Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Conkers, treasure and anniversaries

It will be my first wedding anniversary on Sunday. We chose this time of year because 1) I love Autumn 2) my partner does not like Autumn & wanted to brighten it up with an "event"! More people have remembered it than we did. We've had lots of enquiries about what we are "going to do". To be honest, we're glad we found each other because we're both a bit non-plussed by the whole thing and have questioned what we are meant to do. Clearly there is an expectation that we mark this event in some way other than wash the car and clean the house, which would be usual Sunday events in our life of domesticated bliss... So, having decided to go for a long walk with the dog and have lunch out it will no doubt pour with rain. However, this will not deter us from our enforced enjoyment - well it hasn't done for any of our holidays for the past three years (camping - a whole other blog required for that topic!) Anyway, having chosen a suitable activity I've then been wondering whether to go as far as a gift.

For some people, jewellery is an obvious choice. Not in our relationship. Both of us would be too worried about losing or breaking anything too expensive. I have to take my wedding ring in to the jewellers be re-polished already after lots of bumps and scratches. So, given our own personal credit crunch, I started to think about what "thoughtful" present I might give. I believe Paper is commonly understood to be first wedding anniversary fodder according to some old rhyme, but I'm guessing I should do something imaginative with it rather than hand over a sheet of A4? So then I starting thinking about things we find valuable.

Personally, I don't think you can go wrong with a really shiny smooth conker...I mean, from an early age (and I don't think I'm alone fellow treasure hunters?) I've found it hard to resist a good conker, acorn, stone, shell. How wonderful they look when you find them - pebbles and shells gleaming wet in sunshine, a conker's rich-coloured shine on the grass in the park. I don't think this urge to collect pretty, shiny things ever really goes away. We were out walking with my mother-in-law and her partner some time ago, when he found a Jay feather with a distinctive bright stripe of blue on it. Quick as a flash, she had it out of his hand stating, "I keep the treasure!" - and she meant it. We love to collect this sort of stuff, to the detriment of pockets and washing machines.

But how they fade when you take them home! After a short time the conker goes dull & you can't make it shine like new again (unless you varnish it), worse still if you collect a carrier bag full (which some children might have done...) they soon start to smell of decay in the corner of your room. Not good. Acorns shrivel up and fall out of their little cups, a pebble never looks so good as when the stream or sea is washing it clean. So I think I'll use my sheet of paper to make an invitation to go out and look at all this treasure in the great outdoors. Rain or shine.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Grasping the nettle - The Autumn clear-out

For several months (well, getting on for two years) the house has been gradually descending into a state of dishevelment worthy of any student population. We had burglaries recently in our area and had to face facts: How would we know if we'd been burgled? The place finally looked like it had been through a spin dryer and furniture had landed haphazardly in each room. A mess. Don't get me wrong, we've still cleaned the bits that show, we're not total tramps. However, the main issue I identified after looking through an interiors magazine, was the lack of a "cohesive look" - who am I kidding, that was the main issue, but the fact remains that we've still got furniture we both brought to the relationship five years ago, which doesn't necessarily go together, but we both felt precious enough about our own pieces to avoid actually throwing anything out.

In a similar vein, we have an endless battle with stuff coming through the letter box. Relentless sheets of paper build up behind the door on a weekly basis - advertisements for local businesses including take-away menus for places I don't even know never mind would be tempted to order from. We bought a letter rack to deal with this, that's been stuffed full for months and now things build up on the floor in the hall, on top of shelves, anywhere we can squirrel it away to avoid dealing with it. This means that meaningful post which might need something doing with it, gets lost amidst the strewn batches of paper dross.

Therefore, this weekend we decided to try to give the place a fresh look, mainly to avoid living in a flea market come junk shop for the rest of our days. Usually, I would only clear stuff out to avoid doing something else more pressing and dull, such as postgraduate study - nothing like it for ensuring you've got clean paintwork throughout the house I find. However, this weekend we resolved to clear out for the sake of it, be firm, ruthless. If it's not required, throw it out! I use the term "we" loosely, it all sounds easy in principle but if you're married to a total hoarder it makes things twice as difficult. We once did a carboot sale and as I was selling things up one end of the table, my partner was buying stuff back at the other end...Subsequently, this weekend I had to endure sad eyes enquiring pitifully whether a screwdriver thing for getting staples out of the wall might one day "come in useful?" Well, it hasn't in the past five years, so I'm guessing not. I found it later in the airing cupboard.

Nevertheless, after much planning, sorting and shifting of stuff, we've ended up with a pile to go to the charity shop, the recycling bins are all full and we've got a stack of rubbish to go (things we've carried around from place to place for years, but are no use to man nor beast...) I've even filed away my bank statements. It feels great! Now, I'm not being smug, as noted above it's taken me some time to grasp this nettle but it actually wasn't as bad as I thought. It's started me thinking about all those things I put off, then when I finally do them they're usually not such an ordeal and leave me feeling that I might be a capable, organised person after all.

So I've been spurred on in all directions - I've done a stack of laundry, got a casserole simmering in the slow-cooker, booked my car in for a service and found all the relevant bits of paperwork for that (to avoid the usual frenzied, grumpy search the morning I'm due to take the car). I would have cut the lawn, but I was saved by rain starting. Ah well, there's still the ironing, and I need to find a dentist...

I'm sure I'll collapse into a slovenly heap some point soon, but until then I shall be a calm and efficient person in my nice tidy house...Is that ANOTHER FREE PAPER?!!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Briefly - Rugby and dancing

As we now know, Autumn is a good time of year for me partly because of the TV viewing on offer. One of my highlights this Autumn will be the Rugby World Cup. Apologies American readers, I know you have your own version, but I can't help but love the way our boys basically fight each other (usually in a lot of mud) for a ball that isn't even round. I'm afraid I don't have much time for English football (soccer), never have. It winds me up when overpaid young boys trip over and clutch at their ankle with agonised expressions - you don't get any of that nonsense on a rugby pitch. There's a "blood bin" an acknowledgement that at some time during the battle, somebody will probably be bleeding to unpleasant proportions and have to go off the pitch - not for the rest of the match though, just until a couple of butterfly stitches and some Vaseline have stemmed the flow, then he'll be right back out their grappling for that ball as if his life depended on it. Primal. Brilliant. And such a joy to watch men doing what they obviously enjoy and do well: running, pushing and shoving, jumping and skidding on mud, posturing, then when they've got it all out of their system in the eighty minutes allotted, they all shake hands and have a bath together. Great.
Thinking of posturing, another great but slightly overlooked male arena is ballroom dancing. When my friends first encouraged me to watch Strictly Come Dancing, I was pretty sure that it would all be a bit naff and namby. How wrong I was! I've loved watching contemporary dancing for years, so I wasn't such a Neanderthal that I didn't appreciate the strength of male dancers, but those ballroom blokes doing the Paso Doble was pretty impressive...
Don't even get me started on the female professional dancers...My goodness, what bodies?! I'm not jealous, because that would be futile and might imply that I had even an ounce of the discipline and dedication they have to achieve that tone, not to mention the length of the legs - you've either got them or you haven't. I can't comment on female rugby players because I haven't seen them on TV, whereas toned women in lots of make-up wearing next-to-sequinned-nothing, I have.
I suppose for either gender dancing is not unlike rugby, you've got to think about where you're going, be pretty light on your feet but also strong so that you don't get knocked over, fall over or squashed.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


In the past two years I have ventured into the world of dog "ownership" - I use inverted commas, because she seems to be able to manipulate me anytime to get what she wants, so I'm not sure who the owner is. I didn't grow up with dogs, so always considered myself to be a cat person - a recognised demarcation in life, you're either a dog or a cat person it seems. Dog people I always perceived to be much more robust than me, I always thought I was too much of a wimp to take charge of a dog. But it's probably been no surprise to my friends and family that bossy little me can come to the fore when required. The first test was stopping her greeting everybody with a big Maia-cuddle, which involved her reaching up full stretch to hold onto the shoulders of any visitors or friends she met in the street. Quite alarming if your not a dog person. I was adament I didn't want to come out with a phrase which had annoyed me intensely in the past (whilst scraping paw prints and mud off my clothes) "Oh, she's just being friendly...!" But I suspect that resolution is up there with - I'll never buy plastic toys or give my child a dummy.

Which brings me to the comparison between pets and children. A contentious issue. I began my adventure with my beautiful greyhound as my friends' children were growing into toddlers and beyond. I found myself biting my lip to avoid saying "Oh, Maia does that..." when they were describing some of their children's antics. It's a common mistake, not approved of by parents in general - childless people likening their pets to a precious child... I can understand, but what can I say? The wish to anthropomorphise is just too great. I can only apologise. Indeed, just like all parents I know with endless kiddie-snaps, my phone is filled with photographs of my dog, because I think she is the most beautiful, funny little soul that ever existed. However, I can see it might appear boring to have hundreds of photos of a black greyhound asleep with her mouth open...

Well, best go take her for an evening walk. Oh there's my friend, "Maia no!...Don't worry she's just being friendly...!"

Monday, 12 September 2011

Autumn - Part I

My favourite season. Many mourn the loss of Summer with no more tanning opportunities, but I’ve never had good legs so I’m happy back in trousers or woolly tights. Also, emotionally it’s a much safer season: A hot drink on a cold crisp day outside is lovely; a sticky, hot pic-nic with wasps and flies is distressing. When it rains and howls a gale on your Summer holiday it’s upsetting and disappointing, we feel personally slighted and hard-done-by, not so in Autumn. We expect rain & automatically re-focus our hopes and plans so that if it rains it becomes a chance to curl up and watch old movies, drink hot chocolate and stuff yourself with Autumn/Winter food goodies, such as apples and late Summer berry crumbles and pies, hearty soups and stews. Marvellous. Gets my vote over lettuce every time.

I think I was a hibernating creature in a previous existence, because for me it’s the season to ‘get my nest in order’. I’m not bothered by Spring Cleaning – leave it, we’ll eat outside…but come Autumn I know I’m going to be indoors for the next few months so I’m more motivated to have a clear-out or slap some paint on the walls. Then once I’ve had a good sort and things are in order I can relax with new season TV. Brilliant.

I know this may be controversial for some, but I’m not a big X-Factor fan. Watching the deluded and untalented makes me squirm with embarrassment. But, give me a celebrity in a sparkly outfit learning ballroom dancing – now you’re talking! With inspirational professional dancers, who, let’s face it, are pretty easy on the eye, it all makes for top-telly watching. Then whenever I can tear myself away from redecorating or being a couch potato, there’s the great outdoors!

Of course, this provides a perfect excuse for one of my addictions, my joy-of-joys: Knitwear. Love it. I have far too many jumpers, hats, scarves and gloves, but I can’t resist the stuff. A good jumper is like wearing a big hug from your closest friend. Feeling tired and sleepy on a cold, dark morning? Put on a lovely squadgy jumper or scarf (or both), perhaps a poloneck for really tough days, and you’ll feel tons better, more prepared to face the world.

Taking a break from knitwear shopping and browsing the new Autumn/Winter collections in the shops the other day, I stopped for a coffee and did some people watching. Now compared to a few weeks ago when everybody seemed to looked like tired old bags of laundry, people have now made the odd A/W purchase – new skirts, hair colours and shiny boots paraded past me. Everybody looks new again. So don’t despair about the dark days ahead. Light some candles, watch a movie, or get those woollies on and go out in search of orange cornflake leaves to kick about.
Is it me or is it warm in here…?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Leisure Club

Learning to live with a back injury, I took the opportunity to treat myself to a (reasonably) expensive leisure club membership. I had tried municipal pools but not to put too fine a point on it, they made me feel a bit sick. I don’t have OCD but I couldn’t have taken my shoes off in those changing rooms never mind anything else. Bully for all those people who can swim in the sea and put their bare foot on a discarded corn plaster without a second thought, but that is not for me.

So, off to my new leisure club, nodding “good mornings” with retired older ladies who are aging gracefully, brushing shoulders with model-type younger women, and of course the successful business men (who are less graceful). I know they are successful because they talk about it, a lot, in the sauna between themselves. In fact many conversations are conducted entirely in pounds sterling, or they may have a more frivolous conversation about status symbols such as yachts, cars, acres, ponies, holidays… I work in health services in a deprived area of the city, so I tend to have minimal input into the conversation.

In fact, most of the time I feel like an imposter, upsetting the natural social order. I have to raise my game to not be found out. Subsequently, going to the leisure club has become a job in itself, demanding high standards of appearance through unwritten rules, glances, a code I am beginning to crack… I like a challenge so I have thrown myself into a frenzy of manicures, pedicures and general personal grooming. Now I join in smiling beneficently at occasional users with slightly sagging swimming costumes and grey roots on show. But friends keep my feet on the ground – after my new recent haircut a backhanded compliment: “it’s not that it looked scruffy before, but it’s…better now”.

Reception staff perpetuate the attitude of striving for physical perfection, although all communication is delivered with a strong Northern drawl and ends inevitably with “love”. Upon first contact: would I like to take advantage of an induction to the new gym equipment with individual media screens? No. Thanks. I’ll just have a gentle swim. The new me doesn’t feel the burn, I just try to stay mobile. As, it should be noted do most of my friends with no physical health excuses. Which brings me to the free passes – ooh how exciting, I can take my friends to share my new-found treat! I took my closest friend, who emerged from the changing rooms with swimming cap and goggles in place and proceeded to do front crawl and attempted tumble-turns up and down the pool. Hm, I had to explain on behalf of all female members, that mainly here we do a sedate breaststroke with hair clipped up artfully and wearing at least a bit of lipstick or mascara, before sitting in the Jacuzzi for about half an hour.

You can get up to ten such nicely-turned-out women bobbing gently backwards and forwards in the pool at any one time. Not so the men. Generally when a man gets in it’s like a full breach of the sperm whale, the movement from which could lift all the aforementioned women out of the pool on the crest of a wave. Splashing and smashing through the water with what, in his head, must feel like Olympic-style skill and finesse, in reality he won’t be getting on that 2012 bus – it’s a big splashy mess and if he were your child you’d tell him off.

So mainly I’m trying to keep it real at the luxury leisure club. Who knows, one day I might even see if I can get a TV working on the gym equipment, for now I’m off to buy more mascara and fake tan.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Town and Country

I had always fancied myself as a bit of a country type. Brought up in a small market town in rural Shropshire, surrounded by farms, the smell of manure held no fear for me. However, slowly but surely the scales have fallen from my eyes, the disillusionment has been revealed and accepted. I am “A Townie” through and through.

It all began a few years ago when I bought a pony-trekking session for an ex-partner. Aforementioned partner cantered up ahead while I was stuck on a horse that might have once been white, but now looked like one of my old vests, with a nicotine-stained fringe. My horse was more interested in chomping away in verges and ditches. “Just kick your legs!” came the orders from up front. Well, my little legs were bouncing off the sides of that horse to no avail. The next day, walking like John Wayne back from a long trip, I considered I might be better just walking in nature, rather than trying to be so “hands-on”.

Being firmly of the school of “all the gear, no idea”, I bought a small rucksack, waterproofs, boots and a book Pub Walks Around Britain. This couldn’t fail. I dragged my suitably kitted partner out of bed early one weekend and we set off for a good long walk (well, three mile loop). It all started well, deep breath in, ahhh fresh air, views…ooh ankle deep in mud, and other stuff. No matter. Over the stile into a field full of cows, the biggest cows you’ve ever seen, surely prize specimens for any County show? And they were curious, very curious, so much so that there was no indolent staring and chewing but a stampede towards us. Partner already disappearing into the distance (my hero), I followed rapidly back through mud and unmentionables to land breathlessly the other side of a stone wall – the beauty and security of which did not escape me. On the long trek back round to the car I wondered if just looking at wildlife might be a safer option.

Next month off we went to a Shire Horse Centre. Lovely. Great big shiny beasts behind nice secure stable doors and at safe distances in paddocks. Ah, this is more me I thought, until a stableman appeared with his roll-up firmly stuck to his bottom lip, shouting that he was about to take the stallion to “serve” some mares and for us all to gather round. Intriguing. Then the stallion appeared, no doubt what was on his mind, he wouldn’t be “serving” drinks…Well, I came over quite Jane-Austin-faint at the sight of all this. Measurements could have been taken in double-decker buses or football pitches I’m sure. The American tourists who formed part of our gang of voyeurs started taking photos, and I did wonder what the accompanying commentary might be to that slide show back home.

So as Autumn approaches I am preparing for lots of woodland walks with my dog. Gentle strolls in colourful, deciduous woodland, what could be safer than that? What’s that you say, deer rutting…?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Hairdressers

The hairdressers – different things to different people. To me, a treat, a well-earned luxury, an opportunity to pamper myself. To my friend, a hellish necessary inconvenience causing acute distress and anxiety from the moment the appointment is booked. She’s not good at conversations in busy, noisy places, which makes the hairdressers a very difficult place, unless you can lipread in a mirror. Also having to sit and look at yourself for a length of time can be difficult. I tend to purposely over-apply my make-up, but generally to no effect – my stylist looks healthy and glowing while I look like a starved vegetarian moments from death. Still, I embrace this opportunity to critique and make plans for a new healthier me. My friend stares and stares at herself until a mild form of body dysmorphia ensues. By the time we meet afterwards, we have to spend a good few hours on reassurance – no your eyes aren’t too big, no your hair isn’t too blonde…

But the key thing to the whole experience is the relationship with your stylist – which (whether you realise it or not) is one of the most important in your life. They have the power to make you feel glamorous and new or like one of the muppets. It’s important to build up rapport and trust, you need someone who will listen to your needs but also contribute yet not chop away blindly whilst telling you about their most recent social exploits.

If I am to consider my hairdresser experiences in terms of relationships over the past month, I have been through a break-up (after a long-term relationship), a one-night-stand and I am now at the start of a new relationship. Let me put this in context: 4 years ago the lovely Tara started cutting my hair, we have been through several very short styles, & ended up at a short bob (which I was growing). People would often compliment me on the cut, then last month Tara told me she was emigrating to Sydney the following Monday. I’m over the worst of the shock and loss now and can even wish her well, rather than be preoccupied with the immediate question, “who will cut my hair?”

So, yesterday I took the bull by the horns and had my first “blind date” with stylist Melissa. It was not a roaring success. I had short layers where there should not be short layers, and a thick wodge of woolly hair jammed behind each ear. If you have thick hair, like me, with alpaca tendencies you have to break-in any new stylist carefully. Invest some time, give them the benefit of your 20, 30, 40+ years of experience of dealing with the wire wool or candyfloss that grows on your head, but don’t be too overpowering and bossy…I tried, she tried, but it just didn’t work. She held the back-mirror, I nodded and smiled in true English spirit whilst inside wanting to cry a bit.

I left the hairdressers and immediately threw more money at the situation, buying lots of hair grips, clips and bands, but now it wasn’t long enough to clip back. Fighting the panic, I managed to talk it through with my friend who suggested rationally that I call them and ask for it to be put right. Once she had said “Hm, I see what you mean” whilst casting a critical eye over my barnet, I knew I had to wrestle with my tendency to try to avoid confrontation and be grown-up, assertive – complain. And, it went surprising well! I was booked in the following day with Bryan, who also appraised the cut with “Hm, I see what you’re saying”. Subsequently, he has rectified as best he can & I have a free appointment with him next month. We discussed my hair, he finished my sentences, it was marvellous. So, it may not have been a fairytale start to my new stylist relationship, but at least I’ve found somebody now who is on the same wavelength!