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Native Janner living in London UK). Curious about everything. Expect a wide range of topics and a few wood pigeons.


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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fab Team GB and the naysayers

Jo Rowsell-Shand, Elinor Barker,
Laura Trott and Katie Archibald
image: Telegraph.co.uk

I didn't think we could top the 2012 London Olympics and in many ways we haven't - the empty seats in Rio and the debacle around the Paralympic Games tell the story - but wow, Team GB, you have surpassed yourselves!

Second in the medals table, ahead of China and with gold medals spread across more disciplines than the US, this team has done us proud.

The naysayers are out there of course: losing cyclists making po- faced suggestions, quickly withdrawn, about the British team and how it only does well in the Olympics; some unnamed commentator in the Mail on Sunday today likening the investment in sport and resulting success to the state sponsored drug enhanced days of East Germany a few decades ago.

We used to remember the hapless former Prime Minister John Major mainly for his indiscretions with Edwina Currie, now we should laud him for creating the circumstances that led to our Olympic success this year: in particular, the significant investment in certain sports.

It wasn't "state sponsored."  It's cheerfully funded by us the people, mostly by the lottery. The Labour Party, which has become very dour and patronising under Comrade Jeremy, believes this is a bad thing because it exploits the dreams of poor people. They actually seriously believe that people don't realise their chances of winning are tiny. Oh, but they do, but somebody does win, and that's as powerful an incentive to squeezed middle class people, often subsidising grown-up children and care homes, as it is to "poor people."
The Brownlee Brothers: Triathlon Gold and Silver
image: Telegraph.co.uk

I remember years ago when we didn't invest in sport and we had one or two stand-out competitors who did it all on their own. We certainly didn't jump for joy when we saw the medals table. We were squarely beaten by nearly every country in Europe.

Now we can hold our heads high.

More importantly, children will hopefully be inspired to follow the example of Olympians who really deserve the honours that will no doubt follow: Mo Farah, Laura Trott, Jason Kenny, Nicola Adams, Jade Jones, Adam Peaty and the Brownlees to name just a handful.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

One of our pigeons is missing

Pidgie Pigeon, RIP
Oh, I know it's small in the scheme of things. A wood pigeon, shuffled off to the great nest in the sky. A late pigeon;  a pigeon who has ceased to be.

Regular readers to this blog will know that for the past five years a pair of wood pigeons has been visiting the garden several times a day, and I've been throwing down seed for them.

The male, a very plump and gregarious bird, would run towards me as fast as his little legs would carry him.  I named him "Pidgie." Well, I haven't seen Pidgie for more than a week now. So I'm assuming that he has Passed.

Meanwhile his mate, Leg, is spending more time in the garden and has a winsome new habit of perching on the garden gate so that she can fix a beady eye on me when I come down for breakfast.

Leg was named thus because she limps.

An intruder pigeon has started hanging around, and Leg is defending her patch.  J maintains this is probably a new male moving in on Pidgie's turf. Or on Pidgie's bird, in fact.

I wonder if Leg knows that Pidgie is dead, or, as in the case of swans, has to see the body to acknowledge it.

I draw your attention to this wonderful, heart breaking poem by Gillian Clarke.


She was brave in the bitter river,
the Mary Rose, doomed,
ice-chalice, lily in bloom.

Thaw, her feathers and bones dissolve in the flow
and she's gone, flower that floated
so light under death's undertow.

In lengthening light he patrols alone
ferocious on his watery shore
where the nest from last year and the year before

has drowned to a dredge of sticks and sludge.
In full sail, his body ablaze, bridge
over unfenced water, he waits for her.

The voice on the phone said,
"He doesn't know she's dead.
There is nothing to be done."

Now love rides the river
like a king's ship, all wake and quiver,
and I can't tell him, it's over.

Friday, August 05, 2016

10 years of blogging

This is my 10 year blog anniversary. Yes folks, that inaugural post was on August 11 back in 2006. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it was about David Bowie. I've had 158,000 page views which, let's face it, isn't going to make The Huffington Post lose any sleep.

When I started, blogging was quite new in the UK.  I was forever trying to reach out to other bloggers, because the name of the game was having other bloggers visiting you and leaving comments. There were quite a few blog challenges and "link ups" where you left a comment on someone's blog and they linked to yours via a widget called Mr Linky. Most of the people who linked to me were young moms from New Orleans, so I wasn't really getting to the right demographic.

Blogging was quite naive and pure then.  Nowadays blogs from young wannabes writing about clean eating, fashion and makeup, with immaculate companion pages at Pinterest, Instagram and so on are ten a penny. I take my hat off to the successful ones, where they're fortunate enough to be deluged with "product", ads and trillions of followers. Some, like Zoella, have reinvented the nature of celebrity. We can all be famous, and not just for 15 minutes.  Sadly the only product offer I had from a big brand was for Impulse, and I sniffily disdained it.

Blog Litter 

When I started, there were a few blog aggregators --- I suspect these were nerds in their bedroom --- who would include your blog on their list.  Technorati was one of the biggest and best known. There were others like MyBlogLog and BlogFlux.

Meanwhile I was swotting up on spiders  (not from Mars but from Google) and learning about meta tags. Now I don't do much to promote my blog except for a mention on Facebook an d Twitter when there's a new post.  Blogger got bought by Google and they don't do much to develop it, although the search and translate functions are nice to have.

A lot of the blogs I genuinely liked have not been updated for years. They litter the web like shipwrecks on the sea floor.

My topics have been many. I went through a period where I reviewed TV programmes including Big Brother (how mortifying), The Apprentice and Celebrity Big Brother. I've also done a few restaurant and theatre reviews. I bore for Britain on the subject of my garden.  I occasionally use to snipe at celebrities I didn't like. I also like a bit of nostalgia, so there are plenty of reminiscences about childhood and teen frolics and my former life as a journalist and radio reporter.

I used to opine about newsworthy topics until a former colleague asked if I was still writing "that right wing rant blog." To be called right wing, in those days, was completely intolerable. I considered myself a leftie! After that comment, I reverted hastily to the safer waters of gardening and nostalgia.

The way I look at my blog now is that it's a useful archive of my life, for when I'm in my dotage.

My Most Popular Blog Posts 

1. Posts describing traditions do well with the search engines.  My Christmas traditions, parts 1 and 2, the history of bank holidays and applebobbing at Halloween traditions are good stalwarts.
2. Some posts have done mystifyingly well and I can only assume it's because there's very little web dross available on the subject.  My post, "Does John Torode wear a wig and More About Stenchpipes" still does well when Masterchef is on. I think it's Torode rather than the stench pipes who are the big draw. You must admit that the headline sums up the sheer randomness of my blog pretty well.
3. I attempted to scam the spiders and get massive hits with a cheeky post called "Carol McGiffin's bare bottom."
4. Certain nostalgic posts strike a chord - particularly the lure of the bottle stall.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The cars of my years

It's 1982 and I'm desperate to pass my driving test (second time).  I'm working as a reporter for BBC Radio Devon and they are annoyed that I didn't tell them I couldn't drive (they didn't ask me). Plus I need my own wheels to drive to Milton Keynes from Plymouth to see David Bowie.

Thankfully I passed, and my first car was one that had been Dad's, "Daphne the Datsun."  Now I don't believe in naming cars - it's so girly! - but this red Datsun 120Y was passed down the family and always referred to as Daphne. I paid £2,000 for her using a car loan provided by the BBC.

Daphne was relatively trouble-free except for stalling when you gave her too much choke  (a lever that you pulled out to enrich the petrol mixture, or so my dad said). Plus she needed something mysterious called an alternator, and I got ripped off by Chico's Garage for installing said mysterious device.

My younger brother inherited her after me and some years after he'd moved on to cars anew, he kept seeing her trundling round the streets of Plymouth.

Here's Mum standing proudly with the Datsun and also (blast from the past), Dad's car of that time, a Citroen with a space age suspension:

Next up came one of my all-time favourites, a Ford Escort 1.3L. It was an unusual metallic blue and I was very proud that I bought it with my own money, buying it from dealer Sopers of South Brent. Here it is parked in the Radio Devon car park:

I didn't have the Escort for very long and moved on to a red second-hand Ford Fiesta which had belonged to a vicar who had only driven around 8,000 miles. This one I had for a long time and it did a lot of mileage because at one point I was commuting weekly between Plymouth and London.

Speedy Gonzales

In 1990 I had a new job in London and with it my first company car. At first I had to have one from the pool and it was not a head turner by any means, a red Peugeot 309, but a few months later I was able to order a car of my choice and I decided to stay with a 309 but a GTI in dark grey with a red stripe.  It still wasn't a head turner but at least it looked fast. My most memorable moment in that pug ugly car was driving along that dramatic sweeping dual carriageway that goes up towards Winchester. It was sunset, and another car exactly the same as mine appeared, and we drove side by side, fast. It was thrilling!

The car below was not mine but dates from the same year.

Two years later I had moved to a new job in Newbury and was able after a few months to choose a new company car. Until then, I mortifyingly had to drive an aubergine Astra from the pool. Colleagues described it as a retired headmaster's car.

The Sofa Years

The car I chose was a Renault Laguna, a brand new model out that year, in red. The "sofa on wheels" years had started. The photo shows a Laguna Mk 1, but not mine.

Reader, I liked the Laguna so much I had another one two years later in British Racing Green.

I then joined my current employer in Swindon and after a few gruesome weeks with a car pool vehicle, a Renault Espace  (ideal for a single woman about town....!) I chose yet another Laguna. This time in black with a spoiler. Mean! But still a sofa when all's said and done.

A Ka for Munich

Three years later I was moving to Munich for 18 months so gave the Laguna back. In Munich I had a company car better suited to the narrow city centre streets where I lived: a Ford Ka. The fleet administrator was quite bemused by my choice because everyone else drove a Beemer (BMW). But the Ka was ideal for squeezing into tight spaces - perfect because I didn't have a parking space or garage.

My next car was indeed a Beemer, which was surprising given that I'd deliberately never had one before because I thought their drivers were ignorant show offs. And, very unusual at that time in 2000, I bought it "online." I chose the spec online and it was ordered from the BMW dealer in Maidenhead, where I was moving from Munich. But in those days you couldn't actually pay for a car online so the agreement was faxed to me (how quaint).

It was a black 318 compact in a  "sport" variant. I have learned to my cost that this typically means bucket seats and a very uncomfortable suspension.

This was the first time I picked up a car on new registration day and I was given a bouquet of flowers. I was so excited.  The model below is similar, but wasn't mine.

After the baby Beemer came a succession of bigger models starting with a 330D in topaz blue, with my added extra of a CD changer; a black 330D and finally in 2010 "the Tank," a space-grey 5 Series with fancy wheels and huge sat nav screen. It was the same price at that time as a 3 series so it seemed a no-brainer to have it, although when it arrived I realised it was HUGE. Although the emissions were small.

The old gentleman who drove it round from the dealer showed me how to set up my phone and memorably said "Oh you've got a Blueberry."  A type of berry anyway.

Plenty of room for all manner of items

The Beemers were all hugely reliable and had a lovely "thunk" noise with the doors. Plus loads of space in the boot for trips to the tip and storage of stiffs (if needed).

Men aren't very nice to you when you drive a Beemer, however.  They're all determined to cut you up and tailgate you, particularly men in white vans. The car below is my actual model, with the registration plate clumsily inked out at J's insistence.

By 2014 it was time to give the Beemer back and I decided to stop having company cars. The tax and emissions situation doesn't make them viable unless you do a lot of mileage, and I don't.

In 2014 I chose a white Volkswagen Golf GTI, having decided to have a smaller car, and J "specced it up," adding different wheels and sat nav with a huge screen so that I don't have to wear my reading glasses. I loved that little car from the start and now I'm getting another one, but in red. J attempted to "spec me up" by trying to persuade me to have the limited edition sport version, but, ha! I won't be conned into one of those again. He's still trying to get me to use "the paddles".

Below is my current car being delivered - it's the only photo I've got. Must put that right!

So that's my life in cars. There's nothing on the list to make Jeremy Clarkson's heart beat faster, but my opinion of him isn't printable so who cares?

Monday, August 01, 2016

A tale of two wedding dresses

I was interested to read author Raffaella Barker's article in the Mail today on the dilemma she faced as a 51 year old second time bride in choosing her dress.

I had exactly the same challenge six years ago when I married John.

For my first wedding in 1987, I had walked into a bridal shop in Exeter, where I was living, called Wendy's and the right dress jumped out at me almost instantly. Just as well, because I'm not the sort of girl who likes to try clothes on. I soon get bored.

In those days dresses were big, like our hair and shoulder pads. The "Little Bo Beep" look was popular. Fortunately I didn't go exactly down that road. My dress did have a hooped petticoat and huge sleeves but it was by up-and-coming (then) brand Pronovias and I loved it. It was around £450 which seemed a lot of money then.

I regretted later that I hadn't taken my mum with me to help to choose it.  She seemed disappointed when she knew I had already got the dress, veil, pearl headdress and everything else.

So when I knew I was getting married again in 2010, I took mum with me.

Like Rafaella, I had been feverishly studying websites and buying bridal magazines.  I was not keen on wearing white or shades thereof, but wanted something special. But a lot of the dresses I saw were a bit "mother of the bride," or too young looking.

The Dress turned up in an unexpected place, Monsoon in Plymouth.  I'd seen the dress online but I hadn't "seen" it. I couldn't even tell, when I tried it on, if it was really right for me because it was January and I had five months to lose a stone.  It was a bit tight round the middle.  But I loved the fact it looked glamorous - particularly with the feather boa that Monsoon helpfully had - and felt "me."  It was also a suitable head turner for a bridal dress. I didn't show Mum because I didn't want to parade myself wearing a tight dress in a crowded shop. And she had sore misgivings about the colour, silver, thinking it wasn't one of my colours  (both  of us being a bit of a slave to Colour Me Beautiful).

I didn't try it on again until about three weeks before our big day.  I had been dieting diligently but was still afraid the dress would not look good. I was thinking I still had enough time to find another one. But it slipped on like a dream. And the colour was perfect, particularly with my chosen purple and violet flowers. So there you have it, a tale of two dresses.

Monday, July 11, 2016

One by one the Brexit leaders fall by the wayside

As Oliver Hardy used to say, "This is another fine mess you've gotten me into."

The leading exponents of Brexit have now slid back under their stones, presumably too cowardly or just not good enough to handle the sensitive negotiation on Article 50 and the inevitable hubris and discontent that will create for our beleagured nation.

I'm sure Mrs Leadsom will paint a pretty picture in tomorrow's papers of a) not being prepared for the cynicism and public name calling that public life entails;  b) worn down by the bad publicity over what she said about mothers and Theresa May, which The Times didn't appear to take out of context, but she insisted they did  (Rule no 1 in politics: always blame the media);  3) we need to rally behind one leader quickly to start making all the changes.

Then there is also my cynical suggestion, which is:  4) Resign and give the reasons above, when really it's the tax return that is the issue.  (She still hasn't shared it and there are rumours she has offshore investments).

Nigel Farage thinks he has achieved his life's work and can now sit back and wait for the invitation to the Lords. Boris was stabbed in the back but that was a mercy because he was totally unsuited to the role of PM. Gove shot himself in the foot by stabbing Boris in the back, if that isn't mixing my metaphors. Crabb withdrew but just as well seeing as he had been playing away from home.

Theresa May is, I'm glad to hear, a "bloody difficult woman" and to my mind, having no children makes her more focused on the task in hand, as well as giving her something in common with Angela Merkel. Women have to work 10 times harder and achieve 10 times as much to get to the top of the slippery pole.  We're forever hearing about girls outperforming boys in school, and women starting to earn more than men, but when you look at the real numbers, they're derisory. The number of women in senior positions is still very low, even though data shows that having women on the board makes companies perform better.

Kudos to Mrs May for stepping into the breach, even though she wanted to Remain, and picking up the poisoned chalice.  Nobody else has got the guts. It's not surprising to me that a woman has to sort out the mess caused by Cameron / Farage / Johnson. The only good news for Mrs May is that Labour still won't present a credible alternative by the time we get a General Election.  Angela Eagle would be a fine leader but Mr Corbyn seems determined to hang on, deluded by the idea that the voters are going to swing far left when even Neil Kinnock wrote that off more than 30 years ago.

Finally, I hope Theresa May will be allowed to do her difficult job without the media trivialising her because she is a woman.

At the start of the leadership challenge, the Mail decided to compare the skirt length and shoes of Mrs May versus Mrs Leadsom. But they didn't compare the jacket cut, or trouser length of the male candidates. The only time David Cameron's sartorial style has been mentioned is when he wears the same blue polo shirt every year on holiday.  Tabloids, you spend your whole lives building female "celebrities" up and tearing them down. You shouldn't need to analyse what our PM is wearing.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Desperately seeking BoatyMcBoatFace

We've just got back from one of the Greek islands, Skiathos. It was the second year running we were there, unheard of for us, but the hotel and island really tick all the boxes  (and with my husband J, there are a lot of boxes to tick).

One of the things that enthralled me last year was the fact that our beach, being very close to Skiathos Town, gave a superb view of all the
ferries and flying cats / dolphins going by. And to make it even better, there are planes coming in to land.

So I booked the same hotel again and asked J for a pair of binoculars for Christmas. This year I sat very happily monitoring all the shipping. In 10 days, I became quite an expert on the timetable.

At 12.30,  "Old Honker" went by. This was a big Aqua Ferries ship which always honked as it approached the harbour.  I could imagine all the people in cars and lorries, waiting for it, abandoning their coffees and racing to their vehicles.

Old Honker
Old Honker was followed by Flying Cat 4, or "the Cosmote," as we referred to it (Cosmote being the sponsor: Greece's answer to Vodafone). What a looker.

One evening as we arrived in Skiathos Town on our water taxi, we saw the Cosmote glide elegantly into the port and we strolled over to have a closer look.

This one wasn't Flying Cat 4 but probably 5, which is older and doesn't have a side door. I was very amused to see the smartly dressed crew virtually dragging people and their cases on, as they only have 10 minutes' turnaround time.

FlyingCat 4
As you can imagine, I was itching to go on the Cat. Or even the flying dolphin, which fascinated me last year. But studying their online timetables, I saw we would have to stay overnight for a return trip. Their destinations include Skopelos, Ionosssis and Volos  (the second city in Greece).

Flying Dolphin 
Next year I might book a one-way trip on, say, the Cat, and come back same day on another vessel. J is rolling his eyes at the thought of this even as we speak. But even he became quite keen on ship spotting, particularly when we saw the biggest cargo ship we had ever seen. He does need his own binoculars though. He's long sighted and I'm short sighted, so we had to change the settings every time we used them.

Post dedicated to Sarah in France, whose enthusiasm for my humble blog has made it all worthwhile.

Further reading: 
shipspotting.com  (really!).


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