Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Ready For Christmas?

Me? Ready for Christmas? You must be kidding.

If there's a phrase specifically designed to get many of us breaking into a cold sweat, it's that one. This is the time of year when hairdressers throughout the land switch from "been anywhere nice for your holidays?" to "all ready for Christmas, then?" and it's the one question which can engender feelings of woeful inadequacy in some people, sheer terror in others and put most women into a bit of a spin. I go in for all three, obviously.

In our house things follow a well-trodden path. Around now I start asking my grown-up family what delightful little prezzie they would like from Mummy and Daddy. The answer these days is usually, "dunno". They will let me know. At this point I often reminisce about how lovely it used to be back in the good old days when they sent letters to Santa (or Father Christmas as we used to call him), written in wobbly crayon and entrusted to me to dispatch to FC by means of lighting the note and letting it float up the chimney (a dangerous practice I know, and one the Fire Brigade used to condemn on a regular basis when they turned up to deal with our chimney fires, although I must admit they always used to enjoy the sherry and mincepies. I really miss those boys). But those innocent days are long gone, and now gifts get to be ordered direct, from source, i.e., John Lewis, Amazon or Argos, bypassing Santa and his little elves completely. How sad.

Husband is similarly "not bovvered". He is a man with everything, he says, and has the receipts to prove it. He tells me he honestly can't think of anything he really wants, which is nice in one way and sad in another. Of course, this feigned apathy will last right up until the day before Christmas Eve, when having given it a coat of thought he will decide, at the very last moment, that what he'd really, really like would be some obscure, out of print book, written by an obscure out of print author forty years ago, which gives me no chance at all of finding it before the big day. There won't, of course, ever be an ISBN number, just a vague description of the plot and what the front cover looks like. Really useful.

But me, well, I've always got a list. A long one. It's usually random, varied but never boring, and doesn't contain anything remotely useful or domestic. I'll ask for a bottle of Chanel No 5, but never an egg poacher. I like orchids in pots, or hyacinths in baskets, but definitely not gardening gloves. Slippers are a no-no especially if they look like they've escaped from a tart's bedroom, anything thermal will get the giver a thick ear rather than a thank-you note, and I absolutely hate gift sets. Apart from that, I am easy to buy for. It's everyone else who's the problem.

But when it comes to festive food, for me that's where the real potential for panic lies. Questions such as "made your puddings yet?" are enough to make me want to lock myself in the pantry until February. No, of course I haven't made my pudding yet, or ever will as long as I can buy a fantastically delicious one from our local deli at less than it would cost me to make it. Ditto quiche, paté and ham. And have I done my stuffings? Are they nestling in cling-filmed smugness alongside the home-made bread sauce in my giant size freezer? Bugger off, this is me you're talking to. Don't forget who reminded you that "life's too short to stuff a mushroom". In my case, that extends to peeling chestnuts or arsing about with breadcrumbs too. There is one thing I've ticked off the list, however, and that is I've orderd "the bird" - or more accurately I should say "several birds" because this year (if you're vegetarian, please look away now) we're having a turkey, stuffed with duck, stuffed with chicken and I think there's a partidge in their somewhere. Gross really. A sort of festive, poultry pile-up, as if the whole lot of them had been travelling in convoy across an icy farmyard and then suddenly, oops, the lead bird (the turkey in this case) had slammed on the brakes, not giving the following traffic time to slow down. A rear-end shunt of gourmet proportions. Come to think of it, that's not very nice really. Especially for the birds.

Actually, on reflection, I might change my mind about the turkey et al, now I've described it in terms of road-kill. It's put me off a bit. But now that means I've done nothing, absolutely nothing, to get ready for Christmas.

Apart from buying a sparkly frock, booking my hair appointments and getting my nails sorted, obviously.

Doing anything special for New Year?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

We've Got Your Number, Alright?

I am definitely turning into a grumpy old woman. No doubt about it. This week has been one of rants, complaints and mutterings. "I don't believe it" has figured greatly in any and all conversations I've had for the past few days, along with "is it me, or was that totally thick/ridiculous/bloody dense/a complete waste of time?" etc., etc. Rant, rant, moan and grumble, ridiculous, stupid and crap. Like the village of Trumpton (old kids' TV show), my world seems to be populated by a load of wooden-heads.

It all started off when I ordered some train tickets over the Virgin trains automated telephone service because I couldn't be bothered to go down to the station in person (it was raining) or struggle with the internet (don't ask). Eventually, after negotiating the seemingly endless pre-recorded voice messages I was put through to a call centre probably somewhere considerably hotter and much further away than the UK, spoke to a charming but clueless person in Bangalore or wherever it is, and ordered two return tickets from Birmingham New Street to London Euston for this Saturday. The idea was to take in a show, have a nice meal, enjoy a relaxing wedding anniversary treat. Simple.

Or so you might think. Several days went by and nothing turned up. Then an enveloped which looked a bit like train tickets arrived but was addressed to my husband. As he was away on business (and I don't routinely open his post unless it looks really, really private and smells of perfume) it just got chucked in the pile of bills awaiting his return, lucky man. Over the next day or so nothing arrived addressed to me, so I looked at the letter again, decided it definitely felt a bit tickety, so opened it. Despite the fact that I had bought the tickets in my name, paid for them with my own credit card, for some reason they had been sent and charged to him, which was annoying as this was supposed to be a surprise treat. Now I don't know what you think about that, but I feel it's a security problem if one person can order something and it can be sent to someone else and charged on their credit card too. If only I could do that with clothes, handbags and shoes, my wardrobe worries would be over.

So I rang up and explained that this was just not acceptable, that I was the customer and not my husband, asked how and why they'd used his credit card details instead of mine and how they'd got them. I just got a blanket "we are sorry for the inconvenience" rather like I was on platform 10a waiting for the train to Coventry which was going to be a bit late. Bloody infuriating. No proper explanation was offered, the "operative" said that if I would hold on, he would put me through to a supervisor. I waited for a good fifteen minutes and then the line went dead. So much for customer services, Virgin.

But now it's got me thinking about how safe all our details really are, whoever's hands they are in, not just those held by half-soaked Civil Service numpties. After this week's fiasco at HM Revenue we are now only too aware that some Governmental departments are having a laugh when they tell us our personal files are secure, but I was really hoping that commercial transactions over the phone or the internet were less risky given the volume of business that depends on it. But now I am not so sure, and am wondering if anything other than face to face good old fashioned shopping is unwise. With cash, obviously, if we can all remember what that actually is.

Apart from the obvious ID fraud situation (my husband has always said that it would be a relief if my credit card was stolen as the thieves would probably spend less than I do), can you imagine the consequences if you were trying to get away with something a little bit naughty or secret? With someone other than your partner?

For instance, you've probably seen that credit card company's advert:

"Two First Class train tickets to London: £150.

Tickets for a West End show, with dinner: £180.

Illicit overnight nooky-fest, posh hotel, champagne and chocolates: £375.

Accidentally charging the above to your other half's credit card and thereby dropping you in the shit:


Told you before, you can't get away with anything these days.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Big Brother Goes Postal

Unusual as it is for me to write anything topical, tonight's news that several million people who receive Child Benefit in this country have had their personal details put on disc by the Revenue, mailed out and subsequently lost, has drop-kicked me out of my usual after dinner sofa-coma and forced me to post something of my own. To say the least, losing a third of the population's personal information (including national insurance numbers, bank and savings details, along with those of their children) with the worrying prospect of this stuff getting into the wrong hands, is a cock-up of huge proportions with the possibility of dire consequences (ID fraud and theft being just two). It adds to an already long and varied list of cock-ups made by governmental departments within the UK. Heads will no doubt roll, arses will inevitably be kicked. And rightly so. The shit is certainly hitting the fan, and frankly so it should. It comes to something when we can get a more secure service from Amazon when ordering an Amy Winehouse CD over the internet than we can from HM Revenue and Customs.

But will the right heads roll, and the correct arses be kicked? The Chairman of the Revenue has resigned, apparently, not even waiting to be given the slow hand-clap, (or would that be the golden hand-shake - I can never remember which one it is that senior figures get when they've bolloxed things up and have to leave), but in isolation what good will his departure do us? Probably none at all because he, no doubt (like many other people in charge of huge organisations) had absolutely no bloody idea of what really goes on at less exalted levels, and was probably blissfully ignorant of how or why certain things were being done or by whom. OK, maybe he can be blamed for that in itself, and morally I suppose that as the head bloke he may feel that falling on his own sword is the honourable thing to do, but you have to ask yourself this.

Who really ordered such sensitive information to be downloaded in the first place (and how was that possible, given that computers can always be programmed to say "no" if asked to perform an "illegal" task?), and which blithering idiot stuck the discs in the post, not even sending them recorded delivery? And who's idea was that? Not the Chairman's, I'll bet, yet he must carry the can.

There is, however, a silver lining of delicious irony to this particular grey cloud of institutional ineptitude - whoever finds those CDs might well find themselves in possession of the personal and banking details of some very important people, including government officials and even extremely senior cabinet ministers, and that would never do. Unless of course the security services find them first. Or have I been watching too many episodes of Spooks?

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Crazy Eights

The lovely Amy over at Blog To The Bone has tagged me for Crazy Eights, so don't blame me, it's all her fault. Go over to her great blog and give her a bollocking if you're too bored to read any more of my lists. In my own contrary way I am doing some eights, some fours and an occasional five, so here goes:

Eight Things I Am Passionate About:

My husband and children.

My family and friends.

My home.

Justice and fairplay.

I'd like to add: Sex, gin, chocolate and shopping but fear it would look a bit shallow, so I shall stop at four.

Eight Things I'd Like To Do Before I Die:

Make a disgrace of myself at my grandchild's wedding by chatting up the bride's or bridegroom's Dad, whichever one I'm not related to. (I don't have any grandchildren yet, but there's always hope).

Invent an elixir of eternal youth and remember to patent it.

See my kids happy and settled with someone who loves them even half as much as I do.

Do something spectacular, or even bloody damned good.

Find an enjoyable way to earn enough money to have a wicked retirement.

Travel more, and stop making such a fuss about it.

Have more good times, and stop feeling guilty about it.

Discover what I am here for.

Eight Things I Say Often:

Fucking hell.


Wouldn't it be great if...........

Do I look as if I've put on weight?

I'm hungry.

I'm giving up this writing lark.

Hang your bloody coat up.

I am NOT nagging.

Eight books I have read recently or am still reading:

The Bible (now that shocked you, didn't it? Ha!)

The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger.

The Girls by Lori Lansens

Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith

Daddy's Girls by Tasmin Perry

Sharon Osbourne's Autobiography

Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka.

Eight Songs(out of hundreds) I Could Listen To Over and Over:

Anything at all by the Beatles, except Yellow Submarine (sorry Ringo)

Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks

Simply Irresistible by Robert Palmer

Grapevine by Marvin Gaye

On The Road Again by Canned Heat

Filthy Gorgeous by The Scissor Sisters

Sweet Soul Music by Arthur Connolly (I think)

Let's Stick Together by Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music

Eight (yes, I know I've only done four) Things That Attract Me to Friends:

Sense of humour.

Capacity for fun.



It helps if they are fatter than me, obviously. (kidding).

Eight (as in four) People Who I Think Should Do Crazy 8's who haven't been tagged already:

1. Norman over at Thole Man.

2. Knifepainter.

3. The Grocer.

4. Travelling But Not In Love.

Now these are all chaps, and I don't want you to think I'm a flirt, but hey, why not?

Saturday, 10 November 2007


I was sitting in the hairdressers waiting for my high-lights to cook, as you do, and leafing through an old magazine when I came upon an article about the "alcohol epidemic" amongst young drinkers in the UK. Frightening facts and scary statistics regarding alcohol induced illnesses, violence and deaths. Very worrying stuff.

It got me thinking about our current attitude to alcohol and social drinking in this country. Don't get me wrong, I am not anti-alcohol, I like a glass of wine or a gin as much as the next person (and occasionally more so, depending on the circumstances and who's driving), but I began to think back to my own youth when the object of going out on the town was to enjoy ourselves, maybe meet a nice chap, dance our arses off in some club and along the way have a few drinks. Just that, and in that order. We didn't go out with the express intention of "getting trashed". If we occasionally "had a little bit too much to drink" (as it was quaintly called then) it was just a by-product of having a good time, not the sole reason for going out in the first place. We suffered the hideous hang-over consequences, got a real good telling-off from our Mums, were laughed at by our work-mates, and vowed never to do it again. Or not often, anyway, and for several reasons - we couldn't afford it, for one, but also because puking over your brand new Faith platform boots (or even worse, someone else's) wasn't a requisite component of a good night out, just the occasional and embarrassing consequence of it. And, of course, lying in the gutter wth your skirt over your head wasn't considered a good look in those days.

So what has changed over the years? Obviously, a lot of younger people earn more so have a bigger disposable income with which to buy their fifteen pints of lager and ten Tequila shots (each) per night. In the interests of equality, girls have become more like lads in their capacity for drinking. But when did it become a foreseeable outcome, or even obligatory, to get so drunk and incapable that you don't know what you're doing any more, when did falling over pissed become the high spot of a night out, and when did putting yourself in such frequent and chronic danger become so acceptable, or even desirable?

And more worryingly, how have things come to this, and why? Why has drinking yourself into oblivion on a regular basis become de rigueur with the young? Walking down most main city streets on any weekend night will reveal to anyone in doubt that it's time for an attitude change on social drinking. So what is the solution and how can it be achieved?

Let me have your views on this, and reassure me that I'm not becoming a cantankerous old bag.

And please, don't even START me talking about drugs, one worry is enough for this week.

Monday, 5 November 2007

All Right Now

OK you lot, I'm back. And what's more, I'm back with a f*cking vengeance. Forget chocolate, wine or (in my case) gin, forget staring into the middle distance obsessing over the past and worrying about the future. This is it. I am over it and I am going for it, whatever "it" may turn out to be. I am sick of being a bit miserable, I've decided that from now on I am going to be either, a) happy and content, or b) an absolute hag-bitch from hell, depending on the prevailing events at the time. But sod miserable, I've done it and it was boring.

So, you may ask, how is this change of attitude going to affect my everyday behaviour? What difference will it make? Well, I'll give you an example.

Yesterday, for instance, we took my young nephew and niece out for lunch to an American-style chain restaurant, (maybe I'd better not say which one to avoid giving unnecessary offence or risk getting sued, so it shall remain nameless) some miles from here in between their home and ours. I was a little disappointed to find that it wasn't anywhere near as good as our local TGI's (oops) which is, of course, incredibly posh and trendy. It goes without saying that I am also incredibly posh and trendy and live in an incredibly posh and trendy neighbourhood. Obviously. So the Hyacinth Bucket in me was a bit shocked to encounter sticky tables, manky floors, wild-eyed people in low cut sequinned tops and knicker-skimming mini-skirts (and that was just the men) inhaling food at breakneck speed as if in some sort of suicidal pie-eating contest, and a general air of hungry desperation pervading the atmosphere. Service was, to say the least, a little slow. Cheerful, but slow. But bloody hell, the food was dire. It's the only place I've ever been where you could take a person's eye out with a fossilised chip (sorry, that would be "fries") so overcooked and brittle they would shatter if dropped, showering potato-based shrapnel over the entire area. And I've never before seen a pot of baked beans covered in such a thick skin that you could turn them upside down and they still wouldn't spill. Like they were hiding under a heavy blanket in an effort to keep warm. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

But did I say anything? No I didn't. Did I complain or cause a fuss? No, not me. And why was this? Because I was relaxed, happy and tolerant. And no, it didn't have anything to do with mind-altering drugs or artificial stimulants of any kind, not even a recreational Yorkie.

So what achieved this Zen-like state of total wellbeing for me? Well, several things actually. I could lead you to believe that it might have been the aforementioned chocolate, wine or gin. Or that I may have indulged in a bit of girlie pampering, a little retail therapy or even had a bloody good seeing to (I sincerely hope my kids never get to read this, they still think we only ever did that for procreational purposes, and then only twice). But the truth is, apart from any or all of the above, counting my blessings and a generally lovely weekend, I can hazard a guess at what really dragged me out of the slough of despond.

As Crocodile Dundee once said when his girlfriend told him about someone she knew who was seeing a therapist, "Therapy? Why would she need a therapist? Hasn't she got any mates to talk to?"

Well, I've got mates. Lots of them, and I thank you all very much indeed for listening to me.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Life, The Universe and Everything

Well, here I am, but frankly I don't know what to say. It's been a funny couple of weeks, not sure how to describe them but, you know me - I'll always have a go.

There's nothing dramatic to report really, just a general melancholy which came on roughly about the same time as we put the clocks back. Not having had much summer it made me feel a bit sad about the winter being nearly upon us, and even though these lovely autumn days were unbelievably beautiful, it's just made me think dark thoughts.

This time of year in the run up to Christmas, I always miss family members who are not with us any more. Baking a Christmas cake to my lovely mother-in-law's recipe, written in her own handwriting on the back of an old greetings card covered in splats of cake mix, always makes me yearn for a hug from her and Grandpa. I miss my Mum, Dad and brother. Talk of Christmas dinner, Boxing Day parties, prezzies and shopping makes me realise how very small my family gift list has become.

But I will snap out of it, always do. There's plenty to do, hopefully our little family will be together, we'll eat too much, drink too much and fall asleep in front of the TV as usual. Wouldn't have it any other way, except of course, for the things we can wish for but cannot have.

Sorry. It's this time of year. Will be better soon.