Sunday, 29 March 2015


A couple of weeks ago, I decided – after much talking but no action – to take up yoga.  Properly.  So I rang my local gym.  They said they’d welcome me with open arms if I bought a membership which worked out to ninety quid a month plus nine pounds for each yoga class.  I thanked the kind person profusely…and turned to YouTube.
          A quick search turned up a nice young American lady telling me I could do yoga in my front room for free.  Eagerly, I prepared for my first ‘class’.
          ‘Cross your legs like so,’ she instructed.
          The last time I adopted this position was at primary school.  Forty plus years later, my legs were having none of it.  I looked at the nice American lady on my iPad.  She had assumed a perfect crossed-leg position with her knees almost grazing the floor.  My own legs were crossed, but my knees were pointing towards the ceiling.  Gently, I pushed them to the floor.  Down.  Down a bit more.  Nearly there.  Muscles twanged alarmingly, but nothing ripped.
          ‘And now, arms to the front, wrists together, entwine fingers and embrace the breath.’
          Copying, I brought my wrists together.  Immediately my knees sprang upwards.  Ignoring them I stretched forward, mimicking the instructor, and raised my arms up.  From my spine came the sound of several vertebrae popping.  Since when had sitting cross-legged and stretching become such hard work?
          For twenty-five minutes I did my best to emulate my on-line bendy instructor as she moved fluidly into position after position, stretch after stretch.
          ‘Don’t worry if you feel a little shaky,’ she assured afterwards, ‘it’s just prana energy moving.’
          Really?  I folded away my iPad and stood up.  My whole body was shaking like an aspen in a hurricane.
          The following day I awoke to find my legs had surely been filled with concrete by some invisible force during the night.  Every muscle ached.  It was a whole week before I could bring myself to do Day Two.  Do you ever get the feeling that sometimes you should have started something twenty years earlier?  However, having been inspired by one of Facebook’s viral videos where a ninety-year-old lady not only did yoga herself but spent her days in a studio as an instructor with her legs hooked over her shoulders, I shall persevere.  Which reminds me.
          Why did the yogi refuse anaesthesia when having his wisdom teeth removed?  Because he wanted transcend-dental-medication…

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Flower Power

The recent UK Mother’s Day was, for me, something of an empowering moment.  Now, before you go thinking I’m some sort of diva, let me just say this is absolutely not true.  Well, not usually anyway.  But as Mother’s Day dawned it rapidly became apparent it was going to be just another day.  And somewhere deep within, a bit of feistiness made itself known.
          ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’ said my son, handing me a vast bunch of ribbon-tied tulips.
          ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’ trilled my daughter and gave me not one, but two, gaily wrapped prezzies.
          ‘Thank you,’ I beamed.  ‘The tulips are perfect.’  I eagerly tore at the pretty paper on the parcels.  ‘Ooh, a lovely mug and,’ I peered into the layers of paper, ‘a notebook and pen.’
          ‘For your shopping lists,’ Eleanor replied.
          ‘Indeed!’ I hugged the notebook to my heart.  It has to be said that my ‘shopping lists’ drive the family mad.  They are never written on one piece of paper, but rather dotted all around the house.  Urgent scribble for dishwasher tablets and cat food can be found on the back of an envelope…bread and milk on the bottom of a bank statement…butter and cheese on a random till receipt…and think of something exciting for dinner on my diary page.  So when the family try to add to my shopping list with their own requests, it can be something of a challenge.
          ‘That’s nice,’ said Mr V, admiring the mug and notebook.
          I straightened up.  Oh goodie.  The husband’s gift was due next.  I smiled in anticipation.
          ‘Oh yes,’ said Mr V as realisation dawned.  ‘It’s Mother’s Day.  Your card is in the boot of my car.’
          Naturally.  I always keep a stash of celebration cards in my car boot.  Not.  ‘Well go and get it!’ I made chivvying motions with my hands.
          ‘Ah, but I haven’t written in it yet.’
          ‘Then get writing!’ I cried.  ‘I want my card!  And present!’
          ‘Present?’ said Mr V looking alarmed.
          ‘Yes.  Present.  Can I just remind you, every Father’s Day I spoil you rotten.  Last year you were whisked off to your favourite restaurant. The bill came to several arms and legs and was paid for by Yours Truly.’
          ‘And I haven’t forgotten,’ said Mr V, lying through his teeth. ‘It’s just that the flowers I selected are…um…still at the florist.’
          ‘John Lewis’ florist?’
          ‘Er…no.  Tesco.’
          ‘They do lovely flowers at Tesco,’ said Mr V defensively. ‘In fact, if you come with me, you can choose your own. Satisfied?’
          ‘I’ll have to be, won’t I!’
          An hour later, I surveyed what was left of our local supermarket’s motley flowers after a frenzied last-minute buy-out by terrified men all over the South-East of England.
          ‘These are nice,’ said my husband, brandishing a bunch of brown roses.
          ‘They’re dead!’
          ‘Okay, what about these?’ he touched the cellophane wrapped around some shrivelled chrysanthemums.
          ‘Everything here is on its last legs.  I know, let’s go to the garden centre.  They’ll have oodles of beautiful bouquets.’
          ‘Right-oh,’ warbled Mr V, clutching his wallet nervously.
          Outside it had begun to drizzle.  My husband, who’d insisted on coming out without a jacket, looked at the sky and shivered.  Ten minutes later we arrived at the garden centre. By this point the drizzle had turned to fine rain. We ran, dodging the raindrops, until under cover.  Everywhere were beautiful blooms – flowering pot plants, hanging baskets overflowing with a waterfall of riotous colour, and pretty pastel shrubs.  But no bouquets.  I went over to an assistant.
          ‘Hello.  Where’s your florist?’
          ‘Yeah…couldn’t compete against Tesco.’
          ‘I know,’ said Mr excitedly. ‘We’ll go to one of those roadside stalls that you see all over the place on occasions like today.’
          ‘Good idea.’
          Outside the rainfall had increased.  We legged it to the car.
          ‘It’s chuffing freezing,’ said my husband through chattering teeth.  He hit dials, flicked switches, and ramped up the car’s temperature.  ‘Let’s find these flowers and get home.’
          As you can see, he’s incredibly romantic.  I’m being ironic by the way.  So we drove.  And drove.  And then we drove some more.  After about thirty miles we still hadn’t found any roadside stalls selling bundles of Mother’s Day bouquets.
          ‘I don’t think I’m going to get my flowers,’ I sighed.
          It was at that precise moment my husband did an emergency stop.  As we ricocheted forwards and backwards in our seats, Mr V pointed in wonder to the vision before us.  The Co-Op.  And outside the shop’s door were numerous buckets of water containing umpteen bunches of flowers.
          ‘Wait here,’ commanded Mr V.  Flinging open the driver’s door, he dashed across the road and disappeared into the shop.  I waited, squirming in my seat with pleasure.  At last!  Flowers!  Romance!  I closed my eyes in anticipation and kept them closed until he returned.  The door opened and suddenly blooms were being pushed into my face.  All seven of them.
          ‘Oh.’  I turned to him in disappointment.
          ‘No good?’
          ‘They’re lovely.  I was just…expecting more.’
          ‘Yes.  Please can I have some more?’  We seemed to have dropped into an Oliver Twist moment.
          ‘More flowers?’
          ‘More flowers.’  It was Mother’s Day dammit!
          Outside, the steady rain chose that moment to turn into a torrential downpour.  But back to the shop Mr V went.  Moments later he reappeared and I swear everything went into slow motion.  There was my husband, arms full of blooms, white shirt sticking to his man boobs…I mean taut the rain drenched him from head to toe, striding towards me with a triumphant look upon his face.  I don’t think he’ll forget to buy flowers next year.  Which reminds me.
          What did the bee say to the flower?  ‘Hello, honey…’

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Driving Her Crazy

My daughter has started driving lessons.  By the time most kids have their first professional lesson, a fair proportion of them have had a bit of tuition with a parent.  At this point, I would like to congratulate such parents who clearly don’t have a faint heart – although such parental tuition can be fraught, I’m sure.  Like the time when my daughter’s boyfriend drove his mother’s car into the garage.  And didn’t stop until it hit the wall.  Or when I was passenger to my son’s early attempts in our field and screamed, ‘THERE’S A FENCE,’ as we bounced towards our boggle-eyed pony trembling behind its post-and-rail.  I just didn’t have the required nerves of steel to repeat all this with my daughter.  She’s booked a week’s intensive course of driving lessons starting next month, so I thought it might be prudent to get some basic acquaintance with clutch control etc in order to be a little more prepared.  So last Wednesday Eleanor had her first independent lesson.  By the time cabin controls and basic safety stuff had been covered, she only had ten minutes of actual driving time.  Nine minutes of this was spent bunny hopping forward and stalling the vehicle.
          ‘I see,’ I listened to her account afterwards and nodded encouragingly.  ‘So how did the remaining minute go?’
          ‘Well I didn’t manage to get out of first gear, but I was very proud of myself, Mum,’ Eleanor beamed.  ‘I overtook a car.’
          ‘You overtook a car?’ my eyebrows nearly shot off my forehead.  ‘What, in first gear?’
          ‘Well, it was a parked car, but I still overtook it.’
          ‘And I drove at twenty miles per hour too!’
          ‘Still in first gear?’
          ‘Yes.  The engine note was a bit loud, but my driving instructor didn’t say anything.  He was too busy leaning across and grabbing the steering wheel.’
          I felt a tad queasy listening to that bit.  ‘Why was he grabbing the wheel?’
          Eleanor regarded me with wide eyes.  ‘Because it’s so hard to steer a car, isn’t it?  I mean, I was busy looking at the speedometer and thinking how amazing it was that I was driving at twenty miles per hour.’
          ‘Mmm, quite.’  I take my hat off to her driving instructor.  ‘But you are actually meant to keep your eyes trained on the road ahead.’
          ‘Oh I did glance at it now and again,’ Eleanor assured, perfectly serious.
          Glance at it?’
          ‘Well I had to see where my feet were on the pedals, and then find the gear stick, and then peer in the rear-view mirror, then look for the lever to signal and then somehow look over my shoulder.  I mean, I can’t look everywhere can I?  There’s just soooooo much to think about.’
          ‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘but it’s quite important you check there’s nothing in front of you too.  Difficult I know,’ I assured, ‘but you know…somewhat essential.’
          The next driving lesson is Tuesday.  Let’s hope progress is made into second gear and more attention given to what’s on the other side of the windscreen.  Which reminds me.
          A man saw an advertisement for a driving school that claimed it could teach anyone to drive a car in ten minutes. He telephoned the school and asked, ‘How can you possibly teach anyone to drive in just ten minutes?’  ‘Easy,’ replied the driving school’s telephonist, ‘it’s a crash course…’

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Driving me Crazy

It’s been one of those weeks where everything has felt a bit hectic. Today, Sunday, I’ve been able to stop and take a deep breath.  My daughter has had a string of auditions recently, two this week alone. The driving has been tiring, the routes unfamiliar, conditions awful and the journeys somewhat hairy.
          I’m a slow and steady driver. You will rarely find my car in the outside lane of a motorway unless there are lorries blocking lanes one and two.
          On Tuesday’s excursion to Loughton, the traffic was slow and heavy.  At the Dartford Tunnel, all umpteen lanes to the toll barriers were chock-a-block with traffic.
          ‘Do something, Mum,’ said Eleanor.
          ‘Certainly. Pass me my handbag.’
          ‘What for?’
          ‘It’s where I keep my magic wand.’
          ‘Oh, very funny.’
          At a snail’s pace, we attempted to filter onto the M25.  I signalled to show my intention to flow into crawling traffic. In front of me was a lorry. To the right of me was another lorry. Behind me – you’ve guessed – a third lorry. My car is about the size of a 4 x 4 so I don’t usually feel insignificant, but at that moment, surrounded by huge vehicles, there was a definite sense of being hemmed in.
          ‘Are you going to let me out?’ I muttered to myself whilst looking over my shoulder at the huge HGV. The driver’s face was just about visible. His expression said it all:  Bog off woman driver.  Squaring my shoulders and offering up a silent prayer, I barged my way out and squeezed in front of him. From behind came the blast of an HGV-sized horn which nearly sent Eleanor and me rocketing into orbit. A glance in my rear view mirror revealed the lorry’s engine grill a hair’s breadth from my boot. ‘Why don't you just climb into the back of my car?’ I said under my breath.
          In situations like this, I always wonder about the mentality of certain drivers. Is one vehicle getting in front of them truly going to impact upon their journey time?
          My mind travelled back a few weeks previously to a similar situation when I was taking my daughter to college. Crossing a roundabout, I filtered into the correct lane only to have a lorry try and carve me up. That particular driver’s attitude was, ‘I’m bigger than you, so get out of my way.’ He might have been bigger, but his vehicle wasn’t as nippy as mine, so his attempt to squeeze me out failed. His outrage was obvious. All the way down the London Road I was subjected to blasts of horn and flashing headlights. I retaliated by driving slowly on an approach to traffic lights, caught them on the change, and then accelerated through so that he had no choice but to stop for the red light. I then took it to the next level by buzzing down the window to gleefully wave him farewell as I zoomed off.
          I love small victories and chortled all the way to the next set of traffic lights.  Things weren’t quite so funny five minutes later when I caught sight, in my rear view mirror, of Mr Lorry Driver bearing down on me.  Uh-oh.
          ‘Come on traffic lights…change!’
          But they didn’t.  Moments later Mr Lorry Driver was parallel to my vehicle.  His window buzzed down and the air turned blue.  His finale was a two-fingered salute. Not to be outdone, I stuck four fingers up at him and waggled them about for good measure.  I haven’t a clue if it means anything, but it felt good.
          Yesterday’s journey wasn’t much better. We were travelling to Surrey University’s Guildford School of Acting. We set off in miserable weather.  The air was full of fine drizzle. By the time we were on the motorway, lashings of road spray gave an illusion of fog. Just as I was steaming past a line of lorries, one of them decided to pull out on me. No signals. Just the usual attitude of, ‘I’m a lorry, therefore I’m King of the Road’.
          ‘Yikes,’ Eleanor and I chorused.
          Actually we didn’t really say that. We said something a little more colourful which I will leave to your imagination.  Once I’d put comfortable distance between the lorries and us, we exhaled in relief.
          ‘That’s one thing I’m not looking forward to when I start driving,’ said Eleanor.
          ‘What, motorways?’
          ‘Mm. I mean, my car is tiddly. What if I get squashed?’
          ‘Just keep your distance from big vehicles.’
          Eleanor stared ahead thoughtfully. ‘It feels very odd knowing my driving test is booked and that I haven’t yet had a single lesson.’

          Like her brother last year, Eleanor has booked a week’s intensive driving course over the Easter break. It’s bad enough being passenger to my twenty-two year old son, but the thought of sitting next to a newly qualified seventeen year old is one that fills me with more fear than taking on a lorry driver. Which reminds me.
          The following are apparently true answers given by women drivers in the California Driving Test:
          Q: What is the difference between a flashing red traffic light and a flashing yellow traffic light?
          A: The colour.
          Q: When driving through fog, what should you use?
          A:  Your car.
          Q: What changes would occur to your lifestyle if you could no longer drive lawfully?
          A: I would be forced to drive unlawfully...