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

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Few Wee Predictions for 2012: A Baker's Dozen

It's as predictable as the papers and broadcasters running reviews of the year. Or magazines publishing detox diets on Jan 1 and binini diets in May.  Yes, it's papers and broadcasters running their predictions for the New Year.

Here are mine:

1) The Olympics will take place in London (what? You didn't know?)
2) There will be a kerfuffle about: tickets / someone missing their race because of public transport /  the Danny Boyle opening ceremony divides the nation / why didn't we win more medals on home turf / did Boris make a fool of himself, and, last but not least, phew! A big success!
3) The Vulcan bomber returns to the flypast for the Queen's diamond jubilee  (Concorde would be even better)
4) Everyone gets fed up with reading / watching Charles Dickens
5) Jennifer Aniston splits up with Louis Theroux  (oops, wrong Theroux)
6) Kate and William anounce baby news near the end of the year
7) Kate Moss parts company with latest husband
8) Spurs win the Premiership (COYS!)
9) UK bounces back with economic growth of a full 1% !!
10) John Galliano pops up somewhere with a high profile new job (well if Gerald Ronson can get a New year's Honour......)
And in the vein of (8), wild optimism outweighing likely reality:
12) David Bowie makes triumphant comeback  (yay!)
13) More baby news, this time for Mr and Mrs Panda of Edinburgh Zoo

Saturday, December 24, 2011

David Bowie gift wrapped for you this Christmas

Apart from the scourge of Christmas songs we don't want to hear ("Stop the Cavalry" and "Mistletoe & Wine" in my case) this is a fantastic time of the year. The long holiday always feels well deserved after a hard year. So put your feet up, put a paper hat on your head and enjoy a big scooner of sherry.

My Christmas gift to you all is the remarkable footage found by a BBC cameraman of David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars in 1973 on Top of the Pops.

The BBC wiped all their tapes routinely, to save money. So much of the TOTPs archive was lost. Miraculously, a cameraman recorded this footage for himself, and recently found it in his attic. Marvel at how wonderful the band is. Playing live, with no backing tracks. Amazing. No wonder I lost my heart to Mr Bowie when I was just 11 after seeing his mesmerising performance of Starman on TOTPs.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Traditions: Part Two

Buche de Noel
Yesterday we looked at the origins of some of our Christmas traditions. Today we look at how our European neighbours celebrate. Christmas Eve is often the big day.

In Finland, Christmas Eve is the traditional time to set up the Christmas tree and it's also traditional to visit the sauna and for families to listen to a broadcast of the national 'Peace of Christmas' on the radio. Christmas Dinner generally consists of a main dish of boiled codfish that is snowy and fluffy in appearance, served with cream sauce and boiled potatoes.

Christmas in France is called Noel, from the phrase 'les bonnes nouvelles,' or 'the good news,' which refers to the gospel. On Christmas Eve, cathedrals and churches are beautifully lit and filled with the sounds of Christmas carols, ringing church bells and carillons. The tradition among children is to put their shoes by the fireplace for Pere Noel or le petit Jesus to fill them with gifts. In northern France, as I mentioned yesterday, St Nicholas brings presents on December 6.

Most French homes will have a Nativity scene on display during the season. In Southern France, some people will burn a log in their home from Christmas Eve until New Years Day, which comes out of a farming tradition of using the log for good luck in the coming harvest.

The French also make a traditional cake called the buche de Noel, or Christmas Log, shaped like a Yule log. It is part of a late supper called le reveillon held after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
In Germany everything gets going on December 6. It's often the day when spiced cakes and cookies are baked - "Lebkuchen", and gifts and decorations made. Little dolls of fruit are traditional Christmas toys. Germans also make beautiful gingerbread houses.

December 6 is Nikolaustag, St. Claus day. A shoe or boot is left outside the door on Dec.5 and the next morning you find presents (if you were a good) or a rod (if you were bad). (Does anyone ever get given a rod?!).

The Christmas Eve dinner menu in Germany traditionally comprises of dishes such as suckling pig, white sausage, macaroni salad, "reisbrei" (a sweet cinnamon) and many regional dishes. Some people will feast on carp. The Christmas Eve is popularly called here as "Dickbauch" (meaning "fat stomach") because of the myth that those who do not eat well on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons during the night. So everyone tries to stuff their belly to the fullest on this day.

The feasting continues on Christmas Day with a banquet being held on this day. Traditional Christmas dishes consist of plump roast goose, "Christstollen" (long bread loaves stuffed with nuts, raisins, citron and dried fruit), "Lebkuchen" (spice bars), marzipan, and "Dresden Stollen" ( a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit). And, strange but true: it's a German tradition to watch a short subtitled British film called "Dinner for Two." It's hardly known over here. But the Germans find it hilarious.
Frankfurt Christnmas market

Here in the UK, it's traditional to go to church at midnight on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, presents are opened around the tree either in the morning, or, if you're the royal family, at supper time. Lunch is roast turkey with all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding with rum butter or clotted cream. Family games are played in the afternoon, or maybe a bracing walk taken. A few hours later the feasting resumes with cold turkey sandwiches, cheeses, pork pie, mince pies and trifle.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Traditions: Part One

Since I started this blog in 2006, I've written quite a few posts about Christmas. There was the one about my own family's traditions, the First World War Christmas Day football match, quite a few about Christmas TV and politicians' messages, but nothing, I noted, about the origins of Christmas. Why do we have Boxing Day? Why do we set fire to a Christmas pudding? Without further ado, here is the first in a two-part posting, the Curious round-up of why we do some of the things we do.

Setting fire to the Christmas pudding
Before Christianity and when we were all pagans, there were winter festivals around this time and the Festival of Fire was common. Our tradition of igniting the Christmas pudding hark back to those times.

Christmas stockings
According to legend, a kindly nobleman grew despondent over the death of his beloved wife and foolishly squandered his fortune. This left his three young daughters without dowries and thus facing a life of spinsterhood.

The generous St. Nicholas, hearing of the girls' plight, set forth to help. Wishing to remain anonymous, he rode his white horse by the nobleman's house and threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney where they were fortuitously captured by the stockings the young women had hung by the fireplace to dry. 
St Nicholas in the 4th century was the original "Santa Claus". Our image of the jovial white bearded gentleman in red is courtesy of Coca Cola and their ads in the 1930s. But the origin of Santa Claus began with Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. When I was in Poland recently, staff were being given gifts on December 6. In many European countries this is the day when St Nicholas delivers sweets and toys.

Christmas Cards
Sir Henry Cole is credited with creating the first real Christmas card. The first director of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Henry found himself too busy in the Christmas season of 1843 to compose individual Christmas greetings for his friends.

He commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley for the illustration. The card featured three panels, with the centre panel depicting a family enjoying Christmas festivities and the card was inscribed with the message "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You."

Christmas Tree
The idea of a decorated tree in the home was started by the Romans many centuries ago for the festival of Saturnalia. Sometimes they put 12 candles on the tree, one for each month. Gradually the practise of decorating a tree with ornaments and lighted candles spread across Northern Europe and into Scandinavia. Austria is said to have had its first tree in 1816 when Princess Henrietta set one up in Vienna. In 1840 Princess Helena of Meckleburg brought the idea to Paris. In England it has always been a custom to decorate an evergreen garland called a ‘kissing bush’, but in 1841 Prince Albert, Consort to Queen Victoria, introduced a tree decorated with candles, tinsel, and ornaments as part of the Christmas celebrations at Windsor Castle. After that, the Christmas tree soon became an English tradition.

Boxing Day
This is a uniquely British one and we get a 2nd day off! Boxing Day takes its name from the ancient practice of opening boxes that contained money given to those who had given their service during the year. It was also the day when alms boxes, placed in churches on Christmas Day, were opened. The money was then given to the priest or used to help the poor and needy. Another name for Boxing Day used to be Offering Day.

The Queen's Message
The first Christmas Broadcast was delivered by George V in 1932 and since then has evolved into an important part of the Christmas Day celebrations for many in Britain and around the world.

Tomorrow: Learn about how our neighbours in Europe spend Christmas


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Items of Desire #1: Monty Don's shed

It may seem a strange thing to lust after, but I am very covetous of TV gardener Monty Don's shed.
Looking at some of the gardening community sites, I'm not the only one  (although Monty himself usually comes into the lust equation there).

His shed is large and spacious, with his tools neatly hanging on hooks. He's got lighting and, the thing I most envy, a four sided box from which he scoops his compost mix for potting up (you can just see it, in the corner of his worktop, below).

A shed like that seemed a distant dream.

Our shed is a a weird structure that I called "the haunted house" because the door was so rotten a huge hole had developed and any passing fox (or worst) could kip down among the tools, paint cans, old coffee tables, bike and other mildewy items.  Unlike a normal shed, the previous owners built it on a concrete base and it's made of bricks with a flat corrugated plastic roof.

The roof began to bow under the weight of leaves from next door's leylandii. The shed was taking in more water than the Titanic.

But now the shed has had a face lift. We have had a new roof and the window frames and door replaced. It looks quite cute! Phase 2 will see a power supply (J has already installed a consumer unit in the garage) and the construction of a worktop and compost mixing box, just like Monty's. I've got an envelope full of seeds sent by my mum, and this spring I fully expect to be out there potting up. Happy times!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Who needs the BAFTAS or the Emmys? These are the awards to win.....

Ahead of the nationals and gossip mags with their "reviews of the year," here is my Yuletide celebration of the naff and the triumphant. Brace yourself for this year's Curious Girl awards!

The "enough already" award for over exposure
Pippa Middleton. Am I the only one who's fed up with hearing about the saintly bottom? And massive advances for her book about party tips. I blame the Middletons for spoiling children's parties by making parents feel guilty about not having the latest table decorations and the showiest party bags.

Most cynical use of media
I'm not sure who Kim Kardashian is: I believe she's a reality "star" in the US and her family all have names beginning with K. Predictably she married someone whose name began with K, got lots of wonga in the downmarket gossip mags and then split up with him. We haven't seen such a cynical use of the media since Jordan married Alex Reid.

Top Chap
Gareth Malone. What he does with dispirited communities and disenfranchised military wives has to be seen to be believed. He is a tonic for the nation! Let's all sing a song in his honour. I'd like Mr Malone to tackle care homes next. I heard about a women's choir in the north who go round care homes teaching the staff how to sing without embarrassment to the residents. Those with dementia often still remember songs long after they have lost all other memory.

Top Bird
Kate Middleton. I admit I wasn't won over until the wedding. I thought of her as "Waity Katie." But she has conducted herself immaculately since the wedding. Ignore the occasional carping about your eyeliner and "too long" hair. The harridans are just jealous!

Biggest disappointment of the year
Mary Portas at House of Fraser. She may have wanted to offer the over 50's better service and a better choice of fashion, but the clothes fell short of the mark. Some nasty fabrics and shapeless sacks. Mary's mistake was imaging that her peers are all willowy and tall like her. Gok Wan may be naff, but he understands how to flatter a woman's shape.

"It'll Never Last" award for the relationship doomed to failure
1) Elizabeth Hurley and Shane Warne
2) Jason Orange and Catherine Tate

"Time to keep Schtum" award, given to those who talk too much
1) Liz Jones, the sad, pitiable Daily Mail writer who cheerfully chronicles how she can't get on with anyone.
2) Esther Rantzen, who constantly writes about her loneliness. OK, she might be lonely, but she enjoys good health, she has family and she isn't short of a bob or two. "Count your blessings" springs to mind.

Slimeball of the Year Award
This one is always fiercely competitive. So many men to choose from! The loathsome misogynists Jeremy Clarkson or Rod Liddle. The slippery and self righteous Julian Assange.The shameful way that Ashton Kutcher humiliated Demi Moore. The low life John Terry, whose crime is that he doesn't even realise how awful his behaviour is. Quite a few senior clerics in the Catholic Church, frankly deserve this award for not dealing with child abuse which STILL happens. But this year it goes to Dominique Strauss Kahn, who thinks it's OK now to lament his fall from grace in terms which suggest we over exaggerated the vile predatory nature of the man. 

"Consign to the dustbin" award
The X Factor.  In its early stages the show cynically humiliates people  - those with learning difficulties, the obese, the tone deaf - chosen by the producers to "amuse" us, like a Victorian bear baiting tournament.  Then judges who are ill equipped to make any serious judgments on musical talent (except Louis Walsh) parade their outfits and ruin the dreams of many.

Rocket. This revolting leaf finds its way into salads the world over, ruining everything. An end to it!

The It Took Us Years To Get Bruce Forsyth Knighted, Now Let's Do It For.....
Robin Gibb. Now. The man deserves it!

Now dear reader, what about your awards? Who have I missed?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I am indebted to......

My old mucker Maddie Grigg has kindly given me a Lovely Blog award. Many thanks!
There are four rules associated with the award:
1) To thank the giver and link back to his or her site.
2. Provide five random facts that folks may not know about you.
3. Pass this award on to five other lovely blog sites and let them know you're awarding them.
4. Copy the award logo and paste it onto your own site.

Here are the random facts:
  • I once had a letter from Iggy Pop. Yes seriously - the grandfather of punk told me all about his cat (!)
  • I once did the Royal Marines Endurance Course at Lympstone. I was going to say "ran" but that would be stretching the truth. However, I did manage to finish it within the 30 minute time limit and my dad (a former Royal Marine) was very proud
  • I only like one type of white wine, very oaky New World Chardonnay. Out of fashion, but there you go
  • I am passionate about piccalilli (and wrote about it in a previous post)
  • My specialist subjects, should I go on Mastermind, include the ballet dancer Nijinsky, the toe toed sloth, Imperial topaz and the books of Thomas Hardy
Now to share the love I am going to nominate Maggie May at Nuts in May, Lucy at Thoughts and Worries from the Wrong Side of the Hill,  Robyn at Joyful Follies, What's Happening at My House and Anne at The Frump Factor.

Coming soon at this blog: my celebrity awards of the year. Roll out the virtual red carpet as we celebrate the most boring couples, the year's worst slimeballs, the most uplifting achievements and the overall Best Chap and Top Bird.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Power of Singing

It seems like a no-brainer.
Singing in groups, or choirs, is proven to have a magical effect on everyone.
Care homes have found that even quite badly affected sufferers of Alzheimer's and dementia still remember favourite songs from their youth. The Alzheimer's Society offers a service called "Singing for the brain." New research this week showed that Parkinson's Disease patients also benefited from song. Singing can help stroke victims regain the power of speech. It can help people overcome depression, and lose weight.

And of course, the inspirational Gareth Malone and the latest "The Choir" TV programme, where he brought together military wives to form a choir, is a great example of how singing brought together a lonely and isolated group of people. The spectacular results were seen when the Military Wives' Choir performed at the Royal British Legion's Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall.

So if it's such a no-brainer that singing really helps, why is it marginalised in schools, disappearing from university courses and largely disregarded by the NHS?
Further reading
What is singing for the brain? By the Alzheimer's Society
How singing may help stroke victims
Music healing for depression
Health choirs: let's have singing on rescription, from The Daily Telegraph
In praise of Gareth Malone: from The Guardian

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembering those who gave their Today for our Tomorrow

This year's Festival of Remembrance has added poignancy for me. I have been researching my late father's family tree and discovered that his dad, Charles Edward Tyler, was a driver in the RFA who saw action on the Somme and two other battlefields. He received three medals and was badly gassed. I will remember this brave little man - he was only 5'5 - whom I never met - when the poppies fall softly, so quietly, from the ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday.

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

In memory of She magazine

Regular readers will know I buy a lot of magazines. For the last few weeks I've been looking for one of my regulars, She magazine. Having realised I hadn't seen it for a long time, I Googled it and found it has been closed down.

This always makes me very sad, particularly when a magazine has been around for a long time (in She's case, 56 years). Invariably a new publisher takes over and decides to shut down a title. That's it, there is usually no last edition or requiem.

I first started reading She when I was very young and my mum occasionally bought it. In those days it was very different - the masthead looked a bit like Punch and it had quirky content, far removed from the usual women's magazines with their articles about preparing for summer/ Christmas and how to look younger. I bought a few copies from the 70s on ebay - here's an example (left). It was quite risque at the time, as you can see from some of the headlines. Notice how the model is slim but healthy looking.

The adverts were fascinating. Outdoor Girl cosmetics; Innoxa Solution 41 for spots; "Get More Out of Nursing" and "Nice girls don't drink Guinness." In one of my copies there is an advert for a new magazine launching soon - Cosmopolitan.

I imagine the reader then was a fairly bohemian woman with her own opinions who had probably stayed on a kibbutz and was an  early adopter of women's lib.

It wasn't long before a new editor was apppointed and the brief was "revolutionise" She and bring it up-to-date. So it became a lot more like any other women's magazine. The problem She always had was that it was unclear of its target reader and how to differentiate itself.

There were various attempts over the years. When Linda Kelsey (formerly of Cosmopolitan) became editor, she turned it into my least favourite version, the magazine for 'women who juggle their lives' aimed at young mothers.

Briefly there was a period when a male editor was apppointed and the magazine suddenly became sterile and soulless with "how to" articles and glossy cookery cards. How to have the perfect dinner party. How to remove stains. There was no emotional content whatsoever.

In its last gasp years, She had established a solid position where it occupied that glossy, aspirational but not too aspirational ground along with Red and Eve magazines (Eve was unfortunately closed a few years ago).

It had celebrity cover models, some with greater celebrity than others: Myleene Klass, Tess Daley...oh and Jennifer Lopez. The target reader was probably a youngish mother who also had a career, unlike the stay-at-home mother that it had targeted a few years earlier. The magazines had realised readers wanted some escapism, with articles about shopping, beauty and holidays, rather than choosing the best school or disposable nappies road tested.

Let's hope all the staff were given jobs on other titles, and let's raise a glass to a magazine that represented very well the different evolution of women in its 56 years.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Finally it's ready

A few weeks ago I showed you some of the different stages of building work after the old lean-to was demolished and replaced with a new conservatory.

After what seems like months it is now finished. We are using it as a home office. It is very modern and minimal looking. We're going to add a couple of comfy (modern) chairs and the barren garden you see through the door is soon to be transformed.

Here's John sitting in his new home office, his pride and joy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

From butlers to Football League glory

Butlers to football sponsorship.....it's in all in a day of unsolicited emails from agencies and publishers desperate to win the business of my company.

I decided to keep a tally of how many emails I received in one day: Friday, 21 Oct. The number was 14, which was fairly average. It's never less than 10 a day and sometimes more than 25. Plus there are numerous cold calls a day to my office number, which, unsurprisingly, I don't return.

The first approach on Friday was a sweet one, coming from sweetsandcandy.co.uk, and offering tasty promotional treats for corporate hospitality.

A recruitment agency, Consumer Recruitment,  then contacted me saying they've recently had great success in placing butlers and clubbers. Well, could always be useful.....

There was a biggie before lunch, an offer of "The Intel Cup" if we decided to sponsor the Football League. I didn't like to highlight our very small scale sponsorship of struggling local team Swindon Town FC.

Now behind the daily deluge is the sad story of agencies going to the wall because of the recession, and desperate people trying to win new business. And I know what it's like being set targets for getting credentials meetings because there was a brief time when I had to do this, and it was torture.

A few tips to agencies on how to get breakthrough. Organising lunches with compelling speakers and networking opportunities is always a good way to get interest. But not giving 2 days' notice because, yep, we know why you've done that and it doesn't make us feel good, so we'll always say we're busy.

Basic research helps. A more personal approach, based on a quick Google search of what Intel has been up to in the UK, is bound to win my attention. I won't be impressed if you emailed my predecessor  (who left the role three years ago) because if your database is out of date, I'm sure the rest of your marketing will be too.

Boasting about you have "turned round" other companies doesn't do it for me. An agency recently sent me a lurid case study about how Nokia is in dire straits and they plan to relaunch the company. Ouch.

I don't like the hard nosed,  "assumptive close" practiced by US companies. I seem to be on a database in the US and the favoured approach there is to send me a meeting invitation "on behalf" of someone senior who can only offer me 30 minutes. As if they're doing me a favour!

Here's one I had on Friday: "I'd like to get on your calendar - please let me know a DATE and a TIME that works for you" - a vice president of Saving the Day Mobilezapp Apps (in the US). Whoa, stop shouting!

Spelling and punctuation mistakes will never endear any agency that is offering to approach consumers on our behalf. I automatically delete any emails where the humble apostrophe has been abused.

My top tip for agencies would be:- you're in it for the long haul. If a company is happy with its agencies, that might change in a couple of years. So keep a friendly dialogue going. Don't keep sending me PDFs to read. Remember some small personal details. Don't get peevish about me not returning your calls. If I'm not shopping for an agency, with the best will in the world I'm not going to call you back just because you want to pitch your business.

One of the best approaches I had recently was from OgilvyOne. The UK chief executive had read my entry in the Little Black Book of Marketing and referred to it. This established a bond, and I have kept their details on file.....which is not something I do very often.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Here come the girls

Had a fabulous catch-up in Tavistock with four former colleagues (left). It may have been more years than we care to remember since we first met in a portakabin in Plymouth, but we look darned good!  Back then, we were embarking on our journalists' training, and on Saturday night as we reminisced, we realised how fortunate we were to do  it and what a marvellous training it was.

One of the questions we asked at the weekend was "who still has their cuttings book?"  I still have mine, and the stories are typical of a small local paper of record. The South Devon Times cost twelve pence in 1980 and carried stories about local organisations, weddings, dog shows, the WI. We were sent on "prowls" of our particular patch, which I hated with a vengeance. In these pre-Google days, journalists were expected to go and find news.

One of my biggest stories was about a railwaymen's social club which forgot to renew its alcohol licence and was "dry" for a month. This story was picked up by the sister paper, the Daily Mirror.

Another of my most memorable stories was about the Yealm harbourmaster coming under fire at a local council meeting. I was sitting at the back of the room, unnoticed by the councillors, and came away with a story about "what had he been doing on the night two boats sank?!"

When the story was published there was a local outcry, and the next story was "Harbourmaster defended." The story ran for weeks and was even discussed at a public inquiry which I covered. I was persona non grata in the village of Noss Mayo, populated by a good many surgeon rear admirals and people with double barrelled names.

I was lucky enough to have my own column in the paper every week, where, as a 19 year old, I expatiated in pompous vein on a range of topics including cats, men's socks, and - right - defending parents from smug and silly teenagers.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Autumn viewing

Nancy Dell 'Ollio
As we look forward to the bitterly cold winter that we are promised,
the autumn TV viewing schedules are now in full swing.

Strictly Come Dancing as always launched with the predictable "best ever line-up." It's as predictable as the message "cooking doesn't get much tougher than this" over at Celebrity Masterchef.

The problem I see with SCD is that there's already one performer who is literally streets ahead of everyone else. Cheesy old Jason Donovan, who is determined to win. I can already see him in the final.

Holly Valance should probably also be there, but to my mind she comes across as lacking in energy. She doesn't fizz like the effervescent Chelsee Healey  (yes, I also asked "who?").

The most elegant dancer among the mature ladies is Anita Dobson, who is not only lithe and graceful but seems genuinely sweet. Lulu of course thought her experience and dynamism would make up for not knowing the steps in week 1 and was soundly punished. Nancy Dell 'Ollio, well, where do we start? She is apparently having regular hissy fits backstage, the latest being that she wanted to sue judge Bruno for saying it looked as if she had drunk a vat of champagne before her performance on Saturday.  (It did).

The thing with Nancy is that most of us think that when she says how fascinating and beautiful she is, she doesn't really mean it. But she actually does! The woman is completely delusional. J couldn't understand why she didn't get booted out right away, "because she's not a nice person." But that's exactly why she'll probably stay in for a while.

As for the others: well, Edina Currie severely over-egged the cougar bit and it became embarrassing, so that's why she went. I am worried about Russell Grant: I worry for his health and sanity. I love Robbie Savage. Beneath that brash extrerior, all teeth and hair and "I wuz a bad boy" he is quite vulnerable and couldn't believe the positive vibes his improved performance garnered. There's a couple of boring ones (to my mind) - Alex Jones and Dan Lobb from Daybreak. Oh and the drummer from McFly. But all in all, a compelling line-up!

Then there is Downton Abbey. Now I came late to this, having caught up with it when ITV repeated the first series a few months ago. Unfortunately, the new series is nowhere near as good. A lot of it makes me laugh outloud because it looks so much like the Comic Relief spoof. All those side glances.
The plot advances too quickly, like we're in a race. Lady Edith somehow managed to have a fling with a married man in the first episode which was history by the time the credits rolled.  After the acrimony in the first series created by upstart heir Matthew, we're suddenly led to believe that everyone adores him in the second series. And I'm fed up with the "will they won't they" business with him and Lady Mary. That's one bit of the plot that could advance.

A couple of other gems I am watching.  "The Department Store" is a fascinating little documentary on BBC 4. It's a gentle, wry look at three old-fashioned family-run department stores. The narrator says he is finding out if they will survive, but it's more about finding out about the people who run the stores. The first programme featured a store called Milner's and wondered if David Milner was serious about retiring at 65. Mr Milner is exactly the sort of mature employee who gives the over 60s a bad name. He was dogmatic, entirely resistant to change and unwilling to hand over the store to his daughter - exactly as his own father had refused to do with him. Even during his own retirement party, he slipped out to go back to work.

I really don't remember much about the pop group Steps so I was amazed to hear in Steps Reunion how they considered themselves to be about as big as the Beatles with numerous number one hits. They broke up amid acrimony over 10 years ago when Claire "serial dieter" Richards and the absurdly named "H" suddenly announced they were leaving, an hour before the last show.

As none of them has done much since then, "Steps Reunion" is a series that gives us the chance to witness them bitching and fighting about the break-up, with Lee even going so far as to magically produce H's resignation letter; and then presumably they kiss and make-up, because I see a tour has now been announced.  The series has been strangely compelling, though I feel a bit guilty for watching what J calls "proper rubbish."

Monday, October 03, 2011

Ditch the cougar talk

Three fabulous ladies were in the news this week - and not for the right reasons.

The bitchy female columnists were whipping themselves up into a frenzy over the news that Demi Moore's husband appears to have cheated on her. They seemed to be of one mind: Demi could now stop making herself look young and glamorous; put on an old dressing gown, have a cup of tea and find an old codger.

Frankly Demi, you're way too good for him. He might look cute but his films are rubbish and his behaviour, if it's true, is childish and arrogant.

Meanwhile Elizabeth Hurley, 48, is thrilled to be engaged to Aussie Shane Warne. But the newspapers decided to run the views of "friends" who seem to think that Hurley is rushing into things and it will all end in tears.

And finally the redoubtable Anne Robinson, 67, was under fire for wearing fabulous clothes. A (gasp!) tote bag costing over fifteen hundred pounds. A beautifully flattering Michael Kors dress. And (shock!) high heels.

Yes ladies, feminism is well and truly dead when it's the female writers who can't wait to get their claws into three ladies whose only crime is discipline and focus on looking good.

Anyone could put on a dressing gown and let it all hang out over 40. But Demi, Elizabeth and Anne have imposed rigorous discipline on their lives to look good. And they'll be fitter and more athletic than all their blobby counterparts. Who cares if they've had help along the way? All three are a great advert for the best in cosmetic surgery, fillers or whatever they're using.

I can't understand this obsession with criticising women who spend money on the odd handbag. Do we castigate Jeremy Clarkson and his ilk for buying flash cars? Yet if you're saying that Anne Robinson et al should buy some old tote from Dorothy Perkins, then Clarkson and his gang could equally drive a Clio or Smart car.

If the ladies have earned their money, let them enjoy it!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More nonsense about coffee

One gripe I would happily bring to the "Grumpy" TV programme is "spurious health research and lazy journalists."

We're constantly given contradictory information about the health benefits, or otherwise, of cofee, tea and chocolate, to name just three.

Quite often the research is based on too small a sample to ever be viable, yet it commands big headlines. If journalists weren't quite so lazy, being constantly spoon fed everything and rarely finding their own stories, they might deign to Google a few stories and weigh up the true worth of what the press releaase is telling them.

Today we're told that a woman who drinks four cups of coffee (or more) a day is a fifth less likely to become depressed . Those who drink two or three reduce their risk by 15%.

The research, by Harvard Umiversity, looked at 51,000 women over 10 years. It's a good solid sample size over a decent research period.

But we're also old that "too much" coffee can raise blood pressure and increase the heart rate. I would never drink four cups or more a day. There was a time when I did, and it made me either nauseous or jittery.  Four cups or more sounds excessive. I'm surprised the researchers didn't look at the trade off between reduced levels of depression and increased blood pressure. I suspect they probably did, but preferred to major on the positive outcome of their research rather than consider 10 years and goodness' knows how much money wasted.

Friday, September 23, 2011

In France

We enjoyed a fabulous long weekend in France, staying with J's sister Kate, a photographer who lives in the hills of Cabris, about 40 minutes' drive from Nice.

We combined some sight-seeing with sunbathing by the pool. It's a very beautiful part of the world and I loved the medieval town of Tourettes-sur-Loup, close to Grasse and famous for its violets.


Me - in Nice

Kate grooms Teddy

Ladies enjoying the promenade in Nice

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Up it goes

We have had builders here for the last three weeks (it seems longer). We are finally replacing the wooden lean-to ("sun room" as it was described in the estate agent's particulars) that has been here for around 35 years.

It's being replaced with a much larger conservatory that we will use as our new home office. Here's a pictorial record of the work so far: 

The lean-to as it was (you could never call it a conservatory!)

It leaked like a sieve and even had a few plants growing through the walls


The walls go up

Poor old J emerges from the foundations of the house, covered in dust, after sorting out some cables
Taking shape!

Structure now finished!

Plastering is underway
We're nearly seeing light at the end of the tunnel. A load of rubbish in the garden was removed today; the plasterers are hard at work and will complete the floor by Monday. Hopefully the tiles we are buying tomorrow will be laid early next week so that I can resume washing machine operations. We then need to paint the walls and wood, buy a new desk and cabinet to house the printer (in white) and complete the lighting. Then we are finally finished, and I will be able to relocate my craft den to what was formerly the office, upstairs. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Celebrating the banality of 1976 Top of the Pops

A highlight of the week is BBC 4's faithful serialising of Top of the Pops from 1976.
1976 was before punk, when banality and mediocrity reigned. The show was at the height of its powers and presented by a series of Radio 1 DJs: Jimmy Savile, Dave Lee Travis, Diddy David Hamilton. They seem really square now but were like rock gods back then.

The last show I saw featured 10,000 Volts performing Dr Kiss Kiss. "This stayed at number eight but two weeks running, but MUST go up, it's amazing," shouted the Hairy Monster. The lead singer could easily have been in her 40s, dressed in a floaty top and looking as if she'd just come back from Tesco.
Then there was the memorable "In Zaire" (?) and Twiggy proving why she never really took off as a singer. Steve Harley (Cockney Rebel) rampaged round the ramparts of a castle licking his lips in what he presumably thought was the height of sexiness.

Occasionally there's a gem among the dross. In this episode it was Abba and Dancing Queen. I remember the very first time I heard it, early on a Saturday, not long before we were setting off for a caravan holiday in Hayle. I shouted up the stairs to my Mum, "It's the new one from Abba, it's really good!" Although strictly speaking, I didn't give Abba the time of the day, being a David Bowie fan. The Number One spot was held by Elton John and Kiki Dee for what seemed like weeks with "Don't go breaking my heart."

Another highlight of the show for me is looking at what the audience is wearing, and their hairstyles. In 1976 the hairstyles de jour were a) a feather cut or mullet, and b) a strange bob with flicked up ends. I favoured (a).  The height of fashion was a short sleeved flowery dress, worn slightly below the knee, with a shirred / ruched top. I know, I had one. We also sported a knee-length denim skirt, not unlike the ones that Stella McCartney made fashionable last year, with a very demure pastel coloured short sleeved top. Wedge shoes were all the rage too athough you can't often see the feet of the dancing teens.

Ruby Flipper
What's also funny about this re-run of 1976 is that the ill-fated dance troupe Ruby Flipper (right) gets another stay in the sun. Flick Colby, the creator of their predecessors Pan's People, created Ruby Flipper when Pan's got the chop after nine years. The septet featured boys and girls.

We thrilled to their literal interpretations. Wings' seminal hit "Open the door and let 'em in" featured Ruby Flipper's dancers peering out from behind cardboard doors. No dancing at all, just pouting and gesturing to "come on in."

We probably didn't thrill because Ruby Flipper was axed in 1976 after just a few months and replaced by the all girl troupe Legs & Co. For their first three appearances they didn't even have a name, but listeners to Ed Stewart were asked to come up with one. Sadly, the TOTPs show where it was announced, in Nov 1976, no longer exists in the archive.

The BBC apparently lost most of its 70s transmissions of TOTPs except for 1976, which is a real shame. I hope they are more careful now with their archiving!


Monday, August 29, 2011

28 August: A Day in the Life

I captured all the happenings of today to give you a day in the life.
It started with a walk along the canal. I used to run the 5k stretch from Ponder's End lock to a landmark I called the green bridge, but my running days have long since ended. So I walked instead and took a few photos:
Saw quite a few runners, cyclists and just a couple of narrowboats. Plus lots of wild life: swans, coots, horses.

I got home around 10.30 and realised I was out of cranberry sauce - essential for the Sunday roast. So I popped round to Budgen's, the supermarket round the corner.

After Budgen's it was time to prepare the dinner - roast chicken - and to tidy up the dining room.

While dinner was cooking I applied six watering cans of weedkiller to the lane, John having filled eight bags with weeds yesterday.
Dinner was delicious - chicken with roast potatoes, parsnips, carrots and artichokes, followed an hour later by sticky toffee pudding and custard. Just the three of us, J + daughter Rachel.
3.30pm and after dealing with the dishes and the kitchen, sat down to read the paper. John's brother Eamon came round for an hour.
Did some idle surfing on the computer for a while.
This is where it goes pear-shaped because I didn't take any more photos! However, I can reveal that after tea (buffalo mozarella/proscuitto and salad for J; quiche for me) we watched a film called "The Three Days After" with Mr Russell Crowe, which, after a slow start, became very gripping.
And to bed at 9pm to read for an hour.
How about recording one of your typical days?


Monday, August 22, 2011

The golden days of coach travel

Another fascinating BBC 4 documentary on the 1950s hey-day of coach travel was a real eye opener. Imagine Victoria coach station in London overcrowded with thousands of excitable people, all in their best clothes and hats and hundreds of coaches to-ing and fro-ing.

On the coaches, it was quite normal to have a sing song. Sometimes you would travel all day but it didn't dampen people's enthusiasm.

They loved coach travel.

Factories in the industrial towns would often close for a fortnight in the summer, and the streets would be empty. Everyone would have gone off on a coach holiday. They loved it because they could save up during the year for their ticket, get collected virtually from the doorstep and travel with their friends and family.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Around the garden

The back garden is a garden of two halves. On the left, a border of earth with nothing planted; on the right, various containers and a couple of small trees. We had the border cleared a few weeks ago and I'm going to improve the soil before planting anything. There were some trees including leylandii which leeched all the goodness from the soil and left it very dry. I'm mulling over what to plant there. I was thinking a small fruit tree (maybe a medlar) and English cottage flowers, but now I am wondering about another rose bed including some climbers on the fence.

J thinks we have far too many roses as it is. Here's a shot of the rose bed at the front.

I tried growing dahlias for the first time this year. My dad was an expert. I kept to the Bishop varieties - I particularly like the red Bishop of Llandaf - but only half of them grew, and just one was red.

I had more luck with a packet of nasturtium seeds. I threw these down and the flowers have climbed all over the hedge.

The salvia Hot Lips was a particular joy this year, as was the pink phlox and the penstemons. Very prolific flowerers.
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