Monday 28 June 2010

My perfect buttocks (ho bloody ho)

I used to be SO good at exercising. I’d go to the gym, fling myself around aerobics classes, twine myself in knots at yoga. But in the last year I have, shall we say, lapsed. Apart from the odd frenzy on the squash court I haven’t done a bean. When I tried on a maxi dress and looked like a battleship opera singer I figured I ought to do something. But the scent of freshly-baked bread is nigh-on impossible to resist.

Then in popped the email, like a divine message from on high. Did I fancy trialling a pair of Reebok EasyTone trainers? These are the ones that have given hordes of women buttock envy – the ones that will supposedly firm up your legs and your backside just by walking around town or doing your daily whatever it is you do. In other words, the lazy woman’s workout. Sounded good from where I was sitting. Divine inspiration in fact – so it would have been a clear snub  to the Almighty not to give them a whirl.

I’ve been a FitFlop fan for several years so I wondered how these would measure up. Can a shoe really do the work you ought to be doing? Well, actually, to a point yes. You’re supposed to ease yourself into wearing the EasyTones but I never follow instructions and so ended up feeling as if I’d spent the day on the leg machines at the gym. The burn lasted for about three days and, after three weeks, I did notice a difference. My legs were definitely firmer (though sadly my bum didn’t experience the same epiphany). I find the trainers a little wide (but then I have seriously narrow feet) but the flipflops are heaven – less chunky and remedial looking than the FitFlops and extremely comfortable.  Also, sorry FitFlop, I think they do work those legs a bit harder.

At the weekend a bunch of us were invited up to London to give some feedback. We met up at the Chelsea Harbour Club and I had huge fun interviewing some of the other trialists on camera. They had nearly all started out highly sceptical. One confessed that she had only taken part as she needed a new pair of trainers. But the consensus was that they really are pretty fab.

As we sat outside, in the sun, glugging wine and laughing, it struck me again just how bloody nice the vast majority of bloggers are. We were a mixed bunch – varying ages and careers (a nurse, a student, a book-keeper etc); some with children, some without – but we all got on like a house on fire.

They’re all well worth getting to know so, without further ado, can I please introduce you to the lovely:

Carly - @MummysShoes

Carol - @caroljs

Jill - (blog coming soon, she promises) @jillo1974

Jamilla - @squarepegjam

Luschka - @LvanO

Reebok have two new launches coming up - RunTone (a running shoe with much greater stability than the Easytone which still offers more toning than an average running shoe) and TrainTone (for gym workouts and aerobics). Some experts seem to think they’re a bit of a gimmick but the women at the Harbour Club were mad keen.  Even Mr Cynical himself, the Beer God, has been eyeing up the pictures and dropping big hints.

As for me, I’m waiting for them to bring out an all over body suit which will miraculously melt my flab as I sit at my desk. But then the image rose up of some kind of catsuit or neoprene wetsuit and the appeal swiftly paled.  Maybe the Easytone Burqa perhaps?

PS - If you fancy checking out what other people think of the trainers, see
PPS - Not looking bad for my age, am I???  Any resemblance to Kelly Brook is purely coincidental... ;)

Sunday 27 June 2010

The puppy has landed....

Okay, all together now.....awwwwwwww......
Meet the latest addition to The Bonkers House... Dante Alighieri (pretentious bunch, aren't we?) - or, commonly known as Dan the Man.

So, you wanted the pics - here they are.  Now you can let rip and tell me what a total and utter idiot I am!

Tuesday 22 June 2010

The soul puppy

Why oh why oh why? There I was, at the Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival, happy as Larry, wandering around, eating sausage samples. Adrian was doing a beer tasting and I’d come along as his driver. We’d thought about taking James but he’d begged to stay behind and we’d caved in. BIG mistake.

While I was licking my frozen yoghurt, he was looking at puppies. Not just looking so much as cuddling and – ye gods – bonding.

‘We’ve found a puppy for you,’ came the text with a photo attached of James manhandling something with exceedingly long ears.

Now, to be fair, we have talked for some considerable time about getting another dog. Something chilled, something laid-back, something that would (maybe, hope springs eternal) teach Asbo that there is more to life than biting bums and barking. I was thinking shaggy lurcher, or maybe something monumental and dozy like a deerhound. I was thinking rescue dog, older dog. What I wasn’t thinking was a terrier crossed with a spaniel. What I really wasn’t thinking was puppy.

‘No, no, no,’ I said crossly. ‘Just no. Terriers are bonkers, spaniels are nuts and neurotic – it’s the worst of all worlds.’
‘But he’s a Jack Spaniel.’

Oh for heaven’s sake. I’m fed up to the back teeth with all these new hybrids. Once upon a time, if a terrier got a spaniel up the duff they’d call the offspring mongrels and give them away. Now they’re Labradoodles or Springadors or, in this case, Jack sodding Spaniels and they cost a packet.

James could see it wasn’t cutting the mustard with me. I didn’t even like Pirates of the Caribbean.

‘But Mum... he’s my soul puppy,’ he said, his eyes going all wistful.


Eyes rolled at Sports Day when I related the tale. Labradors were suggested. I don’t really go a bundle on Labs but, faced with the terrier-spaniel combo, they suddenly took on a distinct lustre. ‘I know someone with pups,’ said Sarah. Sorted (I thought).

‘But I don’t want a Labrador. I don't want any old puppy.  I want this puppy. Just this one.’
He had that look in his eyes again (and a fist furiously batted away tears). I suddenly remembered what it felt like to be eleven years old and desperate to have a pet of one’s own, truly one’s own.

I went to see the dog.

He was very pretty. Very sweet. A nice healthy, friendly pup. And, oh heck, what do you do? What would you do?

I handed over a deposit and drove off feeling – frankly - like Jack Sparrow facing the plank.

Sorry - no pics as yet.  Though he does bear a passing likeness to Mr Depp.  In fact, as I trawled through Google Images trying to find something similar to post, it did slightly concern me that absolutely NOTHING looks like this dog.  Below is the nearest approximation but the ears are WAY longer. 

Saturday 19 June 2010

Not a daughter....

Father’s Day tomorrow and it has caught me by surprise. I’m wise to Mother’s Day – I watch it warily as it approaches, get my defences up and bung sticking plaster on my grazed heart. But Father’s Day snuck up behind me and bit me.

As I woke up this morning, I had a picture, so so clear, of my mother. She was sitting on the bench at the end of her garden, her hand resting on the head of her border collie, a mug of tea by her side. She loved her garden, loved her dog, loved the sun. Her face would break into a smile as I walked up the lawn. She’d pat the bench; I’d sit; we’d chat. I haven’t dared let myself think about how much I miss her. It is just too too painful. I miss my father too – both fathers, come to think of it. The first died when I was ten – of lung cancer. The second (my mother remarried) not so very long ago – of a heart attack.

Yesterday on Twitter, people were asking ‘what are you buying for your father?’ and it finally hit me (yes, I know, stupidly late) that I don’t have any parents; have no-one to buy presents for. I’m a mother but I’m no longer anyone’s daughter.

Not being a daughter hurts like hell – but being a mother can dig the pins in too. James had a taster boarding night at his new senior school last night and I felt ridiculously emotional. I wasn’t worried about him – I knew he’d love it. But it was this jump – from junior to senior – that freaked me out. I can remember, oh so clearly, shifting up to big school. It feels like yesterday – I can even feel the crisp cotton of my school blouse in my mind’s senses; the smell of my new wool blazer; the creak of my leather school bag.

I found myself welling up as we walked over new paths, down new corridors, talked to new teachers. This will be his life for the next seven years. Time doesn’t so much have a winged chariot as a supersonic jet.

‘It was great,’ he said as we picked him up this morning. ‘I can’t wait to go up. In fact, I think I’ll probably like to do weekly or even full boarding, rather than just the odd night.’

I bit back the tears again. It’s what I want – my boy to be happy and independent – but by heck it hurts as well. Sometimes I wonder why we sign up so readily for parenthood when it tears you to pieces so often.

So now I’m back home, sitting at my desk, looking at the sun outside. Adrian and James have gone down to watch the cricket and I’m alone in the house. And the tears come. A deluge of tears so fierce and violent I wonder if they’ll ever stop.

Saturday 12 June 2010

Tango woman strikes bronze

I love the idea of summer. I have this image of me, slim and tanned, nonchalantly sporting cut-offs and a t-shirt, mucking around in the sea, trip-trapping through the sand-dunes, playing beach volleyball with James and his mates. Or standing, Pimms in hand, looking sultry and sunkissed in a floaty dress with spaghetti straps at summer barbecues. Oh dream on, sunbeam. The reality is that I huddle, under cover of a beach shelter, in jeans and long-sleeved top, laden with Factor 50, nose in book, moaning when sand gets in my ready-mix G&T.
Summer and I don’t get on really. Spaghetti straps and skimpy tees are no-nos when you’re a J cup. But mainly my problem is my uber-white Celtic skin. Skin so white it gleams in the dark. When I was young I thought that, at some point or other, my freckles would simply join up and – hey presto – I’d be tanned. Of course they didn’t – they just turned into age spots.
I went through a phase of trying fake tans but fell victim to the twin miseries of orange streaks and the all-pervasive stench of burnt biscuit. I tried to convince myself that it was fashionable to be pale but pale on an ethereal eighteen-year old and pale on a pudgy middle-aged frump are two quite different things. So I gave up.
Then someone sent me a tube of Xen-Tan. I sniffed – it smelled of vanilla. I rubbed a little on my arm – it felt like a nice body cream. Encouraged, I massaged it into my legs and – hey presto – a few hours later I was brown. I was so excited that I emailed my editor and asked if she wanted a feature on fake tans. True to form she ignored the email for several weeks and then, on Friday, said – ‘Yes! Do it now! Try out every kind you can think of and let me have the copy by Monday.’ She tends to forget that a) I don’t live in London and b) all expenses were cut a couple of years ago. ‘Um, that’s a tall order,’ I said. ‘Wednesday then?’
Dear gods. This reminded me of when part of my job was road-testing hairdressers. I started off with a shoulder-length swathe and ended up with a GI crop. When they couldn’t cut, they coloured and – after a dizzy trip through the rainbow of hair colourants – my hair turned into slime. ‘You’ve killed it,’ said the last one, suggesting a feature on wigs.
Okay, so this isn’t as extreme but how can you test out fake tans when you’ve only got one body? Answer (a touch of brilliance, I thought): try out different ones on different bits. So I’m now a patchwork of tan. And brown, very very very brown.
‘Good god,’ said Adrian, as I walked down the stairs in pedal-pushers and a floaty top (with thick straps). ‘What on earth have you done?’
Don’t you just love the esteem-boosting effect of the average husband?

As I walked over to my friend Rachel’s car, she leaned out the window, staring at my legs. ‘You’ve been St Tropezed,’ she said. Actually, spot-on, the legs were St Tropez. I spent the entire journey to Taunton apologising about the smell; she spent the entire journey apologising for her feet. We had a very funny conversation which I wish I could remember but I was laughing too hard.

We saw Five Soldiers, a piece of contemporary dance which followed five soldiers through training (monotonous drill) into a tight-knit unit (while revealing their individual personalities).  It showed clearly that behind the uniform and discipline are real people, with real passions and pain.  Given feelings about the war in Afghanistan, I was surprised (and saddened) that the audience was so sparse. 

'It's the world cup,' said Rachel. 
Ah yes.  Of course.  Nothing more important.

‘To be honest, I preferred the one with the whirling monks,’ said Rachel. ‘Or the one where they captured members of the audience and put them in bin bags.’
‘Yeah, me too.’  I felt awful saying it but no, it's not a feelgood show.  Not when one of the soldiers ends up losing his legs.  
‘We didn’t laugh at this one,’ I said.
‘No,’ said Rachel, rather sadly. We have spent several productions weeping quietly into our handbags, disguising snorts with bouts of coughing. It’s great for the soul – probably doesn’t work so well for the performers.

We didn't laugh much on the way home.

Yesterday my lovely brown legs and I spent the day attacking the garden with particular verve and vim. Today we shall go and see David Bellamy in the churchyard (no, he’s not dead – just opening our revamped church).
I won’t be wearing a spaghetti-strapped dress but, curiously, I will be feeling happier about my summer self.   Not just because I've found my ideal bronze but because I still have a pair of legs to get brown (one way or another).  And that's simply not a choice for some of those soldiers coming back from Afghanistan.

PS - check out Project Mobility - a great small charity.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

What will our children be when they grow up?

‘I don’t want to be an RAF helicopter pilot anymore,’ James announced over breakfast.
‘Okay love,’ I replied in what I hoped sounded like a ‘whatever’ tone (suppressing the urge to jump up and shout ‘YESS! and do a little happy dance’).
‘I think I want to be a barrister.’

What? Happy dance vanishes. The wicked godmother is a barrister and I can still remember the years upon years of (hugely expensive) training.
‘They’re the ones who stand up and argue in court, right?’
‘Indeed. Though solicitors can do that too now.’
‘But barristers are the ones who earn all the money, aren’t they?’
‘Depends what type of work you do,’ I said sagely. ‘If you end up doing a lot of legal aid or pro bono work, you don’t necessarily make that much.’
‘So what does make the money?’
‘Commercial stuff probably.’
‘Okay, that’s settled. I’ll do that.’

He’ll probably change his mind again in a few months but one thing is certain: he will never ever be a journalist. Mainly because he would rather walk over hot coals than do what his parents do but also because I seriously wonder if there will even be such a profession by the time he leaves school.

Nowadays we're all journalists. People get their news, their reviews, their op-ed pieces on blogs and in 140 character sound bites from Twitter. The election showed it all too clearly. The papers were out of date before they were even printed. Even rolling news couldn’t keep up with the Twitter stream. Newspapers are struggling – rates on many are up to 50 percent less than they were twenty years ago. Some don’t even pay at all. The Times paywall experiment will be watched eagerly – if it works, and other papers can follow suit, then maybe there will be a stay of execution for journalism for a few years at least (particularly as people take up e-readers). But I am not wildly optimistic.

Part of me thinks that’s okay. Information should be free, shouldn't it?  Plus I’ve always been of the belief that most people can write, if they put their minds to it, and I welcome the broadening of opinion that online media brings. But, in the flurry, I do think that experience and deep investigation will be swept aside. First we saw it with the cult of celebrity. Any TV presenter who’d been on a diet could write a health column. Any model or pop star could become an instant expert. Now it’s gone further and absolutely anyone can dole out advice on absolutely anything. That’s fine but can you really trust the advice of someone who woke up one morning and thought, ‘hey, I’ve had gallstones/diabetes/a headache – I think I’ll become a health writer’? What will happen when no-one will be able to pay the investigative journalists to, well, investigate? Are we going to end up with a media in which only those who can afford to write for little or nothing will write? Or is it pure democratization?

I dunno, I really don’t. Maybe it’s sour grapes. What do you think? I also wonder if other professions feel equally beleaguered?

Will your children be able to follow your profession (should they so desire)?

Monday 7 June 2010

I go up, I go down

I go up, I go down. I suspect we all do if we’re honest. I have been on a somewhat manic high for a while and now the wheel of fortune is turning and I’m plunged into the slime. Half-term passed in a frenzy of activity. We went up to London to see the rugby and we had a folk festival in town – you can check it out on my blog for The Lady. Then, last weekend, there was a big party down at the cricket ground in aid of a local family who’re going through sheer hell coping with life-threatening illness.

It was a great night, the whole community pulling together, everyone spending money they probably don’t really have on stuff they certainly don’t really need in a seriously good cause. I’ll never lose the image of Darren the gamekeeper (with a Zidane shaved head) bidding furiously on a cut and blow-dry. Or the moment the phone bid came in from John the vicar for the full body aromatherapy massage.
The music blared, the wine flowed, the burgers (donated by the Co-op) sizzled on the barbie.

As we walked home, under the stars, a little unsteadily, I remembered why we had been there and said a swift prayer of thanks that our little family is (fingers crossed) okay.

‘We’re very lucky,’ said my mate Jools, a few days later, as we sat sipping G&Ts by the river, watching our boys float like logs on their bodyboards down the slow-flowing water. ‘It’s not about money or what you have or haven’t got: it’s about being okay. It’s about times like this.’

She’s right, I know she is. Yet still my mood slumps. Am I just a spoiled silly middle-class woman indulging myself in depression, as Janet Street-Porter would suggest? Is it that horrible cliche – the mid-life crisis? I do feel in need of a new challenge, of something different. I am also horribly aware that I must pull myself up by the bootstraps and get myself into some semblance of shape. I am now very nearly as heavy as I was when I was full-term with James. What I really need is three weeks at Viva-Mayr or even a week at some kind of bootcamp – quite like the look of this one. But, if that won’t happen, then some healthy eating (back AWAY from the cakes, Jane) and a return to exercise might help. I’ve been trialing the Reebok Easytones lately (trainers which tone your bum and legs) and have to say that, after two months or so, my legs are pretty firm. Shame they don’t do ones that work out your stomach as well.

But really I know that I just have to give it time. Life isn’t all about up, up, up. How could we appreciate the highs, if we never hit the lows? So, while I’m waiting for the wheel to turn again, I am trying to be kind to myself and just do lots of nice little things to help the mood. Small pleasures like a bath in Aromatherapy Associates scrummy bath oil. Painting my toenails in glittery silver. Having a long indulgent hug with my boy. Listening to my favourite Seth Lakeman (and looking forward to the new album). Reading Exit Music the last Rebus (by Ian Rankin) which I have been saving up for a rainy day. A day just like this really.