Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A Pain in the Neck

This may well be a very short post. I'm typing it standing up, the only position I can gain some relief from a very painful neck. Sitting down, even on a comfy sofa, never mind a wheely chair at my desk, is so uncomfortable, after a few minutes I have to get up. I could lie down but only if I stay very still: as soon as I turn, a pain shoots up the right side of the back of my neck and I start wimpering.

How did I succumb to this injury? Emptying the dishwasher. Rather than take a bit of exercise and walk round the island in the middle of the kitchen to put the glasses away, I stretched over the hob, ducking my head to avoid it being clonked on the cooker hood. Head did avoid being clonked but, it being poked forward, rather like a demented chicken, I overstretched the neck ligaments.

You may recall I also have a frozen shoulder which means my right arm, shoulder and right side of my neck are all affected now. I still can't fasten my bra or remove clothes which don't have buttons in the front and now I can't sit down and play in bloggyland for more than a few minutes before I go all stiff!

Husband is not being that helpful. He keeps reminding me to take painkillers, has prodded the affected area a bit, mumbled something about my trapezius and says he gets it a lot too. He's as bad as those doctors who try to reassure you by saying, "There's a lot of it about".

However, every cloud has a silver lining. Standing up constantly, like the knackered old nag that I am, I have found that doing lots of cooking seems to ease things. So the family are benefiting from some fabulous culinary creations: chocolate brownies, white chocolate cookies, lamb tagine, creamy potatoes with bacon and maple syrup, raspberry crumble...

To say nothing about the toning effect on my legs - I could crack walnuts, I tell you.


Sunday, 28 August 2011

The night I became Amanda Holden

It's ages since I've done a bit of am-dram. "I've been resting, darling" is what I say to everyone about the break from my musical theatre stuff.

So it was quite a treat to be asked to be a judge for Polka Dot Has Talent, a contest for members of one of our local children's theatre groups here in Spalding. I couldn't make the first heat a few weeks ago, but I'm sure they managed to get Louis Walsh to step in and guest judge in my place.

I was a little nervous about my role and conscious that some of these young kids would finish the evening disappointed at not going through to the next round on the say-so of my fellow judges and me. Quite a responsibility. I contemplated going all Cheryl Cole for the evening, exaggerating my Geordie accent (doesn't need much exaggerating, I hear you shout) and flirting with young boys, telling them they 'owned the stage' and 'eeeh, pet, I just luuved yuh'. Perhaps not.

My ever-supportive husband then started to put the wind up me by suggesting I keep a close eye on potential scary parents who believe their little darlings are the next Leona Lewis. "Don't criticise them too much or they'll lynch you", he advised. "Have they a side door you can exit from?" He then said I needed a minder. Simon Cowell has Big Tony; maybe he should be my Big Doug?

In the end, I went on my own and left Big Doug at home.

The room at Polka Dot Academy was set up just like in the real TV show - we three judges were seated facing the stage, with the audience behind us. The compere introduced us and we took our seats. We were told that after each act two of us would be asked for comments; constructive criticism was welcome. Gulp.

The evening was excellent; a really talented group of kids. There were three dance acts and the rest were singers; soloists and three sets of duets. In the end it wasn't too hard to give criticism. I was able to suggest one young lad keep the microphone closer to his mouth so we could hear him better, another nervous boy with a great voice had looked at the floor throughout his song and some of the dancers hadn't smiled enough. The compliments were easy :  fabulous voices, entertaining musical comedy, brilliant stage presence.

We had to disappoint one dance group (most of whom had performed in separate acts anyway) and one lovely young lad with a sweet-sounding voice whose nerves had got the better of him. Thankfully he was also part of one of the dance groups which was successful.

I managed to leave by the front door without being heckled or attacked and am now looking forward to the semi-finals next Friday evening and the final which is to be held at the South Holland Centre theatre in Spalding next Saturday afternoon.

Big Doug was waiting for me in the Green Room (ok, the kitchen) when I got home with a gin and tonic. I told him I'd probably need a new frock for the final. Well, Amanda Holden would, wouldn't she?

Darren and Helen who run Polka Dot are appearing tonight, 28 August, on Dragon's Den, BBC2 at 8pm, pitching for investment in the Pantomime part of their business. Can't wait to see how they get on and discover if any of the children I watched last night appear on the show.


Monday, 22 August 2011

Mum's Gone to Portugal - The Memorable Bits

I suppose it can't get much more memorable than sharing the first week with a TV celebrity chef (see previous post) but there was a smattering of other bits I'd like to share with you

The Car

You may recall our disappointment with our Vauxhall Corsa rental car which was scratched and dented pretty much everywhere (but the Portuguese rental agency didn't see that as a problem). On the second day Dougie discovered rather too late that the front nearside tyre was pretty bald (yes, we should have checked at the airport: thought we had, too blinded by the dents). Never mind, he thought, I'll just change it for the spare. The spare had a huge gouge in it. So we were left with one probably illegal tyre which was preferable to the gored spare. "You don't want to go far this holiday, do you?". We were an hour and a half's drive from the airport and we would have had to return it there for them to probably just shrug.

We chanced one trip out and as we reversed out of the car park we heard a tinkling noise very reminiscent of glass. Marvellous, the glass had fallen out of the driver's side wing mirror - into lots of tiny pieces. Why would it do that? We decided to rescue the situation. A wobbly drive to the Intermarche to look for some tape (yes, Dr Duct Tape hadn't brought his this time...what was he thinking!) and I searched in the toiletries aisle for a cheap wash-bag from which we removed the mirror (after paying for it, obviously). We taped the little rectangular mirror into the wing mirror's housing and it did the job. Had to pay 40 euros to the rental agency at the end of our holiday for the damage. Ha! Now trying to get that back from the insurance as we, thankfully, had excess cover.

The Trips Out

This photo was taken at the 'end of the world', Cabo de Sao Vicente, the most south-westerly point of European mainland. It was cold, windy, and it was the day the glass had dropped out of the wing mirror so, as you can see, everyone's a wee bit tetchy. We didn't stay long.

Sagres fortress, the next must-see on the list, we didn't see as the queue was long and I needed a pee as I had refused to pay for one at the end of the world.

We went home, via the supermarket to buy our repair kit and lots of wine.

We did go for some walks on our holiday - not proper adventure walks, just a little wander over the dunes. We tried it on the only day it rained. We got absolutely soaked and tried to take shelter underneath a shrubby tree thing, with Dougie getting all Ray Mears again, finding a filthy bit of old plastic sheeting and attempting to make a roof for us in the shrubbery. It didn't work. We went home, wet. We drank wine.

The Food

The Lobster tank at As Dunas restaurant

Cataplana copper pot

 Martinhal resort had been getting some bad press in TripAdvisor reports but either we're not very discerning as regards food and service, or things have improved. Certainly the family buffet restaurant was like most buffets ; a bit chaotic but plenty of choice and full tummies. The fish restaurant, As Dunas, was frequented by the Torode family, so we took that as a good sign. We loved the food there and were far more adventurous than usual, choosing our fish from the ice cabinet and picking some special Portuguese dishes like fish Cataplana which was like a hearty fish stew served from a copper pot. Rory really enjoyed his fish and announced one evening, "I'd like more sea bream at home, I think". Bugger me, looks like a portion of Bird's Eye breaded cod won't cut the mustard anymore.

The Lazing About

There was plenty of this. Two weeks of lolling around, swimming, a bit of tennis and lots of book reading. These final three photos sum up how relaxed we all were in Portugal. You may want to click on them to see the incriminating arrows!


Thursday, 18 August 2011

Mum's Gone to Portugal - Having Dinner with John Torode

There are four pools in the Martinhal resort and this one pictured, the beach club pool, is by far the most popular. It never looks like this when it's open - the Fat Boy loungers and beds are pounced on at 10am and it's like that all day.

We joined the masses on our first day and I ignored my book, so fascinating was the people-watching. This was very much a Home Counties pool: well-heeled families, all with an assortment of good-looking children in tow. I suspect the fortnight we were there, the Ocado deliveries back in the UK must have suffered, such was the large number of their customers who had de-camped to this part of Portugal. I was a little in awe of them, I have to say, and dared not open my mouth to speak, for fear they would discover I was a Northerner and their offspring would be wanting to adopt me as a pet (see Harry and Paul sketch)

Let me describe the indigenous population by the pool:

The Beach Club Pool Mummy - a delightful creature, dressed in floppy hat, Jackie O shades, a teensy bikini with something chiffon over the top and cork wedge heels or beaded flip-flops. Tries to look elegant whilst sinking into a bean bag seat, orders mojitos from Emerson the barman, or a glass of rose or "Have you a green tea?" Can be heard to squeak to her offspring, "Shall we go for some pasta, darling? How about a carbonara?" Either pre-holiday spray-tanned or fashionably pale with very flat stomach and little cellulite: I do hope some of them are, in fact, nannies and haven't given birth to a brood after all.

The Beach Club Pool Daddy - To a man, sensible shorts is the dress code; not a budgie smuggler in sight. Walks from the bar to the lounger rather carefully, trying to hold belly in. Tries not to boast but is prone to wank-speak on occasions: "Yah, I did 5K today...just under 25've got to keep something in the locker". Is in charge of lugging Fat Boy loungers to where wife is flapping about trying to bagsy a spot (though they'd never say bagsy).

The Beach Club Pool Baby - Most of the young children are dressed in an all-in-one lycra suit or half-naked with mamma chasing them in her heels trying to put more sun-cream on their reddening shoulders. It is very windy here in the Algarve but everyone has brought suntan lotion in a spray bottle so most of the cream disappears into the air. Children seem to be named after Tellytubbies.

The Beach Club Pool Teenager - Granted there aren't that many but the few that are sprawled about the decking are dressed in a JackWillAberFitchHolliDry combination of T-shirts and board shorts with the band from their boxer shorts visible (the young chaps): bikinis or very fitted shorts and numerous friendship bracelets (the young girlies). They all sit within their family groups, plugged into iPods and ignoring parents. Heard to grunt now and again before they shuffle off into the shade. (NB: I have one of these).

It is while I'm absorbing all this that I start imagining I can spot someone famous. I mistake an over-weight bloke in a navy polo shirt for James Corden and then suddenly yelp to Dougie that John Torode from Masterchef has just walked by. There is much peering through sunglasses to take a better look and then we both realise that I'm right. It is John Torode, dressed in the same knee-length shorts uniform worn by the other Beach Club daddies and an attractive white linen shirt. He is at the resort with his wife and young family: he has two littlies and two teen boys much like mine.

You'll be pleased to know, readers, that I behaved impeccably. I did not jump up and down hysterically or run up and ask him to autograph my napkin, nor did I photograph him or shove my camera-phone in his face. No, I acted as if  I am surrounded by celebrities all the time. Everyone else seemed to behave too, allowing the man to enjoy his family holiday, but many, like me, used their sunshades and books to hide surreptitious glances.

Rory looked up from his iPod and told us that a Masterchef techno spoof song was in the charts. It's really catchy and it was so tempting to entertain the pool by leaping up to sing "I like the base, base, base, base, I like the buttery biscuit base" but I'd have been lynched so I chickened out. Shame, I'm sure he'd have loved my rendition.

We saw the Torode family a fair few times that first week. We ate at As Dunas, the hotel's fish restaurant, on a number of evenings and they were seated at the next table on one occasion. As I tucked into my sea bass and fries I thought to myself, "if it's good enough for John, it's good enough for me". Pass the ketchup, JT.

For my official review of Martinhal on TripAdvisor have a look at the link (I'm Francesca)


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Mum's Gone to Portugal - Home from Home in Martinhal

Despite having packed two plastic boxes full of medical supplies, Dougie was still flailing about on the night before our trip to Portugal, having chopped his finger with a kitchen knife. It was more of a gouge than a neat cut so he couldn't glue it. He danced about a bit, holding digit in the air aimlessly, then managed to find an unpacked dressing and, you've guessed, a roll of duct tape to stem the bleeding.

After this auspicious start to the holiday, we girded our loins and poorly finger, and set off the next morning at some ungodly hour for the delights of Luton airport. Queue-hopped far too many times for check-in, only to discover the plane was delayed for two hours. For once in our lives, when we eventually boarded, we were first on the plane: shame really that this was a time when we had pre-allocated seats.

At Faro airport we wandered with our wheelie bags to a very smart, newly-built section outside the airport where all the car rental companies had their air-conditioned offices and separate parking areas. Funny but we couldn't find the office for Rent-a-Crap-Car Ltd anywhere. Seems our Vauxhall Corsa, which we had pre-booked for a very reasonable price, was in a separate car-park,and the office was a metal bus shelter. Two very happy, sweaty chaps in vests were dealing with a queue of like-minded cheapskates. As Dougie queued, Rory and I took turns in guessing which car would be ours. There was one very sad one with a huge dent and crack in the back bumper. Yep, that was ours.

We made sure one of the chaps in a vest noted the scratches and bumps before taking our lives in our hands and driving away. Dougie was incredulous that we should be so careful in our choice of vehicle at home, but we don't make the same consideration with a hire car. It was an automatic, like at home, but it was a pig to drive and under-powered (probably due to our heavy cases)

It took us, eventually, to the resort of Martinhal, the very western tip of the Algarve. Check-in was rather long-winded as the very pleasant man on reception was keen to tell us everything about the resort. We were hot, smelly and tired and all we wanted was to be given the information in a folder to be read at our leisure. Evenutally our cases were loaded onto a buggy and Dougie had to return to the car, unfortunately, to move it nearer to our apartment.

Can I say this in capitals? THE APARTMENT WAS FANTASTIC! There, that's better. We had booked an Ocean House with sea view. It had two bedrooms and bathrooms downstairs and a huge kitchen/lounge/dining area and balcony upstairs. Designed in fabulously retro style, with a massive green sofa, plenty of cushions, chic seating on the patio and a decent telly. The kitchen had a Neff oven, hob and dishwasher just like I've installed at home and a Nespresso machine. I was in heaven. A welcome pack which includes four chocolate muffins and a box of cornflakes made me realise in an instant that this was my kind of resort.

I'll leave you for now with a selection of photos of our gaff and will tempt you to come back for the next post where I will let you know which celebrity I lay beside at the pool....


For my official review of Martinhal, see TripAdvisor report here: