Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Morris Dancing

Apparently it was Sir Thomas Beecham who said "Try everything once except incest and Morris Dancing" and I would suggest that you can't go far wrong if you follow his advice. Perhaps it is wrong of me, and terribly British too, to mock one of our country's oldest traditions, but we must not lose sight of the reality here.
Let's start by looking at the traditional dances of other countries and see how we measure up in comparison. Brazil has the Samba, a carnival dance full of rhythm, colour and exuberance. It speaks of nights spent partying, of dancing on the warm sands at Copacabana, of mischief and merriment.
Spain has Flamenco, an old gypsy dance full of pain and passion as it recounts the centuries of oppression experienced by the 'gitanos'. Austria lays claim to the Viennese Waltz (at least I presume it does - if not it needs renaming)  full of elegance, poise and romance, with suavely dressed men and the beautiful swishing skirts of the ladies. And of course, my personal favourite, the Argentine Tango, sultry and seductive danced by stunningly beautiful couples.
So, that's what we're up against England. What have you got to offer? Oh, let's see what we can come up with. How about a bunch of men (mainly men, and anyway most women who morris dance could easily pass as male) who could all do with a good wash, haircut and shave, dressed in white boiler suits? We can throw in a few props too, maybe some bells (for maximum annoyance), sticks and handkerchiefs? They can prance on the spot with no discernible moves involved, making a god-awful noise and throwing around bits of Kleenex.
Now I'm sure someone is going to set me straight, pointing out that the dance dates back to 1483 and depicts the anguish of the lowly peasant in feudal England, with the handkerchiefs symbolising the shrouds used during the time of the plague, and the sticks bring used to ward off evil spirits (I made all that up, please don't quote me as a leading authority on folk dancing if you are writing a dissertation for your Phd). I think we need a new national dance. Perhaps we could have a spin-off of Eurovision but a dancing version instead? My prediction? Le Royaume-Uni, nul points.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Blogging

A few weeks ago I really wasn't entirely sure what a blog was. Until a year ago I didn't even have a facebook page, mainly on account of hearing horror stories about teachers being sacked for inappropriate posts which their pupils had somehow got hold of.
A couple of close friends and family members had suggested I should start a blog and, being the sort who is easily flattered, I decided to give it a go, hoping that I wouldn't become the blogosphere equivalent of those poor souls you see in the early auditions for The X Factor. You know the ones; their Auntie Jean once told them they had a nice voice so they decided that going on national TV to face certain humiliation would be a good move.
I have learned so much in the last fortnight, all about URLs, HTML, SEO and many more exciting acronyms, as well as link-backs, hits out and kicks in the teeth (OK I made that last one up). I have been obsessively refreshing my STATS, waking up in the morning and the first thing I think about is checking my page-views. I know a lot of readers are friends and family, but I wonder about the fairly large following I have in Russia and hope it's not the KGB; and what of those other places, Turkey, Honduras, Greece, Serbia, South Africa? How have people there stumbled across my little blog?
Then there was the process of getting approved for advertising on my site which was a steep learning curve too. I keep checking what are hilariously called my 'earnings', at time of writing the princely sum of £1.54. One of my friends is due a cut of 30% for suggesting a post title so I reckon I'm left with about a pound. I also now worry about 'illegal clicking'. It sounds like the sort of thing which might go on in a contortionists' sex club, but apparently it is clicking on your own adverts or getting friends to do so.
So, for now I shan't be giving up the day job, but my nearest and dearest had better be careful not to do anything even remotely funny or you may end up as Normal for Norfolk blog fodder.

The Bathroom

Well, Ronnie the cat was back in action again this morning, my own personal but somewhat arbitrary alarm clock. I wondered downstairs bleary eyed, trying not to tread on Ronnie as he clowned around between the banisters, and did what every 40 something woman does on waking, headed for the bathroom. Morning routine of the middle aged. Have a wee, make sure all vital parts of anatomy functioning at least at basic level, have a cup of tea. With my parents it is have a wee, have a cup of tea, check the obituary pages of the local newspaper.
Anyway, back to this morning. As I opened the bathroom door I remembered that we don't have one at present. A couple of very nice men called Gary and Shane ripped it out yesterday. This was by prior arrangement you understand, and not the latest in some bizarre Norfolk craze whereby you go into people's homes in broad daylight and make off with an entire room. So Gary and Shane (not their real names) abandoned me at about 4.00pm yesterday with a cheery 'We'll be back in the morning love', leaving me with an empty shell where the peach bath, toilet and sink once stood. Don't get me wrong, I bore no emotional attachment to my old bathroom (who actually likes peach, the colour of nightmarish 80s bridesmaid dresses?) but I am quite keen on the concept of being able to go to the toilet and wash.
Fortunately we have a very old and not entirely functional toilet and wash basin upstairs so until the new bathroom is complete (anything up to 2 weeks apparently - where are DIY SOS when you need them?) that is what we shall have to use. We'll do our best in the hygiene department, but just to be on the safe side I wouldn't stand down-wind of the Harrison family for now.
 
 

Monday, 29 July 2013

5:2 Feast Days

I have been following the 5:2 eating plan for a while now though nowadays it is more 6:1. For those of you not familiar with this strange mathematical diet the idea is that you 'fast' on 2 days a week and 'feast' on the other 5. Now, by 'feast' they mean 'eat normally' which is where confusion and self delusion can creep in. I can't speak for fellow 5:2ers, but I find that my willpower is just fine on fast days, in fact I almost enjoy them. Must be all that Baptist self-denial I used to indulge in rearing its ugly head. No, it is the feast days where I have to be careful, as I try to convince myself that 'eating normally' involves a Full English (for readers abroad that is a cooked breakfast and not some excruciating waxing technique), 6 Big Macs washed down with full fat coke, plenty of chocolately snacks and an evening meal of takeaway and a bottle of wine. I am exaggerating a bit but nevertheless the temptation is to over-indulge on feast days, thereby undoing all your good work.
Last week, when Prince George was born I was on a feast day and had been into town to buy gifts for my son's teachers as an end-of-year thank-you. Here are extracts from the cards we sent to school.

Dear Mr Brooklyn,
Thank-you very much for all your hard work this year. Bryn has really enjoyed being in your class. You are lucky that I decided to buy you some red wine as a gift. I don't much like this particular alcoholic beverage and therefore the bottle is still intact.
Best wishes etc ...


Dear Mrs Pottersby,
You really are the best classroom assistant ever and Bryn loves it when you work with them. I have to apologise about the poor gift offering this year. You were meant to have a bottle of Prosecco but it looked so tempting yesterday evening that I just had to open it - needed to wet the baby's head and all that. Also, sorry about the champagne truffles. I think you'll find there are only a couple missing.
Enjoy the holidays etc ...

It's true. I can resist everything except temptation!

Lowering Your Standards

One of my favourite quotes is "Being happy does not mean that everything is perfect. It means that you've decided to look beyond the imperfections." This is a much more eloquent way of putting into words what I have been saying for years. If things aren't going the way you wanted there are two choices you have. You can either change things, or if that isn't possible, you can lower your expectations. In fact there is a third choice. Stay exactly as you are and be miserable! Here are some areas of my life where I have had to accept less than perfection.

My Home:
The Dream. I have a big, spacious home in the country but close enough to pop into London, with enough room for all my husband's mess to be hidden away. The elegant driveway leads you to a beautiful, imposing front door with a gleaming brass handle and possibly a butler to open it. The rooms are tastefully decorated, furnished with choice pieces I have picked up from antiques dealers and from my world travels. I greet guests looking immaculate and with a welcoming smile as I effortlessly mingle and hand out pates of mouth-watering canapés I have prepared myself.
The Reality. I have a small, messy house which has seen better days which faces onto a busy road popular with boy racers who can't read speed limits and have appalling taste in music. The plaster is crumbling, we have a smelly hedgehog living under the stairs and the bathroom is an 80s monstrosity featuring a peach suite and wallpaper with the Latin names for flowers on it (also peach). I have to spend hours stuffing all the mess into drawers and cupboards before people come round and usually say 'shall we just get a takeaway?' to any guest brave enough to accept an invitation.

My Car:
The Dream. I have a lovely little sporty number (brand new of course) with every possible gadget you could think of. Who knows, I may even have indulged in some personalised plates. It runs like a dream and I get envious glances from people at traffic lights. I have it waxed and valeted every couple of weeks. It absolutely drinks fuel but I don't care because I'm rich. Sod the environment.
The Reality. I have had a number of cars, each one having been at least third hand. They run ok for a bit but then start rapidly falling apart. Every year it costs more to get it through the MOT than it is actually worth. It has bumps and scratches and I get smirks at the traffic lights. I use my car as an overflow wardrobe/office/skip so it is always liberally strewn with papers, apple cores and crisp packets.

My Job:
The Dream: I am a internationally acclaimed authority on Modern Spanish Literature and run my own literary translation company. When I am not at my beautiful office in Kensington I can be seen jetting off to publishing conventions all over the Spanish-speaking world, staying in 5 star hotels and generally being popular and intelligent.
The Reality: I teach Spanish to teenagers who really would rather be doing anything else and see no relevance in learning their own language, let alone someone else's. I spend my days trying to extract homework from the idle and covering up the penises they have drawn on my display boards.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

More 'Speaking Naarfalk'

In an earlier post I taught you some basic phrases to help you get by should you find yourself in Norfolk, either by accident or by design. You learnt things such as...

Get orf moy laand - I think you are trespassing old chap.
and
Dew watta bare? - Would you like some alcoholic refreshment?

I do hope you've been practising and are now ready to go onto the advanced course. To get the full benefit you will need to say these out loud, perhaps several times. Don't worry if you're annoying the hell out of your family, or if the other people on the bus are looking at you funny. Trust me. I'm a teacher.

Yew oont get there noo faastuh - You have just overtaken me and are travelling at a good 30 mph faster than I am, but nevertheless we shall arrive at the same time

Thassa pih-ee Hoolt's gonter Wigun - What a shame Norwich City have lost one of their best strikers

Haya bintuh Crooma Pair? - Have you been to Cromer Pier?

Thas lovelee up Yaarmuth - It's very pleasant at Great Yarmouth (It's not - I will do a post on it soon)

Oi go-uh goo up the N un N Toosdee - I have to attend a hospital appointment on Tuesday

Three chairs for ..(insert name) ... - Nothing to do with furniture. What the speaker is trying to say is 'Three cheers...'

She done me a boo-iful bi-uh plaice - My wife cooked me some lovely fish

Moy hairins gooun - I don't hear so well these days

So, now you can confidently converse about football, ailments and Norfolk's finest tourist spots you should find yourself able to join in most conversations.







How to tell if you are in Norfolk

Many people do actually come to Norfolk on purpose, to live or for a holiday, but there are special training courses to go on before you take this step. However, there are stories of folk ending up here by accident, without following any previous acclimatisation programme or learning the language. All it takes is one wrong turn on the M11... (M - that's a motorway for any real Norfolk readers).
Here are a few ways for the un-trained to tell if they have ended up in Norfolk.

1. The surrounding terrain will become flatter than a Latvian gymnast's chest. (sorry Svetlana)

2. You will be able to see nothing but rows of cabbages or possibly sugar-beet for miles. We like growing things round here. It's what we do best. In fact, it's the only thing we do.

3. The people around you will begin to look a bit strange. Don't worry. This is not you starting to lose your mind and hallucinate (yet), this is due to centuries of in-breeding. Our 'Family Trees' don't fork much here. 'Family Trunks' would be more accurate.

4. You may witness some odd behaviour too. Again, this is due to in-breeding and is a well documented affliction known by the acronym NFN - Normal for Norfolk.

5. People will stare at you and point, especially if you are in a motorised vehicle which has not been designed for farming purposes. We are not really used to foreigners round these parts.

6. You will hear what sounds like a foreign language being spoken. This might be 'Naarfak' but it could equally be Polish.

7. You will drive through lots of towns with 'markets', especially if it is a Thursday (or thuuursdee). They are not worth getting out of the car for selling only cheap clothing, pet supplies and flimsy wrapping paper.

8. People will be dressed predominantly in green and yellow. Do not be alarmed. These are simple, harmless individuals known as 'Norwich City Supporters'. They should be treated with kindness.
N.B. If people are wearing blue and white then you are probably still in Suffolk. It is safe to leave your vehicle and seek help.

Above all, if you think you may have strayed into Norfolk DO NOT PANIC. A good rule of thumb is not to follow signs to places you can't pronounce like Guist, Happisburgh or Costessey. Do not be fooled if you see directions to 'Little London'. It has three houses and a post box. If you are in the north of the county you could see signs for 'New York' and 'Boston'. Turn your car around. You are in danger of going into Lincolnshire and may never be heard of again.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Village Fete

This afternoon I am helping out at the Worstead Festival in the Children's Craft Tent. As I see it there are two major flaws in this arrangement. First of all I have no discernible creative talent whatsoever and second, I don't much like children. If I mess up enough today they hopefully won't ask me again next year, or that's the plan.
It is incredible the level of emotion which a seemingly simple and supposedly enjoyable event can generate. Life-long friendships, akin to those formed whilst in the trenches, can be made or broken over the best technique to win the tug-of-war. I have witnessed grow men weep as they lose their 'how hard can you hit the hammer' title to a rival. Potential prize marrows are closely guarded by their owners in case of sabotage. Poor old Jack Carter was a broken man after his ended up as ratatouille before the judging was done. He was last seen trashing his allotment before retreating to his shed with a bottle of grow-more muttering incoherently.
However, by far the ugliest incident to date was back in 2009 when paramedics were called to the Women's Institute tent where Linda Pilkington-Smythe had been found choking on her own Victoria Sponge, the whole sponge. Thank goodness it was so light and fluffy or the outcome could have been more along 'Midsomer Murders' lines.
...and so off we all go for an afternoon of fun and frolics, small children with temporary (we hope) tattoos, the smell of hot-dogs and my son returning home full of E numbers and with £10 worth of junk. All I can say is thank the Lord there isn't any Morris Dancing.


P.S - lots of my lovely friends are involved in this festival and a lot of hard work goes into it. It is a fantastic event and you need to dismiss all of the above as poetic licence!

Family Holidays: Complete and Un-abridged.

By popular demand (and because I'm feeling a bit lazy today) I have put together all the chapters of my 'Family Holiday' series in one wipe-clean, easy-to-read, handbag sized post. Enjoy!

So, as I stagger towards the end of term (I've always thought that Gok Wan's efforts would be much more profitably spent on a series called 'How to Teach Good Knackered') I begin to reflect on that greatest of oxymorons 'The Family Holiday'.
The majority of my childhood/teenage holidays involved the caravan, trekking off with my parents and two brothers to various corners of the UK and France towing this mobile torture cell, sorry I mean 'home' behind us. If it was ever in front of us then we knew we were in trouble.
As we know, every holiday begins with the journey. Now, I am sure that this points to a huge character flaw in me, possibly even a personality disorder, but when I'm going somewhere I just like to get there. The less time spent in the car/air/train/sunshine community minibus the better. Unfortunately my father does not share my point of view, preferring to take his time, stop every hour and shun major roads. Don't forget, these were the days before Sat Nav so we would spend many a happy afternoon getting lost on country roads with pensioners on push bikes overtaking us and probably covering about 15 miles in the process. On this basis driving down to the South of France could take several days. The journey down through France would always have been spent in an uncomfortable, pre air-con sweaty haze as the hot French sun blazed down on us. The further south we went the stronger the sun's heat would be; a fiery orange ball in a clear azure sky beating down relentlessly. We would pass fields blackened by drought and heard the locals talking about how it hadn't rained in five months. There were hose-pipe bans, water shortages and the army had been placed on high alert due to the risk of wild fires. The elderly, infirm and very young were in grave danger as temperatures soared to previously unrecorded highs.
Eventually, after days spent in a hot vehicle with precious little to do (batteries on 'personal stereo' went flat at Calais) we would arrive at 'Le camping Merde de Cochon' or similar. Great, time to get out, stretch your legs.... Oh no! We children had to remain in the car until dad had 'put the stays down'. To this day I am unsure what exactly this means, but it seemed to take an intolerably long time and involved much bad tempered shouting from Dad and encouragement and placating noises from Mum. We would finally be allowed in to the inner sanctum, with stern warnings to take our shoes off. The kettle would go on, tea would be made and for a few glorious moments all would be well with Famille Bennett. It would, dear reader, be all too short-lived...

Once the evening meal was over came those fateful words 'We need to make the bed up'. Now, this had to wait until the evening meal was over for the simple reason that the table formed the main base of the afore-mentioned bed. The bedding was retrieved from the cupboards (which were underneath the seats), the table collapsed and the cushions arranged to make a nice, comfortable, King Size bed. Lovely, nothing wrong with that, until you remember that I have two brothers and all three of us had to sleep in this space.
OK, here's the thing. When we first got the caravan we were 7, 9 and 11 and this arrangement was fine. We were small, there was plenty of space, and it wasn't in direct contravention of any EU laws regarding right and proper sleeping arrangements. Fast forward several years and you are presented with a very different and altogether less satisfactory scenario. Now, we were not the kind of children who had cool parents who allowed you to go off on holiday with your friends once you reached your mid teens. Oh no, we were still doing this aged 13, 15 and 17. I kid you not. Whilst this kind of behaviour might be acceptable, dare I say practically obligatory in parts of Norfolk, it is probably more frowned upon in other more sophisticated sectors of society.
So it was that I would settle down for the night with one brother prone to talking in his sleep and the other singing along tunelessly to Buddy Holly (I told you we weren't cool) on his personal stereo.
We would be woken at some ungodly hour the following morning by Dad grinding coffee by hand for his breakfast. Remember last night and having to clear the table before you could make the bed? Well, in the morning we had to get up before breakfast could be served.
All you wanted to do, as a teenage girl, following a stuffy night spent in the warm embrace of her younger brother was to have a shower and make herself look presentable for all those gorgeous French boys who were also staying at 'Le Camping Merde de Cochon'.
Memories of what I am about to recount can, 25 years on, cause me to cry real tears of pain and embarrassment. I know I have a few Psychiatrist/Physchologist friends reading this blog. If any of you could come up with an effective form of therapy for dealing with trauma suffered as a result of holidays then I would gladly try it. You could call it S.H.I.T - Sian's Holiday Intensive Therapy. Boy, would it need to be intensive. You see, my dad had bought a caravan with its own toilet and shower cubicle and for this reason was loathe to go to a site with any 'facilities'. Unfortunately he was also loathe to let us use the shower in the caravan. End result - you were allowed to have a shower 2 or 3 times during a 2 week holiday. When I say a shower what I actually mean is a dribble of water, tepid at best, cold at worst standing in a space which is smaller than the surface area of an average TV. Everyone in the caravan knew if you were using the water as the pump made the most god-awful noise, akin to a cow going through a particularly difficult labour. If you ran the pump for more than a few seconds Dad would be shouting through the door for you to turn it off.

Like most teenage girls I was desperate to return to school in September with a nice tan and stories of a wonderful holiday romance. As the latter was totally out of the question on account of my smelling worse than a Russian weight-lifter's crotch, then the tan was my only hope of proving I'd had a decent summer.
So, despite all the traumas of the journey, arrival and sleeping arrangements I would wake up on the first morning full of adolescent expectation and pull open the curtains to be met with ... cloud. "It's not very sunny", I would say to my mum in that uniquely teenage way, which manages to convey to the addressee that you hold them totally responsible for whatever miserable state of affairs you find yourself in. "It's early yet", she would reply "I'm sure it will get out nice later on".
It didn't. It stayed overcast all morning, drizzled at lunch time and then the heavens opened in the afternoon. The locals were overjoyed, out doing rain dances, shouting 'il pleut'  and sacrificing small animals in grateful thanks at makeshift roadside shrines, when all I wanted to do was to worship at the altar of St Ambre of Solaire. The rain would continue pretty much unhindered for the next fortnight, clearing only temporarily one afternoon when we were inside visiting some sodding Benedictine monastery.
This would happen EVERY year. Had Dragon's Den been in existence in the 1980s we could have marketed ourselves as some kind of rain making device. 'Not had any rain for 9 months? Crops failing and your entire population on the brink of starvation? Don't worry. Call 'The Bennett Family' and see those clouds start to form within hours of their arrival'

So, as we all huddled in the caravan with the rain lashing down outside, tensions were running high. Poor weather and three teenagers with no TV or gadgets to amuse them is not a good recipe for a perfect holiday; in fact you have all the ingredients for total family breakdown and years of messy legal wrangling.
Such was the pressure that my dad decided now would be a good time to do some yoga. Picture the scene. A smallish caravan, three disgruntled adolescents playing their 97th round of pontoon and a 50+ man doing yoga, NAKED, in the very tight confines of caravan floor. 'Why naked?', you may ask. Well don't. Just one of my dad's little idiosyncracies, a penchant for letting it all hang loose. We were all used to it but others, such as the cleaner and my Japanese student friend, were not. I'm amazed that my dad has reached his mid 70s with not so much as a restraining order to his name.
Anyway, the yoga was over, so my dad got up to put the kettle on when he spotted a French man outside walking back from emptying the toilet. My dad is a friendly sort of chap so he stood at the door, gave a cheery wave and shouted "Bonjour, Monsieur". "Merde alors!",came the reply, as the poor man scurried back to the safety of his own van. You may be fortunate enough not to be familiar with the intimate workings of caravan doors, but many of them are those 'stable door' designs where you can have the top part open and the bottom section closed. My dad claims to this day that he thought the lower part was shut but, needless to say, 'Monsieur le campeur' got a full frontal he wasn't expecting.
I don't know if it was the poor weather or whether word got round about the flasher in the van on pitch 38 but we soon had the site pretty much to ourselves.

...and so the day would arrive when it was time to go home. By now there would have been so much rain that a local farmer would be called upon to tow us off the site and we would bid farewell to 'Le Camping Merde de Cochon' with mixed feelings (of joy and ecstasy). Armed with nothing but a personal stereo, some new batteries and a 'Best of Meatloaf' cassette I would settle back and resign myself to the journey ahead. This would invariably include a breakdown somewhere near Limoges(the car, not the passengers amazingly) giving me even longer to reflect on all the new phrases I had learnt over the fortnight such as...
'Merde alors, tu pues!' (Bloody Hell, you stink)
'Tu n'as pas entendu parler de savon?' (Haven't you heard of soap?) and my personal favourite
'Le mec anglais sur l'emplacement numéro 38 est complètement fou' The English bloke on pitch 38 is completely mad.
(Please forgive the errors - bit rusty - de savon or du savon?)
And so I would return to England pasty and unloved (at least not by anyone French, male and aged 14-17) only to discover that they had been experiencing the hottest, weather for decades whilst we'd been away, and that the whole country was walking around looking tanned and gorgeous. Still, at least we were back and it was all over for another year. I could have a shower, sleep alone again and set about tracing my real parents.

How to Keep a Tidy House

I had some pretty devastating news yesterday and it is only now, having put 24 hours between the event and writing this, that I feel able to share my pain with the blogosphere. You see, my cleaner told me she was moving and so would no longer be able to work for me. I personally think that it's just an excuse as she's the third one to scarper in recent years. One hadn't even started the job; she just came round to look at the house and suddenly remembered she was fully booked up. My current cleaner is clearly made of slightly sterner stuff and, after her preliminary visit, decided to take on the challenge but did leave with the words 'It may take me a few weeks to get it all under control'. Oh, the shame!
I do try my best, you see, and struggle with the whole idea of having a cleaner at all, trying to shun my middle class upbringing in a pathetic 40-something attempt at rebellion. I have never been the tidiest of  people but at least if you are living alone then you know that you can do something about your mess if you want to. Nowadays I am faced with the twin challenges of Geof and Bryn and clearing up three lots of mess is just beyond my capabilities.
Geof is the worst offender. He is an inveterate hoarder and generates mess like no-one I have ever met before. We have one room in the house which is meant to be a bedroom but which we have optimistically named 'the computer room'. This is meant to be Geof's office but he never works in there on account of it being too full of junk to actually gain entry into it. Instead the 'office' with all its associated paraphernalia of files, folders, paper and plastic wallets moves into the lounge, or onto the dining room table. I just know that one day we are going to be featured in some channel 4 documentary about people who have to crawl through a tiny space in their junk filled home to reach the bed/toilet/kitchen and who weep as they are forced to throw out some old pram wheels and an empty sunny delight bottle.
So you see, losing my cleaner is not just a temporary middle-class hiccup. She was standing between me and almost certain social humiliation, divorce, years of expensive therapy and a possible visit from Kim and Aggie. If you know of a good (or even mediocre) cleaner who likes a challenge please let me have her details.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Go Go Gorilla.

Today we went into Norwich to look at the Gorillas. It was fun but very warm and tiring and at present I am struggling to glean anything even remotely hilarious from the experience to write about, the heat having drained every last vestige of wit from me. Bryn was most amused that one of the exhibits was called Geoffrey (his dad's name) and I was disappointed that Prince of Wales Road (the rough area with lots of night clubs) didn't have a drunk gorilla being bundled into a police van, or one in stilettos slurring 'I love you, you're my best friend'.


Geoffrey the Gorilla
 

On the way home the 'Norfolk Driving Experience' (Now there's an idea for one of those gift experiences you can buy your loved ones. Balloon ride? Swim with dolphins? No. Sit behind a combine for 3 hours) was taken to new highs (lows?) as the traffic on a major road came to a standstill behind a lady on a mobility scooter. Someone please tell me that isn't legal.

Family Holidays Part Five: The Journey Home

...and so the day would arrive when it was time to go home. By now there would have been so much rain that a local farmer would be called upon to tow us off the site and we would bid farewell to 'Le Camping Merde de Cochon' with mixed feelings (of joy and ecstasy). Armed with nothing but a personal stereo, some new batteries and a 'Best of Meatloaf' cassette I would settle back and resign myself to the journey ahead. This would invariably include a breakdown somewhere near Limoges(the car, not the passengers amazingly) giving me even longer to reflect on all the new phrases I had learnt over the fortnight such as...
'Merde alors, tu pues!' (Bloody Hell, you stink)
'Tu n'as pas entendu parler de savon?' (Haven't you heard of soap?) and my personal favourite
'Le mec anglais sur l'emplacement numéro 38 est complètement fou' The English bloke on pitch 38 is completely mad.
(Please forgive the errors - bit rusty - de savon or du savon?)
We would eventually arrive back in England to find that they had been experiencing the hottest, weather for decades whilst we'd been away, and that the whole country was walking around looking tanned and gorgeous. Still, at least we were back and it was all over for another year. I could have a shower, sleep alone again and set about tracing my real parents.

Feeling Great, Looking Crap

I was woken up at stupid o' clock this morning, not by something out of Revelation on this occasion, but by Ronnie the cat. At present we are leaving our bedroom door open at night due to the warm temperatures and the fact that we can't open our bedroom window. Thanks a bunch to whichever lazy, knob head painter and decorator thought it would be a great idea to paint the windows whilst they were shut. The upshot is that Ronnie gets bored around 5.30, saunters in and jumps on my head; and so my day begins.
So, having been awake so early I have already been to the gym and am currently sitting with damp, straggly hair plastered to my face writing this. I never look good at the gym unlike some of the dolly birds I see there and this reminded me of a story a friend once told me.
She was a regular at a local gym going there as often as she could after work. Her grown-up daughter discovered that a friend of hers worked at the same leisure centre and was trying to describe her mum to him.
"She'll be the one on the tread-mill wearing the cheap ASDA track suit, looking red and sweaty with hair dye running down her face.", was the flattering thumb-nail she provided. Bad enough, you may think, but then the gym instructor replied, "Oh yes, I know the one"!
I don't think she goes any more.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Sleepover

The Sleepover MUST have been conceived of, named, and the phenomenon perpetuated, by someone who isn't and never was the parent of a 6-16 year old. Having someone else's child to look after is a very different 'bouilloire de poisson' as the French like to say (it's true, I've heard them) to caring for your own offspring.
First comes behaviour and discipline. It's easy with your own child because you know what works (no sweets, no pocket money, having to watch 'Dickinson's Real Deal' on repeat), but what do you do if the guest is misbehaving? I have spent five hours every day, for 40 weeks each year, of the last 17 years of my life with classes of 30 teenagers in front of me, but two mutinous eight year olds can terrify the living daylights out of me.
Next we face the dilemma of feeding them. My son is the fussiest of eaters but at least I know what he WILL eat. I recall one young lad coming to ours for the first time so I thought I would play safe and give them pizza. As I served it up he informed me he didn't like cheese. So, I offered him a mushroom omelette. He said yes, so I made one and he didn't like it. Concerned that the poor boy was going to starve I found some burgers in the freezer and cooked one for him. He began to turn his nose up again when something inside me quietly snapped and I said in my best, calm, teacher voice "Eat it".  He did. It turns out he was vegetarian. Not any more he isn't.
Finally we come to bed-time and sleeping. My tactic is normally to keep them up quite late in the hope that they will sleep once they go to bed. This sometimes works but not always. On a recent sleepover my husband and I were woken by two shadowy figures looming over our bed at 1am like two of the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Lord knows where the others were - probably installing the self-checkout machines at Sainsbury's) asking for a drink of water. Armageddon very nearly arrived early that night, but I kept my cool, lay back and thought of the day (or rather, night) when it would be some other parents' turn to return the favour.

Thine be the Glory

My close friends will know just by looking at the title of this post that I have had some kind of stressful experience. You see, when things get pressured I find myself singing 'Thine be the Glory' to myself. I can measure how bad things are by how many verses I get through and today I sang all of it and worked my way through most of the rest of 'The Baptist Hymnal' too.
It should have been so simple but it never is. I had taken my son and nephew (that's two separate people just in case you thought things were getting a bit too Norfolk) to the cinema in Cromer, parked the car and went to get a ticket. I knew I didn't have much change on me and soon realised that I didn't have enough to pay for 3 hrs. I am not a risk taker so, rather than just go for 2 hours and take a chance I decided to pay by card. Now, I don't mind things being complicated when they have to be like brain surgery for example, or choosing what to eat on a night out, but buying a parking ticket ffs?
I followed the instructions. Insert card, choose time, key in pin + validate. All I got was a message flashing 'Abort'. I tried the process again. Same outcome. By now people were forming a queue behind me jangling coins and tutting, so I did the decent thing and told them to p*** off. Only joking. I let them get their tickets. After a while the crowds had dispersed so I tried again. By now I must have been gone about 10 minutes, leaving the children in the car to play with the handbrake. What a blessing Norfolk is flat. At this point a friendly traffic warden (unbelievably NO irony intended) came to my aid and talked me through the steps again. Same result. He suggested I use a different card. No good. He suggested I tried a different machine.
On my way over to the new machine I stopped off to tell the kids that I was still alive and to grab a nourishing snack. This could go on some time and I needed to keep my energy levels up. Finally, after three more times of trying it worked and I staggered back to the car brandishing my hard-won prize. It was definitely the hardest I had ever had to try to spend £2.40.

Prince George of Cambridge

Yesterday while I was blogging about Alan Partridge, it was announced that the new Royal Baby was to be called George Alexander Louis. They are all lovely names but I have to say that I shall always associate the name George with the rather dopey hippo from the children's series 'Rainbow'. The programme had as its main characters three strange puppets, 'George, Zippy and Bungle'. George was the most likeable of the three; as I recall a pale pink, mild mannered hippo. I have no idea what creature Zippy was meant to be, but he was loud mouthed and opinionated, and Bungle, a huge bear would definitely have had his name on some teddy blacklist believe me.
So, what other famous Georges does the new little prince share his name with? Well, there is George Osborne the chancellor, an arrogant, privileged man who has zero idea how much misery he is inflicting on most of the country; or if he does realise, he doesn't care. The only time he has shown any emotion was when he shed a tear at Thatcher's funeral, but that was probably only because he was thinking about the astronomical bill.
Then there is George Michael who can sing quite nicely but can't drive in a straight line and has a penchant for hanging around outside men's toilets.
Next we have George Best who was pretty good at football but unfortunately also rather good at drinking.
Finally, how proud would you be to share your name with that greatest of all men George W Bush? Not very? No, thought not. With parents so unimaginative that they gave you the same name as your father it's not a good start in life is it? Apparently George W doesn't drink but that hasn't stopped him saying and doing stupid things on a monumental, world-wide scale.
So, if you were the young prince looking for a role model which one would you go for? My money's on the hippo.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Alan Partridge

So, Alan Partridge has arrived in Naarch (a roite foine ci-ee) for the premier of his film. I for one am jolly pleased that he eventually decided to show it here first, as it gives me something else to write about. I don't actually have a huge amount to say about Alan Partridge, except that he is very funny, but I saw that he and Norwich were on the news and trending on Twitter and thought, "There's a bandwagon; I'll jump on it". It's a dog eat dog world this blogging lark. You've got to be ruthless.
What I can talk about at some length and with not inconsiderable authority however, is the cinema where the film is to be screened. I went there a couple of years ago with Bryn to watch Horrid Henry. All I can say is I hope they've given it a bit of a clean and a lick of paint recently. Now, I am not exactly house-proud or overly concerned about my surroundings being pristine, but I don't much like it when my feet stick to the floor or my seat gives off a cloud of dust when I sit on it. There were pieces of antique popcorn on the floor of the foyer and the cinema, and the toilets were lavishly graffitied with all manner of interesting information about the sexual predilections of Sprowston High's year 10 girls. At least the pic 'n' mix was cheap.
Anyway, I notice that they have very inconsiderately named the new Prince of Cambridge whilst I've been writing this, so I suppose Alan Partridge is now whatever the modern-day equivalent is of 'tomorrow's chip wrappers'.

Advertising

Advertising is everywhere and with the growth of social media it is even more prevalent and targeted than ever before.
It was a few months ago that I realised how much adverts were affecting my young son. He came in as I was fighting to clean the bathroom taps and said "You need some Cillit Bang, Mummy". Later on he asked if I'd been miss-sold PPI. Both seem strange adverts to be putting on children's TV, but what do I know?
Well, one thing I do know is that I, for one, am not fooled by celebrities advertising products. Do they really expect us to believe that the millionairess, Davina McColl spends a Friday night with plastic gloves on, up to her elbows in mess using a DIY hair colouring kit? Hmmm, I think not.
I also know that I am thoroughly fed up with the adverts I get on my face book feed. Three recent ones included 'how to lose baby weight' , 'a dental treatment weekend in Budapest' and 'find singles aged 48-55 in your area'. They clearly have me down as a fat, middle-aged singleton with bad teeth, none of which are accurate.
One recommended site which did make me genuinely angry though, was for the EDL, a bunch of evil, fascist pigs whose ideology goes against all I hold dear. I know I occasionally shop in Waitrose but that was a bridge too far for me.




The Heat Wave

...and so most of Britain continues to bask in glorious sunshine going through what we call a 'heat wave' but which most of the rest of the world would call 'pleasantly warm'. We do like to over react here to any mild deviations from the 'norm'. If it snows a bit we close down the country just to be on the safe side; if it's cold for the time of year the media starts whining on about the cost of heating; if the mercury hits the high 20s then we begin to wilt and start every conversation with the obligatory "Hot enough for you, then?", accompanied by optional blowing out of cheeks and fanning gesture.
Geof's home-made greenhouse!
It never ceases to amaze me how a bit of sun can make people act in a way which they would not normally even contemplate. Huge white beer bellies and wobbly moobs are put on display to anyone unlucky enough to be within a 3 mile radius (I don't get my breasts out as soon as it gets a bit warm so why do you feel the need to?), old men dig out that 'jazzy' Hawaiian shirt from the back of the wardrobe which they last donned in the summer of '76 and so the list of crimes against fashion and general human decency continues.
The advice churned out on regional TV is incredible too. The other day, on the local news,  I heard someone they'd clearly dragged in off the street or possibly from a local agency 'Help The Total Cretins' say "Make sure you stay in the cool, wear loose clothing and drink plenty of cold drinks". Oh, and just in the nick of time for me. I was off to the greenhouse with my sleeping bag and thermos of cocoa which I'd laced liberally with salt.

Family Holidays Part Four: Warning, Contains Scenes of Adult Nudity

So, as we all huddled in the caravan with the rain lashing down outside, tensions were running high. Poor weather and three teenagers with no TV or gadgets to amuse them is not a good recipe for a perfect holiday; in fact you have all the ingredients for total family breakdown and years of messy legal wrangling.
Such was the pressure that my dad decided now would be a good time to do some yoga. Picture the scene. A smallish caravan, three disgruntled adolescents playing their 97th round of pontoon and a 50+ man doing yoga, NAKED, in the very tight confines of caravan floor. 'Why naked?', you may ask. Well don't. Just one of my dad's little idiosyncracies, a penchant for letting it all hang loose. We were all used to it but others, such as the cleaner and my Japanese student friend, were not. I'm amazed that my dad has reached his mid 70s with not so much as a restraining order to his name.
Anyway, the yoga was over, so my dad got up to put the kettle on when he spotted a French man outside walking back from emptying the toilet. My dad is a friendly sort of chap so he stood at the door, gave a cheery wave and shouted "Bonjour, Monsieur". "Merde alors!",came the reply, as the poor man scurried back to the safety of his own van. You may be fortunate enough not to be familiar with the intimate workings of caravan doors, but many of them are those 'stable door' designs where you can have the top part open and the bottom section closed. My dad claims to this day that he thought the lower part was shut but, needless to say, 'Monsieur le campeur' got a full frontal he wasn't expecting.
I don't know if it was the poor weather or whether word got round about the flasher in the van on pitch 38 but we soon had the site pretty much to ourselves.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Family Sayings

We all have our little sayings and private jokes, and it can sometimes only take a word to make an entire family fall apart laughing, whilst others look on dry-eyed, bemused and with their sides firmly intact. Even if these jokes were explained they would probably not be hugely amusing to others. For example, our family only has to say the word 'plastic' in a Welsh accent at the sight of something rather cheap looking to have the whole room clutching their stomachs and crying real tears of mirth. It all sprang from a great aunt describing the handles on her husband's coffin, of all things, but I bet you're not even having a mild chuckle to yourself at that one.
However, there is one lovely little story I would like to share with you if I may which dates back to my son's days at nursery. He would sometimes stay there for his tea on the days when I was working a bit later, which was served at about 4.30pm. Clearly it had been a long day, not only for the children but for some of the staff too. On one such evening I picked Bryn up and took him home asking how his day had gone. "I told Sharon I loved her today", he told me. (Sharon was one of the more mature staff at the nursery and clearly immune to flattery).
"Aww, that's lovely Bryn", I replied. "What did she say?"
"She said 'Eat your sandwiches'", came the matter-of-fact reply.
So now, if there is ever a situation where there is a potential unwanted or embarrassing show of emotion brewing then the phrase 'Eat your sandwiches' generally features.

Taking Things Literally

In my previous post 'Getting things a bit Wrong' I mentioned the story of my small son thinking that 'wax' was the plural form of 'a whack' and complaining that he had one in his ear. All I can think is that those particular orifices must have been especially dirty (there were worse ones as I recall)  as this next tale involves the same part of his anatomy. When he was about 2 he was in the bath (I think the whole caravan/shower trauma must have had a profound effect on my psyche as all these anecdotes seem to involve cleanliness) when I said "Ooh, look at those dirty ears. Are you growing potatoes in there?" The reaction was instant and loud. Hysterical screams, telling me to get the potatoes out. Poor little boy. I explained that I was joking and that he did not, in fact, have root vegetables sprouting in his ears and he calmed down.
A more recent case of 'taking things literally' happened a couple of years ago and involved a situation at my son's school. The Head Teacher had left very quickly and unexpectedly and with no explanation, at least not to anyone who mattered like the parents. As you can imagine there was much whispering, gossip and speculation. We don't have much else to do in Norfolk. Eventually one little boy went home and said to his mum, "Hey, I've found out what happened to Mrs Roberts. Apparently she shot herself in the foot!"

Blue Peter

I have recently been forced by my young son to watch the programme currently on CBBC where they are searching for a new Blue Peter presenter. They are now down to the final three, with the contestants having had to go through various tests such as showing viewers how to make a nuclear bunker out of a washing-up liquid bottle, a dead rat and a toothpaste tube. There has been sticky- backed plastic a-plenty and hearty cries of "Here's one we made earlier".
I was brought up on Blue Peter in the olden days when it took to the air on Mondays and Thursdays. It was pretty much the only programme I was allowed to watch with TV generally frowned upon and Grange Hill considered far too rough. No, Blue Peter was considered perfect viewing material. Nothing any ruder than an elephant crapping on the studio floor, nothing more risqué than following Tina's pregnancy (I'm still sure it was Percy Thrower's baby). If only we'd been aware of what was going on behind the scenes at Broadcasting House. It all began to fall apart with the arrival of Sarah. Even my innocent nine-year-old self could tell just by looking at her that she'd had more men than I'd had disgusting school dinners. Then, Janet got pregnant but they didn't mention that as she wasn't married. At some point one of them was replaced by a bloke called Michael. He excitedly told viewers how he'd appeared in an 80s music video. Unfortunately he omitted to inform us that he'd also appeared in a very different type of video altogether. He didn't get a big farewell programme, he just disappeared from our screens never to be heard of again poor man. Later on came the whole scandal about the naming of the Blue Peter cat and finally I'm sure one of them had to leave because of cocaine use.
Looking back, Dad, it would have been a lot safer to let us watch Grange Hill. At least that was acting and not real lives being screwed up before our very eyes. I just hope that the three Blue Peter presenter wannabes are given an on the spot drugs/pregnancy test at some point in the selection process or they could be in for very short careers.



Monday, 22 July 2013

The Royal Baby: At Last!

I'm not exactly a massive follower of the Royal Family but I must confess I got quite excited when I heard that Kate was going to be giving birth at the 'Lindor Wing'. My eight year old soon set me straight; apparently it's the 'Lindo Wing' which is much more prosaic and a lot less chocolatey.
So, no name yet, but Kate and William are the proud parents of a baby boy and so the toughest job ever, that of being parents begins for them.
I have to admit that I was a fairly poor parent in the early days of my son's life, but then I was dragged down by post natal depression, the most awful, cruellest of afflictions. A brief moment of being serious (see it as a public health broadcast). If you think you are suffering from PND please, please seek help now. Tell a friend, phone your GP, get in touch with your health visitor (she'll be the one called 'Pam' or possibly 'Carol') but just tell someone.
So, those early weeks pass by in a complete blur induced by a heady combination of hormones, fatigue and an overwhelming feeling of responsibility. I had a baby who wouldn't sleep or feed properly and who never stopped crying. It didn't help that my nephew, born just a couple of months previously appeared to be the model baby. (I know my sister-in-law will be reading this and I'm sure she'll disagree!). The very well-meaning Health Visitor would say to me "You need to relax. He can sense you're tense and that makes him worse". Well thanks for that hugely helpful piece of advice but how am I meant to relax when I feel like sh*t?
Exhaustion can do very strange things to you. Don't forget they use sleep deprivation as a form of torture. A friend of mine was woken in the night by her tiny daughter needing a feed. In the half darkness she reached across to the cot, picked up her little bundle and put her to her breast. After a few moments her husband murmured "The baby's still crying". She looked down and realised that she was trying to suckle a cuddly toy hippo.
The weeks and months pass and eventually you get to that magical day. Baby's first smile? The tell-tale white dot which heralds the arrival of the first tooth? The first time junior eats 'solids' (what a ridiculous name for the slop which is baby porridge). No... your first solid eight hours sleep. You gradually become human again, begin to be a bit less anxious (the pills helped with that!) and get to the point with dummies and feeding implements where you think 'If it hasn't been dropped down the toilet then it's sterile'.
At that point most people decide it's time to start on the whole process all over again but my self-preservation gene kicked in big time at that point and does so every time I find myself feeling a bit broody!

Fashion

Like it or not, clothes play a huge role in our every day lives, but for some they are obviously much more important than for others. I love clothes and have recently introduced a self imposed ban of a whole year on buying any new items. A bit draconian I know, but I am determined to save some money and make a bit of space in my wardrobe.
My husband, however, has a very different sartorial philosophy and to him clothes are purely functional. He wears them to keep cool/warm, to stay dry and to avoid being arrested, but he takes no pleasure in buying clothes or what he looks like in them.
I have recently had cause to look through photo albums of myself as a child, teenager and young adult. As a child of the 70s I look back and cringe at the flares, long pointed collars and unhealthy obsession with corduroy which dominated that decade. I had a lovely ensemble which managed to combine all of these; some green cord dungarees (worn with a flowery pointy collared blouse) bearing the slogan 'Have a nice day'. Well, I wasn't going to dressed like that was I?
My early teenage years were not kind to me in terms of looks. Big NHS glasses (you had no choice of frames in those days - they were designed with the sole purpose of making you look like you'd just got off the sunshine community coach and run away from your carer) and a series of what could only loosely be described as hair styles. There wasn't a whole lot of style going on, believe me.
The 90s coincided with my 20s and a time to experiment a bit more now that my mother no longer had a say in what I wore, how I had my hair. By the way, my son is only eight and we already seemed to have reached that stage in his life! The late 80s/early 90s was the era of Dallas and Dynasty, power dressing, city shorts and big hair. I thought I looked fab but when I see photos of myself from this time I just look like an extra from Columbo.
I am now 42 and can honestly say that I feel better about myself than I ever have done. I have found a style that I feel comfortable with, a haircut I love (apart from the grey bits) and I have perfected the art of putting on a bit of make-up without looking like the bride of Frankenstein.
So, I wonder what my 50s, 60s and beyond will bring in terms of fashion? All I can say to my nearest and dearest is that if I get a perm, have a blue rinse, start wearing floral skirts, pastels and beige or insist on putting tights on with sandals then please take me to one side and have a word. I will thank you for it and pay you most handsomely in British Home Stores vouchers.

The Great Kate Wait

So, apparently the Duchess of Cambridge is in labour. The coverage on Sky is hilarious as they scramble around trying to get a comment from just about anyone who has ever been a midwife/given birth/been born and as I write someone just said the word 'vaginal' on the BBC. Dear God, what is this world coming to? Anyway, good luck to Kate as to any woman giving birth today. Just have any drugs they offer you love and PUUUUUSH!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Family Holidays Part Three: The Weather or Mon Dieu, il pleut!

The journey down through France would always have been spent in an uncomfortable, pre air-con sweaty haze as the hot French sun blazed down on us. The further south we went the stronger the sun's heat would be; a fiery orange ball in a clear azure sky beating down relentlessly. We would pass fields blackened by drought and heard the locals talking about how it hadn't rained in five months. There were hose-pipe bans, water shortages and the army had been placed on high alert due to the risk of wild fires. The elderly, infirm and very young were in grave danger as temperatures soared to previously unrecorded highs.
Like most teenage girls I was desperate to return to school in September with a nice tan and stories of a wonderful holiday romance. As the latter was totally out of the question on account of my smelling worse than a Russian weight-lifter's crotch (no shower - see previous chapter for full details) then the tan was my only hope of proving I'd had a decent summer.
So, despite all the traumas of the journey, arrival and sleeping arrangements I would wake up on the first morning full of adolescent expectation and pull open the curtains to be met with ... cloud. "It's not very sunny", I would say to my mum in that uniquely teenage way, which manages to convey to the addressee that you hold them totally responsible for whatever miserable state of affairs you find yourself in. "It's early yet", she would reply "I'm sure it will get out nice later on".
It didn't. It stayed overcast all morning, drizzled at lunch time and then the heavens opened in the afternoon. The locals were overjoyed, out doing rain dances, shouting 'il pleut'  and sacrificing small animals in grateful thanks at makeshift roadside shrines, when all I wanted to do was to worship at the altar of St Ambre of Solaire. The rain would continue pretty much unhindered for the next fortnight, clearing only temporarily one afternoon when we were inside visiting some sodding Benedictine monastery.
This would happen EVERY year. Had Dragon's Den been in existence in the 1980s we could have marketed ourselves as some kind of rain making device. 'Not had any rain for 9 months? Crops failing and your entire population on the brink of starvation? Don't worry. Call 'The Bennett Family' and see those clouds start to form within hours of their arrival'
And so I would return to England pasty and unloved (at least not by anyone French, male and aged 14-17). I never did achieve that 'just cuprinol-ed' look but now, aged 42 my skin is very grateful that I didn't.

Lost in Translation

As a Teacher of Modern Languages, mistakes made using the humble dictionary (yes I am quite old) and later the online translator have caused me much amusement. I wish I had written more of them down over the years as I find now that my 40 something mind is not what it used to be. A dictionary or translator is a tool and therefore there is a direct link between how effective it is and the intelligence of the person using it.
One that does stick in my mind from my very first year teaching, when my French was still good enough to teach 'A' level, was an answer from a reading comprehension. The text was about holiday destinations and talked about the fact that travellers were wanting to visit less 'touristy' places. It talked about 'Tierres Vierges' (sorry to all francophiles out there but I don't appear to be able to get a grave accent on this blog) and the question asked why such places were popular with some tourists. One girl answered 'Because there are lots of virgins there'. Quite possibly a more honest answer but unfortunately not what the exam board was looking for.
One very popular translation howler doing the rounds at present on facebook is from a Spanish menu. The item is 'Vino en botella' which should translate as 'Wine by the bottle'. However 'vino' is also the past tense of the verb 'venir' - to come, so some bright spark has translated it as 'He/she came in a bottle'. I'll just have a glass of water, thanks.
Quite a few people have asked why I don't do my blog in French and Spanish as well. The answer is that whilst I could probably have a shot at a literal translation, there is no way I would be good enough to convey the humour in anything but my own language. However, the other day I did decide to try out the 'translation' button which you can add to your blog. I used it into French on the 'Stamp Competition' post and had a look at the results. I am very glad I checked as the results were atrocious. One English phrase 'Mummy and Daddy have a row' was rendered as 'Maman et Papa ont un rang'. 'Un rang' is not 'a row' as in 'an argument', but rather 'a row' as in 'a row of cabbages'.
However, my absolute favourite comes courtesy of a Polish friend who heard this anecdote about a fellow Pole who had moved to Britain and had not yet mastered the language. He wanted to buy some meat, so checked on google translate for what he needed. Feeling reasonably confident he went into his local Butcher's shop and asked for 'half a kilo of chicken tits'. To było upokarzające




Saturday, 20 July 2013

I Believe: Mel Smith

Following the announcement today of the untimely death of Mel Smith here is my own little tribute based on one of my favourite songs from 'Not the Nine O' Clock News'.


I believe that Michael Gove's good at his job
I believe that poor George Osborne's not a knob
I believe that Brian Sewell is not a snob
I believe, yes, I believe.

I believe that our economy's on the mend
I believe that Jordan's boobs are not pretend
I believe that the NHS is in safe hands
And that 1D are the very best of bands

Yes, I believe that ugly's pretty
That the welfare cuts aren't shitty
Richard Hammond is so witty
And I'll make millions from this ditty

I believe that the moon is made of cheese
And that the Tory Party's free of sleaze
I believe in a land of milk and honey
And that my broadband fees are worth the money

I believe that old George Michael's a good driver
And that Kate's wedding dress cost a fiver
I believe that I am going to live for ever
I believe that Peter André's really clever
And I believe that Amanda Knox is innocent
But I can't believe Ronald Reagan is president











Happy Anniversary

Apparently today is our wedding anniversary. Oops. As we have two anniversaries a week apart (registry office on account of being the 2nd Mrs Harrison, plus church blessing) you'd think I'd manage to remember at least one of them. In fact, it's not even a case of forgetting but rather getting round to doing something about it. Anyway, this year I have failed miserably so instead of a card here is a little blog post for my husband. I hope he likes it otherwise my next entry could be called 'Does anyone know a good divorce lawyer?'
We have been married for eleven years, not a hugely long time I know but still, not bad going. I have been reflecting on how things have changed in those years, what do we have to show for it? Well, clearly there are the obvious things; we now have a psychopathic hedgehog, a fairly well adjusted cat (apart from that worrying phase when he kept trying it on with a pink feather duster) and an eight year old with a Calpol habit, none of which were in existence that sunny day in July 2002. This is our third home together and we have both been through three cars each. Had we shunned private vehicle ownership in favour of a more eco-friendly way of travelling we could probably have paid the mortgage off by now such would have been the savings. We have both had several different jobs plus short periods of unemployment. We have had times when money has been tight and times when it has been a little bit less tight. We have made new friends and sadly lost old ones. In brief, we have been through a fair bit together.
So, we are both a bit older and greyer and hopefully a little wiser. The lovely dinner set we had as a wedding present has gradually been chipped, broken and used for the cat's food. The huge fluffy towels are a bit frayed and threadbare and get used to mop up when I defrost the freezer. I no longer try to impress by baking home made brownies and delicious meals totally from scratch. I still iron his shirts but not with that same enjoyment which came with the novelty of being a new wife.
So, what will the next decade or so bring? No doubt a mixture of good and bad, feeling well and being ill, having no money to spare, being able to splash out a bit. In a nutshell, our wedding vows.

If Pets Could Talk

I don't know if this is normal behaviour but I spend quite a lot of time when I'm at home talking to our cat Ronnie. I occasionally talk to my son and husband too but I prefer Ronnie as he doesn't answer back or ask me for money.
What if he could though? I wonder what he would say if he was given the power of speech for a day?
The first thing I think he would do would be to complain about his name.
"Why did you call me Ronnie? It is such a stupid name. All the other cats laugh at me and make fun of it. That's why I never come when you call me; I'm just trying to pretend it isn't my name. Why couldn't I be called something a bit more butch like 'Brad' or 'Tyson'? It's so embarrassing at the vets when they call out 'Ronnie Harrison'. It makes me sound like a gay porn star. The other week there was a gorgeous Burmese babe there called 'Skye'. I think I was well in with a chance there until she heard my name and then she just laughed.
...and that's another issue I would like to raise. Even if I had got lucky with Skye it would have been a pretty disappointing outcome as I DON'T APPEAR TO HAVE ANY TESTICLES. What was that all about? One day I'm wondering around, strutting my stuff and feeling 100% male (despite my stupid name) and the next I wake up and there is definitely something missing. Rastus next door has still got his because I checked. How do you think I got those awful cat bites the other week? He was not impressed and called me a weirdo. Said if I touched him again then I'd really know about it.
Oh, and one last thing, can you get me some decent food? I know you try your best with that really expensive posh stuff you give me plus the occasional bit of liver or tin of sardines, but what I'd really like are some dead flies and birds innards mixed with grass and maybe a bit of my own poo? Thanks."

Friday, 19 July 2013

Mediocrity

I am going to let you into the secret of a peaceful existence; mediocrity. I have spent much of my adult life perfecting the art of mediocrity and I like to think I am fairly good at it. Let me explain why being mediocre is the key to happiness, taking your working life as an example. I am sure you will agree that if you are bad at your job then you are in line for all manner of grief, although not if your first name is Michael and your surname Gove. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of complaints from line managers, stern emails from the boss and uncomfortable appraisal meetings, so it doesn't pay to be too shabby.
This reminds me of a story I heard about a colleague of a friend who was having their annual performance management interview. He came out of the meeting fairly pleased with the way it had gone, saying that his manager had complimented him on the improvement in his work. The others in the office were mildly surprised as this individual was renowned for being lazy and incompetent. "So, what exactly did he say then?", one co-worker asked. "He said I used to be f****** sh*t, but now I'm just sh*t", came the reply.
However, if you are too good at what you do then people expect a lot of you and give you more to do. Some of my colleagues are constantly snowed under by requests to run a course, go to a meeting, organise an event. Why? Because they are too good at their job. I do try to give them the benefit of my wisdom but they are too busy answering the 150 emails they have received that morning to listen to me.
So, for now I shall endeavour to tread the line of least resistance and happily continue in my own little world with my delusions of adequacy.

Family Holidays Part Two: Sleeping and Hygiene Arrangements.

So, once the evening meal was over came those fateful words 'We need to make the bed up'. Now, this had to wait until the evening meal was over for the simple reason that the table formed the main base of the afore-mentioned bed. The bedding was retrieved from the cupboards (which were underneath the seats), the table collapsed and the cushions arranged to make a nice, comfortable, King Size bed. Lovely, nothing wrong with that, until you remember that I have two brothers and all three of us had to sleep in this space.
OK, here's the thing. When we first got the caravan we were 7, 9 and 11 and this arrangement was fine. We were small, there was plenty of space, and it wasn't in direct contravention of any EU laws regarding right and proper sleeping arrangements. Fast forward several years and you are presented with a very different and altogether less satisfactory scenario. Now, we were not the kind of children who had cool parents who allowed you to go off on holiday with your friends once you reached your mid teens. Oh no, we were still doing this aged 13, 15 and 17. I kid you not. Whilst this kind of behaviour might be acceptable, dare I say practically obligatory in parts of Norfolk, it is probably more frowned upon in other more sophisticated sectors f society.
So it was that I would settle down for the night with one brother prone to talking in his sleep and the other singing along tunelessly to Buddy Holly (I told you we weren't cool) on his personal stereo.
We would be woken at some ungodly hour the following morning by Dad grinding coffee by hand for his breakfast. Remember last night and having to clear the table before you could make the bed? Well, in the morning we had to get up before breakfast could be served.
All you wanted to do, as a teenage girl, following a stuffy night spent in the warm embrace of her younger brother was to have a shower and make herself look presentable for all those gorgeous French boys who were also staying at 'Le Camping Merde de Cochon'.
Memories of what I am about to recount can, 25 years on, cause me to cry real tears of pain and embarrassment. I know I have a few Psychiatrist/Physchologist friends reading this blog. If any of you could come up with an effective form of therapy for dealing with trauma suffered as a result of holidays then I would gladly try it. You could call it S.H.I.T - Sian's Holiday Intensive Therapy. Boy, would it need to be intensive. You see, my dad had bought a caravan with its own toilet and shower cubicle and for this reason was loathe to go to a site with any 'facilities'. Unfortunately he was also loathe to let us use the shower in the caravan. End result - you were allowed to have a shower 2 or 3 times during a 2 week holiday. When I say a shower what I actually mean is a dribble of water, tepid at best, cold at worst standing in a space which is smaller than the surface area of an average TV. Everyone in the caravan knew if you were using the water as the pump made the most god-awful noise, akin to a cow going through a particularly difficult labour. If you ran the pump for more than a few seconds Dad would be shouting through the door for you to turn it off.
Needless to say I never did pull on any of those family trips to France.

Getting Things a Bit Wrong

In the interests of accuracy I really should have named this post 'Getting Things Very Wrong' but it would have been a very different article altogether, so I shall stick to the more light-hearted and hopefully less legally compromising 'Getting Things a Bit Wrong'.
We shall start with those masters of the trade, small children. As they begin on that wonderful adventure which is learning to communicate, they often get things slightly skewed. When Bryn was very small, probably about 2, he was getting quite agitated in the bath asking me to get a flannel as he had 'a whack' in his ear. A whack, I thought, immediately concerned (see post on Worrying). Had he been hit at nursery or fallen over and injured himself? He didn't appear to be in any discomfort though so I continued my investigations and eventually realised that in his toddler logic 'A whack' was the singular form of 'wax'.
More recently I was looking after (and I use that term very loosely) my 5year old nephew. He was out in the garden with my son playing with the football. When I dragged myself away from Jeremy Kyle and went to check on them he came running up to me and said  "Auntie Sian. we've been playing sleepy puppies". For those of you not familiar with the world of young boys he meant 'keepy uppies'.
Getting things wrong, however, is not the sole preserve of the young, and modern technology is often to blame for glaring errors. On-line translation tools are the worst offenders, but I have enough material there for a separate post, so you'll have to wait. One of my own favourite auto-correct errors appeared on a worksheet I had produced for my pupils. I am sure year 10 will never forget the day they learnt how to ask directions in French to the 'pubic gardens'.




Thursday, 18 July 2013

Room 101: My top 5

Being a bit of an opinionated old cow, you can imagine that there are many things which I would gladly put in room 101. Here are my current top 5. I'm sure once I get going on my whinge fest I shall find it hard to stop so 5 is my self-imposed cut off point...for now.

At number 5 we have Bad Drivers. You have already heard my rant about slow drivers but they are not my only target. I am equally infuriated by the boom-boom boys who speed up our road in a narrow, residential area with lots of parked cars. Incidentally your music is crap and if I wanted to make my ears bleed I am sure I could find a more enjoyable way of doing so. Also in the bad drivers category are those who have yet to locate the switch for their lights and indicators. There are a surprisingly high number of these in Norfolk.

Number 4 sees a new entry with 'poor broadband provision'. Perhaps I am being just a touch over demanding here but if I pay for a service, I generally expect to receive it. Clearly most broadband providers are not burdened by such ethical niceties.

A non-mover at number 3. Poor grammar, especially apostrophes (or should that be apostrophe's?!)
Now, I am acutely aware that their are errors in my grammar. I get a bit confused with commas, semi-colons and colons. Fortunately my 8 year old has been giving me some lessons citing introduction of lists, linking a sub-clause to the main clause and separating items on a list. I'm getting, there; I think:

At number 2 a strange one; repeated noises. I can't stand it if an alarm or buzzer is going off for more than a few seconds. An un-answered phone can drive me to screaming point. Even some music with very repetitive lyrics can push me to the brink of insanity.

Number 1 is controversial and I know some readers will not agree with me but I loathe personalised number plates with a passion. I see no reason for them. The only purpose they can possibly serve is to say 'Look at me, I have loads of cash'. There is, however, one personalised number plate I would make an exception for and this is one which has been spotted in a nearby town and bears the letters 'NFN'. Maybe I could be persuaded to change my mind if that came up for sale ...

Family Holidays Part One: Journey and Arrival

So, as I stagger towards the end of term (I've always thought that Gok Wan's efforts would be much more profitably spent on a series called 'How to Teach Good Knackered') I begin to reflect on that greatest of oxymorons 'The Family Holiday'.
The majority of my childhood/teenage holidays involved the caravan, trekking off with my parents and two brothers to various corners of the UK and France towing this mobile torture cell, sorry I mean 'home' behind us. If it was ever in front of us then we knew we were in trouble.
As we know, every holiday begins with the journey. Now, I am sure that this points to a huge character flaw in me, possibly even a personality disorder, but when I'm going somewhere I just like to get there. The less time spent in the car/air/train/sunshine community minibus the better. Unfortunately my father does not share my point of view, preferring to take his time, stop every hour and shun major roads. Don't forget, these were the days before Sat Nav so we would spend many a happy afternoon getting lost on country roads with pensioners on push bikes overtaking us and probably covering about 15 miles in the process. On this basis driving down to the South of France could take several days.
Eventually, after days spent in a hot vehicle (no air con in those days) with precious little to do (batteries on 'personal stereo' went flat at Calais) we would arrive at 'Le camping Merde de Cochon' or similar. Great, time to get out, stretch your legs.... Oh no! We children had to remain in the car until dad had 'put the stays down'. To this day I am unsure what exactly this means, but it seemed to take an intolerably long time and involved much bad tempered shouting from Dad and encouragement and placating noises from Mum. We would finally be allowed in to the inner sanctum, with stern warnings to take our shoes off. The kettle would go on, tea would be made and for a few glorious moments all would be well with Famille Bennett. It would, dear reader, be all too short-lived...

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Stupid things you say.

I am fed up with our 'pet' hedgehog Rocket making a massive mess in his cage by overturning his food and drink bowls. Earlier today I was in the supermarket with Bryn when I saw a great pet bowl which was quite inexpensive yet fairly heavy, meaning that my prickly friend would find it harder to trash the joint. The bowl was clearly designed with a feline theme and Bryn said "You can't get that for Rocket, it's meant for a cat."
"It's ok", I replied, "He won't know, he's blind."
Mmm, yes; if he could see then it might offend his sensitivities, being a hedgehog and all that, but as it is, we're OK!

Going to the Gym

If you were to ask what people go to the gym for, the obvious answer would be 'to exercise'. Whilst most do, to varying degrees, there are definitely other motivations behind gym membership, and distinct subsets of people who attend.
The first 'gym genus' is 'Musculus Maximus'. These are the young and not-so-young alpha males who prowl around in a pack in the corner around the free weights saying things like 'Can you come and spot for me, Carl?' or 'You wanna try 20 reps at 50k, mate'. They are usually dressed in Kappa muscle vests and have tattoo sleeves and knuckles which drag on the floor. You can tell they are deadly serious about all this as they wear special gloves and belts. They can easily spend a whole 2 hours in the gym just working on their infraspinatus and make more noise over lifting a few barbells than I did giving birth.
The next group are 'Copularis Magnus', the young women clad in lycra who are spray-tanned to within an inch of their lives. They arrive (and more incredibly, leave) with immaculate hair and make up and appear to have had their sweat glands removed. Oh, or maybe they just don't do enough to actually make them sweat? They can be seen on their own but are more usually spotted in pairs, sometimes with one of the couple a little fatter and less attractive than the other one. Typical behaviour involves sitting on the floor mats chatting for 20 minutes and laughing raucously. I want to shout at them 'You wait until you've given birth and breast-fed a few times, you'll never look like that again!'.
Finally we come to 'Populus Antiquus/Medicus Referus'. This group is invariably not appropriately dressed for exercise, often being clad in heavy shoes and thick sweaters. I don't wish to be rude (or do I?) but many in this group would benefit from some good deodorant and a nice minty toothpaste. I will not mock too much though, as I am acutely aware that in the next couple of decades I too shall be a card carrying member of 'Populus Antiquus' in the sub genus 'Rinsus Caeruleus'.