Friday, July 29, 2005

Daftest saying of the week

I have a problem with Big Brother. I normally despise it and find it really boring. After all, they're just normal people sitting around and doing nothing. I can see that on a bus. In fact, the average bus would contain a rather higher IQ than the Big Brother contestants could muster.

The Scotsman, however, is fascinated. I ignore it for weeks on end, scoffing at him, but then, something always seems to happen. Last year, it was those two who decided to have sex very privately by draping long table cloths over the dining table, and nipping underneath with a duvet.

This year it was last night. For anybody who didn't see this, Anthony (a nice but not exactly Nobel Prize winning geordie) got very drunk indeed, to the extent that he threw up in several places and could hardly stand.

He was looked after by Craig, a gay guy with a severe case of unrequited love for the afore mentioned Anthony, despite the fact that he is straight to the extent of having possibly had sex with a female participant in the pool a couple of weeks previously (they were both too drunk to be sure).

Craig looked after him by kissing him, telling him that he loved him, and fondling his inner thigh, despite Anthony's protestations.

This morning, I mentioned that I wouldn't mind being a fly on the wall in the house that particular morning. The Scotsman guffawed. Not the brightest thing I've ever said.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Room 101

And today the theme is:

Hypochondriac work colleagues.

I'm not talking about the people who simply skive off when they have a hangover, or phone in sick when they feel like slumping under the duvet, watching Diagnosis Murder all day.

I'm talking about the people who make their health their hobby and topic of interest. They are always having blood tests, and going to the doctor, and telling you about it in microscopic detail. I'm always a bit mystified by the whole blood test issue; I've been on this earth for 36 years and I've not had a blood test once, but since I've been in paid employment I've met so many people who have to take the morning off to "have a blood test".

They always go to the doctor with things like sore throats, or coughs. I mean, just buy a packet of Strepsils you sad gits! It's no wonder that the NHS is over-stretched.

They always think they have ME, as well. Strangely, it's never the sort of ME that any doctor can diagnose, and it never stops them from doing anything interesting, like having a weekend away, or clubbing. No, it just makes them feel a bit peaky on a Monday morning. It's part of the human condition to feel peaky on a Monday morning!!!!

And then there are the details. I always remember the self obsessed cow who was convinced she had a stomach ulcer (an ulcer, by the way, which never seemed to interfere with anything pleasurable that she had planned), who gave us a blow by blow account of her drug regime, and her battle to get her GP to admit that there might be something wrong with her and prescribe something. I think the poor guy just caved in because he lost the will to live.

And the appalling woman in my last job who insisted on regaling me with details of her periods:
"I thought I was having one last week but it was just a dribble..." Eewww! I don't want to know!!

This last individual gave a virtuoso performance in the area of spurious health problems. In her previous post, she had actually managed to be signed off on sick leave for months for some undiagnosed muscular problem, and you could see the glint in her eyes as she counted down the days before she could try the same scam in her present position.

She also claimed to have "bad feet", and to only be able to wear one pair of mules because everything else was too painful. Possibly because she was so obese that those were the only shoes that fitted her.

And don't get me started on the woman in another company that I worked for who was signed off with a stress related illness, and who was unavailable to answer a question one day because she had "gone for a 12 mile bike ride", even though she was supposedly too unwell to sit in an office and work.

I don't mean to insult people who are genuinely ill or disabled. Over the years I have worked with: somebody with arthritis; a person who had had a nervous breakdown and endured regular injections of lithium; somebody with MS; an epileptic; a deaf person; and somebody who had a difficult pregnancy with twins and went from the office to casualty one day because she had a threatened miscarriage.

Strangely, these individuals seemed a lot more stoical about things, and a lot less likely to bore you with endless medical stories. They just got on with it.

As a rule of thumb, the more somebody talks about their health, the less likely it is that there is actually something wrong with them.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Weird times

The Scotsman went into London today. At about 11.30 I got one of those phone calls that all us Londoners have been getting in the last few weeks.

Actually, that sentence will look a bit strange to a lot of people outside London, especially to those few US visitors who drop by, so I'll explain.

We live in Greater London. That means that we are governed by the Mayor of London, and, technically, we live in London. However, we actually live in Ham, close to Richmond, which is actually about 8 or 9 miles from the centre of the city as the crow flies. Don't you just love that phrase, by the way? In other languages, they would just say it was in a straight line, but no, here it is "as the crow flies". Native Americans couldn't come up with anything better than that. Anyway. We are at the very end of the underground network (subway, to US readers).If I am abroad, or anywhere beyond the South East of England, I will say that I live in London. Otherwise I say that I live just outside Richmond.

To complicate things further, people who live here will sometimes say that they are going "into London" or "into town", which means that they are going into the centre of the city. As I was saying, The Scotsman was heading into central London today, and called me at work, asking me to look at the internet, to see what the travel situation was, as everybody was on their mobile discussing this. I was able to tell him that the Northern and Victoria lines were suspended.

And this just after yesterday's events. OK, so the guys yesterday were graduates of the Delboy and Rodney school of terrorism. Three bombs, no casualties, and they are looking for somebody running from the scene with wires protruding from his top!

When the atrocity of two weeks ago happened, we thought we would just get back to normal. In fact, I went into the centre on the Saturday after the Thursday of the bombings, and I was impressed by how normal everything was.

But now I'm starting to worry that we'll never be normal again.

Anyway, off to hose the garden. Yes, we got our hose nozzle thingy woe sorted out.

Monday, July 18, 2005

It's got a good beat...

Today was a sad turning point. There are some points in your life when you just know that you have reached a different age bracket.

Regular readers of my blog will know of my desperate hose battle. Anyway, as I arrived home after a swim in Teddington Pool, it started to bucket down, for about half an hour. A really hard Summer shower. And what was my reaction? Not that it would spoil my hair, not that I couldn't lounge around in the garden this evening, not that we couldn't go to a pub garden and get rat-arsed. No. My immediate reaction was that it would be good for the garden. Good for the garden!!!

I'm turning into my Mum!!! Not that my Mum isn't a lovely person, but so is Peter Kaye; so is Bob Geldof; so is Jo Brand; so is Tony Benn. I would be pretty scared to think I was morphing into one of them, like Geoff Goldblum in The Fly.

What next? Maybe I will start buying Gardeners' World Magazine. Actually I used to work for it at one point and it was rather good. Perhaps I will start asking The Scotsman to wear yellow Pringle sweaters (thankfully, he would never comply), and we could start buying Celine Dion Records (or should I say LPs).

I should say as a matter of record that my mother has never recommended Pringle sweaters. But that's only because they haven't really penetrated Cornwall; if she saw one, she might think that Dad would look nice in one. She likes Gardeners' World Magazine. She doesn't have any Celine Dion records, I am glad to report, but she does own a Robson and Jerome album.

Anyway, the sun is now out, so I will try to forget this shameful episode.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Hose rage 2

I got up surprisingly early this morning and went to turn on my hose for a nice early morning hosing, and the deluxe £5.09 piece of rubber and plastic flew off, even with No More Nails. I am now officially in post-hose depression. We will never be able to hose our garden. The garden will look horrible and our neighbours will sue us for bringing down house prices. We will be bankrupt and have to live on the streets. Maybe I can have a dry run now, and go into the garden (the very dry garden) and cry

"Big Ishoooo"

Friday, July 15, 2005

Strange news on Thursday

Forgot strange news on Thursday this week. Look, strange badger goings on

Hose rage

Yesterday, I bought a hose. £9.99 from Woolworths (only the best for Blue Ghost Towers). And when I got it home it wouldn't attach itself to the outside tap. So today, at lunchtime, I set off on a search for a nozzle-tap-attachment thingy in exotic Teddington, birthplace of Noel Coward (blue plaque in Waldegrave Road, for anybody local), and dwelling place of Benny Hill. Hill afficionados may remember his hit "Ernie", that thoughtful critique of the milk delivery industry, and the mention of "two ton Ted from Teddington".

I went to a DIY shop. It's one of those old fashioned DIY shops where you can actually ask advice, rather than one of those huge warehouses where the staff are all about 10, and earning money before they go to university to study drama, or something, and look more bemused than you are when you ask what size screws you should use to put up a bookshelf.

There was a guy in the way, talking on a mobile phone. I felt a bit pushy asking him to stand aside during what was clearly quite an important discussion. It wasn't one of those fatuous "I'm on the train" calls. Well, obviously not, he wasn't on a train. But it was one of those sudden changes of plan for this afternoon calls which he should have been taking. So, like you do in a shop when you can't progress forward as fast as you would like, I looked around in a browsing sort of fashion. But that's just silly in a DIY shop, because I found myself looking at a display of screws. It's not the sort of thing you would browse, frankly.

Anyway, they didn't have the required hose related item, so I trotted down to Woolworths. Nope. A lot of Finding Nemo DVDs but these would not, I think, prevent my garden from dying.

And so to the garden centre. By this time I am very hot, and resenting the fact that I can't spend my lunch hour munching a sandwich and surfing the web. And there it is, the holy grail! A little rubber and plastic thing about three inches long. For £5.09. Woolworths can sell me an incredibly long hose and about 3 attachments to go on the end, and some things which attach the hose to a tap (well, OK, it didn't work for our tap), all for £9.99, and this little thing costs more than a cheap bottle of wine!!

I don't care. By this point, if I have to pay by collecting and cooking 50 larks tongues, and finding the holy grail, I will have this nozzle-tap-attachment thingy.

Then I get home. And it won't stay on the tap!! The minute the water starts flowing, the pressure forces it off. So I've used No More Nails on it now, getting No More Nails on my black top in the process. Hopefully by the morning it will be firm.

And I go and read Gert's post, so I'm not even being very original blogging about hoses. Grrrr...

Monday, July 11, 2005

When ants attack!

We had a lovely day yesterday at Blue Ghost Towers. Friends came round, we had salad and cold chicken in the garden, and lots of wine.

For a few weeks now, we have been aware that there were a few ants beside our patio doors. Not a big deal, we thought. But yesterday, at about 4pm, we were aware of some flying ants bothering our guests. And then more, and more. Where were they coming from? I looked over to the patio doors, and saw several hundred of them swarming up from under the flagstones.

It was like something from a 1970s horror movie. Like that film Squirm, about flesh eating worms. Or that appalling film with Michael Caine, about the killer bees. Or that one about pirhanas. Only without the overtones about imminent death, but with lots of overtones about vague useless swatting, and the prospect of little beasties in your wine, or making an unattractive black squidge on your arm if you're wearing a lot of sunscreen. I've looked up ants on the internet, and they only swarm over one or two days in August or July, but they had to pick a day when we were in, and had people sitting within five feet of the nest. One of our guests recommended a couple of kettles of boiling water, and that did the trick.

Apart from that, it was a pretty perfect day.

Friday, July 08, 2005


There have been a number of responses in the media to the attacks in London, quite rightly condemning whoever carried then out.

I do, however, have a problem with the language used Particularly the use of the word "cowardly". Just about every terrorist attack is accused of being "cowardly". Now there are a number of words to describe the bombings, such as "obscene"; "evil" and "murderous", that I would go along with.

But "cowardly"? These are people who travelled through central London carrying powerful explosives; people who constructed bombs in their homes and slept in the same building; who may even have been suicide bombers. And who, at the very least, were willing to accept life in a prison if they had been caught. I wouldn't have the courage to do that. In fact I'd call it brave.

That's not necessarily a compliment, by the way.

An American serial killer, operating in a state which has the death penalty, is brave. Braver than I would be.

A man picking a fight in a bar, accusing a slightly bigger man of spilling his pint, is braver than I would be.

A football hooligan, arranging a rendezvous with a rival gang of football hooligans, where he might get glassed or worse, is braver than I would be.

There was a story recently about kids staying on railway tracks until the very last minute before avoiding a train, and capturing the moment on video phones. That's braver than I would be.

It doesn't mean that the people involved aren't scum, though. Or that physical bravery is necessarily a positive thing.

In fact, many of our great thinkers, or carers, or celebrities, might be quite scared of physical contact. I can't imagine Jane Austen, or EM Forster, or Stephen Fry, doing well in a fight. I just don't know why we set so much store by being brave or cowardly. As bravery can be a force for good or evil, so can ability in maths, if it is used to manufacure an atomic bomb, or discover a new type of energy. And we don't judge people on that account, do we?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

What is there to say?

Even out in my patch of suburbia, there was a different mood in the streets as I was walking home. I looked at some of the people on passing buses and they looked very tense, particularly the ones on double deckers.

We heard about it gradually. Somebody at work had a call from her husband in Ealing, saying that there were loads of ambulances and sirens screaming past. Then the phone network packed up, and our network provider, when contacted, said that it was because of the volume of calls. We went onto the internet, and slowly the truth dawned.

They say that there are 37 dead at the moment, but they still don't know how many people were on the bus, and they are officially claiming two deaths. I can't believe, looking at that bus, that there were two deaths. What must the force of the explosion have been like to shred a solid metal structure like that?

All this happened just nine miles or so East of our home, in the city where we live. This is a very strange feeling. Yesterday everybody was celebrating the Olympics coming to London (well, not me, I find the spectacle of people running in a circle about as interesting as watching paint dry), and I was planning a "strange news on Thursday" post about a baby hedgehog. It doesn't seem quite right now.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Room 101

And this week's candidate is:

Cinema audiences.

Firstly, those cinema audiences caused by that strange recent cinema habit of giving people particular seats before they go into the screening. Now, previously, the system adopted by most cinemas worked very well. You got your ticket, you chose your seat. You arrived early, you got the best seats. You arrived late, you spread out where you could.

Nowadays, you get allocated a seat, which means, more often than not, that a half empty cinema doesn't get to spread itself out; we just cluster in an unnatural block of 70 or so, shoulder to shoulder, annoying each other. And if you booked by phone several hours ago, and your seats are right in the middle of everybody else, then you shuffle past them to the seats, creating great disruption. And it's never the gentle, self-effacing types who do this; it's always the people with about five kids, all spilling their monster drinks as they go, making about as much fuss as Elton John after being told that there's an international florists' strike.

Which brings me on to children. Now, if I go to something like Harry Potter, I naturally expect children to be in the audience. I don't mind this. However, if you bring your child to a film screening, can you not, for the love of God, make sure it can s*dding sit still for at least two hours!! Otherwise it shouldn't be in a cinema, should it?

Oh, and lastly, what is with those odd people who insist on staying until the very last credit. The film is over, there's some rather crap music playing, we all need to edge past you to get last orders at the pub, but no. You sit there with strangely intense expressions, fascinated to learn who was "key grip" on Batman Returns. What is this strange ritual? Are you related to somebody in the crew? Or do you think there might be some secret ending divulged only to those who stay to the very end? Does Humphrey Bogart decide to go off with Ingrid Bergman at the very end of the credits?

And is it worth getting a Cornetto down your neck courtesy of a disgruntled usher?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Live 8

I haven't got tickets for the event in Hyde Park tomorrow, nor will I be going to Edinburgh for the March, although I am passionate about the cause

Anyway, if you have been wavering about your support for Live 8, or worrying that some pop stars are just using it for publicity, or that some of the countries involved have corrupt leaders, then just read what somebody living and working in Zambia thinks about these issues.

In fact, for any blogger reading my blog, why don't we have our mini, very mean and very cheap version of Live 8, (although no doubt you've already spent some money on this cause, at least on a wrist band) whereby anybody who comes by this blog posts a link (on the sidebar please, not just in the body of a post) to this post at 360 Degrees of Sky, a blog written by an Irishwoman working overseas to help a community in Zambia.

And you can of course visit the Make Poverty History site.

Whatever you do tomorow, do something to support the campaign.

Mrs Miniver

I picked up a book in a charity shop recently. I love charity shops. I've bought some lovely things, and I willingly admit to buying some of my clothes there. I recently bought a stunning cerise and orange chiffon scarf/shawl, and two people have complimented me on it. It cost £1. At the moment I am wearing some grey, side-zipped combat sort of trousers which I bought for about £3. Well, that's not all I'm wearing, honestly.

It might be relevant that I frequent shops in Richmond, Twickenham, and Teddington. Perhaps the sort of garments and other items discarded in these areas are a little more upmarket.

Anyway, I buy far more books in charity shops than I do in proper bookshops. And today I bought a Virago publication, Mrs Miniver.

You probably remember the film with Greer Garson, one of those "keep your chin up" wartime epics. In fact, Mrs Miniver started off as a column in The Times. It was written by Jan Struther, who had done a bit of journalism, and who was the first of what I would term the domestic columnists, people like Phil Hogan; Zoe Heller; and Slack Dad. She drew heavily on life with her children, who lived a boarding school/London/Sussex holiday cottage life. The Mrs Miniver of the film was just a little more typical of the average Englishwoman. Unlike the film, the collected Miniver pieces in this book are mostly pre-war, and rarely deal directly with the issues of war.

Some of the articles are still very relevant to us. The descriptions of the children at various stages of life, or the way in which you catch your partner's eye during a dull event.

However, some of the content, such as going to shooting parties, and complaining about servants, can seem snobbish and rather divorced from reality, although the author was, apparently, rather left wing for a member of her class.

Jan Struther was really Joyce Anstruther. She also wrote the hymns Lord of all Faithfulness and When a Knight won his Spurs. I sang both of these as a small child, and until now I've never associated then with the black and white film of Mrs Miniver that used to be shown on Sunday afternoons.

I only mean the occasional Sunday afternoon, obviously; I'm not suggesting that the small corner of Cornwall where I grew up insisted on us getting a weekly televisual dose of Mrs Miniver. Although when I was a child I remember that the local councils decreed that no Cornish cinema was allowed to show The Life of Brian. I kid you not.

Actually, that seemed so far-fetched that I thought I should check it out, just in case I was mistaken, but I found this Guardian article which proves that it was banned in Cornwall, so there.

Anyway, Joyce's life wasn't quite like Mrs Miniver's. None of her immediate family were lost in the war. She lived briefly in New York. Her husband was a prisoner of war for 5 years, and when he was released they had grown apart, so she divorced and moved back to America where she married her second husband, who she had first become acquainted with in London in 1938, a Viennese refugee who had arrived in America with only 10 shillings, and who rose to become head of The Avery Archtectural University at Columbia University. She died of cancer in 1953, aged only 52.

This is a dated book, and you can't help but reflect that the life which Joyce, and Mrs Miniver, lived, was a world away from that lived by most people; we are talking of shooting parties; boarding schools; and invitations to sherry parties, when many of her contemporaries would actually have benefited from the price controls of wartime rationing.

We can identify a little more with modern columnists; they write of the inconvenience of traffic calming measures; air travel; behaviour in bars. We might be travelling in a seven year old Nissan Micra rather than a Mercedes; or standing in a queue to get to Benidorm rather than Mustique; or laughing at customers in The Dog and Duck rather than a West London gastro-pub, but equality has moved on a little.

However, this is still an interesting book.