Friday, 31 August 2007

Mommy Dearest

I think there’s something funny going on with me at the moment and I don’t quite know what it is. Whereas at one time I was content to be the eternal provider of all things domestic,(see previous post), these days yet another strangely different mind-set has begun to take over which I think would be best described as the “Me, me, me” syndrome. Perhaps it’s hormones. Although at my age I was convinced that they’d packed their bags and gone on a permanent holiday, I still get the occasional postcard from the edge to mix things up a little. If you are a women of, ahem, a certain age (how I HATE that phrase) you may know the sort of thing - one minute you have absolutely no confidence at all, don’t want to go out because you look such a mess (too fat/crap hair/nothing to wear/in a mood/would rather watch Eastenders, etc), then within the blink of a slightly wrinkly eye-lid you're suddenly hot to trot, a bit of a babe really despite the fact that your bus pass is looming ever nearer. Norah Batty versus Helen Mirren kind of stuff. (I'm not sure if blokes have similar age-related crises. Maybe they also suffer but just don't go on about it like women do. Too busy cleaning the Harley or something, I dunno). Confusing? I think so. Times they are definitely a-changing, and no more so than my attitude to life, the universe and everything. It’s quite exciting to discover the "sod the consequences, let's have fun" characteristic that I thought only the young and/or foolhardy possessed. Quite refreshing actually, and a bit of a surprise.

So what is all this leading to? The thing is, I've seen a bright red sports car and I quite fancy it, but there are several questions worrying me: Can I really justify it? Am I too old for it? Should I save the money and spend it on the family? And, most importantly, will I look good in it (told you I was shallow). I know you can't help me with the last question, but maybe you have a view on the other three.

I know I don’t have to justify being a bit self-indulgent after a life-time of working and taking care of a family, and I sure as hell don’t intend to be one of those grannies who live on fish-paste sandwiches, with no heating on, so that they can leave every penny to their kids who immediately go off and blow the lot on a state of the art B&O sound system. If anybody's having one of those, I want it to be me. But try as I might to rationalize this newfound selfishness, the old guilt trip still has a ticket with my name on it. Why do I still think that SELF is such a difficult four letter word (especially when I have so little trouble with all the others)? Maybe as time passes I’ll get used to it, but my conditioning has been life-long and a difficult habit to break, although as you can see I'm giving it a bloody good go.

Anyway darlings, it's been lovely chatting to you but must dash - off to SELFridges for lunch and a bit of light shopping. Via the hairdressers, obviously. Will worry about the self-indulgence aspect later.

And let me know what you think about the car?

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

It's Not All Rock and Roll, Believe Me!

I was reading through my blog archives recently (how sad can a person get?) when I suddenly realised something. Apart from my obvious penchant for bad language (sorry about that) and habit of making an arse of myself, my posts do appear to reveal something else which made me wonder if I’m giving the right impression here.

First of all, I don’t actually spend all my time shopping, going out for meals and getting disgracefully drunk at parties and ROCK concerts. Oh no. It just looks that way. I also go to work (full time), do the laundry, shop for food and clean the house. I have been known to do a bit of gardening, although I absolutely draw the line at cleaning the car. That’s men’s work. And of course the ironing – who could forget that? It lies tutting and brooding in an ever increasingly crammed basket (in fact, I’ve got two baskets, which frankly is a big, big mistake) until we run out of clothes or husband is off on a business trip and begs for “work shirts”. I usually tackle it all on a Sunday afternoon (unless we’re out for lunch, of course) dashing away with the smoothing iron whilst watching an entire Eastenders’ Omnibus, a crappy old movie and, if I’ve really let it pile up, the Antiques Road Show too. And then we go out for dinner.

I wasn’t always like this, honestly. When the children were at home everyone regularly took the proverbial pee out of me for my diligence in all things housewifely. I would never go out until everything was clean and tidy, washing on the line, casserole in the oven and cake in the tin. I used to clean my skirting boards weekly. Frankly, it makes me tired now to think about it. And to be honest, a little bit bored. I definitely needed to get out more.

I suppose it’s inevitable that after several decades of caring and nurturing, my selfish gene has finally surfaced. The trouble is, it’s brought with it another one called guilt, so now instead of being driven by the need to scrub, cook endless meals and tidy up after everyone, I really can’t be bothered but I still worry about it. Husband constantly reminds me that the house still looks OK, we don’t ever starve and occasionally we get to wear crease-free clothes, so what more can anyone ask? Tell me, how can I stick to the straight and narrow with a partner in crime like that? It’s impossible, thankfully.

But to be honest, I actually like this new and liberated attitude to life which I have so recently discovered. I don’t quite know where it came from but I suspect the seeds were sewn when I stayed in my son’s student house for a week earlier this year. It was a tip. My fingers itched to clean it, and I did, just a bit. But then this sort-of attitude change hit me. Why clean the kitchen floor when you could be writing a blog or reading a book? Or sitting in the sun talking to your mates? Or watching Masterchef on TV? Now, I’m not saying that I can happily live in squalor but it did suddenly occur to me that there’s more to life than worrying about housework.

Like shopping, going out for meals, getting disgracefully drunk at parties and ROCK concerts.

OK, you got me there.

Monday, 20 August 2007

I Wish To Make A Complaint

I guess we’ve all done it at some time. You're in a restaurant having a nice glass of wine or a gin and tonic, waiting for your food to come. It's taking ages but you console yourself with the thought that it should be worth the wait. Eventually, the meal arrives on a plate the size of a dustbin lid, the artfully arranged tower of chunks teetering in a shower of green dandruff (sorry, would that be herbs?) drizzled with jus and presented with a flourish. So far so good. A feast for the eyes. But how does it taste?

To be honest, it’s usually disappointing isn’t it? The build-up has led you to expect some sort of gourmet masterpiece, the massive size of the plate hints at culinary grandeur beyond your wildest dreams, and the price? Well let’s say you expected Gordon Effing Ramsay himself for that kind of money. But in reality it’s just reasonably OK food stacked up to look trendy and squirted with some brown stuff out of a squeezy bottle. Not exactly ”muck on a truck” but nothing special. Let’s face it, you have, in fact, been conned by an over-effusive description on the menu and the candle-lit gastro-pub decor. Better order another seventy-five quid bottle of wine to cheer yourself up.

So over comes the waiter and asks if everything’s alright with your meal and you of course just nod, your mouth being full of food at the time. His timing is immaculate but it doesn’t really matter if you say anything or not, the question is purely academic. No one ever complains here. When the bill eventually arrives you reflect that a family of four could be fed for a week on that amount of money and still have enough left over for a fish and chip supper. But not in this restaurant, obviously.

Compare and contrast, my fellow gourmands, with what we expect from a different type of eating experience – the “Sunday Lunch £8.99” offered at most pubs throughout the land. Are the potatoes properly roasted or merely deep fried? Has the meat been freshly carved, or pre-sliced and stuck under a hot lamp? Are the Yorkshire puddings soggy? Answer yes to any or all of the above and what do we do – we complain! After all it is nearly nine quid when all is said and done!

There seems to be a rather strange sliding scale of complaint to cost ratio going on here. My dear old Dad used to call it “The Emperor’s Suit of Clothes Syndrome” and you know what, I think he may have been right – the fancier the restaurant, the more intimidated we feel and the less likely we are to show ourselves up by questioning the quality of what we’re eating. But down at the pub for a bit of Sunday dinner? It had better be as good as we get at home, or else!

Thursday, 16 August 2007

I Saw Her Standing There

Went to a Rock Concert the weekend before last (did you notice how I said that SO casually, like I do it all the time?). Yeah, anyway, went to a Rock Concert two weekends ago (although husband says that, strictly speaking, it wasn’t a proper Rock Concert, more a Pop Concert, but I’m not letting him spoil it for me). So, as I was saying, went to a ROCK concert recently, but didn’t really want to go if the truth be told. I just felt a bit out of sorts one way and another – fed up with the rain/ got a bad back/ can’t be bothered/ what if it isn’t any good - that sort of stuff. The venue was Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire and there were Beatles, Queen, Commitments and Blues Brothers tribute bands on the bill, which was definitely our thing, so I don’t quite know what my problem was. As we say here in Brum, I’d just “got one on me”.

But you know how sometimes when you’re not looking forward to something it can turn out to be fantastic? Well this did. For one thing, it was sunny! Not bad for August. We took a picnic, not the sort where you prepare everything yourself and lovingly pack it and stack it into Tupperware boxes. Oh no. This was no ordinary home-made scotch egg and ham sandwich picnic, this was an M and S custom-built, posh music festival, rock ‘n roll type picnic - smoked salmon and cream cheese mini-bagels (OK but a little bit boring), chicken kebabs (delicious eaten hot or cold, apparently), frittata (not at all delicious eaten cold, believe me), sun-blush tomato and ricotta tartlets (yum) with a little pyramid of profiteroles (chocolate, and therefore can do no wrong) and a rustic cheese selection to follow (interesting). With grapes, obviously. Oh, and wine – lots of it, with a chilled bottle of champers to start. My friend and I had mounted a dawn raid on Marks and Spencer's Food hall early that morning having decided that we just couldn’t be arsed to DIY, and the most effort we wanted to put in would be ripping the tops off pre-packs. She is SO my kind of girl.

So there we were, not exactly Glastonbury but about as near to the mud, wellies and shorts experience as I really want to get. This was definitely the sophisticated side of outdoor music events, and as the sun set in glowing streaks of pink and dusky blue behind the looming grey of Shugborough Hall, and the music grew louder and louder (and we got more and more “relaxed”), any doubts I’d had earlier just melted away like butter on a hot waffle. Lanterns were lit, sparkly twinkly thingies were waved. First up was the Beatles tribute band who were FAB. Having drunk the champagne, a glass or two of dry white wine and now enjoying a rather pleasant red, I was definitely feeling no pain. My back began to feel much, much better. I tried to persuade husband and friends to leave their seats and come down to the front with me, to get a closer look, but they wouldn’t so I went on my own (sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do), weaving my way through the throng like a salmon swimming upstream. At first I stood on the edge of the crowd way back from the stage, gently swaying and singing along with everyone, but bit by bit I got closer until eventually, there I was, right at the front, just a short distance away from the band. Magic.

I looked around to see if either my husband or friends had followed me, but no. Ah well, I thought, it’s their loss. I was on my own in a huge sea of people, totally anonymous, and it suddenly occurred to me that no one in this crowd actually knew me and I was hidden from sight from anyone who did. And what a fantastically liberating feeling it was. So what did I do? What would any red-blooded, slightly pissed, middle-aged, off-the-leash woman do? Asked the two lads next to me if they’d dance, that’s what. Sang until my throat was sore, waved my arms in the air, staggered and fell over, that’s what. Made a complete and embarrassing fool of myself, that's what. But who knew me? No one. It was brilliant.

I was just thinking that I should really get back to our table before they all got really annoyed with me, when suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see my husband who’d come to find me.

“Sorry I’ve been down here so long” I shouted into his ear. He didn't look at all annoyed with me but I felt I had to apologise. “I just couldn’t resist. You must have wondered where I’d got to. Sorry about that. You been looking for me for long?”

“No, came straight to you” he smiled at me, looking highly amused. “We knew exactly where you were.”

“Ah yes, everyone knows I’m a Beatles fan. Where else would I be?”

“No, it wasn’t that. We’ve been watching you on the big screen."

”What big screen?” I felt the colour drain from my face. He pointed to the side of the stage behind me. Shit. That would be it then, about twenty feet high, with a picture so big you could probably see it from outer space.

Bloody hell, you can’t get away with anything these days, can you?

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Ten Things You Ought To Know About Me:

I love chocolate.

I hate escalators.

I can worry myself into a state of total immobility.

I swear a lot (no shit, Sherlock).

I was once told by someone that I was “frightened of my own potential” but was too scared to ask her what she meant by that.

I love, love, love clothes. And shoes. And having my hair done (I know that’s three things but they are all related). And another thing. I can be totally shallow. Yet somehow deep. Oh bollocks, who am I kidding?

I’m very observant and intuitive.

I really, really want to write magazine articles but no one will let me. I’d even stop swearing.

I have a very long fuse, but there’s a nuclear arsenal at the end of it.

I look a bit like Barbra Streisand, already.

Now, let’s talk about you shall we?

Monday, 13 August 2007

People Who Talk Loudly in Restaurants

Picture the scene. Sunday lunchtime in a lovely country pub, tables outside in the sun, charming views across the village green, cool music in the bar. Perfect. We go inside hoping they can feed us, having just driven back from Lancashire where we’d been to yet another friend’s fantastic 60th birthday party, and we are pleased to find that yes, they have a table for two available immediately, which is a very good thing as we’d been too hung over to eat breakfast and we are now STARVING.

We’ve been to this pub before, it has good food, trendy interior, friendly staff and very importantly, no riff-raff. Now don’t take issue with me here, I like a bit of riff-raff when it suits me, and in fact I possess many riff-raffish tendencies myself, as you know, but sometimes you just want to chill, don’t you? So no screaming babies, no kids roaring around pretending to be Spiderman or whoever, no blissfully unaware parents ignoring the little swine while they themselves enjoy their own meal, no football on Sky TV. Just a quietly sophisticated English country gastro-pub. Nice.

So we get our drinks and sit down, order our free range, organic, chef-cooked Sunday lunch and sink gratefully back into the soft brown leather chairs to wait. What a perfect way to round off our lovely weekend. I even take off my shoe and play footsie with my husband under the table, such is my total contentment. He is so relaxed he even lets me. Wonderful.

And then, in they come. One by one I clock the immaculate Sloaney clothes, the Berkin bags (tan of course, it IS summer after all darling), the perfectly ironed slacks, cashmere sweaters casually knotted around the shoulders, shirt collars turned up – yes, dear friends, it’s the invasion of the Hooray Henries and Henriettas.

What is it about some posh folk that makes them think they are the only people in the world who matter? That it’s OK to talk at a million decibels louder than anyone else? Or to continually lean back on the chair of a total stranger (aka my husband) who is trying to enjoy his lunch, and keep elbowing his head because they are standing TOO BLOODY CLOSE, whilst “entertaining” the whole bar with tales of how they’ve been out shooting and had “blown the bloody head right orf” a partridge, or skinned a rabbit with their sodding penknife. Big deal. I’m as interested as the next person (probably a bit more so, to be honest) in other people’s conversations but not when it totally puts a stop to everyone else’s within a five mile radius. And actually, Tarquin, I don’t really want to hear how annoying it is that your au pair won’t clean windows or how your holiday in Tuscany was such a bore this year because Jemima didn't like the heat, and by the looks on their faces neither do the rest of the pub either. The fact that the well behaved children of the family next to us are looking a bit worried about the rabbit skinning story seems to have escaped you. Which upsets me, quite a lot.

We eat the rest of our lunch in silence – well, I say silence but what I really mean is that the H.H’s are so brayingly loud that husband and I get fed up with lip-reading in order to communicate between ourselves, so decide to take our coffee outside. How bloody rude are they? The waitress comes out to ask if we’d like anything else and I resist the temptation to order a twelve-bore shotgun and a spare box of ammo to take back inside with me. That would sort the buggers out, and show them how the partridge must have felt at the same time.

We pay the bill and walk to our car which is now surrounded by open top Mercs, BMWs and Audi’s. Jealous, I am not. Furious, I am. My husband tells me not to over-react but they’ve spoiled our good time, and if I could rub a magic lamp at this very moment, you know what I’d wish for?

A particularly scarey chapter of Hell’s Angels to turn up, starving hungry and looking for trouble.

Oh yes.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

A Sincere "Thank You For Not Smoking"

At the risk of opening up an entire catering pack of worms, not just the one solitary can, I want to talk about the smoking ban. OK, OK, OK – don’t throw things at me, please - I know that over one month into it you’re probably sick and tired of the subject and so am I, but the heated debate seems to be smouldering on and on. The smoking population still think they’re being persecuted and anti-smokers are continuing to wave two non-nicotine stained fingers as if they were the victors at Agincourt. Both sides think they have rights, and neither can understand the other’s point of view, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that there has been the occasional punch-up between the two factions. As a person who can resort to violence if someone pinches my last Rolo, I know all about addiction and how difficult it is to live without something that gives you pleasure. However, I have noticed a lighter side to all of this.

Firstly, it makes me smile every time I go past a “Thank-you For Not Smoking” sign because it’s usually surrounded by a sea of fag-ends in an “up yours” kind of way. I’ve also noticed that there’s often far more frivolity going on inside those “designated smoking shelters” than there is inside the pub. Does this say something about smokers? Are they more fun? Or are they living fast and loose because they fear that their nicotine habit might eventually do for them, so time is short and they’d better make the most of it? There’s a kind of camaraderie developing among the shunned partakers of what non-smokers sanctimoniously call “the filthy weed” and a bit of bravado is definitely creeping in. Whereas at one time rebels without a cause needed a black leather jacket, white t-shirt and moody look to establish their chosen identity, now all you have to do is put a Silk Cut in your mouth and, hey presto, YOU ARE A DOWNRIGHT FILTHY RENEGADE. Job done. And you don’t even have to light it.

I know the very serious side-effects of smoking aren't a joking matter and cannot be ignored. You only have to look at the sad crowds of smokers cowering in the rain outside hospital entrances to realise how strong their dependence must be if it can force people to hang around outdoors in their nightwear, attached to drips or in wheelchairs. But whilst some of us are rejoicing because we can now spend an evening in the pub without our clothes, hair and skin stinking of fags and are victoriously going on about how thrilled we are that we’re not being forced to passively smoke other people’s cigarettes any more, I think it needs to be acknowledged that this has been achieved by denying the pleasure of another group of people, and I for one appreciate that.

For us non-smokers, there is just one unexpected downside though. Has anyone noticed that now smoking is banned, all the pubs and clubs smell of stale beer, drains and BO?

Maybe I’ll take my drink outside.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Downloading My Head:

There are two sorts of people in this world, those who read instructions and those who don’t. It may not surprise you to learn that I am one of those who don’t, hence my exclusion from the finer points of IT, fancy features on my mobile phone, digital camera and blog. I also have a bit of a thing about iPAQs. And iPODs, come to mention it.

To be honest, to start with it was a bit of a statement – I think I was making a stand for those of us who still use a paper diary and pen, who add up and do percentages in our head and can find our way home without a sat-nav. For my generation, TomTom meant a set of drums, not a high-tech method of finding out how lost we are. Of late, my technophobia has become a real pain – I realise that however resistant I’ve been to change and hated being dragged kicking and screaming into the technological age, I really do need to get to proper grips with it all and I am now making the effort to learn. So I give in. I was being silly. But there are still times when that little renegade voice in my head makes me behave like a total technophobe and it’s usually when people are being patronising to me that my awkward gene kicks in, big-time.

A young IT engineer visited my office yesterday and along with other things which horrified him about my lack of computer literacy, he was stunned to find that I wasn’t using the electronic diary on my computer. He looked about fourteen years old, cocky and confident, and obviously didn’t realise that diaries don’t always come with batteries or a three-pin plug. Bless him.

“How do you manage to get to your appointments on time then, if you don’t use the diary facility?” he asks in a shocked voice with a scandalised expression on his face.

“I use my own diary facility” say I, waiting for the usual reaction. I’ve been here before. In a household full of technical whiz-kids I am the family dinosaur. I am used to being mocked, but I can handle it. I fix a smile and the thought “don’t mess with me, sonny” wafts across my mind.

“But there’s nothing in your diary.” He might as well have added, “you stupid woman” and he’s shaking his head.

“That’s because I use this diary instead.” I scrabble in my bag and drag out a small, stylish (of course) brown leather diary with a tiny little pen. It matches my bag and purse, obviously.

He looks as if he’s viewing an Egyptian artefact exhumed from the tomb of a long-dead Pharaoh. The guy is shocked. He has never seen anything like it in his life.

“It’s made of paper” – there’s no getting past this bloke, he is observant.

“Yes, I find it easier.” I know what’s coming next. He is shaking his head again and I can almost hear him thinking ‘Poor old girl. She should be at home watching day-time TV and sucking humbugs with her feet in a big slipper.’

“But what if you lose it, how would you know what you’re supposed to be doing then?” he challenges, triumphantly slapping down what he thinks is his trump card of computer logic.

“The same thing I’d do if the the computer system went down (I am thinking "which it does all the time, YOU CONDESCENDING LITTLE TIT") - I'd use my onboard computer." I am definitely getting tired of explaining myself to him.

“Your onboard computer?? Where’s that then?” Is he patronising me? Was that a snigger I heard? Is he actually laughing at me? I can feel my hackles rising.

“Here, in my head” says I, tapping my forehead and smiling benignly, somehow resisting the temptation to unleash my inner Rottweiler.

He is now totally confused, and is obviously getting a bit worried that he’s dealing with an escaped mad woman or someone who’s been in a coma for the last twenty years and has just woken up in this office, dazed and confused. I can almost hear him thinking “I’ve got a right one here, can’t wait to tell the lads back in the Department. Oh how they’ll laugh.”

“So you keep all your appointments in your head?”

“No, in my diary. My paper diary.” I’m definitely thinking of savaging him.

He looks at me and wearily shakes his head, obviously relieved that although very odd, I appear to be harmless. “You really need to transfer all of that stuff into the computer. What would happen if you were off unexpectedly and someone else had to cover your job?”

“They’d look in that big desk diary, the one your coffee’s standing on?”

“I see.” He obviously doesn’t, but is humouring me. “Would you like me to transfer those appointments into the electronic diary while I’m here?” He’s definitely not giving up and maybe he has a point. Perhaps it’s time for me to conform.

“Ok then, that’s fine. Carry on. Thanks.” He had better not be smirking.

He taps away furiously for a few seconds, the whizzing mouse tracing crop-circles on the mat. He looks confused, worried, exasperated. He phones his Mothership, the IT Department, has a conversation in an alien techno-language I don’t understand and slams the phone down. He looks a bit sheepish.

“Got a problem?” I ask, trying not to sound triumphant.

“System’s down, I can’t get into the right screen. They say it’ll be off for another hour or two. I’ll have to come back later. How about 2.30?”

I open my little brown leather diary. The irony of the situation is not passing him by. “Yes, that should be fine, but I have to be out of here by 4.00 for an appointment.” – I wanted to add “which I have here, on paper, written in pen, accessible to me instantly. Right now, as we speak” but you’ve got to know when to back off , haven’t you?

With a face like thunder, he picks up his coffee mug, armload of electronic gadgetry, briefcase and pen. Exit one extremely annoyed IT engineer, stage left, muttering something I didn’t really want to hear. I can just imagine what he thinks of me, but I'll get over it.

I put my little leather diary back in my bag and get on with my work, humming a happy tune. Oh, but life can be so sweet sometimes.