Sunday, 22 February 2015

Musical Chairs and Other Things

February always sees us celebrating several birthdays in my family.  A recent one was my sister’s.
          ‘What would you like for your present?’ I asked Janice.
          Most ladies would suggest things like perfume, or chocolates, or a particular bit of make-up or a collection of nail polishes.  My sis eats only a certain type of chocolate, says perfume is bad for you, is fussy about her make-up, and hates nail polish.
          ‘What about some gift vouchers?’ I asked, playing it safe.  ‘And please don’t suggest Halfords.’  Last year Janice wanted a voucher for an inner tube, or something equally daft, for her bicycle.  ‘I want to buy you something gorgeous and feminine.’  Trouble is, when you take chocolates, perfume, make-up and nail polish out of the equation, things start to get trickier.
          ‘What about a nice pair of earrings?’ I suggested.
          ‘I have loads of earrings and don’t wear half of them as it is.  I could do with some new plastic food containers.  I think there’s a sale on at Lakeland.’
          ‘No!’ I said in exasperation.
          In the end she settled on me taking her out for a meal followed by a trip to the cinema.  Hurrah!  So early Friday evening, we met outside a well-known restaurant with a five star rating.
          ‘Come in,’ said a smiley-faced waitress.  ‘Sit down.’  She indicated a table for two next to their main staircase.  We had barely parked our bottoms when Janice put her head on one side, as if thinking about something.
          ‘What’s up?’ I asked.
          ‘It’s a bit public here, isn’t it?  With the staircase.  Everybody is traipsing past us.’
          ‘Okay.  We’ll ask if we can be moved.’
          So our smiley-faced waitress invited us to follow her to the other end of the restaurant, far away from the staircase.  Once again we re-arranged handbags, coats and bottoms.  I picked up the menu with a sigh of pleasure.  Food!  Feed me!  I was starving.  But…wait a moment.  I looked at my sister across the table.
          ‘Everything all right?’
          ‘Don’t you find these lights very bright?’
          ‘What…you mean the lamps dangling over the table?  I think they’re meant to give a sense of…you know…atmosphere.’
          ‘The only thing they’re giving me is a headache.  They’re right over my line of vision. Doesn’t it bother you?’
          I stared across the table at my sister.  The lights hadn’t been bothering me, but now she’d mentioned it, naturally I couldn’t stop seeing them bobbing about in my peripheral vision.  And she was right.  It was headache inducing.  Well, something was giving me a headache anyway.
          ‘Okay,’ I nodded.  ‘We’ll move tables again.’
          The smiley-faced waitress was summoned, this time looking a little surprised, but she beamed away and showed us to a third table.
          ‘Thank you,’ said my sister.  ‘I’m not a diva, honest.’
          ‘Ha ha,’ I laughed.
          ‘Ha ha, laughed the waitress.
          Once again we re-arranged ourselves and settled down with the menus.  And a whole thirty seconds passed before my sister once again put her head on one side.  But…oh dear…what now?   I looked over the menu at her.
          ‘Something wrong?’
          ‘Look above us.’ My sister pointed upwards.
          I followed her gaze and stared at a huge Bose speaker directly above our heads.
          ‘Well, it’s only playing soft music.  We’re perfectly able to hear ourselves talking.’
          As if on cue, somebody ramped up the volume.  It was wonderful music.  Took me right back to my teens.  White Cherry’s Play That Funky Music, Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky and Chic’s Le Freak.  By the time the last tune was playing I was torn between whether to order dinner or dance around my handbag.
          ‘DO YOU THINK WE SHOULD ASK TO BE MOVED? Janice shouted.
          The smiley-faced waitress came over.  ‘ARE YOU READY TO ORDER?’
          The smiley-faced waitress looked disconcerted, but nodded and disappeared.  Seconds later the volume went down.
          ‘Oh thank goodness,’ said Janice. ‘I couldn’t hear myself think.’  In that moment she sounded exactly like our mother.  ‘Oh dear, I sounded exactly like our mother.’
          ‘I know.’
          ‘Not good.’
          We both digested this horror.  Turning into our mother was something we’d always sworn never to do.  At least my sister was ahead of me.  And she’s four years younger!
          ‘What would you like to drink?’ asked the smiley-faced waitress.
          ‘Water,’ my sister replied.
          ‘Prosecco,’ I said.  ‘A large one.’
          ‘Am I driving you to drink?’ asked my sister.
          ‘Yes,’ I smiled sweetly.  Several table changes, a complaint about a staircase, lighting, speakers and volume of music.  We’d been there half an hour so far and achieved nothing other than a lot of other diners wondering if we were doing a Dom Joly and winding up the waitress.
          Finally we were ready to order.  Weren’t we?
          ‘I’m gluten free,’ said my sister.  ‘Do you do gluten free pasta?’
          ‘Yes,’ said the smiley-faced waitress looking slightly wary.
          ‘Me too,’ I nodded.
          ‘And vegetarian,’ said my sister.
          ‘Me too,’ I said again.
          You’d think that would be enough for the waitress to worry about, wouldn’t you?  But…wait…my sister was saying something else.
          ‘And I don’t eat garlic.  Or onions.  And ideally no dairy.’
          The smiley-faced waitress looked like she wanted to burst into tears.  ‘Um, I’m not sure what’s left on the menu.’
          ‘What about fish?’ I suggested.  ‘You eat fish.’
          ‘Hmmmm.  What sort of fish do you have?’
          The smiley-faced waitress looked relieved.  ‘We do a fabulous coley pasta with mussels and prawns.’
          ‘Ah, I’m allergic to mussels and prawns.  Can you do it with just the fish?’
          The smiley-faced waitress looked stricken.  ‘Oh dear.  No, it’s pre-prepared.’
          ‘What about a big salad?’ I prompted.
          ‘Yes, that could work.  What sort of leaves do you do?’
          The smiley-faced waitress was definitely starting to look traumatised.  I’m fairly sure she’d never been asked about salad leaves before.  ‘Well,’ she quavered, ‘we do a really nice rocket salad with parmesan shavings.’
          ‘Oh dear.  Of all the salad leaves there are, I hate rocket.  It’s so hot and peppery.’
          ‘Could you hurry up with that wine,’ I muttered to the smiley-faced waitress.  I think she could have done with a glass herself by this point.
          Anyway, to cut a long story short, my sister settled on a carbonara without garlic and minus the bacon, and took a chance that the dairy wouldn’t upset her sinuses.  The food was superb and the smiley-faced waitress didn’t burst into tears.  Afterwards we headed off to the cinema to watch Kingsman.
          ‘We need some chocolate to munch in the cinema,’ said my sister.
          ‘Good idea.’
          We headed into a nearby confectioner’s.
          ‘Can I help you?’ asked the assistant.
          ‘Yes,’ beamed my sister.  ‘I want some chocolate.’  But…wait.  What was she asking for?  ‘Organic…dairy-free…no gluten…and preferably no soya substitute…’
          Ever get that feeling of déjà vu?  Which reminds me.  A guy went to a fancy French restaurant called Déjà Vu.  The head waiter came over and said, ‘Don’t I know you…?’

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Valentine's Day

So did you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day?  For those of you who are newly married, or about to be married, or have recently got engaged, or just found the love of your life and walking around in a happy haze…no doubt you were all swamped with your favourite perfumes, bouquets, satin undies, and possibly even a romantic weekend away.  If so, that’s fabulous, and long may it last.  For those of you who have husbands who regard February 14th as just another day, come closer because I want to give you a hug.  And if you are single, I’ll hug you too.
          Actually, I shouldn’t do Mr V down.  To be fair to him, he did remember it was Valentine’s Day.  And I nearly fainted when a box was delivered containing a dozen red roses.  Regrettably they turned out to be for my daughter.
          ‘Oooh, aren’t they lovely,’ I said admiringly.
          ‘That reminds me,’ said my husband, and he presented me with a card in the traditional red envelope.
          ‘Thanks,’ I grinned.  ‘And, um, is there anything else?’
          ‘Anything else?’ he frowned.
          Ah, bless him.  He was pretending.  Any second now he’d take his hands from behind his back and trill, “Da-daaaaaa!”  And he’d put two bunched-up fists in front of me before playfully saying, “Guess which hand?”  And I’d touch the left one and he’d say, “Correct!” And there, nestling in the palm of his hand would be diamond earrings.  All right, pearl earrings.  Okay, cubic zirconia studs.  I’m not fussy.  If it sparkles, it will still make me happy.
          ‘What time do you need a lift to the station?’ asked my husband, yawning widely.  Clearly the card and the card alone had been the big romantic gesture.  Meanwhile my daughter had another audition to attend in her bid for entry into a drama school.  I looked at the clock on the oven.  Another two minutes and we needed to dash off to London.  I grabbed my handbag and coat.
          At the station, I got out of the car and then, as an afterthought, leant back in.
          ‘Flowers,’ I murmured seductively.
          My husband looked startled.  As well he might.  The last time I spoke in a seductive voice to him was…ooh…I can’t remember.
          ‘I’d like some flowers.’
          ‘Yes. You know. Those things with long green stems and lots of petals at one end.’
          I hastily shut the car door before my husband could splutter any further incredulities.  Forty-five minutes later we were heading out of Barons Court tube station (no, I’ve never heard of it before either) and suddenly I was plunged into the most romantic moment I have ever witnessed.  A distraught man, his arms full of blooms – and when I say ‘full’ I mean full to the point where he was almost staggering under the sheer weight of them – was hurrying towards the platform.
          ‘Wait!’ he called to somebody.
          I craned my neck.  Oh my goodness.  Had he had a lover’s tiff?  Was this a moment full of red hearts and love declarations in order to win back the woman he simply couldn’t live without?  I watched in fascination as a charged towards the tube.  It turned out there was no woman and he just hadn’t wanted to miss his connection.  But nothing could take away the fact that later some lucky lady was going to be absolutely ecstatic with two hundred quid’s worth of flower power.
          Three hours later Mr V greeted my daughter and me at the station.  I opened the passenger door and slid in.  Just as I was reaching for my seatbelt, my husband thrust six red roses into my free hand.
          ‘Flowers,’ he beamed.
          ‘Awwww, how romantic,’ I cooed.  Well you have to milk the moment. After all, it doesn’t happen very often.
          ‘Enjoy them.’
          ‘Oh I will, I will,’ I said, plunging my nose into the petals and sniffing in delight.
          Naturally the romance didn’t last further than five seconds.  ‘They certainly cost enough,’ said Mr V sounding irked.  ‘Twelve quid! Absolute daylight robbery. A total rip off.’
          Viva la romance!  Which reminds me.
          A husband and wife had been married for seventy years and had no secrets – except for one.  In the depths of her wardrobe, the wife had kept a shoe box that she’d forbidden her husband to ever open.  On her deathbed, the woman gave her husband permission to open the box.  Inside was a crocheted doll and one hundred thousand pounds.
          ‘My mother said the secret of a happy marriage was to never argue,’ she explained, ‘and that instead it was better to keep quiet and crochet a doll.’
          Her husband was touched.  Just one doll in the box!  So his wife had only ever been cross with him once.
          ‘But where did all this money come from?’ he asked.
          ‘Oh,’ she explained, ‘that’s the money I made from selling the dolls…’


Sunday, 8 February 2015

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of...Carrots!

Over the years, thanks to my lovely beagle, I have made friends with many fellow dog walkers and doggy neighbours.  However, having recently bid a sad farewell to my golden oldie, walkies promptly ground to a halt.
          Currently I’m in limbo land.  We’re considering a house move later this year, plus there are other personal matters up in the air.  We want another dog, but the timing is not yet right.  So for now, I’ve resumed walkies – minus the pooch – with a lovely neighbour and her dear little terrier.
          In the beginning it felt most odd pulling on layers of clothing and Wellington boots, and setting off without hanging on to a lead.  My arms felt surplus to requirement, hands dangling by my sides.  Now I stuff them deep into my pockets.  The hands, not the arms.
          Most lunchtimes my neighbour and I venture across nearby Cotton Lane to a vast expanse of land where hundreds of travellers’ horses illegally graze.  The horses seem to be in their own social cliques with mini herds dotted all over the hills.  Mostly they ignore dog walkers unless, of course, you happen to be harbouring about your person some old apples or carrots.
          Considering I spent many years around horses – all of my childhood until right into my early thirties both riding and handling them, my confidence goes to pot around these particular horses.  Maybe it’s because these are travellers’ ponies and not used to being handled?  Or perhaps it’s because many of them are stallions and can be feisty.  Whatever it is, I have a deep sense of self-preservation and a desire to give them a wide berth!
          Earlier this week my neighbour had some old carrots she wanted to throw out, so kindly decided to give them to the travellers’ ponies.  The poor things are never fed, intermittently watered, and are currently weathering out in bitterly cold temperatures.  Walking along companionably, we came across a little herd busily tugging at winter grass.
          ‘I won’t go up to them,’ said my neighbour producing a rustling carrier bag full of carrots.  ‘I’ll throw these at them instead.’
          ‘Good idea,’ I replied, shrinking into a bit of gorsy hedge.
          Suddenly six shaggy heads shot up, eyes swivelling our way.  Twelve ears flicked forward – just about as far forward as long ears can go.  We had their attention.  My neighbour began lobbing carrots which prompted the herd leader to give an excited whicker to the others.  Now I don’t profess to be Dr Doolittle, but I know exactly what this horse said to his mates.
          ‘Look lively, chaps. It’s raining carrots.’
          Delighted, they began to walk towards my neighbour’s trail of veg.  The leader, anxious to eat the most, broke into a trot.  The others, keen not to miss out, also picked up pace.  However, the leader was having none of it.  With nostrils flaring, he broke into a canter.  Now there’s something about a group of shaggy wild ponies coming towards you at a fair pace that doesn’t generate a feeling of…calm.  It was at this point I abandoned my bit of gorsy hedge and fled in the opposite direction.
          ‘Don’t worry,’ my neighbour assured as she scampered behind me, ‘they won’t come after us.’
          I wasn’t so certain.  Looking back over my shoulder, the leader had munched up all his share of carrots and was conferring with the rest of the herd.
          ‘Follow the blonde.  She might have more carrots.’
          ‘But both of them are blonde.’
          ‘Fair point.  Follow them both.’
          ‘Okay. Tally ho!’
          Fortunately they lost interest the moment my neighbour shoved the carrier bag back into her coat pocket.
          My next encounter with them was when I came out of my house late one evening to collect my daughter from a show at her Theatre.  There, standing directly behind my car, were a group of ponies all having a late-night chat.
          ‘I think the blonde with the carrots lives somewhere round here.’
          I promptly turned on my heel and went back indoors to ring the police.  Sorry, but I’m not being mugged by a bunch of horses!
          ‘Yes, officer, that’s right, you heard me correctly.  Loose ponies. No, of course they’re not wearing balaclavas.  What are they doing?  Well one of them has just used his hoof to smash an icy puddle and they’re currently hoovering up the water.  Oh, wait.  They’re off again, heading towards Chapel Drive.’
          When I returned home forty-five minutes later there were two police cars outside our electric gates, blue lights flashing dramatically.  In the darkness I could make out four policemen charging here, there and everywhere.  Were they after burglars?  Muggers?  Hoodies up to no good?  Nope, none of these.  Just lots of ponies having a wonderful time leading our local force a very merry dance.  Did the boys in blue catch them?  Of course not.  They didn’t have any carrots.
          Which reminds me.  A trainer was giving last minute instructions to his jockey.  He appeared to slip something into the horse’s mouth just as a steward walked by.
          ‘What was that?’ asked the steward.
          ‘Just a Polo mint,’ said the trainer, popping one in his mouth. ‘Would you like one too?’
          After the suspicious steward had moved away, the trainer continued with his instructions to the jockey.’
          ‘Just keep on the rail. You’re a certainty. The only thing that could possibly pass you down the home straight is either the steward or me…’


Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Fishwife

I think we all know the meaning of fishwife.  The archaic definition is a woman who sells fish.  The modern meaning is a coarse-mannered woman who is prone to shouting.
          Naturally I’m not a fishwife.  And nor are you!  Of course we’ve never shouted at our kids…our partners…our cats…dogs…or the goldfish.  We all have nice shiny halos over our heads that never slip.  Well hardly ever.  Apart from the time my dog scampered over a newly washed floor. Or my cat peed over the edge of her litter tray causing urine to leak into the circuit board of the nearby tumble dryer and blow the electrics.  Or the kids turned their noses up at a meal I’d laboured over.  Or the husband didn’t even turn up for the meal I’d laboured over on account of work being more important.  Or the goldfish deciding it was time to go to the great pond in the sky after a small fortune had been spent on a bigger, posher tank with lots of mermaid decorations.  Indeed, I’m mostly innocent of these things, and what’s more can prove it.  I’ve never owned a goldfish in my life, see?  As for the other stuff, okay, I put my hands up.
          It would be fair to say that when my children became teenagers, I frequently lost my voice from shouting.  But where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Thanks to years of being a Blue Peter fan, I simply made myself a tannoy.  Firstly, take a defunct cardboard tube that once held tin foil, or wrapping paper.  Secondly, place one end of the cardboard tube against your mouth.  Finally, speak directly into the tube.  Whether you want to decorate it with sticky-backed colourful shapes is entirely up to you - the end result will be the same.  Your cardboard tannoy is guaranteed to make offenders jump.
          There may be some days where all you seem to do is bark orders through your tannoy in an attempt to penetrate the very different brains of teenagers.  This is perfectly permissible so long as you remember to put the tannoy down before trotting off to answer the summons of your doorbell.  Flinging open the front door and demanding, ‘Yes?’ through a cardboard tannoy is likely to upset the postman.  And the local Avon lady.  And also the odd bod from the local new-fangled ‘church’ canvassing for recruits. On second thoughts, it is perfectly acceptable to use your tannoy on the odd bod – just so long as you don’t whack him over the head with it.
          Anyway, I digress.  There is actually a third meaning to the word fishwife.  It’s a married woman who has a particular fish allergy and turns into a spotty nightmare hours later.  This is what happened to me earlier this week.  So I literally became a ‘fish wife’.  Get it?  Okay, maybe a poor play on words.
          Which reminds me.  My desire to be a dermatologist was only ever skin deep…