Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Watch with Mother

I am of a somewhat nervous disposition.

Despite this, I am a fan of things that scare me – horror films, roller coasters, Gene Simmons (who is sexy but I can’t figure out why). It probably started as a child. My parents were into their horror films and on Saturday afternoons we’d head to the (slightly dodgy, now I think about it) video shop up the little lane by the travel agents to choose the evening’s entertainment. This was in the good old days before the nanny state intervened and decided for us what was and wasn’t suitable viewing, and the shelves were positively groaning under the weight of triple-x-rated material. The films back then weren’t very sophisticated – all they needed was some gratuitous violence, a bit of random shagging and no discernible storyline and they were set. So, my parents would watch their films on a Saturday night. I would watch them on a Sunday morning. With my Mum. From the age of about seven. I saw them all – Driller Killer, The Evil Dead, Superstition (that one was actually left with the babysitter to entertain us when my parents went out one evening. We particularly enjoyed the hapless-teenager-being-cut-in-half-by-a-sash-window scene), The Hills Have Eyes, I Spit on Your Grave. No such thing as censorship in our house, thank you. My Mum would also video the hour-long “Hammer House of Horror” episodes off the telly for me. I had some spectacular nightmares as a child, and still have a fear of opening a curtain after dark in case an enormous werewolf is outside.

I also had a book that used to scare the bejesus out of me. It was called the Hamlyn Book of Horror, and was a sort of Bunty annual for the depraved. If I think about it now it still creeps me out. The inside cover featured a black and white photograph of a severed hand on the windowsill of a country house, and that pretty much set the tone. There were stories, pictures and information on all sorts of nasty things, notably the Countess of Bathory (who bathed in the blood of virgins), the horrors of being buried alive, a lovely illustrated section on how Vlad the Impaler used to line the track leading up to his castle with bodies on sticks, and my old favourite – werewolves. The werewolf chapter was so scary that I couldn’t even look at the page. If you put the book in front of me now I probably still couldn’t look at it. Eventually, the book began to freak me out so much that I relegated it to the bottom shelf of my bookcase, placed horizontally with the spine facing inwards so that I couldn’t even see the title. I came across it by accident once while looking for something else (my Bumper Book of Serial Killers, probably) and it literally made me jump. But I’m still fascinated by it, in a weird way, and am having to restrain myself from ordering it online just to see it one more time.

Small Person, however, is a total wuss. Never mind werewolves – she had nightmares after watching the film about the were-rabbit. When I sit her down in front of Zombie Flesh Eaters at the weekend she’s going to shit herself. Still, it’s character-forming, and it never did me any harm.

Monday, February 27, 2006

I love the smell of inner tubes in the evening...

I am the sort of parent that would make me wince if I wasn't me.

On the night I gave birth to Small Person I dreamed (dreamt?) that I dropped her on the escalator in our local shopping centre. A week or so later came the dream where I left her on the counter in the newsagent's because I "couldn't be doing with it". As a result of this, and my many, many neuroses, I am a total wuss when it comes to the health and safety of my daughter. When she was very small we had the sort of baby monitor that flashes and beeps if the baby "stops breathing". After the fifth time I rang the hospital in hysterics. Turns out that they had trialled these very monitors but ditched them a couple of months in after a whole raft of false emergencies in the special care unit. Did it stop me worrying? Um, no. The last nearly-six years have been an emotional minefield. Once the immediate threat of cot death subsided somewhat, a whole other set of disasters loomed large. Choking, being run over, meningitis, heavy books falling from a great height - the possibilities were endless. Small Person actually narrowly escaped a sticky end when the family rottweiler alerted me to her entanglement in the dressing on her moses basket, (people, if you put a newborn in a moses basket please don't have the frilly stuff on it - it's lethal), which I still can't rationally explain. So it sort of goes without saying that I am overprotective and generally panicky. She has a booster seat in the car, wears armbands when swimming and is fully up to speed on road safety and stranger danger. I panic ceaselessly about the mishaps that might befall her when she is beyond my watchful gaze - a recent spate of cold weather found me warning her against tying her scarf in a knot - I couldn't shake the image of entanglement on playground equipment. I know, I know. It's pointless. I try really hard to let her find her own way and on the whole I succeed. The Other Half should take credit for this; he is the voice of reason that cuts through my paranoid inner monologue and has reminded me that, without taking risks, we never learn our limits. The one shadow over us at the moment is her father's conviction that she will be fine as a pillion passenger on his Guzzi, but I am planning to take legal advice over that one and am confident that I can rule it out once and for all.

Tonight, however, I have surpassed myself. I have purchased a new rubber mat for the bath, in order that Small Person may enjoy a soak and a play with her ducks without the (imagined) spectre of drowning, head injury or impaling herself on the cold tap looming over her. It's a new mat. I am poor, so I got it from Asda. It seemed a bargain at £1.38.

As a result of my obsession and penny-pinching, Small Person currently smells as if she has spent a couple of hours wearing a gimp suit in a very warm room. Sweet. Well done me.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

I promise that I will do my best...

When I was a small person, I was in the Brownies.

On the surface, the Brownies are innocent enough. The name conjures up an image of well-to-do, rosy-cheeked youngsters having bags of fun in a healthy, Enid-Blytony way. Camping, and Gang Shows, and good old-fashioned team spirit. Well, bollocks to that. In my humble opinion, the Brownies fucking sucked (I mean that figuratively – we didn’t get round to that sort of thing until we got into the Guides). My stepsister and I were packed off to the Village Hall every Thursday evening at six thirty, to join twenty or so other unfortunates in an hour of enforced jollity and thinly veiled threats. For the princely sum of twenty pence a week subs, we could immerse ourselves in such joyless activities as working towards our badges, our “path” awards (to this day I don’t get that part of it. Why does it matter whether or not I can tie a reef knot? Or improvise a triangular bandage with a tea towel?), or playing games that mostly involved sitting on the floor while other Brownies stamped on your legs. Fabulous. We also had to walk home in the dark past the scary bus shelter. If I think about it now I can still see the imagined shadow of a man with a Very Big Knife that my head would conjure up for me.

The ceremonial side was a little sinister too. To be inducted into the Brownies you had to take part in a strange little vignette which involved pretending to be a child who learned the hard way that the only person in life who would tidy your bedroom was you, in a pretend wood, by a pretend pond, while your parents watched. And as for the god-bothering and general fawning…if I wasn’t promising to “do my duty to god” I was entering into a contract of servitude with the Queen, or standing at a freezing War Memorial on a November Sunday wishing I was at home doing my Spirograph. It was like being in a cult, only without the fun stuff – stealing, religious ecstasy with the aid of hallucinogenics, that sort of thing. I was bullied both by my peers and one of the helpers, but it’s alright because I’m over it now. Obviously. I attended one (one was enough) ill-fated Brownie camp which saw me struck down with crippling hayfever even as I was coaxed off the side of an abseil tower or tied empty barrels together with hairy string in a collective delusion of the power of hope over physics (to say our raft was doomed to fail would be something of an understatement. Anna Welch is probably picking pond weed out of her hair to this day). It wasn’t all gloom though – I attained the heady heights of my Hostess (serving a cup of tea and a biscuit to Brown Owl and Tawny Owl without tripping over my feet or bellowing “motherfucker” instead of asking if they took sugar), Jester (pathetic, embarrassing dance and thirty second monologue shamelessly stolen from Pam Ayres) and Country Dancing badges. I impressed the other Brownies with my in-depth knowledge of banned horror films, and went canoeing in the local swimming pool. And for reasons that are still not clear to me, I went on to join the Guides. The Guides are a little more fascist than the Brownies – I was disciplined on a truly horrendous camping trip to Derbyshire (sunstroke, the promise of wallabies and a prolific nosebleed into the cauliflower while serving lunch) for wearing a blue t-shirt (everything had to be blue. Everything. There is no room for individuality in the Guides) with white stripes on it. I just didn’t fit in (really?) and was finally asked to leave at the age of thirteen, whereupon I filled the ensuing gap in my leisure time with fags, cider and underage sex. Hurray!

So why, despite my scarring memories, am I so keen on Small Person joining the Brownies?

I must be stopped. Oh, and MC Hammer has a blog, apparently. Weird*.

* Please note - "weird" does not necessarily mean "interesting".

Friday, February 24, 2006

Will the fun never stop?

Not content with the impossible glamour of Working From Home, I have also spent a day Out of the Office. It was fabulously exciting and involved, variously: a free jacket, an omission from a security list, rain, a change of shoes (twice), a free lunch, an afternoon's manual labour and a sauna that wasn't. Oh, and a really, really bad Samba band played to an empty room for an hour. And I had a kebab. But not while the band were playing.

There. I bet you wish you were me, don't you?

So anyway, there was no post yesterday and this is your lot for today. See you on Sunday....

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Drugs are bad, m'kaaay?

There was a programme on last night that had me thanking my lucky stars that I had my really, really bad drug experience fairly early on.

I smoked my first joint at fifteen. We were in a Vauxhall Chevette outside a friend's parents house in Oxfordshire. It was fucking brilliant - everything was all sort of fuzzy and cosy and I had never laughed so much in all my life. Pot and me became good friends over the next few years. When I lived with my psychotic boyfriend, a dealer lived across the road. He would bring "samples" of gear over on a free-of-charge basis and we would slump around our living room doing bongs and giant bottles of cheap white wine. Actually, now I think about it, I smoked pot pretty much constantly at that point. Get up in the morning, smoke the remains of the last doob of the night before over a cup of tea....get a lift to work (having a smoke in the car).....meet pothead supervisor behind the container in the yard for a quick smoke....reconvene at morning break for another one...see also lunchtime...see also afternoon break.....get home and smoke a joint while waiting for the dealer to come round.....smoke pot all night....repeat for six months. I have never giggled so much or eaten more biscuits than I did during that period. The only adverse effects that I noticed (apart from being really fat owing to the constant munchies. Oh, and having no short-term memory because of the...ooh! look! a cat! um, where was I?....) was a vague feeling of disquiet unloading the washing machine. It was all shiny in the drum, you see. And it had black holes in that things might poke through. And it sort of put me in mind of a Dalek. That aside, dope and me were pretty good friends.

When I finally came to what was left of my senses and left the psycho (five weeks before a massive church wedding. So satisying.) I moved in with an ultra-straight guy I'd worked with. He is the unfortunate boyfriend in the "worst thing I ever did" post, and he really, really disapproved of drugs. Really. He made Mary Whitehouse look like Jim Morrison, so severe was his aversion. Naturally, on spending a weekend away (alone) with my oldest friend and various bikers, I jumped at the chance of a Saturday night on LSD. Can you say "mistake"?

I am here to tell you, should you not already know, that acid is a bad, bad thing. I knew I would jump at the chance if offered as it was on my list of things that I wanted to try at least once in my life. And once it was. Vehemently. It started off nicely enough - bit giggly, bit wobbly, just a really good laugh. When the seven of us went out for a walk and saw a dog getting run over, however, it started to go a bit wrong. Two members of the party spent the following six hours under a hedge in a blind panic, and when everything I could see started to kaleidescope I was taken back to the flat where, bored of trying to talk me down, my friends buggered off to the pub leaving me alone in a strange flat, with a bottomless (honest. I tried to get my toothbrush and gave up) rucksack and a sofa cover with evil pixies on it. Brr. Fourteen hours or so later I had come down sufficiently to go home. All was okay until about three weeks later when, having arrived at a friend's flat after an evening in the pub and being too drunk to skin up, I ate an eighth of dope. Not Good. At All. I tripped for twelve hours. Seriously. It was hideous. After that the problems really began . What started off as occasional panic attacks soon developed into full-blown agoraphobia. I could get to work - leaving the flat I was living in, getting in the car, following the yellow line in the road on the walk from the car park to the office (mustn't look up. no. too big), sitting at my desk, doing it in reverse at the end of the day - it was more or less doable. After a month or so, however, even this became intolerable and I resigned before I could be sacked. I seriously thought I had lost my mind. I obsessively replayed the acid trip, and couldn't let go of the fervent wish that I'd never done it. It took me a long, long time to get back on my feet. I smoke the occasional joint now, but only if I've had a drink. That feeling of being stoned after a beer is great. That feeling of being stoned when sober is really fucking scary. My LSD experience was (ulp) nearly fifteen years ago and I still get the occasional flashback. I'll always regret dropping that tab.

On the other hand, the programme last night featuring three or four people trying to get off heroin made me sort of thankful that I had my bad experience before I ended up getting into something I really couldn't get out of. The only drugs I've ever done are pot, acid and alcohol. Thank god I never tried speed, or ecstasy, or heroin (and all these things were easily accessible within the crowd I hung out with). Things could have been a whole lot different.

There. That was cheerful, wasn't it? Here endeth the lesson.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

My market research hell

So anyway, the Nice Lady representing the Home Office managed to guilt me into taking part in the crime survey. I don’t know how thick-skinned you have to be to do market research for a living, but I’m guessing that if you follow it up with a foray into armed response you probably don’t need body armour.

I first learned I’d been chosen to give my input into the government’s crime survey when a letter plopped through my door a couple of months ago. I ignored it. I mean, I’m at work all week and hardly here at weekends so I presumed that if I didn’t call the representative then they would simply pick on someone else. Oh, but hang on….they included a book of six first class stamps by way of an incentive. Come on now, Home Office. To incentivise (I know, management speak, sorry…) your average busy householder to talk to a market researcher I think you can do better than that. How about a great big chocolate éclair? Or a voucher to be spent in the pub? If you give me stamps I’m just going to use them on random mailing that I don’t think I can get away with on the office franking machine, and where’s the fun in that? So anyway, I ditched the letter, used the stamps and thought no more about it. Until a Saturday afternoon about three weeks ago when a small, rotund, myopic man in an anorak greeted me when I answered a knock on the door. Ordinarily I won’t respond to the door if I’m not expecting visitors. I can’t bear people “popping round”. It makes me itch. It’s rude, and I probably haven’t hoovered, and that makes me more tense than you can possibly imagine*. But for some reason I opened the door and spent the following ten minutes trying to tell a total stranger that I didn’t want to invite him into my flat to talk about my experiences with crime. My reluctance was partly due to apathy, but mostly due to my abject fear that I would be forced to recount the tale of the time my motorcycle top-box (what?? I was a despatch rider. It wasn’t a choice, or anything) was broken into (by “broken into” I of course mean “someone moved the bungee cord and opened it”). Some documents were taken, and I had stupidly left my wallet in there. However, what was worse was the fact that, in return for stealing my (and NatWest’s) property, the lunatic thief had left me a Tesco bag filled with windfall apples. The minute I mentioned it I could sense the police losing interest in my call…..

Having got rid of Mr Government Representative, I again forgot about the survey. Until yesterday, when the Nice Lady representing the Home Office interrupted my hectic and important Working From Home by turning up to harass me a bit more. For god’s sake, won’t these people take no for an answer? She was good, mind you. She made lots of noises about how they had to fill their quotas, how I was “lucky” to have been chosen, how it was her 25th wedding anniversary today but she would still make time to come back and see me….after five minutes of this I would probably have sold her my soul for a fiver and a chocolate biscuit just to get her to go away.

As a result, I agreed to an appointment at 6pm this evening. I knew it would take upwards of forty five minutes of my time, yet I still couldn’t say no. I mean, I’d used the free stamps they’d sent me.

So I spent the whole morning panicking about ringing the Nice Lady to cancel. I am pathetic when it comes to confrontation. I don’t know what I thought would happen. Maybe I thought the Nice Lady would cry. In reality, if I’m honest, I just plain can’t say no. I worry that people will think badly of me. I worried that the Nice Lady would be upset, and think that I didn’t like her. This is ridiculous. However, it’s part of the ridiculousness of me. I can’t figure out whether it’s politeness, or fear, or propriety, or early-onset psychosis. Whatever it is, it drove me mad all morning. I don’t have an hour to spare on a Tuesday evening. I have to bath Small Person, and pack her bag for the weekend, and clean the bathroom, and arse around on the internet. After three hours of agonizing, I told myself that enough was enough. I had the Nice Lady’s number and I just had to get over my pointless worrying and sort the situation out. I knew what I had to do, so I gritted my teeth, girded my loins and took the only possible course of action.

Bless the Other Half. If it wasn’t for him ringing the Nice Lady and telling her I was busy, I would have wasted loads of time this evening.

* What?? I love to hoover. What could be better?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Pouring myself a cup of ambition.

Small Person is poorly ill.

She has a virus thing that has left her with a cough and a temperature. Last night she coughed for ages (finally making herself sick) and, when I checked on her at seven thirty this morning, where she would normally be stirring she was still twitchy-faced and dreaming. So I took an executive decision. Today, I would Work From Home.

Ooh, working from home. For some reason, this strikes me as being impossibly glamorous. While the population at large was struggling into work clothes, damping down Sunday-night hair and scowling through their cornflakes I lazily mooched around in my jarmies, emailing Lovely Assistant for the files I would need today and informing Small Person’s school of her absence. New Boss was a little recalcitrant on hearing of my proposal this morning, but once we’d established my objectives for the day he soon capitulated. Once Madam was up and breakfasted I explained that she needed to be quiet for the day so that I could work, and we settled down to variously plod through spreadsheets and gaze vacantly at Spongebob Squarepants. I don’t feel the need to clarify who was doing what. And do you know what? Even with the distractions of the fridge, the TV, the interweb and just plain staring out of the window, I achieved more today than I did in the whole of last week at the office. Maybe it’s because of the cachet my thirteen-year-old mind ascribes to Working From Home. I couldn’t stop telling people. The school rang to say they’d found Small Person’s glasses which had been AWOL since before half term. Since the Ex had been the one to inform me that they had gone missing, I thought it was only fair to update him. So I texted to let him know, adding that Small Person still wasn’t totally better and that as a result I was Working From Home. As if he cared. This afternoon, a nice lady representing the Home Office called round to once more try and convince me to take part in the Crime Survey I’d recently cried off from on the grounds that it was Saturday afternoon and I really couldn’t be bothered. She asked if I could spare her some time. “I would,” I said airily, “only I’m Working From Home today.” We arranged an appointment for tomorrow instead, and she went away in total (imaginary) awe of my 21st century lifestyle, even as I emailed Oslo on my Blackberry (I did nothing of the sort) and pencilled the finance boys in for a week next Wednesday (in my head). Ridiculous, isn’t it? I’m just that sort of person though. I have a distinct memory of being around eight years old, and playing at the Rec on a chilly Spring afternoon without my coat on. I remember being utterly convinced that anyone seeing me would be unavoidably impressed with my strength of character and physical hardiness, and spent a week in bed with a cold as a result. Again, ridiculous.

But you see, when I am Working From Home I am not poor, downtrodden Surly, awash in the minutiae of sucking up to my superiors, hanging round the coffee machine for a gossip and hiding in the loos. No! I am Nicola Horlick! I am Anita Roddick! I am, I am….um…Sigourney Weaver in “Working Girl”!! Oh yes!! In your face, corporate drudgery!

I bet they never have to nip off halfway through a video conference with New York* to cook some fishfingers, mind you.

* Not that I have been video-conferencing with New York, or anywhere for that matter, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Money? Check. Sense? Nope..

I wonder about someone who has the money and wherewithal to not only own one of those great big enormous camper-van things (the posh ones, with the ladders on the back and the driver's seat that's like a reclining armchair), but to have added a trailer on the back with a small car on it. I've seen these camper van things (what are they called? What?) with bicycles strapped to the back, or mopeds, and I can see the logic. You park up in some godforsaken windswept field next to a landfill site, get on your moped and head off into town to buy some beans to heat over your single-ring camping stove and eat while listening to the sound of rain hammering on the roof - what could be more lovely? But to take a car with you? Really? It just seems a bit, well, extravagant. I mean, if you've got the sort of money that allows you to lash out squillions of pounds on campers and cars and trailers and petrol and can just spend endless days driving up and down motorways why wouldn't you just, I don't know, book a proper holiday or something?

Whoever it was that sat relentlessly in front of me this morning doing sixty miles an hour in the fast lane, I hope their ultimate destination was somewhere a bit nicer than Essex. Actually, no I don't. No. Essex seems about appropriate for someone who is holidaying in the UK in February. In a camper van. In front of me. Slowly.

People, eh? Fucking idiots.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The oldest minger in town

After last night I feel moved to tell you that, to paraphrase Princess Di, there are three of us in this relationship.

According to his website, Dog the Bounty Hunter* is “…undeniably the world’s greatest bounty hunter. His exterior is: rugged and handsome, weathered and tanned, leather and metal. He is muscular, rugged and stoic in his blond, shoulder-length Mohawk – with a single braid interwoven with feathers (a tribute to his Indian heritage). Dog’s bulging bicep is dressed with a bone armband. A shark tooth necklace shows respect for his Hawaiian homeland. He speaks in soundbites, his own lingo of urban-island poetry that has come to be known as ‘Dogisms’.”

Do you know, I couldn’t have put it better myself. Except, perhaps, I could…

Dog the Bounty Hunter is undeniably the world’s most deluded man. His exterior is reminiscent of Michael Bolton after a nuclear holocaust ridden out in an outlaw biker bar. He is pumped up like an overblown lilo, and looks weirdly proud of his (let’s call a spade a spade here) bleached curly mullet-and-flattop combo – with a hair extension clipped onto one side of it like a six-year-old girl at a slumber party (a tribute to his utter lack of self-awareness). Dog’s side-of-beef arm is dressed with a plastic armband he bought at Sturgis three years ago. A shark tooth necklace shows that a man with a predisposition to leather trousers and a mullet probably shouldn’t be allowed to shop for jewellery unsupervised. He speaks in incomprehensible clichés, his own mishmash of cod-philosophy and bad poetry that has come to be known as “Complete Bollocks”.

Dog, his missus (I really don’t have the room to discuss her here), one of his twelve (count ‘em!! Twelve!!) children – Leland (who favours combat trousers and a Steven Seagal pigtail), a man named Wesley and various random spear-carriers spend their time formulating bizarre and complicated plans to hunt and take down aberrant members of society who have, for one reason or another, broken the terms of their bail bonds. Between them they carry enough accessories to start their own branch of Millets – Mrs Dog even has a perfume holster on her utility belt. They roam the streets in a two car convoy, pointlessly talking to each other over their radios: “…so we’re just pulling into the parking lot now”. “I know. We’re in the car behind you”, etc.

The unfortunate targets of Dog’s moral indignation (and, let’s face it, a good source of income for him), in addition to facing time in jail or rehab, also have to run the gauntlet of an amateur psychological analysis before they can escape the Posse (that’s what they call themselves. It’s not a word I’m comfortable with). It’s a harrowing cross between Mad Max and Dr. Phil as felons are invited to explore their souls for the power to change their lives, while Dog and Mrs Dog loom over them like amateur night at the wrestling.

Dsepite all this, as a result of last night’s viewing the Other Half has developed a bit of a man-crush on ol’ Dawg. He even dreamed about him last night. I will be watching him carefully for any sign of an incipient mullet.

Oh, and Dog’s real name? Duane. Doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it?

* Unbelievably we had never seen this show until last night. Rest assured that it will be Sky-Plussed for all eternity. Please, if you haven't seen it, make a point of doing so. You'll thank me for it. Honest.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Moon = green cheese. Fact.

I’m one of life’s gullible people.

When I was small, my Nanny (that’s my mum’s mum, not The Nanneh. We weren’t that posh) used to tell me that if you swallowed chewing gum it would get wrapped round your heart and you would die. I believed this without question. I also believed that if the wind changed I would stay like that, that my stepfather actually did want me to go and play on the railway line, and that if I looked at a new moon through glass (this was a weird one of my mother’s) some indefinable yet horrible fate would befall me. I used to worry when my parents played their Helen Reddy tape in the car because I thought that the man who talked in between songs on the radio was having to sit in the dark and not say anything. To this day I am not one hundred percent convinced that if I don’t get out of the bath before pulling the plug out I won’t go down the plughole. Also, who’s to say that there aren’t monsters under my bed? I still jump in from two feet away just to make sure. Safety first and all that.

It makes me wonder about the lies we tell our children, and how totally accepting they are (until a certain age of course, which in my case was about twenty three) of any information we give them. Small Person, who fervently believes in the Toast Mouse (an invisible yet emphatically real creature who lives somewhere in our kitchen – we thought he was in the butter tub for a bit, or maybe the jam pot, but the other day she had dry toast owing to an upset tummy and he still managed to take a bite out of the corner of it so the precise location of his lair is now under review), is also currently and variously a full-on Christian (owing to school just telling her that’s what everyone believes), a big fan of her dad’s pagan chanting CD, a hopeful beneficiary of the Tooth Fairy, and petrified that giants might be real (that one didn’t come from me but from her latest school reading book. Thanks, school). She has also recently assimilated the information that boys can love (and indeed, marry) boys and that girls can do the same with girls. She giggled incredulously and I think she thinks I’m making it up but there you go. As long as she continues to believe that I have “Mummy Magic” which renders me all-knowing and means I am able to read her thoughts, know exactly what she’s doing even when I can’t see her, and suss out even the smallest lie, then we’ll be okay. I am particularly keen that she still believes this into her teens, as if there’s even the slightest hint of her turning out anything like me I’m going to put her up for adoption and let someone else deal with the fallout. Coming soon – my life as a teenage nightmare….

Now, where did I put the bicarbonate of soda? Only if you feed it to a seagull it’ll explode, you know. Or is that pigeons? Or baking powder? Or are they the same thing (bicarbonate of soda and baking powder I mean. Even I can (usually) tell the difference between a pigeon and a seagull)? Whatever.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The machines! The machines!

It sometimes feels as if I spend my entire life counting the minutes until my eventual demise (at the age of a hundred and three, surrounded by gin, chocolate and satin pillows, thank you).

I revel in the eight-minute extra snooze that my alarm clock allows me. I count the time it takes to microwave my breakfast porridge. I tut and look at my watch while waiting for Mrs Persistently-Late to open the classroom door in the morning. Of course, I watch the clock (mostly on people’s blogs….) during the working day. Twice a week when I go to the hospital for my phototherapy I count off fifteen minutes soaking in the solution, five minutes drying time and ten minutes on the groovy light-machine thingy (I haven’t asked too many technical questions as there isn’t any point. If I am told the complicated answers my mind will immediately revert to thirteen-year-old type and start huffing and make me kick the floor and scowl and think about boys and huff a bit more because, like, nobody understands me).

If I go to the gym, sorry, when I go to the gym, I count the minutes on the treadmill. I count as if my very life depended on it because I’m fairly sure that sometimes it does. I make myself do half an hour* on the treadmill because it’s all that I can stand, and even this is pretty much beyond me. I’m signed up for the Race for Life this year and I know that at some point I really have to start training properly. However, my complete lack of commitment coupled with my abject failure to give up smoking when I go to the pub is hampering this slightly. So, a couple of times a week, I clamber clumsily onto the treadmill, lie to it about my weight (owing to paranoia that someone will see it if I tell the truth and it will be broadcast over the public address system: “Fat girl on treadmill three!!! Fat girl!! See the fat girl!!”), and spend thirty minutes in desperate discomfort, trying not to think about the ignominy of dropping dead in unfashionable trainers and a sports bra which should probably have been consigned to the bin around the time of David Blunkett’s first resignation. Just counting the seconds gets boring after about a minute and a half, and makes me feel slightly panicky to boot. So I irritate the bejesus out of everyone around me by continually pressing the button that changes the display from minutes to distance to km per hour to calories per hour to actual calories burned (which is wildly inaccurate owing to the fact that I have lied about my weight but I console myself by remembering that at least I’m burning off more calories than it says) to the pretty lights showing how long you’ve run without dropping dead and back to minutes. And then I do it again. Every time I press the button it beeps but I can’t hear it because I’ve got my iPod up loud which is also irritating to those around me because every so often I forget where I am and start singing along. Add to this the fact that I am generally red-faced, sweating and on the verge of collapse and it will be obvious why a) I don’t like going to the gym and b) nobody else likes it when I go to the gym. But go I must, if only because it means I can justify not losing any weight in a week that involved an eight-hour lager-drinking session and a curry by reminding myself smugly that muscle weighs more than fat and that’s why I’ve put on 2lb.

*Do you see how I have been ambiguous about my patheticness in the hope that it will seem as if I actually run for half an hour rather than owning up to** the reality of running for five minutes/sweating and gasping for three/running for five minutes/crying for ten/giving up that I actually achieve most times? I so rule!!

** Ah.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Strung Up

Now then. Madonna. Madonna, Madonna, Madonna. Where to begin?

My relationship with Madonna is a complicated thing. Where once I would sneer at her from the depths of my teenage obsession with Iron Maiden (I sneered at most things, actually, and it’s only by looking at some old photos that I now realise what a total twunt I looked. I still love Iron Maiden though. Yeah! Maiden rock! Etc, etc......), as I’ve grown older I’ve become able to look back with something approaching nostalgia at the old days. I’ve given her the benefit of the doubt (because of course, she cares about my opinion) throughout the pointy-bra phase, the weird-eyebrows-and-marlene-dietriech-references phase, the ooh-look-I’m-just-such-a-hippy-these-days-isn’t-it-all-fabulous phase, the cowboy thing, the geisha thing (with flip-flops and socks - nice) and most of her other incarnations. Her acting aside, she’s not such a bad old bird. I love the randomness of her attempt to reinvent herself as a genteel English rose, and it’s always nice to hear her accent veer wildly around depending on whether she’s giving a British or American interview. The thought of her writing childrens’ books is a bit weird, and you can keep the whole red-string mystical nonsense. But on the whole, me and Madonna are doing ok. Until I realised that I really can’t cope with the sight of that woman in a leotard for another second.

Okay, so I understand the need to reinvent an image according to current fashion. The whole eighties revival is, for some reason, in full swing (this is another thing I don’t get as, as far as I remember, the eighties were a fashion wasteland and were responsible for me being photographed in legwarmers and a batwing mohair jumper). The video for Hung Up was fair enough, for those who like their icons waving their arses around at an advanced age (see also Mick Jagger, although so far he’s spared us stretch gym wear, for the most part). But now it seems that Mrs Ritchie has decided, at the ripe old age of sixty three, that any public appearance must involve her showing me her scrawny inner thighs. And I don’t want to see them any more. Enough with the leotards already. Just. Enough.

So thank you, Madonna, for bringing us a back catalogue of polished pop. Thank you for being so laughably bad at acting that Keira Knightley has had a chance to become famous for coming off like Dame Judi Dench by comparison. Thank you for your endless wittering about Kabbalah, your odd choice of husband, those photos of you looking about nine hundred and forty seven in your tracky bottoms, your scary eyebrows and your just plain bonkersness.

But please, please, for the sake of my sanity, PUT SOME BLOODY TROUSERS ON, WOMAN.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Warning: this is a post about fruit

The thing of it is though, that I really do hate apples.

Perhaps hate is a bit of a strong word. Perhaps an irrational loathing of fruit is symptomatic of some deeper issue (let us not forget that this is the mind that brought you fear-of-drowning-while-drinking-a-glass-of-water, and the hitherto unexplored fear-of-posting-car-keys-when-posting-a-letter-to-the-extent-that-keys-must-be-put-in-pocket-and-checked-before-allowing-hands-anywhere-near-the-postbox. I mean, if I posted my keys, what on earth would I do? Who do you tell? Who would help (especially if, as I secretly also fear, I have also posted my mobile phone, wallet/purse/thing, and rational mind)?).

Whatever. The truth of the matter is that I can’t be bothered with eating apples. I mean, where’s the fun? They are cold. The skin gets caught between your teeth. There are random fluffy warm brown spots and you can’t tell where they are until you have bitten into one. There might be insects in there, for crying out loud. And they don’t even taste every nice, and you have to work hard to eat one, and besides, they aren’t made of chocolate, or fish and chips, or peanut butter on white toast, or Wimpy quarterpounders with cheese and that gorgeous orangey-coloured burger sauce that looks so vile but tastes so good, or anything else that I CAN’T EAT because of the stupid diet I’m on. Stupid diet. Stupid me for spending the whole of last summer eating pub food, curries, chocolate and many, many Pringles. Stupid me for drinking gallons of lager. Stupid, stupid me for not only not losing the weight I put on in Mexico last May, but for going on to gain another, horrifying, nine pounds!! My god, it’s a wonder the Other Half hasn’t drugged me and smuggled me off to have a gastric band fitted.

Oh, and another thing, while we’re on the subject. I quite like bananas but I don’t like to eat a banana where anyone can see me. If you are as sad and creepy as me you will have observed that boys are allowed to peel a banana and just pop it in their mouths without a sudden shift in the attitude of any passing member of the opposite sex. With girls, it’s different. You try sitting in a meeting with six male colleagues and eating a banana the boys’ way without an outbreak of sniggering and innuendo. I am sometimes tempted to do exactly that and then shout “for god’s sake, I’m not sucking a COCK here!!”, just to scare the crap out of them. But I’m really not that brave and so, if I find myself in the unenviable position of eating a banana in public, I do it like the girl that I am. You know the one, ladies. Peel the banana, break a bit off and eat it, making sure not to make eye contact with any men while you do it. Honestly. It’s like Victorian England in the boardroom of a Wednesday morning.

I am now secretly quite concerned that once I turn my mind to it I seem to have rather a lot to say about fruit.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Back to Basics

This whole blogging thing continues to delight and infuriate in pretty much equal measure. When I started this thing almost a year ago, I had no idea where it was heading. I didn't know if anyone was reading, and so I actually made an effort with the whole writing-it part. Lately, I've become aware that what I'm doing is talking to an audience, and it's just not the same. In fact, I've become downright bloody lazy - I mean, a post that just asks what you wanted to be when you grew up isn't exactly creative writing, is it? It's become everything I never wanted it to be. I love that people read and comment, because I am basically a narcissist and extremely needy to boot. I'm just aware that all I'm doing is whacking something up to keep people visiting, when I really couldn't blame anyone for buggering off for all eternity, given some of the crap I'm churning out.

So, time for a rethink. This isn't like when you tell your boss you're leaving so that they'll tell you how much they like you and give you a pay rise. This is me saying thank you for your support and contributions, and I'm sorry I've given you sod all back for the last few months. I know, I know, bloody woman, why don't I just get over it and not agonise over every tiny little thing all the time? Easy. Because I am a mentalist and you are all my imaginary friends (except for those of you I actually know, but naturally most of you look better in my head and are nicer to me. Especially you). So I'm going to shut up for a week and see how the mood takes me. Hopefully, the all-new, shiny and improved Surly will be a little more entertaining than of late.

Failing that, join me in a week or so for an incisive, cutting-edge discourse on why I hate apples.

Carry on christ on a bike, that's irritating, isn't it? That certainly won't be coming back.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The worst ante-natal video ever

There was a programme on this week which I think was designed to normalise the practice of breastfeeding “older” children (ie above the age of around eighteen months) and raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding across the board. Despite its best intentions, what was broadcast turned out to be yet another example of car-crash journalism, in which the extremes of a viewpoint were paraded for the apparent purpose of bringing out the Daily Mail-reading, true-blue reactionary in most of the population, and making a mockery of what the commissioning editor probably had in mind at the outset. I am a wholehearted proponent of breastfeeding for young babies – the arguments regarding the benefit to the immune system are beyond question and I certainly agree that all new mothers should be encouraged to at least try it. The problem lies with the issue of choice – it’s a subject that can make people positively rabid. A proportion of those who do it themselves can’t resist browbeating anyone who dares feed their baby with formula milk with scaremongering of the highest order. These women are in turn regarded as hairy-armpitted lentil knitters who would happily allow the family goat to suckle a newborn while they got on with weaving some organic yoghurt and making some new sandals for the family out of tree bark and Conservative manifestos. And while the two extremes battle it out the message is lost. Sadly, Channel Four’s offering did more to damage the cause than any amount of armpit hair and patchouli at the mother and baby clinic could have ever achieved.

We were presented with the balanced views of a woman who was still breastfeeding a seven year old, and the mother of a four year old who, by her own admission (and after a great deal of worthy waffling about benefits, and nurture, and bonding), was only continuing to wave her breasts in his face in order that she might breastfeed the Chinese baby she and her husband were in the process of adopting. The whole thing was more than slightly uncomfortable viewing, and I personally think that anyone who lets a child of almost eight have an “early morning feed” has psychological needs that far outweigh the physical needs of the child itself. This woman was the mother of two girls ands while I have no doubt that she loves her daughters she seemed oblivious to the frankly odd attitude of the girls who (the eldest was breastfed until the age of five and was openly jealous at her youngest sisters continued access to “boobie”) said they couldn’t wait to enter puberty and grow breasts themselves because “then (I) can suck them”. Brr. Oh, and when she had her second child she asked her mother to breastfeed her due to "birth complications". You're not telling me that's anyone's idea of normal. Sorry.

However, the one that I really couldn’t cope with was the prospective adoptive parent. She and her husband (along with said four year old) had traveled to China to complete the adoption process which would allow them to become the parents of an eighteen month old girl. This child had been abandoned at a very young age and brought up in a state orphanage for over a year. I applaud anyone prepared to take on the bureaucracy involved in adopting a child from another country. It’s admirable, and selfless, and all of that. What I struggled with, mind you, was this woman’s consistent, disturbing efforts to persuade an already-weaned virtual stranger (albeit an eighteen-month-old one) to suckle from her breasts. It made me want to hide behind the sofa. Hell, it made me want to ring the Chinese embassy in search of a plea for clemency for the poor child. It was beyond belief. As a small girl watched in abject bewilderment, a woman she’d presumably only ever seen about three times before variously fed her from a breast shaped bottle, squeezed breast milk into a spoon and coerced her into drinking it, and sort of grabbed the back of her head and proffered a nipple while a blank-faced four year old chowed down on the other breast. Um, could things be any more confusing? The mother did a lot of high-flown justification about antibodies, and nurture, and all that, but I personally couldn’t help but feel that it had an awful lot more to do with the benefits to herself (on what level I wouldn’t even begin to want to speculate) than those to the child.

Let me reiterate – in my opinion breast is best, if it’s best for all concerned. If it works or has worked for you then that’s a good thing. If it didn’t, then whatever you did was the best thing in your own personal circumstances. I just don’t see how effectively wanting to send a child’s development into reverse for your own peace of mind is doing the best thing for that child.

And don’t even get me started on the programme about giant cocks that was on later that evening.

Friday, February 03, 2006


Ah, the gay cowboys.

I loved it. It got off to kind of a slow start, and some of the scenes underlining the growing attraction between lovely Heath and lovely Jake were slightly clumsy. In fact a couple of times I half-expected a big comedy sign with arrows and flashing lights and the words “GAYS HERE!! LOOK!! GAYS!!” to glide across the screen like the mother ship in a game of Space Invaders. Lots of manly wrestling, that sort of thing. Once the initial shagging scene* was out of the way, however, I was transfixed. I needed a wee when we got in there, and thought I’d just nip out during a slow bit. I must have a cast-iron bladder as I couldn’t tear myself away for a second, and sat glued to it for the full two hours plus.

The joy of the gay cowboy film is in the way that you forget you’re watching a film about gay cowboys – it’s just a love story, and one that is played out totally convincingly. A couple of things jarred a bit, namely a scene where I was almost convinced that a baby had had a prosthetic nose fitted to make it look more like Jake Gyllenhall, a weird thing that Heath Ledger kept doing with his mouth (I think he was trying to convey that he was a man who repressed his emotions, but it put me in mind of a dog’s bottom), and the succession of fright wigs employed to give a sense of time passing. By the end of it, Anne Hathaway looked like an extra at Dollywood and Heath Ledger was more David Soul than tortured soul.

All of this aside, it was simply beautiful. Gorgeously shot, sparsely directed and, in parts, unbearably moving. I am not ashamed to say that I cried like Michael Barrymore at a press conference. And not just because I really, really needed a wee.

Carry on.

* Do not, I repeat do not go and see this film with a parent or close relative. It will be like the time you watched the Amityville Horror with your mum when you were six** and James Brolin and that skinny woman did it and you had to leave the room.

** Just me then.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


I have no idea what I was dreaming about last night, but it had something to do with king prawns. And razor blades. I had enough of one but not the other. There. Aren't other people's dreams interesting?

I have a half day today as Zanna and I (I'd link to your blog madam, but you never post anything) are off to see the gay cowboy film. Since we are both a) over-emotional and b) friends of the gay, we are liable to spend the duration of the film either a) weeping like girls or b) shifting in our seats in a way that would make you feel uncomfortable if you were to see us doing it.

Carry on.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Today's cautionary tale comes to you via a supplement to an industry publication, from an article entitled "Weddings that Didn't Quite Go To Plan"....

A couple went to desperate attempts to escape the bride's mother. They booked a cosy ceremony on their own in Barbados, but she had other plans. She found out where they were going, and contacted their tour operator to fly them first class as a surprise. The operator insisted on telling the couple. "When I rang them, the guy said: 'That's exactly why we want to marry overseas. She wants to control us with her money,' " recalls the special services manager. Fearing she would turn up uninvited at their wedding, the couple were set to cancel, but with just a month to go, the manager persuaded them to go to Antigua instead.

To ensure the mother-in-law didn't discover the change of plan, the Barbados booking was kept on the tour operator's system and a dummy Antigua booking made, with their names added only at the last minute. The ruse worked perfectly, and the couple enjoyed a superb wedding - while the mother-in-law turned up unannounced at the Barbados venue looking for them!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely the reason that if the Other Half and I decide to tie the knot, we'll be buggering off to a remote beach and not telling anyone until we get back. It is exactly the sort of thing that my mother would do. In fact, when I read the article I had to do a mental inventory in order to check that the above story wasn't about me.

Carry on.

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