Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Monday, October 30, 2006

The lure of the bottle stall

It was as English as the sound of wood on willow, the summer fete with its promise of a pony ride, an ice cream and a mystery prize if you were lucky from the bottle stall.

There was a summer fete nearly every week at a local amenity called Harewood House. The fete was usually opened by a minor celebrity. So minor that even I was asked to open a jumble sale when I was a lowly reporter on the South Devon Times.

I always made a beeline for the bottle stall. I couldn't resist this game of chance where you handed over a couple of coins and nearly always won something. Unfortunately, as the bottles were things people gave away, the prize was not always to be coveted. Giz, my mum's face was a picture when I once presented her with a bottle of anchovy essence. Followed by, another time, a bottle of "Cresta" (advertising slogan: It's Frothy Man).

I was also very keen on the books stall. For 5d I bought "Glamour School," which gave beauty tips 50s style, with pictures of celebs like Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor. I remember one tip to this day: "beware the kiss of the sun - it's a fiery one!" and it's a pity I haven't heeded this advice.

I was always too wary to step into Gipsy Acora's caravan. It was plastered with pictures of Acora with various celebrities like Roy Hudd and Dora Bryan. My dad (Stamps) knew Acora - he often went to the local pub and they played dominoes. Stamps was mildly amused that David (Acora) never seemed to be able to predict the outcome.

Several years later I did go to see Acora in his Barbican shop in Plymouth. With his dramatic turn of phrase, he gestured with his hands and told me I would be looking into a coffin as the leaves fell. We waited for autumn but there was no looking into coffins, that year or in fact ever.

The other highlight of the fete was the entertainment, morris men, lurchers or little girls from the Marnic School of Dancing. I was envious because Giz had never let me join the dancing school (too clumsy, she said) and one of my friends, Jane Wigginton, was a leading light. Her decision was probably sound, because I ruined the maypole dance in my school's 1972 pageant, the life of Joshua Reynolds, when I went the wrong way. There was mass disarray and the pattern of the ribbons looked less like a spider's web than the bottom of Giz's sewing basket.

I was always careful to avoid anything home cooked, being very suspicious of pasties or cakes that may have been cooked by scenty old ladies, whose perfume or Velouty powder cream inadvertently transferred itself to the foodstuff.

I've been to a few car boot sales, always looking for the game "I want to bite your finger", but somehow I don't think they'll ever hold the nostalgic pull of the quintessential English summer fete, even if it was held indoors owing to inclement weather.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Missing starlets

Whatever happened to Sharon Maiden and Tracy Hyde? Gillian Bailey and Janet Maw? You're thinking, "who?" Unfortunately, or fortunately, I don't know which, I have an excellent memory for names back in the mists of time, and I'm often pinging Google to find out whatever happened to xxx, an actress who was introduced in a particular film, or whatever happened to xxx, a toy, beauty product or food item from yesteryear.

Sharon Maiden for example was introduced in one of my all-time favourite films Clockwise. Yes I know, I shouldn't own up to it - I should be claiming that my favourite films are "Red" "Blue" "Laughing tigers shooting pandas" or whatever pretentious foreign stuff it is de rigeur to claim to like. Ms Maiden appears to have sunk into obscurity after Clockwise.

Tracy Hyde was introduced in the film SWALK, also known as Melody, which was a post-Oliver vehicle for Mark Lester. I was mildly obsessed with him and went to see all his follow-up films, SWALK being one of them. (It was terrible, by the way - a romance between two 12 year olds).

Gillian Bailey is no starlet, she's older than me, but she starred in "Double Deckers" which was huge when I was a kid, and she went on to appear in many things, although I haven't seen her on TV since she appeared in Precious Bane with a disfigured face.

Janet Maw was also a very popular actress in the 70s and 80s, appearing in lots of things, but never seen nowadays. She seems to do a lot of audio books now.

And then there are things. Things like Velouty powder cream which old ladies use. It's only about £1.50 - and very hard to get hold of. Why do things like that permeate my mind?! Or lotions and potions that I used as a teenager to get rid of spots. Whatever happened to Torbetol, Trinsonovin, Cepton, Valderma? Perfumes: Aqua Manda and Kiku. My first perfumes, Yardley Sea Jade and Dorothy Gray Midnight. I sometimes look on eBay to see if any of these things ever turn up. I struck lucky once with the perfume my mum used to wear years ago, Memoire Cherie by Elzabeth Arden, long since discontinued. I found a vendor in the US selling a soap. I bought it and surprised mum with it, though she confessed later it didn't seem to smell the same and people's tastes change.

I'd be interested to know if you ever wonder about people or things in the same way!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I wish I'd never got started!

At the start of the year when all the part works were getting promoted on TV, I decided a new hobby was in order and ordered "Creative Papercraft" with its various free gifts (binder, selection of hand made paper envelopes, etc).
Big mistake!
Before I knew it, I was standing dazed in Hobbycrafts, Romford (I didn't even know where Romford was and had to look it up on the map) with a shopping basket full of numerous ribbons, handmade papers and embellishments. I made a couple of cards, very amateurish now I think, just embellishments stuck on.
Unfortunately Creative Papercraft must have gone out of business. I haven't received a magazine since June and they haven't been using the direct debit. Too many free gifts, I suspect. So in lieu of that, I've been buying crafting magazines. What a burgeoning sector! But as I eagerly flick through them, I soon get crestfallen. The cards they feature are either too difficult, requiring me to use techniques like embossing, teabagging or quilling to name but three, or, if I believe I can make an attempt, they always require new and different paper stock and trimmings, which sends me fleeing to http://craftobsessions.co.uk (amazing service, arrives the next day with a personalised card from David & Brenda).

I must confess I do love looking in my craft box, which holds all my papers, trimmings, ribbons, glitter, beads, stamps, paints, etc (it will soon become a trunk)and sometimes I even attempt the odd card or two, though I dread to work out how much each one costs.
And it just gets worse. Somehow I now have in my possession a scrapbook kit, and this is a whole new area with its own websites, magazines and handmade papers. Aargh!

The art of running marathons

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John started his latest marathon training schedule at the weekend. He runs all the time, but in the run-up to a marathon starts a more intense programme. He is hoping to be one of the chosen ones to run in the London marathon in April. If his application is unsuccessful, he'll run in Boston instead. He has a list of the world's top 10 marathons and is working through them. In total he has run 14 marathons; on the list, he's completed New York, Paris, London, Berlin, Stockholm, Rotterdam and Honolulu.

Honolulu was fun - I didn't think John would be keen but because it was in the top 10 he agreed to have a fortnight's holiday with the marathon bang in the middle of it. It started at 5am and I was outside the hotel in the gloomy early morning light to take one of my inept photos as John ran by. I then got an excellent spot at the finish, although it meant I had to stand around for hours.

John's ambition is to complete a marathon in four hours. He's come close, but it still eludes him. Last year he joined local club the Orion Harriers to try to improve his time, and it's helped in terms of camaraderie and organised sessions. Saturday's run was a club race, a seven and a half miles cross country. I was filming for J's vblog. He wasn't very happy with his time and was covered in mud and scratches from brambles.

Last year J ran four marathons, far too many because the body takes a long time to recover. So he dialled it down this year and did two, Rotterdam and Stockholm, with some half marathons as part of his training. I went with him to Rotterdam and Stockholm. Rotterdam is one of the fastest courses, but unfortunately he got dehydrated after missing a water stop. Stockholm, back in June, we turned into a long weekend and took Rachel.

The picture hows Rachel, John and I at the Hastings half marathon earlier this year. It was cold!!!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mum very impressed with new Intel TV ad

She is not in the target demographic, and can't even be called a silver surfer as she refuses to try a PC, but my mother is very taken with the new TV ad. Usually she dismisses Intel's ads as "silly," so when I told her about the new campaign I pointed out it's aimed at young people (with the implication that she wouldn't like it).

She saw the ad that's running in the Uk (all the ads worldwide were directed by a top UK video director) and inmmediately texted to say she liked it. I thought she was just being perverse, but a couple of days later, and more exposures to the ad, and she texted again: "That ad is a real head turner, I can't get over all the different things that are going on in it."

I suspect she has missed a whole vocation as a focus group member.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Madonna and Baby

We probably don't need yet another voice to add to the shrieking banshees of the tabloid press as they castigate Madonna for her adoption of baby David from Malawi.

Just one thought on this subject. Madonna lives in the UK. It would have been far better for her to adopt one of the thousands of children (not babies) ignored by adopting couples every year who only want babies.

These children, many of them with behavioural problems, are doomed to children's homes or countless foster families. They need just as much PR as African orphans, just as much as they deserve a caring home. But they're probably not as trendy as the African baby, the latest style accessory for women like Madonna who can literally buy anything they want.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What's gone wrong with Amazon? Oh and iTunes

I always loved Amazon.co.uk. I started using it soon after it launched, and I made BIG use of it during the 18 months from 1999 that I lived in Germany.
But what's happened to it?
Recently it's become increasingly slow; so slow that I've sometimes had to give up. I notice, as an IT professional would, that it's now powered by a different company. Is this the reason? The whole USP for a site like Amazon has to be instantaneous response and the ability to carry out a meaningful search. But Amazon has become a hopeless jumble sale.
It used to be a well structured and UK focused site (Amazon.co.uk that is).But to share an example, I just carried out a search, one I've done before (it's my Holy Grail), looking for books about the house design in the UK in the 20s and 30s. You would think there would be lots of books but I can never find any. I am fascinated by houses like those in Chingford, where I live, where each street seems to have different designs of stained glass windows. Plus the Tudor effect. Was that an Essex affectation? Anyway, I digress. I narrowed my search down, and I consciously chose not to tick the box "US architecture." So I was surprised that the search seemed to throw up books mostly from, you guessed it, the US.

Then there are all those wretched sponsored links and adverts. Eww. I know we love Google here on Blogger (if only I generated enough traffic to make some revenue from my humble blog!), but it seems to me that Amazon should focus on the areas where it can conquer. It's finally making a profit and to my mind it could do so much more with the books and music side of the business (surely the cash cow). But no, instead there are irritating sponsored links and additional sales lines and credit cards.

And the thing that really gets my goat? You can't communicate with them. I searched through the help topics, thinking that eventually there must be an option to email Amazon. Or a way of giving them feedback. There isn't. It makes me mad, this dissociation with their customers. Presumably we are all idiots who only email them about lost books. We can't give them any feedback or advice. And yes iTunes, you're just as bad. I was furious about downloading "Fooled around and fell in love" to find out it was a naff instrumental version and they didn't have the version that was a hit. That was available on the itunes US site, but of course you can't download from the other sites because they charge us more in the UK. I also wanted to download Bill Nelson (the 80s cult artist not the country & western singer) but his material is also only available on the US site.

So my advice would be: monolithic e-tailers, because we can easily decide that actually we prefer personal service (and bookshops with coffee bars) and leave you to enjoy another internet crash.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Recalling OK magazine - the original

I am a compulsive and obsessive buyer and reader of magazines. It's a constant source of irritation to me that I didn't make the logical step after my journalistic training of going into magazines. I did try once, when I was at Radio Devon and I needed to move to London (my then husband having already done so), but I received a "no thanks" letter and didn't pursue it further. Linday Nicholson, who did the same newspaper training course as me (she was the year ahead) became editor in chief of Good Housekeeping.

The magazine thing started when I was a kid. I always hated comics like the Wheezer or whatever it was called (Beano, Dandy, Bunty etc) and went straight into the hard stuff, Teddy Bear comic followed by Princess Tina. The only memorable thing in Princess Tina was a villain called Snurge. I still call my elder brother that. I also flirted with young girls' titles like Pink, which had fabulous free gifts.

After PT, it was a rapid progression to Jackie. I was never much of a Jackie fan. It constantly featured pinups of saps like Donny Osmond, David Essex and David Cassidy when I was more interested in David Bowie and Chicory Tip. I dropped Jackie as soon as Hi! and OK! appeared. You can buy old copies of OK! on eBay (I did recently). It's not the celeb version we have nowadays. It was quite ahead of its time then, as it featured sex problems which Cathy & Claire in Jackie didn't. Hi! was a similar magazine. Neither of them lasted very long. I also read Mirabelle and Fab 208 magazine occasionally, but I didn't listen to Radio Luxemburg very much. It was too crackly on my transistor radio.

Snurge was reading Melody Maker, which I considered old hat and full of BOFs (boring old farts). So I started buying New Musical Express. How I swooned when there was a memorable double page article on Woody Woodmansey, the drummer from the Spiders from Mars.

My seminal magazine moment came when I was on holiday in Hayle. It must have been around 1975. I was bored, and looking at the magazine racks. I picked up Honey, and instantly liked what I saw. I remember even to this day: a big 2-page spread on how to make a real pizza with the headline "Belissimo!" Honey was probably a little old for me at that time but it seemed just right. I became an avid reader of Honey, 19 and then Over 21.

I've seen quite a few titles come and go. Obviously OK, Hi, Over 21, Frank, Woman's Journal, Living. I'm not always very true to my demographic. I was buying Cosmopolitan until about two years ago, New Woman until about 5 years ago, and still buy Marie-Claire occasionally, all with a much younger target reader.

These days I buy an eclectic mix of Eve, Woman & Home (my current favourites), Red, She, Good Housekeeping, Gardener's World, various craft titles, You Are What You Eat and Business Week, plus weeklies OK and Hello (shocking isn't it). It's thanks to my magazine obsession that I'm never short of an offbeat conversation topic at dinner parties. I find that the minor European royals, courtesy of Hello, and the dieting secrets of the stars (OK) are an endless source of fascination.

If I'm really desperate, if I'm going on a long flight or it's that lean period when all the magazines are out, I might get Perfect Home, Q, Grazia, Good Food or Glamour, or American magazines. The American magazines are interesting because they're a bit like a step in time: they're more like Cosmopolitan used to be in the Marcelle D'Argy Smith days when it was all a bit soft and boy obsessed, with no hard reportage. There are some titles I wouldn't touch with a barge pole: Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harpers, Wallpaper, Tatler (file under "Emperor's New Clothes").

Oh, and I forgot to mention the best magazine of all: Smash & Grab, which was the comic I used to write with David Westgarth when we were kids and borrwing his dad's Olivetti typewriter. There are no back copies of that one, sadly.
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