Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Lurching...From One Disaster to Another!

A very dear friend said to me yesterday; for every down, there has to be an up. So if life is rough, it must become smoother: up and down, down and up. I was very polite, and managed not to laugh. ‘Oh yeah?’ I wanted to say. ‘Not my life.’

Now ‘Tales’ knows lots of other people have dreadful things to deal with, but here’s how the week looks so far, and its only Wednesday.

My locks didn’t turn ‘glossy light brown’ as promised by the box and its luscious little sample panel. I’ve managed to dyed my hair brunette, which, as a whey-faced pale-ling, is not a flattering look. Will I ever learn that age-old lesson? - after administering contents of small, smelly bottle, do not watch telly and forget the time. So much for looking foxy for Christmas. Still, at least it’s not as bad as the time I turned my hair ‘radioactive orange’. That was so awful, the hairdresser, to whom I turned for rescue, screeched and cackled when I took off my hat. You’d have thought she’d at least have tried to keep a straight face.

But worse, far worse than having to be stared at outside school for the crime of having horrible hair was the discovery, after the children had arrived home from ‘chez papa’, youngest son had something mightily unpleasant in his schoolbag. Excruciatingly unpleasant, I might add. Imagine my mortification upon discovering some of my underwear had fallen out of the washing basket and into his schoolbag. (they leave their bags in the kitchen beside the washing machine) It has been transported backwards and forwards to school for nearly a whole week. Oh well, I consoled myself, at least if it’s still in his schoolbag, it means their papa hasn’t realised what I’ve done.

“Oh no,” elder son chimed. “Daddy knows. The teacher came out to tell him.”

Cue one angry text demanding to know why offending items are still in boy’s bag.

“Oh sorry,” came the response. “The teacher did say, but I forgot.”

Forgot? How is that possible? Wouldn’t you think one’s x-husband would be kind enough to remove the items and spare the mother-of-his-children’s blushes?
I faced the teacher yesterday with a face glowing as bright as Rudolph’s fabled nose, and mumbled apologies. Luckily she found it funny, but I’m cringing and going a funny red colour again just thinking about it.

But it’s okay, I tell myself. Because, according to my friend, when things are bad, they have to get better.

How I wish it was true. I wished very hard this morning, whilst trying to console the smaller child. He was howling, literally, when I tried to leave him at school, because he doesn’t want to take part in the nativity play this afternoon. He’d played a firm hand in the ‘I’m too ill for school’ stakes, but was ultimately trumped by my stronger ‘I know you’re faking’ card. But ‘Tales’ knows that by the time he gets home, he will have made himself ill through the strength of his tantrum. And we’ll have to endure the same ordeal tomorrow for the second performance…

It has to get better. It has to get smoother. I’d like to say it can’t get any rougher, but that would be issuing my luck an open invitation to do its worst!

Sunday, 12 December 2010


Down here in ‘Tales’ things are not so much Christmassy, as ‘Folky’. Having a whole glorious weekend alone while the children spend time chez papa, for once, the tv remote is mine mine and only mine. And over the last couple of days, there has been some pretty interesting stuff on about folk music and dance over on BBC Four.

Now, having grown up in the North of Scotland with parents who were very much into folk-music, ‘Tales’ has vaults full of cringe-inducing memories which have lain untouched and suppressed for years. But lately, they have started to trickle out, and actually, and I never thought I’d say this, they aren’t really as awful as the teenaged part of my brain remembers. I’ve found myself re-discovering folk music.

A few months ago, I bought Eliza Carthy’s album ‘Gift’, which features her mother, Norma Waterson, a renowned musician in her own right. (I didn’t know this, so apologies to everyone rolling their eyes and going well, yeah, duh…) The album is a collection of songs which have literally been passed from generation to generation, so from Norma to Eliza. I bought it after being intrigued by a review in the newspaper, and was blown away, it is such a beautiful record. So it turns out I do quite like folk music.

Lounging around with the injured dog-of-small-brain, I watched a brilliant programme on Friday. It was presented by Rachel and Becky Unthank, singers from Northumberland, and examined weird and wonderful folk dancing around England. And boy, there are there some bizarre traditions, such as the Britannia Coco-nut Dancers from Bacup - I’ve never, ever seen anything like that, and I used to live in Thaxted in Essex where every year there is a huge gathering of all sorts of Morris traditions. Strange traditions, but hurrah for the dedicated, and somewhat eccentric people keeping these things alive. Oh, how I used to sneer at Morris Dancers when I lived even further south…

After the dance documentary, there was christmas folk music session recorded at the Shoreditch Town Hall. If you can catch it on BBC Iplayer, its well worth a visit. The headline act was a band called ‘Bellowhead’. Apparently they are real crowd pleasers at festivals, which isn’t hard to imagine; they are fantastic, energetic, quirky and talented. Other performers included Rachel and Becky Unthank, but one person in particular stood out for me. Lisa Knapp sang such the most hauntingly beautiful version of ‘The Coventry Carol’, I’ve ever heard. I’ve watched it a few times over, and it still moves me to tears. Have a peek at her website. Again, with my ingrained aversion to folk-music, I’d never heard of her, but I’ve just downloaded her album, and its wonderful.

So never mind books and writing, ‘Tales’ is hankering over wanting to play music. And, after years of denial, I can now happily admit ‘I used to play an accordion.’ I did, once upon a very long time ago, but luckily for everyone, I wouldn’t be able to remember how to play after all this time. And trust me, that is probably a very good thing!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Curing Insomnia

Chewing the fat with the ex-husband yesterday, we were debating the news a daily dose of humble aspirin might guard against certain cancers.

“Of course, you can’t take aspirin,” he said, crossing his fingers this might hasten my demise. “It’s really bad for asthmatics.”

And it’s true, the last time I staggered into a pharmacy, grotty with a streaming cold, they refused to sell me those hot-lemon drink sachets because the formula contains aspirin, and I am indeed an asthmatic old bag.

Every time you go into a chemist‘s shop, you have to answer twenty questions before they’ll give you anything. ‘Is it for yourself?’ No, I saw an old lady outside in the street and thought I’d buy her a tube of insect repellent as a treat. ‘Have you taken it before?’ I can’t remember what day it is, never mind which brands of cough medicine I’ve necked in the past.

But the queen of frustrating pharmacy moments was during one of my many insomnia stretches. I staggered, red-eyed and bleary, into a certain high street chemist’s store, determined to buy a sleeping remedy. Valerian tea works a treat, but it tastes vile. I was in search of easy-to-swallow tablets, a quick fix.
The woman behind the counter was a doe-eyed girl, and she took a step backwards as my haggard, unkempt self lurched up, pointing.

“I’d like some of those,” I slurred.
She picked up the packet and examined it, biting her lip.
“Are you on any other medication?”

Now I could have said ‘no’. I should have said ‘no’. Instead I lurched into an account of exactly how I single-handedly keep the pharmaceutical industry afloat. She looked perplexed. She had to go and ask.

“You can’t have these,” she said upon her return, her eyes fluttering ever wider.
“Why not?” I managed not to howl.
“Because,” she clutched the packet to her chest, as though afraid I would make a demented grab for it. “They’ll make you drowsy.”
“They’re sleeping tablets,” I said, sounding surprisingly calm. “They’re meant to make you drowsy.”

Conscious of the queue lengthening behind me, I thanked her, and walked away, my face burning as though I’d just been caught trying to procure some illicit substance. I shambled home, and went to bed as normal. But I called her all sorts of names throughout the torturous lengths of another never-ending, tiresome night, although this didn't cure my insomnia either. Perhaps aspirin might do the trick...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


‘Tales’ has just toddled back from the library to pay assorted fines for overdue books. Memory being an increasingly challenged faculty, this is a regular thing. The library was deserted, only four people, myself included. The librarians begged each of us to take out as many books as possible, ‘even if you won’t read them’. The library is earmarked for closure, and they are doing all they can to prove their worth.

This issue came to my attention the other day when the village newsletter arrived. It contained a warning from the library that it would have to close if more people didn’t start using it. Later that day, I chanced upon Nicola Morgan’s blog ‘Help I Need a Publisher’. She points out the current ‘Oxfam’ catalogue is offering the opportunity to buy a library for villages in developing countries. Doesn’t this amplify the ludicrousness of plans to shut libraries over here?

The librarians in my local library say it’s normal for it to be so quiet. “Either people aren’t reading as much,” one said. “Or they just buy cheap books from Amazon or the supermarket.”

I’m guilty as charged on the second count. And for this reason, I found myself pondering if we really need libraries when one can purchase any book online, second-hand often selling for pennies? Whenever I’ve ordered books from the library, they’ve either not been available, or never turned up. A few clicks online, and whatever you want to read turns up within a few days. It’s so simple.

But I like the library, and I don’t want to see it close. Apart from everything our local library does, from hosting learning courses to running a toddler music group, libraries are a fantastic source of inspiration. Yes, so there’s the environmental aspect, the same book being lent out time and time again, rather than more and more being printed, the financial side for those who don’t want to keep paying out for books, and the whole murky world of encouraging children to read (I say ‘murky’ because ‘Tales’ has a lot of problems in this area, and we’ll say no more).

The brilliant thing about libraries, rather than online bookstores, is wandering around and having things catch your eye which you might otherwise have not considered.

This afternoon I found ‘Angel Time’ by Anne Rice, whom I haven’t read since ploughing through her vampire chronicles once upon a very long time ago. I also have ‘Season of the witch’ by Natasha Mostert, (there isn’t meant to be a theme developing here!) which promises a gothic tale, perfect for dark nights in front of the fire. And if it wasn’t for the library, I would never have discovered Stephen Deas’s dragon yarns, pretty good reading if you fancy a bit of escapist fantasy once in a while.

So I’m going to make an effort to visit my library more often, and not just to pay fines. Come on good people of the world, we need our libraries. Go and have a mosey round today! And Nicola Morgan has an open letter protesting against the proposed closures which I’m off to sign…

Monday, 6 December 2010

Mari Strachan - 'The Earth Hums in B Flat'

Freezing cold outside, children plugged into various electronic gaming gadgets, so the perfect opportunity for me to curl up in front of a blazing fire with the dog-of-small-brain, and read.

I've had the novel 'The Earth Hums in B Flat' by Mari Strachan, sitting on my bookshelves for a while. I picked it up, and then couldn't put it down. In the end the children resigned themselves to fetching their own drinks and biscuits. Progress, some might say...

'The earth hums...' is told through the eyes of a young girl called Gwenni Morgan, and set in a small Welsh village during the fifties. When one of the locals goes missing, Gwenni turns detective and in so doing, unearths a whole lot more than she imagined. Family secrets, hidden scandals and wonderful insights into Gwenni's perception of the world combine to make this a brilliant, and very enjoyable book.

I had a peek at Mari Stachan's own website, The novel has been both short-listed and long-listed for different awards, but whatever literary experts say, it is a cracking read, and I thoroughly recommend it.

Now, if only I could spend the rest of the week reading instead of having to venture out in this ghastly weather, life would be bliss!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Cold - 1, Boiler - 0

It is horribly cold down in ‘Tales’ this morning; the heating has broken down again. The heating isn’t working because the boiler is frozen. Again. So I’m wrapped in many layers, warming my hands around a mug of tea. But if my ensuing bad temper could be converted into heat, the whole house would be toasty.

Now, the weather in these parts has hardly been extreme. The lowest temperature has been -5, positively tropical compared to some. We’ve had barely a snowflake, and it’s raining this morning.

But I am ranting. In fact, I want to fling open the doors and scream.

What is the point in a boiler that freezes up in the cold, ie, when you need most?

It was only installed last year, and the same thing happened last winter. When I investigated online, it transpires this is a ‘design fault’ of new condensing boilers.

A design fault? Does that mean manufacturers are rushing out to replace or modify condensing boilers installed throughout the country? The engineer who gave the disgraced boiler its annual service just laughed with a jaunty shrug.

I won’t be the only one shivering around my tea this morning, and I know; worse things happen. And the outside temperature has risen to a balmy 1.5 this morning, so the frozen outlet pipe will soon be defrosted, and we will have heat.

But a heating system designed to break down in cold weather? How insane.

(Ed’s apologies, normal service will be resumed once ‘Tales’ achieves a more agreeable ambient operating temperature.)

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

'Appy Feet' - 'Appy Fish'?

Toddling around the ‘Trafford Centre’ in a fruitless search for Christmas pressies, (it is close enough to Christmas to have to think about these things, but not, as I found, close enough to open one’s purse) ‘Tales’ stumbled upon the rather invitingly named shop, ‘Appy Feet’. Feet being anything other than ‘appy’ at this point, it was a somewhat tempting prospect.

But ‘Appy Feet’, as some of you might already know, isn’t a conventional treatment for one’s tired tootsies. No. It consists of large tanks containing small, minnow-like fish. Customers immerse their feet, and the fish, there were a lot of them wriggling in each tank, begin feasting, nibbling away dead skin.


Apparently, after fifteen minutes, the feet emerge all smooth and lovely. Down here in ‘Tales’, we decided to take other people’s words for it.

It transpires ‘fish-spa-pedicures’ are the fashionable fin (sorry, couldn’t resist) of a serious business offering all-over treatments for skin conditions such as Psoriasis. The fish, known as ‘spa’, or ‘doctor fish’, are Garra Rufa, originating in a number of locations around the Mediterranean basin, most notably in Turkey, where spa treatment centres have been established. The fish live in freshwater pools too warm to sustain nutrients. They are so ravenous, they are only to happy to nibble away at dead human skin with their sucky, toothless mouths.


Now ‘Tales’ doesn’t usually concern itself with animal rights, but, relief of horrid medical conditions aside, I’d like to know who thought it would be a good idea to make a nice healthy buck out of offering up the sweaty, grotty feet of harassed shoppers to these fish for dinner. And it isn’t just ‘Appy Feet’. Fish spa pedicure is even bigger business across Asia, with companies offering portable tank facilities at major events.

Whoever thought of it, I’d like to turn you into a starving Garra Rufa. And then, and only then, I will stick my extremely nasty, and particularly gnarly trotters into your tank.

A tale of very ordinary madness indeed...
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