Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Smudge on my character

I have a skeleton in the closet and, after years of burying it, suddenly it's surfaced again. It's risen its terrible head because Lurch has started elementary portuguese evening classes.

In the 1980's I studied Hispanic Studies with subsidiary french at university. I could manage the french and spanish but I'm afraid that I began portugese in my second year, which was, coincidentally, one of the two most debauched years of my life. I had a new boyfriend and we used to go to a pub quiz every Sunday night. Monday morning 9.00am was my portuguese class. I think I made about 2 and after a term and a half I received a departmental warning and was told by my personal tutor that I wouldn't be able to go to Spain for my year abroad if I failed portuguese. I rallied and immediately bought all of my literature books in english and taught myself a code for translating portuguese to spanish to english. I only had to translate from portuguese to english and I managed to pass. I couldn't speak a word of it and my tutors were not impressed.

Cut to 5 years later and Colin, the european head of the global drinks company I worked for, had asked Human Remains to produce pamphlets on everybody to include 'skills they were too modest to mention'. After an attention-seeking entry of 'European' under nationality I also included portuguese in my language skills(hoping it wouldn't be noticed). 'My Favourite European Corporate Polyglot! Amazing! You are the only portuguese speaker in the company!' bellowed Colin at me. I tried to smile winningly and hoped he would forget but he was so proud of me, the European Corporate Polyglot.

I realised I had nothing to fear, nobody spoke portuguese so I basked in his admiration until the fateful day when he cantered towards me, waving a piece of paper, yelling 'The Brazilians are coming! I've prepared your itinerary, let's go through it this afternoon!'. I felt sick to the stomach, he had scheduled in 5 key brand presentations in portuguese, to be given by me, followed by a tour of London by helicopter, with me as translator, and a fabulous dinner to end the perfect day, with me as translator again. I had done the same with our French and Mexican distributors so there was no reason for him to presume I wouldn't be able to do it. My knees were shaking, I couldn't speak. Eventually I had no option but to tell my immediate boss, sobbing with worry and shame. She laughed her head off and rang Human Remains to explain my lack of expertise. They arranged for me to go on a residential 'Active Listening' course on the appropriate days and I got out of it. I have never been more ashamed or relieved in my life. Colin was bitterly disappointed and harangued HR but, saints that they were, they wouldn't budge.

So Lurch began his course. When he arrived home after the first lesson I shouted 'boa tarde' to him. He came into the bedroom with a quizzical look on his face 'I'm no expert but isn't it boa noite when it's dark?' he asked. 'Hmm, maybe' I grunted. 'I told our teacher that you had a portuguese degree by deception' he countered. I said nothing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Routine, interrupted

When I work in Leeds I have a routine that is automatic; rush out of the house about ten minutes later than I would like to be, hair wet, no make-up, clutching my mobile phone to make sure I remember it and dash off in the car to try and beat the Leeds rush hour traffic. Stop on the way (usually in a traffic jam) and put velcro rollers in my hair and make-up on my face about twenty minutes before arriving at the car park. When I get to the car park I change into my trainers to do the fifteen minute power-walk from the car park to work, aware that I sometimes look very strange, depending on my outfit/footwear combo. However, as stated before, a woman over the age of 40 in the UK is rarely given a second glance and is blessed with an unspoken invisibility cloak. I haven't got a purple hat yet but I'm sure the moment's not too far away.

Last Monday I set off from the car park more slowly than usual (my thigh muscles were burning from the run) and got about a third of the way there. I was distracted from my normal robotic routine by a commotion behind me as I was crossing the road at traffic lights. There were two feral-looking men with pinched faces shouting, swigging from cans and careering along the pavement. One of them had a bloodied nose and fresh scabs all over his face. I hurried along a little faster, feeling quite threatened even though it was early in the morning. The shouting got louder and they got closer and closer, I ended up breaking into a slow jog, but they were still catching me up. Other workers were crossing the road to avoid them but it was too late for me. I sped up again, clutching my handbag and suddenly I felt them grab me from behind. I turned round screaming and looked straight at the shaved head and bloodied face of the most frightening one. 'What do you want?' I yelled. 'Don't panic love, I'm sorry for scaring ya but we couldn't let ya go to work like that...' he still had his hand on my arm and then his friend reached out to touch me too. 'What do you mean?' I asked, preparing for my dress sense to be insulted by a hoodie.

'We can't let ya go in the office with a roller stuck to ya jumper darlin'!' and he produced a bright yellow velcro roller from my back.

I apologised profusely and we ended up walking to work together - the scabby one admitted that he looked terrifying but said that he'd been set upon on Saturday night by some 17 year olds when he'd been roaring drunk, tottering around with a take-away and got beaten to a pulp. He then advised me to get some ghd hair straighteners that wouldn't stick to me and we waved goodbye. Afterwards I realised that none of the business women I passed said anything to me about my dayglo roller. How strange!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Great Big Run

I collected my schoolfriend from the station at 5.15pm on Saturday and we immediately went into our usual routine. We lined up the Nurofen Plus, loo roll, jelly beans, Lucozade tablets, Lucozade carb gel, Lucozade Sport, change for the bus, thermos flasks, numbers and safety pins, ankle chips, change of clothes and baby wipes plus lipstick for me; there's nothing like an unmade-up purple face in the hideous pictures, taken without knowledge by the professionals, to make you feel like re-mortgaging.

This year we were both inexplicably nervous, perhaps because we'd missed last year and I was worried about my knee and not doing enough training. I'd also been suffering from a psychosomatic cold all week which had panicked me into imagining a total, fatal collapse on the side of the road, breathing my rancid last into the face of a poor St John's ambulance volunteer.

Lurch cooked the boys supper and schoolfriend and I ate huge amounts of vegetable lasagne. I had excelled myself during the week in the carb loading department; coffee and cakes in every local tea shop and mountains of pasta and had denied myself wine for two weeks, apart from a couple of blips when things really got too much. I had worn my tracksuit non-stop at home to get myself in the mood, even Lurch noticed and remarked 'there's a whiff of the Vicky Pollards about you these days'. My preparation could not have been more keen. Off to bed at 10pm, awake in a cold sweat at 2pm, 4pm and then up at 5.15 ready for the trip to Newcastle.

The Great North Run is such a moving and inspirational race. It was chilly but bright as SF and I arrived at the starting line with the 52,000 other runners and we both started blubbing at the radio interviews with fundraisers. We also chatted to lots of people and were totally impressed with a 65 year old woman with an 18 year old's figure. She had only started running at 53 after a school reunion where she saw some little old ladies and realised they were her classmates, her best time was under two hours, she was brilliant fun. Schoolfriend and I are hugely competitive and she was confident. We have an agreement to start together but run apart. We were off, with a big high five from Chris Hoy - funnily enough I didn't notice Tony Blair or anybody else at the start.

It was a tough race, I'd forgotten the hills again and really struggled at 4 miles, my legs were hurting and I was boiling hot, thankfully the Geordies were out in force, children were squirting runners with water (I think!!) and kind people were handing out ice pops from their homes (don't eat the yellow ones), all gratefully received by me. Several onlookers were smoking tabs and drinking cans of lager and I would have given everything I possessed, even the boys, at one point to trade places but I forced myself to keep going. At 6 miles I started to feel OK and swallowed nearly the whole packet of Lucozade carb tablets. I had also drunk 2 bottles of Lucozade Sport but still took on board a further pouch of Lucozade at one of the stations. The eleven mile hill is normally my worst point but the sugar rush helped me to carry on without walking and suddenly at 12 miles I realised I could probably get a personal best if I just tried to hang on. I swallowed the Lucozade carb gel and gave it my all. 800 metres to go, 400 metres to go, 200 metres to go with the crowds cheering us on along the seafront and I managed to sprint the last bit to achieve a personal best of 2 hours 7 minutes and 24 seconds. Woohoo! But I was nearly sick at the finish line due to Luco-nausea, tablets, gel and isotonic drink combining to create a near volcanic effect in my stomach. Yuck! Will not be touching that stuff for some time, however I'm grateful for its help.

Met Schoolfriend at the family bit, trying not to gloat, she didn't know her time but her daughter texted her to say she had done it in 2 hours 6 minutes and 42 seconds!!! Pipped at the post by 42 seconds!! 2 all now. Still, we were both thrilled with the result. Got home, happy, sore and tired, had a lovely hot bath with a glass of champagne and fell asleep at 9.00pm.

I would like to say a big thank you and a big congratulations to everybody who did it and made it such a brilliant race. Cheers!