Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Rants about snow and customer service

Rant alert!

It's that time of year in the UK again. Yep, the time of the year where a state of near 'National Emergency' is declared, with roads becoming grid-locked, trains grinding to a halt, schools closing and supermarket shelves being emptied as people panic buy food.

'Christ! What's happened?' I hear you cry.

You may well ask. A light dusting of snow happened, that's what. And yet it's like bloody Sodom and Gomorrah, except with snow instead of fire and brimstone.

Pic.No.1. My house and the light dusting of snow that brought Britain to it's proverbial knees

Same old. Every year the snow falls, and every year the government appears to be completely bewildered by its appearance, resulting in spectacularly feeble attempts at dealing with the 'crisis'. For example, the news always features a picture of an overturned snow plough. Now really, you have got to be a complete joey to be overwhelmed by snow whilst driving a snow plough. If you really can't make it in one of those things, you should be nominated for a Darwin award.

Pic.No.2. This year's news picture of an overturned snow plough. Abso-bloody-lutely pathetic

Ok, I know that Oxford hasn't got it as bad as some parts of the country, but the traffic was still crawling into town when I drove in to do a spot of shopping..... even though the roads were free from snow. What's that about? Quick, everybody panic!

As if the general 'snow hysteria' wasn't enough, my shopping experience today was, quite frankly, total pants. I needed to buy a pair of wind-proof gloves for mountain biking, so I visited a shop called 'Go Outdoors'. After much browsing (because the ones I liked were never in my size), I finally found a sexy little pair of Berghaus gloves, and went to the checkout. And get this - I had to wait in line for over 20 minutes because instead of just taking payments, the two checkout girls were farting around doing exchanges and setting up new customer accounts. And one of them really needed her roots doing.

By the time I was served I had steam coming horizontally out of my ears. But I paid for the gloves without complaining and the checkout girl handed me the receipt. It was wrong. The gloves should have been £16 but she had charged me £22. Grrrrrrrr. And it took another 10 minutes to refund me, and take payment for the right amount. Yep folks, that was a total of 30 minutes to buy a pair of bloody gloves.

It was with utter relief that I finally escaped the shop and headed to Beckley (at a crawl due to the snow panic) to pick Izzy up from school. Being only five, she was thrilled by the snow which added rather a nice perspective, completely in contrast with the news doom-mongers.

That cheered me up a bit, so I decided to take Izzy for a hot chocolate in 'Jacobs and Field', a delicatessen in Headington, a suburb of Oxford. Aaaah...... an oasis in the snowy mayhem that was Oxford.

Pic.No.3. Izzy and I popped into Jacobs and Field for a coffee and hot chocolate

Hot chocolates consumed, all I had to do was pop to the local Co-Operative supermarket to get something for dinner. It started off swimmingly dahlinks; I knew what I needed and within five minutes I was at the checkout.

And then, would you bloody believe it? There was a woman in front of me in the queue who was trying to purchase seven adult Father Christmas outfits, and the checkout guy didn't know the price. It took ten minutes and the manager to find out how much the outfits cost. Is it me? Was I bad in a previous life or something?

More to the point, why the hell was that woman buying seven Father Christmas outfits? There's gotta be something sick going on there right?

Sunday, 28 November 2010

I could have been killed dead the other day

Crikey o'reilly, I am bloody knackered. Every muscle in my body is aching after an epic mountain-bike ride the day before yesterday.

The day started innocuously enough. The sun was out even though the temperature was freezing, so it was a archetypal crisp and bright winter's day.

'Goddamit, we don't get much sun in this third world country,' I thought to myself, 'so I am bally well going to make the most of it!' So with steely determination, my chum and I set off for Otmoor Nature Reserve which was three villages (and 3 miles) hence from Forest Hill.

We arrived at Otmoor and all was peaceful except for some duck things quacking and a pigeon thing squawking. Even better, the sun was still shining, so we decided to keep going and going....... each remote mile taking us further from civilisation. After a while, I noticed some big banging noises that were getting louder and louder. Given that not many animals make banging sounds in the countryside, I decided we needed to investigate.

Pic.No.1. Me and my trusty steed (Monty) somewhere in Oxfordshire

I stopped and turned to my chum, "do you know where we are?" I asked.

"Of course I do," he replied, rooting around in his rucksack, "I've got an Ordnance Survey map."

He unfurled it and studied it carefully.

"It's upside down," I said helpfully.

"I know," he said, immediately looking flustered and turning it the right way up; "We are here," he said pointing to a spot situated amidst mile upon mile sprawling mile of godforsaken fields.

"I don't think we are supposed to be here," I replied.

"What are you on about you daft moose?" he frowned.

I pointed to a sign in a hedgerow behind him that he hadn't spotted.

Pic.No.2. Blimey, we had fecklessly stumbled into a near death situation

"We appear to be in the middle of a Ministry of Defence firing range," I answered, and at exactly that moment, another loud bang (quite deafening this time) sliced through the silence of the countryside. 

"Shit!" shouted chum, blanching, "we need to get out of here and quickly. How the bloody hell am I going to explain to my mum that I've been blown up by a mortar bomb.... in Oxfordshire of all places?"

"Good point, let's go," I agreed.

And so we cycled;  we cycled for all our lives were worth. Through bogs, fields, streams, forests and lanes until eventually we arrived back in civilisation, well back in Forest Hill anyway. 

Pic.No.3. Monty had taken quite a bashing

Pic.No.4. Ummm, I may need to think about cleaning those brakes

"Hey we're not dead, that's a Brucey bonus isn't it?" I said.

"Yeh, no thanks to you and your hair-brained mountain biking routes," he replied.

"Anyway, do you want to hear statistics about our route today?" I asked (I have got a cool App for my iPhone that uses the GPS to tell you how far you cycled and how quickly you did it).

"Go on then," he replied.

And so my dear reader, I will tell you what I told him: In the end, we covered 16 miles in three hard, off-road hours. Every muscle in my body was throbbing and I was scared that my thighs were going to burst through my trousers like the Incredible Hulk. It's not a good look for a girl. 

And I will tell you something else as well. Secret squirrel locations like MOD firing ranges don't appear on any maps, which is probably sensible given that if they did, the Taliban would be rubbing their hands together. And let's face it, we don't want that sort in Oxfordshire.

So, have you every encountered any 'scenarios' whilst undertaking your favourite sport? Pray do tell!

Friday, 26 November 2010

What's Thanksgiving about then?

It was very quiet out in the blogosphere yesterday. Hardly anyone popped round for a visit, and even fewer people left comments. Blimey, I thought to myself, I must have said something to offend all my bloggy chums, or maybe the post I did on tattoos scared everyone off because they thought I was a bit weirdy.

But then I realised that it was Thanksgiving in America (a lot of my visitors are from across the pond), and for some odd reason most of them had chosen to spend the day with their family rather than visiting my lil' ol' blog in the UK. Yep, I agree.... totally unfathomable.

Pic.No.1. A picture that captures the spirituality of Thanksgiving

Anyway, it got me wondering: (1) What is Thanksgiving all about?; and (2) why don't we have it in the UK goddamit? Extra holidays never go amiss.

So I did a bit of research, but to be honest, I got bored quite quickly reading about old shit. In my brief foray, I did however glean that Thanksgiving has got something to do with some pilgrims who sailed from the UK to America. Then they claimed that they had "discovered" the continent even though they were greeted by indigenous Indian Americans.

As to why we don't have a Thanksgiving celebration in the UK, the answer is easy. As a nation, we far prefer grumbling about everything rather than celebrating.

That's me done for today. Izzy and I are off to visit a chum in Bristol tomorrow and I have to pack some gear.

But. Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. Please drop by and let me know how you celebrated!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

I had to live like an Arab (a stereotyped Arab that is)

If the shock of discovering the vandalised village sign yesterday wasn't enough to put me off my journey home, just imagine how I felt when not more than 250 yards after that, I encountered a huge bloody great flood in the road. Sacre bleu! How much can a human be expected to endure?

It became pretty clear that a mains pipe had burst and was gushing forth, and it was with trepidation that I crawled through the water which easily lapped the sills of my car. Ah! I know what you are thinking, but no, I didn't get stuck. I managed to clear the bloody flood and make it home, happy in the knowledge that the last of my day's trials was over. Or so I thought.

Pic.No.3. Floods beseige Forest Hill drowning at least 6 earthworms

What a day! I decided to have a nice cup of tea, a long bath and then catch up on Gillian McKeith making a tit of herself on 'I'm a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here'.

I picked up the kettle to fill it up and turned on the tap. One drop of water fell languidly into the sink. Bloody nora. It dawned on me that I had just driven through all my water on the road ten minutes ago.

'You are kidding me,' I hissed to myself despairingly, picking up the phone to ring the Thames Water Company. A lady operative answered.

"Hello," I said to her, "I live in Forest Hill and I haven't got any water supply to my house."

"Oh yes," she replied, "the mains pipe is leaking, so we are sending an emergency team out to fix it."

"How long will that take?" I asked.

"Six hours," the lady stated cheerily. Hey lady, don't do cheery when you are giving people bad news.

"Six bloody hours?" I said, "So you are telling me that I have to live like an Arab for six hours?"

"Not exactly like an Arab," she replied, "you will have to do without water, but you won't have to ride a camel or wear a teatowel on your head."

Is it me, or has customer service gone downhill in the last decade?

I was huffing and puffing and lamenting about poor customer service, when someone knocked on the front door. I opened it and saw Izzy standing there (it was her turn to spend the night at her Dad's house, so I wasn't expecting her).

"Hello Izzy sweetheart, what are you doing here?" I asked, giving her a hug.

"I've come to give you a present that I bought with my pocket money," she stated proudly.

"Come inside and show me," I said, ushering her in the door. 

She rooted around in her coat pocket and after a couple of minutes, produced a raspberry sweet in the shape of a heart with bits of fluff stuck to it.

"Here you go," she grinned, watching as I held it aloft to admire it.

"That's one of the most thoughtful presents I have ever had," I said, watching her brim with pride.

Pic.No.2. Izzy's heart shaped sweet that she bought me as a present

What can I say? It certainly took the edge off living like an Arab. Have you ever had any cute kid presents?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Scandal in Forest Hill

Who says that living in the countryside isn't a thrill a minute? Take today for instance. A random thing happened that rivalled the heady heights normally associated with living the fast life in London (well nearly).

There was a scandal in Forest Hill!

I was driving home from the supermarket and I turned into the road that led to Forest Hill (the village where I live). And, to my utmost horror, I noticed that some rapscallion had vandalised the village sign so that it read 'Honest Pills'. Someone needed a bloody good cuff around the ear. 

Pic.No.1. Some young rascal had been at work on the village sign

But then I started wondering why someone would want to change the sign to read 'Honest Pills'? So I decided to do a bit of digging (yeh, yeh, I've got too much time on my hands). What I discovered belied Forest Hill's sleepy village facade.... oh yes, I found a murky history. 

Rewind back to 1991, when dance music was all the rage, and saucer-eyed, middle class, twenty-somethings were radicalising the dance scene by tuning into 'underground' DJ mixes (I am not exactly sure why they were 'underground', because they were never banned in the first place), and hanging out with travellers. But why travellers? Because travellers had dreadlocks dude, and they lived in converted ambulances; so they had to be leading the revolution. And what better way to start a revolution than initiating a trend for tattooed celtic bands?

Against this backdrop, apparently Forest Hill was home to two enormous illegal raves which gave it cult status ..... hence the sign's reference to 'pills'. I even managed to find a Youtube clip of one of the DJs (Easygroove) who played that night, and a photograph of him performing at the very same rave.

Impressed? My middle names should be Due Diligence for chrissake! Actually no, that would be a bad idea because it would mean that my initials would be ADDD. And people would probably start calling me Dr. Alliteration, thinking that they were being witty, and not realising that I had pre-empted them. And I would have to do a polite laugh to appreciate their joke, which is a bad thing because I am rubbish at polite laughing. I sound like a dobbin crossed with a donkey.

Pic.No.2. Easygroove's set at the illegal Forest Hill rave

So there you go folks. History has revealed that there was more to the Forest Hill social scene than the Women's Intitute's annual cake making bonanza. Umm, I wonder.... how many of the illegal ravers are now respectable Forest Hill inhabitants? Actually, I am not going to wonder about it here; I have a sneaky feeling it might be one of those things that gets me into trouble.

Pic.No.3. The Flyer advertising the Forest Hill rave - someone drew that by hand! How retro is that? That's the olden days, that is

P.S. As a complete aside, I was researching 'Celtic Band Tattoos' and Google chucked all manner of random tattoo images at me. I thought that you might like to see three of my favourite crap tattoos ...... (not that I spent ages looking at them or anything.... actually I can't back that up).

Pic.No.4. Can you imagine... the romance was going well, she was kissing his ear and lightly panting as she slowly unbuttoned his shirt ..... only to be confronted with ..... holy shit! There is a dead person coming out of your chest!

Pic.No.5. I wondered where I had left my Tweenies keyring

But my all-time favourite crap tattoo is this one........ I have never seen anything so lame in my life. At what point did he shout at the tattooist - "THAT'S IT! That's the emblem that I want permanently etched upon my skin! Don't even think about changing anything!"

Pic.No.6. My all-time favourite tattoo

P.P.S. Sorry, I seem to have got a bit sidetracked with tattoos. So I challenge you to two things: (1) can you produce a bigger 'village scandal' than an illegal rave; and (2) can you find a crapper tattoo than the ones I found? Aha..... that's got ya!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

I think the kid pulled a bluff

Kids are right tinkers they are. At lunchtime today my phone started ringing.

I picked up the handset, "Hello?"

"Hi, it's Miss C here - Izzy's teacher at school," said the voice at the other end.

"Oh hello, what can I do for you?" I asked.

"Izzy isn't feeling very well and I was wondering whether you could come and collect her?" asked Miss C.

"Yes of course, I can," I replied, before adding, "what's wrong with her?"

"I am not entirely sure to be honest, I think she might just be feeling a bit delicate."

Delicate? Izzy? She normally has the constitution of a Cart-Horse mixed with a Russian Shot Putter.

I drove to the school and buzzed security box at the gate to enter the playground. It was lunchtime playbreak and the yard was thronging with children all doing Brownian Motion at full speed. After a quick scan of the mayhem, I saw Izzy in the corner of the playground being hugged by two other girls.

I walked over to them and the girls instantly became animated, "Hello Izzy's Mum," they said, jumping around excited by the drama, "Izzy is poorly."

"Thank you for looking after her," I said and turned to Izzy, "What's wrong with you sweetheart?"

She replied, "I am poorly."

"Which bit is hurting?" I asked.

"My tummy," she said.

"Where?" I questioned.

"Here," she replied, pointing to the wrong bit, her lower abdomen. Then she added, "Daddy didn't rinse the washing-up liquid out of my water bottle."

That was when I started getting suspicious about Izzy's "illness", and this was compounded by the fact that when we were leaving the playground, Izzy bumped into her best friend, May. They both regarded each other with glee and started jumping up and down. Blimey, she didn't need a stretcher, that's for sure.

"Hey Mum," Izzy shouted, seemingly having forgotten her 'delicate' state, "can we show you our dancing routine?"

Now you can call me a Victorian mother, but by this stage I was starting to suspect that the illness was not quite as acute as Izzy had been making out. And now that I was confronted with pseudo tap-dancing and flailing arms, I was pretty sure that there wasn't much wrong with Izzy.

But still, it was school protocol to take home children that were considered unwell, and as such, I bundled Izzy into the car and drove her home. Once through the front door, I told Izzy to go and lie on the sofa where I wrapped her in a blanket. To be on the safe side, I took her temperature and checked for rashes.... but there was nothing.

"Ok, Izzy," I said, "you can sleep there for the afternoon."

Izzy looked at me, adding weakly, "can I watch TV?"

"Most definitely not," I replied, "if you are well enough to watch TV, you are well enough to go to school." [note to self: AAGH! I am turning into my parents! They used to say shit like that to me].

Izzy looked shellshocked by my decision, stuttering, "but last time I was ill you said I could watch TV."

"That is because last time you were ill you weren't missing school," I said.

I ignored her protestations and went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Less than two minutes later I heard a pitiful voice coming from the living room..... "Mum, I feel better now." Darn. It was confirmation that I had been gibbed by the illness milarky.

I walked back to find a rather perky looking Izzy standing in the middle of the room. She looked at me pleadingly with big, lovely eyes ..... "if I can't watch TV, can I play with my toys instead?" she asked.

Now, I am not sure if I did the right thing here [all suggestions gratefully accepted], but I refused to let her play with her toys.... "Nope, we are going to spend the afternoon doing numeracy and literacy exercises," I told her. I was determined to make missing school a non-fun experience. 

To be honest, I felt a bit mean. For all I knew, she could have been genuinely ill. But then again I grew up with a medical doctor as a father, and I literally would have to have contracted leprosy, pneumonia and a pulmonary embolism at the same time to miss even a minute of school.

I remember being knocked down by a car once, breaking several ribs and my left arm in three places. After being treated by Accident and Emergency, I was dropped right back off at school. Mind you, I was pretty accident prone in general.

Pic.No.1. The "patient" seemed to have made a miraculous recovery. I must be like Mother Theresa .... either that or Izzy wasn't ill in the first place

So my question is this - if you were in charge of a child that was suspected of being ill during school time (or whom might be pretending), what would YOU do? ....... Victorian parent, or bleeding heart?!

P.S. I am looking forward to the answers to this one because quite frankly, I found today's decisions difficult!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Go, go gadgets.....! I love 'em more than pizza

For the last year or so, I really haven't watched that much TV. There are a number of reasons for this and none of them are virtuous (obviously). Firstly, I live in the middle of nowhere, so my TV aerial only has a patchy reception meaning that most channels (coincidentally all the ones I want to watch) have a fuzzy screen. Secondly, I live in a listed building, so building regulations wouldn't allow me to put up a satellite dish that would provide me with a clear reception for all channels.

I had to come up with a solution and bloody quickly, otherwise those drawn out winter nights were going to last for an eternity. And then I had a brainwave! Why don't I watch TV programmes online on the internet using those new fangled 'iPlayers' that all the channels seem to have these days? Huzzar!

There were only two downsides to this idea; (1) I didn't want to watch the programmes on my laptop screen because it was small and had poor sound; and (2) I wouldn't be able to watch programmes 'live', but given that I am not really a fan of just sitting down and watching what's on (I have a set list of programmes I like), it was rendered inconsequential. 

So, after much research, I came up with a plan. I hooked up a spare laptop to my Denon Surround Sound System, and also to the TV screen. I waited with bated breath. And would you believe it? It bloody worked. Who's the mummy?!

I know that picture below is a bit dark, but you can see the TV on the top displaying what is on the screen of the laptop. Underneath is the shelf with the surround sound, and in the cupboard below, you can make out the laptop itself - the nerve centre of my entertainment 'system'. 

Pic.No.1. Blimey, it is like a bloody NASA launch pad round at my house

So, all was working well except for one thing which was a bit of a pain in the arse: Everytime I wanted to watch a different programme, I had to get on my knees and use the laptop's touchpad to navigate around the screen. In fact it was way more than a pain in the arse, it was a ballache.

Steve, Izzy's Dad, popped round for a coffee today, and whilst he was relaxing in my kitchen, I was ruminating about what I could do to solve the problem of remotely controlling my laptop (so I didn't have to keep getting up from the sofa and scrubbing around in a TV cabinet), when he came up with a bloody brilliant solution.

"There's an App for that," he said, almost as an aside.

"For controlling my laptop remotely?" I asked suspiciously.

"Yep, I'll get you set up now," he said.

First of all, I had to download the 'Air Mouse' App (free from iTunes) onto my iPhone. Then I had to go to the Air Mouse website and download the controller software onto my laptop.

Pic.No.2. The website from which I obtained the truly excellent Air Mouse

Once that was done, I launched the App on my iPhone and Voila! I have to admit that I was actually more than quite impressed.

Pic.No.3. I could control my laptop screen using just my iPhone (mouse is top half of the screen, and the keyboard is the bottom half)

Normally to gain this kind of functionality, you would have to purchase a wireless mouse and keyboard. But this app meant you could do all that by using your iPhone. How cool is that? Yeh I know I am banging on, but I love sharing stuff that is cool (and I'm not paid to do it godammit!).

So next time you want to plug your laptop into your TV after downloading a film, take note (taps nose) of the Air Mouse.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Top recipe: Amazingly easy and tasty 'Mexican Bean Burritos'

Now, as you probably know, despite the fact that I am rather partial to good food, I don't much like cooking it. In fact I generally regard my kitchen as the room I have to go through to get to the back garden. So when I find a recipe that not only entices me into the kitchen to cook, but which subsequently turns out to be super-tasty, easy-to-make, and healthy, I feel the need to share it with me homeys. So here goes.... give it a try and let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4

Total Calories per serving: 595 (or 345 calories if you omit the guacamole and cheese - but don't worry, it is still super-tasty)


- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 400g (14oz) tin of mixed beans (drained and rinsed)
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomate puree
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- Few drops of Tabasco / hot chilli sauce (optional)
- Salt and pepper

To Serve

- 4 large soft flour tortillas
- 50g (2oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese
- Shop bought guacamole (optional)

Let's Cook

1. Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes until the onion is softened and slightly golden.

2. Add the oregano, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, and cumin to the saucepan. Tip the beans into the pan, stir and bring to the boil.

3. When bubbling, reduce the heat to low. Half cover with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir the beans occasionally to stop them sticking.

4. Taste the beans and add salt and pepper along with a few drops of Tabasco (or Hot Chilli Sauce) if you like. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Warm the tortilla in a microwave (or oven according to cooking instructions). Place each one on a plate and top with the bean stew. Sprinkle with Cheddar and top with a dollop of guacamole.

6. Fold in one end of the tortilla and then carefully fold over one side. Gently roll the tortilla over to make a tight and secure burrito.


If you prefer a meaty filling, swap the tin of beans for 400g (14oz) of lean minced beef. Follow step 1, and then fry the mince for 5 minutes in step 2. Everything else is the same.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Stop freaking me out kiddo!

Have you ever seen that Sherlock Holmes' film, The Hound of the Baskervilles? You know the one; where Sherlock spends his whole time chasing a herd of dogs over misty fields and moorland because they have alledgedly (even mutts are inncoent until proven guilty) mauled a few hapless victims to death (they were probably dressed provocatively anyway).

Pic.No.1 The book cover showing the mist and one of the mutts that Sherlock was after

Well it's been a bit like that here in Forest Hill, Oxfordshire. Except without the mauled victims.

For the last couple of days, a heavy fog has hung over the village, muffling sounds, reducing visibility, and making everything look a bit eerie. I was even able to recreate some elements of The Hound of the Baskervilles by taking Naughty George for a walk in the misty fields, but luckily he was more interested in rolling in fox shit than biting people to death.

Pic.No.2 The fields behind Forest Hill are misty

That small black dot on the right hand side of the field is Naughty George of the Baskervilles. It was actually mistier in real life than it looks in the photograph.

Pic.No.3 As the sun sets, the cloud hangs eerily over the field and everything was deathly quiet

I didn't realise until I got back home just how wet mist actually is. It is basically the equivalent of walking through a low flying cloud and because of that I had damp jeans and droplets of water dangling precariously from the ends of my eyelashes.

Anyway, I digress. If all that mad mutt and mist stuff wasn't enough, something really spooky happened later in the evening.

It was 8pm and pitch black outside. Izzy and I were in the house on our own and it was her bedtime. Now as you probably already know, my house was built over 500 years ago, in approximately 1546 AD, and as such, has a plethora of history associated with it.

 Pic.No.4. This is Martin Luther, the German Reformist. He died in 1546 (the same year my house was built) but other than that he is totally unrelated to this story

"Bedtime Stinkbomb!" I said to Iz, holding out my hand. She took it, and I led her up the creaky old stairs and helped her climb under the duvet.

"Someone else has come up the stairs with us," she mentioned matter-of-factedly as I was tucking in the covers around her. WTF? Goosebumps properly prickled my arms and legs.

I steadied myself. "What on earth made you think that?" I asked nervously.

"His footsteps made the same crackling sound [she meant 'creaking'] on the stairs behind us, and I could hear him," she said.

"Are you sure sweetheart?" I stuttered.

"Yes. In real life," Izzy said with annoyance in her voice.

I'll just go and check it out," I said, walking towards the stairs, a tad freaked out.

"No you don't have to," she said simply, "there's no one there anymore."

CHRIST! It was like something out of that film, 'Sixth Sense' where the kid says, "I see dead people."

Pic.No.1. The staircase in my house - you can see a 500 year old black beam on the left

Now. I am not superstitious nor a supernatural believer, but that whole scenario left me all a bit 'woah! what happened there?'

Answers on a postcard please!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Dahlinks! We have a Royal wedding in the offing

You would have had to have been deaf and blind and without an interpreter, not to know the news that has been buzzing around the UK since yesterday morning. Yep, you got it - Prince William has announced his engagement to Kate Middleton.

So what is my opinion about the UK's Royal Family? Quite simply, I like them, and I don't mind paying my 69p in taxes (apparently that's what every person in the UK pays each year) to help with their upkeep. In fact it warms my heart to know that I have contributed a bowl of Corgi food to the soap opera that is the Royal Family.

There is abolutely nothing political about my view - it is based purely on the entertainment value afforded to us by daily glimpses into the life of one of the world's most famous, most wealthy and most priviledged families. I mean how many regular guys could 'borrow' a Navy Chinook helicopter to impress a girlfriend by landing it in her garden? Ok, so Prince William got a bollocking for doing it, but I still thought it was quite amusing.

So I was rather pleased when I read that they announced their engagement yesterday. It was all a ray of sunshine in the persistent gloomy fog that has constituted the news for the last 3 years.

Pic.No.1. Prince William and Kate Middleton announce their engagement

Once the announcement was released, the flood of commentaries started, and I immediately spotted an emerging thread.

Bloody hell! Prince William was marrying a 'commoner' (like me - except not as good looking, obv). I love the word commoner. It's a word that could definitely be construed as derogatory (definitions of 'common' include; average, ordinary, low and coarse) and yet is still in regular use today to describe the great unwashed, that is, people who aren't Royal.

In fact I like it so much that I am going to use it more often in conversation as a comedy low-level insult, before the politically correct brigade wake up to it and have it abolished.

But it doesn't stop there. Not only is Prince William marrying a commoner, but one newspaper (Daily Mail) published the fact that Kate had ancestors who had worked as labourers, domestic servants, road sweepers. Ugh! They must have got their hands dirty and everything. I can see the headlines now..........

"Shock as it is revealed that several of Kate Middleton's relatives had a job!"

The same newspaper, obviously concerned about the lack of blue blooded lineage compounded by the fact that some of Kate's ancestors had sunk low enough to get jobs, decided to try and justify her position as future queen. After much research on her ancestry, they came up with this report: "What is often overlooked, however, is that Kate is also descended from an English king, Edward III, through his second son Edmund." Ermmmm..... that was all in the 1500s, so the cynical amongst us could consider this link somewhat tenuous. 

As well as parading Kate's dubious royal lineage in an attempt to make her sound posh, it has also been announced that Kate will henceforth be called her real name, Catherine......... because 'Princess Kate' sounds a bit like a chavvy limited edition Barbie. The newspaper didn't add the bit about Barbie by the way, I did.

So the media circus has well and truly begun, and you know for definite that they are going to milk it when they photoshopped Kate's head onto the dress they think she will wear for her wedding. 

"They haven't?" I hear you cry.

Oh yes they bally well have................. and not only that, but the comparisons between Kate and Princess Di have already started. But more on that later.

Pic.No.3 Kate Middleton's head photoshopped onto a wedding dress. How sad?

So, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the impending Royal wedding....... a farce? happy news in the midst of gloom? Don't give a toss? I don't know why, but I just know that this one is going to be contentious!

P.S. Is the word royal spelt with a capital R? (I wasn't sure, so I hedged by bets by doing it both ways in this post).

Monday, 15 November 2010

Looky here! I have been featured on This Reality Podcast!

Blimey, one minute I am writing a post about Brennig Jones and his podcast - This Reality Podcast - and the next minute, I am bloody featured on it. Oh yes, your truly made it to Podcast Episode 141!

Huzzar, it's kind of like I am a bit famous. I get everywhere I do; a bit like dry rot. Crikey, maybe I should be adding a pair of sky-high Laboutins and a VB dress to my essential shopping list? Actually, scrub that, I would just end up looking like a yeti on stilts.

Anyway, if you would like hear Podcast 141, you can click here to listen. I feature in the second half which it is why it is the most interesting.

Pic.No.1. The 'This Reality Podcast' Website

Anyway, I had better dash dahlinks. I need to sort out Izzy's previously white school shirts, which are now a fetching shade of pink because they went in the washing machine with a red sock.

Up close with Brennig from 'This Reality Podcast'

Aside from my mountain biking, which I have stepped up a gear in order to try and augment my diet healthy eating campaign (it isn't going well by the way, but that is another story), I didn't get out much last week. It was mainly due to the weather that presides in the UK for 90% of wintertime - cold, grey, wet fug.

By the time Wednesday arrived, I had started to develop cabin fever, which in me, manifests itself as general apathy combined with an overriding desire to start a conversation with Izzy's stuffed toys.

"Hey Sheep, how's your day going?" I would ask.

I would then use my forefinger to move Sheep's head to make it look like he was talking to me; "to be honest, it's kind of boring being a stuffed toy. Not having any phsiological anatomy means that I can't move, so the view gets a bit samey."

"Sheep, your negativity isn't helping here," I say.

Anyway, you get the picture. So it was with great joy that I heard a Skype message come through on my laptop. A real person! Huzzar!

I sat down at the computer and opened the message. It was from Brennig Jones, a blogging buddy and Podcast broadcaster extraordinaire. Bren's the author of the blog Streams of Unconsciousness, and he and his wife, Sophie, produce the weekly podcast My Reality Podcast (more details at the bottom of this post). I am an avid follower of both, because following from afar gratifies some of my more sociopathic tendencies.

I scanned Bren's message; "I have got cabin fever, do you fancy coming over for coffee on Friday?"

Wow, how coincidental was that?; "Damn right I do, I will be at yours around midday," I replied.

Friday arrived, and I sent a quick text to Bren; "Hi, I am just setting off now - will be with you shortly."

The panicky reply came back in record time; "Shit! Give me 30 minutes, I've got no clothes on."

Jeez it is a good job that I texted in advance. All manner of compromising scenarios could have arisen if I had arrived to find Bren as nature intended. For a start, how do you explain it to the neighbours? ... wife out at work, random bird arrives and Bren answers door naked. You could plead the innocence of the situation until the cows came home, but criminals have been convicted on less.

Anyway, you will be pleased to hear (as will his lovely wife, Soph), that Bren was fully attired when I arrived in Witney, Oxfordshire, albeit a tad late.

Now, even if I hadn't discovered that Bren was ex-military from one of his blog posts, I realised it once I arrived at the house. It was very proper - the radio was turned off, and Bren took great care to get my coffee right. And it was free. Cool.

We sat down and the conversation quickly turned to gadgets (particularly the ones he uses to produce his podcast), and as much as I love 'em, I am not a patch on Bren. That's why if I had any authority to do so, I would crown him; 'His Majesty of Gadgets and Geekdom.' (In a nice way of course).

Pic.No.1. This is Bren demonstrating his audio-editing software. He is all blurry because he tried to duck backwards out of the shot. Damn right - I admonished the cad!

I was musing over all the technology used to produce the podcast, when a question popped into my head; "just how many people download your podcast?" I asked.

"Well," replied Bren, "last week 186,215 people downloaded it."

Bloody hell! I nearly spat my coffee out; "that is an enormous following," I exclaimed.

"Yeh, it's not bad considering 400,000 download Chris Moyles' podcast in a week," Bren said, almost as an aside.

That was it. I was adamant that I wanted to see 'Studio B', the place where Bren and Soph recorded their hugely poplular podcasts. And Bren was happy to oblige....... and I have got some sneaky pics of us arsing about where the action happens......... 

Pic.No.2. Bren in Studio B. It is full of some serious digitally-type kit and a ladder. Soph normally sits in the chair opposite Bren, but unfortunately, she was at work

Pic.No.3. Look it's me! I am pretending to be a Podcast broadcaster and I think I pull it off with aplomb, except for the lamp growing out of my head

Pic.No.4. Yes! It is the dog mascot of This Reality Podcast. I saw him as I walked past a bedroom on the way to Studio B

Pic.No.5. And I couldn't resist nicking him when Bren wasn't looking, and taking some comedy photographs of him wearing headphones and pretending to be a podcaster

The excitement of visiting Studio B and nicking the dog had left me feeling a bit peckish. As is my wont when I am hungry, I ditched all etiquette and asked Bren, "I don't suppose that you have got anything to eat have you?"

Because he is a vegetarian (whereas I will eat anything with a face), he reeled off a list of veggie options starting with fried egg and tofu on toast, and ending with a can of Prawn Cocktail Pringles.

"Pringles, please," I said. "They sound like they have the most meat in them."

"No problem," said Bren, handing me a plate full of the aforementioned Pringles. "I am hungry too. I think I might knock myself up a sandwich."

At first I was too busy eating my Pringles to notice what Bren was doing.... but then it gradually morphed into my consciousness.

"What in the blazes are you doing there?" I asked, staring at his plate with horror.

Pic.No.6. Bren making a Pringle Sandwich

"It's a Pringle sandwich," said Bren proudly. 

"Christ! That is totally minging," I said to him, recoiling. "Are you seriously going to eat that?"

"Yeh, it's super tasty," he said carefully positioning the final few Pringles onto the bread.

Pic.No.7. Close-up of the Pringle sandwich just to prove I wasn't lying

Sacre Bleu! I have never seen anything like it. It must be what happens when you live too far away from civilisation (Oxford of course dahlinks) to know any better. It was the Witney equivalent of eating a Witchetty Grub.

But despite the dodgy vegetarian cuisine, I had a very enjoyable afternoon in Witney with Bren, and you will be pleased to hear that my Cabin Fever has subsided somewhat. Hopefully we will be meeting up soon with Soph too.

P.S. Does anyone have any stories about Soph and Bren that top my 'Pringle Sandwich' encounter? All donations welcome..... he he he (evil laugh! Strokes white cat)

Brenning and Sopie's cool links

Brennig's Blog is called Streams of unconsciousness 

Brennig and Sophie's Podcast website is This Reality Podcast (you can listen to their shows there - they are a combination of chat and music from the latest cutting edge bands)

Soph's Blog is posted here

You can subscibe and download the Podcasts by logging into the iTunes shop and searching for 'This Reality Pod'

Friday, 12 November 2010

My friends are stranger than a badger with a kalashnikov

I've got some strange friends.

After going to the Radio 3 BBC Symphony Orchestra concert (note to reader: interestingly enough, one of the orchestra left a comment on my blog yesterday), Sarah and Gary had organised to stay at my house for a couple of days. We had planned to do touristy Oxford things.

The morning after the concert, we were having some breakfast before heading out, when Sarah said, "I've got you a present."

"Cool. What for?" I replied.

"Cos I thought you'd like it," she retorted, handing me a square, wrapped gift.

I noticed that Gary was tittering uncontrollably, so I eyed the gift with suspicion.

"Well, open it then," urged Sarah.

Slowly, I peeled off the Ben 10 paper, only to be confronted with this..........

Pic.No.1. A signed picture of Sir Alan Sugar from the TV series, The Apprentice

"What the bloody hell is that?" I asked Sarah, who was virtually rolling around on the floor she was that amused with herself.

"She got engaged in an auction war to get that picture for you," Gary said, still tittering.

"I don't even watch The Apprentice, you pair of losers," I said before adding, "but thank you all the same, it is very thoughtful of you."

"It's because you run your own businesses," Sarah explained after recovering, "I thought he would be your role model."

What kind of warped bloody logic is that? That's why my friends are strange. More to the point; what the hell am I going to do with a signed picture of Sir Alan Sugar?

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Me? At a Radio 3 concert at Maida Vale?

Do you know why my nickname is the idiom Lady M? Well, the 'M' stands for Muck..... as in; "look at her swanning around like Lady Muck."

Although it sounds like a derogatory term, I like to interpret it as a compliment meaning I am discerning, accomplished and sophisticated. And bloody good looking to boot. Similarly I do not sweat. I am a lady, so I 'glow' instead. You will frequently hear me exclaim after vigorous exercise; "bloody hell! I am glowing like a pig!" Yep, I was born with Class oozing from every pore.

Anyway, I digress. Because I am Lady M, and because I like classical music as well, I had the good fortune to get invited to a concert in London last week. The 'inviters' were my Leed's friend, Sarah and her chum Gary, who were going to drive down from Yorkshire for a few days to attend the event.

I decided to telephone Sarah in advance to find out exactly what the concert was all about. And there was a very good reason why I did this; the last time I was invited to go to a concert with her, it was to see Lou Reed (formerly from the band, The Velvet Underground) playing at the O2 Arena in Oxford. And it was the worst, most screwed-up concert we had ever been to by a factor of ten squillion.

Ring ring, ring ring. "Hello?" Sarah asked upon picking up the phone.

"Hi, it's me. I am just ringing up to find out what concert we are going to?" I said.

"I'm not sure," Sarah replied, "the tickets were free. But I do know that it's the BBC Symphony Orchestra doing a live concert for Radio 3."

"Radio 3!" I exclaimed, "the only people who listen to that are muso-geeks with half-moon glasses, comb-overs and tweed jackets."

"You are generalising again," said Sarah wearily.

"Sorry," I replied, "I am sure it will be fabulous."

The day of the concert arrived. We had organised for Sarah and Gary to drive from Leeds to Oxford first, so that we could all then drive down to London together.

Once we were safely ensconced in the car, I asked Sarah, "So, did you manage to find out what the BBC symphony Orchestra are going to be playing?"

"Yes, it's Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms," she replied.

Now, I have a pretty wide taste in classical music, but I had never heard of that piece.

I turned to her; "this is definitely going to be weird shit," I said, "and the recording is for Radio 3 after all."

Sarah just shook her head and carried on driving. What did I say?


After arriving in London, it took the statutory hour to find an empty parking space (it's a bitch parking in London - it's harder than getting a napkin out of a spring-loaded McDonalds dispenser), and shortly afterwards we were strolling through the streets to the BBC's London Maida Vale studios.

Pic.No.1. The entrance to the BBC's Maida Vale studios in London

We entered the studios and were ushered into a large, brightly lit room that looked rather like a school sport's hall. A friendly lady with thick glasses and a moustache showed us to our seats. But there was a bit of a problem - our seats were situated right in front of the Radio Presenters' booth (you can see the red corner of the booth in the picture below), meaning that half the orchestra were obscured. I asked if we could move somewhere else.

Moustache lady apologised, "sorry, all seats are allocated beforehand and we can't change them."

"But I can't see the violinists and I like watching them play," I said with despair. It was then that I noticed the chap next to me staring at me with horror on his face. I was initially perplexed, but soon all became abundantly clear..........

The Radio 3 Presenters (three of them) entered the studio to the applause of the audience and did their introductions; "Good evening and welcome to this unique recording of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms - a symphony made unique because Stravinsky dispensed with the entire violin section and replaced them with two pianos and a harp."

Ah yeh. Now I know why I looked like a dick.

And then the Presenters introduced the Conductor of the orchestra, who strutted in, and tapped his baton on the podium to command silence. Once silence fell, he nodded to the orchestra and they began playing a weird, low humming tune.

Pic.No.2. The BBC Symphony Orchestra inside the Maida Vale Studios (the bloke in the picture with the white shirt is the one who made me feel like a dick)

"Bloody hell, you are right about Stravinsky doing weird shit," Sarah hissed to me.

"Actually, I think they are tuning up," I whispered back.


It appeared as though we weren't quite as high-brow as is necessary for a Radio 3 Stravinsky concert. The three Presenters were highly educated, and finely dissecting and discussing each movement of the piece before it commenced.

So, whilst we were saying things like; "bloody hell, this bit sounds like a chicken going through a mangle", they were saying things like; "the brilliant poly tonalities rhythmic asymetries and mismatched semantic components that Stravinsky was so fond of, and the non-sentimental music that resulted were finely defined in the Bernstein Norton lectures 5 and 6 from the early 70s".

Crikey. I must admit that I didn't understand much of the debate (I was ok with the following words; Stravinsky, symphony, the, singers, religious, coffee, dichotomy, flapjack, and orchestra, but pretty much everything else was lost on me), but without a doubt it was a bloody enjoyable and very different evening.

Pic.No.3. Walking back to the car through London's Maida Vale after the concert

Then it was just the drive back home from London to Oxford. We got back at around 11pm and both Sarah and Gary and I were starving. So we nipped to an Indian Restaurant on Cowley Road for dinner and to discuss the concert...... but ssssshhhh don't tell anybody.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The X Factor and the slings and arrows of Matt Cardle

OMG. Who says that reality show contestants don't have any skill? I was watching the X Factor this weeknd and this chap stood up and sung this song live. It was bloody brilliant, so bloody brilliant in fact, that it brought a tear to my eye, and I decided to post the video below. If he keeps that up, I might ask the lucky fellow out on a date. Mind you, let's face facts - given that he is both good looking and talented, he is probably gay.

Vid.No.1.Matt Cardle sings "The First Time"

After pondering about it for a while, I typed 'is Matt Cardle gay?' into Google. I got the following result from WikiAnswers.

Is matt cardle from x factor gay?

[Improve] yes

Improve Answer Discuss the question "Is matt cardle from x factor gay?" Click here to register and get updates when this answer is edited.

My first thought was 'oh no'! And then my second thought was 'who typed the answer yes'? It just seemed to be a bit abrupt, anonymous, and not based on anything as trifling as evidence. Rather too Daily Mail-esque for my liking.

So then I typed 'is Matt Cardle straight?' into Google. I got the following result from The Sun newspaper:  "X FACTOR favourite Matt Cardle has secretly got back with his ex girlfriend - months after dumping her to boost his chances of winning."

For the second time within the space of 3 minutes, Google had cruelly pulled Matt Cardle from my sweaty mitts, and dashed my hopes upon the rocks like a ship that has just crashed (into rocks).

On a positive note, my internet search also threw up an interview with Matt Cardle where he demonstrated his mettle by allegedly calling his fellow contestant, Katie Waissel, a 'fame hungry twat.' That helped me get over him.

Don't you just love the circus that is the X Factor?!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Bloody hell, look at this dog!

Aww, man alive, I laughed my head off (ha ha bonk) when I watched this video that I found over at Bodacious Boomer's blog. So much so, that I thought that I would be eviler than Charles Manson (except without the beard), if I didn't share it with you.

Vid.No.1. Chester the Incredible Peeing Dog

Just look at that dog go! Physiologically, that mutt must be made up of at least 90% bladder.

Incidentally, whilst I was on Youtube I noticed (to my surprise), that there are tons of people out there who like filming their dog pooping. Just search for 'dog pooping' and see for yourself.

What's that all about then?

Maybe I should be getting my video camera out next time I spot Naughty George trembling and a-shaking in the back garden!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

It's Bonfire Night - yep it is a weird UK tradition

Us British are bloody party animals, that's what we are. Not content with celebrating just Halloween, we also have a knees-up every November 5th to celebrate something called Bonfire Night, or as it is sometimes known, Guy Fawkes Night.

"What the blazes is all that about?" I hear you cry.

Well, let me explain [pulls chair closer to the fire and clears throat]. Picture the scene; the year was 1603 and Queen Elizabeth I had just snuffed it, and had been succeeded to the throne by King James I. Now, King James did not like Catholics at all (I think he found them a bit shifty), so he persecuted them, which totally pissed off, in particular, a group of 13 young Catholic men.

Let's face it, you can kind of see their point. Being persecuted does get a bit irritating after a while. Anyway, in 1605 the pissed off group of young men decided that they would blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James. They hid 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellar of the Houses of Parliament ready for the attack. However a member of the group (and no one is sure who), raised concerns that they would end up accidentally killing innocent people. So he sent an anonymous letter to some bloke called Lord Monteagle, warning people to stay away from the Houses of Parliament on 5th November - the day of the attack.

Lord Monteagle luckily realised that something was afoot, and raised the alarm, as a result of which, the Kings Forces stormed the cellar in the early hours of 5th November.

There they caught one of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes, red-handed - poised and ready to light the gunpowder. Dear Diary, today was a bad day........

Guy Fawkes was tortured and excecuted until he was dead, and the whole event had a profound effect on the British people. On that very night in 1605, fires were lit throughout the country to celebrate the safety of the King. And to this day, four hundred years later, on every 5th November, fireworks are still let off, a bonfire is still lit, and an effigy of Guy Fawkes is burned.

Crikey, thinking about it... it makes us Brits sound a bit Blair Witch doesn't it? Top tip. Think twice before going camping with someone who hails from the UK.

So that is what I did last night. I hooked up with Steve and Izzy, and we met Steve's friend Guy (crikey, I wouldn't want to go too close to the fire with a name like that) at the Bonfire Party in the next village, called Beckley.

 Pic.No.1. The bonfire with the Guy Fawkes effigy on it (you can't see it in this photo unfortunately)

As you can see from the picture above, the fire was enormous but we couldn't get near it because it was cordoned off. That's Health and Safety gone mad that is. In the olden days I remember being little more than a toddler and lighting my own sparklers from a burning log in the bonfire.

Hell, even those burning branches that fell from the top of the bonfire taught us to move quickly. That's why the youth of today is sluggish.

Pic.No.2. The local Beckley Primary School had laid on a BBQ

What was also rather nice, was that food had been laid on in the guise of a BBQ. I love BBQs and the food was cheap enough so I ordered two beefburgers (yeh, the diet is going well thanks).

They were tasty, but if I had to make a constructive comment I would say that the burger-to-bread ratio was a bit wrong. I know that the photo above is quite dark, but you can probably see what I mean (if you look at the ketchup circle on the top half of the bread roll, that was effectively the size of the burger).

"How's your burger?" asked Guy.

"Don't know, I haven't got there yet. I am still working my way through the bread bit," I replied.

We stood round munching our food for a while, when all of a sudden, the fireworks started. And I will tell you something, Beckley might only be a small village, but the residents certainly know how to stage a bloody great Bonfire Night.

Pic.No.3. This is a picture of a red firework (sorry, but for some reason this caption seems to be lacking the element of surprise)

Pic.No.4. As the display went on, the fireworks got more spectacular

I have to hand it to the organisers, the Bonfire Night was absolutely brilliant, but by the time the fireworks had finished, my feet were frozen (that's what I always remember about Bonfire Night as a kid - cold feet). 

I was wearing my wellies and had forgotten to put an extra pair of socks on, so my feet were doing that thing where they had gone numb except for my toes which were burning. 

Luckily, Steve was on hand to help; "Anyone fancy going to the pub?" he suggested. 

"Bravo! Marvellous idea," we concurred and all immediately traipsed back to Forest Hill and the White Horse Inn.

Pic.No.5. Steve and Guy (aka DJ Hyper) in the White Horse Inn. In case you were wondering what they were doing, they were comparing iPhone Apps. What a pair of geeks

Ahhh, there is nothing like a Beer Coat for warming you up. Drink two pints and the cold just completely disappears. Happy Bonfire Night everyone!

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