Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Sod's Law...

Why do things go wrong, just when you don't want them to?

Last week, I discovered that my all-time favourite Kookäi work trousers' zip had decided not to function properly. For a few days, I kept the pants hung over my bed rail, cursing them as the weather was becoming more and more inclement and so I was being forced, against my will, to have to wear skirts. After some minor home surgery on them last night, I fancied that the zip problem was solved. Therefore, I was somewhat distressed today to discover that whenever I laughed or coughed (both things I do a lot: a) because I find it hilarious to wind my work colleagues up and b) because I never seem to have a cigarette out of my hand these days...) my zip burst open. Now, you may think to yourself, so what? Well, the zip is located in the rear of the trousers and thus rather more difficult to remedy if you aren't actually aware it has happened. I am only glad I was not wearing either lurid coloured knickers, or a thong...

After I had displayed my 'George at Asda' knickers (£6.99 for five pairs!) for the umpteenth time that morning, I decided to make a flying visit home and change the trousers. Could I find the ones I wanted?


I could only find the ones whose zip is broken at the front. Yes, I could have worn a skirt, but that may have drawn unwanted attention to the fact that I had had to change and then the questions would have been asked and the snarky comments begun...So, all afternoon, when I laughed or coughed, the zip would snag down and catch the skin from my belly in its travels. Aforementioned belly now looks like a small rodent has gnawed at it.

I only get a measley 45 minutes for lunch, so it was almost straight back into the car. And, what did I initially get in front of?*** The recycle wagon, whose driver took great delight in parking alongside a parked car, blocking my way. The so-called civil servant - you know, the ones who are allegedly employed by the government to work for us, took great delight in staring me out with a supercilious grin on his face, as if to say, 'I'm big; you're not. You just have to wait for me - haha!' When he finally inched his way forward so that I could finally pass, he waved at me. I returned his wave with a 'universal hand gesture'.

I then got behind a driver who appeared to take every single road marking to heart. Wherever it said SLOW, he slammed on the brakes. In a 60 mph zone, we ended up crawling at 25 mph. And I get quite severe road rage from time to time. After yelling at the top of my voice (which he obviously couldn't hear), "Crap or get off the f*cking pot!!" he pulled over on a bend, just after the traffic lights. Boy, was I hopping mad. Particularly as my temporary company car has as much guts as a filleted fish and simply does not like the idea of overtaking.

Upon my return to the office, I was had by my colleagues. We have a Secret Santa established, which I am simply not going to explain to anyone who doesn't know what it is, and, as I called off from a lengthy, complicated, techie phonecall, I was immediately asked, "So who did you get in Secret Santa, Agnes?" I responded accordingly, in truth, and was then treated to a tirade of abuse that I couldn't hold my water, that I was a gob-sh*te, and nobody ever tell Agnes anything...blah, blah, blah. Good job the person for whom I am buying wasn't there, I guess...

Anyway, I hope you lot realise that I am blogging when I really ought to be reading Turgenev and getting my head around the father figure in the story. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, stopping me from studying. So leave me alone because I am a very important person...

***For the pedants amongst you, yes, I know I started the sentence with 'AND' and finished it with a preposition. So what? I know...

Monday, 29 October 2007

Sex Education with Hex My Ex...Part Two

There are times, you know, when I feel that I wasn't quite cut out to be a mother, what with being the squeamish type.

Yet again, it was sex education time tonight. And tonight, the questions and comments really were getting a bit too close to the bone.

The conversation started off with a major bitching session from #1 who launched into a verbal attack about a girl from High School who is allegedly, 'a big fat spotty cow who fancies J (her boyfriend) and she walks around, right, wearing these grips, right, thinking she's sooooo cool, like, yer know? So, I sez to her, like, just shut up and leave J alone, coz he wouldn't fancy a big fat cow like you, right?'...and on and on it went until it just became a bit of a background hum where my only interjection was to bark, 'Language!' when the profanities started being brought in.

My ears pricked up, however, when #1 exclaimed that aforesaid spotty cow 'thinks she's the sex'.
Eh? I asked. How can you think you are 'the sex'? That's poor English. Don't you mean she thinks she is sexy?
I was treated to a look of such withering disdain, which I truly didn't feel I deserved.
Me: So? Tell me what you do mean, then!
#1: She thinks she's 'the sex', whereas I'm the orgasm...

Me: What? What did you just say? What? That's shocking! Don't say that!
#2: What, what's going on, what are you talking about Mummy? What is it?
Me: How can you say that? That's terrible! Don't EVER say that again in front of your sister...
#2: What did she say, Mum? Tell me.
Me: No, I won't. Anyway, I need a fag. Blimey. Where on earth did you learn that?
#1: Everyone says it. Honest!

Off I stomped into the kitchen and lit up, absolutely horrified at the expressions children today come out with, only to be pursued. (N.b. I clear off into the kitchen to smoke in order not to damage my daughters' lungs. So they follow me and do it for themselves...).

#1: Mum, she already knows about orgasms you know!
Me: Do you? No, you don't...How do you know about orgasms? I only found out what an orgasm was two years ago.
#1: Really? You didn't know what an orgasm was until two years ago?
Me: Durrr! 'Course I knew!
#2: Didn't you Mum?
(Groundhog Day again...#2 has an irritating habit of only half listening to conversations which mean that I repeat myself endlessly; it's made even more irritating in that even when I am repeating myself just for her, she will continue to wander off into her own little dream world of puppies, caterpillars, kittens and mud.)

It was at this point, that I happened to change the way I was standing, and crossed my legs as I leaned into the kitchen worktop.

#1: Ahahahahahahaha! Look at the way Mum's standing! Coz we're talking about orgasms. Ahahahaha!
Me: That's got nothing to do with anything! I was just changing the position of my stance, that's all, you cheeky beggar!
#1: Oh yeah! Bit convenient for my liking!
#2: I do know what an orgasm is, you know, Mummy. It's when the sperms squirt out of the man's thing and he goes, Hoouroarghuoagh!

At this point, they both collapsed on the clean kitchen floor (thanks, ICT!), hysterical with laughter. I wasn't sure whether, at this point, I was supposed to uncross my legs, or keep as still as possible, just in case my body language was further misinterpreted.

So, I am stressed. I am harried. And I am getting more and more confounded by the sexual knowledge my daughter possesses.

And to think, when I was her age, the closest I got to sexual knowledge was making plasticine penises for my Action Men, which squashed flat the minute they got jiggy with Sindy...

Happy Hallowe'en...from Agnes

Friday, 19 October 2007

The Fear Factor

It seems that most blogs I land on at the moment are filled with the forthcoming Hallowe'en festivities: black cats, pumpkins, witches, ghouls and freaks - it's like a family gathering at my ex's folks, to be honest...Hallowe'en is not one of my favourite times of the year. I'm a real 'Bah Humbug' about it (wrong festivity, I know) as if there is one thing I object to, it's the little pukes round here threatening to egg my windows if I don't cough up some sweeties for them. This year, my Haribo might just be laced with arsenic...

Now, it actually takes a fair bit to scare me. Apart from The Exorcist, no horror film has ever induced anything but gales of laughter from me. When we go to haunted castles, houses etc. when the poorly paid Saturday worker jumps out at me, I turn to him and mildly explain that he 'must try harder' if he wishes to make me leap out of my skin.

However, I can recall a few real life events which have left me a shaking wreck.

The first was when I inadvertently set a farmer's field alight at the tender age of ten. In the 70s, children were allowed to buy matches from the newsagents and being a budding pyromaniac at the time, I would scour the roads for two pence pieces and purchase a few boxes of matches for later use. My mother's cupboards would then be raided as I stole food to cook on the campfires. Raw, charcoaled potato has a certain appeal, but I am still unable to quite put my finger on what it is...

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the cardboard box atop this particular campfire rolled off its precarious base, down the banks of the stream, and Whooomph! the place went up in flames. Seeing the fire licking across a golden field of barley was pretty awesome, but not quite as awesome as the belting my backside would have got had my father found out. So I did what any normal child would have done - I legged it, hid in the sanctuary of my father's greenhouse pretending to be interested in his tomatoes and came out when the fire brigade had finished and strutted around exclaiming Scooby Dooisms: 'pesky kids', 'meddlesome kids' etc. I was so frightened I couldn't cry the tears out. The thought of the damage I could have caused left me terrified, guilt-ridden and vowing never to touch matches again. That was my first taste of fear.

My second was a long time coming. I was heavily pregnant at the time and living in the middle of nowhere in Yorkshire. The rear of our attached garage was open to the elements and backed onto open fields - a great hiding place for foxes, badgers...and escaped prisoners. Hearing a lot of thumping about going on in the garage, and then seeing the police helicopter hovering over my house made me reach immediately for the shotgun, as there was no way any prisoner was going to take me without a fight. Particularly as all I had on was a thick pair of socks and a towelling dressing gown. I certainly had a look of Granny Clampett about me that night.

I was utterly petrified - especially when I remembered that I had forgotten to lock the back door and wasn't 100% certain if I was holding the gun properly. Thankfully, the police only took about 30 minutes to arrive (having got lost three times), found the gun on the settee as I lumbered out of the house to greet them, reprimanded me for leaving a loaded weapon unattended, and checked around the property, ascertaining that aforesaid escapee had done another runner and left me alone. The bobby returned the shot to me and told me to use it if I had to - which was quite thrilling in itself. The ex, upon his return from college, was quite astounded to be met by a wild-eyed pregnant woman brandishing his shotgun and realised that his story of Linda's daughter twisting her ankle in the town wasn't going to be quite as exciting as my tale that night...

So, in all, my life hasn't been filled with fear. That is, until last Wednesday, when we all got taken out for a 'team bonding day' - otherwise understood to be a chance to get completely trollied and enjoy oneself. Those of us driving, watched on. Actually, none of us really had to drive as rooms had been booked in Bed & Breakfasts, but as I had a major meeting the following day and wanted lots of relaxed preparation time, I decided to return to the comfort of my castle that night...

The Bonding Day took place at Alton Towers which, for the uninitiated amongst you, is a theme park with lots of 'thrilling' rides, designed to make you leave your stomach 5m behind you, or worse still, on the floor at your feet. I must confess that I despise rollercoasters and their ilk. I cannot glean any pleasure from being so frightened that my heart is banging out of my ribcage, my whole body is shaking, my jaw aches from gritting my teeth so hard or from screaming so loudly I am terrified my lungs will burst from my body. So, I decided I would not go on any rides...

My work colleagues had different ideas...

Of the nine of us, eight were speed demons. Rollercoasters and scary rides were their bread and butter and they ran to each ride. I followed more sedately until they realised I meant it when I said that I didn't want to go on anything So I got physically dragged by two of the tougher members of crew into the queue. I think the colour must have started draining from my face.

I really was utterly petrified. I watched carts spinning, wheeling, whooping and whizzing (I'm getting quite good at this alliterative stuff now, aren't I?) and I felt very, very small, sad and scared.

Our first ride was The Pinpall. Dear June linked my arm and gave me a pep talk. She confessed how scared she was about these rides and how sick they made her feel, and that she just had to do it to overcome her fear. I stared her in the eyes and said, June, you are talking shite, aren't you? She roared laughing and blurted, Yes!

Rita, Queen of Speed was next up. I don't know how fast this thing goes, but I did feel that, had I not had my eyelids shut so tightly, my eyeballs might have gone whizzing out the back of my head. At this ride, I was seated next to the Boss who became quite perturbed at the unholy language and blood-curdling screams emanating from my mouth. He christened me The Exorcist after that - what goes around comes around, eh?

It didn't get any better. Oblivion, Air, Ripsaw - all these nasty rides with equally nasty names. By the end of the day I was a nervous wreck, sickly, disoriented and weary. The only ride I managed to escape from was Nemesis. As the others trotted gaily off, almost complacent in the thought that dear old Agnes had been such a sport on the other rides, she was bound to follow on. Not a chance. As soon as they had turned the corner, I turned on my heel and ran - to the safety of the exit, where I watched the carriages from Hell twisting, whizzing and whooshing across the night sky carrying my mental work colleagues.

Getting back on terra firma was one of the sweetest moments of the day for me. I was lauded 'A Good Sport' and many slapped me (hard) on the back, telling me how proud they were of me. I was more concerned that my hands were shaking so hard I couldn't quite bring my cigarette up to my lips for a well-needed drag without the fear of setting my hair alight.

Tonight, I take the girls to Spooky World. This appears to be a farm which becomes undead at night and the local yokels jump out on us brandishing pickaxes, severed rubber hands, shovels and wreaths of flowers. I can handle this. I shall tell Apple Jack where to shove his shovel if he breathes too hard on me and stalk around, growling at anyone who tries to make me jump. There are no rollercoasters at Spooky World, no out-of-control fires and no escaped prisoners.

What have I got to be scared of?

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

A Fish Out of Water and Other Nasty Thingies...

Now that I am a mature 30-something, I must confess to our two dear readers that I am a somewhat squeamish person. I pretend not to be, and anyone who shows weakness in the face of blood and guts is branded either a 'great poof' or a 'big girl's blouse' by me.

I am a shocking hypocrite...

As a child, I would poke, prod, slice and dice at anything. Nothing turned my stomach. My desire was to grow up and become a vet. So each morning, I would inspect the garden lawn to see what 'presents' Tibby, our savage cat, had left. If I was lucky, there would be the odd shrew, which I would gather up, lay out on the paving flags, and dissect using my mother's sharpest kitchen knives (unbeknownst to her, I hasten to add!). Each minute organ, tendril of tendon, length of ligament and morsel of muscle (did you like that alliteration? I'm impressed!) was of great fascination to me and I cross-referenced the bits with my mother's antique Family Medical (which warned that lunatics should be kept in on a full moon) and resolved that, one day, I would find a cure for all sorts of animal ailments.

In High School, ever determined to become a vet, I later encountered the much-feared Biology teacher, and that was the end of my veterinary career. He was so terrifying that I dropped Biol as soon as possible, and went on to pursue a career elsewhere. The teacher went on to serve at Her Majesty's Pleasure when he was caught for messing about with his young, male pupils...

Nowadays, though, out of some perverse instinct, despite my late-onset squeamishness, I try to tune in to rather gory documentaries. I sit, transfixed, watching pus, blood, entrails and all sorts spewing their way out of people's appendages and I get a strange 'freeze' which travels up the right side of my face, sets my teeth on edge, makes my left eye do queer things, and my stomach flips over. At that point, I have to grab a cushion, hide my eyes behind it and make vomiting noises so I don't hear the squelching on the telly.

For the last two weeks, I have watched Invasion of the Bodyscratchers. Dr Mike Leahy (a nutter if ever there was one) intentionally infects himself with all manner of nasties for the purposes of scientific research, and the voyeuristic public (including me) watch him suffer such indignities as being infiltrated by a tapeworm cyst, a Bott Fly, and being eaten alive by malarial mosquitoes (he had taken his prophylaxes, dear reader(s)).

How would you like one of these in your guts?
The tapeworm infiltration was incredible. He flew to Japan where he swallowed, whole, a tapeworm cyst. Upon his arrival in London, he then swallowed a pill camera so that the stages of the worm's development could be tracked. It was gross. At eight weeks, the worm had reached maturity, and the camera showed it squirming around inside his intestines, the lesions on the lining of the gut where it had latched on and eaten bits of him, and I felt quite poorly. At maturity, bits of the worm start to break off and are excreted in the stools ('shit' to you and me). These bits are motile and self-reproductive - he dug bits out of his poo, washed them off, and showed them squirming on his arm (urgh!). It was vitally important that he did not allow these bits to get into the public drainage system, as this could cause an infestation of epidemic proportions, so he had to poo into a seive and then dispose of the...erm...what's another word I can use now?...turds...safely.

It was at this stage that the worm's presence was making itself known and he wasn't feeling tickety boo any more. So, he got some hard-core laxatives from his doctor and drank the lot. (He'd heard of the bottom falling out of his world, but never the world falling out of his bottom...) His daft friend had also swallowed a tapeworm cyst but had decided to feed it a high carb diet to see if the worm thrived more on sugars. They expelled the worms into seives, rinsed off the detritus, and showed us what was left. It reminded me of ribbon noodles and quite put me off eating the prawn chow mein I had been saving. They laid out the worms, side by side against a measure, to compare whose was the biggest. Dr Mike's checked in at just under 2 metres. His mate's, which had been fed the high-carb diet, was shorter, but much thicker. Ergo, a high carb diet really does make you fat and stunts your growth!

Now, I could carry on and describe all the infestations he encountered, such as the Bott fly which had to be cut out of his leg last night, and looked to all intents and purposes like an enormous boil, until the 'pus' started wriggling around; or the Kissing Beetle, which kills more South Americans than AIDS due to the Chagas parasite it carries, which enters the body via the bite when the bug decides to poo in the wound, just for good measure. The parasite lies dormant in the body for a while until it gets bored and then irreversibly shuts down every organ in the body.

But, the one which really got to me was the candiru fish...

This vicious little blighter is found in the Amazon River, and is able to swim upstream. It has evil-looking barbs which it can splay out and latch onto soft flesh, meaning it is difficult to extract. Oh, and did I mention that it likes blood? So, if it can swim upstream, it likes to dig into soft flesh, and lives on blood, how can it get into a human? Take a deep breath...If you take a leak in the Amazon River, make sure you are holding protection in front of your genitals. Simple as that. I watched a surgeon, via fibre optic camera, entering the urethra of a very unfortunate fisherman, to extract this fish, using surgical tongs, from the chap's todger. It seems the pain of the fish up there was infinitely worse than the extraction procedure. If I was given to fainting, I would have fainted at this point.

So, next time you are bitten by mozzies, or get a wasp sting, don't start moaning, and wailing that you're itchy or sore. Spare a thought for that poor Amazonian fisherman who, when he went to spend a penny, got way more than he bargained for...

Saturday, 13 October 2007

A Word to the Wise...

Misunderstandings seem to happen easily - sometimes they cause irritation; sometimes they cause laughter. Lynn Truss wrote Eats, Shoots and Leaves as an example of how important correct grammar, punctuation and vocabulary is in our day to day writing. At the moment, I am proofreading our company website which has to abide strictly to pharmaceutical and medical legislation. So, it is quite horrifying to stumble across typos stating, "Sue, as instructed by your pharmacist."

Yet misunderstandings are more common from our speech, I have discovered. A muffled exchange, or a simple misuse of a word can lead to great confusion. Take these examples:

In my tender youth, I worked for a main High Street bank. The bank's Regional Manager was called Richard. We had a very mouthy rep working at the bank who often gave talks on how to close deals, how to make sales, and generally, how to annoy people. One particular talk resulted in great hilarity, however.
"Imagine our illustrious Regional Manager is walking down the corridor in front of me, about to pass through the swing doors. I am bearing a tray full of drinks (which was completely inaccurate, as he never made a round of drinks for anyone) and so, naturally, I could call, 'Please leave the door open for me, Richard!' Alternatively, the same thing could be said completely differently if I called, 'Don't shut the door on me, Dick!'"

At my next place of work, I was introduced to a very old chestnut. I needed to dictate a letter and my dictation machine's batteries had run down. I asked Chris, my Line Manager, if I could borrow his dictaphone. "No," came the response. "Use your finger like everyone else."

I once had a very lovely boyfriend called Mike. He was lovely; his mother was a nutcase. She suffered with severe vocabulary malfunction in the style of Mrs Malaprop. As we passed by a row of houses one day, she pointed out one small terraced front with an enormous picture window, declaring to me that if she lived in a house with such large windows, she would always feel 'ever so gullible'. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing at her, especially as she was eating a Cornish pasty at the same time and pastry flakes were flying around the rear of the car while she ate and spoke. 'Gullible' issues forth a lot of food if you talk when your mouth is full.

My mother, too, is guilty of malapropisms. I once owned a cat. I'd called the cat Lucky - why, I have no idea, as she had been knocked over twice; got an infection in one of the wounds; and had only a partially successful sterilisation: part of her ovaries remained, so she still came 'on heat' but was, thankfully, unable to get pregnant. It was when she came on heat that she yowled at high decibel levels, and stalked every available Tom cat in the neighborhood. She was a feline nymphomaniac, which I found quite startling, having been rather virginal (then) with men.

Whenever my mother walked out to the village shops, Lucky would follow her, yowling, and calling 'come hither' utterances to any cat willing to give her a good time. Upon my return from work, my mother expostulated to me, angrily, that she was "sick and tired of that bloody cat!"*** who followed her round everywhere, wailing and carrying on. "Look! Look at her!" she ordered. I looked. What? "Look at her uvula, it's bright red and she's on heat!" My mother was far too angry to listen to me as I attempted to explain to her that a 'uvula' is, of course, your 'clack' - that dangly piece of flesh which hangs at the back of your throat and everyone seems to think is a spare tonsil. Unless the Toms had got lucky with Lucky and she was now performing oral sex...

One of my new work colleagues recounted a tale to us this week of a very recent misunderstanding which allegedly happened to her friend in a New York hotel. Two weeks ago, this friend (let's call her Stacey, because that is her name) and her pal visited NY for a shopping expedition. Stacey's friend, Julie, had shopped until she dropped and wished to return to the hotel for a rest. So, off she went, armed with her shopping bags, and tottered in towards the lifts of the hotel. Julie and Stacey are both small-town girls and when Julie saw two young black men, wearing sports gear: hoodies, trainers, tracksuits etc. in the lift she had just called, she quailed, remembering all the stories of NY street crime she had read in The Daily Mail. She was about to turn tail and wait for another lift, but the men turned and saw her, so she had no option but to join them in the lift. The doors shut, and she looked down. One of the men turned and said to her; "Hit the floor."
Julie dropped her bags, fell to the floor, face down, and begged them not to hurt her. She was astonished to suddenly hear gales of laughter coming from the two men.
"We meant for you to hit the floor you wanted! On the buttons!"
Julie got up, shaking, feeling completely stupid, and allowed the two men to calm her down and assist her to her room, carrying her bags for her.

Next day, she and Stacey went to reception to check out. They were astonished to discover that their bill had been covered, and informed the receptionist that there had been a mistake.
"No, ma'am, no mistake. Your bill was settled last night by a gentleman who has left you a note - here." Julie was handed a note which read, "I have paid your bill, as you gave me one of the funniest nights of my life last night. Thanks, Will Smith."

The two women were shocked, amazed, and then furious that Julie had been so stupid as to have been in a lift with Will Smith and not realised because she was so terrified.

We are still waiting for photocopied evidence of this letter, and until we see it, the story shall remain alleged. But it's a jolly good one, isn't it?

So, always ensure that you enunciate your words clearly, make sure you use the correct ones, and punctuate accordingly so that confusion is avoided. Remember, your audience does not possess extra-century perception.

*** Lucky went missing shortly after this incident. For weeks, I walked the village roads calling her name, wondering where she had gone. Three years ago, my mother finally admitted that she had nagged my father into taking Lucky for a very long drive down to the docks. She has never been seen since...the cat, not my mother...

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Aspiring to be Cool...

"Cool" is a word which I hear from all sorts of people: middle management, over 50s, teenagers, and people like me - normal, unassuming 30-somethings with nothing better to say. When I looked up its definition on Dictionary.com it informed me that in its vernacular and slang use, it means:
a. great; fine; excellent: a real cool comic.
b. characterized by great facility; highly skilled or clever: cool maneuvers on the parallel bars.
c. socially adept: It's not cool to arrive at a party too early.

About 18 months ago, I was working as a Special Needs Teaching Assistant before I realised that getting beaten up on a daily basis and being called a 'fat slag' wasn't my idea of fun when all I was trying to do was help the little pukes to pass their GCSEs. One day, a couple of the year 9 pupils described me as 'cool'. Well, as someone who has never, ever reached the epitome of 'coolth', I was rather gratified by their description, as well as taken aback. I have to confess nobody but Sadie and Stacey has referred to me as cool since...

In my time, I have aspired to 'coolth' and worked jolly hard at it...

When I was 13, I wore my hair in a very long pigtail right down my back. My hair was so long I could sit on it. At the time, a BBC comedy called The Young Ones was aired, and one of the characters was a dirty, smelly hippy called Neil. Having the longest hair in the school, I was immediately saddled with the nickname, Neil, and it infuriated me.
I demanded a hair cut forthwith and despite my mother's protestations that "a girl's hair is her Crowning Glory", I got my own way. Off to the hairdresser I went, armed with a photo of how I wanted my hair to look. I suspect my mother had primed her hairdresser because I ended up with shoulder length hair in a middle part, dead straight, no fringe - and looking even more like Neil than ever. My first attempt at shaking off my uncool image had landed me even more in the lukewarm category.

Next year, perms were in. I jumped at the chance and got a very pleasant wave put through my hair which finally allowed me to resemble a female instead of some unisex Flower Child. I started to move into the cool zone and at one point became quite a popular young Agnes with the Year 11 boys who established an Agnes Appreciation Society (AAS for short, with a silent R)...until they noticed my socks. Being Deputy Head Girl of our school, I pompously felt it a duty not to kowtow to the current trend of wearing socks rolled down à la Fame/Flashdance and insisted on having them pulled up to my kneecaps. I was thus demoted to lukewarm again and didn't get a snog at Potter's next party.

At around this time, my brother had passed his motorbike test and had bought a rather flash bike which he whizzed about on wearing his leathers and a rather demonic-looking black crash hat with smoked screen visor. I was very proud of my brother whenever I saw him in this get-up and would frequently show off to my girlfriends about how sexy he looked - they tended to demur at my opinions, but there is no accounting for sisterly love, is there? One evening, when I knew I couldn't get home from my drama rehearsals after school, I asked if he would pick me up so I didn't have to walk the four miles home. I was like a cat on a hot tin roof all through the rehearsal as I knew all the in-crowd would see me riding pillion with my brother. What I didn't account for was the crash helmet I was handed: bright orange with a pop-fastened peak, no visor and just a black chin-strap...oh the ignominy.

My father decided to give up smoking. He didn't do this for his health - he did it in order to purchase a new car. I waited in eager anticipation of the new car, wondering what we would get, showing off to all my friends that we were going to be the proud owners of an 'X-reg' on August 1st. I was horrified to discover that father was purchasing a Kermit Green Skoda Estelle, one of the crappest cars the motoring world has ever seen. My father, for once, decided that we would have a day trip out - in the new car. I didn't want to go - he did; therefore, we all had to go. Whilst pulling up in the Llangollen car park, people stopped and stared. "Oooh," cooed my mother, "everybody's staring at us because we have a new car." I knew different. Everyone was staring at us because we had a brand new car and we had voluntarily opted for a Kermit Green Skoda - how uncool could we be?

I would like to have been cool (as opposed to 'cold' ref my last post) but I now deem myself a bit too old to be faffing about with such vanities. My girls tell me I am the antithesis of cool, even though I have heard of Panic at the Disco, Gwen Stefani, Pussycat Dolls and their ilk. Probably because I listen to Radio 2 from the BBC and adore Terry Wogan; because I do not consider my car an extension of my personality, more as an extension of my rubbish bin; and because when I get a bit high-spirited, I tend to burst out into songs from the musicals or, even worse, sing "Some Day my Prince Will Come" in an almost perfect impersonation of Snow White in the Walt Disney film.

Well, I shan't worry about it. Worrying is just too uncool to be cool.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

A Different Award

I have been most honoured to receive these awards from Hawk over at his Place. I don't know if any of you have ever hit on his link in the side bar, but he has some very interesting philosophies and some witty prose over there and I would recommend a visit for some interesting outlooks married with a fair few chuckles.

Many Thanks!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Whether the Weather Be Hot; Whether the Weather be Cold...

Some people make big of the fact that when they are not blogging, they are suffering with writer's block - indeed, the astute Keli made a wonderful observation about this illness some days ago. I, however, can confirm that I have not been suffering with this complaint - explaining my lack of blogs - I have been suffering with, "I-do-not-want-to-sit-in-the-freezing-cold-at-the-PC-itis" which is something totally different.

Here in Great Britain, we are in October, but for those of you in a different time zone, just adjust your clocks. October for us Brits means drizzling rain, howling gales, fog, damp, greyness, and basically the same as every other month of the year, but now getting cooler. For some very odd reason, though, that strange ball of fire hanging in the sky has been seen quite a bit this last week, meaning the skies are clear at night and thus temperatures are plummetting. But I am NOT putting on my central heating in October, no matter how freaky the weather is for us - it should be mild and wet, not cold, crisp and sparkly!

So, I shiver into the house at night and with quaking hands, turn the gas fire on. I then run upstairs, change into fleeces, thick socks, jumpers and my thick dressing gown and get a hot drink. By the time I have warmed up by the fire, there is no way I am leaving it to sit at the PC which is situated in the coldest hallway in Christendom, not even for our two loyal readers.

I have realised, I have turned into my father, which is a frightening realisation - especially as he is very fat, balding, foul-mouthed and moody.

When I was a mere kindegarten age, my parents had a lovely gas central heating system installed into their house - a four bed, dormer bungalow: my older brother and I slept in the dormer rooms upstairs. Yet every evening in the winter, despite me and The Brother asking for heating in our bedrooms, we were refused, being informed that "the lagging's that bloody thick in the loft, you don't need heating up there..."

I am not sure about The Brother (who never spoke to me then, and still doesn't now), but I would go to bed at night, see my breath coming out in steam billows as I got changed into my nightwear and crawl into a bed so heavy with duvets, blankets and sheets that I am surprised I wasn't compressed to death.
My mother also used to tuck the multiple sheets so tight around me that it was almost impossible to get out - probably so I was trapped and couldn't come downstairs every ten minutes to beg for some warmth. In the morning, upon opening my curtains, I would marvel at, and play with the ice ferns on the inside of my window until my fingers felt as though they were going to drop off and I would run downstairs to 'hog the fire', as my parents so quaintly termed my attempts to thaw my ice cold nose, fingers and toes out.

Even now, since they have had each radiator installed with individual controls, my parents do not shut down the radiators upstairs so that they can enjoy the pleasures of GCH on the ground floor in the cold months...Oh no! Mother turns the gas fire up, full blast, opens every door on the ground floor and genuinely expects a bog-standard gas fire to warm the whole of her house. And she wonders why the girls and I won't visit in the winter...

So, I seem to have inherited their frugality where gas and electricity are concerned. I was the same in the Middle East with the air conditioners, though. I would often switch them off when the (then) husband was at work and wander about the house, sweating, panting, and then lying on the marble to cool down. Now, before you start thinking, This woman is downright tight, let me inform you that this is not the case - as the ex's company were paying for the bills!

So, why is it? Well, I firmly believe in the "nurture" side here. I can spend money like it is going out of fashion, but I have a mental block when it comes to overspending and lining the coffers of the utility companies due to the blue expletives expostulated by my father on a quarterly basis. I face them on a monthly basis, determined to get the best deal out of the best provider. I despise their twee regional accents at the call centre - for example, if you are with Scottish Power, when you call the customer service desk, you end up half expecting the advisor to break into, "Hoots, Mon, och aye the noo, it's a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht, ternicht" so Scottish do they make their team. North West Water (when it was in existence) only had Scousers and Woollybacks...anybody working for the Tyne-Tees utility companies calls you "Pet", as in, "Way aye, Pet, haddaway and shit..." They pay these advisors a pittance, and then declare annual turnover profits in their billions. I hate their director fat-cats who award themselves massive annual bonuses for simply signing a sheet of paper which says, "Sod the Proles, Let's Put Up Their Kilowatt Unit by 10p and Clear Orf to the Bahamas for Six Months..."

My father also impressed upon me the need to turn off every plug at the wall, especially if it was attached to a TV, video etc and NOT to leave anything on standby, as, eventually, you could save £2million on your gas bill (possibly...). Each night, I go round turning off my appliances. Not a single digital clock in the house shows the right time. It is impossible to programme anything, including the cooker, because I cannot be fagged constantly resetting times and so I just guess and end up with burned food. A bit of a false economy, so it would seem.

This frugality was not limited to power, either - it was also applied to water (and I hasten to add, I draw the line at this point!). Three wees to a flush only; showers, not baths, and have the shower on a low setting and don't stay in longer than five minutes - not that you would want to in my parents' sub-zero temperature bathroom; a bath ONLY if your mother has had the emersion cistern on for her washing up and DON'T take all the hot water, and let me know when you are coming out so I can rig up the pipes and water the garden with it...there were rules for everything which cost money.

If I dared to use the telephone to make a 10p call, my father gained 90p profit from me. If I dared to use his car to drive up the road to the Manor Farm pub (a distance of 4 miles total) it was a top up of a fiver's petrol - it would have been cheaper to take a cab at the time...

My parents weren't the most affluent of people when Brother & I were growing up, so I daresay their scrimping and saving was done out of necessity rather than meanness. But old habits do die hard and I find it very difficult these days to converse with two people who catalogue everything new in my house, ask me how much I paid for it, and then inform me that they could have got it x-amount cheaper at such and such a car boot sale. They buy all sorts of tat from these junk sales - and then try to foist it off onto me. Why, I don't know - I actually LIKE matching colours and themes in my house, preferring cool contemporary to ironic retro (or crap, for want of a better description). Then they take offence.

I lay awake last night, realising how like them I am in a lot of ways, and this frightens me senseless. My constant irritation towards them with their dug-in ways will be how my girls will feel towards me when they are older, no doubt.

So, this morning, I woke up at 7am (a lie-in for me - hurray!) and turned on the central heating as it's a cold morning. Every day, in every way...