Friday, 25 March 2011


I had my first visit to the gym this week. The idea here is that you are referred by your physio/ doctor to go along to the local leisure centre, where you are given an exercise plan tailored to take into account your physical problems. If I am being cynical, I would say that I am now paying for the physio I used to receive on the NHS, but I suppose that's the way of the world. Anyway, I don my new trainers (see last posting), a pair of dance/jazz pants and a sparkly diamanté T-shirt (baggy enough to disguise the muffin tops, but fashionable enough to disguise my age) and do a quick check in the mirror.

Hmm, not too bad from the front. OK, so it's not quite Madonna, but I'm not wearing a leotard for anyone. From the side?.......ah right.....keep facing front.....that's better. Now, make-up; I'll keep it to a minimum: powder base, blusher, neutral eye-shadow, lip tint – I'll forgo the mascara in case I break sweat. Earrings?....hmm...perhaps the crystal drops are too much with the diamanté T-shirt...

Finally, with a liberal spray of deodorant or two (OK, it was more of a walk-through mushroom cloud, but you can sweat in these places)  I leave the house. I'm late because of the earring dilemma but it's all a vanity/confidence thing – if I don't think I look right, I don't feel right....

Once at the gym my heart sinks. I thought it would just be exclusively for crocks like me.... but no, it's an open session and although there are a few crumblies scattered about, the majority are well and truly fit. They are pounding the treadmill and lifting weights left, right and centre. Don't look, keep your eyes on the equipment, pull your T-shirt down and don't forget to face front......

I get up onto the exercise bike and slowly begin to pedal. This isn't too bad because I have a problem with my right leg, so my left leg pedals as fast as it can and does all the work, whilst my right leg basically hitches a ride. There is an old man on the bike next to me (a fellow crumbly if I'm not very much mistaken). He has very white legs with large, bulgy, blue/grey veins and is wearing stone-coloured safari shorts, a grubby, light-blue T-shirt that says “If found, please return to the pub” , lace-up plimsolls and knee-high socks.  Definitely a crumbly. I give him a cautious smile (don't make eye contact, he may start up a conversation) and concentrate on the tiny TV screen attached to the bike. It's showing cricket. do you switch channels? This button? No, that alters the I can hardly move......this one then then ....yep...only now it's showing In the Night Garden with Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy. Oh dear... it's not easy trying to change TV channels whilst pedalling and keeping up rev rate.....Cash in the Attic...that'll have to do.   I catch a glimpse of the old man next to me out of the corner of my eye.  What's he doing?   I don't believe it - he's looking at my console to see how fast I'm going.... You'll never get £85 for that manky old vase Jennie Bond...I wouldn't give it house the old man is trying to go faster than me....well, if he can get up to 52 RPM so can I....just about.   If I didn't know better I would say he was challenging me to a static bike race. Haha...63 RPM! Eat my dust old man! Victory is mine! I was right, they only got thirty quid for that vase.... Triumphant, I stumble off the bike with as much dignity as I can muster (my legs are like jelly and I can't feel my back) and head towards the treadmill.

There are a couple of ladies pounding the treadmills – they are running very fast and have sweat triangles on the back of their jazz pants. Despite my re-enactment of the Tour-de-France - stage 2 on the exercise bike, I do not sweat because I am wearing copious amounts of Invisible-mineral-double-action-48hr-Non-stop-calming antiperspirant. Those ladies could learn a thing or two from me. Still, there they are, sweating and pounding and here I am, trying to step up onto the machine....  Good...made buttons...more TV....oh, just leave it on the stupid cricket....Right, speed setting  number 1...noooooo, too fast.....I am holding on for dear life and my drop earrings are jangling about and hitting my chin....keep smiling.....0.5....better.....better and slow, oh so very, very painfully slow. If a sloth hitched a ride on this treadmill, it would probably die of boredom, that gives you some idea of how slow I was going.

Enough. I am not sweating, I am hurting; in both my pride and my muscles. I am leaving whilst I can still stand. I catch a glimpse in the mirror of a wreck that thinks she looks like Olga Korbut, but in reality, Barbara Cartland is probably more nearer the mark. The old man is still on the bike. The ladies are still sweating. There is a sign for the café and they sell Starbucks coffee....and cake......that's more like it.

Friday, 18 March 2011


 I have signed up to attend a gym class designed especially for people with chronic back pain. Considering I haven't been inside a gym in about 10 years this is a big step for me and the following is part of a conversation I had with my eldest (grown-up and now raising a family of her own) daughter about it.

Daughter: Well, you're going to need new trainers.

Me: What's wrong with my trainers? There's nothing wrong with my trainers – they've got years of wear in them.

They're rubbish trainers. Old fashioned....

They're not old fashioned - they're retro. I mean, it's not like they're Green Flash or anything.

They're embarrassing. When was the last time you bought a new pair? They don't even make that kind any more. You need proper trainers.


Like proper ones.....nice ones... not old granny ones....

Later in the discount sports shop – footwear dept (Ladies) ~ OK, it was Sports Direct...

Me (on mobile phone): Well, which ones are best? There's a whole wall plastered with the things...

Daughter (on other end of phone-line): It depends on how much you want to spend.

About twenty quid.

Are you serious?

Twenty-five then, it's not like I'm going to wear them much. What about these..

Loud audible sigh from other end of phone-line (somewhat overly dramatic in my opinion)

Me: OK, well they have these...

Too flat. You don't want flat – no support.

These then...

Too chavvy.

I'm getting a headache. What about these?

Boxers wear those, you'll look like a boxer...

Right, then I'll look like Hilary Swank …. or Frank Bruno.....either way, they fit – they'll do...

Now you're just being facetious - she died anyway.

Who died?

Hilary Swank.

Hilary Swank is dead?

No, in the film she died, are you buying these trainers or what?

My turn to sigh over-dramatically Well these ones then. These are OK.

No-one wears them any-more. Get NICE ones..

What does it matter? They all look the same to me.

That's not the point.

I mean it's not like you're going to be humiliated by me wearing them or anything - you live 90 miles away, you won't even see them.

It's the principle of the thing. Have they got any ****'s

Yes....(gets them down from the wall display).....How much?....You've got to be joking. I'm not paying that. I've had enough. I'm just getting these ones... I'll speak to you later.....

Me: Excuse me, do you have these in a size 6?

Shop Assistant: Sorry? you have them in a size 6?

Those ones?

These ones, yes...

What colour?

In black.



In a 6?

In a 6 - in black.

Oh I'm sorry - everything we have is out on display.......

Friday, 11 March 2011

LUCKY RABBIT'S FOOT? Well, it didn't work for the rabbit...

I have always been superstitious (some may say to the point of being slightly OCD – if you can be slightly OCD that is) and it's been the same ever since... well, High School I suppose. Maybe it was a teenager thing, but I distinctly remember I couldn't possibly go out without my toenails being painted in what I thought were lucky colours (alternate bronze and lilac if memory serves – this was in the 1970s remember). School exams required lucky knickers, lucky earrings and a lucky hair bobble. These went with the lucky pencil case, lucky pens and lucky eraser (I didn't have a lucky gonk – I don't think I had the room what with all the other stuff). Despite all this I still bombed at History...  but I sailed through Maths - and English was well above the expected grade - so there must be something in it. Things were a little less intense by the time I came to do my Diploma in Classical Studies: I had whittled things down to just the pencil case (yellow to aid concentration) and a packet of Polo mints, but I was in my twenties by then and a lucky hair bobble would have looked ridiculous. I wore “lucky shoes” for my driving test. Ok, so I failed the first one, but I passed at the second attempt so the facts speak for themselves.

I think the obsession with good luck/bad luck originally came from my grandmother. She came from a dirt-poor family in the East End of London and was the eldest of 13 children who seem to have thrived on a diet of superstition. In fact, as I recall from my visits to her as a child,  hardly a day went by where she didn't stop in her tracks to do some little obscure action and thus avert ill-luck or the devil.

It was from Gran that I learned to throw spilt salt over my left shoulder to “hit the devil in the eye”; never to pick up my own gloves if I dropped them; to cover all the mirrors and cutlery during a thunder-storm (because they would attract lightning), and to turn around 3 times on the spot if I ever saw a monkey puzzle tree. Funnily enough there was a monkey puzzle tree in the front garden of a house in her road – which was highly unusual in the rows and rows of back-to-back terraced houses of deepest, darkest London – and yes, I would always turn around 3 times just to be on the safe side. As to the mirrors and cutlery attracting lightning, well her house was never struck during her lifetime, so that must be proof it works.

She had tons of other superstitions too. She wouldn't get into a green car (definite accident waiting to happen), opals were an absolute no no (ditto re accident) and as for cutting your toenails on a Sunday, well that was just asking for it. I can't remember what was threatened if  you left a knife and fork crossed on an empty plate, but I still don't do it to this day.  Pancakes had to be eaten on Shrove Tuesday, hot-cross buns and fish on Good Friday, silver coins were always placed in the Christmas pudding and you had to make a wish when cutting your birthday cake – to do otherwise would be tempting fate and no-one in their right mind would do that.

My own criteria for denoting an item of jewellery/clothing as lucky/unlucky is based on the following scientific formula:

a) something nice happens to you whilst wearing said item jewellery/clothing etc
 = LUCKY and should be worn frequently or when in need of psychological “boost”.

b) something horrid happens to you whilst wearing said item/jewellery/clothing etc   
 = UNLUCKY and should be donated to the bin.

I've got better as I've got older. I've stopped reading my horoscope (a daily ritual when I was a teenager – but then I only really believed in it when I liked what was said). I never worried about stepping on the cracks of the pavement because, come on now, how could that ever affect my luck and I could never remember whether a black cat was supposed to be lucky or unlucky anyway (depends on the kind of day you're having I suppose). Having said that, I still can't bring myself to walk under a ladder (it's that ingrained) and I still knock on wood (tapping my head if there's no real wood to hand – I know, don't ask).  I still say "Good morning my Lord", three times if I see a lone magpie and I hate the thought of a broken mirror or an open umbrella indoors, plus I always, without fail, take my Christmas decorations down on Twelfth Night. See gran, I was listening.....

Saturday, 5 March 2011


I have to admit to being torn over whether or not the e-book reader is for me. At the last count we had over 500 books in our house. And they're not all mine - both my husband and 9 year old daughter love books too, we just can't help ourselves. Rare is the occasion that we can browse a bookshop and not spend any money, so in theory, the e-reader/Kindle/iPad should be a godsend to us. The books can be downloaded in minutes, they are often cheaper, the pad takes up less space and, if the advertisements are to be believed, it is a more convenient good egg all round. So far so good, and I am indeed, sorely tempted.


I still have a dictionary that belonged to my grandfather. He died more than 25 years ago, the pages are thin and silky and the spine is holding on for dear life and ….and here is the most important still smells of him. No, that's not right, it doesn't smell of him, but it has a smell that reminds me of him. In a Proust moment, when I hold the pages to my face – I can remember my grandfather. I can't remember his voice, but I can remember what he said and I remember his face - his being. There is an inscription on the front page – in my grandfather's handwriting – I look at this elegant, old-fashioned script and I see his hand writing it: it's a moment from his time here on earth and apart from my fading memories and a few dog-eared photographs, it is the only thing I have left of him.

So.. this is a treasure to me which goes far beyond the mere contents of its pages – it's no longer just a reference book to be used when I get stuck trying to spell manuver , manouvre, manoeuvre. I have other books with memories attached, my youngest daughter's first book, a WW2 first aid book that belonged to my grandmother (very handy if you want to know what to do in an air-raid or facts about rickets, TB and scurvy). Some of the books have been signed by the author (are book signings threatened with the advancement of the e-book reader?), some have the corners of the pages turned over (a heinous crime) and some have been scribbled over by various under-5s from our family. Some have pieces of paper tucked within their pages for safekeeping – notes from the reader: a shopping list, a postcard – these are all interesting links to the past.

A Kindle, e-reader or ipad can never hold this history. It is a convenience without a soul. Granted it provides an immediate library that meets our ever-increasing need for ease and speed – but are we losing something in the process? The tangibility, the connection of organics – the fingertips and the leaves of a book and the personal significance it may hold – soon, the only thing we will touch will be the centimetre squares of the keyboard or the cold sleekness of the screen – there will be no significance, no sentiment, only a harsh provision of our needs.

I don't know if this will be a good thing for the future – I appreciate you cannot stand in the way of progress – look what happened to vinyl (OK, I know... I still have all my Simon & Garfunkel LPs in a box under the bed), and the paper used to make books destroys trees which is not so green; but what happens to these machines when they are discarded? The iPad was upgraded after only 11 months; is a landfill site full of electronic rejects any better?

So what to do? An e-book reader or not? At the moment I feel there is a place for both and I hope it stays that way for I would hate to see the actual paper version replaced entirely. But I do still love my books, even though they take up so much room in the house and they weigh down my handbag as I lug them to the coffee shop. Maybe I will come round to total electronic reading when Steve Jobs can produce a magical combination of convenience with a human touch and a pad that can hold my grandfather's signature (in ink – not a synthetic facsimile, mind) and a piece of my history.

"When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls· bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory" -Marcel Proust "The Remembrance of Things