How wet is a wetsuit

Down in Cornwall for a late summer holiday, the sun came out and sea was sparkling. There was no holding me back, and on the first evening I donned my swimming cossie and threw myself into the surf with gay abandon.

To be fair, it was pretty chilly, but after the first few moments when I wondered briefly whether my heart had actually stopped beating and if I had turned as blue as an uncooked lobster, I was in seventh heaven.

But as I looked around me, all I could see were people, young and old, in wetsuits. Some of them looked faintly shocked at the sight of an aging provocateur splashing about in the waves revealing her glorious white bits.

When did wetsuits become de rigeur, I wonder? For surfing types and intrepid divers who swim into the depths I confess it makes a lot of sense to suit up. But for people skipping waves in the shallows?

Cornwall wetsuits (2)

Childhood memories

Most summer weekends of my childhood were spent on Highcliffe beach, which is just the wrong side of the Hampshire/Dorset border (I’m a Hampshire Hog, you understand). My brothers aRuched 2 (2)nd I would gambol in the sea all day long, wearing unfashionable swimsuits – well everybody did in those days. I have a horrible memory of ruched nylon in a nasty flowery pattern – and did we wear crocheted swimsuits – surely not! (I survived but if you have ever wondered why I have no fashion sense, wonder no more).

Protection from the cold of the English Channel was unheard of. We stayed in the sea or mucked about in rockpools until the sun went down, apart from coming out for the ubiquitous sand-filled picnic lunch. Boiled eggs and sweaty cheese.

I don’t remember moaning about the temperature of the sea, even as a skinny 8 year-old. Then again, we never went abroad for our hols, so we didn’t have anything to compare it with. Perhaps if we’d gone to Tenerife or Benidorm we would have complained.wetsuit all over (2)

“Children these days don’t know they’re born”, sayeth I. Wetsuits, boots and gloves, and sometimes even a balaclava-type head warmer. It’s madness I tell you.We need our children to toughen up!

The cockles of my heart were briefly warmed on our last outing to the beach in Cornwall, when a tiny child tottered past as naked as the day he was born. That’s how you do it! I thought. Then I noticed his parents, both suited up in the funkiest surfy gear, and the cockles went cold. I fear that as soon as they find a wetsuit small enough, the naked child will be swathed in neoprene from head to toe, never to come into contact with bracing English sea water again.

As for me, I will continue to brave the brine with my goosepimples. There’s nothing like it.

(Next year, Greece. Nobody wears wetsuits there).








I’ve never been any good at flouting authority, bending or breaking the rules. My moral backbone must be very straight, because while common-sense tells me that towing the line isn’t the only way, something transfixes me with a Paddington Cold Stare every time I consider ‘behaving badly’.

Goody two-shoes

I am aware that some of my friends find it amusing that, in many respects I’m a little goody two-shoes. Those are the ones that smoked behind the bike sheds at school, bike shedsstarting drinking age 12, wore the shortest skirts they could without being arrested, and those that were expelled. I worship their naughtiness. My worst crimes at school were once wearing a brown skirt rather than the standard navy, and going ‘on strike’ in the school hall to protest that girls should be able to wear trousers. At primary school one lunchtime I stayed inside with Vicky Manley – against the rules – to sew up costumes for the school play. Headmaster Mr Blatchford discovered us, called us guttersnipes and told us to go home. I still think that was rather over the top for two 10-year olds making bee outfits.

Tax dodgers

I have always been horrified by tales of tax avoidance schemes; the many, clever ways that big businesses and wealthy individuals find to wriggle out of paying tax through bright accountants who get paid a nice little earner to find loopholes. I wonder how it is they don’t have a conscience. Hey, I’ve declared just about every penny I’ve earned in my life. Even the £1 a day I earned as a decorator (after paying the child minder, that was all I had left). However, there’s a bit of me that now thinks differently about those cash-in-hand tax dodgers that I used to scorn. Now I’m more likely to think, why not? If a pop star skips pay tax on millions of pounds, why should the chap earning a couple of hundred quid painting some walls pay any either?  I’d dodge if I could. But then again, I probably wouldn’t.

On holiday

On a month-long trip to China it was a total surprise to me that we had to ‘follow the flag’. I’d never done anything like that before. I duly followed it to the best of my ability, until I was late back to a meeting point because my mate Julia had desperately needed the loo. We were made to feel like criminals, and almost frog-marched to catch up with the rest of the group. Publicly humiliated amongst the Terracotta Army in China, I felt cracks appear in my goody-two shoes persona.

In truth, the older I get, the more likely I am to transgress. This year I was asked to followFollow a flag in Sienna. I ran off up an alley, it was a moment when free will conquered. Hey, who knows, perhaps one day soon I’ll try and sneak on the train to Exeter without paying for a ticket. Or park in a disabled parking space and limp away from the car.

But I tell you, however hard I try, always at the back of my mind there will be the sense that I am the person holding together the tower of morality that keeps society from falling apart. It’s all down to me, for sure. So I won’t be sticking two fingers up at the taxman anytime soon. More’s the pity.

Who needs an award anyway?


When I was a kid, one hundred or so years ago, awards at school tended to be restricted to those who performed superlatively at sports.

Linda Moger, who could run a long distance race in the time it took me to get woman-jogging-blur-1429021-1599x2132to the fish and chip shop for scraps on a sneaky lunchtime leave of absence from school. (I just Googled Linda and there she is, still in Southampton, still running – now in Race for Life. All power, Linda).

Netball Sonia Richards, who was bustiest blonde netball GA ever in the whole universe. It’s true. Her beautifully poised shots had the whole team frozen in awe, let alone the opponents.

Karen Wilson whose javelin throwing took the school records to new heights (and lengths). I was a poor sequel to Karen when she left for sixth form, although I once achieved second place in Southampton School Athletics, mainly because only one other competitor turned up on the day.

Sports supremoes deserve awards. They are the rightful gods and goddesses of a school, in charge of the honour of the entire school against every other dastardly (and no doubt poor) educational establishment in the local area. Or at least, they were.

Now it seems there are awards for everything. How about the award for being the smiliest student that ever walked the planet? Or the award for being a pain in the arse and getting away with it. The award for managing to get to school every day, rain, snow, floods and scarlet fever notwithstanding. The award for never having missed the school bus. I know someone who was never going to win that one. Eh, daughter?

But of course, it doesn’t matter what the award is for. When the winner of the award is announced, it will be from a particular cohort of children. The shining ones, the blessed. I discovered recently that even the children who win awards have been heard to say “It’s always the same people….”.

Blessed onesI am delighted for the blessed. I know many of them at our local school and they are, without a doubt, deserving.

But the whole culture can create a have/have not scenario. As in those that have an award to pin to their corkboard or place on their bookshelf, and those that don’t. The award winners are the ones that will go on to do well (we know this because we have been told).

Is it just me, or does this not infer that those who never win awards, and there are many, are less likely to amount to anything?  Just me, then.

There may be a tiny chip on my shoulder here for the lack of trophies gained during my own school life. Though I did actually win an award at primary school, I’ll have you know. It was a Platinum Pen award for the best illustration of a poem. And indeed, I won a Platinum Pen (from the cheaper end of the range).

Did this award mean that I went on to do well?

One thing’s for sure, it was not as an illustrator.


Don’t Eat That!

It seems to me that just about everything on the menu is bad for us these days.


I don’t doubt that there is an issue of obesity and likewise, I don’t doubt that there’s an increase in allergies. When I was a schoolkid, I was the only one in my class with asthma, wheezing away in the corner. Now it seems every other child has asthma. My own son has a peanut allergy. I don’t know why – no-one seems to know why. Did I, or did I not eat peanuts during my pregnancy? Am I guilty of doing something to give him that allergy (as if I don’t feel guilt enough already at my less than perfect attempts at parenting).

What I find amazing is that the diet of my generation growing up in the 1970s was pretty appalling, yet many of us seem to have survived (relatively) unscathed.

The diet of the 1970s

Think about it. Did you, come on, own up, ever eat Vesta Beef Curry? All those chunks of delicious, rehydrated meat… or the Vesta Chow Mein with crispy noodles – flat yellowy strips that you coSpamoked in a pan of boiling fat until they puffed up – full of the fat. Nice. Fat had a lot to do with Spam. If you’ve ever eaten a Spam fritter you might wonder why you’re still alive today.

How about Findus Crispy Pancakes? Pancakes covered in breadcrumbs available in various fillings (including, we learnt a few years ago, horsemeat). I couldn’t believe it when I discovered these were still being made until this year. Why oh why?

And who could forget Smash? For mash, get Smash. Nasty beige coloured powder that you added boiling water too and fluffed it up into a bowl of nasty beige goo. It had a certain tang that remains with me to this day.

For pudding, Angel Delight. What WAS that made of? Certainly nothing celestial.

And the non-processed food?

I remembered recently that my mother not only made a big tray of Yorkshire Pud for our Sunday roast, if any was left over after the meat course, we’d eat the rest for pudding, with great daubs of golden syrup. Lovely. And chips, although cut from fresh potatoes, were cooked in a deep fat fryer with fat that seemed to last around 10 years before it was changed.

Vegetables boiled to within an inch of their life! No such thing as a steamer in our household. Just a pan of water filled with carrots, bubbling away for hours. Sprouts? They took approximately two days to cook properly.

Okay, I exaggerate slightly. But what I’m not sure about is what is it now that’s making the difference? Most of us have some awareness of healthy eating. I call myself a mix and match parent. Sometimes I don’t have time, or I’m just too tired, or I haven’t been able to get to the shops, so the pizza will come out of the freezer. Other times I love to create homemade stew, make a pie or rustle up a stir fry. My children seem okay, they are relatively slender. They both exercise, which helps (although I heard today that you’d have to run half a football field to burn off the sugar in one M&M…

I suppose the moral of this story is nothing strikingly original. Moderation is key. Balance is important. Even too many aduki beans won’t do you that much good in the end. I don’t think you need to ask why.


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.

The cracks between the walls

cracks in wallsThere may be one or two people ‘of a certain age’ out there still watching Dr Who. If so, you might recognise the phrase ‘cracks between the walls’ – a reference to the cracks created by the Silence when they blew up the Tardis.
Eh? Not following so far?
Well, in fact, the Dr Who thing doesn’t matter. (I don’t really follow it these days, it’s all gloom and doom, wars and endings of the universe. Pah! Bring back Betty and jelly babies I say). But the cracks in the walls thing does matter. Because my life seems to be made up of cracks in the walls. Gaps, breaches, apertures, openings, where important things can hide when they don’t want your brain to remember them.
We all laugh, ha ha, about losing items as we get older – glasses, wallets and keys being the most common, I think. Everyone knows that feeling of opening a cupboard and forgetting what we opened it for, or going upstairs to get something we really need…. we really, really need. Which is… Oh for goodness’ sake, what is it? Where is it? Who am I?
What’s your record time for standing there, stock still, hoping for a clue whilst gazing into the middle distance like a statue? All these question marks, there was a time when there would be just one.
I suspect the whole thing is way more sinister than simple memory loss. I have a strong suspicion it’s those cracks in the walls. I believe the glasses, keys, Lost keypens, matches, socks and sometimes cars (who hasn’t returned to a car park with not the foggiest where the car is parked?) have fallen temporarily into those cracks, or, even more weirdly, been snatched by something living in the cracks.
When we pick up the phone, and can’t remember who we’re about to call? It’s not part of the aging process, no! It’s because our memory has also fallen into the cracks. Or because the boggart living in the cracks has borrowed it. Perhaps just to find out how to make a boiled egg or whether Tesco has a BOGOF offer on chocolate oranges. Good luck with that, boggart.
Sinister, you see. It’s nothing to do with getting old, no. It’s a conspiracy. Please let it be a conspiracy.

Now, where’s my cup of tea gone, I could have sworn I’d put it right here…

Spatial Awareness, Nil Points

Bracken (2)When I was young (oh so much younger than today), I was a very balanced person. Not in terms of mentality, you understand, but co-ordination. In rounders, the crucial fourth base who could catch every ball thrown at her. Even those thrown by Demon Headmaster Mr Blatchford, memorably a blinder from the bottom of the playground that left my hands stinging for days. Netball, goal keeper (GK) extraordinaire, able to toss that ball almost carelessly into the hands of the waiting C (centre). Horse riding, dancing*. Gymnastics, walking the beam as if my life depended on it. Effortless balance, effortless grace. Until the past few years, that is.

I first noticed something had changed on my dog walks. Throwing sticks for ‘fetch’-obsessed Saffy, which, instead of flying through the air started to fly into trees. Or bushes. Or bracken, or gorse. Anywhere, in fact, where the dog couldn’t get them. Those that hit trees breaking into pieces, useless. Then tennis balls, thrown by Basset Green Primary’s ace fourth base, suddenly landing in rivers, getting stuck in branches, dropping into our fetid pond, irretrievable. Hanging washing out has become a trauma of dropping pegs into the grass. The garden is strewn with rotting and rusting pegs.

It was almost inevitable that this loss of co-ordination would lead to a personal injury. Well, this is me we’re talking about. I’ve been crashing about in the undergrowth for far too long, getting away with my penchant for ‘off-roading’ on my walks. This week, I finally walked into something. In fact, a rigid bracken stalk (there is such a thing, believe me). It poked me in the eye,  that very evil bracken stalk. It hurt.

After a few moments of excruciating pain I decided the only thing was to fall over as well, into a peaty puddle where I lay like a dead ant until the pain subsided.

So I am looking glamorous at the moment, with a blurry red eye making me look as though I’ve been on the cider for a long weekend. Patently untrue (though in all honesty, perhaps the degradation in my spatial awareness is actually a result of previous long weekends on the cider, wine, vodka, etc). Such joy.

*This is, in fact, a lie. I was always bad at dancing, apart from the ‘table’ manoeuvre in Laban technique.

Queue Jumping and (almost) Sweet Revenge

TaikoRecently I took the teen to see a Taiko drumming group, Mugenkyo. It was a Sunday night and a special treat for him, and me. We arrived in good time, and he said he really fancied a hot chocolate.
The queuing system at the bar was undefined – it seemed there was one queue for hot drinks and another for the main bar. The folk behind me appeared bemused, too, so I suggested they moved ahead of me if they wanted drinks from the bar, which they did, soon walking back past me with their drinks.
I stood patiently in my ‘hot drink’ queue with the teenager for a very long time. The man in front of me was getting antsy, and I was feeling a little fidgety, especially when I realised that there was in fact no separate queue. If I’d gone to the main bar I would have been served much more quickly.
Finally it was my turn and a pleasant barman took my order. Further along the bar, a lady spoke out in that loud type of whisper that can be so, so irritating. “She pushed in!” I realised she was referring to me, and I turned full sail, as it were, glared at the woman and boomed in my best Lady Bracknell, “I DID NOT push in! I’ve been waiting here patiently for a very long time!”
The woman, who was with a thin, balding man (saying that gives me pleasure I’m afraid), looked visibly shocked. “Calm down,” she said. Calm down? That was a red rag to a bull. I can’t remember my exact response but the teen asked me to hush (although he agreed later with my actions, admitting the woman was ‘very rude’).
During the show we sat five or six rows behind the couple. It took me a while to calm down from the queue debacle. The loud drumming helped, or maybe not. The biggest distraction was my burning desire to grab a handful of Josh’s sweets, Skittles, and rain them down upon the silly woman and her baldy partner.

 Now that would have been ‘sweet revenge’.

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.


Revisiting the scene of youthful crimes – the reunion

Is it a positive or negative thing to take a step back in time and visit old haunts with (very) old friends?

The reunion phenomena has been with us for a long time – in this country I suspect it kicked off with Friends Reunited. With this, of course, came tales of one-time lovers getting back together, ancient enmities finally put aside, and the blustering of the successful over the less successful. “I’m a hedge fund manager and I drive an Alfa Romeo.” “I’m a dustman and I drive a dustbin lorry. (But I have more hair than you).”

Reunionists (new word?) marvel at hair loss, spectacles, wobbly bits and the inability to stay up much past 1am let alone fall asleep in a corridor and wake up in the morning feeling fresh as a daisy. Though in all honesty I don’t think I ever managed the fresh as a daisy bit, I was more of the bottom-of-an-ashtray brigade.

CiderI’ve been returning to Winchester each year for five years, meeting up with student friends from the 1980s. And, in all honesty, every time we get together, it’s fantastic. For a single weekend, the years seem to melt away as we potter around the town remembering sneaking around student halls we weren’t supposed to be in, locations where we were just a little bit naughty (there’s a certain tree I can never walk past without blushing), and moments in time that will never be forgotten. Lost loves, lost hearts, lost hours after too many bottles of Rougement Castle English wine in the student union bar.

The pubs I worked in, the Queen Inn and the Black Boy, have no recollection of a former barmaid who was once the life and soul of the bar, who poured generous halves and often had a small one herself thank you very much. But I don’t care if they don’t remember me, I remember them.

Those days were the best. They were also the worst, but now with the wisdom of age we can celebrate the days before responsibility, before kids, before Specsavers.

Winchester UniQueen Inn