Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What will the neighbours say?

When I was a girl my Mum was always nagging me to open my bedroom curtains, muttering 'What will the neighbours think?' I was confused, not least because in other areas of life Mum frequently said 'Don't you worry, it doesn't matter what other people think'. I wonder what put the fear of disapproving neighbours into a different category of her brain.

Bizarrely, as an adult with my own house, my own neighbours, and my own curtains, I find myself fretting about the same issue. I leave the house when it's still dark, and it's dark when I return. At what point do I open the curtains? If I leave them shut (frankly the far more convenient option) what will the neighbours think?

Do I care that they are imagining me sitting on the sofa all day watching Trisha in my pyjamas with the curtains drawn to avoid glare on the telly? Do they look at my shrouded bedroom window and wonder if I'm engaged in an illicit affair with the man from number 54? Or are they not giving me a second thought?

Such is my childhood conditioning that whenever I see drawn curtains in the daytime I tut to myself, and wonder what awful kind of sloth must reside within. Then I remind myself that they have probably just gone to work in the dark, and anyway, what do they care what I think? It's a constant battle in my head. Sometimes it's hard being me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Special post for cousin Jenny

This is a special post dedicated to my cousin Jenny. I know she reads this blog but claims she doesn't know how to leave comments. Frankly I think this is a rubbish excuse so I'm demanding here and now that a comment is left! Come on girl! Just try!

Jenny and I are actually quite distant cousins (our grandmothers were first cousins, so you work it out) but every year since our childhood we have met up on a family reunion. As children, staying in a hotel with lots of family was the most exciting thing ever. Every year our attention turned to the the little packs of biscuits and tea bags that are put in the rooms.

Jenny and I collected as many of these freebies as possible, calling them our 'survival packs'. We decanted the loot into the little paper bags with a picture of a victorian lady on the front, kindly supplied in all the ladies toilets.

Anyway, we were soon knocking on aunties doors demanding spare nescafe sachets, and when that supply was exhausted I'm ashamed to say we took to stealing them from the chamber maids trolleys, and from the newly laid breakfast tables in the restaurant. Those mini packs of butter and jam were prized possessions and our appetite for augmenting our survival packs was insatiable.

It's amazing really but at the age of 7 you really have no shame at all wandering about all day clutching a sanitary bag full of marmalade and little plastic cartons of UHT milk. How our parents must have laughed.

All I can say is that they would have laughed on the other side of their faces should we have encountered a blizzard on the streets of Bakewell, and required the immediate sustenance that only a twin pack of custard creams can deliver.

(by the way Jenny, I still haven't forgotten that I want a comment from you.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Genesis craziness

Nick, Tim and Chris are planning to recapture their youth by spending £100 on tickets to see Genesis in concert.

Am I the only one who thinks this is ludicrous amount of cash to spend on tickets to see a previously split-up band of old blokes singing second rate pop songs? Surely the concert has no hope whatsoever of breaking even on the Entertainment/Economy scale?

I am pandering to Nick at this point, but only because I know how much I spent in Coast last weekend.

Stu and Ruth's wedding

Luckily, Stu and Ruth's wedding went far more smoothly for us than Patrick and Hilary's. (If you remember, the airline lost our bags so we went to the wedding in our scruffy traveling clothes. Auntie Barbara was NOT impressed.)

No, Stu and Ruths wedding was a qualified success all round - lovely venue with a roaring fire, a beautiful bride, a moving ceremony, yummy food and great company.

We had a brilliant table for the reception, which included of a semi circle of 7 girls on one side, displaying a fabulous array of cleavage. Only my sister had a high necked top on. 'Oh Grace' my uncle Andrew said, mopping his brow and looking flustered. 'Thank goodness you are bring a little decorum to the proceedings'.

Naturally cousin Nicola out-did us all in the cleavage stakes - yes, even me. She decided she was going to make an unashamed play for the Best Man. I don't think it worked - probably worried he was going to suffocate in her bosoms.

The next day Nick and I drove into Newcastle to meet up with Ed, a friend of Nicks, for lunch. We went to this amazing pub and had the largest roast dinner ever. It was a true English pub with the best simple menu I've ever seen: a choice of a roast or a roast, followed by jam sponge or jam sponge. Brilliant.

After lunch we went for a quick walk around the castle which affords a great view of the city. It's staggering what the Victorians did to Newcastle. They slapped the railway right through the medieval walled castle complex, leaving just the Keep and gatehouse on either side of the lines. The Keep walls are less than 2 feet away from the railway. Bits of the fortified walls pop up here and there but it's mostly all gone now.

On the way home I discovered that the passenger seat in our car goes right back until it's perfectly horizontal, ensuring I had a lovely kip all the way back up the A1 to Scotland. I was not driving at the time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Suggestions please....

Claire decided that the pile of cds on her desk was getting out of control so we have just downloaded itunes. Now we are in the long process of importing all our disks.

There are 3 of us in my office and we are all very easy going when it comes to music choice during the working day. (As long as it's not R.E.M I will listen to anything more or less) Even so, some music is more conducive to work than others. Our current favourite 'knuckling down' music is E.S.T, a Swedish Jazz Trio. What are your suggestions for the ultimate work music?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

oh the bitter irony

I watched 'Britain's youngest Mums and Dads' last night. This was a documentary following the progress of a few 13 and 14 year old parents over 3 or 4 years, with a cruel 'where are they now - hah! told you so' slant to the whole proceedings.

Even though I felt quite sorry for most of the teenagers on the programme, a more than significant part of me felt angry and resentful. Another part of me ruefully smiled at the irony of it all. Them: 15, single, No education, no career prospects, no money, and 2 kids without thinking. Me: nearly 30, married, educated to my eyeballs, good career, good salary and childless, though not for want of trying.

What is going on? Survival of the fittest? I'm beginning to think that Darwin may have got something wrong.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Phil and Jane

Phil and Jane came to stay for the weekend. Lots of fun was had all round.

The boys went to Murrayfield to see Scotland v The Pacific Islands and I was told it was an excellent game. Jane and I were quite surprised when we met up with them after the match and they were totally sober. However this was not due to abstinence on the boys' behalf, but the fact that there was no beer tent in the rugby ground.

Jane and I were not so restrained. We went into Edinburgh for a shopping spree, a nice 3 course lunch with wine, more shopping and then gins in the pub. We then all came back to Linlithgow for a meal in Bar Leo, our local Italian restaurant. Phil had the most gigantic steak ever.

On Sunday we went to see the new Bond Movie, which I thought was brilliant. In fact I would go as far as to say it is the best Bond movie ever. (in my opinion - you can disagree, I don't mind) It was much more realistic than Bonds of previous years, more gritty, less corny (although still a bit corny naturally.)

The product placement for Sony was absolutely outrageous and once you notice it you'll see it more and more. They had sony lap-tops, sony mobile phones, sony cameras, blue ray disks, and everytime they opened a drawer to get a gun there was a sony mp3 player in the drawer with the gun. It was hilarious.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

stupid stupid stupid.

I love the internet, I really do, but sometimes it is the must stupid infuriating invention ever.

Last night I bought Nick a Xmas present on ebay. I went to Pay pal to pay. I entered my card details. Paypal would not accept my card because the details were registered with another paypal account. I tried to close an old paypal account I didn't even realise I still had. Couldn't remember the password. I phoned paypal. They wouldn't do anything unless I knew the password. 'No problem, we'll email you the password.' I don't have that e-mail address anymore. 'No problem,' they said, 'we'll phone you on your registered number.' I have moved and don't have that phone number. 'No problem. we'll send you the password in the post.' BUT I HAVE MOVED!!!!

They were the only options to identify myself. I can't close that old account, so I can't use my card on my current account!

So - Nick bought his own present using his paypal account on the condition I paid him back using internet banking.

Tried to log on to the internet bank. Couldn't get in for ages then remembered that it was set up years ago in my previous surname. Managed to get in. Tried to pay Nick but a glitch somewhere kicked me back out. Tried to log in again USING THE EXACT SAME DETAILS and it wouldn't accept me. After the third attempt it locked me out permanently.

Nick was not helpful in the slightest saying 'well you should remember your passwords' and 'why have you got so many accounts anyway' and 'that's fraud protection: it's obviously working' and other such infuriating remarks.

By now (3 hours from buying the item on ebay) I was actually crying with frustration and anger at the whole stupid system.

At this point Nick confiscated the laptop and I went to bed.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Count down

Today our chickens are exactly 24 weeks old. In the chicken world this would be described as POL - Point of lay. We are now checking the nest box daily, hoping to discover our very first egg. However, some hens are late developers, and the long nights and cold temperatures are both factors that could delay egg production.

Nick is much more impatient than me. He gives the girls pep-talks most days, and interprets every odd move the chickens make as a sign that there are rumblings afoot. Last week he resorted to showing the girls an egg in one hand and a chicken fillet in the other and told them to hurry up and make their choice. 'Which is it to be girls? eh? Eggs or the pot?' They just ignored him and carried on eating.

Maybe it's because I am female, like my hens, so I am kind of sympathising with their reluctance to lay. Starting to lay will be their transition into woman-hood, and I remember that time as a slightly confusing and traumatic time. I want to protect my beloved chicks from all that. Also, the thought of having to squeeze out such a large egg from such a small little bottom makes my eyes water. And once they start laying they will do that nearly everyday for the next 3 or 4 years! Ouch!

Nice to see you....

Nick is very excited. Today he is meeting Bruce Forsyth. He has been telling me everyday for about the past 3 weeks so I hope old Brucie lives up to expectations.

Monday, November 13, 2006


We had a lovely evening out in Glasgow on Thursday with Andreas and Ildy. Andreas is a colleague of Nicks and they have recently moved over to Glasgow from Switzerland. We went to cafe Gandolfi which I can highly recommend, not only for the excellent food but also for the amazing furniture.

(for a moment there I was starting to sound like Christian and his restaurant reviews. Unlike Christian I am not going to tell you how much the bill came to, or make a smiley face at this point)

Anyway, back to my point...

We got around to talking about Switzerland and their attitude to waste disposal and recycling. Over there you have to pay for your waste disposal according to how much you throw away. Recyclable stuff is taken away for free. I think this is a brilliant and would sign up immediately. The idea has been mooted in this country and, as usual, there was an outcry. God help us in Britain - we just don't like the thought of making any changes that will help the environment if it might cause the weeniest bit of inconvenience or change of habit.

Andreas had an interesting theory about why attitudes are so different. In Switzerland they were always reminded that resources were scarce and valuable. As a country they do not have alot of natural resources and have to buy in the things they need. Historically Britain has always had access to anything we needed, especially when we were a large empire. Our ancestors grabbed stuff from large parts of the globe, along with rich deposits of our own resources like coal, oil, clay, iron ore, timber etc. This has made our basic culture totally different.

I have come to believe that if we were charged for the amount of rubbish we produced, a large part of our wasteful behaviour would be curtailed virtually overnight. The first shopping trip you did would be undertaken with fresh eyes and a fresh attitude. You wouldn't buy the pre-packed, cellophane wrapped veg that comes on a little polysyrene tray! You'd buy them loose, in a recyclable brown paper bag.

The supermarkets would soon cotton on. Before you knew it you would be buying your milk in glass bottles and bringing them back to be re-filled (hmmm what a novel idea) Meat and bread would come wrapped in paper like in the old days. Tetra packs would become obsolete. (you can't recycle them at all.)

The shops that didn't make those changes would find customers going elsewhere, because as a nation we don't give a shit about the environment but we sure do care about our wallets!

Andreas and Ildy told us about an interesting case in Switzerland. The best selling chocolate bar in Switzerland recently commissioned a famous artist to redesign their packaging. It looked amazing but was a commercial disaster - sales plummeted. No-one bought the newly packaged chocolate because it was too voluminous and couldn't be recycled.

Today a meeting is taking place between the 13 biggest retailers in Britain. They are discussing ways to reduce packaging. This is excellent - they have alot to answer for. However I think change also has to come from the consumer, and sometimes consumers have to be pushed/persuaded into making changes.

I doubt that charging for rubbish collection will be introduced in the foreseeable future. It would be a brave political move that would piss off many shortsighted and selfish voters. Pikeys would revolt by dumping bin bags full of used nappies and burger packaging by the sides of motorways. There would be a national debate about the rat problem and the scheme would be abandoned.

Help needed

How do I prevent the wires in my bras coming out in the washing machine? This has never happened to me before, despite my long and illustrious bra-wearing career, and on Saturday 3, yes I repeat 3 wires broke free from their shackles and caused havoc in my machine. (I hasten to add that the 3 wires were in different bras. I do not have 3 breasts requiring specially made bras containing 3 cups with associative under-wires)


Is it easy to open up the back of a washing machine and extract foreign bodies from between the drum and the spinney roundy mechanism?

Please feel free to answer the questions assigned to your opposite gender. I am not making any political statement about women being unable to fix a washing machine, or indeed boys wearing bras. This a free and egalitarian society.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Interesting phenomenon 8

day 1: Bad hair day
day 2: Bad hair day
day 3: Bad hair day
day 4: Bad hair day. Decide to have haircut. Book appointment.
Day 5: GREAT hairday

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

British Standards

It is good to know that somewhere, in a dark dingy office, there is a dedicated civil servant working away to ensure British life is better for all of us.

I know this to be true because in the course of my morning's work I had to refer to British Standard 5395:1984. I was informed by an official at Falkirk Council my spiral staircase must comply with BS5395 so I dutifully went off to see what it was.

There I learned that my spiral staircase must be designed in such a way as to allow full access for coffins.

I also learned that, by law, arm pit height is deemed to be 1300mm above floor level. How fascinating. I suggest you mentally log that nugget for future pub quizzes.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Imagined conversation

On the morning of 5th November, Linlithgow Rugby Club.

Head Groundsman: Right. Lets get these fireworks set up for tonight's event.
Assistant: Okey Dokey - what about over here? It's away from neighboring houses, overhanging trees, and we can keep the crowd at a safe distance.
Head Groundsman: Pah! all this health and safety nonsense! Lets put them here instead! This way all the burning cinders will blow right onto the crowds, thus heightening the thrill! Nothing like the threat of a red hot iron filing in the eye to spice up bonfire night. Also, we are right next to some trees so there could be the possibility of en extra bonfire - ha ha ha. And why don't we build the most enormous bonfire you've ever seen and put it 5 meters upwind from these trees and houses, just to keep people wondering. We'll put the safety barrier quite near to the fire. It doesn't really matter because the heat from the inferno will ensure that no-one will be able to get anywhere near without getting first degree burns. Now - where's my petrol can?...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Biographys gone mad

I was amazed to see this book on sale in WHSmith the other day.

What is the world coming to? Would you spend £12 on a book charting the life story of a 20 year old chav who's claim to fame is going out with a 21 year chav and then spending his money?

What are the qualifications necessary to have a biography published? My fears were confirmed when I read Amazon's

'Customers who viewed this item also viewed'

All About Us: My Story by Peter Andre
Living the Dream: My Story by Chantelle Houghton
Kerry Katona - Too Much, Too Young: My Story of Love, Survival and Celebrity by Kerry Katona
Shayne Ward: My Story by Shayne Ward

Good God people! Get a life of your own, and if you must read about someone else's sordid little secrets, read about someone who has actually achieved something over a period longer than 15 minutes. I feel like weeping.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Successful Diving Trip

Well, we are back from our intrepid explorations of the depths of the Red Sea.

The diving was amazing but alas not the relaxing holiday I was expecting. My God we were put through a punishing schedule comprising of diving, then eating then diving then eating then diving (little bit of sleep) then more diving.

A typical day on our liveaboard went like this:

5.00 am – woken rudely by the guide shouting ‘briefing’. Get cup of tea, listen to briefing, kit up.
6.00 – dive #1
7.00 – return from dive, get dried and changed, marvel at the strange underwater wonders of the planet.
8.00 – breakfast
9.00 – briefing and kit up
10.00 – dive #2
11.00 - return from dive, get dried and changed, marvel at more underwater wonders.
12.00 – large lunch
1.00pm – briefing and kit up
2.00 – dive # 3
3.00 - return, get dried and changed, more marvelling, and discussion of crustacean behaviour (or similar dive related topic)
4.00 – tea and cake, rare chance for a sit down, possible window of opportunity for nap
5.30 – brifing and kit up
6.30 – Dive #4 (night dive in dark)
7.30 – return, discussion on why Nick got attacked by a squid.
8.00 – dinner
9.00 – movie
9.10 – go to bed exhausted.

Forget trying to have decent hair – it never dried between dips and got progressively more knotty and strawlike as the week went on.

We dived some great sites, and a good mixture of coral reefs and wrecks. The first wreck we dived was this:

The Ghiannis D. We were told the history of these ships but I’ve forgotten now.

The next wreck we dived was this:

The Carnatic, which was a cool ship from the 1870s that looked a bit like a Spanish galleon.

We dived a brilliant site of a wreck called the Yolanda, which sank carrying a full cargo of toilets, bidets and bath tubs. That was a surreal dive, especially when a huge moray eel poked its head of a coral encrusted bog.

We did 4 dives on the famous Thistlegorm, a British transporter ship form the Second world war. It was bombed while carrying a full cargo that included jeeps, tanks, motorbikes, trains aeroplanes, fenders, ammunition, guns, and loads more stuff. It’s really spooky and a bit James Bondy, especially when diving it at night in the pitch black.

You can go inside the cargo holds and see all the bikes lined up, and the jeeps still with the glass in the windows. Nick dived on the wreck 3 years ago and says that it is deteriorating very quickly now, mainly due to the fact that 2000 divers visit it every month. The oxygen in the air bubbles we breath out collects inside, causing it to rust really fast.

It also doesn’t help when, as we saw, unscrupulous diving companies do not take care of the wreck. A dive boat had tied itself onto the main mast of the wreck, which was swaying about dangerously. Our guide went up to tell them to change their line, which they did, but tied onto another vulnerable part of the wreck which promptly pulled off. It makes it very dangerous and I was quite nervous about going inside the ship in case anything fell on me.

Besides all the wrecks we also dived some beautiful coral reefs, which I love. The vast quantity of life down there is staggering. It is so interesting to see the very basis of evolution: animals that are barely more than plants, and plants that are virtually animals. It’s bizarre to watch creatures like crinoids that have no brain, or nervous system, and look like delicate ferns, waft their tentacles in the water, and then bring their catch down to their mouths in the middle.

One of my favourite creatures is the giant clam, enormous pornographic looking bivalves, which purse their luscious lips when you swim by, and if you keep still, open up again. I’m always on the hunt for these brightly coloured beauties.

My absolute favourite is the Nudibranch. These are brightly coloured sea slugs, and they have their gills exposed on their back like little pom poms. (hence the name nudibranch: nudi as in naked, branc as in gills) There are 100s of different types and colours but I only saw 2 types: the yellow and black stripy one and a cool purple and orange one that looks like a jester.

Other things seen underwater were the usual coral reef suspects: angel fish, butterfly fish, moray eels, trigger fish, bat fish, barracuda, glass fish, tuna, snappers etc etc. No sharks or turtles on this trip unfortunately, despite my constant peering into the blue hopefully. (The Maldives was much better for turtles and sharks.)

The other divers on the boat with us (20 in total) were great and we all got on very well. The boat was superb and the crew were brilliant. The down side was my seasickness in the first half of the week. During the roughest crossing I was puking for Britain and Nick was nowhere to be seen. A nice Egyptian crewman brought me tissues, water and cushions. Nick was oblivious to my plight as he was having a nap on the fly deck.

I got my revenge by puking on his shoulder the next day whilst being hauled into the inflatable rib they collect you in after a dive. I was always fine under the water (no waves you see) but as soon as I ascended back to the surface my queasiness came back and I lost all my lunches for the first 3 days in those damned little boats. Take my advice – stugeron is the best.

All in all we had an excellent trip and we will find it hard to go back to diving from day boats after the liveaboard experience. It’s much less hassle as your kit stays out and ready all week, you tanks are magically refilled after every dive, and you rack up many more dives in a week. I did 17 and Nick did 20, bringing our total number of logged dives up to 47 and 70 odd respectively.

If you are considering learning to scuba dive I cannot recommend it enough. It’s fabulous, and if you respect it it’s fairly safe these days too. I would also highly recommend Emperor divers as a company to go with.
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