Thursday, 31 December 2009

What can we say about 'the Noughties'?

I don't know where this year has gone but, more alarmingly, I'm not entirely sure where this decade has gone either.  We're on the home straight towards the second decade of the 21st century and I still think that 'the year 2000' sounds terribly futuristic, and I can remember when we were all looking forward to it. And now it's 10 years ago.  What the fuck happened...?

The Noughties seems to have been a decade that never really made an identity for itself, not like, say, the Sixties or even the Eighties; we all have images and sounds that we can link with those decades.  Of course, it may be more apparent in years to come that we can only see what the Noughties were like with the gift of hindsight.

Lots of stuff did actually happen (as it always does) - we had the Twin Towers on 9 September 2001 (which has surely become this generation's everyone-remembers-where-they-were-a la-JFK's-assassination-in-1963 moment - for the record I was driving back from a day's work at a museum in Woking and listening to the news on the radio; I'd been on holiday in Manhattan 2 days previously....) and then the subsequent war in Iraq followed by the even more pointless war in Afghanistan.  There were various bombings and shootings in London, Bali and Delhi.  There were three Olympic Games' in Sydney, Athens and Beijing.  There was the devastating tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 which killed a staggering quarter of a million people.  The first black president of the USA was elected.  We got Gordon Brown.  The economy collapsed (the last two points may be linked).  iPods and iPhones and the Wii arrived. The carbon footprint was invented.  Assorted famous people died.

On a personal note, thinking back on it, quite a lot has happened to me.  I suffered my second biggest ever hangover on 2 January 2000 (the biggest was when I was 14 and me and Nicola Devonshire had decided one evening that we would drink her parents' drink cabinet dry.  I was sick as a dog for 2 days from the alcohol poisoning and wanted to die.  It's a wonder my parents didn't kill me.  I've never apologised to Nicky's mum and dad for that - sorry, Mike and Jenny....).  Late 2000 saw the end of my dreams of becoming a mum - I had my third (and last) miscarriage and we decided to stop throwing good money after bad and call a halt to the infertility treatments.  I also stopped working in an office doing a 'proper' job for the first time since 1981.

I started exercising an atrophied brain muscle or two and managed to get myself a BSc(Hons) from Surrey and an MA in Archaeology from the Institute of Archaelogy, UCL during the first half of the Noughties.  Surrey Uni also managed to dash my fragile hopes of an academic career as a lecturer by closing down the degree course I was lecturing on. I'd not had enough experience of lecturing to apply anywhere else and, at the same time, Surrey County Council closed down all the archaeology adult education courses so bang went that dream. Thanks, guys.

I did start my own business, though, making jewellery.  I called it VenerableBead and I sell both online and at craft fairs. I've enjoyed it very much as it uses the non-academic, creative half of my brain and people seem to like what I make, which is always ego-boosting.

Travel abroad has been a bit thin on the ground over the last decade, which is a sadness.  We started the decade with a week's trip to New York in September 2001 (travelling in glorious business class with flat beds), managing to get home 2 days before the Towers fell down, which was cutting it a bit fine.  Exactly a year later, TLH, TLH's sister and I found ourselves spending a week in Las Vegas, where we made sure to be out of the city on the actual day of the anniversary, in case anyone wanted to commemorate anything by blowing up the world's spangliest Den of Iniquity (they didn't).  Then there was 12 days in Thailand to celebrate finishing my first degree.  At some point around the middle of the decade we did a cut-price week in Malta - ancient Malta is absolutely fantastic, modern Malta - meh.  My sister-in-law was lucky enough to win a week's holiday in a lovely medieval manor house in beautiful northern Majorca and asked me and TLH to join her (2004 I think that was).  One of my favourite holidays this decade was the 10 days or so driving holiday TLH and I did one summer in Europe, going down through France through Strasbourg into Switzerland to stay at Interlaken, then back up through Germany and into Belgium - fabulous!  This year, of course, saw my 3-week sojourn in Budapest (which wasn't a holiday).  So I may have lied, written down it looks like there's been a lot of travel (but it doesn't really feel like it!).  Oh, we also spent a week 'glamping' in a yurt in St Breward, Bodmin Moor a couple of years ago - let me tell you, the Milky Way is astonishingly clear in a pitch black sky at 2am.

My health has been a bit of an issue this decade - the last few years have seen me in hospital a couple of times for gallstone removal, then complications arising from gallstone removal, then complications arising from investigation of the complications arising from the gallstone removal which then resulted in Pancreatitis.  Then the lingering effects of the Pancreatitis kept hanging around and probably took a year to sort itself all out properly.  But, touch wood, I'm fine now.

This decade also saw my third worst ever hangover when my younger brother got married in 2004 (I think).  They ran away to Vegas to get married proper, but then had a blessing in a local church which, for all intents and purposes, was like a wedding anyway with frocks and bridesmaids and flowers.  It was a fabulously unstuffy affair.  They asked me to do a reading so I gave them the beginning and end of  'Oh, the places you'll go!' by Dr Seuss. Relatives that we'd not seen since they were little kids turned up and vast quantities were drunk - mostly by me.  November 2005 saw the arrival of their first-born, Roo.  Their second will be born in the first weeks of the new decade.  And I'm very pleased to say that no deaths in the family were necessary to make room - a whole decade with all family members remaining intact (although my stepdad gave us a shock with a random heart attack three Decembers ago) is something to be very grateful for.  Sadly, though, I did lose some friends - there were a couple of cerebral haemorrhages, one breast cancer, one heart attack and an accidental suicide - but I've got to that age now where this sort of thing starts happening.

But I don't want to end on a maudling note.  I've made some lovely new online friends through blogging - hi Katy, Emma and Ali - and I do have some resolutions that I'm going to try and keep to (and which don't involve dieting - quite the opposite in fact!) so tune in later for those.

Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

R.I.P. Rowland S Howard - gone to be an Immortal Soul

Rowland S Howard

The name probably will mean nothing to many of my readers, but Rowland S Howard was a defining presence in my musical life during the 1980s. Very sadly, liver cancer has taken him just as his career was beginning a resurgence, but it's good to know he was working right up until the end. I only have three guitar heroes, and he was one (Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd and a friend of mine, Pete Martin, are the others).

He was the main guitarist in The Birthday Party (and, previously, when they were The Boys Next Door where he wrote 'Shivers') and created songs with huge wailing screeches of thrilling guitar noise layered over lyrics about the tortured pain of always being the outsider.  The album 'I'm never gonna die again' by These Immortal Souls is absolutely one of my all-time favourites.

A hugely influential guitarist, my life is certainly emptier knowing that he's no longer on the planet....

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Trek to Wales

(This happened on 22 December but I'm only getting round to posting it now. Sorry.)

Today's journey was only meant to take 3.5 hours. Then we saw the news - 2000 cars abandoned overnight in the snow at Basingstoke. We were going through Basingstoke to get to the M4. Arse. It was, however, reported by the police that most of the cars had been removed by 2.30am and as we weren't leaving the house until about 11, and it hadn't snowed anymore overnight, at least not round our way, we decided to go for it.

You see, we have to collect the elderly in-laws from South Wales and deposit them at TLH's sister's for Christmas. So it's not a trip we could postpone, or at least not one that TLH could postpone. His family take Christmas very seriously. Me, I can take it or leave it or, at least, leave it until the weather gets better, then have a get-together and present-swap then. I mean, my family did Christmas on 13 December over at my brother's. All the kids were there, we did the present thing, went out for a slap-up pub lunch and all was merry and bright. This was because my mum had the eminently sensible idea of buggering off to Florida for several weeks to avoid the winter and so wouldn't be around for 25 December. And none of us cared all that much that it was 2 weeks early.

Plus there's the argument that little baby Jeebus wasn't actually born on 25 December but in March, or possibly June, so I would vote that Christmas gets moved to the middle of the year and the mid-winter celebration is returned to its original Solstice origins: having a big ole knees-up and eating and drinking until you're incapacitated to mark the shortest day and the return of the sun is, to me, far more acceptable than for the supposed birth of some Jewish freedom figher in the Middle East 2000-odd years ago.

This year, to mark the Solstice, we lit all the candles in the house to symbolically drive away the darkness - looked great and smelt nice too. Until they dripped all over my new tablecloth and then I figured the darkness might be better driven away by turning the lights on instead.

So, anyway, we set off at about 11am after packing a spade (for the purposes of digging out the car should we end up in a snow drift) and a thermos of coffee (for the purposes of drinking when we find the spade's rubbish and we have to wait for the AA to come get us) and headed off to deepest, darkest Basingstoke expecting the worst.

It all went surprisingly smoothly. Where we live the snow was quite sparse but by the time we got to Upper Hale in Farnham it was starting to look like Narnia.
The tree boughs were all bent low with fat puffy snow accumulaton but the roads were pretty clear. As we got closer to Basingstoke we passed through the pirate town of Nately Scures (you try saying the name and not adding "yarr!" afterwards. See? It can't be done....) and started spotting the odd abandoned car by the roadside. Sadly it wasn't quite as '28 Days Later' as I'd been hoping - I mean, from the trashed vehicle point of view, not the raging zombies which, it being Basingstoke, you'd come to expect anyway.

We drove on through Hampshire and into Wiltshire, marvelling at how mysterious the freezing fog was making everything look and I was cursing myself for forgetting my camera when I remembered I could take photos with my iPhone. Bearing in mind that all the pictures in this post were taken through the window of a car moving at 60+mph, some of them are bloody fab!

As we were heading to Leigh Delamere service station, the news on the radio announced that both Severn Bridges into Wales had been closed due to sheet ice falling from the suspension cables onto the carriageway. This information was about as far from welcome as you could get. As we sat at the service station having a coffee, we could see many other people poring over maps trying to work out alternative routes.

It was about 2.30pm when we started off again, and the updated report was that the new Severn Bridge had been closed in both directions, but there was one lane open heading westbound on the old Severn Bridge. We decided we'd try for that.

Approaching the M5 junction half an hour or so later, we could see the end of the queue for the bridge which was a further 7 miles away. TLH had approximately 2 seconds to decide whether to join the queue or shear off to the left and go up the M5 to take the long way round into Wales, via Gloucester. The way everyone used to have to go before the bridges were built. He decided he would be happier to keep moving (it later transpired that the queue ended up being 30 miles long).

It was a very pretty drive - I've never been through that part of Gloucestershire before and the snow added extra picturesquosity.

There wasn't quite so much snow here. The sun had come out and the sky was starting to go that gorgeous blue that you only seem to get in winter.

There was very slow traffic getting round Gloucester itself and instead of heading to Ross-on-Wye we thought we'd be brave and cut down through the Forest of Dean to Monmouth, again a route neither of us had taken before and I'm glad we did - some of the views were spectacular but because it was getting dark, I took hardly any pictures although I did try and capture the gorgeous sunset as we were coming down the hill and crossing the ancient bridge over the river into Monmouth.

We eventually got to our destination at about 6pm - 7 hours after we started on our 3.5 hour journey. This was one of those occasions when I was very grateful not to have had kid(s) in the car although, thinking about it, there wouldn't have been enough room on the way back for it/them, plus grandparents, plus grandparents' luggage, plus grandparents' christmas presents for everyone, so me and the kid(s) would have probably stayed at home. But this, as we know, would be in an alternative universe and I'm rambling now.

We stayed overnight and came back to Surrey the next morning, non-stop, and it only took just over 3 hours which is remarkably quick even when it's not the middle of winter. I started to feel very bloated and uncomfortable on the journey home which turned out to be the beginning of the stomach bug which ruined Christmas for me this year - but I'll post about that later (bet you can't wait!!!) Needless to say I was extremely glad to get home before intestinal conflict could ensue - and ensue it did....

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Thanks, Leigh Delamere....

I have half a blog post scribbled out in a notebook, describing our trek across the south of England on Tuesday to fetch the aged in-laws from South Wales. We stayed overnight and brought them back to Surrey yesterday, depositing them at TLH's sister's house. On the journey back I started to feel very bloated and unwell. I occasionally have problems with my digestion (just call me the Queen of Gaviscon), so wasn't unduly concerned. I got more and more uncomfortable so was quite pleased to get in through my own front door.

A few hours later saw me locked in the bathroom, seated on the throne with a bucket at my feet. Several months ago I came down with a nasty sudden bout of Norovirus (aka Winter Vomiting Disease), and it felt distinctly similar.

After a rubbish night, I am now sitting on the sofa with my feet up, watching a Poirot and feeling very sorry for myself. 'Things' have now 'firmed up', as it were, but the stomach cramps and tiredness are quite debilitating. This couldn't have happened at a worse time - it's Christmas Eve, for God's sake, and I'm meant to be picking sprouts from my allotment as well as making mashed swede and carrot in advance. TLH has now gone out to get some extra sprouts and I'll see if I can do the swede and carrot later if I feel better.

I think it's 'just' a stomach bug - it's definitely not food poisoning because TLH and I ate exactly the same things and he's fine. I've not been out much over the previous few days so if I've picked up a bug from somewhere, the only place I could imagine is the Leigh Delamere Service Station on the M4 where we stopped for lunch on the 22nd, which was teeming with people and all their germs.

So, the cross-country post will have to wait (I took wintry pictures on my phone which came out pretty well) - I may slot it back in to where it should have been, i.e., 22nd December.

Anyway, I hope everyone has a splended time over Christmas with the minimum of punch-ups and family arguments. Think of me 'enjoying' dry toast while you tuck into your turkey with all the trimmings...

Monday, 21 December 2009

1st Blogaversary!

And a very Happy Solstice to one and all...

It's been exactly a year since I started this blog. I am, as yet, undecided whether to continue or not - yeah, stuff's happened to me during the year, same as it happens to most other people, but there are blogs out there that can mine comedy gold out of everyday happenings, such as Katyboo, Belgian Waffle, Mr London Street or Antonia over at Whoopee (although she's currently up the duff and concentrating on growing another human inside her rather than writing) or who live a fantastically whimsical life full of imagination and who can justifiably be said to be 'away with the fairies'. And for just beautiful writing, this post by ElizabethM, is faultless and far, far better than anything I could produce. But I find it hard to accept that anything that happens in my life is of any interest to anyone else - I suppose the art is in writing about normal life interestingly, and I find that very difficult. We shall see.

So, what's happened to me in the year of the blog? Way back in January, TLH took me to Avebury following an ice storm to take photographs of the stones. In February we went to see Magazine play up in Camden, which made me go all nostalgic for my own performing days. June saw me going to the beach and swimming in the sea for the first time in over 20 years. In August the decorating finally almost got finished (still haven't got the carpet down...).

Probably the biggest thing to happen to me this year was the 3-week visit to Budapest in November, which I blogged about in great detail, because it was interesting, and there was lots to see and photograph, so it was easy to do, if time-consuming.

There's been craft fairs and lots of work done at the allotment. In December there was the death of a most-beloved and much-missed cat.

What can I look forward to next year? January will see the arrival of a new niece or nephew, and TLH will be going to Sweden for a few days for work and I may well join him for my first trip to Scandinavia. And that, truly, is all I know about next year. I think it's probably enough to be getting on with, don't want to be tempting fate now, do we?

Friday, 18 December 2009

Christmas Traditions at Jones Towers

I'm feeling much better, thanks for asking. Had 3 days of feeling really quite shitty - sneezing, bit of a sore throat, headache, feeling very tired during the day but unable to sleep at night - but I took it easy physically which helped a lot I think. Of course, as luck would have it, I received some last minute, urgent proof-reading from a Kuwaiti postgraduate student which meant I had to find my thinking head from where I last put it, and it really didn't want to be found, but I just thought of the money to be earned and got on with it.

We put up our Christmas tree last weekend. Over the last half a dozen years or so I've tried to instigate 'traditions'. We don't have any children, there's only TLH and me, so there's no-one to pass traditions down to. I thought this was a shame (amongst all the other sad things about being childless...) so decided we should make up some of our own anyway. One of these was to always decorate the tree while listening to Phil 'The Killer' Spector's Christmas Album - who can resist songs like these:

For some reason, this year we completely forgot. Thank goodness Sylvester Bean is around to continue his own tradition of getting into the Christmas tree box (there are others for the intervening years but I can't locate them just now):

Christmas 2004

Christmas 2008

Christmas 2009

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Yesterday was a complete write-off. I ended up going into a complete tailspin and spent the afternoon on the sofa, under a woolly blanket, watching old films on the telly and forcing TLH to make food and bring it to me. Which would have been great if I had been in a more positive frame of mind. However, I think I now know why I was feeling so bloody grumpy - went to bed last night dog-tired but was unable to sleep, dunno why. Woke up with a tickly throat and a thick head, and greeted the morning with a hacking cough. I have a cold! Or the possible start of one.

This didn't stop me stripping the bed of summerweight sheets and duvet and replacing them with snuggly brushed cotton ones, bearing in mind frost and snow is predicted for this week, with overnight temperatures as low as -6 degrees, which is dang cold. I also set off a batch of yoghurt (have rediscovered my decade-old Salton Yoghurt Maker and remembered that using full-fat UHT milk means you end up with something very close to Greek Yoghurt - yum!), and put a load of washing on. Sorted out the recycling, wrote the menu for the week and underwent Ordeal By Sainsburys.

I was exhausted and running on autopilot by the time I got home, having spent a stupid amount of money on a week's food for 2 adults and 2 cats that didn't include anything fancy. I should have been making new glass things as gifts and to put on the stand but, again, the siren call of the sofa was too strong. TLH bunged a pizza in the oven and now I'm catching up with my backlog of recorded episodes of Dexter. We'll see what tomorrow's like (hopefully dusted with snow...!)

Monday, 14 December 2009

Traditional Pre-Christmas Malaise

I don't really enjoy Christmas all that much, not really. It has always struck me as rather a lot of work for just one day's ... what? frivolity? I don't know that that's the right word. The cultural pressure surrounding Christmas is immense - the sheer volume of expectation imposed on us by the media is frightening. You're supposed to feel inadequate if you don't lose pounds before the office party, if you don't wear the right sparkly clothes, if you don't make your own sausage rolls, if you don't decorate your house with greenery gathered from your own woodland, and on and on.

I mean, we all know this, the relentless Christmas advertising that starts at the end of October doesn't exactly come as a surprise, and I'm sure I'm not the only person to think this. Okay, getting presents is always lovely but I can't stand being constantly asked what it is I want, just for the sake of buying me a present purely because it's Christmas and that's what's expected.

This, of course, does not apply to The Lovely Husband who is very good and always extremely generous with my gifts - I always get something fabulous that I couldn't have afforded to buy for myself which means I treasure each and every one - last year it was a fantastic Panasonic DMC-FZ28 camera with SDHD card and card reader, the year before it was the top of the range iPod, the year before that a Paragon SC2 kiln. Previous years have seen a Palm Pilot and Meisterstuck Fountain and ballpoint pen set (yes, the one that went walkabout earlier this year). Which all makes me sound very materialistic, which I suppose I am. I like nice things. So that bit of Christmas I don't actually mind at all.

It's everything else that gets me down. Admittedly, online shopping I've found to be an absolute godsend as I can now avoid the horrors of trying to locate somewhere to park and then battling through crowds in overheated shops in order to find they're out of stock anyway. And Christmas cards - I can't see the point of sending cards to someone that you see on a regular basis (Mum and Da, Chris and Sarah - this is why you haven't had a card from us). I now only send them out to family and friends (and ex-husbands) that I may not clap eyes on from year to year.

I don't think the weather at this time of year helps much either - wintry gloom is just naturally depressing. How much nicer it would be if we could be guaranteed bright, sharp, sparkingly white and frosty days with blue, blue skies and brilliant sunshine. That would cheer me right up. Or a decent snowfall, that would be good too.

Perhaps I'd feel more amicable towards it if I'd managed to have kids, but that's something I'm never going to find out.

My ideal Christmas would be one spent on a sunny tropical beach somewhere, drinking Mojitos and Mai-Tais, avoiding the whole sorry business of this year's reality show's Christmas Special and enforced jollity. I've managed to do this once, in 1989. It was fabulous and every year at this time I dream about it....

PS. Although what would cheer me up is a trip on Boxing Day to see "Britain's Top Elvis Impersonator" as advertised on a huge banner across an Indian restaurant near where my brother lives....

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Farewell, Damian (1998-2009)

You didn't even belong to us but, somehow, we belonged to you. A stray, you were taken in by Grace, the Close's resident cat lady, but it didn't take long for you to realise that our cat flap was never locked, there was always food down and we had a foxy lady-cat that you took a shine to (although she was never convinced of your charms, unlike us).

From then on, you would visit every day, for hours at a time, occasionally staying overnight and always, always never far from Ms Pepper.

Although you also liked to hang out with Sylvester, who actually liked you a lot more than she did:

You were a very handsome boy, and the best hunter I ever saw. You weren't a cuddlesome cat but occasionally you would deign to let me pick you up when I would be rewarded with tractor-like purrs. Twice you even jumped up onto my lap and settled down - an event so infrequent as to be remarkable.

You were never pushy and didn't bully anyone out of their food just because you fancied it - you always seemed grateful and appreciated a stroke. What none of us knew was that you had an abdominal tumour that slowly, but surely, grew until you could no longer eat.

Grace's favourite place in the whole wide world is her beautiful, flower-filled garden and that's where you now lie, under the trees near her bench so she can still talk to you.

I miss you, sleep well, D.