me: Ball! Zoe Ball.
Rory: So it's her father who's coming to Spalding
Me: Yes, his name's something Ball.
Rory: Michael?
Me: No, he's the singer
Rory: Okay, Mr Ball, let's just call him John.
Me: That's it! Johnny Ball! He's coming. Do you want to go and see him?
Rory: Nah!


Friday, 11 March 2011

Mum's Going to Copenhagen

Hotel Kong Arthur, Copenhagen

We've been debating for some weeks now about where to go during the Easter holidays. Last year Rory went skiing in Italy with the school so Dougie and I had a romantic break in the Cotswolds and it was heaven. But we love holidays together, the three Musketeers exploring the world, or at least the contents of the mini-bar.

We asked Rory if he had any thoughts of where he might like to go and surprisingly, rather than a teenage grunt and shrug of shoulders, he announced, "Scandinavia". Ok, if the Little Prince fancies Scandinavia, then that's worth considering.

I didn't do anything more about it until last weekend when I started to read through my dad's memoirs which he wrote some years ago. I've only picked them up again since he died recently but they have been so enlightening as I've been able to think about the boy and the young man that he was and not dwell on the old man in a wheelchair.

Reading about his student days I learned about two trips he made to Denmark at the end of his second and third year. He was studying architecture and his thesis was on multi-storey housing, something which was still unusual in the 1950s in Britain but fairly common elsewhere in Europe.

He had cadged a lift from his sister's boyfriend through France, Belgium and into Germany, before taking the ferry to Denmark and then a train to Copenhagen itself. His recollections of Copenhagen mention the clean, efficient lines of Danish design, the beauty of the city surrounded by waterways, the party atmosphere of the Tivoli Gardens and developing a taste for Danish lager.

He continued his trip into Sweden and Norway but returned the next year, this time with a Danish girlfriend in tow. He had met Else in Cambridge; she was acting as an au-pair to one of the Cambridge dons whilst studying English for a year. Having enjoyed her company in his final year of University, culminating in attending a May Ball together, he travelled back to Denmark with Else, so he could carry out further studies of Scandinavian architecture and she could return to her family. They had arranged accommodation for him in a small apartment just off the quayside in Copenhagen so he had a few weeks on his own there to explore the city once again.

As my dad was moving to Newcastle in the September to continue his studies and Else was staying in Denmark working as a journalist, they decided to go their separate ways and, thankfully for me, Dad eventually met my mum a year or two later and a romance blossomed.

So, what better way to follow in my dad's footsteps than have a few days in Copenhagen. I did some research, found some reasonably-priced EasyJet flights from Stansted and pored over TripAdvisor before settling on the Hotel Kong Arthur. Kong is Danish for King so it looks like we are continuing the Spamalot theme of recent weeks.

So Easter in Copenhagen it is then. Wonderful.


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Gallery - One Word

We saw this lorry on a French motorway a few years ago.

Husband: "That'll do nicely!"
Me: "What, every day? You'll be lucky!"

The prompt for this week's Gallery is 'One Word'. Pop over to Tara to see more.


Monday, 7 March 2011

Hysterical Women.

My last post, Have you got the Painters in?,  was so popular I have been urged to provide more information from my 1907 book, The Household Physician.

Well, truth be told, a couple of you have asked about menopause and trapped wind.

I thought I'd solved the latter by reading Dr McGregor Robertson's advice on colic (laudanum and a warm water enema) but in fact I have since discovered he did have advice on trapped wind itself: ginger or peppermint is advisable (same as today's advice from my own GP).

Menopause? "The Change of Life". Here's what the good doctor has to say:

"At this time the woman is in an unstable condition of health, and liable to many minor ailments, and also to some more serious. She is liable to headaches, flushings of the face, and disturbances of the digestive and nervous systems."

That's it! Considering how much detail he writes about every other subject, this important phase in a woman's cycle is quickly passed over. However he is far more concerned about "Nervous Diseases of Women" in general, in particular, hysteria.

"Hysteria - is a puzzle and a plague to nearly every physician....very common in women between the ages of fifteen and thirty.......
Symptoms such as loss of appetite, obstinate vomiting, excessive development of gas in the bowels, fainting and fits of various kinds........They are nervous and excitable, prone to laugh or cry at trifles, with little control over their emotions, irritable, querulous, and quarrelsome......
Treatment is firm and judicious control. Hysterical convulsions can usually be cut short by dashing quantities of cold water about the person's face"

To be honest if I were faced with a farting, fainting, fractious woman, I'd be tempted to do the same

Finally, a caption please, for the photo below.


Saturday, 5 March 2011

Have you got the painters in?

On our bookshelves, positioned between the bizarrely-titled Doctor, there's something wrong with my guts and the tantalising Tendinitis: its etiology and treatment are four volumes of The Household Physician, originally written in 1874 by Dr J McGregor-Robertson but updated in 1907.

After blowing off the dust (well, it's like skirting boards, no-one gets too close to see) I sat for ages poring over these books, written by a rather stern Scottish doctor who was very didactic in his approach to what was meant to be a family guide to "the preservation of health and the domestic treatment of illness".

I have stumbled upon a year's worth of possible blog posts as the advice is, naturally, way out-of-date, but not just medically. The position of women in society is hugely apparent, as is the class system.

I'm at a loss as to where to start to share some of these gems but start I must so here is one of my favourite sections concerns "the management of monthly illness". Yes, it is indeed an illness, according to Dr McGregor. But how about this corker of a paragraph regarding what one can and can't do at such times:

"Common sense would suggest that exposure to cold, to damp, to draughts, should be avoided. Thus during the period mere jumping out of a warm bed and placing the bare feet on a cold floor or wax-cloth has often been the cause of serious illness.............Much more rest than is customary ought to be indulged in, no work requiring any strain should be undertaken.........It is excessive foolishness for a woman to expose herself to undue excitement, specially the excitement of a round of pleasure or gaiety. Social gatherings, dances, games implying physical exertion such as lawn-tennis, boating, riding or walking excursions - all these should be refrained from at such a time......Those who are in charge of houses ought not to forget that some days of apparent slovenly and half-hearted work may have a reason other than that of idleness and ought to lighten the burden of work to their servants accordingly..............Bathing is to be avoided, and in particular cold bathing.

I had planned an afternoon of boating and lawn-tennis today but it would seem I must cancel and retire to my bed. I do hope the maid isn't similarly indisposed: I'm buggered if she's getting off lightly with the laundry.

Update - 17 March - I did write a post about hysterical women and the menopause in a later post. The link is below if you want to see what Dr McGregor Robertson thought about it.