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This site is not longer being added to but if you’re interested in design, you might want to visit http://www.lindsayalexander.co.uk.

Jam ring tin

For those who loved the Custard Cream tin, M&S have now come up with a Jam Ring tin (filled with superior Jammy Dodgers).

And scoop one up when you see it because, going by the empty shelves, either they’re selling out like hot cakes or are a very limited edition.  

Forbes rich list

If you’re fed up with getting less than 3% on your savings, you could check out the Forbes list of the world’s richest people to see how they managed to make their fortunes.

But if you thought it was just full of bankers, IT ubergeeks and heirs of old money you’d be wrong. This list is proof that, with a bit of effort, practically anyone can make their millions (although admittedly it definitely helps if your rellies left you a small fortune to start with).

Take a look at number 1140 – Joaquin Guzman Loera. He’s made his meagre one billion dollars by drug-smuggling (allegedly) – although from a quick shufty at the comments on his page it would appear that he’s actually Mexico’s equivalent to Robin Hood.

At 459 is Philippe Foriel-Destezet, who made 2.5 billion dollars by starting a temp agency, matching up people who want to work with people who need workers. Now surely anyone could that, assuming they could be bothered.

One of the lucky heirs, William Wrigley, comes in at 565. He inherited a chewing gum empire from his granddaddy and is now worth 2.1 billion. Someone really should make him go around scraping the damn stuff off the pavement.

My personal favourite is at number 223 – Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. He might have inherited his wealth but thanks to his genius ancestors this man has made 4.7 billion dollars out of Lego. I thought I used to be pretty creative with the stuff but 4.7 billion – that’s impressive!

Forbes 2011 billionaires list

Wallpaper

I thought the whole point of evolution was that things get better with every generation – but it seems that’s not so when it comes to wallpaper.

For some time now, design magazines have been trying to foist wallpaper on us all. Not just bland, background paper that your granny might have had to hide dodgy plaster-work either but lary, blah-type wallpaper that would have you reaching for your sunny-g’s if you saw it actually pasted up on the walls.

I can’t help but wonder if anyone is buying this stuff. It might look fine in a weeny little magazine photo where there’s nothing else in the scene except a couple of artificially arranged bits of pointlessness but why would anyone want a giant patterned wall to compete with all the other clutter in their house?

Charity crisps

Last night, I unwittingly bought a packet of Walkers Stephen Fry-up crisps (the colour of the packet duped me into thinking they were Cheese & Onion).

Today I ate them and soon wished I hadn’t. They were grim and tasted more like a burnt pan after the fry-up had been removed from it. Probably.

On one hand you could say that these charity donating crisps are a good thing, with 5p from each bag going to Comic Relief, but my cynical hand sticks two fingers up to that and reckons it’s more likely that Walkers are just doing this as an excuse for some blatant self-promotion – they’ll most likely make more from this latest bit of marketing than they’ll actually be donating.

So, to avoid any kind of crisp-related moral dilemma this charity marketing may be giving you, I recommend that you simply stick to your favourite flavour non-Walkers crisps (or a compromise flavour, now that Tomato Ketchup and Savoury Vinegar seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth) and stick a few quid in the Comic Relief collection bucket when it comes around.

Besides, if the Stephen Fry-up flavour is anything to go by, you can probably expect the other flavours to taste like something along the lines of the remnants of yesterday’s cat-food bowl, a serial marathon-runner’s trainers and the flakey variety of goldfish food.

Lego box

When I was little, Lego was my favourite thing. I used to make whole villages from the stuff – connecting the houses by roads made from pick-up sticks and driving around them with my Matchbox cars.

If I’d had a box as great as this to keep my bricks in, I might still have them. Maybe it’s time to start my 2011 Christmas wish-list. Mu-uum!

Horsey!

I’ve been very slack with this site recently – mainly because I’ve been super busy doing something else – but when I saw this I had to share.

Sadly, I don’t think it will fit on my bike. Maybe I’ll have to design something that will. Handlebar antlers that glow in the dark perhaps?

Malawi comes up trumps

I reckon there’s a good chance Malawi must be the best country in the world to live in at the moment because while the UK’s government is busy bickering over how best to keep the peasants in their place, it would appear Malawi’s officials have nothing more important to do than debate a bill which may see public farting turned into a criminal offence.

When I was told this I thought I was having my teets pulled but apparently not, according to the BBC website.

I can’t wait to see how this story develops. Will there be a mass demonstration from crowds of people downing copious quantities of peas and ice cream and trumping pro-parping slogans in unison? I really hope so.

Are you feeling less than excellent?

If January has left you feeling dismal and you’ve resorted to buying daffs and eating hot cross buns in an effort to hurry Spring up a bit, maybe a class at the London College of Excellence will sort you out a bit.

Yes, it really exists. I discovered the London College of Excellence on a bus map out at White City today and it gave me my first belly laugh of the year.

It made me wonder what went on there – and what other daft colleges there are: the College of Niceness maybe, or the College of Mediocrity (credited to my friend Anna) – so of course I had to get online and check it out to see what’s so excellent about it.

Having now done so, I wish I hadn’t bothered. Their website is about as dull and uninformative as it’s possible for a college website to be. Click on the page titled ‘Courses’ and you get no information whatsoever about courses. Definitely not excellent. Perhaps it should be renamed the College of Can’t-be-arsed. Much more appropriate for this time of year.

January

January seems to start the day after Boxing Day, in everything but name, and go on for a near-eternity, sucking the life out of me as it passes and filling me with Grey Despair (about the only shade of grey I don’t like).

In the past couple of years, nature has given us snow in January as some sort of compensation but this winter December got all the goodies. Now this endless January gloom is really getting to me and I can’t help wishing that nature would chuck some more of the white stuff down to brighten the place up a bit.

I even bought a bunch of daffodils to try to inject some colour into my world but they’re refusing to open properly – their trumpets are out but the petals are clutching tightly around them like they’re trying to keep warm and they’re not even using up any water from the vase. I guess they’re suffering from the January’s too and would rather be back in the bulb.

Still, there’s only six days until February now – although in January time, it’ll probably feel more like six weeks.

Inappropriate footwear

Despite the fact that it’s January and cold and wet, there’s an astounding number of people wandering around town in the poorest choice of footwear.

Last week I saw a man in flip-flops and yesterday, when there was almost a river (well, a small stream maybe) running down Regent’s Street, I saw numerous girls wearing flimsy little ballet pumps.

It got me thinking about all the things I hate most about feet and the ridiculous things people put on them.

The worst crime is probably the most common – people who insist on wearing shoes at least one size too small.

Why would anyone do that to their feet? It’s just mean and is also thoroughly unpleasant for those of us who might unwittingly catch sight of their foot-pudge squelching out over the top.

This lack of size-sense shows up most in summer when all the badly-fitting sandals come out.

If you’re one of these people – please stop it!

I don’t want to see your toes hanging over the edge of your sandals so they touch the pavement. I don’t want to see your toes if you are not wearing sandals. And if you have manky toes, please keep them covered and don’t inflict them on the rest of us.

Oh, and when it snows – don’t slither around in stilettos like a numpty. Get yourself some appropriate footwear.

VAT

Until today, I never really thought much about this extra 2.5%. It’s just £2.50 in £100 which doesn’t look that much on paper. But now I am thinking about it, maybe I should really love the VAT rise because it’s opened my eyes to something I’d previously not noticed – that Pret (and presumably other sandwich bars) add on 20% to the price of sandwiches if you eat them in. Before today, I’d naively just thought it was cake-type foods that were VAT’d.

This is all a bit crap really. I don’t mind paying extra to sit in if I get service but when you have to queue up to buy your food and are expected to clean your table afterwards, an extra 50p on top of the price of a sandwich just isn’t worth it. It’s worth even less if you know it’s going to the government.

Guess I’ll be joining all the people who lunch in the park from now on. Although don’t tell the authorities or they might start charging us.

Logue’s office

Barely a week into January and, thanks to The King’s Speech (which is excellent), I’m in love.

No, not with Colin Firth – he did it for me as Mr Darcy but that was 15 years ago – this time it’s with the office of his speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

I’m sure it’s not everybody’s cup of tea but it’s definitely mine and it reminds me of this Anselm Kiefer painting which I fell in love with many years ago when I saw it at the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam…

Carrot-danglers

Now Christmas is all about the leftovers – or if you’re missing the five-month build-up to Christmas – you’ll be pleased to hear that the shops are already preparing for Easter and have already started stocking up with Creme Eggs and hot cross buns.

With Easter falling on April 24th this year, that means a whole four months of targeted chocolate and cake bombardment.

Is it any wonder we’re a nation of fatties?

New Year’s Eve

If I was living in the opposite hemisphere, where the New Year starts in the middle of summer, I might feel differently but here in London, New Year’s Eve pretty much always sucks.

There’s been the odd year when it’s been just about bearable but if you’re thinking I’m a miserable Grinch (which, admittedly, I am sometimes), here’s just a few examples of previous New Year’s Eves I have survived:

The night that we went late and happy to a house party, only to find everyone sitting around in dead silence watching a supremely depressing late night episode of Eastenders. Out of politeness and a whole heap of optimism, I stuck it out for about half an hour but when midnight came and still no-one said anything, I faked a trip to the loo and ran out the front door only to see another freaked-out party-goer had had the same idea and was running down the street screaming an endless ’Aaaaaaaaggggh!’ Couldn’t have put it better myself.

There was the time that I went with a crowd of friends to Parliament Square to hear Big Ben ring in the new year – only the bell didn’t ring at 11pm (a few in our gang were from Germany so we were celebrating an hour early too), nor did it ring it midnight. Everyone stood around the square, kettled in by police, debating whether the clock was broken or whether we all had the wrong time. At about four minutes past, someone declared it the New Year and a few corks popped. Yip! Those Big Ben bongs which you hear on the TV or radio are not live my friend, it’s just pre-recorded fakery.

There was the time we queued for over an hour to be squished so fire-hazardly tightly into a club that there was condensation dripping all over us from the low ceiling above – only to have the bar shut at 12.30 and the staff couldn’t get us out of the door quick enough. That very crap night, followed by the endless wait in cold drizzle for a bus/cab/donkey home, was almost the final straw for me and New Year’s Eve, but not quite.

The millennium NYE was fairly crap. About 3am I left a stupefyingly drunken boyfriend in west London and crushed onto the tube to Highgate with my flatmate and his girlfriend, who bickered with each other all the very long way home, each trying to get me to side with them in the argument.

A year later, I was so miserable that on New Year’s Eve I drank everything in sight and copped off with someone so young he was barely legal. Then I proceeded to throw up for the next 12 hours before recovering on the sofa with chocolate milk and Mary Poppins.

Since then, I’ve eschewed NYE and in previous years have even volunteered to work the night shift. Actually, those were some of the better ones. At least we got to go up on the roof and watch the fireworks over the Thames at midnight – unlike half the poor punters at ground level who were stopped by the police from going onto the bridge to watch for ‘overcrowding’ reasons.

So this year, before the ghastly televisual crapfest that is Jools’ Annual Hootenanny starts, I will be burying my head under the duvet and dreaming of snow. It’s definitely one of the better ways to start a new year.

24th December

So that’s it, we’ve reached the double doors of the last day on the advent calendar.

If you have nothing better to do today you can track the journey of the great man himself here – but remember to be all tucked up when he drops in at midnight.

Merry Christmas!

23rd December

Every winter since I moved to my current home, some wonderful person has gone around Chelsea putting Santa hats on all the statues.

This year, their heads have remained uncovered and it’s made me feel a little sad but thanks to the wonders of Photoshop, at least Dolphin Boy can have a warm head.

22nd December

Why is it that chocolate tastes so much better on Christmas Day when it arrives in the form of a bag of gold coins?

Winter Solstice

A few years ago, I watched a fascinating television programme presented by Lionel Fanthorpe, who was talking about the history of the pre-Christmas tree and how the first people to decorate trees used to suspend animal intestines (tinsel) between the branches and hang kidneys and other organs (baubles) on the twigs at the time of the Winter Solstice.

Of course – unless you’re a little bit weird – you probably don’t string up innards at this time of the year but whenever I’m decorating my tree I remember the offal origins of the decorations and it always makes me smile.

Somewhere along the way, celebrating the Winter Solstice got swallowed up by Christmas and now it rarely even gets a mention, but can you believe that when you wake up tomorrow morning, you will have crossed the hump of mid-winter and be on the downwards slope towards summer? (Assuming you’re not reading this from Australia or thereabouts.)

It might not feel like it. If you’re lucky, you’ll be up to your knees in snow and have a head full of snow tunes but after tonight, the nights will be shorter and we’ll be getting a few extra minutes of daylight each day.

21st December

It’s easy to be an angel when you’re in snow-heaven.

20th December

This is my kind of Yule Log. Not a lick of chocolate butter cream in sight.

19th December

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, la la la la la la la laaa…

18th December

I’ll take a pea please, Bob.

17th December

Because Christmas isn’t Christmas without baubles.

16th December

Now that’s what I call a gingerbread house.

15th December

Possibly the saddest-looking Christmas tree in the world.

14th December

Forget the plastic rabbits – let’s get some white mice in there.

13th December

IIIII… like New York in Juuuune… (and December)… How about you?

Plumen 001 light bulb

Earlier on today, I was asked what I want for Christmas. In my family we stick to a £5 limit but the trouble with that is that I’ve pretty much bought everything I want that’s less than a fiver, which only leaves food – and I really don’t need or want any of that.

But then I remembered seeing a very sexy light bulb that I could definitely find space for. A bit of googling later and here it is – the Plumen 001.

Only trouble is, it’s £19.95. Such is life!

12th December

I wish Watterson would draw a grown-up Calvin. I’m sure he’s the one for me.

11th December

Fortnum & Mason have come up with some incredibly tranquil Christmas window displays this year – 3D renditions of classic paintings. The concept doesn’t really show in 2D so shuffle down there for a proper look.

10th December

There’s nothing quite like a nose full of the white stuff at Christmas.

I don’t agree with Nick

There’s a quote from the Marilyn Monroe film How to Marry a Millionaire where someone says something along the lines of “hang around with plumbers and you’re going to marry a plumber, hang around with millionaires and you’re going to marry a millionaire”.

It’s a shame that Nick Clegg didn’t watch that movie before he signed up to a coalition with the Tory devils because there seems to be no room for doubt that the Tories pushed this university fees issue through to force the LibDems into an impossible situation.

The LibDems can only either go along with the Tories, thereby alienating a huge number of their previous supporters, or have to pull away from the coalition (ie show some balls), thereby losing all hope of remaining in government. Whichever way they vote today, this tuition fees issue will most likely be the death knoll for the LibDems.

What all these weeks of students strikes and media debate has really brought home for me is that there are really only two classes of people in this country: those with significant amounts of money and those with just enough to live on.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to understand it – probably because I belong to the latter class – but that is the class structure that our society is built on and that is the way it will probably stay long after the worms are snacking on me.

It’s not in the interest of the monied (and always ruling) class for it to change, and those in the other class are either too apathetic or too busy aspiring or dreaming of belonging to the monied class to do anything to force change.

Depressing as this realisation may be, it’s oddly liberating. I don’t feel the need to be angry about it any more. I can rarely remember who said things but there’s a famous quote about not bothering to worry about things you can’t change, only the things you can. This is one thing I can’t change so I’m not going to let it bother me any more.

Anyone know any millionaires I can hang out with? Or plumbers?

9th December

Purty!  But is it weird that I prefer the bling on the outside?

8th December

If electric mistletoe counts, Sloane Square is the perfect place to go for a good snogging this month.

7th December

Gadzooks! Apparently there’s going to be a shortage of brussel sprouts this year because of all the snow. Fuzzy and George won’t be happy.

6th December

Did you know that they have electric aphids in Sweden?

The new Andrex advert

There are many different types of soft loo roll on the supermarket shelves and there’s not much reason to choose Andrex above, say, Kleenex, except for one thing – the adverts.

Andrex adverts have always been about cute puppies, not butt-wiping paper. And it’s fair to say that no-one really needs to see an advert for loo roll but we all need a regular dose of cute puppies to boost our mental well-being.

The Andrex puppy campaign has worked well for many years now – in fact since 1972 – so why change things now?

In my search for an answer to that question, I found an article from the Daily Mail which says that the change is to save money but I can’t believe that it’s cheaper to make a cartoon than to sit a live puppy in front of a camera.

The article also says that no cute puppies turned up for the audition – so why didn’t Andrex’s ad agency just send out some scouts to find one? In fact, had I known they were looking, I would have pitched them the cutest, wettest little poodle/spaniel-cross puppy that I met last week on Piccadilly in the snow. Or if they’d bothered to do a bit of scouting on YouTube, they would have found this little set of quintuplet puppies that my friend Anna sent to me this morning.

It really can’t be about money because I’m pretty sure these un-cute and rather freaky-looking new cartoon puppies will not encourage anyone to go out and buy Andrex. I’d certainly bet a tenner that their sales slump from here on.

On the other hand, it does leave the advertising market open to a new kind of puppy campaign. Maybe the coalition government should start a new campaign to get people to like them. Dave and Nick could personally sponsor Battersea Dogs Home and go on regular dog-walking/meet-the-press outings. I’m sure it would be a great success.

5th December

So, which tree shall we have this year?

4th December

I suppose it’s time to start thinking about posting Christmas cards to friends living on other continents. Or shall I be a cheap-skate and just send cyber greetings?

3rd December

If anyone wants to buy me a present and is feeling totally overloaded with spare cash, I’d be really chuffed to unwrap this cashmere dress from Brora on Christmas day. A bargain at only £295. This colour or the grey would be perfect – I’m not fussy!

2nd December

First the BA strike, then the firemen and the tube-workers – now the reindeer. Damn those scab-horses!

Does make me wonder why ‘My Little Reindeer’ never caught on.

1st December

Despite the fact that some people seem to find it acceptable to start the Christmas build-up in the summer, I believe they are just plain wrong and that 1st December is the proper date to kick-off with the Christmas shenanigans. (And if you think I’m wrong, ask yourself why advent calendars don’t have more doors – although there’s probably someone working on that.)

So as it’s time to open that first window on the advent calendar I thought I’d make my own this year. And what better way to start than with something that I’d like most for Christmas…

London’s first snow

This morning London got its first snow of the season…

I know it doesn’t look like much yet but it is still trying.
Fingers crossed for a white Christmas.

Slippers

Today, apparently, will see the internet shopping equivalent of a feeding frenzy. The online shopping companies are expecting (or hoping) to do more business today than any other day of the year. I’ve already done my bit for their cause, having purchased a new pair of sheepskin slippers first thing this morning.

Not that I needed a new pair of slippers as I have a very toasty pair already but I figure that if this winter is going to continue to be as beautifully cold as it currently is (and hopefully more so here in London), I want to be fully armed against the necessity of having to keep the heating on all the time.

Call me a freak but I would rather put my money in the pockets of the slipper-makers and cardigan-knitters than into the dividends of the energy suppliers’ shareholders – unless I win big on the Lotto, in which case I will purchase shares in the same energy company that I pay my bills to and then I’ll be laughing. (Actually, it might make more sense to find out who my downstairs neighbours’ supplier is because they have one seriously over-worked boiler.)

Until that day comes, my new slippers, old slippers and much-loved cardigan collection will have to start earning their keep.

Misfits

Back in the summer when I was slagging off Big Brother for never reaching its true potential, I praised Misfits as being one of the best British dramas in years. Now the second series is a few weeks in and I’ve changed my opinion – it is the best British drama in years.

I’m usually pretty good at guessing how film and tv plots are going to work out but with Misfits, I’m totally clueless and I love that.

I’m not going to talk about the plot at all in case you’ve not watched any of it, but if you haven’t seen the first series, you really should put the DVD on your Christmas list.

In fact, if Santa’s reading this, I’d be very happy to find the Misfits DVD in my stocking on Christmas morning. It’s cheap as chips from Amazon.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

Since Saturday, not only have I been wandering around singing Chris Rea’s festive ditty Driving home for Christmas, but as I’ve been singing it, it’s been accompanied in my head by a moose.

Apparently this moose is making its second annual appearance in Hyde Park because last year someone YouTube’d it…  Singing Moose

It’s been two years since I last went to the winter fair, when it comprised a couple of crappy stalls, some even crappier rides and a rather pretty big wheel. This year it’s ginormous – the rides are endless and look great fun and there’s tasty-looking food and booze on every corner. And a singing moose. What more could you ask for?

I can’t wait to go back and have a go on the dropping thing and the top-hanging rollercoaster but I think I’ll hold off with the burger-eating and glogg-drinking until I’ve had my fill of spinning and whizzing around. My stomach’s not as strong as it used to be and a marzipan potato might tip me over the edge.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

At the risk of outing myself as a total dweeb, I confess that not only did I go to see the new HP film yesterday but that I went willingly and enthusiastically.

And I don’t care about being a spoiler because if you’ve read the books you know what’s coming anyway and if you haven’t read the books, DON’T SEE THE MOVIE!

If you fall into this latter category of people then you’re missing out. Winter is almost upon us so what better excuse do you need to go into hibernation with a novel or seven? They really are very good and each one gets better (and better written) than the last.

Of all the Harry Potter films, I think this one is most true to the book. Other films – particularly the last one – have left out great chunks but nothing felt glaringly missing from this one, and that’s quite an achievement with a book that size.

It would appear that I’ve overtaken Laura Ingles from Little House on the Prairie as the world’s greatest water-head because I had tears running down my face even before the opening credits had finished and at the end when Dob…

(sobs) No. I can’t say it.

The weather

As much as yesterday’s government absurdity aka ‘happiness index’ made me unhappy, nature worked damn hard this morning to redress the balance and gift me with my second best favourite kind of weather – fog at its thickest consistency.

Apologies to those of you who have no interest in the weather (G!) but I do.

I might not care about isobars and all the other html of weather but I care very much about the colour and texture of the sky and it gives me a weeny bit of pleasure on these autumn mornings to look out of the window and try to gauge what kind of hat I’ll need to tether my unruly hair against the elements.

They say small things please small minds but as the weather is fairly infinite in its largeness I can only assume…

Happy happy joy joy

As you must be aware by now, the government is making severe spending cuts in just about everything that impacts on your, mine and pretty much everyone else’s life (assuming you’re a UK resident).

Yet you might find it comforting to know that those lovely coalition politicians are really concerned about your happiness. So much so in fact that they’re going to be spending some of your (and mine and pretty much everyone else’s) money on research to find out how happy we all are…
Guardian.co.uk – Happiness index to gauge Britain’s national mood

My hope is that everyone who is asked to complete one of these surveys ticks all the boxes that imply they’re feeling positively suicidal.  How funny would it be if the UK came top of the ‘World’s most miserable’ list?

Cyberspam

Since I created the Shedroom in September, I’ve been bombarded with adverts about sheds and electric sockets whenever I go to an ad-supported website – even Screwfix stuck some in my face when I made a search for ‘shower filter’.

Now although I appreciate that some websites need ads in order to make their sites free, this targeted advertising feels a bit redundant as it only seems to flash things at me after I’ve already done my research and made a purchase – not right at the beginning of my search when it might actually be useful. When I was hunting for sockets a couple of months ago I would have loved ads that showed me some that I hadn’t already seen and rejected.

Surely it makes far more sense for the advertisers to be bombarding us with shiny new stuff we haven’t already searched for in order to get us to part with our cash?

Media speak

One of the things they tell you in courses about writing for broadcast is that you should never use language that you wouldn’t use when speaking to your granny.

Yet still, on a daily basis, I hear words and expressions that no normal person would use in conversation – the over-used media labels ‘war-torn Darfur’ and ‘oil-rich Niger Delta’ have been irritating me for years.

The latest media speak phrase is ‘swingeing cuts’. Barely a day goes by at the moment without someone on the news using it, yet when have you ever heard a person that wasn’t mic’d-up using the word ‘swingeing’? You can bet your boots neither of my grannies ever did.

Guy Fawkes Night

For the purposes of date-correctness, you’ll have to pretend that today is yesterday – 5th November. I’m pretending today is yesterday because the organisers of the Battersea Park celebrations are doing so too.

Tonight is my favourite night of the year. The night when all right-thinking English people celebrate the efforts of Guy Fawkes and his chums who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament when it was full of politicians. At least, that’s what I like to tell tourists.

It’s a night when the air always smells of wood smoke and after the big display in Battersea Park is over, the little domestic explosions carry on way into the night.

Ironic that something so deadly as gunpowder can be used to create something as beautiful as fireworks. If only wars could be won by which side put on the best fireworks display.

Where have all the squirrels gone?

Six years ago, when I moved to my flat next to Battersea Park, there were squirrels chasing each other around the trees on a daily basis. Over the last couple of years they’ve almost disappeared and now it’s rare that I see them at all.

Today on the news they were talking about an alarming number of trees falling prey to diseases and I can’t help wondering if these diseases are killing off the squirrels too. That, combined with the diminishing number of birds and the drastic fall in the bee population, is making me think that the trees in the UK may be following the fate of the Truffula trees in The Lorax by Dr Seuss – which if you haven’t already got a copy, you should get one. And if it doesn’t make you cry just a little bit then you’re a hard, hard person.

In fact, some lovely geek has already typed it all up on the interboogle for you to read – but it’s a squillion times better with pictures so do treat yourself and get hold of the real thing too…
The Lorax

Now it may be that these diseases and population declines aren’t our fault and it’s just nature doing her evolutionary thing but I confess I’m a little bit scared. I love trees and don’t want them to disappear (except maybe Plane trees). And I love squirrels. And birds are ok too, so long as they’re not pooping all over things.

But what can we do? Well, we can start growing and planting more trees for starters…
Instructions on how to grow trees from seed

Or if we can’t be bothered or don’t have space to do that, we can give donations to those who do… Woodland Trust

Whatever you do, don’t make it nothing. That Dr Seuss knew what he was talking about.

Starbucks Red Cups

Today I got my first Red Cup of the 2010 winter season. According to an email I got from Starbucks this morning it shouldn’t have been ’til tomorrow but my local shop said they were doing it first because they were the best. After eight years of great service, I’m inclined to agree.

So it’s now official – winter has arrived. Not that you’d know it from the barmy balmy temperatures London is currently experiencing. My new coat is hanging on a peg at home wondering if it’s going to get an outing anytime soon. It seems unlikely.

The thing about the Red Cups though is that they’re best when it’s really cold. Best when you’re heading off to start a night shift and need a venti, extra-hot, skinny latte with a half shot of hazelnut syrup to help keep you going through the wee hours. Extra best when accompanied by a slice of gingerbread loaf.

But now it’s warm out, my night shifts are behind me and I’m trying to steer clear of cake, so the Red Cups aren’t doing their magic for me this year. Not yet, but I live in hope that soon the north wind will blow its icy breath over the city. Then, with a cold nose and a warm heart, I’ll be able to pull my hat down over my ears and say the sacred Red Cup mantra: “Eggnog latte please”.

Psycho on the buses

You’d think that a prerequisite for being a London bus driver would be to be a wee bit patient. Patient with the traffic, patient with all the stopping and the starting and patient with the STOP bell ringing all day long.

This morning, I waited to get off an almost empty 19 bus, having pressed the bell once. Just before we got to the stop, the bell rang again. The bus driver stuck his head out and started shouting at me about “…ringing the bloody bell”.

Rather surprised at being sworn at before 8am, I told him I hadn’t rung the bell again. Which made him get even more angry and start shouting about how he couldn’t see anyone else wanting to get off. At which point a man came down the stairs and waited to get off.

“Would you like to apologise now?” I asked as he finally opened the doors. He didn’t.

I think I’ll have to add that bus driver to the same list as the dog crap bag dumpers.

Bring on the revolution!

The extra hour

For as long as I can remember, in the week before the clocks are due to turn back an hour, the media have got all excited following the ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ debate about whether going back to GMT is a good idea or not.

Within hours of the clocks turning back, they move on to the next story and nothing more is mentioned – until the next autumn when the same old discussions make the news again.

It’s not a debate I’m particularly fussed about – one hour more or less of light in the morning or evening doesn’t really matter to me – I’d be quite happy if the clocks went back and forth on a weekly basis just to mix things up a bit.

But I do like the fact that this weekend we’re getting an extra hour. One more hour to do anything at all we feel like. One more hour to do nothing at all if that’s what tickles our fancy.

I’m going to spend my free hour in a vigorous bout of cleaning. Not because I like cleaning but because if I manage to fit all the cleaning into the extra hour, it means I won’t actually have wasted any of my regular weekend doing it. Makes sense to me.

Wind turbines

I finally got around to reading a copy of the Independent’s new i newspaper and there on page 13 (29th October edition) was a man called Terence Blacker slating one of my favourite pieces of landscape architecture, the wind turbine.

The first time I ever saw a field of wind turbines I was driving back from a rained-out holiday in Devon with my boyfriend. Instantly captivated, we pulled over at the nearest farm road and went running into the field for a better look.

Even in the Dorset drizzle we weren’t disappointed. Their whiteness was stunning against the patchy blue sky and stubbly gold field and their gentle rhythmic ‘whomp’ was one of the most comforting sounds I had ever heard.

Since then, I’ve never understand people who are anti-wind turbine. They may not be as efficient as a nuclear power station or as pretty as a vase of peonies but at least they’re not going to poison the planet and even if you don’t like them as much as I do, with just one stem and three blades there’s not a lot there to hate.

Not only that but their simple minimalism actually enhances the beauty of the countryside. Putting a wind turbine or three in a field is like a scaled-up version of putting a sculpture or fountain in a garden – the stark differences in colour, form and material compliment each other perfectly.

I promised myself that day in Dorset that if money ever came my way, I would buy a wind turbine and plant it on a hill at the end of my very own field.

I’m still waiting for that day to come but when it does, being the slightly community-minded person I like to think I am, I’ll share its power with my neighbours. But only if they love it too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Because it seems that no-one official cares enough to pick a date, I’ve declared today as unofficial Thanksgiving here in the UK.

And as the point of this Thanksgiving malarkey is to be thankful about something, my pick is to be thankful that autumn has finally arrived so I can dig out my boots and woolly tights in gleeful anticipation of a crisp, cold winter with lots of knee-high snow.

Please join me in trying to find at least one thing to be thankful about (you can share here if you feel like it), but don’t forget to go and find yourselves some leaf piles to stomp through. Crunchy autumn leaves are definitely things to be thankful for.

Crap in a bag

What is it with those people who think it’s acceptable to scoop their dog’s crap into a bag and then leave it sitting there on the pavement?

It’s not ok people. It’s most definitely not ok.

Fish feet

There are many strange ways to fill ten minutes and sitting with your naked feet dangling in a tank full of water while little fish nibble away at your toes is definitely one of them.

It’s not as scary as it looks. It feels more like you’ve put your feet in a giant bowl of slightly warm fizzy water.

The point of doing it – apart from to get a cheap thrill – is that the Garra Rufa fish pick off your dead skin, leaving your feet lovely and soft. And it works. My tootsies definitely feel softer than they did before and I still have all the toes I started out with.

If I’ve not put you off, Aqua Sheko have got a temporary stand in Selfridges for a few more weeks. It’s £12 for 10 minutes.

Tune!

Today, just before I sat through The Social Network (which is worth seeing), I heard what is possibly the most exciting tune of all time.

I’ve heard it hundreds of times before – and probably, so have you – but today, when it made my tummy do a happy little jig, I realised that this tune deserves a big round of applause all of its own. So I’m giving it one here (claps lots)…

Click here (and go to full screen view before pressing the play button)

Thanksgiving

It’s dawned on me that people in the UK are being shafted out of an Autumnal Bank Holiday by not celebrating Thanksgiving. Sure, we have Guy Fawkes Night – which is of course the best night of the year and I’ll write about that nearer the time – but we don’t get a day off because of it.

So I think we should campaign to get ourselves a Thanksgiving Bank Holiday and late October seems to be the perfect time to do it, coming right between the August BH and Christmas. And if the government come up with some blah-de-blah economic reason why we shouldn’t have an extra holiday, we can just trade off one of the May holidays. There’s too many then anyway – and what’s with them always happening on Mondays? Why can’t we have a Bank Holiday Wednesday for once? Or Friday so we can have a long weekend? (ok, we get Good Friday but that’s months away so doesn’t count).

In fact, as no-one else seems bothered enough to do it, I declare the last Friday in October as unofficial UK Thanksgiving – which this year would make it fall on Friday 29th October.

It will be a non-religious festival to celebrate the beginning of Autumn. We can light the first fire of the season (or spark up the central heating for us city dwellers) and as it will occasionally land on 31st October, will give people who don’t do the Halloween thing the perfect excuse to indulge in a bit of pumpkin carving.

After stomping through piles of leaves first thing in the morning, those of us who will be at work that day should just pretend we’re not and try and keep a happy and peaceful frame of mind and be thankful that our jobs aren’t a lot worse than they are. People who are not out at work should be temporarily thankful for that fact and spend the day preparing lots of lovely Autumnal treats for those who are (after going out for a bit of leaf-stomping, of course).

Here are some suggestions for such goodies – although I’m hoping that any Canadian or American visitors here (and anyone else who wants to) will offer up some more of their traditional Thanksgiving recipes…

Libby’s Famous Pumpkin pie
Pumpkin Ginger Nut Muffins(FYI: In London, you can get tinned pumpkin in Waitrose and Fortnum & Mason.)

Oh, and if you’re on your own and have neither the time, facilities, nor inclination to bake, get yourself down to Godiva and buy yourself a bag of half-chocolate-covered candied orange – not cheap but worth every penny.

Fairy lights

If  you’re in possession of a free ticket to the Elle Decor tent in Berkeley Square this week, it’s worth nipping in just to see this wonderful light made from copper and dandelion fairies…

It’s even better if you gently stamp your foot beneath it as the whole thing quivers in the most exquisite way. Sorry for the lack of credits but I forgot to ask who designed it.

There are lots of other rather lovely things there – along with some hideous blinging monstrosities that only people with way too much money and who have run out of other things to buy would even consider – but best of all is the way the tent has been constructed to accommodate all the trees in Berkeley Square with the carpet neatly cut around their trunks. Pity the poor bugger who got that job.

What is it with crows?

One of the joys of having your own website on WordPress is that they supply you with detailed statistics about what internet search terms have brought people to your site.

As someone who often asks Google long-winded but usually sensible questions in an effort to articulate what I’m trying to find, as well as going for the single word option, I’m really surprised at the utter gibberish people often seem to type in the search box, along with the gross and downright weird.

Here are a few recent oddities that have brought people in my direction…

mcdonald’s won’t hire me cuz of my turban
pencil case in campise in kmaret
scary bloody hand prints on a wall
sad guinea pig portraits
yellow flakes under foreskin
damp crumbled chipboard
cctv to lard
chocolate wrappers waste
making contact with dead pets
omen dead fish smell
pink fish sandwich marks and sparks
funny cat flying falling down like an aeroplane in the sky

womble teeth
(and my own personal favourite) bunnies with big bumps and leaking

But strangest of all is the sheer volume of searches about crows that have been made. Almost on a daily basis at least one crow search comes my way and these terms are what people have been searching under…

crow nostril (umpteen times)
crows anatomy
two-headed crow
angry crow
anatomy of a crow’s nostrils
big sweaty crow
crows portrait
two crows
crows coming out of cake

And presumably, now I’ve mentioned the C-word so many times, it will bring a lot more crow-fanciers in my direction. So if you’ve arrived here because you used the word CROW in your search, please tell me – what is it with crows?

My hand modelling days are over

As I sit here picking the scab from my finger, having slashed it with a Stanley knife a couple of weeks ago, I recall my nephew coming home with the following written on his school report “J is often asked to sit out of games because he is a danger to himself and others”.

I think it’s quite clear whose genes he gets that from.

The war against the laundry Nazis

I do like it when I hear about the little people rising up against authoritarian stupidity so this story about people in America fighting back against bans on hanging their washing outside really had me tickled today…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11417677

But I don’t really understand how or why wet washing became so socially unacceptable. Obviously you don’t want someone else’s smalls flapping in your face as you walk up the path to your flat but tucked away out the back, who’s to know or care?

It seems to me that the answer lies in the end of the story with the quote by Frank Rathbun, spokesman for the Community Associations Institute “…Developers and builders are trying to sell homes, and I think most would tell you that clotheslines could detract from the overall appearance and kerb appeal of the community, and therefore sales.”

So it’s not really about what people think, it’s about artificial snobbery created by developers in order to make themselves more money. Why am I not surprised?

Join the fight people and hoist your washing lines. Show your 400 thread count sheets some respect.

Treehotel

Thanks to Grand Designs magazine waving it under my nose – my new favourite place that I’ve never been is the Tree Hotel in Sweden.

You get to sleep in your choice of tree house in the woods and go dog-sledding during the day. What more could a city-dweller possibly want from a holiday?

This is the mysteriously named Blue Cone cabin…

www.treehotel.se

Shed update

Yip! Several coats of paint later and the shedroom is finally finished…

Fog

As a winter-lover, I’ve been waiting for the change from summer to autumn with a great deal of impatience, so this morning I was one happy but slightly cold bunny when I saw this beautiful grey fog hanging over the river.

NICE do it again!

Not even a week has passed since the idiots at NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) told us that pregnancy clinics should be set up in schools and now they’re saying that fat people should be paid to lose weight and that smokers should be paid to quit.

Who the hell are these people who work at NICE? Do they actually inhabit the same world as the rest of us? They’re obviously not smoking porkers or they’d know that such schemes would only have a very short-lived success rate and would be wide open to abuse.

If smokers quit buying fags then they’re already financially better off and if looking good and being able to wear whatever you like isn’t enough of an incentive to lose the lard then a few quid certainly won’t be a greater one.

So as you really seem to need them NICE, here’s a few tips for you:

1) Use your powers to persuade the government to raise taxes on junk food.

2) Use those junk taxes plus all the money you want to spend on absurd projects such as this on subsidising healthy food and good quality free school dinners.

3) Work harder towards providing a better education for all children and then hopefully they’ll work out for themselves that getting knocked-up, lardy, or addicted to fags is a really dumb thing to do.

And if all that fails – stop worrying that we’re all so fat and unhealthy. With all the pension cutbacks doing the rounds these days hardly any of us can afford to live to be old anyway!

100% Design 2010

I’ve been going to 100% Design since 1996 and if the giant pile of bumf I willingly collected is anything to go by, this year is possibly the most interesting it’s ever been.

So here’s what caught my eye, in no particular order. Sorry if I miss out any credits.

Polymer Clock by Pottinger and Cole
They also do one with very lovely orange and grey hands and can change the polymer colour too if you ask nicely.

There was a fair bit of creatively used concrete this year and this company (whose name I forgot) had a rather wonderful sort of etched feel to their concrete wall.

Heavy Light Collection by Benjamin Hubert
I remembered to card-gather by the time I saw these great concrete lights. But I do think they’d be even better if they were made from Litracon.

Trace of Time by Ilgu Cha
A noteboard with an adjustable timer mechanism. As the hand moves around the board, it wipes off all the things you wrote on your ‘to do’ list.

Birdhouses by Gavin Coyle
Each one is unique and hand-made from bits of wood most people would chuck on the firewood pile. I want the bottom-left one.

Bramcote bench by Edward Robinson
There was something a bit warm and fuzzy about this beech bench. It made me think of wet dog and snowboots.

Flatpack chair kit by Dan CivicoI’m a generally a big fan of furniture that you get to play with before you use it and this one looks great before and after assembly. Surely this has to be the perfect chair for people to send their kids off to college with.

Dan Civico was just one of a showcase of designers from the North East of England exhibiting together under the www.design-event.co.uk banner.

So that’s my top pics from the 2010 show. Hopefully 2011 will be even better.

100% Design

Helsinki odds and sods

Ok, one last post about Helsinki and then I’ll shut up, I promise, but I did want to share a few random goodies.

First, the view from Cafe Aalto in Stockmans book building, designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. It’s a great place to sit with a coffee and a slice of Ekberg’s apple pie. Good bookshop too and thankfully full of books written in English. As you can see from the category heading, Finnish is not the easiest of languages to get your lips around. Unlike the pie.

 

 

 

The Arabia factory. A total rip-off when it comes to factory shops – you’re much better off getting  your Moomin mugs at Helsinki’s great airport shops or Stockmans – but there’s something rather lovely about that bit of typeface.

 

 

 Fantastic wooden buildings.  Need I say more?

The friendliest and speediest red squirrels I’ve ever met inhabit Seurasaari island public park. Warning though: take nuts for them or they’ll chase you like a bunch of muggers after their crack fix.

So that’s it until my next holiday – whenever that may be.

The shed

For a long time now, I’ve been hankering after a beautiful, woody office/den/ workshop/general outbuilding to install at the bottom of my garden. Something along the lines of any of these would be perfect…

…and a snowy forest setting would be the icing on the cake – but as the reality of my garden is a 1 x 3 metre concrete balcony covered in plants and rabbits, I’ve long since come to terms with the fact that this will remain a fantasy. However, this still hasn’t stopped me wondering how I could somehow fit a shed into my world.

Then a couple of weeks ago, during one of my regular frowning sessions at the wall in my bedroom which has dodgy plaster and hideous externally mounted electric cables and heating pipes, it hit me – or rather it snuck up on me suddenly in the manner of a sneaky thing, just as I crawled into bed.

An excited little thought started jumping round the room shouting “me, me, me-me-meeeeee!” (this could go some way to explaining my frequent insomnia), so I decided to go with it – after all, who am I to stop an excited little thought from realising its true potential?

Much googling later and a teeny shed was trucking its way to me from somewhere up north. Now it’s safely tethered in my bedroom, away from winds and temperamental elements…

shedroom wall

[At this point I should say that it looks much better in the flesh than it does in the photo and that a mirror will be going where it looks like a window ought to be on the right-hand panel.]

The only problem is that being so sheltered from the weather, my shed is never going to turn that beautiful silver-grey colour that outdoor sheds go, so I’m faced with the dilemma as to what colour I should paint it.

At the moment there’s three options on my list: (1) paint it the same colour as the bulk of the wall (Twilight Cinders); (2) paint it the same darker colour as the wardrobe wall (Potters Clay); or (3) really go for it and paint it deep red with a white trim like a Finnish country cabin.

Or perhaps you can come up with an even better option. Any thoughts?

Let’s start a revoscootion

The other day I met a colleague in the street who was doing something I’ve wanted to do for ages but not been brave enough – scooting.Razor A5 Lux scooter

My reason for not doing this so far is that I don’t want to look silly. Not that I usually let little things like that bother me but I have let it stop me this time. Only now I know I won’t be the only one I’ve started to browse the scooter pages and quite like this one with its big wheels…

But I’d feel even happier if me and R weren’t the only scootees out there. So how about it? How about you getting one too and we can all scoot together, but separately? Why should The Kids get all the fun?

Fazer Lontoo rae chocolate

Being the fully pledged chocoholic that I am, I was really looking forward to chomping into a bar of Fazer’s Coffee Crisp chocolate when I got to Helsinki but less than an hour after my arrival, I was told the heart-breaking news that Fazer don’t make it any more. My trip was to be Coffee Crisp-less.

Instead, the shelves of Stockmans were loaded up with a whole load of flavours I’ve not seen before, such as Walnut Crunch and Lontoo rae – the latter being chocolate with licorice bits mixed into it.

Now, when it comes to chocolate, I like to leave no bar untasted but I have to confess that the idea of a chocolate/licorice combination really didn’t appeal. Still, I have a curious mind so bought a couple of bars – one for me and one as a gift.

A week later and both bars are gone. Damn stuff was bizarrely delicious and I feel no guilt whatsoever at eating that second bar.

Fazer Lontoo rae chocolate

So if anyone who works at Fazer is reading this: PLEASE get your company to start selling chocolate in the UK. Now that Cadbury’s have gone to the dark side, we really need you and your imaginative combinations.

Big Brother

Huzzah! Big Brother is finally dead.

Although I loved the idea and watched avidly back when BB first began, over subsequent years the producers took the programme nowhere and it just became an annual excuse to round-up the most vacuous bunch of wannabes they could and stick them all in a house to be gawped at for weeks on end.

The ‘celebrity’ ones were just as bad – filled with people desperately trying to revive their flagging careers by sitting around and doing nothing.

The Big Brother idea had such huge potential as a social experiment. I would have liked to see a house full of pensioners; a house full of deaf people or a house where one of the contestants was a really lovely dog (whose nominations would have been selected by public vote).

A house full of people with uber-high IQ’s would have been interesting, or a group of people who couldn’t speak the same language, but no, all they gave us year after year were bitchy exhibitionists and there’s only so much screaming at plastic-titted numbnuts on Channel 4 you can do before you feel the need to switch over to BBC2 and scream at politicians on Newsnight instead.

The only contestant I ever really liked was John Tickle – a man who knew how to keep himself entertained without resorting to bitching and who seemed to have some grey matter between his ears. And I have to confess that I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of sympathy for Chantelle this past week or so. I know it was her decision to go in there again but it can’t have been easy living with her former husband who she obviously still has so much feeling for.

There were far too many over the years that I hated and besides, I wouldn’t want to give them any more googleability by sullying my site with their names. I’m sure you’ve got many of the same people on your list.

I wonder what Channel 4 has in mind to fill the enormous gap in the schedule left by Big Brother’s exit. Hopefully they’ll try to earn back their once great reputation and make more series on a par with Misfits (buy the DVD if you missed it – best drama series to come out of the UK for years).

publicity still from Misfits

Helsinki design week

As I’ve just been to Helsinki to see what design week had in store, I felt it would be mean not to share my favourites from the Habitare exhibition…

uhtua table and stools

Table and stools by Uhtua, made from ancient Kelo-wood pine.
UhtuaAnd if you’re wondering what Kelo-wood is, click here to find out…
Kelo-wood 

Chair by KainuWooden storage chair by Kainu.

It also comes in a lovely grey shade and has extra storage in the back.
Kainu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KIEKKO – chalk board wall clock by Muoto
Far more elegant than the write-on Alessi clock that I saw recently, you can write whatever you like on this one – Breakfast, Second breakfast, Elevenses…
Muoto

Nikari KVL1 chairNikari KVL1 chair
The level of craftsmanship from this company was superb and I couldn’t resist running my hands over everything.
Nikari

Klaffi-hylly shelves

Klaffi-hylly shelves by Elsa
The ultimate in space-saving shelving, although I suspect it would make you really anal about what you put on display.
Elsa

And if you’re considering applying to study design you could do a lot worse than apply to Aalto University School of Art & Design – I didn’t get any photos but there was some really interesting stuff being exhibited on their stand.

Flying

There’s nothing quite like that feeling you get as you’re shuffling along in line at Heathrow waiting for your slot on the main runway…

Plane waiting for take off - Heathrow

…and finally it’s your turn and the engines all kick in and the pilot puts his foot down and the speed picks up and up and up and then you’re going so fast that it feels like you might actually take off… and then you do…

plane taking off - Heathrow

…and as you leave the ground and your tummy flips with excitement you notice that even the ugly bits of London look beautiful from the air…

Plane flying above London

…and soon you leave Earth and enter a mashed potato world where you learn the secret as to why no-one will ever find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…

round rainbow on the clouds

…and your mind wanders to all those days you lay in the park looking up at the fluffy white clouds skipping across the sky…

fluffy clouds

…and then the clouds vanish and you’re flying across perfect patches of land that appear to float on the big blue sea…

Swedish coast

…and then it’s not long before a bit of turbulence kicks in and as you’re jiggling around in your seat, the pilot tells  you to put your seatbelt on in readiness for landing…

Finland from the air

…and the ground gets closer and closer…

Coming in to land at Vantaa airport, Helsinki

… and then with a few little bounces of joy the plane comes in to land at your chosen destination.

Plane landing at Vantaa airport, Helsinki

Then just a few days later, you get to do the same wonderful journey in reverse, arriving home just as the sun sets.

Plane flying towards London at sunset

I love flying.

Holidays

Holidays have slipped right down my ‘to do’ list these days – mainly because there are so many other wonderful things to fritter my cash on – but still, this time tomorrow I will be wandering around the streets of Helsinki, probably in the rain if the BBC weather site has it right for once. I’m hoping not.

My excuse for going now is because it’s design week and I want to see something I’ve never seen before. 

If all goes to plan I’ll come back with a head full of inspiration and a bag full of pixie boots, Moomin paraphernalia and Fazer’s Coffee Crisp chocolate. Can’t wait.

Moomin stamp

Biscuits

The biscuits versus cookies debate recently flared up in my presence so of course I felt compelled to pip in. 

My definition is that biscuits should be hard and crunchy and able to last for years if kept in an airtight jar and out of my sight. Also, biscuits are rare in that they look and taste better when they’re mass-produced in factories. Cookies, on the other hand, are definitely better when they’re homemade and should preferably be slightly undercooked and chewy.

So, cookies aside, here are my top 5 current favourite biscuits, in no particular order:

Malted Milk Creams

 

 

 


Malted Milk Creams (Fox’s): The sofa biscuit
Apparently custard creams have been voted the UK’s favourite biscuit but I think these go one step better. They’re slightly less sugary and not so crumbly, which is a very big plus when you have to do your own hoovering.

Party Ring

 

Party Rings (Fox’s): The pretty biscuit
Lovely to look at, taste great and even have a little hole in the middle so you can pop them on the ends of your fingers and eat them like Hula Hoops.

  

Rich Tea Fingers (McVities): The Cinderella biscuit
Rich Tea FingerThese biscuits don’t look like anything special. They’re cheap and low in calories. They’re the biscuits you don’t even notice on the shelf, but use them as a spoon for a creme caramel and their true beauty shines through.

BourbonBourbon (Crawford’s): The night shift biscuit
Perfect for the wee hours, Bourbons aren’t too sweet and they have plenty of fiddle factor to keep you entertained for a good few minutes. Available in a 3-pack at a tea-bar near you.


Garibaldi (any make will do): The survival biscuit
GaribaldiIf you’re travelling anywhere where getting food might be a problem, these are the biscuits to take away with you. They’re fairly light and squash-tolerant. There’s no wasted space in their packaging and they’re full of dried fruit. In fact, if you were stranded on a desert island, you could probably survive for years on nothing but water and Garibaldi biscuits.

London sky

There are some truly vile things about getting up early in the morning but the sky over London this morning isn’t one of them.

On some days, London sky is grey and cloudy and flat like the whole city has its head buried under a blanket. More often, it’s like a child’s drawing of sky – pale blue with fluffy white clouds blowing all over the place but today, just briefly, it was endlessly blue with little aeroplanes zipping across it every few seconds.

There are people who complain about the volume of planes going across London but not me. Mostly, the traffic in the city is so loud that any aeroplane noise just gets lost in it and I figure that if you can hear the planes, you’re just lucky you can’t hear all the traffic too.

This morning, not even a vapour trail sullied the sky and it prompted me to wander along like a loony singing Joanna Newsom’s ‘This side of the blue’, which really is the perfect tune to start the day with – unless of course you already happen to have ‘It’s a beautiful morning’ by the Rascals playing at full volume in your internal MP3.

Aeroplane in sky over London

Lotto

This morning I woke to find an email on my Blackberry from the National Lottery telling me they had exciting news about my ticket for yesterday’s draw.

I tried not to get excited, thinking it was probably only a £10 win, but still a small part of me was buzzing with optimism. I mean, they said ‘exciting news’, not just ‘good news’ or ‘better than a poke in the eye news’.

What would I spend the money on? I wondered as I rinsed away all the farmers’ market mud from the bathtub. I could get a cleaner to do this for starters, I thought, but then decided that there’s no way I’m having someone else rummaging around my home.

glass igloo under the Auroro BorealisNext I decided I would book an arctic holiday and stay at the Ice Hotel and go dog-sledding and zoom around on a snow-mobile. I could sleep in a glass igloo and watch the Aurora Borealis swirl its magic above me as I drift off to the land of nod – or not, as is usually the case whenever I’m on holiday.

I could sort out any of my family’s financial bothers so we could all be happy and free… and then I logged onto the Lotto website.

So, what shall I spend my tenner on?

Pillivuyt cow creamer

Pillivuyt cow creamerFor some time now, I’ve coveted a cow creamer.

And even though I have no intention of buying one – I don’t need it, won’t use it and don’t do dust-gatherers – the cow creamer of my desire has to be made by Pillivuyt. I’ve seen cheapo versions that look almost identical and they do absolutely nothing for me at all.

But why do I want one? I’m buggered if I know. The only reason that I can think of is that somehow reading Jeeves and Wooster novels at a tender age has had a much greater influence on my tastes and desires than I would have suspected.

Perhaps, since a country house and a valet are both out of my financial reach, my inner self is compensating and squishing all my fading hopes and dreams of a life of luxury into a French milk jug in the shape of a cow.

US $1 coins

There was an odd story doing the rounds this week – apparently, despite the fact that Americans don’t like using them, the US government is pushing ahead with the production of one dollar coins. And because people are refusing to use them, the coins have been piling up at the US Federal Reserve to the point that it’s fast running out of space to store them.

But this isn’t giving anyone the hint to press the STOP button on the minting press so these coins are just going to keep on coming out and out and out until they’re flowing out of the Federal Reserve windows like a jackpot win on a Las Vegas slot machine.

So it would seem that someone needs to do a much better job in convincing Americans that one dollar coins are better than one dollar notes, and as no-one else appears to be doing the job with any success, I’ll give it a go.  

old US dollarThe first time we went to America, one of the first things my boyfriend and I did on arrival in Manhattan was go into the oldest, biggest, grandest American bank we could find and each swap one of our tatty green paper dollars for a shiny silver dollar. In reality they were old and a bit worn (like in the Marilyn Monroe song) but to us the dollar coin was the ultimate symbol of America. Several years later and I still have mine (but not the boyfriend), so I’m finding it hard to understand why Americans, having lost them, might not want the coins back. 

Here in England, the pound coin replaced the note back in 1983. My friends and I all liked it instantly. It was substantial and solid. We felt richer when our pocket-money was paid in these gold coins and were glad to see the back of all the grubby, sweaty green notes. It also had the psychological effect of making the notes we did get seem much higher in value. 

[I just read something about Margaret Thatcher saying the pound coin wouldn’t be very popular and that the note would have to stick around too. Maybe that’s why we liked the coin so much – anything to prove that evil old bat wrong.]

I suppose one complaint might be that coins are heavier than notes, but then you rarely have more than four in your pocket – any more and you just swap them for a fiver (a note).

In contrast there are lots of advantages. You can use them in vending machines and put them as deposits in shopping trolleys. They make a great noise when you throw them in charity collection buckets and you never get given one that’s still clammy with the sweat of the person who held it before you. Best of all, when you lose one, there’s always a chance that it will remain lost for hundreds or thousands of years and that you will have played a vital part in a future historic find. You don’t get that with a note.

new US dollarSo, good people of America, if I still haven’t convinced you to start using these dollar coins, I suggest you read the article below – particularly the bit about it being ‘the law’ that these coins continue to be manufactured regardless of whether you want them or not.

You might as well start using them because one way or another,  you’re paying for them.

BBC: Why the US keeps minting coins people hate and won’t use

 

Porridge

Every now and again, in an effort to find a healthy alternative to biscuits, cakes, crisps and oh-so-delicious custard filled choux pastry, I give porridge a try.

The trouble is, I hate porridge. I’m not entirely sure why – I mean, I like flapjack and I like milky drinks so my liking porridge should a foregone conclusion. But it’s not. In fact it makes me want to wretch. It’s soggy and tasteless and looks like it ought to be used to repair cottage walls.

So now I’m putting it here, in capital letters – I HATE PORRIDGE. Hopefully writing it down will also engrave this fact on my brain so I won’t make any more foolish shopping choices, resulting in more money wasted on porridge.

porridge

Fortnum & Mason

In Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the first film I ever called my favourite) Holly Golightly describes Tiffany’s as her cure for ‘The Mean Reds’ and a place where ‘nothing very bad could happen to you’. My own Tiffany’s is Fortnum & Mason’s – a store that, thanks to Orinoco Womble, I have known about since long before I actually went there.

Orinoco Womble holding a Fortnum & Mason hamperAs a child I was a Wombles geek. I collected Womble figures. I had a Wombles pillowcase and a Wombles lampshade. I had all their albums and books. At the age of seven or so I probably could have won Mastermind if I’d picked the Wombles as my subject. I even had a Wombles vest (which I confess I still wore for many years after the lampshade got replaced).

My introduction to Fortnum and Mason’s came when Orinoco Womble got upset and ran away from Wimbledon Common to the shop (or Fortune & Bason, as he called it). As he described the luxury of all the things he found that they’d thrown away, I was hooked. Not that I’m even remotely into bin-diving – when it comes to Fortnum’s I’m a front entrance only kind of girl – I just loved the idea of a store that sold food for pure luxury. Growing up in the sticks in the 1970’s, my only experience of food luxury was spending ages picking out ‘one of those and one of those’ from the penny sweets section at the village shop.

Now I live in London and can pop in to Fortnum’s whenever I’m passing, or even just feast my eyes at their sparkling window displays from the top of a bus, and it always gives me that great ‘Tiffany’ feeling. A feeling that all is right with the world and so long as Fortnum & Mason’s is there, it always will be.

Fortnum & Mason

 

Fortnum and Mason

Storms, Gilmore Girls and custard creams

Is there anything better than having a day off in the middle of the week to do whatever you like? A day when you don’t actually have to do anything at all if you don’t want to.

Yes there is. It’s a day when you don’t need to do anything, plus you have an unwatched dvd of the Gilmore Girls and a giant tin of custard creams to munch your way through. Then, as an added bonus, when you’re half way through watching the dvd, the postman sticks another four episodes through your letter box (and no, that’s not a euphemism).

Later, just as you’re snuggled up on the sofa in Stars Hollow heaven, the blanket-grey sky outside starts to grumble and weep and make that beautiful sound that rain does when it bounces off the leaves, just to remind you how wonderful it is to live up high with the tree tops.

Today has been about as perfect as a day gets.

M&S custard cream tin

Merry effing Xmas!

It appears that some retailers have decided that it’s been long enough since we thought about Christmas shopping – after all, it has been a whole seven months since we took the decorations down, and actually a bit longer for those shops that took their decorations down before Christmas Eve so they could get their sales prepared, thereby making the high street look very un-festive indeed just when it ought to have been sparkling.

These retailers are money-grabbing joy-suckers. They turn what should be a lovely highlight in the middle of darkest winter into an endless pain in the arse.

Where it used to be wonderful to hear Christmas carols while scoffing all the strawberry creams from the Quality Street tin, before 25th December even comes around these days I’ve had it up to my antlers with Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and whatever tune Marks & Spencer choose to jingle up their ads of Twiggy and chums in their hats, scarves and shiny knickers.

And what about those poor sales assistants? It’s only a matter of time until one of them goes ape-shit with the tinsel and starts garrotting any customer seen buying a pre-wrapped gift set. I wouldn’t blame them – there’s only so many times a person can hear Do they know it’s Christmas? before they snap and run around with a sawn-off coat hanger screaming that it’s not frigging Christmas – it’s not even autumn – it’s barely bloody August!

I believe in Santa Claus badgeBut collectively we can change things. If we join forces and refuse to buy any Christmas goods until a more appropriate time, in future years the shops will be forced to rethink their sales strategies. So, let’s avert any department store massacres by putting a stop to this midsummer madness and banning all signs of
pre-December Christmas.

Rent-a-bike

Today is the launch of London’s new TFL bike hire scheme. It works something like this: you sign up and pay online, get yourself a key thingy, stick it in the right hole at the bike park, then get on the bike and ride away on it to another bike park somewhere near where you want to end up.

It’s a nice idea but all this signing up/key business is a little bit too complicated for impulse-cycling. It would be much more useful if anyone could just stick their credit card in and pedal off any time they felt like it. I’m not a big fan of forward planning when it comes to things like this.

But still, I am enjoying seeing all the shiny new bikes in their bays all over town. And I love that it’s bringing out the curiosity in people and getting perfect strangers chatting to each other as they examine the bikes and ping their twisty bells.

TFL bike park

Organs

There’s one bodily organ which most of us spend an enormous amount of time fiddling with or talking about – our skin.

We pick it, squeeze it, rub it, scrub it, stretch it, shave it, pluck it, wax it, scratch it, tear it, cut it, stitch it, burn it, colour it. We expose it to a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions. We drench it on a daily basis and spend a fortune on fragrances, chemicals and creams for it.

I’ve never been really comfortable in my skin and suspect I’ve spent more than the average amount of time poking around with it – mostly because my skin is ridiculously over-sensitive. It has a blue-white hue which goes pink in the sun, fading to freckles and the dreaded ‘brown spots’, and as for my feet – they blister if they even look at a pair of shoes which they suspect might not be comfortable.

In my teen years I suffered the usual T-zone spots and blackheads and have never quite grown out of them. Over the past couple of years, I’ve also developed a sun allergy which results in me spending most of the summer with a bumpy rash everywhere the sun touches unless I splash on the Factor 50. I’ve got more moles than a dot-to-dot book has dots. I have hyperhidrosis in my hands, resulting in perpetually sweaty palms and a dread of all occasions where I’ll have to shake hands with anyone. Skin-wise, I’m a bit of a mess.

But as I look around me at everyone else’s shades and textures, it does make me wonder about our insides. Is there such variety in any of our internal organs or is one spleen just like another?

Chipotle

I have a new crush – Chipotle on Charing Cross Road. It sells what are possibly the best burritos in town.

There’s nothing much else I can tell you about them that their photo can’t say so much better, so here it is…

Chipotle burrito

Chipotle’s menu

A blow to Democracy

Alas, the peaceful protestors in Democracy Village have been evicted. This will make parliament’s occupants (and Boris Johnson) very happy I’m sure but this Londoner isn’t quite so pleased.

It’s not that I’m a raving peacenik or anything but I like the fact that some people are. They put don’t-really-carers like me to shame with their willingness to camp out in inhospitable places and point out the injustices of the world.

It was also rather nice to see a campsite in the middle of town. It had a village fete feel about it and always made me smile as I looked down at it from the top of the bus. And let’s face it – smiles don’t come that easily on the top of a bus in this hot, stinking London summer.

A spokeswoman for the mayor apparently said “The square will now be closed temporarily, during which time the site will be restored for the use of Londoners.”

This woman is obviously an idiot. No self-respecting Londoner ever goes to Parliament Square – it’s basically a green traffic island surrounded on all sides by constant noisy, filthy traffic. The wonderfully verdant St James’ Park is only two minutes away for anyone in need of a sit-down. As for its restoration – it’s just a square of grass. How much restoration does grass need?

The lovely thing about protestors though is that, like in a game of Whack-a-Moley, they always pop back up somewhere else. I believe The Queen has a rather nice back yard in town just ripe for pitching a few tents while she’s away for the summer.

Democracy Village, Parliament Square

Vampires in Volvos?

I’m yet to see any of the Twilight movies. When I saw the trailer for the first one I put it on my ‘to do’ list (or maybe I just meant Robert Pattinson) but when I saw all the screaming teenage girls at the film’s premier, changed my mind rather rapidly.

Although inside I quite often revert to being a teenage girl, I’m obviously far too cool (and old) to join in with their squeals (unless Chuck Bass’s nostril arch and eyebrow combination are involved – but that’s an entirely different matter).

Volvos, on the other hand, I still feel far too young for. They’re for old people with spare money and either too many kids or too many dogs. Old people with too many kids, too many dogs and a horse – for which there is always an old hair-covered blanket and tack box in the back of the car.

These people nearly always buy their Volvo new and keep it until death – usually the owner’s, not the car’s. Ancient Volvos who find themselves orphaned often seem to find new homes amongst the Hasidic Jewish community in North London. People who obviously appreciate that a Volvo is for life, not just for Christmas. Or Hanukkah.

So now pause for a minute and ask yourself what these two things have in common: teenage vampires and new cars for old, wealthy people.

Are you stumped? Me too! But for a few weeks now, the two have been sharing a very strange ad campaign indeed. And try as hard as I can, I really can’t find any kind of logical connection at all – unless it’s simply that the film was desperate for sponsorship and Volvo desperate to change their image.

I fully appreciate that times are tricky for car manufacturers trying to flog their wares but I find this particular partnership rather creepy. And that’s because it seems to imply that either teenage girls have a strong influence on the cars their dads buy (unlikely) or that maybe Volvo have noticed a paedophile-shaped gap in the car market.

The Big Stink

Something very odd happened in London today. It started with a bit of a funky odour when I got to Kings Cross. Even though I have a very sensitive sense of smell, at first I couldn’t quite work it out. I was just thinking it smelt like a mix of rotten feet with a splash of stale armpit thrown in when it hit me – falafel!

Obviously, being a cumin-hater, my first thought was a definite ‘Eugh!’, but I thought it fair enough – it was getting on for lunch time and there are people who like that sort of thing.

A couple of air-conditioned hours later (still in Kings Cross) and the smell on the street had been turned up to full whiff. I got on a bus and it was there too – stronger if anything. I had one of those horror moments, wondering if it was me who was emitting the smell, but a subtle sniff of my pits and a quick body check for squashed falafel gave me the all clear.

I hopped off the bus at Oxford Street and falafel-pong was everywhere. I sent a text to a friend to find out if the smell was just my brain playing tricks on me. I got a reply saying “maybe that’s why I’ve been wanting one all day”. So it wasn’t just me – something had obviously planted the seeds of falafel-desire in my friend’s head.

As I headed west, the smell remained. And when I got home, I was greeted with more falafel mixed with the smell of lilies.

So where has this vile stench come from? Is there a Falafel Festival going on somewhere in town that no-one warned me about?

They say every city has its own smell. Maybe falafel is London’s official odour and the lack of rain over the past few weeks has allowed the stench to fester and envelop the whole city. Grim!

It’s too hot!

Of all the things I hate, being hot comes right at the top of the list. Probably because with most of the things I hate there’s someone to blame so I can get some sort of release, but the sun isn’t being stupid or thoughtless, it’s just doing its usual thing. And the clouds aren’t deliberately evaporating and the wind isn’t blowing half-heartedly on purpose. There’s just a whole load of natural factors all happening at the same time making it TOO BLOODY HOT!

So now I’m hiding indoors with all the blinds down and the windows on the sunny side shut, half delirious in the heat, fantasising about being the filling in an ice cream sandwich. Please don’t invite me anywhere because there’s no way I’m going outside again until the cooler hours of the morning.

If proof were needed that it’s officially too hot – Argos has sold out of all their air conditioning units in London. I’m wondering if it’s worth spending a few hundred quid and getting a proper wall-mounted unit. Would it be an extravagance worth shelling out for? At this moment, I’m inclined to think it would.

For now, I’ll just have to make do with looking through the Lonely Planet Finland guide that was on the doormat when I came home and dreaming of cooler days to come.

snowman in Battersea Park

Dead pets

It occurred to me today that, with the exception of the animals currently in my life, nearly all the pets I have ever known are now dead.

There were those who were part of my family: the guppies; Bubble and Squeak the (pointless) gerbils; Tigger the football-playing Angora rabbit and his painfully shy guinea pig friend PG Tips, who were both murdered by a fox; the goldfish Chicken George and Bowie; cute but mange-ridden guinea pigs Dorian and Aloysius and Rosie the Dutch rabbit, adopted from the kids I babysat for.Rabbit

Later there was Big Fish and Little Fish; then Rabbit, the loveliest, cheekiest bunny ever, who died when he was only a year old but who taught me so much about rabbits and the importance of a balanced diet.

Then there were those who were part of my life but not mine: Whiskey the mad mutt from down the road and the Alsatian from next door, who bit my friend Elaine on the back of the neck when we were six.

There was Wagger the dog, who taught me that barky and bouncy doesn’t necessarily mean violent; Snowy the greyhound, from whom I learned the importance of regular teeth cleaning, and Anna, possibly the most beautiful agoraphobic greyhound there ever was, who once nipped me on the face when she was scared. There were umpteen cats, which I never really cared much for and a newt that ran away almost as soon as I caught it.

Lastly, there was Sammie, my sister’s dog, who I loved more than I could ever put into words. She was wayward and only affectionate when she felt like it but, for a short time, was the only reason I got out of bed in the morning.

Even though thinking about all these pets has made me a little bit sad, it’s also got me thinking about future pets that will come into my life. All the animals that aren’t yet born – in fact, whose parents or grandparents might not have been born yet. It’s an exciting thought and I can’t wait to meet them.

Sammie

Jesus!

I once saw a face in a piece of old gum stuck to the inside wall of a number 19 bus. I could say it looked like Osama Bin Laden as there was a definite turban and a beard – but equally it could have looked like a squillion other beardy-blokes in turbans.

It puzzles me that people are always sending photos of vaguely face-like patterns to newspapers, claiming that they look like Jesus. And it puzzles me even more that the papers actually print these pictures without pointing out that they look nothing whatsoever like what’s come to be the standard Jesus image.

The Sun – Monday 5th July 2010

Take this article in The Sun – it has five pictures of dirt splodges and natural patterns slightly resembling faces, yet all have been claimed to be images of Jesus (and just so you can compare, they’ve put a picture of Jesus on the right – although he looks a bit like Russell Brand after a hair wash to me).

Saruman from Lord of the RingsTo my eyes, the image at the top looks like a silent movie actress holding a bouquet. Then bottom left to right: The Mona Lisa; a dead rodent holding the face of another silent movie actress; a baby in front of a dark curtain on the iron; and a woody Saruman from Lord of the Rings. 

So that’s three women, a dead vole, a baby and a wizard.

Like in a Rorschach test, these images probably look different to everyone, but please let’s stop with the Jesus-hunting and accept that there are random face-like images all over the place. And let’s just enjoy these faces for whoever they look like – be it Dale Winton in a chicken vindaloo-stained napkin or Vanessa Feltz in a cupcake wrapper.

I spy with my little eye…

Am I the only one loving all this talk of Russian spy-catching? Every time I read anything in the papers, images like something out of an episode of Mad Men appear in my head, along with giant-finned Cadillacs and twin sets – and it’s all in Glorious Technicolor.

I do wonder what kind of information they were/are trying to get though. Surely all the western world’s secrets are already out in the open by now?

We know who’s sucking the money out of the economy and what it’s being wasted on. We know how badly certain governments are running their countries and we know whose hands are up the backsides of those government leaders. What more is there to find out?

Except, perhaps they want to know why Joe Public continues to put up with being repeatedly dumped on without calling for a communist-style revolt.

It would explain why some of these people were planted in US suburbia along with their Coca Cola and light beer. Where better to spy on the average 2.4 and sow the seeds of revolution?

Wimbledon

The other day I caught myself watching the tennis. It was only for about ten minutes until I came to my senses – I’ve never really seen the point in watching sport. Playing is fine (especially sponge tennis, which has to be one of the best games ever invented) but watching it, no.

But anyway, it was the match between Errani (who made the noise “heeeh!” every time she hit the ball) and Radwanska (“hurrh!”). It occurred to me that if I was playing someone who made a daft noise, I’d be really tempted to mimic their noise just to piss them off. Or go all Tourettish and shout rude words every time I hit the ball: “slut!” “bitch!” “lardass!”

And “lardass” wouldn’t have been too far off the mark during this match. It’s been a long time since I watched any Wimbledon games but I do remember the female players always being really slim. In this match, the players were obviously very strong and fit but they were both carrying a fair few extra pounds too. The smaller of the two had loads of bra flubb and the other one had a muffin top the Fabulous Bakin’ Boys would be proud of. Obviously there was no wobble in their girdle-like tennis dresses but it did strike me as a bit odd that the person who won the match didn’t actually have a waist.

But who am I to point the finger when my muffin top is more like a pre-baked cottage loaf. Tennis anyone? Fyaaah!

Space invaders

This morning I found three mouse droppings on the floor by the soffice. I’m not sure why; I’ve lived here for over five years without any sort of invasion – except for the odd silverfish that occasionally scuttle across the bathroom floor and the flies that go round and around and around under the living room light every summer.

But why now? The place isn’t any dirtier than usual – it’s actually a bit cleaner – and there’s no new holes or food sources.

Or maybe that’s it. After my post about ‘finishing things’ and a verbal prod from my sister, I finally did the last bit of floor edging in the workroom. Now this place is officially finished, word must have got out amongst the rodent community: ‘Spacious flat, great location, fully refurbished and steady supply of rabbit food and bedding on the balcony. Rabbits harmless but beware leaving by front entrance as neighbour’s cat often patrols the landing.’

This uninvited visitor has made my home feel violated and sullied – like a burglar but a bit less scary. As much as I’ve always been unfussed about mice in the workplace, I don’t want them in my home so I’ve embarked on a massive cleaning session including washing the floor (admittedly not something I do too often).

Thankfully anything edible is already either in sealed containers or the fridge so at least I won’t be eating mouse poo anytime soon but what if it was crawling in the cupboards leaking pee all over my cups or cutlery – and what if it gives some nasty disease to the bunnies? They could get the plague!

Would it be premature to invest in a supply of mouse traps at this stage or is war necessary in order to reclaim my territory?

Fish fingers

I’m a fussy mare when it comes to eating and whenever I go abroad for more than a few days I really start to miss certain foods – especially fish fingers.

Even though I rarely eat them these days and haven’t been away for ages, a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly got a real craving for them again and since then have had them rather a lot.

Birds Eye Haddock Fish Fingers (don’t accept any imposters) in a big fluffy white bun with ketchup (Heinz), tomato relish and sliced pickles (Gurka Inlagd from Ikea).

They’re so good; I felt it would be really selfish not to share.

fish finger burger

Naughty, not NICE

One part of the National Health Service (which I’m generally a big fan of) today stuck its ugly head in the air to show us that there is definitely one area of the NHS where cuts can be made – a 100% cut.

I’m talking about the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (or NICE, as they like to call themselves), who came up with the statement ‘All pregnant women should be encouraged to have their carbon monoxide levels tested to determine whether they smoke’.  They say their aim is to ensure ‘that pregnant smokers receive appropriate support to quit for the good of their unborn baby.’

Firstly, what’s wrong with the low-budget way of finding out that answer by simply asking the women?

Secondly, what are they going to do if they find out that pregnant women are smoking? Imprisonment and forced abortions? Have the people who work at NICE never heard the ‘You can lead a horse to water…’ proverb? 

And how much more of our money is being wasted by these morons on similar gibberish? Shed-loads, according to their 2009/10 annual report.

So come on Con-Dem leaders, stop living up to your posh-boy stereotypes by going for the easy targets like the poor and the elderly and swing your axe at NICE instead.

The budget

No surprises there then.

Chancellor George Osborne holding a more appropriate Budget BoxBut what really gets up my nostrils is that, while he was coming up with his list of peasant-screwing measures, instead of using Treasury officials to do the job we pay them for, apparently Georgie Boy had them wasting time badgering the National Archive to let him use Gladstone’s old budget box, which has been put into retirement because it’s in such a poorly condition.

There are plenty of other similar boxes George could have used but oh no, he wanted the original one – presumably so he could put a nice photo up in the family drawing-room of him holding the box to show what a successful boy he is.

Come to think of it, getting his portrait painted is probably more George’s style. I hope the artist gives him lots of extra moles.

I think I’m being watched

As far as having my photo taken goes, I’m a bit like those ancient African tribesmen who (so myth has it) thought that their souls would be stolen if they had their picture taken.

But I live in London and everywhere I turn there’s a camera somewhere pointing at me. I can’t leave my flat without having my soul zapped (assuming the camera above the front door is working).

There are tourists everywhere, getting in my way with their posing or aiming their cameras at the bus as I’m gazing out of the window. And even though that highly dubious figure of 300 snaps a day for your average person in the UK is bandied about willy-nilly, it’s probably fair to say that I am pictured in an awful lot more photos than I’d prefer (ie none).

I put up with this, usually uncomplaining, because I realise that the CCTV cameras are there for a reason. If they help even one baddie to be locked up, then they’ve done a good job. Besides, I don’t wander around doing things I’d be too worried about other people seeing.

That said, over the last few months there’s one camera that has been making me a little bit nervous. It’s the camera that points at me every time I open the lid on my laptop.

CCTV screensI’ve never connected it – don’t even know how to – but what if it’s just on, without my knowing?

 What if ‘on’ is the default setting and every time I log on, there is someone, somewhere just staring at me as I type. How would I ever know?

Unless they made some sort of collage-type film and when I turn on the TV one day, there will be a film of me staring back at myself, looking – let’s just say – not at my best.

Although I realise this is some kind of vanity – I mean, why would anyone choose me to stare at over anyone else? – but in these times people seem to like staring at people doing bugger all.

Take Big Brother for example. People watch that crap even in the middle of the night when all the freaks contestants are sleeping. And as Big Brother is taking its final breaths, the producers are sure to be looking around for their next project.

So, if you’re somebody who knows and feel up to a bit of soul-saving, please explain to me how to tell if my laptop camera is recording anything. Until then, where’s that gaffer tape?

Chelsea Physic Garden

Do you have a place that you walk past every day and think ‘I really must go in there’ every time you pass?

For me it’s the Physic Garden, hidden away behind a high old wall on my daily part-hike to work for the past five years, so this afternoon, tempted by the sunshine and a bit of free time, I turned from the path and made my way round the wall to the public entrance.

I expected a beautiful flower-filled, fragrant garden. What I got was a beautiful flower-filled garden stinking of poorly-composted manure, but the stench was a small price to pay in comparison to the amazing collection of plants.

Once upon a time, back in 1673, it was filled with plants of purely medicinal value but these days has a wider range of botanical subjects, including a fantastic face-high thistle with the delightful name of Silybum something-or-other.

My favourite area was the old rock garden with a raised  pond. Probably because it reminded me a little of the natural planting you find along coastal paths and I am rather fond of a good coastal path. I fell in love with the plant below that looks an awful lot like cow parsley. I won’t leave it so long until my next visit.

Chelsea Physic Garden

Chelsea Physic Garden

Portraits & pimples

Thanks to Photoshop, it no longer matters if you have a giant zit on your chin when you get a new passport photo. Just scan it into your computer and in a few clicks your skin is spot-free for the next 10 years.

It occurred to me that portrait painting back in days of yore was probably similar to Photoshop in that wealthy gents might pay the artists a few extra pennies to do a little… tidying up.Hans Sloane

But then I saw this statue of Sir Hans Sloane in Chelsea. It’s so beautifully carved – the eyes actually look like they’re drawn on in pencil – yet the sculptor has carefully chiselled two hideous great moles on the poor man’s face.

Today I went to see the Wallace Collection and it was full of paintings of people who could only, at best, be described as ordinary-looking, complete with a whole assortment of lumps, bumps and droopy jowls.

If I was going to spend hours on end sitting still while someone painted or carved my likeness, feel free to call me shallow but I’d want them to concentrate on my good bits. None of that photorealism for me.

St. Pancras station

There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get as you wander around a station when you’re not going anywhere, watching all the people hurriedly lugging their bags between departure boards and platforms, clutching their Upper Crust baguettes.

Passing time at St. Pancras station is even more special. Perhaps because it has the Eurostar and I can’t even hear the word Eurostar without feeling that I’m almost on holiday.

Not only does it have the Eurostar, but St. Pancras station has a Sourced Market in place of a Whistlestop, a Fine Burger Company instead of a Burger King and if you want to stock up on goodies for your journey here, there’s a Neuhaus chocolate shop and a Peyton & Byrne bakery selling home-made-looking cakes in tins and milk chocolate with Cornish sea salt.

The other thing I adore about St. Pancras station is the beautiful hotel at the front, which I’ve only ever imagined going in as it has been derelict for years and now has the builders in. A company called the Manhattan Loft Company are doing something to it – presumably making Manhattan-style lofts and not restoring it back into a hotel.

But such is life. We might not be able to travel back in time to see a fresh-faced St. Pancras hotel but we can travel forward – straight out of the station and down into Europe via the Eurostar (are you feeling it yet?).

Or failing that, we can remind ourselves that the exchange rate on the pound is extremely low against the euro and just visit St. Pancras every now and then to sample its delights and play a little game of make-believe that we’re going on holiday. On the Eurostar, of course.

St. Pancras station

Cleaning the soffice

The second worst thing about using the sofa for both work and leisure is the amount of crap that accumulates around you. (Obviously the first is that if you’re not careful, you might end up looking like the mum out of What’s eating Gilbert Grape?)

As well as books, papers and magazines, I am currently surrounded by numerous bits of electrical equipment and remote controls, a make-up bag, mirror, pencil-case, sweater shaver, fly swat, pliers, filfofax, tape measure and umpteen bits of paper. And I daren’t even look down the back of the seat cushion.

chocolate coffee beansThe other thing about spending so much time on the sofa is the eating/mess thing. Crumbs and the occasional water spill I can live with, but having just scraped a melted chocolate coffee bean off both my bum and the sofa – and who knew something so small could spread so far? – feel that a change must be made.

I think I’ll have to cultivate a ‘no brown food’ policy on my sofa. Certainly no brown food that melts. Or in fact any other food that can’t be sucked away with a quick wave of the Dyson.

Obsession

Yesterday afternoon I started to watch series 3 of Grey’s Anatomy on catch-up. I’m not sure why – I didn’t watch either of the previous two series and never really fancied it but still my arse has been glued to the sofa for 25 episodes.

As I was watching it, I started to think about people who are obsessed with their careers. People who are so driven to do something each day that it’s all they can think about. I’m not one of those people. Whenever I’ve had a job I really thought I wanted, it turned out I didn’t want it that much after all. Apart from this writing thing, which I’ve dipped in and out of over the years, I’m all about the ‘been there, done that, now what?’

Except when it comes to watching American medical TV shows. I think I’ve watched every episode of MASH ever broadcast. Several times. And House. I’ve learned so much medical stuff from watching these shows I’d probably be quite handy in a 54 car pile-up. I’m sure it’s not entirely correct learning – I’m under no delusions that I’d be able to pass any medical exams – but I do know the difference between cardiomyopathy and an autoclave.

I think the reason I find these shows so fascinating is that I’m a wee bit jealous of people who have jobs that are vocational. It must be so reassuring to be sure that you’re doing the right job. To have studied for a career, knowing that there’s a path for you to follow provided you’re willing to put in a bit of effort and follow the instructions.

But I’ve never been one for instructions and the nearest I ever got to a path is this quote I read a few years ago – There’s no such thing as a path of life, just a load of crazy paving that you put down yourself as you go along.

It’s certainly true for my life but I don’t find it at all comforting. If there is such thing as reincarnation (which I very much doubt), next time I want to be a vet.

Staffies and crows

It was all going so well at the park until a truck-like Staffordshire bull terrier shot across our path and swiped a crow out of the air. Then Maisie and I found ourselves under siege.

The not-yet-dead bird just stood there, stunned and grounded, and a riot broke out in the trees above. The other birds – either because they missed seeing the original attack or just because the Staffie looked too scary for them – chose to take out their anger on Maisie and we got dive-bombed by two very angry crows. It was like a scene from The Omen.

crowBut Maisie’s confidence has grown in heaps over the past few days. She didn’t bark or run. She didn’t even flinch as I waved the ball flinging stick at them to stop them pecking her eyes out.

Today, for the first time, Maisie played with other dogs. She used their toys and shared hers. She let strangers pet her and got compliments on her good manners. This dog wasn’t going to let a couple of bully-birds upset her game of fetch. Maisie rocks.

Dogwatch

My dog-niece Maisie and I have been living together for about 51 hours now.

She’s come to stay as the rest of our family have buggered off to Greece to either get married or watch others get married. (I’m allergic to the sun so got out of that one – plus I have no desire to look like a raisin.)

MaisieMaisie’s being rather well-behaved so far, apart from a weeny argument over my bed on the first night.

She doesn’t know I’ve watched numerous episodes of the Dog Whisperer though and her big pointy teeth are no match for my
pack-leader skills when it comes to duvet-domination.

In the outside world Maisie’s a bit of a wimp and although I’m following Cesar’s rules and getting her used to the city noise by several trips to the park each day and some light shopping, she still freaks out occasionally when she’s off the lead and there are lots of people about. Also she ignores all the dogs who come over to say hello.

Maybe I should send her off to doggy-daycare to try to improve her social skills. I’m sure some of Chelsea’s posh dogs would show her how to sniff butt in an acceptable manner.

Sex and the city 2: jumping the shark

Since The Fonz first did it in Happy Days somewhere back in the seventies, many shows that I have loved have hit that pivotal moment when they turn from good into disappointing, absurd or even embarrassing. And like the Happy Days shark-jumping moment, the change usually happens when the budget goes up and the writers send the cast off on holiday.

Sex in the city was one of those that almost made the jump – many times in fact – but somehow always managed to claw itself back from the brink.

When the series ended, I was sad but at the same time glad that it had made it to a proper end without the shark jump. Its often absurd storylines somehow fit the show. It got away with the ridiculous clothes and exaggerated behaviours because New York is big enough to absorb that sort of thing and the women were still just about young enough to get away with it all.

But time moves on and you know where I’m going with this – Sex and the city 2: the movie.

It opens with Carrie wearing crimped hair. The woman is 45. Those two sentences should never be combined.

The usual SATC TV show formula is still lurking and it starts well enough with Stanford getting married but at about the time the end credits would be rolling if it were a TV show, the laydees take their neuroses off to Abu Dhabi for a week, dragging with them more clothes than you and I combined wear in a year.

Samantha in Sex and the city 2 (or Pat Butcher from Eastenders)So here’s the spoiler in alphabetical order: Carrie snogs Aidan; Charlotte confesses she’s glad to be away from her kids; Miranda admits she likes working; Samantha behaves like an amorous old granny escaped from a nursing home. Yes, the story really is that dull.

The colour comes from the location, their vast wardrobe of hideously ugly clothes, way too much make-up and earrings borrowed from Pat Butcher.

That’s about it really. Oh, apart from Carrie and Big’s flat – apparently she chose the decor. He really shouldn’t have let her.

The shark has been well and truly jumped.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2010

One of the great things about living near Chelsea is the flower show each summer. And you don’t have to go to the thing to enjoy it, in fact it’s actually better if you don’t – unless you’re one of the privileged few who get to go on the Monday when there are fewer people and I believe you’re even allowed to walk on the gardens.

If you go as a regular punter, it’s like opening time at a country jumble sale and you’re stuck behind the ropes trying to view the gardens beneath someone’s armpit.

I worked there one year and was quite relieved to be on the safe side of the rope for a few hours while people tried to grab my leaflets and ask me over and over what “that plant there” was. (It was Alchemilla mollis.)

No, it’s much better to watch the shenanigans on tv and take a walk round Chelsea and Pimlico instead and see what sort of effort the local shops have made to mark the occasion.

This giant flower outside Cartier on Sloane Street is my favourite this year.

giant flower made from flowers outside Cartier, Sloane Street

Finishing things

Just watching the last episode of Location, location, location on catch-up got me thinking about my own home and its current state of affairs.

I bought it in February 2005 – not because it was the perfect flat but because it really does have the perfect location: two minutes to the park, three minutes to the river and about seven minutes to Chelsea.

From day one I knew it would need work but that didn’t bother me. I love doing DIY. Actually that’s not true – I love the idea of DIY. I love the design part but the doing part, not so much.

Five years and three months of often gruelling work later, it’s almost finished. I’ve had the kitchen wall removed and made the whole living space open plan. I’ve put wooden boards down throughout. I’ve tiled the bathroom wall and floor, replaced all the doors, fixtures and fittings and decorated everywhere. Now I just need to put a tiny bit of beading round the cupboards in my workroom and then it’s done. It wouldn’t even take long – an hour at the most – yet I’m not rushing to do it. I’m not excited about the idea of it being finished as most people probably would be.

At work I’m fine with finishing things – give me a deadline and I’ll probably even bring the job in early but without a deadline, I just can’t do it. I seem to have the ‘finishing’ gene missing.

Germs

My nose is cracked, crusty and sore.
My head feels like a ham in a pressure cooker on full steam.
Violent eyegasm sneezes are plaguing me: all the mess but none of the pleasure.
Snot has deprived me of sleep for three days.
I have a cold and I’m not happy.
I blame the Tories.

David Cameron is an idiot…

A bit of vintage Charlie Brooker for you, courtesy of my friend Anna.

I couldn’t have said it better myself (which is probably why he has a column in The Guardian and I just babble here).

Read me

Music

It seems I’ve fallen out of love with the hunt for new music lately. I’m not too worried though – we’ve fallen out before but always found each other again sooner or later. Music never bears a grudge.

The last time my love waned it was – and I really to hate to use this term – ‘Britpop’ that brought me back. Somewhere in 1994 I heard Alright by Supergrass and decided to turn the radio back on. I was rewarded with an abundance of gifts from a whole host of lovelies who I’m not going to name in case any of them read this and think they were my favourites. If you were listening to the radio back then you doubtless know who they are anyway.

I once said I would never get rid of any of my music collection but recently (partly to do with my THRIFT column) I gathered up some CD’s that I never really liked anyway and sold them all to MusicMagpie. With the proceeds, I bought a little machine that converts cassettes to MP3 format so now I can resurrect some of my old favourites before they disintegrate.

Still don’t think I could ever part with my old vinyl though. I guess that as you get older you take more risks with what music you buy than when you were younger and money was harder to come by.

The worst thing, musically-speaking, about getting older is that no-one makes you mix tapes any more. I was thinking of making an MP3 version and posting it here for you but it would probably break umpteen copyright laws so I’m chickening out. Battling with The Man isn’t something I want to waste time on.

Instead, I’m going to list a few random songs that I’d be quite happy to hear right now and if you feel like listening to a great tune that you’ve not heard in a while – or ever – you can get dearest Google to help you find it (the sound quality will probably be just as bad as a dodgy old C90!).

mix-tapeMotown blood – Mando Diao
Gangsters – The Specials
I feel love – Donna Summer
My heart beats faster than techno – Milky Wimpshake
Whatever – Oasis
Tightrope & Tell me – The Stone Roses (I do like to play the back-to-back game on a mix-tape)
Macy’s day parade – Green Day
I’m in the mood for love – Lord Tanamo
1am – The Subways
I feel the blues coming on & You are my sunshine – Hayden Thompson
Get busy – Sean Paul
Kansas City – Wilbert Harrison
Where did you sleep last night? – Nirvana
Jolene – Dolly Parton
Sort it out – The Caesars
Roller coaster by the sea – Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers
Would? – Alice in chains

There you go. Quite a short list really but it’s a start. And if you can think of any tunes that you think I shouldn’t miss out on hearing, please let me know. Particularly new stuff.

UK 2010 election result

The results are still coming in but whichever way they go, there is definitely a hung parliament.

This isn’t good but at least the Conservatives haven’t won outright. There is a small hope for humanity yet. But not much.

Dear Sweden
Please can I come and live with you? I promise to be good and to learn to tala Svenska.
Hälsningar
L

Pilotis by Gaukroger & Partners

Wandering around the Grand Designs show, I came across a house a lot like this…

Pilotis by Gaukroger & partners
It had a bedroom at the front, a living room at the back and a kitchen and loo/shower room in the middle.

The interior layout could be redesigned to use the space a little better. There was a corridor that was a bit redundant and in a small living space, not even a millimetre should be wasted. But I’m nit-picking – it was potentially a very beautiful place to live.

It occurred to me that I would need at least two of them for live/work purposes so when I looked at the Gaukroger website, was very pleased to see that they’ve designed two inter-connecting units.

These Pilotis seem to be a great solution for those who want to self-build but can’t bear to spend years wrestling with builders. Now if only there was some spare land somewhere livable for me to put a couple. I wonder if Camden Council would let me have a little patch on the top of Primrose Hill.

Gaukroger & Partners

Grand Designs is on at Excel until 9th May 2010.

May Day

Pinch and a punch and all that… I forgot it was May Day today. The day when we should all choose something new to rebel against.

This tradition started for me 10 years ago when I was working with a bunch of morons who were moaning about the May Day anti-capitalist protesters. They were trying achieve something good for us all with their protests and I felt quite sad that I wasn’t out there with them. So instead, I thought I’d have my own little rebellion against ‘The Man’ and decided to ban McDonald’s from my life. Not that I went there very often anyway but I realised that by selling burgers for 59p they were pricing the little sellers out of the market and virtually forcing people on low incomes to feed them to their kids.

At the end of that day in May 2000, the police got a bit heavy-handed and riots kicked off so I decided never to join the protestors publicly but when I remember, I like to do something small in the fight against the greedy.

This year I’m going to ban Cadbury’s. Once one of the great English chocolate production houses supporting their community – now sold off to the Americans. And the Americans might make the best burgers in the world (excluding McDonald’s) and the best ice cream but they know nothing about how to make chocolate. Unless you like chocolate that gives you an aftertaste of fresh vomit.

So that’s it. No more Cadbury’s chocolate for me. Ever.

Ban Cadburys

Work Lamp by Form Us With Love

Dear Santa… 😉

 Work Lamp

  If you want to see more lovely pics, click on this link, then hold your cursor over the image.And while you’re there, you might want to take a look at the Cord Lamp and the Box Light. Pure genius.

Vote for me

The UK election babble is all about policies this week. For Gordon Brown and David Cameron the first week was all “…I agree with Nick”. The second week was all “…bloody hell! Didn’t expect that” but now they’re each having to persuade us what is special about them and their policies.

My original instincts about David Cameron and the Tories have become firm opinion. The majority of people in this country will not benefit under a Tory government and the already ginormous gap between the rich and poor will continue to grow.

I’m feeling more charitable towards Gordon Brown and his Labour gang. They’ve had a hard time of things recently and are taking the blame for financial disasters that had roots deep in Thatcher’s Tory days. I suspect that ‘the crunch’ would have happened whoever had been in charge of the country’s finances but I’m not even going to pretend I know how or why it all happened. Overall I don’t think Labour have done such a bad job over recent years. But don’t interpret my ‘not bad’ for anywhere near ‘good’.

My vote is still for Nick Clegg and the LibDems. UK politics needs a boot up the arse and if the LibDems get in, hopefully that will kickstart real political reform.

As this week is all about policies I thought I’d make up a few of my own…

Tax
Everyone earning over £10,000 should pay the same levels of tax as everyone else. The only differences would be that the tax rate will be stepped in the following way…
£0-10,000 tax-free, £10,001-15,000 @ 15%, £15,001-20,000 @ 20%, £21,001-25,000 @ 25%, £25,001-35,000 @ 30%, £35,001-45,000 @ 35% and so on, up until a maximum tax rate of 80%.

The rate will be applied so that someone on the current average salary of £25,000 would pay no tax on the first £10,000, then three different tax rates on the remainder.

This system might be rather complicated for the accountants but I’m sure they’d welcome that sort of challenge and those working for the uber-rich would really be earning their money.

Unemployment
No-one would be allowed to claim unemployment benefit for more than six weeks. After that period, they would have to undertake some sort of work-place training or community service (a fairly endless choice of places would be available), for which they would receive the same payment as they got for unemployment benefit,  plus travel expenses. For agreeing to take on trainees, companies would receive 1% reduction in their business rates.

This training would be supported and monitored with progress reports and qualifications where applicable. Help would be given with job applications when a suitable standard of work was achieved. Companies would not be allowed to treat these trainees as cheap labour. Full child-care would be provided where necessary.

Crime
Hopefully this would drop dramatically with everybody busy working and learning new skills. Short-term sentences would be replaced with extra work hours and more training. ‘Do the crime – get over-time’.

Education
School will run from 9-5 daily, with morning and evening clubs for children whose parents work longer hours. Children will be tutored under a child-adapted version of Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer training method: exercise, discipline, affection. Learning will be fun. All parents will be given an extra day of leave each term to act as classroom assistant.

Healthcare
The NHS will have more funding where needed – particularly in areas of training. Any ‘waste’ that currently exists, will be redirected into any areas in need of extra help. Preventative healthcare would get a higher priority than at present.

Pensions
“I agree with Nick”. More research and discussion needed on this one. The tough question is: should someone who has worked hard all their lives but never earned enough to buy their own home – a nurse, for example – be denied the same standard of living in their retirement as, say, a bank manager? One has given more in care and helped to save lives – the other has contributed more taxes enabling the other to be paid for that work.

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation and I’m inclined to think that both should be given the same excellent care in their old age. I need to talk to the accountants to see what we can do.

Immigration
Let the illegals already here stay under an amnesty. It would be far too expensive and protracted to go through the legal hoops to deport them all. That said, the borders should be closed to any new non-EU people whose services UK society doesn’t currently need (excepting genuine asylum seekers).

Defence
Just think how much money would be saved if world leaders could agree to be nice to each other. I’m sure the war-mongering arms dealers wouldn’t stand for it though and would start to shit-stir, so I guess we’d have to keep the forces and a few weapons but I’d definitely try harder for a bit of global niceness.

ballot paperSo there you have it – my policies for the 2010 UK election (and in typical political-style, I reserve the right to change them as and when I please).

Surprisingly, I haven’t been invited to join the Leaders Debate this coming Thursday but if any of the big parties wish to copy my policies, feel free. Just remember where you saw them first!

London

A few days ago someone asked me what I would miss most about London if I moved away. My first response was ‘everything’ – except tourists, traffic, noise… but I really couldn’t think of anything specific that I would miss.

Until today when I cut down a side street and ahead of me was a large open gate in a wall of black boards and beyond the opening, the most enormous open space where something once was.

As I got closer, the security guard closed the gate so I had to walk around the hoardings until I found a gap to peer through. What I saw was the city equivalent of a valley filled with rubble and, standing off to one side, what looked very much like an old mid-building chapel.

The area seemed so familiar and oddly sad but I couldn’t work out what had been demolished until I came across the building company’s sign identifying a new development called ‘Noho’ on the site of the old Middlesex hospital.

So that’s what was missing. I only went there once. It was to see my uncle who was in for what I believe had started with prostate cancer. He wasn’t there for long but whatever they did for him didn’t work.

As I walked around the edge of the space, I wondered about all the people who’d been through there over the years and how hospitals were such strange places, filled with sorrow and joy and endless hope.

At one edge of the space, the facade of an old street of boarded up shops was being propped up with scaffolding and it made me smile to think of some trendy new development with one wall of ancient London stuck on to it.

It was this lack of building which made me realise what I would miss most if I should ever leave London. I would miss the temporary holes that are made, allowing glimpses of bits of the city that I’ve never seen before and probably will never be able to see again.

Sunday papers

This afternoon I spent six hours reading newspapers and their weekend stuffings. The tips of my fingers are consequently tinged black with newsprint, all buffed and polished from turning the shiny pages of the supplements.

My brain is now overloaded with snippets of information, statistics and opinion. I worry that it will all merge and the wrong facts will muddle together into a useless wordy gravy in my head.

I have now formed a better opinion of Gordon Brown after reading his answers to the Q&A in yesterday’s Guardian magazine. I do hope they were genuinely his answers though and not what some cynical PR person coached him to say.

It was shocking to find that the mother of a teenage girl allowed her to have a kitkat and coke for lunch in an effort to avoid getting fat. If parents can’t, or won’t, offer better nutritional guidance to their kids then the future generations really are stuffed.

Tana Ramsay’s recipe for lamb sausages in prosciutto was pulled out to be stored for a rainy day. I don’t eat lamb (I never eat animals that I like when they’re alive) and can’t abide the smell of cumin but the recipe is a good starting point for me to experiment with. I’m super-picky when it comes to food so rarely follow a recipe straight from the book. Probably why I have more disasters than successes but such is the life of a creative fussy-pants. On the plus side, I have evolved the bestest-ever recipe for Chocolate Crispy Cakes and make a mean Fat Rascal.

Iceland

Until the Credit Crunch, Iceland was just a cold place somewhere up north but as the country at the centre of the financial meltdown of 2008, Iceland really put itself on the map.

For the past week – as you might have noticed if you’ve been in the vicinity of the planet Earth – Iceland has again been making the headlines with the unpronounceable and fairly unspellable Eyjafjallajökull volcano spewing shrapnel into the air, resulting in a fair proportion of the world’s aeroplanes getting a well-earned holiday.

The thing that really tickles my anarchic taste buds about this latest story is that because Iceland is, geologically speaking, a spotty little whippersnapper in comparison to many of Earth’s other grand old land masses, the country is really just behaving true to its rebellious teenage form.

Reading and viewing all the arguments over solutions to the ash dilemma is like watching overly stressed parents argue about how best to deal with the fallout from their wayward child. And just like bickering parents, one side has finally caved in to the other and now the planes are back up in the sky.

(I do wonder how the CAA and their equivalents feel about the resumption of flights. I bet on one hand, they want all the flights to travel and land safely but I bet, deep down, they really want a minor ‘incident’ just to prove they were right.)

Even though the parents seem to have called a truce, the sulky teenage dirtbag’s latest zit is still erupting and I don’t think a hefty dose of Clearasil will be much help. Perhaps the UN should send Iceland to Brat Camp.

Dust cloud and lightning above the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Photo by Marco Fulle.

A&E

“Was it an accident or did you do it on purpose?” asked the serious-looking assessment nurse with a strong Irish accent. It was one of those moments when you realise that there are so many completely barmy people in this world and that most of them spend a fair bit of time in hospitals’ A&E departments. Or maybe she was just looking at my file and noticed that it was my second visit since the month started.

The first time was an E – my brain decided to play mean tricks on my body. This time was definitely an A. I reached down to get a spare battery for my drill without noticing the steel wood-cutting bit pointing in my direction. All 12mm of the driving spike rammed into my hand just below the lower joint on my thumb. “Ouch!” would be an understatement. 24 hours later and I’m still finding blood-spatters all over the place. It was like the opening credits from Dexter.

My first A&E visit happened on Good Friday. I had to wait almost four hours and got to watch all of The Sound of Music with subtitles. This time my wait was comparatively short and I only got to skim a newspaper that was uncomfortably large for someone with a damaged hand. The broadsheet producers really should show more consideration for the disabled and the careless.

Now the puncture is dark and looks like a vampire has visited. The swollen skin around it is a subtle shade of blue. It hurts when I bend it and is stopping me from getting on with anything useful. Stopping me doing the job I was doing when the A happened.

If only I could turn back the clock until that moment just before skin hit metal and warn myself not to be such a numpty. But if I could do that I wouldn’t have fallen off my bike when I was seven – resulting in a stone being removed from my knee a year later. I wouldn’t have gone snowboarding or skiing – resulting in more damage to the ligaments in that same knee and I wouldn’t have tripped over the fallen road-works sign last month – resulting in my knee almost doubling in size and, despite spending the morning under a packet of rapidly-thawing sweetcorn, turning a colour resembling something like the inside of a blueberry muffin.

But there is no time-turner and the ancient saying ‘That which doesn’t kill us makes us strong’ springs to mind. My body says bollocks to that!

The election

Until recently, I’ve been dreading the election. For most of my voting life I’ve been a LibDem (or whatever they called themselves at the time) supporter but after Charles Kennedy was given the boot for being a bit too fond of the home-brew, their policies began to drift away from my own views. So for the past year or so, I’ve been listening to what all three top parties have been saying and consequently started to panic.

I’ve tried to keep an open mind during this time but it’s been hard. I grew up under a Tory government and felt (along with the majority of the British population, I expect) completely and utterly screwed by Thatcher and her band of evil weasels.

And going by the plane-grounding clouds of sulfuric, pumice-filled gas emanating from David Cameron’s mouth (don’t let anyone kid you that it’s fallout from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano), I don’t believe that the Tories have changed much since then. Thatcher’s greed culture is already showing itself in Cameron’s anti-Labour speeches about a “…class war on aspiration…”. Is he so ignorant of the fact that an enormous percentage of the population don’t share the Tory view that success in life means earning (or acquiring) more money than they can possibly spend and paying as little tax as possible? The Tories are only banging on about class because they know it’s still very much in existence and that as there’s far less of ‘them’ than there are of ‘us’, they have far more to lose if people vote within class boundaries.

But my favourite bit of David Cameron’s agenda is his aim to cut ‘waste’ in public organisations. Anyone who has ever worked in a company of any description will know that cutting said waste usually ends up with the company spending more money than it saves and that it’s really just a game involving figures on a spreadsheet. Funny how he fails to mention the impact this waste-cutting will have on all the people who will lose their jobs. And their families. And the services and retailers who rely on their custom…

As for Labour, I feel their intentions were once fairly sound but they seem to have become increasingly distant from the people who voted for them when they won the election back in 1997. Perhaps this is what happens when a party has been in the top seat for so long – they all become institutionalised politicians, forgetting what it’s like to be a ‘real person’. It might go some way to explaining the fraudulent behaviour of those MP’s involved in the expenses scandal – and parliament’s ‘Scullions’ who encouraged such antics.

So back to the LibDems – certainly not perfect but, in my opinion, still the best of a bad bunch. Until the TV debate the other day I was facing the dilemma of whether I should vote for them or vote tactically for a party that I have little respect for in order to ensure that the other lot don’t get the job. Now, thanks to his performance (but not to his Jackanory-worthy anecdotes), the media are getting all excited, saying Nick Clegg is ‘almost as popular as Churchill’ and that the election is now going to be a three-horse race.

So let’s assume – based on past experience – that the majority of promises politicians make during election times are just spin or, at best, wishful-thinking. No-one knows what the future has in store and taxes will go up if needs be. Cuts will be made if needs be. Besides, isn’t it the Civil Service who run the country anyway? (I’m guessing here that Yes Minister was based on some pretty sound research). And if that is the case, does it really matter who gets the big chair?

If not, I suggest that we all take a risk and follow David Cameron’s advice to ‘Vote for Change’. Not Tory, not Labour but Liberal Democrat.

Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg

Thrift

Since New Year, I’ve been on a bit of a spending spree. I’ve not come into money or anything like that, it’s just that because there seems to have been something of a freeze by my flat’s leaseholders on their plans to do some exterior work (costing me an enormous lump that I don’t have) I decided to spend some of the money I’d saved on finishing doing up the inside of my flat and generally making myself happy.

It makes sense to me – after all, I could be squished under the 319 bus with the mean driver tomorrow. Plus it’s not as if my savings are earning much in the way of interest (which should probably be renamed more appropriately when it dips as low as it currently is).

I’ve also been on  a bit of a purge of all the excess baggage in my flat. I’ve donated an Ikea blue bag brimming over with clothes to the local Hospice shop – mostly barely worn or not-at-all. I sold bigger items on Ebay – including a guitar that I had one lesson on and a crosstrainer which I used for less than half an hour in total. I think I got more exercise (and fun) assembling it than I did using it. 

Now my flat is looking rather lovely and my cardigan wardrobe hung neatly in order of colour (believe me when I say this really is the only bit of order in my life!).  There are still a few little jobs to do but nothing major. At least, nothing that will cost me anything major.

Trouble is that even when there’s nothing I need or want, I do tend to spend money like there’s no tomorrow. And although that may be the case (as I do try to catch the 319 on a regular basis), as the last few months have seen my salary whittled down so much that it barely covers the bills, I really need to get a grip.

So this morning, when my credit card bill plopped onto the mat with a total about three times bigger than I’d hoped it would be and about twice what I thought it should be, I decided that I would try to have a month spending nothing that wasn’t absolutely necessary.

Armeria maritima, aka ThriftAn easy decision. The hard part is going to be living amidst the battle between the thrifty bit of my brain and the much stronger part that always gets exactly what it wants. The Japanese Knotweed of grey matter which demands I eat whole bars of chocolate when one square would suffice. The part that keeps me rolled up in the duvet on a Sunday morning when I want to get up and the part that makes me stay glued to the sofa watching reruns on TV when the other part of me wants to go and do something more interesting instead. It’s going to be war and I need some weapons.

Of course the best weapon would be willpower but it seems Mother Nature didn’t bestow me with any of that. Nor self-determination or self-control. She did give me gluttony, self-destruction and self-deprecation though. Seems to me Mother Nature’s a bit of a mean old bag. Wouldn’t surprise me if she had a day-job driving the 319.

But anyway, I’m going to do my best – however not-very-good that may turn out to be. And please get in touch if you know of anyone who’s selling willpower on the cheap (or ‘Woof-Woof’, as The Sun probably calls it).

Makita

For the past few years, since ditching its cheap predecessor for having a wonky chuck and an absurdly short cord, my Makita cordless drill has been the jewel in my tool cupboard.

You might well wonder how anyone can love a drill but unless you’ve had the misfortune of having to bore holes with a really bad drill, you will never be able to appreciate a machine that makes perfectly straight holes with the greatest of ease.

Combined with a decent drill-bit, my Makita goes through plaster like a thumb pokes into an overstuffed profiterole in warm chocolate sauce.

At least it did until last Thursday when my beloved drill suddenly stopped turning, mid-hole.

I instantly got that odd feeling in my gut – you know, the one you get when you realise that the only way out of a problem is to throw money at it. Money you don’t have.

So after calling my dad for suggestions as to what might be wrong, I called Makita to find out whether it was fixable.

A delightful man on the other end of the phone said it was probably just the gears and that, even though I didn’t have a warranty, if I sent it to him he would mend it for me – gratis. Not only that but I posted it on Friday afternoon and it came back first thing yesterday, all fixed!

Makita 8280D drillNow I believe, via tales from the old folks, that back in days of yore this sort of thing happened all the time but these days good service is about as extinct as the Brontosaurus.

So I would therefore like to honour the lovely people at Makita with a gold star for making great products and giving fantastic aftercare. Thank you!

(And their website header video is hilariously macho – like something from Tool Time)
http://www.makitauk.com/

Fluocaril’s ‘Symbolic’ toothbrush

Symbolic toothbrush by Cornu & Malcourant for FluocarilThe best thing about tidying up is finding things you hadn’t seen in a while and I just found my favourite piece of product design – the Symbolic toothbrush by Cornu & Malcourant for Fluocaril.

When not in use it stands elegantly on its tripod legs.

When needed, the ring pushes downwards, forcing the legs together to form a comfortable handle.

It’s a genius bit of design. Such a shame the French kept it to themselves.

Symbolic toothbrush by Cornu & Malcourant for Fluocaril

Muuto’s E27

Another light that feeds my bulb-lust – the E27 by Mattias Ståhlbom for Muuto.

Muuto E27 light by Mattias StåhlbomThis design really highlights the lack of variety there is in bulb fittings. They’ve barely changed since they were first invented back in the 1800s.

Isn’t it time more product designers started to look at the actual fittings rather than just the shades that cover them?

But back to the lovely rubbery E27. I want the grey one. In fact I’d love a whole bunch of grey ones all wired into the same ceiling rose.

If anyone from Muuto is reading this and feels like sending me a donation… please do!

Bras

As I was loading up my newly assembled wardrobe drawers, I realised that I have an awful lot of bras – hardly any of which I actually wear.

A not-so-quick count revealed that, including the one I’m wearing now, I actually have 44 bras.

It also dawned on me that I’ve been wearing a bra for about three-quarters of my life (excluding sleep time – and obviously not the same one).

Truth is that I hate wearing a bra but as I’m way too busty to go without, finding the perfect bra has become a bit of an obsession.

bra ballAnd if you’re a bra-wearer you will know that mission is almost impossible as even if you find one that fits a treat when new, it’s never the same after the first wash even if you do it by hand.

So now what should I do with the vast number of bras that I’ll probably never wear again?

I think whoever made this ball had the same dilemma.

Easter

As an atheist, I probably shouldn’t be a big fan of Easter but since Christians have ‘borrowed’ many traditional pagan holidays and made them into religious affairs, I think it’s only fair that I ‘borrow’ Easter and celebrate it as an entirely non-religious holiday.

frolicking lambWhat I love most about Easter is that it’s like a gateway between winter and summer (and according to Wikipedia, once lasted all April – sounds good to me.)

The blossom is in bloom, the evenings are lighter and everywhere smells fresh and new. 

It makes me feel that it’s time to come out of hibernation. Plus it’s a great excuse to bake pies and eat chocolate eggs.

It’s also the time of year that my oldest rabbit was born. This year she is nine years old and still seems to be fit and healthy. Happy Birthday Fuzzy!

Fuzzy

Laptop shopping – update 2

The HP has arrived. It’s rather lovely too – gunmetal-coloured aluminium with really nice buttons and the white isn’t pink.

The downside is that it took me a good couple of hours to get it to accept my usb mouse and the colours are a bit pale.

I’m sure I could change the settings if I knew how – but of course I don’t know how. And I’d quite like to disable the touch-pad – again, I don’t know how.

But hey-ho, can’t have everything.

Self-assemble furniture

Another one that divides me.

Part of me loves it – it’s like Lego for adults, with all the different pieces that could make so many things – only the first time you do it you always follow the instruction leaflet.

Lego sofaThe other part of me hates it – mainly because I don’t have the space to lay all the pieces out in one place so have to spread them all over the flat.

Plus, unlike Lego, the pieces aren’t different colours and the instructions aren’t coloured to match. I guess that makes it less like Lego and more like some 3D jigsaw where all the edges have straight pieces.

That said, I’m looking forward to having a new bed and wardrobe drawers. Maybe I’ll actually use them rather than just leaving my clean washing in a pile in the workroom. Then again…

Laptop shopping – update 1

Yesterday, my cyber-friend Cheesypeas called Charlie Brooker a Luddite. She was in fact very mistaken here – Charlie is a total geek. It is me who is the Luddite. Possibly even the Queen of Luddites as I loathe change in technical things unless it makes them better – and simpler – to use. I don’t like reading instructions, I hate iClutter and have no room in my life for an ‘app’ to tell me how to wipe my arse.

Anyway, after an excessive bout of indecision over which laptop to buy, I finally decided on the Acer. I bought it, got it home, started going through all the start-up process only to find it refused to make its own restoration back-up disk. Twice.

After the support people had been most unhelpful by telling me to ‘try a different brand of disk’, I started using the thing only to realise the whites were pink. Now forgive me for being fussy but I think white should be white – not like something out of a mixed-wash accident.

The other thing I hated about it was that it had number keys down one side, so when you type your hands aren’t central to the board. This might be all very well if your computer is on a table but on your lap – supposedly where the word ‘laptop’ comes from! – it’s all off-centre and VERY annoying to use. And why would you need numbers at the side as well as along the top unless you were an ambidextrous accountant?

Sony Vaio VPC-S11V9E/BAnyway, luckily I had bought it from dear old John Lewis and they gave me a full refund without any hassle.

After which, I went window-shopping again and, apart from now having a crush on a black Sony that’s way out of my price range, have found nothing better than the HP on my original list.

Although it’s smaller than the Sony I already have, it does have more power. And I figure that on the rare occasions that I really need a bigger screen I can always plug-in my old one.

I’ve just ordered the HP from Amazon and now have to wait several days for it to arrive. It better be perfect.

Buying electronic goods

It recently dawned on me that I could do with getting a new laptop.

There’s nothing disastrously wrong with my old one – a Sony Vaio – except that its C drive is almost full and it’s started running a bit slow. Plus it gets so hot I can use it as an extra radiator and I’m convinced it’s roasted some of the meat on my thighs but considering it’s about seven years old and I ask it to do a fair bit in the way of graphics, it’s not doing too badly.

So now I have the hideous task of finding a new one. It only has to fulfil two requirements: have fantastic design/build quality and perform perfectly.
See – I don’t want much!

Actually there’s a third requirement – it has to be fairly inexpensive. So that rules out all the Mac’s. Plus, although they’re beautiful, I don’t want a Mac because then I’d have to buy new software. And they’re a bit annoying.

To cut a very long story short, I’ve whittled it down to two choices – the HP Pavilion DM3-1020EA and the Acer Aspire Timeline 5810TZG .

They both have partially aluminium casing and are mildly better looking than most I saw on my Tottenham Court Road recce. The HP has a slightly better spec. The Acer is a bit prettier and bigger. But the HP is cheaper. Although perhaps I should get one with a bigger screen. But the bigger screen Acer has a slower processor and is about £120 more expensive.

I really can’t decide – it’s just too much for me. It took almost a year for me to decide which mobile phone I should get. (The Blackberry Curve 8520 eventually won the toss.)

So which laptop shall I get? Ip dip…

Laptops

Betting on the gee-gees

I’m not really into sport. I can’t be bothered with all the fuss about rules and players and equipment but three times a year I get all tingly about horse racing.

Yesterday was the Cheltenham Gold Cup and true to my usual personal spread-betting technique, I bet on four horses: one which I thought would probably win (Denman), one which I thought might win (Tricky Trickster) and two which I thought didn’t stand a chance but because they had such long odds were definitely worth the risk (Mon Mome and My Will).

I didn’t bother to read the form – my choices were based purely on the horses’ names combined with their odds. My friend, who read up on the form, chose exactly the same four horses so I guess my method is as good as any – indeed Silver Birch has paid out for me twice in the past.

So yesterday, while I didn’t exactly win enough to transform my life (in fact getting nothing for Denman as I only bet on it to win instead of each-way), with my 50% successful prediction rate, I did come off feeling something of a winner, with Denman coming 2nd and Mon Mome coming in 3rd place.

The next race in my sporting calendar is the Grand National on Saturday 10th April. Fancy a trip to the bookies?

Mon Mome coming 3rd in the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2010

Charlie Brooker

Last night, Charlie Brooker won a Royal Television Society Programme Award for his series Newswipe – and as much as I loathe awards that aren’t voted for by the end users (including the Oscars, Baftas, Brits and Sonys etc) – this is one award I’m really happy about.

Charlie Brooker

For those who work in broadcasting or journalism, Newswipe should be compulsory viewing – yet not surprisingly, buried away as it has been on BBC4, a lot of people have never heard of it.

If I was in charge of a newsroom, I’d hire Charlie Brooker to come in sporadically to watch the programme and then give his all at the feedback meeting.

Just knowing that there was a possibility of Charlie showing up would probably get people trying to sharpen up their game – and if you watched the item about a certain style of boots on the BBC’s Breakfast show last Monday you’d know exactly the kind of sloppy journalism I’m talking about.

Hopefully now Newswipe is an award winner, it will get another series commissioned and move from BBC4 to BBC2 and get the promotion it truly deserves.

Until then, those of us who love Charlie Brooker’s acerbic observations about all that is truly shite will have to get our fix from his weekly column in The Guardian.

Charlie Brooker at The Guardian

Newswipe clip

Hot cross buns

Hot cross bunsAlthough I do prefer them cold, they’re definitely the best thing about Easter.

Apart from bunnies and chocolate.

And apart from Easter usually being (at least in my mind) the official start of Spring.

At the moment, Marks and Spencer’s apple and cinnamon buns are my favourite.

I say at the moment – I’m hoping they don’t go the way of M&S chocolate but I’m not holding out much hope (see my earlier M&S rant).

Gossip Girl

Chuck Bass played by Ed Westwick. Photo by James Devaney/WireImage.comYes – I know I shouldn’t but I do!

I love Blair’s perfect hair and her ability to rebound after every setback. I love Chuck’s extra-sexy nostril arches.

I love that Serena has teeth like a horse yet flashes them without shame and that Nate is as thick as two short planks yet still gets all the girls.

The Gossip Girl kids are everything that I’m not.

They’re young, rich and super-confident and live in a world where everything always works out in their favour.

If only…

The dentist

I just broke my tooth.
Again.

Now I’m going to have to go to the chair and pay for the privilege.
I am not happy.

dentist cartoon

The dumbing down of Marks & Spencer

I have loved shopping at M&S for as long as I can remember – since the days when they did mini chocolate-covered jam swiss rolls and the best cheesy puffs in the world.

I worked there as a student, not just for the money but for the discounted food we used to get at the end of each day. I even got the nickname ‘Margot’ because I was the only student who had a fridge full of M&S food.

But now things are changing. Not only does their own chocolate leave a disgusting after-taste but the shelves of my local store are stacked high with items such as Walkers crisps and Twix multipacks. Apparently ‘some’ customers have said they would like M&S to carry branded foods.

I suggest ‘some’ customers bugger off to Asda and stop ruining the M&S shopping experience for the rest of us.

This issue is bringing out the psycho-shopper in me. I have to work hard to resist jumping on people and pleading with them not to do it as they put branded goods in their trolley.

I feel a strange urge to make a placard and march up and down outside the store in an effort to get other shoppers on my side but sanity is just about prevailing.

Instead, I am calling on YOU to join me in clicking on the following link and asking M&S to stop trying to please everyone and go back to being a shop that we can be proud to shop at. One that sells high quality, original food.

Marks & Spencer customer service

Light bulbs

When I was about 14, I bought a giant light bulb from Habitat. I’m pretty sure it was made by Osram and was about 35cm in length and looked, and was proportioned, exactly the same as a regular-sized, clear light bulb.

That bulb hung naked in my bedroom for years. I loved the patterns that the glass made around the walls and ceiling and its big filament was like huge insect antennae.

When I went away to college, my mother removed the bulb and replaced it with a bulb-hiding lampshade. She said it burned out but I wasn’t convinced – she never did like it (mother, if you’re reading this: j’accuse!).

Bulb light by Sofie ReferI’ve since hunted all over but no-one seems to make giant bulbs any more – and I guess it’s safe to assume that with energy-efficient light bulbs taking over the world, no-one ever will again.

To get my light bulb fix these days I have several ‘Bulb’ lights by Sophie Refer.

I love them almost as much as my giant bulb but I do worry about what will happen when regular light bulbs are banned – as we keep hearing the EU are planning on doing.

Copper jelly moulds

The other day I discovered a new crush – an antiques shop called Jamb just off Pimlico Road.

It’s the most amazing place to wander around, not just because of all the lovely furniture – which I’m sure mostly comes from crumbling country piles whose owners have had to sell it off in order to pay for roof repairs – but because of the building itself, which is a rambling old warehouse parqueted and painted so it’s a bit like an odd film-set version of a country house.

Copper jelly mouldApart from the grand staircase that goes nowhere and the gorgeous repro fireplaces, the thing that caught my eye was a threesome of old copper jelly moulds.

I’ve always had a bit of a thing for pastry cutters and baking implements so wasn’t surprised that I liked them so much but when I went back and saw them for a second time, it occurred to me how similar they are to sand castles.

Always one to indulge my childish whims, I went straight to Ebay to see if I could get one on the cheap, but it seems lots of other people are rather fond of these little copper sand castles too. There’s even one up for sale with a Buy It Now price of  £395. And the seller is charging an extra £10 delivery!

So, having neither the money nor the space to start a new collection, I’ve decided to stick with my meagre box of pastry cutters and will just nip off to Jamb whenever I need a fix of beautiful but pointless dust-gatherers.

Jamb

Alice in Wonderland – 3D

This one has to go in two categories because I loved the movie but hated the 3D.

The characters and script were a joy, concentrated around my favourite bit of Through the Looking Glass – the Jabberwocky poem – but the 3D just got in the way much more than it enhanced the film and the daft glasses made my nose itch.

Apart from the Cheshire Cat image where the 3D worked brilliantly, it all seemed a bit layered, dark and out of focus – and the bit at the beginning where Alice fell down the rabbit hole was far too reminiscent of my recurring childhood nightmares where I dreamt there were holes in floor. Not something I want to experience again in 3D or otherwise.

Cheshire Cat - still from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Changing the duvet cover

In fact, anything to do with duvet covers – except buying new ones.

They’re just too big and they get all twisted and then I get frustrated and angry – which always makes the thing get even more wrigglesome and I’m sure they hide their corners on purpose.

And why do they always turn themselves inside out when they’re in the washing machine – even if you’ve done up all the buttons before putting it in?

Whoever said inanimate objects don’t have minds of their own has obviously never wrestled with a double duvet cover. Not a chance in hell that I’m ever going to get a kingsize.

Ron Arad – Reinventing The Wheel and the Teeter Totter

I’ve been a bit of a Ron Arad fan since before I even heard of him, when I saw some of his work in the One Off store that used to be on Neal Street in Covent Garden.

A few years later I saw his This Mortal Coil bookshelf in the V&A and liked it so much I created something similar out of skin-plywood for my cassette collection.

Today, as I walked round Ron Arad’s exhibition at the Barbican, it occurred to me that his work seems to fall distinctly into two camps.

The first being highly sculptural pieces with their organic, flowing shapes – pieces which leave me somewhat cold. They’re quite beautiful and technically brilliant but artistically just a bit… easy.

The other work is the stuff that knocks me off my feet. Pieces that play about with materials and engineering as well as challenge our preconceptions about how things should be.

The rolling bookshelves called Reinventing The Wheel – put on the Teeter Totter tilting ramp to show how they work – actually had me laughing out loud. When have you ever seen a bookshelf that did that to you?

Ron Arad's Reinventing the Wheel bookshelf on the Teeter Totter

 Ron Arad's Reinventing the Wheel bookshelf on the Teeter Totter

 Ron Arad's Reinventing the Wheel bookshelf on the Teeter Totter

Ron Arad’s Restless exhibition

Shaker peg rails

I was just putting up the umpteenth peg rail in my flat and recalled the first time I ever saw one in The Shaker Shop in Harcourt Street.

Shaker pegIt seemed such a simple yet ingenious idea and I had to buy one even though I didn’t have a clue where I’d put it.

There was so much I wanted in that shop and when I got some money I bought an oval sewing box in cherry but I what I really hankered after was the enormous cherry wardrobe with the special hidden compartment.

Later, they opened another shop on the Kings Road and another on Marylebone High Street but either the style fell out of fashion in London or the shops were just poorly managed because they all disappeared a few years back.

Such a shame really because for those of us who live in small spaces, the Shakers can provide a great deal of space-saving inspiration. Just give them a Google and you’ll see what I mean.

Now I make my own rails – easy to do as there’s quite a few peg-makers selling their wares on Ebay.

The peg rail I just put up is for my new but extremely old folding chair. It’ll only come down off the wall when I have guests but it fits perfectly in an otherwise dead space in the hall.

Hanging folding chair