Tuesday, 20 August 2013

10 Ways to Cheer Yourself Up

     Feeling a bit low? Bit bored? Dull? Stuck in a rut? Here are some straightforward ways to brighten up your day (and perhaps someone elses).

  1. When acknowledging a fellow motorist, eschew the simple 'one hand raised, palm outfacing' gesture. Instead, adopt the 'shooting showbiz fingers' motion. Thumbs aloft, point both forefingers in the direction of the other driver, and wheel them round. They'll know that you really appreciate their courtesy, and you get to feel like Paul McCartney. Win-win.

    2. Ask a small child to draw a portrait of you. They will be thrilled to do so, and you will be amused by the results. Especially if they are not a natural artist. This is me, as drawn by the 5 year old.

    Right hair colour, right eye colour, disturbing smile... Yep, that's me.

    3. Visit this website.And when you've done that, share it with as many people as possible. It shouldn't work, but it does.

    4.Compliment friends. But honestly. Don't be nice for the sake of it, but do tell them when they look especially nice/happy/glowing/whatever. This is doubly effective if it's first thing in the morning, as it puts a spring in their step for the rest of the day, and then other people will remark on it too. A rare example of a virtuous circle.

    5. Compliment strangers. Seriously. A passing cyclist once shouted to me 'I love your skirt!' and it meant more to me than if five close friends had said the same thing. Last week I stopped a woman in the street to ask where she bought her hair dye, and she couldn't stop saying 'Wow, thank you!' It makes them feel happy, and you get the satisfyingly smug warm glow of having cheered someone else up.

    6. Give presents to people who matter to you. Not in the expectation of receiving something back, but to show you appreciate them. The 8 year old asked me to crochet something for his teacher last term, because he wanted to let her know what a great teacher she was. I made a scarf, he took it in, and after school, his teacher took me aside to say thanks. The next day she sent us a card to say she really valued it, and I, um, got a bit tearful. Let's move on!

    7. If you knit or crochet, get into yarn bombing.Yarn bombing is a kind of wooly graffiti, the intention behind which is to brighten up a public space and hopefully make people smile. You've probably heard about the Olympic yarnbomb last summer
    Most yarn bombs aren't as detailed as that (man alive, I cannot imagine how much time and effort went into it) - sometimes it's as simple as a string of hearts in a tree, or sticking two eyes on a post box to make it look like a face - but it all amounts to the same thing. A silly little thing that cheers people up.

    8.A very simple one this, requiring practically no effort. Imagine a Liverpudlian saying 'economically'. Not quite doing it for you? How about a Geordie saying 'university'?

    9. When your husband/wife/partner/children/flatmates come home, hide. And when they walk past your hiding place, burst out at them shouting 'RARRRGGHHH!'. They will get a fantastic rush of adrenaline which they will eventually thank you for.

    10. If you are a blogger, reader, or writer try to visit at least one different blog each day cough and (this is the important bit) leave a comment. cough It's a brilliant feeling to know that your words reach people other than the voices in your head cough, but an even better one when someone takes the time and effort to leave a comment cough to tell you what they think of your post cough Sorry, I've got a very tickly throat at the moment, I'll just get myself a glass of water.

    Did that not quite hit the spot? Not feeling inspired to try any of those? Then I only have one more thing to add. This video. If the first two minutes of this don't make you smile, even a little, then frankly, you're beyond redemption. Hint: Must watch with volume turned up.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Blowing my own trumpet

      Ahem. Hello. I have an announcement to make.

     This kind of thing doesn't sit easily with me, and I always feel I have to include a shameless self-promotion alert because my natural tendency is to not mention good stuff that happens, especially when it comes to writing. Why? Well, partly because I blog anonymously, and would prefer, in some ways, to not be noticed by people I know. Whilst simultaneously reaching the widest audience possible. Because I'm annoying like that.

     Bu-huh-hut... The very lovely people at Harper Impulse sent out a call for submissions for some guest blogs. I pitched a couple of ideas. They liked one of them. And asked me to write a guest blog on various romantic gestures that have meant a lot to me.

     So I wrote a 500 word piece (which felt very weird. Most of my posts are around 2,000 words (about two sides of double spaced A4), so I felt I was being very sparse in what I was writing). And they liked it. And it's going to be on their website on Wednesday afternoon. So if you fancy reading me in a rather more bite-sized format than normal, have a gander here. The first post went up today, was lovely, and I have high expectations of what's to follow.

     Sorry. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Friday, 16 August 2013

My Back Pages

A self-ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
Equality,” I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

     I think I've mentioned before that messiness doesn't bother me. But for some reason, last weekend I was suddenly filled with the need to sort out all the boxes that are in the garage. I got as far as box number two, when I struck gold. A mass of work and letters from my schooldays.

     As we're in A Level results week, I ought to confess something. I did well at school. Really quite well (like top 5% at the time, I'd probably be bottom 25% now). And I have always felt horrendously guilty about it because I know it was undeserved. Up until the age of 25 I was blessed with a ferociously good memory that meant that facts and dates stuck to my mind like tomato soup on the face of a toddler. So I have always felt a bit of a fraud, knowing that one night of frantic cramming got me the grades, whereas friends who had special revision plans, all catalogued, colour coded and highlighted didn't do as well. And going through my old schoolwork, it's clear just how much attention I didn't pay.

     The first find was my old German dictionary. Flicking through it, I discovered lots of underlined rude words and in the back cover a conversation between my friends and I that took place during our German exchange trip. We were in a German Literature class and had been very gamely trying to follow a discussion, in German, of the Teutonic equivalent of Great Expectations. I remember frowning quite convincingly and nodding as various people made their points. Then my friend Vicky reached for my dictionary, appeared to be looking up a word, then passed it back. 'I'm totally lost. Jesus. I spy mit mein little eye...' and from that point on, we clearly gave up all pretence of trying to understand and just played I spy for the rest of the lesson.

     Delving further into the box, I found some old cardboard folders with sheaves of paper inside. I'd forgotten that my filing system during those days was to stuff every single piece of paper into the folders in no obvious order and hope for the best. So there were essays, print outs, school newsletters, tourist information brochures (why?) payslips, various letters from friends and ex-boyfriends and an awful lot of notes written during classes.

     At least that's what they appeared to be. On closer inspection, some of them (mostly from British History A Level classes, dullest of classes and always the last lesson on Friday afternoons) start out as note taking with one or two comments in the margin to the person sitting next to me. And then, usually about halfway down the page of A4, I abandon the notetaking and just start chatting to my neighbour instead. So my 'notes' read something like this:

     Wellington gave speech to Parl, sd no need 4 ref, misjudged mood, GE, Are you going to the Waterfront this weekend? No, I'm away, but I think the others are going. Yeah, to see him, got to get the loony bus straight after school, bag's in my locker. If I give you Amy's Bluetones CD, can you give it back to her? Ta!

     And then occasionally, if the teacher looked like she was going to walk past my desk, I'd scribble down

Corn Laws fr 1815, mfacts opposed, Anti Corn Law League (ACCL) achieved aim in 1846, R Peel

before continuing

     I am SOOO boredUH. I think I may have fallen asleep for a few minutes there. Disraeli led opp to Peel, resp for P losing PMship Chartism 3mil petition, but failed 2 make impact Six aims were:
  • Losing the will to live
  • Really sleepy
  • This classroom is too hot
  • Have you heard the new Manics album
  • I KNOW!
  • You well fancy Damian off Home & Away

     And it wasn't just the notes I didn't take. The number of barely started essays I never completed and handed in is shaming. There are too many several where I have neatly written:

     My name
     The date
     The subject
     Essay title

     And nothing more. Nothing. And I know that I never went on to write them on another piece of paper because I would remember. On the few essays I did manage to complete, there's a despairing quality to the notes from the teachers, questioning why, when I clearly grasped the subject, was I failing to hand in more than half the requested work? And missing a significant number of lessons (simple answer: I couldn't be arsed).

     Then there are an absolute wedge of letters I wrote, but for some reason never sent, when I was supposed to be having a 'Study Period' in the Common Room. Reading them through again is slightly cringeworthy, but also very amusing, remembering that time in my life and the events that, without wanting to be all mawkish and sentimental about it, moulded me into the person I am today. Some letters, had they made it to the intended recipient, would have undoubtedly changed the course of my life in ways I can't even begin to contemplate. But for the most part, they're just me burbling away about not very much.... Err, kind of like this blog, I suppose.

     And music. Good lord, I'd forgotten just how much of a music head I was. The amount of transcribed song lyrics that made it into those folders. Why did I write so many down? For whom? What was I intending to do with them? From the tearstains and smudged ink, it's clear that a lot of them reverberated with me, but looking back it's not always that clear why (although I will confess that yesterday I heard Suede's The Wild Ones for the first time in years and dissolved into a tearstreaked snotty bubble of teenage angst. No idea).

     So it's been fun, if slightly discomfiting, to look back at those days when finding a hastily scrawled picture of a spurting cock in a textbook was the funniest thing EVER and to accuse your best friend of loving New Kids On The Block was to win all arguments. In those pre-internet days, the only methods of communication were the phone and letters, so for the most part I still have a record of the people we were, and can see why my schoolfriends and I have turned out as we have now that we're 33 and apparently have to pretend to be grown ups. I'm even considered responsible enough to herd children. Sometimes children that aren't even mine. But in my head, I am still not listening to the teacher and trying to make the person sitting next to me get the giggles.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Alpha Papa

     Or, as I call him, Alistair.

     We've dealt with the blondies (8yo and 5yo), so now it's time for the big blondie himself, Alistair.

     I still remember the first time I saw him. It was May 1994, and I was skiving off school (see here) to help out at the family business in the Fens (remind me to tell you about that sometime, not many people grow up in a former PoW camp). My sister-in-law and I were lugging curtains and bedding across to the new accommodation building and as I went across, I became aware that a young man in jeans and a checked shirt was watching me from the new shower building. Smoking a cigarette, he was clearly observing me from a distance.

     This wasn't something that happened to me. I was ok-ish looking, nothing to frighten the horses, but ranked against my friends at school, I was not popular with the boys. I'd had perhaps two boyfriends – nothing serious or meaningful, one of them lasting only a few weeks, as dalliances do at that age. My sister-in-law looked in the direction I was gazing in, and remarked 'He's been watching you all afternoon.' Of course, I was all 'No he's not, sturrrp it, no blokes ever look at me', whilst sneakily looking back. And he was. Definitely. But really, I was not the type of girl to turn heads, so I sternly told myself he was looking at my sister-in-law instead (who is/was genuinely stunning). But that memory stayed with me, because it was so rare. I just didn't get noticed by men. Still don't!

     So there we are in the summer of 1999. Alistair has a job at my family business. I've been aware of him and his friends for a few years, and thought him a complete and utter twat. Loud, gobby, with horrible clothes (the lime green fleecy jumper still burns vividly in my brain, as do the far too tight jeans), and a knob that seems keen to make friends with the female population of Europe. He'd even asked one of my best friends for a slow dance one night. She'd accepted, out of politeness, but been mortified the whole time at dancing with someone in a mustard coloured polo shirt. He was just too Wisbech, too naff, too blokey.

     But then... He moved into the room next door to me in the staff accommodation. And a few times, invited me round for a drink before the Big Nights Out we all indulged in. And each time I was taken aback by how nice he seemed. How he talked about his family, his childhood, what twats some of his friends were (I silently agreed). He seemed like a really decent bloke. And it just didn't compute that this laddish, knobby, blokey bloke could simultaneously be so nice, so easy to talk to, and yet be the utter twat I regarded him as. Talking one night, he mentioned he's done his work experience there. Really? When? Oh, May 1994. Did you wear a checked shirt? Yep. Oh. I remember you. I remember you. You were wearing a red shirt and black leggings with Doc's. How weird!

     And then... One night, both of us drunk, back to his room And afterwards, he held me in his arms and said “Do you know what? I'd really love it if you and I were together. I think you're beautiful, special and wonderful.' I made him wait 24 hours before I agreed (I was in horror at the thought of being associated with someone who had such bad dress sense, a Fen accent, and appeared to the outer world to be an utter twat. Yes, superficial, but also, I was 19).

     And now, this week, it will be 14 years together. I think it's fairly safe to say that if Ali had had any inkling of what his future with me would hold, he would have run screaming for the hills (and being in Fenland, the hills are pretty damned far, trust me). But he didn't, and here we are, 14 years later, still not married and with two junior blondies in two.

And I love him so very much. More and more, as each day unfolds, he reminds me of how lucky I am. And yet, as I remind him, if we'd been on a matchmaking website there is no chance in hell we would have been put together. We shouldn't work as a couple, but we do. We just do.

     Take words. I am a wordworm. Reading, writing, words are my lifeblood, I cannot live without them. I read and write obsessively, love to find new words, new ways of expressing myself. I lose myself in words, I revel in them, I love to look up etymology, dictionaries, linguistics. LOVE it. Whereas Ali doesn't read. Unless he's looking up a practical solution to something, reading is something to be endured. I finally allowed him to look at a few pages here (after he had totally outed me to everyone we know), and he forced himself through it. I'm still not convinced he enjoyed the experience, but it was possibly the first time in ten years he has read for, ahem, pleasure. We have over 700 books in this house. 6 belong to Alistair.

     Our leisure activities are fairly distinct too. For me, leisure means 'doing sod all, except that which is nice', ie lounging around in the sun, with a book or a pen, listening to music, usually with alcohol. For Alistair it means planning and building a wooden playhouse for the blondies, or a hot tub (see here!). Perhaps cutting a 200 metre long hedge, or shooting Nerf darts at a wasps nest to destroy it. Maybe hosing down the terrace. He cannot sit still, not for a minute, whereas I embrace laziness like a long lost lover.

     Messiness doesn't bother me. As long as I know where my stuff is (and it's always in the same place) I'm ok. But every Saturday morning, Alistair has a little shitfit, and the Blondies and I know it's time to cower and tidy, tidy, tidy. By dinnertime the living room will be just as messy as it was first thing, but we made the effort, so we get gold stars.

     He's not a thoughtful person. I don't mean he doesn't do thoughtful things, I mean that he doesn't dwell on things in his mind. Whilst I brood on anything and everything I have experienced, he has this amazing ability to just shrug things off. It's what I most admire in him. He will have a shit day, come home, little moan, then he's fine. When he gets up the next day he has a smile on his face and the expectation that today will be a good day. I have never felt like this. In my angstridden mind, every single thing ever needs to be panicked about, worried about, obsessed over, is right there, extremely loud and incredibly close. But then, that helps when...

     A crisis strikes. Weirdly, I stay calm, and Alistair is the one who freaks out. Talking to the 8yo today (who had remained massively cool in the face of waspish provocation), I realised that because I always anticipate the worst, when bad stuff happens, I am prepared. Ali, being of the more cheery persuasion is faced with the unknown and just freaks the fuck out. This is possibly the only area of personality clash in which I win. Each time I was in labour with the blondies I was the one who stayed calm (aside from shouting a lot of swear words very loudly). Ali just freaked out and I had to tell him what to do (the 5yo was born on the bathroom floor after a 43 minute labour. I had the foresight to make Ali two coffees, get the online contraction timer going, call the labour ward and then tell him to call 999 'We're not going to get to the hospital').

     Music. Bloody hell, music. We disagree a lot on music. He likes all kinds of things I dismiss as naff – our first major argument was about Phil Collins. Then he finds a song we both like: 'Neapolitan Girl' by Divine Comedy. Him: 'Ooh, this is jaunty!' Me: 'It's about a prostitute in post-war Naples.' Him: 'Oh.' How can you like a song without listening to the lyrics? How?

     But it works. It just works. Perhaps because my sour acidity is blunted by his happy optimism. Perhaps because despite the differences, we see the world the same way. We laugh at the same things (quite often at something Ali's said). We both love cricket (and if the kids aren't around, we shout 'TWAT!' when an opposing batsman gets out). The happiest days of my existence have been spent with him, he is the love of my life and I'm very proud to say that we complete each other. I love you, Alpha Papa. Thank you.