Posts Tagged ‘humor’

A headline in a recent newspaper caught my eye which in turn had me thinking nostalgically about the plaything that as a child I returned to again and again. I don’t mean teddy bears – they don’t count as toys – they are loyal confidants; one of life’s necessities (Bear ones) and I wouldn’t be without mine.  I’m not talking about skipping ropes, board games or dolls. I was never much interested in the latter although I of course had them. I was a little girl, after all, and dolls are what girls were meant to play with. I had a dolls pram too – maroon if I remember correctly – a miniature version of the sturdy Smart-Car-sized Silver Cross that my mother perambulated for years. The doll’s house was used initially but quickly abandoned – a shame really as it was made for me by my grandfather – a facsimile of his own home.

But it’s the humble Lego brick to which I pay homage. Apart from books which have always been a constant companion, the androgynous red and white bricks of my Lego-filled youth provided me with hours of creative activity and sparked imaginings beyond even the wildest playroom. I think the first set I ever owned consisted of a few bricks of each size and a flat grey base unit. I built houses. I built cottages by the sea; I built state of the art tower blocks; I built castles as my collection grew – whole towns once the Lego street map arrived. I made farms and zoos. Each Christmas stocking produced a tiny box containing much needed single tenners or double sixer bricks or window shapes, some with tiny closing shutters. Envisage my utmost delight when Lego brought out the translucent brick and I designed my architecturally inspired sixties houses with integrated translucent walls and imagined internal spiral staircases. This was only surpassed a little later by the production of a tiny circuit board with bulb, switch and battery which could be concealed within my house and – lo and behold – there was light! (And I had my first ever physics lesson. Sadly things have gone downhill in that department ever since).

Picture of assorted Lego bricks from Wikipedia Picture of assorted Lego bricks from Wikipedia

My Lego collection is still around somewhere in the family, having been added to by various keepers over the years. To my mind though, these later additions are pretenders to Lego’s original ideals. Gone is the need to imagine a jumbled creation of duo-coloured blocks as something tangible and mysterious – now we have vivid themed sets with instructions. Where is the creativity, where is the encouragement to imagine?

The aforementioned headline stated that Cambridge University are to appoint a “Professor of Lego” with funding from the eponymous company. My first reaction on seeing this was one of ridicule but as I read the article and thought about it, I think they may be on to something. The Lego Foundation has provided the funding to research how children play. The article suggests that children have lost the ability to create their own amusement and this is impacting on their educational development. I am amazed that it has taken an injection of £1.5million to come to this conclusion. You’ve only got to look for children playing outside in the fresh air during their school holidays and you’ll pretty soon realise that our wide open spaces are largely empty. No jumpers for goalposts these days. No tree climbing either (too dangerous) no camp-making in the woods (again, far too dangerous) and definitely no unsupervised pond-dipping (even more dangerous).

Lego has been lauded as a therapy tool for children with autism and has also been recommended as a creative thinking device for business people – everyone should have a box of random bricks on their desk. I don’t think that’s too whacky an idea – it’s even thought to reduce city stress levels.

I think I might suggest that we introduce Lego to our department if the budget can stretch that far – we could get the students to create the finest structure they can with limited resources – introduce a bit of competition, just like the real world. Oh, wait a minute; competitiveness is frowned upon these days too. We’ll need another research project – Professor of Rivalry, perhaps?

 

 

 

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It has been noted in some quarters that my blog posts have been rather erratic of late. There’s a reason of course. Of course there is. I’ve been distracted. I’ve finally fallen into the abyss and fully discovered the varying possibilities of our digital age: I have been on-line gaming.

No, no – not that sort of online gaming – I’m not gambling or even paying for anything although I have for some time played a form of Scrabble over the airwaves with various family members which, there is no doubt, is addictive. Occasionally, whilst cogitating over the best word to play to maximise my score, an advert will pop up suggesting other games I might enjoy. Until recently I have studiously ignored these. However, in an unguarded moment I found myself clicking through to something called ‘Candy Crush.’ What an inane yet thoroughly absorbing waste of time that is. I spent the best part of a weekend trying to pop some imaginary plastic bottles, convincing myself that the time invested was improving my hand-eye coordination.

When I realised the full horror and implication of what I was doing, I deleted all the data from my machine and am forcing myself not to be enticed to click on anything that may unwittingly bring the wretched thing back. It’s like giving up chocolate for Lent. It makes me wonder how many man hours are squandered in a computer-based workplace as bored employees covertly click through to complete the next level of whatever game they are hooked on. Thank goodness I’ve been in a classroom over the last couple of weeks otherwise I too may have been tempted.

Subsequently, to alleviate the grieving process having parted company so brutally with the luridly coloured ‘Candy Crush,’ I’ve been in search of other more worthwhile pursuits. This was also a sub-conscious diversionary tactic as I should be getting down to some creative writing, re-writing and editing of short stories as I’m meeting up with writing friends shortly to share progress. (Ladies: you’ll be disappointed).

Anyway, I’ve found something new to me that is likely to occupy me to the point of obsession: Flipboard. I’ve been aware of this online magazine collection for a while as I’ve clicked on blog links I’ve been reading but I’ve never really explored its potential till now. There are topic categories to cover all interests, drawn from various media and you have the choice to create your own ‘magazine.’ It’s like having a scrapbook where you can squirrel away lots of fascinating articles and read them at your leisure. What’s more, you can share your created magazine with friends.

In a fit of inspirational non-imagination, I have created a magazine with the same title as this blog. (Well, there’s nothing like streamlining, is there?). I’ve started to fill it with articles that interest me and which, I hope, may interest you. So if you can’t find me blogging as regularly, then you might like to drop in on my Flipboard magazine – click here: CHARACTERSFROMTHEKITCHEN – and see what I’ve been reading. I always wanted to edit a magazine…On the other hand, the articles I find might provide me with some sorely needed inspiration.

Happy reading folks!

Technical note: Flipboard seems to display best as a magazine on Ipad but loads perfectly well on a Windows laptop in scroll format.

 

 

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We had reason to visit Horsham in West Sussex this weekend, a not too distant town, on a drop off mission and en route to somewhere else. Imagine how interested I was then that, quite by coincidence, I happened to read in the Times last Friday that Horsham is one of the happiest places to live in Britain. According to property experts. Well, what do they know?

Driving round the ring road nose to tail certainly doesn’t provide one with an immediate impression of happiness. Soulless buildings, a multitude of insurance head-offices with minimal corporate planting of unsuitable tropical greenery in dreary brick-built window boxes only serve to highlight how out of place such architecture is in a West Sussex market town. At least, that’s how the property experts market it: a Market Town. I wonder what constitutes a market town these days – a yokel in a white smock shepherding a herd of swine across a local stream with waddling geese in their wake, a loaded hay-wain in the background?  (I didn’t see any of those). Or a few barrels of cider and a cheese stall, displayed on straw to make it look rustically authentic?  Horsham would appear to favour the latter. (The fruit and veg stall we swiftly passed was selling Spanish strawberries and asparagus from Peru. But I’m getting ahead of myself here).

Eventually we arrived at a multi-story car park. Which was sporting a new ticketless parking system called Smart Park.

Oh, Horsham is nothing if not cutting edge. The technological advances pounced on by the local district council here knows no bounds.

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apologies for the poor quality – snapped quickly on my phone…

 

A camera photographs your number plate on entry and then all you have to do after a successful (or not) morning’s shopping, on your return to the car park, is remember your registration number. Because to release your car from this concrete hell hole you must tap your number into a machine, pay your dues and then, when you get to the exit barrier in your vehicle, your car will be automatically recognised and you’ll be let through. Allegedly.

 

In practise, it was utter chaos. In front of the only two machines were two snaking queues of glazed-eyed shoppers wearily waiting to key in their numbers behind other shoppers who had clearly forgotten theirs. They appeared as discombobulated as would-be apocalypse survivors, nervously jingling their change while mouthing a series of numbers and letters as if their lives depended on it.

When we eventually got back to our car we then had to wait in a jolting line of other vehicles attempting to make it through the barrier. One driver several cars ahead of us left his vehicle and remonstrated loudly with a young chap wearing a ‘happy to help’ high-viz jacket. Well, at least he was trying to promote happiness. I can’t imagine his feeling of well being will last long though, with constant verbal abuse from frustrated car drivers.

I counted four of these high-viz-happy-to-help attendants. How can that be cost effective? Surely one person, employed to replace a ticket roll and empty the machine, is a cheaper option than four people required to placate angry shoppers. Not to mention the cameras at bumper level that have been installed and connected to the state of the art machines that are causing all the angst amongst Horsham’s happy crowd.

Now, before any Horshamites take umbrage I’d like to make it clear that I have nothing against Horsham. I’m not criticising the place: it’s a perfectly nice town. It has all the shops you’d expect plus plenty of cafes and eateries. There is a bandstand around which several market stalls sell a range of produce. The buildings are a mix of old, not so old and new. I just don’t like their parking system. (Or the ring road but then to be fair, most places have one of those).  I’d still like to know what makes it a happier place to live than say, Guildford, which seems to me to be a reasonably happy place to be. Let’s just hope our Borough Council doesn’t adopt this Smart Park idea. Happiness could plummet over night.

 

 

 

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The Saturday job at the chemist provided extra work throughout the holidays which in turn provided me with the cash required to clothe myself as a wannabe hippy in flared jeans and a selection of groovy cheesecloth tops and t-shirts. In a parallel life I was studying for ‘A’ levels, spending copious amounts of time in the art room, wading around in rivers on geography field work or having a wonderful time being properly introduced to Shakespeare by one Mr Herman Peschmann, a diminutive yet cantankerous German who resembled a shell-less tortoise. He had a slight problem pronouncing the word ‘three’ so we spent every lesson forgetting where we were in the text just to hear him repeat ‘Act Three; Scene Three’ which just happened to be on page thirty-three.  To our immature sixth-form minds this was hilarious but he got us through those exams and left us with a lifelong appreciation of the bard.

As if the pressures of the looming exams weren’t enough, we were subjected to our career interviews.  Remember those? You’d be ushered into a makeshift office the size of a broom cupboard (come to think of it, it was the broom cupboard) where an earnestly whiskered elderly woman with bad breath wearing a beige home knitted cable cardigan and flat sandals shuffled a few pamphlets and talked about secretarial college. Or the army.

In days of yore it wasn’t the natural progression to opt for three years at some ivy clad institution slogging your way through every optic in the student union bar and then take a gap year funded by your cash flashing parents – it was still perfectly acceptable to go out to work – and what’s more, there were actual jobs available for those with an inherent  work ethic but fewer theoretical credentials.

With the naivety of youth and a head swimming with implausibly grand ideas of becoming the next Mary Quant, buyer for Harrods or Sunday supplement editor-in-chief I settled in front of Miss Careers-Advice who suggested sweetly that as I had no intention of further education I should definitely think about becoming a secretary. After my dreary filing experience at the bookshop any notion of admin filled me with horror.  I didn’t like to tell her that I didn’t want to BE a secretary, I intended to HAVE one. I left that broom cupboard with a handful of her leaflets and deposited them swiftly into the nearest bin.

I began to panic a bit when several friends suddenly decided that they wanted to be teachers and signed up for various universities. Perhaps I ought to look for something beyond the sixth form, if only to keep the adults in my life from asking what I’d be doing post exams. I trawled through volumes of college prospectuses and finally found what appeared to be a course tailor-made to my lofty, fast-track ambitions. A one year diploma in periodical journalism (an academic year of course means September to June – things were looking better by the minute) at the London College of Fashion in Central London. Marvellous! All my boxes ticked and a year swanning around Oxford Circus: what more could a girl ask for.

I applied, was interviewed and turned up on my first day where I quickly realised that this was going to be the longest year of my life. My fellow course mates, most of whom owned a Chanel handbag, seemed to be treating this as a state-funded finishing school opportunity – a respectable interlude between exclusive boarding school and getting married to a City banker then heading off to the Shires to produce multiple offspring. However, I happily discovered a couple of kindred spirits – one of whom transferred to St Martin’s art college after the first term – leaving me and Val to endure and make the most of whatever came our way.

I have to admit that we probably didn’t embrace our time there quite as we should. We spent considerable time in the nearby Phoenix pub bemoaning our fate over half a Shandy before being dragged unwillingly around all the London fashion shows by Miss Jackson who in her time had been a Fleet Street fashionista but was by now retired and well past her sell-by date. While most of our peers were swooning at the sight of the editor of Vogue in the front row and possibly waiting to prostrate themselves in front of her, Val and I were frantically writing our reports and working out the quickest way back to Oxford Circus to be the first in line for cheese on toast in the canteen before the dreaded evening sessions began. These sessions involved learning a version of shorthand (T-line) which I never got to grips with (smacked of admin) and which I failed dismally.  Then there were the cosmetic science lessons where all I can remember is producing my own hand cream using something called Isopropyle. A word that for some reason has stuck in my memory all these years but which I’ve never had cause to use. The only useful journalistic training we gained was a block of six weeks taken at the London College of Printing. Based at the Elephant and Castle – a less than salubrious area of south London which came as a shock to the haute couture brigade who I don’t think had ever ventured across the Thames, this was where we learned from working journalists about editing, deadlines, printing and the reality of working on a daily paper.  We created our own dummy newspapers, selected stories, set up interviews, had our work rejected. It was fast, fun and furious and Val and I loved it which made returning to the fluffy world of fashion even harder but at least we knew where we didn’t want to work come the summer.

And, as the saying goes, nothing is ever wasted. As the end of the summer term approached, job vacancies trickled in to our tutor at the college. We were encouraged to go for as many interviews as we could. While the Edina and Patsy’s of this world held out for a position on one of the glossies some of us decided to have a bash at anything. So it came to pass that a position presented itself in the press office of the John Lewis Partnership, based at their flagship store a block away from Oxford Circus. I went along for an interview, they liked me; I liked them. It was settled. I said goodbye to the chemist’s forever. I was going to be a partner.

Oh, and by the way, for anyone who has ever thought that the characters of Edina and Patsy in the sitcom ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ are way too over the top, please let me reassure you that they aren’t. I have known people exactly like them – I only wish it had been me and not Jennifer Saunders who had created them. Here’s a hilarious reminder:

 

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How long did it take during your Christmas/New Year break to discover that you really couldn’t face one more chocolate, marzipan fruit, mince pie, trifle or slice of cold turkey, ham and accompanying pickle? How long was it before you were pining for something plain and simple, no sugar or unnecessary carbs attached? I’d reached my limit by Sunday 28 December.

As the fridge was still bursting with seasonal fare and a chocolate mountain overloaded the sideboard already I was dreaming of fasting. Even alcohol lost its appeal.

The sofas remained in a state of permanent lopsidedness with their slumped indented unplumped cushions caused by their permanently slumped and increasingly obese occupants while the TV went round on a loop of hideously boring repeats – some only repeated from the week before – as if any of us really noticed or even cared as yet another box of Turkish Delight was offered around.

Not being one to waste food I’ve made just about made sure we’ve chomped our way through pretty much everything before hitting the supermarket with renewed New Year vigour. The other day I made soup from some old leeks I found lurking and a wedge of stilton cheese. Why we buy strong blue cheese I have no idea – we never eat it at any other times during the year – but it’s a part of Christmas, so we have it. I had no idea that there would be a recipe for this combination so I just followed my culinary instincts (which we all know aren’t that well honed), chopped the leeks, sweated them in some butter, added a potato and vegetable stock then zizzed them up together with my hand-held blender. I then crumbled in the cheese, zizzed a bit more and returned the pan to the heat, adjusted the seasoning and served. Quite good, actually, although if I made it again (unlikely), I’d add a bit of milk to take the strength from the cheese.

I’m pleased to report that a) there won’t be any further recipe tips here and b) thankfully the cupboard is bare and we can look forward to getting back to a weekly routine.

Speaking of reports – I was interested to learn from the WordPress review of my blogging year that I have managed to elicit the same amount of traffic to my site as it would take to fill the Sydney Opera House several times over. Well, not having ever visited said concert hall, this statistic was rather lost on me until I equated the total to filling the Royal Albert Hall and discovered that I’m probably as popular as Eric Clapton on a two night sell out tour.

Now I know how many hits it takes to fill the Albert Hall…

Thanks to everyone who has dropped in, liked and commented – much appreciated.

WordPress also suggested that I take a look at some older successful posts and consider writing about those topics again. Hmm, might try this as a bit of an experiment especially as one post has only elicited interest because of its accompanying photographs and I’m feeling less than creatively original at the moment. Sounds like an excellent solution.

Also, in their wisdom, school have sent me on a training course which requires homework to be completed every week for the next ten. I can see this taking up more time that I anticipated so blog posts may well be sporadic although I’m hoping that the training course itself will provide some fodder.

So, that’s the start of my 2015 – glad to be back in the routine – however much we rail against it, I think we’re all creatures of habit to a greater or lesser extent.

Here’s to a new blogging year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wrapping, sticking, tying, cutting, folding, covering, curling, polishing, paring, adorning, chopping, embellishing, fretting,  marinating, rolling, icing, dicing, stuffing, hiding, cooking, hanging, forgetting, decorating, dusting, peeling, browning, trimming, seasoning, stirring, splicing, vacuuming, arranging, sautéing,  draping, laying, panicking, cleaning, shining, contacting, baking, whipping, drinking, roasting, slicing, basting, measuring, fixing, fastening, eating, festooning, simmering, hosting, tidying, washing, drying, stacking, preparing, repeating…

images3JEDFBJNI hope it’ll all be worth it.

The blog kitchen will be closed for a bit while I concentrate on the real one, but I’ll be back sometime in January.

Whatever you’re doing over the festive season, have a wonderful time and a very happy, peaceful new year.

See you on the other side.

     

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Have you bought your cards yet?

For Christmas?

I have. (Smug).

Last week I was in a pretty market town somewhere in the south of England when I spied the charity cards for sale sign, denoted by a little triangular Father Christmas. I always buy my seasonal greetings cards from this outlet, they who temporarily take over abandoned church and village halls, take up space in tiny museums and libraries. I don’t know how much of the profit goes to charity but it’s better than none at all.

So in I went. I was the only customer – it was early afternoon and the foyer of this particular hall was decked with festive cheer and boxes and boxes of cards laid out in military precision on tables, each box clearly stating for which charity the cards were supporting. I had plenty of space and time to browse.

Manning the ancient transitory till were two lady volunteers of a certain age so very obviously of the Jam and Jerusalem variety. Couple this with the fact that I was in the home counties, add a padded green gilet or two, a tweed skirt, a would-be Hermes scarf and a set of pearls and you’ll get a pretty accurate picture of these two frightfully well-meaning souls: pillars of their community. Huddled together as they were, around a battered convector heater, clacking away with their knitting needles, (probably socks for the Ebola crisis – any world crisis and the British Women’s Institute is right in there to knit the socks) I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation, delivered as it was in the unmistakable bray so inherent of the Shires.

For the sake of the telling, I’ll call these ladies Phyllis and Felicity. Their conversation went something like this:

Phyllis: Did you see that Tony Blair….

Felicity: Ugh, ghastly little man….

Phyllis: Yes, quite. Did you see that he’s been given some sort of an anti-poverty award by Save the Children?

Felicity: No! Unbelievable! Something else to keep his horrible little profile going…

Phyllis: Absolutely.  Well, I for one certainly won’t be donating to them any more … What on earth were they thinking?

At this point I was perusing the children’s charity cards. My hand hovered; I hesitated, selected a pack of cards then moved to the next table.

Felicity: Well I don’t give to Cancer Research anymore. Did you see how much they’re paying their Chief Exec?

Phyllis: Oh, I know; absolutely outrageous isn’t it? Oxfam’s just the same.

And so it went on, the two of them loudly dissecting different charities and posing reasons as to why they wouldn’t support them. It was hilarious; I had to stifle my laughter.   It was like landing in the middle of a comedy sketch worthy of the Two Ronnies. Characters so blatantly unsuitable for the roles they were performing…

Then it occurred to me that these ladies could be conducting some sort of psychological experiment of which I had unwittingly become a part. Were they amusing themselves by trying to work out the personality of their customers by leading them away from certain boxes of cards? Were they trying to ascertain that some customers were defiant?  Were they testing me? Should I play their game, double bluff them or put my theory down to an unusual rush of paranoia?  I put the cards back. I started at the other end of the room. Two can play at this game, I thought.

As I sifted through a box of assorted odd charities such as the Benevolent Milkman’s League or similar I remembered that one of my very good friends volunteers for Christmas card duties every year. (SSF – she of the London bus tour – remember her?) She’s as far from Hermes scarves and pearls as one could possibly be but she does have a wicked sense of humour. I can just imagine that if she and I teamed up in some village hall in a volunteering capacity, we’d probably invent a game like this to while away the hours. Perhaps I’ll sign up with her next year – we could have a lot of fun, even though I’m not a knitter.  As it happens, I’m seeing her tomorrow for tea. Maybe we could play a version of this by commenting on the calorie content of the cakes at the counter as potential customers salivate.

Anyway, back to my cards. I purposely haven’t bought as many this year. I’m paring down my list, I’ve decided. I’m sticking to my inner circle. Not because postage is so astronomically expensive and I’m a skinflint – no – but when we send out cards year after year to people we never see, don’t want to particularly see and receive cards from people we don’t even know, what is the point?

For instance, we open a card every year wishing us all the best from Roger, Bev and family (with all their love). We have no idea who these people are. Not a clue. At least it’s a source of annual amusement: we await the envelope dropping on the doormat with seasonal anticipation.  I suppose we should be grateful that they don’t include a family newsletter although in this case it might help us with their identity.

I loathe those letters, don’t you? The ones people photocopy and send out to everyone on their card list, regardless how well they know the recipient. I’d go as far as saying that I find them offensive. If I’m not worth writing to individually, then please don’t bother. If I don’t know you that well then I’m not interested in the condition of your great aunt’s care home or your daughter’s violin lessons or the problems you’ve had with your kitchen extension. If you really want to write about the minutiae of your life, then start a blog and make it at least half-way amusing.

Right then, that’s the cards done. Just the present buying and food shopping to go and we all know how much I love that.

 

 

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My stomach lurched as I arrived home from work yesterday afternoon. On the doormat was a brown paper envelope from the Inland Revenue addressed to me. It’s never good news – I’m not one of these people to ever get a tax rebate – no – it’s usually because they’ve underestimated how much I owe them or they’re writing to tell me my coding is wrong. (As if it’s my fault).

So imagine my astonishment and delight when, upon opening, the first thing I see in large bold letters are the words: ‘… this is not a demand for payment.’

Relief! Even more delightful, the tax office with its new tax-payer-friendly approach is sending out Annual Tax Summaries. Whoop-de-do!  I have my very own, no expenses spared ‘personalised summary,’ presented in a beautiful two page multi-colour document, outlining the ways in which the tax I pay each year is spent. On one side there’s a column of figures detailing exactly how much of my payment goes where and on the other, a stripy pie chart where I can see at a glance the proportions to which the government in its wisdom has shared out my tax and National Insurance Contributions to the greater good. Or not.

pie

Well, it’s not wise. Just look at the sections. Pretty much a quarter on Welfare; roughly a fifth on Health; a measly little slither for the Culture and Environment segments.  I made myself a cup of tea and got the calculator out. I began working out percentages, which for me is no mean feat, I can tell you.

I don’t really want 24.6% of my contributions to go on Welfare while I’m only paying 1.6% to sports, libraries and museums; I don’t want them to contribute at all to housing and utilities (e.g. street lighting – their example) because I thought that’s what we paid our extortionate council taxes for. I would prefer for them to shove a bit more towards Business and Industry (currently only 2.7%) in the hope that this will provide more training and apprenticeship opportunities to get people off benefits and into work, thereby lessening some of the Welfare need.

But what I really, really do not want is to contribute 2% to Government Administration so they can send me out an Annual Tax Summary. What a waste of time and resources. It’s not as if it’s going to change anything, is it?

Or perhaps it might. In light of the result of this week’s by-election, won by the suitably monickered Mr Reckless (can you believe it – it’s like playing Happy Families) and bearing in mind there is a general election looming next year I’m not sure that these summaries, being sent out to every tax payer in the country was the wisest move. Political feeling in the country is running higher than it has done for decades. Mr Reckless’ party must be rubbing its hands with glee. Sending hard-working folk palpable evidence of government spending is like handing out touch papers.

Stand well back. The times they are a-changing.

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Anyone enjoy food shopping? I don’t. I positively hate it but as we all have to eat then it has to be done at least once a week in, as far as I’m concerned, as little time as possible. Which is why I trail begrudgingly to the supermarket: because it’s convenient.

Or at least it was. Our local store has recently undergone a major refurbishment to for all intents and purposes provide us – the customers – an improved shopping experience. Well, it hasn’t worked for me.

So we now have, on the outskirts of our small country town, a behemoth rivalling the size of an aircraft hangar. The range of goods of course is much wider – one third of the selling square footage is given over to home wares and clothing.  (I can’t bring myself to call it fashion, even though there is a range allegedly designed by Gok Wan).   From boxed dinner services to wooden boards, glassware, utensils, bed linen and plasma screen TV’s to gardening accessories, toys and bath towels.  As if I’m going to rush in and buy a duvet and curtain set from a food store on a whim; it’s just never going to happen.

I don’t remember on any of my prior pilgrimages to the store’s previous incarnation ever being accosted to fill in a customer questionnaire asking if I’d be interested in buying this superfluous stuff while I’m filling my trolley with comestibles. I’m assuming they’ve done their market research and have somehow come to the conclusion that it’s what we want but the general consensus amongst my work colleagues is that it’s anything but convenient.

The inconvenience store…

We now have to walk a distance of about ten miles, weaving up and down the aisles, all now arranged in a completely different order to that we’ve been used to. I’m not even sure the food range has expanded – they just put more of the same onto longer and higher shelves.

And the signage, hanging unhelpfully above – oh, my word. Can anyone tell me, in the name of Del Monte, what the blazes ‘Ambient Fruit’ is? I’d loved to have been around that table discussion when it was decided that this a more appropriate term for tinned peaches. They’ve also done away with the old, exotically entitled ‘Foods of the World’ and gone for a derogatory ‘Ethnic.’

To pick up my daily newspaper I have to push my trolley through the clothing area, past the queues for lottery tickets to the fixture at the foot of the stairway to our new ‘exciting’ restaurant. This establishment is on a mezzanine with far reaching views over harassed shoppers or the newly extended car park. It looks like an airport holding area and is anything but exciting. Quite frankly (and far be it from me to appear judgemental), the calibre of clientele frequenting this restaurant are not the sort to read a daily newspaper.

The car park has doubled in size and they’ve even provided electrical hook-up points because they must have calculated that during the inordinate amount of time it takes to charge up an electric car (according to a recent Top Gear programme) will probably be same length of time now needed for one shopper to get around their newly improved store.

Perhaps I should put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak, and stick to on-line grocery shopping: get it delivered direct to my door. Up until now I’ve preferred to select my fresh goods but I could be swayed into not worrying about it.

And isn’t it interesting to note that in the news this week, the shares of this particular supermarket chain, along with one of the other of our ‘big four’ have taken a substantial tumble. Coincidence? Convenience? I don’t think so.

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If you are a lover of dogs or drive an unnecessarily large vehicle, you may want to skip this post in case it causes offence.

You have been warned.

Now, you’re probably wondering to what that word in the title refers. It’s an invented word which became part of my family’s vocabulary since the time I was really quite small. It is a word coined by one eccentric uncle who, while out walking with us as he frequently did on a weekend, would shout out periodically, ‘Mind the Oomjar!’ warning us of unmentionable messes smeared across footpaths left by animals who know no better.

Don’t get me wrong: I like dogs. Some of them I’d even say are cute but I don’t want one. I’m quite happy to join dog-walking friends just so long as I have nothing to do with their accompanying plastic bags. We don’t have the time or the type of lifestyle that would be fair to a furry addition to the family. Shoving a dog in kennels every time we decided to have some time away wouldn’t be kind – it compares to packing your kids off to boarding school at the first opportunity. Why bother to have them in the first place?

It’s the dog owners I have issue with. Or at least some of them. Having just spent the most glorious weekend on the Camel Estuary in North Cornwall, it became apparent very early on that this is a dog’s paradise. Every other person we seemed to encounter had at least one canine in tow, often with an uncomfortably human name. Since when did it ever sound right to name a dog ‘Stan’ or ‘Jonathan?’ Perhaps their children are called Rex and Rover (or even Satan), I don’t know, but to me, there is a blurring of nomenclature here which just sounds weird.

Dog owners arrogantly assume that everyone else will be as besotted with their pooches as they are. So while you’re sitting on your picnic rug on beautiful golden sands, whiling away hours minding your own business and trying to enjoy the scenery, the peace is invariably shattered by the frenzied yapping of a small dog or the louder, gruffer barking of a larger variety followed by the braying tones of an over indulgent owner. A sea-drenched spaniel will probably come bounding over and shake itself all over you while its owner will become terribly offended if you shoo their pet away. They’ll make jokey excuses like ‘Oh, he’s just playing!’ and ‘Oops, sorry: Hector, bad boy, come here!’ which simply aren’t good enough, frankly. I can’t remember ever letting my toddler wipe his jammy little fingers over a complete stranger.

Talking of toddlers – I can illustrate here how barmy some Brits are about their dogs. We witnessed, on a short ferry ride across the river Camel, a young couple with a pushchair containing a dear little boy push a pacifier in his mouth while they proceeded to take photographs of each other with their dog; of the dog and selfies with the dog. The child was completely ignored. What’s that all about?

I don’t care how intelligent or obedient dog owners think their pets are, they can’t read. (The dogs, that is, not the owners – although the jury is out on that one, actually). So when confronted with a large sign at the start of the wonderful coastal path walk that says in large letters ‘No Dog Fouling’ – who in the name of the National Trust is this directed at? We undertook a walk of around five miles along a fantastically beautiful stretch of the South West Path but instead of being able to walk, head up and enjoy all that nature has to offer, we were constantly looking at our feet to watch out for the Oomjar. Where are all the responsible plastic bag wielding dog owners then? And before anyone tries to tell me that it was probably fox – I do know the difference – I live in the country.

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The South West Coastal Path along the Camel Estuary. Good job you can’t view this in Smell-o-Vision.

Dog owners are also very quick to tell you that their animal would never hurt anyone. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. They might be the most docile of pets but they are still unpredictable animals. Owners do not have complete control over their pet’s actions and while I’m happy to believe that a dog won’t bite me, you can’t say for definite that a large excitable one won’t bound up to a toddler, put his paws up and knock the child off his feet potentially causing damage, can you? Dogs can hurt – albeit indirectly – as I know two people who have broken their ankles while out dog walking.

So enough of Oomjar for a minute and on to vehicles: large ones. I drive a small hatchback, perfectly adequate for my needs yet last week while attempting to park at our local station before boarding the London train I was almost thwarted because the station commuter car park is littered with four wheel drive monstrosities or huge people-carriers. These cars are too wide for the current parking bays so those of us with ordinary cars are finding it increasingly difficult to acquire a space. Why are these cars being used just to leave in a car park all day? Why do folk have these vehicles in the first place – do any of them actually use their four wheel drives properly? Have they ever actually been off-road? (No; only in the wretched station car park).

Ah, I know – they must be owned and carelessly parked by the same unthinking types that let their animals leave their Oomjar all over the place. You’d need a big car for children and dogs, wouldn’t you? But only at the weekend when they all head off for Cornwall to ruin the place for the rest of us.

Any invented words still in use in your family?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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