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

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

TV cruelty

I chanced upon the first programme on ITV of "Britain's Biggest Loser," and boy do I wish I hadn't.

In Victorian times people paid money to watch bearded ladies, the morbidly obese or people with afflictions like The Elephant Man. We now use TV as our medium to gasp and point, but now they don't get paid, unless you count the miserly £10k prize for whoever loses the most weight. And we call it progress?

The concept of the show is just awful. These poor people have heart rending stories like having footprints on their skirts because of being kicked in the street, and not going on holiday because of the potential embarrassment of aeroplane seats.

Instead of being treated with dignity and respect, and given counselling to overcome addiction, they're bullied and humiliated by two ferocious personal trainers, one of whom screams "you've treated your body like a dustbin all your life and now your body says it's payback time!" When they're weighed, the men have to take their shirts off to give the viewers additional titillation.

There doesn't seem to be much in the way of nutritional advice either. It's all about gruelling 4 hour training sessions resulting inevitably in vomiting and hospitalisations that allow the trainers to sigh and roll their eyes about the weakness and sloth of their charges.

Of course at the end of eight weeks, when one or two of them 'triumph,' it'll be smiles and hugs and talk of journeys.

But eight weeks is nothing --- if you're 26 stone you may lose, what, five? You're still be morbidly obese. And it's not long enough to handle the psychological issues or to change the habits of a lifetime.

Michael Parkinson was wrong when he wrote scathingly about Jade Goody representing all that was bad about modern TV. It's shows like Britain's Biggest Loser, which vilify and allow others to feel smug. Jade may not have known where East Angular was but she made a better living than she ever would have done as a dental nurse. For some of the people on Britain's Biggest Loser, this crass show may be their only chance to live beyond 30.

We should be looking seriously at ways to stem the obesity epidemic. Top of my list would be reinstating cookery lessons and PE in schools and stopping retailers and fast food outlets from supersizing everything.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Top five footballers

Now here's a turn-up. Curious Girl Writes About Football shock. I was intrigued when a friend, Fred Landergren, published his Top Five Footballers of All Time on Facebook.

I had a think about it and came up with: George Best, Ruud Gullit, Thierry Henri, Sepp Maier (pictured now, aged 65), Paul Gascoigne. Now I wouldn't say any of them are on the list because of their footballing skills per se. No, it's more of a charisma rating. I couldn't comment on footballing skills because I find football so deathly dull.

It wasn't always so.

Back in the radio years, I was a bit of a pioneer because I was one of the first women to broadcast about football. The reporters' box at Home Park (ground of Plymouth Argyle FC) was an all-man zone until I turned up, and the first time I did my tentative first report, there was a sudden hush as they all listened to me. Over time they came to accept "the bird," and even to share the half-time broken biscuits with me.

I started doing the match reports at home matches and the Thursday "what's the team news?" report. I got to know the two managers of that time, Bobby Moncur and John Hore and even "broke" the news of Moncur's sudden departure.

I was sent to Plainmoor (Torquay United) to interview their new manager, Dave Webb. He kept me waiting for ages, on a Sunday when my shift had finished, so when he breezed in saying "do you know anything about football love?" I testily replied (mindful of their position at the bottom of the table) "yes, do you?"

Anyway, the football reporting came to an abrupt halt when PAFC reached the semi-finals of the FA cup and I was bounced from doing any match reporting in favour of The Guys.

Phrases like "sick as a parrot" or "game of two halves" were never to fall from my lips again. And I haven't watched the game ever since.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A great time and a great day

London Marathon, the aftermath

Firstly, J has told me to 'fess up and report that he was right, the elite runners' drinks station manned by his running club IS a brilliant vantage point.

I found it with no problems this year thanks to Google Street Map.

There were just a few elite runners' drinks to deal with, and they're simply laid out on the table, not handed to the runners (phew). Some of them have all manner of decoration to make them stand out to their gasping owner. This extravagant tinsel number unfortunately went unclaimed.

Sorting out the drinks
I was able to see J twice from this position and because he knew where I was, he waved and danced around, looking slightly unhinged in some of the photos.

He did a great time considering it was hot and he'd been injured a few weeks ago, and even managed to beat his brother-in-law Don, below, a hot shot runner, by a minute.

After seeing J the second time, at 35km, we then set off for Horseguards and the "family repatriation area". J had already finished before we got there and was leaving me breathless voicemails giving me different locations for his whereabouts. But eventually we were reunited and the final picture taken with the medal.

J said (somewhat inscrutably): "I was in a great pen and we had a fast start. I kept my pace and finished higher in the field than I ever have before. The pressure's off now that I've done my four hours and the world's top 10, so I just wanted to enjoy it".

He's now having a snooze before hitting the Royal Forest tonight for a few well earned beers with the other finishers. Well done to everyone who crossed the finish line!

London Marathon day

It's the big day! J has been gorging on pasta for several days like a goose being fattened up for foie gras. I've just dropped him off at the running club where they're getting a coach to the start.

His bag is packed, he's got his number, and I've activated the SMS runner tracking service on my phone.

I'm pretty confident that this year R and I will find the elite runners' drinks station where we will see him at 14 and 21 miles. I followed the actual route from Shadwell DLR station via Google Street Map. So that's one reason why it's useful.

You might catch a glimpse of me if you're watching the race on TV because the elite runners' drinks stations are separate to the normal drinks stations and if the TV cameras are focusing on the elite runners, they're usually out in the lead (the nature of the beast). I will be wearing a bright pink coat and jumper.

The weather is good for spectating - it's a sunny but cold start, with temps forecast to reach 17 to 19. A bit too warm for the runners though. Better than last year, when it rained quite heavily and I couldn't put my umbrella up.

Time now to make the sandwiches.

Back with photos later.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Clothes Crisis

6am: woken by pitious miaows of cat outside bedroom window, on roof of lean-to. Foolish beast, she refused to come in last night. "Out ratting," suggested J, whose view on the cat is that it belongs outside at all times.

J had a day off, getting ready for the London Marathon on Sunday. He rushed off to the expo as soon as it opened to get his number and to peruse the overpriced London 09 branded sportswear. It's the only time he goes into a clothes shopping frenzy. I have seen him buy, oh, three sports tops and as many as five pairs of socks.

He forgot to get me any socks, even though I texted him. (To which he will reply: "But I got you some dirt!" And yes, he did buy me a bag of compost which he always mysteriously calls "dirt" so Mustn't Grumble I suppose, even if it would be up there on the Chris Evans list of strange presents).

Meanwhile I was preparing to go into town (London) for a meeting and having a fully fledged Clothes Crisis. These are particularly likely at crossover times, eg when the seasons are changing or the one or two days that constitute summer are happening earlier than expected. Eeek! Suddenly it feels too warm for opaque tights and black, but it's not warm enough for the full summer panoply of cream, florals, bare legs and exposed toes.

The crisis was compounded, ladies, by all my trousers mysteriously becoming half mast overnight. I had several pairs shortened recently at the very helpful dry cleaner's, but I fear they mistook centimetres for inches and now my trousers are all the cropped variety, which as Trinny and Susannah will tell you, do nothing for those below 5'11.

Anyway, eventually I set off in "greige" suit and the brown high heeled shoes I told Wendy I never wear to London (too uncomfortable), and resolved to go shopping tomorrow. Yes, there's nothing for it - Bluewater it must be. Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Chef Talk

I don't know about you but I'm finding The Apprentice a tad dull this year. Do you know, last night I didn't even watch it...I was with Hell's Kitchen and the surprisingly touching departure of Bruce Grobelaar. You may have noticed that I haven't been blogging about each episode of The Apprentice as I did previously (hello Katie!).

It's just too much the same. Same challenges, same type of people and same conclusion.

Having mentioned Hell's Kitchen I'm staying with kitchens and chefs to report on one programme I am enjoying, The Great British Menu. It's a delightful little daily soupcon.

The premise is: the nation's finest chefs compete to honour the men and women from all three forces serving in Afghanistan with a glorious homecoming dinner that captures the authentic tastes of home.

This week's Northern Ireland regional heat is particularly fascinating. The two competing chefs are worlds apart. Clare Smyth is head chef at the Michelin three starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsey in London, and Danny Millar runs a gastro pub called Belloo House. He was the winner of this heat last year, but this is Clare's first time and her classical training and use of luxurious ingredients shows her pedigree.

The fascinating thing to see will be the judging tomorrow. Even Clare seemed thrown by Danny's delicious looking (and apparently tasting) steak, oyster and ale pie yesterday. I would have preferred it to her spring lamb on a solid bed of Irish stew. Tonight it's desserts and he is preparing an interpretation of rhubarb and custard (not a favourite of mine), while Clare is preparing an intricate Irish coffee. That's more up my street.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Marathon Madness

This time next Sunday I will not be sat complacently at the PC in my dressing gown. Oh no. I will be fearlessly traversing the Docklands Light Railway to find my vantage point for J's 19th marathon here in London.

Of all the marathons he's done - and they include the world's top 10 - London ranks as My Worst One.

Last year he attempted to install me and R (his daughter) at an elite runners' drinks station, courtesy of his running club. The logic was that we'd only have to hand out a few elite drinks at the start of the marathon and then we'd get to see him twice and have a great vantage point for pictures.

Problem was, I was vaguely pointed in the direction of the drinks station and I never found it. We found many other drinks stations but not this particular one. And by then it was time for the marathon so it was too late. From my POV we had an excellent situation near a pub, which meant there were Quavers and Facilities on tap.

But J was furious and still brings it up to this day. So next week I fear we will set off at 5am just so he can deposit us at the drinks station. And then I will be terrified that I'll drop the special drink for Paula Radcliff or the other elite runners.

After we've done the elite drinks bit, we're under strict instructions to make our way to the finish, where we've very little chance of seeing anything, and then to meet him in the "family reunion area," which you can find easily because of a strong prevailing smell of embrocation.

We go through a curious ritual where I have to wrest his clothes off and force feed him bananas and Gatorade, and depending on his time, he will either smile and do a little dance or bark at me "hurry up! Stop messing around!" when I take the traditional photo of him with his medal.

I've often contemplated doing the marathon myself just to get revenge. Let J find out how tiring it is skimming thousands of runners to identify him as he trundles by for a fleeting second! And then to make sure he takes a perfectly focused picture. And not just once, but in several locations!

But after two jogging sorties in the past fortnight, I am now nursing Runner's Knee (which made J snort with laughter) so I'm unlikely to be challenging him in the marathon stakes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thrilling discoveries

It's been a while since I had a good old nose round the blogosphere. Lately it's been enough just to read the updates of a handful of my blogging friends (some of whom I've never met, but they seem like friends). A year or so ago though, I was an avid surfer, forever scanning Technorati and other sites to try to find intelligent and humorous UK blogs.

Well, yesterday I stumbled across all kinds of riches, simply by visiting one of my blogging pals, checking out her blogging pals and so on. It's like peeling an onion.

So let me introduce you to:
1) Private Secret Diary or, Norfolk village life exposed (a rival for Maddie Grigg). Latest posting: "I go to the village shop".
2) Menopausal Old Bag, who writes beautifully but is, darn it, far too well known in the blogosphere with dozens of followers and awards;
3) Non-working monkey, who lives in French Canada but is English. I love his "genuine plaudits" which include "Daddy wants to spank the monkey", Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, and "I would," Nigella Lawson;
4) The Gossamer Woman, whose posting about how she visited her grandparents, made an effort to look nice but was told that short hair on a woman was manly, made me smile because it's exactly what my grandma used to say to me. "I don't know why you don't have a perm" she would say, and now I cringe to think that it's the type of thing I long to say to teenagers who have spent hours straightening their hair.

I also tapped into a rich seam of granny bloggers: Nuts in May and Granny on the Web.

These blogs are so well written and in many cases amusing. It's a privilege to get these insights into the lives of other people.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Groundhog Day

I must confess to never having seen the film Groundhog Day but I know roughly what it's about and today, Easter Monday, was my Groundhog Day.

I'm not saying it hasn't been a great day: a walk in the wood, finding that the secret bluebell wood is in full flower, and having lunch at a country pub.

But it's exactly what we did last year, as I created two scrapbook layouts at the time.

The trouble is, J can only really tolerate one bank holiday and a weekend. Two bank holidays seems excessive for his puritan streak. Any suggestions of going to Southend or dare I mention it, Hampton Court to see the new Henry VIII exhibition, and I get a wince of Victor Meldrew proportions. Neither was he keen to wield a paint brush, tidy out the shed or go up in the loft (all manly pursuits).

But getting him to go for a walk to the Owl and to check on the progress of the bluebll wood, well he was out like a shot.

I did make sure I was dressed differently for this year's pictures.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The best time of year

Easter is a lovely time of the year. Two delicious days off seem to creep up on us without much warning and it usually augers the start of warm weather; the opening of attractions and stately homes for the summer season; the smell of grass and a feeling of optimism.

I much prefer Easter to Christmas. Easter has not been spoiled by over-commercialism, despite Sainsbury's efforts to only stock the giant Easter eggs this year - they are determined to supersize everything, at the expense of the nation's girth, to boost their profits.

Easter doesn't have the "gimme gimme" baggage which Christmas was blighted with many years ago. It's a relaxing peaceful time.

I often wish Easter had more traditions going for it other than hot cross buns, Easter eggs and simnel cakes (I bought my mum a wonderful cake from the famous Betty's of Harrogate). I saw a beautiful Easter wreath in one of the magazines but unfortunately it has sold out. And I regret the fact that religious TV programming has all but disappeared. No wonder the kids of today have no idea about why they get two days off. Schools are forever trying to be so "PC" that any traditions or religious or cultural nuances attached to this country are frowned upon.

So whatever you're doing this Easter, may it be going to church, gardening, crafting (!) or trying to keep querulous kids amused, have fun!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Mind the Gap

I have long been fascinated by the architecture of Britain's houses. Not the "Grand Designs" type of architect designed one-offs, but the roads of terraced houses, Victorian and Edwardian houses; the different gables, the stained glass, the tiles. I've been looking for a book that explains all the history and traditions for some time and have finally found one, a new book, The Book of The Edwardian and Interwar House by Richard Russell Lawrence.

Our house dates from the 20s (or so I thought, but a neighbour told me they were flattened in the war and rebuilt in the 1950s). I was thrilled to find similar looking houses in the Interwar section known as "tooth and gap" houses. These were built speculatively in developing areas and feature overhanging eaves above bay windows. The plan of the house was asymmetrical but, built as a semi-detached pair, it developed into the pattern which would become known as "tooth and gap".

Despite its more recent heritage our house retains some of the original stained glass in a side window (pictured).The last owners attempted to replicate the design when they selected new windows but the result is not very sympathetic.

There are no other original features except for a ceiling rose. I would love to turn back the clock and reinstate a black and white tiled hallway and appropriate fireplaces, but given that the "drawing room" now looks like an extension of Comet, (J's description) I fear this would also look unsympathetic.

(NB. On the subject of "Mind the Gap," do you think the woman who was hired to deliver the message in the tube stations gets paid royalties?).

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Barack & Michelle Show

What a week, with the G20 Summit in London and pictures everywhere of Michelle Obama hugging people and (joyously) upstaging the uptight Carla Bruni. Not to mention the Queen and her celebrated dismissal of Italy's Berlusconi who apparently screeched "Mr Obama! I'm Silvano Berlusconi!"

The Obamas seem an amazing couple, so warm and friendly and always knowing the right thing to say. When she met a young woman with cancer, and her young children, Michelle immediately pulled them close for a hug.

I hope they didn't get the wrong impression of the UK with the protesters and riots in the City. It was mainly an excuse for the crusties or anarchists, whatever they call themselves, to have a go at the police. When you saw the close-ups of bloodied and snarling faces it looked very much like the scene in I Am Legend when the zombies are trying to break into his car.

The moment when Gordon Brown and Barack Obama took the stage together in a press conference looked very much like that scene from Love Actually where Hugh Grant (UK Prime Minister) suddenly stopped playing best friends with the US President (Billy-Bob Thornton) and said Britain wouldn't be pushed around. Fortunately Mr Brown didn't go off script but he was smiling a lot (most unusual) and YES IT SUITS YOU MR BROWN DO IT MORE OFTEN.

Sarah Brown came across really well: she has a natural touch and seems like the sort of woman you'd like to have tea or dinner with. A far cry from silly Cherie Blair. Her dinner party for the leaders' WAGs was criticised because of the "bizarre" collection of ladies who attended, but I thought choosing some of her favourite women, among them Naomi Campbell, Martha Lane Fox, Dame Kelly Holmes, JK Rowling and Dame Tannii Grey Thompson - was an inspired idea. Who would you have chosen? I would have invited Vivienne Westwood, Zandra Rhodes, Joan Collins, Lily Allen, Doris Lessing, Carol Vorderman and Rebecca Adlington.

Here In My Car

Friday afternoons are never a joy on the M25 so I made sure I left early yesterday (3.40pm) for my journey from Swindon to home (East London).

Finally got home at 10.30pm.

As you've probably guessed, there was an accident on the M25 and junctions 17 to 20 were closed. Unfortunately I was trapped on the stretch between 16 and 17 and it took about 4 hours to creep along the 3.1 miles to leave the motorway.

To start with the sun was shining and people were relatively good humoured, with men doing that mir cat thing they always do, leaving their cars and wandering around looking puzzled. Then people started cruising along the hard shoulder to try to get out of the jam - very bad. Plus a lot of cars started over heating, with owners attempting to pour in the contents of little bottles of water.

I was tempted to get a book out of the boot but instead listened to the radio. Simon Mayo was OK but after 7pm on Radio 2 you go into a hiatus. Desmond Carrington or Lee Mead from Joseph or some such nonsense. The Archers was entertaining although I never listen to it normally so had no clue really about the story lines. Then there was a play which was very bad about an Australian detective. I gave up on that.

Finally got to junction 17 and the sat nav was telling me to go back on the M25 anti clockwise. I ignored it to start with but then thought about it and agreed that she was right, it was probably the best way to go. Plus I was too exasperated with the nose-to-tail traffic. So I turned round and managed to get home in an hour. Treated myself to the programme about the rescue of Woolworth's in Dorchester ("Wellworths") which was very enjoyable. Memo to self: try to avoid the office on Fridays.
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