Posts Tagged ‘humour’

I wouldn’t want to give the impression that my life is just one continuous whirl of wafting around museums and galleries or discovering talented distant relations. There’s a certain amount of tedious monotony one has to get through before enjoyment is permitted.

Domestic drudgery is one of life’s necessities and I tackle mine on a what’s-needed- most-basis, rather than having a fixed routine as I know some folk do. I tend to take the ‘life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’ approach, a phrase coined by Shirley Conran in the seventies.

During a working week the bare minimum gets done but now with time off I am already sliding guiltily into thinking that a thorough, intense overdue spring-clean is in order.

How dull.

I start off with good intentions – planning my attack from the comfort of my morning bed while waiting to leap purposefully into the shower but by the time I’ve eaten breakfast and cleared away, the enthusiasm for all things household has worn off and I’m seeking excuses and distractions. As indeed I do when there is writing to be done. Suddenly a pile of ironing has never looked so appealing. Life can be so perverse.

I suffered an enforced incarceration last week which was the ideal time to set to which I did with gusto. I’m well aware that this sudden burst of domestic goddess-ery was brought on by a conversation I had with my hairdresser who revealed that she wipes her kitchen cabinet doors down every night. I have to say she made me feel inadequate and ashamed.

Stumbling across a Channel Four programme called ‘Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners’ didn’t help either. I was riveted: how two people with diagnosed OCD would cope deep cleansing the old country house of an eccentric hoarder made fascinating TV. As soon as the two dirt-o-phobes cleared anything out, the hoarder snuck around to the rubbish and claimed it back again. I don’t know who had the greater problem but all of them were cheerful enough about their predicament. They made me think I’d hit normal on the dirt to clean scale.

Now, this particular enforced incarceration I mentioned earlier began with what we thought at first was a piece of junk mail but which, on closer inspection, suggested that we may be eligible for free loft insulation.

Us? Free? These aren’t words that usually coincide where we are concerned but it was worth a phone call. This call elicited a visit from the gas board who carried out a short survey and, lo and behold – yes! – we were entitled!

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I arranged a time for the work to be carried out and was then forced to wait in for them to arrive. Which they did: on time and with very little fuss, completing the job in a little over an hour. Which was all very well except that I was then free to be distracted: but not, I hasten to add, before the area below the bed was designated a dust free zone and all the paintwork wiped down with a squirt of Flash.

So while I can feel smug in the knowledge that things here are beautifully spring-cleaned for the time being this comes as a reminder to occasionally check your junk mail. You never know what little goodies might be lurking therein.

This post forms the third part of a challenge thrown down by Sherri, over at her Summerhouse.  As Sherri herself has already changed the rules of the challenge which originally was to post five pictures and five stories on consecutive days (ha! not a chance!), I shall be taking a more relaxed attitude towards the rules myself. I’m supposed to nominate someone to take up the challenge after each of my next five posts but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, if you feel the urge to challenge yourself to five pictures/five stories (fact or fiction) then please feel free.

 

 

 

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As the creaking educational locomotive grinds ever more slowly towards the buffers of the long summer break and we can leap onto the platform of unexpurgated freedom I can thank my lucky stars that last week is finally over. As is now tradition and to conceal the fact that our national curriculum is so thin on content that in truth the teaching of it finishes several weeks before the official end of term, we are obliged to suffer the agonies of Activities Week.   A misnomer if ever there was one, judging by the ‘activities’ to which I was assigned. My Activity Week was mostly sedentary and largely involved elephants.

I understand the ethos – to allow students to experience things they otherwise wouldn’t due either to financial restraints, unimaginative parenting or sheer youthful malaise – a condition which sadly is becoming increasingly contagious. I understand all of that – but to have to sit in school uniform in one classroom all day playing board (bored) games is reminiscent of an interminable wet weekend at your grandparents’.

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This was the fate of our unfortunate year seven’s who, lucky for them (but not me), then had a day off site to visit the Globe Theatre before returning to spend the next day welded to a stool in the art room following step by step instructions to make a clay elephant. All day: with a short break for lunch. By the afternoon, with the searing heat outside and the stuffiness of the classroom I felt my eyes drooping and had to make a conscious effort to stay awake. I sympathised with one of our older students who incurred a detention recently for falling sound asleep in a history lesson. I now know how he felt.

The following day we were treated to Africa Day – the possibilities of this sounded promising. But again, the students sat for what seemed like hours in a large circle in our acoustically challenged canteen while a lovely man from Ghana, dressed in traditional costume spent the day with the students telling stories of his African village and showing them how to make toys from recycled rubbish. image

Another forty elephants were made from old plastic milk cartons after which there was a spot of potato printing. A quick break for food and drink and it was back to sitting while they practised the art of African drumming. In the aforementioned echo-y dining room. There were enough drums for each child so you are lucky you only have to imagine the cacophony. I had to sit through it.

I don’t mean to carp on, but I would’ve preferred spending the day at a nearby fishing lake with a collection of year nine yobbos who turn into the politest, nicest shoal of lads you could ever wish to meet – once they are attached to a rod with a box of maggots at their side. I did this trip several years ago now and was as heartened at the students transformation as I was astonished at how adept I became at picking up a maggot or helping disgorge the unfortunate little fishes for those more squeamish. I have obvious skills in this area – why have they been overlooked? The main reason this activity is so popular and why staff members trample each other to take part is fact that the bacon rolls at the shop there are to die for and the opportunity to hear the trip leader tell one of his new ‘fishermen’ to go to the counter and ask for a tin of tartan maggots is legendary. I obviously need to improve my pitch for next year.

So, with only two days left of term time to fill with word searches and videos while the teachers complete their admin, the terminus approaches – the exit gate is in sight.

This post forms the first part of a challenge thrown down by Sherri, over at her Summerhouse. I normally avoid things like this like the proverbial plague but as she is such a regular visitor to my imaginary kitchen and we have shared so many odd and weird coincidences I felt it only fair to have a go. As Sherri herself has already changed the rules of the challenge which originally was to post five pictures and five stories on consecutive days (ha! not a chance!), I shall be taking a more relaxed attitude towards the rules myself. I’m supposed to nominate someone to take up the challenge after each of my next five posts but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, if you feel the urge to challenge yourself to five pictures/five stories (fact or fiction) then please feel free. I thought it would be a good discipline to make me write more regularly. Goodness knows, I’ve been pretty lax of late.

 

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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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