Friday, 30 December 2011

Regressing into Childhood

My husband seems to like penguins. Two years in a row he's bought virtually identical penguin-based Christmas cards. Knowing he's a softie, like me, and can't resist teddies and suchlike, I bought him a cuddly penguin for Christmas so he could have one for himself.

We sat up in bed cooing over the new addition to the family and decided to name him.
"Peter the Penguin?" I suggested
"No, not keen," replied Dougie, becoming quite possessive of the little chap.
"No? For God's sake, does it have to begin with bloody P?"
"Pingu began with P."
"He's not Pingu. What was the name of the penguin in Happy Feet?"
"Dunno, didn't see the film. Wasn't it just 'Happy Feet'?"
"Not calling him that."
"Ok, how about Ant?"
"Ant? As in Ant and Dec?"
"No, Ant as in Antarctic"
"Hmm, not sure."
"No, me neither, he doesn't look like an Ant."
"No, he doesn't, he looks like a penguin." ...cue roars of laughter from Dougie.
"How about David, as in Attenborough?"
"No, I'm thinking Orville."
"Like Keith Harris' duck?"
"Well he couldn't fly either."
"Orville Wright could."
"That's true."
"What was his brother called?"
"How about Wilbur?"
"Yeah, he looks like a Wilbur. Perfect. Wilbur it is."


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Book Review: Are We Nearly There Yet? by Ben Hatch

You know when you read a book and think, I wish I'd written that? This is such a book.  Damn you, Ben Hatch.

Ben and his wife Dinah accept the formidable task of travelling round Britain in a battered Vauxhall Astra to write a family guide book. They take off for five months with their two young children and pack in nearly as many family-friendly attractions as Dinah tries to secrete extra pairs of shoes in their luggage. They discover there are only so many ruined abbeys a family can 'ooh' and 'aah' at and that hotels can be judged on the quality of their complimentary biscuits and whether or not you can get CBeebies on the TV.

The 8,000 mile adventure, seeking out a poo museum in Leicester (a big hit with the children, naturally) and a pencil museum in the Lake District (including possibly not the world's largest pencil) is punctuated by family squabbles, toddler tantrums and the odd spot of danger. However, as the trip unfortunately coincides with the failing health of the author's father, it becomes a voyage of self discovery as Ben Hatch reminisces about his own childhood and tries to make sense of the relationship he has had with his dad.

Most parents will read the book, laugh frequently and nod sagely, empathising with the joys and frustrations of travelling with kids. They should also jot down some of the fascinating places to visit. I, for one, am going to add Liverpool to my list, not least for the discovery that people in authority there have a healthy attitude towards ignoring petty rules.

Ben Hatch is a very talented writer; he has a natural gift for humour, dialogue and pace so the story rattles along with ease. The pockets of sadness in the narrative are all the more poignant because of the comedy in the rest of the book.

I bought Are We Nearly There Yet? just before Christmas in paperback (Amazon £5.03) but it's also available in Kindle format at only 99p. Highly recommended.


Monday, 26 December 2011

Whistling Carols and yet another round of Arthritic Charades

We did that thing couples do at Christmas; agree not to buy each other anything and then worry as the 25th approaches that someone is reneging on the deal. I realised by the middle of last week that, for once, neither of us had cheated, but this seemed too sad for words to be sitting on Christmas morning with bugger all to open. As Dougie was up to his ears in patients, many of whom were the worried well who "just have a bit of  a sniffle but thought I'd get checked out before Christmas, Doc", I decided to do the decent thing and, as well as buy him some Armani smellies and a few DVDs, purchased some top-of-the-range ghd straighteners for me. I knew Dougie would be pleased he'd 'bought' me them as my current straighteners have no automatic cut-off and, in the long run, knowing my propensity for leaving them switched on, it would be cheaper than dealing with the aftermath of the house burning down. I wrapped them up on his behalf and wrote myself a tag, "To my Darling Wife, I just knew these would be perfect for you. All my love, your thoughtful husband, Dougie xxx"

The present-opening session on Christmas morning was a success: both Dougie and I vocalised our surprise at his generous gift.

Whilst Rory and I played with our new toys, Mr Organised filled two recycling bags and set to with the veg preparation for dinner. Once he has his pinny on he becomes so Masterchef, it's uncanny.
"So tell us what you're doing now, Doug?"
"Well, Greg, I'm peeling the potatoes"
"And what's your timing on that, Doug?"
"About five minutes, Greg"
"Do you think you're on track?"
"I think so. Just have to up my game a bit; this is my dream and I want to show everyone what I can do"
"Looks laa-ve-ly, Doug"
"Thanks, Greg"

Prep over, and the consumption of pink fizz affecting his timings somewhat, the chef had a break to watch some Christmas special Sky Sports thing while the sous-chef took over the reins and annoyed everyone by singing ad nauseam the opening ah-ah-ah-ah-a-a-ah bit from the Military Wives Choir's Wherever You Are song.

The inlaws, George and Emily, arrived at 2pm with the 'big bag' which has accompanied them to every Christmas Day at ours since Rory was born. Always dubious about what's going to come out of this bag (not surprisingly after previous disappointments of Chelsea football socks and a belt buckle with a wolf on it) this year they played safe with John Lewis white bath sheets. Dougie entertained them with some obscure TV and film quiz from a tin we'd bought Rory for Christmas. The questions were all American and they struggled with questions about the name of the fish in Disney's The Little Mermaid, when Emily had been hoping for some Emmerdale topics.

The meal was "a triumph, Doug, though the turkey may have been a little overdone". Dinner entertainment was provided by some musical crackers we'd bought. In each cracker was a numbered whistle, eight in total. As conductor, I had a baton and notation for whistled carols. Not having enough people for all eight whistles, each person got two whistles each, which didn't bode well. The First Noel (321345 678765) was, quite frankly, a car crash, not helped by Emily putting near enough the whole whistle in her mouth so that her 5 and 6 notes were inaudible. She then proceeded to laugh so infectiously, no-one was able to purse their lips to make any useful noise at all. Deck the Halls was a tad too fast in the la-la-la bits but we had far more success with a sedate rendition of Jingle Bells possibly because there were none of George's 7s and 8s and lots of Rory's 3s. As Rory was the only one able to produce a pleasant sound from the whistle, I tried to choose songs with plenty of 3s and 4s in them. O Come All Ye Faithful was so painful, I'd suggest it as a more effective method of torture than waterboarding.

We retired to the living room for Christmas pudding on our laps and a few rounds of our favourite family parlour game, arthritic charades. As in previous years George was unable to indicate how many words because of his crooked fingers so, to avoid us shouting out "Three and a half?" we allowed him to speak that bit. After all these years he still doesn't get the idea that this is a mime game and seems at pains to find props. So he nearly disrobed for The Naked Civil Servant and had us all having to uproot from our comfy chairs to see him go into the hall to demonstrate Stairway to Heaven. We were stumped with his charade of Withnail and I, mainly on account of George thinking it was Withnail and One but he topped this with his constant counting to seven as a 'clue' for the second word in Perfect Day: "there are seven days in a week!" he exclaimed after we'd given up.

Thankfully we packed them off home once George had snored his way through most of the Peter Kay DVD. We ended the evening watching The Inbetweeners movie: I hid behind the cushion for most of it. Rory, completely unfazed by his parents watching him with it, roared with laughter and Dougie, rather taken with a whole new supply of rude teenage slang, tottered behind me as we staggered up the stairway to heaven, wondering hopefully if, perhaps tonight, the pony needs feeding....


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Who needs a stocking when you can have a Liebster Award for Christmas.

Christmas came a few days early for me with a very nice comment on my blog from The Whining Diner and Wellfedfred letting me know I was the recipient of a Liebster blog award. I have seen these award-thingies being passed around the blogosphere and not really paid them too much attention before. But when someone makes the effort to mention you on their blog and tells you they enjoy reading your posts, then it's actually quite humbling.

If you haven't paid a visit to 'Fred' then I urge you to do so; you will find a fabulous blog full of food, fashion, travel and more food.

Google translate tells me Liebster means dear, sweet, endearing, lovely: in fact all those qualities you see in me all the time ;-). Of course, I now have to play the role of Santa and pass on the award myself. The award is given to bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. It has these stipulations:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your 5 blogger picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Hope that the people you have sent the award to will forward it to their favourite bloggers

I have decided to choose five bloggers who don't live in the UK; five people who regularly entertain me with their writing and are always so supportive here on my blog.

A Bavarian Sojourn - Emma, who used to write at A Scandinavian Sojourn, gave me some great advice about visiting Copenhagen earlier this year. She has now moved to Munich so I may have to put that city on our list so I can seek out her help once again.

About Last Weekend - Jody is a Kiwi now living in California with her husband and four children. I have to admit one of the best things about Jody's blog is seeing how glamorous she is and zooming in on her photos so I can drool over her furniture.

Asia Vu - Ms Caroline has moved to Seoul with her husband, Mr Logical, and her two teenage boys. A fascinating insight into a different culture but with a huge dollop of wit and silliness that makes visiting her a real joy.

Funky Wellies' Random Thoughts - Mum to two daughters and wife to Sexy Hubby, KJS lives in Germany and has a love of fashion and rock music. Her current advent calendar, using shots of Desigual fashion, is a treat for the senses.

St Bloggie de Riviere - Sarah is a Brit living near Montpellier in France with her two boys. A great blog to visit to share the fun of bringing up teenagers and empathise with the frustrations, at times, of French bureaucracy and squat loos. Sarah is also typing up her mum's brilliantly funny diaries of their camping holidays from the 1960s and 70s in the form of a blog, Isn't that the Trailer-Tent?

So there you have it. My work is done. Think I'll put my feet up now and join Santa in a sherry and a mince pie.


Friday, 16 December 2011

That Business with the King of Holbeach ...

I was asked by the Deputy Head of Rory's former primary school, Ayscoughfee Hall, where I'm still a governor, to help them with the staff Christmas Panto. Of course, I said, I'd be happy to be involved.
Which panto is it?
Ah then you must want me to be the prince; I'm good at all that thigh-slapping.
Not really.
Or maybe you've seen my Dandini, darling?
A guest appearance?
No, we don't really need you on the stage at all. We'd like you to press the 'play' button on the CD player for the backing tracks.


Once I'd picked myself up, I agreed to assist as it only involved a couple of rehearsals before doing my techie thing yesterday afternoon for the performance to the children, and last night for the parents. I had to sit behind a huge bewildering mixing desk but fortunately was only required to move one slider up and down for volume, together with playing and pausing the CD player. So why was I so worried? Probably because the essence of playing music at the correct time is dependent on being given the correct cues by the actors on stage. A bit of guesswork was needed, plus some timely nods by the director, Mrs Wayman, who was also a narrator. Let's just say, the script was fairly free at times, particularly during the Queen's scenes when, quite frankly, it could have gone anywhere and frequently did.

The Headmaster, an ugly sister, was quite a sight wearing a Cher wig he borrowed from me, although I did hear one member of the evening audience compare him to Brian May on acid. He was accompanied by Mr Hutton, the IT teacher, who sported a stupendous lurex-covered chest. Both chaps flashed an unseemly amount of hairy leg on occasions, enough to give the infants night terrors for weeks to come. Mind you, the Year Two teacher, Mrs Chester, a bit scary at the best of times, was still fearsome dressed in a fluffy dressing gown as the snappy, crotchety Step Mum.

The Prince was played by the reception teacher, Mrs Smith, who impressed me with a fine pair of  legs encased in fishnet; doubtless the dads in the audience appreciated them too. Not sure the mums would have been quite so enamoured with the pink tutu worn by the caretaker, Mr Bratley, though I have to say I think he and his floppy wand have missed their vocation: may have to sign him up for our amateur dramatic group as he's a natural.

The Year Six teacher, Mrs Laud, played a world-weary Cinders with a penchant for doughnuts and Jammy Dodgers. I used to wonder why it took her so long to make her entrances until I realised she was wearing huge pink slippers and could therefore only shuffle to the stage. However her gait complemented her outfit of gingham pinny and hair in rollers, definitely channelling her 'Mrs Overall'.

In fact the whole production had an Acorn Antiques look about it: the ad-libs, the 'not sure where I'm meant to be' dithering, the whispered prompts. Of course, this just added to the sheer fun of the show. And what a bloody good show it was: great energy, lots of silliness, proper choreographed dances and some excellent contemporary song choices the kids loved

Coming at the end of a busy term when the teachers and support staff have been doing their usual work, plus producing two infant nativity plays, I was amazed they still had the energy and dedication to give up their own time to rehearse and perform for the children and parents. Congratulations to everyone involved.

Are you sure I can't have a part next year?


Thursday, 8 December 2011

Christmas Card, 1949: The King's School, Peterborough

Christmas card from King's School, Peterborough, 1949

In 1949, when my dad was 15, he designed the card above which was selected by his school, The King's School, Peterborough, for their Christmas card that year.

I remember seeing the card quite often over the years, as it lay amongst old letters and photos at my parents' house. When Dad died in February and I began to write up his memoirs as a blog, Memoirs of John Michael Grinsell, I hunted it out again. It always fascinated me how intricate a design this was, presumably using scratch art technique to carve the picture into the card, picking up the white background underneath? [although from comments below it would seem it's more likely a lino cut]

I could spend hours looking at the detail in the card: the curve of the chair, the architectural precision of the school building and the three little children playing in the snow. Hard to believe a young lad, the same age as Rory is now, laboriously etching out the scene.

Mum and I decided we would both like to use the card for our own Christmas card this year so she had them re-printed locally. I now have a large box of them to send out to friends.

I think writing my cards this year is going to be rather special.

Friday, 9 December: I think I have an answer as to how the card was created. My father's sister, Betty, was speaking to my mum earlier and she remembers Dad working on the card at home: it was a linocut. She remembers him sitting working on the design for many hours to create the detail you see above.


Monday, 5 December 2011

Tits and Teeth, Darling!

Well that was an eventful weekend. As you know from my 'Haemorrhoid City' post, Spalding Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society were asked to entertain the shoppers on Saturday and Sunday in the town centre. Never mind whether people were expecting a selection of festive carols, they were serenaded with songs from Les Miserables, Chicago, Oklahoma, Calamity Jane and even The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. 

We turned up at 12.30 ready for our 1pm slot and made our way to the stage area. I say 'stage' but in fact it was a very small white trailer, a freezer possibly? Anyway there was no way twenty of us were clambering into that so we moved the mics down onto the pavement. Quite a good location, bang slap in the market square, taking over the spot normally bagsied by the local winos.

Our local radio station, Tulip FM, was running the entertainment for the day from their tent next to us and soon we were plugged in, backing track ready to blast out to the town. Dougie said no matter where you were in town the songs could be heard. He tried to disappear into Homebase but our voices still carried. It wasn't long before we gathered quite a crowd; some maybe curious as to what the racket was and some genuinely keen musical theatre fans who joined in with the chorus numbers. Oh and we just about avoided corpsing during One Short Day: no haemorrhoids slipped out.

The Sunday session was a more low-key affair and it was bitterly cold. We were singing at 10am so not many people were awake. They soon were. The hour's set was interrupted by Santa attempting to come down the street on his sleigh. However he decided to wait until we'd finished. He must have known who we were.

For those who were asking, I don't think any of our songs were captured on video but I can assure you we were all wonderful. The highlights for me were Craig Delaney's Bring Him  Home, which nearly had me blubbing, and Jane Fulford's gorgeous soprano voice singing I Dreamed a Dream. My solo on the Sunday, Tell me on a Sunday, went well too, I think.

The other notable event on Sunday was a little mention for @mumsgoneto in the Sunday Times travel section. They have a Twitter Question of the Week and last week's was, "What is your most embarrassing travel moment?" I decided to tweet this reply which they published in the paper:

"Sunbathed topless by pool in Ibiza. Appeared in holiday brochure the year after".

I remember it well. 1991, when I was a young and perky 27 year old. Dougie and I had swum out to the rock formation in the middle of the pool, oblivious to the photographer snapping away. The next year we picked up the brochure to choose another holiday and there I was, posed like The Little Mermaid in bikini bottoms.

There are some people who just can't help being the centre of attention...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

One Short Day in the Haemorrhoid City

How to ruin a good song for everyone. One Short Day from the musical Wicked is on our set list for the Christmas concert our AmDram group are performing in Spalding town centre this weekend. Of course the proper words are "one short day in the Emerald City" but when we were rehearsing it last week, and not enunciating as well as we should have been, I definitely heard a haemorrhoid. Should have kept it to myself really but decided to share with the group. The result? Everyone now starts to snigger when we begin that number. Our musical director is not best pleased with me.

I'm slightly nervous about the whole set-up at the weekend.  We've been told we are singing on a portable stage; the side of a lorry I believe. We know we have an hour's set on the Saturday from 1pm but I notice that day there will also be a choir competition involving many of the primary schools from our area. We have kept the same programme for this weekend which we used in the concert for the local WI (I couldn't make it; on holiday) which is basically a number of show tunes. So I have this vision of all these sweet children singing Little Donkey and then us bunch of old farts belting out Razzle Dazzle. I fear it could all go terribly wrong. Thankfully I'm in the chorus so I'm hoping to hide at the back with a woolly hat and shades.

No such luck on the Sunday. We're in a different part of town that day and one of the soloists from the Saturday can't make the Sunday so I'm doing her song for her. So Abigail will sing Tell me on a Sunday on the Saturday and I'll sing Tell me on a Sunday on the Sunday! Our slot is 10am to 11am which is a tad early and I suspect we'll be singing to the birds and the drunks still wandering around from the night before. But we are troopers and although we may be warbling Oh What a Beautiful Morning on a cold and piddly December day, we will do it with gusto.

Here's a video of One Short Day: the Broadway, not the Spalding, version. But think 'haemorrhoid' when you hear 'emerald' and join me in a childish giggle.