Monthly Archives: October 2011

Things that never happened to me…

Now that Jimmy Saville has passed on to the great jewellery gallery in the sky (and reminds us of several glittery, jangly reasons why men shouldn’t wear chains. Not even one. Two looks like Jimmy Saville. Three looks like Mr T. Don’t do it) I’m reminded I have a small grudge against him. I believe I wrote him a letter, back in 1980, asking for the opportunity to do ballet with the Bolshoi. He didn’t arrange it. I hope St Peter knocks a point off his score.

There are quite a lot of other ‘fixits’ I’d like doing, so I’d like to write a letter from the 38-year old me, not the 8-year old me.

Dear Jimmy, who art in heaven (or hell, depending on several rumours and your weird, psycho-like love of your mother/ a non-denominational afterlife of your choice/reincarnated as something else/dead in the ground with no comebacks) please can you see fit to sort out some things.

Firstly, as I am now too old to dance with the Bolshoi, and my legs hurt like a lot, please can you fix it for me to have the English rugby team to oil themselves up in front of me? It’d be really nice if you could do that as a favour for having not fulfilled my dreams of dancing with the Bolshoi.

Secondly, I’d really, really like it if you would give me a two week holiday on a Caribbean island of my choice, accompanied by the oily rugby team who would wait on me hand and foot.

Then it’d be really nice if you could send Sean Bean across in a nice suit. He looks good in a suit. Barefoot in a kind of casual suit, without a tie. That’d suit me. And then if you could get him to propose to me, that’d be great. I might say no, since he doesn’t have a very good track record, but it would be nice to be asked.

I’d then like to go and live in (on?) Cape Cod and be like a younger, more vibrant Angela Lansbury in Murder, She Wrote. I’d like to be an internationally-famous novelist of the murder persuasion, and I also like Cape Cod. And I like righting wrongs. And writing about wrongs. Sean and the England rugby team can come along and live in my pool house. I’d like to have some horses as well please, and a vet on call so they don’t get sick. And then can I have Sean put on jodhpurs like he did in Sharpe and ride around without his top on?

Thanks.

Emma Lee (age 38)

In fact, my letter would go a bit more like this:

Dear Jimmy,

Please could you fixit for me to have someone get rid of all the convolvulus in the vegetable patch. I f%^*in hate that stuff.

Best wishes and all that,

Emma Lee.

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Do we really need rules for Facebook?

I have to point out that none of the following have happened to actual people I’m actually friends with – but it does seem that some people need a lesson in how to behave on Facebook. Some days, FB seems more like a really, really bad episode of Jeremy Kyle coming straight to the computer screen. I think everyone needs these rules.

1. If you have an ‘infection’ that is too embarrassing for ‘Embarrassing Bodies’, don’t, repeat, don’t post about it on FB.

2. If your boyfriend is excited that you are getting treatment for aforementioned ‘infections’ so that he can continue to have back-door sex with you, please remind him not to post about his excitement, either.

3. The ‘relationship’ button is there for people in a relationship. Not for people who’d like to be in a relationship with someone they just met.

4. The ‘relationship’ button isn’t a way of telling people you’ve had a tiff with your lover. Going from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ in two hours is just FB’s way of telling you that you and your intended are destined NOT to be in a relationship and should end it now.

5. FB should be the last to know you are in a relationship or you are single. In fact, if you are getting divorced, leave ‘married’ until the ink is dry. And if you are in a relationship, wait until the ink is dry on the marriage certificate, or else you run the risk of dooming yourself with the FB curse (like the Hello! curse, but for everyone but Katie Price and Kerry Katona)

6. Don’t post up ‘funny’ pictures of your baby with a bong. Someone did this. Really. And then they were shocked when social services came round and drugs-tested her child and then took the baby away.

7. Don’t post up things your children would be embarrassed by. I don’t mean ‘good’ embarrassed (like the picture of my dad in a turban or the one where he looks a little like Toad of Toad Hall) or the one of your boyfriend passed out in the toilet, I mean bad embarrassed, like revealing you have a too-embarrassing-for-Embarrassing-Bodies-infection and your boyfriend is delighted you have the right antibiotics to clear it up so normal back-door services can resume.

8. Don’t post up pictures of you absolutely rat-arsed as a grown-up if you have kids on FB. That’s not what they want to see.

9. Don’t comment on or ‘like’ all your kids’ pictures. That just makes you look like a stalker.

10. Expect your kids to do things you don’t want to see. And ignore them. There will be pictures of them in compromising positions, there will be inappropriate language and things you never wished to hear come from their tiny little fingers. They don’t realise yet that you don’t want to see that. Don’t let it be an argument. In fact, if you don’t want to see it, block them. Your kids are not your ‘friends’ when they are teenagers or young adults. Wait until they’re 30 or so. Or past being drunk in a toilet.

11. Don’t get into online arguments. Your words are forever recorded and WILL come back to haunt you. The whole point of saying them is that they evaporate into the air. If you put them on Facebook, someone WILL read them and they WILL judge you for it. If you’re the type of person who thinks it’s okay to comment on someone’s photos and call them a nosy, interfering busybody, you haven’t got the slightest bit of sense and should be banned from the ether for all eternity.

12. If you’re older than 21, don’t put those kind of pictures on where you’re in a ridiculously short skirt flashing your gussets. It’s ugly, even if you think it’s not.

13. If you constantly post pictures of you out on the piss, people WILL think you’re a pisshead. Put some pet photos in or a nice picture of the sky from time to time, for God’s sake!

14. If you only have pictures of yourself which you’ve taken yourself with your webcam, you are going to look like a sad muppet. Get someone else to take a photo of you so you don’t look like the kind of person who’s just hanging out on the internet in the vain hope that someone notices how pretty or handsome you are.

15. If you comment on something, know that it WILL come up on other people’s homepages. I have no interest in seeing that you are interested in some slutty porn star or a perma-tanned-orange-woman with fake eyelashes and fish-lips.

16. If you are older than 21, don’t put pictures up of you pouting. It’s U-G-L-Y. Pouting doesn’t look good on pretty young things under the age of 21, let alone saggy old fifty year olds.

17.  Don’t put up pictures of you wearing little if you are over 50. It doesn’t even look good on Madonna, OR Helen Mirren, no matter what people say. If you’re white trash 50, it’s definitely not going to look good.

18. If you post a picture of you in a bikini, with your boobs out or with your arse on display, and that picture is obviously one you have taken yourself, don’t blame the world for thinking you are needy, neurotic and possibly a little insane.

19. Don’t post blurry pictures. Why would you do that to my eyes?

20. If you are older than 21, don’t write in text-speak. It makes you look dumb. If you think ‘wiv’ is a good way to write ‘with’, you probably do lots of other things on this list that you shouldn’t. There’s something you can do to help you with that. Go to settings… Go to account… At the bottom, there is a button that says ‘deactivate’. Press it and then throw your computer in the bin or lock it in the loft, if you have one. If you live in a trailer, put it in the crawl space and leave it there.

21. It is better to say nothing and be thought a fool than type a status on FB and remove all doubt.

22. If you bitch, it might get you a reputation as a bitch. Don’t bitch about being thought of as a bitch by people you’ve bitched about in type.

23. If you put up pictures of yourself with hardly any clothes on, you might get a reputation too. Don’t wonder why people think you’re a slag if you’ve got a picture of you in your knickers as your profile pic.

24. People can read what you write. I know that might shock you, but there you go. They can’t just read what you write now, but what you wrote ages ago. If you don’t want them to read it, don’t write it.

25. If you have been on the Jeremy Kyle show, it’s probably not a good idea for you to use facebook AT ALL.

I think that covers everything.

The sound of rain, dogs snoring, cats purring

It’s raining. This is the first week it’s rained properly since August – and that was the first time it had rained properly since March. There is the sound of the occasional car passing, and the tyres cutting through puddles outside. This is rush-hour, La Rochette style. Six cars in a minute. Total Gridlock. The sky outside is a strange blend of grey clouds and dark orange.

In between the occasional car and the sound of my fingers on keys, frantic as always as my fingers try desperately to keep up with my brain, the fire spits. Soft orange flames and bright orange embers. It’s warm in here. The cat is sleeping on the back of the sofa; Steve is asleep. His toes wiggle from time to time. Maybe he’s thinking of getting up. Maybe the fire keeps him locked in a dream world. Winter afternoons are made for naps in front of log fires. Molly is snoring in his chair. Tilly is asleep at his feet. Jake’s quiet – and the house is strangely silent, but for my typing. No television, no music, no adverts, no radio, no talking. Just purring and snoring.

Towards the end of winter, cabin fever sets in. We’ve all been enclosed in a small space for far too long. With only three rooms warm enough to live in, we can’t get away from each other. Maybe naps are a good thing. Six creatures contained in 30 square metres, enjoying the sound of falling rain, of spitting logs. Right now, there’s no cabin fever. It’s still warm enough for long walks and time outside. Yesterday, I went to Angouleme for the first time in ages. I spent hours pottering around a fabric shop in search of something fabulous to stop the aching Winter cold from sticking his fingers through the holes in my window pane. I looked at wools and fabrics and thought about all kinds of creative things. It’s important to get that when you’re out in the sticks. It returns a little sanity to know you can go into town. It all feels new and exciting still. I bet I’ve only been to Angouleme a handful of times, and I rarely go on my own. I used to love wandering around the Trafford Centre after work on Friday evenings, all by myself, a coffee in Starbucks, a rummage through John Lewis. This world I’ve got now is still the same in many ways, but new enough to be still intriguing.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the sound of snoozing creatures, of nothing but snores and flames. I love the fact I’ve got a huge knitting project on the go (I’m working a three-ball system now. Say nothing. Just bow to my talents) and lots of bits and pieces of writing projects to finish. But I loved my little afternoon excursion. Plus, I got some great cream/fern green toile de Jouy fabric (think rustic scenes in pale colours, a bit like paintings on old-fashioned tea services) for my curtains at a bargain price. Now I can’t decide what to do first.

Do I strip the ancient wallpaper?

Do I paper over it?

Do I go with cream?

What the hell do I do with my ceiling that I can’t even describe what the ceiling is like and will have to take a picture of the dreadfulness of it. Do I go with wood panelling? Answers on a postcard, please…

And I really, really wanted the room to be turquoise, because I have an amazing yukata that I bought in Japan in turquoise with white cranes in flight. I kind of wanted to make a feature of that, but if I go with the toile de jouy, it doesn’t go at all! I had a thought I might hang it on a curtain rail and pin it behind my bed, or preserve the fabric in some way, because I love Love LOVE it so much I don’t ever want it to get ruined. Plus, there was some lovely padded fabric (at a delightful 34€ a metre – which is about six times more than the toile de jouy I bought!) in turquoise which was just SO gorgeous.

These wintertime concerns are perhaps of no consequence to you but are of every importance to me.

Bringing up the rear

Can’t believe I was only planting out stuff six months ago… now I’m bringing the last of the summer things in. There are a few bewildered leeks still out there – it’s not rained for weeks and they look bemused. I’ve got a few cabbages too – they seem to like the leek company. I’ve brought in what will be the last of the tomatoes – a full 2 kg of them, and a handful of peppers, chillis and cayenne peppers.

I’d noticed that the gate to the veg patch was open – Tilly no doubt. She’s small enough to wiggle out and pushes it right open. If Moll goes in, she gets stuck. Tilly likes to go and retrieve a tomato or two before bedtime. There’s nothing like a bedtime snack. She particularly likes the plum tomatoes, and if she comes in looking a bit sheepish, like Lennie when he stole a puppy in Of Mice and Men, then I know what she’s got. She’s taken to coming in, jumping on my bed and eating it up there with me when I’ve just switched the lights out. Funny little dog.

It’s strange how she disliked being petted at first – now she loves it. And she loves walks and playing. She mostly loves Fox. Every time Fox comes in, she goes absolutely loopy, skipping about. She really does skip. On the Kennel Club site about spaniels, it says ‘they are merry little dogs’ – and she is exactly that – merry. I gave her a bath before and she promptly went into the garden to roll about in the dirt. She’s such a happy little dog. I hate to say it, but I think having an older dog around in Saffy stifled her. And it made Saffy grumpy. I’d be grumpy too if I had a younger, prettier, skippier, thinner merry little blonde thing getting giddy around me. In the morning, she jumps up on the bed and then we have a little routine. She has about 10 minutes of petting and then I get up. By this time, she’s so excited she has to go out for a wee. She’s not called Tilly Piddles for nothing. When we’ve both emptied our bladders from being excited, she likes to come and jump onto the couch and roll around. Today, however, she was couch-jumping before we’d even got into the bathroom. Jake had left his Simpsons’ blow up sofa in the dining room and Tilly tried to jump on that. Unfortunately, being an inflatable, it moved back a good few inches. She tried again and slid off. She’s so cute.

Not only did that fail to stifle her merry enthusiasm, she also got more giddy when Fox came in. Occasionally, she makes really giddy noises when we come back, but she’s never done it for Fox before. He wasn’t perturbed. He just took it in his stride. She loves him so much. Either that, or she loves the fact she can finish off anything he leaves if she’s quick. I guess it’s a conditioning thing. But as each day goes, she gets more and more pleased to see him.

The chickens had taken full advantage of Tilly’s inability to close gates properly and were in there ferreting about among the last of the vegetables. They’re funny. They followed me about religiously, rooting around. There’s no way on earth you can dig anything with them around your feet. Marge has taken to pecking me, pecking Tilly and startling Moll. I did a big sneeze and they all ran for cover under the vines. Funny girls. I know now only to go digging if I’ve got a cold.

Still, a productive day. Roast cherry tomato soup for tea and sausage and bean casserole with the last of the plum tomatoes. I feel a need to do a survey of what’s worked and what hasn’t in the next couple of days, and plan out what I can do more of next year.

Hot water bottles, long pjs and cardigans in the morning here, now. Only raking, clearing and pruning to do and then it’s all calm til January. Time to get busy with other projects. Maybe, just maybe January will mean I’ve finally finished my first book. I’m working on a series of GCSE podcasts now – how scintillating! – and playing around with new software. Not sure what point there’ll be when the specifications change again, but some things never change. I guarantee the tired old ‘classics’ will still be on there. Seems like there’s a huge need for Inspector Calls resources. Now I did this at school. Someone should have done something good with it by now, but they haven’t, so I’m going to. Hoorah. That’ll keep my fingers busy over the winter. I’ve also – hoorah – finished my cardigan.

When I was back in England, my mum told me the saddest of stories. It really bothered me. When she moved down to Stow after living with her grandma in Scotland, she took two little hats she’d knitted (she was only six – how cute is that?!) and when she started school, the class were learning to knit. My mum, proud of her achievements, maybe, or perhaps just a little startled she’d be doing something she could already do, told the teacher.

“No, Carol, I don’t believe you…” said the teacher.

My mum took her little knitted hats into school. The teacher called the headteacher.

“Did you make these Carol?”

“Yes.” said my mum.

“Can you tell me how?”

And my mum – aged seven – tried to explain. But it’s hard to explain how you do something like that, and the headteacher told her off for lying. How sad is that? The only time I ever told a student off for something profoundly talented was a boy called Nathan who’d lazily downloaded an essay from the internet. Contrary to popular belief, it’s easy to spot a cheat. They’re usually not particularly intelligent and they always pick something that’s far too good for them. I found the essay – it was on the first site I googled – and printed it off. I called him to my office.

“Anything you want to tell me Nathan?”

“No Miss.”

“All this is your own work then?”

“Yes Miss.”

“This bit about the sword of Damocles? That’s yours. Your own words?”

“Yes Miss.”

“You know the penalties for cheating on coursework? You could be stopped from doing GCSEs. In fact, it could mean all 250 other GCSE students are stopped too?”

“Yes Miss.”

“And still nothing to tell me?”

“No Miss.”

“So if I were to say I’d done a search and found this essay – word for word – on the internet – what would you say?”

“They must have stolen it, Miss.”

“And the fact that it is date-stamped with a date five years ago – does that mean they stole it from your 10 year old mind? Impressive!”

When a lazy boy called Nathan brings you a clearly copied essay, then you can call them a liar. When a sweet little seven year old brings you a little hat that’s clearly hand-made and clearly a treasured possession, then you marvel in their wonder. A school in Bolton post all their achievements online and their head gets enough publicity that people from all over the world congratulate his students. That’s what should have happened to my mum. She should have had the head teacher give her a gold star and treasuring her. I bet you one thing, too. I bet my mum’s little knitted hats looked better than my cardigan. Nevertheless, when I post pictures of it, I expect you all to be nice and not tell me I’m lying and I must have bought it in a shop. And if a dear little girl shows you something lovely they’ve done, make sure you tell them how wonderful they are. And mean it.

The end of the year

Back in Manchester, the year ended on December 31st – with a bang, not a whimper. Fireworks, drinks, celebrations, clocks striking midnight. And that’s that. It’s over. New year starts. Resolutions are made. Nothing much changes. It might snow. It might blow a gale. There might be gallons of rain. But October looks like November which looks like December and January and February.

It gets darker, sure. The clocks go back and evening sets in earlier. But cities are good at creating an artificial sense of time. In Japan, the emperors cut down the cherry trees so their blossoming did not remind them of the passing of the seasons. Really, they should just have moved to the city. Thermostats and central heating and all-year-round tomatoes and oranges mean that it gets a little difficult to feel the seasons.

Here, it was warm yesterday afternoon. It’s been dry and the grass has finally given up. Apparently rain is due next Friday, but I’m not holding my breath. But in the morning, there’s a definite nip in the air. My bedroom temperature this morning finally dropped under 16 degrees. I’ve remembered a lot about how houses used to be cold.

My brother and I used to sit around this strange hot-air-blowing-vent-thing in our house of a morning. We ate our cereal sitting cross-legged by the hot air. Double glazing hadn’t been invented yet and my mum was frugal. It taught me valuable lessons that I think our children won’t know – what it means to have to put on another layer – why you need to wear pyjamas to bed – the glory of a hot water bottle – why double glazing was the best invention ever. That was the expansive 80s – yet when I talk about it, it seems as far away as toasting bread on an open fire, kippers for breakfast and Queen Victoria’s mourning.

In reality, the year goes out with a whimper, not a bang – like a balloon slowly deflating rather than popping. Each day gets a little shorter. Each morning gets a little later. Each day is a little colder. By this time last year, we’d had our first frosts. It’s been a little too warm for that yet, even though it’s the middle of October.

The poplars are now bare; the vine leaves are changing colour slowly. The plum trees in the garden are turning. I spent yesterday raking leaves to make for leaf mulch. I might have been sweating, but the world knows something I’ve not registered properly yet: it’s the end of the year.

We’ve not had a fire yet – though I suspect the day isn’t far off when I beg Steve to make one (man’s job. “I am man. I make fire.” says Steve. “I am woman. I do everything else.” say I.) and last night, I dug out my pyjama bottoms and a long-sleeved top. I’ve already put the blankets back on the bed.

Last year, we had oil for the central heating, but going through €50 of oil a week isn’t my idea of sense, so this year, we’re oil-free. Not only that, but our mighty burner has not got a thermostat, so it’s impossible to regulate. It’s off when you need it on. It takes hours to warm up. We have to go outside to switch it on. I might be regretting it later, but the thought of spending €1000 on keeping the house warm is enough to put off those regrets. Steve’s chopped wood (okay, so he does two jobs) and I might splash out on some electric blankets – maybe. The bed feels damp when it’s cold, and sometimes, March feels a very long way away when it’s 10 degrees in my bedroom.

Right now, the mornings are cool. I’ve shut my shutters and they’ll stay that way til March. I’ve a hole in my window frame that I’m going to plug up with mastic. I think a new window is in order next year. Maybe a double glazed one. How utterly luxurious!

The problem is that the day heats the lean-to and thus the house, which means that in the afternoon, the house is roasting. So if you light a fire in the morning, you let it go out in the afternoon because it’s warm and then spend all the afternoon in a warm haze with the doors open, wasting all the residual heat from the fire.

I love autumn as it finally gives way to winter. I love frost on berries and edging leaves. I love the crisp crunch of leaves underfoot, and the crisp grass (not that we’ll have much left by the end of the year!) I love hats and scarves and gloves and knitting. I love jumpers and coats. I love cold blue skies and pink cheeks. I love the low sun and the warm afternoons and I love having blankets on my bed. I love pyjamas and hot chocolate and hot water bottles. I’m glad the countryside year fades rather than pops. I love this rest time and the time to contemplate next year’s growth, planning out what I’ll do and where. I love these long, dark evenings and the time to rest. The world slows down. There’s less to do. I’m now only doing two hours in the garden each day, not three. It’s nature’s way of giving me a rest after the heat and hectic pace of summer. I like to think that the natural order of things is how it should be.

Now the only thing that could improve it would be to have a great Galway pub down the road, one with a roaring fire, a sad-eyed guy playing a guitar and all my friends and family in there. Winter evenings are meant for company. We tend to our roots.

Fog, steam and sweat…

… what my world is like without contact lenses.

I decided to give my little eyes a bit of a break from contact lenses last week and then I forgot to pack my lenses to take to Ireland. I’ve reminded myself why I love contacts so much. Glasses are rubbish.

1. I can’t see where I’ve put them. Contact lens makers make the cases in bright green and white so you can find them. Not only that you always leave it in the same place (next to the sink, of course) but I put my glasses everywhere and then I can’t find them. I’ve resorted to Magoo-like patting of stuff with my hands until I come across them. So far I’ve managed to knock several things over, stand on things and squint at stuff in a most comical manner.

2. I can no longer chop onions. I’m guessing contact lenses filter out onion gases so you don’t cry. Now I cry all the time. Rubbish. I chop loads of onions and I’d never really thought about it until today.

3. If it rains, I need little glasses-windscreen-wipers. If it rains a lot, like it did in Galway, I have to take them off and wipe them. And then I accidentally walk into things if I keep moving or cause traffic jams if I stop

4. If you go from a cold place to a warm place, they steam up. Rubbish. Then you can’t see anything. You have to take them off and wipe them. Same problems as number 3.

5. People accidentally think I’m intelligent.

6. I really need big Deirdre Barlow-Rashid-style glasses. I have fashionable little glasses but probably 75% of the world is an obscure haze

7. It makes me wobbly. It’s very disorientating only being able to see 25% of the world

8. Sometimes, drips of sweat go on them, or other drips of stuff, and then they need cleaning AGAIN.

9. Sometimes, I accidentally peer over the top of them when they slip down my nose, and then I look like Hattie Jacques telling Sid James off.

10. I can’t wear my Chanel sunglasses with them. Well, I can kind of hook them over the top, but that just looks weird. And my speccy sunglasses look like those strange dark glasses that weird people wear.

What I’ve been up to

I’ve been away for a few days. You might have noticed. You might not have. Mostly, I’ve been getting abuse from my family and their respective spouses and friends. Sadly, I’ve quite enjoyed that abuse.

Mossy's birthday kebab

It was Mossy’s birthday. Mossy can mostly be described as: offensive, smelly, unsociable, rude, abusive, windy and silly. He was 40. I don’t know how that happened. He’s kind of a bit like Keith Richards. Nothing can kill him now. According to him, he’s a suave lady-killer who spends his days saving lives and saving the planet. He doesn’t. He takes ‘samples’ and mows lawns. He’d decided we had to go to Galway. Lucky for him, my sister organised it, or else he might have ended up very far away from the destination like the men did when Mossy arranged my bother-in-law’s stag do in Barcelona. Apparently, the airport was in France and they spent more getting to the hotel than they did on the hotel. Not only that, but it transpires that one of the stag party not only had to go solo across Barcelona in an Elvis costume, but he also decided to urinate in said costume rather than remove it, because it was hard to get out of. I don’t know how men would handle jumpsuits or playsuits. Just as an aside, I don’t like ‘playsuits’. What’s the point in them? They look like rubbish pyjamas in the kind of fabric your nan bought off the market for a tenner for 20 yards.

He was upset I spoilt his kebab with candles

The day started in fine spirits with a pint and a breakfast at Manchester Airport (oh, Manchester, so much to answer for…) and the English getting pasted by the French at rugby. I did the decent thing and ordered coffee and an English breakfast. I don’t get much by way of English breakfasts these days. Pete, the bother-in-law, convinced me he was having porridge and a banana. What’s worse is that I believed him. He had a pint in his hand as he told me. I don’t know why I believed him. I did wonder why he’d not ordered something non-alcoholic if his arteries are in trouble. I even believed my sister when she said she was having granola. I’m so gullible.

Bit moist in Manchester
Bit moist in Manc

The plane was one of those tiny 30-seater things. I’ve never been on such a small plane. It was cute. There were only us and a few stragglers on it. Galway airport made Limoges airport look like an international transport hub. There was someone behind a little desk in a shed asking for passports. Having said that, they had a better shop than Limoges airport, and there were plenty of vending machines.

Quay St. Galway, Ireland

We checked in to our accommodation – some student apartments – apparently Galway is a student hub and many of the hotels and apartments were full. And then it was time for the real drinking to commence.

I want a little coat for Tilly. And some boots so her feet don't need washing!

Abi and I tramped round looking for somewhere to change money. Luckily I was prepared for not being able to find an exchange and for the banks being shut, being a French resident and all. The others all went to find a pub. They didn’t get far. The pub was precisely 10 metres from where we left them. Nothing like being picky.

We spent a bit of time in here... a Welsh pub in an Irish town

Mostly, the rest of the weekend was spent in pubs or taxis or the apartments. It was absolutely pissing it down for most of it. That damp rain that soaks you through. I was used to it. I’m from Manchester. One question remains. Why, when Abi and I spent the exact same time in the wet, did she look fine and I looked like a drowned rat? How does that happen?

Lovely little instrument shop

Plus, I realised the downside of wearing my glasses. I’ve gone back to glasses for a month or so. Apparently, this is to give my eyes a break. I don’t know how that works. My eyes hurt more, I feel dizzy and I spend all my time trying blindly to find them because I’ve put them somewhere. I need big Deirdre-style glasses so my vision isn’t restricted. Stupid glasses. Not only that, but my brother has the same pair, virtually. I tried his on. It transpires he doesn’t really need them – no difference whatsoever and I think he’d been ripped off by his optician since they made no difference. Either that or he was trying to make himself look more intelligent. It didn’t work.

The view of the public toilets... not sure why men use public toilets as a landmark when describing where they are

Most of the weekend was spent insulting people (the men) or being nice (the girls) Pete gives out most of the abuse, mainly in Mossy’s direction. To be fair, he deserves it. Mossy is deeply offensive. Every time I spoke, he gestured at me and said ‘IIIINNNNNGGG LIIISH!’ as if I had accidentally slipped into speaking French. I gave him a gallic shrug. He renamed it a garlic shrug. Pickles got some abuse, mainly for being a skinflint and a cradle-snatcher (he isn’t – well, he is a skinflint – but his girlfriend is twenty-seven – twelve year age gap) and most of the insults revolved around him buying meals for Emma from the children’s menu, or having to get her teacher’s permission to take her away on holiday. I’m sure Pete keeps people round as foils for a bit of his comic relief.

Seahorses in the aquarium - Mossy's birthday treat

Galway was lovely. It’s precisely what I wanted Ireland to be when I went to Dublin and I was sadly disappointed. Plus, I’d stopped expecting people to look like Westlife and remembered that Dolores O’Riordan, Sinead O’Conner and Shane McGowan are Irish. In the aquarium (well, in the building, not in the actual aquarium… he wasn’t a fish), there was a man with auburn shoulder-length curly hair who looked all celtic and Irish with his pixie boots and piratey belt and beard. He’s an extreme example, but there were lots of quirky looking celtic people. I loved all the pubs with their wooden snugs and alcoves and open fires. I loved the Guinness. I loved the music and despite the smell, the company wasn’t bad either. I love my sister and brother. They’re lovely. I’m a lucky girl. And Peter, Pickles and Mossy just gave me time to sharpen my wits on them. A little verbal swordplay never did anyone’s wits any harm, although to paraphrase Beatrice in Much Ado, the last time we had a battle of wits, most of their wits went limping off the battlefield and now they’re all left with only a tiny bit of sense left to govern them.

I like quirky signs!

 

Some days…

… when I’m feeling like this:

I like to play a little of this:

Today, I’m off to England, then Galway, for a family extravaganza. It’s to celebrate our friend’s 40th birthday. I can say very little about Mossy other than his tragic life is always amusing, not least when he sent a love letter to his daughter’s primary school teacher, which as legend has it, he’d sprayed with aftershave, and the time he kidnapped his dog back from his ex. I love Mossy, even if he is very annoying. He always has meat about his person, unwrapped, in a very unhygenic fashion.

Spot Mossy's meat... he always has some about his person

My brother and sister are also coming. I love my brother and sister with my whole heart. In fact, I’m surprised there is room in my heart to love anything else. My brother once went through a child-sized play tunnel in the Early Learning Centre just to cheer me up. The sight of a six-foot-odd man going through a tunnel designed for children definitely made me laugh. My sister is the best person I know at cheering anyone up. She’s a nurse and if her business is caring for people, she’s at the top of the tree.

Abi, Sophie - our step-sister, and me.

Add to this my brother’s girlfriend Lisa, who I’ve not met yet, but seems like the most lovely person on the planet, my comical brother-in-law who always makes me laugh, even when he’s being miserable and a couple of his friends and I know it will be the well-needed laughter break I need. Galway better be ready for us!

My brother in law with some mini-quiches

Apparently, it is going to rain. I don’t care. That’s just an excuse to sit in the pub and tell stories and have a laugh. If nothing else, the conversations that happen between us eight will be enough to bring the sun out, if not physically then certainly metaphorically.

I know that these people help me make sense of this mad world and “I’m not going to let stuff get me upset and I won’t let the little things (or the big things) get me depressed.”

I love my family 🙂

 

On not getting stressed.

According to a new report, stress is the major illness which affects people at work these days. It has overtaken cancer for the first time. Unlike cancer, which in many cases is not particularly avoidable, stress is a totally avoidable concept. So… what stops stress? One word. Care.

When we care for each other, when we look out for each other, when we can see that people have too much on their plates, when we help out, when we smile, when we ask how people are, when we support each other, stress does not exist to such a degree.

This brings us to a difficult conundrum. Some blaggers (not bloggers!) will be claiming stress. In fact, the people I know who’ve had the most amount of stress sick leave are not stressed at all. They’re taking advantage of their workplace, coworkers and the law to have fun, free days off ‘on the sick’. They are the people who have absolutely no concept of what stress is. No surprises, public sector illness is higher than private sector, because in the public sector it’s notoriously difficult to sack blaggers. Ironically, the people I’ve known with the most serious illnesses, including cancer, are the ones desperate to return to work, probably a long time before they are ready. Sick leave decreases, mysteriously, when people feel their jobs are under threat. Again ironically, isn’t this the time you should be most stressed?

Couple this with a report about the fact that 40% of workers would prefer to see a colleague lose their job than risk taking a paycut themselves and it’s no wonder people are stressed. We’re clearly working with a load of people who’d rather see us starve. Almost 1 in 2 people you work with would rather see you starve than take a pay cut themselves. Nice! When we’re surrounded by people like these, no wonder we’re stressed!!

I’m reminded of one thing. As a self-employed person, I’ve never, not once, taken a day off sick. When your livelihood is dependent on your earning and when you are face-to-face with clients, being sick is all relative. But then, apart from an extended enforced sick leave period as I left full-time teaching, I only ever had 5 days off sick in 15 years. It’s that halo of mine. It’s very good at scaring off infections.

I go with the school of thought that says there are two types of people, altruistic and selfish. Altruistic people are off with stress because they are genuinely stressed. They probably had to be forced to stay off work. No doubt they were doing 10 people’s jobs. Selfish people are off with stress because it’s hard work being so selfish. It’s clearly very stressful. These are the same people who say they’d rather see a colleague be made redundant than take a pay cut til things ease up. Altruistic people need to be driven home from work if they look ill, and forced to rest. They need someone to come along with coffee and lemsips and hot water bottles and someone to say ‘you’re appreciated!’. Selfish people need someone to come round and drag them out of their houses and kick them up the bum, then threaten to sack them if they have another day off. Then altruistic people wouldn’t be sorting out the work of selfish people and everything would be good.

It’s simple when you think about it.

And if you want to know who to care for and who to kick? Ask them ‘anonymously’ if they’d rather take a pay cut or see a colleague lose their job. Reward the pay-cutters and punish the redundancy-fiends.

Some days are shitter than others*

* a loose Smiths-based pun

Yesterday, there was a surge of frustration in the air. Nothing seemed to go right and it was as if there were something maliciously poltergeisty in the universal zeitgeist stirring up all the ghosts in the machine. I wrote several things that then ‘disappeared’ into the ether. I completed several tasks that just evaporated and my early diligence was rewarded by having to do things again.

I went to the supermarket. Shut for stocktaking. The Casino supermarket was open, but with things over double the price, it’s not worth doing a weekly shop there. I bought enough for the day and went home.

Steve had gone out and locked the gate. Luckily, I knew where he’d gone. Unluckily, there are several routes back from where he’d gone and he could have been on any of them. I raced off in the car. He wasn’t at Roy’s. I raced back. Luckily, I found him just about to off-road under a bridge. I always knew he was a troll.

I got back for my lesson with minutes to spare.

Then all hell broke loose in the afternoon. I can even begin to say the changes that must unfold as a result, but suffice to say it sent me to bed early.

Lucky for me, I get to wake up with a quince tree outside my window, with a happy cat and a giddy dog and no matter how hard I have to work for it all, I can always find something to bring a smile to my face as I remember just how very lucky I am. Sisters, mums, nanas, friends: I’m a lucky, lucky girl. I only have to look at Tilly to have a smile come to my face. When I wake up in the night, she is always right there, her i.d. tags tinkling and her little tail a-wagging. She is a funny, funny, cute little dog and sometimes, a cute little teddy-bear of a dog is just enough to send me back to sleep with a smile on my face.