100daysofgrievances #50 THE BAD RUN 

I’m glad you decided to read this grievance.  I don’t want to become one of these people who talks about nothing but running (#marathonbore), but I’m assuming that, like me, you love a wee dose of schadenfreude and won’t mind hearing about the bad bits associated with my latest obsession.  No cringeworthy mentions of runners’ high to follow, I promise.

I partook in many a conversation on Saturday.  Some were more memorable than others – think pre- and post-prosecco parlance, as it were, but two in particular were pertinent to this post. The first conversation concerned the phenomenon of The Wall – that much-feared nemesis of the long-distance runner.  I was advised to purposefully experience it once.  The theory being that if I knew first-hand of the horror, this would henceforth ensure that I’d do everything in my power to avoid a repeat performance.  I nodded gamely, whilst all the while knowing I was far too chicken to actually try and hit the metaphorical wall.  I don’t go about grabbing electric fences just to make sure I don’t decide to accidentally grab one again.  Anyway, I’m not quite sure this preventative approach would really work on me… Exactly how many times have I vowed never to consume another glass of vino for as long as I shall live, i.e. until the following weekend?

The second conversation was about this blog and how it had stalled a little of late, and how there would be many more things (presumably Bad Things, was the unsaid assumption) for me to write about in the future.

It is almost beginning to sound like I jinxed myself.

So let me let you about Sunday…

I’d originally planned to go out on a group run first thing in the morning. However, in my infinite wisdom (whilst sharing bottle #2 on Saturday night), I decided that realistically this may not actually happen (or, if it did, it would be exceedingly unpleasant).  So I bailed.  That done, I was able to relax and enjoy my beverage and catch-up in comfort – no niggling notions of 5am alarms.

The following morning, I woke up with the Fear that I had put lots of inappropriate kisses on the Running Club group Snapchat when I sent aforementioned cancellation message. Apart from that, I was feeling rather bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a nice long lie, and as geared up as it’s possible to be for a solo 16 mile run.  Don’t get me wrong, I quite like running, but running for 3 hours by yourself is not nearly as enjoyable as sitting by yourself in your lovely comfy armchair eating popcorn and watching a boxset.

One of the very best things about a long run is the fact that one must eat lots and lots in order to fuel oneself for the endeavour ahead.  The other very best thing is the guilt-free post-run beer and 3 course meal consumption.  Much like one is always advised never to swim on a full stomach, it is most ill-advised to eat and then venture out running immediately afterwards.  This means that the time between eating and running is rather like the time spent on a train journey – you’re doing something unquestionably productive without actually having to do anything for a predetermined length of time.  It’s wonderful.

Occasionally I will nap after fuelling (‘fuelling’ sounds so much better than ‘stuffing my face’) and recently I’ve spent the time in limbo watching the Sex and the City boxset. Clearly I’m already being productive, I’d be drastically over-achieving were I to fold some clothes or clean the hair from the plughole.

On the morning in question, I was getting ready to fuel when I realised I had no milk.  This is one of the only rubbish things about living alone – I can’t drink a carton of milk quickly enough and it is constantly going sour. On balance, I absolutely love living by myself, but there are a few notable negatives:

  • I frequently leave the house not quite dressed as I have nobody to do up those fiddly buttons or pop my labels back in. I also have nobody to stress out by wearing odd socks.
  • On a similar note, I have nobody to unlace by boots for me when I am too tired to do it myself.
  • I do, on average, an extra 1500 steps a day going up and down the stairs to my flat checking that the oven/hot water/iron/grill/hob/radio/washing machine is switched off. And that’s before I remember that I’ve definitely forgotten to lock the door and have certainly left every single window wide open and all the taps running.

As I had nobody to send out for more milk (I myself was conserving energy for my run, of course), I was forced to make my porridge Scottish-style (i.e. vile) with water and salt and no sugar. I’m stating this is Scottish-style but I actually have no idea.  All I know is that this is how my dad enjoys his porridge (my father is not remotely religious, but he does sometimes adhere to those good old Calvinist values of avoiding all things fun).  He also tells the story of how, when he was a wee boy, his mother would fill a drawer with porridge (presumably of the salt and water variety) at the beginning of the week.  This porridge would set, allowing family members to carve slices for breakfast each day.  I accepted this story without question the first few times I heard it, but having attempted to force down a bowl of the stuff without milk, I’m beginning to doubt its credibility… (I never once questioned the feasibility and hygiene related issues of filling a drawer with sloppy breakfast matter, I now note). I attempted to rescue my bowl of grey gruel by adding a mashed banana and copious quantities of maple syrup, but to no avail; it remained rank.*

It goes without saying that I ate less than I should have done of these slow-releasing running friendly carbs and resorted to ferreting about in the cupboards for salty snacks of the not-quite-so-virtuous variety to munch as I caught up on the antics of Carrie et al. In retrospect, this laissez-faire attitude probably wasn’t remotely wise considering my dinner the previous day had consisted of prosecco and crisps.  My late lunch on Saturday was a hog roast sans carbs at a friend’s party (why fill myself up on pesky bread when I could use that additional space to fit in extra piggy goodness?!)   Proper Runners bang on about the importance of glycogen stores: perhaps I should have taken heed…

Two hours after I discarded my porridge bowl (which, regrettably, had now set like cement), I set off running towards Shiplake.  For non-local readers, Shiplake is a village situated 8 miles along the river from Reading.  My plan was to run there, refuel (jargon alert) and run back.  What could possibly go wrong?  I even took sweets with me.  Following on from the conversation about hitting the wall (or ‘bonking’ as I believe is the technical term – I’ll never be a Proper Runner as I can’t say it with a straight face), I figured I’d be better safe than sorry, despite the fact I don’t usually bother carrying snackage.  All in all, I felt like I was pretty damned organised.  I had my sweets decanted into a sock (no rustling or shoogling as I ran) and a pound coin in my pocket with which to buy a drink. My mortice key was taken off my keyring to cut down on unnecessary weight/prevent clinking (and I’d checked the Yale was locked no fewer than three times) Sorted!

Just to clarify, the sweets were inside a clean sock which was then zipped into the pocket of my shorts. Not my actual sock, because that would have been disgusting.

I arrived in Shiplake (having only got lost once) feeling not too terrible, only to discover the shop where I’d intended to buy a drink was closed.  At this point (in a sort of Pavlovian dog-like response – see shop, get dry mouth), I started feeling thirsty.  Really thirsty.  Quite possibly the absolute thirstiest I’d ever felt in my whole entire life. I was so thirsty that I briefly considered drinking out of the watering can outside said shop (this is the type of village where even the corner shop has window boxes), but decided that was maybe not entirely wise  – i.e. someone might see.

In an attempt to make myself feel better and remembering some vague notion that a high percentage of the water we consume is in the form of foodstuffs, I decided to eat my sweets.  Note to self: Skittles are disgusting when running, especially weird-flavoured limited-edition Skittles (I may have mentioned before that I am powerless to resist new sweet/crisp flavours). Eating weird-flavoured Skittles from a sock is not remotely appetising. Weird –flavoured Skittles (quite possibly all Skittles) do not aid thirst issues.  Oh no, on the contrary, Skittles suck all moisture from everything they come into contact with.

Idiotically (not thinking straight by this point, and barely able to swallow), I decided to press on to Henley – about two miles further.  Two miles maybe doesn’t sound like much, but this stretch of the river is a veritable obstacle course of dogs, children and painfully slow, hard-of-hearing, elderly posh people taking up the entire path. I’m not being intentionally ageist or classist, I’m merely stating the facts.

By this point I was looking longingly at puddles along the way – it is tortuous in the extreme running beside a body of water when thirsty.

I arrived at Henley public conveniences, willing to ignore all signs declaring ‘this is not drinking water’, gulped what felt like gallons of the lukewarm stuff then decided I’d better spend a penny before setting off again as I had consumed rather a lot of liquid by this point…

There’s not really a delicate way of saying this, but I did my business, went to flush and then panicked when I noticed the water had taken on a very distinct pink hue.   I knew exactly what had happened: I’d broken my kidneys.  By being too stuck-up to drink out of a watering can/a puddle/the river, I had BROKEN MY KIDNEYS. There was only one thing for it (as I tried desperately to remember what Eddie Izzard did when he broke his kidneys) I decided I needed to drink more.  If I’d had my phone with me, clearly I would have Googled my symptoms (actually, I might have called someone to take me straight to A&E), but as I’d failed to bring it,  I just gulped rather a lot more water from the tap.  The water wasn’t tasting quite so nice by this point.

And it was right about then that I remembered the massive pack of beetroot crisps I’d demolished not long before setting off…

Have you tried Aldi sea salt and balsamic vinegar beetroot crisps?  They are spectacularly good, and because they are all made from beetroot, you don’t have to rummage through the bag of veggie crisps picking out all the yummy beetroot ones before anyone else does.  Just beware that polishing off a whole big packet all by yourself may result in pee-related repercussions….

Feeling rather silly, but still a bit adrenaline-y following my brush with death, I emerged from the loos and set off through the crowds of octogenarians, canines and children.  The water and remaining Skittles were sloshing about in my tummy and I realised I was going to be doing a round trip of 20 miles (I’m not quite sure why this hadn’t occurred to me before this point) and I also realised the (presumably excess-water-consumption-related) stitch in my side wasn’t going to subside any time soon.  I realised I was an idiot not to bring my phone and I also realised I was even more of an idiot not to bring train/taxi cash.

The kidney-breakage thing wasn’t idiotic; that was a mistake anyone could have made.

I managed to run (‘run’ being a slight exaggeration) back as far as the outskirts of Reading before losing the will to live  – i.e. only speeding up when a Proper Runner came towards me or a dog got too close for comfort.  At mile 17, I sat down on the ground and watched the world go by for a bit (trying to look like I was just having a small stretch), before realising I was really going to have to get up/keep moving as I was getting rather cold by this point, and it was starting to rain.  I was also very aware that I was going for dinner with a friend at 6pm (by this point it was about 5:15…)

I set off at what can only be described as a trudge.  Once I’d started walking there wasn’t a hope in hell of me starting to run again.  With every step, I vowed to drop out of the marathon just as soon as I had internet access.  It’s difficult to articulate exactly what hurt – my legs were okay, nothing was chafing – but just remaining upright took rather more effort than it really should have done.  My music was annoying me immensely (and usually I LOVE my long-run playlists).  Things were definitely bad.

If anyone had said to me at this point ‘It’s only a Parkrun to go!’ (a phrase I have heard at least once during every single race I’ve run in), I could not have been held accountable for my actions.

I got home and my friend was outside panicking as she knew I was going for a long run, hadn’t heard from me, and we had a dinner reservation at the exact time I hobbled to my door. The first thing she said (after checking I was okay) was ‘Why on earth didn’t you just turn round and get a drink in Sonning?’ (On the way home, only marginally further than carrying on to Henley, clearly what a sensible person would have done).

Why indeed.

So, what did I learn?

Well, I don’t think I hit the wall – I doubt I would have been able to walk to a restaurant and consume a massive 3 course meal if I had.  I think that I may have done if I’d not taken the dubiously-flavoured sock of Skittles with me, so for that I am exceedingly grateful (cheers for your fuelling advice, Dr Birrell!)  Clearly I spent the next day Googling ‘worst long runs ever’ (and trying to wash Skittle-dye out of a white sports sock) and I think I got off lightly.  But I learned that eating lots is VITAL for a successful run (oh what a hardship) and I also deduced that you can think you’ve planned marvellously when in actual fact you haven’t.

What is it they say about best laid plans?  Well, I know exactly what they say having done a wee bit of research (a.k.a. a speedy internet search on the topic).  It turns out that the phrase was coined by no other than our very own Rabbie Burns:

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft a-gley.”

Basically, it doesn’t matter how carefully you plan something, chances are it’ll go wrong in some way.

Take for example the time a couple of months ago when my friend planned a wee jaunt up the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. I’m telling this story as I want to make it clear that I am not the only person that makes bad food-related choices….

The trip was planned very well.  The three of us arrived with plenty of time before last orders and after parking up the camper van and pitching a tent (well, I supervised whilst a tent was pitched), we rocked up to the local pub.

The selection of available beer left a lot to be desired: something resembling John Smiths (why oh why would anyone drink this out of choice?!); two questionable ales (I know they were questionable as I had a pint of each and couldn’t finish either); cold Guinness (again, why?  Guinness should never be served extra cold); cider.  I want to say the cider was Blackthorn just to emphasise the sheer horror of the selection, but I think it may have been Strongbow.

The surroundings were less than salubrious. The only vaguely fancy bit of the experience was the toilets.  It was kind of like being in a cheap restaurant in Turkey.  The sort of restaurant where the waiter directs you through a curtain and along an alley and suddenly you find yourself in the toilets belonging to the altogether fancier establishment next door.  These toilets were actually situated in the pub but they were completely at odds with the rest of the décor.  All very strange.

We’d tried most of the beers on offer (and I’d decided to stick to whisky from there on in) when a man I can only presume was a local, approached our table carrying a tray of individually-wrapped flapjacks.  When I say individually-wrapped, I mean cling-filmed, not in factory-sealed packets.  I do seem to attract these people. I think it’s the fact I work in a pub; they sniff me out and know I am accustomed to talking to/not being able to get away from their sort.

He gave his spiel, the gist of which was that his teenage daughter had made them with her own fair hands to sell to walkers, hence funding her time at university.  Even in my ever-so-slightly intoxicated state, I was hoping his daughter wasn’t signed up to a maths degree.

I politely declined the offer of purchasing a sweet treat (put it this way, a toothless random offers you dubious-looking foodstuff, would you accept?!) but my companions happily bought one each and were rewarded with a couple of bonus ones too…  I was given two free ones which I placed behind my three open packets of crisps (I often find it to be the case that the worse the beer selection, the better the choice of salty snacks in any given establishment) and promptly forgot about them.

The boys ate theirs.

The next day we managed the first peak before the others had to struggle back to the campsite, their guts protesting (they later assumed it was the bad beer, I am certain it was the fact they scoffed the skanky flapjack)  I carried on all on my lonesome  – it was fine; I had 6 pork pies all to myself.  I got to thinking (the most annoying and far-too-oft repeated phrase EVER from Sex and the City) and realised a few things along the way:

  • Walkers are weird – they’ll say hello as you pass them going in the opposite direction (surprising number of folks doing the peaks in the ‘wrong order’), but if you overtake someone, they remain resolutely silent. And let’s not forget that these were lovely friendly Northerners.
  • It’s never a good idea to post a nice panorama on Instagram with the caption that you’ve been abandoned by your climbing companions when your mother is an avid follower. It’s guaranteed that you will lose reception for at least another 6 miles and won’t be able to text her to let her know you’re alive.
  • ‘Just follow the folks in front’ is easier said than done as you have to make sure that you walk at exactly the same pace as them to ensure you never overtake and hence become the followed.
  • That I am almost as scared of sheep as I am of cows. Especially the ones with the gigantic horns.

It’s now a few days since that horrible run and the memory is already fading.  I’ve postponed my marathon cancellation (I’m expecting to get at least one more running-related grievance on this blog) – I’ll just have to wait and see how the next long run goes… And in the meantime, I’ll try my very best to limit my consumption of beetroot crisps.

 

*I felt the need to find out if this was a true story and it would appear it could well be:

http://www.scotsman.com/news/a-slice-of-porridge-has-always-been-top-drawer-1-1408827

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 100daysofgrievances #49 THE COMPLAINT

I’m going to the cinema tonight (to see Trainspotting 2, in case you’re interested).  It’s been a while since my last big-screen outing, and that wasn’t the most uneventful evening I’ve ever enjoyed…

 

My friend and I went to see Bridget Jones’ Diary (don’t judge me) one Friday night.  Bear with me, these facts are pertinent.  Before arriving, we’d consumed a couple of cocktails each (it was a Friday night, remember? It may actually have been more than a couple of cocktails, but that’s not remotely relevant).  We subsequently purchased a couple of bottles of wine, and a cup of tea each from one of those scabby corner-shop hot-drink vending machines (the film was Bridget Jones, remember; wine was obligatory).  As we would NEVER drink wine directly from the bottle (or, rather, we had no desire to be forcibly removed from the cinema), we paid for cups of tea, disposed of the teabags and instead of filling them with hot water, we kept them as handy, be-lidded, alcohol receptacles. Utterly ideal for totally inconspicuous wine-quaffing bargain-hunting cinema-going shenanigans.  In our somewhat befuddled (be-cocktailed?) minds, this was an idea bordering on genius.

 

With only minor clinking and fumbling, we were soon seated right at the front of the cinema (not the best seats view-wise; I HATE having to look up to move my head backwards and forwards as I follow the action), but ideal in terms of ample floor space on which to lay out our makeshift wine bar.  It’s truly enlightening the percentage of a bottle of wine that fits into a large paper cup, and it is surprising how quickly one is able to drink it through the drinky-hole (does it have a name?) on the lid.  Before long, I needed the loo.  Of course I did.  I made my way carefully up the stairs (cinemas are very dark, lest you’d forgotten, and I was very slightly unsteady on my feet by this point) and out of the door.  Aforementioned door closed ominously behind me.  As I squinted in the harsh light, it took a few seconds for me to take in  my surroundings.  It took another few seconds for me to realise that I May Have A Problem…

 

The stairs weren’t carpeted; they were concrete.  The door didn’t have a handle on the inside and was firmly shut. There was no sign of any toilets.  I appeared to have taken something of a wrong-turning…  Not one to be fazed when faced with unfamiliar surroundings (I get lost a lot), I thought I’d best do a bit of speedy exploration.  Although I can’t remember which man Bridget chose in the end (those cocktails were surely stronger than they tasted), at that point in time it felt imperative that I get back into the cinema pronto so as not to miss anything vital. I rapidly descended the stairs until I came to a door (so far, so good…) A door that said ‘FIRE EXIT, ALARMED’ across it (a little bad).  At this point I will admit to succumbing to minor panic as I really, really had no desire to be the tipsy person who resulted in the evacuation of the entire cinema complex…And also, I really needed to pee.  So back up the stairs I trudged.

 

After what felt like an eternity, I managed to pull the door open slightly by inching my hand underneath it and yanking as I sat on the floor.  In retrospect, this possibly wasn’t hugely wise as the below-door gap was rather tight (presumably this was a fire door too), and I would have been in a far worse predicament had my hand got stuck, my bladder as full of wine as it was…  But it didn’t!  So off I skipped to the loo, and then back to my seat before Vicky pilfered my share of our remaining riches.

 

You are probably thinking that was the end of a not-particularly interesting story (I think you had to be there), but it ISN’T. Oh no.  About an hour later (a complete guess), I realised that Vicky was no longer sitting beside me, and possibly hadn’t been for quite some time (it takes a lot of concentration to follow Colin Firth to-ing and fro-ing across a large screen).  I carefully sat down my cup of wine…So SUBTLE – it looked just like I was drinking a large cup of tea…And off I trotted to investigate.  I quickly realised that the door I’d exited through earlier did in fact have a neon ‘Emergency Exit’ sign above it… Not one to disregard a gut feeling (or underestimate the predictability of an intoxicated person), I opened the door whilst being very careful not to let it shut behind me (I was tipsy, not stupid) and there she was.  Standing there contemplating the wisdom of hotfooting it back down the stairs and out of the alarmed door. Apparently I arrived to do my knightess in shining armour bit just in the nick of time.

 

And that, my friends, was a very roundabout way of getting onto the topic of this blog: The Email of Complaint.  Obviously, I wrote an email to the cinema (what if I had been a CHILD? What I had been stuck FOREVER? What were the chances of TWO people making the same mistake?  What film would I go and see if I got a couple of spare tickets out of my misfortunes?)  The reply I received was simply marvellous.  My favourite sentence was:

“However, as we rely on customers knowing which door they came through, we are aware that this mistake with the doors can be made”

Basically “You are a drunken moron but I am a customer services representative so can’t say so in as many words”.  Free tickets or no free tickets (alas, no free tickets), it made my day.

 

I do like a good email of complaint.  Nowadays, I don’t have to faff about hunting for envelopes or procuring overpriced stamps; a quick bit of typing, the click of a button and my gripes are zapped off into the ether.  British Rail used to be the worst.  For anyone who has ever attempted to claim back for a disrupted/delayed/cancelled train journey, you will know the pain to which I refer.  Every letter and ticket (the actual ticket, not a photocopy, mind), had to be sent recorded delivery, lest they claimed (as they always did) that they hadn’t received it. Their complaints procedure training manual clearly stated: Do everything in your power to make the complainant lose the will to live and, therefore, the required energy to proceed with their complaint. In contrast, these past few months have shaped up pretty well in terms of recent responses (not least from Vue)…

 

Firstly, I emailed Denby.  I like Denby, I like Denby a lot; especially after the reply they sent me to my email.  My gran buys me posh cooking-related paraphernalia every birthday/Christmas/visit.  It’s great, she happily treats me to brands that I could never feel  entirely comfortable treating myself to, Denby being one of her favourites.

 

Having moved house (may or may not be entirely relevant), I noticed a crack across my biggest Denby lasagne dish.  I duly emailed Denby and informed them that the crack suddenly appeared upon removing the dish from the oven (may or may not be entirely accurate), and lovely Denby instructed me to pick a new one from their website.  Any niggling guilt I may have hypothetically been experiencing (I’ve actually no idea how the dish came to have a crack in it, although I do know it was bought from an outlet village so may well have been a second), immediately evaporated when I realised that these dishes retail at an eye-watering £52 each – daylight robbery or what?!

 

I also recently emailed the place where we had consumed cocktails before that fated cinema visit.  Hell, I’m going to name and shame – it was Browns, the chain food/drinks establishment. The Reading branch. Before you ask, no I was not emailing to blame them for my cinema stupidity (although, technically-speaking, it was ever-so-slightly their fault)…  In a nutshell, their cocktails were delightful (and potent), their food was a disgrace. “This is meant to serve three of us… THREE of us?! No, waiter, I don’t think it WOULD look like more on a bigger plate.. One might even suggest that the opposite would be more likely… No I would not like a free shot of sambuca, thanks all the same; did I not just say we needed to soak up some of this alcohol and that’s why we ordered food?… Are you SURE you didn’t give us some plates that had already been eaten off and were on their way back to the kitchen?… People complain about portion size all the time you say? Interesting… It’s all Head Office’s fault, is it? They have strict guidlines pertaining to there being no more than 7 chips in one of those cup things, do they? Hmm…”

 

They didn’t reply to my very well researched email (I included a choice quote from their website about how, allegedly  ‘customers never leaving feeling disappointed’,  and pointed out the glaring disparity).  It was a good email, I was proud of it.  Not one to be deterred with their lack of response, I waited a few weeks and fired off a second email.  This time I made reference to pictures of bigger portions sold in other branches of Browns on Trip Advisor –  a whole 12 chips in one case!  It’s not that I possess any kind of confidence in the reliability of Trip Advisor  but sometimes needs must.

 

Browns sent me a £25 voucher.  No apology, no comment, no communication at all. I was happy with that.

 

It’s not only actual emails of complaint that I indulge in; I also feel compelled to fill in all those email ‘how did we do’ survey thingys.  I think it’s only fair – a company bombards me with junk emails, and it return, I fill in their surveys (that sounded vaguely logical in my head…).  I would like to point out here that I always answer these things truthfully: if I have had good service, I say so (it just so happens that this is frequently not the case…)

 

Last month, I un-joined the gym.  The reason for this is twofold:

  1. I don’t feel I’ve been getting my money’s worth of late (I can no longer convince myself that one half-hour class a week is worth the membership fees).
  2. I answered one of those email survey things when in a Bad Mood.

Generally speaking, I let the ‘not getting my money’s worth’ gripe fester on for a year or so before actually biting the bullet and cancelling the direct debit for my under-utilised gym membership (I’d say this happens on a rolling 2 year cycle).  On this occasion, however, the process was sped up when I answered the questions in the aforementioned email survey.

 

They tricked me, you see.  These surveys appear really anonymous – you know the type: ‘on a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend this gym to a friend?’ (big fat zero). ‘Please comment’… It is at this point that my mind goes a little blank… I know I bemoaned the fact that they keep sending me ‘motivational’ emails (yes I am QUITE aware I didn’t darken your door last week, I really don’t need reminded as I check my emails on my phone, bowl of popcorn on my lap)… I’m pretty sure I mentioned the really annoying key-code entry system (this from the girl who failed to access the office on Monday as she couldn’t remember the door code.  The door code that hasn’t changed in the 8 months she’s been working there. The door code she had to pretend wasn’t registering properly for reasons unknown when she had to buzz a colleague to come to her aid.  The door code she may well have remembered had she not been back in Scotland killing braincells using a lethal combination of saturated fats and Tenants lager for the 6 days prior…).  Anyway, definitely complained about the crappy access system.  Also may have mentioned the awful music they play in the gym.  May have used the rather middle-aged phrase ‘at intolerable levels’ (there’s a DJ at weekends FFS)  Yep, pretty certain I said that…

 

It turns out the anonymous survey wasn’t all that anonymous after all…Today I answered a phonecall (a local number, not a withheld number; I’m not that thick). “Hi, my name’s Kayleigh-Rae” (clearly I’m guessing at the spelling, it could be K-Lee Reii or Kaeleigh Rayy, or any other abomination) “I’m calling from the gym…” (my first thought was that they had failed to up my attendance with their irritating emails, and had now moved on to phone-based harassment) “I believe you gave us some feedback?” (my heart duly sank).  I made my excuses, hung up, logged into my internet banking and cancelled my gym direct debit.

 

A hasty action?  Absolutely not.  You’re forgetting that this is the gym that sends me a Warning Email if ever I miss a pre-booked class (an email of the ‘do it again and you’ll lose your right to book future classes’ variety).  They know when you’re in their overly-loud, abundantly lycra-ed circle of hell.  Kayleigh-Rae might approach me post-class (when my defences are down) to discuss my feedback.  I can even picture what she looks like – she’s one of those shiny blonde ones who always tries to force vile-tasting protein drinks at me as I scuttle off home (WHY am I completely unable refuse a free sample, regardless of what is being proffered?!)  Can’t have that – the gym is stressful enough as it is.

 

The other occasion I fell foul of an automated ‘how did you rate your visit?’ email was after dining out for Burns’ night a couple of years ago.  I vaguely recall running out of space and having to edit the ‘Any other comments?’ section to allow my complex critique of the evening to fit.  If memory serves correctly, it was probably similar in length to this blog post…  I sent it off and promptly forgot all about it.  Okay, that’s a lie, I thought about it for all of about two weeks during which I wondered on a regular basis what the likelihood was of them sending me a voucher, and what I would spend it on.  But then I really forgot all about it.

 

That is until the following year when we returned to said establishment for Burns’ night…

 

An annual Burns’ night shindig at this particular restaurant was something of a tradition until this fateful evening.  To be fair to the staff, they had successfully resolved the majority of the group’s gripes during the previous visit (it’s surprising how far a few free whiskies can go in terms of taming tempers);  I wouldn’t have complained had I not been sent an email  INVITING ME TO DO SO.   So we got there the following year, sat down and began to peruse the menu.  I casually asked the waiter if the Cullen Skink had non-traditional  mussels in it this year (mussels are NOT a traditional ingredient of Cullen Skink and I was allergic at the time*).  There was an ominous silence before the waiter (who actually turned out to be the assistant manager or suchlike) looked at me steadily and said “you wrote an email, didn’t you.”  It was a statement as opposed to a question and silence fell round the table as I scrabbled in the recesses of my memory to try and remember exactly what I’d written.  For the remainder of the evening, the service was completely over the top and fantastic (in contrast to the previous year), but I was completely unable to relax.

 

What I’m saying, boys and girls, is that complaining can occasionally backfire **

 

In summary, I’m hoping that tonight’s cinema visit will prove uneventful.  I will resist the urge to a) spend my Brown’s voucher before going in, and b) taking any of these in with me (given the theme of the film, I think it could have been quite fitting…) :


(But only because you can’t buy them down here).

 

*Remind me to tell you sometime how I have OVERCAME my mild intolerance to seafood, I promise it’s a story as exciting as the locked-out-the cinema gem above.

 

**Like the time I accidentally complained about the service in an Italian restaurant.  Basically, I muttered to my dining companion about how rude the staff were and when the manager overheard, he took it upon himself to give us exemplary service for the remainder of the evening.   Come dessert time, I passed comment on the fact that Italian restaurants seldom have a cheeseboard option.   The cheeseboard bit wasn’t a real complaint, it wasn’t a complaint at all.  It was a mere passing comment, I didn’t even have room for any cheese (an almost inconceivable state of affairs).  Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the manager bringing me a bespoke cheeseboard that he had requested the kitchen make up especially for me – think copious warm, stodgy doughballs and huge portions of every cheese a pizzeria has to hand (not cheeses that necessarily lend themselves well to a cheeseboard):  mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta, etc.  It truly was a sight to behold (as the ricotta dripped over the edges of the board and I had to rescue doughballs before they rolled onto my lap).  My dining companion sat back smugly, glass in hand, not even having to utter the words “that’ll learn you” as I frantically wondered how many doughballs I could hide in my handbag so as not to appear rude.

 

100daysofgrievances #48 Being a Girl part 2 (the serious one)

Law Office of Fine & Fine: Legal and Ethical Lines Blurred Here.
Law Office of Fine & Fine: Legal and Ethical Lines Blurred Here.
Numerous things have irritated me lately: breakfast biscuits (there’s nothing remotely breakfasty about them, they’re simply expensive biscuits residing in the cereal aisle); food festivals promising an abundance of free samples,  approximately 97.2% of which turn out to be variations of chili jam; people wittering on about how the evenings are drawing in (shut up, I love autumn); running watches that beep for half an hour before locating their satellite signal; annoying, imbecilic, selfish tenants that squat in and then sub-let the flat I’m meant to be moving into; the hair-on-leather Doc Martens that I just got an email suggesting I might like to order online and which, for some reason, give me the absolute boke.  (It’s not like I was previously ignorant as to the origins of leather, it’s just that these take the animal-ness of it all to a whole other level.  And I imagine that when wet, they would smell very bad); etc.  As I was saying, these things are varying levels of aggravating, but they don’t make me blood-boiling, fists-clenching, foot-stamping angry* the way that recent high-profile anti-feminist news has. I’ve been attempting to compose this post for yonks – at least 11 months, according to my ‘drafts’ folder (thanks for that, WordPress) – but in light of recent events, today I’m going to make a concerted effort to actually finish it… Before I get started, here is a picture of the hairy boots so that you can judge their boke-inducing qualities for yourself:

21609001

Apparently, they are ‘Perfect for Hallowe’en!’ but I challenge you to assess them and tell me they won’t smell like wet dog after I’ve walked home from work of a damp autumnal evening…

It would appear that Doc Marten send out their promotional emails in good time (regardless of the fact that they’re as misguided as Netflix’s ‘recommended for you’ section).  I could take delivery of my new hairy boots all ready to go trick or treating, should I so wish.  I, on the other hand, keep missing the boat when it comes to writing about topics that are all the rage.

I fully intended to share my thoughts on the Pokemon craze a few months ago.  As I look in my ‘drafts’ folder (a.k.a. the ‘I’ll come back to this another day’ folder), I can see that I planned to test my theory that Pokemon was actually created as a fitness app. I was going to give lots of great examples of pokie-obsessed idiots who got their comeuppance as they fell into ponds/off cliffs/etc., and I intended to bemoan the fact that whenever I relied upon Google maps (I get lost a lot), and walked along gazing avidly at my phone, folks would assume I was chasing an elusive Pikachu.  Alas, the Pokemon craze has calmed down somewhat (maybe now that those evenings are drawing in) and nobody is remotely interested in what I had to say on the matter.

As much as I like to procrastinate (I’m doing it right now), there comes a time when enough is enough.  Various news stories reported over the past few weeks have made me realise that I can no longer relegate certain meanderings to the ‘drafts’ folder.  What began as a rant about a court case a friend was involved in has become massively topical (and of a far more serious nature than chasing imaginary animals…Pokemons are meant to be animals, right?) So, here goes, I’m going to give the serious topic of being female the effort it deserves.

Only those residing under a proverbial rock could have failed to hear/read reference to Donald Trump recently justifying his derogatory and demeaning way of speaking about women. His cretinous crotch-grabbing comments were dismissed as “locker-room talk”… These remarks were recorded…If they hadn’t been, would he merely have denied it in the same manner he has denied all ten accusations of sexual assault?  I previously studied sociology.  Sociology professors love to go on about the Male Gaze. They’d have a field day when faced with Trumpisms such as: “Beauty and elegance, whether in a woman, a building, or a work of art, is not just superficial or something pretty to see.”  Wow.  Just wow.

Chad Evans, convicted rapist, and a premier league (yes, I did have to look that up) footballer, was acquitted this week (in a retrial) of raping a 19 year old.  This was after his fiancee’s father put up a reward of £50,000 for the provision of evidence that could overturn the original verdict. It’s also worth mentioning that the aforementioned fiancee offered an employee of the hotel where the alleged assault took place this very same £50,000 should he ‘remember’ anything that might result in an acquittal. This new ‘evidence’ turned out to be graphic descriptions of previous sexual encounters that the victim had been involved in.

Chad Evans is a man who was reported as saying to police “We could have any girl we want,  we’re footballers”…  For me, this is a sinister echo of Trump’s “When you are a star, they let you do anything”. Objectification (and generalisation) of women, it would seem, is all the rage for men of a certain ilk. Donald Trump is running to be president of the United States; you don’t get much more prominent that that.  Chad Evans is a famous footballer, an individual who is admired and envied by many. An influential person. A person with a career and a lifestyle than many youngsters aspire to.  Let’s just leave it at that for now.

Across the pond from Evans (but equally avidly reported), Brock Turner – so often referred to as a ‘talented swimmer’ as opposed to a ‘repulsive rapist’ –  was sentenced to a mere 6 months in jail for the serious sexual assault of an unconscious woman. He served 3 months of that sentence. I would hazard a guess that his victim will suffer the after-effects of his actions for decades to come.  The manner in which this perpetrator is referred to in terms of his athletic prowess (as opposed to his criminality) can only go to perpetuate Trump’s offensive notion of “locker room talk”.  His ridiculous justification for his offensive and highly sexist comments and predatory behaviour suggests that all men (or perhaps all sportspeople) engage in and laughingly condone the mistreatment of women.  How on earth has this man reached his current position?!

You maybe remember that I previously wrote a little on the topic of Being a Girl – it was pretty lighthearted and focussed primarily on the trials and tribulations associated with nail painting…  I’ll pop the link in here but don’t feel obliged to check it out, this isn’t intended as a sequel…  https://caththebruce.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/100daysofgrievances-32-being-a-girl-part-1/

I’m aware that many women don’t like to be referred to as girls, so apologies in advance for the title.  Personally, I don’t find it offensive – I think it can be turned on its head and applied to men – ‘the lads’, ‘boys’ night out’, etc. so I refute the ‘it’s sexist’ argument.  I halfheartedly considered changing it to ‘Being a Woman Part 2’  – anything for a quiet life – but that sounds like I’m ripping off Caitlin Moran’s fantastic ‘How to Be a Woman’ and also would be glaringly inconsistent (did I ever mention how much I detest inconsistency?) given the fact that there was never a Being a Woman Part 1…

I have previously ranted on topics tending towards the feminist rhetoric.  I’ve moaned about how women are bombarded with magazine spreads featuring ‘Festival Fashion’ whilst it would appear that those of the male persuasion don’t need fashion advice in order to fully embrace the actions of camping or listening to live music…  I’ve complained about the derogatory names I get called when working behind the bar, or the fact that servers will often assume that the glass of wine and not the pint is for me, or that my male dining companion must be paying the bill. But these things are niggles that I’ve come to live with (it would use up too much energy otherwise).  Other incidents are far more difficult to ignore…

A little over a year ago, I watched a close friend stand up in court and give evidence relating to a sexual assault she endured (I also started writing this post).

Reports summarising rape statistics do not make for pleasant reading.  Whilst the number of crimes reported has risen significantly over the past few years, the percentage of convictions has not increased in conjunction with this increase.  Rape Crisis cites the following fact: Conviction rates for rape are far lower than other crimes, with only 5.7% of reported rape cases ending in a conviction for the perpetrator. That is without taking into consideration those cases that aren’t reported. Statistically speaking, the fact that this particular sexual assault reached a courtroom (never mind reached a guilty verdict) happened against the odds.

We’ll call my friend Victoria, because that is her name.

I understand completely why many victims of sexual assault wish to remain anonymous – we just need to read reports of what has happened to Ched Evan’s victim in the aftermath of the case for a high-profile example of why victims would choose not to have their names made public.  However, despite what victim-blaming and victim-shaming idiots would have us believe, there is nothing to be remotely ashamed of, and that is why (with her consent) I’m using Victoria’s real name. For the record, if she’d given me her consent when drunk, I would have waited and asked again when sober. If she’d been asleep, I wouldn’t have assumed that lack of response equalled consent…  #justsayin.

It took almost a year for the case to reach the courtroom. An entire year of worrying and wondering, of staff changes and last-minute court-date cancellations, of doubt and despair and of debating whether it was worth prolonging the stress any longer.  And all this because a man on a train thought it would be acceptable to repeatedly touch a sleeping person in a sexual manner.

Official figures indicate that whilst the average number of days it takes to process a rape case is 247 days, the average timescale for all crown court cases is a comparatively low 171 days. That’s a big difference.  I’ve no idea if this discrepancy extends to all cases relating to sexual assault. Regardless, it certainly warrants serious consideration – particularly given the levels of stress and worry that are almost certain to befall the victim in the build-up to such a court case.

This particular sexual assault was reported the morning after it took place (and subsequently required justification in court as to why  it wasn’t reported the previous night).  CCTV images were released and the perpetrator was charged. Months and months later, and there we were in court.  This was the third time a court date was scheduled; the previous two were postponed at the last minute, after months of preparation and anticipation and dread.  I couldn’t find any statistics relating to postponement of sexual assault cases compared to all other cases so I can’t state whether this is the norm or not. Analysis of personal accounts would suggest it is, but I can merely guess.

What a bizarre phenomenon it is watching a sexual assault court case play out.  To give it a bit of perspective, I’ll consider some other crimes.  Please join me in imagining that the British court system treated these misdemeanors in the same manner that it approaches sexual assault.

Firstly, let’s imagine the victim of a burglary.  Would that victim have to stand up in court and have the defendant’s lawyer allude to the fact that perhaps she was asking for it. Surely being asleep when the robber tried the door was really her way of allowing him/her to break in and steal her laptop?  Actively encouraging the theft, one might conclude.  Would she have been scared that the court would dissect in detail a previous (completely unrelated) occasion when she was almost robbed previously – say, when a pickpocket tried to steal her purse that time years ago?

Or imagine that the victim had been thumped outside a nightclub.  Would she have been scared that the lawyers might have focussed on the fact that she likes to attend a kick-boxing class?  If she goes to a class and thumps a pad for fun, surely she asked to be hit in the face without consent?  It’s what she does, isn’t it? She goes out and asks to be thumped.  For fun. That’s the type of person she is, isn’t it?  If she attends a kick-boxing class (of her own free will, not under duress, you understand) then she’s basically asking to be hit, without consent, on a different evening, in a different place, under different circumstances isn’t she?  That’s how these things work, right?

Utterly ridiculous.

So why, if it is so effing ridiculous, can a sexual assault victim’s sex life be raked over in such great detail as a suggestion that it may have been her (or his) own fault? You just need to look at the aforementioned, and highly publicised,  Ched Evans retrial. Despite the assurances that this was a ‘highly unusual case (of course it was – how many convicted rapist’s fiancee’s fathers fork out £50,000 to try and get the conviction overturned?! How many friends film sexual encounters from outside a hotel room? How many convicted rapists employ private investigators?), what we are likely to remember is the fact that the victim’s sex life was picked apart in court.  How is this going to go any way towards improving rape reporting (and conviction) statistics?

Sorry, I appear to have got a little side-tracked.  Going back to some crime comparison… We’ve considered a physical assault (in general, not of Ched Evans, although I’d hazard a guess that many wannabe kick-boxers may well be imagining his smug face as they beat up their pads this week…)  What about a mugging? Would you suggest that the little old lady who got mugged outside a cash point was asking for it because she looked too little-old-lady-like and was, therefore, asking to be robbed due to the clothes she was wearing? A walking frame and Ecco shoes  – the octogenarian equivalent of a short skirt and heels, as it were?  If we’re going by sexual assault case logic, that’s exactly what we’re suggesting…

How absolutely  shocking that her family allowed her to venture out dressed like that.  If it’s not her fault directly, the blame definitely lies squarely at their feet. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.  They should be vilified in the press. Poor, put-upon victim of a mugger, how was he meant to help him/herself, what with these mixed signals being transmitted?

Please take a moment to contemplate the fact that when a teenage sexual assault is reported, questions are often (I want to say always, but I will refrain) raised pertaining to who ‘let’ the victim go out at that time, or alone, or wearing those clothes?  These questions may be alluded to in the reports themselves (depending on the publication) or in readers’ or viewers’ subsequent comments. This culture of victim blaming is both worrying and dangerous.

And so back to my wee old lady… Why didn’t this horrified/scared/over-powered/shocked/paralysed-with-fear/numb (tick all that apply) person scream at her mugger?  Surely if she didn’t want to be robbed, she should have alerted him/her to that fact, right? How was the poor mugger meant to know she didn’t want to be mugged? It almost sounds like she wanted to be robbed… That point should definitely be raised by the defence lawyers, just as it may be in sexual assault trial!

Victoria wasn’t robbed or thumped, or indeed mugged. She was repeatedly assaulted on a train as she slept (she got up, moved carriages, and he followed her and repeated the action).  This is a particularly chilling story as we expect to be safe in public spaces. We are educated to sit near people when on public transport, to stay where it’s light.  What is even more scary is the fact that a lot of people wouldn’t report such a crime (they may mistakenly believe that they were somehow to blame, for consuming alcohol, or for falling asleep, and therefore not being able to refuse consent) and the perpetrator could go on the re-offend in a similar, or escalated, manner. In this case, there was very clear CCTV footage of the incident.  If there hadn’t been, it could have been a very different trial.  How many victims of sexual assault don’t report an incident because they are terrified of the prospect of standing up in court and participating in  a ‘my word against his’ situation?

In such a trial, details of the victim’s sex life can be dissected in front of a courtroom of people  (including, possibly, supporting friends and family), yet any previous misdemeanors (i.e. convictions) of the accused cannot be aired.  I understand that Britain’s justice system is based on a ‘innocent until proven guilty’ principle, but it is my belief that the handling of many sexual assault cases turns this on its head and focuses instead on the perceived ‘guilt’ of the victim. In the run-up to Victoria’s court case, she was horrified to discover that the defence team wanted access to notes taken during what she believed to be confidential counselling sessions. This access was refused, but that did not negate the weeks of worry in relation to this.  She was also advised not to be in court to listen to him give evidence “because of how it might look”, and wasn’t allowed to view the CCTV beforehand (despite the perpetrator and his legal team having full access).

To me, this only goes to strengthen the idea that it is somehow not only the responsibility of the prosecution to prove without reasonable doubt that the offence took place. Instead, it would appear to be the victim’s responsibility to also act in a manner that will result in a conviction.

Thankfully, not all men are cut from that Trump-shaped cloth.  But this (albeit hopefully rare) sense of entitlement is terrifying.  In this particular case (Victoria’s case),  the offender’s defence seemed to focus on the fact that he was a bit silly, a bit posh, a bit drunk.  The shiny shoes he wore to court probably cost more than my whole outfit, although possibly not as much as a pair of special long-haired boots… (Thinking about it, if someone had jumped out and tried to steal them, then it could be suggested that it was completely his fault for enticing the poor, innocent would-be robber).  The basis of his defence seemed to be ‘I’m not your average criminal, it was a silly misunderstanding’.

CONSENT IS NOT A CASE OF A SILLY MISUNDERSTANDING! If someone is too drunk, or too young,  or too asleep to consent to something then they aren’t consenting. There’s no room whatsoever for confusion.  End of.

As stated above, his defence was based on the fact that he was a bit of a silly drunk who simply couldn’t take responsibility for his intoxicated and out-of-character behaviour.  How ironic that the victim’s alcohol consumption, it was implied (by the repeated questions relating to precisely how many units she had imbibed),  made her more accountable,  whilst his drinking rendered him less so.  And I thought lawyers were meant to be intelligent.

In this particular case, the man who committed the crime was found guilty and was sentenced accordingly.  Was this due in part to the fact that the judge was female?  I can’t possibly comment, but I sincerely hope not. Okay, I lied, I’m totally going to comment – I think he was convicted because the CCTV evidence was irrefutable, I don’t think the fact that the judge was female is remotely relevant.

I think it’s pertinent to note at this point, however,  that the ratio for female:male judges throughout Europe is 51:49.  In England and Wales it is a mere 30:70.  Experts believe that this may be in some part related to the fact that in other European countries, individuals make the decision to become a judge (and start working towards this specialism) at a younger age (i.e before the average age of child-rearing). In the U.K., being a judge isn’t a specialism that is chosen. The positions are reached through promotion.  And promotion, it can be concluded, is more likely to happen to men. Would women be more likely to report cases of rape/sexual assault if there was more of a female presence in the courtroom?  I don’t know, but surely a fairer distribution could do no harm.

And on this topic of gender inequality, this is as good a place as any to insert my interesting  Fact Of The Day (I’ve been itching to get it in somewhere): There are currently more men called John chairing FTSE 100 boards in the UK than there are women…

Having considered briefly recent high-profile headlines, I wish to raise the fact that this normalisation of sexual assault (or “locker room talk”, if you prefer…) is by no means a recent phenomenon. Please, ask around your female friends… How many of them have suffered inappropriate physical contact from a man? I’m not talking about rape; I’m talking about any physical contact – whether it be in the workplace, or a nightclub, or on the street – that has made them feel even remotely uncomfortable or threatened or scared. It’s imperative to stress at this point that whilst I sincerely believe that the vast majority of women will hold their hands up and say “yep, that happened to me”, or “yeah, that’s  happened to me too, but I thought it was normal…” most men are NOT the perpetrators. It is a small, disgusting minority that has somehow been getting away with this behaviour. I believe that the current legal system and associated fears play a massive part in the perpetuation of these incidents.

So where am I going with this?  I think what I’m trying to say is that the only possible good thing that can come out of all this reporting of horrible incidents is the fact that it raises the topic of what is acceptable and what is not. I really hope that the reportage of idiotic statements by odious individuals such as Donald Trump is opening up a dialogue in schools. The ridiculousness of his stance must be being highlighted during classes, surely?  Kids these days are growing up listening to massively popular songs like Blurred Lines (a discussion of the ‘blurred lines’ in a sexual encounter, by the sort of idiot who thinks that ‘hug’ rhymes with ‘f**k’) and pro-rape author Daryush Valizadeh (a.k.a. Roosh V) is scheduling events across the world for ‘like-minded followers’ (refreshingly, he recently cancelled talks in Glasgow due to fears for his own safety…)  In the 98 years since women were given the right to vote, it almost seems like we are regressing!

There is hope, I’m going to end with a link to Michelle Obama’s recent (fantastic) speech.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2016/oct/14/michelle-obama-full-speech-trump-video

 

*Okay, for anyone who has witnessed me setting off on a run, I may have stamped my foot once or twice when my stupid watch has failed to communicate with the stupid satellite, but that is a relatively rare occurrence.

**  In his 2006 book Trump 101: The Way to Success

***Article can be found here:  https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/13/reported-rapes-in-england-and-wales-double-in-five-years

100daysofgrievances #47 The Bowling Alley of Doom

I usually spend my lunch hour going for a walk (and carefully counterbalancing this by consuming copious quantities of crisps), but today I am sitting inside and writing a blog.  This is not due to inclement weather, nor the fact that I feel a nagging guilt for not having written recently. Nope, the only reason for me failing to leave my desk is the fact that I can’t bring myself to stand up. Last night I partook in a half hour long kettle bell class.  Half an hour. I can run a half marathon and feel okay(ish),  but today I feel like I was hit by a bus (if being hit by a bus leaves you with wobbly legs and pains in places you weren’t previously aware existed). Standing up (nevermind walking) results in a mass protestation from my entire body.  Muscles I didn’t even know I was in possession of are screaming out for attention.  I spent the morning regretting every cup of tea accepted; tea means toilet trips and that means getting back off the porcelain throne… It’s amazing how many different muscles it takes to stand up when one does not have an item of furniture on which to lean.

I think it’s fair to say that my post-class recovery could be classed as ‘poor’.  I’m currently obsessed with my recovery times.  I recently bought one of those all-singing, all-dancing super-fandangled running watches which uses GPS to track distance, pace, and a multitude of other things that I have yet to figure out.*  It also monitors sleep and steps and heart rate and it plays music onto wireless headphones (well, it does when I remember to charge them).  It’s my new favourite toy and most of the time it’s marvellous.  Having said that, I have found myself become more than a little fixated on its post-exertion advice…  It doesn’t matter that I’ve run five miles, or ascended a massive mountain, my wrist-based trainer likes to comment on my recovery times which it usually informs me are ‘poor’.  Complete with associated sad-face emoticon. It takes away a little of the smugness, which is a Bad Thing. I must remember to see if I can deactivate this annoying, and quite frankly superfluous, feature.

Anyway, as I was saying, before I veered right off topic, I’m not out for a stroll today as my body is still broken from my recent cross-training shenanigans.  Last night was only my second kettle bell class.  It being on a Monday evening, attendance isn’t great (if my phone hadn’t died, rendering me unable to cancel my place, then I would have been reclining and eating leftover roast with the best of them…)  Alas, there is no hiding when there are only five of you in the class (4 girls casually lifting 14kg kettle bells above their heads whilst not breaking a sweat, and me stumbling about on wobbly legs – squatting is difficult –  with my 2kg disk whilst the overly enthusiastic trainer tries to encourage me to use a proper kettle bell instead).

Don’t get me wrong, I actually do enjoy the class.  I like the fact that good coordination is not a prerequisite to taking part (anyone with coordination as bad as mine who has ever participated in an aerobics class will know exactly what I’m on about).  Basically, you just have to stand (who am I kidding, you have to squat painfully) and do lots of really sore repetitions for a ridiculously long time.  It’s great, honestly!  You can’t think of anything else – it’s like meditation for those who aren’t hippified.  If an exercise isn’t quite as excruciating as it perhaps could be, the chirpy trainer is always on hand to helpfully tell you to do it slower, or use a heavier weight, or squat a bit lower…  Add into the mix the very real element of danger and daring that relates to the action of swinging a kettle bell as high as you can in front of you (with very sweaty hands) and what more could you possibly want from a class?!

After half an hour (the longest half hour of my life), we exit the room and file past the attendees of the next class.  They look at me with concern.  By this point I am beetroot coloured – not just my face, but my arms and chest too.  Under my leggings, my legs are probably scarlet, as well.  My hair is sticking attractively to my face and I’m swaying about on limbs that are all squatted out. Clearly, the 14kg brigade look fresh-faced and chipper, makeup still perfect, as they trot through the door on their way to sprint home, or maybe spend a couple of hours on the cross-trainer.   I stumble to the changing room; all notions of ‘finishing off with a quick 5k on the treadmill’ already banished from my battered being.

But there’s no forgetting that I’ve taken part in the class.  I have a good three days of smug ‘I hurt this much because I worked really hard’ to look forward to (in reality, doing everything in my power to avoid walking/standing/moving).  I can type; typing doesn’t use my core muscles, it would appear.  So today I am going to type about a venue which is even worse than the gym (even a gym that plays constant chart dance music and has DJ nights. Don’t get me started…) The bowling alley!

Is there a sentence more likely to instill horror and trepidation into the heart of an employee than one that contains the phrase ‘team building bowling’?  of course there isn’t! Last week, I was involved in one such excursion.  As is so often the case, the anticipation of the event proved to be worse that the actual eventuality, but that’s really not the point.

Why do I hate bowling so much?  Where do I start? Well, I’ll begin with the footwear.  Smelly, uncomfortable, unhygienic, skanky,  communal footwear. Where other than the bowling alley (or the ice-rink) would you share shoes? It’s simply not civilised. I have even witnessed repulsive individuals wearing the aforementioned atrocities sans socksOne word: why? A friend once regaled me with a story  of a night out which began at the bowling alley and ended in a nightclub.  According to this friend, it was whilst in a taxi between venues, that she realised she had forgotten to exchange her shoes and was still wearing King Pin’s finest…  How is this even possible?!

I insist on taking extra socks to the bowling alley; heaven forbid a pair of contaminated socks should touch the inside of my shoes after I rid myself of the dreaded communal ones (shoes, not socks, obvs.).   I also come prepared with a plastic bag in which to deposit the worn socks – no way are they coming into contact with my satchel.  I don’t believe this to be remotely odd behaviour.

I have never been dragged to a bowling alley that varied perceptibly from the norm; I think there must be regulations pertaining to acceptable ambiance.  Perhaps a bowling alley won’t get planning permission unless it agrees to adhere to a strict set of rules relating to specific sensory overload. You don’t believe me? Let’s break it down….

Sights

Here is a list of all the things that it is compulsory to spot within mere seconds of stepping across the bowling alley boundary:

  • A large reception area consisting of a desk, a slow-moving teenage employee (whose varied role includes dispatching smelly footwear, answering the phone, taking bookings and cold hard cash, serving at the bar, cleaning up spillages and delivering lukewarm food to hungry punters) and row upon row of scabby bowling shoes. The plasticky reception desk is always carefully interior-designed to coordinate perfectly with those uncomfortable chairs screwed to the floor beside the lanes.  Whilst we’re on the topic of decor, the carpets must be patterned; all the better for setting off that flattering UV lighting to its best advantage…
  • A grabby claw machine of the type that kids like to screech for.  One that swallows your cash before grabbing with futility at the assortment of soft toys languishing behind the glass.  Nobody ever wins.  Those toys have been in there since the dawn of time, or at least since the grand opening of the bowling alley.
  • An air hockey table.  Usually with at least one broken light. The entire market for air-hockey tables must be bowling alleys the world over; has one ever been spotted anywhere else? I very much doubt it.
  •  Remnants of yellow-food platters.  And smears of ketchup.  And empty glasses. And abandoned Slush Puppy receptacles.
  • Matching tracksuits.

All highly obligatory. All horribly offensive.

The Sounds, alas, are no better…

There’s a bowling alley rule stating that no decent music is allowed to be played ever, lest it ruins the carefully constructed ambiance.  Everything on the painstakingly prepared playlist is carefully chosen to maximum irritative effect.  It is subsequently played too loudly and on an endless loop.  Mix in some screeching children (and hollering drunken adults – lots of bowlers get weirdly competitive and seem to think it is some sort of sport they are participating in!**), the distinct clack-clack-clack of the air hockey table, some electronic fruit machine jingles, the clatter of skittles getting knocked down, and the occasional thunk as a ball is dropped, and there you have it – a soundtrack to a bowling alley (any bowling alley).

Your typical bowling alley is pretty malodorous.  Walk through the door and you will generally be hit by a wonderful amalgamation of the following Smells: feet, smelly bowling shoes, smelly-bowling-shoe-smell-masker-spray, the stuff they polish the lanes with, feet, yellow food that comes in a basket (all the better for absorbing all those delightful deep-fat-fryer aromas), feet, eau de sticky-pub-carpet, blue Slush Puppy, feet.  It’s inimitable. Clearly, Taste is tied up pretty closely with smell – bad pints, beige culinary delights, weird flavours of cider (toffee apple is one I have never spotted anywhere outwith the alley…), etc. Haute cuisine indeed.

The final sense, and one which I cannot possibly gloss over, as it were, is that of Touch.  If I had to use one word to describe the physical feel of the bowling alley, that word would be STICKY.  Sticky, tacky carpets, sticky, grubby tables where sticky, flat beer and sticky, lurid Slushy has been spilled and allowed to dry into sticky claggy circles.  Bowling balls with sticky finger holes (I have small hands so if I don’t wish to run the risk of dislocating an arm or breaking a toe, I am obliged to use the balls favoured by sticky tracksuited children with their sticky-fingered predilection for sticky Slushy drinks). Obviously I have never touched any of the buttons on any of the games machines  or the grabby toy contraption, but I know with great certainty that they, too, are super sticky.  I feel sticky thinking about it.

If I’m being perfectly honest, this particular trip to the Alley of Doom wasn’t nearly as traumatic as it could have been.  This was as a result of a triad of happy coincidences:

  1. We were at the only bowling alley in the entire land where bowling shoes aren’t compulsory!  Okay, I had to wipe my trainers on the way out of the door in an attempt to rid them of any residual stickiness, but that was a small price to pay.
  2. It was 2-for-1 drinks all night.  The obligatory bar is the only saving grace of these establishments and I am prepared to overlook the lack of ice, lime and smiling service if only there is an abundance of cheap alcohol to take the edge off the game in hand.
  3. Handily, I found a bottle of antibac hand gel in my bag.  Result.

 

As much as it wasn’t quite as bad as it may have been, I won’t be rushing back there any time soon.  I can honestly state (admittedly whilst I am safely sat down at a desk), that I would rather endure an entire evening of kettle bell hell than another foray into bowling ball territory.

 

*Why does modern gadgetry no longer come with physical instruction manuals?  I have no desire whatsoever to download a lengthy PDF, only to discover – when halfway through skim-reading – that it relates to an entirely different model from the one in front of me! Hence the reason I have yet to figure out the full repertoire of features; if I can’t look it up in the index, I can’t be bothered faffing!

** Going by the ‘If you have to wear special shoes then it’s a sport’ rule then one might attempt to reason that it does indeed fall into this category.  I prefer to categorise it as something you shouldn’t really participate in over the age of about ten (alongside pursuits such as pass the parcel, or Twister, or skateboarding).

spare-me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100daysofgrievances #46 BRUTAL ENDURO

I should really begin by providing a brief summary of what Brutal Enduro actually involved.  Just because I’ve been concentrating on very little else for the past week, that doesn’t mean that other folks were even aware of the event’s existence.  For that reason alone, I shouldn’t go racing (pardon the pun) into a rambling description of my weekend without first setting the scene…

 

In a nutshell,  Brutal Enduro is an 18 hour race that started at 2pm on Saturday and continued until 8am the following morning.  The course was 10k long and the object of the game was to run as many laps as possible within the 18 hour time frame. Teams consisted of between 4 and 6 runners, some people ran as pairs (crazy) and other hardy souls entered as individuals (crazier).

 

Before I begin my post-mortem of this past weekend, I feel that I should state the obvious (and pre-empt any potential questions regarding my sanity) by stating that yes, I signed up for an event called Brutal Enduro.  I do, therefore, relinquish any rights to rant about it and will do my utmost to ensure that this post is one of my more positive offerings…

 

So what made me sign up in the first place?  Unusually for me,  this wasn’t a drunken declaration of intent.  I don’t mean it’s unusual for me to be sober, I’m simply alluding to the fact that on more than a few occasions, I have been very enthusiastic in committing to questionable things whilst under the influence: “Of course I’ll give a speech at your wedding!  Am I not always saying that females are under-represented in wedding speeches?” “Immersive theatre you say?  I’m in! £80 a ticket?  Wow, it must be really good for that price. I’m sure I won’t find it remotely awkward! Should I transfer the cash to you now?” “Of course I’ll help you move house tomorrow. 4th floor?  No lift?  No problem! Another pint?” etc.  Only last month, I awoke to a slight hangover and an email saying “Thank you very much for signing up to the Loch Ness Marathon”.

 

The decision to commit to Brutal Enduro, however, was made whilst in a state of relative rationality and complete sobriety (that’s not to say for one minute that I didn’t have slight reservations the morning after).  I’d been complaining for yonks that running was getting a bit anti-social.  By this I mean that despite my best efforts – think bribery, blackmail and shameless coercion – I had been unable to convince my friends to pound the pavements beside me.  As a result, team-leader Andy’s kind invitation to partake in a social running event  (regardless of its rather off-putting moniker) wasn’t one I wanted to turn down.

 

During the build-up, I mostly heard what I wanted to hear: Andy’s “not too hilly” became “no hills”; “no man-made obstacles” became “really easy terrain”; you get the picture.  I focused on mocking the supposed ‘Festival Atmosphere’, spent more time thinking about what I would eat than what I would wear on my feet, and ‘prepared’ myself by running home from work a few times (think one field of recently-mown grass followed by 2.5 miles along a well-tended towpath).  Whilst slightly more challenging than the tarmacked routes I normally run, Brutal, it wasn’t and I was massively unprepared for what the race would actually entail….

 

I got my first indication as to the sheer ‘rural-ness’  of it as soon as we arrived (“I can’t help you carry stuff. I’m wearing heels” stated the lovably impractical friend who’d been kind enough to drive me to the start), but I still wasn’t fully aware of what I’d let myself in for.  I think the correct phrase is ‘in denial’…

 

As the proverb goes, every cloud has a silver lining… Well the sparkling interior of this particular endeavor (for dog-fearing me, anyway –  I’m sure it caused disappointment for others) was the fact the Cani-cross was cancelled at the last minute. When I read that it was a Cani-cross event, I focussed on the cross part of the phrase and assumed that this referred to the sort of cross-training crazies who like to partake in triathlons – a ‘we’ll support you if you fancy a wee dip in the lake first and turn up dripping algae-infested water everywhere’ sort of a declaration.  But no, in actual fact, Cani –cross means that the event supports people who turn up to run with their canine friends. I cannot think of anything I am less on board with (at least in terms of organised runs).  Just thinking about it makes my blood run cold.  The type (and size) of dog that would be happy running through the woods in the pitch dark is quite literally the stuff of my nightmares.  I’m not sure how it would have panned out if I’d naively meandered over to the start line and seen the snarling pack congregating (I certainly would not have signed up if I’d known what Cani-cross was).  I would have either frozen to the spot or burned out completely, overexerting myself lest a rabid beast catch up with me round the next corner… Definitely a bullet well-dodged!

 

Also, on a more practical note, do the folks running with the dogs carry bags in which to pop their poos (I’m assuming the dogs don’t run sans owner…)? What do they then do with these bags of excrement?  Tie them to the toggles of their shorts? Dangle them off their Garmins? Use them as handy hand-warmers during the night-time laps? The mind boggles.  And it was with wonderings such as these occupying my mind that I took up my position at the start line.

 

The First Lap

In retrospect, running first was an enviable position – It enabled me to run two laps of the course in daylight and complete my 3 laps by the time I would usually be heading to bed of a Saturday night.  As I waited to begin, I wasn’t feeling particularly lucky.  Everywhere I looked, all I could see were Proper Runners.  You know the type… They were wearing tee shirts from past events  (the runners’ equivalent of going to a gig wearing a band tee shirt from 15 years ago; the not-so-subtle implication being “I’ve been running/listening to your favourite band way longer than you have”) and poking about at their fancy running watches whilst simultaneously stretching and taking about ‘times’ and ‘cadence’ and ‘strategy’ and suchlike).  I’d like to say that those few minutes awaiting the starting gun were the longest of the entire day, but that would be a blatant lie (see lap 3…)

 

Inevitably, the countdown began, we all set off, and I quickly discovered that my preparation had been woefully inadequate.  I say quickly, but actually my realisation dawned pretty slowly.  My internal monologue went something along these lines:

Okay, I can do this. I run 10k all the time.. I don’t usually find it this hard to BREATHE though….These other people are so fit! They’re running like this is easy! Urgh get away from me with that camera… This is better, starting to thin out a bit… If we could just get past this bumpy ground and onto the proper path I’ll be fine…That’s a bit weird, everyone is running across that field of really long grass… Why are they doing that? Urgh I guess the path must be at the other side, that’s a bit annoying… Hang on, why are they going into the woods?  Where’s the path? Why is it so uneven? I wasn’t expecting it to be this bumpy …I guess the trees are in the way, so we’ll just cut through to get to the road.  A hill?  Nobody said anything about a hill!  That hurts!  I want to slow down!  I want to stop!  I can’t slow down, it’s too narrow and those enthusiastic smiley folks behind will get annoyed…What?!  We’re going further into the woods? What is with all these stupid tree roots? Arghh!  My foot’s wet! I thought this wasn’t meant to be muddy…Why did nobody tell me?  Why did I agree to this stupid thing? I should have worn my walking boots.  God I wish I hadn’t gone first, that man running up behind me is really annoying… Bet he’s got sensible shoes on. Wish he’d stop saying encouraging things to me.  It’s so hard to be cross with nice people… Thank God there are no dogs, if a dog had run past me here, I’d’ve probably gone tumbling down that bank…Seriously, whose idea was it to go ahead with this after the rain, that bit of mud was really slippy! Have they not heard of Health and Safety? I am REALLY having to concentrate on my feet right now…Should I go round that puddle to the left or the right…I thought they said this was a DRY course…Sooo glad I went first, I would have definitely got lost out here without someone to follow…So much for it being a well-marked path! Paul better get back in time to run… I don’t care if his flight was delayed; if they think I’m running an extra lap of this hell, they’ve got another think coming! Slow down, slow down, must slow down, if I don’t slow down my legs won’t stop when I get to the bottom of this horrible hill…Owwwww my knees! Must have a word with the team about this; not one of them mentioned steep hills…Towpath they said.  Like an effing towpath.  This is like no towpath I’ve ever run along! Rivers don’t run up hills! 2km?!  What?  That can’t be right!  I’ve run at least 6.  Hang on a minute, am I in the right race? Isn’t there a single lap race? Maybe I’m in that by mistake. One really hard single lap. Urgh that is exactly the sort of thing that happens to me, but at least it explains why it’s so effing HARD. That can’t be right, that nice lady just asked me how many laps I plan to do. Not sure she understood my gasped reply… This is really, really hard work.  No.  No it can’t be!  Not another hill! I can’t get up there!  That’s it, I’m telling them this is my last lap. They can like it or lump it, shouldn’t have told me it was flat now, should they? Will I still get my medal if I only do one lap?  I DESERVE a medal…Ah… That’s more like it, a lovely smooth road. No mud! Okay, I can do this.  This is more like it…Maybe I won’t tell them I’m only doing one lap after all…Yay running, I like running…Ooh a bit of the Violent Femmes, that’s a good running song…. What’s that? Isn’t that an arrow?  Pointing back into the woods?  No, it can’t be… It is! Ach, at least it’s not so hot in the woods…At least there are no dogs….Aw people are dead friendly out here, even the ones not breaking a sweat and  who ran 52 miles last weekend… ARGHH! That was a freaking PUDDLE! Must concentrate! Oh okay, we’re coming back to the campsite, that means I’m halfway… This must be what it feels like to run a marathon… I’ll be having words! Mmm water, lovely lovely thirst quenching water…Right, off we go again, can’t stop here, people are watching…Past halfway… I can do this… What will I eat when I get back to the campsite?  Noooo I need to put my tent up… But I don’t if I’m only doing this lap… Won’t think about the next lap…Mmmm chocolate.  I’ll have some chocolate when I get back. Nooooo not another hill! I think I’ll put my headphones back in now… Bit of Springsteen…We must be up in the mountains by now… the rest has to be downhill.. I don’t really like downhill… Downhill hurts my knees… Plod plod plod… 8k? That was quick! I am AMAZING! My breathing is really loud today. My lungs don’t feel right. Is my breathing always like that? Maybe I’m dying. That’d learn them… Plod plod plod… 9k! Yay! And some Rolling Stones.  Excellent. Hang on, what the actual hell is THAT?! That’s nearly vertical! What is it? The side of a bridge? Why are the arrows pointing up that bank? What the actual… All fours?! I’ll have to go up it on all fours. All fours.. .Like a dog… I’m sooo glad dogs weren’t allowed… Nope. I take it back, this is definitely my last lap. Ah lovely road. Lovely flat smooth surface.  And now a bit of grass…. That’s okay, I can do long grass… And there’s the campsite! This is okay, quite enjoying this now…Look at me running along all smug and sweaty about to finish my lap…Aw and there are my lovely teammates waiting for me… So glad they invited me to do this…10k WOOOP!

Those familiar with the works of Dante will know that his first circle of hell was that of Limbo. Whilst I thought that initial lap was hellish, nothing prepared me for the wait that ensued as I mentally prepared for lap 2.  Admittedly, a pork pie helped proceedings.  Pork pies are something I would never eat in real life, but according to my learned teammate Phil, they are a veritable superfood as recommended by elite athletes, and so on this occasion I happily indulged.  I’ll freely admit that I was all kinds of skeptical of his claims, as delicious and perfect as the pie turned out to be.  It sounded exactly like the sort of thing people make up to convince themselves that something is a good idea – a bit like me telling myself I’d feel great after running a lap or 2.  Despite my cynicism, it turns out it is a true story (obviously, I had to check):  http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/target262/asics-training/holly-rush-qanda/12742.html

It would appear that Greggs really need to reassess their target demographic and it’s always handy to know that a mini pork pie fits perfectly in the pocket of your favourite running top.

 

The Second Lap

No word of a lie, I really enjoyed my second lap which began just over three hours after I completed lap one (I’d been sitting fidgeting and tapping my feet for about half an hour prior).  The sun was out, the pack of runners had thinned, even the mud seemed to have dried up somewhat. The course was familiar in parts but there were sections I could have sworn weren’t part of the course previously (including one part of the path littered with gigantic animal droppings – I tried not to think of which gigantic animal from whence they may have come…)  Maybe I achieved that elusive ‘Runners’ High’, or perhaps I was just enjoying being out in the countryside, on a beautiful day, with nothing but my thoughts for company (a lot of my thoughts focussing on how utterly amazing I was to have completed even ONE lap of this tortuous course).  Either way, I will grudgingly admit that at one point, I even ran across a field of ridiculously long grass with my arms stretched out like wings, appreciating the cool breeze and the sense of freedom in the manner of a complete weirdo.  Luckily nobody saw me – I did turn round to check, just as soon as I came to my senses.

 

I’m not saying lap 2 was easy as such (it was really really hard and I wasn’t exaggerating at all in my earlier description) but as routine things often are, it was a lot less challenging than the unfamiliarity of the first lap.  My lovely friends had arrived to greet me at the finishing line (food-bearing friends, the very best kind!), as were my traitorous teammates (towpath, indeed!) who I was beginning to feel something of a grudging affection towards.  What’s more, when I returned to camp, I actually had a tent to return to.  And the aforementioned food, and good conversation.  And the best cup of tea I ever did taste.  What more could one ask for? What was that?  Not to have to run a third lap in the pitch dark?

 

The Third Lap

I won’t dwell too long on this – I’ve already described the course in rather a lot of detail.  What I will say is that if I ever do this again I will not:

  • Underestimate just how difficult it is to run in the dark, alone, with the associated oppressive silence interspersed with strange animal noises, atop terrain you can barely see.
  • Have a discussion about genres of crime novels and the various standard opening pages before setting off.
  • Roll my eyes when fellow runners say there will be glow-sticks marking the way; this was clearly a necessity, and not a twee allusion to the promised ‘Festival Atmosphere’.
  • Mock ‘Proper Serious Runners’ – every single one who passed me during that endless final lap slowed down to ask how I was doing and give a bit of much-needed motivation.
  • Assume that the things I am most likely to trip over are tree roots and stop concentrating upon returning to camp – guy lines are LETHAL.
  • Store all my stuff from previous runs inside the tent.  That tent did not smell good when I stumbled into it post lap 3.
  • Make sweeping statements about how I’m going to stretch thoroughly – nay, indulge in some yoga – post lap.  Never gonna happen.
  • Mock the promise of a festival atmosphere – take it from me, running through the trees adorned with fairy-lights which made up the last kilometre of the night run replicated the high-point of any festival I’ve ever been to (and was also reminiscent of the woods of Bestival, or a random corner of Glastonbury). The pumping bass of the music played at the finishing line added to the illusion, as did the portaloos, the folks with super-dooper camping equipment, the neon clothing and waking up the day after feeling like I’d been hit by a bus…
  • Forget that difficulty is directly proportional to sense of achievement!

 

Well I hope I stuck to my promise not to be too ranty and I’ll finish here as I need to go and paint the bits of skin where my toenails used to be.  I’ll maybe even have a quick peruse of the Brutal website… Not that I plan to sign up for anything soon, you understand…It would just be kind of interesting to see what’s coming up, you know, just in case I ever wanted to do something like this again…Hypothetically speaking of course…

 


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100daysofgrievances #45 GRANNIES AND THE MISSING THEREOF.

Everyone loves a Granny because grannies are great. They are fountains of all sorts of useful knowledge (often pertaining to baking times, crossword clues and the fixing of random things), they have sayings that are just what you need to hear when things are all kinds of rubbishy (“Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye”), or undecided (“If you’re not in your bed, you’re in your shoes; therefore, it is completely acceptable to spend lots of money on either of those items), and they get away with saying things that the politically correct younger generation refuses to (“Her glands are making her fat, you say?  Isn’t it weird how nobody had gland problems in the concentration camps?”)  What is more, they start many a sentences with that most excellent phrase “Back in my day…” None of these sayings can be attributed directly to either of my grandmothers, but I think they evoke the very essence of grandmotherliness,  as does that classic childhood song which I now have going round and round in my head: ‘Ye canny shove yer Grannie off the bus’ (if you’re not familiar with this Scottish favourite please do Google it.  I promise you won’t regret it).

 

I was thinking a lot about my Granny Bruce yesterday as I attempted to make a tray of flapjack.  I often think about my Granny (and my Gran) when I’m in the kitchen, probably something to do with the fact that I associate so many recipes with one or t’other of them.  I have always found that cooking, and indeed thinking about grandparents, is a good way of temporarily blocking out everything unpleasant that is going on in the world.  Given the current depressing state of affairs, I’ve spent rather a lot of time in the kitchen over the past couple of weeks…

 

I’m not sure if it’s a trait common to all women of that generation (or just members of my immediate family), but both my grandmothers like(d) to feed.  Gran is 90 and still makes a mean ginger biscuit, the best cheese scones in the world and Yorkshire puddings to die for.  Granny Bruce lived into her 80s and even in her final year, would regularly turn up at the door distributing extra strong mints and homemade biscuits and puddings, her mobility scooter laden with various jars of jam and marmalade.  It’s probably best we don’t dwell on the havoc she liked to cause aboard that vehicle… Put it this way, if ever Girvan main street came to a standstill, there was a distinct possibility that it was something to do with my newly-mobile yet devoid of all road-sense (and exceedingly deaf) grandmother.  She would unload her wares and then fill the basket back up with empty jars and any old fruit that would otherwise be headed for the  compost bin and might ‘do for a crumble’. Anyone who has been to my house for dinner knows that I am something of a feeder, too.  I like to think I learned from the best.

 

And now back to my own baking attempts – how difficult can it be to make flapjack, for goodness sake?  The recipe only has 4 ingredients (or 5 if you look on an alternative website).  That was a rhetorical question; it proved to be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated.  When my sister and I were wee, we used to go to our Granny Bruce’s after school every day.  GB was of the opinion that children thrived on sugar (“they need energy for all that running around”) and would regularly present us with an entire tray of flapjack (or shortbread) straight from the oven.  We’d be given a fork each, along with the instructions: “Don’t burn yourselves, don’t tell your mother, and make sure you eat all your dinner so she doesn’t find out.”  Granny made the art of a fantastic flapjack look effortlessly easy and I have to admit, as I carefully weighed out all the ingredients for my *ahem* masterpieces, I had a niggling doubt in the back of my mind, prodding me and pontificating  “That isn’t how yer Granny did it.”

 

Granny didn’t really believe in measuring stuff, and by that I mean she didn’t weigh ingredients and was certainly no slave to a sell-by date.  When it came to her legendary flapjack, her standard modus operandi  was, if in any doubt, to scrape in some more Lyle’s golden syrup (from an ancient-looking, dented, rusty and seemingly bottomless tin, complete with crystalised syrup clinging to the sides), or some more melted butter.  Usually both.  I followed my recipe to the letter.  I’m not going to post a link to it as it was a rubbish recipe. The resultant flapjack was tasty but not quite chewy or indulgent-tasting (okay, bad for you) enough.  Next time I will go with my gut and add extra melted butter and lashings more golden syrup.

 

Alas, my syrup was not from an old dented tin of questionable vintage, but instead from a squeezy M and S bottle.  Oh how times have changed.  I’m not even sure you can still buy tins of Lyles, although when I was attempting to procure my ingredients, I did notice that they now boast a fine range of dessert syrups (I do like a dessert syrup as you may recall from my holiday buffet themed rantings, although on this occasion I managed to resist).  It would appear that syrup has gone all fancy, but so too have recipes for flapjack.  Gone are the days when flapjack was flapjack – a quick Google search resulted in recipes for apricot and chocolate flapjack, fig flapjack, golden flapjacks with mango, sour cherries and coconut, to name but a few. Granny would categorically not have approved.

 

Whilst I very much doubt that Granny would have been convinced to experiment, there is every possibility that she would have had at least a few of those additional ingredients languishing at the back of a kitchen cupboard (perhaps not the mango, but certainly some gungy glace cherries, and without a doubt, a supply of desiccated coconut  – probably not in its original packaging, nor entirely recognisable as such, but coconut nevertheless).

 

When Granny was in her late 70s, she moved house.  Dad gave me the job of ‘sorting through’ the food and throwing out the stuff that he didn’t think we should expend energy relocating.  Now,  you have to understand that my dad is not a stickler for a sell-by date, and was always an enthusiastic recipient of Granny’s supermarket bargains: bashed tins with no labels; a year’s supply of mini Xmas puds every January (“ideal for taking up the hills, ignore the Best Before date, pudding improves with age”); discounted Easter eggs (the only time she ever bought them was after Easter. On the day itself, she would present us with multiple massive bars of Galaxy  – “more chocolate for your money”); etc. I do like to think that some of this common gumption rubbed off on me!

 

Back now to that afternoon in Granny’s kitchen… If I tell you that despite Dad’s predilection for a bargain, and his casual indifference towards a suggested Eat By Date, his instructions to me were: “Anything with prices on in old money, put right to the bottom of the bin bag so she’s less likely to notice and take it back out.  And if you can’t work out what’s in the tin, chuck it”, then you’ll get some idea of what we were up against… Despite our attempts to the contrary, when it came to unpacking the kitchen, Granny’s full repertoire of aged baking ingredients and magical mystery meals once again took up residence in her kitchen cupboards.  Whilst she was the mistress of the wide-eyed straight face (“Catherine’s dress for the school dance?  Shorter?  No, she must have grown.  Wasn’t I just saying they’re all shooting up?  All towering above me now!  My sewing machine?  Oh I moved it over there to make room for a plant.  Of course I didn’t shorten her dress.  I agree, quite short enough…”) there was no pulling the wool over her eyes.

 

I’m probably not alone in the fact that the taste of tea from a flask evokes vivid grandparent-themed memories.  People of a certain age were once as attached to their flasks of tea as we are to our smartphones today (but again, perhaps that was only my family…) Granny B. took it one step further, she never stopped at a simple flask… On one occasion, Dad and Granny and Wee Sis and myself went ‘up the hills’ (a normal weekend activity where I come from…) We did some walking (and, no doubt, some clambouring over boulders) whilst Granny sat in the car and enjoyed the view from whatever farm track we’d parked on.  We eventually tired of clambouring and returned grubby and hungry to the car, only for Dad to announce to much noisy indignation that he’d forgotten the sandwiches. What a catastrophe!

 

Granny calmly and quietly sat down her flask-top cup and opened her voluminous handbag.  From there she removed some buttered bread (white, of course  – “Don’t tell your mother”), a tin of hotdogs and a tin opener, a little pan and … Wait for it… A small camping stove complete with a spare gas canister.  I don’t think a meal has ever tasted better!  I occasionally wonder if she always carried tins about with her in case of emergency… There was definitely a constant supply of biscuits in that Mary Poppins bag, and mints…But still room for an unlabeled tin or two!

 

And here is a gratuitous picture of Granny observing us climbing on a boulder:


As is probably clear by now, many of my Granny-themed memories materialise when I see or smell food.  At home, the only chips we ever had were those horrible McCains oven chips of days gone by.  This was back before the invention of the all-singing all-dancing Southern Fried, spiral-cut,  crispy, tasty ones, when oven chips somehow managed to be simultaneously brick hard on the inside and slightly soggy on the outside.  No amount of ketchup could disguise their fact that they were massively unappetising and the term ‘treat’ was a veritable misnomer.

 

Granny wasn’t remotely interested in newfangled inventions such as the oven chip. Instead, she would fire up the chip pan (containing oil that Wee Sis and I were entirely convinced was the same oil she had used when Dad was a boy), and present us with steaming platefuls.  We’d drag ourselves away from our trays of flapjack to sit down and dig in, simultaneously reassuring Granny that no we wouldn’t tell Mum, that if she smelled the chip fat on our clothes then we definitely would NOT say that we were in the kitchen when they were being cooked, and no, of course we wouldn’t  tell her we were allowed to stand on chairs to stir the pan of marmalade! Anyway, that was ages beforethe chip pan came out.

 

Chips at Granny’s house were great for 2 reasons: 1. they weren’t oven chips and 2. We were allowed salt on them.  We never had salt at home, I’m not entirely sure why, but we were clearly deprived children.  One of my earliest memories of my sister is standing in Granny’s kitchen and watching her repeatedly tip salt onto her hand before licking it off.  She also liked to add extra salt to packets of crisps (again, could only be done at Granny’s), but that is entirely besides the point.

 

I don’t want you to get the idea that we didn’t consume anything healthy at Granny’s… On the contrary, a massive section of her garden and greenhouse were given over to peas, tomatoes, strawberries and gooseberries.  She was as stubborn as they come – in her later years she could barely walk, but that didn’t stop her spending hours on her hands and knees tending to her beloved garden and ensuring that we would have our pea crop the following year!  We’d happily sit for hours picking, shelling and eating the aforementioned snacks, all washed down with milk (full fat of course, not the semi-skimmed stuff we got at home) which we were encouraged to drink through chives.  At the time, I did not think the chive thing was remotely weird, yet as I write it, I am now questioning the sanity of my entire family.

 

Granny actively encouraged us to pick and eat all that grew in her garden but this generosity did not extend to flowers.  As far as Granny was concerned, flowers belonged in gardens and in meadows and with roots still attached in pots.  Never, ever in vases.  The crossest I ever remember her being (she wasn’t really one for reprimanding), was when I was about 7 years old and inadvertently picked and presented her with a huge bunch of flowers from her garden.  Oh that did not go down well at all, and I never made the same mistake again! Even now, whilst I love receiving flowers – who doesn’t? – I can always hear her voice: “they would have lasted longer and more people could have enjoyed them if they’d been left in the ground.”

 

On another rather memorable occasion, we were at the graveyard visiting my late-Grandad’s grave and Granny was incensed when she spotted a variety of discarded bouquets atop the compost heap in the corner.  She went over to investigate, plucked the best specimen and took it home to give to my mum.  You can imagine Wee Sis’s and my glee as we announced to Mum “Granny got your flowers from the graveyard”….

 

Waste not, want not was Granny’s mantra – the flowers should never have been picked in the first place; to be replaced and then left to rot on a compost heap was nothing short of a travesty!  The ‘waste not, want not’ philosophy also extended to food… Even roadkill.  To this day, my mother attributes her conversion to vegetarianism to the time Granny insisted on bringing home the pheasant hit by the car in front.  Just to clarify, she was a passenger in Dad’s car at the time’ she didn’t transport it in the basket of her mobility scooter… It was left to Mum to pluck and cook the bird and my sister and I were not given the option of not tasting it… If I really think about it, I can still conjure up the repulsive smell of it cooking.  In my head, we ate it that evening, although chef friends tell me that pheasants need to hang for a significant length of time prior to cooking… That may explain the rather distinct aroma…

 

Allow me to return briefly to the subject of plantlife.  Interestingly enough,  Granny’s view that flora should rightfully remain where it grew did not extend to any plants that she desired a cutting of…  An extremely keen gardener with a truly stunning garden, she would regularly take some sort of gardening tool (clippers, is that what they’re called? Secateurs?) from her bottomless bag and snip a cutting off a plant whilst out and about.  This wasn’t an issue if it was in our garden, but it became slightly more of a concern when the parentals noticed her bag bulging with greenery after a walk round a private garden, famed for its abundance of rare species. The cuttings would be taken home and lovingly nurtured in pots all around the house, the garden and the greenhouse.  One had to walk with great care around Granny’s house, especially in the vicinity of any windows, for it was far too easy to trip over a wayward plant pot.  When Granny went on holiday, ‘watering the plants’ required stamina, strength and about 84 trips to the sink with her massive watering can.

 

Christmas trees also fell into Granny’s green-fingered and ‘reusable’ category.  On a few notable occasions, we had a tree dug up from (and subsequently re-planted in) Granny’s garden.  You have to understand, this tree didn’t look like the (admittedly environmentally unfriendly) trees that you can buy from all these pop-up tree places in December (thinking about it, weren’t they the forefathers of the trendy ‘pop-up’ phenomenon?).  No, this tree was lopsided, sparse and not altogether very green.  One year it arrived (I want to say on the back of Granny’s mobility scooter, and that is an entirely possible scenario, but I can’t be sure) with branches from a second tree sort of ‘filling it out’.  It’s worth noting that this aforementioned second tree was of an entirely different species…

 

Tonight I’m going to have another bash at bakery.  I think I might attempt a tray of shortbread, as mentioning it earlier has made me crave it.  Maybe I’ll channel my inner Granny by putting the TV up really, really loud (on the occasions when she knew where they were, her hearing aids never seemed to work properly).

 

Reading back over this ode to my Granny, I have realised that perhaps she helped shape me in more ways than I thought…  On Saturday/Sunday, I am partaking in a ‘fun-run’ (Fun? Yeah, right) which involves running multiple laps of a 10k course.  If that wasn’t crazy enough, it takes place in the middle of nowhere right through the night… Over the past week or so, my teammates have been emailing frantically regarding the provision of supplies of water, bananas and the like.  Not me.  Oh no.  I replied without really thinking: “I’ll bring my camping stove and some buttered rolls and bacon. And maybe some tins of soup.”  Apparently this run is going to have a Festival Atmosphere.  I think now is an appropriate time for me to point out that BACK IN MY DAY we got intoxicated at festivals and danced;  we certainly didn’t eat bananas or run laps…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100daysofgrievances #44 THE COMFORT ZONE

Regular readers will no doubt agree with me that I’m nothing if not a creature of habit.  Present me with a disappointing meal or a grammatically incorrect sign and I’ll witter on for pages.  Sorry, what was that?  It’s hard to be a regular reader of something not regularly written?  Okay,  I concede, you make a most valid point. Please bear with me and allow me to explain my recent lack of documentation.  Clearly I have not given up whinging; I’ve simply not been updating my most recent gripes on here.  In stark contrast to my aforementioned and natural creature-of-habit status, I have recently been stepping out of my comfort zone in a variety of ways (my staunch excuse for my erstwhile lack of bloggage).

Firstly, and not leastly, I went and got myself a new job.  This sounds kind of simple, but it was actually rather time-consuming and all-encompassing and involved a telephone interview followed by three face-to-face interviews.  Three. As someone who doesn’t really do ‘smart’, the wardrobe choices alone involved untold volumes of deliberation. See, I told you I didn’t have time to be blogging.

The fact I had to don a pair of heels (three times!) aside, the most stressful part of the entire job-acquiring  process was a moment post interview #2 but pre #3.  My friend asked how difficult the questions had been and then proceeded to tell me his own boss’s favourite interview question (“I want you to imagine your mum has a terrible illness and you work for a pharmaceutical company that supplies the drugs that she can’t afford but which would save her life.  You’ve asked to buy them at a discounted rate and been told no.  Would you steal the drugs to save your mother’s life?”)  Imagine.  Just imagine being asked that in an interview.

Despite turning up at #3 full of trepidation and all ready to tell all kinds of lies about everyone in my immediate family being followers of  Jehovah and not believing in medical intervention, I didn’t get asked any Sophie’s choice-esque questions.  It was almost a disappointment.  My top interview tip (I’ve partaken in a fair few recently, remember) is to make sure you’re massively nervous about something else in the run-up to take your mind off things. It really works. I may try and apply that tactic to all aspects of my life henceforward.

During the interview process, I was awaiting, with no little fear, my first half marathon.  I really didn’t have the space in my brain to stress about anything else. Most nights in the run up I had nightmares that I fell over, or forgot to wear my sports bra, or decided to wear my walking sandals instead of my trainers, or got lost half way round the course…

The half marathon was a case of me quite literally (note the correct use of ‘literally’) stepping out of my comfort zone.  Every step I took – well certainly the last three miles – was massively massively uncomfortable.  I’m not going to bore you with a lengthy description of the race itself, but below is a concise list of Things I Learned:

  • When signing up for a race, don’t modestly state that you think it will take you 25% longer than you actually think it will take you.  Everyone else drastically under-estimates their race time.  This means that you will set off in a group consisting of people dressed up as massive animals, people with stookies on various limbs, groups who decide their action plan is to walk the race three a-breast, and (I’m really trying to be polite here) the BMI-ally challenged. Take it from me, spending your first three miles trying to squeeze your way through this group is in no way conducive to a nice endorphin-fuelled start.
  • Don’t assume that your race will start when the race starts.  Oh no.  Don’t discard the old jumper you so smugly brought with you to keep you warm until the start as soon as 10:00am arrives (Incidentally, Runners World top tips aren’t nearly as good as Take a Break’s). The start for you is likely to be a good 45 minutes after those elite runners set off; you’ll be standing around shivering until then, your old jumper languishing under a load of energy gel packets in a bin somewhere.
  • Don’t panic when you get to a water station and, instead of a sensible bottle, are handed a squidgy pouch of water with a flaccid spout of sorts.  Just remember that if you hold it one way up, you will be able to suck and suck until you are light-headed, only to be rewarded with a solitary drop of water.  Hold it the other way up and you will probably choke.  I did.  I managed to choke on three separate occasions.  I blame the bad design.  On a plus-note, it’s good for picking up speed as you keenly prove to onlookers that you are fine and not dying and actually drank it like that on purpose.
  • Don’t be nervous; if you forget for a moment the pain of the miles between 10 and 13.1,  all the annoying, seemingly unsupervised children en-route (thrusting their sticky hands at you to touch, ringing bells out of time to actual music, holding fists of jelly babies out somewhere near your knees and just generally looking like they might dash out in front of you at any given moment) and the vile special-edition flavours of Lucozade Sport being consumer-tested on you, it’s actually not that bad!

Post-race, and having resigned myself to the fact that I will not be wearing sandals at any point over the summer  – my current toe-nail count standing at 6 (remaining, not lost), I signed up for another couple of events: a 10k this Sunday and a race named Brutal Enduro (18-hour-over-night as-many-10ks-as-you-possibly-can-relay in July…) I might start worrying about the prospect of walking in proper shoes at the New Job to take my mind off that one… I’m also contemplating signing up for the Bournemouth marathon in October (it’s beside the sea, it has to be flat, right?!  Incidentally, exactly what I once assumed about the South Coast Path…)


Having signed up for all these ridiculous races I got a bit above my station in terms of the exercise malarkey and thought I might be getting a little bit good at it…However, it soon became apparent that nothing brings me down to earth with a bump like a lengthy cycle (not literally in this case, thankfully).  It turns out that despite my new-found love of running, I’m still a rubbish cyclist.   You may remember the last time I went for a cycle (you can read about it here: https://caththebruce.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/100daysofgrievances-33-sunny-sunday-sports-shop-hell/ ).

 

Well this expedition was a vast improvement on that, but not without its moments…  Note to self, if you ever see a sign like the one below, at your own peril should you venture forward without the support of a sports bra.


Throughout the journey (all 26 miles of it – it took a long time but I managed it), the BF gave me lots of helpful encouragement:

Mile 4: “If I was with Ryan, we’d be there by now.  I imagine we’d be drinking a pint.”

Mile 5: “I feel like we’ve been cycling really, really slowly for a very, very long time.”

Mile 6: “Yeah, I know I said we wouldn’t need snacks because it wasn’t that far, and that you were silly for bringing them, but I didn’t expect to be going quite so slowly, can I have a snack, please?”

Mile 7: “Can’t you go any faster?  I’ve been free-wheeling most of the way. And that was really embarrassing when that family with all the children overtook us.”

Mile 9: “Don’t worry, what you lack in cycling prowess, you make up for in other things.”

Mile 11: “why aren’t you trying?”

Mile 15: “Your dad cycled all the way from Scotland!”  (The implication being, I have no doubt, that an affinity for cycling far too fast along tow paths should somehow be in my blood).”

Mile 18: “Okay fine, I’ll go on ahead, just make sure you don’t get lost.  Are you sure you know the way back? Make sure you follow the signs and go back the way we came. Have you got Google Maps on your phone?”

I got lost.

It’s fine though, I fully intend to get my own back.  On my last day at the current job, I’m going to see if I can keep my hi-viz as a souvenir.   My sole purpose being that I can continue wearing it to meet him in the pub of a Friday evening.  He should never have told me it embarrassed him.

It is abundantly clear that cycling is not something I am ever going to do comfortably or quickly; I can live with that fact. Something I have, however, become increasingly more relaxed about lately is holding squawking babies.  When I was at university, I worked for a while in Early Learning Centre (not quite sure how I swung that particular interview…) and there was nothing that instilled fear quite like that moment when a customer would thrust their infant at me as s/he hunted for money/their other offspring/their sanity.  That fear never quite wore off… That was until I met wee baby Ru.  Here we are together – don’t we look comfortable?!

 I’m not for a single moment implying that I’m in some mad rush to procreate (I’ve got a marathon to train for, let’s not forget!); I’m simply stating I’m not quite as totally and utterly petrified of dropping the offspring of others anymore.

 

Wee Ruaraidh is the baby of one of my oldest, bestest friends and I simply wasn’t given the opportunity to shy away from him (Mummy Karen has always been a force to be reckoned with!) From the moment I walked through the door, he was brandished at me in all his wriggly, noisy glory.  By the end of my stay we were firm friends.

I did, however,  manage to successfully resist all ‘offers’ of changing a nappy. “Why don’t you have a wee go changing his nappy? Aw go on, he’d like that!” (The tone of voice implying I couldn’t fail to find it anything other than a fun experience). I did not give in to those wheedling tones, so reminiscent of those she employed in days of yore.  Way back when, she was usually convincing me to stay for “just one more drink” or trying to recruit me to join her in her endeavour to get as close to a festival stage as possible, but the fluttering eyelashes and the cajoling intonation were exactly the same!
And that brings me nicely to my conclusion.  My conclusion being that as much as I have been indulging in new pursuits, I am never happier than when ranting about my fellow humans, especially humans at festivals and gigs. Allow me to share with you a short story…

Since I’ve been doing all this running, I am a complete and utter lightweight; I’m half-cut on half a pint.  So at a recent folky dolky gig (Bellowhead for anyone who’s interested) whilst feeling a little warm and fuzzy after a couple of bevs, I decided I wasn’t close enough to the front (I seldom decide this anymore – it’s a sign I am getting old, I fear.  Or perhaps it is simply due to the fact that Karen and I now live approximately 500 miles apart).  The crowd was an odd one, a bit staid and posh – nothing like your usual folky audience.  I carefully manoeuvred my way forward (by that I mean I only spilt half my pint, and that wasn’t my fault – I mean who puts their handbag on the floor of a gig?!) I got to a good vantage point and was feeling pretty chipper until a fellow audience member turned round during a lull in proceedings and announced “You have just ruined the equilibrium of this entire section of the audience.” I’m going to leave you with that gem of idiocy.  Until next time x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100daysofgrievances #43 THE HOLIDAY BUFFET

I returned from Fuerteventura over a week ago now, yet my eating habits remain firmly in holiday mode; it’s amazing what a week of all-inclusive gluttony can do for your appetite.  Three meals a day with superfluous snacks in between, what’s not to love?

 

I don’t usually bother with breakfast (unless you count a cereal bar after my powerwalk to work, or an elaborate brunch of a lazy Sunday), except when I’m on holiday.  When en vacances (or in any hotel), I’ll set my alarm to ensure I don’t miss the good stuff then I’ll hotfoot it down to the restaurant, jumper pulled on hastily over PJs, hair suggesting I’ve had a recent altercation with a hedge, ready to do battle with brekkie.  I had actually intended to go for a pre-breakfast run along the beach every morning of my hols, but alas it was not to be.  Instead, I’d greedily make my way round the buffet, piling my plate with several different types of egg: Scrambled egg, lovely! Ooh and that one’s got ham in it, I’ll have a dollop of that too!  Fried egg, yep I’d best have one of those… And a boiled one for luck… Spanish omelette, well,  I wish I’d known that was there!  If I just squish the scrambled egg over a bit, I can fit it on the side of my plate… I tend to avoid the mystery meat (the bacon you just KNOW you’re going to hear some British idiot whinging about and the anaemic-looking sausages), but that just means all the more room for weirdly salty eggs of the scrambled variety.

 

After my egg course, I like to fill a plate with an assortment of  miniature pastries of the type that I would never eat in real life.  I also like to sample all the jams and special spreads on offer (this particular hotel excelled: milk and dark chocolate spreads).  This takes a while to digest so I tend to sit reading my book and drinking coffee for a good hour or two post-pastry.  A couple of years ago, the hotel we were staying at had this on offer at breakfast time:

It pleased me immensely that the fruit juice dispensers were covered up during lunch and dinner, but that this was available all day long.  Not that I took advantage of this brekkie booze of course, I just liked the fact that I could have.

 

After my leisurely breakfast, I barely have time to recline by the pool before people are making movements towards the restaurant again.  When that happens, I can’t relax; what if they’re pinching all the prawns?!  I find myself saying things like “Yes, I do want to go for a walk, but we don’t want to miss lunch, do we? What if they have really good stuff on today?” This particular hotel provided a pretty high standard of food, but I have had the misfortune to have previously signed up for all-inclusive in somewhat more budget hotels.  In such establishments, lunch is usually the most entertaining meal of the day as you get to play the ‘who can find the best breakfast leftovers dish’ game…

 

In the hotel of all-day-wine-on-tap fame, we had delights such as ‘sausage salad’ (cut up breakfast sausages combined with sweetcorn and smothered in gallons of mayonnaise), ‘special pizza’ (cold slices of toasted baguette topped with egg, sausage, tomato, bacon and cheese), and my personal favourite, a ‘lasagne’ of sorts made with a delectable-looking assortment of breakfast debris. Delicious.  Okay, I’ll admit it, I didn’t sample any of them, but I’m sure they were stunning.

 

I always approach the lunchtime buffet with good intentions, my plan of attack is always the same: I will walk round and look at what is on offer, then I will take diminutive amounts of a small selection of dishes.  Having sampled these dishes, I will then return to the buffet and help myself to a slightly larger portion of the most delicious one.  A lovely light lunch.

 

In reality what happens is this: I am too impatient to walk round (what if someone steals all the best stuff from under my nose?), so I grab a plate and start loading it with small (so far, so good) portions.  However (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this), I don’t seem capable of stopping at a few tasty samples.  Oh no, I arrive at my table laden down with a heaped plate that I would like to be able to liken to a smorgasbord… Alas, that would cause one to envision inaccurately an attractive array of sumptuous Scandinavian delicacies.  Unfortunately, this is more of a mismatched mess.  That grilled fish looked delicious until I hid it under the ladle of that tasty-smelling beef Bourguignon.  In retrospect, that salad might have been better without the addition of a wee taster of curry. Ditto the ratatouille and that gravy…

 

And I don’t learn.  I’ll scoff it down (usually leaving an unattractive conglomeration of leftovers on the plate which is destined to remain on the table looking markedly unappetising until I finish my meal), and head back on up there for a clean plate.  I’ll then proceed to do exactly the same thing all over again: Oh look, they have king prawns now, I’d better grab myself some of those before that loitering buffet veteran fills his plate.  Okay, they don’t really go with the second portion of Bourguignon but what if they’ve all gone by the time I finish? Crab salad!  That wasn’t there before… If I just pile a bit on the edge of my plate, just here, then it shouldn’t be contaminated by beef juice… And a little bit more, what if they don’t serve it again for the rest of the week? By the time I sit back down, I have a plate resembling the one I previously abandoned.

 

It pains me a little because when I am at home, I am a vehement advocate of the ‘Those foods don’t go together – stop it!’ school of though.  I even wrote a guest post on a foodie blog on this subject: https://pinchypops.wordpress.com/2015/07/27/fish-pie-and-conservative-flavours-a-guest-blog/

 

But somehow, to my eternal shame, all tenets of my no-mixing philosophy go out of the window when faced with the strangely compelling allure of a buffet.

 

When it’s time for pudding, I don’t suddenly enjoy an increase in willpower… I KNOW I’m not going to enjoy that tiny wee square of cake with the lurid green topping, but it’s rude not to at least try it, right?  And it’s only small.  And whilst I’m at it, I might as well try a bit of the chocolate one, too.  I know it’s quite likely to be that minging faux-chocolate flavour, but you never know, and it is free, after all. The best bit about all-inclusive desserts is the fact that you can add you own toppings: all those things that are limited in an ice-cream shop and were rationed when you were a kid are suddenly free-flowing.  Raspberry sauce?  That’ll be delicious with my tiny-little-supposedly-kiwi-flavour square of cake.  Strawberry sauce?  Best have some of that, too.  Chocolate sauce?  Might well (probably will) be that fake stuff again, but in for a penny, in for a pound and all that.  Caramelised nuts? Well, that’s practically healthy, I’ll have two scoops of those… Yep, my pudding bowl is destined to sit forlornly on the table alongside my two abandoned plates, ice cream melting, sauces bleeding.

 

At this point, I usually suggest we retire to the pool area once again (all notions of a brisk walk disappeared along with my resolve not to over-eat).  I am too embarrassed to beckon a waiter over to replenish my drink, given the disgusting example of gluttony littering the table top, but not to worry as I saw the pool bar was serving margaritas today…

 

When enjoying an all-inclusive holibag, my approach to drinking is, I’m sorry to admit, sadly similar to my eclectic plate-piling.  I find myself drinking the cocktail of the day (even if it’s pina colada; a drink I wouldn’t dream of supping at home).  I also like to sample all the local spirits.  You never know, I might discover my new favourite bev.  Never mind that I couldn’t bring any back with me even if bottles over 100ml were allowed – I’ve no space in my bag, it’s all taken up with my so-far-unused running gear!  This time two weeks ago, I could probably be found sipping on a bright green margarita (same E number as the aforementioned cake topping), or perhaps the Spanish version of Pernod…  I might even have been sampling that thing on the menu that neither of us could translate.  Variety being the spice of life and all that, but unfortunately not all that beneficial to the state of one’s head the morning after.  But not to worry about that, some breakfast eggs’ll fix all ailments!

The other good thing about the pool bar (in addition to the vast range of enticing drinks on offer) is the fact that one can observe the snack bar and marvel at the fatty families, sorry, I mean people of a larger stature and simpler taste who are piling their plates with an assortment of yellow offerings whilst simultaneously bemoaning the lack of Heinz-branded ketchup. They are seemingly oblivious to the fact that they left their lunch table only an hour previously. I love a bit of free entertainment.

 

When evening arrives, I inevitably find that my stomach is adequately stretched (I blame the beer) and all thoughts of skipping dinner go soaring out the window (along with the likelihood of me getting up for a pre-dawn run the following morning).  Dinner usually passes in a bit of a haze of repeat buffet trips.  I would like to be that person who has a nice neat side plate of healthy salad and a second, larger, plate with a conservative portion of something tasty yet nutritious… But I can’t carry a salad plate and simultaneously load my big plate with tasters of everything on offer. So, alas, it is not to be.  I do, however, always manage to sit at the next table over from that one woman who somehow makes her buffet plate look like the cover photo of Good Food magazine.  Neatly arranged slices of cucumber, a perfect pile of shredded lettuce, a sprinkling of seeds.  Actually, scrap that, it looks more like something I imagine would feature in a publication going by the name  ‘Top Vegan’ or ‘Skinny Salading’, but either way, it looks healthy and wholesome and pretty; no commingling of condiments on her plate.  She often also has something that search as you may, you will never locate.  No matter how many times I pace round the buffet, I’ll never spot that elusive sauce-less grilled chicken or broccoli floret. It never fails to amuse me if the gentleman – I’m assuming it’s her partner – sitting opposite her has a beige mountain towering perilously in front of him.  All the onion rings, chips, calamari and chicken nuggets he could shake a (carrot) stick at.  Of course, we know that he’s making the most of it because he’s not allowed to hang out at the pool-side snack bar (they probably actually go on the brisk walks they talk about) and for the other 51 weeks of the year he’s presumably forced to eat like a rabbit.   That’s why he’s mopping his plate clean with a fourth slice of buttered bread…

 

I love over-hearing buffet conversations too.  I wanted to be disparaging towards one particular gentleman who was bemoaning the state of the salad bar “I much preferred the hotel we were in last year, they sliced the tomatoes the way I like them instead of cutting them into these big chunks”, but I actually got where he was coming from.  I’m not fussy about the chopping of my tomatoes, but don’t dare try and argue with me that a disk of carrot tastes the same as a baton!  Then there are the people who assess the 50-plus dishes and announce “there’s nothing I like, I’m not a fan of weird foreign food.”  Idiots.

 

On the one night we had a table service meal in the other hotel restaurant, I found myself massively impatient, tapping my feet and itching for a buffet spread.  This feeling has continued back into the UK.  On Monday I found myself making up a plate of assorted cheese, olives and crisps to eat whilst I waited for my dinner to hurry up and cook.  Okay, that wasn’t strictly a one-off event, but humour me and let me blame buffet-lisation, and its associated instant gratification, for my impatience and greed!

 

The more I think about it, the more I believe that the allure of a buffet (and the associated mismatch of flavours) is directly proportional to the number of units of alcohol one has consumed prior to ones arrival at said hodgepodge (perhaps why some hotels choose to serve pre-dawn wine?).  I will leave you with a photo the BF took of my post-pub Friday night meal a few months ago.  I rest my case.

100daysofgrievances number whatever: dead rock stars. Specifically really, really good ones‏

Today we have a very fitting guest blog written by my most excellent friend and long-term Bowie devotee, Hannah Ryder.

It was bad enough with Lou Reed. How sad is it OK to be when someone you don’t know dies, and for how long? My husband alerted me to the tragic news of Bowie’s death this morning. Being a little emotional anyway as I am six months pregnant and already having a snotty nose from a bad cold, I am not ashamed to say I snuck into the bathroom to have a shower and a little cry. I had never met Bowie, nor had anyone I knew. I had in a couple of dreams, of course, not all of them entirely unerotic. I had stood a few hundred metres away from him at Glastonbury in 2000 and been almost reduced to tears for the first time as he started with Wild is the Wind, and after that I didn’t need to see anyone else; I was replete (partly because we hadn’t paid for our tickets as we had climbed over the fence). We did, of course- Rolf Harris, Elliott Smith, can’t remember who else.

Anyway, back to Bowie. It is still only just breaking news so there are not many details. He died of cancer, at an age where it is not uncommon for people to do so, rock legends or not. In time we will probably learn what type of cancer it was – lung, influenced by a long smoking habit? Liver, not helped by alcohol abuse? Or something like thyroid, so unless he was terribly unlucky, not self inflicted at all? I will dare to postulate that Lou Reed’s liver packing up was likely exacerbated by his lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong,  I was no less devastated, and cried then too, but I felt a bit less sympathetic than I would have done if he had died in, say, a terrorist attack, or of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Looking at the CRUK website, only 6% of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer deaths in the UK are ‘preventable’, and i wouldn’t ever class death by terrorist as someone’s own fault. Actually, and surprisingly for me, looking at the same website, apparently 42% of liver cancers are preventable, meaning 58% aren’t, but again I would dare to postulate that Lou’s end stage liver disease that killed him would have had something to do with the excessive amounts of fun he had through his life involving alcohol, drugs and more alcohol and drugs.

But again, back to Bowie. We will find out in time which cancer claimed him, I am sure. I won’t be any less sad whatever is revealed. In the meantime, I’ll try and ignore the outpourings of grief from all these new found Bowie fans on Facebook, like when Mandela died, or Margaret Thatcher (who knew there were so many political experts out there?!), or Jade Goody (never ignore smear test results, or miss appointments, I think is the moral of the story here, as they can influence quite important outcomes like if you die or not). None of my Bowie t shirts fits over my bump, so instead today I am wearing a black dress of mourning and one of my pairs of Bowie earrings.

I first listened to a Best of Bowie compilation, taped from my mum’s CD, going on a school ski trip when I was 14. My email address for years has been something very Bowie orientated. We walked out of the registry office we got married in to Heroes (my choice – my husband wanted The Show Must Go On…) If Jim could have fixed it for me, I would have asked him to recreate the ball scene in Labyrinth where Sarah is trying to reach Jareth and then dances with him. The end would have been slightly different, involving some snogging and rutting on the floor (in all that finery! Oh my!) but you get the idea.

The David Bowie Is…..exhibition a couple of years ago at the V and A was my favourite exhibition EVER ( I have high hopes for the Stones one in the Saatchi gallery coming soon, the excitement of attending which might coincide with my waters breaking so I need to time that one carefully). A few years ago I narrowly missed – by an hour or so- a guided tour of a Mick Rock, Bowie’s photographer in the 70s and beyond- photo exhibition, guided by Mick Rock himself in Manchester’s Urbis exhibition space. I was gutted about that, but can console myself by rereading (if looking at pictures counts as reading) the photobook Blood and Glitter, a book of his finest photos from the era of Ziggy and beyond, of other artists too but mainly of Bowie. I highly recommend it if you like Bowie- all the iconic pictures like him playing Mick Ronson’s guitar with his teeth are in there.

In fact, I might go and have a little look now while my toddler is asleep and indulge in a little Bowie love for a while.

100daysofgrievances #41 CHEAP FLIGHTS AND TRIP ADVISOR

I’m currently a long way up in the air. I’m not going to hazard a guess as to exactly how high – I don’t really want to think about it – but definitely nowhere near the ground. I’m taking solace in a very useful fact (may or may not be true, but let’s not split hairs)  learned from binge-watching that well-known educational programme Orange is the New Black:

You are more likely to die from food-poisoning as a result of consuming aeroplane food than you are to die in a plane crash. 

As I’m flying with a relatively budget airline (no inflight meals unless you want to pay a tenner for a scabby sandwich and plastic cup of Nescafé), I’m feeling rather reassured right now.

The BF has yet to state that “it’s turned into a really nice day” and then promptly tried to drown out my laughter and derisive response that of course it’s a nice day, we’re above the clouds by pretending that’s what he meant all along.  He clearly learnt his lesson last time.  Actually, the only argument we’ve had so far today is the one about who would win in a fight.   The answer is that, today at least,  I would. I would make a highly tactical bee-line for his very sore side.  The very sore side that he has mentioned, on average, once every fifteen minutes for the past 4 days.  The very sore side that, after a thorough online diagnosis session, could  apparently be related to no fewer than three internal organs – I forget which ones. I think he must have concluded that they weren’t really vital internal organs though, as apparently his side (as very sore as it apparently is) is not sore enough to warrant an appointment with the doctor, or even a pre-holiday call to NHS24.   It’s not stopped him mentioning it though…

I don’t really like flying, hence the reason I thought I would attempt to write a mid-air blog to take my mind off it.  That now seems rather moronic given that I now feel obliged to list all the unpleasant things related to the experience.  Actually, as far as flights go, this one has been comparatively unstressful thus far (there I go, doing my best to jinx it).  For starters, we’re not flying with Ryanair or Easyjet.  Enough said, I think.  Also, touch wood, there hasn’t been any turbulence.  I know there will be later as the Canary Isles are well known as windy, but forewarned is forearmed (I’ll ensure I have a couple of medicinal G&Ts before then, won’t I?). We were also exceedingly sensible in our decision to go on holiday when the schools were about to go back after the Xmas hols, hence no screeching brats aboard this giant, heavy hunk of metal hurtling through the air miles above Earth. Okay, and I think that’s quite enough about the journey for now.

One rather positive thing about being so far away from solid ground is the fact that I don’t have access to Trip Advisor for the next few hours. If you want to get technical, I have heard rumours that the plane has wifi, but clearly I have no idea how to connect to that – this won’t be uploaded until I’m safely back on terra firma.  What is confusing me a little right now (and this is before my brain is addled by glugs of Gordon’s finest), is the fact that certain airlines won’t let you turn on any electronic devices for takeoff and landing, and insist that all phones be on flight mode for the duration of the flight as a SAFETY MEASURE, whilst others are bandying about adverts for their super fast wifi…

Argh, I’m not meant to be ruminating on the apparent disparities between airlines’ safety advice; I had changed the subject and was going to complain about Trip Advisor for a wee while.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Trip Advisor is one of the best inventions ever (up there with earplugs, hair oil and gin), what did we do without it?  That’s a rhetorical question; we stayed in a lot of BAD hotels and ate in several TERRIBLE restaurants. And as much as I love writing a TA review (both good and bad, you may be surprised to learn; nothing but fair, me), the forum is not without its problems:

  • Anyone can write a review, even complete and utter idiots.  People who write things like “i only gave this horid hotel one star coz I cant beleive that diet irn Bru isnt sold in there shop. What do ppl in Spain drink, m8!!!!” Don’t believe me? I suggest you have a brief peruse right now. Actually, scrap that, please don’t.  Save it until later as I know very well just how all-encompassing TA can be; you’ll never return to this blog. If like me, you become hooked, and can’t resist reading every single bad review of the hotel you’ve already booked (more of that later), then this can be a good way of weeding out the reviews to mentally discard… Complained at length that the food in the (Greek) hotel was Greek? Discard! Wittered on about the fact that the hotel wasn’t child-friendly? Result! Discard! Rambled for two paragraphs (sans punctuation) on the topic of where to buy the best Full English in Spain? Discard! Discard! The in-hotel entertainment wasn’t ‘lively’ enough? You get the picture. 

This  method of sorting the wheat from the chafe (is that the saying? I have no internet access so can’t check) also works for restaurants. My recent favourite one-star review for a restaurant where I had booked a table as a special treat complained that ‘not one member of staff asked how old my baby daughter was!’ (Shock horror!) What on earth this lady was doing taking a newborn to a Michelin starred restaurant, I have no idea!

  • People are allowed to publish reviews even if they didn’t stay/dine in the establishment. I recently read a one-star review (I spend  waste  quite a lot of time reading one-star TA reviews, even of hotels/restaurants I have no intention of visiting, in case that wasn’t already apparent) in which the reviewer complained at length about how she had cancelled a week-long stay with no prior notice, and the hotel had only refunded her for all-but-one of the nights (despite having a clear no-refunds policy).  Idiot.
  • Quite often it is apparent that multiple glowing reviews are written by the business owner.  Nobody seems to monitor this  (give me a job, Trip Advisor!). Giveaways are, for example,  numerous separate reviews all complimenting the ‘subtle lighting’ or the ‘most helpful manager’, or reviews purportedly written by people of all different nationalities but featuring strangely consistent spelling or grammatical errors…  Come on, if you’re going to write fake reviews, at least put a bit of effort in!

It goes without saying that a review is completely subjective, but I think TA reviewers should be made to undertake a basic online intelligence test before being allowed to submit a review.  I would like to point out at this point that I am not at all bitter about the review I once read of the pub I worked in: “Common and dirty, and that’s just the staff.”  I think that’s just rude (not to mention highly inaccurate)!

I think the fact I’m so obsessed with TA stems from some Bad Experiences*, but I can’t possibly go on holiday without reading all the bad reviews first (and checking religiously for newer, badder updates once the holiday is booked).  Take this holiday, for example…  The hotel we are staying in has mostly 4 and 5 star reviews, however the last time I checked (about 15 mins before takeoff), there were 62 one star reviews.  SIXTY TWO! And some of the reviewers sounded normal…Hours can be wasted checking out their other reviews to see if they are negative too.  I am however, feeling rather upbeat as the newest, baddest review mostly focussed on the reviewer’s belief that the hotel served too great a choice of fish.  He then went on to state that ‘luckily there is a McDonalds a short walk away’.  (Ha! Discard!)

I’m going to end here as I can here the rattle of the drinks trolley and it can’t be long until the seatbelt signs  light up.  In addition to that, when I flicked through the the inflight magazine earlier, I spotted an article about ‘cosmeceutical’ products that (surprise surprise) are sold aboard the plane.  It promises to be fascinating reading – I’m looking forward to tutting a lot and reading the most ridiculous bits aloud. That should take me through to that really annoying bit at the end of a plane journey when the plane comes to a standstill and  everyone stands up and crowds into the aisle.  Worse still, the folks who can’t fit in the aisle will happily loiter uncomfortably, stooped under the overhead lockers, looming over and tutting at us sane and sensible sitters.  And all for what? So that they can get off the plane thirty seconds earlier and then loiter for longer around the luggage carousel!

People.

*Return-journey blog, perhaps?