Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

I’ve recently been lamenting the lack of any decent blogging fodder so I cheered up no end when presented with a little gift this morning courtesy of breakfast news: the urge to share proved irresistible.

Steve Bloom, an independent second-hand bookseller from Hawes, a tiny village in the Yorkshire Dales, hit national headlines this week because he dares to charge people 50p to browse in his shop, Bloomindales. (Get it? Bloom–in–Dales? The story gets better).

Steve generously offers to refund the browsing fee should a purchase ensue but the local parish council are up in arms because, according to various media reports, they have had twenty complaints in four years (good grief, how do they cope?) about Mr Bloom’s rudeness when customers refuse to cough up. He even called one man ‘a pain in the arse.’ Amazingly, opinion on this earth shattering news is divided. Some folk seem outraged that a nominal fee is required – haven’t they ever been to a craft fair? Here in Surrey it’s quite usual for a £10 entry fee to be charged – and there’s no refund under any circumstances, not even if you clear the knitted animal stall right out.

Now dubbed the Basil Fawlty of booksellers and the rudest shopkeeper in Britain, Mr Bloom can probably look forward to celebrity status and a long line of customers just waiting to be insulted. After all, there are now Fawlty Towers themed events which command top dollar. Why not Bloomin’ Bad-tempered Books?

Should we be expected to pay-to-browse? Mr Bloom has conceded to a sign on his door detailing his 50p eccentricity. Is it eccentric? Perhaps he’s just brilliant at marketing and all this adverse publicity will get the punters pouring in.  I do hope so.

So – what do you think? While you’re making up your mind, here’s a bit of vintage Basil to remind us all of what it is to be British. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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I wonder why it is that, however carefully you pack away the Christmas lights each year, you end up wrestling with a tangled mass of wires before draping them over the tree to discover that they’ve decided not to work. They worked fine during the plug-in test in their jumbled state. This is one of life’s many little irritations and reasonably resolvable after checking the efficacy of each individual bulb but it is a seasonal time-waster.

I managed to avoid one of the stressful Christmas traditions this year – that of actually going out and buying the tree in the first place. For once, last year’s tree has been flourishing, potted up in the back garden, requiring very little maintenance other than the occasional watering. Because I have to have a real tree – and I’m very determined about this – nothing will incite me to unfold a fake tree from my attic – the task of selection and carriage falls to me. Many a year I have suffered scratches to face and arms as I force the shapeliest spruce I can find into my modest hatch-back.

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So with the tree decorated, all presents wrapped and cards written, unusually I had time on my hands so, as you do, I hemmed a pair of curtains. Now, this might not sound like much but let me tell you, my sewing box and I are distant acquaintances. It sees the light of day occasionally if a button goes astray but coming out as part of some sort of enjoyable leisure activity is, frankly, risible.

I put this down to the trauma I suffered as a child in my first year at secondary school at the hands of our sewing mistress, Mrs Gorrill. She was a sour-faced little woman, always dressed in black (I think it may have been taffeta – whatever it was, it rustled) and she would rap us over our knuckles with her pinking shears if the stitching on our gingham cookery aprons wasn’t neat enough. My knuckles that term were red raw and I spent much of the time in that sewing room unpicking my sub-standard effort gazing across to the adjacent hut where the boys were doing technical drawing, wondering why girls were excluded from learning about perspective.

We were relegated to ‘domestic science’ which I reckon was only a generation away from ‘housewifery.’ I wasn’t much better in the cookery room, either. I remember my Swiss roll unravelling and ending up on the floor and being told off for pointing a saucepan handle over a hot ring when, in my defence, I’d been taught at home to angle handles away from the edge so that smaller siblings wouldn’t reach up and tip molten liquid over themselves. I think the teacher burned her hand on that handle as she was reprimanding me…hadn’t she heard of oven gloves?

These days cookery is called ‘Food Technology’ and anyone is allowed to take it as a subject, although its current status has gone the way of many of the more useful subjects on the national curriculum and has been savagely down-graded in favour of the academic subjects. While students are still required to make (in my opinion) unnecessary culinary items – fresh pasta, for instance, whoever is going to make their own pasta in halls of residence? – for some pupils, creating dishes in the kitchen is what they excel at and should be given as much kudos as an A star in English or Maths.

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Little Mai from the Moomins looks just like my old sewing teacher

But what am I thinking? This wasn’t meant to turn into an education based rant. I simply wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Have fun, enjoy yourselves – and cheers to another blogging year!

 

 

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Funny Shorts

No, the title doesn’t refer to the wearing of hideously patterned Bermudas: just a couple of moments that amused me recently and which I thought were worth sharing.

I was on my way to lunch with WF1 when I spotted this. Other road users must’ve thought I was some sort of mad woman as I laughed away to myself, veering off the road when I could safely park up, walk back and take a snap.

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It’s great, isn’t it? There are definitely some cases where the absence of proof reading or checking is vital to our well-being. It certainly made me feel better. Thank goodness for illiteracy.

I was obviously in frivolous frame of mind that day because not much further on I saw a homemade poster taped to a road sign advertising a
‘Massive Rug Sale‘.
And I wondered how large a rug has to be before it’s a carpet.

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I sat, listening with what I hoped was an interested expression, to one of my (on the Spectrum) students as he earnestly explained, in the utmost detail, the intricacies of his Pokémon Go game. This downloadable App swept our nation (and most likely the entire planet) at the start of the summer and is the sole reason that more children than ever were walking around during the holidays with their eyes fixed firmly to the screens of their mobile phones, obsessively collecting virtual cartoon characters. I suppose it at least got them outside in the fresh air and with any luck gave them some insight in to map co-ordinates – but I’m not holding out much hope on the latter. Frankly I just don’t see the attraction of these crudely drawn fantasy figures with their over large eyes, flat colours and lack of detail. I was about to say it’s probably an age thing but our local TV news ran a feature on a man – yes, people, an ADULT, who apparently was the first reported person to have finished the game and was offering help to others for a FEE. How low can one stoop.

As my student launched into a second phase of enthusiastic explanation, the like of which he never displays in any lessons, I felt myself glazing over and for the first time in my life was thankful to hear the bell ring indicating the start of maths. Then, as I sat trying to absorb what my teaching colleague was saying about simplifying expressions so that I’d stand half a chance if any of the students asked me for extra help, I realised that I could have been guilty of a similar useless obsession during my own summer holidays.

It began last term when a friend arrived at work one morning waving her phone at me and asking whether I’d seen the life-size blue cow at the traffic lights.

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She’d managed to snap it while waiting for the green light to prove that she wasn’t going mad. A few neural cogs chugged around and I vaguely remembered my niece (the arty one), mentioning something about a Cow Parade.

So, on further investigation (OK, I Googled it: isn’t that what we all do these days?), I discovered that The Cow Parade reckons it’s the world’s largest public art event, providing artists and chosen charities a chance to benefit from the scheme. Anyone can sponsor a cow – from individuals, to schools to local businesses or multi million pound companies. Each cow is painted – either by an amateur or an established artist and then auctioned to raise money. There have been Cow Parades in different cities across the world since 1999 and over £2.5 million raised for worthy causes. This year the Cow Parade was coming to the Surrey Hills.

From this point on, my friend – I shall refer to her as WF1 (Work Friend 1) and I were on a mission. To see how many cows we could find over the summer, either by ourselves or by meeting up for a walk which would invariably end in a tea shop and doing a bit of cow-spotting on the way.

We started off enthusiastically enough.

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Here’s one looking nicely out of place at the top of Guildford High Street while this mother and calf greet shoppers at the entrance to the Friary Shopping Centre.

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WF1 was better at it than me and would arrive in the staff room with reports of yet another sighting. We met up for a walk across beautiful countryside ending at the Watts Gallery where a couple of painted cows were grazing, one of which had allegedly been decorated by Sir Peter Blake, designer of the Beatles iconic Sergeant Pepper album cover.

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I think what had really happened here was that he’d allowed his signature to be used. I refuse to believe that one of our foremost pop artists would have been content with simple colour blocking when we could have had something fantastical. And those awful plinths! Whoever attached these sculptures to their bases certainly wasn’t over flowing in the imagination department, were they? A little green paint may have helped, or even a yard or two of Astroturf, which to be fair, I did spot a few days later as I spied a cow in the middle of a round-a-bout outside one of Guildford’s Park and Ride facilities.

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But by this time, WF1 and I were becoming a bit bored by the whole thing. Once you’ve seen one painted cow, you’ve seen them all. I was much more taken with this wooden sculpture which I discovered near the Park and Ride when I stopped to photograph the one on the round-a-bout. Although I must have passed it hundreds of times in the car, the  view was always obscured  by a hedge.

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Called ‘Farm Talk,’ the farmer and his bull were sculpted by Jo Wood in 2004 as part of the Wey Valley Rural Art Project.

The Cow Parade cows are due to be auctioned off on Thursday 20th October at a grand bash at Sandown Park. Tickets are from £10 (standing) or £65 for a three course dinner. It’ll be interesting to see how much these vibrant bovines fetch…and even more interesting – what do you actually do with one, once you’ve bought it?

 

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I expect you’re wondering whether the SSF and I have been on any outings lately, it being school holiday time and all. The short answer is yes, we have, and quite honestly two more contrasting excursions would be difficult to arrange intentionally.

The first involved a gentle drive through the countryside into deepest Hampshire. (Well, actually, just west of Basingstoke but I don’t want to spoil the illusion). SSF elected to drive on the basis that, as my passenger, she’d likely experience motion sickness and also that she knew roughly where we were heading whereas Basingstoke and its environs are undiscovered territory for me. All I’ve known about the place to this point is that we have frequently by-passed it on the M3 on route to the West Country and the fact that it commandeers several exits along the motorway suggests that the town has evolved into a large, urban sprawl. So I was pleasantly surprised as we passed through Old Basing to discover a small, quintessentially English village with very old cottages surrounded by much greenery. There is even an historically important ruin in the form of Basing House, once the largest private house in Tudor England. Sadly closed the day we ambled by, but worth a return visit, I’m sure.

Driving on through glorious farm land and speeding by the Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery (crikey – it all happens in Hampshire, doesn’t it), we were headed for Whitchurch, a sleepy little village (and not quite as picturesque as Old Basing, it has to be said), to have a look at their Silk Mill.

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Whitchurch Silk Mill is the oldest silk mill in Britain still in its original building. It was built in 1815 and production there, which included weaving for Burberry and Ede and Ravenscroft London’s oldest tailor and robes-maker, continued right up until 1985 when the mill was weaving fabric for legal and academic gowns.

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After this time, work at the mill slowed and there were plans for buildings on the front lawn which caused a bit of local unrest. The charity, Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust stepped in, injected some cash and set about restoring it.

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The Winding Room

Now, with added Heritage Lottery Funding, the Mill continues to weave fabulous silks still using the original 19th century machinery and is open for all to view. The admission is only £4.50 and for this you watch a short video on the history of silk before being allowed to wander at your will around this magnificent building.

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And herein lays the weakest link. We wandered through the workshops and the winding room before looking through glass to see the silk being woven but weren’t really sure how the process actually worked because there were no volunteers or otherwise to tell us. The place was virtually deserted which was astonishing as in the winding room there were items that could have been easily slipped into a handbag and flogged as authentic at a Surrey antiques fair.

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Beautiful old reels

There is a quirky little cafe on the first floor with wonderful views over the gardens and the River Test but the counter service was laboured to put it mildly and a bit of confusion ensued over a black coffee and a cappuccino. We patiently waited for this to be sorted, ignored the delicious looking home-made cakes and opted for fruit scones instead. We couldn’t help thinking that a concession (I do not mean Starbucks) might help bring in the punters.

So although we felt that more could be made of the Silk Mill Experience – the Gift Shop was selling silk items but on closer inspection, these were all made in China – we had a good day out wending our way around the by-ways of Hampshire while we planned our next outing.

If we needed to prove that our tastes are nothing if not eclectic then our second trip provides testament. We went to the Saatchi Gallery in West London to view the Rolling Stones Exhibition, aptly entitled Exhibitionism.

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For anyone who has grown up with The Stones – and that’s probably everyone on the planet – this show is a fun way to spend an hour or so, waltzing through the band’s fifty year career from the early days of obscurity to the stadium tours. There are nine themed galleries at the Saatchi combining over 500 original Stones’ artefacts peppered with cinematic archive and contributions from an array of contemporary artists (Warhol, for instance), musicians, designers and writers.

I particularly enjoyed the reconstruction of their first flat. They lived together in Edith Grove, Chelsea, when they were barely out of their teens and this reconstruction apparently has been created with careful reference to each of the remaining Stones. It was worthy of a Tracey Emin installation and depicts the abject squalor Mick and the boys lived in and where they began writing the songs that have since passed into popular culture.

There is also a room full of mannequins sporting the stage clothes worn on their various tours and what is most striking is how tiny these garments are. SSF observed darkly that the drugs were probably responsible. Close inspection of the clothes reveal the exquisite tailoring, the like of which I remember seeing several years ago at the Valentino retrospective.

Other rooms are filled with instruments from various decades as well as the art work for all the album covers, video footage of concerts and an interview with Martin Scorsese.

The exhibition culminates in another reconstruction – this time a generic example of the band’s dressing room and backstage space after which we are ushered through the ‘stage door’ to watch a video of their last London Hyde Park Gig. We all had to don 3D specs to watch the finale of ‘Satisfaction.’ It was possibly the next best thing to being there.

After all that excitement we stepped, blinking, into the sunshine, crossed the King’s Road and hurried into Peter Jones for a cup of tea.

Back in the real world.

Exhibitionism runs until 4th September at the Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s Square, Chelsea.

 

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I had a bizarre experience a couple of weeks ago. While visiting Mum, we decided to take a trip to the local supermarket so she could stock up on provisions. However, once we got there, Mum decided that, on account of a dodgy knee, she’d rather sit in the car while I whizzed round with her list. Which I did. In double quick time.

I decanted the shopping from trolley to conveyor belt in frenzied fashion, mindful of Mum waiting in the car on an unusually hot day, thinking of those stickers you see in windows about dogs being left in sizzling cars reasoning, well, it’s only her leg she’s having trouble with, surely she could open the door in case of emergency. But you must have experienced this type of scenario: the angst just increases with every minute…

“Do you need a bag?” asked the sales assistant.

“No thanks, I have one here,” I said breezily in my I’m saving-the-planet-single-handedly voice, smugly rummaging around for my trusty fold-up carrier. (Eco-friendly or what?)

And then, without changing tone and whilst swiping the barcode on a loaf of bread, she said, “Are you Jennifer?”

I looked at her incomprehensibly for what felt like hours but was probably a nano-second or so. She looked at me and waited. I squinted at her name badge. Tina. Ah, a clue. Tina…Tina Perkins. Tina Perkins. Yes, right, got it. I’m there, back in time aged about nine at our local primary school. Tina Perkins was in the year below me. It was all coming back to me now…

Tina and her friend Gillian spent much of their time giggling at the back of the classroom not doing as they were told. To be fair, Tina was probably led by Gillian – the only girl in a large family of feisty brothers well able to look after themselves. You definitely wouldn’t cross Gillian – it was probably a sensible move to make her your friend. Gillian had decimated Dad’s coconut shie at our school’s annual June Fair one year, being an ace shot with a wooden ball, knocking the fruits off the wobbly wooden poles. She and Tina left the stall with armfuls of the things.

Anyway, I learned that Tina had moved away for a while and lived ‘Up North’ but she returned recently to the village where some of her family are still living to discover that the place had changed substantially in the half century since we were children and it just wasn’t the same. (I didn’t say anything here, I promise). The sweet shop that we all used to make a bee-line for after school – Miss Knight’s, we called it, had closed years ago.

Miss Knight’s sweet shop could easily have been the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s ‘Grubber.’ Essentially it was the front room of her house, a stone’s throw (well, for Gillian, at least), from the school gates. Shelves were lined with huge dusty glass jars of sweets – lemon drops, fizzers, liquorice twists, fruit salads, cough candies, black jacks – you remember them, they’d be there. You’d be able to fill a little white paper bag for four-a-penny and then ruin your teeth on the walk home. There was a malevolent ginger cat who sat on Miss Knight’s makeshift counter next to her scales, scowling in a feline way at all the children waiting in line to be served. In the summer you’d be able to purchase a home-made penny lolly – iced water that Miss Knight had attached sticks to and added various shades of dubious food colouring. We’d end up with lips stained bright blue or poisonous green. Health and Safety being a thing of the future, we all managed to survive somehow.

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As I finished loading the shopping I asked Tina how on earth she had recognised me in the first place, whereupon she replied that I didn’t look any different. Which I suppose I could have taken as a huge compliment had I been comfortable with my nine year old appearance (I was often mistaken for a boy), but since she reckoned the last time she saw me I was dressed as Tufty the road-safety squirrel, I don’t think it was. Tufty – remember him? ROSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents introduced Tufty and his chums as far back as 1953 to encourage children to learn how to cross a road safely and I was in costume, taking part in the village carnival.

Every year, there was a fancy dress parade for us children and this particular year, a Tufty costume (in my size, unfortunately), had become available. We borrowed it from another student who attended my swimming lessons at a nearby pool – his mother and mine had become pals in the viewing gallery while we all floundered away below with our polystyrene floats, choking on the chlorine as we attempted a width without drowning. Tina and I reminisced away, but that latest swimming pool memory had nagged something in the back of my mind.

Lordy! I’d forgotten about Mum, cooking away in my car. Much to the relief of the queues that had built up behind me, I bade Tina a hasty goodbye and hot-footed it out of there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ta-dah!

Here I am, not fallen off the blogosphere, just jogging along not doing very much at all other than follow the shenanigans going on in Westminster with a zeal not experienced since the turbulent days of Thatcher and Kinnock. If the current situation wasn’t so seriously damaging then each day brings forth material worthy of a script for Yes Minister or Spitting Image. I’ve been enjoying things immensely.

So we now have Teresa May (or May-Nott) as Prime Minister who looks like a former head girl and bears a grey sort of resemblance to a previous incumbent – John Major. Still, at least she can string a sentence together – unlike her unlikely leadership rival Andrea Loathsome who peppered everything she said with ‘you know.’

(No love, actually I don’t and that’s why you’ve put yourself in the running, because you think you do know). She was far too blingy and wore her skirts too short. Not suitable at all. Not a chance.

Still, let’s be grateful for small mercies: the ghastly Gove has gone – and the nefarious Farage seems to have disappeared. All we can hope for now is that Boris will end up in a hostage situation in some far off country while doing his Foreign Secretary duties and no-one will bother to negotiate his release.

I suppose we’ll have to not mind that the horrible ‘Brexit’ word has wormed its way into the nation’s lexicon and will no doubt wind up in the Oxford dictionary. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what transpires with the whole damn mess and whether the Labour Party can stop their in-fighting and put together a decent opposition.  Nothing anyone can do now. The country has apparently spoken.

Meanwhile – it’s the summer break and I’m off to a gallery or two. At least no-one’s touched the art.

Stay tuned – I’ll be back…

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