The Next Blog: The Sequel

My brain currently seems to be following Archimedes’ principle, or at least the water in said mathematician’s barrel. Disappointing. It means that if I pour in a fact or three, other things seem to drop out of my head. I wouldn’t mind so much if I could choose what dropped out, but it seems to be fairly random. I know that brainpower should potentially be limitless, but tell that to my little grey cells (preferably repeatedly, otherwise they may not get the hang of it.)

The other day I was trying to fish around in the grey soup for a half-forgotten film title and came up with something spectacularly random. This sparked a discussion on film sequels that potentially may not have ever made it. My eldest son pointed out that Found Nemo could be a very short film:

‘Oh look, there you are.’

The end.

Or for French readers, Fin.

Those of a cooking bent might have felt that prior to Ice Age 6: Global Warming, we could have had Ice Age 5: Semi-Freddo. I liked the concept of having a film about frozen herbs called Ice Sage. Some other sequels might be not quite as tasteful, such as Babe: The Casserole. The sequel to Up would clearly be Down, if only to please Isaac Newtonphiles.

Some might never have made it or not been quite as exciting if the title had been just a little different, like With a Paddle or 12 Rather Docile Characters. Off-Peak Hour might not have had the same impact, although I do quite fancy Captain Corelli’s Drum Set or The French Lieutenant’s Wombat. The English Outpatient might certainly have been a cheaper version. Following Little Women, the obvious sequel perhaps would lead people to think it was a porn movie, being Big Women. But for a single letter, a space epic could have simply been an astrological guide: Star Was.

Jane Austen could have written Humble and Open-minded; it’s probably just as well that she didn’t.

Some of the best films concern people connected to the famous of this world. I’d love to see one about a head teacher in ancient Syracuse: Archimedes’ Principal.

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Looking Forward to Looking Back

Suffering from slight dis-cogitation, my daughter, who has a degree in English, was struggling to find the word for rear-view mirror and came out with hindsight mirror. This is a completely perfect concept and I want one. Now. Or do I mean back then?

It would be brilliant to be able to flick a glance up to it and think, ‘Perhaps I should have taken the second left,’ or ‘leaving the cat and the roast chicken in separate rooms might have been a good plan,’ or ‘perhaps I should have got petrol.’

As a modification for the future, I’m hoping that the clever computer types will invent a foresight mirror which would be fabulously helpful; if Apple took it on, it would probably be called the iSee (not to be confused with iCy which is the app that monitors Greenland’s weather). It would be much easier to glance up and see the future in a mirror while I’m driving, than try and read my crystal ball on the move (iBall), although if I jam it between my broom and the cat, it tends not to roll away so much.

In full mechanical confession mode, Natasha commented that she always thinks of her wing mirrors as being ears. As she has particularly large ones (wing mirrors, not ears) we decided that they should be called Dumbos. Disappointingly, they do not yet have the capacity to get the rest of the machine into flight. No, I’m not stupid; I know that this is physically and aerodynamically impossible … well, at least until I find a magic feather. Nothing on eBay yet; still looking.

In terms of predicting the future, I’d very much like to know if my event this evening will go well. I’ve been asked to host a charity dinner party for which people give a certain amount to charity and I serve them a large and yummy meal with wine not so much flowing as spurting like the Trevi fountain. I was worried that £50 per head was a lot to pay, even though it’s for a good cause. However, with 11 other people there, it comes out about £9 per friend or about £0.12 per kilo of friend which, on reflection, seems quite a bargain.

My great friend Bobby has sportingly decided to pick up half of the cooking duties which means I am dealing with some of the main courses and pudding. When I started to plan I was torn between sticking with what I know, which at its simplest could be Haricots sur Toast or trying out new and fabulous recipes. The problem with plan B is that by the time the dinner party arrived, with all that sampling coupled to my current exercise regime, I’ll be looking fit but distinctly porcine; they’ll doubtless nickname me Sty Stallone. Not worth it for sampling food, but for creating cocktails…

Deciding we needed all possible props, the kids will in full evening dress to serve us. Meanwhile, they have decided that for authenticity, they will be expecting a tip. Normally I pay them in chocolate cake or muffins, but I can’t risk a mid-party walkout; so it’s either real money or a share in the Trevi.

Natasha has a stunning black dress to wear as a waitress at the dinner, which she wore on the evening she made her comment about the mirror, leading to her brain slippage being blogged to the world.

In hindsight, I think she regrets it now.

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Spinning a Yarn

Deciding that I needed to get fitter, I’ve taken up spinning, not so much as a duck to water but more of wool to the spindle; prickly (me) and painful meet. It’s only the agony which keeps me awake in classes; a static bike is terminally dull. The scenery is limited to a red rubbery floor, the grey wall beyond, the instructor shouting, or the side of a sweaty body next to me; none of which feature in the Recommended Sights of Dorset Guide.

In terms of excitement, I can either stand up or sit down to cycle. I can pretend to accelerate or slow down, but can’t aim to steer right or left without causing major internal haemorrhage. Recently they made it even more thrilling by getting us to pedal eight rotations standing up and eight sitting. We were thoroughly entertained.

Being yelled at that we’re travelling uphill, or to go faster as it’s now down, we crank the gears to tougher and lighter like cliff-deprived, yet obedient, lemmings. It would terrific to get an instructor without acute delusional states featuring mystic hill climbs or one who wasn’t into verbal flagellation.

I go there dressed in whatever first comes to hand. Some people clearly take the cycling fashion runway more seriously, turning up with proper cycle shoes and shorts, with stuff that actually matches. One guy even turns up in a professional looking shirt with reflective strips on it, but this is fair, as he cycles to his cycling class. Double terrific, all that extra added fun.

If they play something jolly the music helps, but often they play seriously dull tunes and yell at us to keep going for six minutes. I could do that in the gym by myself without having somebody shouting at me to keep speed up, slow down, stand up, sit down, lean forward, lean back, body rigid, bounce on my feet, use my right leg only, left leg only, yawn.

A very large television screen with the Tour de France on it would help, so we could pretend to be there, whizzing along, or filant le long de according to Google translate. A little filant would suit me fine, unless I ended up in the second row with a view only of sky, floor and a set of sweat-soaked gluteal muscles. Tiny televisions on the bikes would be better, creating  genuine self-motivation but the instructors would doubtless refuse to work with them as it would take away all their fun in shouting.

The problem with cycling alone in the gym is the tendency to cheat. This is not intentional. I start out wanting to use up masses of calories; my burning desire. However, in the gym there are four televisions, so, rejecting football and MTV, I get completely drawn in by whether Harold will answer the question and win a fluffy octopus or the best way to de-seed a vanilla pod (You thought there was only one way? Duh! Watch more television, my friend) (but only straddling a bike: the healthy kind of TV. Someone tell my kids). So gripped am I by these programs, despite the lack of a plot, I cycle along for ages at what should have been a warm-up level. Also, in a spinning class I can hum quietly during some of the more robust tracks, but it’s difficult to sing along to cooking programs.

I’ll have to think of something else soon before my brain explodes or leaves home. Yet with a rotten right shoulder my options are limited. I can’t do Zumba classes, as dancing with my arms by my side would create a bizarre sort of Riverdance. Racket sports are out unless I play left-handed which is coming along slowly, but hardly counts as sporty yet, other than for my son being sporting to bother playing against me. Swimming without arms would be even duller.

My consolation should have been an enormous amount to weight falling off in response to my self-induced dynamic boredom, but my scales don’t appear to have got this message yet. I presume that if I keep this up, I’ll land up at the same weight but with a tiny waist and frogs’ legs. I’d rather be tiny all over and let the frog stay in one piece.

Currently I don’t spin on Sundays, but do so daily from Monday on. It’s the ultimate form of recycling.

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Frozen Ferrets and Pentagonal Elephants


Hanging out with teenagers or young adults can be a surreal experience, moving seamlessly from reality to the dreamlike or bizarre, via their persistently empty stomachs. They claim that hypoglycaemia causes brain fuzzing; I know it leads to wallet depletion. However, as soon as I say ‘you what?’ or ‘uh?’ in response to my losing the thread (you mean there was one?), one of my children will point out that this surrealistic tendency is probably genetic. Mea culpa. 

We (me, husband, kids and credit card) recently went to a fabulous stage performance of the Lion King. In the opening number, The Circle of Life, there was an enormous elephant. In the closing song they only had a baby elephant, so presumably Pachyderm Minor was only the semicircle of life. My son, who clearly has more graphic dreams than me, said that elephants could be any shape, not only circles, possibly even being squares or pentagons. A rousing chorus of The Dodecahedron of Life rapidly taught us why they’d used circle in the first place. 

While there, chatting to the kids in the bars about cadavers, I recounted seeing a body some months previously to confirm that death had been of natural causes. This particular tour de morgue was fairly simple, as there was neither a knife sticking out of the chest, nor a club mark on her forehead and she didn’t smell of bitter almonds. The funeral director then told me of a woman who had put her husband’s dead ferret with him in the coffin for cremation. Apparently, she had been keeping the ferret on ice for some time, which I felt was a remarkable piece of forward thinking. 

In the theatre bar, the reality of the situation kicked in. Group discussion, guys. What if the husband had died first? Clearly she would have had to freeze him instead. We decided that she’d probably have tried to get him into a chest freezer, as long as she folded him twice. Heels to bum, then in. The ferret dying first was serendipitous, saving her cost of chest freezer. 

The kids then launched into their like and dislike lists:

‘I dislike the letter a in the lphbet.’

‘I dislike aerobatics, bungee jumping, condors, dungarees, sarcasm and anything alphabetical. Yeah, right.’ 

‘I dislike pompositysproutspaintingpianosarmadillos and lists.’ 

Via wondering if the Apple version of I Frankenstein would be ifrankenstein, they moved onto how to describe oneself in four words. Sophie went for cat crossed with elephant. Attempting to bring a little reality into this slightly surreal picture, I had to agree she does have the same number of limbs, the pachyderm memory and feline independence, but on the other hand I’ve never seen her pick up a bun with her nose. One point to the Motherparent. Alex asked where adequate things are made. Apparently, a satisfactory.

I begin to despair of their futures. Alex is clearly cut out only to write jokes for Christmas crackers or greeting cards and Sophie is either wildly deluded or deeply immersed in Surrealism. I don’t think you can make a living out of Surrealism. Or did I dream that you could? Does that make it reality? Is this circular reasoning all balls or the full circle of Philosophy, or the Circle of Life? If so, I prefer the version with elephants. Cue another round. Waiter!

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Home: The Last Resort

My son’s washing has just arrived home after two months travelling in Thailand and Japan. Accompanying it was my son himself; thinner, beard thicker, hair shaggy, skin much browner, although that washed off after the first shower. His shoes were less lucky than his laundry and didn’t even make it through the front door, having an immediate and terminal encounter with the bin.

He had attempted to deal with an amount of his washing (one T-shirt) at Beijing airport. Deciding to clean the shirt he was wearing, he misjudged the amount of water that cotton holds. Eventually giving up on trying to get it dry using the hand dryer in his cubicle, he emerged, wet T-shirt slick against his body, to find that he was in the Ladies. His Mandarin unfortunately did not include, ‘No, madam I’m not a Chippendale, so kindly take that hundred yen note back out of my pants and step out of my way.’

While in Japan, he was ceremonially dressed as a samurai. The photographs show the process starting with a little white cotton shirt held closed with a pink ribbon, making the outfit much less credible as frightening or fierce. Presumably samurai mothers sent their sons off to war with, ’Have you got your ribbon tied nicely dear?’ along with questions like ‘Did you sharpen your sword today?’ ‘Have you polished the horns on your helmet?  Money? Water bottle? Breakfast?’ They probably didn’t ask about suncream though; that would be stupid. The samurai probably just used leftover yak fat from their lunchboxes.

Alex samurai 1Alex samurai 2

Alex arrived having had essentially no sleep in 30 hours,  so I expected that at any point he’d slide to the floor in a fragrant, unconscious heap, midsentence, failing to be disturbed by shouting  or kicking, only rousing when the word ‘pizza’ was whispered nearby. However, he stayed awake, his conversation almost making sense as he talked us through his photos. The scenery, beaches and temples I loved; the moon party and fire walking scored negative figures on the appeal-to-your-mother scale.

Ages ago I started the system of giving the kids 24 hours amnesty from being told off whenever they arrive home from travelling, as I’m so delighted that they’re back in one piece. This is deeply frustrating, as I finally worked out that my gratitude for them being safely home only extends to about an hour and a half, so I am stuck for 22 1/2 hours with gritted teeth and a grimace stuck to my face which is supposed to look like a smile, my throat clogged with pearls of wisdom. Psychological muzzling. Aaaaarrrrgh!

The best way to welcome Alex back was to get him to paint one of the bedrooms, thus giving him a feeling of being invaluable to the family, deeply missed and allowing him to show his love for us in a tangible fashion. His immediate response sounded a bit like blehh, but I think I must have misheard, for he set off upstairs exactly 24 hours after arriving home. How bad his timing is; he missed out on listening to 2 months and 1 day’s worth of advice and miscellaneous expressions of worry.

Now that he’s obtained his degree, he’s moved from the dizzy lows of being a student to join the great mass of the unemployed. I tried to point out that this is a Bad Thing, and perhaps the Good Household Fairy wouldn’t continue to cook him meals or allow him to stay rent-free. He replied, ‘I’ll give it some thought, Mother, while you iron this shirt for me.’

We are about to go away to France for two weeks, so currently his perception of having a degree is that it’s all holidays and beer with the occasional bit of painting thrown in. The party goes on.  Intending to disabuse him of this idea soon, I have written 4 pages of my speech already, so am nearly halfway there.

After finishing writing, I intend to learn the Mandarin for Ladies and Gents in case I ever happened to be passing through Beijing airport. If feeling poor, I’ll head straight to the Gents in my dirty T-shirt: #handovertheyen.


August 2014

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Red Carpet Night

Oscars was the theme of the party. Even my tired brain managed to work out that it must be fancy dress, but then I got a bit stuck in working out who to go as. Perhaps a famous jazz pianist; Peterson being the obvious choice, but you’d need a piano as a prop which could be a bit unwieldy. Somebody rather more in the media currently, maybe? Yet I wasn’t keen to learn to walk on blades or go along with somebody dressed as a judge. Fishing into classical literature for a wit and a poet, Wilde sprang to mind and could have been fairly easy; a frockcoat, walking cane and a haughty expression would be all that was required. Then I wondered if perhaps you weren’t restricted to going as somebody called Oscar.
I spread my mental net wider and decided that the obvious person for me to go as would be Marilyn Monroe. We have an extraordinary amount in common: we’re both female, speak English as a first language and have been married (at least at some point) and have made it past our 30th birthday. Men would only notice that we’re both blonde and have a big bust. The resemblance ends here as anyone who’s heard me sing will testify, with their hands over their ears. Also, I was never christened either Norma or even Jeane.
Costume was the next challenge. Assuming 8-10 retakes, Marilyn must have spent only about an hour of her life standing over a grating in a white dress. Yet if you turned up in skinny white three-quarter trousers and a little top, you’d need to add a badge saying I am Marilyn Monroe; possibly less than shi-shi, scoring negative points on the icon scale. I was attracted by the concept of turning up in something she wore more often, like a white fluffy dressing gown and curlers. It was only the fear of having to explain myself all evening that shoehorned me into the white halterneck dress.
My hairdresser managed to style my hair into a mass of little blonde curls at the back and dramatic sweeps at the front. As I left her salon, I realised that the last time people had looked at me like that was when I stopped for petrol on the way to a punk party dressed in a black garbage bag, bristling with safety pins. Suffer for Art, I told myself as I drove home on a stiflingly hot day with all the windows up. Yet if I stopped my coiffure blowing away, it would probably just wilt.
Everyone had dressed up and looked terrific. One of my friends had decided to go as Cruella De Ville and turned up entirely in black and white, including her hair being sprayed white on one side, black on the other. Her children had apparently decided that the division between the black and white was not pronounced enough and had put mascara along the parting. A fun little job for her to reverse the next day. Doubtless she’ll find lumps of mascara on her pillow for weeks. Life lesson number one: be careful what help you accept from your children. Needing a prop, she’d ordered a Dalmatian puppy from the Internet. Disappointingly, they sent her a stuffed one.
Most people had dressed with what they had at home. It doesn’t quite explain why the gentleman from 12 Years a Slave had chains around his feet while our host, the chimney sweep, had brushes. Odd what you find lying around the bottom of your wardrobe. Even odder why you find it there.
It seems strange that it’s called fancy dress as most the time you are not fanciable, ending up somewhere on the scale from ridiculous to completely bizarre. However, a See What You Can Drag Out Of Your Closet Party or Let’s Look Ridiculous So Our Mates Can Laugh at Us Party doesn’t have quite the same ring. In other languages the phrase is much more colourful. In Spanish it’s disfraz, in German, Verkleidung, in Swahili, mavazi dhana. If the Philippines, I’d be very happy to go to a magarbong damit party.
The real piece of acting was trying to appear normal the next day after several glasses of wine, dancing till dawn and a very short night. Now that does deserve an Oscar. I’ll take de la Renta – and his wardrobe.

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Gibraltar: Pillar of Hercules.


 I have been tricked. I thought Gibraltar was a rock, but discovered that in fact it is made of Swiss cheese, so presumably it’s a meteor made of the same stuff as the moon. Apparently there are 27 miles of tunnels through the rock, many of which were made with explosives. Finding, as I stood in a tunnel, that the Rock is riddled with holes and has withstood multiple explosions was not reassuring. Next time I visit them, I’ll take a personal airbag and an avalanche tracker in case the entire Rock implodes and I’m stranded, squashed and cross, in its innards.

Last week I was working in Gib at St Bernard’s Hospital which, since this is where the prescriptions come from, must be the pill-er of Gibraltarians society, although I believe that owing to Mediterranean diet that they take very few pills. More tomatoes and olives, longer lives. Determined to buy into this good health program, I brought home three tins of olives but decided against bringing back 3 kg of tomatoes as the airline might be suspicious of red liquid oozing out of my luggage.

On the flight over, the air stewardess decided to demonstrate her ability in two languages simultaneously. The safety spiel came out,  ‘In an emergency… elkfgjkdfuify… landing on water…eufihsfh…. explosion… efgkjsj… lifejacket… sdlfshfl…completely scuppered.’

Coming home was worse, as the air hostess gave the entire safety bit in English while demonstrating the exciting features of a lifejacket. After they had been put away, she then repeated it in Spanish, thus leaving it to a Spanish speaker’s imagination where the whistle, safety light or the re-inflation tube might be. Bobbing along the water, gradually sinking, watching the burning fuselage of the plane explode, one might be stressed enough to get them mixed up.  So you might attract a lot of attention, but drown as your lifejacket deflated; or be over-inflated but nobody could find you. It also means that should our plane have crashed, the English speakers would be fine and dandy, blowing on their little whistles, happily re-inflating their jackets, as the Spaniards sank silently without trace. The Armada revisited.

We chose to stay in Spain, walking across the border daily to the hospital. This system worked absolutely fine until the first morning when a bomb scare on the runway meant mucho delay. My husband was more worried about being late than blown up; clearly a man with a firm grasp of statistics and, luckily for me, a man well insured. We discovered several new terms on Gibraltar, including an Elderologist which appears to be someone who looks after oldies, not people from Eldorado.

Years ago my father, who died young, had worked in Gibraltar as a surgeon and a delightful Gibraltarian  lady told me that she knew many people who spoke of him kindly. What took me aback was not the shattering of a child’s view that a parent sets off in the morning in a work suit but actually spends all day reading, on the beach or shopping, but that she referred to him as Mr Gardiner. Being a surgeon, he was Mr not Dr, a tradition which dates back to the days when surgeons were all barbers and not medically qualified. By my father’s day this had thankfully changed entirely, thus neither my father nor his surgeon friends could cut hair. It seemed odd hearing him called Mr Gardiner as I had thought of him as a doctor and Gardiner and therefore Dr Gardiner, or perhaps, as he was known to the family as Fa, possibly Dr Fa. Mr? Nope.

 I discovered a fantastic clothes shop on Main Street stuffed with beautiful Italian silk and cotton drifty tops and trousers. They were completely fabulous, and entirely unsuitable for England, in equal measure. I felt that instead of saying ‘Oooh yummy, I’ll try that one’, I should be asking for some particularly shi-shi thermals or some uber-cool waterproofs. However, without a Wellington boot in sight and as each of the items were about 10 g each, I decided that neither customs nor the airport scales would care two hoots if I bought some stuff,  so cracked open the credit card. I was half right. Customs didn’t care. Ryanair pointed out that we were 2.5 kg over, so did we want to remove items or pay an excess baggage charge? Deciding against financial ruin, I removed five items, apparently at random, which made the bag exactly 20kg and not a gram over. Unfortunately, this overt display of psychic powers confirmed my husband’s suspicions that I am a witch. I’m fighting my corner womanfully , fiercely maintaining that I’m not, but if he continues to insist,  I’ll hex him.

Eating out was a joy. We found a restaurant on the beach, though perhaps it was not the perfect place to eat with somebody who doesn’t eat cold blooded animals, definitely including snakes and turtles. All the main courses were fish; the soup was cod; the rice dish, paella; the salad contained tuna. However, the view was spectacular so Adam decided to put his pesce-phobia to one side and have a crack at swallowing his pride and the fish with it. Unluckily, sea bass freshly cooked on the barbecue, presented on the bone with its head and tail still present, doesn’t count as beginner’s fish. It was downhill from ‘Where do I start?’

The name Gibraltar derives from Jabel Tariq, a general who lay siege to it in 771. It is deemed to be one of the pillars of Hercules on which was written non plus ultra, which means ‘nothing further beyond’ because it was believed that nothing existed beyond borders of the Mediterranean. However, after the discovery of the Americas, Charles V King of Spain had put on his coat of arms plus ultra or further beyond. In Gibraltar, Adam discovered that further beyond fish was a toilet. Unchained maladie.

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