Adventures in cake making

Adventures in cake making

Although I’ve been baking for a long, long time, my baked goods lack a certain…finesse. As I have mentioned before they are decidedly rustic looking and I’m always a bit jealous of people you see on TV who effortlessly make beautiful cakes, iced to perfection. Many years ago I made a cake for my ex boyfriend’s friend who was moving back to Northern Ireland after living in England for a long time. For him I decided to make a Guinness cake. I didn’t think it would be too hard and was delighted to find you can buy black fondant icing ready made. Being a total cake decorating novice I thought I’d use a Guinness box as a template for the text as you would find on a Guinness glass. The trouble was the text was pretty big and it didn’t occur to me for one second to try and make it a bit smaller. Instead of which I made an ENORMOUS cake. It was a bit pants if I’m honest, because I’d had to make the cake in several parts it dipped in places and I hadn’t quite mastered the buttercream for the middle so it slipped too. Oh well. As far as I was concerned that was the end of my foray into cake decorating, I was just too rubbish at it.

But then a couple of years ago it was my lovely Nanny’s 80th birthday. My mum very kindly volunteered me to make her cake, I’m not quite sure why and told me it needed to be big enough for about 50 people. Or was 100? Either way, a LOT of people. I was a bit concerned, Nanny makes beautiful cakes, what if my one wasn’t up to scratch? We hired a huge square tin and I made a gigantic Victoria sponge, which thankfully turned out intact and light. But it was the decorating that concerned me. I don’t remember if it was what Nanny had requested but it was decided that the cake would be covered in icing flowers in varying shades of pink. I’d never made an icing flower before but the internet showed me how to make roses, fairly simply. What the internet failed to tell me, however, was just how long they would take: flipping AGES.

But I persevered with them and that little lot there took me DAYS. I was pretty pleased with them, however. Then I had to get onto the scary business of covering it with icing, something I had proved to be rubbish with before. I had experienced similar slippage as before with the jam and buttercream filling and rolling out a giant bit of icing to go over it didn’t go well. It was too thin in places and too dry. The cake didn’t seem to be level either, there was a small dip in the middle and I didn’t have a knife big enough to cut bits off – not that it occurred to me to do that at the time anyway. All in all it looked worryingly rubbish. Luckily though I had loads of icing roses to cover all the bad bits up and I set about doing that and made a load of tiny ones to cover up the rips in the sides. I had to pipe an 80 on it too, and had never used a piping bag in my life. Stupidly (I really am dense sometimes) I made buttercream for it, not royal icing and it didn’t come out very well, especially as all the fat squirts out of the bag onto your hands, which is very, very unpleasant. But the end result was OK and Nanny loved it. It wasn’t until we got to that party that we realised my mum had got the numbers wrong, there were only about 20 people there. Nanny kept the cake in her freezer and is probably still eating it now.

As far as I was concerned that was the last cake I was ever going to decorate and I fully intended to go back to making only rustic cakes. And then this year, just before Hattie’s birthday, I couldn’t get a Peppa Pig cake in the supermarket. I seriously couldn’t be bothered to drive all the way to another supermarket to see if they had any so bizarrely decided to make my own, expecting it to be a disaster but thinking it would be far less hassle than a traipse to ASDA. I stocked up on white and coloured fondant icing and took the plunge. Peppa Pig is a very simple shape so I thought it might have a fighting chance of looking a bit like her if I printed off a suitable enough template from tinternet. Although the end result wasn’t well covered at the sides and was a bit lumpy on top, I was really quite pleased with the results, and best of all the girls knew who it was meant to be.

And after the success of this I thoought I’d try something even more ambitious for Poppy, a Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom cake. No pressure. The Peppa cake had been simple and quite quick to make but the Ben and Holly one took HOURS. It was much more complicated. Like before it was pretty lumpy, I really have no idea how to do the icing so it doesn’t layer but Poppy knew who it was meant to be and that was all I cared about.

And now I’m making a cake for the 5th birthday of the film company I used to work for. Asking for ideas earlier on it was suggested that I make a rainbow cake. I found a simplistic picture of a movie camera and decided I could easily make that in black fondant icing until it was suggested I make a royal icing plaque. I really like the idea of having a black and white cake and then opening it up to the surprise of the rainbow cake inside. I’ve never made royal icing before and had to go on a hunt for glycerine as none of the supermarkets had any pre-mixed royal icing sugar but it seems to be OK. Who knows if it will turn out well or not but it’s fun to try something new.

Slebs that set your teeth on edge

Slebs that set your teeth on edge

I know I’ve earned myself a bit of a reputation as a younger, more feminine and definitely better looking Victor Meldrew character but what the hey. The world is teeming with idiots forever doing stupid things and it’s much easier to write about things you don’t like than things you do.

Celebrity culture is all the rage these days and whole magazines are devoted to pictures taken by the paparazzi of people we apparently all aspire to be. Oh yes, I WISH I was Cheryl Cole (I don’t). Or Victoria Beckham (I don’t), although she has clearly modelled her miserable face on mine. Or rather suffers from the same condition: turned down mouth syndrome. Just because I look a bit unhappy it doesn’t mean I am, I just don’t walk down the road grinning like a loon.  I don’t really care about these people or their lives, who they’re sleeping with, who they’re friends with or why they have given their child a ridiculous name. I don’t even care that they’ve been snapped with a massive sweat patch on their t-shirt or have flashed a photographer because they went commando and got out of a car in a very unladylike manner. I don’t really understand “celebrity” or why some people are considered to be in their exclusive little club. What I DO know, however, is which ones I don’t like!

Sure, it’s mostly pretty irrational, I don’t know these people but when you watch someone on TV regularly or hear them on the radio you feel like you do. Take Jo Whiley, for example. She has the most irritating and monotonous voice. It genuinely sets my teeth on edge and coupled with her gratuitous name dropping it has me reaching for the nearest large object to hurl at the radio or TV. Oh yes, she’s infiltrated TV now with the same unique “I’m best friends with all these amazing bands” style. I suspect she thinks she’s channeling John Peel but she’s not. Heck no.

Women on the news too, a lot of them drive me mad. It isn’t enough that they’ve dumbed down the news to the point where an amoeba could follow it they have to now present it in a conversational style with gesticulating arms as though they’re just having a chat with someone over coffee. A BBC newsreader, Louise Minchin, used to really annoy me but I must admit it’s worn off a bit now, having seen her on other programmes where she comes across as a bit silly (I like silly) and actually rather sweet. DO NOT tell anyone I said that. Susannah Reid on the other hand clearly fancies herself and has been the most alarming shade of orange since she covered the Oscars a few years back. My husband despises Fiona Bruce, although he can’t put his finger on why. She’s pretty smug. Of course it’s not just women on the news that get our goat, some of the men annoy us too. Charlie Stayt, Reid’s partner in crime with his anchor man hair and atrocious interviewing technique is a prime example. Particularly because he was once talking of a coup somewhere in the world and pronounced it “coop”. Shocking.

For the most part I can back up my dislike for such slebs with good(ish) reasons but sometimes there is no explanation. Kate Thornton. Why can’t I stand her? No idea, just can’t. Eamonn Holmes. Fiona Phillips. All of Girls Aloud. Tess Daly. Brucie. Gah! Although now I think about it I kind of can think of reasons for others. Carol Vorderman because she thinks she knows all about maths and is really embarrassing when interviewed (see previous blog about me being a terrible cringer). Alex Jones because she’s thick. Wayne Rooney. Actually, all premiership footballers. Oh, the list goes on and on and on. And on.

Don’t get me wrong though, the ones I like far outweigh the ones I don’t but the general rule of thumb is if they have no discernable talent I’m not going to like ‘em. I love comedians in particular, especially the ones whose observations of life resonate with me. There are many people out there who don’t like Michael McIntyre and I just don’t understand that, I think he’s a genius. The fact is, like in life, we can’t all like everyone but you’ve got to wonder why some of these annoying gits are in the public eye!

(This was an Old Git production for bladdy hippies everywhere to poke fun at) ;)

A day in the life of Dave the moth

A day in the life of Dave the moth

My name’s Dave, I’m a moth. Well, technically that’s not correct, I *used* to be a moth but now I am somewhat deceased. For the last few months I have lived, well, not lived…existed…er, been lying on the floor of…a gym in the delightful town of Milton Keynes. That was until yesterday anyway. Now I, er, don’t live (if you see what I mean) inside a Dyson. They finally sucked me up. And my mate Graham from under the lat pull down. He wasn’t very chatty, Graham. Still isn’t.

Over the course of the last few months I’ve seen some things, let me tell you. A heck of a lot of people come to this gym, of all shapes and sizes and it’s great to see so many people taking care of themselves and trying to getting fit. But, I could be wrong, some of them seem to come a few times and never return. I’m pretty sure from one month to the next I only occasionally saw a face I recognised from before. It could be my fading eyesight though, yes, that’ll be it. Apart from that curly haired woman who’s always on the stepper that is. And the frowny runner. I think they might be married, they’re never at the gym at the same time but always have the same water bottle and similar towels. Oh yes, and that bloke who occasionally gets a bouffant bonce and secretly checks out all the men’s bottoms. He thinks I didn’t notice, but I did.

I did notice a few specific groups of people while I was lying by the wall for all that time. You’d think the view was rubbish from down there, but you’d be wrong, I saw EVERYTHING. For example those “mememe” steppers. Say it with a high pitched voice. I know they really annoy curly-haired-woman who steps like a mad woman and makes the machine inch forward. The mememes take such tiny steps they surely can’t be doing anything? They certainly don’t have a bead of sweat on them when they get off. CHW always looks like she’s just run a marathon, all tomatoey faced and drenched in sweat (not a good look). I heard a rumour she’s training for a marathon. She doesn’t look very happy about it. And what about the uphill treadmillers? Walking up a hill so steep it can’t exist in nature but hanging on for dear life. I’d rather go for a walk in the fresh air, blow out the cobwebs a bit. If I had legs. And wasn’t an ex-moth obviously.

Of course there are the typical blokes you probably get in all gyms too, meatheads who like nothing more than pumping iron, pump, pump, pump until they get those comedy muscles so big they can’t put their arms down by their sides properly. There are plenty of show offs, too, the other day I say a bloke hanging upside down and doing sit ups. Madness! Don’t tell anyone but I thought it was quite cool. Shhhh. I personally loved the weedy guys, lifting way above their maximum and probably getting stuck under the bench press needing help from a sniggering meathead. In fact I heard that happened to CHW once in the prison gym under one of those smith machines. There weren’t even any weights on it, what a muppet! There are a few scary ladies too who do a lot of resistance and have strong looking muscles. You wouldn’t pick a fight with them, no siree.

There are lots of women too, not just curly-haired ones and mememe steppers. Someone really needs to tell some of them that just sitting on a vibration plate probably isn’t doing much. Apart from making the wobbly bits jiggle. And at the other end of the spectrum while you’re obviously very proud of your washboard abs, some of you, no one really wants to see them on display. Did you forget to put your t-shirt on? There are a few that seem to come in pairs or little groups of three, I’ve always suspected these ones of being on the hunt for lurve.  There are similar groups of young blokes too. On my imaginary Venn diagram of the gym the girly ones also fit comfortably into the group that “make eyes at the personal trainers”, all giggly and pink of face while they chat about who knows what and protest that they can’t possibly lift up that kettle bell or run an extra mile per hour. They do it anyway though…hilarious.

I will be California Thin™, I WILL!

I will be California Thin™, I WILL!

Those of you that know me well know that it has been my aim for some time to be California Thin™. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have slightly more wardrobe options than just marquees but it bothers me somewhat that thus far California Thin™ has eluded me.  But not to worry.  The thing is, in the past I’ve had nothing better to do than knock out a 3 mile run, maybe do a bit of cross training, a 10 minute row and a full body pump or spin class. Oh, and a load of resistance training. Genuinely nothing else, I was locked in the gym so I made the most of it and because of it I became incredibly slim and could still eat anything I wanted.  Too slim, if I’m honest.  Good job I ate all those mars bars so I didn’t totally waste away.

Nowadays I have far less time and need to squeeze my daily exercise into an hour, or maybe an hour and a half at weekends or if I get up VERY early (I can’t get up VERY early).  And that’s OK, I do a bit of running here, a bit of stepping there, the odd bit of rowing and if I’ve got a spare 10 minutes I can shoehorn in some slightly rushed resistance.  But it’s too bitty and while I can feel and see that my body shape is changing it’s too flipping slow and I WANT RESULTS DAMN IT!  To be fair I’ve had a few problems with injury and illness.  My marathon training (which seems like a dim and distant memory at the moment but will need to start again sooner or later) started with aplomb. Right up until I was 3 miles into my first run and my left calf went *TWANG*.  Two weeks’ rest required.  I managed a bit of rowing and cross training but it’s not the same.  It started again and I made good progress. I felt strong on the 10 mile training run, and on the 12 mile, but I got to the 15 mile run, reached 11.5 miles and stopped dead, I just couldn’t face another step.  By this time I was having a few issues with my left knee I’d not experienced before. It could have been my new trainers, it could be that I was overcompensating for my calf, even though that was fixed.  Who knows, but my knee was becoming very stiff and taking a while to loosen up regardless of how much warming up and stretching I did, and it would then seize up the second I stopped. Stupid knee.

So I had to stop running for a while and find something else.  I upped the stepping I do having discovered that it’s a very effective calorie burner. So effective apparently that it tells me in 10 minutes I have burned the same amount of calories as I would have in a 3 mile run. Bladdy rah!  But it does get a bit boring doing it every day with only an iPod for company because the music played in the gym is beyond dire, though it is always great fun to laugh at the mememe steppers who aren’t doing it properly.  And while I was going great guns doing the stepping Poppy started pre-school and we all got ill over and over again. Stupid pre-school.  So, now I’m back, I’m nearly well and I’m trying to exercise properly.  I’ve tentatively started running again, but only on the treadmill and I’m stepping a bit too hoping the two will complement each other without taking up too much time. Tomorrow I may add a bit of zumba-in-the-living-room-where-no-one-can-see-me and 12 mins light resistance from me Scary Woman Book (I believe I may have blogged about her before). My aim is to lose the wobbles and lumps, (though I suspect the bum lump from falling down the stairs will only disappear after surgery) and get back into my Chinese dress, even though I’ve nowhere to wear it.

Who knows, maybe I’ll get there in time for Christmas (I won’t).

Reality TV is not for me

Reality TV is not for me

I just can’t get on with reality TV, it makes me cringe and want to gouge out my eyeballs with a spoon.  It makes me want to hide behind the sofa far more than Doctor Who ever did, back when I was a child and it was scary.  All right, that may not be strictly true and it rather depends on what you mean by “reality TV” (not to mention the fact that I could just switch it off).  To me it conjurs up an excruciating image of poor deluded individuals thinking their tone deaf warbling is good enough to win them a recording contract, right up until the point where someone tramples insensitively all over their feelings. Yeah, that’s great TV.  Yet millions of people mock the afflicted on X Factor week in, week out.  And point and laugh at the unfortunates who think they can sing, but can’t.  Not Simon Cowell any more, apparently though.  He’s far too busy in his counting house, counting all the money he’s earned because of someone else’s “talent”.  I’d name them but apart from Will Young I can’t think of a single one!

It all started with Big Brother.  Except it didn’t really. We’ve always had talent shows, who remembers Lenny Henry winning New Faces?  I actually don’t because it happened in 1975 and that’s the year I was born but looking at the list of winners and contestants from the New Faces wikipedia entry I recognise most of the names that were involved: Marti Caine, Roy Walker, the Chuckle Brothers (to me, to you), Victoria Wood and Jim Davidson, to name but a few. Although the less said about Jim Davidson the better.  Back then talent shows weren’t as ridiculously prolific and it seems as though winning actually meant something.  Most of those people stayed “famous” and indeed many of them still are today.  It seems to me that fame is all that people crave these days. They don’t want to share their song-writing and singing skills, their ability to make people laugh or to astound them with a magic trick, no, they just want to be famous for the sake of being famous.  They want fabulous riches, houses a footballer’s wife would be happy with and notoriety, without doing a scrap of hard work.  I think it’s sad.

And this is where Big Brother comes in.  It offers a prize of many thousands of pounds, approximately 13 weeks’ exposure on national television, if they stay the distance, all they have to do in return is be separated from their friends, family and normal life, behave like an idiot and allow people to play increasing cruel psychological tricks on them.  Brilliant.  It takes a special kind of person to want to be on a show like that.  Very special indeed.  I’ve only ever watched Big Brother once (celebrity versions excepted), and that was only because I was in prison and it represented 13 weeks of my sentence, a sizeable chunk.  I must admit I was absolutely hooked, the people involved were generally pretty vile and in some ways their interactions were fascinating, as well as painful to watch, but I’m happy to say I’ve never had cause to watch it since.  Big Brother wasn’t even the first show to put people together in this way, shove ‘em all in a house and set the cameras a’rolling. Nope, MTV did it first with The Real World in 1992, and amazingly it’s still going today.  I have seen one series of this, Real World London and again I was hooked, but I was a teenager.

Oh, Gawd, and all the musical ones! Gah! I’m not a fan of musicals (though I love “Oliver!”) so that’s another cause to switch channels quick as you like. Uuuurgh.  And they keep making them.  And Andrew Lloyd Bladdy Webber (a delightfully attractive toad…I mean man, I’m sure you’d agree) can make even more bladdy money.  Uuuuuurgh.

By now I’m sure you’re likening me to the Old Gits from Harry Enfield and friends. It’s true, I am quite a lot like them (nyeeeeeeeeeah) but these shows just aren’t my bag.  They have nothing to offer me in my little middle class bubble where I polish my Aga (I don’t have an Aga) and pop to the shops in my Volvo to pick up a new Le Creuset (I don’t even have a Volvo any more) or a lacrosse stick for little Araminta and tennis whites for Tarquin.  Oh, all right, liking reality TV has nothing to do with class, I just like making stereotypes, sue me (please don’t).  And although I have recently developed a soft spot for Strictly Come Dancing, I don’t really think comes under the same category, slebs making fools of themselves is fair game in my book.  So most of the time I’m forced to *gasp* turn the telly off of a Saturday evening and just maybe I just hanker back for the days of Noel’s House Party and Gladiators.  I never thought I’d say that…

It’s just cooking!

It’s just cooking!

As you may or may not be aware I am a keen baker.  Although my repertoire is fairly limited I’m not afraid to try new things or work out how to perfect them and I’m never happier than when making cakes and biscuits for other people.  Even better when they enjoy them and tell me so (although in truth I am useless at taking compliments).  But while I consider myself to be a pretty good baker I’m only a passable cook.  I’m not like one of those lunatics on Masterchef that go on and on about how passionate they are about food.  To them I have been known (on more than one occasion per episode) to shout very loudly at the screen “IT’S JUST COOKING!”  Well, it is.

I have a pretty good selection of cook books, several liberated from my very keen cook of a mother, but I don’t know what it is, I just don’t fancy doing a lot of the recipes.  They always start out simply until you get to a point where suddenly you require capers (dubbed by Mrs Binners as the devil’s bum nuggets), celeriac or fennel.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t like these things. I don’t like asparagus either and, even worse, I mostly shop at ASBO or Tesco (I can hear the collective sharp intake of middle class breath from here!). Ocado’s great and all that but ASBO is cheaper and while I may be doing them a disservice I don’t remember ever seeing fennel in their produce section.  Not that I was looking for it.

The trouble with me is that I’m just not a natural cook.  I wouldn’t know where to start with the “marriage of flavours” Nige Annoying Slater’s always going on about (my mother WORSHIPS him).  I know the traditional ones, of course, lamb, garlic and rosemary’s always a winner and, er, some other ones.  Chicken and chorizo, that’s good.  Pie and chips. Things of that nature.  I just have very few ideas of my own.  That said I rarely use a recipe book for making dinner and devised my own chicken/ham/cheese/leek pie that Adam is very keen on but it’s hardly a revelation, I’m pretty sure millions of people make similar ones.  But all I make is comfort food, spag bol, lasagne, toad in the hole, bangers and mash, sausage casserole, dumplings, pies….oh gawd it all sounds so boring and so….pedestrian!

I don’t want to be one of those “passionate” numpties from Masterchef who blub at the drop of a hat because their chocolate fondant wasn’t runny inside (they never turn out right, everyone knows that), or a Come Dine With Me contestant that thinks they’re it because they once had snail porridge a la Heston Weirdo Blumenthal (bleurgh) but I would like to be better. I love food (but I’m not passionate, it keeps me alive and I like things that taste nice), I just want to be a bit more adventurous. In fact I want to be like the lovely Kate Anwyll, her dindinses (that is a word)(it IS!) always sound divine and I swear what sounds like a whole day’s kitchen slaving for me is done with little stress for her. Not that I’d have had the idea in the first place.  In fact my friend Karin is a similar cook and it all seems so effortless.  It’s NOT FAIR and I am EXTREMELY JEALOUS!

Perhaps I just need pointing in the right direction…SEND HELP! If not for me for my poor family that are suffering for having the same old dinners.

The House That Apple Built

The House That Apple Built

“The House that Apple Built” may be an exaggeration but we do have a heck of a lot of kit between us so why not, and with the sad news of former CEO Steve Jobs’ death today I thought I’d write about our family dalliance with Apple fandom.  Yes, my husband is a Mac fanboy.  For shame.

I got my first MacBook shortly after I was released from prison. I’d had an ancient Dell desktop running Windows XP (bleurgh) but it was running like a dog and when I asked my then newish boyfriend Adam to format it for me in the hope that he would fix it, it ground to a halt and would never switch on again.  I could have done this perfectly well by myself, but, you know, it’s nice to make a man feel useful about the place, and as it turned out it worked out very well for me as guilt at breaking my wretched old Dell meant he offered to buy me a new computer. Sucker.  I had managed to land myself a job as a writer and editor and as I would be travelling round a bit I decided it made far more sense to get a laptop than a desktop and Adam seemed really keen for me to have a MacBook.  Who was I to argue? I had had a very small amount of experience of Macs before but long, long ago when they were really complicated, tricky to use and all the colours of the rainbow, more or less.  We’d had one at the company I worked for doing internet support and I remember always dreading the calls from Mac users as they were SO different.  And I remember an old school friend had one donkeys’ years ago that was like a small tower with a tiny screen at the top of it. My maths teacher at college had had one too.  But Adam assured me things had changed and the user experience was infinitely better and he thought I would never want to use Windows again.  And if I didn’t like it, then he would have it and get me something else.

Off we went to PC World to get one. At the time the options were black or white and I went for black in the vain hope that it would stay looking cleaner for longer.  It probably would have if I wasn’t too lazy to give the screen a good clean every so often.  I know it’s a bit sad to say so but I opened up the box and fell in love.  It was beautifully packaged, no carpy bits of polystyrene or cardboard, everything fitted perfectly and looked lovely, there was real attention to detail and you really, truly don’t get that anywhere else.  It was fantastic, so easy to use, the screen was lovely to look at and best of all it came with a programme called Comic Life…. You may be aware of a few of my creations with that.  So Adam was out of luck, he’d have to buy his own.  And buy his own he did, but of course his was better and faster and shinier but as he’s a massive nerd we’ll let him off.

Adam’s MacBook Pro was not his first Mac, not even his second and he still had an old Powerbook, a G4 desktop and a 1st generation iPod, a massive brick of a thing with a huge dial on the front.  These things must have cost him the earth but as I say, he’s a REAL fanboy!  Eventually my eldest son inherited the Powerbook and got his first taste of computer programming and we flogged the G4 on eBay (for peanuts as it was ancient). The iPod is still knocking about somewhere.

And then the iPhone was invented.  And the iPod Touch.  Someone that came to our wedding had an iTouch and I wanted one sooooooo badly.  So as we’d been given quite a lot of money and didn’t need a washing machine or anything we decided to get an iTouch for me and an iPhone for Adam.  Again the packaging was beautiful and again I fell in love.  So sad.  The iPhone was like no other phone I’d seen or used before, especially once the App Store began and the floodgates opened. Adam even became a developer and made a few silly games including Bathroom Racer and iPang… *PANG* By the time Poppy was 1 even she knew how to use it and Hattie is the same.  Bit scary.

And over the last few years we’ve changed and upgraded what we have, my original MacBook had an unfortunate accident next to a glass blender that cracked when the liquid I put in it was too hot (oops). The insurance company sent me a white replacement which eventually died when Poppy knocked it off the sofa onto a fake marble hearth (oops). For a while I got to use Adam’s Air until he decided he really needed that for development and I ended up with a hand-me-down iMac instead.  In fact, now I come to think of it no wonder I’ve never got any money for clothes because we spend all our bladdy money on computers.  Even spoilt no. 1 son got a MacBook for his birthday (and Christmas) this year because it was what he really really really wanted.  But just as a note to potential burglars we never ever EVER leave the house. Ever.

Anyhoo, I digress. We have a stupid amount of kit but can mostly justify it because Adam works for himself and needs it for his software development business. And I need it to test the software and….er….prat about on the internet. Oh, and write that book I’m supposed to be writing. And OF COURSE make mildly amusing comics for your delectation.

So to you Steve Jobs we raise a glass and say thank you. Without you changing Apple’s fortunes in a roundabout way there would be no silly comics and (maybe) no *PANG*. Although I would have loads more clothes.

When Adam met Fiona

When Adam met Fiona

I feel I should start this with a bit of a disclaimer.  If you’re looking for a love story worthy of Mills and Boon with heaving bosoms and boy meets girl, boy acts like a blaggard, boy and girl have some kind of misunderstanding and 27 years later fall into each others arms…well, you’ll be disappointed.  Although I can probably do the heaving bosom bit.  But apart from that…

It was a winter’s morning in suburban Hampshire, the sun was low in the sky trying to break through the early mist. As Fiona sat on the bus her heart was full of wonder at the beauty of the morning and the sound of birdsong.  Or rather the nasty screech of seagulls overhead looking for a tasty morsel in the nearest bin.  And actually it was probably raining.  Looks like I won’t be making my fortune from romantic fiction. *sad face*

I was roughly 19 years old and had started at South Downs college to do a new A Level course after spending 2 years elsewhere doing subjects I didn’t really like.  For various reasons I quit 6 weeks before my exams, horrifying my parents, but I was determined I didn’t want A Levels in Spanish, German and History. Nope, I was going to start again with Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Spanish. I still liked Spanish.  South Downs is a big place not far from where I lived and I already knew a few people there that were doing retakes so I settled straight in.  It probably helped that I enjoyed the subjects I was studying this time around.

One winter’s day he came into her life, their eyes met across a crowded maths class and he was drawn to her, not turning away or blinking until he was right beside her, gazing into the pools of her eyes……

“F**k off, you can’t sit next to me!”

Oh. Having established that, actually, no one else was sitting there Adam flipping well went and sat next to me anyway, the cheeky monkey.  And it wasn’t really the first time he’d been in the class, he’d joined a few weeks in from the start of term to do an AS and had been sitting on the end of a bank of desks but was struggling to see the whiteboard so decided after a day or two to sit in the empty place next to me.  How rude.  Adam was 17, fairly tall with floppyish hair and some very fetching spectacles, the kind that wouldn’t look out of place on a Physics graduate (sorry to my friends with PhDs in Physics, but admit it, you know what I mean).  His skin was annoyingly clear and his teeth were annoyingly straight and he always wore the same jeans, white t-shirt and blue fleece.  He didn’t smell surprisingly, even more of a mystery as he rode his bike to college every day up a very steep hill (and he’s a right stinker now).  I suspected he had a wardrobe full of the same clothes like Jeff Goldblum did in The Fly.  I was something of a hippy, all batik, tie-dye and DMs with mad ringletty hair dyed a deep shade of red with random ringlets bleached blonde. It would have been quite striking, probably, if I didn’t keep leaving it too long between re-dyeing. It would fade to ginger every time.  I was very fond of low cut tops as well and this would become a problem for poor Adam as we became friends as it seemed he couldn’t take his eyes away.  I was always catching him looking down my top and always telling him off.

I have great memories of college and I really think I owe that to Adam, eventually he gave up the course he’d originally signed up for to do A Levels in Maths, Further Maths and Physics so we were together for most of the same lessons.  We were very silly in our classes, always up to no good, taking the mickey out of other people and messing up their experiments for our own amusement.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before in another blog but we did an experiment using a signal generator once and we were perfectly placed next to the plug to switch it off every time one of our class mates was expecting some output.  Funny, it never happened when the poor confused boy called the teacher over…and thankfully our sniggering went unnoticed.  We were meanies but never bullies, everything we did was in good fun. I hope so anyway.  We got away with our cheekiness because we worked very hard and got good grades…well, Adam did.

It was always pretty apparent to me that Adam wanted to be more than friends but that was never going to happen, I was two years older than him and had an older boyfriend, and much as I liked him (I always considered him to be my best friend) he had no chance.  I did get a bit jealous when he got very friendly with another (large breasted) girl but I never gave it away.  And it never affected our friendship, we carried on being great friends until we finished college and moved on, he with a girlfriend that I always suspected didn’t like me (she really didn’t) and me single again by that time.

We met up again after a couple of years when I was 21 and had just had my first baby, strange to say I’m not sure 19 year old Adam was especially interested in the very small Jake.  Can’t think why.  He was rather keen to impress me with his new found success with the ladies since he’d started uni and dumped the specs in favour of contacts (the relationship with the girl that didn’t like me hadn’t panned out, shame) and I must say, I was very impressed (I wasn’t).  And so we lost touch for a number of years, I was firmly ensconced in a disastrous relationship with two small boys and he was off being a bona fide nerd in some other part of the country.  I’d get the occasional message after Friends Reunited was invented but our hearts weren’t really in it.

I won’t bore you with any more of this as I know I’ve already told the story of how we eventually got together in the Porridge blog, suffice to say hurrah for social networking, without Friends Reunited who knows what would have happened?  We’ve been together for nearly five years now, and married for nearly four and every day I think how lucky I am to be with someone that totally gets (and shares) my cheekiness, propensity for sarcasm, and willingness to be silly.  He is also very good at managing my appalling grumpiness, though it must be very irritating and although there are many times when I could happily bop him on the head with my trademark frying pan and I glaze over when he starts talking about computer programming, I think we’re really happy together.  Who better to marry than your very best friend?  He’s still always trying to look down my top though…

I hope he doesn’t kill me for this!

Help, I’ve entered a marathon!

Help, I’ve entered a marathon!

My brain was somewhat addled yesterday. I woke up feeling fuzzy headed (which I’m sure had nothing to do with the wine I’d had the night before) and en route to meeting my friend for a coffee I stopped to get some cash out….but couldn’t for the life of me remember my PIN.  Sitting in the cafe, chatting away, I was forced to pause regularly while I wracked my brain seeking the words I couldn’t quite remember: words like “the”, “and” and “frying pan”.  And something went wrong when I tried to pay for the things I hadn’t meant to buy in IKEA, I typed in the PIN my mum had been kind enough to remind me of…and the transaction was declined.  Presumably I got the number wrong because it worked fine the second time.  Clearly something was amiss (I’m certain it wasn’t the wine…). I’m more or less back to normal now but it’s too late, the damage is done. For in the midst of my befuddlement something happened, something BIG and that I may very well live to regret: I agreed to run a marathon.  Not a half marathon. Nope. A whole marathon, 26.2 miles of undulating roads and redways around Milton Keynes.

We get a plethora of freebie newspapers here (yes, two a week IS a plethora) and on the front of yesterday’s offering was the news that MK would host its first marathon, open to 6,500 runners of all abilities. I’m not sure what happened but let it be known that Adam is an accomplished manipulator of people (I’ve seen him in action, it’s impressive) so I suspect he worked his mojo on me and suddenly I was walking around saying (in a monotone, slightly detached from myself) “We should do that, I’ve always wanted to do a marathon…” Yes, that must be it, it was a nerdy mind trick, no free will involved whatsoever.

Now, it’s not completely the end of the world, because I do run. Well, jog. OK, plod. But although I’ve done the Great South Run 3 times before and have participated in the Race for Life once or twice, those were in Portsmouth and Portsmouth is flat as a pancake.  And the Great South is 10 miles, it’s not even a half marathon. And thinking about it, I’ve struggled round every single time, especially those last 2 miles along the never ending seafront with the wind buffeting you from all directions. So really this is lunacy, even though I’ve been working on my speed on the treadmill and desperately trying to get a teeny bit faster.  Whereas Adam has been pounding the streets and the treadmill, sometimes with my eldest son, increasing his speed so that he can now run 3 miles in under 20 minutes and 5 miles in around 35. Gulp. I feel it pertinent to mention that Adam’s renewed interest in running occurred when his younger brother took it up some months ago and started to get quite good at it and lose weight. Coincidence? Hmmmm.

So that’s it, it’s done, we have entered and on 29th April 2012 we will be standing in Stadium MK “raring” to go and I will be quaking in my running shoes. This gives us 10 months to train and I fully intend to start on Monday, having found several 14 week training programmes to follow. I have worked out I can do them three times over with two weeks to spare.  What fun!  It is a serious commitment but is probably the kick up the bum I need to get me really properly training and if it’s not too dull I will try and do regular blog updates.  Assuming the training doesn’t go horribly wrong I am thinking of running for charity and would quite like to raise money for Diabetes UK in memory of my friend Julian who died early this year. I’ll let you know how to sponsor me nearer the time.

In the meantime, I am running the 10k Race for Life on July 24th in memory of my friend Lizzie who also died early this year after a long battle with breast cancer. You can sponsor me here.

The moral of this story is never allow yourself to make a decision on a day when your mind has been playing up!

Fright Wig

Fright Wig

I’ve struggled with my hair from the age of about 13 when it changed from bushy (think Hermione Granger) to out of control curly with a large proportion of frizz.  I’d always blamed our hairdresser, a friend of my mum who first suggested I have my waist length hair cut into a bob and then suggested the addition of layers.  The resultant “do” was a mullet. Yes, a mullet. The top layers were very short but at the back it was fairly long.  Not a good look on a pubescent girl who attended a single sex private school.  But really I think it was just a cruel coincidence that at the same time our very nice hairdresser gave me the hairdo from hell, my dodgy genetic history kicked in and gave me uncontrollable curls and frizz to match.  Luckily for me (or not) I wasn’t alone in my hair woes, another girl in my year at school had a similar look, and she named our “style” the Fright Wig.  If I hadn’t destroyed all the photos from around that time I’m sure you’d agree the term was perfect.

Back in the dark ages when I was 13 there were very few “products” available on the market. Hairspray, of course, and maybe mousse, but also, given that I was young and clueless it didn’t even occur to me that covering my bonce in gunk on a daily basis might spare my blushes a little.  It probably did me no favours that I brushed my hair as ever I had either, separating the curls into a kind of special halo of fuzz.  I’m not sure how long I walked around like that but I can assure you the ill-advised addition of a fringe did nothing to enhance the overall effect.  It wasn’t just a Fright Wig. It was a Fright Wig From Hell.  And then I discovered that not brushing helped a bit. As did water.  If I wet my hair several times a day it would clump together into a temporary ringlet.  The ringlet would dry out eventually though and de-clump a bit but at least it was less of a frizz halo.  Except soaking wet hair is pretty impractical and teenaged girls are not backwards in taking the mickey out of someone whose hair drips all over the shop several times a day.  I’m staggered at my lack of common sense at this age.  Did it not occur to me there might be something out there that would achieve the same effect without  looking like a drowned rat? Really?

By the time I did discover that hair products make your hair look better I’d already been a sight for some time. And that’s without even thinking about my awful glasses. Hair mousse was great, really it was but most of the time it made my hair crunchy. It might have looked OK but it felt pretty awful.  It also had a tendency to stay looking wet, but obviously didn’t drip so was marginally less embarrassing. I later learnt that a combination of mousse and wax made my hair look really pretty good but if anything this felt even worse, the mousse still made it crunchy and the wax gave it the added bonus of feeling all greasy as well.  Had any myopic boys wanted to run their fingers through my hair, well, I imagine they would have been quite upset as they tried to surreptitiously wipe their hands on their jeans.  And if they had persevered their hands would have got stuck anyway.

Needless to say I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to find ways of straightening my crazy curls out.  A blast from a hairdryer  created a sort of pom-pom effect.  Not really what I was looking for.  Perming solution, it turns out, does not give curly hair an anti-perm, no matter how much you try and pull it straight.  I tried crimpers as well, crimped hair being the fad of the 80s/early 90s. They were marginally effective but it was very short-lived, plus the smell of burning hair was a bit disconcerting.  I even tried using the crimpers in the way you would use modern straighteners, pulling it down the length of the hair.  Not only did it do untold damage it also bloody hurt and didn’t look that good anyway.  I was depressed.  So would you be, I looked like this:

I'm the one on the left. With the hat. Dear God.

I resigned myself to a (celibate) life with rubbish hair.  I couldn’t understand why random people would tell me how lovely my hair was when they had beautiful straight, easy to manage hair.  They could get out of bed first thing in the morning and not have to do battle to make themselves look halfway normal.  I was once accosted in a pub by someone that refused to believe my hair wasn’t permed and wanted to know where I’d had it done, she was SO adamant about  it I had to make up the name of a salon just to get rid of her.  I think she may have been drunk.

Pairs of straighteners came and went in my life but they were never up to the job. My hair would be straight-ish for a bit and then the tiniest amount of moisture would mess it up or a sudden rain storm would end up with me looking like the poor soul in Woman in a Dressing Gown (great film, watch it). Then they invented GHDs and all my prayers were answered.  For a long time from the day I bought some I straightened my hair every day, ruining the condition, of course, but I didn’t care a jot, I finally felt attractive: the Fright Wig was gone.  I liked it. People told me they liked it.  I was happy.  During periods of great laziness where I couldn’t be bothered to spend half an hour or so on my hair I would leave it curly, but I found that my hair wouldn’t curl quite right any more and I’d always go back to my GHDs in spite of the hassle. I just didn’t like my hair curly, I felt unattractive and was always reminded of the fuzz halo.  The fuzz halo was bad.

After I had Hattie, though, my time became severely limited. With her and a very demanding Poppy to look after, needing to find 30 minutes to spend on my hair became a serious annoyance.  So I stopped. I felt horrible most of the time, I was using the same old crunchy greasy mousse/wax combination and after so much straightening it didn’t really want to curl into the ringlets I occasionally quite liked.  I always just leave my hair to dry by itself when curly so I kept looking for the Holy Grail of hair products that I could shove on and forget about and finally came up with something that worked quite well. I got the hairdresser to cut it so it would curl better and I must say I’m much happier with it now.  More or less.  Of course no one’s happy with what they’ve got and it is still a Fright Wig. But a Fright Wig that’s quite ringletty and almost pretty in certain (low) lights.

Which do you prefer?