Wednesday, 30 June 2010

So where did last week go....? Part 2

With apologies for the rather pregnant pause between 'So where did last week go? Part 1' and this continuation, may I just remind you, dear reader, of where we were:

...So I bumbled out of the restaurant (N relieving me of some of my bags) and scooted off down to House of Fraser, which was the one shop I had originally intended to go to. I had about 10 minutes at best to pop in and then grab a cab for the station. As I hurtled through the cosmetics on the ground floor, heading for the lift, a voice called out 'Have you got a minute?'....

...well, I had about ten, as I said. I really didn't have any to waste on a sales assistant, standing slightly forlornly by his stand, eyes begging me to respond. I guess it must have been the drink and my general good humour which made me give in to his request. 'Just one minute' I said, trying to sound firm. 'yes, just one minute' he confirmed, unconvincingly. He looked like a throw-back to some early eighties pop band: all dark spikey hair, high cheekbones and pale face. Camp as a row of tents too - but then I guess that goes with the territory if you're a bloke flogging women's cosmetics. I can't see N rushing for that one. I edged towards him, a tad nervously. What was I about to be screwed for? (I knew I would be, I always am). He asked to see my nails. Oh God, no. Not my nails. As he perused the skin on the back of my hands, parched as a pygmy's arse, I found myself muttering excuses - 'I do a lot of gardening, you know' - for the dark lines of dirt under my unpolished, shabby fingernails. Having thought I'd dressed quite well that day, I suddenly found myself feeling decidedly un-glamourous. He pounced on the gardening bit saying how he had just the thing for my 'gardener's hands' (think Carol Klein). Oh-oh, I thought. Fell right into that one. I glanced at his own fair delicate digits (decidedly more feminine than my own) and suddenly spotted the unnervingly shiny nails glinting in the store lights. Didn't seem quite right on a bloke. He continued burbling away while I took in some more details. Strange accent. Where was he from? Then I noticed his lapel badge pinned to his black shirt - 'Vlad'. So, a Russian then. Or something equally exotic for House of Fraser on a wet Tuesday afternoon in Manchester. He smelt a bit. I felt like trying to sell him some deodorant. Obviously the stress of the job coming out. He wittered on endlessly with much false jollity and I'd hardly noticed he was rubbing away at my nails with a natty buffer thingy and producing quite startling results. I mean, I have a drawerful of nail buffers which Father Christmas keeps giving me - but this was something else. I was hooked. Help. I suddenly found myself dishing out cash for the set - buffer, nail file, cuticle oil, hand cream. A gardener's dream. He was right. Sensing blood, he moved in with the speed and accuracy of a Great White, sharp glisteningly white teeth barely veiled behind those pale lips. The clock ticked. He thrust a hand mirror in my face and asked me which of the wrinkle sets under my eyes looked the worst. I said they both looked as bad as eachother (should get to bed earlier). In an instant he was ripping open a new box, reassuring me that the volume of cream inside (10 times the amount of a normal eye cream) justified the price. I supposed he had a point. He then hooked a small amount of unguent out of the pot with his ring finger in the swift deft way that only those flogging creams to poor fools like me can muster and started dabbing it, rather intimately, around my right eye. I felt tingling (that was the ginseng, he assured me). It felt nice. He shoved the mirror in my face again and asked if I could spot the difference. No, I , said. I couldn't. But it was a nice sensation, and it was my birthday, so I parted with my cash in a happy, it's-my-birthday-and-I'll-do-what-I-want-to kind of way. Then realised I had precisely eight minutes to catch my train on the other side of Manchester. I rushed out of the store, abandoning the reason for my original entry therein, and hailed a cab. I threw him the money ('keep the change') at the traffic lights and ran into the station, casting around to see which platform I needed for the Buxton train. I flung myself at it, sat down in the first empty seat I could find and the wheels started rolling within about 10 seconds of my sitting down. Another precision operation from Yours Truly where, in my life, every second literally counts.

Feeling faintly smug, with the thought of dinner with friends still to come, I whipped out my newly acquired super-buffer and enjoyed a happy half hour filing and buffing and creaming my gardener's hands into something closely ressembling Christy Turlington's. I felt a bit girly, but sod it, it was my birthday, after all. Vlad would be proud of me (as he giggled all the way to the bank).

(to be continued)

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Historic Tennis on a Wednesday Afternoon in June

Right, sorry folks, I know I should be finishing off the last story, let alone telling you about my sailing holiday and a load of other things in between, but, as is often the way with blogging, something else has cropped up.

I am a big Wimbledon fan and I've been battling with the TV remote control, flicking desperately from England's paultry achievements in the World Cup to the antics on the grass courts in south west London. Why does good sport, like buses, all come at once? (as well as the busiest time of year at school which makes ANY telly goggling an achievement). Anyway, I just had to tell you about the most extraordinary match that has been going on over the last two days. Yes, two days. They had to stop it last night due to lack of light. It re-started this afternoon in the expectation it would be soon over (they were into the last set), but that last deciding set, where no tie-breaks are allowed, has just gone on, and on, and on, and on....we are currently at 59 games all in the fifth and final set which (with extraordinary mathematical ability, ahem!) I can compute as 118 games in the last set alone. The match has broken every record going: longest ever match in the history of tennis, most aces (between them they've nearly topped 200), longest ever set, highest number ever of games in a set (and it's not over yet!), highest number of games in a match etc etc etc. They have been playing for 10 hours, for God's sake.

The American, John Isner, is the seeded player; Nicolas Mahut is a qualifier, though we've seen his tenacity in previous matches at Queens and Wimbledon. He looked the fresher player when they called a halt this evening - John Isner was pretty much on his knees (which is saying something given he's 6'9" tall - Mahut is a dwarf in comparison) but was still capable of smashing out ace after ace. There were very few rallies and those that were were short, but usually involving brilliant shots. There was no electronic eye for replays of dodgy line calls, yet there were no arguments either over any calls that the players clearly saw differently. It has been a match played in the best of sporting behaviour which has entertained, stunned and beggared belief.

Yet possibly the most surprising statistic is the fact that in nearly 7 hours neither player went off for a bathroom break - not even as a tactical move. Nor either the umpire, who was probably rather relieved at least to stretch his legs momentarily as he had to climb down from his chair to sort out the net chord instrument which had got hit during play. It seems testament to the players' remarkable focus - especially Mahut who served 57 times to stay in the match and has, so far, saved Match Point three times, usually with a stunning ace. Quite remarkable.

John McEnroe (who I love to bits) was saying in one breath how fantastic it was for tennis as a sport - that finally the players would get the kind of sporting respect they deserved for their endurance, athleticism, fitness, mental attitude, entertainment value etc - and in the next breath that they should really put a limit on the number of games that can be played in a deciding fifth set. But I feel he was rather arguing against himself. The whole point is that they have earned this respect from the extraordinary circumstances of this match - had the fifth set been played by the rules of sets 1 to 4, then the game would have been as ordinary as any other which has to end on a tie-break and the players would never have been given this opportunity to show the world what they, and the game of tennis, are made of.

It all starts again tomorrow. Will it all be over in a couple of games? We'll have to wait and see - and I suspect the result will lie with the player who has best been able to recover overnight from an absolutely extraordinary battle of physical skill and mental and emotional will-power, the like of which will probably never be seen again. France's national football squad (not to mention England's) could learn much from them.

Friday, 18 June 2010

So Where Did Last Week Go?

My battle with Time is legendary, but last week just seemed to disappear in even more of a blink of an eye than usual. One moment it was the beginning, the next it was the end. And I'm not quite sure what I achieved in between.

Looking back, it's fair to say it was a week of ups and downs. We know it started badly (previous post) with post holiday blues and a general sense of dislocation from my normal life. Tuesday was unexpectedly up; Wednesday was down-ish; Thursday was up-ish; and Friday was, well, the end of the working week and the start of the World Cup. Say no more.

The weather remained vile and unseasonal all week which clouded my mood considerably. The house felt dark and lonely and the garden - normally my sanctuary - looked cold, unappealing and so very sad as its early summer finery was lashed by winds and rain under leaden grey skies. All was lightless, both within and without. I love tennis, and Queen's was on, but even that seemed melancholy under the same grey, cold skies. Summer should be about sunshine and Pimms, smiley faces and Ascot, hot summer colours and long warm evenings. Yet here we are, fast approaching the longest day, and still it feels like winter. Why do we live in England? Let alone the north west. It is a question I have frequently asked myself these last seven years...

Yet today, as I write, I am looking out on a tranquil, green, bucolic, quintessentially English landscape, with sunshine fading in and out from behind white fluffy clouds and my question is answered for me. It can be so very beautiful.

So, if you remember, Tuesday was my birthday and it was looking bleak on Monday night. The usual birthday girls' lunch had fallen by the wayside because of a clash of dates with a school trip that one of my friends was accompanying, having forgotten it was my birthday. We re-arranged for Thursday, but it left me with nothing to do on The Big Day. If the weather had been good it would have been no problem - I would have been happy as Larry (who is Larry anyway?) at home in the garden in the sunshine. But a day cooped up indoors with nothing but my chores for company and rain lashing against my windows was not wholly appealing as a way to celebrate my declining years.

When N got home on Monday night I was past caring about my stupid birthday. I had resigned myself to nothing much. The one set of friends I had called - my special Italian friend and her pilot husband who we don't see enough of these days - were hoping to come but hadn't confirmed because he was only flying back home from Jo-burg that day and had to get back up here from Heathrow with a car with a dodgy exhaust, sleep deprivation and a Governors' meeting to go to. The others I would have loved to see were only just back from two weeks in Spain and might not be able to get a babysitter at such short notice. N took control (mercifully). He grabbed the phone and booked a restaurant I love which we only ever go to on my birthday. It is at the Cavendish Hotel in Baslow. On a fine summer's evening you sit outside at white wrought iron tables, sipping your drink and perusing the menu with a splendid Peak District view stretching before you. The food is fabulous and the dining room lovely - a beautifully proportioned room with tall Georgian windows reaching up to the ceiling and down to the ground. I am very happy there even if the weather's too awful to sit outside first. There's an equally attractive seating area with oil paintings, sofas, armchairs and low lights to calm the soul. I was feeling better already.

Birthday morning dawned with much whispering outside the bedroom door, cups of tea, home-made cards and a smattering of presents. I opened the girls' cards but then they had to dash for the school bus so we left the rest till later. N returned from taking them for an hour at home before heading off for a meeting. He suggested I come in to town and have lunch with him. Behind the curtains the day was as foul as predicted, so a little shopping in Manchester and lunch seemed highly preferable to all the jobs which were lining up for me at home. So I had a shower and drove to the station, getting there as the train pulled in (my timing was a little tighter than even I had expected). I spent the journey responding to Happy Birthday texts and then stepped straight off the train and into Accessorize. And then Monsoon. By the time I was nearly due to meet N I hadn't even progressed out of the station concourse! Still, I was happy and had bought a couple of lovely dresses and some other bits and bobs. No shoes. Can never get shoes. Tricky feet.

I hopped on a tram, feeling very grown up and independent suddenly (too many years now spent in parochial small towns) and had flashbacks to another life in London. Seems so long ago sometimes. We met at our favourite Italian restaurant, Piccolino (though not before I'd managed to squeeze in a flying - and successful - visit to DKNY. It was my birthday, after all). Although it is part of a small chain, the Manchester venue is unarguably the best. Its atmosphere and style really makes us feel, for a brief moment, that we are back in Italy in a glossy yet gritty urban sort of way. It just has BUZZ. And I particularly love it at lunchtime. We started with a glass of prosecco (a lifetime's habit begun in our Italian days) and eased smoothly into a nice glass of white. Paper thin prosciutto, ciabatta toast and a delicious olive tapenade were produced, on the house. We then had a fantastically garlicky tomato bruschetta and I followed that with a small risotto (which they enlarged for me!). N and I had a lovely chat - so nice actually to spend time with him, during the week, without the children. Again, it reminded me of our pre-children Italian days when I would go and meet him for lunch on a regular basis, so easy in Milan and Padua, so much more difficult here. I always felt it was a way of staying connected during the day, especially when his days are so long. We ordered coffee and the bill. It came, but not without three of the waiters first producing my favouite pudding (affogato - vanilla ice cream with expresso coffee and amaretto poured over it) complete with candle and a fulsome rendition of happy birthday. The whole restaurant clapped. It was a lovely moment. Very simple, very sweet. The child within is never far away, I sometimes think.

So I bumbled out of the restaurant (N relieving me of some of my bags) and scooted off down to House of Fraser, which was the one shop I had originally intended to go to. I had about 10 minutes at best to pop in and then grab a cab for the station. As I hurtled through the cosmetics on the ground floor, heading for the lift, a voice called out 'Have you got a minute?'....

(to be continued)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Start of a Long Week...

I'm writing this while I have a potato in the oven. Not a bun, dear reader, no, I am far too old for that, tsk, tsk. Just a potato, baking nicely. The potato is to be my breakfast. How odd, you must be thinking. Indeed. I am on a diet, the GM diet (I think GM stands for General Motors), this week. It was really meant for N more than me but he has wriggled out of it at the last minute with excuses that he has lots of dinners and lunches on this week (all right for some). My diary, on the other hand, was noteworthy for its lack of foodie frivolity - and anyway, I'd bought all the bloody stuff last Friday in Morrisons. I had sported the most bizarre kind of Yin-Yang trolley-load at the checkout. One half of it was virtuously piled high with fruit and veg of every origin and denomination: the other was piled equally high with biscuits and sweet snacks and crisps and things for the children (before you suck in your teeth, we had loads of 'healthy' snacks still in the larder - I just had to stock up on the 'treats'). Oh, and there wasn't a bottle of wine in sight (more's the pity). So, having stitched myself up nicely, I've had to get on with it.

I started with some enthusiasm yesterday morning as Day 1 was the day where you ate just fruits. Oh, and homemade vegetable soup. So I started with melon (slightly under-ripe), then water melon (too many pips), then a few cherries (slightly tasteless - they were going cheap), then I picked out a few non-mouldy raspberries from last week's punnet. I opened the fridge and peered in and assumed fruit juice was ok. So drank a glass of apple, raspberry and pomegranate. I then had half a kiwi and some more melon and, unsated, poured a few glasses of tomato juice down my neck (tomatoes being technically a fruit, no?). Bananas were not allowed, which was good as mine hadn't ripened yet. I then had some home-made lemon and rosemary tea, then some white tea, then a glass of water....and so on and so forth throughout the day. I really didn't get much done as I seemed to spend my whole time eating or chopping and peeling.

I went to pick up L and her friend from the school bus to take them to ballet. As usual, I threw a snack in the car - chocolate orange club biscuit - and found the smell of sweet chocolate on their breath a little taunting. Thence I drove to Macclesfield to collect the older two girls from afterschool rounders practice (E) and an away rounders match (G). E had been given an apple and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps by After School Club and I had provided a chocolate brioche. I didn't envy her the apple much (funny that), but the crisps and the tantalising smell of soft, sweet brioche were hard to take. I sat there with my tupperware bowl of chopped, under-ripe canteloupe melon, diligently eating away and discussing our respective days. Then, when all melon had been consumed, I found this little voice sneaking out of my lips saying, 'Erm, Lel, you wouldn't mind just giving me a crisp, would you?' as she crunched away happily while talking me through how she just missed a catch: 'Those balls are really hard, aren't they, and, well, your body just REACTS when they hit your hand and you jerk away and then you drop it'. I nodded sagely in agreement, remembering my own slightly dodgey record on the rounders field, and proffered some benign advice on the art of catching. 'Ok then', she said, 'but JUST ONE' as she handed me one small crinkle cut crisp. I crunched and wished for more. My wishes were not granted.

By the time we got home, and after stuffing another snack pack of raisins and apricots down me, I decided enough was enough and it was time to make the 'WONDER SOUP' (the diet specifies that this can be eaten at any time in any quantity you like throughout the whole week). This required copious amounts of onions. I realised this was about the only legume I had not purchased last Friday as I was under the impression that I had lots at home. I did. But it turned out they were all sprouting enormous green shoots and/or had gone mouldy and stinky within. So having discarded all the white onions, I moved on to the red. They were in marginally better shape and I salvaged all but two. As I was wearing my glasses not my contact lenses, I donned an old pair of ski goggles that I keep in the drawer to prevent the agony of streaming eyes. So think of me standing there, goggles on, tummy rumbling, peeling countless little red onions when all I wanted was a bloody biscuit. From there to chopping courgettes and carrots, slicing cabbage, crushing garlic and opening a tin of tomatoes. Vegetable stock, celery salt, chopped fresh herbs (parsley, sage, lemon thyme, tarragon, basil, chives, rosemary), dried herbs (with fennel seed - adds delightful little moments of aniseedy surprise to the end result). At last it was done (while quiche in oven for the children) and it was with a certain relief that I finally spooned something meaningful and tasty into my mouth (she says, choosing to ignore the two sneaky handfuls of peanuts that she stuffed in while soup was boiling).

Now the weird thing is this: I often have soup for lunch and normally one bowl is more than enough. I sometimes have a slice of bread or toast with it, but often do not. But I managed to consume not one, not two, but THREE bowls of the stuff yesterday evening. And I was still hungry. Normally I have three meals a day with not much snacking in between. On a normal day breakfast is a bowl of cereal or toast, lunch is soup or salad or ham and egg or something like that, and then I have a better supper (just main course, no pudding). And I don't spend those days feeling starving all day. Today, on the other hand, I ate ALL DAY - and at midnight I was still hungry! I also suddenly had a desperate craving for just something a little sweet (and believe me I really do NOT have a sweet tooth) and found myself unwrapping a bar of Green & Blacks dark cooking chocolate in sheer desperation. Just two little squares. Really bitter. Really sweet. Perfect.

Just three little relapses then (1 crisp, 2 handfuls of peanuts, 2 square of chocolate) in a nutritionally long day. Bearing in mind the diet said that you may lose up to 3lbs on the first day, I stepped confidently onto the bathroom scales when I went up to bed and voila! ....I had gained 3lbs! I think perhaps I haven't quite got the hang of this dieting lark yet.

I'll keep you posted...

Monday, 7 June 2010

Blue Monday

Coo-eee, I’m back!

Well, sort of back. I think I left my head and heart elsewhere actually – perhaps somewhere between a limpid patch of turquoise Mediterranean sea and the darkness of Gatwick Airport. I certainly have not got them here in the High Peak with me today. They are resoundingly lost luggage, I’m afraid. I feel dizzy, fuzzy-brained, washing around, slightly low – and am still rocking from the movement of the boat. It is a grey day and inclined to rain, which mirrors my mood exactly – and is certainly not helping it.

My brain, currently, can barely string a coherent thought together, let alone put it into a sentence. I have been trying to analyse why I feel like this. Low blood sugar? I have tried food and cups of tea, but to no avail (the milk was off). Lack of sleep? But I slept a full seven hours last night. So I have tried to fling myself into the myriad mundane domestic tasks I should be performing: I have collected the cat from the cattery; I have made a brief inspection of the garden; I have made a few necessary phone calls; I have attempted to look at my emails, but find even the spam stuff rather daunting, let alone the necessary communications with friends and others. And all this has done is make my brain even cloudier than ever, now clogged with guilty thoughts of long-neglected friends I should be in touch with which then sets off another toxic chain-reaction of thoughts about all the never-ending jobs and tasks around house and home and family life which weigh constantly and heavily around my neck. I have no energy for any of this. Nor for the fact that my printer is not working properly because it got left on while I was away and now all the ink nozzles have dried up and clogged and I cannot seem to get it clean and working again despite all known methods and plunges into cyberspace wisdom. So I can’t even get on with my admin. The cat, rescued from the cattery this morning, is clearly as discombobulated as me and is pacing around the place mewling pitifully and not knowing whether she is coming or going. We are a right pair got together.

Possibly the over-arching cause of my gloom is the knowledge that tomorrow is my birthday. As I currently feel, this is a cause for cessation rather than celebration. Why cheer another lost year, another inexorable step towards oblivion? I’ve always believed that you should feel special on your birthday – one day a year is not too much to ask, surely? N is not of the same opinion, coming from a long line of birthday humbugs (not helped by the fact he is one of only two brothers, both of whom have the singular distinction of being born on the same day – 23rd April – two years apart. For a number of years, younger brother handed older brother present, older brother handed over younger brother one in return. Younger brother eventually declares ‘Oh bollocks to this!’ and they have never knowingly exchanged birthday present since. When you are dealing with this sort of attitude, it is an uphill battle to specialdom, I can assure you). But this year I’m not sure that even I care. The forecast is for rain and the only birthday present I want is a sunny day. I had a birthday lunch planned with friends which now has to be moved due to their various other obligations. I have not yet planned anything with N. A babysitter is on standby but a night in with the telly and catching up with the final episodes of '24' (DON’T TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED!!!) is perhaps all I will be in the mood for. I have no desire to flog a dead horse. Me being the old nag, of course.

On the subject of livestock, I had a curious experience when I went to get into the car this morning to fetch the cat. It had been sitting in the garage while we were away, garage door open. As I went to get into the driver’s side I noticed some curious brown splat marks on the concrete floor – and a slight whiff of urine. ‘Gosh, large swallows this year’, I thought, as I peered up into the nest they habitually use in the back corner of the garage. I noticed a small extension to it this year (a little extra straw thatching above the main muddy construction), but the rather larger brown splat I then spotted on the ground beneath it I didn’t believe a swallow - even one with serious bowel problems - could actually produce. I then noticed that our neatly stacked log pile had collapsed at one end and that there were even brown smear marks all over the garage wall, quite high up (somewhere around my mid torso). I then peered more closely at the car and spotted brown smears all across the paintwork and the petrol cap. The wing mirror was bent back and there were also splatters all over the alloy wheels. Conclusion: cow goes into garage, has major panic attack ‘cause gets inconceivably trapped in what would be a very small passageway for a large cow, shits itself a few times and then rubs its arse all over our wall and my car in its frantic attempts to reverse itself out of its situation. Now, in all this, I simply cannot imagine what sort of scenario there was to have the cow end up in the garage! My already befuddled mind is still boggling over this one….

Oh yes, and I came out of the study and my wrestles with the printer to find equally befuddled and confused cat had pulled herself together enough to catch a mouse and leave nothing but the warm green squiggly bits on my hall floor.

It’s good to be back.
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