The Grape Escape

You heard it here first, I am a problem drinker. The problem, though, is not the amount I drink, but what I drink. Wine! You see, I am beginning to suspect, much as I do with modern art and thong lingerie, that someone somewhere is having a laugh at my expense. Explain, if you can, why the Bacchanalian thirst-quencher of the Gods, for which I paid a hefty sum (anything above five quid, I consider hefty) is actually no more than a liquidised fruit salad – “tongue-tingling freshness, with a tantalising kick of vibrant lemon, lime and pink grapefruit”. To use the vernacular of the young – Duh? Like, where are the grapes, dude? I mean, whatever! A quick squint at the rest of my very modest wine collection confirms the emperor’s new clothes trick being perpetrated upon the unsuspecting or downright gullible. In other words, me! The bottle of Riesling earmarked for a nice fish dinner contains not grapes as one might expect, but “delicate floral aromas, combined with a steely character (ooh, missus!), concentrated citrus and peach notes”.  Ditto, my stalwart little Argentinian, who bravely rings the changes with “wild red fruits and ripe plums, a touch of spiciness and a velvety texture”.  Wot? Still no grapes?

As with most things in life, one has to draw the line somewhere. Essence of liquorice, lingering hint of tobacco, vanilla, chocolate and extract of angel’s tears, all encapsulated in a bottle masquerading as Chianti? Chuck me over a lager, dude. I’m done!

The Forsythia Saga

I blame Felicity Kendall – yes, I know the Good Life was a long time ago (I was young, that’s how long ago!), but I still blame her for making the rest of us think dungarees are high fashion. This is a delusion which hits me annually, something to do with the sap rising, spring donning her verdant garlands and going walkabout and all that.  So, dressed like an escapee from Dexys Midnight Runners, I set off for the local garden centre, that Aladdin’s Cave of floral treasures with strange-sounding names, populated by even stranger people, some of whom appeared to have been impaled on sticks and were leaking straw from various orifices. ‘Those,’ my-brother-in-law, informed me loftily, ‘are scarecrows’. I don’t know who asked him – he was only there on Sherpa duty.

Schlepping up and down the serried ranks of green, growing things, I could feel my excitement levels donging like on that old fairground machine-thing people used to hit with a mallet! Here was everything I needed to make my life complete (once I thought it might be a 1960s stereogram, but that’s another blog).  How had I managed to live for the last (cough!) years without benefit of Ceanothus? What a paltry, joyless existence sans Choisya (Mexican Orange Blossom to the uninitiated, which I was until recently)! Forsythia, Californian Lilac, Clematis, Jasmine! Whistling up the Sherpa, I loaded him down with them all and proceeded towards the herbs in a maniacal fashion appropriating plants as I went. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. I can see why Simon & Garfunkel stopped short at that point as, apart from lavender (dilly dilly), it’s difficult to get marjoram, mint and coriander to rhyme nicely.

At the check-out, the bill came as something of a shock, but you get what you pay for and you can’t put a price on the garden of your dreams.  Sadly, the wonderful, romantic, Mediterranean oasis of mine is still in the REM stage as, somehow, I never got round to planting my bounty and now it languishes outside, waving little leafy appendages drowning-man like, and casting looks of deep despair through the window, which is why I insist on keeping the curtains closed.

Felicity Kendall and the Good Life! Dungarees with sex appeal? Come on Eileen, I’m not falling for that one again . . . until next year, perhaps, when the sap starts to rise. With any luck, though, it might run into the falling hormones and stop at my ankles. Anyone for football?

Like A Bird on a Pyre

Thanks to a miraculous event i.e. the appearance of the sun for more than five minutes, the silly season has come early this year. It’s time to dive for cover as the fowl (not a spelling mistake), carcinogenic smoke from the neighbour’s Barbie belches over the fence, followed by gales of drunken laughter and more belches – this time from the neighbour himself.  The smell of sizzling flesh is everywhere making one nostalgic for the funeral pyres of Old Calcutta even if, like me, one has never been to Old Calcutta. Elvis may have left the building, but he’s come to the Barbie in fine voice, glory glory alleluia – or could that be the neighbour again indulging in a spot of ye old off-key Karaoke? Yep! And now he’s moved on to Sting and is apparently watching me, or watching you. One thing he isn’t watching is the Barbie and a shout goes up as the fence catches fire. A moment later, I can see him through the ever increasing gap pouring XXXX on the flames in a futile attempt to douse them. The man is clearly the devil in disguise and I swear there is a lot of fence mending to be done before this wooden heart will will ever love him tender again – or even tolerate him.

A Packet of Roosters, Two Lamb Chops and a 1960s Stereogram, Please

Ramsgate is better known for its Royal Harbour and architectural heritage (Pugin woz ere), than as a shopping Mecca, especially now that many of the shops have relocated further afield to Westwood Cross . Therefore, one might think it safe to let an impulse shopper like me out without a carer.  One would be wrong, which is why I am now giving house room to a massive, great, partially working 1960s stereogram, which I somehow managed to convince myself was the missing key to eternal happiness.  I wouldn’t mind, but I only went out for a packet of spuds and a couple of lamb chops. My mistake was in taking the car, because then I had to park it, and if I had walked, then I wouldn’t have had to park it, and so I wouldn’t have come within an ass’s roar of the second-hand (make that fifty-hand) furniture store.  But lo it came to pass that I had to pass it and then after I had passed it, it occurred to me that we were in need of a wardrobe for the spare room. So I actually retraced my steps and ventured inside, even though the woodworms were all out openly sunning themselves and chewing the fat (or the wood) on the ancient furniture outside. I should explain that, at the moment, I am suffering from a Victorian period (which is a different kind of women’s problem, in that it involves lots of oak, aspidistras and stuffed birds in glass cases).  To wit, Ikea simply would not do.  I wanted wood, real wood from real trees. I wanted craftsmanship that had lasted for a hundred years, drawers that didn’t fall apart (don’t be smart!), carvings and cabriole legs (shut up!).  You get the picture? What I got was a 1960s stereogram with a turntable that turns, only not at the right speed (or could it be that James Blunt has developed a shocking speech impediment?), and an impressive looking radio that looks as though it might communicate with aliens. In fact the whole thing might even be an alien.

‘It  could have been worse,’ I told my long-suffering husband later, when he opened his mouth to lodge an objection.  ‘I was very tempted by the 20ft Indian Totem Pole.’ Besides, it was our third wedding anniversary and he hadn’t bought me a present. Ladies and Gentlemen, you heard it here first – there will not be a fourth.  On a happier note, though, the stereogram does have cabriole legs (and just a teeny weeny bit of wood worm)!

Time To Call Time on Time Team?

Scene 1. Ext. A field in  Biggin Little-on- the-Mole

Phil-the-hat-Harding is peering excitedly into a rain-filled trench.  We know he is excited because the voiceover tells us he is, as in ‘Phil is excited as he peers into the rain-filled trench, where Carenza is up to her kagool in muck’.

Phil-the-hat-Harding

Oooo aaaahr, Cretinza, is that . . . could that be a . . . waaaahl?

Carenza-the-sane-much-younger-and-female-one

****s sake, Phil, how many times? It’s Carenza! Yes, it’s a wall. The clue is in the bricks.

Phil-the-Hat  turns and beckons furiously to the rest of the team who appear to be poring intellectually over a geophys chart. A slip of the camera angle reveals it is actually a copy of this month’s Fossil Fetish.

Phil-the-hat-Harding

Ere, lads, come and see this ere waaahl.

The team, led by Tony-the-Baldrick- Robinson, shamble over as fast as their collective age of 1004will allow. Tony peers into the ditch as the others crowd round.

Tony-the-Baldrick-Robinson

It is! It really is. It’s a . . .  wall. Well done Cortina! Is it Saxon or Roman?

Mick-of-the-clown-hair –Aston (and really dodgy woolly pullies) roughly elbows Tony out of the way.

Mick-of-the-clown-hair-Aston

That’s never a wall, Crepuscular. This ere is a richuaaal site. See that there unidentifiable something. That might have been used as an instrument of some kind or maybe an offering to the Gods.

Phil-the-hat-Harding

Aaahr, Mick lad, yer don’t know yer tesserae from yer testicles.

It’s a waaahl, roih enuff. Finest waaahl oi’ve seen in these ere parts.

Tony-the-Baldrick-Robinson

Could it be part of a Roman villa? A bath house?

Phil-the-hat-Harding

Aaahr, could be, one of the waaahls.

Tony-the-Baldrick-Robinson

This is such an exciting find, guys. What are we going to do with it?

Phil-the-hat-Harding, Mick-of-the-clown-hair-Aston, Carenza-the-sane-much-younger-and-female-one (all together)

Do with it? What we always do, moron. Bury the damn thing, so some other prat can come along in a hundred years and dig it all back up again.

Tony reaches down and helps Carenza out of the ditch.

Tony-the-Baldrick

Hey, Carrera, fancy a drink with a very old fossil? We could talk about my days as lead singer with Kajagool gool.

Carenza-the-sane-much-younger-and-female-one

Dear Lord, put me up against the wall and shoot me!

And so say all of us. Time Team – have you no homes to go to?

Nineteen and Topless in Thanet

Oh, that caught your eye didn’t it – the Benny Hill double entendre, but that of which I speak is nothing to do with me divesting myself of my upper garments or anyone else, come to that.  I am speaking of one of the great loves of my life, my trusty, ancient little MX5 Roadster, Jago ( totally impractical and with a boot the size of a gnome’s knapsack). And, yesterday, for the first time this year, I put the top down and hit the open roads. “Oh, what dust clouds I shall make! What carts I shall fling into the ditch!” said Toad of Toad Hall, and I know exactly how he felt.  There truly is something exhilarating about pootling around the highways and byways, especially at this time of the year when the trees are laden with blossomy blossoms and the plants all seem to have overdosed on Viagra.  Leaving lovely Thanet behind, we headed for the serpentine back roads around Sandwich, Deal and Canterbury, with ‘the husband’ moaning that we’d better be back in time for the start of the Grand Prix – philistine! Within minutes we were deep in the tranquil heart of the countryside with the sun beating down on our heads and the scent of Mother Nature’s Chanel all around us. You know, there is a wonderful freedom in not having a definite plan or destination, in simply chucking away the map and Sat Navs and following willy nilly the signposts to Pluck’s Gutter or Little Mongeham, purely because you like the name and the visions they conjure up.

Emerging from beneath a cornucopic canopy of trees (somewhere near Ham and Sandwich, I think – someone had nicked the sign again, so I can’t be sure), my mind dug deep for a better way of describing it and came up with Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, Pied Beauty. “Glory be to God for dappled things . . . “

A short while later we breasted a rise, stopped the car and stood for a while drinking in a vernal panorama of fields in their various states of growth. I had in my head a vision of the sewing circles of old, where industrious ladies gathered together to create wonderful patchwork quilts. Here, the quilt was green in the main, albeit of every shade and hue, with a couple of more sober patches in browns and duns. But, at some point, the Scarlet O’Hara of the quilting circle had happened along and brazenly thrown her blingy, in-your-face, rape-seed gold into the mix, adding a discordant but irresistible note.  Apart from politics, rape fields are the one thing upon which hubby and I violently disagree. He says they are vulgar. I say they are a thing of beauty, most wondrous to behold. He says they stink of cats’ pee. I say they stink of cats’ pee. Okay, we agree on the latter.

We got back in the car and drove on, past scented hedgerows already bustling with insect life, tiny flies with filigree wings, cabbage white butterflies and bees anxious to get on with the business of dunking themselves in nectar. Once, we found ourselves trailing behind an ASBO pheasant who, with no thought for the Green Cross Code, sauntered casually up the centre of the road.  It’s fair to say his attitude was definitely of two fingers up in the air variety, but I don’t reckon much to his longevity. Here and there we passed a real-live farm with real-live animals, sheep and cows yawning lazily in their enclosures, grazing desultorily or herding together for a communal kip –  all that yawning and grazing will knacker you.

We passed centuries old inns of the Chocolate Box type, The Dog and Duck, The Blazing Donkey, tempted, but staunchly refraining from going in and getting blotto in their enticing courtyard gardens. Here and there, shy bluebells played peek-a-boo from amid clumps of shady woodland.  Honestly, it didn’t get much better. Not for the first time, I thanked my lucky stars that I had made the decision to leave the grimy backyard of London for the fertile Garden of England. I was just about to express this thought to my husband, my heart full of poetry, my eyes quite shiny from the emotion of it all, when a very large incontinent rook flew overhead . . .

PS. We did get home for the start of the Grand Prix –  but he was washing his hair!

A Right Bunch of Silly Billies

I had a phone call today from an old friend I hadn’t seen for some time, a true Mrs Malaprop and one of the funniest people I know.  She was calling to invite me to her wedding to a very nice man “who wasn’t after her big house” and she knew this because he had said so to her son at their engagement party.  Like you do! He was also fifty-five to her seventy-eight, but she wasn’t one of those cougar mummies.  Perish the thought! She’d only bothered getting engaged, because he “could put a great leg under him on the dance floor and good jivers are hard to find”.  As I laughed at the image this conjured up, I recalled her divorce several years before when her solicitor had instructed a bannister.  To my credit, I refrained from making the obvious crack about wooden performances and, wooden or not, Bannister-Boy did secure the big house in which her fiancé affected no interest.  She was similarly excited the day her degree eyesight came through and I can still see her running down the street waving it triumphantly over her head and yelling that she would soon be divorced. She rang off eventually but not before issuing a dire warning that should her ex caused any trouble at the nuptials she would erope all over him. Think volcanoes.

She left me with a grin on my face and the memory of other funny incidents caused by mishearing what someone has said. Like, the day I sent my five-year-old son (many years ago) to close the front door on account of the draught and he returned livid because there was no giraffe.  My ex husband routinely butchered the lyrics of one of Paul Young’s hits – “every time you go away, you take a piece of meat with you”.  On another memorable occasion, the florist said it with flowers by sending him packing with a flea in his ear. His crime? Asking for silly billies. To be fair, English was not his first language, but  I have never since looked at a Bizzie Lizzie in the same way.

Nor am I exempt from wax build up in the ears.  At mass, as a child, I regularly misheard “show us thine advocate” for show us thine advo cake. The advo cake never did materialise and if I’d known then what I know now, I’d have eroped all over the priest.

There Must Be Fifty Ways To Leave Your Novel

Mess about on the net, Beth

Make another cup of tea, Lee

Get naked with Gok, Jock

Take a walk by the sea

The  keyboard needs cleaning

The house is like a hovel

The garden needs weeding

There must be fifty ways

To leave your novel

And the rest. . . and I know every one, which is why my new novel is progressing backwards. When it comes to displacement activity, I am the queen. Fact, the grass outside my window grew by exactly 1/8th of an inch today.  I know, because somehow it became a matter of huge (even National ) importance that I keep my eye on it.  Which, of course, meant that I had to abandon my novel.  Later on, in the interests of research, I learnt a great deal about double-glazing and how it could transform my life.  It must be the first time ever a double-glazing salesman hung up on anyone. And, did you know, cats can be great conversationalists – well, good listeners anyway.  Bizzie Lizzie (greatest misnomer ever) sat for a whole hour listening to me read aloud from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.  We are now both experts on the Franco-Prussian war. Admittedly, it was a question of letting the book fall open any old place. We could just as easily have become experts on the lost tribe of Hopi Pygmies or fungal problems with Big Leaf Hydrangea. Speaking of which, I had to go out for a while to check that my own BLH hadn’t moved. Now, I know that as a rule plants don’t generally get up and go walkabout (unless you live where I used to in Tooting, when they generally have assistance), but you can never be too sure. Global warming and all that – nuclear fall-out from Japan. Remember those Triffids!  And, of course, that meant I had to abandon my novel yet again. Worn out by the exertion, I then had to sit down, have a cup of tea and channel surf for a while, which is when I stumbled upon The Housewives of Orange County, a kind of Barbie-meets-Frankenstein-meets-great-vats-of-silicone programme. Like all good car-crash TV, this kept me riveted for the amount of time it took Tamra to diss Gretchen, who dissed Jeana, who dissed everyone, all without managing to move a facial muscle. By the way, I guess the moniker Housewives of Orange County is because they have all been tango’d an unnatural shade of tangerine.

Which brings my word count for today to . . . Blog 435. Novel. 1. (I deleted ‘the’ once, replaced it, then deleted it again).

Pregnant Men and Pink Elephants

A friend of mine breezed up to me recently with one of those smug looks that make you want to hit people.  ‘We’re pregnant,’ she announced, looking all expectant but not in an expectant way as she hadn’t begun to ‘show’ yet. ‘Well?’ she tinkled (pregnant women always tinkle, have you noticed that? Later on when their bump gets much bigger and leans on the bladder they tinkle in an altogether different way, non-stop). ‘Aren’t you surprised?’

Yes, I was surprised. Not that she was pregnant, but that he was. You see, being a bit old fashioned and sour, I just can’t get my head round this miraculous event at all. I did biology at school.  I dissected frogs and bits of cows’ eyes, even chased one unfortunate girl round the playground with a bloodied retina (the cow’s, mine came later when Sr. Boniface found out what I’d done) and although I wasn’t an A student (although I did say A quite a lot, as in Eh? Eh?) my lowly ‘D’ in the subject was enough to tell me that men don’t get pregnant. This, you’ll appreciate, is a fact.  It is indisputable. So where did this ‘we’ come from all of a sudden? Has the culture of luvvy-dum gone so far that we now have his and hers pregnancies –  blue bumps and pink bumps – to go with the ‘his’ and ‘hers’ towels and ‘his’ and ‘hers’ bath robes and ‘his’ and ‘hers’  4 wheel drives? Listen,  I like a bit of romance as well as the next woman, but when the mere sight of a loved-up couple arriving (arm-in-arm) on the scene results in other people parting company with their large intestine, the ‘tehgeddeness’ factor has gone too far.  Remember, ladies, there is a time and a placenta for everything.

And, you know, it’s invariably the same kind of woman who says ‘we’re pregnant’, who will also be guilty of being a ‘pink’ fiend and a fully paid up member of the Cath Kidson cutesy school of floraldom?  It’s not enough for her to be female – no, she has to rub our noses in how ‘feminine’  she is, as if the rest of us in our  M&S plain white cotton knickers (off-white in my case as I generally manage to put a black sock  in the white wash) are great galumphing heifers in comparison.  She knows every shade of pink in the spectrum, ice-cream, Fuchsia, hot-pink, rose, vomit, and – drum roll – has the rose-bud wellies to prove it.  Her bedroom is, yep, pink. Pink walls, ceiling, carpet, bed clothes, fairy lights, cuddly pink toys and when you step inside (shoes removed), it is like being swallowed up by a voracious marshmallow.  The pinkness extends into every single area of her I’m-just-a-silly-ickle-bickle-woman world. She’ll have a miniature gardening set – pink gloves, watering can, trowel and spade.  Her car will be pink, often a VW Beetle or Mini Minor, the interior kitted out in pink with a pink fur steering wheel cover, pink fur seat covers and pink things dangling from the rear view mirror. At work, she’ll have pink memo pads, pink sparkly pencils with tassels, pink mouse pads and even a pink mouse.  She’ll drink pink cocktails and champagne because hers is a pink-themed Barbie world.  Honestly, all this pinkness makes me see red.  Pink, pink, makes the boys wink, goes the old saying but, in my experience, it is more likely to make them bilious.  Little girls – the clue is in the adjective – can just about get away with pink everything – they’re ignorant and know no better

My friend with the pregnant husband (ex friend after this article is published) is the original pink fiend.  Her wedding was ‘Flamingo’ and her dress clashed horribly with the broken veins on her mother-in-law’s nose.  The bridesmaids wore ashes of roses (a yucky greyish-pink), the groom’s tie was salmon pink, the cake was coral pink and everybody’s face was pink when the best man was found in flagrante delicto with the bride’s older brother, whose discarded button hole was carnation pink.

As of today, I have adopted a new mantra.  Pink? Just say no! As for pregnant men  – is that a pink elephant I see before me?

Come Die With Me

My name is Tara Moore and I am an addict. There, I’ve taken the first step to recovery and confessed it. But my fix comes not from alcohol or drugs, shopping or over-eating (though I’m certainly borderline on the last two and possibly the first), but from Come Dine With Me, that TV programme where five perfect strangers take it in turns to host a dinner party. Whoever gets the most votes wins a thousand pounds.  God, it’s delicious!  I don’t mean the food, though I’m sad enough to have tried one or two of the recipes – goats’ testicles tartlets with Gruyère anyone? No, it’s the houses that fixate me and especially the kitchens.  How do they do it?  How does a shelf-stacker  from Stockton-on-Fleas, Back of Beyond, manage to be in possession of my dream bespoke kitchen with a granite-topped centre island big enough to line dance on?  How did she come by that double Butler sink?  And, aaaagggh, an Aga! Not fair! I would give my right arm for an Aga, though I appreciate that might make operating it a bit difficult.

Smeg appliances! I ask you! These people have Smeg appliances. How come they have Smeg appliances? All chromey and shiny and desirable. How come I don’t! How come my retro fridge is the genuine article, an old banger with a faulty thermostat and an arthritic cough?  How come theirs is stuffed full of Pâté de foie gras, fine French cheeses and Champagne and I’m just stuffed because mine has broken down again and my gone-off fish fingers are sticking themselves up at me two at a time?

   My belief is truly beggared. And yet I can’t stop watching. And envying. And willing them to burn the bum off their confit de canard or accidentally catch their head in a food processor. Mind you, I think perhaps more than one did catch their head in a food processor or, at the very least, a combine harvester at some time or another. What else but a severe brain injury would prompt them to go on TV in front of millions of jeering, jealous people like me and show off their . . . gorgeous spotless kitchens?  How come they are always spotless, with pristine tea-towels , matching crockery and every conceivable type of gadget?  In a recent programme, one contestant had a machine that actually stripped the strings from her green beans – and it wasn’t even her husband.  Another managed to cut her thumb off with a Henckel kitchen knife, which was really upsetting as those knives cost a fortune. She didn’t even bother to wash it before rushing off to the hospital with her digit squashed between two ice packs. Self! Self! Self! Some people are downright disgusting.

The whole thing makes me feel morally superior. Sneerily superior.  It’s a Christians and lions thing, with the host of the night playing the Christian and the others gearing up to give him, or her, the mauling of a lifetime.  I find myself talking to the TV, as the host removes the cat they cremated earlier from the Aga of my fantasies, scrapes off the burnt bit, lobs on a lump of cream and ‘artfully’ criss-crosses  a couple of chives.

Then, at last, comes the bit, admit it, we’ve all been waiting for.  The lions move in for the kill, sharpening their claws on the Henckel knives, baring long vicious teeth, between which can be seen the remnants of burnt canard de wotsit.  The ambush is short and brutal and, when the smoke clears, the poor host, torn limb from limb, looks up with a big smile. ‘Well, I think that went really well.’ You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.

In my own kitchen, the fish fingers a la salmonella are still swearing at me. Come Dine With Me? Come die with me, more like.