Friday, 5 February 2016

Reasons why Fran may yet be modelling for a magazine

Noises that annoy ...

1. It's windy outside tonight, and the metal flap over our letterbox clink-clink-clinks. It's a tinny sound, as though someone's standing on our door mat, playing the triangle, only badly. Sometimes I take the letterbox flap off to avoid the clinking, but instead we get a Force 9 gale whistling through it like a banshee on acid and nipping up our trouser legs when we walk down the hall. I'll take the clinking, thanks. No one's nipped up my trouser legs for years and they're not going to start now.

2. My husband is a Pressure Cooker Man. Maybe it's a macho thing, to have a stew steaming and hissing and spitting on the stove, instead of bubbling with contentment on Gas 4 for a few hours in the oven.  It's violent cookery, like rugby, only with cubes of stewing steak and half a pound of carrots and onions. But it's the hissing I can't take - it lifts up the top layer of my skin and gets under it. My husband shuts all the doors, and I sit in a far-away room, but I can still hear it, sussurating away - a meal with a Lisp.

3. The intrusive whine of aeroplanes overhead makes me flinch. We moved from Greater London to Warwickshire partly because of Aeroplanes Overhead. We lived near Heathrow and when the wind was in a certain direction and the planes ventured low, lower, lower, over our house, we could see the screws holding the undercarriage together. If we were eating, peas danced on our plates.  In fact, at times, the noise was so loud, it vibrated through my whole body to the extent that I nearly needed something to hold my own undercarriage together. There's never been a case of a uterine prolapse caused by low-flying aircraft, but I've always wanted to be a model in a magazine, and the British Medical Journal will do, seeing as Vogue hasn't rung me yet.

Maybe I was doing this when Vogue rang. Dammit. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Reasons for relief, and not just one type of relief

I finished writing an article yesterday about hedonistic instincts for food, alcohol and sex in Shakespeare's The Tempest. It was for an educational magazine aimed at A level English students. I kept saying to my husband, 'I need some inspiration' and he was very happy to bring me some crisps and a glass of sherry, but kept well away otherwise as I'd had garlic aioli for lunch.

Usually, once I'm on a roll and all fired up with a subject, I'm a rapid writer, but this piece performed reluctantly, like an impacted bowel. I've been collating material for the article and putting it together, with difficulty, for weeks. Yesterday, when I finally emailed it off to the editor, I felt relieved, as though .... er ... see previous simile.

Writing that paragraph reminded me of the word 'scatological' which I learned 15 years ago at university but which I haven't used since then. It means 'the study of faeces'.

Why did I need that word at university? Had I wandered, lost, into another kind of university lecture altogether? No. We were learning about Rabelais, a writer who ... let's say ... wasn't all trees and flowers and fragrant woods and pretty fairies.

... and he looks such a nice chap! 

People who do scatology are called scatologists. I wonder how that goes down at parties.

'What do you do?'
'Oh, I work in a bank. What about you?'
'I'm a scatologist.'
'Oh, really? What does that mean?'
'I study poo.'
'So sorry - just seen someone I know. Do excuse me. I hear the vol au vents are nice.'

Apparently, according to the dictionary, the study of poo is also called coprology, which doesn't make it any easier or more suitable for social shit-shat.

'What do you do?'
'Oh, I work in a bank. What about you?'
'I'm a coprologist.'
*thinks* 'I'll sound so dumb if I get this wrong.' *says* 'You study copper? Er ... Metals? Cops? Police officers?'
'No, I study poo.'
'Do excuse me. I've just seen someone I hate, but everyone deserves a second chance. I hear the chocolate fudge cake is ve ... er ... it was nice meeting you.'

The people who do coprology are in medicine, or paleontology, or biology. Or they are two years old, and with their head in the toilet in a way that means MUMMY HAD BETTER ARRIVE SOON.

While we're on body innards, I did a bit of stand-up comedy at a local club and, as part of it, I performed my poem about the punctuation mark we call the colon. My sister was in the audience, and she's a nutritionist and expert on the fourteen miles of intestinal tubing we call the other kind of colon. I told the audience afterwards that anyone who had a problem with literacy as well as IBS could see us both at the end and get a two-for-one discount.

Here's that colon performance, as the scatologist said to his lab assistant, on Youtube  If you do watch it, bear in mind that I had to read the poem rather than do it from memory because I'd performed it at that venue before, and the audience made me read it from my file, even though I hadn't prepared it properly for that gig ... #makesexcusesforslips

Off to cook tea, although I'm not really in the mood for it. Now.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Reasons why Fran's crossword isn't finished

I went for a blood test on Wednesday at my local hospital's Phlebotomy clinic. I've been before, and learned my lesson, having had to wait up to an hour. This is so annoying, but more so when you've not taken a book with you/had a cup of tea/had a wee. You dare not leave the department for any of these reasons in case you miss the test. You're trapped, without hope of release, like wind in a sluggish colon. All there is to do is to look at other bored people. You're wondering what happened in Chapter 4, you have a tongue as dry as cardboard, and your bladder's like a sausage on a high heat and ready to pop.

The Phlebotomy department system is that you take a ticket with a number on as you arrive. It's the same kind of ticket that you get at the meat counter queue at a supermarket, and that in itself doesn't bode well when you're awaiting a blood test. 

So, prepared for a long haul on Wednesday, I went prepared with a crossword puzzle book, a copy of The Tempest which I'm teaching, and a novel.

I took my ticket - number 137 - thankfully not 666 or I'd have been out of there, bugger high cholesterol - and at exactly the same moment, a disembodied voice said, 'Number 137. Please come to door No 2.'

My spine went 'tingle tingle'. It was like an episode from 'And Then There Were None'. I'd barely grabbed the ticket, and there it was, the voice of God calling me to my fate. 

Already? What about my crossword puzzle?! 

... but won't give you time to get the answer to 4 Down 

I pushed open door Number 2. 

'The age of miracles is not dead,' I said to the young medic as I sat down and rolled up my sleeve. 'I was hoping to do my crossword.'

'We've got targets now,' he said. 'We're not allowed to have more than three people waiting.'

He was a fast worker, I'll admit. No sooner had I exposed the inside of my elbow than he'd swabbed it, jabbed in a needle (I notice they say 'a little scratch' these days and not 'a little prick') and taken fourteen pints of blood. 

He slapped a piece of cotton wool the size of a sheep on my little scratch, taped it to my arm and said, 'Press hard on that.'

'I don't need that,' I said. 'I'm not a bleeder. Never have been.'

'Press hard on that,' he said, like a robot, quoting Section 3 Sub-section 4.3 Sub-sub-section 99.6 of the Health & Safety Precaution Against Haemorrhage Necessitating Attendance by Emergency Team Who Have Other Things to Do Regulations.

It reminded me of when my milkman husband rang me at the hospital the day I was being induced to give birth to my third child. 'Is it safe for me to go on my round?' he said.

'Yeah,' I said. 'It'll be hours yet. Go ahead.'

Twenty minutes later, I'd delivered the baby, while he was still delivering milk to the nice people of Richmond in South West London. Two hours after that, he turned up at the birthing room. 

'Say hello to your new daughter, Mr Hill,' said the midwife. She looked down at his bag. In it was Monopoly, Scrabble, and Ludo, which he'd thoughtfully packed to get me through the long labour. 

'You won't be needing those,' she said to him. 'I've never seen such a fast birth. I didn't even have time to get my gloves on.'

'That baby came out so fast,' she said to her friends that evening, 'it was like being shot at.'

Friday, 8 January 2016

Reasons not to read magazines when you're in a silly mood

I read a list of 'top tips' in a health magazine today. This one amused me.

If you think you might suffer from a hot flush in bed at night, cool your pillow before you go to bed by putting it in the fridge. 

What advice might you then need, however, should you put that into action and it backfires?

If your husband has rung the divorce lawyer having found his cans of ice-cold lager warming up on the kitchen surface while you use the fridge for your pillow, try Relate, the relationship counselling service. 

But what if that goes wrong, too?

Should you find that the counsellor assigned to you at Relate is your husband's old flame/is drinking from a hip flask during consultations/breaks wind at five-minute intervals, find another way to heal your relationship, such as [another tip from the magazine], doing yoga together in the evenings.

But what if .....?

Should you find yourself both immobilised after doing yoga together in the evenings, wait until you hear the mail drop onto your doormat in the morning and yell, 'Hey, Postman! Get help! We're stuck in the lotus position!'

But what if ....?

If the postman turns out to be a postwoman, takes offence, and shouts back, 'I don't care if you're tangled up like Houdini in a strongbox, I'm not answering to an outdated gendered term of address,' you will need to find a different solution. Try banging on the dividing wall (perhaps with your head, if other limbs are unavailable) to alert a kind neighbour.

But what if ...?

Should the kind neighbour come round, let themselves in with your spare key and untangle you both, but then refuse your offered cup of tea saying, 'But I could murder a cold beer,' think before you answer. Don't say, 'Sorry, but the pillow is in the fridge, and the beers are warm.' Next time you tie yourself in knots with your legs pointing north and your elbows tucked under your armpits, you may find the neighbour refuses to answer your distress call. 

And no one MAKES coffins that shape. 

Roland didn't appreciate the 'you look a bit tied up at the moment' jokes one little bit. 

I apologise heartily for this silly blog post. I didn't know where it was going when I started, and it sort of got out of hand.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Evidence that Fran's willpower goes only so far ....

I've eaten only two mince pies over the Christmas season. This is a miracle. Normally, I emerge from the festive period from beneath a pile of shortcrust pastry crumbs, more mince pie than woman, and with a heartburn so bad it's as though someone's having a barbecue in my thoracic cavity.

But I was determined. I can resist Christmas pudding, and brandy butter, and salted peanuts, but once I see a pile of mince pies, I'm am to that pile what a wrecking ball is to a block of condemned flats. BOOM! All gone, but for the dust.

Having lost a little weight before Christmas, I didn't want to put it all back on. And I knew the mince pies would do that. So, that's a 'Good girl' sticker for me.

My kind of mince pie, with pastry so thick it's a medical emergency

Today, however, I found a pork pie in the fridge I had forgotten was there. And, damn, or maybe it was 'Hurrah!' it was still in date.

As we all know, pork pie pastry isn't merely pastry. It's a heart attack and a six-month recovery period wrapped around a giant lump of processed pork and glazed with egg white. Still, one pork pie doth not equal seventy-three mince pies, so all is not lost. Yet.

I have a friend who doesn't eat pastry. As I said to her, 'How are you even STILL ALIVE? Pastry is basically BREATHING.'

Pastry talks to me in a kind of Clooney-esque low-toned come-hither voice and it was SO hard over Christmas, ignoring the invitations from mince pies as I passed them at the school Christmas lunch or at family get-togethers.

It's all Mrs Gough's fault. My relationship with pastry goes way back to the days of Mrs Gough and O'level Domestic Science. This teacher and I weren't the best of friends. She never forgave me for swapping my loaf of baking bread with another girl's when hers was rising and mine wasn't, not that this got me anywhere, because the rising loaf rose no further, deflating like a burst balloon once I'd slammed the oven door on it before I was spotted. I know now if you're going to slam an oven door on a loaf of bread, you might as well get the bread out and bounce up and down on it. I was a rookie cook then. As well as an idiot of a teenager.

I revelled in those lessons, though, in which I learned to make shortcrust pastry for pies, puff pastry for puffier pies, flaky pastry for pies and cream slices, and then choux pastry for eclairs.  We pummelled and we shaped and we rolled and we folded and we lathered layers with butter ...  Looking back, I don't know why Mrs Gough wasn't hauled in by the Health & Safety Inspectorate and prosecuted for endangering the lives of her vulnerable fifteen-year-old students.  Mrs Gough is probably costing the NHS about £37m per year, right now.

With a basket chock-full with eclairs or fruit pies or a mis-shapen but aromatic beef pasty, I would leave the Domestic Science room and get on the bus home. 'Make sure your family gets some of these, girls,' Mrs Gough would warn us as we left. But on those days the other kids on the bus got promoted to Family as we all gorged ourselves on the products of the lesson, pastry everywhere like confetti cholesterol, the bus driver yelling, 'Oi! If I'd wanted to cover the floor of the bus, I'd have got myself some bloody carpet!'

'What do you mean, they cancelled Domestic Science?'

I'm guessing I don't need to tell you what one of my New Year resolutions ISN'T.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Evidence that Fran's front door has been a hive of activity today

Things which arrived through my door today.


This envelope, minus the card it presumably had contained, dropped on the doormat in a plastic bag, bearing the message, 'The Post Office sends its apologies should any of the contents of this package be missing.'

I think it's from my brother, so I have messaged him to say, 'Was this card/non-card from you? If so, was there a mahoosive cheque in it?'

One can always hope.

What amused me was the Post Office's apology, which sounds tentative, as if it were only a slight possibility that the contents were missing when they know damn well they're delivering an EMPTY ENVELOPE. What's more, they deliver it in a sealed plastic bag, as though in itself an empty package is a PRECIOUS THING one should be grateful for, like one's BREATH.


The next thing to arrive was Russell, delivering our groceries. For the first time, we'd ordered from Morrisons. We usually order from Tesco or Sainsburys, but we didn't get there in time to book a slot, because since the middle of August all the Christmas delivery slots had been taken by people on their summer holiday in Grimsby and hating it.

As soon as I meet someone called Russell, I want to ask them, 'Please shake around a bit, so I can see if it's true.' Or, 'Are you wearing pants made out of newspaper?'

I didn't though. I didn't want to tempt him to squeeze my box of eggs just a little too tightly as revenge.

Oo er. Why does that sound rude?

Russell stood on the threshold of our front door, telling me in a VERY LOUD VOICE to entertain the neighbours all the benefits that customers get from Morrisons: immediate free delivery should they be late arriving; the right to reject anything that didn't have a good sell-by date on it; the right to reject any substitution we weren't happy with; the opportunity to ask drivers called Russell if they were wearing newspaper pants.

The last one was a lie.


Something else arrived with Russell. He handed me a package, before bringing the rest of the shopping in. 'This is complimentary,' he said, 'from Morrisons. Merry Christmas.'

Gingerbread reindeer!

'Run, run, as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread reindeer that doesn't scan.'

'You know the way to a woman's heart, you wanton THING, you,' I longed to say to Russell, but as we'd only just been introduced, and as that bit of forwardness would probably have led to me asking the paper pants question after all, it seemed less than wise.

All I know is, if they were hoping to tempt us to make a second order from Morrisons, they were going the right way about it.


The last thing to arrive was a film from Amazon Rentals called 'Still Alice'. I've read the book, which is all about a woman's experience of losing her memory through dementia, and I hear the film is excellent. So I ordered it. However, it's going to throw me into a fit of anxiety about whether I have the Early Signs, just like the book did. After I'd read it, I did all the tests available on the Internet about memory loss, once I'd remembered where I'd put my laptop. I came out mostly scoring 1 or 2 out of 10.

Apparently, just because I forget the names of major characters so that I embarrass myself in front of my English classes ('Er ... as you know, we're studying Romeo and Brenda for your GCSE') that doesn't indicate early dementia. Forgetting the names of your family members is more of a clue. And that hasn't happened so far.

I'll never forget Russell, I know that. A man who arrives at your door with a free packet of gingerbread reindeer stays long in the memory, even without the paper pants.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Evidence that Fran has finished school for Christmas and is a little hysterical

Classic films - the Christmas versions.

The Shawshank Reindeer


A Sleigh Named Desire


Bonbon and Clyde

Rebel Without a Claus

The Bride of Frankincense


Leftovers Behind

Rock Scrooge

Les Misteltoes

The Texas Chainsaw Midnight Mass

Ding Dong

101 Decorations

Lord of the Ribbons

The Bird's Not Done

Frankincense and Sensibility

From Russell, with love

Marzi Pan


The Mince Pie Who Loved Me

Okay, I'll stop now.

Hope you're enjoying procrastinating about your Christmas preparations as much as I am.