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

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Leaping salmon

Three days on the salmon diet and only one pound lost! That's weight-wise: financially of course, many more pounds. Salmon as prescribed by Dr Perricone, twice a day, doesn't come cheap.

I suppose the curry on day two didn't help, but John was most insistent on a Friday night curry. I made concessions by not having a Bombay aloo, but I couldn't switch from a Bombay chicken to the dieter's alleged friend, the chicken tandoori.

I do the three-day Perricone salmon diet every now and then. I'm not a fan of faddy low-cal diets but this one seems to work: it's delicious, fairly filling, and usually gets good results. The diet isn't sold as a weight loss diet. I added up the calories and it comes in at around 1200. The diet is billed as the "three day facelift in the fridge." Perricone believes that skin ageing is caused by inflammation and the sun. And the diet really does seem to improve the skin. Kim Cattrall is a big fan apparently. For breakfast you have an omelette made with one whole egg and two egg whites, and porridge. For lunch, salmon fillet with lots of lettuce doused in lemon juice and olive oil (surprisingly delicious); for dinner, the same, plus a green vegetable; for snacks, almonds and slices of turkey breast, and an apple or pear.

I was driven to the diet after trying on a few party frocks and finding the size 12s a little clipped.

I lost two and a half stone in 2004 and have successfully kept it off, except for three pounds that have crept on and doggedly refuse to go. What isn't so good is that I don't go to the gym anywhere near enough. So I went for a run yesterday, in the rain and wind, and even spent some time in the gym today (and not just on the sun bed).

The forcing function is two Christmas parties on Dec 7 and 8. As the magazines gleefully tell us in December, it's all about showing gleaming skin, wearing sparkly eyeshadows and bling, and buying the drop dead frock.

I think I managed to get hold of the latter in a rare trip to Newbury. I lived in Newbury from 1994 to 1998 and have very fond memories of the town, pre-bypass, and its quaint little department store Camp Hopson. Well, what a change, in all respects. Now by-passed, Newbury has a more up-and-coming town centre, and Camp Hopson has been totally remodelled. No longer a fusty Grace Brothers, it's a bright shop to rival any House of Fraser. And in the Kaliko concession I found my perfect frock, midnight blue with sequins. I then had to buy some shoes, and I'm still looking for the midnight blue evening bag, but with two trips to London this week, I'm sure I'll succeed.

No more salmon for me, but I'll keep up the good work in Gillian McKeith style (my guru): porridge for breakfast with blueberries ands flax seeds; home made soup with seeds for lunch and fish or chicken with veg for dinner. There's no magic formula to losing weight than simply eating less and exercising. Lots of people eagerly asked me how I did it, back in 2004, but that really was the answer. I've also bought diet books which promise miracles - F Plan, Atkins, South Beach, New York - but I've realised that just eating less, and not being tyrannised into giving up your favourite foods, is what works. So while I happily cook my way through Gillian's recipes and have developed quite a taste for spinach and quinoa, I still have the occasional bag of crisps and the odd jacket potato and glass of chardonnay.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Nick names and talking in code

I pity the poor people who become involved with my family. As we're prolific divorcers, there have been quite a few over the years. We might appear normal, stoical even; but as soon as you get a group of us together, we start talking in code and everyone has a nickname or two, so only the bravest of newcomers survives.

John is a relative newcomer to the inner circle. He and I have been together now for nearly three years. This weekend we're going down to Plymouth and he'll meet my younger brother Chops and his family for the first time.

Let's start with the nicknames. Why use someone's real name when it's much more fun to think up a name that's more appropriate? Having said that, I can't remember why Chops is Chops, or why my mum is Gizzard. We think it may be a reference to Kenny Everett's character Gizzard Puke (not very flattering!). My elder brother is Snurge, after the villain in Princess Tina comic. My dad was Stamps. He was not a philatelist, but prone to stamping about. There was a character in an Enid Blyton story called Stampabout who was bad-tempered. His sister glued him to the chimney pot (as you do). So that's how Stamps got his moniker. Snurge's girlfriend entered into the whole thing with gusto and has a couple of nicknames, Bunch and The Inspector, the latter because she's keen on DIY and always inspecting things.

I have a couple of nicknames, of course. Chops calls me Gull and Snurge calls me Crone or Bone. Bunch calls me The Baroness (from the Sound of Music). John is still John, although in texts he's become J, so this might stick.

I was just talking to Giz on the phone and in 30 minutes we used several of our "code" references. A lot of these are from Monty Python. We routinely refer to the comfy chair, "never a willow," "I've got my own apron," "be fair Pascal" and "somebody said mattress to Mr Lambert."

We also have a lot of our own made-up expressions. If Giz and I am looking for an eaterie, we have a cautious sniff at the door first. If we say "old fat" in unison, it means that particular establishment will not be enjoying our custom. If someone is grumpy, we say they're Tough Ted (a very long story).

We might refer to "the vessel with the pestle," which comes from one of our favourite films The Court Jester. Snurge, Bunch and I am sadly word perfect with the script of Carry on Camping and will often drop references into conversation. Food and drink does not escape. At Christmas we always have a Magwich (a pork pie, from Great Expectations).

John will be very bemused if Giz and I decide to play Consequences this weekend. This ridiculous game, where a piece of paper is passed between us and we have to identify a man, a woman and what they said and did, is totally incomprehensible to anyone else. The man might be someone like Mr Upty, the made-up name we gave to a man in the 60s who gave some leafleting work to Snurge the schoolboy.

Tomorrow J will meet Chops in that Aladdin's Cave of Christmas decorations, the Endsleigh garden centre. My advice to him would be to ask Chops if he's been doing any pacing (he paces up and down when he listens to music) and if he's bought a new mobile lately. J works in the world of mobiles; Chops is a dream consumer and is forever buying a new one.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cats and Men

Cats and men have a mutually suspicious relationship. It's said that men are very wary of single women in their 30s and beyond who live on their own with a cat. I think the same would be true of single men living with a cat. Or single men living with their mum.

I've always had a cat. Currently it's Molly. We've had Molly for a year. We don't know too much about her history. She turned up at Julie and Paula's, in Swindon, bedraggled and thin. They took her to a vet and it turned out she was pregnant. They wanted to keep her but she was terrorising their elderly cats, so after the kittens had gone, I drove Molly from Swindon to her new home in Chingford.

Initially she was quite wild and wary; now she's calmed down, likes being kissed and likes listening to football commentaries. When John stopped listening to the Spurs match on Sunday, she stood up, looked at him indignantly, chirruped crossly and strode upstairs.

Molly was a bully in her Swindon days, but in Chingford she's terrorised by all the other cats. I am forever chasing Pedro out of the lean-to when I hear the soft ping of the cat flap. Then there's an ugly black and white bruiser who lurks under my car, or in the back garden, waiting for Molly. She never stays in the back garden now: her territory seems to be across the road, which is worrying as the road is used by a rat run and is quite busy.

Molly and John are wary of each other. When he sometimes tries to pick her up or stroke her, she bites or scratches. But occasionally she jumps up on his lap, and his face lights up.

In my experience, cats seem to prefer women. Men lurch around too much and their voices are loud. And they always brush cats off beds.

The addictive world of the blogger

When I first logged on to Blogger and decided to create a blog, it was easy enough to choose a template and just start writing. But then you become frustrated at not having any readers; you start to do some research, and before you know it, you're learning fast about rss feeds, spiders, tags, directories and so on.

Over the last few days I made some huge steps, simply by talking to a colleague of mine, Marc Alagem, who is a webmaster supreme and used to be in my team at Intel. Now, I don't know or write in HDML, and so I had no idea where to put my tags (which I knew I needed to become picked up by search engines). Marc kindly sent me the exact wording and where I needed to put it on my Blogger beta template.

Through the Blogger help group, I've also discovered various sites where you can promote your site, for example http://Technorati.com, http://Blogflux.com, www.globeofblogs.com. And I'm now found at www.feedburner.com, though sadly I have O feeds.

I'm also joining web communities, such as www.digg.com, and visiting similar blogs to mine to leave comments (I'm told it's a great opportunity to advertise your site).

It's all very exciting, albeit rather time-consuming. Still, anything to keep me away from that infernal card making.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Let's hear it for the ridiculous trio: Hurley, Posh & Moss

The three women I consider to be the most ridiculous in Britain have been much in the news this week, as always for nothing more than posturing or bragging.

Let's start with Hurley, possibly the most ridiculous of the three. She's actually a successful businesswoman, selling swimwear, after being a failed actress, but even though she's now in her 40s, she's still trying to get column inches for her looks. Her wedding, we are told, will take place in March. And not just one ceremony. Oh no, she has to do this in both England and India, and will need, gasp - no fewer than 12 outfits for the UK event!

It strikes me poor old Hurley is hurtling towards Baby Jane syndrome, where she ages over time but still tries to look the same. Is she defined only by her looks and her ability, as she put it, to fit into tiny clothes? Why does she have to splurge on this monstrous wedding (or perhaps it's free of charge courtesy of Hello magazine, provided other celebs turn up).

She's no arbiter of style or taste; she's been wearing white jeans for the last 12 years! And her evening dresses are so boring, always cut to the thigh and showing her neat little bosom. Yawn. Put it all away darling and concentrate on making millions. We'd respect you more.

Then there's Ms Beckham. Her marriage is in trouble again, apparently (Grazia). Her new book, The Extra Half an Inch, has shot into the book chart at number 10. Yet extracts are fairly laughable. This cossetted and pampered princess, who always looks glum despite her lux lifestyle, tries to convince us that she's just an ordinary Essex gel looking for bargains.

Well, she still comes across as an ordinary Essex gel even though she spends thousands pulling together a look: the right shoes, handbag, jewellery, etc. It's all too contrived, too much of an effort. Lighten up love and look less false. The hairstyle was a good move. Now get rid of the perma tan and fake nails.

Meanwhile, someone who does dress effortlessly is Kate Moss. Sometimes she can look stunning. But she also gets into a rut: the skinny jeans and waistcoats this summer got a trifle boring. My main beef with Moss is that she's revered as some sort of icon, whereas she's a terrible role model for the young. I remember a shoot for Vogue several years ago. Her nails were filthy and she had that gaunt, emaciated look that promptly became lauded as "heroin chic." Since then we've had the drug addiction and the ridiculous charade of the lost contracts which were miraculously restored a few months later; the ridiculous boyfriend and threatened marriage (which we can all see will end in tears in about 18 months time), and the arrogant posturing and trashing of properties (rented cottage in the Cotswolds).

Lately, Moss has been showing signs of wear and tear. It was inevitable that her lifestyle would catch up with her. Spending thousands on spa treatments won't repair the damage done by smoking, drinking and drug-taking.

When has Moss done anything good? At least Hurley is visible supporting breast cancer. Beckham self consciously told a TV programme about her and Day-vid" that they have their own children's charity, but they hadn't told anyone about it (until that programme). Moss just comes across as a hedonistic, selfish slattern, precisely why she is lauded by the Grazias of the world. But it will look less cool the older she gets. My advice: adopt the Gillian McKeith regime and take up a charity (but don't adopt any African children).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Sound of Music" in London reviewed

We saw a preview of the new production of The Sound of Music in London a few days ago. And the word from the crowded auditorium? A triumph!

I did question the wisdom of Andrew Lloyd-Webber when I heard he was planning to stage this show, given the fanatical popularity of the film version. But the Sound of Music has always existed as a stage production, and as proof there are two extra songs. The Baroness gets to sing!

The crowd was at 90% on this preview night and highly excited and boisterous. Maria, played by Connie Fisher, the winner of the BBC show "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" received rapturous applause in welcome, as did opera diva Lesley Garrett.

The most satisfying thing about the production was the vocal and musical quality. Both Fisher and Garrett were superb, Fisher confounding me as I'd never really rated her voice on the TV show. She doesn't suffer in comparison to Julie Andrews. Garrett was superb in "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," the show stopper that closed Act 1. Looking around, I could see quite a few of the audience were wiping away tears. And that's the triumph of the show. The film is a real tear-jerker; why I have never really figured out, but fortunately so is this stage version. Without the genuine emotion it induces, the whole thing could be perceived as very schlmatzy.

Other highs were the imaginative scenery and staging; the over-the-top conducting and the children. Maria has an easier ride with the children than she does in the film. The only way we know they've been unpleasant to governesses in the past is the mention of one of them climbing up to Maria's bedroom from the garden with a toad in each hand.

The lows are Captain Von Trapp and the treatment of Lonely Goatherd. Von Trapp was played by an understudy, Christopher Dickins, and he was very wooden, although I suspect it's equally to do with the writing of the part than the actor's performance. There was no chemistry with him and Maria, and hard to see how the script even allows for that. She is convincing as Lloyd-Webber wanted in terms of "she climbs a tree, she scrapes a knee" but she seems like a very naive young girl and it's hard to imagine what the Captain saw in her.

Lonely Goatherd in the film is a puppet show. In the stage musical, it's a scene with Maria and the children in the garden with servants going about their business. I didn't think it quite worked; I kept waiting for the servants to join in. But John thought it was very good (he is less addicted to the film version).

As for Maria, Connie Fisher held her own which was challenging against Garrett. I'm not quite sure why Garrett gets to sing "My favourite things" in the first scene - it doesn't seem right for the Mother Abbess, but seems like a vehicle to give the established star more to do. Fisher was trying a little too hard, but she'll relax over time, and time is what she will have. This show will run and run!

Oh, a handy tip for dining if you're going to see this show at the Palladium: the Shakespeare's Arms, at the top of Carnaby Street, has upstairs dining and it was very good. Attentive and friendly service, real ales and good wine list. I had a stilton & wild mushroom tart followed by sausage and mash.

Friday, November 03, 2006

M&S food ads are too tasty by half!

Somebody stop them! Those gorgeous, luscious Marks and Spencer food ads with Dervla Kirwan's seductive voiceover.

Such is the power of these ads, they even make you fancy food you wouldn't normally touch with a bargepole, viz a viz, from the latest ad, broccoli and leeks with a Stilton sauce.

Apparently every time a new campaign starts, M&S has record demand for the various items.

I imagine Sainsburys and Aldi must be as sick as the proverbial, because they both have new ads featuring close-ups of food, but neither look anywhere near as appetizing as those delicious morsels at M&S.

It's great that M&S have got their mojo back, not just with their ads across the board, (Twiggy et al), but with their fashions and homewares. If only they would improve the lighting in the ladies' changing rooms, they would sell even more stuff.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

More doom and gloom about UK teenagers

Another shock horror report today claims the UK's teenagers are the worst behaved in Europe: they drink more, take more drugs, get involved in anti-social behaviour, and are more promiscuous. Another report today claimed that "ASBOS" are becoming a status symbol.

These reports follow others in recent months which have highlighted high levels of obesity in Britain's youth and that Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies.

I'm sure the tutting readers of the Daily Mail would instantly blame parents or the government; some may blame schools. I don't think it's a case of blame, but changing sociological factors.

Nowadays we have more women working, and as a result, we've had to change the way that meals are cooked and eaten with the growth of convenience foods.

We've seen a huge rise in the number of consumer electronics appliances, starting with the TV through to the computer, the mobile phone, hand-helds and game consoles. These have replaced the parlour games, outdoor activities and good old conversation of old.

And we have become more selfish and materialistic. We throw out goods simply for being unfashionable; we do the same with our elderly. Happy to use 60% of the UK's grandparents for minding the children while we work, we are less happy to have the parents living with us when they need support and we're more inclined to put them in homes (which, we also know from reports, have even lower standards of food quality than school meals).

Add to this the mix of religious hatred and mistrust, the political correctness that is overplayed to the detriment of this country's own indigenous religion- as seen by BA banning staff from wearing the cross, or various loony councils banning the word "Christmas", and you have a society in the UK that is heading for catastrophe.

There is also a greater class divide than there used to be. The chattering classes, with their organic food, fairtrade t-shirts, private schooling and 4x4s are even more contemptuous of those caught in the poverty trap.

We need to restore some sense of balance. Children don't have to eat junk food all day. They don't have to sit glued to their TV or PSP either. It's clear we need to improve people's education on nutrition and good parenting, and we need to think of community based ways to do that, not foolish "nanny state" directives or supermarkets being expected to show people how to eat fruit. And the key here is that we should all take responsibility.
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