Sunday, 18 February 2018

Moving On Up

We recently celebrated my son’s twenty-fifth birthday.  February is usually the month where I scratch my head and say, ‘What would you like for a prezzie?’ and Rob scratches his head back and says, ‘I don’t know.’  I stopped buying clothes for the men in my family a long time ago.  Their ideas of style are oceans apart from mine (indeed, they would say I don’t have any!).  My son’s taste is ‘muscle fit’ which always looks to me as if he’s wearing too-small t-shirts.  My husband’s style is anything providing it’s black, so he looks like he has only one outfit.  Anyway, I digress.  This birthday, my son had a list.
          ‘I’d like a toaster, Mum.  Ooh, and a kettle.  And if anybody wants to buy me an ironing board and an iron, that would be good too.  And I mustn’t forget cutlery.’
          Up until now my son has lived in various digs where most things are provided, although the crockery so far has consisted of mismatched utensils, chipped cups and cracked plates.  But now, after intense saving, he’s about to buy an apartment.  That said, I can’t help thinking how flipping hard it is for today’s young adults to take this step.
          When I was twenty-five, I was living in a two-up-two-down house.  The mortgage had been obtained on the strength of three payslips and a letter from my employer.  These days, a lender asks so many questions they almost want to know what you had for dinner and a mortgage isn’t lightly granted.  My son was all set to buy a new build at nearby Ebbsfleet Village when the lender, at the last minute, said, ‘Sorry, there was a cock-up with the paperwork our end, and your 10% deposit is no longer enough.  They want the deposit to be a third of the property price.’ So Rob had to walk away. The little house I bought all those years ago cost £27,000.  These days the same property is £270,000, which is crazy.  What will property prices be in another thirty years?  It makes my brain spin like the washing machines we’re pricing up on-line.  Which reminds me.
          Did you hear about the man who completed a PhD in washing machines?  He’s now a spin doctor…

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Wardrobe Sense

I think I have just about accepted that I’m never going to be a size 10 again.  As the end of January approaches, my dieting stint has resulted in the paltry weight loss of just three pounds.  This is not enough to have the button easily meeting on any of the jeans that have been languishing on the wardrobe rail.  Hitting the mid-fifties has seen a total re-arrangement of lumps and bumps, with everything relocating to the waistline.  How do celebrities like Michelle Pfeiffer and Jane Fonda manage to keep such youthful figures?  Do they simply never eat?  Or do they work out every hour of every day?  Or perhaps they just visit some Hollywood liposuction surgeon, nod at his fat-sucking machine and say, ‘Fill it up, dah-ling’.’ Regrettably I don’t have a celebrity-sized bank balance, but at least I can afford to buy myself a new pair of (bigger) jeans.  Which was what I did yesterday.  I must admit, it was wonderful to do up the button without feeling I was being sawn in half.
          Meanwhile, the wardrobe has been gone through with a fine toothcomb.  It’s been a heart-breaking, but cleansing, exercise.  Every garment was tried on again, and then a large black sack was filled to take to the charity shop.  I was in my stride by this point, which immediately had the attention turning to shoes. An avid collector of heels, I knew there was all manner of strappy stuff that had not been worn for years. Shoes were the next to go. I’m now down to about six garments and a pair of muddy wellies.  From the sublime to the ridiculous.  But as I seem to spend most of my days wearing joggers and t-shirts covered in dog and cat hair, it doesn’t matter. Spring is just around the corner, along with a new ensemble!  Which reminds me (rude joke alert, stop reading now if easily offended).
          A very voluptuous lady was trying to board a bus, but her skirt was too tight for her to make the step up.  She reached behind her and discreetly lowered her zip before trying again. Unfortunately the skirt was still too tight.  So she gave it another go, lowering the zip a little further.  But still the skirt was too tight.  Determined to catch this bus, she once more reached behind her and lowered the zip all the way down.  Suddenly she felt two hands on her backside propelling her into the bus.  Angry, she turned around to the man behind her and said, ‘Sir, I don’t know you well enough for you to behave in such a manner,’ to which he replied, ‘Lady, I don’t know you well enough for you to unzip my fly three times either…’

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Ready Steady (Reluctantly) Cook

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m no Nigella.  I have phases where cooking from scratch seems a brilliant idea, and I embrace the kitchen like a long-lost relative from the Arctic Circle who is visiting for a week.  Seven days is usually the average for how long this odd behaviour lasts.  I’ve even been known to rush out and buy the odd new pot or utensil in a fit of out-of-character enthusiasm.  The last purchase was a vegetable peeler.  Those last two words currently leave me cold.  But at the time I was fired up by eating more vegetables than Bugs Bunny and rushed into Lakeland like a kid that had been let loose in a toy shop.  I came out with a ceramic implement that looked like it might also do a very good job at shaving my legs.  Needless to say, once home, the peeler remained in its packaging and was put away in a drawer full of other mainly redundant utensils, from flashy chopping knives to … well, weird looking objects, the purpose of which now fails me.
          However, at the beginning of January, the cooking issue reared its head again when I decided to have another crack at losing weight and was instantly attracted to websites that pledged you could stuff your face while the inches on your waistline melted away faster than a snowball in a microwave.  Enthused, I flipped through pages of mouth-watering recipes, all the while thinking, ‘Yesss, I’m up for this, get me into the kitchen NOW!’
          In the first week I lost three pounds.  In the second week my son gave me chocolate from Belgium which was devoured in sixty seconds and the weight went back on again.  In the third week I once again lost three pounds.  Please God that I stick to the website recipes and lose another three pounds in the fourth week.  Or a pound.  Even an ounce.  I’ll settle for that.
          On Friday night I cooked barbecue pulled pork with so much steamed veg I currently can’t look a bunch of broccoli in the eye.  The kitchen, which usually smells of fresh air and dog, wafted a tantalising aroma that had everybody’s taste buds tingling.  My daughter came home from drama school for the weekend, and nearly fainted with pleasure when she sat down at the table.
          ‘This is the nicest dinner you have ever cooked, Mum,’ said Eleanor.  ‘Did you really do this yourself, or did you nip out to the local pub and steal some of their cooking to pass off as your own?’
          I have been known, in an emergency, to do just that.
          ‘I really did cook this,’ I said, beaming away, enjoying the praise.  After all, it doesn’t happen very often.  In fact, I don’t think it’s ever happened.  Which reminds me.
          Little Johnny’s pre-school class went on a field trip to the fire station.  The firefighter giving the presentation held up a smoke detector.  He asked the class, ‘Does anyone know what this is?’  Little Johnny’s hand shot up.  ‘Yes, it’s what my mummy uses to let her know when dinner is ready…’

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Born Again

Last week was a bit surreal.  Something peculiar happened that … well … left everybody feeling a bit weirded out. I’ll start at the beginning.
          Every morning I telephone my parents to see how they are.  Last week was no exception. On this particular morning Father Bryant was getting ready to take Mother Bryant to her weekly hair appointment.  The Senior Citizen special.  This is a shampoo-and-set glued into place by an entire can of salon hair lacquer.  My parents were running late, so I didn’t chat for long. I’d barely disconnected the call, when the phone rang.
          ‘Uncle Phil here.’
          ‘Hi, how are you?’
          ‘Well, shocked, obviously.  What about you?’
          ‘Er … I’m fine.’
          ‘Really?  Are you coping all right?’
          ‘Yes … yes, I think so,’ I said, wondering if my Uncle was having a ‘senior’ moment.  They’re not unusual in 80-year-olds.  I have enough of them myself these days, so heaven knows what I’ll be like when I get to eighty.  ‘I’m sorry to hear you’re shocked,’ I said carefully.  ‘What’s happened?’
          There was a stunned pause from the other end of the line.
          ‘Oh my goodness,’ said Uncle Phil.  ‘You don’t know, do you?’
          ‘Know what?’
          ‘Oh dear.  I don’t know how to tell you this.  Ah, let me see now.  Have you spoken to your father recently?’
          ‘Yes, about two minutes ago.’
          ‘Right … right.  And how was he?’
          ‘A bit fed up.’
          ‘Hardly surprising.  He must be devastated.’
          ‘Well it’s only a backache. But it can be tiresome.’
          ‘But what about the heartache?’
          I boggled at the handset.  Heartache?  ‘His doctor said he has a sticky valve, but it’s not painful.  Uncle Phil, what has happened that I don’t know about?’
          ‘I’m really sorry to tell you this,’ said my uncle taking a deep breath, ‘but I've been told your mother has died.’
          In the five second stunned silence that followed, my brain whizzed off and did some calculations faster than Broadband’s fibre optic line.  I’d literally just come off the phone to my parents.  They’d been about to get in their car.  Had there been a terrible accident?  If so, had the Emergency Services teleported to them?  And why would the police contact my mother’s brother two-hundred miles north rather than telephone me twenty miles away?  This was crazy.
          ‘Uncle Phil, I’ve just come off the phone to my parents.’
          ‘Both of them?’
          ‘You spoke to your mother?’
          ‘And … how was she?’
          Meanwhile, my mobile phone started buzzing with messages of condolence coming in as far away as Canada.  What the heck was going on?
          So sorry about your mum…
          When is the funeral?
          Where can we send flowers…?
          Can I have the address of the undertaker, please

          I felt my blood run cold.
          ‘Uncle Phil, who told you this?’
          To cut a long story short, it transpired that a very elderly cousin’s wife several times removed (I didn't even know them) had passed away, and the message had been conveyed by somebody who didn't speak English.  Talk about setting the cat amongst the pigeons!  My main concern at that point was getting hold of my father and warning him that he was possibly about to be bombarded with messages of condolence and to make sure my mother didn’t know anything about it, as I didn’t want her distressed.  Unfortunately, Father Bryant is quite deaf, so it wasn’t the easiest of phone calls to make.
          ‘Hello, dear, I’m at the hairdresser’s with your mother.  I’ll put you on loudspeaker so she can hear you.’
          ‘Don’t put me on loudspeaker.’
          ‘Don’t repeat anything you say?’
          I slapped my forehead a few times and tried not to get frustrated.
          ‘Dad, I don’t want Mum knowing what I’m about to say to you.’
          ‘Okay, understood.  What’s the matter.’
          ‘The family think she’s died.’
          ‘Who’s died?’
          ‘Somebody has died?’
          ‘Stop repeating things, I don’t want Mum hearing.  DOO YOO UND…ER…STAND?’
          ‘Yes, stop shouting.  Now tell me who’s died.’
          (Mother in the background) ‘Who’s died?’
          ‘No one.’
          ‘But you said someone had died.’
          (Mother in the background) ‘Tell me who’s died.’
          In the end I had to make out I was ringing about Mother Bryant’s imminent 85th birthday and needed to speak to my father in private about a surprise birthday present and that he should call me back, out of earshot, once home. 
          It later struck me that the entire thing was quite funny in a dark way.  But it also left us feeling very out of sorts, as if we were doing a ghastly rehearsal for a funeral.  Needless to say, family was informed that Mother Bryant was alive and kicking and none too pleased with her hair-do, because the shampoo girl hadn’t given her a thorough enough rinse and the stylist always insisted on backcombing her hair which she hates.  Hearing Mother Bryant’s complaints was music to my ears.  Needless to say, we will be doubly looking forward to celebrating her 85th birthday next week.  Long live Mother Bryant!  Which reminds me.
          A one-hundred-year-old husband and wife were having trouble remembering things. The doctor suggested they write things down so as not to forget. The couple thanked the doctor and left.  That night they were watching television and the man got up from his chair.
          ‘Where are you going?’ asked the wife.
          ‘To the kitchen,’ he replied.
          ‘Well get me some ice-cream,’ she said.
          ‘Sure,’ he said.
          ‘Do you think you should write it down?’ she asked.
          ‘No, I’ll remember,’ he said.
          Twenty minutes later he returned with a plate of bacon and eggs.
          ‘I told you to write it down,’ she scolded, ‘you’ve forgotten my toast…’

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Growing Older!

Earlier this week, I came across a post on Facebook asking a research question.  It was aimed at people of “a certain age”.  I can’t remember the exact wording, but the gist of it was: What do you dislike about growing older?  There was a thundering response which included people complaining about looking in the mirror and not recognising the person they’d become, despair at going grey/white/bald, annoyance at gaining weight, frustration at losing teeth, ditto mobility, experiencing arthritis, wrinkles, health issues, and finally feeling invisible.  The thread went on and on.
          I added my tuppence worth.  For me, it was noticing a loss of energy.  Stamina just isn’t what it used to be.  Last year I was taking part in an anti-gravity class and was the only one who needed a ‘leg up’ into the hammock.  My upper body strength, after a freak accident with a vacuum cleaner, is absolutely hopeless.  I still have a haematoma which was being aggravated by my upper arms tugging on silks whilst trying to kick a leg in the air and hang upside down like a bat.  As the blood rushed to my head, I did wonder what the hell I was trying to prove other than looking like a Heffalump against the rest of the class who were more like ballerinas.
          Shortly afterwards, I switched to Pilates.  Which was fine.  Easy-peasy.  But I came out of the class feeling beyond depressed.  My classmates this time were no ballerinas, instead they were all of the above on the aging thread – and I just wasn’t ready to embrace this, even though I can tick quite a few of those boxes myself!  The mind is so easily influenced by its surroundings.  So now I play with Pilates at home with a YouTube tutorial.  But oh, how I long for the energy I took for granted in my twenties.  I look back and realise that I went through life like Tigger, joyfully bouncing along as if invisible springs were attached to my feet, and it was so effortless!  Somewhere along the way, the chuffing springs fell off.
          However, a new year is here and with it comes all sorts of promises to turn into a new person, and try and recapture some lost youth.  In an effort to shift middle-age spread, I’ve joined Slimming World, and in an attempt to trick my body into slowing down the aging process, I am setting targets on doing fun things.  Like sky diving.  Without the plane, I hasten to add.  Watch this space.  At some point this year there will be a wind tunnel with a hyperventilating blonde. Which reminds me.
          Some 15-year-old girlfriends met for dinner. They agreed on McDonalds next to the Sea Side Restaurant because they only had £6.50 between them.
          Ten years later, the same girlfriends, now 25-year-olds, discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed to meet at the Sea Side Restaurant because the band was good and there were lots of cute guys.
          Ten years later, the same girlfriends, now 35-year-olds, discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Sea Side Restaurant because the combos were good and it was near the gym.
          Ten years later, the same girlfriends, now 45-year-olds, discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed to meet at the Sea Side restaurant because the martinis were big and the waiters had nice bums.
          Ten years later, the same girlfriends, now 55-year-olds, discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed to meet at the Sea Side Restaurant because the prices were reasonable, it had windows which opened (in case of hot flushes), and the fish was good for their cholesterol.
          Ten years later, the same girlfriends, now 65-year-olds, discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed to meet at the Sea Side Restaurant because they had an Early Bird Special and the lighting was good.
          Ten years later, the same girlfriends, now 75-year-olds, discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed to meet at the Sea Side Restaurant because the food wasn’t too spicy and it was mobility-aid friendly.
          Ten years later, the same girlfriends, now 85-year-olds, discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed to meet at the Sea Side Restaurant because they'd never been there before…

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year!

It’s the last day of the year – hurrah!  I don’t know why I’m so excited, because right now the party mood is distinctly absent due to being a hacking, wheezing, sniffing, nose-blowing, croaking wreck.  Many of us get the lurgy in winter, but I thought I’d been one of the lucky ones and missed it.  Christmas Day and Boxing Day passed in a haze of goodwill (maybe Prosecco had something to do with that) but the moment I opened my eyes on Wednesday morning, my body just knew it was in for a rough ride.
          I’m a firm believer in fresh air and exercise, so the pooch has continued to have her woodland walkies, with me calling her to heel in a voice that sounds like I’d been inhaling helium.  Thank goodness I didn’t splash out on tickets for an event at Leeds Castle.  My sis was very keen we join her and her Other Half and celebrate in style (I even have a new sparkly dress in my wardrobe).  Instead, tonight will comprise a takeaway and raising a glass of Lemsip at midnight while watching the fireworks on the telly.  Whatever you’re doing, I wish you Happy New Year.  Which reminds me.
          On New Year’s Eve, Daniel was in no shape to drive, so he sensibly left his van in the car park and walked home.  As he was wobbling along, he was stopped by a policeman.  ‘What are you doing out here at four o’clock in the morning?’ asked the police officer. ‘I’m on my way to a lecture,’ Daniel replied. ‘And who on earth in their right mind is going to give a lecture in the early hours?’ asked the copper. ‘My wife,’ Daniel slurred…

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Thursday Thursday

My little rescue dog, Molly Muddles, is the sweetest mongrel you could ever meet.  If you walk out the door for five minutes, she’ll greet you as if you’ve been gone for five days, with a tail going from side to side faster than windscreen wipers on full speed. I love walking her through local woodland.  It’s away from the road and she can run safely off the lead to chase squirrels (with falconry bells clipped to her collar I hasten to add, so they are alerted and stay safe!).
          Every morning we walk about two miles together.  Actually, that’s not true.  I walk two miles, but Molly probably does four to my two. She runs from side to side through the woods, traversing the main path over and over, disappearing out of sight, her jingle bells tinkling in the distance as she pursues quarry.  We’re usually out for an hour, and by the time we’re done her sides are heaving like a horse that’s just completed the Grand National. Exhausted, she’ll spend the rest of the day sleeping while I write.
          However, walkies with my pooch became a little fraught throughout December. Suddenly my two-year-old was emulating a two-year-old toddler, ignoring my calls to heel, instead galloping past me, rolling her eyes naughtily, as if to say, “Just five more minutes, Mum”.
          I indulged her, which was probably the wrong thing to do, because suddenly I was no longer waiting five minutes for her to finish a forage in the undergrowth, but ten minutes. And then fifteen.  This is all well and good when you have time on your hands, but not when work is waiting. Twice Molly kept me hanging around for ninety minutes.  Doggy training books advise if your dog disappears on a scent, stay put, the dog will find you.  Well, I’d like to amend that advice because my dog did not find me.  As other dog walkers ambled my way, obedient hounds at heels, I felt somewhat foolish asking every single one of them the same question.
          ‘Hi, have you seen a brown and white dog with a bell clipped to her collar?’
          ‘Oh yes, we passed her half an hour ago.  She was coming this way.’
          As Molly hadn’t passed me and the bell had gone off the radar, I knew she’d changed course.
          ‘Hello, have you seen my dog,’ I asked an old boy who always walks his two arthritic terriers at around the same time I walk Molly.
          ‘Yes, we saw her at end of the path,’ he said, pointing with his walking stick.
          The other end of the path was about a mile away! It was cold, the winter light was starting to fail, and I had a rising sense of panic for two reasons: firstly, being stuck in woods in darkness, secondly not getting enough work done.  Ignoring the dog training advice to stay put, I strode to the other end of the wood.  Eventually my ears picked up the sound of her jingle bell, and she dashed out in front of me, skittering after a squirrel that shot up a tree. Molly took a flying leap and went six feet up the trunk before gravity brought her crashing down in a pile of wet leaves.
          Grabbing her before she could whoosh off again, I stomped back through the woods, all the while chuntering that there would be no more off-lead walks until my deadline was well and truly met.  And I was as good as my word, which didn’t please Madam one little bit.  She’s a terrible Houdini and lead walks always involve a harness plus halti (headcollar) and second lead.  If she manages to get one off in an excitable moment, I have back-up.  Off-lead Molly is very sociable with other dogs.  On-lead, she turns into a raving lunatic.  So I made a point of taking a different walk through the woods to avoid encountering other dog walkers.
          The on-lead walks went well until Thursday morning when everybody else had the same idea of walking their pooches at the same time as me, and the same route. Four times Molly turned into a snapping, growling she-devil as I pulled her into the woodland, and waited patiently for others to pass. On the fifth encounter with another dog, Molly managed to duck out of her collar, pull off the halti and wiggle out of the harness, until I was hanging on to her by her wrap-around coat.  My temper was running on fumes by this point.  To be fair, so was Molly’s, and as if to demonstrate her frustration and anger, she looked at me disdainfully and pooped.  I dutifully scooped using one of the little black bags always kept in my pocket.
          And then along came Cindy the Bull Terrier.  Usually she and Molly exchange a few words, wag tails, do the obligatory sniff and go their separate ways.  But, now thoroughly irked, Molly gave it to Cindy with both barrels.
          Cindy looked affronted, as well she might. So she retaliated.
          I got between the two of them and yelled at Molly for quiet.
          It’s not in the dog training book, but if you want to defuse a situation in an emergency, I can vouch for bopping your dog on the nose with a full pooh bag.  It shut Molly up instantly.  However, Cindy was squaring up for a fight.  I felt my stomach knot.  Dear Lord, where was Cindy’s owner?  I couldn’t let go of Molly because we were too near the road.
          ‘Enough!’ I warned Cindy.
          She bared her teeth.  So I bopped her too.
          By this point Molly had recovered from the shock of being bopped by a pooh bag, and began snarling again.
          Instant quiet from Molly, but fresh growls from Cindy.
          Cindy’s owner finally came puffing into view, whistling his pooch to heel, but she was too enraged to comply.  As the two dogs began rumbling again, it looked like fur was about to fly.
          Bop bop bop bop bop bop bop bop.
          Unfortunately there is only so much bopping a pooh bag can take before the inevitable happens. Cindy’s owner grabbed her just as the bag exploded. Something unmentionable shot over our heads, and landed in a thorny bush.
          ‘Sorry,’ I whispered to Cindy’s owner.
          ‘It’s that day of the week,’ he said, mouth twitching. ‘Turdsday.’
          Which reminds me.  A guy died, went to Hell, and was greeted by the devil. The devil led him to a hallway and told him to choose one of three rooms to spend the rest of eternity in.  The guy opened the first door to find a group of people standing on their heads on a wooden floor.  He thought that looked extremely uncomfortable, so he opened the second door. Here he found a group of people standing on their heads on a concrete floor. Then he opened the third door and found a group of people standing in dog whoopsies drinking coffee. He thought this looked better than the first two rooms, so he chose the third room. After a few minutes of standing in the whoopsies drinking coffee, the devil opened the door and said, ‘All right, chaps, the coffee break is over. Back on your heads...’