Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Surreal Sunday Circus in Oxford

As I mentioned in a previous post, last weekend was a tad surreal, with a Mad Hatter's Tea Party on Saturday, and then on Sunday, guess where I went?

Yep! To a bona fide, genuine circus. How fabulously retro is that dahlink? I reckon it is something that everyone remembers from their childhood, and so to revisit it in adulthood is pretty bloody surreal.

We made our way to Oxford's Southfield Park, and as we parked, I got my first glimpse of the Big Top. It was like being 8 again, gazing in awe at the enormous tent, which was surrounded by trailers bearing the advert 'Zippos', and caravans which housed the circus entertainers. 

Pic.No.1. My first glimpse of the Big Top

It was with nervous anticipation (would it be as exciting as I remembered? Would the clowns still piss me off with their slapstick humour?) that we approached the entrance, clutching our tickets.

 Pic.No.2. The entrance to Zippos Circus

It was looking good! The first thing I noticed was the fact that the smell of the place was just as it should be; a a fusion of sawdust and hotdogs. The smell of hotdogs meant only one thing. I needed to buy one and get it down my neck....... it was, in my mind, a compulsory part of a circus trip.

"Would you like one Izzy?" I asked her showing her the limp sausage in a crumbling bread roll.

"No, it looks minging." She replied definitively. Minging? Where does she get these words from, I ask you?

We made our way into the Big Top itself, which was dark and warm with an auditorium surrounding a smallish circular arena where the performers worked.

Pic.No.3. Me stuffing my face with a hotdog

As we had some time to kill before the performance started, Izzy sat and surveyed her surroundings wonderously for a few minutes, and then I saw her features tighten. Uh oh. The girl had forumlated a plan.

"What?" I asked her suspiciously.

"I want my face painted," she replied pointing to a lady sitting in the arena who was, at that moment, making a beetle out of a small child.

"I've got a hotdog, can you take her?" I asked Steve.

"Yeah," he said begrudgingly, dragging her off by the hand. Three minutes later he was back.

"It cost bloody £3.00," he exclaimed, "I've been fleeced."

But hey, Izzy looked pleased with herself; "don't touch my face!" she commanded holding up her palm.

A moment later she turned to me, "I want one of those please," she requested sombrely, pointing to a lady selling plastic battery-driven windmills which lit up.

"Your turn," stated Steve.

I returned three minutes later dragging along an Izzy with a big grin on her mush.

"I've feel like I've been mugged," I huffed, "that bloody windmill was £5.00."

I don't know what the performances were going to be like, but man alive, Zippos Circus certainly had got their head around the concept of up-selling.

At that moment, the arena lit up, the music boomed into the Big Top, and the Ringmaster made his appearance, surrounded by girls with feathery plumes on their heads, and introducing the circus with resounding hyperbole. The crowd were clapping, the atmosphere was enthralling, and the Ringermaster introduced the first act with a flourish.................. [note to reader; unfortunately I didn't take down the names of any of the acts, so I am having to improvise].

Video.No.1. Some chap on a hamster's wheel type of contraption

So it was off to an exciting start, with the chaps doing some daredevil acrobatics, all without a safety net or harness (which was a consistent theme throughout all the performances). 

The whole circus thing basically consisted of different variety acts, each of which generally ran for about five minutes, so it was pretty pacy stuff. Plus, during the act changeovers, the performers ran into the crowds doing bizarre things like throwing giant balloons around, to make sure that the atmosphere didn't go off the boil. 

Here are some of the acts that featured in the first half.............................

Pic.No.4. A lady standing on chopsticks - she had the balance of a budgie and the biceps of a shot-putter

Next up was an act from China, and these guys had gargantuan strength ..... they were flinging each other around like Action Men (the ones without the Eagle Eye).

Pic.No.5. One chap upside down on top of another chap, making like Hindu Shiva

Pic.No.6. "Excuse me mate. Do you know you've got a bloke on your head?"

It was all cleverly done, with the lighting and catchy music contributing to the atmosphere. But, there was one thing I didn't like....... The horse display. The horses themselves were majestic part-arabs, and somehow stuffing their mouths with tight bits (which they constantly tried to adjust with their tongues) and making them do things like sequence dancing, rearing up on demand, and kneeling down to the audience, seemed disingenuous and unnatural. I don't know much about dobbins, and I am not saying that they were mistreated.... I just didn't like it..... Are there any dobbin-lovers out there to give me any additional information about nags performing in circuses?

Enough of that, and back to the people spectaculars! The Ringmaster reappeared to introduce a band of four Chinese Acrobats calling themselves Pole Dancers. 

Steve's face lit up, he sat up, and his gaze rooted on the poles that had been lowered from the ceiling in readiness. The act began and Steve's face fell. 

"That wasn't what I expected," he said wistfully. 

"There are children in the audience," I hissed back. 

"Hang on a minute!" He exclaimed, changing the subject. "Aren't two of the Pole Dancers those Chinese guys who were chucking themselves around a minute or two ago?"

"Blimey, I think you are right," I replied, peeringly intently at Action Men without Eagle Eye Pole Dancers. 

Vid.No.2. The Chinese Pole Dancers

And so as half time arrived, we slowly realised that the circus eke out every ounce of potential from their performers.

I went off to get some Coke, and Steve and Izzy went off to get some a burger and Slush Puppy (it's blue - Izzy'll be bouncing off the walls later then). 

We regrouped, and Steve said; "I am sure that one of the trapeze artists just served my chips."

"Hey, yeh," I replied, "that's weird because I was sure that the hamster-wheel bloke just served me my coke."

It was then that we realised that the whole circus cast probably consisted of twenty people, all of whom were multi-tasking, consummate daredevils, with additional burger-serving skills. [Ummmmm... I wouldn't mind seeing their job description].

Back to the performance. The second half commenced with a random resounding boom whch made most of the audience jump in shock.

The first act was at odds with this intro because it consisted of the Ringmaster's party piece, which involved 20 budgies, all trained to do amazing things, like pull carriages, do 360 swings on their purchases, launch themselves down slides, and do mini-assault courses. It was by far my favourite part of the show, but then I felt guilty because, it was probably the feathery equivalent of the circus horses. Another reason that I felt guilty is that if I rescued them from the circus, I don't think that I would be able to resist setting up further assault courses for them, involving a cheese grater, a washing line and a toilet roll. 

Anyway, let's trot on to the end, because I seem to have kept you a while this evening. After the budgies, my second favourite act of the night was a pair of deliciously camp tight-rope walkers (oh, and one of them was in the hamster wheel act earlier, backing up my earlier theory of multi-tasking circus performers). 

They did two particularly amazing stunts, and, showing uncharacteristic presence, I managed to capture both on video........... here goes.................

Vid.No.3.Tightrope walker jumps over his mate

When I say deliciously camp, I mean it. They were performing to Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust', and wearing black leather trousers with mesh T-shirts..............totally lush.
Vid.No.4. Fruitloop skipping on a tightrope

And then to make it more camp, they did some skipping. That'll be the cherry then.

So the circus ended, and it was everything that I remembered it to be (except for the fact that they have cottoned-on to up-selling (Pah! facepaint. Pah! light-up windmill). We wondered outside, blinking in the light, ears ringing from the music, with big smiles on our faces............... especially Izzy..............

Pic.No.7. Izzy at the circus. This shot cost £8.00 in props - she has her face painted as a butterfly and is holding a Taiwanese plastic windmill. (Hang on! she looks a bit like one of them Avatar type things to me)

All in all, a proper retro, surreal day! Top banana.....  you know you want to!

P.S. The clowns still pissed me off with their slapstick humour. 

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Unveiling.... TA DAH.... my new look blog!

Now then. Guess what I have been up today? Yep, after putting it off for a couple of months, I decided to revamp my blogs appearance. The old version was starting to look a little outdated, especially because the background image had deleted itself and had been replaced by a dull grey backdrop.

Luckily for me, this week Blogger (who host my blog), sent me an email annoucing their new 'Blogger Template Designer'. How lucky is that? It is a cinch to use, and has some whizz bang features to give a really professional look.

However, no matter how good the software, the bottom line is that success depends on how arty-farty you are, because at the end of the day, the Template Designer can't chose your fonts, images and colours for you............. and I am not arty farty..... something that has always hindered me in my desire to be a world renowned painter.

So, despite my artistic backwardness what do you think of the new look? Better? Are there things you like / don't like?

I am just off to play with some more Flash imagery!!

Monday, 29 March 2010

Surreal Saturday in Forest Hill

There's nowt like a bit of a surreal weekend to keep things interesting...... and yep, my weekend was a bit surreal.

It all started on Saturday, when I noticed in Izzy's busy diary that she had been invited to attend a fancy dress Mad Hatter's Tea Party, organised by the Village Hall Committee. It was a marvellous concept; all the children (about 35 of 'em) in the village were invited for no particular reason other than community spirit. There was to be 'Alice in Wonderland' themed food, games and entertainment, and it was all free of charge. You wouldn't get that in London.

Unfortunately, I had totally forgotten about the party, and as such, the day arrived and I had no Alice in Wonderland costume to hand. Arse.

But Aha! no flies on me; I can be quite resourceful when needed, and so I looked at the things I had to hand, and cobbled together a makeshift outfit consisting of a snow queen dress, a pair of 'Hello Kitty' shoes, some wings and a Father Christmas hat.

"Come on Iz, we are going to be late!" I shouted, before realising that she was standing next to me with a 'you're weird' expression on her chops.

After we left the house, I encountered a surreal sight. The main street of the village was awash with strange looking creatures making their way up the hill, including at least 15 lifesize white rabbits and 10 goblin-type creatures in enormous top-hats. It bloody freaked me out, it did. Especially when they came scampering over shouting. "Look, I'm a rabbit!" [note to self: check that I took today's medication.]

Of course, they were all headed for the Mad Hatter's Tea Party but man, it was still weird.

As we arrived at the Village Hall, Izzy spotted her gang of friends from school, (even though they were all donning mentalist costumes), and immediately deserted me in the middle of a cleverly decorated hall which was designed to make everyone feel like they were down a rabbit hole.

"Iz," I shouted to her, "do you want me to stay?"

She looked back at me, "No. I'm ok."

Crikey O'Reilly, she is only four and was already trying to get rid of me.

I left her to have her fun, and I have to say............. the Forest Hill Committee did themselves proud. It was an amazing community event and has been much talked about in the village.

P.S. Sorry I didn't get any pictures, I was too surrealed-out!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

One of my blog postings is freaking me out

Crikey something weird is happening with my blog. A long, long time ago during a rather quiet week in January, I wrote a posting called 'Slow News Week.'

Pic.No.1. My post entitled 'Slow News Week'

'Nothing odd about that,' I hear you cry.

Well on the surface of it, yes, I agree with you, but recently it's been attracting an unprecedented level of unexpected attention. 

Yep, tons of comments have suddenly been made about that particular post, and bizarrely they are all written in Chinese. Not speaking the language, I haven't got a clue what they are saying, or why they are all attracted to that particular post.

Purrrrrlease help me! I am bamboozled, baffled, and secretly suspicious of the fact that I may be inadvertently advertising Chinese super-strength viagra.

Can anyone here speak Chinese?

Hindsight, mud and sheep

Today I remembered that the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing.

"So," I asked Izzy, "what would you like to do today?"

"Play in the mud," she replied definitively.

"Ok." I said. Nothing wrong with a kid getting dirty as long as they are enjoying themselves, I fathomed.

After putting on our wellies, we headed out into the open fields behind my house where there was no shortage of mud after the recent rain and thunder storms.

Everything was going swimmingly .....................

Vid.No.1. Parenting the Lady M way - if you need any advice, just ask

Until.............uh oh. Maybe mud wasn't such a great idea after all. Even worse, 'the incident' happened at the furthest point from home, meaning that Izzy had to squelch all the way back, her wellies full of muddy water. 

So, as outcomes go, it wasn't my greatest triumph; Izzy was covered in mud from falling in the puddle, I was covered in mud from picking her out of the puddle, and Naughty George was covered in mud because he was close to the ground.

The mud-triple posed a dilemma when I got home. Should I let them in the house to further exacerbate the destruction, or do I find another way of dealing with it?

And then I had a brainwave. After 10 minutes with a water-butt and watering can, Naughty George and Izzy were mainly decontaminated, and I was prepared to let them in the house (after undressing Izzy on the back step). Bloody carnage all round.

Pic.No.1. Izzy leaning on the water butt, fully recovered from her trauma

But hey, all's well that ends well. 

P.S. Another note, there is one other weird thing that I noticed whilst on the walk........ all the sheep belonging to the farm behind my house have totally disappeared.

Pic.No.1. Where have all the sheep gone?

Pic.No.2. The same field a couple of months ago

Man alive, the countryside is freaking me out. Last summer that same field was full of a flock of cows. The cows abruptly disappeared and were promptly replaced by thousands of sheep. Now the bloody sheep have gone ................ where oh where have they gone?

Saturday, 27 March 2010

My 15 minute VO4 error

Bloody BT! (British Telecomms to those who don't live in the UK). They are totally bloody useless.

Picture the scene: Following a busy day, Izzy was looking forward to the evening because one of the treats she gets on a weekend night, is that she can watch two TV programmes in a row before bedtime..... and that television service is, of course, provided by BT.

After dinner and a bath, I duly plonked her on the sofa, wrapped her in her 'TV duvet' and attempted to select her chosen programme; 'Barney Bear,' or some other surreal programme formulated by a drug-addled Producer.

A large message appeared on the screen; "we are currently experiencing a VO4 error. Please contact a BT Representative for further help."

Izzy was understandably upset that she couldn't watch her sacred two programmes, and I had know idea how to fix a 'helpfully titled' VO4 error. So I made the mistake of actually trying to contact a BT Representative.

I spent 25 (YES TWENTY FIVE) minutes on hold, with a looped automated voice telling me that; "your call is important to us, please stay on the line and a representative will be with you shortly."

Surely if my call was so important to them, they would have employed more people to improve customer service?

Finally, my call was answered (by a very pleasant lady I have to say).

"How can I help?" she asked me.

"Well firstly, I have been on hold for twenty five minutes, which I am not happy about. And secondly I have tried to use my television, but it keeps coming up with a VO4 error," I explained.

"Yes, we experienced a 15 minute transmission problem in the Oxfordshire area, but everything should be ok now," she replied.

A FIFTEEN minute error? That means that I have been on-hold ten minutes longer than it took to fix the problem!

Bloody BT.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Hairspray Criminal

After a recent shopping trip to Tesco, I arrived home only to find that a can of hairspray I'd purchased didn't work. Yep, my life is a hotbed of unexpected drama...... when I pushed down the button, it emitted a lava-stream of liquid goo which dribbled down the side of the can onto my antique waxed dressing table. Bummer.

Because, quite frankly, I am a bit of a tight-wad (it cost £3.15 dammit!), I decided to take it back to Tesco and see if I could exchange it.

I awaited my turn in the Customer Service queue, and finally faced a surly looking attendant.

"Hello," I said, "I bought this hairspray, but it doesn't work, so I'd like to exchange it."

She eyed me suspiciously, and asked, "do you have the receipt?"

[Crikey O'Reilly! Do I have the receipt? It's not as though I was trying to exchange a Faberge Egg].

"No." I replied evenly, watching as she eyed me up and down, piercing my outer to core in order to try and assess the criminal tendencies within.

"We don't normally exchange items without a receipt," she stated tersely.

My brow furrowed, and I was starting to feel a little irritated.

" So," I said. "Firstly I only tend to keep receipts for electricals or valuables, not hairspray. Secondly, if I was choosing to pursue a career as a master-criminal, this is hardly the crime of the century is it? I mean can you see me retiring to Marbella on a can of Silvikrin?"

Customer Service Commandant Attendant noted my glare and sensibly decided to acquiesce (yep, I know she realised that I was one of those sad individuals with a penchant for fighting life's little unjustices).

"Certainly madam, if you just go and select a new can from the shelf, we can exchange it here for you, no problem," she replied through gritted teeth.

And so I strutted from Tesco, my head held high, clutching a £3.15 can of hairspray symbolising the victory of the little man over the mighty corporation.

Pic.No. 1. My new can of hairspray ........... oh crap..... I accidentally picked up 'firm hold' instead of 'natural hold'

After getting home, I started reflecting on the possibilities of hairspray crime. If I decided to fraudulently extort cans of Silvrikrin hairspray from supermarkets, I would be a millionaire if I repeated today's process 285,714 times. So maybe hairspray crime does pay?

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Clare disappears and then shows up with no Car-Cred

I don't know if you have picked up on it yet, but I have a tendency to bob off to Florida a couple of times a year.

'Florida? I had you down as more of a jungle-type person!' I hear you cry.

I don't know why you have me down as a jungle-type person because my golden rule in life is; 'never stay anywhere without a concierge'. A rule that has served me well over many years.

Anyway, I digress. Back to Florida. There is a good reason why I single out the sunshine state in particular. It all started with a shadowy lamb shank called Jody, who had the audacity to marry my best friend Clare (I have known her forever). Following their 2004 nuptials, he subsequently whisked her off to the US to live (I am sure that it was against her will ..... I mean, who would want to leave me?).

The fallout has been catastrophic. I have been forced into making two annual transatlantic crossings a year in order to see my old chum .......... oh, and her swimming pool with a view over the lake ...... and sample her red-hot cooking....... and even better cocktails...... all served in her heated hot-tub.

The things I do for friendship.

Back to the matter in hand. About two months ago, Clare became the Director of an Australian company (yep, I agree that it isn't a particularly convenient commute if you live in the US). Her appointment necessitated a month-long trip to Oz to go and visit all her customers - a trip that commenced approximately three weeks ago. And then everything went quiet.

Bear in mind that Clare and I normally chat several times a week, then all of a sudden after her arrival in a strange continent, communications died. She didn't appear on Skype, she didn't update her blog, and I had no emails........ It was like she had got a last-minute package deal to the Bermuda Triangle.

Even though Clare is what you would call 'a resourceful type', after two weeks of her being incommunicado, I was starting to worry. Then all of a sudden, out of the blue I got a Skype message;

eh up

Anne Dickens | Oxford:
eh up stranger! just on phone, won't be a sec


Anne Dickens | Oxford:
Where the BLOODY hell have you been? I thought you had been bitten by a funnel tunnel red back spider or sommat.

Working. Sorry, I've had bad internet connections

Anne Dickens | Oxford:
How is Oz?


Anne Dickens | Oxford:
Good. I hate suffering bad weather on my own

what email u on?  got someting funny to send

Without further ado, I checked my email inbox, picked up Clare's email, and after clicking on the attachment I was faced with this:

Pic.No.1. What on earth is that dreadful blue thing that Clare is leaning on?

Anne Dickens | Oxford:
WTF is that? [note: sorry about the swearing - it was provoked]

it's my bubble

Anne Dickens | Oxford:
Aren't you embarrassed?

i've seen people laughing
at lights and such

Anne Dickens | Oxford:
No shit sherlock. You do realise they are laughing at you and not with you?!

It's got great MPG

Anne Dickens | Oxford:
Have I taught you nothing?.... never sacrifice style for economy

like anyone is gonna know?

Oops. Famous last words .............................!

P.S. I forgot to add that Clare also has a pretty cool blog, and I thought you might like to stop by - Yes, his name is Gary!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Look! Flowers growing quickly .... it's amazing

I must admit that I am not much of a TV watcher. It's the sitting still in one place for a protracted period that is usually the dealbreaker.... as well the lack of quality content.... except for 'Dragon's Den' and Peter Jones, who is TV's Mr GRRRRR.

Having said that, even though I posted one yesterday, I decided to post another video today, making it two in a row (actually, I just realised that you could have calculated that yourself).

So, you had the Sonic Boom yesterday (super cool), and today I just couldn't resist posting a video of flowers growing (mega cool).

"Flowers growing? That sounds well boring!" I hear you cry.

I know, I know....... but hear me out. These chaps spent two years filming a 60 second sequence for a David Attenborough programme, and the technicalities involved are mind-boggling. Have a squiz..............

Vid.No.1 Flowers growing quickly - it does what it says on the tin

Ok. I am now guessing that you are standing back and regarding these chaps with awe? Maybe wishing that you could have been involved in some of the complex calculations involved in filming flowers growing quickly?

Yep, me too. Growing flowers quickly rocks.

Monday, 22 March 2010

It is NOT me narrating that 'Sonic Boom' video

There I was minding my own business, when an old University chum, Justin (who now resides in Laguna Beach, California) posted a seemingly random youtube link onto my Facebook page.

Vid.No.1. The theory behind Sonic Booms

Whilst I was staring perplexedly at the video link, I heard the familiar 'schwip' sound of a new Skype message arriving. Who was it from? ..... yep, you guessed it,..... flash git in California.


did you get that link I sent you?

Huzzar back!

Yep. What was that about you weirdo?

that is totally you, talking on that nerdy science video.

love it

What?! Where did you get that idea from you cheeky moose?

listen to it - pure Dickens.

esp the end bit ..........'and remember science is fun'

I have listened to it. That is just so not me

that's you OK

You are so rude. You just can't get the friends these days.

you bloody love it

I must admit that I did find it interesting.

I might put it on my blog.

What a way to spend a Sunday; arguing about whether or not I sound like the nerd narrating a video about sonic booms (or should that be boomi?). Anyway, as I am sure you will agree, that does not sound like me.... nerd? I ask you. 

P.S. Oops! Sorry Justin, I appear to have accidentally published some photographs of you larking around. Sorry about that.... actually I can't back that up.

Pic.No.1. 'Want that one

 Pic.No.2. No, 'want that one

Pic.No. 3. "In Fermat's Last Theorum, the power n is not considered a variable, and therein lies the problem"


Pic.No.4. Banging mullet

Just in (groan!) case you you were wondering whether a serious photograph exists of this ex-pat practical joker...... the answer is yes..... but man alive, did I have to work long and hard in my photo albums to find them.

Pic.No.5 Snifter anyone?

Pic.No.6. Blimey, Justin..... you almost look like a normal human being in this picture

Anyway best dash. Naughty George has just eaten some mouldy cheese and puked on the path outside.

P.P.S. For US readers. If you were wondering why Justin was in a wheelchair with thick glasses on, it is a reference to a superb UK comedy show called 'Little Britain'.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

My boiler has broken ranks......!

Sacre Bleu! It never rains, it pours. And this time it was pouring out of the bottom of the boiler in my Laundry room.

Yep, I noticed that a large pool of water had formed on the worktop under aforementioned boiler. I pondered the situation, and after drawing on all my engineering resources, I decided to put a bowl under it and hope for the best.

Pic.No. 1. There is a rogue boiler amongst us ... oh hang on ......... is that an iron I can see? I didn't know I had one of those

Things went well for a day or so, and then I noticed that the water temperature seemed to be steadily decreasing. Ummmm. It appeared as though the bowl solution wasn't working as well as I had hoped, and it was time to look more closely at the situation.

After a couple of minutes staring intently at the LED display, I noticed that the water pressure had dropped. No hassle, I could solve that by topping up the water in the system..... which I did. And so the rate of the leak increased...............Bloody nora.

Having reached the outer echelons of my engineering ability, I decided that only one course of action remained. Ignore it and hope for the best. Bad call. After a couple of hours the boiler chugged into life, and promptly tripped all the electrics in my house.

So there I was; It was dark, cold and I had no hot water. And looking at the boiler, I quickly formulated that gas + electricity + water = potential death. Not something I had planned for the weekend, so I got onto the phone to an 'emergency gas engineer'. They call themselves 'emergency engineers', but he couldn't make it until the next day.......making me thankful that A&E don't adopt the same carefree approach to medical traumas.

Fast forward a day, and picture the scene; Mr Boiler Man was staring blankly into the bowels of my boiler.

"I'm gonna have to ring me mate about this one," he stated. Blimey, that didn't inspire me with much confidence.

After half an hour on the phone, much of which involved discussing the football results, he turned to me and declared, "you need a new pump, and the bit behind it also needs replacing."

Is it me? ....... but I ask you.......The 'bit behind it'? 

"Ok." I said, "when are you going to be able to repair it?"

"Next week. They haven't got the parts in stock." he answered cheerily.

Reality dawned on me; "but that means I won't have any heating or hot water!" 

"Yeh, sorry about that," he replied, still (infuriatingly) cheerily.

I panicked and started clutching at straws; "I've got solar panels in the roof, is there anyway I can get hot water from them even though it's March?" I asked Mr Boiler Man.

"I can have a look for you," he replied.

After opening the cupboard to look at the tank that is heated by the solar panels, he spotted something.

"You have got an electric water heater in here," he said, "meaning that you can heat up the water without the solar panels."

How lucky was that?!

Pic.No.2 Secret Squirrel water heater I didn't know I had

Ok, as long as I had hot water, I could live without central heating......... in fact it gave me the perfect excuse to light the open fire in my living room - lovely jubbly!

Pic.No.3. Back to basics - my improvised heating system

Friday, 19 March 2010

Irreverent Friday Fun!

It's weekend - Huzzar! It's raining - Boo! Gratuitous use of exclamation marks - Bad!

Anyway, back to the matter in hand; most of my friends are quite frankly, mentalists, which can be a bit of a rollercoaster, but it always means that I have a steady flow of amusing, irreverent emails to wade through. I got one today which really made me laugh, and, being a saintly type of person, thought you might like to have a squiz too.

My particular favourite was the caption on the picture with the Bride being fed cake.... "nom nom nom" ..... comedy genius.

I was a tad hesitant about doing today's post, because the last time I did a comedy post, I received my first-ever blog complaint, which was quite exciting really; The post was Windows Upgrade for Notherners, and the complaint was this:

Anonymous wrote:

"Hello ,
Well, as a Northerner myself , I would love a translation of the above [northern joke] please [uh, oh. That was definitely sarcastic].
Could you leave it for a little while as I forgot to feed the pigeons and take the coal out of the bath ! [dripping with sarcasm]
Like to say that I was amused but sorry I wasn't."

Blimey. That told me.

As a result of this, I am now including a legal disclaimer; "The humour contained in this blog is, on-the-whole, levelled towards the peculiarities of the British nation. As a result, you may expect higher levels of self-deprecatory humour, parodoxical parallel and general mickey-taking than experienced in many other countries.Under no circumstances should it be inferred that the author of this blog is associated with any adjectives ending in 'ist or 'phobia."

Comments (or complaints!) can be added below....... So it is Friday night.... where is that glass of wine now?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Mothers' Day Meal and Trouts

Do you want to know one of my favourite things about living in Oxfordshire? It's the plethora of village 'gastro-pubs' that are scattered around the county like the contents of a drunk bints handbag in a karaoke bar.

Conversely, the thing that I don't like about the countryside is that of late, it seems to be stinking of cow poo. Probably something to do with the farmers fertilising their fields in preparation for their crops, but that doesn't make it any more palatable to my delicate London sensibilities. Even Izzy noticed it, commenting in a Swiss-Finishing-School kind of way, "ugh, it smells like someone's farted." I can't see her making it as a Debutante any time soon.

Let's ignore the cow crap, and get back to the gastro-pubs. Steve (Izzy's dad) had organised a meal out for Mothers' day at a pub called the Bear and Ragged Staff, in a village called Cumnor.

Pic.No.1. The Bear and Ragged Staff against a blue winter's sky (picture nicked from the pub's website)

So we drove down twisty country lanes and after 25 minutes pulled up outside a respectable looking eaterie.

"Blimey, it looks really nice," I exclaimed in surprise, turning to Steve.

"What did you expect you cheeky moose?" he retorted.

"Dunno, I just thought you were more of a 'Toby Inn' kind of person," I shrugged (it's his Birmingham accent that does it).

"I'll have you know that I eat Tartiflette when I'm in France," he replied indignantly. Fair play. 

The inside of the pub was tastefully decorated combining a mixture of traditional and contemporary styles, and the service was excellent - we were swifly greeted and taken to our table which boasted (makes me sound like an Estate Agent don't ya think?), comfortable leather chairs. 

Pic.No.2. The inside of the restaurant bit (another picture nicked from the pub's website)

Because it was Sunday, I couldn't resist ordering the roast beef, and Steve followed suit, with Izzy breaking ranks and ordering spaghetti and meatballs (she is going to be a troublesome teen that one).

Pic.No.3. Izzy eyes Steve suspiciously - it's all down to his Brummie accent 

Pic.No.4. Steve nicks one of Izzy's meatballs when she's not looking - it's all down to his Brummie roots

"So," I hear you cry, "what was the scoff like?"

I will have you know that it was absolutely, scrumptiously tasty. You can normally tell when roast beef is going to be good, because it isn't served with gravy, it is served with Pan Jus. Plus the dish abided by the sacred 'roast dinner rule'; i.e. that there must be a minimum of four roast potatoes on each plate [I made up that rule. I am a roast dinner pioneer].

Just as we were just finishing our meals, a dodgy looking bloke shuffled up to the table and faced me.

"Evening." He said, "Do you like trout?" Blimey, no one has ever introduced themselves to me like that before.

"Personally, or as a meal?" I asked. 

"Meal." He replied.

"Occasionally." I answered.

"You wanna buy this for £3.00?" he grunted, whipping a foot-long trout from the inside of his coat. I say! I didn't expect that.

The chap held the fish like a shotgun, meaning that the trout and I were face-to-face, and I could see it's eyes imporing, "please don't eat me.... I miss my little trouty brothers and sisters."

I contemplated the offer, but declined, "No thanks. It's got a head on, I couldn't eat something that was watching me do it."

"You're from London aren't you?" he tutted with a sideways stare, and sidled off to the next table.   

The London thing didn't seem like a compliment, but never mind, it was time to get home because night had fallen, and Izzy had school tomorrow.

Pic.No.5. The Bear and Ragged Staff at nightime

Steve dropped me off at home and I waved goodbye, shouting, "thanks for the meal, it was great!" as the car pulled out of my driveway.

Ummmmm........ Mothers' day. Quite good fun actually...... I didn't see that coming.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Mothers Day

"So," I hear you cry, "it is nearly's Mothers Day. Are you excited?"

"Me? Excited?" I reply. "Why on earth would I want to highlight to the entire world, my ineptitude as a parent? It's just commercial tosh."

And so I dismissed Mother's day without giving it a second thought. That was until last Sunday, when I heard the door knocker pounding.

I opened the front door to see Izzy standing there [just to quickly explain; she spends her time between mine and her dad's house (all terribly amicable). She wasn't just randomly roaming around the streets, accidentally stumbling across her mother's front door].

"Happy Mothers' Day!" she shouted excitedly, "I've made you a card with a butterfly, grass, a flower and some big pink hearts on it."

Ok, the intro ruined the element of surprise somewhat. But hey, that's what four year olds do. They also 'help' you open the envelope, without you having yet touched the thing.

So, as you may have noticed; I am not the most sentimental of people, but I must admit that the homemade Mothers Day card that Izzy produced was enough to make me go gooey inside [I say Chuffer! something most irregular is going on here].

Pic.No.1. The front of Izzy's homemade card

 Pic.No.2. Izzy's message

Not only did she make the card, she had painstakingly harnessed all her four-year-old writing skills to pen a message that culminated in her drawing a little heart.

I thanked her by giving her a big hug, following which, she stared at me intently, asking, "can I marry you?"

"Sorry Iz, you can only do that kind of thing if you are a member of the Royal family," I replied sadly, shaking my head..

"Ok," she chirped, "I'll marry Felix at school instead." It was sweet, but I was also kind of peed off that she got over me so quickly.

Looking on the bright side though, she had put a great contingency plan in place with Felix...... that's my gal. 

 Pic.No.3. Bunch of pink roses and 'Hello Kitty' card - man alive those guys know how to brand

As if the excitement of the card wasn't enough, Izzy then proudly presented me with a bunch of pink roses that had been hastily procured by her dad ("you wouldn't believe how busy the flower aisle was in Asda this morning," he exclaimed), and a matching 'Hello Kitty' card with MUM on the front. Awwww! Mothers Day is quite nice actually, and to top everything off, a warm sun was out indicating that Spring was on its way.

Pic. No. 4.Izzy and me sitting on the veranda of her play-house

Izzy's duty was done (in the most touching way possible) and I so I let her have an hour or so to play in the garden before we all went out for a meal.

Pic.No.5. Snowdrops bursting forth

Whilst we were in my garden, I witnessed the first proper sign that Winter was ending and Spring was bursting forth. A delicate clump of Snowdrops had flowered......against the backdrop of the tombstone that I found in my garden last year. The tombstone belongs to a dead bloke called Bill, and I have become quite attached to him.

If you want to read more about my aforementioned 'dead bloke'..... click on this link to view earlier blog entry.

Anyway, I gotta dash, I have an evening out, and have got to get ready.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Yep. I was in the Girl Guides

Watching the Gang Show at the Theatre on Saturday, made me reminisce about my own childhood, in particular the fact that my parents press-ganged me into joining the Girl Guides. I don't know what they were thinking, but it was probably somehow related to the premise that it was 'character-building'....... a bizarre concept that seemingly influenced every aspect of parenting in the 1970s [yes, I am that old - Crikey, I am feeling panicky]. 

You know what it was like in the 'olden days'........ for some obscure reason, parents thought that conniving a child's personal discomfort was instrumental in building their 'character'. So unless you had cold showers, a daily thrashing, and wore shorts instead of trousers in sub-zero temperatures, you were bound to turn out a sickly wimp.... and if you were a boy, you would definitely end up wearing dresses.

Pic.No.1. Character building in action...... with a thrashing like that, I bet this chap ended up in the Marines

Anyway, back to the Girl Guides. Despite the fact that as a youth, I was basically an errant Tomboy (or maybe because of that), they decided that I needed to be kept on the short and narrow by being conscripted into the Girl Guides.

Now, in the olden days, if you had mentioned the word 'equality', you would've got the response, "what you on about yer puff?" And so this lack of equality flowed through to the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides.

Boy Scouts did cool hunter-gatherer stuff, like learn to light fires with a stick and a flint, build bivouacs and kill squirrels with their bare hands. Girl Guides on the other hand, basically learnt how to become good wives, with the emphasis on learning riveting skills such as sewing, knitting, and cooking. BARF.

Pic.No.2. Really, can you see me doing this? ....... no really?

Given that under normal circumstances, I would rather have been outside on a BMX track, the initial match seemed a bit weak, but hey, my parents viewed the Guides as character-building, Thus, I was forced to dress in a hideous blue shirt and was dropped off at the local School Hall one cold Tuesday evening.

After completing our brainwashing chants, we all stood in line, and the Head 'Guide' Honcho (HGH) announced that we were all going to 'learn how to make marmalade'..... and so the "fun" commenced........................ marmalade. I ask you. 

Fast forward two hours, and my parents arrived to pick me up. Unfortunately, HGH got to them first.

"Mrs Dickens," she said, addressing my mother.

"Yes?" replied my mother smiling expectantly.

"I am afraid that your daughter isn't cut out to be a Guide, so we can't have her back next week,"  she announced tersely, causing the smile to fade from my mother's face.

"Why? what happened to cause this?" she stuttered in reply.

"She threw her beret into a vat of marmalade," tutted HGH disapprovingly.

Blimey. I got sacked from the Girl Guides. 

And so I was hauled off home, for a further session of  'character building'.  But I took it all in my stride, smiling inwardly, and knowing that the Girl Guides was now firmly off the agenda....... now where did I park my Diamond Back BMX?

Trip to the Theatre Izzy?

What is it with Oxford transport? Every time I venture into the city centre using (spit) public transport, it seems to take forever, and today's trip to the theatre was no exception as you can see by reading my last post.

Never mind. Izzy and I got to the theatre eventually, albeit after a frenzied dash / drag (me /  Iz, respectively) through Oxford's shopping district, and down to George Street which houses the Theatre.

 Pic.No.1. New Theatre Oxford, George Street

We entered the Box Office and everything had finally started to run smoothly after the palaver of the journey. Phew! After giving him my booking reference number, the Clerk smiled and handed over two tickets; "here you go Dr. Dickens."

I glanced at my watch. With my reckoning, I had five minutes to go and buy a bag of giant 'Chocolate Buttons' for Izzy before we had to take our seats.

Pic. No.2. Izy holding the tickets and worrying about the Chocolate Buttons

Hey, no flies on me. I procured the chocolate bootie, and within minutes was leading lil' Iz by the hand into the auditorium as her excitement grew..... about the fact that the chairs had seats that lifted up and down [I despair].

Our tickets said that we were allocated seats 'X14' and 'X15'.

The prefix 'X' was quite clearly the row we were supposed to sit in, so imagine my surprise when I found out that the actual row numbering stopped at 'W'.

"Bloody nora," I sighed under my breath, not realising that Izzy was in ear-shot, thus precipitating her childish admonishment; "stop using bad words." Fair play, that kid's got manners.

Pic.No.3. Inside the New Theatre - yep the one with no Row X

Back to the matter in hand. I approached an attendant and showed her my tickets, explaining that we were supposed to be sat in Row X, but I couldn't find it.

"We haven't got a row X," she smiled cheerily.

"Our seat numbers are printed on the tickets that I got from your Box look," I said through gritted teeth, as Iz started pulling on my coat, asking what was happening.

"I'll have to speak to my supervisor," the lady said, still smiling but looking a little less animated.

Duly summoned, Supervisor arrived at the scene. I showed her my tickets...... she studied them, and then announced, "we don't have a Row X."

I was getting a tad frustrated;. "The fact that you don't physically have a Row X is now completely apparent. But that doesn't alter the fact that your Box Office allocated us to this fictituos location. All I want to do is let my daughter watch the show. Please just sort out some seats for us."

The supervisor must have seen the murderous intent in my eyes, (fanned by the flames of the bus journey) because within minutes we had been allocated seats in the disabled section of the stalls. [note to reader; if my some freakish coincidence, the Supervisor does get murdered this week, it wasn't me. I am not really the murdering sort]. Being in the disabled section meant that Izzy was given a normal theatre seat, whereas I was given a freestanding buffet chair in the place where a wheelchair would normally go.

"Thank you." I hissed through gritted teeth, seating myself on the steel-framed sitting-contraption boasting as much padding as a panty liner.

But hey, we were finally seated, and I a managed to get a quick video of the theatre just as the curtain was about to go up.

Vid.No.1. New Theatre Oxford - start of the show

Just as I had finished the video, the Supervisor reappeared, bending down next to me.

"Excuse me madam, you are not allowed to take videos of the performance," she hissed in my direction.

You know when you meet people that you instantly click with? This didn't happen here.

"I am not taking a video of the performance," I said slowly, turning off my camera and facing her, "it hasn't started yet."

"I was just making sure you knew the rules," she said, walking cautiously backwards after seeing my expression.

. .
Pic.No.4. The Gang Show. Dear Supervisor - this is not my picture. I did not use my camera to photograph the show whilst it was in progress. I took it off the internet... Eek. Is the Supervisor now going to sue me for breach of copyright?

Now I don't know whether you have been to a production called a Gang Show before (I haven't), but apparently it is quite a regular thing. It is put on by the Scouts and Girl Guides, and is a basically a variety performance.

Being a lover of more Shakespearen-type productions myself, meant that the Gang Show wasn't likely to be up there on my top ten choices of Theatre..... but I have to admit...............the children invovled did a fantastic job, and even managed to occasionally divert Izzy from playing with the lift up-and down seat on her chair.

After the two and a half hour performance (uh -huh, it was that long), I dragged Izzy kicking and screaming from her theatre chair and amazingly we managed to get home, hassle free, on the bus. Wonders will never cease.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Oxford's BLOODY DIABOLICAL Transport Infrastructure

Whilst reading the newspaper yesterday, I noticed that there was a kid's performance on at the New Theatre in Oxford. It was called 'The Gang Show', and I had no idea what it consisted of, but I thought that I would give it a go and take Izzy along. It was either that, or do the crap housework that you always leave until last..... hoovering the stairs, emptying the bins and cleaning the inside of the fridge.

I have to be honest, in terms of assessing which afternoon would be most enjoyable, it was a pretty close call ...... but in the end, the kids' theatre production won........ only because I had had a banana go liquid on me in the bottom of the fridge. 

Things didn't start too well, and it was all to do with Oxford's diabolical transport system. To give you a bit of background; a number of years ago, the local Council bulldozed most of the car-parking places in Oxford city centre in an attempt to make the city more attractive to pedestrians. Very noble and something I agree with.

But, because the citizens of Oxford still needed a means of getting into the city, a number of car-parks (catchily named 'Park and Ride') were built on the outskirts meaning that you could park your car on the city's perimeter and jump onto a bus to get into the centre....... In theory that is.

The reality of using public transport in Oxford is a far cry from the theory, which is why I decided to allow a full HOUR to travel the 4 miles from my home to the city centre.

'Are you belming me?' I hear you cry. And the answer is categorically 'nope.'

First up I drove to my local Park and Ride (called Thornhill), which is situated a mile from my house. As is always the case, I wasted 15 minutes driving around it in order to find a space, only to find it was rammed full........which necessitated a further six mile drive to the next 'Park and Ride' (called Redbridge).

 Pic.No.1. Thornhill Park and Ride - a big, fat white elephant

Unfortunately, the other 500 motorists who also couldn't park at Thornhill, were forced into doing the same thing, meaning that I spent 20 minutes crawling along the carriageways in one long car-jam. I finally arrived at Redbridge Park and Ride, and huzzar! I managed to find a parking space.

But, by this time, Izzy was getting pretty peed off with things, and if it wasn't for the fact that I had promised her a ride on a big green bus, I would have had full-scale mutiny on my hands.

Pic.No.2. Izzy was excited by the bus ride, but that quickly wore off when the bus sat.... and sat .... and sat

Once on the bus, Izzy bounced around for a few minutes, and then, enthusiasm waning, turned to me, "when are we going to move?"

"I don't know Iz," I replied, "probably when the bus is full."

After being stationary for ten minutes, by which time Izzy was entertaining herself by licking the windows, the bus finally shuddered into action .......... and then proceeded to take a convoluted route to the city centre, ending in a crawl down a street that was choked with pedestrians and clearly unsuitable for buses (the street in question was Queen Street).

When we finally disembarked, I felt the need to stab a flag into virgin territory. Yeh ok, that would have looked a bit wanky, especially as I was surrounded by throngs of people, but that is what the Oxford Transport infrastructure does to you............... low level grrrrrrrr going on.

Hark now you! Buy a car......! don't even think about using transport run by the government!

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