Thursday, 13 September 2012


Gold medal winner
Egg & spoon race - London 2012
I have to admit, I really enjoyed the Olympics. I didn't think I would, but I was completely wrong. I thought we were going to make a right pig's ear of it – a glorified, rainy sports day held together with two bits of string and a Boris, but we didn't. GB pulled it off; we did a pretty good job and we felt good about ourselves. We liked each other; we were all in it together after all and if we were happy it certainly wasn't down to any politician of any hue. In fact, politicians were better off keeping out of it altogether (as the booing by one or two of the audience proved). I am happy to say I was wrong about my low expectations and how proud I am of all those involved, from the athletes, right across to the people who painted the golden postboxes or directed the queues.

The paralympics however, were a little difficult for me to watch. Heaven knows, I admire the athletes no end, yet it still made uncomfortable viewing, witnessing such amazing feats of achievement when I am feeling guilty about not achieving very much at all. Here is a double amputee swimming up and down the pool in record time (and a zillion times much better than I could ever do as an able-bodied person) – here is me crying with shame and frustration because I need help putting on a pair of knickers. Here is a 16 year old girl with CP running 200m around the track – and here am I, wincing in pain because I've hobbled from Debenhams to W H Smiths, hardly an Olympian task in anyone's book. They have much more going against them than me - if they can do it, why can't I? Why can't I be inspired? Husband looks over his glasses and says “well, for a start, you've never really been the sporty type have you?”
Tiara circa 1976 

He has a point. Roll back a few years....ahem...alright, a quite bit further........ a bit further still......that's enough! Stop! State High school in Saaarf London and 5A are having a Games lesson on a cold and windy October afternoon. Nightmare. Picture if you will, 1970s child, lanky, all skin and bone, legs like matchsticks, navy netball skirt (shockingly rolled over at the waistband to make it shorter), white airtex shirt (too tight), white plimsolls that had been cleaned with some sort of plimsoll whitener (bit like gloopy paint; it came out of a tube with a sponge on the end),  hair from Charlie's Angels and a touch of lip gloss. Strolling around the school playing field with group of friends, debating about the virtues of David Cassidy versus the Osmonds.

PE Teacher (aka Mr Vlad the Impaler): Come on girls this is supposed to be cross country – start running.

US: We are running sir.

Vlad: No, you are plainly walking. Most of the class have finished. We haven't got all day - get to it.

Ms Tiara: But it's muddy sir and I've just cleaned my plimsolls.

Oh, no..not 5A again!
Ms Julie: And my mum says I can't run too fast coz I've got asthma sir.

Ms Debbie: And I've got to stay with Julie because she's got asthma sir.

Vlad: Then you should have brought a note Julie.

Ms Julie: I did sir, I gave it to Mr Hollsworth (gormless supply teacher)

Vlad:  (sighs everytime he hears the name Hollsworth) Well, I haven't seen it and it doesn't take 2 people to look after you.

Ms Tiara: It does sir, coz one can stay with her while the other one goes to get help. It's Health and Safety.

Vlad: Tiara, do you always have to have an answer for everythi.......

Ms Debbie: Sir, sir? Should Dennis Winterburn be doing that? (nods to far side of playing field)

Vlad: (does a 180) Oh bloody Norah! DENNIS! Put that away this instance!

top of the range sports equipment
  always available
Sports was tortuous for me. We were taught the same things by the same methods as our parents were over 20 odd years before us. Netball, hockey, cross-country and basketball, balancing on a beam, chucking a medicine ball (what the hell was that all about?), bean bag fights (double points for a head shot, but you also got detention, so not really worth the effort), green or red canvas sashes deciding the team you were on – nothing had really changed in a generation. It was tired and tiresome and frankly, so were 5A.

Because I was tall, Vlad instantly surmised I would be red hot at high jump. Reality? I was total rubbish at it. I couldn't do it for toffee and it was mortifying. Smack! Straight into the pole and face down into what little sand was left in the pit (it was mostly dirt and weeds and the occasional cat turd if you were really unlucky) - every time. Free entertainment for the meangirls in the 6th form and bitter sweet revenge for Vlad.

Swimming was even worse. The posh school down the road had an outdoor pool and an agreement was struck whereby us poor state pupils could walk there every Friday afternoon to sample it's icy delights. We were thrilled.

Sir, Sir!  I'm not going in there Sir! It's got leaves in it.

Soon the sicknotes came flooding in.

No, Sir I can't go swimming this week because it's the wrong time of the month: this was a particular favourite amongst us girls who really should have been put forward for medical research – after all, half a dozen teenagers all having 6 month-long periods at the same time was quite a gynaecological phenomena.

Sorry sir, my mum says I can't go swimming this week, because I have a giant contagious verruca that needs to be kept covered up: I kept this particular gem going for weeks. Poor old Hollsworth never asked to see it – I mean who would? They are disgusting things at the best of times, never mind one that was camping out on the foot of a spotty teenage girl who had been on her period for 6 months. In fact, my verruca was quite legendary and a star in it's own lifetime. If it had gone on any longer we could have called it Brian and given it it's own chat show.
It'll be fine once you get your shoulders under

No Sir, I can't swim any faster – because I can no longer feel my legs/testicles/arms/general body: Once the children started crawling out of the water with blue lips it was obvious something was amiss and eventually the agreement between the posh school and the poor school was brought to a frosty end. The water was simply too cold. Each week more and more sick notes were produced until the ratio of those sitting on the side was far greater than the last brave souls who couldn't coerce their parents into getting them out of it. We caved in. The posh kids were obviously made of stronger stuff. Vlad marched us all back to school, not noticing the stragglers who had dived off into the local newsagents to buy a bottle of Tizer and a packet of fags (this being the 1970s you could easily buy 5 cigarettes “for your dad” while wearing a school uniform). 5A didn't mind giving up the pool one jot, they simply went back they what they did best – lobbing bean bags at each other.* I wonder where Vlad is now...... probably still employed as a 70 year old supply PE teacher; still dressed in a tucked in tracksuit and ordering hapless kids to throw medicine balls at each other. As for poor old Hollsworth, I expect he quickly went into a career that did not involve children, sport, gynaecology or warts and fungal growths. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't end up as a lighthouse keeper in Alaska thanks to the horrors that were 5A.**

So I suppose husband is right. Sport was never going to inspire me.  I need to look elsewhere........

*Despite Vlad's best attempts, one member of 5A did achieve giddy heights in the sporting world and went on to play 1st team football for Chelsea and Arsenal. I won't embarrass him with a name, but a lingering memory (apart from the Rod Stewart haircut and sexy legs of said future defender) is of Vlad, going beetroot in the face because of yet more ill-behaviour from 5A, screaming at us: “APART FROM *****, NONE OF YOU WILL EVER COME TO ANYTHING!!”. The reply was a loud belch from the back of the class followed by sniggers from the rest of us. Point made.

**My high school is now a block of flats, which is probably for the best. The posh school is still there - the pool probably still has leaves in it.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


I am going to try and tell this story without sounding:
a) self-pitying;
b) over-dramatic
both traits I dislike in myself and both traps I tend to fall into very easily.

Once upon a time, I was a divorced working mum with two teenage girls, a ginger tomcat, a dwarf rabbit and a not-so-dwarf-mortgage to feed. I worked all the hours that God sent to make a living.  I was very ambitious and I vowed to prove that a single mother could make it in the world without the baggage of a penis to hold her back. It was me against the Universe! Bring it on!

Fate certainly did bring it on.  She threw quite a few things at me and, being the stubborn (slightly dim?) person I am, I batted them right back. In retrospect however, that didn't exactly make me a very decent or pleasant person and I still shudder to think how badly I behaved towards my fellow man/woman/child. Anyway, after a while Fate obviously had enough of giving me a bloody nose and fired up the Enola Gay.

And Little Boy landed fair square on my head.

I had a complete mental and physical breakdown – or a human 'press CTRL ALT DEL' if you will.

Well, it took years to haul my sorry carcass up again, but to cut a long and very painful story short, I actually came out of the rubble a better person. Naturally, I don't recommend this for anyone else – I wouldn't wish what I went through on my worse enemy – but for me, I found that I was actually a lot nicer. Most of my anger and bitterness had been spent and although I wasn't exactly Julie Andrews, I was certainly more forgiving and an all round better egg.

However, I was left with the feeling that as a race (and I include myself in this) humans are sometimes just not very good at being humane. So I decided that the best thing for me was to protect my new found serenity and move somewhere quiet and away from the world.

Fast forward a few years.
Enter Twitter.
I can't even remember why I first joined Twitter. Perhaps I thought some really interesting celebrities were going to instantly fall in love with my wit and banter and be my new best friends forever. Well, that myth was quickly exposed – there's no such thing as a really interesting celebrity... real people on the other hand are another matter. I have 'met' some really great people on there (and admittedly some horrors too), people who have been supportive, made me laugh, think, see things from a different perspective, worry, raise an eyebrow or two, and even sometimes go “euww”. On the whole it has been a positive experience for me – if ever my timeline got a bit toxic, I would just clear off for a bit and read a book. After a while I began to think: Hmm, maybe people aren't so bad after all....

Fate gets bored playing Picture Bingo with the other furies and says:  “Hey, do you remember that belligerent cockney bird I nuked back in the late 90s? Wonder what she's doing now? I must look her up......

Fate decides that it would be a great wheeze to play 'let's get jiggy with my central nervous system': That'll bugger her up for a bit and the drugs they use to treat it are a real hoot too!

And Fate will always have the last word.

I'm afraid it's all rather taken its toll. Despite my attempts to laugh and joke it off, I have to admit it has worn me down a tad. The pain levels and the treatments for the condition have been about as entertaining as a barrel load of dead monkeys – I bounced from frustration to anger to depression to despair to: 'well, this is a fine pickle, where the hell do we go from here?' and all the while I have not been able to put on so much as a pair of socks. The nerve endings in my hands and feet have become 'live and kicking' which means I get feedback from electric appliances – now this would be amusing.... on anyone else. We did try and make a laugh out of it, where I  have turned into some mutant Avenger type Electra-luxia Woman, zapping evil with only the aid of her trusty Kenwood food-mixer, but it wears thin after a while. Life was becoming a bit frayed around the edges and, like my synapses, I was becoming more and more sensitive to the vagaries of others - this was especially true of Twitter.

Oh it wasn't the spammers that bothered me – I'd ignore them and they would go away after a day or two; even the porn bots had no effect – I'd heard/seen worse at my high school discos back in the 70s... old hat and yawnsville. No, I felt that Twitter was morphing into a gigantic, negative, supercilious and judgemental old uncle, angrily wagging a finger in my face every time I logged on:

                            you are a spammer/bad tweeter if you do 'X'

      if you do 'Y' I will unfollow/block you

you are a half-witted idiot/imbecile if you listen to'Z' music or read 'Q' books

you are a low-life waste of human space because you are watching 'XYZ' on TV

    You are all a piece of crap if you like 'xyz'

Tweet this way................. Tweet that way..... do as I say.......or else!

Someone actually had the temerity to tweet and write a blog post entitled: 
                         '10 reasons why I will unfollow your blog'
Well, that was one good enough reason for me to unfollow hers.

You see, what with all the shit that has happened to me in the past, I cherish my freedom of choice........ just so long as it doesn't hurt anyone else.

 I really have difficulties with being told what to do and particularly with the words “ YOU SHOULD”.   So if I chose to tweet about watching 'Come Dine with my Pointless X Factor Dog'  or listening to 'Englebert O'Lanza Plays The Archers on his Organ' or reading '76 Tints of Beige with Brown Bits' that's my choice; if people have a problem with it - they can unfollow and that's their choice. The insults and advice on how to improve my sorry life are superficial and can be hurtful. Freedom of speech is a marvellous jewel, but there's a fine line between a bit of jolly joshing and vitriol.

Despite taking a shed-load of drugs, I'm not living in a rainbow dream full of sunshine and lollipops. I don't expect the world to be perfect and I'm just as flawed (perhaps even more so) than the next mutant Super-heroine. Even so, I have never got used to a place like Twitter where the word HATE is used so free and easily that it eventually becomes meaningless.

On top of all this, the meds I am taking have turned what used to be a reasonably sharp, nay razorlike, mind into a lump of grey Play-doh, to the point where I make Winnie the Pooh look like Stephen Hawking.  So, Hobson's choice is pain and brain - or not so much pain and very little brain.  Hmm... tricky one.....

Put it all together and rather like Electra-luxia and her food-mixer, my tweeting was fast running out of fun; I began to wonder what I was actually bringing to the party.   I've always marvelled at why people stayed on Twitter when they continually bitched about how dreadful it all was and promised I wouldn't be like that. So I decided to delete the account. I said some thankyou's (not enough I fear) to some of the really brilliant people in my timeline, but then another follower cottoned on to my not-so-cunning-plan and talked me down. He convinced me to sleep on it ..... to go off and do something else for a while.  Maybe the judgemental tweets were more about their authors than the contents..........

My Twitter Samaritan tells me that a number of people have said some really kind and lovely things about me since I have been away and I have been truly humbled by that –  and that's not an empty gesture on my part, it means a lot to me, it really does. If any of them pick this up through Twitter (I have put it on automated posting) thank you for restoring my faith.  I don't know what else to say.

For that is the wonderful side of Twitter, it's the real reason people will join and continue to get something positive out of it no matter how many times Uncle Supercilious continues to crap on his own doorstep.

A thought has just occurred to me: doesn't all this make me just as judgemental?

That certainly wasn't my intention.

Maybe the fact that I have written this post says more about it's author than it's contents................

Thursday, 17 May 2012


Continuing with my birdwatching amongst the Coffee Shop Regulars.......*

Finally, the last in the series:

NAME: Laptop Lady   
                                                                  SPECIES: Female. Holding back the years

SIGHTING: Very common                             CALL: Medium Skinny Latte

PLUMAGE: dresses younger than probable age. Glasses. Roots in constant need of re-touching. Walking stick (home-decorated). Laptop. Mobile phone.

And then I woke up and
it was all just a dream.......
This lady is often one of the first to arrive in the morning. She is very tall and I think she might have looked quite glamorous in her younger days – she was probably a good deal slimmer too. Her clothes are just one rung short of mutton-dressed-as-lamb and her hair is piled up on top of her head in a sort of loose chignon. The tortoiseshell glasses perched on the end of her nose have an annoying tendency of working themselves down and look in danger of falling off onto the table so she constantly pushes them back up again with her little finger. She also has a habit of tilting her head to the left when she types and nodding in approval when she is happy with something that she has written, but biting her thumb nail when she is stuck – I don't think she realises she is doing it to be honest. She can type really fast, so I think she must have been a secretary or maybe a personal assistant in another life.

She is nearly always alone, except at weekends when she is accompanied by her husband and they seem to spend the whole time putting the world to rights. Occasionaly she is joined by a friend, who can talk the hind legs off a donkey. Laptop lady appears to be politely listening and smiling in the right places, but you can sense she would much rather be alone with her laptop.

May contain Cheese
BestFriend Talkalot: So, I told her straight, I said to her: well I don't know about you, I said, but a fondue night is simply out of the question what with my allergies an' all. I mean she knows perfectly well what happened last time I had welsh rarebit. Couldn't put my tights on for a week. And I mean, it's foreign isn't it? Fondue? Well, we're not going to raise tuppence ha'penny to re-lag the village hall pipework with foreign practices like Fondue Nights are we?

Laptop Lady: looking over the top of said laptop and shaking head, Nooo... surreptitiously still typing on the keyboard.... Click click ….. click

Brown Owl gets the
BF Talkalot: Oh, I know you're busy with your.... er.... work thingy.. that you're... er... doing there, so I won't keep you. Well, of course she gets all huffy about it. Pauline, she says, I'm just trying to bring a bit of class into the village. Class! I ask you. Class! I mean, what's wrong with a good old fashioned Beetle Drive and a plate of cockles? Keep it simple I said to her, we don't need class. You know, the Brownies raised nearly £23 with their Zumba display last month and everyone said what a marvel Brown Owl was - doing the merengue what with all her women's troubles and everthing. So to be honest, I really can't see how she thinks she's going to match that with 2lb of Emmental and a French stick.

Laptop Lady: still shaking head........ click....kerrrcliiick...

No luvvie, I will only
work with Laptop Lady!
Laptop Lady spends quite a lot of time looking out of the window, staring vacantly at the laptop screen or checking her phone; perhaps she is waiting or hoping for divine inspiration. Occasionally though something must happen, because all of a sudden she will spring into life and type manically for about 2 or 3 minutes and then.......... nothing; it's back to staring at the screen again.... chin resting on her hand. Every so often she turns away from the computer to type something into the phone and smiles when she gets a response. Perhaps she gets a text from someone she loves or maybe she is on one of those social network things like Twitter or Facebook.

The staff all know her order before she has even got to the top of the stairs (she's very slow but refuses to use the lift) and are often preparing the drink before she gets to the counter – some may think this is preferential treatment – I am not sure whether she is smug or embarrassed about it, perhaps a bit of both. I've never been able to see what it is she is actually typing – perhaps it is a block-busting novel that will one day be turned into an oscar winning film starring Colin Firth. Who knows, maybe one day when she is famous they will place a little blue plaque by the table where she used to sit

or maybe she's one of those strange blogger types........


Monday, 30 April 2012


Continuing with my birdwatching amongst the Coffee Shop Regulars.......*

*I overhear the conversations because the tables are so close. I'm not spying.... honestly:

Here are some of the lesser-spotted sightings.

NAME: THE BUDGIES                       SPECIES: Ladies who latte

SIGHTING: Regular Friday morning                CALL: They do indeed like to latte

PLUMAGE: Joules; Crew Clothing. Particularly fond of body warmers. Dislike make-up. Scruffy hair. Equestrian boots all year round, except in really hot weather when the Merrell sandals come into their own.

I used to be Sandi Toksvig
This flock of clones could possibly be the result of a failed BBC experiment to cross Caroline Quinn with Sandi Toksvig. They are the mature yummy mummies. Fenella and Aloysius et al have left the nest to attend prep school and now these ladies have the freedom to talk as much as they want. I'm under the impression that they don't actually speak much at home, because once they are released out into the wild they make up for it at 3000 words a minute and often at an octave that rests just slightly above annoying. The noise level is constant and often to the point where you cannot hear individual words – it's just a wall of sound – punctuated with the occasional vibration of a loud, piercing horsey laugh.

I'm afraid it's the dog.....
One thing I have noticed though is they never eat - they are all as sinewy as Madonna cracking walnuts in her sleep. On the one hand of course, they've probably all been out jogging with the de rigeur gundog in the early morning mists whilst I've been dripping Cocopops down my housecoat as I slob out in front of 'It's me or the Dog' on PICK TV. On the other hand, they also don't stop chattering long enough to savour so much as a raspberry and almond bake. Rather like 'Me or the Dog', it's a pleasure I fear they will never know.
Got any Cocopops?

Thus this aviary of lean, fit chirrupers happily chirrup away without the need for breath. My late nan used to put a cover over her budgie's cage at night to shut him up and encourage him to sleep. I am currently investigating where I can get a really large sheet.....

NAME: THE SUITS                                   SPECIES: Salesmen/women

SIGHTING: Various weekday mornings (early) 
CALL: Flat White (in takeaway cups, even though they are drinking in – it's cheaper).                                     Multiple sugar sachets spread over the table

PLUMAGE: Men: Sharpish Suits, flashy watch
Women: Sharpish Suits, flashy shoes
Both: Netbooks except the flashier ones who have an Ipad;
Excess of hair products (particularly the men)
Folders (card or faux leather)
Occasional lanyard

Bunty, we really need to
talk about Donald
The suits can usually be found in groups of 2 or 3, but rarely more than 4. They always, without fail, open the mating call with the: 'how was your journey to Bury St Edmunds?” routine (they all drive so it's usually M11-A11-A14) and the subsequent follow-up:  'where have you parked?'  Then it's on to serious work matters. I have noticed that the women of the flock tend to stick to talking shop (fear of the glass ceiling mayhaps?) whilst the men get easily distracted and chat about other things: expensive watches, expensive gadgets, expensive footballers (especially European), expensive cars and how expensive the fuel is to put into expensive cars these days.

Interestingly, the women rarely join in with these diversions, they just smile, force out little laughs or concentrate on their netbooks/folders until they can bring the meeting back to the subject in hand. I have often wondered if perhaps they're really the big bosses and are secretly making notes.......

Note to self: Donald = short attention span & large ego. Absolute boor, guilty of overpowering aftershave and unnecessarily loud socks – Suggest urgent relocation to the Outer Tunbridge Wells office (East) asap. Also, make sure he returns keys to stationary cupboard before he leaves, noticed abundance of acetate sheets & treasury tags in briefcase.

Simon = complete arse, prone to exaggeration, signs of small penis syndrome, probably cheating on wife with Cindy from Finance – Suggest talk to Bunty in HR and see if we can't send him on immediate 3 month tour of the Home Counties in the Fiat Punto with Dennis from IT.

Each meeting seems to be of absolute vital importance to the world of commerce (although I have rarely been able to ascertain what it is that they are actually selling). The intensity of the conversation is usually matched by the stereotypical sales-speak which in turn matches the intensity of my cringing........

***[I am sad to say that the following are all direct quotes - I have actually heard these shockers being spoken out loud]

Sharp suit Man the Younger: 'You know we are playing with a straight bat here' (knee clench)

Sharp suit Man The Elder: 'Well, it is an offer you can't refuse.....' (head hits the table)

Sharp suit Woman awash in Elnett and CK One: 'I'm happy I know all the answers to any of the Qs and As that will come up in the training session' (slowly slides off the chair into a puddle on the floor).

No, it's the M11, A11 THEN the A14
Do they ever plan or come to a conclusion? I'm not so sure they do. It all seems to be a matter of networking and playing a game of 'whose got the biggest cufflinks, coolest phone or pushiest-uppiest-bra-beneath-a-workshirt/blouse-combination. But I love the fact that these Gordon Gekko wannabes keep right on going even though they are trapped between a couple of Iceland shopping bags in Bury St Edmunds instead of a pair of million dollar portfolios on Wall Street. In any case, they all march off with purpose to their various car parks and back  down the A14-A11-M11 they go never to be seen again. Not until the next lot fly in that is..........

Next Sighting: Last in the series – Laptop Lady

Friday, 13 April 2012


Continuing with my birdwatching amongst the Coffee Shop Regulars.......*

*I overhear the conversations because the tables are so close. I'm not spying.... honestly:

A few of the visitors to the coffee shores are more seasonal and not 'regular' enough to be regulars – but regular enough to be noticed.

Here are some of the lesser-spotted sightings.

NAME: THE BORROWERS SPECIES: Middle-aged and middle-class

SIGHTING: Regular weekends                       CALL: A latte

PLUMAGE: Smart Casual Weekend wear, comfortable shoes

As the coffee shop is on the 1st floor of a book store, it can give the appearance of the reading rooms in the local library. The shop displays its wares around the sides of the tables for people to peruse whilst supping and I have actually heard one woman complain that a particular book had been moved (perhaps horrors above horrors, even sold!) when she was only half-way through reading it – turns out she had been working her way through several pages every time she came in for coffee for the past three weeks and was most miffed when it had been replaced by Stephen Hawking's 'A Brief History in Time' (sorry Mr Hawking, I only got to page 4, but that's another story). It is also quite tempting for people to treat the place as more of a reference library than a money-making operation and it is not unusual for someone to take notes from the stock while they are having a latte, then just leave the book the windowsill along with the empty cup.
Take for instance, the Cookery Man. He comes up the stairs, spectacles on top of his head and laden with several over-sized cook books (food section is on the ground floor). Then he sits and copies out the recipes into an ever-bulging folder.   I haven't noticed any specific food genre – he seems to be drawn more to the actual size of the book – and the bigger the better.  Italian, Tapas or Thai, Jamie, Nigel or Prue, I just can't see any pattern to his selections. Also, he is always alone; I don't know why this should be significant - it probably isn't.  Maybe he holds a lot of dinner parties, or maybe he is tormenting his ex-wife who was always dieting, by anonymously posting recipes of really tasty dishes through her letterbox late at night....


SIGHTING: School holidays                         CALL: A latte and a croissant for the child

PLUMAGE: Head to foot Boden, Chelsea Tractor Buggy, Accessorised by a small child/baby

Each Yummy is usually accompanied by an ignored toddler who will inevitably stand right next to your chair and stare at you with wide open eyes. You inevitably give an awkward smile back – because anything more than a weak simper may result in the blessed thing sitting down next to you and engaging you in conversation for the next 20 minutes (much to your annoyance and the mother's delight). Within the bowels of the adjoining pram lies the complimentary baby which, by the sound of it's lungs, cannot be more than a few weeks old.  This tiny scrap cannot walk, talk, feed or fend for itself, but can produce the kind of sonic boom that will demolish a 12 story block of flats just by sound alone and indeed, quickly empties most of the tables surrounding it. The mother frantically scrambles through a huge, quilted Mary Poppins bag to find a baby bottle and sort out some carrot sticks for the child, who is still standing 10 inches away from your face – don't make eye contact, don't meet it's gaze, that's all they need, just the tiniest crack and the next thing you know your quiet coffee turns into unpaid child-minding and it'll be covering your fruit 'n' oat fingers in snot before you can say Nanny McPhee.

Of course, all the children get bored within 15 minutes, but the Yummies are determined to preserve a little bit of their pre-stretch mark years and 'catch up with the girls'. They are not going to be deterred by a few bored kids, oh no - they have come prepared: out comes the colouring pencils and Bob's yer uncle, Fanny's yer aunt, you've ended up in some ad hoc Mother & Toddlers-R-Us-With-Coffee-and-a-carrot-stick-Group. “Why don't you draw mummy a lovely picture while she talks to Auntie Philomena?” is the constant refrain. (NB: I've noticed most kids actually dislike colouring, especially in public places and especially when they are expected to do it for longer than 3 minutes). Consequently, very few pictures are produced, still, the Yummies are made of stronger stuff and continue with other activities such as: giving the car keys to the smallest ones as substitute rattles and: setting up “wheels on the bus” with the now empty chairs that are now surrounding them, thanks to mighty lungs in the 4x4 buggy.

Needless to say, none of it works; the children simply don't want to sit indoors at a table and watch their mums talk for an hour and a half; they crave rapid-fire activity.... and most of all, attention. Nine times out of a dozen, the Yummies end up giving the child their iPhone to play with while they chat amongst themselves about the latest hand/eye co-ordination achievements of little Fergus, Bertie, Ffion and Thomasina. And so, in a wonderful sense of missed irony, a communication device replaces communication.

Engage with your child? There's an App for that...

Monday, 12 March 2012


Continuing with my birdwatching amongst the Costa Shop Regulars.......*

*I overhear the conversations because the tables are so close. I'm not spying.... honestly:

NAME: THE PROFESSOR             SPECIES: Academic male (early 60s at a guess)

SIGHTING: Occasional, (mostly Fridays)      CALL: A pot of tea

PLUMAGE: Completely corduroy with a hint of matching polo-neck jumper.  
                   Sensible shoes.

The roll-neck/jacket combination
It's all the rage
The Professor is about 6.4' and is as thin as a stick. He has a mop of long and wild gingery hair which gives him a very distinctive look and one that screams: “I am an academic, don't you know?”   If you can imagine a cross between Rod Hull (of Emu fame) and one of those old Open University Lecturers you used to see on the tv back in the 1970s, you are starting to get the picture. He always wears corduroy trousers (shudders – don't get me started on this personal pet hate) and a corduroy jacket which is invariably matched with a similar coloured polo-neck jumper. He certainly has a style of his own.

I remember the first time he arrived on our doorstep. He bounded up the stairs two at a time (we roost on the first floor of the bookshop) and marched over to inspect the complimentary newspapers. They obviously didn't tickle his fancy, for he loudly declared to the world that he was going across the road to to Beryl's Teashop because their drinks were cheaper and they provided a better calibre of newspapers.  Now granted, he does have a point about the newspapers - Costas only provide the Sun, The Express, The Daily Mail and the Bury Free Press – horses for courses I suppose, but Beryl's coffee is rubbish.

Available from all good bookstores
Well, of course, he came back. Then he came back with one of his friends. And then he came back with a different friend. And now he keeps coming back, although I think he still secretly visits Beryl just to keep himself up-to-date with the broadsheets. When he is alone he tends to read books from the shelves of the bookshop, although I have to say I've never actually seen him buy any. I noticed he was particularly interested in a couple of titles: ' The Victorian Fern Craze' and “The Victorian Home” and I can just imagine that is exactly what his own house looks like: Victoriana and ferns mingled with a mountain of reference books and cluttered pieces of paper.

What's this?  The Telegraph?
I'm off to Costas
However, it is when he is supping with a friend that he really comes alive; then the arms fly and the opinions flow. I think he belongs to another time, perhaps in an 18th Century Covent Garden coffee house, discussing the Enlightenment or how to cure all the social ills of the Universe. However, he doesn't get angry or irritated with the state of world affairs, in fact, he is often quite jovial about it all; he just seems to enjoy social comment and the flaying arms are only employed to emphasise a point. In just one sitting, I have heard him pontificate on the inner city poor, the Asian market and it's effects on the economy, the problems of the Middle East (yep, all of them), the merits (or otherwise) of Obama, Thatcher, Cameron, Osborne and Milliband and the location of the new toilets in the Shopping Centre. Yet, the really interesting thing – well, to me at any rate – is that although the Professor and his friend appear to be in the middle of an intellectual debate, neither one seems to be actually listening to the other.

For the Professor sees a problem and he has an answer to it - then the friend has an opinion and he states his case and so they end up taking turns to speak.  Each has a pre-ordained point of view or an opinion in their head and the only thing they are focussed on is to get that particular thought out into the open. Thus their “discussion” simply becomes more of a sequence of declarations:

Professor: Of course, the thing with the new toilets is they are miles away from anywhere - right out of the way, just behind Debenhams.

Friend: You wouldn't want to put them slap bang in the middle of the the open plaza area.....

Professor: And no signs! Well, not unless you are coming from the south side of the Centre and then you're practically on top of them anyway.

Friend: I see Milliband has piped up again. Totally ineffectual of course. Always thought his brother was the better option.

Let's forget all our differences
and have a cuppa
So, never mind Westminster, Capitol Hill or Zhongnanhai; the whole world can be put to rights over a pot of tea and right here in sleepy Bury St Edmunds. The tea has long been drunk whilst all this is going on, but there the Professor sits, for goodness knows how long, waving his long arms about like Mr Tickle and jabbing the table with his bony finger to emphasise his point of view. I notice he doesn't wear any rings.  Of course, this may mean squiddly-dot, but I don't get the impression he is romantically involved with anyone; he certainly never mentions any names. And I can't say I'm entirely surprised, as I for one would find it extremely hard to live with that much corduroy and opinions in a confined, Victorian fern-filled space.

Next Sighting: The Lesser-spotted visitors

Thursday, 23 February 2012

WHEN SHALL WE THREE MEET AGAIN? (tomorrow morning probs..)

Continuing with my birdwatching amongst the Costa Shop Regulars.......*

*I overhear the conversations because the tables are so close. I'm not spying.... honestly:

These two characters were the original Regulars.

NAME: POISON GRANNIES                    SPECIES: Grannies

SIGHTING: Common, All year                               CALL: 2 Cappuccinos &
                                                                                        a glass of tap water chaser

PLUMAGE: Head to toe Edinburgh Woollen Mill/Marks & Spencers Classic Collection
                  Granny 1 prefers dark, denim jeans with ironed-in creases
                   Heavily wrinkled
                  Thick powder puff (I would guess Max Factor – like my nan used to use)
                  Visible varicose veins - Granny 2 who prefers floral pattern skirts

Because we're worth it
This pair border on the stereotype. Granny 1 is tall and thin, whilst Granny 2 is short and more rounded. A sort of Laurel and Hardy, but without the hats. The first thing that strikes me is the well-worn skin on their faces. My mother would describe them as having a 'hard face', but I think I prefer the term: 'lived in'. They both wear face powder a shade too dark, which sits in the crevices and only accentuates the problem. Think Keith Richards in lipstick and you start to get the picture. I have concluded that their facial erosion can only be put down to a) smoking, and/or b) frowning. I'm not sure about the first, although I can certainly picture them with a glass of gin in hand and a fag hanging from the corner of their mouth. However, I do have stronger evidence about the frowning. Because they frown a lot, these two; frown and bitch.

A cappuccino &
glass of tap water please
During the whole time I have been sitting here bird-watching, I cannot think of a single occasion when I heard anything pleasant or positive from their table. They simply don't seem to have a kind word to say about anyone which made me think, 'blimey, they're a poisonous couple of individuals' and the name just stuck.

They are the kind of people you could easily imagine sitting there at the end of the family table at Christmas, wearing a paper hat and a scowl that could stun a brussel sprout, just because the turkey has overrun and they are missing the Queen's speech on the telly.  (As an aside, in my experience it is often the most miserable ones who wear the paper hats the longest at Christmas – a strange phenomena, but there it is).

Anyway, they are particularly venomous about one of their neighbours who apparently sits indoors all day, being waited on hand and foot by her son. I get the feeling the grannies wouldn't mind being waited on hand and foot by their offspring given half the chance, for it turns out that this isn't the neighbour's worse crime. Oh no, indeed not..... no, that would be her dreadful curtains: I shall take a large breath and let Granny 1 explain:

I don't know what she was thinking and I bet she paid the earth for them, though you wouldn't think it to look at them and they don't go with anything because they're the wrong colour and they're much too heavy and will block out the light and I told her, I said, you'll have to have them dry-cleaned because they obviously can't be washed....”
A good mangle
does wonders

And so on. For 15 minutes without hardly drawing breath. Solid. Life doesn't get much more exciting than this, I can tell you.

Young people? “Of course, the problem with young people today is that they just don't wash things like we used to after the war”.

This surprising fact can apparently be pinpointed and laid at the feet of the demise of the mangle.

would you like to come up to my place
and see my curtains?
George Clooney? What on earth could be wrong with Gorgeous George I hear you ask. Well, he cuts no ice in rural Suffolk. Over to Granny 2:

Well, you know, they had one of his films on the telly last night. I couldn't tell you what is was called, but I watched it 'till about quarter-past ten and then I thought: that's it, I've had enough' and went to bed. Don't know what all the fuss is about.”.

Granny 1 concurs. Poor George would be crushed.

The staff do try and lighten the mood.

Barista: Morning! Isn't it a lovely sunny day? Much better than yesterday. Are you up to anything nice?

Granny 2: No, just visiting my friend. She got run over at the weekend.

I try not to sit at the table next to them if I can help it, because the toxic doom and gloom seeping out from behind the cappuccinos tends to wash over me like a bucket of cold mist.

One does love a good laugh
I have also secretly pledged never to invite them to Christmas dinner at my house for fear that my table linen won't be up to scratch - not to mention that my middle daughter is a huge fan of George Clooney and my turkey always, without fail, overruns. In fact, we haven't seen the Queen's speech in more than 7 years.

Actually, I am not too sure about my curtains either........

Next Sighting:  The Professor