Friday, 29 June 2012

The Aussies have left the building

As rare as baby pigeons
Well, another beautiful sunny English day. In my imagination anyway. What is wrong with this country that it was warmer on Christmas Day in Belfast than it was there the day before yesterday. I get that Belfast is technically a different country (no doubt someone will correct me) but it's still part of the great Great Britain that we live in, they speak our language (apparently) and that was the only weather stat I know off the top of my head. The weather here is monumentally shit and I spend around 98% of my time wishing I was in the Maldives but when the sun does make a rare appearance, there is nowhere on earth like England (no doubt someone else will correct me). As proven by this photo which was taken on my run yesterday. I have to own up that the photo wasn't the reason for stopping. I stopped to have a rest and taking a photo seemed a reasonable excuse to stand around for a few seconds. It does, however, prove that the sun does come out here very occasionally.

And so, with a grey sky, a howling gale whipping around the house and destroying my delphiniums and not much hope of a summer in sight, the weather reflects my mood. The Aussies have left, the house seems empty with only three children in it and I find myself having to talk to The Boy (his words a few minutes ago were "Good strimming Girl, wine's in the freezer, get me that gin & tonic"). The Monkey will be bereft now that his bad-influence cousin has left. They properly bonded on a day out to Legoland on Wednesday when they spent the entire car journey home discussing the various qualities any self-respecting 5 or 6 year old knight should require of his sword:

Monkey:  A sword should be thick but long
Freddie:   No! A proper knight would have a shorter thinner one.
Monkey   I don't agree - it's all about power
Sister-in-law    I second that - it's all about how you use it
Freddie    No! It needs to be long and thin (note how small boys contradict themselves)
I may be a year younger but you
will show me respect when you stay
under my roof
Me           Not too thin
Monkey    No! Freddie No!
Freddie     Fraser you're being so negative
Monkey    No I'm not!
Freddie     Yes, you are and your negativity is bringing you down!
Monkey     Shut up Freddie - I'm trying to talk.

S.I.L and I promptly piss ourselves laughing and Monkey bursts into tears. All fun.

The long and painful summer holidays are looming, the weather's crap and we have nothing planned. Partly because taking three small children on holiday is a complete pain in the arse and partly because we're wondering whether we really want to spend a week or two in an extortionately priced house in Devon or Cornwall if it's going to piss it down every day and there aren't any toys or Peppa Pig DVDs. We can be miserable in our own house. The ideal situation would of course be to go away with another family so that the kids can play / fight / beat eachother up while the grown ups make their first gin & tonic at 10am but weirdly everyone is busy the week we want to go away. It's either genuinely the most popular and cheapest week of the entire year (not the case for 1st week of August) or all our friends are scared of our kids. Or us.  I am deafened by the sound of tumbleweed whenever I mention it.

The long and painful summer holidays may start early for us. The Monkey is having gromets fitted in his ears on Monday after a 2 year campaign against some hearing loss caused by repeated ear infections when he was smaller. I've told him he's having his ears mended. "Great, does that mean I won't have to keep saying pardon?" I bloody hope so. The only time he doesn't say pardon is when his supersonic senses hear the word "icecream" from 6 miles away. The consultant wants to remove his adenoids at the same time. As this involves a 10 day recovery time which would effectively mean the long and painful summer holidays starting 2 weeks earlier than they should, I have begged the consultant only to remove them if absolutely necessary. Or to at least remove his vocal cords aswell while he's there.

And so we plod on through our wet and miserable English summer. Wimbledon's started so it was never going to be nice these two weeks anyway.

Wish us luck for Monday. It could be the longest ten days of my life afterwards. "What the heck" as Freddie would say.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

50 Shades of Complete Awfulness

Well, I've finally finished it. I tried really hard but it was a struggle. And what a load of utter tosh it was. Clearly the only reason this woman is selling so many books is that people are buying it to see whether it really is as bad as everyone's saying. I reckon you could get more excitement from a Mills & Boon. If you compare the covers of the two "genres", it already gives you a clue to the level of raunch within:

A Fumble in the Jungle
Tarzan to the rescue

Getting ready for work -
it's a tie FFS

There are several reasons this book is shit:

The "heroine" is a self-absorbed, stupid, painfully-naive princess. She's so stupid that she hesitates to accept ridiculously expensive gifts from America's most successful gazillionaire businessman  - what sensible girl would turn down a free macbook, blackberry, wall to wall wardrobe, a brand new Audi A3 and a flight in a private jet? 

She has a limited vocabulary of five words which are used on a mix and match basis - "holy cow", "holy shit" and "Oh my ". 

She is clearly split personality as she seems to be rather obsessed with her " ïnner goddess" whatever that is and mentions it / her in every other sentence - that's when she's not saying "holy cow". The definition (well, one of them) of goddess is "a woman who is adored" - this woman cannot be adored because she's so magnificently irritating. Her inner goddess must be someone she wants to be- but it made me want to punch her in her pretty little face.

It is the most implausible plot I have ever had the misfortune to not have to unravel. It's not a plot. A plot implies that something happens. I read a review a while ago that said this book, underneath the "filth" is a magnificent love story. Which is strange because it's about a screwed up, unfeasibly handsome businessman who wants to hit an impoverished and naive student who in turn is very confused and very simple. There are major flaws - she's somehow managed to get a degree without a computer and has never even heard of an email but on the morning her new blackberry is delivered to her at the hardware store where she works, she manages to start emailing straight away without even having to go through the long and tortuous set-up wizard. Plus all the clothes he buys her fit. When has that ever happened in real life? Normal men either buy you something which is way too big and is consequently really insulting because it's hard to believe they thought you were that big in the first place. Or way too small which then makes them realise you're not as skinny as you both wish you were.

It is so badly written it's astonishing. And the author's written three of the bloody things. It's criminal that something so incredibly awful can be made into a Hollywood blockbuster - I say blockbuster in the loosest sense of the word. Cast to be decided but there are rumours that Angelina Jolie is going to direct which should be quite interesting as she's rumoured to be a little on the wild side anyway.

What I really wanted was for someone to stick knitting needles in my eyes so I couldn't read anymore but I (and the three other women on the train) plodded on through it, living in vain hope that something remotely interesting might happen but no. The climax (scuse the pun) is that he hits her a bit too hard with a belt (wasn't that standard corporal punishment at school not so long ago?), she doesn't like it, cries and leaves, even trying to give back her car, clothes and various bits of technological equipment on the way out. Hope I haven't spoiled the non-plot for you there.

So, it's pants. 

Better order the next two then to see if they get any worse....

Monday, 25 June 2012

Mad as a gumtree full of galahs

I really need a holiday so I am going to work in London for a couple of days. I told you I'd need a fix again soon but didn't realise I'd be this desperate. I know you're wondering how spending a glorious weekend in our hamlet in the countryside can be so taxing but half of Australia has descended on us.

This notoriously dangerous Australian
Funnel-web spider no longer holds the fear for
me that a house full of 7 children does.
My lovely sister in law is staying with us this week with her equally lovely children so we have 7 kids in the house. Heaven. And with me not being blessed with the most maternal of instincts even on a really good day.

So the menagerie now consists of twins of 2 (mine), The Monkey (5), Aussie Son 1 (6), identical twin girls (10) and Aussie Son 2 (12). Two sets of twins under one roof, two feral boys and a pre-pubescent male. Yesterday, to complete the family, my other lovely sister-in-law also came to visit with two of her children (12 and 19 months). But it was great. Though we were driven to open a bottle of wine in the early afternoon.

I take my hat off to people who foster lots of children because apparently some households can have quite a few kids at the same time. It took about 2 hours to make sandwiches for lunch and we had to do it in two sittings. We used more than a loaf of bread, a whole pack of cheese, two packs of ham and two thirds of the enormous chocolate cake I'd made the day before. Getting them all to bed had to be carefully staggered and we completely abandoned bathtime or Britain would have been back in drought. Less than 24 hours in we have done our first clothes wash, an emergency shop at Waitrose and the carp in the pond are sharing their water with a foam egg and a baseball bat.

But I'm loving it and so is The Monkey. He has permanent playmates and is being taught how to arm-fart and call everyone cobber so he's a happy boy. I have another sheila in the house who is exactly my age, has also had twins and can also roll her eyes at The Boy (afterall she has known him for 31 years longer than me). We have already decided that I shall make a list of all the things I need back-up on this week and she will help me wear him down. I think he may be working long hours this week. Or playing squash every single night.
All normal 5 year old boys
 need to know how to do this, cobber

So, off to London this arvo to do something I really hate which is talking to a group of people but the house is so full and funny that I haven't had time to worry about it. I get a night in a hotel, don't need to worry about jet-lagged children getting up at 5am and can eat my breakfast tomorrow without having to elbow someone for room (hopefully). But in a funny way I'll miss them all and their Aussieness. Payback time tomorrow though - when I get back I have got all 7 of them to myself while The Boy and his sister go out for the evening. I might just let them all stay up until 11 or suggest they camp in the garden.


Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Up in the big smoke..

I've spent more time in London in the last week than I have in my own home which is most unusual for a country girl. But, wow, it's good for the soul. Ticked a few new things off and did some old and familiar ones  - either way there's always that warm fuzzy feeling when I'm there.

A few weeks ago I had a slight rant about modern art - or perhaps it was more specifically about the Tate Modern and its peculiar contents because this week, after a day of meetings, I found myself at the Royal Academy for the Summer Exhibition. I'd never been before but once I found out you could buy stuff, I was there like a shot - it's just window-shopping but with the added bonus that, if you felt the sudden urge you could part with some cash that might be burning a hole in your pocket and invest in something that you might regret for the rest of your life because you were under a spell at the time. Unfortunately, it does seem to be the case that, if you don't turn up on the first day and aren't a Russian gazillionaire, there's nothing left to buy by day three.

The Summer Exhibition has run every year without interruption since 1769. It's had its ups and downs - Gainsborough withdrew his paintings from the 1784 exhibition as he didn't like the way they were going to be hung and a suffragette attacked a portrait by Sargent in 1914 - but the idea is that it raises funds to finance the students of the Royal Academy. I have no idea why artists are always referred to as struggling because the prices they ask for their works can be astronomical. Whilst some of the more exhorbitant exhibits (north of fifty grand) were still unsold yesterday, pretty much 99% of all works in the thousands and tens of thousands bracket had been snapped up - what recession??

I didn't realise that anyone could exhibit at the Summer Exhibition - well, at least if you have your work accepted, so it did occur to me to submit my paper-cuttings and ask a few hundred each for them but now that I've checked the website (don't accuse me of not being pro-active, I did vow to not put everything off until tomorrow), I note that you probably need to be an up and coming artist of merit and not a slightly desperate mother of three trying to fund some teeth-whitening.  Might still give it a go - if you don't ask you don't get. Of the 11,000 works that get submitted, 1100 are shown and 100 of those are from previously unknowns. I think they should make them all unknowns, from a purely selfish point of view.

Big Lens; How clever is that...
Of course the next best thing is to create your own version of the SE by getting a new app on your phone. My Dad, who has the national collection of camera apps on his i-phone, made me download "Big Lens" so that I could take photos of the artworks and then blur out all except the one you want to highlight. So I've done some practicing. Honestly, proper photographers must despair of people like me who spend hours taking decidedly below-par photos on their phones and then try to turn them into a retro-tastic work of art.

Unfortunately I did find one work I fell in love with. Even more unfortunately, the limited edition of 50 had sold out. Or, fortunately I suppose, from my teeths' point of view. I left feeling gutted (still do which means that I must have REALLY REALLY wanted it) but it did make me want to pick up a paint brush. One work looked like a giant Paul Smith hankie and was priced at 54K so it must be a great money-making scheme. I would need that much money to finance breakfast at Soho House. Luckily I was treated there on Friday but they charge 3 pounds there for half a grapefruit. As it's the venue where Sadie Frost's daughter famously picked up and swallowed a "discarded" ecstasy table, I can only imagine the person missing their "E" had dropped it in shock when they asked how much a piece of buttered toast was.

And so now I am home again. Still broke, though not quite as broke as I might have been, but sated for another few days and just about to call the dentist.

Only 14 weeks until the half-marathon. Perhaps I should get my priorities right.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A rumble in the jungle...

I have been humbled - well and truly humbled.

On Saturday I abandoned The Boy and the children and headed north for a rare night on the tiles. I put my nicest dress on and a pair of heels and, along with my lovely sister Stick, her husband and my dad, went to dinner with a bunch of nonagenarians and got to bed after midnight. How's that!

Chindit column, Operation Longcloth.jpg
A Chindit column crossing a river in Burma -
full of leeches and other nasties
The event in question was the annual reunion of The Chindits. For those of you who don't know, and that's probably most, The Chindits were an allied special force trained to work deep behind enemy lines in the Japanese-held jungles of Burma during the war. My grandad was one of these. They marched ridiculous distances through impossible terrain, often debilitated by malaria or dysentery and suffered from an extremely high casualty rate. I remember being cornered by Grandad one Christmas Day when I was about 14 and being told stories of being left for dead  in the jungle when his colleagues thought he couldn't carry on. He spent days on his own and eventually caught up with another column having seen unspeakable brutality on the part of the Japanese. As exciting as it seemed when I was a teenager, I didn't appreciate what he'd been through until Saturday night when I saw him with his ex-comrades and it almost brought tears to my eyes.

Clearly 90 is the new 40. Or 30 if you're younger than me and still under the impression that it all goes downhill from there on. I'd like to reassure you it doesn't. There were 26 of the original Chindits there, the oldest being 97, the youngest a sprightly 10 years younger. Grandad is 95 so at some point in the not too distant future he may inherit the crown of the eldest. They all chatted and enjoyed their wine and beer. The only difference between a nonagenarian get-together and one for the slightly more physically adept was that they all wore hearing aides. The conversations in the pre-dinner meet up in the bar went something like this:

Chindit 1; "Hello there"
Chindit 2: "Ey?"
Chindit 1; "I said Hello"
Chindit 2: "Very well thank you"
Chindit 1 "Busy, don't you think?"
Chindit 2 "Would I like a drink?"
Chindit 1 "No, I said it's busy don't you think?"
Chindit 2 "Half a bitter please"
Chindit 1 "Pardon?"
Chindit 2 "Ey?"

And so it went on......

Every year there are fewer and fewer of the original soldiers at these events until eventually they'll have all dwindled out and then they'll be forgotten which is incredibly sad. And I won't have any amazing stories of dering-do to tell my grand-children on a drizzly Christmas Day in 2052 when all they want to do is go and meet their mates on a street corner. Apart from that I used to try and manage 2 alcohol free days in a week and occasionally ran to the organic farm and back. Or that when Waitrose opened in Warminster I celebrated in their cafe with an extra shot in my Americano and a bacon roll.

But we had a great night and have signed up for next year. We managed to get Grandad home safely, handsomely bedecked in medals on the special Chindit blazer Nan had made for him in 1950. The only thing he complained about when he got home, apart from his teeth, was the fact that the organisers used to arrange a dinner dance and now there's no dancing. A sign of the times I guess.

So, something else new ticked off. I'm unlikely to get left in the jungle because that would involve setting foot in one in the first place but I'm going to join "Friends of the Chindits" and try to keep their name alive after they're gone.

And now, off for a run to the organic farm and back!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Come on baby, light my fire.....

Whoever said village life was dead? I think the very fact that Wessex Water want to build a great big carbunkle  (Prince Charles's word, not mine) of a pumping station in our village which I'll point out is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (more of that on a separate "rant" post) has brought us all together. We had our Jubilee Hog Roast and Beacon Lighting on Monday evening and sold over 200 tickets - not bad when you think that's probably the entire population of our string of villages. The heavens shone down instead of opening down on us  - a small window of sunny opportunity in an otherwise miserably wet half term week.

Waiting patiently

Come on baby, light my fire
Can someone put him out

The finished article
 This was a first for me - as I've said before I've never seen a beacon lit and it's a great spectacle. For once I could see the point of an elf and safety fence as the sparks rained down on the grass below and The Monkey tried to get as close as he possibly could. As is the way with all five year olds, they have to have an obsession with at least one of the natural elements. Luckily The Monkey's is water but I can see that changing to fire after Monday's inferno.

The history of lighting beacons as a method of sending messages and celebrating joyous royal occasions dates back hundreds of years. We could see at least 12 others from ours. Before the days of elf and safety this is what they looked like. No safe basket and 50ft wide cordon here:

Unless they also went in for human sacrifice then.

As you might remember, I took The Monkey on a dry run up the hill a couple of weeks ago and thought it had spectacularly misfired after he declared he was never ever going to do it again, ever. But the enormous pork bap must have fueled his energy because he waltzed up that hill without a wimper. He did, however, as he did the first time, complain on the way down that his heart was breaking and seemed in genuine pain. This seemed quite worrying especially given that he is having a general anaesthetic in a few weeks and we have already lost a cat to the anaesthetist's needle so I made a mental note to bring it up at his pre-op hospital appointment. Then I realised that he's only 5 and only really knows where his stomach and willy are and so the pain he was probably feeling in his "heart" was probably a bad case of stitch. It gets me every time when I run down that hill too.

But still on matters villagey. My friend, neighbour and drinking partner, J (haven't worked out her porn star name yet) and I were asked by the chairman of the village hall committee to have a look at last year's categories for the village fete competitions and inject some young blood into them for this year's. Consequently we have re-written them based on our talents and the equipment in our childrens' art cupboards. So this year we'll be no doubt cleaning up as far as 1st prizes go. What goes around comes around. Two years ago I was delighted to see a "stone carving" category in there. It seemed pretty random but I guess someone had recently been on a stone carving course and quite fairly assumed that theirs would be the only entry. It was lucky for me though - I'd just finished the famous penguin and promptly won first prize.

I am not at all competitive......

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Pimms o' Clock........again

So, everyone's getting a 4 day weekend. Well, almost everyone. Not the nice ladies who work in Waitrose in Warminster who have to work all weekend which is a good thing for me because I need to go and pick up my bodyweight in ice tomorrow for our village hog roast and beacon lighting.

And that was just my breakfast
But that's tomorrow, so today we decided to have our own party. I'd been getting all nostalgic seeing the bunting everywhere because it reminded me of the Silver Jubilee in 1977 when I was just short of 5. I remember sitting at a mile long table at school and stuffing my face with jelly. I was probably wearing my favourite Rupert Bear flares and my maroon velour top with my hair in pigtails. So what better way to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee than to go all retro. With our lovely neighbour providing prawn cocktail and coronation chicken we dined on a feast of retro delights. Unfortunately we had such a good time drinking Pimms that I clean forgot the Pimms icecream I went to great pains to make yesterday so it's still sitting in the freezer making eyes at me whenever I open the door.

Holy water 'Vice Lolly' by Icecreamists consists of one part alcohol (absinthe) and three parts water from a spring in Lourdes, FranceTalking of icecream - it's my new favourite hobby and each time I create a new flavour means that's something else gets ticked off on the "new things to do "list. For Burns Night I made chocolate and whisky which I have to remember not to get mixed up with the basic chocolate for the kids. Then there was rose and turkish delight and now Pimms and strawberry. But a friend sent me a link to a new ice lolly that's been launched in Covent Garden. The "Vice Lolly" is made from a blend of holy water and absinthe which is perfect because it assuages any Catholic guilt I ever feel for not going to church and gives that strong alcoholic kick at the same time. There are no reports yet of it sending anyone blind so could be worth a try next time I'm in the smoke.

This week has in fact been one great big cooking-fest. In fact I wonder how I've found the time to drink so much Pimms. I was forced to cook on
Wednesday because it was the Boy's birthday and
 it was either that or take him out so I opted for
making a paella which was followed by an
experimental birthday cake. As much as
 I love Victoria Sponge it can be a bit dull after two a week
so I made a version with ginger and an
 orange-flower-water and ginger butter cream. Cake with a kick.

Tomorrow, as I mentioned, is our village hog roast and beacon lighting.
We are lucky enough to have one of the national chain of beacons
on our doorstep, albeit after an almighty climb. I'm super-excited because I've never seen a beacon lit. I guess it's a bit like a barbecue with lots of lighter fluid and a jumbo cigarette lighter. Hopefully the torrential rain won't put it out.

Just as a follow-up to my post on 50 Shades of Grey - I'm on chapter 7 and no filth yet. Apparently it starts at chapter 13 and doesn't stop, according to Snooky Dougarry who has finished the first book in the prescribed 4 minutes flat and has promptly ordered the last two in the trilogy from Amazon. I also have it on good authority that it's the book du jour around the swimming pools of the Algarve. Apparently EVERYONE poolside is reading it.

Only managed one run this week. Is it any wonder?