Thursday, December 22, 2005

My time-management seems to be improving to such an extent that not only did I make it into the office well before 8.30am today, despite having spent the evening at an unusually tame CPS party, but I am now a full 3 days early with my annual bout of Christmas Cold. I have no need for fancy-dress, managing a very realistic version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Misery Guts.

I had every intention of cheerfully hitting the shops for the last late night shop, buying chestnuts from a thermally-protected street-vendor, and snapping up last minute bargains to surprise and delight my loved ones. I even toyed with the idea of braving Tesco at about midnight when the most manic of shoppers would be in bed or surreptiously adding even more bulbs to their already grossly-overladen electrical circuits to once again outdo their neighbours before morning. Only those incredibly busy and intrepid folk, such as I, would be left casually ambling along the aisles, leisurely selecting the freshly-stocked veg and seasonal hams, perhaps sipping a glass of mulled wine from a promotions lady working nights courtesy of the newly-relaxed licensing laws, free of the elbows and trolley ram-raiders that appear from almost nowhere at this time of year.

Instead I stocked up with some Lemsip ( and a large bottle of Disaronno, for medicinal purposes), half-heartedly threw some wrapping paper into my trolley and then beat the hell out of there as quick as I could. Such was my haste, that it was only when having filled up my car with petrol, to avoid having to venture out of the house again next week did I realise that I had left my hand-bag, the expensive Moschino one, complete with all my house and work keys, purse, assorted passports, tissues of varying degrees of sogginess and a couple of driving licences either at the check-out or in a trolley bay.

I am normally very careful to observe the doctor's advice not to exercise or risk increasing my blood pressure in any way when suffering from a cold. It strains the heart apparently and lengthens recovery time. Tonight I took off across that car park like Colin Jackson on his way to a dance class. The CCTV footage is sure to look like a Hollywood chase movie, me dodging people-carriers and grocery-laden juggernaut trolleys, intent only on finding my prized handbag before some other drongo who would pocket the unused Tesco vouchers, give my Styla lipstick to his 6-year old kid for her dolls, and try and fill his family's stockings with my hard-earned cash ( he'd probably have done ok too having just increased my overdraft in case Martian turned up without any cash again last night), whilst ditching the vintage Italian designer goods in a litter bin.

It does pay to exercise after all. One of the trolley men recognized my anxiety and directed me to the security guard. Hallelujah! It was saved. Nothing taken, just a few extra calories expended and some perspiration lost in the pursuit. My face redder than my already glowing nose, I limped back home, pulled my frumpiest thickest dressing-gown out of the wardrobe and made myself a hot lemon and paracetamol cocktail with an almond liquer chaser.

If I drink enough of the stuff, I might rally in time to face the Christmas Eve throngs. If I'm really lucky, I might drink so much that I don't wake up til February.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The tree's up and this year there is no fear of it toppling over and scaring the cat. It is securely wedged into the bay window, tastefully adorned with the expensive decorations that I have accumulated over more affluent seasons. My 1.99 lights, purchased from Poundstretcher well over a decade ago have finally given up the ghost. I set Jack the task of individually trying each bulb in the hope of finding the rogue one which had brought the rest out on strike. He'd got up to bulb no. 6 by the time I left for work this morning. He appears to have finished at bulb no.7 approximately 2 seconds after I drove up the road and spent the rest of the day on his Playstation.

Having a tree up any time before Christmas Eve is pretty organised for me. I have even got so far as fetching the assorted boxes of left-over cards from previous years out of storage. I haven't yet managed to muster up the enthusiasm to write any of them or even look out my address book but it's a step closer than I got last year. If I repeat the pattern, eventually I'll be able to send vintage cards ( anything other than an e-card will soon seem quaint) and re-establish my image as a style guru ( gratuitous use of the letters "r" and "e" there but they are common enough so may go unnoticed).

One thing I have discovered this year is a sudden and unnatural desire to hog a karaoke mic. I've got to 34 and managed to avoid them thus far, despising them as props for the hopelessly deluded and serial exhibitionists. But after Saturday night's performance I am seriously worried as to which set I fall into, I suspect borderline delusional exhibitionist. In my defence I have always been a music lover and wrenching the mic from the grip of a group of tipsy teenagers intent on making Bohemian Rhapsody sound like "Allouette" was almost an act of compassion. I didn't then have to savage a couple of Abba tracks and American Pie ( it was the Madonna version, I'd have much prefered the original classic). Thankfully I was rescued from ultimate humiliation just as Bucks Fizz was about to play. I'd have been sure to have leapt onto a table and subjected a hushed and horrified room to a rendering of the old Eurovision favourite, complete with cheekily whipped-off skirt action had the mini-bus not been about to depart.

I will now carefully inspect my remaining invitations and discard any with the faintest possibility of corny entertainment, or at least resolve to drive on those occasions that cannot be avoided. But just in case, I shall now away to my bedroom. Those full-length mirrors might not be so bad after all. Now all I need find is my hairbrush and Monster Tracks '84 album. Practice! Practice! Practice!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Okay! Jesus may have managed to feed a few thousand of his chums with a couple of loaves of bread and some scraggy old mackerel. Impressive, some may say miraculous, although if they've ever seen the lean offerings that pass for nouvelle cuisine in the snootier restaurants, it might not seem such a big deal. He never had to divide the skinny remains of an overdraft between Christmas presents for his friends, family and colleagues, though, did he! So he was the birthday boy, fair enough, but that's missing the point.

A miracle is surely the only thing that is going to help me now. There's less than a week to go and all I've managed to get are three-foot boxes of Jaffa Cakes for my secretaries and a Disney dvd ( 2 disc Special Edition no less) for my godson. I've stashed away a couple of aftershave and expensive hair product sets for Jack as stocking fillers but he won't be impressed. They don't come as a side dish to a satisfyingly large motorbike or lap-top.This mortgage lark is going to cause havoc with my reputation as Lady Bountiful.

I am resourceful and have been known to think outside the box to solve problems but short of getting in one of said boxes, elbowing out the occupant and earning my keep in Amsterdam last week, I've drawn a blank. I did find half a bag of gram flour at the back of the cupboard and toyed with the idea of making everyone festive onion bhajis. I can imagine the looks of delight on their faces as they unwrap the clingfilm on Christmas morning, the aromatic spices mixing with the scents of mulled wine. That plan collapsed when I realised I could no longer raid my step-father's greenhouse for free onions.

I've never been particularly good at gift-wrapping otherwise I'd risk cutting the boxes of Jaffa Cakes in half, disguising the open end with a fancy flouncy ribbon thingy, and give the other halves to the car park attendants and bridge toll folk. Mind you, I suspect the car park guys would already prefer I slipped a tenner in their collection tub rather than give them my usual box of Marks & Spencers Belgian Chocolate biscuits, so if I want them to continue to find a space for me when the "FULL" sign is flashing, then I'd do best to keep them sweet.

The only possible solution is that I give Jack an IOU to spend in the Sales, the 2018 Sales that is! By the time he's 28 he'll either be fabulously successful, solvent and not care that he didn't get gifts as a child, or he'll be poor and struggling and at least be grateful that our family don't go in for lavish and expensive gestures while he's sitting round at mine tucking into onion bhajis and cranberry sauce.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I've just been to my first Premiere. It wasn't quite the Leicester Square glitzy affair that Nicole Kidman might attend. A portable telly in a municipal meeting room with some curled up sandwiches served afterwards. I had, of course, already seen the rushes and had taken appropriate action - having my hair cut so as not to be easily recognizable when doing the weekly shopping in Tesco. I'd hate to be challenged on my ability to deliver my promises to tenants over the frozen pizza counter. At least I'd be sure of retaining my credibility with a trolley piled high with blue and white striped Tesco Value products. ( I must remember to stock up with smoked salmon, steak, Chablis and pate before the first of the dvds are sent to tenants just in case I get stalked by the local papparazzi out for a sensationalist story).

Anyway that was the last Board (my spell checker has picked up "Bored", either would often be correct) Meeting for 2005. The Council voted on whether to put the Offer to tenants today. It was a 21:21 vote with the Mayor throwing the casting vote. This means we push forward with the Transfer Bid and sit back and watch the politicians score points off one another. This could be one of the best things to have happened to our region since the discovery of iron ore back in the seventeenth century but there's a strong chance it might be squandered for the sake of some petty councillors' egos.

Anyway, it's a near straight run of parties between now and Christmas. That means too much to eat, too much to drink, not enough sleep, lowered inhibitions, whey hey! if I'm really fortunate, I might just find one too slow to escape a snog.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I nearly didn't make the ferry for Amsterdam on Friday night. One of the many Christmas shoppers that have steadily been overtaking our multi-storey carpark since the beginning of November had quite impressively beached her car ( a Micra, so I'm guessing it was a woman) right across the concrete ridge between the up and down ramps on the top floor. It was like something from a cartoon, with all four wheels still spinning round suspended in mid-air. It is just this type of incident that makes me determined to include Compulsory Car Park Etiquette in the Driving Test in my manifesto when I run for Prime Minister. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Ken Livingstone used to park in the same multi-storey in days gone by, perhaps when visiting his old mate, Two Jags Prescott, that lead to the introduction of the congestion charge. Anything that discourages shoppers from using anything other than the Park 'n' Ride has to be a good thing.

Once on board the boat, we quickly dumped our bags and explored the range of entertainments on offer. 5 minutes later we'd established that our credit cards were in no mortal danger from the poor offerings in the shops and found the Bar for some pre-dinner drinks. I should have remembered from last time that they go for quantity, not quality in the self-service restaurant. I obliged by stuffing myself with sausage casserole and mashed potato ( after asparagus, cod provencal, a bit of roll mop and some smoked mackerel) topped off with some sort of chocolate tart thingy that looked better than it tasted so had to be smothered in fresh cream to prevent it cementing itself to the roof of my mouth. That just about finished me off and I spent the rest of the evening unable to move. Johnny Red didn't seem to mind when I left him on his own in the Bar and headed back to our capsule cabin.

We arrived in Amsterdam just before 10am and headed straight for the Van Gogh museum. The only thing that had appealed to me whilst searching the Tourist Board website had been a Caravaggio/ Rembrandt exhibition. Turns out I was 2 months premature. I was a bit disappointed but enjoyed wandering around nonetheless, giving myself a crash course in pointillism. We were all dotted out by noon and jumped on board a passing canal bus, where Johnny Red promptly fell asleep and I skim read my Guidebook trying to decide how to fill the rest of the afternoon. Anne Frank's House was abandoned when I realised it was in the opposite direction so we had to make do with exploring the Red Light District instead.

It's not quite what it sounds. I'd read about an anonymous sculptor who deposits bronze statues about the city in the middle of the night. We were searching for one of his more beautiful creations, a pert pair of breasts being fondled. So diligent was my search, that I nearly tripped over them on our third lap. I'm nothing if not thorough.

The entire place is quite surreal, almost a theme park to hedonism, a sense not diminished by the ageing trans-sexual coach driver who took us back to our waiting ferry a few hours later.

By a strange coincidence, Richard and his friends had been enjoying the Dutch Delights at the same time and we bumped into one another just as we were about to disembark. I'm guessing art galleries hadn't really been on their itinerary which is why we hadn't met earlier. And I can vouch that they were not in the vicinity of the vice-ridden Walltjes. I'm sure I'd have seen them whilst carrying out my own extensive explorations. Then again, there were a lot of closed curtains even at that time of the day, and it is feasible that some of those talented ladies offer Sports Massage.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I was fooled into thinking I wasn't completely past it yet by actually gaining admittance to a hip young funky gig last Friday night. I was slightly anxious that I'd be turned away by the security men as being too old and mumsy to be allowed to see Faithless but as it was, that probably worked in my favour. They must have thought I was there as Pixie Peter's responsible adult.

I'd kept it quiet from Jack until the night before suspecting he might be a tad jealous. He didn't disappoint me, shrilly exclaiming at the cruelty of having expected him to go see REM ( classification: fuddie-duddies until I pointed out that the Shiny Happy song that he kept playing whenever he clicks on my Media Player was the very same band), on his 15th birthday, with his square mother, and then failing to invite him along to see the Great Maxi Jazz incarnate, one of his first and foremost idols( after Martian of course).

I toyed with the idea of buying him a T-shirt as a memento, just to really rub salt into the wound and as a pay-back for turning the heating up whilst simultaneously stripping to his boxers every night, but decided that it would only add to the perpetual pile of ironing and my domestic drudgery. He had to content himself to listening to me and Peter evangelising on the awe-inspiring performance and treating him to the occasional lyrical outburst of Mass Destruction accompanied by the rather poor video recordings on my mobile phone.

Any delusions of still being on my way up the hill, instead of well and truly on the leaward side were soon dispelled by Debbie's arrival last night. The compassion of that woman knows no bounds. She'd brought me the master tape of the video that we'd filmed the other week for the proposed Housing Stock Transfer so I could enjoy the first viewing away from the public arena of the Board Room. It was my first ever sight of myself on film and it was truly horrifying.

They'd used my voice alright, very cleverly dubbed it was too, but instead of showing me sitting there with my caramel highlights cheekily glinting off the lights, cheekbones slicing my profile, eyes flashing with knowledge and promise of keen intelligence, they'd spliced in footage of a hideously deformed troll who looked a bit like my Grandma, after her 92nd birthday but before she'd put her teeth in, and some model from a Morgan Spurlock anti-hamburger documentary. I could have been deflated, preferably by a large syringe attached to a liposuction gadget . I'm resigned to being the Vanessa Feltz, in her fat and happily married days, of the Shadow Board.

I shall forget all foolish notions of an alternative career in the media ( although the old cliche, she's got a face for radio does spring to mind) and content myself with watching reruns of Northern Exposure whilst discovering 101 ways with maple syrup. Never let it be said I don't do my research thoroughly.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I wish I could tell you that I have been making like a dolphin at the bottom of a warm blue pool, where I have dazzled my Dive Master ( who happens to be tall, bronzed, unmarried - he never quite found the time to settle into a steady relationship until now, reads contemporary novels but is not averse to the odd classic or indeed, costume drama if incredibly well directed, and moves about a dance floor almost as gracefully as he kicks his flippers) by my rapid grasp of the principles and techniques of the deep and my stunning neoprene-clad physique.

I can't tell you that because he doesn't exist other than in my own head and the nearest I've got to water was my visit to Donna Nook to see the seal breeding colony last Sunday ( we finally made it, Martian was forgiven, particularly as he behaved almost impeccably in the back of the car - I can only think he had his eyes shut all the way). I suspect one or two of the larger bull seals would bear a passing resemblance to me in a wet suit too but that's the closest it gets to the truth.

We had a lovely dinner afterwards at Sophie's Mum and Dad's. Jack made himself right at home to the point that he left one of his worn socks in the middle of their sitting room while he exiled himself to Eric's den to explore his collection of computer games! What on earth will they think of us, especially given the reason for said discarded sock was so he could reapply the surgical dressing to his nail-amputated toe which had been causing him some discomfort all week, despite which I'd still forced him to go to rugby practice thinking he was just trying to avoid the frosty temperatures until receiving a phone call from Coach Goodegg politely requesting that I take him to Casualty.

The rest of the week has been rather more hum-drum. Our Housing Board bonding session last weekend seems to have had the desired effect - we all seemed a much more cohesive group at last night's meeting brought together in no small way by having endured the "Past, Present & Future" presentations from some of our more vociferous number, without the aid of wine.

One member who shall of course remain nameless launched whole-heartedly into a full and frank personal history, eventually reaching the age of 7 and three quarters after the first twenty minutes. It was all I could do to stop myself sinking lower and lower in my seat whilst stifling hysterical outbursts which were threatening to escape from my throat until the moment when she told of having been left with 5 children all under the age of 4 ( yes, there were the inevitable twins in there somewhere) when her second husband, who had also squandered what could have been a multi-million pound electronics empire ( the term Mr & Mrs Sony was actually used!) ran off with the au-pair. Fortunately she was so engrossed in telling her story that she didn't even seem to register the loud guffaw that involuntarily erupted from me and caused tears to stream down my cheeks.

I know my limitations and my own offering was a Reduced Shakespeare Company style performance in comparison, my only desire being to leave my fellow members with a vague will to live, a sense that I wasn't yet another boring basketcase ( not easy given that it was almost 9pm on a Friday night, and did I mention there was no alcohol?) and that there might actually be more interesting things to find out about me by having a conversation with me at some future point, something which I suspect few of us will be brave enough to risk with the old dear I've singled out above.

By far the biggest highlight of my week has, I confess, been the arrival of an incredibly flattering Comment ( the second in fact) from a well-wisher who I assume to be an otherwise sane, rational human being. Okay, so he's Canadian, a nation not renowned for their appreciation of sparkling wit and humour, a stereotype which I am certain much maligns them ( although you have to think about Celine Dion and Bryan Adams and wonder for a moment). He's probably been snowed in to his house since October 4th and has only had sight of migrating moose and passing Mounties for stimulation so my paltry literary efforts offer some respite. Anyway, it's a rather gratifying feeling to have someone who doesn't know me, owe me money or want free legal advice to volunteer such kind words. Thank you, Mr Mennonite. Shame to see from your profile that you're not single or I could have sparked an entirely new fantasy life in my head again.