Rock, Paper, Quizzers

I’ve just arrived back from speaking at the Gibunco Gibraltar Literary Festival where one of the highlights was 95 year-old Nicholas Parsons and his wife hosting a panel game show. He’s inspiring (still breathing in); I’m aspirating to his Peter Pan-esque life. On a wall somewhere, there must be a picture of Nicholas Parsons, ageing rapidly. He performed fabulously, better than four 27 ½ year olds could.

At the festival we were treated like royalty, ferried around in Jaguars, fed and watered to perfection; dining, no whining. On one of the many fabulous tours we were introduced to the macaques which apparently are not apes but monkeys without a tail. As one of the defining features of a monkey is the possession of a tail, its lack feels very bizarre, like being introduced to a short giant. The tour Primatologist was very specialised, possibly a macaquologist. Ultra-highly focussed biologists, tailologists, would be unemployable on Gibraltar. There probably being more Primark-ologists than Primatologists on the planet could bring a whole new meaning to the concept of re-tail therapy.

Legend has it that if the monkeys leave the rock so will the British. With Brexit brewing, Spain may well have a banana and butterfly net primate-napping campaign planned. Unable to discuss politics with my basic Spanish, at the cable car top reception I was left saying that the whole business with ‘el Brexit es muy malo. Un kilo de tomates y dos cervezas, por favor.’

With such an extraordinary amount of history packed into such a small area, Gibraltar must have the highest major historical events rate per square metre on the planet. The World War II tunnels here are particularly fascinating. I discovered that although I thought I was as surefooted as a goat, at the darker points I was as surefooted as a goat without a torch. The authorities calculated that the entire population of Gibraltar could fit into the tunnels during WW II if needed, like a glorious game of Sardines. Presumably little food, light or water, but very cosy with a great view.

IMG_3950

Gibraltar is a fascinating mixture of cultures where everybody local seems to be bilingual. Normal Spenglish conversation is sprinkled with porque, mira, gracias. Overhearing this, I decided to change the name of the dog (perro) in my presentation to Perrita, ie little female dog. I avoided pero, (but) as this presumably meant that Perita would be little but. Unfortunately, my previous presentation canine, Barkshire, had been male. As I didn’t change the sex elsewhere, this poor puppy transgendered itself three times during two minutes of talking. Only a small fail: a fail-ita.

The Convent, the governor’s mansion, was used for some lectures, requiring security searches on the way in. It was startlingly brave of him to hold a literary festival at home; difficult to imagine this at our house. ‘The next lecture will take place in my daughter’s bedroom, the Floordrobe. Please kick the clothes out of the way on entry. In a fire, escape by knotting garments into a rope, although don’t bother with the skirts as there’s not enough material to count. The second lecture will be in the kitchen, featuring DIY coffee. Delegates will be frisked for knives and sharp objects on the way out. Flushed with our success so far, lecture 3 will take place in the bathroom.’

There was a wonderful talk on submarines. I’m slightly scared of travelling in one, which is illogical as being underwater in a long metal tube must be like being on a plane but with less wings, duty-free and cabin crew. Plunging downwards without seat belts presumably produces a jumble of bodies at the front pointy end. Gib’s runway has sea at both ends, hence offers the prospect of an unscheduled refreshing dip, so perhaps people should travel in bathing suits as they doubtless do in submarines.

At the Garrison Library we were entertained daily in the Green Room, the name clearly describing its ethics rather than appearance. This had stunning views over a courtyard of orange trees; a brilliant venue to pick. IMG_3942Below was the bookshop, hub of the buying orgy. Having flown in, our major challenge was to buy less than our baggage allowance of goods. The shop should have sold books by weight, not by price. ‘Two kilos of autobiography, please and a soupcon of humour. A bag? 4 whole grams? You’re joking, surely.’

On cruises, ultra-catered, you embark as a passenger and disembark as cargo. It seemed that the Gibraltar Literary Festival organisers had taken this concept as their rallying cry and we were fed fabulously for four nights, overseen by international chefs. Never has gluttony tasted so good. Caleta Hotel, Rock Hotel, Gibraltar University: our stomachs salute you.

As I read my 22.9 kg of new books, what will be my enduring memories? The fun, laughter, camaraderie, fantastic cargo-genic hospitality and warmth of the local people as I miss being driven around in Jaguars without tails.

Alison Gardiner
©2018

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Croatia Bound (to be fun)

Jacob’s ladder, in the famous dream, stretches from Earth to the heavens, and fittingly I met Jacob when we were about to fly to Croatia. Although only six months old, Jacob sportingly bleeped on going through the metal detector at Manchester airport. The guards frisked him, clearly believing him to be a micro-terrorist, their suspicions compounded by his limited grasp of English. On close questioning, he probably replied with both ends. Needing to apply for a passport many months before travel, Jacob’s image would have been an in-utero ultrasound, thus black-and-white, fuzzy, not showing his current cute, smiley self, thus compounding the problem. They were probably also concerned that he might have had more than 100 mls of fluid on or, more accurately, in his person.
If security guards are paid per person, they must have felt that Jacob was an easy option at the standard rate of two frisks per kilo. When I last saw Jacob, he was wearing a blue and white striped all-in-one suit, presumably preparing himself for penal servitude. However I doubt that Jacob would have been attempting to smuggle anything other than an extra pot of apple squish (iSquish) into Croatia, M’Lud. Ultimately his parents might have felt that, despite the advantages of durability and ease of cleaning, it was a poor purchasing decision to buy him a metal nappy.
Once in Croatia we plunged into our watersports/land sports/climbing holiday. The enthusiastic people running the place put on many activities including a quiz. Some questions were a tad obscure, including what the national animal of Croatia was. Luckily fate had sent me a hint as I was sitting next to Marten. We could have used that celestial prod in the Netherlands last year. ‘Good evening, may I join your quiz team? My name’s Black-Tailed Godwit.’
The activities crowd put on a series of skits, including one featuring the superhero Climbing Wall Girl. We missed the other teams’ potential heroes: waterfront team’s Laser with obvious superpowers; cycle team’s Cycles with Wolves or, considering health and safety, Brakes for Wolves; tennis team’s Ball Boy – questionable superpowers. The local massive wind, Bora, struck several times, whisking cycle bits, washing, wetsuits – and probably small children – into the air, Wizard of Oz-esque. On the last night, I slept through force 12 winds. That’s my superpower.
Bora
The tennis group was mixed, although Teenagers Thtiff and Thor (names changed to ensure anonymity, but you know who you are, Jack and Alex) were fantastically good, almost like machines (robots, not drinks dispensers, although that would have been useful). We watched the pros play a terrific exhibition match with all the required self-encouragement associated with adding competition to testosterone. I’ll take this lesson back to my everyday life, so shout ‘Come on, Ali’, grunt and fist pump before I inject a shoulder. Taking it a stage further, I might get my patients to applaud afterwards if they can still lift their arms.

Coming back, I was mortified to find that we had failed to pack a chainsaw in our hand luggage as below.airport chainsaw A simple error to make.
Would I go back? Absolutely. The area is beautiful, the people delightful and the holiday was huge fun. However, to improve my chances of getting through security without being stopped, I’ll travel with my chainsaw, but without Jacob and thus Jacob’s Bladder.

 

No small children were harmed in the writing of this blog.

 

Alison Gardiner 2017

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Lowerwatha

Some years ago my eldest son, now 23, decided to learn Mandarin, so I thought I’d have a crack at it too. Yes, I’m that malleable. The text sheets only had a couple of suggested names, so he became Handsome From the North and I, Winter Plum Blossom.

One of the punishments landed on my progeny when they’re being unhelpful is to have extracts of Hiawatha read to them until they do something useful. Works fabulously. If I intone, ‘By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water,’ I get instant obedience. Very Pavlovian, but with less meringue.

Handsome recently bought his own Hiawatha, presumably because he wanted the younger ones to do something for him; I feel a clean bedroom/car coming on. My little grey cells thought this was funny; thus appeared an East/West fusion…

 

Handsome From The North they called him.

And his arm was strong as bear

And his bare arm strong as lion.

And his lion around was legend.

 

And his mother was a blossom.

Of the winter, of the plum.

But the cadence was against her.

In a single line, she couldn’t

Put her name, poor Winter P.

For the Blossom, it was too long.

Though the Winter it was quite short.

And the Plum was even shorter.

Thus she struggled, though her daughter

Was a student, English major.

Though she rambled, rules were broken.

Yet she could not get her name in.

So she failed, sweet Winter Plum

Blossom.

 

Then she cheated even more so,

Put the cart before the horse-o

Blossom Winter Plum for syntax.

Though it sounded strange and foreign,

BWP was somehow pleasing

For at school; some moons ago;

An acronym all pupils used

To denote a thing of no note

Waste paper bin: WPB.

Thus bin name Winter Plum Blossom

As it carries probs with cadence

Blossom Winter Plum she’ll be.

 

Handsome found that thus to ramble

Passed right down the family tree

Then he sweated and he cried out

For a rambler such he’ll be.

Nights of torment, nights of terror

And yet nothing he can do

For the fates have now decided

He shall be a rambler too.

Fly his puns as straight as arrows

Hitting target, makes him quiver,

Bad enough to make a bull sigh.

Bravely shaft you with his humour.

Other mortals bow to topics

Verses, rhymes of serious note;

But he won’t change his tone, for he

Will not be blue: ‘snot in his genes.

 

Handsome’s father, Ha Ha, said

To Handsome’s brother, Minihaha,

‘Caution! Near the Big-Sea-Water

Temptation’s lying all around:

Little magic playing boxes,

Designer envy: Gimme Gucci;

Sticks hit balls to flags on greens;

Squaws whose clothing don’t abound

In the sun the paleskin’s redskin.

Beware of Peeling Face and shun

Fall-Over-Water, Spicy Wind.

But these vices have a function:

For moral lessons: mock a sin.’

 

Handsome From The North; they’ve shelved him

Now in print his words abound

His story tomes now are book ends

Bound, his stories became ledge end.

 

 

© Winter Plum Blossom 2012

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Bin DIY

Beating, whipping, rubbing, slaving, dustup.

50 shades?

No, housework and cooking. All negative words. Nothing positive except gleam. I’d be a happy puppy if housework was entirely banned and a little polish pertained only to a small gentleman from Warsaw.

Yet you can’t expect to bin housework entirely. Even if living in a cave you’d need an occasional swipe at the floor with your second best broomstick to get rid of carrot peelings, squirrels, an overstock of newts’ eyes or left-overs, like frogs’ bodies.

Nowadays glossy magazines and TV programs promote house worship; froufrou furniture, bijou bidets, pretentious paint, designer glue: it’s a DIY make-over take-over. An explosion (though a neat one) of homephilia, or even chez-moiphilia if French. Yet a foreigner (bless their pronunciation-challenged cotton socks) might be startled by our interest in euthanasia, there being so many ‘die’ outlets available.

It’s time we dispensed with DIY. A much better option would be returning to the barter situation, so I babysit your sprogs and you put my shelves up. An hour’s dog walking might equate to half a metre of ironing or some light bulbs changed. This system will be called SEDIFY: Someone Else Do It For You. Much more time efficient, as people would be doing tasks they liked and were good at. This would bestow a warm and fuzzy feeling on both donor and recipient; like kidney donation, but without the fuzzy-making anaesthetic. Or blood.

I’m a terrible wallpaperer; my husband decided we’d move home shortly after one of my more notable efforts. However, I have other talents; walking dogs, making apple crumble, arguing with teenagers; you get kitchen and plastered, I get teenagers and curfew, although there seems to be a short straw in that pairing.

We use SEDIFY at home as everyone has some culinary piece de resistance. When I delegate dinner, we eat flapjacks, chocolate cake, spaghetti hoops or beans depending on which child has been designated chef. No, vegetables don’t feature; artistic licence, they tell me. That’s their piece of resistance.

The worrying bit is if the government decided to tax SEDIFY. We’d have to go to the Houses of Parliament to change 25% of their lightbulbs or put up 40% of a shelf. In return, politicians could use their best skill, supplying us with green fuel from the Westminster Hot Air Generator: natural gas.

So if you’re bored of ironing join SEDIFY – or get somebody else to join it for you.

Alison Gardiner

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Spin it again Sam

I’m fascinated by the power of spin, such as that put on a high profile politician’s grandfather, a notorious horse thief, who was hung for his crimes. This was re-modelled: the grandfather was a very notable historical figure, dying at a ceremony being held in his honour when the platform on which he was standing collapsed beneath him.

I also love the hidden messages in stock phrases. Being a doctor I generally try and avoid saying, ‘That’s very interesting.’ Medically interesting is absolutely the last thing in the world you would want to be. Medically dull should be the pinnacle of one’s lifetime achievement. As soon as my eyes start sparkling and I lean forward in my chair, you can be sure that the diagnosis is not going to be great news for you. Terrific for me, possibly, as it could be the most fascinating thing I’ve seen in months. But for you, not so good.

Phrases such as ‘I’ll just run a few tests,’ could mean, ‘I’ve got absolutely no idea whatsoever what’s wrong with you, but a trawl through your bodily fluids may produce an answer.’ Or it could be as blunt as, ‘Your liver seems to be shot to pieces, but I think I’d better see all the numbers on paper (doubtless in red) before I break it to you.’

‘See you again soon,’ could be that simple or, ‘Frankly, you’re looking really unwell. I doubt that you can make it through the next few days. Better come back.’

Medical acronyms can be fun. On Sundays we used to have a regular stream of LOL CIC, ie ‘little old lady; collapsed in church’. GOK is the diagnosis of God Only Knows. TBF is to be avoided, being Total Body Failure. One of my colleagues used to write J P FROG in the notes which meant ‘just plain … run out of gas,’ (TBF really). TATT (tired all the time) is really useful. ‘Well the diagnosis is clear: you have Tatt. Take 2 aspirin, take up tap dancing and see me in a month.’

Ladies have earnestly informed me that they’ve had an ex-directory, or an extra-ectomy which, after some thought, is a hysterectomy. A Black-and-Dectomy turned out to be a prostate op. Distalgesic, a historically useful tablet have been requested by the much more jolly Disco-gesics and Digestolastics. Lactulose, for constipation, has become Vast-A-Loose which is much more graphic, almost onomatopoeic. A patient describing himself as a Brochial Spasmatic requested a Ventokill inhaler; it leaves you breathless in anticipation to know what happened to him when he used it.

It’s great when I ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And get, ‘Prostrate.’ Generally, I’m not going to take this lying down, so try to ascertain that it’s their prostate or general plumbing that’s at fault, not that they’re verging on a state of collapse. A patient once informed me that he had been born later on in life. Age 3, perhaps? Presumably his mother didn’t fancy the baby stage and felt that the trade-off for a rather unpleasant labour was worth it.

My gynaecologist father didn’t always display a massive sense of humour. Totally straight-faced, he wondered aloud how Fred, an ENT surgeon, could bear to spend all day looking down throats. My father did not, however, greet patients with ‘At your cervix.’ He told us that one of his friends was asked in his final exams what the symptoms of phosphorus poisoning were.

Fishing wildly his friend replied, ‘Fluorescent stools.’

‘Ah,’ replied the examiner. ‘A flash in the pan?’

My father’s GSOH challenges skipped a generation luckily for me, yet he imbued into me his love of gynaecology. So I must push off now as I’m needed at the orifice.

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Men in Bras: The Sequel…

 

Summer madness has struck: a potent combination of social conscience, family togetherness, avoirdupois guilt and the need to support what is largely most precious to us. As my husband, Adam, feels that the thing which is largest and most precious to him was my bust, Adam, my son Alex, and I are taking to the streets in bras on the Moonwalk to support breast cancer. More accurately, we’re not actually supporting breast cancer but the fight against it.

We decided not to be The Tamoxifen Trio; might seem odd as the team is more than three, although we could have gone for Surgeon’s Seven if we didn’t mind sounding like a film. We chose Cooper’s Troopers, taking our name from the suspensory ligaments of the breasts, a mechanical arrangement related to the Golden Gate Bridge in my case.

On applying, we had to give our bra sizes; prising this info from my fellow walkers seemed as safe and easy as pulling teeth from a rhino. At least they weren’t asking for our weight; no hope of accuracy there. We think Alex was tricked into agreeing to do the walk; he thought he was receiving 36 bees. For the men, bra sizes are a nightmare. Do you go for big cup sizes to carry drinks and snacks or smaller ones to make sure they don’t ride up at the back? Despite ordering the largest chest size available, I expect that by the end the men will have a neat white line all around their chests where the fur has been rubbed off.

This year’s bra decoration theme is Hollywood glamour, yet therein lies the problem. One could have swathes of gold lamé across one’s chest, two top hats strategically placed or enormous amounts of silk and lace stuck to one’s frontal appendages. However, what bothers me is rubbage. I’m mentally scared by the mere thought of walking a huge distance with lace scraping at the softer parts of my anatomy. A friend of mine has thus decreed décolletage decoration with masses of small, multicoloured paper roses (those of you who immediately thought of Marie Osmond are showing your age) which could link to many films, so we’re not only polychromatic but polycinematic. Our Fabulous Floral Fronts might invoke memories of American Beauty, South Pacific or Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls asleep in a sea of poppies might be the closest to our reality as we will be walking at midnight. My body clock, which is dormouse-esque,  bleats that this is a bad plan, but the logical part of me tells me that adrenaline will surge in and, inspired by the thought that if I stop walking I’ll get trampled by the other 14,999 walkers, it’s likely I’ll stay awake long enough to stumble across the finish line. I’ll also be propelled by the magic of finishing= cold beer.  Alex might go with a Batman theme, but I don’t recall the episode where Batman wears a bra; doubtless, it is yet to come.

Thus we are springing into action, tramping the streets of London dressed as tramps, having signed up for the half marathon. Although the organisers, bless their cotton socks (on their blister free feet) have decided to add an extra 2 miles. We wouldn’t mind so much if they had added it at the beginning when we would still be fresh, but it’s been added onto the end, presumably to make sure that we sustain an appropriate level of exhaustion for the event (they already did; it’s midnight, 15 miles, pavement, no beer.)

Still, people have been kind in supporting us as we support Moonwalk supporting society. I might post photos afterwards, although those of the sensitive nature might prefer to delete them quickly.

If you are kind enough to want to support all of us, click here.

In summary, my three big points are it’s a good cause and … you know the other two.

Onwards and upwards!

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A Cat with Five Tails

Joyous is a cat with two tails. I feel as if I’ve now got five since becoming joint winner (with Joanna Thomas) of the January SCBWI Slushpile Challenge. The mental vision of multiple waving tails is a beautiful one; pleasing, soothing, purrfect.

I don’t enter many competitions, owing partly to time being irritatingly finite and non-stretchy, partly to the ‘Yeah, right. Like they’d choose me’ effect, but one from such a fantastic organisation like SCBWI was too much to resist. So I didn’t. Does everyone feel buttock-clenching fear as they press the send button?  My precious book was floating off into the ether, either to return home with the prize of Gemma Cooper attached or to drop into a black hole.

Finding out that I’ve won was a brilliant moment, a tail sprouter, although the Hooray! bit came after an eon of disbelief on seeing my own name on the computer screen. Gemma contacted me very rapidly and when I found her nestled in my inbox, I began to believe that the next email would come winging in from the Easter Bunny or Santa.

Winning Gemma Cooper as a prize was totally fabulous. I first assumed that she’d be dropped on my doorstep wrapped in brown paper, head sticking out of the parcel, stamp on left ear, but soon discovered that the rather more convenient modern mode of communication, a phone, was to be used. Our talk was supposed to be for half an hour, but she is so fantastic and friendly, full of all sorts of wonderful, useful advice that we ended up yakking for an hour. This was despite her having freezing feet. If I’d known this in advance, I could have sent her my cat; his raison d’être is to create a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Gemma was charm itself, very sweetly saying that she would be delighted to read the rest of my manuscript. This gave rise to polarised emotions: joy that such an agent wants to read it; panic that she may find a higher than acceptable adverb count. My nightly reading is now Strunk and White, Elements of Style, my daily editing is tying up any looseness. I have to be absolutely black-and-white this has to be the best manuscript I can produce, uber-slick; there’s no room for shades of grey (despite the tying).

It would be wonderful if the ordinary Microsoft grammar check would point out redundant phases and grammatical crassness. But it might start overreaching itself:  ‘Look, that sentence has got a spliced adverbial subjunctive passive interjection right in the middle. Can’t have such idiocy. Delete.’ What? Me or the offending sentence?

So I’m enjoying wrestling my manuscript into flawlessness, or at least quasi-perfection. It’s fun and good for me, distinctly healthier than the accompanying caffeine river.

If anyone is in the doldrums, having doubts over whether to enter next time, my advice is to go for it. Soon you too might have five tails and be feline better.

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