Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Gallery: Hands: The Kiss

Sophie Ryder's sculpture, The Kiss, at Aynhoe Park

Sometimes when you're driving you come across something unexpected which makes you pull over and get the camera out. This was one such occasion, last October, taking the scenic route across to Midlands towards the Cotswolds.

My husband and I had just had a ridiculous conversation at a junction:

Dougie: Is it right or left?
Me: It's right....Aynho.
Dougie: So which way then?
Me: I've just told you! Right.
Dougie: But then you started dithering: So is it left then?
Me: No, it's right! I said 'Aynho'
Dougie: There you go again, AY...NO

Thankfully the argument petered out when we spotted a huge sculpture of a pair of clasped hands in the grounds of the 17th century mansion, Aynhoe Park. We had no idea about the country house or the clasped hands and, as the building looked private, we drove on. Later we discovered the sculptured hands, called 'The Kiss', were part of a collection of work from artist Sophie Ryder and she was exhibiting at Aynhoe Park.

I'm glad I took the photograph but regret not having the confidence to drive through the imposing gates and ask to look around. A missed opportunity.

I chose this photograph for The Gallery this week: the theme is 'Hands'.


Sunday, 24 June 2012

Mum's Gone To BritMums Live

BritMums LIve 2012
Clockwise from top left: some of the winners of the Brilliance in Blogging awards with presenter Katy Hill; cushions at The Hoxton Hotel; the girls in All Bar One; part of my prize, new Crocs sandals; the Daddy Bloggers Tim and Tom; the main stage for BritMums Live.
My first blogging conference and what a blast! Two days of excitement, the chance to meet my online friends, interesting sessions, good food, drink and, to top it all, I won my category in the Brilliance in Blogging Awards. 

There's so much I could say but, for now, here are my initial thoughts.

  • My blogging friend, Very Bored in Catalunya, did turn out to be warm and wonderful Wendy, not, as I'd feared, a big hairy bloke from Barcelona called Miguel.
  • Sarah Brown is a very down-to-earth inspirational speaker
  • I love chocolate brownies and Badger Beer, preferably together.
  • Winning a pair of Crocs sandals after I'd developed a huge blister from silly shoes the day before, was a godsend. Having matching nail varnish was an unexpected bonus.
  • I will carry a rucksack next time for all the swag or bring a bigger case.
  • Bloggers are a very friendly, approachable bunch.
  • Conferences are useful for telling you stuff you don't know, reminding you of stuff you did know but had forgotten and for reinforcing why you do this in the first place. 
  • The BritMums Live organisers, Jen and Susanna, know how to run a seamless, slick operation over two days.
  • Prepare a speech if you are a finalist for an award to avoid rambling if you win.
A big thank you to everyone who made BritMums Live a success. Can I also thank everyone who voted for me to reach the final of the travel category and to Steve Keenan, professional travel journalist, for choosing me as the winner. Indulge me for a moment if, for posterity, I can quote his comments on my blog on why he picked me. It will probably never happen again so I need to remember them.

“What I really liked about this blog was the balance struck when writing about her kids and herself. She writes in an intelligent way, rather than slavishly reporting the foibles and funny remarks of her offspring.Take the most recent post on Whistler’s mother: she talks art but draws her son in and works the angle of how art can work with kids. Other travel blogs are equally well written, but she doesn’t shout or show off, and each post has something to say. Really enjoyed the post about music and guitars – and so, clearly, did the readers. It really struck a chord…. boom boom!”


Thursday, 21 June 2012

Mum's Going to BritMums Live

Tomorrow morning I will be heading down to London for my first blogging conference and despite the fact that I'm a big girl now, I am rather nervous. I'm not really sure why. It's not because I'll be meeting people or being involved in the discussions. I can't put my finger on why my stomach is churning. Maybe it's because it's a change in my routine; I've got to think ahead a little. And I'm doing it without my little family. I've realised it's a long time since I've done something on my own.

 I really should be sorting out my packing but I'm now looking at the rain lashing down and re-considering my choice of shoes and whether to wear a raincoat or carry a brolly. Deciding what to wear has been a challenge: what will see me through two train journeys, an afternoon of conference plus a ceremony for the Brilliance in Blogging Awards where I'm a finalist in the Go! category. I had a gorgeous white shirt I'd bought from the Mint Velvet concession at John Lewis. It's been sitting in my wardrobe for weeks now. Tried it on again yesterday and it has a small rip in the back. No idea whether it's always been there, whether it was a small fault that has enlarged or whether I caught it on something in my numerous trying-on sessions. Either way it's too late to take it back. So I've had to think again.

I looked at my blog objectively yesterday, seeing it through the eyes of the judge for the travel category. Seems I've not really been travelling lately: what with Rory doing GCSEs we put all Easter and half-term jaunts on hold. Not sure Dougie and I gallivanting at a ball is quite what they've got in mind with regards travel blogging. I may have to shout "But we did go to the Cotswolds last October!" in a loud beseeching voice.

I'm looking forward to catching up with some great online friends including my cousin Toni, Expat Mum: I'm sure she'll look after her little cuz who hasn't done this kind of thing before. I'm also very excited about seeing Very Bored in Catalunya after all these years of internet friendship. Probably find out she's a big, hairy bloke from Barcelona called Miguel.


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Mum's gone to the Spalding Midsummer Ball

It's that time again. Our annual big night out where we join our friends to raise money for good causes and get very merry in the process. 

The Spalding Midsummer Ball raises money for Macmillan Cancer Support, Action Medical Research and, this year, AgeUK. After last year's sensational 'Moulin Rouge' night, the committee chose the very apt 'Best of British' theme. An excuse for everyone to get a second-wearing out of the Union Jack waistcoat bought for the Jubilee celebrations. There is no obligation to dress up for the theme but people did seem to enjoy adding something patriotic to their outfit, whether it was jewellery, bow-ties or going the whole hog with a Union Jack frock. I didn't wear anything red, white or blue, choosing a lime-green dress I last wore in 2008 (recycling again). Dougie made up for it by sticking, understandably, to his Scottish roots with his kilt and all the regalia that goes with it.

 The venue, in essence a huge functional shed, Springfields Events Centre was transformed into a fabulous, glittery room with a huge Tower Bridge at one end and a cocktail bar at the other (with creations such as The Strand and Punk Rocks). Leading to the main room was a corridor filled with clever displays showcasing British sport. We also had our own Queen Elizabeth II looky-likey for the night who posed for photos and said grace before the meal.

She wasn't the only queen in attendance. The entertainment during dinner came from The Globe Girls who were gloriously camp, high-kicking their way through numbers from Chicago and executing eye-watering splits which led to a discussion on our table as to where they hid the crown jewels in such tight leotards. Dougie reckoned this was yet another good example of the many ingenious uses for gaffer tape.

After the meal and the auction, a very authentic Beatles tribute band took to the stage, followed by the Jonny Spangles Roadshow disco who took the party-goers through until 2am.

My spoils from the night!

My favourite part of the whole night, as always, was the £10 a go Gift Trees. Our gift tree prizes have been mixed over the years; usually worth more than the £10 paid, they have ranged from rose bushes, a giant teddy bear to a car-cleaning kit. I think our tickets this year nabbed us two of the best: a bottle of champagne in a Union Jack jacket plus a gorgeous 'Candy Bling' friendship bracelet donated by the owner of Spalding's very chic jewellery store, number one, and worth far more than the £10 paid.  I think all the ladies at the ball should be thanking her for organising the brilliant table gift of a Links of London 2012 Team GB band. 

Some of our friends had a very 'coals to Newcastle' experience with the gift trees this year. One hairdresser won a restyle at a competitor's salon, an accountant with a local pie and sausage manufacturer won a voucher for a hamper of their products and the garden centre owners won an orchid. One friend was very puzzled as she looked at her gift: a four-inch silver-plated item with round balls at either end, she did wonder if it was an upmarket marital aid. Apparently it was a baby's rattle. 

The food this year was delicious: asparagus or crab and prawn starter, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, followed by apple pie with whisky cream or summer pudding. As I was designated driver, can I also congratulate the team for providing fantastic non-alcoholic cocktails. 

What's the theme next year? Put my name down as I'm coming anyway.



Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Am I a football widow...or witch?

It was our 22nd Wedding Anniversary at the weekend and we celebrated it by watching Euro 2012, the Germany v Portugal match. Dougie, romantic old soul that he is, thought he would jolly up the evening for me with a consoling bottle of bubbly. But karma works in mysterious ways: when he opened the bottle, the cork flew out unexpectedly and whacked him on the nose. I laughed rather a lot.

Looking sheepish on our honeymoon
but also rather gorgeous .

I shouldn't really be surprised that our wedding anniversary was shared with Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker. Our honeymoon all those years ago coincided with the World Cup, Italia 90. I remember sunning myself by the pool in Formentera while my new husband sloped off to the TV lounge, primarily to see Scotland beat Sweden in the group matches. He got his comeuppance that year too: losing his wedding ring down the plughole of the bath on the second day of the honeymoon and Scotland losing to Costa Rica and Brazil which put them out of the tournament. For good measure the aeroplane on our return flight narrowly missed colliding with another plane, by a small margin of 4 seconds. The event did make the nationals the following day. You can read the full story in the post: Honeymoon Horror

I must have twitched my nose again, in 'Bewitched' fashion, during the World Cup in 1998. We were staying in an apartment in Almunecar, Spain, when Dougie insisted he catch the Scotland v Morocco game. Unfortunately, as he was perched on the edge of a glass coffee table at a crucial point in the match, his backside went through the glass and it shattered into a trillion pieces. Scotland lost 3-0.

We'll be in Sweden when the Olympics are on. Just sayin.....


Friday, 8 June 2012

Johnny and the Jubilee Weekend

After our night at the 1950s party last Saturday evening, we headed off to Newcastle early-ish Sunday morning to spend some time with Mum and the rest of the family. The little fella in the montage above is my nephew, Johnny, 17 months old now and such an adorable little boy. As you can see, he enjoys reading with Uncle Dougie and Cousin Rory and, it would seem from the photo bottom right, the big cousin is giving him valuable lessons on how to use a mobile phone. 

We had a tea party on Sunday afternoon, drinking Pimms and watching the Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames. I say 'watching the pageant' but Mum was getting sick of it by the finish and was becoming most unpatriotic. We had to laugh when she was moaning that this wasn't meant to be a bloody Jubilee party anyway and someone countered with, "Well you were the one who made coronation chicken!"

The weather wasn't bad at all up North so managed to get Johnny out in the garden, where I shot a little video of him with his watering can. It's very cute, especially when he smells the flowers. When I watch this video back I'm at a loss to explain how, after 30 years living away from Newcastle, I still sound exactly like my mother...


Thursday, 7 June 2012

A conversation I wish I'd never started: No. 5

These embarrassing conversations usually feature my teenage son and me. This time it was a little dialogue with my husband.

I shall set the scene. Dougie is getting ready to go to work and I'm half asleep, listening to Radio 2 as I don't have to get Rory up for school.

Husband: Who's this DJ standing in for Chris Evans?
Me: Oh, you know, that chap with the same name as the other bloke.
Husband: What chap? What other bloke?
Me: He's a DJ with the same name as the cockney bloke that used to be in 'Eastenders'?
Husband: Which cockney bloke? They're all cockney blokes.
Me: Used to do 'Runaround' on the telly when we were kids.
Husband: Mike Reid?
Me: Yeah, that's him, but the DJ called Mike Read. Had big glasses when we were younger?
Husband: On Runaround?
Me: No, Mike Read the DJ. Used to do Saturday Superstore on the telly too.
Husband: Oh yeah, I remember. 

......Continue listening to radio....

Me: Scrub that. He says his name is Richard Allinson.


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Party like it's 1952

The invitation said to dress in 1950s style. I'm not convinced my dress was that authentic: sort of tulip-shape, cap-sleeves, slightly empire line. Could have been anywhere between the 40s to the 60s and most probably just 2011 as I bought it in the sales last year. Couldn't get my hair to curl either. But hey, pop on a string of pearls, shove a head band on and I don't think this was too bad an effort for a Jubilee party. Dougie, refusing to go along with my sophisticated look: "I wear a suit every day, I'm not wearing one for a party", decided to go 'Rockabilly'. He tried on a few combinations and seemed unable to roll his trousers up without dancing and singing in front of the mirror. Rory was invited too and his normal outfit of choice - jeans, check shirt and cardigan - seemed to hit the 50s groove rather well.

When we arrived we noticed there were quite a few Elvises in some very bad wigs: very hard to work out who was who as our bald friends were unrecognisable. We had a large gang of Pink Ladies, a la Grease, and even a leather-clad, curly-blonde-wigged Olivia Newton John. Lots of the ladies went to town with gorgeous big sticky-out frocks. Quite difficult to move in my friend's galley kitchen with the amount of tulle blocking the way.

We had a fabulous time. The trestle tables groaned under the weight of cheesecakes decorated with strawberries and blueberries in Union Jack pattern, the beer was in a huge American style old fridge which was plugged in on the patio and the barbecue was laden with massive steaks and burgers. But food heaven came in the form of pizzas, made on the premises in our friends' newly built brick oven. Another pal owns a pizza restaurant so he had a busman's holiday and made the most delicious, light-as-a-feather pizzas all evening.

And the weather? It stayed dry all evening. It was cold later on, though, and the little shruggy cardi I'd brought did very little to help. So I borrowed a fleece from the pizza man and stood with my backside in front of his warming oven.

So beginneth the Jubilee weekend....


Saturday, 2 June 2012

My father's memories of the Coronation

As some of you know, I am in the process of writing up my dad's diaries in the form of a blog: Memoirs of John Michael Grinsell. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my dad's experience in 1953 when he was able to watch the Queen's coronation. I thought it would be appropriate this weekend to include it on my own blog as we celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Catterick Military Hospital had its own brand of discipline.  Ward rounds were like any other military inspection, so much so you had to lie down to attention. The majority of patients had orthopaedic injuries so there was a lively atmosphere in the ward. As a young man of 18 I rather enjoyed all the fuss from the nurses and made the most of it, rather than worry about my curtailed army career.

The nurses and sisters all wore their own version of military uniform, the sisters having bright red short cloaks which bore their officer rank and any medals awarded during their service career. The general routine was no different from a civil hospital but I think the food was better and, to help build up our strength, we regularly received a bottle of stout to drink.

It was while I was here that the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place on 2 June 1953. In order to give injured servicemen the opportunity to attend, a number of us were allowed leave to watch the procession. Luckily for me, my name was pulled out of the hat. We were driven by ambulance to the North London Barracks medical centre where we met up with about 30 other injured soldiers. Some of the top brass came to see us before we boarded a special bus to take us to a point on the route near Hyde Park.

The weather was appalling on the day and we waited for hours for the royal procession. My clearest memory, however, was not of the Queen but a trip many of us had to make to the nearby public toilet in the park. This motley crew of walking wounded limped across the sodden grass to do the necessary but, as we returned to the bus, I noticed that clearly displayed on the front was a large placard which read, "EX KOREAN WAR VETERANS". The fact that I had broken my leg during National Service in Scotland, and that the injury was a repeat of an old fracture caused by a bicycle accident when I was 12......well, I kept that to myself.