Visitors

Doing two courses simultaneously was not the brightest idea I’ve ever had but I got through it and life has returned to normal – well, sort of. While the cerebral part of me is able to concentrate on writing again, my physical environment is not normal.

You see, we are having a lot of work done to the house. This work isn’t out of a need to keep-up with the Joneses but is due to necessity. We have been living in our home for fifteen years and lots of things have come to the end of their life-cycle. The trouble is instead of being small things like a kettle or a toaster, they are big things like windows, an oven and a conservatory. We’ve tried putting these things off as long as possible by adopting ingenious ways of getting old, decrepit  things to work. For instance, we could get the oven going if we used a children’s paintbrush to flick the fan. I wish this was a joke but, unfortunately, it’s not. The main problem, apart from finding the money, is that I don’t like having workmen/women in my home.

This is not because I have some irrational fear of overalls or a burning hatred of rigger boots but because I can never fully relax when people I don’t know are at my house all day, for days on end. Having workpeople in my house feels me with dread for a number of reasons:

1 – What am I supposed to do with myself? I can’t go for a run or exercise because this would mean I then need to have a shower etc. I can’t do that when people are in my kitchen/bedroom/ garden fitting ovens, windows and doors. It’s just not right, is it? They’d probably think that I’m some mad woman who’s trying to seduce them with my middle-aged body. I wouldn’t be but they wouldn’t know that. OK, so I can’t run but I can write. But how can I when there is banging and crashing going on? I could, shudder, do the housework but there is no point when I’m just going to have to clean-up again at the end of the day. I could go out but that leads me onto problem number 2.

2 – Going out for the day. This seems to inevitably lead to an explanation of where I am going on how long I will be. Why do I do this? It is none of their business nor are they the slightest bit interested in what I’m doing. I blame my overprotective parents who made me account for my every waking moment as a child and teenager. Old habits are hard to break. And where would I go anyway? It’s like being exiled from your own home.

3 – Making cups of tea. I have a real problem with this mainly because I don’t drink tea myself. My husband does but no-one in our house drinks coffee and therein lay my first problem. I presumed builders drank tea. I mean, everyone knows that. But no, apparently twenty-first century builders drink coffee and we didn’t have any so I had to make a mad-dash to the shop to purchase some. The second issue I have with hot drinks is that because I don’t drink them, I don’t know how often I’m supposed to ask the builders if they want a drink. If I don’t make a conscious effort to think about it the whole day could go by with my sipping water and the builders throwing my dirty looks.

4 – Use of the facilities. This is my number one problem with having workpeople in the house. I don’t like them using my toilet because I have to clean it. I don’t mind if they only pee but they don’t and the sometimes leave my toilet in a mess. And I’m the one who cleans it – yuck, yuck, yuck.

So now you understand why I have put this off for so long (my husband couldn’t care less, mainly because he is at work and doesn’t have to deal with these problems). But now I have to face all my fears in one huge massive hoard of builders, window fitters, kitchen fitters, electricians, plasterers and decorators demanding cups of coffee and to use my toilet. Deep breath, I can get through this.

 

 

 

Film Premier

I have been neglecting my blog again. This is because I very ambitiously (or stupidly) signed-up to do two online courses simultaneously.

One course is covering the archaeology of the Roman Port of Portus and is fascinating.  The other course is Exploring Film-making with the National  Film & Television School no less. Now, I don’t have any ambitions to be a film-maker but I love film and thought it would be interesting to find out more about the film-making industry and process. And it has been interesting and I’ve loved participating in the course. That was until today, when I had to make a short 30 second film exploring the use of lighting.

I don’t make films. I’ve never even made one on my phone. I just stick to taking photos. My phone is full of videos though that have been made by my daughters. But these mainly consist of them singing songs from Frozen and I wasn’t sure this was what the NFTS wanted. Added to the pressure was the fact that most of the other course participants seem to be film-makers and were producing amazing 30 seconds shorts. But needs must and all that.

The first problem was getting the lighting right. I was asked to light a room

 with no natural light. It seems a pretty simple thing, put on a few lamps, torches etc and hey presto ready to go! I mean, if you can see it with the naked eye it must show up on video. But it didn’t. Not at all. And although I might have been able to say the pitch black nothingness was a reflection and symbol of modern society’s fragmented relationships, I didn’t think the NFTS would buy this.

Plan B was for my husband to bring in an industrial lamp from the garage, which lit the room alright. It lit it too much and I then had to use masses of baking paper (a tip I picked up from the course (see, I have learnt something)) to reduce the glare. Good job I like baking. It was still not right, but the best I could do with the resources and time I had.

So good to go? Well, no because I had no actors to act or read any snippet of script I’ve written in the past. What I had were  my 7-year-old twin girls who love singing Frozen songs. Well, if it ain’t broke…

 

Pin it!

20150205_094116Being all buoyed-up by my mini Resolutions, I decided to seek out some inspiring, but easy, recipes to make me a domestic goddess. Now, the last time I did this it involved pouring through Jamie’s & Delia’s books. But it’s the 21st century. I no longer need to damage my knees by resting a heavy, hardback book on them. All I need now is my tab and an internet connection.

The only problem with surfing the net for recipes is that you either have to print them off or fill your bookmarks up with them. But, wait a minute, there is another way. There’s Pinterest. To be honest, I’ve never bothered with Pinterest before. I’ve not felt the need to pin anything but it did seem to make saving recipes easier so I signed-up for it and started pin-ing.

But, hang on, Pinterest isn’t just good for recipes. I can also pin decorating ideas and health tips and this season’s must-have fashion items. In fact, I can spend a good hour or so pin-ing all sorts of things that would make me not just a domestic goddess but also see me have a wardrobe to die for, abs of steels, dewy skin & a house straight out of a magazine.

Ok, so the reality is that I will do nothing with these things as they are too much like hard work and if I really was that person, I would be already. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it is fun pin-ing and I’m hooked.

 

Resolution 2

Supposedly needed for meditation but I find candles distracting.
Supposedly needed for meditation but I find candles distracting.

My second New Year’s resolution was to meditate. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for years. Yes – years, which says a lot about my determination to change myself, my will-power and my organisational skills.

It started when I watched a programme/documentary about Beatle – George Harrison. Now, George was well into Hinduism and, apparently, could meditate for hours at a time. Imagine that! To be so focused, to have so much self-control to clear your mind and just be.’Right,’ I thought. ‘I’m having a bit of that.’ Except I didn’t. Then, about six months or so ago, a friend of mine was telling me all about the positives of meditation. How it made her feel calm and allowed her to think more clearly. ‘You should try it,’ she said. ‘I will,’ I said. But, of course, I haven’t.

I may not have been meditating but I have been reading. I’m a reading junkie. I’ll read just about anything and one of the things I have been reading is glossy women’s magazines (I love a glossy!). This month’s edition (which is actually February’s edition. Why do magazines do that? It’s like the all live on a different timeline to the rest of us) is, unsurprisingly given the time of year, all about New Year, New You (in a February edition. I missed the January edition. It was probably about Christmas) and one of the articles is about meditating. Now, I don’t believe in destiny or fate, just in coincidences and I guess January (or February in magazine land) is a time when we all are feeling a bit strung-out, bloated and tired after the festive excesses so it makes perfect sense to have an article on meditation. It was not, in any way, the gods’ or heaven’s or any other spiritual beings’ way of telling me to get my finger out and give it a try. Not in any shape or form.

So I have. And, it was difficult to try to not think and just let thoughts wash over you. But it did make me feel a little calmer, a little more relaxed and have a little more energy. And, difficult though it may be, like most things practise makes perfect. So that’s my second New Year’s resolution – to keep on practising and make time for my mental health. I’m not sure if I have three hours to spare in a day though…

 

Resolution 1

Steamed veggies again.
Steamed veggies again.

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions. I can’t actually remember the last time I did. They’re too easily broken and I think the reason for this is that people aim too high. They want to make monumental changes that require a ridiculous amount of time and energy to become a person that they think they should be –  some mythical, perfect creature that just doesn’t exist. There’s no wonder people can’t keep this up.

However, this year, I have decided to make a couple of resolutions. Not ones that see me transforming magically into the perfect mother, wife, friend and daughter. That would be one hell of a long list of resolutions to make. Instead I’ve decided to keep things simple by choosing resolutions that don’t require that I put too much effort in and, more importantly, that I’m going to enjoy. Resolution number 1 is to be more adventurous in the kitchen. And by this I mean cook more (shame on you!).

Now, I do cook. We’re not a family that lives on fast food or processed foods. But what we do tend to eat the same meals on the same day of the week ‘Hooray, it’s Wednesday – that means it’s spaghetti!” shout my daughters. And there’s the problem, right there. Two very fussy children whose diet, whilst being quite healthy, is very limited due to the faddy nature of their taste-buds. They never used to be like this. They used to eat anything I gave them until they hit the terrible age of 2, then it all changed.

Previously loved foods (cheese, grapes, tuna pasta bake etc. The list goes on and on) were suddenly rejected at an alarming rate. I tried all the things you’re supposed to do in this situation; cook together, eat with other children, don’t give them anything else until you starve them into submission, but none of it worked. Battles of wills and tears (on both sides) over food is upsetting for everyone concerned so I did the only think I could think of – cook them the foods they liked in the hope that some point in the future they’d get over it. They haven’t yet.

This state of affairs has meant that the four of us has been eating  roast dinners, Spaghetti Bolognese, salads and fish in an alarming circle of regularity for years. But not this year. I’m going to try cooking new and exciting things and if the girls don’t like it tough! I’m going to make a stand in the kitchen and drag them kicking and screaming into a world of unexplored tastes and smells. Well, I’ll probably have some fish fingers on stand-by.

 

January Blues?

20150105_105129This is, if I’m not mistaken (which I could well be), my 100th blog post! A big milestone for me as I’ve never been known to stick at anything for long. In fact, I’ve not really stuck at this blog as much as I would have liked – hence the year or so with no posts. But that’s all in the past, like 2014. As I’m still recovering from the Christmas and New Year excesses, I’ve decided that tomorrow will be the best day to officially start 2015 with a spring in my step so have dusted off an old post on my take on January – that traditional month of doom, gloom and the blues. Enjoy x

(Taken from my post ‘A polar bear with red eyes…’, written January 2013)

I try not to over indulge over Christmas and New Year, but I still manage to eat and drink more than I usually would. Added to the mix is inactivity. Festive TV specials and dramas, playing with the girls’ new toys (with the girls of course), visiting relatives always leaves me feeling sluggish, inert and brain dead. That’s why, when the girls returned to school this week, I decided to go out for a long, brisk walk to blow the cobwebs from my poor bruised, leaden body.

I’m lucky enough not to have to go too far to reach a bit of a quiet spot, a haven. The weather was surprisingly mild for January and I didn’t have to get decked out in my scarf and hat. As I walked past the skeletal trees and gothic piles, I thought how good it was to breathe the fresh air into my lungs and feel my heart pumping. I liked the feeling so much that I picked up the pace; walking faster and faster until I developed a stitch. In a perverse way even this felt good. The pain reminded me that I needed to take care of my body as much as my spirit.

And my spirit was working overtime. Thoughts and ideas were darting in and out of my head like swifts in the summer. I tried to quieten them down, banish them even, because I just wanted to enjoy being outside. I didn’t want to focus on anything at all. I once read a book by Roald Dahl (I can’t remember which one) that said “Don’t think of a red-eyed polar bear.” Of course, all you can think of then is a red-eyed polar bear. And the more I tried to clear my mind of every little idea, random thought and niggle the more I found myself thinking of them. In the end I just succumb to it all in the hope that eventually they would leave me alone. They did and I was free to enjoy the rest of my walk in peace.

When I reached home I felt content and happy, and that got me thinking to how we always see January as the ‘blues month’. The month where we’re skint, run down, and fed up after the excesses of Christmas and by the winter weather. But actually it’s not like that at all. It’s the month where we take a long, hard look at our lives and mentally set ourselves the goals and challenges to change. And even if we never achieve these aspirations, in January we feel that we can. That it will be different this time, and we will see those projects through to fruition. It feels pretty damn good when we do this, and for a fleeting moment we feel contentment. So I propose we rethink our attitude towards dear old January. It should no longer be known as the ‘January Blues’ but as ‘January Optimisim.’

 

Christmas Joy?

One of several bags of out-grown toys
One of several bags of out-grown toys

Well, against the odds and working like maniacs, we’ve, somehow or other, managed to just about, nearly, finish the decorating. I’m not sure how we fitted in the room clearance, painting, shopping for new furniture, the car boot sale to get rid of outgrown toys and living in a house which looked like it should be the star of Channel 4’s Obsessive Compulsive Hoarders – but we did. And it looks great and the blood, sweat and tears and five hours of sorting out cupboards (yes, really) has all been worth it.

Just in time too as it’s nearly Christmas and we still didn’t have a tree despite the girls’ cries and pleading. This isn’t because I’m anti-Christmas tree but because there was nowhere to put the damn thing. But now the house is back to normal, it was time to remedy this situation. Now, only once in my adult-home-owning life have I had a real Christmas tree. This was the first year I left home when I swore I would not follow my parents’ example and have the real McCoy ever, single year. It would be beautiful. It would be sustainable. It would make my new flat smell delightful. It would make a right bloody mess all over my brand-new carpet. I only ever did it the first year and then followed in my parents’ footsteps and bought an artificial one.

This year, however, I had a real hankering for a real tree. I’m not sure why. I can only think twenty years had dulled the memory of the pine needle mess. So, yesterday, I was excited with the thought of us all going as a family to choose a tree. I was excited but, unfortunately, the rest of my family weren’t.

My daughters’ (who are clearly teenagers in the making) weren’t even dressed when my husband returned home from work at two o’clock in the afternoon. They both seemed to think that lounging around in their PJs was preferable to getting dressed and going and picking a tree that they had been wanting for the past three weeks and asked if we could just get the one out of the loft instead. To be honest, their complete lack of interest in something I had been looking forward to all week was a blow but I sucked-up the hurt and agreed. Then one of my daughters changed her mind as she decided she couldn’t wait a year to get a real tree. Then she asked what a real tree was. “Err, it’s like the one in the loft but made of…err…tree,” was the best I could come up with.

My other daughter then decided that if her sister was going to pick a tree she would too but made it very plain that this was only under sufferance and that she wouldn’t enjoy it at all. “I bet it’ll smell horrible in the shop,” she declared as I bit my tongue very hard. Then my husband, who I had mistakenly seen as an ally, got out his tape measure and went to measure the boot of the car. He came back in and announced we couldn’t possible buy a tree any bigger than six-foot as it wouldn’t fit into the enormous, gigantic boot of our estate car. At this point, I wanted to shout, “You miserable lot! Sod the real tree and just get the artificial one out of the loft again!!”. But I didn’t because, it may not have been how I imagined it, but I was going to get the tree I wanted. So biting my tongue again so it was practically bleeding, I climbed into the car with the rest of the Grinch family.

I’m pleased to say, that once we arrived at the Garden Centre and saw the trees, my family cheered-up and got well and truly into the Christmas spirit. The girls bounced around with squeals of delight as we chose the tree and my husband even joined in without getting out his tape measure to check the chosen specimen would fit into the car.

And, of course, it didn’t so we had to wait at the Garden Centre whilst he took the tree home and came back for us. We even bought a second tiny, table-top tree for the Dining Room and some Christmas foliage in his absence. He didn’t even pull a face as we showed it to him. The Christmas tree spirit won through in the end.

Guaranteed to cheer up Scrooge himself
Guaranteed to cheer up Scrooge himself

Sweet Krampusnacht

After banging on about my Krampus Cracker story, thought it was time to share it with you all. The inspiration came from the commercialisation of Krampus in Europe and the States with chocolate Krampus being made and Krampus parties being thrown. I tried to imagine how Krampus would feel about this.

 

Krampus sighed as he bit the head off the mini chocolate replica of himself. How has it come to this, he thought. I used to be feared and dreaded. People were terrified of me. Mothers told their children terrible stories about how I would haul them kicking and screaming off to the underworld if they weren’t good.

For years the stories had been repressed, first by the Catholic Church and then by the fascists, as the tales were believed to be too frightening, too horrifying to be heard. Krampus had been forced to hide away in his cave, biding his time until he was heard and remembered again. He knew the time would come. Stories of demons and devils and bogey-men were never forgotten for long. So he had waited patiently until, finally, the moment arrived.

Krampus had shaken with delight when he heard his name being whispered once more. He’d dusted off his chains and bells. He’d polished his horns and sharpened his fangs. He’d even bought a new bunch of birch twigs from a woodsman who lived nearby. Krampus could hardly contain his excitement when the whispers became louder and louder until they had turned to shouts which hurt his ears and set his fangs on edge. But, somehow or other, he’d managed to control himself and keep his emotions in check. That was, until tonight – Krampusnacht.

As the sun slipped away over the horizon, Krampus had rushed out of his cave with a deafening roar, whipping and thrashing his chains and bells around his head with a ferocity not even he knew he possessed. He had stomped into town baring his fangs and brandishing his bundle of birch twigs at all he passed. But no-one had been scared. Nobody had screamed, trembled and tried to run away. Instead they had laughed, pointed and taken photos of him on their phones. One child had even dared to hand him the mini chocolate replica of himself with not just a smile but a hug.

I’ll show them, Krampus muttered, ripping off the replica’s arm and swallowing it whole. They’ll be sorry when they see who I really am, he growled, stuffing the mini chocolate Krampus’ legs into his mouth. Just let them wait. I’ll make sure they’ll never sleep soundly in their beds again, he snarled, ramming the remainder of the sweet-tasting figure between his lips. But first, he said, licking his fingers, I’ll have to have another one of these.