Thursday, July 31, 2008

Death has them parted

Warning. This post contains dialogue spoken by my family members. To put it another way it contains lots of swearing.

Yesterday my family came together to say goodbye to my Auntie Mary, wife to my Uncle Bill and mother to my cousins Bill junior and Linda who died last week aged 77. She had been very poorly for a long time and when she died they say she looked thirty years younger. This is a comfort.

I struggle to describe my Uncle Bill. He is my only blood uncle and I love him dearly, but the words obnoxious, cantankerous, offensive and others in like vein spring instantly to mind when trying to provide a pen portrait of him. Johnny Speight must have encountered him some time in the early 60’s. I well remember various horrific moments in my past when I have had to introduce assorted boyfriends to my Uncle Bill - always accompanied by whispered pleas from me not to take any notice of a single word he said.

Uncle Bill was firmly of the opinion a woman’s place was in the home, except in the case of the only other woman he ever loved – Margaret Thatcher. He was always the archetypal Working Class Tory although I suspect he only became a Tory to annoy his dad (my granddad) – a life long Socialist. He never allowed Mary out of his sight. Not once since they married has she ever had a night out without him. We discovered at the funeral yesterday to our collective horror that Mary had met Bill when she was 14. SIXTY THREE YEARS WITH MY UNCLE BILL. Never have the words ‘After much suffering’ been so appropriate in an obituary.

Coming now to Bill junior (aged 50). At some point in the past fifteen years he went mad. He returned to live with his parents (evidence of madness if any was needed) and that was when battle really commenced. To all outward appearances, he and his dad loath each other and always have done. They were, and indeed still are, unable to agree on a single thing. Either would swear black was white if the other took the opposite view. Poor, poor Mary, a door mat if ever there was one, put up with this state of affairs till the day she died. Her daughter Linda – so incensed by the way her brother made her mother’s life even more of a misery - stopped speaking to him over ten years ago. Bill junior in his madness then became a recluse. He was last spotted in public at our previous family funeral five years ago.

Speculation was quite fevered in the family following Mary’s merciful release from this misery. Would Bill junior be at the funeral? (Answer: Yes) Would Bill and Linda be reconciled? (Answer: No) And would Bill senior behave with any decorum at the funeral? (Answer: No, no and no again.)

The service itself, conducted by a priest who did his best considering that he had never met Mary in his life, passed by without incident; or at least they did once the seating arrangements in the front row were sorted out to allow sufficient space between Bill junior and Linda. (Although that did cause some noticeable delay.)

Little digression here but I was reminded of the book I have just read; ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ by Kate Atkinson which makes one think of the many things we do not know about the lives and emotions of our older relations. Yesterday I discovered Mary loved opera. One would never have imagined that Mary loved opera but she did. Quite poignant somehow.

The wake was held at the home of a friend of Linda’s who none of us knew. Linda’s house was too small, Bill’s was out of the question, and the friend very kindly offered before either my mum or her two sisters had a chance to volunteer. Uncle Bill and his warring offspring left the crematorium in the car to return to the funeral parlour where their cars were parked. We were all in the garden of this total stranger for a good while before they arrived, drinking PG Tips and nibbling at dry roasted peanuts. I seemed to have acquired the task of chaperoning an elderly (very) distant relation. (Widower of my mum’s Auntie Win if I got that bit right.) Anyway, I had never met him before but he was quite charming, and even managed not to be boring when telling me about his new hearing aid. (Reidski would say I should have listened very close attention to what he had to say on that subject.)

The genteel chattering was disrupted by the words “For fuck’s sake father!” which heralded the arrival of The Bills senior and junior. My uncle came across to the table where I was standing and started emptying the contents of a plastic carrier bag on to the grass by my feet. The contents included an entire change of clothes including socks and brown underpants. The pants sat on top of the pile and much as I was aware they were making the place look untidy I didn’t quite like to pick them up so they stayed where they were until some time later a horrified Linda scooped them up and away. Uncle Bill was looking for his fags. He declared “I am not fucking staying here if I can’t find my bleeding fags.” One of my aunties attempted to calm him down with the words “I’m sure there will be someone else who smokes here. (One only had to look around to see we were indeed surrounded by other smokers) I am sure they will let you have a smoke.” “They’re not bleeding smokers!” Bill senior declared “They just play at fucking smoking!” Uncle Bill you see is the last man still alive who chain smokes Players non tipped cigarettes and obviously considers all other smokers to be pussies.

Now of course one needs to show a certain amount of sympathy to the recently bereaved, except his temper tantrum was not caused by grief alone, but more as we subsequently learnt because back at the funeral directors he had reversed his car into their wall and demolished it. The car is probably a write off. We suspect Mary may be getting her own back from beyond the grave.

Bill junior asked in a caring manner “Are you sure they’re not in your bleeding jacket pocket you stupid bastard?” “Course they’re not in my fucking jacket pocket!” replies Bill senior. Course they were in his fucking jacket pocket and peace was restored. Bill senior then undid all his shirt buttons, rolled up his trouser legs and kicked off his shoes. He cut a charming picture.

Faced with the prospect of another few hours of this we looked around for the alcohol. There wasn’t any. On reflection, and given the volatile nature of family relationships, this was probably very wise, but at the moment we realised we were trapped at a teetotal affair it seemed like the world had just ended. It was therefore a relief when Bill junior announce “I’m off for a fucking pint”, and me and some of my other cousins rapidly agreed it wouldn’t be fair to let him drink on his own and we went too, at speed with my dad bringing up the rear – although dad makes out he can not hear a thing, he very clearly caught the word ‘Pub’. And so the majority of the older generation were left behind to ask (according to my mum) “Is Young Bill on drugs?” (Answer: No – but he should be.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

A close encounter with one from The Upper Classes

I know I have talked about the man who cuts my hair before. I have known Nick now for well over half my life. He works in his back bedroom in a street of terraced houses once built for the workers in the shoe factories which once upon a time were at the end of every street in Northampton. He is a very talented hair dresser (in my opinion anyway ) and in spite of the distinctly unglamorous setting in which he chooses to work, he has a huge range of clients, not all of them related to me – although at least fourteen of them are.

His dad is ill at the moment. Every time I ask after his dad he replies “He’s still alive – unfortunately.” The story reproduced below from August 2005 one part of that family history but remaining focused on the more recent past I was at Nick’s on Saturday afternoon. Waiting for her turn was a posh type of woman. Example of conversation from this woman: When Nick asked her if her kids had broken up yet she replied “Oh, they broke up weeks ago (which means they are at private schools). That was why we could go on holiday before the riff raff (ie – the likes of me with my kids at state school).” And she really did use the term ‘riff-raff’ without any hint that she was trying to be funny.

So it transpired that she was having her hair done as she was going to a polo match the following day. I had never met anyone before who goes to polo matches. Nick asked her what she was going to wear. She explained the dress code was ‘smart casual’ which she had translated as meaning she would be turning out in a Betty Jackson dress and Miu Miu shoes. I have just done some price checks and discovered that a Betty Jackson dress would cost in the region of £350 and the shoes something like £250. Smart casual indeed. I have no way of knowing what her vintage handbag with real ostrich feathers which she described to us in great detail would have cost.

As I sat listening to this I thought about what I was wearing ( shorts M&S - £15, vest top Gap - £3.99) and wondered at the fact that I share the same hairdresser as this creature from another dimension. This morning I am gaining some satisfaction from realising that no matter how expensively dressed she was, or indeed how good her hair looked , it is highly unlikely anyone looked twice at her when the competition included Kelly Brook (complete with legs), and the incredibly beautiful Emma Watson. Does that make me a really horrible mean minded person I wonder?

The old Nick and his dad story….

This morning I went to have my hair cut. Nick cuts my hair. He is the most brilliant wonderful person. He works in the back bedroom of his house. Occasionally – but only if Nick is ill - I go to posh salons to have my hair cut. It is never the same. For one thing it is always much more expensive, for another, Nick never asks me where I am going for my holidays, whereas other hairdressers always pretend to be interested in that subject, and for another, you never get your hairdresser's dad bursting in to the house, with his dog called Kylie in tow, and starting to sob because his 'lodger' had left him.

Nick's dad was married to Nick's mum, but sadly Nick's mum died a few years ago. Nick looked after his dad when this happened. Nick did wonder if his dad just might be gay when he called his dog Kylie, but at the time put that down to mental illness. Then Nick's dad took in the male 'lodger', AGED 19! He met this 'lodger' in a shop where the 'lodger' was working, and the shop was called (oh Thank You God for this bit!) 'It's A Gift'. And he was so besotted he only went and changed his will in favour of this 'lodger', and against poor Nick! So the good news is that it looks like the will will be altered again, but the bad news is that Nick's dad was very upset, and the worse news is, I had to pretend I could wait another week for a hair cut, because one can only intrude to a certain degree on private grief, and I felt the need to get the hell out of there!

Friday, July 25, 2008

I am easily influenced

When I read reviews of a film like this review of 'Mamma Mia' by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian that starts thus:

I've been cheated by films since I don't know whe-e-n,
Ta-da-da-da-da; ta-da-da-da-da.
This one's got one good point: it must come to an end.
Ta-da-da-da-da; ta-da-da-da-da.
Look at me now! Will I ever learn?
I don't know who ... thought Pierce Brosnan should sing in it.
How on earth could it not... be... shit?
One more smirk, and then I knew it would bomb,
One more scene and I'd a great need to vom',

it rather puts me off seeing such a film.

So when my friend asked me about going to see it I was somewhat less than enthusiastic, but I went anyway and my daughter came too.

Now, never let it be said that Pierce Brosnan can sing, and yes, there were some cringe making moments in the film, but having said that - what a brilliant feel good film it is. I loved every minute. As did the women (the cinema was packed - and 98% of the audience were women) who cheered and clapped when the film ended (bizarre behaviour but it takes all sorts). And I want to go to a Greek Island NOW THIS MINUTE having seen the film setting. Skegness it ain't. You would have to be amongst the most miserable, pretentious people in the entire hemisphere not to enjoy it...Peter Bradshaw and John*, I am talking about people such as you.

But I have form here as on 9th September 2005 I wrote on my previous blog the following:

And oh god, I'm so depressed! On Saturday night I am committed to taking my mum and her sister Renee to see the flaming stageshow Mamma Mia as a belated birthday present, arranged by my sister, only conveniently for her, she can't actually go!
A whole evening of Abba music.

What did I ever do to deserve it?

And I was then forced to admit the following two days later:

Humm, how to put this?

Weeelllll, 'Mamma Mia' was not quite what I was expecting.I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but, uummmm....

"Jane, you loved every minute of it didn't you"

"Mumble, mumble"

"I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that?"

"Mumble, mumble (slightly louder)"

"Again, so they can hear at the back."


It was absolutely bloody BRILLIANT. I did in fact love every minute of it, and Yes, I was up and dancing and singing away by the end. I shall tell everyone I know to go and see it if they have not already seen it, and I really want to go again and take H. Humble pie is delicious isn't it?

You would have to be the most miserable, pretentious person in the entire hemisphere not to enjoy it.......

John* really would have hated it!

* An ex who happens to be the most miserable and pretentious person in the entire hemisphere.

Definitely NOT lovely John of Counago and Spaves fame.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A message

from Reidski.

Some of you may have noticed his long term absence from this here blogging scene.

This is because of on going aggro from his computer which for months now has been playing up, and which would now appear to have something terminal in the computer disease (virus?) department.

So anyway, he does still exist and he is not a figment of my imagination, and he does hope to be back bothering you / making witty and pertinent comments (delete as appropriate) soon.

Crossword clue

Cat - carpet. 7 letters.

I still maintain that my suggestion - 'Fluffie' - was quite reasonable if just a little bit 'girlie'.

Reidski is however still taking the piss out of me 24 hours later.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Over the past few months

I have had to get used to a new and unwelcome response when anyone asks after my mum and dad. For many years my stock reply has been "They are very well thank you." Recently though I have found myself explaining that my mum was waiting to have her gall bladder removed and we were worried my dad had prostate cancer.

My mum finally had her operation about a month ago and she is just about back to her old self.

My dad had obviously been worrying that 'something' wasn't quite right as on a visit to our G.P on an unrelated matter he happened to say to her that he had been looking for a leaflet on prostate cancer in the waiting room but hadn't seen one. She announced she would take a blood test there and then as a sensible precaution with a man of his age. A few days later and he got a call to tell him the test had proved positive. Since then, and we are talking about from March onwards, he has been backwards and forwards to the hospital for one test after another designed to find out the stage the cancer was at, and if it had spread elsewhere.

He didn't want me to know, but mum did tell me. He is a typical product of his generation and much prefers to keep such worries private, and it was difficult knowing what, if anything, to say to him. Usually what I know a friend or relation has a health problem I have been consult articles and the internet to know what it is that they are up against, but in dad's case I just couldn't bring myself to google the words 'prostate cancer' because I knew there would be information contained in the articles that I didn't want to have to acknowledge. Whilst dad continued not to talk about it he has since confessed that every ache and pain he has experienced since March had left him convinced cancer was spreading through his body.

He got the verdict when I was in Bruges. Mum went with him but he saw the consultant on his own. When he emerged his face gave nothing away and he just whispered to my mum he didn't want to talk about it in there (the hospital). Mum obviously feared the worst but as soon as they were through the door he practically whooped with delight and annouced he was fine.

He does have prostate cancer but it is in the earliest stage, it has not spread, and it is treatable with hormones.

I have finally been able to look up prostate cancer on the internet. Thankfully my dad is one of those relatively rare men who would not ignore a worry relating to his health, and did get the early diagnosis that is so vital with this condition. That's why I am writing this now -

Men -

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My sentiments exactly

Things started to look up

when we arrived at our hotel in Bruges which was formally a 15th century mansion overlooking one of the canals and is now a stunningly beautiful place to stay. When we saw the room rates we had an anxious moment along the lines of "Are you sure when you paid the room was included?" What was immediately clear was that the Guardian travel offer I had picked up was very very good value indeed.

And it included breakfast.

Breakfast included champagne. As much champagne as one could drink.

The first morning we spent a long time looking at the champagne and wondering if we had the nerve to go and help ourselves - watching other guests like hawks to see if any of them had champagne, and if so, how much, and were we SURE the champagne was included? Then when I finally grasped the bullet and went to get some I came back - with drinks - to tell Reidski it wasn't real champagne, it was that pommery stuff...which only goes to show how little I know about champagne. It was real all right. And it was amazing how quickly we got used to - indeed positively expected - champagne for breakfast. Clearly no day should start without at least three glasses of the stuff. Oh yes - and the food was very nice too :-)

Belgium is a small country about which I knew next to nothing before we arrived, but what I do now know is that from the end of the Middle Ages until the 17th century, it was a prosperous centre of commerce and culture, and present day Bruges still has a centre with buildings that have survived since those days. And very lovely it is too.

We were there for three nights and did loads of walking, had a canal trip - although not, I am happy to say, in the same conditions as the poor sods in the last photo did......

and caught some culture too including Hieronymus Bosch's The Last Judgement which reflects on the nature of Purgatory and was described in the film In Bruges as 'It's when you're not really bad and not really good - like Tottenham.'

We nearly had to kill a couple in the art gallery which could have put a bit of a dampener on our break though. They stood right in front of every painting they looked at, blissfully oblivious to the other people wanting to catch so much as a glimpse of the same painting rather than their backsides.

Rather than go on all day (I am very busy - it is amazing how much one finds to do when one is on strike)I will cut this short now.

People were really friendly; it was easy to get to by train; the bars sold up to 440 Belgian beers; and the chips were every bit as good as I remembered. What with that and the scenery, and being there with someone special, what more could one ask for from a city break?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

That water crisis

previously mentioned here is thankfully now resolved. Rumours flew around that it was a dead body that had contaminated the water. It seems that those rumours were
not entirely with out foundation.

Poor bunny.

How much stress

is it possible to experience before 8.05 in the morning?

Quite a lot in the case of our journey from New Cross to St Pancras.

This is a journey that from Reidski's door takes in the region of 40 minutes on a slow day. As we had a train to Brussels to catch which departed at the aforementioned 8.05 we were up and out the house by 6.40 and even drove my car to near the station rather than walk to save a bit of time. That decision in now officially known as Mistake No 1. I noticed as we drove that my right side indicator light was showing on the dashboard as being on - permanently. 'Strange' I think. We park up and I realise the lights are flashing merrily away. I attempt to retrieve the situation - that is to say, I attempted to switch them off, but they declined to be switched off. 'Sod it!'Looking at the time - and we were supposed to check in half an hour before departure - there was no option but to leave the car as it was in the sure and certain knowledge we would be returning to a flat battery (which we did).

We got the train to London Bridge where we went down to the tube station for the Northern Line train to St Pancras. That was when we heard the announcement that no trains were stopping at St Pancras apart from Metropolitan and Circle Line trains and that therefore we needed to change at Moorgate. This change turned out to involve something like a ten minute sprint - Moorgate Station is massive and the lines were miles apart from each other. Blood pressure was rising and time was getting shorter.

It was a relief to get to St Pancras and the Eurostar automatic ticket machines. I followed the instructions on screen to get my tickets and entered the reference number I had on my confirmation letter. I received the following message - 'Number not recognised. Please try again.' So I did.... And then I tried again.... And then I tried another machine.... And then I asked an assistant. 'Are there are letters in your reference number?' she asked me. 'No' I replied. 'Oh, there have to be letters in your reference number' she told me. She suggested we go - post haste as it is now gone 7.30 - to the ticket office, and so we went there to find a queue that is practically out the door. 'Holy Shit.'

We joined the queue and I decided that as I had an emergency phone number for out of hours emergencies - this did qualify as an emergency and I was going to ring it. The guy I rang was clearly delighted to be woken up. He said he would have to log into his computer and said he would call me back in five minutes and fifteen minutes later when he still had not returned my call I rang him back to be told he couldn't log on to his computer and was therefore unable to give me my correct booking reference number (with letters).

Thanks be to whoever at Eurostar was responsible for putting sufficient ticket office staff on that early morning shift we reached the front of the queue and obtained our tickets with precisely seven minutes to spare. Imagine then our joy when the woman in front of us at the ticket barrier somehow managed to break the thing, and further imagine our good humour when Mr Jobsworth wouldn't let us through an open barrier because 'Your tickets have to go through the ticket barrier.'

For the first time in my life (I am British through and through) we queue jumped security, legged it through passport control, and somehow, even with me dropping half the contents of my bag in my panic to find the ticket to show the attendant, although said ticket was in my hand all the time, we made the train with 90 whole seconds to spare.

Here is a picture of what awaited us when we finally made it to Bruges, just to remind myself that all that stress was worthwhile.

So much to tell

but so pushed for time. In the meantime though this is a short post in praise of the Loo's of Bruges.

EVERY SINGLE ONE I used was immaculately clean. Oh that the same thing could be said of public facilities in this country. The video however captures the moment I thought my drinks had been spiked....

Friday, July 04, 2008


Me and Reidski that is for a few days next week to Bruges.

I have been before but was only ten at the time and have happy memories of canal trips, and tasty chocolate and chips. (This time next week I will probably be considering 9 stone 13.5 pounds as a thoroughly acceptable weight!)

We got what appears to be a brilliant deal through one of those newspaper offers and without wanting to make anyone jealous (she lies) the hotel looks absolutely stunning. So next week I shall mostly be laying in the lap of luxury - unless Reidski has any better ideas ;-)

Before that though a heavy weekend of partying awaits me. It is a tough life isn't it?

Hope you all have as good a week as I intend to.

It is a pity it looks like I am going to miss the blood soaked revolution though.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I am NOT happy

Apologies for talking about my weight. I know that it is hardly the most pressing subject in the world (although 'Since when have I talked about pressing subjects?' Good point, but anyway...)

I am tall and I am slim. This I know. However, what I also know is that after prolonged periods of over indulgence (it isn't food that I over do - it is wine) my clothes don't fit so well and I develop a condition known as Weighing Scales Avoidance on account of should I step on any of those nasty inventions, I wouldn't like what I would see. I then develop the Something Will Be Done Mentality and I do it. I drop the wine and I up the exercise and after a period of indeterminate length I will finally get on the scales and know that some weight (although I never know how much) has been lost and my clothes fit well again.

So the Something Will Be Done Mentality set in for me at New Year and Something Was Done. The weight came off and the clothes fitted better but what has been different this time is that the exercise has stayed 'upped'. I have really been enjoying my trips to the gym and have gone there most days.

I do not weigh myself much and the previous time I got on the scales at the gym ( the only scales I use) I was 9 stone 4, and was perfectly happy that being my ideal weight. That must have been about six weeks ago. Since then though the scales have been removed on what is starting to look like a permanent basis. In the meantime I have continued working very hard indeed at the gym. In June I think there was a total of four days when I did NOT go to the gym. I feel fitter than I have done in years - and that in spite of the fact that I have exercised regularly for at least 16 years.

So why then I am not happy?

I am not happy because this morning, having stayed overnight with a relative, I spied some posh and expensive looking scales in her bathroom and got on them. thinking they were likely to be accurate.......

All that sodding hard work and sweat only to see the numbers 9 stone 13.5 pounds.

According to those scales I have put on so much weight I can't even do the sums!!!!

OK - I know they can't be telling me the whole story. At least one set of the scales I have used can not be entirely truthful. But to say it was discouraging is an understatement.

NOT happy.

Lettuce leaf anyone?