Archive | July, 2010

Save A Life: Spit In A Cup

31 Jul

I am on the Anthony Nolan bone marrow register.  They organise bone marrow transplants for people with leukemia and they have a new campaign, asking each potential donor (me) to recruit four new potential donors (you) over the next four months (then).  It’s called 4×4 – possibly the only time a 4×4 is believed to have saved the planet instead of killing it.

It couldn’t be easier to register: no blood samples, no visits to the doctor; just spit in one of these 

   and send it off.

There are over 400, 000 donors on the register but that’s not enough as only half of the patients waiting for a transplant are a match.  The campaign is trying to up the number of donors to a million.  The criteria for joining the register are as follows:

  • be 18 – 40
  • and reasonably healthy

It’s simple to join:

  • complete an online application form in 15 minutes
  • give a saliva sample – don’t worry, you don’t spit in an envelope; they’ll send you a small kit

The register is desperately in need of men (aren’t we all?) and people from ethnic minorities in particular, so come on, stop being a wuss and spit in a cup for your Auntie Tilly and a whole bunch of dying people who will be eternally grateful to you.

By the way, don’t think you can get out of it if you are not resident in the UK: many countries have their own register.  I hope at the very least you are blood donors and, hopefully, registered organ donors.

And if I still haven’t convinced you, think of the poor little boy who died and gave his name to the register; his mother worked tirelessly to set it up and the least we can do is spit in a cup for them. 


And in other news

Biggest non-story of the year: The Sun announces that Joe McElderry is gay.  Tell us something we don’t know.   Better yet, tell us something we want to know, like when his album is coming out.

For My American Readers, So They Can See What They’ve Been Missing

30 Jul

Fun In The Big Tent

30 Jul

I decided not to be serious for this prompt: This week, start with a list of pop culture icons that interest you. Imagine one of them in a mundane setting: Marilyn Monroe doing the dishes, Elvis mowing the lawn, Lady Gaga carpooling the kids to soccer practice. Poem an icon into a situation they may never, in real life, appear.

Listening to Quote…Unquote yesterday, I was interested to learn that Florence Nightingale coined the phrase, ‘First, do no harm.’ And that she had a sense of humour. That set me thinking about her letting her hair down; I also tried to think of the opposite of clean and hygiene, which is how I arrived at Miss Aguilera. I was in the mood for a little fun and what better reason is there to write a limerick?

That’s a lot of introduction for one short poem but that’s the advantage of being the blog’s author: I can waffle on as much as I like.

Interesting fact: according to Wikipedia, Dirrty wasn’t a hit in the States, only making it to number 48. I guess America doesn’t like rude Mickey Mouse Clubbers.

Ladies Excuse Me

Flo Nightingale got dirrty with Christina
The naughty nurse was usually pristiner
Her dancing became bolder
Because the soldiers told her
‘Do what you like, miss, for it’s not a crime ‘ere.’


I have an Auntie Flo. She is famous in our house for offering my Mum a piece of cake in her hands and saying, ‘Don’t worry, Anne; my hands are clean: I’ve just been to the toilet.’

There Were Seven In The Bed And The Little One Said, ‘Stop Kicking Me And Give Me Some Covers, Will You?’

29 Jul

It feels like Christmas in South Africa in my house, bursting at the seams with people.  Just how I like it: I love a full house because it means people like me (or my offspring, in this case).  My niece and nephew arrived on Saturday and they bunked down in Spud’s room with him, as he has the largest bedroom and that’s how they all like it.  Spud finished school two weeks ago; the niece and nephew last week; Tory Boy is home from university; Tory Boy is in love and trading visits with Tory Girl and it was her turn to come here yesterday.  As far as the Hub and I are concerned another little one can be squeezed in no problem, but the house took the huff and refused to play along. 

Where to put everyone?  There are two couches downstairs so TB & TG could go on those but they felt they had been apart too long as it was (five whole days).  Two of the kids could go on them but they would have had to stay up late to use them.  TB & TG could go in our bed and the Hub and I go on the couches – yeah, right; like I’d give up my bed for anyone.  The couches were not an option.  TB & TG could stay in his tiny room if TG took the single bed and TB folded himself at right angles and slept like a Zed (‘Zee’ for my American friends) on the floor.  ZZZZZzzz…he wasn’t too keen on that idea for some reason.  TB & TG could take Spud’s three-quarter bed which is almost a double (they liked that one) and nephew sleep on floor of TB’s room on the airbed and niece sleep in the single bed.  No, niece on floor because she’s smallest and nephew in bed.  That left Spud who could sleep on the fold-out bed in our room.  Spud flat refused, preferring to slander his mother with scurrilous lies about her snoring proclivities and offering to sleep in the shed with the lawnmower and wallpaper stripper propping up the warped wallpaper table as a bed instead.  After briefly considering and discarding the bath for him, that left the Hub and I in our bed; TB & TG in Spud’s bed; Spud in TB’s bed because he is tallest of the three; and the nephew and niece on the floor in TB’s room.  Not as harsh as it sounds: with the door left open, we used the airbed and the mattress from the fold-out bed as a base; added four winter blankets; four winter and five summer duvets; seven pillows carefully placed to avoid bumps on the head from looming wardrobes and bookcases; and, as long as TB & TG were careful not to kick them in the heads sticking out into the upstairs hallway when they came out of Spud’s room – which they tend not to do for days on end except at feeding time – the nephew and niece slept like the princess after they removed the pea, not even noticing when Spud climbed over them with – and I quote – ‘a lot of ninja skills’ to get into Tory Boy’s bed, and accidentally flattened them.  Jolly japes!

I slept like a baby in my own bed but accidentally got up an hour early because I misread my watch.  When I came out of my room I saw that all the children were up but when I went downstairs it was just the nephew.  I went back upstairs to check on the other two and realised I wasn’t wearing my glasses and so hadn’t spotted Spud under his duvet and the niece buried like a gerbil in her nest on the floor.


I was surprised by a nice gesture yesterday: the Hub bought an airline pin from eBay; he has around seven thousand that he has accumulated over the years. 

The first 114 of seven thousand

He’s such a geek.  Him buying the pin wasn’t the nice gesture (I don’t want any of the seven thousand of them); it was the eBayer who sold it to him: he included a sachet containing an Earl Grey teabag and a bag of sugar, with a note explaining that he was encouraging the world to stop anytime for a nice cup of tea: ‘Tea-time, anytime can be just for make time for me-time too.  Pure Pleasure!‘  Isn’t that a lovely idea?


Yesterday was Three Word Wednesday and I thought I’d join in.  We are given three words as a prompt and they were: abuse-cramp-hatred.  I used a synonym for hatred because it reads better.

Advice For Catholic Boys

leads to
cramp.  Then
it drops
off.  Self-
loathing follows.
You’re left
with a
phallic thimble.
A sex education




I’d Like To Thank My Family…

28 Jul

Robot Cupcake Poetry has kindly nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award.  The rules are that I must post the award; name seven things about myself that my readers might not know; and then nominate ten other poets; so here goes:

Seven Up

  • I cannot blow my nose without taking off my glasses
  • I cannot blow my nose in public because I have a mortal fear of being seen with snot on my face
  • I did not learn to blow my nose until I was eighteen; the Hub taught me (it was the least he could do when he was the one making me cry all the time)
  • I think my nose is my best feature
  • I HATE wearing glasses
  • As a child, filing papers in paper bags from John Menzies was my favourite activity
  • I wrote a one-act play that was premiered at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre and then never heard of again (okay, I was a teenager and it was a school project, but I was reviewed in the paper and everything)

Ten Down, None To Go


Apologies if your name is on this list and you stumble across it; I have had some trouble leaving comments on blogs this morning.

Harry Potter Must Be A Soccer Fan

27 Jul

Check out my poem Electoral Math, South African-Style, published today in the ezine Streetcake.  It’s a magazine for experimental writing.  The poem is called Electoral Math in my SA collection but I added the last bit when I submitted it, to give it context.


I have my niece and nephew staying for two weeks.  They are adorable children (I have to say that because their parents read this).  Whenever they visit we go for lots of long walks.  They arrived on Saturday and so far we have been to Alexandra Park, Bonar Park and Hollywood Park; coming up are Abney Hall Park, Gorsey Bank Park and Reggie the Roller Skating Dog at Stockport Art Gallery.  The appeal of these Stockport attractions are two-fold: they are free and they tire everyone out, including Toby.

I’m a great believer in exposing children to fresh air.  Even wet air, which is what we had yesterday: constant rain.  It’s nothing new; if we didn’t go out when it rained we’d all be as pale as the aliens in Signs, and just as cranky.  It rains a lot here in Stockport, aka Greater Manchester – hence, Manchester Cotton, for which we are famous, and all because of the rain.  Soft rain, of course, or we’d be famous for Manchester Starched Linen instead.

The problem with taking children out in the rain is not that they dislike it, but that they object to wearing coats.  The rellie kids, being well brought up, didn’t argue; but Spud, being mine, argued and complained the whole way about having to wear a cagoule, pausing only when we collected a spare child from his house (spare child being in possession of a football and Spud ensuring he didn’t leave without it). 

When we hit the park, the first thing Spud spied was a girl he knew, which increased his outrage: ‘See.  This is exactly why I didn’t want to wear one.’  I didn’t say it but it occurred to me that the girl wouldn’t have noticed the cagoule, being too busy being unimpressed with seeing him in the park with his mother and his eight-year old girl cousin.

I trundled around the park with Tobes while the kids played football in their t-shirts.  Can you tell me why I insisted they all wear coats as we walked but allowed them to be coverless as they ran around?  It’s not as if football has rain-repelling magical properties, is it?

After an hour or so, Bobo decided enough was enough.  He parked his soaked and skinny carcass on the ground and refused to sniff another soggy leaf.  He was shivering from the wet & cold and demanded to be picked up and cuddled, making pathetic noises that I interpreted as, ‘I wanna go hoooooome.’  So we did, to hot showers and pyjamas.  No-one was the worse for not wearing a jacket the whole time.

I never took off my coat and guess what?  I have had a sore throat and headache since we got home.  Maybe football is magical, after all.


What A Good Wife Am I

26 Jul

I had to laugh at this headline:

Slimming specialist keeps on growing.


I forgot to tell you that I finished painting the downstairs toilet; pale gold and mushrauve (actually pebble, but it’s a cross between mushroom and mauve).  It looks very nice and now our downstairs throne is fit for a queen.  I once heard someone say that the Queen must think the world is paint-flavoured because everywhere she goes has been freshly decorated in her honour.

As soon as the Hub has a good day he’s going to tile behind the sink; it’s not a big job.  I might help him and add another DIY skill to my growing repertoire: I know to unscrew the switch plates and paint/paper behind them; to take off all fittings; to strip, fill and sand a wall; to cover the toilet in cling film to protect it (if only I had remembered to uncover it again before using it…).  I slap on a pretty neat tin of paint and I can still make dinner for a family of four afterwards.  Now, if I could only learn to cook without everything tasting like cinders then I really would be Superwoman.



25 Jul

Had fun in church this morning, trying not to laugh at my neighbour.  People were nattering through the notices and without a hint of irony she turned to me as the vicar was imparting something important and said, ‘I hate it when people talk through the announcements.’


The Writer’s Island prompt this week is ‘titles’.  We must take an album and use the song titles as they are to make a poem.  I couldn’t find inspiration that way so I have taken the song titles from Blondie’s Parallel Lines and used only those words but not in order:

Blondie as Blondie

Parallel Lines

I happen on you, one Sunday,
just hanging glass.
I’m gonna radiate heart;
love this, too.

But baby, will I fade away?
Know, pretty girl: anything.
Or know of another way.

Picture the telephone:
Go away.
And don’t.


I never said it would be good!  Here are the titles:

  • Hanging on the Telephone
  • One Way or Another
  • Picture This
  • Fade Away and Radiate
  • Pretty Baby
  • I Know But I Don’t Know
  • 11:59
  • Will Anything Happen?
  • Sunday Girl
  • Heart of Glass
  • I’m Gonna Love You Too
  • Just Go Away


And here’s a little poem about titles in general:

The Thing About Poems Is


Pigs Might Cry

24 Jul

Somebody broke my neighbour’s pig.

About a month ago, a pig suddenly appeared outside his house, snuffling for truffles in the dirt. That’s what everyone thought on first sight, but it was actually a life-size pot pig. It was a popular feature and gave us all a good laugh to see our own astonishment mirrored on our visitors’ faces.

Last night, while we were sleeping, somebody broke it in half. Mean-spirited, but not at all surprising in this neighbourhood. The wonder is that it lasted as long as it did.

R.I.P. Pot Pig, in that great pig sty in the sky.


The pig story reminds me that I have written about pigs before: you can read my version of the three little pigs story here; and I wrote this years ago:

Pig Philosophy

I’m pink,
therefore I’m ham.

I thought I was being highly original at the time but in last week’s Quote…Unquote on Radio 4 I heard this version (spotted in a university toilet in the philosophy department):

I’m pink,
therefore I’m spam.

Guess there ain’t nuthin’ new under de sun.


Some interesting facts about pigs:

  • they are ranked as the fourth-most intelligent animal, after chimps, dolphins and elephants

  • they have 44 teeth

  • they can live for up to fifteen years

  • pigs can swim

  • they don’t sweat; that’s why they wallow in mud – to keep cool; it also acts as a sunscreen

  • in spite of the mud, they are extremely clean animals

  • they respond to their names when called

  • a pig’s scream can register as high as 115 decibels

  • the largest known pig was called Big Bill: five feet high; nine feet long…mmm…think of all that lovely bacon

  • the largest litter was 37 piglets…mmm…think of all that…


My favourite Dorothy Parker riposte:

Clare Boothe Luce and DP arrived at a doorway at the same time. CBL gestured for Dot to go first and said, ‘Age before beauty.’ Sweeping through the doorway Ms P replied, ‘Pearls before swine.’


Now I’ve made myself hungry. Pigs might fry.

Big Tent July 23rd

23 Jul

The Big Tent prompt this week was to write a poem inspired by your own favourite poem.  I have two favourite poems, learned at school: Wilfred Owen’s Anthem For Doomed Youth and Dulce Et Decorum Est.  Here’s a bit of the first one (we’re not supposed to post the whole thing because of copyright issues):

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

I love how that third line sounds like the guns it describes when you read it aloud.

I wrote this one a while back, in protest at the underfunding of the British military.  I haven’t tried to emulate Owen’s brilliance; just used it as a starting point for my own view:


Afghan Anthem 

Bullets sing the soldier’s
last rites; road mines
play his death march. 
Soldiers die, they shrug. 
Newspapers cry –
for a day, a week. 
Families lament each
neglected death,
each unremembered anniversary,
as unelected men decline
to sign cheques, and
soldiers die.



A Lovely Guest

22 Jul

With the Ceausescu corpses in the news at the moment, I thought now would be a good time to tell you about the Romanian student we hosted two years ago. A tenuous link, I know; but I’ve been inhaling paint all day so you’ll forgive me if my brain has taken the night off.

Tory Boy’s sixth-form college hosted a whole group of them for a week and Tory Boy asked if we would take one in. As he had been hosted in Denmark the previous year, we thought it was the least we could do.

The boy’s name caused some confusion because it was Bogdan Vlas and everybody called him ‘Vlas’ but that would have been like calling me ‘Bud’. ‘Bogdan’ sounds like an East-ender asking if he’d finished his toilet business. I did consider calling him ‘Thingy’ but had to go with the standard parental fall-back of full first name use (remember Claire Huckstable’s ‘Walter’ for Cockroach?), so ‘Bogdan’ it was. Hub and the boys ended up calling him ‘Vlas,’ and I called him ‘Bogdan,’ as I am a mother, and that’s the name his own mother gave him. The Hub said I had to stop amusing myself at the expense of the poor boy before he arrived (once he had got, ‘I hope he’s not a slippery customer; or we’ll have to call him Vlasoline’ out of his system). I suddenly had the terrible thought that he might be asthmatic and I would have to call him Vlas the Inhaler.

For some reason I was expecting Viktor Krum; I don’t know why, as Vlas is Romanian and Viktor is Bulgarian (and fictional). He was tall and dark and gorgeous.

He is an only child and it showed in his confidence around adults. He was polite and friendly, and willing to try everything English: particularly the food. He asked if we had tea at four o’clock, which made us laugh. At home he drank black tea but while he stayed with us he drank it with milk, just like the English do. He didn’t notice that the Hub and I both take it black (although, to complicate matters, I only take my Earl Grey black; my PG Tips I take with milk). Bogdan also drank Armenian coffee, which is two parts coffee-three parts cocoa-one part water, and takes the veneer right off your teeth by vapour alone. He saw to that himself. He showered twice a day, which seemed bizarre to my dirty children who have to be bullied into scraping the dirt off, but it is perfectly Romanian (and much harder on the family who hosted two students and had only one bathroom between seven of them).

I thought I would try and make some typically English meals for Vlas, such as bangers & mash, roast chicken, and egg & chips. I started with a five veg beef stew, as it was January-cold and unwelcoming outside and that was warm and filling. He slept with his bedroom door shut so after that stew I had to call him Vlas the Daren’t Exhaler. I had to provide his lunch some days, and although it was cold I only provided cool drinks, or I’d have called him Thermos Vlas.

On the first night TB took Bogdan out to Pizza Hut with the rest of the Romanian contingent and their teenage hosts, and they were back by about ten-thirty; Bogdan had been travelling/awake since midnight the day before and was ready for bed. On Saturday, they all went into Manchester and then back to someone’s house for a party. TB phoned about ten p.m. to say that they were just coming home to collect Bogdan’s insurance documents, on the way to taking him to the hospital. It seems he fell down some stairs at the party and sliced open his wrist. As he was seventeen and a guest in our home, the Hub and I felt it would be better if we took him to A&E ourselves. We were only there for about ninety minutes as the Saturday night blood rush hadn’t yet started.

Bogdan saw a singing doctor. He came from over the water (Wallasey) and we immediately recognised each other’s accent. That didn’t stop him singing, though: half-under his breath and no tune that I know. He was cheerful, at least, and impressed by Bogdan’s English, which is excellent. He gave him three stitches and some glue. I stayed with Bogdan and watched the sewing (years of Schwarzenegger movies have hardened my delicate soul), because I wanted to be able to look his mother in the virtual face; I would hope that if a similar thing had happened to TB in Denmark, his hostess would have done the same. Bogdan was fine, but I bet he went home and said to people, ‘I went to England prepared to like it, and it attacked me.’

On the Sunday I packed him a monster lunch for his trip to York; on the Monday, the students went to Old Trafford (multiple fainting fits in the house at the news) and the Lowry Centre, so it was another packed lunch. I made him such large lunches that he was the envy of his ‘fellows’ as he called them; but I hate to think of a guest in my home going hungry unless by choice (have you tasted my cooking?).

I made a full English breakfast for dinner, to be eaten at tea time. The great thing was all of the food was new to him, so anything that he might not have enjoyed could be blamed on his palette and not on my cooking. The Hub once said that he never knew until he met me that burnt was a flavour. Bogdan loved the bacon & egg even though (despite the George Foreman Grill) it was incredibly greasy. By the way, he is welcome in my home forever because he told me I’m a wonderful cook, bless his innocence.

There was much hilarity around the table because I was talking to Spud Bud and he was looking at me as he poured his orange juice and didn’t notice when he ran out of glass; as one, all four of us rose up and shouted, ‘Wooaahhh!’ and Spud sat there trembling in fright like a cornered little bunny rabbit. He made us laugh again when he told us he had played in the inter-house rugby tournament and lost all his games but his team still came second…because the other three teams came joint-first.

That night, TB and Bogdan went skating in Altrincham with the Romanian students and their carers. They had a lift there and back and then TB phoned to say the car had broken down and then he phoned again to say the car had been fixed. Bogdan’s whole trip was nothing if not eventful.

It being Shrove Tuesday next day it was pancake breakfasts all round. By seven-thirty I had cooked fifteen pancakes (okay, burnt fifteen pancakes), and I was getting pretty bored with the whole hostessing thing, not having thought it through to just how much cooking was involved. TB and Bogdan went bowling and to laser quest that night; one of Bogdan’s ‘fellows’ (so cute) got a gun in the eye and she ended up in Stepping Hill A&E. A couple more of them and they’d be setting up a Romanian ward. They went to Liverpool on the Friday. All of the host students had the option to go on any of the trips, and TB decided at the last minute (literally: he was walking out the door) to go with them. This meant that my guest went to Liverpool with two drinks; four tuna mayonnaise sandwiches; a packet of crisps; an apple; a cheese string; three different sweets; half a pork pie; and a scotch egg; and my child took a bottle of water.

The Hub and I went into Stockport to try and buy something British for Bogdan to take home. We got two London bus key rings but they were tiny, and a large England flag for his room, whixh was better. Bogdan had brought us three hand carved gifts: a pretty flute-whistley-thing; a wooden wine cup; and a wall carving of a cherb, a Romanian mountain animal. The Hub and I gave up on buying British souvenirs, as everything seemed to be made in China, and went with British foodstuffs instead: PG Tips, mallow cakes, sweets, things like that; we also bought shortbread for Bogdan’s Mum, Boddingtons Bitter (made abroad now) for his Dad, and a monster bottle of HP sauce for Vlas, as he had it on everything, including his gravy: he was so keen to try British food we got British fish & chips from the Chinese chippy one night, but he had pudding, chips, mushy peas and gravy, like the Hub. He had a wonderful appetite, but even he balked at mushy peas, though he swallowed his distaste and gave them a go. He didn’t like them. I can’t say I blame him; they are disgusting.

The boys were late coming back from Liverpool on Friday, which gave Bogdan the chance to enjoy his first chav encounter on the bus from college, in the form of two abusive thirteen-year old girls. A real British experience.

The boys wolfed down dinner and went straight out to the barn dance at college. On the coach back from Liverpool, a teacher had asked whose parents were going, and Tory Boy was the only one to put up his hand, so we were officially de-invited by our son, who did not wish to be embarrassed by us.

On Saturday, Bogdan left for London at six-thirty a.m., with his biggest packed lunch yet. He again told me he was the envy of his fellows because he had the biggest and best lunch every day. Food was something of an issue with the students, as they had initially been told not to worry about taking too many clothes to England, but to take blankets and food instead. Not sure if they thought we Brits are poor hosts or on starvation wages. Bogdan had erred on the side of caution and brought sweets and snacks and a sleeping bag. He didn’t go hungry as we gave him full access to the fridge and cupboards (Spud came to me with a doleful face and one sentence that encapsulated his utter deprivation: ‘He ate my Hershey Bar…sigh’), and he ate everything that was put in front of him except for the mushy peas and the scotch egg: he said he took a bite and looked into it and went the Romanian equivalent of ‘Wooaahh,’ holding it out at arms length. He was really freaked by finding an egg in it, for some reason. Two of his fellows shared it and loved it, anyway.

We made a point of buying and cooking British food for him to try as he was so keen to embrace the culture, though we drew the line at faggotts and tripe. We heard through the student grapevine (just had a mental picture of entangled students in a sunny French vineyard) that one girl was staying with a couple in a similar financial situation to us and they had gone out of their way to buy lots of British foodstuffs for her to experience and she turned up her nose at everything, and threw her lunches away. I think she was the worst of the lot, but most of them were lovely. However, if the Romanian students were limited editions, we got number 1/20; the English students kept saying to TB that they wished they were hosting Bogdan.

Sunday was recuperation and packing day for him. TB had to work but managed to get off early, so Bogdan got the bus into Stockport to do some shopping, and TB met him there later. I was worried about Bogdan going off by himself, particularly as he walked out of the front door holding his passport and wallet in hand as an invitation to the local muggers but he was fine, even managing to hold onto his money long enough to buy eight t-shirts, with TB buying him a ninth as a gift. His luggage was ten kilos overweight and we had to give him a rucksack to hold the extra stuff.

I made a light tea of beans on toast – you can’t get more British than that – and at seven we all went to a farewell meal at a strange place: a private house with parts given over to a tea room and arts & crafts section, and not open on Sundays except to special friends like Aquinas College, who hired out the whole building.

Spud was the only child there, as the invite was just for the students and as a thank you for those host families who had not had a reciprocal arrangement with their own child going to Romania, and we were the only host family without a reciprocal arrangement who was not without a child. Spud clung to his father at first, as he was a little diffident back then, but Bogdan persuaded him onto the dance floor and stayed with Spud, showing him his best moves. This was despite the girls clustering around him (Bogdan) all night; he was a lovely, good-natured boy and a great ambassador for his country.

There were so many people there that we didn’t quite work out who was Romanian and who wasn’t; the only thing we could do was pick out the negatives with lighter hair, as the Romanians were all dark. However, there was only one girl who looked obviously foreign, and she was dressed as a Goth, so I’m guessing she was Transylvanian in origin.

The adults all sat together and I was chatting to one of the teachers, Janina, who was charming. She grew up under Ceausescu and was telling me – after some probing on my part – how awful it was, and that the Romanian people all try to forget those times. We had an interesting chat about regime change and European public transport systems, and then we danced with the students.

A disco had been hired and it was peculiar that the teenagers kept requesting the latest music but only danced if a song had been born before them. At least it gave me a chance to make up for Tory Boy’s lack of embarrassment on Friday. We got home just before twelve and I felt as giddy as if I’d had two glasses of wine instead of orange juice and water; I seem to get drunk on atmosphere alone.

When Bogdan first arrived we did that awkward thing of going to hug then changing our minds and shaking hands instead; when he left it was hugs all round. We stayed in touch for a while but I haven’t heard from him this year. He did promise to come back one day and it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a knock on my door in ten years’ time and it was him. And he would still be welcome.


Pretty Kili

21 Jul

I saw this on Wendy Usually Wanders and I just had to share it:

Do Housewives Dream Of Electric Feet?

20 Jul

I broke a door and now I can’t pee in private. You may recall that I am decorating the downstairs toilet. These DIY projects of mine go on for weeks, months and, in the case of my hallway, six years (and when I finally finished papering it you could see the join because the wallpaper that had been up for four years was a different colour from the new paper because it had acquired four years’ worth of dust & dirt).

I finished stripping the paper in the toilet a fortnight or so ago. Because I have decided to paint it – no more patchwork paper in the fiddly corners; just slap colour on with a roller – the Hub insisted that the myriad holes must be polyfilla-ed and that and the mould must then be sanded off.

Did I mention the mould? The paper that was up in the toilet was the expensive self-pasting vinyl kind. We bought four rolls for £2 at a car boot sale years ago and considered that we got a real bargain until I put it up and discovered why they sold it so cheaply: the expensive self-paste was expensively mouldy and left patches of black dots all over. We covered them with as many pictures as possible but a room the size of a coffin decorated with gilt mirrors and old Apartheid-era signs and original artworks begins to look like a stately home-wannabe desperate for attention. But there they stayed, because I wasn’t decorating the loo again until we all either developed Sick-Building Syndrome or became bored with the pattern.

The pattern won me round (pink fleur-de-lys and plague blobs are so last-millennium) and the Hub insisted we sand off the mould marks just in case. Not wanting to be infected, I delegated that job to Tory Boy (the child wants to enter politics: he’s obviously already sick). He did that and the business with the polyfilla and I was all ready to paint until the Hub reminded me that I had to strip the paint off the door and skirting boards. You know, there are times when I really dislike my husband. His argument was that seventeen coats of paint is enough for any door, particularly the way I slap it on (and sometimes forget to remove the paintbrush hairs that stick to it). I countered with the old it’s-great-insulation-at-no-extra-cost chestnut but he doesn’t like chestnuts so that was how I found myself spending five boring hours in a lavatory (not for the first time, until I discovered cranberry juice).

It was pretty tedious work until I remembered Glee and my MP3 player. It wasn’t so bad then, and I also had the distraction of the ancillary soundtrack of the smoke alarm going off at regular intervals; Spud’s frequent complaints that ‘This is getting really annoying now’; the Hub’s constant interruptions with cups of tea, bottles of water and desktop fans; and his tv blasting like The Who at Glastonbury because he couldn’t drown out my singing any other way. Loud and out-of-tune is the price my family pay for clean doors, I’m afraid.

Ah, yes, the door: I made a real effort to strip the paint properly because it was easier than listening to a lecture on My Life In Paint And The Value Of A Good Strip from the Hub. I almost suffered third-degree burns from a large bit of paint that fell on my big toe – that’s the last time I wear flip-flops to an informal re-decorating party – but I had the presence of mind to pour the bottle of water on my foot. Then I realised I was standing in water, holding an electrical appliance that was still switched on. I quickly threw toilet paper into the puddle to soak it up; congratulating myself on yet more presence of mind, it occurred to me that not only was the paint stripper still switched on, but I was now knee-deep in kindling. Fortunately, the Hub called me for lunch just then and nothing focuses my mind like the promise of food, and I turned it off.

The Hub had assured me that stripping the door of paint would be a quick job but you know what? It wasn’t. Probably because I did a Hub Job (do it well; do it right; do it carefully; develop ME and never be able to do it again) instead of a Tilly Bud Job (do it fast and don’t mind the mess because you can always cover it with a picture, a mirror and an Apartheid-era sign and still be on the couch in time for chocolate).

It was coming up to six o’clock and I was thinking of my dinner but I was only 80% done (on one poxy door) when the stripper decided enough was enough and the nozzle on the end suddenly folded over on itself. I had been at it so long that the metal had softened so much it crumpled like a husband in an argument with a menopausal, chocolate-deprived wife.

One shower and one pork chop dinner later, I felt recovered enough to let the Hub leave the room to use the facilities…and that’s when he discovered that five hours of being blasted with a ray gun has left us with a warped toilet door that refuses to close no matter how nicely we ask it.

Which proves that I was right and the Hub was wrong: eighteen coats of paint and an insulated toilet = one laughing housewife with an empty bladder and a Hub not wearing an electric paint stripper as a tail.

Travels With My Hub

19 Jul

The Writer’s Island prompt this week is ‘reunion’. The poetry part of my brain has ceased to function so I thought instead I would tell you about the Hub’s trip to the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. It was about 1993 when he was working as a salesman for Henred Fruehauf, selling articulated trailers.

They didn't look quite like this when he sold them...

When he first got the job I thought he was selling those little Venter trailers that cars pull; he was quite insulted – particularly as he had been there two years before I realised my mistake.


He was on a three-week trip taking in Mauritius, Madagascar and Reunion. Before you get all jealous, he had it hard (so he tells me): three weeks away from his wonderful wife and first-born child – and six weeks of me not talking to him because he was away so long. One year he was away for a total of twenty-seven weeks; he wasn’t fighting a war so I didn’t see the need.


Mauritius might be a wonderful holiday destination but it’s not a great place to be on your own, on business: soppy honeymooners do not want a lonely businessman attaching himself to them. He said it was the only place he never enjoyed visiting, apart from the evening he got up on stage and sang Wonderful Tonight with a live Philippino band.


Madagascar was beautiful but incredibly poor. He left his hotel one morning and passed an old lady with a wooden box on which she had three tomatoes to sell. She sat there all day in the heat and when he came back in the evening, she was still there with her three tomatoes; nobody had the money to buy them. The food was so bad in Madagascar that for the only time while away on business he lost weight instead of gaining it; but at least he had the money to buy food: he saw children so hungry they were licking cellophane wrappers from dustbins. He saw many naked children; the lucky ones had old adult shirts and/or pants. He gave away his change every day, which was riches to them, but he came back from that trip and held three-year old Tory Boy and cried for the ones he couldn’t help.


Even so, he says it is the most beautiful country he’s been to and he would love to go back some day.


I put that story into a poem for my South Africa collection:


A Trip To Madagascar 

A naked child
licks cellophane,
sitting atop a
rubbish heap.
A businessman observes
him, returns
home to his
cherished son,
and weeps.


There was hunger in South Africa, too:


Dustbin Day 

The man raids my
wheelie bin,
burrows deep.
Climbs inside. 
Nervous, I watch from
behind burglar bars,
locked security gates.

Gold shows in his hands:
a tub of mouldy stew,
more compost than food.
He eats it.  I am shamed.

Resolution: no more squandered food.
Dilemma: no waste, no treasure.
Solution: freeze left-overs ‘til bin day;
maybe I could add some buttered bread;
a piece of fruit…wrap it in clean plastic.

Pleased with my charity,
it is fifteen years before
I understand that I
failed him that day:
Government changed;
the starving remained.
I left South Africa;
he raids someone else’s bin.


Of course, not everyone went hungry in those days (a braai is Afrikaans for barbecue):


After the Braai 

We supplied the meat and drink,
salads, mash, bread rolls and
desserts, for as many as twenty
guests, and sometimes more.
I never served mealie pap,
though some ex-pats liked it:
I never learned to make it.

The best part of a braai was
next day’s leftovers and chips:
rib-eye, pork chops, t-bones,
sausages, fillet steak, chicken,
porterhouse – diced and
cooked in a red wine sauce;
a portion of slap chips and
salad on the side.  These
days, I would add some rice,
but I didn’t like rice back then; pity.

We snacked on cold meat for
several days after a braai.
The children preferred it to
sweets and chips (we say
‘crisps’ now).  Food was
inexpensive, plentiful and
of excellent quality.  For
some of us, at least.  We
never knew we had it so good
until after we gave it up.


His final stop was in the French-speaking island of Réunion. He was a seasoned traveller by the time of this trip so he had checked and knew that he could expect to pay 20 Francs for a trip from the airport to the hotel. He arrived at night and he asked the taxi driver the fare: ‘Twenty Francs’ was the reply.  Fine.  Halfway up a quiet hill – or possibly a mountain – the taxi driver said, ‘Twenty Francs for you and twenty Francs for your luggage.’ When the Hub protested that he wasn’t paying that, the driver shrugged (so far from France yet still so Gallic) and said, ‘Fine. I’ll drop you off now and you can walk to your hotel.’ Figuring that it was Henred Fruehauf’s money and it wasn’t a battle he could win, the Hub agreed.


He said the part that really made him mad was when he arrived at the hotel and the driver told him he was off shift and suggested they go to a little bar he knew. I can’t print his reply because this is a family blog.


He found theRéunions anti-English – détente has only been around a hundred years or so and it obviously had not reached the colonies* at that point. Whenever he spoke English the Réunions were rude and unhelpful. But he’s bilingual, and cunning: he would first speak in Afrikaans and when they couldn’t understand him, he asked if they spoke English, and they were most accommodating because they thought he wasn’t English. It’s the one country he never wants to go back to.


*I have just discovered it is not a colony at all, but a bit of France.  That explains everything….              




My Husband The Master Criminal

18 Jul

The Hub can add breaking & entering to his cv as of yesterday.  Due to a late start caused by a visit from the most beautiful baby in the world  the Hub only got to his mum’s cemetery at ten-to-five.  It was closed.  He fumed for a few minutes, then decided to case the joint.  To the approval of a couple of women who had driven all the way from Marple to Altrincham only to find themselves locked out, the Hub forced his way through the bushes and fell into the garden of remembrance.  He had time to visit his mum, watch two elderly ladies squeeze in after him, and still be home in time for dinner.  Though he was green when he got in – I had to put him in the washing machine along with his stained clothes – his mum would have approved.


I haven’t given you a household tip in a while, so here’s a good one: don’t waste money on expensive stain removers; rub some cheap washing-up liquid into the stains, leave to stand for an hour or two, then wash as usual.  If you get to it quick enough it will even work on oil stains.

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