Tuesday 30 August 2011

The cruel scent of Autumn - and free stuff! Yes, free stuff.

The cruel scent of Autumn is in the air.  No, not roast chestnuts and woodsmoke but smelly socks, fetid trainers and singed ironing.  There’s a week left of the summer holidays and really I should be Getting Things In Order. Once again (see posts around this time for the last however many years I’ve been writing this fecking blog) the boy has gone feral and unpleasant (only this time with raging hormones to add to the unsavoury mix). 

Twitter fuels my guilt. It seems like the whole world (apart from the sexbots, men, life coaches and carpet fitters) is sewing in uniform labels and booking itself into Clarks for shoe fittings.  It’s worrying about projects and colour-coordinating stationery.  Actually, even the sexbots are getting out their irons.  I, meanwhile, am wandering around Amazon getting dejected as I realise I now have more books out of print than in print.  L
‘We have to do something,’ I told James firmly over breakfast.  When I say 'breakfast' please don't for one moment imagine some cosy Waltons scene around the large farmhouse kitchen table. I was yelling from bed while he was scarfing a cinnamon Danish on the stairs. 
‘Get dressed and, once I finish this chapter of Lilith, we’ll attack your room.’

Aside: the book is by George MacDonald. Have wanted to read it for years and finally found it had been reprinted. Unfortunately the publisher turns out to be totally illiterate so you have to fill in the meaning on your own a fair bit.  Let me just read you this from the back cover blurb, to gain a flavour (so to speak):
“She then meats (sic) and falls in love with a young man who is already engaged.”  Er, right.

When I read this to Adrian he laughed, in a smutty schoolboyish sort of way and went off muttering, ‘Meat as a verb eh’…  Hmm. If you don’t get that, all I can say is good and that you probably didn’t share a flat with a bunch of Northern lads at university.
Anyhow.  I got up.  Sighed sadly at my shorts and T-shirt from the beach forlornly abandoned at the end of the bed and jumped swiftly into jeans, two jumpers, thick socks and UGG boots.  Yup it’s autumn alright.  The August thing is just a smokescreen.

‘Right, we’re getting Neolithic on your room, mate,’ I said.  James looked worried.
‘Yes, that IS way worse than Medieval, if you were wondering.  Do you KNOW when the Neolithic was?’
He shook his head sulkily and I rolled my eyes. ‘You’ve got a current affairs quiz when you go back to school; this is fecking ridiculous.’
His eyes brightened.  ‘But Neolithic isn’t current, is it?’
‘Er, good point. Okay, how many goals did Arsenal let in?’
‘Ha!!! Losers!’  We fist-bumped and heard the distant sound of a man banging his head rhythmically on a desk. 

Well, we threw the entire room up in the air and then tossed things into various mounds and then he sprayed and dusted until I started sneezing so loudly I nearly didn’t hear the postman who delivered a HUGE parcel.
Uniform?  Uniform!  Oh yes. Thank you, gods.  Or rather thank you, Tesco.  Once again, bless ‘em, they’ve come up trumps. Trousers, shirts, t-shirts, Top Gear pencil case and assorted stationery.  If there’s chocolate in there, I’m going to spontaneously orgasm….but no.  Sadly (or perhaps fortunately, given the postman was still lingering around the door) not.  There’s even a nifty notebook that says:

At which point I got quite excited (no, not THAT excited) and thought someone had finally figured it out but no, you (or presumably your child) are/is supposedly supposed to come up with the plan your/his/herself. Which is a Tall Order.   And then that reminded me of something and someone else, but I’ll save that for another day…

Anyhow. Tesco. Good for school uniform.  Saved my bacon anyhow.  Now I only have to sort out the shoes (and I’m sure we could just cut a hole in the front so the old ones fit) and invest in the new tracksuit (this school is getting a bit FA on us, frankly, we’ll have new home and away kits each season at this rate).  Which reminds me...Arsenal again...remember *that* away kit? Vomit.
Oh, and because I’m all heart (and because they offered it), I could nab you a new school uniform for your child too (or, hey, for you, if that kinda thing rocks your boat)… I’ve got a £15 e-voucher to spend online for the Back to School range…and, let me tell you, you’d probably kit out a family of ten for that… So, just leave a comment (and please make sure I can get hold of you – if you don’t have a blog leave an email or, hey, your postal address and where you leave your spare key…). I’ll close my eyes and stab the screen (making sure I get it that way round) to pick a winner by the weekend. 

Saturday 27 August 2011

Cornwall is weird

Cornwall was weird.  Let’s be honest, Cornwall is always weird.  But when you’re offered two nights bed, breakfast and dinner completely free at a nice hotel, you don’t say, ‘No thank-you, because Cornwall’s weird,’ do you?  No.  You don’t.

See, all I did was buy a couple of fancy-dan raffle tickets and everybody knows nobody ever wins that kind of raffle, do they?  And, to be honest, most of the prizes would have been ghastly. I didn’t want tennis lessons; I really didn’t want a piece of reproduction furniture and, while the fortnight in the Florida penthouse would have been lovely, I couldn’t have afforded the flights or the tip for the housekeeper.  No, the weekend at the Mullion Cove Hotel was the badger – and, by heck, I won it.  Only problem?  I seemed to be the only one excited about the break.
‘Do we have to go?’ said James, lounging round in pyjamas five minutes from set-off time.  ‘I mean…it’s not Turkey, is it?’ Spoilt brat.
‘It’s not exactly the best timing,’ said Adrian, typing frantically with one hand while texting with the other.
‘Oh for pity’s sake,’ said I.  Okay, I confess, I didn't say that: I shouted a bit. Alright, a lot. Enough to hurt my throat chakra.
Having grumbled and whinged all the way to Oakhampton, they perked up a little at the prospect of lunch from Waitrose, eaten perched on their knees in the car, in the pouring rain in the car park (my family is so weird).  And then someone stupidly said, 'Wow the SP hasn't been sick.' So of course he immediately threw up all over James and the hold-all.  And, because even angels have a bad side, it stank of crap because...yeah...  Anyhow...
Even the guys had to admit, when we finally pitched up at Mullion, that it really is the most divine spot.  Perched right up on a cliff with that Agatha Christie vibe.  ‘Someone’s going to be murdered,’ said James. ‘I’m scared.’ 
‘Oh don’t be ridiculous,’ said Adrian, unpacking his laptop and installing himself at a table by the window next to a bowl of crisps and starting to type.  ‘Damnit. No mobile signal.’
‘Look, there is a pool! Let’s go for a swim!’ (Guess who?) Cue snort of derision from James.  Adrian opened his mouth but I forestalled him.  ‘I know.  Deadlines.’
‘No. Actually I was going to say why don’t we walk along the cliff path and into the village?’
So we did and Mullion was weird and full of exceedingly scary scarecrows and lots of signs saying No Dogs Allowed.  But the pub had a beer festival on so we sat and shivered outside (No Dogs Allowed) and it all reminded me too much of my childhood so I offered to walk the SP back to the hotel so the two of them could go inside and keep warm. 

And the next day I needed to talk to a man about ancient Egypt and reincarnation (as you do) and Adrian needed to check out this real ale pub (as he does) so we all met up there and Chris (ancient Egypt man) and I sat out in the garden while James and Adrian played pool inside and he (Chris) talked about rodz and crystals and tyramids and pyramids and alchemy and wrestling with beasts; and about Proteus and power lines and dimensions and entities and nodes. Until I was shivering with cold (because I don’t have the power over radiation to warm myself up, stupid numpty that I am) and James started coming out with increasing regularity wearing that ‘Do you have to talk ANY more look of plaintive pleading on his face which also reminded me of my childhood). So I said, 'We should go' and Adrian said, 'Let's have another, eh?' and Chris was trying to avoid some rum do in Sennen, so we stayed a bit longer before dropping him off in Penzance and going back to the hotel to play chess before bed
And I dreamed I was in the sea and every wave took me further and further away from the shore (but I didn’t mind, or I didn’t care) and then I woke with a start because James was shouting in his sleep. ‘What about the contracts? What about THE contract?’ 

‘I don’t know, love,’ I said.  But he didn’t hear.  So I lay awake in the dark listening to the waves slap the rocks below. And I didn't feel safe.  And then, just as I’d finally drifted off  to sleep, the fire alarm went off.  3am and everyone was wandering around in dressing gowns and slippers, just like an Agatha Christie novel and by this point I really did expect someone to cry, ‘Murder!’ 
But the only thing murdered was sleep. And now I am home alone (which is what I needed, what I wanted) yet I feel so unbearably sad, just so so fecking sad.  Weird.  Just like Cornwall.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Inappropriate parenting, zombie bloodbaths and clearing up dog shit

‘Those boys have been on the Xbox all day.’  Adrian was standing at the door of my office, hands on hips (the ones he insists he doesn’t have) glaring at me.  Downstairs I could hear the happy sounds of zombies being blasted at point blank range by James and his friend Bob. No, he wasn't christened Bob but for some strange reason none of James’s friends are called by their real names – hence we have Dave and Gobby and Klinks and Ferret and Pong. A few of his classmates get called by their surnames in a rather delightfully old-fashioned public school fashion while a few more are addressed by their full names (all the time) – which is equally odd.  Only Nathan is called….Nathan (which now, by dint of comparison, seems peculiar).
Anyhow, this prolonged zombie blood-bath somehow appeared to be my fault.  I raised an eyebrow. 
‘Well, it’s ridiculous.’ 
I nodded.  Sometimes it’s best just to agree.
‘They should be outside.’
‘What? Playing at the Famous Five?’  I looked towards the window where the rain was doing the rain equivalent of a Ginger Baker drum solo. 
‘It’s only a bit of rain. Children should do wholesome things.’ 

Sheesh.  When did my husband turn into The Killer of All Childish Joy?  This is, after all, the man who used to work for the NME, who played in an indie band, who rode a big motorbike and once upon a time had pupils like saucers half the waking day.  He sure as hell wasn’t no angel. Yet now he’s turned into Mr Morality and he and James are having increasing run-ins, usually over the most trivial of sins. 
‘He eats too many sweets.’  ‘He watches too much television.’  ‘He wears his trousers too low.’ ‘He’s on the Internet too much.’ ‘He eats rubbish.’ ‘He swears like a trooper.’ ‘He’s lazy.’ ‘He’s snippy.’

Yes, he’s probably right but I dunno, I cut the boy a bit of slack in the holidays, mainly because (if we’re really honest) most of his sins (apart from the TV and the trousers too low bit) are ones I share with him.  And James and I, we get along just fine, we really do.  We simply don’t rub one another up the wrong way.  Maybe it’s because we share the same number and direction in Feng Shui terms (while Adrian is out on a tangent). But James and Adrian…ye gods.  I comfort myself by saying it’s a young stag/old stag thing – that they need, in primal psychological terms to face up to one another and clash antlers occasionally; to waft their testosterone in each other’s general directions and bellow.  But, bloody hell, it’s tiring.  Why can’t men just talk things through reasonably, like women do?  Why all the archetypal drama? 
‘Anyhow, I was thinking,’ continued Adrian.  ‘You are listening, right?’
‘What?  Oh yes, absolutely.’
‘Well, I’m going to get them clearing up the garden…’

That woke me up. ‘WHAT?  ‘Clearing up the garden’ is a euphemism for wandering around mournfully, shovel in hand, clearing dog turds from the lawn. 
‘What do you mean, what?
‘Well, you can’t seriously expect Bob to clean up our dogs’ turds. I mean, can you imagine it?  Bob  goes home and his mother says, ‘So, Bob, what did you do at James’s house?’ and Bob replies, ‘Oh, such wizard gapes, Mater – we spent our afternoon shovelling dog shit and burying it in a large pit.’ I mean, it wouldn’t be so bad if he’d been here before but it’s his First Time and you want him on poop scoop duty?’
I looked at Adrian and he looked at me.  Then we both burst out laughing. 
‘Yeah, okay,’ he said. ‘I’ll concede that one.’
‘I know our parenting skills aren’t brilliant but that really would be scraping the barrel.’

But it got me thinking, maybe we are missing a trick here.  Okay, so not on the First Visit –but after that?  Just think of all those other totally inappropriate things one could get a visiting child to do (and -evil laugh - because they're visiting and Being Polite, they would probably do them). 
·         Clean the lavatories
·         De-louse the dogs
·         Sort out our underwear drawers
·         Pick hair out of the shower

No, these are NOT the boys...
I’ll stop there but, in fact, sod it, think bigger, Jane.  Let’s get a house party together – drag in Pong and Gobby and Dave and George Clark and Sticklepath and, er, Nathan – and get ‘em stripping the walls and rewiring the hallway or clearing the vegetable patch and building a pagoda.

As a treat afterwards, I could stick fake facial hair on them and sneak them into The Inbetweeners (cos I’m desperate to see it myself) and then go down the pub for a round of Snakebites. 
It’s a plan, right? 

I must have been musing out loud because Adrian just shook his head sadly, hitched up his two sizes too large jeans from Mole Valley (oh, alas, to think that once he would only wear 501s) and walked away.  But I’m not giving up, oh no.  

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Ceri Keene, fly-fishing, breast cancer and trout (I'm SO over Caitlin Moran)

Okay, so I’m stopped feeling sorry for myself now. 48 hours of wallowing is enough for anyone, right?  I finished Caitlin Moran’s book and found some bits I didn’t agree with, a few cases of lazy writing and a really bad bit of grammar and consequently felt MUCH better.  Plus I’m talking to my aches and pains and we’re reaching some kind of uneasy rapprochement.
But mainly I started getting it all into perspective: talking to my lovely friend Zoe on Twitter and realising about all the health shit she has to go through on a daily basis (without making a fecking song and dance about every little twinge like yours truly); thinking about a mate in London with MND who has just the most incredible attitude to life.  And then an email came through from a local friend, Ceri, about her new book.  So, enough  already about poor pathetic me – I want to introduce you to the marvellous Ceri Keene and talk fly-fishing, breast cancer and, er, trout.  Yes, there’s a link – bear with me.
‘Who the feck is that beautiful, serene woman,’ I thought when I first saw Ceri, years back.  She seemed way too exotic and glamorous for Exmoor somehow.  I was sure she’d be a total bitch but, sadly, not:  she’s just plain lovely.  Oh and she’s a hugely talented graphic designer too.  She’s one of those people I don’t see enough but, when I do, I come away feeling the world has just brightened up a little, come a little more into focus somehow.
Anyhow.  I’m waffling.  Let me hand you over to Ceri so she can explain the fishing thing.
Typical Ceri - I asked for a pic of her and she sent me this
Ceri Keene: ‘If anyone had suggested going fishing three years ago, I would have laughed at the idea but being diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2009 changed all that. Treatment involved chemo and radio therapies and during one of my tedious hospital sessions, I cast my eye over a flyer for South West Fishing for Life, a charity for post-treatment breast cancer.  I contacted Gillian Payne, the charity’s founder, who invited me to their next fishing session at Wimbleball Lake.
I found being out in the fresh air with a new purpose very invigorating and quickly took to fly-fishing under the instruction of the volunteer professional coaches. By the time I caught my first trout, I was hooked!

Wimbleball Lake on beautiful Exmoor
Rather than be isolated by the illness, I have learnt fly-tying, entomology and conservation, exercised the correct muscles for recovery and have a reason to meet with understanding people in a lovely place. The sessions include a buffet lunch or a barbeque and conversation often turns to what to do with your catch – generally, people grilled their fish, which can get a bit boring if you catch a lot, so that is how I decided to give something back – having had a career as a graphic designer I decided to produce a recipe book to ‘pep up’ those fly-caught Exmoor fish!’
Cool huh?  Being Ceri, she didn’t just cobble together any old ring-bound book of recipes; she went to top-flight chefs, including Jamie Raftery from The Castle in Taunton, Andrew Dixon of Andrew’s on the Weir, Tom Aikens, Leith’s etc.  Along with a cast (*groan*) of Exmoor locals, they donated recipes for an absolutely beautifully designed and produced cookbook in aid of breast cancer support charity South West Fishing for Life.  It helps women (and men – yes, men can get breast cancer too) recuperate after breast cancer treatment with flyfishing (which is a gentle yet highly effective rehab tool).  The book is called Fishing for Life:  a collection of fly fishing recipes from Exmoor and will cost a very reasonable £9.99. UPDATE - you can now order from Amazon or direct from the Fishing for Life website (above).

Here’s where you come in.  The book is launching very soon and I’d love to get it publicised as far and wide as possible.  Do you know anyone in the media who might review it?  Are you a journalist or editor who might feature this fabulous story for a magazine or paper?  Are you a food blogger who might include a few recipes and point people in the direction of the book?   Or maybe you could tweet about it?  Or RT one of my tweets when I yak about it on Twitter?  Any little thing helps.
If you can help, please please get in touch and I can put you in touch with Ceri.  And, of course, once the book is available, I’ll let you know so you can (hopefully) buy it.

In the meantime, as an, er, taster, here are a few recipes.  Irony is, of course, that I don’t eat fish…but apparently they are very very good. 
Brandy and Coriander Cured Trout by Steve Cox of the Hartnoll Hotel, Bolham, Tiverton
2 sides of trout (150-200g per fillet) scaled, boned and trimmed
45ml brandy
100ml crème fraiche
1 lime – zest and juice
100g caster sugar
100g water
150g red chilli
50g Cornish sea salt
salt and pepper
12g coriander

For the Trout
Soak the trout in brandy for 12 hours, then remove from the brandy.
Add the salt, sugar and coriander seeds to a food processor and process for 1 minute.
Pack this mixture over all the trout and wrap tightly in cling film.
After one day wash off the salt mixture and slice thinly.

For the Chilli Jam
Dissolve the sugar in water on a low heat. Increase the heat and when the sugar just starts to colour add the chopped chillies and rapidly boil for 5-10 minutes.

For the Crème Fraiche
Mix the lime zest, salt and pepper into the crème fraiche.

To Serve
Lay the thinly sliced trout on a plate and then dot around quarter of a teaspoon of the chilli jam (beware, this is rather hot!).  Also dot about 2 teaspoons of the crème fraiche around. Finish with some leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.

Trout in Newspaper by Ian Sorenson of Sorenson Flycasting
For each person:
1 small trout
1 sprig of tarragon
salt and freshly ground black
1 sheet of newspaper

Preheat oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

Take each trout and season the inside the cavity with salt and pepper. Add a sprig of tarragon to each cavity.
Wrap each fish in a sheet of newspaper and wet thoroughly.

Place on a baking tray and bake in the oven for about 15mins or until the newspaper has fully dried out. Removing the paper will also neatly remove the skin.

Trout Saltimbocca (Serves 4)

8 large slices of Parma ham
140g/5oz cold butter cut in thin slices
8 trout fillets, skinned, bones removed
10 sage leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5.

Lay the slices of Parma ham lengthways on a flat surface. Put a thin slice of butter on top of each slice (this should leave you with about 55g/2oz butter)
Top the butter and ham with the trout fillets. Place a sage leaf in the middle of each trout fillet. Season the fish with salt and black pepper.
Roll up the fish in the ham, creating a fish roll and secure with a cocktail stick.
Oil a baking dish and place the eight fish rolls in the bottom. Ensure the rolls are not touching.
Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Heat a frying-pan. Tip the juices from the roasting tray into the frying pan. Add the remaining
butter and the shredded remaining two sage leaves.
Cook over a high heat until the butter starts to froth and go a nutty brown. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper and pour over the trout.
Serve immediately 

Sunday 21 August 2011

Guinea pigs and Caitlin Moran wrecked my weekend

I have had a seriously crap weekend and I’m laying the blame fairly and squarely on guinea pigs and Caitlin Moran.

Years back when we visited a friend of mine in Italy, I got this revolting virus which left me with palindromic rheumatism. This bizarrely crap disease means you get totally random pains in random parts of the body at random times – so maybe nothing for months and then suddenly it hits you in the neck or the knees or wherever.  My ex-doctor and I played detectives on what could have been the cause and we narrowed it down to guinea-pig urine.  Don’t ask – you really don’t want to know but no, I wasn’t drinking it (at least, not intentionally). So now you know why I hate, loathe, despise guinea pigs. And if (heaven forfend) you keep the bastard stinking little shits as pets (why? why?), may I urge you to handle them and their piss with rubber gloves and industrial quantities of disinfectant.
Anyhow. Usually I take SAMe (S-Adenosylmethionine) and haven’t had a ‘session’ for nearly a year.  To be honest, I was feeling smug and figured I’d banished the damn thing from my body through sheer wishful thinking and force of will.  So I came off the SAMe while we were in Turkey (okay, I ran out and it’s relatively expensive so I didn’t bother to re-order).  And yesterday I got sledgehammered with pain: knee, neck, shoulders, both wrists, jaw.  Jaw?  Not on, not remotely on.  All of a sudden, in two seconds flat, I went from feeling pretty good about myself to ancient and crone-like.

And then I made the big mistake of re-reading my old books.  Not all of them but just bits of a few – and really, truly, I don’t think I’ve learned a thing in fifteen, twenty years or whatever.  So mind as well as body slapped me hard with a kipper. 
Never mind, I thought.  Lie on the sofa and cheer yourself up by reading Caitlin Moran.  Now I don’t read newspapers so she hasn’t really been on my radar.  I knew she was a columnist for The Times  and that she had a reputation for being funny and that was it.  Frankly columnists make me twitch (witness my pal, Liz Jones) but a friend recently thrust the book at me saying I had to read it. So last night I started reading and, despite myself, I started laughing…a lot.  She really is funny.  And smart. And self-deprecating.  And I agreed with everything she said. Everything.  Caitlin Moran and I are in total agreement on:

·         Bushes.  As in pubic hair. 
·         Porn. 
·         Feminism.
·         Sexism.
·         High heels.
·         Giving birth.
·         Children v careers.
·         Children + love
·         Strip clubs.
·         Weddings.
·         Shopping.
·         Gay men.
·         The music industry.
·         The newspaper industry.
·         Knickers.
·         Celebrities
·         Katie Price
·         Childlessness
·         Designer handbags
·         Per Una in M&S
In fact, I had to struggle to find something, anything I didn’t agree with. Yellow shoes. That was it. I can’t see a situation in which I would wear yellow shoes.  Though, feck, who knows? She’s probably right about that too.  I had to stop reading when she started talking about going out clubbing with Lady Gaga because by then I was just rolling on the floor in a foetal ball sobbing.
Shit. Shit. Shit. Caitlin Moran is 35.  Thirty-fecking-five.  I’m fifteen years older than her and nowhere near as smart or funny.  Everything I think she thinks better. She writes like a fucking dream. She’s got two kids and a wildly successful career and she sounds nice, really nice: she’s not a screwed up narcissist like Liz fecking Jones. Really I might as well stop writing and just post up chunks of her book instead with ‘I agree with Caitlin Moran’ scrawled at the bottom. 

So, there you have it. I spent the rest of the weekend feeling totally, pathetically, self-indulgently sorry for myself.  Hating guinea pigs.  Loathing myself.  And loathing and loving Caitlin Moran, damn her fecking 35-year old eyes, in equal measures.  

Saturday 20 August 2011

Wart charmers, warlocks and sex with entities

Sometimes life feels so predictable.  It’s like we’re those little wooden figures in schmaltzy cuckoo clocks that toddle out, bang one another over the head, and then wobble back in again, only to do it all over again the next hour, day, week, whatever. 

Friday. Zumba. Regular as clockwork. Yawn. Except not really cos it still gets me going.  The first ten minutes are a little like bad sex – you’re going through the motions with one eye on the clock and your mind pondering the relative merits of broad beans or peas in risotto.  But then something switches; the body goes on auto-pilot and the mind floats, blissfully off into the rhythm and far away out into the cosmos.  So, like good sex really. 
Anyway.  Afterwards I was quietly dripping sweat in the car park and chatting to my friend Caz whom I haven’t seen for aeons about how to deal with sleep paralysis (you know, that feeling of being pressed down into the bed and not being able to breathe). 
‘Heck, you need a banishing ritual,’ I said.  As you do.
‘Nah,’ she said. ‘I found another way.’ And she looked shifty, and a little smug.
‘You didn’t!’
‘I did…’ 
‘You had sex with it?’ 
She grinned.
‘You lucky cow!’
‘Don’t you dare tell anyone!’
'I wouldn’t dream of it…’

And we were laughing our heads off when out came Daisy, in the skimpiest dress going, pentacles dangling from her ears, followed by an enormous man wearing some kind of amulet round his neck. And it struck me, with total delight, that here we were – three witches and one very large warlock – in a car park in sleepy Brushford.  See, Liz Jones, you don’t know the half of what goes on in your village...
‘Nice,’ I said, pointing at his necklace.
'It’s Sir Gawain’s glyph,’ he replied. (occult footnote:  in the legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain has a pentagram inscribed on his shield, symbolising the five knightly virtues of generosity, courtesy, chastity, chivalry and piety)
He pointed at my necklace.
‘Nice,’ he said.
‘It’s a Gate Opener,’ I replied and he nodded. 

If people are elements this guy was all Earth.  Really he should have been dressed in full-on Celtic warrior gear, all leather straps and a whacking great broadsword or an axe.  I was slightly lost in re-dressing him when I realised they were talking about warts.
‘He’s a wart charmer, you know,’ said Daisy.   
Caz was proffering her hand.  ‘I’m not sure if it’s a wart of not,’ she said.  Shameless hussy, first she’s shagging entities and now she’s offering up her warts to any old warlock. He grabbed her mitt and spat at it, rubbing in the spittle and holding it tight, gazing sharply at her. ‘Don’t look at ‘im…don’t you look at ‘im!’
‘I won’t..’ she said, shaking her head. Smart girl, you don’t argue with ten foot Celtic warlocks.
‘If ‘e be a wart, ‘e’ll be gone.  Give ‘im three weeks.’
‘I haven’t got any warts,’ I said, sadly.  ‘Just partying entities. Oh, and Lizzy says I’ve got a grabber on the stairs.’
Sir Gawain nodded seriously, as if I’d just said ‘I’ve got a new dishwasher’ or ‘awful weather we’re having’.
‘No,’ he said firmly.  ‘Don’t worry. ‘ee won’t hurt you.  Talk to ‘im. Tell ‘im to push off now; to move along.’
Hmm. That’s what Lizzy had said.

‘We should really get going,’ said Daisy, looking at the moon. 
‘Overdue for a ritual?’
‘Nah, we’ve got a table booked at the pub.’

Sir Gawain nodded and held out a hand the size of a small shovel. ‘It was nice to meet you,’ he said, perfectly polite and formal.  I took his hand and he gazed right into my eyes, like he was scanning my hard-drive.
‘You’re alright, you know,’ he said finally. ‘And it’s gone now.’  
I nodded.  As you do. We said our goodbyes and I drove home.

‘You’re late,’ said Adrian as I climbed up the (curiously quiet stairs). 'I thought you'd gone down the pub.'
'Nah. Met a wart charmer in the car park,’ I said.
‘Nice,’ he said.  ‘Fancy curried vegetable fritters?’
‘I prefer warlocks,’ I said. 
‘Charming,’ he replied.  And shook the frying pan.   

Friday 19 August 2011

I am a Duck-Billed Platypus

So what did I do in Turkey, you ask (well, some of you ask).  This might surprise you (some of you) but mainly I swam. 
I’m not one of life’s natural swimmers; I’m one of life’s natural floaters. Okay, so that’s an unfortunate term but hey, there isn’t really an alternative. I like to float, shall we say?  I love water but tend to bob around on top of it, gently swayed this way and that as the current wishes.  Or slowly revolve in circles, like Eeyore.  I like the feeling of being supported by water.  I rather like the passivity of it too.  I’m generally a pretty active person so the whole surrendering aspect of floating has always struck me as quite balancing somehow. 
James, however, wasn’t impressed.  ‘You’re  just a rubbish swimmer,’ he said with that careless scorn of the young. Then, catching the look on my face. ‘Sorry, that sounded awful.’ Patting me in an almost avuncular fashion on the shoulder. ‘But you really should learn how to swim properly.’  In other words, not thrashing my head from side to side as I progress painfully through the water.  Then he threw down the challenge.
‘I’ll teach you if you like.’
Shit.  Trapped. I have promised myself I won’t let fear get in the way of stuff anymore. ‘Okaaaay.’

So there we were in the pool.  Early, before the Russians ploughed in to play extreme water polo or turning themselves into human pyramids (they liked this game and once got to three levels before collapsing and nearly concussing the newly-weds who were snogging in blissful unawareness nearby). 
‘First step is putting your head under the water,’ said James.
‘Aagh,’ said I. ‘That’s scary.’
He fixed me with a beady look and showed me what to do.  I gulped but obeyed and, hey, it was okay, it really was.  And after that it was all just so easy. Why on earth (or should that be 'in water'?) had I waited so long?  After he was satisfied I could do lengths of crawl and breast-stroke, he got me diving.  Not just off the edge (though that was fun) but sinking down to the bottom of the pool so we sat like a pair of Buddhas, grinning benignly at one another.

I was feeling pretty smug but he wasn’t finished with me. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Time for snorkelling.’ After a quick practice session in the pool, we were off to the sea and bobbing gently in the Aegean… Oh my! Oh wow! How amazing to reverse one’s world.  To look down instead of up.  To see the sea as part of it, inside it.  Who knew the fish came so close to shore?  And, just like that, I lost my fear of the sea and its creatures.  Ever since a cod sucked my toe in the US (it did, it really did), I’ve been scared stiff of swimming in the sea.  But when you can see everything…when you become part of a world, instead of alien, there’s nothing to fear.  Okay, smart-arses, the odd rogue shark, I suppose. 
‘Do I still swim like Asbo?’ I asked at the end of the week, by which time the boy was so brown I barely recognised him, while I had simply sprouted freckles on my freckles.  He screwed up his face in concentration. ‘No.’ 
I smiled.  ‘So, what am I?’ Thinking sleek sea-otter or whip-like piranha.
‘Umm, you’re more of a platypus.’
‘No, no…’ he said with that soothing shoulder pat again.  ‘Don’t be offended. Duck-billed platypuses are excellent swimmers.’
‘They are?’  Mollified.   

‘They also emit a low growl when disturbed,’ he added, raising an eyebrow.  ‘And store fat reserves in their tails.’
Let it also be noted that they can also move extremely fast when provoked.    :)