Tuesday, February 03, 2009

You've trampled on them, Heston Blumenthal!

My dreams that is. It's been a bitter and difficult January. What with Lurch's wandering, virus-seeking fingers and the constant stream of bad news and predictions for the UK housing market and general economy. But, ever the optimist, I started the year brimming with hope. There was one particular glimmer that was warming itself daily in the first week of the New Year. I had set my heart on winning the Walker's 'Do Us A Flavour' competition (that's the same as Frito Lays for the non-UK readers). £10,000 (at least!) would be mine, if not winning the whole competition! The boys and I had spent the autumn concocting recipes, thinking of evocative names and unusual flavours - we were drawing inspiration from the most unlikely sources, buzzing with ideas and energy.

Danny Boy rushed home after looking at traffic lights in the rain and devised 'The Big Green Steam' - coriander, green chilli, wasabi and lemongrass. I had 'Battered and Bruised' - beetroot and beer, rejected on poor language taste terms but persevered. The Terminator came up trumps with 'Gingeroo!' - ginger and rhubarb. Then I reached (in my own mind at least, obviously) new levels of invention with two recipes I felt were sure fire winners: the evocative 'Root Tangle in Thyme' - strips of root vegetables roasted in thyme and a last burst entrant 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' - roasted sweet potato with pumpkin, hot paprika, and - here's the genius touch! strips of cracked black pepper. Phew...

We waited for judgement day, hope beginning to fade. I stopped looking at brand new cream Fiat 500's and accepted that somebody else was obviously more creative than the members of the Blogthatmama family. I gingerly opened the website and to my absolute shock and horror saw 'Fish and Chips', 'Onion Bhaji', 'Chilli and Chocolate (have you ever tasted that? I have, Yuck!), 'Builder's Breakfast' (bit more imaginative), Duck in Hoisin Sauce (yawn!) and (a nod in the direction of creativity) Cajun Squirrel. WHAT!!!

That is why I'm blaming Heston. He may have been outvoted but I'm now beginning to suspect that the competition was just an excuse to see which flavours would be the most popular i.e. 500,000 votes for fish and chips = a winner. Why bother pretending you have to satisfy all senses and create flavour collisions and interesting names? Why, Heston, Why?

Still, we enjoyed ourselves and it's good for the kids to be imaginative. I've resolved that we'll find another competition and win it between us this year. Oh yes we will. That will show you, Heston!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Infamy, infamy they've all got it in for me!

I think this is the closest I've ever come to wearing a straightjacket. The pincer movement attack carried out by PC World and Lurch nearly did for me, it really really did. I've been out of blogosphere action for some time now, unable to read, laugh or cry over my favourite blogs, except for a few snatched moments in other people's offices.

It started off with a welcome request from one company to do as much work as I possibly could, from home. 'Yes, yes!' I cried, as any freelance marketer worried about not selling their house and the drying up of work during the credit crunch would. This should cover Danny Boy's birthday and a bit more, I hoped. I arrived home from taking the Terminator to Scouts to find Lurch on my work laptop. 'I've downloaded the latest Microsoft anti-virus for you' he explained. 'What? Why did you do that? I've got anti-virus protection'. Yes the well-meaning fool (and I've called him much, much worse than that lately) had taken it upon himself to download a trojan virus that paralysed my computer totally.

I took it to PC World and waited in the queue. The man in front of me dumped his printer on the desk and said 'You can have this heap of junk, it doesn't work I want my money back. 'What's wrong with it?' squeaked the poor stumpy, pale, greasy-haired creature that was halfway between man and boy. 'It doesn't work! I just told you!' barked the man. He got his money back, during which time a certain camaraderie had built up in the queue. I gave them my lap top and told them I was self-employed and really needed the lap top replacement in my business cover agreement. The whey-faced youth nodded 'yes, you're entitled to it, but I'm afraid that doesn't mean you can have one. We haven't got a spare. Sorry'. 'Sorry, sorry! is that all you've got to say' I yelled.

Suffice to say I have been on the phone to various call centres going through a pointless sequence of number choices and have ended up boiling over with rage. Lurch bore the brunt of it and I must confess my final eruption covered everything; from moving to this house in the country with no supporting infrastructure and how anybody can manage to live rurally unless they work on the land is completely beyond me to presenting him with a bill for the damage.

It hasn't been pretty and it's cost a fortune in child care and computer bills but I'm back on-line and working. Nobody, but nobody is allowed to touch this computer again...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Happy 2009

So, I moved on feeling fully rested from my seaside sojourn but it all went downhill from there. I went to stay with my old friend Shaztastic in Esher. We met at University and cannily went into property development together at the last peak in 1988 - a shared two-bedroomed flat in Tooting. We remained in negative equity for the next 9 years until we sold it for a large loss. Move over Dragons! We had a great evening out in wine bars and a Sherpa restaurant in Esher and stayed up drinking champagne until 2.30am, just like old times. The following morning we walked to collect the car and had a lazy latte in a coffee bar. Old friends really are gold.

Next stop was Lurch's school friend, his wife and two children in Berkshire on New Year's Eve. I arrived at about 2.30pm and met up with Lurch and the boys, fresh from their Belgian holiday. Lovely to see them. Lurch's friend and his wife are good fun but they drink very heavily, and smoke like chimneys. She is very big in the city and very small in the body. They don't eat much but were already on gigantic glasses of wine by the time I arrived. I knew I had to pace myself otherwise I wouldn't last.

I'm absolutely convinced I was sober at 11.50pm because I can distinctly remember being on vocals to 'Living on a Prayer' on Guitar Hero accompanied by the children on guitar and drums, refusing to let anyone else have a go in the limelight. I can also remember looking at Lurch's friend and thinking he was just like a purple Papa Lazaru with his flushed face, black lips ringed with purple stains and tiny black eyes as he bent to kiss me for Happy New Year! Happy New Year to you too! Cheers! Yes, another one, why not? It's New Year...

Dear me, the next morning was shocking. I could hardly move but Lurch informed me that I had 45 minutes before we were due at a diplomat's drinks party to celebrate his recent return to the UK from Asia Pacific. What! I may not have been big in the city but I was certainly enormous in my size 12 velvet Jigsaw trousers. I could scarcely do them up and I felt seriously ill. Although a former tabber the smoking had dramatically affected my eyes, I looked like an ageing rabbit dying of mixamotosis and had to admit that I am no longer the party animal I once was, I needed food to revive me. The party was hard going, lovely people but still strangers and a lot of small talk. I noticed a few canapes on the Aga so I tucked in before I passed out, they were a bit hard but at least it was sustenance. The hostess was looking at me strangely so I smiled but she moved over and said 'I'll just pop these in the oven to cook, excuse me' - I'd been eating raw spring rolls. We had a very quiet day and then returned home.

Since then I've been very busy with work so I know this is a little late in the day, month or year but I'd just like to wish you all a very happy 2009. Cheers! (I'm toasting with hot water and lemon, by the way...)

Monday, December 29, 2008

All is calm, all is quiet

So here I am, stranded in Kent, all alone in my parent's house. Of course the journey down South on Christmas Eve wasn't without incident; a steaming bonnet, broken power steering and a bright red battery light that wouldn't go off after a stop in a service station on the M11 80 miles from my destination. My Dad and Lurch (50 miles behind me with Danny Boy) advised me to carry on and not stop the engine. I did, with The Terminator swearing undying loyalty and promising not to leave me on my own. We made it over the Dartford Crossing without stopping and whooped and cheered as we arrived at El Vel and Sean Sean the Leprechaun's half an hour later. 'Happy Christmas everyone!'. Christmas was lovely, very relaxing and just family. The boys, Lurch and SSTL went for a long walk along the beach in the morning and then we had a fabulous traditional turkey with all of the trimmings.

Boxing Day was pretty much the same, although the boys were cranking up a gear and getting slightly more boisterous by this stage. I rang the AA on the 27th, they came out but said nothing was open and I would have to wait until Monday. I was supposed to be going back to work in Leeds. Lurch and the boys went off, as planned, on the early morning ferry to France. In the spirit of our recent home education experiences they are visiting war graves and possibly going to Ypres in Belgium too. So I had the weekend on my own.

Something strange has happened to me since. I've slept for 8 hours a night and am feeling totally relaxed to the point where my mental processes have broken through the perpetual low-level fug to a near clarity of thought. I'm not being bombarded with the usual artillery; requests to drive people anywhere (can't!), clean anything, break up fights, find anything, fix anything, empty or fill things. I've read Pat Barker's 'The Eye in the Door' and Sue Gee's 'Reading in Bed' and really enjoyed them. I feel like a different person, maybe this is what's really meant by a break?

It's also strange being back here without my family, and not being 18 again. I went to Tesco with El Vel and she pointed out grey, tired old faces that I didn't recognise. They're the same age as me, I know that because I went to school with them!

Yesterday we went for a walk (I went running) to the beach. On the way there we saw Alan, a neighbour of my parents, hoisting his Union Jack up the flagpole in the back garden. I hadn't seen him for years and he was certainly twice the man he used to be. After a quick chat we moved on. 'Blimey, he's put on weight, hasn't he?' I said to Vel. She made a face that was a cross between a bulldog sucking on a lemon and a crocodile smiling, this is how you can tell that she's feeling intense disapproval, although she would 'never say anything..' 'He's a fascist' she confided 'he's really nosy and knows everyone's business, he patrols the neighbourhood. He's even complained about building rubble here', she signalled to a nearby building site 'Dad and I were just having a very quick look through the windows and the builder invited us in for a tour, lovely man' she said.

We got to the beach and there are remembrance benches all along the seafront. I recognised the name of a girl I used to play netball with at school and the Aunt and Uncle of a friend of mine, and others I knew, it was extraordinarily moving. I ran half a mile one way into the biting, cold December wind, and then turned back. My parents were a short distance ahead, all wrapped up in hats, scarves and mittens, holding hands and battling the elements together as they'd done for nearly 50 years now. They didn't hear me as I approached at a jog. 'Get a room!' I yelled in my mother's ear as I passed. A startled stagger and a look that was pure bulldog was my response.

So now the AA have been and I'm here until tomorrow. The parents are at the golf club. Lurch has phoned and spoken to me in a strained tone with a background track of heavy fighting. I made the boys promise to let Lurch enjoy his holiday and to cut the brawling and behave and then I put the phone down, ran a hot bath with aromatic oils and pondered my third choice of novel.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Santa's coming..

'Oooh, that looks good!' I say to Lurch, as we make our way around the throbbing Christmas Market in York. 'You want one?' he asks. I nod my thanks and tuck into a steaming crepe, filled to the brim with ham and melted cheese, all washed down with a hot and spicy cup of mulled wine. We move onto the next stall, specialist chocolatiers with a bedazzling array of hand-crafted jewels. 'Just a taster then' I'm transported to food heaven and buy a small crate to dip into on the long winter evenings, whilst tucked up reading in front of the fire. After an exhausting shopping trip I treat myself to a couple of mince pies and a cappucino. I love this time of year!

I don't love going to the dentist though. Until recently we had an excellent,kindly 60 year old dentist who played Radio 2 and turned on the fan heater to full blast in the waiting room to dry out the damp woodchip wallpaper. He had a heart attack and sold on his life's work. I took the boys for the first time last week. Now everything glows and shimmers; the dentist and her assistant must be about 24 with shiny white hair, shiny white teeth and shiny white uniforms, the boys were transfixed by the sheer, physical perfection, I had an uneasy 'Vanilla Sky' type of feeling as if we were in another world, brought on by the shiny leaflets offering wrinkle fillers and perfect smiles.

It was my turn today and I got ready. We've been waiting for an oil delivery for ten days so have had minimal heating and it's freezing. I put on my red fleece and a cream scarf and went to the bathroom to clean my teeth for the regulatory four minutes, plus flossing, plus mouthwash. As I approached the bathroom a little bit of magic happened, I caught a glimpse of Santa! It couldn't be, could it? It wasn't, of course, it was me! Yes me! All red-faced from the cold and the fire-heat with a festivity-laden stomach bulging out into my red fleece. I carefully turned the mirror to the wall.

Two fillings and £200 later I've made some resolutions. No longer am I going to a) turn myself into a Christmas pudding/bauble fit to hang on a giant Norwegian Spruce every year and b) sport Austin Powers style gnashers from the 1960's - time to move on, as soon as the house is sold I'm gonna get myself some 21st Century teeth!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Look at me!

Well, I've had my meeting with the Head of Year and she had interviewed the Head of every subject I'd mentioned and each had prepared a written report on Danny Boy. The History teacher had also waited after school to meet me. I had a written apology from the English teacher but the rest of the remarks have dampened my crusading spirit. Danny Boy has been identified as one of the brightest students in the year but he is an attention-seeking class clown who finds it very difficult to concentrate, disrupts other pupils and is desperately immature. The reason for his shoddy work is that he is slap-dash and doesn't spend anything like the right amount of time on his homework, doing the bare minimum to get by. It made for an interesting meeting. Danny Boy was squirming as Head Of Year revealed some of his half-truths and excuses. The upshot of it all is that it's up to him, plenty of other children are prepared to work. Tonight DB and I have learnt the verbs etre and avoir by rote, tomorrow it's Spanish... there is a six year sentence stretching before me and Lurch (who's now testing him).

Why is he such an attention seeker? I can only imagine he takes after his father who has sported many an eye-catching look in his time from Country Squire manque, complete with plus-fours (aged 16) to Eurocrat with a leather handbag and hand-tooled Italian loafers, a fine dandy indeed. I have never been comfortable in the spotlight.

My worst work experience ever was in Jamaica. I was representing the company, sponsoring an evening of Caribbean culture, which was being broadcast simultaneously on radio and TV. The MC was a restless, slightly aggressive man who seemed to carry a large colonial chip on his shoulder. He referred to me as 'The Queen's Representative' at all times, accompanied by a direct, challenging gaze and a savage smile. I couldn't understand what I'd done but half an hour into the show his delighted tones rang out across the island 'Would the Queen's representative please come forward for an exhibition limbo dance with our country's champion?' What! me?! I was forced into it, wearing a tightish linen business suit. I had to perform a limbo with a 6 foot 6 liquid limbed, breathtakingly handsome Rasta in front of 1,000 people in the stadium but also on TV. My mouth was dry, my legs and arms were wooden. The Rasta tried his best and so did I, contorting, shaking and shimmying but I was worse than John Sergeant, it was the most humiliating episode of my life. I was stone cold sober and, unbeknown to anyone else, four months pregnant! I still shudder at the memory.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My new career, stalker or eduwarrior?

So which is it to be? Last week I fell into the slough of despond or the trough of disillusionment, whatever... The reason for this despair is that I examined Danny Boy's school books. He has had several assessments in the last couple of weeks and appears to have gone backwards in every single subject. In History he has gone from a level 7 to a level 3 and, at the age of nearly 13, has spent about six weeks colouring in pictures of Henry VIII, devoting himself to shading yellow and green syphilitic ulcers on Henry's legs. WTF? His English book hasn't been marked by his teacher since the term began although he has, once again, designed a chocolate bar for the rest of the class to mark. Having been involved in Marketing and New Brand Development for 20 years I feel well placed to judge whether Shakespeare or I will leave the greater legacy to this country. So, I've decided that my new career is going to involve either stalking Ed Balls or stirring the masses to rebel against the dumbing down of education. I am on a mission.

The cavalry arrived on Tuesday, just in time for The Terminator's birthday. When I came home from work I could make out a dim halo of light shining on the driveway, yes it was Sean Sean the Leprechaun with a camping headlamp strapped to his forehead, finishing off The Guardian Sudoko in the car. El Vel was at his side, rubber gloves poking out of the suitcase, ready for action. As usual, to the utter bewilderment of Lurch, they brought their own towels and mugs as well as all of the half-finished food in their fridge. After five trips between the car and the house we managed to squeeze it all in.

I showed her DB's books and, as a former Deputy Head, she was appalled. I made a list of issues and phoned the Head of Year. She responded fantastically and is interviewing the Subject Heads and then Danny Boy, she and I will be meeting. Hope is glimmering, Danny Boy is scowling, I am crusading. The fridge is sparkling, the vegetable patch has been dug over and planted with purple sprouting broccoli and cabbages, and as I waved goodbye to my parents I felt that all was now right with the world. And relax...