Monday, November 23, 2009

It’s a Wonderful Life.

A few weeks ago my brother met a new woman.

He had met ‘M’ online and got chatting. Chatting led to calling and calling led to meeting. Which, naturally, led to ribbing by me. I shouldn’t… he’s an easy target. Plays it very close to the chest. So I was amazed when he admitted to me that he liked ‘M’ very, very much. “We click,” he said. This, for the brother, was like admitting he had launched a thousand ships and called in the ground workers for the Taj Mahal.

Oh dear… seeing him in free fall made me open the parachute of ‘be careful, take it slow, don’t get hurt.’ But he was like a teenager again. With all that that entails. When not being critical in front of the mirror he was on the phone ‘No, you hang up first… I can’t…No, you… all right we’ll do it together, 1,2,3…’ Click.
The brief moments I saw him, he was either euphoric or sulkily monosyllabic - counting down the hours until he would speak to ‘M’ again.

The weekend before last, he stayed at M’s and met her family - her kids, her sister, her sister’s kids, and her parents. It went well. Very well. M’s father is a train and canal barge buff and has converted the attic to house his collection of models. The bro mentioned that his father had worked on a barge once.
“Oh really?”
“Well yes…sort of…mumble…actor…mumble…film ‘The Bargee’… mumble…”
It turns out ‘The Bargee’ is M’s dad’s favourite film. It’s a small world. M’s dad gave the bro a framed print of a barge on a stretch of the canal where ‘The Bargee’ was filmed. What a nice bloke.

What a nice weekend. On Monday, he and M chatted about how well it had gone. On Tuesday he was a bit down, M couldn’t talk that night, she was busy, and it seemed a long time till they would meet up again. On Wednesday they spoke briefly in the evening before she had to pop out. On Thursday morning M’s sister called him. M had been killed in a car crash the previous night. She didn’t give details - she could hardly speak.

Life has no business behaving like a film script.

And I have no business blogging about all this – or so I thought. I mentioned to the brother that I was trying to come up with something to post but all I could think about was the accident. “Write about it,” he said, “why not?”

So why not…

Why not…what if… perhaps… Not good words to go near at a time like this.

What if, in another dimension, M hadn’t got in the car that night? She and the bro spent many happy years together and died in a yachting accident off the Seychelles in 2049.

Perhaps, in another, they had one more weekend together, got into a fight about which end of the toothpaste to squeeze, went off in a huff, didn’t return each other’s calls and never met again.

But in this dimension M died. In this one her memory is already climbing onto a perfect pedestal. In this one the bro is having to come up with reasons to get his legs over the sides of the bed in the morning.

Selfishly, as M’s poor family try and comprehend what’s happened, I’m including the fact that my brother wasn’t with her and still has mornings into my list of counted blessings.

If / When the bro next takes tentative steps travelling down the road to romance, I will not counsel caution. It will be full speed ahead on his journey.

Safe journey, M…

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I’m an addict.

I had an enabler. A friend introduced me to a game on Facebook a few weeks ago. It’s called Farmville – a virtual smallholding where you grow crops, raise animals but don’t have to worry about fluctuating market forces or mucking out.

To progress in the game you need virtual neighbours. Friends on facebook who also play and have farms that you can visit. The more neighbours you have the more of the game is unlocked and the more chance you have of collecting seasonally themed animals and decorations – with Thanksgiving approaching harvest tables and turkeys are now in vogue.

Not having many friends that played the game I went shopping for some - People from all over the world who similarly wanted neighbours and posted their desire on a forum.

I now have 47 Rent-a-Friends and the number is growing daily as more Farmville addicts join in.

But Farmville is not my addiction. The Rent-a-Friends are.

Like all friends on facebook, they post the humdrum daily activities of their lives and I have become enthralled as the cycle of existence scrolls before my eyes.

Mary, from Vancouver, posts the blobby scanned image of a three-month-old foetus – her grandchild. I think she’s looking forward to it, underneath the image she’s posted a due date countdown ticker - no pressure then - she’s probably leafing through the Mothercare catalogue right now. I wish the blob a safe arrival in mid May 2010.

Jack, who is 13 and from Utah, informs us that all may add him to a popular messaging service ‘if ur not gay’. All, that is, apart from one Jess who is apparently a … well, let’s say that Jess will not be winning Mormon of the year.

Jo in Melbourne needs help with a 1200 words humanities essay.

Dee, in Hong Kong, repeatedly posts that he is single. I’m not too sure if he wants to change that status or is just reaffirming a life choice. I’m wondering how I can politely ascertain his orientation – not for Jack’s benefit but, you never know, another rent-a-friend might post they are looking for Mr. Right and then I can introduce them… now that would be playing.

Melissa is back from her Honeymoon and is wondering if it is possible to like, ya know, actually die from boredom…

Danni is a Goth from Holland. Although her picture screams of someone you would not care to meet in a dark alley, she daily posts the latest cute photos of her baby girl – the child is called Kim but must be a girl surely… either that or every snap was taken after a Pepto Bismol explosion…

Marjorie is hoping the authorities will sign off on her new house in Texas before Christmas. From her tone I certainly hope they do. Marjorie often talks about her hobbies of hunting and quilting and so could get rid of the Building Inspector’s body with ease…

Andy wants to jack in his job. But can’t. He needs it to make the payments on a new small apartment – which he also hates, but it’s all he could afford after the divorce…

Mike, from Silver Spring MD, has a brother serving with the US Military overseas. Mike has just returned from a midnight MRI scan on his brain – he informs that he does indeed have one, yok yok, but not what was he scanned for…

Alison, in Florida, tells that her friend, Rick, was struck by a hit and run driver on a road just outside of Apopka. The driver, a woman, was seen praying over his body for a time before being picked up by someone in a green truck and leaving the scene. Rick died before his wife and young son made it to the hospital. Orange County Police are searching for the driver…

Nicola in Lancashire is trying to get pregnant…

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Macbeth. Act V, Scene 1- Dunsinane, a room in the castle.

Enter Lady Macbeth and waiting gentle woman:-

Lady M: Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!

Gen: I’ll put a girdle round about thy spot in forty minutes with new Whizzo
stain remover…

In advertland this would happen. In advertland you only need the faintest lip tremble and disappointed sigh at the stubborn stain before a perky expert comes bouncing, uninvited, into your house, to show you how to shift dried in Duncan.

I tried it once - stood in front of the washing machine looking desperate and soiled and … nothing happened. No perky expert for me. Still, her failure to show meant I didn’t have to put up with her pointing out how suspiciously grey my whites were – as grey as if an underpaid prop person had spent half the night grubbing them up.

But now and again, when you are least prepared for it, you can find yourself in advertland.

It happened to me yesterday. Now that Gargantuan Puppy has had her final shots she is safe to take out for walks. So a walk she would have. The better half got himself and the kids togged up and all were braced for a hike. As the three of them got dragged up the path by the straining puppy they looked for all the world as if they had just stepped out of a picture on the back of a hearty cereal box.

It was a perfect image. One that I know will be imprinted on my brain for life. We all carry those brain pictures, the moments that stay with you.
Some are universal - the view from your childhood bed.
Some you can see coming a mile off and so rehearse – births, weddings, funerals etc. Some creep up on you unexpectedly – Yesterday’s was one of those. Another was seeing the finished genderless room that was waiting for the arrival of No. 1 daughter. I had insisted to the better half that IT MUST BE PERFECT, as I foolishly thought it would be the last time the room ever was. No. 2’s room, despite her being 2 years old, is still in mid transition from ‘spare’ room to ‘her’ room and is full to the gunwales with outgrown baby equipment and bags of No.1’s old clothes. – yet both rooms are perfect – when No. 1 and 2 are there.

No. 1 daughter has a season ticket to advertland. On the way to school the other day she pointed to a bug on the windscreen that looked suspiciously like a chip and informed the better half that he’d better contact Autoglass. If I could film the school syllabus and put it on during the advert break we could have a brain surgeon on our hands.

Talking of surgery. As I watched my perfect cereal box family disappearing down the path the phone went. A relative was to have an emergency operation. Minor, thankfully, and all is well… still….makes you think…

But not for very long.

A minute after I put the phone down the door banged. Cereal family were back – it had started to rain.

Right-o get the playdough out.

And then put it back again.

Playdough has now been banned for the foreseeable future. No. 2 daughter fed it to Gargantuan Puppy. GP then upchucked it all over the floor.

No 1 daughter paused from creating her entry to next years Turner Prize to inspect the puppy’s own artwork. Contemplating the multi hued steaming pile with a critical eye she announced that what it needed was Cillit Bang.

The Tate’s loss was the bin’s gain and while clearing it up one of those daft pre Christmas perfume adverts came on the telly.

Even with my imagination firing on all cylinders, I doubt I will ever find myself prancing down 5th Ave / Champs-Élysées, lolling about in the surf with dubious escort or pouting languidly at the camera while grainy black and white images, a snappy soundtrack and some whispered French phrases conveys how marvellous life is on planet pong.

There should be a more realistic statement odour available.

Hang on … I can see a gap in the market here.

BREAKING NEWS… I would like to announce the launch of my own designer perfume…

Eau de Playdough - un parfam de puppy gargantuan.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Der’s a rat on me path - what am I gonna do?

Well chuck it in the hedge for a start. Oh the joys of living in the country.

Mind you, they say that in London you are only ever 20feet from a rat. Chucking in the hedge there probably wouldn’t go down too well with the neighbours or ’elf and safety.

The rodent in question is a gift from the kitties, Those who have dipped a toe in previous blogs will have noted how we can never take just the one pet. The cats were the same - Went for one, came back with two.

The two in question were a Persian looking pure white fluff explosion and her kitten. Cats Protection told us that they had never been out of the flat they had been rescued from. Which, considering the presence of the kitten, was a miracle.

We took the immaculate cat and offspring home – they were perfect for wearing diamante collars while I sinisterly stroked them, hatching my evil plans for world domination.
I never did get round to ransoming the West with stolen Nukes – I was too busy bleeding. To stroke our cats you either need gauntlets, a cupboard full of elastoplast, or ninja reflexes training.

I can’t really take umbrage. The countryside round here was all too much for them. Within weeks of being in the great outdoors they had turned from house cats into feral beasts that wreaked an apocalypse on the surrounding area. Bringing down anything too small, too dumb or too slow to get out of the way – Darwin in action.

After their usual summer progress of only coming back to the house to gift us those small organs they either find especially choice, or more likely unpalatable, they were slinking in regularly. Snoring in corners, as the as days grew short and al fresco pickings grew thin. They would only wake in the evening for dinner and to keep claws in readiness for next spring by sinking them into our thighs – Cheers.

That was before the rumble. A few nights ago I was musing at the pc when the screams started underneath the window. By the time I got outside it was all over. Immaculate powered past me, shot through the door and was found in her preferred place on top of any research papers in the study. This is not normally a problem. Normally in a fight she is the winner. Pausing to wipe the blood off precious newspaper cuttings I inspected the damage.

There was blood on her lip from an impressive puncture wound and revenge in her eyes from losing - Given the mortal remains discovered earlier on the path I would say she has wreaked it.

Having been victorious in the rematch and unified the local belts she wrowled for us to inspect her victim. It was a whopper. As the better half performed the undertaking duties he pronounced it a ‘Queen Rat’ – All these years and two kids later, who knew he was an expert?

No wonder the cat has been walking around with an air of constipated smug satisfaction – she brought down the Queen, no less, and has thus been ennobled and enlivened to take on Gargantuan Puppy. They are now getting along like a house on fire – destruction, screaming, panic.

One of our houseguests this Christmas will be bringing a Pug called Simon to the mix.

Ding Dong merrily on high….

Monday, November 9, 2009

Oh …to be in England

We are back. Any doubts that we were on the right plane were banished by the sight of the rain beading down the windows as we shimmied in for landing.

Pausing to rearrange No.2 daughter on the long walk through Gatwick, I watched it sheeting down the glass panels and dancing on the runway. It was sorely tempting to go straight to the ticket desk and get on the turnaround flight. But no, there are many, many years of school ahead before being able to do a Shirley Valentine.

Besides, 30 minutes later I was too knackered from carrying No.2 to care. For those sans sprogs, on the way out you can trap the child in the buggy right up to the aircraft door. Your buggy is then whisked away to the bowels of the plane to magically reappear on the foreign gangway as you disembark. Champion. Strap in kid and off you go. Not so when returning to London Gatwick. It doesn’t magically reappear. You have to lug the kid a mile and a half to Baggage Reclaim before you get the buggy back. When we left the plane No. 2 was at eye level and I was 5’ 6”, when we got to the buggy I was 5’ 4” and wearing her as a bum bag.

Despite having stopped at every loo, again, - and waited long enough to visibly age while creeping through Passport Control - the crowd of hares from our Malaga plane were still waiting for the bags to appear by the time we tortoises trailed in. So I had a chance, in between changing No. 2’s nappy (who had chosen the very moment I was standing guard on the hand luggage to fill her pants), to eye up the passengers.

Most intriguing were the couple who had been in the row ahead. I was fishing something out of a bag when they had taken their seats so hadn’t seen their faces. Just after sitting down the man had said, loud enough for my benefit, “Well if it starts to kick the seat, complain to its mother. Do you want to swap with me?”
To which the woman had replied, “No – I want the window. Why do I always get the ****** kids?”… Ah, happy days.

I took care to make sure ‘it’ didn’t touch the woman’s seat back. Which was a bit of a challenge, as she had reclined it and then kept throwing herself back into it in rage at the incessant screams of another child in front of her.

This gave me an occasional glimpse of the woman I hope karma will one day bless with colicky triplets. She had the high maintenance look - all skin-tight leather jacket, jeans and knee boots - so beloved in Puerto Banus, Marbella and, of course, Soho. Tossing her long blondish hair she occasionally rummaged with perfectly painted nails into the depths of a Louis Vuitton bag. Definitely one, probably two were fake. I’m not well up on LV to known if it too was a fraud. (They’re just not my bag! – thank you – I’m here all week.)

But fake is not a problem on the Costa. As you leave Malaga airport you are greeted with a huge billboard advertising bust enhancements. One can have one’s pillows re-stuffed and fluffed and still get change out of 4000 euros to afford the requisite new underwear/scaffold. Plastic surgery is so ‘in’ that a very pleasant afternoon may be spent marvelling at the facial alterations and wondering where all the spare skin goes.

First prize went to a woman who was wearing every possible combination of animal print over a suspiciously pert chassis totally at odds with a face that had that disturbingly melted look of those who have OD’ed on Botox, fillers and desperation. Her forehead said twenty; her eyes said seventy and her hands said Tutankhamun. Wearing enough gold chain to moor the Titanic and make up that would be over the top for a drag queen she teetered along clinging to the husbands arm. The husband one almost didn’t notice. But he was making an effort – atop lemon slacks, a lavender silk shirt was trying, unsuccessfully, to hold in his impressive gut and over this ensemble he had casually thrown round his shoulders a red leather jacket. What was not so casual was the fact he had the top button done up – the Costa’s own caped crinkly. To be fair I don’t know if he was crinkly, I didn’t make it to his face before my brain shut down.

They wanted to be looked at and we obliged, a good time was had by all - Which is more than can be said of a friend who had been whisked away to a five star resort in Mauritius for a half term birthday treat.

After circling the airport for an eternity she landed and immediately went down with flu. Still she wouldn’t have wanted to go outside – it was raining. It rained all week, which with two kids and a workaholic husband must have taken the shine off some of those five stars. Still, you have to laugh and she did – amusingly updating her facebook page with the latest typhoon warning while resting her broken toe – another of the week’s little gems
Her last update informed that the butler was packing for them and frankly, why not? Although it did make me a tad nervous on her behalf…
“Excuse me madam, did you pack these bags yourself.”
“No…the butler did it.”
“Ah…if you’d just step this way…”

While it’s always fun to be able to sound like you’re in an Agatha Christie novel it’s not worth a cavity search.

Back in Gatwick Baggage Reclaim, I finally got a good look at skin-tight woman. After directing her companion to add a final bag to the wobbling pile on their trolley she turned and sashayed past me in her 4” heels. Fantasy was sadly let down by reality. Her attitude and accoutrements had set me up to be green with envy at her ravishing beauty but underneath the glamour of dye, paint, false eyelashes and pout she was disappointingly plain – OK, she was munted. But good luck to her. Life may have given her carpet slippers but she put them in a Manolo Blahnik box.

I, myself, have taken to wearing wellies, my slippers having been destroyed by the Gargantuan Puppy. GP has doubled in size and weight during our week’s absence and is taking a delight in savaging the dirty washing stooks in the kitchen.

As I salvage yet another sock from her needle jaws I click my wellied heels three times and whisper ‘There’s no place like home…there’s no place like home’

And as if by magic, I’m there.