Thursday, 15 December 2011

And the bells were ringing out for Christmas day....

This morning I spent some time reading stories of peoples memories of Christmas in The Guardian, some were hilarious, some were terribly sad and many hit home on the reasons why Christmas can be both the best and worst of times with friends and family. To that end I thought I would share some of my best, worst, weirdest and funniest Christmas memories with you.

Best: My first married Christmas in 2003.

This year we were living in a wonderful period flat with high ceilings and beams, we had bought our first ever real Christmas tree and we had enough money to really splash out on each other for the first time. I remember being incredibly excited about getting a card with 'Wife' on it for the first time and virtually bursting with impatience to get to Christmas morning. Then the pair of us sitting and unwrapping presents we had so carefully chosen for each other in a few hours of quiet, festive bliss on Christmas morning before the inevitable round of family visits commenced. We still absolutely treasure these quiet few hours on Christmas morning when it's just the two of us being ourselves, undisturbed, with each other (and generally using the time to book holidays for the year ahead these days!).

Worst: Millennium Christmas 1999 

My birthday happens to be New Year's Eve and this was the year I was due to turn 21. Being a Christmas baby means I have very rarely had a big party for my birthday, especially as people generally have plans of their own on NYE - but this year my Mom had arranged a large family get together to celebrate my coming of age and I was REALLY looking forward to it. However, my mother unfortunately developed pneumonia on Boxing day and I had to make a panicked call to her sister to help me get her to hospital, she spent the rest of the festive period in hospital, I actually thought she was going to die and found the whole thing terrifying - I guess it was the first time I realised she was not immortal.

My birthday meal obviously got cancelled (so near and yet so far!) and on my actual birthday I remember visiting her in hospital carrying a small shop bought birthday cake and (weirdly) a small cassette player - at her request. This was so she could play me 'Bright Eyes' which had been 'my song' when I was born and which she had been planning to do so at the ill-feted meal. It was all very surreal and upsetting. I believed (wrongly it transpired) that the silver lining here was that she would give up smoking.

Worse than this, on the evening of the millenium and my hastily rearranged actual birthday 'celebrations' we ended up at a house party of a close friend which got gatecrashed by utter morons causing us to leave it at around 11.50pm and head for one of our group's empty parent's house instead, we missed the crucial countdown and at the moment of the turn of the century we managed to be in an underpass and only realised as we emerged to all the fireworks that we had missed it. We then had to sleep in our clothes to try and keep warm in the freezing, empty house we ended up in. A very weird night indeed.

Funniest memories:

Both of these first two involve my in-laws who I love dearly but who are the polar opposite of my rowdy, liberal, slightly nuts family.

One of the early years of my relationship with my (now) husband, I didn't know his parents too well at this stage but a memory which will stick in my mind forever was his mother having her annual sherry, getting rather merry and then, in the middle of the traditional game of Pictionary, finding something so very amusing that she rolled on the floor and accidentally (and very loudly) broke wind, causing her to laugh even more. I am not sure what was funnier, seeing it happen or watching the utterly mortified expression on her two sons' faces that it had happened at all.

Another Pictionary and In-laws memory was in 2009 when during a particularly competitive boxing day game my team mate (brother in law - he and I were probably the most well oiled too) managed to draw a 'butter knife' in such a way that I proudly and excitedly yelled 'COCK!!' (swearing or anything offensive is decidedly inappropriate under this roof). You know that moment when tumbleweed blows past? Yes, that. Followed by the pair of us laughing so hard nobody could get any sense out of us for a good few minutes. He still has a picture of said butter knife in his phone. This memory still makes me laugh now.

And another funny from 2008 for which I have to thank my wonderful step-sisters and the god of wine for providing entertainment in the form of Singstar on the PS2. Needless to say that we sang, we danced, we laughed, we even created a theme song for Greenthumb Wolverhampton (which none of us could remember the next day despite it's amazingness). All in all it was a lovely, warm, family Christmas day in a year where all of us needed it more than ever.


Christmas day 2009 and I was wearing my brand new and much loved Uggs - which - I found out to my detriment, have no grip whatsoever on ice. At around 10pm at night we stepped out of the in-laws to head home after a long and busy day of celebrations and I literally did a comedy slip (like on a banana skin) and landed on my elbow.

At first the pain did not register through the pinot grigio haze but as my lovely, sober, husband drove home it slowly started to hurt. By the time we got home the bruise was already coming out and I could hardly move my arm, my poor husband had to take us to A&E (where I have my own mug) because he thought I may have broken my elbow. What followed was a highly surreal few hours where we witnessed two sides of a massive street fight admitted in various stages of both injury and drunkeness and realised what an amazing job nurses do on these days of the year when normal rules of society clearly do not apply. It turned out my elbow was not broken just very badly bruised and very tender. We got home at around 3am on Boxing Day and to this day we disagree over whether the alcohol or the ice had more to do with the accident (husband insists I am one of those drink related accident statistics, I disagree).

Heartwarming Christmas Memories:

Many happy Christmas eves spent in The White Hart in Shifnal (the pub we religiously went to at Christmas in our late teens and 20s) singing Fairytale of New York over and over again and swaying in time to the music. Somehow this always felt magical - I am sure it still happens now but the difference is most of our gang now have kids and don't seem to visit the pub on xmas eve anymore!

One year after my parents had seperated (1992?) my innovative mother came up with an idea for how to turn the fact that we were broke into a game - my brother and me were each armed with £20 and the game was who could buy the most for the other sibling for that amount. It made what could have been a pretty bleak xmas into a fun and very family focussed one. I remember that Christmas very fondly.

It wouldn't be Christmas without:

  • A chocolate orange from my Mum. Every year. Since I can remember.
  • My mother and I working as a highly synchronized team in the kitchen to cook and serve Christmas dinner, not even needing to speak to each other to achieve the end result (telepathy rules here) and finding the interference (supposed 'help') a minor irritation which we simply have to work around with gritted teeth.
  • My step-dad's sparkly Christmas waistcoat which makes an apearance, without fail, every Christmas day.
  • Pictionary with the in-laws (on good years providing memories such as those listed above) 
  • My mom being so excited when everyone sits down to open presents that she makes involuntary squeaking noises, like a guinea pig.
  • The sight of my husband's face (like a small, very excited child) when presented with a pile of presents on Christmas morning. Avidly shaking each one in turn and completely focussed on the activity.
  • Our blissful few hours of tranquility and peace on Christmas morning.
  • Baileys, port, part baked bread rolls, a cheese mountain that Alex James would be proud of and a spectacular array of bhaji/samosas/spring rolls.
  • Trying desperately to be home by the time the King George kicks off on boxing day and watching our horses come in (invariably last).
Whatever you are doing people, have a good one. I, for the most part will be trying not to visit hospital this year and also cooking Christmas dinner for the in-laws which is something I have not done for a fair few years. I am looking forward to spending time with the people I love and having a good birthday and woe betide anyone who tries to stop me!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Testing A Theory

Learn to let go.....

I posted a while ago about the art of losing friendships (or letting them go) and I guess this is really a follow up to that post, having tested the whole theory unexpectedly over the last month.

I do not pretend to be perfect, far from it, I know I have faults just like everyone else and some of them I work on and some of them are, unfortunately, just the unchangable flaws which make me me. I do have a temper and will say what I think if continually pushed (although I hate confrontation), I am incredibly impatient at times and I know I can be self righteous and annoyingly over confident. I try to rein the last two in. A negative which drives some people (especially my husband) mad is my inability to say no to things and the resulting over generosity with my time which means the people that should come first sometimes don't. Professionally I am getting much better (as a manager) at saying no and prioritising effectively - but personally I am still rubbish at doing it.

Anyway, I had this last point driven home recently and it was bizarrely fascinating, totally out of the blue and tested every CBT tool I have in my kit. Believe me, the amount of times I am thankful for having these tools is astonishing but usually I just use them as a framework, on this occassion I tested them to a bells and whistles level and still they stood robust and navigated me through waters which I know full well would have sunk me a few years ago.

I think I should probably state at the outset that the lessons I have learnt from all this are that 1) maybe I should be more honest about my feelings (with myself) even when that makes for an uncomfortable realisation and 2) I still have some way to go with the whole "saying no to things" issue. A positive though is that I can clearly see that I have dealt with this set of issues in a balanced, pragmatic and rational way and could not have tried any harder to resolve them.

I have said before that all friendships are for a 'reason, season or lifetime' and this particular one was definitely originally only forged due to a reason (they lived next door). Once that reason had been removed I pretty quickly started to realise that it felt unbalanced to me but I could justify it because they have young kids and therefore surely it was fair for me to put the physical legwork into visiting them instead of vice versa.

I had actually realised way before the moving that the wife of this couple (we shall call her M) had the capacity to be quite hard work at times, quite demanding emotionally as a friend and unfortunately very inclined to what, being blunt, I would call whining. But she could also be good company, funny, intelligent and warm. She is an excellent mother and I am fond of her children. On balance there was no overwhelming reason not to carry on as before, as I stated at the top - everyone has their faults, me included.

It is only since they moved and the onus became entirely on me to sacrifice an evening here or there to visiting that the cracks seemed to become magnified and probably because instead of seeing them literally all the time I now saw them in short, scheduled bursts, I started to find it more draining than enjoyable on these occasions. This is where I should have been more honest with myself and probably just backed away slowly instead of letting it get to the stage where I said what I thought and it all went, quite frankly, nuts.

Don't get me wrong, M has not had an easy time of it in the past, but like a broken record the same 'it's not fair' attitude coupled with a seeming determination never to actually address the problem slowly wore down my patience. I guess because I have tackled my own demons and been through therapy I find it hard to empathise when people refuse to see the sense in doing the same but expect to continually be emotionally supported and reassured about it. I am not sure whether this is 'victim' or 'martyr' syndrome but either way it clearly requires more patience to deal with than I currently have.

Having had a particularly stressful few months at work which have led to various health problems and very low energy levels for me I no doubt picked the wrong week to visit and I have no doubt that the timing could not have been worse for her either. I think in terms of our relationship it was, in effect, the perfect storm, she is now enduring another crisis and whilst I sympathise, I am all out of energy and patience with people who will not help themselves.

It has been a historical issue with this person that they continually frame everything around the fact that they lost a parent 8 years ago and therefore unless you have lost one you have no right to consider your issues anywhere near as painful or awful as theirs (and on this occassion she actually said that in so many words). Don't get me wrong, I think it is truly hideous to lose a parent before you have had your own children and I sympathise with that. I do not agree, however, that problems can be ranked, or that having been through something awful entitles you to make value judgements on everyone elses problems.

I think the start of the tipping point for me actually came when this person started having problems at work - a job they had had for many many years. Never in my life have I listened to someone in so much turmoil over their job but seemingly completely incapable of doing anything about it. To anyone else I would have been brutally honest and just said (after a while of hearing the same thing) that they needed to pull their finger out and do something proactive about it. Because it was clear how entirely (and bafflingly) consuming this was for her I did not say this, I just listened and suggested alternatives and listened to the reasons why all of them were not suitable. 

It went on for months and months until finally redundancy loomed. Unfortunately however this led to further "drama into crisis" reaction and almost hysteria over how they would possibly cope. I know many people who have been made redundant and I have also been made redundant myself - I appreciate it is not easy or nice but neither should it be entirely consuming of one's life (in my opinion). Personally change does not scare me, in fact I am more bothered by things being stagnant, everything happens for a reason and god forbid I lost my job tomorrow but if I did then I would view it as an opportunity for a new path.

M's reaction seemed disproportionate to me but apparently this is also related to the loss of a parent and a need for stability (which was substituted by the job). To my mind if you are so incabable of dealing with a situation which is not exactly unusual, because of a completely unrelated loss from many years previously, then the writing on the wall is that you need to address the loss because it is massively and disproportionately affecting your life. I had in fact previously suggested this and she had agreed with me - but predictably had never done anything about it.

I ummed and aahhed about whether to write a blog post about this situation because the harsh reality is that she is now going through another crisis and a pretty nasty one at that. I genuinely feel sorry for her and made this clear when everything kicked off. What actually happened was that in the middle of a very tiring week when I was particularly stressed I visited for tea, we spent a while discussing the current situation and how she will cope as things progress (which was entirely led by me out of recognition of the fact that its an awful situation) and then we moved on to other things.

For some reason which I absolutely cannot remember now, M made a comment that myself and her husband can never compare any of our problems to hers until we have lost a parent. I responded that I was mystified by the fact that although she now has two beautiful children of her own she still defines herself as the 'child who has lost a parent' - and for once instead of just backing down I just carried on and said that I think she needs to deal with the situation, she is always framing everything against this problem and effectively she has 'poor me' syndrome. Interestingly her husband agreed with me but I think this probably made things worse.

Harsh? Yes. And the timing was awful. I made my apologies and left thinking 'well we are all adults here' and figuring it would be sorted in the cold light of day.

The upshot was that the next day I received a slightly hysterical email effectively saying I had made everything worse. Ironically it sort of proved my point but I didnt say that, despite initial anger I parked it then (on a day where I literally had back to back meetings) I sacrificed my lunch hour to drafting a calm response which apologised for the timing and reiterated why I felt the way I did (which I stand by). I pointed out that this did not need to be turned into a massive drama. I then received an even more hysterical and less cohesive response which seemingly bore no tangible correlation to my email - at this point I threw my hands up in the air and figured this was a complete waste of time.

I then set my stopwatch to see how long before the inevitable (and amusing) formal 'defriending' would occur (you know, the 'unfriend' on Facebook, that bastion of friendships), it took around 24 hours which was actully slower than I was banking on.

My other half's view on it from the moment I got home and explained what had happened was 'well done - you can walk away now' and although I thought this was pretty cold (he always is) I had a sneaking instinctual feeling that he was right. If only I had had the balls to do this ages ago I could have saved us all the awkwardness.

So - I guess the lesson for me is that I STILL need to realise when to walk away from something, friendships sometimes sink without trace and sometimes they will hit massive rocks and be capsized, the third option - and the one which I absolutely need to work on being able to do, is to jump ship of my own violation when it is absolutely clear that it is the right thing to do.

The reason why I believe that CBT has been incredibly useful is that even from the day after the event I was surprisingly calm and pragmatic about the whole thing and I have not lost any sleep over it. Strangely (successfully?) the notion of being disliked by this person has not actually been upsetting because I have been able to rationalise it and also I know now (as a more balanced human being) that it is entirely normal for some people not to like you - it is a fact of life. Over the past month I have kept expecting to feel some kind of negative, delayed emotional reaction but it has not arrived. I feel quite proud of having processed the event and the emotion around it rather calmly.

Anyway, I feel much better for having put this into a blog (amazing how cathartic reasoning it out in writing can be) - this particular post has sat on my desktop for an entire month being crafted and redrafted before I felt happy enough to post it. In part I am expecting a histrionic outburst from the 'injured party' but then I imagine my blog is of no interest whatsoever to them at this point in time. In any event I stand by what I have said. 

Monday, 24 October 2011

It's a Funny Old World

What is a Trustafarian I hear you ask? Well the wonderful resource which is the Urban Dictionary describes them thus:

"priviliged white kids who subscribe to the hippie lifestyle (because they can) since they have no worries about money, a job etc. They can then devote their lives to eating organic, following Phish and growing dreadlocks (no need for job interviews)"

Charlie Gilmour - son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour - defacing the Cenotaph during the Tuition Fee Protests. A typical Trustafarian.

I abhor them. They make up a substantial chunk of the 'rent a crowd' protesters who seem to think that their presence is necessary at any kind of stand off between authority and 'the people' and strangely they seem to have no manager asking where the hell they are on a Monday morning. Funny that.

Not all of them are Trustafarians though, some are just good old fashioned busybodies of the most arseholish kind. WGNBTDs ('We've Got Nothing Better To Do's).

Together, the Trustafarians and the WGNBTDs can turn a protest with a good point into a cause that nobody in their right mind will support. They do this in the name of 'solidarity' despite the fact that they actually alienate tons of people who would usually support the original cause but find the patronising, often money wasting and sometimes violent scenes which they intrinsically bring, irritating and unsupportable. 

Last week I tweeted the following:

"Watching the news - who are these busybodies who feel the need to protest on behalf of other people's causes?! "

Some people retweeted it, some people commented on it and one person replied with this:

"@aliogilvie: that's called #solidarity. look it up."
I did enter into a mild exchange of views with this wonderful person who is not at all patronizing or self righteous, but due to the rigours of my working week I had neither the energy or the wherewithall to embark on a full scale verbal demolition campaign. This is a notion (the working week) which I have a sneaking suspicion this person would be unable to empathise with.

So then, Dale Farm. This is not actually a cause with a good point in the first place (in my humble opinion).

Now, the irony is that I have some friends with a big beautiful garden which they legally own who wish to build an extension to the house on said plot which they also legally own. These people work full time, pay their taxes and lurch from payday to payday like the rest of us, wondering how they will afford the next ever-increasing utility bill or tank of petrol. Honest, hard-working folk who cannot buy a bigger house for their expanding family because the house they bought 4 years ago is now worth a lot less and they simply can't afford it. This is NOT THEIR FAULT.

How come no Trustafarians and WGNBTDs have turned up to protest on their behalf? Where are the placards and chanting mobs? Why has nobody handcuffed themselves to the shed yet? Why is nobody from ITV covering it? Where is the SkyNews helicopter?

These people have gone down the legal routes, not built anything (on the land which they own), followed every procedure possible and quietly and calmly battled ridiculous bureaucracy and red tape in order to achieve their end goal. I am sure they will get there eventually, with a genorous amount of tolerance, patience and respect for the 'rules'. Despite them owning the ground and the property on it.

In contrast to this, the Dale Farm travellers who were being evicted last week had already built illegally on greenbelt land. Land they did not even own (this timeline is useful if you do not know the full story). They did this on the basis that they owned another bit of land adjoining the site and had built on that (legally). The moment the Council tried to stop the building and informed them that structures would have to be removed, the race card was played. But this was never about race, this was about a group of people building where they were not allowed to, without permission, and then throwing the mother of all tantrums (at dramatic cost to the taxpayer - ironically) when told they cannot proceed with this.

Meanwhile, a whole load of 'protesters' showing 'solidarity' with their cause turn up and make the whole thing into a bit of a circus. They have set up a website to track their side of events and to organise 'monitoring' of bailiffs and police so that should any of these poor buggers doing their job need to use some reasonable force against someone refusing to move it can be documented, blown out of all proportion and then subsequently used as evidence in a tax-payer funded enquiry into police brutality. Does that seem right to you?

It irks me enormously that because these people built illegally and do not want to abide by rules which the rest of society simply has to, the UK taxpayer will fork out between £18-22m. I have to ask the question, how many Dale Farm residents actually pay tax? Does anyone know? I don't but I would hazard a guess it is not one of their normal monthly outgoings.

I think programmes like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and the success of Paddy Doherty on Celebrity Big Brother this year have helped to positively increase public opinion on traveller communities a fair bit - personally having watched MBFGW with something akin to morbid fascination I still find elements of their society sexist and homophobic and abhorrant - but I also saw the prejudice they face and felt pity for them.

This stand off with Basildon Council has done nothing more than damage the image of travellers even further and this has been further exacerbated by the WGNBTDs and their trustafarian friends. Well done for highlighting the difference between people who follow the rules of society and yet are penalised financially and those who do not and are not.

As it happens the evicted travellers have now set up home in a park in Luton and will probably face further issues there. Ironically, however, Basildon council had previously offerered them alternative places to live but they refused because, despite being 'travellers' (and having battled for years for recognition of this ethicity) they did not wish to relocate.

I imagine the rent a crowd protesters have pitched up and moved on to the next cause which 'needs' their interference. Interestingly the halfwit who tweeted me was apparently heading to a demonstration regarding salary rights of Air Canada staff this weekend just gone. They certainly do not let the grass grow in between saving the world from, er.....whatever it is they think they are saving it from.

And it is indeed a funny, funny old world.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Women Are From Venus

Something has been bothering me of late.

Actually it has been bothering me for years but I never had a vehicle with which to explore it or the impetus to do so....and now I have both. I am beginning to wonder why as I get older I care less and less what people think about what I think and that just me? It probably explains why old people can be so hilariously rude.

Certainly since I turned 30 I am more pragmatic about life in general but this is coupled by a desire to say what I actually think about things rather than just sitting on them.

Anyway....this is all about men and women and how they can/can't be just friends. Well they can, until one of three things happen, either 1) they have sex and then it changes completely 2) the male gets into a relationship and his girlfriend turns psycho, effectively putting an end to any 'friendships' with other women or 3) somehow (and this is the least likely of the 3 to happen) they both end up in relationships with other people but manage to remain platonic friends.

I have had considerable experience of all three of these. My husband was a friend first so that one, I guess, could be considered to have worked out. I am lucky to still be friends with most of my exes - but it has not been easy to keep those friendships going over the years, my reason for sharing this blog is that number 2 of my three reasons (and the most frequent outcome in my experience) has led to some bewildering experiences over the years and for reasons that some readers will be aware of, these have been on my mind of late.

I am sure I am not the only woman to have mourned the loss of completely normal and platonic friendships due to the craziness of other women, also as a woman with a standard amount of craziness ingrained myself, I completely understand that sometimes it causes hormonal imbalances which result in violence if you suspect that your other half is close to a member of the opposite sex. I propose no solution to this, it just intrigues me. 

I used to live with this guy who was, for a period of my life, probably my closest friend and certainly the person I spent most of my downtime with, this of course only increased when we moved in together while I was a student and to be honest, despite all the nonsensical stuff to have happened since, we had a hell of a lot of fun during that time. Let's call him Y.

Anyway, it turned out that this relationship was not as balanced as I thought it was and he wanted a lot more from it than I did, we had a slight, drunken dalliance but that was it and then I started seeing a mutual friend. Bad move. This seemed to tip a normal, fairly rational bloke into behaving like a bit of a goon to be honest and what followed was some slightly mental, stalker-esque activity. At one point he emailed my mother to tell her what a mistake I was making by not being with him. Yes, really. I will remind you of this behaviour in context later.

It was all later resolved and he found happiness with someone else, I was by now engaged to my husband and all was well. Or so I thought.

Years down the line (about 10) I went to stay with this couple while in London for a gig, I went with a mutual 'friend', another guy who I had known forever from the same social scene and always been pretty close (in a platonic way) to, we will call him R. He happened to be the partner of the best friend of Y's girlfriend so they were a pretty cosy foursome but she was not there this weekend.  

Anyway, much beer was drunk and for some god knows reason R and I had a drunken snog. This was during me and my husband's Ross and Rachel-esque 'break' so for me the only guilt attached was knowing his gf. It was stupid and meaningless and idiotic and all of the above x 10. I am still, some years later, quite baffled that it even happened. I certainly never saw it coming although we were close, I absolutely DO NOT go for attached men and never have. I completely understand why she would want to rip my eyes out for it.

It was literally a moment of madness fuelled by too much alcohol. And the next day we both registered it as such and (I thought) moved on. It was so utterly throwaway an incident that he told me he did not see the point even mentioning it to anyone and asked that I keep it under my hat, as far as I was concerned nobody except us was aware of it as it had happened away even from Y and his gf on the night in question and not a word had been said by either of them the next morning. All was well, or so I believed, until about a month later.

At this point somebody completely unrelated to the incident contacted me to say that they had heard a rather worrying rumour about me and they thought I should know. Fuming does not even come close to how angry I was when they relayed what they had heard....

Apparently, I had pounced on R while he was wrecked and I was entirely sober and had effectively forced myself on him. I had then had the audacity to neglect to apologise to our horrified hosts for the evening who knew all about it. It turned out that he had decided to come clean (with a rather twisted version of events) to his gf the minute he got home and for whatever reason (now, let me think, scapegoat?) had also contacted Y and his partner to apologise profusely to them, he had not, however, told me this. I had stuck to my word and not said a thing to anyone about it in the belief that neither had he but inadvertantly I now looked like an absolute scumbag. In retrospect I think it was a genius move for him as it totally framed me while I did nada. Nice work.

The minute I learned this I contacted Y and apologised profusely, I genuinely did not know they were even aware of what had happened but I know it looked bloody awful of me to wait until a month after the event to apologise. It had taken this long for me to learn that they considering my history with Y which was long and complicated and had quite frequently involved my accepting his apologies for, quite frankly, tittish behaviour on a number of occassions, what I was not expecting was quite possibly the world's most patronising response by email ever. I would attach it here but that would be a step too far in identifying the person....

The crux of his argument for deciding that he never wanted to speak to me again (yes, really) in light of this overwhelmingly appalling behaviour (an ill judged drunken snog) was that his partner had never really liked me anyway and this had just reaffirmed what she thought. Oh, ok then, that's that.

Ironically of course, R was forgiven as he had mea culpa'd like a canary straight away and anyway he was the partner of Y's gf's best friend (do keep up)....and that was indeed the end of that. How to end two entirely normal, platonic friendships in one fell swoop, as Shakespeare would say.

Initially I was pretty angry about being so framed but then I realised that holding a grudge is like letting someone live, rent free, in your head and I do not like the idea of that. The upshot is that I realise men are ultimately likely to be spineless, insipid and devious when they get themselves in trouble and are also entirely capable of forgetting their own previous tittish behaviour when it comes to forgiving someone elses.

Not all men are like this - but I think they all have the capability to be. Of course the other interesting point is that the girl who had been all sweetness and light to my face had apparently disliked me for years - on what basis I wonder? Probably (I can only deduce) because of my history with her partner, irrational? I think so, but ultimately understandable.

More tales from this fold to follow....maybe. And by the way, I did not draw the bear in the image but it was on one of many apology letters received from Y over the years.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A Tale of Two Weddings

My friend Karen got married last Friday. This is a picture of the bride and groom's first dance.

It was an absolute privilige to be a part of their special day for two reasons. One is that I have known Karen for a very long time. In fact, she is one of my oldest friends. Our story is unorthodox, we met age 10 in Ibiza, this is us back then:

 Karen (L) and Me age 10

We just clicked straight away and spent virtually the entire holiday with each other from the moment we met. On our return to the UK we embarked on an adventure, taking the act of being 'penpals' to the extreme. I think our parents thought this would probably fizzle out. Truth be told I had many other penpals over the years but none of them lasted the distance. Karen and I did.

We visited each other in school holidays and I am sure 11 year olds were much more innocent then. I recollect us creating magazines straight from our imaginations but using the things we were into (Care Bears!) as characters. She was an incredibly talented artist even back then. Our time hanging out together was spent having picnics, midnight feasts and sneaking out to the garage if we were feeling brave. We thought we were incredibly cool but I have seen the photos from back then and we are hilariously late 80s - not cool at all.

And we just kept writing.

Through secondary school I told Karen things I told nobody else because she was an ally, a confidant, a rock. Whatever other petty friendships and cliques were going on at school did not matter, I always had her. We told each other about first crushes, first kisses, first breakups. Boys tended to be a rather big theme.

I have a box containing many, many letters from Karen. Lots of them feature neon envelopes, gold and silver pens and illustrations all around. I am sure in comparison my letters looked incredibly boring. I never had half as much artistic juice as she did, it was all about the words for me.

And then we hit college and University and drifted a little, I think both of us had so much going on in our lives it was inevitable but I never ever doubted it would pick back up. You just know with some people that they are always going to be around, it doesn't matter how great the space or the time, when you reconnect it is like you spoke yesterday. These are the keepers, the ones you should treasure. Lifetime, rather than reason or season friends.

Emails had of course taken over from the humble bic biro by the time we were back in touch but Karen and I were both happy, I was with my now husband and Karen had bought a house and was also in a long term relationship. All was well with our worlds.

2006 proved to be an annus horribilis for both of us. For various reasons we both went through hell. I remember reading an email from Karen at the time and going and standing in the toilets at work and really bawling. How could life be this unfair? I responded by sending chocolate, a massive slab of it, through the post to Karen's parents address as I knew it would reach her there. To be fair, in any given situation, chocolate is usually a pretty good plaster.

Both of us got through our woes. In fact I would go so far as to say both of us NEEDED to go through them in order to get to where we are today. Karen would not be married to her amazing husband Martin if it had never happened, I would not be so happy in my life with Stu.

The last few years we have properly put dedicated time back into seeing each other, we speak regularly on text and email and it remains one of those friendships that you absolutely never have to question. This is me and Karen at her parents a couple of years ago:

I felt so proud of Karen as she got married last week and very honoured to be a part of her special day. I wonder how many people who start off as penpals at age 10 get to share in someones life as much as this, we are lucky.

The reason I titled this post 'A Tale of Two Weddings' was that another wedding was also in the news last week and I found the contrast both hilarious and fascinating. The alternative nuptials were those of Petra Ecclestone and some bloke which cost, depending on who you believe, anywhere between £3-5million

Frankly I feel slightly sick at the thought of any wedding costing that much. I wonder how many schools that could have built in third world countries, how many people in the UK currently not allowed expensive cancer treatments could have been saved or had their lives prolonged? It just feels wrong to me. 

I do wonder whether people genuinely believe that the more money they can throw at something the better it is? I would say that Karen and Martin's wedding last week absolutely destroyed that notion. 

In contrast to the lavish Italian castle, Vera Wang gown, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Black Eyed Peas (!?) organised by a plethora of wedding planners, Karen organised her entire wedding herself and also handmade 95% of the decorations, wedding stationary and table settings. In fact the only things in the wedding breakfast room NOT made by her which I could identify on the day were the cakes (which were made by her best friend Jodie) and the Welsh Cake favours (which were made by me). Oh and the bunting. But we shall forgive her for that.

These are the place names she handmade:

Around the room were heart shapes woven from wood, the wedding stationary was all intricately matched with vintage string and luggage tag themes, every little detail had been meticulously thought about, planned and executed. I would expect no less from Karen, I know what she's capable of and it shone right through on her special day. The day was SO Karen and Martin - relaxed, friendly and fun.

I do wonder whether the new Mrs Stunt (personally I would stay Ecclestone rather than take that name) put even a fraction of the effort and consideration into her day as the new Mrs Stutely did. Why would she when she has spent her life surrounded by minions?

What I felt was most heart warming about Karen and Martin's day was something which I absolutely guarantee was missing from Petra and James'. It was the fact that this was a real coming together of people who genuinely loved the bride and groom, nearly every table in the wedding breakfast had somebody on it who had contributed to the day in some way, it really felt like a team effort sending this couple on their way into married life and every single person in the room was there for a very good reason.

Money does not make a good wedding, the people do. 

Anyway Karen, you know how much I love you because I put it in the poem I read at your wedding, thank you for letting us be part of that special day.


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Chain of Fools

There are certain people in this world who, it seems, regardless of age, experience or a general demeanour which suggests they should know better, circulate the vile, idiotic, pester power that is the chain mail/status update.

These used to actually be on real paper (anyone else remember those?) and we would have assemblies telling us not to respond to them, but nowadays they squirm their way into your conscience by other, sneakier and harder to avoid ways, landing in your inbox, your timeline on facebook or sometimes even on your mobile phone.

What is it about human beings which makes them so receptive of these idiotic bleatings? Why are 99% of sensible adults absolutely incapable of ignoring them?

Whenever I receive such missives or accidentally stumble on one in a facebook status (usually in VERY SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS just to get the point across with maximum irritation) I immediately have to take a deep breath and try to mentally forgive the fuckwit person who has posted it and not immediately block them, which my trigger finger is impulsively itching to do.

The fact that I refuse point blank to EVER repeat or engage with any of these bullying, pointless things does not mean that:

a)    I do not care about cancer. Believe me I care, but personally I find running the race for life or buying raffle tickets for Cancer Research a much more rewarding and less twattish way of showing the same.
b)    I do not care about the armed forces. Again I very much do care and come from a services family but SHOUTING about this constantly would only give me a headache and proves absolutely zero in the grand scheme of things.
c)     I do not care about autism/downs syndrome/disabled children/whatever else has been deemed the most important and ignored issue of the day. Nonsense. I am a human being with opinions and feelings –but shouting about them and irritating people with it is not going to actually achieve anything. Other than provoking eye rolling and sighing in anyone who feels the same.

I find the obligatory emotional blackmail section the most nauseating and aggravating. Look, you blockheaded, amoebic being, I have a busy life, I work full time, I exercise, I have a lot of friends and family members who take up my spare time….you, with your pissy little playground call out of “99% of people won’t repost this in their status” (subtext – people who ignore this are evil, stupid miscreants who torture kittens for fun) clearly have too much time on your hands. But then I already knew that because you have one of these retarded status updates at least 3 times a week and also update your status to tell us vital information about what you are having for lunch (“an AMAZING cheese sandwich”) or who is featuring on daytime TV today.

Less frequently I get one of these on my mobile phone, I never even reach the bottom of the message before deleting. You can tell within the first sentence exactly what the purpose of the message is; sickeningly twee? check, self righteous? double check, more clich├ęd than a Jennifer Annison rom-com? Yep. Usually there will also be some kind of signifier about the kind of person you are (my best friends, the closest women in my life) before a call out to forward it on immediately to similar recipients or your spleen might explode and if you do forward it on the Blessed Fairy of the Cheddar Gorge will bring you good luck within 5 days. Really. Do you still believe in Father Christmas too? Seriously, have a word with yourself.

On a whole other (but intrinsically linked) level of I-want-to-repeatedly-smack-my-head-against-a-brick-wall-when-this-happens – I live in hope that a certain member of my family will one day send me an email saying something useful. Or failing that something interesting. Or maybe just something vaguely relevant to my life. But this particular email sender simply wants me to be frightened on a level usually reserved for readers of the Daily Mail and with alarming frequency wants me to believe that the country is being TAKEN OVER (shouty letters needed here unfortunately) by PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BAN CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!


I am so profusely sorry for the appalling amount of exclamation marks and shouty capitals in the above text. It hurts my eyes just writing it. But this level of scaremongering tends to be perpetuated by people who make their ‘point’ by making your eyes bleed in this way.

These type of emails always also contain the chain mail caveat of imploring you to circulate it and implying that if you do not a small goblin will sneak into your bed and sexually assault you while you sleep. 

The one I received this week was one I have seen before. A number of times. It is the ‘people are suggesting that we stop teaching about the holocaust because it offends Muslims’ version. Here is a link to a sensible site explaining the fact that this is in fact a well publicised hoax which was circulated originally in 2007 and has since been disproved but continues to be forwarded on by legions of fucktards people who, in my opinion, see it as an easy and below the radar way of being overtly racist in the name of ‘keeping our culture sacred’. What a load of utter bullshit.

Guess what? The Daily Mail actually ran a story on it in 2007 too….my god I despise the Daily Mail and all that it stands for. The sole purpose of this kind of story is to provoke unrest and stir up hatred for other races and cultures (generally anything Islam related) and I do not understand for a moment why anyone with half a brain would not see through this deplorable nonsense straight away.

Four years later and the same bloody email is still doing the rounds and landing in my inbox a couple of times a year. I despair.

Just so you know, if you circulate these kind of idiotic, bottom feeding chain mails and statuses, the government immediately places you on a list of ‘People who are too stupid to deserve to be saved when Armageddon comes’ via their big brother methods of keeping tabs on you. You should immediately circulate this piece of information to all your dim witted friends so that they too can be prepared for when Muslims/Aliens/Scientologists inevitably take over the UK and make us dress like the bay city rollers/speak Vulcan/take up extreme ironing. 99% of people will not repost this information because they have a life and an imagination of their own which does not require spoon-feeding.

I hold out hope for a day when chain mails and statuses are outlawed and it becomes fair game to add the names of circulators to a register which marks them out in society as empty headed sheep who should be avoided at all costs. A bit like the sex offenders register but without the same level of interest from the Daily Mail. That is all.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

It's A Family Affair


That one word holds so much meaning and emotion for people that it is hardly surprising to find these labelled units are rarely simple or perfect or describable things. If you know someone who claims to have a ‘perfect’ or ‘simple’ family then you know a liar.

It is often a ‘loaded’ word. One which infers what you should do, how you should behave. I do not like being told what I should do or how I should behave. I like to take the word and fit it around what it means to my life and the people I love. I do not believe in the tribal, Mitchell-esque, loyal-to-the-day-that-I-die, ostracised if I am not, model one iota. I would like to think I am intelligent enough to judge for myself what family means to me and I absolutely will not be made to feel guilty for that.

My family is absolutely, 100% dysfunctional. And I bloody love them for it because, guess what folks? It makes them human.

My central family group, the people who will invariably sit round my mothers table for a Sunday lunch and treat the place like Picadilly Circus, swanning in and out, pillaging for food and tea and begging for trousers to be turned up (or is that just me?) consists of my mom, my step-dad, two step sisters plus their significant others, my Nana, my nephew and my nephews mother. Oh, and my husband of course, who manages to cope with the eccentricities of us all, so different to his own, quieter and much smaller brood.

Only three of these people are blood related to me but it matters not a jot, I love the bones of all of them. However, when my 7 year old nephew asked me recently whether I was blood related to one of my step-sisters it suddenly became a bit tangled. He is at that age where he seeks to figure out how it all fits together. I don’t blame him for being confused; our tribe is a bit of an unorthodox jumble to say the least.

It is the one social grouping in life which we do not choose but inherit. A very close friend of mine always says ‘friends are the family we choose for ourselves’ and I think this is bang on the money. I have written extensively about friendships and how I think they should work in an earlier post and to my mind my friends are indeed the family I choose. Many of them know me much better than the majority of people I share actual DNA with and I value them as highly as members of my family. I would also add that depending on your workplace, colleagues are an additional ‘familial’ group in your life. My team at work spend more time with me than anyone else does and invariably some of them know my day to day life very well.

It stands to reason as we have no choice in the family group we are born into that some of these people you would never naturally cross paths with or choose to spend time with. This is normal. Obligations to stay in touch only mean something and work if you actually happen, purely by luck, to genuinely like the person anyway but this is not a given.

Going back to central family groups though, the ones you are deeply embedded in and actually love; your parents and siblings essentially. You may be given a place within this for free as a child but as an adult, I believe that you earn your place in a family. In the same manner you can also lose it. To keep it healthy you have to nurture it, like any relationship.

This means that when you screw up or let go or lose contact there is generally always a way back, but it takes work on both sides, forgiveness and the ability to move on and stop raking up what happened in the past. Unfortunately some people are simply not equipped to do this. In fact, some people believe holding a grudge is an Olympic sport.

What matters to me is the wellbeing of my central group. After that I have a lot of time and love for other members of my family and would always do what I can for them if they needed me, although I may not see them on a frequent basis. Then there are the members I do not really know but have nothing against and will be happily civil to. Finally there are those that I literally, teeth grittingly tolerate at events where I cannot escape. Now, be honest, you just read that and mentally identified which members of your family fitted which group. That’s fine. That’s normal.

Unless you live in cloud cuckoo land of course where everything is perfect and everybody loves each other and lashings of ginger beer flow freely and people really say ‘golly gosh’. 

Anyway, blood means nothing unless you are lucky and I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to have my step dad in my life. To say he is ‘like a father to me’ is wrong. I already have a dad and he is ace and I love him loads. My step dad gives me a ‘bonus parent’ role, one which is brilliant because you get the best bits from both a best friend and someone you are allowed to ask to fix your car and know they will do it because they love you. My parents divorcing was a blessing, both are now in happy, healthy relationships and I have two ‘bonus’ parent roles, both of whom I love. I was lucky.

My mom is an amazing person in so many ways. She is an amazing role model to me as a woman and the person I always want to run things by in my life. We can quite happily spend hours on the phone talking about anything and everything. As I get older I value this more and more. As she gets older I find myself adopting the parent role with her more and more (“you really should stop smoking/go to the doctors about that/stop reading the Daily Mail”), I can amusingly see she does the same with her mother, my beloved Nana. The three of us often sit and chew the fat, I am glad I get to do this. This mother-daughter-grand daughter relationship is precious to me but not because we are blood related – that is incidental, but it gives us the basis of a bond which we choose to embrace and enjoy.

Human nature means, however, that people naturally are not inclined to just get on. Life was not meant to be simple and the Middle East would be a fantastic holiday destination if everybody would just chill the fuck out. Really.

So…..the last few years have been difficult in our family for various reasons, mainly due to the aforementioned human nature issue. I spent the whole of 2009 and 2010 feeling like a cornered tiger protecting it’s young in relation to my parents, defending them and trying to repair damage and hurt. I had many difficult conversations with members of the family. Unfortunately the directions and solutions I hoped to achieve were impossible. On the plus side I think we could probably field a family team at the next Olympics for the Holding-a-Grudge relay. This guide suggests sensible solutions to unresolved family conflicts – unfortunately it takes both sides to make a resolution happen.

No human being is perfect. All of us make mistakes, say things we don’t mean, can be downright hurtful to the people we love and occasionally behave like complete and utter imbeciles. I know I have in the past and I am sure I will again at some point. Admitting it is easy when you put it in context, picking up the pieces and moving on and drawing a line under it is harder. And far more painful. And sometimes needs time. But it is never really a closed door until you make it so. Resolution takes a bigger, more intelligent and robust person than clinging on blindly to an accusation and clearly not everybody is that broad minded. 

And I guess this is my point. Families come in many shapes and sizes. Some are pretty conventional, some are not. All will at some point and at some level go through crises. It is highly normal for Auntie X to not be speaking to Cousin Y or some kind of variation of this equation. You get arseholes, idiots, absolute gems, comedians, good eggs, bad apples, princesses, petty thieves, dictators, diplomats and the perpetually vacant. It is sort of like the coalition government but closer to home, both in terms of the fact you didn't vote for it but ended up with it and together you are not convinced they know what they are doing.

How you make it work is entirely down to you. Stressing about it will get you nowhere. Black and white thinking will not help one jot. Holding a grudge is the greatest symptom of the narrow minded and should be avoided. And sharing blood does not determine ranks of importance, nor should it.

Tell the people you love that you love them as often as you can, spend as much time with the people that matter as possible. Tolerate those you have to and avoid the ones that cannot be tolerated and take no regrets to the grave because seriously, people, life is too short.  

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Tale of 3 Dinner Parties

Recently I had a very close brush with reality TV. God knows what possessed me but I applied to be on Come Dine With Me in a moment of madness. This was on a random Thursday evening when I had spotted a small piece in the Telford Journal asking any interested persons to apply for a local version of the show which was looking for participants.

I love to cook, I cook a lot. I am also a pretty competitive person and figured it might be a bit of fun. What followed was a rather bizarre rollercoaster of an experience.  I submitted an online application form which took about half an hour and expected to hear no more about it. However, the following evening I spent around 2 hours on the phone to a researcher for the programme answering all the same questions again but in much more detail. The following Monday I spent another hour going through the same again. Then they arranged to come to my house and film me for a 'screen test'.

Anyway, it all became rather scarily real and I was about to go on holiday to Italy. Work was particularly busy and stressful and I learned from scouring internet forums that being involved in CDWM as a contestant was rather taxing indeed. Apparently, due to the continuity and filming of such a show, the dinner parties which we see and which seem to last a normal length of time actually end up being mammoth affairs, often lasting into the early hours of the morning due to re-takes and editing. This is why they keep telling you as you go through the interview stages that they 'recommend' you take the entire week off although it is 'not compulsory'.

I reckon I might have actually had a nervous breakdown had I got on the show trying to juggle four incredibly long nights with very little sleep and a full working week where we had a project resubmission going on. It is definitely a blessing I think that I did not get to the final 4. 

Anyway, in tribute to this, as we sat in Bologna one evening sharing a bottle of very tasty Chianti, my husband suggested that we should have our own version of the show. Sod the prize money and the incredibly long nights of tedium with strangers, we would recreate the competitive element and have some bloody good dinners without the stress. So, we decided to rope in my brother in law and cleared diaries for 3 Saturdays in a row. 

I have been taking photos all the way through so I can now share with you what happened on 3 rather fun and sometimes challenging nights of food, wine and 'entertainment'. The prize, by the way, is dinner at a restaurant of the winners choice, paid for by the other two.The only rules were that it had to be 3 courses, all dishes you had not cooked for the others before and there must also be entertainment after dinner.

I went first and served blue cheese stuffed mushrooms, tuna steak on a bed of roasted salsa and pecan pie. Here are some pics of my dishes on the night:

Portobello mushroom stuffed with blue cheese, quorn pieces and breadcrumbs. 

Pan seared tuna steak on a roasted vegetable salsa with courgette salad on top. 

Pecan pie with vanilla ice cream.

My menu went surprisingly well in the preparation, I made the pastry for the pecan pie first, early on the Saturday, to make sure I had enough time to remake it if necessary. Thankfully I did not need to, I used a Jamie Oliver recipe for this pie, including the pastry base and it was pretty good (if I do say so myself) although weirdly the pecan mix did not set properly until the following day when it had been in the fridge. It tasted pretty good though.

One thing I did learn during this experience is that pecan nuts are VERY expensive. I needed 450g for my recipe and that was TEN WHOLE POUNDS. Shocking.

The roasted salsa which the tuna steak was sat on was also cooked in advance, it was tomatoes, peppers and red onions roasted until blackened and the skins pulled off then blitzed with chillis, garlic, coriander and lime juice. It was very zingy and tasty if a little overpowering. I really liked it though and despite this being chilled and the tuna steak being cooked it went really nicely together. This recipe was from Jamie's America along with the pecan pie.

I forgot to take any photos of my entertainment but I can assure you it was amazeballs. Well, I thought it was anyway. I went old school and bought a bingo machine from Argos for £6 and then bought a range of 'prizes' (haribo, hotel chocolat goodies) and we spent an hour or so pretending we were in Benidorm in a godawful resort hotel. It was fun. I think.

Anyway, the brother in law (we shall call him 'G') was next and I knew that being absolutely obsessed with quality and detail this was bound to be an incredibly over analysed clever menu. He did not disappoint and cooked peppers stuffed with fennel, a roasted butternut squash lasagne and a baked coffee liquor cheesecake.

Here are the photos of his dishes:

Roasted peppers stuffed with fennel. 

Roasted butternut squash lasagne 

 Baked coffee liquor cheesecake with cocoa dusted almonds

I have to say that veggie lasagne was frickin awesome and is definitely one I will be making in the future. G had chosen to cook a vegetarian menu rather than catering for the awkward pairing of one pescatarian and one none fish eater (I do eat tuna steak because it does not taste like fish but it is the only thing I will eat that swims and I had already cooked that).  The butternut squash having been pre-roasted it was very sweet and the whole dish was incredibly tasty. This was my favourite course from his menu.

Unfortunately I had a very nasty experience with pernod when I was about 18 which to this day means the smell of aniseed makes me want to vomit, I had never tried fennel before but it smells and tastes distinctly of this nemesis flavour and as a result I was not overly keen on this dish.

The cheesecake was utterly divine but incredibly heavy, as a result of which I did not finish my slice, I dread to think how many calories were in that. Top marks for effort though, it was hard to believe he had never made a cheesecake before.

Entertainment on this evening was rather amusing and unexpected. After dinner we were presented with a potters wheel and a lump of clay each. An hour of swearing and trying to shape a pot followed but it was quite messy, liberated fun. Following this the dining room table was converted into a table tennis table for a winner-stays-on tournament, needless to say this was a bit too much activity for me with a belly full of cheesecake but it was a good idea.

Finally, last night was Stu's night and he approached it in his usual devil may care attitude, completely chilled out, preparing most of it on the evening before and generally winging it with no recipes whatsoever. This was very foolish brave in my opinion and I watched with interest as he desecrated my kitchen. His menu was tomato soup with homemade bread, beef wellington (!!) and 'a mash up of tasty nice' was billed as the dessert....rightio then....

Tomato soup and homemade bread 

This is the whole wellington when first sliced open. 

Wellington, roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes and spinach. 

A very unhinged dessert....

Having completely winged it, Stu did not really decide what his pudding was until he started to assemble it on the plate. This complete ignorance of any kind of convention is one of the reasons I love him. Unfortunately I did not love this dessert. We had on the plate, a layer of melted mars bar, a cookie cutter sized piece of cheesecake base, home flavoured pomegranate ice cream and a meringue nest. It was sort of like an eton mess. If Lady Gaga had made it.

His soup was delicious though and the wellington, despite some timing issues (again due to totally winging it) was very nice. Instead of pate he had wrapped the substantial piece of fillet steak (£27 worth) in a layer of finely chopped chestnut mushrooms cooked off in a white wine sauce and then wrapped the whole thing in prosciutto before adding the pastry. Mighty impressive. Unfortunately due to the timing issue it had to go back in the oven and that meant when we finally ate it the potatoes were cold.

Entertainment was Mario Kart on the wii, which had been bought specially for this evening. It was lots of fun, I am continually surprised at how much juvenile fun we get out of that console. 

So, time for scoring, we had sealed our scores from the previous evenings in envelopes and so we had no idea how anyone had done until after the scoring last night.....results were as follows....

3rd with 13.5 points - Stu
2nd with 15 points - me
1st with 17 points - G.

And there you have it. We are going to do this again mid-winter so it will be interesting to see what approach we all take next time, in the meantime G will be deciding where we go for a meal, early signs are that it will be tapas in Shrewsbury.

This was a really enjoyable and interesting experience and I am so glad I did this with people I love rather than random strangers. Next time 1st place will be mine!