Category Archives: jobs

Wednesday 21st May – The Trials and Tribulations of Getting to be World Dictator

I am very proud of myself.  I have done some of my have to’s, despite my woeful lack of ambition, drive and get up and go.  The most important thing to bear in mind is that there are no longer any wooden hedgehogs all over the study floor and my feet are safe.  I have also claimed the children from school, fed the children and their friends and failed to kill them all for being evil little snot bags.  Hooray for me!

The bedding is still pawing its way around upstairs but I have decided that I will do that later.  I will.  I will. I really, really will.  I will not think about it in a wistful way whilst staring out of the window at a beautiful sunset and fail to do anything about it until I am strangled in my bed by one of my own pillow cases.  I absolutely promise.

I have also put the shopping away.  I had to do this when I realised that the weather was so nice that the children plus friends would invariably want to gallop back and forth from the garden to the kitchen, and that if I didn’t do something pronto, twenty five quids worth of Marks and Spencers Fewd would be trampled into mush within about thirty seconds.  I am very, very sad that I hoovered downstairs as they have tracked sand through the entire ground floor and the hallway now resembles the Sahara.

I have not finished reading The Prince, but I am twenty pages further on than before, despite the lure of this week’s Heat Magazine and its siren song.  I am such a good girl.  I am learning all about how to be World Dictator though, which may well stand me in good stead in later years.  This is why I appear dedicated.  It has nothing to do with my desire to get ten points on an entry level Open University course, and everything to do with the blue prints for my master plan. A HA HA A HA HA HA HA HA etc.

Apparently I need to be utterly ruthless, armed to the teeth and murder all possible threats to my throne as soon as possible.  I also have to be nice about it, because it’s important to pretend to be good, even if you’re going to be an evil, gouging, murdering bastard.  I’m slightly concerned about the fact that as my claim to World Dictatorship is based on my encyclopaedic knowledge of Dr. Evil and his menacing ways, that the legitimate threats to my position will be so numerous as to mean that I have to murder everyone else in the world.  This would make my victory both hollow and entirely pointless.  I may have to amend that plan slightly if I intend to have servants and people to boss about.

Apparently it is also incredibly important that I don’t allow anyone I have previously annoyed to be elected Pope during my campaign.  It seems likely that they may try to put a stop to my plans.  This too could be problematic as I’m sure that the Pope and I don’t exactly see eye to eye on things like:

  • abortion
  • contraception
  • Owning some of the wealthiest wealth in the world, but allowing your faithful followers to die in miserable, disease ridden poverty, while you stare at your nice paintings.
  • The only good religious people being blokes and not birds
  • Catholicism being recognised as the one true religion
  • Fish on Fridays

This means that I already don’t get along with the current Pope, and unless they elect a fun loving, liberal hippy with a relaxed attitude towards sexuality as the next Pope, he and I aren’t going to exactly hit it off either.  Plus the list of people I have previously annoyed runs into tens of hundreds and means that I would probably be better off executing plan A, which was the literal executing everyone in the world thingy.

This being a World Dictator malarkey is already turning out to be much more tricky than I had originally thought, and I’m not even half way through the book yet.  Although I am pleased to see that unlike Vasari and his five hundred page monolith on the ins and outs of Renaissance Art in Italy, learning to be World Dictator only takes ninety one of your English pages.  I am looking forward to reading the chapter on the indispensable need for an underground lair complete with kaleidoscopic palm trees. 

We have yet to discuss theme tunes either. I’d like something much along the same lines as the original theme tune for the first Casino Royale film please.  It sounds like joyful horses cantering through a meadow full of flowers some time in the nineteen sixties. The horses would probably be being ridden by a ridiculously handsome looking Dirk Bogarde dressed as a doctor and pretending desperately not to be as gay as a handbag.  If you could strip out any military sounding brass instruments I’d prefer some close harmony singing, a la The Polyphonic Spree, and some jazz flutes.  It makes global warfare sound so much happier and a nicer place to be.

I also want to know when we are getting on to the subject of uniforms.  I really don’t want a crown, as I’m sure that a surfeit of crown wearing is what makes the Queen look so irritable (that and being married to Prince Philip), and hasn’t done a great deal for her hair over the years.  My hair is already terrible. Today it has strange rolling puffs of hair decorating my head jauntily atop either ear.  I have done extensive squishing manoeuvres to the sides of my head and nothing has improved them, so I can’t imagine that a crown would help at all, except to settle them further down my face and thus render me even more ludicrous looking than usual.  If you imagine Arthur Scargill in a crown we’d be about there.

I have noticed that many dictators tend to go for jaunty caps or hats in a military styling.  Again these often look rather silly and unconvincing.  I am thinking of writing to Philip Treacey when I get to be World Dictator, in the hope that he will design me a hat in keeping with the fashion needs of a modern dictator about town.  One that goes with my hand made Ozwald Boateng suit, with waistcoat and without gold epaulettes, single breasted as befits a strangely chested woman.  I’d also like a nice shot silk lining, some kind of plum colouring please.

I hope Philip will make sure to avoid anything that makes me look like I work in a Deli.  This unfortunate style of hat has been far too fashionable now for far too long.  I think that someone who looks like they should be serving you a pound of haslet and scowling from under a hairnet is not going to be very convincing whilst opening a new hospital or ordering the execution of men who convince people with far too much money to dress like people from Glenfield Co-op.

Oh my God! Lee came over for his tea this evening and while he was tucking into his cornish pasty dropped a bombshell of epic proportions.  Casually forking a lump of swede into his mouth he happened to mention that there was a transvestite working at the Co-op in Glenfield.  You could have knocked me down with a feather.  I go there practically every day and I’ve never noticed.  Now I’m the type of woman who notices these things.  Notices them and writes about them avidly in her blog.  This means one of three things:

  1. Lee is lying and has just spotted a very unfortunate looking lady and made some unflattering assumptions.
  2. I am blinder than I thought and need to get down to Vision Express again, probably yesterday or sooner.
  3. The person who is the transvestite is an exceptionally gifted transvestite who clearly has a personal stylist and must be applauded for their brilliance and general fashion sense, and avoiding looking like Julie Andrews in a dirndl skirt and sweetheart neckline.

I am going down to the Co-op tomorrow to stare beadily at everyone and check them out.  I will report back with my findings.  If you don’t hear from me I will probably be in jail on charges of harrassing a transvestite going about their lawful business who did not want to be stared at over the cauliflower.  I am not anti transvestites, far from it.  I encourage it fully.  I think it’s crap that men only get to wear trousers or shorts.  I think they should wear whatever they damn well want.  I am just amazed that one would a) want to work in Glenfield Co-op and b) get hired by Glenfield Co-op.  Although the Co-op has a splendid tradition of not allowing hunting on their land, and to be fair to them they stick to it rigorously.  I have yet to see anyone chasing a deer through the dried goods aisle in Glenfield and I’ve been shopping there for months.  I did not know that their liberality extended to those men who just can’t resist a good Karen Millen sale.  Fair play to them.

Jason is going camping for four days from tomorrow so there’s no chance of early bail if I do get arrested.  The kids will be orphans.  Perhaps i will go easy on the staring until he gets back.

Tuesday 20th May:

I don’t know where to start really.  I’ve actually been quite legitimately busy for the last two days.  Usually I just sit round on my arse pretending to be busy and making up stuff to write about so that I can feel like I’ve been tremendously industrious, when in fact I have mostly, as my children so succinctly put it: ‘been living in la la land’.  Now I have real things to write about I am slightly nervous.

I did make a list though didn’t I? That might be a good place to start.  Let’s take it from the top:

Boiled Eggs:

Ah, yes! This all came about because the children are very keen on eating boiled eggs and soldiers for tea.  Whenever I ask them what they want for tea, which I try not to do very often because the results invariably begin and end with the words ‘chicken’ and ‘nuggets’ in close proximity to each other, the second result is usually boiled eggs with soldiers.

The weird thing is that they don’t actually like the boiled egg bit very much.  Neither of the girls will eat the yolk at all, so they eat egg white with toast, which seems highly unsatisfactory to me, but they like it.  I think they enjoy the ritual more than anything else.  In fact they enjoy hitting their eggs so much that I actually bought them egg cups of their own after they took a socking chunk out of one of my pale blue Nigella ones and made me cry.

The thing that gets me when they have boiled eggs is the fact that they’re so useless at it.  They are totally clueless about the etiquette of eating boiled eggs.  Now, I don’t seem to recall having any difficulty at all with eating what was known in our house as ‘dippy eggs and soldiers’, dippy because you dipped your soldiers in them, not because they made you mental (thanks Edwina).  It was all very straightforward, and we just got on with it.  You hit the top of your egg with your teaspoon a few times, sliced the top off with the edge of your spoon, removed a little shell and whacked your soldier in it. Bob was your Humpty and all was well with the world.

My kids can’t do that.  The first time they had them I patiently demonstrated upon an egg in a Delia like, domestic and highly practical way.  I asked them if they knew what they were doing, they assured me they did and then they beat the shit out of their eggs, using their spoons like some Ninja weaponry and ending up with what was effectively scrambled egg with bits of shell in it, sore arms and nothing to show in terms of edible produce.  Since then I have demonstrated the art many times, including the enjoyable denouement where you trick your amazed and gullible relatives by turning the egg shell upside down in the egg cup and inviting them to hit a ‘new’ egg, knowing full well that their spoon is going to plummet into nothingness and you will be Loki, the god of hilarious egg type pranks.

They love this idea, just as they love the idea of boiled eggs in general.  Can they achieve it? No, they can’t.  I remain utterly perplexed.  I sat there watching them on Monday night thinking: ‘Have I bred a generation of idiots who will go on to breed even more idiotic people?’  I got quite depressed.  Then I decided to blame the schools and have laid the blame squarely at the feet of the educational experts and their ‘dumbing down’ strategies. I felt a lot better after that and treated myself to a biscuit.

It may also explain other failures on their part to grasp the simple childhood concepts that we all used to sail through with aplomb in the nineteen seventies and which now leave my children gaping like stranded fish.  These include:

  • The operation of a spud gun
  • Catapults
  • Parachutes for dolls, furniture, stupid pets and members of your immediate family
  • The ‘hilarious’ nature of the Carry On film genre: ‘But mummy, I don’t understand why that man is dressed as a nurse? Why is it funny that he’s wearing socks in his bra? Why is that man pinching his bottom? Mummy? Mummy? Why have you turned over?’
  • The concept that if you do evil things quietly you’re much more likely to get away with stuff.
  • The failure to grasp the simple concept of a practical joke, i.e. that you don’t tell the person you’re about to practice it on all about it beforehand.

So, boiled eggs.  Back to the drawing board.

Darth Vader:

Jason, as you may know, apart from being keen on being The World Poker Champion, would also like to be an evil genius.  His evil genius role model has always been Darth Vader.  On Sunday night the kids came out of the shower and for some reason decided to line up on the landing like nine pins in order to dry themselves.  Oscar was facing a painting we have of Darth Vader leading his troops into battle with the Death Star looming in the background (Clearly not one of mine), and getting terribly excited.  I started dirging away at the Imperial Death March for him, and the girls joined in.  At this point he was so excited that he started leaping up and down and doing his own version which involves him shouting ‘DAAAAAAHHHHH   DAAAAAAHHHHHHH  DAAAAAAHHHHH’ very loudly and off key for several moments and then making lovely sucky inny outy type noises for the Darth Vader breathing noises.  Jason was near to tears with pride and joy when he heard him.  His son is finally coming into his true inheritance and will indeed one day be the Dark Lord of a vast empire stretching over billions of galaxies.  The only thing that could possibly make him happier was if he combined that with being the natural heir to Jeremy Clarkson.  It was an emotional moment for us all…

Mowing The Lawn:

Whilst I was getting the kids ready for bed on Sunday night Jason decided that he had to mow the lawn.  We didn’t get back from my mum’s until seven, but there was no denying him his right to mow, and off he set with the Flymo and the strimmer, looking pissed off and self important all at the same time (it’s a skill).  He sweated and huffed his way about for about an hour and came in, ruddy and knackered and needing a stiff sit down and several cups of tea. 

I asked him why he didn’t leave it for me to do one day in the week when Oscar is at nursery, but apparently it turns out that he holds my mowing prowess in low esteem.  I have been informed that I am, and I quote ‘rubbish’ at mowing the lawn.  I am extremely hurt by this criticism of my mowing ability.  It is one of the few household jobs I actually like doing. I love the smell of the grass and the mindlessly repetitive nature of the job.  I particularly like it because it’s quite dangerous which means that the children can’t help me, and they have to stay indoors, pressing their small noses up against the French windows and looking wistfully at me with some kind of power tool.  It’s very peaceful because with all that racket from the mower you can’t hear them howling to be let out.

Anyway, there I was thinking I was quite good, when it turns out that I am crap.  Apparently, according to my venerable husband, Alan Titchmarsh’s right hand man, I don’t take my mowing seriously enough, which leads me to produce shoddy workmanship. 

I know this because we had to have an hour long, in depth discussion after his throwaway remark about me being rubbish, to establish just how rubbish I was and how come he’d never said it before.  We never got to the how come he’d never said it before, because when the words ‘shoddy workmanship’ passed his lips I flounced out in a huff and went to make a cup of tea.  I am deeply, deeply hurt by his accusation, and one weekend when he’s out pretending to be an elf and sharpening his plastic sword I’m going to mow that bloody lawn like it’s never been mowed before. It will be a revenge mowing and it will win prizes on Gardener’s Question Time when I send in a picture.  So there…

Saj’s Fashion Call:

Saj complained that my summary of her and her activities makes her seem shallow and that I must do something to rectify this immediately.  I cannot vouch with hand on heart that Saj is kind to old ladies and animals, although she is very sweet to my three, delightful children.  She did however do me proud at the weekend.  When I was taking time out from worrying about what I was going to say to The Modfather, I spent the rest of the time worrying about what I was going to wear.  Saj suggested that I hot footed it down to Primark and take advantage of their splendid offer of skinny jeans for six quid.  She said that it’s what all the rock chicks are wearing this year.  Consequently I did that very thing and wore them yesterday night. 

I wore them with my 1920′s vintage top that my Gran gave me and I did look very rock chick indeed.  I spoiled it a bit because I wanted a little bag to put my purse and phone in.  I looked at all the rock chickette offerings and didn’t like any of them.  In the end I plumped for a Charlie and Lola rucksack from Boots for a tenner.  It has a picture of Lola on the front and the legend: ‘I will not ever never eat a tomato.’ I love it.  The kids think I am the coolest.  The rock contingent weren’t impressed.  I was though when I realised I could get my sandals into it.  I wore my four inch patent dominatrix heels, and then when it came to the mosh pit, I whipped them off, stuck my comfy sandals on and grooved the night away.  I bet Kate Moss does that too when there aren’t many cameras around.

Silly man on a mobile:

Ah! Yes! Right in the middle of the gig yesterday, may even have been during a very noisy rendition of Eton Rifles (I was telling this to my dad and he thought I said Elton Trifles. Excellent!), a guy got his mobile phone out, presumably to try and take a picture of Mr. Weller (and in actuality to take a picture of the backs of several hundred people’s heads), but when he got it out of his pocket it rang.  He put it to his ear and just kept screaming: ‘Hello! Hello! I can’t hear you! Hello!’ at the top of his lungs.  It never occured to him to actually move to somewhere quieter, or to hang up the call.  He was clearly a bit mental and just came across like Dom Joly with his oversized mobile in the Quiet Zone of the Dome.  Awesome.  I laughed so much I nearly missed the next song.

Old Mods who never die

Last night’s crowd were a very mixed bunch, clearly, because I was there for a start.  There were the youth of today, but there were also people who were obviously die hard Wellerites who had been there from the get go.  The odd thing was that many of them had resolutely refused to move with the times in terms of fashion and were firmly sticking, clinging and unpleasantly adhering to their Mod roots for better or worse.  Often worse, it has to be said. 

A Weller haircut only suits those with preternaturally thin faces really (and whether they even suit those is a matter of hot debate amongst some of my friends), but they really don’t do anything for someone carrying a few stone more than is wise and who has decided to grace the whole thing by wearing a casually tied silk scarf round their neck, just to highlight the head and shoulder area.  It’s hard to describe the effect, but there was one man who looked like a hamster hiding in a pashmina.  It wasn’t really the effect he was going for, at least one would hope not.

Famous people who aren’t famous but look like they should be:

Last night at the gig Paul and Jackie managed to spot a few local celebrities in the crowd.  They kept saying things like: ‘Oh look! It’s x who does y! How exciting.’  This made me realise that my encyclopaedic knowledge of O.K. magazine is clearly not going to stand me in good stead in these situations, because I had absolutely no idea who they were talking about.  Mainly, it has to be said because many of these people were of the sporting fraternity.  It was however, quite disappointing not to be spotting stars (apart from Andy that is, and as he was who I was there to see anyway that one was rather like shooting fish in a barrel). 

I decided to while away the time before the gig proper spotting people who I thought might be famous.  There were quite a few people who really looked like they should be famous, or at least know people who might be famous.  I pointed these out eagerly to Paul and Jackie who just looked at me with blank faces and clearly thought I was bonkers.  I however, am very excited that I have created a sub category of social strata, people who look like they should be famous.  It’s these people they should get to audition for Big Brother.  If they already look the part it can’t be that hard to arse about in a hot tub and play dares in front of a load of hidden cameras.  Hurry people.  Real fame awaits you.  I might start my own casting agency.

The World of Men’s Tailoring:

All the time I was worrying about what to say to Mr. Weller about, I had no problems with Andy at all.  We got talking about the world of men’s tailoring.  It is something he is quite knowledgeable about.  I love good tailoring.  I drool over pictures of Ozwald Boateng suits.  Obviously I can’t afford one, and I’m a girl, so that’s a bit of a bummer.  I have tried in the past to influence both my ex-husband and my now husband into the glamorous world of tailoring.  They weren’t keen.  Jason in particular is a man who loves his nylon shorts.  Nothing will part him from those shorts.  And, as I said to Andy, it is a sign of my deep and abiding love for the man that I endure those shorts, because ‘endure’, is exactly the right word to describe how I feel about them. 

Andy on the other hand is an afficionado of tailoring and spent several happy minutes telling us about how he gets his clothes made by Gieves and Hawkes and William Hunt.  He even has proper trunks for his clothes, one of which has a stand for his iron, so he can press all the creases into his trousers properly before going on stage.  He did, it has to be said, look very dapper last night, and because he is a bass player, and therefore can lounge about moodily on stage whilst making plangent guitar style noises, he doesn’t have to get quite as hot and sweaty as everyone else when they’re feverishly leaping around wielding their axes etc. 

I bet he’s really glad he never took up a career as a drummer.  High fashion tailoring and drumming just don’t pair up together at all neatly.  There would be tears before bedtime when a twenty minute drum solo ruined the lining of his best jacket.  It just wouldn’t do.

This conversation has inspired me, and I have decided that when I am insanely rich I am going to go and see Ozwald and plead with him to make me a suit, or even a fleet of suits.  I don’t want to go through a sex change or anything.  I could be the next Bianca Jagger, as long as the children promise not to wipe ketchup on my cuffs.  I’d have to be so insanely rich someone would press them for me, as I don’t care how exciting the world of suiting is, I am not, not ever, never doing my own ironing.  There are limits.

Pete Paphides Being quite important but eternally scruffy

Another thing Andy and I were talking about last night was Lampeter, the university where we met.  It was quite a coincidence that he met up with me last night, because also at the gig was a guy called Pete Paphides, who also went to Lampeter.  I explained to Paul and Jackie that Pete was a shortish, squattish, eternally scruffy bloke with huge shambolic hair and frightening black Uncle Fester sweaters who loped around uni at the same time as us.  I never knew him to speak to, but with only a thousand students, you do tend to know who everyone is, what they like for dinner etc, because word gets around fast.

After we left uni, Andy went on to become famous and so did Pete.  Pete used to work as a journalist for Time Out, as I found out when we lived in London and used to subscribe to the magazine.  One day I was bimbling around flicking through the covers and came across an article about Pete going swimming in Hampstead ponds complete with photographs.  It was easy to recognise him.  He was the only man going swimming in Hampstead ponds dressed as Uncle Fester.

Anyway, Andy informed me that Pete no longer works for Time Out, but is in fact The Times Music Critic.  This is quite an important job, and he was there last night, doing that very job and interviewing Mr. W as we spoke.  This was one of the reasons why poor Paul and Jackie didn’t get to meet him, so I hope it was a good interview.  Apparently he still dresses like Uncle Fester.  I looked him up on The Times website today and it is unclear what he was wearing beneath the chin line, but I would like to bet it was an overlarge, ravelly black jumper.  His hair was still the same, and his hair always matched his jumper, so it’s got to be true.

So! Two people I went to university with are now ‘famous’ or at the very least ‘successful’ in their chosen field.  Even the Scourge of Christendom has an uber powered job in marketing and he is a Scourge (albeit a hugely gifted and talented one.  For an ex-hairdresser he got the highest first in the history of the University and it’s been going since 1822).  What? What? What? am I doing with my life? Lampeter is clearly, despite all appearances to the contrary (i.e. the fact that they would take you if you only had your Brownie, ‘Safety in the Home’ badge) a hot bed of creative talent.  I really need to pull my finger out now and write that bloody novel.

I’ll do it after ‘The F Word’ and a nice, relaxing cup of tea…

Sunday May 11th – This One’s For You, Cranky Phone Guy

Another forward roll twenty four hours.  Now Cranky Phone Guy and I had a small chat about the generally rubbish nature of the humble carrot the other day at the bottom of one of my blogs. He mentioned that he once purchased a juicer, inspired by a Tony Robbins course I attended.  I mentioned that my ex-husband had also been inspired by his Robbinsness to do the same and didn’t he think that Tony Robbins looks a lot like Jaws from the James Bond films, only his teeth aren’t metal?

Now for those of you who didn’t read yesterday’s blog you won’t know that I used to be the MD of an NLP company and consequently had a lot to do with all these coach type people at one time or another.  NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic programming by the way, and it’s what people like Paul McKenna and Derren Brown do on’t telly.  Anyhoo, Tony is a big cheese in these circles and has huge seminars where people walk on hot coals and whoop and change their lives via millions of his highly expensive products that he sells on QVC.  Some people love him to death, and I’m not keen.  That’s just the way it goes.

So, once, way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I worked with someone who had the chance to interview him, and my job was to help with questions etc.  In the event Tone was overcommitted and couldn’t do it.  I thought it was a shame to waste the lovely, lovely questions, so I invented an entirely fictional character who bears no resemblance living or dead to the majestic Tony, and I asked him the questions instead.  It amused me for hours.  Oddly, nobody would publish it, which is a bit of a shame.  So I dug it out, dusted it off and am now self publishing the remarkable, one time only interview I did with the guru ‘Baloney Bobbins’ (I thank you Homer and Cherry Bobbins).  It is of course completely fictional in every way:

  1. Baloney, you seem like a man who is accustomed to getting what you want.  Is there anything that you want that you haven’t been able to get, and what effect has this had on you?


That’s an excellent question.  I did once order a beautiful diamonique monocle from QVC which never arrived.  Sadly, they had sold out by the time my complaint reached them, and I have never found anything else quite like it.  Sometimes it’s the small things in life that can be most disappointing.  I dream about it quite often.  In fact, only the other night I dreamed that I was ball room dancing with a strange hybrid pig/bear cross and it was wearing the monocle, but wouldn’t give it to me.  I woke, sobbing into my pillow. Believe it or not, my hand was outstretched on the duvet as if I had almost grasped it. I had a strange yearning sensation in my soul, or it may have been hunger. I’m not sure.


  1. Baloney, do you truly believe that anything is possible, or are there limits on what the human neurology can achieve?


To tell you the truth I have never been able to get a soufflé to rise properly, and I am inclined to think it is impossible.  Of course, others claim to have done it, but if I can’t manage it, I can only assume they must be using some kind of Houdini like trickery to pull off the illusion of light, air filled baking, that melts on the tongue and tastes like you imagine clouds would.  Sigh… I really, really hate that Delia Smith woman.  She has that look in her eye, the look that lets you know that she would use her prowess with a soufflé to torture your very soul. Drunken old biddy (or so I hear.) I may well have to call my lawyers about that one actually.  It doesn’t do to speak ill of the dead, so my evil Grandpappy Seth told me before he took his own life with an ice cream scoop.  Just thinking about it still sends shivers down my spine.


  1. Baloney, if you could look back at the age you are now and give one piece of advice to the twelve year old you, what would it be, and why?


Well, it’s hard to know what to say.  So many things flit through my mind when I think back to those dim and distant days.  I’d probably advise myself to not listen to my mother when she tells me that pudding bowl haircuts are bound to enjoy a renaissance, for a start.  Why?  Because life’s a lot less complicated with a decent haircut, and you can take that to the bank.  I’d have also advised myself to steer clear of halloumi cheese, because it wasn’t until years later that I found it was responsible for bringing me out in an unsightly rash.  I’d also tell myself that learning to play the spoons won’t help my love life any, and I might like to have a go on the lead guitar, or the drums, or possibly even the banjo.  No, no, probably not the banjo actually, just indulging in a spot of dreaming there.  Sorry about that.


  1. Even the most confident of people have their long, dark moments of the soul.  How do you cope with these times?  Do you use NLP techniques or a mixture of resources?


That’s a very sensitive question.  Thank you for sharing your vulnerability with me.  I do indeed have my long, dark moments of the soul.  As for how I deal with them, I like to retreat to my study and study the one stringed, Japanese nose flute until I reach a state of zen like calm and tranquillity.  If I’m not at home I carry a recording of Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing The Little Drummer Boy that I find infinitely soothing.  As soon as I hear the refrain “Par rump pa pump pum” I feel a sense of instant ease and well being.  It’s a personal thing, but I’d be happy for others to try it.  As I mentioned earlier, I also try to avoid Halloumi cheese.  If only I’d known that earlier I’d have avoided a lot more long dark nights of the soul, I can tell you.


  1. A journalist once described you as having ‘relentlessly pursued personal and professional excellence…’  This sounds rather tiring.  What do you do to relax?


Well now, apart from my interest in Japanese music and my devotion to things that sparkle (you can’t beat a bit of something shiny to line your nest with), I love to put my Wellingtons on, venture out into the garden and pretend that I’m Alan Titchmarsh.  Not many people in the US know him, but from my extensive travelling round the world I’ve come to revere the man, particularly for his practical solutions to getting the perfect lawn.  Alan is something of a demi god to me.  I also like his new series, Gordon The Garden Gnome.  Sometimes I like to put on a pointy hat and pretend that I too, am at one with the gnomes.  The man’s an unsung hero.


  1. Baloney, this may sound rather an odd question, but I am genuinely curious, and hope you can provide the answer for me.  I have been on trainings where groups of us have studied footage of you working with people on stage.  Everyone in my group noticed that when you clap your hands on stage you do not actually bring your palms together to make a noise.  Is this because of acoustics, or is it a genuine technique that I have been, up to now, unaware of?


Thank you for that question.  It is because, as I’m sure you are aware, I am a somewhat large man, and the noise of my hands clapping together can cause a sonic boom in some of the larger auditoriums I work in, that might prove upsetting for my audience.  Before I realised this I once made someone’s ears bleed seventy miles away.  They thought it was an act of God. I didn’t mention it was me.  I have enough law suits on my hands already. I was being cruel to be kind.  I also subscribe to the chaos theory and am perturbed about the idea that the force of my hands clapping together could actually cause a volcanic eruption in Hawaii.


  1. You are an advocate of the NLP technique of modelling.  I find this methodology fascinating and can see how useful this would be in modelling the desired behaviours of people who are currently available to model.  I am interested to know if you feel it would be possible to model the desired behaviours of great leaders or figures in history who are now dead, and therefore somewhat inaccessible except through writings and memoirs?  How successful do you think this could be, if at all?  I would also like to know who, if this were possible, you would model?


Tilly, modelling the dead is somewhat challenging, but not impossible for a man of my skills.  Naturally, their body language takes some getting used to, but it is possible to emulate a corpse like stillness for hours at a time, and I am employed by some of Hollywood’s greatest directors to train A list actors in their corpse technique.  I try not to brag about it, because I am a modest chap, already possessed of a huge number of skills, and don’t want to be overwhelmed with requests.  As for who I would model, I think that Robin Hood or Flash Gordon would be my first choices for historic figures with fascinating skills worth modelling.  I particularly like Flash because he’s not only talented, but rather shiny… He would look superb with a diamonique headband and silver thigh length boots. At least that’s what I like to wear when I’m pretending to be him.


  1. What do you think about the penchant for using NLP as a tool to further celebrity and do ‘magic tricks’ in the style of David Blaine and Derren Brown?  Do you think NLP is big enough for everyone, or that this kind of work devalues what you do?


Oh, yes!  I love that Derren Brown.  I particularly liked it when he crucified Robbie Williams.  You wouldn’t think so to look at me, but I used to be a huge fan of Take That.  I loved that duet they did with Lulu.  I’ve never quite forgiven Robbie for leaving.  It was the beginning of the end.  Frankly, anyone who crucifies him gets a thumbs up in my book.  I’m thinking of calling my memoirs: ‘Could it be magic? Why, yes, it could!’ as an homage.  I have to say that I’ve always been slightly suspicious of Gary Barlow though. His hair worries me sometimes. In fact I am currently in my laboratory developing an anti-Barlow hair phobia cure.  It will be massive, and indeed ‘magic’, ha ha!


  1. Until recently, NLP has been seen as a rather ‘niche’ type market.  Nowadays, NLP books are making the best seller lists, and NLP in its raw form is beginning to reach a mass market.  Where do you think it will develop from here, and how do you see your role in its growth?


I am very excited about my new book, I would send you a copy, but I’m afraid you’ll have to buy one instead.  It’s called “The NLP Colouring Book” It’s great for children of any age. It has some great pictures of my island home and a centrefold of me.  Do you remember those Crayola boxes that had all those brilliant crayons in?  They used to have silver and gold crayons in didn’t they?  I love that.  I’m giving away free metallic crayons to anyone who buys my new book and all my other books in a box set shaped like a Magpie’s Nest.  It will retail at £250 plus VAT and it’s going to put me at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List for a year.


  1. As someone at the forefront of producing development products for the masses, how do you plan to develop your products further to cope with the changes the internet and things like downloads are bringing to the media?


Along with my colouring book, I’m looking at a range of NLP based jewellery for sale on QVC.  It will be the highest quality diamonique and cubic zircona with real gold.  My first range is called the VAK collection and will be brooches of the rep patterns which people can wear depending on whether they’re visual or kinaesthetic etc.  I’m also launching glasses with specsavers based on eye accessing cues.  Nobody has done this kind of thing before, and it’s going to be huge…With my profit’s I’m having a new island, based on Tracey Island but modelled in gold. I’m having diamond palm trees and a life size statue of Alan Titchmarsh wearing a gnome hat. The coolest thing is when you press a button, a nuclear missile made of cubic zircona launches out of the top of Alan’s hat.  It’s inspired.  It is actually living proof of my status as top genius in the world, ever.


  1. What do you consider to be the most crucial point of any one to one session with a client, that time when you know if something is really going to work or not?


I always like it when the client says thank you Baloney, that way I know things have worked, and they’re also showing due respect, which is nice for a man of my stature.  I also take notes at the first meeting, as I like to see what people are wearing.  Their jewellery makes a big impression on me, and I can tell a lot about how a session will go by their taste.  I never work with people with pudding bowl haircuts or polyester flying suits.  It’s a childhood thing I suppose.  I also make sure that my fleet of highly trained body guards frisk them thoroughly for Greek cheeses.  I’ve trained my body guards in a special kind of martial arts I developed called the Baloney Method.  I spent hours modelling that Ninja rat from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and crossing him with the killing skills of the vicious stoat.  I’m releasing a DVD next year, available on all good shopping channels.  It will be called: ‘The Baloney Method: The Way of the Weasel’.


  1. When was the tipping point in your career?  By that, I mean the moment when you knew that things were really going to work out for you?  How did that make you feel?


The first time I felt truly confident, and that things were going my way was when I met Monsieur Angel, my hairdresser.  Hair, as I have said, is very important, and when that was right, everything else just flowed.  I highly recommend a personal hairdresser for all aspiring NLP millionaires.  It really worked for me.


  1. What happens when you’re working with a one to one client, and the strategies you usually use, don’t work?  How do you resolve those issues and think on your feet to give the client successful outcomes, especially when you’re under the pressure of working in front of large crowds of people?


Up to now you’ve been asking sensible questions, but frankly, I don’t know what to say to that.  You’ve disappointed me there.  Perhaps you didn’t know any better, I don’t know.  You might even be having a bad hair day.  Let’s put it down to that, it’s not as if I’m an unreasonable man.  I’m moving on now, but don’t think I’ve forgotten you…My eyes and ears are everywhere, and I am a trained killer, as you should know.  I always find reminding my clients of that often helps us push through those difficult ‘stuck’ moments in a therapy session.


  1. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given, and who gave it to you?


Monsieur Angel once said to me that I must never lend my hairbrush to just anyone, and I have to say he was right.  I let Paul McKenna borrow it once, but I didn’t get it back for a week.  Then I noticed he was thinning on top and I had to throw the brush away in case I caught it myself.  Always listen to Monsieur Angel.  He’s as wise as a sage that man… He’s also helping me develop my new hair care range for men who just want that lush, just washed feeling all the time.


  1. What was it that made you decide on this career path, and what was the first thing you did to pursue it?


I saw a little known programme once when I was a child on a visit to the UK.  They made these amazing inventions out of things like washing up bottles and pipe cleaners and I knew that I must be able to do that.  No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t achieve the same results at home and from that moment on, it was my mission to find a way to reproduce that excellence.  Ten years later I came across an article in a magazine about Modelling, and I knew it was the thing for me.  My creative skills now rival anything anyone can show me, and I made my fortune into the bargain.  I’ve still never managed to find any double sided sticky tape though.  I am thinking about developing my own.


  1. I have heard rumours that you may be running for office in the US.  Can you confirm or deny this?  If not, would you like to, and what is the first thing you would do if you got elected?


I don’t know who you’ve been talking to about this, but I’m flattered.  I must say however, that such rumours are untrue.  I have more important issues in hand.  I feel, why step into someone elses’ shoes when you can create your own unique empire?  After all, if Dolly Parton can do it, it’s something to think about.  I just haven’t managed to come up with a suitable title for myself yet.  For some reason I’m drawn to the word ‘emperor’, but Monsieur Angel disappointed me, when he said that it put him in mind of a penguin.  We’re still at the drawing board stages, but I advise you to watch this space.


  1. Who is the most inspiring person you have ever met, and what was it about them that was inspiring?


I once met a man called Eric.  It was in the early days, back when I still used public transport and had a piggy bank marked “Private jet fund”.  He had a singing clam called Peter, which he kept in a candy jar, and carried round with him everywhere.  It had taken him fourteen years to teach that Clam to sing, but hearing it lisp out “When a Child is Born” by Johnny Mathis, was one of the most moving moments in my life.  Eric’s pride in his achievement taught me a lot, and I’ve never forgotten it.


  1. One of the things that comes across to me, when I have listened to tapes of your work is that you often use pain as an anchor and motivator to get people to change states or alter their patterning.  This seems antithetical to the positive intention stated in your work.  Can you explain why you work in this way?


It may be unfashionable of me, but I am a man of tradition and learning and I humbly take that lesson from the excellent eighties series Fame.  You may have forgotten the dance instructor in the opening credits shout “Fame Costs, and right here’s where you start paying” whilst thumping her stick menacingly on the ground, but I never have.  Once I may have even wet the bed dreaming about her.  When I’m Emperor I may have to have a word…


  1. As the essence of NLP is about modelling excellence, one of your fans (me), would like to know if anyone ordinary (rather than one of the NLP stars) has ever modelled you face to face?  If so, how did it go?  And, would you be open to being modelled by me, next time you are in the UK?!



I’m a busy man, and frankly, it depends on who does your hair my dear.  If you’d be interested in buying my box set (not forgetting the free shiny gift), I’d consider it, but time is of the essence and I have many demands on my time.  You forget I have an extensive inventing routine every day and a gruelling three hour hair session with Mr. Angel which is of the highest daily priority.


  1. When you started out in this field, did you ever imagine that you would own your own desert island hideaway?  It seems like every kid’s dream to me.  Are there any more of your childhood dreams you still have to fulfil, and if so, what are they?



I never imagined any of this.  My childhood dreams were strange affairs, revolving around carousels ridden by cockroaches and women called Janice who had three heads and worrying beehive hairdo’s.  I for one, am grateful that life is far from dreams.  Having said that, after the pig/bear monocle dream, I’m not sure my adult dreams are anything to write home about either.  I must consult my nutritionist about my cheese levels.




Wednesday 6th February – Taking your Granny to a French Brothel is not a good idea

Didn’t get in until late, so I’m updating using the time machine method.  Andrea and I spent the evening immersed in Henry VI part I, and I was far too tired to tell you all about it when I got in.  I was exhausted after all those battles!  It was brilliant though.  I am now very excited about seeing part II on Saturday and part III next week.  I am just a bit sad that they stopped after III.  Still, Richard III creeps up on us after that, so we won’t be entirely done with names and numbers.

Talking of battles I must just let you know that the pancakes went off without a hitch and the children actually managed to behave themselves long enough for me to cook them, which was a rare and wonderful moment in our lives.  I have made the executive decision that I don’t like cooking pancakes, and while I am quite happy, nay ecstatically happy even, for someone to open a pancake house, preferably in Glenfield, I will not be applying for the job of short order cook.  They’re just too fiddly.  By the time I’d cooked seven of the bloody things, the kitchen was dripping with batter, there was a pall of greasy, pancake flavoured smoke over everything, the table was stuck together with chocolate spread and syrup and I hadn’t managed to eat one.  A woeful state of affairs I think you will agree.  The only good thing about it was that the children were so sticky that they had no choice but to stay at the table, because they were welded to it.

We opted for traditional English pancakes in the end, and to add insult to injury, after slaving over a hot stove, they all agreed that they prefer American style pancakes.  I do confess that I agree with them, although I didn’t say that at the time.  I held my dripping ladle in a threatening manner and stared balefully at them through the smoke instead.  There is a particularly fine pancake house in Las Vegas where you can get sweet and savoury ones of every size and description.  I love the plate of tiny dollar sized ones.  You can eat several hundred at a time before you start to feel sick, and because they are small you somehow feel more healthy when you’re doing it!

What I want to know is why we don’t have pancake restaurants in England.  There used to be one in Nottingham, called ‘The International House of Pancakes’, which closed down.  There are also a few in London which are a chain called: ‘My Old Dutch’, which are excellent, but other than that, the pancake cupboard is bare. 

Now I can’t believe that people don’t want to eat them, given the levels of enthusiasm with which pancake day is approached by all and sundry, and by the overwhelming smell of pancakes cooking which greeted me and the kids as we walked down our road on Tuesday night.  There is definitely a market for the humble pancake, so why is nobody exploiting this?  I know that I don’t like cooking them, but somebody must.  After all, if a chain called Spudulike can still be in profit after all these years, there must be room for a pancakeulike near you.  I am going to offer free marketing to the person who agrees to start a pancake chain in the U.K., on the proviso that they open the first one in Leicester.  It’s a niche that needs to be filled my friends…

The Dutch also know how to do good pancakes, even though theirs are the flatter, more European variety.  They are particularly good on fillings.  I used to go to Amsterdam quite a bit when my ex-husband worked for a Dutch publishing firm.  We would visit a pancake house called Meneer Panne kuuk.  I know it’s not spelled like this in Dutch, but that’s what it sounded like.  Translated it is Mr. Pancake.  Anyway, I have no idea if it’s still there, because this was years ago.  I do recommend heartily that you try and search it out however if you happen to go there.  Eating stacks of pancakes the size of your head smothered with cream, is infinitely preferable to sitting in a coffee shop getting stoned out of your gourd in my opinion.  Some people obviously like to do both.  I think that the getting stoned bit just wastes time and interferes with your ability to consume pancakes by the yard.  Not good.

There also used to be a very fine Peruvian restaurant which did the most delicious chocolate cakes.  I visited there on several occasions.  I have never been to a Peruvian restaurant anywhere else, or even seen one, but if you do find one, I recommend trying it out.  Having said that, if I were ever to go to Peru I expect I would be heartily disappointed by the cuisine which would be nothing like what I was expecting (I expect it would be quite llama heavy).  It might be nice, but I have my doubts.

A friend of mine used to live in Goa for six months a year (nice work if you can get it).  The rest of the year she lived in Cricklewood, so you feel that she really did deserve the time off.  It’s hard work living in Cricklewood.  Not everyone has the stamina for it.  I asked her what was the first thing she did when she got home after her six months off.  She said that she went to the local takeaway for a curry!  Apparently, the curry we eat here bears no resemblance whatsoever to what they eat in India.  Both are good, but worlds apart.  Someone told me that one of the main ingredients in most standard takeaway places in the U.K. is Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup.  Whether that’s true or not I don’t know, but it’s an interesting thought.  It’s what my mum always used to feed us when we were ill.  Maybe that’s why I find curry so comforting.

The other interesting world food fact that I have been puzzling over is the fact that we do Mexican food extremely badly in this country.  There are Mexican restaurants, that dreadful chain of them which lurk in leisure parks next to the equally execrable Frankie and Benny’s springs to mind, but they are hideous.  Oxford has a goodish Mexican restaurant, which I believe is one of a few, called Maxwells, but other than that the world of Mexican cuisine has yet to reach us.  This is a shame, as it’s delicious.  Any people who can come up with deep fried ice cream as a dessert, are fairly close to the top of the list in my book.

The weird thing is that the best Mexican food I have ever tasted was actually in Canada.  The Canadians do spectacularly good Mexican food.  It’s delicious.  It’s pretty good in New York as well, but Vancouver is the win.  I was discussing this with a well travelled friend of mine who had been to Mexico on her holidays.  I was just congratulating her on picking a country with a fantastic cuisine when she looked very glum and said that the food had been hideous and that they couldn’t wait to come home to something nice.  I was amazed at this and immediately took Mexico off of my list of gourmet holiday destinations.  She brightened up a bit and said that they had had one delicious meal while they were there, in Tijuana.  She and her partner had been so impressed that they had gone to thank the cook and it turned out that she was from Vancouver!  This added fuel to my theory of Canadians being the best Mexicans, which is a very international way of thinking about things.

Jason was mulling over the idea of a job in Belgium this week.  Now before you get excited, it’s never going to happen.  Whenever there is bad weather, or the interest rates rise, or he’s had a bad lunch at the works’ canteen, he comes home to look at all the jobs that are available overseas.  Before we were together he worked overseas a lot, but since then he merely scrolls through the job pages wistfully.  This was one of his wistful days! 

I wouldn’t mind Belgium quite honestly.  Brussels is supposed to be one of the gourmet capitals of the world, and I’ve never been there.  I know they’re obsessed with DIY and statues of small boys pissing, I read a book about it once, but I do like my food, and as long as they didn’t want me to wire a plug or watch the small boy pissing, I would be fine.  My only experience of Belgium was that I once had the great misfortune to have spent a week in a dank hotel in Ostend with my parents when I was twelve.  It was a hideous experience, the only high point of which was my frenetic consumption of waffles.  I ate to forget…

My father should never, ever be allowed to pick holiday destinations.  He has a knack of picking the most repellent places, and then finding the worst hotels, and matching restaurants.  He had fond memories of Ostend from 1963, so we went.  The whole town was awash in a sea of yappy type dogs, and yappy type dog crap.  It was architecturally reminiscent of an NCP carpark with fully inclusive hot and cold running piss filled stair wells, and there was more red light district than there was town.  One one memorable evening when my dad decided that it would be a good idea for us to go for a walk for our health, he got us lost in the red light district for three hours and then trod in a huge pile of dog shit while my mother alternatively screamed imprecations at him and kept shrieking at my brother and me to ‘stop looking at those women, you’ll go blind!’

The hotel was made out of chipboard and pine veneer planks.  The lounge was the size of my dining room table.  It smelled like a dentist surgery with a faint whiff of cat pee and was festooned with rubber plants.  It was so claustrophobic that you couldn’t sit there for more than five minutes without going insane.  This meant that as the rooms were the size of Youth Hostel bunk beds, there was nowhere to relax.  Consequently we had to go out a lot. 

My dad hates spending money, but had no choice but to book us on an extensive list of coach tours.  We motored through the flat wastelands of Belgium for weeks.  We went to Brugges one day.  It was beautiful.  I don’t remember eating anything because my Dad was horrified at the price of everything.  We went to Holland another day, in a vain attempt to escape.  We spent the day in a gorgeous little town somewhere.  I remember that they had a restaurant on a floating raft in the middle of a lake.  By this time we were chewing our shoes off with hunger.  My mother took charge and insisted that my father had to feed us.  We ate tiny pancakes in the middle of the lake.  They were some of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted (as we had been starving for five days and the only thing the restaurant served was potato croquettes, a minced rat would have probably tasted like manna from heaven, but there you go!).  My dad had hysterics for about five hours afterwards as they cost about twenty quid each.  My mother was unrepentant and told him it served him right for making us stay in Ostend in the first place.  She had wanted to go on a wine tasting holiday in France…

His other outstanding achievement was in Spain when we were travelling from one coast to the other and he managed to book us into a hotel full of thieves and murderers by the side of a river which resembled an open sewer and in which rats the size of dolphins gambolled freely.  The restaurant was a truck stop which was so thick with cigarette smoke that you had to wear an aqualung, and the rooms were what can only be described as sticky.  That was the memorable occasion that my brother actually broke the entire toilet free of the bathroom floor and panicked (rightly so) because there was a six foot fountain of sewagey water jetting out from the broken floor tiles.  It was a pleasure and a delight.

Usually things are o.k. as long as you avoid going anywhere with my dad that he has booked and which involves an overnight stay.  I have had memorably odd holidays with other people, including backpacking across France for a week with my elderly grandmother, who insisted that she wanted to stay by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, only to find that it was too expensive.  Instead we ended up staying in a working brothel in the Arab quarter and sharing the bed with a collection of random stranger’s toenail clippings.  I was knackered and fell asleep (fully clothed I might add), on top of the bed.  She stayed up all night listening to the shenanigins of our uninhibited neighbours and updating her knowledge of sexual relations in the twentieth century.  It’s not many people who can claim that they have taken their granny to a French brothel.  She was not impressed.  It was the toenails that did it…

Now as you know, I have a genetically coded fear of camping, in which I am prone to run screaming for the hills at the mere mention of beetles in the ground sheet.  I will say this however, you cannot say that I haven’t lived, nor that I don’t know what it’s like to rough it.  It’s all part of life’s rich pattern apparently.

Wednesday 30th January – Jeremy Beadle and the Phantom Limb of the Take A Break Generation

Wow! Jezza (that’s Jeremy to you) Beadle has carked it…I am in deep mourning.  It’s just too bizarre.  Jezza used to be an obsession of me and my best friend Rachel.  When we were at uni we used to read the ever classy ‘Take A Break’ magazine every week.  We would cut out pictures of all the gorgeous celebrity hunks pictured in the pages, foremost of which was dearest Jezza, and would make posters and cards for people to cheer them up!  We would create a montage effect and then write in little speech bubbles with cheery messages in them from said celebrities to whoever the card was for.  Other featured celebrity ‘hunks’ included Chesney ‘Chesney Cheese’ Hawkes, Vanilla Ice Ice Baby (Check it out while the DJ revolves it!) and and Richard Madeley. 

I must say that I once saw Chesney Cheese several years later at the Gilded Balloon during the Edinburgh Festival.  By then he was relatively unknown.  I squeaked and shouted; ‘Oh My God! It’s Chesney Cheese!’ at which point everyone in my party looked at me as if I were a total lunatic, and me and Chesney looked at each other in the embarrassed silence that followed.  Nightmare!  I rang Rachel as soon as I could and she was hugely impressed.  I only wish she had been there with me.  It would have been a completely different story then.

I will point out for the purposes of you not all carting me away to a lunatic asylum, that we didn’t actually fancy any of these so called ‘hunks’.  In our youthful, superior minded, University student type way, we were being post-modern and ironic!  To most other people we were probably being a bunch of total twats with too much time on our hands.  But hey, we didn’t stab anyone, and we’re all gainfully employed now, so I highly recommend it.  Take A Break is a lot cheaper than a coke habit and a penchant for Alcopops.

Jezza was our favourite of all the hunks though, mainly because he had a tiny hand, and he seemed to feature in Take A Break quite a lot, which was quite useful for our artwork purposes.  I texted Rachel about it last night.  She was shocked to the core.  Then she went into denial.  She said that he couldn’t really be dead, as we all know that Jezza will go on, in much the same way as dear old Celine.  She thinks it’s all an elaborate scam and he’s going to rise up from his coffin, wave his tiny digits at everyone and shout some whacky catchphrase, shortly before he’s clubbed to death with hymn books by his grieving relatives.  I think she just can’t face the sad truth that one of the legends of our lifetime has passed away.  It will sink in over the coming weeks and I will find her weeping over a yellowed celebrity hunks montage, stroking his weeny hand and saying: ‘How could you leave me Jezza?’ and such things.  When this comes to pass I will offer her comfort in the form of mushroom cuppa soup and a DVD of ‘You’ve Been Framed’ the early years.  Ever thoughtful, that’s me.

Take A Break was brilliant.  We did all the quizzes every week.  They were so easy it would take us about an hour to do the whole magazine’s worth.  It would take us an entire day to do the Guardian Quick Crossword, just to put things into perspective, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Justine knew a lot about Belgian drinking habits in the first world war, we’d never have finished it one day when the final answer was ‘estaminet’.  Thank God she came back from the library in time to stop us throwing it in the wastepaper basket of despair.

Every week we would club together for a first class stamp and send off our prize coupon in the surefire conviction that within a matter of days we would be inundated with prizes.  Our top prize wish list started with the cash (of course), then the car (naturally) and then the supermarket sweep.  We really wanted to do a supermarket sweep, although where we lived there was only the Spa and the Co-op which they renamed Pioneer to make it sound more exciting.  The Pioneer was quite exciting because it was actually built on a flood plain, and for at least three weeks a year you would have to don waders to do your weekly shop.  People used to take their kayaks and bob around in the car park.  Brilliant. 

We studied the rules of the ‘sweep’ quite carefully in order to be prepared when the big day came.  Apparently when you do your ‘sweep’ there are lots of things that you can’t actually have, particularly sanitary products, beer and fags.  Now we didn’t mind too much about this.  We were just hoping there weren’t too many puddles in the biscuit aisle, and thinking about whether pick n mix would be too time consuming (I always thought it would be.  You want to go for bulk and not be worrying about chocolate raisins skidding about everywhere.).  We bickered a lot over who would drive the trolley, and worried about whether you would be allowed to pick your own trolley.  It would be just like the organizers to fix you up with one of those mutant trolleys with a dodgy wheel.  Three minutes would have gone by and you’d still be struggling with some random cauliflowers you didn’t want because you couldn’t get the bloody thing to corner.  It was a minefield.

In the entire three years we religiously did our Take A Break quizzes we never won one single item, not even the dreaded makeover, in which every week, some poor thirty five year old woman would go in looking quite reasonable, and emerge looking like a fifty year old tramp on the verge of death.  We were disillusioned to say the least.  We decided that our run of bad luck was indicative of the fact that the whole thing was in fact a giant scam, and that all the happy winners featured every week, were in fact actors paid by the magazine.  We consoled ourselves with that thought, and then I met a woman whose mother had won a car doing the big crossword, and I was gutted. 

We were just terminally unlucky.  I think it was my fault, much to my chagrin.  I am always very unblessed in games of chance.  Jason calls me the albatross of doom, and when we go to Las Vegas he parks me in a cake shop and then goes off to gamble alone. If I go with him, I suck all the luck out and he dies the death of a thousand cuts.  I am like that character that William H Macey plays in the film The Cooler.  I could be employed by the casinos to sit with the high rollers and suck all their luck away.  I might write to them about it.

Apart from the exciting quizzes, and the glamorous celebrity gossip we used to love the handy hints page and the feature stories.  In fact, let’s face it, we loved everything about it.  It was a total gem of a magazine.  It’s changed now, as have all great things from the past (even Marmite now comes in squeezy tubes.  That is quite cool mind you.).  They have hundreds of different versions; ‘Take A Puzzle’, ‘Take a Holiday’, etc.  It’s just not the same.  They’re trying too hard.  They have production values now, they have a commitment to programming.  It’s rubbish.  It was way better when it used to be produced out of a shed in the back of someone’s garden by Enid and Dave.

The handy hints page was uncannily like Viz’s Top Tips, even down to the ludicrous nature of the tips themselves.  The best thing about it was that it was clearly not made up, unlike the Viz page, and yet it was still hilariously funny.  Anyone who has time to write in to a magazine to recommend building a gerbil cage out of old shirt packing and toilet rolls is either a thwarted Blue Peter Presenter or has too much time on their hands, possibly both. 

To be fair, you could win fifteen quid if you sent in the best tip.  We thought about it, but could never come up with something convincing enough to fool everyone into publishing it.  We did once come up with a great idea for using up spare Angel Delights (you can make an Angel Delight layered trifle, complete with sponge fingers and chocolate buttons), of which we ended up with rather a lot at the end of one term, and had nothing else in the house to eat.  It was however, right at the end of our uni careers and we didn’t need a supermarket sweep by then.  Sadly, they didn’t offer graduate career paths, or we would have written in immediately.   In those days fifteen quid would get you slaughtered at the Union Bar.  It wasn’t to be sniffed at.  God, I sound like my mother with her ten pence to the cinema, a limousine home and change for chips story.  My children are going to hate me, even if they don’t already, which is a debatable point!

The features were absolutely brilliant and paid homage to the best stories of the vile and fascinating; ‘National Enquirer’.  Our two favourites were the double page spread on ‘The Village of Doom!’ and the heart rending; ‘I was blind for fifteen years and didn’t know it!’  The village of doom was basically a regular village where they claimed that lots of people had died in mysterious circumstances.  This led them to think that the village was probably cursed, and that if you lived there you were sure to meet a horribly sticky end, any time now.  They listed the deaths which included things like; ‘Bert, aged 95, suddenly mysteriously stopped breathing.  Nobody in the medical profession could explain why.’  ‘Mildred, aged 87 fell downstairs and broke her hip.  Mysteriously she died a week later with no explanations.’  What a story.  By adding the word ‘mysteriously’ to every death, it did in fact have the effect of making it seem rather ‘mysterious’.  What was quite mysterious was the fact that all of the deaths featured were of incredibly old people with long term health problems.  The only mystery was how the poor buggers had managed to keep alive that long.  A masterpiece.

The blind woman apparently managed to raise six children, read several hundred books and drive a car for fifteen years without realising the fact that she was as blind as a bat!  Amazing!  Just amazing!  She is of course both a freak of nature, and a lying hound.  But it does make for great copy.  I have just realised, after twenty five years that I have a phantom limb, and am actually a world downhill ski champion called Geoff.  I never knew before now, and then ‘mysteriously’ I had a sense that this would make sense of my unfulfilled and thwarted life up to now.  Lo and behold, it did!  I am going to write to Take A Break and see if I can get the double page spread, complete with staples.  I’m also hoping for a grand and a supermarket dash round the Glenfield Co-op.

I did actually apply for a job with Take A Break after leaving university.  Believe it or not they used to be based in Leicester, which would have meant a short bus ride to a dream job for me.  Sadly, apart from my ability to write many acres of absolutely random rubbish based on not much at all, I was totally unqualified and they turned me down.  I would however, be absolutely brilliant as their feature writer, and I hope one day that someone will read this blog and discover my facility to write absolute drivel, and give me the chance I so badly deserve.  After all, I do have a phantom limb.

Tuesday 22nd January – The miraculous potato peeler of joy

Well, I’ve just noticed that I labelled yesterday as Tuesday as well, and it was only Monday, so that was an excellent start to the week already, and I thought I was being more efficient this week.  It turns out I’m just being greedy and demanding two Tuesdays instead.  This is the kind of vapid, immoral woman I am.  I must learn to live with it, and my glut of Tuesdays.  I put it down to reading too many Heat magazines.  It’s the only answer.

So, today on the genuine Tuesday what have I done with my life? Well, Oscar and I took a trip into town on the bus this morning.  It’s always difficult on the bus because they only allow two buggies on the bus unfolded at any one time.  I was number three this morning which meant I had to get Oscar out of his buggy, along with his bag and his blanket.  Then I had to hold him, his bag, and his blanket, whilst folding up the buggy and then stowing it in the very high luggage rack, all on a very crowded, very moving bus.  It isn’t the easiest of feats, and I’m not the most dextrous of women, so it took a considerable portion of our journey there to get safely stowed, and then we had to reverse the procedure once we had reached town.  I know that public transport is environmentally more sound etc, but you would think that they might make it a little easier to use it, especially for me and the old woman who lives in a shoe.  We both have so many children we don’t know what to do.

When we got there I went and visited some friends I used to do business with, to remind myself that I was once a competent woman of business who only had the one regular Tuesday a week, and whose colleagues actually respected her as a businesswoman and not a revolving ball of sticky scruffiness pushing a buggy.  It was nice to see everyone, and yet subtly depressing at the same time.  I am glad I am no longer in the world of marketing really, although it would be nice to do something that didn’t involve nappies on a daily basis. 

I used to run a marketing company for small companies, the only problem was that a lot of the time they were very conventional and I wasn’t.  It was hard to get our vision to meet in the middle, and even harder to get them to unclench their wallets to pay for it.  I am heartened that many of the things I predicted would be huge, such as viral marketing, blogging and virtual marketing have become both viable and successful.  It’s a shame nobody believed it at the time.  I spent a lot of my marketing career feeling like Cassandra, a princess of Troy.  She was gifted with second sight and spent a lot of time running around Troy shouting; ‘Flee! Flee! You’re all going to die horribly!’  Her curse was that nobody believed her, and thought she was just a moany old cow.  Then when Troy got invaded and everyone was being slaughtered they would point at Cassandra with their spurting stumps for arms and croak: ‘You cow! Why didn’t you tell us this was going to happen?’ with their dying breath.  That was me, but in Glenfield and with less spurting stumps.

After the little wallow in nostalgia I took Oscar to have his passport photos taken.  There is no way on God’s green earth that you can get a twelve month old child with saggy knees to stand in a photo booth and align their head properly for the demands of the machine without having to use scaffolding.  Because naturally you mustn’t be in the photo with the child.  Who really comes up with such ridiculous demands as this?  How many babies do you see who can do all the things demanded of them for a modern day passport photograph without being in Mensa? 

When Tallulah was born I had to take her to Canada when she was six weeks old.  This meant dragging her off for a photo shoot when she was about ten days old.  Apparently they aren’t allowed to be crumpled up, they aren’t allowed to be asleep and they’re not allowed to make any facial contortions.  Oh yes! And they must appear to be able to hold their heads up and be unsupported.  Easy, peasy.  Great!  Basically what they’re asking is that you kill your child, have them stuffed and laminated and then have their picture taken.   I spent twenty five pounds in duff photos before I managed to get close enough to make them happy.

Now photographers are a little more geared up.  It still means that you have to find a friendly photographer and drag the kid to a photographic studio to have their pictures done.  This costs three times as much as having them done in a booth, but does save you the bother of having to move in with the lady at the passport office in Peterborough for three months while you beg them to accept crumpled mug shots of your dribbling offspring.

My one concern was that Oscar might smile.  He likes having his photograph taken and he loves being the centre of attention.  If you couple that with a love of all things gadgetty (inherited from both the male race in general and his father in particular), a photographic studio is a potential smile deathtrap.  And as we all know, it is verboten to smile in passport photographs.  I don’t understand why this is.  I presume it is because when you smile you crinkle up your eyes, which makes it harder to spot if you’re a would be bomb festooned maniac.  Maybe it’s just because all the people who work at the passport office hate living in Peterborough and don’t see why the rest of us should be happy just because we’re going on our holidays.  I would go for this theory every time.  As we all know, misery loves company.

Anyway, I needn’t have bothered to worry.  We are now into the third day of the pineapple ban and Oscar is becoming more sullen by the second.  He spent most of the day scowling like a tiny and ferocious bulldog and the only time he was happy was when he was forking his lunch into his face and dreaming of possible pineapples to come.  He looks slightly perturbed on his passport photo, but this is fine as you are allowed to look perturbed as long as you don’t wrinkle too much.  Soon I expect they will insist that you have a shot of botox before you have your photos done so you look nice and surprised and as smooth as a baby’s bum, for ease of recognition.

Anyway, we got it done, which is a relief.  Now I just have to get it signed by my friend who is a surgeon.  Nobody can argue with her about her suitability to sign such things as having a friend who is a surgeon is a bit like having the card for the Master in Doctor Who Top Trumps, you know nothing is going to beat it.  This is good, but it does mean that my poor friend spends half her life signing the back of passport photos, particularly for babies, as all her friends are currently producing offspring.  She is an expert at cramming in all that tiny writing on the back of the picture, bless her. It’s probably all the practice with a scalpel that gives he r such a deft touch.

She is going to sign Oscar’s passport photo for the second time in twelve months, because he only had one done in August of last year.  Unfortunately he looked like a small currant bun when he had his last picture done.  Now he looks like a boy, and the difference is so great that there is no way we can get around saying: ‘It’s the same boy.  Now deal with it and let us go on holiday you bloody nit picking peasant.’ for fear that we will be clapped in leg irons and deported to Guantanamo Bay en masse.  It isn’t really the holiday I envisaged us taking and I will do quite a lot to avoid it.

After the photographs we went birthday present shopping.  It is our friend Peter’s birthday this week, possibly yesterday, maybe the day after tomorrow.  As we have already established I am not that hot on the days of the week.  Never mind.  I have now bought him a present and a card, and spent a fortune on a sheet of wrapping paper with pictures of Paddington Bear contentedly eating a marmalade sandwich on it.  It is very cool indeed and I just couldn’t resist it.  I don’t like marmalade myself, but he just looks so very pleased with himself that it was definitely a good thing.  I might keep a bit and put it in my purse along with photographs of the kids.  That will confuse the ambulance men if I ever get run over and they have to search my purse for evidence!

It is Jason’s birthday tomorrow, and I finished off some last minute things for him.  It is also my best friend’s birthday this week.  I knew exactly what I wanted to buy her because I’d spotted it in a shop just before Christmas.  It was a turn your own bookshelf into a personalised library kit, and it came with a library stamp and some library cards all of your very own.  It came in a cool wooden box and was extremely brilliant.  It was one of those presents that I just saw and then immediately knew who it was for.  Unfortunately at the time I was broke from Christmas shopping, so I vowed to come back, which I did, only to find that the shop has closed down.  The word bollocks came to mind.

After that it was a bit of a present buying trauma style frenzy that ensued, which was just horrible. I was meeting Andrea for lunch so we could commiserate with each other on why we signed up to do a course on Shakespeare, and how much we hate Romeo and Juliet, and I only had half an hour to find something.  In the end I raided the local cookshop and bought her some very cool enamel cookie cutters in the shape of frogs and rabbits in all different colours.  I like them, but they’re really a consolation prize and I’m worried that she’s going to think it’s a hint that she doesn’t spend enough time in the kitchen, so I’m going to have to send a grovelling note with them.  Bum!

I did find a very cool gadget while I was in there though, which I can heartily recommend.  They had a vegetable peeler which consists of a double edged blade sitting on a curved bit of plastic which you slip over your middle finger like a ring.  The plastic and blade then nestle in the palm of your hand.  This configuration means that you don’t have to worry about severing an artery whilst peeling, and if you’re a lefty it’s multi hand use and multi directional blade mean that you can use it without seeming like a total loser.  Tilly likes to help me prep veg when she’s in a cheffing mood.  She gets very depressed about peeling potatoes because she struggles with the fact that the knife blade is too long and difficult to control, and she is left handed. 

I bought this new fangled one for her to try and she peeled four potatoes for my chicken stew this evening in the time it usually takes her to peel one.  Not only that but she peeled them expertly with no loss of limb and no trouble at all.  And I didn’t burn myself because I was not looking what I was doing properly worrying about whether she might sever an artery.  A winner and for £3.95 it was an absolute bargain to boot.  I’m now going to buy one for my dad, who is also a lefty and whose obsession with making cheese and potato pie in his spare time means that he suffers terribly from self inflicted potato peeling wounds.  Awesome, maybe he will go on to learn the violin after all…I hope not.

Friday 18th January – Elephant Pooh, Dog Pooh, People Pooh. It’s all Pooh

Today was a far superior type of day in every way to yesterday.  Thank the good Lord for that say I!  Mind you, having said all that, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to achieve given the levels of misery I experienced yesterday.  Despite working out my Celine Dion based plan to financial independence, which I admit was a stroke of genius on my part, it was a bloody terrible day all things considered.

Whenever I moan like this I always hear my mother’s voice in my ear telling me to be grateful and that; ‘starving Africans wouldn’t be so picky,’ type thing.  I agree.  I am very lucky to have a house, my health, my hairy husband etc.  It is hard to think about these things when you’re sleep deprived and head first in the shoe cupboard covered in pooh and being deafened by the burglar alarm however.  I’m just not Zen enough to let all these things wash over me.  I just end up winded and irritated with gravel in my pants.  I expect even a starving African would be quite stressed out by that, even if they had just indulged in a hearty English breakfast with tea and toast.

The other thing I should be grateful for is that miserable, stress filled days are much easier to write about than days where everything went smoothly and things were good.  I do feel that it is nice to have a mix of both though, regardless of how interesting my life story would be if it were a Catherine Cookson style melange of unrelenting misery and strife.  I thank my lucky stars I’ve never had to go down the pit.  I don’t like being underground, it creeps me out too much.  I had hysterics when I went down the Blue John Caverns at the age of eleven, and I’ve never been the same since.

Oscar slept most of the night through, much to my joy.  Apart from the odd whinge around midnight it was a quiet night dominated by sleep, and not by screaming vomitous children of any age, which was a great relief.  I know that I had dreams because when I woke up I distinctly remember thinking; ‘hmmm! That was odd…’ but then promptly forgot them, so you are saved from another few paragraphs of deep Freudian analysis.  It is Friday after all.

Jason went out role playing last night and didn’t get in until hideous o’clock.  I never heard a thing, which shows how tired I was.  Usually I at least hear the front door click, but a troupe of tap dancing bears could have snuggled their way into bed with me last night and I would have been totally oblivious to the lot of them.  Jason tells me that he had a very enjoyable, albeit traumatic evening, as he got swallowed by a dragon.  He rang me to tell me this this morning from work, as we only grunted at each other on the stairs in the early hours of this morning.  Needless to say I wasn’t too stressed about it, given the fact that it was an imaginary dragon, and the most dangerous thing he went near all evening apart from the sharpened end of a pencil was Lee’s manly, but undoubtedly dirty, bathroom.

The kids got up and got dressed relatively efficiently this morning, with only minor detours for questions such as: ‘Mama? What does a filament do?’ (from Tilly) and ‘Mama? Why is Luke in my class so naughty?’ (from Tallulah).  The answer, luckily for the sake of speed and economy, was: ‘I don’t really know.’ to both of them.  Oscar seemed much cheerier this morning because, a) he actually slept instead of shrieking the house down all night, and b) I had the time to cut him some fresh pineapple this morning.  A full belly makes a happy boy.  Apparently, in the world of small boys, pineapples are the new black, or in Oscar’s case, the new bananas.

We got out the door without setting off any alarms and with all necessary articles.  We got to school without any dog pooh related escapades.  I say this because Tallulah stepped in a big lump of it last night on the way back from having her hair cut, despite me pointing it out and showing her a path to avoid it. I am certain she did it on purpose just to see what it felt like.  She had that; ‘I don’t care what you say,’ gleam in her eye.  I have told her that if she does this again I will make her take her shoes and socks off and walk through it barefoot so that she can fully appreciate it.  It will be vile, but it will be worth it.  Sometimes we have to push through the boundaries of acceptable behaviour to get our own way, and if our own way means me not having to spend forty minutes in a howling gale on the back door step picking lumps of pooh out of the bottom of a shoe, I’m all for it.

I spent my morning making notes and an essay plan for my final course essay.  I did a lot of internet research on Chris Ofili, because books on him are few and far between, which is probably why they picked his work for us to write about, and save on plagiarism charges.  I have come to the conclusion that although I dislike both the paintings we have been studying, he is actually quite cool and has done some stuff that is really rather spectacular and beautiful.  There is one piece in particular which he did as an installation for the Tate with another bloke, which has thirteen giant paintings of rhesus monkeys as a kind of parodic Last Supper, which I think is amazing.  Another one for my Amazon wish list, when I get to be a blingtastic millionaire art collector, next week probably.

In the mean time I am left struggling with a canvas full of dung and large afros, and not a lot to say about either.  At least, not a lot to say that would gain me valuable points in an essay type situation.  It’s at times like these when I look back at Burma with a wistful fondness.  The problem with Burma was that there was too much to say in too little time.  The problem with dung man is that I am struggling to fill a thousand word essay with important artistic tit bits about pooh related art.

There was an artist bloke called Piero Manzoni who used to put his pooh in tins, which were then sold as art.  He labelled them as, ‘Merda d’artista’, which means artist’s shit, in Italian, but as we have already discussed a la Opera, sounds much better in Italian than it does in English.  He sold a lot of these tins in his very short and alcohol fuelled life (who would have thought he was alcoholic, coming up with an idea like that?), which just shows you how bonkers art has always been.  They are now worth £30,000 each, which is a staggering thought. 

I have been mulling over the idea of becoming an artist of pooh and vomit, using the kids’ efforts as my raw materials.  I thought I might try bronzing them and putting them on sticks, or stringing them together like sausages.  I could do both and see which one sells better than the other.  It’s an idea.  The chemist up the road has just closed, so all I have to do is persuade Jason to buy it for me, so that I can open the first contemporary art gallery in Glenfield.  I’m sure it will go down a storm given the fact that the most highbrow shop we have in Glenfield is the Post Office, and the library is the size of my downstairs loo.  I own more books than Glenfield library.  Mind you, I own more books than most libraries, so that is a bit of an unfair comparison, but you undoubtedly get my point.

My friend Nicky came over at lunch time and saved me from more pooh/art ponderings with a trip to Auntie Ruth’s for lunch.  Auntie Ruth’s is a greasy spoon cafe which is just down the road from where I used to live.  It doesn’t serve fancy food.  It serves proper, trucker style food complete with black pudden’ and fried bread.  My mum and I escape there regularly for egg and chips, and that’s exactly what Nicky and I did today.  Sausage, egg and chips with double bread and butter, large mugs of tea and treacle sponge with custard for pudding to be precise.  It was a heart attack type meal, but on a cold and windswept day in January, it was just what the doctor should order.  We felt much better afterwards, although we couldn’t actually move for several moments, and had to be winched free of the table and then booted through the door on our way out.

I have mixed emotions every time I visit Auntie Ruth’s.  It used to be a Little Chef when I were a lass (and all this were fields type thing…) and in my teens, my best mate Rachel and I used to work there on weekends and during the holidays.  We were, it has to be said, two of the most dreadful waitresses on God’s green earth, and could be relied upon only to balls things up in the most spectacular manner on every occasion.  Whenever I go there now I get hideous flashbacks to my time there as an inmate, because they haven’t really changed the decor, and it’s a bit scary.  Mind you, I’ll put up with a lot of trauma for a sausage, as we have already established, so I just force myself through the pain.

Some of my highlights as my time as a waitress include:

Tipping a hot pot of tea over a lady’s nether regions on a spectacularly busy Bank Holiday Monday.  I compounded this heinous crime by then apologising, which we weren’t supposed to do, in case someone sued us.  Not only did I get a kicking from the woman’s husband, I got a bollocking from my boss as well.

Having my bottom pinched by a fat and lecherous old man when I had a tray with brimming teacakes on it occupying both my hands.  I threatened to lynch him with a butter knife if he laid a finger on me again.  He denied all knowledge and branded me an uppity little tart, and I got a bollocking from my boss.

Charging someone eighteen pounds fifty for two tea cakes and a pot of tea because I didn’t know how to work the till and got into a bit of a tizzy.  I got a bollocking from my boss.

Having to make fifty side salads using only a dinner knife because the chef had gone home in a temperamental ‘head chef’ style strop (I think he’d seen it on the telly), and had taken all the sharp knives with him.  I squashed so many tomatoes it looked like a slasher movie, and Rachel and I were sent round to his house to beg him to return (only because we knew where he lived, not because we were any good at these kind of hostage situations mind you), because things were getting crucial on the salad front.

Having to help Rachel on the day she was sent to clean the toilets and couldn’t get rid of an extremely vicious pooh which just wouldn’t flush.  We were found twenty minutes later by the manager, hysterical with laughter and unable to stand, and naturally given a bollocking because a) we had let the side down, and b) we had not got rid of the pooh of doom.  She sent someone else to deal with it, who reappeared victorious and branded us ‘wimps’.  The next morning I was on earlies, and when I got there the toilets were closed, as the pooh had crept back up the u-bend in the night and flooded the toilets.  A revenge pooh.

It has turned out to be a fairly pooh filled day one way and another.  Thankfully only in thought rather than deed, which is good, as I do need a break from bodily functions, particularly those of other people.  Luckily everyone is now in bed and Jason is very finicky about such matters, so I’m hoping for a pleasant evening watching the telly.  We’ve got several Grand Designs we haven’t seen on Sky Plus and we’re going to indulge in a spot of Jobe’s comforting with our favourite misery guts, Kevin McCloud.  We like the fact that Kevin gets turned on by disaster.  We think he would fit well into our lives.  We have decided to adopt Kevin, along with Stephen Fry.  We like Kevin.  He’s kind of handy.  He’s trilingual, wears funky shirts and knows a lot about building.  He’s going to live in my trouser turn ups, because it’s a little known fact that he’s only four inches tall.  He should be cheap to keep, and he can label all the tins in my art gallery for me when the day comes…

Saturday 5th January – I Saw Gandalf’s Knob!

Today was what could be described as a ‘good’ day.  Although Jason is still poorly, Lee came over to help him with the kids which meant that I was still allowed to go out.  As Jason himself whispered into my ear (his throat hurts, he wasn’t trying to be seductive); ‘It’s not every day you get to see Gandalf in person.’  Indeed not.  Although if it hadn’t have been for Lee I would have had to stay at home anyway and just Google pictures of Gandalf, because Jason is now actually properly poorly and not just man flu poorly.  He thinks it might be toncilitis.  I have no idea what it is but he looks impressively unwell, and I’m just thanking the good Lord on bended knee that I don’t have it.

Andrea was picking me up from my house at eight o’clock and I managed to surface early enough to drink coffee and eat toast before she arrived rather than as we were leaving.  As she was half an hour late herself I can’t give myself total credit for being bright eyed and bushy tailed, but as I was on my second cup of coffee when she arrived I feel I can still claim some credit.  I was inordinately proud of this fact. 

There have been trips which we have undertaken where I have drunk my mug of coffee in transit, whilst balancing my toast on the electric windows.  I have always managed to get dressed before stepping out the door, but as most people manage this on a daily basis it does seem a small thing to be grateful for.  I don’t always get dressed properly either, and have been known to wander round in great discomfort all day only to find eight hours later that my pants are on sideways.

We didn’t get lost on the way.  We didn’t get stuck in traffic, even though we had to use the abomination that is the M25.  We arrived at her friend’s house on time and as arranged.  Despite ominous signage about bus links to replace the tube, it was still running and we caught it.  I felt left out because I was the only one who didn’t have an Oyster card, but I tried not to let it bother me too much.  One day I may even be allowed an Oyster Card of my own, and in the mean time I shall try to be satisfied with a one day travel card.  It’ll be hard, but them’s the breaks.

Travelling the Piccadilly Line gave me ominous and sweat inducing flashbacks to my days as a commuter.  I used to live in Hendon and work in South Kensington for a while.  For those of you who don’t know London this probably doesn’t mean a thing, but for those of you who do, this signifies an ominous trip of hellish proportions.  I would catch an overland train to Kings Cross, then use the underground to go from Kings Cross to South Kensington on the Piccadilly Line.  On a good day this could take forty five minutes.  On a bad day it could be anything up to two hours.  Some days it would take me fifteen minutes to get onto the tube platform at Kings Cross.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the days I actually got to sit down on the way to work.  The day there was a bomb scare it took three and a half hours to get in.  I don’t know why I bothered.  I should have rung in, told a hideous fib and gone shopping.  I was just too honest in those days.  I must have been mad.

I used to work at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I worked in the sponsorship department.  It was basically our job to ring up lots of very old, very rich people and ask, cajole and beg them for money so that we could buy new ‘stuff’, put on new exhibitions and get money to build giant bedouin tents in the gardens and stuff.  In exchange we would take photographs of them which would then get published in Hello! Magazine.  Fair exchange and all that.  Friday was my worst day.  Friday was when the death notices came out, and it was my morbid duty to pore over them. 

Basically, rich people often leave money in their wills for ‘charitable donations’, which they then leave their executors to sort out because while they’re sure they want to leave eight billion quid to the retired donkey home, and fifty thousand to the silver spoon society, they have a few extra thousand they’re just not sure what to do with (if only I had that problem).  When this happens, all the details of the people who have left this money are put together on a big list, with the amounts available, and circulated to all the institutions that would normally be eligible for this kind of money.  My job was to go through this list, circling all the appropriate entries.  I would then wait for my boss to ‘okay’ my choices, and my job was to write what was a delicate balance between a: ‘Dear Lord Chumleigh, we are so sorry to hear of the death of your mother’ letter and a: ‘Dear Lord Chumleigh, give us a million quid so we can buy a bit of faded old tapestry which won’t see the light of day for another eight years,’ letter.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  Particularly not last thing on a Friday afternoon when all you want to do is go home via the pub.

I was never very good with the landed gentry, which is probably why I hated the job as much as I did.  I had always wanted to work at the V&A, so when it came up I was like a pig in muck.  That feeling lasted approximately one day, and then I loathed it for the rest of my stay.  There is enough etiquette to choke an ox.  Everything has to be filled out in quadruplicate (I am not kidding) and ordered a month in advance, and there are twenty six miles of corridors in the building, most of which you end up walking on a daily basis.  It used to take twenty minutes to get from my office to accounts just to fill out a petty cash slip.  Madness.

As for the posh people, they were bloody everywhere.  It was worse than having ants, mainly because there is no powdered repellent to deter posh people, and it’s illegal to pour boiling water on them.  There was always somebody important coming to visit.  Someone with a triple barrelled name which wasn’t pronounced anything like it sounded, someone with twelve titles, but who had to be called something totally different because traditionally you call The Rear Admiral, Mavis, but you only know that if you’re posh.  Apparently, in my spare time I was supposed to be reading Debrett’s peerage so that I wouldn’t make faux pas.  I didn’t have any spare time because funding was so tight I was already doing three people’s job and working four hours of unpaid overtime a day.  Clever people, I was told, would be able to read and inwardly digest it whilst traversing the miles of corridor in between jobs.  As it took two hands to hold the paperwork to request four cups of coffee and some malted milk biscuits, I didn’t quite know where I was supposed to be balancing a book the size of the Concise Oxford Dictionary.  I expect that if I were posh I would have worked it out.  Sadly I was too common.

I was always making mistakes.  One day my boss said: ‘Now be a love and ring Bertie and ask him if he’s coming to this bash on Friday because he hasn’t replied to his invitation.’  I duly picked up the phone and asked for ‘Bertie’, only to have a very snooty lady on the other end of the phone say: ‘That’s Lord Toffeenose to you, peasant,’ or words to that effect.  I did this kind of thing on a daily basis, along with getting lost. 

My other ‘job’ was to use my lunch hour to navigate my way around the museum so I knew where everything was.  Problem was, I was quite hungry when lunch time came around (It’s another way you can tell I was common, always starving), and I used to sneak out to Pret A Manger instead.  Consquently whenever important people came to our office (which was in a broom cupboard somewhere five miles away from the museum proper), I would be told to take Little Lord Fauntleroy over to ‘Dresses of The French Empire’, and we would invariably get lost.  I would always end up by a carving of a medieval donkey no matter where I was supposed to be going, or how long I had been wandering for.  I did wonder at one point whether it was actually following me round.  Eventually the stress got to me, and I left after three months. 

I’m sure everyone else was as delighted as I was.  One day when someone very important was coming for lunch with the Director, and his PA was going mad because the florist had sent lupins as a table arrangement, over which the guests wouldn’t be able to see each other, I suggested cutting them in half with a pair of scissors and saying they were ‘art’.  The silence was deafening and it was definitely one of those, ‘I’ll get my coat moments’.

Back to the day in question I think.  I felt much better when I navigated us to Drury Lane without the aid of a map and with no mistakes.  I may not have lived in London for years now, but I can still find my way around without looking like a tourist, and that’s what counts!  I know Drury Lane very well, not because of its theatres, or its grand and ancient history, but because it has a first rate chemist that I used to come up to town specifically to use (Farmacia), and it also has/had (times change, things move on) a very good Oxfam shop.  It’s almost as good as the one in Hampstead.  The one in St. John’s Wood also has its moments for those of you wanting to go up to London for the day just to browse second hand shops, or vintage clothing emporiums as I suppose they must now be called.

The play was excellent.  I would suggest you get a ticket, but as they were queuing half a mile down the road for returns I happen to know that there aren’t any.  Some lady behind us was bragging that she was going to see Ewan McGregor as Iago at the Donmar Warehouse and she’d had to sell her house and her husband to get the tickets, so I know there aren’t any for that either.  I’m not too disappointed.  Apparently McGregor isn’t very menacing as Iago, and I hate Othello, although I have seen it for the sake of completion (I am determined to see all Shakespeare’s plays before I die.  I’m not doing too badly so far).  Her bragging was wasted on me.

The only weak point in Lear was Cordelia.  The actress who plays her is a woman called Romola Garai, who I had the misfortune to see in Chekhov’s, The Seagull a few months ago.  She’s been in several films as well, and I just can’t warm to her.  I’m sure she’s a lovely person.  She probably donates money to the silver donkey society and eats all her crusts, but she’s a very shrill actress who emotes grief by screwing up her face and wailing loudly in the manner of a woman who has had the misfortune to have both sucked on a lemon and stood on a piece of lego simultaneously.  She also likes to flap her hands around in the manner of the dingle, dangle scarecrow (for those of you who have the misfortune to attend mums and tots you will know exactly what I mean).  I just can’t like it, as Tallulah would say.

Luckily this is a minor problem here, as Cordelia is only in a few scenes and has very little to say.  This made things more bearable and the rest of the play was superb.  McKellen’s performance did not disappoint in any way, and I can honestly say that when I was watching him I forgot that I was watching Shakespeare and felt like I was watching something real.  It was the best theatrical performance I have ever seen in my life and I feel very priviliged to have seen it.  A true high point in my life.

As you can see from the title of the post today, he also got naked on stage, which was quite surprising.  Especially as he was being chased around by Sylvester McCoy at the time (he hadn’t parked his tardis in the wrong place, he was playing the fool).  It’s not every day that you get to see Sir Ian McKellen in all his glory being chased round a stage by an ex-time Lord wearing a smoking cap.  Although the appendage was a sight to see I have to say I don’t think it added anything to my understanding of King Lear, although I thank it for providing me with material for blogging purposes.

Although the calibre of the acting was never in question, the calibre of the audience was rather dubious (we were there!).  As we were waiting for it to start, a lady behind me said pointedly to the man sitting next to her: ‘It isn’t a comedy you know.’  As they’d just shut all the doors and were about to dim the lights, I thought it was a bad time to tell him not to expect any laughs, but there you go.

Thursday 27th December

I’m not even going to bother whisking you in a time machine back to yesterday and writing up an entry for the day.  I prefer to blot it out of my memory for the forseeable future.  I may want to revisit it in about twenty years just for the sake of completion, but even that is highly unlikely.  The children finally got their revenge and I believe I have caught whatever horrible infestation they have been suffering with for the last few weeks.  I woke up throwing up and spent most of yesterday the same way. 

Needless to say, I didn’t get my trip to Borders and I didn’t get my trip to my mum’s boxing day party.  I got a trip to the toilet, and another and another.  I shall sum up my experience of the whole day with the childrens’ favourite battle cry: ‘It’s not fair!’  Having got that off of my chest, we shall draw a veil over the events of the past twenty four hours and move swiftly on.  The only good thing might be that I’ve lost a few pounds, although knowing my luck I shall venture in trepidation to the scales only to find that I have put half a stone on.  Perhaps my body clock is working backwards and it’s time to crack open a lard sandwich and stop messing around.

Today I am feeling slightly less vile, although a bit like I’ve been in a washing machine on spin cycle for a few hours.  I am now waiting to see if I wake up tomorrow covered in spots from head to toe.  This is what they call: ‘Something to look forward to,’ apparently! This is what happened to the kids, so I keep leaping in front of the mirror, whipping my top off and inspecting my stomach ferociously in the hope that I can catch them unawares.  Quite what I am going to do when I find them is another matter, and one which I haven’t given much serious thought to.  It’s not as if I can round them all up and send them packing is it?  I might look up random folk remedies on the internet for curing itinerant rashes.  There’s bound to be something strange and horrible that you can do with ordinary household implements such as an oven glove and a cheese grater.  It would help to pass the time, since I am refusing to leave the house until the January sales are over.  Anyone who wants to get up at six in the morning to go and stand in line to buy Next underpants is certifiable in my book.

One of my friend’s ex-husband used an internet method to try and sort out his grumbling gall bladder.  He was on a waiting list for the hospital to have it seen to, but as these things are not considered urgent, he had been on the list for many a long month and expected to be on it for considerably longer.  In the meantime he was suffering a great deal, as these things may not be urgent, but they are extremely uncomfortable.  My friend suggested he see if there was anything he could do, probably because she was fed up of him lying around the house grumbling and littering up her lounge every day.

He found an absolutely hideous remedy which involved lying on his side, propped on a pillow and then drinking down the juice of several lemons and a litre of olive oil (you had to be propped on your side, to help the glorious mixture percolate through the gall bladder properly).  After this you had to lie and wait for it to flush through your system, at which point you needed a clear path through to a dedicated toilet for about three days while it worked its magic. 

Now you would have to be totally desperate to give this a try, in my humble opinion.  And it is testament to his manly willpower, and presumably how much pain he was in, that he did indeed do it.   He didn’t fall at the first post and vomit the greasy lemon mixture all over the carpet, which is what I would have done.  He manfully chugged it down and then galloped away for the next three days, wearing a small track in what had been a very expensive carpet.  After all that time he had passed about eighty gall stones (they look like black olives.  He showed me them in a jar! Gross.) and felt totally brilliant.

Now all this time he had been suffering the poor man had been surviving on Oliver Twist type gruel, because anything you eat that doesn’t taste like wallpaper paste apparently aggravates the crap out of your gall bladder and makes it hurt even more.  So when he felt better he decided to treat himself and eat some proper food.  On day four he sent out to the local Chinese takeaway and ate an entire feast for four people by himself.  About eight hours later he was rushed to hospital in dire agony and had to have his gall bladder removed.  Turns out he hadn’t read all the instructions on the DIY gallstone removal page.  You’re supposed to do a detox diet for three weeks after the initial flushing so that your gall bladder has time to recover.  It clearly wasn’t ready for crispy duck a la MSG and had registered its disapproval accordingly.

So, be warned.  If you’re going to do crazy home health experiments on the internet, make sure you read all the instructions first, or you will be very sorry.  Also be warned.  Very few of the remedies that are recommended are friendly, if you see what I mean.  You can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of remedies that require you to have: ‘a nice cup of tea and a sit down’, and there are not words to describe how many of them start with the words: ‘First boil your Brillo pad’, etc.

Someone very strange once told me that if you had a headache you could cure it by grabbing hold of a chair and wishing the headache into the chair!  If only it were true.  They were convinced of the efficacy of this cure.  I have to say that in sheer desperation I did try it one day (mainly because it was one of the few that I’d heard of that didnt’ involve sharp instruments.  Trepanning anyone?).  Oddly enough it didn’t work, which is probably why I haven’t seen it recommended in any first aid manuals recently.  It did distract me momentarily from wanting to cut my own head off though, so if you fancy a bit of a break, it may be worth pretending for a little while.  I found that after a couple of minutes what I really wanted to do was throw the chair at the head of the stupid person who had recommended it in the first place.  I was only stopped by the knowledge that I had been both stupid enough to believe them and try it in the first place.  Shame on me.

Other weird remedies recommended to me for various things have included: sticking warm bits of garlic in your ear for earache.  I have never tried this because of the smell and the logistics of how you would get it to stay there.  Presumably you use some kind of glue, or perhaps a little bit of melted cheese!  Someone else recommended warm olive oil.  I didn’t try this because knowing my luck I would either set my ear on fire or tip too freely and end up pouring a litre of the stuff straight into my brain cavity.  How would you explain it to the Doctor? It would be completely mortifying.

 A friend of my parents used to get bad earache and one day he decided the only thing to do was to screw up bits of tissue paper and stuff them in his ears (like you do!).  He went to sleep like that, rolled over and lost one of the bits of paper in his ear.  He had to go to the hospital to have it extracted, which made his earache worse than ever.  He had a thing about ears.  He used to stick breadsticks in his ears when he was drunk, and had to go to hospital quite a few times for that as well. I expect it was all the grissini crumbs in his ear drum that gave him the earaches in the first place, that or his wife slapping him repeatedly round the head for being such a dullard.  I would have suggested glueing earmuffs to his ears after a bit, just to give the hospital a rest from his total idiocy.

Someone else I know had a big thing about drinking their own wee.  They were positively evangelical about it.  They would have to have been really, to try and recommend it to someone like me.  It wasn’t for any specific ills, it was more in the nature of a pick me up and general cure all.  Apparently, if your diet is healthy enough your wee shouldn’t smell bad at all, and it is perfectly safe to drink (I think we can safely say that chocolate panettone and a daily Terry’s Chocolate Orange do not constitute a healthy diet, so that’s me out, sadly!).  She recommended a hearty glassful twice a day to see you right.  I always thought twice about kissing her hello after this, and she did invite us round for dinner a few times, but sadly I was always too busy.

I have heard about this before.  It is quite a popular health remedy as far as extremely odd health remedies go.  Nevertheless it will be a cold day in hell before you find me quaffing a pint of finest wee, mine or anyone else’s for that matter.  I still wrestle with the fundamental biological fact that wee is a waste product, specifically ejected by the body because it can’t cope with all the nasty toxins that are in it.  If wee were good for us, surely kidneys would be purely ornamental?  As this is not the case, I feel that the money for the subscription for ‘wee drinkers weekly’ would be better spent elsewhere.

I mean if you’re that keen on the stuff, why stop there?  Why isn’t anyone recommending the beneficial, health giving properties of munching pooh?  I know there are websites out there that deal with that, but apparently those things are more for pleasure than for health, although I’m hard pressed to say why frolicking in pooh should be the least bit exciting.  After eight years of nappies I feel that I am more qualified than most to comment on the pleasure giving qualities of a fine pooh, and I can honestly say that it has never done anything for me, other than make me feel a bit queasy that is.

 Jason is just pleased that I am better today.  He has had a day of role playing booked for ages and was nursing me feverishly all day yesterday in the hope that I would rally round and release him from his nursing duties today.  He hates being Florence Nightingale at the best of times, and refused to kiss me yesterday in case I passed the lurgy on to him.  When we were first going out and one of the kids got Chicken Pox, he moved in with his best friend for a few days until his mum could dig out his vaccination records to see if he’d had it or not!  He does love a good illness, from about five miles away.

Yes, ’tis true dear reader.  Jason is a role player.  He is an IT consultant, internet poker player and role player.  Cut him in half and read the word ‘Nerd’ running all the way through him like a stick of Blackpool rock!  Luckily for me he doesn’t come across as a nerd at all, which is both very impressive and one of the main reasons I agreed to marry him.  If he had a serried rank of pens in his top pocket (including integral pen protector), some jumbo cord trousers and some iron on patches on his denim safari suit it is an absolute certainty that Oscar would not be here today, and neither would I.  When I made my wish list of desirable qualities in a man, having an extensive knowledge of the world of fantasy role play (not the sexual kind, obviously, although that too strikes me as a bit weird, matron.) and the ability to understand binary were not on it.

I was always fascinated by the idea of Dungeons and Dragons when I was a teenager. I read fantasy books avidly and was convinced that if I didn’t live in the middle of nowhere I would be able to join a D&D society and it would be unspeakably brilliant.  I thought it would be ‘cool’.  Quite why I thought this now escapes me.  When I got to university there was a D&D society and I went along to chat to them at Freshers Fair, in order to fulfil my ambition.  When I got there I was completely overwhelmed by the plethora of terrible hair styles and tweed jackets.  I turned and fled, never to venture there again.

Always at the back of my mind however, was the sneaking suspicion, that if I could find some cool D&D’ers who didn’t frighten the life out of me, I would love it.  When I met Jason it seemed like this possibility was likely to become a reality.  One year he had a tabletop marathon at our house, and a load of his mates came round to play a three day  game.  I was quite excited, thinking this would be my chance.

After watching them take half a day to set the bloody thing up I had lost the will to live.  I fell asleep on the sofa with the sheer boredom of it all, and was only roused when they had a particularly fierce battle.  I will tell you now that this is not as exciting as it seems.  It turns out that any table top gaming requires the ownership of hundreds of dice, of which none of them have less than a quadrillion sides, a sharp pencil and a good head for maths.  A battle merely involves lots of dice throwing and feverish adding up.  It is RUBBISH!  There is no blood, which disappointed me after the hours of tedium I had been subjected to.  There’s nothing like a bit of wanton blood letting to cheer you up on a dull day.

Luckily Jason doesn’t expect me to share his hobby, which is a good thing, as in the summer he does live role play re-enactments (known to the initiates as Larping) and goes camping in a field for three days dressed as a troll and fighting people with plastic swords.  He always tells me what brilliant fun this is, and I always beg to differ.  I have agreed that I will go to one of these events on the strict understanding that my tent have hot and cold running water, a chandelier and an escalator (and no beetles in the ground sheet), and until that day you are more likely to see me subscribe to ‘Wee Drinkers Weekly’ than you are to see me dressed as an elf, prancing round a field up to my eyebrows in mud. 

The kids are desperate to go with him.  Tallulah calls it ‘scamping’, and both she and Tilly both have their characters developed.  Tilly is going to be a vampire with special wings and powers.  Tallulah is going to be a fierce princess.  They even have a cache of weaponry which they have been steadily collecting.  Tilly has a war hammer.  When she got it I explained to her that in Viking times they took their weapons very seriously and considered them to be an extension of themselves.  With particularly cherished weapons they even gave them names.  She went away and thought about this, returning to the kitchen twenty minutes later to announce the fact that her hammer was now called; ‘Frappuccino’ (a girl after my own heart!)

I am going to be a stay at home mummy, which is a role which I normally chafe against, but faced with the alternative, seems wonderful.  The kids have gone to Jamie’s for the afternoon for some kind of festive lunch type event.  Jason is doing his role play at Lee’s (see.  For entertainment purposes only), and Oscar is asleep.  I am going to sneak off and watch a distressing DVD about monks being slaughtered in Burma.  It’s all go in this house.

Monday December 9th burning boilers & paper rounds

It’s Monday morning.  It’s not five to five, and it’s definitely not Crackerjack.  It’s rubbish is what it is.  The rain is hammering down, the wind is blowing sideways and the sky is grey, grey, grey.  I don’t mind rain so much, but I hate when the wind blows it sideways down the gaps in your coat buttons.  The best kind of attire for weather like this is a neoprene wet suit (and ear muffs).  Unfortunately with my rolls of fat and lack of patience this is never going to happen.  It’s probably for the best to be fair.  I don’t want to be responsible for a major pile up on the main road as I waltz past looking like the Man from Atlantis’ fat aunty. 

I had many plans for today.  Both the girls are in school and it’s just me, The Lone Ranger and shorty boy Tonto this morning.  I have to get Tilly a Christmas present.  I have to go to the post office sorting depot and pick up some parcels.  I have to buy Oxo cubes.  I need to think wistful thoughts about panettone.  How will I do that in this weather?  I know I’m just going to sit around with the heating turned up to melting point playing cars with Oscar and pretending to be busy.  It’s exhausting.  I know the kind of pressure Kofi Annan must live with.  Thank God nobody has asked me to join the UN as a good will ambassador.  I can’t even take the kids to school without having a lie down.  It’s just so demanding, all this responsibility.  It makes you long for the simple life. NOT! 

I love watching all these programmes where world weary accountants and advertising executives pack up their loved ones and cart them off to Tuscany to live in a haystack, while they pursue their idea of a golden age rural idyll after having burned out in their jet set city life styles.  Invariably they have names like Tarquin and Jeremy and the one thing you can absolutely guarantee is that the most research they’ve done on this wonderful plan is to read Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence,’ and think: ‘how hard can it be?’ 

It is of course all bollocks.  Anyone who has ever lived in the country and done anything vaguely rural will tell you that getting tired from earning too much money and snorting coke from a lap dancers navel is nothing compared to lambing five hundred sheep at three a.m. in a howling gale with water pouring down the back of your parka.  It doesn’t matter whether you do it in a rusticated backwater of the unspoilt Dordogne, or Herefordshire, it’s still going to be hideous in large parts, and will smell quite bad a lot of the time. 

The other thing they neglect to think about is the fact that the words ‘rustic’, ‘quaint’ and ‘unspoiled’ are all brilliant when you’re visiting for a two week holiday, but not when you’re trying to rewire your entire house in a thunderstorm using a blueprint from 1933, and the only electrician in the entire area has gone on holiday for the entire month of August to escape his stressful lifestyle (he’s sitting in The Spearmint Rhino drinking champagne out of a stripper’s shoe, thinking he’s died and gone to heaven). 

Jason’s parents moved from the city to run a strawberry farm in Cornwall when he was a teenager, in pursuit of a quiet country life.  What they don’t tell you while you’re blissfully dreaming of agas and plaiting your own corn dollies is that even strawberries need twenty four hour, round the clock attention, let alone any form of livestock.  You become hostage to a bunch of weeds and a perambulating pork chop.   

You can’t ever go on holiday again and you spend your whole life doing such joyous jobs as rotivating; spraying; mulching; weeding and other back breaking chores.  You spend the next twenty years of your life cultivating calluses the size of Denmark and spending all your hard earned cash supporting the local osteopath who plays golf and jet skis round the globe while you remain tethered to your rural lifestyle. 

Jason can’t even look a strawberry in the eye any more without hyperventilating, and he’s got a whole raft of stories prepared for the Kevin and Perry days of the kids’ wild teenage cries of: ‘It’s not fair!’ that are going to drive them absolutely bonkers!  Because the other thing that these programmes don’t tell you is that the children never ask to be set free into the country to roam wild.  It’s all about the parents. 

They say that they’re doing it for the children, and that they want to give their kids either a) the kind of idyllic childhood they remember or b) the kind of childhood they would like to have had instead of being a latchkey kid on a run down housing estate/ghetto surrounded by burning cars and pre-Asbo teenagers.   

Rubbish.  They’re doing it because they imagine themselves sitting in a giant farmhouse kitchen swimming in terracotta tiles and Emma Bridgewater crockery, being interviewed by someone from the Guardian weekend supplement about their ‘simple’ lifestyle, which in actuality has only been made possible by their vast trust fund and mummy’s largesse.  There is nobody in the world who can sleep in Cath Kidston sheets, surrounded by hand woven kilims and treasures from Paul Smith’s antiqueorama from the proceeds of a run down olive farm, unless you’re Terence Conran or a drug smuggler on the side. 

The kids meanwhile, who are supposed to be enjoying getting back to nature and running wild and free like Brooke Shields in that dreadful film (the one where they had to superglue her hair to her nipples to stop people getting over-excited!), are going mad with boredom.  They’ve spent three months whinging about the fact that the home made bread is breaking their teeth, and are praying that their dad will get the solar panels fixed in the next twenty minutes so they can immerse themselves in Gran Turismo III on the X-Box and pretend they live in a mean ‘hood stylie ghetto with some car jacking pimps and crack whores. 

The reality gets as exciting as Pound Stretcher, early closing on Wednesdays come hell or high water, a burned out telephone box miles from anywhere and a bus shelter where the buses go once a week if you’re lucky, but don’t come back, if you’re even luckier. 

There speaks the voice of bitter experience!  I lived in the country when I was little, and although there are parts of it I really loved, I confess to being more than ready to move on by the time I hit my teenage years.  Thankfully my parents had their ‘let’s pretend we live in The Good Life’ moment, early on (that Felicity Kendall has a lot to answer for), and by the time I was old enough to crave the delights of ‘yoof culture’, they had had enough of weaving their own vests out of vegetable matter and brewing parsnip wine. 

Despite what your parents tell you, travelling forty minutes each way to school by bus is not a ‘fantastic adventure’.  It’s a pain in the arse.  Living ten miles from the nearest Chinese takeaway is not character building either, especially when your mother’s cooking is as erratic as mine. 

Having the only jobs available to you to supplement your meagre pocket money being potato picking or a paper round is also a bit soul destroying.  My mother wouldn’t let me do potato picking because she was having a vendetta with the local farmer, so paper round it was.  To add insult to injury (paper rounds were crap pay, four pounds a week for seven morning’s graft.  Spuds were positively lucrative in comparison), the paper round in our village was taken by the 75 year old father of our eccentric cleaning lady/girl, who resolutely refused to drop dead of old age or heart failure so that I could have an easier job.  This meant that I had to do the paper round in the next village, which was a two mile bike ride before I’d even started. 

Life wasn’t easy.  My bike had collapsed several months earlier, but my parents didn’t want to buy me a new one, so my granddad had fixed it using cotton reels and a soldering iron.  It was a little unreliable, and because I had had a growth spurt, my knees brushed my earlobes as I pedalled. On Wednesdays it was Radio Times and magazine day.  I was quite tiny at this stage in my life and only managed to make it round without snapping my spine by innovating a manoeuvre where I rode perpendicular to the floor and grated the paper bag along the road to stabilise myself.  I went through a lot of paper sacks. 

My brother was supposed to help me.  It was he who mentioned the idea of having a paper round to my mum, and she thought it would be ‘character building’ for him. Now this is all very well, but I was, as we have established, a lazy toe rag who hated getting up and was quite content to eke out what meagre pocket money I had if I couldn’t throw spuds in a bag for however much spuds in a bag went for in the olden days.  I did not, under any circumstances, want a paper round.  My brother however, was dyslexic and couldn’t read very well.  My mum said that I had to go with him and help him for the first few weeks until he could memorise the round, and then I could stop. 

After two weeks my brother had hysterics when a Jack Russell leapt out from behind a bush and tried to kill him, and cycled home in the middle of the paper round, leaving me to fend off the slavering beast and refusing to go out ever again.  My mum felt sorry for him and agreed that he didn’t have to do it any more.  I on the other hand, had to continue for the honour of the family etc.  We had made a commitment, we couldn’t let people down (what’s all this ‘we’ stuff about?  She didn’t get up at five thirty every morning to cycle herself into oblivion).  I was outraged of small village in the arse end of nowhere.  I protested to no avail. 

I hated that job more than any other job I’ve ever had in my life and I’ve had a few.  One day the door between the shop and the flat where the owners lived got jammed and they couldn’t get in to open up.  Because I was small they posted me through a ventilation window about eight feet up in the wall, whereupon I plummeted down like a stone.  The only thing that broke my fall was a display of dry goods, and I was chastised for squashing a box of Scots Porridge Oats, which I thought was a bit rich. 

When I had let them into their own shop and then cycled four miles round the paper route (middle of nowhere, farms all spread apart with vicious dogs, geese, hamsters etc) I got back expecting some praise and maybe even a reward.  They grudgingly gave me a bar of chocolate! Chocolate for God’s sake.  I mean, never look a gift bar of chocolate in the horse’s mouth and all that, but please?!  I had risked life and limb and got a bar of bloody Dairy Milk for my pains.  I expect it was reaching its sell by date and they would have had to reduce it anyway. 

The worst bit of the job was the cycle to work.  The road to the next village was down an incredibly steep hill, which was fun on the way there, and murder on the way back, and then round a series of hair pin blind bends with high hedges and no pavements.  Once the clocks changed in the Autumn, the frequency of my near death experiences increased exponentially and I used to come home a quivering wreck, weeping into my bicycle clips. 

One day, several months into this horror, my mum took me to one side and said that even though she knew I enjoyed the job, she really didn’t think I should do it any more as she was a bit worried about me getting killed one dark morning! Outraged of Outrageousville.  Nothing more was said between us, due to the fact that I had no wish to be convicted of matricide.

The only good thing about living in the middle of nowhere used to be the frequency with which we were snowed in in the winter, thus avoiding masses of school.  With the advent of global warming even that benefit has now disappeared into the ether.  Tragic.

Moving back to the present day I am pleased to say that we had no squabbles over uniforms this morning, and there was even queuing at the door at twenty past eight. Tallulah is so desperate to see the back of me she got dressed last night!  I remember doing that when I was a child. 

I have always been absolutely terrible at mornings, and I used to hate that mad scramble on a school morning in particular.   Our house was what an estate agent would call, ‘full of rustic charm’.  We would call it miserably freezing.  One of my major dislikes was the brutal transition between the warm cocoon of the duvet and the freezing, arctic conditions of the rest of the house.  I puzzled long and hard and figured that if I dressed in my school clothes the night before and simply slept in them I could avoid much of the anguish of having to be naked in sub zero temperatures. 

It was brilliant.  In fact, an inspired stroke of genius.  My mother however, did not feel the same way when she came to tuck me in before she went to bed and found me sweating in thick woollen tights and a school tie.  Unimpressed would be the word I would use to describe her mood, unimpressed and shouty.  I felt brutally wronged that she couldn’t see the brilliance of my plans.  If truth be told, I still do… 

Children are seldom appreciated for this kind of thing.  I once made a pill box hat out of cardboard, which I covered with cunningly made roses which I fashioned from toilet paper.  I proudly took it downstairs to demonstrate my marvellous millinery skills and got told off for wasting valuable toilet paper!  Hence my early retirement from the world of high fashion and my overwhelming desire to own a Philip Treacey hat. 

One of my worst crimes was committed on the day I benevolently decided to make my mum and dad breakfast.  It was a Sunday morning and I was the first one up.  I was always getting shouted at for waking early on Sundays (despite my sluggishness during working hours.  It’s a kid thing, weekends, holidays and bank holidays are always fair game for early rising), and told that I shouldn’t wake them, but should go and find something constructive to do. 

I thought it would be a nice idea to take them breakfast in bed.  I would earn many Brownie points.  I would be a ‘good’ child, and I would get to fiddle about with dangerous cooking implements unsupervised.  A winning plan all round. 

Now we didn’t have read sliced bread from the supermarket.  We had a baker who used to deliver bread to our house, or my mum would attempt to make it.  Consequently our bread was in vast loaves, and if my mum made it, akin to chewing on a brick.  Sawing through one of these monsters balanced on a stool wrapped in fourteen layers of clothing was my first obstacle. 

I managed to cut two ‘slices’, although their smoothness and regularity of form was not a joy to behold.  They were however separated from the main loaf, and this was all that counted to me.  By then I was brutally bored of the whole thing, it having taken me a good twenty minutes of sawing to get to that point, and I had almost taken my thumb off twice.  I knew my mum would shout at me if I bled all over the kitchen, so I needed to move on to pastures new where bleeding was not an option. 

We did not have a toaster at this point in my life either (It’s a wonder I’ve made it thus far, with these levels of deprivation in my life).  We had to use the grill on the oven.  With much twiddling and pushing I managed to light the grill and extricate the grill pan upon which I placed my dainty morsels of soon to be toast.  I soon noticed that the slices were rather large and didn’t quite fit in the space between the top of the grill pan and the bottom of the by now, red hot, element. I decided that I could not go back to the bread whittling stage, as I would surely lose a finger and then my life would be over as my mother battered me to death with the soggy end, thus defeating all my plans.  Consequently I came up with the brilliant idea of hitting the slices very hard with a rolling pin to flatten them a bit.  Voila, perfect fit. 

I was merrily filling the kettle and messing about with arranging tea cups on a tray when I smelled the acrid stench of burning toast.  I turned to see that the bread was not only beginning to char, but in the places where the bread was touching the element it was actually on fire.  Now I had a dilemma. I had at this point gone into shock.  At no stage in the proceedings had I thought: 1) make breakfast for grateful parents 2) burn down kitchen in the process.  It had never crossed my mind that the burning down the house thing might be an option.  My mum and dad got quite cross when the house looked like it might burn down, which happened on a regular basis, so I knew I would be in big trouble if I made a fuss. 

I stood and watched the blaze as it crept along the grill pan and started to lick over the sides of the oven, unsure of whether to confess my sins. Now why I didn’t just pull the bread out and toss it into the sink, I really don’t know.  I put it down to the trauma of watching all my plans fall apart.  In the end, as the smoke got denser I decided the only thing to do was to confess all.  I ran upstairs two at a time screaming: ‘I’ve set the house on fire!’ which was slightly different from the original lines of: ‘Good morning Mum and Dad, here is your breakfast and the newspaper.’

My mum shot out of bed like a scalded cat, shouting: ‘What? Where? How? Etc’ and stood on her glasses, which made her even madder.  She hedgehogged downstairs, threw the remains of the toast in the sink and opened the window to let out the clouds of smoke.  As predicted I was seriously in the dog house, and banned from making any more gestures of goodwill towards them before I’d taken my Brownie, Safety in the Home badge. 

Now when I say that my parents nearly set their house on fire with alarming regularity I am not exaggerating.  I will point out for the record that all stories, however far fetched they seem in my blogging adventures are actually true, and this explains everything.  You can ask my mum if you like.  She’s a very reliable witness, as long as you don’t ask her whose idea it was for me to get a paper round that is. 

Our central heating was erratic to say the least.  My dad loves a good bargain, and will never buy anything legally, or full price if he can avoid it.  He used to be in the motor trade and was forever doing deals with people which meant that we ended up with a random bunch of rubbish that generally made our lives either a) strange, b) unmanageable or c) both.  One year he bought my mum  a church organ for Christmas, but forgot to tell her that it was coming, and she had hysterics when two burly men turned up at the door shouting: ‘Where do you want your church organ love?’  He also bought a fire engine, which we had parked on the drive for the longest time, two fruit machines and a Victorian cash register.

These things weren’t too bad, just eccentric and difficult to dust or decorate round.  The big problem was when he went in for practical stuff, like the champagne coloured toilet that had to be held together with orange bailer twine and flooded the entire landing one Christmas Eve, and of course, the boiler. The boiler was French.  The instructions were French.  We were English and our French was limited to: ‘Ou est la plume de ma tante?’ and three verses of; ‘Sur Le Pont, D’Avignon’, which oddly enough don’t crop up in the instructions for how to fit and light a boiler, try our level best though we did. 

My dad hired a random stranger who had once done a weekend course in panel beating and needlework to fit the boiler for us as best he could, and then proceeded to try and translate the instructions on how to light it.  It turned out that, according to my dad (who should never be trusted on these matters, and why we let him this time, I really don’t know), you had to fill a wine glass with methylated spirits, open the top of the boiler, throw it in, and then throw a lighted match in on top.  Then Bob was indeed your tante, and your house would emanate a rosy glow, etc, etc. 

My mother was very sceptical and made us all hide in the larder while my dad was sacrificed for this foolish experiment (fair do’s, it was his fault).  There we were, crouched behind a packet of boudoir biscuits waiting for a loud bang and a scream, when nothing happened.  After twenty minutes of nothing happening we ventured forth using some old Newbury Fruits as a blast shield, to find my dad nonchalantly having a cup of tea and telling us how brave he’d been. 

My brother and I were rather let down by the lack of drama and went to bed in a huff.  We needn’t have worried.  It turns out that my dad had been rather over enthusiastic with the meths and had started a teeny, tiny conflagration in the boiler, which had then become a much bigger conflagration in time.  By about nine in the evening the boiler was making a series of hideous groaning and knocking noises and sweat was dripping down my parents noses as they rang the fire brigade. We were evacuated to the front lawn while they put the fire out and were very excited to be running round in our wellies in the dark on a school night.  My mother was not so impressed, and her language about my dad and the boiler was positively Anglo-Saxon. 

We also had open fires in all the downstairs rooms of our house, which my parents set on fire on a fairly regular basis.  The best one, at which I was sadly not allowed to attend, was when we had all decamped to my aunty Carol’s house to play and the local farmer rang my mum to say that her chimney was on fire.  She left us with Carol and hared up the hill to our house to try and put it out.  Unfortunately the farmer had other ideas. 

He thought that girls were weedy and wet and as any fule no, only a real man could put out a fire.  He elbowed my mother out of the way with the words: ‘stand aside. I’ll handle this Sue!’ and promptly shoved a load of sacks up the chimney to stop the draft and cut off the oxygen supply to the fire.  Now this is correct in all aspects of chimney fire management, except for the kind of sacks he used. 

You are, for the record, supposed to use wet hessian sacks (see, hessian does have its uses).  He used plastic fertilizer sacks, which were not only highly flammable because they were plastic, but because they still had fertilizer residue in them (fertilizer is an active ingredient in many home made bombs).  The whole chimney then exploded into life and large gobs of burning plastic came shooting out of the fireplace and set the rug on fire as well.  Job done! 

My mum called the fire brigade, but so started the long feud with the farmer, which escalated when he cut off her water supply digging a hole through our pipes in his paddock, and shot out our bathroom window with an air rifle while my mum was trying to relax reading Georgette Heyer in the bath.  I was never going to get that job picking potatoes was I? 

Right.  I have to go and pick up the girls from school.  I must tell you that I have resisted the urge to buy a panettone again today, for which much kudos.  I did however buy a cake called a Pandoro, which came in the same kind of box as a panettone but was half the price.  A weird way to buy cake I know, but we live in hope. 

It is o.k., but it’s not a panettone and never will be.  It is rather like a brioche that’s been inflated with a bicycle pump and fed on steroids. It’s so enormous it won’t fit on a tea plate and I’ve had to eat it on a dinner plate, only exaggerating my already shameful claims to gluttony.  It has not diminished my desire for a panettone either, and if I were a betting woman I’d say that that was another tenner gone by the end of the week.