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!