Monday, 31 January 2011

Sunday lunch

Last week was definitely a snakes and ladders kind of week – several lovely trajectories, followed by downward slithers of crap.

One of the bits of lovely was having Sunday lunch with our old friends Jon and Jayne (pictured above). According to Google Maps, the absurdly picturesque village of Aldbourne in Wiltshire is about halfway between Bristol and Winchester (where J & J live), so we each drove about an hour in a certain direction and met for lunch at the Blue Boar, a glorious 15th century pub.

About a decade and a bit ago, Jon and I worked for the same global organisation and were thrown together in one of those annoying cross-functional, cross-company project teams. He would fly in freqently from the UK and eventually the company transferred him, Jayne and their two kids to Wellington for a year.

Since then, contact has been pretty much limited to Xmas cards although in 2009, when we came to the UK on a media trip, we spent a night at their place in Winchester. Fortunately, they're the kind of friends you can pick up and roll with after an absence of any number of years.

This afternoon was filled with lots of laughter and good food/wine: in these grim economic and meteorological times, I take neither for granted.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Whinge alert

Sorry peeps, major attack of the blahs today. But hell, January in Britain - can you imagine?

I'm sick of looking at a sky the colour of dirty socks, sick of spending 10 minutes in the ladies each morning drying my hair with paper towels (you can imagine how effective that is), sick of wearing gumboots to work.

Sick of having to swaddle myself in scarves, gloves, coats and thick tights every time I leave the sodding building. Sick of always feeling cold and engaging in window wars with the blokes at work who think letting in the Arctic breeze is acceptable.

Sick of getting emails from mates at home, telling me about about the joys of sitting in the sun, quaffing rose while wearing a slip of a dress and avoiding sunburn.

Sick of not being able to run at lunchtime because, guess what, it's peeing down yet again.

Currently wishing I could find a tardis and be transported somewhere far, far warmer.

God/Allah/Shiva/Buddah, are you listening???

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Great Scot

The last time I was in Scotland, I was lucky enough to be served a meal of haggis with a steaming side order of neeps and tatties (swedes and potatoes).

Which goes to show how long ago I was north of the border, because I gave up eating meat back when Michael Jackson was still wearing his own nose.

Anyway, a pub I walk past twice a day informs me it’s Burns Night, when Scots gather to commemorate Robbie Burns, recite poetry to a swollen sack of sheep’s guts, slash it mercilessly with a knife and get hammered on whiskey.

The ritual also apparently involves some bagpiping, cock-a-leekie soup and tartan-clad fumbling on the dance floor.

The first Burns Suppers were started by close friends of the poet after his death in 1796. Inspired by Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis, an enthusiastic ode to the hunk of cooked intestines, the suppers came to be held on the bard’s birthday on 25 January. Nowadays the event has been pretty much hijacked by the tourist board who market it with as much gusto as shortbread, thistle and Sean Connery.

Unlike the latter, it wouldn’t win any beauty contests – and of course it wouldn’t get anywhere near my semi-veggie lips now – but I recall enjoying the oaten offal/root veggie combo all those years ago (even if it did hug me from the inside and cling to my thighs). These days, it makes some interesting appearances in Scottish cuisine all year round, including haggis cannelloni, haggis samosas, haggis nachos and even deep-fried haggis (presumably alongside that other Scottish delicacy, deep-fried Mars bars). And yes, there’s even a veggie one.

It might be a bridge too far to track down a veggie haggis in Bristol, but at least we can sup a wee dram in honour of Mr Burns. Might even do the Animator’s man flu the world of good

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Man Flu

The Animator has the flu.

Not for him the standard sniffles and raspy throat that surgically attach themselves to the rest of us from October through to March. No, he has only gone and caught the kind of debilitating disease that’s worse that Ebola, the Black Plague and typhoid combined: the dreaded Man-Flu.

This has necessitated hours and hours of painful moaning, of nose-blowing and visitations from angels hastening him towards the light. Naturally, it has withered his housework muscle, rendering him incapable of doing so much as rinsing a glass.

But far be it from me to suggest that he get over it: apparently I don’t understand.

The Daily Mail is, however, in my corner: last week it ran a piece with the catchy title of ‘Man Flu: Proof at last as scientists find the male of the species is a wimp over colds’. Turns out that researchers from South Korea recently discovered the working man is much more likely to succumb to a cold than his female colleagues when the pressure is on.

“Under stress, a woman with the sniffles carries on regardless with a ‘stoical response’ while males are significantly more likely to over-rate common cold symptoms than females,” according to the story (and yes, I know the Daily Mail is hardly the newspaper of choice for those of us with a fully functioning cerebral cortex, but surely they wouldn’t stoop to making up research?)

Anyway, in homage to the Animator and his monstrous illness, here’s one of those email pass-arounds that is particularly apt for this cold, miserable Monday when flu has delivered one's husband to death’s threshold:

1. Man-Flu is more painful than childbirth. This is an irrefutable scientific fact*

*(Based on a survey of over 100,000 men)

2. Man-Flu is not 'just a cold'. It is a condition so severe that the germs from a single Man-Flu sneeze could wipe out entire tribes of people living in the rainforest. And probably loads of monkeys too.

3. Women do not contract Man-Flu. At worst they suffer from what is medically recognised as a 'Mild Girly Sniffle' - which, if a man caught, he would still be able to run, throw a ball, tear the phone book in half
and compete in all other kinds of manly activities.

4. Men do not 'moan' when they have Man-Flu. They emit involuntary groans of agony that are entirely in proportion to the unbearable pain they are in.

5. Full recovery from Man-Flu will take place much quicker if their simple requests for care, sympathy and regular cups of tea or coffee are met. Is that really so much to ask? Florence Nightingale would have done

6. More men die each year from MFN (Man-Flu Neglect) than lots and lots of other things (like rabbit attacks or choking on toast).

7. Men suffering from Man-Flu want nothing more than to get out of bed and come to work, but they are too selfless to risk spreading this awful condition amongst their friends and colleagues. In this sense, they are
the greatest heroes this country has ever known.

8. In 1982 scientists managed to simulate the agonising symptoms of full
blown Man-Flu in a female chimp. She became so ill that her head literally fell off.

9. Man-Flu germs are more powerful than Rambo, Batman and The A-Team
combined. They are too strong for weak, nasty tasting 'lady medicines'
like Lemsip, so don't bother trying to force them on a victim of

10. While it may seem like a Man-Flu sufferer is just lying around enjoying 'Diagnosis Murder' it is a commonly recognised medical fact
that the exact pitch and frequency of Dick Van Dyke's voice has remarkable soothing powers.

Every minute in this country one man is struck down with Man-Flu.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The English sense of humour

Long before some imbecile came up with the irritating construct that is Twitter (tedium as it happens, when it happens), there was another form of communication that people used to share their sense of humour with the world.

Take a bow graffiti, where the only equipment needed was a spray can/marker pen and a flat surface. What's more, graffiti usually involved the engagement of more brain cells than it takes to populate the Twitter-sphere (as far as I'm aware, no-one ever grafittied about what they had for breakfast or what they're wearing today).

One of the best pieces of wall art I've seen in a long time is the message that now adorns Snappy Snaps in the toney North London suburb of Hampstead. This, you might recall, is the ridiculously named photo development store made famous by George Michael who mistook it for a parking space after one too many dodgy cigarettes (an error of judgement that saw him spend a month behind bars).

On the infamous wall, some wag has written one simple word: “Wham”.

The Poms may have their faults, but a rubbish sense of humour ain't one of them.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Things I didn't know this time last week

  1. Dancing with gay boys to bad 80s music at one of Bristol's dodgiest clubs does a cracking night out make

  2. An Aussie helped the former King of England to speak English; oh the irony

  3. Falafel burgers from GBK are bluddy yummy – and filled with good proteiny type things

  4. Writing dreary stories about cloud computing CAN make one's eyes bleed

  5. Running three lunchtimes in a row probably doesn't negate the bar of Fairtrade chocolate scoffed in a fit of PMS-induced comfort eating while watching The Wire

  6. Sarah Palin is an idiot. Glenn Beck even more so (okay, so the whole planet already knew that but it was a slow week, so cut me some slack)

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Imelda had her shoes...

It's no secret that one of my favourite things is to hand over pictures of the Queen in exchange for strips of cloth with which to cover my nakedness.

Since arriving in this country, I've put in some serious hours perfecting my technique; when
winter rolled up her sleeves and got stuck in, my training really went into overdrive.

For obvious reasons, the Poms give good coat; which is why every time I leave the house, I find
it impossible not to add to my growing collection of outer-ware. This is my favourite, a grey and brown number from Topshop that I saved 30 quid by buying on sale. Check out the cool zip detail on the front and back...

This textured yellow number from Laura Ashley (via a vintage charity shop - so even cheaper) also makes the corners of my mouth turn up

I love this brown one from Zara so much, it's almost indecent

This black pleated Ben Sherman coat was bought on sale in London a few months back

This quilted jobbie is strictly for weekends but is like being encased in a duvet
And here are the stragglers that I either brought over with me, or that have inveigled their way into my wardrobe since I've been here

The Animator has now declared a Fatwa against the purchase of any more coats. But what he doesn't know....

In your face, cold weather.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Heads really should roll

What a weird old week it's been. Shootings, carnage and Biblical style floods sweeping away large chunks of Queensland (fortunately my parents, brother and the Animator's sister are currently NOT floating down the Brisbane River).

But surely the strangest - and certainly the most inappropriate - news of the week belongs to the BBC. In an online piece about the Bangladeshi Stock Exchange, which fell a whopping 660 points in less than an hour (the biggest fall in its 55-year history), Aunty Beeb captioned a pic of rioting, enraged farmers who'd just seen their life savings disappear with this wee gem: 'Investors were not pleased to find that shares could go down as well as up'.

It makes me sound like my frigid, elderly high school English teacher but my, how standards have fallen...

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Curling up with a good book

Once upon a time, I used to ingest many, many novels. I was a book geek, a speed-reader who would sooner have forsaken high heels than given up reading.

But at some point in the last few years, it all turned a bit squiffy: daylight hours became crammed with contract and freelance work, and then I went and moved continents which totally messed with my reading schedule. And even though one of the first things I did after arriving in Bristol was to join the local library, my reading has been pretty erratic this past wee while.

However, twenty eleven will be the year I attempt to reclaim the pleasure of being let off the hook of my life for a few hours. I'm going to try and get back into the serious reading groove and to kick it off is the best collection of words my eyes have been treated to for a while: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Well, that's when my eyes weren't leaking: this New York Times bestseller is freaking sad (particularly when you've just said goodbye to a dog).

I won't ruin the plot because I want you all to rush out and buy a copy and make the author mountains of cash, because he sooo deserves it. For those of us who think of the four-legged creatures that walk beside us as friends – or even for those who don't – this simple tale of a family being torn asunder, and just as painfully grafted back together, is told from the perspective of the family dog, Enzo. Reading it is like having the perfect latte after drinking muddy water all your life.

I'm not qualified to advise anyone about anything, but I'd urge you to read this, to laugh, cry and feel thankful – but secretly jealous as hell - that such a good writer walks amongst us.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

I left my heart in San Francisco

I feel a million miles and light years away from this special wee girl, but even from this far afield, I can appreciate how beautiful she is. Miss you Molly Polly xx

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Recess is out

Some people fall in love instantly, losing their hearts and minds in less time than it takes to toast bread.

For the rest of us, love is a slow burn: we stupidly think we're too cool or wise to fling away our hearts so easily.

And so it was with me and Glee, the TV show that's cheesier than a mouse's banquet. Friends banged on about how funny this US programme was, how cleverly it stood up for the underdog and celebrated the triumph of the teenage oddball, how it not only provided a home for misfits, but also proved they could be heroic. Instead, I averted my eyes and did the ostrich dance.

But thanks to the UKs infatuation with Glee, it was nigh impossible to resist the interminable re-runs. And so before you could warble along to Don't Stop Believin, I was a card-carrying Gleek.

Now, months after holding onto it, E4 finally screens the second series tonight. I am so excited I can hardly keep my jazz hands still. That's my Monday nights sorted for the next nine weeks...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

It's flu time

Flu has returned from its Christmas break to claim another victim.

All I want to do is lie on the couch encased in a blanket whilst consuming boiled water in various combinations.

Canadian researchers recently revealed that you're 100 times more likely to catch a cold while flying. Apparently something to do with drying out the nasal passages, making one more susceptible to infection. It's hardly news to those of us who frequently pick up viruses along with our airmiles, but guess it's nice to have the pointy heads confirm it.

I raise my cup of Lemsip to them...

Friday, 7 January 2011

When crime comes to town

About the same time as we were fighting snow flurries to fly out of London, a 25-year-old landscape architect from the same suburb I currently call home was fighting an attacker who strangled her and dumped her body where it was found by a couple walking their dog on Xmas Day.

Joanna Yeates was, by all accounts, a jolly nice person. Three weeks after her untimely and horrific death, Police are still no closer to finding her killer, despite combing almost every inch of Clifton (today they were doing whatever it is desperate coppers do when trawling through drains looking for ANY clue at all).

Possibly most worrying is the shock waves Jo's death has caused in the quiet, pretty, I'm-so-affluent-I-can-be-as-snooty-as-I-damn-well-please settlement of Clifton. Police and media outlets are repeatedly warning women NOT to walk the streets alone in the dark or answer a knock at the door. Today one online news organisation was, rather unhelpfully, pontificating on the safety of one's journey from car to front door. Understandably, those of us in possession of ovaries are starting to FREAK OUT. Mainly because its nigh impossible not to spend time alone in the dark here (when I walk to work at 7.45am it's still dark and ditto after 5.00pm when I make the up-hill trek home). So short of boarding up the windows and relinquishing any semblance of modern life, I am forced to rub shoulders with whoever committed this heinous crime.

Which leads us to the nettlesome issue of changing one's life because of some random nutter, of letting that person win by allowing them to dictate one's behaviour. Shouldn't happen, except of course it does. Today I walked home with a couple of colleagues who live near me; one of the women admitted she now hates to be out on her own and will gladly add 10 minutes to her daily commute by taking the well-lit, heavily peopled route home.

What also irritates me is the tendency to stare at every stray, slightly odd bloke who crosses my path and wonder if he's the murderer. Tonight as I rounded the corner to my street, an older chap with a crazed shock of white hair was bent over his bike, blocking my path and causing me to detour onto the road. I am ashamed to admit that I stared a little longer than was necessary to ensure he wasn't going to follow me. It's not the first time this week I've eyeballed some innocent bloke, wondering if it was him.

Okay, so I live in a major Western nation, where criminal activity hogs the headlines more often than media whore Lady Gaga. But what has everyone rattled is the fact that the crime took place in the toney suburb of Clifton. Never let it ever be said I don't do my research but Clifton is one of the oldest settlements of Bristol (Wikipedia says it was recorded in the Domesday Book as Clistone, the name of the village denoting a 'hillside settlement' and referring to its position on a steep hill). It's also one of the city's most affluent suburbs, much of it having been built with profits from tobacco and the slave trade. Which is probably why the place is littered with elegant Georgian mansions (that have since been butchered into zillions of flats).

Rightly or wrongly, you don't expect a murder to happen in such a suburb. It's not overstating the fact to say that the whole bluddy place is in a bit of a flap. Yesterday I passed several shops still displaying posters in their windows appealing for help in finding Ms Yeates, which they were asked to put up when she was first reported missing. "It didn't seem right to take it down," one shop-owner said.

I'm crossing everything on my person that this gets sorted soon...

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Is this day over yet?

It should come as no surprise, but my synapses don’t want to fire after a 12.5 hour flight, three hour layover in Chicago, two hour drive and five hours sleep.

Now wearing my tiredness/jet-lag hat and praying to Baby Jesus that my boss will send me home early. Sadly, with a magazine due at the printer in two days, I'm pretty much on a hiding to nothing with that one.

My thoughts seems to be falling through my mind with no intention of making it to my fingers - which is pretty convenient seeing as I have almost lost the ability to type. But guess I'm not entitled to complain when I had such a great holiday and this is part and parcel of what you sign up for when you trip around the globe.

Still, no-one will have embraced 5.00pm more riotously than I will today...

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

How to vacation in San Francisco

Stay in million dollar homes with billion dollar views in Noe Valley, Mira Loma and Potrero Hill.

Eat Mexican in the Mission district, Italian in Nob Hill, fondue in Pacific Heights and vegetarian in Fort Mason; fall into the welcoming arms of delicious brunches all over the city. Worry about being detained by UK customs for smuggling a suspicious package into the country. Pray they realise it's simply a layer of subcutaneous fat acquired over the past two weeks.

Follow the Pacific coast south of the city to see elephant seals, soak up the sun in the Embarcardero, avoid the junkies in Haight Ashbury, view modern American art at the de Young Museum and check out hot gay guys in the Castro.

And, of course, catch up on the last seven months with the luminous Ms Molly (who I shall miss like buggery).

Tonight we fly to Chicago and then onto London; this trip has made me smile from ear to ear, and it won't be wiped clean for some time to come.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

No better way to start the new year

Because everyone needs something beautiful to feast their eyes on, here are some snaps of the gorgeous brown eyed girl.

Happy New Year y'all. Today is the chance to forget about a year that was, let's be honest, pretty rubbish for many of us and start with a clean slate. Here's to wrapping ourselves in endless joy, love and laughs in 2011.

If such beauty exists in the world, then surely this year can't be all bad...


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