Posts Tagged ‘humor’

Thought I’d share a couple of this morning’s news items with you.

The first concerns James Bond and a team of medical researchers from Nottingham University. During six months of intensive study, two medics have had to read all Ian Fleming’s novels about the British agent and record every time 007 takes a swig from a cocktail glass. I’m sure we have been waiting for this evidence for decades: James Bond is a drunkard. And what’s more, his drinking habits are so out of control that, conclude our intrepid researchers, in no way would he be able to perform the feats of heroism outlined in each and every story. This could have serious consequences for MI6’s recruitment drive. Hopeful young wannabe spies will be disappointed to learn it’s not all about swanning around in tuxedos quaffing a never ending supply of martini and green olives.

Picture: Daily Mail archive

Picture: Daily Mail archive

What I’d like to know is this. Who paid for this crucial research and when will they be ruining the fantasy further by analysing 007’s ability to stand upright on a fast moving express train? Perhaps when they have finished with 007 they could turn their attention to Superman. I have always wondered how Clark Kent manages to change so quickly within the confines of a telephone box. Every sane person knows it is impossible to put on a pair of tights in an upright position.

To be honest I’m shaken and visibly stirred.

The second news item that caught my attention (and which, I might add, made me late for work) was the notion that all contact sports (including football, rugby and hockey) should be banned for children under the age of fourteen. In case they become concussed. Now, while I am well aware that any head injury is potentially dangerous how can anyone in their right mind (or possibly concussed one?) think that a complete ban is the answer? As long as correct emergency procedures are followed in the event of an accident, are we no longer covered in this overly cautious society we are living in?

Tell you what, why don’t we all just keep our infants strapped into their car seats, stick them in front of a screen, supply them with a handset, wire them up to a pure oxygen supply and leave them there till they’re teenagers. It’s what they’ll be doing from thereon in anyway.

Might as well give them a head start.

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I have a slightly delicate subject to blog about this week, which is one of the reasons I’ve been putting it off. Other reasons include Christmas shopping on the high street as opposed to online and having a whale of a time at Tracy’s blog party which I managed to turn up late for, met lots of interesting folk and then probably out stayed my welcome.

Now, not wanting to offend anyone at all (believe me, if it was intended there’d be no mistake) – but the delicate subject to which I refer is awards. I just don’t get them. I don’t mean that I don’t get nominated – I do and have been sincerely touched by the thought – I mean that I don’t understand the concept. To me, an award is something bestowed, without strings attached, for an outstanding achievement or endeavour. So while it is obviously very gratifying that fellow bloggers consider my blog an outstanding achievement, I reckon that’s over doing things a tad.

Furthermore, as far as I’m aware, a requirement of accepting these awards is to answer a few questions posed by the nominator then pass on to other deserving bloggers, rather like a game of hot potato or an old fashioned chain letter. Therein, for me, lays a twofold awkwardness. Firstly, if I was worthy enough to win an award for something like, say, a Bafta, I‘d get to keep it with impunity and bask in its regularly polished reflection forever, and secondly, not wanting to bequeath to someone else the same uneasy dilemma, I wouldn’t have to angst over to whom I should pass the award.

I suppose it’s a bit like the passing on of the baton in a relay race, unless of course you are British  (which I am – and we all know how disappointing that can be when it comes to the last day of track and field events), as the baton is frequently dropped. So in traditional British style, I shall fumble over the baton exchange on this particular subject, say a collective thank you to all who have sent an award my way, and apologise for breaking the link.

photo from Daily Mail archive

photo from Daily Mail archive

Most blog awards that I’ve come across also require a certain amount of question answering, which I never mind as long as they are not being posed by a sales caller, so without further ado, (rather like a man faced with a set of instructions for flat packed furniture) I shall skip to these, and answer, as promised, a set of questions sent to me by the lovely Jade from her eclectic blog, Cocktails and Country Tales.

1)   What are your five favourite novels?

I couldn’t possibly commit to naming five all time favourites: the list would change. Books to me are memorable for different reasons, not always because I’ve enjoyed them. However, five books I’ve read recently and have enjoyed are:

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan; Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor; Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding; Ours Are the Streets by Sunjeev Sahota and Toby’s Room by Pat Barker.

It remains to be seen if they become memorable.

2)   What’s the best lie/ tall tale your parents ever told you as a child?

I don’t think they ever did. Apart from the magic surrounding Santa Claus they were wary of feeding the wrong information into enquiring young minds so were always very straight with us, even if sometimes the truth was disappointing.

3) What one object would you save from your house in a fire? (Nothing alive – presume that even the tropical fish can get themselves safely out without your help).

My teddy bear collection: the gang of three. As they are inseparable they’d have to count as one object, although they wouldn’t like to be thought of as such, each having his very own unique personality.

4) Do you remember the first ever fancy-dress party you went to? What did you go as and why?

It was our village summer carnival. At six years old, I was Peter Pan and my sister, Tinkerbell. Nanna made our costumes. I wore green tights underneath a green cotton tabard onto which she had sewn an assortment of plastic leaves. I also wore a pointed pixie hat. My sister had a white frock with lots of netting. I think she carried a wand made from tin foil and a cereal packet. As children, Peter Pan was one of our favourite stories – we would play at being the Darling family. By the way, Nanna was our real grandmother, not the Darling’s dog.

5) What would plan B have been, career-wise?

To try harder at Plan A

6) What one garment or item of clothing that you own could you not live without?

My old leather car coat

7) What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?

On leaving school I attended the London College of Fashion’s course in periodical journalism which I hated with a passion. Thankfully the course duration was only a year and it turned out to be a case of being in the right place at the right time because it tipped me in the direction of the career in publicity which I absolutely loved and which I followed for the next fifteen years.

8) Do you have any phobias, and what do you think caused them?

No phobias, although I’m not a huge fan of heights or spiders – but I deal with the latter using a glass and bit of cardboard. (Or the vacuum nozzle if it’s handy). An encounter with a spider on the top floor of an open air multi-storey car-park could well set off a phobia.

9) What is your most common typo? (Mine is Englihs . Yes, I know. ‘I am an Englihs teacher’. Sigh.)

I’m not aware of making a consistent typo. The spelling of ‘weird’ always takes me by surprise.

10) Why did you first start your blog, and is it the same thing that keeps you writing it now?

 I sometimes ask myself the same question. I wanted a reason to write regularly and originally I had intended to post some creative writing here, which I have done occasionally. However I quickly discovered that posting equals publishing so for any competition entering I may want to venture into, pre-posted stories would be ineligible. I keep writing now, still for the challenge of regular postings, but mainly to interact with all the interesting bloggers I have met along the way.

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I’ve invented a new game. You can play it on your own, but you have to be in the right frame of mind, or in a certain sort of mood. Son doesn’t reckon it’ll catch on, he says I’m just being embarrassing but I like to think of it as a game we grow into as we age. I’m naming it ‘Beat the Sales Call.’

old Ericsson phone -picture from Wikipedia

old Ericsson phone -picture from Wikipedia

Even though I signed up for the Telephone Preference Service, which is supposed to block unwanted calls from companies trying to flog their solar panelling (with the summers we have – are they kidding?), or charities attempting to sign you up as a direct debit donor, we still get plenty of nuisance calls. Usually at the most inconvenient time.

Occasionally however, I’ll answer and engage with the hapless souls who are trying to sell me something, the game being that I’ll waste so much of their time our number will be put on some sort of blacklist and we won’t be bothered in the future.

Now, regular readers will know about the love-hate relationship I have with my mobile phone. I still regard it as a device to be used in an emergency and not as something to have welded to the side of my face as do most of the people who hog the pavement space on our narrow high street. Or use loudly in restaurants as if the rest of the clientele are remotely interested in hearing their one-sided conversation. I receive and send minimal text messages and hardly ever use it to have a conversation, so when it rang yesterday evening, (just as Son and I were about to unwind with a cup of tea in front of a mindless TV comedy show), I answered it automatically, thinking it was an emergency. It wasn’t. It was Brendan. And poor old Brendan had stumbled unwittingly into my new game.

 So, to give you an example of ‘Beat the Sales Call,’ here’s a transcript of last night’s conversation.

“Hello there Jennifer, how are you today?”  (Jennifer? Whatever happened to good evening Mrs Pellett, I hope I’m not disturbing you? And incidentally, the only stranger I’ve ever not minded calling me by my rarely used full first name was the midwife who delivered my son. She could’ve called me anything)

 “Fine, thank you.”

 “Well, er, good. This is Brendan here, from Yodafone.*  How has your day been so far, Jennifer?” (Give me strength. Full of argumentative stroppy teenagers, actually. I’m so ready for you, Brendan).


“Good, good. Perhaps I can make it even better for you, Jennifer. This is just a quick call to see if I can do something for you today.” (Well, there’s a dishwasher that needs emptying, supper to attend to and about a hundred Christmas cards to write, Brendan, but I don’t suppose that’s what you have in mind).

 “Okay, so what are you trying to sell me then?”

 “Oh, no, no Jennifer, this is to look at the tariff you’re currently on and to see if we can help you out with a few discounts today…”   (Yeah, right)

 “Which I‘ll have to pay for.”

“I must just remind you Jennifer, that all calls are recorded for training purposes.”  (Oooh, goody. I wonder what they call staff trainers these days? Human Resource Furtherment Facilitators? – don’t get me started on that one).

“First up, Jennifer, I see you don’t have a four digit pin number set up.”

“Why would I need one of those?”

“So that I can talk to you about your account, Jennifer…”

“But you are talking to me about my account.”

“Okay, so we don’t need to set up a pin number Jennifer; if I could just have your date of birth and post code then.”

“Why do you need those – you phoned me, remember.”

“It’s just for data protection, Jennifer, I have your details on my screen.”

 “Whose protection are we talking about then? You phoned me, – how do I know you are who you say you are? I can see that if I phone say, my bank, I‘d expect to have to identify myself somehow, but you phoned me, Brendan. So what is the point of this call?” (Note that I’m beginning to sound like Brendan now).

 “Well, Jennifer, as I said, this is to see if we can help you save money on your tariff by offering you discounts.” (I’m beginning to feel sorry for Brendan now. He has such a lovely voice).

 “Yes, but to get to these so called discounts, Brendan, I’m ultimately going to have to spend more money, aren’t I?”

 “In all honesty, Jennifer, yes you are.” (Chuckling good naturedly, bless him).

 “Nice talking to you Brendan, goodbye.”

Of course, there are other ways to deal with unwanted sales calls. You can answer the phone, put it down and walk away or you can just not pick up at all. But neither of these options are nearly as much fun.

*Not a typo

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There’s been much in the media this week about a certain 50 year anniversary – the one that everyone over a certain age professes to know exactly where they were when the event occurred. You know the one I mean – it instantly shocked and rocked the world in a way that Mahatma Ghandi’s assassination didn’t, news not travelling quite so fast or as globally fifteen years earlier.

I was convinced I knew where I was the day the news came through about JFK. My mother disagreed – she said that I couldn’t possibly remember – I would have been far too young. (From where I am on the age scale now, I find that rather comforting). Of course, she was right (mothers always are); it wasn’t JFK’s assassination I remember – it was that of his brother, Robert, some five years later.

I have a vivid memory of standing on a moor somewhere in the West Country while my father listened to the news on his car radio that Kennedy had been shot. I know I was wearing shorts and a navy sweater; the weather was chilly and I remember goose pimples on my legs.

A moor somewhere in the West Country

A moor somewhere in the West Country

To corroborate my memorable tableau of times past, I consulted our holiday diaries, recently passed on to me by Mum during one of her sorting-out fests.

As a family, we kept a holiday diary, the writing of which fell to me from about the age of ten. These diaries have proved invaluable over the years in settling petty family disputes about when and where we may have done something or other while on vacation. So, to prove to myself that the car radio scenario was not a figment of my imagination, I checked to see if our holiday date and venue corresponded with the shooting of Bobby Kennedy in June 1968. No doubt about it. In early June of that year we were indeed on holiday in North Cornwall, as described by my own fair hand in beautiful pre-exam italic style.

While the news item was not mentioned in dispatches exactly, other vaguer memories that I have associated with Robert Kennedy’s death were established. The speedboat ride around Padstow harbour in grey and windy weather bears out the chilliness I experienced on that remembered moor, (must have been Bodmin); followed by knickerbocker-glories in a café.  I am pleased to report that the weather for the rest of our week was hot and sunny and we apparently spent a lot of time on the beach – but of that I have no true memory.

Isn’t it odd how our mind play tricks, selecting what is remembered in crystal clear vision while other things remain lost forever? Reading through some of the old diaries again jogged my memories into believing I had retrieved something from my past – but had I really? Does imagination help in recreating scenes that have slipped away?

Other, more recent world events will always stay with me, just like the memory of JFK does for people slightly older than me. I know exactly where I was when I heard about the twin towers and I know exactly how I felt the morning I woke to the news that John Lennon died, but although our London 7/7 bombings were a recent tragic loss of life – I have no recollection of what I was doing on that day.

As far as earliest memories go, I have a fleeting ghost of a picture in my head of walking along a low brick wall holding Nanna’s hand. It is sunny, there are leafy trees above and to my right is a big white house. I think I am waiting for Dad to drive up in a car. I am convinced it is where we lived briefly before moving to the country – but I would have been less than two years old and the year would definitely be pre-1963. Is this real thought or an imagined picture of my past that I have created because I have since seen that building?

And more to the point – can I ever prove Mum wrong?

Do you have a memory connected to a world event – or I wonder what your earliest memory is? I’d love to know.


Oh, and just one more thing…

The thought occurred to me that sharp-eyed car connoisseurs will be wondering what make of swanky car my family must have been driving in those days for it to have been fitted with a car radio. Well, let me tell you. It wasn’t.

This was our car:

1968 Morris Traveller

1968 Morris Traveller

And this was Dad’s radio:

or one very similar

or one very similar

And the reason I was standing on chilly Bodmin Moor was because we would have had to drive for miles to high ground so that Dad could get a signal. He was obsessed with the news. Every evening at home he would demand absolute silence while he watched the news on television which was, as I recall, often followed by something called ‘All Our Yesterdays,’ which for my sister and me at that time was just plain dull.

(We were both ace at current affairs though).

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Now there’s a loaded question. I enjoy nothing more while practising a little retail therapy than to pop in somewhere for a coffee, especially if an almond croissant is involved.  But try going into your local high street coffee chain and just asking for a cup of coffee. Please. You’ll be met with an incomprehensible stare from the ‘barista’ who will gesture towards a blackboard behind the counter where a never ending list of coffee related permutations, in cup sizes ranging from thimble to bucket, is waiting for your confused perusal.



Cappucino, Skinny Cap, Macchiato, Latte, Americano, Espresso, Espresso Doppio, Ristretto, Mocha, Mocha Mellow, Babychino; the list is relentless – now repeat with a de-caff option and what have we got?  A coffee mocha-ry, that’s what. And can someone tell me what Flat White is? I have visions of slurping from the saucer.

 When push comes to shove, I stick with Americano. I like my coffee unadulterated and strong – with a dash, a mere dash – of cold milk, which I prefer to administer myself, so it’s a bit of a relief that my coffee shop of choice provides miniscule jugs from which to dispense said dairy addition.


No, of course it isn’t; whole milk, semi-skimmed, skimmed or cream; or perhaps soya?

If all this choice is not perplexing enough, there is now a vast array of syrups to contend with. Why not add a shot of caramel or hazelnut or butterscotch, suggests the barista – or even a splash of passion fruit? Why on earth would I want to do that? And since when has someone who serves coffee been (bean) called a barista? The word sounds like a Bond villain summoning his defence lawyer.

I accept that this penchant for themed caffeine has a place on the high street (okay, I admit it – I have a loyalty card), but it’s beginning to filter into our homes; there’s no getting away from it.  Twice of late I have been invited to different friends’ homes for morning coffee and a catch up, which is lovely on all counts except that both have recently purchased  new-fangled coffee machines complete with colour-coded coffee capsules. These capsules are the same size and shape as the tiny, impossible to open, catering packs of milk or cream which you balance on your saucer with a mass produced cup of tea or coffee sold  in such establishments as a hospital canteen. The colour coding on these  capsules corresponds to different flavours and strengths of coffee. They have tantalisingly operatic names, such as Rosabaya, Fortissio Lungo or Volluto.

These capsules are put into the machine at one end and a wonderful cup of steaming espresso is supposed to come out at the other. Except that it doesn’t. What actually comes out is a tiny cup of warmish coloured water that does not taste remotely like anything I’d call coffee.

 Nothing-like-espresso.  (I think that must be what the N stands for).

I’m no stranger to  coffee machines: I’ve dabbled in the past. We had an Italian espresso and cappuccino maker once which I persevered with for a while but it eventually found its way to the charity shop for some other poor soul to struggle with.000309921alt2[1] I went back to my trusty cafetière and have enjoyed perfect coffee ever since.

 So when you invite me round for coffee, no offence, but I’ll be bringing my own flask of home brew.

 And you can blame George Clooney.

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Many years ago, while on holidayPhoto0006 in the south of France, we discovered a delicious rosé wine: dry and crisp, and served very chilled, it was the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of lunchtime moules marinière. We bought six bottles, stowed them in the back of the car and wended our way back to Blighty, by which time the rosé had turned to vinegar and was undrinkable.  We learned a salient lesson on that trip – that some things just don’t travel well – a bit like, dare I say it : trick or treating.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Over the years I’ve ripped my fingers to shreds whittling a spooky face into an over-sized pumpkin with the best of them; I’ve even been known to make fairy cakes, cover them in luminous orange icing and pipe black spiders on top which, for someone who loathes baking, shows a certain amount of maternal resolve, I feel. When Son was small, he and his friends would make their own scary masks and paper hanging bats and get together for Halloween teas. Trick or treating for them was confined to a few pre-primed neighbours. I wasn’t going to let him miss out just because I don’t ‘get’ it.

 Trick or treating, in its current guise, is a relatively new concept here in the UK. When I was a child it didn’t exist, neither did any of the paraphernalia that goes with it. I don’t remember even seeing a pumpkin – the nearest thing we had was a swede or a turnip which, I believe, were used by the ancient Celts to fashion tiny lanterns to light the ancestral way on All Hallows Eve. We were brought up to wait until offered a sweet; never to ask for one and not to speak to anyone we didn’t know; so even now, the idea of allowing children to knock on the doors of strangers and demand confectionary makes me uncomfortable.

 The local TV news yesterday morning reported that measures had been taken to ban the sale of flour and eggs to anyone under the age of eighteen and that police cars would be patrolling the area advising marauding gangs of hooded youth how to trick or treat responsibly.

So, bearing this in mind, I armed myself with a bag of cheap sweets to ward off any evil little spirits who banged on my door last night hoping it would prevent an omelette adhering to my windscreen. When all this malarkey first started, I was never sure whether it was me that should deliver the trick or the treat and I have been known to squirt expectant visitors with a water pistol. It’s all very well having fun, but the line between fun tipping over into vandalism and intimidation is a fine one: some elderly folk are truly frightened.


A sample of merchandise available in a local store

 I’m not bothered about our shops and garden centres being stuffed full of hideous Halloween miscellanea made in the Far East. The amount and variety spreads each year, like fast growing bacteria. Even our top end supermarket (the one that prefers to be called a food store and was the last major chain to capitulate to Sunday trading), has been seduced by the Halloween potential: and why not – it’s a huge, money making business leaking nicely into the run up to Christmas. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart.

We can’t claim trick or treating as a tradition, either. To be sure, I checked the definition in my trusty Oxford English Dictionary, which confirms:

 Tradition; [Mass noun] the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

Traditions, therefore, have to evolve – we can’t just steal a tradition from another country, from another culture and expect it to work or be accepted by all here.  On the whole, Britain is pretty hot on tradition: we are steeped in it. In a few days time we’ll be celebrating Bonfire Night, commemorating the foiling in 1605, of an early activist called Guy Fawkes, from blowing up the Houses of Parliament. (With hindsight, and beautiful iconic building aside, he might have done us all a favour had he been successful, given the current shower of ineffectual incumbents).

Several of the villages around here have been building bonfires for weeks, as they have done for years, in the way that beacons have been built and lit for centuries. Life-size models of Guy Fawkes will be prepared to sit atop each fire. The weekend skies will no doubt be full of the sights and sounds of loud, flamboyant fireworks.

I wonder if this celebration is exportable? Probably not: I can’t imagine that burning effigies of terrorists in public would go down too well anywhere else…but you never know.

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I’ve been learning about lines of best fit and anomalies in science with our eleven year olds this half term and have derived a little amusement just hearing them trying to pronounce the word, let alone spell it. (It doesn’t take much to keep me happy).

 I suppose you could say that my love of football is anomalous; an anomaly. It is incongruous amongst my other areas of interest.  If I were to plot a scientific graph, it would lie either above or below my line of best fit. I’m not quite sure what my x or y criteria would be, but I like the word anomalous, the way it rolls off the tongue. (Or not).

Come to think of it, my presence in a science lesson is in itself an anomaly, so let’s stick with football where I am able to hold forth from an even playing field.

Where did this all passion for the beautiful game kick-off, then?  You may well ask; I blame my mother.

Back in 1968 she let me stay up late on a school night, to watch the European Cup Final between Manchester United and Benfica on our black and white television set. Mum was keen to watch George Best play; I think she needed an ally and I was more than happy to miss bed time and oblige. Dad, who didn’t like football at all, sat behind his newspaper and emerged occasionally to cheer Benfica on, much to my annoyance. George Best scored a goal during extra time to help United lift the cup by which time I was hooked. Until he arrived on the scene, footballers looked much the same as rugby players: big and beefy. He was small and looked weedy but moved exceptionally fast with extraordinary skill. The fact that he had twinkly Irish eyes, a Beatle haircut and wore his shirt outside his shorts may also have added to his appeal, I don’t know, but it made me want a team of my own.

Mum said that however much we adored Bestie, we ought to support a team nearer home, (unlike 95% of current Man U supporters who have never even been to England, let alone Manchester), so she suggested Crystal Palace, the nearest team to us at that time. I went along with this for a while but wasn’t convinced as they never seemed to win anything.

A couple of years later, my friend Laura and I returned from a shopping trip where she had bought some hot pants in a shop called Chelsea Girl; it also happened to be the Saturday of the notorious Chelsea – Leeds FA Cup Final. Her grandfather, who ran our local pub, invited several of his regulars upstairs to watch the match once the bar had closed. Laura (wearing the hot pants) and I watched too. The men were all gunning for Leeds which made Laura and I all the more determined to cheer for Chelsea. The rest, as they say, is history.  Chelsea went on to win – eventually, after a replay at Old Trafford – and I found the team I have supported ever since.

Completely co-incidentally, my husband turned out to be a faithful Chelsea fan too, so Son had no choice in the matter and for several years we went to all our team’s home games. The sight of that green, green pitch never fails to impress; the banter in the stands provides much hilarity, albeit a little blue at times.

Football can be a great leveller, and as a female, understanding the finer points of the game can be a distinct advantage, as well as providing cast -iron street cred when necessary.

A couple of years ago, while supporting a geography class of rowdy under-achieving thirteen year olds, one of our, shall we say, less engaged pupils was lolling across his desk, semi-comatose, so I suggested that he sat up properly and got on with colouring in the rivers and mountain ranges on his pre-printed world map.

 He told me to eff off.

This kind of response usually results in removal from the classroom but it also involves paperwork which is a faff so I fixed him with my best icy stare and said,

 “You’re going to have to do better than that if you want to insult me, Peter; I go to football every week and hear much worse,”

He looked at me; he wasn’t expecting this – I had wrong-footed him. I could see him weighing up the situation; for a moment I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d scored an own goal. I held my breath and continued staring at him. Slowly he heaved himself into a sitting position and, with what I can only describe as a rueful grin of respect, began to colour his map.

1-0 to me, then. How I love having the last word…

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I love this time of year: crisp mornings giving way to the last vestiges of summer; condensation on the car windscreen a tell-tale sign of how chilly the nights are becoming. Hedgerows around here are heavy with rosehips and blackberries; feisty little spiked green balls concealing chestnuts hang low on the trees, or lay scattered, empty beneath, where squirrels have had first pickings. Yesterday I sat outside to read, the early autumn sunshine unseasonably warm. It put me in mind of harvest festivals.

Before the age of eleven I attended a tiny Church of England primary school where one of the best celebrations on the school calendar was the annual Harvest Festival. I think I preferred this even to the Nativity, (possibly because, due to an untimely attack of the mumps, I never got to dress up as an angel. God moves in mysterious ways).

Whether it was made more of back in those days, or whether it was because we were a rural community surrounded by farmland, Harvest Festival meant something to us. We spent time rehearsing harvest hymns, understanding the sentiment of ‘ploughing the fields and scattering the good seed on the land.’ We may not have, as children, appreciated ‘all good gifts around us’ but our village certainly had them in abundance. We were all encouraged to bring something in for our harvest table, which would later be transferred to the church up the road for the Sunday service and then distributed to elderly folks in the community.

I don’t think my sister and I, or any of the other children for that matter, were aware that there were needy folk in our village; we assumed it was just a nice gesture, and we’d rush home to tell Mum and Nanna that it was time to make our harvest baskets.  pyo-mushroom-basket[1]

Nanna, my maternal grandmother (who lived with us), and Mum would help us create beautiful little baskets of fruit and vegetables to take in. We’d start with a cardboard mushroom punnet, cover it with crepe paper in autumnal colours and finish off with a contrasting zigzag around the edge. Next, we’d scrunch up some newspaper to put in the bottom before layering with some dried autumn leaves. On top of this, we would lay our vegetables: a few carrots, potatoes, beans; perhaps some apples or plums – anything to make a colourful arrangement – maybe a sprig of redcurrants to finish off, with a curling strand of ivy around the handle.

There was no competition – the girls at school tended to go the basket route while the boys favoured a box, jars of homemade jam, new laid eggs or simply an armful of one produce or another. The bakery always donated a loaf, in the shape of a wheat sheaf which formed the centre of the display. The trestle table creaked under the weight of our offerings.

photo from Pinterest

photo from Pinterest

One year, I remember, our harvest table looked a bit odd. Someone had added, in amongst the home-grown produce, a Fray Bentos pie. It sat menacingly, like an alien spacecraft, nestled amongst the corncobs and rhubarb. My sister, even more than me, was as outraged as any eight year old can be. The metal monstrosity had ruined our rural tableau of plenty.  Harvest Festival would never be the same again.

the offending pie

the offending pie

And it isn’t. While my sister and I cannot think back to that time without hilarious reference to that pie, which for us has overshadowed those old Cider with Rosie moments of harvest baskets, the Festival is now a time to remind ourselves that even in affluent, leafy, stockbroker-belt Surrey, there are families struggling to make ends meet. Some children, in this day and age, are coming to school hungry, not just because they missed their breakfast, but because they had no evening meal the night before, either. We are actively encouraging our students to bring a tin to school for our hectic local food bank. Someone, back in the day, had some foresight, after all, with that Fray Bentos pie.

Kind of brings the meaning of Harvest home, doesn’t it?

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Time for a bit of a milestone celebration, I think – WordPress have just let me know, by way of a trophy style icon on my dashboard, that this blog is now one year old. Hurrah! Crack open the champagne, pass around the canapés and let’s party like it’s 1999.

On second thoughts, let’s not: I fell asleep then, before the fireworks. I’m not a fan of big parties where the music is so loud you have to shout to make yourself heard; where there is a sparseness of food which, when you finally get offered some, is usually bits of unrecognisable stuff slathered in runny sauce, mounted on flaky pastry that is impossible to eat while standing up, sans napkin, balancing a plate and glass precariously while already well oiled guests brush past with an abandoned lack of respect for your personal space.

Or maybe I’ve just been going to the wrong parties.

A Grayson Pot

A Grayson Pot

So, I got to thinking about dinner parties instead.

Perhaps I could have a fantasy one. Lots of people have listed their fantasy guest list – who would I choose? Hmm. Regular followers won’t be surprised to learn that Grayson Perry would be on my list. Eccentric, cross dressing British winner of the 2003 Turner Prize, Royal Academician Grayson was appointed a CBE in the 2013 Birthday Honours list for his services to contemporary art. Perhaps he’d bring me one of his ceramic pots as a thank you. It could be a rejected one, or even a chipped one, Grayson, I wouldn’t mind.

Next up, I’d invite Janet Street-Porter. Whatever you think of her (and I don’t think she’d care, either way), there is no denying her contribution to journalism and broadcasting. I’ve been a fan ever since she worked on the long defunct ‘Petticoat’ which was the first trendy teenage magazine I ever read and I was delighted to see her reach the final recently of British Celebrity Masterchef. The girl has many strings.

Jo Brand, English comedienne and regular panel show guest has me crying with laughter with her dry wit and deadpan delivery, would make a great dinner party guest, as would, I think Bill Turnbull, presenter of BBC’s Breakfast News. Bill makes quietly observed asides as he presents the news. He is informed, amusing and keeps bees. Perhaps he’d bring a jar of honey. That would be nice. I could put it in Grayson’s pot.

As my guest list begin to take shape my thoughts are turning to what I am going to feed them which is where this dinner party idea falls down, fantasy or otherwise. I might be creative in other areas but not in anything culinary. Spending hours over a complicated recipe holds no interest or satisfaction for me, to have it scoffed down in a matter of minutes. It makes me think that Michael Landy, the British artist who became famous for creating an art work called Break Down, (in which he destroyed all his possessions), should have been a chef – then he wouldn’t have had to reapply for a passport when he realised that while courting huge publicity for himself, it actually turned out to be rather inconvenient.

I manage to provide adequate and wholesome meals on a regular basis for my family who spend much of their time longingly watching the plethora of baking and cookery shows available at every waking moment, knowing that unless they have a bash themselves, the only way to experience food like that is to take me to a Michelin starred restaurant.

So I’ve decided to scrap the dinner party idea. Somebody somewhere said that we should never meet our heroes and I think there’s a lot of good sense in that. People in the public eye have a public persona that they hide behind and maybe as themselves, they’d be far less interesting than we are led to believe, although I’ll make an exception in Grayson’s case.

But I’ve just had a much better idea: because where would this blog be without its readers? I’d like to raise a glass to all of you, who have dropped in, who have followed, and most of all, who have commented and traded ideas, stories, jokes and banter. You’ve encouraged, informed and motivated me. It’s been great to meet you all and to dip into your worlds. I’ve travelled to far flung places from the comfort of my armchair, seen fabulous photographs and art works, been entertained and educated because of you all. So thanks to you all, very much.

Here’s to another blogging year – cheers!

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Do you buy a daily newspaper? I do, by force of habit – but I never read it properly – I skim and scan, as I learned in my early press office days.   We used to produce a list of relevant daily press cuttings for the company’s top brass to peruse at their leisure and while I quite enjoyed this exercise, I always secretly wondered why they couldn’t each take a different paper every morning and find their own articles of interest, and then swap them amongst themselves. It would have given them something to talk about at their endless board (bored) meetings.

 I always buy the Times because you get a reasonable view of what’s happening in the world without too much bias. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a preferred leaning – all papers do – but I can see through that and I buy it for its legendary letters page and the Times Two pull-out entertainment and culture section where I can manage the smaller crossword in the time it takes to do a London commute and there is usually something worth reading.

So I was a little irked that the publication in which I have invested so much of my time and loyalty over the years, (not to mention hard cash), decided to run a series last week, telling its readers what they should be doing with their leisure time. Their ‘experts’ produced lists. Twenty films you should watch; twenty plays you should see; twenty paintings you should know; twenty-five books you should read and twenty classical works you really should have listened to.

Now, I read books all the time and I‘ve only managed seven of the titles on their higher than highbrow list. (This doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoyed them). The only two plays listed that I am able to agree are worth recommending were ‘Death of A Salesman’ by Arthur Miller and Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet.’ There were others on the list that I’ve seen but I certainly wouldn’t suggest anyone sitting through any of them. The film choices were so beyond belief that I’m not even going to mention them here and if you couldn’t pick out Masaccio’s ‘Expulsion from the Garden of Eden’ in a line up of early Renaissance works, then you’d definitely be at the bottom of the intellectual pile.

According to my paper of choice, I am an unenlightened philistine and have several years of hard reading/watching/contemplating to do before I can hold my own in polite cultural circles. How dare they? Who are these so-called ‘experts?’ It was the dictatorial ‘should’ on the title page that I found offensive. Why should I? I’ve never been good at being told what I should be doing, I know that, and some might consider it a flaw. I like to think of it as having a questioning and open mind.

I have pulled out these articles and am preparing to circulate them amongst my colleagues next week in an attempt to prove I’m not the only ignoramus in the staffroom. Meanwhile, I’ve thought about making a list of my own, but in no way will I expect you to have read or enjoyed the same things, and I’d be interested to hear what book/play/work of art/piece of music means something to you.

To kick off, here are a few books (in no particular order) that I’ve read and which have stayed in my head over the years, which must indicate that they mean something to me:

Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

Going Solo by Roald Dahl

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess

The Lady of Shalott,1888, John William Waterhouse

The Lady of Shalott,1888, John William Waterhouse

The first painting that wowed me as a child was ‘The Lady of Shallott’ by JW Waterhouse and I have a soft spot for Van Gogh’s ‘Café Terrace at Night’ painted in Arles  because I’ve been there for coffee.


Café Terrace at Night, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh

There are so many other works of art to choose from there is no way I could write a definitive list of my favourites – and the Times didn’t include installation art or sculpture – hey, what do they know, anyway.

Film wise, Cabaret would be right up there, along with The Great Escape, The Killing Fields, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,  Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump and The Deer Hunter with Toy Story as a surprising late entry. (There is a Tom Hanks theme emerging,  for which I make no apologies).

So meanwhile, as I’m wallowing in the mire that apparently is my cultural wasteland, what would be on your list?

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