Thursday 26 June 2008

Six things I must remember in life

Why this picture? Absolutely no idea whatsoever. It's somewhere on the M4.

This has been a week of achieving absolutely nothing whatsoever. I have sat in front of my computer clicking morosely on ‘send and receive all’ in hopes that an email might ping in that will change my life. So far this hasn’t happened but, in the interstices between this pointless total lack of activity, I have come to some realisations.

1. Lying is bad for your work. Yesterday an editor emailed to discuss a project. Could he have my phone number as it would be nice to chat. Er, well, I prevaricated, not really ideal given the horrendous banging noise from the floorboards being put down next door. ‘Oh,’ he replied. ‘You must have a huge floor. They were going down a couple of weeks ago, if I recall.’ My phone phobia is reaching ridiculous proportions.

2. Drinking like a fish has consequences. I relayed my long list of strange and surely deeply abnormal symptoms to the doctor (content in the knowledge that, having been reassured that there is nothing majorly wrong, they would all disappear and life would go on as normal). Stomach was prodded. Blood tests ensued. Stern looks were given. My liver, it seems, is not a happy liver. ‘Do you drink much?’ my GP asked (unlike the last one I haven’t socialised with her, so it was not the stupid question it might seem). ‘Noooo,’ said I, all wide-eyed innocence, then conceded. ‘Well, not compared to most people.’ Given that people round here drink so much that they regularly pass out it was hardly a reassuring statement. I’m being packed off for an ultrasound, more blood has been extracted and I’ve been told to lay off the booze.

3. Drinking like a fish has very serious consequences. A local hardened drinker was found in the river the other day. Dead. An awful, sad, and cautionary, tale. I am going to learn to love my liver. I will not drink. I will detox. This is hugely embarrassing of course as I have written not one, but two books on detoxing (see sidebar). My shame knows no bounds.

4. All beauty is transient. There I was, in a rare moment of peace, sitting on the bench looking at the sheer stunning gorgeous perfection of an iris (or some such – it was deepest indigo and filled my soul with joy at its mere existence, in our pond). This is it, thought I, a transcendent moment. Then a blur of white flashed past, a wave of smelly pond water hit me and within twenty seconds the iris was in tatters and the pond littered with debris. Asbo Jack – Grand Master of the Murder of Zen.

5. Always sit at the back. How did I forget this most important of all rules? How come I found myself (OK, not quite at the front, but solidly in the middle) in the direct sight-line of the headmaster at the school concert, sweating profusely (because had forgotten I had a black bra on when I put on the pale top so had to keep on the thick cardigan to cover it up) and gulping with silent hysteria at ‘Fiddle fun’ (what is it about violins that make me laugh?). Even Adrian was horrified.

6. When in doubt, pass the buck. Too much choice is the scourge of modern living. I’ve eradicated most of it by limiting my purchasing to the local shops but it’s tricky when it comes to paint. I’ve been driving A and J mad with my endless bits of paper painted in various shades of white. What is the difference between Indian White and Wiltshire White? Someone at Dulux knows. In the end I couldn’t bear it anymore. ‘So which white do you want?’ asked the decorators. ‘I haven’t a clue,’ I admitted. ‘What do you reckon?’ Five minutes later it’s chosen. Looks great. Why did I waste all that effort?

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Nearest I'll get to an OSCAR

Crikey, I’ve won an award. This is so rare that it makes me think back to the (very few) prizes I’ve achieved in my life. There was the pink rosette I ‘won’ at my one and only gymkhana (for taking part) which was, for years, my most prized object (pinned to a silver egg cup in the hopes that the short-sighted might imagine it a first prize – the red having faded perhaps? – for showjumping. Then there is Finland – its Land and People, an art prize awarded while on a school cruise with the SS Uganda. Impressive you might think but I feel forced to point out that mine was the only entry. The only other one I ever won was a prize for Effort and Achievement in the lower sixth at school – a really unpleasant version of the Complete Works of Shakespeare printed on loo paper in miniscule print. A bitter memory as it marks the tipping point of my academic career. There I was all, the archetypal Good Girl, diligently practicing my Latin verbs (and due to sit the Oxbridge exams for modern languages) before discovering, a few months later, that there was much more fun to be had with gin, poppers, fast cars and naughty boys. It was all downhill from there and I was a Sorry Disappointment to my teachers.
But I digress.
The lovely and highly talented Zoe (sorry, still no umlat) has awarded me the Arte y Pico award for this little old blog. It means a lot as Zoe has monumentally high standards and her own blog is a Thing of Beauty Unsurpassed (if your soul is harrowed it’s as refreshing as a week in a top-class spa) so this isn’t just some nice pat on the back from a mate. Now, of course, I have to do the really hard bit and pass it on. This always worries me because the danger lies in an award just doing the rounds with one’s nearest and dearest blogging friends. So I have tried to venture a little further afield in the sure and certain knowledge that all deserving souls will eventually be handed it.

Here are the 5 rules of the award (it’s all rather strict)

1. You have to pick five blogs that you consider ‘deserving of this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and which contribute to the blogging community, no matter what language they are in’.
2. Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his/her blog to be visited by everyone (though not sure how you can force everyone to visit, but hey ho, whatever).
3. Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given him/her the award itself (once again, it’s a bit bossy but I suppose if you invent an award you can set whatever rules you like – whether you choose to follow them or not is entirely up to you).
4. The award winner and the one who has given the prize has to show the Arte y Pico blog so that everyone will know the origin of the award (aha, so we have a need for recognition here – methinks the poor soul that started this never even won a pink rosette or a grotty copy of Shakespeare).
5. To show these rules.

Oh I don’t like rules. At this point, I’m scratching my head and wondering if it is really fair to burden anyone with all this. But then again, it’s a rather pretty award and there are some blogs that I think deserve wider recognition so, here we go (in no particular order).

1. Milla at Country Lite for making me laugh out loud (and, as regular readers know, it takes a heck of a lot to make me even snigger) at her simply brilliant takes on the minutiae of everyday family life. You Must Read This (she will give it to Rot, so don’t need to do him).

2. Cait at Dear Diary for a multi-media blog that is inspiring and always makes me think (and sometimes makes me cry). She makes me read poetry (which I would never do of my own accord) and reminds me to count my blessings each and every day.

3. Casdok at Mother of Shrek for opening my eyes. Casdok is the single parent of C, a 19-year old non-verbal autistic young man about to venture on a new stage of his life. Her blog is constantly challenging, entertaining, thought-provoking and also very beautiful. You Must Read This too (sorry to be bossy but it has to be said).
4. Sorrow at Walking the Labyrinth of Life. A brand new blog to me (found via the wonderful Bollingerbyrd) but one that lures me back at the moment as there is so much to explore. Fascinating links and deep thoughts.
5. Diane at 60goingon16. I love this blog for its intelligence, humour and breadth of subject matter (I never know what I’m going to find – how lovely is that?). Great book and music links too. Another must read.

So, have fun….. Hope I’ve introduced you to a few new wordsmiths. There were loads of other blogs I could have nominated – you can catch more of my favourites on my (new) blogroll. This is still a work in progress so please don’t be hurt if you’re not there yet… many blogs, so little time….

Monday 16 June 2008

Bruce and rhubarb bellinis - a dose of the high life

I’ve been a bit bling lately. Feel slightly ashamed to say it after my splurge on vulgarity, greed and over-the-top ostentation but, hey, at least I recognise it – and I do have the grace to be madly grateful for a small dose of the high life.
First it was Bruce Springsteen in concert at the Emirates Stadium. Was I down there getting hot and sweaty squashed up against thousands of smelly bodies? No sirree, I was sipping champagne and dunking Tiger prawns in chilli dip in a private box. Oh yes. The divine Gill from Victoria Health (my totally favourite on-line natural pharmacy – and no, I’m not just saying that because she gave me such a fabby evening out – would I be that shallow? Don’t answer that.) had invited me knowing that I’m a serious fan of The Boss’s live shows. Last time I went I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to Wembley by my friend the Luscious London Lawyer (L3). Bruce Springsteen wasn’t anywhere near cool enough in my book (God, I was a pretentious little twat in those days – all style, no substance). But within five minutes I was tapping my foot and after fifteen I was jigging around. By the end of the gig I was exhausted from two hours’ nonstop dancing. BS is simply The Best Live Act Ever (in my not so humble opinion).
This time round, surrounded by smart businesswomen, film directors and magazine editors, I was determined to keep a sense of decorum. A little gentle foot-tapping would do. Ah but the man hasn’t changed one iota. Maybe a few faint lines but he’s no Mick Jagger and not a hint of grey or the faintest tendency towards portliness). He launched into a blistering set without even a pause between numbers, broad grin on his face, pacing up and down the stage. My feet started tapping, my hips started swaying and, before I knew it, I was waving my arms over my head and all thoughts of decorum went out the window.
Fortunately the rest of the party shed their dignity and it was simply the best night ever.
Then, barely had I got over the excitement of that, than I went shooting off to Babington House the other side of Somerset for a wedding. Michele Knight (the psychic whose book I co-wrote) was getting spliced with her girlfriend Margi. My pal Sarah is Michele’s PA and I hitched a lift in her serious no-nonsense truck.
‘We have to get roses on the way,’ she said and so we hurtled into Morrisons and bought up every last bunch. ‘Not enough,’ sighed Sarah so a quick detour took us into Sainsbury’s where we snaffled another couple of armloads (to the bemusement of the other shoppers with their multi-packs of lager and two-for-the-price-of-one pizza).
We got lost, of course we did (no Satnav here, thank you very much) but eventually barrelled up and spent the next two hours in the hallway turning thirty bunches of roses into five huge bowls of petals. At which point Anne Robinson arrived (looking like a slightly malevolent pixie child), gave us the once over and decided we were definitely staff, hence beneath contempt and whisked by.
Exhausted after our petal plucking we found the bar and I found heaven via a rhubarb and vanilla bellini. Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes. So right in so many ways and, best of all, another use for rhubarb (a slight obsession you may have noticed – it’s the only thing I don’t kill in the vegetable garden).
It was always going to be a bit different – after all, few weddings have two brides (both in bustiers and flowing trains) or one bride wearing not one, but two tiaras (‘I liked them both, so why not?’). The pair of pagan priestesses was a nice touch as was the saying of vows under the trees.

As Michele and Margi sipped their first glasses of champagne as Mrs and Mrs Knight, Sarah and I watched as two hours’ worth of rose petals flew up into the air and tumbled to the floor in precisely ten seconds. It was tempting to think deep thoughts about the impermanence of life but the canapé tray was approaching so I dived for a tempura prawn instead and started chatting to a sickeningly glamorous woman in slinky gold lame and vertiginous seventies platforms. I thought she had to be in TV or fashion but it turned out she’s a sheep farmer from near Crediton. Just perfect.

In the end, it unfolded much like any other wedding: that curious mismatch of guests; people drinking too much alcohol too quickly and collapsing in small piles in corners; photogenic children scampering barefoot through the grass; the inevitable delays; the wails of women (and the odd man) whose heels have embedded themselves in six inches of soft grass; the obnoxious guest/s (in this case a gaggle of face-lifted women engaged in a bout of social one-upmanship which culminated in – ‘I used to spend a lot of time with the Queen Mother, of course.’ Well of course dear. Margi’s father made a very moving speech with huge dignity (bet there’s nothing in Debrett’s about what to say when your daughter’s second marriage is to another woman) and Sue Perkins made a speech that was so funny I wondered how come I’d never heard her before.

Sarah and I left as the disco started. The barman was waving his cocktail shaker at me with a knowing look and I knew discretion was the better part of valour. We roared off into the night, Bruce on the stereo, scattering a faint trail of rose petals behind us.

Sunday 1 June 2008

Nauseated and appalled

Warning: if you earn less than £200K a year you might find this blog upsetting, distressing or downright obscene.

I am revolted, sick, beyond queasy to the point of puking – all thanks to the Mail on Sunday. I don’t read papers during the week but on Sundays I love nothing better than lying in bed, vat of coffee at my elbow, flicking through You Magazine (and, yes, having a laugh at Liz Jones’ latest bizarre antics). But yesterday I nearly choked on my croissant over a feature on teenagers having hugely flashy birthday parties. Apparently it’s not uncommon for 16 and 18 year olds to have parties costing a cool £50K. Take birthday girl Jayde Fleming-Smith (seriously) who turned 16 last December with a masquerade themed ball. Money no object – she was given a Corsa VXR Sport (worth £16,995) and a holiday in the Canary Islands with three friends but was the poor little rich girl happy? No siree. Her ice sculpture didn’t turn up and she didn’t like the photographs (glammed up by professional make-up artist, stylist and photographer): ‘I shouted at my parents afterwards,’ she said, as if this were the most reasonable thing in the world. ‘It should have been more about me. You only turn 16 once, after all. I wanted everyone in ‘I love Jayde’ t-shirts but we didn’t have time to produce them.’

Am I missing something here?

· She arrived in Jordan’s ex-wedding coach (OK, dubious taste but scores high on the ‘me’ factor): ‘My boyfriend was waiting inside with a diamond necklace. Everyone was shouting my name, which made me feel famous.’
· She instructed her 250 guests to wear white and silver so she could stand out in her blue frock.
· Male models policed the VIP area (I’m shaking my head in stunned shock at this point – she actually grades her friends into VIP and non-VIP?).
· She stuck up a billboard (with a huge photo of her) outside her school to advertise her bash.
· The invite stated: ‘No present, No entry’ and her friends duly obliged with Tiffany bracelets and Dolce & Gabbana watches. So, no chance of an iTunes voucher if you’re Jayde’s friend then?

Er, could it have been any more about her?

‘I love getting new things,’ trilled Jayde. ‘If I’m not bought something every day I’m not happy. I am very grateful for my party….but my parents will have to try harder next year.’
No doubt her parents smiled indulgently at this foot stamping from their little princess and are already planning to hire a few space shuttles for next year.
As if she weren’t revolting enough there were a further three like her and, by the time I’d finished reading, I felt quite bilious.
So I turned to the main paper, flipped onto the second page and realised that these girls are mere amateurs compared to the monumental greedfest that is Coleen McLoughlin.
£50K? A mere bagatelle – in fact, probably the cost of each party bag for the future Mrs Potato-Head. Her wedding, the paper estimates, will cost a cool £5 million. The figures just fade into meaningness - £250K for Wayne’s stag night; £50K for champagne breakfasts for the guests (see, girls, some serious catching up to do here); £24K for the security team and on and on and on.
Yes, it’s her wedding. Yes, everyone wants the nicest wedding they can have. But am I really being mealy-mouthed when I say that I just find this kind of excess quite utterly revolting? ‘It is excessive,’ says a source (oh, someone’s noticed?), ‘but so is Wayne’s wealth and he wants to share it.’
Yeah right. Poor old Rio Ferdinand, Steve Gerrard and Peter Crouch could do with a bit of wealth redistribution.
On the page opposite, with supreme irony, was a story that put it in sharp relief. ‘Emergency fuel voucher for 200,000 pensioners’ - ‘The vouchers come as households face fresh warnings over the economy,’ says the reporter. Oh yes, that’s right, we’re in a recession. Funny that. Don’t tell Coleen – might spoil the mood.