Friday, 9 November 2007

Middle Aged Moan

Why are so many people who work in shops so rude? Why? Why is that?

Have they always been so rude? Or have all the rude retail staff in the UK recently come to work in my local shops?

Today, I was in a shop to buy some milk. When I entered the shop, the woman behind the counter was on her mobile, to someone who may or may not have been on the council, to complain about a youth shelter that may or may not be being built. I know this because that was the conversation she was having right in front of me while I stood there at the counter glaring at her, and waiting for the privilege of paying her for my milk.

Eventually, after quite sustained glaring on my part, she said "Excuse me" and then apologised - to the person on the phone - and served me. That consisted of her saying "£1.30" (or whatever it was) and holding her hand out, whilst with the other hand she picked up her mobile again and resumed her conversation.

Sorry, what part of "I'm not doing you a favour by patronising your establishment, I am actually one of a special group of personages known as 'customers', who pay your wages and without whom you'd be out of business" do shop staff in my locality not understand?

I play a game now, each time I go to the supermarket. It's called "Guess how long it takes the check-out operator to speak to me?" (I'm working on a snappier title). Occasionally, the person behind the uniform will speak before he or she starts swiping my shopping through the scanner, at least to greet the customer before asking me for money. More usually though lately, I have found that I am completely ignored until the time comes to demand currency in exchange for the goods. And I say 'demand' rather than 'request' because the omission of any polite 'please' makes it so. In fact, next time perhaps I will extend the game and only answer actual questions or requests put to me. The words "nineteen fifty-four" don't actually constitute a request for me to pay that amount, they merely describe the total of my purchases. Or at least, I assume they do. For all I know, those words could be informing me of the check-out operator's year of birth. Or a guess at mine. Those figures could be the latest rugby score, or the the ages of the check-out operator's previous boyfriends (well, you never know with people, do you?) Next time, perhaps I shall say "What about it?" in am equally sullen manner to the person serving me, and then stand there and ignore them for 10 minutes and see how they like it. I would go and shop somewhere else, if somewhere else around here employed any cheerier, better mannered staff.

Perhaps I should apply for a job myself. Then I too could spend all day taking pointless phone calls and and getting paid for being rude to people. From the job description, it must be very similar to being Chris Moyles.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Superheroes In Cognito

I must apologise for my infrequent updating of this blog. Things have been odd since March. I cannot explain why, but I hope I will be forgiven by my small, but faithful, readership.

My toddler is developing at a frighteningly rapid rate. To my delight, his imagination has begun to involve both of us in enchanting, and sometimes bizarre, conversations lately. A couple of days ago, we went to a local shop for some milk. I know most of the staff, but there was a new girl behind the counter, smiling personably, and out to impress with her customer service skills.

"Aw!" she exclaimed as she served us, gazing at my toddler, who was clutching his chocolate buttons as if his life depended on the closeness of their proximity. "Aren't you lovely? And what is your name?" she asked him.

"Sarah," he replied, with an earnest expression on his face and without a hint of mischief.

Before I could speak, the girl replied "Oh, that's my name too! How lovely, we've got the same name!"

"Yes, " replied my son, and added "Sarah," again, for the purposes of confirmation.

"Do you know," The girl addressed me now. "I thought she was a boy! I'm ever so sorry."

"Don't be. He is."

She looked bemused.

"His name isn't Sarah," I added quickly, before she mistook me for an overzealous Johnny Cash fan. "Tell the lady your name," I commanded my offspring.

He deliberated. His chocolate buttons were already paid for.


I apologised to the friendly girl, and muttered something about it just being one of those days, and began to hustle my son towards the door. As we got there, he turned and looked back to the counter.

"Lady?" he called, as I began to open the door.

"Yes?" She answered him in anticipation.

He gave her a firm look, and as he stepped underneath my outstretched arm and through the open door, he declared, "My name is Spiderman."

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Arrested Development

There are few things in life more delightful than observing the progress of your young child's development as he grows from a baby to a toddler, and becomes a little personality in his own right who can communicate his feelings and thoughts.

The development of speech and language is particularly enchanting. There is enormous pleasure in watching your child delight himself with his shrewd observations of everyday life around him, and in listening to a small child's untainted and uninhibited take on the world.

Such beautiful moments of parenthood were illustrated to me today by a trip to the local supermarket.

As we wandered up and down the aisles, my toddler proudly sat in his little trolley seat and pointed out items he recognised, and helped me place them (albeit rather roughly) into the trolley when we came across something we needed.

Then we meandered into the clothing section and chose a new sun-hat for him, and I had a quick look at the ladies' lingerie section.

My clever little boy was quick to demonstrate that I had inadvertently failed to remember the golden supermarket rule; the trolley distance from merchandise/arm's reach ratio must to taken into consideration at all times. I realised I had been remiss in this department when my toddler energetically waved several pairs of ladies' undergarments around his head and shouted, at the top of his shrill little voice, with the pride of someone who has a new word to add to their burgeoning vocabulary, "PANTS!!! PANTS!!! MUMMY!! PANTS!"

Naturally, everyone within hearing distance - so most people in the store - turned to observe and admire this wondrous feat of early development, and were most interested in the implication that these size extra extra large enormous cotton pants were in some way connected to me. As I am not a pushy parent, I attempted to quieten the excited rendition of "THESE pants, Mummy? Mummy pants?" and return the articles to their hangers. It's amazing how strong a grip a toddler can have when he's holding something he doesn't want to surrender. And apparently Tesco have a method of putting women's knickers on hangers that is the equivalent of a Masonic handshake. Not just anyone can do it.

So if anyone reading this has the job of keeping underwear shelves tidy in a supermarket in Cheshire, I apologise for the several pairs of very big cotton pants strewn along the shelves in a haphazard fashion today.

They were the unfortunate casualties of an exquisite parenting moment.

And whatever my son said, they weren't my size.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Nuts in May

It's a beautiful day for dancing around the Maypole and celebrating Beltane, if that is the sort of thing you are wont to do.

The sun is bright, the trees are green, and it's unseasonably warm at the moment.

Which is why this morning, as my toddler and I passed complete strangers on our stroll, I felt the desire to explain to them that he chose the woolly hat he was wearing, not me.

Monday, 30 April 2007

Don't Call Us....

I would like to take the opportunity to pause for a suitable length of time to thank Cheshire Police for all their help when I needed their assistance a couple of days ago. Has a nanosecond passed by yet? Excellent; that is plenty long enough.

I don't wish to make light of the vast stupidity and incompetence on my own part in causing the situation I found myself in - it was a situation entirely of my own making. But my uselessness was matched very well by that of the police. So at least I'm not the only pointless person in the world - but then no-one pays me from public money to be pointless, so I have less of an obligation to be Of Some Use.

I managed, the other morning, to lock the following items in my car on a supermarket car park:

My handbag (containing keys, phone, phone numbers, money)
The car keys
My child.

The initial panic at the moment I realised what I'd done was really not very nice at all. After calling my sister from Customer Services and asking her to go to my mother's house to fetch the spare keys, I went back to the car and tried to persuade my toddler (using every method of bribery I could think of) to pull up the lock button on the nearest door, to no avail.

My sister and mother arrived, with a key - but not THE key. By this time I was starting to worry. My toddler had been in the car for quite some time and was getting distressed that I wouldn't get into the car with him. It was a warm day, and the car was getting hot. We thought about my mother staying with my car while my sister took me to get the key (as I knew what it looked like and my sister hadn't) but we were several miles from my mother's house and the traffic through town was busy - my toddler needed to be out of the car more quickly than that.

I have breakdown cover. But I couldn't remember who with. This is further evidence of uselessness on my part, obviously, but in my defence the cover came with the car under the Warranty so I didn't choose the provider myself, and the details were on hand in case of a break down; they were neatly tucked into the pocket of the passenger door.

So, we decided to call the local police station, hoping (not entirely unreasonably, I thought) that a police officer would be able to come out and open the car door.

After taking many, many details from me about myself and my car, the lady who had answered the call said they would come out as soon as they could, but that all they could do would be to smash a window.

I wasn't hugely impressed with that, since I could smash my own window, although I was of the opinion that I would prefer not to owing to the close proximity of the small child, and 'as soon as they could' sounded slightly vague. I tried to impress upon her that the car was hot and my toddler was distressed, and then we waited.

After ten minutes, my sister had a brainwave. The garage where I bought the car was only about a mile away; perhaps someone there would be able to open the car.

The police rang back. They had discovered that they didn't have a patrol car in the area, and didn't know how long it would be before they could attend.

My sister rang the garage, and the man who answered assured her he'd be here in five minutes - and he was. He and his colleague had opened the car within several minutes (WITHOUT smashing a window, I might add) and I was able to sweep my very hot and really rather cross toddler out of his car seat and into a relieved hug. Like Supermarket Superheroes, the men would accept no payment for their rescue effort, and jumped swiftly back into their car to return to work before I'd even had a proper chance to thank them.

Just before the moment that the garage men managed to open the door, my sister, my mother and I watched with incredulity as a marked police car drew up outside the supermarket, and in a leisurely fashion a policeman got out and wandered off into the store. Of course, it would be pure speculation on my part to suggest that the purpose of his visit was to perhaps procure some lunch.

And really, he should be congratulated. It is no mean feat to visit a place whilst being simultaneously nowhere near it.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Look At Me

A few days ago, it was reported that Macmillan Children's Books had signed one Geri Halliwell for a six book deal.

Ms Halliwell, formerly known as Ginger Spice and then "the one who left and released that bloody awful single and stopped eating", has a website about her forthcoming fiction debut, to render us all breathless with excitement at the prospect of the release of the Ugenia Lavender series and, if that were not enough for our delectation, a song to accompany the series.

On this website, there is an extract from Ugenia Lavender to whet our appetites.

Or, I fear, not.

I would dearly love to be able to say that the publisher has chosen this work because of its crackling writing and unparallelled quality and that the fact that it is written by a celebrity is irrelevant. Unhappily, being of an honest nature, I cannot.

This extract is the most appalling example of utterly dreadful writing I have had the misfortune to stumble across since I once accidentally read half a page of Heat magazine. The heroine's name puts one in mind of an unfortunate bladder infection, and the general standard of the prose is mind-bogglingly poor.

It is a travesty that Macmillan have published this, and all because it is accompanied by the name of a celebrity. At least, one can only presume that to be the reason, because according to the extract on the Ugenia Lavender website there are no other redeeming features to recommend it.

Is Geri really so self-delusional that, like the contestants of the X Factor who shriek like a thousand cats on fire and still expect to be the next...well, Geri Halliwell, she believes that she has a talent for writing fiction that will be enthuse the nation's children to become prolific readers? It is more likely they will decide never to pick up a book again on the basis of it; and who could blame them? Are Macmillan out of their minds? Or do they also prefer the name tag of a celebrity in favour of quality when they choose which books to publish? Can we assume that as Macmillan have chosen to publish this substandard work, they don't believe that children deserve or need reading material of quality and originality? How very insulting to the young.

The UK become so obsessed with the mindless celebrity culture that an Emperor's New Clothes phenomenon has been created. One can only hope that as these books are written for children that those children will, with the unpretentious and unbiased honesty of youth, point and laugh at these books and declare them to be naked of talent and merit.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

A Moral Foundation

Today, I bought some make-up.

I did not realise before I entered the shop how difficult the process would be, else I might never have taken the first steps on the long and arduous road to purchase some new foundation. I may well have considered that remaining flawed and blotchy forever would be an easier course of action than the one I was about to take. And believe me, I AM flawed and blotchy. Don't be fooled into thinking that would be a sight that would not scare small children and give old ladies fainting fits. It would. But perhaps I would not have cared about the pain of others, had I known that which I would have to endure myself.

I knew what I wanted, but they didn't sell it. They sold something really quite like it though - almost exactly the same, in fact - from a different manufacturer but 'they make ours anyway, so there's no difference'.

Only when I had naively sat in a chair at the make-up counter did the sales assistant add "Of course, our products are completely different to one you already have". I tried to move, but the bright light shining in my eyes prevented me from doing so, and I swear that invisible stealth-belts had silently and swiftly pinned me to the chair.

"Our products are more natural. Because we are more...fragrance-free and 'clinical'", the assistant assured me. "You know what I mean", she said, as a statement rather than a question.

I didn't know what she meant in the slightest but before I could inform her of this fact and ask her to clarify it in a way that made actual sense, she had loomed over me and scrubbed my cheek with a damp ball of cotton wool.

Instinctively I jerked my head away from her. "What are you doing?" I hissed, crossly.

"Oh, is it cold? Sorry." She smiled a slightly frightening smile. The fear I felt may have come from the fact that now she was standing at an angle which meant I was looking up at her, I could see the line on her jaw where her bare skin and her made-up skin joined.

"No, I mean what are you..."

"Just keep still for me there, that's it" she commanded, her hands steadying my head and preventing me from speaking, while she proceeded to slop foundation in a completely incongruous shade on to my newly cleansed face.

"I don't think that one..." I started, but trailed off as she quickly and thickly applied a stripe of a different colour below it, and a third below that.

"Right, I'll just serve this lady while you just sit there for a moment so we can see if your skin likes them" she breezed. "Don't worry, you won't look like a Red Indian for long!"

So I sat in a shop, the spotlight upon me, wondering whether there could be a more politically-incorrect remark for her to make, and sheepishly realised that I was trapped. Even without the invisible stealth-belts, I could hardly walk out of the shop and through the town with three big stripes across one side of my face. I mean, I like Adam Ant as much as the next person, but I have no desire to actually be mistaken for him.

Eventually, she returned. I had to admit, begrudgingly, that one of the stripes, when applied at a lesser ratio of half-pot of foundation : 2 square inches of skin actually looked quite good.

She scrubbed the rest off and applied the one I liked again on the whole of my cheek. I ripped through the stealth-belts and demanded that I take the mirror to the doorway to inspect the results in natural light, since she clearly hadn't performed that vital step herself. Perhaps she had done it purposely, as a warning to her customers. But I doubt it.

It looked fine.

I had a slight dilemma now. Buy this product from this scary lady who uses racist terminology and assaults women by cotton wool without prior consent.

Or face the prospect of having to do this again.

"How much is it?" I asked.

It was a few pounds less than the product I had originally intended to buy.

"I'll take it", I told her, as I shamefully sold my principles for the royal sum of £4.00.

To all persons native to America, I apologise. But in my defence, it really does look nice.

Sunday, 1 April 2007


Shortly after the last time I posted here, we had a family bereavement.

I will be back to continue blogging when I feel able.

(Whether that is a good thing or not is purely a matter of opinion).

Monday, 19 March 2007

The Eyebrows Have It

Last night, I was looking forward to the start of ITV's Jane Austen season.

Just before 9pm, I settled down in front of the television with a cup of tea and some chocolate and after hearing that the current series of the abominable 'Wild At Heart' had just finished, I was feeling extremely pleased.

I like a good period drama, and generally find myself able to watch them without the irritation some people feel at minor plot changes and exclusions, on the basis that they are adaptations of the books they represent, reworked for a different medium.

Small details don't affect my enjoyment. I am able to override my usually pedantic nature and just enjoy. Or so I thought, until the first time Billie Piper appeared on screen in Mansfield Park last night.

Immediately, she jarred my eye. She looked all wrong. She looked too present day. I sat pondering for a minute or two as to why that was; she was of course in full costume along with everyone else, so why did she look so out of place? I quickly realised I was entirely distracted from the storyline, and indeed the entire programme, by her appearance.

It took me some moments to realise that it was her eyebrows that were causing my dismay; they were as incongruous as two monstrous futuristic cyber-caterpillars in the early 19th century setting. They were a completely different colour to her hair. That, of course, was because her hair was very obviously bleached, in a very 21st century manner. This train of thought then prodded me to notice that she actually had dark roots creeping ominously through.

From then on, I just could not watch this programme and enjoy it. Every time she appeared, it irritated me to the point of desperately wanting Edmund to lock in her an attic and pretend she didn't exist, and then marry Miss Crawford instead. Yes, I know I'm confusing the plot with that of Jayne Eyre, but I just think it would have helped to borrow from it in this case. I would have been equally happy if the Tardis had appeared and David Tennent had whisked her off to annoy some Daleks, as long as he had taken the eyebrows as well. Actually, the fact that she looked as if she had one foot in the past and the other in the future actually made me expect this to turn out to be a surprise episode of Doctor Who. If it had been a BBC production, I think I would have been disappointed when he failed to appear.

I cannot comment as to how good or poor this was as an adaptation of Jane Austen's novel; I cannot even discuss properly what it was like as a piece in its own right, because I was so utterly absorbed in my pedantic objection of poor Billie's unfortunate hair and eyebrow anomaly that I eventually had to turn off the TV and do something less annoying instead.

All I had for consolation was the knowledge that next Sunday I can leave the television on after Coronation Street without being subjected to the rollercoster of emotion caused by Amanda Holden saying "Oh no, it's all gone wrong! We'll have to go back to England!" and raising my hopes, only to dash them to pieces again when they decide to stay in Africa for yet another tedious episode after all. Still, at least Jamie Theakston's not in it. You have to count your blessings.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

I've Forgotten My Lines

I think I have stage fright.

Since the list of contributors to Shaggy Blog Stories was announced yesterday, the number of people who have looked at this blog has risen considerably. Almost as many people looked yesterday than have looked in total since I started. It's very exciting, and a nice little boost for my ego, but I think I have a case of Rabbit In The Headlights syndrome.

I haven't been able to think of a single interesting thing to write since I realised people may actually be reading. You could say that I wasn't interesting in the first place, or point out that just because people are clicking on to this page it doesn't mean they're reading past the first paragraph, which made them yawn.

Feel free to say that. It is what I am saying to myself, to make myself feel less nervous.

It's quite ridiculous really; I write this blog in the public domain, and obviously I was aware of that when I started. I wanted people to read it, or I wouldn't have started. I'm not a complete mentalist, after all. Now there may be people doing just that, it's occurred to me that anything I have written is open to criticism. But that's ok. All I have to do is never say anything controversial again.

And Girls Aloud obviously haven't read it. Or if they have, they don't know it's me, because no-one has assaulted me in a pub toilet. I guess they're busy picking out their next victim for their hideous cover version crime spree. They've already destroyed poor Steven Tyler. Which poor, unsuspecting musician will they move on to next?

Using the term 'musician' loosely, wouldn't it just be beautiful poetic justice if they did a Ronan Keating cover?

Tracy Chapman, The Goo Goo Dolls and Shane McGowan would probably be eternally grateful for the opportunity to listen to such an act of revenge.

Sadly, there is one flaw in this plan; I'm not sure which of Ronan's offerings they could actually make any worse.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Shaggy Blog Stories

Buy this book.

I am in it.

So are 99 other lovely people.

You can buy it here:

All profits will go to Comic Relief. The kind publishers have even donated their profit share.

We are Steven Tyler. Non-purchasers are Girls Aloud.

You know what you must do.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

It's a Sign

"Nose Piercing While You Wait" and "Horse Carrots for Sale".

These are signs I saw today.

I used to have my nose pierced when I was younger. Luckily, I had it done by someone who did it while I waited, thus preventing the necessity of detaching my nose from the rest of my face and having to make an inconvenient return trip to collect it after I'd finished shopping.

Having said that, I suppose my nose not being part of my face at the time it was pierced would have meant that my eyes would have watered a whole lot less at the moment of hole punching. So that sign doesn't convey only advantages.

As for Horse Carrots...what are they then?

Carrots in the shape of horses?
Carrots made from horses?
Carrots for horses, specifically? In what way would they actually be different from ordinary carrots?

Answers on a postcard, please. I am intrigued.

Monday, 12 March 2007

An Antidote to Girls-Who-Shouldn't-Be-Allowed

Comic Relief used to be a thing of lighthearted entertainment. Lenny Henry wearing a red nose. French and Saunders collaborating with Bananarama. The time our headmaster was shamed and compared with Ebenezer Scrooge on the front of the Daily Mirror for not allowing red noses in school. (That was a particular highlight for me, being about 13 at the time and having a slightly nasty nature and contempt for authority).

This year, there is a Thing which I can hardly bear to think about, let alone talk about. And especially not listen to. Ever. It is a Thing of such Evil that one would be forgiven for wondering if one had been temporarily transported into the inner circles of Hell when one is subjected to the torturous power of it draining all the happiness in the world away.

It is the cover of 'Walk This Way' by Girls Aloud 'vs' The Sugababes.

I have, to misquote John Cleese, listened to it once but I think I got away with it. I have, as far as I can tell, made a complete recovery without any lasting ill-effects. Well, except for the nightmares and the urge to track down Steven Tyler and travel to wherever he is in the world at this moment, just to pat him on the head and say "Never mind. You could never have predicted the terrible effects your invention could wreak on the world if it fell into the wrong hands". Poor bloke. How devastating must it be to have been responsible for both the joy of the Run DMC version and the sorrow of this one. A Tale of Two Versions; it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Still, despite the horror of both the continued third world poverty and this year's Comic Relief song (I'm not crass enough to make a direct comparison of those two, by the way; it's obvious that the Girls Aloud Thing is much worse), there is a Good Thing this year too.

A wonderfully ambitious and exciting Big Idea by Mike at Troubled Diva, to produce a compilation of funny posts from British bloggers and publish it, with all proceeds to Comic Relief. The emphasis is on funny, as it's Comic Relief; (not Colonic Relief as you might think from the Evil Thing) and all British and ex-pat bloggers are invited to send Mike a submission. The deadline for submissions is 6pm on Tuesday 13 March 2007 and the resulting book will be available from Friday.

Mike explains it more fully, and just better, with this post.

Don't listen to the song, ever, if you can help it. Not even out of morbid curiosity. You'll regret it; take it from someone who has been there and recovered, with the help of many hours of (Aerosmith) therapy.

Contribute to the book, and buy the book, and help keep Comic Relief funny.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Creative Genius

This is my son's first piece of virtual art.

I'm very proud.

Can you spot Dumbledore?

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

From the Mouths of Babes

My toddler and I have both been suffering from nasty colds these past few days. Luckily, there are a couple of things that make my toddler feel better, cheering him up and stopping him from clinging to my legs, crying plaintively, every time I move.

The first is Harry Potter. The films, not the books. My son is (of course) very advanced, bright and brilliant for his age (try to find a parent who claims otherwise about their offspring) but even he cannot read novels yet. The Harry Potter films, however, keep him amused and entertained for many an hour, while his neglectful mother concentrates on things like sneezing and generally feeling sorry for herself.

The second is hats. Specifically, putting them on my head. When I say 'hats', I mean random items that could perform as a hat, with varying degrees of success, in the imagination of a toddler. In other words, everything he can find that isn't too heavy to lift and put on my head. So I have spent considerable time with plastic rings, cups and assorted cars balanced on my head lately.

Yesterday, his cough was keeping him awake even though he was terribly tired, and although he asked several times to be put to bed for a nap in the afternoon, on each occasion after 10 minutes' sleep he woke up crying. Eventually, we both curled up together and watched Harry Potter for a while, and he perked up. I held my precious babe close and stroked his forehead as we snuggled up cosily together, and as I gave him a loving squeeze I asked "When you're poorly, who do you need to make you feel better?"

All my illusions that my place as the most important person in my toddler's life is unquestionable came cruelly tumbling down as he turned to me, beautiful golden curls in adorable disarray, an angelic smile on his lovely face, and replied:


Monday, 5 March 2007

Blog Nonsense

Blogging is still a novelty to me. I am still new to it, and have been amazed that it has taken me so long to discover this big fat portion of online life that I really had no idea about. There are so many fascinating blogs to read! It's a whole community of people all linking each other and reading each other's blogs. I can't believe it's all been here so long without me noticing, but then I did tell you that being observant wasn't a skill I relied upon heavily.

I like blogging. Because you're not directing your post to anyone in particular, or answering anybody conversationally, it gives you a sense of enormous freedom to write whatever you like. Unfortunately, this usually means that I can't decide on anything because the possibilities are too enormous. If I can write about anything I want to, then it's also up to me to think of something that is at least vaguely interesting, and it's completely my fault if my blog is dull and tedious to the extreme.

But then there is another positive point thrown up by this negative one; namely, there are very view people reading it to care. And the more tedious the blog, the fewer readers still. So I can pretend to be a fantastic journalist type person, writing a crackling witty column for a daily national, but I don't have to worry about being sacked for being absolutely useless, or all my readers getting so fed up with the tedium of my writing that in desperation they turn to the Daily Mail instead. (I mean, I do worry about people reading the Daily Mail of course, but at least I can sleep at night knowing that I am not personally responsible for it).

So the more mind-numbingly boring I am, the fewer people read my blog, and the fewer people reading my blog, the less likely it is that there will be complaints about the excitement vacuum that is my writing.

It's a win-win situation.

Of course, some people might think I am really too old to be pretending to be anything at all. But they probably don't read this either. And if they want to read something better, there's always the Daily Mail.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Make Someone Happy With a Telephone Call

You know that guy who was the funny one in My Family, before he left and became a guy-with-a-girlfriend-who-has-two-kids-who-aren't-his because BT are so in touch with the times and therefore the whole 'blended family' concept?

What's he talking about in the latest ad?

"People say that the best things in life are free", he tells us initially.

"But sometimes", he then adds, wisely, with the air of someone who is about to make a terribly witty remark and add a breathakingly clever twist to a tired old saying, "The free things in life are the best."

Call me pedantic, but unless I'm missing something, that's actually completely the same.

It's really not on the same level as "He's got an 'ology", is it?

Bring back Busby, I say. It's good to talk.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Mental Dog

There is a farm some way further into the network of tiny lanes which sells home-grown potatoes. Sometimes they sell fat carrots by the bunch, bulbous beetroot, and tender spring cabbages, depending on the season. But the potatoes are what makes a visit worthwhile.

It is a measure of the how perfect the potatoes are that I buy mine there, despite the presence of Mental Dog.

Mental Dog is a new addition to the farm, and with the best will in the world, is not a successful marketing solution. He is bouncy, and happy, and full of enthusiasm. So much so that this morning, as I got out of the car in the farm yard, he'd crept up and skillfully removed the scarf from around my neck before I had chance to even try to stop him. He was away, bounding with glee and tossing the forlorn purple wool into the air as he ran. When he reached the field gate, he leapt sleekly through the bars, then dropped my scarf in the mud and rolled delightedly around, wrapping it around himself like a black, Satanic version of the Andrex puppy.

The farmer's wife chased Mental Dog to the field to recover my poor scarf as I resignedly pulled the zip of my jacket to the top, knowing that this would be my only chance of having a warm neck now. Mental Dog showed no remorse as his owner returned his loot, and grinned at me mischievously from the sacks of potatoes he'd scrambled upon while the farmer's wife apologised profusely.

The potatoes were free of charge, because of Mental Dog's lack of appropriate manners. Perhaps that's just old fashioned village trading.

Three pounds of potatoes. Cost: 1 scarf and 5 minutes' entertainment for Mental Dog.

Or maybe the entertainment was mine.

Archive Me

Here is a very small post, just so I can see posts spanning two months before I go to bed.

Yes, I am that sad.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

From Tiny Acorns

I've been blogging for 8 days. Embarrassingly, I am slightly excited that tomorrow is a new month, so I'll have a teeny archive comprising February's posts. I really need to get out more.

However, going out is really rather traumatic at the moment because I seem to be the target of an (amusingly small and pathetic) hate campaign lately. I think a red-haired teenager who frequently hangs about the children's play area (and I mean 'hangs' literally, upside down, from the equipment) is out to get me. Someone has been throwing mud at my front door and windows, and then cackling madly from a distance, possibly in a slightly manic upside-down kind of way.

It might not be him. I'm not completely sure. The road I live in forms a square with a village green in the centre, and after dark the 'kids' loitering around the play area that forms part of that green are largely hidden in shadows as the street lighting is only dotted around the perimeter. For this reason, I can't see who the perpetrator of this heinous crime is. In addition, I feel that opening the front door and standing there in full view while people throw mud at the house would probably not be the most brilliant of my ideas.

So why do I think the surly redhead might be my mud-slinging tormentor?

Well firstly, a few months ago I waded in and broke up a fight in which he was involved. The manner in which he was involved was that of someone who was repeatedly kicking and thumping another boy who was lying on the floor groaning "Stop" in a plaintive voice, and crying pitifully. The boy on the floor was smaller than the red-haired teenager by about a foot in height and three stones in weight. I was on my way back from the Rosie and Jim shop, and as it was the return leg I was of course carrying all the bags and my toddler, and thought my arms may actually drop off at any moment. So when I spied this disturbance of village serenity, I'm afraid my first thought was not for the welfare of any of the parties involved, but for my own poor arms which would now have to bear the weight of all the bags and children for even longer while I went over to tell the red-haired boy to bugger off, and which I feared may actually resemble those of Mr Tickle by the time I eventually got home.

So, arms protesting and toddler making growling noises (he was being a lion; he wasn't trying to join in with the action by pretending to be a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal or anything), I walked over, eyes rolling in annoyance and told the red-haired boy to bugger off. As I approached, he loosened his grip and the smaller boy scrambled to his feet, still crying. I asked him if he was OK, he said he was, and he hobbled off. Red-haired boy then tried to explain how it wasn't actually his fault that small boy had been on the ground receiving numerous blows to the head, because small boy had started it, by throwing...wait for it... a mighty acorn at red-haired boy. Harsh, you may think, but my arms and I did not consider this to be mitigating circumstances, and we told him so. There was no further conversation, as my arms could bear the small talk no longer, and we wended our way home with "I'LL SHOW YOU THE SCRATCH THAT ACORN MADE IF YOU LIKE" ringing in our ears.

Since then, red-haired boy has developed a Look. He uses his Look on me every time he sees me, to show me that he is not scared of me. I Look back at him to show him that I am not intimidated by his Look - did I mention that I am also about a foot shorter and 3 stones lighter than he is as well? Sometimes red-haired boy likes to be tough, and get in my way. He only does this when I am in the car; he'll take a couple of extra seconds getting himself and his football out of the road when I pass by, confident that I can't get out of the car or drive over the grass verge to get him.

If I am on foot, he just gets the hell out of my way.

Aside from these Western style 'this village ain't big enough for the both of us' run-ins with red-haired boy, my reasoning that he is the likely culprit of my muddied front elevation is that it's almost certainly not the small boy I stuck up for in that fight, or the middle-aged couple next door, or the pensioner at the end of the row, or Crazy Teaspoon Lady.

Actually, it might be Crazy Teaspoon Lady. After all, I never did marry her son, even though out star signs matched.

Monday, 26 February 2007

Bitter? Moi? Pas du tout

Today, I am mostly envious of Petite Anglaise.

The English blogger living in Paris has almost replaced JK Rowling at the top of my list of "Women of whom I am most insanely jealous and wish to be", in the style of the popular 1992 film "Single White Female". I have both admired and hugely envied the success of JK for many years now. Is there more perfect a life than spending your days inventing clever and entertaining plots to enchant children and bewitch publishers, while amassing more money than the Queen in the process? Well, perhaps not the Queen. But certainly Brian May.

We all know the fairytale rags-to-riches story of JK Rowling, which is almost as famous as her novels. A struggling single mother with a prodigious writing talent and a gift for storytelling, she wrote much of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone in a cafe because she couldn't afford to heat her flat. It is the fact that there are so many similarities between JK Rowling and myself that leads to my envy, you see. I am a single mother. And I can't afford the heating bills, really. And....well, sadly that's the end of the likeness, which is possibly why she has made about 729345 gazillion pounds from her writing and I haven't. But that is really a mere detail in the grand scheme of things.

And now Catherine Sanderson, another single mother and the author of the well-known and extremely popular Petite Anglaise blog, has stirred my green-eyed monster. Catherine was unceremoniously sacked from her PA job in the Paris offices of the private client accountants Dixon Wilson last year because they objected to her blog, and is now working on a two-book deal for Penguin, said to be worth half a million pounds. Her blog was the inspiration for this one, after I stumbled across Petite Anglaise from a link in the Daily Telegraph (which I don't habitually read, I hasten to add, although I don't recall why I was perusing their website on that occasion) about a week ago. Petite Anglaise is elegant, mature and interesting, so quite obviously I haven't yet successfully emulated it.

So here is another woman with whom I have much in common, yet whose success eludes me. We are both of an age, both single mothers to young children....both, um.... Hm. Well ok, the Trent and Mersey canal isn't quite the equal of the romantic Seine, and she has a daughter and I have a son, and my writing isn't really a patch on hers, and... Wait a moment; there's a common theme coming through here, in that both women I have discussed are far superior to me in terms of their writing ability and natural talent. But then let's be sensible; you can't draw a safe conclusion from only two examples, can you? So that's probably irrelevant. And of course, I am ignoring the enormous amount of stress that her sacking and subsequent 'outing' must have caused Catherine, because that is what unreasonable, bitter people like myself do.

Despite my irritation that I too am not earning millions of pounds from scribbling a few words here and there when I have a moment spare from living a fascinating life in the French capital (because we all know that writing a book is THAT easy, obviously) I must admit to taking a certain feeling of pride and inspiration from reading about Catherine Sanderson, as I always have from JK Rowling. These women do much to dispel the dismal stereotype of the single mother, and for that, I truly thank them.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Ode to Daniel

Daniel oh Daniel, you're a wonderful Bond,
It made no odds to me that you're short and you're blond.
It was worth every penny of the cinema fee,
When like Ursula Andress you rose from the sea.
Le Chiffre wept blood, but you weren't impressed,
You weren't even stopped by a cardiac arrest.
You were bruised, smacked and battered, and beat til you bled,
But you never said “Sod it, I'm off back to bed",
You went back to the table for your government's sake,
(Just exactly how many spare shirts did you take?!)
Your balls you got whipped when with villains you tarried,
Montenegro looks nice - let's go there to get married.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Large Letters and The Big Issue

Today, I decided that it is probably time to make more effort with my appearance. I decided this because a man selling The Big Issue looked down at me for being even scruffier than he was.

I had my back to him, and on hearing him speak to me I looked around and said "No thank you, I haven't any change". He looked me up and down, clearly concluding that I was not the sort of person to ever "have any change", then tilted his head to once side and said "Sorry, darlink", in a manner which made me think he wasn't apologising for asking me to buy a copy of his magazine but for the whole miserable life I must lead to be standing in the rain outside the town Post Office with wild hair, no make up and wearing old clothes.

It is the village Post Office's fault that I was even standing there in the first place. I'd been to this tiny Post Office, which is situated inside the Rosie and Jim shop, to post some things that may or may not have been parcels, depending on if they were Large Letters or not. Now that the Royal Mail has made it absolutely too confusing for me to have the first idea how much the postage is for anything, I needed the assistance of the Post Office Lady. The village Post Office is open until 1pm, or so I thought, so at 12.30 I arrived to send my parcel/Large Letter items (after giving them peace of mind by solving their identity crises).

"Won't go until tomorrow now", Post Office Lady says as I approach the counter.

I frown in confusion, and ask why.

"Postman's been" she explains.

"What, already? I assumed he picked them up after 1pm, since that's when you close."

"He comes when he likes. Between 11 and 1. Usually. Then it won't go until the next day."

"So he comes at 11 some days, even though you're open until 1pm?" I ask her.

"Sometimes we close at 4.30", she says. "Depends."

"Oh, what days are you open until 4.30?" I ask, stupidly.

"Depends", she repeats, as if that were a full explanation.

"So...if you're open until 4.30, surely the postman must pick up the post again after this time of day?" I ask.

"No", she says wearily, as if to an annoying child "Because we're not here because we shut at 4.30."

"Well what time does he collect then?" I ask, in frustration.

"About 5" she says.

Thus, despite my best intentions and attempts to patronise my local sub Post Office, I decided to just take my parcel/Large Letter items into town and post them there.

I did this, and just as I was leaving the Post Office, the menu in the window of the new restaurant next door caught my eye, and I wandered over to see how it looked. It was at this point that the Big Issue man spoke to me, and then looked at me knowingly, as if he too had pressed his nose against a restaurant window, pretending to find it difficult to read the too small print on the menu, while really just gazing in awe and envy at the victual-laden plates of the diners.

Next time I need to go into the village, I'll brush my hair first. Oh and in case you were wondering - two of them were Large Letters and the third was a parcel.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Onions and Cabbages

This week, my toddler is mostly obsessed with cleaning his teeth and onions.

The two aren't related. It's not the eating of onions he's interested in, it's the purchasing of them. He only wants to eat raisins, Rice Krispies and peas.

Last week, we went to the local shops for local people in a nearby town. After we'd visited the friendly butcher (that sounds like an oxymoron, but I think it only applies if you're a pig) and the bakery, it was a fair walk for a barely two year old to walk to the grocer's shop. He managed it, his only complaint being that there were really fewer puddles than he would've liked.

When we got to the grocer's shop (which is also the pet shop), the lady behind the counter was serving someone else. This mainly involved finishing the transaction by manipulatively withholding the customer's change (tantalisingly held over the customer's open hand, but with fist firmly closed) until she had finished what she wanted to say.

"Oh yes, he's got weeks left. WEEKS. That's all. I thought you knew, I did!" she exclaimed dramatically.

The customer squirmed slightly.

"Yes, it was Mick what told me. I saw him a few weeks ago, you know, he came in here for two pound of carrots and he was fine. FINE! I just hope he's not a cabbage, like. I said to our Tommy, I just hope he's not a cabbage, didn't I Tommy?"

A tall man in the corner nodded gravely.

The customer looked still more uneasy, as if she were perhaps wondering whether her change was really worth it after all.

"It's a shame, it is. Real shame. Such a shame." opined the lady behind the counter.

The man nodded in agreement again.

"Awful, isn't it?" she asked her customer.

"I'm sorry," said the customer, slightly tremulously and with a certain amount of dread, "But I'm afraid I still don't know who you mean."

The lady behind the counter, clearly disappointed by the lack of dedication to local knowledge displayed by her customer, finally let the change drop from her iron grip and allowed her prey to walk free to continue her shopping unhindered by tales from Death Row.

Meanwhile, my toddler had chosen our produce. As many onions as he could hold.

The lady behind the counter eyed him speculatively and asked "Is that a boy or a girl?"

"A boy." I replied, wondering why there was any confusion and why it mattered anyway.

"I see. Well don't let him touch the tomatoes then." she warned mysteriously, before weighing and bagging up our onions, and other items that I'd managed to sneak in on the pretext that the onions needed some friends for the drive home.

The rest of the transaction was completed in silence. I clearly didn't look as if I knew the Man With Weeks To Live. Not that that was an essential attribute, it seemed.

When we left the shop to walk back to the car, my toddler decided he was tired and needed to be carried, now that I had the maximum number of shopping bags to carry as well. I wondered why I never have the intelligence to bring the pushchair, even though this happens every single time.

When we reached the car, I realised what I'd forgotten to buy at the grocer's.

A cabbage.

Somehow, I wasn't really very upset about it.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

London Bridge and the Virgin

"Songs!" demands my toddler as I get into the car.

Since his second birthday earlier this month, I can't get away with putting the radio on or playing 'Enjoy the Silence' over and over with nostalgic pleasure whilst driving any more.

Now he has his own CD. His music collection has been started with a CD of nursery rhymes sung by some really quite annoying American children. To be fair, they are probably perfectly pleasant children, but their singing is as grating as the Ronan Keating cover of 'Fairytale of New York'. And to me, that is very grating indeed.

Perhaps it is the repetitiveness. I don't object to that as a concept - just ask Depeche Mode - but only for Good things in life. This CD is not a Good thing. Perhaps though, it is the incongruity of very American children singing very British nursery songs. 'Oranges and Lemons' and 'London Bridge is Falling Down' just sound wrong when sung with strong American accents.

However, because I am a geek, those thoughts made me wonder about the origins of some of the nursery rhymes to which I am currently so frequently and tragically exposed. I remember bits of trivia about them when I was growing up, which have been half forgotten in the intervening years between listening and reciting these songs myself and learning them all over again for my own child. There are quite a lot of those years, so quite a lot of forgetting has taken place. For this reason, I love Wikipedia.

From this source, I have learned that the first reference to the rhyme of London Bridge is thought to have been in a play 1659, but that it may be much more ancient. In the eleventh century, London Bridge was burned down by King Ethelred and his Norwegian ally Olaf Haraldsson in a bid to divide the invading forces of the Danish king Svein Haraldsson, apparently. Extracts of a lay by a Norse poet, Ottar Svarte, include the following:

London Bridge is broken down. --
Gold is won, and bright renown.
Shields resounding,
War-horns sounding,
Hild is shouting in the din!
Arrows singing,
Mail-coats ringing --
Odin makes our Olaf win!

You can see the resemblance obviously, except I like this one more. It's got a bit more oomph, hasn't it?

Wikipedia goes on to tell me that the popular version of the children's song probably originates from 1269 however, when Henry III granted the tolling right to Queen Eleanor of Provence. She is the "fair lady" who notably failed to spend the resulting funds on actually maintaining the structure of the bridge.

The most interesting thing Wikipedia taught me today though is that although the most likely reference to the 'fair lady' is Queen Eleanor, it has also been suggested that it is a reference to "an old practice of burying a dead virgin in the foundations of the bridge to ensure its strength through magical means". really do learn a new thing every day.

Don't Panic!

It's the Trent and Mersey.

In case you were having trouble concentrating on anything else for worrying about this lack of detail, the canal is the Trent and Mersey.

And just in case you need to know more, the lowdown on said canal:

The idea of a canal connection from the Mersey to the Trent ("The Grand Trunk") came from canal engineer James Brindley.
It was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1766 and the first sod was cut by Josiah Wedgwood in July that year at Middleport.
Less than eleven years later, the whole canal, including more than 70 locks and five tunnels, was open, with the company headquarters in Stone.
It was opened 1777 to link the River Trent at Derwent Mouth (in Derbyshire) to the River Mersey.

And now it lurks beside the Rosie and Jim shop.

The Rosie and Jim shop has a cafe over the top, and some friends, my toddler and I were eating breakfast there one Saturday morning. The local radio was playing in the background, and amid conversation about why toddlers will only eat toast that they have previously thrown on the floor, we heard the name of the village on the news bulletin. The story was one of a canal boat that had caught fire the previous night. Four fire engines had attended and it had taken them several hours to quench the inferno. As we attempted to solve the puzzle of where this incident could possibly have taken place, since we were sitting next to the canal at that moment, and had all been at my house and heard no sirens, disturbances or anything else untoward the night before, my toddler pointed at something through the window and said "Quack".

We all looked at the duck, who was nonchalantly partaking in a morning swim. And then we looked at the black and twisted burned out shell of the canal boat that he was swimming past, yards from where we were sitting, and uttered a collective "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh".

So to any readers of this blog who may exist, if you were hoping for keen and insightful observations, perhaps you should steel yourself for the possibility of disappointment.

Day 1 and the Canal is a Mystery

It's difficult to know what to write on the first post.

There is pressure to demonstrate extreme wit and a delectable writing style, not to mention the illustration of a full and rich life just crammed with amusing and interesting incidents and conversations.

I think I will rebelliously shrug off such expectations, and pretend that although I clearly possess all of the above, I am choosing, yes choosing, not to show them off.

The fact that I am a single mother living in a tiny village, who does really nothing much these days in terms of conversations, and definitely isn't present at the scene of any interesting incidents any more, is by and by. No-one need know that.

The village is in the North West, and a canal flows (well...not really 'flows' so much as lurks) through it. I forget which one, which is rather remiss of me since I very nearly live in it. I'll Google it later. Or I could go to the shop and buy a postcard of it.

It's a unique little shop. They sell biscuits, and Rosie and Jim dolls. More shelf space is given to cat food than to people food. The colours of the plastic bottle tops to denote skimmed, semi-skimmed and full cream milk are all different to the usual code of red, green and blue respectively, which are found in every other shop. They sell sweets and horseshoes. They sell bread and books about the canal.

The unfortunate thing about the Canal Village is the M6. It's too close, and by that I mean that everyone in this village almost lives on the hard shoulder. It roars when the wind blows.

The pink church and the local pub being named the Romping Donkey make up for it though.

It is a village of eccentricities, which is exactly how a village should be. When I moved in, before I was a mother, a woman popped round to ask me my star sign to see if I was compatible with her son. She beamed with approval when I, too surprised to resist, divulged it to be Capricorn. She gave me some information regarding his eligibility, then left me a teaspoon so that I could make cups of tea while I moved in. That teaspoon was invaluable, once I'd acquired a kettle, some cups and the teabags.

I must admit though, that despite her kind intentions, I hid from her after that day, for quite a long time.

I shall return shortly with canal information.