Thursday, 30 October 2008

Why a visit to department stores can be stressful

Revolving doors make me apprehensive. If they put any in my school instead of the push-or-pull-the-oldfashioned-way doors we've got, I'll be looking for another job. How could I teach the bloody bits in 'Macbeth' or 'Lord of the Flies' with any integrity to Year 10s who've seen me hesitating at an entrance as though I think it's an electric fence?

But there are just too many dilemmas involved.

Firstly, is it good revolvingdooriquette to get into the same quarter as someone else? I did this today and it felt too close, like I was being one of those people who doesn't understand about personal space.

Spontaneous piece of advice for personal space invader types:
Only shaving mirrors should be allowed to see people's pores that close up. Only clouds should be allowed to spit on people. Only Mediterraneans in crowded tubes have an excuse for breathing garlic over people. No one converses with their back and palms against a wall without a good reason. If you are close enough to see the specks of dandruff as individuals with endearing idiosyncrasies, you are probably annoying someone.

Anyway, back to revolving doors, as it were. And I did, indeed, have my back to them, so that the other person in my quarter didn't feel intimidated. I would have done. If someone deliberately got into my quarter, when they could just as easily have waited for the next quarter, I would suspect they'd done this on purpose. However, turning around to see whether it was an axe murderer would, if it were an axe murderer, make his day, as I would probably have axe-murdered myself in the process in such a tight space. I see the headlines now: She Did It Herself, says Suspected Murderer found in Seedy Quarter of Leamington Spa.

Secondly, when should you jump in? It's a big decision, and dodging backwards and forwards trying to make the right one makes you look like you're practising for the pole vault. Revolving doors go fast and remind me of my teenage years when the boys would start the roundabout going so that the painted stripes on it became all mingled up and then dare the girls to jump on. Judge it wrong, and you looked like a dork, just like with the revolving doors. Either you hurl yourself into a quarter as though an axe-murderer is behind you and then look silly because there's loads of time, or you leave it until the last opportunity and only just make it, having to squeeze yourself in, leaving the belt of your coat trapped in the gap. And what about the elderly, the infirm, the wheelchair-bound, harassed mothers with buggies? How does one say politely: please move out of the way and let me past; I'm nervous?

Thirdly, what about that silly shuffle you have to do when you're in there? It marks you out as a conformist, having to go at exactly the speed of the door, not walking and not standing still, just letting yourself be gently shunted like one of those 2p pieces in the arcade machines. And if there are people in all the quarters, it's so embarrassing, 'cause you're all doing this stupid shuffle, like you're in a queue for public toilets, keeping your legs together but trying to move forward at the same time. Kafka would have a field day with the revolving door's tendency to de-personalise, to make you feel like a mere fraction of a human, trapped in there with the others, having to do what you're told.

You see? So many problems. What I want to know is, how can a revolving door be a better alternative than a bog-standard automatic one where you just stand on a mat and go through? Fewer opportunities for opportunist criminals like axe-murderers and personal space invaders, anyway.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


Just had a tussle in the pub over the word 'tousled'. I said it was pronounced 'tuzzled'. My sister and her partner laffed a lot. She said it was pronounced 'toozled'. Her partner and I laffed at her. Her partner said it was pronounced 'towsled'. I and my sister laffed at him.

Turns out he's right, dammit.

What powsles me is, how come I've been pronouncing it 'tuzzled' for so long and no one's said anything? That means that, for 46 years, people have been secretly laffing at me behind my back. This is why I moved back to my home town, I've decided, to be near my sister. Now, at least, although I'm being laffed at, the mocking and scoffing is all out in the open.

These words ending in 'led' remind me of when, in a school I taught at a while ago, a young teacher came into the staff room crying. She'd been teased by some sixth formers for reading out a passage from a book in which a character had been 'severely misled'. She, misreading it, pronounced it 'mizzled' and speculated intelligently for a while on what mizzling might be until her bad, bad sixth formers couldn't hold in their mirth any longer and, delighted to be able to do so, showed her where she was going wrong.

Why were we discussing the word 'tousled' in the pub anyway? The news was on and Russell Brand was on it. Enough (enowf?) said. My sister's partner commented on the fact that we never talk about the word 'tousled' except when we're referring to hair. I think it sounds rather charming, like a descriptive word a celebrity chef might use: 'Here we have (angle the camera this way, Bert) a rather stunning starter of towsled prawns with some brushed peppers and a garnish of mildly-combed rocket leaves. For the main course, some Permed ham, highlighted with sun-dyed tomatoes and roast lock of hare.'

Monday, 27 October 2008

back where I blong

I apologise. I have been viewing lots of other blogs tonight and I realise that my postings are very, very long.

Or theirs are very, very short.

Either way, I have decided that mine should be called a blong.

And that was the shortest posting yet. Ah, the irony.

How-to guides No. 1 and 2

How-to guide No. 1

You know that feeling you get when you've just had your carpets shampooed and they're still wet, but you have to walk across the room to fetch something, so you do it in bare feet? You know - that splurgey damp sensation where your feet sink in ever so slightly as though you were walking on a wet gymnastics mat or a pile of blankets that have been on a non-spin wash?

Well, if you want to recreate that feeling, and some of you might, as there's no accounting for taste, here is a recipe for success.

What you will need:

One pair of shoes that you think is waterproof
A weekend in rainy Sheffield
A husband who places a higher priority on comfort than elegance


Pack for the weekend in rainy Sheffield with your husband where you are going to visit your daughter-at-university. While packing, scoff at his decision to take a pair of ugly, enormous walking boots as well as his trainers even though you are only wandering around the city. Smugly put your own attractive and waterproof shoes on, stating that you are only taking the one pair and therefore will have less to carry than he will. Travel to Sheffield. Walk around rainy Sheffield for a whole day. Try to ignore the fact that within an hour, you feel like you are walking on heavy wet gym mats. Admit nothing until you reach the hotel room at night. Pretend that the reason you don't want to go for a drink in the bar is that you are too tired, then peel off your stinking, damp shoes and socks while he is in the bathroom. When he comes out, sneak past him to shower off the mud in between your toes. Forget to leave the shoes near a radiator for the night.

How-to guide No. 2

You know how you've always wanted to run away with the circus? Perhaps you've always fancied being one of the clowns? Well, I can help you to experience just a little of that. Follow these instructions carefully.

What you will need:

One pair of wet shoes
One pair of Size 10 men's trainers
A shovelful of humility


Wake up in a hotel room and admit to your husband that your shoes leaked the day before and that you forgot to dry them overnight. Put the shoes on the radiator. Get in the comment that he was, in the end, quite wise to bring walking boots, so that you get to say it before he does. Now tell him there's no way you can go down to breakfast in a pair of shoes that feel (and, to an extent, smell) like you're wearing used incontinence pads as slippers and that you will have to borrow his trainers even though you wear a size six and a half and he wears a size ten. Slip your feet into his trainers while he puts on his walking boots. Just for good measure, mention that his walking boots make him look attractive. Don't mention that you mean 'potentially attractive to other geeky manky-booted hikers'. Find out that while, yesterday, it took you thirteen paces to cross the hotel room, now it only takes three. Try to rearrange the ends of your trousers over the trainers so that they look less like clown boots, sticking out as they do two metres ahead of you. Make your way carefully down the corridors towards the lift. Make the RIGHT decision not to use the stairs, bearing in mind Shirley Bassey's experience on the Morecambe & Wise show when she sang wearing one very large boot and one stiletto. She would have had a rehearsal, at least. PRAY, PRAY, PRAY that no one else is in the lift, in which there is bound to be a notice saying, '6 appropriately-shod persons only - no clowns'. In the lift, fight for foot room with Husband in a way you've never had to before. Enter the dining room in as nonchalant a manner as you can, considering that your feet got there five minutes before you did and were directed to Table 3 in your absence by a waiter. Try not to think about other people's opinions as you both help yourself to the cooked breakfast, one of you in boots like sheds and one in trainers that are the same length as you are high - so long, in fact, that you take up four people's places in the queue and have to stretch a fair way to get to the mushrooms. Take strength from the thought that maybe everyone thinks you're an off-duty rap artist who's kept her trainers on but just decided to wear a black jumper, black trousers, red T-shirt and flat-hair wig instead of the white tracksuit, bling and hair extensions. (Or they would do if you hadn't done the laces up on the trainers.) Sit at the table with your husband and, while your breakfast gets cold, fight for foot room in a way you've never had to before. If you both decide to go up for more food, plan the manoeuvre carefully. After breakfast, leave the dining room keeping your feet straight ahead to avoid taking anyone else with you, and head for the lift. Shuffle in and do foot-r0om routine again. Try to ignore mirrors, or concentrate hard on the knees-upwards regions. Get back to hotel room and consider wearing Husband's trainers for the day rather than your half-damp shoes. Remember that you are spending another day with your daughter-at-university. Reconsider, and put on your shoes, which are damp but warm, in the way armpits are often damp and warm, bearing in mind the ancient Chinese proverb: wise woman wears gross footwear rather than risk mockery of teenager.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

perhaps a paper bag?

Look, I'm sorry, but when you buy a product called 'spot concealer', you have certain expectations. Or perhaps my understanding of the words 'spot' and 'concealer' are different from those of the manufacturer. Here we are again, in the tricky and dangerous swamps of vocabulary. Let us flounder together for a while in the mulch of meaning.

Spot: In the old days, shouting 'out, damned spot' never did Lady Macbeth any good (I presume her problem was acne - I'm a bit shaky on the play myself). She had to have a doctor and a nurse in attendance, so I guess her skin trouble was pretty serious and in those days they didn't have Clearasil, although they may have had Witch-hazel. I've tried to out spots by damning them, too, but nothing happened. Perhaps what I'm doing wrong is trying to out them when they are already as out as it's possible to be, as in 3 or 4 centimetres out and shouting to the world, 'HEY, I'M A SPOT AND, BOY, AM I A GOOD SPECIMEN!' I should be shouting 'get back in, get back in, damned spot'. I will try this at some point and let you know. I may end up with craters rather than spots, but at least I could fill those in with some tile grouting or peanut butter or something and use lots of foundation on top.

I think that this particular manufacturer has not aimed the product I have bought at real life spots which are 3 or 4 centimetres out, but at titchy little baby spots. If what I had was a titchy little baby one, though, I wouldn't even be buying the product - I'd be spending my money on a frothy cappucino and a maundant maund and feeling smug about people with real acne. (No, a Google translation tool won't help. See previous posts.)

The other thing that worries me is that 'spot' is such an innocent little word, hinting at a teeny-weeny problem that just a dib-dab of cream will sort out. What about DIRTY GREAT WANNABE-BOIL concealer, or THROBBING VOLCANO OF A PURPLE ZIT concealer? Eh? Eh? Didn't see any of that on the shelves. So what am I supposed to do? Join a model agency that supplies women to medical journals?

Concealer: There's no other way to say this. It doesn't conceal. The concealer itself is more revealing than leaving the spot unconcealed. The concealer speaks more loudly than the spot. The spot just says, 'This is a bit embarrassing, especially at 46, to have what looks like teenage acne, but, hey, no one's perfect.' The concealer says, 'HEY, EVERYONE, LOOK AT THIS OLD BIRD TRYING TO HIDE HER SPOT AS THOUGH IT'S GOING TO HELP HER LOOK GOOD. HAH!' Why is concealer like this? There are several reasons. 1) It only comes in one colour. How does that work in a multi-cultural society? Write to your MP. 2) For spots the size of mine, you don't need to dab it on, you need to apply it in careful layers: the Pompeii effect. (That classical reference is for someone special; you know who you are.) 3) Concealer lasts three minutes and forty-two seconds precisely, and I don't know about you, but most of my social events last a little longer than this. What's the point of me being at a party if, every three minutes and forty-three seconds, I have to dash into the ladies with my hand over my chin (someone young and beautiful is bound to think 'ah, off to pluck chin hair') and re-apply the Pompeii effect? It's no lava matter.

One option would be to strap the whole tube across my chin with double-sided sticky tape (didn't they show us this on Blue Peter once?) with the words 'spot concealer' clearly visible. This would be just as effective as the actual cream.

The other thing I could do is what I did actually do tonight, which I wasn't going to confess, but I've warmed up now into a nice state of inhibition. (Budding writers: watch for this one.) I had slapped a big blob of toothpaste onto the spot which is what I do when I'm indoors. It's a natural antiseptic and sometimes it actually calms the spot down. The thing to do though is to wash the toothpaste off before you go out to a church meeting. This avoids the situation in which, just before you go into the meeting, your husband has to examine you under a street lamp while you rub the toothpaste off with spit and the back of your sleeve, making, of course, the spot a lot, lot angrier than it was before.

That meant everyone spotted the damned spot.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

trying to park when I don't have a car

Just in case you didn't believe anything I said yesterday about my difficulties with technology, I have to tell you that last night I nearly bought a parking ticket instead of a 'Permit to Travel'. I had approached the machine, located the slot and hovered my 50p over it when I read the instruction 'After purchasing your ticket, stick it to your windscreen'.

Windscreen? I was going on a train. Honestly, I thought. I wish they would advertise this kind of change to procedure in the press or something before springing it on the general public.

Then I realised.

It may surprise you, because it does me, to learn that every day I manage to get up, wash, clean my teeth, walk to school, teach English for six hours, and plan the next day's lessons before going home again.

Having said this, I have, before now, got up late because I don't understand the am/pm distinction on my mobile, failed to work the shower because someone else changed the settings, cleaned my teeth with a brush used to scrub the grouting, got lost going to school even after three years of doing the same walk, had to change lesson plans because of failure to work the whiteboard/blackboard/video/DVD/board pen, planned a Thursday when the next day was Wednesday, and got on a bus home that went in the wrong direction.

My sister's response to the parking vs permit mistake? "Trust you." And then she laffed and laffed.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Why I can't mention the restaurant called 'Ask'

So, I move to the Midlands from the South of England, and my sister (uses the short 'a' for grass, pass and bath) thinks it most amusing that the road I'm now living in (I, having been in the South for twenty-five years, use the long 'a' for grarss, parss and barth) is called 'Grassington Avenue'. "You can't even say it properly," she guffaws. "It's so ironic. Say it again, say it again." And so I have to repeat 'Grarsington, Grarsington' just for her amusement. She doesn't have a lot else to do, poor thing.

So now I have to call my road Gramaundington Avenue.

It's all because, one day, staying at her flat, I asked her where she'd like me to put the washing. "Shall I put it in the washing barsket?" I asked. She could barely reply, doubled up as she was. I waited patiently for a coherent reply, but it never came.

Later that day, I was studying some Shakespeare, and found that an Early Modern English word for 'basket' was 'maund'. An instant solution! I suggested to her that we call the basket/barsket a maund instead. The next logical step (logic has many forms; don't judge us too harshly) was to call every single word or part of word that we disagreed on a 'maund'.

So, now, a sentence such as 'shall we go up the town on the bus for a cup of tea and a currant bun?' becomes 'shall we go maund the town on the maund for a maund of tea and a maundant maund?' And, therefore, Grassington Avenue gets the same treatment.

It's all my maund, of course (forlt/folt) for moving South and what has come to maund (pars/pass) in terms of her maunding (larfing/laffing) at me was surely to be expected. I have to say, I was hoping for more compassion from a close blood relative while I adjusted to life in the Midlands, but it seems that's too much to maund.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

why my window cleaner owes me £13.50

I woke up Saturday morning and it was 10.30. There are three reasons for this.
1. Husband away, so he wasn't there to turn over, make a noise like an elephant with sinusitis, then go back to sleep again. This usually wakes me up, and I'm sure every wife of every elephant who's ever had sinusitis will sympathise.
2. The previous evening's 'embarrassing visit to Poetry Slam' experience, detailed in last blog, took, I think, a greater toll on me than I had realised. To be precise about this, I had stayed up until 1am Googling the names of the people who won. As I couldn't actually remember their names, this took longer than it might have done.
3. Husband away, so I had not had to put up with the Arctic conditions he prefers for the bedroom, usually necessitating, for me, an extra quilt, fur-lined pyjamas and some leg and arm exercises to warm the bed up. Instead, I had brought upstairs a portable fire and turned it on. Why didn't you just turn up the central heating? I hear you say. Don't be silly. That's technology, and that's also the reason why I did no washing while he was away, nor did I put the dishwasher on.

You are wondering what all this has to do with the window cleaner.

Last time the window cleaner came for his Saturday morning visit, he started at 7.30am, on our bedroom window. Husband was downstairs already (woken himself up with the elephant sinusitis thing, probably). I was still in bed, and once I'd realised that the terrible metal banging noise was a window cleaner moving his ladder about under my window and not an invasion of robot burglars, I had to just lie very still. The blinds in our bedroom are not very good - put it this way, it would be more accurate to call them partially-sighteds - and I knew there were lots of gaps. He would easily have been able to see me, so the best thing to do was to play dead. Then, of course, although he soon finished with my window, he moved on to all the others (the bathroom (no blinds, not even partially sighteds), the toilet - ditto) which left me no option but to stay there until I heard him knock at the door, be paid by Husband, and then drive off.

So, back to this Saturday morning. I was lying in bed at 10.30, thinking, 'oh well, I must have needed the sleep' when I remembered that it was this Saturday that the window cleaner was due to return. Oh, joy.

There was no option but to get up. Without husband there, there was only me to pay him, so when he did come, I'd have to be up anyway. But this meant a) risking the toilet, still blind-free; b) risking having a shower in the blind-free bathroom; c) risking getting dressed in my bedroom with its partially-sighteds. There was no time to go and make my normal cup of tea in a leisurely fashion, then pootle back up for a lazy shower. Whoosh - in the toilet. Phew, no WC. (Window Cleaner. I realise there was room for ambiguity there.) Whoosh - into the shower. Couldn't have the radio on in case I missed the sound of the ladders. Whoosh - out of the shower, deodorant applied faster than a cowboy builder's gloss, and then into the bedroom (shafts of light playing on the bed) to get dressed. Again, no radio, just in case Crossing Continents meant I didn't hear his cloth Criss-Crossing the Window. I HATE NOT HAVING THE RADIO ON IN THE MORNINGS.

Downstairs, hair wet, deodorant having missed bits, and mouth as dry as a stale biscuit, there was a knock at the door. Guess who.

He was there for an hour. In that time, rather than having a languid breakfast, I made him a cup of tea, had to answer the door to another window cleaner who was advertising his services, then had to chat to our WC again who knocked at the back door to give me lots of reasons why we should keep him on and not take the new chap. Then, I had to search the house for coins to pay him with because he said he preferred cash. I paid him £13.50, and to my reckoning, he owes me most of that for what I'd suffered. Yes, the windows are clean. But if Husband doesn't sort out the blinds in the bedroom and put the others up in the bathroom and toilet, this is going to be a monthly event. And you're going to have to read about it EVERY FOUR WEEKS.

Someone has to suffer with me ....

Saturday, 4 October 2008

recipe for embarrassing evening

Here is a recipe for an embarrassing evening:
1. decide to turn up at a Poetry Slam event where you might win £100
2. fail to contact the organiser to find out the rules because her email isn't working
3. forget to have your poem with you after work, thereby either necessitating a long walk home to fetch it or the writing of another one in one hour.
4. decide not to walk home, stop off at your sister's flat, and write another one on sheets of scrappy A4 paper.
5. go to the poetry event half an hour early so no one else is there and you are VERY OBVIOUS
6. pay £6.50 for the privilege of being very embarrassed and out of place
7. sign up for the Slam even though you have just found out that you are not following the rules by only having one poem and not three which you will need if you get through the first round.
8. watch everyone else arriving and saying, 'hello, darling' and hugging each other.
9. try and strike up conversation with other people however reluctant they seem.
10. be, out of 5 contestants, the fifth one to perform
11. watch the other 4 and realise that, apart from one rather doddery and uncertain contestant, the others are all WAY better than you are going to be
12. don't leave at that point. Decide to stay.
13. do not insist on someone adjusting the microphone for you, even though it is a foot taller than you are.
14. do your performance, peering round the microphone stand occasionally to get eye contact with the audience.
15. receive your applause and try not to notice the slightly muted, who-is-this-woman-anyway? nature of it.
16. stay to hear that you have been eliminated from the competition, along with Mr Doddery.
17. stay for the rest of the competition, even though you are a LO-SER!
18. talk to people at the end, and enjoy their compliments, even though you were a LO-SER!
19. think, 'actually, I quite enjoyed that'.
20. think, 'you must be crazy to have enjoyed all that humiliation: ever thought of doing naked bungee-jumping?'