Slugs and snails…

Out of the front door I go, to take the rubbish out. And there it is. Crunch. It’s a snail, squashed underfoot. I feel bad, I feel guilt. When I see a snail or slug on the drive, I pick it up and deposit it in a safe place.

Life is all about karma. What you do to someone, the way you behave, will come back on you at some point in the future. And with me it’s not just about people, it’s also about all living creatures.

The other day I came into my office and spotted a small black ball caught in a spider’s web. I picked it out and discovered it was a woodlouse – slightly distressed but able to uncurl itself and scuttle away across the patio. I felt good karma.

I’ve rescued mice and rats (yes, rats), worms, beetles and many a spider. This morning, Ispider-1397870 filled a plastic bottle with water to pour on some plants, and inside was a spider. As it floated to the top, I put my finger into the bottle and rescued it – it let itself down from my finger on a thread, and off it went. More good karma.

If I’m ever on holiday in a villa with a pool, I spend the early part of the morning rescuing all the insects that have fallen into the water overnight. Even the nasty biting ones.

Killing doesn’t come naturally to me. There are insects I dislike, wasps in particular. But if there’s one buzzing around my house I’d still rather catch it and let it go free rather than squash it. If I see a flattened frog on the road, I feel bad for days, even though it wasn’t me that did the deed.

But every spring for years, we’ve had a plague of flies in one of the upstairs rooms. I don’t for the life of me know where they come from, but suddenly there they are, clustered around the window, fat and sluggish. Myfly-1391648 first instinct is to catch as many as possible and fling them out of the window. But when that doesn’t work and the flies keep coming, I have resorted to fly spray. And then I feel guilty for weeks. Bad karma. Death by fly spray can’t be nice.

I feel the same way about slug repellent, which I stopped using some years ago. Rat poison? No thank you.

I even hate spraying weedkiller on my patio weeds – what have they ever done to deserve it? Hence the natural jungle on the way to my front door. I tend to let things just grow. And I’ve been rewarded with violets, pansies, camomile and once a crocus, popping up through the cracks.   buddha-1307401-1920x2560

Perhaps I’m a Buddhist without knowing it. Although I can’t meditate for toffee (though I might for chocolate) and I suspect enlightenment is something well out of reach, as the older I get the more confused I become. Usually about where my glasses are.

So at the end, when my number’s up, I wonder if all those tiny creatures I’ve rescued will come to greet me at the Pearly Gates. Or will some very cross flies or squashed snails intercept me and wreak their revenge?

Deer, oh deer, it’s catching

As children we were dragged around the New Forest every Sunday for a bracing walk before sitting down to the weekly roast. And, without fail, our mum would spot a deer. Or two, or three, and sometimes a whole herd. “Look, look, over there!” was her cry, as we peered in the general direction of her waving hand to see… absolutely nothing.

It happened so frequently that, of course, it became ingrained in family legend. The vaguely, nay, highly batty mother of five (who had an equally barmy university lecturer for a husband), seeing deer around every tree, prancing through every glade, bathed in sunlight, dappled Bambis all.

At what point, I wonder, did the second sight (of deer) get passed down a generation?

It didn’t come as much of a surprise when I realised I had started to sound like my mother, especially after I had my own children. After all, she was in the frame for the first 18 years of my life, something was bound to rub off on me. I hear it in the way I speak to my children –  I have the same tone of voice. Then there are the phrases (“cough it up, might be a gold watch” “sun’s over the yardarm”) – crikey, at times I thought I was becoming Beryl the Second.

But seeing deer? I think this might have started happening even before she conga’d her way to the Great Pantomime in the Sky, but it is certainly the case now. On the very day my mother left us, I was driving down the lane when three deer leapt from the hedge and trotted calmly across the road in front of me. Since then, I regularly see them, usually in the distance but sometimes breaking cover right under my nose. Every time I feel really thrilled that I’ve seen deer.

It’s only natural that my four brothers guffaw merrily when I mention any occasion of seeing deer. My teenage children really aren’t that interested, they never see the deer (though let’s see what happens when my daughter has children of her own, will she take on the deer mantle?).

I’m not sure why I love to see deer more than many other animals. It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a softy when it comes to animals in general, but there’s something about deer, their shy way of life and their grace when they leap.

Whatever it is, there’s something quite comforting in being the deer spotter in the family. There’s something quite comforting in realising that it’s perfectly okay to be batty, too.

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Penny-pinching, moi?

When my children were young and we were living more or less on a single salary (and not a high one at that), finances were an endless juggle. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. And neither of them were wealthy either.

Both being self-employed, there wasn’t much in the way of support from the State, maternity pay was hilarious at £50 a week, and tax credits gave us £34 per month for a few months (and we had to pay some of that back some years’ later, I’ll never know why!). So I made do, and somehow made it work.

Now, I wasn’t brought up to be ungenerous or thrifty – my widowed mum was forever splurging out on things she couldn’t afford; holidays, dinners out, treating friends, theatre trips – including, once, double glazing which had me shouting down the ‘phone at an unscrupulous salesman of the type that preyed on widows who really should have known better. Apart from the windows, my attitude was ‘Good for you mum – life’s too short!).

I too, have a habit of wanting to punch above my  financial weight. I’m not stupid or profligate, I just want my children to try out things: ballet, horse riding, Tae Kwando, or learn to play a musical instrument, and definitely have plenty of pants and socks without holes in them for heaven’s sake. That’s the way I roll…

But even now, when things are a little easier with an upsurge in income (equalled by an upsurge in working hours), I’m finding it hard to shake off that feeling of guilt every time I buy something.

“Do we really need that?”

I have one of those magnifying mirrors (no, I don’t need to shave) which for a couple of years has been loose with the consequence that I have to crouch in all sorts of weird positions when I’m trying to apply mascara. I need a new one, but how do I justify it?
When I decide to buy towels to replace nasty old ones that can stand upright on their own so stiff are they, oh what a dilemma I have. Heaven forbid we have fluffy towels that actually dry us rather than exfoliate our skin.

I wonder at what point, if any, I will shake off the guilt of spending money on things I want to enjoy. Well today is the day! I’ve ordered the magnifying mirror from Argos and I’m on my way to pick it up. As long as I can prise my debit card from my purse when I get there…

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Toilet reminiscing

When I was growing up, the only toilet roll available in my parents’ house was Izal. You have to be of a certain age to remember Izal. But if you know it, then I imagine that reading the word has made you quake with fear. Or shake with laughter.

Izal 2For those who don’t remember it, Izal was a toilet paper that was rather like tracing paper. I don’t know who invented it, or why. They may have thought it was step up from newspaper, but in reality, it wasn’t. There was nothing good about Izal whatsoever. Even though it was ‘medicated’ (say what?). It did not do the job (literally).

We knew we had gone upmarket when a second toilet roll holder appeared in our loo. This one was for ‘soft’ toilet tissue. What a revelation. It worked! It didn’t chafe! But the question begged, why did we continue to have Izal as well? My guess, now that my parents are no longer with us for me to ask, is that the Izal was there for when the soft loo roll ran out. So why not have two soft rolls? That, my dear, would be extravagant! I have a vague memory of being told at one point that the soft roll was for visitors. But I might be making that bit up.

Running out of toilet roll was a terrifying ordeal, but one that happened with alarming regularity in that house. The toilet was in a little room of its own, and frequently a loud wail would emanate through door. Whoever was about knew what it meant. A dash to the cupboard for spare loo roll to be handed surreptitiously through a crack in the toilet door. And… relax. I am fixated with ensuring that my own children are never faced with this horror, keeping copious amounts of soft loo roll available AT ALL TIMES.

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That childhood toilet was a hotbed of action. There were seven of us in the family, with one toilet between us. It was a travesty. When we were small, we seemed to lock ourselves in frequently, with dad having to climb the ladder to explain how to unlock the door. I don’t think he could get in the window as it was too small, but I have a vague memory of squeezing through myself, probably to rescue the youngest. That’s you, Andy.

The loo was also home to Reader’s Digest magazines, and later, lots of those silly books that people give to others at Christmas when they can’t think of a decent gift idea. ‘The worst places in Britain’, ‘Fifty Sheds of Grey’, that sort of thing. Why books in a toilet? I suppose to give us something to do. I have no books in my own (I am dead posh, with two loos and a picture of a saint in one).

The house was sold some years ago, after my mum danced her way off this mortal coil. But that toilet, with its double toilet roll holders, silly books, a window that often had a ladder next to it, and, above all else, Izal, means it will remain in my memory forever. The smallest room in the house, but one with many a tale to tell.

‘Tis the Season to Eat Holly

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When I was a young lass, Christmas was a magical time. It tended to start in December with the Advent calendar (no chocolate back then, just the excitement of opening a little flap to reveal a snippet from the nativity scene, with Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jee always behind number 24).
The Christmas tree came into the house about a week before Christmas day, and was duly decorated in a jumble of mismatched Christmas DSC_0004_renamed_22729decorations of varying quality, including a very sad fairy that topped the tree for many years whilst deteriorating before our very eyes. The Chinese lantern lights though, they were always amazing. I have them still, and one day I will find someone to make them work again.
A friend of our parents, known as Mouse, always gave the family a homemade cardboard snowman or similar, with little gifts tucked inside.
There was always the Crib service, where local families would pile into St Nicholas Church in Stoneham and troop up to marvel at the lambs, donkeys and kings in another nativity scene. We’d sing our hearts out and be very proud of ourselves when we were old enough to break away for the descant parts in the carols. Small pleasures.
In our house we didn’t have stockings, we had pillowcases, laid at the bottom of our beds. There was such anticipation, we never had a clue what Santa would bring, despite our hopeful Christmas lists. Some years there was joy, others disappointment (I really didn’t want a giant doll when I was 11, and the suitcase I received at 13 made me wonder if my parents were hinting at something – well, I was an obnoxious adolescent).
As I grew up, the festive season continued to be special as it became centred round friends and alcohol, but always with the huge family gathering, a chaotic Christmas dinner and the legal requirement to wear any Christmas pants on your head, and socks on your hands (which made eating the Christmas meal rather tricky). Mum was up at 4am to put the turkey in the oven, and the Brussels sprouts were cooked at least a week in advance.
Christmas has changed over the years, it’s no secret. As children, we weren’t subject to aggressive advertisements for toys from September, or the constant expectation of having ‘the best Christmas ever. Ever, ever, ever.’ We didn’t demand gifts costing hundreds of pounds. If we had done, we wouldn’t have got them. As my own children grew up I got a little sucked into the commercialism, chasing around after the year’s ‘must-have’ toys and trying hard to make everything perfect. It was exhausting.
The ‘meaning’ of Christmas, whatever your faith, has more or less gone down the plug hole. I’ve no idea anymore what it’s all about, although the word ‘greed’ comes to mind. So, I was amazed this year when I said to my teenage children that Christmas would be a little quiet, and the presents not terrifically thrilling. They both replied that Christmas was about family aDSC_0002_renamed_5672nd being together. And actually they’re right, that is the meaning now if we can only hold on to it, which I think gets harder every year.
Suffice to say, despite (or perhaps because of) my best efforts, our own Christmas tree is a jumble of mismatched Christmas decorations of varying quality. Although we sadly don’t have that dilapidated angel, who was consigned to the Great Tree in the Sky many decades ago, this year we did have Rudolf the Red Nosed Camel, and for that I will always be grateful.

Oh how the other half lives

David Playford sxc (playboy)I do like Graham Norton, I’ve always loved his irreverence. No guest is entirely safe. On a recent Star Wars-centric episode, it was fantastic to see Carrie Fisher. She looks naturally aged, I love her for that – irreverent and slouchy, just fabulous. Another guest, Kylie Minogue, shockingly didn’t look like Kylie anymore. Pop Princess with an immobile forehead. That’s sad.
The show included an appearance by David Beckham. Famous for football and for being quite a pretty bloke. Well don’t get me started there, football schmootzball. I actually think Mr Beckham is a decent fellow, but why he’s so famous I will never understand. Looks, pop star/fashion designer wife, loads of money. Maybe that’s it, maybe that’s enough.
Beckham was asked if his sons went to the Star Wars premiere. Well of course they did. And they were probably taken there in a private car, bless them. But I wondered just why these particular children had been given invites to the premiere, save for the fact that they are sons of ‘celebs’ and one of them has lots of followers on Twitter. Yay. I hope he has some real friends too.
How much nicer would it have been if invitations had been given to children who don’t have the privilege of wealth? Some kids who aren’t going to get thousands of pounds-worth of the latest must-have ‘stuff’ for Christmas, who aren’t able to borrow their dad’s Armani jumper.
I often mentally rant about the injustice of the division of wealth, usually while I’m walking the dogs in my leaky wellie boots and my socks have just got wet.
But there’s a recent thing I keep seeing on TV that’s causing my jaw to drop, in a most unsightly fashion. It’s called ‘Rich Kids of Instagram’ – all to do with how the young uber-rich like to flaunt their wealth. Buying a Birkin bag for £30,000 (seriously?) and ‘stuffing wads of cash in their pockets to show off’.
Apparently the rest of us are desperate to know about the lives of these people. Really? Are we? Or would most of ‘the rest of us’ actually prefer not to know that some young idiot pours himself a bath of champagne that costs the same amount of money as most people earn in a month, or horrifyingly, a year?
I know I’m ancient, old-fashioned and probably a little bitter, but I’m also principled, always have been, and this sort of thing, so blatant, worries me, it really does.
In fairness, I did ask myself the question if my children had been offered tickets to the premiere of Star Wars, what would I have done? Well I’d have probably agreed to them going, because for them it would have been the experience of a lifetime. And yes, the popcorn would have gone everywhere. It might even have bounced off Kylie’s forehead. Graham Norton would have been entertained.

(Online) catalogue of disasters

Tesco 2I wasn’t going to ramble about this, but now I am at t’end of my tether (Northern voice please).

The background: I haven’t spent any of the Tesco Clubcard vouchers accumulated over the last year, so I decided to make the most of the current Clubcard Boost offer and buy a small laptop to take to client meetings. I duly ordered a Lenovo Yoga online for £299. My order went through, I received confirmation and a date to collect from the Honiton store.

Two hours later I received an email saying the order was cancelled. No reason given. I called Customer Service (to their credit, quick to pick up) who talked about low stock being the problem. Online, the item was still there, available, but now for £349. All very odd.

Three phone calls later, with money refunded into my account, an email gift card for the value of the spent Clubcard vouchers and Customer Services holding an extra £50 to cover the price increase (stick with me), I ordered the laptop again with them, over the phone. Order confirmed, email giving date to collect from the Honiton store. Three hours on, an email arrived to tell me the order was cancelled, without explanation.

I fired off a grumpy email online, to which no-one responded, and called first thing the next day. The Customer Service agent was as bemused as me (they have all been bemused, to be fair). He suggested that when the money returns to my bank account I hotfoot it to the nearest superstore and buy one on the spot to carry away with me then and there. I understand his thinking but I also think this negates the very point of online shopping for customers, like me, who live in the sticks.

I’ve wasted hours over this (shall I invoice Tesco for my lost working time?). It’s now a point of principle rather than a desire for this particular laptop. To my credit I have not had a single Mrs Angry moment with any of the Customer Service agents, they all did their best and all our conversations have been peppered with laughter. I have successfully managed to mask the rising hysteria in my voice.
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The present: I don’t think I want that laptop now even though it’s still there, apparently available to order on the Tesco website. I’ve lost the will to live.

Whatever the reasons for the cancellations, Tesco, every little helps, but nothing really doesn’t help very much!

I won’t even start about dented ovens from John Lewis and dented dishwashers from Argos. That’s for another time.

And all I want is a cup of tea in bed….

Back when I was but a mere snip of a thing, I would make my parents a cup of tea most mornings. It probably tasted vile, but this, for me, was an early way of helping out. For my mum had a brood of five, which must have been mind-bending. I have two and my mind is well and truly bent out of shape all of the time.

I suspect my desire to be useful started during my stint in the Brownies. Even though I never made ‘Sixer’ (I was robbed). I don’t know which part of ‘Brownying’ put it into my head that helping my mum out would be A GOOD THING. Whether she liked it or not.

I was, for a time, the household ironer. I’d iron anything, from sheets and pillowcases to my dad’s handkerchiefs. I think I ironed his Y-fronts once or twice, too. I made puddings for our Sunday roast (my eclairs were legendary) and Vesta Beef Curry for tea if mum was too busy to whip up her usual, liver and bacon. I made perfume out of rose petals in a plastic washing up bowl, and tried to raise household funds by selling this to our neighbours. I was very useful.

I peaked one Christmas when my brother Malc and I decided to take the load off mum for Christmas dinner. She was sceptical, but we proudly managed to get it all done and served up on time. And the Brussels sprouts weren’t cooked all to mush. However, halfway through the dinner, Malc went to the kitchen to get the peas, which we’d forgotten. He came back and asked if I wouldn’t mind checking something. In fact, the kitchen was filled with black smoke. Malc, I’ll blame him, had left the bone-handled fork in the turkey when he’d put it back into the gas oven, and it had caught on fire. Suddenly there was mum, stood in the doorway, arms crossed, a smug ‘I-knew-you-wouldn’t-manage-it’ look on her face. Well, at least we tried.

I’m wondering where I have gone wrong with my own children. If I ask them to help, it’s big deal. Even though the chores are minimal – emptying the dishwasher, sorting the plastics for recycling, stripping their beds, remembering to bring the bins in. Walking the dogs seems to be a demand beyond belief. Hey, that used to be the ultimate pleasure for me, escaping the madhouse of my four brothers for a walk with Hawker Siddeley Vicious Smith (also known as Syd) along a stinky stream that often had shopping trolleys living in it.

And I can’t remember the last time one of the kids brought me a cuppa in bed.
Kids these days. They don’t know they’re born.

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Underlay

Underlay 2Over the summer we’ve been ‘doing some work on the house’. Hey, we’ve all been there. I decided this would be a good time to update the carpets on the stairs and landing. After all, I could feel (and hear) the perished underside of the old carpet crunching beneath my feet every time I went up or down the stairs. And there has been a massive rip in the carpet at the top of the stairs for about 10 years, after our old cat Ollie (RIP) decided to attack it. That’s not the reason he’s RIP, of course.
Carpets. I’ve never understood them. And I’ve never really understood what underlay was all about. I remember asking the chap who came to measure up last time if it helped noise levels. He said ‘not really’. I replied ‘then I’m not paying for it, thank you very much.’ So none of our carpets have underlay.
This time round, I thought I’d splash out. In the great scheme of things, it didn’t seem that much more to get the underlay. I was going to be broke afterwards, so I decided I’d be broke in style.
Well, what a difference. The carpet is bouncy and soft to walk on. I don’t have to wear my Moshulu slippers when I tread on it. My toes are toasty. A bit of my house is actually quite luscious. As long as you keep your eyes on the carpet and no further.
So now my life is over. The football chant that sounds like ‘underlay, underlay, underlay underlay underlay’ goes round and round in my head. I have learned to appreciate underlay and figure that the end must be nigh. At least when I keel over, I’ll have a soft landing.

“Somewhere in a field… in Bristol”

Can there be a better way to spend a weekend than with a bunch of old farts in the sunshine at a retro festival? This was the 1980s revisited – my favourite era, when I was a drama student without a care in the world (apart from having to find time to crimp my hair between pints of vodka and lime).

First time facepaintedThere we all were, somewhere in a field in Bristol, the forty, fifty and even sixty-somethings, some dressed in what looked like rambling gear, others in Lycra that really shouldn’t be seen in the vicinity of a muffin top. There were quite a few bald heads going nicely pink in the sun. In the campsite, posh campervans and tents with blow up frames. We were armed with loo roll and anti-bacterial wet wipes – and I got my face painted for the first time ever. Ain’t no stopping us now….Bucks FizzWhat a mix of music! From Bucks Fizz with Cheryl Baker looking distinctly stiff in her high heels, to the Jam (without Paul Weller) who didn’t look any different. And this via Aswad, Betty Boo, Howard Jones, Jimmy Somerville and Nick Heyward. How invigorating it was to realise that most of the performers were older than us. In fact, some of them had their grown up kids performing on stage with them. No grandchildren yet, but give it another couple of years…

Hey – we were bolshie and fought our way right to the front for Chas and Dave. Once there, we were stuck and couldn’t escape the ‘Rabbit’ and some dubiously sexist lyrics. Oh well, what the heck, the simple solutions was to have another drink and sing along. When I say sing, that is debatable. At least we didn’t have the repeat from last year when a bloke turned round and demanded: ‘If you don’t know the words, DON’T SING!”

On the last day of the festival we took a well-earned break from nostalgia, lying back on rugs in the sun, relaxed and happy. Suddenly it was time for the Boomtown Rats – so we leapt to our feet. ‘Leapt’. Hm. We attempted to get up without groaning at the aches and pains in our aging bodies. But hey, we did it, and hobbled off to the arena to see Sir Bob leap around with the energy of an 18 year old. But he still doesn’t like Mondays.The Boomtown Rats (2656 x 1494)