Tuesday, 30 December 2014

It's a Dog's Life

As we gallop towards the New Year of 2015, I need to have some sort of emotional closure regarding the passing of our beloved pooch, Trudy Beagle.  So, if you are not a dog devotee, you might want to click off this blog right now.  However, if you are a pup person, then I hope you’ll stay and read to the end.
          Trudy Beagle was a rescue hound.  When she came into our lives she was two-and-a-half years old.  She was completely untrained, and as mad as a hatter.  Back then our children were six, eight and ten.  Fortunately they were borderline crazy too, so Trudy instantly merged with her ‘pack’.
          We decided to plunge straight into the deep end with our new family member and, as we waved good-bye to the anxious kennel owner, set off to Greenwich Park.  Upon arrival, my son insisted he was responsible enough to hold the lead.  He was carted along for a couple of minutes by a deliriously happy baying hound whose sole intent was to cover as much of Greenwich Park in the shortest time possible.  You could almost hear our beagle’s mind computing all the possibilities of this adventure: squirrels to chase…other dogs to bark at…picnickers and food.  Oh yeah – FOOD!
          And with that Trudy Beagle lugged my son under a horse chestnut tree.  The ground was littered with conkers, many still in their prickly green cases.  Trudy Beagle’s soft paddy paws encountered a zillion needles.  She shrieked in pain startling my son who promptly dropped the leash.  Within a nano-second all hell broke loose.  Unrestrained, our latest family member shot off, grabbing unguarded sandwiches from picnickers and delighting in her new found freedom.
          ‘Stop that dog!’ my husband shouted as he launched into an Olympic sprint and gave chase.
          But nobody could catch her.  Trudy Beagle was like an unguided missile, zig-zagging through trees, ducking under bushes, and only breaking cover to bat her sandy eyelashes at a handsome spaniel walking obediently to heel with its master.
          ‘Stop…dog…!’ gasped my husband, now totally puce in the face.  Fortunately, while the spaniel and our beagle got acquainted via the art of bottom sniffing and waggy tails, the spaniel’s owner bent down and grabbed our hound’s lead.
          ‘Oh, thank God,’ I cried, finally catching up, three bawling children in tow.  ‘We thought we’d never retrieve her.’
          ‘What a lovely little dog,’ said the spaniel’s owner. ‘Had her long?’
          ‘About an hour,’ my husband replied.
          In 2003 I took delivery of a top of the range Nissan X-Trail with sumptuous cream leather seats.  We were only just back from our annual summer holiday and our pooch needed collecting from the kennel.  As I rolled up, the owner eyed my car incredulously.
          ‘You’re going to allow your beagle in that?’ she asked, goggle-eyed.
          ‘Absolutely,’ I assured, ‘Trudy will go in the boot and be just fine.  Look, there’s a dog guard firmly in place.’
          At this point I would like to give a tip for anybody looking to have a beagle.  Dog guards don’t work.  Instead, invest in a dog crate.  Our beagle had the dog guard down within five minutes.  By this point I was driving along a duel carriageway with no hard shoulder to pull over on, while a black-tan-and-white-blur bounced around the interior and hurled herself at the glass.  I had electric windows going up and down, the seat belt alarm bonging away and my vision obscured as a hyperventilating canine lunatic finally settled on my lap with two paws on the steering wheel.  Not long afterwards, I exchanged my posh car for a not-so-posh dog-proof Citroen Picasso.
          Over the years, many, many excursions took place with Greenwich Park being a firm favourite.  Our children would run down steep hills yelling with delight, a small tri-coloured dog barking joyfully at their heels.  There would be picnics and bike rides and scooter fun and races, and always always always Trudy Beagle would be in the thick of it.  On one occasion we came across an artificial lake with little boats for hire.  Our children, older now, jumped in a boat and began to row while Mr V and I stood on the side hanging on to our pooch.  But Trudy Beagle was having none of it – she wasn’t being left out of her pack!  Seconds later she’d slipped her collar and jumped into the water.  All we could see was a tan head and black nose swimming in a straight line towards our children.  Minutes later she was on board and causing squeals of protest as a million drops of water were sprayed everywhere.
          Trudy Beagle endeared many.  She also managed to annoy a good few too.  One rather brisk and breezy day we went for a proper boat ride on the Thames.  Thoroughly over-excited, our beagle sat ram-rod straight, ears floating out horizontally as the wind whipped about.  She barked non-stop.  As we sailed past the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the Tower of London, none of the tourists could hear any of the history coming over the tannoy thanks to incessant yaps and woofs.
          ‘Somebody shurrup that dang dog,’ drawled a pissed off American.
          As our children grew and grew, so did our beagle.  But whereas our children grew upwards, our beagle grew outwards.  Beagles are obsessed with food.  I can always remember my brother-in-law visiting and staring at the dog.
          ‘Has Trudy’s head shrunk?’ he asked.
          It was at that point I knew she had to go on a diet.  Over the years our pooch stole many a breakfast, dinner and tea at any given opportunity.  By the age of seven, she’d finally learnt the words sit, stay and down.  Training a beagle is a lifelong task and there’s no guarantee you will crack it.  But for a beagle, ours was very well behaved.  She had pretty good recall, provided there wasn’t a rabbit about.  She was also incredibly sweet natured and tolerant enduring three young children man-handling her, including having her claws painted by our daughters and being dressed in doll’s clothes and put to bed in a dolly cradle.  When our children turned into teenagers, Trudy Beagle was more than happy to loll around listening to a mash of Lady Gaga, Florence and the Machine and Heavy Metal.  Possibly the din contributed to her deafness in later years.
          We didn’t realise how deaf our pooch had become until a couple of years ago.  We were back at our favourite haunt, Greenwich Park, and had permitted Trudy off the lead for a little while.  Our calls completely failed to attract her attention.  I can still remember her standing stock still and looking around as if to say, ‘Where have Mum and Dad gone?’  It was then that we realised her eyesight wasn’t so hot either.
          Indeed, the only hot thing about Trudy Beagle in her later years was her ability to parp and empty a room in seconds.  Just last Christmas my brother-in-law (never a dog lover and in particular not a Trudy Beagle lover) was reduced to pinching his nose with his thumb and forefinger and saying, ‘Somebody do something about that dog’s bottom.’
          My children were secretly delighted as they weren’t particularly fond of their uncle.
          Of course, a dog’s parp is very useful if you happen to parp yourself and need somebody to blame.
          ‘Gosh, that dog’s parping again,’ said Mr V on one occasion, flapping his hand about but looking decidedly guilty.
          ‘Funny that,’ I remarked, ‘because she’s out in the garden.’
          And then, just days before this Christmas, our pooch had what I can only describe as a funny turn.  She was instantly whisked off to the late night animal hospital.  They were a bit baffled but decided she’d had a bad arthritis attack.  Indeed, Trudy Beagle did seem to recover and within forty-eight hours was back to demanding food, scenting out Christmas presents and unwrapping them, and even rootling out her doggy Christmas stocking.  I can still remember inwardly smiling before putting on my stern face and saying, ‘Not until Christmas Day!’
          How I wish I’d let her have that stocking there and then.  Our darling golden oldie never did get to open it.  Two days before Christmas she had another funny turn resulting in some sort of seizure.  Suddenly we were back at the animal hospital, this time with our children.  The vet suspected a brain tumour.  Our girl was thirteen-and-a-half years old.  That’s meant to be ninety-four in human years.  It was time to say good-bye.
          We couldn’t stand the idea of having her put to sleep in the exam room with all its antiseptic smells, although to be honest our beagle looked beyond caring.  As the vet said, the lights were on, but nobody was home.  We went through to a little sitting room where Trudy Beagle was made comfortable on a blanket at our feet.  We patted her head and stroked her faded tri-coloured coat, but she didn’t engage, instead staring vacantly at the wall.  As the vet began to inject pink liquid into our pooch’s paw, we all began to cry.  The pats and strokes became more urgent, tears plopping onto fur.  Within seconds our beagle’s head drooped, her chin finally resting on her front paws as she went to eternal sleep.
          ‘I’ll leave you all together for a little while,’ the vet murmured, and disappeared through a discreet door at the back of the room.
          We spent ten minutes with our lovely girl, who simply looked as though she was resting.  We continued to pat and stroke her, and reminisced about the day we first got her.  Finally we stood up to leave.  It was at that point our dog parped.  And despite our tears, we laughed.  It was as if Trudy Beagle was saying, ‘I might be gone, but I’ll never be forgotten.’
          And she never will be.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A Lurgy Lament

Christmas is almost upon us.  Everybody wants the day to be perfect.  In our quest for perfection, we plot, plan, scheme (if necessary) and manipulate (no? You’ve never manipulated? What’s wrong with you!) to get everybody in the right place, at the right time for this perfect moment.
          It is Sod’s Law you will come down with the lurgy twenty-four hours’ beforehand.  If not you, then your kids.  Or your husband.  Or, if none of these, the person who was due to roast the turkey develops a temperature that roasts them instead.  And this lurgy-fest comes about by being sneezed upon by other lurgy-infested souls.  The lurgy is everywhere.  On the bus.  The train.  In the queue at WH Smith.  And especially the supermarket.
          Last week I saw a female shopper –without a word of a lie – lean against the fish freezer as she coughed for England.  She then pulled an overworked tissue out of her pocket, and trumpeted into it until it was a soggy mess.  But the real ewww factor was watching her open the fish cabinet with snotty fingers.  And it didn’t stop there.  She then touched several food boxes as she ummed and ahhed whether to have haddock, cod, plaice or pollock.  So when the next unsuspecting shopper came along and grabbed a box of Captain Birds Eye, it would be pretty much a foregone conclusion that the consumer would be dining on fish fingers, chips and a big fat virus infection.  Some people’s cluelessness at how not to spread germs is mind-boggling.  Either they are very na├»ve, or don’t give a stuff.
          I’ve been very smug about staying virus free.  Indeed, my entire family are currently all wonderfully fit.  However, the Law of Sod was lurking and decided that instead of the family and me getting poorly, it would be the dog instead.
          My poor darling pooch.  One minute she was enjoying walkies, swiping toast and barking at the postman, the next she was lying on the floor with all four paws in the air. She was so bad, we didn’t just think it was the Law of Sod who’d come calling, we also worried it might be the Grim Reaper.  The emergency vet was baffled and decided to treat her for a severe arthritis attack.  My sister – an ace kinesiologist – treated her for a nasty bacterial infection.  Within hours our pooch was responding and seems to have thankfully turned the corner.  It will be a little while before she’s back to swiping toast and hassling the postman, but the main thing is, she will be with us for Christmas.
          So whether you’re gargling with TCP, popping Paracetamol, prostrate on the sofa with lurgy, coughing until your eyeballs stream, or nursing a poorly pet, let’s all agree that it’s not going to stop us having a great Christmas.  And the Law of Sod can chuff off because Christmas is what we make it!  So I wish everybody a very Merry Christmas.  Oh, and could you pass me that box of tissues?  I think I have a sniffle.
          Which reminds me. What do you get if you cross a comedian with a germ?  A sick joke…

Saturday, 13 December 2014

It's a Wrap

Last week a friend told me she would be spending the weekend wrapping all her Christmas presents.
          ‘Goodness, you’re organised,’ I said, privately wondering why the rush.
          ‘After all, Christmas is only a couple of weeks away,’ she added.
          And in that moment I froze.  A couple of weeks?  Surely not!  I grabbed my desk diary and peered at the date.  Dear Lord.  She was right.  Who stole December?  In fact, who stole the entire year?
          That evening I was a whirling dervish of activity.  Delving into the drawers under the bed, I pulled out six rolls of assorted gaily-patterned Christmas wrap.  They bounced onto the carpet along with a zillion colourful bows and a jumbo-sized roll of Sellotape.  The next three hours were spent crouching, leaning, stretching, and hunkering back on heels as I wrapped, scissored, taped and stacked gifts for my family.  My concentration was briefly interrupted by the cat playing with curly decorative ribbon and the dog thinking this was a cue to unwrap all my hard work.  By the time I’d finished, my legs were shaking.  I kid you not. My present-wrapping contortions had to be the equivalent of a work-out.  There was even the sweat on my brow to prove it.  Although that could have been induced by the realisation of exactly what I’ve splashed out this year.  No wonder the money tree at the bottom of my garden is always stripped bare.
          But at least I can honestly say I’m now ready for Christmas.  Hurrah!  I just hope everybody likes their presents.  Which reminds me.
          The Father Christmas at the local shopping mall was somewhat surprised when Mary, a young lady, walked up and sat on his lap.  Now we all know Father Christmas doesn’t usually take requests from adults, but she smiled really politely, so he asked her the same question all the children were asked.
          ‘What would you like for Christmas?’
          ‘Something for my mother, please,’ Mary replied.
          ‘Something for your mother, eh?  Well, that’s very thoughtful of you,’ smiled Father Christmas.  ‘What would you like me to bring her?’
          Without missing a beat Mary replied, ‘A son-in-law…’

Saturday, 6 December 2014

A Wheelie Good Deal

I have a beautiful car.  Well, it looks beautiful when it’s clean and vacuumed.  However, within twenty-four hours of being valeted you can guarantee the sun will go into hiding, dark clouds will gather, and my car will get caught in a cloud burst of biblical proportions leaving it muddy and generally disgusting.  Thanks to dire weather in recent weeks, I’ve been driving a filthy Mercedes about.
          ‘Mum, isn’t it about time you cleaned your car?’ asked my daughter as she gingerly climbed in, avoiding the grubby sills.
          ‘Yes,’ I agreed as we set off on the college run, ‘but I’m too tight to pay ten quid and then watch the heavens open and make it dirty again.’
          That evening, as I was driving home under a starless sky, a motorist flashed me.  I checked my lights.  Nope.  Not on full beam.  A few minutes later, it happened again.  Once home, I looked at the headlights.  No bulbs out.  I decided to book the car into the garage and get the headlight alignment checked.  The following morning I rang Mercedes.
          ‘Hellair?’ said the posh woman on the other end of the phone.
          ‘Hellair,’ I replied.  (I can be posh too.)  ‘I need my lights sorting.’  (Sometimes my poshness slips.)
          ‘Yarse, okay. I’ll book an appointment for you, Madam. We’ll also do a courtesy vehicle health check followed by a free valet.’
          ‘A free valet?’ I beamed.  Deep joy.  My car was going to be cleaned inside and out at long last, and it wouldn’t cost a penny.  ‘Yer on.  I mean, yarse please.’
          In due course I visited the garage.  Ninety minutes later the mechanic sought me out.  ‘I’ve dun yer lights, luv.’  (He wasn’t posh.)  ‘And I’ve dun yer visual health check.  Three of your tyres are knackered.’
          ‘What do you mean, knackered?’ I gulped in alarm.
          ‘I’m amized the Old Bill ain’t pulled yer over with the front one, and the two at the back are cracked to buggery.’  (Like I said, he wasn’t posh.)
          ‘Cracked to–?  Right.’  I pondered.  On the bright side, at least I was having a free valet.  ‘How much for the new tyres?’
          ‘If yer let me do it now, it’ll only be four ’undred an’ fifty quid.’
          I nearly fell off my chair.  ‘If you don’t mind, I’ll get a second quote.’
          ‘Oh.’  The mechanic looked put out.  ‘Okay. I’ll bring yer vehicle round to the front for yer.’
          Needless to say, when I was reunited with my car, it hadn’t been valeted.  Marvellous.  But you know what?  Every cloud has a silver lining.  The following day, whilst driving through an unlit country lane, I hit a deep pot hole and had an immediate tyre blow out.  Thank the Lord it wasn’t one of the brand new tyres the mechanic had wanted to fit.  I limped home and called a local tyre company who promptly came out and fitted three new Firestones at half the price.  The new tyres look beautiful.  All black and shiny.  Shame about the rest of the car.  Yes, it still needs cleaning.  Which reminds me.  What part of a car is the laziest?  The wheels, because they are always tyred.,, 

Saturday, 29 November 2014

At the Car Wash (Woooh!)

Having bought my son a car three months ago, we decided that it might be time to give it a clean.  So we set off for the car wash.  I don’t mean the local automated jobbie with the whirring brushes.  No, I’m talking about visiting one of the numerous ‘foreign’ outlets that have sprung up in every other car park all over the UK.
          ‘Take a right here,’ I said to Rob.
          We bounced gently over a concrete ramp and formed an orderly line.  I immediately had the soundtrack to Car Wash go off in my head.  And no I don’t mean Christina Aguilera’s and Missy Elliot’s cover.  I’m old enough to remember the original version by Rose Royce. 
          ‘Blimey, this place must make a fortune,’ said Rob.  ‘We’re ten cars behind and they’re all paying cash.’
          ‘Excellent place to do a spot of money laundering if you’re so inclined,’ I observed.  Not that I am.  I don’t have thousands of pounds of ‘dirty money’ that needs cleaning.  I don’t even have any semi-dirty money.  In fact, much of the time I don’t have any money at all.
          ‘Can you pay for this?’ asked Rob.
          ‘Sure,’ I replied, reaching for my purse.  ‘After all, I pay your car insurance, tax and petrol.’
          ‘Ooh, I’m glad you said that word.’
          ‘What word?’
          ‘Petrol.  Look.  The tank’s down to a quarter.’
          See?  No wonder my purse is always empty.
          Behind us a sudden duet of horns broke out.  I craned my neck around.  Two drivers were having a row about who was next in line.  One of them was giving it some verbal too.
          ‘Don’t you give me a hard time, mate,’ yelled a balding fatty to an indignant little man in specs.  ‘I had a belly full of it yesterday with the Missus and dealing with Black Friday.’
          Okay.  So the balding fatty was clearly all queued out.  The little man in specs buzzed up his driver’s window to mutter unheard oaths behind the safety of his locked door.
          ‘Gosh, is it always like this at the car wash?’ asked Robbie, eyes wide.
          ‘No.  Usually I drive straight in.  But then I’ve never come at the weekend before.’  Clearly at the weekend it’s the world and his wife visiting the car wash.
          At that point my son’s car was drenched by the pressure wash.  Moments later two giant sponges were whizzing over the windscreen making soap trails.  Behind us more horn blowing had broken out.  Clearly it wasn’t just the sponges getting in a lather.
          ‘Wow, there’s some really impatient motorists about,’ said Rob.
          ‘There certainly are,’ I observed.
          Needless to say my son’s car is now spotlessly clean and I’m sure it will be well into the New Year before we visit the local car wash again, but preferably not on a weekend.
          Which reminds me.  What did the impatient helicopter say to the mechanic?  Chop-chop… 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Ho Ho Ho

Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?  ‘Oh yes,’ I hear you say, ‘I did it weeks ago and it’s all wrapped up and stowed safely away.’  Well three cheers for you!  Other folk, like me, have only just got off the starting block.  I know this because Bluewater, my local shopping ground, is full of similar people all adopting the same pose.  Head down, tail up, barging their way through the precinct and shopping aisles, arms slowly amassing shopping bag after shopping bag of gifts, before struggling to the car park with arms like stretched spaghetti.
          Do you know, this time of year is probably my most favourite part of the whole Christmas shebang.  The actual anticipation of it all.  Because let’s face it, the reality is usually totally different.  Every year I hope for a white Christmas, but the reality is lots of cold rain.  Every year I look for red-breasted robins in hedgerows hung with frosted berries.  Instead I see magpies with beady eyes hopping around wet tree trunks.
          I love the approach to Bluewater with its umpteen roundabouts covered in giant reindeer lit up with fairy lights, and all the lavish decorations twinkling along the walkways.  Marks and Spencer is a particular favourite right now with its displays of festive bedding and holly covered cushions.  But would I buy any of it?  No, not really.  It would look a bit daft having sleighs all over your duvet come June.
          ‘Do you still want a Christmas stocking?’ I asked my son.  After all, he’s twenty-one.
          ‘Most definitely!’ he looked horrified at the thought of Father Christmas not paying a visit.
          ‘What sort of stocking prezzies do you want?’ I asked.
          He looked thoughtful for a moment.  ‘Actually, there’s nothing I really want.’
          ‘So what’s the point of having a stocking?’
          ‘You could always fill it with money,’ he beamed.  ‘Pound coins or notes.  I’m not fussy.’
          Ha ha.
          I asked my daughter if she wanted a stocking too.
          ‘Oh yes,’ she assured, ‘and I have a list as long as my arm if you’re looking for ideas.’
          ‘Excellent,’ I said, taking the list.  I was expecting to see slipper socks, new undies, smellies, and the odd bit of make-up.  ‘Ah.  Pandora charms.  Diamond earrings.  A Ted Baker purse.  The entire contents of House of Fraser’s Mac make-up counter.’
          ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ Mr V asked me.
          ‘Do you know, I haven’t the faintest idea.  There’s nothing I really need or want.  What about you?’
          My husband thought.  ‘Nope, can’t think of a single thing.’
          So we’ve decided to put an equal amount of money into the kitty and have a long weekend away somewhere nice as a Christmas present to ourselves.
          Meanwhile I’ve started writing out the Christmas cards.  This year’s selection depicts various snowy woodland scenes smothered in silver glitter.  Every year I tell myself not to buy cards covered in glitter because the wretched stuff gets everywhere.  Sadly I only remember this when I’m half way through and my entire desk is covered in gritty twinkles and looks like something out of a craft studio.  By the end of the task the cat is also covered in glitter because she insists on sitting on the desk amongst the cards patting my scribbling pen as I write.
          This year we are going to my sister’s for Christmas dinner.  I’m really looking forward to it.  Like me, she’s an ‘awkward’ vegetarian with dietary issues, but unlike me she’s a fabulous cook.  So there will be nut roasts and gluten-free this and dairy-free that with an adapted Christmas pudding which was my beloved grandmother’s recipe.  The meat eaters will tuck into a turkey that was brought up to roam free, ate an organic diet and, as my brother-in-law likes to point out, was sung to when its time was up.  Which reminds me.
          What do you get if you eat Christmas decorations?  Tinsellitis…


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Supermarket Sweep

Due to recovering from an operation earlier this week, I’m still on a driving ban.  Consequently as the week progressed, the larder reduced.
          ‘What’s for dinner?’ asked Eleanor on Friday.
          ‘Jacket potato and baked beans,’ I replied.
          ‘I don’t like that.  What else have we got?’
          ‘Jacket potato and cheese.’
          ‘Are you trying to be funny?’ my daughter frowned.  ‘I’m absolutely starving.  I need feeding decent food.  And lots of it.’
          ‘Jacket potato, beans and cheese?’
          ‘No!’ Eleanor glowered.  ‘What about a nice roast?’
          ‘Due to nobody else doing any shopping, there is nothing else to eat.’
          ‘What’s this?’ asked Eleanor eyeballing a container of minced lamb and steamed vegetables.
          ‘That’s the dog’s dinner.’
          ‘It’s quite something when the dog eats better than me!’
          ‘Okay, I’m sure she won’t mind sharing it with you.’  I reached for a clean dog bowl.  ‘How much do you want?’
          ‘You are trying to be funny!’ Eleanor’s eyes narrowed.
          ‘Look,’ I snapped, ‘I haven’t been able to go shopping.’
          ‘But I’m hungry!’ Eleanor wailed.
          ‘Oh for heaven’s sake.  Order a take-out pizza while I do the shopping on-line.’
          I probably should have done the shopping on-line earlier.  But the thought of sitting down and doing a virtual shop had the same lack of appeal as actually going into the supermarket itself.  Sighing, I settled down in front of the computer.  Forty-five minutes later, I clicked the check-out button.  Up came an instruction:  Choose your slot.  So I chose an evening delivery for the same day.  Perfect!  I fed in my card details and congratulated myself on whizzing down the virtual aisles in a reasonable time.  Up came another automated instruction.  We will send you a confirmatory email.  You know, I nearly didn’t bother to check the confirmatory email.  But a little voice in my head suggested it might be wise.  There, in my inbox, was the supermarket’s reminder about my shopping delivery.  Except…except…what was this?  Thank you for shopping with us.  You can collect your shopping from the back of our store any time after 6 pm.  What?
          There then followed a hunt for Customer Services’ telephone number.  You know, considering we’re talking about such a vast chain of supermarkets, you’d have thought a contact number would have been HIGHLY VISIBLE on their website.  Unfortunately it wasn’t. In fact, I had to have a chat with their virtual on-line customer service lady who beamed away at me while I typed in: I have a delivery problem.  What is your phone number?
          Naturally this phone number was in India.  Which I’m pretty sure is absolutely nowhere near this particular Swanley supermarket.
          ‘Hello!  What is your name, please?’
          ‘Thank you.  Can I call you Debbie?’
          ‘Well, it’s my name, so I think that would be okay.’
          ‘Excellent!  Thank you for that, Debbie.’
          ‘I’m calling about a problem with my shopping delivery.’
          ‘I’m very sorry to hear that, Debbie.’
          ‘I requested a delivery slot this evening but the confirmatory email told me to collect my shopping from the store.’
          ‘I’m very sorry to hear that, Debbie.’
          ‘Yes, you’ve already said that.  Can we rectify this please?’
          ‘Of course.  There are no further evening slots available.  What about tomorrow morning?’
          ‘Okay. Is ten all right?’
          ‘Indeed, Debbie.  I’ll send you a confirmatory email.’
          Which came through very promptly advising my shopping was now available to collect from the store.
          Can you believe that I then phoned Customer Services in India four more times?  Finally, I received the email I’d been waiting for.  Your shopping will be delivered between nine and ten tomorrow morning.  Hurrah!  But that cry of victory came too soon.  Five minutes later the telephone rang.
          ‘Hello, is that Debbie Vij…Viji…in…ee…oo…ahem?’
          I always have a sense of wickedness when people trip over my surname.  ‘Indeed it is, and may I just say that was perfect pronunciation.’
          ‘Oh, thank you!  It’s the Swanley store here, Mrs VijVijiineeooahem, and I’m just calling to say your shopping is ready for collection from our store.’
          So there you are.  It’s official.  Shopping on-line drives you nuts.  Which reminds
me.  In the supermarket a young mother was pushing a trolley which contained a screaming little girl. As they passed the confectionary aisle, the little girl demanded sweets. When the mother said no, the toddler redoubled her tantrum. The woman kept repeating softly, ‘Don’t get excited, Jessie.  Don’t scream, Jessie.  Don’t be upset, Jessie.  Don’t yell, Jessie.  Keep calm, Jessie.’ A woman standing nearby said, ‘I can’t help noticing how patient you are with little Jessie.’  The mother replied, ‘I am Jessie.’

Saturday, 8 November 2014

A Bit of a Boob

Five weeks ago, whilst doing the housework, I hit my chest…okay, left boob…on the Dyson.  How did this happen?  Well I blame my daughter actually.  In times of trouble, it is always soothing to have somebody to blame.  So Eleanor can take the rap.  I was cleaning her shower room and vacuuming the floor in a confined space.  Common sense should dictate removing the vacuum cleaner when finished so there is space to manoeuvre whilst cleaning the smallest room in the house.  Except my common sense apparently did a runner.  Stupidly I carried on cleaning around my Dyson. Perhaps I should also blame the builder of my house for not making the shower room bigger.  Yes, I’ll blame Eleanor and the builder.  So there I was, polishing away, hair flopping over eyes and not properly seeing what I was doing.  I’d failed to tie my hair up because I’d lost my hair scrunchy.  The cat stole it, and it’s never been found.  So I’ll blame Dolly too.  Three culprits.  The daughter, the builder, and the cat.  Anyway, blinded by hair and working in a confined space, I accidentally stood on the back of the Dyson sending the upright pole ricocheting backwards into my left boob.
        Now it's been said that if you accidentally catch a man in a certain place, he will writhe in agony.  I can only assume that where I was smacked was the female equivalent.  I screeched, clutched my boob and shouted words that haven’t been uttered since giving birth.  Not that I actually said anything out loud when I was giving birth.  I said it all in my head.  And even then it was directed at the midwife, because she was the midwife from hell.  But I digress.
        Two hours later my left boob was rivalling the chest dimensions of Katie Price.  In fact, agony aside, I was quite amazed with the overall look.  A firm buoyant boob as round as a watermelon was blooming from my chest.  Shame it was just on the one side.  I presumed Mother Nature would step in and the healing process would eventually reduce it.  Apparently not.  My GP sent me for an ultrasound.  I was also put on antibiotics.  Eventually I was told it needed draining.  However, when a breast consultant stuck a tube in to aspirate it, out came a lot of blood.
        ‘You’ve torn something.  And you’re still bleeding.  And all this voluptuousness is in fact a massive hematoma.  You need an operation.’
        So there you have it.  Vacuuming is bad for your health.  I think in these days of hype and tripe I should lobby the Government to issue hard hats and body vests to all women when cleaning their homes.  I could - thanks to a compensation society being the norm - probably sue Dyson, my daughter, the builder, and the cat for contributory negligence.
        Meanwhile I’m packing my overnight bag in readiness for hospital and getting deflated.  Wish me luck.  Which reminds me.  What do you call identical boobs?  Identitties…

Saturday, 1 November 2014

A Shrewsbury Spree

Every Spring and Autumn Mr V and I meet up with friends who are scattered all over the UK, from Edinburgh to Cornwall.  On these occasions we love to ‘catch up’ with what’s been going on in all our lives.  Our Spring reunions usually take place in beautiful European cities, like Pisa, Florence, Venice or Prague, whereas Autumn takes us to British places never visited before.  This year the pin went into the map and came up with…Shrewsbury.
          ‘I’m leaving the office now,’ Mr V told staff last Friday afternoon, ‘and having a long weekend.’
          ‘Going anywhere nice?’ asked a colleague.
          ‘Shrewsbury,’ my husband replied.  He received an incredulous look.
          ‘You’re joking.  Aren’t you?’ asked another.
          ‘Why?  What’s wrong with the place?’ asked Mr V warily.
          ‘Well…nothing I suppose…it’s just…Shrewsbury?  Really?’
          So let me tell you about Shrewsbury.  Yes, me who flunked her History and Geography O’Levels, can’t drive without a sat-nav, and can only remember the direction of the compass by turning clock-wise and intoning
Never Eat Shredded Wheat (sorry Kellogg’s, it’s not personal).
          Firstly, Shrewsbury is in the county of Shropshire and only a stone’s throw from the Welsh borders.  I discovered this just before checking into our glorious hotel, th
Mercure Albrighton, a gorgeous eighteenth century manor house set in fifteen acres of manicured gardens complete with ornamental lake.  The hotel is only a short drive into the market town which is teeming with history.
          Shrewsbury is
the home town of Charles Darwin who was born here in 1809.  The centre of the town is crammed with medieval buildings and cracked flagstones.  As we walked through cobbled streets so narrow the occupants could surely have leant out of upper windows and touched hands, a part of me was transported back in time.  I could almost hear the cries of, ‘Watch out below,’ as something not very pleasant was emptied from an overhanging window.  It wasn’t hard to imagine how ‘Grope Lane’, little more than an alleyway, would have been in medieval times.  The more popular version of how this lane received its name is due to
it once being part of the Red Light District with the label describing antics taking place after dark.  However, the true origin of the name is actually due to folk literally having to grope their way along!
          The listed buildings were fascinating with their structure almost defying gravity.  Like a precarious pack of cards, the upper levels leant at crazy angles giving the feeling that a gust of wind could send layers of panels and beams tumbling in all directions.
          We also strolled around The Quarry, a park with tree-lined avenues hugging the river. 
If you fancy a lazy boat ride, you will be sailing on the meandering waters of the River Se
vern.  It is also here that you can find a beautiful sunken garden called The Dingle, designed by dear old Percy Thrower (only those of a ‘certain age’ will remember Percy, and yes I’m one of them).  The garden is full of alpine borders, shrubberies, water features and spectacular bedding displays.
          From there we walked to Shrewsbury Castle, a stunning red sandstone building dating back to Norman times.  As we strolled through archways and passed ivy-clad mullioned windows that overlooked grounds full of autumn flowers, a bride exited the main entrance, radiant on the arm of her new husband.
          We concluded our day going through the doors of St Chad’s Church, a beautiful Georgian church overlooking The Quarry.  It was here that Charles Darwin was baptised.  Inside there is a circular nave with pews arranged like a maze.  Now, I’m not somebody who ‘does’ religion, but I will go into any House of God and say hello.  As I stood before the altar gazing up at the stunning stained glass windows, the most beautiful sense of peace prevailed.  It really was as if something vast and divine was wrapping its arms around me.  Mr V, born and raised a Catholic and yet about as believing as a stone, froze to the spot.  At first he looked shocked.  Moments later, simply shaken.
          ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked.
          He shook his head.  ‘I feel…weird,’ he whispered.  ‘Can you feel …it?’
          ‘Feel what?’ I asked innocently.
          ‘A peculiar sense of…gosh, I don’t know…something?’
          ‘Yes,’ I replied.  ‘It’s called love.’
          Mr V basked in it for half a minute before deciding he wasn’t cut out for supernatural experiences.
          ‘C’mon,’ he muttered gruffly.  ‘Let’s go and get a cup of tea somewhere.’
          Tea shops are also plentiful in Shrewsbury
, as are restaurants.  We enjoyed dining at The Peach Tree, which caters for every taste including awkward wheat-free dairy-free vegetarians like me.  Located opposite Shrewsbury Abbey, this place not only serves wonderful cuisine, the diner enjoys surroundings that are a mix of Fifteenth Century splendour and stylish contemporary decor, complete with in-house pianist.  Later, if you fancy a boogie, you can walk through a beamed corridor to the Spirit Champagne Bar and Nightclub.
          Which reminds me.  Over the last three-hundred years, people have pontificated about wine.  From famous artists to politicians, my favourite quote is from Napoleon Bonaparte.  ‘In victory, you deserve Champagne.  In defeat you need it…’  So let’s crack open a bottle of bubbly and toast Shrewsbury.  Salut!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Come Shop With Me

Earlier this week I drove to Bluewater to visit Marks & Spencer’s Food Hall.  As someone who has zero interest in cooking with a history of disastrous burnt offerings reflecting this, my family appreciate that in order to survive somebody else has to be chef.  In this case it is the supermarket.  Now the standard of convenience meals in supermarkets varies.  Asda is so-so.  Tesco slightly better.  Sainsbury’s all right.  Waitrose – very good if you’re a meat eater (I’m not).  Marks & Spencer – brilliant.  There is something for everyone.  The vegetarian shelves (note the plural) are enticing and imaginative, and there is plenty of choice when it comes to fresh vegetables to steam alongside your mains, plus lots and lots of fresh fruit, whether in a punnet or a peel-back pot.
          Anyway, rather than sound like I’m on a marketing campaign for M & S (which I’m most definitely not), I’ll instead tell you what recently happened after I walked out of their Food Hall with my four bags of shopping.  Quite by chance I discovered – in the pyjama and nightie aisle – my father.  This was quite a surprise because (a) he loathes shopping (b) he particularly detests Bluewater, and (c) he doesn’t need a new pair of pyjamas as his twenty-five-year-old paisley pair are still going strong, so why waste money?  As I bore down on Father Bryant with my four weighty bags of goodies, his face registered delight.
          ‘Ah, Debs, am I glad to see you!’
          ‘Hello, Dad.’  I kissed him on the cheek.  ‘Aren’t you with Mum?’
          ‘Yes,’ said my father, ‘or at least I was until ten minutes ago.’
          ‘Oh, where’s she gone then?’
          ‘I don’t know.  One minute she was standing beside me, and the next she’d wandered off.’
          Now the chances are that my mother did indeed inform my father of her impending departure but he simply didn’t hear.  Father Bryant has been a taddy deaf…okay very deaf…for several years.  He has a hearing aid which seems to be as much use as snow in a microwave.
          ‘Well she can’t have gone far,’ I said.
          After all, Mother Bryant walks slightly faster than a snail and has one of those walker contraptions on wheels.  It’s fireman red, fitted with a shopping basket, a seat and, if she’s having a good day, there’s a handbrake that can be deployed to stop her mowing down other shoppers.  Frankly I think it should have a bell too, but generally Mother Bryant’s ‘good days’ are few and far between.
          ‘Have you actually looked for her?’ I asked Father Bryant.
          ‘No, my sciatica is playing me up.’
          ‘Does she have her mobile phone on her?’
          ‘Yes, but the battery is flat.’
          ‘Okay, if I go off and find her, do you have your mobile phone so I can call you to say where we are?’
          ‘No, I left it at home.’
          ‘Well I expect she’s popped to the Ladies.  You stay here in case she comes back, and I’ll quickly check the loos.’  I dumped my shopping at my father’s feet.  ‘Look after this for me.’
          I jogged to the escalator, took the steps two at a time, trotted through the Children’s Department and burst into the Ladies.  ‘Mum, are you in here?’ A number of locked doors greeted me and the occupants remained silent.  Right, not in the Ladies.  I did a swift about turn, back through Children’s Department and bounced down the escalator…to find no Father Bryant and no shopping bags.  Marvelous!  There was nothing for it, I’d have to now look for him too.
          I then systematically jogged up and down the pyjama and nightie aisles attracting the attention of a bored security guard. Oh aye?  What have we here?  Clearly that blonde impersonating Zebedee is a potential shoplifter ready to grab and run.  His eyes tried to pin me to a mannequin modelling a dressing gown, but I was too fast for him.  I sprung into the next aisle but not before catching a glimpse of him talking into his radio.
          To throw the security guard’s attention, I decided it might be beneficial to call out to my parents whilst jogging along the aisles.  Father Bryant was probably a lost cause, because of the deafness, but Mother Bryant is renowned for her bionic hearing.  Indeed, it’s the only part of her that still works properly.
          ‘Mum?’ I called as I panted along.  A startled lady moved smartly out of my way.  ‘Dad?’ I called and puffed round the corner slap into another security guard.
          ‘Do I look like your father?’ he asked. Well actually, no he didn’t.  He was black for starters and about ten years too young.
          ‘Sorry,’ I apologised, ‘I’m looking for my parents.  And four shopping bags,’ I added as an afterthought.
          At that point there was an announcement on the store tannoy.  ‘Will Mr Anthony Bryant please make his way to the Food Hall where his wife is waiting?’
          ‘Ah,’ I beamed at the security guard, ‘that’ll be my mother.’  I sped off to the Food Hall.  There was Father Bryant wandering aimlessly around the trolleys and shopping baskets, but no Mother Bryant.
          ‘Dad!’ I called.  ‘I thought I told you not to move!’
          ‘I didn’t,’ he insisted, ‘you did.’
          ‘Yes, I told you I was going to search the Ladies…oh never mind.  Where’s Mum?’
          ‘She’s not here. Did that announcement say the Food Hall or somewhere else?’
          ‘No, it definitely said the Food Hall.  Tell you what, I’ll run up and down the food aisles and I’ll find Mum in no time.’
          So once again I sped off.  Down Fruit and Veg, past Salads, down the Italian aisle, up the Indian aisle, down Chinese, up Vegetarian.  No Mother Bryant.  ‘Mum,’ I gasped.  I was in the unchartered waters of dog food and cat litter now, of which my mother surely had no need, but I dare not leave an aisle unexplored.  Perhaps I should turn up my vocal volume?
          ‘MUM!’ I fog-horned as I sped into Bakery.  And straight into a third security guard who stepped out behind the gluten-free.
          ‘Do I look like your mother?’ he asked.  They’re a right bunch of jokers these security guards.
          ‘Obviously not,’ I glared at him balefully.  ‘Now if you will please excuse me.’  I tossed my hair back and set off at a run.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d shifted my butt so fast.  As I completed my lap of the Food Hall I discovered Mother Bryant, no less, hanging onto her walker.  ‘Oh thank God,’ I gasped and sank down on the walker’s seat.
          ‘Debs, whatever are you doing here?  You’re all out of breath.  Yes, sit down, dear, have a rest.  Shall I try pushing you?  Oh look, there’s your father. I lost him half an hour ago.  I told him not to wander off, and what does he do?  Yoo-hoo!  Tony!  Tone-eeee, over here.’
          Father Bryant turned around and registered our presence.  So did the three security guards who had now converged as one.  Their expression was clear.  ‘The blonde suspect is working with two pensioners who are pretending to have lost each other.  Any minute now they’re going to climb aboard the walker and zoom off without deploying the handbrake.’
          ‘Excuse me, Madam,’ said one of the guards striding over. ‘Do you have a receipt for those four bags of shopping?’
          So there you have it.  A perfectly normal afternoon in Marks and Spencer with the parents.  Which reminds me.  An eighty-one-year-old woman was arrested for shop lifting.  When she went before the Judge, he asked her what she had stolen.  ‘A can of peaches,’ she replied, ‘because I was hungry.’  The Judge asked how many peach slices she’d eaten.  ‘Six,’ said the old woman.  ‘In that case,’ said the Judge, ‘I will jail you for six days.’  Before the Judge could bang his hammer, the old lady’s husband piped up.  ‘Your Honour, she also stole a can of peas…’

Saturday, 11 October 2014

University Challenge

A couple of weeks ago my daughter plonked some paperwork on my desk.
          ‘Here you are,’ said Eleanor.
          ‘What’s this?’ I asked.
          ‘Some blurb about funding for when I go to uni.’
          ‘Oh, right.’
          Funding wasn’t required for months.  I put it in the bottom of my paperwork pile and forgot all about it.  Two weeks later I had cleared everything on top of this ‘blurb’, so settled back to have a read.  Within three seconds my heart had leapt into my mouth.
          ‘ELEANOR!’ I roared.
          My lethargic teenager appeared in the doorway.  ‘Yeah?’
          ‘Have you read this?’ I waggled the papers under her nose.
          ‘No.  Have you?’
          ‘This is your future, not mine,’ I yelped.  ‘It says here that you should be researching universities, downloading prospectus, getting yourself organized and going on open days.’  I gulped.  ‘And this was TWO WEEKS AGO.’
          ‘Stop stressing, Mum, there’s plenty of time.  Our directors will tell us when to do it.’
          ‘Actually, I don’t think they will.’  My eyes scanned the sheets of A4.  ‘They’re far too busy having diva fits about students who don’t know monologues off by heart and whether to bring back The Beano.’
          The Beano was the last show my daughter appeared in.  Since then there have been some staff changes and artistic temperaments have got in the way of too many things.  I won’t name and shame my daughter’s Theatre in this blog but, as a parent, I don’t give a stuff about whether they should re-run a show that’s already been done, but I do give several stuffs about kicking seventeen-year-olds’ bottoms and making sure they have actually started their university research and got some open days booked.  If some of them can’t be bothered to learn monologues without nagging, how are they expected to organize their future?  They need prompting.  And if you want to change prompting to spoon feeding, then so be it.
          My son went to a grammar school and staff were hot, hot, hot on ensuring students were doing everything on time.  I don’t recall once getting involved in the whole university process other than paying for train tickets for my son to visit a prospective place of study.  The students spent research time during lessons checking out universities on-line, what degree courses were suitable, and bookings for open days were made there and then.  Personal Statements were drafted under the eyes of watchful teachers, tweaked, re-tweaked and tweaked again.  But at my daughter’s college, clearly it’s a case of Get on with it yourself.
          ‘You’ve got to do this yourself,’ I regarded my daughter.  ‘Pull up a stool and I’ll help you.’
          ‘Oh, but I was watching–’
          Two hours later we had decided on geographical locations, sorted what universities did BA (Hons) Acting, and narrowed it down to three drama schools and five universities.  This will have to be revised again at some point as only five applications in total are permitted.  Picking up the phone, I rang the first university on our list.
          ‘Hello! We’d like to book an open day.  You’re all booked up?  No availability at all?  Do a virtual tour on-line, you say.  Terrific.’  I banged the phone down and looked at Eleanor.  ‘Well this is a promising start.  Not.’
          Eleanor slouched down in her chair and gave me the same look the pooch does when in trouble.
          ‘Sorry, Mum.’
          I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.  ‘Okay. Not your fault.  As far as I’m concerned, your directors are the ones who are culpable.  Let’s just keep ringing the universities on this list and keep our fingers crossed.’
          To cut a long story short there were a few more open days up for grabs, and grab them we did.
          ‘But several of them are on a Saturday!’ Eleanor exclaimed in horror. ‘That’s my day off!’
          ‘Good heavens,’ I cried, ‘so it is.  Which also means,’ I clapped a hand to my head dramatically – oh yes, my daughter isn’t the only actress in this family you know, ‘it’s MY DAY OFF TOO.’
          I glowered at my daughter.  ‘As I keep trying to tell you, this is your future.  Now are you prepared to sacrifice a few Saturdays, or not?’
          ‘Okay,’ Eleanor grimaced, ‘keep yer hair on.’
          ‘Keep my–?’
          I pursed my lips and shut up in case I gave way to the rant bubbling just below the surface.  The next headache will be drafting the Personal Statement, which no doubt I’ll be roped into doing too.  But at least we’re now on schedule.  I can only hope my daughter’s peers are too.  Which reminds me.  How many actors does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one.  They don’t like sharing the spotlight…