Sunday, 28 February 2010

Thinking for ourselves

Remember when convenience foods came with a Serving Suggestion? Often a little alarming; for years, Ryvita packaging carried the confident statement "Delicious crumbled in milk". Oh yes? Wet Ryvita....hmmmm.... let me think.... no thank you.

I like this suggestion though. Leaves room for the imagination, for creative flair, for surprising your family or guests with quirky dishes. "Pour over " -  what?  One's hands, massaging it in well? Scones and jam? Cat food? (Oh yes please! comes the furry-faced chorus.)

The necessities of Army life abroad gave my mother a liking for evaporated milk in tea; we preferred it poured over jelly (always red) and, even today, on porridge. But my imagination struggles from this point, and the recipes here don't appeal much either.

I have several tins of the stuff in my cupboard, bought in an irrational fit of "Must prepare for Armageddon" angst - it's about the only consciously-absorbed value I retain from the Thatcher years, the need for a well-stocked pantry.

Not that well-stocked is the same thing as well-organised or tidy, of course; somewhere in its heaped chaos there is sure to be something that would benefit from having evaporated milk poured over, thus transforming it into that promised delicious creamy treat.

Ideas and anecdotes welcome; no Ryvita though.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Perhaps I should just add

...that the sentence in the previous post about having your ear licked by a small dog being the best way to wake up etc. was intended as sarcasm. It SO isn't true. And the dog knows better than to try it on me, ever.

Don't even think about it, O snaffler of garbage found in the gutter.....

That's fine; close enough.

I'm one of those squeamish types who can't bear to be licked by dogs - in fact, the further away from dog-breath the better, in my book - and could spontaneously throw up if I see dogs being permitted to lick people on their mouths. Now I can just feel some of you bristling from afar at my insensitivity towards our loving canine companions and their deeply-instinctive behaviours, but, but.... oh yuk, I can't even think about it. Pause a moment while I retch.

And in case some of you think this is a reasonable attitude, I have to confess that I don't feel the same about cat licks, even though I'm aware that they too use their tongues as wash cloths. And how they like to keep their nether regions nicely spruced up.

Thankfully, my cats aren't given to much licking of humans - that would push scaredy-cats Scooter and Hamish into unimaginable degrees of courage - and anyway, warm sandpaper mingled with cat breath isn't my exfoliant product of choice.

They have other victims to lick instead, and they are ruthless about waking each other up to do so.

No need to wash me at all! Now I just need to impose some discipline on their waking up of humans routine....

Friday, 26 February 2010

Must be a Mum thing

In the small hours of last night, I dreamt vividly that I was woken by the Lovely Son standing by my bedside, calling me to wake up, having travelled up from his home in London to surprise me. I was delighted to see him, and although taken aback by his unexpected arrival, didn't wonder at all at how tall he was (about 6" taller than in real life) or how much younger (by about 15 years).

I felt a wave of disappointment wash over me as I woke to realise it had just been a dream.

Later, I texted him about it, and received his response: he sometimes dreams that he can hear my voice calling him, and wakes with the same feeling of disappointment. Aaaaaawwww, bless.

(Mind you, I haven't ever noticed him being particularly thrilled to really hear me calling him to get up in the mornings.)

He's coming home next week, to do all those horrible, long-neglected odd jobs around the house, and give me the chance to spoil him a little. We can take turns at calling to each other to wake up.... or I can do what I usually do: sneakily, silently open his bedroom door a tiny way and let the besotted, waiting dog hurtle in to throw herself ecstatically on his sleeping form. Having your ear licked by a small wriggling dog is just the best way to feel really awake first thing...

Then the cats creep in, shyly and suspiciously at first, gradually becoming bolder and fiercer with their pouncing and bouncing, and my work is done for me. Getting out of bed starts to look like a good idea.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Things to do while you wait for Spring

So much to choose from, at this waiting, longing, breath-holding time of year

(Edit: photos from the archives; the reality here today is that it's as dreary and un-Springlike as everywhere else)

you can just give up....

and hide

 brooding on the futility of life

you can wallow, and sigh a lot....

drink too much tea

eat too much cake

watch too much tv....

look out of the window for hours



sleep some more

till you're almost comatose

...but one day, it's time to wake up again

get everyone else out of bed 

learn a new dance

get ready for Easter

oops, a bit too ready!

practise your wrestling

play with your toys

go and look at the sea

and the countryside

feel filled with hope....

observe the signs

until..... at last.....

it's Spring! and it will be glorious!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

When diets go bad

and there's no chocolate in the house.....

Monday, 22 February 2010

Bad hair days

Yesterday with the help of friend Lynn, I set about "doing my roots" (this may be one of those expressions that doesn't travel well, e.g. to Australia). Actually, I merely sat still and Lynn did them; I am not methodical enough to produce an acceptable result or to avoid dyeing my ears in the process, and she is.

I had unmistakeably grey roots in my currently mid-brown hair. Mid-brown was not the shade I chose when I decided to bypass the hairdresser. The box said "Light Golden Brown" - a shade that might not show the grey too distinctly as it emerged at its usual alarming rate. Wrong! There was a crisp borderline of brown and grey. Should have gone lighter. 

Why bother? you might ask. I sometimes ask the same myself. Such vanity. I am fine with my wrinkles, crow's feet, the evident power of gravity, the crepey neck (well, less fine with that one, but I'm growing resigned), but going grey gracefully is something I can't find it in myself to embrace. I have very dark eyebrows, and a serious, somewhat grumpy face (a lifelong affliction; don't let it fool you!) and ending up as a photofit version of Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown is just too much to risk. 

Why not let my hairdresser do it? is another good question. Well, I'm looking for a new hairdresser, and not from one of those salons that turn out endless young blonde clones who are happy to spend a months' wages on their highlights and to endure three hours of top-volume chit-chat over the blasting music. 

I thought I had found the ideal hairdresser last year, fairly local, a somewhat older, slightly arty-eccentric woman, who is an excellent colourist, but although she doesn't ask me if I'm doing anything nice tonight (yes, putting my slippers on and sitting down in a quiet room) or where I'm going on holiday this year (nowhere - my holiday fund is being spent on getting my hair done), she does pour out, in graphic detail, her considerable personal problems. 

And when she's finished with those, she tells me all about the personal problems of her exquisitely made-up trainee, who disregards her advice to ditch his violent boyfriend. Sometimes it's more than I can face, to sit through this catalogue of woes;  they are then recounted to the next customer while my hair colour develops, so I get to endure them twice. I don't fall into the advice/counselling trap - I know others do, although they are never listened to - and I emerge with great, natural-looking hair colour, but feeling emotionally wrung out, and wondering if perhaps I should have been charging her for the listening session. 

Who thought that fighting Nature - expensively too - would be so challenging? The price of vanity, it seems to me, is a complex and sometimes punishing combination of elements, not all of which appear on the till receipt. So it was time to take economy measures while attempting to thwart Nature's cruel way with my hair: home dyeing....

And yes, tonight I will be doing something nice, I'm sure. In slippers, true, but without reference to holiday brochures or more intimately-detailed information about other people's personal lives than I need to know.

Hmmmm....vain and callous - perhaps I deserve that grey hair!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Another life

Anton Doll: Children Skating on a Frozen River

Reading Sonata's recent post in Fridge Soup, and seeing her photo of the wooden skates known as doorlopers, reminded me forcibly of a story my mother told of a family tragedy back in the late 1800s.

My paternal great-grandmother, a widow struggling to bring up her family in Belgium, lost one of her young children in a skating accident. Aged about eight, the boy had fallen through the ice, and could not be saved. Tragic enough, you might say, but how she heard of her son's death was through the arrival of one of his companions, who flung open the door, threw the drowned child's skates on the floor, shouting "Ernest is dead!" and fled.

No gentle breaking of bad news; no bereavement counselling either, in those days; many children died of disease or in accidents, but the loss, grief and lasting sorrow were never dulled by the commonplace nature of the experience. Ernest's death was felt keenly. My great-grandmother carried on; she took in washing, specialising in the laundering of fine linens, such as the lace and silk blouses of wealthier customers, and brought up the remaining children with dignity and success.

My grandfather, the eldest, shared in supporting the family from an early age. A quiet, gentle man, he held a responsible post in the railways, married my brisk, practical grandmother, and in 1918, his own family looked like this:

My mother (the cross-looking baby) adored him. He was a wonderful story-teller, a talent she was to inherit from him, and she would tell us how he would gather the children round him, extinguishing the lights in the kitchen, so that they sat in firelight, while he told them tales of mystery and adventure. He softened the edges of my grandmother's no-nonsense parenting, and brought his sense of fun and a love of the ridiculous into his children's everyday experiences.

He was the man to whom neighbours would come for advice, and for help with official letters that they might not always understand; he was a pillar of his community, and a dignified man, but he had a twinkly sense of humour and, to my grandmother's chagrin, a keen admiration of the somewhat scandalous star of the 1920s, Josephine Baker.

I was still a baby when he died, but he remained a vivid presence in our family, through my mother's deep attachment to him and the wealth of memories she recounted to us.

Arthur Story, forced to grow up too quickly, carry too much responsibility too soon, but turning out a fine man for all that.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

The novelty wears off

Snow again. So much for our long walk this morning. 

Never mind the camera, you silly woman - let me in!

Look, I'm getting snow down my neck!

The cat flap's at the back of the house - just LET ME IN!

Not before time. The service round here is disgraceful.

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